Mercy Flight

The phone rang and Ed Kerry wasn’t doing anything so he picked it up and said, “Yeah?”

He said yeah a few more times, his eyes widening infinitesimally each time, and finally wound up with, “Okay, Bunny.”

He hung up and said, “That was Bunny, up in Oneonta. She says a guy is coming in from Luna with a kid for emergency hospitalization, radiation burns or something.”

Jake was sitting back in his swivel chair, his feet on the desk and his hands clasped behind his head. He growled, “That’s the trouble with women in this game; they’ve got no story sense. She phones all the way from Oneonta on a story that’s been run a hundred times. Every time somebody gets good and sick up on Luna they bring ’em to Earth for treatment.” He shrugged. “Okay, so it’s a kid this time. Do up about a stick of it, Kerry, and we’ll put it on page three if you can work it into a tearjerker.”

Ed Kerry said, “You didn’t let me finish, Jake. Something’s wrong with this guy’s radio.”

Somebody on the rewrite desk said, “Something wrong with his radio? He’s gotta have his radio or he can’t come in.”

Jake took his feet from the desk and sat up. “What’d’ ya mean, something’s wrong with his radio?”

“Bunny said he’s calling for his landing instructions but they can’t get anything back to him. He’s just reached Brennschluss and he’s in free fall now; it’ll be four days before he gets here. That’s the way they work it⁠—he’s supposed to get in touch with the spaceport he wants to land at, and.⁠ ⁠…”

“I know how they work it,” Jake growled. “See if there’s anything on the last newswire from Luna about him.”

Phil Mooney flicked his set on again and repeated carefully, “Calling Oneonta Spaceport. Phil Mooney Outbound Luna, Calling Oneonta Spaceport. Come in Oneonta.”

Calling Phil Mooney. Calling Phil Mooney. Oneonta Spaceport Calling Phil Mooney. Come in Mooney.

He cast a quick glance back at the child, strapped carefully in the metal bunk. She was unconscious now, possibly as a result of the acceleration in leaving Luna. He’d had to reach a speed of approximately two miles per second to escape Earth’s satellite, and that had called for more G’s acceleration than Lillian’s sick body could bear. His lips thinned back over his teeth; it would be even worse when they came in for landing and he had to brake against Earth’s gravity.

He switched on the set again to give it another try. Instructions were to contact the spaceport at which you planned to land as soon as possible. There was plenty of time, of course, but the sooner the better.

He said, “Calling Oneonta Spaceport. This is Phil Mooney, Luna, Calling Oneonta. Come in Oneonta.”

Calling Phil Mooney. Calling Phil Mooney. Oneonta Spaceport Calling Phil Mooney. Come in Mooney.

Ed Kerry came back to the city room with a sheet of yellow paper that he’d torn off the radiotype.

He said, “Here it is, Jake. This kid⁠—her name is Lillian Marshall⁠—is the only survivor of an explosion at that nuclear-fission laboratory they had on the dark side. Her old man and her mother were working under this Professor Deems; both of them killed.”

His eyes went on scanning the story. “Evidently this Phil Mooney runs an unscheduled spaceline. Anyway, he blasted off to rush the kid to an earth hospital.”

Jake took the dispatch and scowled at it. “Kerry,” he growled, “see what we got on this Phil Mooney in the morgue.” He rubbed the end of his nose thoughtfully. “They’ll probably pick him up all right when he gets nearer.”

Somebody on rewrite said, “It doesn’t make any difference how far he is; they should be able to reach him even if he was halfway to Mars. Something’s wrong with his set.”

He decided to try one of the other spaceports. As a matter of fact, it made very little difference at which of them he landed. There’d be suitable hospital facilities within reasonable distance of any spaceport. He was three days out now, and, according to spaceways custom, had to let them know he was coming in. It wasn’t like landing an airplane⁠—they want plenty of time to prepare for a spacecraft’s arrival.

He said, “Calling New Albuquerque Spaceport. Calling New Albuquerque Spaceport. Phil Mooney, Luna, Calling New Albuquerque. Please come in New Albuquerque.”

Calling Phil Mooney. Calling Phil Mooney. New Albuquerque Spaceport Calling Phil Mooney. We are receiving you perfectly. Come in Mooney.

He tried once more.

“Calling New Albuquerque Spaceport. Calling New Albuquerque Spaceport. Please come in New Albuquerque. Emergency. Repeat Emergency. Please come in New Albuquerque.”

Calling Phil Mooney. Calling Phil Mooney. We are receiving you perfectly, Mooney. Come in Mooney.

Kitty Kildare took up her notes and prepared to make her way back to her own tiny office.

“I’ve got it, Jake,” she said breathlessly. Kitty was always breathless over any story carrying more pathos than a basketball score. “My column tomorrow’ll have them melting. Actually, I mean.”

Jake shuddered inwardly after she left.

Ed Kerry came up and drooped on the edge of the desk.

“Here’s the dope on this Phil Mooney, Jake,” he said. “He’s about thirty. Was in the last war and saw action when we had our space-forces storming New Petrograd. Did some fighting around the satellites, too. Piloted a one seater, got a couple of medals, but never really made big news.”

“Got any pix of him?”

Ed Kelly shook his head. “Like I said, he never really made the big news. Just one more of these young fellas that saw plenty of action and when the war was over was too keyed up to settle down to everyday life.”

Jake picked up the thin folder and riffled through the few clippings there. “What’s he doing now?” he growled.

“Evidently when the war ended he got one of these surplus freighters and converted it. Name of his company is Mooney Space Service; sounds impressive, but he’s the only one in it. Probably going broke; most of those guys are⁠—can’t make the grade against the competition of Terra-Luna Spaceways and the other big boys with the scheduled flights.”

The city editor scratched the end of his nose speculatively. “Maybe we ought to have Jim do up an editorial on these unscheduled spacelines. Something along the line of how heroic some of these guys are; that sort of stuff. Do up the idea that they’re always ready, fair weather or foul, to make an emergency trip.⁠ ⁠…”

Kerry said, “There isn’t any weather, fair or foul, in space.”

Jake scowled at him. “You know what I mean, wise guy. Meanwhile, get some statements from some authorities.”

Ed Kerry said painfully, “What statements from what authorities?”

The city editor glared at him. “So help me, Ed. I’m going to stick you on obituaries. Any statements from any authorities. You know damn well what I mean. Get some doctor to beef about the fact there aren’t suitable hospitalization facilities on Luna. Get some president of one of these unscheduled spacelines to sound off about what a hero Mooney is and how much good these unscheduled spacelines are⁠—and that reminds me of something⁠—”

He yelled to a tall lanky reporter at the far end of the city room: “Hey, Ted. Get Bunny on the line up in Oneonta and tell her I said to look up some of these unscheduled spacelines guys and see if she can get a photograph of Phil Mooney from them. Maybe he’s got some buddies in Oneonta.”

There was one thing about being in free fall. You had lots of time to sit and think. Too much time, perhaps.

You had the time to think it all over. And over and over again.

There was the war which had torn you from the routine into which life had settled, from friends and relations and sweethearts, and thrown you into a one man space-fighter in which you sometimes stayed for weeks on end without communication with anyone, friend or foe.

There had probably been no equivalent situation in the history of past warfare to the one man space-scouts. The nearest thing to them might have been the flyers of 1914, in the first World War⁠—but, of course, they were up there alone only for hours at a time, not weeks.

“You develop self-reliance, men,” was the way the colonel had put it. “You develop self-reliance, or you’re sunk.

“You’re in space by yourself, alone. You can’t use your radio or they can locate you. If something happens, some emergency, or some contact with the enemy, you’re on your own. You have to figure it out; there’s no superior officer to do your thinking; you’re the whole works.”

And the colonel had been right, of course. It was a matter of using your own wits, your own ability. Fighting in a space-scout was the work of an individual, not of a team. Perhaps it would be different someday in the future when machines and instruments had been developed further; but now it was an individualistic game, each man for himself.

And probably it was because of this training that he, Phil Mooney, was unable to get back into the crowd after the war had ended. He was an individualist who rebelled against working not only for but even with someone else.

He should have known better. Industry had reached beyond the point where one man goes out by himself and makes a fortune⁠—or even a living, he thought wryly. It’s the day of the big concerns, of tremendous trusts and cartels, who didn’t even have to bother with the task of squeezing out tiny competitors like himself. He was out before he started.

The Mooney Space Service. He snorted in self deprecation.

Oh, well.

He pulled himself erect and made his way to the bunk. The kid was awake. He grinned down at her and said, “How’s it going, Lillian?”

Her eyes seemed glazed, even worse than they’d been yesterday, but she tried to smile back at him. “All right,” she whispered, her child’s voice so low he could hardly make it out. “Where’s mother.⁠ ⁠…”

Phil Mooney held a finger to his lips. “Maybe you’d better not talk too much, Lillian. Your mother and father are⁠ ⁠… they’re all right. The thing now is to get you to the hospital and make you well again. Understand?”

Kitty Kildare was saying indignantly, “What’s this about no insurance on Luna?”

“Use your head, Kitty,” Jake grunted. “What company’d be crazy enough to insure anybody working on Luna? By the way, that was a good piece on Mooney and the Marshall kid.”

“Did you read it?” Kitty Kildare was pleased.

He shuddered. “No, but the letters have been pouring in. Maybe you ought to do another. Take it from some other angle this time.”

“That’s why I wanted to know about the insurance. Do you realize that this child, this poor, sick, defenseless child, is penniless? Actually, I mean. Bad enough that her parents have left her an orphan, but, Jake, that child is penniless.”

“All right, all right,” he told her, “work on that for tomorrow’s column.”

Ed came up with another radiotype report, just as Kitty was leaving. “This guy Mooney’s calling all the other spaceports now, Jake. Evidently he’s getting desperate; he’s only two days out. And by the way, here’s a new angle. This guy Harry Marshall, the kid’s father, was a wartime buddy of Phil Mooney; they went to cadet school or something together.”

Jake growled thoughtfully, “He hasn’t got a chance, but it makes a tremendous story. Get somebody to rig up a set in the radiotype room, Ed, and we’ll see if we can listen in.”

There was a desperate, tense, taut inflection in his voice now.

“Calling New Albuquerque Spaceport or Oneonta Spaceport. Phil Mooney calling any Earth spaceport. Phil Mooney Calling Oneonta, New Albuquerque, Casablanca, Mukden, any Earth spaceport. Emergency. Emergency. Request landing instructions. Have Lillian Marshall, eight years old, needing immediate medical care, aboard. Please come in any Earth Spaceport.”

Calling Phil Mooney. New Albuquerque calling Phil Mooney. Ambulance waiting on grounds. Receiving you perfectly. Come in.⁠ ⁠…

Calling Phil Mooney. Casablanca Spaceport Calling Phil.⁠ ⁠…

Calling Phil Mooney. Mukden Spaceport Calling.⁠ ⁠…

Calling Phil Mooney. Oneonta Spaceport Calling Phil Mooney.⁠ ⁠…

Ed Kerry looked up over the set in the radiotype room at the city editor. He wet his lips carefully and said, “He’s only got one day now. They’ve got to pick him up in hours or he’s sunk.”

Jake said, “I never did understand how that works. Why can’t he land himself? I know he can’t, but why?”

The reporter shrugged. “I don’t quite get it either, but evidently the whole operation is pretty delicate stuff. They bring him down with radar, somehow or other. It’s not like landing an airplane. Landing a spacecraft is done from the ground up⁠—not from the spacecraft down. The pilot has comparatively little to do about it. At least, that’s the way it is with nine ships out of ten.”

The set began to blare again, and they both listened tensely. It was Phil Mooney.

“Listen, you guys down there. If you’re sitting around playing craps or something, I’m going to have a few necks to break when I get down.”

The two newspapermen stared at each other over the set. Ed Kerry ran his tongue over his lips again.

The strained tone had gone from the voice of the spacepilot now and had been replaced by one of hopelessness. He said, “I don’t know who I think I’m kidding. I know darn well that something’s wrong with my receiver and I can’t find out what it is. Maybe my sender is off too, for all I know. All I can pick up is some girl singing something about white roses. White roses, yet! I want landing instructions and I get white roses.”

Ed Kerry jerked his head up and snapped, “Holy jumping hell, he’s able to pick some commercial station!”

Jake came to his feet, stuck his neck out of the door and yelled at the top of his voice, “Phil Mooney is receiving some commercial station! Some dame singing something about white roses! Check every station in the city! Find out if any of them are broadcasting some dame singing about white roses.”

Ladies and gentlemen, we interrupt this program for an emergency situation. Undoubtedly, you have heard on your newscasts and have read in your papers of the tragic case of Lillian Marshall, child victim of an atomic explosion on Luna which orphaned her and necessitated her immediate flight to an Earth hospital.

For the past three days the spacecraft carrying her, piloted by war hero Phillip Mooney, has been having trouble with its radio. Due to circumstances surrounding landing of spacecraft, the two have been given up as lost in spite of the fact that almost hourly it has been possible to receive messages from Mooney.

It is now revealed that he is able to pick up this program on the Interplanetary Broadcasting System network. We are not sure which of the nearly two thousand stations of our system he is receiving, but we will now attempt to reach Phillip Mooney with relayed messages from the Oneonta Spaceport where expert medical care is awaiting little Lillian Marshall.

Come in Oneonta.

Calling Phil Mooney. Calling Phil Mooney. Come in, Phil. This is Oneonta Spaceport, relaying through the Interplanetary Broadcasting System. Come in, Phil.

“Phil Mooney, calling Oneonta. I’m getting you, Oneonta. Come in, Oneonta. Over.”

Okay, Phil. Now this is it. We should have had you two hours ago, but we’ll make out all right. Your velocity is a little too high. Give it six more units on your Kingston valves. Get that? Over.

“Got it. Six more units on the Kingstons. Over.”

All right now. Switch on your remote control, Phil. We’ll take it from here. Stand by the coordinators.⁠ ⁠…

It was night, but a blaze of lights illuminated the Oneonta Spaceport. Hundreds of landcars stood on the parking lots, thousands of persons crowded the wire fence which kept all but port personnel from the field itself.

The old space-freighter sank easily to the apron and in seconds the rocket flames died. A surge of humanity ebbed over the field toward the craft.

Phil Mooney opened the pilot-compartment’s hatch and stuck his head out, blinking in surprise at the mob beneath him.

“I don’t know what this is all about,” he began, “but I’ve got a sick kid aboard. There’s supposed to be an ambulance.⁠ ⁠…”

Police wedged through the crowd, convoying a white-haired, white-jacketed man. He called up to the spacepilot, “We won’t need an ambulance, Mr. Mooney. I’ve already made arrangements for facilities here at the airport for immediate treatment.”

Phil Mooney made his way to the ground and scowled, still obviously startled by the swelling crowd.

“Who in kert are you?” he asked.

The other motioned for two assistants to enter the ship and bring out the child. “I’m Doctor Kern,” he said. “I’ll see.⁠ ⁠…”

“Doctor Adrian Kern, the radiation expert?” The pilot frowned worriedly. “See here, doctor, the Marshalls were friends of mine, and I’ve taken over the care of little Lillian, but I’m⁠—well, I’m afraid I couldn’t afford to pay you⁠ ⁠… I mean.⁠ ⁠…”

The famous doctor smiled at him. “I’ve been retained by the Interplanetary Golden Heart, Phil. You needn’t worry about my fee. Besides,” and he smiled easily, “I’m not going to accept any fee for this case. You see, I was listening to Marsha Malloy singing ‘Love of White Roses’ when your call came through. I believe it was the most poignant experience I have ever been through.”

A girl next to the doctor gushed, “I’m Bunny Davis, Mr. Mooney. The managing editor of our newspaper chain has authorized me to buy your story for five thousand. If you’ll just⁠—”

Phil Mooney blinked. “I⁠—I⁠—”

A heavyset man in a business suit grasped his hand and shook it with fervor, while flashbulbs went off blindingly. “Phil,” he said huskily, as though moved by deep emotion, “as president of the board of directors of Terra-Luna Spaceways, I wish to take this opportunity to offer you a full⁠—”

“Hey! Give us a smile, Phil,” a man on top of a television truck yelled.⁠ ⁠…

He was headed back for Luna the next day.

They’d been indignant, of course. There was Hollywood, and the television networks, and that Terra-Luna Spaceways guy who wanted to get in on all the publicity by offering him a vice-presidency. And the newspaper editors, and the magazine editors, and all the rest of them.

Approximately a billion persons had been tuned in to the Interplanetary network when the emergency landing instructions had been broadcast to him through that system. A billion persons had sat on the edge of their chairs, tensely, as his ship had been brought in.

He and little Lillian had received more publicity in the past twenty-four hours than anyone since Lindbergh.

And the child would be all right now. Before he’d left, checks totaling over a quarter of a million had come in for her. Donations from all over the Earth and from Mars and Venus and even some from the Jupiter satellites.

And offers of adoption. Thousands of them, from rich and poor⁠—even including Marsha Malloy, the video star who’d been singing that song, “Love of White Roses.”

Yes, Lillian would be all right. He wouldn’t have been able to pay for the medical care she’d needed; but now she had the most capable experts on Earth at her disposal.

They had been indignant when he blasted off again for Luna. They’d wanted to make a hero of him. This leaving on his part they interpreted as modesty⁠—which, come to think of it, would make him all the more of a hero.

Phil Mooney slipped a hand down to his set and flicked it on. He dialed over a dozen different stations. The news programs were all full of him and of Lillian. You’d think, to hear them, that he was the noblest, the most daring, the greatest man since Alexander the Great.

He grinned wryly. One of the reasons he’d been so anxious to leave was to get away before somebody thought to check his set to see what was wrong with it. Why, if anybody had found that it was actually in perfect shape, they’d probably have lynched him.

Yeah. The colonel had been right. In the space-forces you learned to be self-reliant. When you got in a bad spot, you figured it out yourself. You’re on your own; it’s you against everything and everybody. Anything goes.

His grin broadened. Maybe he wasn’t a hero⁠—the way they were all painting him; but at least Lillian was all right now, and no longer penniless the way her parents’ death had left her.

—And he wasn’t doing so badly himself.


This section of New Sante Fe was off my beaten track. I’ve been on Mars a long time and am more than usually familiar with the various centers where we Terrans do our congregating. However, it’d been years since I’d come through here.

I was sitting in an obscure tavern, called, with commendable restraint, simply Sam’s Bar, lapping up Martian brandy and facing the prospect of returning to the spaceport in a few hours with no particular enthusiasm.

I only half-noticed the old man who got up on the stool next to me. Sam came over and asked him what he’d have.

The oldster carefully counted out some coins on the bar and said, “Wine, Sam; a glass of Martian wine.”

“You know I don’t want your money, Joseph,” Sam told him.

The old man answered reproachfully, “The wine would taste that much the less, my friend, if I had not earned it by the sweat of my.⁠ ⁠…”

“Okay,” Sam sighed. He poured the wine and rang up the money and went off to wait on someone else.

A halftripper sidled up to me. “How about a drink, spaceman?” he whined. “I’m a graduate of the academy myself, class of ’72.” He must have noted my United Space Lines uniform.

“Sorry,” I said gruffly, keeping my back to him. Any spaceman can tell you that if you talk to a halftripper for long you’ll soon be showing symptoms of space cafard yourself. The underlying terror in him; the mind shattering fear of space; the way he stares at you, thinking that you can go home, while he is afraid to risk the trip. There are few of them that can hide their disease.

“I need a shot bad,” he whispered urgently. He probably did, too. Few halftrippers are able to secure jobs on the planets of their exile. Most of them become beachcombers of space. Of course, there are some exceptions, especially if they have money and connections.

I shuddered. “Beat it,” I grated, hating myself and him.

The fear of space cafard must be somewhat similar to that of seasickness every new sailor had back in ancient days when man sailed the oceans of Terra. He never knew until he made his first voyage if he was going to be susceptible; and, if he turned out to be, it meant the sea wasn’t for him.

Of course, space cafard goes tragically further. A new man usually succumbs his first few hours in space, if he is going to get it at all. He probably makes it to the next planet, sometimes not; sometimes he goes incurably mad, right off the bat. But even if he does make it, wild horses could never get him on another rocketship. He becomes a halftripper, marooned on an alien world. Usually, although I have known of several exceptions, if you don’t get it on your first trip, it seldom bothers you; you’re immune for the rest of your life.

He repeated, “How about it, spaceman?”

Sam began to approach threateningly. He couldn’t afford to have halftrippers hang out in his place. For one thing, the shipping lines would soon declare him out of bounds for their crews. You just can’t let good men come in contact with obvious victims of space cafard.

The old-timer Sam had called Joseph was distressed. “You know not what you say,” he told me gently.

I managed a sneer. “Am I supposed to buy a drink for every spacebum that comes along?”

The halftripper’s eyes lit up and he came closer to the old man. “How about it, pop? Could you loan me the price of a nip of woji?”

Joseph’s face was compassionate. “I am sorry, brother, I myself have nothing, but I commend you to the generosity of the tavern keeper.”

I snorted at that. I could imagine how much generosity the space leper would get from the bartender.

That’s where the surprise came. Sam sighed. “Okay, halftripper, what’ll it be?”

The spacebum ordered a double woji, got it down quickly, as though he was afraid Sam might change his mind, and then beat it to find a place to have his dreams when the full force of the also-narcotic drink hit him.

I finished my brandy, ordered another, and grinned wryly at the old-timer. “You give me kert for telling him to beat it, but you give Sam the high sign to let him have woji with which to rot out his brains. I’d think I was being the kinder of the two of us.”

“Each man’s salvation is within himself,” Joseph said softly. “You won’t redeem him by attempting to keep him from his weaknesses.”

“You talk like a saint but I notice you’re sitting here at a bar.”

He looked at me penetratingly, and there was vast emptiness behind his eyes. “There is little to enjoy in life,” he said softly, “but I have had ample time to investigate all of the supposed pleasures. At one time I drank greatly and kept myself in a state of continual intoxication for a period longer than you could believe. Then I went through a state when I let nothing pass my lips but water. Now I see the mistake of both extremes and can enjoy an occasional glass without feeling the need of swilling it down until intoxication dulls me.”

He had me interested now. I said, “You sound as though you’ve found the way in which to get the greatest satisfaction from everything in life but I notice that you don’t appear particularly happy.”

He was silent for a long time. Finally he sighed and answered, “Happiness is not to be found in wine, nor in food, nor in beautiful women, nor even in wealth and power. It is from within, what you have done, what you are in the eyes of your fellow man.”

He looked as though he was about to say more, but he fell silent, his eyes on something far away, although he seemed to be looking directly into my face. Then a light returned to them and he came back to our conversation. “I am sorry,” he said. “For a moment you reminded me of someone I knew long and long ago. But now I must be on my way.” He left his drink half-finished on the bar and walked wearily to the door.

Sam took his glass away and wiped the bar reflectively. “Whenever he’s here, I can’t turn down any halftrippers or other spacebums,” he complained. “I tried it once, and the old boy looked so pathetic that I damn near cried myself.”

“He seems to be quite a character,” I said, only half-interested.

“Sure,” Sam said. “Haven’t you heard about Joseph? He’s immortal.”

“What?” I said, startled.

“Immortal. You know, he lives forever.” He poured me another brandy and leaned on the bar. His other customers had left and he was obviously in the mood for talking.

“I thought everybody knew about Joseph,” he went on. “He was one of the first spacebarons, a real bigshot, controlled the whole of Calypso; him and his brother. They not only personally owned all of the satellite, but even all of the space lines that served it. When it came to law there, he was judge, jury, and owner of the courthouse and jail. Brother, that was one monopoly.”

“You mean that old man that was just here?” I said in amazement.

“That’s right. Joseph, we call him now. He probably had a longer name then. It was a long time ago.

“Anyway, to get back to the story, one day a space liner radios in that it wants to make an emergency landing on Calypso for medical assistance. They had some virulent disease on board and the passengers and crew were dying like flies.

“Well, this brother of Joseph, Micheal, or something like that his name was, advises Joseph not to give them permission to land. The captain of the liner pleads with him, but Joseph tells him to move on, he doesn’t want to take any chances. The ship tried to make the next port, I forget just what it was, but, anyway, to cut it short, they all died. That’s what started things churning in Joseph’s bailiwick; a full-scale revolution, no less.”

“You missed something there,” I said. “The people wouldn’t have been expected to be so upset. After all, no matter how mistaken, he must have thought he was acting in the interests of everyone on Calypso.”

“Yeah,” Sam pointed out, “but the thing is that among the passengers was Joseph’s own boy, the most popular person on the satellite and the apple of his old man’s eye. Nobody had known it, but the kid was playing hookey from his school on Terra and was making a cruise of the Jupiter moons.

“Joseph himself had never been very popular with his people, neither had this younger brother of his, Micheal. Too strict, see. But everybody liked the boy and were looking forward to the day when he’d take over the reins of government. When it came out what happened, they went berserk. They cornered Joseph and Micheal and a dozen or so of their close associates in the palace, which was actually more of a fortress than anything else.”

Sam wiped the bar again without need, and said reflectively, “It must’ve been quite a fight. Not that Joseph himself participated. The boy had been his whole life, and he just moved around like he was in a trance.

“They threw everything at that palace. Every weapon, every device, that had been thought up for centuries; but it didn’t crack. Finally, the fight was ended by a fleet of battle cruisers from Terra. Joseph and Micheal and the rest were removed and brought here to Mars. None of them dared to remain on Calypso.”

I poured myself another brandy from the bottle that Sam had left on the bar. “You make quite a story of it,” I told him, “but you didn’t tell me what you’d started to⁠—about the immortality.”

“Yeah,” he said, “that’s right. Well, it seems that in the atomic bombardment of the palace something happened that wound up with Joseph and his friends all immortal. Don’t ask me what; I don’t know and neither did these scientist guys when they tried to figure it out. Of course, it didn’t become known for years; not until it became obvious they weren’t dying, or even aging. They continued to appear as they had at the time of the fight. I don’t mean they couldn’t die at all; one by one they dropped away. Two were lost in space; one was blown up in an explosion on Terra; another was burned to death; but the only way they could die was through accident⁠—or suicide. After a few hundred years they were all gone but Joseph, and, of course, he’d gone batty.”

I interrupted. “You mean he’s insane?”

The bartender grinned. “Crazy as a makron.”

I said slowly, “He seemed normal enough to me. Uh⁠ ⁠… perhaps a bit eccentric.”

Sam said, “Brother, he’s as far around the corner as you can get. You know what he thinks? He thinks that he’s wandering through space, going from planet to planet, trying to find a situation similar to that in which he sent away the person he loved most to his death. He thinks that if he ever finds that similar situation, he’ll be able to make the opposite decision from the one he made before and that will redeem him.”

I frowned. “Where does he get the money for his wandering around the planets?”

“He don’t need no money. He’s good luck. There’s not a captain in the system that would refuse free passage to old Joseph.” Sam shrugged his beefy shoulders. “And who am I to say otherwise? That’s why I give the bums free drinks when he’s around; so does every other bartender.”

Two customers had entered and Sam made his way down to them, leaving me alone.

A halftripper scurried through the door and cringed up to me. He whimpered, “How about a drink, spaceman? I.⁠ ⁠…”

I flipped him a coin. “Sure, buddy,” I said, repressing my usual nausea at the sight of him. I got down from my stool and made my way out. It was time for me to return to the spaceport and my job.

I suppose that I forgot to tell the cabbie to take me to the administration building entrance⁠—the first time I’d made that mistake in years. I was preoccupied with thoughts of Joseph and the story Sam had told of him. The guards at the main gate must have let us through without question when they saw my United Space Lines uniform. At any rate, when I looked up, it was too late. Not only was I on the landing field and in full view of the concrete takeoff aprons, but one gigantic freighter was in the process of blasting off.

All the horror of it flowed over me with a rush. The careful training of years; the work of the doctors who had treated me; all my own self-discipline⁠—were gone. I shook with terrified frenzy. The depths of space! The free fall! The black emptiness! The utter, uncontrollable terror!

I screamed shrilly and the cabbie turned, wide-eyed, to stare at me.

He knew the symptoms. “Space cafard! A halftripper!” he gasped, and spun the cab about to get me to a hospital. He must have realized then that my uniform didn’t necessarily mean that I worked on the liners themselves, but that I could be an office employee who only on rare occasions went near the ships.

He knew too, that the very sight of a spacecraft blasting off was enough to put me in bed for a week; and that I was uncommonly lucky to have the funds for the hospitalization. Mars was strewn with the human wrecks of halftrippers who hadn’t.

As we whirled from the yard, we passed the bent figure of Joseph walking unhurriedly toward a liner which was loading for the Venus run.

My heart cried out, even through my terror, my sickness:

Joseph, Joseph.⁠ ⁠… So you too are still alive; and still seeking forgiveness. I had thought I was the last.

But you are by far the better off of we two, Joseph. For at least you have been free to wander while I have stayed on this one hated spot since all those centuries ago when we fled from Calypso and the wrath of the people who had loved the boy so. As though we hadn’t loved him ourselves, Joseph.

Yes, you are the better off, you can seek throughout the stars for forgiveness. Then, too, your mind is forever dulled with your madness, while mine is horribly aware, always, of what we’ve been through and of the centuries ahead; it is only blurred when the space cafard comes.

Joseph, Joseph⁠ ⁠… you didn’t even recognize your brother Micheal, nor I you, when we met.


My radar picked him up when he was about five hundred miles to my north-northeast and about forty-five miles above me. I switched the velocity calculator on him as fast as I could reach it.

The enemy ship was doing sixteen, possibly even sixteen and a half. I took the chance that it was most likely an Ivar Interceptor, at that speed, and punched out a temporary evasion pattern with my right hand while with my left I snapped an Ivar K-12 card into my calculator along with his estimated speed, altitude and distance. It wasn’t much to go on as yet but he couldn’t have much more on me, if as much; inwardly I congratulated myself on the quick identification I’d managed.

He was near enough now for my visor screen to pick him up. At least he was alone, that was something. My nearest squadron mate was a good minute and a half away. It might as well have been a century.

Now, this is what is always hard to get over to a civilian; the time element. Understand, it will take me a while to tell this but it all took less than sixty seconds to happen.

He had guessed my evasion pattern already⁠—either guessed it or had some new calculator that was far and beyond anything our techs were turning out. I could tell he’d anticipated me by the Bong-Sonic roll he slipped into.

I quickly punched up a new pattern based on the little material I had in the calculator. At least I’d caught the roll. I punched that up, hurriedly, slipped it into the I.B.M., guessed that his next probability was a pass, took a chance on that and punched it in.

I was wrong there. He didn’t take his opportunity for a front-on pass. He was either newly out of their academy or insultingly confident. My lips felt tight as I canceled the frontal pass card, punched up two more to take its place.

The base supervisor cut in on the phone. “It looks like old Dmitri himself, Jerry, and he’s flying one of the new K-12a models. Go get him, boy!”

I felt like snapping back. He knew better than to break in on me at a time like this. I opened my mouth, then shut it again. Did he say K-12a? Did he say K-12a?

I squinted at the visor screen. The high tail, the canopy, the oddly shaped wing tanks.

I’d gone off on the identification!

I slapped another evasion pattern into the controls, a standard set, I had no time to punch up an improvisation. But he was on me like a wasp. I rejected it, threw in another set. Reject. Another!

Even as I worked, I kicked the release on my own calculator, dumped it all, selected like a flash an Ivar K-12a card, and what other estimations I could make while my mind was busy with the full-time job of evasion.

My hands were still making the motions, my fingers were flicking here, there, my feet touching here, there. But my heart wasn’t in it.

He already had such an advantage that it was all I could do to keep him in my visor screen. He was to the left, to the right. I got him for a full quarter-second in the wires, but the auto gunner was too far behind, much too far.

His own guns flicked red.

I punched half a dozen buttons, slapped levers, tried to scoot for home.

To the left of my cubicle two lights went yellowish and at the same time my visor screen went dead. I was blind.

I sank back in my chair, helpless.

The speed indicator wavered, went slowly, deliberately to zero; the altimeter died; the fuel gauge. Finally, even the dozen or so trouble-indicators here, there, everywhere about the craft. Fifteen million dollars worth of warcraft was being shot into wreckage.

I sat there for a long, long minute and took it.

Then I got to my feet and wearily opened the door of my cubicle. Sergeant Walters and the rest of the maintenance crew were standing there. They could read in my face what had happened.

The sergeant began, “Captain, I⁠ ⁠…”

I grunted at him. “Never mind, Sergeant. It had nothing to do with the ship’s condition.” I turned to head for the operations office.

Bill Dickson strolled over from the direction of his own cubicle. “Somebody said you just had a scramble with old Dmitri himself.”

“I don’t know,” I said. “I don’t know if it was him or not. Maybe some of you guys can tell a man’s flying but I can’t.”

He grinned at me. “Shot you down, eh?”

I didn’t answer.

He said, “What happened?”

“I thought it was an Ivar K-12, and I put that card in my calculator. Turned out it was one of those new models, K-12a. That was enough, of course.”

Bill grinned at me again. “That’s two this week. That flak got you near that bridge and now you get⁠ ⁠…”

“Shut up,” I told him.

He counted up on his fingers elaborately. “The way I figure it, you lose one more ship and you’re an enemy ace.”

He was irrepressible. “Damn it,” I said, “will you cut it out! I’ve got enough to worry about without you working me over. This means I’ll have to spend another half an hour in operations going over the fight. And that means I’ll be late for dinner again. And you know Molly.”

Bill sobered. “Gee,” he said, “I’m sorry. War is hell, isn’t it?”

Potential Enemy

Alexander the Great had not dreamed of India, nor even Egypt, when he embarked upon his invasion of the Persian Empire. It was not a matter of being like the farmer: “I ain’t selfish, all I want is the land that jines mine.” It was simply that after regaining the Greek cities of Asia Minor from Darius, he could not stop. He could not afford to have powerful neighbors that might threaten his domains tomorrow. So he took Egypt, and the Eastern Satrapies, and then had to continue to India. There he learned of the power of Cathay, but an army mutiny forestalled him and he had to return to Babylon. He died there while making plans to attack Arabia, Carthage, Rome. You see, given the military outlook, he could not afford powerful neighbors on his borders; they might become enemies some day.

Alexander had not been the first to be faced with this problem, nor was he the last. So it was later with Rome, and later with Napoleon, and later still with Adolf the Aryan, and still later⁠—

It isn’t travel that is broadening, stimulating, or educational. Not the traveling itself. Visiting new cities, new countries, new continents, or even new planets, yes. But the travel itself, no. Be it by the methods of the Twentieth Century⁠—automobile, bus, train, or aircraft⁠—or be it by spaceship, travel is nothing more than boring.

Oh, it’s interesting enough for the first few hours, say. You look out the window of your car, bus, train, or airliner, or over the side of your ship, and it’s very stimulating. But after that first period it becomes boring, monotonous, sameness to the point of redundance.

And so it is in space.

Markham Gray, freelance journalist for more years than he would admit to, was en route from the Neptune satellite Triton to his home planet, Earth, mistress of the Solar System. He was seasoned enough as a space traveler to steel himself against the monotony with cards and books, with chess problems and wire tapes, and even with an attempt to do an article on the distant earthbase from which he was returning for the Spacetraveler Digest.

When all these failed, he sometimes spent a half hour or so staring at the vision screen which took up a considerable area of one wall of the lounge.

Unless you had a vivid imagination of the type which had remained with Markham Gray down through the years, a few minutes at a time would have been enough. With rare exception, the view on the screen seemed almost like a still; a velvety blackness with pinpoints of brilliant light, unmoving, unchanging.

But even Markham Gray, with his ability to dream and to discern that which is beyond, found himself twisting with ennui after thirty minutes of staring at endless space. He wished that there was a larger number of passengers aboard. The half-dozen businessmen and their women and children had left him cold and he was doing his best to avoid them. Now, if there had only been one good chess player⁠—

Copilot Bormann was passing through the lounge. He nodded to the distinguished elderly passenger, flicked his eyes quickly, professionally, over the vision screen and was about to continue on his way.

Gray called idly, “Hans, I thought the space patrols very seldom got out here.”

“Practically never, sir,” the other told him politely, hesitating momentarily. Part of the job was to be constantly amiable, constantly watchful of the passengers out here in deep space⁠—they came down with space cafard at the drop of a hat. Markham Gray reminded Bormann of pictures of Benjamin Franklin he’d seen in history books, and ordinarily he didn’t mind spending a little time now and then talking things over with him. But right now he was hoping the old duffer wasn’t going to keep him from the game going on forward with Captain Post and the steward.

“Just noticed one on the screen,” the elderly journalist told him easily.

The copilot smiled courteously. “You must have seen a meteorite, sir. There aren’t any⁠—”

Markham Gray flushed. “I’m not as complete a space neophyte as your condescending air would indicate, Lieutenant. As a matter of fact, I’ll stack my space-months against yours any day.”

Bormann said soothingly, “It’s not that, sir. You’ve just made a mistake. If a ship was within reasonable distance, the alarms would be sounding off right now. But that’s not all, either. We have a complete record of any traffic within a considerable distance, and I assure you that⁠—”

Markham Gray pointed a finger at the lower left hand corner of the screen. “Then what is that, Lieutenant?” he asked sarcastically.

The smile was still on the copilot’s face as he turned and followed the direction of the other’s finger. The smile faded. “I’ll be a makron!” he blurted. Spinning on his heel, he hurried forward to the bridge, muttering as he went.

The older man snorted with satisfaction. Actually, he shouldn’t have been so snappy with the young man; he hated to admit he was growing cranky with age. He took up his half completed manuscript again. He really should finish this article, though, space knew, he hadn’t enough material for more than a few paragraphs. Triton was a barren satellite if he’d ever seen one⁠—and he had.

He had almost forgotten the matter ten minutes later when the ship’s public address system blurted loudly.

Battle stations! Battle stations! All crew members to emergency stations. All passengers immediately to their quarters. Battle stations!

Battle Stations?

Markham Gray was vaguely familiar with the fact that every Solar System spacecraft was theoretically a warcraft in emergency, but it was utterly fantastic that⁠—

He heaved himself to his feet, grunting with the effort, and, disregarding the repeated command that passengers proceed to their quarters, made his way forward to the bridge, ignoring the hysterical confusion in passengers and crew members hurrying up and down the ship’s passageways.

It was immediately obvious, there at the craft’s heart, that this was no farce, at least not a deliberate one. Captain Roger Post, youthful officer in command of the Neuve Los Angeles, Lieutenant Hans Bormann and the two crew members on watch were white-faced and shaken, momentarily confused in a situation which they had never expected to face. The two officers stood before the bridge vision screen watching, wide-eyed, that sector of space containing the other vessel. They had enlarged it a hundredfold.

At the elderly journalist’s entrance, the skipper had shot a quick, irritated glance over his shoulder and had begun to snap something; he cut it off. Instead, he said, “When did you first sight the alien ship, Mr. Gray?”


“Yes, alien. When did you first sight it? It is obviously following us in order to locate our home planet.” There was extreme tension in the captain’s voice.

Markham Gray felt cold fingers trace their way up his back. “Why, why, I must have noticed it several hours ago, Captain. But⁠ ⁠… an alien!⁠ ⁠… I⁠ ⁠…” He peered at the enlarged craft on the screen. “Are you sure, Captain? It seems remarkably like our own. I would say⁠—”

The captain had spun back around to stare at the screen again, as though to reassure himself of what he had already seen.

“There are no other ships in the vicinity,” he grated, almost as though to himself. “Besides that, as far as I know, and I should know, there are no Earth craft that look exactly like that. There are striking similarities, I’ll admit, to our St. Louis class scouts, but those jets on the prow⁠—there’s nothing like them either in existence or projected.”

His voice rose in an attempt to achieve decisiveness, “Lieutenant Bormann, prepare to attack.”

Suddenly, the telviz blared.

Calling the Neuve Los Angeles. Calling the Neuve Los Angeles. Be unafraid. We are not hostile.

There was quiet on the bridge of the earth ship. Screaming quiet. It was seemingly hours before they had recovered even to the point of staring at one another.

Hans Bormann gasped finally, unbelievingly, “How could they possibly know the name of our ship? How could they possibly know the Amer-English language?”

The captain’s face was white and frozen. He said, so quietly that they could hardly make it out, “That’s not all. Our alarms still haven’t been touched off, and our estimators aren’t functioning; we don’t know how large they are nor how far away. It’s unheard of⁠—. Somehow they’ve completely disrupted our instruments.”

Markham Gray followed the matter with more than average interest, after their arrival at the New Albuquerque spaceport. Not that average interest wasn’t high.

Finally man had come in contact with another intelligence. He had been dreading it, fearing it, for decades; now it was here. Another life form had conquered space, and, seemingly, had equipment, in some respects at least, superior to humanity’s.

The court martial of Captain Roger Post had been short and merciless. Free access to the trial had been given to the press and telviz systems, and the newscasts had carried it in its entirety, partially to stress to the public mind the importance of the situation, and partially as a warning to other spacemen.

Post had stood before the raised dais upon which were seated SupSpaceCom Michell and four other high-ranking officers and heard the charge read⁠—failure to attack the alien craft, destroy it, and thus prevent the aliens⁠—wherever they might be from⁠—returning to their own world and reporting the presence of man in the galaxy.

Markham Gray, like thousands of others, had sat on the edge of his chair in the living room of his small suburban home, and followed the trial closely on his telviz.

SupSpaceCom Michell had been blunt and ruthless. He had rapped out, bitingly, “Roger Post, as captain of the Neuve Los Angeles, why did you not either destroy the alien craft, or, if you felt it too strong for your ship, why did you not blast off into space, luring it away from your home planet?”

Post said hesitantly, “I didn’t think it necessary, sir. His attitude was⁠—well, of peace. It was as if we were two ships that had met by chance and dipped their flags in the old manner and passed on to their different destinations. They even were able to telviz us a message.”

The SupSpaceCom snapped, “That was undoubtedly a case of telepathy. The alien is equipped in some manner to impose thoughts upon the human brain. You thought the telviz was used; actually the alien wasn’t speaking Amer-English, he was simply forcing thoughts into your minds.”

Markham Gray, watching and listening to this over his set, shook his head in dissatisfaction. As always, the military mind was dull and unreceptive. The ridiculousness of expecting Post to blast off into space in an attempt to fool the other craft in regard to his home planet was obvious. The whole affair had taken place within the solar system; obviously the alien would know that one of Sol’s nine major planets was mankind’s home. Finding out which one wouldn’t be too difficult a job.

Roger Post was saying hesitantly, “Then it is assumed that the alien craft wasn’t friendly?”

SupSpaceCom Michell indicated his disgust with an impatient flick of his hand. “Any alien is a potential enemy, Post; that should be elementary. And a potential enemy is an enemy in fact. Even though these aliens might seem amiable enough today, how do we know they will be in the future⁠—possibly in the far future? There can be no friendship with aliens. We can’t afford to have neighbors; we can’t afford to be encircled by enemies.”

“Nor even friends?” Captain Post had asked softly.

Michell glared at his subordinate. “That is what it amounts to, Captain; and the thing to remember is that they feel the same way. They must! They must seek us out and destroy us completely and as quickly as possible. By the appearance of things, and partially through your negligence, they’ve probably won the first round. They know our location; we don’t know theirs.”

The supreme commander of Earth’s space forces dropped that point. “Let us go back again. When you received this telepathic message⁠—or whatever it was⁠—what was your reaction? Did it seem friendly, domineering, or what?”

Roger Post stood silent for a moment. Finally he answered, “Sir, I still think it was the telviz, rather than a telepathic communication, but the⁠ ⁠… the tone of voice seemed to give me the impression of pitying.”

“Pitying!” Michell ejaculated.

The captain was nervous but determined. “Yes, sir. I had the distinct feeling that the being that sent the message felt sorry for us.”

The SupSpaceCom’s face had gone red with indignation.

It was three years before another of the aliens was sighted. Three hurried, crowded, harassed years during which all the Solar System’s resources were devoted to building and arming a huge space fleet and rushing space defenses. The total wars of the Twentieth Century paled in comparison to the all out efforts made to prepare for this conflict.

The second view of the alien ship was similar to the first. This, time the Pendleton, a four-man scout returning to the Venus base after a patrol in the direction of Sirius, held the intruder in its viewer for a full five minutes. Once again, no estimation of its distance nor size could be made. All instruments pertaining to such detection seemed to fail to function properly.

And again the alien had sent a message⁠—seemingly, at least, by telviz. We are no danger to you, mankind. Seek your destiny in peace. Your troubles are from within.

The Pendleton would have attempted to follow the strange craft, but her fuel tanks were nearly dry and she had to proceed to Venus. Her captain’s report made a sensation.

In a way, the whole business had been a good thing for Markham Gray. As a freelancing journalist, he’d had a considerable advantage. First, he was more than usually informed on space travel and the problems relating to it, second, he had been present at⁠—in fact, had made himself⁠—the first sighting of the aliens.

His articles were in continuous demand in both magazines and newspaper supplements; editors clamored for additional material from his voco-typer. There was but one complaint against his copy⁠—it wasn’t alarmist enough, sensational enough. Humanity had been whipped into a state of hysteria, an emotional binge, and humanity loved it.

And it was there that Markham Gray refused to go along. He had agreed with poor Captain Post, now serving a life sentence in the Martian prison camps; there had been no sign of hostility from the alien craft. It was man who was preparing for war⁠—and Gray knew of no period in history in which preparations for war did not eventually culminate in one.

So it was not really strange that it was he the aliens chose to contact.

It came in the early hours of the morning. He awakened, not without a chill of fear, the sound of his telviz set in his ears. He had left it turned off, he knew that. He shook his head to clear it, impatient of the fact that with advancing years it was taking an increasing time to become alert after sleep.

He had not caught the message. For a brief moment he thought the sound had been a dream.

Then the telviz spoke again. The screen was blank. It said, You are awake, Mr. Gray?

He stared at it, uncomprehending.

He said, “I⁠ ⁠… I don’t understand.” Then, suddenly, he did understand, as though by an inspired revelation. Why they were able to speak Amer-English. Why their ship looked like a Terran one. Why they had been able to ‘disrupt’ the Earth ships instruments.

He said haltingly, “Why are you here?”

We are familiar with your articles. You alone, Mr. Gray, seem at least to seek understanding. Before we left, we felt it our duty to explain our presence and our purpose⁠—that is, partially.

“Yes,” he said. Then, in an attempt to check the conclusion at which he had just arrived, he added, “You are going from the Solar System⁠—leaving your home for a new one?”

There was a long silence.

Finally: As we said, we were going to explain partially our presence and purpose, but obviously you know more than we had thought. Would you mind revealing the extent of your knowledge?

Gray reached to the foot of the bed and took up his night robe; partly because it was chilly, partly to give himself time to consider his answer. Perhaps he shouldn’t have said that. He was alone in this small house; he had no knowledge of their intentions toward him.

But he had gone too far now. He said, “Not at all. I am not sure of where we stand, but things should be much clearer, shortly. First of all, your spaceships are tiny. Probably less than ten pounds.”

About four, Mr. Gray.

“Which explains why our instruments did not record them; the instruments weren’t disrupted, your ships were really too small to register. That’s where we made our first mistake. We assumed, for no valid reason, that you were approximately our own size. We were willing to picture you as nonhuman and possessing limbs, organs, and even senses different from ours; but we have pictured ‘aliens,’ as we’ve been calling you, as approximately our own size. Actually, you must be quite tiny.”

Quite tiny, Markham Gray. Although, of course, the way we think of it is that you are quite huge.

He was becoming more confident now; widely awake, it was less strange to hear the words come from his commonplace home model telviz set. “Our second mistake was in looking for you throughout space,” he said softly.

There was hesitation again, then, And why was that a mistake, Markham Gray?

Gray wet his lips. He might be signing his death warrant, but he couldn’t stop now. “Because you are not really ‘aliens,’ but of Earth itself. Several facts point that way. For instance, your ships are minute models of Earth ships, or, rather, of human ships. You have obviously copied them. Then, too, you have been able to communicate with humans too easily. An alien to our world would have had much more trouble. Our ways, our methods of thinking, are not strange to you.”

You have discovered a secret which has been kept for many centuries, Markham Gray.

He was more at ease now; somehow there was no threat in the attitude of the other. Gray said, “The hardest thing for me to understand is why it has been kept a secret. Obviously, you are a tiny form of Earth life, probably an insect, which has progressed intellectually as far beyond other insect forms as man beyond other mammals. Why have you kept this a secret from humans?”

You should be able to answer that yourself, Mr. Gray. As we developed, we were appalled by the only other form of life on our planet with a developed intelligence. Why, not even your own kind is safe from your bloodlust. The lesser animals on Earth have been either enslaved by man⁠—or slaughtered to extinction. And even your fellows in the recent past were butchered; man killed man wholesale. Do you blame us for keeping our existence a secret? We knew that the day humans discovered there was another intelligence on Earth they would begin making plans to dominate or, even more likely, to destroy us. Our only chance was to find some refuge away from Earth. That is why we began to search the other stars for a planet similar to this and suitable to our form of life.

“You could have fought back, had we attempted to destroy you,” Gray said uncomfortably.

The next words were coldly contemptuous. We are not wanton killers, like man. We have no desire to destroy.

Gray winced and changed the subject. “You have found your new planet?”

At last. We are about to begin transportation of our population to the new world. For the first time since our ancestors became aware of the awful presence of man on the Earth, we feel that we can look forward to security.

Markham Gray remained quiet for a long time. “I am still amazed that you were able to develop so far without our knowledge,” he said finally.

There was an edge of amusement in the answering thought. We are very tiny, Mr. Gray. And our greatest efforts have always been to keep from under man’s eyes. We have profited greatly, however, by our suitability to espionage; little goes on in the human world of which we don’t know. Our progress was greatly aided by our being able to utilize the science that man has already developed. You’ve noted, for instance, how similar our spaceships are to your own.

Gray nodded to himself. “But I’m also impressed by the manner in which you have developed some mechanical device to duplicate human speech. That involved original research.”

At any rate, neither man nor we need dread the future any longer. We have escaped the danger that overhung us, and you know now that we are no alien enemies from space threatening you. We wish you well, mankind; perhaps the future will see changes in your nature. It is in this friendly hope that we have contacted humanity through you, Mr. Gray.

The elderly journalist said quietly, “I appreciate your thoughtfulness and hope you are correct. Good luck to you in your new world.”

Thank you, Markham Gray, and goodbye.

The set was suddenly quiet again.

Markham Gray stood before the assembled Military Council of the Solar System. He had told his story without interruption to this most powerful body on Earth. They listened to him in silence.

When he had finished, he waited for their questions. The first came from SupSpaceCom Michell. He said, thoughtfully, “You believe their words to be substantially correct, Gray?”

“I believe them to be entirely truthful, your excellency,” the journalist told him sincerely.

“Then they are on the verge of leaving the Earth and removing to this other planet in some other star system?”

“That is their plan.”

The SupSpaceCom mused aloud. “We’ll be able to locate them when they blast off en masse. Their single ships are so small that they missed being observed, but a mass flight we’ll be able to detect. Our cruisers will be able to follow them all the way, blasting them as they go. If any get through to their new planet, we’ll at least know where they are and can take our time destroying it.”

The President of the Council added thoughtfully, “Quite correct, Michell. And in the early stages of the fight, we should be able to capture some of their ships intact. As soon as we find what kind of insect they are, our bacteriologists will be able to work on a method to eliminate any that might remain on Earth.”

Markham Gray’s face had paled in horror. “But why?” he blurted. “Why not let them go in peace? All they’ve wanted for centuries is to escape us, to have a planet of their own.”

SupSpaceCom Michell eyed him tolerantly. “You seem to have been taken in, Mr. Gray. Once they’ve established themselves in their new world, we have no idea of how rapidly they might develop and how soon they might become a threat. Even though they may be peaceful today, they are potential enemies tomorrow. And a potential enemy is an enemy, who must be destroyed.”

Gray felt sickness well through him “But⁠ ⁠… but this policy⁠ ⁠… What happens when man finally finds on his borders a life-form more advanced than he⁠—an intelligence strong enough to destroy rather than be destroyed?”

The tolerance was gone now. The SupSpaceCom said coldly, “Don’t be a pessimistic defeatist, Gray.”

He turned to the admirals and generals of his staff. “Make all preparations for the attack, gentlemen.”

Off Course

First on the scene were Larry Dermott and Tim Casey of the State Highway Patrol. They assumed they were witnessing the crash of a new type of Air Force plane and slipped and skidded desperately across the field to within thirty feet of the strange craft, only to discover that the landing had been made without accident.

Patrolman Dermott shook his head. “They’re gettin’ queerer looking every year. Get a load of it⁠—no wheels, no propeller, no cockpit.”

They left the car and made their way toward the strange egg-shaped vessel.

Tim Casey loosened his .38 in its holster and said, “Sure, and I’m beginning to wonder if it’s one of ours. No insignia and⁠—”

A circular door slid open at that point and Dameri Tass stepped out, yawning. He spotted them, smiled and said, “Glork.”

They gaped at him.

“Glork is right,” Dermott swallowed.

Tim Casey closed his mouth with an effort. “Do you mind the color of his face?” he blurted.

“How could I help it?”

Dameri Tass rubbed a blue-nailed pink hand down his purplish countenance and yawned again. “Gorra manigan horp soratium,” he said.

Patrolman Dermott and Patrolman Casey shot stares at each other. “ ’Tis double talk he’s after givin’ us,” Casey said.

Dameri Tass frowned. “Harama?” he asked.

Larry Dermott pushed his cap to the back of his head. “That doesn’t sound like any language I’ve even heard about.”

Dameri Tass grimaced, turned and reentered his spacecraft to emerge in half a minute with his hands full of contraption. He held a boxlike arrangement under his left arm; in his right hand were two metal caps connected to the box by wires.

While the patrolmen watched him, he set the box on the ground, twirled two dials and put one of the caps on his head. He offered the other to Larry Dermott; his desire was obvious.

Trained to grasp a situation and immediately respond in manner best suited to protect the welfare of the people of New York State, Dermott cleared his throat and said, “Tim, take over while I report.”

“Hey!” Casey protested, but his fellow minion had left.

“Mandaia,” Dameri Tass told Casey, holding out the metal cap.

“Faith, an’ do I look balmy?” Casey told him. “I wouldn’t be puttin’ that dingus on my head for all the colleens in Ireland.”

“Mandaia,” the stranger said impatiently.

“Bejasus,” Casey snorted, “ye can’t⁠—”

Dermott called from the car, “Tim, the captain says to humor this guy. We’re to keep him here until the officials arrive.”

Tim Casey closed his eyes and groaned. “Humor him, he’s after sayin’. Orders it is.” He shouted back, “Sure, an’ did ye tell ’em he’s in technicolor? Begorra, he looks like a man from Mars.”

“That’s what they think,” Larry yelled, “and the governor is on his way. We’re to do everything possible short of violence to keep this character here. Humor him, Tim!”

“Mandaia,” Dameri Tass snapped, pushing the cap into Casey’s reluctant hands.

Muttering his protests, Casey lifted it gingerly and placed it on his head. Not feeling any immediate effect, he said, “There, ’tis satisfied ye are now, I’m supposin’.”

The alien stooped down and flicked a switch on the little box. It hummed gently. Tim Casey suddenly shrieked and sat down on the stubble and grass of the field. “Begorra,” he yelped, “I’ve been murthered!” He tore the cap from his head.

His companion came running, “What’s the matter, Tim?” he shouted.

Dameri Tass removed the metal cap from his own head. “Sure, an’ nothin’ is after bein’ the matter with him,” he said. “Evidently the bhoy has niver been a-wearin’ of a kerit helmet afore. ’Twill hurt him not at all.”

“You can talk!” Dermott blurted, skidding to a stop.

Dameri Tass shrugged. “Faith, an’ why not? As I was after sayin’, I shared the kerit helmet with Tim Casey.”

Patrolman Dermott glared at him unbelievingly. “You learned the language just by sticking that Rube Goldberg deal on Tim’s head?”

“Sure, an’ why not?”

Dermott muttered, “And with it he has to pick up the corniest brogue west of Dublin.”

Tim Casey got to his feet indignantly. “I’m after resentin’ that, Larry Dermott. Sure, an’ the way we talk in Ireland is⁠—”

Dameri Tass interrupted, pointing to a bedraggled horse that had made its way to within fifty feet of the vessel. “Now what could that be after bein’?”

The patrolmen followed his stare. “It’s a horse. What else?”

“A horse?”

Larry Dermott looked again, just to make sure. “Yeah⁠—not much of a horse, but a horse.”

Dameri Tass sighed ecstatically. “And jist what is a horse, if I may be so bold as to be askin’?”

“It’s an animal you ride on.”

The alien tore his gaze from the animal to look his disbelief at the other. “Are you after meanin’ that you climb upon the crature’s back and ride him? Faith now, quit your blarney.”

He looked at the horse again, then down at his equipment. “Begorra,” he muttered, “I’ll share the kerit helmet with the crature.”

“Hey, hold it,” Dermott said anxiously. He was beginning to feel like a character in a shaggy dog story.

Interest in the horse was ended with the sudden arrival of a helicopter. It swooped down on the field and settled within twenty feet of the alien craft. Almost before it had touched, the door was flung open and the flying windmill disgorged two bestarred and efficient-looking Army officers.

Casey and Dermott snapped them a salute.

The senior general didn’t take his eyes from the alien and the spacecraft as he spoke, and they bugged quite as effectively as had those of the patrolmen when they’d first arrived on the scene.

“I’m Major General Browning,” he rapped. “I want a police cordon thrown up around this, er, vessel. No newsmen, no sightseers, nobody without my permission. As soon as Army personnel arrives, we’ll take over completely.”

“Yes, sir,” Larry Dermott said. “I just got a report on the radio that the governor is on his way, sir. How about him?”

The general muttered something under his breath. Then, “When the governor arrives, let me know; otherwise, nobody gets through!”

Dameri Tass said, “Faith, and what goes on?”

The general’s eyes bugged still further. “He talks!” he accused.

“Yes, sir,” Dermott said. “He had some kind of a machine. He put it over Tim’s head and seconds later he could talk.”

“Nonsense!” the general snapped.

Further discussion was interrupted by the screaming arrival of several motorcycle patrolmen followed by three heavily laden patrol cars. Overhead, pursuit planes zoomed in and began darting about nervously above the field.

“Sure, and it’s quite a reception I’m after gettin’,” Dameri Tass said. He yawned. “But what I’m wantin’ is a chance to get some sleep. Faith, an’ I’ve been awake for almost a decal.”

Dameri Tass was hurried, via helicopter, to Washington. There he disappeared for several days, being held incommunicado while White House, Pentagon, State Department and Congress tried to figure out just what to do with him.

Never in the history of the planet had such a furor arisen. Thus far, no newspapermen had been allowed within speaking distance. Administration higher-ups were being subjected to a volcano of editorial heat but the longer the space alien was discussed the more they viewed with alarm the situation his arrival had precipitated. There were angles that hadn’t at first been evident.

Obviously he was from some civilization far beyond that of Earth’s. That was the rub. No matter what he said, it would shake governments, possibly overthrow social systems, perhaps even destroy established religious concepts.

But they couldn’t keep him under wraps indefinitely.

It was the United Nations that cracked the iron curtain. Their demands that the alien be heard before their body were too strong and had too much public opinion behind them to be ignored. The White House yielded and the date was set for the visitor to speak before the Assembly.

Excitement, anticipation, blanketed the world. Shepherds in Sinkiang, multi-millionaires in Switzerland, fakirs in Pakistan, gauchos in the Argentine were raised to a zenith of expectation. Panhandlers debated the message to come with pedestrians; jinrikisha men argued it with their passengers; miners discussed it deep beneath the surface; pilots argued with their copilots thousands of feet above.

It was the most universally awaited event of the ages.

By the time the delegates from every nation, tribe, religion, class, color, and race had gathered in New York to receive the message from the stars, the majority of Earth had decided that Dameri Tass was the plenipotentiary of a super-civilization which had been viewing developments on this planet with misgivings. It was thought this other civilization had advanced greatly beyond Earth’s and that the problems besetting us⁠—social, economic, scientific⁠—had been solved by the super-civilization. Obviously, then, Dameri Tass had come, an advisor from a benevolent and friendly people, to guide the world aright.

And nine-tenths of the population of Earth stood ready and willing to be guided. The other tenth liked things as they were and were quite convinced that the space envoy would upset their applecarts.

Viljalmar Andersen, Secretary-General of the U.N., was to introduce the space emissary. “Can you give me an idea at all of what he is like?” he asked nervously.

President McCord was as upset as the Dane. He shrugged in agitation. “I know almost as little as you do.”

Sir Alfred Oxford protested, “But my dear chap, you’ve had him for almost two weeks. Certainly in that time⁠—”

The President snapped back, “You probably won’t believe this, but he’s been asleep until yesterday. When he first arrived he told us he hadn’t slept for a decal, whatever that is; so we held off our discussion with him until morning. Well⁠—he didn’t awaken in the morning, nor the next. Six days later, fearing something was wrong we woke him.”

“What happened?” Sir Alfred asked.

The President showed embarrassment. “He used some rather ripe Irish profanity on us, rolled over, and went back to sleep.”

Viljalmar Andersen asked, “Well, what happened yesterday?”

“We actually haven’t had time to question him. Among other things, there’s been some controversy about whose jurisdiction he comes under. The State Department claims the Army shouldn’t⁠—”

The Secretary General sighed deeply. “Just what did he do?”

“The Secret Service reports he spent the day whistling ‘Mother Machree’ and playing with his dog, cat and mouse.”

“Dog, cat and mouse? I say!” blurted Sir Alfred.

The President was defensive. “He had to have some occupation, and he seems to be particularly interested in our animal life. He wanted a horse but compromised for the others. I understand he insists all three of them come with him wherever he goes.”

“I wish we knew what he was going to say,” Andersen worried.

“Here he comes,” said Sir Alfred.

Surrounded by F.B.I. men, Dameri Tass was ushered to the speaker’s stand. He had a kitten in his arms; a Scotty followed him.

The alien frowned worriedly. “Sure,” he said, “and what kin all this be? Is it some ordinance I’ve been after breakin’?”

McCord, Sir Alfred and Andersen hastened to reassure him and made him comfortable in a chair.

Viljalmar Andersen faced the thousands in the audience and held up his hands, but it was ten minutes before he was able to quiet the cheering, stamping delegates from all Earth.

Finally: “Fellow Terrans, I shall not take your time for a lengthy introduction of the envoy from the stars. I will only say that, without doubt, this is the most important moment in the history of the human race. We will now hear from the first being to come to Earth from another world.”

He turned and gestured to Dameri Tass who hadn’t been paying overmuch attention to the chairman in view of some dog and cat hostilities that had been developing about his feet.

But now the alien’s purplish face faded to a light blue. He stood and said hoarsely. “Faith, an’ what was that last you said?”

Viljalmar Andersen repeated, “We will now hear from the first being ever to come to Earth from another world.”

The face of the alien went a lighter blue. “Sure, an’ ye wouldn’t jist be frightenin’ a body, would ye? You don’t mean to tell me this planet isn’t after bein’ a member of the Galactic League?”

Andersen’s face was blank. “Galactic League?”

“Cushlamachree,” Dameri Tass moaned. “I’ve gone and put me foot in it again. I’ll be after getting kert for this.”

Sir Alfred was on his feet. “I don’t understand! Do you mean you aren’t an envoy from another planet?”

Dameri Tass held his head in his hands and groaned. “An envoy, he’s sayin’, and meself only a second-rate collector of specimens for the Carthis zoo.”

He straightened and started off the speaker’s stand. “Sure, an’ I must blast off immediately.”

Things were moving fast for President McCord but already an edge of relief was manifesting itself. Taking the initiative, he said, “Of course, of course, if that is your desire.” He signaled to the bodyguard who had accompanied the alien to the assemblage.

A dull roar was beginning to emanate from the thousands gathered in the tremendous hall, murmuring, questioning, disbelieving.

Viljalmar Andersen felt that he must say something. He extended a detaining hand. “Now you are here,” he said urgently, “even though by mistake, before you go can’t you give us some brief word? Our world is in chaos. Many of us have lost faith. Perhaps⁠ ⁠…”

Dameri Tass shook off the restraining hand. “Do I look daft? Begorry, I should have been a-knowin’ something was queer. All your weapons and your strange ideas. Faith, I wouldn’t be surprised if ye hadn’t yet established a planet-wide government. Sure, an’ I’ll go still further. Ye probably still have wars on this benighted world. No wonder it is ye haven’t been invited to join the Galactic League an’ take your place among the civilized planets.”

He hustled from the rostrum and made his way, still surrounded by guards, to the door by which he had entered. The dog and the cat trotted after, undismayed by the furor about them.

They arrived about four hours later at the field on which he’d landed, and the alien from space hurried toward his craft, still muttering. He’d been accompanied by a general and by the President, but all the way he had refrained from speaking.

He scurried from the car and toward the spacecraft.

President McCord said, “You’ve forgotten your pets. We would be glad if you would accept them as⁠—”

The alien’s face faded a light blue again. “Faith, an’ I’d almost forgotten,” he said. “If I’d taken a crature from this quarantined planet, my name’d be nork. Keep your dog and your kitty.” He shook his head sadly and extracted a mouse from a pocket. “An’ this amazin’ little crature as well.”

They followed him to the spacecraft. Just before entering, he spotted the bedraggled horse that had been present on his landing.

A longing expression came over his highly colored face. “Jist one thing,” he said. “Faith now, were they pullin’ my leg when they said you were after ridin’ on the back of those things?”

The President looked at the woebegone nag. “It’s a horse,” he said, surprised. “Man has been riding them for centuries.”

Dameri Tass shook his head. “Sure, an’ ’twould’ve been my makin’ if I could’ve taken one back to Carthis.” He entered his vessel.

The others drew back, out of range of the expected blast, and watched, each with his own thoughts, as the first visitor from space hurriedly left Earth.

The Galactic Ghost

Despite the widely publicized radar posts encircling our nation and the continuously alerted jet squadrons at its borders, the space ship was about to land before it was detected.

It settled gracefully, quietly, onto an empty field in northern New Jersey. And so unexpected was the event, so unbelievable the fact that man was being visited by aliens from space, that it was a full half hour before the first extra was on the streets in New York, and forty minutes before the news buzzed through the Kremlin.

It might have taken considerably longer for man in earth’s more isolated areas to hear of the event had not the alien taken a hand at this point. Approximately an hour after the landing, into the mind of every human on earth, irrespective of nation, language, age, or intellect, came the thought telepathically:

We come in peace. Prepare to receive our message.

It was a month before the message came.

During that period, more than ninety-nine percent of the earth’s population became aware of the visitor from space. Radio, television, newsreel, telegraph and newspapers reached the greater number; but word of mouth and even throbbing drums, played their part. In four weeks, savages along the Amazon and shepherds in Sinkiang knew that visitors from the stars had arrived with a message for man.

And all awaited the message: scientist and soldier, politician and revolutionist, millionaire and vagrant, bishop and whirling dervish, banker and pickpocket, society matron and street walker. And each was hoping for one thing, and afraid he’d hear another.

All efforts at communication with the alien ship had failed. The various welcoming delegations from the State of New Jersey, from the United States, and even from the United Nations, were ignored. No sign of life aboard was evident, and there seemed no means of entrance to the spacecraft. It sat there impassively; its tremendous, saucer-like shape seemed almost like a beautiful monument.

At the end of a month, when worldwide interest in the visitor from space was at its height, the message came. And once again it was impressed upon the mind of every human being on earth:

Man, know this: Your world is fated to complete destruction. Ordinarily, we of the Galactic Union would not have contacted man until he had progressed much further and was ready to take his place among us. But this emergency makes necessary that we take immediate steps if your kind is to be saved from complete obliteration.

In order to preserve your race, we are making efforts to prepare another planet, an uninhabited one, to receive your colonists. Unfortunately, our means for transporting you to your new world are limited; only a handful can be taken. You are safe for another five of your earth years. At the end of that period we will return. Have a thousand of your people ready for their escape.

The President of the United States lifted an eyebrow wearily and rapped again for order.

“Gentlemen, please!⁠ ⁠… Let us get back to the fundamental question. Summed up, it amounts to this: only one thousand persons, out of a world population of approximately two billions, are going to be able to escape the earth’s destruction. In other words, one out of every two million. It is going to be most difficult to choose.”

Herr Ernst Oberfeld tapped his glasses fretfully on the conference table. “Mr. President, it need not be quite as bad as all that. After all, we must choose the earth’s best specimens to carry on our race. I believe we will find that the combined populations of Europe and North America total somewhat less than a billion. If we go still further and eliminate all inferior.⁠ ⁠…”

Monsieur Pierre Duclos flushed. “Herr Oberfeld should keep in mind that his presence at this meeting at all was opposed vigorously by some of the delegates. Isn’t it somewhat too soon after his country’s debacle to again broadcast its super-race theories?”

The British representative spoke up. “My dear Duclos, although I agree with you completely in essence, still it must be pointed out that if we were to handle this allocation on a strictly numerical basis, that our Chinese friends would be alloted something like 200 colonists, while Great Britain would have perhaps twenty.”

Maxim Gregoroff grunted, “Hardly enough for the Royal family, eh?”

Lord Harriman was on his feet. “Sir, I might echo what Monsieur Duclos has said to Herr Oberfeld. It was in spite of the protest from a considerable number of delegates to this conference that your nation is represented at all.”

Gregoroff’s fist thumped on the table and his face went beet red. “It is as expected! You plan to monopolize the escape ship for the imperialistic nations! The atom bomb will probably be used to destroy all other countries!”

The President of the United States held up his hand. This whole thing was getting more chaotic by the minute. As a matter of fact, instructions from Congress were that he explain that the United States expected to have at least one third of the total. This, in view of the fact that the aliens had landed in New Jersey, obviously seeing that the United States was the foremost nation of the world, and, further, in view of the fact that this country was a melting pot of all nations and consequently produced what might be called the “average” member of the human race.

However, that would have to wait. Order had to be brought to this conference if anything was to be accomplished.

“Gentlemen, gentlemen, please!” he called. “These accusations. We are getting nowhere. I have taken the liberty to make arrangements to have the representative of the newly formed Congress of American Sciences address you. Are you agreeable?” He raised his eyebrows inquiringly, and meeting no objection, pressed the button on the table before him.

Professor Manklethorp was ushered in, bobbed his head to the assembled delegates and came to the point immediately. “The problem which you are discussing has many ramifications. I would like to bring to your attention a few which should be examined with care.

“First, the choice of colonists must not be on a national basis, nor on one based upon political or monetary prominence. If it is, we, as a race, are doomed. This new planet, no matter how well prepared for us by the Galactic Union, is going to be a challenge such as man has never faced before. This challenge cannot be met by politicians, no matter how glib, nor by wealthy men, no matter how many dollars they possess, nor by titled ones, no matter how old and honored their names. We must pick trained specialists who will be able to meet the problems that arise in the new world.

“Our congress recommends that all persons, of all nations, who have college degrees, be given thorough tests both for I.Q. and for accumulated knowledge, and that the highest thousand be chosen irrespective of nation or race.”

Pandit Hari Kuanai smiled quietly. “May I ask the learned professor a question?”

“Of course. That is why I am here. We want only to have this matter decided on a strictly scientific basis.”

“My poverty stricken country has a population of possibly one fifth of the world total, but fewer university men than one of your large cities might boast. Your desire to choose men by their I.Q. has its merits, but I have no doubt that in my country we have men of tremendous intelligence who cannot even read or write, aside from having a university degree. Must my widely illiterate people go unrepresented in the new world?”

A muscle twitched in the professor’s face. “Needless to say, the Congress of American Sciences has considered that. However, we must view this matter in a spirit of sacrifice. The best of the world’s population must go to the new world. Possibly whole nations will go without representation. It is too bad⁠ ⁠… but, unfortunately, necessary.”

Sven Carlesen put up his finger for recognition. “It seems to me there is another serious loophole in the professor’s recommendation. He wants the thousand to be made up of university graduates of high I.Q. and considerable accumulated knowledge. I am afraid I foresee the new world being populated with elderly scholars.” He smiled. “Like the professor himself, who, I understand, has a phenomenal I.Q.

Monsieur Duclos nodded. “He is right. We must consider the need to send perfect physical specimens.” He looked down at his own small and bent body. “Gentlemen,” he said wryly, “has it occurred to you that none of us here at this conference are suitable to be represented among the thousand?”

They ignored him.

A pale faced delegate in black, who had thus far said nothing, spoke up softly, “I have been instructed to inform you that our organization demands that all of the colonists be of the true faith.”

His words were drowned by the shouting of half a dozen of the conference delegates. Loud above them all could be heard the bellow of Maxim Gregoroff.

“Our Union now includes the population of approximately half the world. Our allotment, consequently, will be five hundred colonists, of the one thousand. We will choose them by our own methods.”

Lord Harriman murmured, “Undoubtedly, by starting at the top of the party membership list and taking the first five hundred names beginning with your leader.”

The President of the United States ran his hand through his hair and then roughly down the side of his face. A messenger handed him a slip of paper. He read it and intensified his pounding on the table.

“Gentlemen,” he shouted. “If Professor Manklethorp is through, we have here a request from the International Physical Culture Society to have their representative heard.”

“I know,” Sven Carlesen said. “He wants all of the colonists to be able to chin themselves twenty-five times as the first requisite.”

At the end of the five year period the space ship came again, settling into the identical field where it had first landed. This time a delegation awaited it, and a multitude that stretched as far as the eye could see.

A telepathic message came from the visitor from space almost immediately.

Choose from your number three representatives to discuss the situation with us.

Within ten minutes, three advanced and entered the ship by way of a port that opened before them as they approached. Among their number was Pierre Duclos. A passage stretched before them, and, seeing no one, they hesitated a moment before following it to its further end. Monsieur Duclos led the way, depending only slightly on his cane to aid his bent body.

A door opened and they were confronted by the figure of a man seated at a desk. It was several moments before they realized that the entity before them was masked so cleverly that they had been led to believe him human.

He said in faultless English, “I note that you have penetrated my disguise. I thought it would be easier for you if I hid my true appearance. Until your people are used to alien life forms, I must use this measure.”

Monsieur Duclos bowed. “We appreciate your consideration, but I assure you that our.⁠ ⁠…”

The alien waved a gloved hand. “Please, no argument. My appearance would probably nauseate you. But it is of no importance. Pray be seated.” He noted the cane, and nodded to the little Frenchman. “You sir, must be highly thought of to rate being chosen one of the thousand in view of your age and health.”

Although he was not at ease in the presence of the representative of the Galactic Union, Monsieur Duclos allowed himself a wry smile. “You misunderstand. I am not one of the colonists. My presence here at this meeting is an honor that has been awarded me in return for some small services in aiding in the selection of the favored ones.”

“And what were these services?”

“Of no real importance. I suppose you might say that the most important was that I was the first to refuse to be a colonist.”

Bently, one of the other earthmen spoke up, “Had it not been for Pierre Duclos, it is doubtful if the thousand would have been chosen, and even possible that there would be no earth to which to return for your colonists.”

Behind the mask the eyes of the alien gleamed. “Enlighten me further, please.”

Duclos demurred. “You honor me overmuch, Mr. Bently. Let us approach the problem of the colonists and their transportation.”

But John Bently went on. “For more than two years after your ship’s departure, complete confusion reigned in regard to selection of the thousand. Happily, all out warfare between nations had been avoided although conditions were rapidly coming to a point where it was momentarily expected.

“Each race, each nation, each religion, even each sex, thought they should have the greater representation. And each of these groups in turn were divided into subgroups by wealth, age, class, education and others. Almost everyone on earth knew of some reason why he should be one of the colonists. And most of us were willing to take any steps to make our desire come true.”

The alien said, “That was to be expected. And then?”

“And then Pierre Duclos formed his Society of Racial Preservation whose first requisite for membership was a refusal to become one of the colonists. The purpose of the organization was to find the thousand most suitable colonists without regard to race, nationality, creed, color, education, class, wealth or any other grouping.

“At first, the growth of membership was slow, but, after a time, man saw that his chance of survival as an individual was practically nil, that his chance of being chosen was at best less than one in two million. When he realized this, his next desire was to make sure that, even though he as an individual was doomed, the race survived. Membership in the society grew rapidly and internationally. The members, you might say, were fanatical. Why not? They knew that they had less than five years to live. Why not sacrifice those last years of life to such a noble cause?

“As the society grew in strength, nothing could stand before it. Governments that stood in the way were overthrown, social systems abolished, prejudices and institutions that had stood for centuries were wiped out. It became necessary to institute world government, to guarantee to all equal opportunity. Step by step, the society took the measures necessary to insure the selection of the best specimens earth had to offer.

“And scientific development was pushed to the utmost. We wished to send our colonists off with as much as earth could possibly give them. We eliminated a dozen diseases that have plagued us for centuries; we devised a thousand new tools and techniques.”

“In short,” said the alien, “because of this stimulus, man has progressed as much in this past few years as he could have expected in the next fifty.”

“That is correct,” Pierre Duclos said. “It is unfortunate that now we have on our threshold a world really worth living in, that it is fated to be destroyed.”

“I see,” said the alien, what would have been a smile on a human face flickered on his. “I am glad to report that the danger which confronted the earth has been removed and the need to populate the new planet with colonists in order to preserve your race is now eliminated.

“Gentlemen, the earth is safe. Man may go on with his plans without fear of destruction.”

Monsieur Duclos fingered his cane thoughtfully while the other two earthmen jumped to their feet, thumped each other’s backs, shouted, and otherwise demonstrated their joy. They finally dashed from the room and from the space craft to give the news to the world.

The alien eyed the little Frenchman. “And why have you remained?”

“I do not believe the world was faced with destruction, monsieur. I have come to the conclusion that you have perpetrated a farce upon mankind.”

The alien sat himself down at the desk again. “I see you will need an explanation. But you are wrong, you know. Faced with destruction you were. The destruction, however, was not a matter of collision with some other body, or whatever you might have imagined. The destruction would have come from within. Man was on the verge of destroying himself. One more conflict, or, at most, two, would have done it.

“The Galactic Union has long been aware of man who has developed mechanically in a phenomenal manner but has not been able to develop socially to the point where his science is less than a danger. This ship was sent to you in hopes of accomplishing exactly what has been accomplished. We believed your racial instinct would be strong enough to unite you when the race as a whole thought it was threatened with extinction.”

The alien got to his feet. “I am afraid we must leave now. Let me say that I hope that man will soon be able to take his place in the Galactic Union.”

Monsieur Duclos winced. “The Galactic Union,” he said. “The League of Nations and the United Nations were bad enough.” He smiled wryly. “And I thought that with the establishment of a world government, we had abolished such conferences forever. I can just see myself as the first delegate from earth. Heaven forbid!”

Happy Ending

By Mack Reynolds and Frederic Brown

There were four men in the lifeboat that came down from the space-cruiser. Three of them were still in the uniform of the Galactic Guards.

The fourth sat in the prow of the small craft looking down at their goal, hunched and silent, bundled up in a greatcoat against the coolness of space⁠—a greatcoat which he would never need again after this morning. The brim of his hat was pulled down far over his forehead, and he studied the nearing shore through dark-lensed glasses. Bandages, as though for a broken jaw, covered most of the lower part of his face.

He realized suddenly that the dark glasses, now that they had left the cruiser, were unnecessary. He slipped them off. After the cinematographic grays his eyes had seen through these lenses for so long, the brilliance of the color below him was almost like a blow. He blinked, and looked again.

They were rapidly settling toward a shoreline, a beach. The sand was a dazzling, unbelievable white such as had never been on his home planet. Blue the sky and water, and green the edge of the fantastic jungle. There was a flash of red in the green, as they came still closer, and he realized suddenly that it must be a marigee, the semi-intelligent Venusian parrot once so popular as pets throughout the solar system.

Throughout the system blood and steel had fallen from the sky and ravished the planets, but now it fell no more.

And now this. Here in this forgotten portion of an almost completely destroyed world it had not fallen at all.

Only in some place like this, alone, was safety for him. Elsewhere⁠—anywhere⁠—imprisonment or, more likely, death. There was danger, even here. Three of the crew of the space-cruiser knew. Perhaps, someday, one of them would talk. Then they would come for him, even here.

But that was a chance he could not avoid. Nor were the odds bad, for three people out of a whole solar system knew where he was. And those three were loyal fools.

The lifeboat came gently to rest. The hatch swung open and he stepped out and walked a few paces up the beach. He turned and waited while the two spacemen who had guided the craft brought his chest out and carried it across the beach and to the corrugated-tin shack just at the edge of the trees. That shack had once been a space-radar relay station. Now the equipment it had held was long gone, the antenna mast taken down. But the shack still stood. It would be his home for a while. A long while. The two men returned to the lifeboat preparatory to leaving.

And now the captain stood facing him, and the captain’s face was a rigid mask. It seemed with an effort that the captain’s right arm remained at his side, but that effort had been ordered. No salute.

The captain’s voice, too, was rigid with unemotion. “Number One⁠ ⁠…”

“Silence!” And then, less bitterly. “Come further from the boat before you again let your tongue run loose. Here.” They had reached the shack.

“You are right, Number⁠ ⁠…”

“No. I am no longer Number One. You must continue to think of me as Mister Smith, your cousin, whom you brought here for the reasons you explained to the under-officers, before you surrender your ship. If you think of me so, you will be less likely to slip in your speech.”

“There is nothing further I can do⁠—Mister Smith?”

“Nothing. Go now.”

“And I am ordered to surrender the⁠—”

“There are no orders. The war is over, lost. I would suggest thought as to what spaceport you put into. In some you may receive humane treatment. In others⁠—”

The captain nodded. “In others, there is great hatred. Yes. That is all?”

“That is all. And, Captain, your running of the blockade, your securing of fuel en route, have constituted a deed of high valor. All I can give you in reward is my thanks. But now go. Goodbye.”

“Not goodbye,” the captain blurted impulsively, “but hasta la vista, auf Wiedersehen, until the day⁠ ⁠… you will permit me, for the last time to address you and salute?”

The man in the greatcoat shrugged. “As you will.”

Click of heels and a salute that once greeted the Caesars, and later the pseudo-Aryan of the 20th Century, and, but yesterday, he who was now known as the last of the dictators. “Farewell, Number One!”

“Farewell,” he answered emotionlessly.

Mr. Smith, a black dot on the dazzling white sand, watched the lifeboat disappear up into the blue, finally into the haze of the upper atmosphere of Venus. That eternal haze that would always be there to mock his failure and his bitter solitude.

The slow days snarled by, and the sun shone dimly, and the marigee screamed in the early dawn and all day and at sunset, and sometimes there were the six-legged baroons, monkey-like in the trees, that gibbered at him. And the rains came and went away again.

At nights there were drums in the distance. Not the martial roll of marching, nor yet a threatening note of savage hate. Just drums, many miles away, throbbing rhythm for native dances or exorcising, perhaps, the forest-night demons. He assumed these Venusians had their superstitions, all other races had. There was no threat, for him, in that throbbing that was like the beating of the jungle’s heart.

Mr. Smith knew that, for although his choice of destinations had been a hasty choice, yet there had been time for him to read the available reports. The natives were harmless and friendly. A Terran missionary had lived among them some time ago⁠—before the outbreak of the war. They were a simple, weak race. They seldom went far from their villages; the space-radar operator who had once occupied the shack reported that he had never seen one of them.

So, there would be no difficulty in avoiding the natives, nor danger if he did encounter them.

Nothing to worry about, except the bitterness.

Not the bitterness of regret, but of defeat. Defeat at the hands of the defeated. The damned Martians who came back after he had driven them halfway across their damned arid planet. The Jupiter Satellite Confederation landing endlessly on the home planet, sending their vast armadas of spacecraft daily and nightly to turn his mighty cities into dust. In spite of everything; in spite of his score of ultra-vicious secret weapons and the last desperate efforts of his weakened armies, most of whose men were under twenty or over forty.

The treachery even in his own army, among his own generals and admirals. The turn of Luna, that had been the end.

His people would rise again. But not, now after Armageddon, in his lifetime. Not under him, nor another like him. The last of the dictators.

Hated by a solar system, and hating it.

It would have been intolerable, save that he was alone. He had foreseen that⁠—the need for solitude. Alone, he was still Number One. The presence of others would have forced recognition of his miserably changed status. Alone, his pride was undamaged. His ego was intact.

The long days, and the marigees’ screams, the slithering swish of the surf, the ghost-quiet movements of the baroons in the trees and the raucousness of their shrill voices. Drums.

Those sounds, and those alone. But perhaps silence would have been worse.

For the times of silence were louder. Times he would pace the beach at night and overhead would be the roar of jets and rockets, the ships that had roared over New Albuquerque, his capitol, in those last days before he had fled. The crump of bombs and the screams and the blood, and the flat voices of his folding generals.

Those were the days when the waves of hatred from the conquered peoples beat upon his country as the waves of a stormy sea beat upon crumbling cliffs. Leagues back of the battered lines, you could feel that hate and vengeance as a tangible thing, a thing that thickened the air, that made breathing difficult and talking futile.

And the spacecraft, the jets, the rockets, the damnable rockets, more every day and every night, and ten coming for every one shot down. Rocket ships raining hell from the sky, havoc and chaos and the end of hope.

And then he knew that he had been hearing another sound, hearing it often and long at a time. It was a voice that shouted invective and ranted hatred and glorified the steel might of his planet and the destiny of a man and a people.

It was his own voice, and it beat back the waves from the white shore, it stopped their wet encroachment upon this, his domain. It screamed back at the baroons and they were silent. And at times he laughed, and the marigee laughed. Sometimes, the queerly shaped Venusian trees talked too, but their voices were quieter. The trees were submissive, they were good subjects.

Sometimes, fantastic thoughts went through his head. The race of trees, the pure race of trees that never interbred, that stood firm always. Someday the trees⁠—

But that was just a dream, a fancy. More real were the marigee and the kifs. They were the ones who persecuted him. There was the marigee who would shriek “All is lost!” He had shot at it a hundred times with his needle gun, but always it flew away unharmed. Sometimes it did not even fly away.

All is lost!

At last he wasted no more needle darts. He stalked it to strangle it with his bare hands. That was better. On what might have been the thousandth try, he caught it and killed it, and there was warm blood on his hands and feathers were flying.

That should have ended it, but it didn’t. Now there were a dozen marigee that screamed that all was lost. Perhaps there had been a dozen all along. Now he merely shook his fist at them or threw stones.

The kifs, the Venusian equivalent of the Terran ant, stole his food. But that did not matter; there was plenty of food. There had been a cache of it in the shack, meant to restock a space-cruiser, and never used. The kifs would not get at it until he opened a can, but then, unless he ate it all at once, they ate whatever he left. That did not matter. There were plenty of cans. And always fresh fruit from the jungle. Always in season, for there were no seasons here, except the rains.

But the kifs served a purpose for him. They kept him sane, by giving him something tangible, something inferior, to hate.

Oh, it wasn’t hatred, at first. Mere annoyance. He killed them in a routine sort of way at first. But they kept coming back. Always there were kifs. In his larder, wherever he did it. In his bed. He sat the legs of the cot in dishes of gasoline, but the kifs still got in. Perhaps they dropped from the ceiling, although he never caught them doing it.

They bothered his sleep. He’d feel them running over him, even when he’d spent an hour picking the bed clean of them by the light of the carbide lantern. They scurried with tickling little feet and he could not sleep.

He grew to hate them, and the very misery of his nights made his days more tolerable by giving them an increasing purpose. A pogrom against the kifs. He sought out their holes by patiently following one bearing a bit of food, and he poured gasoline into the hole and the earth around it, taking satisfaction in the thought of the writhings in agony below. He went about hunting kifs, to step on them. To stamp them out. He must have killed millions of kifs.

But always there were as many left. Never did their number seem to diminish in the slightest. Like the Martians⁠—but unlike the Martians, they did not fight back.

Theirs was the passive resistance of a vast productivity that bred kifs ceaselessly, overwhelmingly, billions to replace millions. Individual kifs could be killed, and he took savage satisfaction in their killing, but he knew his methods were useless save for the pleasure and the purpose they gave him. Sometimes the pleasure would pall in the shadow of its futility, and he would dream of mechanized means of killing them.

He read carefully what little material there was in his tiny library about the kif. They were astonishingly like the ants of Terra. So much that there had been speculation about their relationship⁠—that didn’t interest him. How could they be killed, en masse? Once a year, for a brief period, they took on the characteristics of the army ants of Terra. They came from their holes in endless numbers and swept everything before them in their devouring march. He wet his lips when he read that. Perhaps the opportunity would come then to destroy, to destroy, and destroy.

Almost, Mr. Smith forgot people and the solar system and what had been. Here in this new world, there was only he and the kifs. The baroons and the marigee didn’t count. They had no order and no system. The kifs⁠—

In the intensity of his hatred there slowly filtered through a grudging admiration. The kifs were true totalitarians. They practiced what he had preached to a mightier race, practiced it with a thoroughness beyond the kind of man to comprehend.

Theirs the complete submergence of the individual to the state, theirs the complete ruthlessness of the true conqueror, the perfect selfless bravery of the true soldier.

But they got into his bed, into his clothes, into his food.

They crawled with intolerable tickling feet.

Nights he walked the beach, and that night was one of the noisy nights. There were high-flying, high-whining jet-craft up there in the moonlight sky and their shadows dappled the black water of the sea. The planes, the rockets, the jet-craft, they were what had ravaged his cities, had turned his railroads into twisted steel, had dropped their H-Bombs on his most vital factories.

He shook his fist at them and shrieked imprecations at the sky.

And when he had ceased shouting, there were voices on the beach. Conrad’s voice in his ear, as it had sounded that day when Conrad had walked into the palace, white-faced, and forgotten the salute. “There is a breakthrough at Denver, Number One! Toronto and Monterey are in danger. And in the other hemispheres⁠—” His voice cracked. “⁠—the damned Martians and the traitors from Luna are driving over the Argentine. Others have landed near New Petrograd. It is a rout. All is lost!”

Voices crying, “Number One, hail! Number One, hail!”

A sea of hysterical voices. “Number One, hail! Number One⁠—”

A voice that was louder, higher, more frenetic than any of the others. His memory of his own voice, calculated but inspired, as he’d heard it on playbacks of his own speeches.

The voices of children chanting, “To thee, O Number One⁠—” He couldn’t remember the rest of the words, but they had been beautiful words. That had been at the public school meet in the New Los Angeles. How strange that he should remember, here and now, the very tone of his voice and inflection, the shining wonder in their children’s eyes. Children only, but they were willing to kill and die, for him, convinced that all that was needed to cure the ills of the race was a suitable leader to follow.

All is lost!

And suddenly the monster jet-craft were swooping downward and starkly he realized what a clear target he presented, here against the white moonlit beach. They must see him.

The crescendo of motors as he ran, sobbing now in fear, for the cover of the jungle. Into the screening shadow of the giant trees, and the sheltering blackness.

He stumbled and fell, was up and running again. And now his eyes could see in the dimmer moonlight that filtered through the branches overhead. Stirrings there, in the branches. Stirrings and voices in the night. Voices in and of the night. Whispers and shrieks of pain. Yes, he’d shown them pain, and now their tortured voices ran with him through the knee-deep, night-wet grass among the trees.

The night was hideous with noise. Red noises, an almost tangible din that he could nearly feel as well as he could see and hear it. And after a while his breath came raspingly, and there was a thumping sound that was the beating of his heart and the beating of the night.

And then, he could run no longer, and he clutched a tree to keep from falling, his arms trembling about it, and his face pressed against the impersonal roughness of the bark. There was no wind, but the tree swayed back and forth and his body with it.

Then, as abruptly as light goes on when a switch is thrown, the noise vanished. Utter silence, and at last he was strong enough to let go his grip on the tree and stand erect again, to look about to get his bearings.

One tree was like another, and for a moment he thought he’d have to stay here until daylight. Then he remembered that the sound of the surf would give him his directions. He listened hard and heard it, faint and far away.

And another sound⁠—one that he had never heard before⁠—faint, also, but seeming to come from his right and quite near.

He looked that way, and there was a patch of opening in the trees above. The grass was waving strangely in that area of moonlight. It moved, although there was no breeze to move it. And there was an almost sudden edge, beyond which the blades thinned out quickly to barrenness.

And the sound⁠—it was like the sound of the surf, but it was continuous. It was more like the rustle of dry leaves, but there were no dry leaves to rustle.

Mr. Smith took a step toward the sound and looked down. More grass bent, and fell, and vanished, even as he looked. Beyond the moving edge of devastation was a brown floor of the moving bodies of kifs.

Row after row, orderly rank after orderly rank, marching resistlessly onward. Billions of kifs, an army of kifs, eating their way across the night.

Fascinated, he stared down at them. There was no danger, for their progress was slow. He retreated a step to keep beyond their front rank. The sound, then, was the sound of chewing.

He could see one edge of the column, and it was a neat, orderly edge. And there was discipline, for the ones on the outside were larger than those in the center.

He retreated another step⁠—and then, quite suddenly, his body was afire in several spreading places. The vanguard. Ahead of the rank that ate away the grass.

His boots were brown with kifs.

Screaming with pain, he whirled about and ran, beating with his hands at the burning spots on his body. He ran head-on into a tree, bruising his face horribly, and the night was scarlet with pain and shooting fire.

But he staggered on, almost blindly, running, writhing, tearing off his clothes as he ran.

This, then, was pain. There was a shrill screaming in his ears that must have been the sound of his own voice.

When he could no longer run, he crawled. Naked, now, and with only a few kifs still clinging to him. And the blind tangent of his flight had taken him well out of the path of the advancing army.

But stark fear and the memory of unendurable pain drove him on. His knees raw now, he could no longer crawl. But he got himself erect again on trembling legs, and staggered on. Catching hold of a tree and pushing himself away from it to catch the next.

Falling, rising, falling again. His throat raw from the screaming invective of his hate. Bushes and the rough bark of trees tore his flesh.

Into the village compound just before dawn, staggered a man, a naked terrestrial. He looked about with dull eyes that seemed to see nothing and understand nothing.

The females and young ran before him, even the males retreated.

He stood there, swaying, and the incredulous eyes of the natives widened as they saw the condition of his body, and the blankness of his eyes.

When he made no hostile move, they came closer again, formed a wondering, chattering circle about him, these Venusian humanoids. Some ran to bring the chief and the chief’s son, who knew everything.

The mad, naked human opened his lips as though he were going to speak, but instead, he fell. He fell, as a dead man falls. But when they turned him over in the dust, they saw that his chest still rose and fell in labored breathing.

And then came Alwa, the aged chieftain, and Nrana, his son. Alwa gave quick, excited orders. Two of the men carried Mr. Smith into the chief’s hut, and the wives of the chief and the chief’s son took over the Earthling’s care, and rubbed him with a soothing and healing salve.

But for days and nights he lay without moving and without speaking or opening his eyes, and they did not know whether he would live or die.

Then, at last, he opened his eyes. And he talked, although they could make out nothing of the things he said.

Nrana came and listened, for Nrana of all of them spoke and understood best the Earthling’s language, for he had been the special protégé of the Terran missionary who had lived with them for a while.

Nrana listened, but he shook his head. “The words,” he said, “the words are of the Terran tongue, but I make nothing of them. His mind is not well.”

The aged Alwa said, “Aie. Stay beside him. Perhaps as his body heals, his words will be beautiful words as were the words of the Father-of-Us who, in the Terran tongue, taught us of the gods and their good.”

So they cared for him well, and his wounds healed, and the day came when he opened his eyes and saw the handsome blue-complexioned face of Nrana sitting there beside him, and Nrana said softly, “Good day, Mr. Man of Earth. You feel better, no?”

There was no answer, and the deep-sunken eyes of the man on the sleeping mat stared, glared at him. Nrana could see that those eyes were not yet sane, but he saw, too, that the madness in them was not the same that it had been. Nrana did not know the words for delirium and paranoia, but he could distinguish between them.

No longer was the Earthling a raving maniac, and Nrana made a very common error, an error more civilized beings than he have often made. He thought the paranoia was an improvement over the wider madness. He talked on, hoping the Earthling would talk too, and he did not recognize the danger of his silence.

“We welcome you, Earthling,” he said, “and hope that you will live among us, as did the Father-of-Us, Mr. Gerhardt. He taught us to worship the true gods of the high heavens. Jehovah, and Jesus and their prophets the men from the skies. He taught us to pray and to love our enemies.”

And Nrana shook his head sadly, “But many of our tribe have gone back to the older gods, the cruel gods. They say there has been great strife among the outsiders, and no more remain upon all of Venus. My father, Alwa, and I are glad another one has come. You will be able to help those of us who have gone back. You can teach us love and kindliness.”

The eyes of the dictator closed. Nrana did not know whether or not he slept, but Nrana stood up quietly to leave the hut. In the doorway, he turned and said, “We pray for you.”

And then, joyously, he ran out of the village to seek the others, who were gathering bela-berries for the feast of the fourth event.

When, with several of them, he returned to the village, the Earthling was gone. The hut was empty.

Outside the compound they found, at last, the trail of his passing. They followed and it led to a stream and along the stream until they came to the taboo of the green pool, and could go no farther.

“He went downstream,” said Alwa gravely. “He sought the sea and the beach. He was well then, in his mind, for he knew that all streams go to the sea.”

“Perhaps he had a ship-of-the-sky there at the beach,” Nrana said worriedly. “All Earthlings come from the sky. The Father-of-Us told us that.”

“Perhaps he will come back to us,” said Alwa. His old eyes misted.

Mr. Smith was coming back all right, and sooner than they had dared to hope. As soon in fact, as he could make the trip to the shack and return. He came back dressed in clothing very different from the garb the other white man had worn. Shining leather boots and the uniform of the Galactic Guard, and a wide leather belt with a holster for his needle gun.

But the gun was in his hand when, at dusk, he strode into the compound.

He said, “I am Number One, the Lord of all the Solar System, and your ruler. Who was chief among you?”

Alwa had been in his hut, but he heard the words and came out. He understood the words, but not their meaning. He said, “Earthling, we welcome you back. I am the chief.”

“You were the chief. Now you will serve me. I am the chief.”

Alwa’s old eyes were bewildered at the strangeness of this. He said, “I will serve you, yes. All of us. But it is not fitting that an Earthling should be chief among⁠—”

The whisper of the needle gun. Alwa’s wrinkled hands went to his scrawny neck where, just off the center, was a sudden tiny pin prick of a hole. A faint trickle of red coursed over the dark blue of his skin. The old man’s knees gave way under him as the rage of the poisoned needle dart struck him, and he fell. Others started toward him.

“Back,” said Mr. Smith. “Let him die slowly that you may all see what happens to⁠—”

But one of the chief’s wives, one who did not understand the speech of Earth, was already lifting Alwa’s head. The needle gun whispered again, and she fell forward across him.

“I am Number One,” said Mr. Smith, “and Lord of all the planets. All who oppose me, die by⁠—”

And then, suddenly all of them were running toward him. His finger pressed the trigger and four of them died before the avalanche of their bodies bore him down and overwhelmed him. Nrana had been first in that rush, and Nrana died.

The others tied the Earthling up and threw him into one of the huts. And then, while the women began wailing for the dead, the men made council.

They elected Kallana chief and he stood before them and said, “The Father-of-Us, the Mister Gerhardt, deceived us.” There was fear and worry in his voice and apprehension on his blue face. “If this be indeed the Lord of whom he told us⁠—”

“He is not a god,” said another. “He is an Earthling, but there have been such before on Venus, many many of them who came long and long ago from the skies. Now they are all dead, killed in strife among themselves. It is well. This last one is one of them, but he is mad.”

And they talked long and the dusk grew into night while they talked of what they must do. The gleam of firelight upon their bodies, and the waiting drummer.

The problem was difficult. To harm one who was mad was taboo. If he was really a god, it would be worse. Thunder and lightning from the sky would destroy the village. Yet they dared not release him. Even if they took the evil weapon-that-whispered-its-death and buried it, he might find other ways to harm them. He might have another where he had gone for the first.

Yes, it was a difficult problem for them, but the eldest and wisest of them, one M’Ganne, gave them at last the answer.

“O Kallana,” he said, “Let us give him to the kifs. If they harm him⁠—” and old M’Ganne grinned a toothless, mirthless grin “⁠—it would be their doing and not ours.”

Kallana shuddered. “It is the most horrible of all deaths. And if he is a god⁠—”

“If he is a god, they will not harm him. If he is mad and not a god, we will not have harmed him. It harms not a man to tie him to a tree.”

Kallana considered well, for the safety of his people was at stake. Considering, he remembered how Alwa and Nrana had died.

He said, “It is right.”

The waiting drummer began the rhythm of the council-end, and those of the men who were young and fleet lighted torches in the fire and went out into the forest to seek the kifs, who were still in their season of marching.

And after a while, having found what they sought, they returned.

They took the Earthling out with them, then, and tied him to a tree. They left him there, and they left the gag over his lips because they did not wish to hear his screams when the kifs came.

The cloth of the gag would be eaten, too, but by that time, there would be no flesh under it from which a scream might come.

They left him, and went back to the compound, and the drums took up the rhythm of propitiation to the gods for what they had done. For they had, they knew, cut very close to the corner of a taboo⁠—but the provocation had been great and they hoped they would not be punished.

All night the drums would throb.

The man tied to the tree struggled with his bonds, but they were strong and his writhings made the knots but tighten.

His eyes became accustomed to the darkness.

He tried to shout, “I am Number One, Lord of⁠—”

And then, because he could not shout and because he could not loosen himself, there came a rift in his madness. He remembered who he was, and all the old hatreds and bitterness welled up in him.

He remembered, too, what had happened in the compound, and wondered why the Venusian natives had not killed him. Why, instead, they had tied him here alone in the darkness of the jungle.

Afar, he heard the throbbing of the drums, and they were like the beating of the heart of night, and there was a louder, nearer sound that was the pulse of blood in his ears as the fear came to him.

The fear that he knew why they had tied him here. The horrible, gibbering fear that, for the last time, an army marched against him.

He had time to savor that fear to the uttermost, to have it become a creeping certainty that crawled into the black corners of his soul as would the soldiers of the coming army crawl into his ears and nostrils while others would eat away his eyelids to get at the eyes behind them.

And then, and only then, did he hear the sound that was like the rustle of dry leaves, in a dank, black jungle where there were no dry leaves to rustle nor breeze to rustle them.

Horribly, Number One, the last of the dictators, did not go mad again; not exactly, but he laughed, and laughed and laughed.⁠ ⁠…

After Some Tomorrow

Before the first shots rang out, Alan had been sitting with some twenty young people of the Wolf clan in a grove of aspen approximately half way between the fields and the citadel on the hilltop. He had been teaching them myth-legend and, as usual, the girls were bored and unbelieving, the boys open mouthed.

He realized, even as he spoke, that the telling had changed even since his own youth. As a boy of ten, before it was definitely known whether or not he was a sterilie, he had sat at the feet of the Turtle clan’s husband as open mouthed as those who sat at his feet now. But the telling was different. Now, had he spoken openly of when men bore weapons and women lived at home with the children, he would have crossed the boundaries of decency. It hadn’t been so in his own youth, but then, when he was a boy, they had been one generation nearer to the old days, which weren’t so far back after all.

Helen complained, “This is so silly, Alan. Why don’t you tell us something about⁠ ⁠… well, about hunting, or true fighting?”

He looked at her. Could this be a daughter of his? Tall for her fourteen years and straight, clear of eye, aggressive and brooking of no nonsense. The old books told of the femininity of women, but.⁠ ⁠…

The shots went bang, bang, bang, from below, faint in the half mile or more of distance. And then bang, bang again and several booms from the new muzzle loading muskets.

Helen was on her feet first, her eyes flashing. Instantly she was in command. “Alan,” she snapped. “Quick, to the citadel. All of you boys, hurry! To the citadel!”

She whirled to her older classmates. “Ruth, Margo, Jenny, Paula. Get stones, sharp stones. You younger girls go with Alan. See if you can help at the citadel. We’ll come last. Hurry Alan.”

Alan was already off, herding the boys before him. Possibly all of them were sterilies and so wouldn’t count. But you never knew.

As they climbed the hill, he looked back over his shoulder. Down in the fields he could see the workers scattering for their weapons and for cover. One stumbled and was down. In the distance he couldn’t make out whether she had fallen accidentally or been wounded. Further beyond the fields he could see the smoke from a half dozen or more places where the shots had originated. It didn’t seem to be an attack in force.

Not far up the hill from the field workers, on a overhanging boulder in a lookout position, he could make out Vivian, the scout chief. She sat, seemingly in unconcerned ease, one elbow supported on a knee as her telescoped rifle went crack, crack, crack. If he knew Vivian there was more than one casualty among the raiders.

Who could it be this time? Deer from the south, Coyote or Horse from the east? Possibly Eagles, Crows or Dogs from Denver way. The clan couldn’t stand much more of this pressure. It was the third raid in six months. They couldn’t stand it and put in a crop, nor could the drain on the arsenal be maintained. He had heard that the Turtle clan, near Colorado Springs, the clan of his birth, had got to the point where they were using bows and arrows even for defense. If so, it wouldn’t be long before they would be losing their husband.

He was puffing somewhat by the time they reached the citadel. Helen and her four girls were coming much more slowly, watching the progress of the fight below them, keeping their eyes peeled for a possible break through of individual enemies. The stones in their hands were pathetically brave.

The rounded citadel building, stone built, loopholed for rifles, loomed before them. He swung open the door and hurried inside.

“Hello, honey,” a strange voice said pseudo-pleasantly. “Hey, you’re kind of cute.”

Alan’s eyes went from the two figures before him, automatic rifles cuddled under their arms, to the two Wolf clan sentries collapsed in their own blood on the floor. They had paid for lack of vigilance with their lives.

He could see that the strangers were of different clans by their kilts, one a Horse the other a Crow. This would mean two clans had united in order to raid the Wolves and that, in turn, would mean the Wolves were outnumbered as much as two to one.

“Relax, darling,” the second one said, a lewd quality in her voice. “Nothing’s going to happen to you.” Her eyes took in the dozen boys ranging in age from five to twelve. “Look like a bunch of sterilies to me,” she sneered. “Get them up above, and those girls too. You stay here where we can watch you, honey.”

The Crow went to a small window, stared down below. “Wanda is holding them pretty well but they’re beginning to work their way back in this direction.” She laughed harshly. “These Wolves never could fight.”

Her companion fingered the Bren gun which lay on the heavy table top in the round room’s center. Aside from four equally heavily constructed chairs the table was the large room’s sole furniture. While Alan was ushering the boys and younger girls up to the second floor where they would be safe, the Horse said musingly, “We could turn this loose on them even at this distance.”

The Crow shook her head. “No. It’ll be better to wait until they’re closer. Besides, by that time Peggy and her group’ll be coming up from the arroyo. There won’t be a Wolf left half an hour from now.”

Alan, his stomach empty, stared out the loophole nearest him.

One of the women said, grinning, “You better get away from there, honey. Make you sick. That’s a mighty pretty suit you’ve got on. Make it yourself?”

“No,” Alan said. As a matter of fact one of the sterilies had made it.

She laughed. “Well, don’t be so uppity. You’re going to have to learn how to be nice to me, you know.”

Both of them laughed, but Alan said nothing. He wondered how long the women of these clans had been without a husband.

Down below he could make out the progress of the fighting and then realized the battle plan of the aggressors. They must have planned it for months, waiting until the season was such that practically the whole Wolf clan, and particularly the fighters, would be at work in the fields. They’d sent these two scouts, probably their best warriors, to take the citadel by stealth. Only two of them, more would have been conspicuous.

They had then, with a limited force, opened fire on the field workers, pinning them down temporarily.

Meanwhile, the main body was ascending the arroyo to the left, completely hidden from the defending forces although they would have been in open sight from above had the citadel remained uncaptured.

Alan could see plainly what the next fifteen minutes would mean. The Wolf clan would draw back on the citadel, Vivian and her younger warriors bringing up the rear. When they broke into the clear and started the last dash for the safety of their fortress, they would be in the open and at the mercy of the crossfire from arroyo and citadel.

If only these two had failed in their attempt to.⁠ ⁠…

The Crow woman said, “Look at this. Five young brats with stones in their hands. What do you say?”

It was Helen and her four girls.

Alan said, “They’re only children! You can’t.⁠ ⁠…”

“You be quiet, sweetheart. We can’t be bothered with you.”

The Horse said, “Two years from now they’ll all be warriors. Here, let me turn this on them.”

Alan closed his eyes and he wanted to retch as he heard the automatic rifle speak out in five short bursts. In spite of himself he opened them again. Helen, his first born, Paula, his second. Ruth, Margo and Jenny, all his children. They were crumbled like rag dolls, fifty feet from the citadel door.

Now he was able to tell himself that he should have called out a warning. One or two of them, at least, might have escaped. Might have escaped to warn the approaching fighters of the trap behind them. Tradition had been too strong within him, the tradition that a man did not interfere in the business of the warriors, that war was a thing apart.

Jenny’s body moved, stirred again, and she tried to drag herself away. Little Jenny, twelve years old. The rifle spat just once again and she slumped forward and remained quiet.

“Little bitch,” the Crow woman said.

The heavy chair was in his hands and high above his head, he had brought it down on her before the rage of his hate had allowed him to think of what he was doing. The chair splintered but there was still a good half of it in his hands when he spun on the Horse woman. She stepped back, her eyes wide in disbelief. As her companion went down, the side of her face and her scalp welling blood, the Horse at first brought up her rifle and then, in despair, tried to reverse it to use its butt as a club.

She was stumbling backward, trying to get out of the way of his improvised weapon, when her heel caught on the body of one of the fallen Wolf sentries. She tried to catch herself, her eyes still staring horrified disbelief, even as he caught her over the head, and then once again. He beat her, beat her hysterically, until he knew she must be dead.

He worked now in a mental vacuum, all but unconsciously. He ran to the stair bottom and called, “Come down,” his voice was shrill. “Alice, Tommy, all of you.”

They came, hesitantly, and when they saw the shambles of the room stared at him with as much disbelief as had the enemy women. He pointed a finger at the oldest of the girls. “Alice,” he said, “you’ve been given instruction by the warriors. How is the Bren gun fired?”

The eleven year old bug eyed at him. “But you’re a husband, Alan.⁠ ⁠…”

“How is it fired?” he shrilled. “Unless you tell me, there will be no Wolf clan left!”

He lugged the heavy gun to the window, mounted it there as he had seen the women do in practice.

“Tommy,” he said to a thirteen-year-old boy. “Quick, get me a pan of ammunition.”

“I can’t,” Tommy all but wailed.

“Get it!”

“I can’t. It’s⁠ ⁠… it’s unmanly!” Tommy melted into a sea of tears, utterly confused.

“Maureen,” Alan snapped, cooler now. “Get me a pan of ammunition for the Bren gun. Quickly. Alice, show me how the gun is charged.”

Alice was at his side, trying to explain. He would have let her take over had she been larger, but he knew she couldn’t handle the bucking of the weapon. Maureen had returned with the ammunition, slipped it expertly into place. She too had had instructions in the gun’s operation.

Alan ran his eyes down the arroyo. There were possibly forty of them, Horses and Crows⁠—well armed, he could see. Less than a quarter of them had the new muzzle loaders being resorted to by many as ammunition stocks for the old arms became increasingly rare. The others had ancient arms, rifles, both military and sport, one or two tommy guns.

He waited another three or four minutes, one eye cocked on the progress of the running battle below. Vivian, the scout chief, had dropped back to take over command of the younger warriors. She was probably beginning to smell a rat. The intensity of fire wasn’t such as to suggest a large body of enemy.

The women in the arroyo were placed now as he wanted them. He forced himself to keep his eyes open as he pressed the trigger.

Blat, blat, blat.

The gun spoke, kicking high the dust and gravel before the Horse and Crow warriors advancing up the arroyo.

They stopped, startled. The citadel was supposedly in their hands.

They reversed themselves and scurried back to get out of their exposed position.

He touched the trigger again. Blat, blat, blat. The heavy slugs tore up the arroyo wall behind them, they could retreat no further without running into his fire.

They stopped, confused.

Alan said, “Maureen, get another pan of ammunition. I’ll have to hold them there until Vivian comes up. Alice, run down to the matriarch and tell her about the warriors in the arroyo. Quickly, now.”

Little Alice said sourly, “A husband shouldn’t interfere in warrior affairs,” but she went.

When Vivian strode into the citadel she had her sniper rifle slung over her back and was admiring a tommy gun she had taken from one of the captured Horses. “Perfect,” she said, stroking the stock. “Perfect shape. And they seem to have worlds of ammunition too. Must have made some kind of deal with the Denver clans.”

Her eyes swept the room and her mouth turned down in sour amusement. The Horse woman was dead and the Crow had by now been marched off to take her place with the other prisoners who were being held in the stone corral.

“What warriors,” she said contemptuously. “A man overcomes two of them. Two of them, mind you.” She looked at Alan, the reaction was upon him now and he was white-faced and couldn’t keep his hands from trembling. “What a cutie you turned out to be. Who ever heard of such a thing?”

Alan said, defensively, “They didn’t expect it. I took them unawares.”

Vivian laughed aloud, her even white teeth sparkling in the redness of her lips. She was tall, shapely, a twenty-five-year-old goddess in her Wolf clan kilts. “I’ll bet you did, sweetie.”

One of the other warriors entered from behind Vivian, looked at the dead Horse woman and shuddered. “What a way to die, not even able to defend yourself.” She said to Vivian worriedly, “They’ve got an awful lot of equipment, chief.”

Vivian said, “Well, what’re you worrying about, Jean? We have it now.”

The girl said, “They have three tommy guns, four automatic rifles, twenty grenades and forty sticks of dynamite.”

Vivian was impatient. “They had them, now they’re ours. It’s good, not bad.”

Jean said doggedly, “These raids are coming more and more often. We’ve lost ten fighters in less than a year. And each time they come at us they’re better equipped and there’re more of them.” She looked over at Alan. “If it hadn’t been for this⁠ ⁠… this queer way things worked out, they’d have our husband now and we’d be done for.”

“Well, it didn’t happen that way,” Vivian said abruptly, “and we still have our husband and we’re going to keep him. This wasn’t a bad action at all. They killed three of us, we’ve got more than forty of them.”

“Not three, eight,” Jean said. “You forget the five girls. In another couple of years they’d have been warriors. And besides, what difference does it make if we’ve got forty of them? There’re always more of them where they came from. There must be a thousand women toward Denver without a husband between them.”

Vivian quieted. “Let’s hope they don’t all decide on Alan at once,” she said. “I wonder if the Turtles are having the same trouble.”

“They’re having more,” Alan said. He had lowered himself wearily into one of the chairs.

The two warriors looked at him. “How do you know, sweetie?” Vivian asked him.

“I was talking to Warren, a few weeks ago. He’s husband of the Turtle clan now, they traded him from the Foxes. Both clans were getting too interbred.⁠ ⁠…”

“Get to the point, honey,” Jean said, embarrassed at this man talk.

“The Turtles are having more trouble than we are. They have a stronger natural fortress at the center of their farm lands, but they’ve had so many raids that their arsenal is depleted and half their warriors dead or wounded. They’re getting desperate.”

“That’s too bad,” Vivian muttered. “They make good neighbors.”

Jean said, “The matriarch told me to let you know there’d be a meeting this afternoon in the assembly hall. Clan meeting, all present.”

“What about?” Vivian said, her attention going back to the beauty of her captured weapon again.

“About the prisoners. We’ve got to decide what to do with them.”

“Do with them? We’ll push them over the side of the canyon. Nobody thought we’d waste bullets on them did they?”

Alan said, mildly, “The question has come up whether we ought to destroy them at all.”

Vivian looked at him in gentle annoyance. “Sweetie,” she said, “don’t bother your handsome head with these things. You’ve had enough excitement to last a nice looking fellow like you a lifetime.”

Jean said, echoing her chief’s disgust, “Anyway, that’s what the meeting is about. Alan, here, has been talking to the matriarch and she’s agreed to bring it up for discussion.”

Vivian said nastily, “Sally is beginning to lose her grip. If there’s anything a clan needs it’s a strong matriarch.”

“A wise matriarch,” Alan amended, knowing he shouldn’t.

Vivian stared at him for a moment, then threw her head back and laughed. “I’m going to have to spank your bottom one of these days,” she told him. “You get awfully sassy for a man.”

As chairman, Alan had a voice but not a vote in the meetings of the Wolf clan. He sometimes wondered at the institution which had come down from pre-bomb days. Why was it necessary to have a chairman. Of course, myth-legend had it that men were once just as numerous and active in society’s economic (and even martial!) life as were women. But that was myth-legend. It all had a basis in reality, perhaps, but some of it was undoubtedly stretched all but to the breaking point.

Of course if all men had been fertile in the old days. But if you started with if, as a beginning point, you could go as far as you wished in any direction.

He called the meeting to order in the assembly hall which stood possibly a hundred feet below the citadel in one direction, another hundred from the stone corral which housed their prisoners, in the other. The Wolf clan was present in its entirety with the exception of children under ten and except for four scouts who were holding the prisoners. As chairman, Alan sat on the dais flanked by Sally, the matriarch, 35 years of age, tall, Junoesque, on one side and by Vivian the scout chief, on the other.

Before them sat, first, the active warrior-workers, some thirty-five of them. Second, the older women, less than a score. Further back were the sterilies, possibly twenty of these and quite young, only within recent memory had they been allowed to become part of the clan, in the past they had been driven away or killed. Further back still were the children above ten but too young to join the ranks of either warrior-workers or sterilies.

Alan called the meeting to order, quieted them somewhat and then invited the matriarch to take the floor.

Sally stood and looked out over her clan, the dignity of her presence silencing them where Alan’s plea had not.

She said, “We have two matters to bring to our attention. First, I believe the clan should make it clear to Alan, our husband, that such interference in the affairs of women is utterly out of the question. I am speaking of his unmanly activities in the raid this morning.”

There were mumblings of approval throughout the hall.

Alan came to his feet, his face bewildered. “But, Sally, what else could I do? If I hadn’t overcome the enemy warriors and turned the Bren gun on the others you would all be gone now. Possibly none of you would have survived.”

Sally quieted him with a chill look. “Let me repeat what is well known to every member of the clan. We consist of less than sixty women, a few more than thirty-five of whom are active. There are twenty sterilies and twenty-five or so children. And one husband. A few more than one hundred in all.”

Her voice slowed and lowered for the sake of emphasis. “All of our women⁠—except for two or three⁠—might die and the clan would live on. The sterilies certainly might all die, and the clan live on. Even the children could all die and the clan live on. But if our husband dies, the clan dies. The greatest responsibility of every member of any clan is to protect the husband. Under no circumstances is he to be endangered. You know this, it should not have to be brought to your attention.”

There was a strong murmur of assent from those seated before them.

Alan said, “But, Sally, I saved your lives! And if I hadn’t, I would have been captured by the Crows and Horses and you would have lost me at any rate.”

This was hard for Sally Wolf, but she said, “Then, at least, they would have had you. If you had died, in your foolhardiness, you would have been gone for all of us. Alan, two clans, husbandless clans, united in this attempt to capture you from us. While we fought to protect our husband, the life of our clan, we hold no rancor against them. In their position, we would have done the same. Much rather would we see you taken by them, than to see you dead. Even though the Wolf clan might die, the race must go on.” She added, but not very believably, “If they had captured you, perhaps we could have, in our turn, captured a husband from some other clan.”

“The reason we probably couldn’t,” Vivian said mildly, “is that since we’ve turned to agriculture and settled, our numbers have dropped off by half. We had more than sixty warriors while we were hunter-foragers.”

“That’s enough, Vivian,” Sally snapped. “The question isn’t being discussed this afternoon.”

“Ought to be,” somebody whispered down in front.

“Order,” Alan said. He knew it was a growing belief in the clan that giving up the nomadic life had been a mistake. From raiders, they had become the raided.

Sally said, “The second order of business is the disposal of the Horse and Crow prisoners captured in the action today.”

Vivian said, “We can’t afford to waste valuable ammunition. I say shove them into the canyon.”

Most of those seated in the hall approved of that. Some were puzzled of face, wondering why the matter hadn’t been left simply in the scout chief’s hands.

Sally said, dryly, “I haven’t formed an opinion myself. However, our chairman has some words to say.”

Vivian looked at Alan as though he was a precocious child. She shook her head. “You cutie, you. You’re getting bigger and bigger for your britches every day.”

Two or three of the warriors echoed her by chuckling fondly.

Alan said nothing to that, needing to maintain what dignity and prestige he could muster.

He stood and faced them and waited for their silence before saying, “You feminine members of the clan are too busy with work and with defense to pursue some of the studies for which we men find time.”

Vivian murmured, “You ain’t just a whistlin’, honey. But we don’t mind. You do what you want with your time, honey.”

He tried to smile politely, but went on. “It has come to the point where few women read to any extent and most learning has fallen into the hands of the men⁠—few as we are.”

Sally said impatiently, “What has this got to do with the prisoners, Alan dear?”

It would seem that he had ignored her when he said, “I have been discussing the matter with Warren of the Turtle clan and two or three other men with whom I occasionally come in contact. At the rate the race is going, there will be no men left at all in another few generations.”

There was quiet in the long hall. Deathly quiet.

Sally said, “How⁠ ⁠… how do you mean, dear?”

“I mean our present system can’t go on. It isn’t working.”

“Of course it’s working,” Vivian snapped. “Here we are aren’t we? It’s always worked, it always will. Here’s the clan. You’re our husband. After we’ve had you for twenty years, we’ll trade you to another clan for their husband⁠—prevents interbreeding. If you have a fertile son, the clan will either split, each half taking one husband, or we’ll trade him off for land, or guns, or whatever else is valuable. Of course, it works.”

He shook his head, stubbornly. “Things are changing. For a generation or two after bomb day, we were in chaos. By time things cleared we were divided as we are now, in clans. However, we were still largely able to exist on the canned goods, the animals, left over from the old days. There was food and guns for all and only a few of the men were sterilies.”

Vivian began to say something again, but he shook a hand negatively at her, pleading for silence. “No, I’m not talking about myth-legend now. Warren’s great-grandfather, whom he knew as a boy, remembers when there were four times or more the number of men we have today and when the sterilies were very few.”

Vivian said impatiently, “What’s this got to do with the prisoners? There they are. We can kill them or let them go. If we let them go, they’ll be coming back, six months from now, to take another crack at us. Alan is cute as a button, but I don’t think he should meddle in women’s affairs.”

But most of them were silent. They looked up at him, waiting for him to go on.

“I suppose,” Sally said, “that you’re coming to a point, dear?”

He nodded, his face tight. “I’m coming to the point. The point is that we’ve got to change the basis of clan society. This isn’t working any more⁠—if it ever did. There’s such a thing as planned breeding⁠ ⁠…” it had been hard to say this, and the younger women in the audience, in particular, tittered “… and we’re going to have to think in terms of it.”

Sally had flushed. She said now, “A certain dignity is expected at a clan meeting, Alan dear. But just what did you mean?”

Vivian said, “This is nonsense, I’m leaving,” and she was up from the speaker’s table and away. Two or three of her younger girls looked after, scowling, but they didn’t follow her out of the hall.

“I mean,” Alan said doggedly, “that one of those Crow women has been the mother of two fertile men. To my knowledge she is the only woman within hundreds of miles this can be said about. We men have been keeping records of such things.”

Sally was as mystified as the rest of the clan.

Alan said, “I say bring these women into the clan. Unite with the Turtles and the Burros so that we’ll have three clans, five counting the Horses and Crows. Then we’ll have enough strength to fight off the forager-hunters, and we’ll have enough men to experiment in selective breeding.”

Half of the hall was on its feet in a roar.

“Share you with these⁠ ⁠… these desert rats who just raided us, who killed eight of our clan?” Sally snapped, flabbergasted.

He stood his ground. “Yes. I’ll repeat, one of those Crow women has borne two fertile men children. We can’t afford to kill her. For all we know, she might have a dozen more. This haphazard method of a single husband for a whole clan must be replaced.⁠ ⁠…”

The hall broke down into chaos again.

Sally held up a commanding hand for silence. She said, “And if we share you with another forty or fifty women, to what extent will the rest of us have any husband at all?”

He pointed out the sterilies, seated silently in the back. “It would be healthier if you gave up some of this superior contempt you hold for sterile males and accept their companionship. Although they cannot be fathers, they can be mates otherwise. As it is, how much true companionship do you secure from me⁠—any of you? Less than once a month do you see me more than from a distance.”

“Mate with sterilies?” someone gasped from the front row.

“Yes,” Alan snapped back. “And let fertile men be used expressly for attempting to produce additional fertile men. Confound it, can’t you warriors realize what I’m saying? I have reports that there is a woman among the Crows who has borne two fertile male children. Have you ever heard of any such phenomenon before? Do you realize that in the fifteen years I have been the husband of this clan, we have not had even one fertile man child born? Do you realize that in the past twenty years there has been born not one fertile man child in the Turtle clan? Only one in the Burro clan?”

He had them in the palm of his hand now.

“What⁠—what does the Turtle clan think of this plan of yours?” Sally said.

“I was talking to Warren just the other day. He thinks he can win their approval. We can also probably talk the Burros into it. They’re growing desperate. Their husband is nearly sixty years old and has produced only one fertile male child, which was later captured in a raid by the Denver foragers.”

Sally said, “And we’d have to share you with all these, and with our prisoners as well?”

“Yes, in an attempt to breed fertile men back into the race.”

Sally turned to the assembled clan.

A heavy explosion, room-shaking in its violence, all but threw them to the floor. Half a dozen of the younger warriors scurried to the windows, guns at the ready.

In the distance, from the outside, there was the chatter of a machine gun, then individual pistol shots.

“The corral,” Jean the scout said, her lips going back over her teeth.

Vivian came sauntering back into the assembly hall, patting the stock of her new tommy gun appreciately. “Works like a charm,” she said. “That dynamite we captured was fresh too. Blew ’em to smithereens. Only had to finish off half a dozen.”

Alan said, agonizingly, “Vivian! You didn’t⁠ ⁠… the prisoners?”

She grinned at him. “Alan, you’re as cute as a button, but you don’t know anything about women’s affairs. Now you be a honey and go back to taking care of the children.”

Unborn Tomorrow

Betty looked up from her magazine. She said mildly, “You’re late.”

“Don’t yell at me, I feel awful,” Simon told her. He sat down at his desk, passed his tongue over his teeth in distaste, groaned, fumbled in a drawer for the aspirin bottle.

He looked over at Betty and said, almost as though reciting, “What I need is a vacation.”

“What,” Betty said, “are you going to use for money?”

“Providence,” Simon told her whilst fiddling with the aspirin bottle, “will provide.”

“Hm-m-m. But before providing vacations it’d be nice if Providence turned up a missing jewel deal, say. Something where you could deduce that actually the ruby ring had gone down the drain and was caught in the elbow. Something that would net about fifty dollars.”

Simon said, mournful of tone, “Fifty dollars? Why not make it five hundred?”

“I’m not selfish,” Betty said. “All I want is enough to pay me this week’s salary.”

“Money,” Simon said. “When you took this job you said it was the romance that appealed to you.”

“Hm-m-m. I didn’t know most sleuthing amounted to snooping around department stores to check on the clerks knocking down.”

Simon said, enigmatically, “Now it comes.”

There was a knock.

Betty bounced up with Olympic agility and had the door swinging wide before the knocking was quite completed.

He was old, little and had bug eyes behind pince-nez glasses. His suit was cut in the style of yesteryear but when a suit costs two or three hundred dollars you still retain caste whatever the styling.

Simon said unenthusiastically, “Good morning, Mr. Oyster.” He indicated the client’s chair. “Sit down, sir.”

The client fussed himself with Betty’s assistance into the seat, bug-eyed Simon, said finally, “You know my name, that’s pretty good. Never saw you before in my life. Stop fussing with me, young lady. Your ad in the phone book says you’ll investigate anything.”

“Anything,” Simon said. “Only one exception.”

“Excellent. Do you believe in time travel?”

Simon said nothing. Across the room, where she had resumed her seat, Betty cleared her throat. When Simon continued to say nothing she ventured, “Time travel is impossible.”



“Yes, why?”

Betty looked to her boss for assistance. None was forthcoming. There ought to be some very quick, positive, definite answer. She said, “Well, for one thing, paradox. Suppose you had a time machine and traveled back a hundred years or so and killed your own great-grandfather. Then how could you ever be born?”

“Confound it if I know,” the little fellow growled. “How?”

Simon said, “Let’s get to the point, what you wanted to see me about.”

“I want to hire you to hunt me up some time travelers,” the old boy said.

Betty was too far in now to maintain her proper role of silent secretary. “Time travelers,” she said, not very intelligently.

The potential client sat more erect, obviously with intent to hold the floor for a time. He removed the pince-nez glasses and pointed them at Betty. He said, “Have you read much science fiction, Miss?”

“Some,” Betty admitted.

“Then you’ll realize that there are a dozen explanations of the paradoxes of time travel. Every writer in the field worth his salt has explained them away. But to get on. It’s my contention that within a century or so man will have solved the problems of immortality and eternal youth, and it’s also my suspicion that he will eventually be able to travel in time. So convinced am I of these possibilities that I am willing to gamble a portion of my fortune to investigate the presence in our era of such time travelers.”

Simon seemed incapable of carrying the ball this morning, so Betty said, “But⁠ ⁠… Mr. Oyster, if the future has developed time travel why don’t we ever meet such travelers?”

Simon put in a word. “The usual explanation, Betty, is that they can’t afford to allow the space-time continuum track to be altered. If, say, a time traveler returned to a period of twenty-five years ago and shot Hitler, then all subsequent history would be changed. In that case, the time traveler himself might never be born. They have to tread mighty carefully.”

Mr. Oyster was pleased. “I didn’t expect you to be so well informed on the subject, young man.”

Simon shrugged and fumbled again with the aspirin bottle.

Mr. Oyster went on. “I’ve been considering the matter for some time and⁠—”

Simon held up a hand. “There’s no use prolonging this. As I understand it, you’re an elderly gentleman with a considerable fortune and you realize that thus far nobody has succeeded in taking it with him.”

Mr. Oyster returned his glasses to their perch, bug-eyed Simon, but then nodded.

Simon said, “You want to hire me to find a time traveler and in some manner or other⁠—any manner will do⁠—exhort from him the secret of eternal life and youth, which you figure the future will have discovered. You’re willing to pony up a part of this fortune of yours, if I can deliver a bona fide time traveler.”


Betty had been looking from one to the other. Now she said, plaintively, “But where are you going to find one of these characters⁠—especially if they’re interested in keeping hid?”

The old boy was the center again. “I told you I’d been considering it for some time. The Oktoberfest, that’s where they’d be!” He seemed elated.

Betty and Simon waited.

“The Oktoberfest,” he repeated. “The greatest festival the world has ever seen, the carnival, feria, fiesta to beat them all. Every year it’s held in Munich. Makes the New Orleans Mardi gras look like a quilting party.” He began to swing into the spirit of his description. “It originally started in celebration of the wedding of some local prince a century and a half ago and the Bavarians had such a bang-up time they’ve been holding it every year since. The Munich breweries do up a special beer, Marzenbräu they call it, and each brewery opens a tremendous tent on the fair grounds which will hold five thousand customers apiece. Millions of liters of beer are put away, hundreds of thousands of barbecued chickens, a small herd of oxen are roasted whole over spits, millions of pair of weisswurst, a very special sausage, millions upon millions of pretzels⁠—”

“All right,” Simon said. “We’ll accept it. The Oktoberfest is one whale of a wingding.”

“Well,” the old boy pursued, into his subject now, “that’s where they’d be, places like the Oktoberfest. For one thing, a time traveler wouldn’t be conspicuous. At a festival like this somebody with a strange accent, or who didn’t know exactly how to wear his clothes correctly, or was off the ordinary in any of a dozen other ways, wouldn’t be noticed. You could be a four-armed space traveler from Mars, and you still wouldn’t be conspicuous at the Oktoberfest. People would figure they had D.T.’s.”

“But why would a time traveler want to go to a⁠—” Betty began.

“Why not! What better opportunity to study a people than when they are in their cups? If you could go back a few thousand years, the things you would wish to see would be a Roman Triumph, perhaps the Rites of Dionysus, or one of Alexander’s orgies. You wouldn’t want to wander up and down the streets of, say, Athens while nothing was going on, particularly when you might be revealed as a suspicious character not being able to speak the language, not knowing how to wear the clothes and not familiar with the city’s layout.” He took a deep breath. “No ma’am, you’d have to stick to some great event, both for the sake of actual interest and for protection against being unmasked.”

The old boy wound it up. “Well, that’s the story. What are your rates? The Oktoberfest starts on Friday and continues for sixteen days. You can take the plane to Munich, spend a week there and⁠—”

Simon was shaking his head. “Not interested.”

As soon as Betty had got her jaw back into place, she glared unbelievingly at him.

Mr. Oyster was taken aback himself. “See here, young man, I realize this isn’t an ordinary assignment, however, as I said, I am willing to risk a considerable portion of my fortune⁠—”

“Sorry,” Simon said. “Can’t be done.”

“A hundred dollars a day plus expenses,” Mr. Oyster said quietly. “I like the fact that you already seem to have some interest and knowledge of the matter. I liked the way you knew my name when I walked in the door; my picture doesn’t appear often in the papers.”

“No go,” Simon said, a sad quality in his voice.

“A fifty-thousand dollar bonus if you bring me a time traveler.”

“Out of the question,” Simon said.

“But why?” Betty wailed.

“Just for laughs,” Simon told the two of them sourly, “suppose I tell you a funny story. It goes like this:”

I got a thousand dollars from Mr. Oyster (Simon began) in the way of an advance, and leaving him with Betty who was making out a receipt, I hustled back to the apartment and packed a bag. Hell, I’d wanted a vacation anyway, this was a natural. On the way to Idlewild I stopped off at the Germany Information Offices for some tourist literature.

It takes roughly three and a half hours to get to Gander from Idlewild. I spent the time planning the fun I was going to have.

It takes roughly seven and a half hours from Gander to Shannon and I spent that time dreaming up material I could put into my reports to Mr. Oyster. I was going to have to give him some kind of report for his money. Time travel yet! What a laugh!

Between Shannon and Munich a faint suspicion began to simmer in my mind. These statistics I read on the Oktoberfest in the Munich tourist pamphlets. Five million people attended annually.

Where did five million people come from to attend an overgrown festival in comparatively remote Southern Germany? The tourist season is over before September 21st, first day of the gigantic beer bust. Nor could the Germans account for any such number. Munich itself has a population of less than a million, counting children.

And those millions of gallons of beer, the hundreds of thousands of chickens, the herds of oxen. Who ponied up all the money for such expenditures? How could the average German, with his twenty-five dollars a week salary?

In Munich there was no hotel space available. I went to the Bahnhof where they have a hotel service and applied. They put my name down, pocketed the husky bribe, showed me where I could check my bag, told me they’d do what they could, and to report back in a few hours.

I had another suspicious twinge. If five million people attended this beer bout, how were they accommodated?

The Theresienwiese, the fair ground, was only a few blocks away. I was stiff from the plane ride so I walked.

There are seven major brewers in the Munich area, each of them represented by one of the circuslike tents that Mr. Oyster mentioned. Each tent contained benches and tables for about five thousand persons and from six to ten thousands pack themselves in, competing for room. In the center is a tremendous bandstand, the musicians all lederhosen clad, the music as Bavarian as any to be found in a Bavarian beer hall. Hundreds of peasant garbed fräuleins darted about the tables with quart sized earthenware mugs, platters of chicken, sausage, kraut and pretzels.

I found a place finally at a table which had space for twenty-odd beer bibbers. Odd is right. As weird an assortment of Germans and foreign tourists as could have been dreamed up, ranging from a seventy- or eighty-year-old couple in Bavarian costume, to the bald-headed drunk across the table from me.

A desperate waitress bearing six mugs of beer in each hand scurried past. They call them masses, by the way, not mugs. The bald-headed character and I both held up a finger and she slid two of the masses over to us and then hustled on.

“Down the hatch,” the other said, holding up his mass in toast.

“To the ladies,” I told him. Before sipping, I said, “You know, the tourist pamphlets say this stuff is eighteen percent. That’s nonsense. No beer is that strong.” I took a long pull.

He looked at me, waiting.

I came up. “Mistaken,” I admitted.

A mass or two apiece later he looked carefully at the name engraved on his earthenware mug. “Löwenbräu,” he said. He took a small notebook from his pocket and a pencil, noted down the word and returned the things.

“That’s a queer looking pencil you have there,” I told him. “German?”

“Venusian,” he said. “Oops, sorry. Shouldn’t have said that.”

I had never heard of the brand so I skipped it.

“Next is the Hofbräu,” he said.

“Next what?” Baldy’s conversation didn’t seem to hang together very well.

“My pilgrimage,” he told me. “All my life I’ve been wanting to go back to an Oktoberfest and sample every one of the seven brands of the best beer the world has ever known. I’m only as far as Löwenbräu. I’m afraid I’ll never make it.”

I finished my mass. “I’ll help you,” I told him. “Very noble endeavor. Name is Simon.”

“Arth,” he said. “How could you help?”

“I’m still fresh⁠—comparatively. I’ll navigate you around. There are seven beer tents. How many have you got through, so far?”

“Two, counting this one,” Arth said.

I looked at him. “It’s going to be a chore,” I said. “You’ve already got a nice edge on.”

Outside, as we made our way to the next tent, the fair looked like every big State Fair ever seen, except it was bigger. Games, souvenir stands, sausage stands, rides, side shows, and people, people, people.

The Hofbräu tent was as overflowing as the last but we managed to find two seats.

The band was blaring, and five thousand half-swacked voices were roaring accompaniment.

In Muenchen steht ein Hofbräuhaus!
Eins, Zwei, G’sufa!

At the G’sufa everybody upped with the mugs and drank each other’s health.

“This is what I call a real beer bust,” I said approvingly.

Arth was waving to a waitress. As in the Löwenbräu tent, a full quart was the smallest amount obtainable.

A beer later I said, “I don’t know if you’ll make it or not, Arth.”

“Make what?”

“All seven tents.”


A waitress was on her way by, mugs foaming over their rims. I gestured to her for refills.

“Where are you from, Arth?” I asked him, in the way of making conversation.


“2183 where?”

He looked at me, closing one eye to focus better. “Oh,” he said. “Well, 2183 South Street, ah, New Albuquerque.”

“New Albuquerque? Where’s that?”

Arth thought about it. Took another long pull at the beer. “Right across the way from old Albuquerque,” he said finally. “Maybe we ought to be getting on to the Pschorrbräu tent.”

“Maybe we ought to eat something first,” I said. “I’m beginning to feel this. We could get some of that barbecued ox.”

Arth closed his eyes in pain. “Vegetarian,” he said. “Couldn’t possibly eat meat. Barbarous. Ugh.”

“Well, we need some nourishment,” I said.

“There’s supposed to be considerable nourishment in beer.”

That made sense. I yelled, “Fräulein! Zwei neu bier!

Somewhere along in here the fog rolled in. When it rolled out again, I found myself closing one eye the better to read the lettering on my earthenware mug. It read Augustinerbräu. Somehow we’d evidently navigated from one tent to another.

Arth was saying, “Where’s your hotel?”

That seemed like a good question. I thought about it for a while. Finally I said, “Haven’t got one. Town’s jam packed. Left my bag at the Bahnhof. I don’t think we’ll ever make it, Arth. How many we got to go?”

“Lost track,” Arth said. “You can come home with me.”

We drank to that and the fog rolled in again.

When the fog rolled out, it was daylight. Bright, glaring, awful daylight. I was sprawled, complete with clothes, on one of twin beds. On the other bed, also completely clothed, was Arth.

That sun was too much. I stumbled up from the bed, staggered to the window and fumbled around for a blind or curtain. There was none.

Behind me a voice said in horror, “Who⁠ ⁠… how⁠ ⁠… oh, Wodo, where’d you come from?”

I got a quick impression, looking out the window, that the Germans were certainly the most modern, futuristic people in the world. But I couldn’t stand the light. “Where’s the shade,” I moaned.

Arth did something and the window went opaque.

“That’s quite a gadget,” I groaned. “If I didn’t feel so lousy, I’d appreciate it.”

Arth was sitting on the edge of the bed holding his bald head in his hands. “I remember now,” he sorrowed. “You didn’t have a hotel. What a stupidity. I’ll be phased. Phased all the way down.”

“You haven’t got a handful of aspirin, have you?” I asked him.

“Just a minute,” Arth said, staggering erect and heading for what undoubtedly was a bathroom. “Stay where you are. Don’t move. Don’t touch anything.”

“All right,” I told him plaintively. “I’m clean. I won’t mess up the place. All I’ve got is a hangover, not lice.”

Arth was gone. He came back in two or three minutes, box of pills in hand. “Here, take one of these.”

I took the pill, followed it with a glass of water.

And went out like a light.

Arth was shaking my arm. “Want another mass?”

The band was blaring, and five thousand half-swacked voices were roaring accompaniment.

In Muenchen steht ein Hofbräuhaus!
Eins, Zwei, G’sufa!

At the G’sufa everybody upped with their king-size mugs and drank each other’s health.

My head was killing me. “This is where I came in, or something,” I groaned.

Arth said, “That was last night.” He looked at me over the rim of his beer mug.

Something, somewhere, was wrong. But I didn’t care. I finished my mass and then remembered. “I’ve got to get my bag. Oh, my head. Where did we spend last night?”

Arth said, and his voice sounded cautious, “At my hotel, don’t you remember?”

“Not very well,” I admitted. “I feel lousy. I must have dimmed out. I’ve got to go to the Bahnhof and get my luggage.”

Arth didn’t put up an argument on that. We said goodbye and I could feel him watching after me as I pushed through the tables on the way out.

At the Bahnhof they could do me no good. There were no hotel rooms available in Munich. The head was getting worse by the minute. The fact that they’d somehow managed to lose my bag didn’t help. I worked on that project for at least a couple of hours. Not only wasn’t the bag at the luggage checking station, but the attendant there evidently couldn’t make heads nor tails of the check receipt. He didn’t speak English and my high school German was inadequate, especially accompanied by a blockbusting hangover.

I didn’t get anywhere tearing my hair and complaining from one end of the Bahnhof to the other. I drew a blank on the bag.

And the head was getting worse by the minute. I was bleeding to death through the eyes and instead of butterflies I had bats in my stomach. Believe me, nobody should drink a gallon or more of Marzenbräu.

I decided the hell with it. I took a cab to the airport, presented my return ticket, told them I wanted to leave on the first obtainable plane to New York. I’d spent two days at the Oktoberfest, and I’d had it.

I got more guff there. Something was wrong with the ticket, wrong date or some such. But they fixed that up. I never was clear on what was fouled up, some clerk’s error, evidently.

The trip back was as uninteresting as the one over. As the hangover began to wear off⁠—a little⁠—I was almost sorry I hadn’t been able to stay. If I’d only been able to get a room I would have stayed, I told myself.

From Idlewild, I came directly to the office rather than going to my apartment. I figured I might as well check in with Betty.

I opened the door and there I found Mr. Oyster sitting in the chair he had been occupying four⁠—or was it five⁠—days before when I’d left. I’d lost track of the time.

I said to him, “Glad you’re here, sir. I can report. Ah, what was it you came for? Impatient to hear if I’d had any results?” My mind was spinning like a whirling dervish in a revolving door. I’d spent a wad of his money and had nothing I could think of to show for it; nothing but the last stages of a granddaddy hangover.

“Came for?” Mr. Oyster snorted. “I’m merely waiting for your girl to make out my receipt. I thought you had already left.”

“You’ll miss your plane,” Betty said.

There was suddenly a double dip of ice cream in my stomach. I walked over to my desk and looked down at the calendar.

Mr. Oyster was saying something to the effect that if I didn’t leave today, it would have to be tomorrow, that he hadn’t ponied up that thousand dollars advance for anything less than immediate service. Stuffing his receipt in his wallet, he fussed his way out the door.

I said to Betty hopefully, “I suppose you haven’t changed this calendar since I left.”

Betty said, “What’s the matter with you? You look funny. How did your clothes get so mussed? You tore the top sheet off that calendar yourself, not half an hour ago, just before this marble-missing client came in.” She added, irrelevantly, “Time travelers yet.”

I tried just once more. “Uh, when did you first see this Mr. Oyster?”

“Never saw him before in my life,” she said. “Not until he came in this morning.”

“This morning,” I said weakly.

While Betty stared at me as though it was me that needed candling by a head shrinker preparatory to being sent off to a pressure cooker, I fished in my pocket for my wallet, counted the contents and winced at the pathetic remains of the thousand. I said pleadingly, “Betty, listen, how long ago did I go out that door⁠—on the way to the airport?”

“You’ve been acting sick all morning. You went out that door about ten minutes ago, were gone about three minutes, and then came back.”

“See here,” Mr. Oyster said (interrupting Simon’s story), “did you say this was supposed to be amusing, young man? I don’t find it so. In fact, I believe I am being ridiculed.”

Simon shrugged, put one hand to his forehead and said, “That’s only the first chapter. There are two more.”

“I’m not interested in more,” Mr. Oyster said. “I suppose your point was to show me how ridiculous the whole idea actually is. Very well, you’ve done it. Confound it. However, I suppose your time, even when spent in this manner, has some value. Here is fifty dollars. And good day, sir!”

He slammed the door after him as he left.

Simon winced at the noise, took the aspirin bottle from its drawer, took two, washed them down with water from the desk carafe.

Betty looked at him admiringly. Came to her feet, crossed over and took up the fifty dollars. “Week’s wages,” she said. “I suppose that’s one way of taking care of a crackpot. But I’m surprised you didn’t take his money and enjoy that vacation you’ve been yearning about.”

“I did,” Simon groaned. “Three times.”

Betty stared at him. “You mean⁠—”

Simon nodded, miserably.

She said, “But Simon. Fifty thousand dollars bonus. If that story was true, you should have gone back again to Munich. If there was one time traveler, there might have been⁠—”

“I keep telling you,” Simon said bitterly, “I went back there three times. There were hundreds of them. Probably thousands.” He took a deep breath. “Listen, we’re just going to have to forget about it. They’re not going to stand for the space-time continuum track being altered. If something comes up that looks like it might result in the track being changed, they set you right back at the beginning and let things start⁠—for you⁠—all over again. They just can’t allow anything to come back from the future and change the past.”

“You mean,” Betty was suddenly furious at him, “you’ve given up! Why this is the biggest thing⁠—Why the fifty thousand dollars is nothing. The future! Just think!”

Simon said wearily, “There’s just one thing you can bring back with you from the future, a hangover compounded of a gallon or so of Marzenbräu. What’s more you can pile one on top of the other, and another on top of that!”

He shuddered. “If you think I’m going to take another crack at this merry-go-round and pile a fourth hangover on the three I’m already nursing, all at once, you can think again.”

The Good Seed

written as Mark Mallory

They said⁠—as they have said of so many frontiersmen just like him⁠—that there must have been a woman in his past, to make him what he was. And indeed there had, but she was no flesh-and-blood female. The name of his lady was Victoria, whom the Greeks called Nike and early confounded with the Pallas Athena, that sterile maiden. And at the age of thirty-four she had Calvin Mulloy most firmly in her grasp, for he had neither wife nor child, nor any close friend worth mentioning⁠—only his hungry dream for some great accomplishment.

It had harried him to the stars, that dream of his. It had driven him to the position of top survey engineer on the new, raw planet of Mersey, still largely unexplored and unmapped. And it had pushed him, too, into foolishnesses like this latest one, building a sailplane out of scrap odds and ends around the Mersey Advance Base⁠—a sailplane which had just this moment been caught in a storm and cracked up on an island the size of a city backyard, between the banks of one of the mouths of the Adze River.

The sailplane was gone the moment it hit. Actually it had come down just short of the island and floated quickly off, what was left of it, while Calvin was thrashing for the island with that inept stroke of his. He pulled himself up, gasping, onto the rocks, and, with the coolness of a logical man who has faced crises before, set himself immediately to taking stock of his situation.

He was wet and winded, but since he was undrowned and on solid land in the semitropics, he dismissed that part of it from his mind. It had been full noon when he had been caught in the storm, and it could not be much more than minutes past that now, so swiftly had everything happened; but the black, low clouds, racing across the sky, and the gusts of intermittent rain, cut visibility down around him.

He stood up on his small island and leaned against the wind that blew in and up the river from the open gulf. On three sides he saw nothing but the fast-riding waves. On the fourth, though, shading his eyes against the occasional bursts of rain, he discerned a long, low, curving blackness that would be one of the river shores.

There lay safety. He estimated its distance from him at less than a hundred and fifty yards. It was merely, he told himself, a matter of reaching it.

Under ordinary conditions, he would have settled down where he was and waited for rescue. He was not more than fifteen or twenty miles from the Advance Base, and in this storm they would waste no time waiting for him to come in, before starting out to search for him. No sailplane could survive in such a blow. Standing now, with the wind pushing at him and the rain stinging against his face and hands, he found time for a moment’s wry humor at his own bad luck. On any civilized world, such a storm would have been charted and predicted, if not controlled entirely. Well, the more fool he, for venturing this far from Base.

It was in his favor that this world of Mersey happened to be so Earthlike that the differences between the two planets were mostly unimportant. Unfortunately, it was the one unimportant difference that made his present position on the island a death trap. The gulf into which his river emptied was merely a twentieth the area of the Gulf of Mexico⁠—but in this section it was extremely shallow, having an overall average depth of around seventy-five feet. When one of these flash storms formed suddenly out over its waters, the wind could either drain huge tidal areas around the mouths of the Adze, or else raise the river level within hours a matter of thirty feet.

With the onshore wind whistling about his ears right now, it was only too obvious to Calvin that the river was rising. This rocky little bit sticking some twelve or fifteen feet above the waves could expect to be overwhelmed in the next few hours.

He looked about him. The island was bare except for a few straggly bushes. He reached out for a shoot from a bush beside him. It came up easily from the thin layer of soil that overlaid the rocks, and the wind snatched it out of his hand. He saw it go skipping over the tops of the waves in the direction of the shore, until a wave-slope caught it and carried it into the next trough and out of sight. It at least, he thought, would reach the safety of the river bank. But it would take a thousand such slender stems, plaited into a raft, to do him any good; and there were not that many stems, and not that much time.

Calvin turned and climbed in toward the center high point of the island. It was only a few steps over the damp soil and rocks, but when he stood upright on a little crown of rock and looked about him, it seemed that the island was smaller than ever, and might be drowned at any second by the wind-lashed waves. Moreover, there was nothing to be seen which offered him any more help or hope of escape.

Even then, he was not moved to despair. He saw no way out, but this simply reinforced his conviction that the way out was hiding about him somewhere, and he must look that much harder for it.

He was going to step down out of the full force of the wind, when he happened to notice a rounded object nestling in a little hollow of the rock below him, about a dozen or so feet away.

He went and stood over it, seeing that his first guess as to its nature had been correct. It was one of the intelligent traveling plants that wandered around the oceans of this world. It should have been at home in this situation. Evidently, however, it had made the mistake of coming ashore here to seed. It was now rooted in the soil of the island, facing death as surely as he; if the wind or the waves tore it from its own helplessly anchored roots.

“Can you understand me?” he asked it.

There was an odd sort of croaking from it, which seemed to shape itself into words, though the how of it remained baffling to the ear. It was a sort of supplemental telepathy at work, over and above the rough attempts to imitate human speech. Some of these intelligent plants they had got to know in this area could communicate with them in this fashion, though most could not.

“I know you, man,” said the plant. “I have seen your gathering.” It was referring to the Advance Base, which had attracted a steady stream of the plant visitors at first.

“Know any way to get ashore?” Calvin asked.

“There is none,” said the plant.

“I can’t see any, either.”

“There is none,” repeated the plant.

“Everyone to his own opinion,” said Calvin. Almost he sneered a little. He turned his gaze once more about the island. “In my book, them that won’t be beat can’t be beat. That’s maybe where we’re different, plant.”

He left the plant and went for a walk about the island. It had been in his mind that possibly a drifting log or some such could have been caught by the island and he could use this to get ashore. He found nothing. For a few minutes, at one end of the island, he stood fascinated, watching a long sloping black rock with a crack in it, reaching down into the water. There was a small tuft of moss growing in the crack about five inches above where the waves were slapping. As he watched, the waves slapped higher and higher, until he turned away abruptly, shivering, before he could see the water actually reach and cover the little clump of green.

For the first time a realization that he might not get off the island touched him. It was not yet fear, this realization, but it reached deep into him and he felt it, suddenly, like a pressure against his heart. As the moss was being covered, so could he be covered, by the far-reaching inexorable advance of the water.

And then this was wiped away by an abrupt outburst of anger and self-ridicule that he⁠—who had been through so many dangers⁠—should find himself pinned by so commonplace a threat. A man, he told himself, could die of drowning anywhere. There was no need to go light-years from his place of birth to find such a death. It made all dying⁠—and all living⁠—seem small and futile and insignificant, and he did not like that feeling.

Calvin went back to the plant in its little hollow, tight-hugging to the ground and half-sheltered from the wind, and looked down on its dusky basketball-sized shape, the tough hide swollen and ready to burst with seeds.

“So you think there’s no way out,” he said roughly.

“There is none,” said the plant.

“Why don’t you just let yourself go if you think like that?” Calvin said. “Why try to keep down out of the wind, if the waves’ll get you anyway, later?”

The plant did not answer for a while.

“I do not want to die,” it said then. “As long as I am alive, there is the possibility of some great improbable chance saving me.”

“Oh,” said Calvin, and he himself was silent in turn. “I thought you’d given up.”

“I cannot give up,” said the plant. “I am still alive. But I know there is no way to safety.”

“You make a lot of sense.” Calvin straightened up to squint through the rain at the dark and distant line of the shore. “How much more time would you say we had before the water covers this rock?”

“The eighth part of a daylight period, perhaps more, perhaps less. The water can rise either faster or more slowly.”

“Any chance of it cresting and going down?”

“That would be a great improbable chance such as that of which I spoke,” said the plant.

Calvin rotated slowly, surveying the water around them. Bits and pieces of flotsam were streaming by them on their way before the wind, now angling toward the near bank. But none were close enough or large enough to do Calvin any good.

“Look,” said Calvin abruptly, “there’s a fisheries survey station upriver here, not too far. Now, I could dig up the soil holding your roots. If I did that, would you get to the survey station as fast as you could and tell them I’m stranded here?”

“I would be glad to,” said the plant. “But you cannot dig me up. My roots have penetrated into the rock. If you tried to dig me up, they would break off⁠—and I would die that much sooner.”

“You would, would you?” grunted Calvin. But the question was rhetorical. Already his mind was busy searching for some other way out. For the first time in his life, he felt the touch of cold about his heart. Could this be fear, he wondered. But he had never been afraid of death.

Crouching down again to be out of the wind and rain, he told himself that knowledge still remained a tool he could use. The plant must know something that was, perhaps, useless to it, but that could be twisted to a human’s advantage.

“What made you come to a place like this to seed?” he asked.

“Twenty nights and days ago, when I first took root here,” said the plant, “this land was safe. The signs were good for fair weather. And this place was easy of access from the water. I am not built to travel far on land.”

“How would you manage in a storm like this, if you were not rooted down?”

“I would go with the wind until I found shelter,” said the plant. “The wind and waves would not harm me then. They hurt only whatever stands firm and opposes them.”

“You can’t communicate with others of your people from here, can you?” asked Calvin.

“There are none close,” said the plant. “Anyway, what could they do?”

“They could get a message to the fisheries station, to get help out here for us.”

“What help could help me?” said the plant. “And in any case they could not go against the wind. They would have to be upwind of the station, even to help you.”

“We could try it.”

“We could try it,” agreed the plant. “But first one of my kind must come into speaking range. We still hunt our great improbable chance.”

There was a moment’s silence between them in the wind and rain. The river was noisy, working against the rock of the island.

“There must be something that would give us a better chance than just sitting here,” said Calvin.

The plant did not answer.

“What are you thinking about?” demanded Calvin.

“I am thinking of the irony of our situation,” said the plant. “You are free to wander the water, but cannot. I can wander the water, but I am not free to do so. This is death, and it is a strange thing.”

“I don’t get you.”

“I only mean that it makes no difference⁠—that I am what I am, or that you are what you are. We could be any things that would die when the waves finally cover the island.”

“Right enough,” said Calvin impatiently. “What about it?”

“Nothing about it, man,” said the plant. “I was only thinking.”

“Don’t waste your time on philosophy,” said Calvin harshly. “Use some of that brain power on a way to get loose and get off.”

“Perhaps that and philosophy are one and the same.”

“You’re not going to convince me of that,” said Calvin, getting up. “I’m going to take another look around the island.”

The island, as he walked around its short margin, showed itself to be definitely smaller. He paused again by the black rock. The moss was lost now, under the water, and the crack was all but under as well. He stood shielding his eyes against the wind-driven rain, peering across at the still visible shore. The waves, he noted, were not extreme⁠—some four or five feet in height⁠—which meant that the storm proper was probably paralleling the land some distance out in the gulf.

He clenched his fists in sudden frustration. If only he had hung on to the sailplane⁠—or any decent-sized chunk of it! At least going into the water then would have been a gamble with some faint chance of success.

He had nowhere else to go, after rounding the island. He went back to the plant.

“Man,” said the plant, “one of my people has been blown to shelter a little downstream.”

Calvin straightened up eagerly, turning to stare into the wind.

“You cannot see him,” said the plant. “He is caught below the river bend and cannot break loose against the force of the wind. But he is close enough to talk. And he sends you good news.”

“Me?” Calvin hunkered down beside the plant. “Good news?”

“There is a large tree torn loose from the bank and floating this way. It should strike the little bit of land where we are here.”

“Strike it? Are you positive?”

“There are the wind and the water and the tree. They can move only to one destination⁠—this island. Go quickly to the windward point of the island. The tree will be coming shortly.”

Calvin jerked erect and turned, wild triumph bursting in him.

“Goodbye, man,” said the plant.

But he was already plunging toward the downstream end of the island. He reached it and, shielding his eyes with a hand, peered desperately out over the water. The waves hammered upon his boots as he stood there, and then he saw it, a mass of branches upon which the wind was blowing as on a sail, green against black, coming toward him.

He crouched, wrung with impatience, as the tree drifted swiftly through the water toward him, too ponderous to rise and fall more than a little with the waves and presenting a galleonlike appearance of mass and invincibility. As it came closer, a fear that it would, in spite of the plant’s assurances, miss the island, crept into his heart and chilled it.

It seemed to Calvin that it was veering⁠—that it would pass to windward of the island, between him and the dimly seen shore. The thought of losing it was more than he could bear to consider; and with a sudden burst of panic, he threw himself into the waves, beating clumsily and frantically for it.

The river took him into its massive fury. He had forgotten the strength of it. His first dive took him under an incoming wave, and he emerged, gasping, into the trough behind, with water exploding in his face. He kicked and threw his arms about, but the slow and futile-seeming beatings of his limbs appeared helpless as the fluttering of a butterfly in a collector’s net. He choked for air, and, rising on the crest of one wave, found himself turned backward to face the island, and being swept past it.

Fear came home to him then. He lashed out, fighting only for the solid ground of the island and his life. His world became a place of foam and fury. He strained for air. He dug for the island. And then, suddenly, he felt himself flung upon hard rock and gasping, crawling, he emerged onto safety.

He hung there on hands and knees, battered and panting. Then the remembrance of the tree cut like a knife to the core of his fear-soaked being. He staggered up, and, looking about, saw that he was almost to the far end of the island. He turned. Above him, at the windward point, the tree itself was just now grounding, branches first, and swinging about as the long trunk, caught by the waves, pulled it around and onward.

With an inarticulate cry, he ran toward it. But the mass of water against the heavy tree trunk was already pulling the branches from their tanglings with the rock. It floated free. Taking the wind once more in its sail of leaves, it moved slowly⁠—and then more swiftly on past the far side of the island.

He scrambled up his side of the island’s crest. But when he reached its top and could see the tree again, it was already moving past and out from the island, too swiftly for him to catch it, even if he had been the swimmer he had just proved himself not to be.

He dropped on his knees, there on the island’s rocky spine, and watched it fade in the grayness of the rain, until the green of its branches was lost in a grayish blob, and this in the general welter of storm and waves. And suddenly a dark horror of death closed over him, blotting out all the scene.

A voice roused him. “That is too bad,” said the plant.

He turned his head numbly. He was kneeling less than half a dozen feet from the little hollow where the plant still sheltered. He looked at it now, dazed, as if he could not remember what it was, nor how it came to talk to him. Then his eyes cleared a little of their shock and he crept over to it on hands and knees and crouched in the shelter of the hollow.

“The water is rising more swiftly,” said the plant. “It will be not long now.”

“No!” said Calvin. The word was lost in the sound of the waves and wind, as though it had never been. Nor, the minute it was spoken, could he remember what he had meant to deny by it. It had been only a response without thought, an instinctive negation.

“You make me wonder,” said the plant, after a little, “why it hurts you so⁠—this thought of dying. Since you first became alive, you have faced ultimate death. And you have not faced it alone. All things die. This storm must die. This rock on which we lie will not exist forever. Even worlds and suns come at last to their ends, and galaxies, perhaps even the Universe.”

Calvin shook his head. He did not answer.

“You are a fighting people,” said the plant, almost as if to itself. “Well and good. Perhaps a life like mine, yielding, giving to the forces of nature, traveling before the wind, sees less than you see, of a reason for clawing hold on existence. But still it seems to me that even a fighter would be glad at last to quit the struggle, when there is no other choice.”

“Not here,” said Calvin thickly. “Not now.”

“Why not here, why not now,” said the plant, “when it has to be somewhere and sometime?”

Calvin did not answer.

“I feel sorry for you,” said the plant. “I do not like to see things suffer.”

Raising his head a little and looking around him, Calvin could see the water, risen high around them, so that waves were splashing on all sides, less than the length of his own body away.

“It wouldn’t make sense to you,” said Calvin then, raising his rain-wet face toward the plant. “You’re old by your standards. I’m young. I’ve got things to do. You don’t understand.”

“No,” the plant agreed. “I do not understand.”

Calvin crawled a little closer to the plant, into the hollow, until he could see the vibrating air-sac that produced the voice of the plant. “Don’t you see? I’ve got to do something⁠—I’ve got to feel I’ve accomplished something⁠—before I quit.”

“What something?” asked the plant.

“I don’t know!” cried Calvin. “I just know I haven’t! I feel thrown away!”

“What is living? It is feeling and thinking. It is seeding and trying to understand. It is companionship of your own people. What more is there?”

“You have to do something.”

“Do what?”

“Something important. Something to feel satisfied about.” A wave, higher than the rest, slapped the rock a bare couple of feet below them and sent spray stinging in against them. “You have to say, ‘Look, maybe it wasn’t much, but I did this.’ ”

“What kind of this?”

“How do I know?” shouted Calvin. “Something⁠—maybe something nobody else did⁠—maybe something that hasn’t been done before!”

“For yourself?” said the plant. A higher wave slapped at the very rim of their hollow, and a little water ran over and down to pool around them. Calvin felt it cold around his knees and wrists. “Or for the doing?”

“For the doing! For the doing!”

“If it is for the doing, can you take no comfort from the fact there are others of your own kind to do it?”

Another wave came in on them. Calvin moved spasmodically right up against the plant and put his arms around it, holding on.

“I have seeded ten times and done much thinking,” said the plant⁠—rather muffledly, for Calvin’s body was pressing against its air-sac. “I have not thought of anything really new, or startling, or great, but I am satisfied.” It paused a moment as a new wave drenched them and receded. They were half awash in the hollow now, and the waves came regularly. “I do not see how this is so different from what you have done. But I am content.” Another and stronger wave rocked them. The plant made a sound that might have been of pain at its roots tearing. “Have you seeded?”

“No,” said Calvin, and all at once, like light breaking at last into the dark cave of his being, in this twelfth hour, it came to him⁠—all of what he had robbed himself in his search for a victory. Choking on a wave, he clung to the plant with frenzied strength. “Nothing!” The word came torn from him as if by some ruthless hand. “I’ve got nothing!”

“Then I understand at last,” said the plant. “For of all things, the most terrible is to die unfruitful. It is no good to say we will not be beaten, because there is always waiting, somewhere, that which can beat us. And then a life that is seedless goes down to defeat finally and forever. But when one has seeded, there is no ending of the battle, and life mounts on life until the light is reached by those far generations in which we have had our own small but necessary part. Then our personal defeat has been nothing, for though we died, we are still living, and though we fell, we conquered.”

But Calvin, clinging to the plant with both arms, saw only the water closing over him.

“Too late⁠—” he choked. “Too late⁠—too late⁠—”

“No,” bubbled the plant. “Not too late yet. This changes things. For I have seeded ten times and passed on my life. But you⁠—I did not understand. I did not realize your need.”

The flood, cresting, ran clear and strong, the waves breaking heavily on the drowned shore by the river mouth. The rescue spinner, two hours out of Base and descending once again through the fleeting murk, checked at the sight of a begrimed human figure, staggering along the slick margin of the shore, carrying something large and limp under one arm, and with the other arm poking at the ground with a stick.

The spinner came down almost on top of him, and the two men in it reached to catch Calvin. He could hardly stand, let alone stumble forward, but stumble he did.

“Cal!” said the pilot. “Hold up! It’s us.”

“Let go,” said Calvin thickly. He pulled loose, dug with his stick, dropped something from the limp thing into the hole he had made, and moved on.

“You out of your head, Cal?” cried the copilot. “Come on, we’ve got to get you back to the hospital.”

“No,” said Calvin, pulling away again.

“What’re you doing?” demanded the pilot. “What’ve you got there?”

“Think-plant. Dead,” said Calvin, continuing his work. “Let go!” He fought weakly, but so fiercely that they did turn him loose again. “You don’t understand. Saved my life.”

“Saved your life?” The pilot followed him. “How?”

“I was on an island. In the river. Flood coming up.” Calvin dug a fresh hole in the ground. “It could have lived a little longer. It let me pull it ahead of time⁠—so I’d have something to float to shore on.” He turned exhaustion-bleared eyes on them. “Saved my life.”

The pilot and the copilot looked at each other as two men look at each other over the head of a child, or a madman.

“All right, Cal,” said the pilot. “So it saved your life. But how come you’ve got to do this? And what are you doing, anyhow?”

“What am I doing?” Calvin paused entirely and turned to face them. “What am I doing?” he repeated on a rising note of wonder. “Why, you damn fools, I’m doing the first real thing I ever did in my life! I’m saving the lives of these seeds!”


Two king-sized bands blared martial music, the “Internationale” and the “Star-Spangled Banner,” each seemingly trying to drown the other in a Götterdämmerung of acoustics.

Two lines of troops, surfacely differing in uniforms and in weapons, but basically so very the same, so evenly matched, came to attention. A thousand hands slapped a thousand submachine gun stocks.

Marshal Vladimir Ignatov strode stiff-kneed down the long march, the stride of a man for years used to cavalry boots. He was flanked by frozen visaged subordinates, but none so cold of face as he himself.

At the entrance to the conference hall he stopped, turned and waited.

At the end of the corridor of troops a car stopped and several figures emerged, most of them in civilian dress, several bearing briefcases. They in their turn ran the gauntlet.

At their fore walked James Warren Donlevy, spritely, his eyes darting here, there, politician-like. A half smile on his face, as though afraid he might forget to greet a voter he knew, or was supposed to know.

His hand was out before that of Vladimir Ignatov’s.

“Your Excellency,” he said.

Ignatov shook hands stiffly. Dropped that of the other’s as soon as protocol would permit.

The field marshal indicated the door of the conference hall. “There is little reason to waste time, Mr. President.”

“Exactly,” Donlevy snapped.

The door closed behind them and the two men, one uniformed and bemedaled, the other nattily attired in his business suit, turned to each other.

“Nice to see you again, Vovo. How’re Olga and the baby?”

The soldier grinned back in response. “Two babies now⁠—you don’t keep up on the real news, Jim. How’s Martha?” They shook hands.

“Not so good,” Jim said, scowling. “I’m worried. It’s that new cancer. As soon as we conquer one type two more rear up. How are you people doing on cancer research?”

Vovo was stripping off his tunic. He hung it over the back of one of the chairs, began to unbutton his high, tight military collar. “I’m not really up on it, Jim, but I think that’s one field where you can trust anything we know to be in the regular scientific journals our people exchange with yours. I’ll make some inquiries when I get back home, though. You never know, this new strain⁠—I guess you’d call it⁠—might be one that we’re up on and you aren’t.”

“Yeah,” Jim said. “Thanks a lot.” He crossed to the small portable bar. “How about a drink? Whisky, vodka, rum⁠—there’s ice.”

Vovo slumped into one of the heavy chairs that were arranged around the table. He grimaced, “No vodka, I don’t feel patriotic today. How about one of those long cold drinks, with the cola stuff?”

“Cuba libra,” Jim said. “Coming up. Look, would you rather speak Russian?”

“No,” Vovo said, “my English is getting rusty. I need the practice.”

Jim brought the glasses over and put them on the table. He began stripping off his own coat, loosening his tie. “God, I’m tired,” he said. “This sort of thing wears me down.”

Vovo sipped his drink. “Now there’s as good a thing to discuss as any, in the way of killing time. The truth now, Jim, do you really believe in a God? After all that’s happened to this human race of ours, do you really believe in divine guidance?” He twisted his mouth sarcastically.

The other relaxed. “I don’t know,” he said. “I suppose so. I was raised in a family that believed in God. Just as, I suppose, you were raised in one that didn’t.” He lifted his shoulders slightly in a shrug. “Neither of us seems to be particularly brilliant in establishing a position of our own.”

Vovo snorted. “Never thought of it that way,” he admitted. “We’re usually contemptuous of anyone still holding to the old beliefs. There aren’t many left.”

“More than you people admit, I understand.”

Vovo shook his heavy head. “No, not really. Mostly crackpots. Have you ever noticed how it is that the nonconformists in any society are usually crackpots? The people on your side that admit belonging to our organizations, are usually on the wild eyed and uncombed hair side⁠—I admit it. On the other hand, the people in our citizenry who subscribe to your system, your religion, that sort of thing, are crackpots, too. Applies to religion as well as politics. An atheist in your country is a nonconformist⁠—in mine, a Christian is. Both crackpots.”

Jim laughed and took a sip of his drink.

Vovo yawned and said, “How long are we going to be in here?”

“I don’t know. Up to us, I suppose.”

“Yes. How about another drink? I’ll make it. How much of that cola stuff do you put in?”

Jim told him, and while the other was on his feet mixing the drinks, said, “You figure on sticking to the same line this year?”

“Have to,” Vovo said over his shoulder. “What’s the alternative?”

“I don’t know. We’re building up to a whale of a depression as it is, even with half the economy running full blast producing defense materials.”

Vovo chuckled, “Defense materials. I wonder if ever in the history of the human race anyone ever admitted to producing offense materials.”

“Well, you call it the same thing. All your military equipment is for defense. And, of course, according to your press, all ours is for offense.”

“Of course,” Vovo said.

He brought the glasses back and handed one to the other. He slumped back into his chair again, loosened two buttons of his trousers.

“Jim,” Vovo said, “why don’t you divert more of your economy to public works, better roads, reforestation, dams⁠—that sort of thing.”

Jim said wearily, “You’re a better economist than that. Didn’t your boy Marx, or was it Engels, write a small book on the subject? We’re already overproducing⁠—turning out more products than we can sell.”

“I wasn’t talking about your government building new steel mills. But dams, roads, that sort of thing. You could plow billions into such items and get some real use out of them. We both know that our weapons will never be used⁠—they can’t be.”

Jim ticked them off on his fingers. “We already are producing more farm products than we know what to do with; if we build more dams it’ll open up new farm lands and increase the glut. If we build more and better roads, it will improve transportation, which will mean fewer men will be able to move greater tonnage⁠—and throw transportation employees into the unemployed. If we go all out for reforestation, it will eventually bring down the price of lumber and the lumber people are howling already. No,” he shook his head, “there’s just one really foolproof way of disposing of surpluses and using up labor power and that’s war⁠—hot or cold.”

Vovo shrugged, “I suppose so.”

“It amounts to building pyramids, of course.” Jim twisted his mouth sourly. “And since we’re asking questions about each other’s way of life, when is your State going to begin to wither away?”

“How was that?” Vovo asked.

“According to your sainted founder, once you people came to power the State was going to wither away, class rule would be over, and Utopia be on hand. That was a long time ago, and your State is stronger than ours.”

Vovo snorted. “How can we wither away the State as long as we are threatened by capitalist aggression?”

Jim said, “Ha!”

Vovo went on. “You know better than that, Jim. The only way my organization can keep in power is by continually beating the drums, keeping our people stirred up to greater and greater sacrifices by using you as a threat. Didn’t the old Romans have some sort of maxim to the effect that when you’re threatened with unease at home stir up trouble abroad?”

“You’re being even more frank than usual,” Jim said. “But that’s one of the pleasures of these get-togethers, neither of us resorts to hypocrisy. But you can’t keep up these tensions forever.”

“You mean we can’t keep up these tensions forever, Jim. And when they end? Well, personally I can’t see my organization going out without a blood bath.” He grimaced sourly, “And since I’d probably be one of the first to be bathed, I’d like to postpone the time. It’s like having a tiger by the tail, Jim. We can’t let go.”

“Happily, I don’t feel in the same spot,” Jim said. He got up and went to the picture window that took up one entire wall. It faced out over a mountain vista. He looked soberly into the sky.

Vovo joined him, glass in hand.

“Possibly your position isn’t exactly the same as ours but there’ll be some awfully great changes if that military based economy of yours suddenly had peace thrust upon it. You’d have a depression such as you’ve never dreamed of. Let’s face reality, Jim, neither of us can afford peace.”

“Well, we’ve both known that for a long time.”

They both considered somberly, the planet Earth blazing away, a small sun there in the sky.

Jim said, “I sometimes think that the race would have been better off, when man was colonizing Venus and Mars, if it had been a joint enterprise rather than you people doing one, and we the other. If it had all been in the hands of that organization⁠ ⁠…”

“The United Nations?” Vovo supplied.

“… Then when Bomb Day hit, perhaps these new worlds could have gone on to, well, better things.”

“Perhaps,” Vovo shrugged. “I’ve often wondered how Bomb Day started. Who struck the spark.”

“Happily there were enough colonists on both planets to start the race all over again,” Jim said. “What difference does it make, who struck the spark?”

“None, I suppose.” Vovo began to button his collar, readjust his clothes. “Well, shall we emerge and let the quaking multitudes know that once again we have made a shaky agreement? One that will last until the next summit meeting.”


Paul Koslov nodded briefly once or twice as he made his way through the forest of desks. Behind him he caught snatches of tittering voices in whisper.

“… That’s him⁠ ⁠… The Chief’s hatchetman⁠ ⁠… Know what they call him in Central America, a pistola, that means⁠ ⁠… About Iraq⁠ ⁠… And that time in Egypt⁠ ⁠… Did you notice his eyes⁠ ⁠… How would you like to date him⁠ ⁠… That’s him. I was at a cocktail party once when he was there. Shivery⁠ ⁠… cold-blooded⁠—”

Paul Koslov grinned inwardly. He hadn’t asked for the reputation but it isn’t everyone who is a legend before thirty-five. What was it Newsweek had called him? “The T. E. Lawrence of the Cold War.” The trouble was it wasn’t something you could turn off. It had its shortcomings when you found time for some personal life.

He reached the Chief’s office, rapped with a knuckle and pushed his way through.

The Chief and a male secretary, who was taking dictation, looked up. The secretary frowned, evidently taken aback by the cavalier entrance, but the Chief said, “Hello, Paul, come on in. Didn’t expect you quite so soon.” And to the secretary, “Dickens, that’s all.”

When Dickens was gone the Chief scowled at his troubleshooter. “Paul, you’re bad for discipline around here. Can’t you even knock before you enter? How is Nicaragua?”

Paul Koslov slumped into a leather easy-chair and scowled. “I did knock. Most of it’s in my report. Nicaragua is⁠ ⁠… tranquil. It’ll stay tranquil for a while, too. There isn’t so much as a parlor pink⁠—”

“And Lopez⁠—?”

Paul said slowly, “Last time I saw Raul was in a swamp near Lake Managua. The very last time.”

The Chief said hurriedly, “Don’t give me the details. I leave details up to you.”

“I know,” Paul said flatly.

His superior drew a pound can of Sir Walter Raleigh across the desk, selected a briar from a pipe rack and while he was packing in tobacco said, “Paul, do you know what day it is⁠—and what year?”

“It’s Tuesday. And 1965.”

The bureau chief looked at his disk calendar. “Um-m-m. Today the Seven Year Plan is completed.”

Paul snorted.

The Chief said mildly, “Successfully. For all practical purposes, the U.S.S.R. has surpassed us in gross national product.”

“That’s not the way I understand it.”

“Then you make the mistake of believing our propaganda. That’s always a mistake, believing your own propaganda. Worse than believing the other man’s.”

“Our steel capacity is a third again as much as theirs.”

“Yes, and currently, what with our readjustment⁠—remember when they used to call them recessions, or even earlier, depressions⁠—our steel industry is operating at less than sixty percent of capacity. The Soviets always operate at one hundred percent of capacity. They don’t have to worry about whether or not they can sell it. If they produce more steel than they immediately need, they use it to build another steel mill.”

The Chief shook his head. “As long ago as 1958 they began passing us, product by product. Grain, butter, and timber production, jet aircraft, space flight, and coal⁠—”

Paul leaned forward impatiently. “We put out more than three times as many cars, refrigerators, kitchen stoves, washing machines.”

His superior said, “That’s the point. While we were putting the product of our steel mills into automobiles and automatic kitchen equipment, they did without these things and put their steel into more steel mills, more railroads, more factories. We leaned back and took it easy, sneered at their progress, talked a lot about our freedom and liberty to our allies and the neutrals and enjoyed our refrigerators and washing machines until they finally passed us.”

“You sound like a Tass broadcast from Moscow.”

“Um-m-m, I’ve been trying to,” the Chief said. “However, that’s still roughly the situation. The fact that you and I personally, and a couple of hundred million Americans, prefer our cars and such to more steel mills, and prefer our personal freedoms and liberties is beside the point. We should have done less laughing seven years ago and more thinking about today. As things stand, give them a few more years at this pace and every neutral nation in the world is going to fall into their laps.”

“That’s putting it strong, isn’t it?”

“Strong?” the Chief growled disgustedly. “That’s putting it mildly. Even some of our allies are beginning to waver. Eight years ago, India and China both set out to industrialize themselves. Today, China is the third industrial power of the world. Where’s India, about twentieth? Ten years from now China will probably be first. I don’t even allow myself to think where she’ll be twenty-five years from now.”

“The Indians were a bunch of idealistic screwballs.”

“That’s one of the favorite alibis, isn’t it? Actually we, the West, let them down. They couldn’t get underway. The Soviets backed China with everything they could toss in.”

Paul crossed his legs and leaned back. “It seems to me I’ve run into this discussion a few hundred times at cocktail parties.”

The Chief pulled out a drawer and brought forth a king-size box of kitchen matches. He struck one with a thumbnail and peered through tobacco smoke at Paul Koslov as he lit up.

“The point is that the system the Russkies used when they started their first five-year plan back in 1928, and the system used in China, works. If we, with our traditions of freedom and liberty, like it or not, it works. Every citizen of the country is thrown into the grinding mill to increase production. Everybody,” the Chief grinned sourly, “that is, except the party elite, who are running the whole thing. Everybody sacrifices for the sake of the progress of the whole country.”

“I know,” Paul said. “Give me enough time and I’ll find out what this lecture is all about.”

The Chief grunted at him. “The Commies are still in power. If they remain in power and continue to develop the way they’re going, we’ll be through, completely through, in another few years. We’ll be so far behind we’ll be the world’s laughingstock⁠—and everybody else will be on the Soviet bandwagon.”

He seemed to switch subjects. “Ever hear of Somerset Maugham?”

“Sure. I’ve read several of his novels.”

“I was thinking of Maugham the British Agent, rather than Maugham the novelist, but it’s the same man.”

“British agent?”

“Um-m-m. He was sent to Petrograd in 1917 to prevent the Bolshevik revolution. The Germans had sent Lenin and Zinoviev up from Switzerland, where they’d been in exile, by a sealed train in hopes of starting a revolution in Czarist Russia. The point I’m leading to is that in one of his books, The Summing Up, I believe, Maugham mentions in passing that had he got to Petrograd possibly six weeks earlier he thinks he could have done his job successfully.”

Paul looked at him blankly. “What could he have done?”

The Chief shrugged. “It was all out war. The British wanted to keep Russia in the allied ranks so as to divert as many German troops as possible from the Western front. The Germans wanted to eliminate the Russians. Maugham had carte blanche. Anything would have gone. Elements of the British fleet to fight the Bolsheviks, unlimited amounts of money for anything he saw fit from bribery to hiring assassins. What would have happened, for instance, if he could have had Lenin and Trotsky killed?”

Paul said suddenly, “What has all this got to do with me?”

“We’re giving you the job this time.”

“Maugham’s job?” Paul didn’t get it.

“No, the other one. I don’t know who the German was who engineered sending Lenin up to Petrograd, but that’s the equivalent of your job.” He seemed to go off on another bent. “Did you read Djilas’ The New Class about a decade ago?”

“Most of it, as I recall. One of Tito’s top men who turned against the Commies and did quite a job of exposing the so-called classless society.”

“That’s right. I’ve always been surprised that so few people bothered to wonder how Djilas was able to smuggle his book out of one of Tito’s strongest prisons and get it to publishers in the West.”

“Never thought of it,” Paul agreed. “How could he?”

“Because,” the Chief said, knocking the ash from his pipe and replacing it in the rack, “there was and is a very strong underground in all the Communist countries. Not only Yugoslavia, but the Soviet Union as well.”

Paul stirred impatiently. “Once again, what’s all this got to do with me?”

“They’re the ones you’re going to work with. The anti-Soviet underground. You’ve got unlimited leeway. Unlimited support to the extent we can get it to you. Unlimited funds for whatever you find you need them for. Your job is to help the underground start a new Russian Revolution.”

Paul Koslov, his face still bandaged following plastic surgery, spent a couple of hours in the Rube Goldberg department inspecting the latest gadgets of his trade.

Derek Stevens said, “The Chief sent down a memo to introduce you to this new item. We call it a Tracy.”

Paul frowned at the wristwatch, fingered it a moment, held it to his ear. It ticked and the second hand moved. “Tracy?” he said.

Stevens said, “After Dick Tracy. Remember, a few years ago? His wrist two-way radio.”

“But this is really a watch,” Paul said.

“Sure. Keeps fairly good time, too. However, that’s camouflage. It’s also a two-way radio. Tight beam from wherever you are to the Chief.”

Paul pursed his lips. “The transistor boys are really doing it up brown.” He handed the watch back to Derek Stevens. “Show me how it works, Derek.”

They spent fifteen minutes on the communications device, then Derek Stevens said, “Here’s another item the Chief thought you might want to see:”

It was a compact, short-muzzled hand gun. Paul handled it with the ease of long practice. “The grip’s clumsy. What’s its advantage? I don’t particularly like an automatic.”

Derek Stevens motioned with his head. “Come into the firing range, Koslov, and we’ll give you a demonstration.”

Paul shot him a glance from the side of his eyes, then nodded. “Lead on.”

In the range, Stevens had a man-size silhouette put up. He stood to one side and said, “OK, let her go.”

Paul stood easily, left hand in pants pocket, brought the gun up and tightened on the trigger. He frowned and pressed again.

He scowled at Derek Stevens. “It’s not loaded.”

Stevens grunted amusement. “Look at the target. First time you got it right over the heart.”

“I’ll be⁠ ⁠… ,” Paul began. He looked down at the weapon in surprise. “Noiseless and recoilless. What caliber is it, Derek, and what’s the muzzle velocity?”

“We call it the .38 Noiseless,” Stevens said. “It has the punch of that .44 Magnum you’re presently carrying.”

With a fluid motion Paul Koslov produced the .44 Magnum from the holster under his left shoulder and tossed it to one side. “That’s the last time I tote that cannon,” he said. He balanced the new gun in his hand in admiration. “Have the front sight taken off for me, Derek, and the fore part of the trigger guard. I need a quick draw gun.” He added absently, “How did you know I carried a .44?”

Stevens said, “You’re rather famous, Koslov. The Colonel Lawrence of the Cold War. The journalists are kept from getting very much about you, but what they do learn they spread around.”

Paul Koslov said flatly, “Why don’t you like me, Stevens? In this game I don’t appreciate people on our team who don’t like me. It’s dangerous.”

Derek Stevens flushed. “I didn’t say I didn’t like you.”

“You didn’t have to.”

“It’s nothing personal,” Stevens said.

Paul Koslov looked at him.

Stevens said, “I don’t approve of Americans committing political assassinations.”

Paul Koslov grinned wolfishly and without humor. “You’ll have a hard time proving that even our cloak and dagger department has ever authorized assassination, Stevens. By the way, I’m not an American.”

Derek Stevens was not the type of man whose jaw dropped, but he blinked. “Then what are you?”

“A Russian,” Paul snapped. “And look, Stevens, we’re busy now, but when you’ve got some time to do a little thinking, consider the ethics of warfare.”

Stevens was flushed again at the tone. “Ethics of warfare?”

“There aren’t any,” Paul Koslov snapped. “There hasn’t been chivalry in war for a long time, and there probably never will be again. Neither side can afford it. And I’m talking about cold war as well as hot.” He scowled at the other. “Or did you labor under the illusion that only the Commies had tough operators on their side?”

Paul Koslov crossed the Atlantic in a supersonic T.U.−180 operated by Europa Airways. That in itself galled him. It was bad enough that the Commies had stolen a march on the West with the first jet liner to go into mass production, the T.U.−104 back in 1957. By the time the United States brought out its first really practical transatlantic jets in 1959 the Russians had come up with the T.U.−114 which its designer, old Andrei Tupolev named the largest, most efficient and economical aircraft flying.

In civil aircraft they had got ahead and stayed ahead. Subsidized beyond anything the West could or at least would manage, the airlines of the world couldn’t afford to operate the slower, smaller and more expensive Western models. One by one, first the neutrals such as India, and then even members of the Western bloc began equipping their airlines with Russian craft.

Paul grunted his disgust at the memory of the strong measures that had to be taken by the government to prevent even some of the American lines from buying Soviet craft at the unbelievably low prices they offered them.

In London he presented a card on which he had added a numbered code in pencil. Handed it over a desk to the British intelligence major.

“I believe I’m expected,” Paul said.

The major looked at him, then down at the card. “Just a moment, Mr. Smith. I’ll see if his lordship is available. Won’t you take a chair?” He left the room.

Paul Koslov strolled over to the window and looked out on the moving lines of pedestrians below. He had first been in London some thirty years ago. So far as he could remember, there were no noticeable changes with the exception of automobile design. He wondered vaguely how long it took to make a noticeable change in the London street scene.

The major re-entered the room with a new expression of respect on his face. “His lordship will see you immediately, Mr. Smith.”

“Thanks,” Paul said. He entered the inner office.

Lord Carrol was attired in civilian clothes which somehow failed to disguise a military quality in his appearance. He indicated a chair next to his desk. “We’ve been instructed to give you every assistance Mr.⁠ ⁠… Smith. Frankly, I can’t imagine of just what this could consist.”

Paul said, as he adjusted himself in the chair, “I’m going into the Soviet Union on an important assignment. I’ll need as large a team at my disposal as we can manage. You have agents in Russia, of course?” He lifted his eyebrows.

His lordship cleared his throat and his voice went even stiffer. “All major military nations have a certain number of espionage operatives in each other’s countries. No matter how peaceful the times, this is standard procedure.”

“And these are hardly peaceful times,” Paul said dryly. “I’ll want a complete list of your Soviet based agents and the necessary information on how to contact them.”

Lord Carrol stared at him. Finally sputtered, “Man, why? You’re not even a British national. This is⁠—”

Paul, held up a hand. “We’re cooperating with the Russian underground. Cooperating isn’t quite strong enough a word. We’re going to push them into activity if we can.”

The British intelligence head looked down at the card before him. “Mr. Smith,” he read. He looked up. “John Smith, I assume.”

Paul said, still dryly, “Is there any other?”

Lord Carrol said, “See here, you’re really Paul Koslov, aren’t you?”

Paul looked at him, said nothing.

Lord Carrol said impatiently, “What you ask is impossible. Our operatives all have their own assignments, their own work. Why do you need them?”

“This is the biggest job ever, overthrowing the Soviet State. We need as many men as we can get on our team. Possibly I won’t have to use them but, if I do, I want them available.”

The Britisher rapped, “You keep mentioning our team but according to the dossier we carry on you, Mr. Koslov, you are neither British nor even a Yankee. And you ask me to turn over our complete Soviet machinery.”

Paul came to his feet and leaned over the desk, there was a paleness immediately beneath his ears and along his jaw line. “Listen,” he said tightly, “if I’m not on this team, there just is no team. Just a pretense of one. When there’s a real team there has to be a certain spirit. A team spirit. I don’t care if you’re playing cricket, football or international cold war. If there’s one thing that’s important to me, that I’ve based my whole life upon, it’s this, understand? I’ve got team spirit. Perhaps no one else in the whole West has it, but I do.”

Inwardly, Lord Carrol was boiling. He snapped, “You’re neither British nor American. In other words, you are a mercenary. How do we know that the Russians won’t offer you double or triple what the Yankees pay for your services?”

Paul sat down again and looked at his watch. “My time is limited,” he said. “I have to leave for Paris this afternoon and be in Bonn tomorrow. I don’t care what opinions you might have in regard to my mercenary motives, Lord Carrol. I’ve just come from Downing Street. I suggest you make a phone call there. At the request of Washington, your government has given me carte blanche in this matter.”

Paul flew into Moscow in an Aeroflot jet, landing at Vnukovo airport on the outskirts of the city. He entered as an American businessman, a camera importer who was also interested in doing a bit of tourist sightseeing. He was traveling deluxe category which entitled him to a Zil complete with chauffeur and an interpreter-guide when he had need of one. He was quartered in the Ukrayna, on Dorogomilovskaya Quai, a twenty-eight floor skyscraper with a thousand rooms.

It was Paul’s first visit to Moscow but he wasn’t particularly thrown off. He kept up with developments and was aware of the fact that as early as the late 1950s, the Russians had begun to lick the problems of ample food, clothing and finally shelter. Even those products once considered sheer luxuries were now in abundant supply. If material things alone had been all that counted, the Soviet man in the street wasn’t doing so badly.

He spent the first several days getting the feel of the city and also making his preliminary business calls. He was interested in a new “automated” camera currently being touted by the Russians as the world’s best. Fastest lens, foolproof operation, guaranteed for the life of the owner, and retailing for exactly twenty-five dollars.

He was told, as expected, that the factory and distribution point was in Leningrad and given instructions and letters of introduction.

On the fifth day he took the Red Arrow Express to Leningrad and established himself at the Astoria Hotel, 39 Hertzen Street. It was one of the many of the Intourist hotels going back to before the revolution.

He spent the next day allowing his guide to show him the standard tourist sights. The Winter Palace, where the Bolshevik revolution was won when the mutinied cruiser Aurora steamed up the river and shelled it. The Hermitage Museum, rivaled only by the Vatican and Louvre. The Alexandrovskaya Column, the world’s tallest monolithic stone monument. The modest personal palace of Peter the Great. The Peter and Paul Cathedral. The king-size Kirov Stadium. The Leningrad subway, as much a museum as a system of transportation.

He saw it all, tourist fashion, and wondered inwardly what the Intourist guide would have thought had he known that this was Mr. John Smith’s home town.

The day following, he turned his business problem over to the guide. He wanted to meet, let’s see now, oh yes, here it is, Leonid Shvernik, of the Mikoyan Camera works. Could it be arranged?

Of course it could be arranged. The guide went into five minutes of oratory on the desire of the Soviet Union to trade with the West, and thus spread everlasting peace.

An interview was arranged for Mr. Smith with Mr. Shvernik for that afternoon.

Mr. Smith met Mr. Shvernik in the latter’s office at two and they went through the usual amenities. Mr. Shvernik spoke excellent English so Mr. Smith was able to dismiss his interpreter-guide for the afternoon. When he was gone and they were alone Mr. Shvernik went into his sales talk.

“I can assure you, sir, that not since the Japanese startled the world with their new cameras shortly after the Second War, has any such revolution in design and quality taken place. The Mikoyan is not only the best camera produced anywhere, but since our plant is fully automated, we can sell it for a fraction the cost of German, Japanese or American⁠—”

Paul Koslov came to his feet, walked quietly over to one of the pictures hanging on the wall, lifted it, pointed underneath and raised his eyebrows at the other.

Leonid Shvernik leaned back in his chair, shocked.

Paul remained there until at last the other shook his head.

Paul said, in English, “Are you absolutely sure?”

“Yes.” Shvernik said. “There are no microphones in here. I absolutely know. Who are you?”

Paul said, “In the movement they call you Georgi, and you’re top man in the Leningrad area.”

Shvernik’s hand came up from under the desk and he pointed a heavy military revolver at his visitor. “Who are you?” he repeated.

Paul ignored the gun. “Someone who knows that you are Georgi,” he said. “I’m from America. Is there any chance of anybody intruding?”

“Yes, one of my colleagues. Or perhaps a secretary.”

“Then I suggest we go to a bar, or some place, for a drink or a cup of coffee or whatever the current Russian equivalent might be.”

Shvernik looked at him searchingly. “Yes,” he said finally. “There’s a place down the street.” He began to stick the gun in his waistband, changed his mind and put it back into the desk drawer.

As soon as they were on the open street and out of earshot of other pedestrians, Paul said, “Would you rather I spoke Russian? I have the feeling that we’d draw less attention than if we speak English.”

Shvernik said tightly, “Do the Intourist people know you speak Russian? If not, stick to English. Now, how do you know my name? I have no contacts with the Americans.”

“I got it through my West German contacts.”

The Russian’s face registered unsuppressed fury. “Do they ignore the simplest of precautions! Do they reveal me to every source that asks?”

Paul said mildly, “Herr Ludwig is currently under my direction. Your secret is as safe as it has ever been.”

The underground leader remained silent for a long moment. “You’re an American, eh, and Ludwig told you about me? What do you want now?”

“To help,” Paul Koslov said.

“How do you mean, to help? How can you help? I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Help in any way you want. Money, printing presses, mimeograph machines, radio transmitters, weapons, manpower in limited amounts, know-how, training, anything you need to help overthrow the Soviet government.”

They had reached the restaurant. Leonid Shvernik became the Russian export official. He ushered his customer to a secluded table. Saw him comfortably into his chair.

“Do you actually know anything about cameras?” he asked.

“Yes,” Paul said, “we’re thorough. I can buy cameras from you and they’ll be marketed in the States.”

“Good.” The waiter was approaching. Shvernik said, “Have you ever eaten caviar Russian style?”

“I don’t believe so,” Paul said. “I’m not very hungry.”

“Nothing to do with hunger.” Shvernik said. From the waiter he ordered raisin bread, sweet butter, caviar and a carafe of vodka.

The waiter went off for it and Shvernik said, “To what extent are you willing to help us? Money, for instance. What kind of money, rubles, dollars? And how much? A revolutionary movement can always use money.”

“Any kind,” Paul said flatly, “and any amount.”

Shvernik was impressed. He said eagerly, “Any amount within reason, eh?”

Paul looked into his face and said flatly, “Any amount, period. It doesn’t have to be particularly reasonable. Our only qualification would be a guarantee it is going into the attempt to overthrow the Soviets⁠—not into private pockets.”

The waiter was approaching. Shvernik drew some brochures from his pocket, spread them before Paul Koslov and began to point out with a fountain pen various features of the Mikoyan camera.

The waiter put the order on the table and stood by for a moment for further orders.

Shvernik said, “First you take a sizable portion of vodka, like this.” He poured them two jolts. “And drink it down, ah, bottoms up, you Americans say. Then you spread butter on a small slice of raisin bread, and cover it with a liberal portion of caviar. Good? Then you eat your little sandwich and drink another glass of vodka. Then you start all over again.”

“I can see it could be fairly easy to get stoned, eating caviar Russian style,” Paul laughed.

They went through the procedure and the waiter wandered off.

Paul said, “I can take several days arranging the camera deal with you. Then I can take a tour of the country, supposedly giving it a tourist look-see, but actually making contact with more of your organization. I can then return in the future, supposedly to make further orders. I can assure you, these cameras are going to sell very well in the States. I’ll be coming back, time and again⁠—for business reasons. Meanwhile, do you have any members among the interpreter-guides in the local Intourist offices?”

Shvernik nodded. “Yes. And, yes, that would be a good idea. We’ll assign Ana Furtseva to you, if we can arrange it. And possibly she can even have a chauffeur assigned you who’ll also be one of our people.”

That was the first time Paul Koslov heard the name Ana Furtseva.

In the morning Leonid Shvernik came to the hotel in a Mikoyan Camera Works car loaded with cameras and the various accessories that were available for the basic model. He began gushing the advantages of the Mikoyan before they were well out of the hotel.

The last thing he said, as they trailed out of the hotel’s portals was, “We’ll drive about town, giving you an opportunity to do some snapshots and then possibly to my country dacha where we can have lunch⁠—”

At the car he said, “May I introduce Ana Furtseva, who’s been assigned as your guide-interpreter by Intourist for the balance of your stay? Ana, Mr. John Smith.”

Paul shook hands.

She was blond as almost all Russian girls are blond, and with the startling blue eyes. A touch chubby, by Western standards, but less so than the Russian average. She had a disturbing pixie touch around the mouth, out of place in a dedicated revolutionist.

The car took off with Shvernik at the wheel. “You’re actually going to have to take pictures as we go along. We’ll have them developed later at the plant. I’ve told them that you are potentially a very big order. Possibly they’ll try and assign one of my superiors to your account after a day or two. If so, I suggest that you merely insist that you feel I am competent and you would rather continue with me.”

“Of course,” Paul said. “Now then, how quickly can our assistance to you get underway?”

“The question is,” Shvernik said, “just how much you can do in the way of helping our movement. For instance, can you get advanced type weapons to us?”

The .38 Noiseless slid easily into Paul’s hands. “Obviously, we can’t smuggle sizable military equipment across the border. But here, for instance, is a noiseless, recoilless hand gun. We could deliver any reasonable amount within a month.”

“Five thousand?” Shvernik asked.

“I think so. You’d have to cover once they got across the border, of course. How well organized are you? If you aren’t, possibly we can help there, but not in time to get five thousand guns to you in a month.”

Ana was puzzled. “How could you possibly get that number across the Soviet borders?” Her voice had a disturbing Slavic throatiness. It occurred to Paul Koslov that she was one of the most attractive women he had ever met. He was amused. Women had never played a great part in his life. There had never been anyone who had really, basically, appealed. But evidently blood was telling. Here he had to come back to Russia to find such attractiveness.

He said, “The Yugoslavs are comparatively open and smuggling across the Adriatic from Italy, commonplace. We’d bring the things you want in that way. Yugoslavia and Poland are on good terms, currently, with lots of trade. We’d ship them by rail from Yugoslavia to Warsaw. Trade between Poland and U.S.S.R. is on massive scale. Our agents in Warsaw would send on the guns in well concealed shipments. Freight cars aren’t searched at the Polish-Russian border. However, your agents would have to pick up the deliveries in Brest or Kobryn, before they got as far as Pinsk.”

Ana said, her voice very low, “Visiting in Sweden at the Soviet Embassy in Stockholm is a colonel who is at the head of the Leningrad branch of the K.G.B. department in charge of counterrevolution, as they call it. Can you eliminate him?”

“Is it necessary? Are you sure that if it’s done it might not raise such a stink that the K.G.B. might concentrate more attention on you?” Paul didn’t like this sort of thing. It seldom accomplished anything.

Ana said, “He knows that both Georgi and I are members of the movement.”

Paul Koslov gaped at her. “You mean your position is known to the police?”

Shvernik said, “Thus far he has kept the information to himself. He found out when Ana tried to enlist his services.”

Paul’s eyes went from one to the other of them in disbelief. “Enlist his services? How do you know he hasn’t spilled everything? What do you mean he’s kept the information to himself so far?”

Ana said, her voice so low as to be hardly heard, “He’s my older brother. I’m his favorite sister. How much longer he will keep our secret I don’t know. Under the circumstances, I can think of no answer except that he be eliminated.”

It came to Paul Koslov that the team on this side could be just as dedicated as he was to his own particular cause.

He said, “A Colonel Furtseva at the Soviet Embassy in Stockholm. Very well. A Hungarian refugee will probably be best. If he’s caught, the reason for the killing won’t point in your direction.”

“Yes,” Ana said, her sensitive mouth twisting. “In fact, Anastas was in Budapest during the suppression there in 1956. He participated.”

The dacha of Leonid Shvernik was in the vicinity of Petrodvorets on the Gulf of Finland, about eighteen miles from Leningrad proper. It would have been called a summer bungalow in the States. On the rustic side. Three bedrooms, a moderately large living-dining room, kitchen, bath, even a carport. Paul Koslov took a mild satisfaction in deciding that an American in Shvernik’s equivalent job could have afforded more of a place than this.

Shvernik was saying, “I hope it never gets to the point where you have to go on the run. If it does, this house is a center of our activities. At any time you can find clothing here, weapons, money, food. Even a small boat on the waterfront. It would be possible, though difficult, to reach Finland.”

“Right,” Paul said. “Let’s hope there’ll never be occasion.”

Inside, they sat around a small table, over the inevitable bottle of vodka and cigarettes, and later coffee.

Shvernik said, “Thus far we’ve rambled around hurriedly on a dozen subjects but now we must become definite.”

Paul nodded.

“You come to us and say you represent the West and that you wish to help overthrow the Soviets. Fine. How do we know you do not actually represent the K.G.B. or possibly the M.V.D.?”

Paul said, “I’ll have to prove otherwise by actions.” He came to his feet and, ignoring Ana, pulled out his shirt tail, unbuttoned the top two buttons of his pants and unbuckled the money belt beneath.

He said, “We have no idea what items you’ll be wanting from us in the way of equipment, but as you said earlier all revolutions need money. So here’s the equivalent of a hundred thousand American dollars⁠—in rubles, of course.” He added apologetically, “The smallness of the amount is due to bulk. Your Soviet money doesn’t come in sufficiently high denominations for a single person to carry really large amounts.”

He tossed the money belt to the table, rearranged his clothing and returned to his chair.

Shvernik said, “A beginning, but I am still of the opinion that we should not introduce you to any other members of the organization until we have more definite proof of your background.”

“That’s reasonable,” Paul agreed. “Now what else?”

Shvernik scowled at him. “You claim you are an American but you speak as good Russian as I do.”

“I was raised in America,” Paul said, “but I never became a citizen because of some minor technicality while I was a boy. After I reached adulthood and first began working for the government, it was decided that it might be better, due to my type of specialization, that I continue to remain legally not an American.”

“But actually you are Russian?”

“I was born here in Leningrad,” Paul said evenly.

Ana leaned forward, “Why then, actually, you’re a traitor to Russia.”

Paul laughed. “Look who’s talking. A leader of the underground.”

Ana wasn’t amused. “But there is a difference in motivation. I fight to improve my country. You fight for the United States and the West.”

“I can’t see much difference. We’re both trying to overthrow a vicious bureaucracy.” He laughed again. “You hate them as much as I do.”

“I don’t know.” She frowned, trying to find words, dropped English and spoke in Russian. “The Communists made mistakes, horrible mistakes and⁠—especially under Stalin⁠—were vicious beyond belief to achieve what they wanted. But they did achieve it. They built our country into the world’s strongest.”

“If you’re so happy with them, why are you trying to eliminate the Commies? You don’t make much sense.”

She shook her head, as though it was he who made no sense. “They are through now, no longer needed. A hindrance to progress.” She hesitated, then, “When I was a student I remember being so impressed by something written by Nehru that I memorized it. He wrote it while in a British jail in 1935. Listen.” She closed her eyes and quoted:

Economic interests shape the political views of groups and classes. Neither reason nor moral considerations override these interests. Individuals may be converted, they may surrender their special privileges, although this is rare enough, but classes and groups do not do so. The attempt to convert a governing and privileged class into forsaking power and giving up its unjust privileges has therefore always so far failed, and there seems to be no reason whatever to hold that it will succeed in the future.

Paul was frowning at her. “What’s your point?”

“My point is that the Communists are in the position Nehru speaks of. They’re in power and won’t let go. The longer they remain in power after their usefulness is over, the more vicious they must become to maintain themselves. Since this is a police state the only way to get them out is through violence. That’s why I find myself in the underground. But I am a patriotic Russian!” She turned to him. “Why do you hate the Soviets so, Mr. Smith?”

The American agent shrugged. “My grandfather was a member of the minor aristocracy. When the Bolsheviks came to power he joined Wrangel’s White Army. When the Crimea fell he was in the rear guard. They shot him.”

“That was your grandfather?” Shvernik said.

“Right. However, my own father was a student at the Petrograd University at that time. Left wing inclined, in fact. I think he belonged to Kerensky’s Social Democrats. At any rate, in spite of his upper class background he made out all right for a time. In fact he became an instructor and our early life wasn’t particularly bad.” Paul cleared his throat. “Until the purges in the 1930s. It was decided that my father was a Bukharinist Right Deviationist, whatever that was. They came and got him one night in 1938 and my family never saw him again.”

Paul disliked the subject. “To cut it short, when the war came along, my mother was killed in the Nazi bombardment of Leningrad. My brother went into the army and became a lieutenant. He was captured by the Germans when they took Kharkov, along with a hundred thousand or so others of the Red Army. When the Soviets, a couple of years later, pushed back into Poland he was recaptured.”

Ana said, “You mean liberated from the Germans?”

“Recaptured, is the better word. The Soviets shot him. It seems that officers of the Red Army aren’t allowed to surrender.”

Ana said painfully, “How did you escape all this?”

“My father must have seen the handwriting on the wall. I was only five years old when he sent me to London to a cousin. A year later we moved to the States. Actually, I have practically no memories of Leningrad, very few of my family. However, I am not very fond of the Soviets.”

“No,” Ana said softly.

Shvernik said, “And what was your father’s name?”

“Theodore Koslov.”

Shvernik said, “I studied French literature under him.”

Ana stiffened in her chair, and her eyes went wide. “Koslov,” she said. “You must be Paul Koslov.”

Paul poured himself another small vodka. “In my field it is a handicap to have a reputation. I didn’t know it had extended to the man in the street on this side of the Iron Curtain.”

It was by no means the last trip that Paul Koslov was to make to his underground contacts, nor the last visit to the dacha at Petrodvorets.

In fact, the dacha became the meeting center of the Russian underground with their liaison agent from the West. Through it funneled the problems involved in the logistics of the thing. Spotted through the rest of the vast stretches of the country, Paul had his local agents, American, British, French, West German. But this was the center.

The Mikoyan Camera made a great success in the States. And little wonder. Unknown to the Soviets, the advertising campaign that sold it cost several times the income from the sales. All they saw were the continued orders, the repeated visits of Mr. John Smith to Leningrad on buying trips. Leonid Shvernik was even given a promotion on the strength of his so ably cracking the American market. Ana Furtseva was automatically assigned to Paul as interpreter-guide whenever he appeared in the Soviet Union’s second capital.

In fact, when he made his “tourist” jaunts to the Black Sea region, to the Urals, to Turkestan, to Siberia, he was able to have her assigned to the whole trip with him. It gave a tremendous advantage in his work with the other branches of the underground.

Questions, unthought of originally when Paul Koslov had been sent into the U.S.S.R., arose as the movement progressed.

On his third visit to the dacha he said to Shvernik and three others of the organization’s leaders who had gathered for the conference, “Look, my immediate superior wants me to find out who is to be your top man, the chief of state of the new regime when Number One and the present hierarchy have been overthrown.”

Leonid Shvernik looked at him blankly. By this stage, he, as well as Ana, had become more to Paul than just pawns in the game being played. For some reason, having studied under the older Koslov seemed to give a personal touch that had grown.

Nikolai Kirichenko, a higher-up in the Moscow branch of the underground, looked strangely at Paul then at Shvernik. “What have you told him about the nature of our movement?” he demanded.

Paul said, “What’s the matter? All I wanted to know was who was scheduled to be top man.”

Shvernik said, “Actually, I suppose we have had little time to discuss the nature of the new society we plan. We’ve been busy working on the overthrow of the Communists. However, I thought⁠ ⁠…”

Paul was uneasy now. Leonid was right. Actually in his association with both Ana and Leonid Shvernik they had seldom mentioned what was to follow the collapse of the Soviets. It suddenly occurred to him how overwhelmingly important this was.

Nikolai Kirichenko, who spoke no English, said in Russian, “See here, we are not an organization attempting to seize power for ourselves.”

This was a delicate point, Paul sensed. Revolutions are seldom put over in the name of reaction or even conservatism. Whatever the final product, they are invariably presented as being motivated by liberal idealism and progress.

He said, “I am familiar with the dedication of your organization. I have no desire to underestimate your ideals. However, my question is presented with good intentions and remains unanswered. You aren’t anarchists, I know. You expect a responsible government to be in control after the removal of the police state. So I repeat, who is to be your head man?”

“How would we know?” Kirichenko blurted in irritation. “We’re working toward a democracy. It’s up to the Russian people to elect any officials they may find necessary to govern the country.”

Shvernik said, “However, the very idea of a head man, as you call him, is opposed to what we have in mind. We aren’t looking for a super-leader. We’ve had enough of leaders. Our experience is that it is too easy for them to become misleaders. If the history of this century has proven anything with its Mussolinis, Hitlers, Stalins, Chiangs, and Maos, it is that the search for a leader to take over the problems of a people is a vain one. The job has to be done by the people themselves.”

Paul hadn’t wanted to get involved in the internals of their political ideology. It was dangerous ground. For all he knew, there might be wide differences within the ranks of the revolutionary movement. There almost always were. He couldn’t take sides. His only interest in all this was the overthrow of the Soviets.

He covered. “Your point is well taken, of course. I understand completely. Oh, and here’s one other matter for discussion. These radio transmitters for your underground broadcasts.”

It was a subject in which they were particularly interested. The Russians leaned forward.

“Here’s the problem,” Kirichenko said. “As you know, the Soviet Union consists of fifteen republics. In addition there are seventeen Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republics that coexist within these basic fifteen republics. There are also ten of what we call Autonomous Regions. Largely, each of these political divisions speak different languages and have their own cultural differences.”

Paul said, “Then it will be necessary to have transmitters for each of these areas?”

“Even more. Because some are so large that we will find it necessary to have more than one underground station.”

Leonid Shvernik said worriedly, “And here is another thing. The K.G.B. has the latest in equipment for spotting the location of an illegal station. Can you do anything about this?”

Paul said, “We’ll put our best electronics men to work. The problem as I understand it, is to devise a method of broadcasting that the secret police can’t trace.”

They looked relieved. “Yes, that is the problem,” Kirichenko said.

He brought up the subject some time later when he was alone with Ana. They were strolling along the left bank of the Neva River, paralleling the Admiralty Building, supposedly on a sightseeing tour.

He said, “I was discussing the future government with Leonid and some of the others the other day. I don’t think I got a very clear picture of it.” He gave her a general rundown of the conversation.

She twisted her mouth characteristically at him. “What did you expect, a return to Czarism? Let me see, who is pretender to the throne these days? Some Grand Duke in Paris, isn’t it?”

He laughed with her. “I’m not up on such questions,” Paul admitted. “I think I rather pictured a democratic parliamentary government, somewhere between the United States and England.”

“Those are governmental forms based on a capitalist society, Paul.”

Her hair gleamed in the brightness of the sun and he had to bring his mind back to the conversation.

“Well, yes. But you’re overthrowing the Communists. That’s the point, isn’t it?”

“Not the way you put it. Let’s set if I can explain. To begin with, there have only been three bases of government evolved by man⁠ ⁠… I’m going to have to simplify this.”

“It isn’t my field, but go on,” Paul said. She wore less lipstick than you’d expect on an American girl but it went with her freshness.

“The first type of governmental system was based on the family. Your American Indians were a good example. The family, the clan, the tribe. In some cases, like the Iroquois Confederation, a nation of tribes. You were represented in the government according to the family or clan in which you were born.”

“Still with you so far,” Paul said. She had a very slight dimple in her left cheek. Dimples went best with blondes, Paul decided.

“The next governmental system was based on property. Chattel slavery, feudalism, capitalism. In ancient Athens, for example, those Athenians who owned the property of the City-State, and the slaves with which to work it, also governed the nation. Under feudalism, the nobility owned the country and governed it. The more land a noble owned, the larger his voice in government. I’m speaking broadly, of course.”

“Of course,” Paul said. He decided that she had more an American type figure than was usual here. He brought his concentration back to the subject. “However, that doesn’t apply under capitalism. We have democracy. Everyone votes, not just the owner of property.”

Ana was very serious about it. “You mustn’t use the words capitalism and democracy interchangeably. You can have capitalism, which is a social system, without having democracy which is a political system. For instance, when Hitler was in power in Germany the government was a dictatorship but the social system was still capitalism.”

Then she grinned at him mischievously. “Even in the United States I think you’ll find that the people who own a capitalist country run the country. Those who control great wealth have a large say in the running of the political parties, both locally and nationally. Your smaller property owners have a smaller voice in local politics. But how large a lobby does your itinerant harvest worker in Texas have in Washington?”

Paul said, slightly irritated now, “This is a big subject and I don’t agree with you. However, I’m not interested now in the government of the United States. I want to know what you people have in store for Russia, if and when you take over.”

She shook her head in despair at him. “That’s the point the others were trying to make to you. We have no intention of taking over. We don’t want to and probably couldn’t even if we did want to. What we’re advocating is a new type of government based on a new type of representation.”

He noticed the faint touch of freckles about her nose, her shoulders⁠—to the extent her dress revealed them⁠—and on her arms. Her skin was fair as only the northern races produce.

Paul said, “All right. Now we get to this third base of government. The first was the family, the second was property. What else is there?”

“In an ultramodern, industrialized society, there is your method of making your livelihood. In the future you will be represented from where you work. From your industry or profession. The parliament, or congress, of the nation would consist of elected members from each branch of production, distribution, communication, education, medicine⁠—”

“Syndicalism,” Paul said, “with some touches of Technocracy.”

She shrugged. “Your American Technocracy of the 1930s I am not too familiar with, although I understand power came from top to bottom, rather than from bottom to top, democratically. The early syndicalists developed some of the ideas which later thinkers have elaborated upon, I suppose. So many of these terms have become all but meaningless through sloppy use. What in the world does Socialism mean, for instance? According to some, your Roosevelt was a Socialist. Hitler called himself a National Socialist. Mussolini once edited a Socialist paper. Stalin called himself a Socialist and the British currently have a Socialist government⁠—mind you, with a Queen on the throne.”

“The advantage of voting from where you work rather than from where you live doesn’t come home to me,” Paul said.

“Among other things, a person knows the qualifications of the people with whom he works,” Ana said, “whether he is a scientist in a laboratory or a technician in an automated factory. But how many people actually know anything about the political candidates for whom they vote?”

“I suppose we could discuss this all day,” Paul said. “But what I was getting to is what happens when your outfit takes over here in Leningrad? Does Leonid become local commissar, or head of police, or⁠ ⁠… well, whatever new title you’ve dreamed up?”

Ana laughed at him, as though he was impossible. “Mr. Koslov, you have a mind hard to penetrate. I keep telling you, we, the revolutionary underground, have no desire to take over and don’t think that we could even if we wished. When the Soviets are overthrown by our organisation, the new government will assume power. We disappear as an organization. Our job is done. Leonid? I don’t know, perhaps his fellow employees at the Mikoyan Camera works will vote him into some office in the plant, if they think him capable enough.”

“Well,” Paul sighed, “it’s your country. I’ll stick to the American system.” He couldn’t take his eyes from the way her lips tucked in at the sides.

Ana said, “How long have you been in love with me, Paul?”


She laughed. “Don’t be so blank. It would be rather odd, wouldn’t it, if two people were in love, and neither of them realized what had happened?”

Two people in love,” he said blankly, unbelievingly.

Leonid Shvernik and Paul Koslov were bent over a map of the U.S.S.R. The former pointed out the approximate location of the radio transmitters. “We’re not going to use them until the last moment,” he said. “Not until the fat is in the fire. Then they will all begin at once. The K.G.B. and M.V.D. won’t have time to knock them out.”

Paul said, “Things are moving fast. Faster than I had expected. We’re putting it over, Leonid.”

Shvernik said, “Only because the situation is ripe. It’s the way revolutions work.”

“How do you mean?” Paul said absently, studying the map.

“Individuals don’t put over revolutions. The times do, the conditions apply. Did you know that six months before the Bolshevik revolution took place Lenin wrote that he never expected to live to see the Communist take over in Russia? The thing was that the conditions were there. The Bolsheviks, as few as they were, were practically thrown into power.”

“However,” Paul said dryly, “it was mighty helpful to have such men as Lenin and Trotsky handy.”

Shvernik shrugged. “The times make the men. Your own American Revolution is probably better known to you. Look at the men those times produced. Jefferson, Paine, Madison, Hamilton, Franklin, Adams. And once again, if you had told any of those men, a year before the Declaration of Independence, that a complete revolution was the only solution to the problems that confronted them, they would probably have thought you insane.”

It was a new line of thought for Paul Koslov. “Then what does cause a revolution?”

“The need for it. It’s not just our few tens of thousands of members of the underground who see the need for overthrowing the Soviet bureaucracy. It’s millions of average Russians in every walk of life and every strata, from top to bottom. What does the scientist think when some bureaucrat knowing nothing of his speciality comes into the laboratory and directs his work? What does the engineer in an automobile plant think when some silly politician decides that since cars in capitalist countries have four wheels, that Russia should surpass them by producing a car with five? What does your scholar think when he is told what to study, how to interpret it, and then what to write? What does your worker think when he sees the bureaucrat living in luxury while his wage is a comparatively meager one? What do your young people think in their continual striving for a greater degree of freedom than was possessed by their parents? What does your painter think? Your poet? Your philosopher?”

Shvernik shook his head. “When a nation is ready for revolution, it’s the people who put it over. Often, the so-called leaders are hard put to run fast enough to say out in front.”

Paul said, “After it’s all over, we’ll go back to the States. I know a town up in the Sierras called Grass Valley. Hunting, fishing, mountains, clean air, but still available to cities such as San Francisco where you can go for shopping and for restaurants and entertainment.”

She kissed him again.

Paul said, “You know, I’ve done this sort of work⁠—never on this scale before, of course⁠—ever since I was nineteen. Nineteen, mind you! And this is the first time I’ve realized I’m tired of it. Fed up to here. I’m nearly thirty-five, Ana, and for the first time I want what a man is expected to want out of life. A woman, a home, children. You’ve never seen America. You’ll love it. You’ll like Americans too, especially the kind that live in places like Grass Valley.”

Ana laughed softly. “But we’re Russians, Paul.”


“Our home and our life should be here. In Russia. The New Russia that we’ll have shortly.”

He scoffed at her. “Live here when there’s California? Ana, Ana, you don’t know what living is. Why⁠—”

“But, Paul, I’m a Russian. If the United States is a more pleasant place to live than Russia will be, when we have ended the police state, then it is part of my duty to improve Russia.”

It suddenly came to him that she meant it. “But I was thinking, all along, that after this was over we’d be married. I’d be able to show you my country.”

“And, I don’t know why, I was thinking we both expected to be making a life for ourselves here.”

They were silent for a long time in mutual misery.

Paul said finally, “This is no time to make detailed plans. We love each other, that should be enough. When it’s all over, we’ll have the chance to look over each other’s way of life. You can visit the States with me.”

“And I’ll take you on a visit to Armenia. I know a little town in the mountains there which is the most beautiful in the world. We’ll spend a week there. A month! Perhaps one day we can build a summer dacha there.” She laughed happily. “Why practically everyone lives to be a hundred years old in Armenia.”

“Yeah, we’ll have to go there sometime,” Paul said quietly.

He’d been scheduled to see Leonid that night but at the last moment the other sent Ana to report that an important meeting was to take place. A meeting of underground delegates from all over the country. They were making basic decisions on when to move⁠—but Paul’s presence wasn’t needed.

He had no feeling of being excluded from something that concerned him. Long ago it had been decided that the less details known by the average man in the movement about Paul’s activities, the better it would be. There is always betrayal and there are always counterrevolutionary agents within the ranks of an organization such as this. What was the old Russian proverb? When four men sit down to discuss revolution, three are police spies and the third a fool.

Actually, this had been astonishingly well handled. He had operated for over a year with no signs that the K.G.B. was aware of his activities. Leonid and his fellows were efficient. They had to be. The Commies had been slaughtering anyone who opposed them for forty years now. To survive as a Russian underground you had to be good.

No, it wasn’t a feeling of exclusion. Paul Koslov was stretched out on the bed of his king-size Astoria Hotel room, his hands behind his head and staring up at the ceiling. He recapitulated the events of the past months from the time he’d entered the Chief’s office in Washington until last night at the dacha with Leonid and Ana.

The whole thing.

And over and over again.

There was a line of worry on his forehead.

He swung his feet to the floor and approached the closet. He selected his most poorly pressed pair of pants, and a coat that mismatched it. He checked the charge in his .38 Noiseless, and replaced the weapon under his left arm. He removed his partial bridge, remembering as he did so how he had lost the teeth in a street fight with some Commie union organizers in Panama, and replaced the porcelain bridge with a typically Russian gleaming steel one. He stuffed a cap into his back pocket, a pair of steel rimmed glasses into an inner pocket, and left the room.

He hurried through the lobby, past the Intourist desk, thankful that it was a slow time of day for tourist activity.

Outside, he walked several blocks to 25th of October Avenue and made a point of losing himself in the crowd. When he was sure that there could be no one behind him, he entered a pivnaya, had a glass of beer, and then disappeared into the toilet. There he took off the coat, wrinkled it a bit more, put it back on and also donned the cap and glasses. He removed his tie and thrust it into a side pocket.

He left, in appearance a more or less average workingman of Leningrad, walked to the bus station on Nashimson Volodarski and waited for the next bus to Petrodvorets. He would have preferred the subway, but the line didn’t run that far as yet.

The bus took him to within a mile and a half of the dacha, and he walked from there.

By this time Paul was familiar with the security measures taken by Leonid Shvernik and the others. None at all when the dacha wasn’t in use for a conference or to hide someone on the lam from the K.G.B. But at a time like this, there would be three sentries, carefully spotted.

This was Paul’s field now. Since the age of nineteen, he told himself wryly. He wondered if there was anyone in the world who could go through a line of sentries as efficiently as he could.

He approached the dacha at the point where the line of pine trees came nearest to it. On his belly he watched for ten minutes before making the final move to the side of the house. He lay up against it, under a bush.

From an inner pocket he brought the spy device he had acquired from Derek Steven’s Rube Goldberg department. It looked and was supposed to look considerably like a doctor’s stethoscope. He placed it to his ears, pressed the other end to the wall of the house.

Leonid Shvernik was saying, “Becoming killers isn’t a pleasant prospect but it was the Soviet who taught us that the end justifies the means. And so ruthless a dictatorship have they established that there is literally no alternative. The only way to remove them is by violence. Happily, so we believe, the violence need extend to only a small number of the very highest of the hierarchy. Once they are eliminated and our transmitters proclaim the new revolution, there should be little further opposition.”

Someone sighed deeply⁠—Paul was able to pick up even that.

“Why discuss it further?” somebody whose voice Paul didn’t recognize, asked. “Let’s get onto other things. These broadcasts of ours have to be the ultimate in the presentation of our program. The assassination of Number One and his immediate supporters is going to react unfavorably at first. We’re going to have to present unanswerable arguments if our movement is to sweep the nation as we plan.”

A new voice injected, “We’ve put the best writers in the Soviet Union to work on the scripts. For all practical purposes they are completed.”

“We haven’t yet decided what to say about the H-Bomb, the missiles, all the endless equipment of war that has accumulated under the Soviets, not to speak of the armies, the ships, the aircraft and all the personnel who man them.”

Someone else, it sounded like Nikolai Kirichenko, from Moscow, said. “I’m chairman of the committee on that. It’s our opinion that we’re going to have to cover that matter in our broadcasts to the people and the only answer is that until the West has agreed to nuclear disarmament, we’re going to have to keep our own.”

Leonid said, and there was shock in his voice, “But that’s one of the most basic reasons for the new revolution, to eliminate this mad arms race, this devoting half the resources of the world to armament.”

“Yes, but what can we do? How do we know that the Western powers won’t attack? And please remember that it is no longer just the United States that has nuclear weapons. If we lay down our defenses, we are capable of being destroyed by England, France, West Germany, even Turkey or Japan! And consider, too, that the economies of some of the Western powers are based on the production of arms to the point that if such production ended, overnight, depressions would sweep their nations. In short, they can’t afford a world without tensions.”

“It’s a problem for the future to solve,” someone else said. “But meanwhile I believe the committee is right. Until it is absolutely proven that we need have no fears about the other nations, we must keep our own strength.”

Under his hedge, Paul grimaced, but he was getting what he came for, a discussion of policy, without the restrictions his presence would have put on the conversation.

“Let’s deal with a more pleasant subject,” a feminine voice said. “Our broadcasts should stress to the people that for the first time in the history of Russia we will be truly in the position to lead the world! For fifty years the Communists attempted to convert nations into adopting their system, and largely they were turned down. Those countries that did become Communist either did so at the point of the Red Army’s bayonet or under the stress of complete collapse such as in China. But tomorrow, and the New Russia? Freed from the inadequacy and inefficiency of the bureaucrats who have misruled us, we’ll develop a productive machine that will be the envy of the world!” Her voice had all but a fanatical ring.

Someone else chuckled, “If the West thought they had competition from us before, wait until they see the New Russia!”

Paul thought he saw someone, a shadow, at the side of the clearing. His lips thinned and the .38 Noiseless was in his hand magically.

False alarm.

He turned back to the “conversation” inside.

Kirichenko’s voice was saying, “It is hard for me not to believe that within a period of a year or so half the countries of the world will follow our example.”

“Half!” someone laughed exuberantly. “The world, Comrades! The new system will sweep the world. For the first time in history the world will see what Marx and Engels were really driving at!”

Back at the hotel, toward morning, Paul was again stretched out on the bed, hands under his head, his eyes unseeingly staring at the ceiling as he went through his agonizing reappraisal.

There was Ana.

And there was even Leonid Shvernik and some of the others of the underground. As close friends as he had ever made in a life that admittedly hadn’t been prone to friendship.

And there was Russia, the country of his birth. Beyond the underground movement, beyond the Soviet regime, beyond the Romanoff Czars. Mother Russia. The land of his parents, his grandparents, the land of his roots.

And, of course, there was the United States and the West. The West which had received him in his hour of stress in his flight from Mother Russia. Mother Russia, ha! What kind of a mother had she been to the Koslovs? To his grandfather, his father, his mother and brother? Where would he, Paul, be today had he as a child not been sent fleeing to the West?

And his life work. What of that? Since the age of nineteen, when a normal teenager would have been in school, preparing himself for life. Since nineteen he had been a member of the anti-Soviet team.

A star, too! Paul Koslov, the troubleshooter, the always reliable, cold, ruthless. Paul Koslov on whom you could always depend to carry the ball.

Anti-Soviet, or anti-Russian?

Why kid himself about his background. It meant nothing. He was an American. He had only the faintest of memories of his family or of the country. Only because people told him so did he know he was a Russian. He was as American as it is possible to get.

What had he told such Westerners, born and bred, as Lord Carrol and Derek Stevens? If he wasn’t a member of the team, there just wasn’t a team.

But then, of course, there was Ana.

Yes, Ana. But what, actually, was there in the future for them? Now that he considered it, could he really picture her sitting in the drug store on Montez Street, Grass Valley, having a banana split?

Ana was Russian. As patriotic a Russian as it was possible to be. As much a dedicated member of the Russian team as it was possible to be. And as a team member, she, like Paul, knew the chances that were involved. You didn’t get to be a star by sitting on the bench. She hadn’t hesitated, in the clutch, to sacrifice her favorite brother.

Paul Koslov propped the Tracy, the wristwatch-like radio before him, placing its back to a book. He made it operative, began to repeat, “Paul calling. Paul calling.”

A thin, far away voice said finally, “OK Paul. I’m receiving.”

Paul Koslov took a deep breath and said, “All right, this is it. In just a few days we’re all set to kick off. Understand?”

“I understand, Paul.”

“Is it possible that anybody else can be receiving this?”

“Absolutely impossible.”

“All right, then this is it. The boys here are going to start their revolution going by knocking off not only Number One, but also Two, Three, Four, Six and Seven of the hierarchy. Number Five is one of theirs.”

The thin voice said, “You know I don’t want details. They’re up to you.”

Paul grimaced. “This is why I called. You’ve got to make⁠—or someone’s got to make⁠—one hell of an important decision in the next couple of days. It’s not up to me. For once I’m not to be brushed off with that ‘don’t bother me with details,’ routine.”

“Decision? What decision? You said everything was all ready to go, didn’t you?”

“Look,” Paul Koslov said, “remember when you gave me this assignment. When you told me about the Germans sending Lenin up to Petrograd in hopes he’d start a revolution and the British sending Somerset Maugham to try and prevent it?”

“Yes, yes, man. What’s that got to do with it?” Even over the long distance, the Chief’s voice sounded puzzled.

“Supposedly the Germans were successful, and Maugham failed. But looking back at it a generation later, did the Germans win out by helping bring off the Bolshevik revolution? The Soviets destroyed them for all time as a first-rate power at Stalingrad, twenty-five years afterwards.”

The voice from Washington was impatient. “What’s your point, Paul?”

“My point is this. When you gave me this assignment, you told me I was in the position of the German who engineered bringing Lenin up to Petrograd to start the Bolsheviks rolling. Are you sure that the opposite isn’t true? Are you sure it isn’t Maugham’s job I should have? Let me tell you, Chief, these boys I’m working with now are sharp, they’ve got more on the ball than these Commie bureaucrats running the country have a dozen times over.

“Chief, this is the decision that has to be made in the next couple of days. Just who do we want eliminated? Are you sure you don’t want me to tip off the K.G.B. to this whole conspiracy?”



Hardly had man solved his basic problems on the planet of his origin than he began to fumble into space. Barely a century had elapsed in the exploration of the Solar System than he began to grope for the stars.

And suddenly, with an all but religious zeal, mankind conceived its fantasy dream of populating the galaxy. Never in the history of the race had fervor reached such a peak and held so long. The question of why was seemingly ignored. Millions of Earth-type planets beckoned and with a lemming-like desperation humanity erupted into them.

But the obstacles were frightening in their magnitude. The planets and satellites of Sol had proven comparatively tractable and those that were suited to man-life were quickly brought under his dominion. But there, of course, he had the advantage of proximity. The time involved in running back and forth to the home planet was meaningless and all Earth’s resources could be thrown into each problem’s solving.

But a planet a year removed in transportation or even communication? Ay! this was another thing and more than once a million colonists were lost before the Earthlings could adapt to new climates, new flora and fauna, new bacteria⁠—or to factors which the most far out visionary had never fancied, perhaps the lack of something never before missed.

So, mad with the lust to seed the universe with his kind, men sought new methods. To a hundred thousand worlds they sent smaller colonies, as few as a hundred pioneers apiece, and there marooned them, to adapt, if adapt they could.

For a millennium each colony was left to its own resources, to conquer the environment or to perish in the effort.

A thousand years was sufficient. Invariably it was found, on those planets where human life survived at all, man slipped back during his first two or three centuries into a state of barbarism. Then slowly began to inch forward again. There were exceptions and the progress on one planet never exactly duplicated that on another, however the average was surprisingly close to both nadir and zenith, in terms of evolution of society.

In a thousand years it was deemed by the Office of Galactic Colonization such pioneers had largely adjusted to the new environment and were ready for civilization, industrialization and eventual assimilation into the rapidly evolving Galactic Commonwealth.

Of course, even from the beginning, new and unforeseen problems manifested themselves⁠ ⁠…

from Man In Antiquity

published in Terra City, Sol

Galactic Year 3,502.


The Coordinator said, “I suppose I’m an incurable romantic. You see, I hate to see you go.” Academician Amschel Mayer was a man in early middle years; Dr. Leonid Plekhanov, his contemporary. They offset one another; Mayer thin and high-pitched, his colleague heavy, slow and dour. Now they both showed their puzzlement.

The Coordinator added, “Without me.”

Plekhanov kept his massive face blank. It wasn’t for him to be impatient with his superior. Nevertheless, the ship was waiting, stocked and crewed.

Amschel Mayer said, “Certainly a last minute chat can’t harm.” Inwardly he realized the other man’s position. Here was a dream coming true, and Mayer and his fellows were the last thread that held the Coordinator’s control over the dream. When they left, half a century would pass before he could again check developments.

The Coordinator became more businesslike. “Yes,” he said, “but I have more in mind than a chat. Very briefly, I wish to go over your assignment. Undoubtedly redundant, but if there are questions, no matter how seemingly trivial, this is the last opportunity to air them.”

What possible questions could there be at this late date? Plekhanov thought.

The department head swiveled slowly in his chair and then back again as he talked. “You are the first⁠—the first of many, many such teams. The manner in which you handle your task will effect man’s eternity. Obviously, since upon your experience we will base our future policies on interstellar colonization.” His voice lost volume. “The position in which you find yourselves should be humbling.”

“It is,” Amschel Mayer agreed. Plekhanov nodded his head.

The Coordinator nodded, too. “However, the situation is as near ideal as we could hope. Rigel’s planets are all but unbelievably Earthlike. Almost all our flora and fauna have been adaptable. Certainly our race has been.

“These two are the first of the seeded planets. Almost a thousand years ago we deposited small bodies of colonists upon each of them. Since then we have periodically checked, from a distance, but never intruded.” His eyes went from one of his listeners to the other. “No comments or questions, thus far?”

Mayer said, “This is one thing that surprises me. The colonies are so small to begin with. How could they possibly populate a whole world in one millennium?”

The Coordinator said, “Man adapts, Amschel. Have you studied the development of the United States? During her first century and a half the need was for population to fill the vast lands wrested from the Amerinds. Families of eight, ten, and twelve children were the common thing, much larger ones were not unknown. And the generations crowded one against another; a girl worried about spinsterhood if she reached seventeen unwed. But in the next century? The frontier vanished, the driving need for population was gone. Not only were drastic immigration laws passed, but the family shrunk rapidly until by mid-Twentieth Century the usual consisted of two or three children, and even the childless family became increasingly common.”

Mayer frowned impatiently, “But still, a thousand years. There is always famine, war, disease⁠ ⁠…”

Plekhanov snorted patronizingly. “Forty to fifty generations, Amschel? Starting with a hundred colonists? Where are your mathematics?”

The Coordinator said, “The proof is there. We estimate that each of Rigel’s planets now supports a population of nearly one billion.”

“To be more exact,” Plekhanov rumbled, “some nine hundred million on Genoa, seven and a half on Texcoco.”

Mayer smiled wryly. “I wonder what the residents of each of these planets call their worlds. Hardly the same names we have arbitrarily bestowed.”

“Probably each call theirs The World,” the Coordinator smiled. “After all, the basic language, in spite of a thousand years, is still Amer-English. However, I assume you are familiar with our method of naming. The most advanced culture on Rigel’s first planet is to be compared to the Italian cities during Europe’s feudalistic era. We have named that planet Genoa. The most advanced nation of the second planet is comparable to the Aztecs at the time of the conquest. We considered Tenochtitlán but it seemed a tongue twister, so Texcoco is the alternative.”

“Modernizing Genoa,” Mayer mused, “should be considerably easier than the task on semiprimitive Texcoco.”

Plekhanov shrugged, “Not necessarily.”

The Coordinator held up a hand and smiled at them. “Please, no debates on methods at present. An hour from now you will be in space with a year of travel before you. During that time you’ll have opportunity for discussion, debate and hair pulling on every phase of your problem.”

His expression became more serious. “You are acquainted with the unique position you assume. These colonists are in your control to an extent no small group has ever dominated millions of others before. No Caesar ever exerted the power that will be in your educated hands. For a half century you will be as gods. Your science, your productive know-how, your medicine⁠—if it comes to that, your weapons⁠—are many centuries in advance of theirs. As I said before, your position should be humbling.”

Mayer squirmed in his chair. “Why not check upon us, say, once every decade? In all, our ship’s company numbers but sixteen persons. Almost anything could happen. If you were to send a department craft each ten years⁠ ⁠…”

The Coordinator was shaking his head. “Your qualifications are as high as anyone available. Once on the scene you will begin accumulating information which we, here in Terra City, do not have. Were we to send another group in ten years to check upon you, all they could do would be interfere in a situation all the factors with which they would not be cognizant.”

Amschel Mayer shifted nervously. “But no matter how highly trained, nor how earnest our efforts, we still may fail.” His voice worried. “The department cannot expect guaranteed success. After all, we are the first.”

“Admittedly. Your group is first to approach the hundreds of thousands of planets we have seeded. If you fail, we will use your failure to perfect the eventual system we must devise for future teams. Even your failure would be of infinite use to us.” He lifted and dropped a shoulder. “I have no desire to undermine your belief in yourselves but⁠—how are we to know?⁠—perhaps there will be a score of failures before we find the ideal method of quickly bringing these primitive colonies into our Galactic Commonwealth.”

The Coordinator came to his feet and sighed. He still hated to see them go. “If there is no other discussion⁠ ⁠…”


Specialist Joseph Chessman stood stolidly before a viewing screen. Theoretically he was on watch. Actually his eyes were unseeing, there was nothing to see. The star pattern changed so slowly as to be all but permanent.

Not that every other task on board was not similar. One man could have taken the Pedagogue from the Solar System to Rigel, just as easily as its sixteen-hand crew was doing. Automation at its ultimate, not even the steward department had tasks adequately to fill the hours.

He had got beyond the point of yawning, his mind was a blank during these hours of duty. He was a stolid, bear of a man, short and massive of build.

A voice behind him said, “Second watch reporting. Request permission to take over the bridge.”

Chessman turned and it took a brief moment for the blankness in his eyes to fade into life. “Hello Kennedy, you on already? Seems like I just got here.” He muttered in self-contradiction, “Or that I’ve been here a month.”

Technician Jerome Kennedy grinned. “Of course, if you want to stay⁠ ⁠…”

Chessman said glumly, “What difference does it make where you are? What are they doing in the lounge?”

Kennedy looked at the screen, not expecting to see anything and accomplishing just that. “Still on their marathon argument.”

Joe Chessman grunted.

Just to be saying something, Kennedy said, “How do you stand in the big debate?”

“I don’t know. I suppose I favor Plekhanov. How we’re going to take a bunch of savages and teach them modern agriculture and industrial methods in fifty years under democratic institutions, I don’t know. I can see them putting it to a vote when we suggest fertilizer might be a good idea.” He didn’t feel like continuing the conversation. “See you later, Kennedy,” and then, as an afterthought, formally, “Relinquishing the watch to Third Officer.”

As he left the compartment, Jerry Kennedy called after him, “Hey, what’s the course!”

Chessman growled over his shoulder, “The same it was last month, and the same it’ll be next month.” It wasn’t much of a joke but it was the only one they had between themselves.

In the ship’s combination lounge and mess he drew a cup of coffee. Joe Chessman, among whose specialties were propaganda and primitive politics, was third in line in the expedition’s hierarchy. As such he participated in the endless controversy dealing with overall strategy but only as a junior member of the firm. Amschel Mayer and Leonid Plekhanov were the center of the fracas and right now were at it hot and heavy.

Joe Chessman listened with only half interest. He settled into a chair on the opposite side of the lounge and sipped at his coffee. They were going over their old battlefields, assaulting ramparts they’d stormed a thousand times over.

Plekhanov was saying doggedly, “Any planned economy is more efficient than any unplanned one. What could be more elementary than that? How could anyone in his right mind deny that?”

And Mayer snapped, “I deny it. That term planned economy covers a multitude of sins. My dear Leonid, don’t be an idiot⁠ ⁠…”

“I beg your pardon, sir!”

“Oh, don’t get into one of your huffs, Plekhanov.”

They were at that stage again.

Technician Natt Roberts entered, a book in hand, and sent the trend of conversation in a new direction. He said, worriedly, “I’ve been studying up on this and what we’re confronted with is two different ethnic periods, barbarism and feudalism. Handling them both at once doubles our problems.”

One of the junior specialists who’d been sitting to one side said, “I’ve been thinking about that and I believe I’ve got an answer. Why not all of us concentrate on Texcoco? When we’ve brought them to the Genoa level, which shouldn’t take more than a decade or two, then we can start working on the Genoese, too.”

Mayer snapped, “And by that time we’ll have hardly more than half our fifty years left to raise the two of them to an industrial technology. Don’t be an idiot, Stevens.”

Stevens flushed his resentment.

Plekhanov said slowly, “Besides, I’m not sure that, given the correct method, we cannot raise Texcoco to an industrialized society in approximately the same time it will take to bring Genoa there.”

Mayer bleated a sarcastic laugh at that opinion.

Natt Roberts tossed his book to the table and sank into a chair. “If only one of them had maintained itself at a reasonable level of development, we’d have had help in working with the other. As it is, there are only sixteen of us.” He shook his head. “Why did the knowledge held by the original colonists melt away? How can an intelligent people lose such basics as the smelting of iron, gunpowder, the use of coal as a fuel?”

Plekhanov was heavy with condescension. “Roberts, you seem to have entered upon this expedition with a lack of background. Consider. You put down a hundred colonists, products of the most advanced culture. Among these you have one or two who can possibly repair an I.B.M. machine, but is there one who can smelt iron, or even locate the ore? We have others who could design an automated textile factory, but do any know how to weave a blanket on a hand loom?

“The first generation gets along well with the weapons and equipment brought with them from Earth. They maintain the old ways. The second generation follows along but already ammunition for the weapons runs short, the machinery imported from Earth needs parts. There is no local economy that can provide such things. The third generation begins to think of Earth as a legend and the methods necessary to survive on the new planet conflict with those the first settlers imported. By the fourth generation, Earth is no longer a legend but a fable⁠ ⁠…”

“But the books, the tapes, the films⁠ ⁠…” Roberts injected.

“Go with the guns, the vehicles and the other things brought from Earth. On a new planet there is no leisure class among the colonists. Each works hard if the group is to survive. There is no time to write new books, nor to copy the old, and the second and especially the third generation are impatient of the time needed to learn to read, time that should be spent in the fields or at the chase. The youth of an industrial culture can spend twenty years and more achieving a basic education before assuming adult responsibilities but no pioneer society can afford to allow its offspring to so waste its time.”

Natt Roberts was being stubborn. “But still, a few would carry the torch of knowledge.”

Plekhanov nodded ponderously. “For a while. But then comes the reaction against these nonconformists, these crackpots who, by spending time at books, fail to carry their share of the load. One day they wake up to find themselves expelled from the group⁠—if not knocked over the head.”

Joe Chessman had been following Plekhanov’s argument. He said dourly, “But finally the group conquers its environment to the point where a minimum of leisure is available again. Not for everybody, of course.”

Amschel Mayer bounced back into the discussion. “Enter the priest, enter the warlord. Enter the smart operator who talks or fights himself into a position where he’s free from drudgery.”

Joe Chessman said reasonably, “If you don’t have the man with leisure, society stagnates. Somebody has to have time off for thinking, if the whole group is to advance.”

“Admittedly!” Mayer agreed. “I’d be the last to contend that an upper class is necessarily parasitic.”

Plekhanov grumbled, “We’re getting away from the subject. In spite of Mayer’s poorly founded opinions, it is quite obvious that only a collectivized economy is going to enable these Rigel planets to achieve an industrial culture in as short a period as half a century.”

Amschel Mayer reacted as might have been predicted. “Look here, Plekhanov, we have our own history to go by. Man made his greatest strides under a freely competitive system.”

“Well now⁠ ⁠…” Chessman began.

“Prove that!” Plekhanov insisted loudly. “Your so-called free economy countries such as England, France and the United States began their industrial revolution in the early part of the nineteenth century. It took them a hundred years to accomplish what the Soviets did in fifty, in the next century.”

“Just a moment, now,” Mayer simmered. “That’s fine, but the Soviets were able to profit by the pioneering the free countries did. The scientific developments, the industrial techniques, were handed to her on a platter.”

Specialist Martin Gunther, thus far silent, put in his calm opinion. “Actually, it seems to me the fastest industrialization comes under a paternal guidance from a more advanced culture. Take Japan. In 1854 she was opened to trade by Commodore Perry. In 1871 she abolished feudalism and encouraged by her own government and utilizing the most advanced techniques of a sympathetic West, she began to industrialize.” Gunther smiled wryly, “Soon to the dismay of the very countries that originally sponsored bringing her into the modern world. By 1894 she was able to wage a successful war against China and by 1904 she took on and trounced Czarist Russia. In a period of thirty-five years she had advanced from feudalism to a world power.”

Joe Chessman took his turn. He said obdurately, “Your paternalistic guidance, given an uncontrolled competitive system, doesn’t always work out. Take India after she gained independence from England. She tried to industrialize and had the support of the free nations. But what happened?”

Plekhanov leaned forward to take the ball. “Yes! There’s your classic example. Compare India and China. China had a planned industrial development. None of this free competition nonsense. In ten years time they had startled the world with their advances. In twenty years⁠—”

“Yes,” Stevens said softly, “but at what price?”

Plekhanov turned on him. “At any price!” he roared. “In one generation they left behind the China of famine, flood, illiteracy, war lords and all the misery that had been China’s throughout history.”

Stevens said mildly, “Whether in their admitted advances they left behind all the misery that had been China’s is debatable, sir.”

Plekhanov began to bellow an angry retort but Amschel Mayer popped suddenly to his feet and lifted a hand to quiet the others. “Our solution has just come to me!”

Plekhanov glowered at him.

Mayer said excitedly, “Remember what the Coordinator told us? This expedition of ours is the first of its type. Even though we fail, the very mistakes we make will be invaluable. Our task is to learn how to bring backward peoples into an industrialized culture in roughly half a century.”

The messroom’s occupants scowled at him. Thus far he’d said nothing new.

Mayer went on enthusiastically. “Thus far in our debates we’ve had two basic suggestions on procedure. I have advocated a system of free competition; my learned colleague has been of the opinion that a strong state and a planned, not to say totalitarian, economy would be the quicker.” He paused dramatically. “Very well, I am in favor of trying them both.”

They regarded him blankly.

He said with impatience, “There are two planets, at different ethnic periods it is true, but not so far apart as all that. Fine, eight of us will take Genoa and eight Texcoco.”

Plekhanov rumbled, “Fine, indeed. But which group will have the use of the Pedagogue with its library, its laboratories, its shops, its weapons?”

For a moment, Mayer was stopped but Joe Chessman growled, “That’s no problem. Leave her in orbit around Rigel. We’ve got two small boats with which to ferry back and forth. Each group could have the use of her facilities any time they wished.”

“I suppose we could have periodic conferences,” Plekhanov said. “Say once every decade to compare notes and make further plans, if necessary.”

Natt Roberts was worried. “We had no such instructions from the Coordinator. Dividing our forces like that.”

Mayer cut him short. “My dear Roberts, we were given carte blanche. It is up to us to decide procedure. Actually, this system realizes twice the information such expeditions as ours might ordinarily offer.”

“Texcoco for me,” Plekhanov grumbled, accepting the plan in its whole. “The more backward of the two, but under my guidance in half a century it will be the more advanced, mark me.”

“Look here,” Martin Gunther said. “Do we have two of each of the basic specialists, so that we can divide the party in such a way that neither planet will miss out in any one field?”

Amschel Mayer was beaming at the reception of his scheme. “The point is well taken, my dear Martin, however you’ll recall that our training was deliberately made such that each man spreads over several fields. This in case, during our half century without contact, one or more of us meets with accident. Besides, the Pedagogue’s library is such that any literate can soon become effective in any field to the extent needed on the Rigel planets.”


Joe Chessman was at the controls of the space lighter. At his side sat Leonid Plekhanov and behind them the other six members of their team. They had circled Texcoco twice at great altitude, four times at a lesser one. Now they were low enough to spot man-made works.

“Nomadic,” Plekhanov muttered. “Nomadic and village cultures.”

“A few dozen urbanized cultures,” Chessman said. “Whoever compared the most advanced nation to the Aztecs was accurate, except for the fact that they base themselves along a river rather than on a mountain plateau.”

Plekhanov said, “Similarities to the Egyptians and Sumerians.” He looked over his beefy shoulder at the technician who was photographing the areas over which they passed. “How does our geographer progress, Roberts?”

Natt Roberts brought his eyes up from his camera viewer. “I’ve got most of what we’ll need for a while, sir.”

Plekhanov turned back to Chessman. “We might as well head for their principal city, the one with the pyramids. We’ll make initial contact there. I like the suggestion of surplus labor available.”

“Surplus labor?” Chessman said, setting the controls. “How do you know?”

“Pyramids,” Plekhanov rumbled. “I’ve always been of the opinion that such projects as pyramids, whether they be in Yucatan or Egypt, are make-work affairs. A priesthood, or other ruling clique, keeping its people busy and hence out of mischief.”

Chessman adjusted a speed lever and settled back. “I can see their point.”

“But I don’t agree with it,” Plekhanov said ponderously. “A society that builds pyramids is a static one. For that matter any society that resorts to make-work projects to busy its citizenry has something basically wrong.”

Joe Chessman said sourly, “I wasn’t supporting the idea, just understanding the view of the priesthoods. They’d made a nice thing for themselves and didn’t want to see anything happen to it. It’s not the only time a group in the saddle has held up progress for the sake of remaining there. Priests, slave-owners, feudalistic barons, or bureaucrats of a twentieth-century police state, a ruling clique will never give up power without pressure.”

Barry Watson leaned forward and pointed down and to the right. “There’s the river,” he said. “And there’s their capital city.”

The small spacecraft settled at decreasing speed.

Chessman said, “The central square? It seems to be their market, by the number of people.”

“I suppose so,” Plekhanov grunted. “Right there before the largest pyramid. We’ll remain inside the craft for the rest of today and tonight.”

Natt Roberts, who had put away his camera, said, “But why? It’s crowded in here.”

“Because I said so,” Plekhanov rumbled. “This first impression is important. Our flying machine is undoubtedly the first they’ve seen. We’ve got to give them time to assimilate the idea and then get together a welcoming committee. We’ll want the top men, right from the beginning.”

“The equivalent of the Emperor Montezuma meeting Cortez, eh?” Barry Watson said. “A real red carpet welcome.”

The Pedagogue’s space lighter settled to the plaza gently, some fifty yards from the ornately decorated pyramid which stretched up several hundred feet and was topped by a small templelike building.

Chessman stretched and stood up from the controls. “Your anthropology ought to be better than that, Barry,” he said. “There was no Emperor Montezuma and no Aztec Empire, except in the minds of the Spanish.” He peered out one of the heavy ports. “And by the looks of this town we’ll find an almost duplicate of Aztec society. I don’t believe they’ve even got the wheel.”

The eight of them clustered about the craft’s portholes, taking in the primitive city that surrounded them. The square had emptied at their approach, and now the several thousand citizens that had filled it were peering fearfully from street entrances and alleyways.

Cogswell, a fiery little technician, said, “Look at them! It’ll take hours before they drum up enough courage to come any closer. You were right, doctor. If we left the boat now, we’d make fools of ourselves trying to coax them near enough to talk.”

Watson said to Joe Chessman “What do you mean, no Emperor Montezuma?”

Chessman said absently, as he watched, “When the Spanish got to Mexico they didn’t understand what they saw, being musclemen rather than scholars. And before competent witnesses came on the scene, Aztec society was destroyed. The conquistadors, who did attempt to describe Tenochtitlán, misinterpreted it. They were from a feudalistic world and tried to portray the Aztecs in such terms. For instance, the large Indian community houses they thought were palaces. Actually, Montezuma was a democratically elected war chief of a confederation of three tribes which militarily dominated most of the Mexican valley. There was no empire because Indian society, being based on the clan, had no method of assimilating newcomers. The Aztec armies could loot and they could capture prisoners for their sacrifices, but they had no system of bringing their conquered enemies into the nation. They hadn’t reached that far in the evolution of society. The Incas could have taught them a few lessons.”

Plekhanov nodded. “Besides, the Spanish were fabulous liars. In Cortez’s attempt to impress Spain’s king, he built himself up far beyond reality. To read his reports you’d think the pueblo of Mexico had a population pushing a million. Actually, if it had thirty thousand it was doing well. Without a field agriculture and with their primitive transport, they must have been hard put to feed even that large a town.”

A tall, militarily erect native strode from one of the streets that debouched into the plaza and approached to within twenty feet of the space boat. He stared at it for at least ten full minutes then spun on his heel and strode off again in the direction of one of the stolidly built stone buildings that lined the square on each side except that which the pyramid dominated.

Cogswell chirped, “Now that he’s broken the ice, in a couple of hours kids will be scratching their names on our hull.”

In the morning, two or three hours after dawn, they made their preparations to disembark. Of them all, only Leonid Plekhanov was unarmed. Joe Chessman had a heavy handgun holstered at his waist. The rest of the men carried submachine guns. More destructive weapons were hardly called for, nor available for that matter; once world government had been established on Earth the age-old race for improved arms had fallen away.

Chessman assumed command of the men, growled brief instructions. “If there’s any difficulty, remember we’re civilizing a planet of nearly a billion population. The life or death of a few individuals is meaningless. Look at our position scientifically, dispassionately. If it becomes necessary to use force⁠—we have the right and the might to back it up. MacBride, you stay with the ship. Keep the hatch closed and station yourself at the fifty-caliber gun.”

The natives seemed to know intuitively that the occupants of the craft from the sky would present themselves at this time. Several thousands of them crowded the plaza. Warriors, armed with spears and bronze headed war clubs, kept the more adventurous from crowding too near.

The hatch opened, the steel landing stair snaked out, and the hefty Plekhanov stepped down, closely followed by Chessman. The others brought up the rear, Watson, Roberts, Stevens, Hawkins and Cogswell. They had hardly formed a compact group at the foot of the spacecraft than the ranks of the natives parted and what was obviously a delegation of officials approached them. In the fore was a giant of a man in his late middle years, and at his side a cold-visaged duplicate of him, obviously a son.

Behind these were variously dressed others, military, priesthood, local officials, by their appearance.

Ten feet from the newcomers they stopped. The leader said in quite understandable Amer-English, “I am Taller, Khan of all the People. Our legends tell of you. You must be from First Earth.” He added with a simple dignity, a quiet gesture, “Welcome to the World. How may we serve you?”

Plekhanov said flatly, “The name of this planet is Texcoco and the inhabitants shall henceforth be called Texcocans. You are correct, we have come from Earth. Our instructions are to civilize you, to bring you the benefits of the latest technology, to prepare you to enter the community of planets.” Phlegmatically he let his eyes go to the pyramids, to the temples, the large community dwelling quarters. “We’ll call this city Tula and its citizens Tulans.”

Taller looked thoughtfully at him, not having missed the tone of arrogant command. One of the group behind the Khan, clad in gray flowing robes, said to Plekhanov, mild reproof in his voice, “My son, we are the most advanced people on⁠ ⁠… Texcoco. We have thought of ourselves as civilized. However, we⁠—”

Plekhanov rumbled, “I am not your son, old man, and you are far short of civilization. We can’t stand here forever. Take us to a building where we can talk without these crowds staring at us. There is much to be done.”

Taller said, “This is Mynor, Chief Priest of the People.”

The priest bowed his head, then said, “The People are used to ceremony on outstanding occasions. We have arranged for suitable sacrifices to the gods. At their completion, we will proclaim a festival. And then⁠—”

The warriors had cleared a way through the multitude to the pyramid and now the Earthlings could see a score of chained men and women, nude save for loin cloths and obviously captives.

Plekhanov made his way toward them, Joe Chessman at his right and a pace to the rear. The prisoners stood straight and, considering their position, with calm.

Plekhanov glared at Taller. “You were going to kill these?”

The Khan said reasonably, “They are not of the People. They are prisoners taken in battle.”

Mynor said, “Their lives please the gods.”

“There are no gods, as you probably know,” Plekhanov said flatly. “You will no longer sacrifice prisoners.”

A hush fell on the Texcocans. Joe Chessman let his hand drop to his weapon. The movement was not lost on Taller’s son, whose eyes narrowed.

The Khan looked at the burly Plekhanov for a long moment. He said slowly, “Our institutions fit our needs. What would you have us do with these people? They are our enemies. If we turn them loose, they will fight us again. If we keep them imprisoned, they will eat our food. We⁠ ⁠… Tulans are not poor, we have food aplenty, for we Tulans, but we cannot feed all the thousands of prisoners we take in our wars.”

Joe Chessman said dryly, “As of today there is a new policy. We put them to work.”

Plekhanov rumbled at him, “I’ll explain our position, Chessman, if you please.” Then to the Tulans. “To develop this planet we’re going to need the labor of every man, woman and child capable of work.”

Taller said, “Perhaps your suggestion that we retire to a less public place is desirable. Will you follow?” He spoke a few words to an officer of the warriors, who shouted orders.

The Khan led the way, Plekhanov and Chessman followed side by side and the other Earthlings, their weapons unostentatiously ready, were immediately behind. Mynor the priest, Taller’s son and the other Tulan officials brought up the rear.

In what was evidently the reception hall of Taller’s official residence, the newcomers were made as comfortable as fur padded low stools provided. Half a dozen teenaged Tulans brought a cool drink similar to cocoa; it seemed to give a slight lift.

Taller had not become Khan of the most progressive nation on Texcoco by other than his own abilities. He felt his way carefully now. He had no manner of assessing the powers wielded by these strangers from space. He had no intention of precipitating a situation in which he would discover such powers to his sorrow.

He said carefully, “You have indicated that you intend major changes in the lives of the People.”

“Of all Texcocans,” Plekhanov said, “you Tulans are merely the beginning.”

Mynor, the aged priest, leaned forward. “But why? We do not want these changes⁠—whatever they may be. Already the Khan has allowed you to interfere with our worship of our gods. This will mean⁠—”

Plekhanov growled, “Be silent, old man, and don’t bother to mention, ever again, your so-called gods. And now, all of you listen. Perhaps some of this will not be new, how much history has come down to you I don’t know.

“A thousand years ago a colony of one hundred persons was left here on Texcoco. It will one day be of scholarly interest to trace them down through the centuries but at present the task does not interest us. This expedition has been sent to recontact you, now that you have populated Texcoco and made such adaptations as were necessary to survive here. Our basic task is to modernize your society, to bring it to an industrialized culture.”

Plekhanov’s eyes went to Taller’s son. “I assume you are a soldier?”

Taller said, “This is Reif, my eldest, and by our custom, second in command of the People’s armies. As Khan, I am first.”

Reif nodded coldly to Plekhanov. “I am a soldier.” He hesitated for a moment, then added, “And willing to die to protect the People.”

“Indeed,” Plekhanov rumbled, “as a soldier you will be interested to know that our first step will involve the amalgamation of all the nations and tribes of this planet. Not a small task. There should be opportunity for you.”

Taller said, “Surely you speak in jest. The People have been at war for as long as scribes have records and never have we been stronger than today, never larger. To conquer the world! Surely you jest.”

Plekhanov grunted ungraciously. He looked to Barry Watson, a lanky youth, now leaning negligently against the wall, his submachine gun, however, at the easy ready. “Watson, you’re our military expert. Have you any opinions as yet?”

“Yes, sir,” Watson said easily. “Until we can get iron weapons and firearms into full production, I suggest the Macedonian phalanx for their infantry. They have the horse, but evidently the wheel has gone out of use. We’ll introduce the chariot and also heavy carts to speed up logistics. We’ll bring in the stirruped saddle, too. I have available for study, works on every cavalry leader from Tamerlane to Jeb Stuart. Yes, sir, I have some ideas.”

Plekhanov pursed his heavy lips. “From the beginning we’re going to need manpower on a scale never dreamed of locally. We’ll adopt a policy of expansion. Those who join us freely will become members of the State with full privileges. Those who resist will be made prisoners of war and used for shock labor on the roads and in the mines. However, a man works better if he has a goal, a dream. Each prisoner will be freed and become a member of the State after ten years of such work.”

He turned to his subordinates. “Roberts and Hawkins, you will begin tomorrow to seek the nearest practical sources of iron ore and coal. Wherever you discover them we’ll direct our first military expeditions. Chessman and Cogswell, you’ll assemble their best artisans and begin their training in such basic advancements as the wheel.”

Taller said softly, “You speak of advancement but thus far you have mentioned largely war and on such a scale that I wonder how many of the People will survive. What advancement? We have all we wish.”

Plekhanov cut him off with a curt motion of his hand. He indicated the hieroglyphics on the chamber’s walls. “How long does it take to learn such writing?”

Mynor, the priest, said, “This is a mystery known only to the priesthood. One spends ten years in preparation to be a scribe.”

“We’ll teach you a new method which will have every citizen of the State reading and writing within a year.”

The Tulans gaped at him.

He moved ponderously over to Roberts, drew from its scabbard the sword bayonet the other had at his hip. He took it and slashed savagely at a stone pillar, gouging a heavy chunk from it. He tossed the weapon to Reif, whose eyes lit up.

“What metals have you been using? Copper, bronze? Probably. Well, that’s steel. You’re going to move into the iron age overnight.”

He turned to Taller. “Are your priests also in charge of the health of your people?” he growled. “Are their cures obtained from mumbo-jumbo and a few herbs found in the desert? Within a decade, I’ll guarantee you that not one of your major diseases will remain.”

He turned to the priest and said, “Or perhaps this will be the clincher for some of you. How many years do you have, old man?”

Mynor said with dignity, “I am sixty-four.”

Plekhanov said churlishly, “And I am two hundred and thirty-three.” He called to Stevens, “I think you’re our youngest. How old are you?”

Stevens grinned, “Hundred and thirteen, next month.”

Mynor opened his mouth, closed it again. No man but would prolong his youth. Of a sudden he felt old, old.

Plekhanov turned back to Taller. “Most of the progress we have to offer is beyond your capacity to understand. We’ll give you freedom from want. Health. We’ll give you advances in every art. We’ll eventually free every citizen from drudgery, educate him, give him the opportunity to enjoy intellectual curiosity. We’ll open the stars to him. All these things the coming of the State will eventually mean to you.”

Tula’s Khan was not impressed. “This you tell us, man from First Earth. But to achieve these you plan to change every phase of our lives and we are happy with⁠ ⁠… Tula⁠ ⁠… the way it is. I say this to you. There are but eight of you and many, many of us. We do not want your⁠ ⁠… State. Return from whence you came.”

Plekhanov shook his massive head at the other. “Whether or not you want these changes they will be made. If you fail to cooperate, we will find someone who will. I suggest you make the most of it.”

Taller arose from the squat stool upon which he’d been seated. “I have listened and I do not like what you have said. I am Khan of all the People. Now leave in peace, or I shall order my warriors⁠ ⁠…”

“Joe,” Plekhanov said flatly. “Watson!”

Joe Chessman took his heavy gun from its holster and triggered it twice. The roar of the explosions reverberated thunderously in the confined space, deafening all, and terrifying the Tulans. Bright red colored the robes the Khan wore, colored them without beauty. Bright red splattered the floor.

Leonid Plekhanov stared at his second in command, wet his thick lips. “Joe,” he sputtered. “I hadn’t⁠ ⁠… I didn’t expect you to be so⁠ ⁠… hasty.”

Joe Chessman growled, “We’ve got to let them know where we stand, right now, or they’ll never hold still for us. Cover the doors, Watson, Roberts.” He motioned to the others with his head. “Cogswell, Hawkins, Stevens, get to those windows and watch.”

Taller was a crumbled heap on the floor. The other Texcocans stared at his body in shocked horror.

All expect Reif.

Reif bent down over his father’s body for a moment, and then looked up, his lips white, at Plekhanov. “He is dead.”

Leonid Plekhanov collected himself. “Yes.”

Reif’s cold face was expressionless. He looked at Joe Chessman who stood stolidly to one side, gun still in hand.

Reif said, “You can supply such weapons to my armies?”

Plekhanov said, “That is our intention, in time.”

Reif came erect. “Subject to the approval of the clan leaders, I am now Khan. Tell me more of this State of which you have spoken.”


The sergeant stopped the small company about a quarter of a mile from the city of Bari. His detachment numbered only ten but they were well armed with short swords and blunderbusses and wore mail and steel helmets. On the face of it, they would have been a match for ten times this number of merchants.

It was hardly noon but the sergeant had obviously already been at his wine flask. He leered at them. “And where do you think you go?”

The merchant who led the rest was a thin little man but he was richly robed and astride a heavy black mare. He said, “To Bari, soldier.” He drew a paper from a pouch. “I hold this permission from Baron Mannerheim to pass through his lands with my people and chattels.”

The leer turned mercenary. “Unfortunately, city man, I can’t read. What do you carry on the mules?”

“Personal property, which, I repeat, I have permission to transport over Baron Mannerheim’s lands free from harassment from his followers.” He added, in irritation, “The baron is a friend of mine, fond of the gifts I give him.”

One of the soldiers grunted his skepticism, checked the flint on the lock of his piece, then looked at the sergeant suggestively.

The sergeant said, “As you say, merchant, my lord the baron is fond of gifts. Aren’t we all? Unfortunately, I have received no word of your group. My instructions are to stop all intruders upon the baron’s lands and, if there is resistance, to slay them and confiscate such properties as they may be carrying.”

The merchant sighed and reached into a small pouch. The eyes of the sergeant drooped in greed. The hand emerged with two small coins. “As you say,” the merchant muttered bitterly, “we are all fond of gifts. Will you do me the honor to drink my health at the tavern tonight?”

The sergeant said nothing, but his mouth slackened and he fondled the hilt of his sword.

The merchant sighed again and dipped once more into the pouch. This time his hand emerged with half a dozen bits of silver. He handed them down to the other, complaining, “How can a man profit in his affairs if every few miles he must pass another outstretched hand?”

The sergeant growled, “You do not seem to starve, city man. Now, on your way. You are fortunate I am too lazy today to bother going through your things. Besides,” and he grinned widely, “the baron gave me personal instructions not to bother you.”

The merchant snorted, kicked his heels into his beast’s sides and led his half dozen followers toward the city. The soldiers looked after them and howled their amusement. The money was enough to keep them soused for days.

When they were out of earshot, Amschel Mayer grinned his amusement back over his shoulder at Jerome Kennedy. “How’d that come off, Jerry?”

The other sniffed, in mock deprecation. “You’re beginning to fit into the local merchant pattern better than the real thing. However, just for the record, I had this, ah, grease gun, trained on them all the time.”

Mayer frowned. “Only in extreme emergency, my dear Jerry. The baron would be up in arms if he found a dozen of his men massacred on the outskirts of Bari, and we don’t want a showdown at this stage. It’s taken nearly a year to build this part we act.”

At this time of day the gates of the port city were open and the guards lounged idly. Their captain recognized Amschel Mayer and did no more than nod respectfully.

They wended their way through narrow, cobblestoned streets, avoiding the crowds in the central market area. They pulled up eventually before a house both larger and more ornate than its neighbors. Mayer and Kennedy dismounted from the horses and left their care to the others.

Mayer beat with the heavy knocker on the door and a slot opened for a quick check of his identity. The door opened wide and Technician Martin Gunther let them in.

“The others are here already?” Mayer asked him.

Gunther nodded. “Since breakfast. Baron Leonar, in particular, is impatient.”

Mayer said over his shoulder, “All right, Jerry, this is where we put it to them.”

They entered the long conference room. A full score of men sat about the heavy wooden table. Most of them were as richly garbed as their host. Most of them in their middle years. All of them alert of eye. All of them confidently at ease.

Amschel Mayer took his place at the table’s end and Jerome Kennedy sank into the chair next to him. Mayer took the time to speak to each of his guests individually, then he leaned back and took in the gathering as a whole. He said, “You probably realize that this group consists of the twenty most powerful merchants on the continent.”

Olderman nodded. “We have been discussing your purpose in bringing us together, Honorable Mayer. All of us are not friends.” He twisted his face in amusement. “In fact, very few of us are friends.”

“There is no need for you to be,” Mayer said snappishly, “but all are going to realize the need for cooperation. Honorables, I’ve just come from the city of Ronda. Although I’d paid heavily in advance to the three barons whose lands I crossed. I had to bribe myself through a dozen roadblocks, had to pay exorbitant rates to cross three ferries, and once had to fight off supposed bandits.”

One of his guests grumbled, “Who were actually probably soldiers of the local baron who had decided that although you had paid him transit fee, it still might be profitable to go through your goods.”

Mayer nodded. “Exactly, my dear Honorable, and that is why we’ve gathered.”

Olderman had evidently assumed spokesmanship for the others. Now he said warily, “I don’t understand.”

“Genoa, if you’ll pardon the use of this name to signify the planet upon which we reside, will never advance until trade has been freed from these bandits who call themselves lords and barons.”

Eyebrows reached for hairlines.

Olderman’s eyes darted about the room, went to the doors. “Please,” he said, “the servants.”

“My servants are safe,” Mayer said.

One of his guests was smiling without humor. “You seem to forget, Honorable Mayer, that I carry the title of baron.”

Mayer shook his head. “No, Baron Leonar. But neither do you disagree with what I say. The businessman, the merchant, the manufacturer on Genoa today, is only tolerated. Were it not for the fact that the barons have no desire to eliminate such a profitable source of income, they would milk us dry overnight.”

Someone shrugged. “That is the way of things. We are lucky to have wrested, bribed and begged as many favors from the lords as we have. Our twenty cities all have charters that protect us from complete despoilation.”

Mayer twisted excitedly in his chair. “As of today, things begin to change. Jerry, that platen press.”

Jerry Kennedy left the room momentarily and returned with Martin Gunther and two of the servants. While the assembled merchants looked on, in puzzled silence, Mayer’s assistants set up the press and a stand holding two fonts of fourteen-point type. Jerry took up a printer’s stick and gave running instructions as he demonstrated. Gunther handed around pieces of the type until all had examined it, while his colleague set up several lines. Kennedy transposed the lines to a chase, locked it up and placed the form to one side while he demonstrated inking the small press, which was operated by a foot pedal. He mounted the form in the press, took a score of sheets of paper and rapidly fed them, one by one. When they were all printed, he stopped pumping and Gunther handed the still wet finished product around to the audience.

Olderman stared down at the printed lines, scowled in concentration, wet his lips in sudden comprehension.

But it was merchant Russ who blurted, “This will revolutionize the inscribing of books. Why, it can well take it out of the hands of the Temple! With such a machine I could make a hundred books⁠—”

Mayer was beaming. “Not a hundred, Honorable, but a hundred thousand!”

The others stared at him as though he was demented. “A hundred thousand,” one said. “There are not that many literate persons on the continent.”

“There will be,” Mayer crowed. “This is but one of our levers to pry power from the barons. And here is another.” He turned to Russ. “Honorable Russ, your city is noted for the fine quality of its steel, of the swords and armor you produce.”

Russ nodded. He was a small man fantastically rich in his attire. “This is true, Honorable Mayer.”

Mayer said, tossing a small booklet to the other, “I have here the plans for a new method of making steel from pig iron. The Bessemer method, we’ll call it. The principle involved is the oxidation of the impurities in the iron by blowing air through the molten metal.”

Amschel Mayer turned to still another. “And your town is particularly noted for its fine textiles.” He looked to his assistants. “Jerry, you and Gunther bring in those models of the power loom and the spinning jenny.”

While they were gone, he said, “My intention is to assist you to speed up production. With this in mind, you’ll appreciate the automatic flying shuttle that we’ll now demonstrate.”

Kennedy and Gunther re-entered accompanied by four servants and a mass of equipment. Kennedy muttered to Amschel Mayer, “I feel like the instructor of a handicrafts class.”

Half an hour later, Kennedy and Gunther wound up passing out pamphlets to the awed merchant guests. Kennedy said, “This booklet will give details on construction of the equipment and its operation.”

Mayer pursed his lips. “Your people will be able to assimilate only so fast, so we won’t push them. Later, you’ll be interested in introducing the mule spinning frame, among other items.”

He motioned for the servants to remove the printing press and textile machinery. “We now come to probably the most important of the devices I have to introduce to you today. Because of size and weight, I’ve had constructed only a model. Jerry!”

Jerry Kennedy brought to the heavy table a small steam engine, clever in its simplicity. He had half a dozen attachments for it. Within moments he had the others around him, as enthusiastic as a group of youngsters with a new toy.

“By the Supreme,” Baron Leonar blurted, “do you realize this device could be used instead of waterpower to operate a mill to power the loom demonstrated an hour ago?”

Honorable Russ was rubbing the side of his face thoughtfully. “It might even be adapted to propel a coach. A coach without horses. Unbelievable!”

Mayer chuckled in excitement and clapped his hands. A servant entered with a toy wagon which had been slightly altered. Martin Gunther lifted the small engine, placed it in position atop the wagon, connected it quickly and threw a lever. The wagon moved smoothly forward, the first engine-propelled vehicle of Genoa’s industrial revolution.

Martin Gunther smiled widely at Russ. “You mean like this, Honorable?”

Half an hour later they were reseated, before each of them a small pile of pamphlets, instructions, plans, blueprints.

Mayer said, “I have just one more device to bring to your attention at this time. I wish it were unnecessary but I am afraid otherwise.”

He held up for their inspection, a forty-five-caliber bullet. Jerry Kennedy handed around samples to the merchants. They fingered them in puzzlement.

“Honorables,” Mayer said, “the barons have the use of gunpowder. Muskets and muzzleloading cannon are available to them both for their wars against each other and their occasional attacks upon our supposedly independent cities. However, this is an advancement on their weapons. This unit includes not only the bullet’s lead, but the powder and the cap which will explode it.”

They lacked understanding, and showed it.

Mayer said, “Jerry, if you’ll demonstrate.”

Jerry Kennedy said, “The bullet can be adapted to various weapons, however, this is one of the simplest.” He pressed, one after another, a full twenty rounds into the gun’s clip.

“Now, if you’ll note the silhouette of a man I’ve drawn on the wooden frame at the end of the room.” He pressed the trigger, sent a single shot into the figure.

Olderman nodded. “An improvement in firearms. But⁠—”

Kennedy said, “However, if you are confronted with more than one of the bad guys.” He grinned and flicked the gun to full automatic and in a Götterdämmerung of sound in the confines of the room, emptied the clip into his target sending splinters and chips flying and all but demolishing the wooden backdrop.

His audience sat back in stunned horror at the demonstration.

Mayer said now, “The weapon is simple to construct, any competent gunsmith can do it. It is manifest, Honorables, that with your people so equipped your cities will be safe from attack and so will trading caravans and ships.”

Russ said shakily, “Your intention is good, Honorable Mayer, however it will be but a matter of time before the barons have solved the secrets of your weapon. Such cannot be held indefinitely. Then we would again be at their mercy.”

“Believe me, Honorable,” Mayer said dryly, “by that time I will have new weapons to introduce, if necessary. Weapons that make this one a very toy in comparison.”

Olderman resumed his office as spokesman. “This demonstration has astounded us, Honorable Mayer, but although we admire your abilities it need hardly be pointed out that it seems unlikely all this could be the product of one brain.”

“They are not mine,” Mayer admitted. “They are the products of many minds.”

“But where⁠—?”

The Earthman shook his head. “I don’t believe I will tell you now.”

“I see.” The Genoese eyed him emotionlessly. “Then the question becomes, why?”

Mayer said, “It may be difficult for you to see, but the introduction of each of these will be a nail in feudalism’s coffin. Each will increase either production or trade and such increase will lead to the overthrow of feudal society.”

Baron Leonar, who had remained largely silent throughout the afternoon, now spoke up. “As you said earlier, although I am a lord myself, my interests are your own. I am a merchant first. However, I am not sure I want the changes these devices will bring. Frankly, Honorable Mayer, I am satisfied with my world as I find it today.”

Amschel Mayer smiled wryly at him. “I am afraid you must adapt to these new developments.”

The baron said coldly, “Why? I do not like to be told I must do something.”

“Because, my dear baron, there are three continents on the planet of Genoa. At present there is little trade due to inadequate shipping. But the steam engine I introduce today will soon propel larger craft than you have ever built before.”

Russ said, “What has this to do with our being forced to use these devices?”

“Because I have colleagues on the other continents busily introducing them. If you don’t adapt, in time competitors will invade your markets, capture your trade, drive you out of business.”

Mayer wrapped it up. “Honorables, modernize or go under. It’s each man for himself and the devil take the hindmost, if you’ll allow a saying from another era.”

They remained silent for a long period. Finally Olderman stated bluntly, “The barons are not going to like this.”

Jerry Kennedy grinned. “Obviously, that’s why we’ve introduced you to the tommy gun. It’s not going to make any difference if they like it or not.”

Russ said musingly, “Pressure will be put to prevent the introduction of this equipment.”

“We’ll meet it,” Mayer said, shifting happily in his seat.

Russ added, “The Temple is ever on the side of the barons. The monks will fight against innovations that threaten to disturb the present way.”

Mayer said, “Monks usually do. How much property is in the hands of the Temple?”

Russ admitted sourly, “The monks are the greatest landlords of all. I would say at least one third of the land and the serfs belong to the Temple.”

“Ah,” Mayer said. “We must investigate the possibilities of a Reformation. But that can come later. Now I wish to expand on my reason for gathering you.

“Honorables, Genoa is to change rapidly. To survive, you will have to move fast. I have not introduced these revolutionary changes without self-interest. Each of you are free to use them to his profit, however, I expect a thirty percent interest.”

There was a universal gasp.

Olderman said, “Honorable Mayer, you have already demonstrated your devices. What is there to prevent us from playing you false?”

Mayer laughed. “My dear Olderman, I have other inventions to reveal as rapidly as you develop the technicians, the workers, capable of building and operating them. If you cheat me now, you will be passed by next time.”

Russ muttered, “Thirty percent! Your wealth will be unbelievable.”

“As fast as it accumulates, Honorables, it shall be invested. For instance, I have great interest in expanding our inadequate universities. The advances I expect will only be possible if we educate the people. Field serfs are not capable of running even that simple steam engine Jerry demonstrated.”

Baron Leonar said, “What you contemplate is mind-shaking. Do I understand that you wish a confederation of all our cities? A joining together to combat the strength of the present lords?”

Mayer was shaking his head. “No, no. As the barons lose power, each of your cities will strengthen and possibly expand to become nations. Perhaps some will unite. But largely you will compete against each other and against the nations of the other continents. In such competition you’ll have to show your mettle, or go under. Man develops at his fastest when pushed by such circumstance.”

The Earthling looked off, unseeing, into a far corner of the room. “At least, so is my contention. Far away from here a colleague is trying to prove me wrong. We shall see.”


Leonid Plekhanov returned to the Pedagogue with a certain ceremony. He was accompanied by Joe Chessman, Natt Roberts and Barry Watson of his original group, but four young, hard-eyed, hard-faced and armed Tulans were also in the party. Their space lighter swooped in, nestled to the Pedagogue’s hull in the original bed it had occupied on the trip from Terra City, and her port opened to the corridors of the mother ship.

Plekhanov, flanked by Chessman and Watson, strode heavily toward the ship’s lounge. Natt Roberts and two of the Tulans remained with the small boat. Two of the other natives followed, their eyes darting here, there, in amazement, in spite of their efforts to appear grim and untouched by it all.

Amschel Mayer was already seated at the officer’s dining table. His face displayed his irritation at the other’s method of presenting himself. “Good Heavens, Plekhanov, what is this, an invasion?”

The other registered surprise.

Mayer indicated the Texcocans. “Do you think it necessary to bring armed men aboard the Pedagogue? Frankly, I have not even revealed to a single Genoese the existence of the ship.”

Jerry Kennedy was seated to one side, the only member of Mayer’s team who had accompanied him for this meeting. Kennedy winked at Watson and Chessman. Watson grinned back but held his peace.

Plekhanov sank into a chair, rumbling, “We hold no secrets from the Texcocans. The sooner they advance to where they can use our libraries and laboratories, the better. And the fact these boys are armed has no significance. My Tulans are currently embarked on a campaign to unite the planet. Arms are sometimes necessary, and Tula, my capital, is somewhat of an armed camp. All able-bodied men⁠—”

Mayer broke in heatedly, “And is this the method you use to bring civilization to Texcoco? Is this what you consider the purpose of the Office of Galactic Colonization? An armed camp! How many persons have you slaughtered thus far?”

“Easy,” Joe Chessman growled.

Amschel Mayer spun on him. “I need no instruction from you, Chessman. Please remember I’m senior in charge of this expedition and as such rank you.”

Plekhanov thudded a heavy hand on the table. “I’ll call my assistants to order, Mayer, if I feel it necessary. Admittedly, when this expedition left Terra City you were the ranking officer. Now, however, we’ve divided⁠—at your suggestion, please remember. Now there are two independent groups and you no longer have jurisdiction over mine.”

“Indeed!” Mayer barked. “And suppose I decide to withhold the use of the Pedagogue’s libraries and laboratories to you? I tell you, Plekhanov⁠—”

Leonid Plekhanov interrupted him coldly. “I would not suggest you attempt any such step, Mayer.”

Mayer glared but suddenly reversed himself. “Let’s settle down and become more sensible. This is the first conference of the five we have scheduled. Ten years have elapsed. Actually, of course, we’ve had some idea of each other’s progress since team members occasionally meet on trips back here to the Pedagogue to consult the library. I am afraid, my dear Leonid, that your theories on industrialization are rapidly being proven inaccurate.”


Mayer said smoothly, “In the decade past, my team’s efforts have more than tripled the Genoese industrial potential. Last week one of our steamships crossed the second ocean. We’ve located petroleum and the first wells are going down. We’ve introduced a dozen crops that had disappeared through misadventure to the original colonists. And, oh yes, our first railroad is scheduled to begin running between Bari and Ronda next spring. There are six new universities and in the next decade I expect fifty more.”

“Very good, indeed,” Plekhanov grumbled.

“Only a beginning. The breath of competition, of unharnessed enterprise is sweeping Genoa. Feudalism crumbles. Customs, mores and traditions that have held up progress for a century or more are now on their way out.”

Joe Chessman growled, “Some of the boys tell me you’ve had a few difficulties with this crumbling feudalism thing. In fact, didn’t Buchwald barely escape with his life when the barons on your western continent united to suppress all chartered cities?”

Mayer’s thin face darkened. “Never fear, my dear Joseph, those barons responsible for shedding the blood of western hemisphere elements of progress will shortly pay for their crimes.”

“You’ve got military problems too, then?” Barry Watson asked.

Mayer’s eyes went to him in irritation. “Some of the free cities of Genoa are planning measures to regain their property and rights on the western hemisphere. This has nothing to do with my team, except, of course, in so far as they might sell them supplies or equipment.”

The lanky Watson laughed lowly, “You mean like selling them a few quick-firing breech-loaders and trench mortars?”

Plekhanov muttered, “That’ll be enough, Barry.”

But Mayer’s eyes had widened. “How did you know?” He whirled on Plekhanov. “You’re spying on my efforts, trying to negate my work!”

Plekhanov rumbled, “Don’t be a fool, Mayer. My team has neither the time nor interest to spy on you.”

“Then how did you know⁠—”

Barry Watson said mildly, “I was doing some investigation in the ship’s library. I ran into evidence that you people had already used the blueprints for breech-loaders and mortars.”

Jerry Kennedy came to his feet and rambled over to the messroom’s bar. “This seems to be all out spat, rather than a conference to compare progress,” he said. “Anybody for a drink? Frankly, that’s the next thing I’m going to introduce to Genoa, some halfway decent likker. Do you know what those benighted heathens drink now?”

Watson grinned. “Make mine whisky, Jerry. You’ve no complaints. Our benighted heathens have a national beverage fermented from a plant similar to cactus. Ought to be drummed out of the human race.”

He spoke idly, forgetful of the Tulan guards stationed at the doorway.

Kennedy passed drinks around for everyone save Mayer, who shook his head in distaste. If only for a brief spell, some of the tenseness left the air while the men from Earth sipped their beverages.

Jerry Kennedy said, “Well, you’ve heard our report. How go things on Texcoco?”

“According to plan,” Plekhanov rumbled.

Mayer snorted.

Plekhanov said ungraciously, “Our prime effort is now the uniting of the total population into one strong whole, a super-state capable of accomplishing the goals set us by the Coordinator.”

Mayer sneered, “Undoubtedly, this goal of yours, this super-state, is being established by force.”

“Not always,” Joe Chessman said. “Quite a few of the tribes join up on their own. Why not? The State has a lot to offer.”

“Such as what?” Kennedy said mildly.

Chessman looked at him in irritation. “Such as advanced medicine, security from famine, military protection from more powerful nations. The opportunity for youth to get an education and find advancement in the State’s government⁠—if they’ve got it on the ball.”

“And what happens if they don’t have it on the ball?”

Chessman growled, “What happens to such under any society? They get the dirty-end-of-the-stick jobs.” His eyes went from Kennedy to Mayer. “Are you suggesting you offer anything better?”

Mayer said, “Already on most of Genoa it is a matter of free competition. The person with ability is able to profit from it.”

Joe Chessman grunted sour amusement. “Of course, it doesn’t help to be the son of a wealthy merchant or a big politician.”

Plekhanov took over. “In any society the natural leaders come to the top in much the same manner as the big ones come to the top in a bin of potatoes, they just work their way up.”

Jerry Kennedy finished his drink and said easily, “At least, those at the top can claim they’re the biggest potatoes. Remember back in the twentieth century when Hitler and his gang announced they were the big potatoes in Germany and men of Einstein’s stature fled the country⁠—being small potatoes, I suppose.”

Amschel Mayer said, “We’re getting away from the point. Pray go on, my dear Leonid. You say you are forcibly uniting all Texcoco.”

“We are uniting all Texcoco,” Plekhanov corrected with a scowl. “Not always by force. And that is by no means our only effort. We are ferreting out the most intelligent of the assimilated peoples and educating them as rapidly as possible. We’ve introduced iron⁠ ⁠…”

“And use it chiefly for weapons,” Kennedy murmured.

“… Antibiotics and other medicines, a field agriculture, are rapidly building roads⁠ ⁠…”

“Military roads,” Kennedy mused.

“… To all sections of the State, have made a beginning in naval science, and, of course, haven’t ignored the arts.”

“On the face of it,” Mayer nodded, “hardly approaching Genoa.”

Plekhanov rumbled indignantly, “We started two ethnic periods behind you. Even the Tulans were still using bronze, but the Genoese had iron and even gunpowder. Our advance is a bit slow to get moving, Mayer, but when it begins to roll⁠—”

Mayer gave his characteristic snort. “A free people need never worry about being passed by a subjected one.”

Barry Watson made himself another drink and while doing so looked over his shoulder at Amschel Mayer. “It’s interesting the way you throw about that term free. Just what type of government do you sponsor?”

Mayer snapped, “Our team does not interfere in governmental forms, Watson. The various nations are free to adapt to whatever local conditions obtain. They range from some under feudalistic domination to countries with varying degrees of republican democracy. Our base of operations in the southern hemisphere is probably the most advanced of all the chartered cities, Barry. It amounts to a city-state somewhat similar to Florence during the Renaissance.”

“And your team finds itself in the position of the Medici, I imagine.”

“You might use that analogy. The Medici might have been, well, tyrants of Florence, dominating her finances and trade as well as her political government, but they were benevolent tyrants.”

“Yeah,” Watson grinned. “The thing about a benevolent tyranny, though, is that it’s up to the tyrants to decide what’s benevolent. I’m not so sure there’s a great basic difference between your governing of Genoa and ours of Texcoco.”

“Don’t be an ass,” Mayer snapped. “We are granting the Genoese political freedoms as fast as they can assimilate them.”

Joe Chessman growled, “But I imagine it’s surprising to find just how slowly they can assimilate. A moment ago you said they were free to form any government they wished. Now you say you feed them what you call freedom, only so fast as they can assimilate it.”

“Obviously we encourage them along whatever path we think will most quickly develop their economies,” Mayer argued. “That’s what we’ve been sent here to do. We stimulate competition, encourage all progress, political as well as economic.”

Plekhanov lumbered to his feet. “Amschel, obviously nothing new has been added to our respective positions by this conference. I propose we adjourn to meet again at the end of the second decade.”

Mayer said, “I suppose it would be futile to suggest you give up this impossible totalitarian scheme of yours and reunite the expedition.”

Plekhanov merely grunted his disgust.

Jerry Kennedy said, “One thing. What stand have you taken on giving your planet immortality?”

“Immortality?” Watson said. “We haven’t it to give.”

“You know what I mean. It wouldn’t take long to extend the life span double or triple the present.”

Amschel Mayer said, “At this stage progress is faster with the generations closer together. A man is pressed when he knows he has only twenty or thirty years of peak efficiency. We on Earth are inclined to settle back and take life as it comes; you younger men are all past the century mark, but none have bothered to get married as yet.”

“Plenty of time for that,” Watson grinned.

“That’s what I mean. But a Texcocan or Genoese feels pressed to wed in his twenties, or earlier, to get his family under way.”

“There’s another element,” Plekhanov muttered. “The more the natives progress the more nearly they’ll equal our abilities. I wouldn’t want anything to happen to our overall plans. As it is now, their abilities taper off at sixty and they reach senility at seventy or eighty. I think until the end we should keep it this way.”

“A cold-blooded view,” Kennedy said. “If we extended their life expectancy, their best men would live to be of additional use to planet development.”

“But they would not have our dream,” Plekhanov rumbled. “Such men might try to subvert us, and, just possibly, might succeed.”

“I think Leonid is right,” Mayer admitted with reluctance.

Later, in the space lighter heading back for Genoa, Mayer said speculatively, “Did you notice anything about Leonid Plekhanov?”

Kennedy was piloting. “He seems the same irascible old curmudgeon he’s always been.”

“It seems to me he’s become a touch power mad. Could the pressures he’s under cause his mind to slip? Obviously, all isn’t peaches and cream in that attempt of his to achieve world government on Texcoco.”

“Well,” Kennedy muttered, “all isn’t peaches and cream with us, either. The barons are far from licked, especially in the west.” He changed the subject. “By the way, that banking deal went through in Pola. I was able to get control.”

“Fine,” Mayer chuckled. “You must be quite the richest man in the city. There is a certain stimulation in this financial game, Jerry, isn’t there?”

“Uh huh,” Jerry told him. “Of course, it doesn’t hurt to have a marked deck.”

“Marked deck?” the other frowned.

“It’s handy that gold is the medium of exchange on Genoa,” Jerry Kennedy said. “Especially in view of the fact that we have a machine on the ship capable of transmuting metals.”


Leonid Plekhanov, Joseph Chessman, Barry Watson, Khan Reif and several of the Tulan army staff stood on a small knoll overlooking a valley of several square miles. A valley dominated on all sides but the sea by mountain ranges.

Reif and the three Earthlings were bent over a military map depicting the area. Barry Watson traced with his finger.

“There are only two major passes into this valley. We have this one, they dominate that.”

Plekhanov was scowling, out of his element and knowing it. “How many men has Mynor been able to get together?”

Watson avoided looking into the older man’s face. “Approximately half a million according to Hawkins’ estimate. He flew over them this morning.”

“Half a million!”

“Including the nomads, of course,” Joe Chessman said. “The nomads fight more like a mob than an army.”

Plekhanov was shaking his massive head. “Most of them will melt away if we continue to avoid battle. They can’t feed that many men on the countryside. The nomads in particular will return home if they don’t get a fight soon.”

Watson hid his impatience. “That’s the point, sir. If we don’t break their power now, in a decisive defeat, we’ll have them to fight again, later. And already they’ve got iron swords, the crossbow and even a few muskets. Given time and they’ll all be so armed. Then the fat’ll be in the fire.”

“He’s right,” Joe Chessman said sourly.

Reif nodded his head. “We must finish them now, if we can. The task will be twice as great next year.”

Plekhanov grumbled in irritation. “Half a million of them and something like forty thousand of our Tulans.”

Reif corrected him. “Some thirty thousand Tulans, all infantrymen.” He added, “And eight thousand allied cavalry only some of whom can be trusted.” Reif’s ten-year-old son came up next to him and peered down at the map.

“What’s that child doing here?” Plekhanov snapped.

Reif looked into the other’s face. “This is Taller Second, my son. You from First Earth have never bothered to study our customs. One of them is that a Khan’s son participates in all battles his father does. It is his training.”

Watson was pointing out features on the map again. “It will take three days for their full army to get in here.” He added with emphasis, “In retreat, it would take them the same time to get out.”

Plekhanov scowled heavily. “We can’t risk it. If we were defeated, we have no reserve army. We’d have lost everything.” He looked at Joe Chessman and Watson significantly. “We’d have to flee back to the Pedagogue.”

Reif’s face was expressionless.

Barry Watson looked at him. “We won’t desert you, Reif, forget about that aspect of it.”

Reif said, “I believe you, Barry Watson. You are a⁠ ⁠… soldier.”

Dick Hawkins’ small biplane zoomed in, landed expertly at the knoll’s foot. The occupant vaulted out and approached them at a half run.

Hawkins called as soon as he was within shouting distance. “They’re moving in. Their advance cavalry units are already in the pass.”

When he was with them, Plekhanov rubbed his hand nervously over heavy lips. He rumbled, “The cavalry, eh? Listen, Hawkins, get back there and dust them. Use the gas.”

The pilot said slowly, “I have four bullet holes in my wings.”

“Bullet holes!” Joe Chessman snapped.

Hawkins turned to him. “By the looks of things, MacBride’s whole unit has gone over to the rebels. Complete with their double-barreled muskets. A full thousand of them.”

Watson looked frigidly at Leonid Plekhanov. “You insisted on issuing guns to men we weren’t sure of.”

Plekhanov grumbled, “Confound it, don’t use that tone of voice with me. We have to arm our men, don’t we?”

Watson said, “Yes, but our still comparatively few advanced weapons shouldn’t go into the hands of anybody but trusted citizens of the State, certainly not to a bunch of mercenaries. The only ones we can really trust even among the Tulans, are those that were kids when we first took over. The one’s we’ve had time to indoctrinate.”

“The mistake’s made. It’s too late now,” Plekhanov said. “Hawkins go back and dust those cavalrymen as they come through the pass.”

Reif said, “It was a mistake, too, to allow them the secret of the crossbow.”

Plekhanov roared, “I didn’t allow them anything. Once the crossbow was introduced it was just a matter of time before its method of construction got to the enemy.”

“Then it shouldn’t have been introduced,” Reif said, his eyes unflinching from the Earthman’s.

Plekhanov ignored him. He said, “Hawkins, get going on that dusting. Watson, pull what units we already have in this valley back through the pass we control. We’ll avoid battle until more of their army has fallen away.”

Hawkins said with deceptive mildness, “I just told you those cavalrymen have muskets. To fly low enough to use gas on them, I’d get within easy range. Point one, this is the only aircraft we’ve built. Point two, MacBride is probably dead, killed when those cavalrymen mutinied. Point three, I came on this expedition to help modernize the Texcocans, not to die in battle.”

Plekhanov snarled at him. “Coward, eh?” He turned churlishly to Watson and Reif. “Start pulling back our units.”

Barry Watson looked at Chessman. “Joe?”

Joe Chessman shook his head slowly. He said to Reif, “Khan, start bringing your infantry through the pass. Barry, we’ll follow your plan of battle. We’ll anchor one flank on the sea and concentrate what cavalry we can trust on the hills on the right. That’s the bad spot, that right flank has to hold.”

Plekhanov’s thick lips trembled. He said in fury, “Is this insubordination?”

Reif turned on his heel and followed by young Taller and his staff hurried down the knoll to where their horses were tethered.

Chessman said to Hawkins, “If you’ve got the fuel, Dick, maybe it’d be a good idea to keep them under observation. Fly high enough, of course, to avoid gunfire.”

Hawkins darted a look at Plekhanov, turned and hurried back to his plane.

Joe Chessman, his voice sullen, said to Plekhanov, “We can’t afford any more mistakes, Leonid. We’ve had too many already.” He said to Watson, “Be sure and let their cavalry units scout us out. Allow them to see that we’re entering the valley too. They’ll think they’ve got us trapped.”

“They will have!” Plekhanov roared. “I countermand that order, Watson! We’re withdrawing.”

Barry Watson raised his eyebrows at Joe Chessman.

“Put him under arrest,” Joe growled sourly. “We’ll decide what to do about it later.”

By the third day, Mynor’s rebel and nomad army had filed through the pass and was forming itself into battle array. Rank upon rank upon rank.

The Tulan infantry had taken less than half a day to enter. They had camped and rested during the interval, the only action being on the part of the rival cavalry forces.

Now the thirty thousand Tulans went into their phalanx and began their march across the valley.

Joe Chessman, Hawkins, Roberts, Stevens and Khan Reif and several of his men again occupied the knoll which commanded a full view of the terrain. With binoculars and wrist radios from the Pedagogue they kept in contact with the battle.

Below, Barry Watson walked behind the advancing infantry. There were six divisions of five thousand men each, twenty-four foot sarissas stretched before their sixteen man deep line. Only the first few lines were able to extend their weapons; the rest gave weight and supplied replacements for the advanced lines’ casualties. Behind them all the Tulan drums beat out the slow, inexorable march.

Cogswell, beside Watson with the wrist radio, said excitedly, “Here comes a cavalry charge, Barry. Reif says right behind it the nomad infantry is coming in.” Cogswell cleared his throat. “All of them.”

Watson held up a hand in signal to his officers. The phalanx ground to a halt, received the charge on the hedge of sarissas. The enemy cavalry wheeled and attempted to retreat to the flanks but were caught in a bloody confusion by the pressure of their own advancing infantry.

Cogswell, his ear to the radio, said, “Their main body of horse is hitting our right flank.” He wet his lips. “We’re outnumbered there something like ten to one. At least ten to one.”

“They’ve got to hold,” Watson said. “Tell Reif and Chessman that flank has to hold.”

The enemy infantrymen in their hundreds of thousands hit the Tulan line in a clash of deafening military thunder. Barry Watson resumed his pacing. He signaled to the drummers who beat out another march. The phalanx moved forward slowly, and slowly went into an echelon formation, each division slightly ahead of the one following. Of necessity, the straight lines of the nomad and rebel front had to break.

The drums went boom, ah, boom, ah, boom, ah, boom.

The Tulan phalanx moved slowly, obliquely across the valley. The hedge of spears ruthlessly pressed the mass of enemy infantry before them.

The sergeants paced behind, shouting over the din. “Dress it up. You there, you’ve been hit, fall out to the rear.”

“I’m all right,” the wounded spearman snarled, battle lust in his voice.

“Fall out, I said,” the sergeant roared. “You there, take his place.”

The Tulan phalanx ground ahead.

One of the sergeants grinned wanly at Barry Watson as his men moved forward with the preciseness of the famed Rockettes of another era. “It’s working,” he said proudly.

Barry Watson snorted, “Don’t give me credit. It belongs to a man named Philip of Macedon, a long ways away in both space and time.”

Cogswell called, “Our right flank cavalry is falling back. Joe wants to know if you can send any support.”

Watson’s face went expressionless. “No,” he said flatly. “It’s got to hold. Tell Joe and the Khan it’s got to hold. Suggest they throw in those cavalry units they’re not sure of. The ones that threatened mutiny last week.”

Joe Chessman stood on the knoll flanked by the Khan’s ranking officers and the balance of the Earthmen. Natt Roberts was on the radio. He turned to the others and worriedly repeated the message.

Joe Chessman looked out over the valley. The thirty-thousand-man phalanx was pressing back the enemy infantry with the precision of a machine. He looked up the hillside at the point where the enemy cavalry was turning the right flank. Given cavalry behind the Tulan line and the battle was lost.

“OK, boys,” Chessman growled sourly, “we’re in the clutch now. Hawkins!”

“Yeah,” the pilot said.

“See what you can do. Use what bombs you have including the napalm. Fly as low as you can in the way of scaring their horses.” He added sourly, “Avoiding scaring ours, if you can.”

“You’re the boss,” Hawkins said, and scurried off toward his scout plane.

Joe Chessman growled to the others, “When I was taking my degree in primitive society and primitive military tactics, I didn’t exactly have this in mind. Come on!”

It was the right thing to say. The other Earthmen laughed and took up their equipment, submachine guns, riot guns, a flame thrower, grenades, and followed him up the hill toward the fray.

Chessman said over his shoulder to Reif, “Khan, you’re in the saddle. You can keep in touch with both Watson and us on the radio.”

Reif hesitated only a moment. “There is no need for further direction of the battle from this point. A warrior is of more value now than a Khan. Come my son.” He caught up a double-barreled musket and followed the Earthmen. The ten years old Taller scurried after with a revolver.

Natt Roberts said, “If we can hold their cavalry for only another half hour, Watson’s phalanx will have their infantry pressed up against the pass they entered by. It took them three days to get through it, they’re not going to be able to get out in hours.”

“That’s the idea,” Joe Chessman said dourly, “Let’s go.”


Amschel Mayer was incensed.

“What’s got into Buchwald and MacDonald?” he spat.

Jerry Kennedy, attired as was his superior in fur trimmed Genoese robes, signaled one of the servants for a refilling of his glass and shrugged.

“I suppose it’s partly our own fault,” he said lightly. He sipped the wine, made a mental note to buy up the rest of this vintage for his cellars before young Mannerheim or someone else did so.

“Our fault!” Mayer glared.

The old boy was getting decreasingly tolerant as the years went by, Kennedy decided. He said soothingly, “You sent Peter and Fred over there to speed up local development. Well, that’s what they’re doing.”

“Are you insane!” Mayer squirmed in his chair. “Did you read this radiogram? They’ve squeezed out all my holdings in rubber, the fastest growing industry on the western continent. Why, millions are involved. Who do they think they are?”

Kennedy put down his glass and chuckled. “See here, Amschel, we’re developing this planet by encouraging free competition. Our contention is that under such a socioeconomic system the best men are brought to the lead and benefit all society by the advances they make.”

“So! What has this got to do with MacDonald and Buchwald betraying my interests?”

“Don’t you see? Using your own theory, you have been set back by someone more efficiently competitive. Fred and Peter saw an opening and, in keeping with your instructions, moved in. It’s just coincidence that the rubber they took over was your property rather than some Genoese operator’s. If you were open to a loss there, then if they hadn’t taken over someone else could have. Possibly Baron Leonar or even Russ.”

“That reminds me,” Mayer snapped, “our Honorable Russ is getting too big for his britches in petroleum. Did you know he’s established a laboratory in Amerus? Has a hundred or more chemists working on new products.”

“Fine,” Kennedy said.

“Fine! What do you mean? Dean is our man in petroleum.”

“Look here, if Russ can develop the industry even faster than Mike Dean, let him go ahead. That’s all to our advantage.”

Mayer leaned forward and tapped his assistant emphatically on the knee. “Look here, yourself, Jerry Kennedy. At this stage we don’t want things getting out of our hands. A culture is in the hands of those who control the wealth; the means of production, distribution, communication. Theirs is the real power. I’ve made a point of spacing our men about the whole planet. Each specializes, though not exclusively. Gunther is our mining man, Dean heads petroleum, MacDonald shipping, Buchwald textiles, Rykov steel, and so forth. As fast as this planet can assimilate we push new inventions, new techniques, often whole new sciences, into use. Meanwhile, you and I sit back and dominate it all through that strongest of power mediums, finance.”

Jerry Kennedy nodded. “I wouldn’t worry about old man Russ taking over Dean’s domination of oil, though. Mike’s got the support of all the Pedagogue’s resources behind him. Besides, we’ve got to let these Genoese get into the act. The more the economy expands, the more capable men we need. As it is, I think we’re already spread a little too thin.”

Amschel Mayer had dropped the subject. He was reading the radiogram again and scowling his anger. “Well, this cooks MacDonald and Buchwald. I’ll break them.”

His assistant raised his eyebrows. “How do you mean?”

“I’m not going to put up with my subordinates going against my interests.”

“In this case, what can you do about it? Business is business.”

“You hold quite a bit of their paper, don’t you?”

“You know that. Most of our team’s finances funnel through my hands.”

“We’ll close them out. They’ve become too obsessed with their wealth. They’ve forgotten why the Pedagogue was sent here. I’ll break them, Jerry. They’ll come crawling. Perhaps I’ll send them back to the Pedagogue. Make them stay aboard as crew.”

Kennedy shrugged. “Well, Peter MacDonald’s going to hate that. He’s developed into quite a high liver⁠—gourmet food, women, one of the swankiest estates on the eastern continent.”

“Ha!” Mayer snorted. “Let him go back to ship’s rations and crew’s quarters.”

A servant entered the lushly furnished room and announced, “Honorable Gunther calling on the Honorables Mayer and Kennedy.”

Martin Gunther hurried into the room, for once his calm ruffled. “On the western continent,” he blurted. “Dean and Rosetti. The Temple got them, they’ve been burned as witches.”

Amschel Mayer shot to his feet. “That’s the end,” he swore shrilly. “Only in the west have the barons held out. I thought we’d slowly wear them down, take over their powers bit by bit. But this does it. This means we fight.”

He spun to Kennedy. “Jerry, make a trip out to the Pedagogue. You know the extent of Genoa’s industrial progress. Seek out the most advanced weapons this technology could produce.”

Kennedy came to his own feet, shocked by Gunther’s news. “But, Amschel, do you think it’s wise to precipitate an intercontinental war? Remember, we’ve been helping to industrialize the west, too. It’s almost as advanced as our continent. Their war potential isn’t negligible.”

“Nevertheless,” Mayer snapped, “we’ve got to break the backs of the barons and the Temple monks. Get messages off to Baron Leonar and young Mannerheim, to Russ and Olderman. We’ll want them to put pressure on their local politicians. What we need is a continental alliance for this war.”

Gunther said, “Should I get in touch with Rykov? He’s still over there.”

Mayer hesitated. “No,” he said. “We’ll keep Nick informed but he ought to remain where he is. We’ll still want our men in the basic positions of power after we’ve won.”

“He might get hurt,” Gunther scowled. “They might get him too, and we’ve only got six team members left now.”

“Nonsense, Nick Rykov can take care of himself.”

Jerry Kennedy was upset. “Are you sure about this war, chief? Isn’t a conflict of this size apt to hold up our overall plans?”

“Of course not,” Mayer scoffed. “Man makes his greatest progress under pressure. A major war will unite the nations of both the western continent and this one as nothing else could. Both will push their development to the utmost.”

He added thoughtfully, “Which reminds me. It might be a good idea for us to begin accumulating interests in such industries as will be effected by a war economy.”

Jerry Kennedy chuckled at him, “Merchant of death.”


“Nothing,” Kennedy said. “Something I read about in a history book.”


At the decade’s end, once again the representatives of the Genoese team were first in the Pedagogue’s lounge. Mayer sat at the officer’s table, Martin Gunther at his right. Jerry Kennedy leaned against the ship’s bar, sipping appreciatively at a highball.

They could hear the impact of the space boat from Texcoco when it slid into its bed.

“Poor piloting,” Gunther mused. “Whoever’s doing that flying doesn’t get enough practice.”

They could hear ports opening and then the sound of approaching feet. The footsteps had a strangely military ring.

Joe Chessman entered, followed immediately by Barry Watson, Dick Hawkins and Natt Roberts. They were all dressed in heavy uniform, complete with decorations. Behind them were four Texcocans, including Reif and his teenage son Taller.

Mayer scowled at them in way of greeting. “Where’s Plekhanov?”

“Leonid Plekhanov is no longer with us,” Chessman said dourly. “Under pressure his mind evidently snapped and he made decisions that would have meant the collapse of the expedition. He resisted when we reasoned with him.”

The four members of the Genoese team stared without speaking. Jerry Kennedy put down his glass at last. “You mean you had to restrict him? Why didn’t you bring him back to the ship!”

Chessman took a chair at the table. The others assumed standing positions behind him. “I’m afraid we’ll have to reject your views on the subject. Twenty years ago this expedition split into two groups. My team will accomplish its tasks, your opinions are not needed.”

Amschel Mayer glared at the others in hostility. “You have certainly come in force this time.”

Chessman said flatly, “This is all of us, Mayer.”

“All of you! Where are Stevens, Cogswell, MacBride?”

Barry Watson said, “Plekhanov’s fault. Lost in the battle that broke the back of the rebels. At least Cogswell and MacBride were. Stevens made the mistake of backing Plekhanov when the showdown came.”

Joe Chessman looked sourly at his military chief. “I’ll act as team spokesman, Barry.”

“Yes, sir,” Watson said.

“Broke the back of the rebels,” Jerry Kennedy mused. “That opens all sorts of avenues, doesn’t it?”

Chessman growled. “I suppose that in the past twenty years your team had no obstacles. Not a drop of blood shed. Come on, the truth. How many of your team has been lost?”

Mayer shifted in his chair. “Possibly your point is well taken. Dean and Rosetti were burned by the formerly dominant religious group. Rykov was killed in a fracas with bandits while he was transporting some gold.” He added, musingly, “We lost more than half a million Genoese pounds in that robbery.”

“Only three men lost, eh?”

Mayer stirred uncomfortably, then flushed in irritation at the other’s tone. “Something has happened to Buchwald and MacDonald. They must be insane. They’ve broken off contact with me, are amassing personal fortunes in the eastern hemisphere.”

Hawkins laughed abruptly. “Free competition,” he said.

Chessman growled, “Let’s halt this bickering and get to business. First let me introduce Reif, Texcocan State Army Chief of Staff and his son Taller. And these other Texcocans are Wiss and Fokin, both of whom have gone far in the sciences.”

The Tulans shook hands, Earth style, but then stepped to the rear again where they followed the conversation without comment.

Mayer said, “You think it wise to introduce natives to the Pedagogue?”

“Of course,” Chessman said. “Following this conference, I’m going to take Fokin and Wiss into the library. What’re we here for if not to bring these people up to our level as rapidly as possible?”

“Very well,” Mayer conceded grudgingly. “And now I have a complaint. When the Pedagogue first arrived we had only so many weapons aboard. You have appropriated more than half in the past two decades.”

Chessman shrugged it off. “We’ll return the greater part to the ship’s arsenal. At this stage we are producing our own.”

“I’ll bet,” Kennedy said. “Look, any of you fellows want a real Earthside whisky? When we were crewing this expedition, why didn’t we bring someone with a knowledge of distilling, brewing and such?”

Mayer snapped at him, “Jerry, you drink too much.”

“The hell I do,” the other said cheerfully. “Not near enough.”

Barry Watson said easily, “A drink wouldn’t hurt. Why’re we so stiff? This is the first get-together for ten years. Jerry, you’re putting on weight.”

Kennedy looked down at his admittedly rounded stomach. “Don’t get enough exercise,” he said, then reversed the attack. “You look older. Are your taking your rejuvenation treatments?”

Barry Watson grimaced. “Sure, but I’m working under pressure. It’s been one long campaign.”

Kennedy passed around the drinks.

Dick Hawkins laughed. “It’s been one long campaign, all right. Barry has a house as big as a castle and six or eight women in his harem.”

Watson flushed, but obviously without displeasure.

Martin Gunther, of the Genoese team, cocked his head. “Harem?”

Joe Chessman said impatiently, “Man adapts to circumstances, Gunther. The wars have lost us a lot of men. Women are consequently in a surplus. If the population curve is to continue upward, it’s necessary that a man serve more than one woman. Polygamy is the obvious answer.”

Gunther cleared his throat smoothly, “So a man in Barry’s position will have as many as eight wives, eh? You must have lost a good many men.”

Watson grinned modestly. “Everybody doesn’t have that many. It’s according to your ability to support them, and, also, rank has its privileges. Besides, we figure it’s a good idea to spread the best seed around. By mixing our blood with the Texcocan we improve the breed.”

Behind him, Taller, the Tulan boy, stirred, without notice.

Kennedy finished off his highball and began to build another immediately. “Here we go again. The big potatoes coming to the top.”

Watson flushed. “What do you mean by that, Kennedy?”

“Oh, come off it, Barry,” Kennedy laughed. “Just because you’re in a position to push these people around doesn’t make you the prize stud on Texcoco.”

Watson elbowed Dick Hawkins to one side in his attempt to get around the table at the other.

Chessman rapped, “Watson! That’s enough. Knock it off or I’ll have you under arrest.” The Texcocan team head turned abruptly to Mayer and Kennedy. “Let’s stop this nonsense. We’ve come to compare progress. Let’s begin.”

The three members of the Genoese team glared back in antagonism, but then Gunther said grudgingly, “He’s right. There is no longer amiability between us, so let’s forget about it. Perhaps when the fifty years is up, things will be different. Now let’s merely be businesslike.”

“Well,” Mayer said, “our report is that progress accelerates. Our industrial potential expands at a rate that surprises even us. In the near future we’ll introduce the internal combustion engine. Our universities still multiply and are turning out technicians, engineers, scientists at an ever-quickening speed. In several nations illiteracy is practically unknown and per capita production increases almost everywhere.” Mayer paused in satisfaction, as though awaiting the others to attempt to top his report.

Joe Chessman said sourly, “Ah, almost everywhere per capita production increases. Why almost?”

Mayer snapped, “Obviously, in a system of free competition, all cannot progress at once. Some go under.”

“Whole nations?”

“Temporarily whole nations can receive setbacks as a result of defeat in war, or perhaps due to lack of natural resources. Some nations progress faster than others.”

Chessman said, “The whole Texcocan State is one great unit. Everywhere the gross product increases. Within the foreseeable future the standard of living will be excellent.”

Jerry Kennedy, an alcoholic lisp in his voice now, said, “You mean you’ve accomplished a planet-wide government?”

“Well, no. Not as yet,” Chessman’s sullen voice had an element of chagrin in it. “However, there are no strong elements left that oppose us. We are now pacifying the more remote areas.”

“Sounds like a rather bloody program⁠—especially if Barry Watson, here, winds up with eight women,” Martin Gunther said.

Watson started to say something but Chessman held up a restraining hand. “The Texcocan State is too strong to be resisted, Gunther. It is mostly a matter of getting around to the more remote peoples. As soon as we bring in a new tribe, we convert it into a commune.”

“Commune!” Kennedy blurted.

Joe Chessman raised his thick eyebrows at the other. “The most efficient socioeconomic unit at this stage of development. Tribal society is perfectly adapted to fit into such a plan. The principal difference between a tribe and a commune is that under the commune you have the advantage of a State above in a position to give you the benefit of mass industries, schools, medical assistance. In return, of course, for a certain amount of taxes, military levies and so forth.”

Martin Gunther said softly, “I recall reading of the commune system as a student, but I fail to remember the supposed advantages.”

Chessman growled, “They’re obvious. You have a unit of tens of thousands of persons. Instead of living in individual houses, each with a man working while the woman cooks and takes care of the home, all live in community houses and take their meals in messhalls. The children are cared for by trained nurses. During the season all physically capable adults go out en masse to work the fields. When the harvest has been taken in, the farmer does not hole up for the winter but is occupied in local industrial projects, or in road or dam building. The commune’s labor is never idle.”

Kennedy shuddered involuntarily.

Chessman looked at him coldly. “It means quick progress. Meanwhile, we go through each commune and from earliest youth, locate those members who are suited to higher studies. We bring them into State schools where they get as much education as they can assimilate⁠—more than is available in commune schools. These are the Texcocans we are training in the sciences.”

“The march to the anthill,” Amschel Mayer muttered.

Chessman eyed him scornfully. “You amuse me, old man. You with your talk of building an economy with a system of free competition. Our Texcocans are sacrificing today but their children will live in abundance. Even today, no one starves, no one goes without shelter nor medical care.” Chessman twisted his mouth wryly. “We have found that hungry, cold or sick people cannot work efficiently.”

He stared challengingly at the Genoese leader. “Can you honestly say that there are no starving people in Genoa? No inadequately housed, no sick without hope of adequate medicine? Do you have economic setbacks in which poorly planned production goes amuck and depressions follow with mass unemployment?”

“Nevertheless,” Mayer said with unwonted calm, “our society is still far ahead of yours. A mere handful of your bureaucracy and military chiefs enjoy the good things of life. There are tens of thousands on Genoa who have them. Free competition has its weaknesses, perhaps, but it provides a greater good for a greater number of persons.”

Joe Chessman came to his feet. “We’ll see,” he said stolidly. “In ten years, Mayer, we’ll consider the position of both planets once again.”

“Ten years it is,” Mayer snapped back at him.

Jerry Kennedy saluted with his glass. “Cheers,” he said.

On the return to Genoa Amschel Mayer said to Kennedy, “Are you sober enough to assimilate something serious?”

“Sure, chief, of course.”

“Hm-m-m. Well then, begin taking the steps necessary for us to place a few men on Texcoco in the way of, ah, intelligence agents.”

“You mean some of our team?” Kennedy said, startled.

“No, of course not. We can’t spare them, and, besides, there’d be too big a chance of recognition and exposure. Some of our more trusted Genoese. Make the monetary reward enough to attract their services.” He looked at his lieutenants significantly. “I think you’ll agree that it might not be a bad idea to keep our eyes on the developments on Texcoco.”

On the way back to Texcoco, Barry Watson said to his chief, “What do you think of putting some security men on Genoa, just to keep tabs?”


Watson looked at his fingers, nibbled at a hangnail. “It just seems to me it wouldn’t hurt any.”

Chessman snorted.

Dick Hawkins said, “I think Barry’s right. They can bear watching. Besides in another decade or so they’ll realize we’re going to beat them. Mayer’s ego isn’t going to take that. He’d go to just about any extreme to keep from losing face back on Earth.”

Natt Roberts said worriedly, “I think they’re right, Joe. Certainly it wouldn’t hurt to have a few Security men over there. My department could train them and we’d ferry them over in this space boat.”

“I’ll make the decisions,” Chessman growled at them. “I’ll think about this. It’s just possible that you’re right though.”

Behind them, Reif looked thoughtfully at his teenage son.


Down the long palace corridor strode Barry Watson, Dick Hawkins, Natt Roberts, the aging Reif and his son Taller, now in the prime of manhood. Their faces were equally wan from long hours without sleep. Half a dozen Tulan infantrymen brought up their rear.

As they passed Security Police guards, to left and right, eyes took in their weapons, openly carried. But such eyes shifted and the guards remained at their posts. Only one sergeant opened his mouth in protest. “Sir,” he said to Watson, hesitantly, “you are entering Number One’s presence armed.”

“Shut up,” Natt Roberts rapped at him.

Reif said, “That will be all, sergeant.”

The Security Police sergeant looked emptily after them as they progressed down the corridor.

Together, Watson and Reif motioned aside the two Tulan soldiers who stood before the door of their destination, and pushed inward without knocking.

Joe Chessman looked up wearily from his map and dispatch laden desk. For a moment his hand went to the heavy military revolver at his right but when he realized the identity of his callers, it fell away.

“What’s up now?” he said, his voice on the verge of cracking.

Watson acted as spokesman. “It’s everywhere the same. The communes are on the fine edge of revolt. They’ve been pushed too far; they’ve got to the point where they just don’t give a damn. A spark and all Texcoco goes up in flames.”

Reif said coldly, “We need immediate reforms. They’ve got to be pacified. An immediate announcement of more consumer goods, fewer State taxes, above all a relaxation of Security Police pressures. Given immediate promise of these, we might maintain ourselves.”

Joe Chessman’s sullen face was twitching at the right corner of his mouth. Young Taller made no attempt to disguise his contempt at the other’s weakness in time of stress.

Chessman’s eyes went around the half circle of them. “This is the only alternative? It’ll slow up our heavy industry program. We might not catch up with Genoa as quickly as planned.”

Watson gestured with a hand in quick irritation. “Look here, Chessman, don’t we get through to you? Whether or not we build up a steel capacity as large as Amschel Mayer’s isn’t important now. Everything’s at stake.”

“Don’t talk to me that way, Barry,” Chessman growled truculently. “I’ll make the decisions. I’ll do the thinking.” He said to Reif, “How much of the Tulan army is loyal?”

The aging Tulan looked at Watson before turning back to Joe Chessman. “All of the Tulan army is loyal⁠—to me.”

“Good!” Chessman pushed some of the dispatches on his desk aside, letting them flutter to the floor. He bared a field map. “If we crush half a dozen of the local communes⁠ ⁠… crush them hard! Then the others⁠ ⁠…”

Watson said very slowly and so low as hardly to be heard, “You didn’t bother to listen, Chessman. We told you, all that’s needed is a spark.”

Joe Chessman sat back in his chair, looked at them all again, one by one. Reevaluating. For a moment the facial tic stopped and his eyes held the old alertness.

“I see,” he said. “And you all recommend capitulation to their demands?”

“It’s our only chance,” Hawkins said. “We don’t even know it’ll work. There’s always the chance if we throw them a few crumbs they’ll want the whole loaf. You’ve got to remember that some of them have been living for twenty-five years or more under this pressure. The valve is about to blow.”

“I see,” Chessman grunted. “And what else? I can see in your faces there’s something else.”

The three Earthmen didn’t answer. Their eyes shifted.

He looked to young Taller and then to Reif. “What else?”

“We need a scapegoat,” Reif said without expression.

Joe Chessman thought about that. He looked to Barry Watson again.

Watson said, “The whole Texcocan State is about to topple. Not only do we have to give them immediate reform, but we’re going to have to blame the past hardships and mistakes on somebody. Somebody has to take the rap, be thrown to the wolves. If not, maybe we’ll all wind up taking the blame.”

“Ah,” Chessman said. His red-rimmed eyes went around them again, thoughtfully. “We should be able to dig up a few local chieftains and some of the Security Police heads.”

They shook their heads. “It has to be somebody big,” Natt Roberts said thickly, “a few of my Security Police won’t do it.”

Joe Chessman’s eyes went to Reif. “The Khan is the highest ranking Texcocan of all,” he said, finally. “The Khan and some Security Police heads would satisfy them.”

Reif’s face was as frigid as the Earthman’s. He said, “I am afraid not, Joseph Chessman. You are Number One. It is your statue that is in every commune square. It is your portrait that hangs in every distribution center, every messhall, every schoolroom. You are the Number One⁠—as you have so often pointed out to us. My title has become meaningless.”

Joe Chessman spat out a curse, fumbled the gun into his hand and fired before the Tulan soldiers could get to him. In a moment they had wrested the weapon from his hand and had his arms pinioned. It was too late.

Reif had been thrown backward two paces by the blast of the heavy-calibered gun. Now he held a palm over his belly and staggered to a chair. He collapsed into it, looked at his son, let a wash of amusement pass over his face, said, “Khan,” meaninglessly, and died.

Natt Roberts shrilled at Chessman, “You fool, we were going to give you a big, theatrical trial. Sentence you to prison and then, later, claim you’d died in your cell and smuggle you out to the Pedagogue.”

Watson snapped to the guards, “Take him outside and shoot him.”

The Tulans began dragging the snarling, cursing Chessman to the door.

Taller said, “A moment, please.”

Watson, Roberts and Hawkins looked to him.

Taller said, “This perhaps can be done more effectively.”

His voice was completely emotionless. “This man has killed both my father and grandfather, both of them Khans of Tula, heads of the most powerful city on all Texcoco, before the coming of you Earthlings.”

The guards hesitated. Watson detained them with a motion of his hand.

Taller said, “I suggest you turn him over to me, to be dealt with in the traditional way of the People.”

“No,” Chessman said hoarsely. “Barry, Dick, Natt, send me back to the Pedagogue. I’ll be out of things there. Or maybe Mayer can use me on Genoa.”

They didn’t bother to look in his direction. Roberts muttered savagely, “We told you all that was needed was a spark. Now you’ve killed the Khan, the most popular man on Texcoco. There’s no way of saving you.”

Taller said, “None of you have studied our traditions, our customs. But now, perhaps, you will understand the added effect of my taking charge. It will be a more⁠ ⁠… profitable manner of using the downfall of this⁠ ⁠… this power mad murderer.”

Chessman said desperately, “Look, Barry, Natt, if you have to, shoot me. At least give me a man’s death. Remember those human sacrifices the Tulans had when we first arrived? Can you imagine what went on in those temples? Barry, Dick⁠—for old time’s sake, boys⁠ ⁠…”

Barry Watson said to Taller, “He’s yours. If this doesn’t take the pressure off us, nothing will.”


At the end of the third decade, the Texcocan delegation was already seated in the Pedagogue’s lounge when Jerome Kennedy, Martin Gunther, Peter MacDonald, Fredric Buchwald and three Genoese, Baron Leonar and the Honorables Russ and Modrin appeared.

The Texcocan group consisted of Barry Watson, Dick Hawkins and Natt Roberts to one side of him, Generalissimo Taller and six highly bemedaled Texcocans on the other.

Before taking a seat Barry Watson barked, “Where’s Amschel Mayer? I’ve got some important points to cover with him.”

“Take it easy,” Kennedy slurred. “For that matter, where’s Joe Chessman?”

Watson glared at the other. “You know where he is.”

“That I do,” Kennedy said. “He’s purged, to use a term of yesteryear. At the rate you laddy-bucks are going, there won’t be anything left of you by the time our half century is up.” He snapped his fingers and a Genoese servant who’d been inconspicuously in the background, hurried to his side. “Let’s have some refreshments here. What’ll everybody have?”

“You act as though you’ve had enough already,” Watson bit out.

Kennedy ignored him, insisted on everyone being served before he allowed the conversation to turn serious. Then he said, slyly, “I see we’ve been successful in apprehending all of your agents, or you’d know more of our affairs.”

“Not all our agents,” Watson barked. “Only those on your southern continent. What happened to Amschel Mayer?”

Peter MacDonald, who, with Buchwald, was for the first time attending one of the decade-end conferences, had been hardly recognized in his new girth by the Texcocan team. But his added weight had evidently done nothing to his keenness of mind. He said smoothly, “Our good Amschel is under arrest. Imprisoned, in fact.” He shook his head, his double chin wobbling. “A tragedy.”

“Imprisoned! By whom?” Taller scowled. “I don’t like this. After all, he was your expedition’s head man.”

Barry Watson rapped, “Don’t leave us there, MacDonald. What happened to him?”

MacDonald explained. “The financial and industrial empire he had built was overextended. A small crisis and it collapsed. Thousands of investors suffered. In brief, he was arrested and found guilty.”

Watson was unbelieving. “There is nothing you could do? The whole team! Couldn’t you bribe him out? Rescue him by force and get him back to the ship? With all the wealth you characters control⁠—”

Jerry Kennedy laughed shortly. “We were busy bailing ourselves out of our own situations, Watson. You don’t know what international finance can be. Besides, he dug his grave⁠ ⁠… uh⁠ ⁠… that is, he made his bed.”

Kennedy signaled the servant for another drink, said, “Let’s cut out this dismal talk. How about our progress reports?”

“Progress reports,” Barry Watson said. “That’s a laugh. You have agents on Texcoco, we have them on Genoa. What’s the use of having these conferences at all?”

For the first time, one of the Genoese put in a word. Baron Leonar, son of the original Baron who had met with Amschel Mayer thirty years before, was a man in his mid-forties. He said quietly, “It seems to me the time has arrived when the two planets might profit by intercourse. Surely in this time one has progressed beyond the other in this field, but lagged in that. If I understand the mission of the Pedagogue it is to bring us to as high a technological level as possible in half a century. Already three decades have passed.”

The Texcocans studied him thoughtfully, but Jerry Kennedy waved in negation with the hand that held his glass. “You don’t get it, Baron. You see, the thing is we wanta find out what system is going to do the most the quickest. If we cooperate with Barry’s gang, everything’ll get all mixed up.”

The Honorable Russ, now a wizened man of at least seventy, but still sharply alert, said, “However, Texcoco and Genoa might both profit.”

Kennedy said happily, “What do we care? You gotta take the long view. What we’re working out here is going to be used on half a million planets eventually.” He tried to snap his fingers. “These two lousy planets don’t count that much.” He succeeded in snapping them this time. “Not that much.”

Barry Watson said, “You’re stoned, Kennedy.”

“Why not?” Kennedy grinned. “Finally perfected a decent brandy. I’ll have to send you a few cases, Barry.”

“How would you go about that, Jerry?” Watson said softly.

“Shucks, man, our space lighter makes a trip to Texcoco every month or so. Gotta keep up with you boys. Maybe throw a wrench or so in the works once inna while.”

Peter MacDonald said, “Shut up, Jerry. You talk too much.”

“Don’t talk to me that way. You’ll find yourself having one helluva time floating that loan you need next month. How about another drink, everybody? This party’s dead.”

Watson said, “How about the progress reports? Briefly, we’ve all but completely united Texcoco. Minor setbacks have sometimes deterred us but the march of progress goes on. We⁠—”

“Minor setbacks,” Kennedy chortled. “Must of had to bump off five million of the poor slobs before that commune revolt was finished with.”

Watson said coldly, “We always have a few reactionaries, religious fanatics, misfits, crackpots, malcontents to deal with. However, these are not important. Our industrial potential has finally begun to roll. We doubled steel production this year, will do the same next. Our hydroelectric installations tripled in the past two years. Coal production is four times higher, lumber production six times. We expect to increase grain harvest forty percent next season. And⁠—”

The Honorable Modrin put in gently, “Please, Honorable Watson, your percentage figures are impressive only if we know from what basis you start. If you produced but five million tons of steel last year, then your growth to ten million is very good but it is still not a considerable amount for an entire planet.”

Buchwald said dryly, “If our agents are correct, Texcocan steel production is something like a quarter of our own. I assume your other basic products are at about the same stage of development.”

Watson flushed. “The thing to remember is that our economy continues to grow each year. Yours spurts and stops, jerks ahead a few steps, then grinds to a halt or even retreats. Everything comes to a pause if you few on the top stop making a profit; all that counts in your economy is making money. Which reminds me, how in the world did you ever get out of that planet-wide depression you were in three years ago?”

Peter MacDonald grunted his disgust. “Planet-wide depression, indeed. A small recession. A temporary readjustment due to overextension in certain economic and financial fields.”

From the other side of the table, Dick Hawkins laughed at him. “Where’d you pick up that line of gobbledygook, Peter?” he asked.

Peter MacDonald came to his feet. “I don’t have to put up with this sort of impudence,” he snapped.

Watson lurched to his own feet. “Nor do we have to listen to your snide cracks about the real progress Texcoco is making. We don’t seem to be getting anywhere.” He snapped to his associates, “Hawkins, Taller, Roberts! Let’s go. Ten years from now, there’ll be another story to tell. Even a blind man will see the difference.”

They marched down the Pedagogue’s corridor toward their space boat.

Kennedy called after them, “Ten years from now every family on Genoa’ll have a car. Wait’ll you see. Television, too. We’re introducing TV next year. An’ civil aviation. Be all over the place in two, three years⁠—”

The Texcocans slammed the spaceport after them.

Kennedy sloshed some more drink into his glass. “Slobs can’t stand the truth,” he explained to the others.


With the exception of a few additional delegates composed of high-ranking Texcocan and Genoese political and scientific heads, the lineup at the end of forty years was the same as ten years earlier⁠—except for the absence of Jerry Kennedy.

Extra tables had been set up, and chairs to accommodate the added numbers. To one side were the Genoese: Martin Gunther, Fredric Buchwald, Peter MacDonald, with such repeat delegates as Baron Leonar and the Honorables Modrin and Russ and half a dozen newcomers. On the other were Barry Watson, Dick Hawkins and Natt Roberts, Taller and such Texcocans as the scientists Wiss and Fokin, army heads, Security Police officials and other notables.

Note pads had been placed before each of them and both Watson and Gunther were equipped with gavels.

While chairs were still being shuffled, Barry Watson said over the table to Gunther, “Jerry?”

Martin Gunther shrugged “Jerry’s indisposed. As a matter of fact, he’s at one of the mountain sanitariums, taking a cure. He’ll be all right.”

“Good,” Dick Hawkins said. “We’ve lost too many.”

Watson pounded with his gavel. “Let’s come to order. Gunther do you have anything to say in the way of preliminaries?”

“Not especially. I believe we all know where we stand, including the newcomers from Genoa and Texcoco. In brief, this is the fourth meeting of the Earth teams that were sent to these two planets to bring backward colonists to an industrialized culture. It would seem that we are both succeeding⁠—possibly at different rates. Forty years have passed, ten remain to us.”

For a moment there was silence.

Finally Roberts said, “Possibly you have already discovered this through your agents, but we have released the information on prolonging of life.”

Peter MacDonald said wryly, “We, too, were pressured into such a step.”

Baron Leonar said, “And why not?”

Taller, across the table from him, nodded.

Martin Gunther tapped twice on the table with his gavel. “The basic reason for our meeting is to report progress and to reconsider the possibilities of new elements having entered into the situation which might cause us to reexamine our policies. I think we already have a fairly good idea of each other’s development.” His voice went wry. “At least our agents do a fairly good job of reporting yours.”

“And ours, yours,” Watson rapped.

“However,” MacDonald said, “now that we are drawing near the end of our half century, I think it becomes obvious that Amschel Mayer’s original contention⁠—that a freely competitive economy grows faster than one restricted by totalitarian bounds⁠—has been proven.”

Barry Watson snorted amusement. “Do you?” he said. “To the contrary, MacDonald. The proof is otherwise. On Genoa you still have comparative confusion. True enough, several of your nations, particularly those on your southern continent, are greatly advanced and with a high living and cultural standard⁠—when times are good. But at the same time you have other whole peoples who are little, if any, better off, than when you arrived. On the western continent you even have a few feudalistic regimes that are probably worse off⁠—mostly as a result of the wars you’ve crippled them with.”

Natt Roberts said, his voice musing, “But even that isn’t the important thing. The Coordinator sent us here to find a method of bringing backward cultures to industrialization. Have you got a blueprint to show him, when you return? Can you trace out the history of Genoa for this past half century and say, this war was necessary for progress⁠—but that should have been avoided? Or is this whole free competition program of yours actually nothing but chaos which sometimes works out wonderfully for some nations, but actually destroys others? You have scorned our methods, our collectivized society⁠—but when we return, we’ll have a blueprint of how we arrived where we are.”

Gunther banged the table with his gavel. “Just a moment. Is there any reason why we have to listen to these accusations when⁠—”

Watson held up a hand, curtly, “Let us finish. If you have something to say, we’ll gladly listen when we’re through.”

Gunther was flushed but he snapped, “Go ahead then, but don’t think any of we Genoese are being taken in.”

Watson said, “True enough, it took us a time to unite our people⁠ ⁠…”

“Time and blood,” Peter MacDonald muttered.

“… But once underway the Texcocan State has moved on in a progression unknown in any of the Genoese nations. To industrialize a society you must reach a certain taking off point, a point where you have sufficient industry, particularly steel, sufficient power, sufficient scientists, technicians and skilled workers. Once that point has been reached you can move in almost a geometric progression. You build a steel mill and with the steel produced you build two more mills the following year, which in turn gives you the material for four the next year.”

Buchwald grunted his disbelief.

Watson looked up and down the line of Genoese, the Earthmen as well as the natives. “On Texcoco we have now reached that point. We have a trained, eager population of over one billion persons. Our universities are turning out highly trained effectives at the rate of more than twenty million a year. We have located all the raw materials we will need. We are now under way.” He looked at them in heavy amusement. “By the end of the next decade we will bury you.”

Martin Gunther said calmly, “Are you through?”

“Yes. For the time,” Watson nodded.

“Very well. Then this is our progress report. In the past forty years we have eliminated feudalism in all the more advanced countries. Even in the remote areas the pressures of our changing world are bringing them around. The populace of these countries will no longer stand to one side while the standard of living on the rest of Genoa grows so rapidly. On most of our planet, already the average family not only enjoys freedom but a way of life far in advance of that of Texcoco. Already modern housing and household appliances are everywhere. Already both land cars and aircraft are available to the majority. The nations have formed an Intercontinental League of governments so that it is unlikely that war will ever touch us again. And this is merely a beginning. In ten years, continuing our freely competitive way of developing, all will be living on a scale that only the wealthy can afford today.”

He came to an end and stared antagonistically at the Texcocans.

Taller said, “There seems to be no agreement.”

Across the table from him the ancient Honorable Russ said, “It is difficult to measure. We seem to count refrigerators and privately owned automobiles. You seem to ignore personal standards and concentrate on steel tonnage.”

The Texcocan scientist, Wiss, said easily, “Given the steel mills, and eventually automobiles and refrigerators will run off our assembly lines like water, and will be available for everyone, not just those who can afford to buy them.”

“Hm-m-m, eventually,” Peter MacDonald laughed nastily.

The atmosphere was suddenly hostile. Hostile beyond anything that had gone before in earlier conferences.

And then Martin Gunther said without inflection, “I note that you have removed from the Pedagogue’s library the information dealing with nuclear fission.”

“For the purpose of study,” Dick Hawkins said smoothly.

“Of course,” Gunther said. “Did you plan to return it in the immediate future?”

“I’m afraid our studies will take some time,” Watson said flatly.

“I was afraid so,” Gunther said. “Happily, I took the precaution of making microfilms of the material involved more than a year ago.”

Barry Watson pushed his chair back. “We seem to have accomplished what was possible by this conference,” he said. “If anything.” He looked to right and left at his cohorts. “Let’s go.”

They came stiffly erect. Watson turned on his heel and started for the door.

As they left, Natt Roberts turned for a moment and said to Gunther, “One thing, Martin. During this next ten years you might consider whether or not half a century has been enough to accomplish our task. Should we consider staying on? I would think the Coordinator would accept any recommendation along this line that we might make.”

The Genoese contingent looked after him, long after he was gone.

Finally Martin Gunther said, “Baron Leonar, I think it might be a good idea if you began putting some of your men to work on making steel alloys suitable for spacecraft. The way things are developing, perhaps we’ll be needing them.”

Buchwald and MacDonald looked at him unblinkingly.


It was fifty years to a day since the Pedagogue had first gone into orbit about Rigel. Five decades have passed. Half a century.

Of the original crew of the Pedagogue, six now gathered in the lounge of the spaceship. All of them had changed physically. Some of them softer to the point of flabbiness; some harder both of body and soul.

Barry Watson, Natt Roberts, Dick Hawkins, of the Texcocan team.

Martin Gunther, Peter MacDonald, Fredric Buchwald, of the Genoese.

The gathering wasn’t so large as the one before. Only Taller and the scientist Wiss attended from Texcoco; only Baron Leonar and the son of Honorable Russ from Genoa.

From the beginning they stared with hostility across the conference table. Even the pretense of amiability was gone.

Watson rapped finally, “I am not going to dwell upon the measures you have been taking that can only be construed as military ones aimed eventually at the Texcocan State.”

Martin Gunther laughed nastily. “Is your implication that your own people have not taken the same measures, in fact, inaugurated them?”

Watson said, “As I say, I have no intention of even discussing this. Surely we can arrive at no agreement. There is one point, however that we should consider on this occasion.”

The corpulent Peter MacDonald wheezed, “Well, out with it!”

Natt Roberts said, “I mentioned the matter to you at the last meeting.”

“Ah, yes,” Gunther nodded. “Just as you left. We have considered it.”

The Texcocans waited for him to go on.

“If I understand you,” Gunther said, “you think we should reconsider returning to Terra City at this time.”

“It should be discussed,” Watson nodded. “Whatever the⁠ ⁠… ah⁠ ⁠… temporary difficulties between us, the original project of the Pedagogue is still our duty.”

The three of the Genoese team nodded their agreement.

“And the problem becomes, have we accomplished completely what we set out to do? And, further, is it necessary, or at least preferable, for us to stay on and continue administration of the progress of the Rigel planets?”

They thought about it.

Buchwald said hesitantly, “It has been my own belief that Genoa is not quite ready for us to let loose the⁠ ⁠… ah, reins. If we left now, I am not sure⁠—”

Roberts said, “Same applies to Texcoco. The State has made fabulous strides, but I am not sure what would happen if we leaders were to leave. There might be a complete collapse.”

Watson said, “We seem to be in basic agreement. Is a suggestion in order that we extend, for another twenty-five years, at least, this expedition’s work?”

Dick Hawkins said, “The Office of Galactic Colonization⁠—”

MacDonald said smoothly, “Will undoubtedly send out a ship to investigate. We shall simply inform them that things are not as yet propitious to our leaving, that another twenty-five years is in order. Since we are on the scene, undoubtedly our recommendation will be heeded.”

Watson looked from one Earthman to the next. “We are in agreement?”

Each in turn nodded.

Peter MacDonald said, “And do you all realize that here we have a unique situation that might be exploited for the benefit of the whole race?”

They looked to him, questioningly.

“The dynamic we find in Genoa⁠—and Texcoco, too, for that matter, though we disagree on so many fundamentals⁠—is beyond that in the Solar System. These are new planets, new ambitions are alive. We have at our fingertips man’s highest developments, evolved on Earth. But with this new dynamic, this freshness, might we not in time push even beyond old Earth?”

“You mean⁠—” Natt Roberts said.

MacDonald nodded. “What particular of value is gained by our uniting Genoa and Texcoco with the so-called Galactic Commonwealth? Why not press ahead on our own? With the vigor of these new races we might well leave Earth far behind.”

Watson mused, “Carrying your suggestion to the ultimate, who is to say that one day Rigel might not become the new center of the human race, rather than Sol?”

“A point well taken,” Gunther agreed.

“No,” Taller said softly.

The six Earthmen turned hostile eyes to him.

“This particular matter does not concern you, Generalissimo,” Watson rapped at him.

Taller smiled his amusement at that and came to his feet.

“No,” he said. “I am afraid that hard though it might be for you to give up the powers you have held so long, you Earthlings are going to have to return to Terra City, from whence you came.”

Baron Leonar said in gentle agreement, “Obviously.”

“What is this?” Watson rapped. “I’m not at all amused.”

The Honorable Russ stood also. “There is no use prolonging this. I have heard you Earthlings say, more than once, that man adapts to preserve himself. Very well, we of Genoa and Texcoco are adapting to the present situation. We are of the belief that if you are allowed to remain in power we of the Rigel planets will be destroyed, probably in an atomic holocaust. In self-protection we have found it necessary to unite, we Genoese and Texcocans. We bear you no ill will, far to the contrary. However, it is necessary that you all return to Earth. You have impressed upon us the aforementioned truism that man adapts but in the Pedagogue’s library I have found another that also applies. Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

There were heavy automatics in the hands of Natt Roberts and Dick Hawkins. Barry Watson leaned back in his chair, his eyes narrow. “How’d you ever expect to get away with this sort of treason, Taller?”

Martin Gunther blurted, “Or you, Russ?”

Wiss, the Texcocan scientist, held his wrist radio to his mouth and said, “Come in now.”

Dick Hawkins thumbed back the hammer of his hand gun.

“Hold it a minute, Dick,” Barry Watson said. “I don’t like this.” To Taller he rapped, “What goes on here? Talk up, you’re just about a dead man.”

And it was then that they heard the scraping on the outer hull.

The six Earthmen looked at the overhead, dumbfounded.

“I suggest you put up your weapons,” Taller said quietly. “At this late stage I would hate to see further bloodshed.”

In moments they heard the opening and closing of locks and footsteps along the corridor. The door opened and in stepped,

Joe Chessman, Amschel Mayer, Mike Dean, Louis Rosetti, and an emaciated Jerry Kennedy. Their expressions ran the gamut from sheepishness to blank haughtiness.

MacDonald bug-eyed. “Dean⁠ ⁠… Rosetti⁠ ⁠… the Temple priests burned you at the stake!”

They grinned at him, shamefaced. “Guess not,” Dean said. “We were kidnaped. We’ve been teaching basic science, in some phony monastery.”

Watson’s face was white. “Joe,” he said.

“Yeah,” Joe Chessman growled. “You sold me out. But Taller and the Texcocans thought I was still of some use.”

Amschel Mayer snapped, bitterly, “And now if you fools will put down your stupid guns, we’ll make the final arrangements for returning this expedition to Terra City. Personally, I’ll be glad to get away!”

Behind the five resurrected Earthmen were a sea of faces representing the foremost figures of both Texcoco and Genoa in every field of endeavor. At least fifty of them in all.

As though protectively, the eleven Earthmen ganged together at the far side of the messtable they’d met over so often.

Martin Gunther, his expression dazed, said, “I⁠ ⁠… I don’t⁠—”

Taller resumed his spokesmanship. “From the first the most progressive elements on both Texcoco and Genoa realized the value of your expedition and have been in fundamental sympathy with the aims the Pedagogue originally had. Primitive life is not idyllic. Until man is free from nature’s tyranny and has solved the basic problems of sufficient food, clothing, shelter, medical care and education for all, he is unable to realize himself. So we cooperated with you to the extent we found possible.”

His smile was grim. “I am afraid that almost from the beginning, and on both planets, your very actions developed an⁠ ⁠… underground, I believe you call it. Not an overt one, since we needed your assistance to build the new industrialized culture you showed us was possible. We even protected you against yourselves, since it soon became obvious that if left alone you’d destroy each other in your addiction to power.”

Baron Leonar broke in, “Don’t misunderstand. It wasn’t until the past couple of decades that this underground which had sprung up independently on both planets, amalgamated.”

Barry Watson blurted, “But Joe⁠ ⁠… Chessman⁠—” he refused to meet the eye of the man he’d condemned.

Taller said, “From the first you made no effort to study our customs. If you had, you’d have realized why my father allied himself to you after you’d killed Taller First. And why I did not take my revenge on Chessman after he’d killed Reif. A Khan’s first training is that no personal emotion must interfere with the needs of the People. When you turned Joe Chessman over to me, I realized his education, his abilities were too great to destroy. We sent him to a mountain university and have used him profitably all these years. In fact, it was Chessman who finally brought us to space travel.”

“That’s right,” Buchwald blurted. “You’ve got a spaceship out there. How could you possibly⁠—?”

Taller said mildly, “There are but a handful of you, you could hardly keep track of two whole planets and all that went on upon them.”

Amschel Mayer said bitingly, “All this can be gone over on our return to Terra City. We’ll have a full year to explain to ourselves and each other why we became such complete idiots. I was originally head of this expedition⁠—before my supposed friends railroaded me to prison⁠—does anyone object if I take over again?”

“No,” Joe Chessman growled.

The others shook their heads.

Taller said, “There is but one other thing. In spite of how you may feel at this moment of embarrassment, basically you have succeeded in your task. That is, you have brought Texcoco and Genoa to an industrialized culture. We hold various reservations about how you accomplished this. However, when you return to your Coordinator of Galactic Colonization, please inform him that we are anxious to receive his ambassadors. The term is ambassadors and we will expect to meet on a basis of equality. Surely in all Earth’s millennia of social evolution man has worked out something better than either of your teams have built here. We should like to be instructed.”

Dick Hawkins said stiffly, “We can instruct you on Earth’s present socioeconomic system.”

“I am afraid we no longer trust you, Richard Hawkins. Send others⁠—uncorrupted by power, privilege or great wealth.”

When they had gone and the sound of their departing spacecraft had faded, Amschel Mayer snapped, “We might as well get underway. And cheer up, confound it, we have lots of time to contrive a reasonable report for the Coordinator.”

Jerry Kennedy managed a thin grin, almost reminiscent of the younger Kennedy of the first years on Genoa. “Say,” he said, “I wonder if we’ll be granted a good long vacation before being sent on another assignment.”


Henry Kuran answered a nod here and there, a called out greeting from a desk an aisle removed from the one along which he was progressing, finally made the far end of the room. He knocked at the door and pushed his way through before waiting a response.

There were three desks here. He didn’t recognize two of the girls who looked up at his entry. One of them began to say something, but then Betty, whose desk dominated the entry to the inner sanctum, grinned a welcome at him and said, “Hank! How was Peru? We’ve been expecting you.”

“Full of Incas,” he grinned back. “Incas, Russkies and Chinks. A poor capitalist conquistador doesn’t have a chance. Is the boss inside?”

“He’s waiting for you, Hank. See you later.”

Hank said, “Um-m-m,” and when the door clicked in response to the button Betty touched, pushed his way into the inner office.

Morton Twombly, chief of the department, came to his feet, shook hands abruptly and motioned the other to a chair.

“How’re things in Peru, Henry?” His voice didn’t express too much real interest.

Hank said, “We were on the phone just a week ago, Mr. Twombly. It’s about the same. No, the devil it is. The Chinese have just run in their new People’s Car. They look something like our jeep station-wagons did fifteen years ago.”

Twombly stirred in irritation. “I’ve heard about them.”

Hank took his handkerchief from his breast pocket and polished his rimless glasses. He said evenly, “They sell for just under two hundred dollars.”

“Two hundred dollars?” Twombly twisted his face. “They can’t transport them from China for that.”

“Here we go again,” Hank sighed. “They also can’t sell pressure cookers for a dollar apiece, nor cameras with f.2 lenses for five bucks. Not to speak of the fact that the Czechs can’t sell shoes for fifty cents a pair and, of course, the Russkies can’t sell premium gasoline for five cents a gallon.”

Twombly muttered, “They undercut our prices faster than we can vote through new subsidies. Where’s it going to end Henry?”

“I don’t know. Perhaps we should have thought a lot more about it ten or fifteen years ago when the best men our universities could turn out went into advertising, show business and sales⁠—while the best men the Russkies and Chinese could turn out were going into science and industry.” As a man who worked in the field Hank Kuran occasionally got bitter about these things, and didn’t mind this opportunity of sounding off at the chief.

Hank added, “The height of achievement over there is to be elected to the Academy of Sciences. Our young people call scientists eggheads, and their height of achievement is to become a TV singer or a movie star.”

Morton Twombly shot his best field man a quick glance. “You sound as though you need a vacation, Henry.”

Henry Kuran laughed. “Don’t mind me, chief. I got into a hassle with the Hungarians last week and I’m in a bad frame of mind.”

Twombly said, “Well, we didn’t bring you back to Washington for a trade conference.”

“I gathered that from your wire. What am I here for?”

Twombly pushed his chair back and came to his feet. It occurred to Hank Kuran that his chief had aged considerably since the forming of this department nearly ten years ago. The thought went through his mind, a general in the cold war. A general who’s been in action for a decade, has never won more than a skirmish and is currently in full retreat.

Morton Twombly said, “I’m not sure I know. Come along.”

They left the office by a back door and Hank was in unknown territory. Silently his chief led him through busy corridors, each one identical to the last, each sterile and cold in spite of the bustling. They came to a marine-guarded door, were passed through, once again obviously expected.

The inner office contained but one desk occupied by a youthfully brisk army major. He gave Hank a one-two of the eyes and said, “Mr. Hennessey is expecting you, sir. This is Mr. Kuran?”

“That’s correct,” Twombly said. “I won’t be needed.” He turned to Hank Kuran. “I’ll see you later, Henry.” He shook hands.

Hank frowned at him. “You sound as though I’m being sent off to Siberia, or something.”

The major looked up sharply, “What was that?”

Twombly made a motion with his hand, negatively. “Nothing. A joke. I’ll see you later, Henry.” He turned and left.

The major opened another door and ushered Hank into a room two or three times the size of Twombly’s office. Hank formed a silent whistle and then suddenly knew where he was. This was the sanctum sanctorum of Sheridan Hennessey. Sheridan Hennessey, right arm, hatchetman, alter ego, one man brain trust⁠—of two presidents in succession.

And there he was, seated in a heavy armchair. Hank had known of his illness, that the other had only recently risen from his hospital bed and against doctor’s orders. But somehow he hadn’t expected to see him this wasted. TV and newsreel cameramen had been kind.

However, the waste had not as yet extended to either eyes or voice. Sheridan Hennessey bit out, “That’ll be all, Roy,” and the major left them.

“Sit down,” Hennessey said. “You’re Henry Kuran. That’s not a Russian name is it?”

Hank found a chair. “It was Kuranchov. My father Americanized it when he was married.” He added, “About once every six months some Department of Justice or C.I.A. joker runs into the fact that my name was originally Russian and I’m investigated all over again.”

Hennessey said, “But your Russian is perfect?”

“Yes, sir. My mother was English-Irish, but we lived in a community with quite a few Russian born emigrants. I learned the language.”

“Good, Mr. Kuran, how would you like to die for your country?”

Hank Kuran looked at him for a long moment. He said slowly, “I’m thirty-two years old, healthy and reasonably adjusted and happy. I’d hate it.”

The sick man snorted. “That’s exactly the right answer. I don’t trust heroes. Now, how much have you heard about the extraterrestrials?”

“I beg your pardon?”

“You haven’t heard the news broadcasts the past couple of days? How the devil could you have missed them?” Hennessey was scowling sourly at him.

Hank Kuran didn’t know what the other was talking about. “Two days ago I was in the town of Machu Picchu in the Andes trying to peddle some mining equipment to the Peruvians. Peddle it, hell. I was practically trying to give it away, but it was still even-steven that the Hungarians would undersell me. Then I got a hurry-up wire from Morton Twombly to return to Washington soonest. I flew here in an Air Force jet. I haven’t heard any news for two days or more.”

“I’ll have the major get you all the material we have to date and you can read it on the plane to England.”

“Plane to England?” Hank said blankly. “Look, I’m in the Department of Economic Development of Neutral Nations, specializing in South America. What would I be doing in England?” He had an uneasy feeling of being crowded, and a suspicion that this was far from the first time Sheridan Hennessey had ridden roughshod over subordinates.

“First step on the way to Moscow,” Hennessey snapped. “The major will give you details later. Let me brief you. The extraterrestrials landed a couple of days ago on Red Square in some sort of spaceship. Our Russkie friends clamped down a censorship on news. No photos at all as yet and all news releases have come from Tass.”

Hank Kuran was bug-eying him.

Hennessey said, “I know. Most of the time I don’t believe it myself. The extraterrestrials represent what the Russkies are calling a Galactic Confederation. So far as we can figure out, there is some sort of league, United Planets, or whatever you want to call it, of other star systems which have achieved a certain level of scientific development.”

“Well⁠ ⁠… well, why haven’t they shown up before?”

“Possibly they have, through the ages. If so, they kept their presence secret, checked on our development and left.” Hennessey snorted his indignation. “See here, Kuran, I have no details. All of our information comes from Tass, and you can imagine how inadequate that is. Now shut up while I tell you what little I do know.”

Henry Kuran settled back into his chair, feeling limp. He’d had too many curves thrown at him in the past few minutes to assimilate.

“They evidently keep hands off until a planet develops interplanetary exploration and atomic power. And, of course, during the past few years our Russkie pals have not only set up a base on the Moon but have sent off their various expeditions to Venus and Mars.”

“None of them made it,” Hank said.

“Evidently they didn’t have to. At any rate, the plenipotentiaries from the Galactic Confederation have arrived.”

“Wanting what, sir?” Hank said.

“Wanting nothing but to help.” Hennessey said. “Stop interrupting. Our time is limited. You’re going to have to be on a jet for London in half an hour.”

He noticed Hank Kuran’s expression, and shook his head. “No, it’s not farfetched. These other intelligent life forms must be familiar with what it takes to progress to the point of interplanetary travel. It takes species aggressiveness⁠—besides intelligence. And they must have sense enough not to want the wrong kind of aggressiveness exploding into the stars. They don’t want an equivalent of Attila bursting over the borders of the Roman Empire. They want to channel us, and they’re willing to help, to direct our comparatively new science into paths that won’t conflict with them. They want to bring us peacefully into their society of advanced life forms.”

Sheridan Hennessey allowed himself a rueful grimace. “That makes quite a speech, doesn’t it? At any rate, that’s the situation.”

“Well, where do I come into this? I’m afraid I’m on the bewildered side.”

“Yes. Well, damn it, they’ve landed in Moscow. They’ve evidently assumed the Soviet complex⁠—the Soviet Union, China and the satellites⁠—are the world’s dominant power. Our conflicts, our controversies, are probably of little, if any, interest to them. Inadvertently, they’ve put a weapon in the hands of the Soviets that could well end this cold war we’ve been waging for more than twenty-five years now.”

The president’s right-hand man looked off into a corner of the room, unseeingly. “For more than a decade it’s been a bloodless combat that we’ve been waging against the Russkies. The military machines, equally capable of complete destruction of the other, have been stymied Finally it’s boiled down to an attempt to influence the neutrals, India, Africa, South America, to attempt to bring them into one camp or the other. Thus far, we’ve been able to contain them in spite of their recent successes. But given the prestige of being selected the dominant world power by the extraterrestrials and in possession of the science and industrial know-how from the stars, they’ll have won the cold war over night.”

His old eyes flared. “You want to know where you come in, eh? Fine. Your job is to get to these Galactic Confederation emissaries and put a bug in their bonnet. Get over to them that there’s more than one major viewpoint on this planet. Get them to investigate our side of the matter.”

“Get to them how? If the Russkies⁠—”

Hennessey was tired. The flash of spirit was fading. He lifted a thin hand. “One of my assistants is crossing the Atlantic with you. He’ll give you the details.”

“But why me? I’m strictly a⁠—”

“You’re an unknown in Europe. Never connected with espionage. You speak Russian like a native. Morton Twombly says you’re his best man. Your records show that you can think on your feet, and that’s what we need above all.”

Hank Kuran said flatly, “You might have asked for volunteers.”

“We did. You, you and you. The old army game,” Hennessey said wearily. “Mr. Kuran, we’re in the clutch. We can lose, forever⁠—right now. Right in the next month or so. Consider yourself a soldier being thrown into the most important engagement the world has ever seen⁠—combating the growth of the Soviets. We can’t afford such luxuries as asking for volunteers. Now do you get it?”

Hank Kuran could feel impotent anger rising inside him. He was off balance. “I get it, but I don’t like it.”

“None of us do,” Sheridan Hennessey said sourly. “Do you think any of us do?” He must have pressed a button.

From behind them the major’s voice said briskly, “Will you come this way, Mr. Kuran?”

In the limousine, on the way out to the airport, the bright, impossibly cleanly shaven C.I.A. man said, “You’ve never been behind the Iron Curtain before, have you Kuran?”

“No,” Hank said. “I thought that term was passé. Look, aren’t we even going to my hotel for my things?”

The second C.I.A. man, the older one, said, “All your gear will be waiting for you in London. They’ll be sure there’s nothing in it to tip off the K.G.B. if they go through your bags.”

The younger one said, “We’re not sure, things are moving fast, but we suspect that that term, Iron Curtain, applies again.”

“Then how am I going to get in?” Hank said irritably. “I’ve had no background for this cloak and dagger stuff.”

The older C.I.A. man said, “We understand the K.G.B. has increased security measures but they haven’t cut out all travel on the part of non-Communists.”

The other one said, “Probably because the Russkies don’t want to tip off the spacemen that they’re being isolated from the western countries. It would be too conspicuous if suddenly all western travelers disappeared.”

They were passing over the Potomac, to the right and below them Hank Kuran could make out the twin Pentagons, symbols of a military that had at long last by its very efficiency eliminated itself. War had finally progressed to the point where even a minor nation, such as Cuba or Portugal, could completely destroy the whole planet. Eliminated wasn’t quite the word. In spite of their sterility, the military machines still claimed their million masses of men, still drained a third of the products of the world’s industry.

One of the C.I.A. men was saying urgently, “So we’re going to send you in as a tourist. As inconspicuous a tourist as we can make you. For fifteen years the Russkies have boomed their tourist trade⁠—all for propaganda, of course. Now they’re in no position to turn this tourist flood off. If the aliens got wind of it, they’d smell a rat.”

Hank Kuran brought his attention back to them. “All right. So you get me to Moscow as a tourist. What do I do then? I keep telling you jokers that I don’t know a thing about espionage. I don’t know a secret code from judo.”

“That’s one reason the chief picked you. Not only do the Russkies have nothing on you in their files⁠—neither do our own people. You’re safe from betrayal. There are exactly six people who know your mission and only one of them is in Moscow.”

“Who’s he?”

The C.I.A. man shook his head. “You’ll never meet him. But he’s making the arrangements for you to contact the underground.”

Hank Kuran turned in his seat. “What underground? In Moscow?”

The bright, pink faced C.I.A. man chuckled and began to say something but the older one cut him off. “Let me, Jimmy.” He continued to Hank. “Actually, we don’t know nearly as much as we should about it, but a Soviet underground is there and getting stronger. You’ve heard of the stilyagi and the metrofanushka?”

Hank nodded. “Moscow’s equivalent to the juvenile delinquents, or the Teddy Boys, as the British call them.”

“Not only in Moscow, they’re everywhere in urban Russia. At any rate, our underground friends operate within the stilyagi, the so-called jet-set, using them as protective coloring.”

“This is new to me,” Hank said. “And I don’t quite get it.”

“It’s clever enough. Suppose you’re out late some night on an underground job and the police pick you up. They find out you’re a juvenile delinquent, figure you’ve been out getting drunk, and toss you into jail for a week. It’s better than winding up in front of a firing squad as a counterrevolutionary, or a Trotskyite, or whatever they’re currently calling anybody they shoot.”

The chauffeur rapped on the glass that divided their seat from his, and motioned ahead.

“Here’s the airport,” Jimmy said. “We’ll drive right over to the plane. Hid your face with your hat, just for luck.”

“Wait a minute, now,” Hank said. “Listen, how do I contact these beat generation characters?”

“You don’t. They contact you.”


“That’s up to them. Maybe they won’t at all; they’re plenty careful.” Jimmy snorted without humor. “It must be getting to be an instinct with Russians by this time. Nihilists, Anarchists, Mensheviks, Bolsheviks, now anti-Communists. Survival of the fittest. By this time the Russian underground must consist of members that have bred true as revolutionists. There’ve been Russian undergrounds for twenty generations.”

“Hardly long enough to affect genetics,” the older one said wryly.

Hank said, “Let’s stop being witty. I still haven’t a clue as to how Sheridan Hennessey expects me to get to these Galactic Confederation people⁠—or things, or whatever you call them.”

“They evidently are humanoid,” Jimmy said. “Look more or less human. And stop worrying, we’ve got several hours to explain things while we cross the Atlantic. You don’t step into character until you enter the offices of Progressive Tours, in London.”

The door of Progressive Tours, Ltd. 100 Rochester Row, was invitingly open. Hank Kuran entered, looked around the small room. He inwardly winced at the appearance of the girl behind the counter. What was it about Commies outside their own countries that they drew such crackpots into their camp? Heavy lenses, horn rimmed to make them more conspicuous, wild hair, mawkish tweeds, and dirty fingernails to top it off.

She said, “What can I do for you, Comrade?”

“Not Comrade,” Hank said mildly. “I’m an American.”

“What did you want?” she said coolly.

Hank indicated the travel folder he was carrying. “I’d like to take this tour to Leningrad and Moscow. I’ve been reading propaganda for and against Russia as long as I’ve been able to read and I’ve finally decided I want to see for myself. Can I get the tour that leaves tomorrow?”

She became businesslike as was within her ability. “There is no country in the world as easy to visit as the Soviet Union, Mr.⁠—”

“Stevenson,” Hank Kuran said. “Henry Stevenson.”

“Stevenson. Fill out these two forms, leave your passport and two photos and we’ll have everything ready in the morning. The Baltika leaves at twelve. The visa will cost ten shillings. What class do you wish to travel?”

“The cheapest.” And least conspicuous, Hank added under his breath.

“Third class comes to fifty-five guineas. The tour lasts eighteen days including the time it takes to get to Leningrad. You have ten days in Russia.”

“I know, I read the folder. Are there any other Americans on the tour?”

A voice behind him said, “At least one other.”

Hank turned. She was somewhere in her late twenties, he estimated. And if her clothes, voice and appearance were any criterion he’d put her in the middle-middle class with a bachelor’s degree in something or other, unmarried and with the aggressiveness he didn’t like in American girls after living the better part of eight years in Latin countries.

On top of that she was one of the prettiest girls he had ever seen, in a quick, redheaded, almost puckish sort of way.

Hank tried to keep from displaying his admiration too openly. “American?” he said.

“That’s right.” She took in his five-foot ten, his not quite ruffled hair, his worried eyes behind their rimless lenses, darkish tinted for the Peruvian sun. She evidently gave him up as not worth the effort and turned to the fright behind the counter.

“I came to pick up my tickets.”

“Oh, yes, Miss.⁠ ⁠…”


The fright fiddled with the papers on an untidy heap before her. “Oh, yes. Miss Charity Moore.”

“Charity?” Hank said.

She turned to him. “Do you mind? I have two sisters named Honor and Hope. My people were the Seventh Day Adventists. It wasn’t my fault.” Her voice was pleasant⁠—but nature had granted that; it wasn’t particularly friendly⁠—through her own inclinations.

Hank cleared his throat and went back to his forms. The visa questionnaire was in both Russian and English. The first line wanted, Surname, first name and patronymic.

To get the conversation going again, Hank said, “What does patronymic mean?”

Charity Moore looked up from her own business and said, less antagonism in her voice, “That’s the name you inherited from your father.”

“Of course, thanks.” He went back to his forms. Under what type of work do you do, Hank wrote, Capitalist in a small sort of way. Auto Agency owner.

He took the forms back to the counter with his passport. Charity Moore was putting her tickets, suitcase labels and a sheaf of tour instructions into her pocketbook.

Hank said, “Look, we’re going to be on a tour together, what do you say to a drink?”

She considered that, prettily, “Well⁠ ⁠… well, of course. Why not?”

Hank said to the fright, “There wouldn’t be a nice bar around would there?”

“Down the street three blocks and to your left is Dirty Dick’s.” She added scornfully, “All the tourists go there.”

“Then we shouldn’t make an exception,” Hank said. “Miss Moore, my arm.”

On the way over she said, “Are you excited about going to the Soviet Union?”

“I wouldn’t say excited. Curious, though.”

“You don’t sound very sympathetic to them.”

“To Russia?” Hank said. “Why should I be? Personally, I believe in democracy.”

“So do I,” she said, her voice clipped. “I think we ought to try it some day.”

“Come again?”

“So far as I can see, we pay lip service to democracy, that’s about all.”

Hank grinned inwardly. He’d already figured that during this tour he’d be thrown into contact with characters running in shade from gentle pink to flaming red. His position demanded that he remain inconspicuous, as average an American tourist as possible. Flaring political arguments weren’t going to help this, but, on the other hand to avoid them entirely would be apt to make him more conspicuous than ever.

“How do you mean?” he said now.

“We have two political parties in our country without an iota of difference between them. Every four years they present candidates and give us a choice. What difference does it make which one of the two we choose if they both stand for the same thing? This is democracy?”

Hank said mildly, “Well, it’s better than sticking up just one candidate and saying, which one of this one do you choose? Look, let’s steer clear of politics and religion, eh? Otherwise this’ll never turn out to be a beautiful friendship.”

Charity Moore’s face portrayed resignation.

Hank said, “I’m Hank, what do they call you besides Charity?”

“Everybody but my parents call me Chair. You spell it C-H-A-R but pronounce it like Chair, like you sit in.”

“That’s better,” Hank said. “Let’s see. There it is, Dirty Dick’s. Crummy looking joint. You want to go in?”

“Yes,” Char said. “I’ve read about it. An old coaching house. One of the oldest pubs in London. Dickens wrote a poem about it.”

The pub’s bar extended along the right wall, as they entered. To the left was a sandwich counter with a dozen or so stools. It was too early to eat, they stood at the ancient bar and Hank said to her, “Ale?” and when she nodded, to the bartender, “Two Worthingtons.”

While they were being drawn, Hank turned back to the girl, noticing all over again how impossibly pretty she was. It was disconcerting. He said, “How come Russia? You’d look more in place on a beach in Biarritz or the Lido.”

Char said, “Ever since I was about ten years of age I’ve been reading about the Russian people starving to death and having to work six months before making enough money to buy a pair of shoes. So I’ve decided to see how starving, barefooted people managed to build the largest industrial nation in the world.”

“Here we go again,” Hank said, taking up his glass. He toasted her silently before saying, “The United States is still the largest single industrial nation in the world.”

“Perhaps as late as 1965, but not today,” she said definitely.

“Russia, plus the satellites and China has a gross national product greater than the free world’s but no single nation produces more than the United States. What are you laughing at?”

“I love the way the West plasters itself so nicely with high flown labels. The free world. Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia, Pakistan, South Africa⁠—just what is your definition of free?”

Hank had her placed now. A college radical. One of the tens of thousands who discover, usually somewhere along in the sophomore year, that all is not perfect in the land of their birth and begin looking around for answers. Ten to one she wasn’t a Commie and would probably never become one⁠—but meanwhile she got a certain amount of kicks trying to upset ideological applecarts.

For the sake of staying in character, Hank said mildly, “Look here, are you a Communist?”

She banged her glass down on the bar with enough force that the bartender looked over worriedly. “Did it ever occur to you that even though the Soviet Union might be wrong⁠—if it is wrong⁠—that doesn’t mean that the United States is right? You remind me of that⁠ ⁠… that politician, whatever his name was, when I was a girl. Anybody who disagreed with him was automatically a Communist.”

“McCarthy,” Hank said. “I’m sorry, so you’re not a Communist.”

She took up her glass again, still in a huff. “I didn’t say I wasn’t. That’s my business.”

The turboelectric ship Baltika turned out to be the pride of the U.S.S.R. Baltic State Steamship Company. In fact, she turned out to be the whole fleet. Like the rest of the world, the Soviet complex had taken to the air so far as passenger travel was concerned and already the Baltika was a leftover from yesteryear. For some reason the C.I.A. thought there might be less observation on the part of the K.G.B. if Hank approached Moscow indirectly, that is by sea and from Leningrad. It was going to take an extra four or five days, but, if he got through, the squandered time would have been worth it.

An English speaking steward took up Hank’s bag at the gangplank and hustled him through to his quarters. His cabin was forward and four flights down into the bowels of the ship. There were four berths in all, two of them already had bags on them. Hank put his hand in his pocket for a shilling.

The steward grinned and said, “No tipping. This is a Soviet ship.”

Hank looked after him.

A newcomer entered the cabin, still drying his hands on a towel. “Greetings,” he said. “Evidently we’re fellow passengers for the duration.” He hung the towel on a rack, reached out a hand. “Rodriquez,” he said. “You can call me Paco, if you want. Did you ever meet an Argentine that wasn’t named Paco?”

Hank shook the hand. “I don’t know if I ever met an Argentine before. You speak English well.”

“Harvard,” Paco said. He stretched widely. “Did you spot those Russian girls in the crew? Blond, every one blond.” He grinned. “Not much time to operate with them⁠—but enough.”

A voice behind them, heavy with British accent said, “Good afternoon, gentlemen.”

He was as ebony as a negro can get and as nattily dressed as only Savile Row can turn out a man. He said, “My name is Loo Motlamelle.” He looked at them expressionlessly for a moment.

Paco put out his hand briskly for a shake. “Rodriquez,” he said. “Call me Paco. I suppose we’re all Moscow bound.”

Loo Motlamelle seemed relieved at his acceptance, clasped Paco’s hand, then Hank’s.

Hank shook his head as the three of them began to unpack to the extent it was desirable for the short trip. “The classless society. I wonder what First Class cabins look like. Here we are, jammed three in a telephone booth sized room.”

Paco chucked, “My friend, you don’t know the half of it. There are five classes on this ship. Needless to say, this is Tourist B, the last.”

“And we’ll probably be fed borsht and black bread the whole trip,” Hank growled.

Loo Motlamelle said mildly, “I hear the food is very good.”

Paco stood up from his luggage, put his hands on his hips, “Gentlemen, do you realize there is no lock on the door of this cabin?”

“The crime rate is said to be negligible in the Soviet countries,” Loo said.

Paco put up his hands in despair. “That isn’t the point. Suppose one of us wishes to bring a lady friend into the cabin for⁠ ⁠… a drink. How can he lock the door so as not to be interrupted?”

Hank was chuckling. “What did you take this trip for, Paco? An investigation into the mores of the Soviets⁠—female flavor?”

Paco went back to his bag. “Actually, I suppose I am one of the many. Going to the new world to see whether or not it is worth switching alliances from the old.”

A distant finger of cold traced designs in Henry Kuran’s belly. He had never heard the United States referred to as the Old World before. It had a strange, disturbing quality.

Loo, who was now reclined on his bunk, said, “That’s approximately the same reason I visit the Soviet Union.”

Hank said quietly, “Who’s sending you, Paco? Or are you on your own?”

“No, my North American friend. My lips are sealed but I represent a rather influencial group. All is not jest, even though I find life the easier if one laughs often and with joy.”

Hank closed his bag and slid it under his bunk. “Well, you should have had this influencial group pony up a little more money so you could have gone deluxe class.”

Paco looked at him strangely. “That is the point. We are not interested in a red-carpet tour during which the very best would be trotted our for propaganda purposes. I choose to see the New World as humbly as is possible.”

“And me,” Loo said. “We evidently are in much the same position.”

Hank brought himself into character. “Well, lesson number one. Did you notice the teeth in that steward’s face? Steel. Bright, gleaming steel, instead of gold.”

Loo shrugged hugely. “This is the day of science. Iron rusts, it’s true, but I assume that the Soviet dentists utilize some method of preventing corrosion.”

“Otherwise,” Paco murmured reasonably, “I imagine the Russians expectorate a good deal of rusty spittal.”

“I don’t know why I keep getting into these arguments,” Hank said. “I’m just going for a look-see myself. But frankly, I don’t trust a Russian any farther than I can throw one.”

“How many Russians have you met?” Loo said mildly. “Or are your opinions formed solely by what you have read in American publications?”

Hank frowned at him. “You seem to be a little on the anti-American side.”

“I’m not,” Loo said. “But not pro-American either. I find much that is ridiculous in the propaganda of both the Soviets and the West.”

“Gentlemen,” Paco said, “the conversation is fascinating, but I must leave you. The ladies, crowding the decks above, know not that my presence graces this ship. It shall be necessary that I enlighten them. Adios amigos!”

The Baltika displaced eight thousand four hundred ninety-six tons and had accommodations for three hundred thirty passengers. Of these, Hank Kuran estimated, approximately half were Scandinavians or British being transported between London, Copenhagen, Stockholm and Helsinki on the small liner’s way to Leningrad.

Of the tourists, some seventy-five or so, Hank estimated that all but half a dozen were convinced that Russian skunks didn’t stink, in spite of the fact that thus far they’d never been there to have a whiff. The few such as Loo Motlamelle, who was evidently the son of some African paramount chief, and Paco Rodriquez, had also never been to Russia but at least had open minds.

Far from black bread and borscht, he found the food excellent. The first morning they found caviar by the pound nestled in bowls of ice, as part of breakfast. He said across the table to Paco, “Propaganda. I wonder how many people in Russia eat caviar.”

Paco spooned a heavy dip of it onto his bread and grinned back. “This type of propaganda I can appreciate. You Yankees should try it.”

Char was also eating at the other side of the community type table. She said, “How many Americans eat as well as the passengers on United States Lines ships?”

It was as good an opportunity as any for Hank to place his character in the eyes of his fellow Progressive Tours pilgrims. His need was to establish himself as a moderately square tourist on his way to take a look-see at highly publicized Russia. Originally, the C.I.A. men had wanted him to be slightly pro-Soviet, but he hadn’t been sure he could handle that convincingly enough. More comfortable would be a role as an averagely anti-Russian tourist⁠—not fanatically so, but averagely. If there were any K.G.B. men aboard, he wanted to dissolve into mediocrity so far as they were concerned.

Hank said now, mild indignation in his voice. “Do you contend that the average Russian eats as well as the average American?”

Char took a long moment to finish the bite she had in her mouth. She shrugged prettily. “How would I know? I’ve never been to the Soviet Union.” She paused for a moment before adding, “However, I’ve done a certain amount of traveling and I can truthfully say that the worst slums I have ever seen in any country that can be considered civilized were in the Harlem district and the lower East Side of New York.”

All eyes were turned to him now, so Hank said, “It’s a big country and there are exceptions. But on the average the United States has the highest standard of living in the world.”

Paco said interestedly, “What do you use for a basis of measurement, my friend? Such things as the number of television sets and movie theaters? To balance such statistics, I understand that per capita your country has the fewest number of legitimate theaters of any of⁠—I use Miss Moore’s term⁠—the civilized countries.”

A Londoner, two down from Hank, laughed nastily. “Maybe schooling is the way he measures. I read in the Express the other day that even after Yankees get out of college they can’t read proper. All they learn is driving cars and dancing and togetherness⁠—wotever that it.”

Hank grinned inwardly and thought, You don’t sound as though you read any too well yourself, my friend. Aloud he said, “Very well, in a couple of days we’ll be in the promised land, I contend that free enterprise performs the greatest good for the greatest number.”

“Free enterprise,” somebody down the table snorted. “That means the freedom for the capitalists to pry somebody else out of the greatest part of what he produces.”

By the time they’d reached Leningrad aside from Paco and Loo, his cabinmates, Hank had built an Iron Curtain all of his own between himself and the other members of the Progressive Tours trip. Which was the way he wanted it. He could foresee a period when having friends might be a handicap when and if he needed to drift away from the main body for any length of time.

Actually, the discussions he ran into were on the juvenile side. Hank Kuran hadn’t spent eight years of his life as a field man working against the Soviet countries in the economic sphere without running into every argument both pro and con in the continuing battle between Capitalism and Communism. Now he chuckled to himself at getting into tiffs over the virtues of Russian black bread versus American white, or whether Soviet jets were faster than those of the United States.

With Char Moore, though she tolerated Hank’s company, in fact, seemed to prefer it to that of whatever other males were aboard, it was continually a matter of rubbing fur the wrong way. She was ready to battle it out on any phase of politics, international affairs or West versus East.

But it was the visitors from space that actually dominated the conversation of the ship⁠—crew, tourists, business travelers, or whoever. Information was still limited, and Tass the sole source. Daily there were multilingual radio broadcasts tuned in by the Baltika but largely they added little to the actual information on the extraterrestrials. It was mostly Soviet back-patting on the significance of the fact that the Galactic Confederation emissaries had landed in the Soviet complex rather than among the Western countries.

Hank learned little that he hadn’t already known. The Kremlin had all but laughingly declined a suggestion on the part of Switzerland that the extraterrestrials be referred to that all but defunct United Nations. The delegates from the Galactic Confederation had chose to land in Moscow. In Moscow they should remain until they desired to go elsewhere. The Soviet implication was that the alien emissaries had no desire, intention nor reason to visit other sections of Earth. They had contacted the dominant world power and could complete their business within the Kremlin walls.

Leningrad came as only a mild surprise to Henry Kuran. With his knowledge of Russian and his position in Morton Twombly’s department, he had kept up with the Soviet progress though the years.

As early as the middle 1950s unbiased travelers to the U.S.S.R. had commented in detail upon the explosion of production in the country. By the end of the decade such books as Gunther’s Inside Russia Today had dwelt upon the ultra-cleanliness of the cities, the mushrooming of apartment houses, the easing of the restrictions of Stalin’s day⁠—or at least the beginning of it.

He actually hadn’t expected peasant clad, half-starved Russians furtively shooting glances at their neighbors for fear of the secret police. Nor a black bread and cabbage diet. Nor long lines of the politically suspect being hauled off to Siberia. But on the other hand he was unprepared for the prosperity he did find.

Not that this was any paradise, worker’s or otherwise. But it still came as a mild surprise. Henry Kuran couldn’t remember so far back that he hadn’t had his daily dose of anti-Russianism. Not unless it was for the brief respite during the Second World War when for a couple of years the Red Army had been composed of heroes and Stalin had overnight become benevolent old Uncle Joe.

There weren’t as many cars on the streets as in American cities, but there were more than he had expected nor were they 1955 model Packards. So far as he could see, they were approximately the same cars as were being turned out in Western Europe.

Public transportation, he admitted, was superior to that found in the Western capitals. Obviously, it would have to be, without automobiles, buses, streetcars and subways would have to carry the brunt of traffic. However, it was the spotless efficiency of public transportation that set him back.

The shops were still short of the pinnacles touched by Western capitals. They weren’t empty of goods, luxury goods as well as necessities, but they weren’t overflowing with the endless quantities, the hundred-shadings of quality and fashion that you expected in the States.

But what struck nearest to him was the fact that the people in the streets were not broken-spirited depressed, humorless drudges. In fact, why not admit it, they looked about the same as people in the streets anywhere else. Some laughed, some looked troubled. Children ran and played. Lovers held hands and looked into each other’s eyes. Some reeled under an overload of vodka. Some hurried along, business bent. Some dawdled, window-shopped, or strolled along for the air. Some read books or newspapers as they shuffled, radar directed, and unconscious of the world about them.

They were only a day and half in Leningrad. They saw the Hermitage, comparable to the Louvre and far and above any art museum in America. They saw the famous subway⁠—which deserved its fame. They were ushered through a couple of square miles of the Elektrosile electrical equipment works, claimed ostentatiously by them guide to be the largest in the world. They ate in restaurants as good as any Hank Kuran had been able to afford at home and stayed one night at the Astoria Hotel.

At least, Hank had the satisfaction of grumbling about the plumbing.

Paco and Loo, the only single bachelors on the tour besides himself, were again quartered with him at the Astoria.

Paco said, “My friend, there I agree with you completely. America has the best plumbing in the world. And the most.”

Hank was pulling off his shoes after an arch-breaking day of sightseeing. “Well, I’m glad I’ve finally found some field where it’s agreeable that the West is superior to the Russkies.”

Loo was stretched out on his bed, in stocking feet, gazing at the ceiling which towered at least fifteen feet above him. He said “In the town where I was born, there were three bathrooms, one in the home of the missionary, one in the home of the commissioner, and one in my father’s palace.” He looked up at Hank. “Or is my country considered part of the Western World?”

Paco laughed. “Come to think of it, I doubt if one third the rural homes of Argentina have bathrooms. Hank, my friend, I am afraid Loo is right. You use the word West too broadly. All the capitalist world is not so advanced as the United States. You have been very lucky, you Yankees.”

Hank sank into one of the huge, Victorian era armchairs. “Luck has nothing to do with it. America is rich because private enterprise works.”

“Of course,” Paco pursued humorously, “the fact that your country floats on a sea of oil, has some of the richest forest land in the world, is blessed with some of the greatest mineral deposits anywhere and millions of acres of unbelievably fertile land has nothing to do with it.”

“I get your point,” Hank said. “The United States was handed the wealth of the world on a platter. But that’s only part of it.”

“Yes,” Loo agreed. “Also to be considered is the fact that for more than a hundred years you have never had a serious war, serious, that is, in that your land was not invaded, your industries destroyed.”

“That’s to our credit. We’re a peace loving people.”

Loo laughed abruptly. “You should tell that to the American Indians.”

Hank scowled over at him. “What’d you mean by that Loo? That has all the elements of a nasty crack.”

“Or tell it to the Mexicans. Isn’t that where you got your whole Southwest?”

Hank looked from Loo to Paco and back.

Paco brought out cigarettes and tossed one to each of the others. “Aren’t these long Russian cigarettes the end? I heard somebody say that by the time the smoke got through all the filter, you’d lost the habit.” He looked over at Hank. “Easy my friend, easy. On a trip like this it would be impossible not to continually be comparing East and West, dwelling continually on politics, the pros and cons of both sides. All of us are continually assimilating what we hear and see. Among other things, I note that on the newsstands there are no publications from western lands. Why? Because still, after fifty years, our Communist bureaucracy dare not allow its people to read what they will. I note, too, that the shops on 25th October Avenue are not all directed toward the Russian man on the street, unless he is paid unbelievably more than we have heard. Sable coats? Jewelery? Luxurious furniture? I begin to suspect that our Soviet friends are not quite so classless as Mr. Marx had in mind when he and Mr. Engels worked out the rough framework of the society of the future.”

Loo said seriously, “Oh, there are a great many things of that type to notice here in the Soviet Union.”

Hank had to grin. “Well, I’m glad you jokers still have open minds.”

Paco waggled a finger negatively at him. “We’ve had open minds all along, my friend. It is yours that seems closed. In spite of the fact that I spent four years in your country I sometimes confess I don’t understand you Americans. I think you are too immersed in your TV programs, your movies and your light fiction.”

“I can feel myself being saddled up again,” Hank complained. “All set for another riding.”

Loo laughed softly, his perfect white teeth gleaming in his black face.

Paco said, “You seem to have the fictional good guys and bad guys outlook. And, in this world of controversy, you assume that you are the good guys, the heroes, and since that is so then the Soviets must be the bad guys. And, as in the movies, everything the good guys do is fine and everything the bad guys do, is evil. I sometimes think that if the Russians had developed a cure for cancer first you Americans would have refused to use it.”

Hank had had enough. He said, “Look, Paco, there are two hundred million Americans. For you, or anyone else, to come along and try to lump that many people neatly together is pure silliness. You’ll find every type of person that exists in the world in any country. The very tops of intelligence, and submorons living in institutions; the most highly educated of scientists, and men who didn’t finish grammar school; you’ll find saints, and gangsters; infant prodigies and juvenile delinquents; and millions upon millions of just plain ordinary people much like the people of Argentina, or England, or France or whatever. True enough, among all our two hundred million there are some mighty prejudiced people, some mighty backward ones, and some downright foolish ones. But if you think the United States got to the position she’s in today through the efforts of a whole people who are foolish, then you’re obviously pretty far off the beam yourself.”

Paco was looking at him narrowly. “Accepted, friend Hank, and I apologize. That’s quite the most effective outburst I’ve heard from you in this week we’ve known each other. It occurs to me that perhaps you are other than I first thought.”

Oh, oh. Hank backtracked. He said, “Good grief, let’s drop it.”

Paco said, “Well, just to change the subject, gentlemen, there is one thing above all that I noted here in Leningrad.”

“What was that?” Loo said.

“It’s the only town I’ve ever seen where I felt an urge to kiss a cop,” Paco said soulfully. “Did you notice? Half the traffic police in town are cute little blondes.”

Loo rolled over. “A fascinating observation, but personally I am going to take a nap. Tonight it’s the Red Arrow Express to Moscow and rest might be in order, particularly if the train has square wheels, burns wood and stops and repairs bridges all along the way, as I’m sure Hank believes.”

Hank reached down, got hold of one of his shoes and heaved it.

“Missed!” Loo grinned.

The Red Arrow Express had round wheels, burned diesel fuel and made the trip between Leningrad and Moscow overnight. In one respect, it was the most unique train ride Hank Kuran had ever had. The track contained not a single curve from the one city to the other. Its engineers must have laid the roadbed out with a ruler.

The cars like the rest of public transportation, were as comfortable as any Hank knew. Traveling second class, as the Progressive Tours pilgrims did, involved four people in a compartment for the night, with one exception. At the end of the car was a smaller compartment containing two bunks only.

The Intourist guide who had shepherded them around Leningrad took them to the train, saw them all safely aboard, told them another Intourist employee would pick them up at the station in Moscow.

It was late. Hank was assigned the two-bunk compartment. He put his glasses on the tiny window table, sat on the edge of the lower and began to pull off his shoes. He didn’t look up when the door opened until a voice said, icebergs dominating the tone, “Just what are you doing in here?”

Hank blinked up at her. “Hello, Char. What?”

Char Moore snapped, “I said, what are you doing in my compartment?”

“Yours? Sorry, the conductor just assigned me here. Evidently there’s been some mistake.”

“I suggest you rectify it, Mr. Stevenson.”

Out in the corridor a voice, heavy with Britishisms, complained plaintively, “Did you ever hear the loik? They put men and women into the same compartment. Oim expected to sleep with a loidy in the bunk under me.”

Hank cleared his throat, didn’t allow himself the luxury of a smile. He said, “I’ll see what I can do, Char. Seems to me I did read somewhere that the Russkies see nothing wrong in putting strangers in the same sleeping compartment.”

Char Moore stood there, saying nothing but breathing deeply enough to express American womanhood insulted.

“All right, all right,” he said, retying his shoes and retrieving his glasses. “I didn’t engineer this.” He went looking for the conductor.

He was back, yawning by this time, fifteen minutes later. Char Moore was sitting on the side of the bottom bunk, sipping a glass of tea that she’d bought for a few kopecks from the portress. She looked up coolly as he entered, but her voice was more pleasant. “Get everything fixed?”

Hank said, “What bunk do you want, upper or lower?”

“That’s not funny.”

“It’s not supposed to be.” Hank pulled his bag from under the bunk and from it drew pajamas and his dressing gown. “Check with the rest of the tour if you want. The conductor couldn’t care less. We were evidently assigned compartments by Intourist and where we were assigned we’ll sleep. Either that or you can stand in the corridor all night. I’ll be damned if I will.”

“You don’t have to swear,” Char bit out testily. “What are we going to do about it?”

“I just told you what I was going to do.” Taking up his things he opened the door. “I’ll change in the men’s dressing room.”

“I’ll lock the door,” Char Moore snapped.

Hank grinned at her. “I’ll bet that if you do the conductor either has a passkey or will break it down for me.”

When he returned in slippers, nightrobe and pajamas, Char was in the upper berth, staring angrily at the compartment ceiling. There were no hooks or other facilities for hanging or storing clothes. She must have put all of her things back into her bag. Hank grinned inwardly, carefully folded his own pants and jacket over his suitcase before climbing into the bunk.

“Don’t snore, do you?” he said conversationally.

No answer.

“Or walk in your sleep?”

“You’re not funny, Mr. Stevenson.”

“That’s what I like about this country,” Hank said. “Progressive. Way ahead of the West. Shucks, modesty is a reactionary capitalistic anachronism. Shove ’em all into bed together, that’s what I always say.” He laughed.

“Oh, shut up,” Char said. But then she laughed, too. “Actually, I suppose there’s nothing wrong with it. We are rather Victorian about such things in the States.”

Hank groaned. “There you are. If a railroad company at home suggested you spend the night in a compartment with a strange man, you’d sue them. But here in the promised land it’s OK.”

After a short silence Char said, “Hank, why do you dislike the Soviet Union so much?”

“Why? Because I’m an American!”

She said so softly as to be almost inaudible, “I’ve known you for a week now. Somehow you don’t really seem to be the type who would make that inadequate a statement.”

Hank said “Look, Char. There’s a cold war going on between the United States and her allies and the Soviet complex. I’m on our side. It’s going to be one or the other.”

“No it isn’t, Hank. If it ever breaks out into hot war, it’s going to be both. That is, unless the extraterrestrials add some new elements to the whole disgusting situation.”

“Let’s put it another way. Why are you so pro-Soviet?”

She raised herself on one elbow and scowled down over the edge of her bunk at him. Inside, Hank turned over twice to see the unbound red hair, the serious green eyes. Imagine looking at that face over the breakfast table for the rest of your life. The hell with South American señoritas.

Char said earnestly, “I’m not. Confound it, Hank, can’t the world get any further than this cowboys and Indians relationship between nations? Our science and industry has finally developed to the point where the world could be a paradise. We’ve solved all the problems of production. We’ve conquered all the major diseases. We have the wonders of eternity before us⁠—and look at us.”

“Tell that to the Russkies and their pals. They’re out for the works.”

“Well, haven’t we been?”

“The United States isn’t trying to take over the world.”

“No? Possibly not in the old sense of the word, but aren’t we trying desperately to sponsor our type of government and social system everywhere? Frankly, I’m neither pro-West nor pro-Soviet. I think they’re both wrong.”

“Fine,” Hank said. “What is your answer?”

She remained silent for a long time. Finally, “I don’t claim to have an answer. But the world is changing like crazy. Science, technology, industrial production, education, population all are mushrooming. For us to claim that sweeping and basic changes aren’t taking place in the Western nations is just nonsense. Our own country’s institutions barely resemble the ones we had when you and I were children. And certainly the Soviet Union has changed and is changing from what it was thirty or forty years ago.”

“Listen, Char,” Hank said in irritation, “you still haven’t come up with any sort of an answer to the cold war.”

“I told you I hadn’t any. All I say is that I’m sick of it. I can’t remember so far back that there wasn’t a cold war. And the more I consider it the sillier it looks. Currently the United States and her allies spend between a third and a half of their gross national product on the military⁠—ha! the military!⁠—and in fighting the Soviet complex in international trade.”

“Well,” Hank said, “I’m sick of it, too, and I haven’t any answer either, but I’ll be darned if I’ve heard the Russkies propose one. And just between you and me, if I had to choose between living Soviet style and our style, I’d choose ours any day.”

Char said nothing.

Hank added flatly, “Who knows, maybe the coming of these Galactic Confederation characters will bring it all to a head.”

She said nothing further and in ten minutes the soft sounds of her breathing had deepened to the point that Hank Kuran knew she slept. He lay there another half hour in the full knowledge that probably the most desirable woman he’d ever met was sleeping less than three feet away from him.

Leningrad had cushioned the first impression of Moscow for Henry Kuran. Although, if anything, living standards and civic beauty were even higher here in the capital city of world Communism.

They pulled into the Leningradsky Station on Komsomolskaya Square in the early morning to be met by Intourist guides and buses.

Hank sat next to Char Moore still feeling on the argumentative side after their discussion of the night before. He motioned with his head at some excavation work going on next to the station. “There you are. Women doing manual labor.”

Char said, “I’m from the Western states, it doesn’t impress me. Have you ever seen fruit pickers, potato diggers, or just about any type of itinerant harvest workers? There is no harder work and women, and children for that matter, do half of it at home.”

He looked at the husky, rawboned women laborers working shoulder to shoulder with the men. “I still don’t like it.”

Char shrugged. “Who does? The sooner we devise machines to do all the drudgery the better off the world will be.”

To his surprise, Hank found Moscow one of the most beautiful cities he had ever observed. Certainly the downtown area in the vicinity of the Kremlin compared favorably with any.

The buses whisked them down through Lermontovskaya Square, down Kirov Street to Novaya and then turned right. The Intourist guide made with a running commentary. There was the famous Bolshoi Theater and there Sverdlova Square, a Soviet cultural center.

Hank didn’t know it then but they were avoiding Red Square. They circled it, one block away, and pulled onto Gorky Street and before a Victorian period building.

“The Grand Hotel,” the guide announced, “where you will stay during your Moscow visit.”

Half a dozen porters began manhandling their bags from the top of the bus. They were ushered into the lobby and assigned rooms. Russian hotel lobbies were a thing apart. No souvenir stands, no bellhops, no signs saying To the Bar, To the Barber Shop or to anything else. A hotel was a hotel, period.

Hank trailed Loo and Paco and three porters to the second floor and to the room they were assigned in common. Like the Astoria’s rooms, in Leningrad, it was king-sized. In fact, it could easily have been divided into three chambers. There were four full sized beds, six arm chairs, two sofas, two vanity tables, a monstrous desk⁠—and one wash bowl which gurgled when you ran water.

Paco, hands on hips, stared around. “A dance hall,” he said. “Gentlemen, this room hasn’t changed since some Grand Duke stayed in it before the revolution.”

Loo, who had assumed his usual prone position on one of the beds, said, “From what I’ve heard about Moscow housing, you could get an average family in this amount of space.”

Hank was stuffing clothes into a dresser drawer. “Now who’s making with anti-Soviet comments?”

Paco laughed at him. “Have you ever seen some of the housing in the Harlem district in New York? You can rent a bed in a room that has possibly ten beds, for an eight-hour period. When your eight hours are up you roll out and somebody else rolls in. The beds are kept warm, three shifts every twenty-four hours.”

Hank shook his head and muttered, “They call me Dobbin, I’ve been ridden so much.”

Paco laughed and rubbed his hands together happily. “It’s still early. We have nothing to do until lunch time. I suggest we sally forth and take a look at Russian womanhood. One never knows.”

Loo said, “As an alternative, I suggest we rest until lunch.”

Paco snorted. “A rightest-Trotskyite wrecker, and an imperialist warmonger to boot.”

Loo said, dead panned, “Smile when you say that stranger.”

Hank said, “Hey, wait a minute.”

He went down the room to the far window and bug-eyed. One block away, at the end of Gorky Street, was Red Square. St. Basil’s Cathedral at the far end, and unbelievable candy-cane construction of fanciful spirals, and every-colored turrets; the red marble mausoleum, Mecca of world Communism, housing the prophet Lenin and his two disciples; the long drab length of the G.U.M. department store opposite. But it wasn’t these.

There on the square, nestled in the corner between St. Basil’s and the mausoleum, squatted what Henry Kuran had never really expected to see, in spite of his assignment, in spite of news broadcasts, in spite of everything to the contrary. Boomerang shaped, resting on short stilts, six of them in all, a baby blue in color⁠—an impossibly beautiful baby blue.

The spaceship.

Paco stood at one shoulder, Loo at the other.

For once there was no humor in Paco’s words. “There it is,” he said. “Our visitors from the stars.”

“Possibly our teachers from the stars,” Hank said huskily.

“Or our judges.” Loo’s voice was flat.

They stood there for another five minutes in silence. Loo said finally, “Undoubtedly our Intourist guides will take us nearer, if that’s allowed, later during our stay. Meanwhile, my friends, I shall rest up for the occasion.”

“Let’s take our quick look at the city,” Paco said to Hank. “Once the Intourist people take over they’ll run our feet off. Frankly, I have little interest in where the first shot of the revolution was fired, the latest tractor factory, or where Rasputin got it in the neck. There are more important things.”

“We know,” Loo said from the bed. “Women.”


Hank was wondering whether or not to leave the room. The Stilyagi were to contact him. Where? When? Obviously, he’d need their help. He had no idea whatsoever on how to penetrate to the Interplanetary emissaries.

He spoke Russian. Fine. So what? Could he simply march up to the spacecraft and knock on the door? Or would he make himself dangerously conspicuous by just getting any closer than he now was to the craft?

As he stood now, he felt he was comparatively safe. He was sure the Russkies had marked him down as a rather ordinary American. Heavens knows, he’d worked hard enough at the role. A simple, average tourist, a little on the square side, and not even particularly articulate.

However, he wasn’t going to accomplish much by remaining here in this room. He doubted that the Stilyagi would get in touch with him either by phone or simply knocking at the door.

“OK, Paco,” he said. “Let’s go. In search of the pin-up girl⁠—Moscow style.”

They walked down to the lobby and started for the door.

One of the Intourist guides who had brought them from the railroad station stood to one side of the stairs. “Going for a walk, gentlemen? I suggest you stroll up Gorky Street, it’s the main shopping center.”

Paco said, “How about going over into Red Square to see the spaceship?”

The guide shrugged. “I don’t believe the guards will allow you to get too near. It would be undesirable to bother the Galactic delegates to the Soviet Union.”

That was one way of wording it, Hank thought glumly. The Galactic delegates to the Soviet Union. Not to the Earth, but to the Soviet Union. He wondered what the neutrals in such countries as India were thinking.

But at least there were no restrictions on Paco and him.

They strolled up Gorky Street, jam packed with fellow pedestrians. Shoppers, window-shoppers, men on the prowl for girls, girls on the prowl for men, Ivan and his wife taking the baby for a stroll, street cleaners at the endless job of keeping Moscow’s streets the neatest in the world.

Paco pointed out this to Hank, Hank pointed out that to Paco. Somehow it seemed more than a visit to a western European nation. This was Moscow. This was the head of the Soviet snake.

And then Hank had to laugh inwardly at himself as two youngsters, running along playing tag in a grown-up world of long legs and stolid pace, all but tripped him up. Head of a snake it might be, but Moscow’s people looked astonishingly like those of Portland, Maine or Portland, Oregon.

“How do you like those two, coming now?” Paco said.

Those two coming now consisted of two better than averagely dressed girls who would run somewhere in their early twenties. A little too much makeup by western standards, and clumsily applied.

“Blondes,” Paco said soulfully.

“They’re all blondes here,” Hank said.

“Wonderful, isn’t it?”

The girls smiled at them in passing and Paco turned to look after, but they didn’t stop. Hank and Paco went on.

It didn’t take Hank long to get onto Paco’s system. It was beautifully simple. He merely smiled widely at every girl that went by. If she smiled back, he stopped and tried to start a conversation with her.

He got quite a few rebuffs but⁠—Hank remembered an old joke⁠—on the other hand he got quite a bit of response.

Before they had completed a block and a half of strolling, they were standing on a corner, trying to talk with two of Moscow’s younger set⁠—female variety. Here again, Paco was a wonder. His languages were evidently Spanish, English and French but he was in there pitching with a language the full vocabulary of which consisted of Da and Neit so far as he was concerned.

Hank stood back a little, smiling, trying to stay in character, but in amused dismay at the other’s aggressive abilities.

Paco said, “Listen, I think I can get these two to come up to the room. Which one do you like?”

Hank said, “If they’ll come up to the room, then they’re professionals.”

Paco grinned at him. “I’m a professional, too. A lawyer by trade. It’s just a matter of different professions.”

A middle-aged pedestrian, passing by, said to the girls in Russian, “Have you no shame before the foreign tourists?”

They didn’t bother to answer. Paco went back to his attempt to make a deal with the taller of the two.

The smaller, who sported astonishingly big and blue eyes, said to Hank in Russian, “You’re too good to associate with metrofanushka girls?”

Hank frowned puzzlement. “I don’t speak Russian,” he said.

She laughed lightly, almost a giggle, and, in the same low voice her partner was using on Paco, said, “I think you do, Mr. Kuran. In the afternoon, tomorrow, avoid whatever tour the Intourist people wish to take you on and wander about Sovietska Park.” She giggled some more. The worldwide epitome of a girl being picked up on the street.

Hank took her in more closely. Possibly twenty-five years of age. The skirt she was wearing was probably Russian, it looked sturdy and durable, but the sweater was one of the new American fabrics. Her shoes were probably western too, the latest flared heel effect. A typical stilyagi or metrofanushka girl, he assumed. Except for one thing⁠—her eyes were cool and alert, intelligent beyond those of a street pickup.

Paco said, “What do you think, Hank? This one will come back to the hotel with me.”

“Romeo, Romeo,” Hank sighed, “wherefore do thou think thou art?”

Paco shrugged. “What’s the difference? Buenos Aires, New York, Moscow. Women are women.”

“And men are evidently men,” Hank said. “You do what you want.”

“OK, friend. Do you mind staying out of the room for a time?”

“Don’t worry about me, but you’ll have to get rid of Loo, and he hasn’t had his eighteen hours sleep yet today.”

Paco had his girl by the arm. “I’ll roll him into the hall. He’ll never wake up.”

Hank’s girl made a moue at him, shrugged as though laughing off the fact that she had been rejected, and disappeared into the crowds. Hank stuck his hands in his pockets and went on with his stroll.

The contact with the underground had been made.

Maintaining his front as an American tourist he wandered into several stores, picked up some amber brooches at a bargain rate, fingered through various books in English in an international bookshop. That was one thing that hit hard. The bookshops were packed. Prices were remarkably low and people were buying. In fact, he’d never seen a country so full of people reading and studying. The park benches were loaded with them, they read as the rode on streetcar and bus, they read as they walked along the street. He had an uneasy feeling that the jet-set kids were a small minority, that the juvenile delinquent problem here wasn’t a fraction what it was in the West.

He’d expected to be followed. In fact, that had puzzled him when he first was given this unwanted assignment by Sheridan Hennessey. How was he going to contact this so-called underground if he was watched the way he had been led to believe Westerners were?

But he recalled their conducted tour of the Hermitage Museum in Leningrad. The Intourist guide had started off with twenty-five persons and had clucked over them like a hen all afternoon. In spite of her frantic efforts to keep them together, however, she returned to the Astoria Hotel that evening with eight missing⁠—including Hank and Loo who had wandered off to get a beer.

The idea of the K.G.B. putting tails on the tens of thousands of tourists that swarmed Moscow and Leningrad, became a little on the ridiculous side. Besides, what secret does a tourist know, or what secrets could he discover?

At any rate, Hank found no interference in his wanderings. He deliberately avoided Red Square and its spaceship, taking no chances on bringing himself to attention. Short of that locality, he wandered freely.

At noon they ate at the Grand and the Intourist guide outlined the afternoon program which involved a general sightseeing tour ranging from the University to the Park of Rest and Culture, Moscow’s equivalent of Coney Island.

Loo said, “That all sounds very tiring, do we have time for a nap before leaving?”

“I’m afraid not, Mr. Motlamelle,” the guide told him.

Paco shook his head. “I’ve seen a university, and I’ve seen a sport stadium and I’ve seen statues and monuments. I’ll sit this one out.”

“I think I’ll lie this one out,” Loo said. He complained plaintively to Hank. “You know what happened to me this morning, just as I was napping up in our room?”

“Yes,” Hank said, “I was with our Argentine Casanova when he picked her up.”

Hank took the conducted tour with the rest. If he was going to beg off the next day, he’d be less conspicuous tagging along on this one. Besides it gave him the lay of the land.

And he took the morning trip the next day, the automobile factories on the outskirts of town. It had been possibly fifteen years since Hank had been through Detroit but he doubted greatly that automation had developed as far in his own country as it seemed to have here. Or, perhaps, this was merely a showplace. But he drew himself up at that thought. That was one attitude the Western world couldn’t afford⁠—deprecating Soviet progress. This was the very thing that had led to such shocks as the launching of the early Sputniks. Underestimate your adversary and sooner or later you paid for it.

The Soviets had at long last built up a productive machine as great as any. Possibly greater. In sheer tonnage they were turning out more gross national product than the West. This was no time to be underestimating them.

All this was a double interest to a field man in Morton Twombly’s department, working against the Soviets in international trade. He was beginning to understand at least one of the reasons why the Commies could sell their products at such ridiculously low prices. Automation beyond that of the West. In the Soviet complex the labor unions were in no position to block the introduction of ultra-efficient methods, and featherbedding was unheard of. If a Russian worker’s job was automated out from under him, he shifted to a new plant, a new job, and possibly even learned a new trade. The American worker’s union, to the contrary, did its best to save the job.

Hank Kuran remembered reading, a few months earlier, of a British textile company which had attempted to introduce a whole line of new automation equipment. The unions had struck, and the company had to give up the project. What happened to the machinery? It was sold to China!

Following the orders of his underground contact, he begged out of the afternoon tour, as did half a dozen of the others. Sightseeing was as hard on the feet in Moscow as anywhere else.

After lunch he looked up Sovietska Park on his tourist map of the city. It was handy enough. A few blocks up Gorky Street.

It turned out to be typical. Well done so far as fountains, monuments and gardens were concerned. Well equipped with park benches. In the early afternoon it was by no means empty, but, on the other hand not nearly so filled as he’d noticed the parks to be the evening before.

Hank stopped at one of the numerous cold drink stands where for a few kopecks you could get raspberry syrup fizzed up with soda water. While he sipped it, a teenager came up beside him and said in passable English, “Excuse me, are you a tourist? Do you speak English?”

This had happened before. Another kid practicing his school language.

“That’s right,” Hank said.

The boy said, “You aren’t a ham, are you?” He brought some cards from an inner pocket. “I’m UA3-K.G.B.

For a moment Hank looked at him blankly, and then he recognized the amateur radio call cards the other was displaying. “Oh, a ham. Well, no, but I have a cousin who is.”

Two more youngsters came up. “What’s his call?”

Hank didn’t remember that. They all adjourned to a park bench and little though he knew about the subject, international amateur radio was discussed in detail. In fifteen minutes he was hemmed in by a dozen or so and had about decided he’d better make his excuses and circulate around making himself available to the stilyagi outfit. He was searching for an excuse to shake them when the one sitting next to him reverted to Russian.

“We’re clear now, Henry Kuran.”

Hank said, “I’ll be damned. I hadn’t any idea⁠—”

The other brushed aside trivialities. Looking at him more closely, Hank could see he was older than first estimate. Possibly twenty-two or so. Darker than most of the others, heavyset, sharp and impatient.

“You can call me Georgi,” he said. “These others will prevent outsiders from bothering us. Now then, we’ve been told you Americans want some assistance. What? And why should we give it to you?”

Hank said, worriedly, “Haven’t you some place we could go? Where I could meet one of your higher-ups? This is important.”

“Otherwise, I wouldn’t be here,” Georgi said impatiently. “For that matter there is no higher-up. We don’t have ranks; we’re a working democracy. And I’m afraid the day of the secret room in some cellar is past. With housing what it is, if there was an empty cellar in Moscow a family would move in. And remember, all buildings are State owned and operated. I’m afraid you’ll have to tell your story here. Now, what is it you want?”

“I want an opportunity to meet the Galactic Confederation emissaries.”


“To give them our side, the Western side, of the⁠ ⁠… well, the controversy between us and the Soviet complex. We want an opportunity to have our say before they make any permanent treaties.”

Georgi considered that. “We thought it was probably something similar,” he muttered. “What do you think it will accomplish?”

“At least a delaying action. If the extraterrestrials throw their weight, their scientific progress, into the balance on the side of the Soviet complex, the West will have lost the cold war. Every neutral in the world will jump on the bandwagon. International trade, sources of raw materials, will be a thing of the past. Without a shot being fired, we’d become second-rate powers overnight.”

Georgi said nothing for a long moment. A new youngster had drifted up to the group but one of those on the outskirts growled something at him and he went off again. Evidently, Hank decided, all of this dozen-odd cluster of youngsters were connected with the jet-set underground.

“All right, you want us to help you in the conflict between the Soviet government and the West,” Georgi said. “Why should we?”

Hank frowned at him. “You’re the anti-government movement. You’re revolutionists and want to overthrow the Soviet government.”

The other said impatiently, “Don’t read something into our organization that isn’t here. We don’t exist for your benefit, but our own.”

“But you wish to overthrow the Soviets and establish a democratic⁠—”

Georgi was waggling an impatient hand. “That word democratic has been so misused this past half century that it’s become all but meaningless. Look here, we wish to overthrow the present Soviet government, but that doesn’t mean we expect to establish one modeled to yours. We’re Russians. Our problems are Russian ones. Most of them you aren’t familiar with⁠—any more than we’re familiar with your American ones.”

“However, you want to destroy the Soviets,” Hank pursued.

“Yes,” Georgi growled, “but that doesn’t necessarily mean that we wish you to win this cold war, as the term goes. That is, just because we’re opposed to the Soviet government doesn’t mean we like yours. But you make a point. If the Galactic Confederation gives all-out support to the Soviet bureaucracy it might strengthen it to the point where they could remain in office indefinitely.”

Hank pressed the advantage. “Right. You’d never overthrow them then.”

“On the other hand,” Georgi muttered uncomfortably, “we’re not interested in giving you Americans an opportunity that would enable you to collapse the whole fabric of this country and its allies.”

“Look here,” Hank said. “In the States we seem to know surprisingly little about your movement. Just what do you expect to accomplish?”

“To make it brief, we wish to enjoy the product of the sacrifices of the past fifty years. If you recall your Marx”⁠—he twisted his face here in wry amusement⁠—“the idea was that the State was to wither away once Socialism was established. Instead of withering away, it has become increasingly strong. This was explained by the early Bolsheviks in a fairly reasonable manner. Socialism presupposes a highly industrialized economy. It’s not possible in a primitive nor even a feudalistic society. So our Communist bureaucracy remained in the saddle through a period of transition. The task was to industrialize the Soviet countries in a matter of decades where it had taken the Capitalist nations a century or two.”

Georgi shrugged. “I’ve never heard of a governing class giving up its once acquired power of its own accord, no matter how incompetent they might be.”

Hank said, “I wouldn’t call the Soviet government incompetent.”

“Then you’d be wrong,” the other said. “Progress had been made but often in spite of the bureaucracy, not because of it. In the early days it wasn’t so obvious, but as we develop the rule of the political bureaucrat becomes increasingly a hindrance. Politicians can’t operate industries and they can’t supervise laboratories. To the extent our scientist and technicians are interfered with by politicians, to that extent we are held up in our progress. Surely you’ve heard of the Lysenko matter?”

“He was the one who evolved the anti-Mendelian theory of genetics, fifteen or twenty years ago.”

“Correct,” Georgi snorted. “Acquired characteristics could be handed down by heredity. It took the Academy of Agricultural Science at least a decade to dispose of him. Why? Because his theories fitted into Stalin’s political beliefs.” The underground spokesman snorted again.

Hank had the feeling they were drifting from the subject. “Then you want to overthrow the Communist bureaucracy?”

“Yes, but that is only part of the story. Overthrowing it without something to replace the bureaucracy is a negative approach. We have no interest in a return to Czarist Russia, even if that were possible, and it isn’t. We want to profit by what has happened in these years of ultra-sacrifice, not to destroy everything. The day of rule by politicians is antiquated, we look forward to the future.” He seemed to switch subjects. “Do you remember Djilas’ book which he wrote in one of Tito’s prisons, The New Class?”

“Vaguely. I read the reviews. It was a best seller in the States some time ago.”

Georgi made with his characteristic snort. “It was a best seller here⁠—in underground circles. At any rate, that explains much. Our bureaucracy, no matter what its ideals might have been to begin with, has developed into a new class of its own. Russia sacrifices to surpass the West⁠—but our bureaucrats don’t. In Lenin’s day the commissar was paid the same as the average worker, but today we have bureaucrats as wealthy as Western millionaires.”

Hank said, “Of course, these are your problems. I don’t pretend to have too clear a picture of them. However, it seems to me we have a mutual enemy. Right at this moment it appears that they are to receive some support that will strengthen them. I suggest you cooperate with me in hopes they’ll be thwarted.”

For the first time a near smile appeared on the young Russian’s face. “A ludicrous situation. We have here a Russian revolutionary organization devoted to withering away the Russian Communist State. To gain its ends, it cooperates with a Capitalist country’s agent.” His grin broadened. “I suspect that neither Nicolai Lenin nor Karl Marx ever pictured such contingencies.”

Hank said, “I wouldn’t know I’m not up on my Marxism. I’m afraid that when I went to school academic circles weren’t inclined in that direction.” He returned the Russian’s wry smile.

Which only set the other off again. “Academic circles!” he snorted. “Sterile in both our countries. All professors of economics in the Soviet countries are Marxists. On the other hand, no American professor would admit to this. Coincidence? Suppose an American teacher was a convinced Marxist. Would he openly and honestly teach his beliefs? Suppose a Russian wasn’t? Would he?” Georgi slapped his knee with a heavy hand and stood up. “I’ll speak to various others. We’ll let you know.”

Hank said, “Wait. How long is this going to take? And can you help me if you want to? Where are these extraterrestrials?”

Georgi looked down at him. “They’re in the Kremlin. How closely guarded we don’t know, but we can find out.”

“The Kremlin,” Hank said. “I was hoping they stayed in their own ship.”

“Rumor has it that they’re quartered in the Bolshoi Kremlevski Dvorets, the Great Kremlin Palace. We’ll contact you later⁠—perhaps.” He stuck his hands in his pockets and strode away, in all appearance just one more pedestrian without anywhere in particular to go.

One of the younger boys, the ham who had first approached Hank, smiled and said, “Perhaps we can talk a bit more of radio?”

“Yeah,” Hank muttered, “Swell.”

The next development came sooner than Henry Kuran had expected. In fact, before the others returned from their afternoon tour of the city. Hank was sprawled in one of the king-sized easy chairs, turning what little he had to work on over in his mind. The principal decisions to make were, first, how long to wait on the assistance of the stilyagi, and, if that wasn’t forthcoming, what steps to take on his own. The second prospect stumped him. He hadn’t the vaguest idea what he could accomplish singly.

He wasn’t even sure where the space aliens were. The Bolshoi Kremlevski Dvorets, Georgi had said. But was that correct, and, if so, where was the Bolshoi Kremlevski Dvorets and how did you get into it? For that matter, how did you get inside the Kremlin walls?

Under his breath he cursed Sheridan Hennessey. Why had he allowed himself to be dragooned into this? By all criteria it was the desperate clutching of a drowning man for a straw. He had no way to know, for instance, if he did reach the space emissaries, that he could even communicate with them.

He caught himself wishing he was back in Peru arguing with hesitant South Americans over the relative values of American and Soviet complex commodities⁠—and then he laughed at himself.

There was a knock at the door.

Hank came wearily to his feet, crossed and opened it.

She still wore too much makeup, the American sweater and the flared heel shoes. And her eyes were still cool and alert. She slid past him, let her eyes go around the room quickly. “You are alone?” she said in Russian, but it was more a statement than question.

Hank closed the door behind them. He scowled at her, put a finger to his lips and then went through an involved pantomime to indicate looking for a microphone. He raised his eyebrows at her.

She laughed and shook her head. “No microphones.”

“How do you know?”

“We know. We have contacts here in the hotel. If the K.G.B. had to put microphones in the rooms of every tourist in Moscow, they’d have to increase their number by ten times. In spite of your western ideas to the contrary, it just isn’t done. There are exceptions, of course, but there has to be some reason for it.”

“Perhaps I’m an exception.” Hank didn’t like this at all. The C.I.A. men had been of the opinion that the K.G.B. was once again thoroughly checking on every foreigner.

“If the K.G.B. is already onto you, Henry Kuran, then you might as well give up. Your mission is already a failure.”

“I suppose so. Will you have a chair? Can I offer you a drink? My roommate has a bottle of Stolichnaya vodka which he brought from the boat.”

There was an amused light in her eyes even as she shook her head. “Your friend Paco is quite a man⁠—so I understand. But no, I am here for business.” She took one of the armchairs and Hank sank into another opposite her.

“The committee has decided to assist you to the point they can.”

“Fine.” Hank leaned forward.

“Tomorrow your Progressive Tours group is to have a conducted tour of the Kremlin museum, Ivan the Great’s Tower, and the Assumption Cathedral.”

“In the Kremlin?”

She was impatient. “The Kremlin is considerably larger than most Westerners seem to realize. Originally it was the whole city. The Kremlin walls are more then two kilometers long. In them are a great deal more than just government offices. Among other things, the Kremlin has one of the greatest museums and probably the largest in the world.”

“What I meant was, with the space emissaries there, will tours still be held?”

“They are being held. It would be too conspicuous to stop them even if there was any reason to.” She frowned and shook her head. “Just because you will be inside the Kremlin walls doesn’t mean that you will be sitting in the lap of the extraterrestrials. They are probably well guarded in the palace. We don’t know to what extent.”

Hank said, “Then how can you help me?”

“Only in a limited way.” She pulled a folder paper from her purse. “Here is a map of the Kremlin, and here one of the Palace. Both of these date from Czarist days but such things as the general layout of the Kremlin and the Bolshoi Kremlevski Dvorets do not change of course.”

“Do you know where the extraterrestrials are?”

“We’re not sure. The palace was built in the Seventeenth Century and was popular with various czars. It has been a museum for some time. We suspect that the Galactic Confederation delegates are housed in the Sobstvennaya Plovina which used to be the private apartments of Nicolas the First. It is quite define that the conferences are being held in the Gheorghievskaya sala; it’s the largest and most impressive room in the Kremlin.”

Hank stared at the two maps feeling a degree of dismay.

She said impatiently, “We can help you more than this. One of the regular guide-guards at the façade which leads to the main entrance of the palace is a member of our group. Here are your instructions.”

They spent another fifteen minutes going over the details, then she shot a quick glance at her watch and came to her feet. “Is everything clear⁠ ⁠… comrade?”

Hank frowned slightly at the use of the word, then understood. “I think so, and thanks⁠ ⁠… comrade.” He, as well as she, meant the term in its original sense.

He followed her to the door but before his hand touched the knob, it opened inwardly. Paco stood there, and behind him in the corridor was Char Moore.

The girl turned to Hank quickly, reached up and kissed him on the mouth and said, in English, “Goodbye, dollink.” She winked at Paco, swept past Char and was gone.

Paco looked after her appreciatively, back at Hank and said, “Ah, ha. You are quite a dog after all, eh?”

Char Moore’s face was blank. She mumbled something to the effect of, “See you later,” directed seemingly to both of them, and went on to her room.

Hank said, “Damn!”

Paco closed the door behind him. “What’s the matter, my friend?” he grinned. “Are you attempting to play two games at once?”

The morning tour was devoted to Red Square and the Kremlin. Immediately after breakfast they formed a column with two or three other tourist parties and were marched briskly to where Gorky Street debouched into Red Square. First destination was the mausoleum, backed against the Kremlin wall, which centered that square and served as a combined Vatican, Lhasa and Mecca of the Soviet complex. Built of dark red porphyry, it was the nearest thing to a really ultramodern building Hank had seen in Moscow.

As foreign tourists they were taken to the head of the line which already stretched around the Kremlin back into Mokhovaya Street along the western wall. A line of thousands.

Once the doors opened the line moved quickly. They filed in, two by two, down some steps, along a corridor which was suddenly cool as though refrigerated. Paco, standing next to Hank, said from the side of his mouth, “Now we know the secret of the embalming. I wonder if they’re hanging on meathooks.”

The line emerged suddenly into a room in the center of which were three glass chambers. The three bodies, the prophet and his two leading disciples flanking him. Lenin, Stalin, Khrushchev. On their faces, Hank decided, you could read much of their character. Lenin, the idealist and scholar. Stalin, utterly ruthless organization man. Khrushchev, energetic manager of what the first two had built.

They were in the burial room no more than two minutes, filed out by an opposite door. In the light of the square again, Paco grinned at him. “Nick and Joe didn’t look so good, but Nikita is standing up pretty well.”

Trailing back and forth across Red Square had its ludicrous elements. The guide pointed out this and that. But all the time his charges had their eyes glued to the spaceship, settled there at the far end of the square near St. Basil’s. In a way it seemed no more alien than so much else here. Certainly no more alien to the world Hank knew than the fantastic St. Basil’s Cathedral.

A spaceship from the stars, though. You still had to shake your head in effort to achieve clarity; to realize the significance of it. A spaceship with emissaries from a Galactic Confederation.

How simple if it had only landed in Washington, London or even Paris or Rome, instead of here.

They avoided getting very near it, although the Russians weren’t being ostentatious about their guarding. There was a roped off area about the craft and twenty or so guards, not overly armed, drifting about within the enclosure. But the local citizenry was evidently well disciplined. There were no huge crowds hanging on the ropes waiting for a glimpse of the interplanetary celebrities.

Nevertheless, the Intourist guide went out of his way to avoid bringing his charges too near. They retraced their steps back to Manezhnaya Square from which they had originally started to see the mausoleum, and then turned left through Alexandrovski Sad, the Alexander Park which ran along the west side of the Kremlin to the Borovikski Gate, on the Moskva River side of the fortress.

Paco said, “After this tour I’m in favor of us all signing a petition that our guide be awarded a medal, Hero of Intourist. You realize that thus far he has lost only two of us today?”

Some of the others didn’t like his levity. They were about to enter the Communist shrine and wisecracking was hardly in order. Paco Rodriquez couldn’t have cared less, being Paco Rodriquez.

The stilyagi girl had been correct about the Kremlin being an overgrown museum. Government buildings it evidently contained, but above all it provided gold topped cathedrals, fabulous palaces converted to art galleries and displays of the jeweled wealth of yesteryear and the tombs of a dozen czars including that of Ivan the Terrible.

They trailed into the Orushezhnaya Palace, through the ornate entrance hall displaying its early arms and banners.

Paco encouraged the harassed guard happily. “You’re doing fine. You’ve had us out for more than two hours. We started with twenty-five in this group and still have twenty-one. Par for the course. What happens to a tourist who wanders absently around in the Kremlin and turns up in the head man’s office?”

The guide smiled wanly. “And over here we have the thrones of the Empress Elizabeth and Czar Paul.”

Unobtrusively, Hank dropped toward the tail of the group. He spent a long time peering at two silver panthers, gifts of the first Queen Elizabeth of England to Boris Godunov. The Progressive Tours assembly passed on into the next room.

A guard standing next to the case said, “Mr. Kuran?”

Without looking up, Hand nodded.

“Follow me, slowly.”

No one from the Progressive Tours group was in sight. Hank wandered after the guard, looking into display cases as he went. Finally the other turned a corner into an empty and comparatively narrow corridor. He stopped and waited for the American.

“You’re Kuran?” he asked anxiously in Russian.

“That’s right.”

“You’re not afraid?”

“No. Let’s go.” Inwardly Hank growled, Of course I’m afraid. Do I look like a confounded hero? What was it Sheridan Hennessey had said? This was combat, combat cold-war style, but still combat. Of course he was afraid. Had there ever in the history of combat been a participant who had gone into it unafraid?

They walked briskly along the corridor. The guard said, “You have studied your maps?”


“I can take you only so far without exposing myself. Then you are on your own. You must know your maps or you are lost. These old palaces ramble⁠—”

“I know,” Hank said impatiently. “Brief me as we go along. Just for luck.”

“Very well. We leave Orushezhnaya Palace by this minor doorway. Across there, to our right, is the Bolshoi Kremlevski Dvorets, the Great Kremlin Palace. It’s there the Central Executive Committee meets, and the Assembly. The same hall used to be the czar’s throne room in the old days. On the nearer side, on the ground floor, are the Sobstvennaya Plovina, the former private apartments of Nicholas First. The extraterrestrials are there.”

“You’re sure? The others weren’t sure.”

“That’s where they are.”

“How can we get to them?”

We can’t. Possibly you can. I can take you only so far. The front entrance is strongly guarded, we are going to have to enter the Great Palace from the rear, through the Teremni Palace. You remember your maps?”

“I think so.”

They strode rapidly from the museum through a major courtyard. Hank to the right and a step behind the uniformed guard.

The other was saying, “The Teremni preceded the Great Palace. One of its walls was used to become the rear of the later structure. We can enter it fairly freely.”

They entered through another smaller doorway a hundred feet or more from the main entrance, climbed a short marble stairway and turned right down an ornate corridor, tapestry hung. They passed occasionally other uniformed guards, none of whom paid them any attention.

They passed through three joined rooms, each heavily furnished in Seventeenth Century style, each thick with icons. The guide brought them up abruptly at a small door.

He said, an air almost of defiance in his tone, “I go no further. Through this door and you are in the Great Palace, in the bathroom of the apartments of Catherine Second. You remember your maps?”

“Yes,” Hank said.

“I hope so.” The guard hesitated. “You are armed?”

“No. We were afraid that my things might be thoroughly searched. Had a gun been found on me, my mission would have been over then and there.”

The guard produced a heavy military revolver, offered it butt foremost.

But Hank shook his head. “Thanks. But if it comes to the point where I’d need a gun⁠—I’ve already failed. I’m here to talk, not to shoot.”

The guard nodded. “Perhaps you’re right. Now, I repeat. On the other side of this door is the bathroom of the Czarina’s apartments. Beyond it is her paradnaya divannaya, her dressing room and beyond that the Ekaterininskaya sala, the throne room of Catherine Second. It is probable that there will be nobody in any of these rooms. Beyond that, I do not know.”

He ended abruptly with “Good luck,” turned and scurried away.

“Thanks,” Hank Kuran said after him. He turned and tried the doorknob. Inwardly he thought, All right Henry Kuran. Hennessey said you had a reputation for being able to think on your feet. Start thinking. Thus far all you’ve been called on to do is exchange low-level banter with a bevy of pro-commie critics of the United States. Now the chips are down.

The apartments of the long dead czarina were empty. He pushed through them and into the corridor beyond.

And came to a quick halt.

Halfway down the hall, Loo Motlamelle crouched over a uniformed, crumpled body. He looked up at Hank Kuran’s approach, startled, a fighting man at bay. His lips thinned back over his teeth. A black thumb did something to the weapon he held in his hand.

Hank said throatily, “Is he dead?”

Loo shook his head, his eyes coldly wary. “No. I slugged him.”

Hank said, “What are you doing here?”

Loo came erect. “It occurs to me that I’m evidently doing the same thing you are.”

But the dull metal gun in his hand was negligently at the ready and his eyes were cold, cold. It came to Hank that banjos on the levee were very far away.

This lithe fighting man said tightly, “You know where we are? Exactly where we are? I’m not sure.”

Hank said, “In the hall outside the Sobstvennaya Plovina of the Bolshoi Kremlevski Dvorets. The czar’s private apartments. And how did you get here?”

“The hard way,” Loo said softly. His eyes darted up and down the corridor. “I can’t figure out why there aren’t more guards. I don’t like this. You’re armed?”

“No,” Hank said.

Loo grinned down at his own weapon. “One of us is probably making a mistake but we both seem to have gotten this far. By the way, I’m Inter-Commonwealth Security. You’re C.I.A., aren’t you? Talk fast, Hank, we’re either a team from now on, or I’ve got to do something about you.”

“Special mission for the President,” Hank said. “Why didn’t we spot each other sooner?”

Loo grinned again in deprecation. “Evidently because we’re both good operatives. If I’ve got this right, the extraterrestrials are somewhere in here.”

Hank started down the corridor. There was no time to go into the whys and wherefores of Loo’s mission. It must be approximately the same as his own. “There are some private apartments in this direction,” he said over his shoulder. “They must be quartered⁠—”

A door off the corridor opened and a tall, thin, ludicrously garbed man⁠—

Hank pulled himself up quickly, both mentally and physically. It was no man. It was almost a man⁠—but no.

Loo’s weapon was already at the alert.

The newcomer unhurriedly looked from one of them to the other. Then down at the Russian guard sprawled on the floor behind them.

He said in Russian, “Always violence. The sadness of violence. When faced with crisis, threaten violence if outpointed. Your race has much to learn.” He switched to English. “But this is probably your language, isn’t it?”

Loo gaped at him. The man from space was almost as dark complected as the Negro.

The extraterrestrial stepped to one side and indicated the room behind him “Please enter, I assume you’ve come looking for us.”

They entered the ornate bedroom.

The extraterrestrial said, “Is the man dead?”

Loo said, “No. Merely stunned.”

“He needs no assistance?”

“Nothing could help him for half an hour or more. Then he’ll probably have a severe headache.”

The extraterrestrial had even the ability to achieve a dry quality in his voice. “I am surprised at your forebearance.” He took a chair before a baroque desk. “Undoubtedly you have gone through a great deal to penetrate to this point. I am a member of the interplanetary delegation. What is it that you want?”

Hank looked at Loo, received a slight nod, and went into his speech. The space alien made no attempt to interrupt.

When Hank had finished, the extraterrestrial turned his eyes to Loo. “And you?”

Loo said, “I represent the British Commonwealth rather than the United States, but my purpose in contacting you was identical. Her Majesty’s government is anxious to consult with you before you make any binding agreements with the Soviet complex.”

The alien turned his eyes from one to the other. His face, Hank decided, had a Lincolnesque quality, so ugly as to be beautiful in its infinite sadness.

“You must think us incredibly naive,” he said.

Hank scowled. He had adjusted quickly to the space ambassador’s otherness, both of dress and physical qualities, but there was an irritating something⁠—He put his finger on it. He felt as he had, some decades ago, when brought before his grammar school principal for an infraction of school discipline.

Hank said, “We haven’t had too much time to think. We’ve been desperate.”

The alien said, “You have gone to considerable trouble. I can even admire your resolution. You will be interested to know that tomorrow we take ship to Peiping.”

“Peiping?” Loo said blankly.

“Following two weeks there we proceed to Washington and following that to London. What led your governments to believe that the Soviet nations were to receive all our attention, and your own none at all?”

Hank blurted, “But you landed here. You made no contact with us.”

“The size of our expedition is limited. We could hardly do everything at once. The Soviet complex, as you call it, is the largest government and the most advanced on Earth. Obviously, this was our first stop.” His eyes went to Hank’s. “You’re an American. Do you know why you have fallen behind in the march of progress?”

“I’m not sure we have,” Hank said flatly. “Do you mean in comparison with the Soviet complex?”

“Exactly. And if you don’t realize it, then you’ve blinded yourself. You’ve fallen behind in a score of fields because a decade or so ago, in your years between 1957 and 1960, you made a disastrous decision. In alarm at Russian progress, you adopted a campaign of combating Russian science. You began educating your young people to combat Russian progress.”

“We had to!”

The alien grunted. “To the contrary, what you should have done was try to excel Russian science, technology and industry. Had you done that you might have continued to be the world’s leading nation, until, at least, some sort of world unity had been achieved. By deciding to combat Russian progress you became a retarding force, a deliberate drag on the development of your species, seeking to cripple and restrain rather than to grow and develop. The way to win a race is not to trip up your opponent, but to run faster and harder than he.”

Hank stared at him.

The space alien came to his feet. “I am busy. Your missions, I assume, have been successfully completed. You have seen one of our group. Melodramatically, you have warned us against your enemy. Your superiors should be gratified. And now I shall summon a guide to return you to your hotels.”

A great deal went out of Hank Kuran. Until now the tenseness had been greater than he had ever remembered in life. Now he was limp. In response, he nodded.

Loo sighed, returned the weapon which he had until now held in his hand to a shoulder holster. “Yes,” he said, meaninglessly. He turned and looked at Hank Kuran wryly. “I have spent the better part of my life learning to be an ultra-efficient security operative. I suspect that my job has just become obsolete.”

“I have an idea that perhaps mine is too,” Hank said.

In the morning, the Progressive Tours group was scheduled to visit a cooperative farm, specializing in poultry, on the outskirts of Moscow. While the bus was loading Hank stopped off at the Grand Hotel’s Intourist desk.

“Can I send a cable to the United States?”

The chipper Intourist girl said “But of course.” She handed him a form.

He wrote quickly:

Sheridan Hennessey
Washington, D.C.

Mission accomplished
more satisfactorily
than expected.

Henry Kuran

The girl checked it quickly. “But your name is Henry Stevenson.”

“That,” Hank said, “was back when I was a cloak and dagger man.”

She blinked and looked after him as he walked out and climbed aboard the tourist bus. He found an empty seat next to Char Moore and settled into it.

Char said evenly, “Ah, today you have time from your amorous pursuits to join the rest of us.”

He raised an eyebrow at her. Jealousy? His chances were evidently better than he had ever suspected. “I meant to tell you about that,” he said, “the first time we’re by ourselves.”

“Hm-m-m,” she said. Then, “We’ve been in Russia for several days now. What do you think of it?”

Hank said, “I think it’s pretty good. And I have a sneaking suspicion that in another ten years, when a few changes will have evolved, she’ll be better still.”

She looked at him blankly. “You do? Frankly, I’ve been somewhat disappointed.”

“Sure. But wait’ll you see our country in ten years. You know, Char, this world of ours has just got started.”

Medal of Honor

Don Mathers snapped to attention, snapped a crisp salute to his superior, said, “Sublieutenant Donal Mathers reporting, sir.”

The Commodore looked up at him, returned the salute, looked down at the report on the desk. He murmured, “Mathers, One Man Scout V-102. Sector A22-K223.”

“Yes, sir,” Don said.

The Commodore looked up at him again. “You’ve been out only five days, Lieutenant.”

“Yes, sir, on the third day I seemed to be developing trouble in my fuel injectors. I stuck it out for a couple of days, but then decided I’d better come in for a check.” Don Mathers added, “As per instructions, sir.”

“Ummm, of course. In a Scout you can hardly make repairs in space. If you have any doubts at all about your craft, orders are to return to base. It happens to every pilot at one time or another.”

“Yes, sir.”

“However, Lieutenant, it has happened to you four times out of your last six patrols.”

Don Mathers said nothing. His face remained expressionless.

“The mechanics report that they could find nothing wrong with your engines, Lieutenant.”

“Sometimes, sir, whatever is wrong fixes itself. Possibly a spot of bad fuel. It finally burns out and you’re back on good fuel again. But by that time you’re also back to the base.”

The Commodore said impatiently, “I don’t need a lesson in the shortcomings of the One Man Scout, Lieutenant. I piloted one for nearly five years. I know their shortcomings⁠—and those of their pilots.”

“I don’t understand, sir.”

The Commodore looked down at the ball of his thumb. “You’re out in space for anywhere from two weeks to a month. All alone. You’re looking for Kraden ships which practically never turn up. In military history the only remotely similar situation I can think of were the pilots of World War One pursuit planes, in the early years of the war, when they still flew singly, not in formation. But even they were up there alone for only a couple of hours or so.”

“Yes, sir,” Don said meaninglessly.

The Commodore said, “We, here at command, figure on you fellows getting a touch of space cafard once in a while and, ah, imagining something wrong in the engines and coming in. But,” here the Commodore cleared his throat, “four times out of six? Are you sure you don’t need a psych, Lieutenant?”

Don Mathers flushed. “No, sir, I don’t think so.”

The Commodore’s voice went militarily expressionless. “Very well, Lieutenant. You’ll have the customary three weeks leave before going out again. Dismissed.”

Don saluted snappily, wheeled and marched from the office.

Outside, in the corridor, he muttered a curse. What did that chairborne brass hat know about space cafard? About the depthless blackness, the wretchedness of free fall, the tides of primitive terror that swept you when the animal realization hit that you were away, away, away from the environment that gave you birth. That you were alone, alone, alone. A million, a million-million miles from your nearest fellow human. Space cafard, in a craft little larger than a good-sized closet! What did the Commodore know about it?

Don Mathers had conveniently forgotten the other’s claim to five years’ service in the Scouts.

He made his way from Space Command Headquarters, Third Division, to Harry’s Nuevo Mexico Bar. He found the place empty at this time of the day and climbed onto a stool.

Harry said, “Hi, Lootenant, thought you were due for a patrol. How come you’re back so soon?”

Don said coldly, “You prying into security subjects, Harry?”

“Well, gee, no Lootenant. You know me. I know all the boys. I was just making conversation.”

“Look, how about some more credit, Harry? I don’t have any pay coming up for a week.”

“Why, sure. I got a boy on the light cruiser New Taos. Any spaceman’s credit is good with me. What’ll it be?”


Tequila was the only concession the Nuevo Mexico Bar made to its name. Otherwise, it looked like every other bar has looked in every land and in every era. Harry poured, put out lemon and salt.

Harry said, “You hear the news this morning?”

“No, I just got in.”

“Colin Casey died.” Harry shook his head. “Only man in the system that held the Galactic Medal of Honor. Presidential proclamation, everybody in the system is to hold five minutes of silence for him at two o’clock, Sol Time. You know how many times that medal’s been awarded, Lootenant?” Before waiting for an answer, Harry added, “Just thirty-six times.”

Don added dryly, “Twenty-eight of them posthumously.”

“Yeah.” Harry, leaning on the bar before his sole customer, added in wonder, “But imagine. The Galactic Medal of Honor, the bearer of which can do no wrong. Imagine. You come to some town, walk into the biggest jewelry store, pick up a diamond bracelet, and walk out. And what happens?”

Don growled, “The jewelry store owner would be over-reimbursed by popular subscription. And probably the mayor of the town would write you a letter thanking you for honoring his fair city by deigning to notice one of the products of its shops. Just like that.”

“Yeah.” Harry shook his head in continued awe. “And, imagine, if you shoot somebody you don’t like, you wouldn’t spend even a single night in the Nick.”

Don said, “If you held the Medal of Honor, you wouldn’t have to shoot anybody. Look, Harry, mind if I use the phone?”

“Go right ahead, Lootenant.”

Dian Fuller was obviously in the process of packing when the screen summoned her. She looked into his face and said, surprised, “Why, Don, I thought you were on patrol.”

“Yeah, I was. However, something came up.”

She looked at him, a slight frown on her broad, fine forehead. “Again?”

He said impatiently, “Look, I called you to ask for a date. You’re leaving for Callisto tomorrow. It’s our last chance to be together. There’s something in particular I wanted to ask you, Di.”

She said, a touch irritated, “I’m packing, Don. I simply don’t have time to see you again. I thought we said our goodbyes five days ago.”

“This is important, Di.”

She tossed the two sweaters she was holding into a chair, or something, off-screen, and faced him, her hands on her hips.

“No it isn’t, Don. Not to me, at least. We’ve been all over this. Why keep torturing yourself? You’re not ready for marriage, Don. I don’t want to hurt you, but you simply aren’t. Look me up, Don, in a few years.”

“Di, just a couple of hours this afternoon.”

Dian looked him full in the face and said, “Colin Casey finally died of his wounds this morning. The President has asked for five minutes of silence at two o’clock. Don, I plan to spend that time here alone in my apartment, possibly crying a few tears for a man who died for me and the rest of the human species under such extreme conditions of gallantry that he was awarded the highest honor of which man has ever conceived. I wouldn’t want to spend that five minutes while on a date with another member of my race’s armed forces who had deserted his post of duty.”

Don Mathers turned, after the screen had gone blank, and walked stiffly to a booth. He sank onto a chair and called flatly to Harry, “Another tequila. A double tequila. And don’t bother with that lemon and salt routine.”

An hour or so later a voice said, “You Sublieutenant Donal Mathers?”

Don looked up and snarled. “So what? Go away.”

There were two of them. Twins, or could have been. Empty of expression, heavy of build. The kind of men fated to be ordered around at the pleasure of those with money, or brains, none of which they had or would ever have.

The one who had spoken said, “The boss wants to see you.”

“Who the hell is the boss?”

“Maybe he’ll tell you when he sees you,” the other said, patiently and reasonably.

“Well, go tell the boss he can go to the⁠ ⁠…”

The second of the two had been standing silently, his hands in his greatcoat pockets. Now he brought his left hand out and placed a bill before Don Mathers. “The boss said to give you this.”

It was a thousand-unit note. Don Mathers had never seen a bill of that denomination before, nor one of half that.

He pursed his lips, picked it up and looked at it carefully. Counterfeiting was a long lost art. It didn’t even occur to him that it might be false.

“All right,” Don said, coming to his feet. “Let’s go see the boss, I haven’t anything else to do and his calling card intrigues me.”

At the curb, one of them summoned a cruising cab with his wrist screen and the three of them climbed into it. The one who had given Don the large denomination bill dialed the address and they settled back.

“So what does the boss want with me?” Don said.

They didn’t bother to answer.

The Interplanetary Lines building was evidently their destination. The car whisked them up to the penthouse which topped it, and they landed on the terrace.

Seated in beach chairs, an autobar between them, were two men. They were both in their middle years. The impossibly corpulent one, Don Mathers vaguely recognized. From a newscast? From a magazine article? The other could have passed for a video stereotype villain, complete to the built-in sneer. Few men, in actuality, either look like or sound like the conventionalized villain. This was an exception, Don decided.

He scowled at them. “I suppose one of you is the boss,” he said.

“That’s right,” the fat one grunted. He looked at Don’s two escorts. “Scotty, you and Rogers take off.”

They got back into the car and left.

The vicious-faced one said, “This is Mr. Lawrence Demming. I am his secretary.”

Demming puffed, “Sit down, Lieutenant. What’ll you have to drink? My secretary’s name is Rostoff. Max Rostoff. Now we all know each other’s names. That is, assuming you’re Sublieutenant Donal Mathers.”

Don said, “Tequila.”

Max Rostoff dialed the drink for him and, without being asked, another cordial for his employer.

Don placed Demming now. Lawrence Demming, billionaire. Robber baron, he might have been branded in an earlier age. Transportation baron of the solar system. Had he been a pig he would have been butchered long ago; he was going unhealthily to grease.

Rostoff said, “You have identification?”

Don Mathers fingered through his wallet, brought forth his I.D. card. Rostoff handed him his tequila, took the card and examined it carefully, front and back.

Demming huffed and said, “Your collar insignia tells me you pilot a Scout. What sector do you patrol, Lieutenant?”

Don sipped at the fiery Mexican drink, looked at the fat man over the glass. “That’s military information, Mr. Demming.”

Demming made a move with his plump lips. “Did Scotty give you a thousand-unit note?” He didn’t wait for an answer. “You took it. Either give it back or tell me what sector you patrol, Lieutenant.”

Don Mathers was aware of the fact that a man of Demming’s position wouldn’t have to go to overmuch effort to acquire such information, anyway. It wasn’t of particular importance.

He shrugged and said, “A22-K223. I fly the V-102.”

Max Rostoff handed back the I.D. card to Don and picked up a Solar System sector chart from the short-legged table that sat between the two of them and checked it. He said, “Your information was correct, Mr. Demming. He’s the man.”

Demming shifted his great bulk in his beach chair, sipped some of his cordial and said, “Very well. How would you like to hold the Galactic Medal of Honor, Lieutenant?”

Don Mathers laughed. “How would you?” he said.

Demming scowled. “I am not jesting, Lieutenant Mathers. I never jest. Obviously, I am not of the military. It would be quite impossible for me to gain such an award. But you are the pilot of a Scout.”

“And I’ve got just about as much chance of winning the Medal of Honor as I have of giving birth to triplets.”

The transportation magnate wiggled a disgustingly fat finger at him, “I’ll arrange for that part of it.”

Don Mathers goggled him. He blurted finally, “Like hell you will. There’s not enough money in the system to fiddle with the awarding of the Medal of Honor. There comes a point, Demming, where even your dough can’t carry the load.”

Demming settled back in his chair, closed his eyes and grunted, “Tell him.”

Max Rostoff took up the ball. “A few days ago, Mr. Demming and I flew in from Io on one of the Interplanetary Lines freighters. As you probably know, they are completely automated. We were alone in the craft.”

“So?” Without invitation, Don Mathers leaned forward and dialed himself another tequila. He made it a double this time. A feeling of excitement was growing within him, and the drinks he’d had earlier had worn away. Something very big, very, very big, was developing. He hadn’t the vaguest idea what.

“Lieutenant, how would you like to capture a Kraden light cruiser? If I’m not incorrect, probably Miro class.”

Don laughed nervously, not knowing what the other was at but still feeling the growing excitement. He said, “In all the history of the war between our species, we’ve never captured a Kraden ship intact. It’d help a lot if we could.”

“This one isn’t exactly intact, but nearly so.”

Don looked from Rostoff to Demming, and then back. “What in the hell are you talking about?”

“In your sector,” Rostoff said, “we ran into a derelict Miro class cruiser. The crew⁠—repulsive creatures⁠—were all dead. Some thirty of them. Mr. Demming and I assumed that the craft had been hit during one of the actions between our fleet and theirs and that somehow both sides had failed to recover the wreckage. At any rate, today it is floating, abandoned of all life, in your sector.” Rostoff added softly, “One has to approach quite close before any signs of battle are evident. The ship looks intact.”

Demming opened his eyes again and said, “And you’re going to capture it.”

Don Mathers bolted his tequila, licked a final drop from the edge of his lip. “And why should that rate the most difficult decoration to achieve that we’ve ever instituted?”

“Because,” Rostoff told him, his tone grating mockery, “you’re going to radio in reporting a Miro class Kraden cruiser. We assume your superiors will order you to stand off, that help is coming, that your tiny Scout isn’t large enough to do anything more than to keep the enemy under observation until a squadron arrives. But you will radio back that they are escaping and that you plan to attack. When your reinforcements arrive, Lieutenant, you will have conquered the Kraden, single-handed, against odds of⁠—what would you say, fifty to one?”

Don Mathers’ mouth was dry, his palms moist. He said, “A One Man Scout against a Miro class cruiser? At least fifty to one, Mr. Rostoff. At least.”

Demming grunted. “There would be little doubt of you getting the Galactic Medal of Honor, Lieutenant, especially since Colin Casey is dead and there isn’t a living bearer of the award. Max, another drink for the Lieutenant.”

Don said, “Look. Why? I think you might be right about getting the award. But why, and why me, and what’s your percentage?”

Demming muttered, “Now we get to the point.” He settled back in his chair again and closed his eyes while his secretary took over.

Max Rostoff leaned forward, his wolfish face very serious. “Lieutenant, the exploitation of the Jupiter satellites is in its earliest stages. There is every reason to believe that the new sources of radioactives on Callisto alone may mean the needed power edge that can give us the victory over the Kradens. Whether or not that is so, someone is going to make literally billions out of this new frontier.”

“I still don’t see⁠ ⁠…”

“Lieutenant Mathers,” Rostoff said patiently, “the bearer of the Galactic Medal of Honor is above law. He carries with him an unalienable prestige of such magnitude that⁠ ⁠… Well, let me use an example. Suppose a bearer of the Medal of Honor formed a stock corporation to exploit the pitchblende of Callisto. How difficult would it be for him to dispose of the stock?”

Demming grunted. “And suppose there were a few, ah, crossed wires in the manipulation of the corporation’s business?” He sighed deeply. “Believe me, Lieutenant Mathers, there are an incredible number of laws which have accumulated down through the centuries to hamper the business man. It is a continual fight to be able to carry on at all. The ability to do no legal wrong would be priceless in the development of a new frontier.” He sighed again, so deeply as to make his bulk quiver. “Priceless.”

Rostoff laid it on the line, his face a leer. “We are offering you a three-way partnership, Mathers. You, with your Medal of Honor, are our front man. Mr. Demming supplies the initial capital to get underway. And I⁠ ⁠…” He twisted his mouth with evil self-satisfaction. “I was present when the Kraden ship was discovered, so I’ll have to be cut in. I’ll supply the brains.”

Demming grunted his disgust, but added nothing.

Don Mathers said slowly, looking down at the empty glass he was twirling in his fingers, “Look, we’re up to our necks in a war to the death with the Kradens. In the long run it’s either us or them. At a time like this you’re suggesting that we fake an action that will eventually enable us to milk the new satellites to the tune of billions.”

Demming grunted meaninglessly.

Don said, “The theory is that all men, all of us, ought to have our shoulders to the wheel. This project sounds to me like throwing rocks under it.”

Demming closed his eyes.

Rostoff said, “Lieutenant, it’s a dog-eat-dog society. If we eventually lick the Kradens, one of the very reasons will be because we’re a dog-eat-dog society. Every man for himself and the devil take the hindmost. Our apologists dream up some beautiful gobbledygook phrases for it, such as free enterprise, but actually it’s dog-eat-dog. Surprisingly enough, it works, or at least has so far. Right now, the human race needs the radioactives of the Jupiter satellites. In acquiring them, somebody is going to make a tremendous amount of money. Why shouldn’t it be us?”

“Why not, if you⁠—or we⁠—can do it honestly?”

Demming’s grunt was nearer a snort this time.

Rostoff said sourly, “Don’t be naive, Lieutenant. Whoever does it, is going to need little integrity. You don’t win in a sharper’s card game by playing your cards honestly. The biggest sharper wins. We’ve just found a joker somebody dropped on the floor; if we don’t use it, we’re suckers.”

Demming opened his pig eyes and said, “All this is on the academic side. We checked your background thoroughly before approaching you, Mathers. We know your record, even before you entered the Space Service. Just between the three of us, wouldn’t you like out? There are a full billion men and women in our armed forces, you can be spared. Let’s say you’ve already done your share. Can’t you see the potentialities in spending the rest of your life with the Galactic Medal of Honor in your pocket?”

It was there all right, drifting slowly. Had he done a more thorough job of his patrol, last time, he should have stumbled upon it himself.

If he had, there was no doubt that he would have at first reported it as an active enemy cruiser. Demming and Rostoff had been right. The Kraden ship looked untouched by battle.

That is, if you approached it from the starboard and slightly abaft the beam. From that angle, in particular, it looked untouched.

It had taken several circlings of the craft to come to that conclusion. Don Mathers was playing it very safe. This thing wasn’t quite so simple as the others had thought. He wanted no slip-ups. His hand went to a food compartment and emerged with a space thermo which should have contained fruit juice, but didn’t. He took a long pull at it.

Finally he dropped back into the position he’d decided upon, and flicked the switch of his screen.

A base lieutenant’s face illuminated it. He yawned and looked questioningly at Don Mathers.

Don said, allowing a touch of excitement in his voice, “Mathers, Scout V-102, Sector A22-K223.”

“Yeah, yeah⁠ ⁠…” the other began, still yawning.

“I’ve spotted a Kraden cruiser. Miro class, I think.”

The lieutenant flashed into movement. He slapped a button before him, the screen blinked, to be lit immediately again.

A gray-haired Fleet Admiral looked up from papers on his desk.


Don Mathers rapped, “Miro class Kraden in sector A22-K223, sir. I’m lying about fifty miles off. Undetected thus far⁠—I think. He hasn’t fired on me yet, at least.”

The Admiral was already doing things with his hands. Two subalterns came within range of the screen, took orders, dashed off. The Admiral was rapidly firing orders into two other screens. After a moment, he looked up at Don Mathers again.

“Hang on, Lieutenant. Keep him under observation as long as you can. What’re your exact coordinates?”

Don gave them to him and waited.

A few minutes later the Admiral returned to him. “Let’s take a look at it, Lieutenant.”

Don Mathers adjusted the screen to relay the Kraden cruiser. His palms were moist now, but everything was going to plan. He wished that he could take another drink.

The Admiral said, “Miro class, all right. Don’t get too close, Lieutenant. They’ll blast you to hell and gone. We’ve got a task force within an hour of you. Just hang on.”

“Yes, sir,” Don said. An hour. He was glad to know that. He didn’t have much time in which to operate.

He let it go another five minutes, then he said, “Sir, they’re increasing speed.”

“Damn,” the Admiral said, then rapid fired some more into his other screens, barking one order after another.

Don said, letting his voice go very flat, “I’m going in, sir. They’re putting on speed. In another five minutes they’ll be underway to the point where I won’t be able to follow. They’ll get completely clear.”

The Admiral looked up, startled. “Don’t be a fool.”

“They’ll get away, sir.” Knowing that the other could see his every motion, Don Mathers hit the cocking lever of his flakflak gun with the heel of his right hand.

The Admiral snapped, “Let it go, you fool. You won’t last a second.” Then, his voice higher, “That’s an order, Lieutenant!”

Don Mathers flicked off his screen. He grimaced sourly and then descended on the Kraden ship, his flakflak gun beaming it. He was going to have to expend every erg of energy in his Scout to burn the other ship up to the point where his attack would look authentic, and to eliminate all signs of previous action.

The awarding of the Galactic Medal of Honor, as always, was done in the simplest of ceremonies.

Only the President and Captain Donal Mathers himself were present in the former’s office in the Presidential Palace.

However, as they both knew, every screen in the Solar System was tuned into the ceremony.

Don Mathers saluted and stood to attention.

The President read the citation. It was very short, as Medal of Honor citations were always.

… for conspicuous gallantry far and beyond the call of duty, in which you single-handedly, and against unbelievable odds, attacked and destroyed an enemy cruiser while flying a Scout armed only with a short-beam flakflak gun⁠ ⁠…

He pinned a small bit of ribbon and metal to Don Mathers’ tunic. It was an inconspicuous, inordinately ordinary medal, the Galactic Medal of Honor.

Don said hoarsely, “Thank you, sir.”

The President shook hands with him and said, “I am President of the United Solar System, Captain Mathers, supposedly the highest rank to which a man can attain.” He added simply, “I wish I were you.”

Afterwards, alone in New Washington and wanting to remain alone, Don Mathers strolled the streets for a time, bothered only occasionally when someone recognized his face and people would stop and applaud.

He grinned inwardly.

He had a suspicion already that after a time he’d get used to it and weary to death of it, but right now it was still new and fun. Who was the flyer, way back in history, the one who first flew the Atlantic in a propeller-driven aircraft? His popularity must have been something like this.

He went into O’Donnell’s at lunch time and as he entered the orchestra broke off the popular tune they were playing and struck up the Interplanetary Anthem. The manager himself escorted him to his table and made suggestions as to the specialties and the wine.

When he first sat down the other occupants of the restaurant, men and women, had stood and faced him and applauded. Don flushed. There could be too much of a good thing.

After the meal, a fantastic production, Don finished his cigar and asked the head waiter for his bill, reaching for his wallet.

The other smiled. “Captain, I am afraid your money is of no value in O’Donnell’s, not for just this luncheon but whenever you honor us.” The head waiter paused and added, “in fact, Captain, I doubt if there is a restaurant in the Solar System where your money holds value. Or that there will ever be.”

Don Mathers was taken aback. He was only beginning to realize the ramifications of his holding his Galactic Medal of Honor.

At Space Command Headquarters, Third Division, Don came to attention before the Commodore’s desk and tossed the other a salute.

The Commodore returned it snappily and leaned back in his chair. “Take a seat, Captain. Nice to see you again.” He added pleasantly, “Where in the world have you been?”

Don Mathers slumped into a chair, said wearily, “On a bust. The bust to end all busts.”

The Commodore chuckled. “Don’t blame you,” he said.

“It was quite a bust,” Don said.

“Well,” the Commodore chuckled again, “I don’t suppose we can throw you in the guardhouse for being AWOL Not in view of your recent decoration.”

There was nothing to say to that.

“By the way,” the Commodore said, “I haven’t had the opportunity to congratulate you on your Kraden. That was quite a feat, Captain.”

“Thank you, sir,” Don added, modestly, “rather foolish of me, I suppose.”

“Very much so. On such foolishness are heroic deeds based, Captain.” The Commodore looked at him questioningly. “You must have had incredible luck. The only way we’ve been able to figure it was that his detectors were on the blink. That may be what happened.”

“Yes, sir,” Don nodded quickly. “That’s the way I figure it. And my first blast must have disrupted his fire control or something.”

The Commodore said, “He didn’t get in any return fire at all?”

“A few blasts. But by that time I was in too close and moving too fast. Fact of the matter is, sir, I don’t think they ever recovered from my first beaming of them.”

“No, I suppose not,” the Commodore said musingly. “It’s a shame you had to burn them so badly. We’ve never recovered a Kraden ship in good enough shape to give our techs something to work on. It might make a basic difference in the war, particularly if there was something aboard that’d give us some indication of where they were coming from. We’ve been fighting this war in our backyard for a full century. It would help if we could get into their backyard for a change. It’s problematical how long we’ll be able to hold them off, at this rate.”

Don Mathers said uncomfortably, “Well, it’s not as bad as all that, sir. We’ve held them this far.”

His superior grunted. “We’ve held them this far because we’ve been able to keep out enough patrol ships to give us ample warning when one of their task forces come in. Do you know how much fuel that consumes, Captain?”

“Well, I know it’s a lot.”

“So much so that Earth’s industry is switching back to petroleum and coal. Every ounce of radioactives is needed by the Fleet. Even so, it’s just a matter of time.”

Don Mathers pursed his lips. “I didn’t know it was that bad.”

The Commodore smiled sourly at him. “I’m afraid I’m being a wet blanket thrown over your big bust of a celebration, Captain. Tell me, how does it feel to hold the system’s highest award?”

Don shook his head, marveling. “Fantastic, sir. Of course, like any member of the services I’ve always known of the Medal of Honor, but⁠ ⁠… well, nobody ever expects to get it.” He added wryly, “Certainly not while he’s still alive and in health. Why, sir, do you realize that I haven’t been able to spend one unit of money since?” There was an element of awe in his voice. “Sir, do you realize that not even a beggar will take currency from me?”

The Commodore nodded in appreciation. “You must understand the position you occupy, Captain. Your feat was inspiring enough, but that’s not all of it. In a way you combine a popular hero with an Unknown Soldier element. Awarding you the Galactic Medal of Honor makes a symbol of you. A symbol representing all the millions of unsung heroes and heroines who have died fighting for the human species. It’s not a light burden to carry on your shoulders, Captain Mathers. I would imagine it a very humbling honor.”

“Well, yes, sir,” Don said.

The Commodore switched his tone of voice. “That brings us to the present, and what your next assignment is to be. Obviously, it wouldn’t do for you to continue in a Scout. Big brass seems to be in favor of using you for morale and⁠ ⁠…”

Don Mathers cleared his throat and interrupted. “Sir, I’ve decided to drop out of the Space Service.”

“Drop out!” The other stared at Mathers, uncomprehending. “We’re at war, Captain!”

Don nodded seriously. “Yes, sir. And what you just said is true. I couldn’t be used any longer in a Scout. I’d wind up selling bonds and giving talks to old ladies’ clubs.”

“Well, hardly that, Captain.”

“No, sir, I think I’d really be of more use out of the services. I’m tendering my resignation and making arrangements to help in the developing of Callisto and the other Jupiter satellites.”

The Commodore said nothing. His lips seemed whiter than before.

Don Mathers said doggedly, “Perhaps my prestige will help bring volunteers to work the new mines out there. If they see me, well, sacrificing, putting up with the hardships⁠ ⁠…”

The Commodore said evenly, “Mr. Mathers, I doubt if you will ever have to put up with hardships again, no matter where you make your abode. However, good luck. You deserve it.”

Outside headquarters, Don Mathers summoned a cab and dialed his hotel. On the way over, he congratulated himself. It had gone easier than he had expected, really. Although, come to think of it, there wasn’t a damn thing that the brass could do.

He had to laugh to himself.

Imagine if he’d walked in on the Commodore a month ago and announced that he was going to drop out of the Space Service. He would have been dropped all right, all right. Right into the lap of a squadron of psycho experts.

At the hotel he shucked his uniform, an action which gave him considerable gratification, and dressed in one of the score of civilian costumes that filled his closets to overflowing. He took pleasure in estimating what this clothing would have cost in terms of months of Space Service pay for a Sublieutenant or even a Captain. Years, my boy, years.

He looked at himself in the dressing-room mirror with satisfaction, then turned to the autobar and dialed himself a stone-age-old Metaxa. He’d lost his taste for the plebian tequila in the last few days.

He held the old Greek brandy to the light and wondered pleasurably what the stuff cost, per pony glass. Happily, he’d never have to find out.

He tossed the drink down and whistling, took his private elevator to the garages in the second level of the hotel’s basement floors. He selected a limousine and dialed the Interplanetary Lines building.

He left the car at the curb before the main entrance, ignoring all traffic regulations and entered the building, still whistling softly and happily to himself. He grinned when a small crowd gathered outside and smiled and clapped their hands. He grinned and waved to them.

A receptionist hurried to him and he told her he wanted to see either Mr. Demming or Mr. Rostoff, and then when she offered to escort him personally he noticed her pixie-like cuteness and said, “What’re you doing tonight, Miss?”

Her face went pale. “Oh, anything, sir,” she said weakly.

He grinned at her. “Maybe I’ll take you up on that if I’m not too busy.”

He had never seen anyone so taken aback. She said, all flustered, “I’m Toni. Toni Fitzgerald. You can just call this building and ask for me. Any time.”

“Maybe I’ll do that,” he smiled. “But now, let’s see Old Man Demming.”

That took her back too. Aside from being asked for a date⁠—if asked could be the term⁠—by the system’s greatest celebrity, she was hearing for the first time the interplanetary tycoon being called Old Man Demming.

She said, “Oh, right this way, Captain Mathers.”

Don said, “Mr. Mathers now, I’m afraid. I have new duties.”

She looked up into his face. “You’ll always be Captain Mathers to me, sir.” She added, softly and irrelevantly, “My two brothers were lost on the Minerva in that action last year off Pluto.” She took a deep breath, which only stressed her figure. “I’ve applied six times for Space Service, but they won’t take me.”

They were in an elevator now. Don said, “That’s too bad, Toni. However, the Space Service isn’t as romantic as you might think.”

“Yes, sir,” Toni Fitzgerald said, her soul in her eyes. “You ought to know, sir.”

Don was somehow irritated. He said nothing further until they reached the upper stories of the gigantic office building. He thanked her after she’d turned him over to another receptionist.

Don Mathers’ spirits had been restored by the time he was brought to the door of Max Rostoff’s office. His new guide evidently hadn’t even bothered to check on the man’s availability, before ushering Mathers into the other’s presence.

Max Rostoff looked up from his desk, wolfishly aggressive-looking as ever. “Why, Captain,” he said. “How fine to see you again. Come right in. Martha, that will be all.”

Martha gave the interplanetary hero one more long look and then turned and left.

As soon as the door closed behind her, Max Rostoff turned and snarled, “Where have you been, you rummy?”

He couldn’t have shocked Don Mathers more if he’d suddenly sprouted a unicorn’s horn.

“We’ve been looking for you for a week,” Rostoff snapped. “Out of one bar, into another, our men couldn’t catch up with you. Dammit, don’t you realize we’ve got to get going? We’ve got a dozen documents for you to sign. We’ve got to get this thing underway, before somebody else does.”

Don blurted, “You can’t talk to me that way.”

It was the other’s turn to stare. Max Rostoff said, low and dangerously, “No? Why can’t I?”

Don glared at him.

Max Rostoff said, low and dangerously, “Let’s get this straight, Mathers. To everybody else, but Demming and me, you might be the biggest hero in the Solar System. But you know what you are to us?”

Don felt his indignation seeping from him.

“To us,” Max Rostoff said flatly, “you’re just another demi-buttocked incompetent on the make.” He added definitely, “And make no mistake, Mathers, you’ll continue to have a good thing out of this only so long as we can use you.”

A voice from behind them said, “Let me add to that, period, end of paragraph.”

It was Lawrence Demming, who’d just entered from an inner office.

He said, even his voice seemed fat, “And now that’s settled, I’m going to call in some lawyers. While they’re around, we conduct ourselves as though we’re three equal partners. On paper, we will be.”

“Wait a minute, now,” Don blurted. “What do you think you’re pulling? The agreement was we split this whole thing three ways.”

Demming’s jowls wobbled as he nodded. “That’s right. And your share of the loot is your Galactic Medal of Honor. That and the dubious privilege of having the whole thing in your name. You’ll keep your medal, and we’ll keep our share.” He growled heavily, “You don’t think you’re getting the short end of the stick, do you?”

Max Rostoff said, “Let’s knock this off and get the law boys in. We’ve got enough paper work to keep us busy the rest of the week.” He sat down again at his desk and looked up at Don. “Then we’ll all be taking off for Callisto, to get things under way. With any luck, in six months we’ll have every ounce of pitchblende left in the system sewed up.”

There was a crowd awaiting his ship at the Callisto Spaceport. A crowd modest by Earth standards but representing a large percentage of the small population of Jupiter’s moon.

On the way out, a staff of the system’s best speechwriters, and two top professional actors had been working with him.

Don Mathers gave a short preliminary talk at the spaceport, and then the important one, the one that was broadcast throughout the system, that night from his suite at the hotel. He’d been well rehearsed, and they’d kept him from the bottle except for two or three quick ones immediately before going on.

The project at hand is to extract the newly discovered deposits of pitchblende on these satellites of Jupiter.

He paused impressively before continuing.

It’s a job that cannot be done in slipshod, haphazard manner. The system’s need for radioactives cannot be overstressed.

In short, fellow humans, we must allow nothing to stand in the way of all out, unified effort to do this job quickly and efficiently. My associates and I have formed a corporation to manage this crash program. We invite all to participate by purchasing stock. I will not speak of profits, fellow humans, because in this emergency we all scorn them. However, as I say, you are invited to participate.

Some of the preliminary mining concessions are at present in the hands of individuals or small corporations. It will be necessary that these turn over their holdings to our single all-embracing organization for the sake of efficiency. Our experts will evaluate such holdings and recompense the owners.

Don Mathers paused again for emphasis.

This is no time for quibbling. All must come in. If there are those who put private gain before the needs of the system, then pressures must be found to be exerted against them.

We will need thousands and tens of thousands of trained workers to operate our mines, our mills, our refineries. In the past, skilled labor here on the satellites was used to double or even triple the wage rates on Earth and the settled planets and satellites. I need only repeat, this is no time for personal gain and quibbling. The corporation announces proudly that it will pay only prevailing Earth rates. We will not insult our employees by “bribing” them to patriotism through higher wages.

There was more, along the same lines.

It was all taken very well. Indeed, with enthusiasm.

On the third day, at an office conference, Don waited for an opening to say, “Look, somewhere here on Callisto is a young woman named Dian Fuller. After we get me established in an office, I’d like her to be my secretary.”

Demming looked up from some reports he was scanning. He grunted to Max Rostoff, “Tell him,” and went back to the papers.

Max Rostoff, settled back into his chair. He said to the two bodyguards, stationed at the door, “Scotty, Rogers, go and make the arrangements to bring that damned prospector into line.”

When they were gone, Rostoff turned back to Don Mathers. “You don’t need an office, Mathers. All you need is to go back to your bottles. Just don’t belt it so hard that you can’t sign papers every time we need a signature.”

Don flushed angrily, “Look, don’t push me, you two. You need me. Plenty. In fact, from what I can see, this corporation needs me more than it does you.” He looked scornfully at Demming. “Originally, the idea was that you put up the money. What money? We have fifty-one percent of the stock in my name, but all the credit units needed are coming from sales of stock.” He turned to Rostoff. “You were supposed to put up the brains. What brains? We’ve hired the best mining engineers, the best technicians, to do their end, the best corporation executives to handle that end. You’re not needed.”

Demming grunted amusement at the short speech, but didn’t bother to look up from his perusal.

Max Rostoff’s face had grown wolfishly thin in his anger. “Look, bottle-baby,” he sneered, “you’re the only one that’s vulnerable in this setup. There’s not a single thing that Demming and I can be held to account for. You have no beefs coming, for that matter. You’re getting everything you ever wanted. You’ve got the best suite in the best hotel on Callisto. You eat the best food the Solar System provides. And, most important of all to a rummy, you drink the best booze and as much of it as you want. What’s more, unless either Demming or I go to the bother, you’ll never be exposed. You’ll live your life out being the biggest hero in the system.”

It was Don Mathers’ turn to sneer. “What do you mean, I’m the only one vulnerable? There’s no evidence against me, Rostoff, and you know it. Who’d listen to you if you sounded off? I burned that Kraden cruiser until there wasn’t a sign to be found that would indicate it wasn’t in operational condition when I first spotted it.”

Demming grunted his amusement again.

Max Rostoff laughed sourly. “Don’t be an ass, Mathers. We took a series of photos of that derelict when we stumbled on it. Not only can we prove you didn’t knock it out, we can prove that it was in good shape before you worked it over. I imagine the Fleet technician would have loved to have seen the inner workings of that Kraden cruiser⁠—before you loused it up.”

Demming chuckled flatly. “I wonder what kind of a court martial they give a hero who turns out to be a saboteur.”

He ran into her, finally, after he’d been on Callisto for nearly eight months. Actually, he didn’t remember the circumstances of their meeting. He was in an alcoholic daze and the fog rolled out, and there she was across the table from him.

Don shook his head, and looked about the room. They were in some sort of night spot. He didn’t recognize it.

He licked his lips, scowled at the taste of stale vomit.

He slurred, “Hello, Di.”

Dian Fuller said, “Hi, Don.”

He said, “I must’ve blanked out. Guess I’ve been hitting it too hard.”

She laughed at him. “You mean you don’t remember all the things you’ve been telling me the past two hours?” She was obviously quite sober. Dian never had been much for the sauce.

Don looked at her narrowly. “What’ve I been telling you for the past two hours?”

“Mostly about how it was when you were a little boy. About fishing, and your first .22 rifle. And the time you shot the squirrel, and then felt so sorry.”

“Oh,” Don said. He ran his right hand over his mouth.

There was a champagne bucket beside him, but the bottle in it was empty. He looked about the room for a waiter.

Dian said gently, “Do you really think you need any more, Don?”

He looked across the table at her. She was as beautiful as ever. No, that wasn’t right. She was pretty, but not beautiful. She was just a damn pretty girl, not one of these glamour items.

Don said, “Look, I can’t remember. Did we get married?”

Her laugh tinkled. “Married! I only ran into you two or three hours ago.” She hesitated before saying further, “I had assumed that you were deliberately avoiding me. Callisto isn’t that big.”

Don Mathers said slowly, “Well, if we’re not married, let me decide when I want another bottle of the grape, eh?”

Dian flushed. “Sorry, Don.”

The headwaiter approached bearing another magnum of vintage wine. He beamed at Don Mathers. “Having a good time, sir?”

“Okay,” Don said shortly. When the other was gone he downed a full glass, felt the fumes almost immediately.

He said to Dian, “I haven’t been avoiding you, Di. We just haven’t met. The way I remember, the last time we saw each other, back on Earth, you gave me quite a slap in the face. The way I remember, you didn’t think I was hero enough for you.” He poured another glass of the champagne.

Di’s face was still flushed. She said, her voice low, “I misunderstood you, Don. Even after your brilliant defeat of that Kraden cruiser, I still, I admit, think I basically misunderstood you. I told myself that it could have been done by any pilot of a Scout, given that one in a million break. It just happened to be you, who made that suicide dive attack that succeeded. A thousand other pilots might also have taken the million to one suicide chance rather than let the Kraden escape.”

“Yeah,” Don said. Even in his alcohol, he was surprised at her words. He said gruffly, “Sure anybody might’ve done it. Pure luck. But why’d you change your mind about me, then? How come the switch of heart?”

“Because of what you’ve done since, darling.”

He closed one eye, the better to focus.


He recognized the expression in her eyes. A touch of star gleam. That little girl back on Earth, the receptionist at the Interplanetary Lines building, she’d had it. In fact, in the past few months Don had seen it in many feminine faces. And all for him.

Dian said, “Instead of cashing in on your prestige, you’ve been devoting yourself to something even more necessary to the fight than bringing down individual Kraden cruisers.”

Don looked at her. He could feel a nervous tic beginning in his left eyebrow. Finally, he reached for the champagne again and filled his glass. He said, “You really go for this hero stuff, don’t you?”

She said nothing, but the star shine was still in her eyes.

He made his voice deliberately sour. “Look, suppose I asked you to come back to my apartment with me tonight?”

“Yes,” she said softly.

“And told you to bring your overnight bag along,” he added brutally.

Dian looked into his face. “Why are you twisting yourself, your inner-self, so hard, Don? Of course I’d come⁠—if that’s what you wanted.”

“And then,” he said flatly, “suppose I kicked you out in the morning?”

Dian winced, but she kept her eyes even with his, her own moist now. “You forget,” she whispered. “You have been awarded the Galactic Medal of Honor, the bearer of which can do no wrong.”

“Oh, God,” Don muttered. He filled his glass, still again, motioned to a nearby waiter.

“Yes, sir,” the waiter said.

Don said, “Look, in about five minutes I’m going to pass out. See that I get back to my hotel, will you? And that this young lady gets to her home. And, waiter, just send my bill to the hotel too.”

The other bowed. “The owner’s instructions, sir, are that Captain Mathers must never see a bill in this establishment.”

Dian said, “Don!

He didn’t look at her. He raised his glass to his mouth and shortly afterward the fog rolled in again.

When it rolled out, the unfamiliar taste of black coffee was in his mouth. He shook his head for clarity.

He seemed to be in some working class restaurant. Next to him, in a booth, was a fresh-faced Sublieutenant of the⁠—Don squinted at the collar tabs⁠—yes, of the Space Service. A Scout pilot.

Don stuttered, “What’s⁠ ⁠… goin’⁠ ⁠… on?”

The pilot said apologetically, “Sublieutenant Pierpont, sir. You seemed so far under the weather, I took over.”

“Oh, you did, eh?”

“Well, yes, sir. You were, well, reclining in the gutter, sir. In spite of your, well, appearance, your condition, I recognized you, sir.”

“Oh.” His stomach was an objecting turmoil.

The Lieutenant said, “Want to try some more of this coffee now, sir? Or maybe some soup or a sandwich?”

Don groaned. “No. No, thanks. Don’t think I could hold it down.”

The pilot grinned. “You must’ve thrown a classic, sir.”

“I guess so. What time is it? No, that doesn’t make any difference. What’s the date?”

Pierpont told him.

It was hard to believe. The last he could remember he’d been with Di. With Di in some nightclub. He wondered how long ago that had been.

He fumbled in his clothes for a smoke and couldn’t find one. He didn’t want it anyway.

He growled at the Lieutenant, “Well, how go the One Man Scouts?”

Pierpont grinned back at him. “Glad to be out of them, sir?”


Pierpont looked at him strangely. “I don’t blame you, I suppose. But it isn’t as bad these days as it used to be while you were still in the Space Service, sir.”

Don grunted. “How come? Two weeks to a month, all by yourself, watching the symptoms of space cafard progress. Then three weeks of leave, to get drunk in, and then another stretch in space.”

The pilot snorted deprecation. “That’s the way it used to be.” He fingered the spoon of his coffee cup. “That’s the way it still should be, of course. But it isn’t. They’re spreading the duty around now and I spend less than one week out of four on patrol.”

Don hadn’t been listening too closely, but now he looked up. “What’d’ya mean?”

Pierpont said, “I mean, sir, I suppose this isn’t bridging security, seeing who you are, but fuel stocks are so low that we can’t maintain full patrols any more.”

There was a cold emptiness in Don Mathers’ stomach.

He said, “Look, I’m still woozy. Say that again, Lieutenant.”

The Lieutenant told him again.

Don Mathers rubbed the back of his hand over his mouth and tried to think.

He said finally, “Look, Lieutenant. First let’s get another cup of coffee into me, and maybe that sandwich you were talking about. Then would you help me to get back to my hotel?”

By the fourth day, his hands weren’t trembling any longer. He ate a good breakfast, dressed carefully, then took a hotel limousine down to the offices of the Mathers, Demming and Rostoff Corporation.

At the entrance to the inner sanctum the heavyset Scotty looked up at his approach. He said, “The boss has been looking for you, Mr. Mathers, but right now you ain’t got no appointment, have you? Him and Mr. Rostoff is having a big conference. He says to keep everybody out.”

“That doesn’t apply to me, Scotty,” Don snapped. “Get out of my way.”

Scotty stood up, reluctantly, but barred the way. “He said it applied to everybody, Mr. Mathers.”

Don put his full weight into a blow that started at his waist, dug deep into the other’s middle. Scotty doubled forward, his eyes bugging. Don Mathers gripped his hands together into a double fist and brought them upward in a vicious uppercut.

Scotty fell forward and to the floor.

Don stood above him momentarily, watchful for movement which didn’t develop. The hefty bodyguard must have been doing some easy living himself. He wasn’t as tough as he looked.

Don knelt and fished from under the other’s left arm a vicious-looking short-barrelled scrambler. He tucked it under his own jacket into his belt, then turned, opened the door and entered the supposedly barred office.

Demming and Rostoff looked up from their work across a double desk.

Both scowled. Rostoff opened his mouth to say something and Don Mathers rapped, “Shut up.”

Rostoff blinked at him. Demming leaned back in his swivel chair. “You’re sober for a change,” he wheezed, almost accusingly.

Don Mathers pulled up a stenographer’s chair and straddled it, leaning his arms on the back. He said coldly, “Comes a point when even the lowest worm turns. I’ve been checking on a few things.”

Demming grunted amusement.

Don said, “Space patrols have been cut far below the danger point.”

Rostoff snorted. “Is that supposed to interest us? That’s the problem of the military⁠—and the government.”

“Oh, it interests us, all right,” Don growled. “Currently, Mathers, Demming and Rostoff control probably three-quarters of the system’s radioactives.”

Demming said in greasy satisfaction, “More like four-fifths.”

“Why?” Don said bluntly. “Why are we doing what we’re doing?”

They both scowled, but another element was present in their expressions too. They thought the question unintelligent.

Demming closed his eyes in his porcine manner and grunted, “Tell him.”

Rostoff said, “Look, Mathers, don’t be stupid. Remember when we told you, during that first interview, that we wanted your name in the corporation, among other reasons, because we could use a man who was above law? That a maze of ridiculously binding ordinances have been laid on business down through the centuries?”

“I remember,” Don said bitterly.

“Well, it goes both ways. Government today is also bound, very strongly, and even in great emergency, not to interfere in business. These complicated laws balance each other, you might say. Our whole legal system is based upon them. Right now, we’ve got government right where we want it. This is free enterprise, Mathers, at its pinnacle. Did you ever hear of Jim Fisk and his attempt to corner gold in 1869, the so-called Black Friday affair? Well, Jim Fisk was a peanut peddler compared to us.”

“What’s this got to do with the Fleet having insufficient fuel to⁠ ⁠…” Don Mathers stopped as comprehension hit him. “You’re holding our radioactives off the market, pressuring the government for a price rise which it can’t afford.”

Demming opened his eyes and said fatly, “For triple the price, Mathers. Before we’re through, we’ll corner half the wealth of the system.”

Don said, “But⁠ ⁠… but the species is⁠ ⁠… at⁠ ⁠… war.”

Rostoff sneered, “You seem to be getting noble rather late in the game, Mathers. Business is business.”

Don Mathers was shaking his head. “We immediately begin selling our radioactives at cost of production. I might remind you gentlemen that although we’re supposedly a three-way partnership, actually, everything’s in my name. You thought you had me under your thumb so securely that it was safe⁠—and you probably didn’t trust each other. Well, I’m blowing the whistle.”

Surprisingly fast for such a fat man, Lawrence Demming’s hand flitted into a desk drawer to emerge with a twin of the scrambler tucked in Don’s belt.

Don Mathers grinned at him, even as he pushed his jacket back to reveal the butt of his own weapon. He made no attempt to draw it, however.

He said softly, “Shoot me, Demming, and you’ve killed the most popular man in the Solar System. You’d never escape the gas chamber, no matter how much money you have. On the other hand, if I shoot you⁠ ⁠…”

He put a hand into his pocket and it emerged with a small, inordinately ordinary bit of ribbon and metal. He displayed it on his palm.

The fat man’s face whitened at the ramifications and his hand relaxed to let the gun drop to the desk. “Listen, Don,” he broke out. “We’ve been unrealistic with you. We’ll reverse ourselves and split, honestly⁠—split three ways.”

Don Mathers laughed at him. “Trying to bribe me with money, Demming? Why don’t you realize, that I’m the only man in existence who has no need for money, who can’t spend money? That my fellow men⁠—whom I’ve done such a good job of betraying⁠—have honored me to a point where money is meaningless?”

Rostoff snatched up the fallen gun, snarling, “I’m calling your bluff, you gutless rummy.”

Don Mathers said, “Okay, Rostoff. There’s just two other things I want to say first. One⁠—I don’t care if I die or not. Two⁠—you’re only twenty feet or so away, but you know what? I think you’re probably a lousy shot. I don’t think you’ve had much practice. I think I can get my scrambler out and cut you down before you can finish me.” He grinned thinly, “Wanta try?”

Max Rostoff snarled a curse and his finger whitened on the trigger.

Don Mathers fell sideward, his hand streaking for his weapon. Without thought there came back to him the long hours of training in hand weapons, in judo, in hand-to-hand combat. He went into action with cool confidence.

At the spaceport he took a cab to the Presidential Palace. It was an auto-cab, of course, and at the Palace gates he found he had no money on him. He snorted wearily. It was the first time in almost a year that he’d had to pay for anything.

Four sentries were standing at attention. He said, “Do one of you boys have some coins to feed into this slot? I’m fresh out.”

A sergeant grinned, approached, and did the necessary.

Don Mathers said wearily, “I don’t know how you go about this. I don’t have an appointment, but I want to see the President.”

“We can turn you over to one of the assistant secretaries, Captain Mathers,” the sergeant said. “We can’t go any further than that. While we’re waiting, what’s the chances of getting your autograph, sir? I gotta kid⁠ ⁠…”

It wasn’t nearly as complicated as he’d thought it was going to be. In half an hour he was seated in the office where he’d received his decoration only⁠—how long ago was it, really less than a year?

He told the story briefly, making no effort to spare himself. At the end he stood up long enough to put a paper in front of the other, then sat down again.

“I’m turning the whole corporation over to the government.⁠ ⁠…”

The President said, “Wait a minute. My administration does not advocate State ownership of industry.”

“I know. When the State controls industry you only put the whole mess off one step, the question then becomes, who controls the State? However, I’m not arguing political economy with you, sir. You didn’t let me finish. I was going to say, I’m turning it over to the government to untangle, even while making use of the inventories of radioactives. There’s going to be a lot of untangling to do. Reimbursing the prospectors and small operators who were blackjacked out of their holdings by our super-corporation. Reimbursing of the miners and other laborers who were talked into accepting low pay in the name of patriotism.” Don Mathers cut it short. “Oh, it’s quite a mess.”

“Yes,” the President said. “And you say Max Rostoff is dead?”

“That’s right. And Demming off his rocker. I think he always was a little unbalanced and the prospect of losing all that money, the greatest fortune ever conceived of, tipped the scales.”

The President said, “And what about you, Donal Mathers?”

Don took a deep breath. “I wish I was back in the Space Services, frankly. Back where I was when all this started. However, I suppose that after my court martial, there won’t be⁠ ⁠…”

The President interrupted gently. “You seem to forget, Captain Mathers. You carry the Galactic Medal of Honor, the bearer of which can do no wrong.”

Don Mathers gaped at him.

The President smiled at him, albeit a bit sourly. “It would hardly do for human morale to find out our supreme symbol of heroism was a phoney, Captain. There will be no trial, and you will retain your decoration.”

“But I don’t want it!”

“I’m afraid that is the cross you’ll have to bear the rest of your life, Captain Mathers. I don’t suppose it will be an easy one.”

His eyes went to a far corner of the room, but unseeingly. He said after a long moment, “However, I am not so very sure about your not deserving your award, Captain.”

I’m a Stranger Here Myself

The Place de France is the town’s hub. It marks the end of Boulevard Pasteur, the main drag of the westernized part of the city, and the beginning of Rue de la Liberté, which leads down to the Grand Socco and the medina. In a three-minute walk from the Place de France you can go from an ultramodern, California-like resort to the Baghdad of Harun al-Rashid.

It’s quite a town, Tangier.

King-size sidewalk cafés occupy three of the strategic corners on the Place de France. The Café de Paris serves the best draft beer in town, gets all the better custom, and has three shoeshine boys attached to the establishment. You can sit of a sunny morning and read the Paris edition of the New York Herald Tribune while getting your shoes done up like mirrors for thirty Moroccan francs which comes to about five cents at current exchange.

You can sit there, after the paper’s read, sip your expresso and watch the people go by.

Tangier is possibly the most cosmopolitan city in the world. In native costume you’ll see Berber and Rif, Arab and Blue Man, and occasionally a Senegalese from further south. In European dress you’ll see Japs and Chinese, Hindus and Turks, Levantines and Filipinos, North Americans and South Americans, and, of course, even Europeans⁠—from both sides of the Curtain.

In Tangier you’ll find some of the world’s poorest and some of the richest. The poorest will try to sell you anything from a shoeshine to their not very lily-white bodies, and the richest will avoid your eyes, afraid you might try to sell them something.

In spite of recent changes, the town still has its unique qualities. As a result of them the permanent population includes smugglers and black-marketeers, fugitives from justice and international con men, espionage and counterespionage agents, homosexuals, nymphomaniacs, alcoholics, drug addicts, displaced persons, ex-royalty, and subversives of every flavor. Local law limits the activities of few of these.

Like I said, it’s quite a town.

I looked up from my Herald Tribune and said, “Hello, Paul. Anything new cooking?”

He sank into the chair opposite me and looked around for the waiter. The tables were all crowded and since mine was a face he recognized, he assumed he was welcome to intrude. It was more or less standard procedure at the Café de Paris. It wasn’t a place to go if you wanted to be alone.

Paul said, “How are you, Rupert? Haven’t seen you for donkey’s years.”

The waiter came along and Paul ordered a glass of beer. Paul was an easygoing, sallow-faced little man. I vaguely remembered somebody saying he was from Liverpool and in exports.

“What’s in the newspaper?” he said, disinterestedly.

“Pogo and Albert are going to fight a duel,” I told him, “and Lil Abner is becoming a rock’n’roll singer.”

He grunted.

“Oh,” I said, “the intellectual type.” I scanned the front page. “The Russkies have put up another manned satellite.”

“They have, eh? How big?”

“Several times bigger than anything we Americans have.”

The beer came and looked good, so I ordered a glass too.

Paul said, “What ever happened to those poxy flying saucers?”

“What flying saucers?”

A French girl went by with a poodle so finely clipped as to look as though it’d been shaven. The girl was in the latest from Paris. Every pore in place. We both looked after her.

“You know, what everybody was seeing a few years ago. It’s too bad one of these bloody manned satellites wasn’t up then. Maybe they would’ve seen one.”

“That’s an idea,” I said.

We didn’t say anything else for a while and I began to wonder if I could go back to my paper without rubbing him the wrong way. I didn’t know Paul very well, but, for that matter, it’s comparatively seldom you ever get to know anybody very well in Tangier. Largely, cards are played close to the chest.

My beer came and a plate of tapas for us both. Tapas at the Café de Paris are apt to be potato salad, a few anchovies, olives, and possibly some cheese. Free lunch, they used to call it in the States.

Just to say something, I said, “Where do you think they came from?” And when he looked blank, I added, “The Flying Saucers.”

He grinned. “From Mars or Venus, or someplace.”

“Ummmm,” I said. “Too bad none of them ever crashed, or landed on the Yale football field and said Take me to your cheerleader, or something.”

Paul yawned and said, “That was always the trouble with those crackpot blokes’ explanations of them. If they were aliens from space, then why not show themselves?”

I ate one of the potato chips. It’d been cooked in rancid olive oil.

I said, “Oh, there are various answers to that one. We could probably sit around here and think of two or three that made sense.”

Paul was mildly interested. “Like what?”

“Well, hell, suppose for instance there’s this big Galactic League of civilized planets. But it’s restricted, see. You’re not eligible for membership until you, well, say until you’ve developed space flight. Then you’re invited into the club. Meanwhile, they send secret missions down from time to time to keep an eye on your progress.”

Paul grinned at me. “I see you read the same poxy stuff I do.”

A Moorish girl went by dressed in a neatly tailored gray jellaba, European style high-heeled shoes, and a pinkish silk veil so transparent that you could see she wore lipstick. Very provocative, dark eyes can be over a veil. We both looked after her.

I said, “Or, here’s another one. Suppose you have a very advanced civilization on, say, Mars.”

“Not Mars. No air, and too bloody dry to support life.”

“Don’t interrupt, please,” I said with mock severity. “This is a very old civilization and as the planet began to lose its water and air, it withdrew underground. Uses hydroponics and so forth, husbands its water and air. Isn’t that what we’d do, in a few million years, if Earth lost its water and air?”

“I suppose so,” he said. “Anyway, what about them?”

“Well, they observe how man is going through a scientific boom, an industrial boom, a population boom. A boom, period. Any day now he’s going to have practical spaceships. Meanwhile, he’s also got the H-Bomb and the way he beats the drums on both sides of the Curtain, he’s not against using it, if he could get away with it.”

Paul said, “I got it. So they’re scared and are keeping an eye on us. That’s an old one. I’ve read that a dozen times, dished up different.”

I shifted my shoulders. “Well, it’s one possibility.”

“I got a better one. How’s this. There’s this alien life form that’s way ahead of us. Their civilization is so old that they don’t have any records of when it began and how it was in the early days. They’ve gone beyond things like wars and depressions and revolutions, and greed for power or any of these things giving us a bad time here on Earth. They’re all like scholars, get it? And some of them are pretty jolly well taken by Earth, especially the way we are right now, with all the problems, get it? Things developing so fast we don’t know where we’re going or how we’re going to get there.”

I finished my beer and clapped my hands for Mouley. “How do you mean, where we’re going?”

“Well, take half the countries in the world today. They’re trying to industrialize, modernize, catch up with the advanced countries. Look at Egypt, and Israel, and India and China, and Yugoslavia and Brazil, and all the rest. Trying to drag themselves up to the level of the advanced countries, and all using different methods of doing it. But look at the so-called advanced countries. Up to their bottoms in problems. Juvenile delinquents, climbing crime and suicide rates, the loony-bins full of the balmy, unemployed, threat of war, spending all their money on armaments instead of things like schools. All the bloody mess of it. Why, a man from Mars would be fascinated, like.”

Mouley came shuffling up in his babouche slippers and we both ordered another schooner of beer.

Paul said seriously, “You know, there’s only one big snag in this sort of talk. I’ve sorted the whole thing out before, and you always come up against this brick wall. Where are they, these observers, or scholars, or spies or whatever they are? Sooner or later we’d nab one of them. You know, Scotland Yard, or the F.B.I., or Russia’s secret police, or the French Sûreté, or Interpol. This world is so deep in police, counterespionage outfits and security agents that an alien would slip up in time, no matter how much he’d been trained. Sooner or later, he’d slip up, and they’d nab him.”

I shook my head. “Not necessarily. The first time I ever considered this possibility, it seemed to me that such an alien would base himself in London or New York. Somewhere where he could use the libraries for research, get the daily newspapers and the magazines. Be right in the center of things. But now I don’t think so. I think he’d be right here in Tangier.”

“Why Tangier?”

“It’s the one town in the world where anything goes. Nobody gives a damn about you or your affairs. For instance, I’ve known you a year or more now, and I haven’t the slightest idea of how you make your living.”

“That’s right,” Paul admitted. “In this town you seldom even ask a man where’s he’s from. He can be British, a White Russian, a Basque or a Sikh and nobody could care less. Where are you from, Rupert?”

“California,” I told him.

“No, you’re not,” he grinned.

I was taken aback. “What do you mean?”

“I felt your mind probe back a few minutes ago when I was talking about Scotland Yard or the F.B.I. possibly flushing an alien. Telepathy is a sense not trained by the humanoids. If they had it, your job⁠—and mine⁠—would be considerably more difficult. Let’s face it, in spite of these human bodies we’re disguised in, neither of us is humanoid. Where are you really from, Rupert?”

“Aldebaran,” I said. “How about you?”

“Deneb,” he told me, shaking.

We had a laugh and ordered another beer.

“What’re you doing here on Earth?” I asked him.

“Researching for one of our meat trusts. We’re protein eaters. Humanoid flesh is considered quite a delicacy. How about you?”

“Scouting the place for thrill tourists. My job is to go around to these backward cultures and help stir up inter-tribal, or international, conflicts⁠—all according to how advanced they are. Then our tourists come in⁠—well shielded, of course⁠—and get their kicks watching it.”

Paul frowned. “That sort of practice could spoil an awful lot of good meat.”

Gun for Hire

Joe Prantera called softly, “Al.” The pleasurable, comfortable, warm feeling began spreading over him, the way it always did.

The older man stopped and squinted, but not suspiciously, even now.

The evening was dark, it was unlikely that the other even saw the circle of steel that was the mouth of the shotgun barrel, now resting on the car’s window ledge.

“Who’s it?” he growled.

Joe Prantera said softly, “Big Louis sent me, Al.”

And he pressed the trigger.

And at that moment, the universe caved inward upon Joseph Marie Prantera.

There was nausea and nausea upon nausea.

There was a falling through all space and through all time. There was doubling and twisting and twitching of every muscle and nerve.

There was pain, horror and tumultuous fear.

And he came out of it as quickly and completely as he’d gone in.

He was in, he thought, a hospital and his first reaction was to think, This here California. Everything different. Then his second thought was Something went wrong. Big Louis, he ain’t going to like this.

He brought his thinking to the present. So far as he could remember, he hadn’t completely pulled the trigger. That at least meant that whatever the rap was it wouldn’t be too tough. With luck, the syndicate would get him off with a couple of years at Quentin.

A door slid open in the wall in a way that Joe had never seen a door operate before. This here California.

The clothes on the newcomer were wrong, too. For the first time, Joe Prantera began to sense an alienness⁠—a something that was awfully wrong.

The other spoke precisely and slowly, the way a highly educated man speaks a language which he reads and writes fluently but has little occasion to practice vocally. “You have recovered?”

Joe Prantera looked at the other expressionlessly. Maybe the old duck was one of these foreign doctors, like.

The newcomer said, “You have undoubtedly been through a most harrowing experience. If you have any untoward symptoms, possibly I could be of assistance.”

Joe couldn’t figure out how he stood. For one thing, there should have been some kind of police guard.

The other said, “Perhaps a bit of stimulant?”

Joe said flatly, “I wanta lawyer.”

The newcomer frowned at him. “A lawyer?”

“I’m not sayin’ nothin’. Not until I get a mouthpiece.”

The newcomer started off on another tack. “My name is Lawrence Reston-Farrell. If I am not mistaken, you are Joseph Salviati-Prantera.”

Salviati happened to be Joe’s mother’s maiden name. But it was unlikely this character could have known that. Joe had been born in Naples and his mother had died in childbirth. His father hadn’t brought him to the States until the age of five and by that time he had a stepmother.

“I wanta mouthpiece,” Joe said flatly, “or let me outta here.”

Lawrence Reston-Farrell said, “You are not being constrained. There are clothes for you in the closet there.”

Joe gingerly tried swinging his feet to the floor and sitting up, while the other stood watching him, strangely. He came to his feet. With the exception of a faint nausea, which brought back memories of that extreme condition he’d suffered during⁠ ⁠… during what? He hadn’t the vaguest idea of what had happened.

He was dressed in a hospital-type nightgown. He looked down at it and snorted and made his way over to the closet. It opened on his approach, the door sliding back into the wall in much the same manner as the room’s door had opened for Reston-Farrell.

Joe Prantera scowled and said, “These ain’t my clothes.”

“No, I am afraid not.”

“You think I’d be seen dead wearing this stuff? What is this, some religious crackpot hospital?”

Reston-Farrell said, “I am afraid, Mr. Salviati-Prantera, that these are the only garments available. I suggest you look out the window there.”

Joe gave him a long, chill look and then stepped to the window. He couldn’t figure the other. Unless he was a fruitcake. Maybe he was in some kind of pressure cooker and this was one of the fruitcakes.

He looked out, however, not on the lawns and walks of a sanitarium but upon a wide boulevard of what was obviously a populous city.

And for a moment again, Joe Prantera felt the depths of nausea.

This was not his world.

He stared for a long, long moment. The cars didn’t even have wheels, he noted dully. He turned slowly and faced the older man.

Reston-Farrell said compassionately, “Try this, it’s excellent cognac.”

Joe Prantera stared at him, said finally, flatly, “What’s it all about?”

The other put down the unaccepted glass. “We were afraid first realization would be a shock to you,” he said. “My colleague is in the adjoining room. We will be glad to explain to you if you will join us there.”

“I wanta get out of here,” Joe said.

“Where would you go?”

The fear of police, of Al Rossi’s vengeance, of the measures that might be taken by Big Louis on his failure, were now far away.

Reston-Farrell had approached the door by which he had entered and it reopened for him. He went through it without looking back.

There was nothing else to do. Joe dressed, then followed him.

In the adjoining room was a circular table that would have accommodated a dozen persons. Two were seated there now, papers, books and soiled coffee cups before them. There had evidently been a long wait.

Reston-Farrell, the one Joe had already met, was tall and drawn of face and with a chainsmoker’s nervousness. The other was heavier and more at ease. They were both, Joe estimated, somewhere in their middle fifties. They both looked like docs. He wondered, all over again, if this was some kind of pressure cooker.

But that didn’t explain the view from the window.

Reston-Farrell said, “May I present my colleague, Citizen Warren Brett-James? Warren, this is our guest from⁠ ⁠… from yesteryear, Mr. Joseph Salviati-Prantera.”

Brett-James nodded to him, friendly, so far as Joe could see. He said gently, “I think it would be Mr. Joseph Prantera, wouldn’t it? The maternal linage was almost universally ignored.” His voice too gave the impression he was speaking a language not usually on his tongue.

Joe took an empty chair, hardly bothering to note its alien qualities. His body seemed to fit into the piece of furniture, as though it had been molded to his order.

Joe said, “I think maybe I’ll take that there drink, Doc.”

Reston-Farrell said, “Of course,” and then something else Joe didn’t get. Whatever the something else was, a slot opened in the middle of the table and a glass, so clear of texture as to be all but invisible, was elevated. It contained possibly three ounces of golden fluid.

Joe didn’t allow himself to think of its means of delivery. He took up the drink and bolted it. He put the glass down and said carefully, “What’s it all about, huh?”

Warren Brett-James said soothingly, “Prepare yourself for somewhat of a shock, Mr. Prantera. You are no longer in Los Angeles⁠—”

“Ya think I’m stupid? I can see that.”

“I was about to say, Los Angeles of 1960. Mr. Prantera, we welcome you to Nuevo Los Angeles.”

“Ta where?”

“To Nuevo Los Angeles and to the year⁠—” Brett-James looked at his companion. “What is the date, Old Calendar?”

“2133,” Reston-Farrell said. “2133 AD they would say.”

Joe Prantera looked from one of them to the other, scowling. “What are you guys talking about?”

Warren Brett-James said softly, “Mr. Prantera, you are no longer in the year 1960, you are now in the year 2133.”

He said, uncomprehendingly, “You mean I been, like, unconscious for⁠—” He let the sentence fall away as he realized the impossibility.

Brett-James said gently, “Hardly for one hundred and seventy years, Mr. Prantera.”

Reston-Farrell said, “I am afraid we are confusing you. Briefly, we have transported you, I suppose one might say, from your own era to ours.”

Joe Prantera had never been exposed to the concept of time travel. He had simply never associated with anyone who had ever even remotely considered such an idea. Now he said, “You mean, like, I been asleep all that time?”

“Not exactly,” Brett-James said, frowning.

Reston-Farrell said, “Suffice to say, you are now one hundred and seventy-three years after the last memory you have.”

Joe Prantera’s mind suddenly reverted to those last memories and his eyes narrowed dangerously. He felt suddenly at bay. He said, “Maybe you guys better let me in on what’s this all about.”

Reston-Farrell said, “Mr. Prantera, we have brought you from your era to perform a task for us.”

Joe stared at him, and then at the other. He couldn’t believe he was getting through to them. Or, at least, that they were to him.

Finally he said, “If I get this, you want me to do a job for you.”

“That is correct.”

Joe said, “You guys know the kind of jobs I do?”

“That is correct.”

“Like hell you do. You think I’m stupid? I never even seen you before.” Joe Prantera came abruptly to his feet. “I’m gettin’ outta here.”

For the second time, Reston-Farrell said, “Where would you go, Mr. Prantera?”

Joe glared at him. Then sat down again, as abruptly as he’d arisen.

“Let’s start all over again. I got this straight, you brought me, some screwy way, all the way⁠ ⁠… here. OK, I’ll buy that. I seen what it looks like out that window⁠—” The real comprehension was seeping through to him even as he talked. “Everybody I know, Jessie, Tony, the Kid, Big Louis, everybody, they’re dead. Even Big Louis.”

“Yes,” Brett-James said, his voice soft. “They are all dead, Mr. Prantera. Their children are all dead, and their grandchildren.”

The two men of the future said nothing more for long minutes while Joe Prantera’s mind whirled its confusion.

Finally he said, “What’s this bit about you wanting me to give it to some guy.”

“That is why we brought you here, Mr. Prantera. You were⁠ ⁠… you are, a professional assassin.”

“Hey, wait a minute, now.”

Reston-Farrell went on, ignoring the interruption. “There is small point in denying your calling. Pray remember that at the point when we⁠ ⁠… transported you, you were about to dispose of a contemporary named Alphonso Annunziata-Rossi. A citizen, I might say, whose demise would probably have caused small dismay to society.”

They had him pegged all right. Joe said, “But why me? Why don’t you get some heavy from now? Somebody knows the ropes these days.”

Brett-James said, “Mr. Prantera, there are no professional assassins in this age, nor have there been for over a century and a half.”

“Well, then do it yourself.” Joe Prantera’s irritation over this whole complicated mess was growing. And already he was beginning to long for the things he knew⁠—for Jessie and Tony and the others, for his favorite bar, for the lasagne down at Papa Giovanni’s. Right now he could have welcomed a calling down at the hands of Big Louis.

Reston-Farrell had come to his feet and walked to one of the large room’s windows. He looked out, as though unseeing. Then, his back turned, he said, “We have tried, but it is simply not in us, Mr. Prantera.”

“You mean you’re yella?”

“No, if by that you mean afraid. It is simply not within us to take the life of a fellow creature⁠—not to speak of a fellow man.”

Joe snapped: “Everything you guys say sounds crazy. Let’s start all over again.”

Brett-James said, “Let me do it, Lawrence.” He turned his eyes to Joe. “Mr. Prantera, in your own era, did you ever consider the future?”

Joe looked at him blankly.

“In your day you were confronted with national and international, problems. Just as we are today and just as nations were a century or a millennium ago.”

“Sure, OK, so we had problems. I know whatcha mean⁠—like wars, and depressions and dictators and like that.”

“Yes, like that,” Brett-James nodded.

The heavyset man paused a moment. “Yes, like that,” he repeated. “That we confront you now indicates that the problems of your day were solved. Hadn’t they been, the world most surely would have destroyed itself. Wars? Our pedagogues are hard put to convince their students that such ever existed. More than a century and a half ago our society eliminated the reasons for international conflict. For that matter,” he added musingly, “we eliminated most international boundaries. Depressions? Shortly after your own period, man awoke to the fact that he had achieved to the point where it was possible to produce an abundance for all with a minimum of toil. Overnight, for all practical purposes, the whole world was industrialized, automated. The second industrial revolution was accompanied by revolutionary changes in almost every field, certainly in every science. Dictators? Your ancestors found, Mr. Prantera, that it is difficult for a man to be free so long as others are still enslaved. Today the democratic ethic has reached a pinnacle never dreamed of in your own era.”

“OK, OK,” Joe Prantera growled. “So everybody’s got it made. What I wanta know is what’s all this about me giving it ta somebody? If everything’s so great, how come you want me to knock this guy off?”

Reston-Farrell bent forward and thumped his right index finger twice on the table. “The bacterium of hate⁠—a new strain⁠—has found the human race unprotected from its disease. We had thought our vaccines immunized us.”

“What’s that suppose to mean?”

Brett-James took up the ball again. “Mr. Prantera, have you ever heard of Ghengis Khan, of Tamerlane, Alexander, Caesar?”

Joe Prantera scowled at him emptily.

“Or, more likely, of Napoleon, Hitler, Stalin?”

“Sure I heard of Hitler and Stalin,” Joe growled. “I ain’t stupid.”

The other nodded. “Such men are unique. They have a drive⁠ ⁠… a drive to power which exceeds by far the ambitions of the average man. They are genie in their way, Mr. Prantera, genie of evil. Such a genius of evil has appeared on the current scene.”

“Now we’re getting somewheres,” Joe snorted. “So you got a guy what’s a little ambitious, like, eh? And you guys ain’t got the guts to give it to him. OK. What’s in it for me?”

The two of them frowned, exchanged glances. Reston-Farrell said, “You know, that is one aspect we had not considered.”

Brett-James said to Joe Prantera, “Had we not, ah, taken you at the time we did, do you realize what would have happened?”

“Sure,” Joe grunted. “I woulda let old Al Rossi have it right in the guts, five times. Then I woulda took the plane back to Chi.”

Brett-James was shaking his head. “No. You see, by coincidence, a police squad car was coming down the street just at that moment to arrest Mr. Rossi. You would have been apprehended. As I understand Californian law of the period, your life would have been forfeit, Mr. Prantera.”

Joe winced. It didn’t occur to him to doubt their word.

Reston-Farrell said, “As to reward, Mr. Prantera, we have already told you there is ultra-abundance in this age. Once this task has been performed, we will sponsor your entry into present day society. Competent psychiatric therapy will soon remove your present⁠—”

“Waita minute, now. You figure on gettin’ me candled by some head shrinker, eh? No thanks, Buster. I’m going back to my own⁠—”

Brett-James was shaking his head again. “I am afraid there is no return, Mr. Prantera. Time travel works but in one direction, with the flow of the time stream. There can be no return to your own era.”

Joe Prantera had been rocking with the mental blows he had been assimilating, but this was the final haymaker. He was stuck in this squaresville of a world.

Joe Prantera on a job was thorough.

Careful, painstaking, competent.

He spent the first three days of his life in the year 2133 getting the feel of things. Brett-James and Reston-Farrell had been appointed to work with him. Joe didn’t meet any of the others who belonged to the group which had taken the measures to bring him from the past. He didn’t want to meet them. The fewer persons involved, the better.

He stayed in the apartment of Reston-Farrell. Joe had been right, Reston-Farrell was a medical doctor. Brett-James evidently had something to do with the process that had enabled them to bring Joe from the past. Joe didn’t know how they’d done it, and he didn’t care. Joe was a realist. He was here. The thing was to adapt.

There didn’t seem to be any hurry. Once the deal was made, they left it up to him to make the decisions.

They drove him around the town, when he wished to check the traffic arteries. They flew him about the whole vicinity. From the air, Southern California looked much the same as it had in his own time. Oceans, mountains, and to a lesser extent, deserts, are fairly permanent even against man’s corroding efforts.

It was while he was flying with Brett-James on the second day that Joe said, “How about Mexico? Could I make the get to Mexico?”

The physicist looked at him questioningly. “Get?” he said.

Joe Prantera said impatiently, “The getaway. After I give it to this Howard Temple-Tracy guy, I gotta go on the run, don’t I?”

“I see.” Brett-James cleared his throat. “Mexico is no longer a separate nation, Mr. Prantera. All North America has been united into one unit. Today, there are only eight nations in the world.”

“Where’s the nearest?”

“South America.”

“That’s a helluva long way to go on a get.”

“We hadn’t thought of the matter being handled in that manner.”

Joe eyed him in scorn. “Oh, you didn’t, huh? What happens after I give it to this guy? I just sit around and wait for the cops to put the arm on me?”

Brett-James grimaced in amusement. “Mr. Prantera, this will probably be difficult for you to comprehend, but there are no police in this era.”

Joe gaped at him. “No police! What happens if you gotta throw some guy in stir?”

“If I understand your idiom correctly, you mean prison. There are no prisons in this era, Mr. Prantera.”

Joe stared. “No cops, no jails. What stops anybody? What stops anybody from just going into some bank, like, and collecting up all the bread?”

Brett-James cleared his throat. “Mr. Prantera, there are no banks.”

“No banks! You gotta have banks!”

“And no money to put in them. We found it a rather antiquated method of distribution well over a century ago.”

Joe had given up. Now he merely stared.

Brett-James said reasonably, “We found we were devoting as much time to financial matters in all their endless ramifications⁠—including bank robberies⁠—as we were to productive efforts. So we turned to more efficient methods of distribution.”

On the fourth day, Joe said, “OK, let’s get down to facts. Summa the things you guys say don’t stick together so good. Now, first place, where’s this guy Temple-Tracy you want knocked off?”

Reston-Farrell and Brett-James were both present. The three of them sat in the living room of the latter’s apartment, sipping a sparkling wine which seemed to be the prevailing beverage of the day. For Joe’s taste it was insipid stuff. Happily, rye was available to those who wanted it.

Reston-Farrell said, “You mean, where does he reside? Why, here in this city.”

“Well, that’s handy, eh?” Joe scratched himself thoughtfully. “You got somebody can finger him for me?”

“Finger him?”

“Look, before I can give it to this guy I gotta know some place where he’ll be at some time. Get it? Like Al Rossi. My finger, he works in Rossi’s house, see? He lets me know every Wednesday night, eight o’clock, Al leaves the house all by hisself. OK, so I can make plans, like, to give it to him.” Joe Prantera wound it up reasonably. “You gotta have a finger.”

Brett-James said, “Why not just go to Temple-Tracy’s apartment and, ah, dispose of him?”

“Jest walk in, eh? You think I’m stupid? How do I know how many witnesses hangin’ around? How do I know if the guy’s carryin’ heat?”


“A gun, a gun. Ya think I’m stupid? I come to give it to him and he gives it to me instead.”

Dr. Reston-Farrell said, “Howard Temple-Tracy lives alone. He customarily receives visitors every afternoon, largely potential followers. He is attempting to recruit members to an organization he is forming. It would be quite simple for you to enter his establishment and dispose of him. I assure you, he does not possess weapons.”

Joe was indignant. “Just like that, eh?” he said sarcastically. “Then what happens? How do I get out of the building? Where’s my get car parked? Where do I hide out? Where do I dump the heat?”

“Dump the heat?”

“Get rid of the gun. You want I should get caught with the gun on me? I’d wind up in the gas chamber so quick⁠—”

“See here, Mr. Prantera,” Brett-James said softly. “We no longer have capital punishment, you must realize.”

“OK. I still don’t wanta get caught. What is the rap these days, huh?” Joe scowled. “You said they didn’t have no jails any more.”

“This is difficult for you to understand, I imagine,” Reston-Farrell told him, “but, you see, we no longer punish people in this era.”

That took a long, unbelieving moment to sink in. “You mean, like, no matter what they do? That’s crazy. Everybody’d be running around giving it to everybody else.”

“The motivation for crime has been removed, Mr. Prantera,” Reston-Farrell attempted to explain. “A person who commits a violence against another is obviously in need of medical care. And, consequently, receives it.”

“You mean, like, if I steal a car or something, they just take me to a doctor?” Joe Prantera was unbelieving.

“Why would anybody wish to steal a car?” Reston-Farrell said easily.

“But if I give it to somebody?”

“You will be turned over to a medical institution. Citizen Howard Temple-Tracy is the last man you will ever kill, Mr. Prantera.”

A chillness was in the belly of Joe Prantera. He said very slowly, very dangerously, “You guys figure on me getting caught, don’t you?”

“Yes,” Brett-James said evenly.

“Well then, figure something else. You think I’m stupid?”

Mr. Prantera,” Dr. Reston-Farrell said, “there has been as much progress in the field of psychiatry in the past two centuries as there has in any other. Your treatment would be brief and painless, believe me.”

Joe said coldly, “And what happens to you guys? How do you know I won’t rat on you?”

Brett-James said gently, “The moment after you have accomplished your mission, we plan to turn ourselves over to the nearest institution to have determined whether or not we also need therapy.”

“Now I’m beginning to wonder about you guys,” Joe said. “Look, all over again, what’d’ya wanta give it to this guy for?”

The doctor said, “We explained the other day, Mr. Prantera. Citizen Howard Temple-Tracy is a dangerous, atavistic, evil genius. We are afraid for our institutions if his plans are allowed to mature.”

“Well if you got things so good, everybody’s got it made, like, who’d listen to him?”

The doctor nodded at the validity of the question. “Mr. Prantera, Homo sapiens is a unique animal. Physically he matures at approximately the age of thirteen. However, mental maturity and adjustment is often not fully realized until thirty or even more. Indeed, it is sometimes never achieved. Before such maturity is reached, our youth are susceptible to romantic appeal. Nationalism, chauvinism, racism, the supposed glory of the military, all seem romantic to the immature. They rebel at the orderliness of present society. They seek entertainment in excitement. Citizen Temple-Tracy is aware of this and finds his recruits among the young.”

“OK, so this guy is dangerous. You want him knocked off before he screws everything up. But the way things are, there’s no way of making a get. So you’ll have to get some other patsy. Not me.”

“I am afraid you have no alternative,” Brett-James said gently. “Without us, what will you do? Mr. Prantera, you do not even speak the language.”

“What’d’ya mean? I don’t understand summa the big words you eggheads use, but I get by OK.”

Brett-James said, “Amer-English is no longer the language spoken by the man in the street, Mr. Prantera. Only students of such subjects any longer speak such tongues as Amer-English, French, Russian or the many others that once confused the race with their limitations as a means of communication.”

“You mean there’s no place in the whole world where they talk American?” Joe demanded, aghast.

Dr. Reston-Farrell controlled the car. Joe Prantera sat in the seat next to him and Warren Brett-James sat in the back. Joe had, tucked in his belt, a .45 caliber automatic, once displayed in a museum. It had been more easily procured than the ammunition to fit it, but that problem too had been solved.

The others were nervous, obviously repelled by the very conception of what they had planned.

Inwardly, Joe was amused. Now that they had got in the clutch, the others were on the verge of chickening out. He knew it wouldn’t have taken much for them to cancel the project. It wasn’t any answer though. If they allowed him to call it off today, they’d talk themselves into it again before the week was through.

Besides, already Joe was beginning to feel the comfortable, pleasurable, warm feeling that came to him on occasions like this.

He said, “You’re sure this guy talks American, eh?”

Warren Brett-James said, “Quite sure. He is a student of history.”

“And he won’t think it’s funny I talk American to him, eh?”

“He’ll undoubtedly be intrigued.”

They pulled up before a large apartment building that overlooked the area once known as Wilmington.

Joe was coolly efficient now. He pulled out the automatic, held it down below his knees and threw a shell into the barrel. He eased the hammer down, thumbed on the safety, stuck the weapon back in his belt and beneath the jacketlike garment he wore.

He said, “OK. See you guys later.” He left them and entered the building.

An elevator⁠—he still wasn’t used to their speed in this era⁠—whooshed him to the penthouse duplex occupied by Citizen Howard Temple-Tracy.

There were two persons in the reception room but they left on Joe’s arrival, without bothering to look at him more than glancingly.

He spotted the screen immediately and went over and stood before it.

The screen lit and revealed a heavyset, dour of countenance man seated at a desk. He looked into Joe Prantera’s face, scowled and said something.

Joe said, “Joseph Salviati-Prantera to interview Citizen Howard Temple-Tracy.”

The other’s shaggy eyebrows rose. “Indeed,” he said. “In Amer-English?”

Joe nodded.

“Enter,” the other said.

A door had slid open on the other side of the room. Joe walked through it and into what was obviously an office. Citizen Temple-Tracy sat at a desk. There was only one other chair in the room. Joe Prantera ignored it and remained standing.

Citizen Temple-Tracy said, “What can I do for you?”

Joe looked at him for a long, long moment. Then he reached down to his belt and brought forth the .45 automatic. He moistened his lips.

Joe said softly, “You know what this here is?”

Temple-Tracy stared at the weapon. “It’s a handgun, circa, I would say, about 1925 Old Calendar. What in the world are you doing with it?”

Joe said, very slowly, “Chief, in the line you’re in these days you needa heavy around with wunna these. Otherwise, Chief, you’re gunna wind up in some gutter with a lotta holes in you. What I’m doin’, I’m askin’ for a job. You need a good man knows how to handle wunna these, Chief.”

Citizen Howard Temple-Tracy eyed him appraisingly. “Perhaps,” he said, “you are right at that. In the near future, I may well need an assistant knowledgeable in the field of violence. Tell me more about yourself. You surprise me considerably.”

“Sure, Chief. It’s kinda a long story, though. First off, I better tell you you got some bad enemies, Chief. Two guys special, named Brett-James and Doc Reston-Farrell. I think one of the first jobs I’m gunna hafta do for you, Chief, is to give it to those two.”


Colonel Ilya Simonov tooled his Zil aircushion convertible along the edge of Red Square, turned right immediately beyond St. Basil’s Cathedral, crossed the Moscow River by the Moskvocetski Bridge and debouched into the heavy, and largely automated traffic of Pyarnikskaya. At Dobryninskaya Square he turned west to Gorki Park which he paralleled on Kaluga until he reached the old baroque palace which housed the Ministry.

There were no flags, no signs, nothing to indicate the present nature of the aged Czarist building.

He left the car at the curb, slamming its door behind him and walking briskly to the entrance. Hard, handsome in the Slavic tradition, dedicated, Ilya Simonov was young for his rank. A plainclothes man, idling a hundred feet down the street, eyed him briefly then turned his attention elsewhere. The two guards at the gate snapped to attention, their eyes straight ahead. Colonel Simonov was in mufti and didn’t answer the salute.

The inside of the old building was well known to him. He went along marble halls which contained antique statuary and other relics of the past which, for unknown reason, no one had ever bothered to remove. At the heavy door which entered upon the office of his destination he came to a halt and spoke briefly to the lieutenant at the desk there.

“The Minister is expecting me,” Simonov clipped.

The lieutenant did the things receptionists do everywhere and looked up in a moment to say, “Go right in, Colonel Simonov.”

Minister Kliment Blagonravov looked up from his desk at Simonov’s entrance. He was a heavyset man, heavy of face and he still affected the shaven head, now rapidly disappearing among upper-echelons of the Party. His jacket had been thrown over the back of a chair and his collar loosened; even so there was a sheen of sweat on his face.

He looked up at his most trusted field man, said in the way of greeting, “Ilya,” and twisted in his swivel chair to a portable bar. He swung open the door of the small refrigerator and emerged with a bottle of Stolichnaya vodka. He plucked two three-ounce glasses from a shelf and pulled the bottle’s cork with his teeth. “Sit down, sit down, Ilya,” he grunted as he filled the glasses. “How was Magnitogorsk?”

Ilya Simonov secured his glass before seating himself in one of the room’s heavy leathern chairs. He sighed, relaxed, and said, “Terrible, I loath those ultra-industrialized cities. I wonder if the Americans do any better with Pittsburgh or the British with Birmingham.”

“I know what you mean,” the security head rumbled. “How did you make out with your assignment, Ilya?”

Colonel Simonov frowned down into the colorlessness of the vodka before dashing it back over his palate. “It’s all in my report, Kliment.” He was the only man in the organization who called Blagonravov by his first name.

His chief grunted again and reached forward to refill the glass. “I’m sure it is. Do you know how many reports go across this desk daily? And did you know that Ilya Simonov is the most long-winded, as the Americans say, of my some two hundred first-line operatives?”

The colonel shifted in his chair. “Sorry,” he said. “I’ll keep that in mind.”

His chief rumbled his sour version of a chuckle. “Nothing, nothing, Ilya. I was jesting. However, give me a brief of your mission.”

Ilya Simonov frowned again at his refilled vodka glass but didn’t take it up for a moment. “A routine matter,” he said. “A dozen or so engineers and technicians, two or three fairly high-ranking scientists, and three or four of the local intelligentsia had formed some sort of informal club. They were discussing national and international affairs.”

Kliment Blagonravov’s thin eyebrows went up but he waited for the other to go on.

Ilya said impatiently, “It was the ordinary. They featured complete freedom of opinion and expression in their weekly get-togethers. They began by criticizing without extremism, local affairs, matters concerned with their duties, that sort of thing. In the beginning, they even sent a few letters of protest to the local press, signing the name of the club. After their ideas went further out, they didn’t dare do that, of course.”

He took up his second drink and belted it back, not wanting to give it time to lose its chill.

His chief filled in. “And they delved further and further into matters that should be discussed only within the party⁠—if even there⁠—until they arrived at what point?”

Colonel Simonov shrugged. “Until they finally got to the point of discussing how best to overthrow the Soviet State and what socioeconomic system should follow it. The usual thing. I’ve run into possible two dozen such outfits in the past five years.”

His chief grunted and tossed back his own drink. “My dear Ilya,” he rumbled sourly, “I’ve run into, as you say, more than two hundred.”

Simonov was taken back by the figure but he only looked at the other.

Blagonravov said, “What did you do about it?”

“Several of them were popular locally. In view of Comrade Zverev’s recent pronouncements of increased freedom of press and speech, I thought it best not to make a public display. Instead, I took measures to charge individual members with inefficiency in their work, with corruption or graft, or with other crimes having nothing to do with the reality of the situation. Six or seven in all were imprisoned, others demoted. Ten or twelve I had switched to other cities, principally into more backward areas in the virgin lands.”

“And the ringleaders?” the security head asked.

“There were two of them, one a research chemist of some prominence, the other a steel plane manager. They were both, ah, unfortunately killed in an automobile accident while under the influence of drink.”

“I see,” Blagonravov nodded. “So actually the whole rat’s nest was stamped out without attention being brought to it so far as the Magnitogorsk public is concerned.” He nodded heavily again. “You can almost always be depended upon to do the right thing, Ilya. If you weren’t so confoundedly good a field man, I’d make you my deputy.”

Which was exactly what Simonov would have hated, but he said nothing.

“One thing,” his chief said. “The origin of this, ah, club which turned into a tiny underground all of its own. Did you detect the finger of the West, stirring up trouble?”

“No.” Simonov shook his head. “If such was the case, the agents involved were more clever than I’d ordinarily give either America or Common Europe credit for. I could be wrong, of course.”

“Perhaps,” the police head growled. He eyed the bottle before him but made no motion toward it. He wiped the palm of his right hand back over his bald pate, in unconscious irritation. “But there is something at work that we are not getting at.” Blagonravov seemed to change subjects. “You can speak Czech, so I understand.”

“That’s right. My mother was from Bratislava. My father met her there during the Hitler war.”

“And you know Czechoslovakia?”

“I’ve spent several vacations in the Tatras at such resorts as Tatranski Lomnica since the country’s been made such a tourist center of the satellites.” Ilya Simonov didn’t understand this trend of the conversation.

“You have some knowledge of automobiles, too?”

Simonov shrugged. “I’ve driven all my life.”

His chief rumbled thoughtfully, “Time isn’t of essence. You can take a quick course at the Moskvich plant. A week or two would give you all the background you need.”

Ilya laughed easily. “I seem to have missed something. Have my shortcomings caught up with me? Am I to be demoted to automobile mechanic?”

Kliment Blagonravov became definite. “You are being given the most important assignment of your career, Ilya. This rot, this ever growing ferment against the Party, must be cut out, liquidated. It seems to fester worse among the middle echelons of⁠ ⁠… what did that Yugoslavian Djilas call us?⁠ ⁠… the New Class. Why? That’s what we must know.”

He sat farther back in his chair and his heavy lips made a mout. “Why, Ilya?” he repeated. “After more than half a century the Party has attained all its goals. Lenin’s millennium is here; the end for which Stalin purged ten millions and more, is reached; the sacrifices demanded by Khrushchev in the Seven-Year Plans have finally paid off, as the Yankees say. Our gross national product, our per capita production, our standard of living, is the highest in the world. Sacrifices are no longer necessary.”

There had been an almost whining note in his voice. But now he broke it off. He poured them still another drink. “At any rate, Ilya, I was with Frol Zverev this morning. Number One is incensed. It seems that in the Azerbaijan Republic, for one example, that even the Komsomols were circulating among themselves various proscribed books and pamphlets. Comrade Zverev instructed me to concentrate on discovering the reason for this disease.”

Colonel Simonov scowled. “What’s this got to do with Czechoslovakia⁠—and automobiles?”

The security head waggled a fat finger at him. “What we’ve been doing, thus far, is dashing forth upon hearing of a new conflagration and stamping it out. Obviously, that’s no answer. We must find who is behind it. How it begins. Why it begins. That’s your job?”

“Why Czechoslovakia?”

“You’re unknown as a security agent there, for one thing. You will go to Prague and become manager of the Moskvich automobile distribution agency. No one, not even the Czech unit of our ministry will be aware of your identity. You will play it by ear, as the Americans say.”

“To whom do I report?”

“Only to me, until the task is completed. When it is, you will return to Moscow and report fully.” A grimace twisted Blagonravov’s face. “If I am still here. Number One is truly incensed, Ilya.”

There had been some more. Kliment Blagonravov had evidently chosen Prague, the capital of Czechoslovakia, as the seat of operations in a suspicion that the wave of unrest spreading insidiously throughout the Soviet Complex owed its origins to the West. Thus far, there had been no evidence of this but the suspicion refused to die. If not the West, then who? The Cold War was long over but the battle for men’s minds continued even in peace.

Ideally, Ilya Simonov was to infiltrate whatever Czech groups might be active in the illicit movement and then, if he discovered there was a higher organization, a center of the movement, he was to attempt to become a part of it. If possible he was to rise in the organisation to as high a point as he could.

Blagonravov, Minister of the Chrezvychainaya Komissiya, the Extraordinary Commission for Combating Counterrevolution and Sabotage, was of the opinion that if this virus of revolt was originating from the West, then it would be stronger in the satellite countries than in Russia itself. Simonov held no opinion as yet. He would wait and see. However, there was an uncomfortable feeling about the whole assignment. The group in Magnitogorsk, he was all but sure, had no connections with Western agents, nor anyone else, for that matter. Of course, it might have been an exception.

He left the Ministry, his face thoughtful as he climbed into his waiting Zil. This assignment was going to be a lengthy one. He’d have to wind up various affairs here in Moscow, personal as well as business. He might be away for a year or more.

There was a sheet of paper on the seat of his aircushion car. He frowned at it. It couldn’t have been there before. He picked it up.

It was a mimeographed throwaway.

It was entitled, Freedom, and it began: “Comrades, more than a hundred years ago the founders of scientific socialism, Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, explained that the State was incompatible with liberty, that the State was an instrument of repression of one class by another. They explained that for true freedom ever to exist the State must wither away.

“Under the leadership of Lenin, Stalin, Krushchev and now Zverev, the State has become ever stronger. Far from withering away, it continues to oppress us. Fellow Russians, it is time we take action! We must⁠ ⁠…”

Colonel Simonov bounced from his car again, shot his eyes up and down the street. He barely refrained from drawing the 9mm automatic which nestled under his left shoulder and which he knew how to use so well.

He curtly beckoned to the plainclothes man, still idling against the building a hundred feet or so up the street. The other approached him, touched the brim of his hat in a half salute.

Simonov snapped, “Do you know who I am?”

“Yes, colonel.”

Ilya Simonov thrust the leaflet forward. “How did this get into my car?”

The other looked at it blankly. “I don’t know, Colonel Simonov.”

“You’ve been here all this time?”

“Why, yes colonel.”

“With my car in plain sight?”

That didn’t seem to call for an answer. The plainclothesman looked apprehensive but blank.

Simonov turned on his heel and approached the two guards at the gate. They were not more than thirty feet from where he was parked. They came to the salute but he growled, “At ease. Look here, did anyone approach my vehicle while I was inside?”

One of the soldiers said, “Sir, twenty or thirty people have passed since the Comrade colonel entered the Ministry.”

The other one said, “Yes, sir.”

Ilya Simonov looked from the guards to the plainclothes man and back, in frustration. Finally he spun on his heel again and re-entered the car. He slapped the elevation lever, twisted the wheel sharply, hit the jets pedal with his foot and shot into the traffic.

The plainclothes man looked after him and muttered to the guards, “Blagonravov’s hatchetman. He’s killed more men than the plague. A bad one to have down on you.”

Simonov bowled down the Kaluga at excessive speed. “Driving like a young stilyagi,” he growled in irritation at himself. But, confound it, how far had things gone when subversive leaflets were placed in cars parked in front of the ministry devoted to combating counter revolution.

He’d been away from Moscow for over a month and the amenities in the smog, smoke and coke fumes blanketing industrial complex of Magnitogorsk hadn’t been particularly of the best. Ilya Simonov headed now for Gorki Street and the Baku Restaurant. He had an idea that it was going to be some time before the opportunity would be repeated for him to sit down to Zakouski, the salty, spicy Russian hors d’oeuvres, and to Siberian pilmeny and a bottle of Tsinandali.

The restaurant, as usual, was packed. In irritation, Ilya Simonov stood for a while waiting for a table, then, taking the head waiter’s advice, agreed to share one with a stranger.

The stranger, a bearded little man, who was dwaddling over his Gurievskaya kasha dessert while reading Izvestia, glanced up at him, unseemingly, bobbed his head at Simonov’s request to share his table, and returned to the newspaper.

The harried waiter took his time in turning up with a menu. Ilya Simonov attempted to relax. He had no particular reason to be upset by the leaflet found in his car. Obviously, whoever had thrown it there was distributing haphazardly. The fact that it was mimeographed, rather than printed, was an indication of lack of resources, an amateur affair. But what in the world did these people want? What did they want?

The Soviet State was turning out consumer’s goods, homes, cars as no nation in the world. Vacations were lengthy, working hours short. A four-day week, even! What did they want? What motivates a man who is living on a scale unknown to a Czarist boyar to risk his position, even his life! in a stupidly impossible revolt against the country’s government?

The man across from him snorted in contempt.

He looked over the top of his paper at Smirnov and said, “The election in Italy. Ridiculous!”

Ilya Simonov brought his mind back to the present. “How did they turn out? I understand the depression is terrible there.”

“So I understand,” the other said. “The vote turned out as was to be expected.”

Simonov’s eyebrows went up. “The Party has been voted into power?”

“Ha!” the other snorted. “The vote for the Party has fallen off by more than a third.”

The security colonel scowled at him. “That doesn’t sound reasonable, if the economic situation is as bad as has been reported.”

His table mate put down the paper. “Why not? Has there ever been a country where the Party was voted into power? Anywhere⁠—at any time during the more than half a century since the Bolsheviks first took over here in Russia?”

Simonov looked at him.

The other was talking out opinions he’d evidently formed while reading the Izvestia account of the Italian elections, not paying particular attention to the stranger across from him.

He said, his voice irritated, “Nor will there ever be. They know better. In the early days of the revolution the workers might have had illusions about the Party and it goals. Now they’ve lost them. Everywhere, they’ve lost them.”

Ilya Simonov said tightly, “How do you mean?”

“I mean the Party has been rejected. With the exception of China and Yugoslavia, both of whom have their own varieties, the only countries that have adopted our system have done it under pressure from outside⁠—not by their own efforts. Not by the will of the majority.”

Colonel Simonov said flatly, “You seem to think that Marxism will never dominate the world.”

“Marxism!” the other snorted. “If Marx were alive in Russia today, Frol Zverev would have him in a Siberian labor camp within twenty-four hours.”

Ilya Simonov brought forth his wallet and opened it to his police credentials. He said coldly, “Let me see your identification papers. You are under arrest.”

The other stared at him for a moment, then snorted his contempt. He brought forth his own wallet and handed it across the table.

Simonov flicked it open, his face hard. He looked at the man. “Konstantin Kasatkin.”

“Candidate member of the Academy of Sciences,” the other snapped. “And bearer of the Hero of the Soviet Union award.”

Simonov flung the wallet back to him in anger. “And as such, practically immune.”

The other grinned nastily at him. “Scientists, my police friend, cannot be bothered with politics. Where would the Soviet Complex be if you took to throwing biologists such as myself into prison for making unguarded statements in an absentminded moment?”

Simonov slapped a palm down on the table. “Confound it, Comrade,” he snapped, “how is the Party to maintain discipline in the country if high ranking persons such as yourself speak open subversion to strangers.”

The other sported his contempt. “Perhaps there’s too much discipline in Russia, Comrade policeman.”

“Rather, far from enough,” Simonov snapped back.

The waiter, at last, approached and extended a menu to the security officer. But Ilya Simonov had come to his feet. “Never mind,” he clipped in disgust. “There is an air of degenerate decay about here.”

The waiter stared at him. The biologist snorted and returned to his paper. Simonov turned and stormed out. He could find something to eat and drink in his own apartment.

The old, old town of Prague, the Golden City of a Hundred Spires was as always the beautifully stolid medieval metropolis which even a quarter of a century and more of Party rule could not change. The Old Town, nestled in a bend of the Vltava River, as no other city in Europe, breathed its centuries, its air of yesteryear.

Colonel Ilya Simonov, in spite of his profession, was not immune to beauty. He deliberately failed to notify his new office of his arrival, flew in on a Ceskoslovenskè Aerolinie Tupolev rocket liner and spent his first night at the Alcron Hotel just off Wenceslas Square. He knew that as the new manager of the local Moskvich distribution agency he’d have fairly elaborate quarters, probably in a good section of town, but this first night he wanted to himself.

He spent it wandering quietly in the old quarter, dropping in to the age-old beer halls for a half liter of Pilsen Urquell here, a foaming stein of Smichov Lager there. Czech beer, he was reminded all over again, is the best in the world. No argument, no debate, the best in the world.

He ate in the endless automated cafeterias that line the Viclavské Námesi the entertainment center of Prague. Ate an open sandwich here, some crabmeat salad there, a sausage and another glass of Pilsen somewhere else again. He was getting the feel of the town and of its people. Of recent years, some of the tension had gone out of the atmosphere in Moscow and the other Soviet centers; with the coming of economic prosperity there had also come a relaxation. The fear, so heavy in the Stalin era, had fallen off in that of Khrushchev and still more so in the present reign of Frol Zverev. In fact, Ilya Simonov was not alone in Party circles in wondering whether or not discipline had been allowed to slip too far. It is easier, the old Russian proverb goes, to hang onto the reins than to regain them once dropped.

But if Moscow had lost much of its pall of fear, Prague had certainly gone even further. In fact, in the U Pinkasu beer hall Simonov had idly picked up a magazine left by some earlier wassailer. It was a light literary publication devoted almost exclusively to humor. There were various cartoons, some of them touching political subjects. Ilya Simonov had been shocked to see a caricature of Frol Zverev himself. Zverev, Number One! Ridiculed in a second-rate magazine in a satellite country!

Ilya Simonov made a note of the name and address of the magazine and the issue.

Across the heavy wooden community table from him, a beer drinker grinned, in typically friendly Czech style. “A good magazine,” he said. “You should subscribe.”

A waiter, bearing an even dozen liter-size steins of beer hurried along, spotted the fact that Simonov’s mug was empty, slipped a full one into its place, gave the police agent’s saucer a quick mark of a pencil, and hurried on again. In the U Pinkasu, it was supposed that you wanted another beer so long as you remained sitting. When you finally staggered to your feet, the nearest waiter counted the number of pencil marks on your saucer and you paid up.

Ilya Simonov said cautiously to his neighbor, “Seems to be quite, ah, brash.” He tapped the magazine with a finger.

The other shrugged and grinned again. “Things loosen up as the years go by,” he said. “What a man wouldn’t have dared say to his own wife five years ago, they have on TV today.”

“I’m surprised the police don’t take steps,” Simonov said, trying to keep his voice expressionless.

The other took a deep swallow of his Pilsen Urquell. He pursed his lips and thought about it. “You know, I wonder if they’d dare. Such a case brought into the People’s Courts might lead to all sort of public reaction these days.”

It had been some years since Ilya Simonov had been in Prague and even then he’d only gone through on the way to the ski resorts in the mountains. He was shocked to find the Czech state’s control had fallen off to this extent. Why, here he was, a complete stranger, being openly talked to on political subjects.

His cross-the-table neighbor shook his head, obviously pleased. “If you think Prague is good, you ought to see Warsaw. It’s as free as Paris! I saw a Tri-D cinema up there about two months ago. You know what it was about? The purges in Moscow back in the 1930s.”

“A rather unique subject,” Simonov said.

“Um-m-m, made a very strong case for Bukharin, in particular.”

Simonov said, very slowly, “I don’t understand. You mean this⁠ ⁠… this film supported the, ah, Old Bolsheviks?”

“Of course. Why not? Everybody knows they weren’t guilty.” The Czech snorted deprecation. “At least not guilty of what they were charged with. They were in Stalin’s way and he liquidated them.” The Czech thought about it for a while. “I wonder if he was already insane, that far back.”

Had he taken up his mug of beer and dashed it into Simonov’s face, he couldn’t have surprised the Russian more.

Ilya Simonov had to take control of himself. His first instinct was to show his credentials, arrest the man and have him hauled up before the local agency of Simonov’s ministry.

But obviously that was out of the question. He was in Czechoslovakia and, although Moscow still dominated the Soviet Complex, there was local autonomy and the Czech police just didn’t enjoy their affairs being meddled with unless in extreme urgency.

Besides, this man was obviously only one among many. A stranger in a beer hall. Ilya Simonov suspected that if he continued his wanderings about the town, he’d meet in the process of only one evening a score of persons who would talk the same way.

Besides, still again, he was here in Prague incognito, his job to trace the sources of this dry rot, not to run down individual Czechs.

But the cinema, and TV! Surely anti-Party sentiment hadn’t been allowed to go this far!

He got up from the table shakily, paid up for his beer and forced himself to nod goodbye in friendly fashion to the subversive Czech he’d been talking to.

In the morning he strolled over to the offices of the Moskvich Agency which was located only a few blocks from his hotel on Celetna Hybernski. The Russian car agency, he knew, was having a fairly hard go of it in Prague and elsewhere in Czechoslovakia. The Czechs, long before the Party took over in 1948, had been a highly industrialized, modern nation. They consequently had their own automobile works, such as Skoda, and their models were locally more popular than the Russian Moskvich, Zim and Pobeda.

Theoretically, the reason Ilya Simonov was the newly appointed agency head was to push Moskvich sales among the Czechs. He thought, half humorously, half sourly, to himself, even under the Party we have competition and pressure for higher sales. What was it that some American economist had called them? a system of State-Capitalism.

At the Moskvich offices he found himself in command of a staff that consisted of three fellow Russians, and a dozen or so Czech assistants. His immediate subordinate was a Catherina Panova, whose dossier revealed her to be a party member, though evidently not a particularly active one, at least not since she’d been assigned here in Prague.

She was somewhere in her mid-twenties, a graduate of the University of Moscow, and although she’d been in the Czech capital only a matter of six months or so, had already adapted to the more fashionable dress that the style-conscious women of this former Western capital went in for. Besides that, Catherina Panova managed to be one of the downright prettiest girls Ilya Simonov had ever seen.

His career had largely kept him from serious involvement in the past. Certainly the dedicated women you usually found in Party ranks seldom were of the type that inspired you to romance but he wondered now, looking at this new assistant of his, if he hadn’t let too much of his youth go by without more investigation into the usually favorite pastime of youth.

He wondered also, but only briefly, if he should reveal his actual identity to her. She was, after all, a party member. But then he checked himself. Kliment Blagonravov had stressed the necessity of complete secrecy. Not even the local offices of the ministry were to be acquainted with his presence.

He let Catherina introduce him around, familiarize him with the local methods of going about their business affairs and the problems they were running into.

She ran a hand back over her forehead, placing a wisp of errant hair, and said, “I suppose, as an expert from Moscow, you’ll be installing a whole set of new methods.”

It was far from his intention to spend much time at office work. He said, “Not at all. There is no hurry. For a time, we’ll continue your present policies, just to get the feel of the situation. Then perhaps in a few months, we’ll come up with some ideas.”

She obviously liked his use of “we” rather than “I.” Evidently, the staff had been a bit nervous upon his appointment as new manager. He already felt, vaguely, that the three Russians here had no desire to return to their homeland. Evidently, there was something about Czechoslovakia that appealed to them all. The fact irritated him but somehow didn’t surprise.

Catherina said, “As a matter of fact, I have some opinions on possible changes myself. Perhaps if you’ll have dinner with me tonight, we can discuss them informally.”

Ilya Simonov was only mildly surprised at her suggesting a rendezvous with him. Party members were expected to ignore sex and be on an equal footing. She was as free to suggest a dinner date to him, as he was to her. Of course, she wasn’t speaking as a Party member now. In fact, he hadn’t even revealed to her his own membership.

As it worked out, they never got around to discussing distribution of the new Moskvich aircushion jet car. They became far too busy enjoying food, drink, dancing⁠—and each other.

They ate at the Budapest, in the Prava Hotel, complete with Hungarian dishes and Riesling, and they danced to the inevitable gypsy music. It occurred to Ilya Simonov that there was a certain pleasure to be derived from the fact that your feminine companion was the most beautiful woman in the establishment and one of the most attractively dressed. There was a certain lift to be enjoyed when you realized that the eyes of half the other males present were following you in envy.

One thing led to another. He insisted on introducing her to barack, the Hungarian national spirit, in the way of a digestive. The apricot brandy, distilled to the point of losing all sweetness and fruit flavor, required learning. It must be tossed back just so. By the time Catherina had the knack, neither of them were feeling strain. In fact, it became obviously necessary for him to be given a guided tour of Prague’s night spots.

It turned out that Prague offered considerably more than Moscow, which even with the new relaxation was still one of the most staid cities in the Soviet Complex.

They took in the vaudeville at the Alhambra, and the variety at the Prazské Varieté.

They took in the show at the U Sv Tomíse, the age old tavern which had been making its own smoked black beer since the fifteenth century. And here Catherina with the assistance of revelers from neighboring tables taught him the correct pronunciation of Na zdraví! the Czech toast. It seemed required to go from heavy planked table to table practicing the new salutation to the accompaniment of the pungent borovika gin.

Somewhere in here they saw the Joseph Skupa puppets, and at this stage, Ilya Simonov found only great amusement at the political innuendoes involved in half the skits. It would never had one in Moscow or Leningrad, of course, but here it was very amusing indeed. There was even a caricature of a security police minister who could only have been his superior Kliment Blagonravov.

They wound up finally at the U Kalicha, made famous by Hasek in The Good Soldier Schweik. In fact various illustrations from the original classic were framed on the walls.

They had been laughing over their early morning snack, now Ilya Simonov looked at her approvingly. “See here,” he said. “We must do this again.”

“Fine,” she laughed.

“In fact, tomorrow,” he insisted. He looked at his watch. “I mean tonight.”

She laughed at him. “Our great expert from Moscow. Far from improving our operations, there’ll be less accomplished than ever if you make a nightly practice of carrying on like we did this evening.”

He laughed too. “But tonight,” he said insistently.

She shook her head. “Sorry, but I’m already booked up for this evening.”

He scowled for the first time in hours. He’d seemingly forgotten that he hardly knew this girl. What her personal life was, he had no idea. For that matter, she might be engaged or even married. The very idea irritated him.

He said stiffly, “Ah, you have a date?”

Catherina laughed again. “My, what a dark face. If I didn’t know you to be an automobile distributor expert, I would suspect you of being a security police agent.” She shook her head. “Not a date. If by that you mean another man. There is a meeting that I would like to attend.”

“A meeting! It sounds dry as⁠—”

She was shaking her head. “Oh, no. A group I belong to. Very interesting. We’re to be addressed by an American journalist.”

Suddenly he was all but sober.

He tried to smooth over the short space of silence his surprise had precipitated. “An American journalist? Under government auspices?”

“Hardly.” She smiled at him over her glass of Pilsen. “I forget,” she said. “If you’re from Moscow, you probably aren’t aware of how open things are here in Prague. A whiff of fresh air.”

“I don’t understand. Is this group of yours, ah, illegal?”

She shrugged impatiently. “Oh, of course not. Don’t be silly. We gather to hear various speakers, to discuss world affairs. That sort of thing. Oh, of course, theoretically it’s illegal, but for that matter even the head of the Skoda plant attended last week. It’s only for the more advanced intellectuals, of course. Very advanced. But, for that matter, I know a dozen or so Party members, both Czech and Russian, who attend.”

“But an American journalist? What’s he doing in the country? Is he accredited?”

“No, no. You misunderstand. He entered as a tourist, came across some Prague newspapermen and as an upshot he’s to give a talk on freedom of the press.”

“I see,” Simonov said.

She was impatient with him. “You don’t understand at all. See here, why don’t you come along tonight? I’m sure I can get you in.”

“It sounds like a good idea,” Ilya Simonov said. He was completely sober now.

He made a written report to Kliment Blagonravov before turning in. He mentioned the rather free discussion of matters political in the Czech capital, using the man he’d met in the beer hall as an example. He reported⁠—although, undoubtedly, Blagonravov would already have the information⁠—hearing of a Polish Tri-D film which had defended the Old Bolsheviks purged in the 1930s. He mentioned the literary magazine, with its caricature of Frol Zverev, and, last of all, and then after hesitation, he reported party member Catherina Panova, who evidently belonged to a group of intellectuals who were not above listening to a talk given by a foreign journalist who was not speaking under the auspices of the Czech Party nor the government.

At the office, later, Catherina grinned at him and made a face. She ticked it off on her fingers. “Riesling, barack, smoked black beer, and borovika gin⁠—we should have know better.”

He went along with her, putting one hand to his forehead. “We should have stuck to vodka.”

“Well,” she said, “tonight we can be virtuous. An intellectual evening, rather than a carouse.”

Actually, she didn’t look at all the worse for wear. Evidently, Catherina Panova was still young enough that she could pub crawl all night, and still look fresh and alert in the morning. His own mouth felt lined with improperly tanned suede.

He was quickly fitting into the routine of the office. Actually, it worked smoothly enough that little effort was demanded of him. The Czech employees handled almost all the details. Evidently, the word of his evening on the town had somehow spread, and the fact that he was prone to a good time had relieved their fears of a martinet sent down from the central offices. They were beginning to relax in his presence.

In fact, they relaxed to the point where one of the girls didn’t even bother to hide the book she was reading during a period where there was a lull in activity. It was Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago.

He frowned remembering vaguely the controversy over the book a couple of decades earlier. Ilya Simonov said, “Pasternak. Do they print his works here in Czechoslovakia?”

The girl shrugged and looked at the back of the cover. “German publisher,” she said idly. “Printed in Frankfurt.”

He kept his voice from registering either surprise or disapproval. “You mean such books are imported? By whom?”

“Oh, not imported by an official agency, but we Czechs are doing a good deal more travel than we used to. Business trips, tourist trips, vacations. And, of course, we bring back books you can’t get here.” She shrugged again. “Very common.”

Simonov said blankly. “But the customs. The border police⁠—”

She smiled in a manner that suggested he lacked sophistication. “They never bother any more. They’re human, too.”

Ilya Simonov wandered off. He was astonished at the extent to which controls were slipping in a satellite country. There seemed practically no discipline, in the old sense, at all. He began to see one reason why his superior had sent him here to Prague. For years, most of his work had been either in Moscow or in the newly opened industrial areas in Siberia. He had lost touch with developments in this part of the Soviet Complex.

It came to him that this sort of thing could work like a geometric progression. Give a man a bit of rope one day, and he expects, and takes, twice as much the next, and twice that the next. And as with individuals, so with whole populations.

This was going to have to be stopped soon, or Party control would disappear. Ilya Simonov felt an edge of uncertainty. Nikita Khrushchev should never have made those first motions of liberalization following Stalin’s death. Not if they eventually culminated in this sort of thing.

He and Catherina drove to her meeting place that evening after dinner.

She explained as they went that the group was quite informal, usually meeting at the homes of group members who had fairly large places in the country. She didn’t seem to know how it had originally begun. The meetings had been going on for a year of more before she arrived in Prague. A Czech friend had taken her along one night, and she’d been attending ever since. There were other, similar groups, in town.

“But what’s the purpose of the organization?” Simonov asked her.

She was driving her little aircushion Moskvich. They crossed over the Vltava River by the Cechuv Bridge and turned right. On the hill above them loomed the fantastically large statue of Stalin which had been raised immediately following the Second War. She grimaced at it, muttered, “I wonder if he was insane from the first.”

He hadn’t understood her change of subject. “How do you mean?” he said.

“Stalin. I wonder how early it was in his career that he went insane.”

This was the second time in the past few days that Ilya Simonov had run into this matter of the former dictator’s mental condition. He said now, “I’ve heard the opinion before. Where did you pick it up?”

“Oh, it’s quite commonly believed in the Western countries.”

“But, have you ever been, ah, West?”

“Oh, from time to time! Berlin, Vienna, Geneva. Even Paris twice, on vacation, you know, and to various conferences. But that’s not what I mean. In the western magazines and newspapers. You can get them here in Prague now. But to get back to your question. There is no particular purpose of the organization.”

She turned the car left on Budenská and sped up into the Holesovice section of town.

The nonchalance of it all was what stopped Ilya Simonov. Here was a Party member calmly discussing whether or not the greatest Russian of them all, after Lenin, had been mad. The implications were, of course, that many of the purges, certainly the latter ones, were the result of the whims of a mental case, that the Soviet Complex had for long years been ruled by a man as unbalanced as Czar Peter the Great.

They pulled up before a rather large house that would have been called a dacha back in Moscow. Evidently, Ilya Simonov decided, whoever was sponsoring this night’s get together, was a man of prominence. He grimaced inwardly. A lot of high placed heads were going to roll before he was through.

It turned out that the host was Leos Dvorak, the internationally famed cinema director and quite an idol of Ilya Simonov in his earlier days when he’d found more time for entertainment. It was a shock to meet the man under these circumstances.

Catherina Panova was obviously quite popular among this gathering. Their host gave her an affectionate squeeze in way of greeting, then shook hands with Simonov when Catherina introduced him.

“Newly from Moscow, eh?” the film director said, squinting at the security agent. He had a sharp glance, almost, it seemed to Simonov, as though he detected the real nature of the newcomer. “It’s been several years since I’ve been to Moscow. Are things loosening up there?”

“Loosening up?” Simonov said.

Leos Dvorak laughed and said to Catherina, “Probably not. I’ve always been of the opinion that the Party’s influence would shrivel away first at its extremities. Membership would fall off abroad, in the neutral countries and in Common Europe and the Americas. Then in the so-called satellite countries. Last of all in Russia herself. But, very last, Moscow⁠—the dullest, stodgiest, most backward intellectually, capital city in the world.” The director laughed again and turned away to greet a new guest.

This was open treason. Ilya Simonov had been lucky. Within the first few days of being in the Czech capital he’d contacted one of the groups which he’d been sent to unmask.

Now he said mildly to Catherina Panova, “He seems rather outspoken.”

She chuckled. “Leos is quite strongly opinionated. His theory is that the more successful the Party is in attaining the goals it set half a century ago, the less necessary it becomes. He’s of the opinion that it will eventually atrophy, shrivel away to the point that all that will be needed will be the slightest of pushes to end its domination.”

Ilya Simonov said, “And the rest of the group here, do they agree?”

Catherina shrugged. “Some do, some don’t. Some of them are of the opinion that it will take another blood bath. That the party will attempt to hang onto its power and will have to be destroyed.”

Simonov said evenly, “And you? What do you think?”

She frowned, prettily. “I’m not sure. I suppose I’m still in the process of forming an opinion.”

Their host was calling them together and leading the way to the garden where chairs had been set up. There seemed to be about twenty-five persons present in all. Ilya Simonov had been introduced to no more than half of them. His memory was good and already he was composing a report to Kliment Blagonravov, listing those names he recalled. Some were Czechs, some citizens of other satellite countries, several, including Catherina, were actually Russians.

The American, a newspaperman named Dickson, had an open-faced freshness, hardly plausible in an agent from the West trying to subvert Party leadership. Ilya Simonov couldn’t quite figure him out.

Dickson was introduced by Leos Dvorak who informed his guests that the American had been reluctant but had finally agreed to give them his opinion on the press on both sides of what had once been called the Iron Curtain.

Dickson grinned boyishly and said, “I’m not a public speaker, and, for that matter, I haven’t had time to put together a talk for you. I think what I’ll do is read a little clipping I’ve got here⁠—sort of a text⁠—and then, well, throw the meeting open to questions. I’ll try to answer anything you have to ask.”

He brought forth a piece of paper. “This is from the British writer, Huxley. I think it’s pretty good.” He cleared his voice and began to read.

Mass communication⁠ ⁠… is simply a force and like any other force, it can be used either well or ill. Used one way, the press, the radio and the cinema are indispensible to the survival of democracy. Used in another way, they are among the most powerful weapons in the dictator’s armory. In the field of mass communications as in almost every other field of enterprise, technological progress has hurt the Little Man and helped the Big Man. As lately as fifty years ago, every democratic country could boast of a great number of small journals and local newspapers. Thousands of country editors expressed thousands of independent opinions. Somewhere or other almost anybody could get almost anything printed. Today the press is still legally free; but most of the little papers have disappeared. The cost of wood pulp, of modern printing machinery and of syndicated news is too high for the Little Man. In the totalitarian East there is political censorship, and the media of mass communications are controlled by the State. In the democratic West there is economic censorship and the media of mass communication are controlled by members of the Power Elite. Censorship by rising costs and the concentration of communication-power in the hands of a few big concerns is less objectionable than State Ownership and government propaganda; but certainly it is not something to which a Jeffersonian democrat could approve.

Ilya Simonov looked blankly at Catherina and whispered, “Why, what he’s reading is as much an attack on the West as it is on us.”

She looked at him and whispered back, “Well, why not? This gathering is to discuss freedom of the press.”

He said blankly, “But as an agent of the West⁠—”

She frowned at him. “Mr. Dickson isn’t an agent of the West. He’s an American journalist.”

“Surely you can’t believe he has no connections with the imperialist governments.”

“Certainly, he hasn’t. What sort of meeting do you think this is? We’re not interested in Western propaganda. We’re a group of intellectuals searching for freedom of ideas.”

Ilya Simonov was taken back once again.

Colonel Ilya Simonov dismissed his cab in front of the Ministry and walked toward the gate. Down the street the same plainclothes man, who had been lounging there the last time he’d reported, once again took him in, then looked away. The two guards snapped to attention, and the security agent strode by them unnoticing.

At the lieutenant’s desk, before the offices of Kliment Blagonravov, he stopped and said, “Colonel Simonov. I have no appointment but I think the Minister will see me.”

“Yes, Comrade Colonel,” the lieutenant said. He spoke into an inter-office communicator, then looked up. “Minister Blagonravov will be able to see you in a few minutes, sir.”

Ilya Simonov stared nervously and unseeingly out a window while he waited. Gorki Park lay across the way. It, like Moscow in general, had changed a good deal in Simonov’s memory. Everything in Russia had changed a good deal, he realized. And was changing. And what was the end to be? Or was there ever an end? Of course not. There is no end, ever. Only new changes to come.

The lieutenant said, “The Minister is free now, Comrade Colonel.”

Ilya Simonov muttered something to him and pushed his way through the heavy door.

Blagonravov looked up from his desk and rumbled affectionately, “Ilya! It’s good to see you. Have a drink! You’ve lost weight, Ilya!”

His top field man sank into the same chair he’d occupied nine months before, and accepted the ice-cold vodka.

Blagonravov poured another drink for himself, then scowled at the other. “Where have you been? When you first went off to Prague, I got reports from you almost every day. These last few months I’ve hardly heard from you.” He rumbled his version of a chuckle. “If I didn’t know you better, I’d think there was a woman.”

Ilya Simonov looked at him wanly. “That too, Kliment.”

“You are jesting!”

“No. Not really. I had hoped to become engaged⁠—soon.”

“A party member? I never thought of you as the marrying type, Ilya.”

Simonov said slowly, “Yes, a Party member. Catherina Panova, my assistant in the automobile agency in Prague.”

Blagonravov scowled heavily at him, put forth his fat lips in a thoughtful pout. He came to his feet, approached a file cabinet, fishing from his pocket a key ring. He unlocked the cabinet, brought forth a sheaf of papers with which he returned to his desk. He fumbled though them for a moment, found the paper he wanted and read it. He scowled again and looked up at his agent.

“Your first report,” he said. “Catherina Panova. From what you say here, a dangerous reactionary. Certainly she has no place in Party ranks.”

Ilya Simonov said, “Is that the complete file of my assignment?”

“Yes. I’ve kept it here in my own office. I’ve wanted this to be ultra-undercover. No one except you and me. I had hopes of you working your way up into the enemy’s organization, and I wanted no possible chance of you being betrayed. You don’t seem to have been too successful.”

“I was as successful as it’s possible to be.”

The security minister leaned forward. “Ah ha! I knew I could trust you to bring back results, Ilya. This will take Frol Zverev’s pressure off me. Number One has been riding me hard.” Blagonravov poured them both another drink. “You were able to insert yourself into their higher circles?”

Simonov said, “Kliment, there are no higher circles.”

His chief glared at him. “Nonsense!” He tapped the file with a pudgy finger. “In your early reports you described several groups, small organizations, illegal meetings. There must be an upper organization, some movement supported from the West most likely.”

Ilya Simonov was shaking his head. “No. They’re all spontaneous.”

His chief growled, “I tell you there are literally thousands of these little groups. That hardly sounds like a spontaneous phenomenon.”

“Nevertheless, that is what my investigations have led me to believe.”

Blagonravov glowered at him, uncertainly. Finally, he said, “Well, confound it, you’ve spent the better part of a year among them. What’s it all about? What do they want?”

Ilya Simonov said flatly, “They want freedom, Kliment.”

“Freedom! What do you mean, freedom? The Soviet Complex is the most highly industrialized area of the world. Our people have the highest standard of living anywhere. Don’t they understand? We’ve met all the promises we ever made. We’ve reached far and beyond the point ever dreamed of by Utopians. The people, all of the people, have it made as the Americans say.”

“Except for freedom,” Simonov said doggedly. “These groups are springing up everywhere, spontaneously. Thus far, perhaps, our ministry has been able to suppress some of them. But the pace is accelerating. They aren’t inter-organized now. But how soon they’ll start to be, I don’t know. Sooner or later, someone is going to come up with a unifying idea. A new socio-political system to advocate a way of guaranteeing the basic liberties. Then, of course, the fat will be in the fire.”

“Ilya! You’ve been working too hard. I’ve pushed you too much, relied on you too much. You need a good lengthy vacation.”

Simonov shrugged. “Perhaps. But what I’ve just said is the truth.”

His chief snorted heavily. “You half sound as though you agree with them.”

“I do, Kliment.”

“I am in no mood for gags, as the Yankees say.”

Ilya Simonov looked at him wearily. He said slowly, “You sent me to investigate an epidemic, a spreading disease. Very well, I report that it’s highly contagious.”

Blagonravov poured himself more vodka angrily. “Explain yourself. What’s this all about?”

His former best field man said, “Kliment⁠—”

“I want no familiarities from you, colonel!”

“Yes, sir.” Ilya Simonov went on doggedly. “Man never achieves complete freedom. It’s a goal never reached, but one continually striven for. The moment as small a group as two or three gather together, all of them must give up some of the individual’s freedom. When man associates with millions of his fellow men, he gives up a good many freedoms for the sake of the community. But always he works to retain as much liberty as possible, and to gain more. It’s the nature of our species, I suppose.”

“You sound as though you’ve become corrupted by Western ideas,” the security head muttered dangerously.

Simonov shook his head. “No. The same thing applies over there. Even in countries such as Sweden and Switzerland, where institutions are as free as anywhere in the world, the people are continually striving for more. Governments and socioeconomic systems seem continually to whittle away at individual liberty. But always man fights back and tries to achieve new heights for himself.

“In the name of developing our country, the Party all but eliminated freedom in the Soviet Complex, but now the goals have been reached and the people will no longer put up with us, sir.”

Us!” Kliment Blagonravov growled bitterly. “You are hardly to be considered in the Party’s ranks any longer, Simonov. Why in the world did you ever return here?” He sneered fatly. “Your best bet would have been to escape over the border into the West.”

Simonov looked at the file on the other’s desk. “I wanted to regain those reports I made in the early days of my assignment. I’ve listed in them some fifty names, names of men and women who are now my friends.”

The fat lips worked in and out. “It must be that woman. You’ve become soft in the head, Simonov.” Blagonravov tapped the file beneath his heavy fingers. “Never fear, before the week is out these fifty persons will be either in prison or in their graves.”

With a fluid motion, Ilya Simonov produced a small caliber gun, a special model designed for security agents. An unusual snout proclaimed its quiet virtues as guns go.

“No, Kliment,” Ilya Simonov said.

“Are you mad!”

“No, Kliment, but I must have those reports.” Ilya Simonov came to his feet and reached for them.

With a roar of rage, Kliment Blagonravov slammed open a drawer and dove a beefy paw into it. With shocking speed for so heavy a man, he scooped up a heavy military revolver.

And Colonel Ilya Simonov shot him neatly and accurately in the head. The silenced gun made no more sound than a pop.

Blagonravov, his dying eyes registering unbelieving shock, fell back into his heavy swivel chair.

Simonov worked quickly. He gathered up his reports, checked quickly to see they were all there. Struck a match, lit one of the reports and dropped it into the large ashtray on the desk. One by one he lit them all and when all were consumed, stirred the ashes until they were completely pulverized.

He poured himself another vodka, downed it, stiff wristed, then without turning to look at the dead man again, made his way to the door.

He slipped out and said to the lieutenant, “The Minister says that he is under no circumstances to be disturbed for the next hour.”

The lieutenant frowned at him. “But he has an appointment.”

Colonel Ilya Simonov shrugged. “Those were his instructions. Not to be bothered under any circumstances.”

“But it was an appointment with Number One!”

That was bad. And unforeseen. Ilya Simonov said, “It’s probably been canceled. All I’m saying is that Minister Blagonravov instructs you not to bother him under any circumstances for the next hour.”

He left the other and strode down the corridor, keeping himself from too obvious, a quickened pace.

At the entrance to the Ministry, he shot his glance up and down the street. He was in the clutch now, and knew it. He had few illusions.

Not a cab in sight. He began to cross the road toward the park. In a matter of moments there, he’d be lost in the trees and shrubbery. He had rather vague plans. Actually, he was playing things as they came. There was a close friend in whose apartment he could hide, a man who owed him his life. He could disguise himself. Possibly buy or borrow a car. If he could get back to Prague, he was safe. Perhaps he and Catherina could defect to the West.

Somebody was screaming something from a window in the Ministry.

Ilya Simonov quickened his pace. He was nearly across the street now. He thought, foolishly, Whoever that is shouting is so excited he sounds more like a woman than a man.

Another voice took up the shout. It was the plainclothes man. Feet began pounding.

There were two more shouts. The guards. But he was across now. The shrubs were only a foot away.

The shattering blackness hit him in the back of the head. It was over immediately.

Afterwards, the plainclothes man and the two guards stood over him. Men began pouring from the Ministry in their direction.

Colonel Ilya Simonov was a meaningless, bloody heap on the edge of the park’s grass.

The guard who had shot said, “He killed the Minister. He must have been crazy to think he could get away with it. What did he want?”

“Well, we’ll never know now,” the plainclothesman grunted.

Ultima Thule

At least he’d got far enough to wind up with a personal interview. It’s one thing doing up an application and seeing it go onto an endless tape and be fed into the maw of a machine and then to receive, in a matter of moments, a neatly printed rejection. It’s another thing to receive an appointment to be interviewed by a placement officer in the Commissariat of Interplanetary Affairs, Department of Personnel. Ronny Bronston was under no illusions. Nine out of ten men of his age annually made the same application. Almost all were annually rejected. Statistically speaking practically nobody ever got an interplanetary position. But he’d made step one along the path of a lifetime ambition.

He stood at easy attention immediately inside the door. At the desk at the far side of the room the placement officer was going through a sheaf of papers. He looked up and said, “Ronald Bronston? Sit down. You’d like an interplanetary assignment, eh? So would I.”

Ronny took the chair. For a moment he tried to appear alert, earnest, ambitious but not too ambitious, fearless, devoted to the cause, and indispensable. For a moment. Then he gave it up and looked like Ronny Bronston.

The other looked up and took him in. The personnel official saw a man of averages. In the late twenties. Average height, weight and breadth. Pleasant of face in an average sort of way, but not handsome. Less than sharp in dress, hair inclined to be on the undisciplined side. Brown of hair, dark of eye. In a crowd, inconspicuous. In short, Ronny Bronston.

The personnel officer grunted. He pushed a button, said something into his order box. A card slid into the slot and he took it out and stared gloomily at it.

“What’re your politics?” he said.

“Politics?” Ronny Bronston said. “I haven’t any politics. My father and grandfather before me have been citizens of United Planets. There hasn’t been any politics in our family for three generations.”



The other grunted and marked the card. “Racial prejudices?”

“I beg your pardon?”

“Do you have any racial prejudices? Any at all.”


The personnel officer said, “Most people answer that way at first, these days, but some don’t at second. For instance, suppose you had to have a blood transfusion. Would you have any objection to it being blood donated by, say, a Negro, a Chinese, or, say, a Jew?”

Ronny ticked it off on his fingers. “One of my greatgrandfathers was a French colon who married a Moroccan girl. The Moors are a blend of Berber, Arab, Jew and Negro. Another of my greatgrandfathers was a Hawaiian. They’re largely a blend of Polynesians, Japanese, Chinese and Caucasians especially Portuguese. Another of my greatgrandfathers was Irish, English and Scotch. He married a girl who was half Latvian, half Russian.” Ronny wound it up. “Believe me, if I had a blood transfusion from just anybody at all, the blood would feel right at home.”

The interviewer snorted, even as he marked the card. “That accounts for three greatgrandfathers,” he said lightly. “You seem to have made a study of your family tree. What was the other one?”

Rocky said expressionlessly, “A Texan.”

The secretary shrugged and looked at the card again. “Religion?”

“Reformed Agnostic,” Ronny said. This one was possibly where he ran into a brick wall. Many of the planets had strong religious beliefs of one sort or another. Some of them had state religions and you either belonged or else.

“Is there any such church?” the personnel officer frowned.

“No. I’m a one-man member. I’m of the opinion that if there are any greater-powers-that-be They’re keeping the fact from us. And if that’s the way They want it, it’s Their business. If and when They want to contact me⁠—one of Their puppets dangling from a string⁠—then I suppose They’ll do it. Meanwhile, I’ll wait.”

The other said interestedly, “You think that if there is a Higher Power and if It ever wants to get in touch with you, It will?”

“Um-m-m. In Its own good time. Sort of a don’t call Me, thing, I’ll call you.”

The personnel officer said, “There have been a few revealed religions, you know.”

“So they said, so they said. None of them have made much sense to me. If a Superpower wanted to contact man, it seems unlikely to me that it’d be all wrapped up in a lot of complicated gobbledegook. It would all be very clear indeed.”

The personnel officer sighed. He marked the card, stuck it back into the slot in his order box and it disappeared.

He looked up at Ronny Bronston. “All right, that’s all.”

Ronny came to his feet. “Well, what happened?”

The other grinned at him sourly. “Darned if I know,” he said. “By the time you get to the outer office, you’ll probably find out.” He scratched the end of his nose and said, “I sometimes wonder what I’m doing here.”

Ronny thanked him, told him goodbye, and left.

In the outer office a girl looked up from a card she’d just pulled from her own order box. “Ronald Bronston?”

“That’s right.”

She handed the card to him. “You’re to go to the office of Ross Metaxa in the Octagon, Commissariat of Interplanetary Affairs, Department of Justice, Bureau of Investigation, Section G.”

In a lifetime spent in first preparing for United Planets employment and then in working for the organization, Ronny Bronston had never been in the Octagon Building. He’d seen photographs, Tri-Di broadcasts and he’d heard several thousand jokes on various levels from pun to obscenity about getting around in the building, but he’d never been there. For that matter, he’d never been in Greater Washington before, other than a long ago tourist trip. Population Statistics, his department, had its main offices in New Copenhagen.

His card was evidently all that he needed for entry.

At the sixth gate he dismissed his car and let it shoot back into the traffic mess. He went up to one of the guard-guides and presented the card.

The guide inspected it. “Section G of the Bureau of Investigation,” he muttered. “Every day, something new. I never heard of it.”

“It’s probably some outfit in charge of cleaning the heads on space liners.” Ronny said unhappily. He’d never heard of it either.

“Well, it’s no problem,” the guard-guide said. He summoned a three-wheel, fed the coordinates into it from Ronny’s card, handed the card back and flipped an easy salute. “You’ll soon know.”

The scooter slid into the Octagon’s hall traffic and proceeded up one corridor, down another, twice taking to ascending ramps. Ronny had read somewhere the total miles of corridors in the Octagon. He hadn’t believed the figures at the time. Now he believed them. He must have traversed several miles before they got to the Department of Justice alone. It was another quarter mile to the Bureau of Investigation.

The scooter eventually came to a halt, waited long enough for Ronny to dismount and then hurried back into the traffic.

He entered the office. A neatly uniformed reception girl with a harassed and cynical eye looked up from her desk. “Ronald Bronston?” she said.

“That’s right.”

“Where’ve you been?” She had a snappy cuteness. “The commissioner has been awaiting you. Go through that door and to your left.”

Ronny went through that door and to the left. There was another door, inconspicuously lettered Ross Metaxa, Commissioner, Section G. Ronny knocked and the door opened.

Ross Metaxa was going through a wad of papers. He looked up; a man in the middle years, sour of expression, moist of eye as though he either drank too much or slept too little.

“Sit down,” he said. “You’re Ronald Bronston, eh? What do they call you, Ronny? It says here you’ve got a sense of humor. That’s one of the first requirements in this lunatic department.”

Ronny sat down and tried to form some opinions of the other by his appearance. He was reminded of nothing so much as the stereotype city editor you saw in the historical romance Tri-Ds. All that was needed was for Metaxa to start banging on buttons and yelling something about tearing down the front page, whatever that meant.

Metaxa said, “It also says you have some queer hobbies. Judo, small weapons target shooting, mountain climbing⁠—” He looked up from the reports. “Why does anybody climb mountains?”

Ronny said, “Nobody’s ever figured out.” That didn’t seem to be enough, especially since Ross Metaxa was staring at him, so he added, “Possibly we devotees keep doing it in hopes that someday somebody’ll find out.”

Ross Metaxa said sourly, “Not too much humor, please. You don’t act as though getting this position means much to you.”

Ronny said slowly, “I figured out some time ago that every young man on Earth yearns for a job that will send him shuttling from one planet to another. To achieve it they study, they sweat, they make all out efforts to meet and suck up to anybody they think might help. Finally, when and if they get an interview for one of the few openings, they spruce up in their best clothes, put on their best party manners, present themselves as the sincere, high I.Q., ambitious young men that they are⁠—and then flunk their chance. I decided I might as well be what I am.”

Ross Metaxa looked at him. “OK,” he said finally. “We’ll give you a try.”

Ronny said blankly, “You mean I’ve got the job?”

“That’s right.”

“I’ll be damned.”

“Probably,” Metaxa said. He yawned. “Do you know what Section G handles?”

“Well no, but as for me, just so I get off Earth and see some of the galaxy.”

Metaxa had been sitting with his heels on his desk. Now he put them down and reached a hand into a drawer to emerge with a brown bottle and two glasses. “Do you drink?” he said.

“Of course.”

“Even during working hours?” Metaxa scowled.

“When occasion calls.”

“Good,” Metaxa said. He poured two drinks. “You’ll get your fill of seeing the galaxy,” he said. “Not that there’s much to see. Man can settle only Earth-type planets and after you’ve seen a couple of hundred you’ve seen them all.”

Ronny sipped at his drink, then blinked reproachfully down into the glass.

Metaxa said, “Good, eh? A kind of tequila they make on Deneb Eight. Bunch of Mexicans settled there.”

“What,” said Ronny hoarsely, “do they make it out of?”

“Lord only knows,” Metaxa said. “To get back to Section G. We’re Interplanetary Security. In short, Department Cloak and Dagger. Would you be willing to die for the United Planets, Bronston?”

That curve had come too fast. Ronny blinked again. “Only in emergency,” he said. “Who’d want to kill me?”

Metaxa poured another drink. “Many of the people you’ll be working with,” he said.

“Well, why? What will I be doing?”

“You’ll be representing United Planets,” Metaxa explained. “Representing United Planets in cases where the local situation is such that the folks you’re working among will be teed off at the organization.”

“Well, why are they members if they don’t like the U.P.?”

“That’s a good question,” Metaxa said. He yawned. “I guess I’ll have to go into my speech.” He finished his drink. “Now, shut up till I give you some background. You’re probably full of a lot of nonsense you picked up in school.”

Ronny shut up. He’d expected more of an air of dedication in the Octagon and in such ethereal departments as that of Interplanetary Justice, however, he was in now and not adverse to picking up some sophistication beyond the ken of the Earthbound employees of U.P.

The other’s voice took on a far away, albeit bored tone. “It seems that most of the times man gets a really big idea, he goes off half cocked. Just one example. Remember when the ancient Hellenes exploded into the Mediterranean? A score of different City-States began sending out colonies, which in turn sprouted colonies of their own. Take Syracuse, on Sicily. Hardly was she established than, bingo, she sent off colonists to Southern Italy, and they in turn to Southern France, Corsica, the Balearics. Greeks were exploding all over the place, largely without adequate plans, without rhyme or reason. Take Alexander. Roamed off all the way to India, founding cities and colonies of Greeks all along the way.”

The older man shifted in his chair. “You wonder what I’m getting at, eh? Well, much the same thing is happening in man’s explosion into space, now that he has the ability to leave the solar system behind. Dashing off half cocked, in all directions, he’s flowing out over this section of the galaxy without plan, without rhyme or reason. I take that last back, he has reasons all right⁠—some of the screwiest. Religious reasons, racial reasons, idealistic reasons, political reasons, altruistic reasons and mercenary reasons.

“Inadequate ships, manned by small numbers of inadequate people, setting out to find their own planets, to establish themselves on one of the numberless uninhabited worlds that offer themselves to colonization and exploitation.”

Ronny cleared his throat. “Well, isn’t that a good thing, sir?”

Ross Metaxa looked at him and grunted. “What difference does it make if it’s good or not? It’s happening. We’re spreading our race out over tens of hundreds of new worlds in the most haphazard fashion. As a result, we of United Planets now have a chaotic mishmash on our hands. How we manage to keep as many planets in the organization as we do, sometimes baffles me. I suppose most of them are afraid to drop out, conscious of the protection U.P. gives against each other.”

He picked up a report. “Here’s Monet, originally colonized by a bunch of painters, writers, musicians and such. They had dreams of starting a new race”⁠—Metaxa snorted⁠—“with everybody artists. They were all so impractical that they even managed to crash their ship on landing. For three hundred years they were uncontacted. What did they have in the way of government by that time? A military theocracy, something like the Aztecs of Pre-Conquest Mexico. A matriarchy, at that. And what’s their religion based on? That of ancient Phoenicia including plenty of human sacrifice to good old Moloch. What can United Planets do about it, now that they’ve become a member? Work away very delicately, trying to get them to at least eliminate the child sacrifice phase of their culture. Will they do it? Hell no, not if they can help it. The Head Priestess and her clique are afraid that if they don’t have the threat of sacrifice to hold over the people, they’ll be overthrown.”

Ronny was surprised. “I’d never heard of a member planet like that. Monet?”

Metaxa sighed. “No, of course not. You’ve got a lot to learn, Ronny, my lad. First of all, what’re Articles One and Two of the United Planets Charter?”

That was easy. Ronny recited. “Article One: The United Planets organization shall take no steps to interfere with the internal political, socioeconomic, or religious institutions of its member planets. Article Two: No member planets of United Planets shall interfere with the internal political, socioeconomic or religious institutions of any other member planet.” He looked at the department head. “But what’s that got to do with the fact that I was unfamiliar with even the existence of Monet?”

“Suppose one of the advanced planets, or even Earth itself,” Metaxa growled, “openly discussed in magazines, on newscasts, or wherever, the religious system of Monet. A howl would go up among the liberals, the progressives, the do-gooders. And the howl would be heard on the other advanced planets. Eventually, the citizen in the street on Monet would hear about it and be affected. And before you knew it, a howl would go up from Monet’s government. Why? Because the other planets would be interfering with her internal affairs, simply by discussing them.”

“So what you mean is,” Ronny said, “part of our job is to keep information about Monet’s government and religion from being discussed at all on other member planets.”

“That’s right,” Metaxa nodded. “And that’s just one of our dirty little jobs. One of many. Section G, believe me, gets them all. Which brings us to your first assignment.”

Ronny inched forward in his chair. “It takes me into space?”

“It takes you into space all right,” Metaxa snorted. “At least it will after a few months of indoctrination. I’m sending you out after a legend, Ronny. You’re fresh, possibly you’ll get some ideas older men in the game haven’t thought of.”

“A legend?”

“I’m sending you to look for Tommy Paine. Some members of the department don’t think he exists. I do.”

“Tommy Paine?”

“A pseudonym that somebody hung on him way back before even my memory in this Section. Did you ever hear of Thomas Paine in American history?”

“He wrote a pamphlet during the Revolutionary War, didn’t he?”

Common Sense,” Metaxa nodded. “But he was more than that. He was born in England but went to America as a young man and his writings probably did as much as anything to put over the revolt against the British. But that wasn’t enough. When that revolution was successful he went back to England and tried to start one there. The government almost caught him, but he escaped and got to France where he participated in the French Revolution.”

“He seemed to get around,” Ronny Bronston said.

“And so does this namesake of his. We’ve been trying to catch up with him for some twenty years. How long before that he was active, we have no way of knowing. It was some time before we became aware of the fact that half the revolts, rebellions, revolutions and such that occur in the United Planets have his dirty finger stirring around in them.”

“But you said some department members don’t believe in his existence.”

Metaxa grunted. “They’re working on the theory that no one man could do all that Tommy Paine has laid to him. Possibly it’s true that he sometimes gets the blame for accomplishments not his. Or, for that matter, possibly he’s more than one person. I don’t know.”

“Well,” Ronny said hesitantly, “what’s an example of his activity?”

Metaxa picked up another report from the confusion of his desk. “Here’s one only a month old. Dictator on the planet Megas. Kidnapped and forced to resign. There’s still confusion but it looks as though a new type of government will be formed now.”

“But how do they know it wasn’t just some dissatisfied citizens of Megas?”

“It seems as though the kidnap vehicle was an old fashioned Earth-type helicopter. There were no such on Megas. So Section G suspects it’s a possible Tommy Paine case. We could be wrong, of course. That’s why I say the man’s in the way of being a legend. Perhaps the others are right and he doesn’t even exist. I think he does, and if so, it’s our job to get him and put him out of circulation.”

Ronny said slowly, “But why would that come under our jurisdiction? It seems to me that it would be up to the police of whatever planet he was on.”

Ross Metaxa looked thoughtfully at his brown bottle, shook his head and returned it to its drawer. He looked at a desk watch. “Don’t read into the United Planets organization more than there is. It’s a fragile institution with practically no independent powers to wield. Every member planet is jealous of its prerogatives, which is understandable. It’s no mistake that Articles One and Two are the basic foundation of the Charter. No member planet wants to be interfered with by any other or by United Planets as an organization. They want to be left alone.

“Within our ranks we have planets with every religion known to man throughout the ages. Everything ranging from primitive animism to the most advanced philosophic ethic. We have every political system ever dreamed of, and every socioeconomic system. It can all be blamed on the crackpot manner in which we’re colonizing. Any minority, no matter how small⁠—religious, political, racial, or whatever⁠—if it can collect the funds to buy or rent a spacecraft, can dash off on its own, find a new Earth-type planet and set up in business.

“Fine. One of the prime jobs of Section G is to carry out, to enforce, Articles One and Two of the Charter. A planet with Buddhism as its state religion, doesn’t want some diehard Baptist missionary stirring up controversy. A planet with a feudalistic socioeconomic systems doesn’t want some hotshot interplanetary businessman coming in with some big deal that would eventually cause the feudalistic nobility to be tossed onto the ash heap. A planet with a dictatorship doesn’t want subversives from some democracy trying to undermine their institutions⁠—and vice versa.”

“And its our job to enforce all this, eh?” Ronny said.

“That’s right,” Metaxa told him sourly. “It’s not always the nicest job in the system. However, if you believe in United Planets, an organization attempting to coordinate in such manner as it can, the efforts of its member planets, for the betterment of all, then you must accept Section G and Interplanetary Security.”

Ronny Bronston thought about it.

Metaxa added, “That’s why one of the requirements of this job is that you yourself be a citizen of United Planets, rather than of any individual planet, have no religious affiliations, no political beliefs, and no racial prejudices. You’ve got to be able to stand aloof.”

“Yeah,” Ronny said thoughtfully.

Ross Metaxa looked at his watch again and sighed wearily. “I’ll turn you over to one of my assistants,” he said. “I’ll see you again, though, before you leave.”

“Before I leave?” Ronny said, coming to his feet. “But where do I start looking for this Tommy Paine?”

“How the hell would I know?” Ross Metaxa growled.

In the outer office, Ronny said to the receptionist, “Commissioner Metaxa said for me to get in touch with Sid Jakes.”

She said, “I’m Irene Kasansky. Are you with us?”

Ronny said, “I beg your pardon?”

She said impatiently, “Are you going to be with the Section? If you are, I’ve got to clear you with your old job. You were in statistics over in New Copenhagen, weren’t you?”

Somehow it seemed far away now, the job he’d held for more than five years. “Oh, yes,” he said. “Yes, Commissioner Metaxa has given me an appointment.”

She looked up at him. “Probably to look for Tommy Paine.”

He was taken aback. “That’s right. How did you know?”

“There was talk. This Section is pretty well integrated.” She grimaced, but on her it looked good. “One big happy family. High interdepartmental morale. That sort of jetsam.” She flicked some switches. “You’ll find Supervisor Jakes through that door, one to your left, two to your right.”

He could have asked one what to his left and two what to his right, but evidently Irene Kasansky thought he had enough information to get him to his destination. She’d gone back to her work.

It was one turn to his left and two turns to his right. The door was lettered simply Sidney Jakes. He knocked and a voice shouted happily, “It’s open. It’s always open.”

Supervisor Jakes was as informal as his superior. His attire was on the happy-go-lucky side, more suited for sports wear than a fairly high ranking job in the ultra-staid Octagon.

He couldn’t have been much older than Ronny Bronston but he had a nervous vitality about him that would have worn out the other in a few hours. He jumped up and shook hands. “You must be Bronston. Call me Sid.” He waved a hand at a typed report he’d been reading. “Now I’ve seen them all. They’ve just applied for entry to United Planets. Republic. What a name, eh?”

“What?” Ronny said.

“Sit down, sit down.” He rushed Ronny to a chair, saw him seated, returned to the desk and flicked an order box switch. “Irene,” he said, “do up a badge for Ronny, will you? You’ve got his code, haven’t you? Good. Send it over. Bronze, of course.”

Sid Jakes turned back to Ronny and grinned at him. He motioned to the report again. “What a name for a planet. Republic. Bunch of screwballs, again. Out in the vicinity of Sirius. Based their system on Plato’s Republic. Have to go the whole way. Don’t even speak Basic. Certainly not. They speak Ancient Greek. That’s going to be a neat trick, finding interpreters. How’d you like the Old Man?”

Ronny said, dazed at the conversational barrage, “Old Man? Oh, you mean Commissioner Metaxa.”

“Sure, sure,” Sid grinned, perching himself on the edge of the desk. “Did he give you that drink of tequila during working hours routine? He’d like to poison every new agent we get. What a character.”

The grin was infectious. Ronny said carefully, “Well, I did think his method of hiring a new man was a little⁠—cavalier.”

“Cavalier, yet,” Sid Jakes chortled. “Look, don’t get the Old Man wrong. He knows what he’s doing. He always knows what he’s doing.”

“But he took me on after only two or three minutes conversation.”

Jakes cocked his head to one side. “Oh? You think so? When did you first apply for interplanetary assignment, Ronny?”

“I don’t know, about three years ago.”

Jakes nodded. “Well, depend on it, you’ve been under observation for that length of time. At any one period, Section G is investigating possibly a thousand potential agents. We need men but qualifications are high.”

He hopped down from his position, sped around to the other side of the desk and lowered himself into his chair. “Don’t get the wrong idea, though. You’re not in. You’re on probation. Whatever the assignment the Old Man gave you, you’ve got to carry it out successfully before you’re full fledged.” He flicked the order-box switch and said, “Irene, where the devil’s Ronny’s badge?”

Ronny Bronston heard the office girl’s voice answer snappishly.

“All right, all right,” Jakes said. “I love you, too. Send it in when it comes.” He turned to Ronny. “What is your assignment?”

“He wants me to go looking for some firebrand nicknamed Tommy Paine. I’m supposed to arrest him. The commissioner said you’d give me details.”

Sid Jakes’ face went serious. He puckered up his lips. “Wow, that’ll be a neat trick to pull off,” he said. He flicked the order-box switch again. Irene’s voice snapped something before he could say anything and Sid Jakes grinned and said, “OK, OK, darling, but if this is the way you’re going to be I won’t marry you. Then what will the children say? Besides, that’s not what I called about. Have ballistics do up a model H gun for Ronny, will you? Be sure it’s adjusted to his code.”

He flicked off the order box and turned back to Ronny. “I understand you’re familiar with handguns. It’s in this report on you.”

Ronny nodded. He was just beginning to adjust to this freewheeling character. “What will I need a gun for?”

Jakes laughed. “Heavens to Betsy, you babe in the woods. Do you realize this Tommy Paine character has supposedly stirred up a couple of score wars, revolutions and revolts? Not to speak of having laid in his lap two or three dozen assassinations. He’s a quick lad with a gun. A regular Nihilist.”


Jakes chuckled. “When you’ve been in this Section for a while, you’ll be familiar with every screwball outfit man has ever dreamed up. The Nihilists were a European group, mostly Russian, back in the Nineteenth Century. They believed that by bumping off a few Grand Dukes and a Czar or so they could force the ruling class to grant reforms. Sometimes they were pretty ingenious. Blew up trains, that sort of thing.”

“Look here,” Ronny said, “what motivates this Paine fellow? What’s he get out of all this trouble he stirs up?”

“Search me. Nobody seems to know. Some think he’s a mental case. For one thing, he’s not consistent.”

“How do you mean?”

“Well, he’ll go to one planet and break his back trying to overthrow, say, feudalism. Then, possibly after being successful, he goes to another planet and devotes his energies to establishing the same socioeconomic system.”

Ronny assimilated that. “You’re one of those who believes he exists?”

“Oh, he exists all right, all right,” Sid Jakes said happily. “Matter of fact, I almost ran into him a few years ago.”

Ronny leaned forward. “I guess I ought to know about it. The more information I have, the better.”

“Sure, sure,” Jakes said. “This deal of mine was on one of the Aldebaran planets. A bunch of nature boys had settled there.”

“Nature boys?”

“Um-m-m. Back to nature. The trouble with the human race is that it’s got too far away from nature. So a whole flock of them landed on this planet. They call it Mother, of all things. They landed and set up a primitive society. Absolute stone age. No metals. Lived by the chase and by picking berries, wild fruit, that sort of thing. Not even any agriculture. Wore skins. Bows and arrows were the nearest thing they allowed themselves in the way of mechanical devices.”

“Good grief,” Ronny said.

“It was a laugh,” Jakes told him. “I was assigned there as Section G representative with the U.P. organization. Picture it. We had to wear skins for clothes. We had to confine ourselves to two or three long houses. Something like the American Iroquois lived in before Columbus. Their society on Mother was based on primitive communism. The clan, the phratry, the tribe. Their religion was mostly a matter of knocking into everybody’s head that any progress was taboo. Oh, it was great.”

“Well, were they happy?”

“What’s happiness? I suppose they were as happy as anybody ever averages. Frankly, I didn’t mind the assignment. Lots of fishing, lots of hunting.”

Ronny said, “Well, where does Tommy Paine come in?”

“He snuck up on us. Started way back in the boondocks away from any of the larger primitive settlements. Went around putting himself over as a holy man. Cured people of various things from gangrene to eye diseases. Given antibiotics and such, you can imagine how successful he was.”

“Well, what harm did he do?”

“I didn’t say he did any harm. But in that manner he made himself awfully popular. Then he’d pull some trick like showing them how to smelt iron, and distribute some corn and wheat seed around and plant the idea of agriculture. The local witch doctors would try to give him a hard time, but the people figured he was a holy man.”

“Well, what happened finally?” Ronny wasn’t following too well.

“Communications being what they were, before he’d been discovered by the central organization⁠—they had a kind of Council of Tribes which met once a year⁠—he’d planted so many ideas that they couldn’t be stopped. The young people’d never go back to flint knives, once introduced to iron. We went looking for friend Tommy Paine, but he got wind of it and took off. We even found where he’d hidden his little space cruiser. Oh, it was Paine, all right, all right.”

“But what harm did he do? I don’t understand,” Ronny scowled.

“He threw the whole shebang on its ear. Last I heard, the planet had broken up into three main camps. They were whaling away at each other like the Assyrians and Egyptians. Iron weapons, chariots, domesticated horses. Agriculture was sweeping the planet. Population was exploding. Men were making slaves out of each other, to put them to work. Oh, it was a mess from the viewpoint of the original nature boys.”

A red light flickered on his desk and Sid Jakes opened a delivery drawer and dipped his hand into it. It emerged with a flat wallet. He tossed it to Ronny Bronston.

“Here you are. Your badge.”

Ronny opened the wallet and examined it. He’d never seen one before, but for that matter he’d never heard of Section G before that morning. It was a simple enough bronze badge. It said on it, merely, Ronald Bronston, Section G, Bureau of Investigation, United Planets.

Sid Jakes explained. “You’ll get cooperation with that through the Justice Department anywhere you go. We’ll brief you further on procedure during indoctrination. You in turn, of course, are to cooperate with any other agent of Section G. You’re under orders of anyone with”⁠—his hand snaked into a pocket and emerged with a wallet similar to Ronny’s⁠—“a silver badge, carried by a First Grade Agent, or a gold one of Supervisor rank.”

Ronny noted that his badge wasn’t really bronze. It had a certain sheen, a brightness.

Jakes said, “Here, look at this.” He tossed his own badge to the new man. Ronny looked down at it in surprise. The gold had gone dull.

Jakes laughed. “Now give me yours.”

Ronny got up and walked over to him and handed it over. As soon as the other man’s hand touched it, the bronze lost its sheen.

Jakes handed it back. “See, it’s tuned to you alone,” he said. “And mine is tuned to my code. Nobody can swipe a Section G badge and impersonate an agent. If anybody ever shows you a badge that doesn’t have its sheen, you know he’s a fake. Neat trick, eh?”

“Very neat,” Ronny admitted. He returned the other’s gold badge. “Look, to get back to this Tommy Paine.”

But the red light flickered again and Jakes brought forth from the delivery drawer a handgun complete with shoulder harness. “Nasty weapon,” he said. “But we’d better go on down to the armory and show you its workings.”

He stood up. “Oh, yes, don’t let me forget to give you a communicator. A real gizmo. About as big as a woman’s vanity case. Puts you in immediate contact with the nearest Section G office, no matter how near or far away it is. Or, if you wish, in contact with our offices here in the Octagon. Very neat trick.”

He led Ronny from his office and down the corridors beyond to an elevator. He said happily, “This is a crazy outfit, this Section G. You’ll probably love it. Everybody does.”

Ronny learned to love Section G⁠—in moderation.

He was initially taken aback by the existence of the organization at all. He’d known, of course, of the Department of Justice and even of the Bureau of Investigation, but Section G was hush-hush and not even United Planets publications ever mentioned it.

The problems involved in remaining hush-hush weren’t as great as all that. The very magnitude of the U.P. which involved more than two thousand member planets, allowed of departments and bureaus hidden away in the endless stretches of red tape.

In fact, although Ronny Bronston had spent the better part of his life, thus far, in studying for a place in the organization, and then working in the Population Statistics Department for some years, he was only now beginning to get the overall picture of the workings of the mushrooming, chaotic United Planets organization.

It was Earth’s largest industry by far. In fact, for all practical purposes it was her only major industry. Tourism, yes, but even that, in a way, was related to the United Planets organization. Millions of visitors whose ancestors had once emigrated from the mother planet, streamed back in racial nostalgia. Streamed back to see the continents and oceans, the Arctic and the Antarctic, the Amazon River and Mount Everest, the Sahara and New York City, the ruins of Rome and Athens, the Vatican, the Louvre and the Hermitage.

But the populace of Earth, in its hundreds of millions were largely citizens of United Planets and worked in the organization and with its auxiliaries such as the Space Forces.

Section G? To his surprise, Ronny found that Ross Metaxa’s small section of the Bureau of Investigation seemed almost as great a secret within the Bureau as it was to the man in the street. At one period, Ronny wondered if it were possible that this was a department which had been lost in the wilderness of boondoggling that goes on in any great bureaucracy. Had Section G been set up a century or so ago and then forgotten by those who had originally thought there was a need for it? In the same way that it is usually more difficult to get a statute off the lawbooks than it was originally to pass it, in the same manner eliminating an office, with its employees can prove more difficult than originally establishing it.

But that wasn’t it. In spite of the informality, the unconventional brashness of its personnel on all levels, and the seeming chaos in which its tasks were done, Section G was no make-work project set up to provide juicy jobs for the relatives of high ranking officials. To the contrary, it didn’t take long in the Section before anybody with open eyes could see that Ross Metaxa was privy to the decisions made by the upper echelons of U.P.

Ronny Bronston came to the conclusion that the appointment he’d received was putting him in a higher bracket of the U.P. hierarchy than he’d at first imagined.

His indoctrination course was a strain such as he’d never known in school years. Ross Metaxa was evidently of the opinion that a man could assimilate concentrated information at a rate several times faster than any professional educator ever dreamed possible. No threats were made, but Ronny realized that he could be dropped even more quickly than he’d seemed to have been taken on. There were no classes, to either push or retard the rate of study. He worked with a series of tutors, and pushed himself. The tutors were almost invariably Section G agents, temporarily in Greater Washington between assignments, or for briefing on this phase or that of their work.

Even as he studied, Ronny Bronston kept the eventual assignment, at which he was to prove himself, in mind. He made a point of inquiring of each agent he met, about Tommy Paine.

The name was known to all, but no two reacted in the same manner. Several of them even brushed the whole matter aside as pure legend. Nobody could accomplish all the trouble that Tommy Paine had supposedly stirred up.

To one of these, Ronny said plaintively, “See here, the Old Man believes in him, Sid Jakes believes in him. My final appointment depends on arresting him. How can I ever secure this job, if I’m chasing a myth?”

The other shrugged. “Don’t ask me. I’ve got my own problems. OK, now, let’s run over this question of Napoleonic law. There are at least two hundred planets that base their legal system on it.”

But the majority of his fellow employees in Section G had strong enough opinions on the interplanetary firebrand. Three or four even claimed to have seen him fleetingly, although no two descriptions jibed. That, of course, could be explained. The man could resort to plastic surgery and other disguise.

Theories there were in plenty, some of them going back long years, and some of them pure fable.

“Look,” Ronny said in disgust one day after a particularly unbelievable siege with two agents recently returned from a trouble spot in a planetary system that involved three aggressive worlds which revolved about the same sun. “Look, it’s impossible for one man to accomplish all this. He’s blamed for half the coups d’état, revolts and upheavals that have taken place for the past quarter century. It’s obvious nonsense. Why, a revolutionist usually spends the greater part of his life toppling a government. Then, once it’s toppled, he spends the rest of his life trying to set up a new government⁠—and he’s usually unsuccessful.”

One of the others was shaking his head negatively. “You don’t understand this Tommy Paine’s system, Bronston.”

“You sure don’t,” the other agent, a Nigerian, grinned widely. “I’ve been on planets where he’d operated.”

Ronny leaned forward. The three of them were having a beer in a part of the city once called Baltimore. “You have?” he said. “Tell me about it, eh? The more background I get on this guy, the better.”

“Sure. And this’ll give you an idea of how he operates, how he can get so much trouble done. Well, I was on this planet Goshen, understand? It had kind of a strange history. A bunch of colonists went out there, oh, four or five centuries ago. Pretty healthy expedition, as such outfits go. Bright young people, lots of equipment, lots of know-how and books. Well, through sheer bad luck everything went wrong from the beginning. Everything. Before they got set up at all they had an explosion that killed off all their communications technicians. They lost contact with the outside. OK. Within a couple of centuries they’d gotten into a state of chattel slavery. Pretty well organized, but static. Kind of an Athenian Democracy on top, a hierarchy, but nineteen people out of twenty were slaves, and I mean real slaves, like animals. They were at this stage when a scout ship from the U.P. Space Forces discovered them and, of course, they joined up.”

“Where does Tommy Paine come in?” Ronny said. He signaled to a waiter for more beer.

“He comes in a few years later. I was the Section G agent on Goshen, understand? No planet was keener about Articles One and Two of the U.P. Charter. The hierarchy understood well enough that if their people ever came to know about more advanced socioeconomic systems it’d be the end of Goshen’s Golden Age. So they allowed practically no intercourse. No contact whatsoever between U.P. personnel and anyone outside the upper class, understand? All right. That’s where Tommy Paine came in. It couldn’t have taken him more than a couple of months at most.”

Ronny Bronston was fascinated. “What’d he do?”

“He introduced the steam engine, and then left.”

Ronny was looking at him blankly. “Steam engine?”

“That and the fly shuttle and the spinning jenny,” the Nigerian said. “That Goshen hierarchy never knew what hit them.”

Ronny was still blank. The waiter came up with the steins of beer, and Ronny took one and drained half of it without taking his eyes from the storyteller.

The other agent took it up. “Don’t you see? Their system was based on chattel slavery, hand labor. Given machinery and it collapses. Chattel slavery isn’t practical in a mechanized society. Too expensive a labor force, for one thing. Besides, you need an educated man and one with some initiative⁠—qualities that few slaves possess⁠—to run an industrial society.”

Ronny finished his beer. “Smart cooky, isn’t he?”

“He’s smart all right. But I’ve got a still better example of his fouling up a whole planetary socioeconomic system in a matter of weeks. A friend of mine was working on a planet with a highly-developed feudalism. Barons, lords, dukes, counts and no-accounts, all stashed safely away in castles and fortresses up on the top of hills. The serfs down below did all the work in the fields, provided servants, artisans and foot soldiers for the continual fighting that the aristocracy carried on. Very similar to Europe back in the Dark Ages.”

“So?” Ronny said. “I’d think that’d be a deal that would take centuries to change.”

The Section G agent laughed. “Tommy Paine stayed just long enough to introduce gunpowder. That was the end of those impregnable castles up on the hills.”

“What gets me,” Ronny said slowly, “is his motivation.”

The other two both grunted agreement to that.

Toward the end of his indoctrination studies, Ronny appeared one morning at the Octagon Section G offices and before Irene Kasansky. Watching her fingers fly, listening to her voice rapping and snapping, OK-ing and rejecting, he came to the conclusion that automation could go just so far in office work and then you were thrown back on the hands of the efficient secretary. Irene was a one-woman office staff.

She looked up at him. “Hello, Ronny. Thought you’d be off on your assignment by now. Got any clues on Tommy Paine?”

“No,” he said. “That’s why I’m here. I wanted to see the commissioner.”

“About what?” She flicked a switch. When a light flickered on one of her order boxes, she said into it, “No,” emphatically, and turned back to him.

“He said he wanted to see me again before I took off.”

She fiddled some more, finally said, “All right, Ronny. Tell him he’s got time for five minutes with you.”

“Five minutes!”

“Then he’s got an appointment with the Commissioner of Interplanetary Culture,” she said. “You’d better hurry along.”

Ronny Bronston retraced the route of his first visit here. How long ago? It already seemed ages since his probationary appointment. Your life changed fast when you were in Section G.

Ross Metaxa’s brown bottle, or its twin, was sitting on his desk and he was staring at it glumly. He looked up and scowled.

“Ronald Bronston,” Ronny said. “Irene Kasansky told me to say I could have five minutes with you, then you have an appointment with the Commissioner of Interplanetary Culture.”

“I remember you,” Metaxa said. “Have a drink. Interplanetary Culture, ha! The Xanadu Folk Dance Troupe. They dance nude. They’ve been touring the whole U.P. Roaring success everywhere, obviously. Now they’re assigned to Virtue, a planet settled by a bunch of Fundamentalists. They want the troupe to wear Mother Hubbards. The Xanadu outfit is in a tizzy. They’ve been insulted. They claim they’re the most modest members of U.P., that nudity has nothing to do with modesty. The government of Virtue said that’s fine but they wear Mother Hubbards or they don’t dance. Xanadu says it’ll withdraw from United Planets.”

Ronny Bronston said painfully, “Why not let them?”

Ross Metaxa poured himself a Denebian tequila, offered his subordinate a drink again with a motion of the bottle. Ronny shook his head.

Metaxa said, “If we didn’t take steps to soothe these things over, there wouldn’t be any United Planets. In any given century every member in the organization threatens to resign at least once. Even Earth. And then what’d happen? You’d have interplanetary war before you knew it. What’d you want, Ronny?”

“I’m about set to take up my search for this Tommy Paine.”

“Ah, yes, Tommy Paine. If you catch him, there are a dozen planets where he’d be eligible for the death sentence.”

Ronny cleared his throat. “There must be. What I wanted was the file on him, sir.”


“Yes, sir. I’ve got to the point where I want to cram up on everything we have on him. So far, all I’ve got is verbal information from individual agents and from Supervisor Jakes.”

“Don’t be silly, Ronny. There isn’t any file on Tommy Paine.”

Ronny just looked at the other.

Ross Metaxa said impatiently, “The very knowledge of the existence of the man is top secret. Isn’t that obvious? Suppose some reporter got the story and printed it. If our member planets knew there was such a man and that we haven’t been able to scotch him, why they’d drop out of U.P. so fast the computers couldn’t keep up with it. There’s not one planet in ten that feels secure enough to lay itself open to subversion. Why some of our planets are so far down the ladder of social evolution they live under primitive tribal society; their leaders, their wise men and witch-doctors, whatever you call them, are scared someone will come along and establish chattel slavery. Those planets that have a system based on slavery are scared to death of developing feudalism, and those that have feudalism are afraid of creeping capitalism. Those with an anarchistic basis⁠—and we have several⁠—are afraid of being subverted to statism, and those who have a highly developed government are afraid of anarchism. The socioeconomic systems based on private ownership of property hate the very idea of socialism or communism, and vice versa, and those planets with state capitalism hate them both.”

He glared at Ronny. “What do you think the purpose of this Section is, Bronston? Our job is to keep our member planets from being afraid of each other. If they found that Tommy Paine and his group, if he’s got a group, were buzzing through the system subverting everything they can foul up, they’d drop out of U.P. and set up quarantines that a space mite couldn’t get through. No sir, there is no file on Tommy Paine and there never will be. And if any news of him spreads to the outside, this Section will emphatically deny he exists. I hope that’s clear.”

“Well, yes sir,” Ronny said. The commissioner had been all but roaring toward the end.

The order box clicked on Ross Metaxa’s desk and he said loudly, “What?”

“Don’t yell at me,” Irene snapped back. “Ronny’s five minutes are up. You’ve got an appointment. I’m getting tired of this job. It’s a madhouse. I’m going to quit and get a job with Interplanetary Finance.”

“Oh, yeah.” Ross snarled back. “That’s what you think. I’ve taken measures. Top security. I’ve warned off every Commissioner in U.P. You can’t get away from me until you reach retirement age. Although I don’t know why I care. I hate nasty tempered women.”

“Huh!” she snorted and clicked off.

“There’s a woman for you,” Ross Metaxa growled at Ronny. “It’s too bad she’s indispensable. I’d love to fire her. Look, you go in and see Sid Jakes. Seems to me he said something about Tommy Paine this morning. Maybe it’s a lead.” He came to his feet. “So long and good luck, Ronny. I feel optimistic about you. I think you’ll get this Paine troublemaker.”

Which was more than Ronny Bronston thought.

Sid Jakes already had a visitor in his office, which didn’t prevent him from yelling, “It’s open,” when Ronny Bronston knocked.

He bounced from his chair, came around the desk and shook hands enthusiastically. “Ronny!” he said, his tone implying they were favorite brothers for long years parted. “You’re just in time.”

Ronny took in the office’s other occupant appreciatively. She was a small girl, almost tiny. He estimated her to be at least half Chinese, or maybe Indo-Chinese, the rest probably European or North American.

She evidently favored her Asiatic blood, her dress was traditional Chinese, slit almost to the thigh Shanghai style.

Sid Jakes said, “Tog Lee Chang Chu⁠—Ronny Bronston. You’ll be working together. Bloodhounding old Tommy Paine. A neat trick if you can pull it off. Well, are you all set to go?”

Ronny mumbled something to the girl in the way of amenity, then looked back at the supervisor. “Working together?” he said.

“That’s right. Lucky you, eh?”

Tog Lee Chang Chu said demurely, “Possibly Mr. Bronston objects to having a female assistant.”

Sid Jakes snorted, and hurried around his desk to resume his seat. “Does he look crazy? Who’d object to having a cutey like you around day in and day out? Call him Ronny. Might as well get used to it. Two of you’ll be closer than man and wife.”

“Assistant?” Ronny said, bewildered. “What do I need an assistant for?” He turned his eyes to the girl. “No reflection on you, Miss⁠ ⁠… ah, Tog.”

Sid Jakes laughed easily. “Section G operatives always work in pairs, Ronny. Especially new agents. The advantages will come home to you as you go along. Look on Tog Lee Chang Chu as a secretary, a man Friday. This isn’t her first assignment, of course. You’ll find her invaluable.”

The supervisor plucked a card from an order box. “Now here’s the dope. Can you leave within four hours? There’s a U.P. Space Forces cruiser going to Merlini, they can drop you off at New Delos. Fastest way you could possibly get there. The cruiser takes off from Neuve Albuquerque in, let’s see, three hours and forty-five minutes.”

“New Delos?” Ronny said, taking his eyes from the girl and trying to catch up with the grasshopper-like conversation of his superior.

“New Delos it is,” Jakes said happily. “With luck, you might catch him before he can get off the planet.” He chuckled at the other’s expression. “Look alive, Ronny! The quarry is flushed and on the run. Tommy Paine’s just assassinated the Immortal God-King of New Delos. A neat trick, eh?”

The following hours were chaotic. There was no indication of how long a period he’d be gone. For all he knew, it might be years. For that matter, he might never return to Earth. This Ronny Bronston had realized before he ever applied for an interplanetary appointment. Mankind was exploding through this spiral arm of the galaxy. There was a racial enthusiasm about it all. Man’s destiny lay out in the stars, only a laggard stayed home of his own accord. It was the ambition of every youth to join the snowballing avalanche of man into the neighboring stars.

It took absolute severity by Earth authorities to prevent the depopulation of the planet. But someone had to stay to administer the ever more complicated racial destiny. Earth became a clearing house for a thousand cultures, attempting, with only moderate success, to coordinate her widely spreading children. She couldn’t afford to let her best seed depart. Few there were, any more, allowed to emigrate from Earth. New colonies drew their immigrants from older ones.

Lucky was the Earthling able to find service in interplanetary affairs, in any of the thousands of tasks that involved journey between member planets of U.P. Possibly one hundredth of the population at one time or another, and for varying lengths of time, managed it.

Ronny Bronston was lucky and knew it. The thing now was to pull off this assignment and cinch the appointment for good.

He packed in a swirl of confusion. He phoned a relative who lived in the part of town once known as Richmond, explained the situation and asked that the other store his things and dispose of the apartment he’d been occupying.

Luckily, the roof of his apartment building was a copter-cab pickup point and he was able to hustle over to the shuttleport in a matter of a few minutes.

He banged into the reservations office, hurried up to one of the windows and said into the screen, “I’ve got to get to Neuve Albuquerque immediately.”

The expressionless voice said, “The next rocket leaves at sixteen hours.”

“Sixteen hours! I’ve got to be at the spaceport by that time!”

The voice said dispassionately, “We are sorry.”

The bottom fell out of everything. Ronny said, desperately, “Look, if I miss my ship in Neuve Albuquerque, what is the next spaceliner leaving from there for New Delos?”

“A moment, citizen.” There was an agonized wait, and then the voice said, “There is a liner leaving for New Delos on the 14th of next month. It arrives in New Delos on the 31st, Basic Earth calendar.”

The 31st! Tommy Paine could be halfway across the galaxy by that time.

A gentle voice next to him said, “Could I help, Ronny?”

He looked around at her. “Evidently, nobody can,” he said disgustedly. “There’s no way of getting to Neuve Albuquerque in time to get that cruiser to New Delos.”

Tog Lee Chang Chu fished in her bag and came up with a wallet similar to the one in which Ronny carried his Section G badge. She held it up to the screen. “Bureau of Investigation, Section G,” she said calmly. “It will be necessary that Agent Bronston and myself be in Neuve Albuquerque within the hour.”

The metallic voice said, “Of course. Proceed to your right and through Corridor K to Exit Four. Your rocket will be there. Identify yourself to Lieutenant Economou who will be at the desk at Exit Four.”

Tog turned to Ronny Bronston. “Shall we go?” she said demurely.

He cleared his throat, feeling foolish. “Thanks, Tog,” he said.

“Not at all, Ronny. Why, this is my job.”

Was there the faintest of sarcasm in her voice? It hadn’t been more than a couple of hours ago that he had been hinting rather heavily to Sid Jakes that he needed no assistance.

She even knew the layout of the West Greater Washington shuttleport. Her small body swiveled through the hurrying passengers, her small feet a-twinkle, as she led him to and down Corridor K and then to the desk at Exit Four.

Ronny anticipated her here. He flashed his own badge at the chair-borne Space Forces lieutenant there.

“Lieutenant Economou?” he said. “Ronald Bronston, of the Bureau of Investigation, Section G. We’ve got to get to Neuve Albuquerque soonest.”

The lieutenant, only mildly impressed, said, “We can have you in the air in ten minutes, citizen. Just a moment and I’ll guide you myself.”

In the rocket, Ronny had time to appraise her at greater length. She was a delicately pretty thing, although her expression was inclined to the over-serious. There was only a touch of the Mongolian fold at the corner of her eyes. On her it looked unusually good. Her complexion was that which only the blend of Chinese and Caucasian can give. Her figure, thanks to her European blood, was fuller than Eastern Asia usually boasts; tiny, but full.

Let’s admit it, he decided. My assistant is the cutest trick this side of a Tri-Di movie queen, and we’re going to be thrown in the closest of juxtaposition for an indefinite time. This comes under the head of work?

He said, “Look here, Tog, you were with Sid Jakes longer than I was. What’s the full story?”

She folded her slim hands in her lap, looking like a schoolgirl about to recite. “Do you know anything about the socioeconomic system on New Delos?”

“Well, no,” he admitted.

She said severely, “I’d think that they would have given you more background before an assignment of this type.”

Ronny said impatiently, “In the past three months I’ve been filled in on the economic systems, the religious beliefs, the political forms, of a thousand planets. I just happened to miss New Delos.”

Her mouth expressed disapproval by rucking down on the sides, which was all very attractive but also irritating. She said, “There are two thousand, four hundred and thirty-six member planets in the U.P., I’d think an agent of Section G would be up on the basic situation on each.”

He had her there. He said snidely, “Hate to contradict you, Tog, but the number is two thousand, four hundred and thirty-four.”

“Then,” she nodded agreeably, “membership has changed since this morning when Menalaus and Aldebaran Three were admitted. Have two planets dropped out?”

“Look,” he said, “let’s stop bickering. What’s the word on New Delos?”

“Did you ever read Frazer’s Golden Bough?” she said.


“You should. At any rate, New Delos is a theocracy. A priesthood elite rules it. A God-King, who is immortal, holds absolute authority. The strongest of superstition plus an efficient inquisition, keeps the people under control.”

“Sounds terrible,” Ronny growled.

“Why? Possibly the government is extremely efficient and under it the planet progressing at a rate in advance of U.P. averages.”

He stared at her in surprise.

She said, “Would you rather be ruled by the personal, arbitrary whims of supremely wise men, or by laws formulated by a mob?”

It stopped him momentarily. In all his adult years, he couldn’t remember ever meeting an intelligent, educated person who had been opposed to the democratic theory.

“Wait a minute, now,” he said. “Who decides that they’re supremely wise men who are doing this arbitrary ruling? Let any group come to power, by whatever means, and they’ll soon tell you they’re an elite. But let’s get back to New Delos, from what you’ve said so far, the people are held in a condition of slavery.”

“What’s wrong with slavery?” Tog said mildly.

He all but glared at her. “Are you kidding?”

“I seldom jest,” Tog said primly. “Under the proper conditions, slavery can be the most suitable system for a people.”

“Under what conditions!”

“Have you forgotten your Earth history to the point where Egypt, Greece and Rome mean nothing to you? Man made some of his outstanding progress under slavery. And do you contend that man’s lot is necessarily miserable given slavery? As far back as Aesop we know of slaves who have reached the heights in their society. Slaves sometimes could and did become the virtual rulers in ancient countries.” She shrugged prettily. “The prejudices which you hold today, on Earth, do not necessarily apply to all time, nor to all places.”

He said, impatiently, “Look, Tog, we can go into this further, later. Let’s get back to New Delos. What happened?”

Tog said, “The very foundation of their theocracy is the belief on the part of the populace that the God-King is immortal. No man conspires against his Deity. Supervisor Jakes informed me that it is understood by U.P. Intelligence, that about once every twenty years the priesthood secretly puts in a new God-King. Plastic surgery would guarantee facial resemblance, and, of course, the rank and file citizen would probably never be allowed close enough to discover that their God-King seemed different every couple of decades. At any rate, it’s been working for some time.”

“And there’s been no revolt against this religious aristocracy?”

She shook her head. “Evidently not. It takes a brave man to revolt against both his king and his God at the same time.”

“But what happened now?” Ronny pursued.

“Evidently, right in the midst of a particularly important religious ceremony, with practically the whole planet watching on TV, the God-King was killed with a bomb. No doubt about it, definitely killed. There are going to be a lot of people on New Delos wondering how it can be that an immortal God-King can die.”

“And Sid thinks it’s Tommy Paine’s work?”

She shifted dainty shoulders in a shrug. “It’s the sort of thing he does. I suppose we’ll learn when we get there.”

Even on the fast Space Forces cruiser, the trip was going to take a week, and there was precious little Ronny Bronston could do until arrival. He spent most of his time reading up on New Delos and the several other planets in the U.P. organization which had fairly similar regimes. More than a few theocracies had come and gone during the history of man’s development into the stars.

He also spent considerable time playing Battle Chess or talking with Tog and with the ship’s officers.

These latter were a dedicated group, high in morale, enthusiastic about their work which evidently involved the combined duties of a Navy, a Coast Guard, and a Coast and Geodetic Survey system, if we use the oceangoing services of an earlier age for analogy.

They all had the dream. The enthusiasm of men participating in a race’s expansion to glory. There was the feeling, even stronger here in space than back on Earth, of man’s destiny being fulfilled, that humanity had finally emerged from its infancy, that the fledgling had finally found its wings and got off the ground.

After one of his studying binges, Ronny Bronston had spent an hour or so once with the captain of the craft, while that officer stood an easy watch on the ship’s bridge. There was little enough to do in space, practically nothing, but there was always an officer on watch.

They leaned back in the acceleration chairs before the ship’s controls and Ronny listened to the other’s space lore. Stories of far planets, as yet untouched. Stories of planets that had seemingly been suitable for colonization, but had proved disastrous for man, for this reason or that.

Ronny said, “And never in all this time have we run into a life form that has proved intelligent?”

Captain Woiski said, “No. Not that I know of. There was an animal on Shangri-La of about the mental level of the chimpanzee. So far as I know, that’s the nearest to it.”

“Shangri-La?” Ronny said. “That’s a new one.”

There was an affectionate gleam in the captain’s eye. “Yes,” he said. “If and when I retire, I think that’d be the planet of my choice, if I could get permission to leave Earth, of course.”

Ronny scowled in attempted memory. “Now that you mention it, I think I did see it listed the other day among planets with a theocratic government.”

The captain grunted protest. “If you’re comparing it to this New Delos you’re going to, you’re wrong. There can be theocracy and theocracy, I suppose. Actually, I imagine Shangri-La has the most, well gentle government in the system.”

Ronny was interested. His recent studies hadn’t led him to much respect for a priesthood in political power. “What’s the particular feature that’s seemed to have gained your regard?”

“Moderation,” Woiski chuckled. “They carry it almost to the point of immoderation. But not quite. Briefly, it works something like this. They have a limited number of monks⁠—I suppose you’d call them⁠—who spend their time at whatever moves them. At the arts, at scientific research, at religious contemplation⁠—any religion will do⁠—as students of anything and everything, and at the governing of Shangri-La. They make a point of enjoying the luxuries in moderation and aren’t a severe drain on the rank and file citizens of the planet.”

Ronny said, “I have a growing distrust of hierarchies. Who decides who is to become a monk and who remain a member of the rank and file?”

The captain said, “A series of the best tests they can devise to determine a person’s intelligence and aptitudes. From earliest youth, the whole populace is checked and rechecked. At the age of thirty, when it is considered that a person has become adult and has finished his basic education, a limited number are offered monkhood. Not all want it.”

Ronny thought about it. “Why not? What are the shortcomings?”

The captain shrugged. “Responsibility, I suppose.”

“The monks aren’t allowed sex, booze, that sort of thing, I imagine.”

“Good heavens, why not? In moderation, of course.”

“And they live on a higher scale?”

“No, no, not at all. Don’t misunderstand. The planet is a prosperous one. Exceedingly prosperous. There is everything needed for comfortable existence for everyone. Shangri-La is one planet where the pursuit of happiness is pursuable by all.” Captain Woiski chuckled again.

Ronny said, “It sounds good enough, although I’m leery of benevolent dictatorships. The trouble with them is that it’s up to the dictators to decide what’s benevolent. And almost always, nepotism rears its head, favoritism of one sort or another. How long will it be before one of your moderate monks decides he’ll moderately tinker with the tests, or whatever, just to be sure his favorite nephew makes the grade? A high I.Q. is no guarantee of integrity.”

The captain didn’t disagree. “That’s always possible, I suppose. One guard against it, in this case, is the matter of motive. The privilege of being a monk isn’t as great as all that. Materially, you aren’t particularly better off than anyone else. You have more leisure, that’s true, but actually most of them are so caught up in their studies or research that they put in more hours of endeavor than does the farmer or industrial worker on Shangri-La.”

“Well,” Ronny said, “let’s just hope that Tommy Paine never hears of this place.”

“Who?” the captain said.

Ronny Bronston reversed his engines. “Oh, nobody important. A guy I know of.”

Captain Woiski scowled. “Seems to me I’ve heard the name.”

At first Ronny leaned forward with quick interest. Perhaps the cruiser’s skipper had a lead. But, no, he sank back into his chair. That name was strictly a Section G pseudonym. No one used it outside the department, and he’d already said too much by using the term at all.

Ronny said idly, “Probably two different people. I think I’ll go on back and see how Tog is doing.”

Tog was at her communicator when he entered the tiny ship’s lounge. Ronny could see in the brilliant little screen of the compact device, the grinning face of Sid Jakes. Tog looked up at Ronny and smiled, then clicked the device off.

“What’s new?” Ronny said.

She moved graceful shoulders. “I just called Supervisor Jakes. Evidently there’s complete confusion on New Delos. Mobs are storming the temples. In the capital the priests tried to present a new God-King and he was laughed out of town.”

Ronny snorted cynically. “Sounds good to me. The more I read about New Delos and its God-King and his priesthood, the more I think the best thing that ever happened to the planet was this showing them up.”

Tog looked at him, the sides of her mouth tucking down as usual when she was going to contradict something he said. “It sounds bad to me,” she said. “Tommy Paine’s work is done. He’ll be off to some other place and we won’t get there in time to snare him.”

Ronny considered that. It was probably true. “I wonder,” he said slowly, “if it’s possible for us to get a list of all ships that have blasted off since the assassination, all ships and their destination from New Delos.”

The idea grew in him. “Look! It’s possible that a dictatorial government such as theirs would immediately quarantine every spaceport on the planet.”

Tog said, “There’s only one spaceport on New Delos. The priesthood didn’t encourage trade or even communication with the outside. Didn’t want its people contaminated.”

“Holy smokes!” Ronny blurted. “It’s possible that Tommy Paine’s on that planet and can’t get off. Look, Tog, see if you can raise the Section G representative on New Delos and⁠—”

Tog said demurely, “I already have taken that step, Ronny, knowing that you’d want me to. Agent Mouley Hassan has promised to get the name and destination of every passenger that leaves New Delos.”

Ronny sat down at a table and dialed himself a mug of stout. “Drink?” he said to Tog. “Possibly we’ve got something to celebrate.”

She shook her head disapprovingly. “I don’t use depressants.”

There was nothing more to be discussed about New Delos, they simply would have to wait until their arrival. Ronny switched subjects. “Ever hear of the planet Shangri-La?” he asked her. He took a sip of his brew.

“Of course,” she said. “A rather small planet, Earth type within four degrees. Noted for its near perfect climate and its scenic beauty.”

“Captain was talking about it,” Ronny said. “Sounds like a regular paradise.”

Tog made a negative sound.

“Well, what’s wrong with Shangri-La?” Ronny said impatiently.

“Static,” she said briefly.

He looked at her. “It sounds to me as though it’s developed a near perfect socioeconomic system. What do you mean, static?”

“No push, no drive,” Tog said definitely. “Everyone⁠—what is the old term?⁠—everyone has it made. The place is stagnating. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Tommy Paine show up there sooner or later.”

Ronny said, “Look, since we’ve known each other, have I ever said anything you agree with?”

Tog raised her delicate eyebrows. “Why, Ronny. You know perfectly well we both agreed that the eggs for breakfast were quite inedible.”

Ronny came to his feet again. Considering her size, she certainly was an irritating baggage. “I think I’ll go to my room and see if I can get any inspirations on tracking down our quarry.”

“Good night, Ronny,” she said demurely.

They ran into a minor difficulty upon arrival at New Delos. The captain called both Ronny Bronston and Tog Lee Chang Chu to the bridge.

He nodded in the direction of the communications screen. A bald headed, robed character⁠—obviously a priest⁠—scowled at them.

Captain Woiski said, “The Sub-Bishop informs me that the provisional government has ruled that any spacecraft landing on New Delos cannot take off again without permission and that every individual who lands, even United Planets personnel, will need an exit visa before being allowed to depart.”

Ronny said, “Then you can’t land?”

The captain said reasonably, “My destination is Merlini. I’ve gone out of my way slightly to drop you off here. But I can’t afford to take the chance of having my ship tied up for what might be an indefinite period. Evidently, there’s considerably civil disorder down there.”

From the screen the priest snapped, “That is an inaccurate manner of describing the situation.”

“Sorry,” the captain said dryly.

Ronny Bronston said desperately, “But, captain, Miss Tog and I simply have to land.” He reached for his badge. “High priority, Bureau of Investigation.”

The captain shrugged his hefty shoulders. “Sorry, I have no instructions that allow me to risk tying up my ship. Here’s a possibility. Can you pilot a landing craft? I could spare you one, then you and your assistant would be the only ones involved. You could turn it over to whatever Space Forces base we have here.”

Ronny said miserably, “No. I’m not a space pilot.”

“I am,” Tog said softly. “The idea sounds excellent.”

“We shall expect you,” the Sub-Bishop said. The screen went blank.

Tog Lee Chang Chu piloted a landing craft with the same verve that she seemed to be able to handle any other responsibility. As he sat in the seat next to her, Ronny Bronston took in her practiced flicking of the controls from the side of his eyes. He wondered vaguely at the efficiency of such Section G officials as Metaxa and Jakes that they would assign an unknown quality such as himself to a task as important as running down Tommy Paine, and then as an assistant provide him with an experienced operative such as Tog. The bureaucratic mind can be a dilly, he decided. Was the fact that she was a rather delicately constructed girl a factor? He felt the weight of the Model-H gun nestled under his left armpit. Perhaps in the clutch Section G preferred men as agents.

They swooped into a landing that brought them as close to the control tower as was practical. In a matter of moments there was a guard of twenty or more sloppily uniformed men about their small craft.

Tog made a move. “Welcoming committee,” she said.

They climbed out the circular port, and flashed their United Planets Bureau of Investigation badges to the youngish looking soldier who seemed in command. He was indecisive.

“United Planets?” he said. “All I know is I’m supposed to arrest anybody landing.”

Ronny snapped, “We’re to be taken immediately to United Planets headquarters.”

“Well, I don’t know about that. I don’t take orders from foreigners.”

One of his men was nervously fingering the trigger of his submachine gun.

Ronny’s mouth went dry. He had the feeling of being high, high on a rock face, inadequately belayed from above.

Tog said smoothly, “But, major, I’m sure whoever issued your orders had no expectation of a special delegation from the United Planets coming to congratulate your new authorities on their success. Of course, it’s unknown to arrest a delegation from United Planets.”

“It is?” he frowned at her. “I mean, you are?”

“Yes,” Tog said sweetly.

Ronny took the hint. “Where can we find a vehicle, major, to get us to the capital and to United Planets headquarters? Evidently we arrived before we were expected. There should have been a big welcoming committee here.”

“Oh,” the obviously recently promoted lad said hesitantly. “Well, I suppose we can make arrangements. This way please.” He grinned at Tog as they walked toward the administration building. “Do all girls dress like you on Earth?”

“Well, no,” she said demurely.

“That’s too bad,” he said gallantly.

“Why, major!” Tog said, keeping her eyes on the tarmac.

At the administration building there was little of order, but eventually they managed to arrange for their transportation. Luckily, they were supplied with a chauffeur driven helio-car.

Luckily, because without the chauffeur to help them run the gauntlet they would have been held up by parades, demonstrations and monstrous street meetings a dozen times before they ever reached their destination. Twice, Ronny stopped short of drawing his gun only by a fraction when half drunken demonstrators stopped them.

The driver, a wispy, sad looking type, shook his head. “There’s no going back now,” he told them over his shoulder. “No going back. Last week I was all with the rest, I never did believe David the One was really Immortal. But you was just used to the idea, see? It’d always been that way, with the priests running everything and we was used to it. Now I wish we was still that way. At least you knew how you stood, see? Now, what’s going to happen?”

“That’s an interesting question,” Tog said politely.

Ronny said, “Possibly you’ll have the chance to build a better world, now.”

The driver shot a contemptuous look over his shoulder. “Better world? What do I want with a better world? I just don’t want to be bothered. I’ve been getting my three squares a day, got a nice little flat for my family. How do I know it’s not going to be a worse world?”

“That’s always a possibility,” Tog told him. “Do most people seem to feel the same?”

“Practically everybody I know does,” he said glumly. “But the fat’s in the fire now. The priests are trying to hold on but their government is falling apart all over the place.”

“Well,” Ronny said, “at least you can figure just about anything in the way of a new government will be better than one based on superstition and inquisition. It couldn’t get worse.”

“Things can always get worse,” the other contradicted him sadly.

They left the cab before an impressively tall, many windowed building in city center. As they mounted the steps, Ronny frowned at her. “You seemed to be encouraging that man in his pessimism. So far as I can see, the best thing that ever happened to this planet was toppling that phony priesthood.”

“Perhaps,” she said agreeably. “However, the man’s mind was an ossified one. A surprisingly large percentage of people have them, especially when it comes to institutions such as religion and government. We weren’t going to be able to teach him anything, but it was possible to learn from him.”

Ronny grunted his disgust. “What could we possibly learn from him?”

Tog said mildly, “We could learn what people of the street were thinking. It might give us some ideas about what direction the new government will take.”

They approached the portals of the building and were halted by an armed Space Forces guard of half a dozen men. Their sergeant saluted, taking in their obvious other-planet clothing.

“Identifications, please,” he said briskly.

They showed their badges and were passed on through. Ronny said to him, “Much trouble, sergeant?”

The other shrugged. “No. Just precautions, sir. We’ve been here only three or four weeks. Civil disturbance. We’re used to it. Were over on Montezuma two basic months ago. Now there was real trouble. Had to shoot our way out.”

Tog called, “Coming Ronny? I have this elevator waiting.”

He followed her, scowling. An idea was trying to work its way through. Somehow he missed getting it.

Headquarters of the Department of Justice were on the eighth floor. A receptionist clerk led them through three or four doors to the single office which housed Section G.

A red eyed, exhausted agent looked up from the sole desk and snarled a question at them. Ronny didn’t get it, but Tog said mildly, “Probationary Agent Ronald Bronston and Tog Lee Chang Chu. On special assignment.” She flicked open her badge so that the other could see it.

His manner changed. “Sorry,” he said, getting up to shake hands. “I’m Mouley Hassan, in charge of Section G on New Delos. We’ve just had a crisis here, as you can imagine. The worst of it’s now over.” He added sourly, “I hope. All my assistants have already taken off for Avalon.” He was a short statured, dark complected man, his features betraying his Semitic background.

Ronny shook hands with him and said, “Sorry to bother you at a time like this.”

They found chairs and Mouley Hassan flicked a key on his order box and said to them, “How about a drink? They make a wonderful sparkling wine on this planet. Trust any theocracy to have top potables.”

Ronny accepted the offer, Tog refused it politely. She sat demurely, her hands in her lap.

Mouley Hassan ran a weary hand through already mussed hair. “What’s this special assignment you’re on?”

Ronny said, “Commissioner Metaxa has sent me looking for Tommy Paine.”

“Tommy Paine!” the other blurted. “At a time like this, when I haven’t had three nights’ sleep in the last three basic weeks, you come around looking for Tommy Paine?”

Ronny was taken aback. “Sid Jakes seemed to think this might be one of Paine’s jobs.”

Tog said mildly, “What better place to look for Tommy Paine, than in a situation like this, Agent Hassan?” Her eyebrows went up. “Or don’t you think the quest for Paine is an important one?”

The other subsided somewhat. “I suppose you’re right,” he said. “I’m deathly tired. Do whatever you want. But don’t expect much from me.”

Tog said, just a trifle tartly, Ronny thought, “We’ll have to call on you, as usual, Agent Hassan. There’s probably no single job in Section G more important than the pursuit of Tommy Paine.”

“All right, all right,” Mouley Hassan admitted. “I’ll cooperate. How long have you been away from Earth?” he said to Ronny.

“About one basic week.”

“Oh,” he grunted. “This is your first stop, eh? Well, I don’t envy you your job.” He brought a cool bottle from a delivery drawer in the desk along with two glasses. “Here’s the wine.”

Ronny leaned forward to accept the glass. “This situation here,” he said, “do you think it can be laid to Paine?”

Mouley Hassan shrugged wearily. “I don’t know.”

Ronny sipped the drink, looking at the tired agent over the glass rim. “From what we understand, check has been kept on all persons leaving the planet since the bombing.”

“Check is right. There’s only one ship that took off and it carried nobody except my assistants. If you ask me, I still needed them, but some brass hat back on Earth decided they were more necessary over on Avalon.” He was disgusted.

Ronny put the glass down. “You mean only one ship’s left this planet since the God-King was killed?”

“That’s right. It was like pulling teeth to get the visas.”

“How many men aboard?”

Mouley Hassan looked at him speculatively. “Four-man crew and six Section G operatives.”

Tog said brightly, “Why, that means, then, that either Tommy Paine is still on this planet, or he’s one of the passengers or crew members of that ship.” She added, “That is, of course, unless he had a private craft, hidden away somewhere.”

Ronny slumped back into his chair as some of the ramifications came home to him. “If it was Tommy Paine at all,” he said.

Mouley Hassan nodded. “That’s always a point.” He finished his glass and looked pleadingly at Tog. “Look, I have work. If I can finish some of it, I might have time for some sleep. Couldn’t we postpone the search for Tommy Paine.”

Tog said nothing to him.

Ronny came to his feet. “We’ll get along. A couple of ideas occur to me. I’ll check with you later.”

“Fine,” the agent said. He shook hands with them again. He said, somehow more to Tog than to Ronny, “I know how important your job is. It’s just that I’ve been pushed to the point where I can’t operate efficiently.”

She smiled her understanding, gave him her small, delicate hand.

In the elevator, Ronny said to her, “Why should this sort of thing particularly affect Section G?”

Tog said, “It’s times like this that planets drop out of the U.P. Or, possibly, get into the hands of some jingoistic military group and start off halfcocked to provoke a war with some other planet, or to missionarize or propagandize it.” She thought about it a moment. “A new revolution, in government or religion, seems almost invariably to want to spread the light. An absolute compulsion to bring to others the new truths that they’ve found.” She added, her voice holding a trace of mockery, “Usually the new truths are rather hoary ones, and there are few interested in hearing them.”

They spent their first day in getting accommodations in a centrally located hotel, in making arrangements, through the Department of Justice, for the local means of exchange⁠—it turned out to be coinage, based on gold⁠—and getting the feel of their surroundings.

Evidently Delos, the capital city of the planet New Delos, was but slowly emerging from the chaos that had taken over on the assassination. A provisional government, composed of representatives of half a dozen different organizations which had sprung up like mushrooms following the collapse of the regime, had assumed power. Elections had been promised and were to be brought off when arrangements could be made.

Meanwhile, the actual government was still largely in the hands of the lower echelons of the priesthood. A nervous priesthood it was, seemingly desirous of getting out from under while the going was good, afraid of being held responsible for former excesses.

Ronny Bronston, high hopes still in his head, looked up the Sub-Bishop who had given them landing orders while they were still aboard the Space Forces cruiser. Tog was off making arrangements for various details involved in their being in Delos in its time of crisis.

A dozen times, on his way over to keep his appointment with the official, Ronny had to step into doorways, or in other wise make himself inconspicuous. Gangs of demonstrators roamed the street, some of them drunken, looking for trouble, and scornful of police or the military. Twice, when it looked as though he might be roughed up, Ronny drew his gun and held it in open sight, ready for use, but not threateningly. The demonstrators made off.

His throat was dry by the time he reached his destination. The life of a Section G agent, on interplanetary assignment, had its drawbacks.

The Sub-Bishop had formerly been in charge of Interplanetary Communications which involved commerce as well as intercourse with United Planets. It must have been an ultra-responsible position only a month ago. Now his offices were all but deserted.

He looked at Ronny’s badge, only vaguely interested. “Section G of the Bureau of Investigation,” he said. “I don’t believe I am aware of your responsibilities. However,” he nodded with sour courtesy, “please be seated. You must forgive my lack of ability to offer refreshment. Isn’t there an old tradition about rats deserting a sinking ship? I am afraid my former assistants had rodentlike instincts.”

Ronny said, “Section G deals with Interplanetary Security, sir⁠—”

“I am addressed as Holiness,” the other said.

Ronny looked at him. “Sorry,” he said. “I am a citizen of the United Planets, not any one planet, even Earth. U.P. citizens have complete religious freedom. In my case I am unaffiliated with any church.”

The Sub-Bishop let it pass. He said sourly, “I am afraid that even here on New Delos, I am seldom honoured by my title any more. Go on, you say you deal with Interplanetary Security.”

“That’s correct. In cases like this we’re interested in checking to see if there is any possibility that citizens of planets other than New Delos are involved in your internal affairs.”

The other’s eyes were suddenly slits. He said, heavily, “You suspect that David the One was assassinated by an alien?”

Ronny had to tread carefully here. “I make no such suggestion. I am merely here to check on the possibility. If such was the case, my duty would be to arrest the man, or men.”

“If we got hold of him, you’d have small chance of asserting your authority,” the priest growled. “What did you want to know?”

“I understand that no interplanetary craft have left New Delos since the assassination.”

“None except a United Planets ship which was carefully inspected.”

Ronny said tightly, “But what facilities do you have to check on secret spaceports, possibly located in some remote desert or mountain area?”

The New Delian laughed sourly. “There is no other planet in all the United Planets with our degree of security. We even imported the most recent developments in artificial satellites equipped with the most delicate of detection devices. I assure you, it is utterly impossible for a spacecraft to land or take off from New Delos without our knowledge.”

Ronny Bronston’s eyes lit with excitement. “These security measures of yours. To what extent do you keep under observation all aliens on the planet?”

The priest’s chuckle had a nasty quality. “You are quite ignorant of our institutions, evidently. Every person on New Delos, in every way of life, was under constant survey from the cradle to the grave. Aliens were highly discouraged. When they appeared on New Delos at all, they were restricted in their movements to this, our capital city.”

Ronny let air whistle from his lungs. “Then,” he said triumphantly, “if any alien had anything to do with this, he is still on the planet. Can you get me a list of all aliens?”

The other laughed again, still sourly. “But there are none. None except you employees of United Planets. I’m afraid you’re on a wild-goose chase.”

Ronny stared at him blankly. “But commercial representatives, cultural exchange⁠—”

The priest said flatly, “No. None at all. All commerce was handled through U.P. We encouraged no cultural exchanges. We wished to keep our people uncorrupted. United Planets alone had the right to land on our one spaceport.”

The Section G agent came to his feet. This was much simpler than he could ever have hoped for. He thanked the other, but avoided the necessity of shaking hands, and left.

He found a helio-cab and dialed it to the U.P. building, finding strange the necessity of slipping coins into the vehicle’s slots until the correct amount for his destination had been deposited. Coinage was no longer in use on Earth.

At the U.P. building he retraced his steps of the day before to the single office of Section G.

To his surprise, not only Mouley Hassan was there, but Tog as well. Hassan had evidently had at least a few hours of sleep. He was in better shape.

They exchanged the usual amenities and took their chairs again.

Hassan said, “We were just gossiping. It’s been years since I’ve been in Greater Washington. Lee Chang tells me that Sid Jakes is now a Supervisor. I worked with him for a while, when I first joined Section G. How about a glass of wine?”

Ronny said, “Look. If Tommy Paine was connected with this, and it’s almost positive he was, we’ve got him.”

The others looked at him.

“You’ve evidently been busy,” Tog said mildly.

He turned to her. “He’s trapped, Tog! He can’t get off the planet.”

Mouley Hassan rubbed a hand through his hair. “It’d be hard, all right. They’ve got the people under rein here such as you’ve never seen before. Or they did until this blew up.”

Ronny sketched the situation to Tog, winding up with, “The only thing that makes sense is that it’s a Tommy Paine job. The local citizens would never have been able to get their hands on such a bomb, or been able to have made the arrangements for its delivery. They’re under too much surveillance.”

Tog said thoughtfully, “but how did he escape all this surveillance?”

“Don’t you understand? He’s working here, in this building, as an employee of U.P. There is no other alternative.”

They stared at him.

“I think perhaps you’re right,” Tog said finally.

Ronny turned to Mouley Hassan. “Can you get a list of all U.P. employees?”

“Of course.” He flicked his order box, barked a command into it.

Ronny said, “It’s going to be a matter of eliminating the impossible. For instance, what is the earliest known case of Tommy Paine’s activity?”

Tog thought back. “So far as we know definitely, about twenty-two years ago.”

“Fine,” Ronny said, increasingly excited. “That will eliminate all persons less than, say, forty years of age. We can assume he was at least twenty when he began.”

Hassan said, “Can we eliminate all women employees?”

Ronny said, “I’d think so. The few times he’s been seen, all reports are of a man. And that case on the planet Mother where he put himself over as a Holy Man. He could hardly have been a woman in disguise in a Stone Age culture such as that.”

Hassan said, “And this Tommy Paine has been flitting around this part of the galaxy for years, so anyone who has been here steadily for a period of even a couple of years or so, can’t be suspect.”

Mouley Hassan thrust his hand into a delivery drawer and brought forth a handful of punched cards, possibly fifty in all.

“Surely there’s more people than that working in this building,” Ronny protested.

Mouley Hassan said, “No. I’ve eliminated already everyone who is a citizen of New Delos. Obviously, Tommy Paine is an alien. We have only forty-eight Earthlings and other United Planets citizens working here.”

He carried the cards to a small collator and worked for a moment on its controls, as Tog and Ronny watched him with mounting tension. “Let’s see,” he muttered. “We eliminate all women, all those less than forty, all who haven’t done a great deal of travel, those who have been here for several years.”

The end of it was that they eliminated everyone employed in the U.P. building.

The cards were stacked back on Mouley Hassan’s desk again, and the three of them sat around and looked glumly at them.

Ronny said, “He’s tinkered with the files. He counterfeited fake papers for himself, or something. Possibly he’s pulled his own card and it isn’t in this stack you have.”

Mouley Hassan said, “We’ll double-check all those possibilities, but you’re wrong. Possibly a few hundred years ago, but not today. Forgery and counterfeiting are things of the past. And, believe me, the Bureau of Investigation and especially Section G, may look on the slipshod side, but they aren’t. We’re not going to find anything wrong with those cards. Tommy Paine simply is not working for U.P. on New Delos.”

“Then,” Ronny said, “there’s only one alternative. He’s on this U.P. ship going to, what was the name of its destination?”

“Avalon,” Mouley Hassan said, his face thoughtful.

Tog said, “Do you have any ideas on the men aboard?”

Mouley Hassan said, “There were four crew men, and six of our agents.”

Tog said, “Unless one of them has faked papers, the six agents are eliminated. That leaves the crew members. Do you know anything about them?”

Hassan shook his head.

Ronny said, “Let’s communicate with Avalon. Tell our representatives there to be sure that none of the occupants of that ship leaves Avalon until we get there.”

Mouley Hassan said, “Good idea.” He turned to his screen and said into it, “Section G, Bureau of Investigation, on the Planet Avalon.”

In moment the screen lit up. An elderly agent, as Section G agents seemed to go, looked up at them.

Mouley Hassan held his silver badge so the other could see it and on the Avalon agent’s nod said, “I’m Hassan from New Delos. We’ve just had a crisis here and there seems to be a chance that it’s a Tommy Paine job. Agent Bronston here is on an assignment tracking him down. I’ll turn it over to Bronston.”

The Avalon agent nodded again, and looked at Ronny.

Ronny said urgently, “We haven’t the time to give you details, but every indication is that Paine is on a U.P. spacecraft with Avalon as its destination. There are only ten men aboard, and six of them are Section G operatives.”

The other pursed his lips. “I see. You think you have the old fox cornered, eh?”

“Possibly,” Ronny said. “There are various ifs. Miss Tog and I can double-check here. Then as soon as we can clear exit visas, we’ll make immediate way for Avalon.”

The Avalon Section G agent said, “I haven’t the authority to control the movements of other agents, they have as high rank as I have,” he added, expressionlessly, “and probably higher than yours.”

Ronny said, “But the four-man crew?”

The other said, “These men are coming to Avalon to work on a job that will take at least six months. We’ll make a routine check, and I’ll try and make sure the whole ten will still be on Avalon when and if you arrive.”

They had to be satisfied with that. They checked all ways from the middle, nor did it take long. There was no doubt. If this was a Tommy Paine job, and it almost surely was, then there was only one way in which he could have escaped from the planet and that was by the single spacecraft that had left, destination Avalon. He was not on the planet, that was definite Ronny felt. A stranger on New Delos was as conspicuous as a walrus in a goldfish bowl. There simply were no such.

They spent most of their time checking and rechecking United Planets personnel, but there was no question there either.

Mouley Hassan and others of U.P. personnel helped cut the red tape involved in getting exit visas from New Delos. It wasn’t as complicated as it might have been a week or two before. No one seemed to be so confident of his authority in the new provisional government that he dared veto a United Planets request.

Mouley Hassan was able to arrange for a small space yacht, slower than a military craft, but capable of getting them to Avalon in a few days time. A one-man crew was sufficient, Ronny, and especially Tog, could spell him on the watches.

Time aboard was spent largely in studying up on Avalon, going over and over again anything known about the elusive Tommy Paine, and playing Battle Chess and bickering with Tog Lee Chang Chu.

If it hadn’t been for this ability to argue against just about anything Ronny managed to say, he could have been attracted to her to the detriment of the job. She was a good traveler, few people are; she was an ultra-efficient assistant; she was a joy to look at; and she never intruded. But, Great Guns, the woman could bicker.

The two of them were studying in the ship’s luxurious lounge when Ronny looked up and said, “Do you have any idea why those six agents were sent to Avalon?”

“No,” she said.

He indicated the booklet he was reading. “From what I can see here, it sounds like one of the most advanced planets in the U.P. They’ve made some of the most useful advances in industrial techniques of the past century.”

“Oh, I don’t know,” Tog mused. “I haven’t much regard for Industrial Feudalism myself. It starts off with a bang, but tends to go sterile.”

“Industrial feudalism,” he said indignantly. “What do you mean? The government is a constitutional monarchy with the king merely a powerless symbol. The standard of living is high. Elections are honest and democratic. They’ve got a three-party system.⁠ ⁠…”

“Which is largely phony,” Tog interrupted. “You’ve got to do some reading between the lines, especially when the books you’re reading are turned out by the industrial feudalistic publishing companies in Avalon.”

“What’s this industrial feudalism, you keep talking about? Avalon has a system of free enterprise.”

“A gobbledygook term,” Tog said, irritatingly. “Industrial feudalism is a socioeconomic system that develops when industrial wealth is concentrated into the hands of a comparatively few families. It finally gets to the point of a closed circle all but impossible to break into. These industrial feudalistic families become so powerful that only in rare instances can anyone lift himself into their society. They dominate every field, including the so-called labor unions, which amount to one of the biggest businesses of all. With their unlimited resources they even own every means of dispensing information.”

“You mean,” Ronny argued, “that on Avalon you can’t start up a newspaper of your own and say whatever you wish?”

“Certainly you can, theoretically. If you have the resources. Unfortunately, such enterprises become increasingly expensive to start. Or you could start a radio, TV or Tri-Di station⁠—if you had the resources. However, even if you overcame all your handicaps and your newspaper or broadcasting station became a success, the industrial feudalistic families in control of Avalon’s publishing and broadcasting fields have the endless resources to buy you out, or squeeze you out, by one nasty means or another.”

Ronny snorted. “Well, the people must be satisfied or they’d vote some fundamental changes.”

Tog nodded. “They’re satisfied, and no wonder. Since childhood every means of forming their opinions have been in the hands of industrial feudalistic families⁠—including the schools.”

“You mean the schools are private?”

“No, they don’t have to be. The government is completely dominated by the fifty or so families which for all practical purposes own Avalon. That includes the schools. Some of the higher institutions of learning are private, but they, too, are largely dependent upon grants from the families.”

Ronny was irritated by her know-all air. He tapped the book he’d been reading with a finger. “They don’t control the government. Avalon’s got a three-party system. Any time the people don’t like the government, they can vote in an alternative.”

“That’s an optical illusion. There are three parties, but each is dominated by the fifty families, and election laws are such that for all practical purposes it’s impossible to start another party. Theoretically it’s possible, actually it isn’t. The voters can vary back and forth between the three political parties but it doesn’t make any difference which one they elect. They all stand for the same thing⁠—a continuation of the status quo.”

“Then you claim it isn’t democracy at all?”

Tog sighed. “That’s a much abused word. Actually, pure democracy is seldom seen. They pretty well had it in primitive society where government was based on the family. You voted for one of your relatives in your clan to represent you in the tribal councils. Everyone in the tribe was equal so far as apportionments of the necessities of life were concerned. No one, even the tribal chiefs, ate better than anyone else, no one had a better home.”

Ronny said, snappishly, “And if man had remained at that level, we’d never have gotten anywhere.”

“That’s right,” she said. “For progress, man needed a leisure class. Somebody with the time to study, to experiment, to work things out.”

He said, “We’re getting away from the point. You said in spite of appearances they don’t have democracy on Avalon.”

“They have a pretense of it. But only free men can practice democracy. So long as your food, clothing and shelter are controlled by someone else, you aren’t free. Wait until I think of an example.” She put her right forefinger to her chin, thoughtfully.

Holy smokes, she was a cute trick. If only she wasn’t so confounded irritating.

Tog said, “Do you remember the State of California in Earth history?”

“I think so. On the west coast of North America.”

“That’s right. Well, back in the Twentieth Century, Christian calendar, they had an economic depression. During it a crackpot organization called Thirty Dollars Every Thursday managed to get itself on the ballot. Times were bad enough but had this particular bunch got into power it would have become chaotic. At first no thinking person took them seriously, however a majority of people in California at that time had little to lose and in the final week or so of the election campaign the polls showed that Thirty Dollars Every Thursday was going to win. So, a few days before voting many of the larger industries and businesses in the State ran full page ads in the newspapers. They said substantially the same thing. If Thirty Dollars Every Thursday wins this election, our concern will close its doors. Do not bother to come back to work Monday.

Ronny was scowling at her. “What’s your point?”

She shrugged delicate shoulders. “The crackpots were defeated, of course, which was actually good for California. But my point is that the voters of California were not actually free since their livelihoods were controlled by others. This is an extreme case, of course, but the fact always applies.”

A thought suddenly hit Ronny Bronston. “Look,” he said. “Tommy Paine. Do you think he’s merely escaping from New Delos, or is it possible that Avalon is his next destination? Is he going to try and overthrow the government there?”

She was shaking her head, but frowning. “I don’t think so. Things are quite stable on Avalon.”

“Stable?” he scowled at her. “From what you’ve been saying, they’re pretty bad.”

She continued to shake her head. “Don’t misunderstand, Ronny. On an assignment like this, it’s easy to get the impression that all the United Planets are in a state of socio-political confusion, but it isn’t so. A small minority of planets are ripe for the sort of trouble Tommy Paine stirs up. Most are working away, developing, making progress, slowly evolving. Avalon is one of these. The way things are there, Tommy Paine couldn’t make a dent on changing things, even if he wanted to, and there’s no particular reason to believe he does.”

Ronny growled. “From what I can learn of the guy he’s anxious to stir up trouble wherever he goes.”

“I don’t know. If there’s any pattern at all in his activities, it seems to be that he picks spots where things are ripe to boil over on their own. He acts as a catalyst. In a place like Avalon he wouldn’t get to first base. Possibly fifty years from now, things will have developed on Avalon to the point where there is dissatisfaction. By that time,” she said dryly, “we’ll assume Tommy Paine will no longer be a problem to the Commissariat of Interplanetary Affairs for one reason or the other.”

Ronny took up his book again. He growled, “I can’t figure out his motivation. If I could just put my finger on that.”

For once she agreed with him. “I’ve got an idea, Ronny, that once you have that, you’ll have Tommy Paine.”

They drew blank on Avalon.

Or, at least, it was drawn for them before they ever arrived.

The Section G agent permanently assigned to that planet had already checked and double-checked the possibilities. None of the four-man crew of the U.P. spacecraft had been on New Delos at the time of the assassination of the God-King. They, and their craft, had been light-years away on another job.

Ronny Bronston couldn’t believe it. He simply couldn’t believe it.

The older agent, his name was Jheru Bulchand, was definite. He went over it with Ronny and Tog in a bar adjoining U.P. headquarters. He had dossiers on each of the ten men, detailed dossiers. On the face of it, none of them could be Paine.

“But one of them has to be,” Ronny pleaded. He explained their method of eliminating the forty-eight employees of U.P. on New Delos.

Bulchand shrugged. “You’ve got holes in that method of elimination. You’re assuming Tommy Paine is an individual, and you have no reason to. My own theory is that it’s an organization.”

Ronny said unhappily, “Then you’re of the opinion that there is a Tommy Paine?”

The older agent was puffing comfortably on an old style briar pipe. He nodded definitely. “I believe Tommy Paine exists as an organization. Possibly once, originally, it was a single person, but now it’s a group. How large, I wouldn’t know. Probably not too large or by this time somebody would have betrayed it, or somebody would have cracked and we would have caught them. Catch one and you’ve got the whole organization what with our modern means of interrogation.”

Tog said, “I’ve heard the opinion before.”

Jheru Bulchand pointed at Ronny with his pipe stem. “If it’s an organization, then none of that eliminating you did is valid. Your assassin could have been one of the women. He could have been one of the men you eliminated as too young⁠—someone recently admitted to the Tommy Paine organization.”

Ronny checked the last of his theories. “Why did Section G send six of its agents here?”

“Nothing to do with Tommy Paine,” Bulchand said. “It’s a different sort of crisis.”

“Just for my own satisfaction, what kind of crisis?”

Bulchand sketched it quickly. “There are two Earth type planets in this solar system. Avalon was the first to be colonized and developed rapidly. After a couple of centuries, Avalonians went over and settled on Catalina. They eventually set up a government of their own. Now Avalon has a surplus of industrial products. Her economic system is such that she produces more than she can sell back to her own people. There’s a glut.”

Tog said demurely, “So, of course, they want to dump it in Catalina.”

Bulchand nodded. “In fact, they’re willing to give it away. They’ve offered to build railroads, turn over ships and aircraft, donate whole factories to Catalina’s slowly developing economy.”

Ronny said, “Well, how does that call for Section G agents?”

“Catalina has evoked Article Two of the U.P. Charter. No member planet of U.P. is to interfere with the internal political, socioeconomic or religious affairs of another member planet. Avalon claims the Charter doesn’t apply since Catalina belongs to the same solar system and since she’s a former colony. We’re trying to smooth the whole thing over, before Avalon dreams up some excuse for military action.”

Ronny stared at him. “I get the feeling every other sentence is being left out of your explanation. It just doesn’t make sense. In the first place, why is Avalon as anxious as all that to give away what sounds like a fantastic amount of goods?”

“I told you, they have a glut. They’ve overproduced and, as a result, they’ve got a king-size depression on their hands, or will have unless they find markets.”

“Well, why not trade with some of the planets that want her products?”

Tog said as though reasoning with a youngster, “Planets outside her own solar system are too far away for it to be practical even if she had commodities they didn’t. She needs a nearby planet more backward than herself, a planet like Catalina.”

“Well, that brings us to the more fantastic question. Why in the world doesn’t Catalina accept? It sounds to me like pure philanthropy on the part of Avalon.”

Bulchand was wagging his pipe stem in a negative gesture. “Bronston, governments are never motivated by idealistic reasons. Individuals might be, and even small groups, but governments never. Governments, including that of Avalon, exist for the benefit of the class or classes that control them. The only things that motivate them are the interests of that class.”

“Well, this sounds like an exception,” Ronny said argumentatively. “How can Catalina lose if the Avalonians grant them railroads, factories and all the rest of it?”

Tog said, “Don’t you see, Ronny? It gives Avalon a foothold in the Catalina economy. When the locomotives wear out on the railroad, new engines, new parts, must be purchased. They won’t be available on Catalina because there will be no railroad industry because none will have ever grown up. Catalina manufacturers couldn’t compete with that initial free gift. They’ll be dependent on Avalon for future equipment. In the factories, when machines wear out, they will be replaceable only with the products of Avalon’s industry.”

Bulchand said, “There’s an analogy in the early history of the United States. When its fledgling steel industry began, they set up a high tariff to protect it against British competition. The British were amazed and indignant, pointing out that they could sell American steel products at one third the local prices, if only allowed to do so. The United States said no thanks, it didn’t want to be tied, industrially, to Great Britain’s apron strings. And in a couple of decades American steel production passed England’s. In a couple of more decades American steel production was many times that of England’s and she was taking British markets away from her all over the globe.”

“At any rate,” Ronny said, “it’s not a Tommy Paine matter.”

Just for luck, though, Ronny and Tog double-checked all over again on Bulchand’s efforts. They interviewed all six of the Section G agents. Each of them carried a silver badge that gleamed only for the individual who possessed it. All of which eliminated the possibility that Paine had assumed the identity of a Section G operative. So that was out.

They checked the four crew members, but there was no doubt there, either. The craft had been far away at the time of the assassination on New Delos.

On the third day, Ronny Bronston, disgusted, knocked on the door of Tog’s hotel room. The door screen lit up and Tog, looking out at him said, “Oh, come on in, Ronny, I was just talking to Earth.”

He entered.

Tog had set up her Section G communicator on a desk top and Sid Jakes’ grinning face was in the tiny, brilliant screen. Ronny approached close enough for the other to take him in.

Jakes said happily, “Hi, Ronny, no luck, eh?”

Ronny shook his head, trying not to let his face portray his feelings of defeat. This after all was a probationary assignment, and the supervisor had the power to send Ronny Bronston back to the drudgery of his office job at Population Statistics.

“Still working on it. I suppose it’s a matter of returning to New Delos and grinding away at the forty-eight employees of the U.P. there.”

Sid Jakes pursed his lips. “I don’t know. Possibly this whole thing was a false alarm. At any rate, there seems to be a hotter case on the fire. If our local agents have it straight, Paine is about to pull one of his coups on Kropotkin. This is a top-top-secret, of course, one of the few times we’ve ever detected him before the act.”

Ronny was suddenly alert, his fatigue of disgust of but a moment ago, completely forgotten. “Where?” he said.

“Kropotkin,” Jakes said. “One of the most backward planets in U.P. and seemingly a setup for Paine’s sort of troublemaking. The authorities, if you can use the term applied to Kropotkin, are already complaining, threatening to invoke Article One of the Charter, or to resign from U.P.” Jake looked at Tog again. “Do you know Kropotkin, Lee Chang?”

She shook her head. “I’ve heard of it, rather vaguely. Named after some old anarchist, I believe.”

“That’s the place. One of the few anarchist societies in U.P. You don’t hear much from them.” He turned to Ronny again. “I think that’s your bet. Hop to it, boy. We’re going to catch this Tommy Paine guy, or organization, or whatever, soon or United Planets is going to know it. We can’t keep the lid on indefinitely. If word gets around of his activities, then we’ll lose member planets like Christmas trees shedding needles after New Year’s.” He grinned widely. “That’s sounds like a neat trick, eh?”

Ronny Bronston had got to the point where he avoided controversial subjects with Tog even when provoked and she had a sneaky little way of provoking arguments. They had only one really knock down and drag-out verbal battle on the way to Kropotkin.

It had started innocently enough after dinner on the space liner on which they had taken passage for the first part of the trip. To kill time they were playing Battle Chess with its larger board and added contingents of pawns and castles.

Ronny said idly, “You know, in spite of the fact that I’m a third generation United Planets citizen and employee, I’m just beginning to realize how far out some of our member planets are. I had no idea before.”

She frowned in concentration, before moving. She was advancing her men in echelon attack, taking losses in exchange for territory and trying to pen him up in such small space that he couldn’t maneuver.

She said, “How do you mean?”

Ronny lifted and dropped a shoulder. “Well, New Delos and its theocracy, for instance, and Shangri-La and Mother and some of the other planets with extremes in government of socioeconomic system. I hadn’t the vaguest idea about such places.”

She made a deprecating sound. “You should see Amazonia, or, for that matter, the Orwellian State.”

Amazonia,” he said, “does that mean what it sounds like it does?”

She made her move and settled back in satisfaction. Her pawns were in such position that his bishops were both unusable. He’d tried to play a phalanx game in the early stages of her attack, but she’d broken through, rolling up his left flank after sacrificing a castle and a knight.

“Certainly does,” she said. “A fairly recently colonized planet. A few thousand feminists no men at all⁠—moved onto it a few centuries ago. And it’s still an out and out matriarchy.”

Ronny cleared his throat delicately. “Without men⁠ ⁠… ah, how did they continue several centuries?”

Tog suppressed her amusement. “Artificial insemination, at first, so I understand. They brought their, ah, supply with them. But then there were boys among the first generation on the new planet and even the Amazonians weren’t up to cold bloodedly butchering their children. So they merely enslaved them. Nice girls.”

Ronny stared at her. “You mean all men are automatically slaves on this planet?”

“That’s right.”

Ronny made an improperly thought out move, trying to bring up a castle to reinforce his collapsing flank. He said, “U.P. allows anybody to join evidently,” and there was disgust in his voice.

“Why not?” she said mildly.

“Well, there should be some standards.”

Tog moved quickly, dominating with a knight several squares he couldn’t afford to lose. She looked up at him, her dark eyes sparking. “The point of U.P. is to include all the planets. That way at least conflict can be avoided and some exchange of science, industrial techniques and cultural gains take place. And you must remember that while in power practically no socioeconomic system will admit to the fact that it could possibly change for the better. But actually there is nothing less stable. Socioeconomic systems are almost always in a condition of flux. Planets such as Amazonia might for a time seem so brutal in their methods as to exclude their right to civilized intercourse with the rest. However, one of these days there’ll be a change⁠—or one of these centuries. They all change, sooner or later.” She added softly, “Even Han.”

“Han?” Ronny said.

Her voice was quiet. “Where I was born, Ronny. Colonized from China in the very early days. In fact, I spent my childhood in a commune.” She said musingly, “The party bureaucrats thought their system an impregnable, unchangeable one. Your move.”

Ronny was fascinated. “And what happened?” He was in full retreat now, and with nowhere to go, his pieces pinned up for the slaughter. He moved a pawn to try and open up his queen.

“Why don’t you concede?” she said. “Tommy Paine happened.”


“Uh-huh. It’s a long story. I’ll tell you about it some time.” She pressed closer with her own queen.

He stared disgustedly at the board. “Well, that’s what I mean,” he muttered. “I had no idea there were so many varieties of crackpot politico-economic systems among the U.P. membership.”

“They’re not necessarily crackpot,” she protested mildly. “Just at different stages of development.”

“Not crackpot!” he said. “Here we are heading for a planet named Kropotkin which evidently practices anarchy.”

“Your move,” she said. “What’s wrong with anarchism?”

He glowered at her, in outraged disgust. Was it absolutely impossible for him to say anything without her disagreement?

Tog said mildly, “The anarchistic ethic is one of the highest man has ever developed.” She added, after a moment of pretty consideration. “Unfortunately, admittedly, it hasn’t been practical to put to practice. It will be interesting to see how they have done on Kropotkin.”

“Anarchist ethic, yes,” Ronny snapped. “I’m no student of the movement but the way I understand it, there isn’t any.”

Tog smiled sweetly. “The belief upon which they base their teachings is that no man is capable of judging another.”

Ronny cast his eyes ceilingward. “OK, I give up!”

She began rapidly resetting the pieces. “Another game?” she said brightly.

“Hey! I didn’t mean the game! I was just about to counterattack.”

“Ha!” she said.

The Section G agent on Kropotkin was named Hideka Yamamoto, but he was on a field tour and wouldn’t be back for several days. However, there wasn’t especially any great hurry so far as Ronny Bronston and Tog Lee Chang Chu knew. They got themselves organized in the rather rustic equivalent of a hotel, which was located fairly near U.P. headquarters, and took up the usual problems of arranging for local exchange, meals, means of transportation and such necessities.

It was a greater problem than usual. In fact, hadn’t it been for the presence of the U.P. organization, which had already gone through all this the hard way, some of the difficulties would have been all but insurmountable.

For instance, there was no local exchange. There was no medium of exchange at all. Evidently simple barter was the rule.

In the hotel⁠—if it could be called a hotel⁠—lobby, Ronny Bronston looked at Tog. “Anarchism!” he said. “Oh, great. The highest ethic of all. And what’s the means of transportation on this wonderful planet? The horse. And how are we going to get a couple of horses with no means of exchange?”

She tinkled laughter.

“All right,” he said. “You’re the Man Friday. You find out the details and handle them. I’m going out to take a look around the town⁠—if you can call this a town.”

“It’s the capital of Kropotkin,” Tog said placatingly, though with a mocking background in her tone. “Name of Bakunin. And very pleasant, too, from what little I’ve seen. Not a bit of smog, industrial fumes, street dirt, street noises⁠—”

“How could there be?” he injected disgustedly. “There isn’t any industry, there aren’t any cars, and for all practical purposes, no streets. The houses are a quarter of a mile or so apart.”

She laughed at him again. “City boy,” she said. “Go on out there and enjoy nature a little. It’ll do you good. Anybody who has cooped himself up in that one big city, Earth, all his life ought to enjoy seeing what the great outdoors looks like.”

He looked at her and grinned. She was cute as a pixie, and there were no two ways about that. He wondered for a moment what kind of a wife she’d make. And then shuddered inwardly. Life would be one big contradiction of anything he’d managed to get out of his trap.

He strolled idly along what was little more than a country path and it came to him that there were probably few worlds in the whole U.P. where he’d have been prone to do this within the first few hours he’d been on the planet. He would have been afraid, elsewhere, of anything from footpads to police, from unknown vehicles to unknown traffic laws. There was something bewildering about being an Earthling and being set down suddenly in New Delos or on Avalon.

Here, somehow, he already had a feeling of peace.

Evidently, although Bakunin was supposedly a city, its populace tilled their fields and provided themselves with their own food. He could see no signs of stores or warehouses. And the U.P. building, which was no great edifice itself, was the only thing in town which looked even remotely like a governmental building.

Bakunin was neat. Clean as a pin, as the expression went. Ronny was vaguely reminded of a historical Tri-Di romance he’d once seen. It had been laid in ancient times in a community of the Amish in old Pennsylvania.

He approached one of the wooden houses. The things would have been priceless on Earth as an antique to be erected as a museum in some crowded park. For that matter it would have been priceless for the wood it contained. Evidently, the planet Kropotkin still had considerable virgin forest.

An old-timer smoking a pipe, sat on the cottage’s front step. He nodded politely.

Ronny stopped. He might as well try to get a little of the feel of the place. He said courteously, “A pleasant evening.”

The old-timer nodded. “As evenings should be after a fruitful day’s toil. Sit down, comrade. You must be from the United Planets. Have you ever seen Earth?”

Ronny accepted the invitation and felt a soothing calm descend upon him almost immediately. An almost disturbingly pleasant calm. He said, “I was born on Earth.”

“Ai?” the old man said. “Tell me. The books say that Kropotkin is an Earth type planet within what they call a few degrees. But is it? Is Kropotkin truly like the mother planet?”

Ronny looked about him. He’d seen some of this world as the shuttle rocket had brought them down from the passing liner. The forests, the lakes, the rivers, and the great sections untouched by man’s hands. Now he saw the areas between homes, the neat fields, the signs of human toil⁠—the toil of hands, not machines.

“No,” he said, shaking his head. “I’m afraid not. This is how Earth must once have been. But no longer.”

The other nodded. “Our total population is but a few million,” he said. Then, “I would like to see the mother planet, but I suppose I never shall.”

Ronny said diplomatically, “I have seen little of Kropotkin thus far but I am not so sure but that I might not be happy to stay here, rather than ever return to Earth.”

The old man knocked the ashes from his pipe by striking it against the heel of a work-gnarled hand. He looked about him thoughtfully and said, “Yes, perhaps you’re right. I am an old man and life has been good. I suppose I should be glad that I’ll unlikely live to see Kropotkin change.”

“Change? You plan changes?”

The old man looked at him and there seemed to be a very faint bitterness, politely suppressed. “I wouldn’t say we planned them, comrade. Certainly not we of the older generation. But the trend toward change is already to be seen by anyone who wishes to look, and our institutions won’t long be able to stand. But, of course, if you’re from United Planets you would know more of this than I.”

“I’m sorry. I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“You are new indeed on Kropotkin,” the old man said. “Just a moment.” He went into his house and emerged with a small power pack. He indicated it to Ronny Bronston. “This is our destruction,” he said.

The Section G agent shook his head, bewildered.

The old-timer sat down again. “My son,” he said, “runs the farm now. Six months ago, he traded one of our colts for a small pump, powered by one of these. It was little use on my part to argue against the step. The pump eliminates considerable work at the well and in irrigation.”

Ronny still didn’t understand.

“The power pack is dead now,” the old man said, “and my son needs a new one.”

“They’re extremely cheap,” Ronny said. “An industrialized planet turns them out in multi-million amounts at practically no cost.”

“We have little with which to trade. A few handicrafts, at most.”

Ronny said, “But, good heavens, man, build yourselves a plant to manufacture power packs. With a population this small, a factory employing no more than half a dozen men could turn out all you need.”

The old man was shaking his head. He held up the battery. “This comes from the planet Archimedes,” he said, “one of the most highly industrialized in the U.P., so I understand. On Archimedes do you know how many persons it takes to manufacture this power pack?”

“A handful to operate the whole factory, Archimedes is fully automated.”

The old man was still moving his head negatively. “No. It takes the total working population of the planet. How many different metals do you think are contained in it, in all? I can immediately see what must be lead and copper.”

Ronny said uncomfortably, “Probably at least a dozen, some in microscopic amounts.”

“That’s right. So we need a highly developed metallurgical industry before we can even begin. Then a developed transportation industry to take metals to the factory. We need power to run the factory, hydroelectric, solar, or possibly atomic power. We need a tool-making industry to equip the factory, the transport industry and the power industry. And while the men are employed in these, we need farmers to produce food for them, educators to teach them the sciences and techniques involved, and an entertainment industry to amuse them in their hours of rest. As their lives become more complicated with all this, we need a developed medical industry to keep them in health.”

The old man hesitated for a moment, then said, “And, above all, we need a highly complicated government to keep all this accumulation of wealth in check and balance. No. You see, my friend, it takes social labor to produce products such as this, and thus far we have avoided that on Kropotkin. In fact, it was for such avoidance that my ancestors originally came to this planet.”

Ronny said, scowling, “This gets ridiculous. You show me this basically simple power pack and say it will ruin your socioeconomic system. On the face of it, it’s ridiculous.”

The old man sighed and looked out over the village unseeingly. “It’s not just that single item, of course. The other day one of my neighbors turned up with a light bulb with built-in power for a year’s time. It is the envy of the unthinking persons of the neighborhood most of whom would give a great deal for such a source of light. A nephew of mine has somehow even acquired a powered bicycle, I think you call them, from somewhere or other. One by one, item by item, these products of advanced technology turn up⁠—from whence, we don’t seem to be able to find out.”

Under his breath, Ronny muttered, “Paine!

“I beg your pardon,” the old man said.

“Nothing,” the Section G agent said. He leaned forward and, a worried frown working its way over his face, began to question the other more closely.

Afterwards, Ronny Bronston strode slowly toward the U.P. headquarters. There was only a small contingent of United Planets personnel on this little populated member planet but, as always, there seemed to be an office for Section G.

Ronny stood outside it for a moment. There were voices from within, but he didn’t knock.

In fact, he cast his eyes up and down the short corridor. At the far end was a desk with a girl in the Interplanetary Cultural Exchange Department working away in concentration. She wasn’t looking in his direction.

Ronny Bronston put his ear to the door. The building was primitive enough, rustic enough in its construction, to permit his hearing.

Tog Lee Chang Chu was saying seriously, “Oh, it was chaotic all right, but no, I don’t really believe it could have been a Tommy Paine case. Actually I’d suggest to you that you run over to Catalina. When I was on Avalon I heard rumors that Tommy Paine’s finger seemed to be stirring around in the mess there. Yes, I’d recommend that you take off for Catalina immediately. If Paine is anywhere in this vicinity at all, it would be Catalina.”

For a moment, Ronny Bronston froze. Then in automatic reflex his hand went inside his jacket to rest over the butt of the Model H automatic there.

No, that wasn’t the answer. His hand dropped away from the gun.

He listened, further.

Another voice was saying, “We thought we were on the trail for a while on Hector, but it turned out it wasn’t Paine. Just a group of local agitators fed up with the communist regime there. There’s going to be a blood bath on Hector, before they’re through, but it doesn’t seem to be Paine’s work this time.”

Tog’s voice was musing. “Well, you never know, it sounds like the sort of muck he likes to play in.”

The strange voice said argumentatively, “Well, Hector needs a few fundamental changes.”

“It could be,” Tog said, “but that’s their internal affairs, of course. Our job in Section G is to prevent troubles between the differing socioeconomic and religious features of member planets. Whatever we think of some of the things Paine does, our task is to get him.”

Ronny Bronston pushed the door open and went through. Tog Lee Chang Chu was sitting at a desk, nonchalant and petitely beautiful as usual, comfortably seated in easy-chairs were two young men by their attire probably citizens of United Planets and possibly even Earthlings.

“Hello, Ronny,” Tog said softly. “Meet Frederic Lippman and Pedro Nazaré, both Section G operatives. This is my colleague, Ronald Bronston, gentlemen. Fredric and Pedro were just leaving, Ronny.”

The two agents got up to shake hands.

Ronny said, “You can’t be in that much of a hurry. What’s your assignment, boys?”

Lippman, an earnest type, and by his appearance not more than twenty-five or so years of age, began to answer, but Nazaré said hurriedly, “Actually, it’s a confidential assignment. We’re working directly out of the Octagon.”

Lippman said, frowning, “It’s not that confidential, Tog. Bronston’s an agent, too. What’s your assignment, Ronny?”

Ronny said very slowly, “I’m beginning to suspect that it’s the same as yours and various pieces are beginning to fall into place.”

Lippman was taken aback. “You mean you’re looking for Tommy Paine?” His eyes went to his associate. “How could that be, Tog? I didn’t know more than one of us were on this job. Why, that means if Bronston here finds him first, I won’t get my permanent appointment.”

Ronny looked at Tog Lee Chang Chu who was sitting demurely, hands in lap, and a resigned expression on her face. He said, “Nor if you find him first, will I. Look here, Tog, how many men does Sid Jakes have out on this assignment?”

“I wouldn’t know,” she said mildly.

He snapped, “A few dozen or so? Or possibly a few hundred?”

“It seems unlikely there could be that many,” she said mildly. She looked at the other two agents. “I think you two had better run along. Take my suggestion I made earlier.”

“Wait a minute,” Ronny snapped. “You mean that they go to Catalina? That’s ridiculous.”

Tog Lee Chang Chu looked at Pedro Nazaré and he turned and started for the door followed by Fredric Lippman who was still scowling his puzzlement.

“Wait a minute!” Ronny snapped. “I tell you it’s ridiculous. And why follow her suggestions? She’s just my assistant.”

Pedro Nazaré said, “Come on, Fred, let’s get going, we’ll have to pack.” But Lippman wasn’t having any.

“His assistant?” he said to Tog Lee Chang Chu.

Tog Lee Chang Chu’s face changed expression in sudden decision. She opened her bag and brought forth a Section G identification wallet and flicked it open. The badge was gold. “I suggest you hurry,” she said to the two agents.

They left, and Tog turned back to Ronny, her eyebrows raised questioningly.

Ronny sank down into one of the chairs recently occupied by the other two agents and tried to unravel thoughts. He said finally, “I suppose my question should be, why do Ross Metaxa and Sid Jakes send an agent of supervisor rank to act as assistant to a probationary agent? But that’s not what I’m asking yet. First, Lippman just called his buddy Tog. How come?”

Tog took her seat again, rueful resignation on her face. “You should be figuring it out on your own by this time, Ronny.”

He looked at her belligerently. “I’m too stupid, eh?” The anger was growing within him.

“Tog,” she said. “It’s a nickname, or possibly you might call it a title. Tog. T-O-G. The Other Guy. My name is Lee Chang Chu, and I’m of supervisor grade presently working at developing new Section G operatives. Considering the continuing rapid growth of U.P., and the continuing crises that come up in U.P. activities, developing new operatives is one of the department’s most pressing jobs. Each new agent, on his first assignment, is always paired with an experienced old-timer.”

“I see,” he said flatly. “Your principal job being to needle the fledging, eh?”

She lowered her eyes. “I wouldn’t exactly word it that way,” she said. She was obviously unrepentant.

He said, “You must get a lot of laughs out of it. If I say, it seems to me democracy is a good thing, you give me an argument about the superiority of rule by an elite. If I say anarchism is ridiculous, you dredge up an opinion that it’s man’s highest ethic. You must laugh yourself to sleep at nights. You and Metaxa and Jakes and every other agent in Section G. Everybody is in on the Tog gag but the sucker.”

“Sometimes there are amusing elements to the work,” Lee Chang conceded, demurely.

“Just one more thing I’d like to ask,” Ronny rapped. “This first assignment, agents are given. Is it always to look for Tommy Paine?”

She looked up at him, said nothing, but her eyes were questioning.

“Don’t worry,” he snapped. “I’ve already found out who Paine is.”

“Ah?” She was suddenly interested. “Then I’m glad I ordered that other probationary agent to leave. Evidently, he hasn’t. Obviously, I didn’t want the two of you comparing notes.”

“No, that would never do,” he said bitterly. “Well, this is the end of the assignment so far as you and I are concerned. I’m heading back for Earth.”

“Of course,” she said.

He had time on the way to think it all over, and over and over again, and a great deal of it simply didn’t make sense. He had enough information to be disillusioned, sick at heart. To have crumbled an idealistic edifice that had taken a lifetime to build. A lifetime? At least three. His father and his grandfather before him had had the dream. He’d been weaned on the idealistic purposes of the United Planets and man’s fated growth into the stars.

He was a third-generation dreamer of participating in the glory. His grandfather had been a citizen of Earth and gave up a commercial position to take a job that amounted to little more than a janitor in an obscure department of Interplanetary Financial Clearing. He wanted to get into the big job, into space, but never made it. Ronny’s father managed to work up to the point where he was a supervisor in Interplanetary Medical Exchange, in the tabulating department. He, too, had wanted into space, and never made it. Ronny had loved them both. In a way fulfilling his own dreams had been a debt he owed them, because at the same time he was fulfilling theirs.

And now this. All that had been gold, was suddenly gilted lead. The dream had become contemptuous nightmare.

Finally back in Greater Washington, he went immediately from the shuttleport to the Octagon. His Bureau of Investigation badge was enough to see him through the guide-guards and all the way through to the office of Irene Kasansky.

She looked up at him quickly. “Hi,” she said. “Ronny Bronston, isn’t it?”

“That’s right. I want to see Commissioner Metaxa.”

She scowled. “I can’t work you in now. How about Sid Jakes?”

He said, “Jakes is in charge of the Tommy Paine routine, isn’t he?”

She shot a sharper look up at him. “That’s right,” she said warily.

“All right,” Ronny said. “I’ll see Jakes.”

Her deft right hand slipped open a drawer in her desk. “You’d better leave your gun here,” she said. “I’ve known probationary agents to get excited, in my time.”

He looked at her.

And she looked back, her gaze level.

Ronny Bronston shrugged, slipped the Model H from under his armpit and tossed it into the drawer.

Irene Kasansky went back to her work. “You know the way,” she said.

This time Ronny Bronston pushed open the door to Sid Jakes’ office without knocking. The Section G supervisor was poring over reports on his desk. He looked up and grinned his Sid Jakes’ grin.

“Ronny!” he said. “Welcome back. You know, you’re one of the quickest men ever to return from a Tommy Paine assignment. I was talking to Lee Chang only a day or so ago. She said you were on your way.”

Ronny grunted, his anger growing within him. He lowered himself into one of the room’s heavy chairs, and glared at the other.

Sid Jakes chuckled and leaned back in his chair. “Before we go any further, just to check, who is Tommy Paine?”

Ronny snapped, “You are.”

The supervisor’s eyebrows went up.

Ronny said, “You and Ross Metaxa and Lee Chang Chu⁠—and all the rest of Section G. Section G is Tommy Paine.”

“Good man!” Sid Jakes chortled. He flicked a switch on his order box. “Irene,” he said, “how about clearing me through to the commissioner? I want to take Ronny in for his finals.”

Irene snapped back something and Sid Jakes switched off and turned to Ronny happily. “Let’s go,” he said. “Ross is free for a time.”

Ronny Bronston said nothing. He followed the other. The rage within him was still mounting.

In the months that had elapsed since Ronny Bronston had seen Ross Metaxa the latter had changed not at all. His clothing was still sloppy, his eyes bleary with lack of sleep or abundance of alcohol⁠—or both. His expression was still sour and skeptical.

He looked up at their entry and scowled, and made no effort to rise and shake hands. He said to Ronny sourly, “OK, sound off and get it over with. I haven’t too much time this afternoon.”

Ronny Bronston was just beginning to feel tentacles of cold doubt, but he suppressed them. The boiling anger was uppermost. He said flatly, “All my life I’ve been a dedicated United Planets man. All my life I’ve considered its efforts the most praiseworthy and greatest endeavor man has ever attempted.”

“Of course, old chap,” Jakes told him cheerfully. “We know all that, or you wouldn’t ever have been chosen as an agent for Section G.”

Ronny looked at him in disgust. “I’ve resigned that position, Jakes.”

Jakes grinned back at him. “To the contrary, you’re now in the process of receiving permanent appointment.”

Ronny snorted his disgust and turned back to Metaxa. “Section G is a secret department of the Bureau of Investigation devoted to subverting Article One of the United Planets Charter.”

Metaxa nodded.

“You don’t deny it?”

Metaxa shook his head.

“Article One,” Ronny snapped, “is the basic foundation of the Charter which every member of U.P. and particularly every citizen of United Planets, such as ourselves, has sworn to uphold. But the very reason for the existence of this Section G is to interfere with the internal affairs of member planets, to subvert their governments, their economic systems, their religions, their ideals, their very way of life.”

Metaxa yawned and reached into a desk drawer for his bottle. “That’s right,” he said. “Anybody like a drink?”

Ronny ignored him. “I’m surprised I didn’t catch on even sooner,” he said. “On New Delos Mouley Hassan, the local agent, knew the God-King was going to be assassinated. He brought in extra agents and even a detail of Space Forces guards for the emergency. He probably engineered the assassination himself.”

“Nope,” Jakes said. “We seldom go that far. Local rebels did the actual work, but, admittedly, we knew what they were planning. In fact, I’ve got a sneaking suspicion that Mouley Hassan provided them with the bomb. That lad’s a bit too dedicated.”

“But why,” Ronny blurted. “That’s deliberately interfering with internal affairs. If the word got out, every planet in U.P. would resign.”

“Probably no planet in the system that needed a change so badly,” Metaxa growled. “If they were ever going to swing into real progress, that hierarchy of priests had to go.” He snorted. “An immortal God-King, yet.”

Ronny pressed on. “That was bad enough, but how about this planet Mother, where the colonists had attempted to return to nature and live in the manner man did in earliest times.”

“Most backward planet in the U.P.,” Metaxa said sourly. “They just had to be roused.”

“And Kropotkin!” Ronny blurted. “Don’t you understand, those people were happy there. Their lives were simple, uncomplicated, and they had achieved a happiness that⁠—”

Metaxa came to his feet. He scowled at Ronny Bronston and growled, “Unfortunately, the human race can’t take the time out for happiness. Come along, I want to show you something.”

He swung around the corner of his desk and made his way toward a ceiling-high bookcase.

Ronny stared after him, taken off guard, but Sid Jakes was grinning his amusement.

Ross Metaxa pushed a concealed button and the bookcase slid away to one side to reveal an elevator beyond.

“Come along,” Metaxa repeated over his shoulder. He entered the elevator, followed by Jakes.

There was nothing else to do. Ronny Bronston followed them, his face still flushed with the angered argument.

The elevator dropped, how far, Ronny had no idea. It stopped and they emerged into a plain, sparsely furnished vault. Against one wall was a boxlike affair that reminded Ronny of nothing so much as a deepfreeze.

For all practical purposes, that’s what it was. Ross Metaxa led him over and they stared down into its glass-covered interior.

Ronny’s eyes bugged. The box contained the partly charred body of an animal approximately the size of a rabbit. No, not an animal. It had obviously once been clothed, and its limbs were obviously those of a tool using life form.

Metaxa and Jakes were staring down at it solemnly, for once no inane grin on the supervisor’s face. And that of Ross Metaxa was more weary than ever.

Ronny said finally, “What is it?” But he knew.

“You tell us,” Metaxa growled sourly.

“It’s an intelligent life form,” Ronny blurted. “Why has it been kept secret?”

“Let’s go on back upstairs,” Metaxa sighed.

Back in his office he said, “Now I go into my speech. Shut up for a while.” He poured himself a drink, not offering one to the other two. “Ronny,” he said, “man isn’t alone in the galaxy. There’s other intelligent life. Dangerously intelligent.”

In spite of himself Ronny reacted in amusement. “That little creature down there? The size of a small monkey?” As soon as he said it, he realized the ridiculousness of his statement.

Metaxa grunted. “Obviously, size means nothing. That little fellow down there was picked up by one of our Space Forces scouts over a century ago. How long he’d been drifting through space, we don’t know. Possibly only months, but possibly hundreds of centuries. But however long he’s proof that man is not alone in the galaxy. And we have no way of knowing when the expanding human race will come up against this other intelligence⁠—and whoever it was fighting.”

“But,” Ronny protested, “you’re assuming they’re aggressive. Perhaps coming in contact with these aliens will be the best thing that ever happened to man. Possibly that little fellow down there is the most benevolent creature ever evolved.”

Metaxa looked at him strangely. “Let’s hope so,” he said. “However, when found he was in what must have been a one-man scout. He was dead and his craft was blasted and torn⁠—obviously from some sort of weapons’ fire. His scout was obviously a military craft, highly equipped with what could only be weapons, most of them so damaged our engineers haven’t been able to figure them out. To the extent they have been able to reconstruct them, they’re scared silly. No, there’s no two ways about it, our little rabbit sized intelligence down in the vault was killed in an interplanetary conflict. And sooner or later, Ronny, man in his explosion into the stars is going to run into either or both of the opponents in that conflict.”

Ronny Bronston slumped back into his chair, his brain running out a dozen leads at once.

Metaxa and Jakes remained quiet, looking at him speculatively.

Ronny said slowly, “Then the purpose of Section G is to push the member planets of U.P. along the fastest path of progress, to get them ready for the eventual, inevitable meeting.”

“Not just Section G,” Metaxa growled, “but all of the United Planets organization, although most of the rank and file don’t even know our basic purpose. Section G? We do the dirty work, and are proud to do it, by every method we can devise.”

Ronny leaned forward. “But look,” he said. “Why not simply inform all member planets of this common danger? They’d all unite in the effort to meet the common potential foe. Anything standing in the way would be brushed aside.”

Metaxa shook his head wearily. “Would they? Is a common danger enough for man to change his institutions, particularly those pertaining to property, power and religion? History doesn’t show it. Delve back into early times and you’ll recall, for an example, that in man’s early discovery of nuclear weapons he almost destroyed himself. Three or four different socioeconomic systems coexisted at that time and all would have preferred destruction rather than changes in their social forms.”

Jakes said, in an unwonted quiet tone, “No, until someone comes up with a better answer it looks as though Section G is going to have to continue the job of advancing man’s institutions, in spite of himself.”

The commissioner made it clearer. “It’s not as though we deal with all our member planets. It isn’t necessary. But you see, Ronny, the best colonists are usually made up of the, well, crackpot element. Those who are satisfied, stay at home. America, for instance, was settled by the adventurers, the malcontents, the nonconformists, the religious cultists, and even fugitives and criminals of Europe. So it is in the stars. A group of colonists go out with their dreams, their schemes, their far-out ideas. In a few centuries they’ve populated their new planet, and often do very well indeed. But often not and a nudge, a push, from Section G can start them up another rung or so of the ladder of social evolution. Most of them don’t want the push. Few cultures, if any, realize they are mortal; like Hitler’s Reich, they expect to last at least a thousand years. They resist any change⁠—even change for the better.”

Ronny’s defenses were crumbling, but he threw one last punch. “How do you know the changes you make are for the better?”

Metaxa shrugged heavy shoulders. “It’s sometimes difficult to decide, but we aim for changes that will mean an increased scientific progress, a more advanced industrial technology, more and better education, the opening of opportunity for every member of the culture to exert himself to the full of his abilities. The last is particularly important. Too many cultures, even those that think of themselves as particularly advanced, suppress the individual by one means or another.”

Ronny was still mentally reeling with the magnitude of it all. “But how can you account for the fact that these alien intelligences haven’t already come in contact with us?”

Metaxa shrugged again. “The Solar System, our sun, is way out in a sparsely populated spiral arm of our galaxy. Undoubtedly, these others are further in toward the center. We have no way of knowing how far away they are, or how many sun systems they dominate, or even how many other empires of intelligent life forms there are. All we know is that there are other intelligences in the galaxy, that they are near enough like us to live on the same type planets. The more opportunity man has to develop before the initial contact takes place, the stronger bargaining position, or military position, as the case may be, he’ll be in.”

Sid Jakes summed up the Tommy Paine business for Ronny’s sake. “We need capable agents badly, but we need dedicated and efficient ones. We can’t afford anything less. So when we come upon potential Section G operatives we send them out with a trusted Tog to get a picture of these United Planets of ours. It’s the quickest method of indoctrination we’ve hit upon; the agent literally teaches himself by observation and participation. Usually, it takes four or five stops, on this planet and that, before the probationary agent begins sympathizing with the efforts of this elusive Tommy Paine. Especially since every Section G agent he runs into, including the Tog, of course, fills him full of stories of Tommy Paine’s activities.

“You were one of the quickest to stumble on the true nature of our Section G. After calling at only three planets you saw that we ourselves are Tommy Paine.”

“But⁠ ⁠… but what’s the end?” Ronny said plaintively. “You say our job is advancing man, even in spite of himself when it comes to that. We start at the bottom of the evolutionary ladder in a condition of savagery, clan communism in government, simple animism in religion, and slowly we progress through barbarism to civilization, through paganism to the higher ethical codes, through chattel slavery and then feudalism and beyond. What is the final end, the Ultima Thule?”

Metaxa was shaking his head again. He poured himself another drink, offered the bottle this time to the others. “We don’t know,” he said wearily, “perhaps there is none. Perhaps there is always another rung on this evolutionary ladder.” He punched at his order box and said, “Irene, have them do up a silver badge for Ronny.”

Ronny Bronston took a deep breath and reached for the brown bottle. “Well,” he said. “I suppose I’m ready to ask for my first assignment.” He thought for a moment. “By the way, if there’s any way to swing it, I wouldn’t mind working with Supervisor Lee Chang Chu.”



One of the auto-copters swooped in and landed. Johnny McCord emptied his pipe into the wastebasket, came to his feet and strolled toward the open door. He automatically took up a sun helmet before emerging into the Saharan sun.

He was dressed in khaki shorts and short-sleeved shirt, wool socks and yellow Moroccan babouche slippers.

The slippers were strictly out of uniform and would have been frowned upon by Johnny’s immediate superiors. However, the Arabs had been making footwear suitable for sandy terrain for centuries before there had ever been a Sahara Reforestation Commission. Johnny was in favor of taking advantage of their know-how. Especially since the top brass made a point of staying in the swank air-conditioned buildings of Colomb-Bechar, Tamanrasset and Timbuktu, from whence they issued lengthy bulletins on the necessity of never allowing a Malian to see a Commission employee in less than the correct dress and in less than commanding dignity. While they were busily at work composing such directives, field men such as Johnny McCord went about the Commission’s real tasks.

It was auto-copter 4, which Johnny hadn’t expected for another half hour. He extracted the reports and then peered into the cockpit to check. There were two red lights flickering on the panel. Work for Reuben. This damned sand was a perpetual hazard to equipment. Number 4 had just had an overhaul a few weeks before and here it was throwing red lights already.

He took the reports back into the office and dumped them into the card-punch. While they were being set up, Johnny went over to the office refrigerator and got out a can of Tuborg beer. Theoretically, it was as taboo to drink iced beer in this climate, and particularly at this time of day, as it was to go out into the sun without a hat. But this was one place where the Commission’s medics could go blow.

By the time he’d finished the Danish brew, the card-punch had stopped clattering so he took the cards from the hopper and crossed to the sorter. He gave them a quick joggling⁠—cards held up well in this dry climate, though they were a terror further south⁠—and sorted them through four code numbers, enough for this small an amount. He carried them over to the collator and merged them into the proper file.

He was still running off a report on the Alphabetyper when Derek Mason came in.

Johnny drawled in a horrible caricature of a New England accent, “I say, Si, did the cyclone hurt your barn any?”

Derek’s voice took on the same twang. “Don’t know, Hiram, we ain’t found it yet.”

Johnny said, “You get all your chores done, Si?”

Derek dropped the pseudo-twang and his voice expressed disgust. “I got a chore for you Johnny, that you’re going to love. Rounding up some livestock.”

Johnny looked up from the report he was running off and shot an impatient glance at him. “Livestock? What the hell are you talking about?”


Johnny McCord flicked the stop button on the Alphabetyper. “Where’ve you been? There isn’t a goat within five hundred miles of here.”

Derek went over to the refrigerator for beer. He said over his shoulder, “I was just making a routine patrol over toward Amérene El Kasbach. I’d estimate there were a hundred Tuareg in camp there. Camels, a few sheep, a few horses and donkeys. Mostly goats. Thousands of them. By the looks of the transplants, they’ve been there possibly a week or so.”

Johnny said in agony, “Oh, Lord. What clan were they?”

Derek punched a hole in his beer can with the opener that hung from the refrigerator by a string. “I didn’t go low enough to check. You can never tell with a Tuareg. They can’t resist as beautiful a target as a helicopter, and one of these days one of them is going to make a hole in me, instead of in the fuselage or rotors.”

Johnny McCord, furious, plunked himself down before the telephone and dialed Tessalit, 275 kilometers to the south. The girl on the desk there grinned at him and said, “Hello, Johnny.”

Johnny McCord was in no mood for pleasantries. He snapped, “Who’s supposed to be on Bedouin patrol down there?”

She blinked at him. “Why, Mohammed is in command of patrolling this area, Mr. McCord.”

“Mohammed? Mohammed who? Eighty percent of these Malians are named Mohammed.”

“Captain Mohammed Mohmoud ould Cheikh.” She added, unnecessarily, “The Cadi’s son.”

Johnny grunted. He’d always suspected that the captain had got his ideas of what a cadi’s son should be like from seeing Hollywood movies. “Look, Kate,” he said. “Let me talk to Mellor, will you?”

Her face faded to be replaced by that of a highly tanned, middle-aged executive type. He scowled at Johnny McCord with a this-better-be-important expression, not helping Johnny’s disposition.

He snapped, “Somebody’s let several thousand goats into my eucalyptus transplants in my western four hundred.”

Mellor was taken aback.

Johnny said, “I can have Derek back-trail them, if you want to be sure, but it’s almost positive they came from the south, this time of year.”

Mellor sputtered, “They might have come from the direction of Timmissao. Who are they, anyway?”

“I don’t know. Tuareg. I thought we’d supposedly settled with all the Tuareg. Good Lord, man, do you know how many transplants a thousand goats can go through in a week’s time?”

“A week’s time!” Mellor rasped. “You mean you’ve taken a whole week to detect them?”

Johnny McCord glared at him. “A whole week! We’re lucky they didn’t spend the whole season before we found them. How big a staff do you think we have here, Mellor? There’s just three of us. Only one can be spared for patrol.”

“You have natives,” the older man growled.

“They can’t fly helicopters. Most of them can’t even drive a Land Rover or a jeep. Besides that, they’re scared to death of Tuaregs. They wouldn’t dare report them. What I want to know is, why didn’t you stop them coming through?”

Mellor was on the defensive. He ranked Johnny McCord, but that was beside the point right now. He said finally, “I’ll check this all the way through, McCord. Meanwhile, I’ll send young Mohammed Mohmoud up with a group of his men.”

“To do what?” Johnny demanded.

“To shoot the goats, what else?”

Johnny growled, “One of these days a bunch of these Tuareg are going to decide that a lynching bee is in order, and that’s going to be the end of this little base at Bidon Cinq.”

Mellor said, “If they’re Tuareg nomads then they have no legal right to be within several hundred miles of Bidon Cinq. And if they’ve got goats, they shouldn’t have. The Commission has bought up every goat in this part of the world.”

Johnny growled, “Sure, bought them up and then left it to the honor of the Tuareg to destroy them. The honor of the Tuareg! Ha!”

The other said pompously, “Are you criticizing the upper echelons, McCord?”

Johnny McCord snapped, “You’re damned right I am.” He slammed off the telephone and turned on Derek Mason. “What are you grinning about?”

Derek drawled, “I say, Hiram, I got a sneaky suspicion you ain’t never gonna graduate off’n this here farm if you don’t learn how to cotton up to the city slickers better.”

“Oh, shut up,” Johnny growled. “Let’s have another beer.”

Before Derek could bring it to him, the telephone screen lit up again and Paul Peterson, of the Poste Weygand base, was there. He said, “Hi. You guys look like you’re having a crisis.”

“Hello, Paul,” Johnny McCord said. “Crisis is right. Those jerks down south let a clan of Tuareg, complete with a few thousand goats, camels and sheep through. They’ve been grazing a week or more in my west four hundred.”

“Good grief.” Paul grimaced. “At least that’s one thing we don’t have to worry about. They never get this far up. How’d it happen?”

“I don’t know, but I’m going to find out. I haven’t seen the mess yet, but it’s certain to wreck that whole four hundred. Have you ever seen just one goat at work on the bark of three-year transplants?”

Paul shuddered sympathetically. “Look, Johnny,” he said. “The reason I called you. There’s an air-cushion Land Rover coming through. She just left.”

Derek Mason looked over Johnny’s shoulder into the screen. “What d’ya mean, she?”

Paul grinned. “Just that, and, Buster, she’s stacked. A Mademoiselle Hélène Desage of Paris Match.”

Johnny said, “The French magazine? What’s she doing in a road car? Why doesn’t she have an aircraft? There hasn’t been a road car through here this whole year.”

Paul shrugged. “She claims she’s getting it from the viewpoint of how things must’ve been twenty years ago. So, anyway, we’ve notified you. If she doesn’t turn up in eight or ten hours, you better send somebody to look for her.”

“Yeah,” Johnny McCord said. “Well, so long, Paul.”

The other’s face faded from the screen and Johnny McCord turned to his colleague. “One more extraneous something to foul up our schedule.”

Derek said mildly, “I say, Hiram, what’re you complaining about? Didn’t you hear tell what Paul just said? She’s stacked. Be just like a traveling saleswoman visitin’ the farm.”

“Yeah,” Johnny growled. “And I can see just how much work I’ll be getting out of you as long as she’s here.”


Poste Maurice Cortier, better known in the Sahara as Bidon Cinq, is as remote a spot on earth in which man has ever lived. Some 750 kilometers to the south is Bourem on the Niger river. If you go west of Bourem another 363 kilometers, you reach Timbuktu, the nearest thing to a city in that part of the Sudan. If you travel north from Bidon Cinq 1,229 kilometers you reach Colomb-Béchar, the nearest thing to a city in southern Algeria. There are no railroads, no highways. The track through the desert is marked by oil drums filled with gravel so the wind won’t blow them away. There is an oil drum every quarter of a mile or so. You go from one to the next, carrying your own fuel and water. If you get lost, the authorities come looking for you in aircraft. Sometimes they find you.

In the latter decades of the Twentieth Century, Bidon Cinq became an outpost of the Sahara Reforestation Commission which was working north from the Niger, and south from Algeria as well as east from the Atlantic. The water table in the vicinity of Bidon Cinq was considerably higher than had once been thought. Even artesian wells were possible in some localities. More practical still were springs and wells exploited by the new solar-powered pumps that in their tens of thousands were driving back the sands of the world’s largest desert.

Johnny McCord and Derek Mason ate in the officer’s mess, divorced from the forty or fifty Arabs and Songhai who composed their work force. It wasn’t snobbery, simply a matter of being able to eat in leisure and discuss the day’s activities free of the chatter of the larger mess hall.

Derek looked down into his plate. “Hiram,” he drawled, “who ever invented this here cous cous?”

Johnny looked over at the tall, easygoing Canadian who was his second in command and scowled dourly. He was in no humor for their usual banter. “What’s the matter with cous cous?” Johnny growled.

“I don’t know,” Derek said. “I’m a meat and potatoes man at heart.”

Johnny shrugged. “Cous cous serves the same purpose as potatoes do. Or rice, or spaghetti, or bread, or any of the other bland basic foods. It’s what you put on it that counts.”

Derek stared gloomily into his dish. “Well, I wish they’d get something more interesting than ten-year-old mutton to put on this.”

Johnny said, “Where in the devil is Pierre? It’s nearly dark.”

“Reuben?” Derek drawled. “Why Reuben went out to check the crops up in the northeast forty. Took the horse and buggy.”

That didn’t help Johnny’s irritation. “He took an air-cushion jeep, instead of a copter? Why, for heaven’s sake?”

“He wanted to check quite a few of the pumps. Said landing and taking off was more trouble than the extra speed helped. He’ll be back shortly.”

“He’s back now,” a voice from the door said.

Pierre Marimbert, brushing sand from his clothes, pushed into the room and made his way to the mess-hall refrigerator. He said nothing further until he had a can of beer open.

Johnny said, “Damn it, Pierre, you shouldn’t stay out this late in a jeep. If you got stuck out there, we’d have one hell of a time finding you. In a copter you’ve at least got the radio.”

Pierre had washed the dust from his throat. Now he said quietly, “I wanted to check on as many pumps as I could.”

“You could have gone back tomorrow. The things are supposed to be self-sufficient, no checking necessary more than once every three months. There’s practically nothing that can go wrong with them.”

Pierre finished off the can of beer, reached into the refrigerator for another. “Dynamite can go wrong with them,” he said.

The other two looked at him, shocked silent.

Pierre said, “I don’t know how many altogether. I found twenty-two of the pumps in the vicinity of In Ziza had been blown to smithereens⁠—out of forty I checked.”

Johnny rapped, “How long ago? How many trees⁠ ⁠… ?”

Pierre laughed sourly. “I don’t know how long ago. The transplants, especially the slash pine, are going to be just so much kindling before I get new pumps in.”

Derek said, shocked, “That’s our oldest stand.”

Pierre Marimbert, a forty-year-old, sun-beaten Algerian colon, eldest man on the team, sank into his place at the table. He poured the balance of his can of beer into a glass.

Johnny said, “What⁠ ⁠… what can we do? How many spare pumps can you get into there, and how soon?”

Pierre looked up at him wearily. “You didn’t quite hear what I said, Johnny. I only checked forty. Forty out of nearly a thousand in that vicinity. Twenty-two of them were destroyed, better than fifty percent. For all I know, that percentage applies throughout the whole In Ziza area. If so, there’s damn few of your trees going to be left alive. We have a few spare pumps on hand here, but we’d have to get a really large number all the way from Dakar.”

Derek said softly, “That took a lot of men and a lot of dynamite. Which means a lot of transport⁠—and a lot of money. We’ve had trouble before, but usually it was disgruntled nomads, getting revenge for losing their grazing land.”

Johnny snorted, “Damn little grazing this far north.”

Derek nodded. “I’m simply saying that even if we could blame our minor sabotage on the Tuareg in the past, we can’t do it this time. There’s money behind anything this big.”

Johnny McCord said wearily, “Let’s eat. In the morning we’ll go out and take a look. I’d better call Timbuktu on this. If nothing else, the Mali Federation can send troops out to protect us.”

Derek grunted. “With a standing army of about 25,000 men, they’re going to patrol a million and a half square miles of desert?”

“Can you think of anything else to do?”


Pierre Marimbert began dishing cous cous into a soup plate, then poured himself a glass of vin ordinaire. He said, “I can’t think of a better place for saboteurs. Twenty men could do millions of dollars of destruction and never be found.”

Johnny growled, “It’s not as bad as all that. They’ve got to eat and drink, and so do their animals. There are damned few places where they can.”

From the door a voice said, “I am intruding?”

They hadn’t heard her car come up. The three men scrambled to their feet.

“Good evening,” Johnny McCord blurted.

“Hell⁠ ⁠… o!” Derek breathed.

Pierre Marimbert was across the room, taking her in hand. “Bonjour, Mademoiselle. Que puis-je faire pour vous? Voulez-vous une biere bien fraiche ou un apéritif? Il fait trés chaud dans le desert.” He led her toward the table.

“Easy, easy there, Reuben,” Derek grumbled. “The young lady speaks English. Give a man a chance.”

Johnny was placing a chair for her. “Paul Peterson, from Poste Weygand, radioed that you were coming. You’re a little late, Mademoiselle Desage.”

She was perhaps thirty, slim, long-legged, Parisian style. Even at Bidon Cinq, half a world away from the Champs Élysées, she maintained her chic.

She made a moue at Johnny, while taking the chair he held. “I had hoped to surprise you, catch you off guard.” She took in the sun-dried, dour-faced American wood technologist appraisingly, then turned her eyes in turn to Derek and Pierre.

“You three are out here all alone?” she said demurely.

“Desperately,” Derek said.

Johnny McCord said, “Mademoiselle Hélène Desage, I am John McCord, and these are my associates, Monsieur Pierre Marimbert and Mr. Derek Mason. Gentlemen, Mademoiselle Desage is with Paris Match, the French equivalent of Life, so I understand. In short, she is undoubtedly here for a story. So ixnay on the ump-pays.”

“I would love cold beer,” Hélène Desage said to Pierre, and to Johnny McCord, “These days a traveling reporter for Paris Match must be quite a linguist. My English, Spanish and Italian are excellent. My German passable. And while I am not fluent in Pig-Latin, I can follow it. What is this you are saying about the pumps?”

“Oh, Lord,” Johnny said. “Perhaps I’ll tell you in the morning. But for now, would you like to clean up before supper? You must be exhausted after that 260 kilometers from Poste Weygand.”

Pierre said hurriedly, “I’ll take Mademoiselle Desage over to one of the guest bungalows.”

“Zut!” she said. “The sand! It is even worse than between Reggan and Poste Weygand. Do you realize that until I began coming across your new forests I saw no life at all between these two posts?”

The three forestry experts bowed in unison, as though rehearsed. “Mademoiselle,” Derek, from the heart, “calling our transplant forests is the kindest thing you could have said in these parts.”

They all laughed and Pierre led her from the room.

Derek looked at Johnny McCord. “Wow, that was a slip mentioning the pumps.”

Johnny was looking through the door after her. “I suppose so,” he said sourly. “I’ll have to radio the brass and find out the line we’re supposed to take with her. That’s the biggest magazine in the French-speaking world and you don’t get a job on it without knowing the journalistic ropes. That girl can probably smell a story as far as a Tuareg can smell water.”

“Well, then undoubtedly she’s already sniffing. Because, between that clan of Tuareg with its flocks and the pump saboteurs, we’ve got more stories around here than I ever expected!”


In the morning Hélène Desage managed to look the last word in what desert fashion should be, when she strolled into Johnny McCord’s office. Although she came complete with a sun helmet that must have been the product of a top Parisian shop, she would have been more at place on the beaches at Miami, Honolulu or Cannes. Her shorts were short and fitting, her blouse silken, her walking shoes dainty.

He considered for a moment and then decided against informing her that Moslems, particularly in this part of the world, were little used to seeing semi-nude women strolling about. He’d leave the job of explanation to Pierre, as a fellow Frenchman and the oldest man present to boot.

“Bonjour,” she said. “What a lovely day. I have been strolling about your little oasis. But you have made it a garden!”

“Thanks,” Johnny said. “We’ve got to have something to do after working hours. Entertainment is on the scarce side. But it’s more than a garden. We’ve been experimenting to see just what trees will take to this country⁠—given water and care through the early years. Besides, we use it as a showplace.”


“For skeptical politicians who come through,” Johnny said, seating her in a chair near his desk. “We give them the idea that the whole Sahara could eventually be like this square mile or so at Bidon Cinq. Palm trees, fruit trees, pines, shade trees. The works.”

“And could it?”

Johnny grinned sourly. “Well, not exactly. Not all in one spot, at least. You’ve got to remember, the Sahara covers an area of some three and a half million square miles. In that area you find almost everything.”

“Everything except water, eh?” She was tapping a cigarette on a polish-reddened thumbnail. As he lit it for her, Johnny McCord realized that he hadn’t seen fingernail polish for a year. He decided it was too long.

“Even water, in some parts,” he said. “There’s more water than most people realize. For instance, the Niger, which runs right through a considerable part of the Sahara, is the eleventh largest river in the world. But until our commission went to work on it, it dumped itself into the Gulf of Guinea, unused.”

“The Niger is a long way from here,” she said through her smoke.

He nodded. “For that matter, though, we have a certain amount of rain, particularly in the highland regions of the central massif. In the past, with no watershed at all, it ran off, buried itself in the sands, or evaporated.”

Mr. McCord,” she said, “you are amazingly optimistic. Formerly, I must admit I had little knowledge of the Sahara Reforestation Commission. And I deliberately avoided studying up on the subject after receiving this assignment, because I wanted first impression to be received on the spot. However, I’ve just driven across the Sahara. My impression is that your Commission is one great⁠—Comment dit-on?⁠—boondoggling project, a super-W.P.A. into which to plow your American resources and manpower. It is a fake, a delusion. This part of the world has never been anything but wasteland, and never will be.”

Johnny McCord heard her out without change in expression.

He’d been through this before. In fact, almost every time a junketing congressman came through. There was danger in the viewpoint, of course. If the fantastic sums of money which were being spent were cut off, such pessimistic views would become automatically correct.

He took the paperweight from a stack of the correspondence on his desk and handed it to her.

She looked at it and scowled⁠—very prettily, but still a scowl. “What is this? It’s a beautiful piece of stone.”

“I picked it up myself,” Johnny said. “Near Reggan. It’s a chunk of petrified wood, Miss Desage. From a tree that must have originally had a diameter of some ten feet. Not quite a redwood, of course, but big.”

“Yes,” she said, turning it over in her hand. “I can see this part, which must have once been bark. But why do you show it to me?”

“The Sahara was once a semitropical, moist area, highly wooded. It can become so again.”

She put the piece of fossil back on his desk. “How long ago?” she said bluntly.

“A very long time ago, admittedly. During the last Ice Age and immediately afterwards. But, given man’s direction, it can be done again. And it must be.”

She raised pencilled eyebrows at him. “Must be?”

Johnny McCord shifted in his chair. “You must be aware of the world’s population explosion, Miss Desage. The human race can’t allow three and a half million square miles of land to be valueless.” He grunted in deprecation. “And at the rate it was going, it would have been four million before long.”

She didn’t understand.

Johnny spelled it out for her. “A desert can be man-made. Have you ever been in the Middle East?” At her nod, he went on. “Visitors there usually wonder how in the world the ancient Jews could ever have thought of that area as a land of milk and honey. On the face of it, it’s nothing but badlands. What was once the Fertile Crescent now looks like Arizona.”

Hélène Desage was frowning at him. “And you suggest man did this⁠—not nature?”

“The goat did it. The goat, and the use of charcoal as fuel. Along with ignorance of soil erosion and the destruction of the wonderful watershed based on the Cedars of Lebanon. Same thing applies to large areas of Libya and Tunisia, and to Morocco and Spain. Those countries used to be some of the richest agricultural areas of the Roman Empire. But you can’t graze goats, probably the most destructive animal domesticated, and you can’t depend on charcoal for fuel, unless you want to create desert.”

“Those things happened a long time ago.”

Johnny snorted. “When we first began operations, the Sahara was going south at the rate of two miles a year. Goats prefer twigs and bark even to grass. They strip a country.”

“Well,” the reporter said, shrugging shapely shoulders, “at any rate, the task is one of such magnitude as to be fantastic. Yesterday, I drove for nearly eight hours without seeing even a clump of cactus.”

“The route you traveled is comparatively untouched by our efforts, thus far,” Johnny nodded agreeably. “However, we’re slowly coming down from Algeria, up from the Niger, and, using the new chemical methods of freshening sea water, east from Mauretania.”

He came to his feet and pointed out spots on the large wall map. “Our territory, of course, is only this area which once was called French West Africa, plus Algeria. The battle is being fought elsewhere by others. The Egyptians and Sudanese are doing a fairly good job in their country, with Soviet Complex help. The Tunisians are doing a wonderful job with the assistance of Common Europe, especially Italy.”

She stood beside him and tried to understand. “What is this area, here, shaded green?”

He said proudly, “That’s how far we’ve got so far, heading north from the Niger. In the past, the desert actually came down to the side of the river in many places. The water was completely wasted. Now we’ve diverted it and are reforesting anywhere up to three miles a year.”

“Three miles a year,” she scoffed. “You’ll take five centuries.”

He shook his head and grinned. “It’s a progressive thing. Water is admittedly the big problem. But as our forests grow, they themselves bring up the moisture content of the climate. Down in this area⁠—” he made a sweeping gesture over the map which took in large sections north of the Niger⁠—“we’ve put in hundreds of millions of slash pine, which is particularly good for sandy soil and fast growing. In ten years you’ve gone from two-year-old seedlings to a respectable forest.”

Johnny pointed out Bidon Cinq on the map. “At the same time we found what amounts to a subterranean sea in this area. Not a real sea, of course, but a water-bearing formation or aquifer, deep down under the surface of the earth⁠—layers of rock and gravel in which large quantities of water are lying. The hydro-geological technicians who surveyed it estimate that it holds reserves of several billion tons of water. Utilizing it, we’ve put in several hundred square miles of seedlings and transplants of various varieties. Where there are natural oases, of course, we stress a lot of date palm. In rocky areas it’s Acacia tortila. In the mountains we sometimes use varieties of the pinyon⁠—they’ll take quite a beating but are a little on the slow-growing side.”

She was looking at him from the sides of her eyes. “You’re all taken up by this, aren’t you Mr. McCord?”

Johnny said, surprise in his voice. “Why, it’s my work.”

Derek came sauntering in and scaled his sun helmet onto his own desk. “Good morning, Mademoiselle,” he said. And to Johnny, “Hiram, that city slicker from Timbuktu just came up with his posse.”

Hélène said, “What is this Si, Hiram and Reuben which you call each other?”

Johnny smiled sourly, “In a way, Miss Desage, this is just one great tree farm. And all of us are farmers. So we make jokes about it.” He thought for a moment. “Derek, possibly you better take over with Mohammed. I want to get over to In Ziza with Reuben.”

“To see about the pumps?” Hélène said innocently.

Johnny frowned but was saved from an answer by the entrance of Mohammed Mohmoud. He was dark as a Saharan becomes dark, his original Berber blood to be seen only in his facial characteristics. He wore the rather flamboyant Mali Federation desert uniform with an air.

When he saw the girl, his eyebrows rose and he made the Moslem salaam with a sweeping flourish.

Johnny said, “Mademoiselle Desage, may I present Captain Mohammed Mohmoud ould Cheikh, of the Mali desert patrol.” He added sourly, “The officer in charge of preventing nomads from filtering up from the south into our infant forests.”

The Moslem scowled at him. “They could have come from the east, from Timmissao,” he said in quite passable English. “Or even from Mauritania.” He turned his eyes to Hélène Desage. “Enchanté, Mademoiselle. Trés heureux de faire ta connaissance.

She gave him the full benefit of her eyes. “Moi aussi, Monsieur.

Johnny wasn’t through with the Malian officer. “There’s a hundred of them,” he snapped, “with several thousand head of goats and other livestock. It would have been impossible to push that number across from Mauritania or even from the east, and you know it.”

A lighter complexion would have shown a flush. Mohammed Mohmoud’s displeasure was limited in expression to a flashing of desert eyes. He said, “Wherever their origin, the task would seem to be immediately to destroy the animals. That is why my men and I are here.”

Pierre Marimbert had entered while the conversation was going on. He said, “Johnny, weren’t you going over to In Ziza with me?”

Hélène Desage said, the tip of her right forefinger to her chin as she portrayed thought, “I can’t decide where to go. To this crisis of the Tuareg, or to the crisis of the pumps⁠—whatever that is.”

Johnny said flatly, “Sorry, but you’d just be in the way at either place.”

Mohammed Mohmoud was shrugging. “Why not let her come with me? I can guarantee her protection. I have brought fifty men with me, more than a match for a few bedouin.”

“Gracious,” she said. “Evidently I was unaware of the magnitude of this matter. I absolutely must go.”

Johnny said, “No.”

She looked at him appraisingly. “Mr. McCord,” she said, “I am here for a story. Has it occurred to you that preventing a Paris Match reporter from seeing your methods of operation is probably a bigger story than anything else I could find here?” She struck a mock pose. “I can see the headlines. Sahara Reforestation Authorities Prevent Journalists from Observing Operations.

“Oh, Good Lord,” Johnny growled. “This should happen to me, yet! Go on with Derek and the captain, if you wish.”

Pierre Marimbert and Johnny McCord took one of the faster helicopters, Pierre piloting. With French élan he immediately raised the craft a few feet and then like a nervous horse it backed up, wheeled about and dashed forward in full flight.

Spread below them were the several dozen buildings which comprised Bidon Cinq; surrounding the buildings, the acres of palm and pine, eucalyptus and black locust. Quick-growing, dry-climate trees predominated, but there were even such as balsam fir, chestnut and elm. It made an attractive sight from the air.

The reforestation projects based on Bidon Cinq were not all in the immediate vicinity of the home oasis. By air, In Ziza was almost 125 kilometers to the northeast. By far the greater part of the land lying in between was still lacking in vegetation of any sort. The hydro-geological engineers who had originally surveyed the area for water had selected only the best sections for immediate sinking of wells, placement of solar power pumps, and eventually the importation of two-year seedlings and three- and four-year-old transplants. The heavy auto-planters, brought in by air transport, had ground their way across the desert sands in their hundreds, six feet between machines. Stop, dig the hole, set the seedling, splash in water, artfully tamp down the soil, move on another six feet, stop⁠—and begin the operation all over again. Fifty trees an hour, per machine.

In less than two months, the planters had moved on to a new base further north. The mob of scientists, engineers, water and forest technicians, mechanics and laborers melted away, leaving Johnny McCord, his two assistants, his half dozen punch-card machines, his automated equipment and his forty or fifty native workers. It was one of a hundred such centers. It would eventually be one of thousands. The Sahara covered an area almost the size of Europe.

Johnny McCord growled, “Friend Mohammed seems quite taken with our reporter.”

Pierre grinned and tried to imitate a New England twang. “Why not, Hiram? She’s the first, eh, women folks seen in these parts for many a day.” He looked down at the endless stretches of sand dunes, gravel and rock outcroppings. “Mighty dry farmland you’ve got around here, Hiram.”

Johnny McCord grunted. “Derek said the other day it’s so dry even the mirages are only mud holes.” He pointed with his forefinger. “There’s the first of our trees. Now, what pumps did you check?”

Pierre directed the copter lower, skimmed not much higher than the young tree tops. Some of them had already reached an impressive height. But Johnny McCord realized that the time was not too distant when they’d have to replant. Casualties were considerably higher than in forest planting at home. Considerably so. And replanting wasn’t nearly so highly automated as the original work. More manpower was required.

“These pumps here seem all right,” he said to Pierre.

“A little further north,” Pierre said. “I came in over the track there, from the road that comes off the main route to Poste Weygand. Yes, there we are. Look! Completely destroyed.”

Johnny swore. The trees that had depended on that particular pump wouldn’t last a month, in spite of the fact that they were among the first set in this area.

He said, “Go higher. We should be able to spot the complete damage with glasses. You saw twenty-two, you say?”

“Yes, I don’t know how many more there might be.”

There were twenty-five destroyed pumps in all. And all of them were practically together.

It was sheer luck that Pierre Marimbert had located them so soon. Had his routine check taken place in some other section of the vast tree development, he would have found nothing untoward.

“This isn’t nearly so bad as I had expected,” Johnny growled. He was scowling thoughtfully.

“What’s the matter?” Pierre said.

“I just don’t get it,” Johnny said. “Number one, nomads don’t carry dynamite, unless it’s been deliberately given them. Two, if it was given them by someone with a purpose, why only enough to blow twenty-five pumps? That isn’t a drop in the bucket. A few thousand trees are all we’ll lose. Three, where did they come from? Where are their tracks? And where have they gone? This job wasn’t done so very long ago, probably within a week or two at most.”

“How do you know that?”

“Otherwise those trees affected would already be dying. At their age, they couldn’t stand the sun long without water.”

Pierre said, his face registering disbelief, “Do you think it could be simple vandalism on the part of a small band of Tuareg?”

“Sure, if the pumps had been destroyed by hand. But with explosives? Even if your band of Tuareg did have explosives they wouldn’t waste them on a few Sahara Reforestation Commission pumps.”

“This whole thing just doesn’t make sense,” Pierre Marimbert decided.

“Let’s land and take a look at one of those pumps,” Johnny said. “You know, if you get the whole crew to work on this you might be able to replace them before we lose any of these transplants. It’s all according to how long ago they were destroyed.”


Back at Bidon Cinq again that afternoon, Johnny McCord was greeted by the native office assistant he’d left in charge while all three of the officers were gone. Mellor, at the Tissalit base, had made several attempts to get in touch with him.

“Mellor!” Pierre grunted. “How do you Americans say it? Stuffed shirt!”

“Yeah,” Johnny McCord said, sitting down to the telephone. “But my boss.”

While Pierre was fishing two cans of beer from the refrigerator, Johnny dialed Tissalit. Kate’s face lit up the screen. Johnny said, “Hi. I understand the old man wants to talk to me.”

“That’s right,” the girl said, and moved a switch. “Just a minute, Johnny.”

Her face faded to be replaced by that of Mellor. Johnny noted that as usual the other wore a business suit, complete with white shirt and tie⁠—in the middle of the Sahara!

Mellor was scowling. “Where’ve you been, McCord?”

“Checking some pumps near In Ziza,” Johnny said evenly.

“Leaving no one at all at camp?” the other said.

Johnny said, “There were at least a score of men here, Mr. Mellor.”

“No officers. Suppose an emergency came up?”

Johnny felt like saying, An emergency did come up, two of them in fact. That’s why we were all gone at once. But for some reason he decided against explaining current happenings at Bidon Cinq until he had a clearer picture. He said, “There are only three of us here, Mr. Mellor. We have to stretch our manpower. Derek Mason had to go over to Amérene el Kasbach with Mohammed Mohmoud and his men to clear out those nomads and their livestock.”

“What did they find? Where were the Tuareg from?”

“They haven’t returned yet.” Automatically, Johnny took up his can of beer and took a swallow from it.

Mellor’s eyebrows went up. “Drinking this early in the day, McCord?”

Johnny sighed deeply, “Look, Mr. Mellor, Pierre Marimbert and I just returned from several hours in the desert, inspecting pumps. We’re dehydrated, so we’re drinking cold beer. It tastes wonderful. I doubt if it will lead either of us to a drunkard’s grave.”

Mellor scowled pompously. He said finally, “See here, McCord⁠—the reason I called⁠—you can be expecting a reporter from one of the French publications⁠—”

“She’s here.”

“Oh,” Mellor said. “I just received notice this morning. Orders are to give her the utmost cooperation. Things are on the touchy side right now. Very touchy.”

“How do you mean?” Johnny said.

“There are pressures on the highest levels,” Mellor said, managing to put over the impression that these matters were above and beyond such as Johnny McCord but that he, Mellor, was privy to them.

“What pressures?” Johnny said wearily. “If you want me to handle this woman with kid gloves, then I’ve got to know what I’m protecting her against, or hiding from her, or whatever the hell I’m supposed to do.”

Mellor glared at him. “I’m not sure I always appreciate your flippancy, McCord,” he said. “However, back home the opposition is in an uproar over our expenditures. Things are very delicate. A handful of votes could sway the continuance of the whole project.”

Johnny McCord closed his eyes in pain. This came up every year or so.

Mellor said, “That isn’t all. The Russkies are putting up a howl in the Reunited Nations. They claim the West plans to eventually take over all northwest Africa. That this reforestation is just preliminary to make the area worth assimilating.”

Johnny chuckled sourly, “Let’s face it. They’re right.”

Mellor was shocked. “Mr. McCord! The West has never admitted to any such scheme.”

Johnny sighed. “However, we aren’t plowing billions into the Sahara out of kindness of heart. The Mali Federation alone has almost two million square miles in it, and less than twenty million population. Already, there’s fewer people than are needed to exploit the new lands we’ve opened up.”

“Well, that brings up another point,” Mellor said. “The Southeast Asia Bloc is putting up a howl too. They claim they should be the ones allowed to reclaim this area and that it should go into farmland instead of forest.”

“They’re putting the cart before the horse,” Johnny said. “At this stage of the game, the only land they could use really profitably for farming would be along the Niger. We’re going to have to forest this whole area first, and in doing so, change the whole climate. Then it’ll⁠ ⁠…”

Mellor interrupted him. “I’m as familiar with the program of the Sahara Reforestation Commission as you are, I am sure, McCord. I need no lecture. See that Miss Desage gets as sympathetic a picture of our work as possible. And, for heaven’s sake, don’t let anything happen that might influence her toward writing something that would change opinions either at home or in the Reunited Nations.”

“I’ll do my best,” Johnny said sourly.

The other clicked off.

Pierre was handy with another can of beer, already opened. “So Mademoiselle Desage is to be handled with loving care.”

Johnny groaned, “And from what we’ve seen so far of Mademoiselle Desage, she’s going to take quite a bit of loving care to handle.”

Outside, they could hear the beating of rotors coming in. Two helicopters, from the sound of it. Beer cans in hand they went over to the window and watched them approach.

“Derek and the girl in one, Mohammed in the other,” Pierre said. “Evidently our good captain left the messy work of butchering goats to his men, while he remains on the scene to be as available to our girl Hélène as she will allow.”

The copters swooped in, landed, the rotors came to a halt and the occupants stepped from the cockpits. The Arab ground crew came running up to take over.

Preceded by Hélène Desage, the two men made their way toward the main office. Even at this distance there seemed to be an aggressive lift to the girl’s walk.

“Oh, oh, my friend,” Pierre said. “I am afraid Mademoiselle Desage is unhappy about something.”

Johnny groaned. “I think you’re right. But smile, Reuben, smile. You heard the city slicker’s orders. Handle her with all the care of a newborn heifer.”

Hélène Desage stormed through the door and glared at Johnny McCord. “Do you realize what your men are doing?”

“I thought I did,” Johnny said placatingly.

Derek and Mohammed Mohmoud entered behind her. Derek winked at Johnny McCord and made a beeline for the refrigerator. “Beer, everybody?” he said.

Mohammed Mohmoud said, “A soft drink for me, if you please, Mr. Mason.”

Derek said, “Sorry, I forgot. Beer, Miss Desage?”

She turned and glared at him. “You did nothing whatsoever to prevent them!”

Derek shrugged. “That’s why we went out there, honey. Did you notice how much damage those goats had done to the trees? Thousands of dollars worth.”

Johnny said wearily, “What happened?” He sank into the chair behind his desk.

The reporter turned to him again. “Your men are shooting the livestock of those poverty-stricken people.”

Mohammed Mohmoud said, “We are keeping an accurate count of every beast destroyed, Mr. McCord.” His dark face was expressionless.

Johnny McCord attempted to explain to the girl. “As I told you, Miss Desage, goats are the curse of the desert. They prefer leaves, twigs and even the bark of young trees to grass. The Commission before ever taking on this tremendous project arranged through the Mali Federation government to buy up and have destroyed every grazing animal north of the Niger. It cost millions upon millions. But our work couldn’t even begin until it was accomplished.”

“But why slaughter the livelihood of those poor people? You could quite easily insist that they return with their flocks to whatever areas are still available to them.”

Derek offered her a can of beer. She seemed to be going to reject it, but a desert-born thirst changed her mind. She took it without thanking him.

The lanky Canadian said mildly, “I tried to explain to her that the Tuareg aren’t exactly innocent children of the desert. They’re known as the Apaches of the Sahara. For a couple of thousand years they’ve terrified the other nomads. They were slave raiders, bandits. When the Commission started its work the other tribes were glad to sell their animals and take up jobs in the new oases. Send their kids to the new schools we’ve been building in the towns. Begin fitting into the reality of modern life.”

Her eyes were flashing now. “The Apaches of the Sahara, eh? Bien sur! If I remember correctly, the American Apaches were the last of the Indian tribes which you Americans destroyed. The last to resist. Now you export your methods to Africa!”

Johnny McCord said mildly, “Miss Desage, it seems to be the thing these days to bleed over the fate of the redman. Actually, there are a greater number of them in the United States today than there were when Columbus landed. But even if you do carry a torch for the noble Indian, picking the Apaches as an example is poor choice. They were bandit tribes, largely living off what they could steal and raid from the Pueblo and other harder working but less warlike Indians. The Tuareg are the North African equivalent.”

“Who are you to judge?” she snapped back. “Those tribesmen out there are the last defenders of their ancient desert culture. Their flocks are their way of life. You mercilessly butcher them, rob their women and children of their sole source of food and clothing.”

Johnny McCord ran his hand over his face in an unhappy gesture. “Look,” he said plaintively. “Those goats and sheep have already been bought and paid for by the Commission. The Tuareg should have destroyed them, or sold them as food to be immediately butchered, several years ago. Where they’ve been hiding is a mystery. But they simply have no right to be in possession of those animals, no right to be in this part of the country, and, above all, no right to be grazing in our transplants.”

“It’s their country! What right have you to order them away?”

Johnny McCord held up his hands, palms upward. “This country is part of the Mali Federation, Miss Desage. It used to be called French Sudan and South Algeria. The government of the Federation gladly accepted the project of reforestating the Sahara. Why not? We’ve already succeeded in making one of the most poverty-stricken areas in the world a prosperous one. Far from there being unemployment here, we have a labor shortage. Schools have opened, even universities. Hospitals have sprung up. Highways have been laid out through country that hadn’t even trails before. The Federation is booming. If there are a few Tuareg who can’t adapt to the new world, it’s too bad. Their children will be glad for the change.”

She seated herself stiffly. “I am not impressed by your excuses,” she said.

Johnny shrugged and turned to Mohammed Mohmoud who had been standing silently through all this, almost as though at attention.

Johnny said, “Did you learn where this band comes from? Where they had kept that many animals for so long without detection?”

The Moslem officer shook his head. “They wouldn’t reveal that.”

Johnny looked at Derek Mason. The Canadian shook his head. “None of them spoke French, Johnny. Or if they did, they wouldn’t admit it. When we first came up they looked as though they were going to fight. Happily, the size of the captain’s command made them decide otherwise. At any rate, they’re putting up no resistance. I let them know through the captain, here, that when they got back to Tissalit, or Timbuktu, they could put in a demand for reimbursement for their animals⁠—if the animals were legally theirs.”

Johnny looked at the Malian officer again. “How come you’ve returned to camp? Shouldn’t you be out there with your men?”

“There were a few things to be discussed,” the Moslem said. He looked significantly at the French reporter.

Hélène Desage said, “Let me warn you, I will not tolerate being sent away. I want to hear this. If I don’t, I demand you let me communicate immediately with my magazine and with the Transatlantic Newspaper Alliance for whom I am also doing a series of articles on the Sahara Reforestation scheme.”

Johnny McCord winced. He said, “There is nothing going on around here, Miss Desage, that is secret. You won’t be ordered away.” He turned to Mohammed Mohmoud. “What did you wish to discuss, Captain?”

“First, what about the camels, asses and horses?”

“Shoot them. Practically the only graze between here and Tissalit are our trees.”

“And how will they get themselves and their property out of this country?” the reporter snapped.

Johnny said wearily, “We’ll truck them out, Miss Desage. They and all their property. And while we’re doing it, we’ll feed them. I imagine, before it’s all over it will cost the Commission several thousand dollars.” He turned back to the desert patrol captain. “What else?”

From a tunic pocket Mohammed Mohmoud brought a handgun and handed it to Johnny McCord. “I thought you might like to see this. They were quite well armed. At first I thought there might be resistance.”

Johnny turned the automatic over in his hands, scowling at it. “What’s there to see that’s special? I don’t know much about guns.”

Mohammed Mohmoud said, “It was made in Pilsen.”

Johnny looked up at him. “Czechoslovakia, eh?”

The other said, “So were most of their rifles.”

Hélène Desage snorted in deprecation. “So, we’ll drag in that old wheeze. The red menace. Blame it on la Russie.”

Johnny McCord said mildly, “We haven’t blamed anything on the Russkies, Miss Desage. The Tuareg have a right to bear arms, there are still dangerous animals in the Mali Federation. And they are free to purchase Czech weapons if they find them better or cheaper than western ones. Don’t find an exciting story where there is none. Things are tranquil here.”

Hélène Desage stared at him. So did Mohammed Mohmoud and Derek Mason for that matter.

Only Pierre Marimbert realized Johnny McCord’s position, and he chuckled and went for more beer.


Johnny McCord was a man who didn’t like to be thrown out of routine. He resented the interference with his schedule of the past few days. By nature he was methodical, not given to inspiration.

All of which was probably the reason that he spent a sleepless night trying to find rhyme and reason where seemingly there was none.

At dawn, he stepped from the door of his Quonset hut quarters and looked for a moment into the gigantic red ball which was the Saharan sun. Neither dawn nor sunset at Bidon Cinq were spectacular, nor would they become so until the Sahara Reforestation Commission began to return moisture to desert skies. Johnny wondered if he would live to see it.

He made his way over to the huge steel shed which doubled as garage and aircraft hanger. As yet, none of the native mechanics were stirring, although he could hear sounds of activity in the community kitchen.

Derek Mason looked up from his inspection of Hélène Desage’s air-cushion Land Rover.

Johnny McCord scowled at him. “What in the hell are you doing here?”

The lanky Canadian came erect and looked for a long moment at his superior. He said finally, soberly, “It occurs to me that I’m probably doing the same thing you came to do.”

“What have you found?”

“That a small bomb has been attached to the starter.”

Johnny didn’t change expression. It fitted in. “What else?” he said.

Derek handed him a steel ring.

Johnny McCord looked at it, recognized it for what it was and stuck it in his pocket. “Let’s go back to the office. Yell in to the cook to send some coffee over, and call Pierre. We’ve got some notes to check.”

Mademoiselle Desage was a late riser. When she entered the office, the three Sahara Reforestation Commission officers were already at work.

She said snappishly to Johnny McCord, “Today I would like to see these destroyed pumps.”

Johnny said, his eyebrows questioning, “How did you know they were destroyed?”

“It doesn’t seem to be much of a secret. The story is all about the camp.”

“Oh?” Johnny sighed, then drawled to Derek, “I say, Si, you better go get the hired hand, we might as well finish this up so we can get back to work.”

Derek nodded and left.

Johnny McCord left the collator he’d been working with, went around behind his desk and sat down. “Take a chair, Miss Desage. I want to say a few things in the way of background to you.”

She sat, but said defiantly, “I have no need of a lengthy lecture on the glories of the Sahara Reforestation Commission.”

“Coffee?” Pierre Marimbert said politely.

“No, thank you.”

Johnny said, his voice thoughtful, “I imagine the real starting point was back about 1957 when the Chinese discovered that a nation’s greatest natural resource is its manpower.”

She frowned at him. “What in the world are you talking about?”

He ignored her and went on. “Originally, appalled by the job of feeding over half a billion mouths, they had initiated a birth control plan. But after a year or two they saw it was the wrong approach. They were going to succeed, if they succeeded, in their Great Leaps Forward by utilizing the labor of every man, woman and child in the country. And that’s what they proceeded to do. The lesson was brought home to the rest of the world in less than ten years, when such other countries as India and Indonesia failed to do the same.”

Johnny leaned back in his chair, and his eyes were thoughtful but unseeing. “Even we of the west learned the lesson. The most important factor in our leadership was our wonderful trained labor force. As far back as 1960 we had more than 65 million Americans working daily in industry and distribution. Even the Russkies, with their larger population, didn’t begin to equal that number.”

“What are you driveling about?” the reporter demanded.

“To sum it up,” Johnny said mildly, “the battle for men’s minds continues and each of the world’s great powers has discovered that it can’t afford to limit its population⁠—its greatest resource. So population continues to explode and the world is currently frantically seeking sources of food for its new billions. The Amazon basin is being made into a tropical garden; the Japanese, landless, are devising a hundred methods of farming the sea; Australia is debouching into its long unpopulated interior, doing much the same things we are here in the Sahara. The Chinese are overflowing into Sinkiang, Mongolia and Tibet; the Russkies into Siberia. We of the west, with the large underdeveloped areas of the western hemisphere have not been so greatly pushed as some others. However, there is always tomorrow.”

Derek entered with Captain Mohammed Mohmoud. The latter day Rudolph Valentino had a puzzled expression on his dark face.

“Here’s the hired man, Hiram,” Derek drawled.

The desert patrol officer nodded questioningly to the men and said, “Bonjour,” to Hélène Desage.

Johnny went on. “Yes, there’s tomorrow. And by the time we run out of Lebensraum in Brazil and Alaska, in Central America and the Argentine, in Texas and Saskatchewan, we’re going to need the three million square miles of the Sahara.”

She said in ridicule, “It will take you a century at least to reforest the desert.”

“At least.” Johnny nodded agreeably. “And we’re willing and able to look that far ahead. Possibly by that time our opponents will also be looking for new lands for their expanding peoples. And where will they find them? The advantage will be ours, Miss Desage.”

Mohammed Mohmoud looked from one to the other, frowning. “What are we discussing?” he said. “I should be getting back to my men.”

Derek yawned and said, “Forget about it, pal. You’re never going to be getting back to your men again.”

The desert patrol officer’s eyes widened. He turned his glare on Johnny McCord, “What is all this?”

Johnny said, “I’ll tell it, Derek.”

Hélène Desage was as surprised as the Malian. “What is going on? Are you trying to whitewash yourselves by casting blame on this gentleman?”

“Let me go on,” Johnny said. “Needless to say, there are conflicting interests. The Soviet Complex obviously would as soon we didn’t succeed. However, wars are impractical today, and the Russkies and Chinese are taken up with their own development. The Southeast Asia bloc wouldn’t mind taking over here themselves, they desperately need land already. But they aren’t our biggest opponents. There’s another group even more involved⁠—the colons of Algeria and Morocco and those of even such Mali cities as Dakar. I suppose it is this last element that you represent, Miss Desage.”

She was staring unbelievingly at him now.

“Their interest is to get the Sahara Reforestation Commission out of the way so that they can immediately exploit the area. They are interested in the now, not the potentialities of the future. They resent the use of the Niger for reforestation, when they could use it for immediate irrigation projects. They would devote the full resources of the Mali Federation and Algeria to seeking oil and minerals and in the various other ways the country might be exploited. Finally, they rather hate to see the western schools, hospitals, and other means used to raise the local living standards. They liked the low wage rates that formerly applied.”

Johnny nodded. “Yes, I imagine that’s your angle.”

Hélène Desage stormed to her feet. “I don’t have to listen to this!”

Derek said, “Honey, we sure aren’t holding you. You’re free to go any time you want. And you can take this pal of yours along with you.” He jerked his head contemptuously at Mohammed Mohmoud.

Pierre Marimbert said, “Mademoiselle, we have no idea of where you two met originally, nor how close your relationship, but the captain should have remembered that I too am French. A gentleman, on first meeting a lady, would never, never address her as tu in our language.”

Johnny sighed again and looked at his watch. “Other things pile up too, Miss Desage. You let slip a few moments ago that you knew about the pumps being destroyed. You said the rumor was all around camp. But it couldn’t be. The only persons who knew about it were myself, Pierre and Derek. On top of that, there were no signs of bedouin or animals near the exploded pumps; the person who did the job must have come in an aircraft or air-cushion car. And, besides, we found the pin of a hand grenade in your land rover this morning. We had thought at first that dynamite had been used, but evidently you smuggled your much more compact bombs across the desert with you. Obviously, no one would have dreamed of searching your vehicle.

“No, Miss Desage, it’s obvious that you detoured from the track on the way down from Poste Weygand, went over to In Ziza, a comparatively short distance, and blew up twenty-five of our pumps.”

Johnny turned to the Malian officer now. “At the same time you were coordinating with her, you and whatever gang is hiring you. Someone supplied those Tuareg with the livestock and paid them to trek up here. You, of course, turned your back and let them through. The same someone who supplied the livestock also supplied Czech weapons.”

Hélène Desage was still sputtering indignation. “Ridiculous! Why? What would motivate me to such nonsense?”

Johnny grimaced. “The whole thing makes a beautiful story at a time when the American government is debating the practicality of the whole project. You could do quite a sob story on the poor, poverty-stricken Tuareg having their livestock destroyed. Then, quite a tale about the bedouin raiding our pumping stations and blowing them up. And quite a tale about the Tuareg being armed with Czech weapons. Oh, I imagine before it was through you’d have drawn a picture of civil war going on here between the nomads and the Commission. Blowing up your own car with a small bomb attached to the starter was just one more item. By the way, were you going to do it yourself? Or did you intend to allow one of our mechanics to kill himself?”

She flushed. “Don’t be ridiculous. No one would have been hurt. The bomb is a very small one. More smoke and flash than anything else.”

“Well, thanks for small favors,” Derek said sarcastically.

She gave up. “Very well,” she snapped. “There is nothing you can do. This whole project, as I said before, is nothing but American boondoggling, a way of plowing endless resources into a hole. Your real motivation is an attempt to prevent depression and unemployment in your country.”

Pierre Marimbert said softly, “So you admit to this whole scheme to discredit us?”

“Why not?” She turned to the door. “I will still write my articles. It’s my word or yours.”

Derek grinned at her. “I think I could fall in love with you, honey,” he said. “Life would provide few dull moments. However, you didn’t notice how nice and automated this office is. Card machines, electric typewriters, all the latest⁠—including tape recorders for office conversations. You talked too much, honey.”

Cochon!” she shrilled at him. She whirled and was through the door.

Johnny turned to Mohammed Mohmoud. “I guess the best thing for you would be to turn in your commission, Captain.”

Dark eyes snapped. “And if I say no?”

Johnny shook his head. “The Mali Federation passed some awfully strict laws when it was drawing up its constitution. Among them was one involving capital punishment for anyone destroying a source of water in the desert. Miss Desage did the actual work but you were hand in glove with her. I’d hate to have to report that to your superiors.”

Derek jumped forward quickly. His hand snaked out and chopped the other’s forearm. The heavy military pistol fell to the floor, and the Canadian kicked it to one side. “Shucks,” he drawled, “the hired hand sure is tricky, ain’t he?”

“Good Lord,” Johnny McCord said disgustedly, “I didn’t say I was going to report you. Just threatened to if you didn’t resign. Now get out of here, we’ve got work to do. I’m three days behind on my reports!”

Status Quo

In his income bracket and in the suburb in which he lived, government employees in the twenty-five to thirty-five age group were currently wearing tweeds. Tweeds were in. Not to wear tweeds was Non-U.

Lawrence Woolford wore tweeds. His suit, this morning, had first seen the light of day on a hand loom in Donegal. It had been cut by a Swede widely patronized by serious young career men in Lawrence Woolford’s status group; English tailors were out currently and Italians unheard of.

Woolford sauntered down the walk before his auto-bungalow, scowling at the sportscar at the curb⁠—wrong year, wrong make. He’d have to trade it in on a new model. Which was a shame in a way, he liked the car. However, he had no desire to get a reputation as a weird among colleagues and friends. What was it Senator Carey MacArthur had said the other day? Show me a weird and I’ll show you a person who has taken the first step toward being a Commie.

Woolford slid under the wheel, dropped the lift lever, depressed gently the thrust pedal and took off for downtown Greater Washington. Theoretically, he had another four days of vacation coming to him. He wondered what the Boss wanted. That was the trouble in being one of the Boss’ favorite troubleshooters, when trouble arose you wound up in the middle of it. Lawrence Woolford was to the point where he was thinking in terms of graduating out of field work and taking on a desk job which meant promotion in status and pay.

He turned over his car to a parker at the departmental parking lot and made his way through the entrance utilized by second-grade departmental officials. In another year, he told himself, he’d be using that other door.

The Boss’ reception secretary looked up when Lawrence Woolford entered the anteroom where she presided. “Hello, Larry,” she said. “Hear they called your vacation short. Darn shame.”

LaVerne Polk was a cute little whizz of efficiency. Like Napoleon and his army, she knew the name of every member of the department and was on a first-name basis with all. However, she was definitely a weird. For instance, styles might come and styles might go, but LaVerne dressed for comfort, did her hair the way she thought it looked best, and wore low-heeled walking shoes on the job. In fact, she was ready and willing to snarl at anyone, no matter how kindly intentioned, who even hinted that her nonconformity didn’t help her promotion prospects.

Woolford said, “Hi, LaVerne. I think the Boss is expecting me.”

“That he is. Go right in, Larry.”

She looked after him when he turned and left her desk. Lawrence Woolford cut a pleasant figure as thirty year old bachelors go.

The Boss looked up from some report on his desk which he’d been frowning at, nodded to his field man and said, “Sit down, Lawrence. I’ll be with you in a minute. Please take a look at this while you’re waiting.” He handed over a banknote.

Larry Woolford took it and found himself a comfortable chair. He examined the bill, front and back. It was a fifty dollar note, almost new.

Finally the Boss, a stocky but impeccable career bureaucrat of the ultra-latest school, scribbled his initials on the report and tossed it into an Out chute. He said to Woolford, “I am sorry to cut short your vacation, Lawrence. I considered giving Walter Foster the assignment, but I think you’re the better choice.”

Larry decided the faint praise routine was the best tactic, said earnestly about his closest rival. “Walt’s a good man, sir.” And then, “What’s the crisis?”

“What do you think of that fifty?”

His troubleshooter looked down at it. “What is there to think about it?”

The Boss grunted, slid open a desk drawer and brought forth another bill. “Here, look at this, please.”

It was another fifty. Larry Woolford frowned at it, not getting whatever was going on.

“Observe the serial numbers,” the Boss said impatiently.

They were identical.

Woolford looked up. “Counterfeit. Which one is the bad one?”

“That is exactly what we would like to know,” the Boss said.

Larry Woolford stared at his superior, blinked and then examined the bills again. “A beautiful job,” he said, “but what’s it got to do with us, sir? This is Secret Service jurisdiction, counterfeiting.”

“They called us in on it. They think it might have international ramifications.”

Now they were getting somewhere. Larry Woolford put the two bills on the Boss’ desk and leaned back in his chair, waiting.

His superior said, “Remember the Nazis turning out American and British banknotes during the Second War?”

“I was just a kid.”

“I thought you might have read about it. At any rate, obviously a government⁠—with all its resources⁠—could counterfeit perfectly any currency in the world. It would have the skills, the equipment, the funds to accomplish the task. The Germans turned out hundreds of millions of dollars and pounds with the idea of confounding the Allied financial basics.”

“And why didn’t it work?”

“The difficulty of getting it into circulation, for one thing. However, they did actually use a quantity. For a time our people were so alarmed that they wouldn’t allow any bills to come into this country from Mexico except two-dollar denomination⁠—the one denomination the Germans hadn’t bothered to duplicate. Oh, they had the Secret Service in a dither for a time.”

Woolford was frowning. “What’s this got to do with our current situation?”

The Boss said, “It is only a conjecture. One of those bills is counterfeit but such an excellent reproduction that the skill involved is beyond the resources of any known counterfeiter. Secret Service wants to know if it might be coming from abroad, and, if so, from where. If it’s a governmental project, particularly a Soviet Complex one, then it comes into the ken of our particular cloak-and-dagger department.”

“Yes, sir.” Woolford said. He got up and examined the two bills again. “How’d they ever detect that one was bad?”

“Pure fortune. A bank clerk with an all but eidetic memory was going through a batch of fifties. It’s not too commonly used a denomination, you know. Coincidence was involved since in that same sheaf the serial number was duplicated.”

“And then?”

“The reproduction was so perfect that Secret Service was in an immediate uproar. Short of the Nazi effort, there has never been anything like it. A perfect duplication of engraving and paper identically the same. The counterfeiters have even evidently gone to the extent of putting a certain amount of artificial wear on the bills before putting them into circulation.”

Larry Woolford said, “This is out of my line. How were they able to check further, and how many more did they turn up?”

“The new I.B.M. sorters help. Secret Service checked every fifty dollar bill in every institution in town both banking and governmental. Thus far, they have located ten bills in all.”

“And other cities?”

“None. They’ve all been passed in Greater Washington, which is suspicious in itself. The amount of expense that has gone into the manufacture of these bills does not allow for only a handful of them being passed. They should be turning up in number. Lawrence, this reproduction is such that a pusher could walk into a bank and have his false currency changed by any clerk.”

“Wow,” Larry whistled.


“So you want me to work with Secret Service on this on the off chance that the Soviet Complex is doing us deliberate dirt.”

“That is exactly the idea, Lawrence. Get to work, please, and keep in touch with me. If you need support, I can assign Walter Foster or some of the other operatives to assist you. This might have endless ramifications.”

Back in the anteroom, Woolford said to the Boss’ receptionist, “I’m on a local job, LaVerne, how about assigning me a girl?”

“Can do,” she said.

“And, look, tell her to get hold of every available work on counterfeiting and pile it on my desk.”

“Right. Thinking of going into business, Larry?”

He grinned down at her. “That’s the idea. Keeping up with the Jones clan in this man’s town costs roughly twice my income.”

LaVerne said disapprovingly, “Then why not give it up? With the classification you’ve got a single man ought to be able to save half his pay.” She added, more quietly, “Or get married and support a family.”

“Save half my pay?” Larry snorted. “And get a far out reputation, eh? No thanks, you can’t afford to be a weird these days.”

She flushed⁠—and damn prettily, Larry Woolford decided. She could be an attractive item if it wasn’t for obviously getting her kicks out of being individualistic.

Larry said suddenly, “Look, promise like a good girl not to make us conspicuous and I’ll take you to the Swank Room for dinner tonight.”

“Is that where all the bright young men currently have to be seen once or twice a week?” she snapped back at him. “Get lost, Larry. Being a healthy, normal woman I’m interested in men, but not necessarily in walking status-symbols.”

It was his turn to flush, and, he decided wryly, he probably didn’t do it as prettily as she did.

On his way to his office, he wondered why the Boss kept her on. Classically, a secretary-receptionist should have every pore in place, but in her time LaVerne Polk must have caused more than one bureaucratic eyebrow to raise. Efficiency was probably the answer; the Boss couldn’t afford to let her go.

Larry Woolford’s office wasn’t much more than a cubicle. He sat down at the desk and banged a drawer or two open and closed. He liked the work, liked the department, but theoretically he still had several days of vacation and hated to get back into routine.

Had he known it, this was hardly going to be routine.

He flicked the phone finally and asked for an outline. He dialed three numbers before getting his subject. The phone screen remained blank.

“Hans?” he said. “Lawrence Woolford.”

The Teutonic accent was heavy, the voice bluff. “Ah, Larry! you need some assistance to make your vacation? Perhaps a sinister, exotic young lady, complete with long cigarette holder?”

Larry Woolford growled, “How’d you know I was on vacation?”

The other laughed. “You know better than to ask that, my friend.”

Larry said, “The vacation is over, Hans. I need some information.”

The voice was more guarded now. “I owe you a favor or two.”

“Don’t you though? Look, Hans, what’s new in the Russkie camp?”

The heartiness was gone. “How do you mean?”

“Is there anything big stirring? Is there anyone new in this country from the Soviet Complex?”

“Well now⁠—” the other’s voice drifted away.

Larry Woolford said impatiently, “Look, Hans, let’s don’t waste time fencing. You run a clearing agency for, ah, information. You’re strictly a businessman, nonpartisan, so to speak. Fine, thus far our department has tolerated you. Perhaps we’ll continue to. Perhaps the reason is that we figure we get more out of your existence than we lose. The Russkies evidently figure the same way, the proof being that you’re alive and have branches in the capitals of every power on Earth.”

“All right, all right,” the German said. “Let me think a moment. Can you give me an idea of what you’re looking for?” There was an undernote of interest in the voice now.

“No. I just want to know if you’ve heard anything new anti-my-side, from the other side. Or if you know of any fresh personnel recently from there.”

“Frankly, I haven’t. If you could give me a hint.”

“I can’t,” Larry said. “Look, Hans, like you say, you owe me a favor or two. If something comes up, let me know. Then I’ll owe you one.”

The voice was jovial again. “It’s a bargain, my friend.”

After Woolford had hung up, he scowled at the phone. He wondered if Hans Distelmayer was lying. The German commanded the largest professional spy ring in the world. It was possible, but difficult, for anything in espionage to develop without his having an inkling.

The phone rang back. It was Steve Hackett of Secret Service on the screen.

Hackett said, “Woolford, you coming over? I understand you’ve been assigned to get in our hair on this job.”

“Huh,” Larry grunted. “The way I hear it, your whole department has given up, so I’m assigned to help you out of your usual fumble-fingered confusion.”

Hackett snorted. “At any rate, can you drop over? I’m to work in liaison with you.”

“Coming,” Larry said. He hung up, got to his feet and headed for the door. If they could crack this thing the first day, he’d take up that vacation where it’d been interrupted and possibly be able to wangle a few more days out of the Boss to boot.

At this time of day, parking would have been a problem, in spite of automation of the streets. He left his car in the departmental lot and took a cab.

The Counterfeit Division of the Secret Service occupied an impressive section of an impressive governmental building. Larry Woolford flashed his credentials here and there, explained to guards and receptionists here and there, and finally wound up in Steve Hackett’s office which was all but a duplicate of his own in size and decor.

Steve Hackett himself was a fairly accurate carbon copy of Woolford, barring facial resemblance alone. The fact was, Steve was almost Lincolnesque in his ugliness. Career man, about thirty, good university, crew cut, six foot, one hundred and seventy, earnest of eye. He wore Harris tweed. Larry Woolford made a note of that; possibly herringbone was coming back in. He winced at the thought of a major change in his wardrobe; it’d cost a fortune.

They’d worked on a few cases together before when Steve Hackett had been assigned to the presidential bodyguard and cooperated well.

Steve came to his feet and shook hands. “Thought that you were going to be down in Florida bass fishing this month. You like your work so well you can’t stay away, or is it a matter of trying to impress your chief?”

Larry growled, “Fine thing. Secret Service bogs down and they’ve got to call me in to clean up the mess.”

Steve motioned him to a chair and immediately went serious. “Do you know anything about pushing queer, Woolford?”

“That means passing counterfeit money, doesn’t it? All I know is what’s in the TriD crime shows.”

“I can see you’re going to be a lot of help. Have you got anywhere at all on the possibility that the stuff might be coming from abroad?”

“Nothing positive,” Larry said. “Are you people accomplishing anything?”

“We’re just getting underway. There’s something off-trail about this deal, Woolford. It doesn’t fit into routine.”

Larry Woolford said, “I wouldn’t think so if the stuff is so good not even a bank clerk can tell the difference.”

“That’s not what I’m talking about now. Let me give you a run down on standard counterfeiting.” The Secret Service agent pushed back in his swivel chair, lit a cigarette, and propped his feet onto the edge of a partly open desk drawer. “Briefly, it goes like this. Some smart lad gets himself a set of plates and a platen press and⁠—”

Larry interrupted, “Where does he get the plates?”

“That doesn’t matter now,” Steve said. “Various ways. Maybe he makes them himself, sometimes he buys them from a crooked engraver. But I’m talking about pushing green goods once it’s printed. Anyway, our friend runs off, say, a million dollars worth of fives. But he doesn’t try to pass them himself. He wholesales them around netting, say, fifty thousand dollars. In other words, he sells twenty dollars in counterfeit for one good dollar.”

Larry pursed his lips. “Quite a discount.”

“Um-m-m. But that’s safest from his angle. The half dozen or so distributors he sold it to don’t try to pass it either. They also are playing it carefully. They peddle it, at say ten to one, to the next rung down the ladder.”

“And these are the fellows that pass it, eh?”

“Not even then, usually. These small timers take it and pass it on at five to one to the suckers in the trade, who take the biggest risks. Most of these are professional pushers of the queer, as the term goes. Some, however, are comparative amateurs. Sailors for instance, who buy with the idea of passing it in some foreign port where seamen’s money flows fast.”

Larry Woolford shifted in his chair. “So what are you building up to?”

Steve Hackett rubbed the end of his pug nose with a forefinger in quick irritation. “Like I say, that’s standard counterfeit procedure. We’re all set up to meet it, and do a pretty good job. Where we have our difficulties is with amateurs.”

Woolford scowled at him.

Hackett said, “Some guy who makes and passes it himself, for instance. He’s unknown to the stool pigeons, has no criminal record, does up comparatively small amounts and dribbles his product onto the market over a period of time. We had one old devil up in New York once who actually drew one dollar bills. He was a tremendous artist. It took us years to get him.”

Larry Woolford said, “Well, why go into all this? We’re hardly dealing with amateurs now.”

Steve looked at him. “That’s the trouble. We are.”

“Are you batty? Not even your own experts can tell this product from real money.”

“I didn’t say it was being made by amateurs. It’s being pushed by amateurs⁠—or maybe amateur is the better word.”

“How do you know?”

“For one thing, most professionals won’t touch anything bigger than a twenty. Tens are better, fives better still. When you pass a fifty, the person you give it to is apt to remember where he got it.” Steve Hackett said slowly, “Particularly if you give one as a tip to the maître d’hôtel in a first-class restaurant. A maître d’ holds his job on the strength of his ability to remember faces and names.”

“What else makes you think your pushers are amateurs?”

“Amateur,” Hackett corrected. “Ideally, a pusher is an inconspicuous type. The kind of person whose face you’d never remember. It’s never a teenage girl who’s blowing money.”

It was time to stare now, and Larry Woolford obliged. “A teenager!”

“We’ve had four descriptions of her, one of them excellent. Fredrick, the maître d’ over at La Calvados, is the one that counts, but the others jibe. She’s bought perfume and gloves at Michel Swiss, the swankiest shop in town, a dress at Chez Marie⁠—she passed three fifties there⁠—and a hat at Paulette’s over on Monroe Street.

“That’s another sign of the amateur, by the way. A competent pusher buys a small item and gets change from his counterfeit bill. Our girl’s been buying expensive items, obviously more interested in the product than in her change.”

“This doesn’t seem to make much sense,” Larry Woolford protested. “You have any ideas at all?”

“The question is,” Hackett said, “where did she get it? Is she connected with one of the embassies and acquired the stuff overseas? If so, that puts it in your lap again possibly⁠—”

The phone rang and Steve flicked the switch and grumbled, “Yeah? Steven Hackett speaking.”

He listened for a moment then banged the phone off and jumped to his feet. “Come on, Larry,” he snapped. “This is it.”

Larry stood, too. “Who was that?”

“Fredrick, over at La Calvados. The girl has come in for lunch. Let’s go!”

La Calvados was the swankiest French restaurant in Greater Washington, a city not devoid of swank restaurants. Only the upper-echelons in governmental circles could afford its tariffs; the clientele was more apt to consist of business mucky-mucks and lobbyists on the make. Larry Woolford had eaten here exactly twice. You could get a reputation spending money far beyond your obvious pay status.

Fredrick, the maître d’hôtel, however, was able to greet them both by name. “Monsieur Hackett, Monsieur Woolford,” he bowed. He obviously didn’t approve of La Calvados being used as a hangout where counterfeiters were picked up the authorities.

“Where is she?” Steve said, looking out over the public dining room.

Fredrick said, unprofessionally agitated, “See here, Monsieur Hackett, you didn’t expect to, ah, arrest the young lady here during our lunch hour?”

Steve looked at him impatiently. “We don’t exactly beat them over the head with blackjacks, slip the bracelets on and drag them screaming to the paddywagon.”

“Of course not, monsieur, but⁠—”

Larry Woolford’s chief dined here several times a week and was probably on the best of terms with Fredrick whose decisions on tables and whose degree of servility had a good deal of influence on a man’s status in Greater Washington. Larry said wearily, “We can wait until she leaves. Where is she?”

Fredrick had taken them to one side.

“Do you see the young lady over near the window on the park? The rather gauche appearing type?”

It was a teenager, all right. A youngster up to her eyebrows in the attempt to project sophistication.

Steve said, “Do you know who she is?”

“No,” Fredrick said. “Hardly our usual clientele.”

“Oh?” Larry said. “She looks like money.”

Fredrick said, “The dress appears as though it is of Chez Marie, but she wears it as though it came from Klein’s. Her perfume is Chanel, but she has used approximately three times the quantity one would expect.”

“That’s our girl, all right,” Steve murmured. “Where can we keep an eye on her until she leaves?”

“Why not at the bar here, Messieurs?”

“Why not?” Larry said. “I could use a drink.”

Fredrick cleared his throat. “Ah, Messieurs, that fifty I turned over you. I suppose it turned out to be spurious?”

Steve grinned at him. “Afraid so, Fredrick. The department is holding it.”

Larry took out his wallet. “However, we have a certain leeway on expenses on this assignment and appreciate your cooperation.” He handed two twenties and a ten to the maître d’. Fredrick bowed low, the money disappearing into his clothes magically. “Merci bien, monsieur.

At the bar, Steve scowled at his colleague. “Ha!” he said. “Why didn’t I think of that first? He’ll get down on his knees and bump his head each time he sees you in the joint from now on.”

Larry Woolford waggled a finger at the other. “This is a status conscious town, my boy. Prestige means everything. When I take over my Boss’ job, maybe we can swing a transfer and I’ll give you a position suitable to your attainments.” He pursed his lips judiciously. “Although, come to think of it, that might mean a demotion from the job you’re holding now.”

“Vodka martini,” Steve told the bartender. “Polish vodka, of course.”

“Of course, sir.”

Larry said, “Same for me.”

The bartender left and Steve muttered, “I hate vodka.”

“Yeah,” Larry said, “But what’re you going to do in a place like this, order some weird drink?”

Steve dug into his pocket for money. “We’re not going to have to drink them. Here she comes.”

She walked with her head held high, hauteur in every step. Ignoring the peasants at the tables she passed.

“Holy smokes,” Steve grunted. “It’s a wonder Fredrick let her in.”

She hesitated momentarily before the doorway of the prestige restaurant allowing the passersby to realize she’d just emerged, and then turned to her right to promenade along the shopping street.

Fifty feet below La Calvados, Steve said, “Let’s go, Woolford.”

One stepped to one elbow, the other to the other. Steve said quietly, “I wonder if we could ask you a few questions?”

Her eyebrows went up, “I beg your pardon!”

Steve sighed and displayed the badge pinned to his wallet, keeping it inconspicuous. “Secret Service, Miss,” he murmured.

“Oh, devil,” she said. She looked up at Larry Woolford, and then back at Steve.

Steve said, “Among other things, we’re in charge of counterfeit money.”

She was about five foot four in her heels, had obviously been on a round of beauty shops and had obviously instructed them to glamorize her. It hadn’t come off. She still looked as though she’d be more at home as cheerleader of the junior class in small town high school. She was honey blond, green-blue of eye, and had that complexion they seldom carry even into the twenties.

“I⁠ ⁠… I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Her chin began to tremble.

Larry said gently, “Don’t worry. We just want to ask you some questions.”

“Well⁠ ⁠… like what?” She was going to be blinking back tears in a moment. At least Larry hoped she’d blink them back. He’d hate to have her start howling here in public.

Larry said, “We think you can be of assistance to the government, and we’d like your help.”

Steve rolled his eyes upward, but turned and waved for a street level cab.

In the cab, Larry said, “Suppose we go over to my office, Steve?”

“OK with me,” Steve muttered, “but by the looks of the young lady here, I think it’s a false alarm from your angle. She’s obviously an American. What’s your name, Miss?”

“It’s Zusanette. Well, really, Susan.”

“Susan what?”

“I⁠ ⁠… I’m not sure I want to tell you. I⁠ ⁠… I want a lawyer.”

“A lawyer!” Steve snorted. “You mean you want the juvenile authorities, don’t you?”

“Oh, what a mean thing to say,” she sputtered.

In the corridor outside the Boss’ suite of offices, Larry said to Steve, “You take Miss⁠ ⁠… ah, Zusanette to my office, will you Steve. I’ll be there in a minute.”

He opened the door to the anteroom and said, “LaVerne, we’ve got a girl in my office⁠—”

“Why, Larry!”

He glowered at her. “A suspect. I want a complete tape of everything said. As soon as we’re through, have copies made, at least three or four.”

“And, who, Mr. Woolford, was your girl Friday last year?”

“This is important, honey. I suppose you’ve supplied me with a secretary but I haven’t even met her yet. Take care of it, will you?”

“Sure enough, Larry.”

He followed Steve and the girl to his office.

Once seated, the girl and Steve in the only two extra chairs the cubicle boasted and Larry behind his desk, he looked at her in what he hoped was reassurance. “Just tell us where you got the money, Zusanette.”

Steve reached out a hand suddenly and took her bag from her lap. She gasped and snatched at it, but he eluded her and she sat back, her chin trembling again.

Steve came up with a thick sheaf of bills, the top ones, at least, all fifties and tossed them to Larry’s desk. He took out a school pass and read, “Susan Self, Elwood Avenue.” He looked up at Larry and said, “That’s right off Eastern, near Paterson Park in the Baltimore section of town, isn’t it?”

Larry said to her, “Zusanette, I think you’d better tell us where you got all this money.”

“I found it,” she said defiantly. “You can’t do anything to me if I simply found it. Anybody can find money. Finders keepers⁠—”

“But if it’s counterfeit,” Steve interrupted dryly, “it might also be, finders weepers.”

“Where did you find it, Zusanette?” Larry said gently.

She tightened her lips, and the trembling of her chin disappeared. “I⁠ ⁠… I can’t tell you that. But it’s not counterfeit. Daddy⁠ ⁠… my father said it was as good as any money the government prints.”

“That it is,” Steve said sourly. “But it’s still counterfeit, which makes it very illegal indeed to spend, Miss Self.”

She looked from one of them to the other, not clear about her position. She said to Larry, “You mean it’s not real money?”

He kept his tone disarming, but shook his head, “I’m afraid not, Zusanette. Now, tell us, where did you find it?”

“I can’t. I promised.”

“I see. Then you don’t know to whom it originally belonged?”

“It didn’t belong to anybody.”

Steve Hackett made with a disbelieving whistle. He was taking the part of the tough, suspicious cop; Larry the part of the understanding, sympathetic officer, trying to give the suspect a break.

Susan Self turned quickly on Steve. “Well, it didn’t. You don’t even know.”

Larry said, “I think she’s telling the truth, Steve. Give her a chance. She’s playing fair.” He looked back at the girl, and frowned his puzzlement. “All money belongs to somebody doesn’t it?”

She had them now. She said superiorly. “Not necessarily to somebody. It can belong to, like, an organization.”

Steve grunted skepticism. “I think we ought to arrest her,” he said.

Larry held up a hand, his face registering opposition. “I’ll handle this,” he said sharply. “Zusanette is doing everything she can to cooperate.” He turned back to the girl. “Now, the question is, what organization did this money belong to?”

She looked triumphantly at Steve Hackett. “It belonged to the Movement.”

They both looked at her.

Steve said finally, “What movement?”

She pouted in thought. “That’s the only name they call it.”

“Who’s they?” Steve snapped nastily.

“I⁠ ⁠… I don’t know.”

Larry said, “Well, you already told us your father was a member, Zusanette.”

Her eyes went wide. “I did? I shouldn’t have said that.” But she evidently took him at his word.

Larry said encouragingly, “Well, we might as well go on. Who else is a member of this Movement besides your father?”

She shifted in her chair uncomfortably. “I don’t know any of their names.”

Steve looked down at the school pass in his hands. He said to Larry, “I’d better make a phone call.”

He left.

Larry said, “Don’t worry about him, Zusanette. Now then, this movement. That’s kind of a funny name, isn’t it? What does it mean?”

She was evidently glad that the less than handsome Steve Hackett had left the room. Her words flowed more freely. “Well, Daddy says that they call it the Movement rather than a revolution.⁠ ⁠…”

An ice cube manifested itself in the stomach of Lawrence Woolford.

“… Because people get conditioned, like, to words. Like revolution. Everybody is against the word because they all think of killing and everything, and, Daddy says, there doesn’t have to be any shooting or killing or anything like that at all. It just means a fundamental change in society. And, Daddy says, take the word propaganda. Everybody’s got to thinking that it automatically means lies, but it doesn’t at all. It just means, like, the arguments you use to convince people that what you stand for is right and it might be lies or it might not. And, Daddy says, take the word socialism. So many people have the wrong idea of what it means that the socialists ought to scrap the word and start using something else to mean what they stand for.”

Larry said gently, “Your father is a socialist?”

“Oh, no.”

He nodded in understanding. “Oh, a Communist, eh?”

Susan Self was indignant. “Daddy thinks the Communists are strictly awful, really weird.”

Steve Hackett came back into the office. He said to Larry, “I sent a couple of the boys out to pick him up.”

Susan was on her feet, a hand to mouth. “You mean my father! You’re going to arrest him!”

Larry said soothingly, “Sit down, Zusanette. There’s a lot of things about this that I’m sure your father can explain.” He said to Steve, “She tells me that the money belonged to a movement. A revolutionary movement which doesn’t use the term revolutionary because people react unfavorably to that word. It’s not Commie.”

Susan said indignantly, “It’s American, not anything foreign!”

Steve growled, “Let’s get back to the money. What’s this movement doing with a lot of counterfeit bills and where did you find them?”

She evidently figured she’d gone too far now to take a stand. “It’s not Daddy’s fault,” she said. “He took me to headquarters twice.”

“Where’s headquarters?” Larry said trying to keep his voice soothing.

“Well⁠ ⁠… I don’t know. Daddy was awfully silly about it. He tied his handkerchief around my eyes near the end. But the others complained about me anyway, and Daddy got awfully mad and said something about the young people of the country participating in their emancipation and all, but the others got mad too, and said there wasn’t any kind of help I could do around headquarters anyway, and I’d be better off in school. Everybody got awfully mad, but after the second time Daddy promised not to take me to headquarters any more.”

“But where did you find the money, Zusannette?” Larry said.

“At headquarters. There’s tons and tons of it there.”

Larry cleared his throat and said, “When you say tons and tons, you mean a great deal of it, eh?”

She was proudly definite. “I mean tons and tons. A ton is two thousand pounds.”

“Look, Zusanette,” Larry said reasonably. “I don’t know how much money weighs, exactly, but let’s say a pound would be, say, a thousand bills.” He took up a pencil and scribbled on a pad before him. “A pound of fifties would be $50,000. Then if you multiply that by 2,000 pounds to make a ton, you’d have $100,000,000. And you say there’s tons and tons?”

“And that’s just the fifties,” Susan said triumphantly. “So you can see the two little packages I picked up aren’t really important at all. It’s just like I found them.”

“I don’t think there’s quite a thousand bills in a pound,” Steve said weakly.

Larry said, “How much other money is there?”

“Oh, piles. Whole rooms. Rooms after rooms. And hundred dollar bills, and twenties, and fives, and tens⁠—”

Larry said, “Look, Zusanette, I don’t think you’re in any position to be telling us whoppers. This whole story doesn’t make much sense, does it?”

Her mouth tightened. “I’m not going to say anything more until Daddy gets here, anyway,” she said.

Which was when the phone rang.

“I have an idea that’s for me,” Steve said.

The screen lit up and LaVerne Polk said, “Call for Steve Hackett, Larry.”

Larry pushed the phone around so Steve could look into it. LaVerne flicked off and was replaced by a stranger in uniform. Steve said, “Yeah?”

The cop said, “He’s flown the coop, sir. Must have got out just minutes before we arrived. Couldn’t have taken more than a suitcase. Few papers scattered around the room he used for an office.”

Susan gasped, “You mean Daddy?”

Steve Hackett rubbed a hand over his flattened nose. “Holy Smokes,” he said. He thanked the cop and flicked off.

Larry said, “Look Zusanette, everything’s going to be all right. Nothing will happen to you. You say you managed to pick up two packets of all this money they have at headquarters. OK. So you thought it wouldn’t be missed and you’ve always wanted to spend money the way you see the stars do on TriD and in the movies.”

She looked at him, taken back. “How did you know?”

Larry said dryly, “I’ve always wanted to myself. But I would like to know one more thing. The Movement. What was it going to do with all this money?”

That evidently puzzled her. “The Professor said they were going to spend it on chorus girls. I guess⁠ ⁠… I guess he was joking or something. But Daddy and I’d just been up to New York and we saw those famous precision dancers at the New Roxy Theatre and all and then when we got back the Professor and Daddy were talking and I heard him say it.”

Steve said, carefully, “Professor who?”

Susan said, “Just the Professor. That’s all we ever call him.” Her chin went to trembling still again.

Larry summed it up for the Boss later.

His chief scoffed his disbelief. “The child is full of dreams, Lawrence. It comes from seeing an overabundance of these TriD shows. I have a girl the same age. I don’t know what is happening to the country. They have no sense of reality.”

Larry Woolford said mildly, “Well, she might be full of nonsense, but she did have the fifties, and she’s our only connection with whoever printed them whether it’s a movement to overthrow the government, or what.”

The Boss said tolerantly, “Movement, indeed. Obviously, her father produced them and she purloined a quantity before he was ready to attempt to pass them. Have you a run down on him yet?”

“Susan Self says her father, Ernest Self, is an inventor. Steve Hackett is working on locating him.”

“He’s an inventor indeed. Evidently, he has invented a perfect counterfeiting device. However, that is the Secret Service’s headache, not ours. Do you wish to resume that vacation of yours, Lawrence?”

His operative twisted his face in a grimace. “Sure, I do, but I’m not happy about this, sir. What happens if there really is an organization, a Movement, like she said? That brings it back under our jurisdiction, anti-subversion.”

The other shook his head tolerantly. “See here, Lawrence, when you begin scheming a social revolution you can’t plan on an organization composed of a small number of persons who keep their existence secret. In spite of what a good many persons seem to believe, revolutions are not accomplished by handfuls of conspirators hiding in cellars and eventually overthrowing society by dramatically shooting the President, or King, or Czar, or whoever. Revolutions are precipitated by masses of people. People who have ample cause to be against whatever the current government happens to be. Usually, they are on the point of actual starvation. Have you ever read Machiavelli?”

Niccolo Machiavelli was currently the thing to read. Larry said with a certain dignity, “I’ve gone through The Prince, the Discourses and currently I’m amusing myself with his History of Florence.”

“Anybody who can amuse himself reading Machiavelli,” the Boss said dryly, “has a macabre sense of humor. At any rate, what I was alluding to was where he stated that the Prince cannot rule indefinitely in the face of the active opposition of his people. Therefore, the people always get a government that lies within the limits of their tolerance. It may be on one edge or the other of their limits of tolerance⁠—but it’s always within their tolerance zone.”

Larry frowned and said, “Well, what’s your point, sir?”

The Boss said patiently, “I’m just observing that cultures aren’t overthrown by little handfuls of secret conspirators. You might eliminate a few individuals in that manner, in other words change the personnel of the government, but you aren’t going to alter a socioeconomic system. That can’t be done until your people have been pushed outside their limits of tolerance. Very well then. A revolutionary organization must get out and propagandize. It has got to convince the people that they are being pushed beyond endurance. You have got to get the masses to moving. You have to give speeches, print newspapers, books, pamphlets, you have got to send your organizers out to intensify interest in your program.”

Larry said, “I see what you mean. If this so-called Movement actually existed it couldn’t expect to get anywhere as long as remained secret.”

The Boss nodded. “That is correct. The leaders of a revolutionary movement might be intellectuals, social scientists, scholars⁠—in fact they usually are⁠—take our own American Revolution with Jefferson, Madison, Franklin, Washington. Or the French Revolution with Robespierre, Danton, Marat, Engels and Lenin. All were well educated intellectuals from the middle class. But the revolution itself, once it starts, comes from below, from the mass of people pushed beyond tolerance.”

It came to Lawrence Woolford that his superior had achieved to his prominent office not through any fluke. He knew what he was talking about.

The Boss wound it up. “If there was such an organization as this Movement, then this department would know about it. You don’t keep a revolutionary movement secret. It doesn’t make sense to even try. Even if it is forced underground, it makes as much noise as it can.”

His troubleshooter cleared his throat. “I suppose you’re right, sir.” He added hesitantly. “We could always give Susan Self a few drops of Scop-Serum, sir.”

The Boss scowled disapprovingly. “You know how the Supreme Court ruled on that, Lawrence. And particularly since the medics revealed its effect on reducing sexual inhibitions. No, Mr. Hackett and Secret Service will have to get the truth out of the girl by some other means. At any rate, it is out of our hands.”

Larry came to his feet. “Well, then, I’ll resume my vacation, eh?”

His chief took up a report from his desk and frowned at it, his attention already passing to other matters. He grunted, “Clear it with LaVerne, please. Tell her I said to take another week to make up for our intruding on you in this manner.”

In the back of his head, Larry Woolford had misgivings. For one thing, where had the kid, who on the face of her performance was no great brain even as sixteen or seventeen old’s go, picked up such ideas as the fact that people developed prejudices against words like revolution and propaganda?

However, he was clear of it now. Let Steve Hackett and his people take over. He, Lawrence Woolford, was due for a quick return to Astor, Florida and the bass fishing on the St. John’s River.

He stopped at LaVerne’s desk and gave her his address to be, now that his vacation was resumed.

She said, smiling up at him. “Right. The boss already told me to get in touch with Secret Service and let them know we’re pulling out. What happened to Susan Self?”

Larry looked at her. “How’d you know about Susan?”

Her tone was deprecating. “Remember? You had me cut some tapes on you and that hulking Steve Hackett grilling the poor kid.”

Larry snorted. “Poor kid, yet. With her tastes for living-it-up, and that father she has, she’ll probably spend the rest of her life getting in Steve’s hair as a counterfeit pusher.”

“What are they going to do with her? She’s just a child.”

The agent shrugged. “I feel sorry for her, too, LaVerne. Steve’s got her in a suite at the Greater Washington Hilton, until things are cleared up. They don’t want the newspapers to get wind of this until they’ve got that inventor father of hers and whatever he’s cooked up to turn out perfect reproductions of Uncle Sam’s money. Look, I won’t be leaving until tomorrow. What’d you say we go out on the town tonight?”

“Why, Larry Woolford! How nice of you to ask me. Poor Little, Non-U me. What do you have in mind? I understand Mort Lenny’s at one of the night clubs.”

Larry winced. “You know what he’s been saying about the administration.”

She smiled sweetly at him.

Larry said, “Look, we could take in the Brahms concert, then⁠—”

“Do you like Brahms? I go for popular music myself. Preferably the sort of thing they wrote back in the 1930s. Something you can dance to, something you know the words to. Corny, they used to call it. Remember ‘Sunny Side of the Street,’ and ‘Just the Way You Look Tonight’.”

Larry winced again. He said, “Look, I admit, I don’t go for concerts either but it doesn’t hurt you to⁠—”

“I know,” she said sweetly. “It doesn’t hurt for a bright young bureaucrat to be seen at concerts.”

“How about Dixieland?” he said. “It’s all the thing now.”

“I like corn. Besides, my wardrobe is all out of style. Paris, London, and Rome just got in a huddle a couple of weeks ago and antiquated everything I own. You wouldn’t want to be seen with a girl a few weeks out of date, would you?”

“Oh, now, LaVerne, get off my back.” He thought about it. “Look, you must have something you could wear.”

“Get out of here, you vacant minded conformist! I like Mort Lenny, he makes me laugh; I hate vodka martinis, they give me sour stomach; I don’t like the current women’s styles, nor the men’s either.” LaVerne spun back to her auto-typer and began to dictate into it.

Larry glared down at her. “All right. OK. What do you like?”

She snapped back irrationally, “I like what I like.”

He laughed at her in ridicule.

This time she glared at him. “That makes more sense than you’re capable of assimilating, Mr. Walking Status Symbol. My likes and dislikes aren’t dictated by someone else. If I like corny music, I’ll listen to it and the devil with Brahms or Dixieland or anything else that somebody else tells me is all the thing!”

He turned on his heel angrily. “OK, OK, it takes all sorts to make a world, weirds and all.”

“One more label to hang on people,” she snarled after him. “Everything’s labels. Be sure and never come to any judgments of your own!”

What a woman! He wondered why he’d ever bothered to ask her for a date. There were so many women in this town you waded through them, and here he was exposing himself to be seen in public with a girl everybody in the department knew was as weird as they came. It didn’t do your standing any good to be seen around with the type. He wondered all over again why the Boss tolerated her as his receptionist-secretary.

He got his car from the parking lot and drove home at a high level. Ordinarily, the distance being what it was, he drove in the lower and slower traffic levels but now his frustration demanded some expression.

Back at his suburban auto-bungalow, he threw all except the high priority switch and went on down into his small second cellar den. He didn’t really feel like a night on the town anyway. A few vodka martinis under his belt and he’d sleep late and he wanted to get up in time for an early start for Florida. Besides, in that respect he agreed with the irritating wench. Vermouth was never meant to mix with Polish vodka. He wished that Sidecars would come back.

In his den, he shucked off his jacket, kicked off his shoes and shuffled into Moroccan slippers. He went over to his current reading rack and scowled at the paperbacks there. His culture status books were upstairs where they could be seen. He pulled out a western, tossed it over to the cocktail table that sat next to his chair, and then went over to the bar.

Up above in his living room, he had one of the new autobars. You could dial any one of more than thirty drinks. Autobars were all the rage. The Boss had one that gave a selection of a hundred. But what difference did it make when nobody but eccentric old-timers or flighty blondes drank anything except vodka martinis? He didn’t like autobars anyway. A well mixed drink is a personal thing, a work of competence, instinct and art, not something measured to the drop, iced to the degree, shaken or stirred to a mathematical formula.

Out of the tiny refrigerator he brought a four-ounce cube of frozen pineapple juice, touched the edge with his thumbnail and let the ultra thin plastic peel away. He tossed the cube into his mixer, took up a bottle of light rum and poured in about two ounces. He brought an egg from the refrigerator and added that. An ounce of whole milk followed and a teaspoon of powdered sugar. He flicked the switch and let the conglomeration froth together.

He poured it into a king-size highball glass and took it over to his chair. Vodka martinis be damned, he liked a slightly sweet long drink.

He sat down in the chair, picked up the book and scowled at the cover. He ought to be reading that Florentine history of Machiavelli’s, especially if the Boss had got to the point where he was quoting from the guy. But the heck with it, he was on vacation. He didn’t think much of the Italian diplomat of the Renaissance anyway; how could you be that far back without being dated?

He couldn’t get beyond the first page or two.

And when you can’t concentrate on a Western, you just can’t concentrate.

He finished his drink, went over to his phone and dialed Department of Records and then Information. When the bright young thing answered, he said, “I’d like the brief on an Ernest Self who lives on Elwood Avenue, Baltimore section of Greater Washington. I don’t know his code number.”

She did things with switches and buttons for a moment and then brought a sheet from a delivery chute. “Do you want me to read it to you, sir?”

“No, I’ll scan it,” Larry said.

Her face faded to be replaced by the brief on Ernest Self.

It was astonishingly short. Records seemed to have slipped up on this occasion. A rare occurrence. He considered requesting the full dossier, then changed his mind. Instead he dialed the number of the Sun-Post and asked for its science columnist.

Sam Sokolski’s puffy face eventually faded in.

Larry said to him sourly, “You drink too much. You can begin to see the veins breaking in your nose.”

Sam looked at him patiently.

Larry said, “How’d you like to come over and toss back a few tonight?”

“I’m working. I thought you were on vacation.”

Larry sighed. “I am,” he said. “OK, so you can’t take a night off and lift a few with an old buddy.”

“That’s right. Anything else, Larry?”

“Yes. Look, have you ever heard of an inventor named Ernest Self?”

“Sure I’ve heard of him. Covered a hassle he got into some years ago. A nice guy.”

“I’ll bet,” Larry said. “What does he invent, something to do with printing presses, or something?”

“Printing presses? Don’t you remember the story about him?”

“Brief me,” Larry said.

“Well⁠—briefly does it⁠—it got out a couple of years ago that some of our rocketeers had bought a solid fuel formula from an Italian research outfit for the star probe project. Paid them a big hunk of Uncle’s change for it. So Self sued.”

Larry said, “You’re being too brief. What d’ya mean, he sued? Why?”

“Because he claimed he’d submitted the same formula to the same agency a full eighteen months earlier and they’d turned him down.”

“Had he?”


Larry didn’t get it. “Then why’d they turn him down?”

Sam said, “Oh, the government boys had a good alibi. Crackpots turn up all over the place and you have to brush them off. Every cellar scientist who comes along and says he’s got a new super-fuel developed from old coffee grounds can’t be given the welcome mat. Something was wrong with his math or something and they didn’t pay much attention to him. Wouldn’t even let him demonstrate it. But it was the same formula, all right.”

Larry Woolford was scowling. “Something wrong with his math? What kind of a degree does he have?”

Sam grinned in memory. “I got a good quote on that. He doesn’t have any degree. He said he’d learned to read by the time he’d reached high school and since then he figured spending time in classrooms was a matter of interfering with his education.”

“No wonder they turned him down. No degree at all. You can’t get anywhere in science like that.”

Sam said, “The courts rejected his suit but he got a certain amount of support here and there. Peter Voss, over at the university, claims he’s one of the great intuitive scientists, whatever that is, of our generation.”

“Who said that?”

“Professor Voss. Not that it makes any difference what he says. Another crackpot.”

After Sam’s less than handsome face was gone from the phone, Larry walked over to the bar with his empty glass and stared at the mixer for several minutes. He began to make himself another flip, but cut it short in the middle, put down the ingredients and went back to the phone to dial Records again.

He went through first the brief and then the full dossier on Professor Peter Luther Voss. Aside from his academic accomplishments, particularly in the fields of political economy and international law, and the dozen or so books accredited to him, there wasn’t anything particularly noteworthy. A bachelor in his fifties. No criminal record of any kind, of course, and no military career. No known political affiliations. Evidently a strong predilection for Thorstein Veblen’s theories. And he’d been a friend of Henry Mencken back when that old nonconformist was tearing down contemporary society seemingly largely for the fun involved in the tearing.

On the face of it, the man was no radical, and the term “crackpot” which Sam had applied was hardly called for.

Larry Woolford went back to the bar and resumed the job of mixing his own version of a rum flip.

But his heart wasn’t in it. The Professor, Susan had said.

Before he’d gone to bed the night before, Larry Woolford had ordered a seat on the shuttle jet for Jacksonville and a hover-cab there to take him to Astor, on the St. Johns River. And he’d requested to be wakened in ample time to get to the shuttleport.

But it wasn’t the saccharine pleasant face of the Personal Service operator which confronted him when he grumpily answered the phone in the morning. In fact, the screen remained blank.

Larry decided that sweet long drinks were fine, but that anyone who took several of them in a row needed to be candied. He grumbled into the phone, “All right, who is it?”

A Teutonic voice chuckled and said, “You’re going to have to decide whether or not you’re on vacation, my friend. At this time of day, why aren’t you at work?”

Larry Woolford was waking up. He said, “What can I do for you, Distelmayer?” The German merchant-of-espionage wasn’t the type to make personal calls.

“Have you forgotten so soon, my friend?” the other chuckled. “It was I who was going to do you a favor.” He hesitated momentarily, before adding, “In possible return for future⁠—”

“Yeah, yeah,” Larry said. He was fully awake now.

The German said slowly, “You asked if any of your friends from, ah, abroad were newly in the country. Frol Eivazov has recently appeared on the scene.”

Eivazov! In various respects, Larry Woolford’s counterpart. Hatchetman for the Chrezvychainaya Komissiya. Woolford had met him on occasion when they’d both been present at international summit meetings, busily working at counterespionage for their respective superiors. Blandly shaking hands with each other, blandly drinking toasts to peace and international coexistence, blandly sizing each other up and wondering if it’d ever come to the point where one would blandly treat the other to a hole in the head, possibly in some dark alley in Havana or Singapore, Leopoldville or Saigon.

Larry said sharply, “Where is he? How’d he get in the country?”

“My friend, my friend,” the German grunted good-humoredly. “You know better than to ask the first question. As for the second, Frol’s command of American-English is at least as good as your own. Do you think his Komissiya less capable than your own department and unable to do him up suitable papers so that he could be, perhaps, a ‘returning tourist’ from Europe?”

Larry Woolford was impatient with himself for asking. He said now, “It’s not important. If we want to locate Frol and pick him up, we’ll probably not have too much trouble doing it.”

“I wouldn’t think so,” the other said humorously. “Since 1919, when they were first organized, the so-called Communists in this country, from the lowest to the highest echelons, have been so riddled with police agents that a federal judge in New England once refused to prosecute a case against them on the grounds that the party was a United States government agency.”

Larry was in no frame of mind for the other’s heavy humor. “Look, Hans,” he said, “what I want to know is what Frol is over here for.”

“Of course you do,” Hans Distelmayer said, unable evidently to keep note of puzzlement from his voice. “Larry,” he said, “I assume your people know of the new American underground.”

What underground?” Larry snapped.

The professional spy chief said, his voice strange, “The Soviets seem to have picked up an idea somewhere, possibly through their membership in this country, that something is abrewing in the States. That a change is being engineered.”

Larry stared at the blank phone scree