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Arthur C. Clarke, Tales from Planet Earth

The ambassadors landed in New York’s Central Park on the very day that a prominent astronomer, unusually hard up and therefore amenable to influence, announced in a widely reported interview that any visitors from space probably would be unfriendly.

The luckless ambassadors, heading for the United Nations Building, had got as far south as 60th Street when they met the mob. The encounter was very one-sides, and the scientists at the Museum of Natural History were most annoyed that there was so little left for them to examine.

Prince Zevashni tried once more, on the other side of the planet, but the new had got there first. This time the ambassadors were armed, and gave a good account of themselves before they were overwhelmed by sheer numbers. Even son, it was not until the rocket bombs started climbing up toward his fleet that the prince finally lost his temper and decided to take drastic action.

It was all over in twenty minutes, and was really quite painless. Then the prince turned to his adviser and said, with considerable understatement: “That appears to be that. And now – can you tell me exactly what went wrong?”

Sigisnin II knitted his dozen flexible fingers together in acute anguish. It was not only the spectacle of the neatly disinfected Earth that distressed his, though to a scientist the destruction of such a beautiful specimen is always a major tragedy. At least equally upsetting was the demolition of his theories and, with them, his reputation.

“I just don’t understand it”, he lamented. “Of course, races at this level of culture are often suspicious and nervous when contact is first made. But they’d never had visitors before, so there was no reason for them to be hostile.”

“Hostile! There were demons! I thing they were all insane.” The prince turned to his captain, a tripedal creature who looked rather like a ball of wool balanced on three knitting needles.

“Is the fleet reassembled?”

“Yes, Sire.”

“Then we will return to Base at optimum speed. This planet depresses me.”

On the dead and silent Earth, the posters still screamed their warning from a thousand hoarding. The malevolent insectile shapes shown pouring from the skies bore no resemblance at all to Prince Zervashni, who apart from his four eyes might have been mistaken for a panda with purple fur – and who, moreover, had come from Rigel, not Sirius.

But, of course, it was now much too late to point this out.

dark house

On the dead and silent Earth, the posters still screamed their warning from a thousand hoarding. (Arthur C. Clarke). Illustration: Megan Jorgensen

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