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The Martian Shop
Howard FastNew York: Bantam Books, 1961
These are the background facts given to Detective Sergeant Tom Bristol when he was instructed to break down the door and go into the place. It is true that the locksmiths at Centre Street have earned the reputation of being able to open anything that has been closed, and that reputation is not undeserved. But this door was an exception. So Bristol went to break down the door with two men in uniform and crowbars and all the other tools that might be necessary. But before that he studied a pr�cis of the pertinent facts.
It had been established that three stores had been opened on the same day and the same hour, and more than that, as an indication of a well-organized and orderly mind, the space for each of the stores had been rented on the same day, the leases signed on the same hour. The store in Tokyo was located in the very best part of The Ginza. The space had been occupied by a fine jewelry and watchmaking establishment -- perhaps the second or third best in all Japan; they vacated the premises, refusing to give the press any explanation whatsoever at the time. Later, however, it was revealed that the price paid to the jewelry establishment for the purchase of its lease consisted of fifty diamonds of exactly three carats each, all of them so perfectly matched -- so alike in their flawlessness, that diamond experts consider the very existence of the collection hitherto unknown to be a unique event in the long history of jewels.
The store in Paris was, of course, on Faubourg St. Honore. There were no stores vacant at the time, and the lease of a famous couturier was purchased for forty million francs. The couturier (his name is omitted at specific request of the French government) named the price facetiously, for he had no intention of surrendering his place. When the agent for the principal wrote out a check on the spot, holding him to his word, he had no choice but to go through with the deal.
The third store was on Fifth Avenue in New York City. After thirty years on the Avenue, the last ten increasingly unprofitable, the old and stodgy firm of Delbos gave up its struggle against modern merchandising. The store it had occupied was located on the block between 52nd and 53rd Street, on the east side of the street. The property itself was managed by Clyde and Abrahams, who were delighted to release Delbos from a twenty-five year lease that had been signed in 1937, and who promptly doubled the rent. The Slocum Company, acting as agents for the principals -- who never entered into the arrangements at all, either with Clyde and Abrahams or subsequently with Trevore, the decorating firm made no protest over the increased rent, signed the lease, and then paid a year's rent in advance. Arthur Lewis, one of the younger partners in the Slocum Company, conducted the negotiations. Wally Clyde of Clyde and Abrahams remarked at the time that the Slocum Company was losing its grip. Lewis shrugged and said that they were following instructions; he said that if he had bargaining power himself, he would be damned before he ever agreed to such preposterous rent.
Lewis also conducted the negotiations with Trevore, turning over to them detailed plans for the redesigning and decoration of the store, and agreeing to the price they set. He did make it plain, however, that his specific instructions from his principal were to agree to all prices asked and to deal only with the firms he was told to deal with. He pointed out to Trevore that such practices were[ ] to the Slocum Company and were not to be anticipated under any circumstances in the future.
When the information for this pr�cis was gathered, Mr. Samuel Carradine of the Trevore Company produced the original plans for the remodeling and decoration of the store, that is the plans turned over to him by Mr. Lewis. They are hand-drawn on a fine but strong paper of pale yellow tint. Two paper experts, one of them chief chemist for Harlin Mills, have already examined these plans, but they are unable to identify the paper, nor have they seen similar paper before. They do assert that the paper has neither a pulp nor a rag base. Part of the paper is at present undergoing chemical analysis at Crestwood Laboratories.
From this point onward, the history of the three stores is sufficiently general for the data on the Fifth Avenue store to suffice. In all three cases, rental and alteration were managed under similar circumstances; in all three cases the subsequent progress of events was the same, making due allowance for the cultural patterns of each country. In each case, the decoration of the store was in excellent taste, unusual, but nevertheless artfully connected with the general decor of the particular avenue.
Trevore charged over a hundred thousand dollars for alteration and decoration. The storefront was done in stainless steel panels, used as tile. Window-space was enlarged, and a magnificent bronze-veneered door replaced the ancient oak portal of Delbos. The interior was done in tones of black and crimson, with drapes and carpeting of mustard yellow, and the display cases and platforms were of bronze and glass. Decorators whose opinions have been sought all concur in the assessment of results. Without doubt the three stores were done in excellent, if not superb, taste -- the decoration bold, unique, but never vulgar or distressing. It must be noted, however, that Mr. Ernest Searles, who heads the decor department of the Fifth Avenue Association, pointed out certain angular -- that is, unfamiliar degree angles -- concepts never used before by American decorators.
On Fifth Avenue, as in the other cases, the center focus of the decorating scheme was the crystal replica of the Planet Mars, which was suspended from the ceiling in each shop, and which revolved at the same tempo as Mars itself. It has not yet been determined what type of mechanism activates these globes. The globes, which display a unique and remarkable map of Mars's surface, were installed by the principals, after Trevore had completed the overall alteration and decoration. While the Fifth Avenue storefront is striking, it was done with the type of expensive modesty that would do credit to Tiffany's. The last thing installed was the name of the shop itself, MARS PRODUCTS, in gold letters, each letter a half-inch in relief and five inches high. It has since been determined that these letters are cast out of solid gold.
The three shops opened their doors to the public at ten A.M., on the tenth of March -- in local time and day. In New York, the letters spelling out MARS PRODUCTS had been displayed for eight days, and a good deal of curiosity had been aroused, both among the public and the press. But until actual opening, no information had been offered.
During those days, four objects had been on display in the shop windows. No doubt the reader of this pr�cis has seen or examined these objects, each of which stood upon a small crystal display-stand, framed in black velvet, for all the world like precious jewels, which in a sense they were. The display consisted of a clock, an adding machine, an outboard motor and a music box, although only the clock was recognizable through its appearance, a beautiful precision instrument, activated as a number of clocks are by the variation in atmospheric pressure. Yet the workmanship, materials and general beauty of this clock outdid anything obtainable in the regular market.
The adding machine was a black cube, measuring slightly more than six inches. The covering is of some as yet undetermined synthetic or plastic, inlaid with the curious hieroglyphs that have come to be known as the Martian script, the hieroglyphs in white and gold. This machine is quickly and easily adjusted or sensitized to the sound of an individual voice, and it calculates on the basis of vocal instruction. The results emerge through a thin slit in the top, printed on paper similar to that mentioned before. Theoretically, such a calculator could be built today, but, so far as we know, by only two shops, one in Germany and the other in Japan, and the cost would be staggering; certainly, it would take years of experimental work to develop it to the point where it would deal with thirteen digits, adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing entirely by vocal command.
The outboard motor was an object about the size of a tall electric sewing machine, fabricated of some blue metal and weighing fourteen pounds, six ounces and a fraction. Two simple tension clips attached it to any boat or cart or car. It generated forty horsepower in jet propulsion, and it contained, almost microcosmically, its own atomic generator, guaranteed for one thousand continuous hours of operation. Through a muffling device, which has so far defied even theoretical solution, it produced less sound than an ordinary outboard motor. In each shop, this was explained, not as a muffling procedure, but as a matter of controlled pitch beyond the range of the human ear. Competent engineers felt that this explanation must be rejected.
In spite of the breathtaking implications of this atomic motor, it was the music box that excited the most attention and speculation. Of more or less the same dimensions as the adding machine, it was of pale yellow synthetic, the hieroglyphs circled out in dark gray. Two slight depressions on the top of this box activated it, a slight touch of one depression to start it, a second touch on the same depression to stop it. The second depression, when touched, changed the category of the music desired. There were twenty-two categories of music available -- symphonic music in three chronological sections, chamber music in three sections, piano solo, violin solo with and without accompaniment, folk music for seven cultures, operatic in three sections, orchestra, full cast and orchestra, that is the complete opera, and selected renderings, religious music, divided into five religious categories, popular songs in national sections, instrumental music in terms of eighty-two instruments, jazz in five categories and three categories of children's music.
The salespeople in each of the three shops claimed that the music box had a repertoire of eleven thousand and some odd separate musical selections, but this, of course, could not be put to the test, and varying opinions on this score have been expressed. Also the use of vocal instruction to set the sound and pitch which was not inferior to the best mass-produced high fidelity was poopooed as fakery. But Mr. Harry Flannery, consulting-sound engineer for the Radio Corporation of America, has stated that the music box could be compiled out of available technical knowledge, especially since the discovery of transistor electronics. As with the adding machine, it was less the technical achievement than the workmanship that was unbelievable. But Mr. Flannery admitted that a content of eleven thousand works was beyond present day knowledge or skill, providing that this enormous repertoire was a fact. From all witnesses interrogated, we have compiled a list of more than three hundred works played by the shop's demonstration music box.
These were the four objects displayed in the window of each of the three stores. The same four objects were an available for examination and demonstration inside each of the stores. The clock was priced at $500.00, the adding machine at $475.00, the outboard motor at $1620.00 and the music box at $700.00 -- and these prices were exactly the same at the current exchange, in Tokyo and Paris.
Prior to the opening -- that is, the previous day -- quarterpage advertisements, in the New York Times only, stated simply and directly that the people of the Planet Mars announced the opening, the following day, of a shop on Fifth Avenue, which would display, demonstrate, and take orders for four products of Martian industry. It explained the limited selection of offerings by pointing out that this was only an initial step, in order to test the reactions of Earth buyers. It was felt, the advertisement stated, that commercial relations between the Earth and Mars should be on the friendliest basis, and the Martian industrialists had no desire to upset the economic balance of Earth.
The advertisement went on to say that orders would be taken for all of the products, and that delivery was guaranteed in twelve days. The advertisement expressed the hope that this would mark the beginning of a cordial and fruitful and lasting relationship between the inhabitants of both planets.
This advertisement was hardly the first word in the press concerning the Martian shops. Already, every columnist had carried an item or two about what was, without question one of the most imaginative and novel publicity schemes of the space age. Several columnists had it on the best authority -- for rumors were all over the city -- that General Dynamics was behind the Martian shops. They were also credited to General Electric, the Radio Corporation, and at least a dozen of large industrial enclaves. Again, a brilliant young merchandiser was named, a Paris dress designer, and a Greek shipping magnate. Still others spoke of a scheme by German industrialists to break into the American market in force and of course there were hints that the Soviet Union was behind the method of destroying capitalism. Engineers were willing to grant Russia the skill, but interior decorators refused to acknowledge the ability of the Russians to produce original and tasteful decor. But until the shops actually opened and the working capabilities of the machines were actually demonstrated, no one was inclined to take the matter too seriously.
On the tenth of March, the shops opened in each of the three cities. The tenth of March was a Monday in New York. The shops remained open until Friday, and then they closed down for good -- so far as we know.
But in those five days, thousands of people crowded into the Fifth Avenue store. The machines were demonstrated over and over. Thousands of orders were taken, but all deposits and prepayment were refused. The New York shop was staffed by one man and five tall, charming and efficient women What they actually looked like is a matter of dispute, for they all wore skin-tight face masks of some latex-like material, but rather than to make them repulsive, the effect of the masks was quite pleasant. Gloves of the same material covered their hands, nor was any part of their skin anywhere exposed.
John Mattson, writing in the News the following day, said, "Never did the inhabitants of two planets meet under more promising circumstances. Having seen the Martian figure and having had a touch of the Martian charm, I am willing to take any chances with the Martian face. Uncover, my lovelies, uncover. Earth waits with bated breath."
Professor Hugo Elligson, the famous astronomer, visited the shop for Life. His report says in part, "If the masked people in this shop are Martians, then I say, Space must be conquered. I know it is strange for an astronomer to dwell on shapely legs and muted, rippling accents, yet I know that from here on my wife will eye me strangely whenever I look at the Red Planet. As to the relationship of an excellent publicity scheme to the Planet Mars, common intelligence orders me to withhold comment"
Perhaps the Soviet Union thought different; for on the second day of the shop's business, two gentlemen from the Russian Embassy were known to enter and offer a cool million United States dollars for the demonstration sample of the atomic outboard. The Martians were polite but firm.
By Wednesday, Mars Products occupied more space in the New York press than international news. It crowded out the crises in the Middle East, and Formosa was relegated to page seventeen of the Times. A dozen authorities were writing scholarly opinions. Traffic on Fifth Avenue was impossible, and one hundred extra police were detailed to maintain order and make it possible for any of the Fifth Avenue stores to do business. The Fifth Avenue Association decided to apply for an injunction, on the grounds that Mars Products disrupted the ordinary practice of business.
Much the same was happening on Faubourg St. Honore, and on the Ginza.
Also on Wednesday, American industry awoke and panicked. Boards of Directors were convened all over the nation. Important industrial magnates flew to Washington, and the stock of electronic, business-machine and automobile companies sent the Dow- Jones averages down twenty-six points. The largest builder of systems and calculating machines in American saw its stock sell ten minutes ahead of the ticker, down one hundred and eighty points for the day. So also on the London, Paris and Tokyo exchanges.
But the intelligence service was not perturbed until Thursday, when it sent formal requests to the F.B.I. and to the New York City Police Department to determine who and what the principals behind Mars Products were and to ascertain where these machines had been manufactured, whether they had been imported, and whether duty had been paid. The S�ret� and the Tokyo Police were by then taking similar steps.
Without going into the details of this investigation, it suffices to say that in every case, the investigating authorities were baffled. All three bank accounts were the result of large cash deposits by very commonplace men who were no different from thousands of other average men. The acting agents were given, by mail, full power of attorney as well as instructions. The investigations were not completed until Friday evening.
By Friday, each of the three shops was under surveillance by various government and police agencies. In New York, city detectives put a twenty-four hour watch on Mars Products Wednesday evening, even before any instructions or requests came from Washington. But no member of the staff left the shop after closing hours, or at any other time. Curtains were drawn across the windows, blocking off the display products. At ten A.M., the curtains were drawn back.
During Friday, in New York and Washington, discussions were held on the advisability of issuing injunctions or search warrants. At the same time, there was understandable hesitancy. If this was a publicity scheme of some industrial group, whatever agency acted could be the laughing stock of the nation -- as well as opening itself to considerable liability, if legal action was taken by the injured party. Plainclothesmen had been in and out of the shop a hundred times, searching for some violation. None had been found. No loophole had been detected.
Friday night, the shop on Fifth Avenue closed as usual -- the curtains were drawn. At eleven P.M., the lights went out. At three A.M., the door of the shop opened.
At that time on Saturday morning, Fifth Avenue was deserted. The shop was then being observed by four city detectives, two federal agents, two members of Central Intelligence, and three private operatives hired by the National Association of Manufacturers. The eleven men made no attempt at concealment. There was only one store entrance. Across the avenue, four cars waited.
When the door of Mars Products opened, the five members of the staff walked out. They all carried packages. At precisely the same moment, a large black automobile drew up at the curb in front of the shop. The man opened the back door of this car, and all five staff members entered. Then the door closed and they drove away. They were followed by the four cars. The agents who were watching them had instructions not to interfere, to make no arrests, but to follow any member of the staff to his or her destination and to report along the way by radio.
We have an exact description of the automobile. Shaped somewhat like a Continental, it was at least a foot longer, though no broader. It had a strange hood, more rounded than a stock car, but it was larger than any known sport car.
It headed uptown, well within the speed limits, turned into Central Park, emerged at 7th Avenue and 110th Street, proceeded north and then beneath 155th Street to the Harlem River Speedway. When it reached the Speedway, two police cars had joined the caravan behind it. Toward the George Washington Bridge approach-ramp, it began to pick up speed and when it passed the ramp, continuing on the deserted Speedway, it was already doing eighty miles an hour. The police cars opened their sirens, and by radio, additional police cars were instructed to set up a roadblock at Dyckman Street.
At that point, the black car put out wings, at least seven feet on either side, and went over to jet power. It left the pursuing cars as if they were standing still. It is impossible to arrive at any accurate estimate of its ground speed then but it was certainly well over a hundred and thirty miles an hour. It was airborne in a matter of seconds, gained altitude quickly, and disappeared, by its sound, eastward. It was picked up twice by radar at an altitude of twenty thousand feet, moving at very high speed, even for jet power. The air force was immediately notified and planes took off within minutes, but there is no report of the black car -- or plane -- being sighted again, nor was it again raised with radar.
It is sufficient to note that the progress of events in Tokyo and Paris was more or less identical. In no case, was the staff of the shop interfered with or taken.
Such was the pr�cis that Detective Sergeant Bristol reviewed before he went uptown to break in the door of Mars Products. It told him nothing that he did not already know -- and in all truth, he knew a great deal more. His own specialty was entry and search, but like almost every other citizen of New York, he had speculated during the past days on the intriguing problem of Mars Products. He was well trained in the art of rejecting any conclusions not founded on facts he could test with sight, touch or smell, but in spite of this training, his imagination conjured up a host of possibilities behind the locked door of Mars Products. He was still young enough to view his work with excitement, and all during this day, his excitement had been mounting.
Both the city police and the F.B.I. had decided to wait through Saturday before opening the shop, and these decisions were communicated to Tokyo and Paris. Actually, the New York shop was opened a few hours later than the others.
When Bristol arrived at 52nd Street and Fifth Avenue, at least a dozen men were waiting for him. Among them were the police commissioner, the mayor, General Arlen Mack, the Chief of Staff, a colonel in Military Intelligence and several F B I. officials. There were also at least a hundred onlookers, held back by policemen. The police commissioner was irritated and indicated that Bristol was the type to be late at his own funeral.
"I was told to be here at seven o'clock, sir," Bristol said. "It is still a few minutes before seven."
"Well, don't argue about it. Get that door open!
It was easier said than done. When they ripped off the bronze plate, they found solid steel underneath. They burned through it and hammered off the bolted connection. It took almost an hour before the door was open -- and then, as had been the case in Tokyo and Paris, they found the store empty. The beautiful crystal reproduction of the Planet Mars had been pulverized; they found the shards in a waste basket, and it was taken to Centre Street for analysis. Otherwise, none of the decorations had been disturbed or removed not even the solid gold letters on the store front -- a small fortune in itself. But the eight products, the four from the window and the four used in the shop as demonstrators, were gone.
The high brass prowled around the place for an hour or so, examining the decorations and whispering to each other in corners. Someone made the inevitable remark about fingerprints, and the commissioner growled, "People whose skin is covered don't leave fingerprints." By nine o'clock, the brass had left, and Bristol went to work. Two F.B.I. men had remained; they watched the methods of the three men from Centre Street in silent admiration.
Bristol's specialty was, as we noted, entry and search. He had four children, a wife he adored, and he was soberly ambitious. He had long since decided to turn his specialty into a science and then to develop that science to a point unequaled elsewhere. First he brought in lights and flooded the store with three thousand additional watts of illumination. Since there was only the main room and a small office and lavatory behind it, he brightened the space considerably. Then he and his two assistants hooked portable lights onto their belts. He told the F.B.I. men:
"The first element of search is find it."
"Do you know what to look for? "
"No," Bristol said. "Neither does anyone else. That makes it easier in a way."
First they removed all drapery, spread white sheets, brushed the drapery carefully on both sides, folded it and removed it. The dust was collected and labeled. Then they swept all the floors, then went over them a second time with a vacuum cleaner. The dust was sifted, packaged and labeled. Then, filling the vacuum cleaner with new bags each time they went over every inch of space, floor, walls, ceiling molding and furniture. Again, the bags were packaged and labeled. Then they took the upholstered furniture apart bit by bit, shredding the fabric and filling. The foam rubber in the cushions was needled and then picked apart. Once again, everything was labeled
"This is more or less mechanical," Bristol explained to the government men. "Routine. We do the chemical and microscopic analysis downtown."
"I mean for this type of problem. We don't get this kind of problem in terms of search more than two or three times a year.
At two o'clock in the morning, the government men went to buy coffee and sandwiches. They brought back a box of food for the city men. By four A.M., the carpeting had been taken down to Centre Street, the toilet walls stripped of tile, the plumbing removed and checked, the toilet and sink entirely dismantled. At six o'clock on Sunday morning, in the cold gray light of dawn, Bristol was supervising the taking apart of every piece of bonded wood or metal in the shop.
He made the find in a desk, a modern desk of Swedish design that had been supplied by the decorators. Its surface was of polished birch, and there was a teak strip across the front. When this strip was removed, Bristol found a bit of film, less than an inch long and about three millimeters in width. When he held it up to the light with tweezers and put a magnifying glass on it, it was discovered to be film strip. It contained sixteen full frames and part of a seventeenth frame.
Minutes later, he was in a car with the government men, racing down to Centre Street; and only then did he permit himself the luxury of a voiced opinion.
"They must have been editing that film, he remarked. I have been reading how orderly and precise they are. But even an orderly person can lose something. Even a Martian, he finished doubtfully.
Strangely enough, the government men made no comment at all.
Bristol is remembered, and it has been said in many places that he will go far. He has already been promoted, and without question he will be mentioned by historians for years to come. He was an honest and thorough man, and he had an orderly mind to match other orderly minds.
Professor Julius Goldman will also be remembered. The head of the Department of Semitic Languages at Columbia University, he was also the leading philologist in the Western Hemisphere, if not the world, and to him as much as to any other goes the credit for breaking through the early Cretan script. He pioneered the brilliant -- if again failing -- recent Etruscan effort. Along with Jacobs of Oklahoma, he is the leading authority on American Indian languages, specializing there in the Plains dialects. It is said that there is no important language on earth, living or dead, that he cannot command fluently.
This is possibly an exaggeration, but since he was reached by the White House that same Sunday, flown to Washington, put at the head of a team of five of the country's finest philologists -- and since he accomplished what was expected of him in thirty-two hours, it might be said that his reputation was deserved.
Yet by the grace of God or whatever force determines our destiny, he was given a "Rosetta Stone," so to speak. Without it, as he was the first to point out, the Martian script would not have been broken, not now and possibly not even the "Rosetta Stone" -- which, you will recall, originally enabled philologists to break the mystery of the Egyptian hieroglyphs by providing them, on the same stone tablet, with translations in known tongues -- was in this case a single frame of the film strip, containing both an English and Martian inscription. Acting on the possibility that one was a translation of the other, Professor Goldman found an opening for the attack. Nevertheless, it remains perhaps the more extraordinary case of reconstruction in all the history of language.
That Tuesday, the Tuesday after the store had been broken into, the President of the United States held an enlarged meeting of his cabinet at the White House. In addition to the regular members of the cabinet, some forty-two other persons were present, Julius Goldman among them, and it was not Goldman alone who appeared haggard from want of sleep. Each of the men present had a pr�cis -- somewhat enlarged --that was not too different from the one presented here. Each of them had read it and pondered it. Opening the meeting, the President reviewed the facts, mentioned some of the opinions already gathered from experts, and then said:
"What are we to think, gentlemen? Our own halting probes into outer space have removed the starry realm from the province of fiction writers and gullible fools. As yet we have no firm conclusions, but I do hope that at the end of this meeting, we will formulate a few and be able to act upon them. I need not repeat that some of the keenest minds in America still consider the Martian shops to be a remarkable hoax. If so, a practical joke costing its originator a great many millions of dollars, has been played out to no point. In all fairness, I reject this conclusion, nor can I, at this point in my knowledge, support any arguments that we have seen a great publicity campaign. I have come to certain conclusions of my own, but I shall withhold them until others have been heard.
"As most of you know, through the energy and resourcefulness of the New York City police department, we found a tiny bit of film strip at the Fifth Avenue shop. Nothing of any value was found either in Paris or Tokyo. Nevertheless, I have invited the Japanese and French ambassadors to be present tonight, since their countries have been chosen, even as ours was. I do not say that their interest is higher than that of other nations, for perhaps"
The President hesitated then and shrugged tiredly. "Well, at this point, I will turn the meeting over to Professor Julius Goldman of Columbia University, our greatest philologist, whose contribution to the unraveling of this problem cannot be overestimated."
Professor Goldman said quietly that, for the record, he had made no contribution not shared equally by his colleagues, who were not present this evening. They had, all six of them, prepared an affidavit, which he would read in the name of the entire team. First, he would like the people assembled to see the film strip for themselves.
The room was darkened. The first frame appeared on a prepared screen at one end of the room. It was covered with vertical lines of what had already come to be called the Martian Hieroglyphic. So with the second and the "Rosetta Stone." At the top, in English block letters:
"Compound for white males -- 16 to 19 years of age."
And directly beneath, again in English, "General warning. Any discussion of escape or resistance will be met by permanent stimulation of the tri-geminal nerve."
And beneath that, "Feeding room -- yellow-skinned females, 7 to 10 years of age."
And as a final line in English, "Much have I traveled in the realms of gold."
Beneath these English lines were a number of vertical hieroglyph columns.
The voice of Professor Goldman explained, "This frame gave us our key, but we do not claim any clear knowledge of what these inscriptions mean. Medical authorities consulted have suggested that a certain type of irritation of the tri-geminal nerve can result in the most trying pain man knows. The line from Keats is utterly meaningless, so far as we can determine; the reason for its inclusion remains to be explained in the future, if ever. The remaining frames, as you see, are in the hieroglyph."
The lights went on again. Professor Goldman blinked tiredly, wiped his glasses, and said, "Before I present our affidavit, I must ask your indulgence for a few words concerning language. When we philologists claim to have cracked the mystery of some ancient tongue, we do not talk as a cryptographer who has broken a code. Philology and Cryptography are very different sciences. When a code is broken, its message is known. When a language is broken, only the first step in a long and arduous process is taken. No single man or single group of men has ever revealed an ancient language; that is an international task and must of necessity take generations to complete.
"I say this because perhaps your hopes have been raised too high. We have very little to work from, only a few words and numerals; we are dealing with an unrelated tongue, totally alien; and we have had only a few hours to grapple with the problem. Therefore, though we have been able to extract some meaning from two of the frames, there, are many blank spaces and many perplexities. In our favor are these facts: first -- all language, possibly anywhere in the universe, appears to have a developmental logic and relationship; secondly, these frames deal with life on earth; and finally, it is our good fortune that this is an alphabetic form of writing, consisting, so far as we can determine, of forty-one sound signs, at least thirty of them consonantal. These consonantal forms suggest a vocal arrangement not unlike our own -- that is in physical structure, for sounds are to a large extent determined by the physical characteristics of the creature producing them. My colleagues agree that there is no indication of any relationship between this alphabet and language and any known language of Earth. For my part, I will make no comment on the origin of this language. It is not my field -- nor is it my purpose." The President nodded. "We understand that, Professor Goldman." Goldman continued: "The affidavit itself will be projected on the screen, since we consider it more effective for the partial translation to be read rather than heard." The room was then darkened again, and the following appeared on the screen: "A tentative and partial translation of the first two frames of a film strip, given to the undersigned for translation purposes:
" greedy lustful[dedicated?] [practicing?] mass [murder?] [death?] [time] generations [of?] murder [docile?] [willing?] O when shown pleasure -- [titled?] [self styled?] [boastful self styled?] man [or humanity?] [compare to?] [equate with?] disease [or plague or rust] on face of [fair?] [rich?] planet [or globe] "
The voice of Professor Goldman cut in, "That is the first frame. As you see, our translation is tentative and incomplete. We have very little to work from. Where the word is within brackets and coupled with a question mark, we are making what might be called a calculated surmise -- surmise not a guess, but a surmise from too few facts. Now the second frame.
"Force [or violence] understood [or reacted to] man [or humanity] primitive [or number 1] development of atomic [force or power or engine] [space station or small planet] [non-possession-relating possibly to space station] [outer space? ] [void? ] negative [long arm?] [weapon?] [superstition?] [ignorance?] [mindless]"
The inscription remained on the screen, and Goldman's voice, flat, tired and expressionless, explained:
"When we bracket a number of words, one after another, we are uncertain as to which is preferable. Actually, only a single word is being translated." His voice faded away. The names of the six philologists appeared on the screen. The lights went on, but the silence was as deep and lasting as the darkness before it. Finally, the Secretary of State rose, looked at the President, received his nod, and said to Professor Goldman:
"I desire your opinion, Professor. Are these faked? Do they originate on earth? Or are we dealing with Martians? That's not a dirty word. Everyone is thinking it; no one will say it. I want your opinion.
"I am a scientist and a scholar, sir. I form opinions only when I have sufficient facts to make them credible. This is not the case now."
"You have more facts than anyone on earth! You can read that outlandish gibberish!"
"No more than you can, sir," Goldman replied softly. "What I have read, you have read." "You come to it as a philologist," the Secretary of State persisted.
"Then as a philologist, is it your opinion that this language originated on earth?"
"How can I answer that, sir? What is my opinion worth when fashioned out of such thin stuff?"
"Then tell us -- do you detect any relationship to any known Earthly language?"
"No -- no, I do not," Goldman answered, smiling rather sadly.
And then there was silence again. Now one of the President's secretaries appeared, and distributed copies of the affidavit to everyone present. A longer silence now, while the affidavits were studied. Then the French ambassador asked for the floor.
"Mr. President," he said, "members of the cabinet and gentlemen -- many of you know that my own government discussed this same problem yesterday. I am instructed, if the occasion should so determine, to make a certain request of you. I think the occasion does so determine. I request that you send immediately for the Soviet Ambassador "
No one was shocked or surprised by the suggestion. The Soviet Ambassador was sent for. He had evidently been waiting, for he arrived within minutes; and when he stated immediately that he would also represent the People's Republic of China or take his leave, the President of the United States suppressed a smile and nodded. He was given a pr�cis and a copy of the affidavit, and after he had read both, the meeting began. It went on until three o'clock on Wednesday morning, during which time thirty-two technical specialists arrived, gave opinion or testimony, and departed. Then the meeting was suspended for five hours -- and came together again with the representatives of India, China, Great Britain, Italy and Germany in attendance. At six o'clock Wednesday evening, the meeting was adjourned, and the following day an extraordinary session of the Assembly of the United Nations was called. By that time, Professor Goldman, with the assistance of Japanese, Chinese and Russian philologists, had completed a tentative translation of the film strip. Before this complete translation was published in the international press, it was made available to all delegates to the United Nations Assembly.
On Saturday, only a week after Detective Sergeant Bristol had forced the door of the Fifth Avenue shop, the Premier of India arose to address the Assembly of the United Nations.
"It is more than ironic," he said with some sadness, "that we who have been so savagely condemned by another planet, another culture and people, can find more than a little truth in the accusations. How close we have come, time and again, to accomplishing the destruction outlined by these people from outer space! And how unhappy it is to know our own fitful dream of a peaceful future must be laid aside, perhaps forever! Shall it be some consolation that we must join hands to fight another enemy rather than each other? I pray so, for it is not without deep grief that my country lays aside the slim shield of neutrality it has clung to so desperately. Gentlemen, India is yours; its teeming millions will labor in the common defense of our mother earth. Its inadequate mills and mines are at the world's disposal, and I hope with all my heart that we have time to build more.
Then Russia spoke, then the United States. China and eight other countries were admitted to the United Nations without a veto; but this was only the beginning of a series of actions which led, within the month, to the creation of World Spaceways international plan for the building of four great space stations circling the earth, a mighty fleet of atomically powered space-ships, and the construction of a military defense base on the moon, under the control of the United Nations. A three-year plan for the defense of Earth was put into operation, and, as so few had anticipated, the beginnings of world government in terms of actual sovereign power, came with a comprehensive world general staff.
Within three months after Detective Sergeant Bristol's discovery, the first world code of law was drafted and presented to the General Assembly. The antiquated and rusting ships of the navies of earth, the discarded and useless artillery, the already archaic guided missiles, the laughable small arms -- all of them bore witness to the beginning of world government.
And in less than a year, Culpepper Motors, one of the largest industrial complexes on earth, announced that they had duplicated the Martian outboard atomic motor. The people of earth laughed and flexed their arms. When they looked up at the sky, at the tiny red orb of Mars, it was with growing confidence and lessening fear.
For they had discovered a new name for themselves; they had discovered that they were a nation of mankind. It was a beginning -- rough and fumbling and uneasy in many of its aspects -- but nevertheless a beginning. And all over the earth, this beginning was celebrated in a variety of ways.
At the home of Franklin Harwood Plummer, its eighty-three rooms nestled securely in the midst of an eleven hundred acre estate in New York's Putnam County, it was celebrated in a style befitting the place and circumstances. Mr. Plummer could and did give dinners that were large and important and unnoticed by the press -- a fact not unrelated to his control of a great deal of the press, among other things. But even for his baronial halls, this evening's gathering was large and unique, three hundred and twenty-seven men and women, apart from Mr. Plummer himself and his eighteen colleagues who composed the Board of Directors of Culpepper Motors.
At fifty-eight, Mr. Plummer was President of Culpepper. Culpepper Motors had a net value of fifteen million dollars, a private industrial worth exceeded, in all the world, only by American Tel and Tel; but if one were to trace the interlocking and various influences of the nineteen board members, the question of worth became so large as to be meaningless. As the nominal lord of this giant enterprise, Mr. Plummer was best defined by his history. He had started, thirty-five years before, as a lathe operator in the old Lewet Shop, and he had fought and smashed and cut his way to the eventual top. In the recent history of America, there have been a few cases like his, but not more than you could count on the fingers of one hand.
Even in his own circles, he was not loved; feared and respected he was, but without family or university, he remained a strange, violent and unpredictable interloper. He was tall and broad and red-faced and white-haired, and as he stood at one end of the great dining room in his overlarge and over-furnished home, he made reference to the fact that he did not even play goh. His three hundred and twenty-seven guests and his eighteen colleagues permitted themselves to smile slightly at that.
"No," Mr. Plummer continued, "no golf, no tennis, no [sisuling] -- I have been what most of you would call a preoccupied man, and my preoccupation has been the making of money. If I have ever laved my conscience with any sop, it was to recollect that single witty remark of a man who was otherwise remarkably humorless, Calvin Coolidge who gave folk like myself grace by stating that the business of the United States was business."
Mr. Plummer grinned. He had an infectious grin the smile a man who has made it beyond belief, who drives back to the old home town in a chrome-plated Cadillac.
"I enjoy making money," he said simply. "I am accused of lusting for power. Hogwash! I lust for a naked and nasty word -- profit; always have and I always will. It embarrasses my eighteen colleagues, sitting here on either side of me, for me to be as blunt and ignoble as this; but I thank whatever gods may be that I have never been inhibited by breeding. I also make a double point. Firstly, the question of profit. I succeeded. Not only have I been able to insure and secure the future existence of Culpepper Motors, not only have I developed a situation where its profits will increase every year -- perhaps double every five years, which makes our stock a pretty good investment for any of you -- but I have been able to bring together under this roof as fine a collection of human beings as mankind can provide. I will not try to explain what that means to me -- what it has meant to know and work with each of the three hundred and twenty-seven people here. I think you can guess.
"Secondly, I said what I said to ease the feelings of those among you who have cooperated in our enterprise and have been paid for their cooperation as against those who would accept no pay. Those who have been paid may feel a certain guilt. To that I say nonsense! No one does anything strictly for money; there are always other factors. I know. I went into this for dollars and cents plain and simple, and so did my holier than God colleagues on my Board of Directors. We have all changed in the process. My colleagues can stop wishing me dead. I love them for what they are now. I did not love them for what they were when we began this enterprise two years ago. "Sitting among you, there is one Jonas Wayne, of Fort Fayette, Kentucky. He is an old-fashioned blacksmith, and possibly the finest hand worker in metal in America. Our enterprise would have been more difficult, if not impossible, without him. Yet he would not take a dollar from me not even for expenses. He is a God-fearing man, and he saw himself as doing God's work, not mine. Perhaps so. I don't know. At the same table with him is M. Orendell, the Ambassador of France. He is far from being a rich man, and his expenses have been paid. We have no secrets here. We live and die with our knowledge, as a unique fraternity. Professor Julius Goldman would you please stand up. Professor was, as you know, central to our whole scheme. If it was painless for him to decipher the Martian script, it was far from painless for him to devise it -- a task that took more hours of work than the building of the motor. He would take no money -- not because he is religious but because as he puts it, he is a scientist. Komo Aguchi, the physicist -- he is at the table with Dr. Goldman, accepted one hundred thousand dollars, which he spent in an attempt to cure his wife, who is dying of cancer. Shall we judge him? Or shall we put cancer on the immediate agenda?
"And what of Detective Sergeant Tom Bristol? Is he an honest cop or a dishonest cop? He accepted four hundred shares of Culpepper Motors -- a hundred for each of his children. He wants them to go to college, and they will. Miss Clementina Arden, possibly the finest decorator here or on Mars, charged us forty thousand dollars for her contribution to the decor. The price was reasonable. She is a hardheaded business woman, and if she does not look after herself, who will? Yet she has turned down other jobs. She didn't turn down this one.
"Well, my good friends, ladies and gentlemen we will not meet again, ever. My father, a working man all his life, once said that perhaps if I opened a store, even a small store, I would no longer have my life subject to the crazy whim of this boss or that. Maybe he was right. Finally, with your good help, I opened three stores. The total cost, if you are interested, was twenty-one million dollars, more or less, and a shrewd investment, I don't mind saying. Culpepper Motors will add five times that sum to its profits over the next three months. And our three stores, I do believe, have accomplished a little something that wiser men have failed to do.
"That is all I have to say. Many of you may regret that no monuments will enshrine our work. I wish we could change that, but we can't. For myself, I feel that when a man's wealth reaches a certain point of large discomfort, he does better to remain out of the public's eye. So guard our secret -- not because you will be believed if you reveal it, but because you will be laughed at . . ."
As time passed, the question arose as to the disposition of the one thing of value left by the "space merchants" as they came to be called -- the solid gold letters. Finally, those from the Fifth Avenue shop were set in a glass display case at the United Nations. So visitors to the national museum of France or Japan -- or to the United Nations, have always before them to remind them, in letters of gold: