In Place of a Foreword
Tomorrow Alice starts school. It will be a very interesting day. Her friends and acquaintances have been on the videophone to her all day and everyone is congratulating her. In fact Alice hasn’t let anyone have any peace for the last three months just talking about her new school.
The Martian Boose sent her some sort of remarkable pencil case which no one ha s been able to open not me, not my co-workers, who include two Doctors of Science, and the Moscow Space Zoo’s chief mechanic.
Shusher said he would accompany Alice to school to make certain she got a sufficiently experienced teacher.
There has been an astonishing amount of fuss. From my recollection, when I went to school for the first time, no one bothered to raise such a bother.
Now the commotion has died down somewhat; Alice has gone off to the Zoo to say good- bye to Bronty.
And finally, it’s quiet in the house, and I can sit down and dictate a number of events from the lives of Alice and her friends. I’ll send these notes to Alice’s teacher. It will let her know what sort of dilettante she has to deal with in me, and it will let her know what she’s getting into with my daughter.
From the very first, Alice was a child like any other. Until about three. The proof of my statement will be the events I relate first of all. But about a year ago, from when she first met Bronty, I have observed in her character the wisdom to do things not quite as everyone expects them to be done, to vanish at the most inconvenient times and even to by accident! make discoveries beyond the powers of even the greatest of modern scientists. Alice has the ability to get everyone to do what she wants, despite which she has a mass of good and true friends. For us, her parents, this has been very difficult. We are simply not able to just sit around at home all the time. I work in the zoo, and my wife is an architect constructing buildings, most of the time on other planets.
I want to warn Alice’s teacher before she meets my daughter herself. Quite simply, things are not going to be easy. So let her pay attention to a number of completely truthful accounts of my daughter’s experiences and adventures in various places of the Earth and space over the last three years.
On the Dialing of Random Numbers
Alice would not go to sleep. It was ten O’clock already and she would not go to sleep. I said:
“Alice, you must go to sleep now, or else I….”
“Or else what, papa?”
“Or else I shall call Baba Yaga.”
“And who is Baba Yaga?”
“Hmm… That is something all children have to learn. Baba Yaga is the Wicked Witch of the North! She lives in a giant castle on stilts made out of chicken leg bones. She’s an evil old woman who eats small children… Disobedient small children…”
“Well, because she’s evil and hungry!”
“But why is she hungry?”
“Because there are no stores nearby, and no food service to her castle.”
“Because the castle is too old and it’s too far away in the forest.”
Alice had become so interested she even sat up in bed.
“Does she work in the nature preserve?”
“Alice, go to sleep immediately!”
“But you promised to call Baba Yaga! Please, papa, please call Baba Yaga!”
“I will call her. But you will be very sorry that I did!”
I walked over to the videophone unit and punched out a few numbers at random. I was certain there would be no connection and that Baba Yaga would not be home.
But I was mistaken. The videophone screen lit up, there was a buzzing someone had pressed the ACCEPT button at the other end of the line, and hadn’t even appeared in person on the screen when a deep voice said:
“Martian Embassy. May we be of service?”
“Is it her, papa? Is it her?” Alice cried from her bed.
“She’s already gone to bed.” I said sternly.
“Martian Embassy here. May we be of service?” The voice repeated.
I turned to face the videophone. A young Martian was looking out at me. He had green eyes, and no eyelashes.
“I’m sorry.” I said. “Rather clearly I have the wrong number.”
The Martian laughed. He was looking not at me, but at something behind my back. Alice, naturally, had jumped out of her bed and was standing barefoot on the floor.
“Good evening.” She said to the Martian.
“Good evening, little girl.”
“Does Baba Yaga live with you?”
The Martian cast a questioning look in my direction.
“You see,” I said, “Alice won’t go to sleep, and I was hoping to get through to Baba Yaga and have her punish her. But I got a wrong number.”
The Martian laughed again.
“Good night, Alice.” He said. “You have to go to sleep now, or your papa will call Baba Yaga.”
The Martian said good bye to me and hung up.
“Well, now are you going to go to sleep?” I asked. “You heard what your uncle from Mars said…”
“I’ll go sleep, papa. Are you going to take me to Mars?”
“If you are a good little girl and behave yourself we’ll go to Mars in the summer.”
At long last Alice tell asleep, and I went back to my work. I was at my desk until one o’clock in the morning. And suddenly there was a deafening ringing from the videophone. I pressed the ACCEPT button. The Martian from the Embassy looked out at me.
“I’m sorry to trouble you at such a late hour.” He said. “But your videophone was not turned off for the night, and I concluded you had yet to go to bed.”
“Then is sit possible you can help us?” The Martian said. “The whole Embassy can’t get to sleep. We’ve poured over the encyclopedias, gone through all the phone books, but we still can’t find out who Baba Yaga is and where she lives…”
They brought a Brontosaurus egg to us at the Moscow Space Zoo. Some Chilean tourists found the egg after a landslide on the shores of the Yenisei River. The egg was nearly round and miraculously preserved by the eternal cold. When the specialists started to study it they noticed it appeared to be quite fresh, and so we decided to place it in the Zoo’s egg incubator.
Certainly no one expected success, but after no more than a week the X-Rays and ultrasound equipment showed us a developing, growing Brontosaurus embryo. No sooner had the news hit the info services and the Net scientists and correspondents began to pour into Moscow from all over. We had to reserve the whole eighty story Venusian Arms Hotel on Tver Street, and that wasn’t enough to house them all. I had eight Turkish paleontologists sleeping like sardines in my dining room not to mention the journalist from Equador in the kitchen and the two women correspondents from “Antarctic Woman” who set up housekeeping in Alice’s bed room.
When my wife phoned in the evening from Nikos, where she was overseeing the construction of a stadium, she had decided not to come home for a while.
All the world’s newsfeeds were showing The Egg. The Egg from the side. The Egg from the front. A skeleton of a brontosaurus superimposed on the Egg…
A whole visiting Congress of Cosmolinguists came for a mass visit to the Zoo. But by that time we had cut off access to the incubator and the philologists had to content themselves with the polar bears and the Martian Mantises.