I was climbing the steep side of a central Wisconsin hill, holding my bow away from my body for balance, when I first saw the stranger. He sat on a stump at the crest and watched me struggle up. As I drew nearer I panted out a greeting and received his cheerful “Hi” in return. When I finally reached the top, I threw myself on the ground and began catching my breath.
He didn’t say anything at first, just looked at the bow and the quiver of arrows on my back. Finally he said, “May I look at it?” and reached for the bow. I handed it to him. He examined it carefully and returned it.
“Beautiful workmanship. Is that all you use?” he asked.
“I never cared much for guns,” I answered. “I’ve always thought a bow gave the animal more of an even chance for his life.”
We talked then on the various aspects of hunting and how the crisp fall air seemed to make the deer seem closer than during the heat of summer. While we talked I tried to place the reason he disturbed me, but I couldn’t seem to do it. He was dressed in an old plaid shirt and dungarees and his blond hair wasn’t many shades removed from my own straw thatch. But there was something odd about him that I couldn’t quite find.
“Perhaps it’s the cloth.” His words surprised me. “You see, it hasn’t been discovered on this planet as yet.” My face must have shown astonishment because he went on in the same vein. “I admit it’s confusing, but it’s also true. My clothes weren’t made on Earth.” He chuckled then, deep in his throat. “I don’t blame you for being confused. I know how I would feel if I met an extraterrestrial being before space travel was a reality.”
I kept staring at him. Finally I blurted out, “What in Sam Hill are you talking about?”
He leaned forward on the stump and his face grew earnest. “You might say I’m a poll taker. I have to decide certain things from various interviews with individuals I meet.”
“What are you trying to prove?” I asked.
“I’m sorry, but I can’t tell you that until I’m finished with the interview. If I told you, your interest in the subject would tend to prejudice your answers.”
“Fair enough. What do you want to ask me?”
He pulled out a notebook and smiled. “These questions may seem a little silly but I must have straight answers to them. Will you go along with me?”
I nodded my head.
“Let’s see now. If you were the head of a government and wanted to ascertain whether another country was ready for admission into the United Nations, what would you do?”
I shrugged. “I suppose I would read books and magazines from the country and possibly have an interview with the heads of the government. After I had collected my data I could then act upon it.”
“For the sake of argument suppose the books and other periodicals were written so as to be prejudicial in favor of the government, and the heads also were coloring what they said.”
I thought for a minute. “In that case I suppose I would secretly place someone inside the country to interview the people and get a first hand view of the situation. Then I would act on his data.”
He nodded his head. “Yes, the people themselves and the conditions they live in will give you the needed data.” He turned a page in the book. “Now suppose that you wished to know if a certain planet was ready to enter into an organization such as the Galactic Federation, what would you do?”
“I suppose I’d act as I did before. Place people inside the various areas of the planet to interview and observe. They would bring back the information needed to ascertain whether they would be an asset or a detriment to the organization.”
I thought to myself that the question was a trifle silly; after all, hadn’t science proved that life couldn’t exist on the other planets in our system?
He relaxed after I answered and his smile was brighter than the previous ones. “Right,” he said. “Naturally we had to learn the language first, but now a first-hand check can be made. You see, there is a civilization out there,” he raised his hand and swept the sky, “and we have to check to see if this planet is ready to take its place as an adult civilization with the rest of us.