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Colonel Valentine Sanders of the Interstellar Patrol had just emerged from a session with the simulator when the call came. Against this opponent, the colonel always lost. Scarcely anyone was able to hold the simulator to a draw until the preset time was up. Nearly always, sooner or later, it found some weakness in the man, and by means of the weakness, beat him. This time, the colonel had wasted a precious fraction of a second congratulating himself on his performance, and that fraction of a second, once wasted, was the margin by which he lost. Now, seeing it all clearly, the colonel was in an angry frame of mind as the call buzzer sounded.

"Code number," demanded the colonel.

On the gray bulkhead opposite, the numeral "4" appeared.

The colonel frowned. "Go ahead."

The gray bulkhead vanished, to show a strongly built man with piercing blue eyes, seated at a desk facing him.

"We have a little problem, Val."

The colonel's expression was alert. "This business with the Space Force?"

"No, that will work out however it works out. If they open fire, we'll fuse a few turrets, to get it across that Imperial Trasimere will stand for no nonsense. Right this minute, we're beaming our recognition signal at them, and this new recruit's ship is giving Larssen enough hints so that even a Space Force general ought to catch on."

"Larssen has high-grade steel between the ears."

"Can't be helped. He's Space Force."

"How did we get in this spot?"

"As nearly as I can figure it out, it started when the main gravitor went haywire on one of Interstellar Rapid Transport's fast freights. The nearest repair facility seemed to be on Boschock III, so they headed there for help."

"Ouch," said the colonel.

"Exactly. They discovered that the settled part of the planet was nothing but a gigantic slum, run by a computer."

"What did they do?"

"We'd like to know. Whatever they did led the planetary computer to divert effort from maintenance and rebuild the repair facility to help them."

"Quite a feat."

"Wasn't it? Since, at that time, we had nothing but a set of out-phased watch satellites observing the planet, we don't know just what they did. But of course, after they left, we watched them, and the watch quickly boiled down to a surveillance of three men—Roberts, the captain; Hammell, the cargo-control officer; and Morrissey, the communications officer. These three took their accumulated leave, and started looking around for a ship to go back to Boschock III."

"So they could perfect what they'd used there before?"

"Why else would anyone go back to that place?"

"Hm-m-m. So then we found out what they were using before they got back?"

"We did not. We sent an 'I'-class crew after them. As usual, we were short-handed, but that should have been enough. However, these three men are tough, and secretive. There wasn't anything to be found. Then Roberts, the captain, latched onto a 'J'-class ship planted in a salvage cluster. It rejected the other two men, but accepted him."

"Complicates the issue."

"Yes. Now we were up against our own stuff. SymComp was perfectly happy, of course, since it could follow what was happening through this J-ship's own symbiotic computer. But where did that leave us? Roberts, of course, merely thought he'd bought a good ship at a comparative bargain price. We couldn't contact him because that would wreck his trial period. Meanwhile, on this end, SymComp was perfectly bland and uninformative. Doubtless Link knew what was going on, but we weren't informed from there, either."

The colonel said curiously, "What happened when these three men got back to Boschock—or Paradise, as they call the miserable hole?"

"What happened? Well, while they'd been gone, the inhabitants had split up into warring factions. When they came back, Roberts presented himself as their liege-lord, Vaughan, Duke of Trasimere—and they accepted him."

The colonel looked startled.

"And that's the ultimate cause for this masquerade we're carrying out right now?"

"That's just the barest suggestion of it. Next, there was a war between Duke Vaughan, and a sorcerer called 'Oggbad.' Where Oggbad came from, we have no idea. But there's some ferocious wild life on that planet, and the wild life cooperated by attacking the city in support of Oggbad."


"Naturally, the inhabitants suspended their differences to protect themselves against Oggbad. That temporarily ended the factional strife amongst the inhabitants. But you see the significance of all this?"

"Sure. Roberts and the others must have developed an emotional-field generator and learned to use it. It must be big and powerful, too."

"Exactly. And with that, if they choose, they could carve out quite an empire. But they don't seem to be doing that. Instead, as nearly as we can judge, they're trying to straighten out the mess on Boschock III. Now, in brief, that's what brings us here, and if Larssen doesn't run wild on us, we should have them on board shortly, and start to figure this business out."

"Wait, now. With their own E-G, aren't we taking a certain risk in bringing them aboard?"

"If they had with them one of the power that they used on the planet, sure. But Ahrens tells me that's impossible. Anything they've got on their ship, we can beat down. He'll pour on the power as soon as they're in range, and reel them in so dewy-eyed and overcome to be members of the Interstellar Patrol that they'll hand their plans over voluntarily, and be grateful to do it, at that."

The colonel frowned, then shrugged. "Well, that gives a clearer picture of that part anyway. But, that's not what you called about, is it?"

"No. We're already doing about all we can there. This other business is unrelated, except that it adds to the strain. It's nothing of our choosing."

The colonel smiled. "You don't mean the Space Force is calling on us for 'interservice cooperation'?"

"Not the Space Force—PDA."

The colonel's smile faded. "When Planetary Development admits it needs help, it is in a mess. What's got them by the throat this time?"

"Nothing serious. Just two dozen petty kings and princes."

The colonel frowned. "Two dozen petty—"

"You see, PDA is opening up new regions for colonization. Since travel by colonization ship is not the best possible preparation for the rigors of life on a new planet, PDA likes to give the colonists a chance to recover, and to finish their fitting out, at a Rest & Refit Center, before the final stage to the colony planet. It generally works out that if the R & R Center is on an Earth-type planet, it simplifies things for everyone. PDA has found exactly one Earth-type planet that's ideally situated as a site for an R & R Center. This planet is already settled by an intelligent life form so human in appearance that, for all practical purposes, you might as well say there's no difference."

"So PDA has to get the approval of these people before they can put their Rest & Refit Center on the planet."

"Exactly. And that's where the fun starts. This place is backward. Each pipsqueak nation on the planet is run by a petty monarch of some kind. A few of these local princes do their jobs. But the bulk of them spend their time popping grapes into their mouths, spurring on the recruiting teams for the harem, and figuring out how to wring more taxes out of their subjects."

The colonel thought a moment, then shrugged.

"Then the people should happily vote the princes out of office. Let PDA run the Space Force in there, to cover them while they explain the principle of the vote, and, in no time at all, they'll have the approval of the populace." The colonel leaned back, and clasped his hands around his knee. "That solves the problem."

The figure on the screen smiled sourly, and held up between finger and thumb a small message spool. "This is a record of the story as I got it from PDA. What's on this spool explained the thing to me, and it will explain it to you just as well. Then you can figure out the solution for yourself."

The colonel sat up. "Wait a minute. Then I can—"

"Obviously someone has to handle this mess. And SymComp has made its choice. The problem is all yours."

The wall screen faded out.

Across the room, the "incoming message" lid of a pneumatic chute snapped open. A shiny metal cylinder popped part way out, opened up, and dumped its cargo.

With a clang, the message spool dropped into the tray.




The colonel stared at the spool for a moment, then gave a short bark of a laugh, scooped the spool up, and went out the hatch-type door. A brisk walk down a corridor brought him to an unmarked hatch that gave way at the pressure of his hand. He stepped into a small neat room, one wall of which was lined with books, while another wall bristled with a formidable array of weapons. A small viewer sat on a stand by the desk at the foot of his cot. The colonel shut and locked the hatch, then snapped the spool into the viewer, spun the chair around, and sat down.

He was at once presented with a view of a desk, behind which was seated a fussy-looking individual in a state of considerable nervous tension. On the desk was a nameplate reading, "R. Halstead, Senior Administrator." On the desk were three viewers, several racks of spools, and a pile of reports. A small side table held an ash tray heaped with cigarette butts, a half-empty glass of water, and a small pill bottle with the cap off.

The administrator cleared his throat self-consciously.

"Ah . . . I have been assured by my superiors that it will be within the normal canons of proper procedure to apply through channels to determine the availability of . . . ah . . .  interservice assistance regarding a matter of some consequence to the . . . the fullest settlement by humanity of the available interstellar territory consonant with equitable treatment of less-favored inhabitants of the planets in question."

The colonel listened intently. With all this jargon, the administrator must have something to hide. He went on:

"The situation is of more than normal urgency, having been the subject of many exhaustive studies by the foremost authorities in the relevant fields of supply factors and trans-solar jurisprudence . . ."

The colonel waited out a lengthy statement designed to show how much work PDA had done. Then came a complex justification of PDA procedures, which the colonel listened to closely, since he had no idea what esoteric point they might be hung up on now.

In due time there emerged the sentence, " . . . Since, of course, due consideration must be assured for the established customs of the indigenous sentient populace, it would obviously be intrusive and autocratic to force upon them our conception of representative government; a more enlightened policy requires that no such intrusion be tolerated; the existing allocation of administrative authority must be regarded as uniquely suited to the conditions obtaining at the moment amongst the populace; and hence their leaders, whatever the outward apparent form of their government, must be regarded as the duly-chosen representatives of the people . . ."

The colonel hit the replay button. He went over this section until he was satisfied that he knew what it meant: Regardless of circumstances, whoever was in charge when PDA got there, that was who PDA dealt with. In this case, that meant two dozen wrangling petty princes.

The administrator went on, "We find it most unfortunate that these Planetary Representatives, by a vote of eighteen to six, have chosen to reject the building of a Rest & Refit Center on the planet. There is no other suitable planet for this facility. Obviously, we can't send colonists into this region without proper preparation; and yet, to be true to our own principles, we can't force the local princes to accept the R & R Center. Any administrator who did choose to do that would be removed by higher authority. We can't permit any outsider to use force against them, either. They are our responsibility. We must lead them, not force them. Yet we must have this Rest & Refit Center. Hence we've had no choice but to put the Center out to contract, on the assumption that the contractor will persuade the People's Representatives of the advantages of accepting the Center. Unfortunately, no contractor has felt confident enough to submit a bid."

The administrator now projected three-dimensional views of the planet's location, and its single inhabited continent, showing the rocky, reef-bound coastline, primitive cities, loosely connected by the wandering network of local roads, and fertile river valleys given over to a checkerboard of tiny plots. Then came a view of the people in one of the cities, wrapped in white robes and jostling one another as they streamed across the baked-mud plaza, to hastily jump back as a gilded coach drawn by four weasel-headed animals rushed around the corner. Through the open windows of this coach could be seen an immensely fat individual wrapped in gold and orange cloth. The people, taken by surprise, were a little slow to get out of the way, and a petulant face bellowed orders out the window. The coachman lashed out right and left with a long whip. After the coach passed, the people fell on the ground to kiss the dirt where it had gone by.

The scene vanished, and the administrator said, "We've done our best to find some solution, but unfortunately we haven't succeeded. There seems to be no way to proceed, but the R & R Center is vital. Any assistance you can give us will be deeply appreciated. The remainder of the spool contains a statistical summary of conditions on the planet, for your information."

The colonel skimmed through the summary, then turned to a dial on the blank wall against which his desk rested. He tapped out a call number, then his own identification code. A moment later, the wall seemed to vanish, and he was looking at the same strongly built, sharp-eyed man who had given him the assignment, and who now smiled at his expression.

"How do you like it?"

"It's an interesting problem," said the colonel. "As I understand it, it boils down to the fact that PDA has got to have a rest center on this planet, can't get it without interfering locally, and yet its own rules forbid it to interfere locally, since there's a sentient race on the planet."

"Worse yet, PDA can't let anyone else go down there and use force, bribery, or any of the obvious ways to get these princes to change their minds. If it weren't for that, some contractor would have turned the planetary politics inside out, and the R & R Center would be built by now. But the rules are ironclad, even if the result is stupid. And there are watchdog committees to look for any break in observance of the rules. What unavoidably has to be done here is to get results that are just, but possibly—considering only the letter of the law—illegal. PDA isn't set up for that. That's in our department."

"How much help can I count on for this?"

"Anything you want . . . in the line of full departmental aid, equipment, supplies, any free ship you'd like—"

"I was thinking of personnel."

"Well—You know what that situation's like."


"We're recruiting by every means we can think of, and we're still short-handed. There isn't much we can do about it. Lowering standards certainly won't help." He shook his head. "You can have anyone available. But there are none too many available."

The colonel thought a moment. "Anyone not already assigned, I can use? Anyone?"


"O.K. I'll get right at it."

"Good luck."

As the scene faded from the wall, the colonel sat back, his eyes narrowed, and then he sat up and his fingers flashed over the dial. The wall remained blank, but a voice said briskly, "Personnel Monitor."

"The day before yesterday, I administered the oath to a Candidate Dan Bergen, inducting him as a Recruit. I then sent him for routine orientation, and clothing and equipment issue. Where is he now?"

"One moment . . .  Recruit Bergen is at this moment arguing with the Quartermaster Assistant regarding the fit of a pair of uniform trousers."

"Then no one has claimed him for any assignment?"

"No. He is only a recruit."

"O.K. Thanks." Rapidly, he punched out a new call. A voice replied, "Project Monitor."

"Any current project with the designation, 'Operation New Vote'?"

"Spell this, please."

The colonel spelled it.

"One moment . . . No. Additionally, we find no past such designation recorded."

"Thanks. Put me through direct to the project controller."

The wall lit up to show a tough-looking individual with sandy hair and an alert watchful expression. "Hello, Val. What can I do for you?"

"I want to register the project-designation, 'Operation New Vote.' I've already checked with monitor."

"O.K. That part's easy."

"For personnel, I'm assigning, first, Recruit Dan Bergen—"

The project controller squinted. "Wait a minute, now. I know what the personnel situation is, of course, but—a recruit?"

"This one we got out of a Space Force guardhouse. The boy is rugged, did splendidly on his physical and attitude tests, is smart and mentally alert—very fine material, and I believe this operation, while not subjecting him to any particular danger, will give him a splendid opportunity to gain an insight into how we operate, and should . . . hm-m-m . . .  motivate him excellently for his more formal training when he returns."

"We just want to be sure he does return. Every qualified man we can lay our hands on is worth a basket of diamonds. What is this excursion you're taking him on?"

The colonel briefly described the situation on the planet.

"Hm-m-m," said the project controller. "Why not take a battery of emotional-field generators, and wrench these princes around to the right viewpoint?"

"PDA is duty-bound to watch this planet like a hawk. What happens when all these petty despots suddenly get cooperative? Sure, we've solved the problem for PDA; but we've also presented them a piece of information that's none of their business."

"Yes—They might deduce the existence of the E-G. Hm-m-m . . . and if you provide some logical reason for the princes' change of heart, that logical reason will doubtless fall under the heading of 'bribery,' 'compulsion,' or something else PDA can't allow."

"Right," the colonel said bluntly.

"You're going to have to be kind of subtle on this one."


"All right. I'm going to recommend that this recruit be assigned to Operation New Vote. I'll put him on the personnel list provisionally, until we see whether Personnel melts its coils over this one. Who else do you want?"

"Recruits Roberts, Hammell, and Morrissey."

The project controller shook his head. "I suppose if this isn't too dangerous for one recruit, then in theory, it's not too dangerous for four. But you need some sprinkling of trained men. One recruit is one thing. Four of them is something else again. I'm afraid I'll have to—"

The colonel spoke quickly. "Well, I agree, if these were ordinary recruits, but these are very exceptional men, who—"

"All our recruits are exceptional men. They're hard to get. That's why we can't have them shot to pieces because they weren't trained in the first place."

"I mean, seasoned men. These are all . . . that is, the captain—"

"What captain?"

The colonel realized that he had come close to letting the cat out of the bag. He started over. "I mean, these men have their own J-ship."

"Ah? You mean, they're all ship-selected?"

There was the catch. If he admitted to the project controller that two of these men had failed to pass the scrutiny of the J-class ship, and had apparently been admitted only on Roberts' say-so, the project controller would naturally decline to let them go along. The colonel said, "What I mean to say is that the captain of the J-ship was formerly captain of a fast transport, which involves plenty of responsibility. He's not likely to be green or rash."

The project controller looked impressed. "What about the other two?"

"They were his cargo-control officer, and his communications officer, on board the transport. His personal selections, apparently. Too bad we can't get more recruits to bring in recruits. It might solve our problem, or ease it anyway."

"Yes—Well, I'm sure Personnel has thought of—"

While the project controller was momentarily distracted with this line of thought, the colonel added, "Anyway, it seems as if they should be reasonably stable men."

"True enough." The tough face frowned, as if in partial awareness of something wrong. Then the controller shrugged. "The main point is, we don't have four unseasoned or suggestible recruits. O.K., who else are you taking?"

"I'll have to check with Personnel to see who's available. I wanted to get these men assigned before anyone grabbed them."

"What about ship and equipment?"

"I'm going to have to study this information to get a preliminary plan. First I wanted to be sure that when I had a plan, I would have somebody to carry it out."

"O.K. I'm definitely assigning the J-crew as a unit. I'm tentatively assigning Recruit Bergen. How's that?"

"Fine. That's a load off my mind."

"I hope this personnel shortage eases up pretty soon. Well, let me know when you have your ship and equipment lined up."

"I will. Thanks."

The wall went blank, and the colonel wiped a fine beading of perspiration from his brow and punched another call number. A voice promptly replied, "Personnel Monitor."

"I'd like to know what personnel are available for assignment."

"One moment . . . No personnel below the equivalent grade of colonel are currently on the Available List. There is a Colonel Valentine—"

"I'm Colonel Valentine."

"Then this is of no assistance."

"Correct. What about new recruits?"

"Only one new recruit is available at this location. One moment . . .  This recruit has already been assigned, provisionally, to Operation New Vote."

"How about . . . ah . . . recruits expected to arrive here in the near future?"

"I will check . . . Only three recruits are expected to arrive here in the near future. They are already assigned to Operation New Vote. If you wish to contact the operation commander—"

"Thanks. I'm in charge of that operation."

"Ah. Then that is no help. In summary then, these are the total personnel at this location currently available and unassigned: zero."

"O.K.," said the colonel. "Thanks."

He rapped out another call signal. A new voice replied.

"Ship Operations Monitor."

"Give me a report, please, on the current confrontation between ourselves and the Space Force fleet commanded by General Larssen."

The wall immediately lit, to show, hurtling past against a brilliant backdrop of stars, the rigidly-spaced array of a formidable fleet.

"General Larssen," said the monitor, "has accepted the situation with an ill grace, and is withdrawing under imminent threat of attack by His Royal and Imperial Majesty, Vaughan the First, backed by the massed power of Imperial Trasimere, as symbolized by this dreadnought."

"Mm-m-m," said the colonel, scowling. It was all right to go along with this masquerade, so far as the outside was concerned. But to dish it out to their own people seemed like too much. "And when," said the colonel dryly, "is His Royal and Imperial Majesty due to get here?"

"At any moment."

The colonel came to his feet. "What bay?"

"Center Main Number One."


He was out the hatch and running up the corridor in an instant. If he delayed, Intelligence would grab his men for a prolonged interrogation. It would be all he could do any-way to get Intelligence to settle for a memory simulation. And to do that, he had better be right on the spot when they got here.

He stopped at a door marked in glowing green letters, "Express," pulled it open, jumped into the empty gray shaft within. "Center Main Bay Number One! Emergency! The Chief's business!"

The walls blurred around him.

A cool voice spoke from a slim strip grille running along the length of the shaft.

"Relax your muscles. Physical resistance may create severe pain and bodily injury."

The colonel relaxed, and closed his eyes to shut out the dizzying blur as the walls flashed past. More and more rapidly, his limp body bent and twisted at each curve of the shaft, his movements progressively more forced and violent, as if against his will he were being put through a course of strenuous calisthenics. And then the rapidity and force of these movements mounted until he felt as if he were being shoved through a winding twisting maze at top speed. Yet he felt no sense of forward motion at all. He concentrated on staying relaxed, his attention focused first on the muscles of this limb, then of that, as his body bowed and jerked like a marionette run by a madman.

Then the motions began to slow, and he allowed himself to open his eyes. He had time to remind himself not to use that phrase, "The Chief's business" quite so lightheartedly the next time.

Then the door of the grav shaft opened up and spat him out, the words from the grille reaching him, "Center Main Bay Number One is straight ahead."

He strode swiftly down the broad corridor, through a wide thick double door, and then there stretched out before him a space huge in itself, though small in relation to the size of the ship, in which rows of racks of various sizes stood nearly empty. Here and there a ship, itself of respectable size, nestled in a rack exactly fitted to it, a rack equally well-fitted holding it from above, so that no sudden acceleration or shift in gravitic field could tear the moored ship loose.

All this was familiar to the colonel, and he had also expected the score or so of men, some of them with Intelligence insignia, who stood a little back from the near end of the entrance, waiting. Nevertheless, something unusual in the air led him to look around uneasily.

To his right, in the surveillance shell projecting out beyond the near end of the membrane, half-a-dozen men operated big E-G machines. The men leaned back in their raised seats, guiding the snouts of the machines according to the image of a battered J-class ship on the wall before them, visible almost as clearly as if seen though a sheet of glass. These machines, no doubt, were only a part of Ahrens' overpowering battery of emotional-field generators. The colonel frowned. Just as long as they were overpower-ing. He wasn't eager to find himself in a battle of E-G machines, however weak the other side might be by comparison. Just let Ahrens pop them out of their ship in a wave of devotion and awe, and the colonel would have them on his team before there was time to say "Yes," "No," or "But," and while Intelligence was still choked on its own outrage.

Alertly, he watched the image of the ship move forward, and then, from his viewpoint, it vanished. The E-G operators, receiving slightly different patterns of light from their viewpoints, raised the snouts of their machines an instant later, and threw the main switches to "Off" lest they unintentionally affect their own people. The nearest E-G operator now raised a fluorescent yellow-and-black paddle overhead. An answering wave from behind the rack told of the E-G machines concealed there, taking up the slack.

And that gave the colonel's uneasiness a focus.

Had there been a gap between the coverage of one set of machines and the turning on of the others? And if so, why?

Then the nose of the J-ship appeared through the thick membrane, the membrane close against it at all points, so that no slightest detectable loss of air took place. The gradually appearing J-ship, though obviously battle-worn, blazed in gold and platinum, and now a dazzling set of three coats of arms flashed into view.

The colonel felt an unaccountable sense of awe.

He heard an indrawing of breath from the men waiting in the bay.

The glittering J-ship was now fully inside.

 . . . And now the colonel was stricken with an urge to drop reverently to his knees.




Inside the J-Class Interstellar Patrol ship, Roberts, Hammell, and Morrissey had spent the last hour in that state of nerves induced by having their fate in the hands of others.

First, there had been the question whether Larssen would call their bluff and wipe them out, and then there had been the agonizing question in their minds about this huge dreadnought. But the voice of the symbiotic computer had answered their questions, and the reply from the dreadnought had seemed reassuring, and they had been content enough during the first part of the approach to the dreadnought.

More than content, they had been proud. Proud to serve with the legendary Interstellar Patrol. And more than proud, they had been humble. Humble because they really did not feel that they deserved the honor. And not only had they felt proud, and humble, but also determined. Determined to make the best of their good fortune, and do their best to deserve to be in the Interstellar Patrol. And so far, it was all right. So much emotion might naturally follow from what they had experienced. But then, not only did they feel proud, and humble, and determined, but as they entered the huge port of the dreadnought, they also felt awed, and impressed, and worshipful, and unworthy, and submissive, and obedient, and earnest, and loyal, and apologetic—and when the thing reached a certain pitch, there was an instant of sanity, and Roberts glanced at Hammell, and both men looked at Morrissey, who turned to look at the want-generator, and said, "It's turned off."

Roberts said, "Maybe ours is, but there's one somewhere that isn't."

And before he fell blubbering on the deck in his humility, he managed to shake a supertranquilizer pill out of a small can, crumble it to bits, and swallow some.

A plate of thick glass seemed to descend, cutting him off from the rest of the universe. Outside this plate of thick glass, there was a sense as of mighty forces beating in vain against an unyielding barrier.

Hammell also ate several bits of the pill, and so did Morrissey. Then they looked at each other like so many vegetables nodding in the hot sun, and for a little while they were so stupefied that no ideas at all came. Then Roberts glanced at the outside viewscreen. "We're almost inside the dreadnought."

Hammell said dully, "Not that it matters, but we're in kind of a hole. It's all come about step by step; but how we're going to get out of it—"

Roberts groped for something to say, and then, possibly because he had taken very little of the supertranquilizer, he felt a sudden flare of defiance and spirit.

Moving swiftly, for someone under the influence of the drug, he slipped out of the control seat, ducked under the shiny cylinder that ran down the axis of the ship, and bent to set the want-generator.




The colonel, watching the J-class patrol ship glide fully through the membrane, felt the sense of awe strengthen unbearably. The glittering ship seemed to blaze in glory. His mind, groping for some explanation, was overloaded with sensations. Dazedly, he heard a clear, deep, faintly ironical voice say, "On your knees, gentlemen. It is His Royal and Imperial Majesty, Vaughan the First, our Most Just and Fearless Sovereign."

The colonel knelt, his first thought being wonder at his own hesitation. His second thought comprised a clicking together of these last words and what he had heard before about this ship and its crew. The logical answer sprang into his mind:

They're taking over the dreadnought!

Holding his mind locked on what he had to do, the colonel staggered to his feet.

Directly in front of him, forty feet away beside the glittering J-ship, stood a crowned figure in blazing golden armor.

The wave of awe was almost too much for the colonel, but he managed to stay upright on his feet.

Then he heard a cool voice say dryly, "You shut yours off, and we'll shut ours off."

The meaning came through to him. He sucked in a deep breath and roared, "All E-G batteries! Cut to zero and stand by!"

To the colonel's right, the men staggered to their feet and pulled themselves up into their control seats, their hands near the levers and switches. Their machines were already shut off, but they must obey the order to "Stand by."

A judicious voice called from the J-ship. "It just let up. Shall we shut it off?"

"Shut it off. But stay right with it."

The sudden relaxation of the sense of psychic pressure staggered the colonel. But his mind and body were well exercised, and he recovered his equilibrium quickly, thinking, "So that's what a battle of emotional-field generators is like!" But it seemed obvious which side had the heavier guns, and they obviously had the will to use them, so it looked like a good idea to get this business settled quickly.

Brusquely, he said, "We'd appreciate it, Recruit, if you'd get out of that monkey suit on the double and report for assignment."

A chilly voice replied, "We don't much care to have our emotions tampered with. If this is your standard practice, you can look elsewhere for recruits."

The colonel's original uneasiness at the way this was to be handled returned, and he said in a conciliatory voice, "Whether you realize it or not, people who have just used an emotional-field generator to take over a planet, for whatever reason, and whatever motives, are not so harmless that they can be welcomed into a ship without precautions."

There was a brief silence, then the armored figure turned away.

"We'll be right out."

The colonel appeared to have won. But there was no "sir" at the end of the sentence, and it was evident that the new recruits had suffered an early disenchantment.

Still, they were recruits. And recruits were desperately needed.

Impatiently, the colonel waited for them to come out.




Inside the patrol ship, Roberts, Hammell, and Morrissey glanced at each other doubtfully, then shrugged. They might conceivably fight their way out of the huge ship, but then what? Once outside, the gigantic weapons of the dreadnought could squash them with ease. And, assuming they were able to use the want-generator to immobilize the whole gigantic ship, then make good their escape, which seemed doubtful, they would then be in the position of having acquired for an enemy the Interstellar Patrol. Anyone with any faint experience in the matter would rather be hunted by the Space Force. The Space Force at least had strictly-defined limits on its sphere of action. Possibly the Interstellar Patrol had such limitations, but, if so, no one seemed to know what they were.

Roberts ducked under the shiny cylinder that ran down the axis of the ship, leaned across the control panel, and tapped a button marked "SymComp."

"This dreadnought we're inside of is an Interstellar Patrol ship?"

SymComp replied: "It is."

"And it's still under the control of the Interstellar Patrol?"


"Those people waiting for us outside are members of the Interstellar Patrol?"

"They are."

Roberts straightened up, and glanced at Hammell and Morrissey.

"We might just as well go on out."


The three men got out of their battle armor, made themselves as presentable as they could, and climbed out.

They found themselves at one end of an enormous spaceship hangar, with a spare, strongly built colonel facing them with a look of genuine welcome.

Roberts, keenly aware of everything about him, saw the ships, of various sizes but roughly the same overall shape, held tightly in their cradles. He noticed a large, peculiarly-shaped device at the edge of the door they'd apparently come through; in an upraised control seat, the operator of this device, a faintly punch-drunk expression on his face, was glancing down ruefully toward Roberts. That same punch-drunk expression was on the faces of several other men standing around with various insignia on their uniforms.

The insignia and the uniforms themselves caught Roberts' attention. The colonel's insignia of rank was the usual Space Force eagle, its wings spread and claws clasped about a slender rocket. But the uniform itself was unusual. At first glance, it appeared to be made of a fine leather of some kind. It was hard to say its exact color, though Roberts at first was certain it was dark-green. An instant later, he thought it was a very dark brown. Then he became aware of a gray tone, like the bark of maples transplanted from Earth, and seen in shadow. The uniforms were cut to allow ease of motion but they appeared tailored to a near-perfect fit, just loose enough not to hamper movement. At the waist was a moderately wide belt, apparently of some dark leather, that held a holstered pistol on the right side, and what appeared to be a hunting knife on the left side. There were also several small leather cases fitted to the belt. Roberts was reasonably certain that these belts would be awkward and uncomfortable to wear, yet everyone he could see was wearing them. Possibly, he thought, they'd only put them on to be inconspicuously armed, in case there was trouble.

In the short space of time that they stood silent, before the colonel spoke, a great many forms, colors, sounds and barely perceptible odors flashed in upon Roberts' consciousness. The sum total of these, and perhaps of something else that wasn't so easily pinned down, combined to ease his wary sense of restraint.

The colonel smiled. "Well, Captain, does the Patrol pass inspection?"

" 'Captain'? A few minutes ago, sir, I was a recruit."

"You're still a recruit. But you've passed the inspection of the symbiotic computer, a patrol ship has accepted you, and you've passed your trial run without disqualifying yourself. Whoever does that has the rank of captain automatically. But there's obviously a great deal you don't know, so necessarily you're still a recruit. This may seem strange to you, but it will make sense when you think about it. There are many things about the Patrol which may seem strange at first, but will make sense when you think them over. For instance, we sometimes take recruits along on our milder operations, even before they're thoroughly trained. This, you see, gives the recruits a chance to see the Patrol in action. I don't imagine any of you would object to that, would you?"

The three men, without bothering to think about it, automatically shook their heads.

The colonel then added casually, "Then, men, you're assigned to Operation New Vote. How's that?"

They all looked more or less surprised, but said "Fine, thank you, sir," and tried to look alert and happy, though Operation New Vote could be a trip through the nearest sun, for all they knew.

"Good, good, gentlemen," said the colonel, friendliness and approval shining all over his face as he thrust out his hand. "I'm in charge of Operation New Vote. Now, of course, you'll be Roberts?"

"Yes, sir," said Roberts, shaking hands. He introduced Hammell and Morrissey, and the colonel was just turning to lead them off, all one tight little group now, when three men standing to one side suddenly gave themselves a shake, and stepped forward.

"Hold it," said one, wearing at his left lapel a small golden plow and still tinier letters that appeared to read "Tiens et" followed by something totally undecipherable. A second man, his branch of service indicated by a robed female figure holding a large ax, said angrily, "What's this? You're not trying to assign these men, are you?"

The third man, crossed spear and arrow at his lapel, said exasperatedly, "Listen, Val, we've got to question them. You can have them about two weeks from now."

"Sorry, gentlemen," said the colonel. "Why didn't you mention this sooner?"

"Sooner? We were right here when they got out of the ship!"

"I can't help that. They're already in Operation New Vote."

"Sorry. We're assigning them to quarters on call for the next three weeks."

"They've already freely agreed to go with me on Operation New Vote."

"That's preliminary, not final. Ted, get the project controller."

The colonel said with icy politeness, "The project controller has already assigned them to Operation New Vote."

"It's not final till published in the Assigned List."

"Oh, I imagine by now that's taken care of."

"Check it, Ted."

The officer with the small golden plow at his lapel had slipped a little green and orange striped device from a belt case, and now held it to his lips. His lips moved, apparently without sound, and a moment later he glanced around. "Recruits Roberts, Hammell, and Morrissey are on the Assigned List for Operation New Vote."

The officer with crossed spear and arrow at his lapel eyed the colonel as if he would like to cut him into small pieces and throw the pieces in a fish pond. The colonel smiled back cheerfully, glanced aside at his three recruits, and said, "Stay right with me, men." He tossed back, over his shoulder, "You can take a memory simulation, if you want."

"We will want. Listen, the Chief will—"

"The Chief has given me permission to draft anyone not already assigned. I'd avoid pointless antagonisms if I were you."

The colonel moved away. After a moment, he turned to Roberts with a smile. "A shame, the way some officers will try to chain-gang new recruits into three weeks of interrogation and virtual house arrest, without anyone's permission."

"Yes, sir," said Roberts blankly.

The colonel pulled open a door marked "Express" in glowing green letters, said "Operations Branch," and motioned Roberts and the others to precede him.

Roberts stepped into the empty shaft, the gray walls blurred around him, seemed to wind, twist and bend, more and more rapidly, and then finally to change shape more slowly, until they came to a door marked with several numerals, and lettered "Operations." This door came open, and they landed in a wide corridor.

The colonel said, "These men are recruits Roberts, Hammell, and Morrissey. They are to be allowed access to this floor, but for the time being can leave only with my permission."

Roberts looked around, but there was no one there save themselves, the colonel, and the door. The door swung shut behind them, and as the colonel strode off, Roberts tried the door. The door wouldn't budge.

Roberts glanced at Hammell and Morrissey, and the three men, frowning, followed the colonel up the corridor. The colonel stopped at a door numbered "14," and opened it, to show a room with two sets of double bunks, one above the other, with four desks in pairs, back-to-back, their sides against the wall, and with four lockers against the wall. There were two more doors; one opened into a tiled lavatory, while the other held a round heavy glass porthole, through which shone what appeared to be bright sunlight.

The colonel said, "Captain Roberts, Recruits Hammell, Morrissey, and Bergen."

Roberts glanced around. There was no one there but the colonel, standing in the doorway, making notes on a small pad. "All right, gentlemen," said the colonel, "You're free until 1800. At that time you will eat, in your room. At 1830 you will put on your uniforms, which you'll find in your lockers. Don't worry about the fit; they'll be all right. You will then report to Room 18, just down the hall. There you will receive about an eight-hour orientation course; this will acquaint you with our methods, generally, and also with the specifics of Operation New Vote. You will then return here. Lights out at 2200."

He nodded to them, stepped out, and shut the door.

Roberts, Hammell, and Morrissey stared after him.




Hammell said exasperatedly, "Am I confused?"

Roberts tried the door, and it opened readily enough. The colonel was already out of sight. But now that Roberts had the door open, he noticed the list of names on the outside of the door, below the number "14":


Captain Roberts
Recruit Hammell
Recruit Morrissey
Recruit Bergen


Morrissey was saying, in a wondering voice, "At a little after 1830, we report to Room 18. There we get an eight-hour orientation course. Then we come back here, and put our lights out by 2200. But, eight hours, starting at 1830, brings it to 0230 tomorrow."

Hammell said exasperatedly, "Either he meant we'd get back after lights out, or else we've gotten into the Inter-stellar Patrol's private Institution for Mentally Disadvantaged Persons."

Roberts ran his hand lightly across the lettering on the door. It felt perfectly dry, and smooth, as if the lettering had been put on with a very thin quick-drying paint—or as if the letters were inset flush with the door.

Roberts cleared his throat. "Before we jump to conclusions, what was on this door when we walked into the room?"

"Just a number," said Hammell. "The number 14, I think."

"Take a look at it now."

Hammell and Morrissey came over, looked at the door, felt of it, and glanced around wonderingly.

"There's more to this place than meets the eye."

Roberts walked to the far door, where sunlight appeared to shine through. He was looking out on a broad sandy beach. To his far right, blue water sparkled, while, close by, white foaming surf rushed far up the beach. To his left was a kind of open park, with occasional tall spreading trees, and roughly-cut grass. As he watched, a mower went by, floating perhaps three inches above the ground, the cut grass pouring out in a green fountain, to be dispersed by a brisk wind.

Hammell shut the corridor door and came over. "That's an effective illusion."

Morrissey said, "Why put it in a door? In a larger window-type frame, it would be refreshing. This is just tantalizing. You don't see enough to enjoy it, yet you can't actually go out, either."

Roberts glanced around, and spotted a small clock on the wall. This told him that ship time was a little after two in the afternoon, or 1400. That left almost four hours until 1800. The colonel had said they were "free" until 1800. Free to do what? He glanced back at the door, then reached out.

"Brace yourselves," he said. "When I pull the handle, that will probably work some switch that will show us a snow scene, or a waterfall, or a beautiful girl sitting on a rock with spray splashing around her."

Hammell shrugged. "Go ahead. Obviously, there's nothing there. We know they don't have a beach and half an ocean inside the ship."

Roberts snapped the handle back, and pulled sharply.

The door swung open.

Bright sunlight and sea air filled the room.

Just beyond the threshold was a very short open passage, a second high threshold, and dazzling sand.

They simultaneously started forward, and then simultaneously gripped each other. "Wait a minute. Maybe this is alsens. But if it's some kind of 6-V, we don't want to smash into the projector heads."

Morrissey said, "If it's alsens, the whole room must be part of it. We could see it from across the room."

"With the door shut," said Hammell. "That could be 3-V. Then the alsens goes on when you open it."

Roberts glanced around, saw no warning sign, and felt his way forward. He stepped over the second threshold, groped around in the air, felt nothing but sunlight and a fresh breeze, stooped, felt the hot sand, and glanced back.

"Morrissey, get back out of range of this. How does it look?"

Morrissey backed until he was across the room. "It still looks the same."

Roberts shook his head. "One way to find out." He scooped up a handful of the hot sand, and stepped back inside.

The sand, red grains and yellow grains with separate flecks of black, was still there in his hand.

They looked at each other in astonishment.

Roberts tossed the sand back on the beach, looked around exasperatedly, and said, "Well, you know it isn't real, and I know it isn't real, but can you think of any better way to spend the time from now till 1800?"

"No. Let's try it." They went back inside to toss shirts and trousers on the various bunks, then started out.

The water, when they dove in, turned out to be not quite ice-cold. They plunged and swam, were buffeted and rolled over and over by the breakers, staggered to their feet, sinking slightly in the soft sand, and dove in again. The sun blazed steadily down from above, and the white-capped breakers crashed endlessly in. Before an hour was up, feeling refreshed and yet tired out, they sprinted back across the blazing sand, showered in hot spray, and then stretched out on their bunks, to fall asleep at once.

Roberts became aware of the distant clanging of a gong. He fought his way up some kind of dark tunnel, and sat up dizzily, to find that he was lying on a bunk in a room where three other men were stretched out insensible, the covers over their heads. Roberts, overtired and feeling irritated, dropped off his bunk, and at once the clanging stopped. He looked out the door to the "beach," and it was just starting to get dark out there. Then he became aware of a smell of freshly-grilled steak. It hadn't occurred to him until then that he was hungry. He looked around, to see a tray of steak and French fries on each of the small desks in the room. He took hold of the metal uprights of the bunks, and shook them. Hammell and Morrissey staggered out, stupefied and muttering incoherently. From the last bunk, a lean face about twenty years old looked out. This face was pink complexioned, with angry light-blue eyes, close-cropped blond hair so light that it was almost white, and an out-thrust chin with a slight cleft or dimple that seemed to set the seal of stubbornness and pugnacity on the face.

Roberts sensed a tough material that something useful might possibly be made out of. "You're Dan Bergen?"

"Yes," said Dan Bergen roughly, putting a thin muscular arm threateningly over the edge of the bunk, "And who do you think you are?"

Hammell and Morrissey glanced at each other, picked up their trays, and abruptly started for the "outside."

Roberts' irritation heightened for an instant, then transmuted itself into pure pleasure. He yanked Bergen off the cot—mattress, mattress cover, sheets, blankets, and all, so that he landed with a solid thump on top of the mattress with the covers strewn all over him.

"Conceivably, I am your commanding officer," said Roberts, "but don't let that bother us. Stop hiding under the sheets, unless you've got a broken arm, and let's hear you use that tone again."

Morrissey opened the door, and carried his tray outside.

Hammell followed close behind.

Bergen erupted out of the tangle of covers like a jaguar out of a brush patch, and slammed Roberts back against the corridor door.

Roberts struck Bergen an open-handed blow to the side of the head, that gave a crack like a fusion gun. He pinned Bergen's legs with one arm, heaved him over his shoulder, and dumped him on the other upper bunk.

"Now, friend, we begin again. The alarm has rung, knocking one of your fellow roommates out of bed. Time is passing, and we all have to get to Room 18 in thirty minutes. It would be easier to let you sleep but duty calls. With gentle blandishments, we bid you cast off the blinkers of Morpheus."

Roberts gripped the bunk, and shook it till Bergen was flung around like a boat in a hurricane. "Please decide," said Roberts, "whether you wish to get up or stay in bed. The choice is entirely yours, of course."

Bergen stared out dazedly as the room danced around him. "O.K. I'll get up."

"There's a little word," said Roberts, stepping back politely as Bergen dizzily swung his feet over the edge, "that soothes the egos of those who hunger and thirst after rank. It's only a short word, but what self-respecting man can say it without its catching in his throat and gagging him? His stomach turns over, he feels nauseous and cheapened, but—"

Bergen stared at him. "Sir."

"That's it," said Roberts, smiling. "How it soothes my soul to hear it. Drop it into the conversation now and then, when you have time. It will cement our friendship."

Bergen dropped off the edge of the bunk, steadied himself with one hand, and said, "I'm sorry, sir. I always wake up in a bad mood when I'm tired, and I was worn out. I—"

"Say no more about it. I understand. Count on me to waken you with the softest whisperings from this time forward. But meanwhile, time's passing. Take a tray."

"Yes, sir," Bergen sat down beside the nearest tray. He looked up at Roberts, who waved his hand beside his head, and called out to Hammell and Morrissey. "Better come back in. That alsens is so real I've got illusions of gnats flying around my head."

They came inside and shut the door. "It would be nice if we could figure the thing out."

"Better save our strength for Room 18," said Roberts.

* * *

They all sat down with their trays, and ate hurriedly.

On the wall, the second hand of the clock swung steadily around.

The uniforms the colonel had said they needn't worry about turned out to be a poor fit: Tight at the shoulders, loose at the waist, the sleeves binding their muscles when they bent their arms. Roberts, Hammell, and Morrissey angrily expressed their opinion of these sack-like uniforms, in words of few syllables. Then Bergen said, "My uniform fit the same at first. I don't understand it, but it's looser where it used to bind, and tighter where it sagged, and now is a decent fit."

"Another puzzle," said Roberts. "Come on, it's almost 1830."

They went out and down the corridor to Room 18. They shoved the door open and went in, to experience a peculiar blur that caused them to pause just inside, then step on through the doorway, pull the door shut behind them, glance up and down the now extremely dim corridor, then turn to look back blankly at the closed door, marked "18," behind them.

For a second, they stood frozen, then Roberts shoved hard on the door. The door didn't move.

"What in—"

"We just went in there!"

Roberts shook his head. "Wait." Mentally, he retraced his steps, down the corridor at 1830, through the door, and, with no memory of turning, back out to pull the same door shut behind him, and find himself in this dimly-lit corridor.

"Hold on," said Roberts. "There was a blur back there. What did the colonel say we were going there for?"

"To get an eight-hour orientation course, that would acquaint us with their methods, and also with the details of Operation New Vote."

And then they all stood there in silence.

Operation New Vote, they now knew, without any memory of being told, was the problem of getting a Rest & Refit Center accepted on that planet run by a collection of petty humanoid princes. Roberts could see the planet in his mind, could see the inhabited continent's rocky coast, the small farms, the haughty princes, and the enduring trudging people. And, with all of this vivid information, there was the reservation, "This is the information as received from Planetary Developmental Authority. Reserve final judgment until we see it ourselves at first hand."

Hammell said, in a peculiar tone, "Daira go nasht?"

The meaning came across to Roberts clearly: "And this that transpires here—It is what?"

Morrissey said dazedly, "We've even got the languages!"

Dan Bergen said, "And—We're all members of Garoujik Construction Corporation!"

That was right there in their minds, too. PDA wanted someone to bid on a contract to put up the R & R Center. This had now happened. The Garoujik Construction Corporation had bid on the contract.

And what was the Garoujik Construction Corporation?

PDA didn't know it, but Garoujik Construction Corporation was the Interstellar Patrol.




When they got back to their room, they got another shock. That the clock should stand at 2156 was no surprise. They had already deduced the passage of time, and made allowance for it in their minds. What they hadn't suspected in the darkened corridor looked at them now out of the mirror in the tiled washroom. When they stood before the mirror, not a one of them could recognize his own features. Four strangers looked back at them with expressions of amazement.

They washed, and got ready for bed. "What was it the colonel said this would do—acquaint us with their methods?"

"Yeah," growled Hammell.

Morrissey said, "I can't think of anything having to do with their methods."

Roberts growled, "The whole thing acquaints us with their methods—indirectly."

Overhead, the inconspicuous lights of the room suddenly dimmed. The slightly-glowing clock face showed that it was one minute before 2200.

Irked and disgruntled, their thoughts a whirl of information about the planet they were headed for, and their duties as members of "Garoujik Construction," they climbed into their bunks.

The second hand of the clock swung to the vertical, and the lights went out completely.

The only glow in the room now came from the softly-lighted clock face, and moonlight shining on the "beach."

That scene outside, with the water washing in long white streamers up the sand, should have been restful, even romantic.

With growls of exasperation, they turned their backs to it, pulled the covers around them, buried their heads in their pillows, and fell asleep.

Down the hall, the colonel was on his feet facing the screen above his desk, where the same strongly built man who had given him the assignment in the first place now looked out with a puzzled frown.

"Tomorrow morning? Sure. You can leave yesterday, as far as I'm concerned. As long as Intelligence has its memory simulation, the sooner you get out of here, the better. They're sure to find something about the simulation that isn't clear. They'll want to question your men, and on top of this damned super E-G, the last thing I want is to referee a fight between you and I-branch."

"Fine. There are just a few more details, and I can get started."

"O.K., then. Good luck."

The screen went blank.

The colonel gave a satisfied grunt, hung up his uniform shirt, sat down at the desk, got pad and pencil, and jotted down the few things that still had to be done. Then he sat back and looked at the list critically.

Unless he had overlooked something, he was in good shape to get out of here early tomorrow.

But he always did overlook something.

It would occur to him tomorrow, as they were ready to leave. Or, worse yet, after they had left, and then he would have to come back, and bully everyone in reach, or else they would catch on to the silly oversight he'd made, and he would look and feel like a complete boob.

He sat back, and imagined himself ready to leave. It was tomorrow, and the ship was ready, the cargo on board, the men climbing in, and now he told them to shut the hatch, and—

He sat up abruptly. How had he forgotten that?

He reached out to impatiently tap the dial near his desk.

* * *

Roberts, Hammell, Morrissey, and Bergen were awakened by a clanging, bonging noise so loud and rude as to bring them all out of their bunks in a nasty frame of mind.

The colonel's voice, brisk and cheerful, reached them from a speaker they were too sleep-drugged to try to locate.

"Good morning, gentlemen! As you see, it's a fine day outside. I've gotten you up half-an-hour early, so you'll have time for a little fresh air before we start. Anyone who wants to crawl back in his bunk is free to do it. But, believe me, it's nice outside. A horn will tell you when it's time to get back. You'll eat in your quarters, and we'll be ready to start immediately afterward. You need bring only yourselves, the uniforms you received yesterday, and your hand-weapons belts. Meanwhile, have a good time."

The four men looked around stuporously, made spasmodic motions toward getting back in their bunks, then turned to look at the sunlight flooding through the thick round window of the door. Bright blue sky showed overhead, and a gentle wash of the sea on the sand could be faintly heard. Roberts growled under his breath, and walked over. Outside, the sea was far calmer than the day before, and the sky was a deep blue, with just a small white cloud moving slowly past high above. He glanced at the disguised stranger who was Hammell. Hammell nodded exasperatedly, and Roberts pulled open the door.

Outside, the air was fresh and cool, the sun hot, and the bright sand sizzling underfoot. They sprinted down the beach to the cool dark sand washed by the surf, then waded out in the cold water. Half-freezing, they ducked underwater, swam furiously out from the beach, and now the water seemed pleasantly mild. After a while, Roberts methodically swam far out, to look back at a sweep of sandy shore that stretched, gently curving, out of sight in both directions. Far off to his left, he could see the hazy outline of a kind of tower, and what appeared to be a thin rail stretching out into the sea. What might that be?

There was a quiet splash, and Hammell surfaced beside him.

"Some illusion," said Hammell, looking around.

"And yet," said Roberts, "as you said yesterday, they obviously don't have a beach, and half an ocean, inside the ship."

"I know it."

They considered the situation in silence, then Hammell said, "What do you think of this outfit, so far?"

"Well—They're exasperating. And they aren't infallible, as you can see from what we did to them yesterday. But they don't fool around, either. I get the impression there's a high ratio of brains to mass in this outfit."

Hammell nodded. "And we've only begun to get a look at it. It's like an iceberg. Seven-eighths underwater. Maybe more of it will come to the surface when we tangle with this Operation New Vote. Boy, there's an impossibility if I ever saw one. You can't hit them, and they're unpersuadable. Where do you take a grip on a thing like that?"

"There's one hopeful sign."

"What's that?"

"According to the information we got last night, five or six of these two dozen petty kings are sensible."

"Yeah, but the vote has to give a big majority, or the R & R Center is no go."

"Well, it's an opening, anyway. But we don't have to figure it out now. Come on, I'll race you to shore—that is, if you know anything besides the dog paddle."

Hammell, born on a planet named "Poseidon," smiled faintly, sucked in a deep breath, and ducked underwater.

Roberts started a fast crawl toward the shore. As he'd been Hammell's captain on the fast freighter Orion, he was familiar with Hammell's record, and knew what he was taking on. Roberts went through the water in a streak of foam. But Hammell was waiting when Roberts reached the shore.

An instant later, there was the loud blare of a horn.




The trip to the planet began with a series of shocks that made successively weaker impacts until the four men nearly reached the stage where nothing would surprise them.

To begin with, well before their ship was to leave the dreadnought, Roberts, standing beside the big hatch as he adjusted his unfamiliar weapons belt, somehow dropped the belt. It didn't fall to the deck outside. It floated. Roberts climbed down the handholds of the space-yacht-type ship, stepped out to pick up the belt, and the ship was gone. As he stood staring around stupidly, a voice from above irritably directed him to put out his hand. He touched the side of the ship, and immediately could see it again. When he climbed back in through the big hatch, he happened to notice the total thickness of the beveled edge of the hatchway. It was at the very least six times thicker than any space yacht Roberts had seen before.

Bemused by these preliminaries, the men started for the grav shaft up to the next level, and banged head-on into a thick highly-polished column that ran vertically up the axis of the ship. When they did go up the shaft, they discovered that it stopped short of the sixth level, which usually contained the control room, but now had no visible entrance at all. The fifth level consisted merely of a space seven feet high, three feet wide, by two feet deep, the walls of which were fitted with a screen showing the detailed illusion of the usual fifth level. The control room turned out to be on the fourth level, along with five different weapons lockers, and the control seat and the controls themselves were unlike anything Roberts had ever seen on a space yacht. They were a lot closer to what he'd found in his salvaged patrol ship. The sleeping quarters were on the third level, along with highly functional kitchen and washroom sections.

Hammell said ironically, "This space yacht is sure luxurious—like a barracks."

Morrissey smiled. "And flimsy—like a fortress."

Roberts said, "It doesn't seem possible, but I know what this ship looks like."

"What's that?"

"A large Interstellar Patrol ship, in disguise as a space yacht."

"It does, at that."

Their speculations were ended abruptly by the appearance of an impressive-looking individual who radiated financial know-how and business acumen. When this tycoon opened his mouth, the colonel's voice came out:

"If I remember correctly, Roberts, you are supposed to be the pilot of this ship. Suppose you jar yourself off the mark and get in there and do some piloting."

After this, Roberts was in something of a state of shock until they reached the planet.

* * *

The planet drifted up toward them like an old acquaintance that they knew well from some previous visit. Their first sight of the green and tan continent, its forbidding coastline lit in hard-shadowed relief by the early-morning sun, was like a familiar face. They stared down at half-lighted valleys, swift-flowing rivers, and numerous patchworks of small farms, many of them far removed from any sizable cities.

"That orientation," growled Hammell, "was pretty effective."

Roberts frowned at the screen and drifted down toward what looked at first like a collection of small towns inside a strong wall on a bluff above a wide swift-flowing river, with a granite palace near the center, and a number of large rectangular buildings in many separate walled enclosures throughout the city. Near the palace, on the other side of a wide stone wall, was an open square that Roberts knew to be the "Visitor's Campground."

As Roberts headed toward it, the colonel stepped into the control room.

"When we set down, gentlemen, I am going to need the services of my 'lawyer' and my 'financial advisor.' My 'crew,' however, is free to see the sights, and you'd better go through the city, and get as good a sense of the general atmosphere as you can. Are the people content, or miserable? Is the place well run? Are the people reasonably well fed? Take a look at the food-storage warehouses. Look over the roads. Watch for one particular phenomenon—If you've learned something in your orientation, and it's contradicted by the facts here, there will be an instant of surprise and disorientation, and then the incorrect fact will vanish like the memory of a dream. The instant you feel that disorientation, hang on to the memory of the misleading 'fact' and tell me the first chance you get. If PDA is trying to run our head into a noose, we want to know it."

Roberts set the ship down, and they looked out at the capital city of Mardukash, one of the larger of the planet's two dozen kingdoms.

As the colonel conferred with the disguised Morrissey and Bergen, Roberts and Hammell put on native-style loose blouse and trousers, under long white robes, and set out through the city.

Their knowledge of the general layout proved accurate, and they found themselves walking down wide cobbled streets that sloped toward gutters in the center, with shops to either side whose owners were putting up their shutters to display earthenware jars, baskets woven of reeds, brightly-colored cloth, cheap jewelry, woven hats with wide down-curving brims, and a variety of handmade iron tools. Here and there, they passed more strongly built places, with iron grilles in front. These were spice shops and the business places of goldsmiths.

Everyone Roberts and Hammell saw seemed brisk and cheerful.

"O.K. so far," said Hammell. "Isn't one of their food-storage warehouses around here?"

"If we take that street to the left up ahead, it ought to bring us to it."

They turned left, and gradually a massive gray stone wall came into view. Armed men, spears and bows ready, patrolled the walls. Beyond loomed the tops of buildings, long and with steeply-sloping roofs, that they wanted to look at. But they soon found that the outer wall blocked their view of the inside.

A long walk, past a part of the city devoted to stables for beasts that looked like a kind of big slender otter, and past a section devoted to the sale of seeds, and plows made of hard wood or iron, brought them to the city's east gate. The gate was open, and beyond it, heavily braced from below, a bridge reached out across a wide ravine, turned ninety degrees toward the north, then swung ninety degrees east again to reach the opposite bank. The bridge was wide, but had only a flimsy rail at the edge. Just as Roberts and Hammell came up to it, a gaily-dressed rider, approaching at a gallop along the dirt road to the east, was desperately slowing his mount. After almost plunging into the ravine, he called out to the guards, "I come to purchase spice from far Iandul. May I enter?"

"Yes, friend, and we have the spice," said the guard atop the wall. "For once, the cursed reefs let a ship through unhurt. But enter at a walk. No one rushes the Iatulon's capital at a gallop."

"So I see. Your roads are so good, compared to our own rutted bogholes, that I was careless. I will be more alert."

The guard smiled. "I observe you are a noble, so let me warn you. If you use your lash on a commoner here, the Iatulon's guards will have you in a flash, and you will spend the night in poor accommodations, and go out in the morning with a lighter pocket. On the other hand, if any commoner attempts to provoke you, report it to the first guard you see, and the nuisance will be ended. Go through with a plain, cheerful manner, and all will be well. Try haughty airs, and you will have your foot in a hole from now till you leave. The Iatulon doesn't use the grand manner, and no one else can."

"Ah? No one? And what then of the Iatulon's queen?"

"Of that, friend, say no more. In any case, no one knocks a woman's head off for pride, but you are a man."

Smiling, the nobleman came through the gate, nodded to Roberts and Hammell, and trotted into the city.

Roberts called up to the guards, "We are strangers here, and want to go up into those hills to look at the city from a distance. Is it all right?"

"It is permitted, but if you go beyond the open pastureland into the forest, it is dangerous. There are beasts there that forage for nuts and the root bark of certain favored trees. They have an evil disposition, and worse yet, they are armed with a horn like a dagger in the center of their foreheads. If you come upon them amongst those trees, they will rip you open from groin to gizzard. The only safety is to climb a tree, and then you are stuck there till they decide to move on. Owing to their disposition, they will starve a while in the hope that thirst will bring you down. Best keep to the open. If they come at you there, yell at the top of your lungs, and run for your lives, downhill and away from the forest. They cannot catch you, and will fear that your screams will bring mounted men, who will attack them in the open. After a short run and much snorting, which will increase your speed, they will give up."

Roberts laughed and thanked the guard.

The guard smiled and waved, and they walked on up the dirt road into the open grassy hills.

When they were high enough, but still well below the trees, they looked back. From here, they could see over the walls around the storehouses.

Each storehouse was white, made of a native concrete, and raised ten to fifteen feet off the ground on massive arches. The storehouses were rectangular, with steep roofs that had a wide overhang on all sides, and screened ventilators at the ends. Each was set apart from the others by a smooth, out-curving cement wall some eight feet high, with a tightly-fitted metal gate at either end.

Roberts and Hammell, studying the scene through binoculars, noticed men coming out of the warehouses with the critical look of inspectors, as others checked the walls and grounds. Wagons went in through the metal gates, and the gates closed tightly behind them. The wagons pulled out of sight under the storehouses, as other wagons reappeared heaped with yellow grain, to leave by the opposite gates. Within and between the separate walled warehouses, there roamed animals that Roberts at first though were the local form of rats. But a little more watching showed that they had no fear of the men, who in turn paid little attention to them. It followed that they were roughly the equivalent of barn cats.

After watching an hour or so the two men glanced at each other.

Everything they had seen spoke of foresight and good order. Without a word, they got up and started back.

On the way, the city seemed more familiar than ever, until they reached the Visitor's Campground. Here, the ship was practically lost from sight, in the center of a host of tent makers and their poles, cords, and gorgeous rolls of purple, gold, and yellow cloth, with wagons hastily unloading chests and boxes, then rattling off at a fast trot, to bring in yet more merchandise.

When they finally located the colonel, he was examining a large ruby, while a beaming jeweler poured out a selection of flashing stones from a purple velvet bag. The colonel excused himself, listened to Roberts' report, then smiled.

"I think this place will be all right. We ought to be able to do it."

The following days saw the colonel's fame spread. He was soon known as Yel Den Garoujik—the Star Prince Garoujik—and when the rumors of his wealth and impressive dominion amongst the stars had spread widely enough, the Iatulon, consumed with curiosity, had one of his court functionaries drop a hint that His Highness might be willing to grace the Yel Den's table. The Yel Den promptly sent an invitation engraved on a silver plate, with an emerald at each corner for decoration.

The colonel was in the control room, his robes slung over the back of the control seat, when Bergen popped in to tell him the Iatulon had accepted the invitation. The colonel nodded, and glanced back at a small auxiliary screen, where the signal degarbler showed a member of the Interstellar Patrol's legal staff.

"It's O.K., Val," the staff member was saying. "The local PDA consul on the planet isn't likely to interfere until later, if at all. PDA is so desperate to get this job done that they won't want to wreck it unless you should blossom out with bribery, or coercion. They'll watch intently, though only an expert in spy devices would know it. But they'll be watching only for any interference in local affairs. Any effective interference is illegal."

The colonel smiled. "All I intend to do is talk—starting with the Iatulon."

"I don't see how words will straighten this mess out."

"They're just the first link in a chain of events."

"Well, good luck with the Iatulon, anyway. He's got a double-edge three-foot sword, remember."

"Sure," said the colonel, smiling, "but he only uses it on people who don't do their jobs."

* * *

That evening, the Iatulon, a tall impressive figure in flowing robes, showed up with a small but businesslike escort, ate moderately of the feast spread out before him, and cheerfully accepted a magnificent ruby put at his place with the dessert, according to local custom when entertaining royalty.

He retired in a benevolent mood to the flowered terrace beside Yel Den Garoujik's pool, where the stars were mirrored, as magical musicians played softly, rendered invisible by the power of the Yel Den's wizards.

After a lengthy but companionable silence, the Iatulon glanced thoughtfully around. "An entertainment to dwell upon in pleasant memory, Yel Den Garoujik. I thank you."

The colonel bowed his head, and settled himself to the customary flowery exchange of compliments. "And I thank you, Great Iatulon, for your presence here."

"I have done nothing."

"This is but a setting for the jewel of your presence. What is the setting without the jewel?"

The Iatulon looked at him with a smile. "Jewels are expensive, Yel Den Garoujik. One does not spend of his substance to place a jewel in a setting unless he has a purpose."

The colonel, slightly off-balance, said courteously, "That is true, Great Iatulon."

The Iatulon leaned forward. "Then let us to the business, Yel Den. I am hung about the ears with those who are too frightened of my sword to think, and with those who would not think if they could think, because of the pain that would come with their first thinking. Around my borders dwell rulers who neither think nor work save when dire need rouses their hunger. I would sweep away these triflers, but long thought shows me the task outweighs my resources. Thus I am condemned to a circumscribed sphere, amongst fools and would-be idlers. What has brought the jewel to this setting, Yel Den, is not the thought of food and drink, or sweet music, though such things are pleasant, but the prospect of discourse amongst equals. You are here for a purpose. Let us now to the purpose."

The colonel promptly discarded some carefully-prepared flowery phrases.

"In the future, many star ships will travel near this world. Whoever can induce the rulers to accept the landing of the people from these ships, will add much to his treasury."

The Iatulon looked puzzled. "I have heard of this plan. But I tell you, Yel Den Garoujik, that no one, unless he employs sorcerers of the highest degree, will persuade the rulers of this world to agree to such a thing. I will agree to it. Therefore, without thought, my neighbors will disagree. They will not judge a matter on its merits. They will not think. Hence they will not agree."

"And yet, I believe there is one condition in which all the rulers would agree."

The Iatulon shrugged.

"Have you a magic potion which will make them think, Yel Den Garoujik?"

"Unfortunately, only a few will think."

"But if only a few will think, and only those who think will agree, how can you say all will agree?"

"I say only, 'There is one condition in which all the rulers would agree.' "

"If all think."


"We travel in circles, and arrive nowhere. They are fools, and will not think."

"Fools may not think, yet all the rulers might."

The Iatulon began to speak, and suddenly stopped. He turned to stare at the colonel, who looked back quietly.

The Iatulon cleared his throat. "Forgive my slowness, Yel Den. I realize now, there is some reason why you would have the thought arise in my own mind with but a hint from you. I follow the trail thus far. My ears are attuned, and my attention prepared, to grasp the idea when you set it free."

"You have roads here, Great Iatulon. What do you think of them?"

"I would not poison your air with my thoughts of them. The streets are cobbled and bearable. In this season, the roads, though most are narrow and winding, are not bad. In very early spring and in late fall, most of them, because of mud, are good only as obstacles to an intruder. Man or beast will sink to his hips in the worst of these roads. Wagons disappear in them to the axles, and sometimes to the bed. Such are our roads, and yet they are good enough for our needs. If we travel far, we come to the border, where the enemy has soldiers to put an arrow through us if we cross. Your mention of roads carries me nowhere, Yel Den Garoujik."

"Then let your thought travel upon a finer road, Great Iatulon—a road such as can be made by choosing the route with care, sending men ahead to clear the way, while others bring stone from the place where the road has already passed, and gravel and dirt, and pack it into place to make way for the wagons that bring yet more dirt, stones, and gravel, from the places where this road has already gone, and that have been leveled to make it smooth. Such a road could carry a big idea, amongst other things—Such things as spice, gold, fine tools, and works of craftsmanship, which now must come by sea and upriver, with many shipwrecks and at great cost."

The Iatulon stroked his chin. "That is a big idea. But Yel Den, ideas of any size founder upon the rocks of stupidity, as a spice ship on the coastal reefs. The kings will not agree to that, either."

"Even if they are paid the tolls?

The Iatulon looked blank.

"Tolls? What word is that?"

"What merchants would not gladly pay a small fee to trade by land with far places? This payment, or toll, would go direct to the king's treasury. This would be a royal road, Great Iatulon, and each length of it would be the personal property of the king through whose territory it passed. The king need only set up a strong guardhouse by the road, and a gate on the road, and collect payment from every merchant who passes through."

The Iatulon sat back. "This appears to be a practical idea. Whoever refused to cooperate would rouse the anger of those who wished to have the tolls, and hence he would risk his throne. If I understand this, the royal treasuries would be paid much of that money now lost to rocks and storms, along the whole length of the miserable coast."

"True. And since the merchants need no longer fear these things, they should be willing to pay the tolls. If all those princes who do think should start work on such a road—"

"Yes, but wait. There is a problem. My kingdom, although far from perfect, is at least better ordered than those of my neighbors. While I have a Master of the Roads, they leave it to the peasants to repair the roads on threat of a beating. Yet the peasants are already busy in the fields, tending the crops, and repairing the damage done by the feuds and hunts of the boisterous nobility of these countries. What with the local robbers, the nobility, and the lack of vermin-proof storehouses, there is little excess from one year to the next to carry them if they did work on the roads. Everything is ill-ordered. With no Master of the Roads, no work chiefs, no men accustomed to earn extra coppers each year on the road, and no stored surplus of food, how can they build? The only system and method in such countries is applied to the army, the tax collector, and recruitment for the harem."

The colonel nodded, his face expressionless. "And yet, such a road would be of great benefit."

"They will wish to build it. But they will be unable. As the carouser wishes to mount the steps, but his limbs will not function."

"And yet, if your work chiefs had their peasants to do the work—"

"Their peasants would not do it for my men, even if my men had permission to cross the border. Their peasants leave their crops only on threat of the lash. There is no profit for them in it."

The colonel said, in a thoughtful voice, "What would happen if they were offered pay?"

"Their kings will not deprive themselves, and their treasuries are as disordered as everything else."

"What if you paid them?"

The Iatulon looked at him flatly.

"You suggest that I pay out of my treasury to build their road?"

The colonel said courteously, "It would be presumptuous of me to make such a suggestion. But it occurs to me to wonder what would happen if you did?"

The Iatulon stared, started to get up, then paused. He gave a low exclamation. Finally he looked at the colonel in astonished respect.

"Truly, Yel Den Garoujik, the man who thinks of such a plan thinks deep thoughts."

Courteously, the colonel said, "It merely seemed to me that such a road might be a benefit to the planet. I thought you would appreciate its virtues."

"You need say no more, Yel Den Garoujik. And when the time comes to vote, count on me to favor the rest camp for the Star Men."




From Mardukash, the colonel moved on to Sil, then Yarum, then Garanzol, and in each of these places, good order reigned, and the colonel was listened to respectfully by rulers whose trend of thought followed the same pattern as the Iatulon's. Each was in turn angered, then wide-eyed, at the thought of subsidizing a road for his neighbors.

In each of these petty kingdoms, Roberts and Hammell found the people content, the troops loyal and alert, and the storehouses full.

Roberts, when not out gathering firsthand information, spent some time wondering about the colonel's plan. The basic idea seemed plain enough: The colonel intended that the best-organized kingdoms should combine in building a great Royal Road that would benefit all the kingdoms by providing a better route than the hazardous sea journey.

But why should the richer kings suddenly turn into philanthropists? And what good did all this do for Garoujik Construction and PDA? Roberts, puzzled, watched to see what would happen next.

When the well-organized kingdoms had been visited, the colonel had Roberts land at yet another Visitors' Campground, and this time Roberts reported that while the people seemed reasonably content, there were signs everywhere of inefficiency.

"Be specific," said the colonel.

"Well, sir," said Roberts, "first, you've got to give the guards at the gate a little something extra to 'oil the hinges,' in order to get in or out. Second, under the usual robes, the people wear the usual loose blouse and long loose trousers. But in this place, they sell a flat leather pouch you wear on a harness under the rest of your clothes. That's on account of pickpockets. When we asked one of the merchants, 'What about the guards?' he looked at us as if we were crazy, and said, 'The pickpockets divide with them.' Third, the public storehouses in the city are alive with rats. It seems that the Great Zaragol pays a bounty on every hundred rat tails that are brought in from the royal warehouses. The people in charge of the royal warehouses don't get any salary; they're supposed to live on the bonuses, and the more diligent they are, they more they get. It sounds good, but they can't trap rats in the warehouses unless there are rats in the warehouses, and we saw one of these people toss a piece of meat to a cat, take a quick look around, then bash the cat's head in and flip it over the wall."

"What do the people think of these things?"

Roberts shrugged. " 'So it has always been. So it will always be.'"

"Where do they get their food when the royal storehouses run out?"

"There are private storehouses that seem better managed, but they're always low by the end of the year. Then the Great Zaragol puts the squeeze on the farmers for 'trying to starve the people.' He can generally wring something out of them so everyone gets through to the next harvest. If not, there's a famine, and that lowers the population, so the next year's food supply will feed the remainder."

The colonel said somberly, "What about the army?"

"What soldiers we saw seemed tough and good-natured. It's hard to judge without knowing more, but it looked as if the men were probably good fighters, but not well organized."

"This fits with what PDA told us," said the colonel. "Well, the thing is now in motion. We'll just have to keep an eye on it, and see how it goes."

Roberts said politely, "Speaking as just a new recruit, sir, who doesn't know much, what are we supposed to keep an eye on?"

The colonel smiled. "Since we are inside this ship, Roberts, where PDAs receptors are being fed a thoroughly falsified picture, I suppose we can be frank."

"Yes, sir," said Roberts.

"When a clandestine organization can't hope to get its goal achieved directly, what do you suppose it does?"

Roberts groped mentally. "Apparently, it will have to go about it indirectly."

"For instance?"

"Well, ambush the opposition, tie up his communications, create diversions, wear him out with false alarms—"

The colonel nodded. "That's an armed military opposition. Suppose we consider the case of a few men who wish to reorganize a planet, and are forbidden to use force or large-scale bribery?"

"That's exactly what I don't see."

"They may be able to do it with an idea."

"Sir, that sounds good, but—"

"An idea that offers the locals a visible real or apparent gain, but that has as an inescapable by-product the starting of a chain of events that the majority of the locals do not realize. Those who do realize it may attempt to block it, but they will be silenced by the majority, who see only the immediate gain. The resulting chain of events is like a chemical reaction, Roberts, and although exact details are impossible to predict, the overall 'reaction' proceeds inexorably, to the final products—unless a new 'reaction'—a different chain of events—is started by the intervention of some new factor."

Roberts said hesitantly, "Sir . . . isn't that pretty theoretical?"

"Very. In practice, the problem, of course, is to find some idea that will appeal to the locals for their own reasons, and that incidentally will start the desired chain of events."

"Such a chain of events has been started here?"

"Of course."

"I don't see it."

"You will."

Roberts said wryly, "The Interstellar Patrol doesn't give information away, does it?"

The colonel smiled. "The Interstellar Patrol gives practically nothing away."

Roberts nodded.

"However," said the colonel, "when you've learned a little more about it, you will also see that the Patrol places very few restrictions on what you can earn."

Roberts said exasperatedly, "Sir, what is the Interstellar Patrol?"

"That is a piece of information that you will have to earn."

"And just how do I earn it?"

"By discovering the way to find the answer."

Roberts smiled. "And I suppose if I wanted to get rich, I could achieve that, too, if I could first figure out what mysterious thing to do to achieve it."

The colonel shrugged. "You don't have to achieve that. As far as that's concerned, you, Hammell, and Morrissey, are rich."

"You mean, rich in companionship, or some such thing?"

"No," said the colonel, "I mean rich in money."

"This is news to me."

"Then you don't understand how the Patrol works. When we take something, we pay for it. When you three men came on board, you brought along a gadget far in advance of anything we had in that line, and that promises to be extremely useful—if something of a headache. But, if someone else had discovered this and used it against us, it would have been much more than a headache; hence, you have brought us something extremely valuable. In return, you are given a large money reward. This is only fair."

Roberts said dazedly, "This can be drawn on?"

"Whenever you want, when you're not on assignment to a specific duty."

"It was Morrissey who actually worked out the device—"

"In apportioning the amount of the payment, all facts available to us and to SymComp were carefully considered. But bear in mind, you brought the device into the Patrol, intentionally or not, and this weighs heavily with us."

Roberts turned away, then paused, the colonel's words playing themselves over in his mind. " 'SymComp?' What's that?"

"One of those things you can learn about if you can discover how to find out what you want to know."

Roberts told himself he had assimilated enough for now, anyway. "I'll try to figure it out, sir, when I accumulate the strength. Thanks very much for what you've told me."

"Perfectly all right, Roberts. You were entitled to it. Otherwise, I wouldn't have told you."

* * *

As the days passed, the results of their efforts began to show up. Going out into town, they could not help but hear word of the "Great Road," as the people called it. Soon, they saw a more tangible sign—peasants who rode into town on weekends, money jingling in their pockets. Business picked up and became brisk. A boom developed, and merchants and artisans labored overtime to supply goods to meet the demand. Then, as the road came closer, the laborers began to come into town on weekday evenings.

Watching the cheerful throngs buy necessities, and later watching them buy the worthless trinkets that increasingly appeared in the shops, Roberts began to feel uneasy. Approaching a peasant laden with several dozen strings of glass beads, three stuffed dolls, a large bolt of cheap cloth, and fifteen pairs of sandals slung over his shoulder on a woven grass cord, Roberts spoke apologetically.

"Pardon me, sir, but I am a stranger here. If you will excuse my ignorance, I would wish to ask a question."

The peasant looked at him with shrewd good humor. "Ask away. But speak quickly, as I must return on the Great Road tonight with these goods." A glint of pride showed in his eye.

Roberts said apologetically, "I mean no offense . . . perhaps it is just that I am a stranger here . . . but I seem to notice a spending of good money for what, where I come from, some might think to be goods more for pleasure than for use. I mean no offense, but only wonder at such freely-spent wealth."

The peasant smiled and nodded. "We are all become like nobles, and spend money as they do. It is that the Neighbor King, who builds the Great Road, spends lavishly of his substance, for labor that is no worse than a man must do in his own fields for half the sum or less. Thus we have quickly supplied our needs, and that done, to what use shall we put the money? True, some of the silver can be put in the floor, and the spot smoothed over, but to earn much money and spend little is to tempt robbers, and that is not wise. Why should not my wife have that which will please her eye, and my children have that which will enliven their play, and keep sharp stones from their feet—especially when these are things that will be seen by those who steal, and these things will say to them, 'No money here. That fool Ayok has thrown it all away on his family.' Eh?" The peasant jabbed Roberts lightly with his elbow. "Are we, then, such fools?"

Roberts smiled. "Not now that I understand it. Your words have cleared up the mystery."

"Come work on the road. The silver flood cannot last forever, but while it lasts, it is better than to break your back in the fields. Nearly all who farm, and can reach the Great Road, will have a welcome rest this summer. You can share in the wealth."

Roberts smiled. "Perhaps I will. Thank you."

The friendly peasant moved away.

And then, like a blow to the back of the head, suddenly the next link in the colonel's chain of events came across to Roberts.

Here, all around him, spending cheerfully the money earned on the road, were a large proportion of the farmers of the country.

Across the road, under the sign "Logash and Brothers," grain and dried vegetables were being weighed out to a line of children who handed over their coppers, and hurried home with the food they'd been sent to pick up.

As, across the street, last year's grain was weighed out from the storehouses, over here the peasants laughed and joked, and then headed home to rest up for another day's work—on the road.

"My God," said Roberts.

He walked across the street, uncertain exactly what he had in mind, and nodded to a smiling man who stood in the storehouse, a little back from the wide doorway, watching the money rattle into his till.

"Sir?" said the man, half-bowing. "Will you have dar, qadron, or perhaps a measure of nerbash? We have dried rashids, pinths, and still some ground-nuts, though we are completely out of tekkary. I believe Gashar, across town, has some, but beware his qadron. It is said the rats have been in it, though do not say I said it."

Roberts said hesitantly, "I am a stranger here—"

The man said warily, "Do you have money?"


"Ah, but you do not know our delicacies? Well, our rashids and ground-nuts are very good this year. The rashids are three coppers the bunch, and the ground-nuts are a small silver-piece for one hand of them. It is high, but this is the last of the season's. Will you buy?"


"I will serve you myself. Ah, this Road is a great thing, is it not? When it is done, we will have spice from far Iandul, and not at the price of two hands of silver wheels to the half-leaf of spice, either."

Roberts said hesitantly. "But the Road takes many farmers from their work, does it not?"

"Yes, but how else? Who would not work at double the wage for less labor? Everyone prospers. Look at the money flow! Even those who do not work on the Road are rich, because of what they sell to the road workers!"

Roberts tried again. "How will the harvest be this year, do you think?"

"Who can say? There is something no man knows. But we'll get through. There are those who say that this prosperity will go on forever. And why not? If there is much silver, men can buy. And if they buy, other men have the silver and they can buy. Thus is everyone become prosperous. Here you are, sir. Thank you. If you find my goods to your liking, come back, and I think you cannot do better. You will find no rat tails and offal weighed out to you from my scales, even with the scrapings before harvest."

Dumbfounded, Roberts nodded and started back to the ship. On the way, he stopped, and gave his purchase to a little girl, who accepted it smilingly, and looked wonderingly after the somber stranger before running in to hand the food to her mother.




The Road approached the city, at first as a sound of crashing trees, and the shouted orders of men urging on beasts of burden. Then the crews clearing away the forest and bridging the streams actually came into view. Then came the bulwark of yellowish-brown dirt, rocks, and gravel, more dirt, rocks and gravel, endlessly cascading down as double files of wagons unloaded and went back, and endless lines of men, carrying wicker baskets between them, filled the gaps between the wagons, then walked back single file to let the unloaded and now faster wagons go ahead. To either side of the Road, swarms of men cleared away the undergrowth, and made tangled barriers of felled trees as a discouragement to robbers when the road should be put into use.

The city, by now, was in the grip of delirious prosperity, the men working overtime to fill the unheard-of demand for goods, and the women and children coming out in crowds, to observe the steady advance of the cause of all this wealth. Silver and copper changed hands in a magical flow, but Roberts and Hammell, going out into the countryside to look at the farms, saw only kitchen gardens, tended by the women of the families, and weedy fields, with occasional boys, too young for heavy work, out pulling up thorny vines, lest they grow big and interfere with the next year's harvest. At rare intervals, there was a good field, tended by an old man, who preferred to stay home, and do work he was used to, rather than make the trip to work on the road. But, with rare exceptions, the food-producing regions within reach of the Road were a wasteland.

"Will you have enough," Roberts asked a road worker in town, "when the stored food is gone?"

"Oh, Shachrim and Fazir have many good farmers, and when the Road crosses the border, we can buy from them. This Road will solve many problems. We never could buy from them before until after the ground froze, because the roads were so bad. Now all will be different. Excuse me, now, good sir, I am a moneyed person, and have many important purchases to attend to."

At last, there was nothing more for Roberts and Hammell to report to the colonel. The colonel, who each day lifted off with Morrissey and Bergen to observe the progress of the different sections of the Road, suggested that Roberts and Hammell go to work on the Road. Then they could report to him the mood of the road workers on the job.

Carrying a large wicker basket between them, Roberts and Hammell reported for work the next day, and by noon were exhausted, though the peasants around them trudged sturdily on without complaint. Angered at this unexpected weakness, Roberts and Hammell were grimly persisting in the middle of the afternoon when a shout went up somewhere ahead. Lost in the rhythm of the work, they set down the basket, tilted its load down the face of the advancing head of the Road, and were starting back when a murmur of dismay went up around them. They came to sufficiently to look around, and there in the distance was another tongue of dirt, gravel, and stone—the head end of a road advancing toward them from the direction of Shachrim and Fazir.

As the men and wagons milled, a work chief's voice rose angrily.

"Let the work go on! Fools! It is only another part of the Great Road! Did you think we would build it all ourselves?"

"But if they, too, are all at work on the Road—"

"Will you have your pay docked? Work, I say! Out of the way of the wagons, there!' A large, strong hand roughly seized Roberts by the arm, and shoved him ahead of Hammell. "Keep moving! When you are back with the next load, you can take another look. All of you, keep moving!"

By the end of the day, when the gong sounded that signaled the end of the work, the two roads were close enough together so that the men from both work parties mingled. Roberts and Hammell could hear the same exclamations from both sides, with just slightly different accents:

"How are your crops over there?"

"What crops? We know you will have a great surplus in such a year as this, and with the Road, we can buy from you!"

"But we planned to buy from you!"

Before their eyes, the confident cheerful faces grew frightened.

"There is nothing to do, then, but to buy from the hill people and the backlanders. But the hill people have such poor land, there will be little to sell us. And to get over the river and swamp from the backlands to here with a decent load of grain will be impossible until the ground freezes."

Roberts and Hammell looked at each other.

Another link in the chain of cause and effect had come into view.




The two ends of the Great Road were joined, and abruptly the flood of money ceased. Men at once set out into the hill country, and along the back roads, to find out if conditions were as bad as they seemed. Already, the price of food was climbing, as hoards of silver earned on the Road were used to buy what was worth still more—food.

And then the men who had gone into the hills began to straggle back with the bad news: Here and there were those who had food enough for themselves, and would not sell it at any price, because then they would starve. The backlanders had some extra food and were willing to sell it. But after the harvest was in, the fall rains were sure to begin. Then the streams would fill, the rivers overflow, and the long winding roads would be more impassable than ever. Nothing would get through until the ground froze. That meant famine.

Already, Roberts and Hammell, serving as scouts for the colonel, could notice that people looked thinner.

Roberts said, "They're rationing themselves."

Hammell nodded. "They've been through scarcity before. But probably never like this."

As the days slid into weeks, they realized it was no longer a question of "rationing."

Now, as the price of food climbed, other prices began to fall, the proprietors of shops hoping to sell something, anything, so they could pay the ever-rising cost of food.

As Roberts and Hammell, during a brief hot break in the rainy weather, passed the barred front of a silver-smith's shop, a voice called, "This copper tray, good sirs. I will let you have it for nearly nothing. One hand of small silver coins, good sirs! See the workmanship!"

An old woman, passing in the dusty street with her gray robes tightly wrapped around her, hissed, "Don't do it. You will starve without silver."

The voice came again from the barred shop front.

"Or will you have this burnished bowl? Of good solid workmanship, and it shines like gold! Four silver coins, good sirs—the small ones. That is all!"

A cloud of dust whipped down the street, and with a dry rattle a flurry of leaves whirled from the trees.

The old woman was gone around a corner, but the silversmith's voice still followed them.

"Three silver coins, good sirs! I mistook the price! Three small silver coins! I have sold them for more than twenty. Come look. Look at it! It is a fine bowl."

They passed open shops, where people sat listlessly, then there was a sudden scurry of dust and leaves, and a small hand clasped Roberts' robes.

He looked down to see a thin face with neatly-combed brown hair, and large beseeching eyes. The face was vaguely familiar, and after a moment, Roberts remembered her. This was the little girl he'd given food to, the night that he'd first realized the famine was coming. He looked at her, and her gaze never wavered. The large eyes in the thin face held a steady look of faith.

Roberts took from his pocket a large silver coin, one of the kind locally called "wheels," because of their size and the design on the back.

The little girl took it, stepped back and bowed low. Then she ran unsteadily down the street toward the food storehouse.

The wind whipped another flurry of leaves from the trees, and they rattled on the shop roofs, then blew across the roofs into the streets, to be caught up in whirling clouds of dust, and then rushed along, end-over-end, down the street.

Something gripped Roberts by the trouser leg.

A thin-faced boy said in a sing-song voice, "Please, good sir, give me silver. Or my mother dies."

Hammell said harshly, "A woman across the street just sent him out to beg."

The boy repeated, in the same singsong tone, "Please, good sir, give me silver. Or my mother dies."

The boy's eyes blurred, and he clung to Roberts' trouser leg, his hand clasping the white robe on top, and the trouser beneath, as if he were clinging to life itself.

He began again, in a singsong tone, "Please, good sir, give me silver. Or my mother dies."

Roberts took out eight to ten small and medium silver coins, and handed them to him.

The boy shut his eyes, swallowed painfully, and then stepped back and bowed.

"Come on," said Hammell.

From a pottery shop up the road, a little girl, her face and hands painfully thin and her belly swollen out with gas, teetered into the road, looked around listlessly, then started toward the two men. Hammell angrily threw a few small silver coins in the dust before her, and strode past, his hand on Roberts' arm propelling him at a fast pace.

"All that this giving to beggars does," growled Hammell, "is to shift the starvation from one mouth to another. Look."

They'd reached a private food warehouse, where a woman stood by a barred window, under a sign, "Silver Only."

From this warehouse, the little girl was walking very soberly back toward her home, carrying, hugged to her body, a small coarsely-woven bag. Seeing Roberts, she paused and bowed, then went on, walking a few steps unsteadily, then breaking into a tottering run.

Roberts turned and looked back, and for a moment, he saw the little girl at the corner, her bag of food clutched tightly to her. Then she vanished down the street.

With a moan, the wind picked up, and the air filled with dried leaves, and clouds of brown dust rushed down the street.

Roberts drew a careful breath, and looked at the food warehouse.

The woman there was holding a bundle in one arm, and in the other, outstretched, several medium-sized silver coins.

"But I have the money."

From the barred window came a patient voice.

"But we do not have the food. We have no grain at all, and will have no more roots and groundnuts till the hillmen come in again to sell to us. We have just sold the last."

"But I have the money, and my child must eat."

"Then go and try another storehouse. It may be that they have some. We have only enough for ourselves, and we live only from week to week. We cannot sell you what we do not have."

"I will pay you twice the price."

"Ten times the price will not buy it. It is gone."

The woman turned away, then hesitated.

"Will you sell me a little of your food? Just a little—"

The voice from the grilled window was pitying.

"No one will sell you their own food. What good is silver to a corpse?"

The woman turned, and walked slowly away, passing close by Roberts and Hammell as if not seeing them. Roberts had his hand in his pocket, and if the woman had even looked at him, he would have given her all the local money he had left. But she looked neither to the right nor the left as she walked by.

After she'd passed, Hammell shook his head. "It would have done no good anyway. The trouble here is, there isn't enough food. When you give money, you merely shift the food from one mouth to another.

Roberts felt sick and weary.

"Let's go on back. We've seen enough."

On the way back to the ship, they passed a small group of men and women beside a felled tree, The men were methodically stripping away the bark, while the women with sharp knives clipped off the ends of the twigs, dropping them into large baskets. They worked methodically and steadily, only looking up fearfully from time to time, as if afraid someone might come and take away what they had.

Back at the ship, Roberts and Hammell discovered a visitor in the form of a smaller ship marked with a string of numbers, and the letters, PDA. The colonel was just coming out, shaking his head.

"There is nothing I can do. It's a question of time and freight capacity. Let's say a pound of food per person per day will barely sustain their lives. How many people do you say are involved?"

An earnest-looking man appeared in the hatchway of the PDA ship.

"We don't know. We lack the facilities to say accurately, but on the whole continent—it could be anywhere from ten million to one hundred million persons."

The colonel shook his head. "If it's one hundred million, it will require a shipping capacity of fifty thousand tons per day. Where will we get the shipping? The food itself is problem enough. I know of no stocks in frontier regions on any such scale as that. And we're well out at the edge of the frontier. Now, this food will have to be brought from a great distance, and that will take time. When we get it here, it will have to be distributed. Can you begin to conceive of the organization this will require? I'm not equipped to begin to do this. Possibly PDA has the organization to handle it."

"I . . . I've received word we cannot handle it. I'd hoped you—"

"It's entirely beyond me. I realized, of course, when I suggested this road as a means to facilitate surface transport and . . . ah . . . cultural interchange, that some slight dislocation might result, but I didn't realize—You know, in a way I feel responsible—"

"Not at all, sir. We at Planetary Development have all been most impressed with the humanitarian selflessness of this project."

"Well . . . thank you. That means a great deal to me. All I can say is, we did urge that a sufficient proportion of the population be retained in essential occupations—"

The colonel paused, and glanced around at a jangling, clattering noise.

A glittering carriage, driven by a well-fed coachman and drawn by four sleek beasts of burden, came to a stop in a cloud of dust. A footman riding in back sprang off and pulled open the door. A second footman leaped off the back, ran around, and swung down a heavily-braced step. An immensely fat man in gold and scarlet robes, glittering rings on every finger, lunged out of the carriage, his face purple with rage, and faced the PDA representative.

"It is a trick . . . a swindle! I demand aid of the Star Men! You are their consul—you must help me!"

The PDA official said considerately, "We are right now trying to find some means to assist your people, Your Supremacy. But—"

"Assist my people? Why worry about them? Enough of them will live over to breed back to normal. We've had famines before. It's this Iatulon of Mardukash—He's the one who makes the trouble!"

The PDA consul's head drew back at the words, "Enough of them will live over to breed back to normal." He stared at the local king, started to speak, and then his jaw snapped shut.

"Now," said the enormous scarlet-robed figure, "You will see how crafty this fellow is. I have just had word, by messenger on my Road, that he will sell me 'enough grain to feed your people, at only a hand of coppers the half-measure,' but I have to buy in bulk, and pay for it myself in big lots. And I must send word back at once!"

The consul stared, then suddenly became excited. "Your hereditary enemy offers food? Then you must take it!"

"Take it? Not so fast. This is a high price!"

"But food is bound to be high. There is a famine!"

"Not in Mardukash, there isn't. The low born vermin keep their storehouses better than the palace. It is a high price. If I buy this food, my treasury will run out, I will not be able to pay my own army. That means ruin. But I have to buy, because word of this offer is being spread amongst the people. I will have a revolt if I do not buy! It's all this cursed Road! If it were not for that, the peasants would have raised their crops, and—even if we had a famine—no one could have got food in over the roads, so no outsider could have interfered." He shook his fist. "I demand that you destroy the Road!"

The consul looked staggered, then outraged. With an effort, he unclenched his fists.

"I am afraid I cannot associate myself with such an attitude, Your Supremacy."

"You, too, eh?" The local king whirled around, and lunged back into the carriage, which sagged and swayed with loud creaks from the springs. "Back to the palace!"

The footmen snapped up the step, shut the door, and sprang on in back. The driver cracked his whip. The carriage whirled around in a cloud of dust, and shot out of sight down the road.

The consul stared at the dwindling cloud of dust.

"Incredible! A pure paranoid reaction!"

The colonel shook his head sadly, "In view of his attitude, possibly a change to a . . . er . . . more stable executive . . . might actually be a blessing in disguise."

"Yes. It certainly would. If the Iatulon actually brings food from his storehouses, he, at least, is showing the right attitude!"

The colonel nodded approvingly.

The PDA consul slowly passed his hand over his face. "If only they were all like the Iatulon!"

Three days later, his offer having been refused, the Iatulon's army came down the Royal Road like an avalanche, brushed aside a small force sent out to guard the border, clashed in a savage fight with the main body of the defending army, and was just entering the capital when the local king, surrounded by his mounted elite guard, shot out of the palace in a war chariot studded with double-edged knives, with a heavy oblong chest strapped into the chariot, gained the Road, and headed for the neighboring kingdom of Fazir. The Road offering excellent speed, he was steadily approaching the border of Fazir when a fast moving body of troops appeared in the distance ahead. This developed into the slitted and loop-holed armored coach and household guard of the Arawak of Fazir, who was himself seeking sanctuary from the Ribar of Zaroom, the Ribar having fomented an uprising by offering food to the starving populace of Fazir.

As the two kings conferred, there appeared from each direction the rapidly-advancing cavalry of the Iatulon and the Ribar.

The two trapped kings briefly gripped each other by the arms. They whipped out their swords, and sprang back into their vehicles.

The chariot and the armored coach whirled around, pointed toward the enemy, and two angry voices rang out together.


The household cavalry leveled their lances. The war vehicles thundered ahead of them down the road. The cavalry of the Iatulon and the Ribar went from a trot to a gallop.

As the antagonists met in a final bloody clash, already from Mardukash and Zaroom the grain wagons were creaking, heavily-laden, down the Royal Road from the swollen storehouses toward their famine-stricken neighbors.




The colonel, looking like himself again, sat back at his desk, and looked over his four promising new recruits, once more recognizable as Roberts, Hammell, Morrissey, and Bergen.

"You see, gentlemen, a chain of events, if properly made, appears, one link after the other, very logically and inescapably. And here"—he picked up a yellow message form—"is the final link we're interested in, so far as this chain of events is concerned."

Roberts glanced at the paper, to read, " . . . In new vote, the surviving rulers have approved building of a Rest & Refit Center. Garoujik Corporation has subcontracted the actual construction work to Krojac Enterprises, and work is expected to begin at once . . ."

Roberts said, "The Iatulon, the Ribar, and the other efficient kings were able to end the famine?"

"Out of their accumulated stocks, they were able to ease it greatly, until the ground froze, and it became possible to also get food in quantity from the producing regions still cut off by bad roads. Then, between them, they built up stocks to get through the rest of the year on a reasonably normal basis."

"Why didn't anybody foresee this? To try to even suggest it to them was enough to drive you mad."

The colonel nodded. "There were only so many people here to see it, and they were all too busy seeing something else. The peasants saw the money they were offered. Overall allocation of effort wasn't their job. That job belonged to the kings. Their attention was on the money they'd get when the Royal Road was finished. If there was a famine—Well, they'd gotten through famines before. The consul, of course, should have seen it, but he is highly-educated, in economics that comes out of books written on highly developed worlds. 'Subsistence economy' is a pair of words that doesn't mean much on highly developed worlds. What counts there is capital accumulation and technological development. But wherever, for whatever reason, you're just able to produce enough food—or anything else you've got to have to exist—any diversion of effort from that work is fatal.

"The consul," said the colonel, "may have known it mentally, but it was about as real to him as the words 'cave bear,' when he reads about the experiences of humanity's remote ancestors. To people who've experienced the thing, the word 'famine' means a whole lot more."

Roberts involuntarily shivered as the colonel spoke the word "famine."

"Sir, does the Interstellar Patrol get involved like this very often?"

The colonel nodded soberly. "It has to. The universe isn't made out of cotton candy. Our job is to get things done. And often there is no other way."

Hammell said, "Sir, how many people had to die to get that R & R Center in?"

"Very few," said the colonel. "Because the situation was thought out carefully."

Roberts said, "If there'd been an error?"

"Millions of people could have died."

"That's a big responsibility."

"It is. It requires thorough and determined training to be able to bear the responsibility. It's a help if you enter on your initial training with some idea what's in front of you. A man is less likely to throw away something if he knows he will desperately need it later."

Roberts said, "We are about to start our training?"

"You are," the colonel answered.

The four recruits looked at each other grimly.

The colonel said, "That will be all, gentlemen. You have tomorrow off. Then you begin training."

Roberts, Hammell, Morrissey, and Bergen filed from the room. The last man out closed the door gently.

The colonel glanced at the wall above his desk, where gradually the strongly built keen-eyed man who had given him the problem came into view, smiling.

The colonel said, "What do you think?"

"I think you made the point. And it's an important point. Without it, half the training could be wasted."

The colonel nodded.

"I think they're motivated," he said.


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