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Title: Once a Greech
Author: Smith, Evelyn E., 1927-2000
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 "Once a Greech" ***

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                                  Once a Greech

                                By EVELYN E. SMITH

                               Illustrated by DILLON

[Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from Galaxy Science Fiction
April 1957. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the
U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]


[Sidenote: _The mildest of men, Iversen was capable of murder ... to
disprove Harkaway's hypothesis that in the midst of life, we are in
life!_]

Just two weeks before the _S. S. Herringbone_ of the Interstellar
Exploration, Examination (and Exploitation) Service was due to start her
return journey to Earth, one of her scouts disconcertingly reported the
discovery of intelligent life in the Virago System.

"Thirteen planets," Captain Iversen snarled, wishing there were someone
on whom he could place the blame for this mischance, "and we spend a
full year here exploring each one of them with all the resources of
Terrestrial science and technology, and what happens? On the nineteenth
moon of the eleventh planet, intelligent life is discovered. And who has
to discover it? Harkaway, of all people. I thought for sure all the
moons were cinders or I would never have sent him out to them just to
keep him from getting in my hair."

"The boy's not a bad boy, sir," the first officer said. "Just a thought
incompetent, that's all--which is to be expected if the Service will
choose its officers on the basis of written examinations. I'm glad to
see him make good."

Iversen would have been glad to see Harkaway make good, too, only such a
concept seemed utterly beyond the bounds of possibility. From the moment
the young man had first set foot on the _S. S. Herringbone_, he had
seemed unable to make anything but bad. Even in such a conglomeration of
fools under Captain Iverson, his idiocy was of outstanding quality.

The captain, however, had not been wholly beyond reproach in this
instance, as he himself knew. Pity he had made such an error about the
eleventh planet's moons. It was really such a small mistake. Moons one
to eighteen and twenty to forty-six still appeared to be cinders. It was
all too easy for the spectroscope to overlook Flimbot, the nineteenth.

But it would be Flimbot which had turned out to be a green and pleasant
planet, very similar to Earth. Or so Harkaway reported on the intercom.

"And the other forty-five aren't really moons at all," he began.
"They're--"

"You can tell me all that when we reach Flimbot," Iversen interrupted,
"which should be in about six hours. Remember, that intercom uses a lot
of power and we're tight on fuel."

But it proved to be more than six _days_ later before the ship reached
Flimbot. This was owing to certain mechanical difficulties that arose
when the crew tried to lift the mother ship from the third planet, on
which it was based. For sentimental reasons, the IEE(E) always tried to
establish its prime base on the third planet of a system. Anyhow, when
the _Herringbone_ was on the point of takeoff, it was discovered that
the rock-eating species which was the only life on the third planet had
eaten all the projecting metal parts on the ship, including the
rocket-exhaust tubes, the airlock handles and the chromium trim.

"I had been wondering what made the little fellows so sick," Smullyan,
the ship's doctor, said. "They went wump, wump, wump all night long,
until my heart bled for them. Ah, everywhere it goes, humanity spreads
the fell seeds of death and destruction--"

"Are you a doctor or a veterinarian?" Iversen demanded furiously. "By
Betelgeuse, you act as if I'd crammed those blasted tubes down their
stinking little throats!"

"It was you who invaded their paradise with your ship. It was you--"

"Shut up!" Iversen yelled. "Shut up, shut up, shut up, shut up!"

So Dr. Smullyan went off, like many a ship's physician before him, and
got good and drunk on the medical stores.

       *       *       *       *       *

By the time they finally arrived on Flimbot, Harkaway had already gone
native. He appeared at the airlock wearing nothing but a brief, colorful
loincloth of alien fabric and a wreath of flowers in his hair. He was
fondling a large, woolly pink caterpillar.

[Illustration]

"Where is your uniform, sir!" Captain Iversen barked, aghast. If there
was one thing he was intolerant of in his command, it was sloppiness.

"This is the undress uniform of the Royal Flimbotzi Navy, sir. I was
given the privilege of wearing one as a great _msu'gri_--honor--to our
race. If I were to return to my own uniform, it might set back
diplomatic relations between Flimbot and Earth as much as--"

"All right!" the captain snapped. "All right, all right, all right!"

He didn't ask any questions about the Royal Flimbotzi Navy. He had
deduced its nature when, on nearing Flimbot, he had discovered that the
eleventh planet actually had only one moon. The other forty-five
celestial objects were spacecraft, quaint and primitive, it was true,
but spacecraft nonetheless. Probably it was their orbital formation that
had made him think they were moons. Oh, the crew must be in great
spirits; they did so enjoy having a good laugh at his expense!

He looked for something with which to reproach Harkaway, and his eye
lighted on the caterpillar. "What's that thing you're carrying there?"
he barked.

Raising itself on its tail, the caterpillar barked right back at him.

Captain Iversen paled. First he had overlooked the spacecraft, and now,
after thirty years of faithful service to the IEE(E) in the less
desirable sectors of space, he had committed the ultimate error in his
first contact with a new form of intelligent life!

"Sorry, sir," he said, forgetting that the creature--whatever its mental
prowess--could hardly be expected to understand Terran yet. "I am just a
simple spaceman and my ways are crude, but I mean no harm." He whirled
on Harkaway. "I thought you said the natives were humanoid."

The young officer grinned. "They are. This is just a greech. Cuddly
little fellow, isn't he?" The greech licked Harkaway's face with a
tripartite blue tongue. "The Flimbotzik are mad about pets. Great
animal-lovers. That's how I knew I could trust them right from the
start. Show me a life-form that loves animals, I always say, and--"

"I'm not interested in what you always say," Iversen interrupted,
knowing Harkaway's premise was fundamentally unsound, because he himself
was the kindliest of all men, and he hated animals. And, although he
didn't hate Harkaway, who was not an animal, save in the strictly
Darwinian sense, he could not repress unsportsmanlike feelings of
bitterness.

Why couldn't it have been one of the other officers who had discovered
the Flimbotzik? Why must it be Harkaway--the most inept of his scouts,
whose only talent seemed to be the egregious error, who always rushed
into a thing half-cocked, who mistook superficialities for profundities,
Harkaway, the blundering fool, the blithering idiot--who had stumbled
into this greatest discovery of Iversen's career? And, of course,
Harkaway's, too. Well, life was like that and always had been.

"Have you tested those air and soil samples yet?" Iversen snarled into
his communicator, for his spacesuit was beginning to itch again as the
gentle warmth of Flimbot activated certain small and opportunistic
life-forms which had emigrated from a previous system along with the
Terrans.

"We're running them through as fast as we can, sir," said a harried
voice. "We can offer you no more than our poor best."

"But why bother with all that?" Harkaway wanted to know. "This planet is
absolutely safe for human life. I can guarantee it personally."

"On what basis?" Iversen asked.

"Well, I've been here two weeks and I've survived, haven't I?"

"That," Iversen told him, "does not prove that the planet can sustain
human life."

Harkaway laughed richly. "Wonderful how you can still keep that
marvelous sense of humor, Skipper, after all the things that have been
going wrong on the voyage. Ah, here comes the _flim'tuu_--the welcoming
committee," he said quickly. "They were a little shy before. Because of
the rockets, you know."

"Don't their ships have any?"

"They don't seem to. They're really very primitive affairs, barely able
to go from planet to planet."

"If they _go_," Iversen said, "stands to reason _something_ must power
them."

"I really don't know what it is," Harkaway retorted defensively. "After
all, even though I've been busy as a beaver, three weeks would hardly
give me time to investigate every aspect of their culture.... Don't you
think the natives are remarkably humanoid?" he changed the subject.

They were, indeed. Except for a somewhat greenish cast of countenance
and distinctly purple hair, as they approached, in their brief, gay
garments and flower garlands, the natives resembled nothing so much as a
group of idealized South Sea Islanders of the nineteenth century.

Gigantic butterflies whizzed about their heads. Countless small animals
frisked about their feet--more of the pink caterpillars; bright blue
creatures that were a winsome combination of monkey and koala; a kind of
large, merry-eyed snake that moved by holding its tail in its mouth and
rolling like a hoop. All had faces that reminded the captain of the work
of the celebrated twentieth-century artist W. Disney.

"By Polaris," he cried in disgust, "I might have known you'd find a
_cute_ planet!"

"Moon, actually," the first officer said, "since it is in orbit around
Virago XI, rather than Virago itself."

"Would you have _wanted_ them to be hostile?" Harkaway asked peevishly.
"Honestly, some people never seem to be satisfied."

From his proprietary airs, one would think Harkaway had created the
natives himself. "At least, with hostile races, you know where you are,"
Iversen said. "I always suspect friendly life-forms. Friendliness simply
isn't a natural instinct."

"Who's being anthropomorphic now!" Harkaway chided.

Iversen flushed, for he had berated the young man for that particular
fault on more than one occasion. Harkaway was too prone to interpret
alien traits in terms of terrestrial culture. Previously, since all
intelligent life-forms with which the _Herringbone_ had come into
contact had already been discovered by somebody else, that didn't matter
too much. In this instance, however, any mistakes of contact or
interpretation mattered terribly. And Iversen couldn't see Harkaway not
making a mistake; the boy simply didn't have it in him.

"You know you're superimposing our attitude on theirs," the junior
officer continued tactlessly. "The Flimbotzik are a simple, friendly,
_shig-livi_ people, closely resembling some of our historical
primitives--in a nice way, of course."

"None of our primitives had space travel," Iversen pointed out.

"Well, you couldn't really call those things spaceships," Harkaway said
deprecatingly.

"They go through space, don't they? I don't know what else you'd call
them."

"One judges the primitiveness of a race by its cultural and
technological institutions," Harkaway said, with a lofty smile. "And
these people are laughably backward. Why, they even believe in
reincarnation--_mpoola_, they call it."

"How do you know all this?" Iversen demanded. "Don't tell me you profess
to speak the language already?"

"It's not a difficult language," Harkaway said modestly, "and I have
managed to pick up quite a comprehensive smattering. I dare-say I
haven't caught all the nuances--_heeka lob peeka_, as the Flimbotzik
themselves say--but they are a very simple people and probably they
don't have--"

"Are we going to keep them waiting," Iversen asked, "while we discuss
nuances? Since you say you speak the language so well, suppose you make
them a pretty speech all about how the Earth government extends the--I
suppose it would be hand, in this instance--of friendship to Flimbot
and--"

Harkaway blushed. "I sort of did that already, acting as your deputy.
_Mpoo_--status--means so much in these simple societies, you know, and
they seemed to expect something of the sort. However, I'll introduce you
to the Flimflim--the king, you know--" he pointed to an imposing
individual in the forefront of the crowd--"and get over all the
amenities, shall I?"

"It would be jolly good of you," Iversen said frigidly.

       *       *       *       *       *

It was a pity they hadn't discovered Flimbot much earlier in their
survey of the Virago System, Iversen thought with regret, because it was
truly a pleasant spot and a week was very little time in which to
explore a world and study a race, even one as simple as the gentle
Flimbotzik actually turned out to be. It seemed amazing that they should
have developed anything as advanced as space travel, when their only
ground conveyances were a species of wagon drawn by plookik, a species
of animal.

But Iversen had no time for further investigation. The _Herringbone's_
fuel supply was calculated almost to the minute and so, willy-nilly, the
Earthmen had to leave beautiful Flimbot at the end of the week, knowing
little more about the Flimbotzik than they had before they came. Only
Harkaway, who had spent the three previous weeks on Flimbot, had any
further knowledge of the Flimbotzik--and Iversen had little faith in any
data he might have collected.

"I don't believe Harkaway knows the language nearly as well as he
pretends to," Iversen told the first officer as both of them watched
the young lieutenant make the formal speech of farewell.

"Come now," the first officer protested. "Seems to me the boy is doing
quite well. Acquired a remarkable command of the language, considering
he's been here only four weeks."

"Remarkable, I'll grant you, but is it accurate?"

"He seems to communicate and that is the ultimate objective of language,
is it not?"

"Then why did the Flimbotzik fill the tanks with wine when I distinctly
told him to ask for water?"

Of course the ship could synthesize water from its own waste products,
if necessary, but there was no point in resorting to that expedient when
a plentiful supply of pure H_{2}O was available on the world.

"A very understandable error, sir. Harkaway explained it to me. It seems
the word for water, _m'koog_, is very similar to the word for wine,
_mk'oog_. Harkaway himself admits his pronunciation isn't perfect and--"

"All right," Iversen interrupted. "What I'd like to know is what
happened to the _mk'oog_, then--"

"The m'koog, you mean? It's in the tanks."

"--because, when they came to drain the wine out of the tanks to put the
water in, the tanks were already totally empty."

"I have no idea," the first officer said frostily, "no idea at all. If
you'll glance at my papers, you'll note I'm Temperance by affiliation,
but if you'd like to search my cabin, anyway, I--"

"By Miaplacidus, man," Iversen exclaimed, "I wasn't accusing you! Of
that, anyway!"

Everybody on the vessel was so confoundedly touchy. Lucky they had a
stable commanding officer like himself, or morale would simply go to
pot.

       *       *       *       *       *

"Well, it's all over," Harkaway said, joining them up at the airlock in
one lithe bound--a mean feat in that light gravity. "And a right good
speech, if I do say so myself. The Flimflim says he will count the
thlubbzik with ardent expectation until the mission from Earth arrives
with the promised gifts."

"Just what gifts did you take it upon yourself to--" Iversen began, when
he was interrupted by a voice behind them crying, "Woe, woe, woe!"

And, thrusting himself past the three other officers, Dr. Smullyan
addressed the flim'puu, or farewell committee, assembled outside the
ship. "Do not let the Earthmen return to your fair planet, O happily
ignorant Flimbotzik," he declaimed, "lest wretchedness and misery be
your lot as a result. Tell them, 'Hence!' Tell them, 'Begone!' Tell
them, 'Avaunt!' For, know ye, humanity is a blight, a creeping canker--"

He was interrupted by the captain's broad palm clamping down over his
mouth.

"Clap him in the brig, somebody, until we get clear of this place,"
Iversen ordered wearily. "If Harkaway could pick up the Flimbotzi
language, the odds are that some of the natives have picked up Terran."

"That's right, always keep belittling me," Harkaway said sulkily as two
of the crewmen carried off the struggling medical officer, who left an
aromatic wake behind him that bore pungent testimonial to where a part,
at least, of the _mk'oog_ had gone. "No wonder it took me so long to
find myself."

"Oh, have you found yourself at last?" Iversen purred. "Splendid! Now
that you know where you are, supposing you do me a big favor and go lose
yourself again while we make ready for blastoff."

"For shame," said the first officer as Harkaway stamped off. "For
shame!"

"The captain's a hard man," observed the chief petty officer, who was
lounging negligently against a wall, doing nothing.

"Ay, that he is," agreed the crewman who was assisting him. "That he
is--a hard man, indeed."

"By Caroli, be quiet, all of you!" Iversen yelled. The very next voyage,
he was going to have a new crew if he had to transfer to Colonization to
do it! Even colonists couldn't be as obnoxious as the sons of space with
which he was cursed.

       *       *       *       *       *

It was only after the _Herringbone_ had left the Virago System entirely
that Iversen discovered Harkaway had taken the greech along.

"But you can't abscond with one of the natives' pets!" he protested,
overlooking, for the sake of rhetoric, the undeniable fact that Harkaway
had already done so and that there could be no turning back. It would
expend too much precious fuel and leave them stranded for life on Virago
XI^a.

"Nonsense, sir!" Harkaway retorted. "Didn't the Flimflim say everything
on Flimbot was mine? _Thlu'pt shig-nliv, snusnigg bnig-nliv_ were his
very words. Anyhow, they have plenty more greechi. They won't miss this
little one."

"But he may have belonged to someone," Iversen objected. "An incident
like this could start a war."

"I don't see how he could have belonged to anyone. Followed me around
most of the time I was there. We've become great pals, haven't we,
little fellow?" He ruffled the greech's pink fur and the creature gave a
delighted squeal.

Iversen could already see that the greechik were going to be Flimbot's
first lucrative export. From time immemorial, the people of Earth had
been susceptible to cuddly little life-forms, which was why Earth had
nearly been conquered by the zz^{iu} from Sirius VII, before they
discovered them to be hostile and quite intelligent life-forms rather
than a new species of tabby.

"Couldn't bear to leave him," Harkaway went on as the greech draped
itself around his shoulders and regarded Iversen with large round blue
eyes. "The Flimflim won't mind, because I promised him an elephant."

"You mean the diplomatic mission will have to waste valuable cargo space
on an _elephant_!" Iversen sputtered. "And you should know, if anyone
does, just how spacesick an elephant can get. By Pherkad, Lieutenant
Harkaway, you had no authority to make any promises to the Flimflim!"

"I discovered the Flimbotzik," Harkaway said sullenly. "_I_ learned the
language. _I_ established rapport. Just because you happen to be the
commander of this expedition doesn't mean you're God, Captain Iversen!"

"Harkaway," the captain barked, "this smacks of downright mutiny! Go to
your cabin forthwith and memorize six verses of the Spaceman's Credo!"

The greech lifted its head and barked back at Iversen, again. "That's my
brave little watch-greech," Harkaway said fondly. "As a matter of fact,
sir," he told the captain, "that was just what I was proposing to do
myself. Go to my cabin, I mean; I have no time to waste on inferior
prose. I plan to spend the rest of the voyage, or such part as I can
spare from my duties--"

"You're relieved of them," Iversen said grimly.

"--working on my book. It's all about the doctrine of
_mpoola_--reincarnation, or, if you prefer, metempsychosis. The
Flimbotzi religion is so similar to many of the earlier terrestrial
theologies--Hindu, Greek, Egyptian, Southern Californian--that sometimes
one is almost tempted to stop and wonder if simplicity is not the
essence of truth."

Iversen knew that, for the sake of discipline, he should not, once he
had ordered Harkaway to his cabin, stop to bandy words, but he was a
chronic word-bandier, having inherited the trait from his stalwart
Viking ancestors. "How can you have learned all about their religion,
their doctrine of reincarnation, in just four ridiculously short weeks?"

"It's a gift," Harkaway said modestly.

"Go to your cabin, sir! No, wait a moment!" For, suddenly overcome by a
strange, warm, utterly repulsive emotion, Iversen pointed a quivering
finger at the caterpillar. "Did you bring along the proper food for
that--that thing? Can't have him starving, you know," he added gruffly.
After all, he was a humane man, he told himself; it wasn't that he found
the creature tugging at his heart-strings, or anything like that.

"Oh, he'll eat anything we eat, sir. As long as it's not meat. All the
species on Flimbot are herbivores. I can't figure out whether the
Flimbotzik themselves are vegetarians because they practice _mpoola_, or
practice _mpoola_ because they're--"

"I don't want to hear another word about _mpoola_ or about Flimbot!"
Iversen yelled. "Get out of here! And stay away from the library!"

"I have already exhausted its painfully limited resources, sir."
Harkaway saluted with grace and withdrew to his cabin, wearing the
greech like an affectionate lei about his neck.

       *       *       *       *       *

Iverson heard no more about _mpoola_ from Harkaway--who, though he did
not remain confined to his cabin when he had pursuits to pursue in other
parts of the ship, at least had the tact to keep out of the captain's
way as much as possible--but the rest of his men seemed able to talk of
nothing else. The voyage back from a star system was always longer in
relative terms than the voyage out, because the thrill of new worlds to
explore was gone; already anticipating boredom, the men were ripe for
almost any distraction.

On one return voyage, the whole crew had set itself to the study of
Hittite with very creditable results. On another, they had all devoted
themselves to the ancient art of alchemy, and, after nearly blowing up
the ship, had come up with an elixir which, although not the
quintessence--as they had, in their initial enthusiasm, alleged--proved
to be an effective cure for hiccups. Patented under the name of
Herringbone Hiccup Shoo, it brought each one of them an income which
would have been enough to support them in more than modest comfort for
the rest of their lives.

However, the adventurous life seemed to exert an irresistible lure upon
them and they all shipped upon the _Herringbone_ again--much to the
captain's dismay, for he had hoped for a fresh start with a new crew
and there seemed to be no way of getting rid of them short of reaching
retirement age.

The men weren't quite ready to accept _mpoola_ as a practical
religion--Harkaway hadn't finished his book yet--but as something very
close to it. The concept of reincarnation had always been very appealing
to the human mind, which would rather have envisaged itself perpetuated
in the body of a cockroach than vanishing completely into nothingness.

"It's all so logical, sir," the first officer told Iversen. "The
individuality or the soul or the psyche--however you want to look at
it--starts the essentially simple cycle of life as a greech--"

"Why as a greech?" Iversen asked, humoring him for the moment. "There
are lower life-forms on Flimbot."

"I don't know." The first officer sounded almost testy. "That's where
Harkaway starts the progression."

"Harkaway! Is there no escaping that cretin's name?"

"Sir," said the first officer, "may I speak frankly?"

"No," Iversen said, "you may not."

"Your skepticism arises less from disbelief than from the fact that you
are jealous of Harkaway because it was he who made the great discovery,
not you."

"Which great discovery?" Iversen asked, sneering to conceal his hurt at
being so overwhelmingly misunderstood. "Flimbot or _mpoola_?"

"Both," the first officer said. "You refuse to accept the fact that this
hitherto incompetent youth has at last blossomed forth in the lambent
colors of genius, just as the worthy greech becomes a zkoort, and the
clean-living zkoort in his turn passes on to the next higher plane of
existence, which is, in the Flimbotzik scale--"

"Spare me the theology, please," Iversen begged. "Once a greech, always
a greech, I say. And I can't help thinking that somehow, somewhere,
Harkaway has committed some horrible error."

"Humanity is frail, fumbling, futile," Dr. Smullyan declared, coming
upon them so suddenly that both officers jumped. "To err is human, to
forgive divine, and I am an atheist, thank God!"

"That _mk'oog_ is powerful stuff," the first officer said. "Or so they
tell me," he added.

"This is more than mere _mk'oog_," Iversen said sourly. "Smullyan has
been too long in space. It hits everyone in the long run--some sooner
than others."

"Captain," the doctor said, ignoring these remarks as he ignored
everything not on a cosmic level, which included the crew's ailments,
"I am in full agreement with you. Young Harkaway has doomed that pretty
little planet--"

"Moon," the first officer corrected. "It's a satellite, not a--"

"We ourselves were doomed _ab origine_, but the tragic flaw inherent in
each one of our pitiful species is contagious, dooming all with whom we
come in contact. And Harkaway is the most infectious carrier on the
ship. Woe, I tell you. Woe!" And, with a hollow moan, the doctor left
them to meditate upon the state of their souls, while he went off to his
secret stores of oblivion.

"Wonder where he's hidden that _mk'oog_," Iversen brooded. "I've turned
the ship inside out and I haven't been able to locate it."

The first officer shivered. "Somehow, although I know Smullyan's part
drunk, part mad, he makes me a little nervous. He's been right so often
on all the other voyages."

"Ruchbah!" Iversen said, not particularly grateful for support from such
a dithyrambic source as the ship's medical officer. "Anyone who
prophesies doom has a hundred per cent chance of ultimately being right,
if only because of entropy."

He was still brooding over the first officer's thrust, even though he
had been well aware that most of his officers and men considered him a
sorehead for doubting Harkaway in the young man's moment of triumph.
However, Iversen could not believe that Harkaway had undergone such a
radical transformation. Even on the basis of _mpoola_, one obviously had
to die before passing on to the next existence and Harkaway had been
continuously alive--from the neck down, at least.

Furthermore, all that aside, Iversen just couldn't see Harkaway going on
to a higher plane. Although he supposed the young man was well-meaning
enough--he'd grant him that negligible virtue--wouldn't it be terrible
to have a system of existence in which one was advanced on the basis of
intent rather than result? The higher life-forms would degenerate into
primitivism.

But weren't the Flimbotzik virtually primitive? Or so Harkaway had said,
for Iversen himself had not had enough contact with them to determine
their degree of sophistication, and only the spaceships gave Harkaway's
claim the lie.

       *       *       *       *       *

Iversen condescended to take a look at the opening chapter of Harkaway's
book, just to see what the whole thing was about. The book began:

"What is the difference between life and death? Can we say definitely
and definitively that life is life and death is death? Are we sure that
death is not life and life is not death?

"No, we are not sure!

"Must the individuality have a corporeal essence in which to enshroud
itself before it can proceed in its rapt, inexorable progress toward the
Ultimate Non-actuality? And even if such be needful, why must the
personal essence be trammeled by the same old worn-out habiliments of
error?

"Think upon this!

"What is the extremest intensification of individuality? It is the
All-encompassing Nothingness. Of what value are the fur, the feathers,
the skin, the temporal trappings of imperfection in our perpetual
struggle toward the final undefinable resolution into the Infinite
Interplay of Cosmic Forces?

"Less than nothing!"

At this point, Iversen stopped reading and returned the manuscript to
its creator, without a word. This last was less out of self-restraint
than through sheer semantic inadequacy.

The young man might have spent his time more profitably in a little
research on the biology or social organization of the Flimbotzik,
Iversen thought bitterly when he had calmed down, thus saving the next
expedition some work. But, instead, he'd been blinded by the flashy
theological aspects of the culture and, as a result, the whole crew had
gone metempsychotic.

This was going to be one of the _Herringbone's_ more unendurable
voyages, Iversen knew. And he couldn't put his foot down effectively,
either, because the crew, all being gentlemen of independent means now,
were outrageously independent.

However, in spite of knowing that all of them fully deserved what they
got, Iversen couldn't help feeling guilty as he ate steak while the
other officers consumed fish, vegetables and eggs in an aura of
unbearable virtue.

"But if the soul transmigrates and not the body," he argued, "what harm
is there in consuming the vacated receptacle?"

"For all you know," the first officer said, averting his eyes from
Iversen's plate with a little--wholly gratuitous, to the captain's
mind--shudder, "that cow might have housed the psyche of your
grandmother."

"Well, then, by indirectly participating in that animal's slaughter, I
have released my grandmother from her physical bondage to advance to the
next plane. That is, if she was a good cow."

"You just don't understand," Harkaway said. "Not that you could be
expected to."

"He's a clod," the radio operator agreed. "Forgive me, sir," he
apologized as Iversen turned to glare incredulously at him, "but,
according to _mpoola_, candor is a Step Upward."

"Onward and Upward," Harkaway commented, and Iversen was almost sure
that, had he not been there, the men would have bowed their heads in
contemplation, if not actual prayer.

       *       *       *       *       *

As time went on, the greech thrived and grew remarkably stout on the
Earth viands, which it consumed in almost improbable quantities. Then,
one day, it disappeared and its happy squeal was heard no longer.

There was much mourning aboard the _Herringbone_--for, with its lovable
personality and innocently engaging ways, the little fellow had won its
way into the hearts of all the spacemen--until the first officer
discovered a substantial pink cocoon resting on the ship's control board
and rushed to the intercom to spread the glad tidings. That was a breach
of regulations, of course, but Iversen knew when not to crowd his
fragile authority.

"I should have known there was some material basis for the spiritual
doctrine of _mpoola_," Harkaway declared with tears in his eyes as he
regarded the dormant form of his little pet. "Was it not the
transformation of the caterpillar into the butterfly that first showed
us on Earth how the soul might emerge winged and beautiful from its vile
house of clay? Gentlemen," he said, in a voice choked with emotion, "our
little greech is about to become a zkoort. Praised be the Impersonal
Being who has allowed such a miracle to take place before our very eyes.
_J'goona lo mpoona_."

"Amen," said the first officer reverently.

All those in the control room bowed their heads except Iversen. And even
he didn't quite have the nerve to tell them that the cocoon was pushing
the _Herringbone_ two points off course.

       *       *       *       *       *

"Take that thing away before I lose my temper and clobber it," Iversen
said impatiently as the zkoort dived low to buzz him, then whizzed just
out of its reach on its huge, brilliant wings, giggling raucously.

[Illustration]

"He was just having his bit of fun," the first officer said with
reproach. "Have you no tolerance, Captain, no appreciation of the joys
of golden youth?"

"A spaceship is no place for a butterfly," Iversen said, "especially a
four-foot butterfly."

"How can you say that?" Harkaway retorted. "The _Herringbone_ is the
only spaceship that ever had one, to my knowledge. And I think I can
safely say our lives are all a bit brighter and better and _m'poo'p_
for having a zkoort among us. Thanks be to the Divine Nonentity for--"

"Poor little butterfly," Dr. Smullyan declared sonorously, "living out
his brief life span so far from the fresh air, the sunshine, the pretty
flowers--"

"Oh, I don't know that it's as bad as all that," the first officer said.
"He hangs around hydroponics a lot and he gets a daily ration of
vitamins." Then he paled. "But that's right--a butterfly does live only
a day, doesn't it?"

"It's different with a zkoort," Harkaway maintained stoutly, though he
also, Iversen noted, lost his ruddy color. "After all, he isn't really a
butterfly, merely an analogous life-form."

"My, my! In four weeks, you've mastered their entomology as well as
their theology and language," Iversen jeered. "Is there no end to your
accomplishments, Lieutenant?"

Harkaway's color came back twofold. "He's already been around half a
_thubb_," he pointed out. "Over two weeks."

"Well, the thing _is_ bigger than a Terrestrial butterfly," Iversen
conceded, "so you have to make some allowances for size. On the other
hand--"

Laughing madly, the zkoort swooped down on him. Iversen beat it away
with a snarl.

"Playful little fellow, isn't he?" the first officer said, with
thoroughly annoying fondness.

"He likes you, Skipper," Harkaway explained. "_Urg'h n gurg'h_--or, to
give it the crude Terran equivalent, living is loving. He can tell that
beneath that grizzled and seemingly harsh exterior of yours, Captain--"

But, with a scream of rage, Iversen had locked himself into his cabin.
Outside, he could hear the zkoort beating its wings against the door and
wailing disappointedly.

       *       *       *       *       *

Some days later, a pair of rapidly dulling wings were found on the floor
of the hydroponics chamber. But of the zkoort's little body, there was
no sign. An air of gloom and despondency hung over the _Herringbone_ and
even Iversen felt a pang, though he would never admit it without
brainwashing.

During the next week, the men, seeking to forget their loss, plunged
themselves into _mpoola_ with real fanaticism. Harkaway took to wearing
some sort of ecclesiastical robes which he whipped up out of the
recreation room curtains. Iversen had neither the heart nor the courage
to stop him, though this, too, was against regulations. Everyone except
Iversen gave up eating fish and eggs in addition to meat.

Then, suddenly, one day a roly-poly blue animal appeared at the officers
mess, claiming everyone as an old friend with loud squeals of joy. This
time, Iversen was the only one who was glad to see him--really glad.

"Aren't you happy to see your little friend again, Harkaway?" he asked,
scratching the delighted animal between the ears.

"Why, sure," Harkaway said, putting his fork down and leaving his
vegetable _macédoine_ virtually untasted. "Sure. I'm very happy--" his
voice broke--"very happy."

"Of course, it does kind of knock your theory of the transmigration of
souls into a cocked hat," the captain grinned. "Because, in order for
the soul to transmigrate, the previous body's got to be dead, and I'm
afraid our little pal here was alive all the time."

"Looks it, doesn't it?" muttered Harkaway.

"I rather think," Iversen went on, tickling the creature under the chin
until it squealed happily, "that you didn't _quite_ get the nuances of
the language, did you, Harkaway? Because I gather now that the whole
difficulty was a semantic one. The Flimbotzik were explaining the
zoology of the native life-forms to you and you misunderstood it as
their theology."

"Looks it, doesn't it?" Harkaway repeated glumly. "It certainly looks
it."

"Cheer up," Iversen said, reaching over to slap the young man on the
back--a bit to his own amazement. "No real harm done. What if the
Flimbotzik are less primitive than you fancied? It makes our discovery
the more worthwhile, doesn't it?"

At this point, the radio operator almost sobbingly asked to be excused
from the table. Following his departure, there was a long silence. It
was hard, Iversen realized in a burst of uncharacteristic tolerance, to
have one's belief, even so newly born a credo, annihilated with such
suddenness.

"After all, you did run across the Flimbotzik first," he told Harkaway
as he spread gooseberry jam on a hard roll for the ravenous ex-zkoort
(now a chu-wugg, he had been told). "That's the main thing, and a
life-form that passes through two such striking metamorphoses is not
unfraught with interest. You shall receive full credit, my boy, and your
little mistake doesn't mean a thing except--"

"Doom," said Dr. Smullyan, sopping up the last of his gravy with a piece
of bread. "Doom, doom, doom." He stuffed the bread into his mouth.

"Look, Smullyan," Iversen told him jovially, "you better watch out. If
you keep talking that way, next voyage out we'll sign on a parrot
instead of a medical officer. Cheaper and just as efficient."

Only the chu-wugg joined in his laughter.

"Ever since I can remember," the first officer said, looking gloomily at
the doctor, "he's never been wrong. Maybe _he_ has powers beyond our
comprehension. Perhaps we sought at the end of the Galaxy what was in
our own back yard all the time."

"Who was seeking what?" Iversen asked as all the officers looked at
Smullyan with respectful awe. "I demand an answer!"

But the only one who spoke was the doctor. "Only Man is vile," he said,
as if to himself, and fell asleep with his head on the table.

"Make a cult out of Smullyan," Iversen warned the others, "and I'll
scuttle the ship!"

Later on, the first officer got the captain alone. "Look here, sir," he
began tensely, "have you read Harkaway's book about _mpoola_?"

"I read part of the first chapter," Iversen told him, "and that was
enough. Maybe to Harkaway it's eschatology, but to me it's just plain
scatology!"

"But--"

"Why in Zubeneschamali," Iversen said patiently, "should I waste my time
reading a book devoted to a theory which has already been proved
erroneous? Answer me that!"

"I think you should have a look at the whole thing," the first officer
persisted.

"Baham!" Iversen replied, but amiably enough, for he was in rare good
humor these days. And he needed good humor to tolerate the way his
officers and men were behaving. All right, they had made idiots of
themselves; that was understandable, expected, familiar. But it wasn't
the chu-wugg's fault. Iversen had never seen such a bunch of soreheads.
Why did they have to take their embarrassment and humiliation out on an
innocent little animal?

For, although no one actually mistreated the chu-wugg, the men avoided
him as much as possible. Often Iversen would come upon the little fellow
weeping from loneliness in a corner with no one to play with and, giving
in to his own human weakness, the captain would dry the creature's
tears and comfort him. In return, the chu-wugg would laugh at all his
jokes, for he seemed to have acquired an elementary knowledge of Terran.

       *       *       *       *       *

"By Vindemiatrix, Lieutenant," the captain roared as Harkaway, foiled in
his attempt to scurry off unobserved, stood quivering before him, "why
have you been avoiding me like this?"

"I didn't think I was avoiding you any particular way, sir," Harkaway
said. "I mean does it appear like that, sir? It's only that I've been
busy with my duties, sir."

"I don't know what's the matter with you! I told you I handsomely
forgave you for your mistake."

"But I can never forgive myself, sir--"

"Are you trying to go over my head?" Iversen thundered.

"No, sir. I--"

"If I am willing to forgive you, you will forgive yourself. That's an
order!"

"Yes, sir," the young man said feebly.

Harkaway had changed back to his uniform, Iversen noted, but he looked
unkempt, ill, harrowed. The boy had really been suffering for his
precipitance. Perhaps the captain himself had been a little hard on him.

Iversen modulated his tone to active friendliness. "Thought you might
like to know the chu-wugg turned into a hoop-snake this morning!"

But Harkaway did not seem cheered by this social note. "So soon!"

"You knew there would be a fourth metamorphosis!" Iversen was
disappointed. But he realized that Harkaway was bound to have acquired
such fundamental data, no matter how he interpreted them. It was
possible, Iversen thought, that the book could actually have some value,
if there were some way of weeding fact from fancy, and surely there must
be scholars trained in such an art, for Earth had many wholly indigenous
texts of like nature.

"He's a thor'glitch now," Harkaway told him dully.

"And what comes next?... No, don't tell me. It's more fun not knowing
beforehand. You know," Iversen went on, almost rubbing his hands
together, "I think this species is going to excite more interest on
Earth than the Flimbotzik themselves. After all, people are people, even
if they're green, but an animal that changes shape so many times and so
radically is really going to set biologists by the ears. What did you
say the name of the species as a whole was?"

"I--I couldn't say, sir."

"Ah," Iversen remarked waggishly, "so there are one or two things you
don't know about Flimbot, eh?"

Harkaway opened his mouth, but only a faint bleating sound came out.

       *       *       *       *       *

As the days went on, Iversen found himself growing fonder and fonder of
the thor'glitch. Finally, in spite of the fact that it had now attained
the dimensions of a well-developed boa constrictor, he took it to live
in his quarters.

Many was the quiet evening they spent together, Iversen entering acid
comments upon the crew in the ship's log, while the thor'glitch looked
over viewtapes from the ship's library.

The captain was surprised to find how much he--well, enjoyed this
domestic tranquility. I must be growing old, he thought--old and mellow.
And he named the creature Bridey, after a twentieth-century figure who
had, he believed, been connected with another metempsychotic furor.

When the thor'glitch grew listless and began to swell in the middle,
Iversen got alarmed and sent for Dr. Smullyan.

"Aha!" the medical officer declaimed, with a casual glance at the
suffering snake. "The day of reckoning is at hand! Reap the fruit of
your transgression, scurvy humans! Calamity approaches with jets
aflame!"

Iversen clutched the doctor's sleeve. "Is he--is he going to die?"

"Unhand me, presumptuous navigator!" Dr. Smullyan shook the captain's
fingers off his arm. "I didn't say he was going to die," he offered in
ordinary bedside tones. "Not being a specialist in this particular
sector, I am not qualified to offer an opinion, but, strictly off the
record, I would hazard the guess that he's about to metamorphose again."

"He never did it in public before," Iversen said worriedly.

"The old order changeth," Smullyan told him. "You'd better call
Harkaway."

"What does _he_ know!"

"Too little and, at the same time, too much," the doctor declaimed,
dissociating himself professionally from the case. "Too much and too
little. Eat, drink, be merry, iniquitous Earthmen, for you died
yesterday!"

"Oh, shut up," Iversen said automatically, and dispatched a message to
Harkaway with the information that the thor'glitch appeared to be
metamorphosing again and that his presence was requested in the
captain's cabin.

[Illustration]

The rest of the officers accompanied Harkaway, all of them with the air
of attending a funeral rather than a rebirth, Iversen noted nervously.
They weren't armed, though, so Bridey couldn't be turning into anything
dangerous.

       *       *       *       *       *

Now it came to pass that the thor'glitch's mid-section, having swelled
to unbearable proportions, began to quiver. Suddenly, the skin split
lengthwise and dropped cleanly to either side, like a banana peel.

Iversen pressed forward to see what fresh life-form the bulging cavity
had held. The other officers all stood in a somber row without moving,
for all along, Iversen realized, they had known what to expect, what was
to come. And they had not told him. But then, he knew, it was his own
fault; he had refused to be told.

Now, looking down at the new life-form, he saw for himself what it was.
Lying languidly in the thor'glitch skin was a slender youth of a pallor
which seemed excessive even for a member of a green-skinned race. He had
large limpid eyes and a smile of ineffable sweetness.

"By Nopus Secundus," Iversen groaned. "I'm sunk."

"Naturally the ultimate incarnation for a life-form would be humanoid,"
Harkaway said with deep reproach. "What else?"

"I'm surprised you didn't figure that out for yourself, sir," the first
officer added. "Even if you did refuse to read Harkaway's book, it seems
obvious."

"Does it?" Smullyan challenged. "Does it, indeed? Is Man the highest
form of life in an irrational cosmos? Then all causes are lost ones!...
So many worlds," he muttered in more subdued tones, "so much to do, so
little done, such things to be!"

"The Flimbotzik were telling Harkaway about their _own_ life cycle,"
Iversen whispered as revelation bathed him in its murky light. "The
human embryo undergoes a series of changes _inside_ the womb. It's just
that the Flimbotzik fetus develops _outside_ the womb."

"Handily bypassing the earliest and most unpleasant stages of humanity,"
Smullyan sighed. "Oh, idyllic planet, where one need never be a
child--where one need never see a child!"

"Then they were trying to explain their biology to you quite clearly and
coherently, you lunkhead," Iversen roared at Harkaway, "and you took it
for a religious doctrine!"

"Yes, sir," Harkaway said weakly. "I--I kind of figured that out myself
in these last few weeks of intensive soul-searching. I--I'm sorry, sir.
All I can say is that it was an honest mistake."

"Why, they weren't necessarily pet-lovers at all. Those animals they had
with them were.... By Nair al Zaurak!" The captain's voice rose to a
shriek as the whole enormity of the situation finally dawned upon him.
"You went and kidnaped one of the children!"

"That's a serious charge, kidnaping," the first officer said with
melancholy pleasure. "And you, as head of this expedition, Captain, are
responsible. Ironic, isn't it?"

"Told you all this spelled doom and disaster," the doctor observed
cheerfully.

Just then, the young humanoid sat up--with considerable effort, Iversen
was disturbed to notice. But perhaps that was one of the consequences of
being born. A new-born infant was weak; why not a new-born adult, then?

"Why doom?" the humanoid asked in a high, clear voice. "Why disaster?"

"You--you speak Terran?" the captain stammered.

Bridey gave his sad, sweet smile. "I was reared amongst you. You are my
people. Why should I not speak your tongue?"

"But we're not your people," Iversen blurted, thinking perhaps the youth
did not remember back to his greechi days. "We're an entirely different
species--"

"Our souls vibrate in unison and that is the vital essence. But do not
be afraid, shipmates; the Flimbotzik do not regard the abduction of a
transitory corporeal shelter as a matter of any great moment. Moreover,
what took place could not rightly be termed abduction, for I came with
you of my own volition--and the Flimbotzik recognize individual
responsibility from the very first moment of the psyche's drawing breath
in any material casing."

Bridey talked so much like Harkaway's book that Iversen was almost
relieved when, a few hours later, the alien died. Of course the captain
was worried about possible repercussions from the governments of both
Terra and Flimbot, in spite of Bridey's assurances.

And he could not help but feel a pang when the young humanoid expired in
his arms, murmuring, "Do not grieve for me, soul-mates. In the midst of
life, there is life...."

"Funny," Smullyan said, with one of his disconcerting returns to a
professional manner, "all the other forms seemed perfectly healthy. Why
did this one go like that? Almost as if he _wanted_ to die."

"He was too good for this ship, that's what," the radio operator said,
glaring at the captain. "Too fine and brave and--and noble."

"Yes," Harkaway agreed. "What truly sensitive soul could exist in a
stultifying atmosphere like this?"

All the officers glared at the captain. He glared back with right good
will. "How come you gentlemen are still with us?" he inquired. "One
would have thought you would have perished of pure sensibility long
since, then."

"It's not nice to talk that way," the chief petty officer burst out,
"not with him lying there not yet cold.... Ah," he heaved a long sigh,
"we'll never see his like again."

"Ay, that we won't," agreed the crew, huddled in the corridor outside
the captain's cabin.

Iversen sincerely hoped not, but he forbore to speak.

       *       *       *       *       *

Since Bridey had reached the ultimate point in his life cycle, it seemed
certain that he was not going to change into anything else and so he was
given a spaceman's burial. Feeling like a put-upon fool, Captain Iversen
read a short prayer as Bridey's slight body was consigned to the vast
emptiness of space.

Then the airlock clanged shut behind the last mortal remains of the
ill-fated extraterrestrial and that was the end of it.

But the funereal atmosphere did not diminish as the ship forged on
toward Earth. Gloomy days passed, one after the other, during which no
one spoke, save to issue or dispute an order. Looking at himself one day
in the mirror on his cabin wall, the captain realized that he was
getting old. Perhaps he ought to retire instead of still dreaming of a
new command and a new crew.

And then one day, as he sat in his cabin reading the Spaceman's Credo,
the lights on the _Herringbone_ went out, all at once, while the
constant hum of the motors died down slowly, leaving a strange,
uncomfortable silence. Iversen found himself suspended weightless in the
dark, for the gravity, of course, had gone off with the power. What, he
wondered, had come to pass? He often found himself thinking in such
terms these days.

Hoarse cries issued from the passageway outside; then he heard a squeak
as his cabin door opened and persons unknown floated inside, breathing
heavily.

"The power has failed, sir!" gasped the first officer's voice.

"That has not escaped my notice," Iversen said icily. Were not even his
last moments to be free from persecution?

"It's all that maniac Smullyan's fault. He stored his _mk'oog_ in the
fuel tanks. After emptying them out first, that is. We're out of fuel."

The captain put a finger in his book to mark his place, which was, he
knew with a kind of supernal detachment, rather foolish, because there
was no prospect of there ever being lights to read by again.

"Put him in irons, if you can find him," he ordered. "And tell the men
to prepare themselves gracefully for a lingering death."

Iversen could hear a faint creak as the first officer drew himself to
attention in the darkness. "The men of the _Herringbone_, sir," he said,
stiffly, "are always prepared for calamity."

"Ay, that we are," agreed various voices.

So they were all there, were they? Well, it was too much to expect that
they would leave him in death any more than they had in life.

"It is well," Iversen said. "It is well," he repeated, unable to think
of anything more fitting.

Suddenly the lights went on again and the ship gave a leap. From his
sprawling position on the floor, amid his recumbent officers, Iversen
could hear the hum of motors galvanized into life.

"But if the fuel tanks are empty," he asked of no one in particular,
"where did the power come from?"

"I am the power," said a vast, deep voice that filled the ship from hold
to hold.

"And the glory," said the radio operator reverently. "Don't forget the
glory."

"No," the voice replied and it was the voice of Bridey, resonant with
all the amplitude of the immense chest cavity he had acquired. "Not the
glory, merely the power. I have reached a higher plane of existence. I
am a spaceship."

"Praise be to the Ultimate Nothingness!" Harkaway cried.

"Ultimate Nothingness, nothing!" Bridey said impatiently. "I achieved it
all myself."

"Then that's how the Flimbotzi spaceships were powered!" Iversen
exclaimed. "By themselves--the Flimbotzik themselves, I mean--"

"Even so," Bridey replied grandly. "And this lofty form of life happens
to be one which we poor humans cannot reach unassisted. Someone has to
build the shell for us to occupy, which is the reason humans dwell
together in fellowship and harmony--"

"You purposely got Harkaway to take you aboard the _Herringbone_,"
Iversen interrupted wrathfully. "You--you stowaway!"

Bridey's laugh rang through the ship, setting the loose parts quivering.
"Of course. When first I set eyes upon this vessel of yours, I saw
before me the epitome of all dreams. Never had any of our kind so
splendid an encasement. And, upon determining that the vessel was, as
yet, a soulless thing, I got myself aboard; I was born, I died, and was
reborn again with the greatest swiftness consonant with comfort, so that
I could awaken in this magnificent form. Oh, joy, joy, joy!"

"You know," Iversen said, "now that I hear one of you talk at length, I
really can't blame Harkaway for his typically imbecilic mistake."

"We are a wordy species," Bridey conceded.

"You had no right to do what you did," Iversen told him, "no right to
take over--"

"But I didn't take over," Bridey the _Herringbone_ said complacently. "I
merely remained quiescent and content in the knowledge of my power until
yours failed. Without me, you would even now be spinning in the vasty
voids, a chrome-trimmed sepulcher. Now, three times as swiftly as
before, shall I bear you back to the planet you very naively call home."

"Not three times as fast, please!" Iversen was quick to plead. "The ship
isn't built--_we're_ not built to stand such speeds."

The ship sighed. "Disappointment needs must come to all--the high, the
low, the man, the spaceship. It must be borne--" the voice
broke--"bravely. Somehow."

"What am I going to do?" Iversen asked, turning to the first officer for
advice for the first time ever. "I was planning to ask for a transfer or
resign my command when we got back to Earth. But how can I leave Bridey
in the hands of the IEE(E)?"

"You can't, sir," the first officer said. "Neither can we."

"If you explain," Harkaway offered timidly, "perhaps they'll present the
ship to the government."

Both Iversen and the first officer snorted, united for once. "Not the
IEE(E)," Iversen said. "They'd--they'd exhibit it or something and
charge admission."

"Oh, no," Bridey cried, "I don't want to be exhibited! I want to sail
through the trackless paths of space. What good is a body like this if I
cannot use it to its fullest?"

"Have no fear," Iversen assured it. "We'll just--" he shrugged, his
dreams of escape forever blighted--"just have to buy the ship from the
IEE(E), that's all."

"Right you are, sir," the first officer agreed. "We must club together,
every man Jack of us, and buy her. Him. It. That's the only decent thing
to do."

"Perhaps they won't sell," Harkaway worried. "Maybe--"

"Oh, they'll sell, all right," Iversen said wearily. "They'd sell the
chairman of the board, if you made them an offer, and throw in all the
directors if the price was right."

"And then what will we do?" the first officer asked. "Once the ship has
been purchased, what will our course be? What, in other words, are we to
do?"

It was Bridey who answered. "We will speed through space seeking,
learning, searching, until you--all of you--pass on to higher planes
and, leaving the frail shells you now inhabit, occupy proud, splendid
vessels like the one I wear now. Then, a vast transcendent flotilla, we
will seek other universes...."

"But we don't become spaceships," Iversen said unhappily. "We don't
become anything."

"How do you know we don't?" Smullyan demanded, appearing on the
threshold. "How do you know what we become? Build thee more stately
spaceships, O my soul!"

Above all else, Iversen was a space officer and dereliction of duty
could not be condoned even in exceptional circumstances. "Put him in
irons, somebody!"

"Ask Bridey why there were only forty-five spaceships on his planet!"
the doctor yelled over his shoulder as he was dragged off. "Ask where
the others went--where they are now."

But Bridey wouldn't answer that question.





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