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Chapter 2

The Director of the New Syrtis Zoo was not pleased. (Grimes had not really expected that he would be.) He took prompt steps to ensure that the freight on the lerrigans was not paid and then, after an exchange of Carlottigrams with the consignors on Pangst, brought suit against Grimes for breach of contract, gross negligence and the wanton destruction of protected fauna.

Grimes went to see the Planetary Secretary of the Astronauts' Guild, of which body he was a dues-paying member. Captain Wendover, the secretary, was sympathetic.

He said, "You realize, of course, Captain, that we cannot represent you in your capacity as a shipowner, although we are bound to do so in your capacity as a shipmaster. From what you have told me it was as a shipmaster you acted, and as a shipmaster you got into trouble." He paused, looking at Grimes over his wide desk, an elderly, soberly clad gentleman who had more the appearance of a minister of one of the more puritanical religions than a spaceman. "Now, you say that you were given literature regarding the care and feed-of the animals before your departure from Pangst. In this was there any mention of . . . er . . . sexual peculiarities?"

"No, Captain. Here. You can read for yourself."

"Thank you, Captain. H'm. But the instructions do insist that the beasts are to be confined to their cages. On the other hand—and our lawyers when the case is brought to court will stress the point—there is no reason given for this injunction." Wendover was oddly embarrassed as he continued. "I have to ask you a personal question, Captain. At the time when the brutes attacked you, were you . . . er . . . masturbating? I can imagine what it must be like in a ship such as yours, with no company, no female company especially. . . ."

Grimes's prominent ears reddened. "No. I was not. Not consciously. But I was having a remarkably vivid erotic dream. . . ."

"That adds up," said Wendover. "Before I got this job I was Master in Cluster Lines. Their ships maintain a fairly regular service to and from Pangst. After what happened aboard Cluster Queen the company has refused to carry lerrigans. . . ."

"So Cluster Line personnel didn't keep to the book any more than I did," said Grimes.

"They didn't, Captain. Of course, lerrigans are, to a certain degree, telepaths. They hate being confined to cages. They . . . broadcast the desire to be let out, to be given the run of the ship, to be petted and cuddled. And spacemen are fond of animals more often than not. Normally there would be no risk—were it not for the lerrigans' peculiar sexual makeup. They are stimulated sexually when other animals in their vicinity are stimulated sexually. The Cluster Line ships carry mixed crews. There are always . . . liaisons between male and female officers." Then, disapprovingly, "Even, at times, between males and males and females and females. Be that as it may, you can imagine the effect upon already erotically inclined telepathic beasts. . . ."

He pursed his lips disapprovingly. "All right," said Grimes. "They were stimulated while I was dreaming. They even . . . joined in the dream. But why did they attack me?"

"Because," said Wendover, "to them the killing of another life form, a sexually stimulated life form, is essential before they, themselves, can copulate. Don't ask me why, or how. I'm only a spaceman, not a xenobiologist. All that I know is that I was Master of Cluster Queen when I was awakened—when the whole ship was awakened—by the screams from the Third Officer's cabin. When we burst in it was too late. He was dying, shockingly mutilated. His companion, the Purser, was a little luckier. The plastic surgeons were able to rebuild her right breast but psychologically she must have been scarred for life. But what sticks in my memory, even now, is those two obscene, blood spattered beasts unconcernedly doing what they were doing in the corner. I don't think that they knew it when the Chief Engineer battered in the head of first one and then the other with a heavy wrench. . . ."

Remembering his own experience Grimes felt sick.

"Of course," Wendover went on, "they—the consignors and the consignees—will claim that after the Cluster Queen affair, and one or two others, not as bad but bad enough, the odd behavior of the lerrigans under certain conditions must have been common knowledge among spacemen. Among merchant spacemen, yes. But your background, I understand, is Federation Survey Service and I don't suppose that you have, in your ship's library, a copy of Deitweller's The Carriage Of Exotic Flora And Fauna. . . ."

"I haven't," admitted Grimes. "I relied upon the Encyclopedia Galactica. If I specialized in the carriage of obscure, dead politicians that book would be very useful."

"Ha, ha." Captain Wendover permitted himself a dry chuckle. "And now, Captain Grimes, you must excuse me. There's the problem of compensation for the Third Officer of Epsilon Draconis—he had to get himself involved in a rather nasty accident last night. So if you call in here tomorrow morning I'll have our legal eagles—Pendlebury, Worrigan and Pendlebury—here to talk things over with you."

"And when should the case come up, Captain?" asked Grimes.

"I'm a spaceman, not a lawyer, Captain. But as you should know the legal gentry are never in a hurry."

"But my ship's under arrest and the airlock door's been sealed. The only money I have is the Letter of Credit in my notecase and I have to eat and pay my hotel bill. . . ."

"H'm. I could get you away as Third Officer in the Epilectic Dragon—but that would mean that you would not be present in court when the case comes up. Legally that would be in order—I think. After all, your ship is a fine security. . . ."

"I'd sooner stick around," said Grimes. "If my ship's going to be sold to pay my bills and fines I want to be among those present."

"Would you be interested in a ship-keeping job, Captain? Bronson Star's in parking orbit—it's cheaper than paying port dues—and old Captain Pinner's screaming for a relief. He recently retired out of Trans-Galactic Clippers and he's used to the social life of big passenger ships. But Bronson Star would suit you. You're used to being all by yourself in space."

"Not all the time," said Grimes. "But I need the money."

"So does old Captain Pinner. But he decided that he needed company more."

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