The Project Gutenberg EBook of The Upside-Down Captain, by Jim Harmon

This eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere at no cost and with
almost no restrictions whatsoever.  You may copy it, give it away or
re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg License included
with this eBook or online at

Title: The Upside-Down Captain

Author: Jim Harmon

Release Date: December 2, 2019 [EBook #60829]

Language: English

Character set encoding: ASCII


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

The Upside-Down Captain


He knew the captain would be a monster.
He knew the crew would be rough. He knew
all about space travel—except the truth!

[Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from
Worlds of If Science Fiction, March 1960.
Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]


"Excuse me, please," Ben Starbuck said, tapping the junior officer on the epaulet.

"Get away from me, scum," the lieutenant said conversationally, his eyes on the clipboard in his hands.

Starbuck rocked back on his heels and set his spacebag down on the loading platform. He angled his head up at the spire of the inter-atmosphere ship, the Gorgon. This was only a sample of what he could expect once he canted into that hull. It would be rough. But he had made up his mind to take it.

All tight little groups, like the crew of a spaceship, always resented the intrusion of a newcomer. The initiations sometimes made it a test to see whether a man would live over them, and the probation period, the time of discipline and deference to old members of the group could be a memorably nasty experience. He didn't have direct knowledge of such customs in the rather shadowy, enigmatic Space Service, but it was basic sociology.

Starbuck knew he would have an even rougher time of it since he wasn't a spaceman—not even a cadet, properly. He was only a fledgling ethnologist on his field trip to gather material for his Master's thesis. The university and the government had arranged for his berth on the Gorgon.

An exploration ship, he thought acidly. That meant he might come back in a few months, or ten years, or never. All because he had the bad luck to be born in a cultural cycle that demanded hard standards of education from professional men. Thirty years before or after, he could have cribbed all the information he needed out of a book.

He stood with his hands clasped behind him, waiting for the lieutenant or somebody to deign to notice him. Somebody would have to pay some attention to him sooner or later.

Or would they?

Wouldn't it be just like the old timers to let him stand around and let the ship take off without him, all because he hadn't followed the proper procedure—a procedure he couldn't know? All he had been instructed to do was "report to the Gorgon." How do you report to a spaceship? Say, "Hello, spaceship?" Speak to the captain? The first mate? And where did he find them?

Starbuck felt a moment of panic. He could see himself standing on the platform while the Gorgon blasted off, carrying with it his Swabber's rating, his Master's degree and his future.

The lieutenant's back, in uniform black, loomed up before him. He would have to try approaching him again. It might mean solitary confinement for a month or two where no member of the crew would speak to him. It might even mean a flogging. Nobody knew much about what went on on board an exploration ship, despite all the stories. But Starbuck knew he would have to risk it.

He marched up behind the officer. "Sir," he said. "I'm the new man."

The lieutenant whirled. "The new man!"

For the first time, Starbuck noticed that the junior officer carried a swagger stick under his left arm, black, about a foot and a half long, tipped with silver at both ends. Quite possibly it was standard procedure to rap a man with it three times sharply across the mouth for speaking out of turn, during his probationary period. Cautiously, he filled a little pocket of air between his lips and his teeth to try to keep them from being knocked loose.

The lieutenant dropped his clipboard and swagger stick on the platform. "Why didn't you say so! New man, eh?" He gripped Starbuck by the shoulders of his new, store-bought uniform. "Let me look at you, son. Got some muscles there, haven't you? Ha, ha. Don't expect you'll need them too much on board. We don't work our men too hard. My name's Sam Frawley. Call me Sam. Come on, let me show you around."

Sam Frawley scooped up his stick and board with one hand and draped the other arm around Starbuck's shoulders, leading him towards a hoist.

It was not quite what Starbuck had expected for a reception.

The spaceship was big, bigger than Starbuck had expected or realized. He had known some well-fixed people who had visited Mars and Venus and talked knowingly of an older culture, but he had never been off of Earth himself. He had been thinking in terms of an airliner or a submarine. The Gorgon was more like an ocean liner. Or like an ocean.

His and the lieutenant's footsteps echoed and bounced around the huge corridor. "They haven't got the mats down yet," Sam Frawley explained.


"Well, what would you like to see first? The brain?"

"You mean the captain?"

Sam slapped him on the back. "Bless you, son, no. I mean the electronic brain. The cybernetic calculator."

"You've got one of those things?" Starbuck asked in unconcealed surprise.

"You know what the trouble with the human race is, Ben? We're all still living in the Ellisonian Age."

"Oh, I don't know. I think most of us are pretty sophisticated and modern," Starbuck said.

"Not on your life. Most people still think leisure is a sin. Hard work and more hard work, that's the ticket. Don't let a calculator solve a problem for you; do it yourself with a slipstick. Otherwise it's immoral."

"That's silly," Ben said awkwardly. "It's just a throwback to a time of protest against the Automational Revolution. It has nothing to do with us today."

"You say that, but you don't really believe it. The old morality is too deeply ingrained. That's why cybernetics have so long been out of fashion. This one is new to us on the Gorgon. But we like new things. We're for progress. All spacemen are like that, son."

"Have you had this machine long?" Starbuck asked his progressive officer.

"They installed it on the trip in. We've never really had a chance to use it."

"What's it supposed to do?"

"You know our job is exploration, finding new worlds," Sam explained. "Not just any world the human race hasn't landed upon, but a world that is a significantly different type than we've ever touched before. We're really the advance guard of humanity, you see. Well, the brain is programmed with information on all the worlds Man has explored. It compares a prospective landing site with what it knows about all the rest, and rejects all but the really different, unique planets. It loves the unknown. Its pleasure circuits get a real jolt out of finding an unknown quantity."

"That brain is really inhuman," Starbuck said. "A basic factor of human psychology is that all men fear and dislike the unknown."

Sam rubbed his chin. "I suppose so, but—you asked about the captain. This is him."

A tall, iron-haired man was coming down the corridor. He was holding the ankle of his right foot in his hand, and hopping along on his left leg, whistling some little sing-song through his teeth.

He stopped whistling when he saw them and said, "Good afternoon, men."

Frawley framed a sloppy salute. "'Afternoon, sir. May I present the new man, Swabber Ben Starbuck, sir."

The captain stood on both feet and rocked back and forth. "I see, I see. New man, eh? We see so few new faces, cooped up on this old ship with the same men, you know. We appreciate a stranger, Starbuck. If you ever need help, Ben, I want you to look upon me not as your commanding officer, but, well, a father. Will you do that?"

"Yes, sir," Ben murmured, feeling a little giddy.

Frawley cleared his throat. "I was about to show young Ben the brain, Captain Birdsel."

"Good idea," the commanding officer said. "But I'll show Ben around myself, Lieutenant Frawley. You may return to checking the manifest."

Frawley glowered. "One of these days, one of these days...."

The captain snapped very erect. "One of these days what?"

The junior officer shrugged. "One of these days, there may be a dark night, Captain."

The iron-haired man reached out a manicured hand and twisted Frawley's tunic at the collar. He brought his face level with the second-in-command. "One of these times, there may be charges of mutiny, Lieutenant. And guess who will play Jack Ketch personally?"

Frawley assumed an at-attention pose, and blinked. "Aye, sir. There may be a mutiny and somebody may get hung."

Birdsel shoved Frawley away from him and wiped his hand elaborately down his side. "That will be all, Mister Frawley."

Frawley constructed the same excuse for a salute, turned smartly and marched away.

Starbuck developed a definite suspicion that there were currents of tension aboard which he didn't understand.

"This is the brain," the captain said, with a gesture.

The brain was less than awe-inspiring. The mustard-seed cryotron relays were comfortably housed in a steel and aluminum hide no roomier than a pair of Earthside bureaus. It looked a bit like a home clothing processor to Starbuck.

Birdsel crossed to the machine and ran a hand along its metal side. "Magnificent, isn't it, Ben? I've never seen anything like it before in my long career in the Space Service."

"It's certainly nice," Starbuck ventured.

Metallic chattering burst out.

"It's saying something, Ben! This is the first time it's talked since the second day after it was installed!"

The message was clearly legible, spelled out in a pattern of dots on a central screen.


"Give it the information," the captain said hastily. "We feed it all the information it asks for."

"How?" Starbuck blurted. "Is there a keyboard or something?"

"Yes, yes, but it has audio scanners. Just talk. Or move your lips. Send signals. Tap out Morse. Anything."

"I'm Benjamin Starbuck," he said.


"Quick," Birdsel said, "do you have your IDQ file on you?"

Starbuck fished in his pocket for the microfilm slide. "Yes—aye, aye, sir. I had it ready to give to you, sir."

"Never mind me. Give it to the brain!"

Starbuck approached the machine, saw a likely looking slot and shoved.

The brain ruminated with some theatrical racket. INSUFFICIENT DATA.

"What do you want to know?" Starbuck swallowed, saying.


"Remember I'm a human being," he said respectfully. "I have to eat and sleep. I can't answer questions for two or three days straight."



Captain Birdsel looked vaguely distressed. "You should try to co-operate with the brain, my boy."

"I have nothing against cybernetic calculators," Ben said. "After all, we aren't still in the Ellisonian Age. But I'd like to, uh, stow my spacebag and get settled, sir."


"He's interested in you, Ben," the captain said enthusiastically. "This is the first time he's asked about anybody since the second day. Yes, interested!"

With an excess of enthusiasm, Captain Birdsel clapped his hands, then put them flat on the deck and stood on his head, kicking his heels in the air.

He straightened up with a scarlet face. "Ah. That really gets the kinks out of you, Ben."

Starbuck tried not to stare. "Aye, sir."

The captain took a step and grabbed the small of his back. "Haven't done it in some time, though. Ought to do it more often, eh, Ben?"

"I suppose so, sir."

"Well," Birdsel said, clapping his hands together.

My God, Starbuck thought, he's not going to do it again.

"Well," the captain continued, still on both feet, "I'd better show you to your quarters, my boy. Mind if I lean on your shoulder a bit like this?"

"Not at all, Captain."

"This way, Ben, this way."


Starbuck found the array of tridi pin-ups on the bulkheads of the crew's quarters refreshing, as was the supportive babble of conversation about them and other women. He had almost begun to think there was something unnatural about the men aboard the Gorgon.

But Starbuck noticed, to his discomfort, the ebbing of the tide of conversation from the bunks as he stepped inside with his spacebag.

For the moment, he wished Captain Birdsel had paced in with him and offered up an introduction. But a look of disgust had creased Birdsel's face as they got near the crew's compartment. He had sent Starbuck on alone, while he limped back towards the bridge.

A forest of eyes shined out at him from the shadowed desks of the bunks. This is it, he thought. These were the crew, not officers. Sometimes the teachers were nice to you on the first day of school but you knew you were going to get it from the other kids.

"Hi," a gruff voice echoed up at him from a lower bunk.

"Hello," Starbuck said, hugging his spacebag like a teddy-bear, the simile crossed his mind.

A lumbering giant with a blue jaw uncoiled from the lower bunk. "Why don't you stow your bag here, buddy? Till you get used to the centrifugal grav, you may have some trouble climbing top-side."

"You've got the seniority," Starbuck said cautiously. "I wouldn't want to cause you any trouble."

"No trouble," Blue Jaw said obligingly.

He chinned himself with one hand on the rim of the upper bunk and swung his torso around a tidy 180° to settle onto the blankets.

Starbuck threw his bag at the foot and sat down on the bed. He looked around at the arena of faces in neutral positions, waiting faces. He cleared his throat experimentally.

"Could I ask you something?" he called upstairs.

A set of big feet swung down into view. "Sure," Blue Jaw said enthusiastically. "Didn't know you wanted to talk. Thought you might want to rest."

Starbuck looked at the hanging feet. They were expressionless.

"Maybe it isn't so much of a question," he said, working one hand into the other palm. "It's just that I'd like to live through this mission. I know I'm not a regular spaceman and I'm intruding and all, but I don't mean to cause anybody any trouble or do anyone out of a job. I'd just like to do everything I can to see that I don't slip and fall into the reactor. Or anything like that...."

"Don't worry," Blue Jaw said heartily. "We'll take care of you, Ben Starbuck."

Somehow Starbuck could find little comfort in those words.

He inhaled deeply. "Come on down here, will you?"

"You want me down there?" Blue Jaw gasped. "Why sure, sure."

The giant dropped to the deck with a catlike grace that nevertheless vibrated Ben's rear teeth.

"You want to talk about something?" the big spaceman inquired. Ben could almost see the paws hanging down and the tail wagging eagerly.

"Yeah," Starbuck said. "I'd like to talk about all of these men staring at me. What's wrong with them? Nobody's said a word to me but you. What are they waiting for? What are they going to do? I can't stand the suspense. Is that it? I get the silent treatment until I go off my rocker, get violent, and then something happens to me—" He stopped and swallowed. He was talking too much. He was working himself up into a state of terror.

"Say, you sure are friendly," the ox said with some confusion. "My name's Percy Kettleman."

Starbuck steadied his hand and put it in Percy's grasp. It came out whole.

"Those other fellows," Percy inclined his head.

"What about them?" Starbuck asked edgily.

"They'd probably like to come over and say 'hello' but them and me don't get along so good. They know better than to come around bothering me."

"You're not on their side? You wouldn't be a new man too, Percy?"

"Me? Hell, I've been spacing since I was sixteen. Those guys don't have any side. A bunch of anti-social slobs. They can't stand each other any more than I can stand any of them."

Starbuck decided he had picked a good ally in the midst of a pack of lone wolves. Percy was the biggest man on board, physically. Still he didn't like the idea of all the rest of crew looking daggers at him, or throwing them, for that matter.

"Mind if I say 'hello' to the rest of the men?" he inquired of Percy.

"It's your nickel," gruffly. "Spend it the way you want."

Starbuck flexed an elbow. "Hello there, fellows. Looks to be a taut ship." It sounded a shade inane. Starbuck had barely passed Socializing at the university. But the men replied in good spirits, their faces blooming with teeth, arms waggling, calling out modest insults.

Starbuck recalled that among a certain class of men an insult was a good-natured compliment in negative translation.


"Pssst?" Starbuck asked.

Kettleman passed him down half a roll of white tablet underhand.

Starbuck took it. "Tums?"

"Tranquils. We smuggle them on board. Helps with the blastoff and 'phasing' for the overdrive. Not that those stiffnecked brass will believe it."

"Thanks, Kettleman. You and everybody seems to be pretty helpful to me. I don't know exactly what I've done to deserve it."

"We get tired of looking at the same faces out there month after month. It's a treat to have somebody new on hand."

It sounded reasonable to him, but he felt there was something more to it than that. Well, he was an ethnologist, or almost one. He could figure out group behavior. All he had to do was take time to think about the problem for a little while....

Only he didn't have time to think.

He discovered why everybody was in their bunks.

The spaceship fired its atomic drive.

Starbuck tried to lift a tranquil to his lips. He didn't make it.

Painfully, he found out why a man would prefer to go through a spaceship takeoff in a tranquilized condition.

"Come," the captain said.

Starbuck palmed back the door to the captain's cabin and stepped inside.

Captain Birdsel stood in front of the small wall mirror tattooing a flying dragon on his bared chest. "Yes? What is it, Ben?"

"Sir, you remember that the ship's brain directed me to return at this time today. But I understand I'll have to have your permission to go onto that part of the bridge."

"The brain's directive was quite enough, my boy." He laid down the needle. "But I'll accompany you there if you like."

"Just as you wish, sir."

Birdsel smiled engagingly. "Noticed the dragon, did you?"

"It arrested my attention, yes, sir," Starbuck admitted.

"The hours are long and lonely in the vaults of space, Ben. A man needs a variety of interests to occupy himself. I have recently taken up the ancient art of tattooing."

"Surely not recently, sir. You seem quite advanced."

"You're too kind."

The captain escorted Starbuck to the chamber of the brain, discussing tattooing animatedly. He told how it was popular with ancient mariners on the seas of Earth. He discussed the artistic significance of the basic forms—the Heart and Arrow, the Nude, the Flag. He didn't stop talking and button his shirt even after they entered the cybernetics room.

As the captain grasped for his second wind, Starbuck turned to the machine. "I'm here, Calculator."

The lights patterned words with a speed difficult to follow.


Starbuck shifted his weight to the other foot. "Yes, I'm sure here all right."


"I helped lay some walk mats in the corridors. I policed up the latrine. Lost all the money I brought with me in a crap game. Craps, that's where—"


"I see."


"Still under Central's control, I suppose."


"Only what Captain Birdsel here told me," Starbuck said. No doubt there was a pattern of fine logic to the calculator's inquiries, but he was too dense to see it. The question sounded to him like the mumblings of a mongoloid.

"I'd be delighted to fill the brain in on the subject," Birdsel said.

The calculator's communication screen remained blank.

"Was there anything else you wanted to know?" Starbuck inquired.


"The hyperspace jump? But that's the captain's job," he protested.

"Not at all, not at all," Birdsel interrupted. "Whatever the calculator says. Now if you'll excuse me, there is some paint I have to requisition...."

"Wait," Starbuck cried desperately. "I don't know anything about the overdrive. You can guide me, can't you, sir? That would be all right with the brain, wouldn't it?"

Birdsel shrugged. "Would it?"

The screen stayed a stubborn neutral gray.

"Stay, sir."

"All right," Birdsel said dubiously.

The overdrive switchbox had been incorporated into the cybernetics system itself as an interlock.

"There isn't much to do," Captain Birdsel explained. "We trigger the jump and come out at a mathematically selected random spot in real-space after phasing through hyperspace. The Brain scans the sun systems in the area for unique planets worthy of exploration. If there is one, we zero in on it via fixed phase until the gravitational field makes it necessary to switch back to standard interplanetary or nuclear drive. We can make suggestions to the Brain or theoretically override one of its decisions. Actually, all we have to do is watch. Thumb the button, Ben. It wants you to do it. It likes you."

"Aye, captain." Starbuck could believe a cybernetic machine could like him. Everybody else on board seemed to, and it unnerved him more than a little. Only a selected few had ever particularly liked Benjamin Starbuck before. The situation reminded him a bit of Melville's Billy Budd; only he wasn't a "handsome sailor," just a fairly average-looking spaceman.

Starbuck depressed the button.

The button depressed Starbuck.

Now he knew why tranquils were popular during phasing.

For one instant, Starbuck stopped believing in everything—the spaceship, the captain, Earth, his own identity, the universe. He went completely insane, a cockeyed psychotic. It was over just quick enough to leave him a mind to remember what not having one was like.

"My," the captain said, his head on an angle. He looked as if he were gazing at some classic piece of art, such as a calendar by Marilyn Monroe, the last of the great realists whose work was indistinguishable from color photography.

"That is a dandy," Birdsel said.

Starbuck swiveled his head around to the outer projection portal. There in all its glory was a star system.

There seemed to be four stars all orbiting each other—two red dwarfs, one yellow midget and a white giant. One planet was clearly visible on the side of the system towards the ship, an odd lopsided dumbbell shape in the center of a translucent sphere of tiny satellites—cosmic dust, like the rings of Saturn. Strangest of all, the outer shell of the planet was sending in Interplanetary Morse: CQ, CQ, CQ....

"It," Starbuck ventured with a new-found sophistication, "seems rather unusual. I suppose we'll take a closer look, Captain?"


"I have never seen anything like this before...." Birdsel drew himself up to his full height. "However, the machine's knowledge of the history of space exploration is much more extensive than mine."

"You aren't going to suggest that the brain reconsider or override its decision?"

"Certainly not!" Birdsel snapped. "We'll re-phase after the traditional twenty-four hour delay for psychological adjustment."

Starbuck sneaked another popeyed look at the planet on the screen. "If he thinks that's run of the mill, Captain, I wonder what he will have to find to make him think it's unusual?"


Whatever it took to satisfy the Brain, it didn't find it in the next few days.

Starbuck reported to the bridge each day to press the Brain's phase button and answer some of its questions.

Then for two days Captain Birdsel wasn't on hand for the little ceremony and the expression of dissatisfaction with the available site for exploration.

Once Starbuck went so far as to suggest a reconsideration of a system that had made the one he had seen on the first day look tame. The calculator had duly noted the reconsideration, and had again refused. Starbuck didn't dare try an out-and-out override, even though he had been theoretically given complete command of the phasing operation.

The following noon, the middle of the twenty-four period, Romero, an engineer, almost tearfully pressed Starbuck's crap game losings back on him, apologizing for keeping the money. Starbuck was about to refuse, not wanting to reverse the state of indebtedness, when the intercom requested his appearance at the captain's quarters. Unable to prolong the argument with Romero, he took the money and shoved it in his pocket, heading for the chief cabin.

Starbuck rapped on the door, heard the "Come" and entered.

Captain Birdsel was hanging naked, upside down, by his knees from a trapeze, in the middle of a deserted compartment painted solid red.

"You sent for me, sir?" Starbuck said.

"Yes, Ben. Yes, I did," Captain Birdsel replied, swinging gently to and fro. "Do you smoke, Ben?"

"Aye aye, sir."

"The 'aye aye' is reserved for acknowledging orders, not answering questions, Ben."

"Yes, sir. I'll remember in the future."

"Every man on board smokes, Ben. Everyone but me. I do not use tobacco."

"Commendable, sir."

"I suppose you drink, all of the rest of the men do."

"Occasionally, Captain."

"I abstain."

"Enviable, sir."

"Have you read any good books lately?"

"Good and bad, sir."

"I notice most of the men read. I haven't time for reading myself. Or shooting craps. You do play that game like the rest?"

"Just once, sir. I lost all my money." Which had been returned to him.

"Ben, I think you don't fully appreciate the nature of the mission of the Space Service," Captain Birdsel said, flexing one knee and performing a difficult one-legged swing on the bar. "It is our duty to go ever onward into the mystery of the Unknown. Ever deeper, ever traveling into the heart of the Secrets of the Universe. Nothing can stop us. Nothing!"

"I'll try to remember, sir. Was that all?"

"One more thing," said the inverted captain. "I think you are to be relieved of the duty of officiating at the phasing."

"Correct," said another voice, one Starbuck had never before heard.

"That's all now, Ben."

"Very good, sir."

Starbuck paused at the door. "That's a fine trapeze you have there, sir."

"Thank you, Ben."

"I don't want to jump to conclusions," Ben said to the knot of men gathered around him listening to his story of the interview with the captain, "but I think Captain Birdsel is—is—"

"Psychotic?" suggested Romero.

"Schizoid?" Percy Kettleman ventured.

"'Nuts' is the word I was searching for," Starbuck concluded. "I believe he intends to keep phasing and phasing, taking us deeper into space and never returning to Earth or the inhabited universe."

"I guess," Kettleman opined, "that we will just have to convince him that he is wrong in that attitude."

"We can make a formal written complaint and request for an explanation under Section XXIV," Romero said. "Is that what you had in mind, Ben?"

"I had a straitjacket in mind," Starbuck admitted. "But I'm new in the Space Service. I have a selfish motive. I want to get back to Earth sometime and a vine-covered ethnology class."

"We better go take him," Kettleman said heavily.

"As much as I dislike agreeing with an ox like you, Kettleman," Romero said, "I conclude it is best."

There was a general rumble of agreement.

"Wait, wait," a youngish man whose name Starbuck vaguely remembered to be Horne stepped forward, his eyes glittering with contact lenses. "I ask you men to remember Christopher Columbus. I like our captain no more than any of you, but he may be right. Perhaps what he is doing is vital. We shouldn't let our selfish fears...."

Always, Starbuck thought, always some egghead comes along to gum up the works.

Starbuck knew he would need a decisive argument to overcome Horne's objective theory.

Starbuck slugged him.

Horne crumpled after a flashy right cross Starbuck had developed in his extreme youth, and Starbuck took a giant step over him, heading for the bridge.

The other crew members followed him.

Besides, Starbuck thought, he had always considered arguing by analogy to be sloppy thinking.

"Don't come in here!" Captain Birdsel yelled through the partly closed hatch to the bridge. "You'll regret it if you do."

Starbuck swallowed hard, and reached for the door handle.

Percy Kettleman vised his wrist. "I'll go first, little chum."

There wasn't much room for argument with Kettleman when it came to a matter of who could Indian wrestle the best. He stepped back and let Kettleman cross the threshold first.

Percy threw open the door, screamed once and fainted.

The rest of the men tended to pull back following this demonstration.

Starbuck didn't like to do it, but he didn't like the idea of hanging for mutiny as Birdsel had threatened Lieutenant Frawley on the first day. (Starbuck realized he hadn't seen Frawley for several days. Had Birdsel disposed of him as he had threatened?)

He got close enough to the door to see inside. It didn't make him faint, but he did feel a little sick.

"What is it?" Romero demanded urgently.

"Alien," Starbuck said, "An unpleasant looking one inside."

"You sometimes pick up 'ghosts' passing a system," one of the men explained.

"I'm not an alien," Birdsel's voice called out. "I'm me. The brain reversed my dimensional polarity. I told you you wouldn't like it."

Starbuck stirred up nerve for a second look.

Captain Birdsel was now a man of many parts. Some of them were only areas of abstract line and hues, but there he could see a redly beating heart, a white dash of thigh-bone, and a compassionate blue eye bracketed by two tattooed dragon's talons. The effect was distracting.

Starbuck stepped over his second man that day. "Captain, we're taking over the ship. We're either going to explore one of these planets we've been passing up or return to Earth."

The apparition groaned. "Don't you think I know I've gone too far? I'd like to go back, but the brain won't let me. It's taken over just the way I knew it would!"

"Nonsense," Starbuck snapped with more authority than he felt. "The brain can't violate the principles it was built to operate upon. Brain, program this ship for Earth."

Starbuck expected the sound of that strange voice he had heard in the captain's cabin; but here it had a communications screen and it evidently thought that was sufficient.


"Take it easy," Starbuck said to the machine. "Don't get hysterical."

"I don't care about the rest of those swine," Birdsel said, "but I hate to have gotten you in a fix like this, Ben. I knew the brain was going to replace me sooner or later, but I was going to hold onto my job as long as I could. I was going to stay next to the brain, even if I had to take the position away from you, Ben. But the brain kept demanding more and more. Finally he did this to me. I knew I had let him go too far."


"I liked you, Ben," the captain's voice said from the heart of the thing. "You're not like the scum I've got used to under my command. I'm sorry that you're marooned out of time and space like this. It's kind of tough, I know. But keep your chin up."

"Of course, of course," Starbuck groaned. "What kind of an ethnologist am I?" He turned to Romero. "Could you reverse the wiring in the computer?"

"Maybe," Romero said. "But I could re-program it for a negative result easier. Same results, lacking a short circuit."

"Okay. Do it."

"Well, if you say so, Ben."


The Brain's communication screen flashed a blinding white scream as Romero laid hands on it.

"Lieutenant Frawley's in charge now," Starbuck explained to Percy Kettleman, who was sitting on his bunk with his head between his legs. "Birdsel seemed all right after the brain finished changing him back. But we all thought we better keep him under observation for a while."

Kettleman straightened up. "Sorry I passed out on you. But seeing the old man in that shape was quite a shock."

Starbuck nodded agreement. "I don't like to think about the next step the calculator would have taken him through. Not just a physical change, but a mental one too. That was the brain's whole reason for existence—to find the unknown. It was programmed to be even more basic than sex or self-preservation are to us. The trouble was, the more it learned, the more readily it could see some similarity to the familiar in the most outer things."

"That was why the captain was acting so nutty? He was trying to appeal to it."

"Yes, he had some old moralistic and superstitious ideas about calculators. He thought his job depended on his pleasing it—when of course its job was to please him. But he gave it an idea. If it couldn't find the strange and the different, it would create it. It started with the first changing element in its environment—the captain—but I don't know where it would have stopped if Romero hadn't reversed its pleasure-pain synapse response. Now it loves the tried and true. It's not much good for space exploration, of course. But a museum may be interested in it now."

"So we'll have to go back to picking our phase points at random, trusting to chance. Or the judgment of some skunk like Birdsel."

Starbuck cleared his throat. "That's another thing. The men aboard the Gorgon and the cybernetics machine had something in common. I finally figured that out. Most men are afraid of the unknown—they fear and hate it. But obviously not space explorers. They spend their whole lives searching for the unknown. They don't suffer from Xenophobia—they are Xenophyles. They like anything that's new and different. Even a new member of the crew. It kind of lessens the cameraderie aboard a spaceship, but the Service must have found the trait valuable. They have searched it out in men and developed it. They even breed it in second-generation spacemen."

"Do you know what, Starbuck?"

"What, Kettleman?"

"All that talk of yours is beginning to get on my nerves." Kettleman's triceps flexed.

Starbuck sighed. The honeymoon was over for him, and the trip was just beginning.

End of the Project Gutenberg EBook of The Upside-Down Captain, by Jim Harmon


***** This file should be named 60829-h.htm or *****
This and all associated files of various formats will be found in:

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

Updated editions will replace the previous one--the old editions
will be renamed.

Creating the works from public domain print editions means that no
one owns a United States copyright in these works, so the Foundation
(and you!) can copy and distribute it in the United States without
permission and without paying copyright royalties.  Special rules,
set forth in the General Terms of Use part of this license, apply to
copying and distributing Project Gutenberg-tm electronic works to
protect the PROJECT GUTENBERG-tm concept and trademark.  Project
Gutenberg is a registered trademark, and may not be used if you
charge for the eBooks, unless you receive specific permission.  If you
do not charge anything for copies of this eBook, complying with the
rules is very easy.  You may use this eBook for nearly any purpose
such as creation of derivative works, reports, performances and
research.  They may be modified and printed and given away--you may do
practically ANYTHING with public domain eBooks.  Redistribution is
subject to the trademark license, especially commercial



To protect the Project Gutenberg-tm mission of promoting the free
distribution of electronic works, by using or distributing this work
(or any other work associated in any way with the phrase "Project
Gutenberg"), you agree to comply with all the terms of the Full Project
Gutenberg-tm License (available with this file or online at

Section 1.  General Terms of Use and Redistributing Project Gutenberg-tm
electronic works

1.A.  By reading or using any part of this Project Gutenberg-tm
electronic work, you indicate that you have read, understand, agree to
and accept all the terms of this license and intellectual property
(trademark/copyright) agreement.  If you do not agree to abide by all
the terms of this agreement, you must cease using and return or destroy
all copies of Project Gutenberg-tm electronic works in your possession.
If you paid a fee for obtaining a copy of or access to a Project
Gutenberg-tm electronic work and you do not agree to be bound by the
terms of this agreement, you may obtain a refund from the person or
entity to whom you paid the fee as set forth in paragraph 1.E.8.

1.B.  "Project Gutenberg" is a registered trademark.  It may only be
used on or associated in any way with an electronic work by people who
agree to be bound by the terms of this agreement.  There are a few
things that you can do with most Project Gutenberg-tm electronic works
even without complying with the full terms of this agreement.  See
paragraph 1.C below.  There are a lot of things you can do with Project
Gutenberg-tm electronic works if you follow the terms of this agreement
and help preserve free future access to Project Gutenberg-tm electronic
works.  See paragraph 1.E below.

1.C.  The Project Gutenberg Literary Archive Foundation ("the Foundation"
or PGLAF), owns a compilation copyright in the collection of Project
Gutenberg-tm electronic works.  Nearly all the individual works in the
collection are in the public domain in the United States.  If an
individual work is in the public domain in the United States and you are
located in the United States, we do not claim a right to prevent you from
copying, distributing, performing, displaying or creating derivative
works based on the work as long as all references to Project Gutenberg
are removed.  Of course, we hope that you will support the Project
Gutenberg-tm mission of promoting free access to electronic works by
freely sharing Project Gutenberg-tm works in compliance with the terms of
this agreement for keeping the Project Gutenberg-tm name associated with
the work.  You can easily comply with the terms of this agreement by
keeping this work in the same format with its attached full Project
Gutenberg-tm License when you share it without charge with others.

1.D.  The copyright laws of the place where you are located also govern
what you can do with this work.  Copyright laws in most countries are in
a constant state of change.  If you are outside the United States, check
the laws of your country in addition to the terms of this agreement
before downloading, copying, displaying, performing, distributing or
creating derivative works based on this work or any other Project
Gutenberg-tm work.  The Foundation makes no representations concerning
the copyright status of any work in any country outside the United

1.E.  Unless you have removed all references to Project Gutenberg:

1.E.1.  The following sentence, with active links to, or other immediate
access to, the full Project Gutenberg-tm License must appear prominently
whenever any copy of a Project Gutenberg-tm work (any work on which the
phrase "Project Gutenberg" appears, or with which the phrase "Project
Gutenberg" is associated) is accessed, displayed, performed, viewed,
copied or distributed:

This eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere at no cost and with
almost no restrictions whatsoever.  You may copy it, give it away or
re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg License included
with this eBook or online at

1.E.2.  If an individual Project Gutenberg-tm electronic work is derived
from the public domain (does not contain a notice indicating that it is
posted with permission of the copyright holder), the work can be copied
and distributed to anyone in the United States without paying any fees
or charges.  If you are redistributing or providing access to a work
with the phrase "Project Gutenberg" associated with or appearing on the
work, you must comply either with the requirements of paragraphs 1.E.1
through 1.E.7 or obtain permission for the use of the work and the
Project Gutenberg-tm trademark as set forth in paragraphs 1.E.8 or

1.E.3.  If an individual Project Gutenberg-tm electronic work is posted
with the permission of the copyright holder, your use and distribution
must comply with both paragraphs 1.E.1 through 1.E.7 and any additional
terms imposed by the copyright holder.  Additional terms will be linked
to the Project Gutenberg-tm License for all works posted with the
permission of the copyright holder found at the beginning of this work.

1.E.4.  Do not unlink or detach or remove the full Project Gutenberg-tm
License terms from this work, or any files containing a part of this
work or any other work associated with Project Gutenberg-tm.

1.E.5.  Do not copy, display, perform, distribute or redistribute this
electronic work, or any part of this electronic work, without
prominently displaying the sentence set forth in paragraph 1.E.1 with
active links or immediate access to the full terms of the Project
Gutenberg-tm License.

1.E.6.  You may convert to and distribute this work in any binary,
compressed, marked up, nonproprietary or proprietary form, including any
word processing or hypertext form.  However, if you provide access to or
distribute copies of a Project Gutenberg-tm work in a format other than
"Plain Vanilla ASCII" or other format used in the official version
posted on the official Project Gutenberg-tm web site (,
you must, at no additional cost, fee or expense to the user, provide a
copy, a means of exporting a copy, or a means of obtaining a copy upon
request, of the work in its original "Plain Vanilla ASCII" or other
form.  Any alternate format must include the full Project Gutenberg-tm
License as specified in paragraph 1.E.1.

1.E.7.  Do not charge a fee for access to, viewing, displaying,
performing, copying or distributing any Project Gutenberg-tm works
unless you comply with paragraph 1.E.8 or 1.E.9.

1.E.8.  You may charge a reasonable fee for copies of or providing
access to or distributing Project Gutenberg-tm electronic works provided

- You pay a royalty fee of 20% of the gross profits you derive from
     the use of Project Gutenberg-tm works calculated using the method
     you already use to calculate your applicable taxes.  The fee is
     owed to the owner of the Project Gutenberg-tm trademark, but he
     has agreed to donate royalties under this paragraph to the
     Project Gutenberg Literary Archive Foundation.  Royalty payments
     must be paid within 60 days following each date on which you
     prepare (or are legally required to prepare) your periodic tax
     returns.  Royalty payments should be clearly marked as such and
     sent to the Project Gutenberg Literary Archive Foundation at the
     address specified in Section 4, "Information about donations to
     the Project Gutenberg Literary Archive Foundation."

- You provide a full refund of any money paid by a user who notifies
     you in writing (or by e-mail) within 30 days of receipt that s/he
     does not agree to the terms of the full Project Gutenberg-tm
     License.  You must require such a user to return or
     destroy all copies of the works possessed in a physical medium
     and discontinue all use of and all access to other copies of
     Project Gutenberg-tm works.

- You provide, in accordance with paragraph 1.F.3, a full refund of any
     money paid for a work or a replacement copy, if a defect in the
     electronic work is discovered and reported to you within 90 days
     of receipt of the work.

- You comply with all other terms of this agreement for free
     distribution of Project Gutenberg-tm works.

1.E.9.  If you wish to charge a fee or distribute a Project Gutenberg-tm
electronic work or group of works on different terms than are set
forth in this agreement, you must obtain permission in writing from
both the Project Gutenberg Literary Archive Foundation and Michael
Hart, the owner of the Project Gutenberg-tm trademark.  Contact the
Foundation as set forth in Section 3 below.


1.F.1.  Project Gutenberg volunteers and employees expend considerable
effort to identify, do copyright research on, transcribe and proofread
public domain works in creating the Project Gutenberg-tm
collection.  Despite these efforts, Project Gutenberg-tm electronic
works, and the medium on which they may be stored, may contain
"Defects," such as, but not limited to, incomplete, inaccurate or
corrupt data, transcription errors, a copyright or other intellectual
property infringement, a defective or damaged disk or other medium, a
computer virus, or computer codes that damage or cannot be read by
your equipment.

of Replacement or Refund" described in paragraph 1.F.3, the Project
Gutenberg Literary Archive Foundation, the owner of the Project
Gutenberg-tm trademark, and any other party distributing a Project
Gutenberg-tm electronic work under this agreement, disclaim all
liability to you for damages, costs and expenses, including legal

defect in this electronic work within 90 days of receiving it, you can
receive a refund of the money (if any) you paid for it by sending a
written explanation to the person you received the work from.  If you
received the work on a physical medium, you must return the medium with
your written explanation.  The person or entity that provided you with
the defective work may elect to provide a replacement copy in lieu of a
refund.  If you received the work electronically, the person or entity
providing it to you may choose to give you a second opportunity to
receive the work electronically in lieu of a refund.  If the second copy
is also defective, you may demand a refund in writing without further
opportunities to fix the problem.

1.F.4.  Except for the limited right of replacement or refund set forth
in paragraph 1.F.3, this work is provided to you 'AS-IS' WITH NO OTHER

1.F.5.  Some states do not allow disclaimers of certain implied
warranties or the exclusion or limitation of certain types of damages.
If any disclaimer or limitation set forth in this agreement violates the
law of the state applicable to this agreement, the agreement shall be
interpreted to make the maximum disclaimer or limitation permitted by
the applicable state law.  The invalidity or unenforceability of any
provision of this agreement shall not void the remaining provisions.

1.F.6.  INDEMNITY - You agree to indemnify and hold the Foundation, the
trademark owner, any agent or employee of the Foundation, anyone
providing copies of Project Gutenberg-tm electronic works in accordance
with this agreement, and any volunteers associated with the production,
promotion and distribution of Project Gutenberg-tm electronic works,
harmless from all liability, costs and expenses, including legal fees,
that arise directly or indirectly from any of the following which you do
or cause to occur: (a) distribution of this or any Project Gutenberg-tm
work, (b) alteration, modification, or additions or deletions to any
Project Gutenberg-tm work, and (c) any Defect you cause.

Section  2.  Information about the Mission of Project Gutenberg-tm

Project Gutenberg-tm is synonymous with the free distribution of
electronic works in formats readable by the widest variety of computers
including obsolete, old, middle-aged and new computers.  It exists
because of the efforts of hundreds of volunteers and donations from
people in all walks of life.

Volunteers and financial support to provide volunteers with the
assistance they need, are critical to reaching Project Gutenberg-tm's
goals and ensuring that the Project Gutenberg-tm collection will
remain freely available for generations to come.  In 2001, the Project
Gutenberg Literary Archive Foundation was created to provide a secure
and permanent future for Project Gutenberg-tm and future generations.
To learn more about the Project Gutenberg Literary Archive Foundation
and how your efforts and donations can help, see Sections 3 and 4
and the Foundation web page at

Section 3.  Information about the Project Gutenberg Literary Archive

The Project Gutenberg Literary Archive Foundation is a non profit
501(c)(3) educational corporation organized under the laws of the
state of Mississippi and granted tax exempt status by the Internal
Revenue Service.  The Foundation's EIN or federal tax identification
number is 64-6221541.  Its 501(c)(3) letter is posted at  Contributions to the Project Gutenberg
Literary Archive Foundation are tax deductible to the full extent
permitted by U.S. federal laws and your state's laws.

The Foundation's principal office is located at 4557 Melan Dr. S.
Fairbanks, AK, 99712., but its volunteers and employees are scattered
throughout numerous locations.  Its business office is located at
809 North 1500 West, Salt Lake City, UT 84116, (801) 596-1887, email  Email contact links and up to date contact
information can be found at the Foundation's web site and official
page at

For additional contact information:
     Dr. Gregory B. Newby
     Chief Executive and Director

Section 4.  Information about Donations to the Project Gutenberg
Literary Archive Foundation

Project Gutenberg-tm depends upon and cannot survive without wide
spread public support and donations to carry out its mission of
increasing the number of public domain and licensed works that can be
freely distributed in machine readable form accessible by the widest
array of equipment including outdated equipment.  Many small donations
($1 to $5,000) are particularly important to maintaining tax exempt
status with the IRS.

The Foundation is committed to complying with the laws regulating
charities and charitable donations in all 50 states of the United
States.  Compliance requirements are not uniform and it takes a
considerable effort, much paperwork and many fees to meet and keep up
with these requirements.  We do not solicit donations in locations
where we have not received written confirmation of compliance.  To
SEND DONATIONS or determine the status of compliance for any
particular state visit

While we cannot and do not solicit contributions from states where we
have not met the solicitation requirements, we know of no prohibition
against accepting unsolicited donations from donors in such states who
approach us with offers to donate.

International donations are gratefully accepted, but we cannot make
any statements concerning tax treatment of donations received from
outside the United States.  U.S. laws alone swamp our small staff.

Please check the Project Gutenberg Web pages for current donation
methods and addresses.  Donations are accepted in a number of other
ways including checks, online payments and credit card donations.
To donate, please visit:

Section 5.  General Information About Project Gutenberg-tm electronic

Professor Michael S. Hart is the originator of the Project Gutenberg-tm
concept of a library of electronic works that could be freely shared
with anyone.  For thirty years, he produced and distributed Project
Gutenberg-tm eBooks with only a loose network of volunteer support.

Project Gutenberg-tm eBooks are often created from several printed
editions, all of which are confirmed as Public Domain in the U.S.
unless a copyright notice is included.  Thus, we do not necessarily
keep eBooks in compliance with any particular paper edition.

Most people start at our Web site which has the main PG search facility:

This Web site includes information about Project Gutenberg-tm,
including how to make donations to the Project Gutenberg Literary
Archive Foundation, how to help produce our new eBooks, and how to
subscribe to our email newsletter to hear about new eBooks.