“How do you manage all this shape-shifting? Can all Falloonians do it so seamlessly? How do you make the changes?”
“You must have fallen asleep in your psychology and anatomy classes,” he said.
That hurt my feelings. “No,” I said, “I paid attention.”
“To what?” he said, making a mocking smile. “Was Mrs. Big Dope in your class?”
“Are you going to taunt me or teach me?”
“You probably think,” he said, “that you are seeing my shape now, right? You think that little rays shoot out from your eyes … little emissions so to speak … land on me and send back what they find.”
I tried to think back. “Not really,” I said. I think my eyes are just receptors, or something like that.”
“Maybe you’re not totally stupid,” he said.
That was a relief.
“Suppose,” he said, “that I don’t change shapes at all.”
“But I see you.”
“Shut up and listen,” he explained.
“Suppose that, because we are a superior species in so many ways, we Falloonians have perfected the relationship between our beings as senders and your beings as receptors. For sight, that would involve how we control information that strikes your retinas, triggering the signals that are sent to a region in the back of your brain. There, they are translated, in the words of your scientist James E. Alcock, into “colors, textures, and forms that are then compared with past experience.”
“Then the process constructs an image.”
“Actually, a construction. Does that explain how you see me in different forms?”
“But I can touch you.”
“And hear you.”
“I guess I could taste you if necessity demanded it.”
“And smell you. Lord I can smell you sometimes.”
“Same question. Do you want to learn or be cute?”
“Do you mean to tell me that your shapes are merely constructions that you signal?”
“Keep trying. You are on the right path but walking wobbly.”
“You could signal something evil or non-productive.”
“Only for weaker minds. I may be programmed for periodic mischief but not for creating evil. I couldn’t if I wanted to. Remember, I’m a mental construction designed to promulgate belief, and various belief systems demand specific levels of cognizance.”
“You mean belief systems exist in a hierarchy of sorts?”
“I mean, in the parlance of your species, that dumb is as dumb does.”
“But what if a renegade from your planet came to earth with evil plans to energize the masses in revolt against a stable society?”
“That could cause a cause a problem. Won’t happen though.”
“The shapes involved would be so strange and weird that even the most perceptively challenged among you would find them repellent.”
“Wait,” I said, “Didn’t you imply that our creation of these so-called constructions depends on preciously held beliefs?”
He looked at me sharply, thought, and said. “I’m tired. Have you learned enough for today? I think I’ll go watch the news.”