The Alien of Camelot
by Clarise Samuels
part 1 of 2
Gareth inhaled deeply on his cigarette. The human doctors had much to say about the damage that could be caused by this addictive habit. Smoking destroyed the cilia in the nose and the throat, and then it killed lung cells and turned them black. Black lungs were bad for humans, but for an alien from an exoplanet that was to be found in the constellation known as Ophiuchus, located northwest of the center of the Milky Way, Gareth did not really have to worry about blackened lungs. All the poisons that were to be found in cigarettes were part of the natural atmosphere back at home.
Indeed, when Gareth inhaled cigarette smoke, it was literally like a breath of fresh air. It made him feel like himself again. He felt serene, calm, and whole again, as if transported back to Merlin, his home planet, where the good “earth” was a deep purple and the daytime sky was always a translucent tan produced by Merlin’s fairly thick atmosphere.
Instead of only one moon, there were nine colorful moons, some of them with Saturn-like rings. The night sky on Merlin was much more interesting than on Earth.
“Got a light?” A homeless vagrant accosted him, dragging his left foot.
Gareth winced. Homeless people were common on Earth and unheard of back at home. Of course, Merlinians were advanced, extremely advanced. Merlin was a utopia. How could Earth be compared to his home planet?
The Earthlings were in a period dubbed by Merlinians as Late Barbaric. The Early Enlightenment period was on the horizon, but the human race was not quite there yet, and it was not quite certain they were going to make it.
Gareth whipped out his gold-plated lighter to ignite the drifter’s cigarette and then quickly walked away. There was nothing he could do for the homeless. It was an Earthling issue.
Gareth was on his way to meet his publisher, for in his spare time, he had written a romance novel featuring King Arthur as the hero. Indeed, all Merlinians were experts in King Arthur lore and myth, a peculiar detail intrinsic to the development of Merlinian civilization. And for a Merlinian, writing a book was something they squeezed in on their coffee breaks, like doodling on a napkin, but here on Earth, writing a book was a major achievement for a human.
His publisher’s name was Gwendolyn, a coincidence that did not escape Gareth’s sense of poetic justice, for Gwendolyn — or Gwendoloena to be more precise — was the name of the woman whom Geoffrey of Monmouth spoke of as Merlin’s wife in his twelfth-century work, Vita Merlini. Gwendolyn insisted on being called “Gwen,” which was a shocking bastardization of one of the most sacred names in the universe.
Gareth slicked back his hair while admiring his reflection in a store window. Human women liked him. He was handsome. Then he glanced up at the sky and put on his sunglasses, for Earth’s sun always hurt his sensitive eyes and caused him to squint deeply.
“You look so mysterious in those dark glasses,” Gwen had teased him at one of their frequent lunchtime meetings. “Like a spy or a secret agent.”
The sun of the Merlinian solar system that was positioned in the constellation Ophiuchus did not exactly burn bright and yellow, but was in fact a red dwarf known as Barnard’s Star, located only six light years away from Earth. Having a red dwarf for a sun meant that it was eternally twilight on Merlin, for Barnard’s Star was a very old and very dim red dwarf, producing minimal luminosity even though Merlin orbited closely to its star.
Far from being yellow, Barnard’s Star was perpetually orange. As was the case with many planets that orbited closely to a red dwarf, Merlin was tidally locked and therefore did not rotate on its axis. Merlin showed only one habitable hemisphere to its gloomy sun, while the other hemisphere remained perpetually cold and dark, much like the Earth’s moon.
There was no summer on Merlin, just a year-round chilly autumn, and Gareth nearly passed out on the hot streets of Manhattan in July. And he had to wear a sun block that was SPF 100+ because there was very little ultraviolet light on Merlin. And even with the super sunscreen, he spent a lot of time indoors during daylight hours, only allowing himself to soak up a few rays in the winter.
Like a number of other planetary civilizations, the Merlinians were overcrowded, but resources were still plentiful, thanks to brilliant long-term planning and careful distribution systems presided over by the planetary government’s elected officials, who were geniuses. But every last bit of habitable space was populated.
Thus, the Emperor of the Merlinian World Senate had made a shocking decision two years earlier. Merlin would seek to colonize other planets. The Emperor made a historic speech to his fellow Merlinians on televised broadcasts that were brought to every household as well as to the major streets and squares of every city.
“It makes sense,” the Emperor explained in his now famous speech. “The future has to be secured for distant generations. We are a small planet, only one-third the size of Earth, with a total population equal to that of the United States of America. And in addition to our close quarters and crowded conditions that are as packed in as Earth’s Japanese islands, the government has other concerns.
“What if our planet is hit by a huge meteorite, an event that has not happened for twenty-five million years, but theoretically could happen again at any time? Everything we have invented, discovered, and developed would be lost, in the same manner that our ancient dragons and prehistoric life forms disappeared twenty-five million years ago. We are long overdue for another cataclysmic event. We must begin to plan the propagation of our species in another domain.”
Merlinians were painfully aware of everything that had been wiped out by the ancient meteorite disaster, for the now legendary Age of the Dragons had been brought to an end. Colonization of another planet was not a new idea for Merlinians. Colonization had been debated and discussed for centuries by the Merlinian Senate.
Earth had recently been targeted as a likely destination because of its proximity, which was easily accessible by Merlinian spaceships. Merlinians had been quietly tuned into the planet from the very first day Earth had begun sending radio signals out into the universe. Having discovered and hungrily devoured Earth’s literature, art, and mythology, Merlinians had, most curiously, become obsessed with Arthurian legend.
About fifty years earlier, the planet’s name had been officially changed from a native word that meant “planet of nine moons” to Merlin, in honor of the magician who had been the tutor of the legendary King Arthur. Many Merlinians were named after Arthurian knights and other personalities, and so Gareth had earned his name, drawn from the Knights of the Round Table.
To his surprise, his name did not attract too much undue attention on Earth. It had just recently become a popular name in Great Britain. Everyone assumed that Gareth was an Englishman, which suited him just fine. Indeed, he had, due to an error in research, learned British English instead of American English back on Merlin. Fortunately, Americans liked people with British accents; they thought it sounded more intelligent and found it charming. So it did not matter that Gareth did not sound like a New Yorker even if New York had been his planned destination all along.
He had argued with the mission control people. “Why, oh why, can’t you send me to the south of England and Wales, where so many Arthurian artifacts and tourist attractions beg for the attention of a Merlinian scholar?” Caerleon, Stonehenge, Glastonbury Tor... Gareth longed to visit these mythical locales.
But the Senatorial response had been severe and unforgiving. “Such excursions are too time-consuming and frivolous to be programmed into the official agenda,” was the terse reply he had received.
Gareth had no choice but to accept this harsh pronouncement. Now that he was on Earth, however, he had a treasure trove of Arthurian artifacts, including Arthurian video games, Arthurian action figures, a pack of Arthurian cards, and an Arthurian Halloween costume, to name a few.
Gareth’s Bible was Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte D’Arthur. Back at home, everybody read it in grade school and much wisdom from that tome stayed with the average Merlinian for life. There were many films, plays, and novels with Arthurian themes, and of course the imports from planet Earth were tremendously popular. T. H. White’s The Once and Future King was an all-time, best-selling novel on the planet.
The Arthurian classics had certainly seeped into the collective consciousness of the Merlinians, but the popular musical Camelot, which originally played on Broadway with Julie Andrews, Richard Burton, Roddy McDowell and Robert Goulet, had a cult following on Merlin that could not be surpassed.
However, it was actually the film version with Richard Harris and Vanessa Redgrave that Merlinians were most familiar with back at home, and the Camelot album was a ubiquitous item in every Merlinian household. Children often re-enacted scenes and sung the songs from Camelot, and it was customary for the Emperor of Merlin to open the World Games, held every four years, with the most beloved song from Camelot.
How many Merlinians had tears in their eyes when they arose in unison at the Merlin International Stadium, with one hand placed solemnly over their hearts, as they sang these poignant lines written by Lerner and Loewe in 1960:
Don’t let it be forgot
That once there was a spot
For one brief shining moment that was known
Gareth got all choked up just hearing the notes inside his head. It reminded him so much of home, where he longed to be, but there was no hope for return until the mission on planet Earth had reached its conclusion. Having arrived just two years earlier, Gareth understood implicitly that his earthbound days were numbered.
The duration of his stay had all depended on how long it would take him to turn in what would be a 1000-page report in fine print, entitled “On the Matter of the Invasion of the Planet Earth.” That was his assignment as a top administrator in the Merlin Intelligence Cooperative or MIC, an acronym that was used to describe the secret agents of the bureau.
Gareth was a top MIC agent, reporting to the Director of MIC. Gareth was not a soldier, bomber pilot, or anything that involved destruction, death, or termination. He was a paper-pusher, a bean-counter, and a suit. He thought nothing of producing a dry 1000-page report, for Gareth was fastidious, thorough, and painstaking, and all Merlinians wrote prolifically. After two years, the report was completed, and Gareth had just emailed the final version the week before. He was scheduled to return home shortly.
The report required great care and thought, because Gareth had to live and breathe Earth’s air for a long time before he would even begin to understand these complex creatures. The debate on Merlin had been raging for a century. Did Earthlings deserve to be exterminated? Were Earthlings good or evil or were they just immature? Merlinian philosophers were deeply divided on the subject, and philosophical wars had been going on for decades.
There were two schools of thought, one for and one against Earthlings, and at one point a small splinter group began by posing the shocking question, “Does Earth really exist?” The Earth-deniers actually made some headway before Gareth, the first Merlinian to step on earthly soil, sent back the first images he took of humans on the streets of Manhattan. All the previous evidence had been disputable or held as fraudulent by the Earth-deniers, but Gareth’s successful landing and his weekly reports and photos from planet Earth had put an end to the denial society.
The deniers finally disbanded six months after Gareth’s Earth landing made global headlines back on Merlin. The Earth-deniers were now mocked and derided as being “immature.” Immaturity was a grave accusation on planet Merlin, where they prided themselves on having attained utopian status. Merlinians believed they were a fantastically advanced civilization, and that they were perhaps the most enlightened people in the universe.
“It is because of the immaturity of Earthlings that we, the enlightened of Merlin, have a moral right — nay, a duty — to invade and rule, notwithstanding that we are seeking more living space,” the Emperor had been known to say in transmitted interviews.
Enlightenment was a much-bandied word on Merlin. Indeed, schoolchildren were taught that the planet had entered the Full Enlightenment Period. That is to say, Merlinians did not have wars, and they did not hate anyone or kill anyone. There was no intolerance, no racism, and no bigotry.
However, being such a tiny planet, they were a homogeneous group. There was only one country, one culture, one race. It hadn’t always been so, of course. About a hundred thousand years earlier, back when Merlin was still a warring planet, there were the ancient cultural tribes, at least eleven of them, and all but the present one had been obliterated by World War V, the war that caused planetary devastation.
There was much Merlinian scholarship and archeological inquiry regarding the Ten Lost Tribes of Merlin. Merlinians were fascinated by their lost heritage, and many state museums were erected to educate the public about their past. The museums were huge elaborate structures with exhibits, films, lectures, and even children’s rides through time tunnels to teach the history and scholarly theories related to the Ten Lost Tribes.
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Copyright © 2013 by Clarise Samuels