The Conference

Issue 4/1978 | Archives online, Fiction, Prose

A short story from Alamaisen kyyneleet (‘Tears of an underdog’, Karisto 1970). Introduction by Pekka Tarkka

Dr Smith said that he did not believe that any immediate threat of an invasion from Space was likely to arise for some time. Observations to date had given no support to the view that any such preparations had been put in hand. Technically they were of course ahead of us, but in his opinion there was no cause for panic. Nor could he endorse the widespread but naive assumption that any confrontation with beings from Space must inevitably lead to war. If human beings had reason to feel threatened, it was from each other that the chief threat came. He urged the Conference to work for a situation in which every country would be preparing for peace rather than for war. He said he had no wish to sound sardonic, but that he had noticed that when war was prepared for, it was usually war that ensued.

Dr Smith pointed out that in the course of their reconnaissance missions the Spatials had behaved with the utmost discretion and had avoided any kind of aggressive behaviour towards human beings. Much had been said about the Barcelona incident, in which the driver of a car was killed, but in Dr Smith’s opinion this was a case of simple self-defence, and any pilot in such an emergency might have acted in the same way. The driver had approached the unknown aviator in a threatening manner, pointing a weapon at him and ordering him to put up his hands. The fate of the three hikers captured near Dublin was, he agreed, a different matter, but he felt sure this incident could be explained as an operation motivated by scientific curiosity. There was no evidence that the humans concerned were subjected to torture or to any other kind of personal indignity. According to eye-witness accounts they were simply led into the spacecraft, which then took off. The impression Dr Smith had gained from these reports was that, far from being kidnapped, the hikers had accompanied the visitors voluntarily. One of them was said to have laughed and waved his hand. Viewed in the light of the present situation on Earth, this hiker’s behaviour struck him as not at all unreasonable, and might well have been intended as a deliberate gesture. It was natural that the Spatials should have an interest in the study of human physiology and behaviour. This aspect of the question was one to which he hoped particular attention would be paid by the distinguished members of the present Conference.

A delegate from the United States said that he could not associate himself with the views expressed by the previous speaker. The creation of a mood of false confidence, he felt, was something that could best be left to the newspapers: governments would do better to pay attention to the dangerous security situation into which they appeared to have drifted. The likelihood of an armed invasion was borne out by the frequency with which sightings had occurred in the vicinity of research stations and military installations. “Our good friend Dr Smith,” he added, “must surely be aware of these sightings. Information collated in Western countries alone shows that the Spatials are aware of every one of our projects, however marginal in importance. The atomic submarine Tornado, which disappeared during the Pacific manoeuvres last year, was literally snatched from under our very noses. I would like to inform Dr Smith that many of the military experts attending this conference would welcome the return of that submarine. Perhaps Dr Smith could make the necessary arrangements? And it is no good saying that the disappearance of our most valuable nuclear submarine is not an established fact: several admirals of the U.S. Navy and a large number of other naval officers are witnesses to the fact that the submarine, while actually taking part in an exercise, was lifted bodily from the water and conveyed into an immense flying ship, which then vanished. I have no wish to pour scorn on Dr Smith’s innocent optimism, and I am perfectly ready to agree that this provocative action against the United States be described as motivated by scientific interest: I only wish I could feel as happy about this as he does.”

To this Dr Smith replied that he had no wish to deny that the events reported had actually happened. But he did wish members of the Conference to appreciate the possibility that the Spatials might be interested in our technological products merely as quaint curiosities. This seemed to be borne out by the fact that they had not destroyed them but had set out to obtain a representative specimen. In this they appeared to have succeeded.

A general from the U.S.S.R. said that perhaps he had failed to appreciate an ironical intention behind the remarks of Dr Smith. He asked whether Dr Smith was the representative of any particular government. Dr Smith replied that he was not. The general asked him whom, in that case, he did think he was representing; was it perhaps the Spatials themselves? Dr Smith stated that he was attending the Conference at the invitation of the organizers, as an independent expert. The Spatials hardly needed a defence counsel at the present Conference, he added; if anything, the boot was on the other foot.

Turning to the organizers, the general proposed that Dr Smith’s expert opinion be now taken as heard, and discussion be resumed on the basis of military questions. He said that it might have been more helpful to the work of the Conference if Dr Smith’s report had dealt with matters more relevant to the realities of the situation. Dr Smith having left the hall, the general expressed his regret at the losses suffered by the United States, and said that the Soviet Union had known about these. He said he considered it significant that the interest of the Spatials now seemed to be so firmly concentrated on military activities. We should perhaps start from the assumption that our existing inventions are known to them, and that there is not much chance of our concealing any from them in the future. He thought it a pity that in estimating the balance of military power we had so little to go by. A number of metal objects had been picked up, but the study of these had been held up by the unfamiliarity of the material: in the almost complete absence of any known point of reference, analysis had proved difficult. But this, said the general, was still only one side of the question. Once people began to question whether there was any point in continuing defence preparations, the war would be as good as lost. Looking back over the debate so far, he could say that the Soviet Union, at any rate, had made its position plain. He referred to the similar stand taken by the U.S. government, and hoped that other governments would follow suit. What was at stake was the fate of the entire human race.

A speaker from the floor suggested that it might be worth while considering for what ultimate purpose the conquest of Earth might be regarded by the Spatials as necessary. He said that this question should not be thought of simply in terms of traditional strategic objectives. If he might himself put forward a suggestion, was it not possible that there might be a nutritional aspect? If it were established that Earth had anything to offer the Spatials in that respect, then an armed invasion might well be a possibility.

A biologist from Kenya expressed doubts as to whether, the Earth’s own nutritional situation being what it is, the Spatials would content themselves with the limited advantages to be gained from an occupation per se. The results would certainly not justify the sacrifices involved in the operation. If the Spatials’ objective was purely and simply to improve their own food supply, he saw little hope that the Earth’s original inhabitants would be capable of surviving. It was of course possible that the organic products of the Earth could be adapted to the nutritional requirements of spatial beings, but it was equally possible that their principal interest would be focussed on the human species itself. He warned his hearers, however, not to infer from these remarks that he was himself in any sense advocating the utilization of Man as a source of nutriment for the Spatials.

The Belgian delegate said that the view just propounded was an interesting one, and might well prove to be correct. He suggested that it might be worthwhile to consider to what extent Man could be put to use by the Spatials as a source of food, for example by intensive stock improvement and processing. We would then know what advantages they might hope to gain. He said that it would be unwise to predict such a development, but that if it did become inevitable it would be as well to have made some preparations in advance. A certain repugnance might be felt for the idea of such a system, but this should not prevent us from discussing the problem on a theoretical level. Personally he believed that very high production figures could be achieved. This would involve maintaining the greater part of mankind in zoos, utilizing the Earth’s own food resources for the purpose. In this way a considerable increase in the human population could be guaranteed. He reckoned that by strict and equal rationing, under carefully regulated conditions, it would be possible to breed for production purposes some 16–18 billion individuals – a figure not far short of the kind of target that might be expected to interest the Spatials. Under the existing system, said the Belgian delegate, the rationing of food was carried out very unevenly, a fact which had given rise to criticism in some quarters.

The Norwegian delegate asked whether the turn now taken by the debate meant that the Conference was abandoning the discussion of possible military solutions, and was going to concentrate on the type of solution now put forward. He said that he had no authority from his government to take part in any discussion of that kind. If he had rightly understood the proposal, it involved an unconditional surrender on the part of the human race.

A U.S. delegate replied that the two problems should not be regarded as separate: both formed part of the overall military picture. By analyzing the probable aims of the Spatials, one could also determine what problems would have to be faced in the event of the failure of military measures. It was not necessary to think purely in terms of a surrender: to put it more tactfully, some kind of compromise might well be possible.

The next speaker was a Swiss expert, who said that as a scientist he was naturally not qualified to give any opinion on the military side of the question, but that he felt that speakers so far had been tending to take it for granted that human meat possessed a higher nutritional value than animal meat. This, of course, was largely a matter of taste, and the question could perhaps be left aside for the moment. It was, however, undoubtedly true that human beings were very much more suitable than animals for breeding in large quantities. In his view, that part of the human race possessing a higher level of intellect could be trained as keepers and put in charge of the human beings earmarked for purposes of meat production. In this way the need for occupation forces would be greatly reduced, and more attention could be paid to animal breeding. There was no reason to suppose, he pointed out, that the breeding of animals could not be carried on side by side with that of humans. These were purely practical considerations, he said in conclusion.

A French delegate stated that in the case of human beings a considerable degree of stock improvement could certainly be effected: the average per capita carcass weight could be increased and the quality of the meat improved to suit requirements. Such calculations might sound somewhat macabre, but these were after all simple biological facts. He thought that the human beings trained as keepers might also be made responsible for quality control and grading, while their specialized knowledge of conditions on Earth would enable them to act as expert advisers. He thought there were excellent chances for co-operation along these lines. On the ethical side of the question he preferred not to commit himself to an opinion, as this was clearly a matter on which a specialist should be consulted.

A delegate rose to point out that no consideration had yet been given to the fact that the distribution and storage of human carcasses in such massive quantities might involve considerable problems. He said that while he believed production on an industrial scale to be perfectly feasible under earthly conditions, the possibility of interplanetary marketing was still a matter of pure speculation. The conversion of Earth into a kind of food repository for the use of Space would still, in his opinion, depend upon the solution of a number of detailed problems, although, of course, this was not to say that such solutions would not be found.

A professor from West Germany said that although he had not originally intended to speak in the debate, he was now moved to do so because, in his opinion, an offer on the part of responsible representatives of the Earth to organize and co-ordinate a meat supply would be just the kind of voluntary gesture that would most probably be expected of them by the occupying power. The creation of a supervisory body for this purpose seemed to him an excellent idea. He believed that the Spatials would be anxious to keep down the cost of meat production, while at the same time avoiding too great a commitment of personnel to duties on this planet. The professor considered that in the event of an invasion it would be important for the Spatials to know whether there were people on the Earth capable of directing operations and developing production. He did not wish to seem ultra-patriotic, but perhaps his own country could claim to offer a certain amount of useful experience in this connection. He proposed the immediate establishment of a high-level Commission, which could carry out the necessary preliminary arrangements and prepare the ground for contacts with the Spatials. He would leave open the question as to what detailed arrangements would be involved, but he certainly considered that the preliminary steps should be taken as a matter of urgency.

Translated by David Barrett

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