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Title: Mercenary
Author: Reynolds, Mack, 1917-1983
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Mercenary" ***

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[Illustration]


MERCENARY

 Every status-quo-caste society in history
 has left open two roads to rise above your
 caste: The Priest and The Warrior. But in
 a society of TV and tranquilizers--the
 Warrior acquires a strange new meaning....

BY MACK REYNOLDS

ILLUSTRATED BY BIRMINGHAM


Joseph Mauser spotted the recruiting line-up from two or three blocks
down the street, shortly after driving into Kingston. The local offices
of Vacuum Tube Transport, undoubtedly. Baron Haer would be doing his
recruiting for the fracas with Continental Hovercraft there if for no
other reason than to save on rents. The Baron was watching pennies on
this one and that was bad.

In fact, it was so bad that even as Joe Mauser let his sports hovercar
sink to a parking level and vaulted over its side he was still
questioning his decision to sign up with the Vacuum Tube outfit rather
than with their opponents. Joe was an old pro and old pros do not get to
be old pros in the Category Military without developing an instinct to
stay away from losing sides.

Fine enough for Low-Lowers and Mid-Lowers to sign up with this outfit,
as opposed to that, motivated by no other reasoning than the snappiness
of the uniform and the stock shares offered, but an old pro considered
carefully such matters as budget. Baron Haer was watching every expense,
was, it was rumored, figuring on commanding himself and calling upon
relatives and friends for his staff. Continental Hovercraft, on the
other hand, was heavy with variable capital and was in a position to
hire Stonewall Cogswell himself for their tactician.

However, the die was cast. You didn't run up a caste level, not to speak
of two at once, by playing it careful. Joe had planned this out; for
once, old pro or not, he was taking risks.

Recruiting line-ups were not for such as he. Not for many a year, many a
fracas. He strode rapidly along this one, heading for the offices ahead,
noting only in passing the quality of the men who were taking service
with Vacuum Tube Transport. These were the soldiers he'd be commanding
in the immediate future and the prospects looked grim. There were few
veterans among them. Their stance, their demeanor, their ... well, you
could tell a veteran even though he be Rank Private. You could tell a
veteran of even one fracas. It showed.

He knew the situation. The word had gone out. Baron Malcolm Haer was due
for a defeat. You weren't going to pick up any lush bonuses signing up
with him, and you definitely weren't going to jump a caste. In short, no
matter what Haer's past record, choose what was going to be the winning
side--Continental Hovercraft. Continental Hovercraft and old Stonewall
Cogswell who had lost so few fracases that many a Telly buff couldn't
remember a single one.

Individuals among these men showed promise, Joe Mauser estimated even as
he walked, but promise means little if you don't live long enough to
cash in on it.

Take that small man up ahead. He'd obviously got himself into a hassle
maintaining his place in line against two or three heftier would-be
soldiers. The little fellow wasn't backing down a step in spite of the
attempts of the other Lowers to usurp his place. Joe Mauser liked to see
such spirit. You could use it when you were in the dill.

As he drew abreast of the altercation, he snapped from the side of his
mouth, "Easy, lads. You'll get all the scrapping you want with
Hovercraft. Wait until then."

He'd expected his tone of authority to be enough, even though he was in
mufti. He wasn't particularly interested in the situation, beyond giving
the little man a hand. A veteran would have recognized him as an
old-timer and probable officer, and heeded, automatically.

These evidently weren't veterans.

"Says who?" one of the Lowers growled back at him. "You one of Baron
Haer's kids, or something?"

Joe Mauser came to a halt and faced the other. He was irritated, largely
with himself. He didn't want to be bothered. Nevertheless, there was no
alternative now.

The line of men, all Lowers so far as Joe could see, had fallen silent
in an expectant hush. They were bored with their long wait. Now
something would break the monotony.

By tomorrow, Joe Mauser would be in command of some of these men. In as
little as a week he would go into a full-fledged fracas with them. He
couldn't afford to lose face. Not even at this point when all, including
himself, were still civilian garbed. When matters pickled, in a fracas,
you wanted men with complete confidence in you.

       *       *       *       *       *

The man who had grumbled the surly response was a near physical twin of
Joe Mauser which put him in his early thirties, gave him five foot
eleven of altitude and about one hundred and eighty pounds. His clothes
casted him Low-Lower--nothing to lose. As with many who have nothing to
lose, he was willing to risk all for principle. His face now registered
that ideal. Joe Mauser had no authority over him, nor his friends.

Joe's eyes flicked to the other two who had been pestering the little
fellow. They weren't quite so aggressive and as yet had come to no
conclusion about their stand. Probably the three had been unacquainted
before their bullying alliance to deprive the smaller man of his place.
However, a moment of hesitation and Joe would have a trio on his hands.

He went through no further verbal preliminaries. Joe Mauser stepped
closer. His right hand lanced forward, not doubled in a fist but fingers
close together and pointed, spear-like. He sank it into the other's
abdomen, immediately below the rib cage--the solar plexus.

He had misestimated the other two. Even as his opponent crumpled, they
were upon him, coming in from each side. And at least one of them, he
could see now, had been in hand-to-hand combat before. In short, another
pro, like Joe himself.

He took one blow, rolling with it, and his feet automatically went into
the shuffle of the trained fighter. He retreated slightly to erect
defenses, plan attack. They pressed him strongly, sensing victory in his
retreat.

The one mattered little to him. Joe Mauser could have polished off the
oaf in a matter of seconds, had he been allotted seconds to devote. But
the second, the experienced one, was the problem. He and Joe were well
matched and with the oaf as an ally really he had all the best of it.

Support came from a forgotten source, the little chap who had been the
reason for the whole hassle. He waded in now as big as the next man so
far as spirit was concerned, but a sorry fate gave him to attack the
wrong man, the veteran rather than the tyro. He took a crashing blow to
the side of his head which sent him sailing back into the recruiting
line, now composed of excited, shouting verbal participants of the fray.

However, the extinction of Joe Mauser's small ally had taken a moment or
two and time was what Joe needed most. For a double second he had the
oaf alone on his hands and that was sufficient. He caught a flailing
arm, turned his back and automatically went into the movements which
result in that spectacular hold of the wrestler, the Flying Mare. Just
in time he recalled that his opponent was a future comrade-in-arms and
twisted the arm so that it bent at the elbow, rather than breaking. He
hurled the other over his shoulder and as far as possible, to take the
scrap out of him, and twirled quickly to meet the further attack of his
sole remaining foe.

That phase of the combat failed to materialize.

A voice of command bit out, "Hold it, you lads!"

The original situation which had precipitated the fight was being
duplicated. But while the three Lowers had failed to respond to Joe
Mauser's tone of authority, there was no similar failure now.

The owner of the voice, beautifully done up in the uniform of Vacuum
Tube Transport, complete to kilts and the swagger stick of the officer
of Rank Colonel or above, stood glaring at them. Age, Joe estimated,
even as he came to attention, somewhere in the late twenties--an Upper
in caste. Born to command. His face holding that arrogant, contemptuous
expression once common to the patricians of Rome, the Prussian Junkers,
the British ruling class of the Nineteenth Century. Joe knew the
expression well. How well he knew it. On more than one occasion, he had
dreamt of it.

Joe said, "Yes, sir."

"What in Zen goes on here? Are you lads overtranked?"

"No, sir," Joe's veteran opponent grumbled, his eyes on the ground, a
schoolboy before the principal.

Joe said, evenly, "A private disagreement, sir."

"Disagreement!" the Upper snorted. His eyes went to the three fallen
combatants, who were in various stages of reviving. "I'd hate to see you
lads in a real scrap."

That brought a response from the non-combatants in the recruiting line.
The _bon mot_ wasn't that good but caste has its privileges and the
laughter was just short of uproarious.

Which seemed to placate the kilted officer. He tapped his swagger stick
against the side of his leg while he ran his eyes up and down Joe Mauser
and the others, as though memorizing them for future reference.

"All right," he said. "Get back into the line, and you trouble makers
quiet down. We're processing as quickly as we can." And at that point he
added insult to injury with an almost word for word repetition of what
Joe had said a few moments earlier. "You'll get all the fighting you
want from Hovercraft, if you can wait until then."

The four original participants of the rumpus resumed their places in
various stages of sheepishness. The little fellow, nursing an obviously
aching jaw, made a point of taking up his original position even while
darting a look of thanks to Joe Mauser who still stood where he had when
the fight was interrupted.

The Upper looked at Joe. "Well, lad, are you interested in signing up
with Vacuum Tube Transport or not?"

"Yes, sir," Joe said evenly. Then, "Joseph Mauser, sir. Category
Military, Rank Captain."

"Indeed." The officer looked him up and down all over again, his
nostrils high. "A Middle, I assume. And brawling with recruits." He held
a long silence. "Very well, come with me." He turned and marched off.

Joe inwardly shrugged. This was a fine start for his pitch--a fine
start. He had half a mind to give it all up, here and now, and head on
up to Catskill to enlist with Continental Hovercraft. His big scheme
would wait for another day. Nevertheless, he fell in behind the
aristocrat and followed him to the offices which had been his original
destination.

       *       *       *       *       *

Two Rank Privates with 45-70 Springfields and wearing the Haer kilts in
such wise as to indicate permanent status in Vacuum Tube Transport came
to the salute as they approached. The Upper preceding Joe Mauser flicked
his swagger stick in an easy nonchalance. Joe felt envious amusement.
How long did it take to learn how to answer a salute with that degree of
arrogant ease?

There were desks in here, and typers humming, as Vacuum Tube Transport
office workers, mobilized for this special service, processed volunteers
for the company forces. Harried noncoms and junior-grade officers buzzed
everywhere, failing miserably to bring order to the chaos. To the right
was a door with a medical cross newly painted on it. When it
occasionally popped open to admit or emit a recruit, white-robed
doctors, male nurses and half nude men could be glimpsed beyond.

Joe followed the other through the press and to an inner office at which
door he didn't bother to knock. He pushed his way through, waved in
greeting with his swagger stick to the single occupant who looked up
from the paper- and tape-strewn desk at which he sat.

Joe Mauser had seen the face before on Telly though never so tired as
this and never with the element of defeat to be read in the expression.
Bullet-headed, barrel-figured Baron Malcolm Haer of Vacuum Tube
Transport. Category Transportation, Mid-Upper, and strong candidate for
Upper-Upper upon retirement. However, there would be few who expected
retirement in the immediate future. Hardly. Malcolm Haer found too
obvious a lusty enjoyment in the competition between Vacuum Tube
Transport and its stronger rivals.

       *       *       *

Joe came to attention, bore the sharp scrutiny of his chosen
commander-to-be. The older man's eyes went to the kilted Upper officer
who had brought Joe along. "What is it, Balt?"

The other gestured with his stick at Joe. "Claims to be Rank Captain.
Looking for a commission with us, Dad. I wouldn't know why." The last
sentence was added lazily.

The older Haer shot an irritated glance at his son. "Possibly for the
same reason mercenaries usually enlist for a fracas, Balt." His eyes
came back to Joe.

Joe Mauser, still at attention even though in mufti, opened his mouth to
give his name, category and rank, but the older man waved a hand
negatively. "Captain Mauser, isn't it? I caught the fracas between
Carbonaceous Fuel and United Miners, down on the Panhandle Reservation.
Seems to me I've spotted you once or twice before, too."

"Yes, sir," Joe said. This was some improvement in the way things were
going.

The older Haer was scowling at him. "Confound it, what are you doing
with no more rank than captain? On the face of it, you're an old hand, a
highly experienced veteran."

_An old pro, we call ourselves_, Joe said to himself. _Old pros, we call
ourselves, among ourselves._

Aloud, he said, "I was born a Mid-Lower, sir."

There was understanding in the old man's face, but Balt Haer said
loftily, "What's that got to do with it? Promotion is quick and based on
merit in Category Military."

At a certain point, if you are good combat officer material, you speak
your mind no matter the rank of the man you are addressing. On this
occasion, Joe Mauser needed few words. He let his eyes go up and down
Balt Haer's immaculate uniform, taking in the swagger stick of the Rank
Colonel or above. Joe said evenly, "Yes, sir."

Balt Haer flushed quick temper. "What do you mean by--"

But his father was chuckling. "You have spirit, captain. I need spirit
now. You are quite correct. My son, though a capable officer, I assure
you, has probably not participated in a fraction of the fracases you
have to your credit. However, there is something to be said for the
training available to we Uppers in the academies. For instance, captain,
have you ever commanded a body of lads larger than, well, a _company_?"

Joe said flatly, "In the Douglas-Boeing versus Lockheed-Cessna fracas we
took a high loss of officers when the Douglas-Boeing outfit rang in some
fast-firing French _mitrailleuse_ we didn't know they had. As my
superiors took casualties I was field promoted to acting battalion
commander, to acting regimental commander, to acting brigadier. For
three days I held the rank of acting commander of brigade. We won."

Balt Haer snapped his fingers. "I remember that. Read quite a paper on
it." He eyed Joe Mauser, almost respectfully. "Stonewall Cogswell got
the credit for the victory and received his marshal's baton as a
result."

"He was one of the few other officers that survived," Joe said dryly.

"But, Zen! You mean you got no promotion at all?"

Joe said, "I was upped to Low-Middle from High-Lower, sir. At my age, at
the time, quite a promotion."

       *       *       *       *       *

Baron Haer was remembering, too. "That was the fracas that brought on
the howl from the Sovs. They claimed those _mitrailleuse_ were post-1900
and violated the Universal Disarmament Pact. Yes, I recall that.
Douglas-Boeing was able to prove that the weapon was used by the French
as far back as the Franco-Prussian War." He eyed Joe with new interest
now. "Sit down, captain. You too, Balt. Do you realize that Captain
Mauser is the only recruit of officer rank we've had today?"

"Yes," the younger Haer said dryly. "However, it's too late to call the
fracas off now. Hovercraft wouldn't stand for it, and the Category
Military Department would back them. Our only alternative is
unconditional surrender, and you know what that means."

"It means our family would probably be forced from control of the firm,"
the older man growled. "But nobody has suggested surrender on any terms.
Nobody, thus far." He glared at his officer son who took it with an easy
shrug and swung a leg over the edge of his father's desk in the way of a
seat.

Joe Mauser found a chair and lowered himself into it. Evidently, the
foppish Balt Haer had no illusions about the spot his father had got the
family corporation into. And the younger man was right, of course.

But the Baron wasn't blind to reality any more than he was a coward. He
dismissed Balt Haer's defeatism from his mind and came back to Joe
Mauser. "As I say, you're the only officer recruit today. Why?"

Joe said evenly, "I wouldn't know, sir. Perhaps freelance Category
Military men are occupied elsewhere. There's always a shortage of
trained officers."

Baron Haer was waggling a finger negatively. "That's not what I mean,
captain. You are an old hand. This is your category and you must know it
well. Then why are _you_ signing up with Vacuum Tube Transport rather
than Hovercraft?"

Joe Mauser looked at him for a moment without speaking.

"Come, come, captain. I am an old hand too, in my category, and not a
fool. I realize there is scarcely a soul in the West-world that expects
anything but disaster for my colors. Pay rates have been widely posted.
I can offer only five common shares of Vacuum Tube for a Rank Captain,
win or lose. Hovercraft is doubling that, and can pick and choose among
the best officers in the hemisphere."

Joe said softly, "I have all the shares I need."

Balt Haer had been looking back and forth between his father and the
newcomer and becoming obviously more puzzled. He put in, "Well, what in
Zen motivates you if it isn't the stock we offer?"

Joe glanced at the younger Haer to acknowledge the question but he spoke
to the Baron. "Sir, like you said, you're no fool. However, you've been
sucked in, this time. When you took on Hovercraft, you were thinking in
terms of a regional dispute. You wanted to run one of your vacuum tube
deals up to Fairbanks from Edmonton. You were expecting a minor fracas,
involving possibly five thousand men. You never expected Hovercraft to
parlay it up, through their connections in the Category Military
Department, to a divisional magnitude fracas which you simply aren't
large enough to afford. But Hovercraft was getting sick of your
corporation. You've been nicking away at them too long. So they decided
to do you in. They've hired Marshal Cogswell and the best combat
officers in North America, and they're hiring the most competent
veterans they can find. Every fracas buff who watches Telly, figures
you've had it. They've been watching you come up the aggressive way, the
hard way, for a long time, but now they're all going to be sitting on
the edges of their sofas waiting for you to get it."

Baron Haer's heavy face had hardened as Joe Mauser went on relentlessly.
He growled, "Is this what everyone thinks?"

"Yes. Everyone intelligent enough to have an opinion." Joe made a motion
of his head to the outer offices where the recruiting was proceeding.
"Those men out there are rejects from Catskill, where old Baron
Zwerdling is recruiting. Either that or they're inexperienced
Low-Lowers, too stupid to realize they're sticking their necks out. Not
one man in ten is a veteran. And when things begin to pickle, you want
veterans."

Baron Malcolm Haer sat back in his chair and stared coldly at Captain
Joe Mauser. He said, "At first I was moderately surprised that an old
time mercenary like yourself should choose my uniform, rather than
Zwerdling's. Now I am increasingly mystified about motivation. So all
over again I ask you, captain: Why are you requesting a commission in my
forces which you seem convinced will meet disaster?"

Joe wet his lips carefully. "I think I know a way you can win."



II


His permanent military rank the Haers had no way to alter, but they were
short enough of competent officers that they gave him an acting rating
and pay scale of major and command of a squadron of cavalry. Joe Mauser
wasn't interested in a cavalry command this fracas, but he said nothing.
Immediately, he had to size up the situation; it wasn't time as yet to
reveal the big scheme. And, meanwhile, they could use him to whip the
Rank Privates into shape.

He had left the offices of Baron Haer to go through the red tape
involved in being signed up on a temporary basis in the Vacuum Tube
Transport forces, and reentered the confusion of the outer offices where
the Lowers were being processed and given medicals. He reentered in time
to run into a Telly team which was doing a live broadcast.

Joe Mauser remembered the news reporter who headed the team. He'd run
into him two or three times in fracases. As a matter of fact, although
Joe held the standard Military Category prejudices against Telly, he had
a basic respect for this particular newsman. On the occasions he'd seen
him before, the fellow was hot in the midst of the action even when
things were in the dill. He took as many chances as did the average
combatant, and you can't ask for more than that.

The other knew him, too, of course. It was part of his job to be able to
spot the celebrities and near celebrities. He zeroed in on Joe now,
making flicks of his hand to direct the cameras. Joe, of course, was
fully aware of the value of Telly and was glad to co-operate.

"Captain! Captain Mauser, isn't it? Joe Mauser who held out for four
days in the swamps of Louisiana with a single company while his ranking
officers reformed behind him."

That was one way of putting it, but both Joe and the newscaster who had
covered the debacle knew the reality of the situation. When the front
had collapsed, his commanders--of Upper caste, of course--had hauled
out, leaving him to fight a delaying action while they mended their
fences with the enemy, coming to the best terms possible. Yes, that had
been the United Oil versus Allied Petroleum fracas, and Joe had emerged
with little either in glory or pelf.

The average fracas fan wasn't on an intellectual level to appreciate
anything other than victory. The good guys win, the bad guys
lose--that's obvious, isn't it? Not one out of ten Telly followers of
the fracases was interested in a well-conducted retreat or holding
action. They wanted blood, lots of it, and they identified with the
winning side.

Joe Mauser wasn't particularly bitter about this aspect. It was part of
his way of life. In fact, his pet peeve was the _real_ buff. The type,
man or woman, who could remember every fracas you'd ever been in, every
time you'd copped one, and how long you'd been in the hospital. Fans who
could remember, even better than you could, every time the situation had
pickled on you and you'd had to fight your way out as best you could.
They'd tell you about it, their eyes gleaming, sometimes a slightest
trickle of spittle at the sides of their mouths. They usually wanted an
autograph, or a souvenir such as a uniform button.

Now Joe said to the Telly reporter, "That's right, Captain Mauser.
Acting major, in this fracas, ah--"

"Freddy. Freddy Soligen. You remember me, captain--"

"Of course I do, Freddy. We've been in the dill, side by side, more than
once, and even when I was too scared to use my side arm, you'd be
scanning away with your camera."

"Ha ha, listen to the captain, folks. I hope my boss is tuned in. But
seriously, Captain Mauser, what do you think the chances of Vacuum Tube
Transport are in this fracas?"

Joe looked into the camera lens, earnestly. "The best, of course, or I
wouldn't have signed up with Baron Haer, Freddy. Justice triumphs, and
anybody who is familiar with the issues in this fracas, knows that Baron
Haer is on the side of true right."

Freddy said, holding any sarcasm he must have felt, "What would you say
the issues were, captain?"

"The basic North American free enterprise right to compete. Hovercraft
has held a near monopoly in transport to Fairbanks. Vacuum Tube
Transport wishes to lower costs and bring the consumers of Fairbanks
better service through running a vacuum tube to that area. What could be
more in the traditions of the West-world? Continental Hovercraft stands
in the way and it is they who have demanded of the Category Military
Department a trial by arms. On the face of it, justice is on the side of
Baron Haer."

Freddy Soligen said into the camera, "Well, all you good people of the
Telly world, that's an able summation the captain has made, but it
certainly doesn't jibe with the words of Baron Zwerdling we heard this
morning, does it? However, justice triumphs and we'll see what the field
of combat will have to offer. Thank you, thank you very much, Captain
Mauser. All of us, all of us tuned in today, hope that you personally
will run into no dill in this fracas."

"Thanks, Freddy. Thanks all," Joe said into the camera, before turning
away. He wasn't particularly keen about this part of the job, but you
couldn't underrate the importance of pleasing the buffs. In the long run
it was your career, your chances for promotion both in military rank and
ultimately in caste. It was the way the fans took you up, boosted you,
idolized you, worshipped you if you really made it. He, Joe Mauser, was
only a minor celebrity, he appreciated every chance he had to be
interviewed by such a popular reporter as Freddy Soligen.

       *       *       *       *       *

Even as he turned, he spotted the four men with whom he'd had his spat
earlier. The little fellow was still to the fore. Evidently, the others
had decided the one place extra that he represented wasn't worth the
trouble he'd put in their way defending it.

On an impulse he stepped up to the small man who began a grin of
recognition, a grin that transformed his feisty face. A revelation of
an inner warmth beyond average in a world which had lost much of its
human warmth.

[Illustration]

Joe said, "Like a job, soldier?"

"Name's Max. Max Mainz. Sure I want a job. That's why I'm in this
everlasting line."

Joe said, "First fracas for you, isn't it?"

"Yeah, but I had basic training in school."

"What do you weigh, Max?"

Max's face soured. "About one twenty."

"Did you check out on semaphore in school?"

"Well, sure. I'm Category Food, Sub-division Cooking, Branch Chef, but,
like I say, I took basic military training, like most everybody else."

"I'm Captain Joe Mauser. How'd you like to be my batman?"

Max screwed up his already not overly handsome face. "Gee, I don't know.
I kinda joined up to see some action. Get into the dill. You know what I
mean."

Joe said dryly, "See here, Mainz, you'll probably find more pickled
situations next to me than you'll want--and you'll come out alive."

The recruiting sergeant looked up from the desk. It was Max Mainz's turn
to be processed. The sergeant said, "Lad, take a good opportunity when
it drops in your lap. The captain is one of the best in the field.
You'll learn more, get better chances for promotion, if you stick with
him."

Joe couldn't remember ever having run into the sergeant before, but he
said, "Thanks, sergeant."

The other said, evidently realizing Joe didn't recognize him, "We were
together on the Chihuahua Reservation, on the jurisdictional fracas
between the United Miners and the Teamsters, sir."

It had been almost fifteen years ago. About all that Joe Mauser
remembered of that fracas was the abnormal number of casualties they'd
taken. His side had lost, but from this distance in time Joe couldn't
even remember what force he'd been with. But now he said, "That's right.
I thought I recognized you, sergeant."

"It was my first fracas, sir." The sergeant went businesslike. "If you
want I should hustle this lad though, captain--"

"Please do, sergeant." Joe added to Max, "I'm not sure where my billet
will be. When you're through all this, locate the officer's mess and
wait there for me."

"Well, O.K.," Max said doubtfully, still scowling but evidently a
servant of an officer, if he wanted to be or not.

"Sir," the sergeant added ominously. "If you've had basic, you know
enough how to address an officer."

"Well, yessir," Max said hurriedly.

Joe began to turn away, but then spotted the man immediately behind Max
Mainz. He was one of the three with whom Joe had tangled earlier, the
one who'd obviously had previous combat experience. He pointed the man
out to the sergeant. "You'd better give this lad at least temporary rank
of corporal. He's a veteran and we're short of veterans."

The sergeant said, "Yes, sir. We sure are." Joe's former foe looked
properly thankful.

       *       *       *       *       *

Joe Mauser finished off his own red tape and headed for the street to
locate a military tailor who could do him up a set of the Haer kilts and
fill his other dress requirements. As he went, he wondered vaguely just
how many different uniforms he had worn in his time.

In a career as long as his own from time to time you took semi-permanent
positions in bodyguards, company police, or possibly the permanent
combat troops of this corporation or that. But largely, if you were
ambitious, you signed up for the fracases and that meant into a uniform
and out of it again in as short a period as a couple of weeks.

At the door he tried to move aside but was too slow for the quick moving
young woman who caromed off him. He caught her arm to prevent her from
stumbling. She looked at him with less than thanks.

Joe took the blame for the collision. "Sorry," he said. "I'm afraid I
didn't see you, Miss."

"Obviously," she said coldly. Her eyes went up and down him, and for a
moment he wondered where he had seen her before. Somewhere, he was sure.

She was dressed as they dress who have never considered cost and she had
an elusive beauty which would have been even the more hadn't her face
projected quite such a serious outlook. Her features were more delicate
than those to which he was usually attracted. Her lips were less full,
but still-- He was reminded of the classic ideal of the British Romantic
Period, the women sung of by Byron and Keats, Shelly and Moore.

She said, "Is there any particular reason why you should be staring at
me, Mr.--"

"Captain Mauser," Joe said hurriedly. "I'm afraid I've been rude,
Miss--Well, I thought I recognized you."

She took in his civilian dress, typed it automatically, and came to an
erroneous conclusion. She said, "Captain? You mean that with everyone
else I know drawing down ranks from Lieutenant Colonel to Brigadier
General, you can't make anything better than Captain?"

Joe winced. He said carefully, "I came up from the ranks, Miss. Captain
is quite an achievement, believe me."

"Up from the ranks!" She took in his clothes again. "You mean you're a
Middle? You neither talk nor look like a Middle, captain." She used the
caste rating as though it was not _quite_ a derogatory term.

Not that she meant to be deliberately insulting, Joe knew, wearily. How
well he knew. It was simply born in her. As once a well-educated
aristocracy had, not necessarily unkindly, named their status inferiors
_niggers_; or other aristocrats, in another area of the country, had
named theirs _greasers_. Yes, how well he knew.

He said very evenly, "Mid-Middle now, Miss. However, I was born in the
Lower castes."

An eyebrow went up. "Zen! You must have put in many an hour studying.
You talk like an Upper, captain." She dropped all interest in him and
turned to resume her journey.

"Just a moment," Joe said. "You can't go in there, Miss--"

Her eyebrows went up again. "The name is Haer," she said. "Why can't I
go in here, captain?"

Now it came to him why he had thought he recognized her. She had basic
features similar to those of that overbred poppycock, Balt Haer.

"Sorry," Joe said. "I suppose under the circumstances, you can. I was
about to tell you that they're recruiting with lads running around half
clothed. Medical inspections, that sort of thing."

She made a noise through her nose and said over her shoulder, even as
she sailed on. "Besides being a Haer, I'm an M.D., captain. At the
ludicrous sight of a man shuffling about in his shorts, I seldom blush."

She was gone.

Joe Mauser looked after her. "I'll bet you don't," he muttered.

Had she waited a few minutes he could have explained his Upper accent
and his unlikely education. When you'd copped one you had plenty of
opportunity in hospital beds to read, to study, to contemplate--and to
fester away in your own schemes of rebellion against fate. And Joe had
copped many in his time.



III


By the time Joe Mauser called it a day and retired to his quarters he
was exhausted to the point where his basic dissatisfaction with the
trade he followed was heavily upon him.

He had met his immediate senior officers, largely dilettante Uppers with
precious little field experience, and was unimpressed. And he'd met his
own junior officers and was shocked. By the looks of things at this
stage, Captain Mauser's squadron would be going into this fracas both
undermanned with Rank Privates and with junior officers composed largely
of temporarily promoted noncoms. If this was typical of Baron Haer's
total force, then Balt Haer had been correct; unconditional surrender
was to be considered, no matter how disastrous to Haer family fortunes.

Joe had been able to take immediate delivery of one kilted uniform. Now,
inside his quarters, he began stripping out of his jacket. Somewhat to
his surprise, the small man he had selected earlier in the day to be his
batman entered from an inner room, also resplendent in the Haer uniform
and obviously happily so.

He helped his superior out of the jacket with an ease that held no
subservience but at the same time was correctly respectful. You'd have
thought him a batman specially trained.

Joe grunted, "Max, isn't it? I'd forgotten about you. Glad you found our
billet all right."

Max said, "Yes, sir. Would the captain like a drink? I picked up a
bottle of applejack. Applejack's the drink around here, sir. Makes a
topnotch highball with ginger ale and a twist of lemon."

Joe Mauser looked at him. Evidently his tapping this man for orderly had
been sheer fortune. Well, Joe Mauser could use some good luck on this
job. He hoped it didn't end with selecting a batman.

Joe said, "An applejack highball sounds wonderful, Max. Got ice?"

"Of course, sir." Max left the small room.

Joe Mauser and his officers were billeted in what had once been a motel
on the old road between Kingston and Woodstock. There was a shower and a
tiny kitchenette in each cottage. That was one advantage in a fracas
held in an area where there were plenty of facilities. Such military
reservations as that of the Little Big Horn in Montana and particularly
some of those in the South West and Mexico, were another thing.

Joe lowered himself into the room's easy-chair and bent down to untie
his laces. He kicked his shoes off. He could use that drink. He began
wondering all over again if his scheme for winning this Vacuum Tube
Transport versus Continental Hovercraft fracas would come off. The more
he saw of Baron Haer's inadequate forces, the more he wondered. He
hadn't expected Vacuum Tube to be in _this_ bad a shape. Baron Haer had
been riding high for so long that one would have thought his reputation
for victory would have lured many a veteran to his colors. Evidently
they hadn't bitten. The word was out all right.

Max Mainz returned with the drink.

Joe said, "You had one yourself?"

"No, sir."

Joe said, "Well, Zen, go get yourself one and come on back and sit down.
Let's get acquainted."

"Well, yessir." Max disappeared back into the kitchenette to return
almost immediately. The little man slid into a chair, drink awkwardly in
hand.

His superior sized him up, all over again. Not much more than a kid,
really. Surprisingly aggressive for a Lower who must have been raised
from childhood in a trank-bemused, Telly-entertained household. The fact
that he'd broken away from that environment at all was to his credit, it
was considerably easier to conform. But then it is always easier to
conform, to run with the herd, as Joe well knew. His own break hadn't
been an easy one. "Relax," he said now.

Max said, "Well, this is my first day."

"I know. And you've been seeing Telly shows all your life showing how an
orderly conducts himself in the presence of his superior." Joe took
another pull and yawned. "Well, forget about it. With any man who goes
into a fracas with me, I like to be on close terms. When things pickle,
I want him to be on my side, not nursing some peeve brought on by his
officer trying to give him an inferiority complex."

The little man was eying him in surprise.

Joe finished his highball and came to his feet to get another one. He
said, "On two occasions I've had an orderly save my life. I'm not taking
any chances but that there might be a third opportunity."

"Well, yessir. Does the captain want me to get him--"

"I'll get it," Joe said.

When he'd returned to his chair, he said, "Why did you join up with
Baron Haer, Max?"

The other shrugged it off. "The usual. The excitement. The idea of all
those fans watching me on Telly. The share of common stock I'll get.
And, you never know, maybe a promotion in caste. I wouldn't mind making
Upper-Lower."

Joe said sourly, "One fracas and you'll be over that desire to have the
buffs watching you on Telly while they sit around in their front rooms
sucking on tranks. And you'll probably be over the desire for the
excitement, too. Of course, the share of stock is another thing."

"You aren't just countin' down, captain," Max said, an almost surly
overtone in his voice. "You don't know what it's like being born with no
more common stock shares than a Mid-Lower."

Joe held his peace, sipping at his drink, taking this one more slowly.
He let his eyebrows rise to encourage the other to go on.

Max said doggedly, "Sure, they call it People's Capitalism and everybody
gets issued enough shares to insure him a basic living all the way from
the cradle to the grave, like they say. But let me tell you, you're a
Middle and you don't realize how basic the basic living of a Lower can
be."

Joe yawned. If he hadn't been so tired, there would have been more
amusement in the situation.

Max was still dogged. "Unless you can add to those shares of stock, it's
pretty drab, captain. You wouldn't know."

Joe said, "Why don't you work? A Lower can always add to his stock by
working."

Max stirred in indignity. "Work? Listen, sir, that's just one more field
that's been automated right out of existence. Category Food Preparation,
Sub-division Cooking, Branch Chef. Cooking isn't left in the hands of
slobs who might drop a cake of soap into the soup. It's done automatic.
The only new changes made in cooking are by real top experts, almost
scientists like. And most of them are Uppers, mind you."

Joe Mauser sighed inwardly. So his find in batmen wasn't going to be as
wonderful as all that, after all. The man might have been born into the
food preparation category from a long line of chefs, but evidently he
knew precious little about his field. Joe might have suspected. He
himself had been born into Clothing Category, Sub-division Shoes, Branch
Repair--Cobbler--a meaningless trade since shoes were no longer
repaired but discarded upon showing signs of wear. In an economy of
complete abundance, there is little reason for repair of basic
commodities. It was high time the government investigated category
assignment and reshuffled and reassigned half the nation's population.
But then, of course, was the question of what to do with the
technologically unemployed.

       *       *       *       *       *

Max was saying, "The only way I could figure on a promotion to a higher
caste, or the only way to earn stock shares, was by crossing categories.
And you know what that means. Either Category Military, or Category
Religion and I sure as Zen don't know nothing about religion."

Joe said mildly, "Theoretically, you can cross categories into any field
you want, Max."

Max snorted. "Theoretically is right ... sir. You ever heard about
anybody born a Lower, or even a Middle like yourself, cross categories
to, say, some Upper category like banking?"

Joe chuckled. He liked this peppery little fellow. If Max worked out as
well as Joe thought he might, there was a possibility of taking him
along to the next fracas.

Max was saying, "I'm not saying anything against the old time way of
doing things or talking against the government, but I'll tell you,
captain, every year goes by it gets harder and harder for a man to raise
his caste or to earn some additional stock shares."

The applejack had worked enough on Joe for him to rise against one of
his pet peeves. He said, "That term, the old time way, is strictly Telly
talk, Max. We don't do things _the old time way_. No nation in history
ever has--with the possible exception of Egypt. Socio-economics are in a
continual flux and here in this country we no more do things in the way
they did fifty years ago, than fifty years ago they did them the way the
American Revolutionists outlined back in the Eighteenth Century."

Max was staring at him. "I don't get that, sir."

Joe said impatiently, "Max, the politico-economic system we have today
is an outgrowth of what went earlier. The welfare state, the freezing of
the status quo, the Frigid Fracas between the West-world and the
Sov-world, industrial automation until useful employment is all but
needless--all these things were to be found in embryo more than fifty
years ago."

"Well, maybe the captain's right, but you gotta admit, sir, that mostly
we do things the old way. We still got the Constitution and the
two-party system and--"

Joe was wearying of the conversation now. You seldom ran into anyone,
even in Middle caste, the traditionally professional class, interested
enough in such subjects to be worth arguing with. He said, "The
Constitution, Max, has got to the point of the Bible. Interpret it the
way you wish, and you can find anything. If not, you can always make a
new amendment. So far as the two-party system is concerned, what effect
does it have when there are no differences between the two parties? That
phase of pseudo-democracy was beginning as far back as the 1930s when
they began passing State laws hindering the emerging of new political
parties. By the time they were insured against a third party working its
way through the maze of election laws, the two parties had become so
similar that elections became almost as big a farce as over in the
Sov-world."

"A farce?" Max ejaculated indignantly, forgetting his servant status.
"That means not so good, doesn't it? Far as I'm concerned, election day
is tops. The one day a Lower is just as good as an Upper. The one day
how many shares you got makes no difference. Everybody has everything."

"Sure, sure, sure," Joe sighed. "The modern equivalent of the Roman
Bacchanalia. Election day in the West-world when no one, for just that
one day, is freer than anyone else."

"Well, what's wrong with that?" The other was all but belligerent.
"That's the trouble with you Middles and Uppers, you don't know how it
is to be a Lower and--"

Joe snapped suddenly, "I was born a Mid-Lower myself, Max. Don't give me
that nonsense."

Max gaped at him, utterly unbelieving.

Joe's irritation fell away. He held out his glass. "Get us a couple of
more drinks, Max, and I'll tell you a story."

By the time the fresh drink came, Joe Mauser was sorry he'd made the
offer. He thought back. He hadn't told anyone the Joe Mauser story in
many a year. And, as he recalled, the last time had been when he was
well into his cups, on an election day at that, and his listener had
been a Low-Upper, a hereditary aristocrat, one of the one per cent of
the upper strata of the nation. Zen! How the man had laughed. He'd
roared his amusement till the tears ran.

However, Joe said, "Max, I was born in the same caste you were--average
father, mother, sisters and brothers. They subsisted on the basic income
guaranteed from birth, sat and watched Telly for an unbelievable number
of hours each day, took trank to keep themselves happy. And thought I
was crazy because I didn't. Dad was the sort of man who'd take his belt
off to a child of his who questioned such school taught slogans as _What
was good enough for Daddy is good enough for me_.

"They were all fracas fans, of course. As far back as I can remember the
picture is there of them gathered around the Telly, screaming
excitement." Joe Mauser sneered, uncharacteristically.

"You don't sound much like you're in favor of your trade, captain," Max
said.

Joe came to his feet, putting down his still half-full glass. "I'll make
this epic story short, Max. As you said, the two actually valid methods
of rising above the level in which you were born are in the Military and
Religious Categories. Like you, even I couldn't stomach the latter."

Joe Mauser hesitated, then finished it off. "Max, there have been few
societies that man has evolved that didn't allow in some manner for the
competent or sly, the intelligent or the opportunist, the brave or the
strong, to work his way to the top. I don't know which of these I
personally fit into, but I rebel against remaining in the lower
categories of a stratified society. Do I make myself clear?"

"Well, no sir, not exactly."

Joe said flatly, "I'm going to fight my way to the top, and nothing is
going to stand in the way. Is that clearer?"

"Yessir," Max said, taken aback.



IV


After routine morning duties, Joe Mauser returned to his billet and
mystified Max Mainz by not only changing into mufti himself but having
Max do the same.

In fact, the new batman protested faintly. He hadn't nearly, as yet, got
over the glory of wearing his kilts and was looking forward to parading
around town in them. He had a point, of course. The appointed time for
the fracas was getting closer and buffs were beginning to stream into
town to bask in the atmosphere of threatened death. Everybody knew what
a military center, on the outskirts of a fracas reservation such as the
Catskills, was like immediately preceding a clash between rival
corporations. The high-strung gaiety, the drinking, the overtranking,
the relaxation of mores. Even a Rank Private had it made. Admiring
civilians to buy drinks and hang on your every word, and more important
still, sensuous-eyed women, their faces slack in thinly suppressed
passion. It was a recognized phenomenon, even Max Mainz knew--this
desire on the part of women Telly fans to date a man, and then watch him
later, killing or being killed.

"Time enough to wear your fancy uniform," Joe Mauser growled at him. "In
fact, tomorrow's a local election day. Parlay that up on top of all the
fracas fans gravitating into town and you'll have a wingding the likes
of nothing you've seen before."

"Well yessir," Max begrudged. "Where're we going now, captain?"

"To the airport. Come along."

Joe Mauser led the way to his sports hovercar and as soon as the two
were settled into the bucket seats, hit the lift lever with the butt of
his left hand. Aircushion-borne, he trod down on the accelerator.

Max Mainz was impressed. "You know," he said. "I never been in one of
these swanky sports jobs before. The kinda car you can afford on the
income of a Mid-Lower's stock aren't--"

"Knock it off," Joe said wearily. "Carping we'll always have with us
evidently, but in spite of all the beefing in every strata from
Low-Lower to Upper-Middle, I've yet to see any signs of organized
protest against our present politico-economic system."

[Illustration]

"Hey," Max said. "Don't get me wrong. What was good enough for Dad is
good enough for me. You won't catch me talking against the government."

"Hm-m-m," Joe murmured. "And all the other cliches taught to us to
preserve the status quo, our People's Capitalism." They were reaching
the outskirts of town, crossing the Esopus. The airport lay only a mile
or so beyond.

It was obviously too deep for Max, and since he didn't understand, he
assumed his superior didn't know what he was talking about. He said,
tolerantly, "Well, what's wrong with People's Capitalism? Everybody
owns the corporations. Damnsight better than the Sovs have."

Joe said sourly. "We've got one optical illusion, they've got another,
Max. Over there they claim the proletariat owns the means of production.
Great. But the Party members are the ones who control it, and, as a
result they manage to do all right for themselves. The Party hierarchy
over there are like our Uppers over here."

"Yeah." Max was being particularly dense. "I've seen a lot about it on
Telly. You know, when there isn't a good fracas on, you tune to one of
them educational shows, like--"

Joe winced at the term _educational_, but held his peace.

"It's pretty rugged over there. But in the West-world, the people own a
corporation's stock and they run it and get the benefit."

"At least it makes a beautiful story," Joe said dryly. "Look, Max.
Suppose you have a corporation that has two hundred thousand shares out
and they're distributed among one hundred thousand and one persons. One
hundred thousand of these own one share apiece, but the remaining
stockholder owns the other hundred thousand."

"I don't know what you're getting at," Max said.

Joe Mauser was tired of the discussion. "Briefly," he said, "we have the
illusion that this is a People's Capitalism, with all stock in the hands
of the People. Actually, as ever before, the stock is in the hands of
the Uppers, all except a mere dribble. They own the country and they run
it for their own benefit."

Max shot a less than military glance at him. "Hey, you're not one of
these Sovs yourself, are you?"

They were coming into the parking area near the Administration Building
of the airport. "No," Joe said so softly that Max could hardly hear his
words. "Only a Mid-Middle on the make."

       *       *       *       *       *

Followed by Max, he strode quickly to the Administration Building,
presented his credit identification at the desk and requested a light
aircraft for a period of three hours. The clerk, hardly looking up,
began going through motions, speaking into telescreens.

The clerk said finally, "You might have a small wait, sir. Quite a few
of the officers involved in this fracas have been renting out
taxi-planes almost as fast as they're available."

That didn't surprise Joe Mauser. Any competent officer made a point of
an aerial survey of the battle reservation before going into a fracas.
Aircraft, of course, couldn't be used _during_ the fray, since they
postdated the turn of the century, and hence were relegated to the
cemetery of military devices along with such items as nuclear weapons,
tanks, and even gasoline-propelled vehicles of size to be useful.

Use an aircraft in a fracas, or even _build_ an aircraft for military
usage and you'd have a howl go up from the military attaches from the
Sov-world that would be heard all the way to Budapest. Not a fracas
went by but there were scores, if not hundreds, of military observers,
keen-eyed to check whether or not any really modern tools of war were
being illegally utilized. Joe Mauser sometimes wondered if the
West-world observers, over in the Sov-world, were as hair fine in their
living up to the rules of the Universal Disarmament Pact. Probably. But,
for that matter, they didn't have the same system of fighting fracases
over there, as in the West.

Joe took a chair while he waited and thumbed through a fan magazine.
From time to time he found his own face in such publications. He was a
third-rate celebrity, really. Luck hadn't been with him so far as the
buffs were concerned. They wanted spectacular victories, murderous
situations in which they could lose themselves in vicarious sadistic
thrills. Joe had reached most of his peaks while in retreat, or
commanding a holding action. His officers appreciated him and so did the
ultra-knowledgeable fracas buffs--but he was all but an unknown to the
average dim wit who spent most of his life glued to the Telly set,
watching men butcher each other.

On the various occasions when matters had pickled and Joe had to fight
his way out against difficult odds, using spectacular tactics in
desperation, he was almost always off camera. Purely luck. On top of
skill, determination, experience and courage, you had to have luck in
the Military Category to get anywhere.

This time Joe was going to manufacture his own.

A voice said, "Ah, Captain Mauser."

Joe looked up, then came to his feet quickly. In automatic reflex, he
began to come to the salute but then caught himself. He said stiffly,
"My compliments, Marshal Cogswell."

The other was a smallish man, but strikingly strong of face and strongly
built. His voice was clipped, clear and had the air of command as though
born with it. He, like Joe, wore mufti and now extended his hand to be
shaken.

"I hear you've signed up with Baron Haer, captain. I was rather
expecting you to come in with me. Had a place for a good aide de camp.
Liked your work in that last fracas we went through together."

"Thank you, sir," Joe said. Stonewall Cogswell was as good a tactician
as freelanced and he was more than that. He was a judge of men and a
stickler for detail. And right now, if Joe Mauser knew Marshal Stonewall
Cogswell as well as he thought, Cogswell was smelling a rat. There was
no reason why old pro Joe Mauser should sign up with a sure loser like
Vacuum Tube when he could have earned more shares taking a commission
with Hovercraft.

He was looking at Joe brightly, the question in his eyes. Three or four
of his staff were behind a few paces, looking polite, but Cogswell
didn't bring them into the conversation. Joe knew most by sight. Good
men all. Old pros all. He felt another twinge of doubt.

Joe had to cover. He said, "I was offered a particularly good contract,
sir. Too good to resist."

The other nodded, as though inwardly coming to a satisfactory
conclusion. "Baron Haer's connections, eh? He's probably offered to back
you for a bounce in caste. Is that it, Joe?"

Joe Mauser flushed. Stonewall Cogswell knew what he was talking about.
He'd been born into Middle status himself and had become an Upper the
hard way. His path wasn't as long as Joe's was going to be, but long
enough and he knew how rocky the climb was. How very rocky.

Joe said, stiffly, "I'm afraid I'm in no position to discuss my
commander's military contracts, marshal. We're in mufti, but after
all--"

Cogswell's lean face registered one of his infrequent grimaces of humor.
"I understand, Joe. Well, good luck and I hope things don't pickle for
you in the coming fracas. Possibly we'll find ourselves aligned together
again at some future time."

"Thank you, sir," Joe said, once more having to catch himself to prevent
an automatic salute.

Cogswell and his staff went off, leaving Joe looking after them. Even
the marshal's staff members were top men, any of whom could have
conducted a divisional magnitude fracas. Joe felt the coldness in his
stomach again. Although it must have looked like a cinch, the enemy
wasn't taking any chances whatsoever. Cogswell and his officers were
undoubtedly here at the airport for the same reason as Joe. They wanted
a thorough aerial reconnaissance of the battlefield-to-be, before the
issue was joined.

       *       *       *

Max was standing at his elbow. "Who was that, sir? Looks like a real
tough one."

"He is a real tough one," Joe said sourly. "That's Stonewall Cogswell,
the best field commander in North America."

Max pursed his lips. "I never seen him out of uniform before. Lots of
times on Telly, but never out of uniform. I thought he was taller than
that."

"He fights with his brains," Joe said, still looking after the craggy
field marshal. "He doesn't have to be any taller."

Max scowled. "Where'd he ever get that nickname, sir?"

"Stonewall?" Joe was turning to resume his chair and magazine. "He's
supposed to be a student of a top general back in the American Civil
War. Uses some of the original Stonewall's tactics."

Max was out of his depth. "American Civil War? Was that much of a
fracas, captain? It musta been before my time."

"It was quite a fracas," Joe said dryly. "Lot of good lads died. A
hundred years after it was fought, the _reasons_ it was fought seemed
about as valid as those we fight fracases for today. Personally I--"

He had to cut it short. They were calling him on the address system. His
aircraft was ready. Joe made his way to the hangars, followed by Max
Mainz. He was going to pilot the airplane himself and old Stonewall
Cogswell would have been surprised at what Joe Mauser was looking for.



V


By the time they had returned to quarters, there was a message waiting
for Captain Mauser. He was to report to the officer commanding
reconnaissance.

Joe redressed in the Haer kilts and proceeded to headquarters.

The officer commanding reconnaissance turned out to be none other than
Balt Haer, natty as ever, and, as ever, arrogantly tapping his swagger
stick against his leg.

"Zen! Captain," he complained. "Where have you been? Off on a trank
kick? We've got to get organized."

Joe Mauser snapped him a salute. "No, sir. I rented an aircraft to scout
out the terrain over which we'll be fighting."

"Indeed. And what were your impressions, captain?" There was an overtone
which suggested that it made little difference what impressions a
captain of cavalry might have gained.

Joe shrugged. "Largely mountains, hills, woods. Good reconnaissance is
going to make the difference in this one. And in the fracas itself
cavalry is going to be more important than either artillery or infantry.
A Nathan Forrest fracas, sir. A matter of getting there fustest with the
mostest."

Balt Haer said amusedly. "Thanks for your opinion, captain. Fortunately,
our staff has already come largely to the same conclusions. Undoubtedly,
they'll be glad to hear your wide experience bears them out."

Joe said evenly, "It's a rather obvious conclusion, of course." He took
this as it came, having been through it before. The dilettante amateur's
dislike of the old pro. The amateur in command who knew full well he was
less capable than many of those below him in rank.

"Of course, captain," Balt Haer flicked his swagger stick against his
leg. "But to the point. Your squadron is to be deployed as scouts under
my overall command. You've had cavalry experience, I assume."

"Yes, sir. In various fracases over the past fifteen years."

"Very well. Now then, to get to the reason I have summoned you.
Yesterday in my father's office you intimated that you had some
grandiose scheme which would bring victory to the Haer colors. But then,
on some thin excuse, refused to divulge just what the scheme might be."

Joe Mauser looked at him unblinkingly.

Balt Haer said: "Now I'd like to have your opinion on just how Vacuum
Tube Transport can extract itself from what would seem a poor position
at best."

In all there were four others in the office, two women clerks
fluttering away at typers, and two of Balt Haer's junior officers. They
seemed only mildly interested in the conversation between Balt and Joe.

Joe wet his lips carefully. The Haer scion was his commanding officer.
He said, "Sir, what I had in mind is a new gimmick. At this stage, if I
told anybody and it leaked, it'd never be effective, not even this first
time."

Haer observed him coldly. "And you think me incapable of keeping your
secret, ah, _gimmick_, I believe is the idiomatic term you used."

Joe Mauser's eyes shifted around the room, taking in the other four, who
were now looking at him.

Bait Haer rapped, "These members of my staff are all trusted Haer
employees, Captain Mauser. They are not fly-by-night freelancers hired
for a week or two."

Joe said, "Yes, sir. But it's been my experience that one person can
hold a secret. It's twice as hard for two, and from there on it's a
decreasing probability in a geometric ratio."

The younger Haer's stick rapped the side of his leg, impatiently.
"Suppose I inform you that this is a command, captain? I have little
confidence in a supposed gimmick that will rescue our forces from
disaster and I rather dislike the idea of a captain of one of my
squadrons dashing about with such a bee in his bonnet when he should be
obeying my commands."

Joe kept his voice respectful. "Then, sir, I'd request that we take the
matter to the Commander in Chief, your father."

"Indeed!"

Joe said, "Sir, I've been working on this a long time. I can't afford to
risk throwing the idea away."

Bait Haer glared at him. "Very well, captain. I'll call your bluff, come
along." He turned on his heel and headed from the room.

Joe Mauser shrugged in resignation and followed him.

       *       *       *       *       *

The old Baron wasn't much happier about Joe Mauser's secrets than was
his son. It had only been the day before that he had taken Joe on, but
already he had seemed to have aged in appearance. Evidently, each hour
that went by made it increasingly clear just how perilous a position he
had assumed. Vacuum Tube Transport had elbowed, buffaloed, bluffed and
edged itself up to the outskirts of the really big time. The Baron's
ability, his aggressiveness, his flair, his political pull, had all
helped, but now the chips were down. He was up against one of the
biggies, and this particular biggy was tired of ambitious little Vacuum
Tube Transport.

He listened to his son's words, listened to Joe's defense.

He said, looking at Joe, "If I understand this, you have some scheme
which you think will bring victory in spite of what seems a disastrous
situation."

"Yes, sir."

The two Haers looked at him, one impatiently, the other in weariness.

Joe said, "I'm gambling everything on this, sir. I'm no Rank Private in
his first fracas. I deserve to be given some leeway."

Balt Haer snorted. "Gambling everything! What in Zen would _you_ have to
gamble, captain? The whole Haer family fortunes are tied up. Hovercraft
is out for blood. They won't be satisfied with a token victory and a
negotiated compromise. They'll devastate us. Thousands of mercenaries
killed, with all that means in indemnities; millions upon million in
expensive military equipment, most of which we've had to hire and will
have to recompensate for. Can you imagine the value of our stock after
Stonewall Cogswell has finished with us? Why, every two by four trucking
outfit in North America will be challenging us, and we won't have the
forces to meet a minor skirmish."

Joe reached into an inner pocket and laid a sheaf of documents on the
desk of Baron Malcolm Haer. The Baron scowled down at them.

Joe said simply, "I've been accumulating stock since before I was
eighteen and I've taken good care of my portfolio in spite of taxes and
the various other pitfalls which make the accumulation of capital
practically impossible. Yesterday, I sold all of my portfolio I was
legally allowed to sell and converted to Vacuum Tube Transport." He
added, dryly, "Getting it at an excellent rate, by the way."

Balt Haer mulled through the papers, unbelievingly. "Zen!" he
ejaculated. "The fool really did it. He's sunk a small fortune into our
stock."

Baron Haer growled at his son, "You seem considerably more convinced of
our defeat than the captain, here. Perhaps I should reverse your
positions of command."

His son grunted, but said nothing.

Old Malcolm Haer's eyes came back to Joe. "Admittedly, I thought you on
the romantic side yesterday, with your hints of some scheme which would
lead us out of the wilderness, so to speak. Now I wonder if you might
not really have something. Very well, I respect your claimed need for
secrecy. Espionage is not exactly an antiquated military field."

"Thank you, sir."

But the Baron was still staring at him. "However, there's more to it
than that. Why not take this great scheme to Marshal Cogswell? And
yesterday you mentioned that the Telly sets of the nation would be tuned
in on this fracas, and obviously you are correct. The question becomes,
what of it?"

The fat was in the fire now. Joe Mauser avoided the haughty stare of
young Balt Haer and addressed himself to the older man. "You have
political pull, sir. Oh, I know you don't make and break presidents. You
couldn't even pull enough wires to keep Hovercraft from making this a
divisional magnitude fracas--but you have pull enough for my needs."

Baron Haer leaned back in his chair, his barrel-like body causing that
article of furniture to creak. He crossed his hands over his stomach.
"And what are your needs, Captain Mauser?"

Joe said evenly, "If I can bring this off, I'll be a fracas buff
celebrity. I don't have any illusions about the fickleness of the Telly
fans, but for a day or two I'll be on top. If at the same time I had
your all out support, pulling what strings you could reach--"

"Why then, you'd be promoted to Upper, wouldn't you, captain?" Balt Haer
finished for him, amusement in his voice.

"That's what I'm gambling on," Joe said evenly.

The younger Haer grinned at his father superciliously. "So our captain
says he will defeat Stonewall Cogswell in return for you sponsoring his
becoming a member of the nation's elite."

       *       *       *       *       *

"Good Heavens, is the supposed cream of the nation now selected on no
higher a level than this?" There was sarcasm in the words.

The three men turned. It was the girl Joe had bumped into the day
before. The Haers didn't seem surprised at her entrance.

"Nadine," the older man growled. "Captain Joseph Mauser who has been
given a commission in our forces."

Joe went through the routine of a Middle of officer's rank being
introduced to a lady of Upper caste. She smiled at him, somewhat
mockingly, and failed to make standard response.

Nadine Haer said, "I repeat, what is this service the captain can render
the house of Haer so important that pressure should be brought to raise
him to Upper caste? It would seem unlikely that he is a noted scientist,
an outstanding artist, a great teacher--"

Joe said, uncomfortably, "They say the military is a science, too."

Her expression was almost as haughty as that of her brother. "Do they? I
have never thought so."

"Really, Nadine," her father grumbled. "This is hardly your affair."

"No? In a few days I shall be repairing the damage you have allowed,
indeed sponsored, to be committed upon the bodies of possibly thousands
of now healthy human beings."

Balt said nastily, "Nobody asked you to join the medical staff, Nadine.
You could have stayed in your laboratory, figuring out new methods of
preventing the human race from replenishing itself."

The girl was obviously not the type to redden, but her anger was
manifest. She spun on her brother. "If the race continues its present
maniac course, possibly more effective methods of birth control _are_
the most important development we could make. Even to the ultimate
discovery of preventing all future conception."

Joe caught himself in mid-chuckle.

But not in time. She spun on him in his turn. "Look at yourself in that
silly skirt. A professional soldier! A killer! In my opinion the most
useless occupation ever devised by man. Parasite on the best and useful
members of society. Destroyer by trade!"

Joe began to open his mouth, but she overrode him. "Yes, yes. I know.
I've read all the nonsense that has accumulated down through the ages
about the need for, the glory of, the sacrifice of the professional
soldier. How they defend their country. How they give all for the common
good. Zen! What nonsense."

Balt Haer was smirking sourly at her. "The theory today is, Nadine, old
thing, that professionals such as the captain are gathering experience
in case a serious fracas with the Sovs ever develops. Meanwhile his
training is kept at a fine edge fighting in our inter-corporation,
inter-union, or union-corporation fracases that develop in our private
enterprise society."

She laughed her scorn. "And what a theory! Limited to the weapons which
prevailed before 1900. If there was ever real conflict between the
Sov-world and our own, does anyone really believe either would stick to
such arms? Why, aircraft, armored vehicles, yes, and nuclear weapons and
rockets, would be in overnight use."

Joe was fascinated by her furious attack. He said, "Then, what would you
say was the purpose of the fracases, Miss--"

"Circuses," she snorted. "The old Roman games, all over again, and a
hundred times worse. Blood and guts sadism. The quest of a frustrated
person for satisfaction in another's pain. Our Lowers of today are as
useless and frustrated as the Roman proletariat and potentially they're
just as dangerous as the mob that once dominated Rome. Automation, the
second industrial revolution, has eliminated for all practical purposes
the need for their labor. So we give them bread and circuses. And every
year that goes by the circuses must be increasingly sadistic, death on
an increasing scale, or they aren't satisfied. Once it was enough to
have fictional mayhem, cowboys and Indians, gangsters, or G.I.s versus
the Nazis, Japs or Commies, but that's passed. Now we need _real_ blood
and guts."

Baron Haer snapped finally, "All right, Nadine. We've heard this lecture
before. I doubt if the captain is interested, particularly since you
don't seem to be able to get beyond the protesting stage and have yet to
come up with an answer."

"I have an answer!"

"Ah?" Balt Haer raised his eyebrows, mockingly.

"Yes! Overthrow this silly status society. Resume the road to progress.
Put our people to useful endeavor, instead of sitting in front of their
Telly sets, taking trank pills to put them in a happy daze and watching
sadistic fracases to keep them in thrills, and their minds from their
condition."

Joe had figured on keeping out of the controversy with this firebrand,
but now, really interested, he said, "Progress to where?"

She must have caught in his tone that he wasn't needling. She frowned at
him. "I don't know man's goal, if there is one. I'm not even sure it's
important. It's the road that counts. The endeavor. The dream. The
effort expended to make a world a better place than it was at the time
of your birth."

[Illustration]

Balt Haer said mockingly, "That's the trouble with you, Sis. Here we've
reached Utopia and you don't admit it."

"Utopia!"

"Certainly. Take a poll. You'll find nineteen people out of twenty happy
with things just the way they are. They have full tummies and security,
lots of leisure and trank pills to make matters seem even rosier than
they are--and they're rather rosy already."

"Then what's the necessity of this endless succession of bloody
fracases, covered to the most minute bloody detail on the Telly?"

Baron Haer cut things short. "We've hashed and rehashed this before,
Nadine and now we're too busy to debate further." He turned to Joe
Mauser. "Very well, captain, you have my pledge. I wish I felt as
optimistic as you seem to be about your prospects. That will be all for
now, captain."

Joe saluted and executed an about face.

       *       *       *       *       *

In the outer offices, when he had closed the door behind him, he rolled
his eyes upward in mute thanks to whatever powers might be. He had
somehow gained the enmity of Balt, his immediate superior, but he'd
also gained the support of Baron Haer himself, which counted
considerably more.

He considered for a moment, Nadine Haer's words. She was obviously a
malcontent, but, on the other hand, her opinions of his chosen
profession weren't too different than his own. However, given this
victory, this upgrading in caste, and Joe Mauser would be in a position
to retire.

The door opened and shut behind him and he half turned.

Nadine Haer, evidently still caught up in the hot words between herself
and her relatives, glared at him. All of which stressed the beauty he
had noticed the day before. She was an almost unbelievably pretty girl,
particularly when flushed with anger.

It occurred to him with a blowlike suddenness that, if his caste was
raised to Upper, he would be in a position to woo such as Nadine Haer.

He looked into her furious face and said, "I was intrigued, Miss Haer,
with what you had to say, and I'd like to discuss some of your points. I
wonder if I could have the pleasure of your company at some nearby
refreshment--"

"My, how formal an invitation, captain. I suppose you had in mind
sitting and flipping back a few trank pills."

Joe looked at her. "I don't believe I've had a trank in the past twenty
years, Miss Haer. Even as a boy, I didn't particularly take to having my
senses dulled with drug-induced pleasure."

Some of her fury was abating, but she was still critical of the
professional mercenary. Her eyes went up and down his uniform in scorn.
"You seem to make pretenses of being cultivated, captain. Then why your
chosen profession?"

He'd had the answer to that for long years. He said now, simply, "I told
you I was born a Lower. Given that, little counts until I fight my way
out of it. Had I been born in a feudalist society, I would have
attempted to batter myself into the nobility. Under classical
capitalism, I would have done my utmost to accumulate a fortune, enough
to reach an effective position in society. Now, under People's
Capitalism ..."

She snorted, "Industrial Feudalism would be the better term."

"... I realize I can't even start to fulfill myself until I am a member
of the Upper caste."

Her eyes had narrowed, and the anger was largely gone. "But you chose
the military field in which to better yourself?"

"Government propaganda to the contrary, it is practically impossible to
raise yourself in other fields. I didn't build this world, possibly I
don't even approve of it, but since I'm in it I have no recourse but to
follow its rules."

Her eyebrows arched. "Why not try to change the rules?"

Joe blinked at her.

Nadine Haer said, "Let's look up that refreshment you were talking
about. In fact, there's a small coffee bar around the corner where it'd
be possible for one of Baron Haer's brood to have a cup with one of her
father's officers of Middle caste."



VI


The following morning, hands on the pillow beneath his head, Joe Mauser
stared up at the ceiling of his room and rehashed his session with
Nadine Haer. It hadn't taken him five minutes to come to the conclusion
that he was in love with the girl, but it had taken him the rest of the
evening to keep himself under rein and not let the fact get through to
her.

He wanted to talk about the way her mouth tucked in at the corners, but
she was hot on the evolution of society. He would have liked to have
kissed that impossibly perfectly shaped ear of hers, but she was all for
exploring the reasons why man had reached his present impasse. Joe was
for holding hands, and staring into each other's eyes, she was for
delving into the differences between the West-world and the Sov-world
and the possibility of resolving them.

Of course, to keep her company at all it had been necessary to suppress
his own desires and to go along. It obviously had never occurred to her
that a Middle might have romantic ideas involving Nadine Haer. It had
simply not occurred to her, no matter the radical teachings she
advocated.

Most of their world was predictable from what had gone before. In spite
of popular fable to the contrary, the division between classes had
become increasingly clear. Among other things, tax systems were such
that it became all but impossible for a citizen born poor to accumulate
a fortune. Through ability he might rise to the point of earning
fabulous sums--and wind up in debt to the tax collector. A great
inventor, a great artist, had little chance of breaking into the domain
of what finally became the small percentage of the population now known
as Uppers. Then, too, the rising cost of a really good education became
such that few other than those born into the Middle or Upper castes
could afford the best of schools. Castes tended to perpetuate
themselves.

Politically, the nation had fallen increasingly deeper into the
two-party system, both parties of which were tightly controlled by the
same group of Uppers. Elections had become a farce, a great national
holiday in which stereotyped patriotic speeches, pretenses of unity
between all castes, picnics, beer busts and trank binges predominated
for one day.

Economically, too, the augurs had been there. Production of the basics
had become so profuse that poverty in the old sense of the word had
become nonsensical. There was an abundance of the necessities of life
for all. Social security, socialized medicine, unending unemployment
insurance, old age pensions, pensions for veterans, for widows and
children, for the unfit, pensions and doles for this, that and the
other, had doubled, and doubled again, until everyone had security for
life. The Uppers, true enough, had opulence far beyond that known by the
Middles and lived like Gods compared to the Lowers. But all had
security. They had agreed, thus far, Joe and Nadine. But then had come
debate.

       *       *       *       *       *

"Then why," Joe had asked her, "haven't we achieved what your brother
called it? Why isn't this Utopia? Isn't it what man has been yearning
for, down through the ages? Where did the wheel come off? What happened
to the dream?"

Nadine had frowned at him--beautifully, he thought. "It's not the first
time man has found abundance in a society, though never to this degree.
The Incas had it, for instance."

"I don't know much about them," Joe admitted. "An early form of
communism with a sort of military-priesthood at the top."

She had nodded, her face serious, as always. "And for themselves, the
Romans more or less had it--at the expense of the nations they
conquered, of course."

"And--" Joe prodded.

"And in these examples the same thing developed. Society ossified. Joe,"
she said, using his first name for the first time, and in a manner that
set off a new count down in his blood, "a ruling caste and a
socio-economic system perpetuates itself, just so long as it ever can.
No matter what damage it may do to society as a whole, it perpetuates
itself even to the point of complete destruction of everything.

"Remember Hitler? Adolf the Aryan and his Thousand Year Reich? When it
became obvious he had failed, and the only thing that could result from
continued resistance would be destruction of Germany's cities and
millions of her people, did he and his clique resign or surrender?
Certainly not. They attempted to bring down the whole German structure
in a Götterdammerung."

Nadine Haer was deep into her theme, her eyes flashing her conviction.
"A socio-economic system reacts like a living organism. It attempts to
live on, indefinitely, agonizingly, no matter how antiquated it might
have become. The Roman politico-economic system continued for centuries
after it should have been replaced. Such reformers as the Gracchus
brothers were assassinated or thrust aside so that the entrenched
elements could perpetuate themselves, and when Rome finally fell,
darkness descended for a thousand years on Western progress."

Joe had never gone this far in his thoughts. He said now, somewhat
uncomfortably, "Well, what would replace what we have now? If you took
power from you Uppers, who could direct the country? The Lowers? That's
not even funny. Take away their fracases and their trank pills and
they'd go berserk. They don't _want_ anything else."

Her mouth worked. "Admittedly, we've already allowed things to
deteriorate much too far. We should have done something long ago. I'm
not sure I know the answer. All I know is that in order to maintain the
status quo, we're not utilizing the efforts of more than a fraction of
our people. Nine out of ten of us spend our lives sitting before the
Telly, sucking tranks. Meanwhile, the motivation for continued progress
seems to have withered away. Our Upper political circles are afraid some
seemingly minor change might avalanche, so more and more we lean upon
the old way of doing things."

Joe had put up mild argument. "I've heard the case made that the Lowers
are fools and the reason our present socio-economic system makes it so
difficult to rise from Lower to Upper is that you cannot make a fool
understand he is one. You can only make him angry. If some, who are not
fools, are allowed to advance from Lower to Upper, the vast mass who are
fools will be angry because they are not allowed to. That's why the
Military Category is made a channel of advance. To take that road, a man
gives up his security and he'll die if he's a fool."

Nadine had been scornful. "That reminds me of the old contention by
racial segregationalists that the Negroes _smelled_ bad. First they put
them in a position where they had insufficient bathing facilities, their
diet inadequate, and their teeth uncared for, and then protested that
they couldn't be associated with because of their odor. Today, we are
born within our castes. If an Upper is inadequate, he nevertheless
remains an Upper. An accident of birth makes him an aristocrat;
environment, family, training, education, friends, traditions and laws
maintain him in that position. But a Lower who potentially has the
greatest of value to society, is born handicapped and he's hard put not
to wind up before a Telly, in a mental daze from trank. Sure he's a
fool, he's never been _allowed_ to develop himself."

       *       *       *       *       *

Yes, Joe reflected now, it had been quite an evening. In a life of more
than thirty years devoted to rebellion, he had never met anyone so
outspoken as Nadine Haer, nor one who had thought it through as far as
she had.

He grunted. His own revolt was against the level at which he had found
himself in society, not the structure of society itself. His whole
_raison d'être_ was to lift himself to Upper status. It came as a shock
to him to find a person he admired who had been born into Upper caste,
desirous of tearing the whole system down.

His thoughts were interrupted by the door opening and the face of Max
Mainz grinning in at him. Joe was mildly surprised at his orderly not
knocking before opening the door. Max evidently had a lot to learn.

The little man blurted, "Come on, Joe. Let's go out on the town!"

"_Joe?_" Joe Mauser raised himself to one elbow and stared at the other.
"Leaving aside the merits of your suggestion for the moment, do you
think you should address an officer by his first name?"

Max Mainz came fully into the bedroom, his grin still wider. "You
forgot! It's election day!"

"Oh." Joe Mauser relaxed into his pillow. "So it is. No duty for today,
eh?"

"No duty for anybody," Max crowed. "What'd you say we go into town and
have a few drinks in one of the Upper bars?"

Joe grunted, but began to arise. "What'll that accomplish? On election
day, most of the Uppers get done up in their oldest clothes and go
slumming down in the Lower quarters."

Max wasn't to be put off so easily. "Well, wherever we go, let's get
going. Zen! I'll bet this town is full of fracas buffs from as far as
Philly. And on election day, to boot. Wouldn't it be something if I
found me a real fracas fan, some Upper-Upper dame?"

Joe laughed at him, even as he headed for the bathroom. As a matter of
fact, he rather liked the idea of going into town for the show. "Max,"
he said over his shoulder, "you're in for a big disappointment. They're
all the same. Upper, Lower, or Middle."

"Yeah?" Max grinned back at him. "Well, I'd like the pleasure of finding
out if that's true by personal experience."



VII


In a far away past, Kingston had once been the capital of the United
States. For a short time, when Washington's men were in flight after the
debacle of their defeat in New York City, the government of the United
Colonies had held session in this Hudson River town. It had been its one
moment of historic glory, and afterward Kingston had slipped back into
being a minor city on the edge of the Catskills, approximately halfway
between New York and Albany.

Of most recent years, it had become one of the two recruiting centers
which bordered the Catskill Military Reservation, which in turn was one
of the score or so population cleared areas throughout the continent
where rival corporations or unions could meet and settle their
differences in combat--given permission of the Military Category
Department of the government. And permission was becoming ever easier to
acquire.

It had slowly evolved, the resorting to trial by combat to settle
disputes between competing corporations, disputes between corporations
and unions, disputes between unions over jurisdiction. Slowly, but
predictably. Since the earliest days of the first industrial revolution,
conflict between these elements had often broken into violence,
sometimes on a scale comparable to minor warfare. An early example was
the union organizing in Colorado when armed elements of the Western
Federation of Miners shot it out with similarly armed "detectives" hired
by the mine owners, and later with the troops of an unsympathetic State
government.

By the middle of the Twentieth-Century, unions had become one of the
biggest businesses in the country, and by this time a considerable
amount of the industrial conflict had shifted to fights between them for
jurisdiction over dues-paying members. Battles on the waterfront,
assassination and counter-assassination by gun-toting goon squads
dominated by gangsters, industrial sabotage, frays between pickets and
scabs--all were common occurrences.

But it was the coming of Telly which increasingly brought such conflicts
literally before the public eye. Zealous reporters made ever greater
effort to bring the actual mayhem before the eyes of their viewers, and
never were their efforts more highly rewarded.

A society based upon private endeavor is as jealous of a vacuum as is
Mother Nature. Give a desire that can be filled profitably, and the
means can somehow be found to realize it.

       *       *       *

At one point in the nation's history, the railroad lords had dominated
the economy, later it became the petroleum princes of Texas and
elsewhere, but toward the end of the Twentieth Century the
communications industries slowly gained prominence. Nothing was more
greatly in demand than feeding the insatiable maw of the Telly fan,
nothing, ultimately, became more profitable.

And increasingly, the Telly buff endorsed the more sadistic of the
fictional and nonfictional programs presented him. Even in the earliest
years of the industry, producers had found that murder and mayhem, war
and frontier gunfights, took precedence over less gruesome subjects.
Music was drowned out by gunfire, the dance replaced by the shuffle of
cowboy and rustler advancing down a dusty street toward each other,
their fingertips brushing the grips of their six-shooters, the
comedian's banter fell away before the chatter of the gangster's tommy
gun.

And increasing realism was demanded. The Telly reporter on the scene of
a police arrest, preferably a murder, a rumble between rival gangs of
juvenile delinquents, a longshoreman's fray in which scores of workers
were hospitalized. When attempts were made to suppress such broadcasts,
the howl of freedom of speech and the press went up, financed by tycoons
clever enough to realize the value of the subjects they covered so
adequately.

The vacuum was there, the desire, the _need_. Bread the populace had.
Trank was available to all. But the need was for the circus, the
vicious, sadistic circus, and bit by bit, over the years and decades,
the way was found to circumvent the country's laws and traditions to
supply the need.

Aye, a way is always found. The final Universal Disarmament Pact which
had totally banned all weapons invented since the year 1900 and provided
for complete inspection, had not ended the fear of war. And thus there
was excuse to give the would-be soldier, the potential defender of the
country in some future inter-nation conflict, practical experience.

Slowly tolerance grew to allow union and corporation to fight it out,
hiring the services of mercenaries. Slowly rules grew up to govern such
fracases. Slowly a department of government evolved. The Military
Category became as acceptable as the next, and the mercenary a valued,
even idolized, member of society. And the field became practically the
only one in which a status quo orientated socio-economic system allowed
for advancement in caste.

Joe Mauser and Max Mainz strolled the streets of Kingston in an extreme
of atmosphere seldom to be enjoyed. Not only was the advent of a
divisional magnitude fracas only a short period away, but the freedom of
an election day as well. The carnival, the Mardi Gras, the fete, the
fiesta, of an election. Election Day, when each aristocrat became only a
man, and each man an aristocrat, free of all society's artificially
conceived, caste-perpetuating rituals and taboos.

Carnival! The day was young, but already the streets were thick with
revelers, with dancers, with drunks. A score of bands played, youngsters
in particular ran about attired in costume, there were barbeques and
flowing beer kegs. On the outskirts of town were roller coasters and
ferris wheels, fun houses and drive-it-yourself miniature cars.
Carnival!

Max said happily, "You drink, Joe? Or maybe you like trank, better."
Obviously, he loved to roll the other's first name over his tongue.

Joe wondered in amusement how often the little man had found occasion to
call a Mid-Middle by his first name. "No trank," he said. "Alcohol for
me. Mankind's old faithful."

"Well," Max debated, "get high on alcohol and bingo, a hangover in the
morning. But trank? You wake up with a smile."

"And a desire for more trank to keep the mood going," Joe said wryly.
"Get smashed on alcohol and you suffer for it eventually."

"Well, that's one way of looking at it," Max argued happily. "So let's
start off with a couple of quick ones in this here Upper joint."

       *       *       *       *       *

Joe looked the place over. He didn't know Kingston overly well, but by
the appearance of the building and by the entry, it was probably the
swankiest hotel in town. He shrugged. So far as he was concerned, he
appreciated the greater comfort and the better service of his Middle
caste bars, restaurants and hotels over the ones he had patronized when
a Lower. However, his wasn't an immediate desire to push into the
preserves of the Uppers; not until he had won rightfully to their
status.

But on this occasion the little fellow wanted to drink at an Upper bar.
Very well, it was election day. "Let's go," he said to Max.

In the uniform of a Rank Captain of the Military Category, there was
little to indicate caste level, and ordinarily given the correct air of
nonchalance, Joe Mauser, in uniform, would have been able to go
anywhere, without so much as a raised eyebrow--until he had presented
his credit card, which indicated his caste. But Max was another thing.
He was obviously a Lower, and probably a Low-Lower at that.

But space was made for them at a bar packed with election day
celebrants, politicians involved in the day's speeches and voting,
higher ranking officers of the Haer forces, having a day off, and
various Uppers of both sexes in town for the excitement of the fracas to
come.

"Beer," Joe said to the bartender.

"Not me," Max crowed. "Champagne. Only the best for Max Mainz. Give me
some of that champagne liquor I always been hearing about."

Joe had the bill credited to his card, and they took their bottles and
glasses to a newly abandoned table. The place was too packed to have
awaited the services of a waiter, although poor Max probably would have
loved such attention. Lower, and even Middle bars and restaurants were
universally automated, and the waiter or waitress a thing of yesteryear.

Max looked about the room in awe. "This is living," he announced. "I
wonder what they'd say if I went to the desk and ordered a room."

Joe Mauser wasn't as highly impressed as his batman. In fact, he'd often
stayed in the larger cities, in hostelries as sumptuous as this, though
only of Middle status. Kingston's best was on the mediocre side. He
said, "They'd probably tell you they were filled up."

Max was indignant. "Because I'm a Lower? It's _election_ day."

Joe said mildly, "Because they probably are filled up. But for that
matter, they might brush you off. It's not as though an Upper went to a
Middle or Lower hotel and asked for accommodations. But what do you
want, justice?"

Max dropped it. He looked down into his glass. "Hey," he complained,
"what'd they give me? This stuff tastes like weak hard cider."

Joe laughed. "What did you think it was going to taste like?"

Max took another unhappy sip. "I thought it was supposed to be the best
drink you could buy. You know, really strong. It's just bubbly wine."

A voice said, dryly, "Your companion doesn't seem to be a connoisseur of
the French vintages, captain."

Joe turned. Balt Haer and two others occupied the table next to them.

Joe chuckled amiably and said, "Truthfully, it was my own reaction, the
first time I drank sparkling wine, sir."

"Indeed," Haer said. "I can imagine." He fluttered a hand. "Lieutenant
Colonel Paul Warren of Marshal Cogswell's staff, and Colonel Lajos
Arpàd, of Budapest--Captain Joseph Mauser."

Joe Mauser came to his feet and clicked his heels, bowing from the waist
in approved military protocol. The other two didn't bother to come to
their feet, but did condescend to shake hands.

The Sov officer said, disinterestedly, "Ah yes, this is one of your
fabulous customs, isn't it? On an election day, everyone is quite
entitled to go anywhere. Anywhere at all. And, ah"--he made a sound
somewhat like a giggle--"associate with anyone at all."

Joe Mauser resumed his seat then looked at him. "That is correct. A
custom going back to the early history of the country when all men were
considered equal in such matters as law and civil rights. Gentlemen, may
I present Rank Private Max Mainz, my orderly."

Balt Haer, who had obviously already had a few, looked at him dourly.
"You can carry these things to the point of the ludicrous, captain. For
a man with your ambitions, I'm surprised."

The infantry officer the younger Haer had introduced as Lieutenant
Colonel Warren, of Stonewall Cogswell's staff, said idly, "Ambitions?
Does the captain have ambitions? How in Zen can a Middle have ambitions,
Balt?" He stared at Joe Mauser superciliously, but then scowled.
"Haven't I seen you somewhere before?"

Joe said evenly, "Yes, sir. Five years ago we were both with the marshal
in a fracas on the Little Big Horn reservation. Your company was pinned
down on a knoll by a battery of field artillery. The Marshal sent me to
your relief. We sneaked in, up an arroyo, and were able to get most of
you out."

"I was wounded," the colonel said, the superciliousness gone and a
strange element in his voice above the alcohol there earlier.

Joe Mauser said nothing to that. Max Mainz was stirring unhappily now.
These officers were talking above his head, even as they ignored him. He
had a vague feeling that he was being defended by Captain Mauser, but he
didn't know how, or why.

Balt Haer had been occupied in shouting fresh drinks. Now he turned back
to the table. "Well, colonel, it's all very secret, these ambitions of
Captain Mauser. I understand he's been an aide de camp to Marshal
Cogswell in the past, but the marshal will be distressed to learn that
on this occasion Captain Mauser has a secret by which he expects to rout
your forces. Indeed, yes, the captain is quite the strategist." Balt
Haer laughed abruptly. "And what good will this do the captain? Why on
my father's word, if he succeeds, all efforts will be made to make the
captain a caste equal of ours. Not just on election day, mind you, but
all three hundred sixty-five days of the year."

Joe Mauser was on his feet, his face expressionless. He said, "Shall we
go, Max? Gentlemen, it's been a pleasure. Colonel Arpàd, a privilege to
meet you. Colonel Warren, a pleasure to renew acquaintance." Joe Mauser
turned and, trailed by his orderly, left.

       *       *       *       *       *

Lieutenant Colonel Warren, pale, was on his feet too.

Balt Haer was chuckling. "Sit down, Paul. Sit down. Not important enough
to be angry about. The man's a clod."

Warren looked at him bleakly. "I wasn't angry, Balt. The last time I saw
Captain Mauser I was slung over his shoulder. He carried, tugged and
dragged me some two miles through enemy fire."

Balt Haer carried it off with a shrug. "Well, that's his profession.
Category Military. A mercenary for hire. I assume he received his pay."

"He could have left me. Common sense dictated that he leave me."

Balt Haer was annoyed. "Well, then we see what I've contended all along.
The ambitious captain doesn't have common sense."

Colonel Paul Warren shook his head. "You're wrong there. Common sense
Joseph Mauser has. Considerable ability, he has. He's one of the best
combat men in the field. But I'd hate to serve under him."

The Hungarian was interested. "But why?"

"Because he doesn't have luck, and in the dill you need luck." Warren
grunted in sour memory. "Had the Telly cameras been focused on Joe
Mauser, there at the Little Big Horn, he would have been a month long
sensation to the Telly buffs, with all that means." He grunted again.
"There wasn't a Telly team within a mile."

"The captain probably didn't realize that," Balt Haer snorted.
"Otherwise his heroics would have been modified."

Warren flushed his displeasure and sat down. He said, "Possibly we
should discuss the business before us. If your father is in agreement,
the fracas can begin in three days." He turned to the representative of
the Sov-world. "You have satisfied yourselves that neither force is
violating the Disarmament Pact?"

Lajos Arpàd nodded. "We will wish to have observers on the field,
itself, of course. But preliminary observation has been satisfactory."
He had been interested in the play between these two and the lower caste
officer. He said now, "Pardon me. As you know, this is my first visit to
the, uh _West_. I am fascinated. If I understand what just transpired,
our Captain Mauser is a capable junior officer ambitious to rise in rank
and status in your society." He looked at Balt Haer. "Why are you
opposed to his so rising?"

Young Haer was testy about the whole matter. "Of what purpose is an
Upper caste if every Tom, Dick and Harry enters it at will?"

Warren looked at the door through which Joe and Max had exited from the
cocktail lounge. He opened his mouth to say something, closed it again,
and held his peace.

[Illustration]

The Hungarian said, looking from one of them to the other, "In the
Sov-world we seek out such ambitious persons and utilize their
abilities."

Lieutenant Colonel Warren laughed abruptly. "So do we here
_theoretically_. We are _free_, whatever that means. However," he added
sarcastically, "it does help to have good schooling, good connections,
relatives in positions of prominence, abundant shares of good stocks,
that sort of thing. And these one is born with, in this free world of
ours, Colonel Arpàd."

The Sov military observer clucked his tongue. "An indication of a
declining society."

Balt Haer turned on him. "And is it any different in your world?" he
said sneeringly. "Is it merely coincidence that the best positions in
the Sov-world are held by Party members, and that it is all but
impossible for anyone not born of Party member parents to become one?
Are not the best schools filled with the children of Party members? Are
not only Party members allowed to keep servants? And isn't it so that--"

Lieutenant Colonel Warren said, "Gentlemen, let us not start World War
Three at this spot, at this late occasion."



VIII


Baron Malcolm Haer's field headquarters were in the ruins of a farm
house in a town once known as Bearsville. His forces, and those of
Marshal Stonewall Cogswell, were on the march but as yet their main
bodies had not come in contact. Save for skirmishes between cavalry
units, there had been no action. The ruined farm house had been a victim
of an earlier fracas in this reservation which had seen in its
comparatively brief time more combat than Belgium, that cockpit of
Europe.

There was a sheen of oily moisture on the Baron's bulletlike head and
his officers weren't particularly happy about it. Malcolm Haer
characteristically went into a fracas with confidence, an aggressive
confidence so strong that it often carried the day. In battles past, it
had become a tradition that Haer's morale was worth a thousand men; the
energy he expended was the despair of his doctors who had been warning
him for a decade. But now, something was missing.

A forefinger traced over the military chart before them. "So far as we
know, Marshal Cogswell has established his command here in Saugerties.
Anybody have any suggestions as to why?"

A major grumbled, "It doesn't make much sense, sir. You know the
marshal. It's probably a fake. If we have any superiority at all, it's
our artillery."

"And the old fox wouldn't want to join the issue on the plains, down
near the river," a colonel added. "It's his game to keep up into the
mountains with his cavalry and light infantry. He's got Jack Alshuler's
cavalry. Most experienced veterans in the field."

"I know who he's got," Haer growled in irritation. "Stop reminding me.
Where in the devil is Balt?"

"Coming up, sir," Balt Haer said. He had entered only moments ago, a
sheaf of signals in his hand. "Why didn't they make that date 1910,
instead of 1900? With radio, we could speed up communications--"

His father interrupted testily. "Better still, why not make it 1945?
Then we could speed up to the point where we could polish ourselves off.
What have you got?"

Balt Haer said, his face in sulk, "Some of my lads based in West Hurley
report concentrations of Cogswell's infantry and artillery near Ashokan
reservoir."

"Nonsense," somebody snapped. "We'd have him."

The younger Haer slapped his swagger stick against his bare leg and
kilt. "Possibly it's a feint," he admitted.

"How much were they able to observe?" his father demanded.

"Not much. They were driven off by a superior squadron. The Hovercraft
forces are screening everything they do with heavy cavalry units. I told
you we needed more--"

"I don't need your advice at this point," his father snapped. The older
Haer went back to the map, scowling still. "I don't see what he expects
to do, working out of Saugerties."

A voice behind them said, "Sir, may I have your permission--"

Half of the assembled officers turned to look at the newcomer.

Balt Haer snapped, "Captain Mauser. Why aren't you with your lads?"

"Turned them over to my second in command, sir," Joe Mauser said. He was
standing to attention, looking at Baron Haer.

The Baron glowered at him. "What is the meaning of this cavalier
intrusion, captain? Certainly, you must have your orders. Are you under
the illusion that you are part of my staff?"

"No, sir," Joe Mauser clipped. "I came to report that I am ready to put
into execution--"

"The great plan!" Balt Haer ejaculated. He laughed brittlely. "The
second day of the fracas, and nobody really knows where old Cogswell is,
or what he plans to do. And here comes the captain with his secret
plan."

Joe looked at him. He said, evenly, "Yes, sir."

The Baron's face had gone dark, as much in anger at his son, as with the
upstart cavalry captain. He began to growl ominously, "Captain Mauser,
rejoin your command and obey your orders."

Joe Mauser's facial expression indicated that he had expected this. He
kept his voice level however, even under the chuckling scorn of his
immediate superior, Balt Haer.

He said, "Sir, I will be able to tell you where Marshal Cogswell is, and
every troop at his command."

For a moment there was silence, all but a stunned silence. Then the
major who had suggested the Saugerties field command headquarters were a
fake, blurted a curt laugh.

"This is no time for levity, captain," Balt Haer clipped. "Get to your
command."

A colonel said, "Just a moment, sir. I've fought with Joe Mauser before.
He's a good man."

"Not that good," someone else huffed. "Does he claim to be clairvoyant?"

Joe Mauser said flatly. "Have a semaphore man posted here this
afternoon. I'll be back at that time." He spun on his heel and left
them.

Balt Haer rushed to the door after him, shouting, "Captain! That's an
order! Return--"

But the other was obviously gone. Enraged, the younger Haer began to
shrill commands to a noncom in the way of organizing a pursuit.

His father called wearily, "That's enough, Balt. Mauser has evidently
taken leave of his senses. We made the initial mistake of encouraging
this idea he had, or thought he had."

"_We?_" his son snapped in return. "I had nothing to do with it."

"All right, all right. Let's tighten up, here. Now, what other
information have your scouts come up with?"



IX


At the Kingston airport, Joe Mauser rejoined Max Mainz, his face drawn
now.

"Everything go all right?" the little man said anxiously.

"I don't know," Joe said. "I still couldn't tell them the story. Old
Cogswell is as quick as a coyote. We pull this little caper today, and
he'll be ready to meet it tomorrow."

He looked at the two-place sailplane which sat on the tarmac.
"Everything all set?"

"Far as I know," Max said. He looked at the motorless aircraft. "You
sure you been checked out on these things, captain?"

"Yes," Joe said. "I bought this particular soaring glider more than a
year ago, and I've put almost a thousand hours in it. Now, where's the
pilot of that light plane?"

A single-engined sports plane was attached to the glider by a fifty-foot
nylon rope. Even as Joe spoke, a youngster poked his head from the
plane's window and grinned back at them. "Ready?" he yelled.

"Come on, Max," Joe said. "Let's pull the canopy off this thing. We
don't want it in the way while you're semaphoring."

A figure was approaching them from the Administration Building. A
uniformed man, and somehow familiar.

"A moment, Captain Mauser!"

Joe placed him now. The Sov-world representative he'd met at Balt Haer's
table in the Upper bar a couple of days ago. What was his name? Colonel
Arpàd. Lajos Arpàd.

The Hungarian approached and looked at the sailplane in interest. "As a
representative of my government, a military attache checking upon
possible violations of the Universal Disarmament Pact, may I request
what you are about to do, captain?"

Joe Mauser looked at him emptily. "How did you know I was here and what
I was doing?"

The Sov colonel smiled gently. "It was by suggestion of Marshal
Cogswell. He is a great man for detail. It disturbed him that an ...
what did he call it? ... an _old pro_ like yourself should join with
Vacuum Tube Transport, rather than Continental Hovercraft. He didn't
think it made sense and suggested that possibly you had in mind some
scheme that would utilize weapons of a post 1900 period in your efforts
to bring success to Baron Haer's forces. So I have investigated, Captain
Mauser."

"And the marshal knows about this sail plane?" Joe Mauser's face was
blank.

"I didn't say that. So far as I know, he doesn't."

"Then, Colonel Arpàd, with your permission, I'll be taking off."

The Hungarian said, "With what end in mind, captain?"

"Using this glider as a reconnaissance aircraft."

"Captain, I warn you! Aircraft were not in use in warfare until--"

But Joe Mauser cut him off, equally briskly. "Aircraft were first used
in combat by Pancho Villa's forces a few years previous to World War I.
They were also used in the Balkan Wars of about the same period. But
those were powered craft. This is a glider, invented and in use before
the year 1900 and hence open to utilization."

The Hungarian clipped, "But the Wright Brothers didn't fly even gliders
until--"

Joe looked him full in the face. "But you of the Sov-world do not admit
that the Wrights were the first to fly, do you?"

The Hungarian closed his mouth, abruptly.

Joe said evenly, "But even if Ivan Ivanovitch, or whatever you claim his
name was, didn't invent flight of heavier than air craft, the glider was
flown variously before 1900, including Otto Lilienthal in the 1890s, and
was designed as far back as Leonardo da Vinci."

The Sov-world colonel stared at him for a long moment, then gave an
inane giggle. He stepped back and flicked Joe Mauser a salute. "Very
well, captain. As a matter of routine, I shall report this use of an
aircraft for reconnaissance purposes, and undoubtedly a commission will
meet to investigate the propriety of the departure. Meanwhile, good
luck!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Joe returned the salute and swung a leg over the cockpit's side. Max was
already in the front seat, his semaphore flags, maps and binoculars on
his lap. He had been staring in dismay at the Sov officer, now was
relieved that Joe had evidently pulled it off.

Joe waved to the plane ahead. Two mechanics had come up to steady the
wings for the initial ten or fifteen feet of the motorless craft's
passage over the ground behind the towing craft.

Joe said to Max, "did you explain to the pilot that under no
circumstances was he to pass over the line of the military reservation,
that we'd cut before we reached that point?"

"Yes, sir," Max said nervously. He'd flown before, on the commercial
lines, but he'd never been in a glider.

They began lurching across the field, slowly, then gathering speed. And
as the sailplane took speed, it took grace. After it had been pulled a
hundred feet or so, Joe eased back the stick and it slipped gently into
the air, four or five feet off the ground. The towing airplane was
still taxiing, but with its tow airborne it picked up speed quickly.
Another two hundred feet and it, too, was in the air and beginning to
climb. The glider behind held it to a speed of sixty miles or so.

At ten thousand feet, the plane leveled off and the pilot's head
swiveled to look back at them. Joe Mauser waved to him and dropped the
release lever which ejected the nylon rope from the glider's nose. The
plane dove away, trailing the rope behind it. Joe knew that the plane
pilot would later drop it over the airport where it could easily be
retrieved.

In the direction of Mount Overlook he could see cumulus clouds and the
dark turbulence which meant strong updraft. He headed in that direction.

Except for the whistling of wind, there is complete silence in a soaring
glider. Max Mainz began to call back to his superior, was taken back by
the volume, and dropped his voice. He said, "Look, captain. What keeps
it up?"

Joe grinned. He liked the buoyance of glider flying, the nearest
approach of man to the bird, and thus far everything was going well. He
told Max, "An airplane plows through the air currents, a glider rides on
top of them."

"Yeah, but suppose the current is going down?"

"Then we avoid it. This sailplane only has a gliding angle ratio of one
to twenty-five, but it's a workhorse with a payload of some four hundred
pounds. A really high performance glider can have a ratio of as much as
one to forty."

Joe had found a strong updraft where a wind ran up the side of a
mountain. He banked, went into a circling turn. The gauge indicated they
were climbing at the rate of eight meters per second, nearly fifteen
hundred feet a minute.

Max hadn't got the rundown on the theory of the glider. That was obvious
in his expression.

Joe Mauser, even while searching the ground below keenly, went into it
further. "A wind up against a mountain will give an updraft, storm
clouds will, even a newly plowed field in a bright sun. So you go from
one of these to the next."

"Yeah, great, but when you're between," Max protested.

"Then, when you have a one to twenty-five ratio, you go twenty-five feet
forward for each one you drop. If you started a mile high, you could go
twenty-five miles before you touched ground." He cut himself off
quickly. "Look, what's that, down there? Get your glasses on it."

Max caught his excitement. His binoculars were tight to his eyes.
"Sojers. Cavalry. They sure ain't ours. They must be Hovercraft lads.
And look, field artillery."

Joe Mauser was piloting with his left hand, his right smoothing out a
chart on his lap. He growled, "What are they doing there? That's at
least a full brigade of cavalry. Here, let me have those glasses."

With his knees gripping the stick, he went into a slow circle, as he
stared down at the column of men. "Jack Alshuler," he whistled in
surprise. "The marshal's crack heavy cavalry. And several batteries of
artillery." He swung the glasses in a wider scope and the whistle turned
into a hiss of comprehension. "They're doing a complete circle of the
reservation. They're going to hit the Baron from the direction of
Phoenicia."



X


Marshal Stonewall Cogswell directed his old fashioned telescope in the
direction his chief of staff indicated.

"What is it?" he grunted.

"It's an airplane, sir."

"Over a military reservation with a fracas in progress?"

"Yes, sir." The other put his glasses back on the circling object. "Then
what is it, sir? Certainly not a free balloon."

"Balloons," the marshal snorted, as though to himself. "Legal to use.
The Union forces had them toward the end of the Civil War. But
practically useless in a fracas of movement."

They were standing before the former resort hotel which housed the
marshal's headquarters. Other staff members were streaming from the
building, and one of the ever-present Telly reporting crews were
hurriedly setting up cameras.

The marshal turned and barked, "Does anybody know what in Zen that
confounded thing, circling up there, is?"

Baron Zwerdling, the aging Category Transport magnate, head of
Continental Hovercraft, hobbled onto the wooden veranda and stared with
the others. "An airplane," he croaked. "Haer's gone too far this time.
Too far, too far. This will strip him. Strip him, understand." Then he
added, "Why doesn't it make any noise?"

Lieutenant Colonel Paul Warren stood next to his commanding officer. "It
looks like a glider, sir."

Cogswell glowered at him. "A what?"

"A glider, sir. It's a sport not particularly popular these days."

"What keeps it up, confound it?"

Paul Warren looked at him. "The same thing that keeps a hawk up, an
albatross, a gull--"

"A vulture, you mean," Cogswell snarled. He watched it for another long
moment, his face working. He whirled on his chief of artillery. "Jed,
can you bring that thing down?"

The other had been viewing the craft through field binoculars, his face
as shocked as the rest of them. Now he faced his chief, and lowered the
glasses, shaking his head. "Not with the artillery of pre-1900. No,
sir."

"What can you do?" Cogswell barked.

The artillery man was shaking his head. "We could mount some Maxim guns
on wagon wheels, or something. Keep him from coming low."

"He doesn't have to come low," Cogswell growled unhappily. He spun on
Lieutenant Colonel Warren again. "When were they invented?" He jerked
his thumb upward. "Those things."

Warren was twisting his face in memory. "Some time about the turn of the
century."

"How long can the things stay up?"

Warren took in the surrounding mountainous countryside. "Indefinitely,
sir. A single pilot, as long as he is physically able to operate. If
there are two pilots up there to relieve each other, they could stay
until food and water ran out."

"How much weight do they carry?"

"I'm not sure. One that size, certainly enough for two men and any
equipment they'd need. Say, five hundred pounds."

Cogswell had his telescope glued to his eyes again, he muttered under
his breath, "Five hundred pounds! They could even unload dynamite over
our horses. Stampede them all over the reservation."

"What's going on?" Baron Zwerdling shrilled. "What's going on Marshal
Cogswell?"

Cogswell ignored him. He watched the circling, circling craft for a full
five minutes, breathing deeply. Then he lowered his glass and swept the
assembled officers of his staff with an indignant glare. "Ten Eyck!" he
grunted.

An infantry colonel came to attention. "Yes, sir."

Cogswell said heavily, deliberately. "Under a white flag. A dispatch to
Baron Haer. My compliments and request for his terms. While you're at
it, my compliments also to Captain Joseph Mauser."

Zwerdling was bug-eyeing him. "Terms!" he rasped.

The marshal turned to him. "Yes, sir. Face reality. We're in the dill. I
suggest you sue for terms as short of complete capitulation as you can
make them."

"You call yourself a soldier--!" the transport tycoon began to shrill.

"Yes, sir," Cogswell snapped. "A soldier, not a butcher of the lads
under me." He called to the Telly reporter who was getting as much of
this as he could. "Mr. Soligen, isn't it?"

       *       *       *

The reporter scurried forward, flicking signals to his cameramen for
proper coverage. "Yes, sir. Freddy Soligen, marshal. Could you tell the
Telly fans what this is all about, Marshal Cogswell? Folks, you all know
the famous marshal. Marshal Stonewall Cogswell, who hasn't lost a fracas
in nearly ten years, now commanding the forces of Continental
Hovercraft."

"I'm losing one now," Cogswell said grimly. "Vacuum Tube Transport has
pulled a gimmick out of the hat and things have pickled for us. It will
be debated before the Military Category Department, of course, and
undoubtedly the Sov-world military attaches will have things to say. But
as it appears now, the fracas as we have known it, has been
revolutionized."

"Revolutionized?" Even the Telly reporter was flabbergasted. "You mean
by that thing?" He pointed upward, and the lenses of the cameras
followed his finger.

"Yes," Cogswell growled unhappily. "Do all of you need a blueprint? Do
you think I can fight a fracas with that thing dangling above me,
throughout the day hours? Do you understand the importance of
reconnaissance in warfare?" His eyes glowered. "Do you think Napoleon
would have lost Waterloo if he'd had the advantage of perfect
reconnaissance such as that thing can deliver? Do you think Lee would
have lost Gettysburg? Don't be ridiculous." He spun on Baron Zwerdling,
who was stuttering his complete confusion.

"As it stands, Baron Haer knows every troop dispensation I make. All I
know of his movements are from my cavalry scouts. I repeat, I am no
butcher, sir. I will gladly cross swords with Baron Haer another day,
when I, too, have ... what did you call the confounded things, Paul?"

"Gliders," Lieutenant Colonel Warren said.



XI


Major Joseph Mauser, now attired in his best off-duty Category Military
uniform, spoke his credentials to the receptionist. "I have no definite
appointment, but I am sure the Baron will see me," he said.

"Yes, sir." The receptionist did the things that receptionists do, then
looked up at him again. "Right through that door, major."

Joe Mauser gave the door a quick double rap and then entered before
waiting an answer.

Balt Haer, in mufti, was standing at a far window, a drink in his hand,
rather than his customary swagger stick. Nadine Haer sat in an
easy-chair. The girl Joe Mauser loved had been crying.

Joe Mauser, suppressing his frown, made with the usual amenities.

Balt Haer without answering them, finished his drink in a gulp and
stared at the newcomer. The old stare, the aloof stare, an aristocrat
looking at an underling as though wondering what made the fellow tick.
He said, finally, "I see you have been raised to Rank Major."

"Yes, sir," Joe said.

"We are obviously occupied, major. What can either my sister or I
possibly do for you?"

Joe kept his voice even. He said, "I wanted to see the Baron."

Nadine Haer looked up, a twinge of pain crossing her face.

"Indeed," Balt Haer said flatly. "You are talking to the Baron, Major
Mauser."

Joe Mauser looked at him, then at his sister, who had taken to her
handkerchief again. Consternation ebbed up and over him in a flood. He
wanted to say something such as, "Oh _no_," but not even that could he
utter.

Haer was bitter. "I assume I know why you are here, major. You have come
for your pound of flesh, undoubtedly. Even in these hours of our
grief--"

"I ... I didn't know. Please believe ..."

"... You are so constituted that your ambition has no decency. Well,
Major Mauser, I can only say that your arrangement was with my father.
Even if I thought it a reasonable one, I doubt if I would sponsor your
ambitions myself."

Nadine Haer looked up wearily. "Oh, Balt, come off it," she said. "The
fact is, the Haer fortunes contracted a debt to you, major.
Unfortunately, it is a debt we cannot pay." She looked into his face.
"First, my father's governmental connections do not apply to us. Second,
six months ago, my father, worried about his health and attempting to
avoid certain death taxes, transferred the family stocks into Balt's
name. And Balt saw fit, immediately before the fracas, to sell all
Vacuum Tube Transport stocks, and invest in Hovercraft."

"That's enough, Nadine," her brother snapped nastily.

"I see," Joe said. He came to attention. "Dr. Haer, my apologies for
intruding upon you in your time of bereavement." He turned to the new
Baron. "Baron Haer, my apologies for _your_ bereavement."

Balt Haer glowered at him.

Joe Mauser turned and marched for the door which he opened then closed
behind him.

On the street, before the New York offices of Vacuum Tube Transport, he
turned and for a moment looked up at the splendor of the building.

Well, at least the common shares of the concern had skyrocketed
following the victory. His rank had been upped to Major, and old
Stonewall Cogswell had offered him a permanent position on his staff in
command of aerial operations, no small matter of prestige. The
difficulty was, he wasn't interested in the added money that would
accrue to him, nor the higher rank--nor the prestige, for that matter.

He turned to go to his hotel.

An unbelievably beautiful girl came down the steps of the building. She
said, "Joe."

He looked at her. "Yes?"

She put a hand on his sleeve. "Let's go somewhere and talk, Joe."

"About what?" He was infinitely weary now.

"About goals," she said. "As long as they exist, whether for
individuals, or nations, or a whole species, life is still worth the
living. Things are a bit bogged down right now, but at the risk of
sounding very trite, there's tomorrow."


[Illustration]



Transcriber's Note:

    This etext was produced from _Analog_ April 1962. Extensive research
    did not uncover any evidence that the U.S. copyright on this
    publication was renewed. Minor spelling and typographical errors
    have been corrected without note.





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