Harlan Ellison: Survivor #1

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Harlan Ellison Survivor #1
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    Survivor #1
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    Фантастика и фэнтези / на английском языке
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Survivor #1: краткое содержание, описание и аннотация

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Survivor #1

by Henry Slesar and Harlan Ellison

What would have been called a nose on anyone else, on the green man would have been called a blob.

Its shape was not remarkable for its definition, but rather for its lack of it. The nostrils seemed to dash startledly from the sides of the putty-blob, as though they were tunnels dug without destinations in mind.

Aside from the nose, and the Kelly-green skin color, there was nothing particularly outstanding about the visitor.

It was to Milt Klowitz’s everlasting credit that the sight of the green man, sitting with legs neatly crossed and trouser creases neatly pulled up, did not throw him completely off stride.

He finished closing the door to his apartment and removed his hat. He dropped it on the floor, instead of the closet shelf, without noticing what he had done, and moved a step closer. It might be said that Milt Klowitz had the look of his rough Hungarian countenance of a Salk peering through a microscope at a bacillus with earmuffs.

“You’re green,” he stated matter-of-factly, and unnecessarily.

The green man seemed pleased by his accuracy and lack of surprise. “Quite right,” he said cheerfully. “We assumed you wouldn’t become hysterical at the fact, it was one of your chief attractions.” He waved a green hand toward the bookshelves glutted with science fiction magazines and novels.

Milt Klowitz struggled to maintain the poise with which he had been credited. He lowered himself into the opposite chair and frankly stared.

“It was our belief that an Earthman steeped in the fantastic literature of your era would be most easily approached. Judging from your reaction, I would say that our confidence was justified.”

“Where?” Milt said. The strangled word was only the beginning of his question, but the green man seemed to comprehend.

“From a world whose name you wouldn’t know, a world not in your solar system or astronomical tables. A world, I might add, which has become increasingly concerned with your behavior.”

“Me?” Milt said, looking injured.

“Oh, not you personally. Your species. We have been sending envoys to survey the situation with some regularity. Their reports have determined our decision.”

“Decision about what?”

The green man recrossed his legs. “About whether or not your dabblings in atomic energy constitute any sort of threat to our safety. Our people get very nervous about that sort of thing.”

“And what,” Milt said, swallowing a boulder, “have you decided?”

“That you are a threat.”

“Are what?”

“A threat. A very considerable threat. Not in your own short life span, perhaps, but within our own. For that reason, our Council of Elders has wisely decided to eliminate the threat before it becomes reality. We think of it as a sort of vaccination; a preventative measure.”

“But how?”

“Simple. By destroying your planet. In a matter of six hyppecs…I’m sorry,” the green man added apologetically, “reckoned in Earth time, that would be exactly two weeks.”

Milt felt his spine turn into a lemon popsicle. Was this possible? Could this conceivably be happening? To him? To Milt Klowitz, who had never in his wildest…

He knew he had to say something: it was his turn. It was only a croak, but it started him going. “Th-th-this is pretty old stuff, y’know.”

The green man looked concerned. “Oh?”

Milt felt at home now. This was his depth, his strata… “Greystroke was the first to use that idea. Back in the 1700s, along in there. And there was Maurois and Verne, roughly speaking, and Wells, and oh, all the modern boys use it regularly. It’s a cliché by now. Why even—”

The green man cut him off with a facing palm.

“I take it,” he said stiffly, “that you are trying to tell me that the concept of your planet being dealt with in such a manner has been explored in your tribal literature?”

Milt nodded slowly, no longer sure of himself.

“I’m really quite surprised at you, Mr. Klowitz. From our report, you were labeled a definite subject for this; very low surprise threshold and all. But your incredulity seems to negate our findings. Perhaps I’d better move along…” He began to rise.

“Wait a second,” Milt began.

“I was going to offer you the opportunity to be survivor number one,” the green man tossed off regretfully, heading for the door, “but you seem to prefer to perish with the rest of your race. Well, there are three other possibilities on my list.”

His hand was on the doorknob.

“Hey! Stop! I want to talk to you!” Milt pleaded, seeing his life going out the door.

The green man paused. “Wait? What for?”

“Well, I mean, gee, I mean, can’t a guy find it a little weird to have a man from some other planet in his living room, and—”

“Some other island universe,” the green man corrected incisively.

“Yeah, sure, that’s what I mean,” Milt mumbled. “Look, why don’t you give me another chance. You understand. I was a little rocked, that’s all—”

The green man hesitated, and pursed his full lips.

“Well. Now you sound more like the man in the report.” He took his chair again, withdrew an odd metal card and tapped it with an even odder stylus. “Now,” he said, as if examining a grocery list, “if we can arrange for you and your mate to be at the appointed place—”

“What’s that?”

“I said, if we can arrange for your mate and yourself to arrive at the rendezvous point where our vessel can pick you up—”

“What mate? I’m a bachelor.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“A bachelor. Single. Free. Unfettered. I’m not married.”

“I don’t understand.” The green man’s eyes blinked, and the blob of a nose quivered. “I understood from our envoys that the entire species was paired. Two sexes: one man, one woman. It is your breeding technique.”

‘That’s true, all right. Only I don’t have any mate, not yet. Maybe never. So we don’t have to worry about that.”

The green man sighed from the depths of his body. He shook his head slowly, and began to rise to his feet with an expressive frown of displeasure and melancholy.

“Where are you going?”

“I wish I could have avoided this, but I see that I cannot. I naturally assumed you would have a mate; we believed it was the universal principle on your planet. And I am under strict orders to bring back a pair.”

“But wait a minute—”

“I’m sorry. The Council was most specific. One pair of Earthlings, male and female. I cannot, as you might say, break up the set.”

He started for the door, and again Milt saw the end of the world in his gesture. He grabbed for the green man’s arm and pulled him back into the room.

“You can’t mean that! You can’t just walk out of here this way—”

“I have my orders,” the visitor said gravely.

“But I’ll get a mate. I promise! I’ll get one soon!”

“I hardly think—”

“So help me I will!” Milt let the hysteria take over; he was tired of holding it down. “I’ll get a mate right away. You’ll see. A genuine Earth-type mate—”

“I’m afraid there’s hardly enough time. If you will excuse me.”

“Just give me a chance. A week—a few days—”

The green man hesitated, and the hesitation gave Milt hope. “A few days?” the visitor said mildly. “Exactly how many days?”

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