by Phil Cawein
He was, by most standards of style, a tatty looking man. His suit, a non-committal brown, was rumpled and overly large on his frame, hanging from the thin blades of his shoulders and tenting around his torso. In fact, the bored security guard standing in front of him thought, it looked to have been purchased in one of those used clothing outlets in the less attractive side streets off Fifth Avenue, and not for very much money, either. The guy was in need of a haircut too, though he was clean shaven.
The most jarring thing, though, was the obviously brand-new pair of Air Jordans on his feet. But, thought the guard, here at the U.N. one came to expect bizarre clothing and manners, from hands clasped bowing and decorated bed sheets to pill box hats — on men, no less — and sandals with argyle socks. What a zoo! Must do the job, though, he thought, stepping in front of the man and smiling.
“May I help you find your way, sir?”
The man looked him up and down and, after a pause, stuck out his hand to shake. The guard, reflexively, took the proffered hand, finding it to be very cool, but not limp, a strong grip and a very precise twice up and down shake before release.
“Thank you. Are you in charge here? I am looking for the Secretary General, so that I may present my credentials. I have a matter of utmost importance to discuss with your General Assembly.”
The accent was a sort of an Oxford British delivered in a strong baritone with exemplary eye contact. If this was not a native English speaker, he had certainly learned his lessons well.
The guard was, based on the man’s comments, channeled into a well traveled sub-routine. Presentation of diplomatic credentials was the job of someone from admin. Comforted by routine, he lifted the phone to call for someone to assume responsibility for the visitor and let the guy’s appearance and demeanor slip from his mind.
“Someone from admin will be here shortly to help you, sir, if you would just wait for a few moments. Thank you.”
The man stood, seemingly at attention without the slightest hint of movement, and, in a few moments, a young woman in a blue U.N. blazer and gray skirt strode up to the guard station. “What are you up to Donleavy? No one is expected today! And where is he anyway?” she snapped, clearly not in an accepting humor and frowning at the guard as if he was trying to take advantage of her.
“He’s right there, Ms. Poole,” responded the guard, pointing at the tatty man, and grinning at the start Ms. Poole made when she turned and took in the picture presented by the visitor. He didn’t care much for Ms. Poole, who, in his opinion, took herself much too seriously and, in consequence, made every interaction with anyone not at or above the level of Administrator, a real pain in the ass.
Nevertheless, with a quick glare promising retribution for the guard, she turned to face the tatty man. “I am Ms. Poole of Credentials Administration, sir. How may I help you?”
The tatty man fished out an envelope, seemingly somewhat the worse from its time in his inside suit pocket, and handed it to the woman, who appeared on the verge of some serious foot tapping or other expression of long-suffering dedication to a job fraught with exasperating moments and encounters with decidedly non-standard people.
She had opened the envelope and was fanning through the contents when the tatty man spoke. “I am Vidit, Envoy of The Emperor Hadz IV and the peoples of the Maneen Empire, here to deliver a strongly worded note and a protest to the Secretary General and the General Assembly in the matter of your world’s cavalier treatment of Maneen and all its inhabitants,” the tatty man recited, as if reading from a script.
Ms. Poole had stopped leafing through the papers when the tatty man began to speak. She frowned at the declaration of person and intent, but decided that the very public reception area was probably not the best place to sort this business out.
The man could very well be an escaped lunatic, she thought, since she had never heard of any of the people and places he claimed to represent, but he was unarmed if he had come in through the metal detectors and security searches; and she was a black belt, after all, so she really had little to fear from such a tatty man.
“If you will follow me to my office, sir, I am sure we can get this matter sorted out satisfactorily” (to someone, she thought).
She spun on her heel and set off at a good pace for her second floor office, the tatty man striding behind her. She ushered him into her office and seated him before her desk where she immediately spread out the contents of his envelope and began to read the first sheet. Her face transitioned from puzzlement, through incredulity to anger within three or four minutes of study.
“This document,” she declared, holding up one of the papers, “appears to be a threat, levied against this entire planet! Where the devil did you escape from, sir?” her hand reached toward the telephone on her desk, her eyes never leaving the tatty man.
“Please,” responded the tatty man, his hands open in a gesture both non-threatening and supplicatory, “do not dismiss my people so quickly. We are a peaceful people, and not given to unsolicited acts of either outrage or violence. We have, we believe, been afforded ample provocation in this matter! The rabble of uncontrolled scientists must be leashed by your world immediately!”
The intense, though plaintive tone of the tatty man’s outburst caused her to hesitate in her intent to call for someone to throw him out.
She thought for a second and focused on the part of his statement which puzzled her. “Scientists? Your world? Just where is it you claim to be from, sir?”
“Why, Maneen, of course, just as it states in my credentials.” The tatty man appeared to be about to slap himself in the head and spoke again. “I must apologize. I have allowed a misunderstanding to arise through my ignorance. Your people know Maneen as ‘Pluto’.”
Ms. Poole collapsed back into her chair as if all the energy had left her body, staring at the tatty man incredulously. “I didn’t really believe you were an escaped nut until just now. If you tell me where you came from, I will call and some nice men in white coats will come and take you back. You probably won’t even miss out on pudding.” She made to reach again for the phone, but the tatty man launched into his message aggressively.
“You must collar these scientists! The Tremor Ray with which the Emperor has threatened you is not an empty gesture. The asteroid belt between what you call Mars and Jupiter should be sufficient proof of that. They insulted the Maneen people and Emperor Craxol VI many millennia ago and look what ensued. The insult of declaring Maneen not to be a planet must be recanted! I beg of you! Allow me to address the General Assembly! Please!”
Ms. Poole lifted the phone and spoke the fateful words “I need Security in my office, please. Immediately!” She had begun to trust her black belt training less, upon reflection, and soon, to her relief, two burly fellows burst into her office and carted the loony tatty man away for a free ride to Bellevue.
Ms. Poole sighed her relief and gathered up the envelope and the papers, which she had to admit had taken some expertise to produce. What would a nut case get up to next? Probably had access to a computer and Print Shop. And what had that “PROCLIMATION” said? Forty-Eight hours. Please. The bundle of papers hissed into the trash basket next to her desk.
* * *
The tatty man had, unfortunately, attempted to gain his freedom before being placed in the boxy ambulance and was, in consequence, now clothed in a wrap-around garment which had a much closer fit than his tatty suit. The hospital staff had placed him in a room with a bed and a heavy, locked door with a wire-reinforced window through which one or another of them would eye him from time to time.
“Alas,” the tatty man thought, “this is often the fate of the dedicated Envoy. To be ignored and dishonored. They don’t know Hadz IV like I do. The BBC World Service taught me this language and also spoke to me of individuals who seem to parallel Hadz in their unwillingness to ignore insult: Stalin, Capone, Napoleon. Not a planet indeed. Ridiculous scientists. And, on top of it all, I never got to meet Michael Jordan. Damn! Only thing on their video media worth watching.”
Sure enough, two days later when he awoke from his nap, the earth had begun to shake and quiver... and break.
Not a planet, indeed.
Copyright © 2006 by Phil Cawein