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"You just beg."

"It's the business of all of us, Bbulas," Luccar corrected softly. "Please to remember that, no matter what our alloted roles, we are all concerned equally in this."

"Of course, of course, but please let me handle the situation in my own way, since I made the plans. And, Skkiru," the Dilettante added with strained grace, "you may have a warm cloak to wear as soon as we can get patches welded on."

Then Bbulas took a deep breath and reverted to his old cheer-leader manner. "Now we must all get organized for the potlatch. We can give the Terrans those things the Ladies' Aid has been working on all year for the charity bazaar and, in exchange, perhaps they will give us more chocolate bars—" he glanced reproachfully at Skkiru—"and other food."

"And perhaps some yams," Luccar suggested, "so that—God save us—I can steal them."

"I'll definitely work on that," Bbulas promised.

Skkiru was glad that, as beggar, he held no prominent position at the feast—in reality, no position at all—for he hated fish. And fish, naturally, would be the chief refreshment offered, since the Snaddrath did not want the Terrans to know that they had already achieved that degrading dependency upon the tin can that marks one of the primary differences between savagery and civilization.

There were fish pâté on rice crackers, fish soup with rice, boiled fish, baked fish, fried fish and a pilau of rice with fish. There were fish chitlins, fish chips, fish cakes, fish candy and guslat—a potent distillation of fermented fish livers—to wash it all down. And even in the library, where Skkiru sought refuge from the festivities, fishy fumes kept filtering down through the ventilating system to assail his nostrils.

Bbulas had been right in a way, Skkiru had to admit to himself upon reflection. In trying to improve his lot, Skkiru had taken advantage of the Snaddrath's special kinetic talents, which had been banned for the duration—and so he had, in effect, committed a crime.

This time, however, he would seek to uplift himself in terms acceptable to the Terrans on a wholly indigenous level, and in terms which would also hasten the desired corruptive process—in a nice way, of course—so that the Snaddrath civilization could be profitably undermined as fast as possible and Larhgan be his once again. It was a hard problem to solve, but he felt sure he could do it. Anything Bbulas could do, he could do better.

Then he had it! And the idea was so wonderful that he was a little sorry at the limited range it would necessarily cover. His part really should be played out before a large, yoomping audience, but he was realistic enough to see that it would be most expedient for him to give a private performance for the Earthmen alone.

On the other hand, he now knew it should be offered outside the hut, because the recorder would pick up his cries and Bbulas would be in a spin—as he would be about any evidence of independent thinking on the planet. Bbulas was less interested in the planet's prospering, it was now clear to Skkiru, than in its continuing in a state where he would remain top fish.

Fortunately, the guslat had done its work, and by the time the Earthmen arrived at the door to their hut, they were alone. The rest of the company either had fallen into a stupor or could not trust themselves to navigate the mud.

The Earthmen—with an ingeniousness which would have augured well for the future development of their race, had it not already been the (allegedly) most advanced species in the Galaxy—had adapted some spare parts from their ship into replicas of Skkiru's mudshoes. They did, in truth, seem none too steady on their feet, but he was unable to determine to what degree this was a question of intoxication and what degree a question of navigation.

"Alms, for the love of Ipsnadd." He thrust forward his begging bowl.

"Regard, it is the beggar! Why were you not at the festivities, worthy mendicant?" Raoul hiccuped. "Lovely party. Beautiful women. Delicious fish."

Skkiru started to stand on his head, then remembered this was no longer a socially acceptable expression of grief and cast his eyes down. "I was not invited," he said sadly.

"Like the little match girl," Raoul sympathized. "My heart bleeds for you, good match gi—good beggar. Does your heart not bleed for him, Cyril?"

"Bad show," the older ethnologist agreed, with a faint smile. "But that's what you've got to expect, if you're going to be a primitive."

He was very drunk, Skkiru decided; he must be, to phrase his sentiments so poorly. Unless he—but no, Skkiru refused to believe that. He didn't mind Cyril's being vaguely suspicious, but that was as far as he wanted him to go. Skkiru's toes apprehensively started to quiver.

"How can you say a thing like that to a primitive?" Raoul demanded. "If he were not a primitive, it would be all right to call him a primitive, but one does not accuse primitives of being primitives. It's—it's downright primitive; that's what it is!"

"You need some coffee, my boy." Cyril grinned. "Black coffee. That guslat of theirs is highly potent stuff."

They were about to go inside. Skkiru had to act quickly. He slumped over. Although he had meant to land on the doorstep, he lacked the agility to balance himself with the precision required and so he fell smack into the mud. The feel of the slime on his bare feet had been bad enough; oozing over his skin through the interstices of his clothing, it was pure hell. What sacrifices he was making for his planet! And for Larhgan. The thought of her would have to sustain him through this viscous ordeal, for there was nothing else solid within his grasp.

"Ubbl," he said, lifting his head from the ooze, so that they could see the froth coming out of his mouth. "Glubbl."

Raoul clutched Cyril. "What is he doing?"

"Having an epileptic fit, I rather fancy. Go on, old man," Cyril said to Skkiru. "You're doing splendidly. Splendidly!"

"I see the sky!" Skkiru howled, anxious to get his prophecies over with before he sank any deeper in the mud. "It is great magic. I see many ships in the sky. They are all coming to Snaddra...."

"Bearing anthropologists and chocolate bars, I suppose," murmured Cyril.

"Shhh," Raoul said indignantly. "You must not interrupt. He is having personal contact with the supernatural, a very important element of the primitive ethos."

"Thank you," Cyril said. "I'll try to remember that."

So will I, thought Skkiru. "They carry learned men and food for the spiritually and physically hungry people of Snaddra," he interrupted impatiently. "They carry warm clothing for the poor and miserable people of Snaddra. They carry yams for the larcenous and frustrated people of Snaddra."

"Yams!" Raoul echoed. "Yams!"

"Shhh, this is fascinating. Go on, beggar."

But the mud sogging over Skkiru's body was too much. The fit could be continued at a later date—and in a drier location.

"Where am I?" he asked, struggling to a sitting position.

"You are on Snaddra, fifth planet of the sun Weebl," Raoul began, "in—"

"Weeeeebl," Skkiru corrected, getting to his feet with the older ethnologist's assistance. "What happened?" He beat futilely at the mud caught in the meshes of his metal rags. "I feel faint."

"Come in and have some coffee with us," Cyril invited. This also was part of Skkiru's plan, for he had no intention of going back across that mud, if he could possibly help it. He had nothing further to say that the recorders should not hear. Bbulas might object to his associating with the Earthmen, but he couldn't do much if the association seemed entirely innocent. At the moment, Snaddra might be a theocracy, but the democratic hangover was still strong.

"I would rather have some hot chocolate," Skkiru said. "That is, if you have no objection to drinking with a beggar."

"My dear fellow—" Cyril put an arm around Skkiru's muddy shoulders—"we ethnologists do not hold with caste distinctions. Come in and have chocolate—with a spot of rum, eh? That'll make you right as a trivet in a matter of seconds."

It wasn't until much later, after several cups of the finest chocolate he had ever tasted, that Skkiru announced himself to feel quite recovered.

"Please do not bother to accompany me to the door," he said. "I can find my own way. You do me too much honor. I would feel shamefaced."

"But—" Cyril began.

"No," Skkiru said. "It is—it is bad form here. I insist. I must go my way alone."

"All right," Cyril agreed.

Raoul looked at him in some surprise.

"All right," Cyril repeated in a louder tone. "Go by yourself, if an escort would bother you. But please give the door a good bang, so the lock will catch."

Skkiru slammed the door lustily to simulate the effect of departure and then he descended via the secret passage inside the hut itself, scrabbling a little because the hot chocolate seemed strangely to have affected his sense of balance.

The rest of the Snaddrath were in the council chamber gloating over the loot from the potlatch. It was, as a matter of fact, a good take.

"Where were you, Skkiru?" Bbulas asked, examining a jar of preserved kumquats suspiciously. "Up to no good, I'll be bound."

"Oh, my poor Skkiru!" Larhgan exclaimed, before Skkiru could say anything. "How muddy and wretched-looking you are! I don't like this whole thing," she told Bbulas. "It's cruel. Being high priestess isn't nearly as much fun as I thought it would be."

"This is not supposed to be fun," the Dilettante informed her coldly. "It is in dead earnest. Since the question has been brought up, however, what did happen to you, Skkiru?"

"I—er—fell down and, being a beggar, I had no other garments to change into."

"You'll survive," Bbulas said unfeelingly. "On Earth, I understand, people fall into mud all the time. Supposed to have a beneficial effect—and any effect on you, Skkiru, would have to be beneficial."

Larhgan was opening her mouth to say something—probably, Skkiru thought fondly, in his defense—when there came a thud and a yell from the passage outside. Two yells, in fact. And two thuds.

"My faith," exclaimed a Terrestrial voice, "but how did the beggar descend! I am sure every bone in my body is broken."

"I think you'll find him possessed of means of locomotion not known to us. But you're not hurt, old chap—only bruised."

And Cyril came into the council chamber, followed by a limping Raoul. "Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. I trust this is not an intrusion, although I'm quite sure you'll tell us we've broken a whole slue of tabus."

"You!" Bbulas screamed at Skkiru. "You must have used the passage in the hut! You let them follow you!"

Losing control of his own reflexes, he began to whirl madly.

"But regard this!" Raoul exclaimed, staring around him. "To build a place like this beneath the mud—name of a name, these people must have hydraulic engineering far superior to anything on Earth!"

"You are too kind," the former hydraulic engineer said deprecatingly. "Actually, it's quite simple—"

"This is not a primitive civilization at all, Raoul," Cyril explained. "They've been faking it from tapes. Probably have a culture very much like ours, with allowances for climatic differences, of course. Oh, undoubtedly it would be provincial, but—"

"We are not provincial," Larhgan said coldly. "Primitive, yes. Provincial, no! We are—"

"But why should they do a thing like this to us?" Raoul wailed.

"I imagine they did it to get on the trade routes, as Nemeth did. They've been trying not to talk about Nemeth all the while. Must have been rather a strain. You ought to be ashamed of yourselves!" Cyril told the assembled Snaddrath. "Very bad form!"

Bbulas was turning paler and paler as he whirled. "All your fault," he gasped hoarsely to Skkiru. "All your fault!"

And that was true, Skkiru realized. His antennae quivered, but he didn't even try to restrain them. He had meant well, yet he had messed up the planet's affairs far more seriously than Bbulas had. He had ruined their hopes, killed all their chances by his carelessness. He, Skkiru, instead of being his planet's savior, was its spoiler. He psonked violently.

But Larhgan moved nearer to him. "It's all over, anyhow," she whispered, "and you know what? I'm glad. I'm glad we failed. I'd rather starve as myself than succeed as a sham."

Skkiru controlled himself. Silently, he took the grimpatch out of his carrier and, as silently, she took it back.

"My faith, they must have had plumbing all the time!" Raoul complained.

"Very likely," said Cyril sternly. "Looks as if we've suffered for nothing."

"Such people!" Raoul said. "True primitives, I am sure, would never have behaved so unfeelingly!"

Cyril smiled, but his face was hard as he turned back to the Snaddrath. "We'll radio Gambrell in the morning to have a ship dispatched to pick us up.

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