Judith Merril: The Year's Greatest Science Fiction & Fantasy 2

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Judith Merril The Year's Greatest Science Fiction & Fantasy 2
  • Название:
    The Year's Greatest Science Fiction & Fantasy 2
  • Автор:
  • Издательство:
    Dell
  • Жанр:
    Фантастика и фэнтези / на английском языке
  • Год:
    1957
  • Язык:
    Английский
  • Рейтинг книги:
    3 / 5
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The Year's Greatest Science Fiction & Fantasy 2: краткое содержание, описание и аннотация

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SF: The Year's Greatest Science-Fiction and Fantasy Second Annual Volume

Edited by Judith Merril

THE MAN WHO LIKED LIONS

by John Bernard Daley


“You mean you get paid for reading that stuff?” goes the refrain.

I do. And every time I start a new collection, the idea that reading all those stories could be called work seems absurd and wonderful, even to me. It isn’t till somewhere along in the seventieth magazine, maybe halfway through the full year’s s-f crop, that I even begin to feel I’m earning my pay. But don’t get me wrong. I love anthologizing. . . .

Maybe it’s just that it feels so great when you find a good one—and of course this is even more true when the story is by a new and unknown author.

I was suspicious when I finished Lions, though. Too smooth for a beginner, I thought, and—last time this happened, it turned out to be a pen-name for Algis Budrys. So I wrote cautiously inquiring to the editor of Infinity, who answered, “John Bernard Daley is not John Bernard Daley at all; he is Bernard John Daley, and this is not his first story; it is his second. . . .”

* * * *

Mr. Kemper leaned on the rail, watching the caged lions asleep in the August sun. At his side a woman lifted a whimpering little girl to her shoulder and said, “Stop that! Look at the lions!” Then she jiggled the girl up and down. The lion opened yellow eyes, lifted his head from between his paws and yawned. Immediately the girl put her fingers over her face and began to cry. “Shut up!” said the woman. “You shut up right now or I’ll tell that big lion to eat you up!” Looking through her fingers, the girl said, “Lions don’t eat little girls.” The woman shook her. “Of course they do! I said they did, didn’t I?”

“Lions seldom eat people,” said Mr. Kemper. With all of her two hundred pounds the woman turned to face him. “Well!” she said. The word hung like an icicle in the warm air, but Mr. Kemper waved it aside. “Only old lions resort to human flesh. Except for the famous incident of the Tsavo man-eaters, of course.” The woman pulled her arm tighter around the girl, elbow up, as if to ward him off. “Come on, Shirl,” she said. “Let’s go look at the tigers.” And with a warning look over her shoulder she lunged away from the rail. A big man with an unlit cigarette in his mouth took her place.

As her wide back swayed down the walk, Mr. Kemper wondered if she had a special intuition about him, like dogs, whose noses warned them that he was not quite the kind of man they were accustomed to. Women, particularly those with children, seemed to feel that way. He watched her leave, having decided that she was unsuited for what he had in mind.

Two things happened simultaneously, interrupting his thoughts. The big man beside him tapped him on the shoulder and asked him for a match; at the same time Kemper saw, just beyond the retreating woman, a man in a tweed jacket and gray slacks, watching him. For a second they stared at each other and Kemper felt a mind-probe dart swiftly against his shield. He tightened the shield and waited. The man was heavily tanned, like Kemper, with unusually wide eyes and a dolichocephalic head. He had remarkable cheekbones; they appeared to slant forward toward the middle of his face, which was very narrow and long in the jaw. He looked a lot like Mr. Kemper, the way one Caucasian looks like another to an Eskimo. His glance swerved from Kemper to the lion cage; then he turned his back, a little too casually. Breath hissed softly from between Mr. Kemper’s teeth.

The big man said, “Hey, buddy, I asked do you have a match?”

“What? No, I don’t smoke.” His thoughts racing, he faced the lion cage. The tanned man had turned away, obviously not wanting to contact him, but why? He knew who Kemper was; there was no doubt of that. Frowning slightly, Mr. Kemper looked at the chewed hunks of horsemeat and bone on the cage floor, and the vibrating flies. The only logical answer was that the man was waiting for reinforcements. Even now he was probably contacting the Three Councils. Still, that gave Kemper a reasonable chance; it took a while for even the most powerful minds to move along the pathways of time. Beside him the big man was talking again. “You feel okay, pal? You looked kind of far away there all of a sudden. Maybe you oughta go over in the shade.”

“Not at all. I was only thinking of something.”

“Yeah?” The man took the cigarette from his mouth and put it in his shirt pocket. “Say, I heard you telling that broad there lions don’t eat people. You sure about that?”

“Quite sure. Look at them. Do you think they need to depend on anything as slow as Homo Sapiens for food?” With another part of his brain he wondered how many men would be sent to take him back. There was one point in his favor, however. He had nothing to lose.

“I don’t know, pal. All I ever see them do is sleep. Always laying on their fat backs, like now.”

“Well, that’s not unusual. Lions sleep in the daytime and hunt at night.”

“Yeah? What the hell good is that? The zoo closes at 5:30, don’t it?”

Kemper looked at him dispassionately. He thought: “You fool, what would you say if you knew that you were talking to a man who hunted your ape ancestors through the forests of a million years ago? Could your pigmy brain accept that?”

The man jabbed him on the shoulder again. “Look at that big one with the black streaks in his hair. Ain’t he something? Why don’t he jump around in there like the chimps do?”

“Maybe he doesn’t know it’s expected of him,” Kemper answered, hoping that the arrival of the man in the tweed jacket would not affect his sport of the moment.

“You know, I’d like to see a couple of those babies mixing it up. Like the lion against the tiger, maybe. Who do you think would win a hassle like that, anyway?”

“The lion,” Mr. Kemper said. He decided that the game would go on; an idea was beginning to scratch at the corners of his mind. Looking around with what he hoped was a conspiratorial air, he jabbed his elbow into the big man’s stomach. “Listen, you’d like to see some action, would you? Suppose you be here in say—two hours. At three o’clock.”

“Yeah? What kind of action? You ain’t trying to kid me, are you, buddy?”

Shrugging, Mr. Kemper looked at the flies swarming in the cage. “It’s just a tip. Take it or leave it, buddy.” He turned, brushed by the scowling man, and left the rail. Although it was getting hotter he walked down the cement in the sun, avoiding the shade of the tall hedges opposite the row of cages. He went toward the stairway that lifted from the lion court to the terrace where the central zoo building stood. Behind the building was the main enclosure; the zoo itself was terraced along two hillsides, with more hills in the distance. It was not a large zoo, nor was it a good place to hide. But Mr. Kemper did not intend to hide.

In the cages he passed were other cats: cheetahs, leopards, puma and tigers, lying with heaving flanks, or lolling red-tongued on the stone floors. They hadn’t changed too much, he decided, except in size. Even the streak-maned lion was puny in comparison with the lions that Kemper had known. He walked up to the drinking fountain by the stairway, the sun in his face. He was almost tempted to stare contemptuously up at it. Bending over the fountain, he caught the dusty smell of the cats among popcorn, rootbeer and ice cream smells and the sweat stink of people. He straightened, wiping his lips, and remembered the somber jungles of the Pliocene, black-green in the sun that was a fist against your head; the plains of javelin-tall, yellow grass swinging to the horizon; and in the hills the lions with hides like hammered brass, the deadly, roaring lions. He remembered too, with the smell of those lions thick as dust in his mouth, the cities of his people, the proud people who had discovered the secrets of time through the science of their minds, a science unknown to the world he was in now. He looked up slowly and saw the man in the tweed jacket standing at the top of the stairway.

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