Shad: ABC Is For
Artificial Beings Crimes
Inhabitants of earth from seventy million years ago return to claim their planet. When they arrive they discover a new race has evolved---a race that considers the planet theirs. They issue an invitation to this newly evolved race to put forward one of its number to be its representative.
Air Force PR officer Capt. Carl Baxter was late getting to the air base
that morning because he couldn't find his sox. . . .
by Barry B. Longyear
. . . "Gentlemen, what I do not understand is how I drew the black marble on this one. It's been seven or eight years since I flew anything even resembling the Python."
An unnamed colonel seated next to the Secretary of the Air Force leaned forward. "Captain, you are familiar with the XK-17 Python, are you not?"
Baxter shrugged and shook his head. "Only for publicity purposes. I never flew it, or even checked out in it. The things I know are things people want to know, like cost figures, performance, why the thing's way over budget---"
"And all your tickets are up to date?"
Baxter held out his hands, then dropped them. "Yes."
"And you are in top physical shape?"
Baxter nodded again. "But, Colonel---"
The Colonel held up a hand. "Captain, you will be surprised how fast we can check you out in the XK-17."
Baxter was startled by the loudness of his own voice. He began again, more quietly. "Colonel, there must be at least five fully qualified pilots I can name who are checked out on the Python, and who are on the base right now."
General Stayer gave a curt wave of his hand at the Colonel. "Let's cut through the crap, Legget." The General leaned forward and fixed Baxter with his gaze.
"Baxter, you're it. None of those pilots are trained in public relations. You are."
"What about whatsisface? The astronaut in the Senate?"
Stayer shook his head. "He's too old, his tickets aren't up to date, and we can't locate him. He's somewhere in Canada right now, fishing."
The General leaned forward and pointed a finger at Baxter's throat. "You are the closest thing to a flying diplomat that we can get off the ground within the next twenty-four hours, because the Python is the only vehicle ready to go right now."
The Secretary of Defense moved his head a fraction of an inch, signaling his desire to speak. "If I may, General?"
Of course, Mr. Secretary."
The Secretary, a moussed glory in eight-hundred dollar pinstripes, let his gaze wander around the room as he talked. "Captain Baxter, I realize you are being asked to perform a difficult task, but we have little choice. The aliens---" he waved a hand up in the air "---or whatever they are, broadcast their message in just about every known human language. In other words, their invitation was extended to anyone who has a radio receiver and can make it up there."
The Secretary rubbed his chin as he studied the blue carpet on the concrete floor. "The Russians, of course, will get there, but," he held up a finger, "it will take them at least three days to get off the ground. Is any of this getting through to you?"
Baxter folded his hands over his belly and nodded. "Yes, Mr. Secretary."
The Secretary nodded. "Good. While you are there, you will be in constant touch with the Department of State, and with the White House. There will always be someone with whom you can consult on any matter."
Baxter nodded and smiled. "This is what I mean, Mr. Secretary. If all I'm supposed to do is carry a radio for the State Department, why not use another---qualified---pilot? I don't see what particular use my training in public relations will be."
The Secretary nodded. "I've been in politics a lot of years, Captain. You must know the value in eyeball-to-eyeball negotiations. When you deal with reluctant groups and unpredictable conunittees on behalf of the Air Force, do you telephone or appear in person?"
Baxter nodded, noting the chains being locked in place. "And what am I supposed to attempt to accomplish?"
"Mr. Secretary, the only purpose of public relations, or diplomacy for that matter, is to get people to do things that they would normally not do. If everyone did just what we wanted as a matter of course, there would be no need for PR types or diplomats. Now, just what is it that I am supposed to get them to do?"
The Secretary's eyebrows went up as he smiled. "You have me, Captain."
"I don't know what you are supposed to get them to do."
"You don't know?"
"Captain, if these beings are what they say they are---inhabitants of Earth from seventy million years ago---it is possible that they are thinking of reclaiming the planet for themselves. In such a case, discourage them."
The Secretary raised his eyebrows and clasped his hands. "However, they may be from another solar system and bent on conquering Earth. Then, perhaps, in either case, it may prove beneficial to have them on our side. They are obviously more advanced. But, then again, it might be better to sic them on the Russians."
He raised his eyebrows and held out his hands. "I simply don't know."
The Secretary dropped his hands into his lap. "All I can say, Baxter, is look out for the interests of your country, and the interests of your planet and the human race, while you're at it.". . .
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