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Title: Tea Tray in the Sky
Author: Smith, Evelyn E.
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 "Tea Tray in the Sky" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.

                          Tea Tray in the Sky

                          By EVELYN E. SMITH

                         Illustrated by ASHMAN

           [Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from
                Galaxy Science Fiction September 1952.
         Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
         the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]

             Visiting a society is tougher than being born
              into it. A 40 credit tour is no substitute!

The picture changed on the illuminated panel that filled the forward
end of the shelf on which Michael lay. A haggard blonde woman sprawled
apathetically in a chair.

"Rundown, nervous, hypertensive?" inquired a mellifluous voice. "In
need of mental therapy? Buy Grugis juice; it's not expensive. And they
swear by it on Meropé."

A disembodied pair of hands administered a spoonful of Grugis juice to
the woman, whereupon her hair turned bright yellow, makeup bloomed on
her face, her clothes grew briefer, and she burst into a fast Callistan

"I see from your hair that you have been a member of one of the
Brotherhoods," the passenger lying next to Michael on the shelf
remarked inquisitively. He was a middle-aged man, his dust-brown hair
thinning on top, his small blue eyes glittering preternaturally from
the lenses fitted over his eyeballs.

Michael rubbed his fingers ruefully over the blond stubble on his scalp
and wished he had waited until his tonsure were fully grown before
he had ventured out into the world. But he had been so impatient to
leave the Lodge, so impatient to exchange the flowing robes of the
Brotherhood for the close-fitting breeches and tunic of the outer world
that had seemed so glamorous and now proved so itchy.

"Yes," he replied courteously, for he knew the first rule of universal
behavior, "I have been a Brother."

"Now why would a good-looking young fellow like you want to join a
Brotherhood?" his shelf companion wanted to know. "Trouble over a

Michael shook his head, smiling. "No, I have been a member of the
Angeleno Brotherhood since I was an infant. My father brought me when
he entered."

The other man clucked sympathetically. "No doubt he was grieved over
the death of your mother."

Michael closed his eyes to shut out the sight of a baby protruding its
fat face at him three-dimensionally, but he could not shut out its
lisping voice: "Does your child refuse its food, grow wizened like a
monkey? It will grow plump with oh-so-good Mealy Mush from Nunki."

"No, sir," Michael replied. "Father said that was one of the few
blessings that brightened an otherwise benighted life."

Horror contorted his fellow traveller's plump features. "Be careful,
young man!" he warned. "Lucky for you that you are talking to someone
as broad-minded as I, but others aren't. You might be reported for
violating a tabu. An Earth tabu, moreover."

"An Earth tabu?"

"Certainly. Motherhood is sacred here on Earth and so, of course, in
the entire United Universe. You should have known that."

       *       *       *       *       *

Michael blushed. He should indeed. For a year prior to his leaving the
Lodge, he had carefully studied the customs and tabus of the Universe
so that he should be able to enter the new life he planned for himself,
with confidence and ease. Under the system of universal kinship, all
the customs and all the tabus of all the planets were the law on all
the other planets. For the Wise Ones had decided many years before
that wars arose from not understanding one's fellows, not sympathizing
with them. If every nation, every planet, every solar system had the
same laws, customs, and habits, they reasoned, there would be no
differences, and hence no wars.

Future events had proved them to be correct. For five hundred years
there had been no war in the United Universe, and there was peace and
plenty for all. Only one crime was recognized throughout the solar
systems--injuring a fellow-creature by word or deed (and the telepaths
of Aldebaran were still trying to add _thought_ to the statute).

Why, then, Michael had questioned the Father Superior, was there any
reason for the Lodge's existence, any reason for a group of humans to
retire from the world and live in the simple ways of their primitive
forefathers? When there had been war, injustice, tyranny, there had,
perhaps, been an understandable emotional reason for fleeing the
world. But now why refuse to face a desirable reality? Why turn one's
face upon the present and deliberately go back to the life of the
past--the high collars, vests and trousers, the inefficient coal
furnaces, the rude gasoline tractors of medieval days?

The Father Superior had smiled. "You are not yet a fully fledged
Brother, Michael. You cannot enter your novitiate until you've achieved
your majority, and you won't be thirty for another five years. Why
don't you spend some time outside and see how you like it?"

Michael had agreed, but before leaving he had spent months studying
the ways of the United Universe. He had skimmed over Earth, because
he had been so sure he'd know its ways instinctively. Remembering his
preparations, he was astonished by his smug self-confidence.

       *       *       *       *       *

A large scarlet pencil jumped merrily across the advideo screen. The
face on the eraser opened its mouth and sang: "Our pencils are finest
from point up to rubber, for the lead is from Yed, while the wood comes
from Dschubba."

"Is there any way of turning that thing off?" Michael wanted to know.

The other man smiled. "If there were, my boy, do you think anybody
would watch it? Furthermore, turning it off would violate the spirit of
free enterprise. We wouldn't want that, would we?"

"Oh, no!" Michael agreed hastily. "Certainly not."

"And it might hurt the advertiser's feelings, cause him ego injury."

"How could I ever have had such a ridiculous idea?" Michael murmured,

"Allow me to introduce myself," said his companion. "My name is
Pierce B. Carpenter. Aphrodisiacs are my line. Here's my card." He
handed Michael a transparent tab with the photograph of Mr. Carpenter
suspended inside, together with his registration number, his name, his
address, and the Universal seal of approval. Clearly he was a character
of the utmost respectability.

"My name's Michael Frey," the young man responded, smiling awkwardly.
"I'm afraid I don't have any cards."

"Well, you wouldn't have had any use for them where you were. Now,
look here, son," Carpenter went on in a lowered voice, "I know you've
just come from the Lodge and the mistakes you'll make will be through
ignorance rather than deliberate malice. But the police wouldn't
understand. You know what the sacred writings say: 'Ignorance of The
Law is no excuse.' I'd be glad to give you any little tips I can. For
instance, your hands...."

Michael spread his hands out in front of him. They were perfectly good
hands, he thought. "Is there something wrong with them?"

Carpenter blushed and looked away. "Didn't you know that on Electra it
is forbidden for anyone to appear in public with his hands bare?"

"Of course I know that," Michael said impatiently. "But what's that got
to do with me?"

The salesman was wide-eyed. "But if it is forbidden on Electra, it
becomes automatically prohibited here."

"But Electrans have eight fingers on each hand," Michael protested,
"with two fingernails on each--all covered with green scales."

Carpenter drew himself up as far as it was possible to do so while
lying down. "Do eight fingers make one a lesser Universal?"

"Of course not, but--"

"Is he inferior to you then because he has sixteen fingernails?"

"Certainly not, but--"

"Would you like to be called guilty of--" Carpenter paused before the
dreaded word--"_intolerance_?"

"No, no, _no_!" Michael almost shrieked. It would be horrible for him
to be arrested before he even had time to view Portyork. "I have lots
of gloves in my pack," he babbled. "Lots and lots. I'll put some on
right away."

       *       *       *       *       *

With nervous haste, he pressed the lever which dropped his pack down
from the storage compartment. It landed on his stomach. The device had
been invented by one of the Dschubbans who are, as everyone knows,

Michael pushed the button marked _Gloves A_, and a pair of yellow
gauntlets slid out.

Carpenter pressed his hands to his eyes. "Yellow is the color of death
on Saturn, and you know how morbid the Saturnians are about passing
away! No one _ever_ wears yellow!"

"Sorry," Michael said humbly. The button marked _Gloves B_ yielded a
pair of rose-colored gloves which harmonized ill with his scarlet tunic
and turquoise breeches, but he was past caring for esthetic effects.

"The quality's high," sang a quartet of beautiful female humanoids,
"but the price is meager. You _know_ when you buy Plummy Fruitcake from

The salesman patted Michael's shoulder. "You staying a while in
Portyork?" Michael nodded. "Then you'd better stick close to me for a
while until you learn our ways. You can't run around loose by yourself
until you've acquired civilized behavior patterns, or you'll get into

"Thank you, sir," Michael said gratefully. "It's very kind of you."

He twisted himself around--it was boiling hot inside the jet bus
and his damp clothes were clinging uncomfortably--and struck his
head against the bottom of the shelf above. "Awfully inconvenient
arrangement here," he commented. "Wonder why they don't have seats."

"Because this arrangement," Carpenter said stiffly, "is the one that
has proved suitable for the greatest number of intelligent life-forms."

"Oh, I see," Michael murmured. "I didn't get a look at the other
passengers. Are there many extraterrestrials on the bus?"

"Dozens of them. Haven't you heard the Sirians singing?"

A low moaning noise had been pervading the bus, but Michael had thought
it arose from defective jets.

"Oh, yes!" he agreed. "And very beautiful it is, too! But so sad."

"Sirians are always sad," the salesman told him. "Listen."

       *       *       *       *       *

Michael strained his ears past the racket of the advideo. Sure enough,
he could make out words: "Our wings were unfurled in a far distant
world, our bodies are pain-racked, delirious. And never, it seems, will
we see, save in dreams, the bright purple swamps of our Sirius...."

Carpenter brushed away a tear. "Poignant, isn't it?"

"Very, very touching," Michael agreed. "Are they sick or something?"

"Oh, no; they wouldn't have been permitted on the bus if they were.
They're just homesick. Sirians love being homesick. That's why they
leave Sirius in such great numbers."

"Fasten your suction disks, please," the stewardess, a pretty
two-headed Denebian, ordered as she walked up and down the gangway.
"We're coming into Portyork. I have an announcement to make to all
passengers on behalf of the United Universe. Zosma was admitted into
the Union early this morning."

All the passengers cheered.

"Since it is considered immodest on Zosma," she continued, "ever to
appear with the heads bare, henceforward it will be tabu to be seen in
public without some sort of head-covering."

Wild scrabbling sounds indicated that all the passengers were searching
their packs for headgear. Michael unearthed a violet cap.

The salesmen unfolded what looked like a medieval opera hat in
piercingly bright green.

"Always got to keep on your toes," he whispered to the younger man.
"The Universe is expanding every minute."

The bus settled softly on the landing field and the passengers flew,
floated, crawled, undulated, or walked out. Michael looked around him
curiously. The Lodge had contained no extraterrestrials, for such of
those as sought seclusion had Brotherhoods on their own planets.

Of course, even in Angeles he had seen other-worlders--humanoids from
Vega, scaly Electrans, the wispy ubiquitous Sirians--but nothing to
compare with the crowds that surged here. Scarlet Meropians rubbed
tentacles with bulging-eyed Talithans; lumpish gray Jovians plodded
alongside graceful, spidery Nunkians. And there were countless others
whom he had seen pictured in books, but never before in reality.

The gaily colored costumes and bodies of these beings rendered
kaleidoscopic a field already brilliant with red-and-green lights and
banners. The effect was enhanced by Mr. Carpenter, whose emerald-green
cloak was drawn back to reveal a chartreuse tunic and olive-green
breeches which had apparently been designed for a taller and somewhat
less pudgy man.

       *       *       *       *       *

Carpenter rubbed modestly gloved hands together. "I have no immediate
business, so supposing I start showing you the sights. What would you
like to see first, Mr. Frey? Or would you prefer a nice, restful movid?"

"Frankly," Michael admitted, "the first thing I'd like to do is get
myself something to eat. I didn't have any breakfast and I'm famished."
Two small creatures standing close to him giggled nervously and
scuttled off on six legs apiece.

"Shh, not so loud! There are females present." Carpenter drew the
youth to a secluded corner. "Don't you know that on Theemim it's
frightfully vulgar to as much as speak of eating in public?"

"But why?" Michael demanded in too loud a voice. "What's wrong with
eating in public here on Earth?"

Carpenter clapped a hand over the young man's mouth. "Hush," he
cautioned. "After all, on Earth there are things we don't do or even
mention in public, aren't there?"

"Well, yes. But those are different."

"Not at all. Those rules might seem just as ridiculous to a Theemimian.
But the Theemimians have accepted our customs just as we have accepted
the Theemimians'. How would you like it if a Theemimian violated
one of our tabus in public? You must consider the feelings of the
Theemimians as equal to your own. Observe the golden rule: 'Do unto
extraterrestrials as you would be done by.'"

"But I'm still hungry," Michael persisted, modulating his voice,
however, to a decent whisper. "Do the proprieties demand that I starve
to death, or can I get something to eat somewhere?"

"Naturally," the salesman whispered back. "Portyork provides for all
bodily needs. Numerous feeding stations are conveniently located
throughout the port, and there must be some on the field."

After gazing furtively over his shoulder to see that no females were
watching, Carpenter approached a large map of the landing field and
pressed a button. A tiny red light winked demurely for an instant.

"That's the nearest one," Carpenter explained.

       *       *       *       *       *

Inside a small, white, functional-looking building unobtrusively
marked "Feeding Station," Carpenter showed Michael where to insert a
two-credit piece in a slot. A door slid back and admitted Michael into
a tiny, austere room, furnished only with a table, a chair, a food
compartment, and an advideo. The food consisted of tabloid synthetics
and was tasteless. Michael knew that only primitive creatures waste
time and energy in growing and preparing natural foods. It was all a
matter of getting used to this stuff, he thought glumly, as he tried to
chew food that was meant to be gulped.

A ferret-eyed Yeddan appeared on the advideo. "Do you suffer from
gastric disorders? Does your viscera get in your hair? A horrid
condition, but swift abolition is yours with Al-Brom from Altair."

Michael finished his meal in fifteen minutes and left the compartment
to find Carpenter awaiting him in the lobby, impatiently glancing at
the luminous time dial embedded in his wrist.

"Let's go to the Old Town," he suggested to Michael. "It will be of
great interest to a student and a newcomer like yourself."

A few yards away from the feeding station, the travel agents were lined
up in rows, each outside his spaceship, each shouting the advantages of
the tour he offered:

"Better than a mustard plaster is a weekend spent on Castor."

"If you want to show you like her, take her for a week to Spica."

"Movid stars go to Mars."

Carpenter smiled politely at them. "No space trips for us today,
gentlemen. We're staying on Terra." He guided the bewildered young man
through the crowds and to the gates of the field. Outside, a number of
surface vehicles were lined up, with the drivers loudly competing for

"Come, take a ride in my rocket car, suited to both gent and lady,
lined with luxury _hukka_ fur brought from afar, and perfumed with rare
scents from Algedi."

"Whichever movid film you choose to view will be yours in my fine
cab from Mizar. Just press a button--it won't cost you nuttin'--see
a passionate drama of long-vanished Mu or the bloodhounds pursuing

"All honor be laid at the feet of free trade, but, whatever your race
or your birth, each passenger curls up with two dancing girls who rides
in the taxi from Earth."

"Couldn't we--couldn't we walk? At least part of the way?" Michael

Carpenter stared. "Walk! Don't you know it's forbidden to walk more
than two hundred yards in any one direction? Fomalhautians never walk."

"But they have no feet."

"That has nothing whatsoever to do with it."

       *       *       *       *       *

Carpenter gently urged the young man into the Algedian cab ... which
reeked. Michael held his nose, but his mentor shook his head. "No, no!
Tpiu Number Five is the most esteemed aroma on Algedi. It would break
the driver's heart if he thought you didn't like it. You wouldn't want
to be had up for ego injury, would you?"

"Of course not," Michael whispered weakly.

"Brunettes are darker and blondes are fairer," the advideo informed
him, "when they wash out their hair with shampoos made on Chara."

After a time, Michael got more or less used to Tpiu Number Five and
was able to take some interest in the passing landscape. Portyork,
the biggest spaceport in the United Universe, was, of course, the
most cosmopolitan city--cosmopolitan in its architecture as well as
its inhabitants. Silver domes of Earth were crowded next to the tall
helical edifices of the Venusians.

"You'll notice that the current medieval revival has even reached
architecture," Carpenter pointed out. "See those period houses in the
Frank Lloyd Wright and Inigo Jones manner?"

"Very quaint," Michael commented.

Great floating red and green balls lit the streets, even though it was
still daylight, and long scarlet-and-emerald streamers whipped out
from the most unlikely places. As Michael opened his mouth to inquire
about this, "We now interrupt the commercials," the advideo said, "to
bring you a brand new version of one of the medieval ballads that are
becoming so popular...."

"I shall scream," stated Carpenter, "if they play _Beautiful Blue
Deneb_ just once more.... No, thank the Wise Ones, I've never heard
this before."

"Thuban, Thuban, I've been thinking," sang a buxom Betelgeusian, "what
a Cosmos this could be, if land masses were transported to replace the
wasteful sea."

"I guess the first thing for me to do," Michael began in a businesslike
manner, "is to get myself a room at a hotel.... What have I said now?"

"The word _hotel_," Carpenter explained through pursed lips, "is
not used in polite society any more. It has come to have unpleasant
connotations. It means--a place of dancing girls. I hardly think...."

"Certainly not," Michael agreed austerely. "I merely want a lodging."

"That word is also--well, you see," Carpenter told him, "on Zaniah it
is unthinkable to go anywhere without one's family."

"They're a sort of ant, aren't they? The Zaniahans, I mean."

"More like bees. So those creatures who travel--" Carpenter lowered his
voice modestly "--_alone_ hire a family for the duration of their stay.
There are a number of families available, but the better types come
rather high. There has been talk of reviving the old-fashioned price
controls, but the Wise Ones say this would limit free enterprise as
much as--if you'll excuse my use of the expression--tariffs would."

       *       *       *       *       *

The taxi let them off at a square meadow which was filled with
transparent plastic domes housing clocks of all varieties, most of
the antique type based on the old twenty-four hour day instead of the
standard thirty hours. There were few extraterrestrial clocks because
most non-humans had time sense, Michael knew, and needed no mechanical

"This," said Carpenter, "is Times Square. Once it wasn't really square,
but it is contrary to Nekkarian custom to do, say, imply, or permit
the existence of anything that isn't true, so when Nekkar entered the
Union, we had to square off the place. And, of course, install the
clocks. Finest clock museum in the Union, I understand."

"The pictures in my history books--" Michael began.

"Did I hear you correctly, sir?" The capes of a bright blue cloak
trembled with the indignation of a scarlet, many-tentacled being. "Did
you use the word _history_?" He pronounced it in terms of loathing. "I
have been grossly insulted and I shall be forced to report you to the
police, sir."

"Please don't!" Carpenter begged. "This youth has just come from one of
the Brotherhoods and is not yet accustomed to the ways of our universe.
I know that, because of the great sophistication for which your race is
noted, you will overlook this little gaucherie on his part."

"Well," the red one conceded, "let it not be said that Meropians are
not tolerant. But, be careful, young man," he warned Michael. "There
are other beings less sophisticated than we. Guard your tongue, or you
might find yourself in trouble."

He indicated the stalwart constable who, splendid in gold helmet and
gold-spangled pink tights, surveyed the terrain haughtily from his
floating platform in the air.

"I should have told you," Carpenter reproached himself as the Meropian
swirled off. "Never mention the word 'history' in front of a Meropian.
They rose from barbarism in one generation, and so they haven't any
history at all. Naturally, they're sensitive in the extreme about it."

"Naturally," Michael said. "Tell me, Mr. Carpenter, is there some
special reason for everything being decorated in red and green? I
noticed it along the way and it's all over here, too."

"Why, Christmas is coming, my boy," Carpenter answered, surprised.
"It's July already--about time they got started fixing things up. Some
places are so slack, they haven't even got their Mother's Week shrines
cleared away."

       *       *       *       *       *

A bevy of tiny golden-haired, winged creatures circled slowly over
Times Square.

"Izarians," Carpenter explained "They're much in demand for Christmas

The small mouths opened and clear soprano voices filled the air: "It
came upon the midnight clear, that glorious song of old, from angels
bending near the Earth to tune their harps of gold. Peace on Earth,
good will to men, from Heaven's All-Celestial. Peace to the Universe
as well and every extraterrestrial.... Beat the drum and clash the
cymbals; buy your Christmas gifts at Nimble's."

"This beautiful walk you see before you," Carpenter said, waving an
expository arm, "shaded by boogil trees from Dschubba, is called
Broadway. To your left you will be delighted to see--"

"Listen, could we--" Michael began.

"--Forty-second Street, which is now actually the forty-second--"

"By the way--"

"It is extremely rude and hence illegal," Carpenter glared, "to
interrupt anyone who is speaking."

"But I would like," Michael whispered very earnestly, "to get washed.
If I might."

The other man frowned. "Let me see. I believe one of the old landmarks
was converted into a lavatory. Only thing of suitable dimensions.
Anyhow, it was absolutely useless for any other purpose. We have to
take a taxi there; it's more than two hundred yards. Custom, you know."

"A taxi? Isn't there one closer?"

"Ah, impatient youth! There aren't too many altogether. The
installations are extremely expensive."

They hailed the nearest taxi, which happened to be one of the variety
equipped with dancing girls. Fortunately the ride was brief.

Michael gazed at the Empire State Building with interest. It was in a
remarkable state of preservation and looked just like the pictures in
his history--in his books, except that none of them showed the huge
golden sign "Public-Washport" riding on its spire.

Attendants directed traffic from a large circular desk in the lobby.
"Mercurians, seventy-eighth floor. _A_ group Vegans, fourteenth floor
right. _B_ group, fourteenth floor left. _C_ group, fifteenth floor
right. _D_ group, fifteenth floor left. Sirians, forty-ninth floor.
Female humans fiftieth floor right, males, fiftieth floor left.
Uranians, basement...."

Carpenter and Michael shared an elevator with a group of sad-eyed,
translucent Sirians, who were singing as usual and accompanying
themselves on _wemps_, a cross between a harp and a flute. "Foreign
planets are strange and we're subject to mange. Foreign atmospheres
prove deleterious. Only with our mind's eye can we sail through the sky
to the bright purple swamps of our Sirius."

The cost of the compartment was half that of the feeding station; one
credit in the slot unlocked the door. There was an advideo here, too:

"Friend, do you clean yourself each day? Now, let's not be evasive,
for each one has his favored way. Some use an abrasive and some use
oil. Some shed their skins, in a brand-new hide emerging. Some rub
with grease put up in tins. For others there's deterging. Some lick
themselves to take off grime. Some beat it off with rope. Some cook it
away in boiling lime. Old-fashioned ones use soap. More ways there are
than I recall, and each of these will differ, but the only one that
works for all is Omniclene from Kiffa."

       *       *       *       *       *

"And now," smiled Carpenter as the two humans left the building, "we
must see you registered for a nice family. Nothing too ostentatious,
but, on the other hand, you mustn't count credits and ally yourself
beneath your station."

Michael gazed pensively at two slender, snakelike Difdans writhing
"Only 99 Shopping Days Till Christmas" across an aquamarine sky.

"They won't be permanent?" he asked. "The family, I mean?"

"Certainly not. You merely hire them for whatever length of time you
choose. But why are you so anxious?"

The young man blushed. "Well, I'm thinking of having a family of my own
some day. Pretty soon, as a matter of fact."

Carpenter beamed. "That's nice; you're being adopted! I do hope it's
an Earth family that's chosen you--it's so awkward being adopted by

"Oh, no! I'm planning to have my own. That is, I've got a--a girl,
you see, and I thought after I had secured employment of some kind in
Portyork, I'd send for her and we'd get married and...."

"_Married!_" Carpenter was now completely shocked. "You _mustn't_ use
that word! Don't you know marriage was outlawed years ago? Exclusive
possession of a member of the opposite sex is slavery on Talitha.
Furthermore, supposing somebody else saw your--er--friend and wanted
her also; you wouldn't wish him to endure the frustration of not having
her, would you?"

Michael squared his jaw. "You bet I would."

Carpenter drew himself away slightly, as if to avoid contamination.
"This is un-Universal. Young man, if I didn't have a kind heart, I
would report you."

Michael was too preoccupied to be disturbed by this threat. "You mean
if I bring my girl here, I'd have to share her?"

"Certainly. And she'd have to share you. If somebody wanted you, that

"Then I'm not staying here," Michael declared firmly, ashamed to admit
even to himself how much relief his decision was bringing him. "I don't
think I like it, anyhow. I'm going back to the Brotherhood."

There was a short cold silence.

"You know, son," Carpenter finally said, "I think you might be right.
I don't want to hurt your feelings--you _promise_ I won't hurt your
feelings?" he asked anxiously, afraid, Michael realized, that he might
call a policeman for ego injury.

"You won't hurt my feelings, Mr. Carpenter."

"Well, I believe that there are certain individuals who just cannot
adapt themselves to civilized behavior patterns. It's much better for
them to belong to a Brotherhood such as yours than to be placed in one
of the government incarceratoriums, comfortable and commodious though
they are."

"Much better," Michael agreed.

"By the way," Carpenter went on, "I realize this is just vulgar
curiosity on my part and you have a right to refuse an answer without
fear of hurting my feelings, but how do you happen to have a--er--girl
when you belong to a Brotherhood?"

Michael laughed. "Oh, 'Brotherhood' is merely a generic term. Both
sexes are represented in our society."

"On Talitha--" Carpenter began.

"I know," Michael interrupted him, like the crude primitive he was and
always would be. "But our females don't mind being generic."

       *       *       *       *       *

A group of Sirians was traveling on the shelf above him on the slow,
very slow jet bus that was flying Michael back to Angeles, back to the
Lodge, back to the Brotherhood, back to her. Their melancholy howling
was getting on his nerves, but in a little while, he told himself, it
would be all over. He would be back home, safe with his own kind.

"When our minds have grown tired, when our lives have expired, when our
sorrows no longer can weary us, let our ashes return, neatly packed in
an urn, to the bright purple swamps of our Sirius."

The advideo crackled: "The gown her fairy godmother once gave to
Cinderella was created by the haute couture of fashion-wise Capella."

The ancient taxi was there, the one that Michael had taken from the
Lodge, early that morning, to the little Angeleno landing field, as if
it had been waiting for his return.

"I see you're back, son," the driver said without surprise. He set the
noisy old rockets blasting. "I been to Portyork once. It's not a bad
place to live in, but I hate to visit it."

"I'm back!" Michael sank into the motheaten sable cushions and gazed
with pleasure at the familiar landmarks half seen in the darkness. "I'm
back! And a loud sneer to civilization!"

"Better be careful, son," the driver warned. "I know this is a rural
area, but civilization is spreading. There are secret police all over.
How do you know I ain't a government spy? I could pull you in for
insulting civilization."

The elderly black and white advideo flickered, broke into purring
sound: "Do you find life continues to daze you? Do you find for a quick
death you hanker? Why not try the new style euthanasia, performed by
skilled workmen from Ancha?"

Not any more, Michael thought contentedly. He was going home.

*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Tea Tray in the Sky" ***

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