A Tragicomedy in Science Fiction
Roberto Athayde’s extraterrestrials invite terrestrial concerns around man’s place in the world and in the universe at large.
DR. ANTARIS A Brazilian astronomer, an aficionado of UFOs.
LOUIS His assistant, an attractive young man.
PERO A Venusian ET on a scientific and cultural mission to Earth in the company of his mother.
ANIARA Mother to the Venusian astronaut, a nice lady and herself a scientist and astronaut.
The action takes place in Rio de Janeiro during the last hour of Pero’s mission to Earth. Antaris is lying unconscious on the floor. Louis is awkwardly trying to make him come to. He may pour a glass of water on his boss’s face. Pero and Aniara are standing in the middle of the room, watching the scene with tranquility.
LOUIS That was nothing. Dr. Antaris you can come to, everything is fine! (Sprinkles water on the Dr.’s face) Dr. Antaris! Please wake up! Nothing happened, really—for God’s sake, wake up! The Venusians are our friends! (Turns to visitors) Couldn’t you possibly do something about this? After all, it’s your fault that he is like that. You made him pass out saying you’re Venusians.
PERO Don’t worry, young man, he’ll be all right. Your master is perfectly well. Look, of all the Terran scientists I’ve visited so far, he’s had the best first reaction to us.
LOUIS What happened to the others?
PERO They didn’t want to believe in what they saw. Some accused me of fraud in spite of the word of my own mother.
LOUIS (Looks at Aniara as if weighing her word) Didn’t you know that Dr. Antaris really believes in UFOs? For him there is no possibility of fraud.
PERO Believing in flying saucers without ever having seen one is one thing: it’s the easiest thing in the world. What is difficult is believing concrete facts.
ANIARA (Worried) Pero, I think Dr. Antaris should have come to already. We had better give him some Recuperator 0024.
PERO For heaven’s sake, Mother, that’s way too strong! You always want to do everything with the recuperator. As if there were no other solutions to our problems. Besides, I’m afraid our bottle of 0024 may have deteriorated after ten years.
LOUIS Ten years?!
PERO That’s right, son. My mother and I have traveled for ten years to get here.
LOUIS That’s great! (To Antaris) Wake up, doc, the Venusians are our friends! (The doctor starts coming to) Are you all right?
Antaris moves, sits up, and finally stands up with a rather perplexed expression.
PERO Well, congratulations, Dr. Antaris. We see in your fainting a proof that you believe in our Venusian origin. (Pause) I’d like to introduce you to my mother, who came with me on this research trip.
ANTARIS Nice to meet you, Mrs. . . .
ANTARIS I understand you and your son have just arrived from . . . Venus.
ANIARA In a way. In fact, we’re getting ready to go back. My son’s scientific mission is practically over. We had ten wonderful days. You just can’t imagine . . .
PERO (Interrupting) We’d better skip straight to the important points, Mother. Afterward you’ll give your travel impressions to Dr. Antaris. I must deliver the great revelations of our mission.
ANTARIS It’s incredible! Me, a poor astronomer at the University of Brazil, having the honor to receive all that information!
PERO You are in good company, too. My list of scientists, issued by our intelligence center on Venus, is full of illustrious names. Names that are galactically known even though the people themselves aren’t aware of it.
ANTARIS That’s wonderful! Extraordinary! Nobody will ever believe this happened. (Worried) I must call some other scientists to hear what you have to say.
PERO Unfortunately, that won’t be possible. I have strict orders never to appear to more than two people at the same time. And, of these two people, only one can be a scientist.
ANTARIS Oh, Mr. Pero, what you’re telling me isn’t possible! How can I prove anything with only my assistant as a witness?
PERO That’s the point. You can’t. You’ll never be able to prove it. My mission to Earth is not to be used for promotional purposes. It’s strictly cultural and scientific.
ANTARIS That’s revolting!
ANIARA Though I am obliged to follow my son’s orders, I certainly do agree with you, Dr. Antaris. I find it unfair to waste ten years of interplanetary travel without leaving any proof with the visited people. Imagine, Pero didn’t even let me give an interview to Women’s Wear Daily in the United States.
PERO Mother, I don’t want to have to call your attention to this again. We are dealing with top secret matter. Women’s Wear Daily has a huge number of male readers which, according to my Handbook for the Visitor to Earth, makes that audience all the more indiscreet.
ANTARIS As a scientist, a man, and a Terran, I must protest against this information in your handbook: it’s the women here on Earth who get the fame for being indiscreet.
PERO It’s possible that the handbook is wrong. We Venusians are hermaphrodites and that makes it difficult to assess differences among Terran genders.
LOUIS What is a hermaphrodite?
ANTARIS It’s an awful thing, Louis. It’s a person who goes to bed with himself.
LOUIS Gosh, I’ve been a hermaphrodite since I was eight.
PERO (Disgusted) I suggest that your assistant and my mother do not take part in our conference. I reckon neither one is sufficiently mature for the matters we shall deal with.
ANIARA (Somewhat vulgar) What’s this business of maturity? Who do you think you are?
ANTARIS We had better not get caught up in details. After all, we all have the same goal: scientific advancement.
PERO Well and good, I take back what I said about your immaturity, Mother. Let’s spare Dr. Antaris one of our arguments. (Kindly to Antaris) You know, Dr. Antaris, it’s a matter of language.
ANTARIS I suppose in your own language the misunderstanding must be a lot easier.
PERO Not only that, we Venusians have no language at all. We always function by thoughts and deeds, never by words. The fact that we have to turn on our so-called ‘verbalizer’ gadgets to communicate with you Terrans sort of jumbles our brains. For instance: if you think that Mother and I stopped quarreling the moment we were so rudely interrupted by you, you’re completely mistaken. Verbally, yes, but in thought waves we’re just getting started.
ANIARA (Irritated) This conversation has already gone too far. Since you insist on being alone with the professor, I shall leave in the company of young Louis. Is there another room in this place where we could stay or would it be easier to fly?
ANTARIS Absolutely, Mrs. Aniara, please do not fly away. (With authority, to Louis) Louis, lead Mrs. Aniara to the bedroom and stay there and do whatever she wants you to do. (Louis seems slightly alarmed)
ANIARA Thank you so much, Dr. Antaris. I happen to be doing some research of my own, on some aspects of the Terran creature. I’ve already collected some rather interesting data. There still are two or three items I haven’t been able to understand. Perhaps with the aid of your assistant I could make of this mission a complete success.
ANTARIS Louis is entirely at your disposal, Mrs. Aniara. (The young man shows some apprehension) However I must let you know that he has very little experience. His knowledge of physics, for instance, is only what I have been able to teach him in a few months of daily contact.
ANIARA (Benign) I’m sure he’ll be just perfect, professor. (She conducts Louis offstage)
ANTARIS Now us, Mr. Pero. I’m dying to learn your discoveries. I want to know everything about life on other planets and their fabulous civilizations.
PERO Not other planets: other planet. That’s something I want to make perfectly clear from the beginning. Venus was the only planet chosen to possess the gift of life. Earth was colonized with inferior specimens as an experiment. So, for your information, Dr. Antaris, Earth and its civilization is but a test tube where we Venusians breed animals of rather limited importance. The idea of there being spontaneous life away from Venus seems quite ridiculous to me. Life was created by God in Venus and only from Venus can it derive.
ANTARIS (Shocked) Mr. Pero! Did you actually say “god”? You, a Venusian . . . who came down on a flying saucer?
PERO Quite seriously. Dr. Antaris, I must confess to you that I personally do not believe in flying saucers. My mother and I arrived in a spatial vehicle that has little or nothing to do with these mysterious and laughable pictures with which you decorated your laboratory. Flying saucers were first conceived by the imagination of the less-educated Venusians and, accidentally, passed on to the most educated Terrans, whose IQ comes in just under the level of mongolism in Venus.
ANTARIS (Disappointed) You mean you don’t believe in life outside the Earth, I mean, outside Venus . . . ?
PERO That’s correct. That’s a heresy I cannot tolerate. And please do not mention such an idea in front of my mother. She is an exceptionally devoted lady.
ANTARIS (Nervous) And Earth? And the Earth!? We do have life! And we are quite outside Venus!
PERO Sure, but it’s the same life. This man-yard which you call “Earth” is nothing but an experiment that we Venusians decided to make at a certain point in our civilization. It’s a nearly faithful reproduction of Venusian civilization except for one thing: it’s on an idiotic level. That is, by creating men with a rather low level of intelligence, our scientists can much more easily control them, analyze their reactions, and study their development. And the point of all this man‐breeding is bettering our knowledge of ourselves through the research our psychologists carry out on terrestrial creatures.
ANTARIS If I only knew that was the kind of news you had for me, I wouldn’t have received you. You can be sure of that much.
PERO (Phlegmatic) There is a lot I can be sure of. This concept of the multiplicity of the phenomenon of life is fascinating but it’s just an idea. It flourished on Venus twenty–five thousand years ago. We imagined other galaxies with their billions of solar systems and planets bearing marvelous civilizations. Thank God all this is a thing of the past. We built a machine that would have detected anything within a radius of five trillion zillions of light years and there was nothing really worthy of being detected. There is really nothing much out there, you know. Thank God those ideas disappeared from the Venusian mind a long time ago.
ANTARIS (Irritated) You keep saying “thank God.” I hope you realize I’m a scientist: I’m an atheist.
PERO (Laughs) Oh, atheism! Think that our scientists still preserve it on Earth! That current also passed in Venus: twenty thousand years ago. There was time, a nefarious time of great liberalism, when civilization almost was lost. Such an enormous importance was given to material things that the spiritual sphere was totally neglected. People spoke about equal rights, you know, like giving every Venusian the same opportunities and things like that. There were even people talking about freedom itself. (Short pause) So, it’s that phase, from seventeen to twenty thousand years ago, that we are now reproducing on Earth, but on a primitive level, of course.
ANTARIS (Revolted) You mean that in the past you’ve reached the same high level of social awareness that we have now and you didn’t push it forward?
PERO Of course we’ve pushed it forward. We’ve progressed much further than that. After all kinds of political cataclysms, we reached maturity and, with it, the only system that is actually in tune with Venusian nature.
ANTARIS (Dramatic) And what is that system?
ANTARIS (Horrified) Capitalism?
PERO Well, don’t despair, Dr. Antaris. It’s not capitalism like you think of it here on Earth, let’s say, like in countries such as you find in Europe or North America. Those are experiments our scientists make to see if we can accelerate capitalist progress on Earth. So as to reach what we have in Venus: a society rigidly divided into classes in which each individual is completely controlled by a computer algorithm. We took four thousand years to get there. We’re trying to reproduce on Earth, at an inferior level, countries that would accelerate the process of automation and lead others toward computer control and therefore towards the happiness of the individual
ANTARIS Happiness of the individual? How can you still speak of happiness of the individual?
PERO Of course we can. There can be no happiness while there are still some traces of freedom. Happiness and freedom are entirely incompatible. The happy man cannot be confronted with choice. That is, not with real decision-making. He may believe he’s making his choices, though. He must ignore his real situation. Ignorance is an important factor for well‐being. The happy person has no freedom but he never realizes it. That would make him miserable.
ANTARIS That’s outrageous! I am free!
PERO That’s your problem. You’re free to be maladjusted. I never had one bit of freedom. Everything I’m telling you was programmed into my head. However, I’m utterly happy! (Short pause) Keep in mind that what you see is just a reproduction of events that took place in Venus seventeen thousand years ago. Brazil may be a backwater but the United States was created by us to try and speed up the improvements we want to make. In a couple of decades, Earth will have reached social perfection and therefore complete stagnation.
ANTARIS It doesn’t look like any of that! You mean in Venus stagnation is regarded as a goal?
PERO Stagnation is the goal. Change is synonymous with dissatisfaction. In the uppermost stage of civilization there is an end of history and you get complete stagnation. The perfect regime, Venusian capitalism, must be definitive. Quoting from one of our sacred books, “non erit finis” . . .
ANTARIS But that is a Christian prayer!
PERO Evidently. What makes you think that Christ’s doctrine died off in Venus?
ANTARIS You mean that God also sent his son to Venus, I mean, God sent a son to Venus?
PERO God sent his only son to Venus and, for your information, he didn’t send Him anywhere else.
ANTARIS (Confused) You mean that the son of God, the one who . . . according to religious people, came to Earth two thousand years ago and . . . Jesus Christ himself . . . was sent by you? Like he was nothing but a Venusian?
PERO (Flippant) To tell you the truth, he’s my cousin. That Jesus who came here two thousand years ago now lives comfortably in a suburb of Ipsilanti, one of our better cities. He is a contemporary of mine since I myself am twenty-two hundred years old. The true Jesus Christ however, the real son of God, was sent to Venus forty-five thousand years ago. He was sent by God to suffer and die for our sins.
ANTARIS That’s exactly what he did here.
PERO I’m not surprised. That Jesus was strictly programmed to do everything he did.
ANTARIS (Slightly hysterical) That’s enough! I can’t take any more of this bullshit! You’re lying! There must be some reason the Venusian scientists made you tell me these horrible things! That’s what the real experiment was: you wanted to see what a Brazilian astronomer would do hearing these ridiculous revelations. I don’t believe a word of it! (He regains his composure and turns malicious) It seems to me that you really come from a less advanced planet!!
PERO Dr. Antaris, you’re making a fool of yourself.
ANTARIS (Triumphant) That’s it! You’ve just arrived from some remote underdeveloped planet and you want to steal my secrets pretending to despise them! Who’s ever heard of a self-respecting astronaut who travels around with his own mother?
PERO Dr. Antaris, you’re starting to upset me. Maternity in Venus is very different from what you can imagine. I’ve already told you that we are all hermaphrodites. Reproduction involving more than one parent has been obsolete in Venus for thousands of years. The very idea of a person depending on another to produce a baby seems to me extremely inadequate.
Enter Aniara in underwear. Her looks in such attire should have an amazing effect.
ANIARA (Seriously excited) Pero, my dear! You won’t believe what happened.
PERO (Horrified) Mother!
ANIARA Dr. Antaris’s assistant is quite an extraordinary creature. Oh my God! After a whole life of hermaphroditism, something like that . . .
PERO But what, Mother, just what happened to you?
ANTARIS Tell us confidently, Mrs. Aniara. If my assistant did you any harm, I shall punish him most severely.
ANIARA (Melodramatic) No! Don’t punish him, Dr. Antaris! It was all my fault!
PERO But what was your fault, Mother? Better not to say it out loud. Transmit it to me in thought waves.
Aniara assumes a wave‐transmitting composure and contorts herself a bit, discreetly transmitting that she is alluding to the sexual behavior of young Louis.
PERO (Horrified) No!
ANIARA (Levelheaded) That’s it, my son. If you don’t believe me, go see it yourself.
PERO (Perplexed) We weren’t programmed for anything of the sort.
ANIARA It looks like a big snafu of our Special Center for Spatial Affairs.
PERO I think it’s my duty to make some observations about this phenomenon and take my personal account back to Venus. (Starts to bedroom)
ANIARA (Emphatic) Don’t go, Pero! This is a mother’s advice. Just don’t go there. You’ll certainly regret it.
PERO (Epic) Duty comes first, Mother. (Exit)
ANTARIS (Amiable) Please sit down, Mrs. Aniara.
They exchange a weird look or smile.
ANTARIS (Resolute) Mrs. Aniara, I’d like you to be frank with me.
ANIARA Oh, Dr. Antaris, your assistant is so . . .
ANTARIS So what, Mrs. Aniara?
ANIARA Oh God! Now I realize how limited my verbalizer is. I really wasn’t programmed for something like that, I’m sure you understand.
ANTARIS I think I know what you mean.
ANIARA If you could only pick up thought waves . . .
ANTARIS Well, let’s see what I can do to help you. My verbalizer, I mean, my vocabulary is rather on the scientific side, you know, but I just might have a word to express your feelings.
ANIARA (Technical) I have no feelings, Dr. Antaris.
ANTARIS Yes, I know, I mean your ideas, whatever you have. Whatever may have happened between you and Louis for the sake of scientific observation, there is one point of basic importance. (Pause) Did you like it?
ANIARA (Embarrassed) Well . . . you know, there is a novelty aspect and, of course, the scientific curiosity.
ANTARIS Naturally. But still, taking all that into consideration, what would be your general impression of the experience as a whole? Did you enjoy it?
ANIARA (Giving in, perplexed) Well, yes.
ANTARIS Good, Mrs. Aniara. So, verbalizing this scientific thought structure, we could reach the conclusion that my assistant is . . . enjoyable? Oh, Mrs. Aniara! I don’t want to criticize your hermaphroditism, but things here on Earth can be rather interesting, too.
ANIARA (Intimate) I can see that, Antaris. Too bad that Pero and I have to fly back to Venus today. You can imagine what a horrible drag ten more years on the flying saucer will be.
ANTARIS I can well imagine how unpleasant it must be. Maybe I shouldn’t ask so many questions but . . . what do you and your son do as a pastime during the voyage?
ANIARA We play cards most of the time. We play some chess, too. Oh, and one game of tic-tac-toe every evening before we go to bed. On our way here, for instance, out of the 3,650 games we played, I won three, Pero won four, and the other 3,643 ended up in a tie.
ANTARIS How fascinating, Mrs. Aniara!
ANIARA Indeed! Sometimes it can get a little monotonous, though. The three games I won and the four Pero won were in fact the first seven games we played, during our first week aboard the spacecraft. Once we both learned the ropes, we spent nine years and fifty-one weeks drawing every night.
ANTARIS It would be great if you took some terrestrial games to play during your trip back, you know, just for a change.
Enter Pero with a very grave expression.
ANIARA (Kind) Did you satisfy your scientific curiosity, son?
PERO (Serious, ignoring his mother’s question) Dr. Antaris, I must inform you that, for strictly scientific reasons, I must take your assistant back to Venus.
ANTARIS (Livid) I’m terribly sorry, Mr. Pero, but that is impossible. For equally scientific reasons I need my assistant here. (Pause) I have no objection to your taking back whomever you may want, since it’s for science’s sake. But not my assistant.
PERO You don’t seem to understand the situation. Your assistant possesses some extraordinary qualities that are absolutely necessary to my interplanetary studies.
ANTARIS Nobody is more aware of my assistant’s qualities than myself. I have the same interplanetary reasons to require his presence in my studies.
ANIARA (Compromising) Dr. Antaris, are those qualities of Louis’s easily available on Earth these days?
ANTARIS There are indeed other persons who possess those qualities, though they aren’t as easily available as any of us would prefer. But the cause of science is one that requires dedication. If you are considering an expedition in search of another sample, I believe you’d have a better chance on your own than with me.
PERO (Impatient) And may I know why?
ANTARIS Why, because you’re Venusians.
PERO I never thought the idea you Terrans have of us is very flattering. You tend to imagine us as even more immature than yourselves, kidnapping people and scaring the country folk. Also as being somewhat ridiculous creatures, usually green, displaying antennae or soft like some sort of jelly. And I personally detest jelly and all soft bodies.
ANIARA (Thoughtful) So do I.
ANTARIS So do I.
PERO I see we agree on many an important issue. But it’s necessary that I accomplish my mission to Earth. The idea of finding another specimen of Homo Ludens appears to me . . . difficult and troublesome. Besides, that would take much more time that what we have left before we take off to Venus. My mother and I absolutely must leave within a short while. In the name of science, I beseech you to agree with my taking your assistant back to Venus.
ANTARIS (Energetic) The answer is no. I’m sorry.
ANIARA (Silly) I suggest that you finish the part of our mission concerning “revelations.” Then we’d be left with only the assistant’s problem.
PERO Good idea, Mom. Dr. Antaris, I want you to assimilate all the philosophic issues we discussed a while ago. So let us go once again through the main items of my revelations.
ANTARIS I refuse to believe your revelations. It appears to me that you come from an underdeveloped planet and that you’re nothing but a spy.
PERO Nonsense, Professor Antaris. Now our revelation topics. You two repeat aloud each thing I say. You too, got it, Mother? So. In the first place . . . (Short pause) Go ahead, you can start repeating: In the first place . . .
ANIARA (Silly) In the first place . . .
ANTARIS (Confused and humiliated) In the first place . . .
PERO Life was created only in Venus and can come only from Venus.
ANIARA and ANTARIS (In chorus) Life was created only in Venus and can come only from Venus.
PERO God created life in Venus for His greater glory and passed that life on to Earth in an inferior rudimentary form also for His greater glory.
ANTARIS (Confused) God created life in Venus for whose glory? Venus’s or God’s?
Pero ignores the question as he is too busy remembering his lines.
ANIARA (Vague) Possibly both.
PERO God’s glory, of course. Whose else could His glory be? (Resuming the recitation) Life on Earth is but an experiment that aims at a better understanding of Venusian history and psychology.
ANIARA and ANTARIS (In chorus) Life on Earth is but an experiment that aims at a better understanding of Venusian history and psychology.
PERO Thousands of years of civilization led us to the perfect political regime, which is totalitarian capitalism.
ANIARA Thousands of years of civilization . . .
ANTARIS (Interrupting) Wait, wait, is there a king in Venus?
PERO (Severe) We haven’t had a king for the last thousand years. We are governed by princes of hereditary power, though it isn’t for life.
ANTARIS How does that work?
PERO Easy. Our scientists and computers can predict genetically the qualities of the descendants of our reigning prince. So, as soon as a better combination of genes of the royal family is foreseen, the royal reproduction is accelerated and the old prince is forced to retire.
ANIARA (Helpful) Hermaphroditism helps a lot in that system.
ANTARIS That's something difficult to understand, hermaphroditism.
ANIARA It’s as difficult to understand as it’s easy to lose. As you may have noticed in the case of my son . . . and myself. You know how both of us were perturbed by your assistant’s ways.
ANTARIS I think I know what you mean. But I must tell you that there is no possibility that I can let him go on the trip with you.
PERO (Cruel) You are abusing our consideration. For your information, we have the power to take back even you against your will, let alone your assistant.
ANIARA (Silly) What if we took both, son?
PERO (With a fatal energy) Enough talking about that. (Looks at the time on his watch) The assistant comes and you stay. We’ve already spent too much time with an astronomer whose country was quite optional on my agenda.
ANTARIS (Realizing danger) No! Mrs. Aniara! You just can’t do that. He doesn’t want to go.
PERO (Cruel) He doesn’t want to go? We’ll see if he doesn’t want to go.
ANTARIS (Nervous) I’m going to fetch my assistant. This is not going to stay like this. (Exit)
ANIARA (Compromising) Dr. Antaris! Pero! Please don’t argue. We all have the same goal: science.
PERO Let him get his assistant. (Checks watch again) We will leave in five minutes.
Enter Louis exhausted, tottering, destroyed by an almost magic and bizarre fatigue. Enter Antaris following him.
ANTARIS (Appalled) Look at what you did to my assistant! He’s exhausted, destroyed! He does not want to go with you. (Louis stumbles and falls to floor) Louis! What did they do to you? My God! (Grabs Louis trying to make him stand up) Please, stand up!
ANIARA (Alienated) He must be tired, that’s all.
ANTARIS (Losing control) Louis! Speak! For God’s sake, speak! What’s the matter with you?! You don’t want to go! You don’t want to go with them, do you?
LOUIS (Shaking) I do want to go. He promised me a beautiful gift.
ANTARIS No! You don’t want to go! They’ll never give you any gifts! They want to kill you! You can’t go!
ANIARA (Detached) The important thing is that he has no free will.
PERO (Terrible) We will leave in one precise, the unforgiving minute. (He pulls a Venusian gun) Do you see this? This hurts. It hurts!
ANTARIS (Tender, almost breaking down) No, Louis. Don’t go. It’s your death. (Hides his face with his hand)
ANIARA (Increasingly alienated, smiling) Indecision, which is the consequence of freedom, is a beautiful thing on Earth. Too bad Terrans suffer so much for it.
LOUIS (Tortured) I wanted to go. But I won’t. He made me weak.
Antaris trembles pathetically. A flying saucer noise is heard.
PERO That’s it, Doctor. I made him physically weak with my curiosity. But unfortunately he is still free. I will destroy him for that. To space, Mother.
ANIARA (Silly) But he says he wants to come . . . I don’t understand.
Pero shoots Louis with bizarre rays. Antaris throws himself over the young man hoping to cover the shot. An evil light comes out of Pero’s weapon and wounds Louis while leaving Antaris untouched. Louis squirms and dies.
PERO Let us go.
ANIARA Good‐bye, Dr. Antaris. Sorry to have disturbed your day.
Exit Pero and Aniara to the sound of ominous flying saucer noises, while Antaris pathetically caresses his assistant’s face. In a trance, he hears his own voice recite the final verses from Seneca’s Medea.
ANTARIS’S VOICE Go throughout the infinite spaces of Heaven to prove that there are no gods in the space where you soar.
“Visitors from on High” © Roberto Athayde. By arrangement with the author. Translation © 2016 by Roberto Athayde. All rights reserved.