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On the highland heights above Chryse City, where the thin, dust-filled winds endlessly scour the salmon-pink vault of the Martian sky, a simple monument faces the setting sun. Forged of plasteel, graven by diamond, it will endure the long change of the Mars seasons, until Man and his kind have become one with the swirling sands. The message it bears is short but poignant, a silent tribute to two great figures of the colonization: IN MEMORIAM, PENELOPE AND POMANDER: MUTE SAVIORS OF OUR WORLD.

Fate is fickle. Although I don't really mind one way or the other, I should be on that monument too. If it hadn't been for me, Penelope and Pomander would never have made it, and the Mars colony might have been wiped out.

My involvement really began back on Earth. A large and powerful group of people thought that I had crossed them in a business deal. They had put in two million credits and come out with nothing, and they wanted the hide of Henry Carver, full or empty. I had to get away—far, and fast.

My run for cover had started in Washington, D.C., after I had been pumped dry of information by a Senate committee investigating my business colleagues. When the questioning was over—despite my pleas for asylum (political, religious, or lunatic; I'd have settled for any)—they turned me out onto the street. With only a handful of credits in my pocket, afraid to go back to my office or apartment, I decided that I had to get to Vandenberg Spaceport, on the West Coast. From there, I hoped, I could somehow catch a ride out.

First priority: I had to change my appearance. My face isn't exactly famous, but it was well known enough to be a real danger. Showing more speed than foresight, I walked straight from the committee hearings into a barbershop. It was the slack time of day, in the middle of the afternoon, and I was pleased to see that I was the only customer. I sat down in the chair farthest from the door, and a short, powerfully built barber with a one-inch forehead eventually put down his racing paper and wandered over to me.

"How'd you like it?" he asked, tucking me in.

I hadn't got that far in my thinking. What would change my appearance to most effect? It didn't seem reasonable to leave it to him and simply ask for a new face.

"All off," I said at last. "All the hair. And the moustache as well," I added as an afterthought.

There was a brief, stunned silence that I felt I had to respond to.

"I'm taking my vows tomorrow. I have to get ready for that."

Now why in hell had I said something so stupid? If I wasn't careful, I'd find myself obliged to describe details of my hypothetical sect. Fortunately, my request had taken the wind out of his sails, at least for the moment. He looked at me in perplexity, shrugged, then picked up the shears and dug in.

Five minutes later, he silently handed me the mirror. From his expression, a shock was on the way—already I was regretting my snap decision. I had a faint hope that I would look stern and strong, like a holovision star playing the part of Genghis Khan. The sort of man that women would be swept off their feet by, and other men would fear and respect. The face that stared back at me from the mirror didn't quite produce that effect. I had never realized before what dark and bushy eyebrows I have. Take those away and the result was like a startled and slightly constipated bullfrog. Even the barber seemed shaken, without the urge to chat that defines the breed.

He recovered his natural sass as he helped me into my coat. "Thank you, sir," he said as I paid and tipped him. "I hope everything works out all right at the convent tomorrow."

I looked at the muscles bulging from his shortsleeved shirt, the thick neck, the wrestling cups lined up along the shelf. His two buddies were cackling away at the other side of the shop.

"I hope you realize that only a real coward would choose to insult a man whom he knows to be bound by vows of nonviolence," I replied.

It took him a few seconds to work it out. Then his eyes popped, and I walked out of the shop with a small sense of victory.

That didn't last very long. I had changed my appearance all right, but for something much too conspicuous. I still had to get to California, and I still had almost no money. As I walked along M Street, turning my face to the side to avoid inspection by passers-by, the shop windows reflected a possible answer. My subconscious had been working well for me in the barber's shop. On a long journey, in a crowded vehicle, where could I usually find an empty seat? Next to a priest—especially one from a more exotic faith. People are afraid they will be trapped into conversion or contribution. The Priests of Asfan, a shaven-headed, mendicant sect who have no possessions and support themselves by begging, were not a large group. Their total number increased to one in the few minutes that it took me to go into a shop and buy a gray shirt, trousers, and smock. Then off I shuffled to the terminal, practicing a pious and downcast look.

Being a beggar-priest isn't too bad. Nobody expects you to pay for anything, and you receive quite amazing confessions and requests for advice and guidance from the people who choose to sit next to you. In some ways I was sorry to reach Vandenberg—for one thing, that was where my pursuers might be looking for me. It wouldn't be unlike them to keep a lookout there, ready to take their pound of flesh.

The brawl and chaos of the big spaceport was reassuring. In that mess of people and machinery it would be difficult for two people to find each other, even if they were both looking hard. I went to the central displays, where the departure dates and destinations of the outgoing ships were listed. The Moon was rather too close for complete security, and the Libration Colonies were just as bad. Mars was what I wanted, but the Earth-Mars orbit positions were very unfavorable and I could see only one ship scheduled: the Deimos Dancer, a privately owned cargo ship with a four-man crew. She was sitting in a hundred-minute parking orbit, ready for departure in two days' time. It was a surprise to see a cargo vessel making the passage when the configuration was so bad—it meant a big waste in fuel, and suggested a valuable cargo for which transport costs were no object.

I watched the displays for a while, then picked my man with care from the usual mob you find any day of the week hanging around the shipping boards. Any big port seems to draw the riffraff of the solar system. After ten years of legal practice, I could spot the pickpockets, con men, ticket touts, pimps, pushers, hookers, bagmen, and lollygaggers without even trying. I'd defended more than enough of them in court, back on the East Coast.

The man I chose was little and thin, agile, bright-eyed and big-nosed. A nimmer if ever I saw one. I watched him for a few minutes; then I put my hand on his shoulder at the crucial moment—ten seconds after he had delicately separated a ticket wallet from the pocket of a fat passenger and eeled away into the crowd. He shuddered at my grasp. We came to an agreement in less than two minutes, and he disappeared again while I sat at the entrance to the departure area, watching the bustle, keeping a wary eye open for possible danger from my former colleagues, and holding hostage the wallet and ID tags of my new ally.

He came back at last, shaking his head. "That's absolutely the only one going out to Mars for the next thirty days. The Deimos Dancer has a bad reputation. She belongs to Bart Poindexter, and he's a tough man to ship with. The word is out around Vandenberg that this will be a special trip—double pay for danger money, and a light cargo. She'd normally take forty days on the Mars run, and the schedules show her getting there in twenty-three." He looked longingly at his wallet and ID. "Bart Poindexter has his crew together for the trip—he's picked the toughest bunch you'll find at Vandenberg. Just how bad do you need a quick trip out?"

Double pay for danger money. Thirty days before there would be another one. What a choice. "I thought you said he's got his crew already," I replied.

"He has, but he wants an extra man to look after the cargo. No pay, but a free trip—so far he's had no takers. If you have no ticket, and no money to buy one, that might be your best chance. 'Course, there's always ways of getting a ticket." He smiled. "If you know how, I mean. I can see that might not sit easy with you, being religious and all."

Decisiveness is not one of my strong points. I might have been sitting there still, vacillating, but at that moment I fancied I caught sight of a familiar and unwelcome scarred face at the other side of the departure area . . .

I signed on without seeing the ship, the captain, the crew, or the cargo. A quick look at any one of them might have been enough to change my mind. My first glimpse of the Deimos Dancer came four hours later, as we floated up to rendezvous with her in parking orbit. She was a Class C freighter, heavy, squat, and blackclad, like an old-fashioned Mexican widow. Someone's botched attempt to add a touch of color by painting the drive nacelles a bright pink hadn't improved matters. She seemed to leer across at us in drunken gaiety as we docked and floated across to the lock. Her inside was no better—ratty fittings and dilapidated quarters—and her spaceworthiness certificate, displayed inside the lock, was a fine tribute to the power of the kickback. This clanging wreck was supposed to take five of us, plus cargo, out to Mars in twenty-three days.

The second blow was Bart Poindexter. Considered as a class, the captains of space freighters are not noted for their wit, charm, and erudition. Poindexter, big and black-bearded, with a pair of fierce blue eyes glaring out of the jungle of hair, did nothing to change the group image. He looked at my shaven head, paler than usual because of spacesickness, and hooted with laughter.

"Here, Dusty, come and see what the tug's brought us this time!" he shouted along the corridor leading aft. Then, to me: "I asked them to sign me somebody to handle the cargo, not to sprinkle holy water. What in hell's name is a priest doing on the Mars run?"

What indeed? I muttered something vague about expanding my karma. It would have helped a lot to have known a bit more about religion—any religion. Poindexter was scratching at his tangled mop and pointing down the corridor. "If you're the best they could find, then God help the breeding program on Mars, that's all I can say. Get along down there, Carver, and see Dusty Jackman. He's my number two on the trip, and he'll show you your place with the cargo."

Martian breeding program? There were limits to what I'd do for a free trip. Uneasy in mind and stomach, I floated off along the twenty-meter corridor that led to the rear of the ship. Jackman was there, about half a meter shorter than Poindexter but more than a match in mass. He had the fine lavender complexion that comes only from regular exposure to hard vacuum and harder liquor, and his rosy face was framed by a sunflower of spiky yellow hair. He seemed to exude a nimbus of alcoholic fumes and unwash, in roughly equal parts. I wondered about his nickname.

Two crewmen down, and two to go. I won't even attempt a description of Nielsen and Ramada. Suffice to say that those two crewmen made Jackman and Poindexter seem like Beau Nash and Beau Brummell. After I'd run the gauntlet of greasy introductions, Jackman took me all the way aft to the cargo area and pointed out a waist-high entrance door.

"There's where you'll be bunking, in with the cargo. There won't be much happening around here until it's time to eat, so you might as well settle in and get comfortable." He turned to leave, then turned back, scratching his head. "Anything that you can't eat, by the way?"

"Can't eat?" I looked at him blankly.

"You know, because of your religion. Can you eat any meats?"

I nodded, and it was his turn to look puzzled. "Funny, I'd have thought you wouldn't," he said. "Seeing what your special job is." Without another word, he pushed himself off along the corridor leading forward to the bridge.

Special job? Pondering that, I crawled in through the low door. After the crew area, the air inside here seemed sweeter. I sniffed appreciatively and looked around me for the light switch. Then I ducked as a vast pink shape swooped toward me through the gloom. My shout of alarm was answered by two high-pitched screams, like a steam whistle—two-toned—and a second pink zeppelin shot past me from the other direction. I hurled myself backward through the door and slammed it closed.

Nielsen was floating just outside, thoughtfully scratching his grizzled head with one hand and picking his nose with the other. I grabbed hold of his grimy shirt.

"What's going on in there? Something almost got me as soon as I was inside!"

He nodded dreamily, and fought his usual losing battle with the English language. "Them, just playful. Like free fall, you know. Soon, them get used you, there no problem; you get used them, there no problem."

"Them?" Shades of four-meter ants, rampaging through the cargo hold.

"Cargo. You special priest, no? You special for care this. Man sign you up, say you know all about. Come in."

He opened the low door again and crawled through. Somewhat reluctantly, I followed. As my eyes became accustomed to the poor light, I saw that he was standing by—and patting affectionately—two colossal pigs. They must have weighed a hundred and fifty kilos each, and they were floating peacefully in the center of the big cargo hold.

"This Penelope." He stroked a monstrous sow, who nuzzled his ear happily. "This Pomander." The boar, a few kilos lighter, grunted when he heard his name. Nielsen patted him. "Smart pigs. New breeding stock for Mars protein program. Prize cargo. You have job here, look after. Now, you get to know each other!"

A shock, an undeniable shock. On the other hand, as I got to know them they became a welcome alternative to the four crew members. For one thing, they were cleaner in habits. I still had trouble with the logic of it, though. I knew that pigs can handle space travel well—they are about the only animals that do. Cows, sheep, and horses can't take it at all, can't swallow in free fall, and there had been a certain reluctance to ship goats because of other reasons. But why would anyone choose to ship the pigs in the high season, when orbital positions were bad? And why was it a danger-money trip? The crew seemed neither to know nor care.

The next day I had something else to worry about. Four crew members and me, that was supposed to be the full roster. At dinner, though (Ramada's burnt offerings—the pigs dined better!), a sixth man appeared, just before we got ready to pump ion for Mars. Poindexter introduced him as Vladic, a supernumerary and last-minute addition to the roster. From the first, he seemed to show altogether too much interest in me. He seemed to spend most of his time snooping aft, keeping an eye on my every move. When he saw me looking at him, he would hurry away forward—then be back in a few minutes, watching again.

Would they send a rub-out man this far after me? I knew that they never let an old score fade away without being settled. That night I locked the door, wedged it, put a mockup in my bunk, and settled myself down to sleep between the comforting bulwarks of Penelope and Pomander.

I didn't call them that. That's how history knows them, but I thought they were silly names. In my mind, Penelope became the Empress of Blandings. Pomander, after I had seen him at work in his free-fall food trough, was renamed Waldo, in honor of my business partner.

A variety of other names were rejected, some reluctantly. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, Dido and Aeneas, Fortnum and Mason, Post and Propter (post hog, ergo propter hog), War and Peace, Siegfried and Brünnhilde (not fat enough—the pigs, I mean), Pride and Prejudice—it helped to pass the time.

As the days passed, I realized the pigs were interestingly different in temperament and personality. The Empress demanded her swill well cooked, whereas Waldo turned up his patrician nose at anything that was not al dente. They both greeted me with grunts of joy when I came back to the cargo hold after dinner. It was a relief to me too, after seeing the table manners of the crew. If it hadn't been for that damned Vladic, snooping around me all the time, I would have been able to settle into the journey and even enjoy it. But it's not pleasant living under constant surveillance, and I got very edgy.

My fears took on a new dimension when Captain Poindexter called me forward to the bridge and told me Vladic wanted to see me, alone, in his cabin.

I protested, but I could feel the old chill inside my stomach. "Captain, I don't take orders from Vladic. Why should I go?"

"You take orders from me. I take orders on this trip, from Vladic. He's paying for it, the whole thing. Now he says he's sick and can't come out here, so you have to go to him. Move it, and get over to his cabin."

He turned his back to show that the discussion was over. Very puzzled, though a good deal relieved, I went down the corridor to Vladic's quarters. If he was paying for this trip, presumably he wasn't after my scalp. At the door, I hesitated. For some reason, the back of my neck was prickling and visions of death were pinballing around my brain. I opened the door, and knew why. For a peaceful and a cowardly man, I've somehow been exposed to death an awful lot. Enough to recognize the smell of it from a distance. Inside the cabin, lying on his bunk, was Vladic, red-faced and gasping. His neck was swollen and his dark eyes were sunk into pits, far back into his head. He motioned me to his side.

Needless to say, I entered reluctantly. Whatever he had, I didn't want it. He gripped my arm with a burning hand and pulled me closer. I leaned forward—as little as possible—to hear his words.

"Gavver. Afta garga pigs." I leaned closer. His eyes were full of desperate meaning. "Gur ums om pigs. Atta ayve pigs."

It was no good. His lips just couldn't form the words. I patted him comfortingly on his arm, said, "Take it easy, now, I'll get help," and hurried back to Poindexter on the bridge.

"Captain, Vladic isn't sick—he's dying. Get the medical kit and go to him."

Poindexter looked at me skeptically. "Dying? He can't be. He was just fine last night." He hesitated, then shrugged. "All right, Carver, I'll take a look—but I'm warning you, this had better not be a joke."

He grabbed the medical kit—no robodoc on the old Deimos Dancer—and we hurried back to Vladic's cabin. He was now motionless on the bunk, eyes closed, face and neck congested and purple. Poindexter grunted in surprise, then crossed to Vladic, felt his pulse, and pinched the skin on the forearm. He opened the shirt and put his ear to Vladic's inflamed chest. One thing about Poindexter, he didn't lack for courage. That, I should explain, is not a compliment. In my opinion, the thing that separates man from the animals is the ability to predict, imagine, and stay away from danger.

"He's a goner," said Poindexter at last. "What did he say to you before he died?"

"He said . . ." I paused. Urgle-gurgle pigs, urgle-gurgle pigs. I couldn't repeat that. "He didn't say anything."

Poindexter swore."He commissioned the Deimos Dancer for special assignment, on behalf of the Mars government. I know that much, but I have to know more. Jackman and Ramada said this morning that they both felt sick. It looks bad. I never heard of a disease that kills so quickly. Here, hold this."

He passed me the medical kit, opened Vladic's locker, and rummaged through it. He emerged shortly with a bulky wallet. After riffling through it, he pulled out two sheets of paper and a passport, then returned the wallet, with a look of studied absent-mindedness, to the pocket of his own jumpsuit.

"The rest is just money and credit cards," he explained. "But let's see if these tell us anything useful."

The first sheet was simple enough. An official government document, it gave Vladic, citizen of Mars, authority to call on Mars credit in traveling to Earth, performing biological work there, and commissioning a spacecraft for the return to Mars. The second sheet was handwritten in a hasty scrawl, and it was much more disturbing.

Homer—the last colonist in Willis City died this morning. It looks as though we can't stop it. Suko and I are sick now, and the pattern says we can't last more than a couple of days. We are going to put this in a mail rocket, then incinerate the whole of Willis City before we get too weak.

You have to get blood samples you took back to Earth and do the work to organize a vaccination program. You were only in here for a few minutes, so I don't think you will have caught it yourself. Remember, keep quiet about what you are doing, or we'll have mad panic in all the colonies here. We still don't know how the disease is transmitted, but so far it's been one hundred percent infection. Incubation period averages fifteen days, first symptoms to final collapse less than six.

Godspeed, Homer, and good luck. The colony depends on you.

The note was dated sixteen days before. The passport showed that Homer Vladic had caught a super-speed transport from Mars the following day and had reached Earth nine days after that. He had been a man in a real hurry.

As we read, I had inched slowly farther away from Vladic's body and from Poindexter. He rubbed the back of his head, gave it a good scratch, then turned to me thoughtfully. "It looks bad, Carver. Now I see why Vladic insisted on paying us danger money and wouldn't say why. Jackman and Ramada are sick, no doubt about it. Nielsen and I aren't feeling so good either. You got anything wrong with you?"

It was hard to say. The skin on my bald head was goose-pimpled with fear and foreboding and my stomach was rumbling like Vesuvius preparing for a major eruption. Those were just the familiar symptoms of blue panic. Apart from that, I felt fine. I shook my head.

"Nothing, eh?" Poindexter narrowed his eyes thoughtfully, increasing his resemblance to the Wild Man of Borneo. "Wonder what you've got that we haven't. I'm going to try to get a call through to Mars so we can find out more about what's been going on. It won't be easy. We're close to the Sun on a hyperbolic orbit; it's close to sunspot maximum, and the geometry is bad. I'm afraid we won't be able to get anything but static for another few days. I'll give it a try, and you take a look around this cabin and see if you can find any vials of vaccine."

He left, and as soon as he was out of sight I left also. Search the cabin? Not Henry Carver. I'd been in that disease-laden air far too long already. The Mars colonies didn't know how the disease was transmitted, and Vladic had touched me. He'd breathed on me. My flesh crawled, and I fled back to the comforting presence of Waldo and the Empress of Blandings. Later, Poindexter and Jackman went over Vladic's cabin and belongings with a fine-tooth comb, looking for vaccine, and didn't find anything. So my decision to leave made no difference to anything.

It's very easy for me to sit here now, safe and comfortable, and say, "Why, it's obvious what was happening. All the evidence was sitting there in front of me, spread out on a platter. All I had to do was put two and two together. How could anyone who prides himself on his intelligence possibly be so dense?"

Unfortunately, my brain refused to operate as logically and smoothly when I was rattling through space in a decrepit, noisy tin can, my bowels constricted with terror of the plague, one man dead from it already, the rest of us liable to go the same way any time, and with no company except for four drunken, filthy crewmen and a pair of giant pigs. In that situation, sphincter control alone merited the Golden Sunburst. No doubt about it, things were bad.

Within twelve hours, they looked even worse. Jackman and Ramada were feeling feverish. Nielsen couldn't hold down any food. Poindexter was complaining of a headache and blurred vision, and he hadn't been able to get through to Mars or to anyone else. We held an emergency meeting on the bridge.

"We have to assume the worst," said Poindexter. I was running well ahead of him on that. "Carver is the only man who doesn't seem to have caught it. Did you ever pilot a spaceship?"

That question, if it hadn't been packed with ominous implications, would have been screamingly funny. I couldn't navigate a bicycle without assistance. I shook my head.

"Then you'd better be ready to learn awful fast. If things go the way they are looking, you may be the only healthy person to dock us on Phobos Station. You should be all right. They design these ships so the orbit matching can be done by complete idiots."

Thank you, Captain Poindexter.

"Now, does anyone have any ideas?" he went on. "For instance, why is it Carver that's immune? We all eat the same food and we all saw about the same amount of Vladic. Is it prayer, chastity, clean living, meditation, or what?"

There was a long silence, which I at last broke—somewhat hesitantly. "Do you think it could be the pigs? I mean, me living in with the pigs." The others seemed blank and unreceptive. "I mean," I went on, "maybe there's something special about the pigs—their smell, or sweat, or manure, or something—that stops the disease. Maybe if we all lived there, the disease wouldn't be able to affect us. Maybe the disease is killed by pig manure . . ."

I trailed off. All right, so admittedly in retrospect my idea was complete nonsense. I still don't think it deserved the reception they gave it. Sick as they were all supposed to be feeling, they found the strength to break into hoots of derision.

"Move in with the pigs!" cried Jackman.

"Lie by pit shit, he says!" Nielsen echoed, guffawing like a jackass.

"Bottle up the smell of 'em and ship it forward!" roared Ramada.

"So, Mr. Carver," Poindexter said finally, with a fine show of sarcasm—as we all know, the lowest form of wit. "We should all move aft, is that it? We should share the cargo hold with you and the two porkers, should we? Lay us down among the swine, eh? What else do you suggest we ought to do? Mutter mumbo-jumbo, shave our heads, and all wear a hair shirt like you, I suppose. I should have known better than to ask—what sort of sense can you expect from a man with more hair aft than he has forrard?"

They collapsed again into laughter, but it was the last laughter for a long time. After a few more hours, it was quite clear that everyone on the Deimos Dancer, except for me, had the plague. The Empress of Blandings and Waldo were thriving too, but they were not much help as crew.

There is a horrifying bit in Coleridge's Rime of the Ancient Mariner, where all the sailors on the ship, except for the Mariner himself, one by one, drop dead. "With heavy thump, a lifeless lump, they dropped down one by one." I felt just like the Mariner as, one by one, Ramada, Jackman, Nielsen, and then finally Poindexter shuffled off this mortal coil. After five days of horror and useless medical attention, I found I was "alone, alone, all, all alone, alone on a wide, wide sea." The space between Earth and Mars was wider than Coleridge could ever have imagined. It doesn't say whether or not the Ancient Mariner had any pigs or other livestock for company, but I imagine he didn't.

The worst time began. I expected to be struck down by the plague at any moment. All I could think to do was follow my established routine with truly religious ferver—rise and shave my head, live in with the pigs, eat the same dreadful food, and hope that the combination would continue to protect me. For six more days we moved in a ghastly rushing silence between Earth and Mars while I waited for a death that never came.

Finally, I had to act.

Poindexter had given me a rudimentary knowledge of how and when the engines had to be fired to bring us close to Phobos Station. I never did manage to get the communications equipment working, so I was unable to send or receive messages for additional instructions. I strapped myself into the pilot's seat, sent a prayer off into the abyss, and began to play spaceman.

It would have helped a lot if I had thought to confine Waldo and the Empress to the cargo hold before I began maneuvers. They liked my company, and now that I was the only human on board, I let them follow me about. However, the accelerations and changes of direction excited them. They whizzed around the bridge, squealing and honking with pleasure, as I attempted the delicate combination of thrusts needed to bring us close to Phobos. The video camera, unbeknownst to me, was switched on, and I gather that the staff of Phobos Station watched goggle-eyed as the two pigs zipped in and out of view. When the thrust was off, and I was trying to determine the next piece of the operation, the Empress would hover just above my head, nuzzling my ear and grunting her approval of the new game.

Engines off at last, after the final boost. I collapsed. We weren't perfect, but we were good enough. Phobos filled the sky on the left side of the Deimos Dancer. I, Henry Carver, a lawyer with no space experience to speak of, had successfully flown a spaceship from inside the orbit of Mercury to a satellite of Mars. That had to be a solar-system first, so I wasn't in the least surprised when I saw a large crowd of welcoming figures at Phobos Station as we were drawn in and landed by tractor beam. As the three of us disembarked, I began to compose the few modest words in which I would describe my feat.

The crowd's enthusiasm was tremendous. They surged toward me, shouting and cheering. Then, ignoring me completely, they grabbed Waldo and the Empress and bore them away in triumph, crying, "Penelope! Pomander! Penelope! Pomander!"

The only person left to talk to me was a young, rude reporter from the Martian Chronicle, followed by a whole warren of health officials. I dismissed the reporter with a few unfriendly words, but the health people attached themselves like leeches. I had to describe everything that had happened on the Deimos Dancer from the moment that we left parking orbit around Earth. The ship was quarantined, and I was placed in solitary confinement until the incubation period for the plague was over. I explained my theory of my immunity because of living in with the pigs, and at last a tall string-bean official took enough time out from asking me questions to answer a few. He dismissed my theory with a shake of his head.

"That's not the answer, Mr. Carver. Penelope and Pomander were carrying plague vaccine all right, as an in vivo culture. That's a very common way of safely transporting a large quantity of a vaccine culure, and that's what Vladic was trying to tell you with his dying words. But just living in with the pigs couldn't protect you from the plague unless you had actually had a vaccination prepared from them. You were saved by something else—something we discovered ourselves only after Vladic had left Mars. When we burned Willis City to stop the plague's spread, we unfortunately destroyed part of the evidence. Here, take a look at this."

He snapped a holo-cube into the projector and switched on. I gasped and shrank back in my seat as a great crustacean sprang into being in front of me, blind, chitinous, rust-red, and malevolent.

"That's the villain of the piece, Mr. Carver. One of man's old friends, but one we've been ignoring for the past hundred years. Order Anoplura, species Pediculus humanus capitis—I'm showing it to you at twenty-five hundred times magnification."

I couldn't stretch my college Latin far enough to make any sense of the names he was giving me. The horrible creature in front of me absorbed my attention completely.

"In short, Mr. Carver," he went on, "we are looking at a head louse. If it weren't such an uncommon parasite these days, we'd have caught on to it a lot sooner. Head lice have been carrying the plague and spreading it from person to person. Confined quarters and lack of proper hygiene make the spread easier. Just the sort of conditions they had in Willis City when the water recyclers broke down, and you had on board the Deimos Dancer."

He gestured at my shining pate. "That saved your life, Mr. Carver. You see, the head louse is a very specialized beast. He lives in head hair, and he refuses to live in body hair—another species of louse does that. I suppose the others on the Deimos Dancer were not shaven?"

Anything but. I recalled their tangled and filthy locks, and nodded.

"I don't know what made you shave, Mr. Carver, but you should be very glad that you did. Shave your head and the head louse won't look twice at you. Down on Mars, everyone has been shaved, men and women."

They led me away in a state of shock. All my theories had been rubbish—but if the other crew members had lived just as I did, they might still be alive, so my suggestions had been good ones. As I left, the same reporter importuned me, asking again for an interview. I dismissed him a second time with a dozen strong and well-chosen words.

At my age, I should know better than to annoy the press. When I arrived on the surface of Mars, still bald and still broke, the first thing that I saw was a copy of the Martian Chronicle. Across the front page, in living color, was a photograph of Penelope, Pomander, and myself, floating into the entrance to Phobos Station.

The bold caption beneath it read, PLAGUE SURVIVORS ARRIVE AT PHOBOS. Underneath that, still in large letters: PENELOPE AND POMANDER ARE TO THE LEFT IN THE PICTURE.


When this story appeared in STELLAR 4 I was quite disappointed with the reviews. It was not that they were bad—they were actually fairly complimentary. But none of them, I felt, penetrated to the heart of the matter.

Not until the collection was reviewed in England did the situation change. "Pointless and rather disgusting", said one reviewer. I felt a warm glow. This was exactly the reaction that I had been hoping for and had missed in the U.S. reviews. As readers of an earlier short story collection will already have realized, this is another story (the fourth one) in the "sewage series" featuring Henry Carver and his business partner Waldo Burmeister. Two more specimens, if I may use the word, will be encountered later in this collection.

A French publisher recently bought the right to translate this story and publish it in the magazine UNIVERS. I was pleased that it was the only story in STELLAR 4 that he wanted, but I'm also worried about it. How on earth will they translate "pumping ion" or "Martian Chronicle" into French? Worst of all, what will they do with "Post hog, ergo Propter hog"?

I wait with trepidation.

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