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He was a killer. He came to me from a distance so great that it was meaningless. He descended to me riding on a tail of flame. We loved--how could we help it? But I knew him too well, and he did not know me well enough. And that is the stuff of tragedy.
Green, was his first thought, pleased and incredulous. Beautiful, beautiful green!
It was implausibility and wonder. It was the impossible happy ending to the long chase and the longer hopelessness. It was the haven after the fleeing into space with metal bloodhounds hot on a trail of fading ions in the empty vaults, after the hurried Jump and the fantastic mechanical failure which turned an alien universe into a hungry mouth, snapped shut, after the expectoration into sane space like a rejected seed. It began with death and ended with life.
For green is the color of life Green is the color of growing things of energy becoming useful, of plants doing the countless things that make life possible for animals. Green is the color of Earth.
Another chance, he thought. Unless this is dream or delusion or a cosmic jest--another chance. I'm black-and-blue from pinching myself. I don't feel crazy--though after a week of Nowhere who can be sure? Unless some vital little thing is out of balance down there--A jewel like that? Twin sister to Earth. Surely fate would not go this far and then leave out some little essential...
The green world turned lazily in the yellow light of the Go-type sun.
"What are you waiting for, Sam," he said aloud, "an invitation? Kick her down and find out!"
There was only enough fuel for one landing. The Jumper had eaten up a lot when it went crazy, and theyacht had only a quarter fuel load when he took it. It was here or nothing.
I'd rather die with my feet on the ground. If I'm lucky--maybe something alive I can communicate with in time. I thought I'd die in there with no one to talk to. Just to be with something else alive--
And that was rather strange, because it was murder that brought him here.
Sam Newman had been a commercial pilot. It was a good job, but contrary to public opinion pilots are not fabulously overpaid. What with automatics and navigational tapes and such, the skill of the early pilots is no longer essential. The computers do the work, and pilots are mostly supernumeraries. But the glamour has not yet vanished, and competition is keen.
Yet, that Sam had got as far as had was something of a triumph. His appointment to the Academy had been due to a concession which established a quota for poor children. Sam had worked for it, and his eventual position as pilot of a passenger liner was proof of how hard he worked.
Then had come Fran and love--the two together, inseparable. Sam had had a long time to think about it. But still he couldn't decide whether they had really been in love or only in love with the feeling of being in love. What had attracted him to Fran was obvious: her dark-haired beauty, her slim, curved figure, and her casual acceptance of things he had always coveted, like position, security, luxury. For Fran had been wealthy.
What had attracted her to him was, in a sense, the same things. He had been called handsome; he was tall and well-built and blond. He was everything that Fran was not ambitious, imaginative, intense like the keen, shining edge of a knife.
Differences had attracted them, and differences split them apart when marriage threw them into constant companionship. His pride rebelled at the use of her money, and she could not understand. He was ill-at-ease in her world, and she seemed condescending in his. What had seemed entrancingly different under the silver light of romance became ugly and irritating under the merciless, glaring sun of living together. And finally came the quarrels and the arguments and the jealousy--on his part, anyway. Fran was casual in other things--why not in morals? God knows, she had opportunity enough when he was away.
And whispers reached his ears and nasty rumors and Fran only shrugged her slim shoulders and looked down at him from an unassailable pinnacle of sophistication. Innocence of inherited position or excuse for license? She was spoiled, he knew, spoiled with liberty that did not understand "I shouldn't."
Then the blind, red day when the crewmen had snickered as he passed on his way down the ramp, when he had learned what everyone seemed to know--that she was divorcing him, when he had faced her with his suspicions and accusations and she had laughed, laughed as his face grew hot and red and heavy and his hands reached for her throat and squeezed, squeezed until the laughter was all gone, and the beauty and the life...
He took the yacht down by hand. He did not trust the automatics, and besides, it was the last time, the last trip, and he wanted to do it himself. The way the ship responded to the light pressure of his fingers on the keys gave him an acute feeling of pleasure. He brought it down only a mile or so from the ocean, where a broad river emptied into it; rivers and seas are natural places of habitation. He brought it down lightly, gently, on its tail absorbers so that the ship hesitated for a moment and then sagged as the power cut off, and everything was quiet. He sat there with his hands on the keys for a moment, and he would have liked to have taken her up again and landed it once more, but the needle of the fuel gauge flickered at empty. There was only enough to provide light and heat for a few months. Fran's yacht had come to her last port.
Sam sighed and lifted his hands from the keys and dropped them into his lap. The hands clutched each other for a moment, and then relaxed. They were good hands for piloting a ship and bad hands for loving. They were killers, but now there was to be no use for either function any more.
Sam got up and walked to the port. He hesitated and then punched the button. There was no use testing the air. If it was poisonous he might well find it out now; the air regenerators in the ship would not last long. The heavy disc swung outward, slowly, with a slight squeal. The air came in. It was warm, fresh with the odor of green, growing things. Sam breathed deeply once and again. It was good air, life-giving air. He let down the ladder and climbed down its tubular metal rungs. He stood on the soil of this alien planet and filled his lungs once more as he looked around.
The grass beneath his feet was short and springy, more like well-cared-for lawn than wild meadow. Here and there flowers sprang up. They seemed familiar, but he was no botanist. The trees nearby--weren't they elms? Overhead the sky was blue, the soft, mild blue of summer, with small, drifting white clouds.
Sam felt strangely uneasy, as if he had walked into a room expecting it to be unfamiliar and found he knew it almost by heart. Parallel evolution? Nowhere had the explorations found anything so much like Earth--or, rather, like Earth should look like. If so, then perhaps there were--men. Sam longed for someone to talk to. Anyone. He shrugged. He had been lucky so far; he should not press it.
He took out a pocket compass. The needle trembled and then swung into a fixed position. There was his north, and the ocean lay to the east of him, the river to the northeast and farther away. Sam struck out toward the ocean.
There was something wrong. Sam sensed it and then knew it without being able to pin it down. A moment later it came to him. It was so quiet; there was no life, no sound except the lazy rustle of leaves in the light breeze. There should be birds, he thought, and bees. A few steps farther on he caught sight of both. They must have been frightened by the landing of the ship.
He had been walking among the trees for several minutes. It was easy to keep moving steadily in the direction he had set for himself; the trees were well spaced, and there was no brush or debris of dead leaves and branches--only the crisp green turf beneath his feet. Fragmentary thoughts skipped through his mind.
No signs of inhabitants ... nothing artificial ... unless this impossibly perfect turf ... or the trees ... Sam had the uneasy feeling that something was watching him--perhaps with an emotion stronger than curiosity. He walked on a few steps and spun around. There was nothing but the trees and the turf and the birds and the bees. Slowly his hand let the gun slide back into the holster at his hip. Nerves? But surely there should be some animal life.
Sam started. He had turned back toward the ocean, and scarcely twenty-five feet away a half-grown fawn, spotted white and brown, lifted its head from the turf it had been crapping daintily. He walked toward it, and the fawn held its ground, looking at him without fear. He put his hand on the fawn's neck, and the fawn nestled toward him and its coat was silky.
Wonderingly, Sam rubbed its neck and shoulders gently, and the fawn looked at him with brown eyes, big and trustful. Sam gave it a final pat and walked on. Behind him the fawn hesitated for moment and then started to trot along behind.
After few minutes Sam reached the coast. It was as peaceful and beautiful as a South Sea island. The trees stopped and little farther on the grass stopped and white sand stretched down to a gently foaming surf and blue water. Sam stood looking at it for a long time, his hand resting on the fawn's head.
He sat down and took off his shoes. He walked through the warm sand to the edge of the water. He knelt and put his hand into the surf. It was just cool enough to be invigorating. Sam stood up abruptly and sprinted through the surf down the gently shelving beach until the water was deep enough to swim in. It was foolhardy. Even around South Sea islands there are sharks. But somehow Sam couldn't distrust this world. He swam and floated in the water for half an hour. Finally he waded toward the shore again. The fawn was curled up on the sand, sleeping peacefully in the sun beside his pile of discarded clothing.
When Sam came out of the surf, dripping, the fawn awakened and slowly got to its feet. The sun and breeze dried Sam's body quickly, and he began to his clothing back on.
"Well, boy," Sam said softly, "this is something, eh? All we need now another castaway. Maybe a beautiful blonde, huh?"
The fawn lifted its head and snuffled through velvet nostrils. Then it turned its head toward the line of trees. Sam looked too. Out from the trees came the beautiful blonde. And she was perfect. The light breeze lifted her long ashen hair and pulled back from the clean-cut lines of her face. Her blue eyes were clear and friendly, and the corners of her generous mouth were quirked up a little. The thin summer dress she wore clung to the planes and curves of her body.
Sam stared and swallowed.
"Hello," I said, as if we had met on an Earth beach which was countless millions of parsecs away.
Posted June 19, 2011
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