president bradley harrison could not put his finger on it, but the minute he entered the conference room on the top floor of the blue building in spaceport 1, he felt something was different.
he looked around the room. there wasn't much to see.
outside the window the transplanted redwood trees soared majestically into the clear blue sky - the sky always kept clear of clouds by the earth-solar maintenance crew.
and there were only three other people at the conference table.
professor wilson wetherall, the world's most eminent scientist and president harrison's most trusted adviser.
general bert murchison, chief of staff for the combined explorer and defense corps, with his usual slightly harassed air.
and taking notes, miss vivian "smitty" smith, the president's long-time secretary, who knew everything.
ramrod-24, the president's trusted personal robot, had already set out the coffee and chocolate chip cookies.
everything seemed normal. just another day at the center of the universe.
ramrod-24 was in his place between the door and the window.
smitty had her usual impassive expression.
general murchison did not look any more annoyed than usual.
but professor wetherall … professor wetherall had the faintest sign of perplexity on his face.
which was most uncharacteristic.
president harrison took a chocolate chip cookie from the plate in front of him and got straight to the point.
"anything wrong, professor?" he asked.
and the professor - usually the least hesitant of men - hesitated before answering.
the president took a bite of his cookie and a sip of coffee and swallowed them before continuing.
"can you be a little more specific?"
the professor squirmed slightly in his chair. "perhaps murchison here can fill you in first on what has transpired."
the president shifted his gaze to the general, who cleared his throat and leaned forward.
"i can tell you what i know, brad, but i have a couple of fellows waiting outside who can give you a first hand account of what is happening in the field - "
"stop right there." the president held up his hand with the half -eaten cookie in it and laughed. "golly, neither of you two fellows wants to come right out and tell me what's going on. it must be pretty darn serious. smitty, do you know what's going on here?"
"no more than you. i don't even have a clue. but you are right, they are acting awful darn mysterious."
"all right." the president put on a serious face. "bert, why don't you tell me as best you can what you know and then i'll decide whether i need to hear from your two fellows outside."
general murchison, who had not touched his plate of cookies or his coffee, took a deep breath. "very well, brad. first off, i have to inform you that we have confirmation of two invasions from off-earth entities - " he paused, and looked toward professor wetherall.
"and the possibility of a third, " added the professor. "although there seems no doubt all three are connected."
"well, well. you don't say so." the president leaned back in his chair and looked out the window at the clear blue sky. "as i haven't been informed until now, and as i don't see any defense ships hurtling through the air, i assume they have been determined to be friendly."
"not exactly," said the professor. he looked away. the president had never seen him so unsure of himself.
"not exactly?" the president repeated.
"they haven't been determined to be unfriendly," said general murchison.
"oh? so i take it they are just sitting in their ship. or ships. and haven't made their move yet." the president leaned forward. "but isn't that one of the basic possible scenarios?"
the professor and the general looked at each other.
"so," the president went on. "i don't know what you two are acting so mysterious about. i trust that all protocols have been observed, and no one has acted in a foolish manner." he paused and took another sip of coffee. "otherwise i should have been informed before this."
"all protocols have been observed," said professor wetherall. "by us."
"and nothing foolish has been done," added general murchison. "by any humans."
"can i butt in?" asked smitty. "why don't one of you just spit it out and tell us what is happening?"
"yes," said the president. "bert, since it officially your charge, why don't you just tell us. but wait - before you go any farther, why don't you just tell me exactly where these aliens landed? i take it wasn't times square or piccadilly circus."
"no, one ship was found in kansas, and the other in africa, just south of lake tanganyika."
"fine. and one more thing - has anyone seen these aliens? are they big fellows? little guys?"
"they are small - very small."
"good. now proceed."
the general proceeded. "in both cases the aliens have in fact left their ship - which does not quite conform to our idea of what a ship would be, but we can come back to that later. and they made contact. but not with us."
"then with who."
"well, in kansas, just south of abilene, they made contact with the inhabitants of a wasps nest on a farm belonging to a mrs valida corrington." the general paused.
"and in africa?"
"they made contact with a colony of termites in a tree about three hundred yards off the southern shore of lake tanganyika."
"i'm not sure i understand. you say they made contact. might they just be - i don't know - how do you know what they are doing?"
professor wetherell leaned forward. "of course we can not be absolutely sure what they are doing. but all indications are that they are communicating with the insects. they are not killing them, or seem to be subjugating them."
"and these invaders," asked the president. "i take it they are about the size of the bugs?"
"exactly. well, slightly smaller, actually."
"excuse me," said smitty. "but these bugs - wasps or whatever - where are they now? have they been brought somewhere where they can be studied?"
"no," the professor answered.
"it might not be a bad idea," said the president. "thank you, smitty."
"i am not sure it is a good idea," said the professor. "but in any case, it is beside the point, as we can't get at them."
"can't get at them!"
"no, the invaders have thrown up some kind of force field around themselves - and the area they occupy which includes the wasps and termites. of course something of this nature has always been considered a possibility in any invasion."
"but -" the president hesitated. "how hard have we tried to get through this force field or whatever it is."
"so far, not very hard." professor wetherell sighed and shifted in his chair. "at this point i don't think it is a good option. look here, brad, i think we should take as clear a look as possible at just what we've got here."
"that earth has been invaded by a species with a technology at least somewhat more advanced than ours - if not much more advanced, we will have to wait and see - and it has chosen to communicate not with the human race but with certain insects instead - as if they consider them the real masters of the planet."
smitty started to laugh. "i'm sorry," she said. "i know it's serious business, but it just strikes me as kind of funny."
"look here," said the president. "don't you think it could just be an honest mistake on their part - them being the size of the bugs and all. surely we can make some effort to communicate with them - and show them the error of their ways."
"oh yes, an effort is being made," the professor replied. "an effort is definitely being made."
"good. and after we set them straight, i am sure we can get together with them and have a good laugh about it."
"a good laugh!" cried general murchison. "i don't think it's funny at all! i say hit them with everything we've got before it's too late! how do we know they are not plotting to turn the whole insect kingdom of the planet against us? then we'd have a problem, by jiminy! just say the word, brad, and i'll have my guys go in and nip this thing in the bud and blow the little devils to kingdom come!"
"that's quite a speech, bert, " the president replied in a mild tone. "one of the longest i've ever heard you make. no, we've gotten along with the insect kingdom pretty well so far, so i don't see any need to rush into anything. let's just see how it plays out."
"gotten along with the insect kingdom! read your history book, mister president, read your history book!"
"calm yourself, general," said smitty. "have a cookie. they are extra good today."