Sample M06 from Cordwainer Smith, "A Planet Named Shayol," 7th Annual Edition The Year's Best S-F, edited by Judith Merril, pp. 353-358. A part of the XML version of the Brown Corpus2,017 words 367 (18.2%) quotesM06

Used by permission of Cordwainer Smith; originally published in

Cordwainer Smith, "A Planet Named Shayol," 7th Annual Edition The Year's Best S-F, edited by Judith Merril, pp. 353-358.

Typographical Error: time [for times] [1110]

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It would have killed you in the cabin . Do you have anything for me '' ? ?

Mercer stammered , not knowing what B'dikkat meant , and the two-nosed man answered for him , `` I think he has a nice baby head , but it isn't big enough for you to take yet '' .

Mercer never noticed the needle touch his arm .

B'dikkat had turned to the next knot of people when the super-condamine hit Mercer .

He tried to run after B'dikkat , to hug the lead spacesuit , to tell B'dikkat that he loved him . He stumbled and fell , but it did not hurt .

The many-bodied girl lay near him . Mercer spoke to her .

`` Isn't it wonderful ? ? You're beautiful , beautiful , beautiful . I'm so happy to be here '' .

The woman covered with growing hands came and sat beside them . She radiated warmth and good fellowship . Mercer thought that she looked very distinguished and charming . He struggled out of his clothes . It was foolish and snobbish to wear clothing when none of these nice people did .

The two women babbled and crooned at him .

With one corner of his mind he knew that they were saying nothing , just expressing the euphoria of a drug so powerful that the known universe had forbidden it . With most of his mind he was happy . He wondered how anyone could have the good luck to visit a planet as nice as this . He tried to tell the Lady Da , but the words weren't quite straight .

A painful stab hit him in the abdomen . The drug went after the pain and swallowed it . It was like the cap in the hospital , only a thousand times better . The pain was gone , though it had been crippling the first time .

He forced himself to be deliberate . He rammed his mind into focus and said to the two ladies who lay pinkly nude beside him in the desert , `` That was a good bite . Maybe I will grow another head . That would make B'dikkat happy '' ! !

The Lady Da forced the foremost of her bodies in an upright position . Said she , `` I'm strong , too . I can talk . Remember , man , remember . People never live forever . We can die , too , we can die like real people . I do so believe in death '' ! !

Mercer smiled at her through his happiness .

`` Of course you can . But isn't this nice ''

With this he felt his lips thicken and his mind go slack . He was wide awake , but he did not feel like doing anything . In that beautiful place , among all those companionable and attractive people , he sat and smiled .

B'dikkat was sterilizing his knives .

Mercer wondered how long the super-condamine had lasted him . He endured the ministrations of the dromozoa without screams or movement . The agonies of nerves and itching of skin were phenomena which happened somewhere near him , but meant nothing . He watched his own body with remote , casual interest . The Lady Da and the hand-covered woman stayed near him . After a long time the half-man dragged himself over to the group with his powerful arms . Having arrived he blinked sleepily and friendlily at them , and lapsed back into the restful stupor from which he had emerged . Mercer saw the sun rise on occasion , closed his eyes briefly , and opened them to see stars shining . Time had no meaning . The dromozoa fed him in their mysterious way ; ; the drug canceled out his needs for cycles of the body .

At last he noticed a return of the inwardness of pain .

The pains themselves had not changed ; ; he had .

He knew all the events which could take place on Shayol . He remembered them well from his happy period . Formerly he had noticed them -- now he felt them .

He tried to ask the Lady Da how long they had had the drug , and how much longer they would have to wait before they had it again . She smiled at him with benign , remote happiness ; ; apparently her many torsos , stretched out along the ground , had a greater capacity for retaining the drug than did his body . She meant him well , but was in no condition for articulate speech .

The half-man lay on the ground , arteries pulsating prettily behind the half-transparent film which protected his abdominal cavity .

Mercer squeezed the man's shoulder .

The half-man woke , recognized Mercer and gave him a healthily sleepy grin .

`` ' A good morrow to you , my boy . That's out of a play . Did you ever see a play '' ? ?

`` You mean a game with cards '' ? ?

`` No '' , said the half-man , `` a sort of eye-machine with real people doing the figures '' .

`` I never saw that '' , said Mercer , `` but I '' --

`` But you want to ask me when B'dikkat is going to come back with the needle '' .

`` Yes '' , said Mercer , a little ashamed of his obviousness .

`` Soon '' , said the half-man . That's why I think of plays . We all know what is going to happen . We all know when it is going to happen . We all know what the dummies will do '' -- he gestured at the hummocks in which the decorticated men were cradled -- `` and we all know what the new people will ask . But we never know how long a scene is going to take '' .

`` What's a ' scene ' '' ? ? Asked Mercer . `` Is that the name for the needle '' ? ?

The half-man laughed with something close to real humor . `` No , no , no . You've got the lovelies on the brain . A scene is just a part of a play . I mean we know the order in which things happen , but we have no clocks and nobody cares enough to count days or to make calendars and there's not much climate here , so none of us know how long anything takes . The pain seems short and the pleasure seems long . I'm inclined to think that they are about two Earth-weeks each '' .

Mercer did not know what an `` Earth-week '' was , since he had not been a well-read man before his conviction , but he got nothing more from the half-man at that time . The half-man received a dromozootic implant , turned red in the face , shouted senselessly at Mercer , `` Take it out , you fool ! ! Take it out of me '' ! !

When Mercer looked on helplessly , the half-man twisted over on his side , his pink dusty back turned to Mercer , and wept hoarsely and quietly to himself .

Mercer himself could not tell how long it was before B'dikkat came back . It might have been several days . It might have been several months .

Once again B'dikkat moved among them like a father ; ; once again they clustered like children . This time B'dikkat smiled pleasantly at the little head which had grown out of Mercer's thigh -- a sleeping child's head , covered with light hair on top and with dainty eyebrows over the resting eyes . Mercer got the blissful needle .

When B'dikkat cut the head from Mercer's thigh , he felt the knife grinding against the cartilage which held the head to his own body . He saw the child-face grimace as the head was cut ; ; he felt the far , cool flash of unimportant pain , as B'dikkat dabbed the wound with a corrosive antiseptic which stopped all bleeding immediately .

The next time it was two legs growing from his chest .

Then there had been another head beside his own .

Or was that after the torso and legs , waist to toe-tips , of the little girl which had grown from his side ? ?

He forgot the order .

He did not count time .

Lady Da smiled at him often , but there was no love in this place . She had lost the extra torsos . In between teratologies , she was a pretty and shapely woman ; ; but the nicest thing about their relationship was her whisper to him , repeated some thousands of time , repeated with smiles and hope , `` People never live forever '' .

She found this immensely comforting , even though Mercer did not make much sense out of it .

Thus events occurred , and victims changed in appearance , and new ones arrived . Sometimes B'dikkat took the new ones , resting in the everlasting sleep of their burned-out brains , in a ground-truck to be added to other herds . The bodies in the truck threshed and bawled without human speech when the dromozoa struck them .

Finally , Mercer did manage to follow B'dikkat to the door of the cabin . He had to fight the bliss of super-condamine to do it . Only the memory of previous hurt , bewilderment and perplexity made him sure that if he did not ask B'dikkat when he , Mercer , was happy , the answer would no longer be available when he needed it . Fighting pleasure itself , he begged B'dikkat to check the records and to tell him how long he had been there .

B'dikkat grudgingly agreed , but he did not come out of the doorway . He spoke through the public address box built into the cabin , and his gigantic voice roared out over the empty plain , so that the pink herd of talking people stirred gently in their happiness and wondered what their friend B'dikkat might be wanting to tell them . When he said it , they thought it exceedingly profound , though none of them understood it , since it was simply the amount of time that Mercer had been on Shayol :

`` Standard years -- eighty-four years , seven months , three days , two hours , eleven and one half minutes . Good luck , fellow '' .

Mercer turned away .

The secret little corner of his mind , which stayed sane through happiness and pain , made him wonder about B'dikkat . What persuaded the cow-man to remain on Shayol ? ? What kept him happy without super-condamine ? ? Was B'dikkat a crazy slave to his own duty or was he a man who had hopes of going back to his own planet some day , surrounded by a family of little cow-people resembling himself ? ? Mercer , despite his happiness , wept a little at the strange fate of B'dikkat . His own fate he accepted .

He remembered the last time he had eaten -- actual eggs from an actual pan . The dromozoa kept him alive , but he did not know how they did it .

He staggered back to the group . The Lady Da , naked in the dusty plain , waved a hospitable hand and showed that there was a place for him to sit beside her . There were unclaimed square miles of seating space around them , but he appreciated the kindliness of her gesture none the less .

4 , The years , if they were years , went by . The land of Shayol did not change .

Sometimes the bubbling sound of geysers came faintly across the plain to the herd of men ; ; those who could talk declared it to be the breathing of Captain Alvarez . There was night and day , but no setting of crops , no change of season , no generations of men . Time stood still for these people , and their load of pleasure was so commingled with the shocks and pains of the dromozoa that the words of the Lady Da took on very remote meaning .

`` People never live forever '' .

Her statement was a hope , not a truth in which they could believe . They did not have the wit to follow the stars in their courses , to exchange names with each other , to harvest the experience of each for the wisdom of all . There was no dream of escape for these people . Though they saw the old-style chemical rockets lift up from the field beyond B'dikkat's cabin , they did not make plans to hide among the frozen crop of transmuted flesh .

Far long ago , some other prisoner than one of these had tried to write a letter . His handwriting was on a rock . Mercer read it , and so had a few of the others , but they could not tell which man had done it . Nor did they care .

The letter , scraped on stone , had been a message home . They could still read the opening : `` Once , I was like you , stepping out of my window at the end of day , and letting the winds blow me gently toward the place I lived in . Once , like you , I had one head , two hands , ten fingers on my hands . The front part of my head was called a face , and I could talk with it . Now I can only write , and that only when I get out of pain .