Birds of a Feather
Birds of a Feather
By ROBERT SILVERBERG
Illustrated by WOOD
[Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from
Galaxy Magazine November 1958.
Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]
Getting specimens for the interstellar zoo
was no problem—they battled for the honor—but
now I had to fight like a wildcat to
keep a display from making a monkey of me!
It was our first day of recruiting on the planet, and the alienlife-forms had lined up for hundreds of feet back from my rentedoffice. As I came down the block from the hotel, I could hear and seeand smell them with ease.
My three staff men, Auchinleck, Stebbins and Ludlow, walked shieldwisein front of me. I peered between them to size the crop up. The alienscame in every shape and form, in all colors and textures—and all ofthem eager for a Corrigan contract. The Galaxy is full of bizarrebeings, but there's barely a species anywhere that can resist the oldexhibitionist urge.
"Send them in one at a time," I told Stebbins. I ducked into theoffice, took my place back of the desk and waited for the procession tobegin.
The name of the planet was MacTavish IV (if you went by the officialTerran listing) or Ghryne (if you called it by what its people wereaccustomed to calling it). I thought of it privately as MacTavish IVand referred to it publicly as Ghryne. I believe in keeping the localshappy wherever I go.
Through the front window of the office, I could see our big gay tridimsign plastered to a facing wall: WANTED—EXTRATERRESTRIALS! We hadsaturated MacTavish IV with our promotional poop for a month precedingarrival. Stuff like this:
Want to visit Earth—see the Galaxy's most glittering and exclusiveworld? Want to draw good pay, work short hours, experience the thrillsof show business on romantic Terra? If you are a non-terrestrial,there may be a place for you in the Corrigan Institute ofMorphological Science. No freaks wanted—normal beings only. J. F.Corrigan will hold interviews in person on Ghryne from Thirdday toFifthday of Tenmonth. His last visit to the Caledonia Cluster until2937, so don't miss your chance! Hurry! A life of wonder and richescan be yours!
Broadsides like that, distributed wholesale in half a thousandlanguages, always bring them running. And the Corrigan Institute reallypacks in the crowds back on Earth. Why not? It's the best of its kind,the only really decent place where Earthmen can get a gander at theother species of the universe.
The office buzzer sounded. Auchinleck said unctuously, "The firstapplicant is ready to see you, sir."
"Send him, her or it in."
The door opened and a timid-looking life-form advanced toward me onnervous little legs. He was a globular creature about the size of abig basketball, yellowish-green, with two spindly double-kneed legs andfive double-elbowed arms, the latter spaced regularly around his body.There was a lidless eye at the top of his head and five lidded ones,one above each arm. Plus a big, gaping, toothless mouth.
His voice was a surprisingly resounding basso. "You are Mr. Corrigan?"
"That's right." I reached for a data blank. "Before we begin, I'll needcertain information about—"
"I am a being of Regulus II," came the grave, booming reply, evenbefore I had picked up the blank. "I need no special care and I am nota fugitive from the law of any world."
"Lawrence R. Fitzgerald."
I throttled my exclamation of surprise, concealing it behind a quickcough. "Let me have that again, please?"
"Certainly. My name is Lawrence R. Fitzgerald. The 'R' stands forRaymond."
"Of course, that's not the name you were born with."
The being closed his eyes and toddled around in a 360-degree rotation,remaining in place. On his world, that gesture is the equivalent ofan apologetic smile. "My Regulan name no longer matters. I am now andshall evermore be Lawrence R. Fitzgerald. I am a Terraphile, you see."
The little Regulan was as good as hired. Only the formalities remained."You understand our terms, Mr. Fitzgerald?"
"I'll be placed on exhibition at your Institute on Earth. You'll payfor my services, transportation and expenses. I'll be required toremain on exhibit no more than one-third of each Terran sidereal day."
"And the pay will be—ah—$50 Galactic a week, plus expenses andtransportation."
The spherical creature clapped his hands in joy, three hands clappingon one side, two on the other. "Wonderful! I will see Earth at last! Iaccept the terms!"
I buzzed for Ludlow and gave him the fast signal that meant we weresigning this alien up at half the usual pay, and Ludlow took him intothe other office to sign him up.
I grinned, pleased with myself. We needed a green Regulan in our show;the last one had quit four years ago. But just because we needed himdidn't mean we had to be extravagant in hiring him. A Terraphile alienwho goes to the extent of rechristening himself with a Terran monickerwould work for nothing, or even pay us, just so long as we let him getto Earth. My conscience won't let me really exploit a being, but Idon't believe in throwing money away, either.
The next applicant was a beefy ursinoid from Aldebaran IX. Our outfithas all the ursinoids it needs or is likely to need in the next fewdecades, and so I got rid of him in a couple of minutes. He wasfollowed by a roly-poly blue-skinned humanoid from Donovan's Planet,four feet high and five hundred pounds heavy. We already had a coupleof his species in the show, but they made good crowd-pleasers, beingso plump and cheerful. I passed him along to Auchinleck to sign atanything short of top rate.
Next came a bedraggled Sirian spider who was more interested in ahandout than a job. If there's any species we have a real over-supplyof, it's those silver-colored spiders, but this seedy specimen gave ita try anyway. He got the gate in half a minute, and he didn't even getthe handout he was angling for. I don't approve of begging.
The flora of applicants was steady. Ghryne is in the heart of theCaledonia Cluster, where the interstellar crossroads meet. We hadfigured to pick up plenty of new exhibits here and we were right.
It was the isolationism of the late 29th century that turned me intothe successful proprietor of Corrigan's Institute, after some yearsas an impoverished carnival man in the Betelgeuse system. Back in2903, the World Congress declared Terra off-bounds for non-terrestrialbeings, as an offshoot of the Terra for Terrans movement.
Before then, anyone could visit Earth. After the gate clanged down,a non-terrestrial could only get onto Sol III as a specimen in ascientific collection—in short, as an exhibit in a zoo.
That's what the Corrigan Institute of Morphological Science really is,of course. A zoo. But we don't go out and hunt for our specimens; weadvertise and they come flocking to us. Every alien wants to see Earthonce in his lifetime, and there's only one way he can do it.
We don't keep too big an inventory. At last count, we had 690 specimensbefore this trip, representing 298 different intelligent life-forms.My goal is at least one member of at least 500 different races. When Ireach that, I'll sit back and let the competition catch up—if it can.
After an hour of steady work that morning, we had signed eleven newspecimens. At the same time, we had turned away a dozen ursinoids,fifty of the reptilian natives of Ghryne, seven Sirian spiders, and noless than nineteen chlorine-breathing Procyonites wearing gas masks.
It was also my sad duty to nix a Vegan who was negotiating through aGhrynian agent. A Vegan would be a top-flight attraction, being some400 feet long and appropriately fearsome to the eye, but I didn't seehow we could take one on. They're gentle and likable beings, but theirupkeep runs into literally tons of fresh meat a day, and not just anyold kind of meat either. So we had to do without the Vegan.
"One more specimen before lunch," I told Stebbins, "to make it an evendozen."
He looked at me queerly and nodded. A being entered. I took a longclose look at the life-form when it came in, and after that I tookanother one. I wondered what kind of stunt was being pulled. So far asI could tell, the being was quite plainly nothing but an Earthman.
He sat down facing me without being asked and crossed his legs. He wastall and extremely thin, with pale blue eyes and dirty-blond hair, andthough he was clean and reasonably well dressed, he had a shabby lookabout him. He said, in level Terran accents, "I'm looking for a jobwith your outfit, Corrigan."
"There's been a mistake. We're interested in non-terrestrials only."
"I'm a non-terrestrial. My name is Ildwar Gorb, of the planet WazzenazzXIII."
I don't mind conning the public from time to time, but I draw the lineat getting bilked myself. "Look, friend, I'm busy, and I'm not knownfor my sense of humor. Or my generosity."
"I'm not panhandling. I'm looking for a job."
"Then try elsewhere. Suppose you stop wasting my time, bud. You're asEarthborn as I am."
"I've never been within a dozen parsecs of Earth," he said smoothly. "Ihappen to be a representative of the only Earthlike race that existsanywhere in the Galaxy but on Earth itself. Wazzenazz XIII is a smalland little-known planet in the Crab Nebula. Through an evolutionaryfluke, my race is identical with yours. Now, don't you want me in yourcircus?"
"No. And it's not a circus. It's—"
"A scientific institute. I stand corrected."
There was something glib and appealing about this preposterous phony. Iguess I recognized a kindred spirit or I would have tossed him out onhis ear without another word. Instead I played along. "If you're fromsuch a distant place, how come you speak English so well?"
"I'm not speaking. I'm a telepath—not the kind that reads minds, justthe kind that projects. I communicate in symbols that you translateback to colloquial speech."
"Very clever, Mr. Gorb." I grinned at him and shook my head. "You spina good yarn—but for my money, you're really Sam Jones or Phil Smithfrom Earth, stranded here and out of cash. You want a free trip back toEarth. No deal. The demand for beings from Wazzenazz XIII is pretty lowthese days. Zero, in fact. Good-by, Mr. Gorb."
He pointed a finger squarely at me and said, "You're making a bigmistake. I'm just what your outfit needs. A representative of ahitherto utterly unknown race identical to humanity in every respect!Look here, examine my teeth. Absolutely like human teeth! And—"
I pulled away from his yawning mouth. "Good-by, Mr. Gorb," I repeated.
"All I ask is a contract, Corrigan. It isn't much. I'll be a bigattraction. I'll—"
"Good-by, Mr. Gorb!"
He glowered at me reproachfully for a moment, stood up and sauntered tothe door. "I thought you were a man of acumen, Corrigan. Well, thinkit over. Maybe you'll regret your hastiness. I'll be back to give youanother chance."
He slammed the door and I let my grim expression relax into a smile.This was the best con switch yet—an Earthman posing as an alien to geta job!
But I wasn't buying it, even if I could appreciate his clevernessintellectually. There's no such place as Wazzenazz XIII and there'sonly one human race in the Galaxy—on Earth. I was going to need somereal good reason before I gave a down-and-out grifter a free tickethome.
I didn't know it then, but before the day was out, I would have thatreason. And, with it, plenty of trouble on my hands.
The first harbinger of woe turned up after lunch in the person of aKallerian. The Kallerian was the sixth applicant that afternoon. Ihad turned away three more ursinoids, hired a vegetable from Miazan,and said no to a scaly pseudo-armadillo from one of the Delta Worlds.Hardly had the 'dillo scuttled dejectedly out of my office when theKallerian came striding in, not even waiting for Stebbins to admit himofficially.
He was big even for his kind—in the neighborhood of nine feet high,and getting on toward a ton. He planted himself firmly on his threestocky feet, extended his massive arms in a Kallerian greeting-gesture,and growled, "I am Vallo Heraal,