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The File

He sat in the waiting room, like everyone else, only closer to the window. He could thus watch the procession of people who, upon hearing their number called, would make their way to the counter and try to resolve whatever issue it was that brought them to this particular Office of Bureaucracy in the first place.

He enjoyed the experience, because it was new and fun, even though he only succeeded in understanding broken sentences, bits of conversations, and some questions. He would like to understand more, but did not yet dare approach the counter until he felt certain as to what he would say.

There was very little distance between him and the small hole in the curious transparent artifact whose function must have had something to do with impeding the senses of hearing or smelling, but certainly not seeing. Those few words he did understand were almost an intrusion into the lives of people conversing through the window.

He was uncertain and a little scared, why not admit it? At the end of the day there was no way to predict whether the answers to the questions on the form he was filling out were going to accomplish anything. He didn’t understand what all the little boxes meant, and wasn’t sure which ones to mark with an X.

The second option seemed more likely to produce results. He knew his case was unique…

From time to time, he was tempted to stand up and go to the counter before the employee claimed another subject from the waiting room. Instead, he waited for his number to be called. He was the last in line.

In the end he was left in the waiting room with a pretty stranger who had entered just before him, and who smelled different than the other humans. Her number was called and the clerk took his time, jotting down all her information in a mechanical fashion.

While she answered the bureaucrat’s questions a man entered the waiting room, agitated, his shirt torn, and hair in a mess. After a few tense moments, and seeing that the window was occupied, he sat in the corner and waited impatiently.

When the woman was done and the clerk finally said, “Next,” the newcomer rushed to the counter. “I want to report a kidnapping,” he said to the employee behind the window.

“Whose?” the man replied without much interest.

“Mine. I have been abducted by an alien ship.”

“When did this happen?” came the response in a bored monotone.

The newcomer drew back, somewhat surprised. “Well, yesterday, I think. Or the day before, I’m not sure. What day is it?”

“Do you want to know the day, month, and year?” the officer asked without much concern.

“The year? What do you mean?” replied the man, aggressively.

“Often abductees cannot remember important dates like their own birthdays or even the current year. They sometimes think that Reagan is still President of the United States.”

The man shook his head and the clerk began to fill out a new sheet. He asked, “Have you been tortured, raped by Amazons, any tubes inserted into your body that drew out any vital fluids, including tissue fragments and spinal cord fluid? Have you been transported in a flying saucer or locked in an abandoned barn or in a cave? Are you from here or were you just released in this area? I will not ask your exact address because you will surely not remember.”

The man stood there speechless, then stammered, “Well, no, wait, one thing at a time…”

Sighing deeply, the official looked him in the eyes.

The abductee said, “Okay, let’s go with the last question first. I’ve just been released here but I believe I live in another county, not far from here.”

“Perfect,” interrupted the clerk. “You can stop, no need to continue with your story.” The man behind the counter wrote something on his sheet. “You can go to the Office of the Center for Identification of Individual Relief and UFO Contact in your county of residence. You’ll need to have the clerk there fill out Form 157, Tables A, C, G, and R. Specify the tables because if not he or she will fill out all of them and that could take a couple of days.”

The man nodded, stunned.

“By the way,” the clerk continued, “where were the aliens from?”

“Alpha Centauri.”

“Them too, huh?”

“Is that common?” asked the worried man.

“Of course, as our planet is very close to theirs. It’s like going on a trip to the next village for the Centaurian. And during the holiday season you do not even want to know. Anyway, have your county clerk also fill out Table H/ter.” Seeing that the abductee was simply staring at him the clerk felt a duty to specify. “This is the identikit for the aliens in question.”

“Oh.” The other nodded, as if he understood everything. “Well, okay. But what about the kidnapping? I have been locked in a room and they have been watching me through one of those walls that are mirrored on one side and transparent on the other, but they have not done me any harm (or at least nothing that I’m aware of). Who do I have to run to for that?”

“You can go to the police, they will show you a few pictures to try to identify the possible culprits. Go directly to the Section Alien Abduction and ask for Lieutenant Kojack. Tell him that you have been sent by the CIIRCUFO and he will take care of everything. Anyway,” he said, approaching the glass counter and lowering his voice, “if I can give you any advice, choose the photo 37b. It is the most successful picture among those who have been kidnapped by Centaurians.”

“I do not know how to thank you,” the man began, but quickly realized that it was inappropriate to thank the officer, whose nonverbals hinted at some discomfort.

“Just go on your way, leave quietly and do what I have said.” Signaling the conversation was over, the bureaucrat said again, “Next.”

As the former abductee walked away satisfied, the last person in the waiting room approached the window with some fear. He’d heard all of that conversation and understood most of it and it did not calm his fears one bit. Especially the attitude of disinterest shown by the official. He did not understand why humans behaved that way, treating each other with callousness when they had problems to solve…

But it was finally his turn. He approached the window and could no longer avoid answering questions. The clerk watched him intensely. “Let me guess,” he said. “Alpha Centauri, you too?” He pointed at the man exiting the room, clutching the pen in his hand.

“Not at all,” replied the other. “You are wrong. My country of origin is Epsilon Eridani II. I have nothing to do with Centaurians and I don’t like being confused with one. They are dunces, ignorant and inept, and I’ve never been able to explain how it was them, not us, who invented interstellar flight.”

“Ah, sorry,” said the official, “did not mean to offend. Anyway,” he said, taking up a multi-page form (with its many pictures it was as thick as a college textbook in nuclear physics), “tell me, what I can do for you? First, where were you kidnapped?”

“I have not been kidnapped,” the alien said.

“Ah,” repeated the employee as if he understood everything. “Did you make eye contact then?”

“Well, it depends on what you mean by ‘making eye contact’,” he said to the employee with a heavy sigh, which humans might interpret as relief.

“Night lights, then the flying saucer lands and three or four little phosphorescent men come out and dance a Russian folk dance, right?”

“Only in part. I saw the lights of the city and I landed, then I left the ship but I have not seen any phosphorescent man. I have not seen anyone at all. And my ship is not saucer-shaped because it is a fairly recent model. Flying saucers are to us as cars of the beginning of the twentieth century are to you.”

At this point the employee had already lost the thread of the conversation. “Well, let’s enter all this data,” he said quietly. The precaution was useless, as they were the only ones left in the office. But it must have been a kind of mantra for him. “Can you spell your name?”

“For the range of sounds the human ear can detect, it might sound more or less like GRYPZYJCK,” the ET said, and paused to observe that the Earthman’s chin had fallen slowly but steadily and was now hanging from the face in a ridiculous way. Or it would have been ridiculous if the Eridani inhabitants had any sense of humor.

“Howowow?” asked the Earthman. Grypzyjck noticed that the aura of disinterest that had distinguished him during the day had left him suddenly.

“Grypzyjck,” repeated the alien. “If you start writing I can correct you. That’s it. G – R – Y…no, Y and not I, now it is perfect, P, Z…as in zoo, as…”

“But what does it matter what I write?” jumped in the official. “What changes in your life if I write I instead of Y? What is the difference?”

“There is much difference, Earthman. The name qualifies. The name tells everything about me. In my case, my name Grypzyjck means ‘he who visits new worlds.’ If you change my name I will fall into a deep existential crisis. But follow, follow… And as before, J, not Y, CK like Calvin Klein and Kojack, you know him, right? Section Alien Abduction, I was told…”

The employee finished writing and sighed deeply. Lifting his head, he looked the alien in his eyes.

“My name is John, I do not exactly know what it means but I can assure you that, in spite of hearing stories everyday that range from improbable to impossible, I seem to have no existential problem.” He noted the mountain of files before him and felt a chill run up his spine. “No surname, right?” he dared to ask a few moments later.

“If by surname you mean the name of my family I can tell you that I have one, but I can reassure you that you cannot write it because it is not expressed with numbers, letters or colors, but with deep feelings and deep feelings one cannot write, just live and share.”

The man stared at him. “Poetic,” he said after a few moments. “But now I have another question for you, and I shudder thinking about the answer you will give me. When were you born?”

“In terms of revolutions around Epsilon Eridani…then…see…and then the trip…”

“If you would kindly provide the data in Earth years I would greatly appreciate it. Our star date converter is broken and I’m still waiting for the technician,” interrupted John.

“Well, then, considering the space-time distortion in that black hole I passed along the way, it should be 17 years, 6 months, and 18 days of earthlings ago, an hour more, hour less.”

“This is much better,” said the man, writing something briefly on a page. “Where are your parents?” he then asked the alien.

“Parents?” Grypzyjck seemed surprised. “Oh, they remain on Epsilon Eridani II, they never travel from there. Their names are Trolquion, meaning ‘the one who orders and disposes,’ and Pasterlorl, meaning ‘a female who never moves from Epsilon Eridani II,’ and Trolquiess, which means ‘one who commands others to do things they don’t want to do.’ My family loves me very much, but sometimes I have the impression I was given such a name in order to send me away.”

“And how can I get the signature of your family?”

“Why do you want their signatures? (And, incidentally, what is a signature?)”

“According to the laws of this state, you are a minor, and your complaint must be signed by a parent or legal guardian.”

Grypzyjck thought for a moment of all the possible alternatives. Then his analytical mind communicated a logical response to his brain, and his brain told his mouth which reported it to John.

“You could go to Epsilon Eridani II to get my family’s signature. If your name will allow such a long journey in terms of space; in terms of time I think it would cost only a couple of days.”

The clerk thought for a moment. If Grypzyjck was really an alien, he could take a ride on a starship and visit new worlds. They could possibly become friends and wander the galaxies together. Maybe the meaning of his name, John, was ‘that which starts with an alien in the direction of Epsilon Eridani II and then goes on to visit all known and unknown galaxies’ and he did not know it.

With his right hand he stroked his face, then rubbed his eyes. The day had been very long and trying.

“We’ll leave aside the question of your parents’ signature,” he said finally. He looked at his watch. Hell, he didn’t want to miss the Lakers game. “So then, you do NOT claim to have been abducted by aliens, but in fact claim to be an alien. Do I understand you correctly?”

“You understand perfectly. In fact, let me congratulate you for your insight and mental resilience. I have rarely found native species as intelligent and formal in such a small, civilized planet.” Grypzyjck looked inquisitively at the clerk, waited a moment, then said in an even more friendly manner, “If you want to ask me any more questions I am available.”

The employee put aside the sheet on which he was writing and took another form of a different color. “This changes everything,” he said. “The module that you need to fill out is the number 2020 version 76/ter yellow.” He looked, shook his head from side to side and began to rewrite the form. When he realized that the alien was watching very carefully he put the pen aside.

“I will fill in the boxes later. I only need to copy the data from what I’ve already written. Using this application also avoids the hassle of obtaining a parental signature. I have a couple of questions for you, and I hope you will be kind enough to answer in terms that are intelligible to an officer like me.”

“No doubt about it, besides the Epsidanio-Eridani variant spoken in other worlds populated by Epsilon Eridani II, I know something like 35 languages ​​from the planets I have visited so far, including what you would call ‘galactic standard’. Ask …”

Another fan of Star Trek, thought the employee, trembling at the idea of ​​suddenly seeing a flash of blue teleportation light from the Enterprise.

“I will be brief,” the clerk interrupted. “Why did you come to our planet we call Earth anyway?”

Scientific Mission (01)

Military Mission (02)

Diplomatic Mission (03)

Tourism (04)

Other (05) (specify)

Grypzyjck thought for a moment, then said, “I think the most appropriate choice is Other (05) (specify).”

“Yes, but (specify) means you have to specify what you mean for Other (05).”

“Ah,” replied the alien, puzzled. “Well, put ‘knowledge of the species’.”

The clerk was about to throw in the towel.

“Can you tell me something about the purpose of this ‘knowledge of the species’?” John asked. “I’m surprised someone like you would be walking through the galaxies simply to pass the time. I promise I will not write it anywhere.”

“You can write what you want wherever you want. As I said, I do not travel for fun, but because my name makes me do it. I could not stay quiet at home for then I would not be faithful to my mission, the mission that I have been entrusted at birth…”

“So you will need to contact a national agency, won’t you? The President of the United States of America, the charismatic leader of a religious sect, VIPs, so to speak, or lobbyists who can connect you with the right people. Is that not right?”

“Well, I think so, if you say so,” said the alien.

There is a saying among humans for moments like these: “Everyday life is ordinarily dehumanizing. There are two human experiences that make the man: pain (his own or the suffering of loved ones) and the encounter with the bureaucracy.” Obviously no one had explained this concept to Grypzyjck.

“Then we will do so. Listen carefully. I will personally present your request to all of the appropriate authorities. I cannot promise anything. As you well know, our planet is at the crossroads of numerous interstellar highways, so your request is not the first the authorities of our planet have to deal with. But I will fill out all the necessary papers and pass them to the appropriate recipients. I do have all your data, correct?” The bureaucrat did not wait for a reply. “We will contact you as soon as an appropriate dignitary is able to meet with you and treat you with all due honor.”

He kept talking with a kindness that for an earthling would seem rather strange, and accompanied Grypzyjck to the door. Smiling, he happily accepted the thanks of the alien, and encouraged him to go back to his starship and fly to new worlds, and wait for a call from the authorities of this planet called Earth which has evolved so remarkably over these past centuries.

As Grypzyjck left the office, John closed the door behind him and slid slowly to the ground. It had been a tiring day.

He dropped his head back but then, with what little strength he had left, he returned to his desk. To his left, the day’s completed applications were piled high. The different colored files seemed like a small mountain, but with layers and edges. Before him were the two last applications from Grypzyjck, or whatever the hell he or it was called.

He looked at the paperwork. Then he looked at the mountain of files. He went over his conversation with Grypzyjck; it had been a complex undertaking. He looked at the stack of applications and recalled all the crazy stories that all those people had told him that day.

In the end, he took Grypzyjck’s applications and put them on top of the huge stack on his desk. He was strong enough and liked to avoid making two trips, so he lifted the entire stack of files he’d processed throughout the day and took them to another room.

There, as he always did, he finished a hard day’s work. He began to archive the entire files one by one, first the Grypzyjck ones, in the incinerator.

~*~

Grypzyjck boarded his ship and switched on its interstellar engines. He was happy because that clerk was not scared at all and had promised solemnly that he would call back. While waiting for his applications to be processed, Grypzyjck could visit some other world. A few moments were enough to leave the planet’s atmosphere and fly past the Earth’s star called Sun.