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War in Our Time

The others looked up when old Radge Morimet stomped into the chamber of the Primgranese High Board of Trade. He stood, turning his head slowly to look at each of the Board members while the emo-monitor sensor implanted in his chin gave him quick reads of their attitudes.

He read relaxed concentration in them—the kind of attitude that's great, he thought caustically, for a kid trying to work a fairly simple puzzle toy. Here and there he encountered flashes of annoyance, presumably with himself because of his late arrival and the less-than-totally-sane emo-reading they were getting from him.

Morimet was well aware that he was rattling their sensors with the slam-slamming signal-cry of vengeance—of a mind busy with schemes of mayhem to inflict on an enemy. He had the prestige of his age and his record of service to protect that chronic attitude. Had he been a lesser figure than he was, he would have been pressured long ago into the care of a psych-releaser to get his vengeance-fixation lifted.

Personally, he considered it a useful attitude to have in the conduct of a war. He wished some of his colleagues on the High Board shared it.

He sat, and his chair positioned him comfortably at his place along the rim of the Board table. "Please go on from where you were," he said.

"We were in the process of reviewing," said Domler, the chairman. Morimet grunted.

Domler said, "To sum up, twenty-three years ago the Lontasta Federation apparently discovered a nonhuman, telepathic intelligence, about which we still have only limited information. The telepath is referred to as 'Monte', which may be suggestive as to its size. The Lontastans shifted their capital from Nexal to what is presumed to be the world on which the creature was discovered, and which has been named Orrbaune. Again, we have an indication in this that the creature Monte is too massive to travel by warp.

"We have not," Domler continued, "been able to obtain direct verification of this information. Our infiltrators have not been able to penetrate to the new capital planet. They are detected by telepathic means as soon as they enter the Orrbaune system.

"We have learned, however, that the telepath is serving the Lontastan capital as a communication system, on a level far surpassing anything previously achieved. This balanced our previous advantage in personal coordination, obtained when we equipped our people with implanted emo-monitors, and enabled the Lontastans to compete with us on even terms.

"Then last year the Lontastans finally perfected an implantable emo-monitor of their own. They now have a decisive advantage over us, and we have in prospect nothing of sufficient magnitude to restore the balance.

"The econo-war, ladies and gentlemen, is in grave jeopardy."

* * *

This was not news to any of the members. The emotional atmosphere in the chamber darkened slightly toward depression, however, at Domler's reminder. Morimet's vengeance pattern slam-slammed even harder.

"Comments on my summary?" queried Domler.

Several members eyed Morimet expectantly. He frowned. "Not from me," he growled. "If somebody will come forward with something new to discuss, all of us might have comments to make. We've already hashed and rehashed the status of the war to the point of no return. The question is: What are we going to do about it?"

He glared around fiercely.

"Every possibility is being explored," replied Grayme, a touch of tartness in her tone and a flicker of anger flashing at Morimet. "For example, our exploratory teams are now examining an average of thirty-nine stars per standard day on the mere chance that the Monte-type lifeform may have evolved on more than one planet, and we can find a Monte of our own."

Farsit, adjutant of Armed Resort, said slowly, "Also, this Board might seriously consider, in this crisis, the use of overt force. Assuming Monte is a massive living creature, we could produce a high-megaton missile with a prime-field guidance system we are confident could home on this creature. I'm aware that such action would violate the traditions of centuries, but if no other course presents itself—"

"Well, we do have promising preliminary findings for more conventional approaches," Domler broke in hurriedly. "It is theoretically possible, for instance, to jam telepathic communications. Effective hardware is still decades away, but—"

Morimet was glowering. "I said something new!" he snapped. "We're going down the drain today, not twenty years from now, or not in whatever century we happen to stumble across a Monte of our own! As for bombing that telepath, if it worked at all it would put the econo-war on an unsustainable primitive level. Such absurd crudities as that was what put organized rivalry in such bad odor back in Earth-Only times. We fight Lontastan commerce, not Lontastan landscapes and populations! Besides, they could play the missile game, too, if they were pushed into it."

"Your desire for a new solution to our problem," replied Domler, showing an exasperation-read, "is one all of us share. Unfortunately, none of us has such a solution to offer . . . that is, Radge Morimet, unless you have something in mind."

Morimet stared down at the table. "What we need, at a minimum, is a counter to the speed with which the Lontastan Council of Commerce, aided by telepathic communication, can reach command decisions. Presumably, of course, Monte also improves communication at lower government levels, and perhaps in corporation offices as well. But it is the CofC that makes the important econo-war decisions for the Federation, just as this High Board does for the Commonality of Primgran. With telepathic communion, their CofC doesn't spend years, or even hours, verbally comparing information and opinions among the members, or quibbling over semantics. They communicate, perhaps not instantly, but a hell of a lot faster than we do.

"And we," Morimet paused, sweeping the chamber with a disdain-read, "we have us. With our emo-monitors, we're not as bad as an ancient stockholders' meeting or national congress, in that we can't practice concealment and deceit on each other. But we can consume endless amounts of time, as we're doing right now, while the Lontastans are moving!

"In short, good colleagues, our problem is in this chamber. What do we do about it?"

* * *

The members stirred uncomfortably.

"We can throw your criticism in your face, Radge," replied Grayme. "What's new about that? We know the limitations that apply to this or any human governing body. As for the absence of concealment and deceit, I wonder if the absence is total here. That yammering vengeance-pattern of yours could conceal a multitude of unrecognizable intents."

Morimet grinned wolfishly. "Maybe it does. For example, my intent in bringing up the shortcomings of this High Board was not to enjoy the sound of my own voice. It was to propose that we do something about us."

"Do what?" asked Domler.

"Grayme just mentioned the 'limitations that apply to this or any human governing body'," Morimet responded. "She was in error. There is one purely human governing body to which the limitations wouldn't apply. I refer, of course, to an individual man or woman."

Everyone tried to reply at once. Morimet's emo-monitor hit him with a confusing flood of anger, disgust, and alarm. Then Farsit made himself heard.

"You object to bombing as a primitivism," he barked, "and then propose one-man rule!"

Morimet did not reply.

Gazing at him coolly, Grayme said, "Let's keep in mind the purposes of our econo-war. Man as an individual requires a demanding challenge at the group-activity level in order to maintain a cohesive, well-culled social structure that is motivated toward progress. Our war provides that, both for ourselves and for the Lontastans.

"A key requirement is group activity at all levels . . . that is, teamwork. What would the individual citizen ask himself when he learned the Commonality was being led not by a team . . . by this Board . . . but by an individual? Would he not be tempted to conclude that, if one person was better than a group for governing the Commonality, then he could govern himself on the basis of his strictly personal desires and goals without giving priority to the goals of his society?

"Don't forget, Radge, that man is by nature selfish, that self-interest is his strongest drive. That's a necessity for individual survival. Concern for the well-being of the society of which he is a member is also present, but it is less urgent and often must be aroused by the blandishments of others. His morale, as a team member, must be encouraged by reasoned explanation and pep talks.

"Certainly that morale would be dampened," she concluded, "if he saw the highest echelon of his team giving way to what the ancients called a 'personality cult'. It would be an invitation to him to pamper his own personality. Thus, we cannot allow the slightest taint of such a cult to enter this chamber."

Morimet glanced around to see if anyone else wanted to get some licks in before he replied.

Then he said, "Such a taint is already present here. I refer, of course, to myself. Any average citizen with an eccentricity such as mine would have been dragged to a psych-releaser long ago, but I, it seems, am a specially respected person. However, that's a rather quibbling point.

"I don't propose that this Board abdicate, but merely streamline itself. I say that decisions which require speed in the making—mainly those involving strategic and tactical matters—be left entirely to one person."

"Meaning practically every issue of importance that comes before this Board," growled Domler. "You're proposing more than a mere manager."

Morimet continued, "The Board would constantly review the actions of this top man, the one we can call the Executive, but would have no authority to interfere with those actions. The Board's chief authority would be the power to dismiss the Executive when, and if, it found him unsatisfactory. Thus, the Board would remain supreme, essentially, and the Executive would be its tool."

The chamber was silent for a moment after he finished. Farsit fidgeted and said, "The concept of delegation of authority is an old one—"

"I don't claim originality in this," said Morimet. "It is an old idea, and a workable one."

"For the sake of discussion," said Farsit, "how would this Executive be selected?"

"From our own membership," replied Morimet. "It would be a simple matter to ask the secretary to review the deliberations of this Board over the past five years and identify the member whose stands have proven correct more often than any other member's. That would be our man, or our woman as the case may be."

Another silence followed.

Suddenly Grayme snapped, "We're getting way off base here! The whole idea is unacceptable in principle! What good can be served by going into its details?"

Morimet looked at her. "I'm inclined to agree, concerning the principle," he said, "but more than a principle is at stake here. The war itself is threatened! That's a matter of urgent practical concern. We have to act!"

"Very well, on a practical level," retorted Grayme, "the conduct of the war requires continuity. It has lasted for over four centuries, and may be needed at least that long in the future. But your suggestion would produce a break in continuity at the end of an Executive's life. That's another weakness of the 'personality cult'. When the personality is gone, collapse tends to follow. At best, this would be sporadic, cyclical leadership . . .

"I grant that," Morimet replied testily. "Maintaining continuity will be a problem for future Boards. But the immediate need is to maintain the war in our time. Without it each citizen would, as you remarked yourself, make a cult out of his own personality. The deadly somnolence we've witnessed in the warless Halstayne Independency would overtake us all. What do you want for your grandchildren, Grayme, a slightly compromised econo-war, as I propose, or no war at all?"

She blinked, registering shock. Farsit spoke up. "Chairman, I ask that the secretary be queried as Morimet suggested, with the understanding that this request won't commit me to his proposal."

* * *

Domler nodded and pressed a button to put the computer secretary in the Board table into action. A moment later slips of paper were fed out of slots in front of each member's seat.

Grayme read hers and laughed dryly. "Were you counting on this, Radge?"

Morimet wadded his slip angrily and threw it on the table. "I decline to accept the position," he said flatly.

Domler remarked, "Maybe we should drag you to a psych-releaser! This was your proposal, yet when you are chosen by criteria you yourself specified—"

"It's my age, damn it!" Morimet bawled in annoyance that for an instant broke through his vengeance pattern. "When I said maintain the war in our time, I meant more than the next ten or fifteen years! We need a younger person for the Executive!"

Farsit nodded slowly. He glanced at his slip of paper again. "The numerical scores of the rest of us are closely clustered, well below your own, Morimet. I'm in second place, but by too slight a margin to mean much. If your age rules you out, and I agree that it should, then our choice of a candidate is not obvious to me."

"Well, I don't insist that the Executive be one of us," said Morimet. "I'm willing to go along with whatever modifications of my proposal you consider realistic." He hesitated, then added, "In fact, I know of a young man, a recent infiltration casualty, who might make an excellent candidate, although his motivation is rather shot at this moment."

"Who's that?"

"His name is Glan Combrit."

"Oh, yes," nodded Farsit, "Combrit. A brilliant record. He was one of your junior execs when you were an active corporate raider, wasn't he?"

"He was more than that," said Morimet. "He wound up running the whole Exchange end of my operation. Since then he's had a varied and highly successful career, most recently as an industrial espionage agent on several Lontastan planets. And it wasn't a slip on his part that has him out of action now. Even after the Lontastans got wise to him, it's to his credit that he managed to elude their goon squads and get home with a reasonably whole skin. He knows the econo-war, and he's a gifted strategist who can play it by the book or come up with creative solutions of his own. He's in recuperation on Earth right now. I visited him there a couple of weeks ago."

"I protest this discussion, Chairman!" Grayme complained loudly. "It is premature! Nothing has been decided!"

"Sustained," said Domler. "The discussion unjustifiably presumes a favorable decision on Morimet's proposal."

Morimet rose from his chair, his vengeance pattern slam-slamming harder than usual. "You have my proposal," he snorted, "and my arguments in its favor. I'm going home, and let you haggle over it as long-windedly as you like. Maybe you can do that better without my emo present to distract you!"

He whirled and stalked from the chamber. Once alone, he permitted himself a small grin.

* * *

Outside the building, Morimet glanced up with an old man's caution for obstacles in his path. The sky was blue and empty. He activated his transport implants and soared upward, on semi-inert mode and propelled by repulsor field.

His home, on the other side of the planet, could have been reached most quickly by lifting totally out of the atmosphere, making three right-angle minimal warps, and then descending. But he was in no hurry. He had nothing to do at home but await word of the Board's decision, and he suspected the decision was hours away.

Besides, he was skittish about warping in the vicinity of a planet. There was too much gas, even ten thousand miles above the atmosphere proper, for warping to be totally safe. That was how he had got stuck in his vengeance fixation. Warp did not take a man out of prime-field space, only out of matter-energy-time space. And every particle of gas carried its share of prime-field—and a man's mind was itself a patterned, durable prime-field matrix. A man who warped through a too dense wisp of gas could have his mind knocked right out of his body . . . knocked out at a velocity several times the speed of light.

The trauma of such an experience wasn't mild. The disassociation of mind and body was not bad in itself; in fact, that was a rather useless trick most any sane adult could do at will for amusement. And whether knocked out in warp or wittingly sent wandering, the mind matrix snapped back into place, as if from the end of a taut rubber band, as soon as it was permitted to do so.

The damaging factor about warp knock-out was the sheer speed with which it happened, the sudden recognition by both mind and body of the presence of relative motion of a magnitude both found innately "abnormal". And worse, this superlight motion was separating them.

In more respects than one, the experience was more traumatic than death itself. It was, in fact, one of the few types of trauma that a sane adult could not break without the help of a psych-releaser.

Thus it had happened several years ago that Radge Morimet, indulging himself in a moment of vengeful anger after a minor econo-war setback, had warped toward his headquarters planet . . . and had cut it too close. He had come out of warp in the stratosphere—that is, his body had—while his mind matrix had been knocked away by the outermost fringes of the ionosphere. The ionosphere was no mere wisp of gas; its prime-field was solid. It had stopped his mind matrix cold.

Reassociation took place in far less than a second, but not before the mind matrix was fixed by shock in the vengeance pattern it was holding at the instant of knock-out.

But, as Morimet had quickly realized, a touch of unsanity had its usefulness, to a man in a position to get away with it. It wasn't pleasant or comfortable, either to himself or to others, but for purposes of fighting a war his particular fixation had advantages over sweet reasonableness. It kept his mind on his job, for one thing. Probably it accounted in large part for his "rightness" score being higher than those of the other Board members.

* * *

He took his time going home, riding his repulsor field through the upper stratosphere. It was nearly an hour later before he dropped down on his estate. The local time was about 4:00 a.m., and his house, lawns, gardens and forest were dark and dewy damp.

Still, he lingered outside. There was no one in the house, his wife having "gone visiting" more or less permanently after he acquired his fixation—which was understandable. After all, what kind of companionship could a woman have with a man whose emo-pattern blocked communication?

Morimet blinked on his infrared vision and puttered about in his wife's flower garden until the call came from the Board.

"Morimet?" Domler's voice sounded in his right ear.


"We've decided in favor of your proposal. It was unanimous except for one abstention."

Morimet grinned. "Grayme?" he asked.

"That's correct," the woman replied for herself.

Domler continued, "We've also studied the profiles of the young man you mentioned, Glan Combrit. He appears to be a suitable candidate, except for the motivation factor you mentioned. Possibly that lack can be remedied by an indoctrination course, which Grayme could conduct . . ."

* * *

Morimet straightened up from the flower he had been admiring and walked toward the house. He chortled. "Glan's been around too much to be more than mildly affected by a pep talk. Don't his profiles show that?"

"They suggest it," Domler replied. "However, we've agreed that a mild improvement in his motivation will be sufficient. An Executive who was too hard-driving would tend to aggravate the 'personality cult' problem and—"

"I disagree," Morimet interrupted. "High motivation is essential in that job. Consider my own example. I'm no brighter than many of the Board members, so why did I have the highest rightness score?" Nobody replied, so he hammered his point: "Why have you tolerated my eccentricity? Didn't you do so out of tacit recognition that it was making me exceptionally useful to the Commonality?"

Another silence. Then Grayme snapped angrily, "Radge Morimet, if you are suggesting what I think you are . . . !"

"I'm suggesting that now's the time to do things that just aren't done!" he retorted sharply. "We have a war to keep going, damn it! But if it will make you feel better, Grayme, I'm not suggesting that a fixation be installed in Glan Combrit without his knowledge and willing consent."

"To intentionally render a man unsane!" she yelped.

"Oh, don't get so appalled," he chided. "You happily supervise the indoctrination programs that direct the thinking, to a degree, of billions of individuals. I'm proposing to direct the thinking, to a somewhat greater degree, of just one man."

Farsit's voice sounded in his ear: "What would be the content of the fixation?"

"Oh, something to the effect that Combrit desired most urgently to be on the winning side in the war."

"The winning side?" protested Domler. "But we don't want to win the war! That would be almost as bad as losing it!"

"Of course," Morimet agreed. "But the Executive should be trying to win. We can safely trust the Lontastans and their Monte creature to see that he doesn't succeed. And bear in mind that this wouldn't be a hate-the-enemy fixation, such as mine, that would put Combrit out of emo-communication. It would simply focus his drives along channels which are desirable in his job."

After a pause, Domler said lamely, "This will require some discussion."

"Call me back," said Morimet shortly, flexing his ear to break the connection. He went into the house and prepared himself a supper.

* * *

Five days later he was sitting on a patio on top of a forested Asian hill, gazing out over the Sol-brightened Pacific while sipping a drink and chatting with Glan Combrit.

"I imagine that the decisive point for the Board," he told the younger man, "was that score the secretary came up with. If my stand had been correct so often in the past, they're betting it is this time."

Combrit said slowly, "I accept the position, of course—and the condition attached."

"Good!" approved Morimet, seizing Combrit's hand for a firm shake. "I assured the Board you would. But there's one thing, Glan, I want you to face with your eyes open."

"What's that?"

"You're not going to be a happy man. I'm speaking as one who knows. A fixation is no fun to live with in the best of circumstances. And yours will, of necessity, cause you many frustrations, since it will demand winning. Even if you're effective beyond my wildest dreams, the most we can hope for is to bring the war back to even terms."

Combrit nodded. "O.K. I'll know to expect that. It is something I won't like, but I can live with it. After all, back in the days when this planet we're on was all man had, the entire race was loaded with neuroses beyond count, and they managed to survive it."

"Yeah, but they didn't know anything better," grumped Morimet. "Well, if your life-support is all in order, let's get off our duffs and warp for the capital. The sooner you're on the job, the sooner we'll stop losing this war!"

Combrit stood up. "Right. But don't expect too much. That creature Monte is more than a communications network. If we succeed in putting real pressure on the Lontastans, they might well respond by assigning duties to Monte similar to those you're giving me. And let's face it . . . my brain must compare to Monte's the same way an implant computer compares to that desk job in the Board chamber."

"Well, we'll see," replied Morimet, pleased that Combrit had recognized that key point in the situation without prompting.

* * *

Within weeks after assuming the duties of Executive, Combrit began stemming the tide of Lontastan victory. This was most immediately evident in Trade Credit Flow statistics, which had been running in high negative figures for the Primgran Commonality for two decades. Before the end of a standard year, Combrit's fast and effective trade moves had brought the TCF down to within a trillion dollars of parity.

And in one memorable trading day on the Open World of Exchange, the Primgranese General Stock average soared twenty-nine percent—and on low-volume turnover. Obviously, this unprecedented gain was not due to a flood of raid-buying by Lontastan adherents, but to a sudden decline in selling decisions by Primgranese holders. On that same day the more vulnerable Primgranese Frontals ran up a forty percent gain, also on low volume.

The formerly depressed Primgranese stocks were now safely priced and no longer inviting to potential raid-buying.

Then, having brought the econo-war back to even terms, Combrit began swinging it in the Commonality's favor.

He was jubilant, as were all members of the High Board of Trade, except Morimet. The old man took praise for the success of his proposal more grumpily than gracefully. It was evident to him, as well as to some of his associates, that his fixation was getting him down.

"Get rid of it, Radge," Grayme urged him after one of the in-person Board sessions. "Perhaps it served a useful function for a while, but we have Combrit now. Living in unsanity is too far beyond the call of duty. Let go of it!"

Morimet grimaced unhappily. "Not yet," he replied. "Perhaps soon . . . but . . . well, not yet." He turned and hurried away.

Combrit had heard the exchange, and walked up to the woman. "I think he means to hang on until he sees what the Lontastans will try to do to counter our successes," he told her.

"That's needless!" she complained. "You've demonstrated that you can handle any response of the enemy with more effectiveness than Radge possibly could."

"He obviously doesn't see it that way," Combrit replied.

Grayme shrugged. "Who knows how that man sees anything? That constant slam-slam-slam shuts him off from everybody."

Combrit nodded. "I'm glad my own fixation involves nothing like that. Fact is, I'm quite comfortable with it. But for him, that trauma must be like a painful wound on an otherwise healthy and alert body . . . not bad enough to dull the alertness and thus deaden the pain for him. It has to be a torture to live with, simply because it stands alone and can't be ignored."

"I'm glad your fixation has worked out so well," Grayme said. "I opposed it, and I'm glad I've been proven wrong."

* * *

Then within days the situation changed again.

In a stunningly brilliant series of market maneuvers, Lontastan raiders seized majority control of Midgard Starstream, a pivotal holding corporation on the Primgranese Frontal list that had territorial as well as industrial significance. It had been firmly in Primgranese hands for more than a century and a half.

Combrit's report to the High Board concluded grimly:

"The Lontastan Council of Commerce, presumably with reluctance similar to this Board's in establishing the position of Executive, appears to have responded in kind. I assume from the efficiency of the Midgard Starstream raid that the creature Monte was selected the Lontastan 'Executive'. For sheer mass of brainpower, Monte obviously outclasses any human, or any presently conceivable artificial mental construct.

"Two positive factors should apply, however. First, the Lontastan Federation may employ Monte with restraint, disliking—as would we—relinquishment of a human conflict to nonhuman control. Second, Monte lacks man's heritage of combativeness. This, plus the special preparation I was given for my present duties, should leave us with a definite motivational edge."

Domler messaged Morimet: "Damn it, Radge, a lot of good motivation is going to do us when that Monte monster can outscheme a dozen Combrits. They can murder us!"

Morimet snorted. "Don't bet on it! One positive factor both you and Combrit seem to be missing is that we hold the creative initiative."

"What creative initiative?"

"They're copying us, we're not copying them. We establish an Executive, then they imitate our action. Before that, we came up with emo-monitor implants, and they followed suit as soon as they could develop the gadget for themselves. One edge that gives us—among several—is that it makes the Lontastans tend to hold back, to guard themselves against whatever unexpected initiative we may hit them with next."

"All right, I'm not saying the econo-war's lost," Domler said, "but I am saying that adoption of your Executive scheme hasn't gained us a thing, at best, and for the moment at any rate it's proving costly."

"So it is," Morimet replied agreeably, "but let's wait and see how it goes for a while."

"Morimet, are you withholding information from the Board?" the Chairman asked suspiciously.

"Nothing is being withheld," growled Morimet. "As for certain opinions and expectations I might entertain, based on data known to all of you, those are my business until I care to express them."

Domler broke off communication brusquely.

* * *

The war continued to go discouragingly for the Primgran Commonality. There were no further coups of the scope of the Midgard Starstream seizure, but almost every action wound up favorably for Lontasta. When the enemy did not achieve a small victory, at least victory was denied the industrialists of Primgran.

At last Morimet paid a visit to Combrit's office, Executive Control. He stood in the middle of the room, staring about critically at the sumcom consoles, the Executive's three immediate assistants, and at Combrit himself. Judging from the man's strained appearance, and by the presence of a cot in a corner of the room, Combrit had been living in his office day and night.

"You're pushing yourself too hard, Glan," he said.

Combrit laughed wryly. "Monte's doing the pushing, Radge, not me! What a brain that creature's got! And evidently he never sleeps. I have to stay on my toes constantly, and . . . and"—he slumped his shoulders—"well . . . we're still losing."

Morimet had observed Combrit's emotions closely while he spoke. Frustration was heavy. Events were running counter to the demand of Combrit's fixation. And there was a definite flicker of admiration when he mentioned Monte.

"O.K.," Morimet replied. "The solution is to not let him keep pushing you. You're not glued to this office, Glan! Your assistants know standard economic strategics and tactics and can hold the fort. Get away from these clattering consoles a while, where you can think."

Combrit frowned. "I'd better stick around . . . never know when something urgent will come up."

"But what are communications for!" snapped Morimet. "You can stay in touch wherever you go. Look, Glan, I've lived with a fixation a hell of a lot longer than you have, and I've learned some tricks about dealing with one. And I say get out of here! Warp to Earth for a few days, or even a week. Appease that urge to be on the winning side by hauling a few game fish out of the ocean. Or conquer a couple of mountains by climbing them on foot with all your life-support systems off."

Combrit showed annoyance. "You don't really think such stunts would distract me for a single minute from the hard and plain fact that I'm not on the winning side, do you?"

"Well, maybe not. But I have a suggestion to deal with that. Get your fixation deintensified while you're taking your break. A psych-releaser can do that for you. Then it can be reestablished when you return—"

Thoroughly goaded, Combrit flushed and shouted, "I don't want it deintensified! I want to win!" He whirled away, and quickly calmed down. When he faced Morimet again he was registering surprised concern. "That was quite an outburst, wasn't it?" he chuckled sorely. "Which proves you're right, and I have let this job get me on a thin edge. I'll take a few days off and go to Earth."

"Fine!" Morimet approved. "I think you'll find you'll feel better, and some quiet thinking might produce some useful answers for you as well."

The next day at his home Morimet was informed that the Executive had warped for Earth for a few days of relaxation. "About time," he grunted.

He settled down to wait. The trip from the capital planet to Earth took fifty-three hours—long enough for him to do a lot of floor-pacing if he allowed himself to become impatient, but also long enough for Combrit to think through his position and discover the answer to his problem.

But would Combrit do it? Morimet messaged his wife. "I might go to a psych-releaser in a day or two," he told her.

"You might? I hope you do, Radge," she replied. "Let me know."

"I will."

* * *

He managed to hold off fifty-five hours before attempting to message Combrit. There was no response. He messaged Earth Arrivals Control.

"I'm trying to contact Executive Glan Combrit," he said to the officer in charge. "He must have passed through Arrivals two hours ago. Do you know where he is?"

"Executive Combrit hasn't arrived here, Director Morimet," the officer replied with a touch of alarm. "I'll see what I can learn and call you back."

Morimet grinned. "Thank you."

Then he messaged a psych-releaser and made an appointment.

Four days passed before it was known for a fact that Glan Combrit had defected to the enemy, and was even then in Lontastan territory.

The Board met in emergency session, and Morimet arrived late again. The others noticed, but were too preoccupied to comment upon, the absence of his fixation.

Without preamble, Domler said, "Morimet, this Board isn't trying to shift responsibility for what's happened, but the fact is that you were the key figure in this disaster from the beginning. You proposed establishment of an Executive, you named the man for the job, you suggested and later structured the fixation installed in him."

"And he's feeling pleased with himself!" observed Grayme, staring at Morimet. "You didn't plan for this, too, did you?"

Morimet nodded. "This was the final act of my scheme," he admitted comfortably. "I'll resign from the Board but I'd like to be sure a new Executive is properly prepared and on the job."

"A new one?" muttered Domler. "After what happened to the old one?"

"The next time," said Morimet, "the fixation must be worded differently. The Executive must be locked to the purpose of producing victory for Primgran, specifically, not simply to be on 'the winning side' as Combrit's fixation was phrased."

"Then it was the wording of Combrit's fixation," said Farsit, "wording you selected, that drove him into the enemy camp."

"Yes. He saw no hope for being on the winning side with us," said Morimet, "but with the Lontastans, and most of all with Monte, he expected his fixation could be satisfied."

The other members gazed at him, emoting stunned incomprehension.

Grayme demanded at last in a cold voice, "Morimet, was your vengeance desire directed at us rather than the Lontastan Federation?"

He chuckled. "Of course not! I wanted to injure the enemy, and that's what I've done."

"By giving them our key man?" exploded Domler.

"Right," Morimet nodded, "our key man, and one they will be slow to learn is worse than useless to them, provided what's said in this chamber today isn't allowed to go further."

* * *

He leaned back in his chair and smiled at the others. "How well would a football team play with two quarterbacks calling signals at once?" he asked.

"Oh, I see," said Farsit, puckering his brow. "Or I see what you tried to do. I don't think it'll work that way."

"You don't? Consider these points: First, the Lontastans have grown accustomed to copying our initiatives, to taking our ideas and using them against us. They know that Combrit is good, almost as good as their creature Monte, as he demonstrated by holding them to limited victories. Second, they have the same misgivings we would have about looking to a nonhuman for leadership in a purely human fight. They would prefer to limit Monte's role to that of a super-communication system.

"However, they would be as reluctant as you were about rendering a man unsane by installing a fixation in him. Since they had Monte, they could avoid that while not only following our lead but going us one better. They had misgivings about elevating Monte, and they still have them even though Monte has proven himself a winner.

"But now they also have Combrit, already handily fixated for them, with a motivation that will make him loyal to what he considers the winning side. Don't think they won't use him, friends! They will!

"On the other hand, they won't retract all the authority they've given Monte. He's proven too successful for them to do that. They will try to make an Executive team out of the two of them, which is a very promising-sounding idea, you'll agree."

"Damn right, I agree!" growled Domler. "Entirely too promising! It'll probably work! Monte's supermentality and Combrit's motivation and fighting heritage—"

"Very promising-sounding," Morimet repeated with self-satisfaction, "and very much in keeping with the concept of maintaining teamwork at all levels." He hesitated and peered expectantly at the others.

Grayme caught on first. "A committee!" she exclaimed. "Monte and Combrit will be a committee!"

"Right!" approved Morimet. "It only takes two to make a committee, at which point the long gab-sessions begin! Even with one member of the committee a telepath, it will take time to reach a meeting of minds and make a decision. Monte and Combrit will have the same problems directing the conduct of the Lontastan effort that our Board had before we picked an Executive."

"But how long will it last?" asked Farsit. "Won't they catch on?"

"Maybe, but I doubt it. They prefer teamwork, for one thing, just as we do, and won't want to catch on. Also, the idea of one man in charge was copied from us, and it is much easier to neglect, or forget, the basic philosophy behind a borrowed idea than one you work out yourself. The Lontastans won't be as dedicated to the single Executive principle as I hope this Board will remain."

"But when Combrit discovers he isn't on the winning side after all—" Grayme began.

"He'll rationalize his way through that problem," said Morimet. "Read the wording of his fixation, Grayme, with careful attention to tenses. He's on the winning side now, and he knows it. What happens from now on can be explained away to his satisfaction."

"Well!" exclaimed Domler. "If all this works out as you expect, Morimet, woe to the Lontastans!"

Morimet smiled and pulled a sheaf of paper from his belt pouch. "That's why I mentioned retiring from the Board. I've got my licks in, and you shouldn't need me any more."

"Radge," asked Grayme softly, "why did you hide behind that vengeance pattern all these years? Did you think we would refuse to go along with you if we knew all the details of your scheme?"

"Partly that. But mostly," Morimet hesitated, his pattern showing a flick of resolved self-distaste. "Mostly, though, it was because I needed a touch of unsanity to go through with it. Combrit was a friend of mine."

He straightened and tossed his papers on the table. "Here are my recommendations concerning the new Executive, and my resignation. My wife's at home rearranging the whole flower garden. I'd better get back there and either stop her if I can, or help her if I can't."

"But look here," broke in Domler, "your scheme is no lasting answer, even if it works for a time. At the best, it can't outlast Combrit!"

Morimet shrugged. "I know, but it gives us war in our time, and that's the best any generation can expect to do. What happens later will be another generation's problem."

He turned and walked jauntily out of the chamber.


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