Through Katherine MacLean's artistry and imagination you'll soar through space, you'll touch the stars, you'll bask in the glow of other suns...and you will be one with - The long-legged lawyer who suspected that he was a Martian - The boy who became all he characters in his make-believe games - The sewing-circle ladies who took over the world - The alien spacemen adrift in a raindrop - The woman who discovered the terrible secret of immortality There are other stories in this remarkable collection, but merely to describe them might give away their plots, and that is a dastardly crime punishable by indefinite exile on mysterious, fog-shrouded Planet X!
Release date: July 30, 2015
Print pages: 320
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“LOOK OUT!” The shout was almost in his ear, and with the shout came another sound, a flat crack like two boards slapping together. He moved instinctively, grasping Nadine’s arm and making three rapid strides to the shelter of a store doorway. Then he turned as the flat echoes of sound rang back from the stone fronts of the buildings across the street. He expected to see something fallen from a window, or a car out of control veering up over the curb.
At first glance there was nothing. The traffic moved by silently and swiftly as usual, but the people on the sidewalk milled oddly, and then straightened to stare all in one direction down the street. The light had changed a few seconds ago, and the traffic sped by more rapidly, accelerating.
He picked out voices.
“Did you get his number?”
“Some nut waving a gun from a taxi.”
“But he shot at us!”
He glanced at Nadine; they exchanged a half shrug and walked on.
Then “Mart” Breden remembered that something had brushed his neck roughly as he heard the shout. He had assumed it was the sleeve of a waving arm, but …
“So as I was saying—” he continued stubbornly, determined to finish a half-finished witty point. While he spoke he put his fingertips up to feel the spot on his neck, then brought them down again. There was a dampness on his neck and a red smear of color on his fingertips—blood.
Nadine halted. “As you were saying, brother—you’re just too dumb to know when you’ve been hurt.”
She moved quickly around to his other side where she could see the side of his neck. “It’s only a scratch. The bullet just touched you,” she reassured him, groping in her handbag. “Hold still! I’ll fix it.”
He stood still. It was a pleasure to stand and have Nadine fussing over him. She was indisputably lovely, and he was conscious of envious glances. Streams of brightly-dressed, handsome people returning to work from lunch passed by, their feet soundless on the green resilient sidewalk. Some of them were talking quietly and laughing in conversation as they passed; some were listening to music spools with ear-buttons that touched his hearing with a faint faraway strain of music as they passed. He was pleased they looked at her, and had no attention for him.
Standing still under Nadine’s ministrations, he said appreciatively, “You’re the perfect partner to take along to an accident.”
She smiled up at him. “Well, if you’re going to make a habit of being shot at, I’ll buy more band-aids.” The wail of a police patrol copter throttled down to a growl as it touched the road and swung in to where the crowd clustered. She glanced back doubtfully. “Should we go back and tell them?”
He touched the small flesh-colored bandage on his scratch, looking at the reflection in a window. “Hardly worth going back. All we’d prove is that someone was shooting, and they know that already.”
They walked on together through the shade of the tall trees that lined the avenue. “When your Revision Committee for the Patent Code testifies before Congress,” he said, remembering what he had been saying, “you should be spokesman in that tight green and gold suit you’re wearing. They’d agree to anything.”
She picked up the thread. “‘Gentlemen,’ I’ll say—”
“Undulating slightly,” he added.
“Invention has become a form of restriction. The law has been diverted from—”
“Seduced from its original intention, which was to guarantee sufficient profits to the inventor to encourage and stimulate invention. Instead, research now has as its main purpose the desire to invent something first and patent it first, not for use, but to prevent its use, to preserve the status quo for the industry.”
A small tube elevator whooshed them up to the sixtieth floor, “Lawyers’ Row.” They were at the door of his office.
PAUL BREDEN PATENT LAW
Nadine’s office was further down the corridor. Paul pushed his door open, hoping to extend their lunchtime together a little more, beguiling her with the imaginary speech. “At this point your claque in the gallery claps and cheers and stomps, and while they are being ejected you pull out your compact and put on more lipstick.”
They walked into the inner office past the secretary, ignoring the fact that lunch was over and they both had work to do. Nadine continued the speech, gesticulating with mock earnestness. He considered her from a standpoint of an imaginary audience of lascivious Congressmen. She was beautiful—yes, but too perfectly dressed, too crisp and finished and unapproachable. It was probably an effect carefully calculated to keep the minds of her business associates on the subject of business.
“You should muss your hair a little,” he interrupted, getting a frown for his efforts.
“The competition, not to be outdone, pours its money into research to find other ways of doing what it needs done. This, gentlemen, is …”
He looked at her with a familiar question coming up in his mind, quickening his pulse. She probably had a private life of friends and lovers, but he had never dared let himself approach that side of her, although they had known each other for six months. She could choose among many men—men without his handicap—yet she seemed glad to be with him as a law collaborator, and welcomed any free time they could escape from business lunches to eat together. Yet …
“ … does not make the inventor any richer, for he draws only his research salary from his company. Actually, the prime result is duplication of research, so that instead of each day bringing hundreds of brilliant new inventions, the patent office is flooded daily with hundreds of brilliant new ways of doing the same damned thing, each one tying up the patent office with its red tape—each one no better than the other!”
He sat down behind his desk and propped his elbows on it, smiling. “Add this. ‘There are nine and ninety ways—Of constructing tribal lays, And every—Single—One—Of them—Is right!’”
“As Kipling wrote—” she began, then stopped to frown at him. “Would Congressmen know that lays are a form of poetry?”
He laughed. “All the better if they don’t.” It was not often they had lunch together or extended their lunch hours like this. She probably would have been surprised to learn how much these occasional lunches meant to him.
The televiewer chimed.
Paul muttered a “damn,” reaching for the right phone, and Nadine gave him a farewell salute and moved toward the door. “Wait a minute,” he asked her, “and we’ll see who this jerk is.” He pushed a button and a screen on the wall opposite him sprang to life in color, showing a lean old man in a snappy pearl gray suit, waiting with restless impatience. “Yardly Devon.” Breden identified him without pleasure, remembering the things Devon had said before switching off the last time they had seen each other.
“His last two inventions were not patentable, Nadine, and I told him so, but he insisted I try to get patents on them anyhow. When they were rejected he claimed I’d sabotaged them. He probably took them to another consultant, got the same opinion, and wants to apologize now.” He indicated the chair beside the desk. “Sit there a minute. You’re out of range of the scanner. He won’t see you.”
She smiled and sat down. The bell chimed again impatiently, and Breden switched on the scanner that put him on Devon’s screen. “Yes?”
A light came into the eyes of the dapper old man as he saw Breden. With a quick move he jumped to his feet, bringing a gun up from somewhere below screen range. “I’ve got you now, Breden. I suspected it a long time, and now I know what you are.”
For a half second of time Breden started to laugh, then he remembered the shot on the street a quarter hour before with a sudden cold jolt. Devon was not kidding.
“Careful there, old boy, you’ll break your scanner,” Nadine called.
He couldn’t see her, and the tailored neat old man was childishly startled. “Who said that!” He leaned forward, peering, then turned to inspect the partially visible room showing on the screen, the gun waving in his hand. “I’ve got to kill him,” he said clearly to no one in particular. “He’s a diploid.” He dwindled and came into full view further away, peered around, and then wandered out of screen view.
“Crazy,” Breden muttered. He felt weak. That last meaningless word had been a shock. “Have the police trace the call. I’ll try to hold him.” He handed her one of the phones.
The old man had wandered back to his screen and he glimpsed the motion. He whirled, gun leveled. “Don’t try to escape!”
Breden pulled his hand back and arranged his features in an expression of respect and interest. He felt shaken. Diploid. Judging by Devon’s voice it meant something different from a human. It had been a long time since he had heard that inflection in anyone’s voice. The meaningless word rang in his ears as if he had been called something animal. He forced himself to think. What would hold an inventor’s interest long enough for the police to reach him? “I gather that that gun shoots through television screens. Could you give me an idea how it works, Mister Devon?”
Nadine was murmuring into the phone, “Yes, with a gun. It looks like a private room he’s calling from.” She turned and whispered, “What’s your number?”
“Lascar B-1063,” Breden said, without turning his head. On the screen Devon was looking down at his automatic.
“It’s an invention—” he said, looking up at the sound of Breden’s voice—“a new Devon invention.” The old man stroked it fondly with his left hand, without turning it from its perfect pictured aim at Breden’s face. It looked startlingly deadly pointing at him from the screen.
Breden pulled his eyes from it, resisting an irrational impulse to switch off the screen. “How does it work?”
If only he could keep this conversation going for a while, the police would come on to the screen in the room behind Devon and take him away.
The inventor’s voice began to rise. “I won’t tell you. It’s secret. And you’re not going to stop me from patenting it like you did the others. You sneaking diploids are trying to get in everywhere. But I won’t let you have the Earth. You can’t fool me! I know what you are. You’re not going to hold up progress by keeping people from getting patents—” His voice had risen to a shriek; his face was distorted, “I’ll stop you! I’ll kill you … I’ll kill you right now!” The shots came with a shocking crack of sound. The screen was too clear, too tridimensional, too much like an undefended open window through which a yammering madman poured shots at him. Instinctively Breden threw himself to one side.
The vision of the shouting old man cracked across like a broken mirror and still moving, began to waver in ripples like something seen in disturbed water, then abruptly shattered to darkness. They heard a shriek, “Got you!” just before a final tearing sputter and the dull pfut of a blown fuse as Devon’s sound system went dead.
Nadine had been staring, but now there was nothing to stare at but the smooth grayness of the viewer screen. “He just shot his televiewer all to hell,” she said into the phone, still staring, fascinated at the screen. “It blew out … that’s right. We’ll leave it on.” She put the phone back in its cradle with a sigh. “They said not to switch it off.”
Her expression changed as she looked at him. “What is it, Mart? What’s wrong?”
“Nothing.” Another spasm of depression hit him. “Oh hell yes—everything. You heard him call me a diploid?”
She took out a cigarette case and opened it, selecting a cigarette with unnecessary care. She was concerned. “One of those little green men, you mean? Smoke?”
She untelescoped a long cigarette holder and fitted the cigarette into it, speaking thoughtfully, “I heard him. It was nothing personal, Mart. For a paranoid there always has to be the heroes or the spies or the Martians, and the big conspiracy somehow against him. It had to be someone, and you were elected. You must see enough nuts coming in here with lunatic inventions and delusions of grandeur to be used to it.”
He leaned forward and lit her cigarette. “Too used to it. Beginning to wonder.” He put away his cigarette lighter and held up his hand, looking at it. Five fingers and a thumb. Too many fingers.
“Right up to high school they called me ‘Marty’ for ‘Martian Breden’—and it wasn’t a friendly nickname. I was with a gang, but I was its goat. If we played cops and robbers—I was the robber, and got arrested or electrocuted or shot resisting arrest. If we played cowboys and Indians—I tried to burn people at the stake and got my throat slit by a hero with a bowie knife, and bit the dust. In high school they started getting smarter, and I had friends who were friends, but for them I was ‘Marty’ too. By that time it was my name. I like it now, but that’s where it came from.”
He put his six-fingered hand down on the desk. “When a new client comes in, now, I mention that the simplest inventions are the best, like the safety pin—or the small laborsaving device I invented which makes it easier to play the piano and carry four beer bottles in each hand. ‘What is it?’ they ask … I hold my hand up. ‘Extra finger,’ I say. ‘It is patented.’ That always tickles them.”
He had given her the same line when they had first met. He remembered that he had felt the same first hostile alertness and expectation of hurt for her as for any other stranger, and had concealed his tension behind the usual line of entertaining talk. She had been just another beautiful woman to him, a lawyer like himself, but more poised and bland than he was—and too beautifully dressed, too efficient, probably critical and unforgiving and egotistical, someone who could hurt you if you dropped your guard.
That was before he knew her. His guard was all the way down now. There was no pretending and no caution when he talked to Nadine. “I’m not just being sensitive, Nade, I need jokes like that. I have to use them, and use them carefully. So they’ll get a lift and a laugh every time they notice a detail that’s different. That Mart! Always a character. Everything with him has to be original—If I don’t point it out and make jokes about it, sooner or later people begin to fidget and grow uncomfortable with an instinct of something being wrong. There are too many subtle physical oddities that disturb with a feeling of misproportion. The only thing I can do to stop nervousness and tension from building up in them is to bring out my differences and display them like a collection of card tricks, so whenever they get the wrong feeling again, it’s part of the joke, just Mart being a character again.”
FOR A TIME Nadine sat back, something close to pity on her lovely face. Then she grinned and mimicked him from memory, with a proudly bent arm and clenched fist, demonstrating the muscles. “My own invention …” She quoted words he had said, flexing her arm as she had seen him do, with a precise back and forth motion. “I’m the only genuinely self-made man. Self-made—self-assembled—” A rusty hinge noise began in perfect time with the motion of the flexing arm, and she glanced at the arm with dismay and tried to stop it. It kept moving stiffly, the rusty squeak growing louder. Hastily she grabbed it and brought it to a halt with her other hand, and then apologetically took an imaginary small object from her pocket. “Of course, I was pretty young at the time … might have slipped and gotten some parts in from the wrong stack … not enough light …” Nadine’s voice faded to an apologetic mumble as she carefully oiled her elbow with an imaginary oil can.
He was laughing. This was the first time he had seen anyone else do his act. He had seen clients laugh, but this was the first time he had seen what they were laughing at from the outside, and, well, it was funny.
She looked up from oiling her elbow, her eyes round and solemn. “You were saying?” she asked innocently, putting the invisible and imaginary oil can carefully back into her pocket, and then smiled. “I wondered about that end-man effect, Mart. It’s amusing and starts a talk off in a good mood, but it isn’t exactly like you, not when a person gets to know you better. Are you sure you need it?”
For an instant a crowd of painful incidents pushed against the unlocked door of memory. The time, when he was twelve, visiting the city and he had wandered into a strange neighborhood where the kids did not know him; the fight he had lost. And other times. “I’ve lived long enough to find out what happens if I don’t.”
“Are you sure that still applies?” she asked, her cool green eyes showing interest and concern.
Breden went on talking as if he hadn’t heard her question. His eyes held a faraway look as he remembered people’s past reactions to his difference.
“Take my face—ears set higher than normal and tipped back more—a difference easy to sense, hard to focus on. It makes my face look foreign, but what race? I can see the reaction to it even in the faces of people who pass on the sidewalk—the usual quick unseeing glance, then a double-take and a puzzled expression. Then they’re past and they forget about it. It doesn’t lead anywhere with adults. No one spits at me anymore or stops me to ask who the hell I am and why don’t I go back to wherever I came from, but the reaction is always the same. None of them can classify me. It must be a genuinely strong feeling of something alien.” He laughed suddenly and harshly, surprising himself with the sound. “By the law of democracy the majority is right. Maybe I am a Martian, if that’s what they think!”
She blew a plume of smoke reflectively, not commenting, then picked up the phone. “Let’s see if the police have our paranoid friend yet.”
“A Martian.” Saying that hateful word to Nadine made it sound like a joke and not like something that had been dreams and nightmares ever since he was a kid and they had dubbed him “Martian” Breden, and he’d known something secret about himself that the others did not know.
Nadine’s voice, vibrant and soft, said, “Calling in for Paul Breden about a threat to him we reported … yes, did you? Oh … no … of course. Thank you.” She hung up thoughtfully. “You can switch off now.”
He switched off the scanner that had held connection with Devon’s blown televiewer. “What’d they say?”
“They didn’t get him. When they got there there was nothing but a smashed televiewer and the neighbor in the next room complaining about the racket—that must have been his gun.”
“They want you to drop down to the local station house today or tomorrow and swear out a complaint. I said yes.”
She smiled. “Let’s hope he sticks to trying to kill you by television.”
Then when he thought she had let it pass, Nadine looked at her gold-tinted nails, and asked, “What did you mean about being a Martian?”
She had known it was more than a gag.
It would have been better if she had not been so understanding.
“Could you spare me fifteen more minutes?” he asked, hoping she had a business appointment in her own office.
She settled back and crossed her legs. “I’m listening.”
He hesitated a moment, his hands flat on the desk top, looking for easi. . .
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