Alex entered the Starbucks at ten minutes before two. He wanted to get there a few minutes early so he could see Jack Goodman arrive. Still curious about how the man disappeared so quickly the previous day, he ordered a decaf latte and took a seat by the window facing the parking lot. It was early afternoon on a Sunday, so there were few patrons in the coffee shop and only four cars in the parking lot. Alex figured that he would easily see the man arrive.
At a couple of minutes before two, Alex got a text message from Kate.
Going to see Miss Carol’s new horse.
He sent a quick response, and looked up from the cell phone. Jack Goodman was standing beside the table, preparing to take the chair opposite him. Alex quickly glanced to the parking lot, where he saw the same four cars as before.
“Good afternoon, Mr. Clark,” Jack Goodman said.
“Good afternoon,” Alex responded. He must have walked here, Alex thought. There were plenty of neighborhoods and hotels nearby. On the other hand, maybe he had been in the restroom when Alex arrived. However he had managed it, he was standing there now.
“I’m glad you decided to come today. I know it was a difficult decision, but I am sure you will be glad you came,” Goodman said, as he sat down.
“OK,” Alex said. “Tell me why this is so critical. And why me? There are plenty of people working hard to stop climate change, working a lot harder than me, in fact. People like Al Gore, for instance. Why not go to someone like him?”
“Excellent point, Mr. Clark,” Goodman responded, “Mr. Gore is a very strong advocate for our cause. The problem is, of course, that he is a prominent Democrat, and Republicans will automatically be opposed to anything he favors. That’s just the way it is in your political system. You, on the other hand, are completely unknown, and they won’t dismiss you automatically.”
“I certainly am unknown,” Alex quipped.
“Mr. Clark, do you believe that humans on Earth are alone in the universe, or do you believe there are intelligent beings on other planets?” Jack Goodman asked.
“Well, it seems probable,” Alex replied. “Just based on the numbers. I mean, there are billions of stars and planets out there, so I think it’s very likely some of them have life on them. But we’ve tried for decades to communicate with anyone who might be out there, and we haven’t found anyone yet.”
“So, if I told you that I came here from one of those planets, would you believe that?” Jack Goodman asked.
“No,” Alex replied. “Even if they’re out there, I believe they’re too far away to travel here.”
“I didn’t think you would,” he said, “but I would like to tell my whole story, and then you can decide whether to believe me or not. It’s a long story, so you may want to get another latte.”
“Do you want something too?” Alex asked.
“No,” he replied.
“First of all, I am not a living thing,” Jack Goodman said when Alex returned with his fresh latte. “What I am is difficult to explain to humans because your technology is so primitive. The best explanation I can give you is to think of me as a hologram, but imagine how that technology might advance in ten thousand years. You could say that I am an atomic hologram. Obviously, I have mass and I have enormous computing power, but I can shrink the mass to subatomic size, and I can travel great distances virtually instantaneously. I use the name Jack Goodman, but the people who made me refer to me as G2801.”
Alex’s immediate reaction to this statement was disbelief along with a sizable portion of apprehension. The guy might be crazy, and he might be dangerous.
“I can see that you are having difficulty with this idea, so I must provide you with a demonstration,” Goodman said. “Tell me about some object in your apartment and where in the apartment it can be found.”
Alex wondered if the calmness of the man’s demeanor should be reassuring or frightening. He wanted to get up and run away, but at the same time, he wanted to know more.
“There’s a black, hardcover notebook on my desk. It’s in the office.” Alex used the apartment’s second bedroom as an office. There was a daybed for the times that Kate spent the night.
At that moment, the lights in the coffee shop blinked slightly. It was just for a split second, and it seemed that no one else in the place noticed it. Then Alex saw that Jack Goodman was pushing something across the table to him. He looked down and saw that it was his black hardcover notebook. The ballpoint pen he left clipped inside was still in place. He flipped open the notebook and saw the notes he had written just before leaving for Starbucks. He didn’t know if this guy was from outer space or not, but he certainly had some good tricks.
“Actually, the notebook is only a holographic image,” Goodman said. “I can’t transport physical objects. The original is still on your desk where you left it. Now should I continue my story?”
“Yes,” Alex replied in a soft, puzzled tone.
“I arrived on this planet a little over 50,000 years ago. I came from a planet called Uor, which is almost a thousand light-years from Earth. Uor is in an area of the galaxy where star formation took place millions of years before your own star formed, so Uor is quite a bit older than Earth. I was sent here as part of an experiment the Uorians were conducting. They called it ‘The Garden Project’. They chose that name because they were ‘seeding’ other planets with humans like themselves. They studied the nearby universe looking for planets that would support human life, and they eventually found six such planets. They built spaceships that could travel across the great distances, and they created machines like me to be caretakers on the distant planets. They referred to us as Gardeners, and our function was to assist the human populations as they developed on the Garden Project planets.”
“They sent humans to Earth?” Alex asked. “Are you saying that humans came here from some other planet?”
“Yes,” Goodman responded. “But they weren’t mature humans. They were frozen embryos. The length of the trip would have been very difficult for mature humans.”
“Wait a minute,” Alex said. “You are saying that there are humans like us on this other planet.”
“It would be more correct to say that you are like them,” Jack Goodman said.
”How long did the trip take?” he asked. Alex still didn’t believe the story, but he wanted to hear it all.
“In Earth time, the trip took about 1,375 years,” he responded. “Four vessels were launched, but one was lost on the way. The other three all arrived safely 51,433 years ago, and the human population on Earth today is descended from the 9,000 embryos that were on board those three vessels.”
“Why would they colonize planets and not provide them with the technology and knowledge they already had?” Alex asked.
“That was the point of the study,” Jack explained. “They wanted to observe how human populations developed such things as agriculture and science.”
“So, we’re just some science experiment for aliens?” Alex asked.
“Not any longer,” Goodman responded. “The study ended thousands of years ago as the Uorians lost interest in such things.”
“So why are you still here?” Alex asked.
“Oh, I can never leave,” Goodman replied. “I am programmed to stay in this place forever. Anyway, I still have duties here. You see, when the experiment ended, the Uorian government sold off the rights to the various planets, including this one, to private investors. So now I work for the individual owners of this planet, which they call Eden.”
“The Garden of Eden, that’s clever,” Alex said. “So you’re saying that Earth is owned by some rich fat cats on this planet something?”
“Uor,” Jack Goodman said.
“Uor, OK,” Alex added sarcastically. “And now this fat cat wants to protect his investment against climate change?”
“Not exactly,” Goodman responded. “The owners have no expectation of financial gain from ownership of Eden. It’s mainly for entertainment. The fat cat, as you call him, was a very wealthy Uorian nobleman named Zeus, and he bought Eden to entertain his two young sons, Apollo and Ares.”
“Wait a minute,” Alex protested. “Are you telling me that the ancient Greek gods are real?”
“Apollo and Ares are certainly real, but they are not gods. Zeus committed suicide long ago, but he was not a god either,” Goodman added. “But I can certainly see why the Greeks were confused. Zeus and Apollo were very interested in what they were doing and probably interfered more than they should have.”
“Interfered?” Alex questioned. “What do you mean?”
“They, through me, participated in their affairs somewhat — gave them bits of information about mathematics and science, ideas about laws and governance.”
“I see,” Alex said. “What happened after Zeus died?”
“Apollo and Ares inherited Eden. That was in 212 BC by your calendar.” Goodman stated.
“And they’re still alive?” Alex asked in astonishment.
“Very much so,” Goodman responded. “Uorian Noblers, that’s the class to which Apollo and Ares belong, can live for thousands of years. Apollo and Ares are 3,120 years old now, and they are in their prime.”
“Uor must be a fantastic place,” Alex said. “Tell me about it.”
“In many ways, Uor isn’t so different from Earth,” Goodman said. “There are continents and oceans, big cities and small towns. There are industries of many kinds, and farms and ranches, also.”
“Interesting,” Alex mused. “So if money isn’t the reason, why do these guys care about climate change on Earth?”
“Very simple. It’s a contest, a game between Apollo and Ares with certain events on Eden to determine the winner,” Jack Goodman explained.
“A game!” Alex said in astonishment. “You’re kidding?”
“I assure you I am not kidding,” Goodman said. “And I can also assure you the stakes in this game will have a huge impact for life on this planet.”
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