Dedicated to Fred M. Wilcox, Scott Derrickson, and Harry Bates.
“My poor Krell. After a million years of shining sanity, they could hardly have understood what power was destroying them.”
— Dr. Edward Morbius
“Commander Adams. Ms. Morbius. Do you understand why you have been brought here?”
“Actually, Mr. Carpenter.” The young woman, small and diminutive next to John J. Adams. “It’s Mrs. Adams now.”
“Oh. I see.” Klaatu notes their body language, their closeness, and the band on the woman’s hand Even after all this time, he has to catch himself before missing any Earth customs. Perhaps it’s that cultural disconnect, or maybe his people did not reconstruct his brainwaves as well as they had hoped. Nevertheless, considering the circumstances, it is a swift development. “My apologies, and my congratulations.”
“Thank you, sir.” Commander Adams nods. They sit in the briefing room, just the three and two other occupants. The dark-haired man is polite, in full dress uniform. He knows this is a briefing. The young woman is in a smart dark conservative business suit, complete with a short skirt. Humans have always had a strange perspective on both modesty and exposure. Mrs. Adams looks awkward in the fashion, almost as much as Klaatu once did in the suit he was forced to borrow from what seemed to be an eternity ago. Now he sees the ring on the Commander’s finger as well. “The nature of this inquiry, Mr. Carpenter. It is about Altair IV.”
“To the point.” Klaatu allows a small smile. “Yes, Commander. That is the nature of this debriefing. The United Planets has been clear on this matter.”
“With all due respect, sir.” The way Commander Adams says it, his words still formal, still manages to convey anything but irritation and perhaps an element of protective fear as he seems to sidle physically closer to his wife. “The C-57D has already filed its report.”
“Yes. I know.” Klaatu looks down at the papers, something this species still continues to utilize as documentation while others have already long since moved onto electronics. “Your investigation into the radio silence of the Altair IV Expedition, and the Bellerophon concluded that they were both destroyed by psychic phenomena on the surface of the planet, the same force that took the lives of Lieutenants Ostrow and Farman, Chief Quinn, and …” He looks up, feeling his sympathy written on his face. “Dr. Morbius.”
Klaatu almost expects Mrs. Adams to look away. As it is, it’s Commander Adams’ brow that furrows: in sadness, or anger, or perhaps both. Mrs. Adams puts a hand on his, and keeps Klaatu’s gaze. He knows he must look strange to her. For all their species look alike, he is well acquainted with the human discomfort with his high cheekbones, and the overall asymmetrical physiognomy of his face. For some reason, however, despite her timidness there is a clear look in her eyes. For a few moments, he recalls his … he still thinks they are his … memories of Helen Benson, of her fear of the unknown being overcome by her determination to do the right thing.
“My mother and father were the sole survivors of the expedition.” She says, her eyes level with his. “My mother, as you know, died of natural causes. My father was assaulted … by the phenomenon before we escaped the planet.” She sighs. “The power of the Krell was too much for him. It destroyed the mind of the Bellerophon‘s skipper, from what he told me, told … us.”
“And poor ‘Doc.'” Commander Adams rubs one thumb over Mrs. Adams’ hand as both an acknowledgement of her comfort, and his returning of it. “And Dr. Morbius. After we realized the nature of the phenomenon that destroyed the colony and the Bellerophon twenty years ago, Dr. Morbius faced his … Monster of the Id. He stopped it, but it cost him his life. He was mule-headed. Stubborn. Too smart for his own good, probably even before that ‘plastic educator.’ But he was a good man, and he died a good man.”
“And he detonated the 9,200 thermonuclear tandem reactors in the Krell underground complex, destroying the entire planet.” Klaatu confirms, shifting the papers, and putting them aside.
“After his intelligence was augmented,” Mrs. Adams says, “My father couldn’t risk anyone, or anything, else potentially activating that power, releasing their … manifestations …”
“Yes.” Klaatu replies, looking down for a few moments. “The Krell civilization, in addition to creating a device that measured and augmented the intelligence of their young through mental exercise, also constructed machinery that could molecularly reproduce any material of which they have a sample.” Klaatu knows this, the rest of their confederation utilizing similar technology in more limited and controlled ways. “Your … friend over there is an example of some of this knowhow.”
“Robby.” Mrs. Adams smiles, looking up at the clunky, glittering automaton at her side. “My father made him after his own ‘education.’ He always said he tinkered him together with pre-made Krell technology. He always downplayed what he could do.”
“Your father was a modest man.” Klaatu says, not missing the look on Commander Adams’ face as he says it, remembering full well the report of the Doctor’s lack of cooperation, and the fear of what he learned being misused by any humans aside from himself, a self-fulfilling prophecy. “Pardon, but your name is Robby, yes?”
There is a series of clacks and the intense working of transparent circuitry as a voice booms in the room, reverberating. “Affirmative, Mr. Carpenter.”
“My apologizes again, Robby.” Klaatu smiles. “We, of course, have taken your testimony into account as well.”
“There is no need, Mr. Carpenter.” The whirl and clicks of the robot continue. “I simply reiterated the words and recordings of everything that had transpired, and what I had been monitored to explain during our previous briefing.”
Monitored. A fascinating choice of word, in Klaatu’s mind. Perhaps “seen to” is the right use of that specific designation. “Yes, there is much we can learn from you. Our confederation, the United Planets and the homeworlds have a version of your replication process, but is it true that you truly duplicated — from one sample — an alcoholic beverage from one …”
“I replicated 60 gallons of rocket bourbon, simple alcoholic molecules with traces of diesel fuel.”
“It was … for Cook, ship’s mess.” Despite the situation, Commander Adams’ manages to have a combination of chagrin and amusement on his face. “Apparently he put the bottle in a slot. The robot … burped?”
Klaatu smiles. “Really?” He tries to think about Gort imitating the sound of biological flatulence, and fails. “Is this true?”
There is more clacking and seeing Robby’s dome move back and forth. “Morbius programmed some mannerisms into me. He had a … sense of humour.”
Klaatu notes the humans in the room smiling, Commander Adams trying to hide it under one hand, and Mrs. Adams’ filled with a certain reminiscence. “He even duplicated the bottles for him.”
“That is impressive.” Klaatu leans forward. “I’ve read the reports. I suspect that Robby is capable of doing a great deal.”
“Well.” Mrs. Adams tries not to look nervously to Klaatu’s side. “He isn’t as advanced as other robots I’ve seen.”
Ah yes. Klaatu’s smile becomes tinged with a bit of sadness. That is why she has been focusing some much on him. As otherworldly as his appearance may be, though he hasn’t announced himself as “alien” by their standards, even though as far as Earth is concerned Klaatu died over three centuries ago after a “temporary revival” — and perhaps he had — he must be more reassuring than his constant companion. The poor woman had been on a world without any other people aside from her father and then the crew of the C-57D. And Robby the Robot had been something of overgrown toy, with slinky arms, bright lights in a glass dome, tottering steps, turning gears and wheels, and clamp hands. He is almost comical. But Gort …
Gort stands at Klaatu’s side. Commander Adams as seen Gort’s kind before, tall, silvered, silent, visored most times, and hoping that the visor would remain closed besides. There is nothing playful or amusing about him, even though Klaatu is used to him, and his general passive benevolence. But he is imposing, and by design. Gort remains by his side as every member of his “race” does with any high-ranking United Planets dignitary. And Klaatu knows that he himself has more notoriety among the homeworlds than most given the relatively recent — and controversial — inclusion of the human species into the confederation. He’d been the first injured — and even killed — for their message in centuries. He doesn’t like that distinction. It’s unseemly to gain renown from another younger species’ fear and ignorance. Frankly, it’s distasteful to him, as distasteful as …
Klaatu has a mandate. And he needs to get to it. The sooner, the better. “Forgive me for being blunt,” he says, and immediately regrets it as they mirror his words from three hundred years ago. “But this is all information that we are aware, Robby’s sound effects not withstanding.”
“Right.” Commander Adams stares at him, and gives Gort a side glance. “Forgive me, sir.” He says, respecting the chain of command even in the relative peace-time in which this whole galaxy should be. “But why exactly are we here?”
“You already know about the power of the Krell.” Klaatu says, his smile gone, leaning forward intently. “They created a machine that could manifest any matter from thought, a vast underground planetary network that scanned the synapses of its inhabitants — already accustomed to replicating anything they desired from even a single molecule — to make creation beyond a sample, or a template.”
“Limitless power.” Mrs. Adams says, though her words sound like someone else’s, like her father’s.
“Yes.” Commander Adams affirms it, but his tone is impatient. “We recorded all of this in our report.”
“We did not acquire this information in our report.” Klaatu sighs. “Our confederation already knew about the Krell, and their achievement.”
The two humans say nothing, but their faces express everything. It’s as Klaatu expected when his superiors gave him this authorization, and order. Shock on the young woman’s face, and the Commander’s but also a wariness to the latter, and a grim set to his gaze. His face becomes stone. “You knew … about the Krell.”
“Yes.” Klaatu says, knowing now that there is no turning back, wondering if the United Planets would always make him a messenger of ominous tidings. “We were there. When it happened.”
20,000 Years Ago
He can only watch, helplessly, as the glass spires melt in front of him. Winding stair cases, floating steps fall with their travelers still on them. The sight, from their ship, is unimaginable as vessels are disintegrated, and lives wiped out in a myriad of instants.
And they are the fortunate ones.
Klaatu sees the Krell below. He sees them staggering through their wide archways, trying to get away from crackling, hoarse apparitions of pure energy. They are screaming. Crying. The event, Klaatu’s readouts tell him and the others, is localized to the planet itself. The Krell had done it. They’d completed their engine, and the vast machinery, all over their world.
This was the beginning of a new dawn. The long legged, broad, Krell with their magnificent tails, are … they have been, they had been, an inspiration to the confederation of worlds. They traveled the galaxy, perhaps even the universe, when the confederation was young, when they were just different planets slowly exploring the stars. Their automatons were legendary, wondrous, their offspring constructing them for just a lark out of single building blocks. Klaatu’s people, and the others, they made their police — their race of robots — used Krell design, among others, as inspiration while the Krell themselves had no need for them at all, striding peacefully among the stars, brining samples of life back to their homeworld, reconstructing them, hoping to show others what they have achieved through example.
Klaatu watches as the arches fall on the Krell, burying them alive. They tried to help. They tried to warn them, to slow down. But they had achieved much in their millions of years of evolution. This had been inevitable. This final step. To make manifest their dreams.
But what didn’t count on, was their nightmares.
As another shimmering spire falls, and all Klaatu can hear is screams, he senses Gort coming behind him. He and Gort exchange a look … and Klaatu steps aside.
Klaatu knows that each species sees Gort, and his “race” differently. He is even known in different languages. Here, he is Gnut. Klaatu can see it, almost. A tall, angular green-tinged figure with a loin cloth — perhaps like the humanoids they liked to interact with, as they had apparently with Klaatu’s ancestors — with visible muscles. He moves seamlessly to the Krell, who see perfection in everything. He wonders, in their mindless terror, if they can see the beauty in their own destruction in this moment. Gort’s face, is this form, is usually sullen, or brooding. This is what Klaatu was told, and what he can even see through the art of the Krell … and their minds. But right now, as Gort observes the carnage, as a nightmare creature grabs a Krell by the tail and rips it off them, flinging them wailing into the sky, all Klaatu can see on Gort’s metal-muscled face — made clearer by the manifestation engine on the planet causing all of this chaos — is sadness.
Then, his eyes open. Usually, Klaatu’s species among others, would see a beam of shimmering light from a visor. Here, they are just red eyes. But they glow.
Klaatu watches. He makes himself watch. There is no way to help them. The nightmare manifestations will tear them apart, piece by piece. Their own fear and hate torturing them. There is no language — no conception — to even explain to the Krell what is happening to them. And the terror in their offspring’s eyes is too much for him. And possibly for Gort.
It doesn’t take long, but it takes too long. Gort’s metal-muscles flex almost artistically around his neck and shoulders as his eyes continue to burn. Klaatu tried to disable the electronics on the planet, but their reactors are too advanced and deep, too synchronized to turn off the effect now. It is all up to Gort now. Gort and his grim sense of duty.
“Gort.” Klaatu whispers, after a time, “Gort. Baringa.”
By the time it is over, Gort closes his visor. The manifestation of Gnut, the familiar Krell depiction of him, is gone from Klaatu’s perception. He is a tall, metallic construct again. Gigantic. Expressionless. Faceless. Inscrutable. They are above the world, their synapses away from any field of energy that should remain. The planet’s demoniac nightmares have died with the last Krell.
Klaatu’s will continue for the rest of his lifespan.
“The Bellerophon had a mission two decades back.” Klaatu explains, meeting their eyes. It is the least he can do considering the circumstances. “As you know, the confederation allowed Earth to keep its weapons, and maintain colonies provided that no atomics or any other weapons of destruction — or acts of hostility — would be brought to any member world. Altair IV was to be a colony.”
“Bellerophon.” Mrs. Adams’ tone is as faraway as her gaze. “He was the hero that tamed Pegasus, with a bridle he gained from Athena herself. Father told me that story. He rode Pegasus.”
“Yes.” Klaatu admits. “I recall that story.”
“Well, if you do.” Her voice becomes cold. “Then you will know that he tried to fly Pegasus to Olympus, only for the gods to take his steed away, and leave him to fall to the earth, in brambles, blinded, and dying.”
Commander Adams follows up on his wife’s words. “I’ve never heard that story, so you have me at another disadvantage.” The barb is clear, just shy of insubordination. “I know the one about Prometheus, though. And Icarus.” His eyes narrow. “You sent them there.”
“Yes.” Klaatu says. “Earth already found the planet. It was an Expedition sent to … find what might remain. We suspected that there were Krell archaeological remains. The Bellerophon was informed, and consented to excavating what they could find. Unfortunately …”
“They didn’t know that the machine was still active.”
“I don’t understand.” Mrs. Adams turns, almost pleadingly to Robby. “Robby, why didn’t Father tell us any of this?”
The calculation circuits in Robby’s dome click hard, and fast. “Unknown, Miss Alta. My hypothesis is that he wished to have the perception of a space for you and himself. He did not wish to worry you about outside affairs.”
“Yes, Alta.” Commander Adams grips her hands gently. “Your Father sheltered you. He didn’t want you to know about …” He glares at Klaatu and Gort. “All of this.” And, somehow, his eyes narrow further. “Wait. You know, this whole time, about the planet.”
Klaatu closes his eyes. He knew how terrible an idea, this whole situation, had been. He told them, his superiors. But they didn’t listen. It seems to be a constant on every world in, or out of the United Planets, that one’s superiors don’t listen. “Yes.”
“Then that means.” And Klaatu can almost see the gears in Commander Adams’ mind turning as transparently as those in Robby’s cranium. “You had a ship nearby. With one of those.” He inclines his head at Gort.
Klaatu doesn’t say anything. He doesn’t have to.
Commander Adams’ bares his teeth. “All those lives. You sacrificed all those people for what? To get that power for yourselves? To use us to do it? Are you still sore at us after three hundred years? Didn’t we pay enough? That was supposed to be our colony! Our territory! Are we just expendable to you?”
“No. I get it now. You incredible hypocrites.” Commander Adams shakes his head. “You condemned us for the atomics we were making. You barely begrudged us our weapons: pistols and laser cannons, nothing to you. Nothing to you, and that tin can. And you put us on a planet where our worst nightmares would come true! Where we’d spread it to the universe! What did you think, Mister! That you could control what the Krell failed to do? That we –“
“In all honesty.” Klaatu feels the disgust in his mouth as he speaks the words. “Your minds, even augmented, are nowhere near those of the Krell. You, and your nightmares, would never have gotten off the planet without our police force neutralizing you.”
“You know my Father had augmented himself.” Mrs. Adams murmurs.
“Yes.” Klaatu says. “It was … a remarkable achievement. He accomplished much. You said it yourself, Commander.” He turns to the fuming man. “He will be remembered. I won’t …” He tries to find the words. “I won’t pretend to know, or even agree with the decisions of my superiors, but something has to come from this tragedy. From several millennia of tragedy. And it has.”
It takes them a moment. “Robby.” Mrs. Adams replies. “You think Robby can help you with your research.”
“He can.” Klaatu turns to the automaton. “Robby, is it true that Dr. Morbius recorded inside of you all of his research on the Krell?”
“Robby?” Mrs. Adams’ eyes widen. “Is … is that true?”
“I am not monitored to grant that information.”
“Robby.” Mrs. Adams’ voice becomes flat.
“I am not monitored to …”
“Dammit, Robby!” Mrs. Adams’ face turns red. “Archimedes!“
“Alta, what in god’s name has gotten into –” Commander Adams grabs her arm, but immediately lets go as he realizes, it is all out in the open now. All too late.
The robot pauses for a moment as everyone looks at him expectantly. His globe glows temporarily with expended energy.
Klaatu nods, slowly. “We thought as much. Robby is integral in our research of the Krell, and their sciences. In using their science and technology responsibly. But he is not the only one we need.”
“No.” Commander Adams gets up from his seat.
“Commander Adams.” Klaatu says. There is only so long this insubordination, even though completely understood, can be tolerated. “You need to remember yourself.”
“Are you threatening me, sir?”
“No.” Klaatu looks at Gort, who still hasn’t moved. “I am warning you.”
“I don’t care. You are not taking her. Her, or Robby. I am tired of this –“
“You have no choice, Commander.” Klaatu says. “You will, of course, accompany them, with a promotion –“
Suddenly, before Klaatu can react, he sees Commander Adams throw himself across the table. For the first time in hundreds of years, Klaatu finds himself rough-handled again, the Commander’s hands bunching up his uniform. “Like hell we’re going anywhere!”
“Stay back, Miss Alta.”
Klaatu feels his airway blocked by the human Commander’s hands. He wonders, briefly, if they can retrieve enough of him again from the audio tapes. He recalls telling Helen that resurrection was beyond even his species’ — beyond this confederation’s — power. And it technically wasn’t untrue. They can only, at best, make copies with as near perfect memory engrams as they can from sonic impressions. From radio waves. Will Klaatu truly be the one that returns if he dies here because of this entirely unnecessary exercise? This one last waste of life?
But then he sees Gort step forward. His visor is beginning to lift.
“Gort –” Klaatu gasps out.
Then, Klaatu feels his windpipe fill with air as Gort tears Commander Adams off him. He holds him, in the air, with one arm, as he begins to scan him. As he …
Something knocks into Gort. It doesn’t move him, but it dislodges Commander Adams from his grasp. The Commander falls to the floor, red-faced, shaking, angry or terrified, or both. Robby and Gort wrestle. Sparkles, negating energy, comes from Robby’s ridiculous but strong vacuum tube arms. His appendages are pincers. Gort, however, remains still and his eye-slit is burning. It’s crackling with power.
“Robby. Stand down.”
“Negative, Miss Alta.”
“Robby, that is an order.”
And that is when Klaatu realizes it. The report he read. Robby has been built with a command by Alta’s father, by the late Dr. Morbius. Of course the Robot, if entrusted with the Doctor’s secrets, built with a command not to harm humans, would also have an imperative to protect his only daughter, from any threat, perceived or otherwise.
Klaatu and Mrs. Adams regard each other. She is at her husband’s side, holding him to her, his arm around her. For a few moments, he sees Helen again, in her expression if not her resemblance. She nods. Slowly.
“Gort.” Klaatu rasps, trying not to remember the last time he uttered these words with regards to the Krell. “Baringa.”
Sparks, red hot, purple lightning, forms in the dome of Robby’s head. Then, slowly, the robot lets go off Gort. Gort, for his part, scans everyone in the room. His gaze falls on Klaatu for a second longer, before his visor lowers back onto his eye slit. Klaatu attempts to get onto his feet. Then, he feels someone helping him up. Gort. He always forgets, even after all this time, how fast the automaton can move. He nods at him, thankful. Just how many times has the robot saved his life? Or remained by his side throughout the hardest decisions he’s had to make? He doesn’t know, but he hopes the other knows how grateful he is, how safe he feels with him, this being that could snuff him out like a tiny flame, his age-old protector …
“I apologize, for my part in this getting out of hand.” Klaatu says, finding his voice again, wanting to sit, but remaining standing. “We –“
“We will take this assignment.” Mrs. Adams says.
“Alta –” Commander Adams says, but she cuts him off.
“No. My Father … he died for this knowledge. It was his life. And if it can help … can it help others, Mr. Carpenter?”
Klaatu almost forgets his assumed name. He slumps his shoulders. “With time. With self-consciousness. With conscience. What I was going to say … what I should have said, to my shame, is that while the Krell were more advanced than humans, possibly than almost anyone in our confederation, they forgot their baser instincts. Their fears. Their subconscious. We have not. We are not that … elevated. Clearly. And you, humanity, you know yourselves. We were impressed by what Dr. Morbius did, despite …” Shame fills Klaatu again, at what that discovery cost, at what he is forced to condone. What would the late Professor Barnhardt think of this accomplishment? Or Helen? “With time, and perhaps better minds, a better mindset, this could eliminate the need for any violence. Any threat of force.” He looks up at Gort, his face apologetic. “For peace without any fear of ultimate sanction.”
Gort remains still. Mrs. Adams, for her part, has a thoughtful expression on her face. “Perhaps with a modified plastic educator, that’s how it can start.”
“Alta?” Commander Adams touches her arm.
“Oh, John. We could help people. All of this doesn’t have to be a curse. It –” She turns to Klaatu. “I agree. On a few conditions.”
Klaatu is quiet, taking in the words. The situation. “And those would be?”
“First. We have a station, to ourselves. A space station. You have those?”
“Yes.” Klaatu readjusts his suit. “We do. We have been constructing one, for just such an occasion.”
“Alta, we don’t have to do this …”
“We do.” A pained expression forms on her face. “And you know it, John. I …”
Klaatu sees it. She spent her whole life on a small planet, isolated, alone except for a few others. “I …” He says. “I’m sorry for the sacrifice we are asking you to …”
She turns to him. Her eyes are firm. Set. She’s made her mind up. “We will do it. As long as you meet our conditions. We get the station. John gets his promotion. And we set the litmus on the research. We determine what is safe.”
Klaatu’s brow furrows as he watches Commander Adams come to his wife’s side. “You are asking a lot. To trust you, even with the best of intentions, with what you will uncover …”
“Just as you did with a bunch of human colonists that you expected to fail, and have to sterilize?”
Klaatu doesn’t say anything. His silence says everything. Mrs. Adams shakes her head. “We’re not asking you to not have … one of those, Gort or whatever he is nearby. You’ll do it anyway. But you will defer to our judgment. On what you get. Can you tell your superiors that? Are you authorized to do that, Mr. Carpenter?”
Klaatu takes a moment to consider. They won’t be happy, but their confederation wasn’t made in a day. They had the patience then, to see it through. They can have a little more. “I will tell them. It is the least I can do.”
“Yes. It is.” Mrs. Adams’ eyes soften. “Thank you, Mr. Carpenter.”
“Thank you, for your service Mrs. Adams.” Klaatu turns to the others. “And you, Commander?” Klaatu asks. “And Robby?”
“I will obey Miss Alta.” Robby says, nodding his bulk to her direction once.
“I will go to my post.” Commander Adams replies, his face overtaken by his glower.
“For what it is worth.” Klaatu says, as they begin to adjourn. “You have …”
“What? Have we passed your test, sir?”
Klaatu nods, knowing he deserves that. “The parameters of the confederation. Of the United Planets. Your probationary period is over. Your world, and colonies — your civilization — will now be an official member of our union, with all of its privileges and responsibilities.”
Commander Adams’ facial expression doesn’t change by a margin. “I’m sure the rest of the brass will be happy. But I’m not doing it for you.” He puts an arm around Mrs. Adams. “This is for my wife.”
There is nothing more to be said as the arrangements are made, leaving nothing but paperwork and records to be dealt with. As the humans leave, their own robot in tow, Klaatu moves away from the conference table. He goes up to the grey non-descript wall. Slowly, it opens, revealing a night sky filled with stars. Somewhere, out there, Altair IV is still burning, the planet now another star.
“The Almighty have mercy on us, Gort, old friend.” He says, feeling the robot at his side, as always. “The Almighty forgive us.”