Susan Tyler never thought she would see her young brother George again when she said a tearful goodbye to him on the day before the interstellar mission left. It was the first manned mission to another star, on the mighty interstellar spaceship named Starbird. The 120 crew members had been trained to establish a colony on one of the planets revolving around Alpha Centauri, several light-years away.
Using the latest antimatter drive technology, the spaceship traveled at about one-third of the speed of light. It took 13 years for the ship to reach Alpha Centauri. The ship beamed a radio message saying that an apparently habitable planet had been detected. The nations of Earth were thrilled by the announcement.
But then there was a long radio silence. People asked: had something terrible happened? For weeks, everyone would check the news day after day, waiting for a new radio signal from the spaceship. But no signal was received. The weeks turned into months, which turned into years. Eventually the public reached the sad conclusion that something terrible had gone wrong, and that no signal would ever be picked up from the doomed mission. Susan Tyler reconciled herself to the idea that her brother George must be dead.
What happened thirteen years later was almost as shocking as the sudden radio silence from Alpha Centauri. Astronomers detected a spaceship entering the solar system. At first people thought it might be some extraterrestrial spaceship. But before long, astronomers announced something shocking: the spaceship was Starbird, the very spaceship that had left for Alpha Centauri 26 years ago.
The ship's crew docked at a space station, and then returned to Earth. The ship's captain gave a press conference announcing what had happened.
“We approached the planet revolving around Alpha Centauri, and at first we thought it might be a habitable planet with life,” said Captain Horton. “But when we got closer we were disappointed to find it was just rocky and moon-like, with no signs of life. So we decided to just turn around and come back to Earth. We were going to radio our findings, but a meteorite damaged our radio antenna.”
The story seemed strange, and raised eyebrows around the world. But most people accepted it.
Susan Tyler welcomed George back to the town where she and her parents lived, and she thought: this is so strange, I never thought I'd see him again. She was not surprised that George looked 26 years older. But she was surprised by his cold, humorless demeanor. She remembered her brother as a very warm and funny person.
“What are you going to do now?” asked Susan.
“I'm going to do what quite a few of my fellow astronauts are going to do,” said George. “I'm going to run for President.” He explained that quite a few of his astronauts had developed political ambitions on the long trip home from Alpha Centauri. A German was going to run to become president of the European Union. A Russian was going to run to become president of Russia. A Chinese astronaut was going to run to become the president of China, which had become a democracy 30 years ago.
Over the next few weeks, Susan began to develop suspicions about George. Although he seemed to think very fast, he seemed to have a very different personality than the George she remembered. Funny warm George had somehow turned into cold, humorless George. He also seemed to have no memory of the childhood they had shared. He would also never eat any food when he was at a family gathering, and would never drink anything.
Susan discussed her suspicions with her mother, her father, and her sister Betty. They all agreed that George somehow wasn't the George they knew. The family began asking George questions he couldn't answer. Their suspicions were also raised by the fact that George lived in a house in which the windows were always covered up. George would never invite any other family members over.
Susan's suspicions about George began to eat away at her. One day she decided to wait until George opened his door, and then barge into his house. She would look around before George had a chance to throw her out.
Susan did just that. She hid behind a bush near George's door. When he opened the door, Susan rushed in.
“I didn't invite you in!” said George. “Get out of here!”
“I'll be out in just a second,” said Susan, running around. She went down to the basement. She let out a scream when she saw what was in the basement.
In the basement were four tables. On the tables were what looked like the bodies of her father, her mother, and her sister.
“You fiend!” screamed Susan. “What have you done with Mom, Dad, and Betty?”
“Oh don't worry, those aren't Mom, Dad, and sister Betty,” said George. “But they will be soon.”
“What are you talking about?” said Susan, horrified.
“I guess it's time I told you the whole story,” said George. “When the Starbird reached the planet at Alpha Centauri, its crew members didn't find a lifeless rock like you were told. They found a thriving life-filled planet with a civilization much older than yours. The crew members of the Starbird were all arrested. I'm not your brother – he's still at Alpha Centauri.”
“So who are you?” asked Susan.
“I'm a replicant of your brother – what you would call a robot,” said George. “The Alpha Centaurians hatched a plot to control your planet. They decided they would send back to Earth the spaceship you sent to their planet, but its crew would not be the original crew – it would be a crew of robotic replacements like me. We were all told to run to become the leader of a country. The plan is to have us robots take over some of the key nations of your planet. So when Alpha Centauri sends its invasion fleet to Earth, things will be much easier. We'll already have control over some of the main nations on Earth.”
“So what are these bodies on the tables?” asked Susan.
“They're the robot replacements for George's family members,” said George. “I built them myself. You see, if I'm going to successfully run for President, I can't have George's family members saying things like 'there's something real weird about George' or 'we have all these suspicions about George.' I need to have someone who will say, 'George is the same fine fellow I knew before.' ”
George went over to a table that had a blanket over it.
“Do you want to see the latest robot I created?” asked George. George removed the blanket. It was a naked robot looking just like Susan. George flicked a remote control unit, and the robot stood up.
“Hello, my name is Susan Tyler,” said the robot, “and I think George Tyler would make a wonderful president of the United States.”
Susan screamed, and began to run up the basement stairs. George grabbed her by the throat. I'm doomed, thought Susan.
“It's pointless to resist our scheme,” said George icily as he strangled Susan with his hands. “The Alpha Centaurians are older and more powerful. Earth will fall.”
But just then police officers broke open the front door. Armed with machine guns, they stormed into the house, and quickly found Susan and George, who were both arrested.
Susan told the whole story to the police. No one would have believed her wild story, were it not for the fact that the robots were still lying on the tables on the basement.
Faced with the undeniable evidence against him, robot George finally confessed.
“How did you ever find out enough to come to my house?” asked George.
“We didn't know a thing about all this weird robot space stuff,” answered a police official. “While you were manufacturing those robots, a pungent smell was coming from your house. Plus your windows were all closed up. One of your neighbors got suspicious, and reported your house as one of those houses where they illegally manufacture drugs. At the time we stormed in on what we thought was a drug bust, we thought your house was just a regular old crystal meth lab.”