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Title: Ultima Thule
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.

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                               Ultima Thule

                                    by

                          Dallas McCord Reynolds

                     Illustrated by John Schoenherr.

                      Analog Science Fact & Fiction

                                March 1961



[Transcriber’s Note: This text was produced from Analog Science Fact &
Fiction March 1961. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]



                             [Illustration.]

At least he’d got far enough to wind up with a personal interview. It’s
one thing doing up an application and seeing it go onto an endless tape
and be fed into the maw of a machine and then to receive, in a matter of
moments, a neatly printed rejection. It’s another thing to receive an
appointment to be interviewed by a placement officer in the Commissariat
of Interplanetary Affairs, Department of Personnel. Ronny Bronston was
under no illusions. Nine out of ten men of his age annually made the same
application. Almost all were annually rejected. Statistically speaking
practically nobody ever got an interplanetary position. But he’d made step
one along the path of a lifetime ambition.

He stood at easy attention immediately inside the door. At the desk at the
far side of the room the placement officer was going through a sheaf of
papers. He looked up and said, “Ronald Bronston? Sit down. You’d like an
interplanetary assignment, eh? So would I.”

Ronny took the chair. For a moment he tried to appear alert, earnest,
ambitious but not _too_ ambitious, fearless, devoted to the cause, and
indispensable. For a moment. Then he gave it up and looked like Ronny
Bronston.

The other looked up and took him in. The personnel official saw a man of
averages. In the late twenties. Average height, weight and breadth.
Pleasant of face in an average sort of way, but not handsome. Less than
sharp in dress, hair inclined to be on the undisciplined side. Brown of
hair, dark of eye. In a crowd, inconspicuous. In short, Ronny Bronston.

The personnel officer grunted. He pushed a button, said something into his
order box. A card slid into the slot and he took it out and stared
gloomily at it.

“What’re your politics?” he said.

“Politics?” Ronny Bronston said. “I haven’t any politics. My father and
grandfather before me have been citizens of United Planets. There hasn’t
been any politics in our family for three generations.”

“Family?”

“None.”

The other grunted and marked the card. “Racial prejudices?”

“I beg your pardon?”

“Do you have any racial prejudices? Any at all.”

“No.”

The personnel officer said, “Most people answer that way at first, these
days, but some don’t at second. For instance, suppose you had to have a
blood transfusion. Would you have any objection to it being blood donated
by, say, a Negro, a Chinese, or, say, a Jew?”

Ronny ticked it off on his fingers. “One of my greatgrandfathers was a
French _colon_ who married a Moroccan girl. The Moors are a blend of
Berber, Arab, Jew and Negro. Another of my greatgrandfathers was a
Hawaiian. They’re largely a blend of Polynesians, Japanese, Chinese and
Caucasians especially Portuguese. Another of my greatgrandfathers was
Irish, English and Scotch. He married a girl who was half Latvian, half
Russian.” Ronny wound it up. “Believe me, if I had a blood transfusion
from just anybody at all, the blood would feel right at home.”

The interviewer snorted, even as he marked the card. “That accounts for
three greatgrandfathers,” he said lightly. “You seem to have made a study
of your family tree. What was the other one?”

Rocky said expressionlessly, “A Texan.”

The secretary shrugged and looked at the card again. “Religion?”

“Reformed Agnostic,” Ronny said. This one was possibly where he ran into a
brick wall. Many of the planets had strong religious beliefs of one sort
or another. Some of them had state religions and you either belonged or
else.

“Is there any such church?” the personnel officer frowned.

“No. I’m a one-man member. I’m of the opinion that if there are any
greater-powers-that-be They’re keeping the fact from us. And if that’s the
way They want it, it’s Their business. If and when They want to contact
me—one of Their puppets dangling from a string—then I suppose They’ll do
it. Meanwhile, I’ll wait.”

The other said interestedly, “You think that if there is a Higher Power
and if It ever wants to get in touch with you, It will?”

“Um-m-m. In Its own good time. Sort of a _don’t call Me_, thing, _I’ll
call you_.”

The personnel officer said, “There have been a few revealed religions, you
know.”

“So they said, so they said. None of them have made much sense to me. If a
Super-Power wanted to contact man, it seems unlikely to me that it’d be
all wrapped up in a lot of complicated gobbledegook. It would all be very
clear indeed.”

The personnel officer sighed. He marked the card, stuck it back into the
slot in his order box and it disappeared.

He looked up at Ronny Bronston. “All right, that’s all.”

Ronny came to his feet. “Well, what happened?”

The other grinned at him sourly. “Darned if I know,” he said. “By the time
you get to the outer office, you’ll probably find out.” He scratched the
end of his nose and said, “I sometimes wonder what I’m doing here.”

Ronny thanked him, told him good-by, and left.

                  -------------------------------------

In the outer office a girl looked up from a card she’d just pulled from
her own order box. “Ronald Bronston?”

“That’s right.”

She handed the card to him. “You’re to go to the office of Ross Metaxa in
the Octagon, Commissariat of Interplanetary Affairs, Department of
Justice, Bureau of Investigation, Section G.”

In a lifetime spent in first preparing for United Planets employment and
then in working for the organization, Ronny Bronston had never been in the
Octagon Building. He’d seen photographs, Tri-Di broadcasts and he’d heard
several thousand jokes on various levels from pun to obscenity about
getting around in the building, but he’d never been there. For that
matter, he’d never been in Greater Washington before, other than a long
ago tourist trip. Population Statistics, his department, had its main
offices in New Copenhagen.

His card was evidently all that he needed for entry.

At the sixth gate he dismissed his car and let it shoot back into the
traffic mess. He went up to one of the guard-guides and presented the
card.

The guide inspected it. “Section G of the Bureau of Investigation,” he
muttered. “Every day, something new. I never heard of it.”

“It’s probably some outfit in charge of cleaning the heads on space
liners.” Ronny said unhappily. He’d never heard of it either.

“Well, it’s no problem,” the guard-guide said. He summoned a three-wheel,
fed the co-ordinates into it from Ronny’s card, handed the card back and
flipped an easy salute. “You’ll soon know.”

The scooter slid into the Octagon’s hall traffic and proceeded up one
corridor, down another, twice taking to ascending ramps. Ronny had read
somewhere the total miles of corridors in the Octagon. He hadn’t believed
the figures at the time. Now he believed them. He must have traversed
several miles before they got to the Department of Justice alone. It was
another quarter mile to the Bureau of Investigation.

The scooter eventually came to a halt, waited long enough for Ronny to
dismount and then hurried back into the traffic.

He entered the office. A neatly uniformed reception girl with a harassed
and cynical eye looked up from her desk. “Ronald Bronston?” she said.

“That’s right.”

“Where’ve you been?” She had a snappy cuteness. “The commissioner has been
awaiting you. Go through that door and to your left.”

Ronny went through that door and to the left. There was another door,
inconspicuously lettered _Ross Metaxa, Commissioner, Section G_. Ronny
knocked and the door opened.

Ross Metaxa was going through a wad of papers. He looked up; a man in the
middle years, sour of expression, moist of eye as though he either drank
too much or slept too little.

“Sit down,” he said. “You’re Ronald Bronston, eh? What do they call you,
Ronny? It says here you’ve got a sense of humor. That’s one of the first
requirements in this lunatic department.”

Ronny sat down and tried to form some opinions of the other by his
appearance. He was reminded of nothing so much as the stereotype city
editor you saw in the historical romance Tri-Ds. All that was needed was
for Metaxa to start banging on buttons and yelling something about tearing
down the front page, whatever that meant.

Metaxa said, “It also says you have some queer hobbies. Judo, small
weapons target shooting, mountain climbing—” He looked up from the
reports. “Why does anybody climb mountains?”

Ronny said, “Nobody’s ever figured out.” That didn’t seem to be enough,
especially since Ross Metaxa was staring at him, so he added, “Possibly we
devotees keep doing it in hopes that someday somebody’ll find out.”

Ross Metaxa said sourly, “Not _too_ much humor, please. You don’t act as
though getting this position means much to you.”

Ronny said slowly, “I figured out some time ago that every young man on
Earth yearns for a job that will send him shuttling from one planet to
another. To achieve it they study, they sweat, they make all out efforts
to meet and suck up to anybody they think might help. Finally, when and if
they get an interview for one of the few openings, they spruce up in their
best clothes, put on their best party manners, present themselves as the
sincere, high I.Q., ambitious young men that they are—and then flunk their
chance. I decided I might as well be what I am.”

Ross Metaxa looked at him. “O.K.,” he said finally. “We’ll give you a
try.”

Ronny said blankly, “You mean I’ve got the job?”

“That’s right.”

“I’ll be damned.”

“Probably,” Metaxa said. He yawned. “Do you know what Section G handles?”

“Well no, but as for me, just so I get off Earth and see some of the
galaxy.”

                  -------------------------------------

Metaxa had been sitting with his heels on his desk. Now he put them down
and reached a hand into a drawer to emerge with a brown bottle and two
glasses. “Do you drink?” he said.

“Of course.”

“Even during working hours?” Metaxa scowled.

“When occasion calls.”

“Good,” Metaxa said. He poured two drinks. “You’ll get your fill of seeing
the galaxy,” he said. “Not that there’s much to see. Man can settle only
Earth-type planets and after you’ve seen a couple of hundred you’ve seen
them all.”

Ronny sipped at his drink, then blinked reproachfully down into the glass.

Metaxa said, “Good, eh? A kind of tequila they make on Deneb Eight. Bunch
of Mexicans settled there.”

“What,” said Ronny hoarsely, “do they make it out of?”

“Lord only knows,” Metaxa said. “To get back to Section G. We’re
Interplanetary Security. In short, Department Cloak and Dagger. Would you
be willing to die for the United Planets, Bronston?”

That curve had come too fast. Ronny blinked again. “Only in emergency,” he
said. “Who’d want to kill me?”

Metaxa poured another drink. “Many of the people you’ll be working with,”
he said.

“Well, _why_? What will I be doing?”

“You’ll be representing United Planets,” Metaxa explained. “Representing
United Planets in cases where the local situation is such that the folks
you’re working among will be teed off at the organization.”

“Well, why are they members if they don’t like the UP?”

“That’s a good question,” Metaxa said. He yawned. “I guess I’ll have to go
into my speech.” He finished his drink. “Now, shut up till I give you some
background. You’re probably full of a lot of nonsense you picked up in
school.”

Ronny shut up. He’d expected more of an air of dedication in the Octagon
and in such ethereal departments as that of Interplanetary Justice,
however, he was in now and not adverse to picking up some sophistication
beyond the ken of the Earth-bound employees of UP.

The other’s voice took on a far away, albeit bored tone. “It seems that
most of the times man gets a really big idea, he goes off half cocked.
Just one example. Remember when the ancient Hellenes exploded into the
Mediterranean? A score of different City-States began sending out
colonies, which in turn sprouted colonies of their own. Take Syracuse, on
Sicily. Hardly was she established than, bingo, she sent off colonists to
Southern Italy, and they in turn to Southern France, Corsica, the
Balearics. Greeks were exploding all over the place, largely without
adequate plans, without rhyme or reason. Take Alexander. Roamed off all
the way to India, founding cities and colonies of Greeks all along the
way.”

The older man shifted in his chair. “You wonder what I’m getting at, eh?
Well, much the same thing is happening in man’s explosion into space, now
that he has the ability to leave the solar system behind. Dashing off half
cocked, in all directions, he’s flowing out over this section of the
galaxy without plan, without rhyme or reason. I take that last back, he
has reasons all right—some of the screwiest. Religious reasons, racial
reasons, idealistic reasons, political reasons, altruistic reasons and
mercenary reasons.

“Inadequate ships, manned by small numbers of inadequate people, setting
out to find their own planets, to establish themselves on one of the
numberless uninhabited worlds that offer themselves to colonization and
exploitation.”

Ronny cleared his throat. “Well, isn’t that a good thing, sir?”

Ross Metaxa looked at him and grunted. “What difference does it make if
it’s good or not? It’s happening. We’re spreading our race out over tens
of hundreds of new worlds in the most haphazard fashion. As a result, we
of United Planets now have a chaotic mishmash on our hands. How we manage
to keep as many planets in the organization as we do, sometimes baffles
me. I suppose most of them are afraid to drop out, conscious of the
protection UP gives against each other.”

He picked up a report. “Here’s Monet, originally colonized by a bunch of
painters, writers, musicians and such. They had dreams of starting a new
race”—Metaxa snorted—“with everybody artists. They were all so impractical
that they even managed to crash their ship on landing. For three hundred
years they were uncontacted. What did they have in the way of government
by that time? A military theocracy, something like the Aztecs of
Pre-Conquest Mexico. A matriarchy, at that. And what’s their religion
based on? That of ancient Phoenicia including plenty of human sacrifice to
good old Moloch. What can United Planets do about it, now that they’ve
become a member? Work away very delicately, trying to get them to at least
eliminate the child sacrifice phase of their culture. Will they do it?
Hell no, not if they can help it. The Head Priestess and her clique are
afraid that if they don’t have the threat of sacrifice to hold over the
people, they’ll be overthrown.”

Ronny was surprised. “I’d never heard of a member planet like that.
Monet?”

Metaxa sighed. “No, of course not. You’ve got a lot to learn, Ronny, my
lad. First of all, what’re Articles One and Two of the United Planets
Charter?”

That was easy. Ronny recited. “Article One: _The United Planets
organization shall take no steps to interfere with the internal political,
socio-economic, or religious institutions of its member planets._ Article
Two: _No member planets of United Planets shall interfere with the
internal political, socioeconomic or religious institutions of any other
member planet._” He looked at the department head. “But what’s that got to
do with the fact that I was unfamiliar with even the existence of Monet?”

“Suppose one of the advanced planets, or even Earth itself,” Metaxa
growled, “openly discussed in magazines, on newscasts, or wherever, the
religious system of Monet. A howl would go up among the liberals, the
progressives, the do-gooders. And the howl would be heard on the other
advanced planets. Eventually, the citizen in the street on Monet would
hear about it and be affected. And before you knew it, a howl would go up
from Monet’s government. Why? Because the other planets would be
interfering with her internal affairs, simply by discussing them.”

“So what you mean is,” Ronny said, “part of our job is to keep information
about Monet’s government and religion from being discussed at all on other
member planets.”

“That’s right,” Metaxa nodded. “And that’s just one of our dirty little
jobs. One of many. Section G, believe me, gets them all. Which brings us
to your first assignment.”

                  -------------------------------------

Ronny inched forward in his chair. “It takes me into space?”

“It takes you into space all right,” Metaxa snorted. “At least it will
after a few months of indoctrination. I’m sending you out after a legend,
Ronny. You’re fresh, possibly you’ll get some ideas older men in the game
haven’t thought of.”

“A legend?”

“I’m sending you to look for Tommy Paine. Some members of the department
don’t think he exists. I do.”

“Tommy Paine?”

“A pseudonym that somebody hung on him way back before even my memory in
this Section. Did you ever hear of Thomas Paine in American history?”

“He wrote a pamphlet during the Revolutionary War, didn’t he?”

“ ‘Common Sense,’ ” Metaxa nodded. “But he was more than that. He was born
in England but went to America as a young man and his writings probably
did as much as anything to put over the revolt against the British. But
that wasn’t enough. When that revolution was successful he went back to
England and tried to start one there. The government almost caught him,
but he escaped and got to France where he participated in the French
Revolution.”

“He seemed to get around,” Ronny Bronston said.

“And so does this namesake of his. We’ve been trying to catch up with him
for some twenty years. How long before that he was active, we have no way
of knowing. It was some time before we became aware of the fact that half
the revolts, rebellions, revolutions and such that occur in the United
Planets have his dirty finger stirring around in them.”

“But you said some department members don’t believe in his existence.”

Metaxa grunted. “They’re working on the theory that no one man could do
all that Tommy Paine has laid to him. Possibly it’s true that he sometimes
gets the blame for accomplishments not his. Or, for that matter, possibly
he’s more than one person. I don’t know.”

“Well,” Ronny said hesitantly, “what’s an example of his activity?”

Metaxa picked up another report from the confusion of his desk. “Here’s
one only a month old. Dictator on the planet Megas. Kidnapped and forced
to resign. There’s still confusion but it looks as though a new type of
government will be formed now.”

“But how do they know it wasn’t just some dissatisfied citizens of Megas?”

“It seems as though the kidnap vehicle was an old fashioned Earth-type
helicopter. There were no such on Megas. So Section G suspects it’s a
possible Tommy Paine case. We could be wrong, of course. That’s why I say
the man’s in the way of being a legend. Perhaps the others are right and
he doesn’t even exist. I think he does, and if so, it’s our job to get him
and put him out of circulation.”

Ronny said slowly, “But why would that come under our jurisdiction? It
seems to me that it would be up to the police of whatever planet he was
on.”

Ross Metaxa looked thoughtfully at his brown bottle, shook his head and
returned it to its drawer. He looked at a desk watch. “Don’t read into the
United Planets organization more than there is. It’s a fragile institution
with practically no independent powers to wield. Every member planet is
jealous of its prerogatives, which is understandable. It’s no mistake that
Articles One and Two are the basic foundation of the Charter. No member
planet wants to be interfered with by any other or by United Planets as an
organization. They want to be left alone.

“Within our ranks we have planets with every religion known to man
throughout the ages. Everything ranging from primitive animism to the most
advanced philosophic ethic. We have every political system ever dreamed
of, and every socio-economic system. It can all be blamed on the crack-pot
manner in which we’re colonizing. Any minority, no matter how
small—religious, political, racial, or whatever—if it can collect the
funds to buy or rent a spacecraft, can dash off on its own, find a new
Earth-type planet and set up in business.

“Fine. One of the prime jobs of Section G is to carry out, to enforce,
Articles One and Two of the Charter. A planet with Buddhism as its state
religion, doesn’t want some die-hard Baptist missionary stirring up
controversy. A planet with a feudalistic socio-economic systems doesn’t
want some hot-shot interplanetary businessman coming in with some big deal
that would eventually cause the feudalistic nobility to be tossed onto the
ash heap. A planet with a dictatorship doesn’t want subversives from some
democracy trying to undermine their institutions—and vice versa.”

“And its our job to enforce all this, eh?” Ronny said.

“That’s right,” Metaxa told him sourly. “It’s not always the nicest job in
the system. However, if you believe in United Planets, an organization
attempting to co-ordinate in such manner as it can, the efforts of its
member planets, for the betterment of all, then you must accept Section G
and Interplanetary Security.”

Ronny Bronston thought about it.

Metaxa added, “That’s why one of the requirements of this job is that you
yourself be a citizen of United Planets, rather than of any individual
planet, have no religious affiliations, no political beliefs, and no
racial prejudices. You’ve got to be able to stand aloof.”

“Yeah,” Ronny said thoughtfully.

Ross Metaxa looked at his watch again and sighed wearily. “I’ll turn you
over to one of my assistants,” he said. “I’ll see you again, though,
before you leave.”

“Before I leave?” Ronny said, coming to his feet. “But where do I start
looking for this Tommy Paine?”

“How the hell would I know?” Ross Metaxa growled.

                  -------------------------------------

In the outer office, Ronny said to the receptionist, “Commissioner Metaxa
said for me to get in touch with Sid Jakes.”

She said, “I’m Irene Kasansky. Are you with us?”

Ronny said, “I beg your pardon?”

She said impatiently, “Are you going to be with the Section? If you are,
I’ve got to clear you with your old job. You were in statistics over in
New Copenhagen, weren’t you?”

Somehow it seemed far away now, the job he’d held for more than five
years. “Oh, yes,” he said. “Yes, Commissioner Metaxa has given me an
appointment.”

She looked up at him. “Probably to look for Tommy Paine.”

He was taken aback. “That’s right. How did you know?”

“There was talk. This Section is pretty well integrated.” She grimaced,
but on her it looked good. “One big happy family. High interdepartmental
morale. That sort of jetsam.” She flicked some switches. “You’ll find
Supervisor Jakes through that door, one to your left, two to your right.”

He could have asked one _what_ to his left and two _what_ to his right,
but evidently Irene Kasansky thought he had enough information to get him
to his destination. She’d gone back to her work.

                             [Illustration.]

It was one turn to his left and two turns to his right. The door was
lettered simply _Sidney Jakes_. He knocked and a voice shouted happily,
“It’s open. It’s always open.”

Supervisor Jakes was as informal as his superior. His attire was on the
happy-go-lucky side, more suited for sports wear than a fairly high
ranking job in the ultra-staid Octagon.

He couldn’t have been much older than Ronny Bronston but he had a nervous
vitality about him that would have worn out the other in a few hours. He
jumped up and shook hands. “You must be Bronston. Call me Sid.” He waved a
hand at a typed report he’d been reading. “Now I’ve seen them all. They’ve
just applied for entry to United Planets. Republic. What a name, eh?”

“What?” Ronny said.

“Sit down, sit down.” He rushed Ronny to a chair, saw him seated, returned
to the desk and flicked an order box switch. “Irene,” he said, “do up a
badge for Ronny, will you? You’ve got his code, haven’t you? Good. Send it
over. Bronze, of course.”

Sid Jakes turned back to Ronny and grinned at him. He motioned to the
report again. “What a name for a planet. Republic. Bunch of screw-balls,
again. Out in the vicinity of Sirius. Based their system on Plato’s
_Republic_. Have to go the whole way. Don’t even speak Basic. Certainly
not. They speak Ancient Greek. That’s going to be a neat trick, finding
interpreters. How’d you like the Old Man?”

Ronny said, dazed at the conversational barrage, “Old Man? Oh, you mean
Commissioner Metaxa.”

“Sure, sure,” Sid grinned, perching himself on the edge of the desk. “Did
he give you that drink of tequila during working hours routine? He’d like
to poison every new agent we get. What a character.”

The grin was infectious. Ronny said carefully, “Well, I did think his
method of hiring a new man was a little—cavalier.”

“Cavalier, yet,” Sid Jakes chortled. “Look, don’t get the Old Man wrong.
He knows what he’s doing. He always knows what he’s doing.”

“But he took me on after only two or three minutes conversation.”

Jakes cocked his head to one side. “Oh? You think so? When did you first
apply for interplanetary assignment, Ronny?”

“I don’t know, about three years ago.”

Jakes nodded. “Well, depend on it, you’ve been under observation for that
length of time. At any one period, Section G is investigating possibly a
thousand potential agents. We need men but qualifications are high.”

He hopped down from his position, sped around to the other side of the
desk and lowered himself into his chair. “Don’t get the wrong idea,
though. You’re not in. You’re on probation. Whatever the assignment the
Old Man gave you, you’ve got to carry it out successfully before you’re
full fledged.” He flicked the order-box switch and said, “Irene, where the
devil’s Ronny’s badge?”

Ronny Bronston heard the office girl’s voice answer snappishly.

“All right, all right,” Jakes said. “I love you, too. Send it in when it
comes.” He turned to Ronny. “What _is_ your assignment?”

“He wants me to go looking for some firebrand nicknamed Tommy Paine. I’m
supposed to arrest him. The commissioner said you’d give me details.”

                  -------------------------------------

Sid Jakes’ face went serious. He puckered up his lips. “Wow, that’ll be a
neat trick to pull off,” he said. He flicked the order-box switch again.
Irene’s voice snapped something before he could say anything and Sid Jakes
grinned and said, “O.K., O.K., darling, but if this is the way you’re
going to be I won’t marry you. Then what will the children say? Besides,
that’s not what I called about. Have ballistics do up a model H gun for
Ronny, will you? Be sure it’s adjusted to his code.”

He flicked off the order box and turned back to Ronny. “I understand
you’re familiar with hand guns. It’s in this report on you.”

Ronny nodded. He was just beginning to adjust to this free-wheeling
character. “What will I need a gun for?”

Jakes laughed. “Heavens to Betsy, you babe in the woods. Do you realize
this Tommy Paine character has supposedly stirred up a couple of score
wars, revolutions and revolts? Not to speak of having laid in his lap two
or three dozen assassinations. He’s a quick lad with a gun. A regular
Nihilist.”

“Nihilist?”

Jakes chuckled. “When you’ve been in this Section for a while, you’ll be
familiar with every screwball outfit man has ever dreamed up. The
Nihilists were a European group, mostly Russian, back in the Nineteenth
Century. They believed that by bumping off a few Grand Dukes and a Czar or
so they could force the ruling class to grant reforms. Sometimes they were
pretty ingenious. Blew up trains, that sort of thing.”

“Look here,” Ronny said, “what motivates this Paine fellow? What’s he get
out of all this trouble he stirs up?”

“Search me. Nobody seems to know. Some think he’s a mental case. For one
thing, he’s not consistent.”

“How do you mean?”

“Well, he’ll go to one planet and break his back trying to overthrow, say,
feudalism. Then, possibly after being successful, he goes to another
planet and devotes his energies to establishing the same socio-economic
system.”

Ronny assimilated that. “You’re one of those who believes he exists?”

“Oh, he exists all right, all right,” Sid Jakes said happily. “Matter of
fact, I almost ran into him a few years ago.”

Ronny leaned forward. “I guess I ought to know about it. The more
information I have, the better.”

“Sure, sure,” Jakes said. “This deal of mine was on one of the Aldebaran
planets. A bunch of nature boys had settled there.”

“Nature boys?”

“Um-m-m. Back to nature. The trouble with the human race is that it’s got
too far away from nature. So a whole flock of them landed on this planet.
They call it Mother, of all things. They landed and set up a primitive
society. Absolute stone age. No metals. Lived by the chase and by picking
berries, wild fruit, that sort of thing. Not even any agriculture. Wore
skins. Bows and arrows were the nearest thing they allowed themselves in
the way of mechanical devices.”

“Good grief,” Ronny said.

“It was a laugh,” Jakes told him. “I was assigned there as Section G
representative with the UP organization. Picture it. We had to wear skins
for clothes. We had to confine ourselves to two or three long houses.
Something like the American Iroquois lived in before Columbus. Their
society on Mother was based on primitive communism. The clan, the phratry,
the tribe. Their religion was mostly a matter of knocking into everybody’s
head that any progress was taboo. Oh, it was great.”

“Well, were they happy?”

“What’s happiness? I suppose they were as happy as anybody ever averages.
Frankly, I didn’t mind the assignment. Lots of fishing, lots of hunting.”

Ronny said, “Well, where does Tommy Paine come in?”

“He snuck up on us. Started way back in the boondocks away from any of the
larger primitive settlements. Went around putting himself over as a holy
man. Cured people of various things from gangrene to eye diseases. Given
antibiotics and such, you can imagine how successful he was.”

“Well, what harm did he do?”

“I didn’t say he did any harm. But in that manner he made himself awfully
popular. Then he’d pull some trick like showing them how to smelt iron,
and distribute some corn and wheat seed around and plant the idea of
agriculture. The local witch doctors would try to give him a hard time,
but the people figured he was a holy man.”

“Well, what happened finally?” Ronny wasn’t following too well.

“Communications being what they were, before he’d been discovered by the
central organization—they had a kind of Council of Tribes which met once a
year—he’d planted so many ideas that they couldn’t be stopped. The young
people’d never go back to flint knives, once introduced to iron. We went
looking for friend Tommy Paine, but he got wind of it and took off. We
even found where he’d hidden his little space cruiser. Oh, it was Paine,
all right, all right.”

“But what harm did he do? I don’t understand,” Ronny scowled.

“He threw the whole shebang on its ear. Last I heard, the planet had
broken up into three main camps. They were whaling away at each other like
the Assyrians and Egyptians. Iron weapons, chariots, domesticated horses.
Agriculture was sweeping the planet. Population was exploding. Men were
making slaves out of each other, to put them to work. Oh, it was a mess
from the viewpoint of the original nature boys.”

A red light flickered on his desk and Sid Jakes opened a delivery drawer
and dipped his hand into it. It emerged with a flat wallet. He tossed it
to Ronny Bronston.

“Here you are. Your badge.”

Ronny opened the wallet and examined it. He’d never seen one before, but
for that matter he’d never heard of Section G before that morning. It was
a simple enough bronze badge. It said on it, merely, _Ronald Bronston,
Section G, Bureau of Investigation, United Planets_.

Sid Jakes explained. “You’ll get co-operation with that through the
Justice Department anywhere you go. We’ll brief you further on procedure
during indoctrination. You in turn, of course, are to co-operate with any
other agent of Section G. You’re under orders of anyone with”—his hand
snaked into a pocket and emerged with a wallet similar to Ronny’s—“a
silver badge, carried by a First Grade Agent, or a gold one of Supervisor
rank.”

Ronny noted that his badge wasn’t really bronze. It had a certain sheen, a
brightness.

Jakes said, “Here, look at this.” He tossed his own badge to the new man.
Ronny looked down at it in surprise. The gold had gone dull.

Jakes laughed. “Now give me yours.”

Ronny got up and walked over to him and handed it over. As soon as the
other man’s hand touched it, the bronze lost its sheen.

Jakes handed it back. “See, it’s tuned to you alone,” he said. “And mine
is tuned to my code. Nobody can swipe a Section G badge and impersonate an
agent. If anybody ever shows you a badge that doesn’t have its sheen, you
know he’s a fake. Neat trick, eh?”

“Very neat,” Ronny admitted. He returned the other’s gold badge. “Look, to
get back to this Tommy Paine.”

But the red light flickered again and Jakes brought forth from the
delivery drawer a hand gun complete with shoulder harness. “Nasty weapon,”
he said. “But we’d better go on down to the armory and show you its
workings.”

He stood up. “Oh, yes, don’t let me forget to give you a communicator. A
real gizmo. About as big as a woman’s vanity case. Puts you in immediate
contact with the nearest Section G office, no matter how near or far away
it is. Or, if you wish, in contact with our offices here in the Octagon.
Very neat trick.”

He led Ronny from his office and down the corridors beyond to an elevator.
He said happily, “This is a crazy outfit, this Section G. You’ll probably
love it. Everybody does.”

                  -------------------------------------

Ronny learned to love Section G—in moderation.

He was initially taken aback by the existence of the organization at all.
He’d known, of course, of the Department of Justice and even of the Bureau
of Investigation, but Section G was hush-hush and not even United Planets
publications ever mentioned it.

The problems involved in remaining hush-hush weren’t as great as all that.
The very magnitude of the UP which involved more than two thousand member
planets, allowed of departments and bureaus hidden away in the endless
stretches of red tape.

In fact, although Ronny Bronston had spent the better part of his life,
thus far, in studying for a place in the organization, and then working in
the Population Statistics Department for some years, he was only now
beginning to get the over-all picture of the workings of the mushrooming,
chaotic United Planets organization.

It was Earth’s largest industry by far. In fact, for all practical
purposes it was her only major industry. Tourism, yes, but even that, in a
way, was related to the United Planets organization. Millions of visitors
whose ancestors had once emigrated from the mother planet, streamed back
in racial nostalgia. Streamed back to see the continents and oceans, the
Arctic and the Antarctic, the Amazon River and Mount Everest, the Sahara
and New York City, the ruins of Rome and Athens, the Vatican, the Louvre
and the Hermitage.

But the populace of Earth, in its hundreds of millions were largely
citizens of United Planets and worked in the organization and with its
auxiliaries such as the Space Forces.

Section G? To his surprise, Ronny found that Ross Metaxa’s small section
of the Bureau of Investigation seemed almost as great a secret within the
Bureau as it was to the man in the street. At one period, Ronny wondered
if it were possible that this was a department which had been lost in the
wilderness of boondoggling that goes on in any great bureaucracy. Had
Section G been set up a century or so ago and then forgotten by those who
had originally thought there was a need for it? In the same way that it is
usually more difficult to get a statute off the lawbooks than it was
originally to pass it, in the same manner eliminating an office, with its
employees can prove more difficult than originally establishing it.

But that wasn’t it. In spite of the informality, the unconventional
brashness of its personnel on all levels, and the seeming chaos in which
its tasks were done, Section G was no make-work project set up to provide
juicy jobs for the relatives of high ranking officials. To the contrary,
it didn’t take long in the Section before anybody with open eyes could see
that Ross Metaxa was privy to the decisions made by the upper echelons of
UP.

Ronny Bronston came to the conclusion that the appointment he’d received
was putting him in a higher bracket of the UP hierarchy than he’d at first
imagined.

His indoctrination course was a strain such as he’d never known in school
years. Ross Metaxa was evidently of the opinion that a man could
assimilate concentrated information at a rate several times faster than
any professional educator ever dreamed possible. No threats were made, but
Ronny realized that he could be dropped even more quickly than he’d seemed
to have been taken on. There were no classes, to either push or retard the
rate of study. He worked with a series of tutors, and pushed himself. The
tutors were almost invariably Section G agents, temporarily in Greater
Washington between assignments, or for briefing on this phase or that of
their work.

Even as he studied, Ronny Bronston kept the eventual assignment, at which
he was to prove himself, in mind. He made a point of inquiring of each
agent he met, about Tommy Paine.

The name was known to all, but no two reacted in the same manner. Several
of them even brushed the whole matter aside as pure legend. _Nobody_ could
accomplish all the trouble that Tommy Paine had supposedly stirred up.

To one of these, Ronny said plaintively, “See here, the Old Man believes
in him, Sid Jakes believes in him. My final appointment depends on
arresting him. How can I ever secure this job, if I’m chasing a myth?”

The other shrugged. “Don’t ask me. I’ve got my own problems. O.K., now,
let’s run over this question of Napoleonic law. There are at least two
hundred planets that base their legal system on it.”

But the majority of his fellow employees in Section G had strong enough
opinions on the interplanetary firebrand. Three or four even claimed to
have seen him fleetingly, although no two descriptions jibed. That, of
course, could be explained. The man could resort to plastic surgery and
other disguise.

Theories there were in plenty, some of them going back long years, and
some of them pure fable.

                  -------------------------------------

“Look,” Ronny said in disgust one day after a particularly unbelievable
siege with two agents recently returned from a trouble spot in a planetary
system that involved three aggressive worlds which revolved about the same
sun. “Look, it’s impossible for one man to accomplish all this. He’s
blamed for half the _coups d’états_, revolts and upheavals that have taken
place for the past quarter century. It’s obvious nonsense. Why, a
revolutionist usually spends the greater part of his life toppling a
government. Then, once it’s toppled, he spends the rest of his life trying
to set up a new government—and he’s usually unsuccessful.”

One of the others was shaking his head negatively. “You don’t understand
this Tommy Paine’s system, Bronston.”

“You sure don’t,” the other agent, a Nigerian, grinned widely. “I’ve been
on planets where he’d operated.”

Ronny leaned forward. The three of them were having a beer in a part of
the city once called Baltimore. “You have?” he said. “Tell me about it,
eh? The more background I get on this guy, the better.”

“Sure. And this’ll give you an idea of how he operates, how he can get so
much trouble done. Well, I was on this planet Goshen, understand? It had
kind of a strange history. A bunch of colonists went out there, oh, four
or five centuries ago. Pretty healthy expedition, as such outfits go.
Bright young people, lots of equipment, lots of know-how and books. Well,
through sheer bad luck everything went wrong from the beginning.
Everything. Before they got set up at all they had an explosion that
killed off all their communications technicians. They lost contact with
the outside. O.K. Within a couple of centuries they’d gotten into a state
of chattel slavery. Pretty well organized, but static. Kind of an Athenian
Democracy on top, a hierarchy, but nineteen people out of twenty were
slaves, and I mean real slaves, like animals. They were at this stage when
a scout ship from the UP Space Forces discovered them and, of course, they
joined up.”

“Where does Tommy Paine come in?” Ronny said. He signaled to a waiter for
more beer.

“He comes in a few years later. I was the Section G agent on Goshen,
understand? No planet was keener about Articles One and Two of the UP
Charter. The hierarchy understood well enough that if their people ever
came to know about more advanced socio-economic systems it’d be the end of
Goshen’s Golden Age. So they allowed practically no intercourse. No
contact whatsoever between UP personnel and anyone outside the upper
class, understand? All right. That’s where Tommy Paine came in. It
couldn’t have taken him more than a couple of months at most.”

Ronny Bronston was fascinated. “What’d he do?”

“He introduced the steam engine, and then left.”

Ronny was looking at him blankly. “Steam engine?”

“That and the fly shuttle and the spinning jenny,” the Nigerian said.
“That Goshen hierarchy never knew what hit them.”

Ronny was still blank. The waiter came up with the steins of beer, and
Ronny took one and drained half of it without taking his eyes from the
storyteller.

The other agent took it up. “Don’t you see? Their system was based on
chattel slavery, hand labor. Given machinery and it collapses. Chattel
slavery isn’t practical in a mechanized society. Too expensive a labor
force, for one thing. Besides, you need an educated man and one with some
initiative—qualities that few slaves possess—to run an industrial
society.”

Ronny finished his beer. “Smart cooky, isn’t he?”

“He’s smart all right. But I’ve got a still better example of his fouling
up a whole planetary socio-economic system in a matter of weeks. A friend
of mine was working on a planet with a highly-developed feudalism. Barons,
lords, dukes, counts and no-accounts, all stashed safely away in castles
and fortresses up on the top of hills. The serfs down below did all the
work in the fields, provided servants, artisans and foot soldiers for the
continual fighting that the aristocracy carried on. Very similar to Europe
back in the Dark Ages.”

“So?” Ronny said. “I’d think that’d be a deal that would take centuries to
change.”

The Section G agent laughed. “Tommy Paine stayed just long enough to
introduce gunpowder. That was the end of those impregnable castles up on
the hills.”

“What gets me,” Ronny said slowly, “is his motivation.”

The other two both grunted agreement to that.

                  -------------------------------------

Toward the end of his indoctrination studies, Ronny appeared one morning
at the Octagon Section G offices and before Irene Kasansky. Watching her
fingers fly, listening to her voice rapping and snapping, O.K.-ing and
rejecting, he came to the conclusion that automation could go just so far
in office work and then you were thrown back on the hands of the efficient
secretary. Irene was a one-woman office staff.

She looked up at him. “Hello, Ronny. Thought you’d be off on your
assignment by now. Got any clues on Tommy Paine?”

“No,” he said. “That’s why I’m here. I wanted to see the commissioner.”

“About what?” She flicked a switch. When a light flickered on one of her
order boxes, she said into it, “No,” emphatically, and turned back to him.

“He said he wanted to see me again before I took off.”

She fiddled some more, finally said, “All right, Ronny. Tell him he’s got
time for five minutes with you.”

“Five minutes!”

“Then he’s got an appointment with the Commissioner of Interplanetary
Culture,” she said. “You’d better hurry along.”

Ronny Bronston retraced the route of his first visit here. How long ago?
It already seemed ages since his probationary appointment. Your life
changed fast when you were in Section G.

Ross Metaxa’s brown bottle, or its twin, was sitting on his desk and he
was staring at it glumly. He looked up and scowled.

“Ronald Bronston,” Ronny said. “Irene Kasansky told me to say I could have
five minutes with you, then you have an appointment with the Commissioner
of Interplanetary Culture.”

“I remember you,” Metaxa said. “Have a drink. Interplanetary Culture, ha!
The Xanadu Folk Dance Troupe. They dance nude. They’ve been touring the
whole UP. Roaring success everywhere, obviously. Now they’re assigned to
Virtue, a planet settled by a bunch of Fundamentalists. They want the
troupe to wear Mother Hubbards. The Xanadu outfit is in a tizzy. They’ve
been insulted. They claim they’re the most modest members of UP, that
nudity has nothing to do with modesty. The government of Virtue said
that’s fine but they wear Mother Hubbards or they don’t dance. Xanadu says
it’ll withdraw from United Planets.”

Ronny Bronston said painfully, “Why not let them?”

Ross Metaxa poured himself a Denebian tequila, offered his subordinate a
drink again with a motion of the bottle. Ronny shook his head.

Metaxa said, “If we didn’t take steps to soothe these things over, there
wouldn’t be any United Planets. In any given century every member in the
organization threatens to resign at least once. Even Earth. And then
what’d happen? You’d have interplanetary war before you knew it. What’d
you want, Ronny?”

“I’m about set to take up my search for this Tommy Paine.”

“Ah, yes, Tommy Paine. If you catch him, there are a dozen planets where
he’d be eligible for the death sentence.”

Ronny cleared his throat. “There must be. What I wanted was the file on
him, sir.”

“File?”

“Yes, sir. I’ve got to the point where I want to cram up on everything we
have on him. So far, all I’ve got is verbal information from individual
agents and from Supervisor Jakes.”

“Don’t be silly, Ronny. There isn’t any file on Tommy Paine.”

Ronny just looked at the other.

Ross Metaxa said impatiently, “The very knowledge of the existence of the
man is top secret. Isn’t that obvious? Suppose some reporter got the story
and printed it. If our member planets knew there was such a man and that
we haven’t been able to scotch him, why they’d drop out of UP so fast the
computers couldn’t keep up with it. There’s not one planet in ten that
feels secure enough to lay itself open to subversion. Why some of our
planets are so far down the ladder of social evolution they live under
primitive tribal society; their leaders, their wise men and witch-doctors,
whatever you call them, are scared someone will come along and establish
chattel slavery. Those planets that have a system based on slavery are
scared to death of developing feudalism, and those that have feudalism are
afraid of _creeping capitalism_. Those with an anarchistic basis—and we
have several—are afraid of being subverted to statism, and those who have
a highly developed government are afraid of anarchism. The socio-economic
systems based on private ownership of property hate the very idea of
socialism or communism, and vice versa, and those planets with state
capitalism hate them both.”

                             [Illustration.]

He glared at Ronny. “What do you think the purpose of this Section is,
Bronston? Our job is to keep our member planets from being afraid of each
other. If they found that Tommy Paine and his group, if he’s got a group,
were buzzing through the system subverting everything they can foul up,
they’d drop out of UP and set up quarantines that a space mite couldn’t
get through. No sir, there is no file on Tommy Paine and there never will
be. And if any news of him spreads to the outside, this Section will
emphatically deny he exists. I hope that’s clear.”

“Well, yes sir,” Ronny said. The commissioner had been all but roaring
toward the end.

The order box clicked on Ross Metaxa’s desk and he said loudly, “What?”

“Don’t yell at me,” Irene snapped back. “Ronny’s five minutes are up.
You’ve got an appointment. I’m getting tired of this job. It’s a
mad-house. I’m going to quit and get a job with Interplanetary Finance.”

“Oh, yeah.” Ross snarled back. “That’s what you think. I’ve taken
measures. Top security. I’ve warned off every Commissioner in UP. You
can’t get away from me until you reach retirement age. Although I don’t
know why I care. I hate nasty tempered women.”

“Huh!” she snorted and clicked off.

“There’s a woman for you,” Ross Metaxa growled at Ronny. “It’s too bad
she’s indispensable. I’d love to fire her. Look, you go in and see Sid
Jakes. Seems to me he said something about Tommy Paine this morning. Maybe
it’s a lead.” He came to his feet. “So long and good luck, Ronny. I feel
optimistic about you. I think you’ll get this Paine troublemaker.”

Which was more than Ronny Bronston thought.

Sid Jakes already had a visitor in his office, which didn’t prevent him
from yelling, “It’s open,” when Ronny Bronston knocked.

He bounced from his chair, came around the desk and shook hands
enthusiastically. “Ronny!” he said, his tone implying they were favorite
brothers for long years parted. “You’re just in time.”

Ronny took in the office’s other occupant appreciatively. She was a small
girl, almost tiny. He estimated her to be at least half Chinese, or maybe
Indo-Chinese, the rest probably European or North American.

She evidently favored her Asiatic blood, her dress was traditional
Chinese, slit almost to the thigh Shanghai style.

Sid Jakes said, “Tog Lee Chang Chu—Ronny Bronston. You’ll be working
together. Bloodhounding old Tommy Paine. A neat trick if you can pull it
off. Well, are you all set to go?”

Ronny mumbled something to the girl in the way of amenity, then looked
back at the supervisor. “Working together?” he said.

“That’s right. Lucky you, eh?”

Tog Lee Chang Chu said demurely, “Possibly Mr. Bronston objects to having
a female assistant.”

Sid Jakes snorted, and hurried around his desk to resume his seat. “Does
he look crazy? Who’d object to having a cutey like you around day in and
day out? Call him Ronny. Might as well get used to it. Two of you’ll be
closer than man and wife.”

“Assistant?” Ronny said, bewildered. “What do I need an assistant for?” He
turned his eyes to the girl. “No reflection on you, Miss ... ah, Tog.”

Sid Jakes laughed easily. “Section G operatives always work in pairs,
Ronny. Especially new agents. The advantages will come home to you as you
go along. Look on Tog Lee Chang Chu as a secretary, a man Friday. This
isn’t her first assignment, of course. You’ll find her invaluable.”

The supervisor plucked a card from an order box. “Now here’s the dope. Can
you leave within four hours? There’s a UP Space Forces cruiser going to
Merlini, they can drop you off at New Delos. Fastest way you could
possibly get there. The cruiser takes off from Neuve Albuquerque in, let’s
see, three hours and forty-five minutes.”

“New Delos?” Ronny said, taking his eyes from the girl and trying to catch
up with the grasshopper-like conversation of his superior.

“New Delos it is,” Jakes said happily. “With luck, you might catch him
before he can get off the planet.” He chuckled at the other’s expression.
“Look alive, Ronny! The quarry is flushed and on the run. Tommy Paine’s
just assassinated the Immortal God-King of New Delos. A neat trick, eh?”

                  -------------------------------------

The following hours were chaotic. There was no indication of how long a
period he’d be gone. For all he knew, it might be years. For that matter,
he might never return to Earth. This Ronny Bronston had realized before he
ever applied for an interplanetary appointment. Mankind was exploding
through this spiral arm of the galaxy. There was a racial enthusiasm about
it all. Man’s destiny lay out in the stars, only a laggard stayed home of
his own accord. It was the ambition of every youth to join the snowballing
avalanche of man into the neighboring stars.

It took absolute severity by Earth authorities to prevent the depopulation
of the planet. But someone had to stay to administer the ever more
complicated racial destiny. Earth became a clearing house for a thousand
cultures, attempting, with only moderate success, to co-ordinate her
widely spreading children. She couldn’t afford to let her best seed
depart. Few there were, any more, allowed to emigrate from Earth. New
colonies drew their immigrants from older ones.

Lucky was the Earthling able to find service in interplanetary affairs, in
any of the thousands of tasks that involved journey between member planets
of UP. Possibly one hundredth of the population at one time or another,
and for varying lengths of time, managed it.

Ronny Bronston was lucky and knew it. The thing now was to pull off this
assignment and cinch the appointment for good.

He packed in a swirl of confusion. He phoned a relative who lived in the
part of town once known as Richmond, explained the situation and asked
that the other store his things and dispose of the apartment he’d been
occupying.

Luckily, the roof of his apartment building was a copter-cab pickup point
and he was able to hustle over to the shuttleport in a matter of a few
minutes.

He banged into the reservations office, hurried up to one of the windows
and said into the screen, “I’ve got to get to Neuve Albuquerque
immediately.”

The expressionless voice said, “The next rocket leaves at sixteen hours.”

“Sixteen hours! I’ve got to be at the spaceport by that time!”

The voice said dispassionately, “We are sorry.”

The bottom fell out of everything. Ronny said, desperately, “Look, if I
miss my ship in Neuve Albuquerque, what is the next spaceliner leaving
from there for New Delos?”

“A moment, citizen.” There was an agonized wait, and then the voice said,
“There is a liner leaving for New Delos on the 14th of next month. It
arrives in New Delos on the 31st, Basic Earth calendar.”

The 31st! Tommy Paine could be halfway across the galaxy by that time.

A gentle voice next to him said, “Could I help, Ronny?”

He looked around at her. “Evidently, nobody can,” he said disgustedly.
“There’s no way of getting to Neuve Albuquerque in time to get that
cruiser to New Delos.”

Tog Lee Chang Chu fished in her bag and came up with a wallet similar to
the one in which Ronny carried his Section G badge. She held it up to the
screen. “Bureau of Investigation, Section G,” she said calmly. “It will be
necessary that Agent Bronston and myself be in Neuve Albuquerque within
the hour.”

The metallic voice said, “Of course. Proceed to your right and through
Corridor K to Exit Four. Your rocket will be there. Identify yourself to
Lieutenant Economou who will be at the desk at Exit Four.”

Tog turned to Ronny Bronston. “Shall we go?” she said demurely.

He cleared his throat, feeling foolish. “Thanks, Tog,” he said.

“Not at all, Ronny. Why, this is my job.”

Was there the faintest of sarcasm in her voice? It hadn’t been more than a
couple of hours ago that he had been hinting rather heavily to Sid Jakes
that he needed no assistance.

She even knew the layout of the West Greater Washington shuttleport. Her
small body swiveled through the hurrying passengers, her small feet
a-twinkle, as she led him to and down Corridor K and then to the desk at
Exit Four.

Ronny anticipated her here. He flashed his own badge at the chair-borne
Space Forces lieutenant there.

“Lieutenant Economou?” he said. “Ronald Bronston, of the Bureau of
Investigation, Section G. We’ve got to get to Neuve Albuquerque soonest.”

The lieutenant, only mildly impressed, said, “We can have you in the air
in ten minutes, citizen. Just a moment and I’ll guide you myself.”

                  -------------------------------------

In the rocket, Ronny had time to appraise her at greater length. She was a
delicately pretty thing, although her expression was inclined to the
over-serious. There was only a touch of the Mongolian fold at the corner
of her eyes. On her it looked unusually good. Her complexion was that
which only the blend of Chinese and Caucasian can give. Her figure, thanks
to her European blood, was fuller than Eastern Asia usually boasts; tiny,
but full.

Let’s admit it, he decided. My assistant is the cutest trick this side of
a Tri-Di movie queen, and we’re going to be thrown in the closest of
juxtaposition for an indefinite time. This comes under the head of work?

He said, “Look here, Tog, you were with Sid Jakes longer than I was.
What’s the full story?”

She folded her slim hands in her lap, looking like a schoolgirl about to
recite. “Do you know anything about the socio-economic system on New
Delos?”

“Well, no,” he admitted.

She said severely, “I’d think that they would have given you more
background before an assignment of this type.”

Ronny said impatiently, “In the past three months I’ve been filled in on
the economic systems, the religious beliefs, the political forms, of a
thousand planets. I just happened to miss New Delos.”

Her mouth expressed disapproval by rucking down on the sides, which was
all very attractive but also irritating. She said, “There are two
thousand, four hundred and thirty-six member planets in the UP, I’d think
an agent of Section G would be up on the basic situation on each.”

He had her there. He said snidely, “Hate to contradict you, Tog, but the
number is two thousand, four hundred and thirty-four.”

“Then,” she nodded agreeably, “membership has changed since this morning
when Menalaus and Aldebaran Three were admitted. Have two planets dropped
out?”

“Look,” he said, “let’s stop bickering. What’s the word on New Delos?”

“Did you ever read Frazer’s ‘Golden Bough’?” she said.

“No.”

“You should. At any rate, New Delos is a theocracy. A priesthood elite
rules it. A God-King, who is immortal, holds absolute authority. The
strongest of superstition plus an efficient inquisition, keeps the people
under control.”

“Sounds terrible,” Ronny growled.

“Why? Possibly the government is extremely efficient and under it the
planet progressing at a rate in advance of UP averages.”

He stared at her in surprise.

She said, “Would you rather be ruled by the personal, arbitrary whims of
supremely wise men, or by laws formulated by a mob?”

It stopped him momentarily. In all his adult years, he couldn’t remember
ever meeting an intelligent, educated person who had been opposed to the
democratic theory.

“Wait a minute, now,” he said. “Who decides that they’re supremely wise
men who are doing this arbitrary ruling? Let any group come to power, by
whatever means, and they’ll soon tell you they’re an elite. But let’s get
back to New Delos, from what you’ve said so far, the people are held in a
condition of slavery.”

“What’s wrong with slavery?” Tog said mildly.

He all but glared at her. “Are you kidding?”

“I seldom jest,” Tog said primly. “Under the proper conditions, slavery
can be the most suitable system for a people.”

“Under _what_ conditions!”

“Have you forgotten your Earth history to the point where Egypt, Greece
and Rome mean nothing to you? Man made some of his outstanding progress
under slavery. And do you contend that man’s lot is necessarily miserable
given slavery? As far back as Aesop we know of slaves who have reached the
heights in their society. Slaves sometimes could and did become the
virtual rulers in ancient countries.” She shrugged prettily. “The
prejudices which you hold today, on Earth, do not necessarily apply to all
time, nor to all places.”

He said, impatiently, “Look, Tog, we can go into this further, later.
Let’s get back to New Delos. What happened?”

Tog said, “The very foundation of their theocracy is the belief on the
part of the populace that the God-King is immortal. No man conspires
against his Deity. Supervisor Jakes informed me that it is understood by
UP Intelligence, that about once every twenty years the priesthood
secretly puts in a new God-King. Plastic surgery would guarantee facial
resemblance, and, of course, the rank and file citizen would probably
never be allowed close enough to discover that their God-King seemed
different every couple of decades. At any rate, it’s been working for some
time.”

“And there’s been no revolt against this religious aristocracy?”

She shook her head. “Evidently not. It takes a brave man to revolt against
both his king and his God at the same time.”

“But what happened now?” Ronny pursued.

“Evidently, right in the midst of a particularly important religious
ceremony, with practically the whole planet watching on TV, the God-King
was killed with a bomb. No doubt about it, definitely killed. There are
going to be a lot of people on New Delos wondering how it can be that an
immortal God-King can die.”

“And Sid thinks it’s Tommy Paine’s work?”

She shifted dainty shoulders in a shrug. “It’s the sort of thing he does.
I suppose we’ll learn when we get there.”

                  -------------------------------------

Even on the fast Space Forces cruiser, the trip was going to take a week,
and there was precious little Ronny Bronston could do until arrival. He
spent most of his time reading up on New Delos and the several other
planets in the UP organization which had fairly similar regimes. More than
a few theocracies had come and gone during the history of man’s
development into the stars.

He also spent considerable time playing Battle Chess or talking with Tog
and with the ship’s officers.

These latter were a dedicated group, high in morale, enthusiastic about
their work which evidently involved the combined duties of a Navy, a Coast
Guard, and a Coast and Geodetic Survey system, if we use the ocean going
services of an earlier age for analogy.

They all had the dream. The enthusiasm of men participating in a race’s
expansion to glory. There was the feeling, even stronger here in space
than back on Earth, of man’s destiny being fulfilled, that humanity had
finally emerged from its infancy, that the fledgling had finally found its
wings and got off the ground.

After one of his studying binges, Ronny Bronston had spent an hour or so
once with the captain of the craft, while that officer stood an easy watch
on the ship’s bridge. There was little enough to do in space, practically
nothing, but there was always an officer on watch.

They leaned back in the acceleration chairs before the ship’s controls and
Ronny listened to the other’s space lore. Stories of far planets, as yet
untouched. Stories of planets that had seemingly been suitable for
colonization, but had proved disastrous for man, for this reason or that.

Ronny said, “And never in all this time have we run into a life form that
has proved intelligent?”

Captain Woiski said, “No. Not that I know of. There was an animal on
Shangri-La of about the mental level of the chimpanzee. So far as I know,
that’s the nearest to it.”

“Shangri-La?” Ronny said. “That’s a new one.”

There was an affectionate gleam in the captain’s eye. “Yes,” he said. “If
and when I retire, I think that’d be the planet of my choice, if I could
get permission to leave Earth, of course.”

Ronny scowled in attempted memory. “Now that you mention it, I think I did
see it listed the other day among planets with a theocratic government.”

The captain grunted protest. “If you’re comparing it to this New Delos
you’re going to, you’re wrong. There can be theocracy and theocracy, I
suppose. Actually, I imagine Shangri-La has the most, well _gentle_
government in the system.”

Ronny was interested. His recent studies hadn’t led him to much respect
for a priesthood in political power. “What’s the particular feature that’s
seemed to have gained your regard?”

“Moderation,” Woiski chuckled. “They carry it almost to the point of
immoderation. But not quite. Briefly, it works something like this. They
have a limited number of monks—I suppose you’d call them—who spend their
time at whatever moves them. At the arts, at scientific research, at
religious contemplation—any religion will do—as students of anything and
everything, and at the governing of Shangri-La. They make a point of
enjoying the luxuries in moderation and aren’t a severe drain on the rank
and file citizens of the planet.”

Ronny said, “I have a growing distrust of hierarchies. Who decides who is
to become a monk and who remain a member of the rank and file?”

The captain said, “A series of the best tests they can devise to determine
a person’s intelligence and aptitudes. From earliest youth, the whole
populace is checked and rechecked. At the age of thirty, when it is
considered that a person has become adult and has finished his basic
education, a limited number are offered monkhood. Not all want it.”

Ronny thought about it. “Why not? What are the shortcomings?”

The captain shrugged. “Responsibility, I suppose.”

“The monks aren’t allowed sex, booze, that sort of thing, I imagine.”

“Good heavens, why not? In moderation, of course.”

“And they live on a higher scale?”

“No, no, not at all. Don’t misunderstand. The planet is a prosperous one.
Exceedingly prosperous. There is everything needed for comfortable
existence for everyone. Shangri-La is one planet where the pursuit of
happiness is pursuable by all.” Captain Woiski chuckled again.

Ronny said, “It sounds good enough, although I’m leery of benevolent
dictatorships. The trouble with them is that it’s up to the dictators to
decide what’s benevolent. And almost always, nepotism rears its head,
favoritism of one sort or another. How long will it be before one of your
moderate monks decides he’ll moderately tinker with the tests, or
whatever, just to be sure his favorite nephew makes the grade? A high I.Q.
is no guarantee of integrity.”

The captain didn’t disagree. “That’s always possible, I suppose. One guard
against it, in this case, is the matter of motive. The _privilege_ of
being a monk isn’t as great as all that. Materially, you aren’t
particularly better off than any one else. You have more leisure, that’s
true, but actually most of them are so caught up in their studies or
research that they put in more hours of endeavor than does the farmer or
industrial worker on Shangri-La.”

“Well,” Ronny said, “let’s just hope that Tommy Paine never hears of this
place.”

“Who?” the captain said.

Ronny Bronston reversed his engines. “Oh, nobody important. A guy I know
of.”

Captain Woiski scowled. “Seems to me I’ve heard the name.”

At first Ronny leaned forward with quick interest. Perhaps the cruiser’s
skipper had a lead. But, no, he sank back into his chair. That name was
strictly a Section G pseudonym. No one used it outside the department, and
he’d already said too much by using the term at all.

Ronny said idly, “Probably two different people. I think I’ll go on back
and see how Tog is doing.”

                  -------------------------------------

Tog was at her communicator when he entered the tiny ship’s lounge. Ronny
could see in the brilliant little screen of the compact device, the
grinning face of Sid Jakes. Tog looked up at Ronny and smiled, then
clicked the device off.

“What’s new?” Ronny said.

She moved graceful shoulders. “I just called Supervisor Jakes. Evidently
there’s complete confusion on New Delos. Mobs are storming the temples. In
the capital the priests tried to present a new God-King and he was laughed
out of town.”

Ronny snorted cynically. “Sounds good to me. The more I read about New
Delos and its God-King and his priesthood, the more I think the best thing
that ever happened to the planet was this showing them up.”

Tog looked at him, the sides of her mouth tucking down as usual when she
was going to contradict something he said. “It sounds bad to me,” she
said. “Tommy Paine’s work is done. He’ll be off to some other place and we
won’t get there in time to snare him.”

Ronny considered that. It was probably true. “I wonder,” he said slowly,
“if it’s possible for us to get a list of all ships that have blasted off
since the assassination, all ships and their destination from New Delos.”

The idea grew in him. “Look! It’s possible that a dictatorial government
such as theirs would immediately quarantine every spaceport on the
planet.”

Tog said, “There’s only one spaceport on New Delos. The priesthood didn’t
encourage trade or even communication with the outside. Didn’t want its
people contaminated.”

“Holy smokes!” Ronny blurted. “It’s possible that Tommy Paine’s on that
planet and can’t get off. Look, Tog, see if you can raise the Section G
representative on New Delos and—”

Tog said demurely, “I already have taken that step, Ronny, knowing that
you’d want me to. Agent Mouley Hassan has promised to get the name and
destination of every passenger that leaves New Delos.”

Ronny sat down at a table and dialed himself a mug of stout. “Drink?” he
said to Tog. “Possibly we’ve got something to celebrate.”

She shook her head disapprovingly. “I don’t use depressants.”

There was nothing more to be discussed about New Delos, they simply would
have to wait until their arrival. Ronny switched subjects. “Ever hear of
the planet Shangri-La?” he asked her. He took a sip of his brew.

“Of course,” she said. “A rather small planet, Earth type within four
degrees. Noted for its near perfect climate and its scenic beauty.”

“Captain was talking about it,” Ronny said. “Sounds like a regular
paradise.”

Tog made a negative sound.

“Well, what’s wrong with Shangri-La?” Ronny said impatiently.

“Static,” she said briefly.

He looked at her. “It sounds to me as though it’s developed a near perfect
socio-economic system. What do you mean, static?”

“No push, no drive,” Tog said definitely. “Everyone—what is the old
term?—everyone has it made. The place is stagnating. I wouldn’t be
surprised to see Tommy Paine show up there sooner or later.”

Ronny said, “Look, since we’ve known each other, have I ever said anything
you agree with?”

Tog raised her delicate eyebrows. “Why, Ronny. You know perfectly well we
both agreed that the eggs for breakfast were quite inedible.”

Ronny came to his feet again. Considering her size, she certainly was an
irritating baggage. “I think I’ll go to my room and see if I can get any
inspirations on tracking down our quarry.”

“Good night, Ronny,” she said demurely.

                  -------------------------------------

They ran into a minor difficulty upon arrival at New Delos. The captain
called both Ronny Bronston and Tog Lee Chang Chu to the bridge.

He nodded in the direction of the communications screen. A bald headed,
robed character—obviously a priest—scowled at them.

Captain Woiski said, “The Sub-Bishop informs me that the provisional
government has ruled that any spacecraft landing on New Delos cannot take
off again without permission and that every individual who lands, even
United Planets personnel, will need an exit visa before being allowed to
depart.”

Ronny said, “Then you can’t land?”

The captain said reasonably, “My destination is Merlini. I’ve gone out of
my way slightly to drop you off here. But I can’t afford to take the
chance of having my ship tied up for what might be an indefinite period.
Evidently, there’s considerably civil disorder down there.”

From the screen the priest snapped, “That is an inaccurate manner of
describing the situation.”

“Sorry,” the captain said dryly.

Ronny Bronston said desperately, “But, captain, Miss Tog and I simply have
to land.” He reached for his badge. “High priority, Bureau of
Investigation.”

The captain shrugged his hefty shoulders. “Sorry, I have no instructions
that allow me to risk tying up my ship. Here’s a possibility. Can you
pilot a landing craft? I could spare you one, then you and your assistant
would be the only ones involved. You could turn it over to whatever Space
Forces base we have here.”

Ronny said miserably, “No. I’m not a space pilot.”

“I am,” Tog said softly. “The idea sounds excellent.”

“We shall expect you,” the Sub-Bishop said. The screen went blank.

Tog Lee Chang Chu piloted a landing craft with the same verve that she
seemed to be able to handle any other responsibility. As he sat in the
seat next to her, Ronny Bronston took in her practiced flicking of the
controls from the side of his eyes. He wondered vaguely at the efficiency
of such Section G officials as Metaxa and Jakes that they would assign an
unknown quality such as himself to a task as important as running down
Tommy Paine, and then as an assistant provide him with an experienced
operative such as Tog. The bureaucratic mind can be a dilly, he decided.
Was the fact that she was a rather delicately constructed girl a factor?
He felt the weight of the Model-H gun nestled under his left armpit.
Perhaps in the clutch Section G preferred men as agents.

They swooped into a landing that brought them as close to the control
tower as was practical. In a matter of moments there was a guard of twenty
or more sloppily uniformed men about their small craft.

Tog made a move. “Welcoming committee,” she said.

                             [Illustration.]

They climbed out the circular port, and flashed their United Planets
Bureau of Investigation badges to the youngish looking soldier who seemed
in command. He was indecisive.

“United Planets?” he said. “All I know is I’m supposed to arrest anybody
landing.”

Ronny snapped, “We’re to be taken immediately to United Planets
headquarters.”

“Well, I don’t know about that. I don’t take orders from foreigners.”

One of his men was nervously fingering the trigger of his submachine gun.

Ronny’s mouth went dry. He had the feeling of being high, high on a rock
face, inadequately belayed from above.

Tog said smoothly, “But, major, I’m sure whoever issued your orders had no
expectation of a special delegation from the United Planets coming to
congratulate your new authorities on their success. Of course, it’s
unknown to arrest a delegation from United Planets.”

“It is?” he frowned at her. “I mean, you are?”

“Yes,” Tog said sweetly.

Ronny took the hint. “Where can we find a vehicle, major, to get us to the
capital and to United Planets headquarters? Evidently we arrived before we
were expected. There should have been a big welcoming committee here.”

“Oh,” the obviously recently promoted lad said hesitantly. “Well, I
suppose we can make arrangements. This way please.” He grinned at Tog as
they walked toward the administration building. “Do all girls dress like
you on Earth?”

“Well, no,” she said demurely.

“That’s too bad,” he said gallantly.

“Why, major!” Tog said, keeping her eyes on the tarmac.

At the administration building there was little of order, but eventually
they managed to arrange for their transportation. Luckily, they were
supplied with a chauffeur driven helio-car.

Luckily, because without the chauffeur to help them run the gauntlet they
would have been held up by parades, demonstrations and monstrous street
meetings a dozen times before they ever reached their destination. Twice,
Ronny stopped short of drawing his gun only by a fraction when half
drunken demonstrators stopped them.

The driver, a wispy, sad looking type, shook his head. “There’s no going
back now,” he told them over his shoulder. “No going back. Last week I was
all with the rest, I never did believe David the One was really Immortal.
But you was just used to the idea, see? It’d always been that way, with
the priests running everything and we was used to it. Now I wish we was
still that way. At least you knew how you stood, see? Now, what’s going to
happen?”

“That’s an interesting question,” Tog said politely.

Ronny said, “Possibly you’ll have the chance to build a better world,
now.”

The driver shot a contemptuous look over his shoulder. “Better world? What
do I want with a better world? I just don’t want to be bothered. I’ve been
getting my three squares a day, got a nice little flat for my family. How
do I know it’s not going to be a worse world?”

“That’s always a possibility,” Tog told him. “Do most people seem to feel
the same?”

“Practically everybody I know does,” he said glumly. “But the fat’s in the
fire now. The priests are trying to hold on but their government is
falling apart all over the place.”

“Well,” Ronny said, “at least you can figure just about anything in the
way of a new government will be better than one based on superstition and
inquisition. It couldn’t get worse.”

“Things can always get worse,” the other contradicted him sadly.

                  -------------------------------------

They left the cab before an impressively tall, many windowed building in
city center. As they mounted the steps, Ronny frowned at her. “You seemed
to be encouraging that man in his pessimism. So far as I can see, the best
thing that ever happened to this planet was toppling that phony
priesthood.”

“Perhaps,” she said agreeably. “However, the man’s mind was an ossified
one. A surprisingly large percentage of people have them, especially when
it comes to institutions such as religion and government. We weren’t going
to be able to teach him anything, but it was possible to learn from him.”

Ronny grunted his disgust. “What could we possibly learn from him?”

Tog said mildly, “We could learn what people of the street were thinking.
It might give us some ideas about what direction the new government will
take.”

They approached the portals of the building and were halted by an armed
Space Forces guard of half a dozen men. Their sergeant saluted, taking in
their obvious other-planet clothing.

“Identifications, please,” he said briskly.

They showed their badges and were passed on through. Ronny said to him,
“Much trouble, sergeant?”

The other shrugged. “No. Just precautions, sir. We’ve been here only three
or four weeks. Civil disturbance. We’re used to it. Were over on Montezuma
two basic months ago. Now there was _real_ trouble. Had to shoot our way
out.”

Tog called, “Coming Ronny? I have this elevator waiting.”

He followed her, scowling. An idea was trying to work its way through.
Somehow he missed getting it.

Headquarters of the Department of Justice were on the eighth floor. A
receptionist clerk led them through three or four doors to the single
office which housed Section G.

A red eyed, exhausted agent looked up from the sole desk and snarled a
question at them. Ronny didn’t get it, but Tog said mildly, “Probationary
Agent Ronald Bronston and Tog Lee Chang Chu. On special assignment.” She
flicked open her badge so that the other could see it.

His manner changed. “Sorry,” he said, getting up to shake hands. “I’m
Mouley Hassan, in charge of Section G on New Delos. We’ve just had a
crisis here, as you can imagine. The worst of it’s now over.” He added
sourly, “I hope. All my assistants have already taken off for Avalon.” He
was a short statured, dark complected man, his features betraying his
Semitic background.

Ronny shook hands with him and said, “Sorry to bother you at a time like
this.”

They found chairs and Mouley Hassan flicked a key on his order box and
said to them, “How about a drink? They make a wonderful sparkling wine on
this planet. Trust any theocracy to have top potables.”

Ronny accepted the offer, Tog refused it politely. She sat demurely, her
hands in her lap.

Mouley Hassan ran a weary hand through already mussed hair. “What’s this
special assignment you’re on?”

Ronny said, “Commissioner Metaxa has sent me looking for Tommy Paine.”

“Tommy Paine!” the other blurted. “At a time like this, when I haven’t had
three nights’ sleep in the last three basic weeks, you come around looking
for Tommy Paine?”

Ronny was taken aback. “Sid Jakes seemed to think this might be one of
Paine’s jobs.”

Tog said mildly, “What better place to look for Tommy Paine, than in a
situation like this, Agent Hassan?” Her eyebrows went up. “Or don’t you
think the quest for Paine is an important one?”

The other subsided somewhat. “I suppose you’re right,” he said. “I’m
deathly tired. Do whatever you want. But don’t expect much from me.”

Tog said, just a trifle tartly, Ronny thought, “We’ll have to call on you,
as usual, Agent Hassan. There’s probably no single job in Section G more
important than the pursuit of Tommy Paine.”

“All right, all right,” Mouley Hassan admitted. “I’ll co-operate. How long
have you been away from Earth?” he said to Ronny.

“About one basic week.”

“Oh,” he grunted. “This is your first stop, eh? Well, I don’t envy you
your job.” He brought a cool bottle from a delivery drawer in the desk
along with two glasses. “Here’s the wine.”

Ronny leaned forward to accept the glass. “This situation here,” he said,
“do you think it can be laid to Paine?”

Mouley Hassan shrugged wearily. “I don’t know.”

Ronny sipped the drink, looking at the tired agent over the glass rim.
“From what we understand, check has been kept on all persons leaving the
planet since the bombing.”

“Check is right. There’s only one ship that took off and it carried nobody
except my assistants. If you ask me, I still needed them, but some brass
hat back on Earth decided they were more necessary over on Avalon.” He was
disgusted.

Ronny put the glass down. “You mean only one ship’s left this planet since
the God-King was killed?”

“That’s right. It was like pulling teeth to get the visas.”

“How many men aboard?”

Mouley Hassan looked at him speculatively. “Four-man crew and six Section
G operatives.”

Tog said brightly, “Why, that means, then, that either Tommy Paine is
still on this planet, or he’s one of the passengers or crew members of
that ship.” She added, “That is, of course, unless he had a private craft,
hidden away somewhere.”

Ronny slumped back into his chair as some of the ramifications came home
to him. “If it was Tommy Paine at all,” he said.

Mouley Hassan nodded. “That’s always a point.” He finished his glass and
looked pleadingly at Tog. “Look, I have work. If I can finish some of it,
I might have time for some sleep. Couldn’t we postpone the search for
Tommy Paine.”

Tog said nothing to him.

Ronny came to his feet. “We’ll get along. A couple of ideas occur to me.
I’ll check with you later.”

“Fine,” the agent said. He shook hands with them again. He said, somehow
more to Tog than to Ronny, “I know how important your job is. It’s just
that I’ve been pushed to the point where I can’t operate efficiently.”

She smiled her understanding, gave him her small, delicate hand.

In the elevator, Ronny said to her, “Why should this sort of thing
particularly affect Section G?”

Tog said, “It’s times like this that planets drop out of the UP. Or,
possibly, get into the hands of some jingoistic military group and start
off halfcocked to provoke a war with some other planet, or to missionarize
or propagandize it.” She thought about it a moment. “A new revolution, in
government or religion, seems almost invariably to want to spread the
light. An absolute compulsion to bring to others the new truths that
they’ve found.” She added, her voice holding a trace of mockery, “Usually
the new truths are rather hoary ones, and there are few interested in
hearing them.”

                  -------------------------------------

They spent their first day in getting accommodations in a centrally
located hotel, in making arrangements, through the Department of Justice,
for the local means of exchange—it turned out to be coinage, based on
gold—and getting the feel of their surroundings.

Evidently Delos, the capital city of the planet New Delos, was but slowly
emerging from the chaos that had taken over on the assassination. A
provisional government, composed of representatives of half a dozen
different organizations which had sprung up like mushrooms following the
collapse of the regime, had assumed power. Elections had been promised and
were to be brought off when arrangements could be made.

Meanwhile, the actual government was still largely in the hands of the
lower echelons of the priesthood. A nervous priesthood it was, seemingly
desirous of getting out from under while the going was good, afraid of
being held responsible for former excesses.

Ronny Bronston, high hopes still in his head, looked up the Sub-Bishop who
had given them landing orders while they were still aboard the Space
Forces cruiser. Tog was off making arrangements for various details
involved in their being in Delos in its time of crisis.

A dozen times, on his way over to keep his appointment with the official,
Ronny had to step into doorways, or in other wise make himself
inconspicuous. Gangs of demonstrators roamed the street, some of them
drunken, looking for trouble, and scornful of police or the military.
Twice, when it looked as though he might be roughed up, Ronny drew his gun
and held it in open sight, ready for use, but not threateningly. The
demonstrators made off.

His throat was dry by the time he reached his destination. The life of a
Section G agent, on interplanetary assignment, had its drawbacks.

The Sub-Bishop had formerly been in charge of Interplanetary
Communications which involved commerce as well as intercourse with United
Planets. It must have been an ultra-responsible position only a month ago.
Now his offices were all but deserted.

He looked at Ronny’s badge, only vaguely interested. “Section G of the
Bureau of Investigation,” he said. “I don’t believe I am aware of your
responsibilities. However,” he nodded with sour courtesy, “please be
seated. You must forgive my lack of ability to offer refreshment. Isn’t
there an old tradition about rats deserting a sinking ship? I am afraid my
former assistants had rodentlike instincts.”

Ronny said, “Section G deals with Interplanetary Security, sir—”

“I am addressed as Holiness,” the other said.

Ronny looked at him. “Sorry,” he said. “I am a citizen of the United
Planets, not any one planet, even Earth. UP citizens have complete
religious freedom. In my case I am unaffiliated with any church.”

The Sub-Bishop let it pass. He said sourly, “I am afraid that even here on
New Delos, I am seldom honoured by my title any more. Go on, you say you
deal with Interplanetary Security.”

“That’s correct. In cases like this we’re interested in checking to see if
there is any possibility that citizens of planets other than New Delos are
involved in your internal affairs.”

The other’s eyes were suddenly slits. He said, heavily, “You suspect that
David the One was assassinated by an alien?”

Ronny had to tread carefully here. “I make no such suggestion. I am merely
here to check on the possibility. If such was the case, my duty would be
to arrest the man, or men.”

“If we got hold of him, you’d have small chance of asserting your
authority,” the priest growled. “What did you want to know?”

“I understand that no interplanetary craft have left New Delos since the
assassination.”

“None except a United Planets ship which was carefully inspected.”

Ronny said tightly, “But what facilities do you have to check on secret
spaceports, possibly located in some remote desert or mountain area?”

The New Delian laughed sourly. “There is no other planet in all the United
Planets with our degree of security. We even imported the most recent
developments in artificial satellites equipped with the most delicate of
detection devices. I assure you, it is utterly impossible for a spacecraft
to land or take off from New Delos without our knowledge.”

Ronny Bronston’s eyes lit with excitement. “These security measures of
yours. To what extent do you keep under observation all aliens on the
planet?”

The priest’s chuckle had a nasty quality. “You are quite ignorant of our
institutions, evidently. Every person on New Delos, in every way of life,
was under constant survey from the cradle to the grave. Aliens were highly
discouraged. When they appeared on New Delos at all, they were restricted
in their movements to this, our capital city.”

Ronny let air whistle from his lungs. “Then,” he said triumphantly, “if
any alien had anything to do with this, he is still on the planet. Can you
get me a list of all aliens?”

The other laughed again, still sourly. “But there are none. None except
you employees of United Planets. I’m afraid you’re on a wild-goose chase.”

Ronny stared at him blankly. “But commercial representatives, cultural
exchange—”

The priest said flatly, “No. None at all. All commerce was handled through
UP. We encouraged no cultural exchanges. We wished to keep our people
uncorrupted. United Planets alone had the right to land on our one
spaceport.”

The Section G agent came to his feet. This was much simpler than he could
ever have hoped for. He thanked the other, but avoided the necessity of
shaking hands, and left.

                  -------------------------------------

He found a helio-cab and dialed it to the UP building, finding strange the
necessity of slipping coins into the vehicle’s slots until the correct
amount for his destination had been deposited. Coinage was no longer in
use on Earth.

At the UP building he retraced his steps of the day before to the single
office of Section G.

To his surprise, not only Mouley Hassan was there, but Tog as well. Hassan
had evidently had at least a few hours of sleep. He was in better shape.

They exchanged the usual amenities and took their chairs again.

Hassan said, “We were just gossiping. It’s been years since I’ve been in
Greater Washington. Lee Chang tells me that Sid Jakes is now a Supervisor.
I worked with him for a while, when I first joined Section G. How about a
glass of wine?”

Ronny said, “Look. If Tommy Paine was connected with this, and it’s almost
positive he was, we’ve got him.”

The others looked at him.

“You’ve evidently been busy,” Tog said mildly.

He turned to her. “He’s trapped, Tog! He can’t get off the planet.”

Mouley Hassan rubbed a hand through his hair. “It’d be hard, all right.
They’ve got the people under rein here such as you’ve never seen before.
Or they did until this blew up.”

Ronny sketched the situation to Tog, winding up with, “The only thing that
makes sense is that it’s a Tommy Paine job. The local citizens would never
have been able to get their hands on such a bomb, or been able to have
made the arrangements for its delivery. They’re under too much
surveillance.”

Tog said thoughtfully, “but how did he escape all this surveillance?”

“Don’t you understand? He’s working here, in this building, as an employee
of UP. There is no other alternative.”

They stared at him.

“I think perhaps you’re right,” Tog said finally.

Ronny turned to Mouley Hassan. “Can you get a list of all UP employees?”

“Of course.” He flicked his order box, barked a command into it.

Ronny said, “It’s going to be a matter of eliminating the impossible. For
instance, what is the earliest known case of Tommy Paine’s activity?”

Tog thought back. “So far as we know definitely, about twenty-two years
ago.”

“Fine,” Ronny said, increasingly excited. “That will eliminate all persons
less than, say, forty years of age. We can assume he was at least twenty
when he began.”

Hassan said, “Can we eliminate all women employees?”

Ronny said, “I’d think so. The few times he’s been seen, all reports are
of a man. And that case on the planet Mother where he put himself over as
a Holy Man. He could hardly have been a woman in disguise in a Stone Age
culture such as that.”

Hassan said, “And this Tommy Paine has been flitting around this part of
the galaxy for years, so anyone who has been here steadily for a period of
even a couple of years or so, can’t be suspect.”

Mouley Hassan thrust his hand into a delivery drawer and brought forth a
handful of punched cards, possibly fifty in all.

“Surely there’s more people than that working in this building,” Ronny
protested.

Mouley Hassan said, “No. I’ve eliminated already everyone who is a citizen
of New Delos. Obviously, Tommy Paine is an alien. We have only forty-eight
Earthlings and other United Planets citizens working here.”

He carried the cards to a small collator and worked for a moment on its
controls, as Tog and Ronny watched him with mounting tension. “Let’s see,”
he muttered. “We eliminate all women, all those less than forty, all who
haven’t done a great deal of travel, those who have been here for several
years.”

The end of it was that they eliminated everyone employed in the UP
building.

The cards were stacked back on Mouley Hassan’s desk again, and the three
of them sat around and looked glumly at them.

Ronny said, “He’s tinkered with the files. He counterfeited fake papers
for himself, or something. Possibly he’s pulled his own card and it isn’t
in this stack you have.”

Mouley Hassan said, “We’ll double-check all those possibilities, but
you’re wrong. Possibly a few hundred years ago, but not today. Forgery and
counterfeiting are things of the past. And, believe me, the Bureau of
Investigation and especially Section G, may look on the slipshod side, but
they aren’t. We’re not going to find anything wrong with those cards.
Tommy Paine simply is not working for UP on New Delos.”

“Then,” Ronny said, “there’s only one alternative. He’s on this UP ship
going to, what was the name of its destination?”

“Avalon,” Mouley Hassan said, his face thoughtful.

Tog said, “Do you have any ideas on the men aboard?”

Mouley Hassan said, “There were four crew men, and six of our agents.”

Tog said, “Unless one of them has faked papers, the six agents are
eliminated. That leaves the crew members. Do you know anything about
them?”

Hassan shook his head.

Ronny said, “Let’s communicate with Avalon. Tell our representatives there
to be sure that none of the occupants of that ship leaves Avalon until we
get there.”

Mouley Hassan said, “Good idea.” He turned to his screen and said into it,
“Section G, Bureau of Investigation, on the Planet Avalon.”

In moment the screen lit up. An elderly agent, as Section G agents seemed
to go, looked up at them.

Mouley Hassan held his silver badge so the other could see it and on the
Avalon agent’s nod said, “I’m Hassan from New Delos. We’ve just had a
crisis here and there seems to be a chance that it’s a Tommy Paine job.
Agent Bronston here is on an assignment tracking him down. I’ll turn it
over to Bronston.”

The Avalon agent nodded again, and looked at Ronny.

Ronny said urgently, “We haven’t the time to give you details, but every
indication is that Paine is on a UP spacecraft with Avalon as its
destination. There are only ten men aboard, and six of them are Section G
operatives.”

The other pursed his lips. “I see. You think you have the old fox
cornered, eh?”

“Possibly,” Ronny said. “There are various ifs. Miss Tog and I can double
check here. Then as soon as we can clear exit visas, we’ll make immediate
way for Avalon.”

The Avalon Section G agent said, “I haven’t the authority to control the
movements of other agents, they have as high rank as I have,” he added,
expressionlessly, “and probably higher than yours.”

Ronny said, “But the four-man crew?”

The other said, “These men are coming to Avalon to work on a job that will
take at least six months. We’ll make a routine check, and I’ll try and
make sure the whole ten will still be on Avalon when and if you arrive.”

They had to be satisfied with that. They checked all ways from the middle,
nor did it take long. There was no doubt. If this was a Tommy Paine job,
and it almost surely was, then there was only one way in which he could
have escaped from the planet and that was by the single spacecraft that
had left, destination Avalon. He was not on the planet, that was definite
Ronny felt. A stranger on New Delos was as conspicuous as a walrus in a
goldfish bowl. There simply were no such.

They spent most of their time checking and rechecking United Planets
personnel, but there was no question there either.

Mouley Hassan and others of UP personnel helped cut the red tape involved
in getting exit visas from New Delos. It wasn’t as complicated as it might
have been a week or two before. No one seemed to be so confident of his
authority in the new provisional government that he dared veto a United
Planets request.

Mouley Hassan was able to arrange for a small space yacht, slower than a
military craft, but capable of getting them to Avalon in a few days time.
A one-man crew was sufficient, Ronny, and especially Tog, could spell him
on the watches.

Time aboard was spent largely in studying up on Avalon, going over and
over again anything known about the elusive Tommy Paine, and playing
Battle Chess and bickering with Tog Lee Chang Chu.

If it hadn’t been for this ability to argue against just about anything
Ronny managed to say, he could have been attracted to her to the detriment
of the job. She was a good traveler, few people are; she was an
ultra-efficient assistant; she was a joy to look at; and she never
intruded. But, Great Guns, the woman could bicker.

The two of them were studying in the ship’s luxurious lounge when Ronny
looked up and said, “Do you have any idea why those six agents were sent
to Avalon?”

“No,” she said.

He indicated the booklet he was reading. “From what I can see here, it
sounds like one of the most advanced planets in the UP. They’ve made some
of the most useful advances in industrial techniques of the past century.”

“Oh, I don’t know,” Tog mused. “I haven’t much regard for Industrial
Feudalism myself. It starts off with a bang, but tends to go sterile.”

“Industrial feudalism,” he said indignantly. “What do you mean? The
government is a constitutional monarchy with the king merely a powerless
symbol. The standard of living is high. Elections are honest and
democratic. They’ve got a three-party system....”

“Which is largely phony,” Tog interrupted. “You’ve got to do some reading
between the lines, especially when the books you’re reading are turned out
by the industrial feudalistic publishing companies in Avalon.”

“What’s this industrial feudalism, you keep talking about? Avalon has a
system of free enterprise.”

“A gobbledygook term,” Tog said, irritatingly. “Industrial feudalism is a
socio-economic system that develops when industrial wealth is concentrated
into the hands of a comparatively few families. It finally gets to the
point of a closed circle all but impossible to break into. These
industrial feudalistic families become so powerful that only in rare
instances can anyone lift himself into their society. They dominate every
field, including the so-called labor unions, which amount to one of the
biggest businesses of all. With their unlimited resources they even own
every means of dispensing information.”

“You mean,” Ronny argued, “that on Avalon you can’t start up a newspaper
of your own and say whatever you wish?”

“Certainly you can, theoretically. If you have the resources.
Unfortunately, such enterprises become increasingly expensive to start. Or
you could start a radio, TV or Tri-Di station—if you had the resources.
However, even if you overcame all your handicaps and your newspaper or
broadcasting station became a success, the industrial feudalistic families
in control of Avalon’s publishing and broadcasting fields have the endless
resources to buy you out, or squeeze you out, by one nasty means or
another.”

Ronny snorted. “Well, the people must be satisfied or they’d vote some
fundamental changes.”

Tog nodded. “They’re satisfied, and no wonder. Since childhood every means
of forming their opinions have been in the hands of industrial feudalistic
families—including the schools.”

“You mean the schools are private?”

“No, they don’t have to be. The government is completely dominated by the
fifty or so families which for all practical purposes own Avalon. That
includes the schools. Some of the higher institutions of learning are
private, but they, too, are largely dependent upon grants from the
families.”

                  -------------------------------------

Ronny was irritated by her know-all air. He tapped the book he’d been
reading with a finger. “They don’t control the government. Avalon’s got a
three-party system. Any time the people don’t like the government, they
can vote in an alternative.”

“That’s an optical illusion. There are three parties, but each is
dominated by the fifty families, and election laws are such that for all
practical purposes it’s impossible to start another party. Theoretically
it’s possible, actually it isn’t. The voters can vary back and forth
between the three political parties but it doesn’t make any difference
which one they elect. They all stand for the same thing—a continuation of
the status quo.”

“Then you claim it isn’t democracy at all?”

Tog sighed. “That’s a much abused word. Actually, pure democracy is seldom
seen. They pretty well had it in primitive society where government was
based on the family. You voted for one of your relatives in your clan to
represent you in the tribal councils. Every one in the tribe was equal so
far as apportionments of the necessities of life were concerned. No one,
even the tribal chiefs, ate better than anyone else, no one had a better
home.”

Ronny said, snappishly, “And if man had remained at that level, we’d never
have gotten anywhere.”

“That’s right,” she said. “For progress, man needed a leisure class.
Somebody with the time to study, to experiment, to work things out.”

He said, “We’re getting away from the point. You said in spite of
appearances they don’t have democracy on Avalon.”

“They have a pretense of it. But only free men can practice democracy. So
long as your food, clothing and shelter are controlled by someone else,
you aren’t free. Wait until I think of an example.” She put her right
forefinger to her chin, thoughtfully.

Holy smokes, she was a cute trick. If only she wasn’t so confounded
irritating.

Tog said, “Do you remember the State of California in Earth history?”

“I think so. On the west coast of North America.”

“That’s right. Well, back in the Twentieth Century, Christian calendar,
they had an economic depression. During it a crackpot organization called
Thirty Dollars Every Thursday managed to get itself on the ballot. Times
were bad enough but had this particular bunch got into power it would have
become chaotic. At first no thinking person took them seriously, however a
majority of people in California at that time had little to lose and in
the final week or so of the election campaign the polls showed that Thirty
Dollars Every Thursday was going to win. So, a few days before voting many
of the larger industries and businesses in the State ran full page ads in
the newspapers. They said substantially the same thing. _If Thirty Dollars
Every Thursday wins this election, our concern will close its doors. Do
not bother to come back to work Monday._”

Ronny was scowling at her. “What’s your point?”

She shrugged delicate shoulders. “The crackpots were defeated, of course,
which was actually good for California. But my point is that the voters of
California were not actually free since their livelihoods were controlled
by others. This is an extreme case, of course, but the fact always
applies.”

A thought suddenly hit Ronny Bronston. “Look,” he said. “Tommy Paine. Do
you think he’s merely escaping from New Delos, or is it possible that
Avalon is his next destination? Is he going to try and overthrow the
government there?”

She was shaking her head, but frowning. “I don’t think so. Things are
quite stable on Avalon.”

“Stable?” he scowled at her. “From what you’ve been saying, they’re pretty
bad.”

She continued to shake her head. “Don’t misunderstand, Ronny. On an
assignment like this, it’s easy to get the impression that all the United
Planets are in a state of socio-political confusion, but it isn’t so. A
small minority of planets are ripe for the sort of trouble Tommy Paine
stirs up. Most are working away, developing, making progress, slowly
evolving. Avalon is one of these. The way things are there, Tommy Paine
couldn’t make a dent on changing things, even if he wanted to, and there’s
no particular reason to believe he does.”

Ronny growled. “From what I can learn of the guy he’s anxious to stir up
trouble wherever he goes.”

“I don’t know. If there’s any pattern at all in his activities, it seems
to be that he picks spots where things are ripe to boil over on their own.
He acts as a catalyst. In a place like Avalon he wouldn’t get to first
base. Possibly fifty years from now, things will have developed on Avalon
to the point where there is dissatisfaction. By that time,” she said
dryly, “we’ll assume Tommy Paine will no longer be a problem to the
Commissariat of Interplanetary Affairs for one reason or the other.”

Ronny took up his book again. He growled, “I can’t figure out his
motivation. If I could just put my finger on that.”

For once she agreed with him. “I’ve got an idea, Ronny, that once you have
that, you’ll have Tommy Paine.”

                  -------------------------------------

They drew blank on Avalon.

Or, at least, it was drawn for them before they ever arrived.

The Section G agent permanently assigned to that planet had already
checked and double checked the possibilities. None of the four-man crew of
the UP spacecraft had been on New Delos at the time of the assassination
of the God-King. They, and their craft, had been light-years away on
another job.

Ronny Bronston couldn’t believe it. He simply couldn’t believe it.

The older agent, his name was Jheru Bulchand, was definite. He went over
it with Ronny and Tog in a bar adjoining UP headquarters. He had dossiers
on each of the ten men, detailed dossiers. On the face of it, none of them
could be Paine.

“But one of them has to be,” Ronny pleaded. He explained their method of
eliminating the forty-eight employees of UP on New Delos.

Bulchand shrugged. “You’ve got holes in that method of elimination. You’re
assuming Tommy Paine is an individual, and you have no reason to. My own
theory is that it’s an organization.”

Ronny said unhappily, “Then you’re of the opinion that there is a Tommy
Paine?”

The older agent was puffing comfortably on an old style briar pipe. He
nodded definitely. “I believe Tommy Paine exists as an organization.
Possibly once, originally, it was a single person, but now it’s a group.
How large, I wouldn’t know. Probably not too large or by this time
somebody would have betrayed it, or somebody would have cracked and we
would have caught them. Catch one and you’ve got the whole organization
what with our modern means of interrogation.”

Tog said, “I’ve heard the opinion before.”

Jheru Bulchand pointed at Ronny with his pipe stem. “If its an
organization, then none of that eliminating you did is valid. Your
assassin could have been one of the women. He could have been one of the
men you eliminated as too young—someone recently admitted to the Tommy
Paine organization.”

Ronny checked the last of his theories. “Why did Section G send six of its
agents here?”

“Nothing to do with Tommy Paine,” Bulchand said. “It’s a different sort of
crisis.”

“Just for my own satisfaction, what kind of crisis?”

Bulchand sketched it quickly. “There are two Earth type planets in this
solar system. Avalon was the first to be colonized and developed rapidly.
After a couple of centuries, Avalonians went over and settled on Catalina.
They eventually set up a government of their own. Now Avalon has a surplus
of industrial products. Her economic system is such that she produces more
than she can sell back to her own people. There’s a glut.”

Tog said demurely, “So, of course, they want to dump it in Catalina.”

Bulchand nodded. “In fact, they’re willing to give it away. They’ve
offered to build railroads, turn over ships and aircraft, donate whole
factories to Catalina’s slowly developing economy.”

Ronny said, “Well, how does that call for Section G agents?”

“Catalina has evoked Article Two of the UP Charter. No member planet of UP
is to interfere with the internal political, socio-economic or religious
affairs of another member planet. Avalon claims the Charter doesn’t apply
since Catalina belongs to the same solar system and since she’s a former
colony. We’re trying to smooth the whole thing over, before Avalon dreams
up some excuse for military action.”

Ronny stared at him. “I get the feeling every other sentence is being left
out of your explanation. It just doesn’t make sense. In the first place,
why is Avalon as anxious as all that to give away what sounds like a
fantastic amount of goods?”

“I told you, they have a glut. They’ve overproduced and, as a result,
they’ve got a king-size depression on their hands, or will have unless
they find markets.”

“Well, why not trade with some of the planets that want her products?”

Tog said as though reasoning with a youngster, “Planets outside her own
solar system are too far away for it to be practical even if she had
commodities they didn’t. She needs a nearby planet more backward than
herself, a planet like Catalina.”

“Well, that brings us to the more fantastic question. Why in the world
doesn’t Catalina accept? It sounds to me like pure philanthropy on the
part of Avalon.”

Bulchand was wagging his pipe stem in a negative gesture. “Bronston,
governments are never motivated by idealistic reasons. Individuals might
be, and even small groups, but governments never. Governments, including
that of Avalon, exist for the benefit of the class or classes that control
them. The only things that motivate them are the interests of that class.”

“Well, this sounds like an exception,” Ronny said argumentatively. “How
can Catalina lose if the Avalonians grant them railroads, factories and
all the rest of it?”

Tog said, “Don’t you see, Ronny? It gives Avalon a foothold in the
Catalina economy. When the locomotives wear out on the railroad, new
engines, new parts, must be purchased. They won’t be available on Catalina
because there will be no railroad industry because none will have ever
grown up. Catalina manufacturers couldn’t compete with that initial free
gift. They’ll be dependent on Avalon for future equipment. In the
factories, when machines wear out, they will be replaceable only with the
products of Avalon’s industry.”

Bulchand said, “There’s an analogy in the early history of the United
States. When its fledgling steel industry began, they set up a high tariff
to protect it against British competition. The British were amazed and
indignant, pointing out that they could sell American steel products at
one third the local prices, if only allowed to do so. The United States
said no thanks, it didn’t want to be tied, industrially, to Great
Britain’s apron strings. And in a couple of decades American steel
production passed England’s. In a couple of more decades American steel
production was many times that of England’s and she was taking British
markets away from her all over the globe.”

“At any rate,” Ronny said, “it’s not a Tommy Paine matter.”

Just for luck, though, Ronny and Tog double checked all over again on
Bulchand’s efforts. They interviewed all six of the Section G agents. Each
of them carried a silver badge that gleamed only for the individual who
possessed it. All of which eliminated the possibility that Paine had
assumed the identity of a Section G operative. So that was out.

They checked the four crew members, but there was no doubt there, either.
The craft had been far away at the time of the assassination on New Delos.

On the third day, Ronny Bronston, disgusted, knocked on the door of Tog’s
hotel room. The door screen lit up and Tog, looking out at him said, “Oh,
come on in, Ronny, I was just talking to Earth.”

He entered.

Tog had set up her Section G communicator on a desk top and Sid Jakes’
grinning face was in the tiny, brilliant screen. Ronny approached close
enough for the other to take him in.

Jakes said happily, “Hi, Ronny, no luck, eh?”

Ronny shook his head, trying not to let his face portray his feelings of
defeat. This after all was a probationary assignment, and the supervisor
had the power to send Ronny Bronston back to the drudgery of his office
job at Population Statistics.

“Still working on it. I suppose it’s a matter of returning to New Delos
and grinding away at the forty-eight employees of the UP there.”

Sid Jakes pursed his lips. “I don’t know. Possibly this whole thing was a
false alarm. At any rate, there seems to be a hotter case on the fire. If
our local agents have it straight, Paine is about to pull one of his coups
on Kropotkin. This is a top-top-secret, of course, one of the few times
we’ve ever detected him before the act.”

Ronny was suddenly alert, his fatigue of disgust of but a moment ago,
completely forgotten. “Where?” he said.

“Kropotkin,” Jakes said. “One of the most backward planets in UP and
seemingly a setup for Paine’s sort of trouble making. The authorities, if
you can use the term applied to Kropotkin, are already complaining,
threatening to invoke Article One of the Charter, or to resign from UP.”
Jake looked at Tog again. “Do you know Kropotkin, Lee Chang?”

She shook her head. “I’ve heard of it, rather vaguely. Named after some
old anarchist, I believe.”

“That’s the place. One of the few anarchist societies in UP. You don’t
hear much from them.” He turned to Ronny again. “I think that’s your bet.
Hop to it, boy. We’re going to catch this Tommy Paine guy, or
organization, or whatever, soon or United Planets is going to know it. We
can’t keep the lid on indefinitely. If word gets around of his activities,
then we’ll lose member planets like Christmas trees shedding needles after
New Year’s.” He grinned widely. “That’s sounds like a neat trick, eh?”

                  -------------------------------------

Ronny Bronston had got to the point where he avoided controversial
subjects with Tog even when provoked and she had a sneaky little way of
provoking arguments. They had only one really knock down and drag-out
verbal battle on the way to Kropotkin.

It had started innocently enough after dinner on the space liner on which
they had taken passage for the first part of the trip. To kill time they
were playing Battle Chess with its larger board and added contingents of
pawns and castles.

Ronny said idly, “You know, in spite of the fact that I’m a third
generation United Planets citizen and employee, I’m just beginning to
realize how far out some of our member planets are. I had no idea before.”

She frowned in concentration, before moving. She was advancing her men in
echelon attack, taking losses in exchange for territory and trying to pen
him up in such small space that he couldn’t maneuver.

She said, “How do you mean?”

Ronny lifted and dropped a shoulder. “Well, New Delos and its theocracy,
for instance, and Shangri-La and Mother and some of the other planets with
extremes in government of socio-economic system. I hadn’t the vaguest idea
about such places.”

She made a deprecating sound. “You should see Amazonia, or, for that
matter, the Orwellian State.”

“_Amazonia_,” he said, “does that mean what it sounds like it does?”

She made her move and settled back in satisfaction. Her pawns were in such
position that his bishops were both unusable. He’d tried to play a phalanx
game in the early stages of her attack, but she’d broken through, rolling
up his left flank after sacrificing a castle and a knight.

“Certainly does,” she said. “A fairly recently colonized planet. A few
thousand feminists no men at all—moved onto it a few centuries ago. And
it’s still an out and out matriarchy.”

Ronny cleared his throat delicately. “Without men ... ah, how did they
continue several centuries?”

Tog suppressed her amusement. “Artificial insemination, at first, so I
understand. They brought their, ah, supply with them. But then there were
boys among the first generation on the new planet and even the Amazonians
weren’t up to cold bloodedly butchering their children. So they merely
enslaved them. Nice girls.”

Ronny stared at her. “You mean all men are automatically slaves on this
planet?”

“That’s right.”

Ronny made an improperly thought out move, trying to bring up a castle to
reinforce his collapsing flank. He said, “UP allows _anybody_ to join
evidently,” and there was disgust in his voice.

“Why not?” she said mildly.

“Well, there should be _some_ standards.”

Tog moved quickly, dominating with a knight several squares he couldn’t
afford to lose. She looked up at him, her dark eyes sparking. “The point
of UP is to include all the planets. That way at least conflict can be
avoided and some exchange of science, industrial techniques and cultural
gains take place. And you must remember that while in power practically no
socio-economic system will admit to the fact that it could possibly change
for the better. But actually there is nothing less stable. Socio-economic
systems are almost always in a condition of flux. Planets such as Amazonia
might for a time seem so brutal in their methods as to exclude their right
to civilized intercourse with the rest. However, one of these days
there’ll be a change—or one of these centuries. They all change, sooner or
later.” She added softly, “Even Han.”

“Han?” Ronny said.

Her voice was quiet. “Where I was born, Ronny. Colonized from China in the
very early days. In fact, I spent my childhood in a commune.” She said
musingly, “The party bureaucrats thought their system an impregnable,
unchangeable one. Your move.”

Ronny was fascinated. “And what happened?” He was in full retreat now, and
with nowhere to go, his pieces pinned up for the slaughter. He moved a
pawn to try and open up his queen.

“Why don’t you concede?” she said. “Tommy Paine happened.”

“Paine!”

“Uh-huh. It’s a long story. I’ll tell you about it some time.” She pressed
closer with her own queen.

He stared disgustedly at the board. “Well, that’s what I mean,” he
muttered. “I had no idea there were so many varieties of crackpot
politico-economic systems among the UP membership.”

“They’re not necessarily crackpot,” she protested mildly. “Just at
different stages of development.”

“Not crackpot!” he said. “Here we are heading for a planet named Kropotkin
which evidently practices anarchy.”

“Your move,” she said. “What’s wrong with anarchism?”

He glowered at her, in outraged disgust. Was it absolutely impossible for
him to say anything without her disagreement?

Tog said mildly, “The anarchistic ethic is one of the highest man has ever
developed.” She added, after a moment of pretty consideration.
“Unfortunately, admittedly, it hasn’t been practical to put to practice.
It will be interesting to see how they have done on Kropotkin.”

“Anarchist ethic, yes,” Ronny snapped. “I’m no student of the movement but
the way I understand it, there isn’t any.”

Tog smiled sweetly. “The belief upon which they base their teachings is
that no man is capable of judging another.”

Ronny cast his eyes ceilingward. “O.K., I give up!”

She began rapidly resetting the pieces. “Another game?” she said brightly.

“Hey! I didn’t mean the game! I was just about to counterattack.”

“Ha!” she said.

                  -------------------------------------

The Section G agent on Kropotkin was named Hideka Yamamoto, but he was on
a field tour and wouldn’t be back for several days. However, there wasn’t
especially any great hurry so far as Ronny Bronston and Tog Lee Chang Chu
knew. They got themselves organized in the rather rustic equivalent of a
hotel, which was located fairly near UP headquarters, and took up the
usual problems of arranging for local exchange, meals, means of
transportation and such necessities.

It was a greater problem than usual. In fact, hadn’t it been for the
presence of the UP organization, which had already gone through all this
the hard way, some of the difficulties would have been all but
insurmountable.

For instance, there was no local exchange. There was no medium of exchange
at all. Evidently simple barter was the rule.

In the hotel—if it could be called a hotel—lobby, Ronny Bronston looked at
Tog. “Anarchism!” he said. “Oh, great. The highest ethic of all. And
what’s the means of transportation on this wonderful planet? The horse.
And how are we going to get a couple of horses with no means of exchange?”

She tinkled laughter.

“All right,” he said. “You’re the Man Friday. You find out the details and
handle them. I’m going out to take a look around the town—if you can call
this a town.”

“It’s the capital of Kropotkin,” Tog said placatingly, though with a
mocking background in her tone. “Name of Bakunin. And very pleasant, too,
from what little I’ve seen. Not a bit of smog, industrial fumes, street
dirt, street noises—”

“How could there be?” he injected disgustedly. “There isn’t any industry,
there aren’t any cars, and for all practical purposes, no streets. The
houses are a quarter of a mile or so apart.”

She laughed at him again. “City boy,” she said. “Go on out there and enjoy
nature a little. It’ll do you good. Anybody who has cooped himself up in
that one big city, Earth, all his life ought to enjoy seeing what the
great outdoors looks like.”

He looked at her and grinned. She was cute as a pixie, and there were no
two ways about that. He wondered for a moment what kind of a wife she’d
make. And then shuddered inwardly. Life would be one big contradiction of
anything he’d managed to get out of his trap.

He strolled idly along what was little more than a country path and it
came to him that there were probably few worlds in the whole UP where he’d
have been prone to do this within the first few hours he’d been on the
planet. He would have been afraid, elsewhere, of anything from footpads to
police, from unknown vehicles to unknown traffic laws. There was something
bewildering about being an Earthling and being set down suddenly in New
Delos or on Avalon.

Here, somehow, he already had a feeling of peace.

Evidently, although Bakunin was supposedly a city, its populace tilled
their fields and provided themselves with their own food. He could see no
signs of stores or warehouses. And the UP building, which was no great
edifice itself, was the only thing in town which looked even remotely like
a governmental building.

Bakunin was neat. Clean as a pin, as the expression went. Ronny was
vaguely reminded of a historical Tri-Di romance he’d once seen. It had
been laid in ancient times in a community of the Amish in old
Pennsylvania.

He approached one of the wooden houses. The things would have been
priceless on Earth as an antique to be erected as a museum in some crowded
park. For that matter it would have been priceless for the wood it
contained. Evidently, the planet Kropotkin still had considerable virgin
forest.

An old-timer smoking a pipe, sat on the cottage’s front step. He nodded
politely.

Ronny stopped. He might as well try to get a little of the feel of the
place. He said courteously, “A pleasant evening.”

The old-timer nodded. “As evenings should be after a fruitful day’s toil.
Sit down, comrade. You must be from the United Planets. Have you ever seen
Earth?”

Ronny accepted the invitation and felt a soothing calm descend upon him
almost immediately. An almost disturbingly pleasant calm. He said, “I was
born on Earth.”

“Ai?” the old man said. “Tell me. The books say that Kropotkin is an Earth
type planet within what they call a few degrees. But is it? Is Kropotkin
truly like the mother planet?”

Ronny looked about him. He’d seen some of this world as the shuttle rocket
had brought them down from the passing liner. The forests, the lakes, the
rivers, and the great sections untouched by man’s hands. Now he saw the
areas between homes, the neat fields, the signs of human toil—the toil of
hands, not machines.

“No,” he said, shaking his head. “I’m afraid not. This is how Earth must
once have been. But no longer.”

The other nodded. “Our total population is but a few million,” he said.
Then, “I would like to see the mother planet, but I suppose I never
shall.”

Ronny said diplomatically, “I have seen little of Kropotkin thus far but I
am not so sure but that I might not be happy to stay here, rather than
ever return to Earth.”

The old man knocked the ashes from his pipe by striking it against the
heel of a work-gnarled hand. He looked about him thoughtfully and said,
“Yes, perhaps you’re right. I am an old man and life has been good. I
suppose I should be glad that I’ll unlikely live to see Kropotkin change.”

“Change? You plan changes?”

                  -------------------------------------

The old man looked at him and there seemed to be a very faint bitterness,
politely suppressed. “I wouldn’t say _we_ planned them, comrade. Certainly
not we of the older generation. But the trend toward change is already to
be seen by anyone who wishes to look, and our institutions won’t long be
able to stand. But, of course, if you’re from United Planets you would
know more of this than I.”

“I’m sorry. I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“You are new indeed on Kropotkin,” the old man said. “Just a moment.” He
went into his house and emerged with a small power pack. He indicated it
to Ronny Bronston. “This is our destruction,” he said.

The Section G agent shook his head, bewildered.

The old-timer sat down again. “My son,” he said, “runs the farm now. Six
months ago, he traded one of our colts for a small pump, powered by one of
these. It was little use on my part to argue against the step. The pump
eliminates considerable work at the well and in irrigation.”

Ronny still didn’t understand.

“The power pack is dead now,” the old man said, “and my son needs a new
one.”

“They’re extremely cheap,” Ronny said. “An industrialized planet turns
them out in multi-million amounts at practically no cost.”

“We have little with which to trade. A few handicrafts, at most.”

Ronny said, “But, good heavens, man, build yourselves a plant to
manufacture power packs. With a population this small, a factory employing
no more than half a dozen men could turn out all you need.”

The old man was shaking his head. He held up the battery. “This comes from
the planet Archimedes,” he said, “one of the most highly industrialized in
the UP, so I understand. On Archimedes do you know how many persons it
takes to manufacture this power pack?”

                             [Illustration.]

“A handful to operate the whole factory, Archimedes is fully automated.”

The old man was still moving his head negatively. “No. It takes the total
working population of the planet. How many different metals do you think
are contained in it, in all? I can immediately see what must be lead and
copper.”

Ronny said uncomfortably, “Probably at least a dozen, some in microscopic
amounts.”

“That’s right. So we need a highly developed metallurgical industry before
we can even begin. Then a developed transportation industry to take metals
to the factory. We need power to run the factory, hydro-electric, solar,
or possibly atomic power. We need a tool-making industry to equip the
factory, the transport industry and the power industry. And while the men
are employed in these, we need farmers to produce food for them, educators
to teach them the sciences and techniques involved, and an entertainment
industry to amuse them in their hours of rest. As their lives become more
complicated with all this, we need a developed medical industry to keep
them in health.”

The old man hesitated for a moment, then said, “And, above all, we need a
highly complicated government to keep all this accumulation of wealth in
check and balance. No. You see, my friend, it takes _social labor_ to
produce products such as this, and thus far we have avoided that on
Kropotkin. In fact, it was for such avoidance that my ancestors originally
came to this planet.”

Ronny said, scowling, “This gets ridiculous. You show me this basically
simple power pack and say it will ruin your socio-economic system. On the
face of it, it’s ridiculous.”

The old man sighed and looked out over the village unseeingly. “It’s not
just that single item, of course. The other day one of my neighbors turned
up with a light bulb with built-in power for a year’s time. It is the envy
of the unthinking persons of the neighborhood most of whom would give a
great deal for such a source of light. A nephew of mine has somehow even
acquired a powered bicycle, I think you call them, from somewhere or
other. One by one, item by item, these products of advanced technology
turn up—from whence, we don’t seem to be able to find out.”

Under his breath, Ronny muttered, “_Paine!_”

“I beg your pardon,” the old man said.

“Nothing,” the Section G agent said. He leaned forward and, a worried
frown working its way over his face, began to question the other more
closely.

Afterwards, Ronny Bronston strode slowly toward the UP headquarters. There
was only a small contingent of United Planets personnel on this little
populated member planet but, as always, there seemed to be an office for
Section G.

Ronny stood outside it for a moment. There were voices from within, but he
didn’t knock.

In fact, he cast his eyes up and down the short corridor. At the far end
was a desk with a girl in the Interplanetary Cultural Exchange Department
working away in concentration. She wasn’t looking in his direction.

Ronny Bronston put his ear to the door. The building was primitive enough,
rustic enough in its construction, to permit his hearing.

Tog Lee Chang Chu was saying seriously, “Oh, it was chaotic all right, but
no, I don’t really believe it could have been a Tommy Paine case. Actually
I’d suggest to you that you run over to Catalina. When I was on Avalon I
heard rumors that Tommy Paine’s finger seemed to be stirring around in the
mess there. Yes, I’d recommend that you take off for Catalina immediately.
If Paine is anywhere in this vicinity at all, it would be Catalina.”

For a moment, Ronny Bronston froze. Then in automatic reflex his hand went
inside his jacket to rest over the butt of the Model H automatic there.

No, that wasn’t the answer. His hand dropped away from the gun.

He listened, further.

Another voice was saying, “We thought we were on the trail for a while on
Hector, but it turned out it wasn’t Paine. Just a group of local agitators
fed up with the communist regime there. There’s going to be a blood bath
on Hector, before they’re through, but it doesn’t seem to be Paine’s work
this time.”

Tog’s voice was musing. “Well, you never know, it sounds like the sort of
muck he likes to play in.”

The strange voice said argumentatively, “Well, Hector _needs_ a few
fundamental changes.”

“It could be,” Tog said, “but that’s their internal affairs, of course.
Our job in Section G is to prevent troubles between the differing
socio-economic and religious features of member planets. Whatever we think
of some of the things Paine does, our task is to get him.”

                  -------------------------------------

Ronny Bronston pushed the door open and went through. Tog Lee Chang Chu
was sitting at a desk, nonchalant and petitely beautiful as usual,
comfortably seated in easy-chairs were two young men by their attire
probably citizens of United Planets and possibly even Earthlings.

“Hello, Ronny,” Tog said softly. “Meet Frederic Lippman and Pedro Nazaré,
both Section G operatives. This is my colleague, Ronald Bronston,
gentlemen. Fredric and Pedro were just leaving, Ronny.”

The two agents got up to shake hands.

Ronny said, “You can’t be in that much of a hurry. What’s your assignment,
boys?”

Lippman, an earnest type, and by his appearance not more than twenty-five
or so years of age, began to answer, but Nazaré said hurriedly, “Actually,
it’s a confidential assignment. We’re working directly out of the
Octagon.”

Lippman said, frowning, “It’s not that confidential, Tog. Bronston’s an
agent, too. What’s your assignment, Ronny?”

Ronny said very slowly, “I’m beginning to suspect that it’s the same as
yours and various pieces are beginning to fall into place.”

Lippman was taken aback. “You mean you’re looking for Tommy Paine?” His
eyes went to his associate. “How could that be, Tog? I didn’t know more
than one of us were on this job. Why, that means if Bronston here finds
him first, I won’t get my permanent appointment.”

Ronny looked at Tog Lee Chang Chu who was sitting demurely, hands in lap,
and a resigned expression on her face. He said, “Nor if you find him
first, will I. Look here, Tog, how many men does Sid Jakes have out on
this assignment?”

“I wouldn’t know,” she said mildly.

He snapped, “A few dozen or so? Or possibly a few hundred?”

“It seems unlikely there could be that many,” she said mildly. She looked
at the other two agents. “I think you two had better run along. Take my
suggestion I made earlier.”

“Wait a minute,” Ronny snapped. “You mean that they go to Catalina? That’s
ridiculous.”

Tog Lee Chang Chu looked at Pedro Nazaré and he turned and started for the
door followed by Fredric Lippman who was still scowling his puzzlement.

“Wait a minute!” Ronny snapped. “I tell you it’s ridiculous. And why
follow her suggestions? She’s just my assistant.”

Pedro Nazaré said, “Come on, Fred, let’s get going, we’ll have to pack.”
But Lippman wasn’t having any.

“His assistant?” he said to Tog Lee Chang Chu.

Tog Lee Chang Chu’s face changed expression in sudden decision. She opened
her bag and brought forth a Section G identification wallet and flicked it
open. The badge was gold. “I suggest you hurry,” she said to the two
agents.

They left, and Tog turned back to Ronny, her eyebrows raised
questioningly.

Ronny sank down into one of the chairs recently occupied by the other two
agents and tried to unravel thoughts. He said finally, “I suppose my
question should be, why do Ross Metaxa and Sid Jakes send an agent of
supervisor rank to act as assistant to a probationary agent? But that’s
not what I’m asking yet. First, Lippman just called his buddy Tog. How
come?”

Tog took her seat again, rueful resignation on her face. “You should be
figuring it out on your own by this time, Ronny.”

He looked at her belligerently. “I’m too stupid, eh?” The anger was
growing within him.

“Tog,” she said. “It’s a nickname, or possibly you might call it a title.
Tog. T-O-G. The Other Guy. My name is Lee Chang Chu, and I’m of supervisor
grade presently working at developing new Section G operatives.
Considering the continuing rapid growth of UP, and the continuing crises
that come up in UP activities, developing new operatives is one of the
department’s most pressing jobs. Each new agent, on his first assignment,
is always paired with an experienced old-timer.”

“I see,” he said flatly. “Your principal job being to needle the fledging,
eh?”

She lowered her eyes. “I wouldn’t exactly word it that way,” she said. She
was obviously unrepentant.

He said, “You must get a lot of laughs out of it. If I say, it seems to me
democracy is a good thing, you give me an argument about the superiority
of rule by an elite. If I say anarchism is ridiculous, you dredge up an
opinion that it’s man’s highest ethic. You must laugh yourself to sleep at
nights. You and Metaxa and Jakes and every other agent in Section G.
Everybody is in on the Tog gag but the sucker.”

“Sometimes there are amusing elements to the work,” Lee Chang conceded,
demurely.

“Just one more thing I’d like to ask,” Ronny rapped. “This first
assignment, agents are given. Is it always to look for Tommy Paine?”

She looked up at him, said nothing, but her eyes were questioning.

“Don’t worry,” he snapped. “I’ve already found out who Paine is.”

“Ah?” She was suddenly interested. “Then I’m glad I ordered that other
probationary agent to leave. Evidently, he hasn’t. Obviously, I didn’t
want the two of you comparing notes.”

“No, that would never do,” he said bitterly. “Well, this is the end of the
assignment so far as you and I are concerned. I’m heading back for Earth.”

“Of course,” she said.

                  -------------------------------------

He had time on the way to think it all over, and over and over again, and
a great deal of it simply didn’t make sense. He had enough information to
be disillusioned, sick at heart. To have crumbled an idealistic edifice
that had taken a lifetime to build. A lifetime? At least three. His father
and his grandfather before him had had the dream. He’d been weaned on the
idealistic purposes of the United Planets and man’s fated growth into the
stars.

He was a third-generation dreamer of participating in the glory. His
grandfather had been a citizen of Earth and gave up a commercial position
to take a job that amounted to little more than a janitor in an obscure
department of Interplanetary Financial Clearing. He wanted to get into the
big job, into space, but never made it. Ronny’s father managed to work up
to the point where he was a supervisor in Interplanetary Medical Exchange,
in the tabulating department. He, too, had wanted into space, and never
made it. Ronny had loved them both. In a way fulfilling his own dreams had
been a debt he owed them, because at the same time he was fulfilling
theirs.

And now this. All that had been gold, was suddenly gilted lead. The dream
had become contemptuous nightmare.

Finally back in Greater Washington, he went immediately from the
shuttleport to the Octagon. His Bureau of Investigation badge was enough
to see him through the guide-guards and all the way through to the office
of Irene Kasansky.

She looked up at him quickly. “Hi,” she said. “Ronny Bronston, isn’t it?”

“That’s right. I want to see Commissioner Metaxa.”

She scowled. “I can’t work you in now. How about Sid Jakes?”

He said, “Jakes is in charge of the Tommy Paine routine, isn’t he?”

She shot a sharper look up at him. “That’s right,” she said warily.

“All right,” Ronny said. “I’ll see Jakes.”

Her deft right hand slipped open a drawer in her desk. “You’d better leave
your gun here,” she said. “I’ve known probationary agents to get excited,
in my time.”

He looked at her.

And she looked back, her gaze level.

Ronny Bronston shrugged, slipped the Model H from under his armpit and
tossed it into the drawer.

Irene Kasansky went back to her work. “You know the way,” she said.

This time Ronny Bronston pushed open the door to Sid Jakes’ office without
knocking. The Section G supervisor was poring over reports on his desk. He
looked up and grinned his Sid Jakes’ grin.

“Ronny!” he said. “Welcome back. You know, you’re one of the quickest men
ever to return from a Tommy Paine assignment. I was talking to Lee Chang
only a day or so ago. She said you were on your way.”

Ronny grunted, his anger growing within him. He lowered himself into one
of the room’s heavy chairs, and glared at the other.

Sid Jakes chuckled and leaned back in his chair. “Before we go any
further, just to check, who is Tommy Paine?”

Ronny snapped, “You are.”

The supervisor’s eyebrows went up.

Ronny said, “You and Ross Metaxa and Lee Chang Chu—and all the rest of
Section G. Section G is Tommy Paine.”

“Good man!” Sid Jakes chortled. He flicked a switch on his order box.
“Irene,” he said, “how about clearing me through to the commissioner? I
want to take Ronny in for his finals.”

Irene snapped back something and Sid Jakes switched off and turned to
Ronny happily. “Let’s go,” he said. “Ross is free for a time.”

Ronny Bronston said nothing. He followed the other. The rage within him
was still mounting.

In the months that had elapsed since Ronny Bronston had seen Ross Metaxa
the latter had changed not at all. His clothing was still sloppy, his eyes
bleary with lack of sleep or abundance of alcohol—or both. His expression
was still sour and skeptical.

He looked up at their entry and scowled, and made no effort to rise and
shake hands. He said to Ronny sourly, “O.K., sound off and get it over
with. I haven’t too much time this afternoon.”

Ronny Bronston was just beginning to feel tentacles of cold doubt, but he
suppressed them. The boiling anger was uppermost. He said flatly, “All my
life I’ve been a dedicated United Planets man. All my life I’ve considered
its efforts the most praiseworthy and greatest endeavor man has ever
attempted.”

“Of course, old chap,” Jakes told him cheerfully. “We know all that, or
you wouldn’t ever have been chosen as an agent for Section G.”

Ronny looked at him in disgust. “I’ve resigned that position, Jakes.”

Jakes grinned back at him. “To the contrary, you’re now in the process of
receiving permanent appointment.”

Ronny snorted his disgust and turned back to Metaxa. “Section G is a
secret department of the Bureau of Investigation devoted to subverting
Article One of the United Planets Charter.”

Metaxa nodded.

“You don’t deny it?”

Metaxa shook his head.

“Article One,” Ronny snapped, “is the basic foundation of the Charter
which every member of UP and particularly every citizen of United Planets,
such as ourselves, has sworn to uphold. But the very reason for the
existence of this Section G is to interfere with the internal affairs of
member planets, to subvert their governments, their economic systems,
their religions, their ideals, their very way of life.”

Metaxa yawned and reached into a desk drawer for his bottle. “That’s
right,” he said. “Anybody like a drink?”

Ronny ignored him. “I’m surprised I didn’t catch on even sooner,” he said.
“On New Delos Mouley Hassan, the local agent, knew the God-King was going
to be assassinated. He brought in extra agents and even a detail of Space
Forces guards for the emergency. He probably engineered the assassination
himself.”

“Nope,” Jakes said. “We seldom go _that_ far. Local rebels did the actual
work, but, admittedly, we knew what they were planning. In fact, I’ve got
a sneaking suspicion that Mouley Hassan provided them with the bomb. That
lad’s a bit too dedicated.”

“But _why_,” Ronny blurted. “That’s deliberately interfering with internal
affairs. If the word got out, every planet in UP would resign.”

“Probably no planet in the system that needed a change so badly,” Metaxa
growled. “If they were ever going to swing into real progress, that
hierarchy of priests had to go.” He snorted. “An immortal God-King, yet.”

Ronny pressed on. “That was bad enough, but how about this planet Mother,
where the colonists had attempted to return to nature and live in the
manner man did in earliest times.”

“Most backward planet in the UP,” Metaxa said sourly. “They just had to be
roused.”

“And Kropotkin!” Ronny blurted. “Don’t you understand, those people were
_happy_ there. Their lives were simple, uncomplicated, and they had
achieved a happiness that—”

Metaxa came to his feet. He scowled at Ronny Bronston and growled,
“Unfortunately, the human race can’t take the time out for happiness. Come
along, I want to show you something.”

He swung around the corner of his desk and made his way toward a
ceiling-high bookcase.

Ronny stared after him, taken off guard, but Sid Jakes was grinning his
amusement.

Ross Metaxa pushed a concealed button and the bookcase slid away to one
side to reveal an elevator beyond.

“Come along,” Metaxa repeated over his shoulder. He entered the elevator,
followed by Jakes.

There was nothing else to do. Ronny Bronston followed them, his face still
flushed with the angered argument.

The elevator dropped, how far, Ronny had no idea. It stopped and they
emerged into a plain, sparsely furnished vault. Against one wall was a
boxlike affair that reminded Ronny of nothing so much as a deep-freeze.

For all practical purposes, that’s what it was. Ross Metaxa led him over
and they stared down into its glass-covered interior.

Ronny’s eyes bugged. The box contained the partly charred body of an
animal approximately the size of a rabbit. No, not an animal. It had
obviously once been clothed, and its limbs were obviously those of a tool
using life form.

Metaxa and Jakes were staring down at it solemnly, for once no inane grin
on the supervisor’s face. And that of Ross Metaxa was more weary than
ever.

Ronny said finally, “What is it?” But he knew.

“You tell us,” Metaxa growled sourly.

“It’s an intelligent life form,” Ronny blurted. “Why has it been kept
secret?”

“Let’s go on back upstairs,” Metaxa sighed.

Back in his office he said, “Now I go into my speech. Shut up for a
while.” He poured himself a drink, not offering one to the other two.
“Ronny,” he said, “man isn’t alone in the galaxy. There’s other
intelligent life. Dangerously intelligent.”

In spite of himself Ronny reacted in amusement. “That little creature down
there? The size of a small monkey?” As soon as he said it, he realized the
ridiculousness of his statement.

Metaxa grunted. “Obviously, size means nothing. That little fellow down
there was picked up by one of our Space Forces scouts over a century ago.
How long he’d been drifting through space, we don’t know. Possibly only
months, but possibly hundreds of centuries. But however long he’s proof
that man is not alone in the galaxy. And we have no way of knowing when
the expanding human race will come up against this other intelligence—and
whoever it was fighting.”

                             [Illustration.]

“But,” Ronny protested, “you’re assuming they’re aggressive. Perhaps
coming in contact with these aliens will be the best thing that ever
happened to man. Possibly that little fellow down there is the most
benevolent creature ever evolved.”

Metaxa looked at him strangely. “Let’s hope so,” he said. “However, when
found he was in what must have been a one-man scout. He was dead and his
craft was blasted and torn—obviously from some sort of weapons’ fire. His
scout was obviously a military craft, highly equipped with what could only
be weapons, most of them so damaged our engineers haven’t been able to
figure them out. To the extent they have been able to reconstruct them,
they’re scared silly. No, there’s no two ways about it, our little rabbit
sized intelligence down in the vault was killed in an interplanetary
conflict. And sooner or later, Ronny, man in his explosion into the stars
is going to run into either or both of the opponents in that conflict.”

Ronny Bronston slumped back into his chair, his brain running out a dozen
leads at once.

Metaxa and Jakes remained quiet, looking at him speculatively.

Ronny said slowly, “Then the purpose of Section G is to push the member
planets of UP along the fastest path of progress, to get them ready for
the eventual, inevitable meeting.”

“Not just Section G,” Metaxa growled, “but all of the United Planets
organization, although most of the rank and file don’t even know our basic
purpose. Section G? We do the dirty work, and are proud to do it, by every
method we can devise.”

Ronny leaned forward. “But look,” he said. “Why not simply inform all
member planets of this common danger? They’d all unite in the effort to
meet the common potential foe. Anything standing in the way would be
brushed aside.”

Metaxa shook his head wearily. “Would they? Is a common danger enough for
man to change his institutions, particularly those pertaining to property,
power and religion? History doesn’t show it. Delve back into early times
and you’ll recall, for an example, that in man’s early discovery of
nuclear weapons he almost destroyed himself. Three or four different
socio-economic systems co-existed at that time and all would have
preferred destruction rather than changes in their social forms.”

Jakes said, in an unwonted quiet tone, “No, until someone comes up with a
better answer it looks as though Section G is going to have to continue
the job of advancing man’s institutions, in spite of himself.”

The commissioner made it clearer. “It’s not as though we deal with all our
member planets. It isn’t necessary. But you see, Ronny, the best colonists
are usually made up of the, well, crackpot element. Those who are
satisfied, stay at home. America, for instance, was settled by the
adventurers, the malcontents, the non-conformists, the religious cultists,
and even fugitives and criminals of Europe. So it is in the stars. A group
of colonists go out with their dreams, their schemes, their far-out ideas.
In a few centuries they’ve populated their new planet, and often do very
well indeed. But often not and a nudge, a push, from Section G can start
them up another rung or so of the ladder of social evolution. Most of them
don’t want the push. Few cultures, if any, realize they are mortal; like
Hitler’s Reich, they expect to last at least a thousand years. They resist
any change—even change for the better.”

                  -------------------------------------

Ronny’s defenses were crumbling, but he threw one last punch. “How do you
know the changes you make are for the better?”

Metaxa shrugged heavy shoulders. “It’s sometimes difficult to decide, but
we aim for changes that will mean an increased scientific progress, a more
advanced industrial technology, more and better education, the opening of
opportunity for every member of the culture to exert himself to the full
of his abilities. The last is particularly important. Too many cultures,
even those that think of themselves as particularly advanced, suppress the
individual by one means or another.”

Ronny was still mentally reeling with the magnitude of it all. “But how
can you account for the fact that these alien intelligences haven’t
already come in contact with us?”

Metaxa shrugged again. “The Solar System, our sun, is way out in a
sparsely populated spiral arm of our galaxy. Undoubtedly, these others are
further in toward the center. We have no way of knowing how far away they
are, or how many sun systems they dominate, or even how many other empires
of intelligent life forms there are. All we know is that there are other
intelligences in the galaxy, that they are near enough like us to live on
the same type planets. The more opportunity man has to develop before the
initial contact takes place, the stronger bargaining position, or military
position, as the case may be, he’ll be in.”

Sid Jakes summed up the Tommy Paine business for Ronny’s sake. “We need
capable agents badly, but we need dedicated and efficient ones. We can’t
afford anything less. So when we come upon potential Section G operatives
we send them out with a trusted Tog to get a picture of these United
Planets of ours. It’s the quickest method of indoctrination we’ve hit
upon; the agent literally teaches himself by observation and
participation. Usually, it takes four or five stops, on this planet and
that, before the probationary agent begins sympathizing with the efforts
of this elusive Tommy Paine. Especially since every Section G agent he
runs into, including the Tog, of course, fills him full of stories of
Tommy Paine’s activities.

“You were one of the quickest to stumble on the true nature of our Section
G. After calling at only three planets you saw that we ourselves are Tommy
Paine.”

“But ... but what’s the end?” Ronny said plaintively. “You say our job is
advancing man, even in spite of himself when it comes to that. We start at
the bottom of the evolutionary ladder in a condition of savagery, clan
communism in government, simple animism in religion, and slowly we
progress through barbarism to civilization, through paganism to the higher
ethical codes, through chattel slavery and then feudalism and beyond. What
is the final end, the Ultima Thule?”

Metaxa was shaking his head again. He poured himself another drink,
offered the bottle this time to the others. “We don’t know,” he said
wearily, “perhaps there is none. Perhaps there is always another rung on
this evolutionary ladder.” He punched at his order box and said, “Irene,
have them do up a silver badge for Ronny.”

Ronny Bronston took a deep breath and reached for the brown bottle.
“Well,” he said. “I suppose I’m ready to ask for my first assignment.” He
thought for a moment. “By the way, if there’s any way to swing it, I
wouldn’t mind working with Supervisor Lee Chang Chu.”

THE END





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