(Story written for Te Papa book – July 2013. This is the long version.)
By Phillip Mann
When we were little, my twin sister Matariki and I had a special game. We’d pretend a flying saucer had landed in our garden and we were invited to go inside and then we’d have lots of adventures. It was wonderful, and very real. We never thought of the alien beings we met as being dangerous – just different. And we never dreamed that one day it would come true.
But there we were, one Saturday morning at Te Papa where Dad works. Mum’s a nurse and works at the hospital. Anyway, there we were, up in the art room when we heard a lot of shouting. Then dad came running up the stairs looking for us. “Quick,” he called. “Outside. You’ve got to get a look at this. A flying saucer. It’s coming towards Wellington.” And then he hurried us up to level 6 and out onto the view platform. Already there were a few other people there. Everyone was staring in the direction of the Rimutakas.
Evidently, the news had just broken that shortly after dawn, a UFO, a big one, had entered Earth’s atmosphere somewhere over Mexico. After flying south, it was now heading across the Pacific in the direction of New Zealand. The authorities had tried to keep quiet about it, but we now live in the information age and secrets are not so easy to keep. Amateur video pictures of it were already appearing on U-Tube, as well as a message from the space-ship itself, saying, ‘ We come in peace. Please welcome us as friends.’ Latest calculations indicated the space ship’s trajectory would bring it close to New Zealand or even directly over Wellington.
Someone on the roof had a radio and they shouted out the news that a large saucer shaped craft had just entered New Zealand air space near Napier. It had already passed over Havelock North. It was definitely heading our way but seemed to be slowing down.
It was at that moment that Matariki pulled my arm and whispered, “Can you feel anything?” I think I had been too preoccupied with the news and all the excitement – but she was right. When I stopped jiggling about, I could feel a tingling down my spine. We touched heads, like we did when we were kids playing games and pretending to communicate, and immediately everything came louder and clearer. “Do you think they are coming for us?” she whispered.
Before we could say anything else, we heard shouting – and there, just appearing over RimutakaMountains, we saw a silver disk. It was shining in the sunlight. Round its rim, lights were flashing, green, blue and red as though in greeting. Again I felt that tingling and so did Matariki and she gripped my arm. The UFO was now over Upper Hutt. I could see its shadow as it passed over the bush-covered slopes and houses. It came silently too. No fierce roar of jets. The only sound came from the cars that had pulled over on the motorway and were honking their horns. There were police sirens too and a helicopter circling above.
The space ship glided slowly over Petone, past SomesIsland and then, when its shadow reached Circa and the other buildings, it stopped and slowly began to lower towards the sea. Six beams of light stabbed down, so brilliant they were almost like a welding flame, and they shone right down through the water. I could see the bed of the sea. I bet the fish got a surprise. Moments later, the columns of light settled to a steady silver and seemed to become solid. The ship now held perfectly still. It was close beside us. Coming from it we heard music: cheerful music. Brass band music, no less.
Almost opposite us, part of the ship begin to glow and then we saw a door open slowly and a platform slid out. Standing on it was a woman. She was tall and, as soon as the platform stopped, she put her hands together and bowed to all the people who had gathered in the small Greek theatre below. I think that is a universal sign of greeting. Then she turned slightly, body erect and looked straight at us. That really freaked Matariki and me because we recognized her. We did! Not only had she figured in our games, but in Te Papa there is a statue – head and shoulders only – of a Maori woman, wearing a heitiki and with beautiful long hair. She is called La Nouvelle Zélande. We’d often stared at it, remembering. And I think Matariki hoped she would look like that when she grew up.
Then the woman stepped off the platform. There was a gasp from those watching. But she simply floated over the clear plastic safety wall and landed before us. Being the kind of boy I am, I studied her feet and could see she wore a special kind of shoe which I guessed could cancel out gravity. Far out! What would I give for a pair like that. Standing in front of us the woman smiled and said, “Hello Simon. Hello Matariki. My name is Sa-Li. Do you remember me?”
We just gaped. Dad too had his mouth open. And then Matariki pulled herself together. “Of course we do,” she said. “Its just that we didn’t know you were real.”
And that is how it all began. Talk about a media frenzy!!!
Over the next few days, Sa-Li was busy meeting the Mayor, meeting the Prime Minister, meeting the Governor-General meeting people from the different embassies, giving interviews, talking on Morning Report to Geoff Robinson and on Campbell Live and always explaining that she was a representative of the Association of Galactic Museums. She explained that she had come to Earth to invite us to join them. Evidently we had been under observation for years, centuries even, and now they judged the time was right for contact to begin. However, she was very clear that it was now the powers on Earth that must decide. The offer was there.
“But where do you come from?” she was asked a hundred times.
“From one of the stars you call The Pleiades.” Hearing that for the first time, Matariki beamed.
“But that is a long way away, how do you travel through space so quickly?”
“We don’t travel through space. We transform space. Once we are beyond the circuit of your moon, the journey home… or anywhere… is almost instantaneous.”
‘But why an Association of Galactic museums?” asked one interviewer. “Why not something more useful?”
“Because museums are the guardians of our culture and out history.” She replied crisply. “They are our memory, of the best and the worst of us, and they will live on while we may not.” That shut him up.
Another interviewer, a woman from South America, asked her to explain how we, of Gaia, would benefit if we joined this Association of Galactic Museums. Sa-Li nodded, appreciating this question. “It will begin with a small exchange of gifts. I have brought some of our treasures to offer to you. In return we expect you to loan things to us, for there are many races up there’ – here she pointed to the sky – ‘who are very curious to know about you. Later, when we have established trust, we would invite you to travel, and we would help you build a special museum. It could begin here in this city, in Te Papa even. But Aotearoa is a large country… and besides, the museum could have many homes in many countries. We would also need to build a real space port near here, one that could take the big space ships not just my little craft. And, of course, you would get to meet many different species, for the galaxy is teeming with life. Some of them would need special facilities as they do not breath your air. Beyond that, it would be up to you. There is no limit. But you do not need to decide now. Discuss among yourselves. I will return in six months.”
After a week of this, Sa-Li made it known that the interviews were at an end. She had important work to do, preparing for what she called the Day of Gifts. This also meant that at last she had time for us.
One morning she took us on a tour of her ship. I wanted to know about the generators which allowed the ship to transform space, but these were bedded into the walls and could not be seen. Sa-Li told us that all she needed to do was establish resonance between the coordinates of where she was and where she wanted to be, and the generators did the rest. “Like magic. Remember? You used to play at doing that, when you were six, Si-mon.”
“Talking of being six…” began Matariki. She wanted to know about how, in our games, we had first come to meet Sa-Li. “Oh those were more than games,” said Sa-Li. “That was direct communication between us. I do not know how it happened, but the imagination of children is very powerful. When you two played, you seemed to live in my mind, and I was alive in yours too, I know. I learned about your world from you. In return I was able to give you glimpses of my world and you had such fun there. Do you remember?” We both nodded.
“But why do you look like that statue?” said Matariki, asking the question that was uppermost in our minds.
“To make you feel at ease. You must have seen the statue when you were very young, and you must have liked it very much. Your imaginations did the rest. It was you made me look like her. And now I have returned the compliment. It is my friendly disguise. ”
“Can we…” began Matariki. “Can we see, what you really look like?”
Sa-Li paused. “Perhaps. After the Day of Gifts. But not now. For the time being I need to look like this in order to speak to you.”
With that we had to be content. We continued our exploration.
In the middle of the space-ship was a large circular tub filled with water. “What is that for?” asked Matariki.
“Swimming in of course.”
“Doesn’t the water slop all over when you take off and land?”
“No. You don’t feel any movement in here.”
We entered another large room. It was filled with a net made of thick fibres.
“This is where Garth lives.”
“Garth?” I asked.
“Ah. You have not yet met Garth. Well you will. He is the only other living being with me. He does all the heavy jobs.”
As she said this a bell rang softly. “And now I must leave you. That bell is a communication call from my home-world. I hope I have answered some of your questions – but we will have plenty of time to talk in the future, I hope.”
With that she led us up through the space ship and out onto the narrow platform.
“But how…?” began Matariki/
“You’ll see. Grip my arms like you did in your games long ago. And hold on.”
And we did. I felt us rise slowly and then we flew up and over to the balcony and landed as light as you please. We stepped away.. Sa-Li lifted and waved and returned to her ship.
“We’ve a lot to talk about,” said Matariki, her head touching mine. “Race you to the coffee bar.”
It was the next day we met Garth.
He managed the lower part or Sa-Li’s spaceship where the cargo was stored. He was a – are you ready for this? – a six-legged-twelve-tentacled-four-eyed-three-metre-high, singing arthropod! His speciality, apart from singing, was in carrying things. His job was to unpack the treasures that Sa-Li had brought and move them into a specially prepared room in Te Papa. He was the strongest creature I have ever seen. I reckon he could have picked up an elephant if it got in his way. Each morning when we arrived at Te-Papa he was already at work, scampering into the hold, climbing up the walls like a spider, picking up boxes with his tentacles, then leaping down, yodeling like a Swiss mountaineer, and carrying them into the room where they were carefully unpacked by the Te Papa staff.
Garth liked to have his photo taken too and happily posed for the cameras, his tentacles held high and his four eyes fluttering like handkerchiefs in a breeze. One time he offered to lift us up, and of course, Matariki said “Yes” on my behalf. The next thing I knew there was a tentacle under my feet and one round my waist and I was hoisted up high above him. Matariki took a photo, and you can see it if you don’t believe me.
But we were conscious that the days were slipping away.
One evening Matariki and I, along with Mum and Dad were invited into the space ship for supper. We’d already told them about the games we’d played as kids, and they had accepted that. Also Dad had worked with Garth and mum had shown an interest in what she called the ‘domestic arrangements’ aboard the space ship. Sa-Li had given them a guided tour too.
Our meeting was in a small alcove just off the swimming pool. I knew what Sa-Li had in mind and she didn’t waste time. “With your permission,” she began. “I would like to invite Si-mon and Matariki to come with me back to my home world. They would be very safe, I guarantee that, and I would return them on my next visit – in six months’ time.” To our amazement, neither mum or dad seemed surprised.
“Well that depends,” said Mum firmly. I groaned inwardly. I knew that tone of voice. And then she continued, “On whether their dad and me can come with them.”
That surprised me. It surprised both of us. Mum and Dad had obviously been plotting. Honestly, parents can be very cunning sometimes!
Sa-Li nodded slowly. I think she too was surprised. “I think that could be arranged,” she said. Mum and dad were grinning like they’d won at lotto.
The Day of Gifts was exactly that. It was the day Sa-Li would present Te Papa with some gifts from her world – things we could keep – and we would offer some treasures of our own – on loan of course. It would be a small ceremony and would take place in the Greek theatre on the day before departure.
All the boxes had been unpacked, and dad and Garth worked together arranging just a few of the items that Sa-Li had brought on one side and some of the items which Te Papa had loaned on the other. Even stones take on significance at a time like this. Most interesting to me was a domed construction from Sa-Li’s home world. It looked small from the outside, but when you stepped in it was as though you were really there on the planet. It was a place of caves and high tumbling waterfalls. And there were creatures –a bit like Garth – that came up to you and sniffed you. Very realistic! I don’t know if you could get lost there, but I did not want to find out, either. Among the treasures that Te Papa had offered was the statue of La Nouvelle Zelande. I thought that was a nice gesture.
When everyone was seated, Sa-Li joined us. She looked stunning. She was wearing a red robe which reached the ground. Round her neck was a pendant that I had never seen before. It was star shaped and shone with an inner light.
Sa-Li and the chief of Te Papa faced one another.
Very quietly Sa-Li said, “In a spirit of open friendship between the Association of Galactic Museums which I represent; and you, the people of Earth I offer these gifts. May our knowledge of one another deepen over time and be a cause of joy and fulfillment.” Then she removed the glittering pendant from her neck and offered it. “I ask you to hang this where it can be seen by anyone who enters Te Papa. It is a link to my home world.”
In reply, the head of Te Papa, bowed with hands together, just as Sa-Li had done when she first arrived. Then she said, “On behalf of Te Papa, on behalf of Aotearoa/New Zealand, on behalf of the people of our world I accept and will cherish these gifts. May this be the first of many meetings.”
And that was it!
No fuss. No bother. Simple.
With a final bow, Sa-Li turned and entered her ship.
We would leave the next day. That night Dad, Mum, Matariki and me entered the ship. In addition to the gifts offered by Te Papa we had each decided to bring something personal that we could leave behind on Sa-Li’s home-world. Dad had brought a ship in a bottle that his grandfather had made. Mum had brought her favourite and very stained cook book as well as a selection of herbs from the garden. Matariki had unearthed a journal she had kept of our adventures in our games, full of drawings and squiggly writing. She had never even shown it to me. And me… Well I had no idea what to take. But I got an inspiration as I was walking round Te Papa I spied the rugby ball that Don ‘the boot’ Clarke had kicked at Eden park and which gave the All Blacks their first ever series win against South Africa. Well I knew they wouldn’t let me have the original, but I had a rugby ball almost as good. It was signed by Richie McCaw and I’d been given it at Christmas. Given the chance, perhaps I could introduce someone on Sa-Li’s world to out national sport., and I’d leave the ball for them to play with.
That’s it. The next morning, an hour or so after dawn, the great ship lifted, silent as ever and began to climb into the sky. Many people had come to wave goodbye. We were on our way.
But not quite
Matariki woke me just before dawn. The sky was already bright and clear but the stars were fading.
“Sh!” she said. “Don’t wake dad and mum. Get dressed and follow me.” And so I did. She led me outside the ship and round the side and onto the wharf. Sa-Li was waiting there. She was dressed in a heavy looking cloak I had never seen before.
“So what’s going on?” I asked
“Sa-Li is going to say good bye to some special friends and she thought we’d like to watch.”
“OK,” I said, though I did not really understand. Anyway, we followed Sa-Li along the wharf until we came to the place where there’s that statue of a man leaning out and about to dive into the water.“ Been a lot of dolphins around of late,” I said, trying to make conversation. And there had too. All over the bay. Everyone had been talking about it. “Better be careful you don’t fall in, wearing that heavy …”
But before I could finish I heard Sa-Li’s voice. It was in my head for the first time. “I want to know your sea,” she said.
I thought that was a strange thing to say, but at that moment I saw a whole school of dolphin. They were diving and swimming just under the surface by the wharf, and I could see their fin zip through the water, a bit like a shooting star.
Suddenly my head was filled with squeaks and whistles. It was deafening. I put my hands over my ears but that was no use. I turned to Sa-Li for help but I saw that she was struggling. I thought she was having a fit or something. But then the garment she was wearing split down the seam. The head piece shook and fell away. Matariki gave a little scream but she caught the garment as Sa-Li wriggled loose. She was a fish. No, a dolphin, and with one sweep of her tail she flopped over to the edge and dived down into the sea. I saw her swim and surface and then launch herself into the air.
As if that was the cue they had been waiting for, all the dolphin in the sea, from those who were close to where I was standing right out to Somes Island and beyond… all those dolphin, thousands of them, broke the surface together in one synchronized leap, turning in the air and then crashing back into the sea, turning it white with foam in the dawn light. Seconds later, they did the same manoeuvre again, but this time it began at a point in the sea and then spread outwards in a great circle. My guess was that our friend Sa-Li was at the centre. What a celebration!
Matariki, ever more practical than me, watched the display and then said, “But how are we going to get her back to the ship? Or do you think she’s gone forever?”
“Don’t worry,” I said, suddenly proud of myself as I had figured out what was happening “She is just saying goodbye. We’ll cope.”
And I was right. Minutes later we saw a dolphin swim close to the wharf and lift its head out of the water. It beat its flippers on the sea. Sa-Li!
Her garment was ready. I had laid it out and the headpiece too. I watched as the dolphin swam in a circle. Then she dived, and the next thing I saw was when she leaped clear out of the water. She must have been very strong as the leap carried her all the way onto the wharf and she landed with a thump close to the suit. Clearly she knew exactly what she was doing. She wriggled and flopped and worked with her fins until she was into the suit. Then she simply rolled over and the seam closed. The mask was a bit more tricky, but dolphin can carry a ball on their nose, and what Sa-Li was doing was only a bit more difficult. Matariki helped with closing the fastening. Finally Sa-Li shook herself – it was more like a shiver – and stood upright. “Thank you,” she said, her voice once again clear I my head.
We made our way back to the spaceship. I could tell that Sa-Li was still excited. She kept beginning a thought and then not finishing it. Finally she said. “I want to tell you both something. Those dolphin, the ones you saw just now, they are the descendants of my people who came to Earth many, many years ago. And the language we spoke is one of the universal languages. Learn to speak that and you can converse with many species in the living worlds.”
I whistled, as though I had said “Wow. Amazing.” and the Sa-Li nodded. “You see,” she said. “You’ve started to learn already.”
The End (Again)