Little Green Men
It had been over two hundred years since I had had a drink. But the occasion demanded it. This was a day of celebration. I, Dr. Adam Vlad, former scoundrel and professional bungler, had somehow managed to rescue an entire race of humanoids from certain death, from a plague with an amazing mortality rate that hovered around one hundred per cent, a kill ratio far worse than anything ever seen on earth, even that of measles among Native Americans.
Nevertheless, it was I who found the deadly microbes when NAOMI couldn't. (Natural AlgOrithms from Mathematical Iterations—a state of the art female android) It was I who found a cure when NAOMI couldn't. And it was I who devised a plan to inoculate a whole world when NAOMI could only wring her hands. I, Dr. Adam Vlad, disgraced medical researcher, did all that when no one else would even try.
I had not always been this successful. Before I went into hibernation (August 2134) for my solo voyage to Planet M-401, I had been caught helping myself to grant money intended for research assistants. In truth, I stole from no one, or rather, no one in particular. I had, you see, not only invented the data the assistants were to gather, I had invented the assistants as well. Consequently, I had merely supped at the public trough, something every government in history has done without significant scandal. The trick is to call it deficit financing.
Since this ruse did not occur to me, I was sent off for an extensive reeducation and in time relegated to Io, a backwater moon of Jupiter, where I treated miners for alcoholism—the idea was to fight fire with fire. But I wasn't having much luck with that either.
In fact, my whole life, after a misleading early show of promise, had been an endless series of preventable failures until the day Earth was contacted, for the first time, by an intelligent life form, a life form that was calling for help from a planet circling a relatively nearby star. It was dying, it said. Immediate medical attention was needed. Every researcher in the solar system was mad to dash to our neighbor's side until he realized that by the time he returned again no one he knew about would be around to congratulate him. But this sounded like just the thing for me. And, by the way, it did not bother me in the least that, by the time I arrived, there might be no one left to rescue. That was an unknown. What wasn't an unknown was that if nothing were done, the race would perish—and we would have missed our first chance at first contact—which, for all we know, could be our last.
To flash forward just a little, I roused myself from a ninety-nine year sleep after I was automatically landed on M-401's single massive continent. The creatures I found there were peaceful, about half the average human height, slightly green, and about half the average human intelligence. And they were all dying from plague. Everyone I examined was infected. And, as I mentioned, NAOMI was confounded—all the more so since, by human standards, these little characters had subnormal IQ and were therefore incapable of radio communication.
But I wasn't overly concerned with this. I imagined that some outliers on the bell curve, some local whiz kids, had somehow stumbled on the idea. My guess was immediately confirmed when the ship instruments spotted the tower near the equator—everyone was huddling there, by the way, because of the oncoming ice age. When it rains, it pours.
NAOMI was deeply embarrassed and in time, after gentle coaxing, admitted her error. She remained deferential during the remainder of our stay.
At least she kept saying, "You are the master." And I detected none of her usual sarcasm.
But despite her atypical homage I was still secretly troubled. The creatures manning the tower were the slowest of the lot, walking around like glazed marionettes. I had to let that pass. I assumed, reasonably enough, that their heroic labors, combined with their illness, had somehow exhausted them. Besides, I had an enormous amount of work to do myself. After spending only hours on the 401's surface, after witnessing the merciless progress of the deadly disease, I retreated to a safe orbit in order to work undisturbed. I could not afford the luxury of compassion. There was no time. I had a cure to find.
And I found it.
NAOMI's mistake was to assume the pigment of the natives was natural. But I could not recall a single green mammal on Earth. In an attempt to explain their color, I discovered bile in the blood tissue of these humanoids. This symptom, in humans, is associated with jaundice. As it turned out, it was ischemic jaundice—the plague obstructed the blood to the kiver, a name I coined for an organ that performed the functions of both the kidneys and liver.
As so often happens in medical research, discovering a function of a microbe, reveals a way to kill it.
And I, Adam Vlad, killed it.
But I would not have succeeded had I not focused on the skin pigment. The population, you see, was blue from the cold and yellow from the jaundice. Mix blue and yellow, and you get green.
Mix cold and disease together, and you get certain death.
Time was of the essence. NAOMI had calculated that the natives could sustain themselves against the cold but not against the plague.
"We haven't much time, master," NAOMI kept reminding me. And reminding me. And reminding me.
Accordingly, after a torturous interval, I compelled myself to invent a dozen new micro machines. With them I turned out enough antibiotics to treat the entire planet with a sub-orbital spray. NAOMI was in awe. She changed her skin color to violet and sang pagan hymns to my intellect. On her own initiative, she reprogrammed her romance response level to submissive suppliant. After many late nights, after whispered endearments and alcohol rubdowns, after kissing away endless tears, I partially restored her damaged ego.
But that was just for her sake. Inwardly I was glowing. I had finally scored big time.
And I was still glowing when I was guided back into an Ionian dock ninety-nine years later. For the first time in a very long while, it was good to be among human beings even though there were a hundred times as many as when I left. When they verified my story with NAOMI, my brethren offered me real women and real wine. (Both were illegal because by then—even Ionians were practically shoulder to shoulder.) Fearing NAOMI's temper, I accepted only the second.
That was a mistake. Alcohol has always worked in reverse for me. It brightens my intellect. Human beings, I realized suddenly, were now a serious threat to their own existence because of their very success.
I drank some more. And then I discovered the impulse to drink myself insensible. And, by the by, I drank myself as close to death as I could. For, you see, I had understood by then that I had not accomplished my mission at all. In fact, I had done the very reverse.
It had at long last occurred to me what should have immediately struck me blind. I had assumed that those green humanoids had built the radio tower because I was human, just as the life form that sent the distress signal had assumed a rescuer would be structurally similar to itself. And it was this life form which, like us, was dying from its own success. It was this life form that had used its own host to send the signal.
It was the plague—God help me—it was the plague that had sent it.
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