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´╗┐Title: Star-Crossed Lover
Author: Stuart, William W.
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 "Star-Crossed Lover" ***

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                          Star-Crossed Lover

                         By WILLIAM W. STUART

                         Illustrated by RITTER

           [Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from
                      Galaxy Magazine April 1962.
         Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
         the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]



               She was a wonderful wife--sweet, pretty,
                loving--but she would keep littering up
                the house with her old, used-up bodies!


I

So help me, I'm not really a fiend, a monstrous murderer or a
Bluebeard. I am not, truly, even a mad scientist bucking for a billing
to top Frankenstein's. My knowledge of science ends with the Sunday
magazine section of the paper. As for the bodies of all those women the
front pages claim I butchered and buried somewhat carelessly out by the
garage, all that is just--well, just an illusion of sorts.

Equally illusory, I am hoping, is my reservation for a sure seat, next
performance, in the electric chair which now seems so certain after the
merest formality of a trial.

Actually I am, or was, nothing but a very normal, average--upper middle
average, that is--sort of a guy. I have always been friendly, sociable,
kindly, lovable to a fault. So how did lovable, kindly old I happen to
get into such a bloody mess?

I simply helped a little old lady cross the street. That's all.

All right, I admit I was old for Boy Scout work. But the poor old bat
did look mighty confused and baffled, standing there on the corner of
York and Grand Avenue, looking vaguely around.

So, "What the hell," I said to myself; and, to her, "Can I help you,
Madam?" I had to cross the street anyway. Traffic being what it was, I
figured I'd feel a little safer with her for company. It was silly, of
course, to think that a poor old lady on my arm would ever inhibit the
Grand Avenue throughway traffic but I tried it. Good job I did, too.

It was an early fall afternoon, a bit before rush hour. I had knocked
off work early. It was too nice a day for work and besides the managing
editor had fired me again. I had nothing better to do, so I thought I'd
wander over to Maxim's for a drink or two. Then, on the corner, I found
the old lady.

She was a pretty sad-looking old lady. Matter of fact she was--just
standing there, not even trying--the worst-looking old lady I ever
saw. She looked, to put it kindly, like a three-day corpse that had
made it the hard way after a century of poor health. First I thought,
hell, I'll give the old bag of misery a boost, shove her under a bus or
something. It would be the decent, kindly thing to do.

I spoke, tentatively. She half-turned and looked up at me from her
witch's crouch. The eyes in the beak-nosed, ravaged ruin of a face were
big, luminous, a glowing green. They clearly belonged elsewhere and
there was a lost, appealing look in them. There was a demand there,
too.

"I--uh--that is, would you care to cross with me, Madam?" I asked her.

She took my arm. There was a moment's lull in the wake of a screaming
prowl car. I muttered a word of prayer and we were off the curb. The
old hag was surprisingly quick. It looked as though we were going to
make it. Then, three-quarters across, I came down with a rubber heel in
an oil slick just as a roaring, grinding cement-mixer truck was coming
down on me like an avalanche. My feet went up. I gave the old witch a
shove clear and shut my eyes for fear the coming sight of smeared blood
and guts--my own--would make me sick.

       *       *       *       *       *

And then, instead of a prone, cringing heap on the pavement sweating
out the ten-to-one odds against all those wheels missing me, I was
airborne. Cable-strong arms caught and lifted me. We were racing down
field, elusive, unstoppable, all the way--touchdown.

So there we were, safe on the sidewalk. Traffic on the freeway, gaping
at us, was chaos as the frail, doddering little old lady put me down.
Me, I was never any extra large size. But still, a touch under six
feet, maybe a little too friendly with beer and rich desserts--say,
210 pounds--I had considered myself a little big for convenient
carrying about.

This was something new in little old ladies.

I stared down at her. She wasn't even breathing hard. In fact I
couldn't tell if she was breathing at all. "Madam," I said, "my sincere
thanks and admiration. I wonder now. If you're not late for practice
with the Bears or something, perhaps we could go someplace and talk?" I
couldn't guess what, but there was for sure some sort of a story here.
If I could get something hot for the Sunday magazine, I'd have my job
back.

The old crone looked up at me with those oddly out of place, compelling
eyes of hers. "You will listen to me? You will help?"

"Madam, help you don't need. But listen, yes. This is my great talent.
I will be happy to listen to you."

I thought a quiet booth and a couple of cold ones in Maxim's would be
nice. No. She wondered in a different, quavering old voice, if greater
privacy might not be better. "What I have to tell you, young man, may
be difficult for you to grasp. It may be necessary to show you some
things."

"Uh." She wasn't the type of doll I favored taking home for a sociable
evening but it wouldn't have seemed mannerly to say no to the look of
appeal in her eyes. "All right."

We went on over to the parking lot and I drove her to the very
comfortable home out in Oakdale that Uncle John and Aunt Belle turned
over to me when they rolled off to see the world from their house
trailer a year and a half back. Of course they dropped anchor in
Petersburg and haven't budged since, but I guess it gives them the
footloose feeling they were looking for. And I have the house, which is
quite a pleasant little place.

I think Aunt Belle figured giving me the house would offset my own
dubious attributes so that some nice girl might just possibly marry and
make something of me. But I kept a picture on my bureau of Uncle John,
standing by the sink in his apron, and was still holding out.

Well, the old bat didn't clue me in on anything on the drive out there
in my car. We chatted along the way, mostly her asking the questions,
me answering. She was just a visitor to the town, she said. She wanted
to find out all about it--with ten thousand nonsensical questions.

I parked in the drive and we went in. While she settled down on the
sofa I went to the bar, my addition to the home furnishings, to fix
a drink; wondered if there might still be any tea knocking around;
thought better of that and mixed two drinks. Then I turned back toward
her.

"Now," I said, "tell me."

"Well," announced that ravaged wreck of an old woman, "the fact is that
I am from another world."

"Oh, hell," I said, "how did you come in? By saucer or by broom?" It
was a mean remark, I suppose. Not kindly. Even so, the way she took it
seemed all out of proportion. The old bat's face suddenly went slack.
She slumped over sideways on the sofa, those big, green eyes open,
staring, empty. There was no need to go check for a pulse or heartbeat.
She was plainly, revoltingly dead.

"Ugh!" I said and tossed off one of the two drinks I was holding. It
seemed the thing to do.

       *       *       *       *       *

"Do not be alarmed," said an apparent voice. "I am really perfectly all
right. I have simply left that poor vehicle I was using. I had thought,
wrongly it now seems, that communication with you chemically powered
life forms might be easier if I too were concealed within one such
structure."

The voice actually wasn't so much a voice as a voice impression. It
came from a point in the air above the body on the sofa. And it did
make an impression. It came through in a rush of meanings, too loud
somehow, almost overpowering.

I looked toward the point of origin. That's what it was, as near
as anything, a tiny pin-point of intense, green-gold light. It was
too intense; I had to turn my eyes away. My head started to ache. I
felt and knew that, whatever species this might be, my visitor was a
female of it. She was, at the moment, horribly overbearing. She was
communicating effectively, enthusiastically, but unclearly and it
wasn't easy. Not on me, anyway. My mind was swamped with a mass of
concepts, jabber and ideas, like all the women's clubs of the world
talking at once.

I groaned and staggered back against the bar. "All right," I yelled,
"all right, I believe you. You come from another world. You are an
amazing, wonderful girl and I am proud to entertain you. But please--go
back to being an old woman, or something I can handle."

The ravaged old crone's eyes glowed again. She blinked and sat up.
"Please don't shout so. I can hear you," she remarked primly.

I drained the other drink and put both glasses back on the bar. "Ugh.
Uh, that's better. But who--where--what--?"

"Please do stop and think a minute," the old witch told me. "If you
will simply use that electro-chemical mental equipment of yours, you
will find that I have already given you the answers to those questions
about who and what I am and where I come from."

"Nonsense." But then it came to me that she had. I just hadn't taken
time to sort any of it out.

I tried sorting. Much of it remained fuzzy, I suppose because some
aspects were so far outside the range of anything known to me. She
was, the way I got it, a life form based on something approximating
atomic energy. She came from a dwarf star out someplace, I couldn't
quite place it, out Orion way I think. Sure, the entire concept was
beyond me and completely alien. And yet, oddly, in a lot of ways it
was like old home week. This was a kind of life totally different from
ours in all structure and development; and yet their kind of thought,
their relationship to their world and their social organization, seemed
weirdly familiar. They had work, recreation, social organization. They
reproduced by some sort of polarity business I didn't get then and
still don't; but it required mating and it certainly seemed a fair
approximation of sex.

They had arts based on forms and shaped patterns of energy. I don't
get it. She said it compared to our literature, music and painting
and I take her word for it. "Only," as she later explained a touch
wistfully, "terribly, terribly decadent in the present era."

       *       *       *       *       *

There was their problem. Their social structure and individuals alike
seemed, at last, to be losing all vitality. The birth rate dropped.
Culture declined. They had, fairly recently by their standards,
discovered the possibility of freeing themselves from their sun and
travelling through space. But, while they found planets with chemical
life forms like us not uncommon in space, they had found no form
comparable to their own. Outside contacts, they had thought, might
stimulate and re-vitalize their society. But, of course, where there is
life there is politics. They had developed many and bitter differences
of opinion regarding the feasibility or value of any attempt to
communicate with chemical life forms. There was a party for, a party
against and several favoring an agonizing reappraisal of the position
whatever it might turn out to be. Nothing was done. And that, in due
course, had brought me my lone lady visitor.

The "communication" party decided to take action in spite of the
absence of official sanction. They worked cautiously, in secret.
Specially selected representatives with certain exceptional kinds and
degrees of sensitivity were made ready. Necessary energy supplies for
distant space travel were carefully hoarded. Chances of anything coming
of it were considered slim but ... there was the horrible old hag
sitting on my sofa, looking hopefully up at me out of great, youthfully
glowing green eyes.

Anyway, that's the way the thing shaped up in my mind. And it seemed
plenty hard to believe.

"Must I come out and show you again?"

"No," I said quickly. "Oh, no, please don't. I'm convinced."

"Or will be," she remarked cryptically. "Good. This now proves that
at least one level of communication between us is possible. This is
promising. It could mark the beginning of a relationship which may be
most stimulating for both life forms."

Well, it was startling at least, I would have to admit that. "Speaking
of forms," I said, "You sure picked an ugly one there. Why?"

"Oh? But I am only now beginning to understand your standards of
attraction. I took this structure--" she pointed one gnarled, knotty
hand at herself--"because in my own form no one seemed willing to
listen or accept me logically. They only yelled that I was an A-bomb
or a short circuit or lightning, or else simply pretended they didn't
see me at all. So I took this body, making only a few small internal
repairs and improvements. But then, until you came along, no one would
stop long enough to listen to me."

"Hum. Where'd you get it?"

"I picked it up at one of your places for them to die. What you
call the cold room at the County Hospital. There was, I admit, some
confusion."

That I could believe.

"You are not nearly as different from us in mental processes and
customs as I should have thought. Such an intriguing life form, with
such amusing complications. Just strange enough to be exciting. Come
over here and sit by me."

She beckoned coyly, like a flirtatious girl, and winked one youthfully
glowing eye at me. The effect, in that ruin of a face, was appalling. I
stayed where I was.

"Oh," she said in a hurt tone, "you don't like me? And you seemed so
attractively receptive at first. How can we communicate completely
on your plane if you are to be so aloof?" She stopped and seemed to
concentrate a moment. I felt as if something gave my thoughts a brisk
stirring with a long swizzle stick.

"Damn it," I snapped, "quit that, you hear me? You've got to stop
messing around in my mind. It's an outrageous invasion of--"

"All right, all right," she said. "I won't do it again, I promise.
Unless--well, never mind." A typically feminine-type promise. "But now
I see that it is simply this body that offends you. Except for this,
you are quite ready to love me."

That was putting it a little strongly. I had to admit though, that she
was a pretty interesting proposition.

"It is odd to attach such importance to form. A chemical life
characteristic, I suppose. I do note that your own structure has
its--well. There is no reason for this present form of mine being a
problem between us. I shall simply change it."

"Oh?" Like changing a dress, she made it sound. It wasn't quite that
easy.

"You must make it clear to me what sort of body you prefer. Oh, I see.
That tall, widely curved one with the red hair. Yes, I see the
image ... my ... and so lightly clad. Very well. I will have this body
for you."

She was reading my mind again, the back corner section where I was
keeping a few brightly descriptive memos on Venus de Lite, that
luscious, languorous, long-legged new stripper-exotic dancer downtown
at the Roma. "That," I told her, not without a touch of wistful regret,
"is a live body. You cannot take live bodies. And stop reading my mind."

"I'm sorry. I won't do it again." She kept saying that; and doing it
just the same. "I shall not have to take the original body. I can
simply duplicate it."

"How could you do that?"

"It should not be difficult. The elements in the structure are common
enough here and in readily modified forms. The body organization
is complex, true, and not particularly efficient in many respects.
However, the patterns can be readily traced and duplicated. It is a
simple question of the application of energy to chemical matter. So now
you must take me to observe this body which has such attraction for
you."


II

That as it turned out, was the toughest part. I did what I could,
trying to fix the horrible old witch up in an outfit from one of Aunt
Belle's old trunks and a few rather elementary cosmetics. The end
result was that, instead of looking like a plain old witch, she seemed
a scandalously depraved, probably drunken old witch. The Roma, in a
long history dating back to prohibition days, has seen all kinds and
conditions. But I don't doubt we were one of the damnedest looking
couples on record.

"This--uh--this is my Grandma," I told the few, nastily grinning
acquaintances I couldn't duck on our way into the joint. "Grandma is
just up on a little visit from Lower Dogpatch. Excuse us, would you?
Grandma needs a double shot quick."

That seemed unarguable. We finally settled at a small table off by the
swinging doors to the kitchen and sat there through one floor show.
"All right," said my old witch, as Venus closed the set with her final
frenzy in the blue spotlight, "I have the pattern. There are a number
of differences there from the picture in your mind. The age, the
chemicals applied."

Venus went off to vigorous applause. The club lights came up and the
M.C. stumbled out to favor us with his version of The Gent's Room
Joe Miller. I considered. The more beautiful-looking the doll, I
suppose, the greater the probable degree of illusion. "Where you find
discrepancies," I told my old witch, "be guided by my imagination.
Right?"

"All rightie," she remarked brightly, patting my hand on the table as
she favored me with what I would estimate as one of history's lewdest
winks. I noted a mutter of contempt from surrounding tables. "Shall I
go ahead? Perhaps you'd better close your eyes," she said, "I--"

"No, not here!" I grabbed her arm and dragged her to her feet. Neighbor
tables gave us their full attention and the muttering took on an
ominous tone. "Come on. For pity's sake, let's get on home." I wasn't
exactly convinced this proposition was going to work out; but a crowded
nightclub was no place for her to try it.

"Graverobber!" was one of the indignant remarks that caught my ear as I
dragged the harridan out. She giggled. The female, species immaterial,
seems to have a sense of humor ranging from the Pollyanna-like to the
graveyard ghoulish--missing nearly every point between.

She was quiet and thoughtful on the ride back home. So was I, pondering
the doubtful status of my reputation around town and my sanity.

       *       *       *       *       *

In the house, she was brisk and businesslike. She got me to help her
stack a bunch of canned goods and junk from the refrigerator on the
kitchen table--"Just for convenience." She remarked domestically, "It
would have saved your fuel and power if I had made the change at the
other place. I must draw heavily on the power that runs into this
house. I must, you understand, conserve my own supply."

"Perfectly all right. Be my guest." The whole thing had a sort of dream
quality to it by then. You know how it is in dreams sometimes? The
action and story lines are fantastic. You know the whole thing must be
nonsense. You could, by an effort of will, wake up and end it. And yet
you go along with the thing just to see how the foolishness will turn
out. That is the way I felt then.

"Oh yes, one more detail," said my witch. "What about the eyes? I found
nothing about the color of the eyes in your largely imaginary mental
picture of the cheap floozy in that second-rate saloon."

Already she was not only speaking the language but thinking the
thoughts like a native female. The eyes. Hmm. I guess my mental film
strips of Venus had kind of skipped past facial close-ups. "Why don't
you just keep the same eyes you have now?" I suggested.

"Good," she said. "They are my own design. Here goes. Close your eyes;
there may be some glare."

I closed my eyes. For a moment there was nothing. Then, for about a
second, say, there was an intense, flaring glare that shone reddish
through my closed lids. Then it was dark.

"All righty," said a sweet-soft voice, ending in a little,
half-breathless giggle. "Now you can look."

I looked.

Trouble was, it was still dark. No lights. All I could see by the faint
light of a half moon filtering in the kitchen window was a dim figure
standing by the table.

Fact was, I found later, a sudden power surge on the main line outside
the house blew a transformer and blacked out the whole blinking suburb.

I snapped out my lighter and flicked it on. Well now, indeed! There,
half shy, half not so shy and wearing the same negligible costume as in
her final number at the Roma, was Venus, constructed just exactly the
way she should have been.

"The way I built me," she said, and giggled, "to your very explicit
order. So now what are you going to--"

I wouldn't say that I am notably more impetuous than the next man.
That was just an impetuous situation. I let the lighter go and grabbed
her. "Ah," I remember her saying softly, "now we can truly begin to
communicate."

I can say with every reasonable assurance that we did so most
effectively. Alien she was, but she was also a lovely girl, my own
dream girl. Or girls. What man of any imagination at all is a totally
monogamous dreamer? Anyway, she was unarguably lovely, loving, uniquely
adaptable, generally sweet. And if, once her frequently unfathomable
mind was made up, she had the determination of seven dedicated
devils--well, she was female and probably no worse than some billion
local girls. My little atom-powered space girl had a lot more built-in
compensating factors.

But that's as it developed. That night, naturally, was largely devoted
to communication. Luckily, having been fired, I didn't need to worry
about getting up to go to work.

       *       *       *       *       *

Along about eleven or so the next morning she bounced out of bed,
bright, beautiful and lively. I dragged on down to the kitchen with her
to see if we could put together a breakfast from whatever staples she
hadn't found it necessary to incorporate into new construction. By the
kitchen table I stumbled over the most ravaged, deadest looking corpse
I ever hope to see. It was, of course, the unlamented body of the
original witch, lying just where it had dropped the evening before.

"Look, hon, what about this?"

She shrugged quite charmingly, in spite of the tentlike dimensions of
Aunt Belle's nightgown. "What about it?"

"Well, why didn't you use the--uh--material there, instead of all the
groceries?"

Another shrug. "I wanted something fresh."

She had a point. I couldn't argue. I never could, when she turned those
big green eyes of hers on me, full power. "Yeah," I said. "Only what
are we going to do with it?"

"What do your kind do with old bodies here?"

"Mostly we bury them."

"All right then."

That was unassailable feminine logic. All right. So I'd bury it.

That night, by the eerie light of the waning moon, I went at it with
Uncle John's pick and shovel and buried the old witch's body next to
Aunt Belle's rose bushes by the garage. My bright, new-incarnation
girl lounged around and chatted sociably. Everything still had quite a
dreamlike quality; the corpse was a final, nightmare touch. But even
so, I was beginning to wonder a bit about things; such things as,
specifically, where we went from there.

"Star-doll-baby--" well, hell, there are times when a man has to use
terms like that to communicate with the female--"you aren't going to
vanish all of a sudden and leave me now, are you? Ugh!" That was a
heavy shovel and thick clay. "What are our plans?"

"Sil-ly. I understand your custom now. We are going to be married,
of course. Then we shall see. There is no hurry. I have, by your
standards, plenty of time. I must assimilate and learn to understand
you and your fascinating life-form. We shall live together and be man
and wife. As I have said, your species and mine may derive much benefit
from this intermingling."

That, if I understood her correctly, sounded fine to me. It was
the best proposal I'd had yet. And surely it would have been poor
hospitality to a lonely little girl some light-years away from home
for me to have refused. "This is terribly sudden," I told her. "Uf!
That ought to be enough of a hole for as wizened up a little old body
as that ... yes, darling, I will marry you. Who's going to earn us a
living?"


III

I climbed out of the hole and kissed her and, in time, we did manage to
get the old woman buried.

The next day we applied for our license. Three days later we were
married--so far as I know, an interstellar first. The job or money
problem, as it turned out, was no problem. Her first thought was the
direct, female approach to the problem. She could simply make it out of
old newspapers whenever we needed some, as she had the body. She made
some to show me.

"Well now," I told her, "it does seem the simplest way, I admit. But
the government is pretty jealous of its ability to print money. It
likes to think that nobody else can do the job just right."

I was afraid this might be one of her stubborn points but it wasn't.
Government restrictions, bureaucracy and red tape were things she had
no trouble understanding. "It is the same way back home with power and
energy rations," she told me. "You have no idea the difficulty we had
in building up the capital supply necessary for my trip here. So I
suppose we must find another way. Don't you already have some of this
money? Or couldn't you manage to borrow some?"

I had $37.62 in my checking account, but the house was in my name. I
borrowed five grand. I invested. I was probably the most successful
investor since old King Midas developed his touch. If I sank a buck
in land, oil would turn up within the week, and if it turned out to be
a geologically inexplicable tiny pocket the next week--that would be
after I had unloaded. Stocks, commodities, it made no difference. The
money rolled in. We had the touch. Paid our taxes, too, but she had
a way with tax loopholes that gave the district collector a nervous
breakdown.

We traveled, but we kept the old house. We always came back to it for
sentimental reasons. We spent a lot of time in libraries, museums. We
went to shows and concerts. Anything that was going, we went to it. She
had a contagious interest that she communicated to--not to say forced
on--me; and if some of the operas and symphonies we caught seemed to
my elemental musical taste to run a little long and loud, I had my
compensations. And a lot more than most; our adjustments were not all
one-sided.

Example: We made a tour of Europe. Now, I always was a fine,
loving husband to her. Completely faithful. But--well, there was a
dark-haired, laughing, button-cute little chick who sang Spanish songs
in English with an Italian accent in a little place on the Riviera. I
didn't make a pass. I didn't even speak to her. But I have to admit
that, as a strictly idle fancy, she did cross my mind once or twice.

"Hah!" my tall, statuesque, beautiful red-haired wife snorted at me one
evening after we were back home. She was sitting listening to hi-fi,
some of the very long-hair music that she called "the second most
fascinating development of your kind." I was just sitting, maybe dozing
a bit.

"So!" She gave it full-force, wifely indignation. "You sit there and
you smile on me--and all the time you are thinking of this cheap,
female, singing bullfighter you have seen two times. You have two times
me in your mind!"

Already she was talking with just the accent that chick had used.

"Now look here," I protested, "you promised not to go prowling through
my mind. A man is entitled to a little privacy!"

"How can you think so of this other woman? You don't--" sob--"love me
any more!"

Women! That's the way trying to argue with them goes. You are always on
the defensive.

"Aw now, Star-hon-baby," I said, "honestly, it was just a passing
thought. I only--"

"I know what sort of thought it was! Very well." She got up and stalked
off to the kitchen. I didn't get what she was up to, not even when I
heard her banging temperishly about out there.

When there was a sudden flash and the lights blinked out, the idea hit
me. I was scared. What if she had gone back, left me? I dashed to the
kitchen. Just through the swinging door, I tripped over a body and fell
into the kitchen table. Had she--? Then I heard a charming, slightly
accented little giggle.

I didn't bother with my lighter. I reached out, caught her, pulled
my sweet little dark-haired baby to me and kissed her. "Honey-doll,
believe me--I do love you. No matter who you are, I love you!"

I meant every word of it, too. That was a brand of accommodation you
will never get from any local girl.

       *       *       *       *       *

The next night I had to dig a new grave out by the garage--a bigger
one this time, for a big, beautiful, long-legged, red-haired body.
Funny thing. Contrary to general belief, none of this ever seemed to do
anything for the roses by the garage. They had done poorly ever since
Aunt Belle left and they kept on doing poorly. Well, no matter. Six
months later it was the little brunette's turn to go and we went back
to red hair. When I say my wife was all women to me, I mean it.

The last model was medium height, Titian shade hair, not spectacular
but cute, very companionable, very lovable, beautifully built, built
to last. She was some builder, my wife, and she did a lot of fine
construction work for me.

One night, back along about the third week of our marriage, I got to
feeling lousy--sniffles, headache, no appetite.

It was no dramatic plague; just a typical, nasty case of flu. I used to
get them every fall and winter. I mixed myself a couple of hot lemon
and's, and explained it to my (tall, red headed) wife. "Oh, yes," she
said. "I see."

I had an idea she took another quick prowl through my mind but I felt
too sick to complain. "I'm going to bed," I told her. I went.

Oddly enough, instead of putting in a restless night, I slept like a
log. When I woke up the next morning, I felt great. In fact, as I burst
into a spontaneous and very tuneful chorus of _Body and Soul_ in the
shower, it came to me that I had never in my life felt so well. When
I looked in the mirror to shave, it seemed to me I was even looking
better.

Later that day I was up on the roof putting up a TV aerial. I hadn't
ever bothered with TV, but she wanted to learn all about even that. I
put up the aerial. Then I fell off the roof. I dropped twelve feet,
landing on my left arm and shoulder on hard-packed lawn. Then I got up
and dusted myself off. No damage. I was all right.

"Clumsy," she said to me from the porch.

"No," I said. "Damn it, there was this loose shingle up there. It
slipped right out from under me and--anyway, you might at least be a
little sympathetic. It's a wonder I didn't break my arm. In fact, I
can't understand why I didn't."

"Nothing broke because of the improvements I made in you last night."

"What?"

"Darling," she said, "I made a few improvements. Of course, you were
very attractive, lover. Perfectly charming. But structurally, really,
you were a most imperfect mechanism. So now that I have made a study of
these bodies your people use, I ... rebuilt you."

"Oh? Oh! Now, look here! Who in hell said you could?"

       *       *       *       *       *

It did, at the time, seem pretty damned officious. I was sore. However,
I had to admit that the changes she made worked out rather well. A
strong, light metallic alloy seems to make much better bones than
can be made of calcium. General immunity to disease was desirable,
I couldn't deny. My re-wired nervous system and modified muscular
structure were as pleasant to work with as they were efficient. I was a
new man.

Of course, every woman always wants to make a finer specimen of
whatever slob she marries. Only I had the luck to get the one who knew
how to do the job properly--from the inside out, rather than by simply
peck, peck, pecking away at the outside.

It was all as near perfect as a marriage can be. I have no complaints
now--and very few even then. She had built me to last a couple of
centuries. I was ready and willing to string along with her all the way.

But it never does work out that way, does it?

What happened to us, as it does to most, was that at the end of the
third year she got pregnant. A very ordinary female trait, you may say,
and not ordinarily surprising. No. Except that she was no ordinary
female.

We were in bed one night--our last night as it turned out--when she
told me.

"Darling," she said, and kissed me. "I have something to tell you."

"Haw?" I was sort of sleepy.

"I've been hoping and hoping it would happen, but I wasn't sure it
could."

"Ha? Whatsat?"

"Darling, we--are going to become parents."

"What?" I was awake then. "We're going to have a baby? Why, that's
great. Wonderful! Do you think he'll take after me?" As I thought it
over, it seemed something of a problem. What would the heredity be? In
fact, _how_ could it be?

"Never mind, darling," she said quietly--sadly, I like to think, as I
look back on it. "That's woman's work, you know. Just leave the details
to me."

I kissed her. We were very loving and tender. I went to sleep, and
dreamed all night long that I was Siamese twins in a fratricidal finish
fight over my model wife.


IV

I woke up by daylight to a horrible, icy, lost and separated feeling,
as though part of me had really died. I reached out my hand for
reassurance--and I yelled.

That sweet, soft-curved body in the bed next to me was cold and dead.

"Please! don't be frightened. It's all right. Really, it's all
right." That was a voice that wasn't a voice again, as back in the
beginning. It was familiar and at the same time new. It _wasn't_ all
right! I looked up, over the bed. There were not one but two tiny,
blinding-bright pinpoints of light.

"What? Who?"

"Father," they said, "we are your children."

They were certainly not my idea of it.

"No. Oh, no! Star-baby, where are you?"

"Here. We were she. Now she plus you has become us. She has divided and
now we are two, the children of you and she."

"Nonsense. Quit the double talk and give it to me straight!" Double
talk it was. But if it was nonsense, it was an unhappy sort of nonsense
I couldn't get around.

Coming slightly out of shock, I tried arguing and got nowhere. I never
won any arguments from their mother either. I was convinced in spite
of myself that this was the simple, brutal truth. It was the way of
reproduction of her form of life. My alien wife had divided, to become
two half-alien offspring.

I felt lousy. I didn't _want_ two bright, pin-point kids. I wanted my
wife. "But look, why couldn't one of you--"

"Why, father!" I got it in a tone of shocked horror. "Such a thing
would be positively incestuous. No. We must go now. This is what
mother-we came here for--to mix and to re-vitalize her-our people by
the addition of a fresh, new stream of life force."

"You mean me?" It was flattering to think my stock would invigorate
the population of a sun, but it was no cure for the loneliness in which
I was lost. "You are going back across space--and leave me here alone?"

"Yes, father. We must leave at once."

"Oh, now, wait just one radiating little minute! You say I'm your
father. Well, I forbid--"

Weary patience. "Now, father, please."

"But--will you come back sometime?"

"Certainly. With the success of her-our mission, we hope the factions
back home will unite in a policy of further interchange. We and others
of our family will come. Soon, we hope. It could even prove possible
to find a way of converting you to our own form, so that later you may
return with us."

"But look--"

But that was it. A few more words and, "Goodby, father," they said,
putting a reasonable amount of regret into it--even though I know
damned well they were itching to get going. "And do take care of
yourself."

They were gone. I was alone. No big, lush and lovely wife; no
button-cute little brunette wife; no gay, lively, companionable, loving
Titian-haired wife. No wife at all.

I had never been so alone. Nothing but me. What was I to do?

Well, there was only one possible thing to do, and I did it. I got
drunk. I hung one on. It was a beauty. Sometime in the course of the
following night I held a tearful wake out by the garage and I buried
my wife's last body. That, I recognize, was thoughtless. I could and
should have called doctors and undertakers to tell me there was no life
left in the body, and then let them do the digging for me in a more
formal, costly manner. But, for one thing, I was drunk. For another, I
guess I'd just sort of gotten into the habit of doing it the other way.

       *       *       *       *       *

Much too early the next day--like about 2:30 in the afternoon--the
doorbell rang. I was totally despondent, nursing my sorrow and a fat
hangover with a cold beer and some of my Star-baby's more heavily
long-hair, hi-fi selections.

I let the bell ring for a while. Then I let somebody pound on the door
for a bit. But that got to be hard on my headache so I went to the door.

There was Mrs. Schmerler, from next door, who used to be a real
biddy-buddy of my Aunt Belle's. There were a couple of hard-eyed cops
with her, too. They all pushed right on in.

"Celebrating something, Mac?" inquired cop number one, while Mrs.
Schmerler and the other glared suspiciously about.

"No," I said, too miserable to think. "Not celebrating, mourning. Just
lost my wife, and kids, too."

"He never had any children!" said Mrs. Schmerler. "Only women. And a
great deal too many of the cheap tarts. What his poor, dear Aunt Belle,
as saintly a woman as ever lived, would say.... Why don't you ask him
what he was digging for--digging and yowling _Star dust_--out there by
his garage last night? And not the first time, neither!"

The sudden realization of what could be turned up out there by the
garage--and how that would look to the unsympathetic and non-credulous
eyes of the law--hit me. I opened and closed my mouth three or four
times like an unwell goldfish. Nothing came out except a miasma of
alcohol. Mrs. Schmerler gaped at me with delighted shock, indignation
and horror. It was the great moment of her life.

The cops stepped in--not aggressively, more big-brotherly--and took a
good, firm grip on my arm.

I won't go into the rest of all that. They got a squad and they dug.
They took me in. I wouldn't talk. They locked me up. Cell block
bookies quoted 50-1, no takers, I would make the death cell. The way
I felt, I didn't care. The newspapers went wild. Things had been
slow since the election. All my old pals from my working days on the
paper were making a buck with special "Even then there was something
frighteningly different about him" feature stories.

The next day, as my hangover faded and I got to thinking things over,
my outlook changed. It was no time for me to give up. I would get a
lawyer.

I walked over to rattle my cell door for a bit. "Hey! Hey there, guard.
Come here a minute, huh?"

He came. "So? Is our Bluebeard softening up? Want to make a statement?"

"Uh-uh. Not me. I just want to ask a question. Those bodies, are they
going to autopsy them?"

"Not yet. Today."

"Well, look--"

I had a little trouble persuading him, but I got him to take down all
the data I could remember on the first one, the old hag. There would
be records on her at the County Hospital. They'd never make any charge
worse than body-snatching stick on that one.

The others? I chuckled. I was imagining the medical officers'
expressions when they ran into those stainless-steel bones, plastic
circulatory system, metallic wiring and the assorted other little
innovations that my wife--my _late_ wife--had installed in her
body-building exercises. That would give them something to think about.

So--that's my story; all of it up to now. I'm still here in my cool
little cell, and I am damned lonesome. But I am not scared. I figure I
have about four different kinds of insurance.

       *       *       *       *       *

In the first place, the way I am built now, with all the improvements
in structure and durability she put into me, I doubt they could
electrocute me. I'd probably just short the equipment out. A thing like
that would make me quite a scientific curiosity, no doubt; but not, at
least, a dead one.

Second, there are my investments and the way the money has piled up.
You know and I know perfectly well that they just don't ever send a
million bucks plus to any electric chair.

Besides, third place, while I have no doubt I can be convicted of
something, I don't see how it could be murder. I wouldn't be surprised
to see me get sent to the loony bin. I won't much mind that. I have
nothing to do but wait anyway.

And, in the fourth place, which is what I am waiting for, there are my
children--hers and mine. They are coming back. Soon, I hope. Not alone,
I hope. "Tell them back there," was the last thing I said before they
left, "tell them I want a girl just like the girl that married your
dear old dad."

I admit it's a poor thing for a man to have to send his kids to do his
courting for him--but at least mine are pretty exceptional children.
Much better informed than most, too. They should bring me back a new
bride. They've got to.

Somehow I kind of have a feeling now that a blonde--maybe a tall,
willowy, statuesquely stacked type--might be nice for a while. After
that, I don't know. I'll have to think it over. The waiting is what is
going to be tough.

Kids aren't really undependable today. Are they?





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