For Jay Rothbell, who put together this collection, and its author

“Man is a mixture of plant and phantom.”



Legend tells of a nameless planet located on the edge of our island universe. On that planet there is a single tree. Wedged in its topmost branch is a large diamond, put there by a long-vanished race. Looking into the stone, a man may see all that is or was or may be. The tree is called the Tree of Life, and the diamond is called the Eye of Reality.

Three men set out to find this tree. After much danger and difficulty, they came to the place where it grew. Each in turn climbed to the top of the tree and looked through the gem. Then they compared their impressions.

The first man, an author of considerable reputation, said, “I saw innumerable actions, some grand and some petty. I knew then that I had found the keyhole of the universe, which Borges calls the Aleph.”

The second man, a renowned scientist, said, “I saw the curvature of space, the death of a photon, and the birth of a star. I realized that I was looking into a superhologram, self-created and self-creating, whose entirety is our universe.”

“Understanding is sensuous,” said the third man, an artist. He showed them the sketches he had just made, of women, and leopards, violins and deserts, mountains and spheres.

“Like you,” he said, “I saw pretty much what I always see.”



Jefferson Toms went into an auto-cafe one afternoon after classes, to drink coffee and study. He sat down, philosophy texts piled neatly before him, and saw a girl directing the robot waiters. She had smoky-gray eyes and hair the color of a rocket exhaust. Her figure was slight but sweetly curved and, gazing at it, Toms felt a lump in his throat and a sudden recollection of autumn, evening, rain and candlelight.

This was how love came to Jefferson Toms. Although he was ordinarily a very reserved young man, he complained about the robot service in order to meet her. When they did meet, he was inarticulate, overwhelmed by feeling. Somehow, though, he managed to ask her for a date.

The girl, whose name was Doris, was strangely moved by the stocky, black-haired young student, for she accepted at once. And then Jefferson Toms’ troubles began.

He found love delightful, yet extremely disturbing, in spite of his advanced studies in philosophy. But love was a confusing thing even in Toms’ age, when spaceliners bridged the gaps between the worlds, disease lay dead, war was inconceivable, and just about anything of any importance had been solved in an exemplary manner.

Old Earth was in better shape than ever before. Her cities were bright with plastic and stainless steel. Her remaining forests were carefully tended bits of greenery where one might picnic in perfect safety, since all beasts and insects had been removed to sanitary zoos which reproduced their living conditions with admirable skill.

Even the climate of Earth had been mastered. Farmers received their quota of rain between three and three-thirty in the morning, people gathered at stadiums to watch a program of sunsets, and a tornado was produced once a year in a special arena as part of the World Peace Day Celebration.

But love was as confusing as ever and Toms found this distressing.

He simply could not put his feelings into words. Such expressions as “I love you,” “I adore you,” “I’m crazy about you” were overworked and inadequate. They conveyed nothing of the depth and fervor of his emotions. Indeed they cheapened them, since every stereo, every second-rate play was filled with similar words. People used them in casual conversation and spoke of how much they loved pork chops, adored sunsets, were crazy about tennis.

Every fiber of Toms’ being revolted against this. Never, he swore, would he speak of his love in terms used for pork chops. But he found, to his dismay, that he had nothing better to say.

He brought the problem to his philosophy professor. “Mr. Toms,” the professor said, gesturing wearily with his glasses, “ah—love, as it is commonly called, is not an operational area with us as yet. No significant work has been done in this field, aside from the so-called Language of Love of the Tyanian race.”

This was no help. Toms continued to muse on love and think lengthily of Doris. In the long haunted evenings on her porch when the shadows from the trellis vines crossed her face, revealing and concealing it, Toms struggled to tell her what he felt. And since he could not bring himself to use the weary commonplaces of love, he tried to express himself in extravagances.

“I feel about you,” he would say, “the way a star feels about its planet”

“How immense!” she would answer, immensely flattered at being compared to anything so cosmic.

“That’s not what I meant,” Toms amended. “The feeling I was trying to express was more—well, for example, when you walk, I am reminded of—”

“Of a what?”

“A doe in a forest glade,” Toms said, frowning.

“How charming!”

“It wasn’t intended to be charming. I was trying to express the awkwardness inherent in youth and yet—”

“But, honey,” she said, “I’m not awkward. My dancing teacher—”

“I didn’t mean awkward. But the essence of awkwardness is—is—”

“I understand,” she said.

But Toms knew she didn’t.

So he was forced to give up extravagances. Soon he found himself unable to say anything of any importance to Doris, for it was not what he meant, nor even close to it

The girl became concerned at the long, moody silences which developed between them.

“Jeff,” she would urge, “surely you can say something!”

Toms shrugged his shoulders.

“Even if it isn’t absolutely what you mean.”

Toms sighed.

“Please,” she cried, “say anything at all! I can’t stand this!”

“Oh, hell—”

“Yes?” she breathed, her face transfigured.

“That wasn’t what I meant,” Toms said, relapsing into his gloomy silence.

At last he asked her to marry him. He was willing to admit that he “loved” her—but he refused to expand on it. He explained that a marriage must be founded upon truth or it is doomed from the start. If he cheapened and falsified his emotions at the beginning, what could the future hold for them?

Doris found his sentiments admirable, but refused to marry him.

“You must tell a girl that you love her,” she declared. “You have to tell her a hundred times a day, Jefferson, and even then it’s not enough.”

“But I do love you!” Toms protested. “I mean to say I have an emotion corresponding to—”

“Oh, stop it!”

In this predicament, Toms thought about the Language of Love and went to his professor’s office to ask about it.

“We are told,” his professor said, “that the race indigenous to Tyana II had a specific and unique language for the expression of sensations of love. To say ‘I love you’ was unthinkable for Tyanians. They would use a phrase denoting the exact kind and class of love they felt at that specific moment, and used for no other purpose.”

Toms nodded, and the professor continued. “Of course, developed with this language was, necessarily, a technique of lovemaking quite incredible in its perfection. We are told that it made all ordinary techniques seem like the clumsy pawing of a grizzly in heat.” The professor coughed in embarrassment.

“It is precisely what I need!” Toms exclaimed.

“Ridiculous,” said the professor. “The technique might be interesting, but your own is doubtless sufficient for most needs. And the language, by its very nature, can be used with only one person. To learn it impresses me as wasted energy.”

“Labor for love,” Toms said, “is the most worthwhile work in the world, since it produces a rich harvest of feeling.”

“I refuse to stand here and listen to bad epigrams. Mr. Toms, why all this fuss about love?”

“It is the only perfect thing in this world,” Toms answered fervently. “If one must learn a special language to appreciate it, one can do no less. Tell me, is it far to Tyana II?”

“A considerable distance,” his professor said, with a thin smile. “And an unrewarding one, since the race is extinct.”

“Extinct! But why? A sudden pestilence? An invasion?”

“It is one of the mysteries of the galaxy,” his professor said somberly.

“Then the language is lost!”

“Not quite. Twenty years ago, an Earthman named George Varris went to Tyana and learned the Language of Love from the last remnants of the race.” The professor shrugged his shoulders. “I never considered it sufficiently important to read his scientific papers.”

Toms looked up Varris in the Interspatial Explorers Who’s Who and found that he was credited with the discovery of Tyana, had wandered around the frontier planets for a time, but at last had returned to deserted Tyana, to devote his life to investigating every aspect of its culture.

After learning this, Toms thought long and hard. The journey to Tyana was a difficult one, time-consuming, and expensive. Perhaps Varris would be dead before he got there, or unwilling to teach him the language. Was it worth the gamble?

“Is love worth it?” Toms asked himself, and knew the answer.

So he sold his ultra-fi, his memory recorder, his philoso ...

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