IT was early in October 1949 when I finished the reversal of our space-exploration plans. I spent the next two days running down a sighting report from a town in Pennsylvania. Like three or four other tips that had seemed important at first, it turned out to be a dud.
When I got back home, I found Ken Purdy had been trying to reach me. I phoned him at True, and he asked me to fly up to New York the next day.
"I've just heard there's another magazine working on the saucer story," he told me.
"Who is it?" I said.
"I don't know yet. It may be just a rumor, but we can't take a chance. We've got to get this in the January book."
That night I gathered up all the material. It looked hopeless to condense it into one article, and I knew that Purdy had even more investigators' reports waiting for me in New York. Flying up the next morning, I suddenly thought of a talk I'd had with an air transport official. It was in Washington; I had just told him about the investigation.
"If they are spacemen," he said, "they'd probably have a hard time figuring out this country by listening to our broadcasts. Imagine tuning in soap operas, 'The Lone Ranger,' and a couple of crime yarns, along with newscasts about strikes and murders and the cold war. They might pick up some of those kid programs about rocket ships. A few days of listening to that stuff--well, it would give them one hell of a picture."
Except for some hoax reports, this was the first funny suggestion I'd had about the spacemen. But now, thinking seriously about it, I realized he had an important point. It was possible that men from another planet might have to reorient even their way of thinking to understand the earth's ways. It would not be automatic, despite their superior technical progress. Evolution might have produced basic differences in their understanding of life. Humor, for instance, might be totally lacking in their make-up.
What would they be like?
I'd tried to imagine how they might look, without getting anywhere. Dr. H. Spencer Jones hadn't helped much with his Life on Other Worlds. I couldn't begin to visualize beings with totally different cells, perhaps able to take terrific heat or bitter cold as merely normal weather.
There were all kinds of possibilities. If they lived on Mars, for instance, perhaps they couldn't take the heavier gravity of the earth. They might be easily subject to our diseases, especially if they had destroyed disease germs on their planet--a natural step for an advanced race.
It was possible, I knew, that the spacemen might look grotesque to us. But I clung to a Stubborn feeling that they would resemble man. That came, of course, from an inborn feeling of man's superiority over all living things. It carried over into a feeling that any thinking, intelligent being, whether on Mars or Wolf 359's planets, should have evolved in the same form.
I gave up trying to imagine how the spacemen might look. There was simply nothing to go on. But there were strong indications of how they thought and reacted. Certain qualities were plainly evident.
Intelligence. No one could dispute that. It took a high order of mentality to construct and operate a space ship.
Courage. It would take brave men to face the hazards of space.
Curiosity. Without this quality, they would never have thought to explore far-distant planets.
There were other qualities that seemed almost equally certain. These spacemen apparently lacked belligerence; there had been no sign of hostility through all the years. They were seemingly painstaking and extremely methodical.
It was still not much of a picture. But somehow, it was encouraging.
Glancing down from the plane's window, I thought: How does this look to them? Our farms, our cities, the railroads there below; the highways, with the speeding cars and trucks; the winding river, and far off to the right, the broad stretch of the Atlantic.
What would they think of America?
Manhattan came into sight, as the pilot let down for the landing. An odd thought popped into my mind. How would a spaceman react if he saw a Broadway show?
Not long before, I had seen South Pacific. I could still hear Ezio Pinza's magnificent voice as he sang "Some Enchanted Evening."
Was music a part of spacemen's lives, or would it be something new and strange, perhaps completely distasteful?
They might live and think on a coldly intelligent level, without a touch of what we know as emotion. To them, our lives might seem meaningless and dull. We ourselves might appear grotesque in form.
But in their progress, there must have been struggle, trial and error, some feeling of triumph at success. Surely these would be emotional forces, bound to reflect in the planet races. Perhaps, in spite of some differences, we would find a common bond--the bond of thinking, intelligent creatures trying to better themselves.
The airliner landed and taxied in to unload.
As I went down the gangway I suddenly realized something. My last vague fear was gone.
It had not been a personal fear of the visitors from space. It had been a selfish fear of the impact on my life. I realized that now.
It might be a long time before they would try to make contact. But I had a conviction that when it came, it would be a peaceful mission, not an ultimatum. It could even be the means of ending wars on earth.
But I had been conditioned to this thing. I had had six months of preparation, six months to go from complete skepticism to slow, final acceptance.
What if it had been thrown at me in black headlines?
Even a peaceful contact by beings from another planet would profoundly affect the world. The story in True might play an important part in that final effect. Carefully done, it could help prepare Americans for the official disclosure.
But if it weren't done right, we might be opening a Pandora's box.