Garth and the Visitor, страница 1
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This etext was produced from Galaxy Science Fiction April 1958. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.
Garth and the Visitor
BY L. J. STECHER
_If you could ask them, you might be greatly surprised--some tabus very urgently want to be broken!_
Illustrated by DICK FRANCIS
Although as brash as any other ace newspaper reporter for a highschool weekly--and there is no one brasher--Garth was scared. His headcrest lifted spasmodically and the rudimentary webbing between hisfingers twitched. To answer a dare, Garth was about to attemptsomething that had never been dared before: a newspaper interview withThe Visitor. There had been questions enough asked and answered duringthe thousands of years The Visitor had sat in his egg-shaped palace onthe mountaintop, but no interviews. It was shocking even to thinkabout--something like requesting a gossippy chat with God.
Of course, nobody believed the fable any longer that The Visitor wouldvanish if he was ever asked a personal question--and that he wouldfirst destroy the man who asked. It was known, or at least suspected,that the Palace was merely a mile-long spaceship.
Garth, as tradition required, climbed the seven-mile-long rock-hewnpath to the Palace on foot. He paused for a moment on the broadplatform at the top of the pyramid to catch his breath and let thebeating of his heart slow to normal after his long climb before heentered The Palace. He sighed deeply. The sufferings a reporter waswilling to go through to get a story or take a dare!
"Well, come in if you're going to," said an impatient voice. "Don'tjust stand there and pant."
"Yes, my Lord Visitor," Garth managed to say.
He climbed the short ladder, passed through the two sets of doors andentered a small room to kneel, with downcast eyes, before the ancientfigure huddled in the wheelchair.
* * * * *
The Visitor looked at the kneeling figure for a moment withoutspeaking. The boy looked very much like a human, in spite of suchsuperficial differences as crest and tail. In fact, as asmooth-skinned thinking biped, with a well-developed moral sense, hefit The Visitor's definition of a human. It wasn't just the lonelinessof seven thousand years of isolation, either. When he had firstanalyzed these people, just after that disastrous forced landing solong ago, he had classified them as human. Not _homo sapiens_, ofcourse, but human all the same.
"Okay," he said, somewhat querulously. "Get up, get up. You've gotsome questions for me, I hope? I don't get many people up here askingquestions any more. Mostly I'm all alone except for the ceremonialvisits." He paused. "Well, speak up, young man. Have you got somethingto ask me?"
Garth scrambled to his feet "Yes, my Lord Visitor," he said. "I haveseveral questions."
The Visitor chuckled reedily. "You may find the answers just a littlebit hard to understand."
Garth smiled, some of his fear vanishing. The Visitor sounded a littlelike his senile grandfather, back home. "That is why you are asked sofew questions these days, my Lord," he said. "Our scientists haveabout as much trouble figuring out what your answers mean as they doin solving the problems without consulting you at all."
"Of course." The head of The Visitor bobbed affirmatively severaltimes as he propelled his wheelchair a few inches forward. "If I gaveyou the answers to all your problems for you, so you could figure themout too easily, you'd never be developing your own thinking powers.But I've never failed to answer any questions you asked. Now have I?And accurately, too." The thin voice rang with pride. "You've neverstumped me yet, and you never will."
"No, my Lord," answered Garth. "So perhaps you'll answer my questions,too, even though they're a little different from the kind you'reaccustomed to. I'm a newspaper reporter, and I want to verify some ofour traditions about you."
* * * * *
As The Visitor remained silent, Garth paused and looked around him atthe small, bare, naked-walled room. "This _is_ a spaceship, isn't it?"
The huddled figure in the wheelchair cackled in a brief laugh. "I'vebeen hoping that somebody would get up enough nerve someday to askthat kind of question," it said. "Yep, this is a spaceship. And adarned big one."
"How did you happen to land on this planet?"
"Had an accident. Didn't want to land here, but there wasn't anychoice. Made a mighty good landing, considering everything. It was alittle rough, though, in spots."
"How many people were there in the ship, in addition to yourself?"
The Visitor's voice turned suddenly soft. "There were three thousand,nine hundred and forty-eight passengers and twenty-seven in the crewwhen the accident happened."
"My Lord," asked Garth, "did any survive, aside from you?"
The Visitor was silent for many minutes, and his answer, when hespoke, was a faint whisper, filled with the anguish of seven thousandyears. "Not one survived. Not one. They were all dead, most of them,long before the ship touched ground, in spite of everything I coulddo. I was as gentle as I could be, but we touched a hundred _g_ acouple of times on on the way down. Flesh and blood just weren't madeto take shocks like that. I did all I could."
"You were the pilot, then? You landed the ship?" asked Garth.
"I landed the ship," said The Visitor.
"If I may ask, my Lord, how did you manage to survive when all theothers died?"
"It's a question I've asked myself many times, sitting here on thismountaintop these seven thousands of your years. I was just enoughtougher, that's all. Built to take it, you might say, and I had a jobto do. But I was badly hurt in the landing. Mighty badly hurt."
"You were always in a wheelchair, then? Even before--"
"Even before I got so old?" Thin parchment-white hands lifted slowlyto rub a thin parchment-white face. "Things were always pretty much asyou see them now. I looked about the same to your ancestors as I do toyou. Your ancestors didn't think anybody could be smart unless theywere old. Of course, that's all changed now." He paused and noddedtwice. "Oh, I've managed to fix myself up a good deal; I'm not innearly as bad shape as I was at first, but that's all inside. I'm inpretty good condition now, for having been stuck here seven thousandyears." The cackling laugh sounded briefly in the small room.
"Could you tell me how it all happened?" asked Garth curiously.
"Be glad to. It's a pleasure to have a human to shoot the bull with.Sit down and make yourself comfortable and have a bite to eat."
* * * * *
Looking behind him, Garth saw that a table and chair had appeared inthe otherwise unfurnished room.
"The chair was made for people built just a little different thanyou," said The Visitor. "You may have to turn it back-to-front andstraddle it to keep your tail out of the way. The food on the table'sgood, though, and so's the drink. Have a snack while I talk."
"Thank you, my Lord," said Garth, lifting his long tail with itspaddlelike tip out of the way and sitting down carefully.
"Comfortable?" asked The Visitor. "Well, then. I was on a routineflight from old Earth to a star you've never heard of, a good manylight-years from here. We had pulled away from TransLunar Station onion drive and headed for deep space. They trusted me, all those menand women, both passengers and crew. They knew that I was careful andaccurate. I'd made a thousand flights and had never had any trouble.
"In six hours of flight, we were clear enough from all planetarymasses and my velocity vector was right on the nose, so I shifted overinto hyper-space. You won't ever see hyper-space, my boy, and yourkids and their kids won't see it for another two hundred years
His thin voice faded away for a few moments.
"It's a sight I haven't seen for seven thousand years, boy," he saidsoftly, "and the lack of it has been a deep hurt for every minute ofall that time. I wish I could tell you what it's like, but that can'tbe done. You will never know that beauty." He was silent again, forlong minutes.
"The long, lazy, lovely days of subjective time passed," he saidfinally, "while we slid light-years away from Earth. Everything workedsmoothly,