The gentle extraterrestrial's return to his home planet discloses that he has fallen out of favor with his colleagues, who try to prevent his journey back to Earth to provide spiritual guidance for his young friend Elliott.
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William Kotzwinkle is the author of many books, including E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, The Bear Went Over the Mountain, and Doctor Rat, for which he won the World Fantasy Award for Best Novel.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
"Catch it! Maintain contact!"
Interceptor jets had scrambled and were laying plumes of exhaust on the horizon as they streaked upward.
The spaceship gained steadily, withdrawing itself with a calm dignity, its gleaming spherical form seeming to move with no effort through the heavens, while the jet planes strained at the edge of the atmosphere, shuddered, and turned their silver noses slowly over in defeat. The chase was abandoned, the ship beyond them now, rising still faster, a fading dot in the sky.
The Earth grew still smaller as E.T. gazed from his porthole, his heart heavy at the sight of its diminishing shape, which fell like a blue-white tear drop, lost in the void. His friends were there -- Elliott and Michael, Mary and Gertie, and Harvey the dog, and he would never see them again. "Goodbye," he whispered in a hoarse croak, "goodbye."
The tear drop vanished, swallowed by space. He stared dully out of the porthole for a long time, his mind automatically arranging and filing all that he knew of Earth, principally its language, which he'd nearly mastered, thanks to Elliott. He had chug-a-lugged the words, and could tee off any number of them, like a real shot-hot.
But words, and the lyrics to a few rocks and rolling songs were all he had. And a geranium.
He turned toward it. It was small, almost insignificant in the vast, wild array of growing things that filled his section of the ship. He picked up the geranium and busied himself with it, making a place for it among the other plants of Earth that had been gathered; he made a tag for it, which, instead of saying Geranium said Gertie, a label that would cause some confusion in the Galactical Encyclopedia, but he didn't care. "B. good," he said, stroking the leaves, and continued on his rounds, among the other plants.
The Botanical Wing was the principal section of the ship, a huge dome hung with plants from every world, their foliage spilling down in lush profusion. The sloping walls were lined with tiers, on which more plants rested, bearing every possible kind of blossom, gaudy or discreet, delicate or ferociously armored -- all of them feeding on nutrient tubes from below, or nutrient beakers slowly dripping from above. Soft lights, corresponding to suns of many hues, filtered by atmospheres as diverse as the planets themselves, played upon countless petals.
E.T. moved among them, through a collection he knew intimately, from the many worlds to which he'd traveled. The plants, exquisitely sensitive, knew him too, and perceived that a deep sadness had fallen on their beloved attendant, the celebrated Doctor of Botany.
Another such scholar of plant life entered the Botanical Wing, shuffling on webbed feet like E.T.'s. His head too was large and wrinkled, with soulfully searching eyes, and his body like E.T.'s was squat, with long arms that allowed his hands to touch the floor as he walked. And he saw that E.T. was sad and somber. He'd seen it before, when a planet of lovely vegetation like Earth's was left behind -- some member of the staff would fall into melancholy. He shuffled over to E.T., and put his hand on E.T.'s shoulder. He spoke softly, in the language of their home planet, a soft, rasping sound. The syllables of his speech were infinitely subtle and refined, but roughly translated they meant, "Earth is not the only garden in the universe."
E.T. looked out of the porthole into empty space, and a name from the language of Earth broke from his wrinkled mouth. "Elliott!"
The other botanist looked around and scratched his head. No plant by that name had been brought on board. "What is the matter?" he asked E.T.
E.T. turned from the porthole and gazed at his colleague. A look of deep longing crossed his face, as his lips parted again. "Wiped...out."
Wiped out? The other old botanist ran the phrase through his memory bank of classic galaxy languages, but no connection was forthcoming, except for an image of someone drying the inside of a pot. Was his scientific brother sentimental over dishware?
"Stay here," he said, "with the Earth plants." He indicated the Earth section of the collection. "It will make you feel better."
E.T. remained as bidden, in the Earth section. He petted all the plants there, and crooned softly to them. He put his nose in their blossoms, to keep the memory of Earth alive, but it was just a memory and that is not quite the same thing at all.
The ship sped on, through Orion's belt, through the three star-pearls hanging there, hues now white, now yellow and purple. The ship altered its course, the plane changed and Orion's symmetry was lost. E.T. watched from his porthole, as Earth's solar system fell behind, the sun shifting to the red spectrum and becoming no more than a tiny glowing star. Now Elliott's world was irretrievable.
The other old botanist came up beside him again, his gaze following E.T.'s toward the vanishing solar system they'd visited. "But what did you do there that was so wonderful?"
E.T. rested his chin on the rim of the porthole and continued staring at the tiny sun, now but one of many suns in the Milky Way. The other old botanist shook his head and walked off.
E.T. turned back to the internal garden of the ship, to those flower beds at the center of the Wing, their circular pattern crowned by a bubbling fountain of nutrients. A Whistling Ertmog, from a planet in the Andromeda Galaxy, whistled at him. He stopped beside the little plant, whose whistling call was meant to attract the tiny birds who pollinated it. It warbled to him, singing its plaintive five-note tune.
Cheer up, its song seemed to say, and the other plants in the central beds joined in, their waves of concern flowing over him.
"I made a true friend on Earth," he told the plants. "He saved my neck." And he raised his neck to its full height, to show the plants just how much saving it had taken. "We went through all kinds of doodleysquat together."
It was important he practice Earth language in the proper fashion, so as to speak like a sophisticated and learned thingamajig.
The door to the Botanical Wing opened, and a Micro Tech entered, on his regular check of the Wing's mechanical functions. Like all Micro Techs, he was very small, about fifteen centimeters from head to toe. His body was nearly transparent, and his internal energy could be seen flowing and darting, highly charged. His hands were his most peculiar feature, for the fingers were as tiny and numerous as hairs, and each hair could do microscopically detailed work. He popped a panel in the wall of the chamber, and examined the intricate nest of electrical contacts, his fingers wriggling about and emitting tiny energic beeps. He closed the panel and moved to another one. His eyes were enormous, and his face like a marble, smooth and shiny. He looked at E.T.
"Well, you're in trouble. Plenty of it."
E.T. groaned. The Micro Tech sped up a ladder, to the center of the botanical dome, where he opened more panels, their interior lights winking on as he tested the solar-simulation circuitry for the hanging green world. He managed to look down at E.T. again. "Tsk, tsk, tsk, certainly in trouble."
"Finish your business," scolded the other botanist, and then put his long arm around E.T.'s shoulder. "Pay no attention to him."
E.T. watered his geranium, and continued his lethargic rounds of the central beds. A long tongue emerged from a lush blossom and wrapped itself around his finger, as if he were the pollen-bearing insect desired by the plant. It was Lizard's Love from the jungles of planet Crees, and it had considerable affection for E.T., for he had been the one to bring it to the ship and care for it. Gently, he unwound its petal-tongue from his finger. "I'm in trouble," he said softly. And then, remembering a phrase that Mary used when things went wrong, he added, "I'm in the soup."
We don't care, said all the plants in unison. You are the best.
He opened their nutrient valve and shuffled back to his porthole.
"We are approaching the Dragon River of Stars," he said to the plants. "Within it is the Whirlpool of Time -- first gate of dimension. The ship is already preparing for entry."
He watched as it began to enter the hole in space by which the universes were bridged. He felt the ship's entry, into the Whirlpool. In another moment they would leave this continuum for another, and he would have lost Elliott forever, which was worse than being in the soup.
They emerged like a genie from a bottle, their ship appearing from the void, into another universe.
"Through a series of such whirlpools, we shall eventually reach our home," said the other old botanist, E.T.'s only friend -- for by this time, E.T. had discovered that he'd been screened off from the rest of the crew.
"Heart-lights are veiled," he said.
"Do not despair," said his friend.
But few words were exchanged outside of the Botanical Wing. E.T. wandered the ship, from quarter to quarter, looking for a game of checkers, which he'd learned on Earth, but no one would play.
In his loneliness, he finally carried his homemade checkerboard into the Micro Tech section -- the power center of the ship. Here at the central reactor, the power was tempered by a company of the little beings, their millions of fingers everywhere.
He held up his checkerboard. The Micro Techs all stopped their work, and a hush descended in the power center. Then with one voice they all said, "Tsk, tsk, tsk," and went back to work.
* * *
"Napish Utim, the Veil of Stars."
The portholes of the ship flashed with rich pulsing colors from the whirling rainbow of brilliant gases. No member of the crew was indifferent to the sight, the portholes all filled, sighs of wonder echoing from them. E.T. shuffled slowly by, head down, carrying Gertie's geranium.
"Look!" cried a shipmate, as a newborn comet suddenly vaporized beside them, tail shooting forth in a glorious burst of light.
E.T. blinked. He saw, not the blazing ice and rock of the comet, but a boy's face, light-years away, trillions of miles behind him. "El-li-ott," he croaked.
From the innermost centers of his mind and soul, a wave of telepathic intensity was released, piercing the wall of the spaceship and the walls of time. It went down through Andromeda, between Aries and Pegasus, and into the solar system of Earth, where it spiraled in toward Elliott's part of the planet. Elliott was in a video arcade, throwing his last quarter to a machine on which he could never seem to score. He worked the joystick feverishly, missing every shot. E.T.'s telepathic wave came down, slightly off target, missing Elliott and landing in the back of the video machine. It perceived what Elliott wished, and began leaping around the circuits: Elliott's misfired salvos started scoring, one after another.
The machine shifted to a more difficult level, and Elliott kept scoring, game after game, as lights and super -- sound effects started going off. "Highest score!" he shouted, blasting the last ship out of the screen.
In the midst of the electronic fireworks, fragments of invader ships arranged themselves into the shape of a pair of flickering letters -- E T -- but Elliott was too busy to notice. And in the next moment a certain girl passed through the video arcade.
"Hi, Elliott," she said, and Elliott felt a very odd sensation run through him, as if his knees had turned to soft ice cream and a bird had flown out of his heart.
He turned away from the machine, where E.T.'s message still flickered faintly, and he looked at -- Julie. Her ponytail was tied with a little ring of rhinestones, which flickered in the light of the arcade.
He wanted to say something really cool and brilliant to her, maybe even remind her that he was the one who'd known the Extra-terrestrial. But he wasn't able to say anything cool or brilliant, because he'd just swallowed his gum while looking at her and it was lodged sideways in his throat. "Hi, Ju-lie," he croaked, but the noise of the arcade was so loud she seemed not to hear. Or maybe she heard and just pretended not to, which was a thing girls did. He was discovering that girls did many strange things, as strange and remote to Elliott as E.T. had been. "Girls are from another planet," he said to himself now, as he watched her walk on through the arcade.
He turned back to his game. And the message there, from another planet, had faded, and only ghostly spaceships moved back and forth across the screen.
* * *
E.T. sat in the botanical chamber, staring into Gertie's geranium. "This flower is Earth to me, and all happy memory."
His colleague, the other old botanist, looked up from his own work and walked over. He pointed a long finger into the petals of the geranium.
"It contains more than just Earth," he said, touching the grains of pollen. "These are traces of the sun."
He touched the carpel and the stamen. "This is a universal design."
He walked to the far wall and clicked a switch; a panel opened and a view screen appeared, out to the heavens. The Flower Nebula, pink-purple, floated before them, its great masses of gas and stardust in petal-like arrangements. "Your geranium comes from all that." He nodded to the great nebulous body before them. "Everything is connected in one great web. Is that not our first illumination?"
"Yes," said E.T., and his mind shifted into the higher range, as he remembered other times, places, initiations.
"You are an Adept in Cosmology," said his colleague. "You've been schooled in pure science. You're a learned being."
"True," said E.T. "How can I spend all day staring into a geranium? I have other responsibilities."
He gazed into the Flower Nebula. Within it was one of the greatest planets, whose appearance he could already discern -- Mar'kinga Banda, giant planet, home of the super-strains of plantlife, whose trees towered into the clouds.
Its shape grew larger on the screen. "Yes, we're stopping there," said his colleague. "At Mar'kinga Banda, where the flowers are as big as this ship. You should prepare."
"Quite right," said E.T., suddenly excited again, his spirits lifting. "Mar'kinga Banda is a botanist's dream."
"The most exotic species imaginable."
"Plants whose intelligence is high and noble."
"Intellects towering as high as their own treetops."
"A planet of great truth and even greater beauty!"
E.T. opened his equipment chest, lifting out
tubes, trays, slides, and his many cutting and digging tools. "...yes, yes..."
The ship was dropping quickly, already in the atmosphere of Mar'kinga Banda, the planet looming ever larger on the screen, the first details of its jungles appearing, bearing a roof of gigantic petals, from whose center sublime thought-waves beamed and sweet perfumes poured, strong enough to bring starships to narcosis and bend their trajectories to the land, for Mar'kinga Banda wan...
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