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Chapter 13

A world whose most public figure is a super-powered alien from a lost planet is not startled or horrified or even particularly curious at the visit of an eccentric, erratic character from somewhere in space.  The world is amused.

Towbee visited Earth briefly a few years ago and caused some trouble for a day or so.  Apparently this character was a minstrel of some sort, like the wandering troubadours who turned up in feudal courts, only Towbee traveled among the outposts of space entertaining the idle, the harried, the lonely.  He sang, he clowned, he cast images with an instrument that formed clouds of air into corporeal shapes as well as made music.  When he came to Earth then, he said, it was because he was in a creative slump and he was running out of stories to tell.

He'd heard stories about Superman and wanted to see if he was real.  One day a repulsive flying lizard swooped down from the sky over Metropolis, snatched up Clark Kent in its claws, and dramatically dangled the hapless fellow over the city.  Towbee would see what Superman would do and then go on his way with a story of the remarkable Kryptonian to add to his repertoire.

The minstrel hovered twenty-two thousand miles above the city in his one-man flying toychest for several minutes before he caught onto the fact that while Superman wore civilian clothes he pretended not to have his powers.  This was a cultural idiosyncrasy, Towbee thought, which to understand would require more study of Earth's society than Towbee cared to undertake.  The storyteller quickly fashioned a stand-in Clark Kent.  The real Clark Kent immediately ducked into a real cloud, became Superman, and disposed of the illusion menace in characteristically flamboyant fashion.  The Man of Steel found the source of all the trouble and gave Towbee a threatening lecture on social responsibility.  Towbee happily left the Solar System and wrote his own equivalent of an epic poem about the incident.

Anything for his art.

This latest trip to Superman's city, Towbee decided, would be worthy of Earth's greatest showmen.  Ringling Brothers' Barnum and Bailey Circus was in Metropolis at the time.  The circus was managed by a young animal trainer named Gunter Gabel Williams who entered the center ring standing on the back of a galloping elephant and holding a leashed leopard.

At ten-thirty A.M. two days after the theft of the Einstein document all vehicular traffic in midtown Metropolis came to a honking halt.  Necks craned and jaws dropped and heads hung out of windows as the zany four-armed singer from space materialized on Fifth Avenue.

Pulled by a herd of seven Indian elephants each in a different color of the rainbow was a 90-foot-long transparent fishtank.  The tank was filled with water which in turn was filled with a great blue whale floating calmly on the surface.  On the whale's back was Towbee rocking in an easy chair with his feet up on the edge of a tub in which a large baboon was bathing.  With one pair of hands Towbee played a melody on his instrument as he sang "Annie Laurie," and with the other pair he held a copy of the previous day's Daily Planet and read.  And curled up under his legs was a Siberian tiger, sleeping like a fallen redwood.

Police cordoned the entrances to Fifth Avenue from traffic.  Thousands of people followed the procession past Governor's Plaza toward the park.  Towbee and his bizarre litter passed within sight of the offices of all the city's television stations and by the time he had rolled a block the swarm of newsmen and police who were following him were in danger of being trampled by the calm elephants as they mechanically pulled their load.

The alien wailed "Annie Laurie" gradually louder and louder.  When he was finally loud enough so that his voice drowned even the din of midtown, the elephants and the aquarium ceased their progress up the street, and the grand marshal rose from his seat to address the world from the back of his whale.

Towbee's instrument fashioned other-worldly sounds into a haunting, buoyant melody, and he and his pets and the faces and minds of everyone who saw him were clouded with remarkable shapes and colors in an ineffable random pattern as he sang:

A clown has come
A splash of rum
I'll make you grin
Halibut's fin
And send your tears
Out of your day
Apples and pears
Hurrah and hooray
With shape and sound
Cashews by the pound
And colors flying
Laundry drying
Dreams and streams
A clock you wind
Gleams from themes
An organ grind
You'll surely leave your mind behind

And in a swirl and a splash of colorful clouds Towbee leaped from the back of his whale, defying gravity to float to the ground.  Meanwhile, the whale and its tank, the water, the tub, the baboon and the sleeping tiger and the seven elephants of seven different colors melted into a three-dimensional kaleidoscope that dispersed like smoke.  And Towbee, this street dream's creator, bowed low in all directions to the cheers of the breathless crowds.

Towbee motioned with his four hands for his audience, including the reporters, to draw closer as he explained himself.  ("I've brought myself to this, your Earth/To give a new career its birth.") He explained that this world was in a very exciting stage of its civilization, one in which art and technology were intersecting like parallel lines at infinity.  Communication was worldwide and nearly instantaneous, he said, and what people chose to communicate, mostly, was art: songs, plays, performances of all kinds.  ("I've traveled from my homeworld far/In order to become a star.") The self-proclaimed clown intended, he said, to see the city's most successful starmaker and ask for a recording contract.

A reporter asked for another sample of Towbee's work and the alien obliged:

"Good Sonnabend did talk of days far distant,
Of wonders which have lately come to be
And births and trends historic now existent
This prophecy was handed down to me:

When the minions of immortals spread Galactic,
When a thousand cultures dwell in Vega's glow,
When a sailing ship for starlight is a tactic,
When these things all come to pass then we will know."

Easily ten thousand people stood in Fifth Avenue, entranced.  It was in front of the old aluminum-spired Radio Corporation Building.

On the rounded tip of the spire, unnoticed over the crowd sixty-five stories below, sat the last son of Krypton, who wondered.

That a hybrid born to Vega has been spreading
Massive strength through an empire built on trade...



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