ambassador] went silent as the ship closed in and the planets day-side face rapidly expanded. Then followed
the usual circling and photographing. A lot of villages and small
towns were to be seen, also cultivated areas of large extent. It
was obvious that this planetwhile by no means fully exploitedwas
in the hands of colonists who were energetic and numerically strong.
Relieved that life was full, abundant and apparently free from
alien disease. Grayder brought the ship down onto the first hard-standing he
saw. Its enormous mass landed feather-like on a long, low hump amid well-tended
fields. Again all the ports became filled with faces as everyone had a look at
the new world.
The midway airlock opened, the gangway went down. As before,
exit was made in strict order of precedence starting with the Ambassador and
finishing with Sergeant Major Bidworthy. Grouping near the bottom of the gangway
they spent the first few moments absorbing sunshine and fresh air.
His Excellency scuffled the thick turf under his feet, plucked
a blade of it grunting as he stooped. He was so constructed that the effort came
close to an athletic feat and gave him a crick in the belly.
Earth-type grass. See that, Captain? Is it just a coincidence
or did they bring seed with them?
Could be either. Several grassy worlds are known. And
almost all colonists went away loaded with seeds.
Its another touch of home, anyway. I think Im
going to like this place. The Ambassador gazed into the distance, doing
it with pride of ownership. Looks like theres someone working over
there. Hes using a little motor-cultivator with a pair of fat wheels. They
cant be very backward, it seems.
Hm-m-m ! He rubbed a couple of chins. Bring him here.
We'll have a talk and find out where its best to make a start.
Very well. Captain Grayder turned to Colonel Shelton. His
Excellency wishes to speak to that farmer. He pointed to the faraway figure.
That farmer,said Shelton to Major Hame. His
Excellency wants him at once.
Bring that farmer here, Hame ordered Lieutenant
Go get that farmer, Deacon told Sergeant Major
Bid-worthy. And hurryHis Excellency is waiting.
Bidworthy sought around for a lesser rank, remembered that
they were all inside, cleaning ship and not smoking, by his order. He, it seemed,
Tramping across four fields and coming within hailing distance
of his objective, he performed a precise military halt, released a barracks square
bellow of, Hi, you! and waved urgently.
The farmer stopped his steady trudging behind the tiny cultivator,
wiped his forehead, glanced casually around. His indifferent manner suggested
that the mountainous bulk of the ship was a mirage such as are five a penny around
these parts. Bidworthy waved again, making it an authoritative summons. Now suddenly
aware of the sergeant majors existence, the farmer calmly waved back, resumed
Bidworthy employed a brief but pungent expletive whichwhen
its flames had died outmeant, Dear me! and marched fifty paces
nearer. He could now see that the other was bushy-browed, leather-faced, tall
Hi! he bawled.
Stopping the cultivator again, the farmer leaned on one of
of its shafts and idly picked his teeth.
Smitten by the ingenious thought that perhaps during the last few centuries
the old Terran language had been abandoned in favour of some other lingo, Bidworthy
approached to within normal talking distance and asked, Can you understand
Can any person understand another? inquired the farmer
with clear diction.
Bidworthy found himself afflicted with a moment of confusion.
Recovering, he informed hurriedly, His Excellency the Earth Ambassador
wishes to speak with you at once.
Is that so? The other eyed him speculatively, had
another pick at his teeth. And what makes him excellent?
He is a person of considerable importance, said
Bidworthy, unable to decide whether the other was trying to be funny at this
expense or alternatively was what is known as a character. A lot of these long-isolated
pioneering types liked to think of themselves as characters.
Of considerable importance, echoed the farmer,
narrowing his eyes at the horizon. He appeared to be trying to grasp a completely
alien concept. After a while, he inquired, What will happen to your home
world when this person dies?
Nothing, Bidworthy admitted.
It will roll on as before?
Round and round the sun?
Then, declared the farmer flatly, if his
existence or nonexistence makes no difference he cannot be important. with
that, his little engine went chuff-chuff and the cultivator rolled forward.
Digging his nails into the palms of his hands, Bidworthy spent
half a minute gathering oxygen before he said in hoarse tones, Are you
going to speak to the Ambassador or not?
I cannot return without at least a message for His Excellency.
Indeed? The other was incredulous. What is
to stop you? Then, noticing the alarming increase in Bidworthys colour,
he added with compassion, Oh, well. you may tell him that I saidhe
paused while he thought it overGod bless you and good-bye.
Sergeant Major Bidworthy was a powerful man who weighed more
than two hundred pounds, had roamed the cosmos for twenty-five years and feared
nothing. He had never been known to permit the shiver of one hairbut he
was trembling all over by the time he got back to the base of the gangway.
His Excellency fastened a cold eye upon him and demanded, Well?
He refuses to come. Bidworthys veins stood
out on his forehead. And, sir, if only I could have him in the space troops
for a few months Id straighten him up and teach him to move at the double.
I dont doubt that, Sergeant Major, the Ambassador
soothed. He continued in a whispered aside to Colonel Shelton. Hes
a good fellow but no diplomat. Too abrupt and harsh-voiced. Better go yourself
and fetch that farmer. We cant loaf around forever waiting to learn where
Very well, Your Excellency. Trudging across the
field, Shelton caught up with the farmer, smiled pleasantly and said, Good
morning, my man.
Stopping his machine, the farmer sighed as if it were one of
those days one has sometimes. His eyes were dark brown, almost black as they
regarded the newcomer.
What makes you think Im your man.
It is a figure of speech, explained Shelton. He
could see what was wrong now. Bidworthy had fallen foul of an irascible type.
Theyd been like two dogs snarling at one another. Oh, well, as a high-
ranking officer he was competent to handle anybody, the good and the bad, the
sweet and the sour, the jovial and the liverish. Shelton went on oilily, I
was only trying to be courteous.
It must be said, meditated the farmer, that
that is something worth trying forif you can make it.
Pinking a little, Shelton continued with determination, I
am commanded to request the pleasure of your company at the ship.
Really and truly commanded?
The other appeared to wander into a momentary daydream before
he came back and asked blandly, Think they'll get any pleasure out of my
Im sure of it, said Shelton.
Youre a liar, said the farmer.
His colour deepening, Colonel Shelton snapped, I do not
permit people to call me a liar.
Youve just permitted it, the farmer pointed
out. Letting it pass, Shelton insisted, Are you coming to the ship?
Myob! said the farmer.
What was that?
Myob! he repeated. It sounded like some sort of
insult. Shelton went back, told the Ambassador, That fellow is one of those
too-clever types. At the finish all I could get out of him was Myob whatever
Local slang, chipped in Grayder. An awful
lot of it develops in four centuries. Ive come across one or two worlds
where there has been so much of it that to all intents and purposes it formed
a new language.
He understood your speech? asked the Ambassador
Yes, Your Excellency. And his own is quite good. But
he wont leave his work. He reflected briefly, suggested, If
it were left to me Id bring him in by force with an armed escort.
That would encourage him to give essential information, commented
the Ambassador with open sarcasm. He patted his stomach, smoothed his jacket,
glanced down at his glossy shoes. Nothing for it but to go and speak to
Shelton was shocked. Your Excellency, you cant
Why cant I?
It would be undignified.
I am fully aware of the fact,said the Ambassador
dryly. What alternative do you suggest?
We can send out a patrol to find someone more co-operative.
Someone better informed, too, Captain Grayder
offered. At best we wont get much out of one surly hayseed. I doubt
whether he knows one quarter of what we require to learn.
All right. The Ambassador dropped the idea of doing
his own chores. Organise a patrol and lets have some results.
A patrol, said Colonel Shelton to Major Hame. Nominate
Call out a patrol, Hame ordered Lieutenant Deacon. At
Parade a patrol forthwith, Sergeant Major, said
Bidworthy lumbered up the gangway, stuck his head into the
airlock and shouted, sergeant Gleed, out with your squad and make it snappy! He
gave a suspicious sniff and went farther into the lock. His voice gained several
more decibels. Whos been smoking? By heavens, if I catch the man
Across the fields something quietly went chuff-chuff while
fat wheels crawled along.
The patrol formed by the right in two ranks of eight men each, turned at a
barked command and marched off in the general direction of the ships
nose. They moved with perfect rhythm if no great beauty of motion. Their boots
thumped in unison, their accoutrements clattered with martial noises and the
orange-coloured sun made sparkles on their metal.
Sergeant Gleed did not have to take his men far. They were
one hundred yards beyond the ships great snout when he noticed a man ambling
across the field to his right. Treating the ship with utter indifference, this
character was making toward the farmer still toiling far over to the left.
Patrol, right wheel! yelled Gleed, swift to take
advantage of the situation. The patrol right-wheeled, marched straight past the
wayfarer who couldnt be bothered even to wave a handkerchief at them. Now
Gleed ordered an about-turn and followed it with a take-him gesture.
Speeding up its pace, the patrol opened its ranks and became
a double file of men tramping on either side of the lone pedestrian. Ignoring
his suddenly acquired escort the latter continued to plod straight ahead like
one long convinced that all is illusion.
Left wheel! roared Gleed, trying to bend the whole
caboodle toward the waiting Ambassador.
Swiftly obedient, the double file headed leftward, one, two,
three, hup! It was neat, precise execution beautiful to watch. Only one thing
spoiled it: the man in the middle stubbornly maintained his self-chosen orbit
and ambled casually between numbers four and five of the right-hand file.
That upset Gleed, especially since the patrol continued to
thump steadily ambassadorwards for lack of a further order. His Excellency was
being treated to the unmilitary spectacle of an escort dumbly boot-beating one
way while its prisoner airily mooched another way. In due course Colonel Shelton
would have plenty to say about it and anything he forgot Bidworthy would remember.
Patrol! hoarsed Gleed, pointing an outraged finger
at the escapee and momentarily dismissing all regulation commands from his mind, Get
Breaking ranks, they moved at the double and surrounded the wanderer too closely
to permit further progress. Perforce he stopped.
Gleed came up and said somewhat breathlessly, Look, the
Earth Ambassador wants to speak to youthats all.
The other gazed at him with mild blue eyes. He was a funny looking sample,
long overdue for a shave. He had a fringe of ginger whiskers sticking out all
around his face and bore faint resemblance to a sunflower.
I should care, be said.
Are you going to talk with His Excellency? Gleed
Naw. The other nodded toward the farmer. Going
to talk to Zeke.
The Ambassador first, retorted Gleed, wearing his
tough expression. Hes a big noise.
I dont doubt that, remarked the sunflower,
showing what sort of a noise he had in mind.
Smartie Artie, eh? grated Gleed, pushing his face
close and making it unpleasant. He signed to his men. All right, hustle
him along. Well show him!
Smartie Artie chose this moment to sit down. He did it sort
of solidly, giving himself the aspect of a squatting statue anchored for the
remainder of eternity. But Gleed had handled sitters before, the only difference
being that this one was cold sober.
Pick him up, commanded Gleed, and carry him.
So they picked him up and carried him, feet first, whiskers
last. He hung limp and unresisting in their hands, a dead weight made as difficult
as possible to bear. In this inauspicious manner he arrived in the presence of
the Ambassador where the escort plonked him on his feet.
Promptly he set out for Zeke.
Hold him, darn you! howled Gleed.
The patrol grabbed and clung tight. The Ambassador eyed the
whiskers with well-bred concealment of distaste, coughed delicately and spoke.
I am truly sorry that you had to come to me in this fashion.
In that case, suggested the prisoner, you
could have saved yourself some mental anguish by not permitting it to happen.
There was no other choice. Weve got to make contact
I dont see it said Ginger Whiskers. Whats
so special about this date?
The date? The Ambassador frowned in puzzlement. What
has the date got to do with it?
Thats exactly what Im asking.
The point eludes me. The Ambassador turned to the
others. Do you understand what hes aiming at?
Shelton said, I can hazard a guess, Your Excellency.
I think he is hinting that since weve left them without contact for four
hundred years there is no particular urgency about making it today. He
looked to the sunflower for confirmation.
That worthy rallied to his support by remarking, Youre
doing pretty well for a halfwit.
Regardless of Sheltons own reaction, this was too much
for Bidworthy purpling nearby. His chest came up and his eyes caught fire. His
voice was an authoritative rasp.
Be more respectful while addressing high-ranking officers!
The prisoners mild blue eyes turned upon him in childish
amazement, examined him slowly from feet to head and all the way down again.
The eyes drifted back inquiringly to the Ambassador.
Who is this preposterous person?
Dismissing the question with an impatient wave of his hand,
the Ambassador said, see here, it is not our purpose to bother you from
sheer perversity, as you seem to think. Neither do we wish to detain you any
longer than is necessary. All w
Pulling at his face-fringe as if to accentuate its offensiveness,
the other interjected, It being you, of course, who determines the length
of the necessity?
On the contrary, you may decide that for yourself, gave
back the Ambassador, displaying admirable self-control. All you need do
is tell us
Then Ive decided it right now, the prisoner
chipped in. He tried to heave himself free of his escort .Let me go talk
All you need do, the Ambassador persisted, is
tell us where we can find a local official who can put us into touch with your
central government. His gaze was stern, commanding, as he added, For
instance where is the nearest police post?
Myob! said Ginger Whiskers.
What was that?
The same to you, retorted the Ambassador, his patience
Thats precisely what Im trying to do, insisted
the prisoner, enigmatically. Only you wont let me do it.
If I may make a suggestion, Your Excellency, but in Shelton, allow
I require no suggestions and I wont allow you, said
the Ambassador, somewhat out of temper. I have had enough of all this stupid
tomfoolery. I think we have landed at random in an area reserved for imbeciles.
It would be as well to recognize the fact and get out of it with no more delay.
Now youre talking, approved Ginger Whiskers. And
the farther the better.
We have no intention of leaving this planet, if that
is whats in your incomprehensible mind, asserted the Ambassador.
He stamped a proprietory foot into the turf. This is part of the Terran
Empire. As such it is going to be recognized, charted and organized.
Heah, heah! put in the senior civil servant who
aspired to honours in elocution.
His Excellency threw a frown behind, went on, Well
move the ship to some other section where brains are brighter. He turned
attention to the escort. Let him go. Probably he is in a hurry to borrow
They released their grips. Ginger Whiskers at once turned toward
the distant farmer much as if he were a magnetized needle irresistibly drawn
Zekeward. Without another word he set off at his original slovenly pace. Disappointment
and disgust showed on the faces of Bidworthy and Gleed as they watched him depart.
Have the vessel shifted at once, Captain, the Ambassador
said to Grayder. Plant it near to a likely townnot out in the wilds
where every yokel views strangers as a bunch of crooks.
He marched importantly up the gangway. Captain Grayder followed,
then Colonel Shelton, then the elocutionist. Next, their successors in correct
order of precedence. Lastly, Gleed and his men. The airlock closed. The warning
siren sounded. Despite its immense bulk the ship shivered briefly from end to
end and soared without deafening uproar or spectacular display of flame.
Indeed, there was silence save for a little engine going chuff-chuff and
the murmurings of the two men walking behind it. Neither took the trouble to
look around to see what was happening.
Seven pounds of prime tobacco is a heck of a lot to give
for one case of brandy, Ginger Whiskers protested.
Not for my brandy, said Zeke. Its stronger
than a thousand Gands and smoother than an Earthmans downfall.
great ships next touchdown was made on a
wide flat about two miles north of a town estimated to hold twelve
to fifteen thousand people. Grayder would have preferred to survey
the place from low altitude before making his landing but one cannot
handle a huge space-going vessel as if it were an atmospheric tug.
Only two things can be done when so close to a planetary surfacethe
ship is taken straight up or brought straight down with no room for
So Grayder dumped the ship in the best spot he could find when
finding is a matter of split-second decisions. It made a rut only ten feet deep,
the ground being hard with a rock bed. The gangway was shoved out. The procession
descended in the same order as before.
Casting an anticipatory look toward the town, the Ambassador
registered irritation. Something is badly out of kilter here. Theres
the town not so far away. Here we are in plain view with a ship like a metal
mountain. At least a thousand people must have seen us coming down even if all
the rest are holding seances behind drawn curtains or playing poker in the cellars.
Are they interested? Are they excited?
It doesnt seem so, contributed Shelton, pulling
industriously at an eyelid for the sake of feeling it spring back.
I wasnt asking you. I am telling you. They are
not excited. They are not surprised. They are not even interested. One would
almost think theyd had a ship here that was full of smallpox or that swindled
them out of something. whats wrong with them?
Possibly they lack curiosity, Shelton ventured.
Either that or theyre afraid. Or maybe the entire
gang of them is more cracked than any bunch on any other world. Practically all
these planets were appropriated by dotty people who wanted to establish a haven
where their eccentricities could run loose. And nutty notions become conventional
after four hundred years of undisturbed continuity. It is then considered normal
and proper to nurse the bats out of your grandfathers attic. That and generations
of inbreeding can create some queer types. But we'll cure them before were
Yes, Your Excellency, most certainly we will.
You dont look so well-balanced yourself, chasing
that eyelid around your face, reproved the Ambassador. He pointed south-east
as Shelton stuck the fidgety hand firmly into a pocket. Theres a
road over there. Wide and well-built by the looks of it. They dont construct
a highway for the mere fun of it. Ten to one its an important artery.
Thats how it looks to me, Shelton agreed.
Put that patrol across it, Colonel. If your men dont
bring in a willing talker within reasonable time well send the entire battalion
into the town itself.
A patrol, said Shelton to Major Hame.
Call out the patrol, Hame ordered Lieutenant Deacon.
That patrol again, Sergeant Major, said Deacon.
Bidworthy raked out Gleed and his men, indicated the road,
barked a bit and shooed them on their way.
They marched, Gleed in front. Their objective was half a mile
away and angled toward the town. The left-hand file had a clear view of the nearest
suburbs, eyed the buildings wistfully, wished Gleed in warmer regions with Bidworthy
stoking the hell-fire beneath him.
Hardly had they reached their goal than a customer appeared.
He came from the towns outskirts, zooming along at fast pace on a contraption
vaguely like a motorcycle. It ran on a big pair of rubber balls and was pulled
by a caged fan. Gleed spread his men across the road.
The oncomers machine suddenly gave forth a harsh, penetrating
sound that reminded everybody of Bidworthy in the presence of dirty boots.
Stay put, warned Gleed. Ill skin the
fellow who gives way and leaves a gap.
Again the shrill metallic warning. Nobody moved. The machine
slowed, came up to them at a crawl and stopped. Its fan continued to spin at
slow rate, the blades almost visible and giving out a steady hiss.
Whats the idea? demanded the rider. He was
lean-featured, in his middle thirties, wore a gold ring in his nose and had a
pigtail four feet long.
Blinking incredulously at this get-up, Gleed managed to jerk an indicative
thumb toward the metal mountain and say, Earthship.
Well, what do you expect me to do about it?throw
a fit of hysterics?
We expect you to co-operate, informed Gleed, still
bemused by the pigtail. He had never seen such a thing before. It was in no way
effeminate, he decided. Rather did it lend a touch of ferocity like that wornaccording
to the picture booksby certain North American aborigines in the dim and
Co-operation, mused the rider. Now there
is a beautiful word. You know exactly what it means, of course?
Im not a dope.
The precise degree of your idiocy is not under discussion
at the moment, the rider pointed out. His nose-ring waggled a bit as he
spoke. We are talking about co-operation. I take it you do quite a lot
of it yourself?
You bet I do, Gleed assured. And so does
everyone else who knows whats good for him.
Lets keep to the subject, shall we? Lets
not sidetrack and go rambling all over the conversational map. He revved
up his fan a little then let it slow down again. You are given orders and
you obey them?
Of course. Id have a rough time if
That is what you call co-operation? put in the
other. He hunched his shoulders, pursed his bottom lip. Well, its
nice to check the facts of history. The books could be wrong. His fan flashed
into a circle of light and the machine surged forward. Pardon me.
The front rubber ball barged forcefully between two men, knocking
them aside without injury. With a high whine the machine shot down the road,
its fan-blast making its riders plaited hairdo point horizontally backward.
You substandard morons! raged Gleed as the pair
got up and dusted themselves. I told you to stand fast What dyou
mean by letting him run out on us like that?
Didnt have much choice about it, Sarge, answered
I want none of your back-chat. You could have busted
one of his balloons if youd had your guns ready. That would have stopped
You didnt tell us to use our guns.
Where was your own, anyway? added a sneaky voice.
Gleed whirled on the others and demanded, Who said that? His
eyes raked a long row of impassive faces. It was impossible to detect the culprit Ill
shake you up with the next quota of fatigues, he promised. Ill
see to it that
The Sergeant Majors coming, one of them warned.
Bidworthy was four hundred yards away and making martial progress
towards them. Arriving in due time, he cast a cold, contemptuous glance over
Giving me a lot of lip, he was, complained Gleed
after providing a brief account of the incident. He looked like one of
those Chickasaws with an oil-well.
Did he really? Bidworthy surveyed him a moment,
then invited, And what is a Chickasaw?
I read about them somewhere once when I was a kid, explained
Gleed, happy to bestow a modicum of learning. They got rich on oil. They
had long, plaited haircuts, wore blankets and rode around in gold-plated automobiles.
Sounds crazy to me, said Bidworthy. I gave
up all that magic-carpet stuff when I was seven. I was deep in ballistics before
I was twelve and military logistics when I was fourteen. He sniffed loudly
and gave the other a jaundiced eye. Some guys suffer from arrested development.
They actually existed, Gleed maintained. They
So did fairies, snapped Bidworthy. My mother said
so. My mother was a good woman. She didnt tell me a lot of goddam liesoften. He
spat on the road. Be your age! Then he glowered at the patrol. All
right, get out your gunsassuming that youve got them and know where
they are and which hand to hold them in. Take orders from me. Ill deal
personally with the next character who comes along.
Sitting on a large rock by the roadside, be planted an expectant
gaze on the town. Gleed posed near him, slightly pained. The patrol remained
strung across the road with guns held ready. Half an hour crawled by without
One of the men pleaded, Can we smoke, Sergeant Major?
They fell into lugubrious silence, licking their lips from
time to time and doing plenty of thinking. They had lots about which to think.
A townany town of human occupationhad desirable features not to be
found anywhere else in the cosmos. Lights, company, freedom, laughter, all the
makings of life. And one can go hungry too long.
Eventually a large coach emerged from the towns outskirts,
hit the high road and came bowling towards them. A long, shiny, streamlined job,
it rolled on twenty balls in two rows of ten, gave forth a whine similar to but
louder than that of the motorcycle, and had no visible fans. It was loaded with
At a point two hundred yards from the road-block a loud-speaker
under the vehicles bonnet blared an urgent, Make way! Make way!
This is it, commented Bidworthy with much satisfaction. Weve
caught a dollop of them. One of them is going to confess or Ill resign
from the space-service. He got off his rock and stood in readiness.
Make way! Make way!
Perforate his balloons if he tries to bull his way through, ordered
It wasnt necessary. The coach lost pace, stopped with
its bonnet a yard from the waiting file. Its driver peered out of the side of
his cab. Other faces snooped curiously farther back.
Composing himself and determined to try the effect of fraternal
cordiality, Bidworthy went up to the driver and said with great difficulty, Good
Your time-sense is shot to pot, responded the other
ungratefully. He had a heavy blue jowl, a broken nose, cauliflower ears and looked
the sort who usually drives with others in hot and vengeful pursuit. Cant
you afford a watch?
It isnt morning. Its late afternoon.
So it is, admitted Bidworthy, forcing a cracked
Im not so sure about that, mused the driver,
leaning on his steering-wheel and moodily scratching his head. We get an
afternoon in every day. Its always the same. Morning goes and what happens?
Youre stuck with an afternoon. Ive become hardened to it. And this
one is just another nearer the grave.
That may be, conceded Bidworthy, little struck
with this ghoulish angle, but I have other things to worry about and
Fat lot of use worrying about anything, past, present
or whatever, advised the driver. Because there are far bigger worries
to come. Stick around long enough and youll have some real stinkers in
Perhaps so, said Bidworthy, inwardly feeling that
this was a poor time to contemplate the darker side of existence. But I
prefer to deal with my own troubles in my own way.
Nobodys troubles are entirely their own, nor their
methods of coping, continued the tough-looking oracle. Are they now?
I dont know and I dont care, growled
Bidworthy, his composure thinning down as his blood-pressure built up. He was
irefully conscious of Gleed and the patrol watching, listening and probably grinning
like stupid apes behind his back. There was also the load of gaping passengers. I
think youre talking just to stall me. You might as well know that it wont
work. Im here for a purpose and that purpose is going to be served. The
Terran Ambassador is waiting
so are we, emphasised the
He wants to speak to you, Bidworthy went stubbornly
on, and hes going to speak to you.
Id be the last to prevent him. Weve got free
speech here. Let him step up and say his piece so that we can go our way.
You, informed Bidworthy, are going to him. He
signed to the rest of the coach. The whole lot of you.
Not me, denied a fat man sticking his head out
of a side window. He wore thick-lensed glasses that made his eyes look like poached
eggs. Moreover, he was adorned with a tall hat candy-striped in white and pink. Not
me, repeated this vision with considerable firmness.
Me neither, supported the driver.
All right. Bidworthy displayed maximum menace. Move
this birdcage one inch backward or forward and we'll shoot your pot-bellied tyres
to thin strips. Get out of that cab.
Ha-ha. Im too comfortable. Try fetching me.
Bidworthy beckoned to the nearest six men. You heard
himtake him up on that.
Tearing open the cab door, they grabbed. If they had expected
the victim to put up a futile fight against heavy odds, they were disappointed.
He made no attempt to resist. They got him, lugged together and he yielded with
good grace. His body leaned to one side and came halfway out of the door.
That was as far as they could get him.
Come on, urged Bidworthy, showing impatience. Heave
him loose. You dont have to be feeble. Show him whos who. He isnt
One of the men climbed over the body, poked around inside the
cab and announced, He is, you know.
What dyou mean?
Hes chained to the steering column.
Nonsense. Let me see. He had a look and found that
it was so. A chain and a small but heavy and complicated padlock linked the drivers
leg to his coach. Wheres the key?
Search me, invited the driver.
They did just that. The effort proved futile. No key.
Whos got it?
Shove him back into his seat, ordered Bidworthy, looking
savage. Well take the passengers. One yap is as good as another so
far as Im concerned. Striding to the doors, he jerked them open.
All out and make it snappy.
Nobody budged. They studied him silently, with various expressions
not one of which did anything to help his ego. The fat man with the candy-striped
hat mooned at his sardonically. Bidworthy decided that he did not like the fat
man and that a stiff course of military calisthenics might thin him down a bit.
You can come out on your feet, he suggested to
the passengers in general and the fat man in particular, or on your necks.
Whichever you prefer. Make up your minds.
If you cant use your head you can at least use
your eyes, commented the fat man happily. He shifted in his seat to the
accompaniment of metallic clanking noises.
Bidworthy accepted the idea, leaning through the doors for a better look. Then
he clambered into the vehicle, went its full length while carefully studying
each passenger. His florid features were two shades darker when he emerged
and spoke to Sergeant Gleed.
They are all chained. Every one of them. He glared
at the driver. Whats the purpose of manacling the lot?
Myob! said the driver airily.
Who has the keys?
Taking a deep breath, Bidworthy declaimed to nobody in particular, Every
once in a while I hear of somebody running amok and laying them out by the dozens.
Ive always wondered why-but now I know. He gnawed his knuckles, added
to Gleed, We cant run this contraption to the ship with that dummy
blocking the controls. Either we must find the keys or get tools and cut them
Or you could wave us on our way and then go take a pill, offered
Shut up! If Im stuck here another million years
Ill see to it that
Heres the Colonel, muttered Gleed, giving
him a nudge.
Colonel Shelton arrived, walked once slowly and officiously
around the outside of the coach, examined its construction and weighed
up its occupants. He flinched at the striped hat whose owner leered
at him through the glass. Then he came over to the disgruntled group.
Whats the trouble this time, Sergeant Major?
Theyre as crazy as all the others, sir. Theyre
full of impudence and say, Myob and couldnt care less about
His Excellency. They dont want to come out and we cant make them
because theyre chained in their seats.
Chained? Sheltons eyebrow lifted halfway
toward his hair. What on earth for?
I dont know, sir. All I can tell you is that theyre
fastened in like a bunch of gangsters being hauled to the pokey and
Shelton moved off without waiting to hear the rest. He had
a look for himself, came back.
You may have something there, Sergeant Major. But I dont
think they are criminals.
No. He threw a significant glance towards the fat
mans colourful headgear and several other sartorial eccentricities including
a ginger-haired individuals foot-wide polka-dotted bow. Its
more likely theyre a consignment of lunatics being taken to an asylum.
Ill ask the driver. Going to the cab, he said, Do you mind
telling me your destination?
Yes, responded the other.
Very well, where is it?
Look, said the driver, are we talking the
Youve just asked me whether I mind and I said yes. He
make a disparaging gesture. I do mind.
You refuse to tell?
Your aims improving, Sonny.
Sonny? put in Bidworthy, vibrant with outrage. Do
you realize that you are speaking to a colonel?
Whats a colonel? asked the driver interestedly.
By hokey, if your
Leave this to me, insisted Shelton, waving the
furious Bidworthy down. His expression was cold as he returned attention to the
driver. On your way. Im sorry youve been detained.
Think nothing of it, said the driver with exaggerated
politeness. Ill do as much for you some day.
With that enigmatic remark he let his machine roll for-ward.
The patrol parted to make room. Building up its whine to the top note, the coach
sped down the road and diminished into the dusty distance.
This planet, swore Bidworthy, staring purple-faced
after it, has more no-good bums in need of discipline than any place this
Calm yourself, Sergeant Major, urged Shelton. I
feel exactly the same way as you dobut Im taking care of my arteries.
Blowing them full of bumps like seaweed wont solve any problems.
Maybe so, sir, but-
Were up against something mighty peculiar here, Shelton
went on. Weve got to find out precisely what it is and how best to cope
with. In all probability it means we'll have to devise new tactics. So far the
patrol has achieved nothing. It is wasting its time. Obviously we'll have to
concoct a more effective method of getting into touch with the powers-that-be.
March the men back to the ship, Sergeant Major.
Very well, sir. Bidworthy saluted, swung around,
clicked his heels, opened a cavernous mouth.
Patro-o-ol . . . right form
Aboard ship the resulting conference lasted well into the night
and halfway through the following morning. During these argumentative hours various
oddments of traffic, mostly vehicular, passed along the road. But nothing paused
to view the monster spaceship, nobody approached for a friendly word with its
crew. The strange inhabitants of this world seemed to be afflicted with a local
form of mental blindness, unable to see a thing until it was thrust into their
faces and then surveying it squint-eyed.
One passer-by in mid-morning was a long, low truck whining
on two dozen balls and loaded with girls wearing bright head-scarves. The girls
were tunefully singing something about one little kiss before we part, dear.
A number of troops loafing near the gangway came eagerly to life, waved, whistled
and yoohooed. Their effort was a total waste for the singing continued without
break or pause and nobody waved back.
To add to the discomforture of the love-hungry, Bidworthy stuck
his head out of the airlock and rasped, If you monkeys are bursting with
surplus energy I can find a few jobs for you to donice, dirty ones. He
seared them one at a time before he withdrew.
Up near the ships nose the top brass sat around the chart-rooms
horseshoe table and debated the situation. Most of them were content to repeat
with extra emphasis what they had said the previous evening, there being no new
points to bring up.
Are you certain, the Ambassador asked Grayder, that
this planet has not been visited since the last emigration transport dumped its
final load four centuries ago?
Im quite positive, Your Excellency. Any such visit
would be on record.
Yes, if made by a Terran ship. But what about others?
I feel it in my bones that at sometime or other these people have fallen foul
of one or more vessels calling unofficially and have been leery of spaceships
ever since. Perhaps somebody got tough with them and tried to muscle in where
he wasnt wanted. Or perhaps theyve had to beat off a gang of pirates.
Or maybe theyve been swindled by unscrupulous traders.
Absolutely impossible, Your Excellency, declared
Grayder, suppressing a smile. Emigration was so widely scattered over so
large a number of worlds that even today every one of them is under-populated,
under-developed and utterly unable to build spaceships of any kind no matter
how rudimentary. Some may have the technical know-how but they lack the industrial
facilities, of which they need plenty.
Yes, that is what Ive always understood.
Grayder went on, All Blieder-drive vessels are built
in the system of Sol and registered as Terran ships. Complete track is kept of
their movements and their whereabouts are always known. The only other spaceships
in existence are eighty or ninety antiquated rocket jobs bought at scrap price
by the Epsilon system for haulage work between its fourteen closely-spaced planets.
An old-fashioned rocket-ship couldnt reach this world in a hundred years.
No, of course not.
Unofficial boats capable of this long range just dont
exist, Grayder assured. Neither do space buccaneers and for much
the same reason. A Blieder-drive ship is so costly that a would-be pirate would
have to be a billionaire to become a pirate.
Then, said the Ambassador heavily, back we
go to my original theory; that a lot of inbreeding has made them crazier than
their colonizing ancestors.
Theres plenty to be said in favour of that idea, put
in Shelton. You should have seen the coach- load I looked over. There was
a fellow like a bankrupt mortician wearing odd shoes, one brown and one a repulsive
yellow. Also a moon-faced gump sporting a hat apparently made from the skin of
a barbers pole, a1l. stripy. With a sad attempt at wit, he finished, The
only thing missing was his bubble-pipe-and probably he'll be given that when
I dont know, Your Excellency. They refused to tell
us where they were going.
Giving him a satirical look, the Ambassador remarked, Well,
that is a valuable addition to the sum total of our knowledge. Our minds are
now enriched by the thought that an anonymous individual may be presented with
a futile object for an indefinable purpose when he reaches his unknown destination.
Shelton subsided wishing that he had never seen the fat man
or, for that matter, the fat mans cockeyed world.
somewhere theyve got a capital, a civic seat, a
centre of government wherein function the people who hold all the strings, the
Ambassador asserted. Weve got to find that place before we can take
over and reorganize on up-to-date lines. A capital is big by the standards of
its own administrative area. It is never an ordinary, nondescript place. It has
obvious physical features giving it importance above the average. It should be
easily visible from the air. We must make a systematic search for it in
fact thats what we should have done in the first place. Other planets capital
cities have been identified without trouble. Whats the hoodoo on this one?
see for yourself, Your Excellency. Grayder poked
several photographs across the table. The situation is rather similar to
that on Hygeia. You can see the two hemispheres quite clearly.
They reveal nothing resembling a superior city. There isnt even a town
conspicuously larger than its fellows or possessing enough outstanding features
to set it apart from the others.
I dont put great faith in pictures especially when
taken at high speed or great altitude. The naked eye can always see more. Weve
got four lifeboats that should be able to search this world from pole to pole.
Why dont we use them?
Because, Your Excellency, they were not designed for
such a purpose.
Does that matter so long as they get results?
Patiently, Grayder explained, They were built to be launched
in free space and to hit up forty thousand miles an hour. They are ordinary,
old-style rocket-ships to be used only in a grave emergency.
Well, what of it?
It is not possible to make efficient ground-survey with
the naked eye at any speed in excess of about four hundred miles per hour. Keep
the lifeboats down to that and youd be trying to fly them at landing-speed,
muffling their tubes, balling up their motors, creating a terrible waste of fuel
and inviting a crash which youre likely to get before youre through.
Then, commented the Ambassador, it is high
time we had Blieder-drive lifeboats for Blieder- drive ships.
I couldnt agree more, Your Excellency. But the
smallest Blieder apparatus has an Earth-mass of more than three hundred tons.
Thats far too much for little boats. Picking up the photographs,
Grayder slid them into a drawer. The trouble with us is that everything
weve got moves a heck of a lot too fast. What we really need is an ancient,
propeller-driven air-plane. It could do something that we cant-it could
You might as well yearn for a bicycle, scoffed
the Ambassador, feeling thwarted.
We have a bicycle, Grayder informed. Tenth
Engineer Harrison owns one.
And he has actually brought it with him?
It goes everywhere he goes. Theres a rumour that
he sleeps with it.
A spaceman toting a bicycle! The Ambassador blew
his nose with a loud honk. I take it that he is thrilled by the sense of
immense velocity it gives him, an ecstatic feeling of rushing headlong through
I wouldnt know, Your Excellency.
Hm! Bring this Harrison here. Id like to
see him. Perhaps we can set a crackpot to catch a crackpot.
Going to the caller-board, Grayder spoke over the ships
system. Tenth Engineer Harrison will report to the chart-room at once.
Within ten minutes Harrison appeared, breathless and dishevelled.
He had walked fast three- quarters of a mile from the Blieder room. He was thin
and woebegone, expecting trouble. His ears were large enough to cut the pedalling
with the wind behind him and he wiggled them nervously as he faced the assembled
officers. The Ambassador examined him with curiosity, much as a zoologist would
inspect a pink giraffe.
Mister, I understand that you possess a bicycle.
At once on the defensive, Harrison said, Theres
nothing against it in the regulations, sir, and therefore
Damn the regulations, swore the Ambassador. Can
you ride the thing?
Of course, sir.
All right. Were stalled in the middle of a crazy
situation and were turning to crazy methods to get moving. Upon your ability
and willingness to ride a bicycle the fate of an empire may stand or fall. Do
you understand me, Mister?
I do, sir, said Harrison, unable to make head or
tail of this.
So I want you to do an extremely important job for me.
I want you to get out your bicycle, ride into town, find the mayor, sheriff,
grand panjandrum, supreme galootie or whatever he is called, and tell him that
he is officially invited to evening dinner along with any other civic dignitaries
he cares to bring. That, of course, includes their wives.
Very well, sir.
Informal attire, added the Ambassador.
Harrison jerked up one ear and drooped the other. What
was that, sir?
They can dress how they like.
I get it. Do I go right now, sir?
At once. Return as quickly as you can and bring me the
Saluting sloppily, Harrison went out. His Excellency found
an easy-chair, reposed in it at full length, smiled with satisfaction.
Its as easy as that. Pulling out a long cigar,
he bit off its end. If we cant touch their minds we'll appeal to
their bellies. He cocked a knowing eye at Grayder. Captain, see that
there is plenty to drink. Strong stuff. Venusian cognac or something equally
potent. Give them lots of hooch and an hour at a well-filled table and theyll
talk all night. We wont be able to shut them up. He lit the cigar,
puffed luxuriously. That is the tried and trusted technique of high diplomacythe
insidious seduction of the distended gut. It always works. Youll see!
Pedalling briskly down the road, Tenth Engineer Harrison
reached the first street on either side of which were small detached
houses with neat gardens back and front. A plump, amiable looking
woman was trimming a hedge halfway along. He pulled up near to her,
politely touched his cap.
"Scuse me, ma'am, Im looking for the biggest man
gave him no more than a casual glance, pointed her clipping-shears southward.
That would be Jeff Baines. First on the right and second
on the left. Its a small delicatessen.
He moved on, hearing the steady snip-snip resume behind him.
First on the right. He curved around a long, low, rubber-balled truck parked
by the corner. Second on the left. Three children pointed at him dramatically
and yelled shrill warnings that his back wheel was going round. He found the
delicatessen, propped a pedal on the curb, gave his machine a reassuring pat
before he went inside and had a look at Jeff.
There was plenty to see. Jeff had four chins, a twenty-two
inch neck, and a paunch that stuck out half a yard. An ordinary mortal could
have got into either leg of his pants without bothering to take off his diving
suit. Jeff Baines weighed at least three hundred pounds and undoubtedly was the
biggest man in town.
Wanting something? inquired Jeff, lugging it up
from far down.
Not exactly. Harrison eyed the succulent food display
and decided that anything unsold by nightfall was not thrown out to the cats. Im
looking for a certain person.
Are you now? Usually I avoid that sortbut every
man to his taste. He plucked a fat lip while he mused a moment, then suggested. Try
Sid Wilcock over on Dane Avenue. Hes the most certain man I know.
I didnt mean it that way, said Harrison. I
meant that Im searching for somebody particular.
Then why the blazes didnt you say so in the first
place? Jeff Baines worked over the new problem, finally offered, Tod
Green ought to fit that specification topnotch. You'll find him in the shoeshop
at the end of this road. Hes particular enough for anyone. Hes downright
You persist in misunderstanding me, Harrison told
him and then went on to make it plainer, Im hunting a local bigwig
so that I can invite him to a feed.
Resting himself on a high stool which he overlapped by a foot
all round, Jeff Baines eyed him peculiarly. Theres something lopsided
about this. Indeed, it seems crazy to me.
Youre going to use up a considerable slice of your
life finding a fellow who wears a wig, especially if you insist that its
got to be a big one. And then again, wheres the point of dumping an ob
on him merely because he uses a bean-blanket?
Its plain horse-sense to plant an ob where it will
cancel another one out, isnt it?
Is it? Harrison let his mouth hang open while his
mind struggled with the strange problem of how to plant an ob.
So you dont know? Youre exposing your tonsils
and looking dopey because you dont know?
Jeff Baines massaged a couple of his chins and sighed. He pointed
at the others middle. Is that a uniform youre wearing?
A genuine, pukka, dyed-in-the-wool uniform?
Ah, said Jeff, Thats where youve fooled
mecoming here by yourself, on your ownsome. If there had been a gang of
you dressed identically the same Id have known at once that it was a uniform.
Thats what uniform means: all alike. Doesnt it?
I suppose so, agreed Harrison, who had never given
it a thought.
So youre from that ship. I ought to have guessed
it in the beginning. I must be slow on the uptake today. But I didnt expect
to see one, just one, messing around on a pedal contraption. It goes to show,
Yes, said Harrison, glancing warily backward to
make sure that no opportunist had swiped his bicycle while he was engaged in
conversation. It goes to show.
All right, lets have it. Why have you come here
and what do you want?
Ive been trying to tell you all along. Ive
been sent to
Been sent? Jeffs eyes widened a little. Mean
to say you actually let yourself be sent?
Harrison gaped at him. Of course. Why not?
Oh, I get it now, said Jeff, his puzzled features
suddenly clearing. You confuse me with the queer way you talk. What you
really mean is that you planted an ob on somebody, eh?
Desperately, Harrison asked, For heavens sake,
whats an ob?
He doesnt know, commented Jeff Baines, looking
prayerfully at the ceiling. He doesnt even know that! For a
short while he contemplated the ignoramus with condescending pity before he said, You
hungry by any chance?
Going on that way.
All right. I could tell you what an ob is. But I'll do
something betterI'll show you. Heaving himself off the stool, he
waddled to the door at back. God alone knows why I should bother to educate
a uniform. Its just that Im bored. Cmon, follow me.
Obediently, Harrison, went behind the counter, paused to give
his bicycle a reassuring nod, trailed the other through a passage and into a
Jeff Baines pointed to a stack of cases. Canned goods. He
indicated an adjacent store. Bust them open and pile the stuff in there.
Stack the empties outside. Please yourself whether you do it or not. Thats
freedom, isnt it? He lumbered back into the shop.
Left to himself, Harrison scratched his large ears
and thought it over. Somewhere, he felt, there was an obscure sort
of confidence trick. A candidate named Harrison was being tempted
to qualify for his sucker certificate. But if the play was beneficial
to its organizer it might be worth learning because it could then
be passed on to other victims. One must speculate in order to accumulate.
So he dealt with the cases as required. It cost him twenty
minutes of hard, slogging work after which he returned to the shop.
Now, explained Baines, youve done something
for me. That means youve planted an ob on me. I dont thank you for
what you have done. Theres no need to. All I have to do is get rid of the
Obligation. Why use a long word when a short one is plenty
good enough? An obligation is an ob. I shift it this way: Seth Warburton, next
door but one, has got half a dozen of my obs saddled on him. So I get rid of
mine to you and relieve him of one of his to me by sending you around for a meal. He
scribbled briefly on a slip of paper. Give him this.
Harrison stared at it. In casual scrawl it read, Feed
Slightly dazed, he wandered out, stood by his bicycle and again
examined the paper. Bum, it said. He could think of several on the ship whod
explode with wrath at the sight of that. Then his attention drifted to the second
shop farther along. It had a window crammed with comestibles and two big words
on the sign-strip above: Seths Gulper.
Coming to a decision which was encouraged by his insides, he
walked into Seths holding the paper as if it were a death warrant. Beyond
the door there was a long counter, some steam and a clatter of crockery. He chose
a seat at a marble-topped table occupied by a gray-eyed brunette.
Do you mind? h e inquired politely as he lowered himself
into the chair.
Do I mind what? She examined his ears as if they
were curious phenomena. Rabies, dogs, aged relatives or standing around
in the rain?
Do you mind me sitting here?
I can please myself whether or not I endure it. Thats
freedom, isnt it?
Yes, said Harrison, sure it is. He
fidgeted in his seat, feeling that hed made a move and promptly lost a
pawn. He sought around for something else to say and at that point a thin-featured
man in a white coat dumped before him a large plate loaded with fried chicken
and three kinds of unfamiliar food. The sight unnerved him. He couldnt
remember how many years it had been since hed last seen fried chicken or
how many months since hed been offered vegetables in other than powder
Well, demanded the waiter, mistaking his fascinated
reaction, doesnt it please you?
Yes. Harrison handed over the slip of paper. Sure
it does. You bet it does.
Glancing at the note, the other called to somebody semi-visible
at one end of the counter. Youve wiped out one of Jeffs. He
strolled away, tearing the slip into small pieces.
That was a fast pass, commented the brunette, nodding at the loaded plate. He
dumps a heavy feed-ob on you and you bounce it straight back, leaving all quits.
I'll have to wash dishes to get rid of mine. Or kill one Seth has got on somebody
I stacked a ton of canned stuff. Harrison picked
up knife and fork, his mouth watering. There were no knives and forks on the
ship; they werent needed for powders and pills. Dont give you
much choice here, do they? You take what you get.
Not if youve got an ob on Seth, she informed. When
you have, he must work it off the best way he can. You should have put that to
him instead of waiting for fate and complaining afterward.
But Im not complaining.
Its your right. Thats freedom, isnt
it? She mused a bit, went on, It isnt often Im an ob
ahead of Seth but when I am I scream for iced pineapple and he comes running.
When hes one ahead I do the running. Her gray eyes narrowed in sudden
suspicion. Youre listening as if all this is new to you.
Are you a stranger here?
He nodded, his mouth full of chicken. A little later he managed, Im
off that spaceship.
Good grief! She froze considerably. An Antigand!
I wouldnt have thought it. Why, you look almost human.
Ive long taken pride in that similarity. He
chewed, swallowed, looked inquiringly around. The white-coated man came up. Whats
to drink? Harrison asked.
Dith, double-dith, shemak or coffee.
Coffee. Big and black.
Shemak is better, advised the brunette as the waiter
went to get it. But why should I tell you?
The coffee came in a pint-sized mug. Putting it down, the waiter
said, Its your choice seeing that Seth is working one off. Whatll
you have for afterapple pie, yimpik delice, grated tarfelsoufers or canimelon
Ugh ! The other blinked at him, gave the brunette
an accusing stare, brought it and dumped it on the table.
Harrison pushed it across. Take the plunge and enjoy
Couldnt eat it if I tried. He dug up another
load of chicken, stirred his coffee, he began to feel at perfect peace with this
world. Got as much as I can manage right here. He made an inviting
motion with his fork. Go on, be greedy and to heck with the waistline.
No. Firmly she pushed the pineapple back at him. If
I ate my way through that Id be saddled with an ob.
I dont let strangers dump obs on me.
Quite right, too. Very proper of you, approved
Harrison. Strangers often have strange notions.
Youve been around, she remarked. Though
I dont know whats strange about the notions.
Cynic! The pineapple got another pass in her direction. If
you feel that Ill be burdening you with an ob that youll have to
pay off you can do it in seemly manner here and now. All I want is some information.
What is it?
Just tell me where I can put my finger on the ripest
cheese in this locality.
Thats easy. Go round to Alec Peters place,
middle of Tenth Street. With that she helped herself to the dish.
Thanks. I was beginning to think that everyone was dumb
or afflicted with the funnies.
carried on with his own meal, finished it, lay back expansively.
nourishment persuaded his brain to work
a bit more dexterously for after a minute an expression of chronic
doubt clouded his face and he inquired, Does this Peters run
a cheese warehouse?
Of course. Emitting a sigh of pleasure, she pushed
the empty dish aside.
He groaned low down, then informed, Im chasing
What is that?
Number one. The big boss. The sheriff, pohanko, or what-ever
you call him.
Im still no wiser, she said, genuinely puzzled.
man who runs this town. The leading citizen.
Make it a little clearer, she suggested, trying
hard to help him. Who or what should this citizen be leading?
You and Seth and everyone else. He waved a hand
to encompass the entire burg.
Frowning, she asked, Leading us where?
Wherever youre going.
She gave up, beaten, and signed the white-coated waiter to
come to her assistance.
Matt, are we going any place?
How should I know?
Well, ask Seth then.
He went away, came back with, Seth says hes going
home at six o'clock and whats it to you?
Anyone leading him there? she inquired.
Dont be daft, Matt advised. He knows
his own way and hes cold sober.
in. Look, I dont see why there should be so much difficulty
about all this. Just tell me where I can find an official, any
officialthe police chief, the city treasurer, the mortuary keeper
or even a mere justice of the peace.
Whats an official? asked Matt, openly baffled.
Whats a justice of the peace? added the brunette.
His mind side-slipped and did a couple of spins. It took him
quite a time to reassemble his thoughts and try another tack.
Let us suppose, he said to Matt, that this
joint catches fire. What would you do?
Fan it to keep it going, retorted Matt, fed up
and making no effort to conceal the fact. He returned to the counter with the
air of one not inclined to waste words on a congenital halfwit.
Hed put it out, informed the brunette . What
else would you expect him to do?
Suppose that he couldnt?
Hed call in others to help him.
And would they?
Of course. She surveyed him with a touch of pity. Theyd
jump at the chance. Theyd be planting a nice, big crop of strong obs, wouldnt
I guess so. He began to feel completely stalled, but made a last
desperate shot at the problem. What if the fire were much
too big and fast for passers-by to tackle?
Seth would summon the fire squad.
Defeat receded, triumph replaced it.
Ah, so there is a fire squad? Thats what I mean
by some-thing official. Thats what Ive been after all along. Quick,
tell me where I can find its headquarters.
Bottom end of Twelfth Avenue. You cant miss it.
Thanks! He got up in a hurry. See you again
sometime. Going out fast, he grabbed his bicycle, shoved off from the curb.
The fire depot proved to be a big place containing four telescopic
ladders, a spray tower and two multiple pumps, all motorized on the usual array
of fat rubber balls. Inside, Harrison came face to face with a small man wearing
immense plus fours.
Looking for someone? asked the small man.
Yes, the fire chief.
By now prepared for this sort of thing, Harrison spoke as one
would to a child. See here, Mister, this is a fire-fighting outfit. Somebody
bosses it. Somebody organizes the whole affair, fills forms, presses buttons,
shouts orders, recommends promotions, kicks the shiftless, grabs all the credit,
transfers all the blame and generally lords it around. Hes the most important
man in the bunch and everybody knows it. His forefinger tapped imperatively
on the others chest. And he is the fellow Im going to talk
to if its the last thing I do.
Nobody is more important than anyone else. How can he
be? I think youre crazy.
Youre welcome to think what you please but I am
telling you that
A shrill bell clamoured, cutting off his sentence. Twenty men appeared as if
by magic, boarded a ladder and a multiple pump, roared into the street.
Squat, basin-shaped helmets formed the only article of attire
that the crew had in common. Apart from these, they plumbed the depths of sartorial
iniquity. The man with the plus fours, having gained the pump in one bold leap,
was whirled out standing between a fat fire-fighter wearing a rainbow-hued cummerbund
and a thin one sporting a canary yellow kilt. A late-comer decorated with ear-rings
resembling little bells hotly pursued the pump, snatched at its tailboard, missed,
sourly watched the outfit disappear from sight. He mooched back, swinging his
helmet from one hand.
Just my lousy luck, he griped at the gaping Harrison. The
sweetest, loveliest call of the year. A big brewery. The sooner they get there
the bigger the obs they'll plant on it. Licking his lips at the thought,
he sat on a coil of canvas hose. Oh, well, maybe its for the good
of my health.
Tell me something, Harrison probed, How do you
earn a living?
Theres a dopey question. You can see for yourself.
Im on the fire squad.
I know. What I mean is, who pays you?
Gives you money for all this.
You talk mighty peculiar. What is money?
Harrison rubbed his cranium to assist the circulation of blood
through the brain. What is money? Yeouw! He tried another angle.
If your wife needs a new coat, how does she get it?
Goes to a store thats carrying fire-obs, of course.
She knocks off one or two for them.
But what if no clothing store has had a fire?
Youre pretty ignorant, brother. Where in this world
do you come from? His ear-bells swung as he studied the other a moment. Almost
all stores have fire-obs. If theyve any sense they allocate so many per
month by way of insurance. They look ahead, just in case, see? They plant obs
on us in advance so that when we rush to the rescue weve got to wipe out
a dollop of theirs before we can plant any new ones of our own. That stops us
overdoing it and making hogs of ourselves. Sort of cuts down the stores liabilities.
It makes sense, doesnt it?
I get it now, interrupted the other, narrowing
his eyes. Youre from that spaceship. Youre a lousy Antigand.
Im a Terran, informed Harrison with suitable
dignity. Whats more, all the folk who originally settled this planet
Are you trying to teach me history? He gave a harsh
laugh. Youre wrong. There was a five per cent strain of Martian.
Even the Martians are descended from Terran stock, Harrison
So what? That was a devil of a long time ago. Things
change, in case you havent heard. Weve no Terrans or Martians on
this world except for your crowd which has barged in unasked. Were all
Gands here. And you noseypokes are Antigands.
We arent anti-anything that I know of. Where did
you get that idea?
Myob! said the other, suddenly determined to refuse
further argument. He tossed his helmet to one side, spat on the floor.
You heard me. Go trundle your scooter.
Harrison gave up and did just that. Gloomily he cycled back
to the ship.
His Excellency pinned him with an authoritative optic. So
youre back at last, Mister. How many are coming and at what time?
None, sir, said Harrison, feeling kind of feeble.
None? August eyebrows lifted querulously. Do
your mean that they have refused my invitation?
Come out with it. Mister, urged the Ambassador. Dont
stand there gawping as if your push-and-puff contraption has just given birth
to a roller-skate. You say they have not refused my invitationbut nobody
is coming. What am I supposed to make of that?
I didnt ask anyone.
So you didnt ask? Turning, he said to Grayder,
Shelton and the others, He didnt ask! His attention came back
to Harrison. You forgot all about it, I presume? Intoxicated by liberty
and the power of man over machine, you flashed around the town at nothing less
than eighteen miles per hour, creating consternation among the citizenry, tossing
their traffic laws into the ash-can, putting children and elderly persons in
peril of their lives, not even troubling to ring your bell or
I dont have a bell, sir, stated Harrison,
inwardly resenting this list of enormities. I have a whistle operated by
the rotation of the rear wheel.
There! said the Ambassador like one abandoning
all hope. He sat down and smacked his forehead several times. I am reliably
informed that somebody is going to get a bubble-pipe. He pointed at Harrison. And
now I learn that he possesses a whistle.
it myself, sir, Harrison said helpfully.
Im sure you did. I can imagine it. I would expect
it of you. The Ambassador took a fresh grip on himself. See here,
Mister, I would like you to tell me something in strict confidence, just between
the two of us. Leaning forward, he put the question in a whisper that ricochetted
seven times around the room. Why didnt you ask anyone?
I couldnt find out who to ask, sir. I did my level
best but nobody seemed to know what I was talking about. Or they pretended they
Humph ! The Ambassador glanced out of the nearest
port, consulted his watch. The light is fading already. Night will be upon
us pretty soon. Its too late for further action. An annoyed grunt. Another
day gone to pot. Two days here and were still fiddling around. Then
he added with grim resignation. All right, Mister. Were wasting time
anyway so we might as well hear your story in full. Tell us what happened in
complete detail. That way, we may be able to dig some sense out of it.
Harrison told it, finishing, It seemed to me, sir, that
I could carry on for weeks trying to argue it out with people whose brains are
oriented east-west while mine points north-south. One can talk with them from
now to doomsday, become really friendly and enjoy the conversationwithout
either side fully understanding what the other is saying.
So it appears, said the Ambassador dryly. He turned
to Grayder. Youve been around a lot and seen many new worlds in your
time. What do you make of all this twaddle, if anything?
Its a problem in semantics, diagnosed Grayder,
who had been compelled by circumstances to study that subject. One comes
across it on many worlds that have been long out of touch, though usually it
hasnt developed far enough to become tough and unsolvable. For instance,
the first fellow we met on Basileus said, cordially and in what he imagined to
be perfect Terran, Joy you unboot now!
Yes? And what did that mean?
Come inside, put on your slippers and be happy. In other
words, welcome. It wasnt difficult to understand, Your Excellency, especially
when one expects that sort of thing. Grayder cast a thoughtful glance at
Harrison and continued, Here, the problem seems to have developed to a
greater extreme. The language remains fluent and retains enough surface similarities
to conceal underlying changes, but basic meanings have been altered, concepts
discarded and new ones substituted, thought-forms re-angled and, of course, there
is the inevitable impact of locally created slang.
Such as myob, offered the Ambassador. Now
there is a queer word without recognizable Earth-root. I dont like the
sarcastic way they use it. They make it sound downright insulting. Obviously
it has some kind of connection with these obs they keep throwing around. It means my
obligation or something like that, but the real significance eludes me.
There is no connection, sir, put in Harrison. He
hesitated, saw that they were waiting for him to go on. On my way back
I met the lady who bad directed me to Baines place. She asked whether Id
found him and I told her I had. We chatted a short while. I asked her what myob meant.
She said it was initial-slang. He stopped and fidgeted uneasily.
Keep going, urged the Ambassador. After some
of the sulphurous comments Ive heard emerging from the Blieder-room ventilation-shaft,
I can stomach anything. What does it mean?
M-y-o-b, informed Harrison, slightly
Ah! The other gained colour. So that is what
theyve been telling me all along?
Im afraid so, sir.
Evidently theyve a lot to learn. His neck
swelled with undiplomatic fury, he smacked a fat hand upon the table and declaimed
loudly. And theyre going to learn it!
Yes, sir, agreed Harrison, becoming more uneasy
and anxious to get out. May I go now and tend to my bicycle?
Yes, you may, said the Ambassador in the same noisy
tones. He performed a couple of meaningless gestures, turned a florid face on
Captain Grayder. Bicycle! Does anyone on this vessel own a slingshot?
I doubt it, Your Excellency, but I will make inquiries,
if you wish.
Dont be an imbecile, ordered the Ambassador. We
have our full quota of hollow-heads already.
Postponed until early morning, the next conference
was relatively short and sweet. The Ambassador took a seat, harumphed
importantly, straightened his tie, frowned around the table.
Let us have another look at what weve got. We know
that this planets mules call themselves Gands, dont take any interest
in their Terran origin and insist on referring to us as Antigands. This implies
an education and resultant outlook inimical to ourselves. Theyve been trained
from childhood to take it for granted that whenever we appeared upon the scene
we would prove to be against whatever they are for.
And we havent the remotest notion of what they
are for, put in Colonel Shelton, quite unnecessarily. But it served to
show that he was among those present, paying attention, and ready to lend the
full support of his powerful intellect.
I am only too aware of our ignorance in that respect, said
the Ambassador, with a touch of acid. They are maintaining a conspiracy
of silence about their prime motivation. We have got to break it somehow.
That, offered Shelton, unabashed, is the
Taking no notice, the Ambassador continued, They have
a peculiar, moneyless economic system which, in my opinion, manages to function
only because it is afflicted with large surpluses. It wont survive a day
when over-population brings serious shortages. This economic set-up appears to
be based on a mixture of co-operative techniques, private enterprise, a kindergartens
honour system and plain unadorned gimme. That makes it a good deal crazier than
the food-in-the-bank system they use on Epsilons four outer planets.
But it works, observed Grayder pointedly.
After a fashion. That flap-eared engineers bicycle
worksand so does he while riding it. A motorized job would save him a lot
of sweat. Highly pleased with this analogy, the Ambassador enjoyed the
flavour of it for a few seconds before he continued. This local scheme
of economicsif you can call it a schemealmost certainly is the end-result
of the haphazard development of some hick eccentricity imported by the original
settlers. It is long overdue for motorizing, so to speak. They know it as well
as we do. But they dont want it because mentally theyre four hundred
years behind the times. They are afraid of change, improvement, efficiencylike
many backward peoples. Moreover, theres little doubt that some of them
have a vested interest in keeping things exactly as they are. He sniffed
loudly to express his contempt. They are antagonistic toward us simply
because they dont want to be disturbed.
His stare went round the table, daring one of them to remark
that this might be as good a reason as any other. They were too disciplined to
fall into that trap. None offered a comment and so he went on.
In due time, after we have gained a proper grip on affairs,
were going to have a long and tedious task on our hands. We'll have to
overhaul their entire educational system with a view to eliminating anti-Terran
prejudices and bringing them up to date on the facts of life. Thats had
to be done on several other planets though not to anything like the extent as
will be necessary here.
We'll cope, promised someone.
Ignoring him, the Ambassador finished, However, all that
is in the future. Our real problem is in the present. It is in our laps right
now, namely, where are the reins of power and who is holding them? We must solve
that before we can make genuine progress. How are we going to do it? Folding
hands over his paunch, he added, Get your wits to work and let us have
some bright suggestions.
Grayder stood up, a big, leather-bound book in his hands. Your
Excellency, I dont think we need exercise our minds about new plans for
making contact and gaining essential information. The next move is likely to
be imposed upon us.
What do you mean?
I have a good many old-timers in my crew. There are some
among the troops as well. Space- lawyers, every one of them. He tapped
the book significantly. They know Space Regulations as well as I do. Sometimes
I think they know too much.
Grayder opened the book. Regulation 127 says that on
a hostile world the crew serves on a war- footing until back in free space. On
a non-hostile world they serve on a peace-footing.
What of it?
Regulation 131A says that on a peace-footing the crewwith
the exception of a minimum number required to keep the vessels services
in trimis entitled to liberty immediately after unloading cargo or within
seventy-two Earth-hours of arrival, whichever period is the shorter. He
glanced up. By mid- day the men will be all set for land-leave and itching
to go. There will be trouble if they are not allowed out.
Oh, will there? The Ambassador smiled lopsidedly. What
if we declare this world to be hostile? That will pin their ears back, wont
Impassively consulting his book, Grayder said, Regulation
148 says that a hostile world is defined as any planet that systematically opposes
Terran citizens by force. He turned to the next page. For the purpose
of these regulations, force is defined as any course of action calculated to
inflict physical injury, regardless of whether or not the said action succeeds
in its intent.
I dont agree. The Ambassador frowned his
strong disapproval. A world can be psychologically hostile without resorting
to force. We have an example right here. It cant be called a friendly world.
There are no friendly worlds within the meaning of Space
Regulations, Grayder informed. Every planet falls into one of two
classifications: hostile or non-hostile. He tapped the bare leather cover. Its
all in the book.
Wed be prize fools to let a mere book order us
around or allow the crew to boss us, either. Throw it out of the port. Stick
it into the disintegrator. Get rid of it any way you like and forget it.
Begging your pardon, Your Excellency, but I cant
do that. Grayder opened the tome at its beginning. Basic regulations
1A, lB and lC include the following: whether in space or on land, a vessels
personnel remain under direct command of its captain or his nominee who will
be guided solely and at all times by Space Regulations and will be responsible
only to the Space Committee situated on Terra. The same applies to all troops,
officials and civilian passengers aboard a space- traversing vessel, whether
said vessel is in flight or grounded, regardless of rank or authority they are
subordinate to the captain or his nominee. A nominee is defined as a ships
first, second or third officer performing the duties of a captain when the latter
is incapacitated or absent.
What all that rigmarole means is that you are king of
your castle, remarked the Ambassador, none too pleased. If we dont
like it we must get out of the ship.
With the greatest respect, Your Excellency, I must agree
that that is the position. I cannot help itregulations are regulations.
And the men know it! Grayder placed the book on the table, poked it away
from him. Its highly likely that the men will wait until mid-day,
pressing their pants, creaming their hair and generally prettying themselves
up. They will then make approach to me in proper manner to which I cannot object.
They will request the first mate to submit their leave roster for my approval. He
gave a deep sigh. The worst I could do would be to quibble about a few
names and switch some of them around. But I cannot refuse leave to a full quota.
Liberty to paint the town red might be a good thing after
all, suggested Shelton, not averse to doing some painting himself. A
dump like this wakes up with a vengeance when the fleets in port. We should
make useful contacts by the dozens. And thats what we want, isnt
We want to pin down this planets political leaders, retorted
the Ambassador. I cant see them powdering their faces, putting on
their best hats and rushing out to give the yoohoo to a crowd of hungry sailors. His
plump features quirked. Weve got to find the needles in this haystack
and that job wont be done by ratings on the rampage.
You may be right, Your Excellency, put in Grayder. But
we'll have to take a chance on it. If the men insist on going out I lack the
power to prevent them. Only one thing can give me the power.
And what is that?
Clear, indisputable evidence enabling me to define this
world as hostile within the meaning of Space Regulations.
Well, cant we arrange that somehow? Without
waiting for a reply, the Ambassador pursued, Every crew has its stupid
and incurable trouble-maker. Find yours, give him a double shot of Venusian cognac,
tell him hes being granted immediate libertythen warn him that he
may not enjoy it because these lousy Gands view us as a reason why people dig
up the drains. After that, push him out of the airlock. When he returns with
a black eye and a boastful story about the other fellows condition, declare
this world hostile. He waved an expressive hand. And there you are.
Physical violence. All according to the book.
Regulation 148A, said Grayder, emphasizing
that opposition by force must be systematic, warns that individual brawls may
not be construed as evidence of hostility.
The Ambassador turned an irate face upon the senior civil servant. When
you return to Terraif ever you do get backyou can tell the appropriate
department how the space service is balled up, hamstrung, semi-paralysed and
generally handicapped by bureaucrats who write books.
Before the other could think up a reply in defence of his own
kind, without contradicting the Ambassador, a knock came at the door. First Mate
Morgan entered, saluted smartly, offered Grayder a sheet of paper.
First leave roster, sir. Do you approve it?'
More than four hundred men went to town in the early
afternoon. They advanced upon it in the usual manner of people long
overdue for the bright lights, that is to say, eagerly, expectantly,
in gangs of two, three, six or ten.
Gleed attached himself to Harrison. They were two odd rankers,
Gleed being the only sergeant on liberty while Harrison was the only tenth engineer.
They were also the only two fish out of water since both were in civilian clothes
and Gleed missed his uniform, Harrison felt naked without his bicycle.
These trifling features gave them enough in common to justify at least one
This ones a honey, declared Gleed with great
enthusiasm. Ive been on a good many liberty jaunts in my time but
this ones a honey. On all other trips the boys ran up against the same
problem: what to use for money. They had to go forth like a battalion of Santa
Clauses, loaded up with anything that might serve for barter. Almost always nine-tenths
of it wasnt of any use and had to be carted back to the ship.
On Persephone, informed Harrison, a long-shanked
Milik offered me a twenty-carat, blue-tinted, first-water diamond for my bike.
Jeepers, didnt you take it?
What was the good? Id have had to go back sixteen
light-years for another bike.
But, man, you could exist without a bike for a while.
I can exist without a diamond. I cant ride around
on a diamond.
Neither can you sell a bicycle for the price of a sportster
Yes, I can. I just told you this Milik offered me a rock
like an egg.
Its a crying shame. You could have got a fortune
for that blinder, if it had no flaws. Sergeant Gleed smacked his lips at
the thought of it. Money and plenty of it, thats what I like. And
thats what makes this trip a winner. Every other time weve gone out
Grayder, Shelton and Bidworthy have lectured us in turn about creating a favourable
impression, behaving in a spacemanlike manner and so forth. But this time Grayder
talks about money.
Ambassador put him up to it.
I like it all the same, enthused Gleed. An
extra one weeks pay, a bottle of cognac and double liberty for any
man who brings back to the ship an adult Gand, male or female, who is sociable
and willing to talk.
It wont be easily earned.
One months extra pay for whoever gets the name
and address of the towns chief civic dignitary. Two months for the
name and accurate location of the worlds capital city. He whistled
happily, added, somebody is going to make it rich and it wont be
Bidworthy. His name didnt come out of the hat. I knowI was holding
Ceasing his chatter, he turned to watch a tall, lithe blonde
striding past. Harrison pulled at his arm.
Heres Baines place that I told you about.
Lets go in.
Oh, all right. Gleed followed with reluctance,
his attention still directed down the street.
Good afternoon, said Harrison to Jeff Baines.
Which it isnt, contradicted Baines. Trades
bad. Theres a semi-final being played and it has drawn half the town away.
They'll come home and start thinking about their bellies long after Ive
closed. Probably they'll make a rush on me to-morrow morning and I wont
be able to serve them fast enough.
How can trade be bad if you dont make money even
when its good? inquired Gleed, reasonably applying the information
Harrison had given him.
Jeffs big moon eyes went over him slowly then turned
to Harrison. so hes another bum off your boat, eh? Whats he
Money, explained Harrison. Its stuff
we use to simplify trade. Its printed stuff, like documentary obs of various
That tells me a lot, Jeff Baines observed. It
tells a crowd that has to make a printed record of every ob is not to be trusted
- because they dont even trust each other. He waddled to his high
stool and squatted on it. His breathing was laboured and wheezy. And that
confirms what our schools have always taught, namely, that an Antigand would
swindle his widowed mother.
Your schools have got it wrong, assured Harrison.
Maybe they have. Jeff saw no reason to argue the
point. But we'll play safe until we know different. He looked them
over. What do you two want, anyway?
Some advice, Gleed shoved in quickly. Were
out on the spree. Wed like to know the best places for food and fun.
How long have you got?
Until nightfall tomorrow.
No use. Jeff Baines shook his bead sorrowfully. It
would take you from now until then to plant enough obs to qualify for anything
worth having. Besides, plenty of people would rather drop dead than let an Antigand
dump an ob on them. They have their pride, see?
Harrison asked, Cant we get so much as a square
Well, I dont know about that. Jeff thought
it over while massaging his several chins. You might manage it-but I cant
help you this time. Theres nothing I want of you and so you cant
use any obs Ive got stashed around.
Can you offer any suggestions?
If you were local citizens it would be lots different.
You could get all you want right now by taking on a load of obs to be wiped out
sometime in the future as and when the chances come along. But I cant see
anybody giving credit to Antigands who are here today and gone tomorrow.
Not so much of the gone tomorrow talk, advised
Gleed. When an Imperial Ambassador arrives it means that Terrans are here
Who says so?
The Terran Empire says so. Youre part of it, arent
No, said Jeff positively. We are not part
of anything, dont want to be and dont intend to be. Whats more,
nobodys going to make us part of anything.
Leaning on the counter, Gleed gazed absently at a large can
of pork. Seeing that Im out of uniform and not on duty, I sympathize
with you though I still shouldnt say it. I wouldnt care myself to
be taken over body and soul by a gang of other-world bureaucrats. But you folk
are going to have a mighty tough time beating us off. Thats the way it
Not with what weve got, opined Jeff confidently.
You havent got much, scoffed Gleed, more
in friendly criticism than open contempt. He sought confirmation from Harrison. Have
It wouldnt seem so, said Harrison.
Dont go by appearances, warned Jeff. Weve
more than you bums can handle.
Such as what?
Well, just for a start, weve got the mightiest
weapon ever thought up by the mind of man. Were Gands, see? So we dont
need ships and guns and similar playthings. Weve something better. Its
effective. Theres no defence against it.
Man, Id like to see it, Gleed challenged.
Data concerning a new and exceptionally powerful weapon should be a good deal
more valuable than the mayors address. Grayder might be sufficiently impressed
by the importance thereof to arrange a fabulous reward. With some sarcasm, he
added, But, of course, we cant expect you to give away precious secrets.
There is nothing secret about it, said Jeff, very
surprisingly. You can have it free, gratis and for nothing any time you
want. Any Gand would give it to you for the mere asking. Like to know why?
Because it works one way only. We can use it against
you but you cant use it against us.
Nonsense! declared Gleed. There is no such
thing. There is no weapon inventable that the other fellow cant employ
once he gets his hands on it and learns how to operate it.
Are you sure about that?
I am positive. Ive been in the space service for
twenty years and you cant be a trooper that long without learning all about
weapons of every conceivable kind from string bows to H-bombs. Youre trying
to kid me. Nothing doing. Im too grey in the hair and sharp in the tooth.
A one-way weapon is impossible. And that means im-poss-ible.
Dont argue with him, Harrison told Baines. He'll
never be convinced until hes shown.
I can see that. Jeff Baines face creased
into a massive grin. Ive told you that you can have our wonder-weapon
for the asking. Why dont you ask?
All right, Im asking. Gleed put it without
any enthusiasm. A weapon that would be presented on request, without even the
necessity of first planting a minor ob, couldnt be so mighty after all.
His imaginary large reward shrank to a hand-full of small change and thence to
nothing. Hand it over and let me look at it.
Edging ponderously around on his stool, Jeff reached
to the wall, removed a small, shiny plaque from its hook and passed
it across the counter.
You may keep it, he said. And much good may
it do you.
Gleed examined it, turning it over and over between his fingers.
It was nothing more than an oblong strip of substance resembling ivory. One side
was polished and bare. The other bore three letters deeply engraved in bold style:
Glancing up at Baines, his features puzzled, he said, You
call this a weapon?
Then I dont get it. He passed the plaque
to Harrison. Do you?
No. Harrison examined it with care. What
does this F.I.W. mean?
Initial-slang, informed Baines. Made correct
by common usage. It has become a worldwide motto. You'll see it all over the
place if you havent noticed it already.
I have seen it here and there but attached no importance
to it and thought nothing more about it. I remember now that it was inscribed
in several places including Seths and the fire depot.
It was on the sides of that bus we couldnt empty, put in Gleed. It
didnt mean anything to me.
It means plenty, said Jeff, Freedom-I wont!
That kills me, Gleed responded. Im
stone dead already. Ive dropped in my tracks. He watched Harrison
thoughtfully pocketing the plaque. A piece of abracadabra. What a weapon!
Ignorance is bliss, asserted Baines, strangely
sure of himself. Especially when you dont know that what youre
playing with is the safety catch of something that goes bang.
All right challenged Gleed, taking him up on that. Tell
us how it works.
I wont. Baines grin reappeared. He
seemed to be highly satisfied about something.
Thats a fat lot of help. Gleed felt let down,
especially over that momentary hoped-for reward. You brag and boast about
a one-way weapon, toss across a slip of stuff with three letters on it and then
go dumb. Any folly will do for braggarts and any braggart can talk through the
seat of his pants. How about backing up your talk?
I wont, repeated Baines, his grin broader
than ever. He gave the onlooking Harrison a fat, significant wink.
It made something spark vividly within Harrisons mind.
His jaw dropped, he dragged the plaque from his pocket and stared at it as if
seeing it for the first time.
Give it me back, requested Baines, watching him.
Replacing it in his pocket, Harrison said very firmly. I
Baines chuckled. some people catch on quicker than others.
Resenting that, Gleed held his hand out to Harrison. Let
me have another look at that thing.
I wont, said Harrison, meeting him eye to
Hey, dont start being awkard with me. Thats
not the way Gleeds protesting voice petered out. He stood
there a moment, his optics slightly glassy, while his brain performed several
loops. Then in hushed tones he said, Good grief!
Precisely, approved Baines. Grief and plenty
of it. You were a bit slow on the uptake.
Overcome by the flood of insubordinate ideas now pouring upon
him, Gleed said hoarsely to Harrison, Come on, lets get out of here.
Ive got to think. I want to sit somewhere nice and quiet while I think.
There was a tiny park with seats and lawns and flowers and
a little fountain around which a small group of children were playing. Choosing
a place facing a colourful carpet of exotic un-Terran blooms, they sat and brooded
for quite a time.
Eventually, Gleed commented, For one solitary, mulish
character it would be martyrdom, but for a whole world His voice
drifted off, came back. Ive been taking this as far as I can make
it go and the results give me the leaping fantods.
Harrison said nothing.
For instance, Gleed continued.Suppose that
when I go back to the ship that snorting rhinoceros Bidworthy gives me an order.
And I give him the frozen eye and say, I wont. What happens?
It follows as an inviolable law of Nature that he either drops dead or throws
me in the clink.
That would do you a lot of good.
Wait a bitI havent finished yet. Im
in the pokey, demoted and a disgrace to the service, but the job still needs
doing. So Bidworthy picks on somebody else. The victim, being a soul-mate of
mine, also donates the icy optic and says, I wont. Into the
jug he goes and Ive got company. Bidworthy tries again. And again and again
and again. There are more of us crammed in the brig. It will hold only twenty.
So they take over the engineers mess.
Leave our mess out of this, requested Harrison.
They take over the mess, insisted Gleed, thoroughly
determined to penalize the engineers. Pretty soon its filled to the
roof with I-wonters. Bidworthy is still raking them in as fast as he can
goif by then he hasnt burst a dozen blood vessels. So they take over
the Blieder dormitories.
Why keep picking on my crowd?
And pile them ceiling-high with bodies, Gleed said,
deriving sadistic pleasure from the picture. Until in the end Bidworthy
has to get buckets and brushes and go down on his knees and do his own deck-scrubbing
while Grayder, Shelton and the rest take turn for guard-duty. By that time His
Loftiness the Ambassador is in the galley busily cooking for the prisoners and
is being assisted by a disconcerted bunch of yessing pen-pushers. He had
another look at this mental scene. Holy smoke!
A coloured ball rolled his way. Stooping, he picked it up,
held on to it. Promptly a boy of about seven ran near, eyed him gravely.
Give me my ball, please.
I wont, said Gleed, his fingers firmly around
There was no protest, no anger, no tears. The child merely
registered disappointment and turned away.
Here you are, sonny. He tossed the ball.
Thanks. Grabbing it, the other chased off.
Harrison said, What if every living being in the Terran
Empire, from Prometheus to Kaldor Four, across eighteen hundred light-years of
space, should get an income-tax demand, tear it up and say, I wont. What
No tax. Authority does without it because it darned well
There would be chaos. Harrison nodded toward the
fountain and the children playing around it. But it doesnt look anything
like chaos here. Not to my eyes. Evidently they dont overdo this blank
refusal business. They apply it judiciously on some mutually recognized basis.
But what that basis might be beats me completely.
An elderly man paused near them, surveyed them hesitantly,
decided to pick on a passing youth.
Can you tell me where I can find the roller for Martinstown?
Other end of Eighth, directed the youth. One
every hour. They'll fix your manacles before they start.
Manacles? The oldster raised white eyebrows. Whatever
That route runs past the spaceship. The Antigands may
try to drag you out.
Oh, yes, of course. He ambled on, glanced again
at Gleed and Harrison, remarked in passing, These Antigandssuch a
Definitely, supported Gleed. We keep telling
them to clear out and they keep saying, We wont.
The old gentleman missed a step, recovered, gave him a peculiar
look, continued on his way.
One or two seem to cotton on to our accent, Harrison
said. Though nobody baulked at mine when I was having that meal in Seths.
Gleed perked up with sudden interest. Where youve
had one feed you should be able to get another. Come on, lets try. What
have we to lose?
Our patience. Harrison got off his seat, stretched
himself. Well pick on Seth. If he wont play well have
a try at somebody else. And if nobody will play well scoot back to the
ship before we starve to death.
Which appears to be exactly what they want us to do, Gleed
pointed out with some annoyance. I can tell you something here and nowthey'll
get their way over my dead body.
Thats how, agreed Harrison. Over your
came up with a cloth over one arm. Im
serving no Antigands.
You served me last time, Harrison reminded.
That may be. I didnt know you were off that ship.
But I know now. He flicked the cloth across one corner of the table, brushing
away imaginary crumbs. No Antigands served by me.
Is there any other place where we might get a meal?
Not unless somebody will let you plant an ob on them.
They wont do that if they know who you are but theres a chance they
might make the same mistake as I did. Another flick across the corner.
I dont make them twice.
Youre making one right now. announced Gleed,
his voice hard and edgy. He nudged Harrison. Watch this. His hand
came out of a side pocket holding a tiny gun. Pointing it at Matts middle,
he said, Ordinarily I could get into trouble for this, if those on the
ship were in the mood to make trouble. But they arent. Theyre more
than tired of you two-legged mules. He motioned with the weapon.
So start walking and fetch us two full plates.
I wont, said Matt, firming his lips and ignoring
the gun. Gleed thumbed the safety-catch which moved with an audible click. Its
touchy now. Itd go off at a sneeze. Get moving.
I wont, said Matt.
With unconcealed disgust, Gleed shoved the weapon back into
his pocket. I was only kidding you. It isnt loaded.
Wouldnt have made the slightest difference if it
had been, Matt assured. I serve no Antigands and that is that.
What if Id lost control of myself and blown several
large holes in you?
How could I have served you then? asked Matt. A
dead person is of no use to anyone. Its time You Antigands learned a little
logic. With which parting shot he meandered off.
Hes got something there, offered Harrison,
patently depressed. What can you do with a corpse? Nothing whatever. A
body is in nobodys power.
Oh, I dont know. A couple of stiffs lying around
might sharpen the others. Theyd become really eager.
Youre thinking of them in Terran terms, Harrison
said. Its a mistake. They are not Terrans no matter where they came
from originally. They are Gands.
Well, just what are Gands supposed to be?
I dont know. Its a safe bet theyre
some kind of fanatics. Terra exported one-track-minders by the millions around
the time of the Great Explosion. Look at that crazy crowd on Hygeia, for instance.
Ah, Hygeia. That was the only time Ive ever strutted
around wearing nothing but a dignified pose. I was looking forward to seeing
Shelton and Bidworthy in their birthday suits. But those two heroes both lacked
the guts. He chuckled to himself went on, Those Hygeians think that
complete nakedness creates real democracy, as distinct from our fake version.
Im far from sure that theyre wrong.
The creation of an empire has also created a cockeyed
proposition, meditated Harrison. Namely, that Terra is always right
while more than sixteen hundred planets are invariably wrong. Everyone is out
of step but Terra.
Youre becoming kind of seditious, arent you?
Harrison offered no reply. Gleed glanced at him, found his
attention diverted elsewhere, followed his gaze to a brunette who had just entered.
Nice, approved Gleed. Not too old, not too
young. Not too fat, not too thin. Just right.
I know her. Harrison waved to attract her attention.
She tripped lightly across the room, took a chair at their
table. Harrison made the introduction.
Friend of mine, Sergeant Gleed.
Arthur, corrected Gleed, guzzling her with his
Mines Elissa, she told him. Whats
a sergeant supposed to be?
A sort of over-above under-thing, said Gleed. I
pass along the telling to the fellows who do the doing.
She viewed him with frank surprise. Do you mean that
people actually allow themselves to be told?
Of course. Why not?
They must have been born servile. Her gaze shifted
to Harrison. I'll be ignorant of your name forever, I suppose?
Flushing slightly, he hastened to repair the omission, adding, But
I dont like James. I prefer Jim.
Then we'll let it be Jim. Has Matt tended to you two
He refuses to serve us.
She shrugged soft, warm shoulders. Its his right.
Thats freedom, isnt it?
We call it mutiny, said Gleed.
Dont be childish, she reproved. She stood
up, moved away. You wait here. I'll see what Seth says.
I dont understand this, admitted Gleed when
she had passed out of earshot. According to that fat fellow in the delicatessen,
their technique is to give us the cold shoulder until we run away in a huff.
But shes . . . shes He stopped while he sought around
for a suitable word, found it and said, shes un-Gandian.
Not so, Harrison contradicted. Theyve
the right to say, I wont any way they like. Shes practising
By gosh, yes. I hadnt thought of that. They can
work it backward or forward, whichever way they please.
Thats right. Harrison lowered his voice. Here
she comes. Resuming her seat, she primped her hair and said, Seth
will serve us personally.
Another traitor, remarked Gleed, grinning.
On one condition, she went on. You two must
wait and have a talk with him before you leave.
Its cheap at the price, Harrison decided.
Another thought struck him. Does this mean you'll have to wipe out several
obs for all three of us?
Only one for myself.
Seths got ideas of his own. He doesnt feel
happy about Antigands any more than anyone else does.
But he has the missionary instinct. He doesnt agree
entirely with the habit of giving all Antigands the ghost-treatment. He thinks
it should be reserved only for those too stubborn or stupid to be converted. She
smiled at Gleed, making his top hairs quiver. Seth thinks that any really
intelligent Antigand is a would-be Gand.
What is a Gand, anyway? asked Harrison.
An inhabitant of this world, of course.
I mean how did they get that name? From where did they
dig it up?
From Gandhi, she said.
Harrison looked blank. Who the deuce was he?
An ancient Terran. The one who invented The Weapon.
Never heard of him.
That doesnt surprise me, she remarked.
Doesnt it? He was irritated by this confidence
in his ignorance. Let me tell you that in these days we Terrans get as
good as education as
Calm down, Jim, she advised, making it more soothing
by pronouncing it, Jeem. She patted his arm. What I mean is
that its highly likely that hes been blanked out of your history
books. He might have given you unwanted ideas, see? You couldnt be expected
to know what youve never been given the chance to learn.
If youre saying that Terran history is censored,
I dont believe it.
Its your right to refuse to believe. Thats
freedom, isnt it?
Up to a point.
To what point?
A man has duties. He has no right to refuse those.
No? She raised tantalizing eyebrows, delicately
curved. Who defines those dutieshimself or somebody else?
His superiors most times.
Superiors, she scoffed with devastating scorn. No
man is superior to another. No man has the slightest right to define another
mans duties. If anyone on Terra exercises such impudent power it is only
because idiots permit him to do so. They fear freedom. They prefer to be told.
They like to be ordered around. They love their chains and kiss their manacles.
I shouldnt listen to you, protested Gleed,
chipping in. His leathery face was flushed. Youre as naughty as youre
Afraid of your own thoughts? she jibed, ignoring
his lopsided compliment.
He went redder. Not on your life. But I His
voice tailed off as Seth arrived with three loaded plates and dumped them on
See you afterward, reminded Seth. He was medium-sized,
with thin features and sharp, quick- moving eyes. Got something to say
joined them shortly after theyd finished
their meal. Taking a chair, he wiped condensed steam off his face,
looked them over calculatingly.
How much do you two know?
Enough to fight over it, put in Elissa. They
are bothered about duties, who defines them and who performs them.
With good reason, Harrison counter-attacked. You
cant escape them yourselves.
Is that so? said Seth. How dyou make
This world runs on some strange system of swapping obligations.
How would any person cancel an ob unless he recognized it as his duty to do so?
Duty nothing, declared Seth. Duty hasnt
anything to do with it. And if it did happen to be a matter of duty every man
would be left to recognize it for himself. It would be outrageous impertinence
for anyone to remind him, unthinkable that anyone should order him.
Some guys must make an easy living, interjected
Gleed. Theres nothing to stop them that I can see. He studied
Seth briefly before he asked, How can you cope with a citizen who has no
Easy as pie.
Elissa suggested, Tell them the story of Idle Jack.
Its a kids yarn, explained Seth. All
children here know it by heart. Its a classic fable like . . . like He
screwed up his face. Ive lost track of the Terran tales the first-comers
brought with them.
Red Riding Hood, offered Harrison.
Yes. Seth seized upon it gratefully. Something
like that one. A nursery story. He licked his lips, began, This Idle
Jack came from Terra as a baby, grew up in our new world, gained an understanding
of our economic system and thought hed be mighty smart. He decided to become
Whats a scratcher? asked Gleed.
One who lives by accepting obs but does nothing about
wiping them out or planting any of his own. One who takes everything thats
going and gives nothing in return.
Weve still got em, said Gleed.
Up to age sixteen Jack got away with it all along the
line. He was only a kid, see? All kids tend to scratch to a certain extent. We
expect it and allow for it. But after sixteen he was soon in the soup.
How? urged Harrison, more interested than he was
willing to admit.
He loafed around the town gathering obs by the armful.
Meals, clothes and all sorts for the mere asking. It wasnt a big town.
There are no big ones on this planet. They are just small enough for everybody
to know everybodyand everyone does plenty of gabbing. Within a few months
the entire town knew that Jack was a determined and incorrigible scratcher.
Go on, said Harrison impatiently.
Everything dried up, responded Seth. Wherever
Jack went people gave him the, I wont. He got no meals, no
clothes, no company, no entertainment, nothing. He was avoided like a leper.
Soon be became terribly hungry, busted into someones larder one night,
treated himself to the first square meal in a week.
What did they do about that?
Nothing, not a thing.
That must have encouraged him some, mustnt it?
How could it? asked Seth with a thin smile. It
did him no good. Next day his belly was empty again. He was forced to repeat
the performance. And the next day. And the next. People then became leery, locked
up their stuff and kept watch on it. Circumstances grew harder and harder. They
grew so unbearably hard that soon it was a lot easier to leave the town and try
another one. So Idle Jack went away.
To do the same again, Harrison prompted.
With the same results for the same reasons, Seth
threw back at him. On he went to a third town, a fourth, a fifth, a twentieth.
He was stubborn enough to be witless.
But he was getting by, Harrison insisted. Taking
all for nothing at the cost of moving around.
Oh, no he wasnt. Our towns are small, as I said.
And people do plenty of visiting from one to another. In the second town Jack
had to risk being seen and talked about by visitors from the first town. In the
third town he had to cope with talkers from both the first and second ones. As
he went on it became a whole lot worse. In the twentieth he had to chance being
condemned by anyone coming from any of the previous nineteen. Seth leaned
forward, said with emphasis, He never reached town number twenty-eight.
He lasted two weeks in number twenty-five, eight days
in number twenty-six, one day in twenty- seven. That was almost the end. He knew
hed be recognized the moment he showed his face in number twenty-eight.
What did he do then?
He took to the open country, tried to live like an animal
feeding on roots and wild berries. Then he disappeared-until one day some walkers
found him swinging from a tree. His body was emaciated and clad in rags. Loneliness,
self-neglect and his own stupidity had combined to kill him. That was Idle Jack,
the scratcher. He wasnt twenty years old.
On Terra, remarked Gleed virtuously, we dont
hang people merely for being shiftless and lazy.
Neither do we, said Seth. We give them every
encouragement to go hang themselves. And when they do its good riddance
to bad rubbish. He eyed them shrewdly as he went on, But dont
let it worry you. Nobody has been driven to such drastic measures in my lifetime,
leastways, not that Ive heard about. People honour their obs as a matter
of economic necessity and not from any sense of duty. Nobody gives orders, nobody
pushes anyone around, but theres a kind of compulsion built into the circumstances
of this planets way of life. People play squareor they suffer. Nobody
enjoys suffering, not even a numbskull.
Yes, I suppose youre right, agreed Harrison,
much exercised in mind.
You bet Im right, Seth assured. But
what I want to talk to you about is something more important. Its this:
what is your real ambition in life?
Without hesitation, Gleed said, To ride the spaceways
while remaining in one piece.
Same here. Harrison contributed.
I guessed that much. Youd not be in the space service
if it wasnt your choice. But you cant stay in it for ever. All things
come to an end. What then?
Harrison fidgeted uneasily. I dont care to think
Some day you'll have to, Seth pointed out. How
much longer have you got?
Four and a half Earth-years.
Seths gaze turned to Gleed.
Not long, said Seth. I didnt expect
youd have much time left. Its a safe bet that any ship penetrating
this deeply into space has a crew composed mostly of experienced old-timers getting
near to the end of their terms. The practiced hands usually are chosen for the
awkward jobs. By the day your boat lands on Terra it will be the end of the trail
for many of them, wont it?
It will be for me, admitted Gleed, none too happy
at the thought of it.
Time, time, the older you get the faster it goes. Yet
when you leave the service you'll still be comparatively young. He put
on a faint, taunting smile. I suppose you'll buy yourself a private space-
vessel and continue to roam the cosmos on your own?
Dont talk silly. snapped Gleed. A Moon-boat
is the best a very rich man could afford. Puttering to and fro between a satellite
and its primary is no fun when youre used to Blieder-zips across the galaxy.
The smallest space-going craft is far beyond reach of the wealthiest. Only governments
can foot the bill for them.
By governments you mean communities?
In a way.
Well, then, what are you going to treat yourself to when
your space-roaming days are over?
Im not like Big Ears here. Gleed jerked an
indicative thumb at Harrison. Im a trooper and not a technician.
So my choice will be limited by my lack of qualifications. He scratched
his head and looked wistful. I was born and brought up on a farm. I still
know a good deal about farming. So I think Id like to get a small one of
my own and settle down.
Think you'll manage to do it? asked Seth, watching
On Falder or Hygeia or Nortons Pink Heaven or some
other planet. But not on Terra. My savings wont extend to that. I couldnt
find half enough to meet Earth costs.
Meaning you cant pile up sufficient obs?
I cant, agreed Gleed lugubriously. Not
even if I save until Ive got a white beard four feet long.
So that is Terras reward for a long, long spell
of faithful serviceforego your hearts desire or get out?
I wont, said Seth. Why do you think
four million Gands came here, Doukhobors and Naturists to Hygeia, Quakers and
others to all their selected haunts? Because Terras reward for good citizenship
has always been a peremptory order to knuckle down or get out. So we got out.
was just as well, anyway, Elissa interjected. According
to our history books Terra was badly overcrowded. We went away and
relieved the pressure.
That is beside the point, reproved Seth. He continued
with Gleed. You want a farm. You cant have it on Terra much as youd
like it there. Terra says, Noget out! So it has to be some
place else. He waited for that to sink in, then, Here, you can have
one for the mere taking. He snapped his fingers. Just like that!
You cant kid me, denied Gleed with the expression
of one yearning to be kidded. Where are the hidden strings?
On this planet any plot of ground belongs wholly to the
person in possession, the one who is making actual use of it. Nobody disputes
his claim so long as he continues to use it. All you need do is look around for
a suitable piece of unused territoryof which there is plentyand start
using it. From that moment it is yours. Immediately you cease to use it and walk
out it is anyone elses for the taking.
No! said Gleed incredulously.
Yes! insisted Seth. Moreover, if you look
around long enough and strike really lucky you might stake first claim to a farm
somebody else has abandoned because of death, illness, a desire to move elsewhere,
a chance at something he liked better, or any other excellent reason. In that
case, you would acquire ground already part-prepared together with farmhouse,
milking shed, barns and all the rest. And it would be yours, all yours.
What would I owe the previous occupant? Gleed asked.
Nothing. Not an ob. Why should you? If he isnt
buried he has left for the sake of something else equally free. He cant
have the benefit both ways, coming and going.
It doesnt make sense to me. Somewhere theres
a snag. Somewhere Ive got to pour out hard cash or pile up a lot of obs.
Of course you have. You start a farm. A handful of local
folk help you to build a house. They dump heavy obs on you. The carpenter wants
farm produce for his family for the next two years. You give it, thus getting
rid of that ob. You continue giving it for a couple of extra years and thereby
plant an ob on him. The first time you want fences mending, or some other suitable
task doing, along he comes to wipe out that ob. And so with all the rest including
the people who supply your raw materials, your seeds and machinery, or do your
trucking for you.
They wont all want milk and potatoes, Gleed
Dont know what you mean by potatoes. Ive
never heard of them.
How can I settle accounts with someone who may be getting
all the farm produce he wants from elsewhere?
Easily, replied Seth. A tinsmith fixes you
up with several churns. He doesnt want food. Hes getting from another
source all the stuff he needs. His wife and three daughters are overweight and
dieting. The mere thought of a load from your farm gives them the holy horrors.
But this tinsmiths tailor, or his cobbler, have
got obs on him and hes not found the chance to cancel them. So he transfers
them to you. As soon as youre able, you give the tailor or cobbler whatever
they require to satisfy the obs, thus doing the tinsmiths killing along
with your own. Giving his usual half-smile, he added, And everyone
Gleed stewed it over, frowning in thought. Youre
tempting me. You shouldnt do that. Its a punishable crime to try
divert a spaceman from his allegiance. Its sedition. Terra is tough with
Tough my eye! Seth sniffed contemptuously. We have
Gand laws here.
All you need do, suggested Elissa, sweetly persuasive, is
say to yourself that you must return to the ship, that its your bounden
duty to do so, that neither the ship nor Terra can get along without you. She
tucked a curl away. Then be a free individual and say, I wont.
Theyd skin me alive. Bidworthy would preside over
the operation in person.
I dont think so, contradicted Seth. This
Bidworthywhom I presume to be anything but a jovial characterstands
with you and the rest of your crew at the same junction. The road before him
splits two ways. He has to take one or the other and theres no third alternative.
Sooner or later he'll be hell-bent for home eating his top lip as he goes, or
else he'll be trundling around in a truck delivering your milkbecause deep
down inside himself thats what hes always wanted to do.
You dont know Ruthless Rufus, mourned Gleed. He
uses a lump of old iron for a soul.
Thats funny, remarked Harrison. Until
today Ive always thought of you in the same way.
Im off duty, replied Gleed, as if that explained
everything. I can relax and let the ego zoom around outside of business
hours. Shoving back his chair, he came to his feet His eyes were stubborn
and his jaw firm. But Im going back on dutyright now.
Youre not due before sundown tomorrow, Harrison
I dont care. Im going back all the same.
Elissa opened her mouth, closed it as Seth nudged her. They
sat in silence as Gleed marched determinedly out.
Its a good sign, commented Seth, strangely
self-assured. Hes been handed a wallop right where hes weakest. Chuckling
low down, he turned to Harrison. What is your ultimate ambition?
Harrison also came to his feet, deeply embarrassed. Thanks
a lot for the meal. It was a good one and I needed it. He made a feeble
gesture toward the door. Im going to catch him up. If hes returning
to the ship I think Id better do the same.
Again Seth nudged Elissa. They said nothing as Harrison made
his way out, carefully closing the door behind him.
Sheep, decided Elissa, disappointed for no obvious
reason. One follows another. Just like sheep.
Not so, said Seth. They are humans animated
by the same thoughts and the same emotions as were our forefathers who had nothing
sheeplike about them. Twisting around in his chair, he beckoned to Matt. Bring
us two shemaks. Then to Elissa, We'll drink to sedition. My guess
is that it wont pay that ship to hang around too long.
The battleships caller-system bawled imperatively, Fanshaw,
Folsom, Fuller, Carson1 Gleed, Gregory, Haines, Harrison, Hope and
so on down through the alphabet.
A steady trickle of men flowed along the passages, catwalks
and alleyways toward the forward chartroom. They gathered outside it in small
clusters, chattering in undertones and sending odd scraps of conversation echoing
down the corridor.
Wouldnt say anything to us but, Myob! We
became sick and tired of it after a while.
You should have split up, like we did. That show-place
on the outskirts just doesnt know what a Terran looks like. I walked in
and took a seat with no trouble at all.
If ten of you stick together, all in the same uniform,
you must expect to be identified on sight. That and your depraved faces is a
Did you hear about Meakin? He mended a leaky roof, chose
a bottle of double-dith in payment and mopped the lot. He was dead flat when
we found him. Snoring like a hog. Had to be carried back.
Some guys have all the luck. We got the brush-off wherever
we showed our faces. Man, it was wearing.
You should have separated, like I said.
Half the mess must still be lying in the gutterthey
havent turned up yet.
Grayder will be hopping mad. Hed have stopped this
mornings second quota if hed known in time.
When my turn comes the technique will be to get down
that gangway and run like hell before theyve a chance to call me back.
Sammy, you'll be mighty lucky if you get a turn. Every
now and again First Mate Morgan stuck his head out of the chartroom doorway and
yelled a name already voiced on the caller. Frequently there was no response.
Harrison! he bawled.
With a puzzled expression, Harrison went inside. Captain Grayder
was there seated behind his desk and gazing moodily at a list lying before him.
Colonel Shelton was stiff and erect to one side with Major Hame slightly behind.
Both wore the pained look of those tolerating a bad smell while a half-witted
plumber searches in vain for the leak.
In front of the desk the Ambassador was tramping steadily to
and fro, muttering deep down in his chins. Barely five days and already
the rot has set in. He halted as Harrison entered, fired off sharply, So
its you, Mister. When did you return from leave?
The evening before last, sir.
Ahead of time, eh? Thats curious. Did you get a
puncture or something?
No sir. I didnt take my bicycle with me.
Which is just as well, approved the Ambassador. If
you had done so youd now be a thousand miles away and still pushing hard.
Why? He asks me why! That is precisely what I want to
know-why? He fumed a bit, then inquired, Did you visit this
town by yourself or in company?
I went with Sergeant Gleed, sir.
Call him, ordered the Ambassador, looking at Morgan.
Opening the door, Morgan shouted, Gleed! Gleed!
He tried again, without result. Once more they put it over
the caller-system. The name resounded all over the ship from nose to tail. Sergeant
Gleed refused to be among those present.
Has he signed in?
Grayder consulted his list. Yes. In early. Twenty-four
hours ahead of time. He may have sneaked out again with the second liberty quota
this morning and omitted to put it in the book. Thats a double crime.
If hes not on the ship hes off the ship,
crime or no crime.
Yes, Your Excellency. Grayder registered slight
GLEED! howled Morgan outside the door. A moment
later he poked his head within and said, Your Excellency, one of the men
tells me that Sergeant Gleed cannot be aboard because he saw him in town an hour
Send him in. The Ambassador made an impatient gesture
at Harrison. Stay where you are, Mister, and keep those confounded ears
from flapping. Ive not finished with you yet.
A tall, gangling grease-monkey came in, blinked around obviously awed by the
assembly of top brass.
What do you know about Sergeant Gleed? demanded
The other nervously licked his lips, sorry that he had mentioned
the missing man. Its like this, your honour,
Call me "sir."
Yes, your honour. More disconcerted blinking. I
went out with the second party early this morning but came back a short time
ago because my stomach was acting up. On the way here I saw Sergeant Gleed and
spoke to him.
In town, your honour, sir. He was sitting in one of those
big, long-distance coaches. I thought it a bit queer.
Get down to the roots of it, man! What did he tell you,
Not much, sir, your honour. He seemed pretty chipper
about something. Mentioned a young widow struggling to look after two hundred
acres. Someone had told him about her and he thought hed take a peek. He
hesitated, backed off warily and finished, He also said that Id see
him in irons or never.
One of your men, said the Ambassador to Shelton. A
hardened space-trooper, allegedly experienced, loyal and well-disciplined. One
with long service, three stripes and a pension to lose. His attention returned
to the informant Did he say exactly where he was going?
No, sir, your. . . uh. I asked him but he grinned like
an ape and said, "Myob!" So I came back to the ship.
All right. You may go. The Ambassador watched the
other depart then continued with Harrison.
You were one of that first quota?
Let me tell you something, Mister. Over four hundred
men went out. About two hundred have returned. Forty of those were in various
stages of alcoholic turpitude. Ten of them are locked in the brig yelling, I
wont in steady chorus. Doubtless they'll continue to scream it until
theyve sobered up.
He stared at Harrison as if holding that worthy personally
responsible for the mess, then went on, There is something paradoxical
about this situation. I can understand the drunks. There are always a few morons
who blow their tops first day on land. But of the two hundred who have condescended
to come back about half returned before time, the same as you did. Their reasons
were identical: the town was unfriendly, everyone treated them like ghosts until
theyd had enough.
Harrison made no comment.
So we have two diametrically opposed reactions, the
Ambassador complained. One lot of men say the place stinks so much theyd
far rather be back on the ship. Another lot finds the town so hospitable that
either they get filled to the gills with some horrible muck called double-dith
or they stay sober and desert the service. I want an explanation. There has to
be one somewhere. Youve been twice in this town. What can you tell us?
Carefully, Harrison said, It all depends upon whether
or not one is immediately recognizable as a Terran. Also on whether you happen
to make contact with Gands whod rather convert you than give you the brush-off. He
pondered a few seconds, added, Uniforms are a bad factor. The Gands seem
to hate the sight of them.
You mean theyre allergic to uniforms?
Any idea why?
I couldnt say for certain, sir. I dont know
enough about them yet. As a guess, 1 think they may have been taught to associate
uniforms with the Terran regime from which their ancestors escaped.
Escaped? Nonsense! exclaimed the Ambassador. They
grabbed the benefit of Terran inventions, Terran techniques, and Terran manufacturing
ability to go someplace where theyd have more elbow- room. He gave
Harrison the sour eye. Dont any of them wear uniforms?
Not that I could recognize as such. They seem to take
pleasure in expressing their individual personalities by wearing anything from
pigtails to pink boots; oddity in attire is the norm among the Gands. To them,
uniformity is the real odditythey think its submissive and degrading.
You refer to them as Gands. From where did they get that
Harrison told him, thinking back to Elissa and her explanation.
In his minds eye he could see her now. And Seths place with its inviting
tables and steam rising behind the counter and mouth-watering smells oozing from
the background. Now that he came to visualize the scene again it appeared to
embody a subtle, elusive but essential something that the ship had never possessed.
And this person, he concluded, invented what
they call The Weapon.
Hm-m-m! And they say he was a Terran, eh? What
did he look like? Did you see a photograph or statue?
They dont erect statues, sir. They dont consider
that any person is more important than any other.
Bunkum! snapped the Ambassador, instinctively rejecting
that viewpoint. Did it occur to you to gather any revealing details about
him or, at least, find out at what period in history this wonderful weapon first
No, sir, confessed Harrison. I didnt
think it important.
You wouldnt. Some of you men are too slow to catch
a Callistrian sloth wandering in its sleep. I dont criticize your abilities
as spacemen but as intelligence-agents youre a dead loss.
Im sorry, sir, said Harrison.
Sorry? You louse! whispered something deep within his own mind. Why
should you be sorry? Hes only a pompous fat man who couldnt cancel
an ob if he tried. Hes no better than you. Those raw boys prancing around
on Hygeia would maintain that hes not as good as you because hes
got a pot-belly. Yet you keep staring at his pot-belly and saying, Sir and, Im
sorry. If he tried to ride your bike hed fall off before hed
gone ten yards. Hes just another Terran freak. Go spit in his eye and
say, I wont! Youre not scared, are you?
No ! announced Harrison, loudly and emphatically.
Captain Grayder glanced up in surprise. If youre
going to start answering questions before theyve been asked, youd
better see the medic. Or have we a telepath on board?
I was thinking, Harrison said.
I approve of that, put in the Ambassador. He lugged
a couple of huge tomes off the wall-shelves, began to thumb rapidly through them. Do
plenty of thinking whenever youve the chance and it will become a habit.
It will get easier and easier in time until eventually a day may come when it
can be performed without great pain.
Shoving the books back, be pulled out two more, spoke to Major
Hame who happened to be at his elbow. Dont pose there glassy-eyed
like a relic propped up in a military museum. Lend a hand with this mountain
of knowledge. I want Gandhi, anywhere from four hundred to a thousand Earth-years
Hame came to life, started dragging out books and searching
through them. So did Colonel Shelton. Grayder remained at his deck and continued
to mourn the missing.
Ah, here it is, nearly six hundred years back. The
Ambassador ran a plump finger along the printed lines. Gandhi, sometimes
called Bapu, or Father. Citizen of Hindi. Politico-philosopher. Opposed authority
by means of an ingenious system called Civil Disobedience. Last remnants disappeared
with the Great Explosion but may still persist on some planet out of contact.
Evidently it does, commented Grayder dryly.
Civil disobedience, repeated the Ambassador, screwing
up his eyes. He had the air of trying to study something turned upside-down and
inside-out. They cant make that a social basis. It just wont
It does work, asserted Harrison, forgetting to
put in the sir.
Are you contradicting me, Mister?
Im stating a fact.
Your Excellency, put in Grayder, I suggest
Leave this to me. His colour deepening, the Ambassador
waved him away. His gaze remained angrily on Harrison. You are very far
from being an expert upon socio-economic problems. Get that into your head, Mister.
Anyone of your calibre can be fooled by superficial appearances.
It works, persisted Harrison, finding cause to
marvel at his own stubbornness.
so does your damnfool bicycle. Youve a bicycle
mentality. Something snapped and a voice remarkably like his own said, Nuts! Astounded
by this phenomenon, Harrison waggled his ears.
What was that, Mister?
Nuts! he repeated, feeling that what has been done
cannot be undone.
Beating the purpling Ambassador to the draw, Grayder stood
up, his expression severe, and exercized his own authority.
Regardless of further leave-quotas, if any, you are confined
to the ship. Now get out!
Harrison departed, his mind in a whirl but his soul strangely
satisfied. Outside, First Mate Morgan glowered at him.
How long dyou think its going to take me
to work through this list of names when guys like you squat in there for a week? He
grunted with ire, cupped hands around his mouth and bellowed, Hope! Hope!
Hopes been abandoned, informed Trooper Kinvig. Thats
really funny, sneered Morgan. Look at me rolling all over the deck. He
cupped hands again and tried the next name. Hyland! Hyland!
Four more days, long, tedious, dragging ones. That made nine
in all since the battleship formed the rut in which it was still sitting.
There was trouble on board. Put off repeatedly, the third and
fourth leave-quotas were becoming impatient, irritable.
Morgan showed him the third roster again this morning.
Same result. Grayder was forced to admit that this world cannot be defined as
hostile and that were legally entitled to run free.
Well, why the blazes doesnt he keep to the book?
The Space Committee could crucify him for ignoring it.
Same excuse. He says hes not denying leave, hes
merely postponing it. Thats a crafty evasion, isnt it? He says hell
allow us to go out immediately the missing men come back.
That might be never. Darn him, hes using them as
a pretext to gyp me out of my liberty.
It was a powerful and legitimate complaint. Weeks, months,
years of close confinement in a constantly vibrating metal bottle, no matter
how big and comfortable, demands ultimate release. Men need fresh air, the good
earth, the broad, clear-cut horizon, bulk-food, feminine companionship, new faces.
He would ram home the stopper just when weve learned
the best way to get around. Civilian clothes and behave like Gands, thats
the secret. Even the first-quota boys are ready for another try.
Grayder darent take the risk. Hes lost too
many men already. One more quota cut in half and he wont have sufficient
crew to lift the ship and take it home. Wed be stuck here for keeps. Howd
you like that, freak?
I wouldnt grieve.
He could train the bureaucrats to run the ship. Its
high time those myopic bums did some honest work.
That would take three years. Your training lasted three
years, didnt it?
Harrison came along holding a small envelope. Three of them
picked on him at sight.
Look who sauced His Loftiness and got confined to shipsame
Thats what I like about it, observed Harrison. Better
to be fastened down for something than for nothing.
It wont be for much longer, youll see! Were
not going to hang around bellyaching for ever. Mighty soon well do something.
Such as what?
Were thinking it over, evaded the other,
not liking to be taken up so quickly. He noticed the envelope. Whats
that youve got there?the morning mail?
Exactly that, Harrison agreed.
Have it your own way. I wasnt being nosey. I thought
perhaps youd got some more written orders. You engineers usually pick up
the paper-stuff first.
It is mail, said Harrison.
Dont be daft. Nobody receives letters in this part
of the cosmos.
Well, how did you get that one?
Worrall brought it in from town a few minutes ago. A
friend of mine gave him dinner and let him bring the letter to wipe out the ob. He
pulled a large ear and smirked at them. Influence, thats what you
Showing annoyance, one demanded, Whats Worrall
doing off the boat? Is he privileged?
In a way. Hes married and has three kids.
The Ambassador figures that some people can be trusted
more than others. Theyre not as likely to disappear, having too much to
lose. So a few have been sorted out and sent into town to seek information about
the missing ones.
Have they found out anything?
Not much. Worrall says the quest is sheer waste of time.
He traced a few of our men here and there, tried to persuade them to return but
each said, "I wont." The Gands all said, "Myob!" And
that was that.
There must be something in this Gand business, said
one of them thoughtfully. Id give a lot to look into it for myself.
Thats what Grayder is afraid of.
Well give him more than that to worry about if
he doesnt become reasonable pretty soon. Our patience is evaporating fast.
Mutinous talk, Harrison reproved. He shook his
head and displayed great sorrow. You fellows shock me.
Continuing along the corridor, he reached his tiny cabin, fingered
the envelope in pleased anticipation. The writing inside might be feminine. He
hoped so. Tearing it open, he had a look. It wasnt.
Signed by Gleed, the missive said, Never mind where I
am or what Im doingthis note might get into the wrong hands. All
Ill tell you is that I expect to be fixed up topnotch providing I wait
a decent interval to improve acquaintance. The rest of this directly concerns
Huh? He lay back on his bunk and held the letter
nearer the light I found a little fat guy running an empty shop. He does
nothing but sit there waiting. Next, I learned that he has established possession
by occupation of the premises. Hes doing it on behalf of a factory that
makes two-ball rollers, you know, those fan-driven motor-bikes. They want someone
to operate the place as a local roller sales and service depot. The little fat
man has had four applications to date but none from anyone with engineering ability
and experience. The one who eventually gains this post will thereby plant a functional
ob on the town, whatever that means. Anyway, this lovely business proposition
is measured to your size. Its yours for the taking. Dont be freaky,
freak. Jump in with methe waters fine!
Zipping meteors! said Harrison. His eyes moved
on to the footnote at bottom.
P.S. Seth will give you the address. P.P.S. This place
where I am right now is your brunettes home town and shes thinking
of coming back. She wants to live near her sister. So do I, man! The said sister
is a honey!
Stirring restlessly, he read it through a second time and a
third, got up and paced around the cabin.
There were sixteen hundred occupied worlds within the scope
of the Terran Empire. Hed seen less than one-twentieth of them. No spaceman
could live long enough to visit the lot. The service was divided into cosmic
groups each dealing with its own relatively small section of the galaxy.
Except by hearsayof which there was plenty and most of
it highly colouredhe would never know what heavens or pseudo-heavens existed
in the other sections. In any case, it would be a blind gamble to pick on an
unfamiliar world for landbound life solely on somebody elses recommendation.
Not all think alike or have the same tastes. One mans meat may be anothers
The choice for retirementwhich was the ugly name for
beginning another, different but vigorous lifewas high-priced Terra or
some more desirable planet in his own section. There was the Epsilon group, for
instance, fourteen of them, all attractive providing you could suffer the gravity
and endure lumbering around like a tired elephant. And there was Nortons
Pink Paradise if, for the sake of getting by in peace, you could pander to Septimus
Nortons rajah-complex and put up with his delusions of grandeur.
Out near the edge of the Milky Way was a matriarchy bossed
by blonde Amazons, and a world of self-styled wizards, and a Pentecostal planet,
and a globe where semi-sentient vegetables cultivated themselves in obedience
to human masters. All these scattered across many light-years of space but readily
accessible by Blieder-drive.
There were more than fifty known to him by personal experience,
though only a tithe of the whole. All offered life and that human company which
is the essence of life. But this world of the Gands had something all the others
lacked; it had the quality of being present, in the here and now. It was part
of the existing environment from which he drew data on which to build his decisions.
The others were not. They lost virtue by being absent and far away.
Quietly he made his way to the Blieder-room lockers, spent
an hour cleaning and oiling his bicycle. Twilight was approaching when he returned.
Taking a thin plaque from his pocket, he hung it on the wall, lay on his bunk
and contemplated it.
The caller-system clicked, cleared its throat and announced, All
personnel will stand by for general instructions at eight hours tomorrow.
I wont, said Harrison, and closed his eyes.
It was seven-twenty in the morning but nobody thought it early.
There is little sense of earliness or lateness among space-roamers; to regain
it they have to be landbound a month, watching a sun rise and set.
The chartroom was empty but there was considerable activity
in the control-cabin. Grayder was there with Shelton and Hame, also Chief Navigators
Adamson, Werth and Yates, and, of course, His Excellency.
I never thought the day would come, groused the
latter, scowling at the star-map over which the navigators pored. Less
than a couple of weeks and we retreat, admitting complete defeat.
With all respect, Your Excellency, it doesnt look
like that to me, said Grayder. One can be defeated only by avowed
enemies. These people are not enemies. That is where, theyve got us by
the short hairs. Theyre not definable as hostile.
That may be. I still say its defeat. What else
can you call it?
Weve been outwitted by awkward relatives. Theres
nothing we can do about it. A man doesnt beat up his nephews and nieces
merely because they refuse to speak to him.
That is your viewpoint as a ships commander. You
have been confronted with a situation that requires you to return to base and
report. Its routine. The entire space service is hidebound with routine. The
Ambassador again eyed the star map as if he considered it offensive. My
own status is different. If I get out without so much as leaving a consul, its
diplomatic defeat, an insult to the dignity and prestige of Terra. Im far
from sure that I ought to go. It might be better if I stayed put even though
circumstances would prevent me from functioning effectively and even though my
presence would give these Gands endless opportunities for further insults.
I wouldnt presume to advise you what to do for
the best, Grayder said. All I know is this: we carry troops and armaments
for any protective or policing purposes that might be necessary here. But we
cannot use them offensively against the Gands because they have provided no real
excuse for doing so, also because we cannot influence a government that doesnt
exist, and also because our full strength isnt enough to crush a population
numbering many millions. Wed need an armada to make an impression upon
this world. Even then wed be fighting at the extreme limit of our reach
and the reward of victory would be an area of destruction not worth having.
Dont remind me. I have examined the problem from
every angle until Im sick of it.
Grayder shrugged. He was a man of action so long as it was
action in deep space. Planetary shenanigans were not properly his responsibility.
Now that the decisive moment was drawing near, when he would be back in his own
attenuated element, he was becoming phlegmatic. To him, the Gand world was a
visiting-place among a big number of them. And there were plenty more to come.
Your Excellency, if youre in serious doubt about
remaining here or returning with us, Id appreciate it if youd reach
a decision fairly soon. First Mate Morgan has given me the tip that if I havent
approved the third leave-quota by ten o'clock the men intend to take matters
into their own hands and walk out.
That kind of conduct would get them into trouble of a
really hot kind, wouldnt it?
I dont know, really I just dont know, confessed
You mean they can actually defy you and get away with
Their idea is to turn my own quibbling against me. Since
Ive said repeatedly that Im not officially forbidding leave, a walk-out
cannot be construed as mutiny. As you know, Your Excellency, I have been postponing
leave. Therefore the men could plead before the Space Committee that I have ignored
regulations. It is quite possible that the plea might succeed if the Space Committee
happened to be in the mood to assert its authority.
The Space Committee ought to be taken on a few long flights, opined
the Ambassador. Theyd discover a lot of things theyll never
learn behind a desk. He became mockingly hopeful. How about us accidentally
dropping our cargo of bureaucrats overboard on the way home? Such a misfortune
should benefit the spaceways if not humanity in general.
The suggestion strikes me as Gandish, said Grayder.
The Gands wouldnt think of it. Their one and only
technique is to say no, no, a thousand times no. Thats all. But to judge
by what has happened here it is more than enough. Morosely,
the Ambassador pondered his predicament decided, Im coming with you.
It goes against the grain because it smacks of abject surrender. To stay would
be a defiant gesture but I have to face the fact that it wouldnt serve
any useful purpose at the present stage.
Would you like us to return you to Hygeia?
No. The consul there is welcome to that crowd of nakes.
Besides, I think I should give Terra the benefit of my personal report about
Very well, Your Excellency. Going to a port, Grayder
looked through it toward the town. We have lost approximately four hundred
men. Some of them have deserted for keeps. The others will return in their own
good time and if I wait long enough. The latter have struck lucky, got their
legs under somebodys table and are likely to extend their leave for as
long as the fun lasts. Theyll come back when it suits them, thinking they
may as well be hung for sheep as for lambs. I have that sort of trouble on every
long trip. It isnt so bad on the short ones. Moodily he surveyed
a terrain bare of returning prodigals. But we dare not wait for them. Not
No, I reckon not.
If we hang around much longer were going to lose
another two hundred. There wont be enough skilled men to take the boat
up. The only way in which I can beat them to the draw is to give the order to
prepare for take-off. Theyll all come under flight regulations from that
moment. He put on a pained smile. That will give the space-lawyers
among them plenty to think about.
All right, make the order as soon as you like, approved
the Ambassador. He joined the other at the port, studied the distant road, watched
three Gand coaches whirl along it without stopping. He frowned, still upset by
the type of mind which insists on pretending that a metal mountain is not there.
Then his attention turned aside toward the tail-end. What are those men
Shooting a swift glance in the same direction, Grayder grabbed
the caller-microphone and rapped, "All personnel will prepare for take-off
at once! Then he seized his intercom phone and spoke on that. Whos
there? Sergeant Major Bidworthy? Look, Sergeant Major, there are half a dozen
men loafing outside the midway lock. Order them in immediatelywere
lifting as soon as everything is ready.
By now the fore and aft gangways had been rolled into their
stowage spaces. The midway one swiftly followed. Some fast-thinking quartermaster
prevented further escapes by operating the midship ladder-wind, thus trapping
Bidworthy along with an unknown number of would-be sinners.
Finding himself stalled by the fifty-foot drop, Bidworthy stood
in the rim of the airlock and glared at those outside. His moustache not only
bristled, but quivered. Five of the objects of his fierce attention had been
members of the first leave-quota. One of them was Trooper Casartelli. That got
Bidworthys rag out, a trooper. The sixth was Harrison, complete with bicycle
polished and shining.
Searing the lot of them, especially the trooper, Bidworthy
grated, Get back on board. No funny business. Were about to go up.
Hear that Mortimer? asked one, nudging the nearest Get
back on board. If you cant jump fifty feet youd better flap your
arms and fly.
No sauce from you, roared Bidworthy. I have
Ye gods, he actually takes orders! At his age!
Bidworthy scrabbled at the locks smooth rim in vain search
of something to grasp. A ridge, a knob, any kind of projection was needed to
help take the strain.
I warn you men that if you try me too
save your breath, Rufus, put in Casartelli. From
now on Im a Gand. With that, he turned away and walked rapidly toward
the road. Four followed him.
Getting astride his bike, Harrison put a foot on the pedal.
His back tyre promptly sank with a loud whee-e-e.
Come back! howled Bidworthy at the retreating five. Come
back! He made extravagant motions, tried to tear the ladder from its automatic
grips. A siren keened thinly inside the vessel and that upped his agitation by
Hear that? His expression murderous, he watched
Harrison calmly tighten the rear valve and apply a hand-pump. Were
about to lift. For the last time
Again the siren, this time in a rapid series of shrill toots.
Bidworthy jumped backward as the airlock seal came down. The lock closed. Harrison
again mounted his machine, settled a foot on a pedal but remained watching.
The metal monster shivered from nose to tail then arose slowly
and in complete silence. There was stately magnificence in this ascent of such
enormous bulk. The ship gradually increased its rate of climb, went faster, faster,
became a toy, a dot, and finally disappeared.
For a brief moment Harrison felt a touch of doubt, a hint of
regret. It soon passed away. He glanced toward the road.
The five self-elected Gands had thumbed a coach which was now
picking them up. That was helpfulness apparently precipitated by the ships
vanishing. Quick on the uptake, these people. He saw it move off on huge rubber
balls bearing the five with it. A fan-cycle raced in the opposite direction,
hummed into the distance.
Your brunette, was how Gleed had described her.
What had given him that idea? Had she made some remark that hed construed
as complimentary because it had contained no reference to outsize ears?
He had a last look around. The earth bore a great curved rut
one mile long by ten feet deep. Two thousand Terrans had been there.
Then about eighteen hundred.
Then sixteen hundred.
One left he said to himself. Me.
Giving a fatalistic shrug, he put on the pressure and rode
And then there were none.
|Copyright © 1951, by Street and
Smith Publications. Copyright renewed 1979, by the Estate of
E.F.Russell; posted by permission of the authors Estate
and its agents, Scott Meredith Literary Agency, LP.