…And With You
To be clear, the Treens weren’t my first alien race. The Thaldossians were impressive in their own way, strong, but not particularly focused. The Grivvs were techy but too timid to be all that interesting. But what I admired about the Treens was their balance of enthusiasm and patience. They could have dominated me, belittled me, refused to speak to me. But they didn’t. Instead, they took me in, showed me their world, and stayed friendly with me the whole time. It surprised me, and I would argue that it was that surprise that kept me from putting things together more quickly. Like when they said that my syntax was so much smoother than they’d expected. I thought of it as being a pleasant but generic compliment. Now, as I look down at the little plastic figurine, it makes sense. All of their accomplishments coming from the phrases are rooted in that hunk of plastic.
“Accomplishment is to be accomplished, not attempted,” for instance. That small phrase led to them refusing to be hampered by the laws of physics. Instead of giving up, they pressed on and found ways to rethink chemistry and physics, believing that they were destined to overcome those limitations. Soon they found clean sources of energy. I marvelled at their systems of both transportation and manufacturing, so different from ours on Earth. And providing for every Treen on the planet.
I remember one of their scientists showing me around one of the factories, proud but not bragging. His desire to share with me came out of their favorite Earth figure’s teaching that passing on their knowledge was both necessary and good. Not just some “sharing means caring” thing but more that knowledge was not to be owned. It was to be passed on, but responsibly. And so the scientist showed me plenty. “Here is the engine that converts an atom’s motion to a particular kind of heat. That heat then powers the next frame of the engine.”
I have to admit that I understood none of it. But that wasn’t the point anyway. No more than the Thaldossians showing me how to throw a javelin was helping me to handle the weapon. This was more about sussing out who was a bigger threat to whom. That was my perspective, anyway. Theirs was that the main point of our interactions was to show what was possible. That I could bring such a technology back to Earth to make sure that we could enjoy the fruits of their labors. It was not bragging so much as sharing. “Do you have a factory that makes weapons?” I asked.
He stared at me for a time. Then he asked what weapons were. Stop to think about that for a minute. Once I’d explained it, the alien had to stop and think. “We have broad but intense force shields that would destroy things coming towards us. Large rocks, falling icicles, that sort of thing.”
“Fields?” I asked.
“Why would a field be falling?”
I tried to explain that we called such things force fields, but we got hung up on the fact that, despite having the term, we on Earth did not have actual force fields, just in our fiction. We also got diverted by my use of the word “force,” which the alien associated with another line of discussion. Instead of indulging him, I asked to see a bit more of the factory.
I should admit, too, that I expected this to be a world that only seemed idyllic at first, but which actually had a dark, horrible secret that proved its leaders to be brutal and corrupt. The Treen’s world was not that. It turned out to be truly idyllic. They made a point of ensuring that all had enough to eat, thereby eliminating the anger and fear that can come from not having food. They regarded anger and fear as major sources of evil, based upon the teachings of the one figure from Earth with which they were familiar. You’ll think, maybe, that this figure was Jesus. Someone who believed in forgiveness and kindness over fear and brutality. Perhaps they would have loved Jesus if that’s who they’d seen first.
Let me tell you about another part of their world that might make clearer the nature of my dilemma. At one point (this was before the “force field” discussion), I asked my guide if they didn’t worry about what could happen with their showing me everything. I asked if they worried that my knowledge of their technology and philosophy might be turned against them. I asked if they were worried that I might use what they were sharing against them at some later date. Reader, my guide heard what I said, he comprehended, and you might be astounded by his response. Rather than expelling me from their world or putting me in chains, my guide smiled at me. He smiled, and then he hugged me. After stepping away from the hug, he took me by the arm and led me to something like a retirement home in our world. But not a profit-driven institution. This wasn’t something that would look to bilk families out of money in order to line the pockets of the owners. It was beautiful. Every elderly person had multiple attendants. They treated these elderly, these infirm, with respect, with dignity. They listened to stories. They brought water and food. They showed genuine care. After all, if such limits like energy and the ability to perform basic tasks were taken care of by machines, then why not devote one’s time to caring and providing comfort? I observed this institution, and I was both saddened and encouraged. Saddened at my planet’s behavior, but encouraged that there was another path.
As tears came to my eyes, my guide leaned towards me. He said, “Death cannot be fought, nor should it, for death is natural. But how we treat the dying can be controlled. The first part is from one of your teachers. The conclusion is what we built from his wisdom.”
I confessed that I wasn’t fully sure of what teacher he spoke of. I explained that it could have been a number of our teachers (in my panic, I claimed that it could have been Jesus, Buddha, or even Tony Robbins). My guide shrugged and took me directly to their records of my world’s greatest thinker along with the idol that represented that thinker.
It is at this point that you’ll come to understand my dilemma. Appropriately, the dilemma could be simply stated by their idol. Do I try to correct them? No. I do not try. I do or do not. There is no sense in trying. I looked down at the small, green, plastic figure that they turned to for wisdom. And you must know who it is by now. So this is the question. If I tell them that yoda is a fictional character, and one that we see as quotable, but also funny, not as a major spiritual figure, then do I undo all the goodness and stability that he inspired? It’s possible that Yoda’s fictional status would be immaterial. But if I refuse to let them know, then do I make fragile their accomplishments? Am I simply allowing another human down the line to destroy it all? It seems like the person who did could be the worst type of person.
When I give the little figurine back to my guide, I see the guide looking at me, wanting to see the awe in my eyes at seeing this tiny idol who has inspired so much goodness in their world. And I have to figure out what to say. I can’t bring myself to destroy it. So, instead, I say, “This is terrific. I think I even recognize it from our world,” but I can feel what’s coming.
“This is from your world?” my guide says.
I think carefully about this. I’ve come to assume that they all know that I’m from an inferior planet. How can they not, given their advances? So, instead, I say, “We have seen him on our planet, but I don’t think it’s true to say that he is of our planet.” I see that this is fair, given Yoda’s mythology.
“Ah,” my guide says, “and did your world learn as much from him as our world has?”
I start to answer, but a lump comes to my throat, so I smile for a moment. I sigh, releasing some of the rage and sadness. “No,” I say. “Unfortunately, we saw the image, but we didn’t fully understand the ideas. Maybe something got lost in the way that we translated his teachings.”
For the first time since I’ve arrived on the planet, I see one of my guides look sad. They reach out and touch my shoulder. There’s a warmth in both the gesture and the contact. My guide tilts their head to the side. “Perhaps there’s still time.”
I tell the guide, “Thank you,” and “I hope so,” though I know by now that there is not. I know both what could have been and what I’ll return to. I feel a deep sadness, and I turn back to him. “Sir, I appreciate your help. I know that you have kind hearts, but I urge you to stay away from us. To not get infected by whatever we have.”
My guide touches my shoulder. He smiles. “We can’t stay away from you. This force, it flows through all things. We are one.”
I smile and nod. And I feel a darkness that terrifies me. Before my guide says it, I can hear him saying, “May the force be with you”.
About the Author: Zeke Jarvis is a Professor of English at Eureka College. His work has appeared in Bitter Oleander, Moon City Review, and KNOCK, among other places. His books include So Anyway…, Lifelong Learning, and In A Family Way.