Wilbur Murphy had a blond crew-cut, a broad freckled nose, and a serious sidelong squint. He looked from his crumpled sequence idea to Catlin and Frayberg. "Didn't like it, eh?"
"We thought the emphasis should be a little different," explained Catlin. "Instead of 'The Space Horseman,' we'd give it the working title, 'Odd Superstitions of Hrrghameshgrrh'."
"Oh, hell!" said Frayberg. "Call it Sirgamesk."
"Anyway," said Catlin, "that's the angle."
"But it's not superstition," said Murphy.
"Oh, come, Wilbur ..."
"I got this for sheer sober-sided fact. A man rides a horse up to meet the incoming ships!"
"Where did you get this wild fable?"
"My brother-in-law is purser on the Celestial Traveller. At Riker's Planet they make connection with the feeder line out of Cirgamesc."
"Wait a minute," said Catlin. "How did you pronounce that?"
"Cirgamesc. The steward on the shuttle-ship gave out this story, and my brother-in-law passed it along to me."
"Somebody's pulling somebody's leg."
"My brother-in-law wasn't, and the steward was cold sober."
"They've been eating bhang. Sirgamesk is a Javanese planet, isn't it?"
"Javanese, Arab, Malay."
"Then they took a bhang supply with them, and hashish, chat, and a few other sociable herbs."
"Well, this horseman isn't any drug-dream."
"No? What is it?"
"So far as I know it's a man on a horse."
"Ten thousand miles up? In a vacuum?"
"That's the story."
Catlin and Frayberg looked at each other.
"Well, Wilbur," Catlin began.
Frayberg interrupted. "What we can use, Wilbur, is a sequence on Sirgamesk superstition. Emphasis on voodoo or witchcraft--naked girls dancing--stuff with roots in Earth, but now typically Sirgamesk. Lots of color. Secret rite stuff...."
"Not much room on Cirgamesc for secret rites."
"It's a big planet, isn't it?"
"Not quite as big as Mars. There's no atmosphere. The settlers live in mountain valleys, with air-tight lids over 'em."
Catlin flipped the pages of Thumbnail Sketches of the Inhabited Worlds. "Says here there's ancient ruins millions of years old. When the atmosphere went, the population went with it."
Frayberg became animated. "There's lots of material out there! Go get it, Wilbur! Life! Sex! Excitement! Mystery!"
"Okay," said Wilbur Murphy.
"But lay off this horseman-in-space. There is a limit to public credulity, and don't you let anyone tell you different."
Cirgamesc hung outside the port, twenty thousand miles ahead. The steward leaned over Wilbur Murphy's shoulder and pointed a long brown finger. "It was right out there, sir. He came riding up--"
"What kind of a man was it? Strange-looking?"
"No. He was Cirgameski."
"Oh. You saw him with your own eyes, eh?"
The steward bowed, and his loose white mantle fell forward. "Exactly, sir."
"No helmet, no space-suit?"
"He wore a short Singhalut vest and pantaloons and a yellow Hadrasi hat. No more."
"And the horse?"
"Ah, the horse! There's a different matter."
"I can't describe the horse. I was intent on the man."
"Did you recognize him?"
"By the brow of Lord Allah, it's well not to look too closely when such matters occur."
"Then--you did recognize him!"
"I must be at my task, sir."
Murphy frowned in vexation at the steward's retreating back, then bent over his camera to check the tape-feed. If anything appeared now, and his eyes could see it, the two-hundred million audience of Know Your Universe! could see it with him.
When he looked up, Murphy made a frantic grab for the stanchion, then relaxed. Cirgamesc had taken the Great Twitch. It was an illusion, a psychological quirk. One instant the planet lay ahead; then a man winked or turned away, and when he looked back, "ahead" had become "below"; the planet had swung an astonishing ninety degrees across the sky, and they were falling!
Murphy leaned against the stanchion. "'The Great Twitch'," he muttered to himself, "I'd like to get that on two hundred million screens!"
Several hours passed. Cirgamesc grew. The Sampan Range rose up like a dark scab; the valley sultanates of Singhalut, Hadra, New Batavia, and Boeng-Bohot showed like glistening chicken-tracks; the Great Rift Colony of Sundaman stretched down through the foothills like the trail of a slug.
A loudspeaker voice rattled the ship. "Attention passengers for Singhalut and other points on Cirgamesc! Kindly prepare your luggage for disembarkation. Customs at Singhalut are extremely thorough. Passengers are warned to take no weapons, drugs or explosives ashore. This is important!"
The warning turned out to be an understatement. Murphy was plied with questions. He suffered search of an intimate nature. He was three-dimensionally X-rayed with a range of frequencies calculated to excite fluorescence in whatever object he might have secreted in his stomach, in a hollow bone, or under a layer of flesh.
His luggage was explored with similar minute attention, and Murphy rescued his cameras with difficulty. "What're you so damn anxious about? I don't have drugs; I don't have contraband ..."
"It's guns, your excellency. Guns, weapons, explosives ..."
"I don't have any guns."
"But these objects here?"
"They're cameras. They record pictures and sounds and smells."
The inspector seized the cases with a glittering smile of triumph. "They resemble no cameras of my experience; I fear I shall have to impound ..."
A young man in loose white pantaloons, a pink vest, pale green cravat and a complex black turban strolled up. The inspector made a swift obeisance, with arms spread wide. "Excellency."
The young man raised two fingers. "You may find it possible to spare Mr. Murphy any unnecessary formality."
"As your Excellency recommends...." The inspector nimbly repacked Murphy's belongings, while the young man looked on benignly.
Murphy covertly inspected his face. The skin was smooth, the color of the rising moon; the eyes were narrow, dark, superficially placid. The effect was of silken punctilio with hot ruby blood close beneath.
Satisfied with the inspector's zeal, he turned to Murphy. "Allow me to introduce myself, Tuan Murphy. I am Ali-Tomas, of the House of Singhalut, and my father the Sultan begs you to accept our poor hospitality."
"Why, thank you," said Murphy. "This is a very pleasant surprise."
"If you will allow me to conduct you...." He turned to the inspector. "Mr. Murphy's luggage to the palace."
Murphy accompanied Ali-Tomas into the outside light, fitting his own quick step to the prince's feline saunter. This is coming it pretty soft, he said to himself. I'll have a magnificent suite, with bowls of fruit and gin pahits, not to mention two or three silken girls with skin like rich cream bringing me towels in the shower.... Well, well, well, it's not so bad working for Know Your Universe! after all! I suppose I ought to unlimber my camera....
Prince Ali-Tomas watched him with interest. "And what is the audience of Know Your Universe!?"
"We call 'em 'participants'."
"Expressive. And how many participants do you serve?"
"Oh, the Bowdler Index rises and falls. We've got about two hundred million screens, with five hundred million participants."
"Fascinating! And tell me--how do you record smells?"
Murphy displayed the odor recorder on the side of the camera, with its gelatinous track which fixed the molecular design.
"And the odors recreated--they are like the originals?"
"Pretty close. Never exact, but none of the participants knows the difference. Sometimes the synthetic odor is an improvement."
"Astounding!" murmured the prince.
"And sometimes ... Well, Carson Tenlake went out to get the myrrh-blossoms on Venus. It was a hot day--as days usually are on Venus--and a long climb. When the show was run off, there was more smell of Carson than of flowers."
Prince Ali-Tomas laughed politely. "We turn through here."
They came out into a compound paved with red, green and white tiles. Beneath the valley roof was a sinuous trough, full of haze and warmth and golden light. As far in either direction as the eye could reach, the hillsides were terraced, barred in various shades of green. Spattering the valley floor were tall canvas pavilions, tents, booths, shelters.
"Naturally," said Prince Ali-Tomas, "we hope that you and your participants will enjoy Singhalut. It is a truism that, in order to import, we must export; we wish to encourage a pleasurable response to the 'Made in Singhalut' tag on our batiks, carvings, lacquers."
They rolled quietly across the square in a surface-car displaying the House emblem. Murphy rested against deep, cool cushions. "Your inspectors are pretty careful about weapons."
Ali-Tomas smiled complacently. "Our existence is ordered and peaceful. You may be familiar with the concept of adak?"
"I don't think so."
"A word, an idea from old Earth. Every living act is ordered by ritual. But our heritage is passionate--and when unyielding adak stands in the way of an irresistible emotion, there is turbulence, sometimes even killing."
"Exactly. It is as well that the amok has no weapons other than his knife. Otherwise he would kill twenty where now he kills one."
The car rolled along a narrow avenue, scattering pedestrians to either side like the bow of a boat spreading foam. The men wore loose white pantaloons and a short open vest; the women wore only the pantaloons.
"Handsome set of people," remarked Murphy.
Ali-Tomas again smiled complacently. "I'm sure Singhalut will present an inspiring and beautiful spectacle for your program."
Murphy remembered the keynote to Howard Frayberg's instructions: "Excitement! Sex! Mystery!" Frayberg cared little for inspiration or beauty. "I imagine," he said casually, "that you celebrate a number of interesting festivals? Colorful dancing? Unique customs?"
Ali-Tomas shook his head. "To the contrary. We left our superstitions and ancestor-worship back on Earth. We are quiet Mohammedans and indulge in very little festivity. Perhaps here is the reason for amoks and sjambaks."
"We are not proud of them. You will hear sly rumor, and it is better that I arm you beforehand with truth."
"What is a sjambak?"
"They are bandits, flouters of authority. I will show you one presently."
"I heard," said Murphy, "of a man riding a horse up to meet the space-ships. What would account for a story like that?"