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Title: Reap the Dark Tide

Date of first publication: 1958

Author: Cyril M. Kornbluth (1924-1958)

Date first posted: June 6, 2017

Date last updated: June 6, 2017

Faded Page eBook #20170613

This ebook was produced by: Alex White & the online Distributed Proofreaders Canada team at http://www.pgdpcanada.net

Reap the Dark Tide

Cyril M. Kornbluth

First published Vanguard Science Fiction, June 1958.

A whole culture afloat, with a savage code to drive it—but not half so savage as what the outcasts found on land.

C. M. KORNBLUTH is a one-man literature. Within a year after his appearance in science fiction in 1940, he was operating under seven pen-names, and in 10 years turned out 43 stories—sometimes by himself, sometimes in collaboration with other writers. In the succeeding seven years he has written 19 books; of these, the most widely known is “The Space Merchants”, with Frederik Pohl (Ballantine Books). He is now at work on a 20th, a Civil War novel.


It was the spring swarming of the plankton; every man and woman and most of the children aboard Grenville’s Convoy had a job to do. As the seventy-five gigantic sailing ships ploughed their two degrees of the South Atlantic the fluid that foamed beneath their cutwaters seethed also with life. In the few weeks of the swarming, in the few meters of surface water where sunlight penetrated in sufficient strength to trigger photosynthesis, microscopic spores burst into microscopic plants, were devoured by minute animals which in turn were swept into the maws of barely visible sea monsters almost a tenth of an inch from head to tail; these in turn were fiercely pursued and gobbled in shoals by the fierce little brit, the tiny herring and shrimp that could turn a hundred miles of green water to molten silver before your eyes.

Through the silver ocean of the swarming the Convoy scudded and tacked in great controlled zigs and zags, reaping the silver of the sea in the endlessly reeling bronze nets each ship payed out behind.

The Commodore in Grenville did not sleep during the swarming; he and his staff dispatched cutters to scout the swarms, hung on the meterologists’ words, digested the endless reports from the scout vessels and toiled through the night to prepare the dawn signal. The mainmast flags might tell the captains “Convoy course five degrees right”, or “Two degrees left”, or only “Convoy course: no change”. On those dawn signals depended the life for the next six months of the million and a quarter souls of the Convoy. It had not happened often, but it had happened that a succession of blunders reduced a Convoy’s harvest below the minimum necessary to sustain life. Derelicts were sometimes sighted and salvaged from such convoys; strong-stomached men and women were needed for the first boarding and clearing away of human debris. Cannibalism occurred, an obscene thing one had nightmares about.

The seventy-five captains had their own particular purgatory to endure throughout the harvest, the Sail-Seine Equation. It was their job to balance the push on the sails and the drag of the ballooning seines so that push exceeded drag by just the number of pounds that would keep the ship on course and in station, given every conceivable variation of wind force and direction, temperature of water, consistency of brit, and smoothness of hull. Once the catch was salted down it was customary for the captains to converge on Grenville for a roaring feast by way of letdown.

Rank had its privileges. There was no such relief for the captains’ Net Officers or their underlings for Operations and Maintenance, or for their Food Officers under whom served the Processing and Stowage people. They merely worked, streaming the nets twenty-four hours a day, keeping them bellied out with lines from mast and out-riding gigs, keeping them spooling over the great drum amidships, tending the blades that had to scrape the brit from the nets without damaging the nets, repairing the damage when it did occur, and without interruption of the harvest, flash-cooking the part of the harvest to be cooked, drying the part to be dried, pressing oil from the harvest as required, and stowing what was cooked and dried and pressed where it would not spoil, where it would not alter the trim of the ship, where it would not be pilfered by children. This went on for weeks after the silver had gone thin and patchy against the green, and after the silver had altogether vanished.

The routines of many were not changed at all by the swarming season. The blacksmiths, the sailmakers, the carpenters, the water-tenders, to a degree the storekeepers, functioned as before, tending to the fabric of the ship, renewing, replacing, reworking. The ships were things of brass, bronze and unrusting steel. Phosphor bronze strands were woven into net, lines and cables; cordage, masts and hull were metal; all were inspected daily by the First Officer and his men and women for the smallest pin-head of corrosion. The smallest pin-head of corrosion could spread; it could send a ship to the bottom before it had done spreading, as the chaplains were fond of reminding worshippers when the ships rigged for church on Sundays. To keep the hellish red of iron rust and the sinister blue of copper rust from invading, the squads of oilers were always on the move, with oil distilled from the catch. The sails and the clothes alone could not be preserved; they wore out. It was for this that the felting machines down below chopped wornout sails and clothing into new fibers and twisted and rolled them with kelp and with glue from the catch into new felt for new sails and clothing.

While the plankton continued to swarm twice a year, Grenville’s convoy could continue to sail the South Atlantic, from ten-mile limit to ten-mile limit. Not one of the seventy-five ships in the convoy had an anchor.

The Captain’s Party that followed the end of Swarming 283 was slow getting under way. McBee, whose ship was Port Squadron 19, said to Salter of Starboard Squadron 30: “To be frank, I’m too damned exhausted to care whether I ever go to another party, but I didn’t want to disappoint the Old Man.”

The Commodore, trim and bronzed, not showing his eighty years, was across the great cabin from them greeting new arrivals.

Salter said: “You’ll feel differently after a good sleep. It was a great harvest, wasn’t it? Enough weather to make it tricky and interesting. Remember 276? That was the one that wore me out. A grind, going by the book. But this time, on the fifteenth day my foretopsail was going to go about noon, big rip in her, but I needed her for my S-S balance. What to do? I broke out a balloon spinnaker—now wait a minute, let me tell it first before you throw the book at me—and pumped my fore trim tank out. Presto! No trouble; foretopsail replaced in fifteen minutes.”

McBee was horrified. “You could have lost your net!”

“My weatherman absolutely ruled out any sudden squalls.”

“Weatherman. You could have lost your net!”

Salter studied him. “Saying that once was thoughtless, McBee. Saying it twice is insulting. Do you think I’d gamble with twenty thousand lives?”

McBee passed his hands over his tired face. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I told you I was exhausted. Of course under special circumstances it can be a safe maneuver.” He walked to a porthole for a glance at his own ship, the nineteenth in the long echelon behind Grenville. Salter stared after him. “Losing one’s net” was a phrase that occurred in several proverbs; it stood for abysmal folly. In actuality a ship that lost its phosphor-bronze wire mesh was doomed, and quickly. One could improvise with sails or try to jury-rig a net out of the remaining rigging, but not well enough to feed twenty thousand hands, and no fewer than that were needed for maintenance. Grenville’s Convoy had met a derelict which lost its net back before 240; children still told horror stories about it, how the remnants of port and starboard watches, mad to a man, were at war, a war of vicious night forays with knives and clubs.

Salter went to the bar and accepted from the Commodore’s steward his first drink of the evening, a steel tumbler of colorless fluid distilled from a fermented mash of sargassum weed. It was about forty per cent alcohol and tasted pleasantly of iodides.

He looked up from his sip and his eyes widened. There was a man in captain’s uniform talking with the Commodore and he did not recognize his face. But there had been no promotions lately!

The Commodore saw him looking and beckoned him over. He saluted and then accepted the old man’s hand-clasp. “Captain Salter,” the Commodore said, “my youngest and rashest, and my best harvester. Salter, this is Captain Degerand of the White Fleet.”

Salter frankly gawked. He knew perfectly well that Grenville’s Convoy was far from sailing alone upon the seas. On watch he had beheld distant sails from time to time. He was aware that cruising the two-degree belt north of theirs was another convoy and that in the belt south of theirs was still another, in fact that the seaborne population of the world was a constant one billion, eighty million. But never had he expected to meet face to face any of them except the one and a quarter million who sailed under Grenville’s flag.

Degerand was younger than he, all deeply tanned skin and flashing pointed teeth. His uniform was perfectly ordinary and very queer. He understood Salter’s puzzled look. “It’s woven cloth,” he said. “The White Fleet was launched several decades after Grenville’s. By then they had machinery to reconstitute fibers suitable for spinning and they equipped us with it. It’s six of one and half a dozen of the other. I think our sails may last longer than yours, but the looms require a lot of skilled labor when they break down.”

The Commodore had left them.

“Are we very different from you?” Salter asked.

Degerand said: “Our differences are nothing. Against the dirt men we are brothers—blood brothers.”

The term “dirt men” was discomforting; the juxtaposition with “blood” more so. Apparently he was referring to whoever it was that lived on the continents and islands—a shocking breach of manners, of honor, of faith. The words of The Charter circled through Salter’s head. “. . . return for the sea and its bounty . . . renounce and abjure the land from which we . . .” Salter had been ten years old before he knew that there were continents and islands. His dismay must have shown on his face.

“They have doomed us,” the foreign captain said. “We cannot refit. They have sent us out, each upon our two degrees of ocean in larger or smaller convoys as the richness of the brit dictated, and they have cut us off. To each of us will come the catastrophic storm, the bad harvest, the lost net, and death.”

It was Salter’s impression that Degerand had said the same words many times before, usually to large audiences.

The Commodore’s talker boomed out: “Now hear this!” His huge voice filled the stateroom easily; his usual job was to roar through a megaphone across a league of ocean, supplementing flag and lamp signals. “Now hear this!” he boomed. “There’s tuna on the table—big fish for big sailors!”

A grinning steward whisked a felt from the sideboard, and there by Heaven it lay! A great baked fish as long as your leg, smoking hot and trimmed with kelp! A hungry roar greeted it; the captains made for the stack of trays and began to file past the steward, busy with knife and steel.

Salter marvelled to Degerand: “I didn’t dream there were any left that size. When you think of the tons of brit that old-timer must have gobbled!”

The foreigner said darkly: “We slew the whales, the sharks, the perch, the cod, the herring—everything that used the sea but us. They fed on brit and one another and concentrated it in firm savory flesh like that, but we were jealous of the energy squandered in the long food chain; we decreed that the chain would stop with the link brit-to-man.”

Salter by then had filled a tray. “Brit’s more reliable,” he said. “A convoy can’t take chances on fisherman’s luck.” He happily bolted a steaming mouthful.

“Safety is not everything,” Degerand said. He ate, more slowly than Salter. “Your Commodore said you were a rash seaman.”

“He was joking. If he believed that, he would have to remove me from command.”

The Commodore walked up to them, patting his mouth with a handkerchief and beaming. “Surprised, eh?” he demanded. “Glasgow’s lookout spotted that big fellow yesterday half a kilometer away. He signalled me and I told him to lower and row for him. The boat crew sneaked up while he was browsing and gaffed him clean. Very virtuous of us. By killing him we economize on brit and provide a fitting celebration for my captains. Eat hearty! It may be the last we’ll ever see.”

Degerand rudely contradicted his senior officer. “They can’t be wiped out clean, commodore, not exterminated. The sea is deep. Its genetic potential cannot be destroyed. We merely make temporary alterations of the feeding balance.”

“Seen any sperm whale lately?” the Commodore asked, raising his white eyebrows. “Go get yourself another helping, captain, before it’s gone.” It was a dismissal; the foreigner bowed and went to the buffet.

The Commodore asked: “What do you think of him?”

“He has some extreme ideas,” Salter said.

“The White Fleet appears to have gone bad,” the old man said. “That fellow showed up on a cutter last week in the middle of harvest wanting my immediate, personal attention. He’s on the staff of the White Fleet Commodore. I gather they’re all like him. They’ve got slack; maybe rust has got ahead of them, maybe they’re overbreeding. A ship lost its net and they didn’t let it go. They cannibalized rigging from the whole fleet to make a net for it.”


“But—but—but. Of course it was the wrong thing and now they’re all suffering. Now they haven’t the stomach to draw lots and cut their losses.” He lowered his voice. “Their idea is some sort of raid on the Western Continent, that America thing, for steel and bronze and whatever else they find not welded to the deck. It’s nonsense, of course, spawned by a few silly-clever people on the staff. The crews will never go along with it. Degerand was sent to invite us in!”

Salter said nothing for a while and then: “I certainly hope we’ll have nothing to do with it.”

“I’m sending him back at dawn with my compliments, and a negative, and my sincere advice to his Commodore that he drop the whole thing before his own crew hears of it and has him bowspritted.” The Commodore gave him a wintry smile. “Such a reply is easy to make, of course, just after concluding an excellent harvest. It might be more difficult to signal a negative if we had a couple of ships unnetted and only enough catch in salt to feed sixty per cent of the hands. Do you think you could give the hard answer under those circumstances?”

“I think so, sir.”

The Commodore walked away, his face enigmatic. Salter thought he knew what was going on. He had been given one small foretaste of top command. Perhaps he was being groomed for Commodore—not to succeed the old man, surely, but his successor.

McBee approached, full of big fish and drink. “Foolish thing I said,” he stammered. “Let’s have drink, forget about it, eh?”

He was glad to.

“Damn fine seaman!” McBee yelled after a couple more drinks. “Best little captain in the Convoy! Not a scared old crock like poor old McBee, ’fraid of every puff of wind!”

And then he had to cheer up McBee until the party began to thin out. McBee fell asleep at last and Salter saw him to his gig before boarding his own for the long row to the bobbing masthead lights of his ship.

Starboard Squadron Thirty was at rest in the night. Only the slowly-moving oil lamps of the women on their ceaseless rust patrol were alive. The brit catch, dried, came to some seven thousand tons. It was a comfortable margin over the 5,670 tons needed for six months’ full rations before the autumnal swarming and harvest. The trim tanks along the keel had been pumped almost dry by the ship’s current prison population as the cooked and dried and salted cubes were stored in the glass-lined warehouse tier; the gigantic vessel rode easily on a swelling sea before a Force One westerly breeze.

Salter was exhausted. He thought briefly of having his cox’n whistle for a bosun’s chair so that he might be hauled at his ease up the fifty-yard cliff that was the hull before them, and dismissed the idea with regret. Rank hath its privileges and also its obligations. He stood up in the gig, jumped for the ladder and began the long climb. As he passed the portholes of the cabin tiers he virtuously kept eyes front, on the bronze plates of the hull inches from his nose. Many couples in the privacy of their double cabins would be celebrating the end of the back-breaking, night-and-day toil. One valued privacy aboard the ship; one’s own 648 cubic feet of cabin, one’s own porthole, acquired an almost religious meaning, particularly after the weeks of swarming cooperative labor.

Taking care not to pant, he finished the climb with a flourish, springing onto the flush deck. There was no audience. Feeling a little ridiculous and forsaken, he walked aft in the dark with only the wind and the creak of the rigging in his ears. The five great basket masts strained silently behind their breeze-filled sails; he paused a moment beside Wednesday mast, huge as a redwood, and put his hands on it to feel the power that vibrated in its steel latticework.

Six intent women went past, their hand lamps sweeping the deck; he jumped, though they never noticed him. They were in something like a trance state while on their tour of duty. Normal courtesies were suspended for them; with their work began the job of survival. One thousand women, five per cent of the ship’s company, inspected night and day for corrosion. Sea water is a vicious solvent and the ship had to live in it; fanaticism was the answer.

His stateroom above the rudder waited; the hatchway to it glowed a hundred feet down the deck with the light of a wasteful lantern. After harvest, when the tanks brimmed with oil, one type acted as though the tanks would brim forever. The captain wearily walked around and over a dozen stay-ropes to the hatchway and blew out the lamp. Before descending he took a mechanical look around the deck; all was well—

Except for a patch of paleness at the fantail.

“Will this day never end?” he asked the darkened lantern and went to the fantail. The patch was a little girl in a night dress wandering aimlessly over the deck, her thumb in her mouth. She seemed to be about two years old, and was more than half asleep. She could have gone over the railing in a moment; a small wail, a small splash—

He picked her up like a feather. “Who’s your daddy, princess?” he asked.

“Dunno,” she grinned. The devil she didn’t! It was too dark to read her ID necklace and he was too tired to light the lantern. He trudged down the deck to the crew of inspectors. He said to their chief: “One of you get this child back to her parents’ cabin,” and held her out.

The chief was indignant. “Sir, we are on watch!”

“File a grievance with the Commodore if you wish. Take the child.”

One of the rounder women did, and made cooing noises while her chief glared. “Bye-bye, princess,” the captain said. “You ought to be keel-hauled for this, but I’ll give you another chance.”

“Bye-bye,” the little girl said, waving, and the captain went yawning down the hatchway to bed.

His stateroom was luxurious by the austere standards of the ship. It was equal to six of the standard nine-by-nine cabins in volume, or to three of the double cabins for couples. These however had something he did not. Officers above the rank of lieutenant were celibate. Experience had shown that this was the only answer to nepotism, and nepotism was a luxury which no convoy could afford. It meant, sooner or later, inefficient command. Inefficient command meant, sooner or later, death.

Because he thought he would not sleep, he did not.

Marriage. Parenthood. What a strange business it must be! To share a bed with a wife, a cabin with two children decently behind their screen for sixteen years . . . what did one talk about in bed? His last mistress had hardly talked at all, except with her eyes. When these showed signs that she was falling in love with him, Heaven knew why, he broke with her as quietly as possible and since then irritably rejected the thought of acquiring a successor. That had been two years ago when he was 38, and already beginning to feel like a cabin-crawler fit only to be dropped over the fantail into the wake. An old lecher, a roué, a user of women. Of course she had talked a little; what did they have in common to talk about? With a wife ripening beside him, with children to share, it would have been different. That pale, tall quiet girl deserved better than he could give; he hoped she was decently married now in a double cabin, perhaps already heavy with the first of her two children.

A whistle squeaked above his head; somebody was blowing into one of the dozen speaking tubes clustered against the bulkhead. Then a push-wire popped open the steel lid of Tube Seven, Signals. He resignedly picked up the flexible reply tube and said into it: “This is the captain. Go ahead.”

Grenville signals Force Three squall approaching from astern, sir.”

“Force Three squall from astern. Turn out the fore-starboard watch. Have them reef sail to Condition Charlie.”

“Fore-starboard watch, reef sail to Condition Charlie, aye-aye.”


“Aye-aye, sir.” The lid of Tube Seven, Signals, popped shut. At once he heard the distant, penetrating shrill of the pipe, the faint vibration as one sixth of the deck crew began to stir in their cabins, awaken, hit the deck bleary-eyed, begin to trample through the corridors and up the hatchways to the deck. He got up himself and pulled on clothes, yawning. Reefing from Condition Fox to Condition Charlie was no serious matter, not even in the dark, and Walters on watch was a good officer. But he’d better have a look.

Being flush-decked, the ship offered him no bridge. He conned her from the “first top” of Friday mast, the rearmost of her five. The “first top” was a glorified crow’s nest fifty feet up the steel basket-work of that great tower; it afforded him a view of all masts and spars in one glance.

He climbed to his command post too far gone for fatigue. A full moon now lit the scene; good. That much less chance of a green topman stepping on a ratline that would prove to be a shadow and hurtling two hundred feet to the deck. That much more snap in the reefing; that much sooner it would be over. Suddenly he was sure he would be able to sleep if he ever got back to bed again.

He turned for a look at the bronze, moonlit heaps of the great net on the fantail. Within a week it would be cleaned and oiled; within two weeks stowed below in the cable tier, safe from wind and weather.

The regiments of the fore-starboard watch swarmed up the masts from Monday to Friday, swarmed out along the spars as bosun’s whistles squealed out the drill—

The squall struck.

Wind screamed and tore at him; the captain flung his arms around a stanchion. Rain pounded down upon his head and the ship reeled in a vast, slow curtsey, port to starboard. Behind him there was a metal sound as the bronze net shifted inches sideways, back.

The sudden clouds had blotted out the moon; he could not see the men who swarmed along the yards but with sudden terrible clarity he felt through the soles of his feet what they were doing. They were clawing their way through the sail-reefing drill, blinded and deafened by sleety rain and wind. They were out of phase by now; they were no longer trying to shorten sail equally on each mast; they were trying to get the thing done and descend. The wind screamed in his face as he turned and clung. Now they were ahead of the job on Monday and Tuesday masts, behind the job on Thursday and Friday masts.

So the ship was going to pitch. The wind would catch it unequally and it would kneel in prayer, the cutwater plunging with a great, deep stately obeisance down into the fathoms of ocean, the stern soaring slowly, ponderously, into the air until the topmost rudder-trunnion streamed a hundred-foot cascade into the boiling froth of the wake.

That was half the pitch. It happened, and the captain clung, groaning aloud. He heard above the screaming wind loose gear rattling on the deck, clashing forward in an avalanche. He heard a heavy clink at the stern and bit his lower lip until it ran with blood that the tearing cold rain flooded from his chin.

The pitch reached its maximum and the second half began, after interminable moments when she seemed frozen at a five-degree angle forever. The cutwater rose, rose, rose, the bowsprit blocked out horizon stars, the loose gear countercharged astern in a crushing tide of bales, windlass cranks, water-breakers, stilling coils, steel sun reflectors, lashing tails of bronze rigging—

Into the heaped piles of the net, straining at its retainers on the two great bollards that took root in the keel itself four hundred feet below. The energy of the pitch hurled the belly of the net open, crashing, into the sea. The bollards held for a moment.

A retainer cable screamed and snapped like a man’s back, and then the second cable broke. The roaring slither of the bronze links thundering over the fantail shook the ship.

The squall ended as it had come; the clouds scudded on and the moon bared itself, to shine on a deck scrubbed clean. The net was lost.

Captain Salter looked down the fifty feet from the rim of the crow’s nest and thought: I should jump. It would be quicker that way.

But he did not. He slowly began to climb down the ladder to the bare deck.


Having no electrical equipment, the ship was necessarily a representative republic rather than a democracy. Twenty thousand people can discuss and decide only with the aid of microphones, loudspeakers and rapid calculators to balance the ayes and noes. With lungpower the only means of communication and an abacus in a clerk’s hands the only tallying device, certainly no more than fifty people can talk together and make sense, and there are pessimists who say the number is closer to five than fifty. The Ship’s Council that met at dawn on the fantail numbered fifty.

It was a beautiful dawn; it lifted the heart to see salmon sky, iridescent sea, spread white sails of the convoy ranged in a great slanting line across sixty miles of oceanic blue.

It was the kind of dawn for which one lived—a full catch salted down, the water-butts filled, the evaporators trickling from their thousand tubes nine gallons each sunrise to sunset, wind enough for easy steerageway and a pretty spread of sail. These were the rewards. One hundred and forty-one years ago Grenville’s Convoy had been launched at Newport News, Virginia, to claim them.

Oh, the high adventure of the launching! The men and women who had gone aboard thought themselves heroes, conquerors of nature, self-sacrificers for the glory of NEMET! But NEMET meant only Northeastern Metropolitan Area, one dense warren that stretched from Boston to Newport, built up and dug down, sprawling westward, gulping Pittsburgh without a pause, beginning to peter out past Cincinnati.

The first generation asea clung and sighed for the culture of NEMET, consoled itself with its patriotic sacrifice; any relief was better than none at all, and Grenville’s Convoy had drained one and a quarter million population from the huddle. They were immigrants into the sea; like all immigrants they longed for the Old Country. Then the second generation. Like all second generations they had no patience with the old people or their tales. This was real, this sea, this gale, this rope! Then the third generation. Like all third generations it felt a sudden desperate hollowness and lack of identity. What was real? Who are we? What is NEMET which we have lost? But by then grandfather and grandmother could only mumble vaguely; the cultural heritage was gone, squandered in three generations, spent forever. As always, the fourth generation did not care.

And those who sat in counsel on the fantail were members of the fifth and sixth generations. They knew all there was to know about life. Life was the hull and masts, the sail and rigging, the net and the evaporators. Nothing more. Nothing less. Without masts there was no life. Nor was there life without the net.

The ship’s council did not command; command was reserved to the captain and his officers. The council governed, and on occasion tried criminal cases. During the black Winter Without Harvest eighty years before it had decreed euthanasia for all persons over sixty-three years of age and for one out of twenty of the other adults aboard. It had rendered bloody judgment on the ringleaders of Peale’s Mutiny. It had sent them into the wake and Peale himself had been bowspritted, given the maritime equivalent of crucifixion. Since then no megalomaniacs had decided to make life interesting for their shipmates, so Peale’s long agony had served its purpose.

The fifty of them represented every department of the ship and every age-group. If there was wisdom abroad, it was concentrated there on the fantail. But there was little to say.

The eldest of them, Retired Sailmaker Hodgins, presided. Venerably bearded, still strong of voice, he told them:

“Shipmates, our accident has come. We are dead men. Decency demands that we do not spin out the struggle and sink into—unlawful eatings. Reason tells us that we cannot survive. What I propose is an honorable voluntary death for us all, and the legacy of our ship’s fabric to be divided among the remainder of the convoy at the discretion of the Commodore.”

He had little hope of his old man’s viewpoint prevailing. The Chief Inspector rose at once. She had only three words to say: “Not my children.”

Women’s heads nodded grimly, and men’s with resignation. Decency and duty and common sense were all very well until you ran up against that steel bulkhead. Not my children.

A brilliant young chaplain asked: “Has the question even been raised as to whether a collection among the fleet might not provide cordage enough to improvise a net?”

Captain Salter should have answered that, but he, murderer of the twenty thousand souls in his care, could not speak. He nodded jerkily at his signals officer.

Lieutenant Zwingli temporized by taking out his signals slate and pretending to refresh his memory. He said: “At 0035 today a lamp signal was made to Grenville advising that our net was lost. Grenville replied as follows: ‘Effective now, your ship no longer part of convoy. Have no recommendations. Personal sympathy and regrets. Signed, Commodore.’ ”

Captain Salter found his voice. “I’ve sent a couple of other messages to Grenville and to our neighboring vessels. They do not reply. This is as it should be. We are no longer part of the convoy. Through our own—lapse—we have become a drag on the convoy. We cannot look to it for help. I have no word of condemnation for anybody. This is how life is.”

The chaplain folded his hands and began to pray inaudibly.

And then a council member spoke whom Captain Salter knew in another role. It was Jewel Flyte, the tall, pale girl who had been his mistress two years ago. She must be serving as an alternate, he thought, looking at her with new eyes. He did not know she was even that; he had avoided her since then. And no, she was not married; she wore no ring. And neither was her hair drawn back in the semi-official style of the semi-official voluntary celibates, the super-patriots (or simply sex-shy people, or dislikers of children) who surrendered their right to reproduce for the good of the ship (or their own convenience). She was simply a girl in the uniform of a—a what? He had to think hard before he could match the badge over her breast to a department. She was Ship’s Archivist with her crossed key and quill, an obscure clerk and shelf-duster under—far under!—the Chief of Yeomen Writers. She must have been elected alternate by the Yeomen in a spasm of sympathy for her blind-alley career.

“My job,” she said in her calm steady voice, “is chiefly to search for precedents in the Log when unusual events must be recorded and nobody recollects offhand the form in which they should be recorded. It is one of those provoking jobs which must be done by someone but which cannot absorb the full time of a person. I have therefore had many free hours of actual working time. I have also remained unmarried and am not inclined to sports or games. I tell you this so you may believe me when I say that during the past two years I have read the Ship’s Log in its entirety.”

There was a little buzz. Truly an astonishing, and an astonishingly pointless, thing to do! Wind and weather, storms and calms, messages and meetings and censuses, crimes, trials and punishments of a hundred and forty-one years; what a bore!

“Something I read,” she went on, “may have some bearing on our dilemma.” She took a slate from her pocket and read: “Extract from the Log dated June 30th, Convoy Year 72. ‘The Shakespeare-Joyce-Melville Party returned after dark in the gig. They had not accomplished any part of their mission. Six were dead of wounds; all bodies were recovered. The remaining six were mentally shaken but responded to our last ataractics. They spoke of a new religion ashore and its consequences on population. I am persuaded that we seabornes can no longer relate to the continentals. The clandestine shore trips will cease.’ The entry is signed ‘Scolley, Captain’.”

A man named Scolley smiled for a brief proud moment. His ancestor! And then like the others he waited for the extract to make sense. Like the others he found that it would not do so.

Captain Salter wanted to speak, and wondered how to address her. She had been “Jewel” and they all knew it; could he call her “Yeoman Flyte” without looking like, being, a fool? Well, if he was fool enough to lose his net he was fool enough to be formal with an ex-mistress. “Yeoman Flyte,” he said, “where does the extract leave us?”

In her calm voice she told them all: “Penetrating the few obscure words, it appears to mean that until Convoy Year 72 the Charter was regularly violated, with the connivance of successive captains. I suggest that we consider violating it once more, to survive.”

The Charter. It was a sort of ground-swell of their ethical life, learned early, paid homage every Sunday when they were rigged for church. It was inscribed in phosphor bronze plates on Monday mast of every ship at sea, and the wording was always the same.


At least half of them were unconsciously murmuring the words.

Retired Sailmaker Hodgins rose, shaking. “Blasphemy!” he said. “The woman should be bowspritted!”

The chaplain said thoughtfully: “I know a little more about what constitutes blasphemy than Sailmaker Hodgins, I believe, and assure you that he is mistaken. It is a superstitious error to believe that there is any religious sanction for the Charter. It is no ordinance of God but a contract between men.”

“It is a Revelation!” Hodgins shouted. “A Revelation! It is the newest testament! It is God’s finger pointing the way to the clean hard life at sea, away from the grubbing and filth, from the overbreeding and the sickness!”

That was a common view.

What about my children?” demanded the Chief Inspector. “Does God want them to starve or be—be—” She could not finish the question, but the last unspoken word of it rang in all their minds.


Aboard some ships with an accidental preponderance of the elderly, aboard other ships where some blazing personality generations back had raised the Charter to a powerful cult, suicide might have been voted. Aboard other ships where nothing extraordinary had happened in six generations, where things had been easy and the knack and tradition of hard decision-making had been lost, there might have been confusion and inaction and the inevitable degeneration into savagery. Aboard Salter’s ship the Council voted to send a small party ashore to investigate. They used every imaginable euphemism to describe the action, took six hours to make up their minds, and sat at last on the fantail cringing a little, as if waiting for a thunderbolt.

The shore party would consist of Salter, Captain; Flyte, Archivist; Pemberton, Junior Chaplain; Graves, Chief Inspector.

Salter climbed to his conning top on Friday mast, consulted a chart from the archives, and gave the order through speaking tube to the tiller gang: “Change course red four degrees.”

The repeat came back incredulously.

“Execute,” he said. The ship creaked as eighty men heaved the tiller; imperceptibly at first the wake began to curve behind them.

Ship Starboard 30 departed from its ancient station; across a mile of sea the bosun’s whistles could be heard from Starboard 31 as she put on sail to close the gap.

“They might have signaled something,” Salter thought, dropping his glasses at last on his chest. But the masthead of Starboard 31 remained bare of all but its commission pennant.

He whistled up his signals officer and pointed to their own pennant. “Take that thing down,” he said hoarsely, and went below to his cabin.

The new course would find them at last riding off a place the map described as New York City.


Salter issued what he expected would be his last commands to Lieutenant Zwingli; the whaleboat was waiting in its davits; the other three were in it.

“You’ll keep your station here as well as you’re able,” said the captain. “If we live, we’ll be back in a couple of months. Should we not return, that would be a potent argument against beaching the ship and attempting to live off the continent—but it will be your problem then and not mine.”

They exchanged salutes. Salter sprang into the whaleboat, signalled the deck hands standing by at the ropes and the long creaking descent began.

Salter, Captain; age 40; unmarried ex officio; parents Clayton Salter, master instrument maintenanceman, and Eva Romano, chief dietician; selected from dame school age ten for A Track training; seamanship school certificate at age 16, navigation certificate at age 20, First Lieutenant’s School age 24, commissioned ensign age 24; lieutenant at 30, commander at 32; commissioned captain and succeeded to command of Ship Starboard 30 the same year.

Flyte, Archivist, age 25; unmarried; parents Joseph Flyte, entertainer, and Jessie Waggoner, entertainer; completed dame school age 14, B Track training, Yeoman’s School certificate at age 16, Advanced Yeoman’s School certificate at age 18, Efficiency rating, 3.5.

Pemberton, Chaplain, age 30; married to Riva Shields, nurse; no children by choice; parents Will Pemberton, master distiller-water-tender, and Agnes Hunt, felter-machinist’s mate; completed dame school age 12, B Track training, Divinity School Certificate at age 20; mid-starboard watch curate, later forestarboard chaplain.

Graves, chief inspector, age 34, married to George Omany, blacksmith third class; two children; completed dame school age 15, Inspector’s School Certificate at age 16; inspector third class, second class, first class, master inspector, then chief. Efficiency rating, 4.0; three commendations.

Versus the Continent of North America.

They all rowed for an hour; then a shoreward breeze came up and Salter stepped the mast. “Ship your oars,” he said, and then wished he dared countermand the order. Now they would have time to think of what they were doing.

The very water they sailed was different in color from the deep water they knew, and different in its way of moving. The life in it—

“Great God!” Mrs. Graves cried, pointing astern.

It was a huge fish, half the size of their boat. It surfaced lazily and slipped beneath the water in an uninterrupted arc. They had seen steel-grey skin, not scales, and a great slit of a mouth.

Salter said, shaken: “Unbelievable. Still, I suppose in the unfished offshore waters a few of the large forms survive. And the intermediate sizes to feed them—” And foot-long smaller sizes to feed them, and—

Was it mere arrogant presumption that Man had permanently changed the life of the sea?

The afternoon sun slanted down and the tip of Monday mast sank below the horizon’s curve astern; the breeze that filled their sail bowled them towards a mist which wrapped vague concretions they feared to study too closely. A shadowed figure huge as a mast with one arm upraised; behind its blocks and blocks of something solid.

“This is the end of the sea,” said the captain.

Mrs. Graves said what she would have said if a silly under-inspector had reported to her blue rust on steel: “Nonsense!” Then, stammering: “I beg your pardon, captain. Of course you are correct.”

“But it sounded strange,” Chaplain Pemberton said helpfully. “I wonder where they all are?”

Jewel Flyte said in her quiet way: “We should have passed over the discharge from waste tubes before now. They used to pump their waste through tubes under the sea and discharge it several miles out. It colored the water and it stank. During the first voyaging years the captains knew it was time to tack away from land by the color and the bad smell.”

“They must have improved their disposal system by now,” Salter said, “It’s been centuries.”

His last word hung in the air.

The chaplain studied the mist from the bow. It was impossible to deny it; the huge thing was an Idol. Rising from the bay of a great city, an Idol, and a female one—the worst kind! “I thought they had them only in High Places,” he muttered, discouraged.

Jewel Flyte understood. “I think it has no religious significance,” she said. “It’s a sort of—huge piece of scrimshaw.”

Mrs. Graves studied the vast thing and saw in her mind the glyphic arts as practiced at sea: compacted kelp shaved and whittled into little heirloom boxes, miniature portrait busts of children. She decided that Yeoman Flyte had a dangerously wild imagination. Scrimshaw! Tall as a mast!

There should be some commerce, thought the captain. Boats going to and fro. The Place ahead was plainly an island, plainly inhabited; goods and people should be going to it and coming from it. Gigs and cutters and whaleboats should be plying this bay and those two rivers; at that narrow bit they should be lined up impatiently waiting, tacking and riding under sea anchors and furled sails. There was nothing but a few white birds that shrilled nervously at their solitary boat.

The blocky concretions were emerging from the haze; they were sunset-red cubes with regular black eyes dotting them; they were huge dice laid down side by side by side, each as large as a ship, each therefore capable of holding twenty thousand persons.

Where were they all?

The breeze and the tide drove them swiftly through the neck of water where a hundred boats should be waiting. “Furl the sail,” said Salter. “Out oars.”

With no sounds but the whisper of the oarlocks, the cries of the white birds and the slapping of the wavelets they rowed under the shadow of the great red dice to a dock, one of a hundred teeth projecting from the island’s rim.

“Easy the starboard oars,” said Salter; “handsomely the port oars. Up oars. Chaplain, the boat hook.” He had brought them to a steel ladder; Mrs. Graves gasped at the red rust thick on it. Salter tied the painter to a corroded brass ring. “Come along,” he said, and began to climb.

When the four of them stood on the iron-plated dock Pemberton, naturally, prayed. Mrs. Graves followed the prayer with half her attention or less; the rest she could not divert from the shocking slovenliness of the prospect—rust, dust, litter, neglect. What went on in the mind of Jewel Flyte her calm face did not betray. And the captain scanned those black windows a hundred yards inboard—no; inland!—and waited and wondered.

They began to walk to them at last, Salter leading. The sensation underfoot was strange and dead, tiring to the arches and the thighs.

The huge red dice were not as insane close-up as they had appeared from a distance. They were thousand-foot cubes of brick, the stuff that lined ovens. They were set back within squares of green, cracked surfacing which Jewel Flyte named “cement” or “concrete” from some queer corner of her erudition.

There was an entrance, and written over it: THE HERBERT BROWNELL JR. MEMORIAL HOUSES. A bronze plaque shot a pang of guilt through them all as they thought of The Compact, but its words were different and ignoble.


A Project Apartment is a Privilege and not a Right. Daily Inspection is the Cornerstone of the Project. Attendance at Least Once a Week at the Church of Synagogue of your Choice is Required for Families wishing to remain in Good Standing; Proof of Attendance must be presented on Demand. Possession of Tobacco or Alcohol will be considered Prima Facie Evidence of Undesireability. Excessive Water Use, Excessive Energy Use and Food Waste will be Grounds for Desireability Review. The speaking of Languages other than American by persons over the Age of Six will be considered Prima Facie Evidence of Nonassimilability, though this shall not be construed to prohibit Religious Ritual in Languages other than American.

Below it stood another plaque in paler bronze, an afterthought:

None of the foregoing shall be construed to condone the Practice of Depravity under the Guise of Religion by Whatever Name, and all Tenants are warned that any Failure to report the Practice of Depravity will result in summary Eviction and Denunciation.

Around this later plaque some hand had painted with crude strokes of a tar brush a sort of anatomical frame at which they stared in wondering disgust.

At last Pemberton said: “They were a devout people.” Nobody noticed the past tense, it sounded so right.

“Very sensible,” said Mrs. Graves. “No nonsense about them.”

Captain Salter privately disagreed. A ship run with such dour coercion would founder in a month; could land people be that much different?

Jewel Flyte said nothing, but her eyes were wet. Perhaps she was thinking of scared little human rats dodging and twisting through the inhuman maze of great fears and minute rewards.

“After all,” said Mrs. Graves, “it’s nothing but a Cabin Tier. We have cabins and so had they. Captain, might we have a look?”

“This is a reconnaissance,” Salter shrugged. They went into a littered lobby and easily recognized an elevator which had long ago ceased to operate; there were many hand-run dumbwaiters at sea.

A gust of air flapped a sheet of printed paper across the chaplain’s ankles; he stooped to pick it up with a kind of instinctive outrage—leaving paper unsecured, perhaps to blow overboard and be lost forever to the ship’s economy! Then he flushed at his silliness. “So much to unlearn,” he said, and spread the paper to look at it. A moment later he crumpled it in a ball and hurled it from him as hard and as far as he could, and wiped his hands with loathing on his jacket. His face was utterly shocked.

The others stared. It was Mrs. Graves who went for the paper.

“Don’t look at it,” said the chaplain.

“I think she’d better,” Salter said.

The maintenancewoman spread the paper, studied it and said: “Just some nonsense. Captain, what do you make of it?”

It was a large page torn from a book, and on it were simple polychrome drawing and some lines of verse in the style of a child’s first reader. Salter repressed a shocked guffaw. The picture was of a little boy and a little girl quaintly dressed locked in murderous combat, using teeth and nails. “Jack and Jill went up the hill,” said the text, “to fetch a pail of water. She threw Jack down and broke his crown; it was a lovely slaughter.

Jewel Flyte took the page from his hands. All she said was, after a long pause: “I suppose they couldn’t start them too young.” She dropped the page and she too wiped her hands.

“Come along,” the captain said. “We’ll try the stairs.”

The stairs were dust, rat-dung, cobwebs and two human skeletons. Murderous knuckledusters fitted loosely the bones of the two right hands. Salter hardened himself to pick up one of the weapons, but could not bring himself to try it on. Jewel Flyte said apologetically: “Please be careful, captain. It might be poisoned. That seems to be the way they were.”

Salter froze. By God, but the girl was right! Delicately, handling the spiked steel thing by its edges, he held it up. Yes; stains—it would be stained, and perhaps with poison also. He dropped it into the thoracic cage of one skeleton and said: “Come on.” They climbed in quest of a dusty light from above; it was a doorway onto a corridor of many doors. There was evidence of fire and violence. A barricade of queer pudgy chairs and divans had been built to block the corridor, and had been breached. Behind it were sprawled three more heaps of bones.

“They have no heads,” the chaplain said hoarsely. “Captain Salter, this is not a place for human beings. We must go back to the ship, even if it means honorable death. This is not a place for human beings.”

“Thank you, chaplain,” said Salter. “You’ve cast your vote. Is anybody with you?”

“Kill your own children, chaplain,” said Mrs. Graves. “Not mine.”

Jewel Flyte gave the chaplain a sympathetic shrug and said: “No.”

One door stood open, its lock shattered by blows of a fire axe. Salter said: “We’ll try that one.” They entered into the home of an ordinary middle-class death-worshipping family as it had been a century ago, in the one hundred and thirty-first year of Merdeka the Chosen.


Merdeka the Chosen, the All-Foreigner, the Ur-Alien, had never intended any of it. He began as a retail mail-order vendor of movie and television stills, eight-by-ten glossies for the fan trade. It was a hard dollar; you had to keep an immense stock to cater to a tottery Mae Bush admirer, to the pony-tailed screamer over Rip Torn, and to everybody in between. He would have no truck with pinups. “Dirty, lascivious pictures!” he snarled when broadly-hinting letters arrived. “Filth! Men and women kissing, ogling, pawing each other! Orgies! Bah!” Merdeka kept a neutered dog, a spayed cat, and a crumpled uncomplaining housekeeper who was technically his wife. He was poor; he was very poor. Yet he never neglected his charitable duties, contributing every year to the Planned Parenthood Federation and the Midtown Hysterectomy Clinic.

They knew him in the Third Avenue saloons where he talked every night, arguing with Irishmen, sometimes getting asked outside to be knocked down. He let them knock him down, and sneered from the pavement. Was this their argument? He could argue. He spewed facts and figures and clichés in unanswerable profusion. Hell, man, the Russians’ll have a bomb base on the moon in two years and in two years the Army and the Air Force will still be beating each other over the head with pigs’ bladders. Just a minute, let me tell you: the goddammycin’s making idiots of us all; do you know of any children born in the past two years that’re healthy? And: ’flu be go to hell; it’s our own germ warfare from Camp Crowder right outside Baltimore that got out of hand, and it happened the week of the 24th. And: The human animal’s obsolete; they’ve proved at M.I.T., Steinwitz and Kohlmann proved that the human animal cannot survive the current radiation levels. And: enjoy your lung-cancer, friend; for every automobile and its stinking exhaust there will be two-point-seven-oh-three cases of lung cancer, and we’ve got to have our automobiles, don’t we? And: delinquency my foot; they’re insane and it’s got to the point where the economy cannot support mass insanity; they’ve got to be castrated; it’s the only way. And: they should dig up the body of Metchnikoff and throw it to the dogs; he’s the degenerate who invented venereal prophylaxis and since then vice without punishment has run hog-wild through the world; what we need on the streets is a few of those old-time locomotor ataxia cases limping and drooling to show the kids where vice leads.

He didn’t know where he came from. The delicate New York way of establishing origins is to ask: “Merdeka, hah? What kind of a name is that now?” And to this he would reply that he wasn’t a lying Englishman or a loud-mouthed Irishman or a perverted Frenchman or a chiseling Jew or a barbarian Russian or a toadying German or a thickheaded Scandi-hoovian, and if his listener didn’t like it, what did he have to say in reply?

He was from an orphanage, and the legend at the orphanage was that a policeman had found him, two hours old, in a garbage can coincident with the death by hemmorrhage on a trolley car of a luetic young woman whose named appeared to be Merdeka and who had certainly been recently delivered of a child. No other facts were established, but for generation after generation of orphanage inmates there was great solace in having one of their number who indisputably had got off to a worse start than they.

A watershed of his career occurred when he noticed that he was, for the seventh time that year, re-ordering prints of scenes from Mr. Howard Hughes’ production The Outlaw. These were not the off-the-bust stills of Miss Jane Russell, surprisingly, but were group scenes of Miss Russell suspended by her wrists and about to be whipped. Merdeka studied the scene, growled “Give it to the bitch!” and doubled the order. It sold out. He canvassed his files for other whipping and torture stills from Desert Song-type movies, made up a special assortment, and it sold out within a week. Then he knew.

The man and the opportunity had come together, for perhaps the fiftieth time in history. He hired a model and took the first specially posed pictures himself. They showed her cringing from a whip, tied to a chair with a clothesline, and herself brandishing the whip.

Within two months Merdeka had cleared six thousand dollars and he put every cent of it back into more photographs and direct-mail advertising. Within a year he was big enough to attract the post-office obscenity people. He went to Washington and screamed in their faces: “My stuff isn’t obscene and I’ll sue you if you bother me, you stinking bureaucrats! You show me one breast, you show me one behind, you show me one human being touching another in my pictures! You can’t and you know you can’t! I don’t believe in sex and I don’t push sex, so you leave me the hell alone! Life is pain and suffering and being scared so people like to look at my pictures; my pictures are about them, the scared little jerks! You’re just a bunch of goddam perverts if you think there’s anything dirty about my pictures!”

He had them there; Merdeka’s girls always wore at least full panties, bras and stockings; he had them there. The Post-office obscenity people were vaguely positive that there was something wrong with pictures of beautiful women tied down to be whipped or burned with hot irons, but what?

The next year they tried to get him on his income tax; those deductions for the Planned Parenthood Federation and the Midtown Hysterectomy Clinic were preposterous, but he proved them with canceled checks to the last nickel. “In fact,” he indignantly told them, “I spend a lot of time at the Clinic and sometimes they let me watch the operations. That’s how highly they think of me at the Clinic.”

The next year he started DEATH: the Weekly Picture Magazine with the aid of a half-dozen bright young grads from new Harvard School of Communicationeering. As DEATH’s Communicator in Chief (only yesterday he would have been its Publisher, and only fifty years before he would have been its Editor) he slumped biliously in a pigskin-panelled office, peering suspiciously at the closed-circuit TV screen which had a hundred wired eyes throughout DEATH’s offices, sometimes growling over the voice circuit: “You! What’s your name? Boland? You’re through, Boland. Pick up your time at the paymaster.” For any reason; for no reason. He was a living legend in his narrow-lapel charcoal flannel suit and stringy bullfighter neckties; the bright young men in their Victorian Revival frock coats and pearl-pinned cravats wondered at his—not “obstinacy”; not when there might be a mike even in the corner saloon; say, his “timelessness”.

The bright young men became bright young-old men, and the magazine which had been conceived as a vehicle for deadheading house ads of the mail order picture business went into the black. On the cover of every issue of DEATH was a pictured execution-of-the-week, and no price for one was ever too high. A fifty-thousand-dollar donation to a mosque had purchased the right to secretly snap the Bread Ordeal by which perished a Yemenite suspected of tapping an oil pipeline. An interminable illustrated History of Flagellation was a staple of the reading matter, and the Medical Section (in color) was tremendously popular. So too was the weekly Traffic Report.

When the last of the Compact Ships was launched into the Pacific the event made DEATH because of the several fatal accidents which accompanied the launching; otherwise Merdeka ignored the ships. It was strange that he who had unorthodoxies about everything had no opinion at all about the Compact Ships and their crews. Perhaps it was that he really knew he was the greatest manslayer who ever lived, and even so could not face commanding total extinction, including that of the seaborne leaven. The more articulate Sokei-an, who in the name of Rinzei Zen Buddhism was at that time depopulating the immense area dominated by China, made no bones about it: “Even I in my Hate may err; let the celestial vessels be.” The opinions of Dr. Spät, European member of the trio, are forever beyond recovery due to his advocacy of the “one-generation” plan.

With advancing years Merdeka’s wits cooled and gelled. There came a time when he needed a theory and was forced to stab the button of the intercom for his young-old Managing Communicator and growl at him: “Give me a theory!” And the M.C. reeled out: “The structural intermesh of DEATH: the Weekly Picture Magazine with Western culture is no random point-event but a rising world-line. Predecessor attitudes such as the Hollywood dogma ‘No tits—blood!’ and the tabloid press’ exploitation of violence were floundering and empirical. It was Merdeka who sigma-ized the convergent traits of our times and asymptotically congruentizes with them publication-wise. Wrestling and the roller-derby as blood sports, the routinization of femicide in the detective tale, the standardization at one million per year of traffic fatalities, the wholesome interest of our youth in gang rumbles, all point toward the Age of Hate and Death. The ethic of Love and Life is obsolescent, and who is to say that Man is the loser thereby? Life and Death compete in the marketplace of ideas for the Mind of Man—”

Merdeka growled something and snapped off the set. Merdeka leaned back. Two billion circulation this week, and the auto ads were beginning to Tip. Last year only the suggestion of a dropped shopping basket as the Dynajetic 16 roared across the page, this year a hand, limp on the pictured pavement. Next year, blood. In February the Sylphella Salon chain ads had Tipped, with a crash. “—and the free optional judo course for slenderized Madame or Mademoiselle: learn how to kill a man with your lovely bare hands, with or without mess as desired.” Applications had risen 28 per cent. By God there was a structural intermesh for you!

It was too slow; it was still too slow. He picked up a direct-line phone and screamed into it: “Too slow! What am I paying you people for? The world is wallowing in filth! Movies are dirtier than ever! Kissing! Pawing! Ogling! Men and women together—obscene! Clean up the magazine covers! Clean up the ads!”

The person at the other end of the direct line was Executive Secretary of the Society for Purity in Communications; Merdeka had no need to announce himself to him, for Merdeka was S.P.C.’s principal underwriter. He began to rattle off at once: “We’ve got the Mothers’ March on Washington this week, sir, and a mass dummy pornographic mailing addressed to every Middle Atlantic State female between the ages of six and twelve next week, sir; I believe this one-two punch will put the Federal Censorship Commission over the goal line before recess—”

Merdeka hung up. “Lewd communications,” he snarled. “Breeding, breeding, breeding, like maggots in a garbage can. Burning and breeding. But we will make them clean.”

He did not need a Theory to tell him that he could not take away Love without providing a substitute.

He walked down Sixth Avenue that night, for the first time in years. In this saloon he had argued; outside that saloon he had been punched in the nose. Well, he was winning the argument, all the arguments. A mother and daughter walked past uneasily, eyes on the shadows. The mother was dressed Square; she wore a sheath dress that showed her neck and clavicles at the top and her legs from midshin at the bottom. In some parts of town she’d be spat on, but the daughter, never. The girl was Hip; she was covered from neck to ankles by a loose, unbelted sack-culotte. Her mother’s hair floated; hers was hidden by a cloche. Nevertheless the both of them were abruptly yanked into one of those shadows they prudently had eyed, for they had not watched the well-lit sidewalk for waiting nooses.

The familiar sounds of a Working Over came from the shadows as Merdeka strolled on. “I mean cool!” an ecstatic young voice—boy’s, girl’s, what did it matter?—breathed between crunching blows.

That year the Federal Censorship Commission was created, and the next year the old Internment Camps in the southwest were filled to capacity by violators, and the next year the First Church of Merdeka was founded in Chicago. Merdeka died of an aortal aneurism five years after that, but his soul went marching on.


“The Family that Prays together Slays together”, was the wall-motto in the apartment, but there was no evidence that the implied injunction had been observed. The bedroom of the mother and the father were secured by steel doors and terrific locks, but Junior had got them all the same; somehow he had burned through the steel.

“Thermite?” Jewel Flyte asked herself softly, trying to remember. First he had got the father, quickly and quietly with a wire garotte as he lay sleeping, so as not to alarm his mother. To her he had taken her own spiked knobkerry and got in a mortal stroke, but not before she reached under her pillow for a pistol. Junior’s teen-age bones testified by their arrangement to the violence of that leaden blow.

Incredulously they looked at the family library of comic books, published in a series called “The Merdekan Five-Foot Shelf of Classics”. Jewel Flyte leafed slowly through one called Moby Dick and found that it consisted of a near-braining in a bedroom, agonizingly-depicted deaths at sea, and for a climax the eating alive of one Ahab by a monster. “Surely there must have been more,” she whispered.

Chaplain Pendleton put down Hamlet quickly and held onto a wall. He was quite sure that he felt his sanity slipping palpably away, that he would gibber in a moment. He prayed and after a while felt better; he rigorously kept his eyes away from the Classics after that.

Mrs. Graves snorted at the waste of it all, at the picture of the ugly, pop-eyed, busted-nose man labeled MERDEKA THE CHOSEN, THE PURE, THE PURIFIER. There were two tables, which was a folly. Who needed two tables? Then she looked closer, saw that one of them was really a bloodstained flogging bench and felt slightly ill. Its name-plate said Correctional Furniture Corp. Size 6, Ages 10-14. She had, God knew, slapped her children more than once when they deviated from her standard of perfection, but when she saw those stains she felt a stirring of warmth for the parricidal bones in the next room.

Captain Salter said: “Let’s get organized. Does anybody think there are any of them left?”

“I think not,” said Mrs. Graves. “People like that can’t survive. The world must have been swept clean. They, ah, killed one another but that’s not the important point. This couple had one child, age ten to fourteen. This cabin of theirs seems to be built for one child. We should look at a few more cabins to learn whether a one-child family is—was—normal. If we find out that it was, we can suspect that they are—gone. Or nearly so.” She coined a happy phrase: “By race suicide.”

“The arithmetic of it is quite plausible,” Salter said. “If no factors work except the single-child factor, in one century of five generations a population of two billion will have bred itself down to 125 million. In another century, the population is just under four million. In another, 122 thousand . . . by the thirty-second generation the last couple descended from the original two billion will breed one child, and that’s the end. And there are the other factors. Besides those who do not breed by choice—” His eyes avoided Jewel Flyte. “—there are the things we have seen on the stairs, and in the corridor, and in these compartments.”

“Then there’s our answer,” said Mrs. Graves. She smacked the obscene table with her hand, forgetting what it was. “We beach the ship and march the ship’s company onto dry land. We clean up, we learn what we have to to get along—” Her words trailed off. She shook her head. “Sorry,” she said gloomily. “I’m talking nonsense.”

The chaplain understood her, but he said: “The land is merely another of the many mansions. Surely they could learn!”

“It’s not politically feasible,” Salter said. “Not in its present form.” He thought of presenting the proposal to the Ship’s Council in the shadow of the mast that bore The Compact, and twitched his head in an involuntary negative.

“There is a formula possible,” Jewel Flyte said.

The Brownells burst in on them then, all eighteen of the Brownells. They had been stalking the shore party since its landing. Nine sack-culotted women in cloches and nine men in penitential black, they streamed through the gaping door and surrounded the sea people with a ring of spears. Other factors had indeed operated, but this was not yet the thirty-second generation of extinction.

The leader of the Brownells, a male, said with satisfaction: “Just when we needed new blood.” Salter understood that he was not speaking in genetic terms.

The females, more verbal types, said critically: “Whores, obviously. Displaying their limbs without shame, brazenly flaunting the rotted pillars of the temple of lust. Come from the accursed sea itself, abode of infamy, to seduce us from our decent and regular lives.”

“We know what to do with the women,” said the male leader. The rest took up the antiphon.

“We’ll knock them down.”

“And roll them on their backs.”

“And pull one arm out and tie it fast.”

“And pull the other arm out and tie it fast.”

“And pull one limb out and tie it fast.”

“And pull the other limb out and tie it fast.”

“And then—”

“We’ll beat them to death and Merdeka will smile.”

Chaplain Pemberton stared incredulously. “You must look into your hearts,” he told them in a reasonable voice. “You must look deeper than you have, and you will find that you have been deluded. This is not the way for human beings to act. Somebody has misled you dreadfully. Let me explain—”

“Blasphemy,” the leader of the females said, and put her spear expertly into the chaplain’s intestines. The shock of the broad, cold blade pulsed through him and felled him. Jewel Flyte knelt beside him instantly, checking heart beat and breathing. He was alive.

“Get up,” the male leader said. “Displaying and offering yourself to such as we is useless. We are pure in heart.”

A male child ran to the door. “Wagners!” he screamed. “Twenty Wagners coming up the stairs!”

His father roared at him: “Stand straight and don’t mumble!” and slashed out with the butt of his spear, catching him hard in the ribs. The child grinned, but only after the pure-hearted eighteen had run to the stairs.

Then he blasted a whistle down the corridor while the sea-people stared with what attention they could divert from the bleeding chaplain. Six doors popped open at the whistle and men and women emerged from them to launch spears into the backs of the Brownells clustered to defend the stairs. “Thanks, pop!” the boy kept screaming while the pure-hearted Wagners swarmed over the remnants of the pure-hearted Brownells; at last his screaming bothered one of the Wagners and the boy was himself speared.

Jewel Flyte said: “I’ve had enough of this. Captain, please pick the chaplain up and come along.”

“They’ll kill us.”

“You’ll have the chaplain,” said Mrs. Graves. “One moment.” She darted into a bedroom and came back hefting the spiked knobkerry.

“Well, perhaps,” the girl said. She began undoing the long row of buttons down the front of her coveralls and shrugged out of the garment, then unfastened and stepped out of her underwear. With the clothes over her arm she walked into the corridor and to the stairs, the stupefied captain and inspector following.

To the pure-hearted Merkdeans she was not Phryne winning her case; she was Evil incarnate. They screamed, broke and ran wildly, dropping their weapons. That a human being could do such a thing was beyond their comprehension; Merdeka alone knew what kind of monster this was that drew them strangely and horribly, in violation of all sanity. They ran as she had hoped they would; the other side of the coin was spearing even more swift and thorough than would have been accorded to her fully clothed. But they ran, gibbering with fright and covering their eyes, into apartments and corners of the corridor, their back turned on the awful thing.

The sea-people picked their way over the shambles at the stairway and went unopposed down the stairs and to the dock. It was a troublesome piece of work for Salter to pass the chaplain down to Mrs. Graves in the boat, but in ten minutes they had cast off, rowed out a little and set sail to catch the land breeze generated by the differential twilight cooling of water and brick. After playing her part in stepping the mast, Jewel Flyte dressed.

“It won’t always be that easy,” she said when the last button was fastened. Mrs. Graves had been thinking the same thing, but had not said it to avoid the appearance of envying that superb young body.

Salter was checking the chaplain as well as he knew how. “I think he’ll be all right,” he said. “Surgical repair and a long rest. He hasn’t lost much blood. This is a strange story we’ll have to tell the Ship’s Council.”

Mrs. Graves said: “They’ve no choice. We’ve lost our net and the land is there waiting for us. A few maniacs oppose us—what of it?”

Again a huge fish lazily surfaced; Salter regarded it thoughtfully. He said: “They’ll propose scavenging bronze ashore and fashioning another net and going on just as if nothing had happened. And really, we could do that, you know.”

Jewel Flyte said: “No. Not forever. This time it was the net, at the end of harvest. What if it were three masts in midwinter, in mid-Atlantic?”

“Or,” said the captain, “the rudder—any time. Anywhere. But can you imagine telling the Council they’ve got to walk off the ship onto land, take up quarters in those brick cabins, change everything? And fight maniacs, and learn to farm?”

“There must be a way,” said Jewel Flyte. “Just as Merdeka, whatever it was, was a way. There were too many people, and Merdeka was the answer to too many people. There’s always an answer. Man is a land mammal in spite of brief excursions at sea. We were seed stock put aside, waiting for the land to be cleared so we could return. Just as these offshore fish are waiting very patiently for us to stop harvesting twice a year so they can return to deep water and multiply. What’s the way, captain?”

He thought hard. “We could,” he said slowly, “begin by simply sailing in close and fishing the offshore waters for big stuff. Then tie up and build a sort of bridge from the ship to the shore. We’d continue to live aboard the ship but we’d go out during daylight to try farming.”

“It sounds right.”

“And keep improving the bridge, making it more and more solid, until before they notice it it’s really a solid part of the ship and a solid part of the shore. It might take . . . mmm . . . ten years?”

“Time enough for the old shell-backs to make up their minds,” Mrs. Graves unexpectedly snorted.

“And we’d relax the one-to-one reproduction rule, and some young adults will simply be crowded over the bridge to live on the land—” His face suddenly fell. “And then the whole damned farce starts all over again, I suppose. I pointed out that it takes thirty-two generations bearing one child apiece to run a population of two billion into zero. Well, I should have mentioned that it takes thirty-two generations bearing four children apiece to run a population of two into two billion. Oh, what’s the use, Jewel?”

She chuckled. “There was an answer last time,” she said. “There will be an answer the next time.”

“It won’t be the same answer as Merdeka,” he vowed. “We grew up a little at sea. This time we can do it with brains and not with nightmares and superstition.”

“I don’t know,” she said. “Our ship will be the first, and then the other ships will have their accidents one by one and come and tie up and build their bridges hating every minute of it for the first two generations and then not hating it, just living it . . . and who will be the greatest man who ever lived?”

The captain looked horrified.

“Yes, you! Salter, the Builder of the Bridge; Tommy, do you know an old word for ‘bridge-builder’? Pontifex.

“Oh, my God!” Tommy Salter said in despair.

A flicker of consciousness was passing through the wounded chaplain; he heard the words and was pleased that somebody aboard was praying.


Mis-spelled words and printer errors have been fixed.

[The end of Reap the Dark Tide by Cyril M. Kornbluth]