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 What Is This Thing Called Love?

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تاريخ التسجيل : 21/02/2012

مُساهمةموضوع: What Is This Thing Called Love?   الخميس فبراير 23, 2012 8:04 pm

What Is This Thing Called Love?

Copyright © 1961 by Ziff-Davis Publishing Company. (Original title: "Playboy and the Slime God.")

"But these are two species," said Captain Garm, peering closely at the creatures that had been brought up from the planet below. His optic organs adjusted focus to maximum sharpness, bulging outwards as they did so. The color patch above them gleamed in quick flashes.
Botax felt warmly comfortable to be following color-changes once again, after months in a spy cell on the planet, trying to make sense out of the modulated sound waves emitted by the natives. Communication by flash was almost like being home in the far-off Perseus arm of the Galaxy. "Not two species," he said, "but two forms of one species."
"Nonsense, they look quite different. Vaguely Perse-like, thank the En¬tity, and not as disgusting in appearance as so many out-forms are. Reason¬able shape, recognizable limbs. But no color-patch. Can they speak?"
"Yes, Captain Garm," Botax indulged in a discreetly disapproving pris¬matic interlude. "The details are in my report. These creatures form sound waves by way of throat and mouth, something like complicated coughing. I have learned to do it myself." He was quietly proud. "It is very difficult."
"It must be stomach-turning. Well, that accounts for their flat, unexten-sible eyes. Not to speak by color makes eyes largely useless. Meanwhile, how can you insist these are a single species? The one on the left is smaller and has longer tendrils, or whatever it is, and seems differently proportioned. It bulges where this other does not. Are they alive?"
"Alive but not at the moment conscious, Captain. They have been psy¬cho-treated to repress fright in order that they might be studied easily."
"But are they worth study? We are behind our schedule and have at least five worlds of greater moment than this one to check and explore. Maintain¬ing a Time-stasis unit is expensive and I would like to return them and go on—"
But Botax's moist spindly body was fairly vibrating with anxiety. His tubular tongue flicked out and curved up and over his flat nose, while his eyes sucked inward. His splayed three-fingered hand made a gesture of nega¬tion as his speech went almost entirely into the deep red.
"Entity save us, Captain, for no world is of greater moment to us than this one. We may be facing a supreme crisis. These creatures could be the most dangerous life-forms in the Galaxy, Captain, just because there are two forms."
"I don't follow you."
"Captain, it has been my job to study this planet, and it has been most difficult, for it is unique. It is so unique that I can scarcely comprehend its facets. For instance, almost all life on the planet consists of species in two forms. There are no words to describe it, no concepts even. I can only speak of them as first form and second form. If I may use their sounds, the little one is called 'female,' and the big one, here, 'male,' so the creatures them¬selves are aware of the difference."
Garm winced, "What a disgusting means of communication."
"And, Captain, in order to bring forth young, the two forms must cooper¬ate."
The Captain, who had bent forward to examine the specimens closely with an expression compounded of interest and revulsion, straightened at once. "Cooperate? What nonsense is this? There is no more fundamental attribute of life than that each living creature bring forth its young in innermost communication with itself. What else makes life worth living?"
"The one form does bring forth life but the other form must cooperate."
"How?"
"That has been difficult to determine. It is something very private and in my search through the available forms of literature I could find no exact and explicit description. But I have been able to make reasonable deductions."
Garm shook his head. "Ridiculous. Budding is the holiest, most private function in the world. On tens of thousands of worlds it is the same. As the great photo-bard, Levuline, said, 'In budding-time, in budding time, in sweet, delightful budding time; when—' "
"Captain, you don't understand. This cooperation between forms brings about somehow (and I am not certain exactly how) a mixture and recombi¬nation of genes. It is a device by which in every generation, new combina¬tions of characteristics are brought into existence. Variations are multiplied; mutated genes hastened into expression almost at once where under the usual budding system, millennia might pass first."
"Are you trying to tell me that the genes from one individual can be
combined with those of another? Do you know how completely ridiculous that is in the light of all the principles of cellular physiology?"
"It must be so," said Botax nervously under the other's pop-eyed glare. "Evolution is hastened. This planet is a riot of species. There are supposed to be a million and a quarter different species of creatures."
"A dozen and a quarter more likely. Don't accept too completely what you read in the native literature."
"I've seen dozens of radically different species myself in just a small area. I tell you, Captain, give these creatures a short space of time and they will mutate into intellects powerful enough to overtake us and rule the Galaxy."
"Prove that this cooperation you speak of exists, Investigator, and I shall consider your contentions. If you cannot, I shall dismiss all your fancies as ridiculous and we will move on."
"I can prove it." Botax's color-flashes turned intensely yellow-green. "The creatures of this world are unique in another way. They foresee advances they have not yet made, probably as a consequence of their belief in rapid change which, after all, they constantly witness. They therefore indulge in a type of literature involving the space-travel they have never developed. I have translated their term for the literature as 'science-fiction.' Now I have dealt in my readings almost exclusively with science-fiction, for there I thought, in their dreams and fancies, they would expose themselves and their danger to us. And it was from that science-fiction that I deduced the method of their inter-form cooperation."
"How did you do that?"
"There is a periodical on this world which sometimes publishes science-fiction which is, however, devoted almost entirely to the various aspects of the cooperation. It does not speak entirely freely, which is annoying, but persists in merely hinting. Its name as nearly as I can put it into flashes is 'Recreationlad.' The creature in charge, I deduce, is interested in nothing but inter-form cooperation and searches for it everywhere with a systematic and scientific intensity that has roused my awe. He has found instances of cooperation described in science-fiction and I let material in his periodical guide me. From the stories he instanced I have learned how to bring it about.
"And Captain, I beg of you, when the cooperation is accomplished and the young are brought forth before your eyes, give orders not to leave an atom of this world in existence."
"Well," said Captain Garm, wearily, "bring them into full consciousness and do what you must do quickly."
Marge Skidmore was suddenly completely aware of her surroundings. She remembered very clearly the elevated station at the beginning of twilight. It had been almost empty, one man standing near her, another at the other
end of the platform. The approaching train had just made itself known as a faint rumble in the distance.
There had then come the flash, a sense of turning inside out, the half-seen vision of a spindly creature, dripping mucus, a rushing upward, and now—
"Oh, God," she said, shuddering. "It's stiD here. And there's another one, too."
She felt a sick revulsion, but no fear. She was almost proud of herself for feeling no fear. The man next to her, standing quietly as she herself was, but still wearing a battered fedora, was the one that had been near her on the platform.
"They got you, too?" she asked. "Who else?"
Charlie GrimwoW, feeling flabby and paunchy, tried to lift his hand to remove his hat and smooth the thin hair that broke up but did not entirely cover the skin of his scalp and found that it moved only with difficulty against a rubbery but hardening resistance. He let his hand drop and looked morosely at the thin-faced woman facing him. She was in her middle thir¬ties, he decided, and her hair was nice and her dress fit well, but at the moment, he just wanted to be somewhere else and it did him no good at all that he had company, even female company.
He said, "I don't know, lady. I was just standing on the station platform."
"Me, too."
"And then I see a flash. Didn't hear nothing. Now here I am. Must be little men from Mars or Venus or one of them places."
Marge nodded vigorously, "That's what I figure. A flying saucer? You scared?"
"No. That's funny, you know. I think maybe I'm going nuts or I would be scared."
"Funny thing. I ain't scared, either. Oh, God, here comes one of them now. If he touches me, I'm going to scream. Look at those wiggly hands. And that wrinkled skin, all slimy; makes me nauseous."
Botax approached gingerly and said, in a voice at once rasping and screechy, this being the closest he could come to imitating the native tim¬bre, "Creatures! We will not hurt you. But we must ask you if you would do us the favor of cooperating."
"Hey, it talks!" said Charlie. "What do you mean, cooperate."
"Both of you. With each other," said Botax. ; "Oh?" He looked at Marge. "You know what he means, lady?"
"Ain't got no idea whatsoever," she answered loftily.
Botax said, "What I mean—" and he used the short term he had once heard employed as a synonym for the process.
Marge turned red and said, "What!" in the loudest scream she could manage. Both Botax and Captain Garm put their hands over their mid-regions to cover the auditory patches that trembled painfully with the deci¬bels.
Marge went on rapidly, and nearly incoherently. "Of all things. I'm a married woman, you. If my Ed was here, you'd hear from him. And you, wise guy," she twisted toward Charlie against rubbery resistance, "whoever you are, if you think—"
"Lady, lady," said Charlie in uncomfortable desperation. "It ain't my idea. I mean, far be it from me, you know, to turn down some lady, you know; but me, I'm married, too. I got three kids. Listen—"
Captain Garm said, "What's happening, Investigator Botax? These
cacophonous sounds are awful." f i
"Well," Botax flashed a short purple patch of embarrassment. "This forms a complicated ritual. They are supposed to be reluctant at first. It f heightens the subsequent result. After that initial stage, the skins must be ^ removed."
"They have to be skinned?"
"Not really skinned. Those are artificial skins that can be removed pain¬lessly, and must be. Particularly in the smaller form."
"All right, then. Tell it to remove the skins. Really, Botax, I don't find this pleasant."
"I don't think I had better tell the smaller form to remove the skins. I think we had better follow the ritual closely. I have here sections of those space-travel tales which the man from the 'Recreationlad' periodical spoke highly of. In those tales the skins are removed forcibly. Here is a description of an accident, for instance 'which played havoc with the girl's dress, ripping it nearly off her slim body. For a second, he felt the warm firmness of her half-bared bosom against his cheek—' It goes on that way. You see, the ripping, the forcible removal, acts as a stimulus."
"Bosom?" said the Captain. "I don't recognize the flash."
"I invented that to cover the meaning. It refers to the bulges on the upper dorsal region of the smaller form."
"I see. Well, tell the larger one to rip the skins off the smaller one. What a dismal thing this is."
Botax turned to Charlie. "Sir," he said, "rip the girl's dress nearly off her slim body, will you? I will release you for the purpose."
Marge's eyes widened and she twisted toward Charlie in instant outrage. "Don't you dare do that, you. Don't you dast touch me, you sex maniac."
"Me?" said Charlie plaintively. "It ain't my idea. You think I go around ripping dresses? Listen," he turned to Botax, "I got a wife and three kids. She finds out I go around ripping dresses, I get clobbered. You know what my wife does when I just look at some dame? Listen—"
"Is he still reluctant?" said the Captain, impatiently.
"Apparently," said Botax. "The strange surroundings, you know, may be extending that stage of the cooperation. Since I know this is unpleasant for you, I will perform this stage of the ritual myself. It is frequently written in
the space-travel tales that an outer-world species performs the task. For instance, here," and he riffled through his notes finding the one he wanted, "they describe a very awful such species. The creatures on the planet have foolish notions, you understand. It never occurs to them to imagine hand¬some individuals such as ourselves, with a fine mucous cover."
"Go on! Go on! Don't take all day," said the Captain.
"Yes, Captain. It says here that the extraterrestrial 'came forward to where the girl stood. Shrieking hysterically, she was cradled in the monster's embrace. Talons ripped blindly at her body, tearing the kirtle away in rags.' You see, the native creature is shrieking with stimulation as her skins are removed."
"Then go ahead, Botax, remove it. But please, allow no shrieking. I'm trembling all over with the sound waves."
Botax said politely to Marge, "If you don't mind—"
One spatulate finger made as though to hook on to the neck of the dress.
Marge wiggled desperately. "Don't touch. Don't touch! You'll get slime on it. Listen, this dress cost $24.95 at Ohrbach's. Stay away, you monster. Look at those eyes on him." She was panting in her desperate efforts to dodge the groping, extraterrestrial hand. "A slimy, bug-eyed monster, that's what he is. Listen, I'll take it off myself. Just don't touch it with slime, for God's sake."
She fumbled at the zipper, and said in a hot aside to Charlie, "Don't you dast look."
Charlie closed his eyes and shrugged in resignation.
She stepped out of the dress. "All right? You satisfied?"
Captain Garm's fingers twitched with unhappiness. "Is that the bosom? Why does the other creature keep its head turned away?"
"Reluctance. Reluctance," said Botax. "Besides, the bosom is still cov¬ered. Other skins must be removed. When bared, the bosom is a very strong stimulus. It is constantly described as ivory globes, or white spheres, or otherwise after that fashion. I have here drawings, visual picturizations, that come from the outer covers of the space-travel magazines. If you will inspect them, you will see that upon every one of them, a creature is present with a bosom more or less exposed."
The Captain looked thoughtfully from the illustrations to Marge and back. "What is ivory?"
"That is another made-up flash of my own. It represents the tusky mate¬rial of one of the large sub-intelligent creatures on the planet."
"Ah," and Captain Garm went into a pastel green of satisfaction. "That explains it. This small creature is one of a warrior sect and those are tusks with which to smash the enemy."
"No, no. They are quite soft, I understand." Botax's small brown hand flicked outward in the general direction of the objects under discussion and Marge screamed and shrank away.
"Then what other purpose do they have?"
"I think," said Botax with considerable hesitation, "that they are used to feed the young."
"The young eat them?" asked the Captain with every evidence of deep distress.
"Not exactly. The objects produce a fluid which the young consume."
"Consume a fluid from a living body? Yech-h-h." The Captain covered his head with all three of his arms, calling the central supernumerary into use for the purpose, slipping it out of its sheath so rapidly as almost to knock Botax over.
"A three-armed, slimy, bug-eyed monster," said Marge.
"Yeah," said Charlie.
"All right you, just watch those eyes. Keep them to yourself."
"Listen, lady. I'm trying not to look."
Botax approached again. "Madam, would you remove the rest?"
Marge drew herself up as well as she could against the pinioning field. "Never!"
"I'll remove it, if you wish."
"Don't touch! For God's sake, don't touch. Look at the slime on him, will you? All right, I'll take it off." She was muttering under her breath and looking hotly in Charlie's direction as she did so.
"Nothing is happening," said the Captain, in deep dissatisfaction, "and this seems an imperfect specimen."
Botax felt the slur on his own efficiency. "I brought you two perfect specimens. What's wrong with the creature?"
"The bosom does not consist of globes or spheres. I know what globes or spheres are and in these pictures you have shown me, they are so depicted. Those are large globes. On this creature, though, what we have are nothing but small flaps of dry tissue. And they're discolored, too, partly."
"Nonsense," said Botax. "You must allow room for natural variation. I will put it to the creature herself."
He turned to Marge, "Madam, is your bosom imperfect?"
Marge's eyes opened wide and she struggled vainly for moments without doing anything more than gasp loudly. "Really/" she finally managed. "Maybe I'm no Gina Lollobrigida or Anita Ekberg, but I'm perfectly all right, thank you. Oh boy, if my Ed were only here." She turned to Charlie. "Listen, you, you tell this bug-eyed slimy thing here, there ain't nothing wrong with my development."
"Lady," said Charlie, softly. "I ain't looking, remember?"
"Oh, sure, you ain't looking. You been peeking enough, so you might as well just open your crummy eyes and stick up for a lady, if you're the least bit of a gentleman, which you probably ain't."
"Well," said Charlie, looking sideways at Marge, who seized the opportu-
nity to inhak and throw her shoulders back, "I don't like to get mixed up in a kind of delicate matter like this, but you're all right—I guess."
"You guess? You Hind or something? I was once runner-up for Miss Brooklyn, in case you don't happen to know, and where I missed out was on waist-line, not on—"
Charlie said, "All right, all right. They're fine. Honest." He nodded vigor¬ously in Botax's direction. "They're okay. I ain't that much of an expert, you understand, but they're okay by me."
Marge relaxed.
Botax felt relieved. He turned to Garm. "The bigger form expresses inter¬est, Captain. The stimulus is working. Now for the final step."
"And what is that?"
"There is no flash for it, Captain. Essentially, it consists of placing the speaking-and-eating apparatus of one against the equivalent apparatus of the other. I have made up a flash for the process, thus: kiss."
"Will nausea never cease?" groaned the Captain.
"It is the climax. In all the tales, after the skins are removed by force, they clasp each other with limbs and indulge madly in burning kisses, to translate as nearly as possible the phrase most frequently used. Here is one example, just one, taken at random: 'He held the girl, his mouth avid on her lips.'"
"Maybe one creature was devouring the other," said the Captain.
"Not at all," said Botax impatiently. "Those were burning kisses."
"How do you mean, burning? Combustion takes place?"
"I don't think literally so. I imagine it is a way of expressing the fact that the temperature goes up. The higher the temperature, I suppose, the more successful the production of young. Now that the big form is properly stimu¬lated, he need only place his mouth against hers to produce young. The young will not be produced without that step. It is the cooperation I have been speaking of."
"That's all? Just this—" The Captain's hands made motions of coming together, but he could not bear to put the thought into flash form.
"That's all," said Botax. "In none of the tales; not even in 'Recrea-tionlad,' have I found a description of any further physical activity in con¬nection with young-bearing. Sometimes after the kissing, they write a line of symbols like little stars, but I suppose that merely means more kissing; one kiss for each star, when they wish to produce a multitude of young."
"Just one, please, right now."
"Certainly, Captain."
Botax said with grave distinctness, "Sir, would you kiss the lady?" Charlie said, "Listen, I can't move." "1 will free you, of course." "The lady might not like it."
Marge glowered. "You bet your damn boots, I won't like it. You just stay away."
"I would like to, lady, but what do they do if I don't? Look, I don't want to get them mad. We can just—you know—make like a little peck."
She hesitated, seeing the justice of the caution. "All right. No funny stuff, though. I ain't in the habit of standing around like this in front of every Tom, Dick and Harry, you know."
"I know that, lady. It was none of my doing. You got to admit that."
Marge muttered angrily, "Regular slimy monsters. Must think they're some kind of gods or something, the way they order people around. Slime gods is what they are!"
Charlie approached her. "If it's okay now, lady." He made a vague mo¬tion as though to tip his hat. Then he put his hands awkwardly on her bare shoulders and leaned over in a gingerly pucker.
Marge's head stiffened so that lines appeared in her neck. Their lips met.
Captain Garm flashed fretfully. "I sense no rise in temperature." His heat-detecting tendril had risen to full extension at the top of his head and remained quivering there.
"I don't either," said Botax, rather at a loss, "but we're doing it just as the space travel stories tell us to. I think his limbs should be more extended— Ah, like that. See, it's working."
Almost absently, Charlie's arm had slid around Marge's soft, nude torso. For a moment, Marge seemed to yield against him and then she suddenly writhed hard against the pinioning field that still held her with fair firmness.
"Let go." The words were muffled against the pressure of Charlie's lips. She bit suddenly, and Charlie leaped away with a wild cry, holding his lower lip, then looking at his fingers for blood.
"What's the idea, lady?" he demanded plaintively.
She said, "We agreed just a peck, is all. What were you starting there? You some kind of playboy or something? What am I surrounded with here? Playboy and the slime gods?"
Captain Garm flashed rapid alternations of blue and yellow. "Is it done? How long do we wait now?"
"It seems to me it must happen at once. Throughout all the universe, when you have to bud, you bud, you know. There's no waiting."
"Yes? After thinking of the foul habits you have been describing, I don't think I'll ever bud again. Please get this over with."
"Just a moment, Captain."
But the moments passed and the Captain's flashes turned slowly to a brooding orange, while Botax's nearly dimmed out altogether.
Botax finally asked hesitantly, "Pardon me, madam, but when will you bud?"
"When will I what?"
"Bear young?"
"I've got a kid."
"I mean bear young now."
"I should say not. I ain't ready for another kid yet."
"What? What?" demanded the Captain. "What's she saying?"
"It seems," said Botax, "she does not intend to have young at the mo¬ment."
The Captain's color patch blazed brightly. "Do you know what I think, Investigator? I think you have a sick, perverted mind. Nothing's happening to these creatures. There is no cooperation between them, and no young to be borne. I think they're two different species and that you're playing some kind of foolish game with me."
"But, Captain—" said Botax.
"Don't but Captain me," said Garm. "I've had enough. You've upset me, turned my stomach, nauseated me, disgusted me with the whole notion of budding and wasted my time. You're just looking for headlines and personal glory and I'll see to it that you don't get them. Get rid of these creatures now. Give that one its skins back and put them back where you found them. I ought to take the expense of maintaining Time-stasis all this time out of your salary."
"But, Captain—"
"Back, I say. Put them back in the same place and at the same instant of time. I want this planet untouched, and I'll see to it that it stays un¬touched." He cast one more furious glance at Botax. "One species, two forms, bosoms, kisses, cooperation, BAH— You are a fool, Investigator, a dolt as well and, most of all, a sick, sick, sick creature."
There was no arguing. Botax, limbs trembling, set about returning the creatures.
They stood there at the elevated station, looking around wildly. It was twilight over them, and the approaching train was just making itself known as a faint rumble in the distance.
Marge said, hesitantly, "Mister, did it really happen?"
Charlie nodded. "I remember it."
Marge said, "We can't tell anybody."
"Sure not. They'd say we was nuts. Know what I mean?"
"Uh-huh. Well," she edged away.
Charlie said, "Listen. I'm sorry you was embarrassed. It was none of my doing."
"That's all right. I know." Marge's eyes considered the wooden platform at her feet. The sound of the train was louder.
"I mean, you know, lady, you wasn't really bad. In fact, you looked good, but I was kind of embarrassed to say that."
Suddenly, she smiled. "It's all right."
"You want maybe to have a cup of coffee with me just to relax you? My wife, she's not really expecting me for a while."
"Oh? Well, Ed's out of town for the weekend so I got only an empty apartment to go home to. My little boy is visiting at my mother's." She explained.
"Come on, then. We been kind of introduced."
"I'l] say." She laughed.
The train pulled in, but they turned away, walking down the narrow stairway to the street.
They had a couple of cocktails actually, and then Charlie couldn't let her go home in the dark alone, so he saw her to her door. Marge was bound to invite him in for a few moments, naturally.
Meanwhile, back in the spaceship, the crushed Botax was making a final effort to prove his case. While Garm prepared the ship for departure Botax hastily set up the tight-beam visiscreen for a last look at his specimens. He focused in on Charlie and Marge in her apartment. His tendril stiffened and he began flashing in a coruscating rainbow of colors. "Captain Garm! Captain! Look what they're doing now!" But at that very instant the ship winked out of Time-stasis.
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What Is This Thing Called Love?
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» Haddaway - What is love

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