Urgent! Class AA emergency for Universal Relief! Stock market crash on planet Lyrane, where people live by economy based on good deeds. Cause unknown. Suspect galactical manipulators of watering stock.
KALGOR, capital of the Galactic Empire, is not, as one would expect, one solid city. As a matter of fact, it is more suburban and rural than many farming planets.
The reason is obvious if but considered. The galactic government and the equally large galactic businesses are so immense that they must be distributed throughout the whole galaxy, with only the very cream of the hierarchy located on Kalgor. Thus, each company would have only one small building—but with a communication web that enfolded macroscopic enterprises.
Universal Relief Incorporated was typical of this arrangement. Although its warehouses and offices throughout the Empire could form a megalopolis in themselves, the fountainhead on Kalgor was a two story building.
In that building there was excitement. People were rushing frantically—the teletypes chattered in a frenzy—the air was static with urgency. It manifested itself in the quick jerky motions, in the voices held just below the cracking point.
Universal Relief served the function that used to be handled by the Red Cross. They were disaster rectifiers, succor and reconstruction was their business. But they were a business—declaring annual, taxable profits and dividends and, in general, a profit-seeking firm.
They received regular payments from planetary governments, much like premiums with insurance, and in case of emergency they were to provide complete relief as swiftly as possible. There was no chance for graft in their business, for they were closely checked by the government and competing organizations like Galactic Aid, their closest rival.
This business was now apparently faced with a crisis and its staff was feverishly trying to cope with it.
Roald Gibbons, President of Universal Relief, was the only person not affected—at least not apparently. His indolent posture, his quiet grey eyes reflected nothing of the hectic activity.
This made Kim Roger nervous.
"I don't think you comprehend the seriousness of it, Mr. Gibbons," he was saying.
"I am not thinking of the seriousness of it. I just want the facts."
"Very well, sir. Two days ago, the Lyranian stock market crashed."
"You will have to go back further than that. I can't possibly know the history of all the planets in the Empire. That's what I pay you for. Give me some background."
This little speech made Kim lose his clutching hold on his patience. Roald Gibbons had just taken office after the death of his father, who had managed the galactic firm for twenty years. By merely being the boss's son, Roald had achieved the reputation of being an ignorant, careless playboy. His professed ignorance of the planets confirmed, in Kim's mind, this reputation.
With an effort, Kim resumed. "The planet of Lyrane, the only habitable one in the system of Lyrane—Copernicus sector—was colonized by a socio-economic sect for the purpose of testing its slightly radical beliefs.
"This sect maintained that an individual should not be paid on the basis of the work he did, but for the good deeds, or good thoughts he had. A small stipend was paid for actual work or production, to establish a workable basic economy and trade. This stipend was enough to cover all the basic wants of the individual.
"To procure luxuries, a citizen had to use the money he received for his good deeds or thoughts. Every time a man helped an old lady across the street, or came up with a bit of philosophical wisdom, he could record it with a central office and receive his luxury pay from the government.
"The purpose of the system was to make people emphasize virtue and quality in their lives. Instead of concentrating on profit for profit's sake, they would have to consider the inherent rightness and beauty of what they were doing."
"In such a system," Roald asked, "how could such a thing as a stock market possibly develop?"
"Very simple, sir. This luxury pay, issued in a different currency than the commodity pay, could be used in any way a person saw fit. Some people naturally developed the idea of investing stock in a particularly virtuous or intelligent person. Every time that person did a good deed, the stockholders received a dividend from his luxury pay. All of the scientists and philosophers, therefore, became corporations in themselves, with as many as five thousand people holding stock in one man."
"Sorry, Kim, but I don't get it. How could these incorporated individuals get any luxury pay for themselves if they had to hand it out to their stockholders?"
"The administration would allow for that. A person received luxury pay in proportion to the number of stockholders that he claimed. The government had to do this since they indirectly were investing in these corporation-men—but I'll explain that later.
"The corporation-man lived off the original investments of stockholders, with some of the stock solvent for sales. In this way, the individual would profit from "good-doing" by receiving many new investments."
"What is the social makeup of this Lyrane? It seems to me it would be a lunatic fringe de luxe, with every hack writer, thaumaturgist, or evangelist climbing aboard the gravy train."
"On the contrary, it is a social structure of the finest minds in the galaxy. The rest are all weeded out. Although the motives of the system are idealistic, they are enforced with a rigid practicality. They demand quality and truth, and gauge it with the revealing yardstick of public consumption and approval as measured in sales and polls."
Roald gazed out at the pastoral countryside surrounding this vital little nub of a billion-credit business. He swung back to Kim, and said, "But the basic difficulty would be determining just what a good deed or thought is. How in God's name could they determine that, when every act or word that anyone ever commits or utters is open to judgment by so many different standards. For instance, what about the case of the man who trespasses to save a person's life. How are you going to rate that sort of thing?"
"Mr. Gibbons, I am an economist, not a philosopher. It is the wonder of the galaxy that these people did establish and maintain this system, in spite of obstacles such as you mentioned."
"All right, we'll discount the philosophical angle. I still don't understand it. How about big business? How could that develop with this system? They certainly need it to support a planet."
"That's the easiest part of it. People would use their luxury pay to establish businesses. At these businesses men could work their five hours a day to get their commodity pay. It was not only possible, but mandatory that such businesses develop. There were two types: mass production of commodities, with a regulated profit in commodity pay; or specialization and production of fine merchandise that was sold at cost, but which the government paid for in luxury pay in proportion to its quality as thoroughly tested.
"However—all big businesses were closely controlled by the government. They would grant franchises so that there would be no cutthroat competition, and supply was regulated to meet demand. Therefore, business itself was stable, and there was no opportunity for speculating in its stock market. That left only the variable corporation-men for actual stock market trading—and that is what crashed.
"Let's take a writer, for example. He writes a book, and a publishing house prints it. The people buy it—spending luxury pay. The publishing house has to convert that luxury pay to commodity pay to cover costs and payroll. They make no profit, the book being sold at cost.
"That book has to sell so many thousand copies to receive luxury pay from the government. Then both the author and the publisher receive luxury pay in proportion to its sales, which is the indication of its merit. The luxury pay that the publisher receives goes in the pockets of the executives. The luxury pay that the author receives—which is much larger—goes to his stockholders.
"Since the author is the source of this transaction, the people invest in him and not the publisher, for they can't get any great return from investing in the publisher, but they can from the author.
"Actually, what the whole thing amounts to is a complete shift of emphasis from big business and its speculations—which is what we've always known—to individuals and the intangibles and variables of their ideas and deeds."
"There is only one question left," Roald said. "The government doles out all this luxury pay. Pray tell, where do they get it?"
"There are two parts to the government. There is the actual administration, with its members drawing set salaries and unable to draw luxury pay, to prevent graft; and then there is the Economics Commission, which controls luxury pay.
"This Economics Commission is a business. They invest in galactic corporations, such as ours, and make a profit. That's part of their money. Then—and here's the secret—any time a book is written, or fine merchandise produced, it must be sold on Lyrane at cost. But the government sells it throughout the galaxy for a profit, and keeps that profit to redistribute in luxury pay to Lyranian citizens.
"Anyway, the system finally blew up, and now we're holding a messy bag."
"But how could it? Why?"
"That's just it. Nobody knows what brought it about, but suddenly the men who were corporations just stopped producing. They stopped doing good deeds, stopped writing, stopped research, and what-not and, consequently, stopped drawing luxury pay.
"Naturally, their stockholders got mad and wanted to sell, but incorporated men couldn't liquidate and the values of the stocks dropped to zero, along with the value of the luxury pay. The result was a depression and a lot of angry people."
"A planetary depression is not such an outstanding emergency that it should cause Universal Relief to be in such an uproar. I believe that it is merely a Class B emergency, with complete regulations on proper handling."
Kim was so earnest in his reply that he leaned over and almost rubbed noses with his superior. "On the contrary, sir. There are other factors, so it's not so simple. This Lyranian system has been working for ten years now, and the Lyranians want desperately for it to succeed. They are almost fanatics on it, trying to prove the value of their system so that other planets will adopt it—which God forbid.
"Naturally, the resentment against the corporation-men for betraying them has turned into hatred, with murder, riots and a civil war in the offing. Yes, their politics were unitary and stable until this emergency, but you'd be surprised at the number of political factions that can be formed and develop hostilities in a period of crisis."
"Could it be an attempt by some faction to seize power?"
"Impossible. The way it was set up, political power was not desirable, being unprofitable and mostly drudgery. If they upset the apple-cart, the balance was so fine only chaos would result and there would be nothing to take power over. The only reason parties have developed now is due to differing views on how to rectify the situation, and blaming different things for being responsible. But no power motive."
"Very well then, the situation is a Class A emergency, but we've handled them before."
Kim allowed one fleeting sigh of despair. He had thought for a while that this Roald could take hold, could be competent, but—
"If you have ever consulted our financial records, sir," he said with heavy sarcasm, "you would find that our largest contribution comes from Lyrane. They have established our organization as tops in the good-deeds field, and nearly every person on Lyrane has stock in us, along with a sizable payment since we threw a high premium at them, fearing just this eventuality."
Roald appeared thoughtful, then said, "Well, continue with standard procedures for a Class A emergency. I'll see what can be done."
Kim made one last desperate appeal. "I firmly believe that this should be a Class AA emergency!"
"Your field of specialization is overriding your business sense, Kim. You are fascinated, as an economist, by this Lyrane system, and you would like to see us put it back on its feet so you economists would have a live experiment to observe. I'm sorry, but it isn't practical. You know how fantastically expensive a Class AA is, and no one planet is about to get it."
Kim cowered mentally. This wasn't the indolent playboy, but the Old Man, giving him a good dressing down. He left the office with restored faith, but a faith that was interlaced with doubt in regard to Roald Gibbons.
Roald appeared to Kim to be uninformed and incompetent; but on the contrary, he had learned the business thoroughly from his father. There was one division of the company that he knew especially well.
This division was known to only a few people in the company, and no one outside knew it existed. Roald managed this special division, and left the rest of the management to the routine procedures and junior executives.
While the rest of the company was in a state of organized hysteria, with great ships loading from the massive warehouses of food, medicine, and other relief supplies, and heaving into the sky bound for Lyrane, Roald was having a quiet conference with the members of his special division.
Roald's father had known that the cheapest way to relieve an emergency was to alleviate the causes behind it, unless it were a natural disaster. For this reason, he had organized a corps of special agents to penetrate behind the scenes to straighten out the causes and cut short the emergencies that Universal Relief had to pay for.
"Apparently there is a definite force operating on Lyrane," Roald was saying to his elite corps, "that caused these men, who had been living by the standards of that civilization and becoming rich from it, to cease the activity which they had profited by."
"Could it be a religious doctrine?" one of them asked.
"Possibly. It could be anything. The fact is we don't know—and we should. So we're going to Lyrane. For the Main Office, this is a Class A; but for us it is a Class AA!"
EROL GARBIN sat on the cool stone terrace of the mountain lodge, gazing out over the small valley with the golden orange sun of Lyrane setting behind the mountains. The cool evening breeze gently rearranged his white hair and brushed over the creased forehead and the worried eyes.
He looked up to see his daughter come out on to the terrace. She was a comely young woman of slight build and apparently sensitive nature as vivified in her piquant features. He gave her a wistful smile, at which she rushed into his arms and buried her head in his shoulder, which was still powerful despite his age. Her body quivered with muffled sobs.
"Yma, my dearest Yma," he said tenderly. "Why didn't you marry, so that you would have none of this? You could be leading your own life, instead of bearing my burden."
"You are no burden, Father. You are my life. And now that your life is threatened—"
He knew what had upset her. He had heard the newscasts too—yes, the video still operated, controlled by the people. He had heard the names of his old friends—Fredrikson, Tomlin, Masschau—all dead by violence.
"Why do you keep silent?" his daughter asked with a little child's pleading. "Where is the protection you were offered? Why don't you tell the people?" The world was mad and destructive in the eyes of the child—the woman who was a child in the face of this dilemma.
He gently quieted her with a large, steady hand that pressed her head to him.
"It would do no good. Arnson tried it."
She looked up with hope in her eyes.
"He spoke to a special meeting of his stockholders and tried to tell them. They scorned it as a wild fantasy to excuse his betrayal. They issued him an ultimatum—work! He said that they would have to believe him; he couldn't work. They killed him."
The hope slid away and her eyes assumed the depths of despair and bitterness.
Despair for the future, and bitterness for the past. And she thought of the past—for she dared not think of the future.
Where does violence start, she wondered. Trace it to its roots; what's its source, what's its manifestation?
It starts with one man and an idea. Many men may have had the same idea, but it takes one man to express it at the right time, to apply it. Then the planning, by many or by one.
And, finally, the last step is persuasion. The man who had the original idea must convince others. He must indoctrinate them with this new concept so that they believe. No more.
For once a man, who has been a stable entity in a stable organization, develops and believes a strange and contradictory idea—the result is inevitable. Misunderstanding, resentment, hate, violence. The cycle carries on from there with its own momentum.
And the people who are swept up in it, and that may include anyone from the most innocent to the perpetrator himself, are as helpless to control its outcome as are the atoms helpless to control the nova they started in a sun.
So this violence on Lyrane had begun, with one man, then a group of men, and then had come the misunderstanding, resentment, hate, violence cycle. It manifested itself in the offices of Universal Relief as a logical study in sociology and economics.
But to Yma Garbin and her father, it was pure hell.
When had it all started, and when would it end?
Did it start that first day when an orphanage in the capital city burned to the ground, and not one of the many philanthropists made a move or an offer to aid or restore?
Yes, that was when it started for the public, but it had really started in midnight conversations in locked rooms. Words, an idea, then the act—and who is to say which is more real?
But there was no questioning the reality of what she had seen at Tomlin's house. That was yesterday.
Tomlin, the greatest living biochemist in the empire, was nothing but a sad, huddled corpse. His beautiful mansion was slashed and looted, and then fired to the ground. The air was filled with the odor of burning, of death—but especially the mentally sickening, defeating odor of violence.
This was true of the whole planet, especially in the cities. The great houses beseiged by furious mobs, shattered. Night full of stray shots and casual death. Every man with that cold gleam in his eye when he looked at even his best friend.
"Did you cause it?"
Yma lay in her father's arms, her mind reeling through this wax works of personal horror and death.
This scene was interrupted by a gyro landing on the lawn.
EROL watched it curiously; his daughter, tensely. A man emerged and strode towards them. He was a young man, with good and intelligent features, and Erol felt no fear.
"Dr. Garbin," the man addressed him, "I'm delighted to find you. I tried to see others—I was always too late." He paused, then said, "If anyone should be able to tell me what has happened, you should."
A slight suspicion showed in Erol's face while Yma looked as wary as an animal.
"If I can help you in any way, sir, I shall be delighted," Erol said.
The young man sat down. His eyes told of bewilderment and horror, and Erol guessed that he had been in the cities.
"My name is Florin Brite," the man said after a long silence. "I was a student of Tomlin, the biochemist, who was, I believe, your friend. I left over a year ago to study at the Institute of Klynos. I heard of trouble here and grabbed the first ship home.
"I never dreamed I'd find such violence.
"When I tried to find out what happened, I only found that all the great men that I knew were murdered, or in hiding."
"How did you find where I was?" Erol asked.
"I talked to one of Tomlin's servants, an old fellow—scared silly—but he remembered me and he told me."
Erol seemed to accept this. "What do you want to know?"
"Sir, I just want to know what happened. Why do the people feel they have been deceived, and by whom? Why are all the incorporated men in danger of their lives?"
"It is the corporation-men who have deceived the public." It was a flat statement by Erol, without rancor or sympathy. "They are, in consequence, subject to the wrath of the people who relied upon them."
The bewilderment in the young man's eyes deepened. "How could they deceive the public? Why? They had everything to gain from earning luxury pay for their stockholders. Why did they stop?"
As if at a signal, Erol relaxed and his weariness became evident. Yma relaxed somewhat but remained alert.
"Why they did," Erol replied, "is a private matter that only each of those men knows. The fact is that they, myself included, did—and now we must pay."
"You sir? But you were always such an eminent figure. I've admired you from childhood as being one of the best of the planet's many scientists. Your researches in sociology have led the empire. Why should you suddenly stop your writing?"
"Fine flattery, son, but it will not avail you. I also see that you are not completely in the dark. You must have been investigating or you wouldn't know that I have a half-finished book that never got to the publisher on time.
"Anyway, the reasons are inconsequential, now. It is done, and we must consider the consequences. And we must consider you. What do you intend to do, return to Klynos, or stay here?"
"You don't get out of it that easily," Florin said. "Yes, consider me. Consider me as a citizen of this planet, a believer in its principles. I am no idiot that can't understand or won't accept the truth.
"You are a sociologist. Here we have one of the most paradoxical sociological situations imaginable on our planet. There obviously are many unknown factors. You know them—you must. Just consider me a student and explain the functionings of these phenomena."
"You try my patience, Mr. Brite. I am accepting you at face value, but you are a stranger to me. What I wish to keep to myself is entirely my business. As I say, I am accepting you, and trying to help you—as we all must do in this mess. Now what do you intend to do?"
With a fatalistic shrug, Florin replied, "I cannot go back to Klynos. My education was paid for by my stock in corporation-men here. That is now, as you know, worthless."
Yma spoke to him for the first time. "Then don't you feel resentment towards the men who—who betrayed you?" Her eyes awaited his answer.
Florin smiled. "I do not feel that I have been betrayed. I know that the corporation-men, representing the most intelligent element of Lyrane, wouldn't do this thing without a sound reason."
Erol said, "Apparently you wish to throw in your lot with us, rather than the mob."
"My loyalty to my teacher and his associates compels me to do so. It is also my personal desire."
"You won't get any luxury pay for that loyalty," Yma snapped.
"That's unfair. You know Tomlin always advocated proper living from a moral obligation rather than for mercenary reward."
Their conversation was interrupted by a faint humming. Out over the valley three gyros were approaching at a low altitude.
Bitterly, Yma said, "Apparently Tomlin's servant has talked to other people—or perhaps Mr. Brite here—."
Florin shrugged again. "I have no defense except to say that I talked to no one. Either you believe me or you don't."
Erol chimed in, "You'll have to excuse my daughter; she's upset. I expected them to discover me long before this. This abandoned hunting lodge was too well known."
Yma's mind jumped on that. Yes, she thought, How well it is known—to me. My childhood is stuffed full of memories of this place, all pleasant. I know the woods around here better than the streets of the city. Now it will be the scene of this furtive hiding, suspense, and God knows what new violence.
While she was thinking, Erol was still talking. "I will ask you, since you are young and more adept in this sort of emergency. What shall we do?"
Florin glanced at Yma, and saw that the bitterness had left her in the face of danger. She too looked anxiously to him for help.
"If we stay here," he said, "we will be killed without question. I have no doubt that those ships are part of the mob. Even if it is the police, and I doubt there are any left after the rioting, they will imprison us."
Erol said, "This is a hunting lodge. There are some weapons here. We have nothing but your gyro to escape in, and it's too slow. I can see that those are police gyros."
"Then we'll fight," Yma declared and rushed inside, with Florin and Erol following her.
"This place is not much for defense," Florin said while they rummaged for rifles, for nothing more deadly was allowed outside the hands of the Galactic Patrol. "I suggest we make it seem peaceful and surprise them."
"Good idea, boy," Erol said. "If you want, I'll sit outside as a decoy."
"That's great!" Florin said quickly, ignoring Yma's protest. "If they see you, they will probably land and talk; but if nobody's in sight, they might bomb us."
The three worked well together, swiftly and efficiently. Erol sat on the veranda, in the open, with a pistol under a lap robe, while Yma and Florin stationed themselves inside.
The three gyros approached cautiously. They were the large black type used by the planetary police, but from the inexpert way they were handled all three at the lodge knew they were not bearing police. They carried bombs, the one weapon allowable to planetary police by the Galactic Patrol, but the men in them would have nothing more than firearms. Therefore it was imperative to get them on the ground.
They circled over the lodge, with two finally landing and one remaining aloft. Florin padded over to Yma, and whispered for her to station herself in some bushes by the lodge. He told her to try to shoot down the gyro above when firing began.
Men piled out of the ships which had landed, and approached the lodge. They spread out and swiftly encircled the building. They all carried rifles. Florin estimated that there were about twenty of them. Three of them approached Erol.
"Are you Erol Garbin?"
"Yes. What can I do for you?"
"We are arresting you."
"For betraying the confidence of the people."
"May I see your warrant?"
"We don't need a warrant. We are a people's committee, come to take you to a people's court, where you will undoubtedly be found guilty and executed."
"And what if I refuse to recognize your authority?"
"We will have to kill you. Resisting arrest—"
What happened next surprised Florin with its swiftness. Erol flipped the gun from under the robe and with three snap shots dropped all three men.
Florin did not let surprise hamper him, for Erol's shots were echoed by his own rifle, which caught two men who were further away.
As the rest of the attackers dove for cover, Florin was pleased to hear the blast of a rifle from the side of the lodge, and the whine of a shattered blade as the gyro plummeted to the ground.
Yma had done well, hitting where he told her, at the base of the props. The moment of victory was rudely shattered by a volley of fire from the men around the lodge.
As Erol sprang from his chair and dove towards the door, he was hit and fell outside. Ignoring his wound he kicked over a table and used it as a shield, returning fire. Florin's thought of rescuing him was cut short by Erol's yell, "Get to the back of the lodge. They may rush it."
Florin made a dash for it, finding Erol's words true. The attackers were moving in. He still heard firing from the front and side, so he felt reassured.
He was lost in the blind ritual of firing at moving objects. His whole mind was devoted to the problems of loading clips, changing windows to keep everything covered, and trying to stay out of the path of the viciously whining bullets.
This was adventure and excitement. There was the crash of the rifles, the nasty whistle of ricochets, the moving bodies, sometimes jerking ludicrously when hit. Yet, to Florin, it was just a job, as it always is in the face of danger with every man. Just a specialized job with a very high incentive.
Florin was surprised when he realized that he had disposed of all the attackers on his side. Despite their numbers, they were no match for the trio in the lodge. Florin was an expert marksman, and Erol and Yma had done enough hunting to be quite proficient. On the other side of the ledger, the people's committee were completely new to the business, some of them never having held a gun, and certainly not used to combat in woods.
When he went up front, he found that Erol had done a magnificent job despite his wound, beating back several attacks, and killing or wounding all his men. But he had received two more wounds and he was lying on the flagstone terrace in a litter of blood and cartridge cases.
The firing from the bushes at the side had stopped too, and Yma came rushing up, to kneel beside her father. She screamed at Florin to get bandages, but it was too late.
In the pastoral woods, men had fought and died, and now they felt tragedy. But the sky was still blue, and in a nearby dale, a bird warbled freely.
LATE that night, Florin and Yma stopped at a small cabin in the mountains, finding it deserted. They had been travelling on foot since the fight, leaving the gyros as too obvious a method of travel.
Yma was still upset over her father's death, and Florin had remained quiet in consideration. The mountain paths were rocky and steep, and they were both exhausted. After a cold meal, they sat in the gathering darkness in the cabin and talked.
"I know it's inconsiderate of me to talk of it," Florin said, "but don't you feel resentment against the men who killed your father?"
She shook her head and said, "I can't feel resentment, I know that it was just circumstances. Those men felt justified in what they did—and maybe they were."
"How can you be so cold-blooded?" he said half-angrily. "Killing is never justified, and ignorance and violence against intelligent and kindly men are the supreme injustice."
"Why bother discussing the right and wrong of it," she said wearily. "It is all over with, all so meaningless—and easily forgotten."
"That's just it," Florin said earnestly. "You've got to think about it, decide who was right and who was wrong. You've got to decide so that you can base your future actions and attitudes on that. You can't just mark it off the books, for it will still be in your head, all jumbled emotion and no sense."
He was trying desperately to bring her out of apathy. He knew that the incident and all of its contributing factors must be clinically analyzed, for both their sakes.
Again she shook her head. "No, they were right, they were betrayed. Some of those people had their life's saving of luxury pay invested in the corporation-men, and when those men failed them, they lost their savings and their futures. Poverty is a treacherous catalyst, it makes men do weird and horrible things. Common tricks of psychology added to that, make the whole mess into a primitive society of revenge and hatred."
Florin saw he had her on the right track, but ran his hand through his hair in bewilderment as he asked, "But why? We can see the result, but nobody is willing to tell the cause. I've got to know."
She looked at him, barely discernable in the dark cabin, then said, "Why are you so interested? Why did you help us?"
"I told you. I was a student of Tomlin, and a believer in the principles of this planet. I saw it produce a society where intelligence and virtue were manifest—whether for mercenary or other reasons is inconsequential. It worked, and it made a wonderful world. I wanted to do my part in that world—my world.
"Now I want to know why my world has crumbled into a screaming madhouse of violence."
"Yes, I can understand all too well how you feel. It's really horrible when you have grown up in a society, learned about its every intricacy, its principles, and come to have faith in it—then see it suddenly disintegrate.
"You come to think of your society as the universe, nothing else is as permanent as your world, your people. You make plans and move through that society, believing in it with a faith stronger than any religious faith—for you can see and understand it constantly.
"Then something like this happens. The familiar still exists, but palled with suffering and horror. People you have known suddenly become beasts. Your world has collapsed. And even if you know the reason, it doesn't seem possible, the reason is out of a textbook and unreal, but the disillusionment and despair are all too real.
"And from such a disintegration, you learn one important thing—how abysmally ignorant you are of the society that you've lived in, and of people in general."
There was a long silence.
Finally she said, "I believe in you, and I believe you should know the reason."
It was a strange scene as the two people, dirty and tired, sat in the crude cabin by the moonlight and discussed the fate of a world.
"When this planet was colonized," Yma began, "everyone laughed at us, and said that our radical socio-economic system couldn't work. All types of people started here. Some were merely looking for a final refuge, some were criminals and confidence men out to 'take' this 'starry-eyed flock of crackpots'. Most of them, though, were solid citizens, who believed that this system of paying a man for his intelligence and virtue on a carefully regulated basis was the proper compromise between reality and altruism to achieve a Utopia.
"As you know, it did produce a peaceful, cultural world that has few if any equals in the galaxy. There was one dangerous element in the plan though. Men were paid for their ability and it was money that was used; and wherever there is money there is dishonesty and greed. We had security and precautions against such things disrupting us internally, but we never counted on outside interference.
"We joined that galactic company known as Universal Relief. Our government maintained that it performs the highest type of good deeds, they do it for profit, nevertheless it was still a beneficial organization. Its motive of meritorious work for profit was quite similar to our own economic structure, so we invested heavily in the company, both on an individual and a governmental level. We also gave them a large premium, because of our—well, our eccentricity. We were considered unstable, and I guess the company knew what it was talking about." The last comment was with a wry bitterness that stung Florin.
"Anyway, in the last few years a rival company has sprung up. This company, Galactic Aid, has made great strides and is a serious competitor to Universal Relief.
"—The managers of Galactic Aid thought that if they could take our account and investment from Universal, Galactic Aid would have a distinct advantage and eventually break their competitor. They tried salesmanship first, but we were loyal to the original company.
"Then they tried other means."
Until then her story had been told in the dispassionate voice of a mechanical reader, but when she continued, there was vehemence.
"In a galactic company there is inconceivable power, and inconceivable greed. They are willing, and able, to go to any lengths to gain an economic advantage over a rival. The fate of one planet, more or less, is irrelevant.
"Galactic Aid's method of destroying us for that advantage was very crude and very simple; but effective because of its simplicity.
"As you know, the ratio of corporation-men to citizens here is very disproportionate, and the economy of the planet is vested in comparatively few individuals. These few people were the ones Galactic Aid attacked.
"They sent their agents to the corporation-men, my father included, and told them to stop research, writing, art, or whatever they were doing to earn their luxury pay. They promised protection if they were threatened by the people, and also promised full re-instatement after normalcy had returned, plus a sizeable bonus for co-operating. The ones who refused this offer, were threatened, each one personally and their families. It was mass terrorization, and they actually killed a few to prove their seriousness.
"Because of our social structure, this plan could, and did work. There are only 224 corporation-men with over a hundred stockholders. These people are, of course, quite clannish and have little actual contact with the masses. Therefore, this mass threat was heightened by the unity of the small group that it affected.
"You know the rest. Under this pressure the incorporated men stopped producing, the economy crumbled, and the riots began.
"We have developed a peaceful, cultural society, but no matter how civilized and stabilized a society is, once you knock out the financial props, the populace is going to go mad.
"The corporation-men didn't receive the promised protection. They soon realized that they had been tricked, but it was too late. Galactic Aid wanted them destroyed by the mob; they wanted murder and riots; and they wanted a Class AA emergency which would drain Universal Relief's resources.
"They wanted an economic debacle on Lyrane, thus cutting off a large source of Universal's income.
"When the corporation-men tried to tell the people the truth, the mobs called them liars and killed them."
Yma appeared to be more relaxed after she had relieved her burdened mind. Florin, however, was stunned.
"I know it's terrible," she said, "but what can we do? What can anyone do? Their plan has succeeded, and the planet is too far into chaos to patch up things.
"There is nothing that can be done, so we have only individual survival to consider."
Florin said, "I don't know what your personal plans are, but I've got to go back to the cities. I've got work to do." She didn't question him.
The next morning, after a solid night's sleep, they separated. Yma headed through the mountains to some relatives, while Florin struck out for the capital.
THE office of the new, self-appointed Planetary Governor of Lyrane was quite busy. It was the disorganization of a new office, set up during an emergency. And yet, it was an office, a recognizable political mechanism.
Considering the murderous imbroglio that this planet had been facing, such an office, even in disorganized form, was quite surprising.
Due to the confusion and a knack for bluffing, Florin Brite was able to gain admittance to the Secretary-Governor's office. This official, a former municipal police chief, was obviously impressed with his new position. He was quite brusque to Florin.
"What is it man? I hope that it's important—don't want my time wasted. We're frightfully busy."
"I can see that, sir. I merely wished to establish my classification in the new administration."
"Good grief man!" the Secretary-Governor exploded. "We've published classification lists. Do I have to tell every man, woman and child their classification? Are you blind—or just too lazy to read?"
"My classification isn't listed," Florin said mildly.
"Isn't listed? What classification is that?"
"A scientist—and a former corporation-man."
Years of police work and interrogation had steeled the official. There was no surprise shown. "We handle those cases directly, Mr. ah—ah—"
"Mr. Brite, there is a feeling of—uh—well, touchiness about such individuals so we handle their cases in confidence. I'm glad you came here—"
"Yes, you're quite delighted," Florin was no longer mild. "You're also quite amazed—for you had no idea that there were any corporation-men left after the 'purge', a very thorough purge, I might add."
"Now, see what I mean about touchiness? We were not responsible, not even involved in that mess. This new government is composed of citizens who merely wish stability and sanity. Co- operation is our keynote—"
"Cut it. I don't need the party platform, I've read your handbills. I just want to know, what about me?"
"Well, you will undoubtedly have to be put under some sort of protective custody. There is still strong feeling—"
Their tete a tete was interrupted by a rushing clerk shouting wildly.
"They did it! Universal Relief finally declared it a Class AA!"
The clerk was brandishing a sheet of paper, which he proffered to the Secretary, who took it with an expression of pleasure. His reading was interrupted by Florin's voice.
"It seems highly unnecessary that we be declared Class AA now. You people have done such a marvelous job of organizing an emergency government that everything seems to be well under control."
"Nonsense man," the Secretary declared. "There is still isolated fighting and rioting, even murder is not unusual."
"I merely wished to congratulate you on your speedy action. It was almost as if this government was waiting to spring into existence." The irony was very thinly veiled.
The Planetary Governor himself had entered the office while Florin was speaking.
There was ice in his voice as he said, "What do you mean by that, sir?"
Florin turned and bowed to him. When he spoke again, the veil was torn off and the irony was as flagrant as a dead rat—and as fragrant.
"Good day sir. I'm delighted to meet you. I was merely commenting to your Secretary on your efficiency and speed which has so helped this planet in its hour of need."
The Governor's eyes ossified. "Just words. What do you want?"
The irony disappeared, and Florin's voice transmuted to a tone of accustomed authority. "I want to find out just how you were able to organize and take over so quickly in this emergency. With this planet's economy completely shot after the corporation-men quit producing and with stocks down to nothing, I am fascinated by the problem of how you got financial backing."
"That is none of your business."
"On the contrary, it is very much my business. You left your offices in rather a turmoil in your rush to take control. Since you haven't had the time to security screen your governmental employees, the files were as open as if they'd been set on the sidewalks.
"From those files, my agents have procured some interesting items, such as—" and he paused to pull out a sheaf of papers—"cancelled checks made out to officials of your new government from Titanic Food Distributors, a subsidiary of Galactic Aid.
"Also a detailed plan of organization for this government, outlining each step for acquisition of power during the emergency. This plan is dated two years ago and is initialed 'CRS', which, I believe, are the initials of the president of Galactic Aid Incorporated. Hand-writing analysts will sew that one up.
"The plan is quite fascinating. It gives the procedure for your present establishment: the vigilantes gradually converted to city councils, local governments, consisting of confused and unprepared citizens gullible to the suggestions of agent provocateurs, regional then international conventions to formulate the new government. And at every turn, every election, guided by citizen-agents who would never have seen political power under the old status quo.
"The future of this plan is even more fascinating—putting Lyrane on an industrialized economy, when Lyrane has never had industrial potential, gumming up the works with embargoes and tariffs; and a bureaucratic, leech-like government that will sop up everything in taxes.
"It's a masterpiece of planning—of planning the permanent financial and moral destruction of a planet."
The planetary officials had suddenly been confronted by a master duelist, this stranger was a swords-man with complete command of riposte, parry and thrust. All they could do was try a few clumsy lunges.
"Just who the hell are you to take charge this way and say these preposterous things?" the Governor asked.
Florin replied. "You, I know, are a minor executive of one of Galactic Aid's subsidiaries. I happen to be Roald Gibbons, head of Universal Relief.
"And since you want the cards on the table—here they are.
"We have this evidence that I have mentioned, and much more, all under lock and key now. We will use that evidence to prove that this planetary government was and is sponsored by Galactic Aid for the purpose of exploiting this planet in a negative sense and thereby removing it from the accounts of Universal Relief.
"We also have a solid case to prove that you, or some of your cohorts, incited the original treason and violence that caused this whole mess. My special investigators have unearthed the cobra nest of your government, while I personally had the satisfaction of gathering proof of your hand in the corporation- men purge."
From a casual administrative difficulty, Florin had turned the conversation, since he entered, into a venomous attack. Florin had remained standing, but the two officials had retired to chairs. As opposition, they were discouragingly silent, but Florin had more than enough to carry the conversation alone.
The two governors were just listening, appalled, but as all men do when they watch their world crumbling, figuring angles, escapes, explanations. But Florin, or rather Roald, was smashing angles faster than they could think of them.
"Furthermore," he continued to the silent men, "if you will read that bulletin declaring this planet under Class AA emergency, you will find some interesting facts. As you may or may not know, when a planet is declared Class AA by a relief company, that company is empowered by galactic law to have several controls.
"Those controls consist of complete administration of the planet until status quo is resumed, establishment of martial law with the right to arrest and confiscate any persons or things that may have caused the emergency, confiscation of all planetary currency to be retained and re-issued at face value when normalcy returns and, of course, the right to bring charges in Galactic Court against individuals or organizations that have caused the emergency.
"On that last point, we, Universal Relief that is, have many charges to bring against Galactic Aid and its agents on this planet. First there is the charge of coercion, readily proved by the testimony of the corporation-men... yes, there are some left. We protected them. Other charges will include inciting planetary revolution, establishing a false government through outside sources, and—oh, just lots of others.
"Since you are an executive in Galactic Aid's organization, I will speak for your benefit now." Roald moved over and faced the Governor.
"You were pulled in from some desk job to handle this fledgling government. You had your orders, and for you it was mostly a paper operation. You understand what I have just been talking about, because you know galactic law.
"But now, let's talk about something you aren't familiar with. Let's talk about violence, death, and a sick planet—the things that your company planned and executed.
"For that your company will stand trial and be found guilty. It will probably be outlawed, and certainly bankrupt once fines and reparations are paid. Meanwhile, this planet, under the guidance of Universal Relief, will be helped to recuperate and the people will be informed of the gross injustice they have suffered. I am sure they will then desire to return to their previous system.
"But so much for the future. What about the past? Do you fully realize the enormity of the crime that your company has committed?
"Of course you don't. You weren't with me when I saw a nice old gentleman, one of the most brilliant minds of the age, blasted down with primitive rifles and even more primitive rage. You haven't heard the screams at night, have you? You weren't around, and neither was I, thank God, when Gerta Robin, that beautiful woman physicist was caught by the mob.
"Friend against friend, and the old hunting guns polished up for more deadly and constant shooting—is that a story that belongs in galactic history? Is it for this that great galactic corporations work—to turn peaceable planets into charnel houses for a stinking profit?
"That's the charge that you, and the rest of your workers, will have to answer to—not in courts, but to the people of the Galaxy.
"And, most important—to yourselves!"
With that, he strode out.
KIM ROGERS was again in the presence of Roald Gibbons, and he was angry again.
"And don't look so smug. I know what you did. I worked with your father long enough to know about his special agents—but don't think the operation was all your doing.
"What do you think happened here when you sent that spacegram tipping us off that it was Galactic Aid behind the mess, and that we were to declare it a Class AA. It was a madhouse!
"It accomplished the desired result," Roald said. "When the Governor and the Secretary read that Class AA bulletin—and it took careful planning and timing to get into their office just when it was delivered—with me there to pound it home, they sort of faded about the gills.
"They came running to me in a few minutes. Now they are Honor Witnesses at Galactic Court, with more than enough testimony to sew up Galactic Aid."
Roald had a hard time keeping his mind on the present conversation. He was due to blast to Lyrane in a few hours. His company was proceeding with rehabilitation ahead of schedule, with the natural zealousness of the Lyranians for their old system helping them along.
Roald had not forgotten the piquant beauty of Erol Garbin's daughter. He had a hard time keeping his mind on the conversation.
"If anyone else had read that Class AA bulletin," Kim said, "we would have been sewed up. You know perfectly well we don't have the powers you had us state in that bulletin. It was a galactic offense to even print such a thing. What if the Governor had known that?"
"I counted on him not knowing it. Even though he was an executive of Galactic Aid, Class AA emergencies are so rare that very few people are familiar with their actual provisions.
"Certainly, it was a risky bluff. But when you're dealing with that sort of power, you have to bluff fast and hard. We didn't have enough evidence to actually stop Galactic. We needed inside testimony. When you rescinded the Class AA order, two hours later, the confession was already signed."
Exasperation was now Kim's mood. "One of these times your bluff won't work, and all your secret agents won't do you a bit of good. Empire law is nothing to tamper with."
Roald smiled. "I think that Galactic Aid found that out."