George Longdon is back — with another off-trail idea. Just how
much of an attachment could one creature develop for another if they were alien to each other in origin - and if the feeling was
not mutual — what then ?
Fragmented metal peeled away from the hole the meteorite had made and the spherical ship spun from the angular force of the impact. A round door began to open, and an object moved itself from inside the ruined vessel, flattening to escape the biting pull of the tenuous atmosphere through which the sphere flashed. As the slipstream became too powerful, the object detached itself, falling separately towards banks of clouds below. As it fell its shape changed until it was a large, parachute-shaped disc descending at comfortable speed.
Cloud enveloped it, thinned slowly, and was left overhead. Water glistened below, a wide river that came through a smoke-hazed town and emptied into the sea several miles away. The parachute expanded again, slowing its descent, and glided to the water surface, collapsing and drawing together into a compact, elongated pear. It reached the river bed, resting there while it slowly regained its natural form. A head appeared, with a single eye. The being’s mind reached out, exploring its surroundings. It touched the minds of dark, lowly things which swam nearby, primitive and only dimly conscious. But farther away was a clear, keen mind that stood like a burning candle against a background of shadow. The mimos felt new hope. Temporarily it withdrew its circle of awareness, touching again the creatures living in the medium it now occupied, noting how they moved. Then it slowly changed form. Its head grew pointed, fins appeared. Its skin glinted with scales, and purposeless gills began to open and close. It lifted from the river bed, swimming easily towards the distant bank, where the bright mind stood like a beacon. As it came nearer the surface sun touched pink and gold to its spotted sides.
Terry reeled in his line and put his flies away. It had been a rotten day, he thought. A hard morning’s work at the garage, with old Bentley grumbling his head off, the tiff with Jean so that she had not come with him fishing, the broken contact arm spring in his motor cycle, delaying him an hour, then no catch.
He scattered the remains of the picnic that was to have been for two into the water, then walked from the riverside trees back to his motor cycle, stowing his tackle. He was about to kick the machine into life when he realised he had forgotten his cap, thrown off while fishing. Grumbling to himself, he turned back towards the river.
A man stood under the trees, half in dappled shadow. Terry gave him a cursory glance, decided he looked a bit unprepossessing, and bent to search amid the long grass.
His cap was half under a low bush. He put it on, straightening, and found himself looking into the man’s face. Seen closely, the features were oddly repulsive — soft and flabby, not sharply formed, or having character. Yet under the softness lay the sketchy outline of a face Terry knew. His own. An unpleasant feeling ran through him.
“ I — I don’t think I know you,” he said uneasily.
The face was like a poorly formed wax copy. Two eyes equally as grey as his own stared at Terry, yet lacked the motivating spark of intelligence. They could have been glass eyes — mobile, yet not possessing vision.
The other frowned, mimicing him. “ You will know me,” a voice said. “ I like you.”
Terry instinctively withdrew. The lips had moved, but the words had not seemed to fit the motion. The voice, too, was oddly elemental, as yet without the resonance of men. Terry could only stare at him.
“ You — like me ?”
“ Very much. We always — ah, stick to those we like. I shall be with you a lot — always.”
Terry blinked his eyes and shook his head, wondering if the hot summer sun brightly reflected from the river had given him heat stroke. He screwed up his eyes tightly, but when he opened them the other was still there. In the brief interval some of the soft formlessness had disappeared. The face was less like a melted wax copy ; more like Terry himself.
The other looked at the sky, moving as if tracing the path of something across the heavens.
“ I shall be staying with you now. I don’t mind, though. I think I shall be happy. I like you.”
Terry experienced overwhelming exasperation. “ The hell you do ! And what if I don’t like you ?”
“ That will make no difference. We are used to that. But I expect you will like me in the end. You will grow accustomed to me.”
“ I’m damned if I will !” Terry declared. He jammed his cap tightly on his head and stretched to his full six feet two. Work at the garage had given him burly arms. “ I’m going home ! If I find you following me, you’ll get this !”
He stuck a brown, hard clenched fist under the other’s nose, then swung on a heel and started off back across the riverside field. Damn silly trick, he thought. Some joker who looked like him talking like that !
When he reached the gate the other had caught up with him and got over it behind him. Terry turned, furious.
“ Didn’t I say b----- off !”
The other did not reply, but seemed to be studying the motor cycle with interest. Terry caught his shoulder, spinning him round.
“ This is the last time of telling ! Clear out !”
The other shook his head. “ You do not understand. We never — clear out, as you put it. I like you. We shall be very happy together. I shall like being with you.”
“ You won’t have the chance !” Terry said fiercely, and hit.
His fist sank into the face so like his own, emerged, leaving a depression. Within seconds the depression was gone, reforming into an image of himself.
“ You will become accustomed to the idea,” the smooth, voice said.
Terry hit him again, with a sobbing gasp, shocked, half terrified by the strangeness of it. The face came back again, and seemed to have gained character. He could almost have been staring into a mirror, Terry thought. He drew back towards his machine, fingers instinctively curling around the twistgrip. He wondered if he could start, jump on, and leave this caricature of himself behind.
“ No.” The other moved towards the machine. “ You won’t succeed. I don’t want you to leave me. I like you. When you go, I’m coming too.”
Terry felt cornered. He showed his teeth. “ What if I won’t take you ?”
“ You will.” Fingers closed on his arm, tightening. For a terrible moment Terry thought that the grip was going to become so intense that it crushed muscle and bone. The hand was transferred to the pillion. “ I’m sure this machine is intended to carry two. If not, we’ll both walk.”
Terry felt that he had had enough. Clear thought was becoming impossible. Actions had developed the inevitability of a nightmare.
“ It carries two,” he said dully.
“ Good. We will go home.”
The impossibility of it all struck Terry again, stirring him. “ Do you think it’s as easy as that ? What will Mrs. Spears, my landlady, say ?” He took a deep breath. “ I’ll tell the police ! I won’t have you around — ”
“ You’ll have me.” The hand came momentarily on Terry’s arm, but did not close. “ I like you, and I’m sure you’ll like to do things for me, later. And look at me, carefully.”
Terry looked, and his heart grew cold. The soft waxiness, had gone. The image was complete. His own rather tightly compressed lips, the twitch near one corner of his mouth, the eyes, the dark, unevenly matched brows. All were there. A tiny scratch near one temple, got untangling his line. Terry’s gaze slowly travelled downwards. The open-necked shirt, the brown tanned throat. The flannels, his best because Jean had been coming too. Everything.
The eyes like his own met his gaze. “ You see ? It would be difficult. Usually, you will find it best that we be happy together. I like you, and we should get on well.”
Terry realised that he was panting. “ Who — what — are you ?”
There was a moment’s silence. “ I— I am you, now. That is how we like it to be.”
“ But — but before you were me ?”
“ Oh. A fish. Yes, a fish with spots.”
A trout, Terry thought. He licked his lips. “ Before that ?” “ A Chevian. They are tough. And Chevians are good space travellers.”
Terry felt he was losing touch with reality. “ B-before that ?”
“ A Juttisti, I believe. I almost forget. Why, yes. It was a Juttisti, I recall.”
Terry caught at a straw. “ You change — often —”
“ Only when I don’t like things. I like you. And I know I shall keep on liking you. I rather liked the Juttisti. But he killed, and was to be drowned as punishment. The Chevian was only temporary, because I had a Chevian ship. But now I’m happy. I can see you won’t ever kill anyone.”
“ No,” Terry said flatly, “ I don’t suppose I shall.”
He started the motor cycle and got on. Smiling secretly to itself, the mimos occupied the pillion, its feet on the opened rests.
In the next twenty four hours Terry began to adjust to the situation, while not accepting it. Mrs. Spears had a vacant room, and marvelled at the likeness when Terry explained that the newcomer was a cousin. Before breakfast on the Sunday, Terry’s bedroom door opened and the replica of himself, now differently clad, came in.
“ I’d hoped it was a nightmare,” Terry said nastily.
The mimos sat on the bed. “ I noticed all your kind don’t dress the same. I’ve modified my appearance to avoid attracting attention.”
Terry studied him. He appeared to be a normal, healthy and somewhat hefty young man. In short, himself. Terry put on his shirt.
“ And how long does this continue ?” he asked.
“ Until you die.” The mimos smiled. “ I like you as I said. , We usually stick, when we like anybody.”
Terry fixed his tie with deadly calm. “You mean you’ll be hanging around all my life ?”
“ I expect so.”
Terry compressed his lips, remembering it was Sunday. “ You’ve overlooked I’d murder you first !”
“ Not a bit,” the mimos disagreed evenly. “ The people we like and stick to often try. But they seldom succeed.”
Terry grunted. They’d see ! Now, he already hated this copy of himself more than anything in the world. In some strange way it seemed to suck away his joy in life, as if a great sponge unable to experience things for itself, and therefore latching on to some other being.
“ You’re a parasite,” he said thinly.
The mimos did not try to deny it. “ Millions of years elapsed before you reached your present state of evolution. It’s the same with other normal creatures in the galaxies. We’ve bypassed all that. And we’ve some measure of free choice, which you’ve not. We’re what we want to be. And I like you, and the things you do. They’re interesting.”
The door was open. Terry swung round, caught his visitor, heaved him by sheer muscle through the doorway, and slammed and locked the door.
“ At least I can get rid of you sometimes !” he yelled through the crack.
Feeling better, he continued to dress. He had his back to the door, and was brushing his hair before the mirror, when a queer rustling noise began. It made his skin creep. He put down the brush, steeling his nerves, and turned slowly.
A large mound of mixed appearance was forming just inside the door. A thin stream of the stuff was coming through the quarter inch space between door and floor, mounting up into the mound. Before his eyes it took on form, was tall as a man, but shapeless, then shaped like a melting wax figure. Then was again complete.
“ We usually stick with folk we like,” the mimos said.
Terry glared at it, panting. “ Don’t you see you’ll drive me round the bend — ”
“ Not quite. Not so long as I like you. You’ll have your time off, when you’re doing things which aren’t very interesting. Working, perhaps. If I was with you always it would arouse comment.”
“ I see,” Terry breathed, momentarily defeated.
It seemed impossible to say more. He finished dressing, went down, and ate his breakfast, not speaking, and not looking at the thing that shadowed him. The mimos seemed to enjoy bacon and egg.
“ I’m cultivating your tastes,” it said amicably as it finished. “ I like you.”
Terry flashed it a glance of burning hatred.
As time passed Terry found that the mimos had its own system for getting what it wanted. While he worked it lazed, read, and visited the cinema. He refused to give it money, but found that it had touched old Bentley for a week’s wages in advance. Apparently Bentley had not even suspected the impersonation.
The middle of the week Terry was working on a blocked petrol pump when a golden head came into view over the vehicle bonnet. He almost dropped a spanner.
“ Jean !”
She smiled, showing neat white teeth. “ Thought it a bit silly to go on quarrelling, Terry. I don’t really hate fishing enough to stay away because you think it goes with a picnic.”
He looked sheepish. “ I was the one who was wrong, Jean. I simply hadn’t thought about it that way.”
She touched his arm fleetingly and the smile he loved to see spread over her oval face. “ It was as much my fault as yours.” She paused. “ I believe you mentioned a ride down to the shore some day soon.”
Terry could not remember it, but smiled. “ Of course. This evening ?”
She nodded. “ Now I’ll be off before Mr. Bentley sees me. About seven at the usual place ?”
Waving, she vanished. Terry felt elated, and made a mental note that fishing and picnics must henceforth be separate items.
The remainder of the afternoon passed rapidly. As he worked he planned the evening. Jean should have no cause for complaint.
When he emerged from the garage a familiar form fell into step besides him. With a shock of blended hatred and despair Terry realised he had almost forgotten.
“ Who was the young female human ?” the mimos asked, interested.
Terry set his teeth and jaw dangerously. “ That’s my business !”
“ It’ll be mine, too.”
“ I’ll be damned first !” Terry snapped, and halted. His fingers closed on the other’s arm. For an instant it was as if he gripped something very flabby, then an iron-like strength came into being under his fingers.
“ The Chevians were twice as strong as humans,” the mimos stated quietly. “ But I killed two, once — unarmed.”
Terry loosed his grip. “ That’s as it may be. But one thing we’ve got to get straight. When I go out with Jean you stay away ! Got that ?”
The face like his own smiled. “ Actually, I don’t think I shall stay away. It should be interesting to come. And I like you. We stick.”
“ But the motor cycle will only carry two !” Terry snapped. “ Me, driving, and a pillion !”
“ Then we’ll go on a bus, or take a taxi.”
Frustrated, Terry let it pass. Something more than mere talk would soon become necessary, he decided.
He ate, changed, and slipped down to the shed where he kept the machine. A 600 c.c. twin, it was without both sparking plugs. He was searching for spares, and not finding them, when the shed door creaked.
“ Looking for these ?”
The mimos leaned against the door, holding up two plugs and a spare pair in cartons. Terry swore, decided to fight it out, realised he would lose, and conceded victory.
“ I’ll have old Bentley’s spare hire-and-drive car.”
The evening was one of the most miserable that Terry could recall. Jean was dressed for pillion riding when he picked her up, and gave him an icy look when he introduced his cousin. They rode in almost silence, Jean sitting alone in the back. Terry tried to open conversation with her, but the attempt fell on stony ground.
The three of them walked along the sands side by side. Evening wind carried in the rising tide and gulls followed them, mewing.
“ How nice it all is,” the mimos offered as they sat on a stone jetty. “ I like Terry.”
Terry observed that in some way his unwanted companion had made himself the centre of the three, as they sat down. He was now smiling sweetly at Jean, ignoring Terry.
“ He’s one of the best, is Terry. I like being with him.”
Jean flashed Terry a glance that wounded him. “ He gets by.” Her gaze settled on the mimos. “ I never knew he had a cousin. How long shall you be around ?”
“ Oh, a long time. I’d not thought of going.”
Terry ground his nails into the stone. “ My cousin doesn’t have to work for his living,” he said with bitter sarcasm.
The mimos nodded. “ That’s true. That’s why I stay with Terry.”
The conversation lapsed. Terry flung pebbles into the sea. An evening less like that he had planned would be impossible. He wondered if he could take Jean into his confidence. The time did not seem opportune. The mimos would deny it, and he’d make himself look ridiculous. Jean would think him crazy, supposing he merely wanted to discredit his cousin.
The homeward ride was uncomfortable because of its silence. Jean got out, bid them both a cool goodnight, and was gone before Terry could stop her. He jabbed the car engine into life.
“ A very interesting young female human,” the mimos said pensively. “ I like your taste, Terry. We shall be seeing a lot of her, l expect.”
Terry did not trust himself to answer.
As the days passed, Terry knew that something must be done. A visit to the police would probably result in kind officers phoning for an ambulance while he was restrained for his own good. Telling Jean outright would be too much of a shock for her. He might have written, trying to explain, but he was not much good at letters.
The mimos hung about, attached to him as a parasite is attached to its host, though by invisible ties. From the way it acted, Terry guessed it could understand, at least partially, what were his unvoiced thoughts. But when it was away, perhaps lolling at an afternoon performance in the local cinema, while he worked, he had the impression that its mental contact with him was tenuous.
He was adjusting the carburettor setting on his motor cycle, during a slack period, when the idea came. Could even the mimos survive if plastered at 90 miles per hour against the concrete and steel fencing above the cliffs, and was from there catapulted into the sea ?
When the idea came Terry knew that he must keep it secret. He must not even think of the plan while the mimos was near. And if he were not to give himself away, the attempt must be made soon.
He studied a road map. He had rode along the cliffs so often each section came back. There was a long stretch culminating in a slow climb towards the cliffs, then a sudden turn, with gorse on his left but the sea ahead. His only chance would be the gorse. Bruises in plenty, perhaps broken limbs, were better than a lifetime with his unwanted hanger-on. He wondered if he should try to explain to Jean, but decided against it. He had no more compunction about wiping out the mimos than swatting a mosquito that sat on his neck and bit him, Terry thought.
Familiar steps joined his when he turned the corner away from the garage. Terry ignored the other’s greeting, and they walked side by side the short distance to their lodgings. Terry refused to let his mind dwell on his plan.
“ I’m going sea fishing tonight,” he said when he had finished Mrs. Spears’ excellent tea. His appetite had almost returned. “ You had better not come.”
The mimos spread jam thickly. “ On the contrary, of course I shall come. Though I may say no one I liked ever got away from me. The Juttisti were singularly fast runners.”
Terry watched the slice disappear. “ So that’s one reason why you always keep so close. You’re afraid I’ll give you the slip.”
“ Not really.” The mimos wiped his mouth. “ It’s practically impossible to do that. I’ve never heard of it happening. There were nearly a thousand of us with Juttisti we liked, and none ever got away.”
Like a caught fish, Terry thought. When hook and line were good the fish did not get away.
He got out his tackle, prepared sea lines, stowed fresh bait, and stalked off to fetch his motor cycle from the garage. The mimos followed him, apparently quite content. As he opened the garage door Bentley had left unfastened Terry turned, infuriated.
“ Don’t you get tired of being hated?" he demanded.
The mimos smiled. “ Not a bit. I rather like it. The people and beings we like usually hate us. It’s natural. The last Chevian would have clawed out his own throat with his own front toes if that would have harmed me.”
“ Then I’d have wished him luck !” Terry snorted.
He got out the twin, strapped his rod parallel with the carrier, and started the engine. The mimos slid on to the pillion, folding his toes half round the rests. Terry pulled his goggles down and took the bike out into the road, and through the town.
As the built-up area slid behind, he gave the engine plenty of throttle. It helped to relieve his tension, left less chance that some thought would betray him, and would make the final burst of speed less obvious.
The motor cycle ran well, exhaust note thundering back at him when he sped past isolated houses. On a few short, straight stretches he took her up to 70, the wind a tornado in his ears. He knew she would do 110 easily, with two up, but had his own neck to think of. Two shattered corpses in the [word omitted in the magazine] would be no fun.
He threaded through a village. The road opened, and began to rise. There was a dip, a bend, and then the long, slow climb towards the coast. A mile or more of it, he thought. On nearly full throttle the machine was touching 90, and he let her hum at that.
The roadsides were varicoloured streaks. He could see the gorse ahead, to his left ; could see the rails like the bars of a great potato slicer. He opened the throttle to its stop, rose, and jumped.
The impact was terrible. Gorse ripped through leather, coat, shirt and flesh. Going head over heels, he saw the twin strike the rails, the mimos still clinging to the pillion. The rails seemed to cut machine and pillion passenger into three sections, which blended in horrible confusion as they shot from view. Then Terry landed again, less violently, and came to rest amid thick gorse.
He got up, shaking, astonished that he could move. A thumb was disjointed. Otherwise he seemed virtually unharmed.
Walking unsteadily to the crumpled rails, he looked over. Far below heavy seas boiled over jagged rocks. Both machine and passenger had vanished.
It was late when he got back to town. He tidied himself as best he could, and went to call on Jean. He felt happier than he had since the mimos had appeared, blighting his life.
He saw the look in Jean’s eyes. “ Only a bit of a skid,” he said. “ I— I think I was angry with myself, and things, because it was so long since I last saw you.”
Her eyes softened. “ I was a bit sick of that cousin hanging round, Terry.”
“ So was I.” He massaged his hand. It was not the first time he had a minor dislocation, or jerked it back in for himself, swearing. “ There’s something I want to talk to you about. And something I want to ask you. I’ve been thinking of it a long time, but never got round to it.” He finished lamely, but she smiled. The look encouraged him. “ Suppose we go in and talk, Jean ? Your Mum won’t mind.”
They went into the room Jean called the lounge. Terry felt bruised all over, but happy.
“ I didn’t want my cousin hanging around like that,” he explained. “ But he was a bit difficult to get rid of. He’s got no other ties, you know. And he liked me.”
She nodded, not really listening. “ What was it you wanted to talk over with me, Terry ?”
He sat down heavily near her. “ You know I’ve been at old Bentley’s a good many years, Jean. Though I say it myself, he thinks a lot of me. From what he’s said, I think I could pull off a partnership.”
She smiled, nodding, her eyes pellucid. “ That would be wonderful, Terry. Go on.”
He took her hand, stroking it, thinking how soft and smooth the skin was. Gorse had left red weals across his palm.
“ There’d be plenty for two to live on, Jean, if we were fairly careful . . .”
He paused, licking his lips, aware that a dim, curious rustling had begun. The sound made his skin creep. Hair rose on his neck, primitive fear blending with overwhelming hate. A mass of curiously viscid substance was gathering inside the door, mounting upwards as it flowed through the narrow space between door and carpet. Jean was sitting so that she could not see it, and he froze, not wanting her to look.
“ Go on, Terry, dear,” she murmured.
He sought for words, found none, and watched the mass pile up and up. It was tall as a man. A dribbling, waxy image. Then a clear-cut figure, complete in every detail. Unharmed.
“ Hello.” Its voice was smooth.
Jean turned half in her seat, hand flying to her mouth. Her face paled.
“ I — I thought you had gone away !”
“ No.” The mimos stepped forward into the room. “ We never go away. Why should I ? I like Terry.”
Terry’s nails bit into his palms. His limbs shook, and fury hammered in his mind.
“ I like staying with Terry,” the mimos said. “ He plays tricks, but I’ll be watching for them. I like you lots, don’t I Terry ?”
The mimos smiled. Oh ! you bloody devil ! Terry thought. Back, unharmed, after all that. Indestructible as living protoplasm that could be cut in two, then re-form.
“ Yes, I like Terry,” the smooth voice said.
Terry put his head on his scarred hands and wept.
Francis G. Rayer).
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