The Custard from Another Planet
Oh, you future generations who read these words in admiration or infamy: it is to you I speak, for there is none today I can tell. Pity me, please, and envy too: for I am the most luckless man on this lonely world, and the most blessed. I am no one today, but by the time of your reading I will be someone miraculous or malevolent. My burden is this: I am the man, the gentleman farmer, the semi-retired day trader, the amateur astronomer isolated in these remote Dakota plains, who has been granted the fortune of first making contact with life beyond our globe.
At first I thought myself fortunate — but no, never as fortunate nor as cursed as time would tell! — in that I had seen through my modest lens the approach of a semi-spectacular meteor. Watching it fall, my heart fell with it: it described a trajectory directly towards my cold, far patch of land, and its size proved rather disappointing, its speed too slow, its descent erratic and clumsy. Perhaps I’d simply be the receiver of a fallen Brazilian TV satellite, a discovery that would reward me not with fame and respect but merely headaches and lots of cleanup time. When it hit, the full weight of what was happening descended like fire from heaven: no electronics technician in São Paolo born had forged this celestial sphere. What had crashed in my back forty was nothing more or less than a spacecraft: a vehicle, there could be no doubt, not of this world, there could be no doubt, designed by a thinking mind, there could be no doubt.
I have so far called no one, told no one, done nothing. The realization that I might be he who saves the world or he who dooms it paralyzes me. Its door — and here I am the arrogant man, naming it as if I knew its purpose — is cracked and half-open, and behind there may lie the secrets of the ages. But oh, God, I am afraid.
I am no child, but I have seen enough movies to sense the truth beneath. I may have shirked my responsibilities as a citizen of this country in deciding to breach the hull of the alien craft without alerting the authorities of my discovery, but I felt as if I were doing my job as a citizen of the universe. I musn’t become a name in a trivia book, or worse, the first victim of a massive cover-up: I must at least know what I was reporting. I decided that I would at least see what lay behind that forbidding door before scientists and researchers more able than I were brought in.
The discovery (after a great deal of clumsy fumbling about) that what was behind was the pilot’s chamber was shock enough to my system, but the further discovery that said pilot was a small custard topped with caramel proved quite beyond my ability to cope. I threw a tarp over the craft that I use to cover the garden during winter and went inside to think. If I sat on this discovery, I might learn all sorts of incredible truths: if only I could communicate with what appeared to be a still-tenable custard, I might know secrets never before guessed by the mind of man. Or I might enrage, endanger or destroy the custard. Then again, what might happen if I were to turn it over to the authorities? They had more resources, more expertise and more equipment than I, its humble discoverer; surely they might succeed where I would surely fail. On the other hand, they might guard the custard too jealously, or they might fear it so much that they would destroy it.
It was all too much to process. Lacking any other ideas, I refrigerated it.
May God forgive me. I have done harm, though none was intended. I offer in my defense — and pray that it is not a defense against dooming my entire magnificent species — that I was motivated only by scientific zeal. But I have breached a trust, destroyed a perfect symmetry, and perhaps destroyed a world.
Of late I have been obsessed with the alien custard. All thoughts of examining the ship and tinkering with its miraculous technology fell aside as I became consumed with learning more about what kind of dessert could possibly have built an interstellar starship. At first I was convinced that it was some sort of prank; you must admit that the scenario is unlikely in the extreme. But in the end, I rejected the possibility. It seemed a rather massive expenditure of time and resources to build and launch a spacecraft simply for the purposes of convincing a stranger that it was piloted by a custard, even one on such a lovely floral-pattern saucer. So, tormented thus by my spotless but undeniable thirst for knowledge, I removed a tiny bit of it and sent it off to a laboratory in Minneapolis for analysis.
No matter what the result, I have done a horrible disservice to both our species. How, after all, would I have liked it if, upon landing on an alien world, I were seized by some ham-footed weekend scientist who then proceeded to take a chunk out of me and run it through a chromatograph? And goodness knows what I have done to the poor creature’s health. That bit may have been a lung, a kidney, even its brain. I seem to see it quiver slightly, especially when I open the refrigerator door, and I afford myself the hope that it is still alive, but this may be wishful thinking on my part. How much damage I have done may be incalculable. And yet I can hardly wait until I get the results back from the lab. I hope they come soon, because I fear my little extraterrestrial is beginning to spoil.
Well, it’s a custard.
Milk, vanilla, eggs, sugar. Is this what the stars have to offer us? Was the secret to life on our planet a simple matter of boiling, whisking and placing in a bain-marie? Are we simply ingredients in some weird god’s cosmic soufflé? I am tortured and anguished, and consumed by another sentiment that is achingly familiar but which I cannot quite identify. I am so disturbed that I have even stopped looking for mathematical sequences in the floral pattern on its saucer. Last night I thought it spoke to me, in some gibbering tongue that burrowed directly into my mind as I fetched the salad dressing from the door of the fridge. I could not understand the words, only the desperation and helplessness of the tone — it was the voice of something billions of miles from home, with no one to aid it or even understand it. But then, earlier, I thought I heard that same voice coming from a fruit pie I got at the gas station. Oh, creature, what have you done to me?
You know, this isn’t half bad.