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*** START OF THIS PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK TEA TRAY IN THE SKY *** Produced by Greg Weeks, Mary Meehan and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team at
Tea Tray in the Sky


Illustrated by ASHMAN

[Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from
Galaxy Science Fiction September 1952.
Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]

Visiting a society is tougher than being born
into it. A 40 credit tour is no substitute!

The picture changed on the illuminated panel that filled the forward end of the shelf on which Michael lay. A haggard blonde woman sprawled apathetically in a chair.

"Rundown, nervous, hypertensive?" inquired a mellifluous voice. "In need of mental therapy? Buy Grugis juice; it's not expensive. And they swear by it on Meropรฉ."

A disembodied pair of hands administered a spoonful of Grugis juice to the woman, whereupon her hair turned bright yellow, makeup bloomed on her face, her clothes grew briefer, and she burst into a fast Callistan clog.

"I see from your hair that you have been a member of one of the Brotherhoods," the passenger lying next to Michael on the shelf remarked inquisitively. He was a middle-aged man, his dust-brown hair thinning on top, his small blue eyes glittering preternaturally from the lenses fitted over his eyeballs.

Michael rubbed his fingers ruefully over the blond stubble on his scalp and wished he had waited until his tonsure were fully grown before he had ventured out into the world. But he had been so impatient to leave the Lodge, so impatient to exchange the flowing robes of the Brotherhood for the close-fitting breeches and tunic of the outer world that had seemed so glamorous and now proved so itchy.

"Yes," he replied courteously, for he knew the first rule of universal behavior, "I have been a Brother."

"Now why would a good-looking young fellow like you want to join a Brotherhood?" his shelf companion wanted to know. "Trouble over a female?"

Michael shook his head, smiling. "No, I have been a member of the Angeleno Brotherhood since I was an infant. My father brought me when he entered."

The other man clucked sympathetically. "No doubt he was grieved over the death of your mother."

Michael closed his eyes to shut out the sight of a baby protruding its fat face at him three-dimensionally, but he could not shut out its lisping voice: "Does your child refuse its food, grow wizened like a monkey? It will grow plump with oh-so-good Mealy Mush from Nunki."

"No, sir," Michael replied. "Father said that was one of the few blessings that brightened an otherwise benighted life."

Horror contorted his fellow traveller's plump features. "Be careful, young man!" he warned. "Lucky for you that you are talking to someone as broad-minded as I, but others aren't. You might be reported for violating a tabu. An Earth tabu, moreover."

"An Earth tabu?"

"Certainly. Motherhood is sacred here on Earth and so, of course, in the entire United Universe. You should have known that."

Michael blushed. He should indeed. For a year prior to his leaving the Lodge, he had carefully studied the customs and tabus of the Universe so that he should be able to enter the new life he planned for himself, with confidence and ease. Under the system of universal kinship, all the customs and all the tabus of all the planets were the law on all the other planets. For the Wise Ones had decided many years before that wars arose from not understanding one's fellows, not sympathizing with them. If every nation, every planet, every solar system had the same laws, customs, and habits, they reasoned, there would be no differences, and hence no wars.

Future events had proved them to be correct. For five hundred years there had been no war in the United Universe, and there was peace and plenty for all. Only one crime was recognized throughout the solar systemsโ€”injuring a fellow-creature by word or deed (and the telepaths of Aldebaran were still trying to add thought to the statute).

Why, then, Michael had questioned the Father Superior, was there any reason for the Lodge's existence, any reason for a group of humans to retire from the world and live in the simple ways of their primitive forefathers? When there had been war, injustice, tyranny, there had, perhaps, been an understandable emotional reason for fleeing the world. But now why refuse to face a desirable reality? Why turn one's face upon the present and deliberately go back to the life of the pastโ€”the high collars, vests and trousers, the inefficient coal furnaces, the rude gasoline tractors of medieval days?

The Father Superior had smiled. "You are not yet a fully fledged Brother, Michael. You cannot enter your novitiate until you've achieved your majority, and you won't be thirty for another five years. Why don't you spend some time outside and see how you like it?"

Michael had agreed, but before leaving he had spent months studying the ways of the United Universe. He had skimmed over Earth, because he had been so sure he'd know its ways instinctively. Remembering his preparations, he was astonished by his smug self-confidence.

A large scarlet pencil jumped merrily across the advideo screen. The face on the eraser opened its mouth and sang: "Our pencils are finest from point up to rubber, for the lead is from Yed, while the wood comes from Dschubba."

"Is there any way of turning that thing off?" Michael wanted to know.

The other man smiled. "If there were, my boy, do you think anybody would watch it? Furthermore, turning it off would violate the spirit of free enterprise. We wouldn't want that, would we?"

"Oh, no!" Michael agreed hastily. "Certainly not."

"And it might hurt the advertiser's feelings, cause him ego injury."

"How could I ever have had such a ridiculous idea?" Michael murmured, abashed.

"Allow me to introduce myself," said his companion. "My name is Pierce B. Carpenter. Aphrodisiacs are my line. Here's my card." He handed Michael a transparent tab with the photograph of Mr. Carpenter suspended inside, together with his registration number, his name, his address, and the Universal seal of approval. Clearly he was a character of the utmost respectability.

"My name's Michael Frey," the young man responded, smiling awkwardly. "I'm afraid I don't have any cards."

"Well, you wouldn't have had any use for them where you were. Now, look here, son," Carpenter went on in a lowered voice, "I know you've just come from the Lodge and the mistakes you'll make will be through ignorance rather than deliberate malice. But the police wouldn't understand. You know what the sacred writings say: 'Ignorance of The Law is no excuse.' I'd be glad to give you any little tips I can. For instance, your hands...."

Michael spread his hands out in front of him. They were perfectly good hands, he thought. "Is there something wrong with them?"

Carpenter blushed and looked away. "Didn't you know that on Electra it is forbidden for anyone to appear in public with his hands bare?"

"Of course I know that," Michael said impatiently. "But what's that got to do with me?"

The salesman was wide-eyed. "But if it is forbidden on Electra, it becomes automatically prohibited here."

"But Electrans have eight fingers on each hand," Michael protested, "with two fingernails on eachโ€”all covered with green scales."

Carpenter drew himself up as far as it was possible to do so while lying down. "Do eight fingers make one a lesser Universal?"

"Of course not, butโ€”"

"Is he inferior to you then because he has sixteen fingernails?"

"Certainly not, butโ€”"

"Would you like to be called guilty ofโ€”" Carpenter paused before the dreaded wordโ€”"intolerance?"

"No, no, no!" Michael almost shrieked. It would be horrible for him to be arrested before he even had time to view Portyork. "I have lots of gloves in my pack," he babbled. "Lots and lots. I'll put some on right away."

With nervous haste, he pressed the lever which dropped his pack down from the storage compartment. It landed on his stomach. The device had been invented by one of the Dschubbans who are, as everyone knows, hoop-shaped.

Michael pushed the button marked Gloves A, and a pair of yellow gauntlets slid out.

Carpenter pressed his hands to his eyes. "Yellow is the color of death on Saturn, and you know how morbid the Saturnians are about passing away! No one ever wears yellow!"

"Sorry," Michael said humbly. The button marked Gloves B yielded a pair of rose-colored gloves which harmonized ill with his scarlet tunic and turquoise breeches, but he was past caring for esthetic effects.

"The quality's high," sang a quartet of beautiful female humanoids, "but the price is meager. You know when you buy Plummy Fruitcake from Vega."

The salesman patted Michael's shoulder. "You staying a while in Portyork?" Michael nodded. "Then you'd better stick close to me for a while until you learn our ways. You can't run around loose by yourself until you've acquired civilized behavior patterns, or you'll get into trouble."

"Thank you, sir," Michael said gratefully. "It's very kind of you."

He twisted himself aroundโ€”it was boiling hot inside the jet bus and his damp clothes were clinging uncomfortablyโ€”and struck his head against the bottom of the shelf above. "Awfully inconvenient arrangement here," he commented. "Wonder why they don't have seats."

"Because this arrangement," Carpenter said stiffly, "is the one that has proved suitable for the greatest number of intelligent life-forms."

"Oh, I see," Michael murmured. "I didn't get a look at the other passengers. Are there many extraterrestrials on the bus?"

"Dozens of them. Haven't you heard the Sirians singing?"

A low moaning noise had been pervading the bus, but Michael had thought it arose from defective jets.

"Oh, yes!" he agreed. "And very beautiful it is, too! But so sad."

"Sirians are always sad," the salesman told him. "Listen."

Michael strained his ears past the racket of the advideo. Sure enough, he could make out words: "Our wings were unfurled in a far distant world, our bodies are pain-racked, delirious. And never, it seems, will we see, save in dreams, the bright purple swamps of our Sirius...."

Carpenter brushed away a tear. "Poignant, isn't it?"

"Very, very touching," Michael agreed. "Are they sick or something?"

"Oh, no; they wouldn't have been permitted on the bus if they were. They're just homesick. Sirians love being homesick. That's why they leave Sirius in such great numbers."

"Fasten your suction disks, please," the stewardess, a pretty two-headed Denebian, ordered as she walked up and down the gangway. "We're coming into Portyork. I have an announcement to make to all passengers on behalf of the United Universe. Zosma was admitted into the Union early this morning."

All the passengers cheered.

"Since it is considered immodest on Zosma," she continued, "ever to appear with the heads bare, henceforward it will be tabu to be seen in public without some sort of head-covering."

Wild scrabbling sounds indicated that all the passengers were searching their packs for headgear. Michael unearthed a violet cap.

The salesmen unfolded what looked like a medieval opera hat in piercingly bright green.

"Always got to keep on your toes," he whispered to the younger man. "The Universe is expanding every minute."

The bus settled softly on the landing field and the passengers flew, floated, crawled, undulated, or walked out. Michael looked around him curiously. The Lodge had contained no extraterrestrials, for such of those as sought seclusion had Brotherhoods on their own planets.

Of course, even in Angeles he had seen other-worldersโ€”humanoids from Vega, scaly Electrans, the wispy ubiquitous Siriansโ€”but nothing to compare with the crowds that surged here. Scarlet Meropians rubbed tentacles with bulging-eyed Talithans; lumpish gray Jovians plodded alongside graceful, spidery Nunkians. And there were countless others whom he had seen pictured in books, but never before in reality.

The gaily colored costumes and bodies of these beings rendered kaleidoscopic a field already brilliant with red-and-green lights and banners. The effect was enhanced by Mr. Carpenter, whose emerald-green cloak was drawn back to reveal a chartreuse tunic and olive-green breeches which had apparently been designed for a taller and somewhat less pudgy man.

Carpenter rubbed modestly gloved hands together. "I have no immediate business, so supposing I start showing you the sights. What would you like to see first, Mr. Frey? Or would you prefer a nice, restful movid?"

"Frankly," Michael admitted, "the first thing I'd like to do is get myself something to eat. I didn't have any breakfast and I'm famished." Two small creatures standing close to him giggled nervously and scuttled off on six legs apiece.

"Shh, not so loud! There are females present." Carpenter drew the youth to a secluded corner. "Don't you know that on Theemim it's frightfully vulgar to as much as speak of eating in public?"

"But why?" Michael demanded in too

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