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´╗┐Title: The Merchants of Venus
Author: Phelps, A. H.
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 "The Merchants of Venus" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



                        The MERCHANTS Of Venus

                         By A. H. PHELPS, Jr.

                         Illustrated by FREAS

[Transcriber Note: This etext was produced from Galaxy Science Fiction
March 1954. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the
U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]


[Sidenote: _A pioneer movement is like a building--the foundation is
never built for beauty!_]


The telephone rang. Reluctantly, Rod Workham picked it up. Nothing good
had come from that phone in six years, and his sour expression was
almost an automatic reflex.

"Workham here," he said.

He held the phone an inch away from his ear, but the tirade exceeded his
expectations--it would have been audible a foot away:

"Workham! How long do you think we're going to stand for this! At the
rate you're going, there won't be a man left on Venus or a dollar in the
budget! What kind of a personnel director are you? Don't you know this
project is vital to every person on Earth? Thirty more resignations came
in on this last mail flight."

Rod put the receiver gently on his desk. General Carlson raved and
ranted this way every time a colonist quit, and Rod knew he was not
expected to answer, even if given the chance. The general would carry on
for about five minutes and then would slam down the phone himself.

He dialed another number on the other phone.

"This is Rod, Dave," he said when he got an answer. "Carlson is on the
other phone, yelling at my desk blotter. He says thirty more
resignations came in just now. That right?"

"Close enough, Rod--twenty-three pulled out. That makes seventy-eight
per cent resigned in less than--"

"Spare me the statistics--Carlson's probably blatting them right now.
How do they break down? Are they mostly farmers or technicians?"

"There were only nine technicians left, and all of them quit with this
bunch. The rest were farmers." Dave Newson must be smoking his pipe, Rod
decided--grinding sounds were coming over the phone. "That doesn't leave
very much on Venus to start a colony with--a few farmers, some trappers.
And the scientific personnel--damn it, they seem to stick it out all
right--"

"Their contracts are different," Rod reminded him. "They go on a two
year hitch and then come back to Earth if they want to. The ones who are
there are the ones who can take it and are signed up again."

       *       *       *       *       *

There was a speculative pause on the other end of the line. "Say, Rod,"
Newson said slowly. "Why not leave this last batch of quitters right
where they are? Every one of them. They signed up for the project with
their eyes open. Why don't you just refuse to bring them home? ...
they'd have to make a go of the colony to save their filthy necks!"

Rod grinned nastily. "I'd like to do it--but even General Carlson
wouldn't dare. We'd never get another colonist off Earth, once it got
out. They wouldn't trust us. Our first problem is to get a
self-supporting society on Venus--and that might do it, all right. But
our main job is to relieve the crowding on Earth, and that means large
numbers of people will have to go willingly later on. If we get tough
with these babies, who will take a chance later on that we won't repeat
the trick?"

"But we lose a hundred potential colonists every time one of these
quitters starts talking about why he left! More harm is done by letting
them come back than would result from leaving them where they are."
Again the speculative pause. "Maybe you could shoot them on arrival?"

"I'll suggest it to the general when I see him," Rod said, "if he
doesn't shoot me first. Now, can you get me the files on this latest
group? And I'd like to see the staff psychologist here, along with all
the interviewers who handled and passed the group. We'll see what we can
salvage out of this. And if you see Jaimie, send him along too, will
you? Maybe our gambling historian can find us something useful in the
Project Record."

"The files are already on the way. And I told Biddington you'd probably
want to see him--he said he'd be along in about ten minutes. I haven't
located all the interviewers yet. Jaimie's been right here, trying to
talk me into a game of Nim and protesting he never heard of binary
numbers. I'll send him up, but keep your hand on your wallet. If you
need anything else, I'll be right here."

       *       *       *       *       *

Rod thanked him and hung up, shaking his head. Dave Newsom was too good
a man to be stuck on a government project--he ought to get out before
the trouble started. Anyone who worked for Rod Workham on Project Venus
was likely to end up with a bad name. They lived under the ax. The only
person who could be sure of his job was Rod himself. He'd been
recommended by a committee of top men in his field, and no other
personnel man would accept the job if he were removed. Also, most of his
men would leave the project if General Carlson bounced him, for they had
been telling him so ever since the job had gotten hot.

But there was the danger that the general might decide to bypass
Personnel in selecting colonists--or, what was more probable, might try
to tame the planet with a military outpost.

Rod could hardly blame the man for his feelings. The job was vital, and
everyone was intensely interested in making a go of it. Scientific
agriculture had gone about as far as it could; hydroponics had already
begun to shoulder the load required by an overpopulated planet. But the
fact known to most intelligent people on Earth was that either new room
was found in this kind of emergency, some place where people could go
and live under nearly the same standards, or else some drastic changes
in living standards would be required of all. And absolute and rigidly
enforced birth control would have to go into effect. And all the
attendant causes for race wars, nationalist wars, and have-not wars
would crop up.

But the majority of the people wouldn't move to an undeveloped planet.
You couldn't send ordinary citizens as pioneers. For one thing, they
wouldn't want to go. For another, the new community wouldn't last long
if you forced them to go--the average person had neither the attitudes
nor the physique needed to make over a wilderness.

The problem was to find people who would create a community on a new
planet and develop an integrated society there. This had meant rigid
selection, careful psychological preparation and a terrifically
expensive transportation system to get the people there and keep them
supplied. And the job had to be done soon. Economists predicted that
thirty years were left on Earth under present standards, maybe fifty. If
the population couldn't be thinned out one way by then, it would have to
be done by another.

       *       *       *       *       *

For six years, now, Rod had worked on the job of establishing a
self-supporting colony on Venus. Three different colonies had been
started, and each had died out in less than two years. Resignations
would come in slowly at first, and then in a rush, until only twenty or
thirty people would be left, of which the majority would be short-term
scientific teams. By the terms of the colonists' contracts no man could
be left on Venus more than a month after his resignation; so the bulk of
two colonies had simply had to be shipped back to Earth, and plans made
for another try.

And now the third colony was quitting, rushing home, leaving nothing on
the jungle planet but a few small clearings soon to be taken over by the
vegetation.

Several times in the last year Rod had thought of volunteering himself;
but he knew it for a futile gesture. He wasn't five hundred men. He
didn't even have the special skills or physique that were needed.

His gloomy thoughts were interrupted by the arrival of the men.

Biddington was first. Then in twos and threes came the interviewers, all
looking like the home team at the half, three touchdowns behind and just
waiting for their coach.

If psychologists made good colonists, Rod thought, here would be a dozen
more volunteers.

The arrival of Homer Jaimison brought the only cheerful face in the
group. The project historian was a young man, just over thirty, and
considerably over six feet. He wore the expression of a man who is
itching to do something. Jaimie had never really been busy yet on the
project--the colonies had died out so quickly that his work had been
mostly clerical, and he'd had to fill in time as best he could. So far
he had done it making up improbable contests of skill for drinks, with
such a weird assortment of shifting rules and scoring that he hadn't
paid for a drink since his arrival. He made a valuable contribution to
the project, however, since he helped to keep the group's minds off
their troubles a part of the time.

Rod genuinely liked Jaimie, and expected to miss him strongly when Venus
became self-supporting to the point where the historian would have to
complete his work in residence.

       *       *       *       *       *

When they were all seated, Rod leaned against his desk and said, "I can
see you all know why we're here. To begin with, I'm not going to accuse
anyone of mistakes. Each of you is the best possible man in the country
for his job. If you weren't, you wouldn't be here. I wouldn't have asked
for you; and General Carlson wouldn't have kept you. So there's nothing
to feel bad about. If you can't do this work, no one can.
Self-recrimination is foolish when you've been put on an impossible
problem. I didn't call you in to bawl you out, but to ask you if we
should continue spending project funds for nothing."

Jaimie raised his eyebrows at this speech, but said nothing.

"What do you mean, impossible problem?" one of the interviewers
objected. "We know what we need--it's just that we're still making some
mistake in selection that we haven't corrected."

"That's right, Rod." Biddington, the project psychologist, took up the
dissension. "We know something is wrong with the selection techniques,
or in the personality patterns we consider necessary. But it's only a
problem of finding out what it is. The problem is by no means
insoluble."

"As long as you're not ready to give us up," another interviewer said,
"we aren't going to quit."

"You can't afford to get defeatist about this, Rod," Biddington went on.
"This project is too important to fail. Whether you like it or not, your
experience is too valuable for you to back out."

Rod grinned and held up his hands. "All right. That's the reaction I
wanted. If you all still think we can get somewhere, we may as well try
to analyze this last group." He sat down at his desk. "I have the files
here, along with the tapes of the interviews. Let's see what difference
we can find between those who hung on this long, and the ones that quit
after the first three months."

       *       *       *       *       *

The group settled down to trying to differentiate between a man who
couldn't do a job but could try for six months longer than the next.
They took the colonists carefully apart, trait by trait, and put them
all back. They reviewed the colonists' records from birth, and compared
them in endless combinations. Jaimie came into the discussion to show
what the status of the colonies had been at the time each colonist had
resigned: what diseases had been encountered when one man quit; how much
jungle had been cleared before another did.

Files came and went in a continuous flux; coffee and sandwiches came and
grew cold and stale. The air became gray with smoke.

Nothing.

The same results had come out of every investigation: You needed a man
who was unstable to get him to leave Earth. You needed a man who was
stable to have him stay on Venus. You needed initiative and
resourcefulness to survive on a new planet. You needed a man who had so
little initiative and resourcefulness that the competition on Earth
wouldn't be profitable. You needed a young, healthy, vigorous specimen.
You needed an older, experienced, more mature person.

You needed A and you needed non-A.

And even if you found people with the factors balanced just right,
assuming you knew what the balance should be, where did you find five
hundred of them?

The discussion went on. The solutions got wilder and more absurd. Take
whole orphan asylums and bring them up on Venus under military guard.
Build a development in the steamiest, nastiest jungle, and test recruits
for the colony there. Send African natives.

The men were beginning to make the whole thing look impossible again, so
Rod decided to call a halt until they could get a better perspective.
Tired himself, he dismissed them. They left quietly, not arguing in
little groups or mumbling half-formed ideas to themselves, the way a
team that has been progressing will do.

       *       *       *       *       *

Only Jaimie stayed. He remained sitting hunched up near the desk, in the
same position he'd held for the last hour. When the others had all left,
he grinned at Rod.

"You know, for a group of practicing psychologists, this is the softest
bunch of suckers I've seen."

"You've proved that to your own profit several times so far," Rod
answered, rubbing his face as though smoothing the wrinkles could remove
the tension. "Who have you robbed lately?"

"I'm talking about your performance just now. Here comes the whole crew,
walking in with their heads hanging to the floor. Every last man was
ready to tell you he was quitting--that the problem was insoluble. And
before anyone can say a word, you tell them that the whole thing is
impossible and imply that _you_ want to quit. Even Biddington fell for
it. You can't back out now, Rod, they say. Let's not have defeatist talk
out of you, of all people--"

"I did feel that way," Rod said. "I'm just about ready to quit. I think
that whatever our mistake has been, we can't do any better than we have.
We just don't know enough."

Jaimie wasn't grinning now. "What will happen if you quit?"

"My guess is that Carlson will set up a military outpost there. Make a
clearing, build a fort, maybe a town. Then he'll try to get people to
come and live in it." Rod sighed. "It won't work. They'll want to know
why the planet had to be colonized that way--why wouldn't the _first_
colonists stay?"

"I agree. The military outpost is a fine method for spreading a culture
to an existing civilization. Rome did much for Europe that way; the most
powerful cities sprang up near the Roman forts and roads. But as a
method for inducing the populace to a new place, it doesn't work. A free
people will not willingly move into a military township." Jaimie looked
sharply at Rod. "So what do you intend to do--run out and turn it all
over to Carlson?"

"I don't know, Jaimie. I just don't know. Six years is a long time."

"Damn it, Rod, you had much worse jobs than this one in industry! How
did you select a computer man, a communications man, an engineering
physicist, out of a group of men with similar backgrounds? It seems to
me a harder problem than this."

"We don't really know much, as I said," Rod said. "Ours has often been
an imitation science. When we had to select a computer man, we just gave
a battery of tests to successful computer men--structural vision,
vocabulary, tri-dimensional memory, ink-blots, syllogisms, practically
everything. Then we weeded out the tests whose scores appeared to have
no statistical relevance. Any future computer man had to duplicate those
results, whatever they were. If we had a recently pioneered civilization
around, Jaimie, you'd find this whole staff running through it like
pollsters before an election."

"What was all this talk about balance, instability, initiative and all
the rest?" asked Jamie.

"That's what we do when we don't know, Jaimie. We try to predict what we
need; then we try to find ways of finding it in people."

       *       *       *       *       *

Jaimie made an explosive sound. "But I thought you _must_ have
progressed from empirical methods! I would have said something long ago,
if I hadn't thought you knew what you were doing all the time!" The
historian was on his feet, stalking about the room. "Why didn't you tell
me about this before?"

"Why? What difference would it have made?" Rod frowned, failing to
understand the other's excitement. "Sure, we've progressed from the
older methods, in that we now have pretty complete data for all present
job descriptions. And we can synthesize data for a new job, if it's not
too different. But there isn't any information on the kind of person
needed in a new world. What the devil are you getting so upset about?"

The historian threw himself into a chair and glared at Rod. "If you
couldn't find the kind of people you needed to test, you could have
asked a historian if he knew anything about them!"

Rod shook his head puzzledly. "Subjective data, such as that--"

"Don't bring subjectivity into this, damn it! We get enough of that from
physical scientists." Jaimie held himself in the chair, almost shaking
with the intensity of his feeling. "Look, Rod, you know I want to see
the project succeed. And you admit that you haven't got an answer. Well,
baby, I think I have! It's an idea that has about a fifty-fifty chance
of being right in this case ... would you be willing to try it?"

"If I had been betting on your side for the last few months, I'd be
several dollars richer," Rod smiled. "Yes, I think I might go along with
your idea, if you can convince me it has an even chance for success.
Three failures out of three tries makes for poorer odds than that. What
do you have in mind?"

"H'm," Jaimie said. "I imagine your stock isn't so high with old
scabbard and blade right now, is it?"

Rod laughed. "I don't think he'll shoot on sight, but I'm not positive
enough to stand in front of a lighted window."

"Well, then--if I had an idea you agreed with, the surest way to kill it
would be to have you present it to him, right? And if you _fight_ it,
that's sure to convince Carlson!" Jaimie thought hard for a moment,
tapping the chair-arm. "Rod, I have to do something you aren't going to
like. Do you trust me?"

"You mean you're going to try this without even discussing it with the
personnel group?"

"That's right. If I don't tell you what I'm doing, I know you'll fight
it. And I'll need that kind of help from you to push Carlson into doing
it.

"But I have to do something far worse than that, Rod. I'm going to tell
the general that you knew my plan from the start, and have been sitting
on it because I'm not a psychologist. I'm going to ruin your reputation
with the worst set of lies since the Red purges. I'll say you're
fighting me, because you can't accept an idea that came from a man
outside of your own group. If the scheme doesn't work you'll be ruined,
because there'll be no way to retract the lies. If it does work, we can
announce that we put on an act to sell the plan to Carlson. Can you take
it?"

Rod was thoughtful for a few minutes. He liked and trusted Jaimie, but
the man had no experience in this field--and this sounded like an
all-or-nothing shot.

Then he remembered his despair over the latest set of resignations. He'd
been ready to quit--he had nothing to offer, and neither did his men.
Even a wild idea was worth a try, he thought grimly--he would be risking
nothing but a plan that had already failed.

"Go to it, boy," he said. "And if you need a fight, you'll get a damn
good one."

       *       *       *       *       *

The fight with Carlson was short, and Rod was abruptly overruled. After
that Jaimie moved fast. The new colonists flocked in. Three months after
Rod's talk with him, the compounds started to fill. A shipload was a
hundred men, and each new man had to wait in a group until it was
filled. But there was no waiting now except for processing; the
compounds were full before the ships were ready.

Rod had paid no attention to Jaimie's recruiting methods, thinking that
the historian's idea differed mainly in control over the colonists.

Until he saw the crowds.

Even from a distance, they didn't have the young look of the previous
groups. Up close, they looked like the sweepings of the slums.

[Illustration]

He and Biddington talked to a few before they fully realized what Jaimie
had done. All the men were sure that Venus was a mineral paradise--gold
in the streams, uranium lodes so pure you had to wear a shield to get
near them, diamonds, silver--every treasure that had ever excited men on
Earth was scattered around the new world waiting to be picked up. That
was what Jaimie had told them.

Rod got to a phone, fast.

"Jaimie, you fool! I know what you're doing, and I won't put up with it!
You've told these dupes they can get rich on Venus! You intended to
attract large numbers of recruits, in the hope that some of them will be
what we need--but look at what you attracted! Crooks, gangsters, bums,
hoboes, sharecroppers and I don't know what. You got recruits all
right ... but what the hell kind of a society are you going to start
with them! And who will go and live there among them later?"

"What's the matter, Workham?" Jaimie asked coldly. "Are you a racial
purist? Want only your kind of people to get to Venus?"

"I don't care _who_ goes, as long as they fit some standards. But to
make a decent place, you need decent people--morally clean and healthy.
Not this collection of mental cripples, alcoholics and thieves. Probably
half of them are wanted men!"

He argued further, unable to believe that this was Jaimison's great
fifty-fifty chance. He said many things ... and regretted every one; for
that night the telecasts carried a recorded version of his outburst.
Jaimie had maneuvered him into saying things he didn't quite mean, so
that it looked as if he was trying to hide the all good things on Venus
and save them for his own friends. One commentator said outright that if
you weren't a college graduate recommended by one of Workham's friends,
it would cost you a thousand dollars to get on an outgoing ship. By the
next morning, half the papers in the world were after Workham's scalp.

       *       *       *       *       *

Rod could only take the abuse and grind his teeth. How did you fight a
thing like that? You were condemned if you kept silent, and if you
answered, people nodded their heads and said, "See--he's still trying to
deny it."

The failures from the old colonies were Rod's only allies. They tried to
tell people what Venus was like, and what lies Carlson and his stooge
Jaimison were using for bait. But it was pointed out that these men
naturally had a stake in the secret ... and, after all, everyone knew
how well off the returning colonists were! This was actually due to the
high premium paid to get men to go to the planet, but no one believed.

Days passed. Weeks. The compounds filled, and emptied, and filled again.
People stood in lines to apply. They walked miles to appear at a
recruiting center. They fought for a place on the next ship, or the one
after that. Farmers, clerks, ragged families, hoboes, armed men,
teen-age boys and old men. Four thousand people applied in the first few
months and were shipped out. Then the crowds thinned, even though the
Get Rich propaganda continued. Soon, only a few hundred appeared where
there had been thousands; then twos and threes; at last only a dozen or
so a day, many of whom changed their minds before the full shipload had
been assembled.

Rod clung to his job throughout. He had little to do, though his
department had never been formally discontinued. Sooner or later, he
knew, their services would be needed--when this cheap trick had failed.
So he and his staff remained. Studying old files, making up test
batteries, discussing survival factors, they readied themselves for the
project again. From time to time they interviewed and tested a few of
those waiting in the compounds. There was too much time to just sit
around--even this activity was a welcome diversion.

As the year passed, the number of prospective colonists stopped
decreasing and held steady at about five a day. But slowly something
else changed. Among the new arrivals there began to appear engineers who
had tossed up good jobs to emigrate, farmers with their families,
school-teachers, storekeepers, lawyers, even doctors. All of them young.
Not in any great number; but their appearance was a surprise still. Then
there came two former colonists who had resigned on one of the earlier
attempts, now trying to get back to Venus without inducement of bonus,
high pay or guaranteed return.

That was the day Rod decided to call on Jaimie.

       *       *       *       *       *

"I have here a bottle of eight-year-old rye, Jaimie," he began. "I think
you're entitled to a drink, and I'm entitled to an explanation. Want to
swap?"

"Rod!" Jaimie's bony face lit up. "It's good to see you. I've been
afraid to call you until we could admit to the hoax. Come in, come in."

"Well, you did it," Rod said, after they had settled down. "I met two
former colonists in the compound today. They know there isn't gold on
Venus, and still they want to go out for free. No contract. And lately
we've been getting professional people. There was even a kid fresh out
of journalism school who wants to start up a paper. Jaimie, how did you
do it? Were we so far wrong as that?"

"You did it yourself, Rod. You told me how--but you wouldn't have
believed, then. Or if you had, we never would have sold it to Carlson.
Remember, you said if there were only a recent pioneer civilization
around, you'd run to them with ink-blots and vocabulary tests? All you
needed to do was duplicate the kind of person who settled America or
Australia or California.

"Well, as a historian I _knew_ those people. And I knew what brought
them. So I merely put out the same kind of bait."

"The same kind of bait!" Rod exclaimed. "What about freedom of religion
and freedom from oppression? Isn't that what brought people to this
country? There's no oppression to flee from these days! And even if it
was the same bait, why weren't the same kind of people attracted? You
saw that first compound full--where in that cesspool was Thomas Paine,
or Franklin, or Miles Standish?"

"Franklin was born here," Jaimie grinned. "Paine didn't come over in the
first wave. And I suppose General Carlson was Miles Standish. Maybe that
kid journalist you saw was Paine's counterpart. No, Rod--the bait I held
out attracted the same kind of people initially as it always has. You
have been compromising all along on the factors you really wanted in
order to get young, healthy, moral people to Venus. The answer is simply
this: Pioneers are not necessarily young, healthy, or moral. So you
didn't get what you wanted.

"You see, America wasn't only founded by pilgrims. They were actually a
minority here. We were settled by promoters, trappers, bonded servants,
exiled British deportees, pickpockets and thieves. We were explored by
French and Spanish pirates. The better element in Europe didn't come
here at first--why should they? It was dangerous. Pioneering was to the
advantage of the worst elements. They came by court order, out of
necessity, for adventure. They came for gold more than for freedom; for
a new chance more than for a new religion.

"Australia was set up as a penal colony. Others went there for gold, or
to start over where they weren't known. That's the kind of person who
settles a new land--the misfits: too impulsive, drunkards, weaklings,
convicts, and fugitives from justice. Too sick in mind and body to make
a go of it where they are.

"So we announced that there was a brand new world with a new chance for
everyone on it. We implied that there was wealth. We told them
everything about Venus that brought the English to America, the Spanish
to South America, the Easterners to the West, and the Middlewesterners
to California. We didn't hunt for pioneers. They came to us."

       *       *       *       *       *

Rod refilled his glass thoughtfully. "But what kind of a society will
men like that create? A fighting, lawless structure...."

"That's right. And the lawless will eliminate themselves by their very
activities. Like the early West. While the doctors come in to treat
wounds, and the lawyers to plead their cases; while their wives and the
other wives will start schools and bring in school-teachers. That
society will purge itself, Rod--many of the worst will become good
citizens out of meeting the challenge of a new planet, and the rest will
disappear."

"Well, then, what about the gold story?" Rod asked. "Won't they be angry
with everyone connected with the project because of the hoax?"

"That was a little raw, but no worse than other gold rushes--few of the
stampeders ever found the gold they went after. The captain of one of
the rockets told me that the first few months the colonists were trying
to stow away on the returning ships. Now they send messages to friends
and relatives to come before the opportunity is gone--that's why you've
seen this better element. Our lies will soon be forgotten, and crops and
foods and minerals will be coming from Venus, and better people will go
to meet the diminished challenge on our brave new world."

Rod stood up. "Well, my compliments for a job well done, Jaimie. When do
you expect to go and live there yourself? You'll have to soon, won't
you, to complete the Project Record in residence?"

Jaimie nodded. "About six months from now, I think. Why?"

"Good," Rod exclaimed. "We can all go together."

"What are you planning to do? Volunteer?"

"The whole personnel staff will be going. Here's just what we need--a
young pioneer society! We can get adequate data for future selection, a
better idea of what kind of person a colony needs at different stages of
growth." Rod grinned. "After all, your method was pretty sloppy, even if
it did work. And you sent far too many wrong people. Once we have some
good data ... anything you can do, we can do better!"





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