The Magnificent WilfGordon R. Dickson
The Magnificent Wilf
Gordon R. Dickson
A classic of humorous science fiction from SF legend Gordon R. Dickson, winner of three Hugo awards, a Nebula award, and an inductee into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame.
We are not alone in the galaxy—not by a longshot. And extra-solar civilization has come calling. Now, Tom Parent, his linguist wife Lucy, and their Great Dane Rex must travel the stars as ambassadors of Earth. Their mission: to prove Humanity deserves to be considered equal to the scores of established alien cultures. Earth’s acceptance hinges on building good relationships with these aliens, and the genteel Parents seem the perfect candidates for wooing extra-terrestrials.
Of course, they’ll have to tread carefully among these brave new worlds that have such creatures in them! Soon what starts as a straight-forward goodwill tour is complicated when Lucy is mistaken for a Wilf—a lifeform that manipulates others toward moral behavior—and Tom accidentally joins a galactic council when he sits in the wrong chair. On top of that, their faithful hound Rex starts talking. And maybe it’s best if we don’t mention the singing gelatin-mold-like alien they have to rescue from becoming dessert.
It’s action and adventure for Tom, Lucy, and Rex, and a laugh-riot for the reader in this classic novel from Science Fiction master Gordon R. Dickson!
The Magnificent Wilf
This is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely coincidental.
Copyright © 1995 by Gordon R. Dickson
All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form.
A Baen Books Original
Baen Publishing Enterprises
P.O. Box 1403
Riverdale, NY 10471
Cover art by Sam R. Kennedy
First mass market printing, May 1996
First trade paperback printing, December 2018
Distributed by Simon & Schuster
1230 Avenue of the Americas
New York, NY 10020
Library of Congress Catalog Number 94-46999
Printed in the United States of America
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
Electronic version by Baen Books
The spider on the wall made a sharp turn to the left.
“No, you idiot!” said Tom Parent. “Right! Turn right! You’re going away from it now!”
The spider stopped and made an abrupt turn. But it was not the complete about-face which would have headed it back toward the ventilator grille, on the wall of the waiting room of Albert Miles, Tom’s immediate superior. That was the only way out for it, to escape from this twenty-seventh story of the All-Earth Federation Building. The ventilation ductwork could provide a pathway down to ground level. There, presumably, it ought to be able to find its way outside, at last, to where a spider could make a living—off aphids, flies, or whatever a carnivorous insect this size would consider takeable prey.
What it had done instead had only given it a forty-five-degree change of direction that sent it straight up the yellow-painted wall, past the wall clock there, and entirely past the ventilator grille to which Tom had been trying to direct it. It was now headed toward the ceiling; to which it had already been three times in the past hour and a half, since he had been sitting, coaching it, for want of anything better to do.
It had now reached the ceiling again and stopped abruptly. Now it was standing there, motionless. It had done that before for minutes at a time.
Tom gave up. He sighed and looked once more at the wall clock. It was just above a walnut-colored door and behind a desk. The desk had an Alienmade Computer/Manager built into it. It was the personal instrument of Albert Miles, First Assistant (1S/SCAL) to Domango Aksisi, Secretary for Alien Affairs of Earth (S/SCAL).
The Computer/Manager noticed him looking at it now; and the red light in the front of the panel that was its single eye softened to a tender pink.
“I love you Tom,” it said softly.
“I know,” Tom said. “I love you too, Dory. But as you know, I’m already married.”
“Oh, that’s all right,” the C/M said.
It was the usual interchange between them, when Tom found himself in Miles’ waiting room.
Tom had a soft spot for Dory, and always thought of the C/M as “her” rather than “it.” The name actually was an acronym, short for “Desk-Oriented Route Yielder”—which was how its alien designation translated. Miles should actually never have been given such a sensitive piece of machinery. Dory could handle just about everything under the sun of Earth, and do so with all of them simultaneously; from taking care of employees of the Secretariat temporarily on the other side of the world to managing whatever should come up in this office. She was actually much smarter than Miles.
But there was one problem. It was that, in addition to the tremendous capacity for work that Alien science had built into her, Dory also had a component that made her capable of understanding and affection for whomever she belonged to.
Actually, she had been designed to manage Miles as well, in all but his professional decisions. Miles, however, was too self-centered and insensitive to recognize this; and treated her as nothing more than a machine. Meanwhile, Dory’s operating system required her to measure her success in being of service by the affection and dependence that her efforts should engender in a human breast.
It was Tom’s opinion that Miles had no breast. At least, not one that felt anything. The result was that Dory was totally unable to make any kind of emotional connection with him; and was therefore completely unable to satisfy the circuit that required her to measure how well she was helping him.
Tom, on the other hand, had treated her like another human being from the first; and Dory’s sensitive/affectionate component had responded by falling in love with him.
This was quite harmless, as Dory herself had pointed out. If Tom had not been there, she would have fallen in love with the next available human substitute. She was no competition in any real sense for Lucy, Tom’s actual wife and real love; but she did her work much more effectively with the response that Tom had quite naturally given her.
He was aware of this and usually made an effort to acknowledge it. Today, however, he had been so full of his own thoughts he had hardly spoken to her.
“It’s a shame he makes you wait this long,” Dory said now, breaking in on Tom’s thoughts, “he—”
She hesitated for a nearly imperceptible moment, as her affection components came into conflict with her loyalty circuit; then went swiftly on, “I mean, he’s been busy of course, but it’s a shame he has to be busy like this while you sit outside for an hour and a half. You deserve better, Tom. You’re much better than anyone else here in the Secretariat; and he keeps you at that low AS/SCAL rank, as if you were no different than any other Assistant Third Secretary. You aren’t even treated like an ordinary Third Secretary should be. You’re treated more like an errand boy. But you won’t be always.”
“Oh, it’s not that bad,” said Tom, privately admitting to himself that Dory was absolutely right.
“Actually,” Tom said, truthfully, “I’m glad to be part of the Secretariat here on any terms.”
“Are you?” said Dory, filing this information on him in her private data bank.
“Yes,” said Tom. “You see, I’d always believed that there were plenty of intelligent Aliens out in our galaxy; and that it was just a matter of time until they’d get into open contact with us. Everybody used to laugh at me. But now that Ali
ens have shown up and actually made open contact with us, you can’t find anyone who doesn’t claim they always knew it, too. But I actually did—even before the first Oprinkian official showed up here to tell us we were finally going to be accepted—probationary status only, of course—into the civilization of this Galactic Sector.”
“I know,” said Dory. “I’ve got your complete history on file, just like I’ve got everybody else’s as well. Once you’ve been given the chance, you’ll show your ability so clearly no one can help knowing how capable you are. And you’ll be given that chance. You’ll see. I’m helping.”
“I know you are, Dory,” said Tom. “And I appreciate it.”
Dory went back to handling affairs for Miles, and Tom returned to his thinking.
Not that there was anything she could do, he told himself. She had been designed to advise, but only if asked—and Miles would never ask.
Still, what she said was true about Miles. But then, he treated everybody but his superiors like errand boys. He had been put in his present position back when this Secretariat was not a Secretariat at all, but only a minor Department, hastily thrown together after the first Oprinkian landed.
It had only been after a number of visits by the Oprinkians, and a growing realization that other intelligent Races like them were far, far advanced over humans, that the All-Earth Federation of Earth woke up. The realization dawned on them, finally, that dealing diplomatically with such Aliens called for an organization comparable in dignity to those they would be dealing with—and the Department became a Secretariat.
The only unfortunate part had been that Miles had made the change along with it. He was still in charge of everything; and ranked just under the Secretary for Alien Affairs, Domango Aksisi, himself.
The truth was, Tom told himself, Miles was sick with a desire for power. He was thoroughly convinced he should have been in Domango’s place. But the Secretary had necessarily needed to be chosen by the All-Earth Federation in open Convocation. So Miles had stayed on as merely chief bureaucrat, just what he had been to begin with.
Tom looked back at the spider.
The situation had changed. It was now on the move again, slanting toward the ventilator grille from only a couple of feet above it. It was clipping right along. Finally, it seemed to have noticed the grille, and made it the goal to be reached.
Tom felt a slight warmth of self-congratulation. That was the answer to dealing with different species and Alien Races, he thought. Patience—and confidence. Undoubtedly these would be some of the important criteria in dealing with intelligent Aliens too. Always be patient, and never allow yourself to be baffled or surprised by anything they—
The spider stopped short about an inch and a half from the edge of the ventilator; as if the thought had suddenly occurred to it that the ventilator might be some sort of trap.
Calm down, Tom told it mentally. Don’t get excited or angry. Remain patient, confident and optimistic at all times, the way I always do—
The spider suddenly zipped to the ventilator and through the nearest hole, out of sight into the blackness of the duct work beyond.
“Tom,” said Dory, “you can go in. He says he’s ready for you, now.”
Tom got up from his chair and headed toward the maple-colored door. Ordinarily that “ready for you now” would have rasped annoyingly on his nerves after being kept waiting so long; but right at the moment he was too full of a feeling of triumph over the spider’s escape. He came very close to whistling happily, as he touched the latch button of the door below the clock. The door itself slid back and he entered the inner sanctum of Albert Miles (1S/SCAL).
“Well, here you are!” said Miles, looking up from his desk.
He would not have been an unpleasant looking man if it had not been for the now-permanent expression of ill-humor etched on his features by constant practice, the tight lips and the accusatory frown line between his slightly graying eyebrows. The bright noon sunlight of spring, coming through the nearest of the cathedral-shaped windows—not as tall and narrow as Miles would have liked (he had indented for recutting them, but Buildings and Grounds had so far refused permission)—at the moment unfortunately cast a halo around Miles’ receding gray-black hairline.
What hair he had otherwise, plainly needed a haircut. It was standing up untidily. Curiously, he had unusually broad shoulders, which should have redeemed his appearance from being that of a small, vinegarish man; but instead gave the impression that he was hunched uncomfortably behind his desk. After a short pause, he added, “Well, I suppose you better sit down.”
He nodded to a chair—a reasonably padded chair, but nothing to compare with the high-backed, cushioned throne he himself sat in. The facing chair was a little to one side of the center of his desk; and he turned slightly to frown at Tom like a judge who is already making up his mind about the prisoner in the witness box.
Tom waited. When dealing with Alien species, he reminded himself again, patience. Be calm. Remain optimistic.
“I suppose you want to know why you’re here,” said Miles, disagreeably.
As a matter of fact, Tom already knew. The news had been passed generally, from one person to another through the Secretariat for the last three days, that there was an important Alien visitor due on Earth. Another Oprinkian, an official representative of one of the forty-three ruling Races in this sector of the galaxy—in fact the very one that had watched over the growth of the human race into civilization. He was due here on a special mission to get to know the human race better, individual-to-individual. Undoubtedly, Miles had called Tom in because there was some errand or duty concerned with seeing that the visitor had a good time; and Tom was picked for it.
“It’s a very important Oprinkian that’s coming,” Miles was going on. “An Oprinkian of the ninth level.”
An Oprinkian even of the fifth level would have startled him. Nothing higher than one of fourth level had visited Earth so far. The idea of nine levels was mind-boggling. He might be only an Assistant Third Secretary, but theoretically he was supposed to know Alien ranks as well as anyone else in the Secretariat.
“Knocks you speechless, doesn’t it?” said Miles. “And you may well wonder why someone like you should even be told about it. But for you it’s only a matter of running an errand for me. I tell you this much only so you’ll understand how important it is you do at least that right. There mustn’t be any slipups. This ninth-level Oprinkian is far beyond our dictating to him what he wants to do.”
Tom could believe this. The first Oprinkian to visit Earth and acquaint it with the fact that it was being finally accepted—on probation only—into the Confederacy of Alien Worlds, had encountered some human who mentioned to him the problem Earth currently had with nuclear weapons and the storage of nuclear waste.
The Oprinkian had only tut-tutted on hearing this and gone on to other matters. But in succeeding weeks, all around the globe, those concerned with nuclear weapons and nuclear waste had suddenly discovered that the dangerous element in these artifacts of human technology had been neutralized. All such material had become inert.
Since that time, people had developed a certain wariness about all Oprinkians. Certainly the Oprinkians were a kindly race and well intentioned. They were the ones who had Earth within their own sphere of influence. They had directly studied the Human Race, evidently hoping that it would graduate to their own present, educated level; and recommended humans for probationary civilized status—though how Oprinkians defined the word “civilized”—except that it had nothing to do with technological achievements—was unclear.
Still, few humans nowadays would want to tell an Oprinkian he or she couldn’t do something.
“All right, now!” Miles was going on. “This particular Oprinkian wants us to call him Mr. Rejilla. What Mr. Rejilla’s come here to find, he says, is the experience of everyday life in the case of a mated couple of humans. Particularly, a couple with a pet. It seem
s Oprinkians have been particularly taken with the fact that some of us—I don’t, myself—keep specimens of a lesser species in their homes on a family basis. They seem to think that’s advanced behavior for people like us.”
“Naturally,” he went on, “all those things narrow our freedom to deal with him the way I’d like to. To begin with, we don’t want to risk exposing him to anyone who isn’t in the Secretariat—someone who, naturally, might make mistakes.”
“Right,” said Tom.
“Right!” said Miles. “Now, we don’t want to expose him to anyone outside the Secretariat. Now, for who should host this Rejilla—the Secretary himself, of course, is out of the question; so am I—though the Secretary and I did talk briefly about me and my wife being the ones to entertain Mr. Rejilla.”
He stopped and glared at Tom for a moment as if daring Tom to suggest any other couple could possibly be considered first.
“Of course,” said Tom.
Miles went on. “Anyway, we haven’t got a pet. My wife would like a cat, but—” said Miles, once more sneering a little, for he considered any such disabilities a personal indulgence and evidence of weakness of character, “—she’s supposed to be allergic to cats, or we’d simply have borrowed one for the occasion. In any case, Mr. Rejilla ruled it out. He’d asked which were the two most popular lesser species kept as pets by humans; and after doing a quick world survey, we came up with dogs and cats. He chose dogs—but my wife’s also allergic to them—because, he says, they’re socialized wolves. He thinks it’s fascinating a socialized variety should be part of the lives of so many ordinary humans; when the wild variety’s regarded as a dangerous predator. He’s got some other, Oprinkian types of reasons, too, that he didn’t explain clearly. There’d be no point in my telling you about them.”