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´╗┐Title: Down to the Worlds of Men
Author: Panshin, Alexei
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 "Down to the Worlds of Men" ***

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                       DOWN TO THE WORLDS OF MEN

                           BY ALEXEI PANSHIN

                The ancient rule was sink or swim--swim
                   in the miasma of a planet without
              spaceflight, or sink to utter destruction!

           [Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from
               Worlds of If Science Fiction, July 1963.
         Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
         the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]


                                   I

The horses and packs were loaded before we went aboard the scoutship.
The scout bay is no more than a great oversized airlock with a dozen
small ships squatting over their tubes, but it was the last of the Ship
that I might ever see, so I took a long final look from the top of the
ramp.

There were sixteen of us girls and thirteen boys. We took our places
in the seats in the center of the scout. Riggy Allen made a joke that
nobody bothered to laugh at, and then we were all silent. I was feeling
lost and just beginning to enjoy it when Jimmy Dentremont came over to
me. He's red-headed and has a face that makes him look about ten. An
intelligent runt like me.

He said what I expected. "Mia, do you want to go partners if we can get
together when we get down?"

I guess he thought that because we were always matched on study I liked
him. Well, I did when I wasn't mad at him, but now I had that crack
he'd made about being a snob in mind, so I said, "Not likely. I want to
come back alive." It wasn't fair, but it was a good crack and he went
back to his place without saying anything.

My name is Mia Havero. I'm fourteen, of course, or I wouldn't be
telling this. I'm short, dark and scrawny, though I don't expect that
scrawniness to last much longer. Mother is very good looking. In the
meantime, I've got brains as a consolation.

After we were all settled, George Fuhonin, the pilot, raised the ramps.
We sat there for five minutes while they bled air out of our tube and
then we just ... dropped. My stomach turned flips. We didn't have to
leave that way, but George thinks it's fun to be a hot pilot.

Thinking it over, I was almost sorry I'd been stinking to Jimmy D. He's
the only competition I have my own age. The trouble is, you don't go
partners with the competition, do you? Besides, there was still that
crack about being a snob.

The planet chosen for our Trial was called Tintera. The last contact
the Ship had had with it--and we were the ones who dropped them--was
almost 150 years ago. No contact since. That had made the Council
debate a little before they dropped us there, but they decided it was
all right in the end. It didn't make any practical difference to us
kids because they never tell you anything about the place they're going
to drop you. All I knew was the name. I wouldn't have known that much
if Daddy weren't Chairman of the Council.

I felt like crawling in a corner of the ship and crying, but nobody
else was breaking down, so I didn't. I did feel miserable. I cried when
I said good-by to Mother and Daddy--a real emotional scene--but that
wasn't in public.

       *       *       *       *       *

It wasn't the chance of not coming back that bothered me really,
because I never believed that I wouldn't. The thought that made me
unhappy was that I would have to be on a planet for a whole month.
Planets make me feel wretched.

The gravity is always wrong, for one thing. Either your arches and
calves ache or every time you step you think you're going to trip on
a piece of fluff and break your neck. There are vegetables everywhere
and little grubby things just looking for _you_ to crawl on. If you
can think of anything creepier than that, you've got a real nasty
imagination. Worst of all, planets stink. Every single one smells--I've
been on enough to know that. A planet is all right for a Mud-eater, but
not for me.

We have a place in the Ship like that--the Third Level--but it's only a
thousand square miles and any time it gets on your nerves you can go up
a level or down a level and be back in civilization.

When we reached Tintera, they started dropping us. We swung over the
sea from the morning side and then dropped low over gray-green forested
hills. Finally George spotted a clear area and dropped into it. They
don't care what order you go in, so Jimmy D. jumped up, grabbed his
gear and then led his horse down the ramp. I think he was still
smarting from the slap I'd given him.

In a minute we were airborne again. I wondered if I would ever see
Jimmy--if he would get back alive.

It's no game we play. When we turn fourteen, they drop us on the
nearest colonized planet and come back one month later. That may sound
like fun to you, but a lot of us never come back alive.

Don't think I was helpless. I'm hell on wheels. They don't let us grow
for fourteen years and then kick us out to die. They prepare us. They
do figure, though, that if you can't keep yourself alive by the time
you're fourteen, you're too stupid, foolish or unlucky to be any use to
the Ship. There's sense behind it. It means that everybody on the Ship
is a person who can take care of himself if he has to. Daddy says that
something has to be done in a closed society to keep the population
from decaying mentally and physically, and this is it. And it helps to
keep the population steady.

I began to check my gear out--sonic pistol, pickup signal so I could be
found at the end of the month, saddle and cinches, food and clothes.
Venie Morlock has got a crush on Jimmy D., and when she saw me start
getting ready to go, she began to check her gear, too. At our next
landing, I grabbed Ninc's reins and cut Venie out smoothly. It didn't
have anything to do with Jimmy. I just couldn't stand to put off the
bad moment any longer.

The ship lifted impersonally away from Ninc and me like a rising bird,
and in just a moment it was gone. Its gray-blue color was almost the
color of the half-overcast sky, so I was never sure when I saw it last.


                                  II

The first night was hell, I guess because I'm not used to having the
lights out. That's when you really start to feel lonely, being alone in
the dark. When the sun disappears, somehow you wonder in your stomach
if it's really going to come back. But I lived through it--one day in
thirty gone.

I rode in a spiral search pattern during the next two days. I had three
things in mind--stay alive, find people and find some of the others.
The first was automatic. The second was to find out if there was a slot
I could fit into for a month. If not, I would have to find a place to
camp out, as nasty as that would be. The third was to join forces,
though not with that meatball Jimmy D.

No, he isn't really a meatball. The trouble is that I don't take
nothing from nobody, especially him, and he doesn't take nothing from
nobody, especially me. So we do a lot of fighting.

I had a good month for Trial. My birthday is in November--too close to
Year End Holiday for my taste, but this year it was all right. It was
spring on Tintera, but it was December in the Ship, and after we got
back we had five days of Holiday to celebrate. It gave me something to
look forward to.

In two days of riding, I ran onto nothing but a few odd-looking
animals. I shot one small one and ate it. It turned out to taste pretty
good, though not as good as a slice from Hambone No. 4, to my mind the
best meat vat on the Ship. I've eaten things so gruey-looking that I
wondered that anybody had the guts to try them in the first place and
they've turned out to taste good. And I've seen things that looked good
that I couldn't keep on my stomach. So I guess I was lucky.

On the third day, I found the road. I brought Ninc down off the
hillside, losing sight of the road in the trees, and then reaching
it in the level below. It was narrow and made of sand spread over a
hard base. Out of the marks in the sand, I could pick out the tracks
of horses and both narrow and wide wheels. Other tracks I couldn't
identify.

One of the smartest moves in history was to include horses when
they dropped the colonies. I say "they" because, while we did the
actual dropping, the idea originated with the whole evac plan back on
Earth. Considering how short a time it was in which the colonies were
established, there was not time to set up industry, so they had to have
draft animals.

The first of the Great Ships was finished in 2025. One of the eight,
as well as the two that were being built then, went up with everything
else in the Solar System in 2041. In that sixteen years 112 colonies
were planted. I don't know how many of those planets had animals that
_could_ have been substituted but, even if they had, they would have
had to be domesticated from scratch. That would have been stupid. I'll
bet that half the colonies would have failed if they hadn't had horses.

       *       *       *       *       *

We'd come in from the west over the ocean, so I traveled east on the
road. That much water makes me nervous, and roads have to go somewhere.

I came on my first travelers three hours later. I rounded a tree-lined
bend, ducking an overhanging branch, and pulled Ninc to a stop. There
were five men on horseback herding a bunch of the ugliest creatures
alive.

They were green and grotesque. They had squat bodies, long limbs and
knobby bulges at their joints. They had square, flat animal masks for
faces. But they walked on their hind legs and they had paws that were
almost hands, and that was enough to make them seem almost human. They
made a wordless, chilling, lowing sound as they milled and plodded
along.

I started Ninc up again and moved slowly to catch up with them. All the
men on horseback had guns in saddle boots. They looked as nervous as
cats with kittens. One of them had a string of packhorses on a line
and he saw me and called to another who seemed to be the leader. That
one wheeled his black horse and rode back toward me.

He was a middle-aged man, maybe as old as my Daddy. He was large and he
had a hard face. Normal enough, but hard. He pulled to a halt when we
reached each other, but I kept going. He had to come around and follow
me. I believe in judging a person by his face. A man can't help the
face he owns, but he can help the expression he wears on it. If a man
looks mean, I generally believe that he is. This one looked mean. That
was why I kept riding.

He said, "What be you doing out here, boy? Be you out of your head?
There be escaped Losels in these woods."

I told you I hadn't finished filling out yet, but I hadn't thought it
was that bad. I wasn't ready to make a fight over the point, though.
Generally, I can't keep my bloody mouth shut, but now I didn't say
anything. It seemed smart.

"Where be you from?" he asked.

I pointed to the road behind us.

"And where be you going?"

I pointed ahead. No other way to go.

He seemed exasperated. I have that effect sometimes. Even on Mother and
Daddy, who should know better.

We were coming up on the others now, and the man said, "Maybe you'd
better ride on from here with us. For protection."

He had an odd way of twisting his sounds, almost as though he had a
mouthful of mush. I wondered whether he were just an oddball or whether
everybody here spoke the same way. I'd never heard International
English spoken any way but one, even on the planet Daddy made me visit
with him.

One of the other outriders came easing by then. I suppose they'd been
watching us all the while. He called to the hard man.

"He be awfully small, Horst. I doubt me a Losel'd even notice him at
all. We mought as well throw him back again."

The rider looked at me. When I didn't dissolve in terror as he
expected, he shrugged and one of the other men laughed.

The hard man said to the others, "This boy will be riding along with us
to Forton for protection."

I looked down at the plodding, unhappy creatures they were driving
along and one looked back at me with dull, expressionless golden eyes.
I felt uncomfortable.

I said, "I don't think so."

What the man did then surprised me. He said, "I do think so," and
reached for the rifle in his saddle boot.

I whipped my sonic pistol out so fast that he was caught leaning over
with the rifle half out. His jaw dropped. He knew what I held and he
didn't want to be fried.

I said, "Ease your rifles out and drop them gently to the ground."

They did, watching me all the while with wary expressions.

When all the rifles were on the ground, I said, "All right, let's go."

They didn't want to move. They didn't want to leave the rifles. I
could see that. Horst didn't say anything. He just watched me with
narrowed eyes. But one of the others held up a hand and in wheedling
tones said, "Look here, kid...."

"Shut up," I said, in as mean a voice as I could muster, and he did. It
surprised me. I didn't think I sounded _that_ mean. I decided he just
didn't trust the crazy kid not to shoot.

After twenty minutes of easy riding for us and hard walking for the
creatures, I said, "If you want your rifles, you can go back and get
them now." I dug my heels into Ninc's sides and rode on. At the next
bend I looked back and saw four of them holding their packhorses and
the creatures still while one beat a dust-raising retreat down the road.

I put this episode in the "file and hold for analysis" section in my
mind and rode on, feeling good. I think I even giggled once. Sometimes
I even convince myself that I'm hell on wheels.


                                  III

When I was nine, my Daddy gave me a painted wooden doll that my
great-grandmother brought from Earth. The thing is that inside it,
nestled one in another, are eleven more dolls, each one smaller than
the last. I like to watch people when they open it for the first time.

My face must have been like that as I rode along the road.

The country leveled into a great rolling valley and the trees gave
way to great farms and fields. In the fields, working, were some of
the green creatures, which surprised me since the ones I'd seen before
hadn't seemed smart enough to count to one, let alone do any work.

But it relieved me. I thought they might have been eating them or
something.

I passed two crossroads and started to meet more people, but nobody
questioned me. I met people on horseback, and twice I met trucks moving
silently past. And I overtook a wagon driven by the oldest man I've
seen in my life. He waved to me, and I waved back.

Near the end of the afternoon I came to the town, and there I received
a jolt that sickened me.

By the time I came out on the other side, I was sick. My hands were
cold and sweaty and my head was spinning, and I wanted to kick Ninc to
a gallop.

I rode slowly in, looking all around, missing nothing. The town was all
stone, wood and brick. Out of date. Out of time, really. There were
no machines more complicated than the trucks I'd seen earlier. At the
edge of town, I passed a newspaper office with a headline pasted in the
window--INVASION! I remember that. I wondered about it.

But I looked most closely at the people. In all that town, I didn't
see one girl over ten years old and no grown-up women at all. There
were little kids, there were boys and there were men, but no girls. All
the boys and men wore pants, and so did I, which must have been why
Horst and his buddies assumed I was a boy. It wasn't flattering; but
I decided I'd not tell anybody different until I found what made the
clocks tick on this planet.

But that wasn't what bothered me. It was the kids. My God! They
swarmed. I saw a family come out of a house--a father and _four_
children. It was the most foul thing I've ever seen. It struck me
then--these people were Free Birthers! I felt a wave of nausea and I
closed my eyes until it passed.

       *       *       *       *       *

The first thing you learn in school is that if it weren't for idiot and
criminal people like these, Earth would never have been destroyed. The
evacuation would never have had to take place, and eight billion people
wouldn't have died. There wouldn't have _been_ eight billion people.
But, no. They bred and they spread and they devoured everything in
their path like a cancer. They gobbled up all the resources that Earth
had and crowded and shoved one another until the final war came.

I am lucky. My great-great-grandparents were among those who had enough
foresight to see what was coming. If it hadn't been for them and some
others like them, there wouldn't be any humans left anywhere. And I
wouldn't be here. That may not scare you, but it scares me.

What happened before, when people didn't use their heads and wound up
blowing the Solar System apart, is something nobody should forget. The
older people don't let us forget. But these people had, and that the
Council should know.

For the first time since I landed on Tintera, I felt _really_
frightened. There was too much going on that I didn't understand. I
felt a blind urge to get away, and when I reached the edge of town, I
whomped Ninc a good one and gave him his head.

I let him run for almost a mile before I pulled him down to a walk
again. I couldn't help wishing for Jimmy D. Whatever else he is, he's
smart and brains I needed.

How do you find out what's going on? Eavesdrop? That's a lousy method.
For one thing, people can't be depended on to talk about the things you
want to hear. For another, you're likely to get caught. Ask somebody?
Who? Make the mistake of bracing a fellow like Horst and you might wind
up with a sore head and an empty pocket. The best thing I could think
of was to find a library, but that might be a job.

I'd had two bad shocks on this day, but they weren't the last. In the
late afternoon, when the sun was starting to sink and a cool wind was
starting to ripple the tree leaves, I saw the scoutship high in the
sky. The dying sun colored it a deep red. Back again? I wondered what
had gone wrong.

I reached down into my saddlebag and brought out my contact signal.
The scoutship swung up in the sky in a familiar movement calculated to
drop the stomach out of everybody aboard. George Fuhonin's style. I
triggered the signal, my heart turning flips all the while. I didn't
know why he was back, but I wasn't really sorry.

The ship swung around until it was coming back on a path almost over my
head, going in the same direction. Then it went into a slip and started
bucking so hard that I knew this wasn't hot piloting at all, just plain
idiot stutter-fingered stupidity at the controls. As it skidded by me
overhead, I got a good look at it and knew that it wasn't one of ours.
Not too different, but not ours.

One more enigma. Where was it from? Not here. Even if you know how, and
we wouldn't tell these Mud-eaters how, a scoutship is something that
takes an advanced technology to build.

       *       *       *       *       *

I felt defeated and tired. Not much farther along the road, I came to
a campsite with two wagons pulled in for the night, and I couldn't
help but pull in myself. The campsite was large and had two permanent
buildings on it. One was a well enclosure and the other was little more
than a high-walled pen. It didn't even have a roof.

I set up camp and ate my dinner. In the wagon closest to me were a man,
his wife and their three children. The kids were running around and
playing, and one of them ran close to the high-walled pen. His father
came and pulled him away.

The kids weren't to blame for their parents, but when one of them said
hello to me, I didn't even answer. I know how lousy I would feel if I
had two or three brothers and sisters, but it didn't strike me until
that moment that it wouldn't even seem out of the ordinary to these
kids. Isn't that horrible?

About the time I finished eating, and before it grew dark, the old man
I had seen earlier in the day drove his wagon in. He fascinated me. He
had white hair, something I had read about in stories but had never
seen before.

When nightfall came, they started a large fire. Everybody gathered
around. There was singing for awhile, and then the father of the
children tried to pack them off to bed. But they weren't ready to go,
so the old man started telling them a story. In the old man's odd
accent, and sitting there in the campfire light surrounded by darkness,
it seemed just right.

It was about an old witch named Baba Yaga who lived in the forest in
a house that stood on chicken legs. She was the nasty stepmother of a
nice little girl, and to get rid of the kid, she sent her on a phony
errand into the deep dark woods at nightfall. I could appreciate the
poor girl's position. All the little girl had to help her were the
handkerchief, the comb and the pearl that she had inherited from her
dear dead mother. But, as it turned out, they were just enough to
defeat nasty old Baba Yaga and bring the girl safely home.

I wished for the same for myself.

The old man had just finished and they were starting to drag the kids
off to bed when there was a commotion on the road at the edge of the
camp. I looked but my eyes were adjusted to the light of the fire and I
couldn't see far into the dark.

A voice there said, "I'll be damned if I'll take another day like this
one, Horst. We should have been here hours ago. It be your fault we're
not."

Horst growled a retort. I decided that it was time for me to leave the
campfire. I got up and eased away as Horst and his men came up to the
fire, and cut back to where Ninc was parked. I grabbed up my blankets
and mattress and started to roll them up. I had a pretty good idea now
what they used the high-walled pen for.

I should have known that they would have to pen the animals up for the
night. I should have used my head. I hadn't and now it was time to take
leave.

I never got the chance.

       *       *       *       *       *

I was just heaving the saddle up on Ninc when I felt a hand on my
shoulder and I was swung around.

"Well, well. Horst, look who we have here," he called. It was the one
who'd made the joke about me being beneath the notice of a Losel. He
was alone with me now, but with that call the others would be up fast.

I brought the saddle around as hard as I could and then up, and he
went down. He started to get up again, so I dropped the saddle on him
and reached inside my jacket for my gun. Somebody grabbed me then from
behind and pinned my arms to my side.

I opened my mouth to scream--I have a good scream--but a rough smelly
hand clamped down over it before I had a chance to get more than a
lungful of air. I bit down hard--5000 lbs. psi, I'm told--but he
didn't let me go. I started to kick, but Horst jerked me off my feet
and dragged me off.

When we were behind the pen and out of earshot of the fire, he stopped
dragging me and dropped me in a heap. "Make any noise," he said, "and
I'll hurt you."

That was a silly way to put it, but somehow it said more than if he'd
threatened to break my arm or my head. It left him a latitude of things
to do if he pleased. He examined his hand. There was enough moonlight
for that. "I ought to club you anyway," he said.

The one I'd dropped the saddle on came up then. The others were putting
the animals in the pen. He started to kick me, but Horst stopped him.

"No," he said. "Look through the kid's gear, bring the horse and what
we can use."

The other one didn't move. "Get going, Jack," Horst said in a menacing
tone and they stood toe to toe for a long moment before Jack finally
backed down. It seemed to me that Horst wasn't so much objecting to me
being kicked, but was rather establishing who did the kicking in his
bunch.

But I wasn't done yet. I was scared, but I still had the pistol under
my jacket.

Horst turned back to me and I said, "You can't do this and get away
with it."

He said, "Look, boy. You may not know it, but you be in a lot of
trouble. So don't give me a hard time."

He still thought I was a boy. It was not time to correct him, but I
didn't like to see the point go unchallenged. It was unflattering.

"The courts won't let you get away with this," I said. I'd passed
a courthouse in the town with a carved motto over the doors: EQUAL
JUSTICE UNDER THE LAW or TRUTH OUR SHIELD AND JUSTICE OUR SWORD or
something stuffy like that.

He laughed, not a phony, villian-type laugh, but a real laugh, so I
knew I'd goofed.

"Boy, boy. Don't talk about the courts. I be doing you a favor. I be
taking what I can use of your gear, but I be letting you go. You go to
court and they'll take everything and lock you up besides. I be leaving
you your freedom."

"Why would they be doing that?" I asked. I slipped my hand under my
jacket.

"Every time you open your mouth you shout that you be off one of the
Ships," Horst said. "That be enough. They already have one of you brats
in jail in Forton."

I was about to bring my gun out when up came Jack leading Ninc, with
all my stuff loaded on. I mentally thanked him.

He said, "The kid's got some good equipment. But I can't make out what
this be for." He held out my pickup signal.

Horst looked at it, then handed it back. "Throw it away," he said.

I leveled my gun at them--Hell on Wheels strikes again! I said, "Hand
that over to me."

Horst made a disgusted sound.

"Don't make any noise," I said, "or you'll fry. Now hand it over."

I stowed it away, then paused with one hand on the leather horn of the
saddle. "What's the name of the kid in jail in Forton."

"I can't remember," he said. "But it be coming to me. Hold on."

I waited. Then suddenly my arm was hit a numbing blow from behind
and the gun went flying. Jack pounced after it and Horst said, "Good
enough," to the others who'd come up behind me.

I felt like a fool.

Horst stalked over and got the signal. He dropped it on the ground and
said in a voice far colder than mine could ever be, because it was
natural and mine wasn't, "The piece be yours." Then he tromped on it
until it cracked and fell apart.

Then he said, "Pull a gun on me twice. Twice." He slapped me so hard
that my ears rang. "You dirty little punk."

I said calmly, "You big louse."

It was a time I would have done better to keep my mouth shut. All I can
remember is a flash of pain as his fist crunched against the side of my
face and then nothing.

Brains are no good if you don't use them.


                                  IV

I remember pain and sickness, and motion, but my next clear memory is
waking in a bed in a house. I had a feeling that time had passed but
how much I didn't know. I looked around and found the old man who had
told the story sitting by my bed.

"How be you feeling this morning, young lady?" he asked. He had white
hair and a seamed face and his hands were gnarled and old. His face was
red, and the red and the white of his hair made a sharp contrast with
the bright blue of his deep-set eyes. It was a good face.

"Not very healthy," I said. "How long has it been?"

"Two days," he said. "You'll get over it soon enough. I be Daniel
Kutsov. And you?"

"I'm Mia Havero."

"I found you dumped in a ditch after Horst Fanger and his boys had left
you," he said. "A very unpleasant man ... as I suppose he be bound to
be, herding Losels."

"Those green things were Losels? Why are they afraid of them?"

"The ones you saw beed drugged. They wouldn't obey otherwise. Once in
awhile a few be stronger than the drug and they escape to the woods.
The drug cannot be so strong that they cannot work. So the strongest
escape. They be some danger to most people, and a great danger to men
like Horst Fanger who buy them from the ships. Every so often, hunters
go out to thin them down."

"That seems like slavery," I said, yawning.

It was a stupid thing to say, like some comment about the idiocy of a
Free Birth policy. Not the sentiment, but the timing.

Mr. Kutsov treated the comment with more respect than it deserved.
"Only God can decide a question like that," he said gently. "Be it
slavery to use my horses to work for me? I don't know anyone who would
say so. A man be a different matter, though. The question be whether a
Losel be like a horse or like a man, and that I can't answer. Now go to
sleep again and in a while I will bring you some food."

He left then, but I didn't go to sleep. I was in trouble. I had no way
to contact the scoutship. There was only one way out, and that was to
find somebody else who did have his signal. That wasn't going to be
easy.

Mr. Kutsov brought me some food later in the day, and I asked him then,
"Why are you doing all this for me?"

He said, "I don't like to see children hurt, by people like Horst
Fanger or by anyone."

"But I'm from one of the Ships," I said. "You know that, don't you?"

Mr. Kutsov nodded. "Yes, I know that."

"I understand that is pretty bad around here."

"With some people, true. But all the people who hate the Ships don't
realize that if it beedn't for the Ships they wouldn't be here at all.
They hold their grudge too close to their hearts. There be some of us
who disagree with the government though it has lost us our families or
years from our lives, and we would not destroy what we cannot agree
with. When such an one as Horst Fanger uses this as an excuse to rob
and injure a child, I will not agree. He has taken all that you have
and there is no way to reclaim it, but what I can give of my house be
yours."

       *       *       *       *       *

I thanked him as best I could and then I asked him what the grudge was
that they held against the Ships.

"It ben't a simple thing," he said. "You have seen how poor and
backward we be. We realize it. Now and again, when you decide to stop,
we see you people from the Ships. And you ben't poor or backward. You
could call what we feel jealousy, if you wanted, but it be more than
that and different. When we beed dropped here, there beed no scientists
or technicians among us. I can understand. Why should they leave the
last places where they had a chance to use and develop their knowledge
for a backward planet where there is no equipment, no opportunity? What
be felt here be that all the men who survived the end of Earth and the
Solar System be the equal heirs of man's knowledge and accomplishment.
But by bad luck, things didn't work out that way. So ideas urged by the
Ships be ignored, and the Ships be despised, and people from the Ships
be treated as shamefully as you have beed or worse."

I could think of a good example of an idea that the Ships emphasized
that had been ignored. Only it was more than an idea or an opinion. It
was a cold and deadly lesson taught by history. It was: Man becomes an
organism that ultimately destroys itself unless he regulates his own
size and growth. That was what I was taught.

I said, "I can understand how they might feel that way, but it's not
fair. We pretty much support ourselves. As much as we can, we re-use
things and salvage things, but we still need raw materials. The only
thing we have to trade is knowledge. If we didn't have anything to
trade for raw materials, that would be the end of us. Do we have a
choice?"

"I don't hold you to blame," Mr. Kutsov said slowly, "but I can't help
but to feel that you have made a mistake and that it will hurt you in
the end."

I didn't say it, but I thought--when you lay blame, whom do you put it
on? People who are obviously sick like these Mud-eaters, or people who
are normal like us?

After I got better, I had the run of Mr. Kutsov's house. It was a small
place near the edge of Forton, surrounded by trees and with a small
garden. Mr. Kutsov made a regular shipping run through the towns to the
coast and back every second week. It was not a profitable business, but
he said that at his age, profit was no longer very important. He was
very good to me, but I didn't understand him.

He gave me lessons before he let me go outside into the town. Women
were second class citizens around here, but prejudice of that sort
wasn't in Mr. Kutsov. Dressed as I was, as scrawny as I am, when people
saw me here, they saw a boy. People see what they expect to see. I
could get away with my sex, but not my accent. I might sound right
on seven Ships and on all other planets, but here I was wrong. And
I had two choices--sound right or shut up. One of these choices was
impossible for me, so I set out to learn to sound like a Tinteran,
born and bred, with Mr. Kutsov's aid.

It was a long time before he was willing to give me a barely passing
grade. He said, "All right. You should keep listening to people and
correcting yourself, but I be satisfied. You talk as though you have a
rag in your mouth, but I think you can get by."

Before I went out into town, I found out one more important thing. It
was the answer to a question that I didn't ask Mr. Kutsov. I'd been
searching for it in old newspapers, and at last I found the story I was
looking for. The last sentence read: "After sentencing, Dentremont was
sent to the Territorial Jail in Forton to serve his three-month term."

I thought, they misspelled his name. And then I thought, trust it to be
Jimmy D. He gets in almost as much trouble as I do.

       *       *       *       *       *

Though you may think it strange, my first stop was the library. I've
found that it helps to be well-researched. I got what I could from Mr.
Kutsov's books during the first days while he was outdoors working in
his garden. In his library, I found a novel that he had written himself
called _The White Way_.

He said, "It took me forty years to write it, and I have spent
forty-two years since living with the political repercussions. It has
beed an interesting forty-two years, but I am not sure that I would do
it again. Read the book if you be interested."

I did read it, though I couldn't understand what the fuss was about.
It seemed reasonable to me. But these Mud-eaters were crazy anyway. I
couldn't help but think that he and Daddy would have found a lot in
common. They were both fine, tough-minded people, and though you would
never know it to look at them, they were the same age. Except that at
the age of eighty Mr. Kutsov was old, and at the age of eighty Daddy
was not.

It cost me an effort to walk through the streets of Forton, but after
my third trip, the pain was less, though the number of children still
made me sick.

In the library, I spent four days getting a line on Tintera. I read
their history. I studied their geography and, as sneakily as I could, I
tore out the best local maps I could find.

On my trips through town, I took the time to look up Horst Fanger's
place of business. It was a house, a shed and pen for the Losels, a
stable, a truck garage (one truck--broken down) and a sale block,
all housed in one rambling, shanty building. Mr. Horst Fanger was
apparently a big man. Big deal.

When I was ready, I scouted out the jail. It was a raw unpleasant day,
the sort that makes me hate planets, and rain was threatening when I
reached the jailpen. It was a solid three-story building of great stone
blocks, shaped like a fortress and protected by bars, an iron-spike
fence and two nasty-looking dogs. On my second trip around, the rain
began. I beat it to the front and dodged in the entrance.

I was standing there, shaking the rain off, when a man in a green
uniform came stalking out of one of the offices that lined the
first-floor hallway. My heart stopped for a moment, but he went right
by without giving me a second look and went upstairs. That gave me some
confidence and so I started poking around.

       *       *       *       *       *

I had covered the bulletin boards and the offices on one side of the
hall when another man in green came into the hall and made straight for
me. I didn't wait, I walked toward him, too. I said, as wide-eyed and
innocent as I could, "Can you help me, sir?"

"Well, that depends. What sort of help do you need?" He was a big,
rather slow man with one angled cloth bar on his shirt front over one
pocket and a plate that said ROBARDS pinned over the pocket on the
other side. He seemed good-natured.

I said, "Jerry had to write about the capital, and Jimmy got the
Governor, and I got _you_."

"Hold on there. First, what be your name?"

"Billy Davidow," I said. "I don't know what to write, sir, and I
thought you could show me around and tell me things."

"I be sorry, son," he said. "We be pretty caught up today. Could you
make it some other afternoon or maybe some evening?"

I said slowly, "I have to hand the paper in this week."

After a minute, he said, "All right. I'll take you around. But I can't
spare much time. It'll have to be a quick tour."

The offices were on the first floor. Storage rooms, an arms room and a
target range were in the basement. Most of the cells were on the second
floor, with the very rough cases celled on the third.

"If the judge says maximum security, they go on the third, everybody
else on the second unless we have an overflow. Have a boy upstairs now."

My heart sank.

"A real bad actor. Killed a man."

Well, that wasn't Jimmy. Not with a three-month sentence.

Maximum security had three sets of barred doors plus an armed guard.
Sgt. Robards pointed it all out to me. "By this time next week, it
will all be full in here," he said sadly. "The Governor has ordered a
round-up of all political agitators. The Anti-Redemptionists be getting
out of hand and he be going to cool them off. Uh, don't put that in
your paper."

"Oh, I won't," I said, crossing off on my notes.

The ordinary cells on the second floor were behind no barred doors and
I got a guided tour. I stared Jimmy D. right in the face, but he had
the brains to keep his mouth shut.

When we had finished, I thanked Sgt. Robards enthusiastically. "It sure
has been swell, sir."

"Not at all, son," he said. "I enjoyed it myself. If you have time some
evening, drop by when I have the duty. My schedule bees on the bulletin
board."

"Thank you, sir," I said. "Maybe I will."


                                   V

Before I scouted the jail I had only vague notions of what I was going
to do to spring Jimmy D. I had spent an hour or so, for instance,
toying with the idea of forcing the Territorial Governor to release
Jimmy at the point of a gun. I spent that much time with it because the
idea was fun to think about, but I dropped it because it was stupid.

I finally decided on a very simple course of action, one that could
easily go wrong. It was my choice because it was the only thing I could
pull off by myself that had a chance of working.

Before I left the jail building, I copied down Sgt. Robards' duty
schedule from the bulletin board. Then I went home.

I spent the next few days shoplifting. Mr. Kutsov was laying in
supplies, too, loading his wagon for his regular trip. I helped him
load up, saving my shopping for my spare time. Mr. Kutsov wanted me to
go along with him, but I couldn't, of course, and I couldn't tell him
why. He didn't want to argue and he couldn't _make_ me do anything I
didn't want to do, so I had an unfair advantage. I just dug in my heels.

Finally he agreed it was all right for me to stay alone in the house
while he was gone. It was what I wanted, but I didn't enjoy the process
of getting my own way as much as I did at home. There it is a more
even battle.

The day he picked to leave was perfect for my purposes. Mr. Kutsov
said, "I'll be back in six days. Be you sure that you will be all
right?"

I said, "Yes. I'll be careful. You be careful, too."

"I don't think it matters much any more at my age," he smiled. "Stay
out of trouble."

"I'll try," I said, and waved good-by. That was what I meant to do,
stay out of trouble.

Back in the house, I wrote a note of explanation for Mr. Kutsov and
thanked him for all he had done. Then I dug my two small packs out of
hiding and I was ready.

I set out just after dark. It was sprinkling lightly, but I didn't mind
it. It surprised me, but I enjoyed the feel of the spray on my face. In
one pocket I had pencil and paper for protective coverage. In another
pocket I had a single sock and a roll of tape.

Just before I got to the jail, I filled the sock with wet sand.

Inside there were lights on in only two first floor offices. Sgt.
Robards was in one of them.

"Hello, Sgt. Robards," I said, going in. "How be you tonight?"

"Well enough," he said. "It be pretty slow down here tonight. They be
busy up on the Third Floor tonight, though."

"Oh?"

"They be picking up those Anti-Redemptionists tonight. How did your
paper go?"

"I handed it in," I said. "I should get a good grade with your help."

"Oh, you found out everything you needed to know."

"Oh, yes. I just came by to visit tonight. I wondered if you'd show me
the target range again. That was keen."

"Sure," he said. "Would you like to see me pop some targets? I be the
local champion, you know."

"Gee, would you?"

We went downstairs, Sgt. Robards leading the way. This was the place
I'd picked to drop him. He was about to slip the key in the door to the
range when I slugged him across the back of the neck with my sock full
of sand. I grabbed him and eased him down.

       *       *       *       *       *

I tried the keys on either side of the target door key and opened the
arsenal on the second try. I dragged him in there and got out my roll
of tape I took three quick turns about his ankles, then did the same
with his wrists. I finished by putting a bar and two crosspieces over
the mouth.

I picked out two weapons then. They had no sonics, of course, so I
picked out two of the smallest and lightest pistols in the room.
I figured out what cartridges fit them, and then dropped guns and
cartridge clips into my pocket.

I swung the door shut and locked it again, leaving Sgt. Robards inside.
I stood for a moment in the corridor with the keys in my hand. There
were only ten keys, not enough to cover each individual cell. Yet Sgt.
Robards had clinked these keys and said that he could unlock the cells.

Maybe I would have done better to stick up the Territorial Governor.

Well, here goes.

I eased up to the first floor. Nobody came out of the second office to
check on the noise made by my pounding heart, which surprised me. Then
up to the second floor. It was dark here, but light from the first and
third floors leaking up and down the stairs made things bright enough
for me to see what I was doing. There were voices on the third floor
and somebody laughed up there. I held my breath and moved quietly to
Jimmy's cell.

I whispered, "Jimmy!" and he came alert and moved to the door.

"Am I glad to see you," he whispered back.

I held up the keys. "Do any of these fit?"

"Yes, the D key. The D key. It fits the four cells in this corner."

I fumbled through until I had the key tagged D. I opened the cell with
as few clinking noises as possible. "Come on," I said. "We've got to
get out of here in a hurry."

He slipped out and pushed the door shut behind him. We headed for the
stairs and were almost there when I heard somebody coming up. Jimmy
must have heard it, too, because he grabbed my arm and pulled me back.
We flattened out as best we could.

Talk about walking right into it! The policeman looked over at us and
said, "What are you doing up here, Robards? Hey, you're not...."

I stepped out and brought out one of the pistols. I said, "Easy now. If
things go wrong for us, I have nothing to lose by shooting you. If you
want to live, play it straight."

He apparently believed me, because he put his hands where I could see
them and shut up.

I herded him into Jimmy's cell and let Jimmy do the honors with the
loaded sock. We taped him up and while Jimmy was locking him in, I
heard somebody in one of the cells behind me say, "Shut up, there," to
somebody else. I turned and said, "Do you want to get shot?"

The voice was collected. "No. No trouble here."

"Do you want to be let out?"

The voice was amused. "I don't think so. Thank you just the same."

Jimmy finished and I asked, "Where is your signal? We have to have
that."

"In the basement with the rest of my gear."

The signal was all we took. When we were three blocks away and on a
dark side street, I handed Jimmy his gun and ammunition. As he took
them, he said, "Tell me something, Mia. Would you really have shot him?"

I said. "I couldn't have. I hadn't loaded my gun yet."

       *       *       *       *       *

I led him through town following the back ways I'd worked out before.
Somebody once said that good luck is no more nor less than careful
preparation, and this time I meant to have good luck. I led Jimmy
toward the Losel-selling district.

Jimmy is short and red-headed with a face that makes him look about
four years younger than he is. That's a handicap any time. When you
stand out anyway, it's likely to make you a little bit tart. But
Jimmy's all right most of the time.

He said, "We're in trouble."

"That's brilliant."

"No," Jimmy said. "They have a scoutship from one of the other Ships.
This is going to sound wild, but they intend to use the scout to take
over a Ship and then use that to destroy the rest of the Ships. They're
going to try. The police are rounding up everybody who is opposed who
has any influence and is putting them in jail."

"So what?"

"Mia, are you mad at me for something?"

"What makes you think so?"

"You're being bitter about something."

"If you must know, it's that crack you made about me being a snob."

"That was a month ago."

"I still resent it."

"Why?" Jimmy asked. "It's true. You think that because you're from a
Ship that you're automatically better than any Mud-eater. That makes
you a snob."

"Well, you're no better," I said.

"Maybe not, but I don't pretend. Hey, look, we can't get anywhere if
we fight and we've got to stick together. I'll tell you what. I'll
apologize. I'm sorry I said it, even if it is true. Make up?"

"Okay," I said. But that was a typical trick of his. Get the last blow
in and then call the whole thing off.

When we got to Horst Fanger's place, I said, "I've got our packs all
set up. This is where we get our horses." I'd left this until last,
not wanting people running around looking for stolen horses while I was
trying to break somebody out of the police jail pen. Besides, for this
I wanted somebody along as lookout.

There was a fetid, unwashed odor that hung about the pens that the
misting rain did nothing to dispel. We slipped by the pens, the Losels
watching us but making no noise, and came to the stables, which smelled
better. Jimmy stood guard while I broke the lock and slipped inside.

Ninc was there, good old Nincompoop, and a quick search turned up his
saddle as well. I saddled him up and then stood watch while Jimmy
picked himself out a horse and gear. I did one last thing before
I left. I took out the pencil and paper in my pocket and wrote in
_correct_ Inter E, in great big letters: I'M A _GIRL_, YOU STINKER. I
hung it on a nail. It may have been childish, but it felt good.

We rode from there to Mr. Kutsov's house, still following back alleys.
As we rode, I told Jimmy about Mr. Kutsov and what he'd done for me.

When we got there, we rode around to the back.

"Hold the horses," I said. "I'll slip in and get the packs. They're
just inside."

We both dismounted and Jimmy took Ninc's reins. I bounded up the steps.

Mr. Kutsov was waiting in the dark inside. He said, "I read your note."

"Why did you come back?" I asked.

He smiled. "It didn't seem right to leave you here by yourself. I be
sorry. I think I underestimated you. Be that Jimmy Dentremont outside?"

"You're not mad?"

"No. I ben't angry. I understand why you couldn't tell me."

For some reason, I started crying and couldn't stop. The tears ran down
my face. "I'm sorry," I said. "I'm sorry."

The front door signal sounded then and Mr. Kutsov answered the door.
A green-uniformed policeman stood in the doorway. "Daniel Kutsov?" he
asked.

Instinctively, I shrank back out of sight of the doorway. I swiped at
my face with my sleeve.

Mr. Kutsov said, "Yes. What can I do for you."

The policeman moved one step inside the house where I could see him
again. He said in a flat voice, "I have a warrant for your arrest."

       *       *       *       *       *

There was only one light on in the house, in the front room. From the
shadows at the rear I watched them both. The policeman had a hard mask
for a face, no more human than a Losel. Mr. Kutsov was determined and I
had the feeling that he had forgotten my presence.

"To jail again? For my book?" He shook his head. "No."

"It be nothing to do with any book I know of, Kutsov. It be known that
you be an Anti-Redemptionist. So come along." He grasped Mr. Kutsov's
arm.

Mr. Kutsov shook loose. "No. I won't go to jail again. It be no crime
to be against stupidity. I won't go."

The policeman said, "You be coming whether you want to or not. You be
under arrest."

Mr. Kutsov's voice had never shown his age before, but it shook now.
"Get out of my house!"

A sense of coming destruction grew on me as I saw the policeman lift
his gun from its holster and say, "You be coming if I have to shoot."

Mr. Kutsov swung his fist at the policeman and missed and, as though
the man could afford to let nothing pass without retaliation, he swung
the barrel of his pistol dully against the side of Mr. Kutsov's head.
It rocked Mr. Kutsov, but he didn't fall. He raised his fist again. The
policeman struck once more and waited but Mr. Kutsov still didn't fall.
Instead, he swung again, and for the first time he landed, a blow that
bounced weakly off the man's shoulder. Almost inevitably, it seemed,
the policeman raised his pistol and fired directly at Mr. Kutsov, and
then again, and as the second report rang Mr. Kutsov slid to the floor.

The silence was loud and gaunt. The policeman stood looking down at him
and said, "Old fool!" under his breath. Then he came to himself and
looked around. Then he picked a candlestick off the table and dropped
it with a thud by Mr. Kutsov's empty outstretched hand.

The noise was a release for me and I moved for the first time. The
policeman grunted and looked up and we stared at each other. Then
again, slowly, he raised his gun and pointed it at me.

I heard a snickering sound and the three reports rang out, one
following another. The policeman stood for a moment, balanced himself
and then, like a crumpled sheet of paper, he fell to the floor. I
didn't even look at Jimmy behind me. I started to cry and I went to Mr.
Kutsov, passing by the policeman without even looking at him. As I bent
down beside him, his eyes opened and he looked at me.

I couldn't stop crying. I held his head and cried. "I'm sorry," I said.
"I'm sorry."

He smiled and said faintly, but clearly, "It be all right." After a
minute he closed his eyes, and then he died.

After another minute, Jimmy touched my arm and said, "There's nothing
we can do. Let's leave now, Mia, while we still can."

Outside, it was still raining. Standing in the rain I felt deserted.


                                  VI

The final morning on Tintera was a fine day. We and the horses were in
a rock-enclosed aerie where we had dodged the day before for shelter.
In the aerie were grass and a small rock spring, and this day, the
final day, was bright with blue and piled clouds riding high.

From where we sat, looking from the top of the rock wall, we could see
over miles of expanse. Lower hills and curving valleys all covered
with a rolling carpet of trees, a carpet of varying shades of gray
and green. There were some natural upland meadows, and clearings in
the valleys, and far away a line drawn in the trees that might be the
path of a river. Down there, under that carpet, were all sorts of
things--wild Losels, men hunting us, and--perhaps--some of the others
from the Ship. We had seen the Losels and they had seen us; they had
gone their way and we had gone ours. The men hunting us for blowing up
their scoutship we hadn't seen for four days, and even then they hadn't
seen us. As for the others, we hadn't seen them at all. But they might
be there, under the anonymous carpet.

Jimmy got up from the ground and brushed himself off. He brought the
signal over to me and said, "Should I, or do you want to?"

"Go ahead," I said.

He triggered it.

George Fuhonin was piloting and we were the sixth and seventh aboard.
The other five crowded around and helped us put our gear away. Jimmy
went on inside and I went upstairs to talk to George.

I was up there by the time we were airborne. "Hello, Halfpint," George
said.

"Hi, Georgie-Worgie," I said, dealing blow for blow. "Have you had any
trouble picking us up?"

"No trouble yet. You trying to wish me problems?"

"No," I said. "This is a real nasty planet. They had Jimmy D. locked up
in jail. They hate everybody from the Ships."

"Oh." George raised his eyebrows. "Well, that might explain the
board." He pointed to the board of lights above and to his left.
Twenty-nine were marked for the twenty-nine of us. Of the twenty-nine,
only twelve were lit. "The last light came on two hours ago. If there
aren't any more, this will be the most fatal Trial Group I've ever
picked up."

I stayed upstairs through two more pickups. Joe Fernandez-Fragoso,
and then another double of which Venie Morlock was one half. I went
downstairs to say hello to her.

       *       *       *       *       *

We were just settling down when George set off the alarm. He was
speaking in the elder brother tone that I can't stand.

"All right, kids--shut up and listen. One of our people is down there.
I didn't get close enough to see who. Whoever it is is surrounded by
some of the local peasantry and we've got to bust him out. I'm going
to buzz down and try to land on some of them. Then I want all of you
outside and laying down a covering fire. Got that? I'm starting on down
now."

Some of the kids had their weapons with them, but Jimmy and I didn't.
We hopped for the gear racks and got out our pistols. There were ten of
us and four ramps to the outside. Jimmy and I had No. 3 to ourselves.
George is a hotrodder, as I've said, and after he gave us a long moment
to get in place, he started down, a stomach-heaving swoop. Then he
touched down light as a feather and dropped the ramps.

Jimmy and I dived down the ramp and I went left and he went right. We
were on a slight slope facing down and my momentum and the slant put me
right where I wanted to be--flat on my face. I rolled behind a tree and
looked over to see Jimmy almost hidden in a bush.

Here, hundreds of miles from where we had been picked up, it was
misting under a familiar rolled gray sky. In my ears was the sound of
gunfire from the other side of the ship and from below us. Our boy
was pinned fifty yards down the slope behind some rocks that barely
protected him. He was fighting back. I could see the sighting beam of
his sonic pistol slapping out. About thirty feet away from him toward
us was the body of his horse. I recognized him then--a meatball named
Riggy Allen.

I took all this in in seconds, and then I raised my pistol and fired,
aiming at his attackers. They were dug in behind trees and rocks, at
least partly hidden from Riggy as he was hidden from them. From where
we were, though, above and looking down, they could be picked out. The
distance was too great for my shot and it plowed up earth ten feet
short, but the man I aimed at ducked back behind cover.

There was a certain satisfaction in one of these guns. Where a sonic
pistol is silent, these made enough noise that you knew you were doing
something. And when you missed with a sonic pistol, all you could
expect at most was a shriveled branch or a sere and yellow leaf, but a
miss with this gun could send up a gout of earth or drive a hole in a
tree big enough to scare the steadiest man you can find.

I aimed higher and started to loft my shots in. Jimmy was doing the
same thing, and the net effect was to keep their heads down. Riggy
finally got the idea after a long moment. He stood up and started
racing up the hill. Then my gun clicked empty, and a second later the
firing to my right stopped. I started to fumble for another clip.

As our fire stopped, those heads popped back up again and took in the
situation. They began to fire again and our boy Riggy took a long step
and then dived over the body of his horse and went flat.

       *       *       *       *       *

In a moment I was firing again, and then Jimmy was, too, and Riggy was
up and running again. Then I started thinking clearly and held my fire
while Jimmy emptied his clip. The instant he stopped, I started again,
a regular squeeze, squeeze, squeeze. As I finished, Jimmy opened with
his new clip and then Riggy was past us and up the ramp. He went flat
in the doorway there and started firing his sonic pistol; its range was
greater than our peashooters and he hosed the whole area down while
Jimmy and I sprinted for the ramp.

As we hit the inside of the ship, I yelled, "Raise No. 3!" George had
either been watching or listening, because it lifted smoothly up and
locked in place.

Shots were still coming from the other sides of the ship, so I yelled
at Jimmy to go left. Riggy just stood there for a moment fuzzy-headed,
but Jimmy gave him a shove to the right and he finally got the idea.
I cut through the middle. In the doorway of No. 1, I skidded flat on
my face again and looked for targets. I dropped all my clips in front
of me and began to fire. When the clip was empty, in two quick motions
I pulled out the old one and slapped in the new and fired again. The
three I was covering for used their heads and slipped in one at a time.

As the second one came aboard, I heard Jimmy's voice call to raise No.
2 from my left. My third was Venie Morlock and as she ran aboard, I
couldn't resist tripping her flat. I yelled to George to raise No. 1.

Venie glared at me and demanded, "What was that for?" as the ramp swung
up.

"Just making sure you didn't get shot," I said, lying.

A second later, Riggy yelled that his side was okay and the last ramp
was raised. My last view of Tintera was of a rainsoaked hillside and
men doing their best to kill us, which all seems appropriate somehow.
As the last ramp locked in place, George lifted the ship again and
headed for the next pickup.

I went over to say hello to Riggy. He'd been completely unhurt by the
barrage, but he had a great gash on his arm that was just starting to
heal. He _said_ that he was minding his own business in the woods one
day when a Losel jumped out from behind a bush and slashed him. That
may sound reasonable to you, but you don't know Riggy. I do. My opinion
is that it was probably the other way around--the Losel was walking
along in the woods one day, minding his own business, when _Riggy_
jumped out from a bush and scared him. That is the sort of thing Riggy
is inclined to do.

Riggy had been sneaking a look at my gun, and now he said, "Where did
you get that neat pistol? Let me see it."

I handed it over.

After a minute of inspection, Riggy asked, "You wouldn't want to trade,
would you?"

"For your sonic pistol?"

"Yes. You want to?"

I considered it for a minute, and then I said, "All right," and we
traded. There is a certain amount of satisfaction in shooting an
antique like that, but I know which is the more effective weapon.
Besides, I only had one full clip of ammunition left.

       *       *       *       *       *

There is a certain amount of prestige in coming back alive from
Survival. It's your key to adulthood. There were no brass bands waiting
for us when we got back, but our families were there, and that was
enough.

The fifteen of us went down the lowered ramp, and when I stood again on
solid rock, I looked around that ugly, bare scout bay and just drank it
in. Home.

I turned to Jimmy then and I said, "Jimmy, it's a relief to be back,
isn't it? And that isn't snobbery. It might have been before, but I
don't think I am now."

And Jimmy nodded.

The waiting room wasn't bare. They had the decorations up for Year End,
colored mobiles with lights that ranged through the spectrum, and more
decorations on the walls. In the crowd of people waiting for us, I saw
Jimmy's mother and her present husband, and Jimmy's father and _his_
wife. When they saw Jimmy, they started waving and shouting.

Just as I said, "I'll see you tonight," I saw Mother and Daddy standing
off to one side, and I waved. It was as though I had left the real
world entirely for a month, and now at last I was back where things
were going on and I wasn't missing a thing. I ran to them and I kissed
Mother and hugged Daddy. Mother was crying.

I leaned back in Daddy's arms and looked up at him. He put a measuring
hand over my head and said, "Mia, I believe you've grown some."

It might be so. I felt taller.





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