Roger's invitation to dinner sounded a bit mysterious. He had called Sally on her business phone to invite us, saying only he had something important to ask us. Sally and I would be his only guests.
"What could be important to ask just us, Sal?"
"I can't imagine, Mark. Certainly we aren't the closest of his friends, and I have nothing of a business nature going on with Roger at the moment."
We decided not to try to guess. It turns out we could not have guessed it in a thousand years.
It was after dinner that Roger finally began to relieve our curiosity. We were comfortably seated on the small couch across from Roger, drinking the coffee Andrew had set out on the table between us.
"I know Mark has told you all I've told him about myself, Sally." He began. "I wanted him to, of course. I know he'd never keep anything from you, and you'll need to know all of it to understand what I'm about say. It involves you both and may require you to make a decision about something, but the decision may be that you decide to do nothing. I hope it won't be, but I'll understand if it is."
The beginning was certainly not lessening the mystery. He addressed Sally directly.
"Do you believe what Mark has told you about me?"
"Well, of course! I always believe Mark. He always tells the truth. But I think you mean do I believe what you told him about yourself, don't you?"
"Yes, of course," Roger acknowledged.
"I don't know Roger. You always tell the truth too, so I know you were not trying to deceive Mark. And I know there is nothing wrong with your mind, Roger, but it is fantastic. I believe what you told Mark is meant to be true, but I do not know if I believe the details, because I'm not sure I understand it all. I don't believe anything just because someone says it, not even you Roger, especially when I'd like it to be true. Would you really want me to believe something, without reservation, with no other evidence than your say so?"
"No, I certainly would not. I'm satisfied, however, to the extent you have believed me. As for evidence, it will be provided if needed. That will depend on your decision.
"What decision? Roger" I impatiently interject.
"I'll come to that, Mark. First I must explain a couple of things.
A very serious, almost wistful, expression came over Roger's face, an expression I'd never seen before.
"I'm nearly finished with my research here. I'm, what you call in this world, 'homesick,' and am longing to be with those I love and have left in the world I came from," he said almost dreamily, then added, almost angrily, "and away from this horrible planet."
"Perhaps I should not have said that, but it is horrible. What makes it most horrible is the knowledge of what it could be without the ignorance and cruelty that dominates it—all unnecessary, all chosen.
"But I'll be away from it all soon. Oh, it will not be so soon in terms of your own time. Non-earth humans live six to eight times longer than earth humans.
"I'll be glad to be away from the vileness of this world, and look forward to the sanity of my world and my home. But my leaving will also be a source of profound sadness and frustration.
"That's my own fault. I have made a very bad mistake. The others, the other non-earth humans have been wiser than I. They have kept themselves from forming any earth human relationships. Perhaps I should have done the same, but I did not. I will suffer the consequences of that mistake, as I ought to, but I will never regret it. Love is always a good thing, when it is love, and not the sentimental pap that goes by that name in this world.
"What I almost cannot bear is the knowledge of the future to which I am leaving those I love in this world. I would do anything to change it if I could, but I cannot. No man can know the future, but some things are inevitable. Unless the people of this world change, which I know seems impossible, the future of this world is doomed to destruction and disaster. You have no idea how hard it is to leave those I love knowing the fate to which I have left them.
Neither Sally or I had ever seen such intensity in Roger. Though apparently as calm and poised as ever, he was obviously struggling with some great emotional conflict.
"Leaving will be very hard. It is always hard to leave those you love. Of course, nothing lasts forever, there is always leaving, there is always death, and such are never easy. But, even while I've been here I've had to endure watching so much unnecessary suffering and pain, even watching some I love die, which is hard enough when there is nothing that could be done to prevent it.
Roger paused, obviously trying to decide how to proceed.
"I know this is going to be very difficult for both of you to understand. I'm not sure how much Mark has explained to you, Sally, but one fact I always have to live with is the fact that the beings on this planet are evil. Earth has been isolated from the rest of the universe intentionally, to protect the rest of humanity from the evils that plague it. There is no act of evil greater than that which would allow the evil that infects this planet to spread to any other part of the universe.
"In spite of the modest advances made in scientific knowledge here, it will never be sufficient for the beings on this planet to migrate beyond there own star system. It is unlikely they will ever leave this planet at all. There may be small attempts, but they will always return to this planet or die in space.
"Can you imagine the torment one endures when watching someone who is sick and suffering, or dying, knowing you could easily relieve that suffering and prevent the dying, but cannot without doing something terribly evil? Can you imagine what that suffering must be when the sick or dying are those you love?
"Every day that I see the unnecessary deaths, the horrible suffering of human beings on this planet, the diseases, the poverty, the wars, and intentional cruelty I could prevent I suffer. I have had to make the choice every day, almost every hour not to show those on this planet how to cure their diseases, produce unlimited food, and prevent their endless cruel wars, because the sick, diseased, and disabled of this world are the consequence of their own choices, choices based on their vile superstitious beliefs. I cannot make them choose and believe differently and if the people of this planet do not heal themselves, and if allowed to leave this planet, they would eventually spread their death-dealing beliefs and practices beyond this world. I cannot interfere in this world in any way that might make that migration possible."
Roger paused for a long time. Sally was holding my hand very tightly and we both waited somewhat tensely.
"I cannot introduce any scientific knowledge or technology from outside this world, because all such knowledge could lead to advances in science and technology earth scientists could never achieve on their own. I cannot even use such knowledge myself, because it might reveal what I really am. I could probably hide it, but it is not certain, and I cannot morally take that chance.
Yet, I have interferred. I interferre every time I use Ned to help one of my friends, like Sally or Joel. I have helped the families of some of the workers on my farm. The daughter of one worker has a life threatening condition for which only one drug exists that can treat it. That drug is not available in this country. It is illegal to use it. It is only available in the underground market. I arranged to have the drug provided for the girl and for an underground physician, a very good one, but a so-called illegal alien, to treat her.
There would be so much more I could do if I were free to do whatever I have the knowledge and skill to do, but I'm limited to using only whatever scientific, technological, and physical resources are already available on this planet.
"I told you Mark, there are other non-earth humans in the world. One I know very well. She knows what I'm doing this evening and has given me permission to tell you who she is—it's Irene Dempsey."
"That little talk I had with Dempsey in the pool a few weeks ago was about my worker's little girl. Dempsey arranged everything and was reporting the good news to me.
"I'm telling you this because I want you to get to know her. I told you she's a mechanic, but she's much more than that. She's a scientist and, well the closest I can come in earth terms to what she is, is mechanical engineer, but mechanics in the rest of the universe is a much more advanced field than anything this world knows. As far as this world's science is concerned, she mastered all of that as a young girl.
"Dempsey's much wiser than I in some ways. She has managed to evade all attachments to earth humans. She's very charming, and gracious, but you'll not be able to get close to her. Still I want you to get to know her, because she exemplifies a kind of woman that exists in the universe, but no longer exists in this world. I'm afraid you'll not have long to get to know her though, she will be leaving when I do.
"By the way, if you make the decision I hope you do, she will provide the proof I promised.
After another pause, Roger continued.
"I want to explain, if I can, why I chose to allow myself earth human relationships. I have only made a very few, but they are all very important to me.
"Those I befriended on this world are the few I've discovered who have chosen not to believe any of the lies that dominate the minds of almost all other humans on this planet. You once called them misfits, Mark. That's exactly what they are. On this planet they do not fit because they have maintained their individual integrity and have not become part of the self-chosen disease that infects the world.
"If I am an alien on this world, so are they. The only difference is, they were born here. You Mark, and you Sally, do not belong to this world's society and culture any more than I do. You must always be conscious of the fact you are not like others, the mass of superstitious and ignorant humanity that populate this planet."
Of course Roger was right. Sally and I had talked about how we never fit in. We seemed to share no interests with others, except that tiny group of people we had come to know through Roger.
"You will never be able to change this world, Roger. That is what Jo discovered and why she chose not to publish her book. She's one of us, the misfits, Sally. That's why you've always liked her.
"I'm always able to recognize them, those misfits, as I did you two. Even when you get some things wrong, it's because you're looking for the best and true, and it is very difficult for you to believe how evil things really are. You have a natural inclination to give others the benefit of the doubt. When they say things you know are wrong, things, that if actually acted on, must result in evil, your natural benevolence assumes they cannot really mean what their words say.
"That's why I chose to meet Jo. I knew she was a misfit, one of us, drowning in a world of people who had no identity of their own and no purpose of their own and no ability to ever understand who and what she is.
"It is for the sake of Jo, and any other possible misfits in the world that I have taken the risk of forming relationships with earth humans. It is so they might understand they are only misfits in earth's society and culture, because it is that society and culture that does not belong in the world, or any world, and that they, the misfits, are the only ones that truly deserve to live in and enjoy the world. It is to reassure them that, even in this world, there are other sane and rational individuals, that they are the normal human beings in a world of beings who have chosen to be less than human."
Roger seemed to be growing more enthusiastic as he finally approached the crux of his subject and the choice he was going to ask us to make. Roger would never resort to 'salesmanship,' but if you did not know Roger, his enthusiasm would have made that impression.
"The decision I want you to make is to continue what I've started here. You will never have the problems I've had, walking the tightrope between benevolence to those I love and not bringing outside interference into the world. You can do whatever you choose and whatever you are able to do.
"I'm not asking you to do anything for anyone else, of course. If you choose to do it, it will be for yourself. Maybe there will be no others, but there is always a chance that others like you, and Margo, and Jo, and the Rices, other misfits lost in a world of ignorance, superstition, and oppression, are out there. They will be the ones who refuse to be swallowed up in the world's headlong rush to self-destruction, stubbornly thinking for themselves, maintaining their own integrity, and living their lives as independently as they possibly can, believing that they are the odd ones, the different, even alien ones in the world, but knowing, implicitly if not explicitly, they are right in a world that is wrong.
"It was never my purpose or intention when I came here, but when I discovered there were a few rare individuals in this world who had preserved their own independence and reason, I was compelled by my own need and desire to befriend them, and to help them. It was not for their sake I helped them, but for mine. I wanted to know them, and I wanted them to know me, to know they were not alone in the universe, if not in their own world, that they were the only truly moral beings on the planet, the only ones who had maintained their integrity, the only fully human beings by their own choice and effort. I had to do it for myself. To find them in this world was a wonderful surprise, like a bit of fresh water found in a desert. It was my joy to see their joy in being recognized for who and what they are.
"What I'm asking you to do is to enjoy what I've enjoyed, if you can and you choose to. All I've done is live my life as I chose to live it, which means enjoying the association of other true human beings, however much that joy cost me, which I've already explained.
"You may already understand this implicitly, but not explicitly. You know I run what might be called businesses, mostly shipping and transport now, but there are no organizations, just lots of individual relationships. The same is true of Joel, who has business and social connections world-wide. Ned, too, has connections that neither Joel or I have as well as connections with most of the individuals we deal with. But there are no organizations.
"The same is true of those I call my friends. There is no organization, just individual relationships between those who have the same values and live by the same principles, who enjoy the company of those who are their own persons, independent and self-sufficient individuals who know what life is and know how to live it. We enjoy and derive pleasure from each other because none of us needs anyone else. We enjoy the approval and appreciation of others, because we do not need either their approval or appreciation. It is the only kind of approval and understanding that is genuine and of any value.
"I'm asking you to do what I have done. To find other independent individualists, if there are any. To make available to them the knowledge that they are not alone in this world, that there are others in this world who will both understand and appreciate them for who they are. It is not necessary for them to associate with you, or any of the others unless they choose to. It is only necessary for them to know there are other sane and rational people in this world, and if they choose to have a relationship with others, those others exist.
"If you decide to do what I ask, you may have to maintain contact with those who have chosen to associate with us. It may mean you choose to help them when you can, but only if such help is welcomed, and only if you choose to offer it. You are never obligated to help anyone, but you will want to. I know you both.
I know there is one very big problem which you both must consider, and consider seriously. I know how you love each other, that you are complete in each other. I know how much you covert your privacy, that there is nothing in life you care for if you cannot not share it completely. The hardest part of your choice will be how much you are willing to share you life with others. The others, of course, will be those who share your values in everything, who would never dream of intruding into any aspect of your life. If you decide it is not something you can do without a sacrifice of your own privacy and life, you should not do it.
Sally and I looked at each other. Her eyes had a pleading look in them, but I did not know what they were pleading for. I knew I did not know the answer, that Sally and I had to talk, to weigh everything.
"Roger, I do not know what to say. When do you have to know?" I looked at Sally. "Have any thoughts, Sweetheart."
"I... I do. I want to talk to you alone, though." Then looking at Roger she added, "you understand."
"Of course. You don't have to answer at all, actually. I'd like you to answer before I'm through here, but that won't be for at least a year. Even if you don't answer, you will no doubt continue to associate with the others, just because you'll want to. That may be enough—and of course Mark will be writing about it all. No one is going to believe what he writes, which is why it will be safe for him to do it; that is, no one will believe it except any other possible misfits that might be out there."
Roger seemed to be satisfied, perhaps just because we had not refused outright. Sally asked him something about his estate and how he would handle that before he left, and that led to another revelation, and possibly another decision.
"Sally, I intend to sell the entire estate to you. I know you have places to live all over the world, but you and Mark do not have a home. I'd give it to you, but selling it to you will require a lot less government involvement.
"Again this is up to you. The offer is not without strings. I have a lot of servants, and a lot of workers on my farms, which are all invaluable to me, but also a lot of work. You have to decide if you want to take on that additional responsibility."
"And there is one other thing. I know you're not a business man, Mark, but Sally knows business, perhaps better than I do. If you choose to continue my work, I want you to take over my businesses. As I've already explained, they are not companies or corporations or any other kind of organizations. I'll spend all the time necessary to provide you all the details of them, which is mostly the names of contacts and details of what each is doing. Joel Rice runs most of it these days, anyway, and will continue to if you choose to have him. As far as the business end of things is concerned, Frank, will also be an invaluable help.
"One other final thing. You will have to get better acquainted with Ned. I know you know him, and Margo will tell you a little more about him, but for some of the, ah, jobs that will need to be done, Ned will be necessary. Besides, he's a delightful story teller."
It was apparent that Roger had nothing more specific to tell us that evening. The discussion turned to some other things. Along the way, I had some questions I thought might be important to answer if Sally and I should choose to make the decision Roger would like us to.
We were talking about the others, those Roger had come to refer to has his misfit friends.
"Roger, do they all know who you are? I mean do they all know you are a non-earth human?"
"No, not all of them. Margo knows, and Franz Wolfe, but Peter Sterling does not know; at least I never told him. I sometimes think he has somehow guessed it, from some of his comments. I told Ned Carpenter, but I do not think he believed me. I'm not sure what he thinks, and he's too polite to say. Joel and Rena Rice know and have known for a long time. They have been very dear and important friends which I'll miss more than I can say. Margo can tell you much more about them, Mark.
"Ruth Sparberger is also a misfit, by the way. She's not a recluse, as she's rumored to be. Never pay attention to this world's rumors. You've met her and know what a delightful person she is, her almost childlike innocent charm, yet she has rare and profound insights.
I have not told Jo or Ruth, at least not directly. Ruth once told me she was sure she was an alien who did not belong in this world and that she thought I was one too. I assured her we both were, but of course she was speaking metaphorically. In spite of her great insight, I do not think she caught the literalness of my agreement.
"Frank knows who I really am, but it almost does not matter. When I told her, she did not react at all. It was as though I had told her I was from Toledo. She just said something like, 'Well I knew you weren't from around here,' and went on with whatever pressing business matter she was talking about. She's the most independent woman I know in any world, even more independent than Margo, or you Sally. But of course you already know that," he grinned.
He was speaking to Sally, not me. Sally knew Frank, of course, but I really didn't know her at all, although I would.
"Margo knows the most about me, even more than you or the Rices, Mark. She doesn't know some of the technical details, and wouldn't be interested, but she knows more about me personally. She spent hours with me having me tell her about my world, and all the other worlds I've seen. She knows most of my history in this world as well, which is why she knows so much about the Rices. Since you'll be writing about me, you will find her an invaluable resource, Mark.
"You might be interested to know, I originally thought Margo would do the writing about me, but when we talked about it, she said she couldn't. For her, writing about me would be too hard and emotional an experience, she said, because she could not do it honestly without revealing her own feelings. Perhaps she'll explain that to you."
It occurred to me, I needed to ask Roger one other question.
"Do you want what we know about you kept from the others who do not already know, Roger?"
"That will hardly be possible, Mark, at least once you begin writing about me. I don't think you need to go out of your way to inform them, but feel free to answer any questions they have. They will definitely have questions after I'm gone.
Sally and I talked often of that night in the coming days. In some ways, it was more unbelievable than the original revelation Roger had made about who he really is.
"I just cannot grasp it, Mark. Roger's leaving. It just seemed as though he would always be there. It's not so hard for me to think about Dempsey leaving. I don't know her at all. But Roger!"
"He's not dying you, know. Only going away," I rationalized.
"What's the difference?!" she said almost defiantly. "He'll be gone."
That seemed to be the thing our discussions turned to the most. It was as though some part of reality itself was being ripped away from us.
We talked about the other things too. About Roger's estate. It was harder for Sally than for me, I think.
"I'm not sure I could live there, Mark. I'd be expecting to see Roger around every corner."
Of course we discussed the practical side of everything too. How much time would it take from Sally's very busy schedule, or even mine, which was naturally much more flexible. We would be working with NED, and we both knew about Roger's business. We had no idea how much of it still involved smuggling? He certainly still had access to outlawed drugs, and underground medicine, apparently. How much danger was there in that? Would it be right to take the risk?
The one thing we were not concerned about was our own relationship. Whatever we decided to do, it would be together, our choice and our adventure, and there was nothing that could endanger our love.
In the end, it was our love, and who we are, that determined our decision. Though it was not an easy one, once we had made it, there was no doubt in either of our minds that it was the right one.