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The Trouble With Cargoes




Probably the closest thing to hell on a commercial spaceship is to have the gravitor control run wild. Next on the list is what happens when there's a troublemaker in the crew.

Three years ago, we had the first experience. It looks as if we are now about to have the second.

The trouble started when Krotec, our cargo-control man, was killed by a freak meteor at the cut-loose point. We had just thrown the cargo section into hyperdrive and were swinging around to get an empty returned section from the recovery crew when the meteor hit. We all felt bad about Krotec's death. But there was nothing we could do except head back to the loading center as usual.

When we got back to the loading center, word came in that a replacement for Krotec was due on board at 2330.

The captain insists that each new man be greeted as he comes on board. Willis and I, respectively third and second in command, offered to do the greeting. Willis got the job.

Around 0130, Willis woke me up.

"Listen," he said, "that replacement hasn't shown up yet. The transport office says he started out in a little one-man taxi-boat about two hours and twenty minutes ago. Do you suppose he's drunk?"

"I hope not."

A cargo-control man has to inspect and approve each cargo before it can be shipped. Because of this, a drunk cargo-control man can cause a long delay. Each delay cuts down the ship's competitive rating. And each cut in the rating means a cut in the bonus given to the officers and crew of the fastest ships.

"Listen," I said. "We're just loading grain, aren't we?"

"We are. Just a few hours more and we'll be full up. If we can get out of here by 0800, we've got a chance to beat Nova and get first place for a change. But we've got to get this cretin to start checking cargo before we can even think of leaving."

"How about the transport office? Do they know where this one-man taxi-boat is now?"

"All they can say is that a rough fix shows it's somewhere in B cargo area, and it's sending out an 'unoccupied' signal. That means our replacement has matched locks with some other boat or ship in our area, and left the one-man boat."

It took a few moments to absorb what this meant. Each ship takes its share of fast and slow cargoes. While we were loading grain and leaving tomorrow, other ships were taking on fragile goods that would keep them at the loading center for several days. On some of these ships, roaring parties were now going on. If our wandering cargo-control officer got into one of these parties, it would be no easy job to get him out.

"Well," I said, dressing quickly, "we can't very well start asking where he is."

"No," said Willis sourly. "There are those who would load him up with rum and hide him somewhere just to gain a few points on us."

"That means there's nothing else to do but get another taxi-boat and go hunt for him. One-man boats aren't used much, so we've got a chance."

A couple of hours later, this chance seemed to have gotten pretty thin. I had been staring into the glaring lights and shadows all over B cargo area, and Willis had been calling the transport office at intervals. The transport office insisted the one-man boat was still in B area. But if so, I hadn't seen it. An unpleasant possibility was just beginning to dawn on me when Willis appeared on the little screen, his face white and set.

"Don't bother looking for him any more. He's here."

The screen went blank. I went back to the ship, and saw that the boa-like bulk of the pressure loader had stopped pulsating. Willis was waiting in the control room as I went in.

"You know," he said, "that so-and-so was right here all the time? He was hooked onto the cargo-section's lock, out of sight in the shadow of the ship. That means he has been alone in the cargo-section for a long time, without our knowing it."

"I notice we aren't loading."

"No, we aren't loading. He came in here, and used the screen to get the chief inspector's office. He says there's 'danger of possible weevil infestation' in the cargo, and he's slapped a forty-eight-hour delay on the ship."

"That's ridiculous."

"Is it? Don't forget, the inspector here is a stickler for caution. Any cargo-control man who shows caution gets a pat on the head. And since Krotec got hit before we picked up the empty cargo section, that means we were without a regular cargo-control officer to check the cargo section."

"Yes," I said, "but the captain checked it himself." I was thinking that the captain is a fanatic for efficiency, a rigid teetotaler, an early-to-bed-early-to-rise man, with iron habits and unvarying devotion to duty. It suddenly occurred to me that this would carry no weight whatever with the chief inspector. "Look," I said, "the captain has qualified as a cargo-control man. He's perfectly able to serve as one in a pinch."

Willis smiled. "Sure. But what I am talking about is how it will look on paper. The captain is not a regular cargo-control man. The inspector, not knowing the captain, will generously assume that the captain was out of practice and missed something. We will therefore be hung up here till the inspector goes through all his motions. Nova will beat us by light-years. But what I am thinking about most is what life on board the same ship as this self-seeking troublemaker is going to be like."






After about three hours sleep, I woke up to find that the captain wanted to see me. Willis was on the way out as I went in. The captain listened intently as I told what little I knew of what had happened the night before. Then he leaned back with his eyes narrowed.

"Well," he said, "we want to be fair to this man. But I don't think we ought to lean over backward so far he can kick our feet out from under us. Suppose you go out there and study his record folder while I get him in here and study him."

I agreed, and in due time started back to the captain's compartment carrying the record folder of one L. Sneat in a portfolio. The captain's door opened up and our new cargo-control man backed out with a slightly glazed look, and both hands spread wide. He was talking in the low earnest voice of the smooth wolf suddenly face-to-face with the girl's father and three tough brothers.

"Why should I, captain?" he was saying. "It wouldn't make sense, would it? Honestly, I mean it. Who would do a thing like that? And to the people he has to live with, too?"

"Just bear in mind," came the captain's voice, "if you have several hundred dollars in the bank, you can write quite a few twenty-dollar checks, and nothing happens to you. But write just one check too many and all hell breaks loose."

"Captain, I just don't understand—"

"Then go think it over."

Our new replacement moved away protesting his innocence as I went in and shut the door. The captain was frowning slightly.

"Some people," he said, "are all tactics and no strategy. They are so busy elbowing their way to the head of the line that they never look to see where the line is going." He glanced at me and said, "What did you find out?"

"Our friend was born in '68 on an outpost world called 'Broke.' He passed a company competitive exam, got good grades, and has been a cargo-control man a little less than four years. He has several commendations on his record and no black marks. Our ship is the eighth ship he has been cargo-control man on."

"In four years?"

"Yes, sir. Eight ships in four years."

"Let's see that folder."

I handed it to him.

It may have been imagination, but I thought I saw the captain's back hair rise up as he looked at the names of those ships. He growled, "Go get the latest rating and bonus list."

"Right here, sir."

The captain put it beside the record folder and glanced from one to the other.

Glancing over the captain's shoulder, I could see the names of the seven ships our new cargo-control man had been on before being assigned to ours. They were Calliope, Derna, Hermes, Orion, Quicksure, Light Lady, Bonanza.

The lowest seven names on the rating and bonus lists were: Calliope, Derna, Hermes, Orion, Quicksure, Light Lady, Bonanza.

Bonanza was in such bad shape that it had a bonus of minus 27.92. That is, the officers and men of Bonanza were paying back 27.92 cents out of every dollar they earned, as a fine for inefficiency.

The captain looked at this for a while, then sent for the records tape covering previous rating and bonus lists.

A quick glance at these lists showed us that the month before Sneat boarded Bonanza, that ship had a rating of 94.98 out of a possible 100.00.

One month later, Bonanza's rating was 76.01.

The captain looked at the record folder again. He had much the same expression as a settler on a new planet, who walks slowly past a tree, ax in hand, while he judges which way the tree will naturally fall, whether it is worth felling, and if so, where to sink the ax in first.

Then he looked up, smiled, and said we'd certainly have to work hard to make up for the delay. That was all he had to say for the moment.






Well, we're moving at last. No weevils were found. But Sneat produced some debris containing what could have been either pieces of bast-weevil wing-covers—or else bits of the brownish semitransparent insulation used on much of the wiring aboard ship. If it was from wiring, of course, it could have been carelessly dropped by anyone. Sneat has tried to get out of a head-on clash with the captain by claiming that this stuff was found, not inside the inner part of the cargo section, but in the outer inspection corridor. This corridor was thoroughly gone over by Gaites, one of our technicians, before the captain ever went into the cargo section itself. But since Gaites has a reputation for taking life easy, Sneat has succeeded in unloading part of the blame. Meanwhile, Sneat has on his record the inspector's commendation for extreme thoroughness.






Sneat seems to be weathering his unpopularity pretty well, all things considered. For some reason, Gaites is now getting most of the blame for the delay.






Another facet of Sneat's character has come to light. The one officer on the ship with any social standing is Grunwald, the navigator. Grunwald's uncle is governor of New Venus. Grunwald likes chess. Sneat has now taken several tapes on chess out of the ship's library.






In the rec. room tonight were Grunwald and Sneat, playing chess. Afterward, Grunwald expansively pointed out certain fine points of the game. Sneat was all ears—an attentive student eager to learn from the master.

A peculiar thing has turned up lately. On most of our trips, there is a feeling on the ship of well-earned contentment. On this trip, however, there is an undercurrent of rankling dissatisfaction. The original delay, and the charges and countercharges between Sneat and Gaites, seem to have started it. But now that it is started, it apparently goes along by itself, one man speaking sharply to another, to produce a vicious circle that is gradually changing the emotional atmosphere of the ship.

What the captain plans to do about it isn't clear. I've remarked on it to him, but it may well be that he doesn't appreciate it. Around him personally, everything is as it was before.






Sneat now seems to be close friends with Grunwald. He is also getting to be friends with Meeres, the medic. Meeres is interested in psychology. Lately, Sneat has been busy with the psychology tapes. Soon he should be able to listen and ask questions intelligently, which should seem fine to Meeres.






If Sneat isn't playing chess with Grunwald, he is likely to be talking psychology with Meeres.






So as to keep Sneat from step-by-step turning the whole ship with the exception of the captain and me, into an "I love Sneat" society, I've pointed out to Willis what is going on. Strange to say, Willis hadn't noticed it. Now that he does notice it, he is once more turning a cold eye on Sneat. The sorry part of this is that the ship is being split into factions.






Willis tells me that Sneat has been needling Ferralli, the drive technician, because Ferralli is overweight. The rest of the crew has also kidded Farralli, but that was good-natured. Sneat's procedure is different. The other day, he asked Ferralli, "Say, boy, are you expecting?" Ferralli smiled dutifully. After a few wisecracks, any other crewman would have let it go. But Sneat harps on the theme: "Say, is it going to be a boy or a girl?" "What are you going to call it?" Sneat has now given this mythical baby a name—"Oswald"—and the whole business is getting on Ferralli's nerves. This is the kind of joke other crewmen will drift into when they can't think of anything better to say, and it is only a matter of time till Ferralli lashes back. Very quickly we may get into a situation where everyone is jabbing everyone else's weak point, and then this ship will be quite a place to live.






I just had a talk with Ferralli. In the less than three weeks since this trip started he has changed from a happy-go-lucky crewman to a mass of bitterness. He says everywhere he turns, someone asks, "How's Oswald?" Everyone, that is, except Sneat. When the going gets rough, Sneat is likely to stop it, saying, "Ah, come on, fellows, break it up. He needs his strength." Ferralli says he knows Sneat starts it; but when Sneat gets the others to leave him alone, Ferralli actually finds himself feeling grateful. The thought goes through his head, "Sneat isn't such a bad guy, after all." I said I supposed this was exactly what Sneat wanted. Ferralli suddenly burst out, "If he doesn't leave me alone, I'll kill him!"






Now, too late, I see why Sneat singled out Ferralli to pick on. Nearly everyone is now afraid of Sneat's tongue. If this were a military ship, we would no doubt so cramp Sneat that his effect would be barely a tenth what it is now. But as it is, it's a civilian ship, with civilian restrictions, and on top of that the captain seems to be patiently waiting for something. What he is waiting for, I don't know. Meanwhile, there is a steadily increasing amount of bad feeling building up, that gives the impression of an open powder keg just waiting for a match. Sneat has begun calculatedly insulting Willis and me, so it seems obvious which way the force of the explosion is supposed to go. So far, Willis and I have had several clashes with Sneat, but he is clever with words, and always wins. Lately I have caught myself wondering how Sneat would react if he found himself stuffed head first into the garbage disposal unit.






Willis suggested that I change shifts at dinner tonight so I could see for myself how Sneat operates during meals. The captain generally switches from shift to shift to check on the quality of the food, and as a rule takes his tray elsewhere at dinner—so that if we lesser ranks want to indulge in horseplay, he won't cramp our style.

But tonight, to my surprise, the captain stayed to eat with the rest of us.

He had hardly sat down, in a general atmosphere of dull brooding apathy, when Willis nudged me, and I heard Sneat make a needling comment to Meeres, to the effect that Ferralli seemed to be "eating for two," didn't he?

I was just starting to wonder how anyone could possibly control that kind of needling when the captain's voice said coldly, "What was that, Sneat?"

For just an instant, Sneat looked jolted. Then he glanced up and said ironically, "Did you say something, Captain?"

In the same cold voice, the captain said, "As you know, Sneat, you just made a comment about someone 'eating for two.' Explain it."

"Just part of a private conversation, Captain."

"You mean it doesn't have anything to do with anyone else here? Just you and Meeres?"

"Did I say that?"

The captain didn't say anything for a moment, and Sneat smiled very faintly. I glanced at the captain, feeling the same frustration I'd felt when arguing with Sneat myself. The captain, however, was looking at Sneat with an expression of intense concentration. Something seemed to rise up in the backs of his eyes as he said, in a very gentle voice, "Do you understand the laws on 'incitement to mutiny,' Sneat?"

A heavy silence settled in the room. Sneat looked jarred for the second time. So was I. It seemed to me that Sneat had skillfully avoided that pitfall.

Before Sneat could say anything, the captain said, looking directly at Sneat, "Why are you so afraid to explain that comment you just made to Meeres?"

"I've already explained to you, captain, that that was part of a private conversation."

"I notice, Sneat, that you avoid the word 'sir' as if you were afraid of it. Just what is it you're afraid of?"

A faint puzzled expression crossed Sneat's face. He opened his mouth and shut it again. Then he stiffened angrily. It occurred to me that somehow the captain had thrown him off-balance.

Again, before Sneat could say anything, the captain spoke.

"You know, Sneat, a private conversation is usually a conversation not many people know about. You don't carry out a private conversation in a loud voice, with other people around, do you?"

Sneat relaxed, and spoke in a drawling voice.

"Well, if you must know, Captain, and if you want to make Ferralli feel bad—go ahead and ask."

"Then you admit that what you said was intended to make Ferralli feel bad?"

"No, but your rubbing it in might make him feel bad. Probably has already, in fact. Why don't you drop it, Captain?"

By now, everybody was glancing tensely from Sneat to the captain. The captain was looking directly into Sneat's eyes as he spoke again.

"You know, you can start trouble, but you can't expect always to drop it and slip out from under, leaving other people to bear the burden."

Sneat started to speak, and the captain added, "There comes a time when the burden lands on you."

Sneat sat very still, then casually shoved his chair back.

"You're the first captain I've ever met who tried to badger his crew. I don't think I care to finish this meal."

"People who needle others shouldn't be so sensitive. Just as a cargo-control man who causes a forty-eight hour delay shouldn't try to shift the blame to someone else."

This caused a general stir in the room. The captain made this comment just as Sneat started out, and added, "Naturally, if you have nothing to say in your own defense, you should go."

Sneat suddenly swung around and snapped, "That cargo section was filthy!"

Gaites was at the table, and stood up. "The devil it was! It was clean!"

Sneat cast a shrewd calculating glance at Gaites. "Everyone knows you're lazy."

"Yeah? Do you want a punch in the teeth?"

The captain said coldly, "Gaites has been on this ship for a long time, and we never had a delay or a complaint. You no sooner stepped on board than we had a forty-eight-hour delay, for weevils that weren't there. Every previous trip we've taken has been pleasant. Since you've been here there's been nothing but trouble." The captain paused, then added, "Unfortunately, I am forbidden by regulations to reveal anything about the ship or ships you were assigned to before this one."

Sneat opened his mouth, then closed it again. A look of angry indignation crossed his face.

The captain waited politely, and then someone started to laugh. In a moment, everyone would have been laughing, because Sneat was caught in his own traps. Everyone would have been laughing, but the instant the first person laughed, Sneat glanced directly at him and said, "Shut up."

This produced another tense silence, and suddenly something in the air of the ship seemed to change.

A tall crewman stood up, and said slowly, "I was laughing, Sneat. Now, with all respect to the captain, I would like to make just one comment. If I may, sir?"

He glanced courteously at the captain.

"Go ahead," said the captain.

Sneat abruptly turned on his heel and started out of the room.

The tall crewman looked at our cargo-control man's retreating back and said clearly, "I am inviting you, Sneat, to tell me 'shut up' just once more, either now or later."

Sneat walked out without replying.

The tall crewman glanced around before sitting down. A set of hard approving glances answered him. Then he looked directly at the captain, and said, "Thank you, sir."

The captain smiled. "You're very welcome." He added, "Now, I would like to make a brief announcement." There was an immediate silence, and the captain said, "The base has granted us a Christmas present. We have been given permission to land and spend December 25th and 26th on the planet of New Cornwall."

There was a startled silence, then a roar of cheers. Planetfall! How the captain managed to wring that out of Base, I don't know. But all of a sudden we were the same old ship again. The mood and atmosphere that had been missing were back once more. Suddenly the crew began to sing, "For he's a jolly good fellow."

In the midst of all this renewed good will, with everyone feeling like his own self again, I happened to look at the door.

And there was Sneat, looking in.

He was still with us.






I asked the captain today if there was anything we could do to transfer Sneat, or in some way get him off the ship. I suggested that if he happened to stay behind on New Cornwall, that would be fine.

"You mean," said the captain smiling, "if he should by chance get cracked over the head and dumped up some secluded alley, just before we take off?"

"That's what I had in mind, sir."

"Hm-m-m. Well, we can reserve that as a last resort. But I don't think it will be necessary. Do you know much about New Cornwall?"

"No, sir. Of course, we've all been looking it up in the atlas. It's a planet now well into its first stage of industrialization, with a fast-growing population. I don't understand their government system."

"What don't you understand about their government?"

"According to the atlas it's a 'representative absolute monarchy.' There couldn't be such a thing."

"Well," said the captain, smiling, "wait a while. And don't be too hasty about tossing Sneat up an alley with a big bump on his head. Bear in mind how men have always dealt with troublesome creatures."

"What do you mean, sir?"

"Men bait rattraps with cheese and bacon."

I stared. "But how does this help us with Sneat?"

"Why does Sneat try to terrorize a whole ship? What does he like about this? I'll tell you my opinion: Sneat likes power."






Well, we came down to the planet in the tender, and yesterday was a wonderful Christmas.

To begin with, we no sooner landed than crowds of people welcomed us, and we were all given invitations to spend Christmas with individual families. While we were still overwhelmed from this, we got the additional shock of seeing local officials snap to attention, salute the captain, and call him "Your Highness." This seemed fairly ridiculous, but the captain took it calmly, and pretty soon a white motorcar drove up, there was a blast of trumpets, and everyone fell on his face except the captain and the rest of us from Starlight. This incident left us feeling totally out of focus. But that is a small price for having forty-eight hours leave on a real planet. We were willing to overlook the strange local customs.

The next thing we knew, a flunky jumped off the back of the white car, grabbed a polished silver handle and hauled open the rear door. He flattened himself in the dust as a fresh crew of flunkies rushed to unroll a long purple rug about two-and-a-half feet wide. This stretched from the rear door of the car to the captain. This bunch of flunkies then fell in the dust.

While we are staring at this, there stepped out of the car a tall man with a grim enduring look, dressed in several yards of white cloth trimmed in gold and silver, with flashing epaulettes, several rows of medals on each side of his chest, a purple sash, a sword, and a silver and gold baton in his hand.

This mass of flashing color strode up toward the captain, and they stared each other in the eye.

The captain seemed to have a faint smile as he said in a loud clear voice, "How stands the kingdom, Your Royal and Imperial Majesty?"

"It stands well, as you left it, Your Royal Highness."

Just in front of the car, one of the loyal subjects was getting this all down with some kind of camera on a tall tripod. He was doing this while lying flat on his stomach, and staring into a periscope arrangement with a couple of remote-control handles that aimed the camera.

I was beginning to wonder if this wasn't some kind of joke or carnival performance, when somebody nudged my arm. I realized it was Sneat. In a low voice, he said, "Look there."

I looked, and saw, about eighty feet away, an armored car with its gun aimed at us. There was another one nearby, and near that about thirty men carrying long guns and wearing over their left breast pockets an emblem like a silver gunsight.

I glanced around uneasily. "What is this, a trap?"

"No, no," said Sneat, in a low excited voice. "It's the king's guard. See that crown on their left shoulders?"

True enough, that did seem to be it. I looked hard at Sneat in curiosity. It was the first time I had seen him with that eager excited look.

Well, in due time the formalities between the captain and the local king were all concluded, they bowed to each other and the king turned around and started back to the car. The set of flunkies that handled the purple rug sprang into action and rolled it up behind the king as he neared the car. A new set staggered around carrying another rolled-up rug, which they set down in front of the captain. As fast as the first set rolled up the purple rug, the second set unrolled a light pink rug with a purple stripe down each side. Along this, the captain walked.

I glanced around as this procession headed for the car. First the king, then a bunch of flunkies rolling the rug up about two steps behind him, then a new bunch unrolling another rug, then the captain walking along about two steps behind them. All around me were men from Starlight with their jaws hanging open, eyes staring, and glancing back and forth from the car to the line of armed guards.

About this time, a third set of flunkies heaved the top off the rear of the royal car, and a fussy individual began rearranging the cushions. The king and the captain got in, all the rugs were rolled up, and car set off to a blast of trumpets.

Sneat said in irritation, "That business with rugs was overdone."

I stared at him, trying to see his viewpoint. But now all the populace, that had been flat on their faces a minute ago, stood up. They seemed to think nothing of having spent all that time flat on the ground, but immediately took up the conversation where they had left off, so that in a few minutes we were each setting out in company with a different family.

Well, we had a morning of sightseeing, many of us went to church, and we all had a big Christmas dinner. The main topic of local conversation was the coming election. I listened in silence as long as I could, but finally was overcome by curiosity.

"Election?" I asked.

"Oh, no," said my host. "Selection. You see, His Majesty has worked at the job for a decade now. Naturally he's tired. Tomorrow a successor will select himself."

"Select himself?"

"Of course. The job is a tremendous burden, you know. It would hardly be fair to force it upon anyone."

"You mean, someone volunteers to be king?"


"Well—What if a halfwit—"

"Such people are not qualified."

"All right. But if your kings are absolute monarchs, what's to prevent you from ending up under a dictator?"

Everyone laughed. "True," said my host, "in the bad old days back on Earth, such things happened. But here, modern science prevents it. Our kings think only of the good of their subjects."

"How does science manage that?"

"I'm sure I couldn't say."

"How do your kings 'select themselves'?"

"Why, we gather in the great arena. The first man to cross the line is king."

I stared. "A sort of race?"

"Oh, no. Not a race. There is never a rush to step over the line. You'll see what I mean."

It developed that the tests we had been required to pass to become spacemen were stiff enough to qualify any of us to become king of New Cornwall if we wanted, and therefore we all ended up the next day with our hosts in a gigantic sports arena hung with silver and gold banners, and with a long straight purple line drawn down the length of the arena.

As we watched, a military band played a march, a line of horsemen in blue uniforms with silver breastplates and drawn swords rode in, there was a blast of trumpets, and the king came in followed by a herald with a big scroll, who walked out to a microphone set almost at the purple line, raised the scroll, and read:

"Be it known, that our illustrious king and emperor, desiring to lay down the heavy burden of his duty, hereby throws open to all you qualified and assembled—be you of native birth or whatever, so long as you be human—the right to ascend the throne.

"With this right, be it well and clearly known, pass the command of all the armed forces of the planet New Cornwall, and the absolute right to command of each citizen what you will, and to be obeyed.

"Whosoever desires to achieve this absolute authority, and whosoever is willing to accept the heavy burden it entails, let him so signify by stepping forward across this line."

There followed a half-hour harangue to point out the nobility of taking up the burden, and the need to give the present king, who had worked hard all this time, a well-earned rest.

At the end of this half-hour, Sneat stepped forward and crossed the line. Sneat is now king of New Cornwall.






This evening, I was busy filling out the necessary forms to account for the disappearance of Sneat, when the captain walked in.

"Well," he said, "that was better than bashing him over the head, wasn't it?"

"Yes, sir," I said. "This really gets him out of the crew for good. A little rough on the planet, though."

"Oh, no. Sneat will make a good king." The captain spoke in the positive manner of one who knows by direct experience. He added, "After all, he hasn't any choice in that matter."

I shoved back the forms and turned around to face the captain. He was looking at me with his usual expression, which is a sort of quiet authority. A slight change of the lines around mouth and eyes can shift this expression to one of friendly warmth or arctic chill. It was now necessary to risk the chill.

"Sir," I said, "you realize that this ship is a mass of boiling curiosity?"

"It's good for them," said the captain, with a faint grin. "It will take their minds off their troubles."

"I can't think," I said, "of anyone I'd want to have over me as an absolute monarch. But if I had to choose someone for that position, the last person I'd pick would be Sneat."

"And yet," said the captain, "most people you might pick would kick and scream to get out of the job. Sneat wants it."

"Yes," I said. "As you remarked earlier, Sneat seems to love power. But does that mean he should have power? Human history is overburdened with men who loved power, got it, misused it, made their subjects miserable, and were finally overthrown by some new power-maniac. Then the new man went through the same process as the one before."

"True, but all that is systematized down on New Cornwall. The average king only lasts about eight to ten years. After that, he can't get rid of the power fast enough."

"Then there must be special conditions," I said.

The captain nodded. "There are special conditions. It would be interesting to know why it is that great genius will suddenly appear in one place, and not in another place where conditions look just as favorable. New Cornwall, as you know, is not fully industrialized. But its citizens trade their products with worlds that are industrialized. Advanced electronics equipment is available on the planet, and of course, it has to be kept in repair. Skilled repairmen make an excellent living. It is like this on other worlds, but it was on New Cornwall that the genius appeared."

I listened intently, and the captain went on. "This man became interested in the relationship between the electrical current used in man-made apparatus, and the impulse that passes along a nerve in the body of an animal. The result of his studies was a tiny device called a 'neurister'. A neurister, surgically inserted in the proper place, can receive from outside a signal especially keyed to it. The result of this signal is that the neurister stimulates a nerve nearby. And the result of this is that the person in whom the neurister has been inserted feels a sensation from that part of his body."

A chill traveled up and down my spine. "What kind of sensation?"

"Depending on the circumstances, a sense of uneasiness, a pressure, an itching, a burning, a feeling of pain, or—in the extreme—downright agony. From the king down through the dukes and earls to the lowest squire, the governing authorities on New Cornwall are all liberally supplied with neuristers."

The captain glanced at his watch, and added, "About this time, I imagine, Sneat is stretched out on the operating table."

"Much as I dislike Sneat," I said, "I wouldn't have wished this on him."

"You didn't have to. He chose it himself."

"Who pulls the switch that sends the pain through him if he gets out of line?"

"Each of the nobles has, while he's in office, not only a set of neuristers, but what corresponds to a relay, located within his body cavity. Each of the loyal subjects, on the other hand, has within him a small device corresponding to a transmitter."

Suddenly it dawned on me. "You mean—If, say, some dark night there's a catastrophe like an earthquake or a flood—"

A faint grin crossed the captain's face, and he nodded. "Squires, knights, baronets, barons, viscounts, earls, marquises, dukes, princes, and king—everyone having any authority in the region—suddenly wakes up with a pain in the part of his anatomy that corresponds to the source of the trouble. The king, for instance, is likely to come to at 3:00 a.m. with a peculiar grinding pain in the upper part of the calf of his left leg, whereupon he will jump out of bed shouting, 'Quick! I think another typhoon just hit Bijitoa! Get the disaster crews ready!' The Viscount of Bijitoa, whose whole body is now one living ache, will already be doing everything possible."

"But," I said, "if Sneat has absolute authority, tell me why couldn't he order the neuristers removed?"

"Yes, but here is the real work of genius. A special type of neurister-transmitter responds directly to a triggering impulse from the brain of the king or nobleman who has it. The activating impulse is the thought of evading duty."

"Then what happens?"

"Every neurister in the body is activated. It's like a slow dip in boiling oil.

"It has its compensations," said the captain. "He will have as much authority and respect as he could easily ask for. After the conventional term, a new selection will be held, the neuristers will be removed, he'll have a bonus and a small but steady income. The people will respect him, and whenever he's on the planet he'll have full honors and the courtesy title of 'Your Highness'."

Suddenly I was alert. "They'll call him 'Your Highness'?"

The captain nodded, then smiled and rolled back his sleeve. Above the wrist, his muscular arm was marked with a number of small fine scars. He said, "I know whereof I speak."

A moment later we had said goodnight, and he was gone.

I sat still, aware of the change that had taken place in the ship in the past few days. Once more everything seemed smooth, efficient, and good-natured.

There could be little doubt that the captain knew how to run things.

No wonder.



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