The Alien of Camelot
by Clarise Samuels
Part 1 appears|
in this issue.
Conclusion“The worst science fiction is where the aliens live on a planet where there is only one culture, one language, one race of people.” Gwen made her pronouncement with authority, while Gareth gulped his cappuccino to hide his reaction. He was sitting across from her, having another lunchtime meeting, to discuss the editorial changes to his manuscript. Gareth could not admit to himself how much these lunchtime meetings meant to him.
“Is that bad?” Gareth asked innocently knowing that his novel had alluded to precisely such a society. He watched her carefully. This brunette intellectual who ran her own modestly successful publishing firm in New York City had long legs and green eyes that Gareth found to be mesmerizing.
Gwen was not classically beautiful with her tousled, frizzy hair and longish nose, but Gareth found her quick mind and droll humor to be almost irresistible. He was not supposed to be attracted to other species, but humans and Merlinians seemed to be counterparts, for their genetic material was almost one hundred per cent the same with just a few quirky differences here and there.
Earthlings and Merlinians were practically twin species, and there were some academic theories among Merlinian scholars regarding the origin of humans on Earth that favored the idea Earthlings perhaps were descended from the Ten Lost Tribes of Merlin.
But how did the Merlinian escapees transport themselves from Merlin to Earth? There were ancient legends and myths of the Elder Ones who had mysteriously come into being after the Age of the Dragons had ended.
The Elder Ones eventually evolved to become intellectually and technologically advanced but still remained firmly ensconced in the Barbaric Age. They split into the eleven tribes, with different languages, religions, and cultures. Their differences led to conflict, and their global society was nearly wiped out by the planetary warfare that ensued.
A pocket of civilization, one tribe, survived to continue the species, but their culture was left behind in the rubble, and it was generally believed that even today Merlinians were still lacking in cultural richness because of all that had died with that ancient civilization and the Ten Lost Tribes.
Some scholars theorized that a handful of survivors from various tribes had escaped in a transport vehicle, for the Elder Ones understood the science of atoms and energy forces, and they were advanced with their inventions. Did those escapees colonize planet Earth?
“You’re not listening to a word I say.” Gwen pouted over a forkful of cottage cheese. Gareth watched her with a strange admixture of admiration and bewilderment. With her Arthurian name, it had been Gareth’s destiny to meet her, obviously.
“Of course, I was,” Gareth protested. “You were saying that it’s too simplistic to presume that an alien civilization is homogeneous, and the science fiction author is obviously trying to make the issue less complicated because it’s hard enough to invent one fictional culture and society, much less a multitude of societies that would populate an entire planet, which is more likely the case, especially given that we see such a multitude of cultures here on Earth, and Earth of course is the norm and not the exception.”
He thought about lighting up another cigarette, since they were eating al fresco on the terrace of a quaint restaurant on Seventh Avenue, but Gwen stared at his lighter with a marked expression of disapproval, so Gareth thought better of it. Trying to smoke on this planet was next to impossible. Gareth felt positively persecuted.
Gwen was still watching him thoughtfully. She liked this English literature professor from City University, who lived in an eccentric apartment in SoHo, although she still could not figure out how he could afford the high-ceiling, three-bedroom unit filled with objets d’art, a baby grand piano, and antique furniture.
Gareth was tall, muscular, and exceedingly handsome. He was charming in an oblique sort of way, and perhaps if he had not been so good-looking, she would have confessed that he was a bit dull. He had a relentless way of scrutinizing everything in his environment. It was as though every object, every person, and every sound were data to be analyzed. He was constantly looking around him, watching, observing, almost as if he were a spy who was collecting information to be taken back to headquarters.
Gareth smiled at her. “You still think I’m a spy, don’t you, Gwendolyn?”
Gwen looked startled. “Are you a mind-reader?” she asked.
“No, but you’ve told me before that my eyes dart around the room, and I move around furtively as if I were a spy.” Gareth permitted himself a small lie, because the truth was he could read minds when he chose to.
“And have I told you before that my name is Gwen and not Gwendolyn?” she asked in a bewitchingly flirtatious way.
“Yes, but Gwen is the vulgarized nickname for a much more beautiful and elegant name like Gwendolyn. What name could be more magical than the name of Merlin’s wife?”
Gwen sighed. One of the many oddities about Gareth was that he was obsessed with Arthurian trivia. For sure, he had written a novel about King Arthur, and that was why Gwen was having another lunchtime meeting with him. She liked the manuscript, and she was on the verge of accepting it for publication, pending a few changes and perhaps a rewritten chapter before she could declare it to be finished and near perfect. But it was clear that Arthurian romance was more than just fiction for him. It was a quest for a way of life, some lost era that he still longed for as if he had childhood memories of it, as if he had lived it.
He had told her a dozen times that she should use the formal version of her name and not the trite and more modern nickname. Gwen just accepted this request as one of the many oddities that so characterized Gareth. She wondered if she would have taken any personal interest in him at all if he had been average-looking rather than blessed with features that were so perfectly exquisite.
“You specialized in Arthurian Studies for your doctorate?” she asked with mild interest.
“Yes, I did. At Cambridge, as a matter of fact,” he lied. He had a forged Ph.D. from Cambridge, but he had done his doctoral work at the University of Merlin. “I teach an upper-level course on Arthurian Literature at City University. And one night a week we watch a film as a supplement to the course material. I show my students Camelot with Richard Harris and Vanessa Redgrave, Excalibur with Helen Mirren and Gabriel Byrne, and First Knight with Richard Gere, among other great Arthurian films.” That part was true.
“What?” Gwen questioned him with mock surprise. “You don’t show them Monty Python and the Holy Grail?” she quipped.
“Very funny. I’ll have you know that I have respect for the Arthurian tradition.”
Gwen laughed good-naturedly, and Gareth smiled at her amusement. His amicable mood, however, was forced. He was in fact on edge. He was about to ask Gwen out. But where would he take her? The common Earthling diversions were for the most part of little interest to him, although the more he participated, the more he was beginning to appreciate their many forms of relaxation.
But he had to eat like everyone else, although Gwen had already noted that he was an obsessive vegetarian. He ordered carefully, even fanatically, for everything was suspect. He even made inquiries about a vegetarian stew, because he could never know for sure if the chef had not sneaked in a beef-flavored broth.
The idea of eating animal flesh, with the exception of a few mollusks and other sea crustaceans, made him nauseous. Merlinians could communicate with animals telepathically, so they understood that animals had thoughts, feelings, fears, and that they felt love — a lot of love, the kind of love that a two-year old child had for other sentient beings. But Merlinians were once carnivores, so they had to understand that Earthlings were not monsters, they were just... unevolved.
Unevolved. Immature. Uncultured. These were the most common designations hurled by Merlinian senators at government meetings with the Emperor. But Gareth disagreed. There was plenty of culture. True, much of it was primitive, and a good part was just garbage for the masses to consume along with their fatty meats and their salty, processed foods. But some culture on Earth was magnificently sophisticated and far beyond anything that could be found on Merlin. Paintings, sculpture, music, literature, and poetry — the planet was continuously churning out cultural articles of the highest quality.
The masses of planet Earth were unevolved, but there were exceptions among individuals, such as Gwen. And there were leaders, peacemakers, and intellectuals. The enlightened ones, the geniuses on Earth, were as smart as a 12-year old Merlinian.
Gwen was smiling at him with an expectant look on her face. She had just asked him a question. Gareth, who had been absorbed with his thoughts, replayed the conversation in his head, for his memory was beyond anything humans were capable of, and he heard the question he had missed the first time.
“If you were from another planet, would you judge Earthlings as good or evil?”
Gareth wanted to laugh, but he did not dare. He stared at Gwendolyn poker-faced and marked the play of sunlight on her dark locks with the reddish highlights as he sipped his cappuccino. He watched as Gwen took arbitrary stabs at the two mounds of cottage cheese on a bed of lettuce on her plate. Traffic was backing up on the boulevard, and yellow cabbies honked the horn impatiently.
Gwen had no idea how pertinent her question was, or how much the future of the planet depended upon Gareth’s answer. There was a long pause as his almond-shaped dark brown eyes sought out Gwen’s sea-green orbs shaded by her thick, dark lashes. He never tired of looking at her.
“I would say,” he began slowly and deliberately, “I would say... they are perhaps immature and unevolved. Maybe if I did not take the time to understand them, if I was too impatient, or my prejudices too deep, I would say that Earthlings were evil, and that it was hopeless. But perhaps after meeting someone like you, I would say, no, they are good. And I would tell my superiors not to invade the planet, that it’s worth preserving, and that, after all, we don’t need that much space.”
Gwen stopped smiling. And a cold shiver ran up her spine. He was joking, of course, but for a moment, it felt as though he were really telling her that he had the power to destroy the planet. But she shook off the transient feeling of dread that had crept over her, laughed lightly, and said, “You are very generous in your opinions.”
Indeed, in his detailed report to the Merlinian Senate, Gareth had been tempted to argue persuasively that Earth was a sacred place, for it was here that the origins of the Arthurian tradition had been preserved and cherished. What right had the Emperor to invade the planet, perhaps destroying artifacts and holy places in the process, not to mention that the human species would be killed off in the ensuing battle? No, Merlinians could not regress to primitive and now outdated instincts to go to war, to kill, and to annex another people’s land, no matter how great their need for a new planet. It was too immature. Earth’s unique history had to be safeguarded. If Merlinians could not help Earthlings and foster their development, they were at the very least obliged to leave the planet alone.
But Gareth knew that his superiors at the Merlinian Senate, now in session in Camelot, the capital of Merlin, were expecting him to endorse their grand scheme, and so he had lacked the courage and the passion to defend the cause of planet Earth. Gareth was a coward. He could convince his leaders if he truly wanted to, even if it meant he would be ostracized by hostile political parties.
Gwen was still talking and smiling at Gareth, but once again, he was not listening. He had put on his thick, black-rimmed reading glasses, and he was typing text into his cell phone that Gwen could not make out:
Change of plans. Leaving this weekend to visit Glastonbury Tor. Have fallen in love with a woman named Gwendolyn. Earth is not ours to have, only ours to esteem and enshrine. We think we are more enlightened than they. That may be so. But there is still much they can teach us. Disregard previous report. Revised report to follow.
Gareth took off his glasses. Gwen was twirling a chestnut-colored curl around her finger and had sunk into a deep reverie. Daydreaming. A human pastime. It occurred to him that perhaps Merlinians should stop once in a while to reflect and to daydream instead of continuously inventing astounding technologies and sweeping architectural structures that made their utopian paradise even more perfect. What was so wrong with imperfection? Was it not more interesting to be imperfect?
Gwen raised her eyebrows at him as if she were questioning his thoughts. He reached across the table and squeezed her hand gently. “If I were an alien, I would tell my Emperor that Earthlings are in some ways superior to us.”
Gwen smiled at him with an air of quizzical amusement while Gareth used his cell phone to book two tickets on British Airways. He was not going back to Merlin right away. He was taking his Gwendolyn to see Glastonbury Tor.
Copyright © 2013 by Clarise Samuels