To Walter Willis whose example some forty years ago, and on many occasions since, made a young fan artist realize that words can say more than pictures
THE building was a white cube twenty stories high with a broad flight of white stairs leading up to the quietly impressive entrance on the second floor. From past experience Martin knew that the stairs retained their perfect whiteness no matter how many hundreds of people climbed them and that the sign above the entrance, which read FEDERATION OF GALACTIC SENTIENTS EXAMINATION AND INDUCTION CENTER, projected the same message regardless of the language or degree of literacy of the person viewing it.
He had not had the opportunity of speaking to a blind candidate for Galactic citizenship, but presumably he or she would have received the message in some other fashion.
As he began to climb, Martin saw that there were just three other people on the stairs-a young couple, working students judging by their age and dress, and an old man who was obviously much too frail to work. The oldster’s face had the anxious, stubborn look of one whose life on Earth had become untenable for a variety of reasons which forced him to try for something better, or at least different. The young couple climbed briskly and confidently, as if they knew what to expect at the top. Like Martin they had probably been here before and had had second thoughts. Unlike Martin they now seemed to have made up their minds.
Not wishing to get into a discussion with any of them, Martin held back to allow the others to precede him.
Going through that entrance was still a shock, he thought, and always would be no matter how often he did it. There was no physical sensation, just the shattering realization that one had arrived in the center of an enormous reception area with a transparent roof, and that it was not on the second floor but the twentieth. Like the perpetually white stairs and the omnilingual signs, instantaneous matter transmission was just another piece of technological intimidation aimed at making the backward Earth people more amenable.
The reception area was carpeted and furnished in warm, relaxing shades of gold and green and brown, and covered with random groupings of chairs and reading desks. All but a few of the chairs were empty, and the desks were heaped with Federation literature. Three of the distant walls were covered by large pictures, each of which showed a stylized, almost heraldic, representation of one of the member races of the Federation of Galactic Sentients. There were close to two hundred of the pictures ranged around the three walls and, so far as Martin could see, none of them was duplicated.
Along the wall facing him, like a row of unmanned reservation desks at an air terminal, were the examination computers.
By the time he reached them the old man had been passed through, and he could hear the young couple talking quietly to the visual display unit of the examiner. But they were several desks away and Martin could not tell whether they were asking or answering questions. Then suddenly they lifted their hands from the top surface of the unit and moved around the desk to disappear through one of the two doors beyond it, the door bearing the symbol which appeared on all of the Federation’s literature and equipment. He had been watching the successful candidates so closely that he walked into the outer edge of another desk.
The display unit lit up, and the words which appeared on it shone white against a field of deep green.
GOOD AFTERNOON, SIR. PLACE ONE HAND ON THE UPPER SURFACE OF THIS UNIT AND STATE YOUR REASONS FOR WISHING TO BECOME A CITIZEN OF THE FEDERATION OF GALACTIC SENTIENTS. PLEASE RELAX AND TAKE ALL THE TIME YOU REQUIRE.
Martin looked at the examiner, at the large, smooth cube whose only features were its display screen and the ever-present Federation symbol centered on top, and kept his hands by his sides.
He said, “I have studied the brochure and have asked questions not covered by it on two previous occasions. I do not want to waste your tune.”
THANK YOU. SIR. PLEASE PASS THROUGH ON THE RIGHT AND USE THE UNMARKED DOOR.
For a moment he thought about passing on the left and going through the other door, the one bearing the symbol of a black diamond with rounded sides set in a circle of silver, and which looked so much like a single, alien eye, then he discarded the idea. During his last visit he had tried to do just that and found himself without warning at the foot of the entrance steps, with prospective candidates looking anxiously at him in case they, like himself, might be expelled as temporarily or permanently Undesirable.
The induction centers had attracted a large number of Undesirables in the early days. There were stories told of individuals and groups who had tried to exert physical or psychological pressure of various kinds with a view to organizing private armies on the new planet. And there had been the more simple, direct types who had wished merely to dismantle, remove, and study the Federation equipment for its weapons potential. The response in all cases had been nonviolent, but salutary.
At the first sign of tinkering, either with the minds of the candidates or the induction center equipment, the offenders were moved-teleported-a distance of a few miles. The more persistent or aggressive ones found themselves suddenly on the other side of the planet, without their weapons, equipment, or clothing.
Martin considered himself at worst a borderline Undesirable, so he went through the unmarked door.
He found himself in a small room which, judging by the view from the window, was on a much lower level of the building. The room was bare except for the desk containing the examiner at its center, and the display screen was partially hidden by a female candidate standing before it. She turned her head briefly to look at him, then returned her attention to the screen.
She was tall, slim, dark-haired, with a firm and mature face and skin so smooth and unblemished that her age could have been anywhere between twenty-five and forty. Like the heavy, dark-rimmed spectacles she wore, her clothing was functional rather than decorative. Nevertheless, and in spite of what the examiner might decide about her as a candidate, Martin would not have described her as Undesirable.
“No, I am not frightened by your advanced technology,” she said quietly in answer to a question Martin could not see, “nor do I consider it to be magic. Your miracles are superscientific, not supernatural, in spite of the symbolism of the entrance stairs and the near Heaven you are offering us. But I keep wondering why you try so hard and often to impress us with this technology.”
Martin edged sideways until he had a clear view of the screen, upon which appeared,
IT IS OUR POLICY TO TAKE EVERY OPPORTUNITY TO DRIVE HOME THE FACT THAT THE ADVANCED TECHNOLOGY EXISTS. WHETHER OR NOT YOU HAVE OCCASION TO USE IT. OR HAVE IT USED AGAINST YOU IN THE FUTURE. DISTANCE WITHIN THE GALAXY MEANS NOTHING TO US. NEITHER ARE THERE ANY PROBLEMS OF TRANSPORTATION, SUPPLY. ACCOMMODATION. OR LIVING SPACE ON YOUR NEW HOME. WE ARE CAPABLE OF TRANSPORTING YOUR ENTIRE SPECIES. ALL OF ITS ARTIFACTS, DOMESTIC ANIMALS. LARGE NUMBERS OF