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Title: Regulations

Author: Murray Leinster

Release Date: December 30, 2022 [eBook #69666]

Language: English

Produced by: Greg Weeks, Mary Meehan and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team at



by Murray Leinster

[Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from
Thrilling Wonder Stories August 1948.
Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]

It was only the dew-god making a monstrous noise off in the darkness, but Fahnes allowed his eyes to open and he halfway sat up. There was a shaded light over by Boles' bunk, and Boles was fussily arranging his kit for a journey to the trading-center in the Lamphian hills. Food, canteens, and the trading-stuff, these things would be left at the untended mart in exchange for a new lot of llossa fiber, which on Earth was equal in exchange pound for pound with platinum.

Fahnes made an apologetic noise as Boles whirled at his movement. Boles snorted indignantly.

"It's just one of them gods," he said scornfully. "They make a racket like that before dawn every mornin'."

Fahnes made himself grin sheepishly, as if half-awake. He knew about the dew-god. He had more brains than Boles, and he knew more than Boles about all the things that really mattered on Oryx, though he'd only been on the small planet five months. Because of his knowledge, he'd been awake for hours, feverishly debating with himself whether as a matter of common-sense he had not better murder Boles this morning. There were reasons for killing him, but it would be satisfying to let Boles come back from the Lamphian hills to find the trading-post in ashes, the Honkie village a mere black scar on the green surface of Oryx, and the supply-ship come and gone.

It would be amusing, too, to picture Boles trying to live on Oryx without supplies from Earth until another ship came to reestablish trade. Fahnes inclined not to do murder, this morning, so Boles could learn what a fool he'd been. Meanwhile Boles regarded him in a superior fashion.

"I know," said Fahnes. He yawned, now. "But the racket does seem louder than usual, this morning. I wonder—"

"Regulations say native customs an' religions ain't to be messed with," said Boles inflexibly. "You ain't paid to wonder. Quit it."

Boles checked off his equipment on a list. Then he glanced at the instrument-bank and laboriously began to copy the regulation before-dawn observations into the post's log-book. Temperature. Humidity—always from 97 to 100 per cent in the day time, but sometimes dropping to a conservative 90 at night. Ionization-constant of the air. Fahnes watched the ironic zest. A lot of good these observations were!

He said impatiently, "I can fix the log, Boles. I'm going to do it while you're gone."

"While I'm here," said Boles dogmatically, "regulations say I got to do it. When I'm gone, regulations say you do it. You stick to regulations, Fahnes, an' you'll get along."

The unholy racket which was the dew-god off beyond the jungle seemed to grow louder yet. No man, it was said in the Instructions for Oryx, had ever yet seen a dew-god. But the native deities were of extreme importance to the Honkies, and the maintenance of trade-relations required that their religion should be undisturbed.

"Blister it!" said Fahnes, in private irony but seeming peevishness. "I wish regulations would let a man do something about that racket. It's tough to be waked up every morning by some kind of Honkie god with a voice like sixteen steam-whistles in different keys all going at once."

Boles struggled into his waterproof garments. On Oryx, where it never rains, one naturally wears waterproof clothing.

"Listen here!" said Boles firmly. "You get this! Before this post was set up, the Comp'ny had a survey-party on Oryx for months. You read the report. They studied the place, an' the natives, an' they made up regulations for this special planet. They're good regulations. You follow 'em an' you'll do all right. Same way with the Honkies.

"They found out, somehow, what hadda be done to get along. They didn't do it scientific, but like human people did back in the old days. They didn't call what they found out regulations. They called it religion. But it works. It's good regulations, for Honkies. You get the idea that Honkie religion is good regulations for them, an' ain't to be meddled with. Then you won't get into no trouble."

"I assure you," said Fahnes sarcastically, "I shan't try to make the Honkies atheists."

"Yeah," said Boles. "That's it. Don't."

Boles zipped his suit shut. He began to struggle into the various straps which would hold the articles of his equipment about him. Fahnes watched with concealed amusement. The Honkie religion was not to be meddled with?

The windows of the trading-post rattled from a sudden special uproar from the god. He, Fahnes, knew things about the Honkie religion that Boles didn't, that the survey-party, apparently, hadn't found out. Gods which roared in the darkness could arouse the curiosity even of a man like Fahnes, who despised such stupidities as gods and regulations. Fahnes had taken satisfaction in breaking the regulations about Honkies under Boles' very nose. He'd set up a camera and flash-bulb and trigger-string off where the dew-god roared even now and he, Fahnes, had a photograph of a dew-god.

The blinding flash of the flash-bulb had startled it. It had crashed into a jungle-tree in its flight. And at the scene of the accident—the crystal was in the pocket of Fahnes' sleeping-suit—he'd found a memento of Honkie religion. It had been torn from the headdress of the dew-god. The photograph of the dew-god told how many more such mementos the dew-god wore in his headdress. So Fahnes had planned murder for this morning, and was still in two minds about its necessity. The prospects before him were enough to make a man giddy.

But he wasn't giddy. His plan was carefully worked out. It was so brilliant that he'd honestly regretted that nobody would ever know how magnificent it had been. But there'd been two breaks—one a space-radio message and the other this decision of Boles' to make the trip. Fahnes could leave Boles alive to realize his situation, if he chose. When Boles came back, six days from now, he'd understand. Not completely, perhaps, but a memento—a small one, left on a stick where he'd be sure to see it—would enable him to piece out the story bit by bit as he tried hopelessly to live until another ship came to rebuild human trade on Oryx.

Boles was festooned with all the impedimenta that regulations said should be carried on any journey on Oryx. It was still dead-dark outside. The dew-god still roared, though more faintly now.

"All right," said Boles curtly. "I'm off. Mind, you stick to regulations while I'm gone!"

"Just which ones do you think I'm planning to break?" asked Fahnes ironically. "The ones about leaving native women alone?"

Boles shook his head, unsmiling. Oryx females, with a greenish, semi-chitinous skin, were definitely not appealing to humans.

"Nope," said Boles heavily. "But you ain't got the right attitude. Regulations got sense behind 'em—even the Honkie regulations that they think are religion. Maybe I'd better—" He hesitated, and Fahnes knew coldly that Boles' life hung in the balance without his knowing anything at all about it. "Oh, well," Boles said at last, and thereby removed the need for murder. "I guess you'll make out. So long."

He went out of the door and closed it behind him. Fahnes heard small splashings in between the dew-god's roarings. There was never any rain on Oryx. Never. So by dawn the jungle-trees were coated with dew in monstrous droplets. Boles, moving through the supple growths, marched sturdily under a constant waterfall from the trees, his progress disturbed.

Then Fahnes laughed softly to himself. He took his hand from below the dry-blanket a man has to sleep under, on Oryx, if he isn't to wake in a pool of water. He had a bolt-pistol in his fingers. All the time Boles talked, there'd been that bolt-pistol ready to kill him. Perhaps—just possibly—it had been a mistake to let him live. But he'd gone off unarmed, anyhow. There was no need of weapons on Oryx. The Honkies didn't kill things. Their religion forbade it. And besides men had red blood like Honkies, and there was a religious prohibition against Honkies ever looking at anything which was red.

Fahnes got up and made an adjustment on the space-radio. It had been silent for four days—since he heard the first notice from the supply-ship that it was ten days ahead of schedule and would arrive before Boles expected it. He still didn't expect it, because Fahnes hadn't told him. And he'd gone off, now, and the ship would have come and gone and many things would have happened before his return. Now Fahnes readjusted the set for reception and dressed leisurely, smiling to himself.

Off through the jungle, the noise of the dew-god died away. Fahnes glanced through the trading-post window. There was grayness to the east where the local sun rose. No coloring at all. Just light. As he watched, the white disk of the sun appeared. There was never any rain on Oryx, and the reason for that anomaly also prevented colorings in the sky at dawn and sunset.

Oryx was a magnesium planet. Magnesium was omnipresent on its surface, as sodium is everywhere on Earth. The chloride was the common compound. And just as on earth there is salt in some concentration everywhere, so on Oryx there was magnesium chloride in the body-fluids of the Honkies and the insects—there were no animals to speak of—and in the sap of the trees, and impregnated in every particle of the soil. The results were outstanding, because magnesium chloride is deliquescent to a high degree.[1]

Everything on Oryx, therefore, attracted moisture to itself, and held it. Everything on the planet was at least moist. If dust were formed by some extraordinary event, it could not remain dust on the ground. It would stick, because of dampness.

So there was no dust on Oryx, and since there was no dust, there could be no sunset or sunrise coloring, no condensation of moisture on dust-particles to form clouds, and therefore no rain. And since there could be no rain there could be no brooks, ponds, pools, or lakes. The jungle covered everything, watered by dew which could only condense on solid substances because there was nothing else for it to condense on.

It was not a pleasant environment for men, but the Honkies lived in it contentedly with their soapstone implements and houses, and their elaborate religion with its ceremonies and taboos. Their culture was low. They had no fire, because there had never been lightning to show them that such a thing could be. They had no metals, because metals cannot be smelted without a fire. They lived a life of elaborate ritual.

Even the location of their villages was determined by a religious abhorrence of the color red. Cultivation of land with a red-clay under-soil was therefore impossible. But the local village was safe against accidental impiety. The fields in which the dew-god had roared were of a slaty-blue, sticky soil which Fahnes knew by experience was incredibly adhesive until the sun dried it.

He breakfasted comfortably. So far he had not done a single overt act save the muting of the space-radio, and that could not ever be proved. He had not murdered Boles. He could drop everything, make a formal report to the Company on what he had discovered, and undoubtedly receive a promotion and a few hundred credits a year more pay. He was enormously amused at the stupidity of which some men would be capable, when they could do as he was going to, and spend the rest of his life in the luxury and lavish enjoyment only unlimited riches could provide. But Fahnes, of course, was very clever. He approved of himself very much.

He finished his breakfast and looked out again. The sun was just two diameters high and the top of the jungle was a scintillating glory. Huge dew-drops covered every leaf. Each reflected all the rays of the sun. The landscape seemed covered with diamonds, save where Boles had marched. The jungle-trees he'd touched in passing were no longer jewel-studded. Their movements as he pushed them aside had made the dew coalesce and run down. His trail was clear. He had gone on to the Lamphian hills.

The restored space-radio muttered curtly:


It was a repeat-notification from the supply-ship on the way.

That was the last thing Fahnes needed to be sure of. He buckled the pistol-belt about him. He went into the store-room and opened a soldered case in which a flame-rifle had remained in store since the post was opened. He cleaned it carefully. He loaded it from ammunition packed with it. He went to the store-room door and aimed at the jungle. He pulled trigger.

There was a ten-yard circle of pure devastation. Smoke poured up. Then it stopped. Smoke-particles do not remain smoke in air which is super-saturated with moisture. Water condenses upon them. They become droplets of mist. The mist becomes rain. An appreciable shower fell upon the smouldering jungle-spot. The smouldering embers went out.

Fahnes grinned. He had not anticipated that, but it was amusing. Everything was amusing today. The sun rose higher and the glittering dew evaporated. It did not form a mist, but made the air actually thick to breathe. Fahnes remembered an authoritative lecture from Boles. Each dew-drop, said Boles, was a tiny burning-glass as long as it remained. Until it dried up it focused morning sunlight on the leaf under it, scorching its own support. So the roaring of the dew-god every morning, so loud that leaves vibrated near it, shook the dew-drops into flowing fluid which ran off. The Honkie crops, then, weren't scorched. But without the dew-god, the Honkies would starve.

Fahnes slung the flame-rifle over his shoulder, made sure the bolt-pistol was ready for action, and marched off toward the Honkie village. There were four or five hundred Honkies in the soapstone huts of the settlement. They were greenish in tint, and while their skin was not in actual plates like insects, it was thick and stiff and really flexible only at the joints. They were solemn-faced and quiet and lived their whole lives in impassioned absorption in their religion, as Boles lived his in devotion to regulations. Boles said that their religion was regulations, and that it made sense. But Fahnes had no religion, and he heeded no regulations save those he made himself.

The jungle dried about him as he walked. There was no longer the sensation of walking under a traveling shower-bath. It was—save for the wet thickness of the air—not uncomfortable. In half an hour he reached the slaty-blue soil on which the crops of the Honkie village were grown. He grinned excitedly and began to cross it toward the village. But he found himself slackening his pace to look at the soil absorbedly.

He realized, and chuckled to himself. He needn't look for mementos in the ground, here! The Honkies would have attended to that for him! He continued to grin as he pressed on. He was in open sunshine, now, with shoulder-high plants about him and the huddled soapstone huts of the village in clear view ahead. And he saw Honkies in the fields. They were working the crops. They used preposterously-shaped hoes and dug busily around the plants which formed their food-supply.

Out of the corner of his eye Fahnes saw them look at him, but he could never catch one actually in the act of staring. He'd expected protests, and the flame-rifle was ready, but whenever he jerked his head about, the Honkie he essayed to catch was absorbed in his agricultural labor.

This, of course, was unexpected. It was forbidden for humans to enter Honkie villages. The Company regulations by which Boles lived specifically forbade it under any and all conditions. It was a violation of basic principle. Men must not enter Honkie villages! It was forbidden by Honkie religion!

For a man to enter a Honkie village was sacrilege. It was blasphemy! It was crime! But the Honkies seemingly pretended not to notice. Fahnes grew irritated. He was ready to use the flame-gun to force his way in, after what he knew was there. He was prepared to deal out murder wholesale. His intention to commit what the regulations called crime was obvious. But the Honkies feigned obliviousness.

They grew thicker as he neared the village. Male Honkies. Female Honkies. Smaller ones—male and female indiscriminately—scuttled about the taller figures who were adults. All eyed him furtively and knew that he committed sacrilege against their gods in approaching a village. None made any gesture, any actual sign, which really acknowledged his existence. Fahnes stopped short a bare ten feet from a male Honkie elaborately piling up dirt around the root-stock of a plant.

"My friend," said Fahnes ironically, knowing the Honkie would not understand, "I admire your industry. But isn't it a bit futile? Shouldn't you defend your gods and hearth and home? Don't you realize that I'm going into your village? Don't you even suspect I intend to rob your loudest-voiced god? In short, don't you think you ought to do something? Of course, if you do I will certainly kill you, but this pretense of not noticing me is silly."

The Honkie labored on, his leathery, expressionless face giving no sign that he heard the man's words. Fahnes grew jumpy, and his eyes turned ugly for no especial reason.

"What's the matter?" he asked, sneering. "You're afraid for that green skin of yours? Where's your piety! Here I am about to commit sacrilege against what I'm assured is a most important religion—and you pretend not to notice!"

The Honkie hoed on, Fahnes spat suddenly.

"To the devil with you!" he cried violently. He hated the green-skinned native of Oryx simply because he was about to commit a crime against the whole tribe. He needed resistance to assure himself of his courage and cleverness. He craved fear in his victims. He wanted to be able to live over, in his own mind, a scene of splendid derring-do as the source of the lavish luxury in which he would live for the rest of his life. "You're as big a fool as Boles! You and your gods! He and his regulations! To the devil with all of you!"

He glared at the lean, unhuman figure which ploddingly moved on to the next plant and began to hoe there, having given no sign whatever that it knew that Fahnes was present.

Fahnes marched on, chewing upon rage. He passed other Honkies. Many of them. All pretended not to see him. He was definitely not afraid. The flame-gun could destroy all the Honkies on Oryx, if they tried to attack him. But he raged because he could not understand this embarrassed ignoring of his presence.

Then he reached the village. Every house was built of blocks of soapstone, carved to perfection and ornamented with elaborate designs for which Fahnes, at this moment, had no taste. The soapstone, Boles had said, had been brought on Honkie-back for fifty miles or more, just so the village could be built where there was no red clay under the soil to be turned up by an incautious hoe. It had stood here for generations. Perhaps for a thousand years.

It seemed to be deserted, but Fahnes knew better. The Honkies in the villages were not showing themselves, so that they might the more effectually pretend that he was not there. It was insult. It was stupidity. It denied the courage and the cunning and the cleverness of Fahnes, who had defied Honkie gods and Company regulations to go there and rob the god who roared hideously in the last hour before dawn.

He unslung the flame-rifle. He'd made his plans carefully, and more Honkies would not spoil them. White with tension and with unreasonable rage, he prepared to force the Honkies to play the part he had assigned them. The trick would be the swift and murderous use of destruction to clear the village of those who remained in it in hiding, and to force them to fury against him.

A brisk looting of the temple of the dew-god, facing him where he stood, would follow, and then a completely ruthless march back to the trading-post, using the flame-gun mercilessly to make his retreat secure, yet so sparingly that the maddened Honkies would yet have hopes of overwhelming him for his sacrilege and murder.

When the supply-ship dropped from the sky, the Honkies would be besieging the trading-post. His tale of a religious frenzy beginning with the murder of Boles—who was not murdered at all—would be convincing. Under regulations, there would be nothing for the supply-ship skipper to do but evacuate the trading-post, carrying Fahnes and the loot he'd have hidden, to the nearest civilized plant, where he would vanish utterly, with wealth incalculable.

And he'd demand that the skipper give the village a bath in take-off-jet flame as the supply-ship rose skyward. With the tale he'd tell, that would be a certainty. It would prove his rage, because normally only a man in frenzy demands revenge, and Boles had an extraordinary popularity among the employees of the Consolidated Trading Company.

He fired. Coruscating flame enveloped the nearest house. There was the roar of suddenly-expanded air and of burning. A second blast of ravening destruction. A third—a fourth!

He saw a few, furtive, fugitive movements. The Honkies in the village had fled. They were still fleeing. His scheme was working as it would continue to work, and as Boles would some day figure it out with a single crystalline memento of the Honkie religion left behind for him, as an overwhelmingly lucid clue.

Fahnes now had the village utterly to himself. Swearing horribly for no cause, his throat dry and his eyes raging, he went into the temple of the dew-god to acquire the riches he knew were there. They had to be there. A brainy man like Fahnes had worked out, from a photograph of a dew-god from whose headdress a glittering crystal had dropped, from blue clay like the blue clay of Kimberley, on Earth, and from sheer logic, a brainy man like Fahnes had worked out an absolutely air-tight case proving that there was wealth incalculable in the temple.

The antiquity of the village only increased the estimate. Honkies had cultivated the blue-clay fields for probably a thousand years. Worshipping the dew-god, and finding bright crystals which looked like solidified dew-drops and reflected the sun as the dew did, surely they would make votive offerings of such crystals!

He wore strings of them upon his headdress! Fahnes had one in his pocket now, dropped by the god when frightened by a flash-bulb! Even the headdress would make Fahnes rich, but it was mathematically certain that for a thousand years every Honkie had devoutly turned over to the temple every rough diamond found in the growing-fields. And a thousand years of such devoutness, would mean untold wealth.

He fired the flame-gun again from sheer destructiveness, then went snarling into the temple, ready to deal out death to anyone who dared to dispute anything with him.

Fahnes fired the flame-gun again, then strode into the temple.

The tall Honkie squatted on the ground outside the trading-post and worriedly mouthed his few words of Terrestrial speech. Boles listened with an air of indignation.

"Your runner caught up to me an' brought me back," Boles said dogmatically. "Accordin' to regulations I got to help you out any way I can. But this is bad!"

The Honkie struggled again to convey his meaning in Earth language. Then he fell back upon his own tongue.

"Lord," he said with dignity. "It was the dew-god's doing. We do not understand. The man came through our fields, approaching our village. And this was against the Law, so all our people pretended not see, lest he be shamed. Yet he had no shame even in breaking the Law. He shouted at us in the fields. He went to the village, where again those who were present pretended not to see. Then he took an instrument we know not and struck houses with it, destroying everything."

"A flame-gun," said Boles, scowling. "This is goin' to make trouble. He busted regulations."

"He went into the temple of the dew-god," the worried Honkie chieftain went on with dignified emphasis, "and there are bright stones which look like the dew, save that they do not vanish in the sunlight. They are also hard, and we carve our bowls and houses with them. But often, because they are like the dew, we give them to the dew-god. The man seemed to desire them greatly. He tore them from the walls of the temple where they are set. And then he saw the inner part of the temple where the dew-god's holiness stays. We had put the most beautiful of the bright stones there, and the dew-god's holiness covered them. But the man desired the stones so greatly that he threw himself into the dew-god's holiness, and he could not endure it. So he died."

"The dew-god's holiness, eh?" said Boles skeptically.

"The dew-god," said the Honkie chief practically, "shakes the dew from our crops before dawn, so that they do not change color and grow uneatable like the wild things of the jungle. One of us, each morning, carries his headdress and blows his horn for him among the crops. As the dew falls from the leaves it hurries to the dew-god's temple. Each morning dew-drops by millions run into his temple and gather in a great, deep gathering which is the holiness of the dew-god. And we place the brightest stones there to welcome them."

Boles blinked. Then he jumped.

"Holy?" he cried. "The dew's like a rainstorm, shook off all at once, an' you got a drainage system. Sure! You got a dewpond in the temple! A lake! A swimmin'-pool, full of shook-off dew. An' bright stones were there?"

"Lord, the bright stones are covered by the holiness for a large space," said the Honkie chieftain apologetically. "And the man seemed to desire them greatly. If we had understood, we would have given them to him. We bring them from a great distance, but it is our religion freely to give one another the things that are most desirable. If it is the custom of men to desire those bright stones, we would surrender them."

Boles looked at the glittering handful of crystals he had taken from the pockets of Fahnes, after the Honkies had brought him back.

"It ain't worth while," he said vexedly. "'They' what man call zircons. 'They' pretty, but there ain't any value to 'em for trade. 'They' just hard enough to use as tools to cut soapstones. Fahnes thought they were diamonds, I guess. When he saw a swimming-pool carpeted with diamonds on the bottom he went outa his head. He dived for 'em. An' the pool's prob'ly deeper than it looks. He hopped in to grab zircons he thought was diamonds, an' there wasn't any steps like a swimmin'-pool should have, an' he couldn't get out again. So he drowned—on Oryx, where it never rains. Good grief!"

"The dew-god destroyed him because he broke the law," said the Honkie respectfully.

"He died because he was a fool who didn't keep to regulations," said Boles caustically.

There was a booming noise overhead. It grew and grew in volume. It became a monstrous roar. It was so loud that the leaves of the jungle-trees quivered.

The supply-ship descended smoothly, creating a tumult which seemed to shake the very ground. And Boles stood up and clenched his fists in the ultimate of exasperation.

"He musta known this!" Boles cried furiously. "He knew the ship was comin' in ahead of schedule. It was his job to listen on space-radio when news comes through. But he didn't tell me, an' me with no stuff packed for shipment an' due to catch tarnation for holdin' up the ship! Blast him! It's his fault. He shoulda kept to regulation."

[1] (Note.) A deliquescent substance is one which absorbs moisture from the air until it can dissolve in the water it has collected.

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