- Author: Evelyn E. Smith
Read book online «My Fair Planet by Evelyn E. Smith (read full novel TXT) 📕». Author - Evelyn E. Smith
[Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from Galaxy Science Fiction March 1958. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]
As Paul Lambrequin was clambering up the stairs of his rooming house, he met a man whose face was all wrong. "Good evening," Paul said politely and was about to continue on his way when the man stopped him.
"You are the first person I have encountered in this place who has not shuttered at the sight of me," he said in a toneless voice with an accent that was outside the standard repertoire.
"Am I?" Paul asked, bringing himself back from one of the roseate dreams with which he kept himself insulated from a not-too-kind reality. "I daresay that's because I'm a bit near-sighted." He peered vaguely at the stranger. Then he recoiled.
"What is incorrect about me, then?" the stranger demanded. "Do I not have two eyes, one nose and one mouth, the identical as other people?"
Paul studied the other man. "Yes, but somehow they seem to be put together all wrong. Not that you can help it, of course," he added apologetically, for, when he thought of it, he hated to hurt people's feelings.
"Yes, I can, for, of a truth, 'twas I who put myself together. What did I do amiss?"
Paul looked consideringly at him. "I can't quite put my finger on it, but there are certain subtle nuances you just don't seem to have caught. If you want my professional advice, you'll model yourself directly on some real person until you've got the knack of improvisation."
"Like unto this?" The stranger's outline shimmered and blurred into an amorphous cloud, which then coalesced into the shape of a tall, beautiful young man with the face of an ingenuous demon. "Behold, is that superior?"
"Oh, far superior!" Paul reached up to adjust a stray lock of hair, then realized he was not looking into a mirror. "Trouble is—well, I'd rather you chose someone else to model yourself on. You see, in my profession, it's important to look as unique as possible; helps people remember you. I'm an actor, you know. Currently I happen to be at liberty, but the year before last—"
"Well, whom should I appear like? Should I perhaps pick some fine upstanding figure from your public prints to emulate? Like your President, perhaply?"
"I—hardly think so. It wouldn't do to model yourself on someone well known—or even someone obscure whom you might just happen to run into someday." Being a kind-hearted young man, Paul added, "Come up to my room. I have some British film magazines and there are lots of relatively obscure English actors who are very decent-looking chaps."
So they climbed up to Paul's hot little room under the eaves and, after leafing through several magazines, Paul chose one Ivo Darcy as a likely candidate. Whereupon the stranger deliquesced and reformed into the personable simulacrum of young Mr. Darcy.
"That's quite a trick," Paul observed as it finally got through to him what the other had done. "It would come in handy in the profession—for character parts, you know."
"I fear you would never be able to acquisition it," the stranger said, surveying his new self in the mirror complacently. "It is not a trick but a racial ableness. You see, I feel I can trust you—"
"—Of course I'm not really a character actor; I'm a leading man, but I believe one should be versatile, because there are times when a really good character part comes along—"
"—I am not a human being. I am a native of the fifth planet circulating around the star you call Sirius, and we Sirians have the ableness to change ourselves into the apparition of any other livid form—"
"I thought that might be a near-Eastern accent!" Paul exclaimed, diverted. "Is Lebanese anything like it? Because I understand there's a really juicy part coming up in—"
"I said Sirian, not Syrian; I do not come from Minor Asia but from outer space, from an other-where solar system. I am an outworlder, an extraterrestrial."
"I hope you had a nice trip," Paul said politely. "From Sirius, did you say? What's the state of the theater there?"
"In its infanticide," the stranger told him, "but—"
"Let's face it," Paul muttered bitterly, "it's in its infancy here, too. No over-all planning. No appreciation of the fact that all the components that go to make up a production should be a continuing totality, instead of a tenuous coalition of separate forces which disintegrate—"
"You, I comprehend, are disemployed at current. I should—"
"You won't find that situation in Russia!" Paul went on, pleased to discover a sympathetic audience in this intelligent foreigner. "Mind you," he added quickly, "I disapprove entirely of their politics. In fact, I disapprove of all politics. But when it comes to the theater, in many respects the Russians—"
"—Like to make a proposal to our mutual advanceage—"
"—You wouldn't find an actor there playing a lead role one season and then not be able to get any parts except summer stock and odd bits for the next two years. All right, so the show I had the lead in folded after two weeks, but the critics all raved about my performance. It was the play that stank!"
"Will you terminate the monologue and hearken unto me!" the alien shouted.
Paul stopped talking. His feelings were hurt. He had thought Ivo liked him; now he saw all the outworlder wanted to do was talk about his own problems.
"I desire to extend to you a position," said Ivo.
"I can't take a regular job," Paul said sulkily. "I have to be available for interviews. Fellow I knew took a job in a store and, when he was called to read for a part, he couldn't get away. The fellow who did get that part became a big star, and maybe the other fellow could have been a star, too, but now all he is is a lousy chairman of the board of some department store chain—"
"This work can be undergone at your convention between readings and interviews, whenever you have the timing. I shall pay you beautifully, being abundant with U.S.A. currency. I want you to teach me how to act."
"Teach you how to act," Paul repeated, rather intrigued. "Well, I'm not a dramatic coach, you know; however, I do happen to have some ideas on the subject. I feel that most acting teachers nowadays fail to give their students a really thorough grounding in all aspects of the dramatic art. All they talk about is method, method, method. But what about technique?"
"I have observed your species with great diligence and I thought I had acquisitioned your habits and speakings to perfectness. But I fear that, like my initial face, I have got them awry. I want you to teach me to act like a human being, to talk like a human being, to think like a human being."
Paul's attention was really caught. "Well, that is a challenge! I don't suppose Stanislavsky ever had to teach an extraterrestrial, or even Strasberg—"
"Then we are in accordance," Ivo said. "You will instruction me?" He essayed a smile.
Paul shuddered. "Very well," he said. "We'll start now. And I think the first thing we'd better start with is lessons in smiling."
Ivo proved to be a quick study. He not only learned to smile, but to frown and to express surprise, pleasure, horror—whatever the occasion demanded. He learned the knack of counterfeiting humanity with such skill that, Paul was moved to remark one afternoon when they were leaving Brooks Brothers after a fitting, "Sometimes you seem even more human than I do, Ivo. I wish you'd watch out for that tendency to rant, though. You're supposed to speak, not make speeches."
"I try not to," Ivo said, "but I keep getting carried away by enthusiasm."
"Apparently I have a real flair for teaching," Paul went on as, expertly camouflaged by Brooks, the two young men melted into the dense charcoal-gray underbrush of Madison Avenue. "I seem to be even more versatile than I thought. Perhaps I have been—well, not wasting but limiting my talents."
"That may be because your talents have not been sufficiently appreciated," his star pupil suggested, "or given enough scope."
Ivo was so perceptive! "As a matter of fact," Paul agreed, "it has often seemed to me that if some really gifted individual, equally adept at acting, directing, producing, playwriting, teaching, et al., were to undertake a thorough synthesis of the theater—ah, but that would cost money," he interrupted himself, "and who would underwrite such a project? Certainly not the government of the United States." He gave a bitter laugh.
"Perhaps, under a new regime, conditions might be more favorable for the artist—"
"Shhh!" Paul looked nervously over his shoulder. "There are Senators everywhere. Besides, I never said things were good in Russia, just better—for the actor, that is. Of course the plays are atrocious propaganda—"
"I was not referring to another human regime. The human being is, at best, save for certain choice spirits, unsympathetic to the arts. We outworlders have a far greater respect for things of the mind."
Paul opened his mouth; Ivo continued without giving him a chance to speak, "No doubt you have often wondered just what I am doing here on Earth?"
The question had never crossed Paul's mind. Feeling vaguely guilty, he murmured, "Some people have funny ideas of where to go for a vacation."
"I am here on business," Ivo told him. "The situation on Sirius is serious."
"You know, that's catchy! 'The situation on Sirius is serious'," Paul repeated, tapping his foot. "I've often thought of trying my hand at a musical com—"
"I mean we have had a ser—grave population problem for the last couple of centuries, hence our government has sent out scouts to look for other planets with similar atmosphere, climate, gravity and so on, where we can ship our excess population. So far, we have found very few."
When Paul's attention was focused, he could be as quick as anybody to put two and two together. "But Earth is already occupied. In fact, when I was in school, I heard something about our having a population problem ourselves."
"The other planets we already—ah—took over were in a similar state," Ivo explained. "We managed to surmount that difficulty."
"How?" Paul asked, though he already suspected the answer.
"Oh, we didn't dispose of all of the inhabitants. We merely weeded out the undesirables—who, by fortunate chance, happened to be in the majority—and achieved a happy and peaceful coexistence with the rest."
"But, look," Paul protested. "I mean to say——"
"For instance," Ivo said suavely, "take the vast body of people who watch television and who have never seen a legitimate play in their lives and, indeed, rarely go to the motion pictures. Surely they are expendable."
"Well, yes, of course. But even among them there might be—oh, say, a playwright's mother—"
"One of the first measures our regime would take would be to establish a vast network of community theaters throughout the world. And you, Paul, would receive first choice of starring roles."
"Now wait a minute!" Paul cried hotly. He seldom allowed himself to lose his temper, but when he did ... he got angry! "I pride myself that I've gotten this far wholly on my own merits. I don't believe in using influence to—"
"But, my dear fellow, all I meant was that, with an intelligently coordinated theater and an intellectually adult audience, your abilities would be recognized automatically."
"Oh," said Paul.
He was not unaware that he was being flattered, but it was so seldom that anyone bothered to pay him any attention when he was not playing a role that it was difficult not to succumb. "Are—are you figuring on taking over the planet single-handed?" he asked curiously.
"Heavens, no! Talented as I am, there are limits. I don't do the—ah—dirty work myself. I just conduct the preliminary investigation to determine how powerful the local defenses are."
"We have hydrogen bombs," Paul said, trying to remember details of a newspaper article he had once read in a producer's ante-room, "and plutonium bombs and—"
"Oh, I know about all those," Ivo smiled expertly. "My job is checking to make sure you don't have anything really dangerous."
All that night, Paul wrestled with his conscience. He knew he shouldn't just let Ivo go on. Yet what else could he do? Go to the proper authorities? But which authorities were the proper ones? And even if he found them, who would believe an actor offstage, delivering such improbable lines? He would either be laughed at or accused of being part of a subversive plot. It might result in