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PART III: And the Others . . . 


Nels Krojac lay flat on his back as the dizziness wore off, the ringing in his ears died away, and the tingling of his hands and feet told of returning circulation. Carefully he sat up, his gaze taking in the wide bed he lay on, the drawers along the walls to left and right, the emergency control console that filled the end wall, and, beside the bed, the communications screens that could put him in touch with any part of the ship by snapping a switch.

He sat at the edge of the bed, and the mirror on the right-hand wall showed him a broad-shouldered man with dark hair, massive chest, and watchful blue eyes, wearing a dark-blue dressing gown with dragon design on the chest. The slightly stubbled face was lean, broad-boned, and hard, and he recognized that face from long familiarity. What he didn't recognize was the pallor of skin and hesitancy of expression as he tested his legs.

Cautiously, he walked the length of the room to the foot of the huge console, then back to the bed and the communications screens, back once more to the console, then to the door on the left wall of the room below the console, and back to the bed to look again in the mirror.

The paleness was fading away. Now he looked like a man who has walked into a glass door, and has just staggered back to his feet. A few seconds consideration told him it would never do to show that face to the universe.

He paced the room, opened the left-hand door, to his private swimming pool, where the water was pale-blue, still, and inviting, but he was afraid to use it. And then the realization that he was afraid struck home. He walked back to the bed and glared angrily in the mirror.

There. Now he looked like himself again.

He snapped on the bedside screen. A long-faced suave-looking individual with lightly-oiled wavy hair took a cigarette from his mouth, put it out in a nearby ash tray, and still exhaling smoke said, "Yes, Mr. Krojac?"

"Reagan, what happened down there yesterday while I was explaining the contract to that gang of feline aliens?"

"They watched every move you made, and they looked at you as if they were trying to drill their way into your head with their eyes. They look so much like tigers anyway, that I had my hand in my pocket, gripping that fusion gun, all the time we were there."

"Did they stare much at you?"

"Just for a few seconds."

"Did they seem to understand the contract?"

Reagan hesitated. "The impression I got was that they knew something was being put over on them, but they didn't know what. Anyway—they agreed to it."

" . . . With the verbal proviso that the written contract must match the verbal explanation."

Reagan shrugged. "That has no legal force."

"Yeah," said Krojac sourly, remembering what had happened a few minutes ago. The dizziness hit him every time he planned to bend the contract terms. "Where do we stand if we do follow the verbal understanding?"

Reagan looked jarred, as if someone had suggested that he rob his mother.

"Well, we . . . I certainly wouldn't recommend that."

"We'd lose money on the deal?"

"It's worse than that. We're at the crux of a pyramiding of credit. We've got enormous assets and enormous debts. So long as the assets are part of a functioning concern, they're worth more than the debts. Split up and sold piecemeal for cash, they wouldn't cover half the indebtedness. We've had to go this far in debt to get a strategic position in this end of space."

Krojac nodded. "Otherwise, Reed & Osborne would have moved in."

"Exactly. Now, Reed & Osborne is conservative in their financing. To have blocked us directly would have required heavy risks. That company prefers to let us take the risks, and reach an agreement with us later if we succeed, or buy our depreciated assets if we fail. Reed & Osborne's position is solid in the settled regions. It can afford to move in here just fast enough to force us to extend ourselves, or accept a permanent second-class position."

"Yes," said Krojac. That, he thought, was always the way it was. To try for safety meant that others took the big risks—and some of those others succeeded, and got the big gains. They were the first-rates, and with their resulting big assets, they could grip the central positions, and dominate the scene with ease. And, he told himself, the only way to break that dominance was to have big enough assets yourself to take big risks and make big gains, and in turn secure a dominant position. But since those already dominant would so cramp you that you could never acquire big assets, what was there to do but plan your move, and then borrow the assets to carry it out? In which case, if you made one bad slip, the whole house of cards folded up.

On the screen, Reagan shrugged. "We've done very well until now. We've got our foundation solidly laid. We've got the properties and some of the necessary contracts for development and future use. But we're stretched to the limit. The first loans are now coming due. We're going to be watched very carefully. If we pay those loans on time, then we'll have no trouble with future loans. But, if we fail to pay those loans, the word will go around that we're in trouble. God help us then."

Krojac nodded soberly. Here was the clinch. It was one thing to see the opportunity, conceive a plan, and carry the plan as far as ordinary luck, energy, thought, and determination would carry it. It was another thing to have that plan reach the point where it should just start to bear fruit, and then see it pile into a stone wall.

"How far's our work behind schedule, down on the planet?"

"Just three days. But when those colonists start coming through here, we've got to have the facilities ready. Otherwise, instead of pay, we're going to get a penalty. Either pay, or penalty, is figured per head, and the numbers passing through here will be enormous."

Krojac thought it over. The main new colonization route through this sector passed nearby before branching, and that had seemed to be his opportunity. What he needed was a quick return that would pay off immediate debts. Colonists outbound on the longer government routes were given a chance to rest and make up deficiencies in their equipment before the final stage of the trip. The government would gladly pay a private enterpriser who would supply the rest-and-refit facilities.

* * *

Krojac had known an Earth-type planet ideally situated, and occupied only by monster carnivores and herbivores, and a kind of big-boned tiger-like creature with no visible technology, civilization, or other accomplishments. All he had to do was to get the refit contract, and he could build on this planet, and have a sure source of cash income. He decided to do it.

The first shock had come when the government put the refit contract up for bids, and Reed & Osborne publicly announced its intention of bidding.

"Now what?" Krojac demanded.

Reagan shook his head. "I'm afraid their move is obvious."

"Bid at just what they think it will cost?"

"Right. Then whether they get it or not, they won't lose a cent; while if we don't get it, we'll be denied our immediate source of cash. Yet to get it, we'll have to bid below cost. The result will be that we'll be driven to the wall. And when we fold up, Reed & Osborne will buy us out cheap, for an enormous overall profit."

Krojac tested the logic of it. It fit like a sharp knife between the ribs. "There's just one thing. This is a long-term contract."

"Yes. They can't plan on renegotiating it every year or two."

"That means they'll have to figure planetary rights over a long period. After they've sold them out, they'll still have expenses. If we should live through this, they don't want a drawn-out drain on their resources."

"Hm-m-m, that's right. Let's get Sheaster's opinion on this."

A moment later, a shrewd face looked at them from the screen. "Sure, when you take a government R and R Contract, you get full planetary settlement rights. That's thrown in free. It doesn't cost the government a cent. Yes, if you've got space left over, and you always have lots of it, you can sell homesteads to the settlers, and the government will pay you the settlers' outbound shipping cost." Sheaster's eyes narrowed. "But wait a minute, now. You can't extrapolate the short-term gains onto a long-term basis. What happens is, you get a fast flow of cash while the nearby land is used up, then you run into expenses. You've got to deliver the settler fairly close to the homestead. You've got to lay out a system for the homestead boundaries. You've got to make the first year's supplies available. You run into diminishing returns pretty fast when you start shuttling them over mountain ranges against gravity, and hauling out supplies. It turns into a mass of details, and whether a river flows north or south can make all the difference."

"How's Reed & Osborne going to figure it?"

"The same way, only more so. They don't want it. They just want to saw off the limb we're climbing on."

"We'll be safe to figure they won't bid below their idea of average long-term cost?"

Sheaster thought it over. "Yes. But you think we can cut under their bid, count on short-term sales to settlers, and have cash from the government? Sure. Later, we'll have a steady drain till the contract runs out, but by then we can cover that from other sources." Sheaster squinted at the screen. "Yes, I think that's it."

Krojac said, "Is there any place we can get in a trap?"

"If we make a wrong guess as to costs, sure. Or if it turns out there's a 'sentient race' on the planet."

"We've got the survey reports. They haven't classified it yet, but there's no sign of that."

"No. But if that happens, we could wind up with the contract and no planet. When there's a 'sentient race,' you have to get their permission."

"The initial recommendation was to classify it A-1 except for the big carnivores on the planet."

Sheaster nodded. "We can't eliminate chance. If we don't do this, we take a bigger risk of failing."

"Just what I think," said Krojac. "O.K., we'll bid slightly below cost."

* * *

And, Krojac thought, sitting on the edge of his bed ten months later, it had worked like a charm, until about six weeks ago. He had won the contract. He'd gotten ready to start work. But then it developed that the chief of the classification unit on the planet thought the planet's tigerlike race was sentient; he also thought it was potentially deadly.

Since the classification chief produced no proof for this belief, the obvious answer was that Reed & Osborne were quietly paying a little something into a hidden account somewhere. The simplest counter was to try to outbid Reed & Osborne, and when that didn't work, to pull every string available to force the local official, whose name was Lindell, to make up his mind.

Lindell, however, did not make up his mind, but instead sent back worried reports of possible future trouble, along with every conceivable kind of proof that the local species was neither sentient nor actually dangerous. These reports, copies of which quickly found their way to Nels Krojac, all but drove him wild. Reed & Osborne, through Lindell, had him in a box.

"All right," said Krojac finally, "there's nothing to do but send the men down there anyway, and fight it out in court afterward. Maybe by then, at least, we'll have the money to pay the fines."

Sheaster nodded. "We might beat him. This is so irrational, it must be he's been bribed."

Reagan said, "He can't actually stop us. His base is set up to fight off the carnivores. But that's all the weapons he's got, except for lightly-armed surveyor-probes."

Krojac nodded. "And his base is far enough away so that's no bother."

"Except," said Sheaster thoughtfully, "there's just one thing."

"Now what?"

"He could call in the Space Force."

Krojac could see the incandescent sparks dance before his eyes. "That's all we'd need."

"Agh," said Reagan, "what's the likelihood of that?"

"With this Lindell," said Sheaster. "I'm not so sure."

There was a silence, then Krojac shrugged.

"What else can we do?"

"The Space Force shoots with guns," said Sheaster. "It's a difference of going bust and getting killed. Maybe you don't care, but I do."

Reagan said, "We don't know he'll call in the Space Force."

Sheaster pursed his lips doubtfully.

Krojac nodded. "Reagan's right. As it stands, we're beat. We've got to force the issue. Meanwhile, in case he does call in the Space Force, we've got to dig up every complication, legal precedent, and argument for delay we can think of. We might make it so complicated the Space Force would think it lacked jurisdiction."

Reagan said thoughtfully, "I've got a nephew on one of those ships—I think he's second-in-command of a patrol squadron. I think he'd see reason."

"If he can get us out of this," said Krojac earnestly, "I'd be grateful, in five figures. You and he can split it any way you want."

Reagan said, "I don't know. It's no use unless he's in the right squadron."

"Maybe we could cut his C.O. in. This thing is worth plenty to me."

"Yeah," said Reagan, "but there're a lot of patrol squadrons out there, and I'm just not sure—"

"Listen," said Sheaster, "go easy about cutting the C.O. in. There's a certain type we don't want to fool with. Let me get it across to you, these boys play with guns."

Krojac said, "What do you think those things are we've got mounted all over the ship. We paid plenty for those."

"Do you have the fire-control apparatus, the combat computers, the disciplined crew—"

"I'm not talking about fighting a war with them."

"I'm glad to hear that, at least. But what I'm saying again is, there's a type we'd better not come up against. Forget about cutting the C.O. in."

"Everybody likes money."

"There's a kind that likes opposition better. They swim against the current. Let's not us make the current they swim against."

"Nuts," said Krojac. "We've got to resist to the limit, and give them every chance to lose their nerve. Obviously, we can't fight the Space Force. But we can drum up so many legal specters and so many complications that maybe we can take the initiative away from them."

Reagan said, "If Lindell calls them in."

"Yes," said Krojac, "if he does. O.K. We put the men down."

Reagan nodded. "I'll take care of it."

* * *

The following day, Lindell called in the Space Force.

Sheaster said worriedly, "This is getting pretty bad. We've got the Midas touch with a reverse twist. Everything we put our hand on turns to dirt."

Reagan was frowning. "I don't know. My nephew is second-in-command of Squadron 2337. The squadron that answered Lindell's call is 2337."

Krojac beamed. "That could be the end of our troubles right here."

"I talked to him . . . just a friendly chat," said Reagan, "and I think he got the picture."

Sheaster said forebodingly, "He's going to bribe the C.O., eh?"

"He's going to try to get him to see reason."

The screen lit up. "Sir, a Lieutenant Colonel Doyle, commanding Squadron 2337, wants to speak to Mr. Krojac."

"Fast work," said Krojac, smiling.

"Hold on," said Reagan. "Hannie hasn't had time to see him yet. This Doyle will just commit himself against us and that will make it harder all around."

Krojac glanced back at the screen. "Tell him I'm busy, and can't speak with him right now."

"Yes, sir." The screen blanked.

A formal message from Doyle of Squadron 2337 promptly arrived, warning that any construction or earth-moving work on Marshak III had been banned, and the Space Force would uphold the ban, using whatever degree of force was necessary.

"Hannie evidently hasn't gotten to him yet," said Reagan.

Krojac glanced at Sheaster. "O.K. Fire your legal broadside."

Sheaster promptly sent out a complex legal document sixty-two pages long.

Lieutenant Colonel Doyle of Squadron 2337 sent back a sharp message reiterating his first warning.

Krojac looked at the two messages. "Something tells me Hannie is never going to convince this boy."

"It certainly doesn't look promising," said Reagan. "Well, do we go ahead with the next step?"

"There's nothing else to do. If we act invincible enough, maybe we'll even convince Doyle."

Reagan called Doyle of Squadron 2337, using a trick screen that showed, in the background, realistic recorded views of a prominent senator and a Space Force general. Reagan bore down heavy with an air of power, and the implied warning that Doyle was seriously endangering his career.

Doyle watched in silence. Shortly after the call, Krojac received a third warning, varying from the previous two only in trivial details of the wording.

Sheaster shook his head. "This boy won't stop. He's coming right through."

Reagan said, "What we've done so far has been like trying to tie him up with rubber bands."

"With enough rubber bands," said Krojac, "we may do it. All right, start calling Doyle. First put on somebody to throw another legal block into him. Then put on . . . let's see . . . Root is good at this. Yes, put Root on to explain to Doyle, in the most reasonable way, why it is we've got to put the men down there. After all, this wasn't our idea. Lindell is forcing our hand. If that doesn't work, hit him with the legal stuff again. Then somewhere in there, we want to get it across that he's got a good spot waiting for him with us if he's reasonable about this. Then dig up the highest-ranking ex-Space Force officer we've got that has any power of persuasion, and have him disagree with Doyle's interpretation of the technicalities. This ex-officer has got to look like he's living in the lap of luxury. See, to give Doyle a little incentive. He made it. So can Doyle."

Sheaster put his head in his hands.

Reagan said hopefully, "Drop by drop, we'll wear him down."

Krojac nodded. "Where's that trideo actress we picked up? We'll put her on next, and in case he doesn't go for that, we'll hit him again with some more legal stuff."

"O.K.," said Reagan. "If we pile it on fast enough, maybe we'll bury him in it."

They promptly put the plan in action.

Doyle disagreed with Krojac's legal specialist, listened patiently to Root, stated the regulations required him to act as he was acting, informed a new legal team that he was acting under regulations, showed no indication that he was eager for a bribe or afraid of Krojac, and listened unimpressed to his "brother Space Force officer." Reagan never got a chance to try the actress on Doyle, because just before she was to go on, word came in that Squadron 2337 was entering a "potential war zone," and would henceforth maintain complete communicator silence.

"'Potential war zone,'" said Sheaster. "That's us. Do you realize that?"

Reagan shook his head. "It looked hopeful for a few seconds now and then, but the fact is he went through that stuff like a fusion beam through an overstretched balloon."

"The trouble is," said Krojac, "it's all been one hundred percent bluff. We don't have anything to fight with." He frowned. "Wait a minute."

"What?" said Reagan.

"We're armed. I'll bet this ship, together with the Star Chaser, mounts more firepower than the whole pipsqueak squadron. What do you bet one of our ships outweighs a dreadnought?"

"Wait a minute, Nels." Reagan said. "We're not going to fight the Space Force. If you're turning pirate, count me out."

"No, no," said Krojac. "Do you think I'm nuts? Who's planning to fight them? But this Doyle must be under pressure by now. He's going on, clinging to regulations, but he's wondering about a lot of things."

"No," said Sheaster. "He's not wondering about anything. He's got his orders, and that's that. He's not wondering."

"He's wondering," said Krojac stubbornly, "and he's uncertain. Meanwhile, we've still got to get this work done. He's going to get here about the time those earth-moving machines get set up. If we just let him go down and block us, we lose the chance to fulfill the contract. Lindell sits on the classification till the last minute, and we're ended. There won't be time to do the job."

"We'll still be alive," said Sheaster.

"Suppose," said Krojac, "this space kid and his popboats find a ship bigger than a dreadnought waiting for them, its big fusion guns already centered on them, and another big ship just coming up over the curve of the planet—then what?"

Reagan suggested. "They'll try to contact us."

"We won't answer. What can they do?"

Reagan frowned. "Not being a Space Force colonel, I don't know. They might think it was too dangerous to force the issue."

Sheaster put one hand over his eyes, turned away, then turned back with a sudden thrust of the hand to the side. "Look. Let me try again. There are different kinds of people. There is one kind that when you pull a gun on him, you better be ready to shoot him."

"Who's 'pulling a gun'?" said Krojac hotly. "Our guns are already there. We've got a legal right to move them around however we feel like it. Look, this Doyle is already up against a lot of pressure. We'll give him an excuse to not interfere. This Doyle is a military man, and military men respect guns."

Sheaster shook his head gloomily.

Reagan scowled. "It sounds as if it might work. But there's something about the way Doyle has acted so far—"

"All right," said Krojac. "What can we do if we don't do this?"

"That's a point," said Reagan slowly. "O.K. We'll try to scare them off."

* * *

Krojac's larger ship, the Empire, was ready when Squadron 2337 appeared off the planet Marshak III. The Empire held the ships of Squadron 2337 in the automatic sights of her guns, and replied to no calls. Slowly and ominously, Krojac's other ship, the Star Cruiser, rose up over the curve of the planet.

Squadron 2337 lit up like a mountain range of erupting volcanoes. Two of the squadron's ships streaked off at wide angles. Suddenly, a series of thuds jarred the Empire.

The first officer appeared on Nels Krojac's screen.

"Sir, the Space Force ships have put our guns out of action, and implanted heavy missiles in the ship."

"Implanted—what does that mean?"

"They've got missiles they can slam right through an unarmored hull. These smash through into the guts of the ship, and go off in a set time-interval unless the missile officer shuts off the timing device. We've just been warned these missiles will go off in ten minutes. There's a Space Force colonel on the screen talking to the captain now."

Krojac could feel his head spin. "I'll talk to him."

Krojac used on Doyle every device of word and manner to force some slight concession, or at least to gain a little time.

Doyle refused to yield an inch.

Krojac's captains surrendered their ships.

The ships were boarded and methodically searched, including Krojac's private quarters.

* * *

"Well," said Sheaster, "now do you say he'll run away? I tell you, you don't bribe this kind and you don't scare him. Pull a gun on him, and you better shoot it."

"Are we dead?" said Krojac. "How could we know what he'd do without trying it? My ships surrendered to him—so what? The only charge he has against us is that we 'behaved in a menacing way,' or some such thing. I never said we were going to fight him."

"But where are we now?" said Sheaster.

"In a tough spot. Well, we'd have been in just as tough a spot if we'd said, 'Yes, sir,' when the first order came in. I don't aim to fold up just because somebody gives a threat. If they're going to fold me up, they're going to have to do the work. I won't do it for them."

Reagan said, "What about the work crews on the planet? Do we call them back up?"

"No. Have them go ahead."


"But what? That's what this is all about, isn't it? Doyle stops here and the work crews go ahead, we win."

"With all the power Doyle has on tap—"

"It isn't enough that he's got the power. He's got to use it."

Reagan looked dazed. "The work crews go ahead?"

"That's right. No delay."

Reagan sent down the order.

The work crews promptly started out with their earth-moving machines.

Doyle with equal promptness set down a troop transport, and armed men blocked the earth-moving machines.

Krojac's tough work-crew chiefs obeyed orders and drove straight at the troops, ignoring commands to stop.

Doyle's troops fired warning shots over their heads.

Krojac's men ignored the warning and slammed straight ahead.

Doyle's troops lowered their guns, and opened fire on the machines themselves. Then, and only then, was Krojac stopped.

"All right," he said, "they've stopped us. But never forget. They did it. We didn't. We have nothing to be ashamed of. If you do your best, that's good enough."

"Nevertheless, we're stopped," said Reagan.

"O.K., but if I get licked, I want the other side to carry a few memories away. Now, what we've got to do is to find some way out. What's going to happen here? What's the setup? Is Doyle bought? Did Reed & Osborne get to him?"

"No," said Sheaster. "I keep trying to tell you, you don't buy that kind. They aren't for sale."

"Even with what Reed & Osborne have got?"

"Not if Reed & Osborne had ten times as much."

Krojac frowned. "But they've got Lindell?"

"That I don't know. I thought so. Now I don't know. That he called Doyle in so fast doesn't exactly fit. Well . . .  who knows? Maybe he's honest."

Krojac said exasperatedly, "How do you deal with honest men? You can't predict what they're going to do." He thought a minute. "All right, we'll train more work crews, and put the ships to work improvising more equipment. If Doyle and Lindell are honest, anything might happen."

The screen came on. "Sir, we've just got word there's an advanced linguistics computer, the LC-10,000, already on its way. It should get here tomorrow."

"What's the object of that?"

"If the locals have a complex language, then Lindell can rule that there's an anomalous situation here that needs further study—in that the natives have some advanced characteristics and some primitive characteristics. Then he can put the planet in the 'Unclassified' category and delay exploitation of it."

"Well, that fits. Let me know if anything more comes in."

"Yes, sir."

"Well," said Krojac, "that's a nice, neat trap. That could really string the thing out."

Reagan scowled. "What do they do if this computer doesn't cooperate?"

Krojac shook his head. "We'll go nuts trying to figure this out. How do you bribe a computer? Forget it. Get going on the work crews."

The next day, the situation took a series of twists none of them would have thought possible.

First, the infallible computer announced that the "speech" of the natives was nothing more than "simple repetitive syllables." This knocked the props out from under Lindell.

Second, the Space Force colonel, Doyle, walked over to a group of natives and succeeded in getting them to understand him.

Third, Lindell, himself stupefied by this development, let it be known that the natives appeared to communicate by "visual telepathy," by which he meant that they were able to transfer mental pictures to each other's minds, and had actually been able, though it was evidently a strain, to "talk" this way with humans. Lindell could now put the planet in the Unclassified category, and there was no predicting when it would get out of that category.

Fourth, the natives, communicating with Lindell, let it be known that they were agreeable to having the rest-and-refit center on the planet, providing they negotiated directly with the center's head man—who was Krojac.

Fifth, Krojac, gathering himself together after these jolts and surprises, went down to the planet and drove a bargain with the natives, who agreed to a reasonable rent, but flatly refused to allow permanent human settlement on the planet. Krojac, resorting to every subterfuge he could think of, managed to get the contract officially signed, with two tricky clauses in it.

Sixth, having got back up to his ship, Krojac began to plan how to use these clauses. At once, his ears began to ring, his hands and feet went numb, and everything went black.

The first time this happened, Krojac gave it up for a while. But he tried again. And again. With the same results.

The next day, Krojac tried once more. The same thing happened. He called Doyle on the screen, and Doyle was interested, but had no answer. Krojac decided he had enough delay, and went to work to plan in earnest exactly what to do. When the dizziness came, he didn't stop.

This time, the effect was brutally powerful. It was after that, that Krojac paced the floor, unwilling to let his followers see his pale shaken facial expression. And it was then that he got Reagan on the screen to go over what had happened the day before.

Finally, Reagan, who still knew nothing of Krojac's dizziness, said, "But look, Nels, you've saved the situation with that contract. The cats may not like it, but that's not our worry. If they stop the colonists, we can get the Space Force in on our side."

"There's a little catch." Krojac explained what had happened.

Reagan stared at him. "Then we're stopped again?"

"It looks like it. I can't even think of letting those clauses be invoked, or it hits me."

Reagan shook his head. "Then we're still in the same position as before. What is it—a jinx?"

"I don't know. But we've got to do something. Listen, I'll call you back in a little while. I've got to think."

Krojac shut off the screen. For a moment, he found himself struggling with a host of doubts. Had he made the move too soon? Wasn't he just a second-rate trying to puff himself up into a first-rate? Who was he to head the enterprise? Did he have, for instance, Reagan's financial know-how, or Sheaster's knowledge of people?

But the answers were right there. He had to move. It was now or never, because Reed & Osborne was moving in by calculated stages. As for whether he was first- or second-rate, he didn't have to think about that. The situation would answer that question. Any time he spent stewing over it would only influence the answer in the wrong direction. It was true that Reagan knew more about money, and Sheaster knew more about people—look how Sheaster had foreseen Doyle's reactions—but Krojac couldn't picture either of them at the head of the business.

Frowning, he wandered around the room as thoughts passed into and out of his field of consciousness. He thought about Sheaster, Doyle, Reed & Osborne, the creatures down on the planet, Reagan, the loans coming due, the colonists who would soon pass through here in a growing stream, and by some process of association, he was thinking of Sheaster's tycoon father, J. Harrison Sheaster.

"That kid of mine," the elder Sheaster had growled, "could make a hundred billion if he wanted to, but instead he thinks about higher things: The Law. But if that's what he's so interested in, I can't change it. The rule in business is—Get people what they want. That means you've first got to find out what they want, and second, find somebody to supply it. That's basic. Well, if the kid doesn't want it, isn't interested, I might as well save my breath. People think it's genius or will-power when somebody blasts his way to the top. They can't see that underneath it all, it's interest. Interest comes first."

The old man smiled. "You look interested. You know what's the best situation in business? When you find two separated sets of people, and each is interested in what the other can supply. Now, that's compound interest. You want to think about these things. The simple truths stand up when the hurricane sweeps away the fancy techniques. There are people who stand for the techniques, and people who stand for the basic truths. Without the first, you're in trouble. Without the second, you've got no foundation, nothing to tie to, and get swept along in the current. That's why sometimes the top people don't seem as slick as the people working for them. Think it over. Maybe someday you'll need this."

Now, in the big room with the huge control console at one end. Nels Krojac stood perfectly still, saw why he was running the business, and saw what his job had to be if they were going to win. Sheaster had used every legal technique to save them. Reagan had extended the financial techniques to the limit. Now he, Krojac, had to work on the basic elements of the situation. The words "trade," "interest," and "compound interest" occurred to him, and he began to analyze the situation.

Later that day, in one of the ship's powerful tenders, Krojac headed for the nearest subspace jump point that would take him far from Marshak III and its tiger-like inhabitants. At intervals along the trip, in and out of subspace, he tried to think of using the two misleading clauses of the contract. Each time, he felt dizzy, heard his ears begin to ring, and his vision fade. Each time, he stopped, and the symptoms slowly faded away. Finally he was satisfied. "It's built-in. Distance doesn't affect it. Now for the tricky part."

As soon as he got back, Krojac sent Reagan down to set up a meeting with the natives. Then, prayerfully, since everything was now balanced on the brink of disaster, Krojac went down himself.

That same day, the natives changed their stand.

Human settlers could move into Marshak III, but they could settle only in a large region convenient to the rest-and-refit base. This was exactly where Krojac needed them to make his immediate profit. He came back up to the ship exhausted but triumphant. Reagan and Sheaster looked at him with awe.

"That's just in time," said Reagan. "A couple days later and we'd have been finished. In fact, right this minute I can hear the corks popping and the champagne fizzing at Reed & Osborne."

Krojac sank into a chair. "The news will taste like vinegar."

Sheaster stared at Krojac. "You remind me of my father. They had him finished half-a-dozen times. But it never took. Each time, the ground moved around under their feet, and when it got through moving, he was in the clear."

"How," Reagan demanded, "did you ever persuade the locals to allow settlement?"

"I convinced them they could buy the land back later. This is a rest-and-refit center, and anyone can go farther out if he pays his fare to the government. Well, if the locals offer a settler enough, it's worth his while to move. Most settlers are convinced it's better farther on anyway."

"But wait a minute," said Reagan, scowling. "Where do the locals get this money? Their rent for the R and R site isn't going to cover it. Do we have to pay them some big—"

"We don't pay them anything. They pay their own way."

"What with? They've got no technology, no skills, no—"

"No skills?" said Krojac. He tossed across a sheaf of handwritten papers headed:


Marshak Contract Guaranty Corporation

Nels Krojac, Honorary President
Erkbat N. W. Marshak, President and
Chairman of the Board

Motto: When we enforce it, they don't break it

Moderate fees
Offices on principal planets

Sheaster snorted. "Any contract can be broken—or bent into a pretzel. Then it's up to the courts—" He paused in mid-sentence and stared at Krojac.

Reagan was saying. " 'Erkbat N. W. Marshak.' Who's that?"

"A big thing like a tiger that looks into your eyes, and when you say you mean what you say you mean, he just gives a little nod, and you better mean it, because any time you plan to get around it by some clever stunt, your hands and feet go numb, your ears ring, your head swims, and everything goes black."

Sheaster whistled, and a look of amazed respect crossed his face.

Reagan stared into space. "A thing like that could make quite a simplification."

Sheaster looked at Krojac. "This was your idea, or theirs?"

"Mine. It's theirs now. I sold it to them, in return for permission to settle the territory in convenient reach of the base."

Sheaster said dizzily, "So that gives them a source of income, with which they can buy back the homesteads that they now let us sell, so that we, in turn, have the money to pay the loans now due?"

"That's it."

Reagan said, "That puts us over the hump."

Sheaster said in admiration. "A stroke of pure genius."

Krojac shook his head. "The locals were interested in what I had to offer, and I was interested in what they had to offer." He looked at Sheaster. "Your father had a name for that."

Sheaster nodded. "He had names for a lot of things. I still call it genius."

Krojac was positive. "It wasn't."

"What was it, then?"

"Compound interest," said Krojac.

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