“Fine.” The captain pinched her arm, a little bit with joviality, a little bit with meanness to get her to look at him. “We built our own rocket ship. Do you believe that?”

The little girl dug in her nose with a finger. “Yes.”

“And—take your finger out of your nose, little girl–_I_ am the captain, and—“

“Never before in history has anybody come across space in a big rocket ship,” recited the little creature, eyes shut.

“Wonderful! How did you know?”

“Oh, telepathy.” She wiped a casual finger on her knee.

“Well, aren’t you just ever so excited?” cried the captain. “Aren’t you glad?”

“You just better go see Mr. Iii right away.” She dropped her toy to the ground. “Mr. Iii will like talking to you.” She ran off, with the toy spider scuttling obediently after her.

The captain squatted there looking after her with his hand out. His eyes were watery in his head. He looked at his empty hands. His mouth hung open: The other three men stood with their shadows under them. They spat on the stone street …

Mr. Iii answered his door. He was on his way to a lecture, but he had a minute, if they would hurry inside and tell him what they desired …

“A little attention,” said the captain, red-eyed and tired. “We’re from Earth, we have a rocket, there are four of us, crew and captain, we’re exhausted, we’re hungry, we’d like a place to sleep. We’d like someone to give us the key to the city or something like that, and we’d like somebody to shake our hands and say ‘Hooray’ and say ‘Congratulations, old man!’ That about sums it up.”

Mr. Iii was a tall, vaporous, thin man with thick blind blue crystals over his yellowish eyes. He bent over his desk and brooded upon some papers, glancing now and again with extreme penetration at his guests.

“Well, I haven’t the forms with me here, I don’t think.” He rummaged through the desk drawers. “Now, where did I put the forms?” He mused. “Somewhere. Somewhere. Oh, here we are! Now!” He handed the papers over crisply. “You’ll have to sign these papers, of course.”

“Do we have to go through all this rigmarole?”

Mr. Iii gave him a thick glassy look. “You say you’re from Earth, don’t you? Well, then there’s nothing for it but you sign.”

The captain wrote his name. “Do you want my crew to sign also?”

Mr. Iii looked at the captain, looked at the three others, and burst into a shout of derision. “_Them_ sign! Ho! How marvelous! Them, oh, them sign!” Tears sprang from his eyes. He slapped his knee and bent to let his laughter jerk out of his gaping mouth. He held himself up with the desk. “_Them_ sign!”

The four men scowled. “What’s funny?”

“Them sign!” sighed Mr. Iii, weak with hilarity. “So very funny. I’ll have to tell Mr. Xxx about this!” He examined the filled-out form, still laughing. “Everything seems to be in order.” He nodded. “Even the agreement for euthanasia if final decision on such a step is necessary.” He chuckled.

“Agreement for what?”

“Don’t talk. I have something for you. Here. Take this key.”

The captain flushed. “It’s a great honor.”

“Not the key to the city, you fool!” snapped Mr. Iii. “Just a key to the House. Go down that corridor, unlock the big door, and go inside and shut the door tight. You can spend the night there. In the morning I’ll send Mr. Xxx to see you.”

Dubiously the captain took the key in hand. He stood looking at the floor. His men did not move. They seemed to be emptied of all their blood and their rocket fever. They were drained dry.

“What is it? What’s wrong?” inquired Mr. Iii. “What are you waiting for? What do you want?” He came and peered up into the captain’s face, stooping. “Out with it, you!”

“I don’t suppose you could even—“ suggested the captain. “I mean, that is, try to, or think about … ” He hesitated. “We’ve worked hard, we’ve come a long way, and maybe you could just shake our hands and say ‘Well done!’ do you—think?” His voice faded.

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Categories: Bradbury, Ray