Friday, November 26, 2010

Liar, Liar

David Kelly had never told a lie in his life... until he was nine years old. After that, he rarely told the truth.

He discovered that nearly everyone would believe his lies because they were so much more interesting than the truth. So, his father became an FBI agent, an airline pilot, a selectee for the space program who had to drop out because the President had asked.

He had been awarded the Medal of Honor for his heroism in Vietnam... the Gulf War or Afghanistan. His father had been a hero in World War II, flying with Pappy Boyington, though his father hadn’t been born until after that war had ended.

In high school, the family moved, so Kelly thought up a whole new set of lies. In his old school he had been a star on the football team until he blew out his knee winning the state championship. He had been the editor of the school newspaper whose investigative journalism had gotten the principal fired for a fling with a well-endowed junior who had the IQ of a door knob.

He kept it up until his classmates realized that he would have had no time for studies unless there were thirty hours in a day and eight days a week. He couldn’t have done everything he claimed unless he was fifty years old and started when he was five. They realized that he was making it all up.

Not that it mattered to anyone. The stories were all told with a flair that suggested that Kelly believed them too and thought that everyone else should as well. They listened and smiled but didn’t believe a word he said. They did, however, vote him the most likely to succeed because they had watched the political commercials, watched as corporations ripped off everyone they could, and saw their heros peddling everything with all sorts of outrageous claims. Most thought Kelly would become a writer because he was very good at telling his stories.

None of that bothered Kelly. He dated frequently and told the girls the same stories he told everyone else. Some of them believed him, not because they were dumb but because they liked him. They wanted to believe a little of what he said. And he did have a scar on his knee that could have been from an operation after his winning touchdown... but it was really from a burn, self-inflicted, when he knelt too close to the hot exhaust of his brother’s mini-bike.

In college, then in the Army, and finally as he entered the world of business, he kept up his string of lies. As he moved into each new realm he learned that if he tempered his lies with a little restraint, he could convince some people that he was telling the truth. The trick was to make sure he did not tell one person two versions of the same story... not that it mattered.

Lying was his avocation and it was harmless. He didn’t do it to get ahead. He didn’t do it to make a fool out of anyone. He just did it for the entertainment value. He was happy and he kept his fellows happy.

And then he reached his thirty-fifth birthday. His business career, like his military career and his college career, was mediocre. Nothing spectacular until he had an experience that would put his lies to shame. It was so unbelievable that no one would, well, believe it.

It changed Kelly. For days he walked around the office, quiet, without a tall tale to be told. They thought he might have a touch of the flu... or that something tragic had happened. They tried to prompt him with questions about some of his adventures, but he wouldn’t take the bait.

Six days after the transformation, Kelly attended his regular Onota Meeting, an informal group who met for a cheap lunch, some cheap drinks and some tall stories. It might be said that this was like the "Liar’s Clubs" of the nineteenth century, although none of the members would have ever described it that way. It was really just an excuse to have a long lunch in the middle of the week. Like so many of his other activities, it could be described as harmless.

Kelly was late for the meeting and when he walked in, the chairman, Ruth Greenberg, was asking if anyone knew where Kelly might be. He strode to the front of the room, holding the latest edition of the newspaper high over his head and proclaimed, "I know that no one will ever believe this, especially after all the things I have said for all these years, but this is all true."

The chairman glanced around nervously because the program had already been set, or as set as it ever was. The featured speaker, a young woman who was going to talk of her days living aboard the space station nodded slightly and the chairman relaxed. There would be no confrontation as if there ever was, but she liked to worry about such things because it made her feel like a real chairman.

Kelly was waved over to the rostrum by the enthusiastic crowd. They knew that if he was going to speak, they would be treated to an entertaining program. Kelly, on the other hand was nervous for the first time in his life. Sweat blossomed on his forehead and he felt it drip down his back and sides. He knew that he was not dressed for the meeting, wearing rumpled clothes, but it wasn’t until the last minute that he had decided to attend. He hadn’t taken time to change.

As he poured himself a glass of water, more to give his hands something to do for a moment than because he needed a drink, he said, "I’m sorry to burst in here like this, but what I have to say is important. I know that you’ll find this story hard to believe, because I’m telling it, but I assure you that it’s true.

There was a murmur through the crowd because the one thing that Kelly had never done was assure them that a story was true. He just let think what they wanted to think about it.

Kelly took a sip of his water, started to set the glass down and then raised it again so that he could drain it. Then he leaned to the chairman and asked that someone get him a Vodka Collins and to keep them coming because he wanted to get drunk in the very near future.

Finally he began. "I didn’t recognize them at first. No one would have because they looked just like us. Oh, they talked a little strange, and they walked a little strange but when I was overseas in the Army, in Greece and not Vietnam like I told everyone, I had seen some strange customs.

"No matter. I answered their questions, and was mildly surprised that they knew my name. Just mildly surprised, mind you. Not that I thought I’m famous anywhere. I just figured that someone else in town might have mentioned me to them. It wouldn’t be that unheard of."

Kelly stopped talking long enough to take a drink from the Vodka Collins just handed to him. He noticed that the crowd, though still quiet was getting restless, and if he wanted to hold them, he had to get to the point.

"They thanked me for my help and left, saying that they hoped that they would meet me again sometime. I mumbled much the same thing and immediately forgot about it. That was something I shouldn’t have done.

"On my way home that night, as I passed that huge empty field on the edge of town, the one that used to be the National Guard armory, the car engine died. There were no other cars around so I grabbed my cell phone, but I couldn’t get a signal."

He held up a hand and said, "I know, we have complete coverage, but I just couldn’t get a signal. And with no help available, I got out to look under the hood. I knew there was nothing I could do but stare at the engine. I know I’ve said that there wasn’t a mechanical device ever made that I couldn’t fix, but it’s just not true. I had a hell of a time finding the safety latch just so that I could pop the hood. This might have been the first time I ever saw the engine of the car.

"There was nothing obviously wrong. The car just wouldn’t run. I touched a few wires, recognized the air intake, but I didn’t know what to do. Had I really been thinking, I would have realized that the electrical system had been suppressed in some fashion, but I didn’t give it a thought then.

"The sudden voice behind me startled me and I jumped slightly. It said, ‘There’s nothing you can do about it. We stopped your motor.’

"In what might have been my first real burst of insight ever, I said, ‘I know. Your magnetic field also killed the lights, radio and my cell phone."

"The voice said, ‘Very good, except it’s a little more than just a magnetic field.’

"Then I turned to look. I don’t know what I was expecting, but all I saw was a tall, rather average looking man dressed in a conservative, cheap suit. His hair was a little thin and his voice a little high but other than that, he was average.

"I stood there a minute, looking at him, before remembering that one of them had said, that they would see me later.

"He said, ‘Would you like to come with me?’

"I said, "Someone will be along in a minute. I don’t like leaving my car out here unattended.

"He said, ‘Don’t worry about it. You won’t be needing it any longer.’

"I thought that was a rather esoteric thing to say. I didn’t think about the implications of it. I just sort of ignored it. I suppose I was more upset over the failure of my car than anything else. I thought the problem was shoddy workmanship rather than that nonsense about magnetic fields.

"The man asked, ‘Doctor, would you like to see what is causing the magnetic field that stopped your car?’

"I’ll admit here that he got my attention with the use of the title. I said, ‘You called me doctor.’

‘The man continued to stare and I hadn’t noticed him blink. I don’t know why that popped into my mind at that moment but it did. He said, ‘We understand that you hold a rather high degree from your university.’

"I nodded and said, ‘I hold no fewer than twenty-two degrees from various institutes of higher learning. I have also been given a few honorary degrees based on my work in thermodynamics, oceanography, and the fluid dynamic mechanism of meteorite pitting.’

"The man reached out, as if to take my hand and said, ‘Please, Doctor, come with me. There are a few friends that I wish you to meet.’"

Kelly stopped his narrative for a moment, drained his glass and then picked up the water as some sort of chaser. He had stopped sweating and was now cold as the air conditioning had caught up with the heat of the afternoon. He took the time to look at the audience. There were waiting for him to continue.

"Well," he said, "there didn’t seem to be anything that I could do about the car, and there was no traffic to help me. There was a house a couple of hundred yards away with a single light burning and I figured that I could use their land line, if they had one. I maybe could get someone there to help me out or to give me a ride. I agreed to go with him, figuring that was where he wanted me to go.

"We crossed the road, walked down a slight slope to a ditch, used a couple of big rocks to avoid the shallow water and stepped to a barb wire fence. He held the middle strand out of the way for me and then I did the same for him. I wondered where we were going because we weren’t walking toward the house... but I figured, what the hell. I had never really been out there. We walked across a plowed field and then to a tree line....

"It was then that I understood exactly what was happening to me. Exactly."

Kelly stopped again and stared at the crowd. Idly, his mind clicked on the phrase, pregnant pause. He had the audience and was keeping them by making them wait to find out the answer. Let them devise images of what he had seen. Let them imagine what was happening to him. Let them speculate. Let them condition themselves.

"It was about twenty-five or thirty feet tall and probably seventy feet long," he said. "There were dim lights around the center of it and it stood on three telescoping legs. I saw a ramp leading down, to the ground."

This hesitation was shorter. He said, "Like many of you, I didn’t believe. Not until the minute is saw it but I couldn’t deny what I was seeing. Probably one the Air Force would label as swamp gas or a misinterpretation of a natural phenomenon... This one had the classic saucer shape, one size fits all, and the color of your choice.

"The man gestured toward the ramp and said, ‘Go on up. They’re waiting to meet you.’

"At this point there didn’t seem to be any harm in it. The man had done nothing to force me to come with him. He had asked. And Richard Dryfeuss walked right into the spacecraft in Close Encounters of the Third Kind. The aliens were friendly... well, the ones that we’re spewing acid and hugging your face.

"So I walked right up the ramp.

"The interior was nothing like I thought it would be. The whole room... the whole cabin... was bare. The floor was smooth. So were the walls. The ceiling was lost in a bright glare. At the far end I could see a number of figures, on the small side, but I couldn’t really tell.

"The man walked to the center of the cabin and spoke in some kind of a strange language like nothing I’ve ever heard, gestured at me and then said, in English, ‘This is Doctor David Kelly, the brightest Earthman alive today.’"

Kelly smiled. "I know. I know. But that’s what he said. Really. Not that I deserved the distinction.

"Anyway, he kept going with the description of my accomplishments, using the words that I, myself, have used for years. He listed all the fake degrees, all the inventions created by someone else, the war record I made up. Everything. On and on, as if he had memorized everything that I have ever said in the last twenty years. Every damned lie."

There was a murmur in the room. They were used to Kelly and his tall tales, but the one thing that had been consistent, the one thing that connected every thread was his insistence that his stories were all true. He told each one with the same enthusiasm that he told all the others, almost demanding that all who heard accept those lies as the truth. But he had never attempted to prove a new tale was true by exposing all the others as lies.

He was telling them, that unlike the pathological liar who told his tales, believing them himself, he knew the difference.

In one sense, he was violating the unwritten code among them. He could say anything he wanted and they would not challenge him by asking for proof. In return, he would believe them without asking for proof. And now here he was, standing in front of them, challenging all his statements to them and almost gloating over the fact that he had lied and lied and lied.

"Those creatures, I won’t call them men because they had only the slightest resemblance to me, came forward. They seemed to be discussing something in that strange language of theirs. The man with me tilted his head to one side as if listening, and then translated. ‘They all have questions if you would be good enough to answer them.’

"I told him that I would be happy to share my vast knowledge." Kelly winched at the comment and then said, "Yes, that is what I said. My vast knowledge.

"Anyway, he said, ‘First we would like to know the state of your space program.’

"That seemed like a harmless question and my first inclination was to say, ‘Florida.’

"Instead, I said that they probably knew that we had reached our moon, our natural satellite a number of years ago.

"‘With that goal reached,’ I said, ‘Six months early I might add, we shifted our emphasis to other things. We have sent probes to all the planets in our system and out into the Kuiper Belt and the Oort Cloud, and launched additional probes to other solar systems.’

"I did not mention that the probe sent out of the solar system was a simple spacecraft that would never return and probably wouldn’t be to another system for eighty or ninety thousand years.

"This news seemed to upset them a little bit, but they went onto other subjects. They asked about our weather, our weapons, our military forces, the state of our atomic weapons, the histories of various nations and the attitude of various peoples.

"Probing questions that seemed to have some sort of focus. I mean, they weren’t random questions. They had a point but didn’t want me to figure out that point. It was as if they asked the wrong question, they would spoil the game or give away a big secret.

"After a while of this, I began to grow tired of it. Now you people know that I like to spin a story and can sometimes be goaded, with very little effort, into talking until late at night, long after others have grown tired and gone home. But this is at a party or a bar where we’re all comfortable and the booze is flowing and the Buffalo wings are coming. But these people... these things just kept me standing there as if they had never heard of a chair and never thought to offer a drink. I was tired, bored, thirsty and hungry and I suggested that I be allowed to return to my car.

"As I turned toward the ramp, the man who had brought me to the craft, put his hand on my arm and said, ‘We can’t allow you to return. You have been warned.’

"‘Warned?’ I said. ‘Warned about what? I haven’t been warned. But it’s getting late and I want to go home.’

"The creature. The man, didn’t remove his hand. He just said, ‘We can’t return someone of your superior intellect. You would be too much of a danger.’

"Honest, that’s what he said. That I would be too much of a danger. And suddenly, in my second flash of insight that night, I realized what they were talking about. These weren’t the darling little creatures of E.T., or the friendly aliens of Close Encounters. These guys were the beginning of the invasion. The reconnaissance force. The scouts who were attempting to learn all they could about the planet Earth. To find out how strong we were. To find out what kind of a fight we could put up.

"For a moment I was stunned. I had answered all their questions. I had told them about our defunct space program as if it was as robust and inventive as it once had been.

"And I told them about the military. An Army that was limited to weapons as defined by the Geneva Accords as if there was a humane way to kill someone. I had not told them about an Army that was fighting conflicts in some of the most inhospitable terrain in the world, worn out from a decade of those wars and that was spread about the world in policing actions.

"And on and on. Told them what they wanted to know, making it up as I went along and them believing it all as if I was compelled someway to tell the truth. I went on and on, enjoying my role as the smartest man on Earth. And I was turning out to be the dumbest. I had had the misfortune of contacting the enemy first and because they had stroked my ego, I had given them everything they asked for so they could invade.

"No, it’s worse than that. I gave them the reason to invade. I suggested that we would be able to find their home and wipe it out. Oh, not in so many words, but I was telling them we were traveling among the stars. That we had explored the other planets, and the moons of those planets, never mentioning that all that exploration was done by robotic probes controlled from Earth. I didn’t tell them that our space program was in disarray because too many people couldn’t see the real benefits of it. They just thought of money being blasted into space."

Kelly looked down at the floor and shook his head. "It was quite the shock, after living one way for all those years and believing, for all those years, that I was harming no one. A shock to learn, because of my own big mouth, I might have destroyed everything that the human race had ever built and I mean everything."

Kelly sighed. "Well, I knew that I might be able to save the day. I mean, these creatures had to be pretty clever themselves. They had managed to short circuit relativity by hopping through space. If they had known much about Earth I doubt that I could have fooled them for long. So, for once I decided to tell the truth. I could reverse everything that I had said. If I could do that, then I might be able to turn off the invasion."

The audience stirred and for the first time since he had walked into the room, Kelly smiled. He said, "Yes, I know. My ego knows no bounds. But I was in the right place at the right time. Maybe I could change some of their attitudes by adding to what I had already said.

"So, rather than demanding that I be let go, I decided to stay and tell them everything that I could. But to add a little spice to it. Liven up the stories a little for the audience. To make everything bigger and better and bolder. Make them think that they couldn’t invade Earth because of who we really were. Not knowing their time table, I don’t know if I was successful and probably will never know for sure, but I tried. Oh, Lord, I tried.

"They took the questioning back to our space program. I had told them that we had launched a number of probes and that things had been slow for the last few years. They wanted to know why.

"So, I told them. We had solved the problems of interstellar flight. We could get anywhere in this galaxy, almost immediately. A strange device that we had developed that worked along the lines of thought. We could visualize where we wanted to go and with the speed of thought, we could get there, taking with us all that we needed. We could drag all the equipment along with us that we wanted. But with this capability, we didn’t need artificial craft and that was why the space program was in disarray. We kept it going as sort of a hobby.

"And, of course, I told them of the super weapons we had developed. Planet killing weapons. Weapons that could cause a sun to explode. We didn’t keep those sorts of things on Earth because they were far too dangerous. We stored them on other planets in other systems. We could retrieve them in seconds, if we needed them for some reason.

"I made sure they understood the sacrifices that we have made to protect our freedoms and our way of life. About men and women who fought to the death rather than surrender. Lessons from history. Half remembered movies and TV shows. Anything that I could think of because I needed to convince them that we would fight on and on as necessary.

"I told them of the great inventions we don’t use. The invention that could terra-form a planet and would make it into a paradise. A paradise as defined by us and not necessarily those who happened to reside on that planet. We didn’t use it on Earth because we liked the unpredictability of the weather. We didn’t use it on Mars, because the gravity was too light for us and if we increased that, we would tend to complicate the dynamics of the Solar System. We’d tried it on planets around other stars and some of our people now inhabited those planets."

Kelly laughed. "That last got their attention because they stopped asking questions and went off to confer. It looked as if it got quite heated at some points but I didn’t know. Maybe then don’t get angry. They would sometimes gesture at me and I think they were trying to figure out what was going on.

"Finally the man came over and said, ‘I think it is time for you to leave.’ No preliminaries. No pleasantries. Just time for me to leave.

"I said, ‘I thought I had been warned.’

"He pushed me toward the ramp, which was opening again, and said, ‘I don’t think it matters now. Just get out.’

"Well, I did notice his attitude had changed. He wasn’t polite like he had been and he seemed to be a little scared of me. I wanted to get out so I walked down the ramp. Minutes later I found myself standing by the highway. A car had stopped behind mine. I crossed the road and saw a deputy sheriff. He wanted to know if everything was all right and I told him my car had stalled, but I thought I could get it running now. I climbed in, turned the key and it started right up. I waved at the deputy and he waved back.

"I’ve had a chance to think about this, and I think I know what happened. These creatures, these aliens, who wanted to invade Earth, didn’t have the concept of a lie. They believed everything I told them because they had never run into anyone, or anything, that would lie. They believed everything I told them without looking for proof. When I told them about our inventions, our military capabilities, our ability to destroy whole planets, they believed me. When they compared their ability to ours, they were convinced that they couldn’t strike Earth. They didn’t even know that we had colonies on other worlds which might retaliate. They thought our might far outstripped theirs. I think they decided to find someone else to pick on."

Kelly reached to his side and picked up the newspaper. "This was on sale as I came in. I know you people don’t believe me. I don’t expect it. But look at the headline. It says, ‘SAUCERS SIGHTED OVER CAPITAL.’ You see, there were flying saucers here, but they’ve gone now."

There was a moment of silence and then applause. Loud and long. Before it died out, the people were standing up. First just one, then two and then everyone. The whole group was up clapping and cheering.

Kelly held the newspaper high. It was his only piece of evidence because there had been nothing to grab in the spaceship. Nothing that he could get from them to prove his story. That’s what he told them when the cheering finally quieted and everyone was in his or her seat.

At the very end, after an extra hour, as the audience had tried to wring every little detail from him, one of the men in the back stood up and asked, in violation of their protocol, "Come on, Dave, is this the truth?"

Kelly leaned on the rostrum and clasped his hands in front of him. He stared at the floor as if framing his reply.

Finally he looked up and said the last word he would ever say on the subject. "Wouldn’t you like to know."

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