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´╗┐Title: Voyage to Far N'jurd
Author: Neville, Kris
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 "Voyage to Far N'jurd" ***

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



                         VOYAGE TO FAR N'JURD

                            By KRIS NEVILLE

                          Illustrated by MACK

           [Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from
                      Galaxy Magazine April 1963.
         Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
         the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]



                They would never live to see the trip's
             end. So they made a few changes in their way
               of life--and many in their way of death!


I


"I don't see why we have to be here," a crewman said. "He ain't liable
to say anything."

"He shore better," the man in front of him said loudly.

"Be still," his wife said. "People's lookin' at ya."

"I don't care a smidgen," he said, "if en they ayre."

"Please," she said.

"Joanne Marie," he said, "you know that when I aims ta do somethin',
I'm jest natcher'lly bound to do hit. An' iffen I aims ta talk...."

"Here comes the priest. Now, be still."

The man looked up. "So he do; an' I'll tell ya, hit shore is time he's
a-gittin' hyere. I ain't got no all night fer ta sit."

The crewman to his left bent over and whispered, "I'll bet he's gonna
tell us it's gonna be another postponement."

"Iffen he does, I'm jest a-gonna stand up an' yell right out that I
ain't gonna stand fer hit no longer."

"Now, dear," said Joanne Marie, "the captain can hear ya, if you're
gonna talk so loud."

"I hope he does; I jest hope he does. He's th' one that's a-keepin' us
all from our Reward, an' I jest hope he does heyar me, so he'll know
I'm a-gittin' mighty tyird uv waitin'."

"You tell 'im!" someone said from two rows behind him.

       *       *       *       *       *

The captain, in the officer's section, sat very straight and tall. He
was studiously ignoring the crew. This confined his field of vision to
the left half of the recreation area. While the priest stood before the
speaker's rostrum waiting for silence, the captain reached back with
great dignity and scratched his right shoulder blade.

Nestir, the priest, was dressed out in the full ceremonial costume
of office. His high, strapless boots glistened with polish. His fez
perched jauntily on his shiny, shaven head. The baldness was symbolic
of diligent mental application to abstruse points of doctrine. _Cotian
exentiati pablum re overum est_: "Grass grows not in the middle of
a busy thoroughfare." The baldness was the result of the diligent
application of an effective depilatory. His blood-red cloak had been
freshly cleaned for the occasion, and it rustled around him in silky
sibilants.

"Men," he said. And then, more loudly, "Men!"

The hiss and sputter of conversation guttered away.

"Men," he said.

"The other evening," he said, "--Gelday it was, to be exact--one of the
crew came to me with a complaint."

"Well, I'll be damned," Joanne Marie's husband said loudly.

Nestir cleared his throat. "It was about the Casting Off. That's why
I called you all together today." He stared away, at a point over the
head and to the rear of the audience.

"It puts me in mind of the parable of the six Vergios."

Joanne Marie's husband sighed deeply.

"Three, you will recall, were wise. When Prophet was at Meizque, they
came to him and said, 'Prophet, we are afflicted. We have great sores
upon our bodies.' The Prophet looked at them and did see that it _was_
true. Then he blessed them and took out His knife and lay open their
sores. For which the three wise Vergios were passing grateful. And
within the last week, they were dead of infection. But three were
foolish and hid their sores; and these three did live."

The captain rubbed his nose.

"_Calex i pundendem hoy_, my children. 'Secrecy makes for a long life,'
as it says in the _Jarcon_." Nestir tugged behind him at his cloak.

"I want you all to remember that little story. I want you all to take
it away from here with you and think about it, tonight, in the privacy
of your cabins.

"And like the three wise Vergios who went to the Prophet, one of the
crewmen came to me. He came to me, and he said: 'Father, I am weary of
sailing.'

"Yes, he said, 'I am weary of sailing.'

"Now, don't you think I don't know that. Every one of you--every
blessed one of you--is weary of sailing. I know that as well as I know
my own name, yes.

"But because he came to me and said, 'Father, I am weary of sailing,'
I went to the captain, and I said, 'Captain, the men are weary of
sailing.'

"And then the captain said: 'All right, Father,' he said, 'I will set
the day for the Festival of the Casting Off!'"

       *       *       *       *       *

The little fellow was pleased by the rustle of approval from the
audience. "God damn, hit's about time!" Joanne Marie's husband said.

Nestir cleared his throat again.

"Hummm. Uh. And the day is not very far distant," said Nestir.

"I knowed there was a catch to hit," Joanne Marie's husband said.

"I know you will have many questions; yes, I know you will have--ah,
ah--well, many questions. You are thinking: 'What kind of a Festival
can we have here on this ship?' You are thinking: 'What a fine
thing--ah, what a good thing, that is--ah, how nice it would be to have
the Casting Off at home, among friends.'"

Nestir waved his hands. "Well, I just want to tell you: I come from
Koltah. And you know that Koltah never let any city state outdo her in
a Festival, uh-huh.

"The arena in Koltah is the greatest arena in the whole system. We have
as many as sixty thousand accepted applicants. All of them together in
the arena is a--uh, uh, well--a sight to behold. People come from all
over to behold it. I never will forget the Festival at which my father
was accepted. He....

"Well, the point I want to make is this: I just wanted to tell you
that I know what a Festival should be, and the captain and I will do
everything in our power to make our Casting Off as wonderful as any
anywhere.

"And I want to tell you that if you'll come to me with your
suggestions, I'll do all I can to see that we do this thing just the
way you want it done. I want you to be proud of this Casting Off
Festival, so you can look back on it and say, uh, uh--this day was the
real high point of your whole life!"

Everyone but Joanne Marie's husband cheered. He sat glumly muttering to
himself.

Nestir bobbed his shiny head at them and beamed his cherubic smile. And
noticed that there was a little blonde, one of the crewmen's wives, in
the front row that had very cute ankles.

While they were still cheering and stomping and otherwise expressing
their enthusiasm and approval, Nestir walked off the speaker's platform
and into the officer's corridor. He wiped his forehead indecorously on
the hem of his cloak and felt quite relieved that the announcement was
over with and the public speaking done.


II

Dinner that evening was a gala occasion aboard the ship. The steward
ordered the holiday feast prepared in celebration of Nestir's
announcement. And, for the officers, he broke out of the special cellar
the last case allotment for Crew One of the delicate Colta Barauche
('94). He ordered the messman to put a bottle of it to the right of
each plate.

The captain came down from his stateroom after the meal had begun. He
nodded curtly to the officers when he entered the mess hall, walked
directly to his place at the head of the table, sat down and morosely
began to work the cork out of his wine bottle with his teeth.

"You'll spoil the flavor, shaking it that way," the third mate
cautioned. He was particularly fond of that year.

The captain twisted the bottle savagely, and the cork came free with a
little pop. He removed the cork from between his teeth, placed it very
carefully beside his fork, and poured himself a full glass of the wine.

"Very probably," he said sadly.

"I don't think hit'll do hit," the first mate said. "He hain't shook
hard enough to matter."

The captain picked up the glass, brought it toward his lips--then,
suddenly having thought of something, he put it back down and turned to
Nestir.

"I say. Have you decided on this Carstar thing yet, Father?"

The little priest looked up. He laid his knife across the rim of his
plate. "It has ramifications," he said.

When the third mate saw that his opinion on the wine was not
immediately to be justified, he settled back in his chair with a little
sigh of disapproval.

"Well, what do you _think_ your decision will be, Father?" the steward
asked.

Nestir picked up his knife and fork and cut off a piece of meat.
"Hummmm," he said. "It's hard to say. The whole issue involves, as a
core point, the principle of _casta cum mae stotiti_."

The first mate nodded sagely.

"The intent, of course, could actually be--ah--_sub mailloux_; and in
that event, naturally, the decision would be even more difficult. I
wish I could talk to higher authority about it; but of course I haven't
the time. I'll have to decide something."

       *       *       *       *       *

"He had a very pretty wife," the third mate said.

"Yes, very." Nestir agreed. "But as I was saying, if it could be
proven that the culstem fell due to no negligence on his part, either
consciously or subconsciously, then the obvious conclusion would be
that no stigma would be attached." He speared his meat and chewed it
thoughtfully.

"But it wasn't at all bloody," the wife of the second mate said. "I
scarcely think he felt it at all. It happened too fast."

Nestir swallowed the mouthful of food and washed it down with a gulp of
wine.

"The problem, my dear Helen," he said, "is one of intent. To raise
the issue of concomitant agonies is to confuse the whole matter. For
instance. Take Wilson, in my home state of Koltah. Certainly _he_ died
as miserable a death as anyone could desire."

"Yes," said the second mate's wife. "I remember that. I read about it
in the newspapers."

"But it was a case of obvious _intent_," continued Nestir, "and
therefore constituted a clear out attempt to avoid his duty by
hastening to his Reward."

Upon hearing the word duty, the captain brightened.

"That," he said to Nestir, "my dear Father, is the cardinal point of
the whole game, y'know." He scratched the back of his left hand. "Duty.
And I must say, I think you're being quite short-sighted about the
Casting Off date. After all, it's not only a question of _how_ we go,
but also a question of leaving only after having done our duty. And
that's equally important."

"The Synod of Cathau--" Nestir began.

"Plague take it, Father! Really, now, I must say. The Synod of Cathau!
Certainly you've misinterpreted that. Anticipation can be a joy,
y'know: almost equal to the very Reward. Anticipation should spur man
in duty. It's all noble and self sacrificing." He scratched the back of
his right hand.

The second mate had been trying to get a word in edgewise for several
minutes; he finally succeeded by utilizing the temporary silence
following the captain's outburst.

"You don't need to worry about _your_ Casting Off, Captain. You can
leave that to me. I assure you, I have in mind a most ingenious
method."

       *       *       *       *       *

The captain was not visibly cheered; he was still brooding about the
sad absence of a sense of duty on the part of Nestir. "I will welcome
it," he said, "at the proper time, sir. And I certainly hope--" His
eyes swept the table. "I _certainly_ hope to be Cast Off by an officer.
It would be very humiliating, y'know, to have a crew member do it."

"Oh, very," said the steward.

"I don't know," the second mate's wife said, "whether you better count
on my husband or not. I have my own plans for him."

"This problem of Carstar interests me," the third mate said. "Did I
ever tell you about my wife? She strangled our second baby."

"He was a very annoying child," his wife said.

"He probably wouldn't have lived, anyway," the third mate said. "Puny
baby."

"That," said Nestir, "is not at all like the Carstar case. Not at all.
Yours is a question of _saliex y cuminzund_."

The first mate nodded.

"It seems to me that the whole thing would depend on the intent of the
strangler."

"Captain," the steward said, "you really must let me give you some of
that salve."

"That's very kind of you, but I...."

"No bother at all," the steward said.

"As I see it," Nestir said, "if the intent was the natural maternal
instinct of the mother to release her child from its duty, then...."

"Oh, not at all," the third mate's wife said. "I did it to make him
stop crying."

"Well, in that case, I see no reason why he shouldn't get his Reward."

"I certainly hope so," the third mate said. "Jane worries about it all
the time."

"I do not," Jane contradicted.

"Now, honey, you know you do so."

At that moment, he lost interest in his wife and leaned across the
table toward the captain, "Well?" he asked.

The captain rolled the wine over his tongue. "You were right, of
course."

The third mate turned triumphantly to the first mate. "There, I told
you so."

The first mate shrugged. "I never do say nothin' right," he said. "I
hain't got no luck. I've spent more years un all ya, carpenterin' up a
duty log that's better un even th' captain's. An' hit's Martha an' me
that gotta wait an' help th' next crew. Lord above knows how long time
hit'll be afore we uns'll got ta have a Festival."

"Oh, really, now. Now. Duty, duty," the captain reprimanded him mildly.

"Duty! Duty! Duty! You all ur in a conspiracy. You all want me ta die
uv old age."

"Nonsense," said the steward. "We don't want anything of the sort.
After all, someone has to orient the new crew."

"Quite right," said the captain. "You ought to be proud."

       *       *       *       *       *

The first mate slammed his napkin in the middle of his food and stalked
out of the mess hall.

"Quite touchy today," Nestir observed.

"By the way," the third mate said. "Wanda gave me a petition to give to
you, Father."

"Wanda?"

"Yes. She's sixteen, now."

"Wanda who?" the steward asked.

"Wanda Miller, the bosun's daughter."

"I know her," Helen said.

"She's the oldest child on the ship, and she wants you to sign her
adult petition so she can be in the Festival, Father."

"She's so young...."

"Sixteen, Father."

"After all, one must have done some duty," the captain said.

"He wants you to sign it so he can take her in the Changing of the
Wives," Jane said.

Nestir fidgeted uncomfortably. "Well, I'll look at her record," he
said.

"It's an idea," the second mate said. "Otherwise, we'll be short one
woman."

"There wouldn't be one short if _he_ had brought a wife," the first
mate's wife said, looking squarely at the captain.

"Now, Martha. I place duty above pleasure. You're just angry, y'know,
because you have to stay with your husband."

"All right, so I am. But it's true. And if Carstar hadn't been killed,
there would have been two short." She shot a wicked glance at Nestir.
"Why don't you and him share a woman--"

"Martha!"

"Although the Prophet knows what woman in her right mind would consent
to...."

"Well," said Nestir hesitantly.

"Listen," the third mate said, "the second's right. If you don't sign
it, someone will have to do without a woman."

Nestir blushed. "I'll look it over very carefully, but you must realize
that the priestcraft...."

"Actually, in a way, it would be her duty to, you see. Think of it like
that: as her way to do her duty."

"She's too young for you, dear," Jane said to her husband.

"Oh, I don't know," the steward said. "Sometimes they're the best, I
hear."


III

The third mate, whose name was Harry, stood before the mirror combing
his hair. He had been combing his hair for the last fifteen minutes.

"I suppose the crew is celebrating?" his wife said.

"I suppose."

She stood up and walked over to the dresser. Absently she began to
finger the articles on it.

"You really shouldn't have told them about little Glenn tonight."

"Pish-tush."

"No, Harry. I mean it. Helen looked at me strangely all through dinner.
She has three children, you know."

"You're imagining things."

"But she _does_ have three children."

"I mean about her looking at you."

"Oh."

Harry fiddled with his tie without speaking.

"I mean, as much as to say: 'Well, I raised all of mine.'"

"But honey, about little Glenn. That was an accident, almost. You
didn't really mean to choke him that hard."

"But still ... it ... I mean, there was Helen, looking at me like I
wasn't doing my duty. You know."

"No," he said. "That's nonsense, Jane. Sheer nonsense. You know what
the priest said."

He polished one of his brass buttons with the sleeve of his coat.

"Harry?"

"Yes?"

"I don't think all that is necessary just to go on duty."

"Probably not."

She walked to the bed and sat down. "Harry?"

"Yes, dear?"

"Don't you really think she's awful young?"

"Huh-uh."

"I mean, why don't you pick someone else? Like Mary? She's awful sweet.
I'll bet she'd be better."

"Probably."

"She's a lot of fun."

He brushed at his hair again. "Who do you want, Jane?"

"Oh, I don't know." She looked down at her legs, raised them up from
the floor and held them out in front of her. "I think I'd kind of like
Nestir. With his funny bald head. I hope he asks me."

"I'll mention it to him."

"Would you really, Harry? That would be sweet."

"Sure, honey." He looked down at his watch.

"Harry? Are you going to meet Wanda in the control room?"

"Uh-huh."

"I thought so. Well, remember this, dear: It isn't the day of the
Changing of the Wives yet. Don't forget."

"Honey! You don't think for a minute that...."

"No, dear. I know you wouldn't. But just _don't_, I mean."

       *       *       *       *       *

He walked over and kissed her forehead and patted her cheek. "Course
not," he said, comfortingly.

He left her sitting on the bed and strolled down the officers'
corridor, whistling.

He made a mental note to have the bosun send some of the crew in
tomorrow to wash down these bulkheads. They needed it. In one corner a
spider spun its silver web.

He jogged up the companionway, turned left and felt the air as fresh as
spring when he stepped under the great ventilator.

And beneath it lay one of the crew.

He kicked the man several times in the ribs until he came to
consciousness.

"Can't sleep here, my man," Harry explained.

"Awww. Go way an' le' me 'lone, huh?"

"Here. Here." He pulled the fellow erect and slapped him in the face
briskly. "This is the officers' corridor."

"Oh? Ish it? Schorry. Shore schorry, shir. So schorry."

Harry assisted him to the crew's corridor where he sank to the floor
and relapsed once more into a profound slumber.

Harry continued on to the control room.

When he entered it, the second mate was yawning.

"Hi, John. Sleepy?"

"Uh-huh. You're early."

"Don't mind, do you?"

"No ... Quiet tonight. Had to cut the motors an hour ago. Control
technician passed out."

"Oh?"

The second mate took out a cigarette and lit it. "Can't blow the ship
up, you know. Look like hell on the record. Hope the captain don't find
out about it, though. He'll figure the man was neglecting his duty."

He blew a smoke ring.

"Might even bar him from the Festival."

"Yeah," said Harry, "the captain's funny that way."

The second mate blew another smoke ring.

"Well," Harry said.

"Uh. Harry? Are you really going to take that Wanda girl?"

"If Nestir lets me."

"Say. Harry. Do you suppose your wife would...?"

       *       *       *       *       *

Harry crossed to the second mate and put a hand on his shoulder.
"Sorry, old fellow. She's got it in her head to take Nestir." He
shrugged. "I don't exactly approve, of course, but ... I'm sure if he
doesn't want her, she'd be glad to hear your offer."

"Aw, that's all right," John said. "Don't really matter. Say. By the
way. Have I told you what I intend to do to the captain? I've got it
all thought out. You know that saber I picked up on Queglat? Well...."

"Look. How about telling me another time?"

"Uh, Sure. If you say so. Uh?"

"I'm kind of expecting Wanda."

"Oh. Sure. I should have known you weren't here early for nothing. In
that case, I better be shoving off. Luck."

"Thanks. See you at breakfast."

"Right-o."

After the second mate left, Harry walked over to the control panel.
The jet lights were dead. He picked up the intercom and switched over
the engine call bell. "'Lo," he said into the microphone. "This is
the bridge.... Oh, hi, Barney. Harry.... Have you got a sober control
technician down there yet...? Fine. We'll start the jets again. If the
captain comes in now--well, you know how he is.... Okay, thanks. Night."

He replaced the microphone. He reached over and threw the forward
firing lever. The jet lights came on and the ship began to brake
acceleration again.

Having done that, he switched on the space viewer. The steady buzz of
the equipment warming sounded in his ears. Wanda would be sure to want
to look at the stars. She was simple minded.

"Hello."

He swiveled around. "Oh, hello, Wanda, honey."

"Hello, Haireee. Are you glad little ol' me could come, huh?"

"Sure am."

"Me, too. Can I look at the--oh. It's already on."

"Uh-huh. Look. Wanda."

"Hum?"

"I talked to Nestir today."

"Goody. What did he say, huh? I can be an adult and get to play in the
Festival, can I?"

"I don't know, yet. He's thinking about it. That's why I want to see
you. He's going to check your record. And Wanda?"

"Them stars shore are purty."

"Wanda, listen to me."

"I'm a-listenin', Haireee."

"You're simply going to have to stop carrying that doll around with you
if you want to be an adult."

       *       *       *       *       *

In Nestir's cabin the next morning, the captain and the priest held a
conference.

"No, Captain. I'm afraid I can't agree to that," Nestir said.

The captain said, "Oh, don't be unreasonable, Father. After all, this
is a ship, y'know. And I am, after all, the captain."

Nestir shook his head. "The crew and the officers will participate
together in the Festival. I will not put the officers' corridor off
limits, and--Oh! Yes? Come in!"

The door opened. "Father?"

"Yes, my son? Come in."

"Thank you, Father. Good morning, Captain, sir."

"Sit down, my son. Now, Captain, as I was saying: no segregation. It's
contrary to the spirit, if not the wording, of the _Jarcon_."

"But Father! A crewman! In the officers' corridor! Think!"

"Before the Prophet, we are all equal. I'm sorry, Captain. Now on
Koltah, we practiced it with very good results, and...."

"I say, really--"

"Father?" said the crewman who had just entered.

"Yes, my son. In one moment. Now, Captain. As I have been explaining:
The arena method has advantages. In Koltah we always used it. But
here--due to the--ah--exigencies of deep space--I feel convinced that
a departure from normal procedure is warranted. It is not without
precedent. Such things were fairly common, _in astoli tavoro_, up
until centralization, three hundred years before Allth. Indeed, in my
home city--Koltah--in the year of the seventh plague, a most unusual
expedient was adopted. It seems...."

"You're perfectly correct, of course," the captain said.

"That's just what I wanted to see you about, Father," the crewman said.
"Now, in my city state of Ni, for the Festivals, we...."

"Shut up," said the captain softly.

"Yes, sir."

"Now, as I was saying, Captain, when the methods used in...."

"If you'll excuse me, Father, I really should return to duty," said the
crewman.

"Quite all right, my son. Close the door after you."

"I must say, fellow, your sense of duty is commendable."

"Well, uh, thank you, sir. And thank you, Father, for your time."

"Quite all right, my son. That's what I'm here for. Come in as often as
you like."

The crewman closed the door after him.

       *       *       *       *       *

He had been gone only a moment, scarcely time for Nestir to get
properly launched on his account, when Harry, the third mate, knocked
on the door and was admitted.

"Oh? Good morning, Captain. I didn't know you were here." Then, to the
priest: "I'll come back later, Father."

"Nonsense," said the captain. "Come in."

"Well, I had hoped to see the Father for a minute on ... private
business."

"I have to be toddling along," said the captain.

"But Captain! I haven't finished telling you about...."

"I'll just go down and get a cup of coffee," the captain said.

"I'll call you when I'm through," said Harry.

The captain left the room.

"It's about Wanda, Father," said the third mate.

The priest studied the table top. He rearranged some papers. "Ah, yes.
The young girl."

"Well, I mean, it's not only about Wanda," said Harry. "You see, my
wife, Jane, that is...."

"Yes?" said the priest. He took his pen out of the holder.

"I think, with the proper ... ah ... you know. What I mean is, I think
she might look with favor on you in the Changing of the Wives, if I
said a few well chosen words in your behalf."

"That is very flattering, my son." He returned the pen to the holder.
"Such bounty, as it says in the _Jarcon_, is _cull tensio_."

"And with your permission, Father...."

"Ah...."

"She's a very pretty woman."

"Ah.... Quite so."

"Well, about Wanda. I really shouldn't mention this. But Father, if we
_are_ short one woman...."

"Hummmm."

"I mean, the girls might think a man gets rusty."

"I see what you mean." Nestir blinked his eyes. "It wouldn't be fair,
all things considered."

He stood up.

"I may tell you, my son, that, in thinking this matter over last night,
I decided that Wanda--ah--Miller, yes, has had sufficient duty to merit
participation in the Festival."

"Justice is a priestly virtue," Harry said.

"And you really think your wife would...?"

"Oh, yes, Father."

"Well, ahem. But...."

"Yes, Father?"

"_Ad dulce verboten._"

"Uh?"

"That is to say, in order for a woman to join in the ritual of the
Changing of the Wives, she must, ahem, be married."

"I never thought of that," said the third mate disconsolately.

"I think that can be arranged, however," said Nestir. "If you go by the
mess hall on your way out, please tell the captain we can continue our
discussion at his pleasure."


IV

"Sit down, Captain," said Nestir, when the captain entered. "No. Over
there, in the comfortable chair. There. Are you comfortable, Captain?"

"Of course I am."

"Good. I have a question to ask you, Captain."

"I say?"

Nestir rubbed his bald head. "Sir," he said by way of preamble, "I know
you have the greatest sensibility in questions of duty."

"That's quite so, y'know. I pride myself upon it, if I do say so."

"Exactly. _Argot y calpex._ No sacrifice is too great."

"True; true."

"Well, then, say the first day of Wenslaus, that would be--ah, a
Zentahday--I may depend upon you to wed Wanda Miller, the bosun's
daughter, yes?"

"No," said the captain.

"Come now, sir. I realize she is the daughter of a crewman, but--"

"Father," said the captain, "did I ever tell you about the time I led
an expeditionary force against Zelthalta?"

"I don't believe you have."

"Then I will tell you. Came about this way. I was given command of
fifty-three thousand Barains. Savage devils. Uncivilized, but fine
fighters. I was to march them ninety-seven miles across the desert
that...."

"Captain! I fear I must be very severe with you. I will be forced to
announce in the mess hall this evening that you have refused to do
your duty when it was plainly and properly called to your attention."

"Very well, Father," the captain said after several minutes. "I will do
it."

He was trembling slightly.

       *       *       *       *       *

That morning was to be the time of the captain's wedding. He had
insisted that it be done in privacy. For the ceremony, he refused to
make the slightest change in his everyday uniform; nor would he consent
to Nestir's suggestion that he carry a nosegay of hydroponic flowers.
He had intended, after the ceremony, to go about his duty as if nothing
out of the ordinary had happened; but after it was done with, the vast
indignity of it came home to him even more poignantly than he had
imagined it would.

Without a word, he left the priest's stateroom and walked slowly,
ponderously, with great dignity, to his own.

It was a very fine stateroom. The finest, but for Nestir's, in the
whole ship. The velvet and gold drapes (his single esthetic joy) were
scented with exotic perfume. The carpet was an inch and a half thick.

He walked through his office without breaking his stride.

The bed was large and fluffy. An unbroken expanse of white coverlette
jutting out from the far bulkhead. It looked as soft as feather down.

Without even a sigh, he threw himself upon the bed and lay very, very
quiet. His left leg was suspended in the air, intersecting, at the
thigh, the plane of the coverlet at forty-five degrees; the number of
degrees remained stiffly, unrelaxingly forty-five.

Only after a long, long time did he roll over on his back and then it
was merely to stare fixedly at the ceiling.

It is entirely possible that he would have lain there until Doomsday
had not his introspection been, around noon, interrupted by an
apologetic tap on the door.

"Come in," he whispered, hoping she would not hear him and go away.

But she heard him.

"Husband," Wanda said simply. She closed the door behind her and stood
staring at him.

"Madam," he said, "I hope you will have the kindness not to refer to me
by that indecent appelation a second time."

"Gee. You say the cutest things. I'm awful glad you had to marry me,
huh."

The captain stood up, adjusted his coat and his shoulders, and walked
across the room to the dressing table. He opened the left-hand drawer,
removed a bottle, poured himself half a water-glass full and drank it
off.

"Ah," he said.

He returned to the bed and sat down.

"Can'tcha even say hello ta little ol' me, huh?" she asked.

"Hello," he said. "Madam, sit down. I intend to give you an instructive
lecture in the natural order of...."

"Huh?"

"Ah," he said. "Quite true, of course."

She walked over to the chair and sat down. "I don't like them," she
said. "Them cloth things over there."

"Those, Madam," he said, "are priceless drapes I had imported from the
province of San Xalthan. They have a long, strange history.

"About three thousand years ago, a family by the name of Soong was
forced to flee from the city of Xan because the eldest son of the
family had become involved in a conspiracy against the illustrious King
Fod. As the Soong family was traveling...."

"I don't like 'em anyway," said Wanda.

"Madam," said the captain, "kindly bring me that."

"This?"

"Yes. Thank you."

He took the doll from her. He got up again, walked to the chest of
drawers, searched around for a penknife. Finally he located it under a
stack of socks.

He returned to the bed. Sitting on the edge, he began to rip the doll
along the seams with the penknife. Very carefully he emptied the
sawdust out upon the carpet, and with equal deliberation, he cut up
the canvas covering into small patches. Within fifteen minutes, for he
worked very slowly, the doll was completely destroyed.

He laid the penknife on the night stand by his bed. He took out a match
and struck it across the bottom of his shoe; he bent over and ignited
the remains of the doll.

"You'll burn yer rug," Wanda said.

"Yes," the captain said, "I will. Be so kind as to close the door when
you leave."


V

The next day the captain appeared at mess.

The third mate said, "I want to thank you for what you done for me,
Captain."

"Don't mention it," the captain said, bisecting a pilchard with his
fork.

"It's nice Wanda gets to be in the Festival," Jane said. "It pleases my
husband so."

"I'm very excited about it all," the steward said.

The first mate turned his egg over with his fork and peered
suspiciously at the underside of it. "Hit's all right fur you uns ta
feel excited. Martha an' me are still purty bitter."

"Yes," Martha said, "I don't see why the children couldn't take care of
themselves."

"Who'd get the new crew out of ice?" John, the second mate, said.

"That," the first mate admitted, "is th' problem. Can'tcha even cook an
aig?" he asked the steward.

"What's the matter with the egg?" the third mate asked.

"Hit hain't cooked right," the first mate insisted.

"Helen," the captain said, "may I see you after the meal?"

Helen looked demurely into her plate. "Certainly, captain. But if it's
about the Changing of the Wives, I've already been asked for."

"And," John said proudly, "I'll bet she was one of the first ones
asked."

"Nestir asked my wife almost a month ago," said Harry. "She was the
very first."

"Well," the captain said, "that's what I had in mind." He turned to
survey the table. His eyes lit upon Mary, the steward's wife.

She looked at him and shook her head. "John already asked me."

"Well," the captain said, "I must say, this is a very fine breakfast,
steward. I dearly love pilchards for breakfast. Convey my compliments
to the cook."

"Yes, sir."

       *       *       *       *       *

"Captain," said Nestir, "I was telling the men ... just before you
came ... in about the great pageant of Koltah in the year of '93. At
the time, in a special celebration--_annum mirabelei_--we decided
to observe the ancient customs of Meizque. The customs are of some
interest, and I thought we might apply several of them to our own
Festival."

"Whatever you wish," said the captain tiredly, stirring his coffee.

Before Nestir could resume his account, John interrupted. "I want to
mention this again. I have a very special treatment for you, Captain.
You should be encouraged by that. No one will ever have a better
Casting Off than you."

"Thank you," said the captain. "I shall look forward to it." He laid
down his spoon. "Oh, Anne. May I see you?"

"I'm sorry," said the wife of Barney, the engineer. "Really and truly I
am, but I've already been asked, too."

"Oh," said the captain.

He looked over at the last officer's wife, Leota. But he quickly looked
away.

"Well," he said, "this is a fine breakfast we have this morning
steward."

"Thank you, sir. I'll tell the cook."

Jane said, in order to stave off the encroaching silence, "Nestir, how
old are you?"

"Going on forty--Jane."

"The prime of life," the steward said.

"Ah," the captain said thoughtfully. "Leota...."

She looked up and soundlessly her mouth formed the words, "Too late."

The captain dropped the spoon to his plate.

Silence fell. It grew prolonged and uncomfortable. Finally the first
mate said, "Hit hain't the right way to cook aigs, damn hit."

The captain said, "Father, I say. All the officers' wives have been
asked."

"Yes," said Nestir. "They have, haven't they?"

"Do you suppose it would be all right if I just...."

"You know the rules," Nestir said sternly.

"That's what I was afraid you'd say," said the captain. He looked up
at the ceiling; his face was placid. He reached up with his right hand
and began to scratch his chin. He scratched his chin for a long time,
scarcely breathing.

The officers and their wives were silent, waiting for him to speak.

       *       *       *       *       *

"I believe I'll have another cup of coffee," he said at last.

"Yes, sir," said the steward, snapping his fingers for the waiter.

Martha said: "You should have asked earlier."

"I know," the captain said. "Father, I really don't see why I have to
Change Wives."

"But Harry will have yours that day. And you know the rules."

"There are a lot of good-looking women in the crew," the steward said.

"Quite a number," said the captain.

He arose from the table and steadied himself a moment. "Never mind the
coffee," he said. "I shouldn't drink over one cup for breakfast. I
believe it aggravates my scrofula."

He turned, and walked out of the mess hall.

He walked very straight and tall. He walked down the crew's corridor
toward their quarters.

Shortly he saw a woman coming out of one of the cabins.

"Madam," he said.

She came over to him. "Yes, sir?"

"Madam," he said, "Madam, I...."

"Would ja like to have a drink of water? It's right down this way, an'
then ya turn ta the left."

"No ... uh. I.... Madam, would you honor me by becoming my partner for
the night of the Changing of the Wives?"

She balanced on the balls of her feet and looked up at him. "Yur th'
captain, ain'tcha?"

"Yes," he said. "I am."

"Sure, I'll do hit," she said. "I'd be mighty proud ta."

The captain turned away and then turned back. "Madam," he said, "what
is your name?"

"Joanne Marie. Jest ask for me. Everybody down here knows me."

"Joanne Marie, Joanne Marie," he repeated under his breath. He
shuddered and turned to go.


VI

The day of the Changing of the Wives came to the ship. It was a very
important ritualistic day, held, always, three weeks and one day before
the Festival of the Casting Off.

The morning of the day, Nestir spoke to the assembled complement.
He explained its symbolic importance: he explained its historic
development; he delivered, _in cretia ultimatum est_, an exegesis on
the _Jarcon_. And then he took off the cloak of priestcraft and cast it
to the floor. "For I am," he said, "Ah, a man as you are men."

Then, being no longer empowered to pronounce a benediction (under
normal conditions, the function of a younger priest), he left the
cheering members of Flight Seventeen A and sped directly to his
stateroom.

The afternoon passed uneventfully. The complement of the ship moved
about their routine chores tingling in anticipation of the evening.

At the evening meal, a new seating arrangement was instituted at the
insistence of the steward and the third mate. The newly formed couples
were to sit side by side.

To accomplish this, it was necessary to set two extra plates in the
officers' mess. One, for Wanda, next to the third mate; and one, for
Joanne Marie, beside the captain.

"Please pass the meat," the third mate said.

Nestir handed it across to him.

"Thank you, Father."

"Today, _in culpa res_, I no longer have that honor," Nestir reminded
him. "The blood-red cloak of priestcraft will never again touch my
shoulders this side of the Reward."

"I'd be a little sad," said the steward.

"Oh, I don't know," the third mate said.

"It probably all depends," Helen, the wife of the second mate, agreed.

"Hit's a far, far better thing _I_ do," the first mate said sonorously.
He was a little drunk.

The captain speared one pea and ate it. "I envy you," he said, looking
over at Joanne Marie.

Wanda Miller, who had already upset her glass of water in the third
mate's lap, said, "Pass the biscuits, hey.... You uns have better'n we
do."

"No," said the steward, "not at all, my dear. We eat the same as the
crew."

"Yes; precisely so," the third mate said.

"Except ours is fixed up a little differently," said Jane.

"An' our cook can't fry an aig," the first mate said.

"I wouldn't say that," said the captain.

"Shucks," Joanne Marie said, "anybody can fry an aig."

"On the contrary, Madam. I recall once, when I was a political adviser
for the Kong regime...."

"Do you mean mea-Kong?" the steward asked.

"No, that was in Koltah."

"Yes," Nestir said. "I am very familiar with them. They...."

"That's not the one I meant," the captain snapped.

Nestir leaped to his feet. "Well!" he said loudly. "I'm through
eating."

"Oh, come now, old man. There's no hurry, really, y'know," the captain
insisted gently.

"Ain't there?" Joanne Marie asked. "Gee. I can see you sure ain't like
my husband. I mean my ex." She giggled.

"Well, I guess I'm finished, too," Jane said. "Well. Good night, Harry."

"Good night, dear."

       *       *       *       *       *

In the mess hall, the lights were out. The figure of the captain loomed
like a stark obelisk in the gloom.

"Captain, sir, we uns uv been sittin' here at this table fur hours an'
hours. I'm gettin' purty tired us sittin'."

"It's not long until the Festival," he said.

"When the mess boy cleared away all them dishes, I thought shore you'd
leave, then."

"Oh, no," said the captain. "This is very exciting."

"It ain't, the way I see it," Joanne Marie said.

"Different perspective, Madam. Doubtless you would not have considered
it very exciting either, the time I ran a wagon train from Tamask-Cha.
You see, the material was to be delivered on a mining contract. Madam,
I can assure you it was hot. The only road was a narrow line across the
Ubiq desert. And late the first evening...."

"I can see it warn't very exciting," Joanne Marie said.

Silence returned.

"I am getting sleepy," the captain said at length.

"Oh, I'm usually awake this late. Shucks, I'm used to it. Sometimes I
jest get ta sleep when it's time ta get up. But I do wish we'd go to
bed."

"Madam, your language!"

"All I said was...."

"I know; I know," the captain said. "Madam, come to my stateroom. You
may sleep on the sofa."

"Weeeel," Joanne Marie said, "I ain't a-sayin' that. I know my rights."

"Let us not be difficult. I am certain, when I explain to you in a
logical fashion the obvious impossibility of--of--"

"You got no wife?"

"No," he said.

"Yeah. I thought not. That sure is swell."

"Madam. Perhaps I can say it this way. I have certain perturbations,
but I can assure you, whatever you attempt my aim is inflexible. For
me, the Captain, to--ah--consort with a crew woman is preposterous."

"Is that what you call it? Now that's a funny word. My husband calls
it--"

"_Madam!_"

Joanne Marie was cowed into silence. They walked directly to his
stateroom.

Once inside, Joanne Marie said, "Now ya jest sit down, comfortable
like. I got somethin' I want to tell ya."

"No," the captain said.

"I ain't even told ja yet."

"It won't matter," the captain said.

"My husband don't like me," she said.

He dropped his head into his hands and sighed deeply. Then he looked
up, his face set in icy resignation.


VII

John, the second mate, awoke early the morning of the Festival.

"Helen, honey," he said. "Wake up."

She murmured sleepily.

"Come on, now, wake up."

She rolled over to her side of the bed.

"All right," he said. He reached out, fumbled for and found his
cigarettes.

"You know what I'm going to do to the captain?" he asked. He lit a
cigarette and lying on his back blew smoke rings at the ceiling.

"Yes," his wife said, "you told me."

"First, I'm going to take that saber I got on Queglat and scrape open
his scrofula. Then, when he's bleeding nicely, all I have to do is
pour a bottle of alcohol on him. Don't you think that will be nice?"

"Yes, dear."

"You know, I'm kinda sorry I went to all the trouble sharpening that
saber. After all, it might be more painful if the saber was dull."

"Yes, dear."

"But then, on the other hand...."

"Dear, will you hand me a cigarette?"

"Sure."

He shook out a cigarette, lit it off his and handed it to her.

"So what do you think?"

"It doesn't matter, dear," she said.

"Oh, but it does matter," John insisted. "I think it's very important."
He snubbed out his cigarette. "It's all the little details that one
should take into account. Can't be too careful about something like
that."

He rolled over on his back again. "I'm hungry," he said.

"I really thought they should have served breakfast," Helen said.

"Well, it wouldn't be right to leave all those dirty dishes for the
second crew."

"I mean just sandwiches."

"Yes," he said, "they could have made up some sandwiches. I think,
though, I'd settle for a cup of tea."

"I could brew you some on the hot plate."

"It's too much bother," John said. "Are you sure you wouldn't mind?"

"No. If you'll get up and put the water on."

"All right," he said.

He threw his legs over the side, fumbled with his feet for the house
slippers, padded to the hot plate, put the water on, and came back to
bed.

"We've still got an hour before the bell," he said.

"Are you going to shave?"

"I don't think so; not today," he said.

"By the way, honey; what's in that can over there?"

"Fuel oil," she said.

"What's it for?"

"You'd be surprised," she said.

After a while, the water began to sizzle against the sides of the pan.

"Time to get up," she said. She crawled over her husband, slipped into
a robe, and proceeded to brew the tea.

"It's not much of a breakfast, John."

"Say," he said, "where's my bottle of alcohol for the captain."

"I set it over by the medicine cabinet, out of the way."

"I wonder if it'll be enough?" he mused.

"I hope so," she said. "Are you going to get up, or must I serve you
this tea in bed? I will if you want me to."

"I'll get up," he said. He got up.

"Let's take it in the nook to drink," he said.

"Can't."

"Oh? Why not?"

"One of the legs is off the table."

"If you'd told me, I'd fixed it."

"Never mind," she said.

       *       *       *       *       *

They each drank two cups of tea; and then each dressed for the Festival.

After that, they sat in silence, awaiting the bell to signal the start
of the Festival.

"I'm going to hurry out," John said at length, "as soon as the bell
rings, so I can stand outside the captain's door and get him when he
comes out."

"That's not fair, John," she said. "You're supposed to wait for the
second bell before you can even start to Cast anyone Off."

"I know," said John, "but this way, I'll be sure to get the captain."

"Well," she said, "I'm certainly glad you have that attitude."

He asked, after more silence, "What are you going to do?"

"I think I'll stay here for a little while," she said.

"Yes, that might--"

The bell rang soundingly throughout the ship.

"Time to go," John said. He grabbed his saber. "Where's the alcohol?"

"In there," she said.

He skidded into the bathroom, pocketed the alcohol, and started for the
door.

"John!"

"Huh?"

"Aren't you even going to kiss me good-by?"

"Oh, sure. Forgot." He crossed to her, bent down and kissed her. She
put her left arm around his neck. With her right hand, she located the
table leg she had placed behind her pillow.

John drew away and half turned. "Good--"

She hit him in the left temple with the table leg. He went down like a
poleaxed steer.

She laughed happily.


VIII

When the bell sounded for the people to separate, preparatory to the
hunt proper, the captain got up and buckled on his huge infantry sword.
He had spent most of the night sharpening it.

He had after long hours of considering, decided that there was only one
honorable course left to him. He would defend himself.

For if he were the Sole Survivor of the hunt, he would be Cast Off
properly by the first mate. Otherwise....

The possibility that it might be done by a crewman was staggeringly
humiliating. He would salvage his honor from that final indignity at
all costs.

Of course, if he were captured by an officer, it would be a different
matter entirely; he would surrender and submit like the gentleman he
was. But a crewman....

He took the sword out of the scabbard and rubbed his thumb along the
side of it.

He swung it, and it whistled in the air crisply, pleasingly.

He grasped it firmly in his right hand and walked to the door. He threw
open the door and jumped back and away.

But it was safe; there was no one outside.

He stepped into the corridor.

Empty.

He looked both ways. He listened.

Then he began to run, swiftly, silently, on his toes.

At the first intersection, he stopped and surveyed the crossing
corridor.

To his left, almost at the far bend, he saw a crewman; however, the man
was not looking in his direction, and the captain felt that he could
be reasonably safe from detection if he crossed quickly enough. He
sprinted across the open space.

On the other side, he stopped and waited. After several minutes of
silence, he knew that he could safely continue.

He ran for a long distance.

Finally, safely down in the second level, he slowed to a walk. He was
breathing heavily; it was very loud, and his footsteps echoed hollowly.

He was alone down there. He could tell that.

At the Jonson bend, he breathed a sigh of relief. Ahead was the empty
corridor that led to the dead end, Forward. He could see down it, clear
to the bulkhead. And as he knew it would be, it was devoid of life and
movement.

He sat down to wait out the long day.

He scratched his chin.

He would have nothing to do until the closing bell. At which time he
would be forced to go to the assembly area.

As would anyone else, according to the rules of the Festival as laid
down by Nestir, who had not yet been sent to his Reward.

That would be a dangerous time. For then there would be no esthetic
consideration. It would be a fight amongst all assembling for the final
honor of Sole Survivor. One could expect no mercy: clean, quick sword
stroke, no more. No suffering at all.

It was not a pleasant prospect. But to be the coveted Sole Survivor
compensated for the risk.

The captain laid the sword across his lap and petted it.

He would fight. And no crew member need expect to be the man Cast Off
by the first mate; that was to be the captain's fate.

The second bell called to the ship shrilly.

The hunt was on!

       *       *       *       *       *

Martha and the first mate assembled the children in the large,
comfortable hospital. The steward's department had fixed them all a
lunch. The children were silent, for the angry brow of the first mate
was a complete damper on their usual animal spirits. There was no
holiday happiness.

The children moved around and fell into little, shifting groups.
Several of them began to game at marbles, but the first mate broke it
up before it degenerated into a fist fight.

"Well, there goes the hunting bell," Martha said.

"Yes," the mate said, "hit do, don't hit."

"I think they could have a regular nurse for this sort of thing,"
Martha said.

The mate grunted. "Humph. I shore hope they uns don't raise no ruckus.
I've got me a splittin' haidache."

"Shhhh. Listen. I thought I heard someone scream."

"Yep," the mate said. "I was sure afraid uv hit; won't be able to
heyar myself think all day long. I'm a-tellin' ya, Martha, if these
young uns start a-actin' up, too, I'm jest a-gonna take a knife an'
split this here haid open, Reward or no Reward."

"That's not a nice way to talk," Martha said.

"No, hit hain't. But I'm a-sayin' hit."

"I'll tell you what I'll do," Martha said. "I'll call all the children
together and tell them nursery stories. That oughta keep them quiet.
And you go over there and lay down where there won't be anyone to
bother you."

"All right, Martha, an' I shore do thankee."

The first mate made his way to the farthest bed, sat down, took off
his shoes, and stretched out on it. He reached up and felt his head
tenderly.

"Children," Martha called. "Oh, children! I want you all to come over
here."

Reluctantly, the children obeyed her.

"That's right," she said. "Now. You all sit down and make yourselves
comfortable, and be still as mice so my husband can sleep, and I'll
tell you stories. And then, after a while, we'll eat the nice lunch the
steward fixed for us, and we'll all have the bestest time."

"I don't like you," one of the little boys said.

"Little boy," Martha said, "I don't like you, either."

"Oh," the little boy said.

"Now," Martha said, "I'm going to tell you the wonderful story about a
very pretty Princess and a very pretty Prince: Once upon a time, there
was a land called Zont. It sank long ago under the big, salty sea of
Zub...."

"My name's Joey," the little boy said.

"Well, Joey," Martha said, "do you see that long, steel rod over there,
where we hang clothing from?"

"Uh-huh."

"If you don't shut your little mouth, I'll hang you on it by your
thumbs."

"Betcha ya won't," one of the little girls said.

       *       *       *       *       *

"Once upon a time," Martha said, "there was this handsome Prince and
pretty Princess. But the father of the Princess, King Exaltanta, was a
heathen and did not believe in the Prophet. Now. When a true believer,
kind King Farko, captured King Exaltanta's kingdom, the deposed king
hid his daughter in the deepest dungeon.

"Now when the fair Prince, who was the son of King Farko, and whose
name was William, heard of the Princess in the dungeon, he decided that
he would rescue her and marry her. And after she had had one child
by him, the two of them would travel to the Holy City of Meizque to
participate in the Changing of the Wives and the Festival there.

"Well, it so happened that King Farko got a special dispensation from
the Great Priest to send the members of Exaltanta's family to their
Reward without their consent. As he prepared the ceremonies--they were
to be very simple: for, after all, the royal household members weren't
true believers, and would consequently need to spend a million years
(at least) as Outcasts before entering into their Reward, anyhow--as he
prepared the ceremonies...."

"But does everyone get a Reward? Even people who don't believe?" a
little girl asked, wide eyed.

"Nearly everyone, my child. The Prophet was not a cruel man. Of course,
people who try to Cast themselves Off never, never, never get a Reward.
But others, everybody else, all get theirs. It's only a question of how
long they have to wait. Sometimes, as when they're unbelievers, it may
be a long, long, long time, but...."

"I know that," Joey said.

Martha looked up at him and sighed; she stood up. "Come with me, dear,"
she said.

At that moment, the door flew open with a loud bang.

The first mate, who had been asleep, sat bolt upright on the bed. "God
damn hit!" he screamed. "My haid!"

"Oh," said a crew member, who was dragging a woman by the hair, "I'm
terribly sorry. I didn't know you were in here. I just came in to Cast
Mary Jane Off in privacy." He waved an odd-looking instrument at Martha
by way of amplification.

"Hello, mummy," one of the smaller girls said to the woman.

"Oh, why, hello, honey. Are you having fun?"

"Oh, yes, mummy."

Mary Jane looked at the crewman. "Well, Bob," she said, "I guess we'll
just have to go some place else."

"Well, git hout er come in, but shut that door! That noise out there is
a-tearin' off my haid!"

The crewman called Bob dragged the woman called Mary Jane out of the
room. She pulled the door closed behind her.

"Well, children," Martha said, "we ought to get back to my story. Now,
King Farko, as you will remember, received a special dispensation...."

       *       *       *       *       *

Nestir locked his door when the separation bell sounded.

Having done that, he proceeded to fix himself a meal. It was a simple
one, consisting only of what material he had been able to steal from
the steward's department the previous night.

As he ate, he reflected upon his course of action. It was, he could
see, going to be difficult to justify at the Reward. But he had been
a priest, and because of that he was reasonably well grounded in
theological dialectics.

The Festival, of course, was a fine thing. But it had its weak points.
Chief among them being that the Casting Off was left to inexperienced
hands, and certainly, if there was ever a time when experience was
required, then the Casting Off was that time. One should be Cast Off at
leisure; suffering long and deliciously. A state hero, for instance,
honored by being Cast Off by one of the King's Guards, certainly died
the best death imaginable.

In the present case, although the death as Sole Survivor was to come at
the hands of the first mate (who really lacked the training for such
a position of trust), it would be the best Casting Off available. For
the first mate could follow instructions, and Nestir had written the
instructions.

Nestir intended to remain in the stateroom all day; the hunt would go
merrily along without him.

When the assembly bell rang, he would still remain in his stateroom.

Then, late at night, he would leave. He would slip down to the first
mate's stateroom and determine from him where the premature Sole
Survivor slept. Then he would find him and Cast him Off in his sleep.
And Nestir would be the actual Sole Survivor.

Nestir could justify his conduct by virtue of the little known
theological clause: _ego bestum alpha todas_. A decision handed down by
the High Court of the Prophet (Malin vs the Estate of Kattoa: T & C,
'98) nearly a hundred years previously.

Nestir had, in his hip pocket, a small vial of slow-acting poison.
He would drink it just before Casting the man Off. Then were he not
handled the next day by the first mate, he would die the Outcast death,
by his own hand.

He did not doubt his ability to convince Them at the Reward. It would
be difficult, but it was not beyond his ability. Certainly, if no one
took the opportunity of Casting him Off as he sat behind the locked
door of his room, it wasn't Nestir's fault.

The bosun pushed the ventilator grill away and jumped out of the shaft
even before it hit the carpet.

He landed catlike, his knees bending springily to absorb the shock. He
landed directly behind Nestir and pushed the little man against the
wall.

Nestir struggled out of the wreckage of the chair.

"How ... why ... why...?" he said.

"Ah-ha," the bosun said. "Fooled ja, didn't I?"

The bosun was carrying a thin rapier.

"Let's discuss this," Nestir said. "One must go about these things
slowly."

"Sorry," the bosun said.

"My God," said Nestir, "you can't Cast me Off just like that: without
any suffering!"

"Sorry," the bosun said. "Don't have all day. Spend all day with you,
and then what? The more people I can Cast Off before the assembly bell,
the better chance I'll have to be the Sole Survivor."

"Have you no compassion, man? Can you turn aside from the course of the
gentle Prophet?"

"Sorry," the bosun said again, sincerely. "I can't stand here all day
discussing it."

"Ah, me," said Nestir as the bosun drew back from the thrust, "who
would have thought that I would be trapped by a religious fanatic?"

"Must look out for myself, you know," said the bosun.


IX

Helen said, "I thought maybe I hit you too hard."

"No," John said. "Fortunately not." He had just opened his eyes.

He was strapped tightly to the bed. "I appreciate what you're doing,"
he said. "I know you want to be sure I'm Cast Off right. But honey, do
you think it was fair to jump the bell on me like that?"

"Well," she said, "that's what you intended to do to the captain."

He grinned ruefully. "Darn it. I did look forward to Casting him Off."

"Oh, well," his wife said, "I guess we can't have everything."

"True, my dear," said John. "It was very thoughtful of you."

"I wanted to be sure that my husband had the best."

"I know you did."

"Well," she said. "I guess I may as well begin."

"Yes," he said.

"Have you any suggestions, honey?"

"No," he said. "I'll leave it all up to you."

"All right." She walked to the dresser and picked up a pair of pliers.
She crossed to him.

She had already removed his shoes while he was unconscious.

"I think," she said, "I'll take the big toe first."

"Whatever you like, my dear."

After a moment, she said, "My, I didn't know it was going to be so hard
to pull a few little old toenails."

After she had finished with his left foot, she poured alcohol over it.

Then she had to wait for him to regain consciousness.

"Honey?" she asked.

"Yes?"

"You didn't scream very much."

"That's all right," he said. "You're doing fine."

"All right," she said. "If you're satisfied. I guess I may as well
start on the other foot.... Oh, John?"

"Yes, dear?"

"Would you like for me to fix you a cup of tea before we go on?"

"I don't think so. But it's a nice thought."

"Honey?"

"Yes?"

"You asked what that fuel oil was for, remember?"

"Yes."

"Well, when I finish this," she said, "I'm going to pour it over you
and light it."

"Helen," he said, "I married one of the ... cleverest ... women ... in
the ... system."

"There," she said, "I thought I'd _never_ get that one."

       *       *       *       *       *

The captain got very cramped, sitting there. It was late. He expected
it was about time for the assembly bell to ring.

He stood up.

No one had come down his corridor all day, and he felt very pleased
with his acumen in selecting it.

There wasn't nearly as much noise as there had been earlier; people
were thinning out. He hoped there wouldn't be many left in the fight
for the assembly.

He heard, interrupting his reverie, a thin, shrill shriek, drifting
down the corridor from his left. Then, looking, he saw a crewman
running toward him.

He tightened his grip on his infantry sword.

Then he relaxed. It was all right.

The man had no arms.

The crewman came to a stop in front of him.

"Oh? Captain. Good afternoon, sir."

"Good afternoon. Careful there. You'll get blood on my uniform."

"Sorry, sir."

"How are things going, back there?"

"Pretty slow ... last ... couple hours."

"Getting pretty weak, eh?"

"Yes, sir. Mind if ... I ... sit down?"

"Not at all. Make yourself at home."

"Thank ... you, sir." He sat down. "My," he said, "I'm tired."

"Loss of blood, probably. Listen, old fellow. Do you think you've about
quit suffering, now?"

"Oh, yes," the crewman said. "Scarcely feel ... a thing any more.
Numb."

"Well, in that case, no sense in keeping you from your Reward."

"Not ... a bit."

The captain drew back his huge sword.

"See ... you ... around," the crewman said.

The sword whistled down.

The captain wiped the sword on the crewman's blouse. His legs were
still stiff. He needed a little exercise. He began to walk toward the
dead end of the corridor, keeping a weather eye behind him.

"... Bombs away!"

The crewman hurtled onto his shoulders from the steampipe above.

The captain fell flat, and his sword went skittering away, rattling
loudly on the steel deck.

"Umph!" he said.

"Boy!" the crewman said, "I shore thought you'd _never_ come back down
here."

The captain was stunned. He could feel the crewman lashing his hands
together behind him.

"What were you doing up there?" the captain said at length.

"I clumb up there when I a-hyeared ya a-comin' like a herd o'
elephants. I thought ta come down here an' wait hit out 'til th'
assembly bell."

"My intentions exactly," the captain said, testing his bonds. There
was no escape from them. "Your voice sounds familiar."

"Yeah. Hit should. I'm Henderson, th' officers' messman."

"Lord give me strength," the captain said.

"Now, iffen you'll jest roll over on yer back, Captain."

"What for, my boy?"

"I kinda thought that first off I'd like ta pour this little bottle of
hydrofluoric acid on ya."

"That's very clever," the captain said. Then he reconsidered. "For a
crewman, that is."


X

The first mate looked over at the bosun.

"Uncomfortable?"

"Yes," the bosun said.

"Fine, I thought you'd be." He took out his penknife and began to
whittle on a piece of wood.

After a while he said, "You haint mindin' me puttin' hit off this away?"

"No," the bosun said, "suit yourself."

The first mate sent a shaving skittering with his knife blade.
"Shucks," he said, "there hain't really no hurry."

The bosun raised his head from his chest and shook the hair out of his
face. "Not really, when you consider it," he said.

"Yep, that's right." The first mate began to work on the point of the
stick; he sharpened it down to needle fineness, and then he carefully
cut in the barb. "Hain't very strong wood; them barbs are cut against
the grain, an' they're liable ta split off when I try ta pull 'em out."

"I hope not," the bosun said.

The first mate said, "Yep, I'm shore afraid they're a-gonna do jest
that little trick."

"Look," said the bosun, "this hair's gettin' in my eyes. I wunder if
you'd mind kinda snippin' it off?"

"Not a-tall," the first mate said.

He walked over to the bosun, grabbed a handful of hair and sawed it off
with the penknife.

"That better?"

"It shore is. Thanks."

"Not a-tall."

The first mate threw down the stick on the table. "Really should uv cut
that before."

"I suppose so," the bosun said.

"'Course I warn't hable to see what uz in th' priest's mind."

"No, that's true," the bosun agreed.

The first mate walked over and picked up the typewritten instructions.

"You're a-gonna get a fine Castin' Off," he said.

"I should," the bosun said. "It ain't everybody can be th' Sole
Survivor."

"That's true," the first mate said. "Well," he said after a minute, "I
jest guess I know them there instructions fine as anything. I suspect
we may as well start, iffen hits agreeable ta you."

"I'm ready," the bosun said.

The first mate took his penknife and tested the edge with his thumb.
"Shore is sharp," he said. "Ought ta be. I jest got done a-honin' hit."

       *       *       *       *       *

He walked over to where the bosun was hanging.

"Well," he said. "No time like the present."

He raised the knife.

"Jest a minute," he said. "I think I'll get me some music on the radio.
You don't mind?"

"No," said the bosun. "Not a bit."

The first mate walked to the hyperspace radio and flicked on the dial.
After fiddling with it for some time, he picked up a symphony being
broadcast from Kque. "There," he said, "that's th' kind uv music I
shore do like ta hear."

The music welled out and filled the room with sound.

"Shore is purty," the bosun said.

The first mate walked back to him.

"Guess I'll start on your back," he said. He reached up and ripped the
bosun's shirt off.

Then, when the back was laid bare, he made a very shallow cut running
the length of the shoulders from armpit to armpit.

"Be kinda hard ta get started," he said.

He put the penknife in the incision and began to pry the skin loose.
"Gonna take me a long time ta get a hand holt," he said. "Course onct I
do, hit'll be as easy as skinnin' a skunk."

"Take yer time," the bosun said.

"Aim to."

The music turned quiet and sounded of the rippling brooks on far
Corazon; it reflected the vast meadows of Nid and the giant,
silver-capped mountains of Muri. A cello picked up the theme and ran
it, in rich notes, over the whole surface of the dead world, Astolath.
A whining oboe piped of the sweet winds from Zoltah; and the brass beat
out the finny rhythm of the water world of Du.

"'Scuse me," the first mate said. He laid down the penknife and walked
to the radio. With a flick of his wrist, he cut it off.

"What uz th' matter with hit?" the bosun asked.

"Didn't ja notice?" said the first mate. "Th' third fiddle was sour."

"Guess I wasn't listenin' close enough," said the bosun.

The first mate returned to his work. "May as well get on with it," he
said.

He raised the penknife again.

       *       *       *       *       *

Martha threw the door open. "Here!" she said. She swung Joey around in
front of her by the left ear. "I'm going to have to leave him in here
with you, where he won't get into trouble."

The first mate laid aside the penknife.

"Martha," he said, "I jest plain don't like kids."

"I'm sorry," she said, "But I just can't keep him with the rest of the
children. I just can't."

"Whatud he do?" the bosun asked.

"Do? Let me tell you," Martha said. "First, he...."

"I didn't," Joey said.

"I haint got no all day ta listen ta ya, woman," the first mate said.

"Well. The worst of it was with little Jane. Do you know what he tried
to do to her?"

"No, and I shore don't care," said the first mate testily.

"Well, first he got her down under the table; and then he sat on her;
and if I hadn't stopped him, he would have pounded her brains out
against the deck."

"My, my," said the bosun.

"That hain't a-tall nice."

"Grownups do it," Joey said.

"That's entirely different," the bosun said.

"No, it ain't. You just don't like me, that's all."

"Little Jane wasn't ready," Martha said. "She hasn't had a chance to do
her duty."

"It don't matter," Joey said.

"Little boy," said the bosun, "do you know where people go who talk
that way?"

"I don't care," Joey said.

"You see? I'll simply have to leave him in here with you."

"All right," the first mate agreed reluctantly. "Now, little boy," he
said, "you hain't a-gonna bother me, hear? I'm very busy. You jest go
over there and watch."

"Yes," said the bosun.

Martha said, "Well, I better get back to the other children."

She left and the first mate turned back to his job.

"What's he crying for?" Joey asked.

"'Cause it hurts," the first mate explained.

"You missed somethin' there in th' back," Joey said.

"Why did you try to choke that little girl?" the mate asked.

"'Cause I wanted to."

"Well," the first mate said, "that's why I left that little patch o'
skin."

"Oh," said Joey.

He stood up and walked around the bosun.

"What're ya gonna do next?" he asked.

"Be still," said the bosun.

"I bet I know," Joey said. "I'll bet you're gonna take that little
stick over there an' stick it in him."

"That shore ... is right," the bosun said proudly.

"Can I, huh?"

"No," the first mate said.

"Why not? All ya gotta do is...." He picked up the stick and lunged at
the bosun.

       *       *       *       *       *

The first mate tripped him and took the stick away from him.

"Let him alone," the bosun said to Joey. "He's doin' jest fine."

"Thankee," said the first mate.

Martha came back.

"Is he bothering you? We could put him in the ice with the new crew,"
she said.

"Fine," the first mate said.

"Oh, no," Joey said. "You gotta catch me first." He began to back away
from Martha.

She took a step toward him.

He turned and started to run.

"Thought so," she said. She had been holding one hand behind her. It
contained a plastic ash-tray. She caught him squarely between the ears
with it, and he went down.

"Good heave, Martha!" the first mate said.

She walked over to Joey, picked him up and started to the door.

At the door she paused.

"What did you say you wanted for supper, Fontelroy?"

"Two aigs," he said.





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