Harlan Ellison: Wonderbird

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Harlan Ellison Wonderbird
  • Название:
    Wonderbird
  • Автор:
  • Издательство:
    Royal Publications, Inc.
  • Жанр:
    Фантастика и фэнтези / на английском языке
  • Год:
    1957
  • Язык:
    Английский
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Wonderbird: краткое содержание, описание и аннотация

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Wonderbird

by Algis Budrys and Harlan Ellison

Time and again the fire had burned down in the fireplace-bowl, and the night had come too close. The cave had flickered dully with the dying light of the fire, and they had shivered.

Skilton had cuffed the younglings out into the edge of the dark, to glean the fallen dead arms of the trees, to bring the fire to life again. But the younglings were awkward, and slow, and fearful of the waiting night. And the fuel was scanty, the darkness was close, and death with it. As emcee of the tribe, Skilton had been forced to use ruthlessness to spur them outward.

We should never have come into this place, Skilton thought. We should have stayed in the valleys of our birth, where the trees are many and the death is thin.

His thoughts were abruptly interrupted by an answering, inquiring thought from Lahr, one of the lesser members of the tribe.

But, emcee, why have we come to this place?

Skilton’s massive head turned on my hairy neck, and he stared deeply into the wide, double-pupiled eyes of Lahr. It is the Time of the Prophecy, he answered almost angrily. They were supposed to know that. Things were different in the tribe today. Before, there were many strytemin, who would ask him intelligent questions, such as Why does a hulfee cross the forest track? or Who was that she-tribe-member I sensed you with the past darkening?

But now many of the old ones had had the death thicken in them, and they had gone away. The younglings were impudent, and their religion was a small thing to them.

But how do you know this is the Time of Prophecy? Lahr insisted. He scratched his long muzzle with his right second paw.

Skilton rose up in wrath, and towered over the smaller triber. Fool! he thought violently. Don’t you remember the words: “Never worry and never fear, your boy Alfie Gunsel’s here! I’ll be back when the moons climb behind the clouds!” This is that Time. This is the Time when the five moons have gone to counsel behind the swirlers, and the Performances will begin anew. The Lams will play the Palace once more!

His thoughts had risen in violence as he had gone on, and now the words reverberated in the heads of the tribe. Skilton and his religion! They believed, of course, but, ah, well…

He didn’t have to go this far: drag them from their burrows and send them halfway across the Palace to this spot of desolation on the edge of the silver-sanded plain and the Great Mountain.

But…they were trapped here by the dark, and it was too late for second thoughts. They would have to wait out Skilton’s time and madness, till he realized the old religion was hoax, and there was no Time of the Prophecy.

Up above them, just past the peak of the Great Mountain, fire split the sky.

The darkness shuddered, and Skilton leaped to his feet, staring.

Above the mountain, a shiny bird was glowing. Golden, thundering, flickering, shuddering, the Wonderbird beat its way downward on its blazoned wings. And Skilton saw the dark turn into light, the death retreat before the beat of heated wings, and then the younglings were huddled behind him as he lifted his thoughts in prayer. In a moment the rest of the tribe had murmured We believe, we believe! in their minds, and were joining him in the singing chords of the Tophatt ritual.

June; the tune I croon to spoon—

A loon too gooney in the Moon

Light—

you.

Is only lonely in this homely

Phoney though baloney may be

Bright—

Blue

mood.


They huddled on their triple-jointed knees a few moments more, letting the harmony tingle away in their minds, then Skilton was up and running. Again, the younglings were huddled behind him as he ran away from the cave, and the needless fire, toward the rocking Wonderbird.


Skilton’s switch-antennae rose and quivered as he homed in on the Wonderbird. He thought a spark at the younglings, for they had always believed in him. The older tribers he left to their own resources—they would find the Wonderbird in time.

Hurry! This is the Time we have waited to witness!

And the younglings spurred themselves, their eight triple-jointed legs spinning beneath them as they strove to keep up with the old emcee. Somehow, he had drawn a reserve of sudden energy for the task, and was even outloping them. They left the rest of the tribe behind quickly.

They covered the moss-ground rapidly, moved toward the silver-sanded plain. Long, loping strides, and the Wonderbird came closer.

Skilton brought them to a halt at the edge of the silver-sanded plain. He looked back, far up the slope of the foothills and he saw the moving dots of the rest of the tribe. He would not wait for them—let them arrive in their own time. He had been true to the Lams, and he would be their first greeter. He would become their aide…and all the long years of belief would be paid back in full measure.

Yet, he did not venture onto the silver-sanded plain.

There was no sense being foolhardy about this.

The Time! Yes; but perhaps not as they had been told in the Prophecy. Perhaps it might be different, the Prophecy and its meaning garbled by time. He must deal with caution.

Was he not emcee of the tribe?

The Wonderbird lay there, its many-colored flesh flickering. Blue, red, gold, amber, back to gold, and flowing, always flowing. Then…

Sput! Peeeee-op!

Little bunches of many-colored brightness erupted from the Wonderbird’s skin.

It continued for a few minutes, and suddenly the skin of the Wonderbird sucked inward and a round hole appeared. A black hole, from which a long thing extended, that went down to the silver sands.

Then a—a—thing? leaped out of the Wonderbird, ran down the long extended thing, and stood on the silver sands, with its paws on its hips, staring at the Wonderbird.

“Goddam, stinkin’, miserable electrical system!” the thing exploded. The words were in the air.

Skilton’s antennae spun aloft. In the air? Not in the head, like the tribe’s thoughts, but on the air, like the screams of the ignorant hulfee they cut and ate? In the air? Yes, by Kan-Tor! In the air. This thing was not of their world, not of the Telling of the Prophecy, this was not even of the dreams that stole warmly in the night. This was…strange. He could thought-pluck no word that meant more. Strange. Gleez-Son!

The thing was ripping a vine from a hole in the skin of the Wonderbird. Skilton tuned in on the thing’s mind, and there were thoughts! In addition to the sounds in the air, there were thoughts. How strange.

He knew at once the vine was a “master electrical connection to the power banks of the skin displays” and the hole was a “repair cubby” but he could not decide what they were for. But they had to be for something, since he remembered the prime Lewus rule: Always build to your point. Never miss a step. Never do anything meaningless, and then hit ‘em with the boffola!

The thing closed a piece of skin over the skin, and the popping, erupting, noisy clash of exploding colors ceased.

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