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Stairway to the Stars   By: (1924-1985)

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Yes, Earth may be a sort of fenced off area, so far as other intelligent races of the galaxy are concerned. But not for the grandiose reasons that some have imagined....



By Larry Shaw

It was a stairway leading down, but it also led out into space indirectly. And the situation had the aspects of a burlesque on Grand Hotel, but....

John Andrew Farmer scowled at the octopus that sprawled on his living room couch, rubbed his stubbly jaw with a stubby fist, and said, "I love you."

Farmer was uncomfortable. He was almost always uncomfortable, for various reasons; though it rarely if ever occurred to him, as he considered each individual irritant, that this was his normal state of existence. Right now he was acutely conscious of how ridiculous it must look for him to be making love to an octopus, but he was even more conscious of the very real pains of unrequited love.

It wasn't even a respectable, ordinary looking octopus. To be accurate, it would have to be called a nonapus; each of the nine tentacles had a lobsterish claw at its tip, and there were various other unusual appendages. It would be hard enough to explain an earthly octopus in his living room if the necessity arose, Farmer reflected for the teenteenth time but how in the name of Neptune could he ever explain this ?

It had all started with Judge Ray. Ray had not been a real judge, obviously, but had used the title in lieu of any other first name. That was the first of the inexplicable things; Farmer would have expected the odd little old man to call himself a professor of something or other. But Ray insisted on Judge.

Ray had come to the office of the Stein, Fine, Bryans Publishing Co. , where Farmer was working as an assistant editor, and announced that he was about to write the greatest book of the age. And yes, he wanted an advance against royalties it didn't have to be large; Ray lived simply to tide him over while doing the actual writing, which shouldn't take more than a very few weeks.

Now, Farmer wasn't much of an editor, even as editors go. The one useful quality he had was a homespun, ingratiating air which put nervous young geniuses at their ease, so that they could give a reasonably coherent verbal picture of what their books were about. This often saved Stein, Fine & Bryans a lot of reading of unpublishable manuscripts. At least, that had been the theory when they gave Farmer the job; as it worked out, John Andrew was a person who found it virtually impossible to say "no"; he generally took the manuscripts in hand and, when he couldn't stick some other member of the firm with the task, read them himself until the wee hours.

Farmer was not able to say no to Ray, but even he looked dubious at the small gray fellow's voluble outpouring of pseudo scientific jargon. Ray, made sensitive by years of open skepticism on the part of many listeners, caught the look and insisted on a demonstration of his fabulous invention.

So the oddly assorted pair quick, foxlike little Ray and big, awkward, uncomfortable Farmer sputtered out into Long Island Sound in an indescribable old motor launch, and the adventure was on.

Finally Ray shut off the racketing engine and let out the rusty anchor. He opened a large wooden case, which showed evidence of some really good cabinet work, and took out a peculiar machine, which showed evidence of unarguably excellent machining. These details were the first things that made Farmer think Ray might not be a complete crackpot, after all... Continue reading book >>

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