"Round up the niggers." Four little words, possibly the shortest executive order ever issued by a President of the United States. Two weeks previous President Chase would never have used the word "nigger" for fear of alienating a significant voting constituency. He would even have paled at an oblique reference to "n-word" or some such arms-length euphemism. Like practically all his acquaintances, he had reached high national office not by having rigid principles, but by changing sides the minute it looked like his side might lose. Once a staunch civil libertarian, once a supporter of head start programs, once an advocate of affirmative action, once an advocate of the rich American heritage of cultural diversity, he now issued his executive order, "Round up the niggers."
In two weeks the world had turned upside down with the arrival of Emissary Bentley from some place called Zeptron. Of course his name wasn't really Bently. He was just called Bently by the earth people because it was easier to pronounce than his Zeptronian name, which required that some parts of the mouth be operated manually in order to make the correct sounds. A few engineers at M.I.T. were able to approximate the pronunciation of Bently's Zeptronian name using only their own natural apparatus, but upon seeing the difficulties most people had with the name, Bentley insisted that "Bentley" would be just fine.
The Zeptronian fleet had arrived on New Years Day of the sixth year of President Chase's administration. Enormous silent craft appeared simultaneously above each bowl game venue, in some cases interrupting play. The appearance was so overt that a Roswell style cover up was out of the question. President Chase, a graduate of Northwestern, was present at the Rose Bowl when Bentley's craft arrived, so everybody just assumed that Bentley was the chief of the Zeptronians.
Now a nation as prideful as the United States is not going to round up the niggers just because a guy who "says" he's a space alien told them to do it. Bentley first demonstrated the technological superiority of the Zeptronians by putting Mount Rushmore back into its original condition, he said, using the original fragments.
After that, President Chase and the joint chiefs escorted Bentley out to the desert where the military might of the United States was demonstrated by the detonation of a hydrogen bomb. Bentley smiled after the explosion and said the American bomb was cute. "And now for my next trick," he said, "I'll reconstruct the bomb from its original fragments. Presto change-o bingo bango."
The President and the Joint Chiefs sent some technicians in radiation suits out to the test site. The technicians confirmed that there was an unexploded fusion device at ground zero and right down to the serial number it looked just like the one they had just detonated. P.S. there was no radiation detected at the test site. "Don't you get it," said Bentley "Any idiot can blow something up. Now do like I asked and round up the niggers. I don't care how many there are. Fill every stadium in every town. Male, female, old, young, strong, weak, sick, every nigger in this country. Don't leave any of them out."
"There are still some issues," began President Chase, "Concerning terminology. Are all African-Americans niggers, or just Sub-Saharan African-Americans? If somebody has a black mother and a Spanish Father, is that a nigger? Is one-quarter African a nigger?" Bentley grasped the President by the elbow so firmly that the Secret Service would have intervened. The Secret Service, however, was reluctant to do anything that might invoke the wrath of these powerful Zeptronians. "Mr. President, if YOU think somebody's a nigger, then he's a nigger."
Nothing like carte blanche in the issuance of a directive. President Chase, now that he had been made arbiter of all which was and was not a nigger, threw the nation's resources into the project. He used all of his duplicitous skill, all his deceptive language, all his phony compassion and all his political favors in order to accomplish the Zeptronian agenda. He even quit going to fund raisers, for now that he was the trusted Lieutenant of Bentley of Zeptron he was likely to become "President for Life Chase."
Meanwhile in gathering places from the palest country club to the smokiest honkey-tonk, white people were thrilled beyond measure. They were still quiet about it, but they spoke among themselves in electric whispers. They told old plantation jokes that had been suppressed for generations. Social scientists theorized based on Bentley's appearance and demeanor, that apparently racism was the natural order of civilized societies throughout the galaxy, perhaps throughout the universe.
There were some protests from civil libertarians, but they were heard from seldom twice and never three times. They just stopped showing up on TV. Then they stopped showing up at work. Then they stopped showing up at home. Their families were encouraged not to complain. The airwaves came under tighter and tighter control as President Chase tried harder and harder to meet his deadline and make his new boss happy.
The surprising thing to all observers was how short a time it took. Historical precedents suggested that ethnic cleansing of an area as big as the United States could take years, but it actually took only a few weeks. Resistance was nil. The second amendment had been repealed during President Chase's first term and all the citizens had surrendered their guns. At the time the National Rifle Association had warned that sooner or later somebody was going to get rounded up, but they were dismissed as crackpots and the citizens had surrendered their guns. This was a good bit of luck for President Chase, such good luck that he began to think his actions were divinely guided.
Then one day it was done. All the niggers were in all the athletic stadiums in all the towns in the United States. The Zeptronian ships once again descended from the clouds and hovered above the stadiums. Bentley's ship arrived again at the Rose Bowl. The white people quietly moved away, got in their cars and left. They didn't know what to expect, but they were pretty sure it would be better if it happened in their absence. Maybe a big conical vacuum hose would descend from the sky and suck up all the niggers into the belly of the ship, which would then whisk them off to the hellish klorgonite mines of Zeptron. Or maybe the Zeptronians intended to use some kind of immensely powerful space alien disintegrator beam and the white people didn't want to be around when the neutrons hit the fan. The guards, the drivers, the ushers, the technicians, the truckers, the census takers, all just snuck off, leaving nobody but the Zeptronians and the niggers.
Nobody at any stadium knew it, but all across the world people were watching the proceedings through surveillance monitors with the greatest curiosity. All of those monitors simultaneously failed and the white people started making guesses as to what that meant. Practically all of them assumed the static bode ill for the niggers. The power of the imagination! What they saw was static. What they thought they saw was klorgonite mines and disintegrator beams. But with the loss of the surveillance monitors there was not one white person on earth who saw or heard any of what happened next.
A hatch opened in the bottom of the Zeptronian craft and a glossy slab of a hard-to-describe color about a foot thick and twenty feet square was lowered to midfield by means of a chain. It wasn't levitated on an energy beam or lowered by rocket engines or flown in by magic carpets. It was a plain old log chain with a hook on the end. This was part of the Zeptronian philosophy. Don't use big technology when little technology works just as well.
A thin tube, not even ten feet in diameter, extended from the bottom of Bentley's ship and continued extending until it touched the turf in the visitor's end zone. When it retracted after a moment of contact with the ground, there was Bentley, dressed casually human in faded blue jeans and a sport coat, standing in the end zone. There was a book in his right hand. He tucked it under his left arm and tapped with his right hand at a microphone pinned on his left breast pocket. "Is this on? Can everybody hear me all right? Look, the white guy who was running this camera had to leave. If one of you knows how to work it, come on down. That way you can put me up on the diamond vision and you can all see me."
One man worked his way down to the cinder track where he picked up the camera gear. Bentley's face appeared on the giant screen and the crowd gasped and murmered.
"Please don't be alarmed at my appearance. I don't really look this way. I look like a Zeptronian. This is all plastic and rubber. If I were to take this off... woo wooo! Scare the hell out of you. Tentacles and red scales, three eyes, the whole number.
"By the way, I don't know how you've got things set up here, but if there's a Head Nigger in Charge this would be a good time for you to make your way down here. I picked this face from the cover of one of your entertainment magazines. Do you recognize it? Yeah. I see some of you do. The guy's name is Christopher Walken. I picked it because he's a popular entertainer and I thought this face would relax you and put you at ease. Come to find out later he's popular because he portrays characters who give people the creeps. Of course by that time it was too late to change. Ah, well, live and learn. Next time, John Malkovich, I promise.
"You must have a million questions. As I said, I don't know how things are set up these days. Surely things have changed a lot, and a lot can happen in ten thousand years. It occurred to me that some of you might know the old stories and some of you might not, so at the risk of boring you, I thought I'd take a minute to tell you why you're here. Not here in the stadium. Here on this planet. It might interest you to know that the Zeptronian name for this planet is Hell."
Bentley and his cameraman had wandered out to about the middle of the home team forty yard line by that time, so that's where Bentley plopped cross-legged on the turf and opened the book across his knees.
"The past couple of weeks, while the government was bringing you here, I was reviewing some of your oldest texts. I've found a few references that might clarify why I've asked to gather you all here away from the white people. Here's something I found in a text you're all familiar with. It's from Revelation, chapter twelve, verse seven. Here goes:"
"And there was war in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven. The great dragon was hurled down -- that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth and his angels with him."
"There, that's pretty straightforward. I don't want to appear condescending by interpreting the obvious, but for the children in the assembly, thousands of years ago there was a war between these space aliens and those space aliens. The losers got banished to earth and all their technology was taken away from them to make sure they stayed put. Kind of like the story where Adam and Eve get kicked out of the Garden of Eden for being "uppity." This earth is a prison and the white race is its prisoner. This book talks in terms of devils and angels, but that's just name calling, really. They've got it misspelled throughout this edition. The guy's name was Stan. 'Get thee behind me, Stan.' Lucifer, the bearer of light, Bright Boy. We all just called him 'Whitey.'"
"If you think white people act like they come from a different planet, it's because they do. Your ancestors got the job of keeping tabs on Whitey and his descendants. To gently encourage the white race to change its ways so it could be readmitted to the greater interstellar community. Get it? I'm a kind of intergalactic circuit court judge. You people and your parents and grandparents and great grandparents going back thousands of years are Whitey's character witnesses and parole officers, and today... Where's the camera guy? Oh there you are." He looked around until he found the camera. "Don't get all artistic. Just hold the camera still and keep my face in frame."
Bentley leaned into the lense. "This is Whitey's parole hearing. Today is Judgement Day."
The crowd, which had been nervous and subdued up to that point, whooped and hollered and laughed until it cried.
"What? You didn't know that? Didn't your parents tell you? Were the directives lost with the passing of generations?" Bentley referred back to his book. "See here, Matthew chapter twenty-five, verse forty. A guy named Jesus is talking. 'The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did to one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did to me.' And then earlier chapter seven, verse twelve the same guy says practically the same thing, 'So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.' Back on Zeptron we have a saying, 'I'm rubber, you're glue. Whatever you say bounces off of me and sticks to you.' I didn't find it in this book, but it amounts to the same thing. 'What goes around, comes around.'"
"I'd have to check the rosters to see if this Jesus cat was one of our corrections people, but the unusual circumstances of his birth make me think he was put here deliberately, and he was familiar with the testing principles. It says later on that some Italian boys tortured him to death. Boy, that's not going to look good on the report."
"The least of my brothers. That's you. Your ancestors were put here as our proxies, deliberately in a socially inferior position so Whitey wouldn't suspect he was being evaluated. To see if he would cheat you and lie to you or to see if he would treat you fairly. Would he make peace with you or war on you? I mean, if he makes slaves out of people because they have black skin, what is he going to try to pull on people with red scales? How he treated you over these past five thousand years will determine what happens next. Has the white race been rehabilitated, or should the Zeptron fleet incinerate the planet? The Middle East is all stirred up. It'd look like an accident."
Things got quiet in every stadium across the continent. So quiet that the black folks inside could hear the boistrous celebrations of the white folks outside. During the last couple of weeks of The Big Roundup white people dropped their pretenses and started openly expressing all those latent thoughts. Even white people who were reputed to be enlightened and liberal had changed social direction with the tide, and now the sounds of drunken revelry filtered through the night and gatherings of black people held their collective breaths the better to hear the laughter and consider the thoughts that generated it.
A song from a nearby bonfire celebration floated softly into the stadium, "Na na na nah, hey hey hey, goodbye!"
"Do you want to have some discussion before you vote?"
There appeared at the sideline a weathered looking black man. Bentley spotted him right away.
"You. You're the Head Nigger in Charge? I can tell by your shoes you think that you are. I hope you won't think me disrespectful if I verify your credentials, just to see if you and I speak the same language?"
The HNIC began walking down the midfield line toward the slab of a hard-to-describe color. "I wouldn't have it any other way."
Bentley and HNIC stepped onto the slab at the same instant. Metal plates on the heels and toes of their shoes snapped like firecrackers against the slab. Bentley issued his challenge. Shuffle step ball change. HNIC replied shuffle step ball change. Bentley launched into a repetitive time step. HNIC joined in with a syncopated version of the same thing. Bentley challenged with shave-and-a-haircut. HNIC answered stamping out two bits. The rhythms grew gradually longer and more complicated, but still recognizable. Mixed in was the rapatap rapatap rapatap tap tap of the William Tell Overture along with a rap tappa tap that any classical music buff would have translated as "Rachmananof."
Bentley laughed, "If I had all my tentacles free I could show you some stuff."
Somebody had found some swing music in the control booth and was patching it into the PA system. Bentley and HNIC did what they did, dancing some highly athletic, rhythmic communication until at length the music ended and they were exhausted and Bentley was satisfied that he had recieved the proper credentials of the Head Nigger in Charge.
The assembly cheered appreciatively.
"So what's it going to be?" said Bentley as he mopped his neck with a towell, "I don't want to push you into a hasty decision, but I do have other planets to visit, other hearings, other incinerations." He threw the towell to HNIC.
"Two hundred years ago Whitey was keeping us as slaves. He's not doing that any more. Fifty years ago Whitey wouldn't let us use the same bathroom or eat in the same restaurant or ride in the same rail car as him. He's not doing that any more. So things are getting better. His problems are getting more subtle, maybe."
"More subtle? Those sounds I hear outside don't sound subtle. Your President had no trouble rounding you up when he thought he wasn't going to get punished for it. Sixty years ago another president rounded up the yellow-skinned people and put them into prison camps. Tolerance can crack pretty quickly when the heat is on. Are you sure the progress of the last hundred years or so isn't just on the surface?"
"I'm rubber, you're glue?" said the Head Nigger in Charge.
"Just so there's no misunderstanding, you're saying Whitey judged you once, and you recommend that same judgement for Whitey. Is that what you mean?"
"That's what I mean."
"Name it, then."
HNIC curled his thumbs under his suspenders and stretched them as he grinned, "I don't think white people are ready yet."
The crowd roared with laughter. "The jury seems to concur," said Bentley. HNIC nodded and acknowledged the assembly.
"Okay, then. How's this sound to you? No incineration. Earth people don't leave the solar system until further notice."
"What about tomorrow," asked HNIC.
At first Bentley didn't know what to make of the question, "Tomorrow is another day? Tomorrow never comes? The sun'll come out tomorrow? Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow?"
"Today we're rounded up. Tomorrow we show up at our homes and our jobs and a huge alien fleet is gone without a trace. What do we tell the white people about all this?"
"I shouldn't worry too much about that. Whitey is a compulsive liar. He lies to himself just as much as he lies to you. Within a week he will have convinced himself of something. Something brilliant." Bentley took a couple of deep breaths as he shook out his legs. "You don't have to stay on this hellhole and take this abuse if you don't want to. We could take you all to your planet of origin and we could have some other people take your place as our proxies. You could be home by dinner time tomorrow. We're having Buffalo wings."
"See you in five hundred years," sighed HNIC.
"We always arrive unannounced."
"Then we'll see you when we see you."
"You've got more faith in him that I do." The tube once again emerged from the bottom of the Zeptron ship and fitted itself over Bentley. When it withdrew Bentley was gone. The slab of the hard to describe color was hoisted up into the ship, which then receded into the night sky and vanished.
The next day things happened pretty much like Bentley had predicted. President Chase went on television and thanked all those who had participated in the test of emergency evacuation procedures. The tests would insure the nation's ability to adapt to and recover from nuclear, biological or chemical attacks and widespread natural disasters. Everything had gone perfectly according to the government's plan, he said. He hoped the participants weren't inconvenienced and he thanked everybody for their cooperation.
In an unrelated story, the President urged the congress to approve additional funding for star wars projects.