“I would like to express my extreme displeasure with you and your ‘museum,’” Randall Buckford continued, pronouncing the quotation marks around “museum.” They all did that too. Marty had even begun making air quotes with his fingers at the appropriate point in the conversation.
“I’m sorry to hear that, sir,” Marty announced. He had cultivated a tone of voice that made it sound like this was his absolute favorite conversation to have ever, and he utilized it here aggressively.
Randall Buckford greeted this tone with a lengthy silence. This was a reasonably common reaction. Scientists generally expected Marty to address their problems before they informed him what they were. Marty used to prompt the caller after a little while, but he stopped when he realized that silence worked in his favor, both because it kept the callers off-balance and because every second they weren’t talking was inherently better than any second in which they were.
“Yeah, um,” Randall Buckford eventually continued. “I, and I think I speak on behalf of the entire UFO community, consider what you are doing to be the height of irresponsibility. We have expended countless energies in the quest to have our scientific inquiries taken seriously, but your little ‘museum’”—Marty was slow on the air quotes that time—“makes a mockery of that which you ought to be fighting for with all your heart. Shame, shame, shame!”
This monologue wasn’t strictly false. Mr. Hawley had stripped anything remotely functional from Nathan’s craft, and the displays dropped plenty of cartoonish fiction into the mix. (Most popularly, several references to bluish four-legged aliens from Planet Epsilon, plush doll versions of which could conveniently be purchased in six sizes at the museum gift shop.) Of course, it presupposed that Marty was interested in advancing the science of extraterrestrials, rather than making some cash.
Marty left some more silence in response to the rant. Randall Buckford was quicker to address it this time, though. “Well?” He growled. “I didn’t call you to have you meditate at me!”
Marty presented himself as the soul of innocence. “I’m not sure what to say. You didn’t ask any question or make any demand of me, so there’s really no thread for me to pick up and continue the conversation.”
“I want you to shut down the museum! It’s ludicrous! You claim that the ship’s engines could generate 1.6 exowatts of power, when current alien technology maxes out at 4.7 petawatts! And I examined those so-called engines, and there is simply no way!”
“Let me address your second point first, Randall Buckford,” Marty said rationally. “You are correct that the engines on display are non-functional. This is technology way in advance of our own; if we displayed it, would you want some terrorist to come and study it and use it as a weapon against us?”
“I guess not,” Randall Buckford meekly admitted.
“After all, you’d be one of the first they came after.” Nothing wrong with stroking an ego, Marty had learned. “As for your first point, all I can say is that the engine is being studied at the…” Marty let his voice trail off tantalizingly.
“At the what!
“No, I’ve said too much. Very secretive organization, you know.”
“Of course I do!” Randall Buckford lowered his voice to a conspiratorial whisper. “Which secretive organization are we talking about, though? Extraterrestrial Information Council? Alien Abduction Research Council?”
Marty clucked his tongue sadly. “The fact that you don’t know tells me that you aren’t a part of this group,” he said, dripping with disapproval. “A 1.6 exowatt engine, well, it creates a bit of a buzz.”
“So tell me about it!”
“This group, they’re big on secrecy. They’d probably have me put down if I spilled the beans.”
“But I am a scientist! I am an expert in my field!”
“I’m sure you are, Randall Buckford, and I’m also sure that when you make a worthy discovery the group will find you and welcome you with open arms.” Randall Buckford tried to interject, but Marty cut him off. “I’m afraid I have to end this conversation. Secrecy, you know. Good day.”
As I hope shows, I quite enjoyed writing Scientist Randall Buckford as a bit player. I suppose he’s based loosely on, well, far too many of my professional interactions, which tend to be with people who have the gift of absolute certainty and the curse (to me) of being generally wrong. But there’s no direct analog in my life.
(Except the meditation line. I heard that from a potential landlord when I called to ask about an apartment, and he didn’t like that I didn’t have an instantaneous reaction to a question. I didn’t take the place.)