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´╗┐Title: Birds of a Feather
Author: Silverberg, Robert
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Birds of a Feather" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



                          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 alien
life-forms had lined up for hundreds of feet back from my rented
office. As I came down the block from the hotel, I could hear and see
and smell them with ease.

My three staff men, Auchinleck, Stebbins and Ludlow, walked shieldwise
in front of me. I peered between them to size the crop up. The aliens
came in every shape and form, in all colors and textures--and all of
them eager for a Corrigan contract. The Galaxy is full of bizarre
beings, but there's barely a species anywhere that can resist the old
exhibitionist urge.

"Send them in one at a time," I told Stebbins. I ducked into the
office, took my place back of the desk and waited for the procession to
begin.

The name of the planet was MacTavish IV (if you went by the official
Terran listing) or Ghryne (if you called it by what its people were
accustomed to calling it). I thought of it privately as MacTavish IV
and referred to it publicly as Ghryne. I believe in keeping the locals
happy wherever I go.

Through the front window of the office, I could see our big gay tridim
sign plastered to a facing wall: WANTED--EXTRATERRESTRIALS! We had
saturated MacTavish IV with our promotional poop for a month preceding
arrival. Stuff like this:


    Want to visit Earth--see the Galaxy's most glittering and exclusive
    world? Want to draw good pay, work short hours, experience the
    thrills of show business on romantic Terra? If you are a
    non-terrestrial, there may be a place for you in the Corrigan
    Institute of Morphological Science. No freaks wanted--normal beings
    only. J. F. Corrigan will hold interviews in person on Ghryne from
    Thirdday to Fifthday of Tenmonth. His last visit to the Caledonia
    Cluster until 2937, so don't miss your chance! Hurry! A life of
    wonder and riches can be yours!

       *       *       *       *       *

Broadsides like that, distributed wholesale in half a thousand
languages, always bring them running. And the Corrigan Institute really
packs 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 the
other species of the universe.

The office buzzer sounded. Auchinleck said unctuously, "The first
applicant is ready to see you, sir."

"Send him, her or it in."

The door opened and a timid-looking life-form advanced toward me on
nervous little legs. He was a globular creature about the size of a
big basketball, yellowish-green, with two spindly double-kneed legs and
five 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 need
certain information about--"

"I am a being of Regulus II," came the grave, booming reply, even
before I had picked up the blank. "I need no special care and I am not
a fugitive from the law of any world."

"Your name?"

"Lawrence R. Fitzgerald."

I throttled my exclamation of surprise, concealing it behind a quick
cough. "Let me have that again, please?"

"Certainly. My name is Lawrence R. Fitzgerald. The 'R' stands for
Raymond."

"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 of
an apologetic smile. "My Regulan name no longer matters. I am now and
shall 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 pay
for my services, transportation and expenses. I'll be required to
remain on exhibit no more than one-third of each Terran sidereal day."

"And the pay will be--ah--$50 Galactic a week, plus expenses and
transportation."

The spherical creature clapped his hands in joy, three hands clapping
on one side, two on the other. "Wonderful! I will see Earth at last! I
accept the terms!"

I buzzed for Ludlow and gave him the fast signal that meant we were
signing this alien up at half the usual pay, and Ludlow took him into
the 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 him
didn't mean we had to be extravagant in hiring him. A Terraphile alien
who goes to the extent of rechristening himself with a Terran monicker
would work for nothing, or even pay us, just so long as we let him get
to Earth. My conscience won't let me really _exploit_ a being, but I
don't believe in throwing money away, either.

The next applicant was a beefy ursinoid from Aldebaran IX. Our outfit
has all the ursinoids it needs or is likely to need in the next few
decades, and so I got rid of him in a couple of minutes. He was
followed by a roly-poly blue-skinned humanoid from Donovan's Planet,
four feet high and five hundred pounds heavy. We already had a couple
of his species in the show, but they made good crowd-pleasers, being
so plump and cheerful. I passed him along to Auchinleck to sign at
anything short of top rate.

Next came a bedraggled Sirian spider who was more interested in a
handout than a job. If there's any species we have a real over-supply
of, it's those silver-colored spiders, but this seedy specimen gave it
a try anyway. He got the gate in half a minute, and he didn't even get
the handout he was angling for. I don't approve of begging.

The flora of applicants was steady. Ghryne is in the heart of the
Caledonia Cluster, where the interstellar crossroads meet. We had
figured to pick up plenty of new exhibits here and we were right.

       *       *       *       *       *

It was the isolationism of the late 29th century that turned me into
the successful proprietor of Corrigan's Institute, after some years
as an impoverished carnival man in the Betelgeuse system. Back in
2903, the World Congress declared Terra off-bounds for non-terrestrial
beings, 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 a
scientific 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; we
advertise and they come flocking to us. Every alien wants to see Earth
once 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 specimens
before this trip, representing 298 different intelligent life-forms.
My goal is at least one member of at least 500 different races. When I
reach 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 new
specimens. At the same time, we had turned away a dozen ursinoids,
fifty of the reptilian natives of Ghryne, seven Sirian spiders, and no
less than nineteen chlorine-breathing Procyonites wearing gas masks.

It was also my sad duty to nix a Vegan who was negotiating through a
Ghrynian agent. A Vegan would be a top-flight attraction, being some
400 feet long and appropriately fearsome to the eye, but I didn't see
how we could take one on. They're gentle and likable beings, but their
upkeep runs into literally tons of fresh meat a day, and not just any
old kind of meat either. So we had to do without the Vegan.

"One more specimen before lunch," I told Stebbins, "to make it an even
dozen."

He looked at me queerly and nodded. A being entered. I took a long
close look at the life-form when it came in, and after that I took
another one. I wondered what kind of stunt was being pulled. So far as
I could tell, the being was quite plainly nothing but an Earthman.

He sat down facing me without being asked and crossed his legs. He was
tall and extremely thin, with pale blue eyes and dirty-blond hair, and
though he was clean and reasonably well dressed, he had a shabby look
about him. He said, in level Terran accents, "I'm looking for a job
with 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 Wazzenazz
XIII."

       *       *       *       *       *

I don't mind conning the public from time to time, but I draw the line
at getting bilked myself. "Look, friend, I'm busy, and I'm not known
for 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 as
Earthborn as I am."

"I've never been within a dozen parsecs of Earth," he said smoothly. "I
happen to be a representative of the only Earthlike race that exists
anywhere in the Galaxy but on Earth itself. Wazzenazz XIII is a small
and little-known planet in the Crab Nebula. Through an evolutionary
fluke, my race is identical with yours. Now, don't you want me in your
circus?"

"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. I
guess I recognized a kindred spirit or I would have tossed him out on
his ear without another word. Instead I played along. "If you're from
such a distant place, how come you speak English so well?"

"I'm not speaking. I'm a telepath--not the kind that reads minds, just
the kind that projects. I communicate in symbols that you translate
back to colloquial speech."

"Very clever, Mr. Gorb." I grinned at him and shook my head. "You spin
a good yarn--but for my money, you're really Sam Jones or Phil Smith
from Earth, stranded here and out of cash. You want a free trip back to
Earth. No deal. The demand for beings from Wazzenazz XIII is pretty low
these days. Zero, in fact. Good-by, Mr. Gorb."

He pointed a finger squarely at me and said, "You're making a big
mistake. I'm just what your outfit needs. A representative of a
hitherto 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 big
attraction. I'll--"

"_Good-by, Mr. Gorb!_"

He glowered at me reproachfully for a moment, stood up and sauntered to
the door. "I thought you were a man of acumen, Corrigan. Well, think
it over. Maybe you'll regret your hastiness. I'll be back to give you
another 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 get
a job!

But I wasn't buying it, even if I could appreciate his cleverness
intellectually. There's no such place as Wazzenazz XIII and there's
only one human race in the Galaxy--on Earth. I was going to need some
real good reason before I gave a down-and-out grifter a free ticket
home.

I didn't know it then, but before the day was out, I would have that
reason. And, with it, plenty of trouble on my hands.

       *       *       *       *       *

The first harbinger of woe turned up after lunch in the person of a
Kallerian. The Kallerian was the sixth applicant that afternoon. I
had 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 the
Kallerian came striding in, not even waiting for Stebbins to admit him
officially.

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 three
stocky feet, extended his massive arms in a Kallerian greeting-gesture,
and growled, "I am Vallo Heraal, Freeman of Kaller IV. You will sign me
immediately to a contract."

"Sit down, Freeman Heraal. I like to make my own decisions, thanks."

"You will grant me a contract!"

"Will you please sit down?"

He said sulkily, "I will remain standing."

"As you prefer." My desk has a few concealed features which are
sometimes useful in dealing with belligerent or disappointed
life-forms. My fingers roamed to the meshgun trigger, just in case of
trouble.

The Kallerian stood motionless before me. They're hairy creatures, and
this one had a coarse, thick mat of blue fur completely covering his
body. Two fierce eyes glimmered out through the otherwise dense blanket
of fur. He was wearing the kilt, girdle and ceremonial blaster of his
warlike race.

I said, "You'll have to understand, Freeman Heraal, that it's not our
policy to maintain more than a few members of each species at our
Institute. And we're not currently in need of any Kallerian males,
because--"

"You will hire me or trouble I will make!"

I opened our inventory chart. I showed him that we were already
carrying four Kallerians, and that was more than plenty.

The beady little eyes flashed like beacons in the fur. "Yes, you have
four representatives--of the Clan Verdrokh! None of the Clan Gursdrinn!
For three years, I have waited for a chance to avenge this insult to
the noble Clan Gursdrinn!"

At the key-word _avenge_, I readied myself to ensnarl the Kallerian
in a spume of tanglemesh the instant he went for his blaster, but he
didn't move. He bellowed, "I have vowed a vow, Earthman. Take me to
Earth, enroll a Gursdrinn, or the consequences will be terrible!"

       *       *       *       *       *

I'm a man of principles, like all straightforward double-dealers, and
one of the most important of those principles is that I never let
myself be bullied by anyone. "I deeply regret having unintentionally
insulted your clan, Freeman Heraal. Will you accept my apologies?"

He glared at me in silence.

I went on, "Please be assured that I'll undo the insult at the earliest
possible opportunity. It's not feasible for us to hire another
Kallerian now, but I'll give preference to the Clan Gursdrinn as soon
as a vacancy--"

"No. You will hire me now."

"It can't be done, Freeman Heraal. We have a budget, and we stick to
it."

"You will rue! I will take drastic measures!"

"Threats will get you nowhere, Freeman Heraal. I give you my word I'll
get in touch with you as soon as our organization has room for another
Kallerian. And now, please, there are many applicants waiting--"

You'd think it would be sort of humiliating to become a specimen in a
zoo, but most of these races take it as an honor. And there's always
the chance that, by picking a given member of a race, we're insulting
all the others.

I nudged the trouble-button on the side of my desk and Auchinleck and
Ludlow appeared simultaneously from the two doors at right and left.
They surrounded the towering Kallerian and sweet-talkingly led him
away. He wasn't minded to quarrel physically, or he could have knocked
them both into the next city with a backhand swipe of his shaggy paw,
but he kept up a growling flow of invective and threats until he was
out in the hall.

I mopped sweat from my forehead and began to buzz Stebbins for the next
applicant. But before my finger touched the button, the door popped
open and a small being came scooting in, followed by an angry Stebbins.

"Come here, you!"

"Stebbins?" I said gently.

"I'm sorry, Mr. Corrigan. I lost sight of this one for a moment, and he
came running in--"

"Please, please," squeaked the little alien pitifully. "I must see you,
honored sir!"

"It isn't his turn in line," Stebbins protested. "There are at least
fifty ahead of him."

"All right," I said tiredly. "As long as he's in here already, I might
as well see him. Be more careful next time, Stebbins."

Stebbins nodded dolefully and backed out.

       *       *       *       *       *

The alien was a pathetic sight: a Stortulian, a squirrely-looking
creature about three feet high. His fur, which should have been a
lustrous black, was a dull gray, and his eyes were wet and sad. His
tail drooped. His voice was little more than a faint whimper, even at
full volume.

"Begging your most honored pardon most humbly, important sir. I am a
being of Stortul XII, having sold my last few possessions to travel
to Ghryne for the miserable purpose of obtaining an interview with
yourself."

I said, "I'd better tell you right at the outset that we're already
carrying our full complement of Stortulians. We have both a male and a
female now and--"

"This is known to me. The female--is her name perchance Tiress?"

I glanced down at the inventory chart until I found the Stortulian
entry. "Yes, that's her name."

The little being immediately emitted a soul-shaking gasp. "It is she!
It is she!"

"I'm afraid we don't have room for any more--"

"You are not in full understanding of my plight. The female Tiress,
she is--was--my own Fire-sent spouse, my comfort and my warmth, my life
and my love."

"Funny," I said. "When we signed her three years ago, she said she was
single. It's right here on the chart."

"She lied! She left my burrow because she longed to see the splendors
of Earth. And I am alone, bound by our sacred customs never to remarry,
languishing in sadness and pining for her return. You _must_ take me to
Earth!"

"But--"

"I must see her--her and this disgrace-bringing lover of hers. I must
reason with her. Earthman, can't you see I must appeal to her inner
flame? _I must bring her back!_"

My face was expressionless. "You don't really intend to join our
organization at all--you just want free passage to Earth?"

"Yes, yes!" wailed the Stortulian. "Find some other member of my race,
if you must! Let me have my wife again, Earthman! Is your heart a dead
lump of stone?"

       *       *       *       *       *

It isn't, but another of my principles is to refuse to be swayed by
sentiment. I felt sorry for this being's domestic troubles, but I
wasn't going to break up a good act just to make an alien squirrel
happy--not to mention footing the transportation.

I said, "I don't see how we can manage it. The laws are very strict
on the subject of bringing alien life to Earth. It has to be for
scientific purposes only. And if I know in advance that your purpose in
coming isn't scientific, I can't in all conscience _lie_ for you, can
I?"

"Well--"

"Of course not." I took advantage of his pathetic upset to steam right
along. "Now if you had come in here and simply asked me to sign you up,
I might conceivably have done it. But no--you had to go unburden your
heart to me."

"I thought the truth would move you."

"It did. But in effect you're now asking me to conspire in a fraudulent
criminal act. Friend, I can't do it. My reputation means too much to
me," I said piously.

"Then you will refuse me?"

"My heart melts to nothingness for you. But I can't take you to Earth."

"Perhaps you will send my wife to me here?"

There's a clause in every contract that allows me to jettison an
unwanted specimen. All I have to do is declare it no longer of
scientific interest, and the World Government will deport the
undesirable alien back to its home world. But I wouldn't pull a low
trick like that on our female Stortulian.

I said, "I'll ask her about coming home. But I won't ship her back
against her will. And maybe she's happier where she is."

The Stortulian seemed to shrivel. His eyelids closed half-way to mask
his tears. He turned and shambled slowly to the door, walking like a
living dishrag. In a bleak voice, he said, "There is no hope then. All
is lost. I will never see my soulmate again. Good day, Earthman."

He spoke in a drab monotone that almost, but not quite, had me weeping.
I watched him shuffle out. I do have _some_ conscience, and I had the
uneasy feeling I had just been talking to a being who was about to
commit suicide on my account.

       *       *       *       *       *

About fifty more applicants were processed without a hitch. Then life
started to get complicated again.

Nine of the fifty were okay. The rest were unacceptable for one reason
or another, and they took the bad news quietly enough. The haul for the
day so far was close to two dozen new life-forms under contract.

I had just about begun to forget about the incidents of the Kallerian's
outraged pride and the Stortulian's flighty wife when the door opened
and the Earthman who called himself Ildwar Gorb of Wazzenazz XIII
stepped in.

"How did _you_ get in here?" I demanded.

"Your man happened to be looking the wrong way," he said cheerily.
"Change your mind about me yet?"

"Get out before I have you thrown out."

Gorb shrugged. "I figured you hadn't changed your mind, so I've changed
my pitch a bit. If you won't believe I'm from Wazzenazz XIII, suppose I
tell you that I _am_ Earthborn, and that I'm looking for a job on your
staff."

"I don't care _what_ your story is! Get out or--"

"--you'll have me thrown out. Okay, okay. Just give me half a second.
Corrigan, you're no fool, and neither am I--but that fellow of yours
outside _is_. He doesn't know how to handle alien beings. How many
times today has a life-form come in here unexpectedly?"

I scowled at him. "Too damn many."

"You see? He's incompetent. Suppose you fire him, take me on instead.
I've been living in the outworlds half my life; I know all there is to
know about alien life-forms. You can use me, Corrigan."

I took a deep breath and glanced all around the paneled ceiling of
the office before I spoke. "Listen, Gorb, or whatever your name is,
I've had a hard day. There's been a Kallerian in here who just about
threatened murder, and there's been a Stortulian in here who's about
to commit suicide because of me. I have a conscience and it's troubling
me. But get this: I just want to finish off my recruiting, pack up and
go home to Earth. I don't want you hanging around here bothering me.
I'm not looking to hire new staff members, and if you switch back to
claiming you're an unknown life-form from Wazzenazz XIII, the answer is
that I'm not looking for any of _those_ either. Now will you scram or--"

The office door crashed open at that point and Heraal, the Kallerian,
came thundering in. He was dressed from head to toe in glittering
metalfoil, and instead of his ceremonial blaster, he was wielding
a sword the length of a human being. Stebbins and Auchinleck came
dragging helplessly along in his wake, hanging desperately to his belt.

"Sorry, Chief," Stebbins gasped. "I tried to keep him out, but--"

Heraal, who had planted himself in front of my desk, drowned him out
with a roar. "Earthman, you have mortally insulted the Clan Gursdrinn!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Sitting with my hands poised near the meshgun trigger, I was ready to
let him have it at the first sight of actual violence.

Heraal boomed, "You are responsible for what is to happen now. I have
notified the authorities and you prosecuted will be for causing the
death of a life-form! Suffer, Earthborn ape! Suffer!"

"Watch it, Chief," Stebbins yelled. "He's going to--"

An instant before my numb fingers could tighten on the meshgun
trigger, Heraal swung that huge sword through the air and plunged it
savagely through his body. He toppled forward onto the carpet with the
sword projecting a couple of feet out of his back. A few driblets of
bluish-purple blood spread from beneath him.

Before I could react to the big life-form's hara-kiri, the office door
flew open again and three sleek reptilian beings entered, garbed in the
green sashes of the local police force. Their golden eyes goggled down
at the figure on the floor, then came to rest on me.

"You are J. F. Corrigan?" the leader asked.

"Y-yes."

"We have received word of a complaint against you. Said complaint
being--"

"--that your unethical actions have directly contributed to the
untimely death of an intelligent life-form," filled in the second of
the Ghrynian policemen.

"The evidence lies before us," intoned the leader, "in the cadaver
of the unfortunate Kallerian who filed the complaint with us several
minutes ago."

"And therefore," said the third lizard, "it is our duty to arrest
you for this crime and declare you subject to a fine of no less than
$100,000 Galactic or two years in prison."

"Hold on!" I stormed. "You mean that any being from anywhere in the
Universe can come in here and gut himself on my carpet, and _I'm_
responsible?"

"This is the law. Do you deny that your stubborn refusal to yield to
this late life-form's request lies at the root of his sad demise?"

"Well, no, but--"

"Failure to deny is admission of guilt. You are guilty, Earthman."

       *       *       *       *       *

Closing my eyes wearily, I tried to wish the whole babbling lot of them
away. If I had to, I could pony up the hundred-grand fine, but it was
going to put an awful dent in this year's take. And I shuddered when I
remembered that any minute that scrawny little Stortulian was likely to
come bursting in here to kill himself too. Was it a fine of $100,000
per suicide? At that rate, I could be out of business by nightfall.

I was spared further such morbid thoughts by yet another unannounced
arrival.

The small figure of the Stortulian trudged through the open doorway
and stationed itself limply near the threshold. The three Ghrynian
policemen and my three assistants forgot the dead Kallerian for a
moment and turned to eye the newcomer.

I had visions of unending troubles with the law here on Ghryne. I
resolved never to come here on a recruiting trip again--or, if I _did_
come, to figure out some more effective way of screening myself against
crackpots.

In heart-rending tones, the Stortulian declared, "Life is no longer
worth living. My last hope is gone. There is only one thing left for me
to do."

I was quivering at the thought of another hundred thousand smackers
going down the drain. "Stop him, somebody! He's going to kill himself!
He's--"

Then somebody sprinted toward me, hit me amidships, and knocked me
flying out from behind my desk before I had a chance to fire the
meshgun. My head walloped the floor, and for five or six seconds, I
guess I wasn't fully aware of what was going on.

Gradually the scene took shape around me. There was a monstrous hole
in the wall behind my desk; a smoking blaster lay on the floor, and I
saw the three Ghrynian policemen sitting on the raving Stortulian. The
man who called himself Ildwar Gorb was getting to his feet and dusting
himself off.

He helped me up. "Sorry to have had to tackle you, Corrigan. But that
Stortulian wasn't here to commit suicide, you see. He was out to get
you."

I weaved dizzily toward my desk and dropped into my chair. A flying
fragment of wall had deflated my pneumatic cushion. The smell of ashed
plaster was everywhere. The police were effectively cocooning the
struggling little alien in an unbreakable tanglemesh.

"Evidently you don't know as much as you think you do about Stortulian
psychology, Corrigan," Gorb said lightly. "Suicide is completely
abhorrent to them. When they're troubled, they kill the person who
caused their trouble. In this case, you."

       *       *       *       *       *

I began to chuckle--more of a tension-relieving snicker than a
full-bodied laugh.

"Funny," I said.

"What is?" asked the self-styled Wazzenazzian.

"These aliens. Big blustery Heraal came in with murder in his eye and
killed _himself_, and the pint-sized Stortulian who looked so meek and
pathetic damn near blew my head off." I shuddered. "Thanks for the
tackle job."

"Don't mention it," Gorb said.

I glared at the Ghrynian police. "Well? What are you waiting for? Take
that murderous little beast out of here! Or isn't murder against the
local laws?"

"The Stortulian will be duly punished," replied the leader of the
Ghrynian cops calmly. "But there is the matter of the dead Kallerian
and the fine of--"

"--one hundred thousand dollars. I know." I groaned and turned to
Stebbins. "Get the Terran Consulate on the phone, Stebbins. Have them
send down a legal adviser. Find out if there's any way we can get out
of this mess with our skins intact."

"Right, Chief." Stebbins moved toward the visiphone.

Gorb stepped forward and put a hand on his chest.

"Hold it," the Wazzenazzian said crisply. "The Consulate can't help
you. I can."

"You?" I said.

"I can get you out of this cheap."

"_How_ cheap?"

Gorb grinned rakishly. "Five thousand in cash plus a contract as a
specimen with your outfit. In advance, of course. That's a heck of a
lot better than forking over a hundred grand, isn't it?"

I eyed Gorb uncertainly. The Terran Consulate people probably wouldn't
be much help; they tried to keep out of local squabbles unless they
were really serious, and I knew from past experiences that no officials
ever worried much about the state of my pocketbook. On the other hand,
giving this slyster a contract might be a risky proposition.

"Tell you what," I said finally. "You've got yourself a deal--but on
a contingency basis. Get me out of this and you'll have five grand and
the contract. Otherwise, nothing."

Gorb shrugged. "What have I to lose?"

       *       *       *       *       *

Before the police could interfere, Gorb trotted over to the hulking
corpse of the Kallerian and fetched it a mighty kick.

"Wake up, you faker! Stop playing possum and stand up! You aren't
fooling anyone!"

The Ghrynians got off the huddled little assassin and tried to stop
Gorb. "Your pardon, but the dead require your respect," began one of
the lizards mildly.

Gorb whirled angrily. "Maybe the dead do--but this character isn't
dead!"

He knelt and said loudly in the Kallerian's dishlike ear, "You might
as well quit it, Heraal. Listen to this, you shamming mountain of
meat--_your mother knits doilies for the Clan Verdrokh_!"

The supposedly dead Kallerian emitted a twenty-cycle rumble that shook
the floor, and clambered to his feet, pulling the sword out of his body
and waving it in the air. Gorb leaped back nimbly, snatched up the
Stortulian's fallen blaster, and trained it neatly on the big alien's
throat before he could do any damage. The Kallerian grumbled and
lowered his sword.

I felt groggy. I thought I knew plenty about non-terrestrial
life-forms, but I was learning a few things today. "I don't understand.
How--"

The police were blue with chagrin. "A thousand pardons, Earthman. There
seems to have been some error."

"There seems to have been a cute little con game," Gorb remarked
quietly.

I recovered my balance. "Try to milk me of a hundred grand when
there's been no crime?" I snapped. "I'll say there's been an error!
If I weren't a forgiving man, I'd clap the bunch of you in jail for
attempting to defraud an Earthman! Get out of here! And take that
would-be murderer with you!"

They got, and they got fast, burbling apologies as they went. They had
tried to fox an Earthman, and that's a dangerous sport. They dragged
the cocooned form of the Stortulian with them. The air seemed to clear,
and peace was restored. I signaled to Auchinleck and he slammed the
door.

"All right." I looked at Gorb and jerked a thumb at the Kallerian.
"That's a nice trick. How does it work?"

       *       *       *       *       *

Gorb smiled pleasantly. He was enjoying this, I could see. "Kallerians
of the Clan Gursdrinn specialize in a kind of mental discipline,
Corrigan. It isn't too widely known in this area of the Galaxy, but
men of that clan have unusual mental control over their bodies. They
can cut off circulation and nervous-system response in large chunks of
their bodies for hours at a stretch--an absolutely perfect imitation of
death. And, of course, when Heraal put the sword through himself, it
was a simple matter to avoid hitting any vital organs en route."

The Kallerian, still at gunpoint, hung his head in shame. I turned on
him. "So--try to swindle me, eh? You cooked this whole fake suicide up
in collusion with those cops."

He looked quite a sight, with that gaping slash running clear through
his body. But the wound had begun to heal already. "I regret the
incident, Earthman. I am mortified. Be good enough to destroy this
unworthy person."

It was a tempting idea, but a notion was forming in my showman's mind.
"No, I won't destroy you. Tell me--how often can you do that trick?"

"The tissues will regenerate in a few hours."

"Would you mind having to kill yourself every day, Heraal? And twice on
Sundays?"

Heraal looked doubtful. "Well, for the honor of my Clan, perhaps--"

Stebbins said, "Boss, you mean--"

"Shut up. Heraal, you're hired--$75 a week plus expenses. Stebbins, get
me a contract form--and type in a clause requiring Heraal to perform
his suicide stunt at least five but no more than eight times a week."

I felt a satisfied glow. There's nothing more pleasing than to turn a
swindle into a sure-fire crowd-puller.

"Aren't you forgetting something, Corrigan?" asked Ildwar Gorb in a
quietly menacing voice. "We had a little agreement, you know."

"Oh. Yes." I moistened my lips and glanced shiftily around the office.
There had been too many witnesses. I couldn't back down. I had no
choice but to write out a check for five grand and give Gorb a standard
alien-specimen contract. Unless....

"Just a second," I said. "To enter Earth as an alien exhibit, you need
proof of alien origin."

He grinned, pulled out a batch of documents. "Nothing to it.
Everything's stamped and in order--and anybody who wants to prove
these papers are fraudulent will have to find Wazzenazz XIII first!"

We signed and I filed the contracts away. But only then did it occur
to me that the events of the past hour might have been even more
complicated than they looked. Suppose, I wondered, Gorb had conspired
with Heraal to stage the fake suicide, and rung in the cops as
well--with contracts for both of them the price of my getting off the
hook?

It could very well be. And if it was, it meant I had been taken as
neatly as any chump I'd ever conned.

Carefully keeping a poker face, I did a silent burn. Gorb, or whatever
his real name was, was going to find himself living up to that contract
he'd signed--every damn word and letter of it!

       *       *       *       *       *

We left Ghryne later that week, having interviewed some eleven hundred
alien life-forms and having hired fifty-two. It brought the register
of our zoo--pardon me, the Institute--to a nice pleasant 742 specimens
representing 326 intelligent life-forms.

Ildwar Gorb, the Wazzenazzian--who admitted that his real name was Mike
Higgins, of St. Louis--turned out to be a tower of strength on the
return voyage. It developed that he really _did_ know all there was to
know about alien life-forms.

When he found out I had turned down the 400-foot-long Vegan because
the upkeep would be too big, Gorb-Higgins rushed off to the Vegan's
agent and concluded a deal whereby we acquired a fertilized Vegan
ovum, weighing hardly more than an ounce. Transporting _that_ was a
lot cheaper than lugging a full-grown adult Vegan, besides which,
he assured me that the infant beast could be adapted to a diet of
vegetables without any difficulty.

He made life a lot easier for me during the six-week voyage to Earth in
our specially constructed ship. With fifty-two alien life-forms aboard,
all sorts of dietary problems arose, not to mention the headaches
that popped up over pride of place and the like. The Kallerian simply
refused to be quartered anywhere but on the left-hand side of the ship,
for example--but that was the side we had reserved for low-gravity
creatures, and there was no room for him there.

"We'll be traveling in hyperspace all the way to Earth," Gorb-Higgins
assured the stubborn Kallerian. "Our cosmostatic polarity will be
reversed, you see."

"Hah?" asked Heraal in confusion.

"The cosmostatic polarity. If you take a bunk on the left-hand side of
the ship, you'll be traveling on the right-hand side all the way there!"

"Oh," said the big Kallerian. "I didn't know that. Thank you for
explaining."

He gratefully took the stateroom we assigned him.

Higgins really had a way with the creatures, all right. He made us look
like fumbling amateurs, and I had been operating in this business more
than fifteen years.

Somehow Higgins managed to be on the spot whenever trouble broke out.
A highly strung Norvennith started a feud with a pair of Vanoinans
over an alleged moral impropriety; Norvennithi can be _very_ stuffy
sometimes. But Gorb convinced the outraged being that what the
Vanoinans were doing in the washroom was perfectly proper. Well, it
was, but I'd never have thought of using that particular analogy.

I could list half a dozen other incidents in which Gorb-Higgins'
special knowledge of outworld beings saved us from annoying hassles on
that trip back. It was the first time I had ever had another man with
brains in the organization and I was getting worried.

When I first set up the Institute back in the early 2920s, it was with
my own capital, scraped together while running a comparative biology
show on Betelgeuse IX. I saw to it that I was the sole owner. And I
took care to hire competent but unspectacular men as my staffers--men
like Stebbins, Auchinleck and Ludlow.

Only now I had a viper in my bosom, in the person of this Ildwar
Gorb-Mike Higgins. He could think for himself. He knew a good racket
when he saw one. We were birds of a feather, Higgins and I. I doubted
if there was room for both of us in this outfit.

       *       *       *       *       *

I sent for him just before we were about to make Earthfall, offered him
a few slugs of brandy before I got to the point. "Mike, I've watched
the way you handled the exhibits on the way back here."

"The _other_ exhibits," he pointed out. "I'm one of them, not a staff
man."

"Your Wazzenazzian status is just a fiction cooked up to get you past
the immigration authorities, Mike. But I've got a proposition for you."

"Propose away."

"I'm getting a little too old for this starcombing routine," I said.
"Up to now, I've been doing my own recruiting, but only because I
couldn't trust anyone else to do the job. I think you could handle
it, though." I stubbed out my cigarette and lit another. "Tell you
what, Mike--I'll rip up your contract as an exhibit, and I'll give you
another one as a staffman, paying twice as much. Your job will be to
roam the planets finding new material for us. How about it?"

I had the new contract all drawn up. I pushed it toward him, but he put
his hand down over mine and smiled amiably as he said, "No go."

"No? Not even for twice the pay?"

"I've done my own share of roaming," he said. "Don't offer me more
money. I just want to settle down on Earth, Jim. I don't care about
the cash. Honest."

It was very touching, and also very phony, but there was nothing I
could do. I couldn't get rid of him that way. I had to bring him to
Earth.

The immigration officials argued about his papers, but he'd had the
things so cleverly faked that there was no way of proving he wasn't
from Wazzenazz XIII. We set him up in a key spot of the building.

The Kallerian, Heraal, is one of our top attractions now. Every day at
two in the afternoon, he commits ritual suicide, and soon afterward
rises from death to the accompaniment of a trumpet fanfare. The four
other Kallerians we had before are wildly jealous of the crowds he
draws, but they're just not trained to do his act.

But the unquestioned number one attraction here is confidence man Mike
Higgins. He's billed as the only absolutely human life-form from an
extraterrestrial planet, and though we've had our share of debunking,
it has only increased business.

Funny that the biggest draw at a zoo like ours should be a home-grown
Earthman, but that's show business.

       *       *       *       *       *

A couple of weeks after we got back, Mike added a new wrinkle to the
act. He turned up with a blonde showgirl named Marie, and now we
have a Woman from Wazzenazz too. It's more fun for Mike that way. And
downright clever.

He's too clever, in fact. Like I said, I appreciate a good confidence
man, the way some people appreciate fine wine. But I wish I had left
Ildwar Gorb back on Ghryne, instead of signing him up with us.

Yesterday he stopped by at my office after we had closed down for the
day. He was wearing that pleasant smile he always wears when he's up to
something.

He accepted a drink, as usual, and then he said, "Jim, I was talking to
Lawrence R. Fitzgerald yesterday."

"The little Regulan? The green basketball?"

"That's the one. He tells me he's only getting $50 a week. And a lot of
the other boys here are drawing pretty low pay too."

My stomach gave a warning twinge. "Mike, if you're looking for a raise,
I've told you time and again you're worth it to me. How about twenty a
week?"

He held up one hand. "I'm not angling for a raise for _me_, Jim."

"What then?"

He smiled beatifically. "The boys and I held a little meeting yesterday
evening, and we--ah--formed a union, with me as leader. I'd like to
discuss the idea of a general wage increase for every one of the
exhibits here."

"Higgins, you blackmailer, how can I afford--"

"Easy," he said. "You'd hate to lose a few weeks' gross, wouldn't you?"

"You mean you'd call a strike?"

He shrugged. "If you leave me no choice, how else can I protect my
members' interests?"

After about half an hour of haggling, he sweated me into an
across-the-board increase for the entire mob, with a distinct hint of
further raises to come. But he also casually let me know the price he's
asking to call off the hounds. He wants a partnership in the Institute;
a share in the receipts.

If he gets that, it makes him a member of management, and he'll have to
quit as union leader. That way I won't have him to contend with as a
negotiator.

But I _will_ have him firmly embedded in the organization, and once
he gets his foot in the door, he won't be satisfied until he's on
top--which means when I'm out.

       *       *       *       *       *

But I'm not licked yet! Not after a full lifetime of conniving and
swindling! I've been over and over the angles and there's one thing you
can always count on--a trickster will always outsmart himself if you
give him the chance. I did it with Higgins. Now he's done it with me.

He'll be back here in half an hour to find out whether he gets his
partnership or not. Well, he'll get his answer. I'm going to affirm, as
per the escape clause in the standard exhibit contract he signed, that
he is no longer of scientific value, and the Feds will pick him up and
deport him to his home world.

That leaves him two equally nasty choices.

Those fake documents of his were good enough to get him admitted to
Earth as a legitimate alien. How the World Police get him back there is
their headache--and his.

If he admits the papers were phony, the only way he'll get out of
prison will be when it collapses of old age.

So I'll give him a third choice: He can sign an undated confession,
which I will keep in my safe, as guarantee against future finagling.

I don't expect to be around forever, you see, though, with that little
secret I picked up on Rimbaud II, it'll be a good long time, not even
barring accidents, and I've been wondering whom to leave the Corrigan
Institute of Morphological Science to. Higgins will make a fine
successor.

Oh, one more thing he will have to sign. It remains the Corrigan
Institute as long as the place is in business.

Try to outcon me, will he?





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