I awoke from my cryopod with the tingling elbows and knees that I’d been told to expect as a consequence of extended hypertravel. I eased my bare feet onto the floor and did a couple of quick jumping jacks to get my blood flowing. Then I peered through the venetian blinds at the place I had traveled so far to see: Washington 452b.
Ever since NASA announced the discovery of the exoplanet Kepler 452b, people have been eager to know what that mystery world was like. And here I was, borne 1,400 light years from Earth in a process too complicated for me to explain right now.
I wasn’t technically in Washington 452b, capital of that planet’s most powerful country. I was outside the city, in Dulles 452b, at what NASA scientists ascertained would be a transportation hub and where my sudden arrival would hopefully be unremarkable. I kneeled on the cool tile floor and practiced the agreed-upon words: “Take me to your leader. I come in peace.”
Just then there was a knock at the door.
“Hello in there!” came a voice. “You decent?”
“Er,” I stuttered.
I wasn’t, actually. For reasons too complicated to explain right now, the hypertravel process required me to be unclothed.
The door opened, and I scrambled to cover my nakedness.
“Didn’t think so,” said a female alien as she tossed me underclothes, pants and a shirt. Behind her was another female alien and a male alien. The male alien had a goatee. So did the two female aliens.
“Welcome,” said the first female. “I’m Brenda 452b. This is Sheila 452b.”
“I’m Todd 452b,” said the male, handing me a pair of loafers.
“I expect you come in peace,” said Brenda 452b.
“And that you want us to take you to our leader,” said Sheila 452b. “Let’s go, shall we?”
NASA had sent me to Dulles 452b’s Concourse D 452b, so naturally I expected to board a mobile lounge. Instead, we took an escalator down to a platform where an Aerotrain 452b whisked us to the main terminal. There, we switched to a Metro 452b train and began our journey downtown.
I went to sit in one of the empty seats, but Brenda 452b coughed and nodded toward a sign: “Priority Seating for Senior Citizens and People With Disabilities.”
“I guess I’ll stand,” I said.
The crowded train moved swiftly through the exurbs. I could see through the windows that traffic was light on the Dulles 452b Toll Road. It was light on the Beltway 452b, too.
We changed lines at the Georgetown 452b Metro station. As we rode the escalator to the lower platform, I noticed that everyone stood on the right.
My presence in the polite, well-dressed crowd didn’t draw much attention. People were too busy reading newspapers, magazines and books. A few listened to music on devices, but what those alien songs sounded like, I couldn’t tell. The volume was set at an appropriate level. Every man, woman and child — even a baby being pushed in a stroller — had a goatee.
I was not surprised when we emerged at McPherson Square 452b. But instead of turning right onto 15th Street 452b NW toward the White House 452b, we turned left.
The fractured sense of deja vu was disorienting. The scenery looked familiar, but each street had a bike lane protected by a low wall. Traffic lights cycled through separate signals for cyclists, pedestrians and vehicles.
“Let’s wait here until our light turns green,” said Brenda 452b.
When it did, we crossed L Street 452b NW and came to a stunning building. All the downtown buildings, I’d noticed, were stunning — there was not a boring glass box among them — but this one was especially beautiful. Its architecture included classical elements blended with playful modern touches. A sign at the top read The Washington 452b Post.
As we got on an elevator, Todd 452b handed me a copy of that day’s paper. The lead story — front page, above the fold — was about a cabdriver who had returned a lost wallet. Other front-page articles were about a duckling family stopping traffic, a retired lunch lady who had just turned 100, a fond remembrance of a beloved restaurant that had closed and a plea for donations so that an amateur mime troupe could travel to Italy 452b.
“It’s all human interest stories,” I gasped.
“Well, technically not human interest,” said Todd 452b.
“And the entire paper isn’t these sorts of stories,” said Sheila 452b. “Every day on Page B3 there’s a column about murder, assault, arson, car crashes, embezzlement, politics and other nasty and unpleasant things. Ah, here we are.”
The elevator doors opened, and a handsome man strode toward me, arms outstretched in the universal sign of greeting. I always wondered what I’d look like with a goatee.
For previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/johnkelly.