Today I learned a secret; the answer to a question that has been plaguing me ever since I started writing Bobo stories. As soon as I’m finished writing this note, I’m going to hide it somewhere so that I will find it after my return to Earth, after I’ve recovered from the amnesia induced by the return flight. This is what has been bothering me: Why are the Homelanders so nice to humans? At first I thought it was simply because they are nice people, and I suppose that is partly the answer; but that explanation is not adequate.
What’s it all for? Even the most humanitarian of causes must have some sort of financial support, and there is certainly no economic gain from watching us. On top of all that, they have graciously allowed a number of humans to emigrate, and they have financed my trip. Can you imagine how much it costs to travel from the Sun to Tau Ceti and back? And I had luxury accommodations!
I kept pestering everyone to find out—everyone that speaks English that is—and that’s not very many people. Darryl is too young to wonder about things like this. When I asked Melissa, she said she never really wondered about it until I brought it up; but she dismissed the thought very quickly. Homeland is home for her now; it’s difficult for her to see the situation as unusual or odd. Last week I asked John Anderson about it. He confided in me that he had wondered about it himself from time to time. All this contact with humans must be very expensive. John told me that he had asked several people in the Earth Studies Department at the University; but to no avail. Either they professed not to know or they changed the subject. He gave up asking about a year ago, and hasn’t thought about it since until I brought it up.
During the weekend (it was on Eighthday, I believe), I asked Harshan about it. I figured that with his background as a spaceship purser he must know more about aliens than most people would. He acted like he had been put on the spot. It was obvious to me that he knew something but that he didn’t feel it was his place to divulge it. I persisted, but the situation got embarrassing for both of us, so I just dropped the subject.
So this little mystery has been plaguing me day in and day out over the last two weeks!
Because the Homelander day is so long—thirty-two hours, which comes to twenty-seven Earth hours—I usually end up taking a nap between eighteen and twenty o’clock in the afternoon so I can get through the rest of the day and so I can wake up in the morning in synch with everybody else. But today for some reason I wasn’t even sleepy. I kept wondering: how can the Homelanders justify the terrific financial drain on their economy just to watch over the human race so far away? So resolving to settle the matter once and for all, I set out on foot for Dr. Fargnon’s office again. (I am proud to say that I was able to find it without getting lost this time!)
“You must understand that the study of other Homelanderoid races is of utmost importance in understanding ourselves,” Dr. Fargnon began. “With humans, we have an opportunity to see ourselves in an earlier stage of our development. Surely you can see that we derive a great benefit from our Earth Watch Program.”
“What about the other races?” I countered, recalling the Zerpickers, Chernians, and Horstmingles that I knew from my own writings.
“That’s just it!” he smiled. He folded his hands across his stomach and leaned back precariously in his chair, “Those races are on a par with Homelanders. It’s like looking into a mirror when we study each other. Humans are a… well, let’s just say a younger race. It’s the only way we can look into our past.”
“I understand all that,” I conceded urgently, “But what about the cost? You maintain an outpost on the remote side of Earth’s Moon.”
“That’s Earth Watch Base,” Dr. Fargnon said.
“Yes; and then you have ninety-five people stationed on Earth itself!” I squirmed in my chair.
“My dear Ken,” Dr. Fargnon beamed, “Surely you understand that all those people are gainfully employed and self-supporting on Earth. Yes, we do pay them a salary, which is deposited in their bank accounts while they are gone, but it isn’t any more than they would be paid if they were working here at the University!”
“I understand that,” I replied, “but what about the support staff on the moon? All that equipment must be very expensive, and then there is the cost of shipping people and equipment twelve light-years out into space! That must add up to a tidy sum.”
Dr. Fargnon nodded grimly. “It is quite expensive,” he admitted.
Well! Now at last I seemed to be getting somewhere, so I pressed on. “Take for example my own trip. I’ll bet it was very expensive. What is all this for? How do you justify spending all this money? Surely scientific curiosity is not a sufficient justification for an outlay like this!”
“Actually it is,” Dr. Fargnon said quietly. Then he got up from his chair, walked around his desk, and quietly pressed his office door shut. He nearly tiptoed back to his seat. “However, you seem to be a bright fellow, and I’m sure you will persist until you find out the truth. You’ll probably guess it anyway, so I cannot see any harm in telling you.”
At this point I would have been very pleased with myself, except there was something very disturbing about Dr. Fargnon’s demeanor.
“You must understand that there are other aspects to the human situation that interest us,” he explained in a hushed tone. “I’m sure you could guess them if you thought about it for a while, but let me list them.” He leaned back and took a deep breath. “Your species is facing an unprecedented challenge.”
“Do you mean the threat of nuclear war?” I asked. “I think that problem is essentially solved, what with the recent developments in Europe.” I sat there uneasily for a moment before I added in a respectful tone, “But I am sure that your people have had quite a lot to do with that.”
“Actually, not at all,” Dr. Fargnon said. “We were never concerned about the cold war; it was self-limiting. I mean the environmental challenges that you face. Humans possess a phenomenal technology despite their arrested maturational development. The benefits of your civilization are unevenly distributed among your people, and there is little constructive concern for the environmental ramifications of lifting everyone‘s standard of living—which is something that should and will happen soon. You’ve already poked a hole in your ozone layer.” Dr. Fargnon shuddered in horror. “We’ve had half a dozen staff members request early return to Homeland as a result.”
I began to be uncomfortable.
“Then you face an environmental challenge on another level,” he continued. “For reasons we haven’t determined, but which is probably linked with the degradation of your planet’s biosphere, there is an accelerated rate of mutation on the microbiological level. This has caused a large number of new and deadly diseases to develop. Here we are unable to help,” Dr Fargnon gestured helplessly with his hands. “A certain amount of mutation and genetic drift is normal, but on Earth it is taxing the abilities of your medical researchers.”
“Well, I suppose that humans would be fascinating creatures to study,” I decided. “But you guys are spending money on us as if there were no tomorrow!”
“Precisely my point,” Dr. Fargnon replied. “Humanity is officially designated an endangered species. Quite frankly, we expect you to be extinct very shortly—within a century or so. We don’t have much time to study you, do we?”