Read Another Rib Online

Authors: Marion Zimmer Bradley,Juanita Coulson

Another Rib

Another Rib
Marion Zimmer Bradley and John Jay Wells [Juanita Coulson]
The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction
, June 1963
Introduction to John Jay Wells' and Marion Zimmer Bradleys ANOTHER RIB
We do not know if either of the co-authors of this story were familiar
with the Cabbalistic teaching that Adam Cadmon, or Primal Man, was
androgynous; or with the far from notional statement of the great Biblical
Commentator, Rashi, that the word translated as "rib" in Genesis I, xxi,
actually means "side," and that the operation in fact -- by removing the
feminine "side of Adam Androgyne -- transformed our bisexual Ancestor into
our monosexual ancestors. Familiar or not, they have taken an admittedly
daring theme and dealt with it in good sense and good taste. Marion Zimmer
Bradley, whose first major sale was CENTAURUS CHANGELING (
F&SF
, April
1954), hails from "a somewhat Lovecraftian farm in upstate New York,"
now lives in Texas with her husband and twelve year old son. She has
published many stories and books in many different fields under many
different names, but says that Science Fiction is her first love and the
only fiction that she consistently writes under her own name. Mrs. Bradley
also describes herself as "a nut on circus acrobatics, carnivals, Italian
opera, and folksinging." If any of these interests are shared by John Jay
Wells, we cannot say. In fact, we can say very little about him. His real
name is known only to his collaborator, who describes him as in amateur
journalism, and having some reputation, additionally, as a promising
artist. And now suppose you read their story? It is a strange one, and it
occurs under the strange stars of a strange world . . .
"Remember, you requested it," Fanu murmured. The little alien's
pronunciation was as toneless, as flat as ever, and yet, somehow, it
carried sympathy and distress. "I am sorry, John."
John Everett slumped before the film viewer. At last, reluctantly,
he leaned forward and underlined his shock with a second view. "When --
when did you take this?" he asked.
"A -- I do not know your words for it -- a revolution ago. Do you wish
for a current view, my friend?"
"No. God, no! This is bad enough. You're -- sure of your identification?"
Fanu's three-fingered hand riffled expertly for a sheet of co-ordinates.
Shaking, forcing his eyes and mind to activity, Everett checked the data,
glancing back now and then at the viewer to verify. There was no doubt.
That was Sol -- that had been the Sun -- that vast incandescent swirl
covering . . . oh God, covering a range well beyond Pluto!
He became aware that he had been sitting quite still for man long minutes,
stiff muscles and sluggish circulation forcing themselves, at last, even
through the numbness of his brain. Fanu was waiting.
Fanu was always waiting. The alien had waited aeons. Not Fanu himself,
of course, but his kind. Waiting; always waiting for other life forms,
other intelligences, new civilizations -- new enthusiasms. They had waited
too long. There weren't many left.
"Looks like we've joined you," Everett muttered, bitterly, at last.
"I do not quite understand -- ?"
"You said -- " he paused, groping for a kind word, "that your people are
becoming exinct. Look like mine are -- already."
"Survivors -- "
He got to his feet so quickly he knocked over the chair, and spent fumbling
minutes setting it right. "But there are no survivors. We were the first
probe. Out to the stars. All the way to Proxima Centauri. For what?
An Earth-type planet. Fine, we found one -- but for what? For whom?
Oh, God, for whom!"
"John," softly, a three-fingered hand falling on his shoulder. "You are
not alone, not as I am. You have your friends, your -- your crew."
Everett walked over to the window, and stared out at the valley, dotted
with the tiny huts of the expedition. "For now, yes. Siexteen men -- a good
crew. But we're mortal, Fanu. Human life is pitifully short, compared with
yours. We're mortal -- and we're all male. By your standards, we're -- here
today and gone tomorrow."
"Are you quite sure that need be, John?"
Everett turned to look into the alien's large green eyes, cursing the
inevitable semantic differences, the inability to get a point across in
a hurry. Suddenly the shock, the numbness broke into start horror. He
couldn't stand here painstakingly explaining the differences in the word
men
and the word
male
to a friendly alien, when he'd just
found out . . . found out . . . his voice strangled. "Just take my word
for it, Fanu," he said thickly, "in fifty years, homo sapiens will be a
lot more extinct than your people. Now I've got to go and -- and tell
them -- "
He stumbled blindly away and fumbled for the door, conscious of the big
green eyes still fixed compassionately on his back.
He had managed to calm himself and speak quietly, but the men were as
shocked as he had been, first numb in silent horror, then moving close
together as if to draw comfort from their group, their solidity.
"There's -- no mistake, Cap'n?" Chord asked timidly. He always spoke
timidly; incongruous for such a giant.
"I've seen the plates myself, and the co-ordinates, Chord. And I have no
reason to doubt Fanu's -- the alien's -- data. From what I've been able to
gather, it must have happened about six months after we left. His equipment's
superior to ours, but pretty soon we'll be able to see it for ourselves."
Somewhere in the back row of the group of men, there was a muffled sob.
He could see the anguish on the other faces, men struggling with the idea
of a future that was no future at all. Young Latimer from the drive room --
the one they all called Tip -- had bent over and buried his face in his
hands. It was Tsen, the young navigator, who finally managed the question
on all their minds.
"Then it's -- just us, sir?"
"Just us." Everett waited a moment, then turned away, dismissing them
with his back. It wasn't a thing you could make speeches about. One way
or another, they'd have to come to terms with it, every man for himself.
He heard the rustle of Fanu's garments, and turned to smile a greeting.
The two stood side by side on the hilltop, looking down at the men working
in the little valley. "What is it to be?" Fanu finally inquired.
"It's -- " Everett could not suppress an amused smile, "a hospital for
you -- and Garrett, the pharmacist's mate."
"Oh?" Fanu's features could not duplicate a smile, but his eyes blinked
rapidly with pleasure. "That is most kind. Most kind."
"Hardly. It just takes care of one problem. The two of you can keep us
in good health, I'm sure."
"Your race is so strong!" Fanu's toneless voice gave, nevertheless, an
impression of amazement and awe. "My own people, under such a sentence
as yours, gave themselves over to despair."
"You think we didn't?" Everett's jaw tightened, remembering the first few
weeks; the dazed men, Garrett stopped in the very act of slsahing his wrists.
Then he straightened his back. "We've found that hard work is a remedy for
despair, or at least -- a good defense against it."
"I see," remarked the alien. "Or at least -- I understand that it might
be so. But how long can you work? Will you fill the valley with your
superbly constructed buildings? For sixteen of your race?"
Everett shook his head, bitterly. "We'd all be dead before we can fill the
valley. But at least we'll make ourselves comfortable, before we -- go."
"There is no need to die."
He swung around to face the alien. "You've been hinting that and hinting
that for the last two months! If there's one thing worse than despair it's
false hope! Even if your people were immortal, and they're not -- "
"I did not mean to anger you, John." The strange little paw uplifted in
apology.
"Then quit hinting and say something."
"Mammals -- " Fanu began, then halted, obviously groping for the proper
teminology.
"Yes, we're mammals, technically," Everett snorted, "the mammalian
characteristic perished with our solar system, though."
"That is not true -- or it need not be true."
Everett stared at the alien, wishing for the thousandth time that he could
read that dark expression. Fanu went on, "I have observed your race in
undress, compared with the information from your study reels -- from your
ship -- the material you brought to me so graciously -- I cannot thank you
-- "
"Yes, yes!" he broke in. Fanu was so damned polite. He liked the alien,
but the only one of the Earthmen who really got along with him perfectly
was Tsen, who was used to all this overdone courtesy.
"Forgive me, what I mean is your . . . two sexual groups are so close
together . . ."
Everett's eyes widened. Then he laughed, embarrassed. "You just lost me.
I mean, I don't understand your statement, Fanu."
"Your two sexual types are so exceptionally similar -- "
"Oh, lord, vive la difference!" Everett laughed aloud, and some of the men
in the valley glanced up, curious, pleased to see their captain laughing
with the omnipotent, knowing alien. "If you mean our -- females had two
arms, two legs, and a head, yes, we were very similar, but --"
Fanu regarded John with compassion. "No, not that. I mean that, compared to
our race, your own sexual differences seem minute. It would be a relatively
simple matter to convert one to the other. I recall in the tapes several
instances in which this sort of change occurred naturally, and others in
which the changes were brought about medically."
Everett knew his eyes were bulging, and he felt the anger rising in his
throat. He beat it down. Fanu wouldn't know. He could read about the taboos
of another race without fully appreciating . . . in spite of his revulsion,
Everett gave a sputtering laugh. "Yes, yes, I see your point, Fanu. It's an
interesting theory, but even if it would work, it, well, it wouldn't work
that way."
"Why?"
"Well, it's a matter of -- my men wouldn't stand for it. We're not guinea
pigs," he finished, testily.
"No." The voice was compassionate again. "You are a race doomed to
extinction, with a possible way out. My race had no such second chance."
Fanu glided away toward the laboratory and Everett stared after him, one
thought drumming in his mind. "My God! He wasn't theorizing! He -- he
meant
it!"
The slight noise finally made him look up. He hadn't heard anyone come in,
and started involuntarily at seeing Chord's great hulk before him.
"Sorry to disturb you, Cap'n."
"That isn't necessary, Chord. What can I do for you?"
The big man smiled sheepishly. "Hard to break habits, sir. Guess I never
will." Despite his size and demeanor, Chord was not stupid, though hampered
by poor education and embarrassment for his giant clumsy body. Now he
shifted uneasily from foot to foot as he mumbled. "I -- guess I've been
picked out as a representative, sir. For -- for the men."
"Gripe committee? Look, I'm not really your superior any more, Chord.
We're all together now."
"Yes, sir, but -- you're still Captain."
Everett sighed, waited for the big man to continue. "Some -- some of us
would like to build private quarters, sir. I mean -- not fights, or anything
like that, we just -- we'd like some privacy -- you know -- homes, sir,
like -- "
"Like back on Earth?" Chord nodded dumbly and Everett said, "Well, I see no
objection to that. You didn't need to consult me."
"It's just -- well, sir, some of the guys thought you might get the wrong
idea, sir."
"Wrong idea?" Everett asked stupidly, startled by Chord's red face.
"Well, you know, a couple of men living alone. It's nothing like that, sir.
Honest."
He waited until Chord left before he permitted the embarrassed amusement
to boil over into his face; and knew that the amusement covered some strange
unease that was almost fear.
"He actually worried about it," he laughed, telling Fanu later.
"Shouldn't he?" Fanu inquired gently. "John, don't stare. I'm not sure of
the word in your tongue, but I think your people sense that the -- the last
person to approve of such a matter would be yourself."
Everett got to his feet, angrily. "Are you implying that my men would
actually -- "
"You said they were free agents. You said that they were not your men."
Everett turned away, rubbing a tired hand across his eyes. "Yes, so I did.
Habit."
"Habit in morals too, John?"
"Fanu! Look, I appreciate that you don't know our taboos, probably they're
idiotic, but -- they're
ours
. As for the men -- "
"Do
you
know them, John?"
"Of course."
"How long did you expect to be here?"
He opened his mouth, then paused to consider, mentally counting. "Six months
on planet, eight months coming, eight months back."
"How long have you been here now?"
"Eighteen -- months." His face worked, remembering some of the material
on those cursed tape reels. "Fanu, you're my friend, but what you're
suggesting is ridiculous. You haven't known Earthmen long enough to make
an adequate appraisal."
Fanu shook his head solemnly. "There is a folk saying on your tapes --
we have a similar one -- that one may be too close to the forest to see
the trees." He gestured John to the window and pointed. "Count them, John.
Seven small huts, and three are smaller than the others. Why?"
Trying to swallow the horror in his throat, the suspicion that both
frightened and sickened him, he shook his head in denial. "They're friends.
You wouldn't understand."
"No?" The voice sounded very sad. "Don't you think we had friends among our
own? But you are blessed with bodies that will permit friends to become
mates."
"
Stop it!
" Everett felt like screaming the words; he held a picture
of a large whitewashed wall disintegrating before his eyes, of himself
trying to hold it together with his bare hands, of his men standing by,
staring at him. Fanu was gesturing again. Unwillingly, his eyes followed
the pointing paw. The men had organized an impromptu ball game of some sort,
rough house, much laughing, shouting, pushing and tussling. Two of them
stumbled and fell together. They were slow in getting up and they moved
apart with both reluctance and a touch of conscious guilt.
He jerked away from the window, trying to blot out the sight. The wall had
large holes in it, the ravages of inevitability. His mind worked feverishly
with brush and plaster; children, horseplaying, a reversion to adolescence --

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