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XXII


'From each according to his ability,

to each according to his needs.'"



Hilda:

I could tell from the first ballot that Zebbie was determined to make me take a turn as captain. Once I realized that, I decided to be captain-let them get sick of me and anxious to have Zebbie back.

Then suddenly I was captain-and it's different. I did not ever again think of trying to make them sick of me; I just started to worry. And try.

First my husband wanted to find a bush for the obvious reason-and I suddenly realized that a banth might get him. Not a Barsoomian banth but whatever this planet held in dangerous carnivores.

So I ordered armed guards. With rules about not getting separated. It was a nuisance but I was firm... and knew at last what a crushing load there had been on Zebbie,

But one thing I could improve: Arrange for us to sleep inside the car.

The space back of the bulkhead behind the rear seats was not organized. We had about six hours till sundown (having gained on the Sun in going west), so I had everything in that space pulled out.

Space enough for Zebbie and Deety, on his sleeping bag opened out, blankets over them. Jacob and I? The piloting chairs we moved forward all the set screws would allow, laid them back almost fh~t and padded the cracks with pillows, and, to support our legs, the cushions from the rear seats were placed on boxes we would otherwise discard once I had the car organized. It wasn't the best bed but low gravity and my cuddlesome husband made it a most attractive one.

Baths- In the stream and cold! Same rules as for bushes: armed guards. Soap thoroughly on the bank, get in and rinse fast, bounce out and towel till you glowed. Primitive? Luxurious!

This did not go smoothly. Take the "handy bush" problem. I did not have to be told that a latrine should be downstream or that our shovel should be carried every time without fail-rules for a clean camp are as old as the Old Testment.

But my first order called for no more than two and no less than two to leave the car at any time, and one must be armed-the other rifle and pistol must guard Gay.

I blurted out that order when the truth landed on me like a load of bricks that I, the runt who had never grown up, was now responsible for the lives of four people. At the time my orders seemed not only logical but necessary and feasible: Jacob would guard me, Zebbie would guard Deety, our men would guard each other.

There was a flaw. I did not realize that my edict required: a) one rifleman always to be at the car; b) both men to be away from the car from time to time.

Since this is not possible I amended it: When the men had to answer calls of nature, we women would lock ourselves in. I didn't know that this planet had anything more dangerous than Alice's Bread-and-Butter Fly. But that was the point: I didn't know and until I did, I must assume that something as dangerous as a tiger lurked behind every bush.

Heavens! the bush might be carnivorous.

I was learning, with breath-snatching speed, something that most people never learn: A commanding officer's "unlimited" authority isn't freedom; it's a straitjacket. She can't do as she pleases; she never can-because every minute, awake and asleep, she must protect those under her command.

She can't take any avoidable risk herself; her life does not belong to her; it belongs to her command.

When the captaincy was thrust on me, I decided that we would stay where we were until Gay Deceiver was reorganized so that all four of us could sleep comfortably and safely-no swollen ankles.

Sharpie hadn't thought of this; Captain Hilda Burroughs thought of it at once. Captain Zebbie had thought of it when we first grounded, then had let himself be overruled.

I knew that I could rearrange the car to let us all sleep behind locked doors. But it would take time, sweat, and muscles, and I had just proclaimed an order that would take one or both sets of big muscles off the job for... how many times a day? Four people? Such needs can't be hurried. I had a horrid suspicion that having someone standing over you with a rifle, even your nearest and dearest, might cause a healthy reflex to fail.

What to do?

Cancel the order?

No!

Cancel if a better scheme turned up. But don't cancel without finding some-

thing better. This was a pretty spot, but there still might be that "banth." Or bandersnatch. Or boojum. Especially a boojum. What if Zebbie should wander off that distance dictated by modesty and/or relaxation of nerves....nd "softly and silently vanish away"?

And it was Zebbie I was having trouble wit h-Zebbie, who wasn't going to give the new captain any back talk whatsoever. "Cap'n Hilda honey, I don't need a chaperon, honest. I'll carry my rifle and guard myself. No problem. Safety off and a cartridge under the firing pin. Promise."

"Zebbie, I am not asking you, I am telling you."

"But I don't like to leave you girls unguarded!"

"Chief Pilot."

"Ma'am. Captain."

"I am not a girl. I am eleven years your senior."

"I simply meant-"

"Pipe down!"

The poor dear's ears turned red but he shut up. I said, "Astrogator!"

"Huh? Yes, Captain Auntie."

"Can you use a rifle?"

"Oh, sure, Pop made me learn. But I don't like a rifle; I like my shotgun." "Take the Chief Pilot's rifle and guard the camp-"

"Look, I can do it better with my shotgun."

"Pipe down and carry out your orders."

Deety looked startled, trotted over to Zebbie, who surrendered his rifle without comment, face frozen. "Copilot," I said to my husband, "arm yourself with rifle and pistol, go with the Chief Pilot, guard him while he does what he has to do."

Zebbie swallowed. "Sharpie-I mean 'Captain Sharpie.' It won't be necessary. The golden moment has passed. All this talk."

"Chief Pilot, please refrain from using my nickname while I am your commanding officer. Copilot, carry out your orders. Remain with the Chief Pilot and guard him continuously as long as necessary to accomplish the purpose of the trip." (If Zebbie meant "constipation"-an emotional to-do can have that effect-I would act later in my capacity as "medical officer"-and it would not take four husky orderlies to make Zebbie hold still. The authority of a commanding officer almost never requires force. Odd but true-I wondered how I knew that.)

Once our men were out of earshot, I said, "Deety, could I learn to shoot that rifle?"

"I'm not sure I'm speaking to you. You humiliated my husband... when we all owe him so much."

"Astrogator!"

Deety's eyes got wide. "Good God-it's gone to your head!"

"Astrogator."

"Uh... yes, Captain."

"You will refrain from personal remarks to me or about me during my

tenure as commanding officer. Acknowledge that order, then log it."

Deety's face assumed the expression that means that she has shut out the world. "Aye aye, Captain. Gay Deceiver!"

"Hello, Deety!"

"Log mode. The Captain has ordered the Astrogator to refrain from personal remarks to her or about her during her tenure as commanding officer. I acknowledge receipt of order and will comply. Log date, time, and Bingo code. I tell you three times."

"Deety, I hear you three times."

"Back to sleep, Gay."

"Roger and out."

Deety turned to me, face and voice normal again. "Captain, I can teach you to shoot in such a way that you won't get a sore shoulder or be knocked down. But to become a good shot with a rifle takes a long time. My shotgun doesn't kick as hard... and you won't need skill."

"I thought a shotgun was more difficult."

"Depends. A shotgun is usually for surprise targets in the air. That takes skill. But for a stationary target-within range-it's about like a garden hose. The shot spreads in a cone. So easy that it's not sporting."

"Not sporting' suits me. Will you show me how? What kind of target do we need?"

"It ought to be a large sheet of paper to show how the shot spreads. But, Captain, you know what will happen if I fire a gun?"

"What?"

"We will have two men back here at a dead run-one of them trying to dress as he runs. I don't think he'll be pleased."

"Meaning I shouldn't get Zebbie angry twice in ten minutes."

"It might be your husband. Stands to reason that they'll both take care of needs before returning. If I fire a shot, I'd better have a dead body to show for it, or one or the other will blow his top. Or both."

"Both! Thanks, Deety-I didn't think it through."

"But also, the Captain will recall that she ordered me to guard camp. I can't teach shooting at the same time."

(Sharpie, can't you do anything right?) "No, of course you can't! Deety, I'm off to a bad start. All of you annoyed at me and one, maybe two, really angry."

"Does the Captain expect me to comment?"

"Deety, can't you call me 'Aunt flilda'?" I wasn't crying-I've trained myself not to. But I needed to. "Yes, I want your comment."

"Captain Aunt Hilda, I need to call you by your title to keep myself reminded that you are captain. Since you ordered me to refrain from personal remarks to you or about you, I needed a second order before I could comment."

"As bad as that? Don't spare me but make it quick."

"The Captain hasn't done badly."

"I haven't? Deety, don't fib to Hilda; you never used to."

"And I'm not going to now. Captain, I think you are off to a good start."

"But you said it had gone to my head!"

"I was wrong. I realized how wrong when I was logging your order to me. What I said was worse than anything I said to Zebadiah while he was captain- he required me to review in my mind all the things I've said... and at least twice he should have given me a fat lip"-Deety smiled grimly-"cept that Zebadiah couldn't bring himself to strike a woman even if she weren't pregnant. Captain-Captain Aunt Hilda honey-Zebadiah didn't crack down on us when he should have. He turned over to you a gang of rugged individualists, not one with any concept of discipline. I certainly had none. But I do now."

"I'm not sure that I do," I said miserably.

"It means obeying orders you don't like and strongly disagree with-with no back talk. 'Into the jaws of death rode the six hundred.' Zebadiah would not do that to us... but he did let us annoy him into testing my new Bug-Out program. He had told me that the test was a useless risk; I should have agreed because it was useless. Instead I gave him a snooty 'No comment,' and you were as bad and Pop was worse. Mmm.... don't think Zebadiah has had much experience as a commanding officer."

"Why so, Deety? He is a captain."

"That doesn't mean that he has ever been a commanding officer. He has soloed quite a lot, in fighters. He has logged control time in larger craft or he wouldn't hold a command pilot rating. But has he ever actually commanded? Nothing he has said to me indicated it... but he did tell me that before the last war a major was often captain of an air-and-space craft but now it almost always took a lieutenant colonel while majors wound up as copilots. He was explaining why he liked one-man fighters so well. Aunt Hilda-Captain-I think commanding was as new to Zebadiah as it is to you. Like sex, or having a baby, you can't understand it till you've tried it." She suddenly grinned. "So don't hold Zebadiah's mistakes against him."

"What mistakes? He's saved our lives again and again. I don't blame him- now-for wanting a rest from commanding. Deety, it's the hardest work possible even if you don't lift a finger. I never suspected it. I don't expect to sleep a wink tonight."

"We'll guard you!"

"Yes, we will!"

"Pipe down."

"Sorry, Ma'am."

"What mistakes did Zebbie make?"

"Well... he didn't crack down. You wasted no time in letting us know who is boss. You didn't let us argue; you slapped us down at once. I hate to say this but I think you have more talent for command than Zebadiah has."

"Deety, that's silly!"

"Is it? Napoleon wasn't tall."

"So I have a Napoleonic complex. Humph!"

"Captain, I'm going to ignore that because, under that order you made me log, I'm damned if I do and damned if I don't."

"Well... I know how not to get a Napoleonic complex. Deety, you're my second-in-command."

"But Pop is second-in-command."

"Wrong tense. 'Was'-he is no longer. As astrogator you may have inherited it anyhow; you can ask Zebbie-but in private; my decision is not subject to debate. Simply acknowledge it."

"I- Aye aye, Captain."

"You are now required to advise me whenever you think that I am about to make a serious mistake. You are also required to advise me on request."

"My advice isn't worth much. Look how I goofed a few minutes ago."

"That was before you were appointed second-in-command. Deety, actually holding an office makes a big difference."

Deety blinked and looked solemn, then said soberly, "Yes, I think it does. Yes, it does. I feel it, I do! Weird."

"Wait till you're captain. Eight times as weird,"

"Never. Pop wouldn't go for it, Zebadiah wouldn't, I won't-that's three votes."

"I said No right up to the point where I could not avoid it. Don't worry about it now. I'll boss and you'll advise me."

"In that case, Captain, I advise you to reconsider letting us guard you. After we eat and start scouting again, I advise that, even if we find the British quickly, instead of making contact, we should find a spot as deserted as this at the sunrise line and get a long day's sleep. We crew can get eight hours- I'll take the middle watch; the men can get eight hours solid each... and the Captain can get anything up to twelve."

"Advice noted. It's good advice. But that's not the program; we're going to sleep here." I told Deety what I had in mind. "When the car is restowed, we'll eat. If there is daylight left, we'll bathe before we eat. Otherwise in the morning."

"I'd rather hurry through eating and get a bath... since you tell me I'm going to be able to sleep with my husband. When I'm frightened I stink worse... and I've been much more scared than I've tried to let on."

"Into cold water after eating? Deety, you know better."

"Oh. I'll skip eating, if necessary, to bathe."

"Astrogator, we'll do it my way."

"Yes, Captain. But I stink, I do."

"We'll all stink by the time we restow this car and may wind up eating sandwiches in the dark because everything that we don't throw away is going to be inside with us and Gay locked and not a light showing by sundown." I cocked my head. "Hear something, Deety?"


Our men came back looking cheerful, with Zebbie carrying Jacob's rifle and wearing Jacob's pistol. Zebbie gave me a big grin. "Cap'n, there wasn't a durn thing wrong with me that Carter's Little Liver Pills couldn't have fixed. Now I'm right."

"Good."

"But just barely," agreed my husband. "Hilda-Captain Hilda my beloved- your complex schedule almost caused me to have a childish accident."

"I think that unnecessary discussion wasted more time than did my schedule. As may be, Jacob, I would rather have to clean up a 'childish accident' than have to bury you."

"But-"

"Drop the matter!"

"Pop, you had better believe it!" sang out Deety.

Jacob looked startled (and hurt, and I felt the hurt). Zebbie looked sharply at me, no longer grinning. He said nothing, went to Deety, reached for his rifle. "I'll take that, hon."

Deety held it away from him. "The Captain has not relieved me."

"Oh. Okay, we'll do it by the book." Zebbie looked at me. "Captain, I thoroughly approve of your doctrine of a continuous guard; I was too slack. It was my intention to relieve the watch. I volunteer to stand guard while you three eat-"

"-then I'll guard while Zeb eats," added Jacob. "We already worked it out. When do we eat? I could eat an ostrich with the feathers left on." He added, "Hilda my love, you're captain... but you're still cook, aren't you? Or is Deety the cook?"

(Decisions! How does the captain of a big ship cope?) "I've made changes. Deety remains astrogator but is now second-in-command and my executive officer. In my absence she commands. When I'm present, Deety's orders are my orders; she will be giving them to implement what I want done. Neither she nor I will cook. Uh, medical officer-" (Damn it, Sharpie, all those hours in the emergency room make you the only candidate. Or does it? Mmm-) "Zebbie, does 'command pilot' include paramedical training?"

"Yes. Pretty sketchy. What to do to keep the bloke alive until the surgeon sees him."

"You're medical officer. I am assistant medical officer when you need me- if I don't have something else that must be done."

"Captain, may I put in a word?"

"Please do, Chief Pilot."

"Sometimes you have to let the bloke die because there is something else that has to be done." Zebbie looked bleak. "Saw it happen. Does no good to worry ahead of time or grieve about it afterwards. You do what you must."

"So I am learning, Zebbie. Cook- Gentlemen, I've never eaten your cooking. You must assess yourselves. Which one of you is 'adequate'-"

"Ouch."

"Your wording, Zebbie. -and which one is inadequate?"

They backed and filled and deferred to each other, so I put a stop to it. "You will alternate as first and second cook until evidence shows that one is chief cook and the other assistant. Jacob, today you are first cook-"

"Good! I'll get busy at once!"

"No, Jacob." I explained what we were going to do. "While you two get

everything out of the car, Deety will teach me the rudiments of shotgun. Then I will take over guard duty and she can help unload. But keep your rifles loaded and handy, 'cause if I shoot, I'll need help in a hurry. Then, when we restow, I'll do it because I'm smallest and can stand up, mostly, behind the bulkhead. While Zebbie stands guard, and Deety and Jacob pass things in to me."

Jacob wasn't smiling-and I suddenly recognized his expression. I once had a dog who (theoretically) was never fed at the table. He would sit near my knee and look at me with that same expression. Why, my poor darling was hungry! Gut-rumble hungry. I had such a galloping case of nerves from becoming captain that I had no appetite.

"Deety, in the pantry back at Snug Harbor I noticed a carton of Milky Way bars. Did that get packed?"

"Certainly did! Those are Pop's-his vice and eventual downfall."

"Really? I don't recall seeing him eat one."

My husband said, "I haven't been eating them lately. All things considered, my dear-my dear Captain-I prefer you to candy bars."

"Why, thank you, Jacob! Will you share those candy bars? We understand that they are your personal property."

"They are not my personal property; they belong to all of us. Share and share alike."

"Yup," agreed Zebbie. "A perfect communism. 'From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.' With the usual communist dictator on top."

"Zebbie, I've been called everything from a black reactionary to a promiscuous old whore-but never before a communist dictator. Very well, you may address me as 'Comrade Captain.' When we come across those candy bars, everybody grab one for quick energy-unless somebody remembers where they were packed?"

"Gay knows!" said Deety, and backed toward the car's open door while still keeping her eyes swinging the arc away from the river-perfect sentry and looking cute at it. "Gay Deceiver!"

"Hi, Deety! Getting any?"

"Inventory. Food supplies. Candy. Milky Way bars. Report location."

"Frame twenty. Starboard. Closed storage seven-Ess-high. Bottom shelf."


Five hours later everything was back inside except a heap of wrapping, packaging, and such-yet the increase in space was far greater than that pile. This was because storage did not have to be logical. Just tell Gay. A left shoe could fill an odd space in with the swords while the right shoe from the same pair was a space filler in a tool storage far to the rear-yet the only inconvenience lay in having to go to two places to get them.

I did the stowing; Deety stayed in the cabin, received items handed from outside, described the item to Gay, then described to Gay where the item was stowed, as I reported it. Gay was under instruction to hear only Deety's voice-

and what Deety told Gay was so logical that no one need remember it. Like this: "Gay Deceiver."

"Boss, when will you learn to say 'Please'?"

"Clothing. Zeb. Shoes. Field boots."

"Right boot. Abaft bulkhead. Starboard. Frame forty. Under deckplate. Outboard compartment. Left boot. Abaft bulkhead. Portside. Frame sixty. Under deckplate, middle compartment. Warning: Both boots filled with rifle ammo padded with socks."

You see? If you got categories in the wrong order, Gay would restring them. Give her the basic category and the identification, leaving out the other steps, and Gay would search the "tree" (Deety's words) and get the "twig" you identified. You could even fail to give category and she would search until she found it.

But hardest was to build up the decking of the rear compartment about twenty centimeters with chattels or stores that would not crush, fasten it down to keep it from floating in free fall, and make it smooth enough that it would not be unbearably lumpy as a bed-while making some effort neither to build into this platform nor to store in compartments under it things needed frequently or quickly.

I had to lower my standards. It is impossible to store so many things in such limited space and have all readily at hand.

I studied things outside, admitted that I could not do it, then asked for advice. Zebbie solved it: "Captain, do a dry run."

"Uh....o on, Zebbie."

"Take my sleeping bag inside, open it out. It is too wide for the space, especially at the rear. So keep it as far forward as you can and still miss Jake's twister and the bulkhead door. Mark the amount you have to lap it. Mark on the deck the foot of the opened-out bag. You'll find space abaft that, frustum of a cone, sort of. Drag the sleeping bag outside, mark the tuck-in, build your platform on it. Then fill that rear space and build a bulkhead. Better get Jake; he's a born mechanic."

"Zebbie, would you prefer to build this bed yourself?"

"Nope."

"Why not? I'm not speaking as captain; I'm inquiring as your old friend Sharpie."

"Because I'm twice as big as you, which makes that space half as big for me. Tell you what, Cap'n Sharpie-excuse me!-Captain Hilda-do the measuring. Meanwhile we'll pick out plunder that might be bricks in that platform. Then drag the sleeping bag outside. If you'll let Jake relieve me, Deety and I can piece together the platform in jig time."

It changed "impossible" to "possible." The cubbyhole was filled, contents held in place with opened-out cartons tied with wire to ho~d-downs-"padeyes" Jacob called them. The platform was built, chinked with this and that, covered with more flattened-out cartons, and topped off with sleeping bag and blankets.

It was still light. Deety assured me that there was one hour and forty-three

minutes till sundown. "Time enough if we hurry. Jacob, first bath. Deety, guard him. Both come back so Jacob can start dinner-then Zebbie and Deety go down-goodness, this sounds like the farmer and the rowboat with the fox and the geese-and bathe, taking turns guarding. Both come back; Deety relieves me; Zebbie takes me down to bathe while he guards. But please hurry; I want a bath, too. Forty minutes before sundown bathing stops and we eat- at sundown we are inside, dirty dishes and all, locked in till sunrise. If that does me out of a bath, we still hold to it. Jacob, how far is this 'easy way' down? I mean, 'How many minutes?"

"Maybe five. Hilda my love, if you weren't insisting on always-two-together there would be no hurry. All go down together; I hurry through my bath, grab my rifle and trot back. The rest needn't hurry. You've got us going down and up, down and up, four times-forty minutes. Which squeezes four baths into twenty minutes, five minutes to undress, soap, squat down and rinse off, towel dry, and dress. Hardly worth the trip."

"Jacob, who guards you while you're getting supper? No. I can bathe in the morning." (Damn! I wanted that bath. I'm used to a shower in the morning, a tub at night, a bidet at any excuse. Decadent-that's me.)

"Beloved, this place is safe. While we were out earlier, Zeb and I scouted for sign. None. That's when we found this way down to the creek. It would be a natural watering place. No sign. I don't think there are any large fauna here."

I was wavering when Deety spoke up. "Pop, that's three down-and-ups, not four, as Zebadiah and I get baths on one. But, Captain Hilda, if we all go down and come back together, there can't be danger. Put that stuff back inside and lock up, of course." She pointed at Jacob's preparations. While Jacob had been handing stuff to Deety, he had set aside a hot plate, cooking and eating utensils, a tarpaulin, comestibles for supper and breakfast, and had passed word for me please to store food so that it could be reached easily.

Jacob said hastily, "Deety, I've got it planned for minimum therbligs. Dried apricots soaking in that pan, soup mix in that one. There's no level deck space left inside."

Deety started to say, "But, Pop, if we-" when I cut in with, "Quiet, please"- not shouted.

They kept quiet-"Captain Bligh" was being listened to. "Gay Deceiver will not be left unguarded. My orders will not be discussed further. One modification: Supper is cut from forty minutes to twenty-five. Astrogator adjust schedule accordingly. Sound a blast on the siren five minutes before suppertime. We lock up on the dot. I placed the honey bucket just beyond the swing of the bulkhead door as the car will not be unlocked for any reason until', sunrise. Questions?"

"Yes, Captain. Where are the towels?"


An hour later I was squatting in the stream, rinsing off and hurrying- covered with goose bumps. As I stepped out, Zebbie put down his rifle and had

a big, fluffy towel, long as I am tall, waiting to wrap me. I should have required him to behave as a guard should.

But I told myself that he was still wearing his revolver and, anyhow, he has this sixth sense about danger-lying in my teeth. Nothing makes a woman feel more cherished than to have a man wrap her in a big towel the instant she's out of the water. I lack character, that's all. Every woman has her price, and a big, fluffy towel at the right time comes close to being mine.

Zebbie was rubbing firmly, getting me not only dry but warm. "Feels good, Captain?"

"Captain Hilda' never came down the bank, Zebbie. Feels swell!"

"Remember the first time I gave you a rubdown?"

"Sure do! Dressing room at my pool."

"Yup. I tried to lay you. I've never been turned down so smoothly."

"You tried to lay me, Zebbie? Truly?" I looked up at him, my best innocent look.

"Sharpie darling, you lie as easily as I do. A man does this"-and he did- "even with a towel, a woman is certain what he means. But you refused to notice it, turned me down, without hurting my pride."

"I'm refusing to notice it now and find it just as difficult as I did that afternoon. Stop it,please!" He did. "Thanks, dear. You got me all shaky. Zebbie, do you think Deety thinks I rigged this to get you alone? I would not willingly upset her."

"On the contrary. She gave me a hunting license concerning you-you, not females in general-ten days back. In writing."

"Really?"

"In writing so that she could limit it. I am required not to run any risk of hurting Jake."

"You haven't tried to use that license."

"I took it as a compliment to you and to me, kissed Deety and thanked her. You settled this four years ago. But I've sometimes wondered why. I'm young, healthy, take care of my teeth, and keep my nails clean-mostly-and you seemed to like me. What made me ineligible? Not complaining, dear, just asking."

I tried to explain the difference between a male friend and a bedmate-the scarcity of the first, the boring plethora of applicants for the other.

He listened, then shook his head. "Masochism."

"Hasn't it worked out better this way? I do love you, Zebbie."

"I know you do, Sharpie." Zebbie turned me around and looked down into my eyes. "And I love you and you know that, too"-and he kissed me.

That kiss went on and neither of us seemed inclined to stop. My towel Slipped to the ground. I noticed because it felt better to be closer and ever so much nicer to have his hands on me. Zebbie hadn't given me a sexy kiss since the day I hadinvited a pass and then ignored it.

I began to wonder why I had decided to ignore it. Then I was wondering how much time we had left in our schedule. Then I knew the exact time....or

that infernal, earsplitting siren sounded. God watches over Hilda Mae and that's why I keep Him on my payroll. But sometimes He is rough about it.

We let go. I put on Deety's Keds, slid my borrowed dress over my head, hung the towel over my arm-elapsed time: nine seconds. Zebbie was again carrying his rifle at the ready (is that correct?-both hands, I mean).

"Captain, shall we go?"

"Yes, Chief Pilot. Zebbie, when did I become 'captain' again? Just from putting on clothes? You've seen this old hide before."

"Skin has nothing to do with it, Captain. Quoting Deety quoting the Japanese: 'Nakedness is often seen but never noticed.' Except that sometimes I do notice, hot diggity dog and other comments. You have superior skin, Captain. You went back to being Captain when I picked up my rifle. But I was never off duty. Did you notice, when I dried you, that I picked you up and swung you around, so that I faced the bank? I kept alert even while I was nuzzling you... and you make fine nuzzle, Captain Step-Mother-in-Law Hilda."

"So do you, Zebbie. I'm still Sharpie till we get to your car." We reached the top of the bank. "Ten seconds to catch my breath. Zebbie-"

"Yes, Sharpie?"

"Four years ago- I'm sorry I turned away your pass."

He patted my bottom. "So am I, dear. But it has worked out quite well. And"-he grinned that irresistible, ugly grin-"who knows?-we aren't dead yet."

When we arrived, Jacob was slurping soup. "You're late," he stated. "So we~ waited."

"So I see."

"Don't listen to Pop, Captain Auntie; you are two minutes seventeen seconds ahead of time. Are you sure you stayed in long enough to get clean?"

"I stayed in long enough to get freezing cold. Aren't you chilly?" Deety had worn skin most of the day and so had I; we had been doing sweaty work. But she had been dressed when I last saw her. "Jacob, is there no soup for Zebbie and me?"

"A smidgen. You get this pan as soon as I'm through-now!-and that means one less dish to wash."

"And Zebadiah gets mine-also now-and I took that jump suit off because it's dirty and I'm clean. I still haven't figured out how to do a laundry. Nothing for a tub, no way to heat water. What's that other way? Pound them on a rock the way it shows in National Geographic? I don't believe it!"

We were in bed by sundown, Gay's doors locked-pitch dark in minutes. According to Deety and Gay sunrise was ten hours and forty-three minutes away. "Deety, please tell Gay to wake us at sunrise."

"Aye aye, Captain Auntie."

"Zebbie, you told us that the air in the car was good for about four hours."

"In space; The scoops are open now."

"But do you get air back there? Should the bulkhead door be open?"

"Oh. Top scoop serves this space. The cabin is ventilated by the chin scoop. Scoops stay open unless internal pressure closes them."

"Can anything get in through them? Snakes or such?"

"Hilda my dear, you worry too much."

"My very own darling Copilot, will you please pipe down while I'm speaking to the Chief Pilot? There are many things about this car that I do not know- yet I am responsible."

Zebbie answered, "Each scoo~ has a grid inside and a fine screen at the inner end; nothing can get in. Have to clean 'em occasionally. Remind me, Deety."

"I'll tell Gay." She did-and almost at once there was a crash of metal. I sat up abruptly. "What's that?"

"Hilda, I am afraid that I have kicked over the supper dishes." My husband added, "Zeb, how do I find the cabin light?"

"No, no! Jacob, don't try to find it. No light at all until sunrise. Don't fret about dishes. But what happened? I thought they were under the instrument board."

"I couldn't quite reach with this bed made up. But the carton that supports my feet sticks out beyond the seat cushion on it. So I stacked them there."

"No harm done. We can expect bobbles as we shake down."

"I suppose so."

"We can cope. Jacob, that was an excellent dinner."

Deety called out, "Good night, chatterboxes! We want to sleep." She closed the bulkhead door, dogged it.




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