The Golden Age Of Science Fiction Vol Iv Part 5

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"Yes, sir."

Mary's voice was perfectly even, without the slightest hint that there was anything unusual happening. Marlowe switched off and twisted his mouth.

He picked up the GenSurv on the Dovenil area and began skimming it rapidly.

He kept his eyes carefully front as he walked out of his office, past the battery of clerks in the outer office, and down the hall. He kept them rigidly fixed on the door of his personal elevator which, during the day, was human-operated under the provisions of the Human Employment Act of 2302. He met Mead in front of the building and did not look into the eyes of Bussard, the man from Emigration, as they shook hands. He followed them down the walk in a sweating agony of obliviousness, and climbed into the car with carefully normal lack of haste.

He sat sweating, chewing a candy bar, for several minutes before he spoke. Then, slowly, he felt his battered defenses rea.s.sert themselves, and he could actually look at Bussard, before he turned to Mead.



"Now, then," he rapped out a shade too abruptly before he caught himself. "Here's the GenSurv on the Dovenil area, Chris. Anything in it you don't know already?"

"I don't think so, sir."

"O.K., dig me up a habitable planet--even a long-term False-E will do--close to Dovenil, but not actually in their system. If it's at all possible, I want that world in a system without any rich planets. And I don't want any rich systems anywhere near it. If you can't do that, arrange for the outright sale of all mineral and other resource rights to suitable companies. I want that planet to be habitable, but I want it to be impossible for any people on it to get at enough resources to achieve a technological culture. Can do?"

Mead shook his head. "I don't know."

"You've got about fifteen minutes to find out. I'm going to start talking to Holliday, and when I tell him I've got another planet for him, I'll be depending on you to furnish one. Sorry to pile it on like this, but must be."

Mead nodded. "Right, Mr. Marlowe. That's why I draw pay."

"Good boy. Now, uh--" Rabbit. "Bussard. I want you to be ready to lay out a complete advertising and prospectus program. Straight routine work, but about four times normal speed. The toughest part of it will be following the lead that Chris and I set. Don't be surprised at anything, and act like it happens every day."

"Yes, Mr. Marlowe."

"Right."

Bussard looked uncomfortable. "Ah ... Mr. Marlowe?"

"Yes?"

"About this man, Harrison. I presume all this is the result of what happened to him on Dovenil. Do you think there's any foundation in truth for what they say he did? Or do you think it's just an excuse to get him off their world?"

Marlowe looked at him coldly. "Don't be an a.s.s," he snorted.

VIII.

Martin Holliday climbed slowly out of the shuttle's lock and moved fumblingly down the stairs, leaning on the attendant's arm. His face was a mottled gray, and his hands shook uncontrollably. He stepped down to the tarmac and his head turned from side to side as his eyes gulped the field's distances.

Marlowe sat behind the desk that had been put down in the middle of this emptiness, his eyes brooding as he looked at Holliday. Bussard stood beside him, trying nervously to appear noncommittal, while Mead went up to the shaking old man, grasped his hand, and brought him over to the desk.

Marlowe s.h.i.+fted uncomfortably. The desk was standard size, and he had to sit far away from it. He could not feel at ease in such a position.

His thick fingers went into the side pocket of his jacket and peeled the film off a candy bar, and he began to eat it, holding it in his left hand, as Mead introduced Holliday.

"How do you do, Mr. Holliday?" Marlowe said, his voice higher than he would have liked it, while he shook the man's hand.

"I'm ... I'm pleased to meet you, Mr. Secretary," Holliday replied. His eyes were darting past Marlowe's head.

"This is Mr. Bussard, of Emigration, and you know Mr. Mead, of course. Now, I think we can all sit down."

Mead's chair was next to Holliday's, and Bussard's was to one side of the desk, so that only Marlowe, unavoidably, blocked his complete view of the stretching tarmac.

"First of all, Mr. Holliday, I'd like to thank you for coming back. Please believe me when I say we would not have made such a request if it were not urgently necessary."

"It's all right," Holliday said in a low, apologetic voice. "I don't mind."

Marlowe winced, but he had to go on.

"Have you seen a news broadcast recently, Mr. Holliday?"

The man shook his head in embarra.s.sment. "No, sir. I've been ... asleep most of the time."

"I understand, Mr. Holliday. I didn't really expect you had under the circ.u.mstances. The situation is this: "Some time ago, our survey s.h.i.+ps, working out in their usual expanding pattern, encountered an alien civilization on a world designated Moore II on our maps, and which the natives call Dovenil. It was largely a routine matter, no different from any other alien contact which we've had. They had a relatively high technology, embracing the beginnings of interplanetary flight, and our contact teams were soon able to work out a diplomatic status mutually satisfactory to both.

"Social observers were exchanged, in accordance with the usual practice, and everything seemed to be going well."

Holliday nodded out of painful politeness, not seeing the connection with himself. Some of his nervousness was beginning to fade, but it was impossible for him to be really at ease with so many people near him, with all of Earth's billions lurking at the edge of the tarmac.

"However," Marlowe went on as quickly as he could, "today, our representative was deported on a trumped-up charge. Undoubtedly, this is only the first move in some complicated scheme directed against the Union. What it is, we do not yet know, but further observation of the actions of their own representative on this planet has convinced us that they are a clever, ruthless people, living in a society which would have put Machiavelli to shame. They are single-minded of purpose, and welded into a tight group whose major purpose in life is the service of the state in its major purpose, which, by all indications, is that of eventually dominating the universe.

"You know our libertarian society. You know that the Union government is almost powerless, and that the Union itself is nothing but a loose federation composed of a large number of independent nations tied together by very little more than the fact that we are all Earthmen.

"We are almost helpless in the face of such a nation as the Dovenilids. They have already outmaneuvered us once, despite our best efforts. There is no sign that they will not be able to do so again, at will.

"We must, somehow, discover what the Dovenilids intend to do next. For this reason, I earnestly request that you accept our offer of another planet than the one you have optioned, closer to the Dovenilid system. We are willing, under these extraordinary circ.u.mstances, to consider your credit sufficient for the outright purchase of half the planet, and Mr. Bussard, here, will do his utmost to get you suitable colonists for the other half as rapidly as it can be done. Will you help us, Mr. Holliday?"

Marlowe sank back in his chair. He became conscious of a messy feeling in his left hand, and looked down to discover the half-eaten candy bar had melted. He tried furtively to wipe his hand clean on the underside of the desk, but he knew Bussard had noticed, and he cringed and cursed himself.

Holliday's face twisted nervously.

"I ... I don't know--"

"Please don't misunderstand us, Mr. Holliday," Marlowe said. "We do not intend to ask you to spy for us, nor are we acting with the intention of now establis.h.i.+ng a base of any sort on the planet. We simply would like to have a Union world near the Dovenilid system. Whatever Dovenil does will not have gathered significant momentum by the end of your life. You will be free to end your days exactly as you have always wished, and the precautions we have outlined will ensure that there will be no encroachments on your personal property during that time. We are planning for the next generation, when Dovenil will be initiating its program of expansion. It is then that we will need an established outpost near their borders."

"Yes," Holliday said hesitantly, "I can understand that. I ... I don't know," he repeated. "It seems all right. And, as you say, it won't matter, during my lifetime, and it's more than I had really hoped for." He looked nervously at Mead. "What do you think, Mr. Mead? You've always done your best for me."

Mead shot one quick glance at Marlowe. "I think Mr. Marlowe's doing his best for the Union," he said finally, "and I know he is fully aware of your personal interests. I think what he's doing is reasonable under the circ.u.mstances, and I think his proposition to you, as he's outlined it, is something which you cannot afford to not consider. The final decision is up to you, of course."

Holliday nodded slowly, staring down at his hands. "Yes, yes, I think you're right, Mr. Mead." He looked up at Marlowe. "I'll be glad to help. And I'm grateful for the consideration you've shown me."

"Not at all, Mr. Holliday. The Union is in your debt."

Marlowe wiped his hand on the underside of the desk again, but he only made matters worse, for his fingers picked up some of the chocolate he had removed before.

"Mr. Mead, will you give Mr. Holliday the details on the new planet?" he said, trying to get his handkerchief out without smearing his suit. He could almost hear Bussard snickering.

Holliday signed the new option contract and shook Marlowe's hand. "I'd like to thank you again, sir. Looking at it from my point of view, it's something for nothing--at least, while I'm alive. And it's a very nice planet, too, from the way Mr. Mead described it. Even better than Karlshaven."

"Nevertheless, Mr. Holliday," Marlowe said, "you have done the Union a great service. We would consider it an honor if you allowed us to enter your planet in our records under the name of Holliday."

He kept his eyes away from Mead.

Martin Holliday's eyes were s.h.i.+ning. "Thank you, Mr. Marlowe," he said huskily.

Marlowe could think of no reply. Finally, he simply nodded. "It's been a pleasure meeting you, Mr. Holliday. We've arranged transportation, and your shuttle will be taking off very shortly."

Holliday's face began to bead with fresh perspiration at the thought of bulkheads enclosing him once more, but he managed to smile, and then ask, hesitantly: "May I ... may I wait for the shuttle out here, sir?"

"Certainly. We'll arrange for that. Well, good-by, Mr. Holliday."

"Good-by, Mr. Marlowe. Good-by, Mr. Bussard. And good-by, Mr. Mead. I don't suppose you'll be seeing me again."

"Good luck, Mr. Holliday," Mead said.

Marlowe twisted awkwardly on the car's back seat, wiping futilely at the long smear of chocolate on his trouser pocket.

Well, he thought, at least he'd given the old man his name on the star maps until Earthmen stopped roving.

At least he'd given him that.

Mead was looking at him. "I don't suppose we've got time to let him die in peace, have we?" he asked.

Marlowe shook his head.

"I suppose we'll have to start breaking him immediately, won't we?"

Marlowe nodded.

"I'll get at it right away, sir."

Dave! Does everyone have to hate me? Can't anyone understand? Even you, uh--Creed. Even you, Mead?

IX.

Dalish ud Klavan, stooped and withered, sat hopelessly, opposite Marlowe, who sat behind his desk like a grizzled polar bear, his thinning mane of white hair unkempt and straggling.

"Marlowe, my people are strangling," the old Dovenilid said.

Marlowe looked at him silently.

"The Holliday Republic has signed treaty after treaty with us, and still their citizens raid our mining planets, driving away our own people, stealing the resources we must have if we are to live."

Marlowe sighed. "There's nothing I can do."

"We have gone to the Holliday government repeatedly," ud Klavan pleaded. "They tell us the raiders are criminals, that they are doing their best to stop them. But they still buy the metal the raiders bring them."

"They have to," Marlowe said. "There are no available resources anywhere within practicable distances. If they're to have any civilization at all, they've got to buy from the outlaws."

"But they are members of the Union!" ud Klavan protested. "Why won't you do anything to stop them?"

"We can't," Marlowe said again. "They're members of the Union, yes, but they're also a free republic. We have no administrative jurisdiction over them, and if we attempted to establish one our citizens would rise in protest all over our territory."

"Then we're finished. Dovenil is a dead world."

Marlowe nodded slowly. "I am very sorry. If there is anything I can do, or that the Ministry can do, we will do it. But we cannot save the Dovenilid state."

Ud Klavan looked at him bitterly. "Thank you," he said. "Thank you for your generous offer of a gracious funeral.

"I don't understand you!" he burst out suddenly. "I don't understand you people! Diplomatic lies, yes. Expediency, yes! But this ... this madness, this fanatical, illogical devotion of the state in the cause of a people who will tolerate no state! This ... no, this I cannot understand."

Marlowe looked at him, his eyes full of years.

"Ud Klavan," he said, "you are quite right. We are a race of maniacs. And that is why Earthmen rule the galaxy. For our treaties are not binding, and our promises are worthless. Our government does not represent our people. It represents our people as they once were. The delay in the democratic process is such that the treaty signed today fulfills the promise of yesterday--but today the Body Politic has formed a new opinion, is following a new logic which is completely at variance with that of yesterday. An Earthman's promise--expressed in words or deeds--is good only at the instant he makes it. A second later, new factors have entered into the total circ.u.mstances, and a new chain of logic has formed in his head--to be altered again, a few seconds later."

He thought, suddenly, of that poor claustrophobic devil, Holliday, harried from planet to planet, never given a moment's rest--and civilizing, civilizing, spreading the race of humankind wherever he was driven. Civilizing with a fervor no hired dummy could have accomplished, driven by his fear to sell with all the real estate agent's talent that had been born in him, selling for the sake of money with which to buy that land he needed for his peace--and always being forced to sell a little too much.

Ud Klavan rose from his chair. "You are also right, Marlowe. You are a race of maniacs, gibbering across the stars. And know, Marlowe, that the other races of the universe hate you."

Marlowe with a tremendous effort heaved himself out of his chair.

"Hate us?" He lumbered around the desk and advanced on the frightened Dovenilid, who was retreating backwards before his path.

"Can't you see it? Don't you understand that, if we are to pursue any course of action over a long time--if we are ever going to achieve a galaxy in which an Earthman can some day live at peace with himself--we must each day violate all the moral codes and creeds which we held inviolate the day before? That we must fight against every ideal, every principle which our fathers taught us, because they no longer apply to our new logic?

"You hate us!" He thrust his fat hand, its nails bitten down to the quick and beyond, in front of the cringing alien's eyes.

"You poor, weak, single-minded, ineffectual thing! We hate ourselves!"

THE END.

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The Golden Age Of Science Fiction Vol Iv Part 5

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