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OUR FIRST DEATH

Juny Vewlan died at about 400 hours of the morning and we buried her that same day before noon at 1100 hours, because we had no means of keeping the body. She had not wanted to be cremated; and because she was our first and because some of her young horror at the thought of being done away with entirely had seeped into the rest of us during her illness (if you could call it illness—at any rate, as she lay dying), an exception was made in her case and we decided in full assembly to bury her. As for the subsidiary reasons for this decision of ours, they were not actually clear to us at the time, nor yet indeed for a long time afterward. Certainly the fatherless, motherless girl had touched our hearts toward the end. Certainly the old man—her grandfather Gothrud Vewlan, who with his wife, Van Meyer and Kurt Meklin made up our four Leaders—caught us all up in the heartache of his own sorrow, as he stood feebly forth on the platform to ask of us this last favor for his dead grandchild. And certainly Kurt Meklin murmured against it, which was enough to dispose some of the more stiff-necked of us in its favor.

However—we buried her. It was a cold hard day, for winter had already set in on Our Planet. We carried her out over the unyielding ground, under the white and different sky, and lowered her down into the grave some of our men had dug for her. Beneath the transparent lid of her coffin, she looked younger than sixteen years—younger, in fact, than she had looked in a long time, with her dark hair combed back from around the small pointed face and her eyes closed. Her hands were folded in front of her. She had, Gothrud told us, also wished some flowers to hold in them; and none of us could imagine where she had got such an idea until one of the younger children came forward with an illustration from our library’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, showing Snow White in her coffin with a bunch of flowers that never faded clasped in her hands. It was clear then, to some of us at least, that Juny had not been free from the dream of herself as a sort of captive—now sleeping—princess, merely putting in her time until the Prince her lover should arrive and carry her off.

But we had, of course, no flowers.

After she had been lowered into the grave and all of us had come up to look at her, Lydia Vewlan, Gothrud’s wife and colony doctor as well as one of the Leaders, read some sort of service over her. Then, when all was finished, a cloth was laid over the transparent face of the plastic coffin and the earth was shoveled back. It had been dug out in chunks—a chunk to a spadeful; and the chunks had frozen in the bitter air, so that it was like piling angular rocks back upon the coffin, heavy purple rocks with the marblings of white shapes that were the embryos of strange plants frozen in hibernation. Because of their hard awkward shapes, they made quite a pile above the grave when they were all put back; and in fact it was not until the following summer was completely gone that the top of the grave was level again with the surrounding earth. By that time we had a small fence of white plastic pickets all around it; and it was part of the duty of the children in the colony to keep them scrubbed clean and free of the gray mold.

After the burial we all went back to the mess building for our noon meal. Outside, as we took our places at the tables, the midday wind sprang up and whistled around our metal huts and the stripped skeleton of the ship, standing apart at its distance on the landing spot and looking lonely and neglected in the bleak light from the white sky.


The Leaders of our colony sat at the head of the file of tables that stretched the length of the mess hut. Their table was just large enough for the four of them and was set a little apart from the rest so that they could discuss important matters in relative privacy. The other, large tables stretched away in order, with the ones at the far end with the small chairs and the low tops for the very young children—those who were just barely able to eat by themselves without supervision. These, the children, had as a group been unusually silent and solemn during the burial procedures, impressed by the emotions of their elders. But now, as they started to eat, their natural energy and exuberance began to break free of this restraint and show itself all the more noticeably for having been held down this long. In fact they began to pose quite a small disciplinary problem, and this necessitating the attentions of their elders, a diversion was created, which together with the warmth and the good effect of the hot food, bred a lightening of spirits among us adults as well. Our natural mood of optimism, which the Colonial Office had required in selecting us for a place on the immigration rosters, pressed down before by the awareness of death in our midst, began to rise again. And it continued to rise, like a warm tide throughout the length of the hut, until finally it reached the four who sat at the head table. But here it lapped unavailingly against the occupied minds of those who, twenty-four hours a day, breathed the constant atmosphere of responsibility for us all.

To talk and not be heard, they must lower their voices and lean their heads together. And this, while a perfectly natural action, had a tendency to impart an air of tenseness to their discussions. So they sat now, following the burial, in such an atmosphere of tenseness; and although the rest of us did not discover what they were then saying until long afterward—indeed until Maria Warna told us about it months later—there were those among us at the long tables who, glancing upward, noticed something perhaps graver than usual about their talking at that meal.

In particular, it had been Kurt Meklin—Kurt, with his old lined face thrust forward above his plate like some gray guardian of ancient privilege, who had been urging some point upon the other three all through the meal. But what it was, he had avoided stating openly, talking instead in half-hints, and obscure ambiguities, his black hard eyes sliding over to glance at Lydia, and then away again, and then back again. Until, finally, when the last plates had been removed and the coffee served, Lydia rose at last to the challenge and spoke out unequivocally.

“All right, Kurt!” she said—she, the strong old woman, meeting the clever old man eye to eye. “You’ve been hinting and hawing around ever since we got back from the burying. Now, what’s wrong with it?”

“Well, now that you ask me, Lydia,” said Kurt. “It’s a question—a question of what she died of.”

Gothrud, who had sat the whole meal with his head hanging and eating almost nothing, now suddenly raised his eyes and looked across at Kurt.

“What kind of a question’s that?” demanded Lydia. “You saw me enter it on the records—death from natural causes.”

“I’ll tell you what she really died of,” said Gothrud, suddenly.

“Well now,” said Kurt, interrupting Gothrud, and with another of his side-glances at Lydia. “Do you think that’s sufficient?”

“Sufficient? Why shouldn’t it be sufficient?”

“Well now, of course, Lydia . . .” said Kurt. “I know nothing of doctoring myself, and we all know that the Colonial Office experts gave Our Planet a clean bill of health before they shipped our little colony out here. But I should think—just for the record, if nothing else—you’d have wanted to make an examination to determine the cause of death.”

“I did.”

“Naturally—but just a surface examination. Of course with the colony in a sentimental mood about the girl—eh, Van?”

Van Meyer, the youngest of them all, was turning his coffee cup around and around between his thick fingers and staring at it. His heavy cheeks were slablike on either side of his mouth.

“Leave me out of it,” he said, without looking up.

Lydia sniffed at him, and turned back to Kurt.

“Stop talking gibberish!” she commanded.

“Gibberish . . . sorry, Lydia,” said Kurt. “I don’t have the advantages of your medical education. A pharmacist really knows so little. But—it’s just that I think you’ve left the record rather vague.

Natural causes really doesn’t tell us exactly what she died of.”

“What she died of!” broke in Gothrud with sudden, low-voiced violence. “She died of a broken heart.”

“Don’t be a fool, Gothrud,” said his wife, without looking at him. “And keep your voice down, you, Kurt. Do you want the whole colony to hear? Now, out with it. You sat with us and agreed to bury her. If you had any questions, you should have come out with them then.”

“But I had to bend to the sentimentality of the colony,” said Kurt. “It was best to let it go then. Later, I thought, later we can . . .” He fell silent, making a small, expressive gesture with his hand.

“Later we can do what?” grated Lydia.

“Why, I should think that naturally—as a matter of record—that in a case like this you’d want to do an autopsy on her.”

“Autopsy!” The word jolted a little from Lydia’s lips.

“Why, certainly,” said Kurt, spreading his hands. “This way is much simpler than insisting on it in open Assembly. After curfew tonight, when everybody is in barracks—”

A low strangled cry from Gothrud interrupted him. From the moment in which the word autopsy had left Kurt’s lips, he had been sitting in frozen horror. Now, it seemed, he managed at last to draw breath into his lungs to speak with.

“Autopsy!” he cried, in a thin, tearing, half-strangled whisper. “Autopsy! She didn’t want to be touched! We agreed not to burn her; and now you’d—No—”

“Why, Gothrud—” said Kurt.

“Don’t ‘why Gothrud’ me!” said Gothrud, his deep sunk eyes at last flaming into violence. “A decision’s been made by the colony. And none of you are going to set it aside.”

“We are the Leaders,” said Kurt.

“Leaders!” Gothrud laughed bitterly. “The ex-druggist—you, Kurt. The ex-nurse and—” he glanced at Van Meyer—“the ex-caterer’s son, the ex-nothing.”

Van Meyer held his cup and stared at it.

“And the ex-high school teacher,” said Kurt, softly.

“Exactly!” said Gothrud, lifting his head to meet him stare for stare. “The ex-high school teacher. Me. As little an ex as the rest of you, Kurt, and as big a Leader right now. And a Leader that says you’ve got no right to touch my Juny to settle your two-bit intriguing and feed your egos—” He choked.

“Gothrud—” said Kurt. “Gothrud, you’re overwrought. You—”

Gothrud coughed raspingly and went on. “I tell you—” He choked again, and had to stop.

Lydia spoke swiftly to him, in low, furious German. “Shut up! Will you kill yourself, old man?”

“That’s being done for me,” Gothrud answered her in English, and faced up to Kurt again. “You hear me!” he said. “We’re nothings. Leaders, Great executives. Only none of us has been five miles from the landing spot. Only none of us organized this colony. None of us flew the ship, or assigned the work, or built the huts, or planned the plantings. All we did was sign the roster back on Earth, and polite young experts with twice our brains did it all for us. By what right are we Leaders?”

“We were elected!” snapped Kurt.

“Fools elected by fools!” Gothrud’s head was beginning to swim from the violence of his effort in the argument. Through a gathering mist, he seemed to see Kurt’s face ripple as if it were under water, and rippling, sneer at him. With a great effort, he gripped the edge of the table and went on.

“I tell you,” he rasped, “that people have rights. That you won’t—that you can’t—that—”

His tongue had suddenly gone stubborn and refused to obey him. It rattled unintelligibly in his mouth and around him the room was being obscured by the white mist. Gothrud felt a sudden constriction in his throat; and, gasping abruptly for breath, he pushed back his chair and tried to stand up, clawing at his collar to loosen it.

Through the black specks that swarmed suddenly before his eyes, he was conscious of Van Meyer rising beside him and of Lydia’s voice ordering the younger man to catch him before he fell.

“Come on, Gothrud,” said the voice of Van Meyer, close to his ear. “You’ve been under too much of a strain. You better lie down. Come on, I’ll help you.”

Through the haze he was conscious of being half-assisted, half-carried from the dining room. There was a short space of confusion, and then things cleared for him, to allow him to find himself lying on his bunk in the room he shared with Lydia. Van Meyer, alone with him, stood over the washstand, filling a hypodermic syringe from a small frosted bottle of minimal, his gross bulk hunched over concentratedly with a sort of awkward and pathetic kindness.

“Feeling better?” he asked Gothrud.

“I’m all right,” Gothrud answered. But the words came out thick and unnaturally. “What are you doing?”

“I’m going to give you a shot to make you sleep,” said Van.

“Van—” said Gothrud. “Van—” Talking was really a tremendous effort. He swallowed desperately and went on. “You understand about Juny—don t you?”

“Why, yes, Gothrud.”

“She shouldn’t have come, you see. We made her—because she had no other family, Lydia and I. She never wanted to come. We talked her into it. She was just coming out of being a child—”

“Don’t talk, Gothrud,” said Van, struggling with the delicate plunger of the hypodermic. “You need to rest.”

“—She was the only one that age. All the rest of us, adults or young children; and her in between, all alone. A whole lost generation, Van, in one lonely little girl.”

“Now, Gothrud—”

“I tell you,” cried Gothrud, struggling up onto one elbow, “we robbed her of every reason to live. She should have had love and fun and the company of young people her own age back on Earth. And we brought her here—to this desolate outpost of a world—”

Van Meyer had finally got the syringe properly filled. He came over to the bed with it and reached for Gothrud’s arm when the older man sank back.

“That’s why we owe it to her to leave her untouched the way she wanted,” said Gothrud, in a low, feverish voice, as the needle went in. “But it’s not that so much, Van. If it were for some good purpose, I wouldn’t object. But it isn’t. It’s for Lydia—and Kurt. Van—” he grasped the younger man’s arm as he started to turn away from the bunk, and held him, compelling Van Meyer to turn back.

“Van—” he said. “Things are going wrong here. You know that. It’s Lydia. Married all those years back on Earth, and I never let myself see it. I watched her drive our son and daughter from our house. I watched her bend Juny to her way and bring her here with us. And Van”—his voice sunk to a whisper—“I never let myself see it until I got here, that awful hunger in her. It’s power, she wants, Van, power. That’s what she’s always wanted, and now she sees a chance of getting it. Listen to me, Van, watch out for her. She did for Juny. It’ll be me next, and then Kurt, and then—”

“Now, Gothrud—now just relax—” said Van, pulling his arm at last free from the older man’s grasp, which now began to weaken as the drug took hold.

“Promise me you’ll watch . . .” whispered Gothrud. “You must. I trust you, Van. You’re weak, but there’s nothing rotten in you. Kurt’s no good. He’s another like Lydia. Watch them. Promise—promise . . .”

“I—I promise,” said Van, and the minimal came in on Gothrud with a rush, like a great black wave that swept in and over him, burying him far beneath it, deep, and deep.


When Gothrud awoke, the room he shared with Lydia was in darkness; and through the single small, high window in the outer wall, with its reinforcing wire mesh patterning the glass, he saw the night sky—for a wonder momentarily free of clouds—and the bright stars of the Cluster. Van Meyer’s shot of minimal must have been a light one, for he had awakened clear-headed and, he felt quite sure, long before it had been planned for him to awaken. He felt positive in his own mind that they would have planned for him to sleep until morning; and only the unpredictable clock of his old body, ticking erratically, now fast and now slowing, running down toward final silence, had tricked them.

The illuminated clock-face on his bedside table read 21:20 and curfew was at 2100 hours. He fumbled into his clothes, got up, went over to the window and peered out, craning his neck. Yes, the colony was now completely lost in darkness, except for the small, yellow-gleaming windows of the Office Hut. Feverishly he turned and began to climb into his weather suit, struggling hastily into the bulky, overall-like outfit, zipping it tight and pulling the hood over his head. At the last minute, as he was going out the door, he remembered the diary; and, going back, dug through the contents of his locker until his fingers closed over the cylindrical thickness of it. He lifted it out, a faint hint of clean, light, young girl’s perfume reaching him from it momentarily. Then he stuffed it through the slit of his weather suit to an inside pocket; and went out the door.

The most direct route to the Office Hut led across the open compound. But as he started across this, leaning against the wind, an obscure fear made his feet turn away from the direct bulk of his destination and veer in the direction of the new grave. He went, chiding himself for his foolishness all the way, for although he knew now that the other three Leaders had held him in secret contempt for a long time, he was equally sure that they would not dare go directly against his wishes in this matter without consulting him.

So it was that when he came finally to Juny’s grave and saw it gaping black and open under the stars, he could not at first bring himself to believe it. But when he did, all the strength went out of him and he fell on his knees beside the open trench. For a wild moment as he knelt there, he felt that, like a figure out of the Old Testament, he should pray—for guidance, or for a divine vengeance upon the desecrators of the grave of his grandchild. But all that came out of him were the crying reproaches of an old man: “Oh, God, why didn’t you make me stronger? Why didn’t you make me young again when this whole business of immigration was started? I could take a gun and—”

But he knew he would not take a gun; and if he did, the others would simply walk up and take it away from him. Because he could not shoot anybody. Not even for Juny could he shoot anybody. And after a while he wiped his eyes and got to his feet and went on toward the Office Hut, hugging one arm to his side, so that he could feel the round shape of the diary through all his heavy suit insulation.

When he came to the Office Hut, the door was locked. But he had his key in his pocket as always. His heart pounded and the entryway of the Hut seemed full of a soft mist lurking just at the edge of his vision. He leaned against the wall for a moment to rest, then painfully struggled out of his weather suit. When he had hung it up beside the others on the wall hooks, he opened the inner door of the Hut and went in.

The three were clustered around the long conference table at the far end of the office, Lydia with her dark old face looking darker and older even than usual above the white gown and gloves of surgery. They looked up at the sound of the opening door; and Van Meyer moved swiftly to block off Gothrud’s vision of the table and came toward him.

“Gothrud!” he said. “What are you doing here?” And he put his hands on Gothrud’s arms.

Gothrud struggled feebly to release himself and go around the younger man to the table, but was not strong enough.

“Let me go. Let me go!” he cried. “What have you done to her? Have you—”

“No, no,” soothed Van Meyer. Still holding Gothrud’s arms, he steered the older man over to a chair at one of the desks and sat him down in it. All the way across the room, he stayed between Gothrud and the conference table and when he had Gothrud in the chair, he pulled up another for himself and sat down opposite, so that the table was still hidden. Kurt and Lydia came over to stand behind him. All three looked at Gothrud.

Lydia’s face was hard and bitter as jagged ice. The absorbent face mask around her neck, unfastened on one side and hanging by a single thread, somehow made her look, to Gothrud’s eyes, not like a member of the profession of healing, but like some executioner, interrupted in the course of her duty.

“You!” she said.

Gothrud stared up at her, feeling a helpless fascination.

“You—you mustn’t—” he gasped.

“Du!” she broke out at him suddenly, in low voiced, furious German. “You old fool! Couldn’t you stay in bed and keep out of trouble? Don’t I have enough trouble on my hands with this onetime pill-peddler trying to undermine my authority, but I must suffer with you as well?”

“Lydia,” he answered hoarsely, in the same language. “You can’t do this thing. You mustn’t let Kurt push you into it. It’s a crime before God and man that you should even consider it.”

“I consider—I consider the colony.”

“No. You do not. You do not!” cried Gothrud in agony. “You think only of yourself. What harm will it do you if you tell the truth? It can’t alter the facts. The colony will be upset for a little while, but then they will get over it. Isn’t that better than living a lie and backing it up with an act of abomination?”

“Be silent!” snapped Lydia. “What I am doing, I am doing for the best of all concerned.”

“I won’t let you!” he cried. Changing swiftly into English, he swung away from her and appealed to the two men.

“Listen,” he said. “Listen; you know there’s no need for this—this autopsy. Colonial Office experts, men who know, certified this planet as clean. So it can’t be any disease. And what would it benefit you to discover some physical frailty?”

“Ah? She was frail?” asked Kurt. “Something in the family?”

“No, she was not!” Lydia almost shouted. “Stop playing the goose, Kurt.” Suddenly regaining control of herself, she dropped her voice all at once to normal level again. “I’m surprised at you, Kurt, letting yourself be misled by a sick old man who never was able to look on the girl dispassionately.”

“Dispassionately!” cried Gothrud, straining forward against Van Meyer’s prisoning hands. “Did you look at Juny dispassionately? Did you bring her along to die out here, dispassionately, taking her away from everything that she longed for? I tell you—I tell you, she died of a broken heart! God—” He choked suddenly. “God forgive me for being so soft, so weak and flabby soft that I let you have your way about her coming. Better an orphanage back on Earth, for her. Better the worst possible life, alive, back there, than this—to have her dead, so young, and wasted—wasted—”

He sobbed suddenly.

“Van,” commanded Lydia, evenly, “take him back to Quarters.”

“No!” shouted Gothrud, coming suddenly to his feet and with surprising strength pushing the younger man aside, so that he half-toppled in his chair and caught at a desk to keep from falling. Gothrud took two quick strides across to a recorder that perched on a nearby desk. Pulling the diary from his pocket, he snapped it onto the spindle and turned the playback on.

“She died of a broken heart—for all she wanted and couldn’t have,” cried Gothrud. “And here’s your proof. Listen!”

“What are you doing?” snapped Kurt.

Gothrud turned blazing eyes upon him.

“This was her diary,” he said. “Listen . . .”

The speaker had begun to murmur words in the voice of a young girl. Gothrud reached out and turned up the volume. The sweet clear tones grew into words in the still air of the grim rectangular office, all plastic and metal about the four who listened.

“. . . and after that we flew out over Lake Michigan. The lake was all dark, but you could see the moon lighting a path on the water, all white and wonderful. And the lights went up the shore for miles. I just put my head on Davy’s shoulder . . .”

“Shut it off!” snapped Kurt, suddenly. “What are you trying to do, Gothrud?”

“Listen to her heart breaking,” said Gothrud, his head a little on one side, attentively. “Listen and try to think of her dispassionately.”

“You’re out of your head, Gothrud!” said Lydia. “What odds is it, what the girl recorded back on Earth?”

“On Earth? On Earth?” echoed Gothrud. “She recorded it here, night by night, in her own room.”

Before them the diary fell silent for a second and then took up with a new entry.

“. . . Month eight, fourth day: Today Walter took me to the Embassy ball. I wore my new formal all made out of yards of real night-mist lace. It was like walking in the center of a pink cloud. Walter has the high emotional index typical of such intense characters; and he was very jealous of me. He was afraid that I might take it into my head to turn around and go back to Our Planet and the colony. I let him worry for a little while, before I explained that I can never, never go back because of a clause the studio put in my contract that says I am not allowed to leave the Earth without studio permission which they will never give. And since I’m signed up with them for years and years . . .”


Lydia’s hand came down like a chopping knife on the cutoff, killing Juny’s voice in mid-sentence.

“That’s enough of that,” she said. “Van, take him out.”

“You heard,” said Gothrud, staring at the two men. Van hesitated.

“Go on, Van!” snapped Lydia. Reluctantly, Van moved forward.

“Kurt—” cried Gothrud.

“It’s up to Lydia,” replied the druggist, tonelessly.

“Then we’ll go ahead,” said Lydia decisively, turning away.

“No, by heaven, you won’t!” shouted Gothrud, fending off Van and taking a step forward. At the motion, the sudden familiar wave of dizziness swept over him, so that he staggered and was forced to cling to a nearby chair for support.

“All right,” he said, fighting to clear his head. “If you won’t stop—if you really won’t stop—then I’ll tell you. Lydia has no right. Lydia—”

“Be silent!” shouted Lydia in German, suddenly halting and wheeling about, her face deadly.

“No,” said Gothrud in English. “No. Not anymore. Listen, Kurt—and you too, Van. You know what kind of doctor Lydia is. A fourteen-day wonder. She was a registered nurse and the Colonial Office sent her to school for two weeks and gave her a medical diploma.” He looked straight at Lydia, who stood frozen, her mouth half-open in an angry gape and her hands fisted by her side. “What you don’t know, and what I’ve kept to myself all this time is that the diploma means nothing. Nothing.”

“What’s this?” said Kurt.

Gothrud laughed, chokingly. “As if you haven’t suspected, Kurt. Don’t think I don’t know why you suggested this autopsy. But all you had were suspicions. I know. I was at the school with her.”

“I suspected nothing—”

Gothrud laughed, hoarsely. “Then you’re a fool, Kurt. Who believes that a doctor can be made in two weeks when it takes eight years back on Earth? A two-week doctor would be prosecuted on Earth. But we little people who go out to colonize take what we can bring along with us. Us with our nurse-doctors, our druggist-leaders, our handyman-engineers. Yes. Do you know what they taught us in those two weeks, Kurt—except that I didn’t get a diploma for my part in it? Lydia learned how to attempt a forceps delivery, an appendectomy, and a tonsillectomy. They taught her the rudiments of setting broken bones and the proper methods for prescribing some two hundred common drugs.”

He was still looking at Lydia as he spoke. She still had not moved, and her hands were still clenched, but her face had taken on an expression of complete serenity.

“This,” said Gothrud, staring at her. “This woman who has never held a scalpel in her hand in her life before is the trained specialist that you are expecting to make a professional examination of Juny’s body.”

Kurt turned to face Lydia.

“Lydia,” he said. “Lydia, is this true?”

“Don’t be ridiculous, Kurt,” replied Lydia, calmly. “He’s lying of course.”

“How do we know it’s not you who are lying?”

“Because I’m in complete control of my faculties. Gothrud’s senile.”

“Senile?” said Van.

“Of course. The first signs showed up in him some time back. I was hoping it would come on more slowly, but you’ve all noticed these fainting fits of his, and how he gets wrought up over every little thing. Poor Gothrud,” she said, looking at him.

He stared back at her, so aghast at the depths of her perfidy that he could not even bring himself to speak.

“He’s made this all up, of course,” she went on. “The method by which I was trained was naturally top secret. I’ve been sworn to silence, of course, but I can tell you that the required information is fed directly to the brain. It’s such a new and revolutionary method that it’s being restricted to highly important Government Service, such as training key colonists like myself. That explains why the ordinary medical colleges don’t know about it yet.”

“Lydia,” said Kurt. “You say this is true? You swear it’s true? How can you prove it?”

“Proof?” she said airily. “Watch me do the autopsy.”

Kurt’s old eyelids closed down over his eyes until he seemed to look out through a narrow slit.

“All right, Lydia,” he said. “That’s just what we’ll do.”

A wordless cry broke from the lips of Gothrud. He snatched up a chair and took one step toward Lydia. Instantly Van Meyer jumped forward and caught him. Frantically, the old man struggled, his breath coming in short terrible gasps.

“Hold him, Van, while I give him a sedative!” cried Lydia—but before she could reach the hypodermic kit on the table across the room, Gothrud suddenly stopped struggling and stiffened. His eyes rolled upward until only the whites showed, for just a second before the lids dropped down over them. He sagged bonelessly. And Van Meyer, lowering him into a chair, snatched back his hands in horror, as if they had suddenly become covered with blood. But Lydia brusquely came across the room, pushed him aside, and bent over the motionless figure.

She took its pulse and rolled one eyelid back momentarily.

“That’s all right,” she said, stepping back. “Leave him alone. It’s easier this way. Come on back to the table with me, both of you, I’ll need your assistance.”

But for a second, yet, she herself did not move; instead, standing, she stared down at the man she had lived with for more than fifty years. There was a particular glitter in her eye.

“Poor Gothrud,” she said softly. She turned away crisply and led the way back to the conference table, retying her face mask as she went.

“Stand over there, Kurt,” she said. “You, Van, hand me that scalpel. That one, there.” Her eyes jumped at him, as he hesitated. “Move, man! It’s only a body.”


They went to work. When Lydia was about half-through, Gothrud came to himself a little in the chair and called out in a dazed voice to ask what they were doing.

“Don’t answer,” muttered Lydia, bent above her work. “Pay no attention to him.”

They did not answer Gothrud. After a little while he called out again. And when they did not answer this time, either, he subsided in his chair and sat talking to himself and crying a little.

It was an unpleasant job. Van Meyer felt sick; but Kurt went about his duties without emotion, and Lydia was industriously and almost cheerfully busy about her part of it.

“Well,” she said, at last. “Just as I suspected—nothing.”

She untied her mask and frankly wiped a face upon which perspiration gleamed.

“Wrap her up,” she said. “And then you can take her back out again.” She glanced over to where her husband was. He had stopped talking to himself and was sitting up, staring at them with bright eyes. “Well, how are you, Gothrud?”

Gothrud did not answer, although he looked directly at her; and Van Meyer, standing beside her, stirred uncomfortably. Kurt sat down on a desk opposite her and mopped his face with a tissue. He produced one of the colony’s few remaining cigarets and lighted it.

“And you didn’t find anything?” he said sharply to Lydia.

She transferred her gaze from Gothrud to him.

“Not a thing,” she said.

Kurt blinked his eyes and turned his head away. But Van Meyer continued to stare at her, uneasily and curiously.

“Lydia,” he asked.

“What, Van?”

“What was it, then?”

“What was what?”

“I mean,” he said. “Now that you’ve . . . seen her, what was it that made her die?”

“Nothing made her die,” replied Lydia. “She just died. If I’m to write a more extensive report, I’ll put down that death was due to heart failure—with general debility as a contributing factor.”

In the silence that fell between them, the single word came sharp and clear from the old man seated across the room.

“Heart,” said Gothrud.

“Yes,” said Lydia, turning once more to face him. “If it makes you feel any better, Gothrud, it was her heart that killed her.”

“Yes,” repeated Gothrud. “Yes, her poor heart. Her heart that none of you understood. Lydia—”

“What?” she demanded sharply.

He stretched out his arms to her, his wrinkled fingers cupped and trembling.

“Her heart,” he said. “Lydia. Give me the broken pieces.”


The next day Gothrud was very weak and could not leave his bed. For three days, Lydia looked after him alone; but it turned out to take too much of her time from the duties required of her by her colony positions, and on the fourth day they brought in Maria Warna from the unmarried women’s barracks to stay with him and take care of him. And during the next few weeks he rambled a good deal in his talk, so that, one way or another, he told Maria everything. And eventually, later, she told it to the rest of us. But that was a long time after when things were different.

Gothrud lingered for a few days more than three weeks and finally died. He was cremated, as was everyone else who died after that. That was the same week that the last of the tobacco and cigarets were used up; and those of us who smoked had a hard time getting used to doing without them.



J.R.R. Tolkien “desired dragons with a profound desire.”

Yet even the keenest draconophile must set some limits to intimacy.

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Framed