Even if I’m only a space pilot, I’m not dumb. I mean I’m not that dumb. I admit that Dr. Ellik and Dr. Chon outrank me, because that’s the way it’s got to be. A pilot is only an expendable part. But I had been the first one to see the natives on this planet, and I was the first one to point out that they came in two attractive shades of blue, light blue and dark blue.
Four Indigos were carrying an Azure. I called the others over to the screen.
“A sedan chair,” identified Lee Chon. “Think the light-skinned one is a kind of a priest?”
Mike Ellik shook his head. “I doubt it. The chair isn’t ornate enough. I think that’s probably the standard method of travel--at least for a certain social elite.”
“Do you notice anything unusual about those bully boys?”
“You tell me what you see,” Ellik evaded.
“Three of them are mongoloid idiots,” said Chon.
“I thought so,” Ellik said, “but I wasn’t quite sure--aliens and all.”
“They’re humanoids,” Chon said, “and humanoids are my specialty. I know.”
“The fourth one doesn’t look much better.”
“His features are slack and his jaw is loose, all right, but they aren’t made that way. It’s an expression he could change. His head isn’t shaped like that.”
“Um. The man in the chair is a striking specimen. No cerebral damage in him.”
“I don’t think the answer is brain damage. If the ‘noble’ trusts those four to carry him, their actions and reflexes must be pretty well coordinated. They can’t have anything like palsy or epilepsy.”
“They must breed a special type of slave for the job,” Ellik suggested.
“They aren’t slaves, Mike,” I told him.
“No?” Ellik said, like talking to a kid. “And what are they, Mike?”
I breathed out hard, a little disgusted that big brains like Ellik and Chon couldn’t see the translucent truth. “They are just four dumb slobs who can’t get a better job, so they are hauling His Highness around because they have to make a living the hard way.”
“That doesn’t quite cover it, Johnny,” Chon said. “The carriers are a completely different race.”
“What’s different about them?” I asked. “They’ve got hands to work with, eyes to see with, noses to smell with. If you kick one of them, I bet he’ll hurt. It’s just their bad luck to be dumb slobs.”
Ellik grunted. “Unfortunately, Johnny, there are subtler differences. The darker aliens, the indigo-colored ones, seem to be definitely down further on the scale of local evolution. They must be an inferior race to the lighter, azure species.”
Chon had been looking at us and listening to everything. Finally he said, “You can’t be sure of that, Mike. You haven’t seen all of the Indigos. Some of them may not be as far down as the common carriers.”
Ellik sighed. “Explorers have to make snap decisions on insufficient data. We don’t have time to see the whole damned planet before we write up a report.”
“Yes, explorers have to make snap decisions,” Chon repeated to himself. “Are you going to take a look at those buildings, see if it’s a village?”
“I thought I’d see if our blueblood friend out there wants to show it to me,” said Mike Ellik.
“He won’t,” I said.
They both looked at me.
“You don’t have any chair and nobody to carry you,” I went on. “He’ll think you’re just a slob.”
“Jonathan,” Ellik said, “you show occasional flashes of genius.”
I smiled and shrugged it off. “I know I’m not nearly as smart as you boys. But that doesn’t mean I can’t think at all.”
Ellik clapped me on the shoulder. “Of course it doesn’t.”
But his grip was too strong.
“Johnny,” Ellik said gravely, “do you think you could carry me?”
“Wait a minute. You want me to act like one of those slobs? That’s asking a lot.”
“But could you?”
“Not all the way to those buildings. What was the gravity reading, Lee?”
Chon closed his eyes a second. “Point nine seven three.”
“There!” I said. “I couldn’t tote you three or four miles piggy-back.”
“Look,” Chon said, “we can strip down a magnetic flyer and you can ride the seat, Mike. Johnny can pretend to carry you, like on a platter. It’ll impress the yokels with the strength of our flunkies.”
“Mike could carry me,” I pointed out.
Chon laid a delicate hand on my back. “But, buddy, Mike outranks you.”
I shook my head. “Not that way, he doesn’t.”
“We may be going to a lot of trouble for nothing,” Mike said. “That gang may jump us as soon as we decant and try to have us for dinner.”
“There’s always that risk,” Chon agreed solemnly, “but naturally I will remain on duty at the controls of the stun cannon.”
“Securely inside,” Ellik added.
“Always on duty,” Chon said.
“Always inside,” Ellik said.
“It’s in the records, Ellik. I took the last one.” Lee said it a little too sharp and it cut the kidding.
“Go soak your soft head in brine,” Ellik said, disgruntled.
“Wait a minute,” Chon called.
Ellik turned back. “Yeah?”
“Don’t forget to take your communicator with you.” Chon’s voice was choked. “You may get out of line of sight if you go off with that troupe.”
“I know this business,” Ellik said, turning away.
“Mike, I’m sorry if I offended you. Shake, huh?”
Ellik smiled sourly. “Forget it.”
“Come on, shake.”
“Okay, we’re buddies. Do I actually have to pump your clammy paw?”
“Oh, for Pete’s sake!” Ellik turned around and kissed Chon on the forehead.
Ellik was just sore, of course. But the manual warns against that sort of horseplay when you’ve been out a long time.
“Satisfied now?” Ellik asked.
“No.” Chon’s voice was strained tight. “It should have been me to kiss you.” Chon turned to me. “Luck out there, Johnny.”
I grabbed his hand and levered it fast, before he could decide I needed kissing. “Sure thing, Lee. Thanks.”
The buildings weren’t much to see, but they were a step above primitive huts. They were adobe, or maybe plastic. The aliens understood the stress principles of the dome, Ellik said, because all the buildings had curved roofs. Unbaked pottery was what they looked like to me, and they looked as if they would be brittle as coffee-colored chalk. Actually, their ceramic surfaces were at least as hard as steel.
The Azure had welcomed Ellik with an outstretched hand. Mike wasn’t one to jump to conclusions, so he just held out his own hand. The native grabbed and let it go after pulling it some.
The alien saw me apparently carrying Ellik on a seat cushion with one hand, and he kicked me in the leg. To test my muscles, I guess. I managed to keep from yelling or jumping. The Azure looked impressed and the Indigos did a bad job of hiding a lot of envy and hate.
As the Indigos toted their man along on the litter and I guided Ellik’s seat cushion along the channel of magnetic feedback, the two riders began talking. Ellik’s translator collar broke the language barrier, of course. It was a two-way communicator on a direct hook-up to our cybernetic calculator on the ship. The brain analyzed the phonetic structure of the alien language under various systems of logic or anti-logic and fed the translation into Ellik’s ear. Then it went through its memory banks and played back the right sounds to translate Ellik’s talk into the alien language. I understand things like that. I’m a pretty good mechanic.
I didn’t have my translator turned on, but it seemed to me that somehow I could understand what the plug-uglies, the Indigos, were saying.
Ellik told me that it was because all their speech was based on the one universal humanoid sound, “mama.” Everything good in the way of nouns and verbs (there were no other particles of speech) was some inflection of “m-m” and everything bad was “uh-m-m.”
Ellik was pretty “uh-m-m.”
I was plenty “uh-m-m.” I threatened their jobs, they thought.
They were a real miserable bunch of slobs, those Indigos.
We passed through the wide places between the houses--I wouldn’t call them streets--and saw a lot of Indigos crouched in doorways, watching us, and Azures being toted around.
The clothing they wore was also pretty universal for sentient bipeds--a tunic or sarong, kind of. For the Azures, it was smooth and colorful; and for the Indigos, a loincloth of some rough, dun-colored stuff.
Ellik chinned off his translator switch and leaned down toward my ear. “They are two distinct races, Johnny. Notice that all the Indigos are menials. There does not appear to be anything to correspond to a freedman or even a higher-ranked house servant. The Azures treat the Indigos only as animals.”
“Slobs,” I said. “Poor dumb slobs.”
The nuclear flash washed over us, peppering us with a few excess roentgens.
We couldn’t look at the spaceship going up, but we knew it was going. It was making a dawn.
The aliens were all frightened. They fell on the ground and started praying to the ship, all of them, the Azures and the Indigos.
“What’s wrong with that crazy Chinaman?” Ellik yelped.
“Lee knows what he’s doing,” I said.
Ellik unsnapped his communicator from his belt. “Johnny says you know what you’re doing, Chon. Do you?“
“I know.” Chon’s voice sounded right beside us, perfectly natural. Belt communicators work just as well as those consoles. People only buy consoles for prestige.
“Well?” Ellik demanded. “What are you doing, Lee?”
I thought maybe something had gone wrong with the communicator.
Chon’s voice finally reached us.
“I’m leaving you and Johnny on this planet, Mike,” he said.
An Indigo brought us in our morning supply of fruit.
Ellik kicked the Indigo. “It’s overripe, blockhead. Amum, amum.“
The Indigo backed out, bowing, eyes very round.
Ellik felt me looking at him.
“Well, I don’t like kicking the oaf, but that’s all he’s been conditioned to understand as a sign of disapproval.”
“Sure,” I said.
Ellik passed through the scimitar of gray shadow into the sunlight that washed lines and years out of his face. He braced a hand against the doorframe and craned his head back. It stopped and steadied.
“He’s still there,” Ellik said. “Sometimes I wish his orbit would decay enough to burn him up in this damned sour air.” He coughed into his fist.
“He could probably correct,” I suggested.
Ellik sneered. “He hasn’t got the brains.”
“Pretty hard for one man to manage a takeoff. He was lucky to make it into orbit.”
“I just wish he would come down. Somehow, someway, I’d get to him, no matter where he went on this planet.”
“I suppose that’s why he stays up.”
Ellik slammed his fist into his palm. “I’m going to call him again. He can’t get away without us. If he fouled up a takeoff that badly, he’s not going to try to solo into hyperspace.”
“I don’t think anyone would solo into hyperspace. I don’t think he would be able to come back.”
“Oh, what do you know about it?” Ellik said shortly. “He’s just building up his courage to try the big jump. He’s yellow, sure, but sooner or later he’ll get desperate enough, or scared enough, to actually go. Then we’ll be stranded for fair. This planet may not be colonized for centuries!”
“Probably never,” I said. “Not after Lee’s reports.”
“You think he would falsify reports?” Ellik asked, blinking at me.
“I suppose he’ll have to.”
Ellik held his head with his hands. “Of course, of course. There’s no limit to the depths to which he would plummet.” He ran over to the corner and snatched a communicator off the pile of our gear. “I’m going to call him and tell him what I think of him and his wild obsession.”
I didn’t remind Ellik that he had been telling Chon just that at least once a day for a month. I knew his nerves got tighter and tighter and cussing out Chon helped release them and make him feel better.
“Come down, Lee!” Ellik called. “The three of us can make the jump together. You’re martyring yourself for a crazy reason!”
“We’ve talked this over before,” Chon answered. “This is the last time I’m going to respond to your call. I’ve made it clear to you that I think knowledge of this world will cause great suffering, a lot of death, among the majority of Earth’s people.”
“You’re talking prejudice, Lee! Your prejudice. People aren’t like that any more.”
“We haven’t gone that far, Mike. The bigots, the hatemongers, the pettiness and xenophobia lurking in everybody haven’t been asleep that long. Just look at it from my side, Mike. What will the white people of Earth think about the Orientals, Negroes and Indians of Earth when they find out the dark-skinned humanoids of another planet are--measurably, unquestionably, vastly--inferior to the light-skinned race of the same world? I ask you, Mike!”
Mike Ellik said, “It’s an inept analogy, Lee, and you know it.”
“But most people reason by analogy,” said Lee Chon. “No, Mike. I have to leave you and Johnny to prevent a recurrence of racial hatred, intolerance and all the ugly consequences on both sides. This is the last time I’ll answer you, Mike. I’m getting lonesome. In a few years, I’ll get hungry for human companionship. I don’t want to be tempted down. Good-by, Johnny. So long, Mike.”
Ellik screamed. “Wait! Answer one more call, Lee. It’s the least you can do for me. I don’t know when I’ll make it. It may be in a few weeks or a few years. It won’t be just argument, Lee. I’ll have something you’ll want to tell Earth about this place and these people.”
“I’m still here. Tell it to me now,” Chon’s voice said.
“No. I want to get proof. Let me rig up some kind of video circuit for you. I can use parts out of our tape camera and the translators. I want to get it all across to you.”
I could hear Chon breathing. “Very well. I’ll answer your next call.”
“Lee,” I called out, “Mike and me will be expecting you to answer.”
Chon laughed. “I’m not going anywhere, Johnny. Only around this world every couple of hours.”
“You couldn’t make the jump through hyperspace without us, Lee,” Ellik said.
“That’s right, Mike. I’m--I’m sorry to quarantine you two down there.”
“Quarantine!“ Ellik stormed. “We’re not sick, Lee. You are the sick one!”
There wasn’t any sound, not even of breathing.
“You have an idea to change Lee’s mind, Mike?” I asked.
He cupped his hand on the back of my neck. “Affirmative, Jonathan. A pretty damned good one, too.”