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Forever Enemy

Renson broke warp a proper five million miles from Nexal. The radiation of the planet's Sol-class sun felt pleasantly warm on his exposed face, chest and limbs, and momentarily opaqued his eyeball shields until he turned his head away from the glare.

The shields cleared immediately, and he had no trouble spotting the gleaming disk of the planet, the capital world of the Lontastan Federation. He went full-inert and promptly streaked toward the planet, feeling a touch of satisfaction with his astrogational skill. His warp-exit coordinates had placed him where his inert momentum would carry him precisely to his destination.

He tongued his toothmike and messaged: "Calling Nexal Arrivals Control. This is Fait Linler of Stemmons arriving with due prior notification. E.T.A. two hours. Please ack."

The acknowledgment was slow in coming. Renson was beginning to frown uneasily before the response rang in his right ear:

"Linler of Stemmons, this is Nexal Arrivals. Maintain inertia. You will be escorted down."

"Escorted?" Renson demanded, surprised. "I really don't see the necessity of—"

"Maintain inertia!" the voice interrupted. "Nexal Arrivals out!"

"But . . ."

He did not complete his protest. This business of an escort had to mean that, for some reason, the Lontastans were suspicious. Had he given himself away with a false move?

He was—technically speaking—an enemy here, even though he had no intention of causing, or seeking, trouble. However, if trouble waited, his best bet was to warp out while he had the opportunity.

He went semi-inert, preparatory to setting a warp vector, then was stopped by a thought.

Why had Arrivals Control told him he would be escorted? Why hadn't the escort simply arrived and surrounded him? Was he being baited into a guilt-revealing action? What should . . .

The hesitation probably save his life. Zerburst terminals flared suddenly in scorching brilliance on every side, bottling him at a distance of only hundreds of miles in an almost unbroken shell of death. As it was, his skin-field went total reflect to block out the fierce radiation. If he had tried to vector in any direction, one of those terminals would almost certainly have caught him.

A harsh voice barked in his ear: "Fait Linler! Go inert and STAY inert!"

Renson obeyed.

Within seconds the escort of Nexali Guardsmen closed in on him. He watched expressionlessly as they spiraled around. They were a tough-looking squad—doubtless barbarian types of the sort usually found performing such duties. With their zerburst guns held in readiness, their black shorts and their overpolished boots, they looked very military and very murderous.

In short, a goon squad—one of the uglier features of the endless Primgranese-Lontastan war. As long as human society had a use for such barbs as these, Renson mused grimly, their genetic strain would remain intact.

"Take off your belt and throw it!" ordered the harsh-voiced Guard officer who had spoken before.

Renson did so, not bothering to protest that his belt contained no weapons. A Guardsman snagged the belt as it drifted away and examined it cautiously.

Then Renson's sight was cut off. The escort had thrown a blindfield around him. He would see nothing during the rest of his journey to Nexal.

Time passed. When they entered the lower atmosphere he knew of it only from the relaxation of his pressor field and from the change of his breathing mode. The sensors of his life-support system, having detected suitable air around him, automatically deactivated the gas-conversion macromolecules in the linings of his throat and nasal passages, and he went on external respiration. What sounds filtered through the blindfield were muffled and uninformative.

When the field lifted Renson saw he was in a small windowless room. He had been left carrying sufficient momentum to slam him backwards into a chair, in which he was immediately confined by a restrainer belt across his stomach.

After a dazed instant he saw the escort was gone. Only one other man was in the room, facing him across a desk.

"I'm Arkay Delton of Anti-Espionage," the man informed him mildly. "Who are you?"

"I'm Fait Linler, from Stemmons," replied Renson. "Look, what's all this about?"

Delton's eyes had lowered to something Renson could not see on the desktop. Now he looked up and repeated, "Who are you?"

Renson blinked. Obviously Delton had an emo-monitor focused on him, and his use of a false name had registered; else Delton would not have repeated the question. Renson had lived with his assumed name, Fait Linler, for five years, and had hoped that, if he were ever emo-monitored, it would register clean. Plainly, it had not.

I AM Fait Linler, he assured himself. That's my real identity. Grap Renson is no longer real. I accept that as true without reservation.

But in reply to Delton's question he said, "Nobody you need concern yourself about. I'm not a spy, nor an enemy."

Delton glanced up and said, "Thank you," which probably meant the answer registered clean. "Who are you?"

Annoyed, Renson replied, "Fait Linler."

"Who are you?"

"Fait Linler, of Stemmons."

"Who are you?"

Renson consciously relaxed himself. This interrogation setup—a mild, friendly-faced man repeating a question at him from across a desk—had a strong and intentional resemblance to a psych-release therapy session. Psych-release was a major landmark in the life of every child, opening the way to a sane adulthood.

Thus, the temptation was to regard Delton as a therapist and cooperate fully.

Renson wriggled under the restrainer belt into a more erect position. "Fait Linler," he said.

"Who are you?"

"Look, I told you I'm nobody of concern to you! I'm not a participant in the econo-war at all! In fact, my sole purpose for coming to Nexal is to try to discover why this nonsensical war exists in the first place!"

Delton considered this outburst a moment before saying, "Thank you. Who are you?"

"Fait Linler!"

"Who are you?"

"Fait Linler."

"Who are you?"

The repetition of question and answer went on for half an hour . . . and Renson was beginning to think it could continue forever. Delton would tire, and be replaced by another interrogator, who would tire and be replaced by—

It was futile to go on.

"Who are you?"

Renson sighed. "I've been Fait Linler for five years. Who I was before that isn't important."

Delton smiled. "Thank you. Who were you six years ago?"

"It doesn't matter."

"Who were you six years ago?"

After a pause Renson shrugged. "I was Grap Renson, an engineer with Sol-Veg Systems Corporation in the Commonality of Primgran."

"Thank you, Mr. Renson. What grade engineer?"

"Junior first."

Delton looked impressed. "And you're not here as a spy or a saboteur, or otherwise as an agent of the Commonality or of a Commonality enterprise?"


"But you are not here as a defector, either?"

"That's correct," Renson said stiffly.

"Thank you." Delton shifted slightly in his seat for the first time. "After your long trip from Stemmons you're probably ready for some bulk food."

Renson nodded.

A tray slid out of the wall to pose a breakfast over his lap. He dug in with good appetite. During warpflight it was necessary to subsist on food-concentrate pills, with a stomach-balloon countering the empty sensation the pills left. This prevented severe pangs, but the human body had other means of recognizing hunger. And that, Renson realized as he grew more comfortable, was one reason why he had found the idea of a prolonged interrogation so hard to face.

He looked up between mouthfuls. "What alerted your security to me?" he asked.

Delton shrugged and grinned. "Several things. It seemed likely, when I first read the query on you from Arrivals Control, that you were either a rank amateur at infiltration, or that some Primgranese spy-boss was taking a shot in the dark with an utterly naive approach." He chuckled, "It was foolish of you to expect that a mere five-year record of residence on a low-security planet like Stemmons—where nothing of economic significance is going on—would lead to your unquestioned acceptance as a first-class Lontastan citizen. Notification of arrivals on Nexal are always checked out, and yours was obviously fishy."

Annoyed, Renson snapped, "O.K., so infiltration isn't my line!"

"That's for sure," laughed Delton, studying the captive thoughtfully. "So you came here trying to discover the cause of the econo-war, huh?"


"Which means you don't accept the reasons everybody else does."

"I definitely do not."


"Because I find them absurd! Look, Delton, are all the adults of the Primgran Commonality and the Lontastan Federation sane?"

Delton grinned. "Those of the Federation are. I can't vouch for the citizens on your side."

"Please be serious," Renson snapped. "Humanity is sane, to the last adult on the most out-of-the-way frontier world. We've been sane for nearly a thousand years now. Nobody is driven by some neurotic compulsion to accumulate more wealth than he has any imaginable use for, while leaving someone else in economic distress in the process. Only insanity, on the pandemic scale of the Earth-Only ages, can justify that dog-eat-dog method of wealth distribution.

"Yet, we still go at it tooth and claw, without the tiniest neurosis for an excuse! And the big war between the Commonality and the Federation is just another level of the billions of little wars going on constantly within our ranks. Sol-Veg Systems Corporation versus Philips Interstel, as well as versus Nexxtauri General. And me, while I worked for Sol-Veg, versus several dozen other hard-climbing first-junior engineers. On every level, the organization of both our nations seems to have no other purpose than to provide a battleground!

"Is that what society is for, Delton?" he went on angrily. "Is that the highest purpose we can grasp after all these centuries of sanity?"

Renson ran down suddenly and sat in glum silence, annoyed with himself for expressing his feelings so openly to a man he could hardly expect to understand or appreciate them.

"It could be worse," Delton remarked lightly. "It could be a shooting war, in the old Earth-Only style, instead of economic combat. So you must admit we've gained something from our sanity, Renson."

"We've gained precious little!" Renson flared. "There's nothing pretty about industrial espionage and sabotage, or economic oppression of the weak by the strong, or trigger-happy goon squads such as that escort that brought me here! Just because our war involves no wholesale slaughter everyone seems to think it isn't really damaging, or deadly. The obvious truth is that it is deadly indeed to the human spirit! It pits man against man! It makes us enemies when we could—and should—be friends."

Delton smiled. "You and I, for instance?"

"Certainly! Under more favorable circumstances—" Renson's voice trailed off uncertainly.

"Ah, yes, more favorable circumstances," Delton chuckled. "If we were friends instead of enemies, we could enjoy each other's company, discuss our innermost feelings and beliefs, perhaps have an argument as close friends do about some belief on which we didn't agree. Just as we're doing right now, Renson."

"O.K.," Renson nodded, "I'll grant that point. You and I, technically enemies brought face to face, are conversing like friends. But that's precisely what I'm getting at—sane men are friends when face to face, when their proximity crowds out the artificial barriers our social structure normally raises between them. Friendship is natural, enmity is not."

"Friendship wouldn't be natural if both of us were hungry and only one of us had a little food," Delton dissented.

"But there's no shortage of food in our society," Renson retorted, "except for artificial shortages created by the artificialities of the econo-war! We produce a constantly increasing plenty of everything for everybody! That's another reason why the war is inexcusable. We have too much wealth for it to be worth fighting over."

Delton considered that in silence for a moment. Then he said, "Man has always been a player of games, Renson. If you're a student of history, you probably know that one of the key steps in our progress toward sanity was the recognition that life itself is best understood as a game. We need the same things for a good life as we do for a good game—that is, we need freedoms, barriers, and goals. And, of course, a playing field for these things and ourselves.

"But for a really top-notch game, Renson, we need something else—teams. The better balanced the teams are, the more absorbing the game.

"That's what the econo-war gives us, Renson, a superb and unifying game, with well-balanced teams. The play gets rough sometimes, especially for the goon squads, infiltrators, and others who choose to play in exposed positions. But there has to be hard play if the game is taken seriously as the basic game of our society.

"So there's nothing artificial or phony about the war, Renson. It isn't something dreamed up and kept going by a handful of government and industrial officials. If you convinced the top brass of the Commonality and the Federation that the war should be ended, and they signed a treaty tomorrow, within a month I bet the war would be starting again! Man needs his games, Renson, the same as he needs food, shelter, sex, and life-support. And this econo-war is a great game—otherwise it wouldn't still be going strong after more than three centuries."

Renson said sourly, "I doubt if the economically deprived consider it such a great game."

Delton shrugged, "There has to be losers as well as winners. To quote a bit of ancient wisdom, 'the poor we will always have with us.' " He frowned thoughtfully and asked, "Could that be your trouble, Renson? Are you soured on the econo-war game because you're a loser?"

Renson shook his head. "I was doing very well with Sol-Veg. It was my own decision to quit."

"Are you a married—or formerly married—man with a family somewhere in the Commonality?"

"No . . . I never got around to that. Never found a girl with whom I hit it off just right."

Delton nodded slowly, and Renson wondered why Delton had asked about his marital status. But he said nothing, because he could see no point in continuing the discussion. Evidently Delton felt the same.

"That's all the questions for now, Renson," he said. "Behind you is a door into an apartment where you'll be comfortable while you wait for the disposition of your case."

The restrainer belt dropped from Renson's lap and he stood. He wanted to ask what the Federation officials were likely to do with him, but he knew Delton could not answer that. "Thank you," he said, and left the interrogation room.

* * *

During the next two weeks Renson had plenty of solitude in which to consider his situation. And he reached the conclusion that entering Federation territory had been pure folly—a waste of five years.

It was not that his capture was preventing him from gathering data on the cause of the econo-war. The truth was that Nexal, or any other Federation planet, had no data to offer that was not available on any Commonality world. In all essences, the Federation and the Commonality were the same. They were twin societies, operating on the same principles and with the same motives.

And, of course, the Federation's ideas about the war had to duplicate those he had been hearing all his life at home . . . the same glib answers, such as Delton's life-game analogy, which made a certain amount of sense but failed to explain why man, with all his abilities of creative imagination, had not come up with a far more desirable game for himself than econo-war.

For the first centuries of interstellar travel, a game of conquer-the-universe had been plenty, for instance. And that game was still going on, but it had lost its early excitement. It was too easy, Renson mused. The galaxy offered more room for expansion than man could use for several millennia—and so far man had found no competitor for that room, no alien species to fight.

So he fought himself. That was the explanation for the econo-war, perhaps, but it was no explanation at all. Not for a sane humanity, in Renson's opinion.

He was uncomfortably aware that his opinion was not widely shared. Hardly anybody bothered to question the assumptions that he found so flimsy. In fact, most people with whom he had argued about the war had responded much as Delton had . . . as if they could see and understand some vital point to which he was blind. Was he a prime example of stubborn stupidity, insisting on his rightness and the wrongness of everybody else?

Well, not quite everybody else. After all, there was the Halstayne Independency—a nation far smaller than either the Commonality or the Federation, admittedly—that took no part in the econo-war and seemed to get along quite comfortably nevertheless. The one Halstaynian he had met had shared fully his distaste for and puzzlement over the Primgranese-Lontastan conflict.

His meditations along such lines were interrupted a few times for additional interrogation by his captors, but most of the questioning was perfunctory. Having been away from Sol-Veg for five years, his knowledge of the corporation's activities was thoroughly dated. Also, despite his junior-first ranking, he never had been let in on any of the company's high-security projects. (An indication, he wondered, that the company had considered him a questionable risk?) In any event, he could tell the Lontastans little of value.

Finally he recognized Arkay Delton's voice speaking from the call box. "Renson?"


"You're to be released, with the understanding that you will not remain within Federation territory. Accepted?"

"Yes," he replied, wondering. Released? Just like that? "Is this an exchange of captured personnel?" he asked.

"No, the next scheduled exchange is six months away. And there could be complications if we tried to include you in an exchange. Shall we send out an arrival notification for you?"

Renson grimaced slightly at the insulting truth of Delton's words. The Commonality would not care in the least if he were never released, with his war-critical attitude, and would not be interested in accepting him for a captive Lontastan.

He answered Delton's question: "Notify Bernswa in the Halstayne Independency."

"Sounds like a wise choice for you, Renson," Delton approved. "There you'll be out of the war entirely. Check your life-support and we'll send you on your way."


Renson went in the bathroom, stripped, got the life-support meter out of the cabinet, and began testing. He pressed the sensor platelet into the hollow under his ribs on his right side, and saw that the powerpack implant in that location still had a .7 energy capacity, which was quite sufficient. Moving the sensor above his right hip he assured himself that the multifield packet imbedded there was in total working order. A similar check above his left hip verified the functionality of his transport packet.

Then he pressed the platelet against his closed lips, tongued his toothmike, hummed softly, and watched the needle respond. Finally he placed the sensor behind each ear in turn, tapped the soundkey, and heard the clear blips.

This checked out all the major implants. And the macromolecule-sized segments of his life-support, such as those used for gas conversion in the space-respiration system, and the purely mechanical units such as the stomach balloon—these things had to be working right, or he would be feeling sick.

He dressed, stepped out of the bathroom, and blinked when he found three Guardsmen waiting for him. One handed him his belt which he put on automatically.

Then he was blindfielded, escorted out of spying range of Nexal, and sent on his way.

* * *

Out of the dozen developed planets in the Halstayne Independency, Renson had picked Bernswa because that was the home world of the only Halstaynian he knew.

The Independency was in a dusty area of the galactic arm, which accounted in part for its autonomy. Warping through dust was not an impossibility, but the prime-field turbulence that resulted was mind-wracking and dangerous. Clear lanes through the dust were eventually found, but their circuitousness kept the Halstayne region from having much appeal for either of the two superpowers. As a result, the Independency was formed and settled in large part by persons who had opted out of the developing Primgranese-Lontastan conflict. It was a pocket of peace, bordered by both of its larger, more contentious neighbors.

Renson made a careful zigzag of warps along one of the clear lanes. Finally through the worst of the dust, he paused in normal space and looked around. The teeming suns of the galaxy were totally obscured. Only fifty-some points of light were scattered sparsely across the blackness—the suns of the Independency—and several of these wore fuzzy halos of dust and gas.

But the sun of Bernswa sparkled un-obscured, and he warped for it. After breaking warp near the planet and clearing his arrival, he messaged Estine Cauval, not knowing what to expect.

It turned out that she was not only at home but in a position—and with the inclination—to be hospitable.

"Sure, come on down, Grap!" she exclaimed eagerly. "I'll switch on my beacon for you!"

"I won't be intruding?"

"Not at all. Oh, I was married for a while after I last saw you, but now everything is casual and simple. Don't forget, Grap, it's been over eight years!"

"Yes. Still a newsgirl?"

"Oh, yes, but not so pushy about it now. I haven't been outside covering the econo-war for years and years!"

"I'll be down in forty minutes," he told her.

Bernswa had several hundred semicities, but Estine did not live in one of these. Her house stood isolated in a richly forested piedmont. This puzzled Renson after a few minutes with her, because he could tell she was still the lover of crowds and swirling activity he had remembered.

"I'm writing a drama," she explained, "and need the isolation of a place like this."

"A drama?"

"Didn't I ever tell you? Dramaturgy has always been my dream. I still do occasional news features but I give most of my working time to my play. I've been at it for over a year."

Renson nodded slowly. Estine was bright, clever, charming . . . but a playwright? That hardly seemed likely. She was too much a reporter, too intrigued by the event to pay much heed to the meanings behind the event. He doubted if she could create a play worth watching.

"Tell me about yourself, Grap," she demanded gaily. "What brings you here?"

He sat down beside her and described his fruitless efforts to learn why the econo-war existed.

"Welcome to the fold!" she exclaimed. "You won't find an answer here, but at least you're among people who share your puzzlement. About the only sensible thing to say about the econo-war is that it's ridiculous!"

"Which begs the question," Renson remarked glumly.

"Yes, but what else is there to say? The society, as well as the individual, of the Independency is sane. It has to appear nonsensical to us that the rest of humanity finds warfare a normal and desirable condition of life. It's all so frantic and foolish."

He grinned. "You seemed to enjoy it when you were a correspondent."

"Oh, sure, as a reporter," Estine said with a toss of her head. "Life in the Commonality has a crazy excitement that was fun to write about, and to watch for a while. It's . . . well . . . have you ever tried writing, Grap?"

"Not the kind of writing you mean—just engineering specs and so on. I've thought if I could solve the mystery of the econo-war, I'd write something about that."

"Yes, but that's not what I mean. I mean poetry, or fiction, or drama. What is called creative writing. Grap, it's next to impossible to write creatively, and interestingly, about sane people doing sane things!"

Renson thought this over, and finally nodded. "I can see how it would be," he agreed. "If everybody is sane and reasonable, you don't get much dramatic conflict."

"That's it, exactly," she said. "And that's why I enjoyed covering the econo-war. It's also why modern novelists do historical pieces about Earth-Only days, or else fantasies. I'm not saying sanity is dull," she giggled, "only that it makes dull fiction compared to Dickens, or Tolstoy."

"And there is some fiction about the econo-war," Renson put in, wondering why Estine had sounded defensive when she denied that sanity was dull. "Which may be roundabout evidence that the econo-war is as anachronistic as Uriah Heap."

She smiled and grasped his hand. "I sensed that you felt that way when I first met you, Grap. That was one of the things that attracted me to you. And now . . . welcome to our non-fictionalized society."

"Thanks. Hope I'll fit in."

"Oh, you will," she said with assurance.

* * *

A few days later he went to talk to Ferd Primlay about a job. Primlay was development director of Halstayne United Life-Support Corporation, largest producer of life-support equipment in the Independency.

"I've not been active in the field for five years," Renson said apologetically after they had talked for a while, "and that may put me a bit out-of-date."

"Not at all!" glowed Primlay. "You may, uh, even find you're ahead of us in some respects. We do tend to lag behind Commonality and Federation companies at times, with them always scrambling for some minor competitive advantage. Although I must say we do all right, considering our size and position."

Renson nodded. It was all a matter, he thought fleetingly, of what one considered "all right" to be. The Halstaynian version of the multifield packet was a cumbersome object, nearly two cubic inches in volume and about sixty years out-of-date by Commonality standards. He had noticed that Estine's packet actually made a visible lump under her skin when she bent a certain way.

"Perhaps I can help you overcome some of those lags," he said. "Also, there's an idea I had on the way here. Why not include an emo-monitor in standard life-support equipment?"

"Hm-m-m. An interesting thought," said Primlay. "I wonder, though, if an emo-monitor wouldn't be getting us too far away from the basic definition of 'life-support'?"

"I think not. The definition has got broader over the centuries. Life-supPORT 75,111,59,151,194,177

"Then you're hiring me?"

"Of course! All applicants are hired here. Didn't you know? That's basic to the Halstaynian way of life."

Renson blinked. He remembered reading something to that effect long ago, but he hadn't really believed it, thinking it one of those rules honored more in the breach than the keeping. But, if the Independency was actually free of economic competition, such a rule was probably necessary.

Primlay was watching his expression. "I suppose your former colleagues wouldn't consider that a practical personnel policy," he remarked stiffly.

"They wouldn't," agreed Renson with a slight grin. "But they cling to many things dating from pre-sanity times. What is it you want me to work on?"

Mollified, Primlay said, "Stomach discomfort, especially in older people. Our balloon apparently does not work as well as the Commonality version."

"If the balloon's outer surface is sufficiently random-transportive," Renson said, "there shouldn't be any discomfort."

"Random-transportive," murmured Primlay, not quite making it a question.

"You may have another term for it," said Renson. "The idea is that the balloon shouldn't block pill nourishment away from any portion of the stomach's wall, otherwise a person gets localized pangs. It's mainly a design job, involving the distribution of microtublets in the self-flexing substance of the balloon, with the distribution ordered to provide maximum pressure in areas of maximum resistance."

Primlay nodded. "This is something you're familiar with?"


"Fine! That will be your first assignment. Now, I understand from your friend Estine Cauval that you're quite a vactennis player, Grap."

"Yes, but I'm a bit out of practice now."

"It's my game, too," said Primlay, in a livelier tone than he had used before. "In fact, that's what first roused my interest in life-support systems. A player's game is no better than his equipment, you know. Perhaps we could have a game . . . ?"

"Sure," agreed Renson. "Let me know when you have time."

"No time like the present," laughed Primlay. "Come on!" he leaped eagerly from his seat, strode to the window and dived out. "Let's go!" his fading voice trailed back.

Renson stood motionless for an instant, then grinned and dived after his new employer. Maybe, he guessed, it was part of the rules in the Independency that a man in Primlay's position could play hooky from his job if he liked.

He followed the man up into space and the two of them enjoyed an afternoon of strenuous sport. The Independency, Renson was thinking, was a great place to live.

* * *

He spent the next three months changing his mind.

The stomach balloon assignment had not struck him as a major challenge, but more as a preliminary test to assure Primlay that he could deliver. It involved nothing more than was already being done by Commonality and Federation manufacturers, using materials and processes Renson knew well. For that matter, samples of modern stomach balloons from outside were easily available for copying, although at a higher price than many Independency citizens could afford.

He had expected to be through with the project within a month at most. But that length of time found him barely started.

He told Primlay, "I would like to do some shifting about of the personnel on the project. Random-transportive design is a finicky task, in which a minor error by one drafter throws out the work of a whole drafting team. And . . . well . . . some drafters are less talented than others."

"That's very true," nodded Primlay. "However, shifting people about isn't easy. What did you have in mind?"

"Anything that would give me a first-rate drafting team—even a small one. For instance, the less useful drafters could be put on other jobs within the project—"

"Not unless they ask for it without prompting," said Primlay. "The key point there is that these people accepted employment with our company as drafters. As long as they're satisfied with the work they're doing—"

"O.K.," said Renson, "let's take them off the project entirely. Assign them elsewhere in the company."

Primlay smiled. "That wouldn't be exactly fair to our other projects, would it? I assure you, Grap, your project has no more than its share of less useful workers in any category."

"Well, look," Renson snapped, "these people are a drag on our progress! What can be done about it?"

"The best thing to do," laughed Primlay, "is to relax. There's no great rush. Actually, your project is coming along excellently, Grap. Not as fast as such things go in the Commonality, perhaps, but remember there's no war on here. Now, how about vactennis this afternoon?"

After that Renson decided not to bother mentioning his other personnel problem to Primlay: absenteeism. After all, Primlay himself was a heavy offender on that score.

So the project's difficulties boiled down to those overlapping problems—at least a third of the personnel were "losers," people who lacked the ability, or the motivation, to do efficient work. And the entire staff, losers as well as winners, came and went from the lab as they chose. The recommended workday was six hours, but that was treated very loosely as a maximum. There seemed to be no minimum.

* * *

Renson tried to acclimate himself to these working conditions. After all, they were absurd only from the viewpoint of a high-competition society, or a society in which the absence of sanity made such a free and easy approach totally unworkable.

And there was no equalitarian nonsense involved in the Independency's way of life, no pretense that everybody had equal intelligence and ability. The system merely insisted that the person of less ability be allowed to make what contribution he could, in whatever way he chose, to the society's progress. That hardly seemed too much to allow.

And aside from all that, the people at the lab, and others he met socially as the weeks passed, were obviously and genuinely grateful to Renson for joining them, and working to bring their life-support systems closer to outside standards. It was good to be appreciated, he discovered.

So he hung on, and ignored as best he could the growing sense of frustration he felt with the crawling pace of his project.

"The thing is, it's such a simple task," he complained to Estine one evening, "to merely redesign the stomach balloon. I don't know what the lab would do with a really tough development problem, like my idea of adding a miniaturized emo-monitor to the standard system. They would probably stretch that one out over several lifetimes! No wonder Primlay's interest in it was so mild."

She grinned at him. "Don't you know we don't have a war on, Grap?"

"Yes, I know that," he chuckled sorely. "I've heard about it from several people, several times. But I still find it a poor excuse for total inefficiency."

"But it's not inefficiency, Grap!" she protested. "It's just the sane, comfortable way of doing things. You don't find anyone taking a negative attitude toward his work, do you?"

"Not actively negative, but—"

"O.K., then. Everybody on your team is interested in the work. But they're also interested in other matters of importance in their lives as individuals. Society is to serve the individual, Grap, not the other way around. People shouldn't have to behave like selfless machines, you know."

For a minute Renson sat gazing vacantly into the distance. Then he sighed, "I can't help but wonder, though, what kind of future the Independency is making for itself. It's not even trying to keep abreast, economically and technologically, with the Commonality and the Federation, and is falling farther behind every decade."

"We are trying to keep abreast," said Estine, "but we insist on doing it within the framework of our own way of life."

Renson chuckled. "So I've noticed. That means nobody works very hard, and no penalty is put on failure to do good work for the society. You can't keep abreast as long as your way of life boils down to that."

"Maybe not," she said good-naturedly, "but here's an old saying I just made up: The vegetation on the other side of the fence includes sour grapes as well as greener grass. In other words, we won't discard our way of life for fancier life-support packets."

"It's not just that, I'm afraid," Renson said slowly. "When failure isn't penalized—" He let the thought trail off.

"Go on," she prompted.

"Well, I don't want to belittle the people here, Estine, but it seems to me, from what I've seen in the lab, that the population already includes a large percentage of what we'd call 'losers' in the Commonality. This is a point I hadn't given much thought to until right now, in questioning the econo-war. But the one positive gain that comes out of combat is the culling of the species, the removal of undesirable strains from the gene pool, by killing off low-survival types before they have a chance to breed."

"But the econo-war doesn't even do that," smiled Estine. "Not enough people get killed in it for that."

"But killing isn't necessary when the persons being culled are sane," he said impatiently. "A loser in the Commonality, or the Federation, knows who he is, and so does everybody else. A loser is far less likely than a winner to find a desirable mate, and he's less likely to reproduce. That keeps the freakish types down to a minimum."

"I don't see that," she objected, "sane or insane, a person's strongest motivation is concerned with himself, the individual. After that, his second strongest drive is to have a family. The needs of his society to keep down the number of freaks runs a poor third."

"Yes, and it is to keep that third from being so poor that the econo-war is being fought!" yelled Renson, jumping to his feet and pacing the floor, more excited than he could recall ever being before. "It all fits together, Estine! The econo-war culls, and it provides unification of motivation for economic and technological advancement! I suppose I had to see your society with my own eyes before I could really understand that. Sometimes I think I'm not very bright."

After a long silence, she asked softly, "What are you going to do?"

"I'm not sure. I'm thinking of going back. I'd like to work on my emo-monitor idea with some company like Sol-Veg, and perhaps write up my ideas about the econo-war, now that they're becoming clear. I had such a hard time understanding it, maybe I would know how to explain it to people who are as dense as I've been." He turned to her suddenly. "Do you think you would like living in the Commonality, Estine?"

"No," she said flatly.

"I'm sorry. You know how I feel about you. Besides, you're too intelligent and capable not to have several children. Stay here if you must, Estine, but I do hope you'll marry again, and have lots of kids next time. Don't let this noncompetitive society cull or that the econo-war is being fought!" yelled Renson, jumping to his feet and pacing the floor, more excited than he could recall ever being before. "It all fits together, Estine! The econo-war culls, and it provides unification of motivation for economic and technological advancement! I suppose I had to see your society with my own eyes before I could really understand that. Sometimes I think I'm not very bright."

After a long silence, she asked softly, "What are you going to do?"

"I'm not sure. I'm thinking of going back. I'd like to work on my emo-monitor idea with some company like Sol-Veg, and perhaps write up my ideas about the econo-war, now that they're becoming clear. I had such a hard time understanding it, maybe I would know how to explain it to people who are as dense as I've been." He turned to her suddenly. "Do you think you would like living in the Commonality, Estine?"

"No," she said flatly.

"I'm sorry. You know how I feel about you. Besides, you're too intelligent and capable not to have several children. Stay here if you must, Estine, but I do hope you'll marry again, and have lots of kids next time. Don't let this noncompetitive society cull you, girl!"

"Like the Commonality has almost culled you?" she asked thoughtfully.

Renson looked startled, then angry. "Damned if it didn't!" he said in wonder. "As if idealism was the sign of a loser! Well, I won't stand for that! I'm going home, Estine."

"O.K. It's been fun, Grap." She walked outside with him as he fingered the food pill pouch on his belt to make sure he had an ample supply.

"And for me," he said. "But the war will be fun, too. A good fight always is."

He kissed her, stepped back, and soared off into the black sky.


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