The Golden Age Of Science Fiction Vol V Part 39
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She said an unp.r.o.nounceable word and added: "You may call me Liz."
Montcalm went to the closet and found one of Millie's house dresses. He held it out to her beseechingly.
As he did so, he was stricken with a sudden sharp feeling of regret that she must don it. Her figure ... why Millie had never had a figure like that! At once, he felt ashamed and disloyal and sterner than ever.
Liz rejected the proffered garment.
"I wouldn't think of adopting your alien custom of wearing clothing," she said sweetly.
"Now look," said Montcalm, "I don't know whether you're drunk or crazy, but you're going to have to put something on and get out of here before I call the police."
"I antic.i.p.ated doubt," said Liz. "I'm prepared to prove my ident.i.ty."
With the words, the two of them were no longer standing in the Montcalm bedroom, but in a broad expanse of green fields and woodland, unmarred by any habitation. Montcalm didn't recognize the spot, but it looked vaguely like it might be somewhere in the northern part of the state.
Montcalm was dismayed to find that he was as naked as his companion!
"Oh, my Lord!" he exclaimed, trying to cover himself with a September Morn pose.
"Oh, I'm sorry," apologized Liz, and instantly Montcalm's pajamas were lying at his feet. He got into them hurriedly.
"How did we get here?" he asked, his astonished curiosity overcoming his disapproval of this immodest woman.
"By a mode of transportation common to my people in planetary atmospheres," she answered. "It's one of the things I propose to teach your people."
She sat down cross-legged on the gra.s.s. Montcalm averted his eyes, like the gentleman he was.
"You see," said Liz, "the people of your world are on the verge of going to s.p.a.ce and joining the community of worlds. It's only natural the rest of us should wish to help you. We have a good many things to give you, to help you control the elements and natural conditions of your world. The weather, for example ..."
Suddenly, out of nowhere, a small cloud appeared above them and spread, blocking out the early sun. It began to rain, hard.
The rain stopped as suddenly as it had begun and the cloud dissipated. Montcalm stood s.h.i.+vering in his soaked pajamas and Liz got to her feet, her skin glistening with moisture.
"You have a problem raising food for your population in some areas," she said....
A small haw-apple tree near them suddenly began to grow at an amazing rate of speed. It doubled its size in three minutes, put forth fruit and dropped it to the ground.
"These are only a few of the things I'll give to your planet," she said.
At her words, they were back in the bedroom. This time she had been thoughtful. Montcalm was still clad in wet pajamas.
"I don't know what sort of hypnosis this is," he began aggressively, "but you can't fool me, young lady, into believing ..."
Millie came into the room. She had donned a robe over her nightgown.
"Richard, where have you been with this woman?" she demanded.
"Why, my dear ..."
"You've been roaming around the house somewhere with her. I came in here a moment ago and you were gone. Now, Richard, I want you to do something about her and stop fooling around. I can't keep the children in their room all day."
It hadn't been hypnosis then! Liz was for real. A vision rose before Montcalm of mankind given wonders, powers, benefits representing advances of thousands of years. The world could become a paradise with the things she offered to teach.
"Millie, this woman is from another planet!" he exclaimed excitedly, and turned to Liz. "Why did you choose me to contact on Earth?"
"Why, I happened to land near your house," she answered. "I know how your primitive social organization is set up, but isn't one human being just as good as another to lead me to the proper authorities?"
"Yes," he said joyfully, visualizing black headlines and his picture in the papers.
Millie stood to one side, puzzled and grim at once. Montcalm picked up the house dress he had taken from the closet earlier.
"Now, Miss," he said, "if you'll just put this on, I'll take you to the mayor and he can get in touch with Was.h.i.+ngton at once."
"I told you," said Liz, "I don't want to adopt your custom of wearing clothing."
"But you can't go out in public like that!" said the dismayed Montcalm. "If you're going to move among Earth people, you must dress as we do."
"My people wouldn't demand that Earth people disrobe to a.s.sociate with us," she countered reasonably.
Millie had had enough. She went into action.
"You can argue with this hussy all you like, Richard, but I'm going to call the police," she said, and left the room with determination in her eye.
The next fifteen minutes were agonizing for Montcalm as he tried futilely to get Liz to dress like a decent person. He was torn between realization of what the things she offered would mean to the world and his own sense of the fitness of things. His children, the children of Traskmore, the children of the world ... what would be the effect on their tender morals to realize that a sane adult was willing to walk around in brazen nakedness?
There was a pounding on the front door, and the voice of Millie inviting the law into the house.
"Now I'm afraid you're due to go to jail," said Montcalm mournfully. "But when they get some clothes on you, I'll try to explain it and get you an audience with the mayor."
Two blue-clad policemen entered the room.
One policeman took the house dress from Montcalm's lax fingers and tossed it over Liz' head without further ado.
Liz did not struggle. She looked at Montcalm with a quizzical expression.
"I'm sorry," she said. "My people made a mistake. If you Earth people aren't tolerant enough to accept a difference in customs of dress, I'm afraid you're too immature."
With that, she was gone like a puff of air. The astonished policemen held an empty dress.
Montcalm didn't see the flying saucer that whizzed over Traskmore that morning and disappeared into the sky, but he didn't doubt the reports. He debated with himself for a long time whether he had taken the right att.i.tude, but decided he had.
After all, there were the children to consider.
BY H. B. FYFE.
The Dome of Eyes made it almost impossible for Terrans to reach the world of Tepokt. For those who did land there, there was no returning--only the bitterness of respect--and justice!
The Tepoktan student, whose blue robe in George Kinton's opinion clashed with the dull purple of his scales, twiddled a three-clawed hand for attention. Kinton nodded to him from his place on the dais before the group.
"Then you can give us no precise count of the stars in the galaxy, George?"
Kinton smiled wrily, and ran a wrinkled hand through his graying hair. In the clicking Tepoktan speech, his name came out more like "Chortch."
Questions like this had been put to him often during the ten years since his rocket had hurtled through the meteorite belt and down to the surface of Tepokt, leaving him the only survivor. Barred off as they were from venturing into s.p.a.ce, the highly civilized Tepoktans constantly displayed the curiosity of dreamers in matters related to the universe. Because of the veil of meteorites and satellite fragments whirling about their planet, their astronomers had acquired torturous skills but only sc.r.a.ps of real knowledge.
"As I believe I mentioned in some of my recorded lectures," Kinton answered in their language, "the number is actually as vast as it seems to those of you peering through the Dome of Eyes. The scientists of my race have not yet encountered any beings capable of estimating the total."
He leaned back and scanned the faces of his interviewers, faces that would have been oddly humanoid were it not for the elongated snouts and pointed, sharp-toothed jaws. The average Tepoktan was slightly under Kinton's height of five-feet-ten, with a long, supple trunk. Under the robes their scholars affected, the shortness of their two bowed legs was not obvious; but the sight of the short, thick arms carried high before their chests still left Kinton with a feeling of misproportion.
He should be used to it after ten years, he thought, but even the reds or purples of the scales or the big teeth seemed more natural.
"I sympathize with your curiosity," he added. "It is a marvel that your scientists have managed to measure the distances of so many stars."
He could tell that they were pleased by his admiration, and wondered yet again why any little show of approval by him was so eagerly received. Even though he was the first stellar visitor in their recorded history, Kinton remained conscious of the fact that in many fields he was unable to offer the Tepoktans any new ideas. In one or two ways, he believed, no Terran could teach their experts anything.
"Then will you tell us, George, more about the problems of your first s.p.a.ce explorers?" came another question.
Before Kinton had formed his answer, the golden curtains at the rear of the austerely simple chamber parted. Klaft, the Tepoktan serving the current year as Kinton's chief aide, hurried toward the dais. The twenty-odd members of the group fell silent on their polished stone benches, turning their pointed visages to follow Klaft's progress.
The aide reached Kinton and bent to hiss and cluck into the latter's ear in what he presumably considered an undertone. The Terran laboriously spelled out the message inscribed on the limp, satiny paper held before his eyes. Then he rose and took one step toward the waiting group.
"I regret I shall have to conclude this discussion," he announced. "I am informed that another s.h.i.+p from s.p.a.ce has reached the surface of Tepokt. My presence is requested in case the crew are of my own planet."
Klaft excitedly skipped down to lead the way up the aisle, but Kinton hesitated. Those in the audience were scholars or officials to whom attendance at one of Kinton's limited number of personal lectures was awarded as an honor.
They would hardly learn anything from him directly that was not available in recordings made over the course of years. The Tepoktan scientists, historians, and philosophers had respectfully but eagerly gathered every crumb of information Kinton knowingly had to offer--and some he thought he had forgotten. Still ... he sensed the disappointment at his announcement.
"I shall arrange for you to await my return here in town," Kinton said, and there were murmurs of pleasure.
Later, aboard the jet helicopter that was basically like those Kinton remembered using on Terra twenty light years away, he shook his head at Klaft's respectful protest.
"But George! It was enough that they were present when you received the news. They can talk about that the rest of their lives! You must not waste your strength on these people who come out of curiosity."
Kinton smiled at his aide's earnest concern. Then he turned to look out the window as he recalled the shadow that underlay such remonstrances. He estimated that he was about forty-eight now, as nearly as he could tell from the somewhat longer revolutions of Tepokt. The time would come when he would age and die. Whose wishes would then prevail?
Maybe he was wrong, he thought. Maybe he shouldn't stand in the way of their biologists and surgeons. But he'd rather be buried, even if that left them with only what he could tell them about the human body.
To help himself forget the rather preoccupied manner in which some of the Tepoktan scientists occasionally eyed him, he peered down at the big dam of the hydro-electric project being completed to Kinton's design. Power from this would soon light the town built to house the staff of scientists, students, and workers a.s.signed to the inst.i.tute organized about the person of Kinton.
Now, there was an example of their willingness to repay him for whatever help he had been, he reflected. They hadn't needed that for themselves.
In some ways, compared to those of Terra, the industries of Tepokt were underdeveloped. In the first place, the population was smaller and had different standards of luxury. In the second, a certain lack of drive resulted from the inability to break out into interplanetary s.p.a.ce. Kinton had been inexplicably lucky to have reached the surface even in a battered hulk. The sh.e.l.l of meteorites was at least a hundred miles thick and constantly s.h.i.+fting.
"We do not know if they have always been meteorites," the Tepoktans had told Kinton, "or whether part of them come from a destroyed satellite; but our observers have proved mathematically that no direct path through them may be predicted more than a very short while in advance."
Kinton turned away from the window as he caught the glint of Tepokt's sun upon the hull of the s.p.a.ces.h.i.+p they had also built for him. Perhaps ... would it be fair to encourage the newcomer to attempt the barrier?
For ten years, Kinton had failed to work up any strong desire to try it. The Tepoktans called the ever-s.h.i.+fting lights the Dome of Eyes, after a myth in which each tiny satellite bright enough to be visible was supposed to watch over a single individual on the surface. Like their brothers on Terra, the native astronomers could trace their science back to a form of astrology; and Kinton often told them jokingly that he felt no urge to risk a physical encounter with his own personal Eye.
The helicopter started to descend, and Kinton remembered that the city named in his message was only about twenty miles from his home. The brief twilight of Tepokt was pa.s.sing by the time he set foot on the landing field, and he paused to look up.
The brighter stars visible from this part of the planet twinkled back at him, and he knew that each was being scrutinized by some amateur or professional astronomer. Before an hour had elapsed, most of them would be obscured by the tiny moonlets, some of which could already be seen. These could easily be mistaken for stars or the other five planets of the system, but in a short while the tinier ones in groups would cause a celestial haze resembling a miniature Milky Way.
Klaft, who had descended first, leaving the pilot to bring up the rear, noticed Kinton's pause.
"Glory glitters till it is known for a curse," he remarked, quoting a Tepoktan proverb often applied by the disgruntled scientists to the Dome of Eyes.
Kinton observed, however, that his aide also stared upward for a long moment. The Tepoktans loved speculating about the unsolvable. They had even founded clubs to argue whether two satellites had been destroyed or only one.
Half a dozen officials hastened up to escort the party to the vehicle awaiting Kinton. Klaft succeeded in quieting the lesser members of the delegation so that Kinton was able to learn a few facts about the new arrival. The crash had been several hundred miles away, but someone had thought of the hospital in this city which was known to have a doctor rating as an expert in human physiology. The survivor--only one occupant of the wreck, alive or dead, had been discovered--had accordingly been flown here.
With a clanging of bells, the little convoy of ground cars drew up in front of the hospital. A way was made through the chittering crowd around the entrance. Within a few minutes, Kinton found himself looking down at a pallet upon which lay another Terran.
A man! he thought, then curled a lip wrily at the sudden, unexpected pang of disappointment. Well, he hadn't realized until then what he was really hoping for!
The Golden Age Of Science Fiction Vol V Part 39
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The Golden Age Of Science Fiction Vol V Part 39 summary
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