ProGordon R. Dickson
Gordon R. Dickson
START SCIENCE FICTION
An Imprint of Start Publishing LLC
New York, New York
PRO © 1978 by Gordon R. Dickson. © 2006 by Estate of Gordon R. Dickson.
First Start Science Fiction edition 2013.
All Rights Reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any manner without the express written consent of the publisher, except in the case of brief excerpts in critical reviews or articles. All inquiries should be addressed to Start Science Fiction, 609 Greenwich Street, 6th Floor, New York, NY 10014.
All characters in this book are fictitious. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
Published by Start Science Fiction,
an imprint of Start Publishing LLC
New York, New York
This book is for Ben Bova,a friend for all seasons.
". . .There was no suspicion
in the mind of any
that the Duke
was responsible for the death
It was simply that
Facino’s death created a situation
only to be met by the destruction
of the Duke...”
BELLARION, by Rafael Sabatini
To Bill Cohone, who was unimportant, news camelate and the supervisory people in his Sector came byinfrequently. One exception to this, however, wasMajor Manai Elies, the Medical Services officer.Manai dropped in whenever she could.
Cohone left his quarters and walked out to meetthe shuttle that had just brought her down from thepermanent orbital station at which her ship wouldhave parked and which was his single link with therest of humanity. The port had opened in the side ofthe shuttle and she was on her way out before hereached her. Her arms were full of mail, includingone fairly good-sized package—an unusual sight, con-sidering the distance World 4938ID was from Earth,
and the cost of sending anything larger than a letterthis far.
“Presents,” she called to him as she turned tov greet him. In her white slacks and shirt, with only theMed Service badge for color on the pocket, she was avibrant sight. Her hair was as black as obsidian,black enough to catch the rich yellow light of the sunin glints of warm fire. She was tall, slim and—Cohonereminded himself again—fourteen years younger thanhe was. He had never understood why she seemed tolike him.
“What’s in the package?” he asked, unloadingher.
“You’re supposed to tell me.” Her ceaselesslybrilliant eyes held him merrily. “It’s from your pub-lisher, isn’t it?”
Cohone’s gaze suddenly recognized the sign of thepublishing firm he had dealt with.
“What is it?”
Abruptly, her voice was concerned. She hooked anarm in one of his now laden ones and turned himtoward his quarters.
“They’ve sent me a couple of copies of my book,”he told her as they went. “I’ve been expecting it.”In the main room of the quarters, Cohone openedthe package, to display two disposable film-playerswith the title OTHER WAYS THAN OURS in star-glitter on the dark blue of each front panel. His namewas also there, in glitter but in very small print.
“It means they’ve decided to trash the unsoldcopies. Yes,” he went on, reading the note that hadaccompanied the two copies, “that’s what they sayhere. I was expecting this.”
“Trash!” the major was outraged. “It’s only beenout five months.”
“Well, it’s a financial decision on their part, ofcourse. It just didn’t find enough buyers ...”“Because they didn’t try hard enough. That’s theirjob!”
“Oh, I suppose they tried.” Cohone laid the twobooks aside, gently in spite of his tone of indiffer-ence. “They have to make decisions like that on a lotof the books they publish.”
“It’s a book they shouldn’t ever trash—a book alot of people back there ought to be reading. Thereisn’t one in a million back there who appreciates therealities we deal with out here.”
He looked toward her, loving her—though of coursehe would never be idiot enough to tell her so. Luck-ily, behind her head, he suddenly caught sight of hisown reflection in the turned-off communications screenbuilt into the far wall, and the ghostly image of hisown tall, balding, round-faced self sobered him withits reminder of other realities.
“Well, if I ever make a name for myself, I can tryto get it republished,” he said.
“You will,” she told him.
“Forget the book,” he said. “Tell me the news.”“The news—” Manai’s voice changed. “We’vegot a new Sector Chief, and he’ll be visiting you anyday now.”
“New Sector Chief?”
“A man named Harb Mallard. He’s one of theAcademy wonders—what they call a full-fledged pro-fessional. Apparently he completely revamped thelast Sector he handled. Don’t let him push you around,now.”
“All right. I won’t.”
“I mean that,” she said. “You do let people pushyou around.”
“No,” he sobered suddenly. “In fact, I don’t—not when it gets down to something important.”
She looked at him doubtfully.
Shuttling down from the permanent orbital station to the world known as 4938ID, the man named Harb Mallard, who was important, found a fair-sized clearing on the narrow, pebbled shore of a wide, gray lake combed with rolling waves running from half a dozen winding water-miles away.
A cool wind blew from the lake, for evidently it was only the beginning of a spring, here. Across the clearing was one large building, clearly a sort of warehouse, and a number of smaller ones, all of cream-color bubble plastic. Beside the buildings,stretching to the green-gray tangled forest wall, were planted fields with the bare inches-high green stubble of winter-sown grain in rows. Hoeing among the rows were four stooped and hairy figures wearing body, arm and leg wrappings of brown or scarlet cloth, and one human with no shirt on his skinny upper body, his half-bald scalp shining redly in the pumpkin-yellow sunlight. Ideal, thought Harb, and went to meet the man.
The man, having seen the transfer-pod land and Harb emerge, was already yelling at his workers,snatching up a shirt and hat and abandoning his hoe.He came toward Harb, sweating, dressing as he came.
“You must be Mallard!” he said warmly, offering a dirty hand which Harb shook—with no distaste but with a certain sense of irony. “I’m Bill Cohone—but you know that, of course. Come on in. Come on in—you could stand a drink, I suppose...” Chattering cheerfully, and stuffing his shirt into his pants as he went, he led Harb into the large building,ushered him to a seat, and got them both brandy and water in blackish clay cups.
“Don’t you have an overseer to head up the work in the fields, instead of being out there yourself?” Harb asked him.
“They won’t keep at it unless I’m with them—the Homskarters, I mean.” Cohone grinned and seated himself. He was, thought Harb, exactly what his records had indicated—an obvious volunteer, with more idealism than brains.
“Not very tame, then, are they?” Harb said.
“Well—they’re independents. You know how the survey tagged them.” Cohone gave a helpless shrug.“I get the ones nobody wants among their own people. The old rice-Christian business.” He shrugged again, and spoke apologetically in the candid confessional tone of one talking with a fellow worker. “I’m just sort of a caretaker, here, anyway. I suppose you know I’m a volunteer?”
“Yes,” said Harb. He did not bother to rub it in.The breed of man before him was dying out in the Expansion Service. Men of Harb’s stamp were taking over, profession
al xenosociologists, thought Harb,who were not content to sit and wait for the natives of promising worlds like this one to invite human help. Statistics sounded good, but too often they left you with a hole in your pocket and only a string of impressive figures for comfort.
Harb finished his drink.
“I wish I’d been able to get out here before this,” he said, “but the past year since I took over as Sector Chief things have kept me close to Sector Headquarters. I notice the records say you’ve been here ten local years. That’s longer than any volunteer or professional I’ve got planted on a probable world in my sector. And this is all you’ve got to show for it?”
The cheerful lines in Cohone’s face slowly smoothed out and faded. He stared, with his jaw slack and mouth open slightly. It was the exact expression that would have accompanied a flush of anger and embarrassment in a younger man. But age and sunburn had robbed Bill Cohone of this ability.
“You ought to see the crowds I get on Mondays—that’s my medical day,” he answered slowly. “And the four Homskarters you see out there aren’t the only ones I’ve had. I’ve had dozens. They stay awhile and then go back to their people. There’s a lot of good feeling for us among them. I mean—among the rank and file. Naturally, the kings and chieftains don’t lean to us, yet. They don’t need us like the plain people do.”
“But they’re the ones you’ve got to convince,”said Harb, coolly. “Aren’t they?”
Cohone stared at him. Slowly his mouth closed and his jaw tightened. The earlier warmth and camaraderie of his greeting was all gone.
“They’re warriors,” he said grimly. “Plunderers.Fighting and feasting’s all they know. And you want me to tell them to get out and sweat behind a plow? You ought to know they’re the last to be convinced of that. I have to start with the bottom ranks and work up. You must know the survey!”
“The survey made of this planet,” said Harb, quietly, “was set up to chart a course of action foryou, not for you to hide behind.”
Cohone glared at him plainly, now.
“I’m not hiding behind it—you know that!” he snapped. “But I’ve been here ten years. You haven’t. These people are independents—independents, you understand? And independent cultures are like rubber balls, you punch them and they punch back automatically.”
“Yes, I know,” interrupted Harb, dryly. “I’ve seen that book you wrote.”
“Then you ought to realize the culture differences among these aliens here! We have to understand these Homskarters. They can’t be forced. You’ve got to convince them. And that’s a slow process, maybe taking local generations to change. No one could make that slow process move any faster than I’ve made it move here; and that’s all there is to it. You can’t force change on independent culture.”
“There’s more than one kind of force,” said Harb, still quietly. He sat back, and let his words sink in.He saw the loosening of Cohone’s features into an expression like despair.
“You’re recommending my removal then?” Cohone said, at last. “That’s what you’re here for?”
“Not at all,” said Harb. “I’m here to help you. Come along.”
He led the way back out to the transfer boat. From the boat he brought out equipment and dressed himself. When he was done, he stood before Cohone, armed not only with a handgun, but with a Homskarter-style sword and a concave shield having a spike in the center. A backpack, rations belt, and outdoor clothing—from high boots to a crash helmet disguised as a Homskarter conical iron helm—completed his outfit.
“But you’ll make trouble!” said Cohone almost fiercely when the dressing was completed. “All that stuff’s too advanced to use here. It’s illegal! When Earth HQ learns about this, they’ll convict you—”
“They’ll commend me, not convict me,” said Harb, dryly. He looked at the other man with what was almost a touch of pity. “Tell me, what did you do before you volunteered?”
“I was a bridge engineer—a managing bridge engineer!” said Cohone. “I’ve worked with people like these locals on physical jobs all my life—"
“But,” said Harb, “you wanted to do something worthwhile, and real. So you signed up and they gave you a three-month course in the basics of xenosociology and the rules in the Handbook; and for the last ten years you’ve been here trying to make it work the way you were taught.”
“What’s wrong with that?”
“Nothing,” said Harb. “For a volunteer like yourself. But I’m a professional. I have two degrees and one of them is in xenosociology. On top of that, I’ve had four years of Academy training, and a six-month internship at Earth Headquarters before I was sent out to take a post on a probable world, like this one. It took me less than fourteen months on that world before I was promoted to Sector Chief and transferred to this sector to replace your old chief.Fourteen months—not ten years.”
“What of it?”
“What of it?” repeated Harb. “It means that I was successful on my probable world. I got results. And I didn’t get them by working the way you’ve done here. I stuck my neck out to get them, but I got them. And I got patted on the back for them, not court-martialed. Do you know why?”
“No,” retorted Cohone, “and if there is a reason, it’s got to be a bad one.”
“Good or bad depends on your point of view,”said Harb. “The higher echelons at Earth Headquarters don’t live by your rule book. They can’t afford to. Behind that rule book the law is survival of the fittest. If you have the brains and the guts to break the rules, but get what’s wanted in the process, the fact that you broke the rules is going to be overlooked. I intend to get what’s wanted.”
“And what’s that?” Cohone’s face was lumpy and savage.
Harb shook his head at him.
“You really don’t understand?” he said. “All right,I’ll tell you. I’ve got a dozen worlds in my sector and a dozen people like you on them; but the other eleven are showing worthwhile results. I’m not going to let the record of this one planet pull down my overall achievement report. So, I’m here to help you out. All on my own. You don’t have to break a rule or do a thing. I’ll do it.”
“But what?” demanded Cohone. “What’re you going to do?”
“What’s necessary. The situation’s too static, and you haven’t been able to move the locals out of that in ten years. We’ve got to shake up the status quo here, or this station of yours can sit forever with your medical days and your rice-Christian local converts,and nothing’s going to happen. Now—where do you keep your boats?”
He picked up a small, power-unit-operated out-board thruster—absolutely forbidden for culture levels such as obtained here.
Grimly silent, Cohone led him down along the pebbled beach to a small floating dock to which were tied a number of the high-sided native boats—canots, they had been named in the survey, after the Canadian-French word for canoe.
These were all as narrow as splinters, with tall prows and stems. Harb picked the one which seemed
to have the most beam to it, and stepped carefully down into it. Seating himself, he clipped the out-board motor to its right side near the stem, with the motor’s jet down in the water; and cast off.
“I still say—you don’t understand!” burst out Cohone suddenly behind him, as he drifted away from the dock. “I’ve put ten years of my life into this station! You can’t do this to it!”
“You can’t. But I can,” answered Harb half to himself and switched the motor on. The burbling of its jet soon covered the sound of Cohone’s now shouting voice, as man, dock and clearing dwindled into the shoreline distance behind the stem of the canot.
Harb set a course from point to point of the wavering shoreline, and the little canot sliced smoothly,quartering through the rolling waves. The chill lake breeze blew invigoratingly in his face and made him cheerful. Perhaps someday, he thought, he would come back here from Earth to fish for whatever native water-species there were in this l
ake. In spite of the gray, rolling water, the too-yellow sunlight and the different gray-greens of the tangled forest along the shore, the scene was strongly remindful of those few Canadian northwoods lakes that only existed on rare private estates back on Earth, nowadays...
He relaxed into thought, steering the canot with an automatic hand on the outboard tiller. Luckily Cohone in the flesh had turned out to be exactly as Harb had pictured him. Now, if Harb could only find a comparably useful individual in the Homskarter King Rajn, to whose court and wilderness city the canot was now headed...
It should not be difficult. Thank the survey for that. Harb smiled slightly to himself. That was his difference from Cohone. The volunteer had studied the survey with an eye to advantaging the Homskarters. Harb had studied it with an eye to advantaging himself.
He had not, of course, told Cohone that whole truth. He looked down a little complacently now at the hard-muscled legs within the boots stretched out before him in the canot. He was young, in top physical shape, and thoroughly armed and prepared to deal with the courts of savages he was about to encounter.And that was another difference between him and Cohone. Cohone was trying to deal with a culture. Harb intended to deal with individuals.
...With the result that the Homskarters would make the cultural shift that the survey promised—bringing this world to a need for human aid and immigration. And bringing Harb the rewards obtained by one who added a world to the human community.
For World 4938ID was in balance now—a balance that would need to be disturbed before any real progress could be made. It was a civilization that had its fingers stuck in the gears of the inexorably forward-turning wheel of progress toward a modem technological society. The present situation lay in stasis between the forest-country people and the people of the plains, on this world’s single great continental land mass sprawling like a skinny dragon three-quarters of the way around its globe.
The first human assumption had been that the already agricultural communities of the plains, with their primitive kingdoms, should be the ones humans might best infect with the concept of progress. But the survey had corrected that assumption.