This was a great day for the Andrygonians; in all the schools final examinations were just now being held. One of the government representatives inquired if I would care to honor the proceedings with my presence. Since I had been received with exceptional hospitality, I could hardly refuse this request. So then, straight from the airport we went by wurbil (large, legless amphibians, similar to snakes, widely used for transportation) to the city. Having presented me to the assembled youths and to the instructors as an eminent guest from the planet Earth, the government representative left the hall forthwith.
The instructors had me sit at the head of the plystrum (a kind of table), whereupon the examination in progress was resumed. A Wurbil The pupils, excited by my presence, stammered at first and were extremely shy, but I reassured them with a cheerful smile, and when I whispered the right word now to this one, now to that, the ice was quickly broken. They answered better and better towards the end. At one point there came before the examining board a young Andrygonian, overgrown with ruddocks (a kind of oyster, used for clothing), the loveliest I had seen in quite some time, and he began to answer the questions with uncommon eloquence and poise. I listened with pleasure, observing that the level of science here was high indeed.
Then the examiner asked:
"Can the candidate for graduation demonstrate why life on Earth is impossible?"
With a little bow the youth commenced to give an exhaustive and logically constructed argument, in which he proved irrefutably that the greater part of Earth is covered with cold, exceedingly deep waters, whose temperature is kept near zero by constantly floating mountains of ice; that not only the poles, but the surrounding areas as well are a place of perpetual, bitter frost and that for half a year there night reigns uninterrupted. That, as one can clearly see through astronomical instruments, the land masses, even in the more temperate zones, are covered for many months each year by frozen water vapor known as "snow," which lies in a thick layer upon both hills and valleys. That the great Moon of Earth causes high tides and low, which have a destructive, erosive effect. That with the aid of the most powerful spyglasses one can see how very often large patches of the planet are plunged in shadow, produced by an envelope of clouds. That in the atmosphere fierce cyclones, typhoons and storms abound. All of which, taken together, completely rules out the possibility of the existence of life in any form. And if concluded the young Andrygonian in a ringing voice-beings of some sort were ever to try landing on Earth, they would suffer certain death, being crushed by the tremendous pressure of its atmosphere, which at sea level equals one kilogram per square centimeter, or 760 millimeters in a column of mercury.
This thorough reply met with the general approval of the board. Overcome with astonishment, I sat for the longest while without stirring and it was only when the examiner had proceeded to the next question that I exclaimed:
"Forgive me, worthy Andrygonians, but : ... well, it is precisely from Earth that I come; surely you do not doubt that I am alive, and you heard how I was introduced to you ..."
An awkward silence followed. The instructors were deeply offended by my tactless remark and barely contained themselves; the young people, who are not as able to hide their feelings as adults, regarded me with unconcealed hostility. Finally the examiner said coldly:
"By your leave, sir stranger, but are you not placing too great demands upon our hospitality? Are you not content with your most royal reception, with the fanfares, the tokens of esteem? Have we not done enough by admitting you to the High Plystrum of Graduation, is this still insufficient and you wish us in addition to change, entirely for you, the school program?1"
"But ... but Earth is in fact inhabited ..." I muttered, embarrassed.
"If such were the case," the examiner said, looking at me as if I were transparent, "that would constitute an anomaly of nature."