So I Jumped Into the Alien Vehicle
A Turnabout Suspension of Disbelief
 

Essay by
Donald L. Franson

 

April 1961

  
Introduction: suspension of disbelief

I used to enjoy those scenes in old-time science fiction thrillers, where the Earthman hero in the other-worldly city makes his escape back to his rocket-ship — out of the gloomy dungeon, through the drain-pipe, across the mile-high ledge and hand-over-hand down the monorail structure, at last evading the immediate pursuit of the Gremlin police. At this instant, he spots an alien vehicle standing unattended. This is the point at which I would have to shut off a part of my mind, or else lose a few buttons off my suspension of disbelief.

The minute I saw that alien auto or helicopter, I knew the hero was going to jump into it, fiddle with the controls for a moment or two until he got the hang of them, and then shoot skyward just in time to elude the hordes of local avengers, who rush to their own machines but have trouble getting them out of the parking lot.

Now the part I object to is not the hero's daring in taking this action — this is logical in his harrowing situation, and in the tradition of cliff-hanging. No, it's the ten-second, self-help driving course that gets me.

It's fantasy, that's what it is.
  

Let me relate the true experience of one John J. Aldebaranian, of 781 1/2 Tentacle Street, Dgloob, Mzirkit, Alpha Tauri, whom I interviewed at the City Hall, where he was being feted to make amends for his unfortunate arrest, and to disprove his misapprehension that he was a fugitive. Passing over his original landing on Earth, and his wandering about the city ending in his arrest for disorderly conduct and/or evading the leash law, which he misinterpreted as capital offenses; and his subsequent escape from the pound.

We take up the story as he runs along the nearly deserted streets, at last fairly certain that he has lost his pursuers for the time being. Then he spots the alien vehicle —

Go ahead, John J. Aldebaranian —


  
Learning to drive a local ground-car

My heart leaped as I saw it — for here was the means by which I could get back to my interstellar ship, too far to walk, crawl or slither. I knew the direction, bee-like, but could not hope to get back there in time to disconnect the time-bomb I had rigged as a precautionary measure, and save this continuum from dissolving. Once back in my ship, of course, I was safe — I could even take off in a downward direction, straight through the planet, without noticing it inside. But the Earthmen might come upon me at any moment, and my blaster had only two charges —

I had seen some of these vehicles in action, at a distance, and knew where the control compartment was located. Having watched, earlier, an Earthman move off in one (they were ground-cars, confined to hard-surfaced tracks) I knew what to do. Going up to the vehicle, I pushed a button in its side. A door opened a crack, and I pulled it outward, stooped and squeezed myself into the seat, and assumed a sitting position as I had seen Earthmen do. Bracing myself for the acceleration, I pulled the door shut. It closed with a tchunk, but nothing happened.
  

Disappointed, I looked out the windows to see if my pursuers were in sight, but they were not. I then spied a button on the panel in front of me. Buttons are what Earthmen are fond of pushing, so I pushed it, again bracing myself. But instead of the car leaping forward, the panel folded outward, revealing a hidden recess. In this were several unrecognizable objects, papers and garbage, all lit by a radiation tube in the corner. Pushing the panel back in place with a shudder, hoping that I had not gotten a fatal dose, I looked around for more controls, for I seemed to be getting nowhere. I pushed and twisted everything at random, and finally a knob that I had pushed jumped back out again. I fooled with it further, and out came the power plant into my hand, still glowing! I hurriedly put it back, as I had no wish to dismantle the vehicle, only to get it started.

I opened another receptacle that seemed to contain the ashes of combustion, along with some used-up white fuel tubes. While I was occupied with this exploration (interesting in another situation but exasperating at this time) I suddenly heard a voice. Knowing only a smattering of the Earthman English language, I hoped it was remote or automatic instructions on how to operate this vehicle, as the Earth police might be upon me at any moment. The voice seemed to be saying,

"Call this number now. Pick up your phone and call Zuperman 3-3333."

Over and over again it said it. I looked for a phone to pick up and call the number, but none could I find. I gave up in despair, and after a few minutes my instructor gave up too, and ceased giving me the number to call, and instead talked about money.
  

After pushing and pulling all the buttons that were in my reach as I sat on the seat, I noticed that there were more levers and buttons on the other side of the car, and it dawned on me that where I was sitting was not the driver's position. Sliding over, I found that there were two large pedals on the floor, and not in an impossible position for two of my feet. So I started pumping them, alternately, in high hopes.But nothing happened. After a half hour of this I was tired, and then I noticed that when I pumped the right-hand pedal, one of the indicators on the panel in front of me wiggled a little. It went to the left when I pushed the pedal, and back straight up when i let it come out. This was getting somewhere, I thought.

This soon proved to be a false hope, as I could get no further action out of the instruments beyond this mere twitching of the one marked "battery".

Back in Aldebaran, I was always taught in the science fiction magazines to try everything, so I grabbed the big wheel which was so obviously a valve, and turned it courageously all the way to the right; then still hopefully, all the way to the left. Nothing. There was a lever below the valve which I was able to bend into various positions, but with no results.

Button on the floor: click-click, but no action. Another pedal squeaked ineffectually. I could read a little Earth English, and I looked about for directions. All I could find was a sign which simply said "chevrolet". Yes, if only I could chevrolet! But it was hopeless.
  

Learning to navigate on local roads

It was almost with relief that I saw an Earthman approaching, signifying the end of my ordeal. But I soon saw that he was not of the police, but merely the owner of the vehicle. I slumped down in the compartment and drew my blaster, waiting.

He did not see me until he had gotten into the car, and then he looked at me in surprise, then horror. I don't know why I affect Earthmen in this way, as one of my heads, at least, is quite handsome. Then he saw my blaster, and assumed the expression of fear and nervousness. I pointed my blaster ahead, and he understood that I meant for him to start the vehicle, and take me to my ship.

In spite of my desperate situation, a thrill came over me as I realized now I was going to find out how the vehicle worked. The Earthman may have been perplexed at my appearance, but he apparently respected my blaster, for he obviously was at my service for the moment.

As I watched intently, trying to memorize while keeping watch on the Earthman for suspicious moves, I saw to my surprise that he was not doing any of the button-pushing that I had been attempting, but something entirely different.

He fumbled in his pocket and pulled out a key. Then he reached forward and began to unlock the door to the engine compartment. However, as soon as he turned the key in the lock, something growled at him, and he took his hand hastily away. Changing his mind again, he began pumping on the various foot pedals, twisting the big valve, and bending the lever — and we were moving! These actions unfortunately were so fast that I couldn't follow them, and I realized this alien vehicle was not so easy to manipulate. (If it were an Aldebaranian zibble, though, all you would have to do is zeep three times and quub to the brumble.) Anyway, I had an unwilling chauffeur, and I had my bee-like sense of direction, and I had my blaster, so everything was going to be all right.
  

The Earthman understood my signals of direction, which were elementary jabs and waves of the blaster. Soon we were purring along, and no sign of the Earth police. As we whizzed along a great roadway, together with other vehicles, however, I saw occasional black and white vehicles of police. Pointing them out to my captive, I indicated to him not to alert them, and he nodded ingratiatingly, losing a few beads of perspiration.

I was so bemused with our rapid progress along this speedway, with countless vehicles speeding along in one direction, then a low divider, and then uncounted vehicles racing along in the other direction, that I didn't realize at once that we were going directly away from the ship! This was through no trickery of my guide, however. I had merely neglected to continue giving him directional orders.

At once I ordered him to steer onto the left roadway and reverse his direction, and the look he gave me was one of absolute terror. For a moment, it seemed he was going to grab my blaster rather than reverse himself, for some reason, but then he acceded to my frequent jabs, though at first he tried sneakily to worm his way over to the right, and I had to jab him back into the left lane.

Finally he slowed down and stopped, to the hooting of his neighbors who apparently thought this funny as they dodged around him. Sticking his head out the window and sweating profusely, he saw a chance to go to the other roadway, and bumped over the divider, turned the valve furiously, and then bent the lever and kicked the growler button frantically. At last we were safely speeding on, in the right direction, and several Earthmen in other vehicles shouted at my driver, complimenting him on his maneuver.
  

All this effort was to no avail. By mere chance, or by some detective work, I was located, for at this moment I heard the wailing of the hunting police. Several police vehicles converged on us, and my driver had to stop. At first the police talked to my driver, perhaps reprimanding him for not turning me in sooner, but then they noted my demeanor and saw my blaster, drew back and spoke more softly.

There was now a large circle of police and their black and white ground-cars around us. They invited me with pleasant gestures to shift to one of the police cars, and I perforce went along. We all went in an procession to the great building marked "City Hall". The police were now much better organized, or better informed about what they were dealing with in me. I saw no reasonable chance of escaping again, and determined to stand bravely for whatever fate awaited.
  

But everything is fixed up now. The time-bomb is turned off, I am received handsomely by these Earthmen, and they have offered me many gifts. I am going back to Aldebaran with one of these ground-vehicles, and I am going to learn to master it. Then I am going over to the house of Mazzxos the science fiction writer, and —

  

 © 1961 Donald L. Franson


  
First printed in Chuck A. Devine's
Pilikia, Number 6, April-May 1961

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