“Elvis is right,” Lawrence said over breakfast. “We came to warn your leaders about the consequences of deploying nuclear weapons in outer space. We went to New Mexico to investigate—to see how much progress they’d made.”
We were sitting in a diner somewhere off the Pennsylvania Turnpike. I was feeling surprisingly rested after seven hours on some kind of bubble bed that moved like a water bed. If I hadn’t drunk so much beer the night before, I would’ve felt downright swell. I could use a more extended vacation in the seventh dimension some time.
“You know about the laboratory at Los Alamos, right, Hank?” Elvis said.
“The weapons were very primitive, of course,” Lawrence continued. “We learned that much. But before we could begin the diplomatic stage of our mission, we aroused some unfortunate hostility in the neighborhood.”
“Lawrence got shot,” Elvis put in.
“We were forced to retreat,” Lawrence said. “We intended to return and complete our mission in Washington, D.C., but our organization experienced some changes in leadership, and the new leaders were not very interested in saving Earth.”
Elvis was studying the small pegboard with golf cues that had been provided for our entertainment. If he’d asked me whether it was a game or an artwork, I couldn’t have told him. “Politics,” he said soberly. “They are jived in our galaxy just like in yours.”
“When the leadership changed again,” Lawrence said, “we were able to persuade the new leaders that Earth was worth saving, so we came back. It was fortunate that Earth had not sent weapons into space in the interim.”
“That’s only because they haven’t figured out how,” Elvis said. “Remember Star Wars? And they didn’t even sign the Outer Space Treaty until 1967. Only three countries signed it.”
“Two eggs, sunnyside up, biscuits, gravy, and hash browns?” said the waitress. She balanced four plates and a bread basket on muscular arms.
“That’s mine,” said Elvis and reached to help her unload, but I put a hand on his arm to stop him from interfering with her performance.
“Two Egg Beaters, scrambled, fruit, and banana bread?”
I raised my hand. I wasn’t sure my stomach was up to this.
She set down a stack of pancakes in front of Lawrence. “There’s your syrup, hon,” she said, pointing.
“Thank you very much, ma’am,” Elvis drawled. He curled his lip at her. “My mouth is watered.” He picked up a small plastic honey bear by its feet and upended it over his biscuits and gravy.
“Anyway, Hank, one of the original signatories of the Outer Space Treaty, the Soviet Union, doesn’t even exist anymore,” Elvis said. “There are plenty of top-secret defense initiatives to militarize space. Would you like a biscuit? You are not eating very much. Don’t you know that breakfast is the most important meal of the day?”
I shook my head. “Can we back up to the part where Lawrence got shot? How did that happen?”
A look passed between them. Lawrence said, “A fight broke out at a Little League Game. We—we intervened.”
“All of our new friends played Little League baseball,” Elvis said. “Did you play Little League baseball, Hank?”
“Some,” I said. “How did Larry get shot?”
“That was my fault,” Lawrence said ruefully. “I didn’t appreciate how much mistrust and suspicion we had aroused among the locals. We were strangers in a place where very few strangers ever stopped. We were not far from Los Alamos. And, as Elvis says, we spent a lot of time with Robbie and the other children. The parents—well, the fathers especially—they decided that we were Russian spies—you know, Communist infiltrators.”
“It was my fault, Lawrence,” Elvis said. “I was the one who transported the bat to the fifth dimension.” He looked at me. “In front of all of the Little League moms and dads,” he added soberly.
“The boys tried to warn us,” he went on, “but they were not allowed out of the back yard, and they had failed to teach us about smoke signals.” He sighed. “We did not receive the message.”
Lawrence’s smile showed a trace of genuine amusement. “It was rather like the incident in Indiana last night.”
“But Ralph, Robbie’s father, had a shotgun,” Elvis said.
I didn’t interrupt to speculate on the kind of firepower the irate Hoosiers might have produced if given half a chance.
“Fortunately, Lawrence revived,” Elvis said, brightening. “And here we are again. You do not have a suspicious father that we have not met yet, do you, Hank?”
My father, last I heard, was living la vida loca in Puerto Vallarte with his third wife, so the less said about him, the better. “I have another question for you,” I said. “How is it that you know so much about recent political developments, but you don’t know that Elvis is dead?”
“Our infoscan is broken, Hank, but we can still communicate with our superiors,” Lawrence said. “Otherwise, we wouldn’t have come back so soon.”
“Unfortunately, they only tell us what they believe it is important for us to know,” Elvis said, “and they are serious-minded political individuals. We no longer have access to communications from your planet. No television,” he added sadly, “except for the shows we recorded before our set broke. I Love Lucy is our favorite.”
“I see. And you came back now because—?”
“We don’t trust your governments,” Lawrence said. He was sopping up syrup with a wedge of soggy pancake. “I’m sorry, Hank. The stupidity of your Earth governments—.”
“It beetles Lawrence,” Elvis put in. “Your leaders really battled his cage.”
“Hey, no skin off my butt,” I said. “I don’t trust them, either. And before you inspect my butt,” I added, catching Elvis’s eye, “it’s just an expression. It means I don’t care, I’m not offended, it’s no problem for me.”
Lawrence went on. “Of course, there was a big debate about whether we should come at all. There are certain extremists with a purely pragmatic agenda who want to destroy Earth to build an intergalactic superhighway through this part of the universe. But they are not taken seriously by many.”
A piece of melon stuck in my throat. “Good to know,” I said.
“And then, others argue that you will burn up your planet long before you can develop the technology to put viable nuclear weapons into space. You call this ‘global warming,’ I believe.”
“How seriously are they taken?”
“Oh, very seriously. But we can’t run the risk that your best scientists will develop a nuclear weapon and launch it into space, you see, before that happens. The populace of the planet Zarko are very concerned, and very vocal. They have powerful friends in the government.”
“Zarko?” I echoed.
“You wouldn’t know it,” Elvis said. “It is two galaxies away. They are always obsessing about asteroids.” He was using a corner of toast to guide bright yellow egg onto his fork.
“So what are you planning to do?”
“Want me to warm that up, hon?” The waitress stood next to our booth, coffee pot poised over Elvis’s cup.
“You bet,” he said, and held it up to her.
When she had gone, Lawrence spoke in a low voice. “We don’t know yet. Since we didn’t succeed very well last time, we’re open to suggestions.”
“We are all eyes,” Elvis said.
“Well, since it’s been so long since you’ve visited Earth, maybe you should lay low awhile, get to know the place,” I said. “Things have changed a lot in fifty years, you know. I mean, not the general stupidity of our leaders, that hasn’t changed, but other things have.”
“How do we do that? Lay low?” Elvis said.
“Sorry,” I said. “Another figure of speech. I mean, well, find a place to hide the ship, and just hang out for a while, like you did last time.” Catching Elvis’s puzzled frown, I amended my suggestion. “You know, remain inconspicuous and meet people and observe the culture.”
“We do not know many figures of speech,” Elvis said, “only ones we learned the last time we were here, and from television and radio before our infoscan broke. Our translator does not recognize many of them.”
“I think you’re right, Hank,” Lawrence said. “I’ve always felt that if only I could have stayed longer in Española, I would have understood better how to approach Earth people, and I would have made fewer mistakes.”
“Our boss wants us to appear threatening and powerful,” Elvis said. His chin was streaked with honey. “But he does not have to deal with the consequences. Larry is a diplomat—a very good diplomat. He is very diplomatic.” He took another bite of biscuit. “And now that Larry has been reading Mr. Overstreet’s book, he understands Earth people better.”
“Which book is that?” I felt a twinge of apprehension.
“You don’t know Mr. Overstreet’s book, Hank? It was a bestseller. Larry found it in his room at the Siesta. It is called The Mature Mind.”
“Yeah? What does it say about Earth people and their resistance to disarmament?”
He dipped a forkful of hash browns into a small puddle of ketchup, and frowned thoughtfully. “It says, ‘all childish minds are dangerous, but particularly when those minds are housed in adult bodies; for then they have the power to put their immaturities fully and disastrously into effect.’”
I raised my eyebrows. “Sounds like he has our number.” When Elvis looked up, I amended, “Sounds like he knows our leaders pretty well.”
“I was Mr. Smith before,” Lawrence told me. “For our present purposes, can I still be Mr. Smith, do you think?” Lawrence asked.
“Sure,” I said. “But people are a little less formal these days.”
“So I should introduce myself as ‘Lawrence’?”
“‘Larry’ would be better,” I said. “It sounds friendlier.”
“Like ‘Hank’ for ‘Henry,’” Elvis said. He had cleaned his plate and was reaching for his comb.
Lawrence and I looked at him. Call me arrogant, but for once I knew just what this highly evolved alien was thinking because I was thinking the same thing.
“You said ‘inconspicuous’?” Lawrence said.
Elvis paused. “What’s wrong?”
“First, we go shopping,” I said.
Elvis brightened. “New threads?”
I left my last buck on the table. My pocket held a diamond, but I didn’t have a finger to put it on. I was ready to check into the Heartbreak Hotel.
 See H.A. Overstreet, The Mature Mind (New York: W.W. Norton, 1949).