(This was my brother Ted's first published story. It appeared in BEYOND FANTASY FICTION in November 1953, which is so long ago I'm sure there will be no copyright infringements in my re-printing it now. Ted was 15 when it came out but I'm pretty sure he was 13 when he wrote it.)
He liked them for what they were--why did they have to like him only for what he wasn't?
The Figment liked the young of Earth. He enjoyed romping with them on the grass or crawling under the covers with them at night. At this moment the baby was very persistently trying to detach his rubbery antennae, while the older child, whom they called Joan, tickled his webbed feet. Far from resenting this, the Figment liked it. Everybody here was fun. He liked this world.
On the porch of the wide house that fronted the lawn, two men were thinking. The Figment listened to their thoughts with part of his mind. As yet no one had found out that he was telepathic--a receiving but not a sending station.
One man's thoughts were familiar. Kane's. He was thinking of the Figment. His mind was worried.
Six weeks--only six weeks ago Joan came rushing into the house, slamming the door behind her, breaking into the study, calling "Papa! Papa! There's a flobbity downstairs!"
A flobbity--the gremlinish creatures of the Land of Slan, one of Joan's books. It was rather surprising to find that there really was something in the yard. Not a flobbity, of course. It was the Figment.
The other man interrupted with speech. The Figment knew that this human was a scientist, Dr. Brandt.
"I wish you'd change your mind, Kane," Dr. Brandt said. "We can gt a court order, you know. It'd be easier just to hand him over."
"I won't let him be harmed. He's part of the family by now!"
"I'll tell you again just what the machine will do." Dr. Brandt sounded impatient. "It will record thought-waves as electro-magnetic patterns. If we ask the machine to find out where he was born, it will stimulate those brain cells which carry that information and record it and throw out the result on the screen. It won't and can't hurt him a bit. The machine is infallible."
"I still say no." Kane sounded firm. But his thoughts told the Figment that he was weakening.
"I'm thinking of you too, you know," Dr. Brandt went on. "How do you know what he really thinks? He's not from Earth. Nothing like that ever evolved here. He might harm your children--"
"He wouldn't," Kane objected. "He's friendly--"
"And think of what you owe science," Dr. Brandt continued remorselessly. "Think of the things he can tell us! The complete knowledge of an alien being--all he has known and seen! Strange worlds, creatures, new viewpoints. . .and how did he get here?"
The argument continued. The Figment eavesdropped, feeling the old, old fear. If the Earthmen tried to read his mind. . .
He had been on many worlds and met many intelligent beings. Most of them had been friendly. Sooner or later, however, they had all tried to learn his thoughts. Those races who were telepathic read his mind quickly. Those who used machines took longer. But they all tried, and when they learned his thoughts, they wouldn't play. They simply wouldn't pay any attention to him at all. He liked these earth people too well to lose them. . .
He knew that Kane wouldn't want to let him go. Eventually, however, he would give way to Dr. Brandt and the other scientists. He couldn't let his children play with a potentially dangerous creature.
Therefore the Figment was not surprised when, a few days later, Kane lifted him by his forelegs and carried him carefully to the car. He could have struggled, but not without the possibility of injuring Kane.
Here it was again. They were going to read his mind. His already frantic thoughts speeded. No solution was in sight. No solution had ever come along at such times, though each time it was different--different motivations, different techniques, instruments. But always he hoped. . . oh, they mustn't learn his secret.
He crouched in a corner of the large room where Kane had set him down. The room was filled with wires and shining apparatus and a huge machine that glowed redly in the center. The Figment shivered, foretasting loneliness. If he could only tear out some of those wires, it might delay his betrayal. Eying some of the nearer ones, he made ready to leap--
Hands closed over him. Kane lifted him and carried him to a small metal box, connected by a cable to the machine. He struggled, but other hands held him tightly. He was placed inside and straps were fastened about him.
He must hold his secret back!
The electrodes were fastened to his head: "First feed the machine this one, 'Who are you?' Then put in, 'Where were you born?' and 'Where did you come from?' Then try the others."
"Watch the screen! Give it the first question!"
W-h-o a-r-e y-o-u?
THEY MUSTN'T LEARN MY SECRET! THEY MUSTN'T LEARN MY SECRET! THEY MUSTN'T--!
"But why--why?" asked Kane, stupified. "What happened to him?"
"He was nothing but a will to exist," replied Dr. Berndt. "He wanted to exist so greatly that he hypnotized us into believing that he did."
"But he was--"
"No, he wasn't. He wasn't real. He just made us think he was. He fooled me, too--but as soon as the machine told us that he wasn't real, then we knew the truth and so he couldn't even appear to be. He was just a figment of his own imagination. It's too bad. I liked him."
"You liked him! What about me? And what do I tell the kids?"
The Figment pawed at Kane's leg, but the human paid no attention. He wouldn't play any more. The Figment would have to go on.
All he wanted was a friend.
Just a friend.