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children are born."
"In the sea?" Ruiz-Sanchez said faintly.
"Yes, in the sea. Then we all return, and resume our other affairs until the
next mating season."
"But-but what happens to the children?"
"Why, they take care of themselves, if they can. Of course many perish,
particularly to our voracious brother the great fish-lizard, whom for that
reason we kill when we can. But a majority return home when the time comes."
"Return? Chtexa, I don't understand. Why don't they drown when they are born?
And if they return, why have we never seen one?"
"But you have," Chtexa said. "And you have heard them often. Can it be that
you yourselves do not--ah, of course, you are mammals; that is doubtless the
difficulty. You keep your children in the nest with you; you know who they
are, and they know their parents."
"Yes," Ruiz-Sanchez said. "We know who they are, and they know us."
"That is not possible with us," Chtexa said. "Here, come with me; I will show
you."
He arose and led the way out into the foyer. Ruiz-Sanchez followed, his head
whirling with surmises.
Chtexa opened the door. The night, the priest saw with a subdued shock, was on
the wane; there was the faintest of pearly glimmers in the cloudy sky to the
east. The multifarious humming and singing of the jungle continued unabated.
There was a high, hissing whistle, and the shadow of a pterodon drifted over
the city toward the sea. Out on the water, an indistinct blob that could only
be one of Lithia's sailplaning squid broke the surface and glided low over the
oily swell for nearly sixty yards before it hit the waves again. From the mud
flats came a hoarse barking.
"There," Chtexa said softly. "Did you hear it?"
The stranded creature, or another of its kind--it was impossible to tell
which--croaked
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A Case Of Conscience, by James Blish protestingly again.
"It is hard for them at first," Chtexa said. "But actually the worst of their
dangers are over. They have come ashore."
"Chtexa," Ruiz-Sanchez said. "Your children--the lung-fish?"
"Yes," Chtexa said. "Those are our children."
In the last analysis it was the incessant barking of the lung-fish which
caused Ruiz-Sanchez to stumble when Agronski opened the door for him. The late
hour, and the dual strains of Cleaver's illness and the subsequent discovery
of Cleaver's direct lying, contributed. So did the increasing sense of guilt
toward Cleaver which the priest had felt while walking home under the
gradually brightening, weeping sky; and so, of course, did the shock of
discovering that Agronski and
Michelis had arrived some time during the night while he had been neglecting
his charge to satisfy his curiosity.
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But primarily it was the diminishing, gasping clamor of the children of
Lithia, battering at his every mental citadel, all the way from Chtexa's house
to his own.
The sudden fugue lasted only a few moments. He fought his way back to
self-control to find that
Agronski and Michelis had propped him up on a stool in the lab and were trying
to remove his mackintosh without unbalancing him or awakening him--as
difficult a problem in topology as removing a man's vest without taking off
his jacket. Wearily, the priest pulled his own arm out of a mackintosh sleeve
and looked up at Michelis.
"Good morning, Mike. Please excuse my bad manners."
"Don't be an idiot," Michelis said evenly. "You don't have to talk now,
anyhow. I've already spent much of tonight trying to keep Cleaver quiet until
he's better. Don't put me through it again, please, Ramon."
"I won't. I'm not ill; I'm just tired and a little overwrought."
"What's the matter with Cleaver?" Agronski demanded. Michelis made as if to
shoo him off.
"No, no, Mike, it's a fair question. I'm all right, I assure you. As for Paul,
he got a dose of glucoside poisoning when a plant spine stabbed him this
afternoon. No, it's yesterday afternoon now. How has he been since you
arrived?"
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A Case Of Conscience, by James Blish
"He's sick," Michelis said. "Since you weren't here, we didn't know what to do
for him. We settled for two of the pills you'd left out."
"You did?" Ruiz-Sanchez slid his feet heavily to the floor and tried to stand
up. "As you say, you couldn't have known what else to doubt you did overdose
him. I think I'd better look in on him--"
"Sit down, please, Ramon." Michelis spoke gently, but his tone showed that he
meant the request to be honored. Obscurely glad to be forced to yield to the
big man's well-meant implacability, the priest let himself be propped back on
the stool. His boots fell off his feet to the floor.
"Mike, who's the Father here?" he asked tiredly. "Still, I'm sure you've done
a good job. He's in no apparent danger?"
"Well, he seems pretty sick. But he had energy enough to keep himself awake
most of the night.
He only passed out a short while ago."
"Good. Let him stay out. Tomorrow we'll probably have to begin intravenous
feeding, though. In this atmosphere one doesn't give a salicylate overdose
without penalties." He sighed.
"Since I'll be sleeping in the same room, I'll be on hand if there's a crisis.
So. Can we put off further questions?"
"If there's nothing else wrong here, of course we can."
"Oh," Ruiz-Sanchez said, "there's a great deal wrong, I'm afraid."
"I knew it!" Agronski said. "I knew damn well there was. I told you so, Mike,
didn't I?"
"Is it urgent?"
"No, Mike--there's no danger to us, of that I'm positive. It's nothing that
won't keep until we've all had a rest. You two look as though you need one as
badly as I."
"We're tired," Michelis agreed.
"But why didn't you ever call us?" Agronski burst in aggrievedly. "You had us
scared half to death, Father. If there's really something wrong here, you
should have--"
"There's no immediate danger," Ruiz-Sanchez repeated patiently. "As for why we
didn't call you,
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A Case Of Conscience, by James Blish
I don't understand that any more than you do. Up to last night, I thought we
were in regular contact with you both. That was Paul's job and he seemed to be
carrying it out. I didn't discover that he hadn't been doing it until after he
became ill."
"Then obviously we'll have to wait for him," Michelis said. [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]