Good Taste — Isaac Asimov, 1976

It was quite clear that it would not have happened — the family would not have been disgraced and the world of Gammer would not have been stunned and horrified — if Chawker Minor had not made the Grand Tour.

It wasn’t exactly illegal to make the Grand Tour but, on Gammer at least, it was not really socially acceptable. Elder Chawker had been against it from the start, to do him justice, but then Lady Chawker took the side of her minor, and mothers are, at times, not to be withstood. Chawker was her second child (both of them sons, as it happened) and she would have no more, of course, so it was not surprising that she doted on him.

Her younger son had wanted to see the Other-Worlds of the Orbit and had promised to stay away no longer than a year. She had wept and worried and gone into a tragic decline and then, finally, had dried her eyes and spoken stiffly to Elder Chawker — and Chawker Minor had gone.

Now he was back, one year to the day (he was always one to keep his word, and, besides, Elder’s support would have ceased the day after, never fear), and the family made holiday.

Elder wore a new, black glossy shirt but would not permit the prim lines of his face to relax, nor would he stoop to ask for details. He had no interest — no interest whatever — in the Other-Worlds with their strange ways and their primitive browsing (no better than the ways on Earth, of which Gammerpeople never spoke).

He said, ‘Your complexion is dirtied and spoiled, Chawker Minor.’ (The use of the full name showed his displeasure.)

Chawker laughed and the clear skin of his rather thin face crinkled. ‘I stayed out of the sun as much as I could, Elder-mine, but the Other-Worlders would not always have it so.’

Lady Chawker would have none of Elder’s criticism either. She said warmly, ‘It isn’t dirtied at all, Elder. It breathes a warmth.’

‘Of the Sun,’ grumbled Elder, ‘and it would be next that he would be grubbing in the filth they have there.’

‘No farming for me, Elder. That’s hard work. I visited the fungus vats at times, though.’

Chawker Major, older than Minor by three years, wider of face, heavier of body, but otherwise of close resemblance, was torn between envy of his younger brother’s having seen different worlds of the Orbit and revulsion at the thought of it. He said, ‘Did you eat their Prime, Minor?’

‘I had to eat something,’ said Chawker Minor. ‘Of course, there were your packages, Lady-mine — lifesavers, sometimes.’

‘I suppose,’ said Elder Chawker with distaste, ‘the Prime was inedible there. Who can tell the filth that found its way into it.’

‘Come now, Elder-mine.’ Chawker paused, as though attempting to choose words, then shrugged. ‘Well, it held body and soul together. One got used to it. I won’t say more than that … But, Elder-Lady-mine, I am so glad to be home. The lights are so warm and gentle.’

‘You’ve enough of the Sun, I take it,’ said Elder. ‘But you would go. Well, welcome back to the inner world with light and warmth under our control, locked away from the patch and blaze of sunshine. Welcome back to the womb of the people, as the saying goes.’

‘Yet I’m glad I went,’ said Chawker Minor. ‘Eight different worlds, you know. It gives you a view you don’t have otherwise.’

‘And would be better off not having,’ said Elder.

‘I’m not sure about that,’ said Chawker Minor, and his right eyelid trembled just slightly as he looked at Major. Chawker Major’s lips compressed but he said nothing.

*        *        *

It was a feast. Anyone would have had to admit that, and in the end it was Chawker Minor himself, the greediest to begin with, who was the first to push away. He had no choice; else Lady would have kept on supplying him with samples out of what seemed to be a bottomless larder.

‘Lady-mine,’ he said affectionately, ‘my tongue wearies. I can no longer taste anything.’

You not taste?’ said Lady. ‘What kind of nithling story is that? You have the skill of the Grand-Elder himself. At the age of six, you were already a Gustator; we had endless proof of that. There was not an additive you could not detect even when you could not pronounce it right.’

‘Taste buds blunt when not used,’ said Elder Chawker darkly, ‘and jogging the Other-Worlds can utterly spoil a man.’

‘Yes? Well, let us see,’ said Lady. ‘Minor-mine, tell your doubting Elder what you have eaten.’

‘In order?’ said Chawker Minor.

‘Yes. Show him you remember.’

Chawker Minor closed his eyes. ‘It’s scarcely a fair test,’ he said. ‘I so relished the taste I did not pause to analyze it — and it’s been so long.’

‘He has excuses. See, Lady?’ said Elder.

‘But I will try,’ Chawker Minor said hastily. ‘In the first place, the Prime base for all of them is from the fungus vats of the East Section and the thirteenth corridor within it, I believe, unless great changes have been made in my absence.’

‘No, you are right,’ said Lady, with satisfaction.

‘And it was expensive,’ said Elder.

‘The prodigal returns,’ said Chawker Major just a bit acidly, ‘and we must have the fatted fungus, as the saying goes … Get the additives, Minor, if you can.’

‘Well,’ said Chawker Minor, ‘the first dab was strongly Spring Morning with added Leaves A-Freshened and a touch, not more than a touch, of Spara-Sprig.’

‘Perfectly right,’ said Lady, smiling happily.

Chawker Minor went on with the list, his eyes still closed, his taste memory rolling backward and forward luxuriously over the tang and consistency of the samplings. He skipped the eighth and came back to it.

‘That one,’ he said, ‘puzzles me.’

Chawker Major grinned. ‘Didn’t you get any of it?’

‘Of course I did. I got most of it. There was Frisking Lamb — not Leaping Lamb, either, Frisking, even though it leaned just a little toward Leaping.’

‘Come on, don’t try to make it hard. That’s easy,’ said Chawker Major. ‘What else?’

‘Green Mint, with just a touch of Sour Mint — both — and a dusting of Sparkle-Blood … But there was something else I couldn’t identify.’

‘Was it good?’ asked Chawker Major.

‘Good? This isn’t the day to ask me that. Everything is good. Everything is succulent. And what I can’t identify seems very succulent. It’s close to Hedge Bloom, but better.’

‘Better?’ said Chawker Major delightedly. ‘It’s mine!’

‘What do you mean, yours?’ said Chawker Minor.

Elder said with stiff approval, ‘My stay-at-home son has done well while you were gone. He devised a computer program that has designed and produced three new life-compatible flavour molecules of considerable promise. Grand-Elder Tomasz himself has given one of Major’s constructions tongue-room — the very one you just tested, fly-away Minor-mine — and has given it his approval.’

Chawker Major said, ‘He didn’t actually say anything, Elder-mine.’

Lady said, ‘His expression needed no words.’

‘It is good,’ said Chawker Minor, rather dashed at having the play taken away from him. ‘Will you be entering for the Awards?’

‘It has been in my mind,’ said Chawker Major, with an attempt at indifference. ‘Not with this one — call it Purple Light, by the way — but I believe I will have something else, more worthy of the competition.’

Chawker Minor frowned. ‘I had thought that — ’

‘Yes?’

‘ — that I am ready to stretch out and think of nothing. Come, half a dab more of Major’s construction, Lady-mine, and let’s see what I can deduce concerning the chemical structure of his Purple Light.’

*        *        *

For a week, the holiday atmosphere in the Chawker household continued. Elder Chawker was well known in Gammer, and it seemed that half the inhabitants of the world must have passed through his section before all had had their curiosity sated and could see with their own eyes that Chawker Minor had returned unscathed. Most remarked on his complexion, and more than one young woman asked if she might touch his cheek, as though the light tan were a layer that could be felt.

Chawker Minor allowed the touch with lordly complacency, though Lady disapproved of these forward requests and said so.

Grand-Elder Tomasz himself came down from his eyrie, as plump as a Gammerman ever permits himself to be and with no sign that age or white hair had blunted his talents. He was a Master-Gustator such as Gammer might never have seen before, despite the tales of Grand-Elder Faron of half a century ago. There was nothing that Tomasz tongued that did not open itself in detail to him.

Chawker Minor, who had no great tendency to underrate his own talent, felt no shame in admitting that what he himself had, innately, could not yet come anywhere near the old man’s weight of experience.

The Grand Elder, who, for nearly twenty years now, had governed the annual Awards festival by force of his skill, asked closely after the Other-Worlds, which, of course, he himself had never visited.

He was indulgent, though, and smiled at Lady Chawker. ‘No need to fret, Lady,’ he said. ‘Young people these days are curious. In my time we were content to attend to our own cylinder of worth, as the saying goes, but these are new times and many are making what they call the Grand Tour. Good, perhaps, to see the Other-Worlds — frivolous, sun-drenched, browsive, non-gustational, without a taste bud to content themselves with — makes one appreciate the eldest brother, as the saying goes.’

Grand-Elder Tomasz was the only Gammerman whom Chawker Minor had ever heard actually speak of Gammer as ‘the eldest brother,’ although you could find it often enough in the video cassettes. It had been the third colony to be founded in the Moon’s orbit back in the pioneering years of the twenty-first century; but the first two, Alfer and Bayter, had never become ecologically viable. Gammer had.

Chawker Minor said with tactful caution, ‘The Other-World people never tired of telling me how much the experience of Gammer meant to all the worlds that were founded afterwards. All had learned, they said, from Gammer.’

Tomasz beamed. ‘Certainly. Certainly. Well said.’

Chawker Minor said with even greater caution, ‘And yet such is self-love, you understand, Grand-Elder, that a few thought they had improved on Gammer.’

Grand-Elder Tomasz puffed his breath out through his nose (‘Never breathe through your mouth any more than you can help,’ he would say over and over again, ‘for that blunts the Gustator’s tongue’) and fixed Chawker with his deep blue eyes that looked the bluer for the snow-white eyebrows that curved above them.

‘Improved in what way? Did they suggest a specific improvement?’

Chawker Minor, skating on thin ice and aware of Elder Chawker’s awful frown, said softly, ‘In matters that they value, I gather. I am not a proper judge of such things, perhaps.’

‘In matters that they value. Did you find a world that knows more about food chemistry than we do?’

‘No! Certainly not, Grand-Elder. None concern themselves with that as far as I could see. They all rely on our findings. They admit it openly.’

Grand-Elder Tomasz grunted. ‘They can rely on us to know the effects and side effects of a hundred thousand molecules, and each year to study, define, and analyze the effects of a thousand more. They rely on us to work out the dietary needs of elements and vitamins to the last syllable. Most of all, they rely on us to work out the art of taste to the final, most subtly convoluted touch. They do so, do they not?’

‘They admit all this, without hesitation.’

‘And where do you find computers more reliable and more complex than ours?’

‘As far as our field is concerned, nowhere.’

‘And what Prime did they serve?’ With heavy humor, he added, ‘Or did they expect a young Gammerman to browse.’

‘No, Grand-Elder, they had Prime. On all the worlds I visited they had Prime; and on all those I did not visit, I was told, there was also Prime. Even on the world where Prime was considered fit chiefly for the lower classes —’

Tomasz reddened. ‘Idiots!’ he muttered.

‘Different worlds, different ways,’ said Chawker Minor rather hurriedly. ‘But even then, Grand-Elder, Prime was popular when something was needed that was convenient, inexpensive, and nourishing. And they got their Prime from us. All of them had a fungal strain brought originally from Gammer.’

‘Which strain?’

‘Strain A-5’ said Chawker Minor apologetically. ‘It’s the sturdiest, they said, and the most energy-sparing.’

‘And the coarsest,’ said Tomasz with satisfaction. ‘And what flavor additives?’

‘Very few,’ said Chawker Minor. He thought a moment, then said, ‘There was, on Kapper, a place where they had an additive that was popular with the Kapperpeople and that had … possibilities. Those were not properly developed, however, and when I distributed tastes of what Lady-mine had sent me, they were forced to admit that it was to theirs as Gammer is to a space pebble.’

‘You had not told me that,’ said Lady Chawker, who, till then, had not ventured to interpose in a conversation that had the Grand-Elder as one of its participants. ‘The Other-Worlders liked my preparations, did they?’

‘I didn’t often hand it out,’ said Chawker Minor. ‘I was too selfish to do it. But when I did, they liked it a great deal, Lady-mine.’

*        *        * 

It was several days before the two brothers managed to find a way of being alone together.

Major said, ‘Weren’t you on Kee at all?’

Chawker Minor lowered his voice. ‘I was. Just a couple of days. It was too expensive to stay long.’

‘I have no doubt Elder would not have liked even the two days.’

‘I don’t intend telling him. Do you?’

‘A witless remark. Tell me about it.’

Chawker Minor did, in semi-embarrassed detail, and said, finally, ‘The point is, Major, it doesn’t seem wrong to them. They don’t think anything of it. It made me think that perhaps there is no real right and wrong. What you’re used to, that’s right. What you’re not used to, that’s wrong.’

‘Try telling that to Elder.’

‘What he thinks is right and what he is used to are precisely the same. You’ll have to admit that.’

‘What difference does it make what I admit? Elder thinks that all rights and wrongs were written down by the makers of Gammer and that it’s all in a book of which there is only one copy and we have it, so that all the Other-Worlds are wrong forever. I’m speaking metaphorically, of course.’

‘I believe that, too, Major — metaphorically. But it shook me up to see how calmly those Other-World people took it. I could — watch them browse.’

A spasm of distaste crossed Major’s face. ‘Animals, you mean?’

‘It doesn’t look like animals when they browse on it. That’s the point.’

‘You watched them kill and dissect that — that — ’

‘No,’ he said hastily. ‘I just saw it when it was all finished. What they ate looked like some kinds of Prime and it smelled like some kinds of Prime. I imagine it tasted — ’

Chawker Major twisted his expression into one of extreme revulsion, and Chawker Minor said defensively, ‘But browsing came first, you know. On Earth, I mean. And it could be that when Prime was first developed on Gammer it was designed to imitate the taste of browse food.’

‘I prefer not to believe that,’ said Chawker Major.

‘What you prefer doesn’t matter.’

‘Listen,’ said Chawker Major. ‘I don’t care what they browse. If they ever got the change to eat real Prime — not Strain A-5, but the fatted fungus, as the saying goes — and if they had the sophisticated additives and not whatever primitive trash they use, they would eat forever and never dream of browsing. If they could eat what I have constructed and will yet construct — ’

Chawker Minor said wistfully, ‘Are you really going to try for the Award, Major?’

Chawker Major thought for a moment, then said, ‘I think I will. Minor. I really will. Even if I don’t win, I eventually will. This program I’ve got is different.’ He grew excited. ‘It’s not like any computer program I’ve ever seen or heard of — and it works. It’s all in the — ’ But he pulled himself up sharply and said uneasily, ‘I hope, Minor, you don’t mind if I don’t tell you about it? I haven’t told anyone.’

Chawker Minor shrugged. ‘It would be foolish to tell anyone. If you really have a good program, you can make your fortune. You know that. Look at Grand-Elder Tomasz. It must be thirty-five years since he developed Corridor Song and he still hasn’t published his path.’

Chawker Major said, ‘Yes, but there’s a pretty good guess as to how he got to it. And it’s not really, in my opinion —’ He shook his head doubtfully, in preference to saying anything that might smack of lèse majesté.

Chawker Minor said, ‘The reason I asked if you were going to try for the Award —’

‘Well?’

‘Is that I was rather thinking of entering myself.’

‘You? You’re scarcely old enough.’

‘I’m twenty-two. But would you mind?’

‘You don’t know enough, Minor. When have you ever handled a computer?’

‘What’s the difference? A computer isn’t the answer.’

‘No? What is?’

‘The taste buds.’

‘Hit and miss and taste buds all the way. We all know that sound, and I will jump through the zero axis in a bound, too, as the saying goes.’

‘But I’m serious, Major. A computer is only the starting point, isn’t it? It all ends with the tongue no matter where you start.’

‘And, of course, a Master-Gustator like Minor-lad, here, can do it.’

Chawker Minor was not too tanned to flush. ‘Maybe not a Master-Gustator, but a Gustator anyway, and you know it. The point is that being away from home for a year I’ve gotten to appreciate good Prime and what might be done with it. I’ve learned enough. Look, Major, my tongue is all I’ve got, and I’d like to make back the money that Elder and Lady spent on me. Do you object to my entering? Do you fear the competition?’

Chawker Major stiffened. He was taller and heavier than Chawker Minor and he didn’t look friendly. ‘There is no competition to fear. If you want to enter, do so, Minor-child. But don’t come whimpering to me when you’re ashamed. And I tell you, Elder won’t like your making a no-taste-batch of yourself, as the saying goes.’

‘Nobody has to win right away. Even if I don’t win, I eventually will, as your saying goes.’ And Chawker Minor turned and left. He was feeling a little huffy himself.

*        *        *

Matters trailed off eventually. Everyone seemed to have had enough of the tales of the Other-Worlds. Chawker Minor had described the living animals he had seen for the fiftieth time and denied he had seen any of them killed for the hundredth. He had painted word-pictures of the grain fields and tried to explain what sunshine looked like when it glinted off men and women and buildings and fields, through air that turned a little blue and hazy in the distance. He explained for the two hundredth time that, no, it was not at all like the sunshine effect in the outer viewing rooms of Gammer (which hardly anyone visited anyway).

And now that it was all over, he rather missed not being stopped in the corridors. He disliked no longer being a celebrity. He felt a little at a loss as he spun the book film he had grown tired of viewing and tried not to be annoyed with Lady.

He said, ‘What’s the matter. Lady-mine? You haven’t smiled all day.’

His mother looked up at him thoughtfully. ‘It’s distressing to see dissension between major and minor.’

‘Oh, come.’ Chawker Minor rose irritably and walked over to the air vent. It was jasmine day and he loved the odour and, as always, automatically wondered how he could make it better. It was very faint, of course, since everyone knew that strong floral odours blunted the tongue.

‘There’s nothing wrong, Lady,’ he said, ‘with my trying for the Award. It’s the free right of every Gammerperson over twenty-one.’

‘But it isn’t in good taste to be competing with your brother.’

‘Good taste! Why not? I’m competing with everyone. So’s he. It’s just a detail that we’re competing with each other. Why don’t you take the attitude that he’s competing with me?’

‘He’s three years older than you, Minor-mine.’

‘And perhaps he’ll win, Lady-mine. He’s got the computer. Has Major asked you to get me to drop out?’

‘No, he did not. Don’t think that of your brother.’ Lady spoke earnestly, but she avoided his eyes.

Chawker Minor said, ‘Well, then, he’s gone moping after you and you’ve learned to tell what he wants without his having to say it. And all because I qualified in the opening round and he didn’t think I would.’

‘Anyone can qualify,’ came Chawker Major’s voice from the doorway.

Chawker Minor whirled. ‘Is that the way it is? Then why does it upset you? And why did a hundred people fail to qualify?’

Chawker Major said, ‘What some small-taste nitherlings decide means very little. Minor. Wait till it comes to the board.’

‘Since you qualified, too, Major, there’s no need to tell me how little importance there is to some small-taste nitherlings —’

‘Young-mine,’ said Lady rather sharply. ‘Stop it! Perhaps we can remember that it is very unusual for both major and minor of a single unit to qualify.’

Neither ventured to break the silence in Lady’s presence for a while thereafter — but their scowls remained eloquent.

*        *        *

As the days passed, Chawker Minor found himself more and more involved in preparing the ultimate sample of flavored Prime, which his own taste buds and olfactory area would tell him was to be nothing like anything that had ever rolled across a Gammer tongue before.

He took it upon himself to visit the Prime vats themselves, where the delectably bland fungi grew out of malodorous wastes and multiplied themselves at extraordinary speed, under ideal conditions, into three dozen basic strains, each with its varieties.

(The Master-Gustator, tasting unflavored Prime itself — the fungal unalterate, as the saying went — could be relied upon to pin its source down to the section and corridor. Grand-Elder Tomasz had more than once stated, publicly, that he could tell the very vat itself and, at times, the portion of the vat, though no one had ever quite put him to the full test.) 

Chawker Minor did not pretend to the expertise of Tomasz, but he lipped and tongued and smacked and nipped till he had decided on the exact strain and variety he wanted, the one that would best blend with the ingredients he was mixing in his mind. A good Gustator, said Grand-Elder Tomasz, could combine ingredients mentally and taste the mixture in his imagination. With Tomasz it might, for all one knew, be merely a statement, but Chawker Minor took it seriously and was sure he could do it.

He had rented out space in the kitchen — another expense for poor Elder, although Chawker Minor was making do with less than Major had demanded. Chawker Minor did not repine at having less, for, since he was eschewing computers, he didn’t require much. Mincers, mixers, heaters, strainers, and the rest of the cookery tools took up little room. And at least he had an excellent hood for the masking and removal of all odours. (Everyone knew the horror tales of the Gustators who had been given away by a single sniff of odour and then found that some creative mixture was in the public domain before they could bring it before the board. To steal someone else’s product might not be, as Lady would say, in good taste, but it was done and there was no legal recourse.)

The signal light flashed in a code sufficiently well known. It was Elder Chawker. Chawker Minor felt the thrill of guilt he had felt as a child when he had pilfered dabs of Prime reserved for guests.

‘One moment, Elder-mine,’ he sang out, and, in a flurry of activity, set the hood on high, closed the partition, swept his ingredients off the tabletop and into the bins, then stepped out and closed the door quickly behind him.

‘I’m sorry, Elder-mine,’ he said with an attempt at lightness, ‘but Gustatorship is paramount.’

‘I understand,’ said Elder stiffly, though his nostrils had flared momentarily as though he would have been glad to catch that fugitive whiff, ‘but you’ve scarcely been at home lately, scarcely more than when you were on your space folly, and I must come here to speak to you.’

‘No problem. Elder, we’ll go to the lounge.’

The lounge was not far away, and, fortunately, it was empty. Elder’s sharp glances this way and that made the emptiness seem fortunate for him, and Chawker Minor sighed inaudibly. He would be lectured, he knew.

Elder said at last, ‘Minor, you are my son, and I will do my duty toward you. My duty does not consist, however, of more than paying your expenses and seeing to it that you have a fair start in life. There is also the matter of reproval in good time. Who wishes fair Prime must not stint on foul waste, as the saying goes.’

Chawker’s eyes dropped. He, along with his brother, had been among the thirty who had now qualified for the final awarding to be held in a week, and the unofficial rumour had it that Chawker Minor had done so with a somewhat higher score than Chawker Major had.

‘Elder,’ said Chawker Minor, ‘would you ask me to do less than my best for my brother’s sake?’

Elder Chawker’s eyes blinked in a moment of puzzlement and Chawker Minor clamped his mouth shut. He had clearly jumped in the wrong direction.

Elder said, ‘I do not ask you to do less than your best, but rather more than you are doing. Bethink you of the shaming you have inflicted on us in your little quarrel with Stens Major last week.’

Chawker Minor had, for a moment, difficulty remembering what this could apply to. He had done nothing with Stens Major at all — a silly young woman with whom he was perfectly content to confine himself to mere talk, and not very much of that.

‘Stens Major? Shaming? How?’

‘Do not say you do not remember what you said to her. Stens Major repeated it to her elder and lady, good friends of our family, and it is now common talk in the section. What possessed you, Minor, to assault the traditions of Gammer?’

‘I did not do such a thing. She asked me about my Grand Tour and I told her no more than I have told three hundred others.’

‘Didn’t you tell her that women should be allowed to go on the Grand Tour?’

‘Oh.’

‘Yes. Oh.’

‘But, Elder, what I said was that if she would take the Grand Tour herself there would be no need to ask questions, and when she pretended to be shocked at such a suggestion, I told her that, in my opinion, the more Gammerpeople saw of the Other-Worlds, the better it would be for all of us. We are too closed a society, in my opinion, and, Elder, I am not the first to say so.’

‘Yes, I have heard of radicals who have said so, but not in our section and certainly not in our family. We have endured longer than the Other-Worlds; we have a stabler and fitter society; we do not have their problems. Is there crime among us? Is there corruption among us?’

‘But, Elder, it is at the price of immobility and living death. We’re all so tied in, so enclosed.’

‘What can they teach us, these Other-Worlds? Were you not yourself glad to come back to the enclosed and comfortable sections of Gammer with their corridors lit in the gold light of our own energy?’

‘Yes — but, you know, I’m spoiled, too. There are many things on the Other-Worlds that I would have very much liked to have made myself accustomed to.’

‘And just exactly what, Minor-madman-mine?’

Chawker Minor bit back the words. After a pause he said, ‘Why simply make assertions? When I can prove that a particular Other-World way is superior to Gammerfashion, I will produce the proof. Till then, what is the use of just talking?’

‘You have already been talking idly without end, Minor, and it has done you so little good that we can call what it has done you harm outright. Minor, if you have any respect left for me after your Grand Tour — which Lady-yours wheedled out of me against my will, Gammer knows — or if you have any regard for the fact that I still deny you nothing that my credit can obtain for you, you will keep your mouth shut henceforward. Think not that I will halt at sending you away if you shame us. You may then continue on your Grand Tour for as long as the Orbit lasts — and be no son of mine thereafter.’

Chawker Minor said in a low voice, ‘As you say, Elder. From this moment on, unless I have evidence, I will say nothing.’

‘Since you will never have evidence,’ said Elder grimly, ‘I will be satisfied if you keep your word.’

*        *        *

The annual Finals was the greatest holiday occasion, the greatest social event, the greatest excitement of any sort in the course of the year. Each one of thirty dishes of elegantly flavored Prime had been prepared. Each one of the thirty judges would taste each dish at intervals long enough to restore the tongue. It would take all day.

In all honesty, Gammerpeople had to admit that the nearly one hundred winners who had taken their prize and acclaim in Gammer history had not all turned out dishes that had entered the Great Menu as classics. Some were forgotten and some were now considered ordinary. On the other hand, at least two of Gammer’s all-time favorites, combinations that had been best sellers in restaurants and homes for two decades, had been also-rans in the years in which they had entered the contest. Black Velvet, whose odd combination of chocolate-warm and cherry blossom had made it the standard sweet, did not even make it to the Finals.

Chawker Minor had no doubt of the outcome. He was so confident that he found himself in continual danger of being bored. He kept watching the faces of the individual Judges as every once in a while one of them would scoop up a trifle from one of the dishes and place it on his tongue. There was a careful blankness to the expression, a heavy-liddedness to the eye. No true judge could possibly allow a look of surprise or a sigh of satisfaction to escape him — certainly not a quiver of disdain. They merely recorded their ratings on the little computer cards they carried.

Chawker Minor wondered if they could possibly restrain their satisfaction when they tasted his. In the last week, his mixture had grown perfect, had reached a pinnacle of taste glory that could not be improved on, could not

‘Counting your winnings?’ said Chawker Major in his ear.

Chawker Minor started, and turned quickly.

Chawker Major was dressed entirely in platon and gleamed beautifully.

Chawker Minor said, ‘Come, Major-mine, I wish you the best. I really do. I want you to place as high as possible.’

‘Second place if you win, right?’

‘Would you refuse second place if I win?’

‘You can’t win, I’ve checked somewhat. I know your strain of Prime; I know your ingredients —’

‘Have you spent any time on your own work, all this time you’ve been playing detective?’

‘Don’t worry about me. It didn’t take long to learn that there is no way you can combine your ingredients into anything of value.’

‘You checked that with the computer, I suppose?’

‘I did.’

‘Then how did I get into the Finals, I wonder? Perhaps you don’t know all there is to know about my ingredients. Look, Major, the number of effective combinations of even a few ingredients is astronomical if we can consider the various possible proportions and the possible treatments before and after mixing, and the order of mixing and the —’

‘I don’t need your lecture, Minor.’

‘Then you know that no computer in existence has been programmed for the complexity of a clever tongue. Listen, you can add some ingredients in amounts so small as to be undetectable even by tongue, and yet they add a cast of flavour that represents a marked change.’

‘They teach you that in the Other-Worlds, youngling?’

‘I learned that for myself.’ And Chawker Minor walked away before he could be goaded into talking too much.

*        *        *

There was no question that Grand-Elder Tomasz this year, as in a large number of previous years, held the Judging Committee in the hollow of his tongue, as the saying went.

He looked up and down the long table at which all the judges had now taken their seats in order of preference, with Tomasz himself right in the middle. The computer had been fed; it had produced the result. There was complete silence in the room where the contestants, their friends, and their families sat waiting for glory or, failing that, for the consolation of being able to taste all the contesting samples.

The rest of Gammer, possibly without exceptions, watched by holo-video. There would, after all, be additional batches made up for a week of feasting, and the general opinion did not always match that of the judges either, though that did not affect the prize winning.

Tomasz said, ‘I do not recall an awarding in which there was so little doubt as to the computer decision, or such general agreement.’

There was a nodding of heads, and smiles and looks of satisfaction.

Chawker Minor thought: They look sincere; not as if they’re just going along with the Grand-Elder, so it must be mine.

Tomasz said, ‘It has been my privilege this year to taste a dish more subtle, more tempting, more ambrosial than anything I have ever, in all my time and experience, tasted. It is the best. I cannot imagine it being bettered.’

He held up the computer cards. ‘The win is unanimous, and the computer was needed only to determine the order of the runners-up. The winner is —’ just that pause for effect and then, to the utter surprise of everyone but the winner, ‘Chawker Minor, for his dish entitled Mountain Cap. Young man …’

Chawker Minor advanced for the ribbon, the plaque, the credits, the handshakes, the recording, the beaming, and the other contestants received their numbers in the list. Chawker Major was in fifth place.

*        *        *

Grand-Elder Tomasz sought out Chawker Minor after a while and tucked the young man’s arm into his elbow.

‘Well, Chawker Minor, it is a wonderful day for you and for all of us. I did not exaggerate. Your dish was the best I’ve ever tongued. And yet you leave me curious and wondering. I identified all the ingredients, but there was no way in which their combinations could produce what was produced. Would you be willing to impart your secret to me? I would not blame you if you refused, but in the case of an accomplishment so towering by one so young, to —’

‘I don’t mind telling you, Grand-Elder. I intend to tell everybody. I told my Elder that I would say nothing till I had proof. You supplied the proof!’

‘What?’ said Tomasz blankly. ‘What proof?’

‘The idea for the dish occurred to me, actually, on the Other-World Kapper, which is why I called it Mountain Cap, in tribute. I used ordinary ingredients, Grand-Elder, carefully blended, all but one. I suppose you detected the Garden Tang?’

‘Yes, I did, but there was a slight modification there, I think, that I did not follow. How did the Other-World you speak of affect matters?’

‘Because it was not Garden Tang, Grand-Elder, not the chemical. I used a complicated mixture for the Garden Tang, a mixture whose nature I cannot be entirely certain of.’

Tomasz frowned portentously. ‘You mean, then, yon cannot reproduce this dish?’

‘I can reproduce it; be certain of that, Grand-Elder. The ingredient to which I refer is garlic.’

Tomasz said impatiently, ‘That is only the vulgar term for Mountain Tang.’

Not Mountain Tang. That is a known chemical mixture. I am speaking of the bulb of the plant.’

Grand-Elder Tomasz’s eyes opened wide and so did his mouth.

Chawker Minor continued enthusiastically, ‘No mixture can duplicate the complexity of a growing product, Grand-Elder, and on Kapper they have grown a particularly delicate variety which they use in their Prime. They use it incorrectly, without any appreciation of its potentiality. I saw at once that a true Gammer-person could do infinitely better, so I brought back with me a number of the bulbs and used them to good advantage. You said it was the best dish of Prime you had ever rolled tongue over, and if there is any better evidence than that for the value of opening our society, then —’

But he dwindled to a stop at last and stared at Tomasz with surprise and alarm, Tomasz was backing away rapidly. He said in a gargling voice, ‘A growth — from the dirt — I’ve eaten —’

The Grand-Elder had often boasted that such was the steadiness of his stomach that he had never vomited, not even in infancy. And certainly no one had ever vomited in the great Hall of Judgment. The Grand-Elder now set a precedent in both respects.

*        *        *

Chawker Minor had not recovered. He would never recover. If it were exile that Elder Chawker had pronounced, so be it. He would never return.

Elder had not come to see him off. Neither had Major, of course. It didn’t matter. Chawker Minor swore inwardly that he would make out, somehow, without their help, even if it meant serving on Kapper as a cook.

Lady was there, however — the only one in all the field to see him off; the only one to dare accept the non-person he had become. She shivered and looked mournful and Chawker Minor was filled with the desperate desire to justify himself.

‘Lady-mine,’ he said in a fury of self-pity, ‘it’s unfair! It was the best dish ever made on Gammer. The Grand-Elder said so himself. The best. If it had grated bulb in it, that didn’t mean the dish was bad; it meant the bulb was good. Don’t you see it? Look, I must board the ship. Tell me you see it. Don’t you understand it means we must become an open society, learn from others as well as teach others or we’ll wither?’

The platform was about to take him up to the ship’s entrance. She was watching him sadly, as though she knew she would never see him again.

He began the final rise, leaned over the rail. ‘What did I do wrong, Lady-mine?’

And she said in a low, distraught voice, ‘Can’t you see, Minor-mine, that what you did was not in —’

The clang of the ship’s port opening drowned her last two words, and Chawker Minor moved in and put the sight of Gammer behind him forever.