The Galactic Ghost by Mack Reynolds

Gracefully, quietly, it came … landing on a
deserted New Jersey field. Wonder and fear struck
at the bowels of the Earth-people—not because of
the ship itself, but because of its strange message.

[Transcriber’s Note: This etext was produced from
Planet Stories March 1954.
Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]

Despite the widely publicized radar posts encircling our nation and the continuously alerted jet squadrons at its borders, the space ship was about to land before it was detected.

It settled gracefully, quietly, onto an empty field in northern New Jersey. And so unexpected was the event, so unbelievable the fact that man was being visited by aliens from space, that it was a full half hour before the first extra was on the streets in New York, and forty minutes before the news buzzed through the Kremlin.

It might have taken considerably longer for man in earth’s more isolated areas to hear of the event had not the alien taken a hand at this point. Approximately an hour after the landing, into the mind of every human on earth, irrespective of nation, language, age, or intellect, came the thought telepathically:

We come in peace. Prepare to receive our message.

It was a month before the message came.

During that period, more than ninety-nine per cent of the earth’s population became aware of the visitor from space. Radio, television, newsreel, telegraph and newspapers reached the greater number; but word of mouth and even throbbing drums, played their part. In four weeks, savages along the Amazon and shepherds in Sinkiang knew that visitors from the stars had arrived with a message for man.

And all awaited the message: scientist and soldier, politician and revolutionist, millionaire and vagrant, bishop and whirling dervish, banker and pickpocket, society matron and street walker. And each was hoping for one thing, and afraid he’d hear another.

All efforts at communication with the alien ship had failed. The various welcoming delegations from the State of New Jersey, from the United States, and even from the United Nations, were ignored. No sign of life aboard was evident, and there seemed no means of entrance to the spacecraft. It sat there impassively; its tremendous, saucer-like shape seemed almost like a beautiful monument.

At the end of a month, when world-wide interest in the visitor from space was at its height, the message came. And once again it was impressed upon the mind of every human being on earth:

Man, know this: Your world is fated to complete destruction. Ordinarily, we of the Galactic Union would not have contacted man until he had progressed much further and was ready to take his place among us. But this emergency makes necessary that we take immediate steps if your kind is to be saved from complete obliteration.

In order to preserve your race, we are making efforts to prepare another planet, an uninhabited one, to receive your colonists. Unfortunately, our means for transporting you to your new world are limited; only a handful can be taken. You are safe for another five of your earth years. At the end of that period we will return. Have a thousand of your people ready for their escape.

The President of the United States lifted an eyebrow wearily and rapped again for order.

“Gentlemen, please!… Let us get back to the fundamental question. Summed up, it amounts to this: only one thousand persons, out of a world population of approximately two billions, are going to be able to escape the earth’s destruction. In other words, one out of every two million. It is going to be most difficult to choose.”

Herr Ernst Oberfeld tapped his glasses fretfully on the conference table. “Mr. President, it need not be quite as bad as all that. After all, we must choose the earth’s best specimens to carry on our race. I believe we will find that the combined populations of Europe and North America total somewhat less than a billion. If we go still further and eliminate all inferior….”

Monsieur Pierre Duclos flushed. “Herr Oberfeld should keep in mind that his presence at this meeting at all was opposed vigorously by some of the delegates. Isn’t it somewhat too soon after his country’s debacle to again broadcast its super-race theories?”

The British representative spoke up. “My dear Duclos, although I agree with you completely in essence, still it must be pointed out that if we were to handle this allocation on a strictly numerical basis, that our Chinese friends would be alloted something like 200 colonists, while Great Britain would have perhaps twenty.”

Maxim Gregoroff grunted, “Hardly enough for the Royal family, eh?”

Lord Harriman was on his feet. “Sir, I might echo what Monsieur Duclos has said to Herr Oberfeld. It was in spite of the protest from a considerable number of delegates to this conference that your nation is represented at all.”

Gregoroff’s fist thumped on the table and his face went beet red. “It is as expected! You plan to monopolize the escape ship for the imperialistic nations! The atom bomb will probably be used to destroy all other countries!”

The President of the United States held up his hand. This whole thing was getting more chaotic by the minute. As a matter of fact, instructions from Congress were that he explain that the United States expected to have at least one third of the total. This, in view of the fact that the aliens had landed in New Jersey, obviously seeing that the United States was the foremost nation of the world, and, further, in view of the fact that this country was a melting pot of all nations and consequently produced what might be called the “average” member of the human race.

However, that would have to wait. Order had to be brought to this conference if anything was to be accomplished.

“Gentlemen, gentlemen, please!” he called. “These accusations. We are getting nowhere. I have taken the liberty to make arrangements to have the representative of the newly formed Congress of American Sciences address you. Are you agreeable?” He raised his eyebrows inquiringly, and meeting no objection, pressed the button on the table before him.

Professor Manklethorp was ushered in, bobbed his head to the assembled delegates and came to the point immediately. “The problem which you are discussing has many ramifications. I would like to bring to your attention a few which should be examined with care.

“First, the choice of colonists must not be on a national basis, nor on one based upon political or monetary prominence. If it is, we, as a race, are doomed. This new planet, no matter how well prepared for us by the Galactic Union, is going to be a challenge such as man has never faced before. This challenge cannot be met by politicians, no matter how glib, nor by wealthy men, no matter how many dollars they possess, nor by titled ones, no matter how old and honored their names. We must pick trained specialists who will be able to meet the problems that arise in the new world.

“Our congress recommends that all persons, of all nations, who have college degrees, be given thorough tests both for I.Q. and for accumulated knowledge, and that the highest thousand be chosen irrespective of nation or race.”

Pandit Hari Kuanai smiled quietly. “May I ask the learned professor a question?”

“Of course. That is why I am here. We want only to have this matter decided on a strictly scientific basis.”

“My poverty stricken country has a population of possibly one fifth of the world total, but fewer university men than one of your large cities might boast. Your desire to choose men by their I.Q. has its merits, but I have no doubt that in my country we have men of tremendous intelligence who cannot even read or write, aside from having a university degree. Must my widely illiterate people go unrepresented in the new world?”

A muscle twitched in the professor’s face. “Needless to say, the Congress of American Sciences has considered that. However, we must view this matter in a spirit of sacrifice. The best of the world’s population must go to the new world. Possibly whole nations will go without representation. It is too bad … but, unfortunately, necessary.”

Sven Carlesen put up his finger for recognition. “It seems to me there is another serious loophole in the professor’s recommendation. He wants the thousand to be made up of university graduates of high I.Q. and considerable accumulated knowledge. I am afraid I foresee the new world being populated with elderly scholars.” He smiled. “Like the professor himself, who, I understand, has a phenomenal I.Q.”

Monsieur Duclos nodded. “He is right. We must consider the need to send perfect physical specimens.” He looked down at his own small and bent body. “Gentlemen,” he said wryly, “has it occurred to you that none of us here at this conference are suitable to be represented among the thousand?”

They ignored him.

A pale faced delegate in black, who had thus far said nothing, spoke up softly, “I have been instructed to inform you that our organization demands that all of the colonists be of the true faith.”

His words were drowned by the shouting of half a dozen of the conference delegates. Loud above them all could be heard the bellow of Maxim Gregoroff.

“Our Union now includes the population of approximately half the world. Our allotment, consequently, will be five hundred colonists, of the one thousand. We will choose them by our own methods.”

Lord Harriman murmured, “Undoubtedly, by starting at the top of the party membership list and taking the first five hundred names beginning with your leader.”

The President of the United States ran his hand through his hair and then roughly down the side of his face. A messenger handed him a slip of paper. He read it and intensified his pounding on the table.

“Gentlemen,” he shouted. “If Professor Manklethorp is through, we have here a request from the International Physical Culture Society to have their representative heard.”

“I know,” Sven Carlesen said. “He wants all of the colonists to be able to chin themselves twenty-five times as the first requisite.”

At the end of the five year period the space ship came again, settling into the identical field where it had first landed. This time a delegation awaited it, and a multitude that stretched as far as the eye could see.

A telepathic message came from the visitor from space almost immediately.

Choose from your number three representatives to discuss the situation with us.

Within ten minutes, three advanced and entered the ship by way of a port that opened before them as they approached. Among their number was Pierre Duclos. A passage stretched before them, and, seeing no one, they hesitated a moment before following it to its further end. Monsieur Duclos led the way, depending only slightly on his cane to aid his bent body.

A door opened and they were confronted by the figure of a man seated at a desk. It was several moments before they realized that the entity before them was masked so cleverly that they had been led to believe him human.

He said in faultless English, “I note that you have penetrated my disguise. I thought it would be easier for you if I hid my true appearance. Until your people are used to alien life forms, I must use this measure.”

Monsieur Duclos bowed. “We appreciate your consideration, but I assure you that our….”

The alien waved a gloved hand. “Please, no argument. My appearance would probably nauseate you. But it is of no importance. Pray be seated.” He noted the cane, and nodded to the little Frenchman. “You sir, must be highly thought of to rate being chosen one of the thousand in view of your age and health.”

Although he was not at ease in the presence of the representative of the Galactic Union, Monsieur Duclos allowed himself a wry smile. “You misunderstand. I am not one of the colonists. My presence here at this meeting is an honor that has been awarded me in return for some small services in aiding in the selection of the favored ones.”

“And what were these services?”

“Of no real importance. I suppose you might say that the most important was that I was the first to refuse to be a colonist.”

Bently, one of the other earthmen spoke up, “Had it not been for Pierre Duclos, it is doubtful if the thousand would have been chosen, and even possible that there would be no earth to which to return for your colonists.”

Behind the mask the eyes of the alien gleamed. “Enlighten me further, please.”

Duclos demurred. “You honor me over-much, Mr. Bently. Let us approach the problem of the colonists and their transportation.”

But John Bently went on. “For more than two years after your ship’s departure, complete confusion reigned in regard to selection of the thousand. Happily, all out warfare between nations had been avoided although conditions were rapidly coming to a point where it was momentarily expected.

“Each race, each nation, each religion, even each sex, thought they should have the greater representation. And each of these groups in turn were divided into sub-groups by wealth, age, class, education and others. Almost everyone on earth knew of some reason why he should be one of the colonists. And most of us were willing to take any steps to make our desire come true.”

The alien said, “That was to be expected. And then?”

“And then Pierre Duclos formed his Society of Racial Preservation whose first requisite for membership was a refusal to become one of the colonists. The purpose of the organization was to find the thousand most suitable colonists without regard to race, nationality, creed, color, education, class, wealth or any other grouping.

“At first, the growth of membership was slow, but, after a time, man saw that his chance of survival as an individual was practically nil, that his chance of being chosen was at best less than one in two million. When he realized this, his next desire was to make sure that, even though he as an individual was doomed, the race survived. Membership in the society grew rapidly and internationally. The members, you might say, were fanatical. Why not? They knew that they had less than five years to live. Why not sacrifice those last years of life to such a noble cause?

“As the society grew in strength, nothing could stand before it. Governments that stood in the way were overthrown, social systems abolished, prejudices and institutions that had stood for centuries were wiped out. It became necessary to institute world government, to guarantee to all equal opportunity. Step by step, the society took the measures necessary to insure the selection of the best specimens earth had to offer.

“And scientific development was pushed to the utmost. We wished to send our colonists off with as much as earth could possibly give them. We eliminated a dozen diseases that have plagued us for centuries; we devised a thousand new tools and techniques.”

“In short,” said the alien, “because of this stimulus, man has progressed as much in this past few years as he could have expected in the next fifty.”

“That is correct,” Pierre Duclos said. “It is unfortunate that now we have on our threshold a world really worth living in, that it is fated to be destroyed.”

“I see,” said the alien, what would have been a smile on a human face flickered on his. “I am glad to report that the danger which confronted the earth has been removed and the need to populate the new planet with colonists in order to preserve your race is now eliminated.

“Gentlemen, the earth is safe. Man may go on with his plans without fear of destruction.”

Monsieur Duclos fingered his cane thoughtfully while the other two earthmen jumped to their feet, thumped each other’s backs, shouted, and otherwise demonstrated their joy. They finally dashed from the room and from the space craft to give the news to the world.

The alien eyed the little Frenchman. “And why have you remained?”

“I do not believe the world was faced with destruction, monsieur. I have come to the conclusion that you have perpetrated a farce upon mankind.”

The alien sat himself down at the desk again. “I see you will need an explanation. But you are wrong, you know. Faced with destruction you were. The destruction, however, was not a matter of collision with some other body, or whatever you might have imagined. The destruction would have come from within. Man was on the verge of destroying himself. One more conflict, or, at most, two, would have done it.

“The Galactic Union has long been aware of man who has developed mechanically in a phenomenal manner but has not been able to develop socially to the point where his science is less than a danger. This ship was sent to you in hopes of accomplishing exactly what has been accomplished. We believed your racial instinct would be strong enough to unite you when the race as a whole thought it was threatened with extinction.”

The alien got to his feet. “I am afraid we must leave now. Let me say that I hope that man will soon be able to take his place in the Galactic Union.”

Monsieur Duclos winced. “The Galactic Union,” he said. “The League of Nations and the United Nations were bad enough.” He smiled wryly. “And I thought that with the establishment of a world government, we had abolished such conferences forever. I can just see myself as the first delegate from earth. Heaven forbid!”