30 Days Book Challenge – Day 15 –
Book Story That I Read For School
We had various books like Tom Sawyer, The Invisible Man, Malgudi Days etc. But No! I am not talking about a ‘book’ here. It is a short story that we had in our English, CBSE Main Course Book. It was a set of 9 letters to be precise.
Dear Pen Pal by A. E. Van Vogt
There are a very few stories from school books in my mind. And this one is the most intriguing. Let me repeat. This one IS the most intriguing.
When I say short story, do not expect descriptions, narrations or conversations. This one is more of a monologue. It is a series of letters addressed ‘Dear Pen Pal’ and signed ‘Skander’. The Pen Pal being a human child and Skander being an alien from the planet Aurigae II.
We learn the contents of the child’s letter from the reply that Skander gives in his letters.
Why do I remember this? Trust me! You don’t want me to tell you why. You can unveil it for yourself and if you like it as much as I do, you’ll never forget it. If this post has piqued your interest, and you want to read the story, you just got lucky.
DEAR Pen Pal: When I first received your letter from the interstellar correspondence club, my impulse was to ignore it. The mood of one who has spent the last seventy planetary periods–years I suppose you would call them–in an Aurigaen prison, does not make for a pleasant exchange of letters. However, life is very boring, and so I finally settled myself to the task of writing you. Your description of Earth sounds exciting. I would like to live there for a while, and I have a suggestion in this connection, but I won’t mention it till I have developed it further. You will have noticed the material on which this letter is written. It is a highly sensitive metal, very thin, very flexible, and I have enclosed several sheets of it for your use. Tungsten dipped in any strong acid makes an excellent mark on it. It is important to me that you do write on it, as my fingers are too hot–literally–to hold your paper without damaging it. I’ll say no more just now. It is possible you will not care to correspond with a convicted criminal, and therefore I shall leave the next move up to you. Thank you for your letter. Though you did not know its destination, it brought a moment of cheer into my drab life.
Dear Pen Pal: Your prompt reply to my letter made me happy. I am sorry your doctor thought it excited you too much, and sorry, also, if I have described my predicament in such a way as to make you feel badly. I welcome your many questions, and I shall try to answer them all. You say the international correspondence club has no record of having sent any letters to Aurigae. That, according to them, the temperature on the second planet of the Aurigae sun is more than 500 degrees Fahrenheit. And that life is not known to exist there. Your club is right about the temperature and the letters. We have what your people would call a hot climate, but then we are not a hydrocarbon form of life, and find 500 degrees very pleasant. I must apologize for deceiving you about the way your first letter was sent to me. I didn’t want to frighten you away by telling you too much at once. After all, I could not be expected to know that you would be enthusiastic to hear from me. The truth is that I am a scientist, and, along with the other members of my race, I have known for some centuries that there were other inhabited systems in the galaxy. Since I am allowed to experiment in my spare hours, I amused myself in attempts at communication. I developed several simple systems for breaking in on galactic communication operations, but it was not until I developed a subspacewave control that I was able to draw your letter (along with several others, which I did not answer) into a cold chamber. I use the cold chamber as both sending and receiving center, and since you were kind enough to use the material which I sent you, it was easy for me to locate your second letter among the mass of mail that accumulated at the nearest headquarters of the interstellar correspondence club. How did I learn your language? After all, it is a simple one, particularly the written language seems easy. I had no difficulty with it. If you are still interested in writing me, I shall be happy to continue the correspondence.
Dear Pen Pal: Your enthusiasm is refreshing. You say that I failed to answer your question about how I expected to visit Earth. I confess I deliberately ignored the question, as my experi-ment had not yet proceeded far enough. I want you to bear with me a short time longer, and then I will be able to give you the details. You are right in saying that it would be difficult for a being who lives at a temperature of 500 degrees Fahrenheit to mingle freely with the people of Earth. This was never my intention, so please relieve your mind. How-ever, let us drop that subject for the time being. I appreciate the delicate way in which you approach the subject of my imprisonment. But it is quite unnecessary. I performed forbidden experiments upon my body in a way that was deemed to be dangerous to the public welfare. For instance, among other things, I once lowered my surface temperature to 150 degrees Fahrenheit, and so shortened the radioactive cycle-time of my surroundings. This caused an unexpected break in the normal person to person energy flow in the city where I lived, and so charges were laid against me. I have thirty more years to serve. It would be pleasant to leave my body behind and tour the universe–but as I said I’ll discuss that later. I wouldn’t say that we’re a superior race. We have certain qualities which apparently “your people do not have. We live longer, not because of any discoveries we’ve made about ourselves, but because our bodies are built of a more enduring element–I don’t know your name for it, but the atomic weight is 52.9 #. Our scientific discoveries are of the kind that would normally be made by a race with our kind of physical structure. The fact that we can work with temperatures of as high as–I don’t know just how to put that–has been very helpful in the development of the sub-space energies which are extremely hot, and require delicate adjustments. In the later stages these adjustments can be made by machinery, but in the development the work must be done by “hand”–I put that word in quotes, because we have no hands in the same way that you have. I am enclosing a photographic plate, properly cooled and chemicalized for your climate. I wonder if you would set it up and take a picture of yourself. All you have to do is arrange it properly on the basis of the laws of light–that is, light travels in straight lines, so stand in front of it–and when you are ready think “Ready!” The picture will be automatically taken. Would you do this for me? If you are interested, I will also send you a picture of myself, though I must warn you. My appearance will probably shock you.
Dear Pen Pal: Just a brief note in answer to your question. It is not necessary to put the plate into a camera. You describe this as a dark box. The plate will take the picture when you think, “Ready!” I assure you it will be flooded with light.
Dear Pen Pal: You say that while you were waiting for the answer to my last letter you showed the photographic plate to one of the doctors at the hospital–I cannot picture what you mean by doctor or hospital, but let that pass–and he took the problem up with government authorities. Problem? I don’t understand. I thought we were having a pleasant corres-pondence, private and personal. I shall certainly appreciate your sending that picture of yourself.
Dear Pen Pal: I assure you I am not annoyed at your action. It merely puzzled me, and I am sorry the plate has not been returned to you. Knowing what governments are, I can imagine that it will not be returned to you for some time, so I am taking the liberty of inclosing another plate. I cannot imagine why you should have been warned against continuing this correspondence. What do they expect me to do?–eat you up at long distance? I’m sorry but I don’t like hydrogen in my diet. In any event, I would like your picture as a memento of our friendship, and I will send mine as soon as I have re-ceived yours. You may keep it or throw it away, or give it to your governmental authorities–but at least I will have the knowledge that I’ve given a fair exchange. With all best wishes
Dear Pen Pal: Your last letter was so slow in coming that I thought you had decided to break off the correspondence. I was sorry to notice that you failed to enclose the photograph, puzzled by your reference to having a relapse, and cheered by your statement that you would send it along as soon as you felt better–whatever that means. However, the important thing is that you did write, and I respect the philosophy of your club which asks its members not to write of pessimistic matters. We all have our own problems which we regard as overshadowing the problems of others. Here I am in prison, doomed to spend the next 30 years tucked away from the main stream of life. Even the thought is hard on my restless spirit, though I know I have a long life ahead of me after my release. In spite of your friendly letter, I won’t feel that you have completely re-established contact with me until you send the photograph. Yours in expectation Skander
Dear Pen Pal: The photograph arrived. As you suggest, your appearance startled me. From your description I thought I had mentally reconstructed your body. It just goes to show that words cannot really describe an object which has never been seen. You’ll notice that I’ve enclosed a photograph of myself, as I promised I would. Chunky, metallic looking chap, am I not, very different, I’ll wager, than you expected? The various races with whom we have communicated become wary of us when they discover we are highly radioactive, and that literally we are a radioactive form of life, the only such (that we know of) in the universe. It’s been very trying to be so isolated and, as you know, I have occasionally mentioned that I had hopes of escaping not only the deadly imprison-ment to which I am being subjected but also the body which cannot escape. Perhaps you’ll be interested in hearing how far this idea has developed. The problem involved is one of exchange of personalities with someone else. Actually, it is not really an exchange in the accepted meaning of the word. It is necessary to get an impress of both individuals, of their mind and of their thoughts as well as their bodies. Since this phase is purely mechanical, it is simply a matter of taking complete photographs and of exchanging them. By complete I mean of course every vibration must be registered. The next step is to make sure the two photographs are exchanged, that is, that each party has somewhere near him a complete photograph of the other. (It is already too late, Pen Pal. I have set in motion the sub-space energy interflow between the two plates, so you might as well read on.) As I have said it is not exactly an exchange of personalities. The original personality in each individual is suppressed, literally pushed back out of the consciousness, and the image personality from the “photographic” plate replaces it. You will take with you a complete memory of your life on Earth, and I will take along memory of my life on Aurigae. Simultaneously, the memory of the receiving body will be blurrily at our disposal. A part of us will always be pushing up, striving to regain consciousness, but always lacking the strength to succeed. As soon as I grow tired of Earth, I will exchange bodies in the same way with a member of some other race. Thirty years hence, I will be happy to reclaim my body, and you can then have whatever body I last happened to occupy. This should be a very happy arrangement for us both. You, with your short life expectancy, will have out-lived all your contemporaries and will have had an interesting experience. I admit I expect to have the better of the ex-change–but now, enough of explanation. By the time you reach this part of the letter it will be me reading it, not you. But if any part of you is still aware, so long for now, Pen Pal. It’s been nice having all those letters from you. I shall write you from time to time to let you know how things are going with my tour.
Dear Pen Pal: Thanks a lot for forcing the issue. For a long time I hesitated about letting you play such a trick on yourself. You see, the government scientists analyzed the nature of that first photographic plate you sent me, and so the final decision was really up to me. I decided that anyone as eager as you were to put one over should be allowed to succeed. Now I know I didn’t have to feel sorry for you. Your plan to conquer Earth wouldn’t have gotten anywhere, but the fact that you had the idea ends the need for sympathy. By this time you will have realized for yourself that a man who has been paralyzed since birth, and is subject to heart attacks, cannot expect a long life span. I am happy to tell you that your once lonely pen pal is enjoying himself, and I am happy to sign myself with a name to which I expect to become accustomed. With best wishes Skander
It is from a compilation of Van Vogt’s stories. Do let me know your feedback on my recommendation. 😀 😀