The Complete Stories (Page 189)

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"No, you keep on listening," he said. "Maybe this is the only time I’ll get to talk to you when you have to listen. Your brother had no right leaving passenger’s quarters. There was no place for him to go. He just got in the way of our own men. We don’t even know for certain that it was a Kloro gun that killed him. It might have been one of our own."

"Oh, I say, Stuart," objected Windham.

Stuart whirled at him. "Do you have proof it wasn’t? Did you see the shot? Could you tell from what was left of the body whether it was Kloro energy or Earth energy?"

Polyorketes found his voice, driving his unwilling tongue into a fuzzy verbal snarl. "Damned stinking greenie b*****d."

"Me?" said Stuart. "I know what’s going on in your mind, Polyorketes. You think that1 when the paralysis wears off, you’ll ease your feelings by slamming me around. Well, if you do, it will probably be curtains for all of us."

He rose, put his back against the wall. For the moment, he was fighting all of them. "None of you know the Kloros the way I do. The physical differences you see are not important. The differences in their temperament are. They don’t understand our views on sex, for instance. To them, it’s just a biological reflex like breathing. They attach no importance to it. But they do attach importance to social groupings. Remember, their evolutionary

ancestors had lots in common with our insects. They always assume that any group of Earthmen they find together makes up a social unit.

"That means just about everything to them. I don’t understand exactly what it means. No Earthman can. But the result is that they never break up a group, just as we don’t separate a mother and her children if we can help it. One of the reasons they may be treating us with kid gloves right now is that they imagine we’re all broken up over the fact that they killed one of us, and they feel guilt about it.

"But this is what you’ll have to remember. We’re going to be interned together and kept together for duration. I don’t like the thought. I wouldn’t have picked any of you for co-internees and I’m pretty sure none of you would have picked me. But there it is. The Kloros could never understand that our being together on the ship is only accidental.

"That means we’ve got to get along somehow. That’s not just goodie-goodie talk about birds in their little nest agreeing. What do you think would have happened if the Kloros had come in earlier and found Poly-orketes and myself trying to kill each other? You don’t know? Well, what do you suppose you would think of a mother you caught trying to kill her children?

"That’s it, then. They would have killed every one of us as a bunch of Kloro-type perverts and monsters. Got that? How about you, Polyorketes? Have you got it? So let’s call names if we have to, but let’s keep our hands to ourselves. And now, if none of you mind, I’ll massage my hands back into shape-these synthetic hands that I got from the Kloros and that one of my own kind tried to mangle again."

For Claude Leblanc, the worst was over. He had been sick enough; sick with many things; but sick most of all over having ever left Earth. It had been a great thing to go to college off Earth. It had been an adventure and had taken him away from his mother. Somehow, he had been sneakingly glad to make that escape after the first month of frightened adjustment.

And then on the summer holidays, he had been no longer Claude, the shy-spoken scholar, but Leblanc, space traveler. He had swaggered the fact for all it was worth. It made him feel such a man to talk of stars and Jumps and the customs and environments of other worlds; it had given him corkage with Margaret. She had loved him for the dangers he had undergone-

Except that this had been the first one, really, and he had not done so well. He knew it and was ashamed and wished he were like Stuart.

He used the excuse of mealtime to approach. He said, "Mr. Stuart."

Stuart looked up and said shortly, "How do you feel?"

Leblanc felt himself blush. He blushed easily and the effort not to blush only made it worse. He said, "Much better, thank you. We are eating. I thought I’d bring you your ration,"

Stuart took the offered can, It was standard space ration; thoroughly

synthetic, concentrated, nourishing and, somehow, unsatisfying. It heated automatically when the can was opened, but could be eaten cold, if necessary. Though a combined fork-spoon utensil was enclosed, the ration was of a consistency that made the use of fingers practical and not particularly messy.

Stuart said, "Did you hear my little speech?"

"Yes, sir. I want you to know you can count on me."

"Well, good. Now go and eat."

"May I eat here?"

"Suit yourself."

For a moment, they ate in silence, and then Leblanc burst out, "You are so sure of yourself, Mr. Stuart! It must be very wonderful to be like that!"

"Sure of myself? Thanks, but there’s your self-assured one."

Leblanc followed the direction of the nod in surprise. "Mr. Mullen? That little man? Oh, no!"

"You don’t think he’s self-assured?"

Leblanc shook his head. He looked at Stuart intently to see if he could detect humor in his expression. "That one is just cold. He has no emotion in him. He’s like a little machine. I find him repulsive. You’re different, Mr. Stuart. You have it all inside, but you control it. I would like to be like that."

And as though attracted by the magnetism of the mention, even though unheard, of his name, Mullen joined them. His can of ration was barely touched. It was still steaming gently as he squatted opposite them.

His voice had its usual quality of furtively rustling underbrush. "How long, Mr. Stuart, do you think the trip will take?"

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