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Sneak Previews of Forthcoming Books : The Eighth Life : 'To his surprise, the NASAns grew excited when Algie volunteered to be a Space Scientist and Astronaut.'

July 31, 1988|JOHN ESPEY | The following is from "The Nine Lives of Algernon," by John Espey, published by Capra Press, Santa Barbara. John Espey is professor emeritus of English at UCLA.

BEFORE HE CHOSE his Eighth Life, Algie decided that he should consult public opinion, so he went to see the old white cat.

"I have been so busy living my Lives," Algie said to him, "that I haven't kept up with everything that is going on nowadays."

"That's true," the old white cat said. "What's more, you've been very impulsive all the way along."

"At least I've enjoyed myself."

"I suppose," the old white cat said. "But we have moved into a new world while you've been enjoying yourself."

"A new world?" Algie asked in surprise. "It looks pretty much the same as ever to me, begging your pardon."

"Granted," the old white cat said. "But it isn't. We are now living in a new world of space science."

"So you think I should become a scientist, whatever that is?" asked Algie.

"No, you are getting on too far for that," the old white cat said. "I have noticed that truly great scientists get their one truly great idea quite early--in their First, or, at the most, Second Life. Then they live on their reputations for having had that one great idea and move on to be Public Figures, or Administrators, or even Advisers to the President."

"What a bore!" Algie exclaimed. "But I do wish you had told me about this earlier."

"You never took the time to ask," the old white cat said. "Anyway, I don't think you were cut out for that. But there is still one way you might become a kind of scientist, really a space scientist."

"How is that?"

"Thank you for asking," the old white cat said. "You could volunteer to be an astronaut."

"You mean actually travel through space?" Algie asked.

"Exactly. I've heard that the beings who run the Space Program are called NASAns and want to find out how intelligent individuals like ourselves would behave during a trip through space."

"That's interesting," Algie said. "Thank you for your advice."

"Don't mention it."

Algie went to NASA, only half-believing what the old white cat had told him. To his surprise, the NASAns grew excited when Algie volunteered to be a Space Scientist and Astronaut.

"You're exactly what we've been hunting for," the NASAns said, "a creature who can obey our orders and show how certain levels of life will react in orbit."

"In orbit?" Algie asked.

"Yes, in orbit," the NASAns said. "You go up into outer space and then orbit round and round the Earth."

"That's interesting," Algie said politely, thinking to himself that it sounded silly and that he had better not let the NASAns know that he had already been around the world several Lives before.

So Algie found himself going through some strenuous training, whirling around in small spaces and learning to function in a small globe for hours at a time. Some of this was tiresome, but Algie stuck at it because he learned that no one had ever heard of a cat being a Space Scientist and Astronaut before and he knew he would be scoring a first-time triumph.

At last the day came when Algie rocketed up into space and found himself alone in his own globe as it went into orbit. He could look out of a window and see the world as he circled it. From time to time the NASAns asked him over the radio to pull certain levers or punch certain buttons or turn on the TV camera to take pictures of himself and of the Earth.

Each time he did one of these simple chores the NASAns would praise him. "Great work, Algie!" they would say. "Isn't it amazing what Algie is able to do all by himself?"

Algie thought that even a moderately intelligent dog could, if carefully trained, carry out these jobs and felt a little bit disappointed. But he did enjoy looking at the Earth, though its size surprised him. Thinking of his first journey around the world made him homesick, but he said nothing about that to the NASAns and kept on doing what they asked him to, boring as it all was.

After three days Algie had run through all the experiments possible, and the NASAns brought him out of orbit. He was excited by the sense of speed he felt before the landing, but he hadn't expected to be greeted with so much excitement.

"You were terrific, sir," the NASAns told him. "We must work out a more sophisticated routine for your next flight."

"Thank you very much," Algie said politely. "Take your time. It got rather boring up there. I think I'll postpone the rest of my Astronaut Life for a while and try something else."

He stepped out of the NASAns' building and was astonished by the cheering crowd that greeted him.

"Whatever you say, sir," one of the NASAns said.

"Thank you," Algie said, "but why have you started to call me 'sir'?"

"We were afraid it might distract you while you were in orbit," the NASAn said, "but while you were up there you were made a colonel in the Air Force."

"I was?" Algie asked. "I never noticed the difference."

"Well, you may notice it now, sir," the NASAn said. "But no matter what you do, sir, please keep in touch. We are already planning your future flights. You must realize, sir, that you have already put us far ahead of our competition."

"I guess more has gone on than I realized," Algie replied modestly as he waved to the crowd. "Don't worry, you can always reach me at home."

After waving to everyone, Algie got into the special car reserved for him and asked the sergeant to drive him to the hill so that he could save the rest of his Eighth Life and think about what he might try for his Ninth Life.

Copyright 1988 by John Espey.

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