35 Up Close and Personal

The next morning Chen He had much to report.

"I sent an email before retiring last night, telling my staff that I could be reached via phone and email. I've let the calls go to voicemail, but I have a number of interesting offers from the media that I think you should consider."

They all looked at him with interest.

"I've forwarded a list of the news agencies and journalists that are eager to interview you. It would be the scoop of a lifetime and I think it shows, not surprisingly, that the world is eager to hear more from you."

John opened the forwarded message from Chen, sent via the Anyari net. Chen was, thankfully, adaptable and a quick learner. He scanned down the list.

"I think it is clear that you should accept several of these offers," he said to the king, "though I think they should be separated by several days."

"That will not make the news media happy," Tom commented. "Normally a person who has become newsworthy appears on as many programs as possible."

The room was quiet, waiting for Rolenil to weigh in.

"We want to appear as we are. Appearing on Earth's media shows our similarities. Avoiding the frantic pace the media appears to prefer, emphasizes our different ways."

Chen, Shi, and Tom thought for a moment, without speaking. Their faces showed disagreement.

John explained to the king, "It is common, at least in America, for someone to appear on news shows which focus on topical items. Often, or perhaps I should say usually, the topical subject is of relatively short-term interest."

He told the group from Earth, "I think we want to avoid that stereotype. I think that by granting relatively few interviews, we emphasize the importance and newsworthiness of each."

Shi started to disagree, but he closed his mouth without speaking.

His face showed concern, but after a moment, he broke into a smile.

"That is true. Absolutely true. You have a sort of... immunity from the desperation that we see so often. Conventional thought is that the more exposure you have, the more influence and recognition you will get. This is, perhaps, the time where we follow the adage 'always leave them wanting more.'"

Chen's group now nodded in agreement.

"The first interview will be a valuable thing. The reputation for the show and the interviewer will get a big boost," John volunteered. "I think it is an opportunity to make a statement about the different manner in which we'll deal with Earth. I think we should give the first interview to someone who is unbiased and intelligent."

"You had someone in mind?" Zeke asked.

"Yes, but I think we should all go through the list. The five of us," he said, indicating those including Chen's companions, "understanding that the first interviewer we choose sends a message."

He and the others nodded. They had played this game before. They were looking at it differently. It was a game where, this time, they had the advantage.

"We must not forget that we are here to join with the entire planet," General Yalt added. "Won't giving an interview to an American indicate a preference for America?"

Everyone nodded agreement.

"I think," Rolenil began, "that we should grant the first interview to an American journalist, but someone that is not with one of the major American media outlets. I think that I should be the one in that interview. However, I think that John, or perhaps John and Zeke, should accept an offer from outside the U.S.--perhaps Europe? And that interview should begin just a little, perhaps an hour, before the American interview? That seems to me a way to balance, at a number of levels, the pride and sensitivities of the different groups. What do you think?"

Chen He's face broke into a broad smile, "I think you are on to something. You could proceed in many ways, but I think your idea shows that you consider Europe, and by extension the rest of the world, important, but it gives Americans the first interview with you. Some will complain, but they always do. I was under the impression that diplomacy wasn't really a necessary skill on Anyar!"

"Diplomacy, perhaps not," answered Rolenil. "Still, making everyone feel important is a universal and useful practice. We don't know who our best friends on Earth will be yet. We are here for all of Earth's humanity. What we cannot do literally, we will do symbolically."

The list of requests ran from national news organizations to small local news stations, and even those with internet video channels.

"Picking a national news network will guarantee your interview will receive wider coverage," suggested Shi.

John tactfully disagreed, "If I understand the situation on Earth, no matter who does the interview, it will certainly become international news. So, now I have an idea to suggest, possibly based on my own personal bias. If there is a news organization that is unbiased, it is National Public Radio. In particular, I have great respect for a show called Up Close, hosted by Mary Ross."

The Anyari were impassive, waiting for the others to speak. Zeke was smiling, knowing his father's support for NPR. The others, though, saw no compelling reason and said as much.

"You're right, there is no compelling reason, but I think that could be said of anyone. NPR has relatively unbiased coverage and likes to air unusual items. They are fairly small and this would add to their prestige, and I think it would be a nice gesture that would, again, say something about the way we will conduct our dealings with Earth."

"I don't understand the nuances of your culture, but I am inclined to agree. Are there any objections?" Rolenil asked.

There were none. They went through the other offers: one was from Botswana and John suggested that he accept that one. Zeke could accept one from a Swedish news network, Sveriges.

"I think we are decided. Chen, can you send our acceptance of these offers? I think it is important to keep the times within a few hours. Since they are separated by more than eight hours, perhaps we can persuade Mary," he said it as if he knew her, "to do an interview in the early afternoon, and try to schedule John and Zeke's in the evening?"

"I'll see what I can do," He said with a smile. "I think we have some influence."

"What schedule would you like to keep? You're welcome to come up here to meet as often as you wish," Rolenil asked them, though his question was directed primarily at Chen.

"I would like to get back to my office. I left pressing issues, and I have no idea how all this has affected them. Tom and Shi can, I think, return with me. Security for them will be an issue. You have likely made them--made all of us--celebrities, and that calls for caution."

General Yalt spoke, "We have the means to help with your security. We have come prepared. It will be an issue when we begin traveling down for interviews and meetings. Not all will be unobtrusive. We have had little need for such devices in the past, and we are still refining the means to ensure our--and your---security. If your security forces can adequately protect you for the time being, we can and will provide tools that will help."

Chen He nodded understanding, "Very good. I'll be getting some security reports from the U.S. and other nations about any groups opposed to your presence that could seriously pose a threat. I will forward that information to you."

Yalt nodded. "We know there are issues with the U.S. security agencies. We have, or will have, the means for extensive surveillance. The ethics and practicality of all that are something we must work out."

"I'm sitting here today with someone who I scarcely need to introduce, Rolenil from the planet Anyar. We've received many questions, but really, I have so many myself that I didn't really even need to write them down," Mary began.

Rolenil just smiled, "That is great, I'm sure we won't run out of things to talk about!"

"No," she responded, "I don't think we will."

She continued, "I have to admit that I was one of many waiting outside for your arrival. The ship you came in was not the same one we saw at the U.N. It was quite small, not much bigger than a large mini-van... and you just walked in here, like any guy off the street."

"I'm sorry if I disappointed," he joked. "I'll try to do better next time."

"Oh, your entrance was just the opposite. You speak English perfectly. If I hadn't seen you arrive, I would doubt who you really were. How did you accomplish that?"

"We have some tools and machines that help. They don't teach a language, but they make learning it much quicker, and we have MI's who we can converse with. Lots of people on Anyar are learning English, I believe it is becoming fashionable. I would not have predicted that. Even we can be unpredictable sometimes."

"We would normally expect a king to be accompanied by a large entourage. When our president travels, I've seen car after car, in the caravan, following him."

"We believe in following convention, sometimes, but life is complicated. I suspect that is true on Earth as well as Anyar. When we can, we keep things simple."

"You are a king?"

"That's the closest word in English, but it is not exactly the same."

"How so?"

"The title is not hereditary. My son has no better a chance to follow me than anyone else. In fact, such a succession has never occurred."

"What is Anyar like? How does it compare to Earth? Most of us have read the information you've made available, but what is the biggest difference?"

"Hmmm, in my position I'm expected to have a way with words, the ability to express myself eloquently and clearly, but in this case, you've asked a very hard question.

"If you ask about Anyar itself, we have a much lower population, so far more of the surface of the planet is in its natural state. Most of our cities and homes are underground. We have machines to do the construction and maintenance, so it is easier to construct dwellings and buildings that are meant to last for a very long time. My home, the "king's residence," was built over four hundred years ago, and it is still a warm and pleasant place to live today."

"And the people? What are they like?"

"We have a pretty structured society. Perhaps we are not as creative or adventurous as you, but we do value our personal relationships. In fact, we study how to get along. You don't do that here, as I understand?"

"You study how to get along? Excuse me if that seems a little bit like social engineering."

"Maybe it is. Everything we do, every decision we make, and by 'we' I mean all people, from Earth and Anyar alike, is a compromise. To have children or not. To further your education or to get a job. To have strict laws or anarchy. Each choice you make gains something, but gives up something else. We value stability and something you might call conformity. For me, I think that gives us a place to belong, and support when needed."

"Then what have you given up?" Mary asked.

"We don't value the individuality that I think you do. We don't miss it. We have all the freedom of choice we desire. Behavior, courtesy, the way we behave, follows some fairly narrow rules. At least, I believe you would think so based on the things I've seen about Earth. Social pressure governs our behavior. Doing anything rude or aggressive is met with strong social disapproval, sometimes ostracism. That usually seems to keep our interactions pleasant, if not peaceful. However, if you value freedom of expression, as I've heard John mention many times, our society, more than our laws, place strict limits on that.

"Although that may not be bad, we realize that, perhaps, we give up some things. The emotions we keep contained, you use as motivation to accomplish things. So do we, of course, but I think that side of us is much more restrained."

"What do you think of us? Of the people of Earth?"

"You have accomplished much. In the last few years, your technology has advanced at a rate much faster than ours ever has..."


"It seems to dominate your lives, rather than accentuate your existence. Am I wrong?"

"Some would agree with you, I think. I'm uncomfortable when separated from my cell phone.

"People wonder, myself included, why you are really here? There is a sense you haven't told us everything."

"That is true, we have not, but that is mostly because we have a great deal to tell. We have chosen--I have chosen, for the responsibility is mine--to let you learn about us gradually. You have nothing to fear from us, with the possible exception of our technology disrupting your economic system. This is something we are taking pains to make sure does not happen, but we have never been in a situation like this before, either. We are careful, but not infallible."

"How long before we know all that we should?"

"How long will it take for us to win your trust? I apologize for answering your question with a question."

"Do you have the power to dominate, or even rule Earth?"

"That is a serious question, but one I would ask if in your position. You've seen much of the most visible aspects of our technology, you might ask your governments what they think. But I will answer directly, and honestly. Yes, of course we could, if we chose. I can understand that answer scares you. It would scare me, too. However, I will not avoid touchy issues. We will speak as honestly and openly as we can. To gain your trust, we must be truthful."

"Yes," Mary replied, her tone somewhat unsteady, "that is an intimidating thought."

"The only way you can truly be convinced of our intentions is to see them play out. If we had plans like that, I would not be sitting here enjoying this conversation with you today."

"That is kind of a downer, isn't it? Wielding that much power over us?"

"No, not at all." Rolenil disagreed. "We are interested in helping and sharing. It is an important part of our culture. I know our cultures are different. Any social being has a place in society. Even those who say otherwise are conscious of their social status. On Anyar, the way to increase your social status is by earning the respect of others. It would not be true to say that wealth and power do not play a role, but acquiring possessions is not that difficult. Public service, and its acknowledgment by those you respect, is what gives our lives meaning."

At the end of the interview, Mary asked one final question, "What happens now? Where do we go from here?"

"That depends on you. We made two decisions, that we would not force our ways on you and, as I've repeated so often, we will not allow our technology to be used by one group or nation against another. We have not been through anything like this before either. I suspect you don't know what the other nations of the world will do? Probably not even your own."

"I guess I don't."

"We have plans, but there is not an inflexible schedule we will impose. You will see, and soon I think, equipment and treatments for your most serious medical conditions. That will come first: I think it is the right thing to do, and it has the least potential for abuse. If we offer it to everyone, none can gain advantage."

She closed the interview, "My guest today has been Rolenil, the king of the planet Anyar. Thank you for taking the time to speak with us today."

"Thank you for the chance to speak with you and your listeners."

After the interview, Mary asked him, "Of all the prominent shows you could surely have chosen, why me?"

"You have," he answered, "a very big fan, whose judgment I trust. I think he was right again in suggesting my appearance on your show."

She walked with him out of the building and to his small craft.

"How does one get a ride in one of these?"

"I'd like to come back again for another visit. Send an invitation in a few months," he said with a smile, "and I think we can arrange something."

As in everything Rolenil did, his sincerity was apparent. She reached out to shake his hand.

"You have a deal."