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I read it a few years back. The main theme of the story was that in the deep future, man has moved onto space ships completely and evolved further to a gravity free environment, having 4 hands and no feet.

Society however has massively regressed to the point where Sodom and Gomorrah would blush, but the people have no fear of a greater power or punishment in their mighty star cruiser.

However stories start to spread about rival ships that were just as debauched being destroyed in horrific ways for their cruelty and perversity, which are dismissed by most, as "If the ship was destroyed utterly, who is spreading the stories?"

The ship then picks up a stray castaway flashing his emergency broadcast into space. He is a quiet unassuming man and they mock him for basic decency, replacing his fluid ration with urine in front of him and proposing a toast.

In the climax the man removes his face, speaking a line to the effect of, "When the universe is infinite, man must have an infinite fear also, to keep him in line." Before annihilating the ship, sparing only the point of view protagonist to spread his story on another ship.

Can anyone remember the name of this short sci-fi story?

  • It is not a castaway however - it is a peaceful, unarmed ship going its peaceful way. The knight-ship Procrustes decides to attack and pillage it for no other reason but that it can. – LSerni Mar 10 '18 at 13:25
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The story you likely read is "Guest Law" by John C. Wright, in Year's Best SF 3. The story matches your synopsis in broad strokes, e.g. the proffer of urine to drink:

"Hoy! Smith! Grease-monkey! Hand our guest his last draught of wine; your hands are the only ones fit to hand it to him!" And he took from his pouch a plastic bag from the medical stores, filled with liquid waste.

"Guest Law" ends thusly:

He spoke in a voice of Jovian calm: “Who else but a machine intelligence has so long a life that it can intend to bring law and order to the Void, and yet expect to see the slow results? Civilization, gentlemen, is when all men surrender their natural habits of violence, because they fear the retribution of some power sufficient to terrify and awe them into obedience. To civilize a wilderness is long effort; and when the wilderness is astronomically vast, the terror must be vast as well.”

Captain Ereshkigal, her eyes wide with growing panic, made a clumsy gesture with her fan, shrieking, “Kill him! Kill!”

Steel glittered in their hands as the shouting knights and nobles kicked off the walls and dove. With hardly any surprise at all, Smith saw the stranger beginning to shine with supernatural light, and saw him reach up with flaming fingers to pull aside what turned out to be, after all, a mask.

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