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´╗┐Title: For Every Man A Reason
Author: Wilkins, Patrick
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "For Every Man A Reason" ***

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Transcriber's note:

This etext was produced from If Worlds of Science Fiction November 1954.
Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S. copyright
on this publication was renewed.



  _Illustrated by Paul Orban_

  BY PATRICK WILKINS

  FOR EVERY MAN A REASON

     _To love your wife is good; to love your State is good, too. But if
     it comes to a question of survival, you have to love one better
     than the other. Also, better than yourself. It was simple for the
     enemy; they knew which one Aron was dedicated to...._


The thunder of the jets died away, the sound drifting wistfully off into
the hills. The leaves that swirled in the air returned to the ground
slowly, reluctantly.

The rocket had gone.

Aron Myers realized that he was looking at nothing. He noticed that his
face was frozen into a meaningless smile. He let the smile slowly
dissolve as he turned to look at his wife.

She was a small woman, and he realized for the first time how fragile
she was. Her piquant face, framed by long brown, flowing hair, was an
attractive jewel when set on the plush cushion of civilization. Now her
face, set in god-forsaken wilderness, metamorphosed into the frightened
mask of a small animal.

They were alone.

Two human beings alone on this wild, lonely planet. Aron's mind suddenly
snapped from that frame of reference--his subjective view of their
position--to the scale of galaxies. It was a big planet to them, but it
was a marble in the galaxy that man had discovered and claimed, and was
now fighting with himself to retain. This aggregate of millions of
pebbles was wracked with the violence of war, where marbles were more
expendable than the microbes that dwelt on them.

The two walked hand in hand away from the meadow where the ship had
been. The feeble wind snuffled at the scraps of paper and trash, the
relics of man's passing.

They walked up the hill to their station, the reason for their being on
this wayside planet.

[Illustration]

Aron thought about the scenery around them. The compact, utilitarian
building that was the station did not seem out of place against the
bleak landscape. The landscape did not clash or conform to its
location--it just didn't give a damn whether there was a building there
or not.

Aron and Martha, his wife, took their time. They had an abundance of
that elusive quantity known as time at this lonely outpost. The trail up
to the station was rough, with rocks and weeds tearing at them. Aron
resolved that that would be one of his first projects, to put in a good
path to the meadow where the rocket would come for them--five years from
now.

The sunset did nothing to enhance the countryside. There was not enough
dust in the air to create any striking colors. As the shadows began to
lap at the hill, they hurried the last few steps to the building.

       *       *       *       *       *

That evening they were both nervous, justifiably so, for not only were
they starting on the questionable adventure of sequestered watchdogs on
the planet, they were starting the adventure of marriage.

Aron had met Martha on Tyros, a planetary trade center of some
importance. She was a waitress.

Since he was marking time on Tyros, waiting for his assignment, he had a
chance to cultivate her acquaintance. On their dates, what he had to
tell her about his life was brief, impersonal.

Aron was in the Maintenance division of the Territorial Administration
and his duties were to hold posts on various planets and act as an
observer of that planet's caprices.

The rush of mankind from Earth, like a maddened swarm of bees from a
hive, had carried it through the galaxy in a short time. On all the
discovered planets that had to be reserved for future inhabitants, the
Territorial Administration had set up observation stations. The men
posted there were merely to record such fascinating information as
meteorological and geographical conditions.

When the time came to expand, the frail little creatures with the large
brains and larger egos would know the best havens for migration.

Another reason for these stations was the war. When man had flung
himself madly at the galaxy, he had diffused himself thinly over a
macroscopic area. Some almost isolated colonies had developed the
inevitable thirst for independence.

From local but violent wars between colonies, some semblance of order
had been wrought. Now there were two sprawling interstellar empires, the
United Empire--Aron and Martha were citizens--and the People's Republic.

Since Aron's realm relied on industrial technology and agriculture and
the People's Republic based its economy on mining and trade, there
seemed to be plenty of room for consolidation.

Unfortunately this consolidation, or even peaceful trading, was not
possible, due to the fact that the two dominions had entirely different
forms of government and religion. The result was, as always, war.

These were the general facts that both Aron and Martha knew. What Aron
discussed with his fiance were the effects of this macropolitical
situation upon their personal lives. The previous posts that Aron had
held in the TA were planets in the interior of the United Empire.

During his stay on Tyros, he received the assignment he expected. It was
a post on the fringe of the empire, a planet called Kligor. These
stations of the fringe served dual purposes, not only their usual
function of planetary observation but as military outposts to warn and
halt any attempted invasion.

When he heard this assignment, Aron proposed, holding up to Martha the
prospect of comfortable living in civilization once the five year hitch
on Kligor was over.

She consented--not really knowing if she loved him or not.

They had been married the day they left. The space ship was so crowded
there was no chance for privacy, so the two had no honeymoon till they
reached the station.

       *       *       *       *       *

Aron and his bride arrived on Kligor in what was autumn on the planet,
for the seasons were consistent in all hemispheres.

Aron planned to spend a week at the station with his wife and then begin
a planetary check of the various automatic observation stations that
compiled the meteorological and other data and relayed it by radio to
the main station. This check had to be completed before snow came to the
planet.

In that week they learned about each other. Neither of them was young
and both were mature and prosaic enough to develop the daily routine of
a long-married couple. There were many free hours which they would spend
talking about themselves.

To Martha, marriage was not new. She had experienced matrimony before.
Her husband, a gambler, had killed himself after a bad loss, leaving her
with an impossible burden of debt and a disillusioned mind.

Since then she had worked, gradually paying off his debts. When Aron had
come along, she liked the big man and thought that the years on Kligor
would give her respite from a demanding reality.

She did not picture herself as a tragic figure, but rather as merely
competent and stable, not realizing that that attitude in itself is a
sure sign of instability. A smile seldom found her face. She was
slightly nervous with a tendency towards moodiness.

Aron's history was not so bitter. He was born in a large family and had
formed an aloof, reserved nature to achieve a sense of individuality in
the group. His life had been spent in government work and he had never
tasted the variable brew of the nuptial cup till he met Martha.

He was not a deep man in emotion. His nature was such that he had to be
constantly occupied with something--not the frenzied scurrying of
insecure individuals--but a solid problem that he could work out. A
project that he could carefully shape with a keen analytical mind or
capable hands.

They did not think of each other in terms of these thumbnail sketches,
but merely watched and observed--and adjusted to each other. Their
marriage was almost one of convenience, with just enough affection
involved to oil over any disputes.

The spell of the planet gradually lulled them into hypnotic acceptance
of their sequestered lives. Their daily duties became the only things
worth thinking about.

       *       *       *       *       *

Aron learned about the planet in the next two months on his tours of
inspection. He used a small atmosphere flier to cover the various posts
scattered over its surface.

The small blockhouses were automatic and hermetically sealed to preserve
the instruments, but something could go wrong and then it was his job to
fix it.

As for the military defense system of Kligor, that was also automatic
but not Aron's responsibility. It was a series of artificial satellites
on the rim of the planetary system, with long-range detecting and
tracting systems that would activate and co-ordinate firing mechanisms
to blast any ship from the void.

It was Aron's duty to de-activate them with a control in his station if
he was signalled by a pre-arranged code from a friendly United Republic
ship. That was all he had to, or could, do with them.

The planetary stations were all in good shape except for minor repairs,
which Aron attended to with the quiet joy of a man who loves machinery.
He was home sooner than expected and just in time. The next day it began
to snow.

The weather had opposite effects on the people in the station. Aron,
long used to such confinements, settled down and began reading some of
the great mass of books which he had brought, or working painstakingly
on hobbies.

Martha grew more distraught as the snowbound months went by. The wild
enthusiasm of her youth had left her, but she was not stoic enough to
take the long confinement and inactivity. She tried to pick arguments,
but Aron wouldn't argue. She tried to get interested in some
time-consuming hobby, but she lacked the patience.

Spring finally came. On the first nice day Martha went on a long walk to
watch the few flowers that Kligor boasted push their fragile buds into
the air. Aron spent the day working on the path and the clearing that
was a spaceport.

When night came, he was alone at the station.

Aron waited up all night, knowing it would be futile to search in the
dark, not knowing in which direction or how far she had gone on her
stroll. Aron was not too worried, since there were no dangerous animals.
She was probably lost or had a sprained ankle, in which case she would
have the sense to find a sheltered place and be safe for the night.

When morning came he began searching. He used the atmosphere flier to
cruise over the nearby country.

Up and down hillsides he flew the craft, gliding slowly at a low
altitude. He stopped over clumps of bushes for a careful scan,
occasionally roaring towards what looked like a piece of cloth, but
always turned out to be a bright stone.

When he found her, he knew before he landed. She was sprawled at the
bottom of a high cliff.

She was not pretty any more. She wasn't even a live animal, just dead
flesh lying there, smeared with blood and covered with tattered clothes.

Aron remained in a stage of pre-shock, a state of cold clear
rationality, until he had taken her back to the station, dug a grave and
buried her. He wasn't sad, it was just a job to be done. This wasn't his
wife he was burying.

It wasn't until that evening that the fact of her death penetrated and
was accepted by his mind.

       *       *       *       *       *

The next few days were spent in routine actions. Aron relied on his
usual anodyne--work. The pathway and the meadow were filled with cement
by the end of the fifth day.

He let his stunned mind become wrapped in the problem of completing this
job--the weight of the shovel in his hand, the heat of the sun on his
back--these were what he thought about. It was not a solution or even
escape, just a stall.

The sixth day brought a visitor.

The shock of someone knocking at the door, walking in, introducing
himself and sitting down to talk yanked Aron's mind into awareness.

The only way to achieve a landing would be for a friendly ship to signal
him and have him de-activate the defenses--which definitely had not
happened!

Therefore it was hallucination, a miracle, or at least an interesting
trick that this man had appeared at his station. Aron took interest,
demanding that the man start from the beginning again as he had missed
the introductions due to slight surprise.

"I said I am Karl Rondwell, an agent and representative of the People's
Republic, being a member of the Intelligence department of her imperial
navy," the man replied.

"The first question is, naturally," Aron said, "How the Hell did you get
here?"

A slight smile. "Your much-vaunted defenses that are supposed to be able
to snuff out the mightiest fleet, these defenses are easy to pass--for
one man."

Aron could see that easily enough. "What is your purpose here then?"

"A deal, naturally!"

"I imagined so. You will have to persuade me, because you can't remove
me and take over those defenses. Lack of knowledge of the proper code
would trip you up when our United Empire ships came snooping around as
they do so often."

"Since we understand the rules of the game," the enemy agent said,
"let's proceed with it.

"Let me begin with a discussion of civilization. You may have forgotten
something about it in your secluded life here."

The agent went on to speak of civilization, its comforts. Since he was a
spy, he had spent a good deal of time in the United Republic. He spoke
in terms of a man with money, the plush night spots, the beautiful girls
that would be only too glad to be friendly with a wealthy man.

"All right," Aron interrupted him. "That's clever oratory, but money
isn't all I'll take to sell out my empire. What else have you to offer,
and remember, I'm not buying--just looking."

The agent made his case stronger by comparing plush civilization to the
futile hermit's existence of a TA observer, throwing in a few remarks
about the brevity of one's life to be wasted in such a barren pastime as
five years in solitary confinement.

When he began talking about a comfortable married life in a civilized
community, he noticed Aron growing distraught.

"Why does talk of marriage so disturb you?" he asked.

Aron looked at him with a sneer in his eyes, "You must know, you check
your victims before you begin your Judas acts."

With a rueful grin, the agent replied, "That is one place our agents
can't penetrate, your Personnel Records Office. You, being a hard man to
know, have made very few acquaintances that we could approach to get
your history."

Silence. Then Aron said, "All right, here's a bone I'll toss you. You
may use it, I don't give a damn!

"My wife died five days ago on this planet." He said it with vehemence,
probably imagining by some twist of thought that he was shocking,
hurting the enemy agent, whereas he actually was deliberately shocking
himself. Masochism.

"Your wife?" the agent was amazed. "I didn't know your TA observers took
wives with them."

"I'll bet you didn't know. Though, most of them don't, come to think of
it."

The agent relaxed, lighted a cigarette--an ancient habit that cropped up
in all eras.

"Men can take it," he began quietly. "Women are different. They can take
it if they want to, but it's hard to find the right woman; and even then
she must want to take it by being with the man she loves, or perhaps it
is psychological--martyring themselves to gain a subtle control of that
man, which they all want to do.

"When you get a woman who can't, or doesn't want to take it, she can
pull a beautiful crack-up. Without friends to appreciate her martyrdom,
with a husband who refuses to acknowledge it, she sometimes uses the
supreme martyrdom to gain recognition."

"Instinct tells me to slug you in the teeth," Aron said, "but apathy
forbids me."

"Couldn't it be that you refuse to slug me because you want me to keep
talking? Because you recognize the truth, that your wife committed
suicide because of the loneliness and now your devotion to state has
become meaningless? 'The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away' was the
old maxim, but 'the State only taketh away' is the new."

There was more talk and some drinking, for the agent had conveniently
brought some choice liquor.

The next morning, after they had arisen from where they had fallen
asleep in a stupor, the agent proposed his plan. With the disgust and
despair of the hangover, the agent's biting attack on his pride and his
state, Aron listened. Later the agent was no longer the enemy, but a
partner in a deal.

       *       *       *       *       *

The next week the ships came. Twenty-seven proud cruisers of the
People's Republic; also troop and supply ships. They landed in the broad
valley on the main continent of Kligor, twenty miles from Aron's
station.

The professional fighters emerged from their tools of war, the dull
hulls of the ships and the dark uniforms lapping up the pleasant
sunshine. The only reflection was from the polished bits of metal that
hung at their sides, bits of metal that could spit destruction in ten
different forms.

They looked at the planet but did not see it, it was just their newly
gained base. They did not see the poignant beauty of the seemingly
senescent hills covered with wisps of green and bathed in blazing
sunshine. They only saw strategic positions, avenues of approach and
tactical advantages.

The pebble had become a pawn. War had come to Kligor. The slow, subtle
weavings of individual threads of human psychology were ripped and
snarled as the Mass Effort took over.

Conferences were held, land surveyed, machinery trundled from the
cavernous holds of supply ships and the base was begun. To the cadence
of barked orders, shuffling feet and grinding, pounding, thumping
machinery, the buildings rose, the men moved in.

There was the usual bustle of a new military operation, the normal
tension of a top-secret operation, the usual bungling and mix-up of
supplies. But there was a slightly different attitude toward the
gradually growing base. This was not a standard military location, one
that had existed for years, or an enemy one that had been captured, or
even a piece of ground that had been paid for in blasted hulks and
smashed bodies.

This gain was by treason.

Naturally then, the men felt contempt for the operation and their
contempt was manifested in sloppiness. The commanding officers would
ordinarily have become raging martinets at such lax discipline and
slovenliness, but the taint and contempt of treasonous gain was upon
them also.

This contempt was displayed openly whenever the Traitor came to the
base. Weak egos must be flattered by derision of others. They would have
killed him as a matter of course, if he hadn't been clever enough to
refuse to relinquish the secret codes which allowed the friendly ships
to pass. Torture was obsolete, for hypnosis allowed a victim to die
before he could reveal secret information.

He came every week to get free supplies and have conferences with the
Intelligence men. The Traitor would walk the freshly-laid sidewalk
boldly, his head up, his eyes flashing about to take in every new
building.

The soldiers hazed him, spitting at him, bumping into him, glaring and
swearing at him; but he always reciprocated with such a withering look
of contempt that they soon grew tired of the sport.

The worst day for the Traitor, alias Aron Myers, was when he went into
the Soldier's Club to quench his thirst of a hot day. Since it was a
week-end and there was nowhere to go on what few week-end passes were
given, the Club was packed.

In the dimmed-light atmosphere, the black uniforms made the place seem
filled with vagrant and ominous shadows with white faces. The noise was
almost unbearable and Aron had a mind to leave.

He was confronted by a group of these shadows. They were all the same,
indistinguishable in their identical uniforms, crew-cuts and young,
arrogant faces.

"Hello Mr. Myers," one of them said. "Won't you join us in a drink?"

When he started to demur, they interrupted, "But we insist, Mr. Myers."
One took him by an arm and led him to a table.

"After all," they said as the drinks came up, "We owe you at least a
drink for giving us such a nice new base and everything, now don't we."
It was sarcasm, and hammy sarcasm at that, Aron thought.

He recognized the situation as another case of hazing, but this time by
a group of soldiers made even more obnoxious and bellicose by the liquor
in their guts.

"You don't owe me anything," Aron said, "I gave it to you for my own
reasons and not for money." Sure enough, they even came out with the
corny laughter.

He let them play out their little satire without protest. Their
grandiose courtesy towards him, the toasts drunk in his honor. That is,
until one of them, more drunk than the others, said, "Mr. Myers, I hope
you don't mind my telling you, but you are a--." The epithet was a new
slang word but its vileness stemmed from prehistoric days.

Aron replied with blazing eyes. "I can't insult you back and you know
it. I don't want to be killed that badly. All I can say is:

"Who are you to judge me? You are blind little men in a cage trying to
judge someone on the outside.

"Your hearts and minds have been forged in the crucible of duty and
battle. You live for your uniforms and the distinction those uniforms
bring you. You live to fight and die, to spend your spare time in dank,
noisy holes like this. Drinking and lying to each other about your
adventures and love-life.

"Then you try to judge galactic politics and the decisions of a man
caught up in the rip tides of these politics, when all you know is your
own vicious lives. You are traitors as much as any man, for you have
sacrificed your normal lives to dedicate yourself to the violent
dead-end of a soldier of space.

"Yes, you know what I am talking about, the Fermi radiations! The hard
radiations of space that make every person who stays in space any length
of time a sure candidate for an early grave.

"You're young now, so terribly young, only twenty or so years old in a
possible life-span of a hundred years.

"You are traitors to yourselves by rejecting this life-span for a few
brief years of glory as a soldier, then a slow decay for ten years till
you are in a grave at thirty or forty.

"Your motto ought to be, 'live fast, fight hard, die young and have a
radiation-rotted corpse'.

"And yet you condemn a man because he tries to seek a few comforts from
an uncomfortable, implacable universe."

They didn't get it. They never get it, he thought ruefully. They
continued in their cat and mouse game until they realized the mouse
refused to be terrified, then they let him go.

During the next few weeks, someone started the rumor that the Traitor
was actually a native of the People's Republic who had been trained and
then planted in the United Empire's TA to do this job for Intelligence.
The soldiers quickly believed it and almost came to respect the Traitor.

       *       *       *       *       *

From the way that the Intelligence officers freely talked about
classified information with him in his weekly visits, Aron was aware
that they would probably kill him once his usefulness was over. He was
devising ways, though, to get around that at the last minute.

From this knowledge that had been blatantly tossed in front of him, he
knew how strategic Kligor was in the stalemated war between the empires.

The People's Republic now had a fair-sized striking force based there,
so that when an all-out offensive, which was scheduled in a few weeks,
started, this hidden force could attack United Republic's squadrons from
the rear and be doubly effective because of surprise.

So the weeks trotted by, the soldiers' camp expanding daily as the
Traitor let the supply ships through the barrier. There are moods in war
just as in people. This was a crucial point, the People's Republic had
gained a slight edge by its gain on Kligor. So the usual pitch of
anticipation was infused with the higher excitement of a sure victory.

The days were slipping furtively away as the Kligor garrison gathered
itself together, crouched and got ready to spring into blind, violent
action on the big day.

The laughter of the soldiers was tinged with nervous hysteria, but when
they thought of that grim array of defense satellites, with its
all-seeing eyes, its electronic brain, its steel guts and large parcel
of hell in its fist, all this United Empire strength protecting them,
their laughter grew louder and more sincere.

       *       *       *       *       *

Aron thanked providence that Kligor didn't have any moons. This
particular night called for every ebony patch of darkness that he could
find.

He was on a nocturnal visit to the base, not using his flier. He knew
there were guards posted near his station that would notify the camp
when this craft was used. Slipping out the night before and avoiding the
guards, Aron had begun the twenty mile hike to the base.

As he neared the base his precautions increased, his speed decreasing
proportionately. Avoiding the outer ring of guards was easy, as they
were spaced far apart. Moving in undetected, through the tighter nets of
guards around the camp, required the skill and patience of a feline.

That this base should have foot soldiers patrolling the ground around it
seemed absurd on the face of it, especially to the men who had to do it.
The planet was uninhabited and their only worry was from the skies above
where the TA satellites defended them.

The Intelligence officers knew better. They knew how easily one man
could slip through these defences. One man at a time, for several weeks,
and a sizable ground force could be built up in some remote spot on
Kligor. It was a long shot probability, but it was their duty to protect
against such a probability destroying what they had achieved.

There was also a traitor, one of those fluctuating spineless things,
loose on the planet--a clever man who couldn't be trusted by anyone.

This lack of trust was justified as Aron crawled and inched his way
through the last circle of sentries. His whole body was a detecting
device, listening for footsteps, watching for dim figures in the dark,
even his nose was waiting to detect the odor of a cigarette.

According to the paper he had been lucky enough to read in the
Intelligence offices when they weren't looking, he knew the Captain of
the guards should be making an inspection about then. The seconds hung
suspended, reluctant to pass, and Aron waited.

The Captain finally showed up, walking briskly, a smile on his face.
This smile was rudely erased and all future occasions for smiles removed
by a swiftly moving figure that plunged a knife into his throat before
his mind could translate the shock into a cry of alarm.

More movement on the path and a new Captain of the guards emerged,
walking just as briskly, but in a new direction.

The People's Republic's base occupied the narrow end of the valley, with
a canyon entrance serving as the apex of the triangle it covered. Near
this apex were the buildings, the dozens of barracks and administrative
buildings, all dwarfed by the massive concrete warehouses set around
them against the hills. In these warehouses were the fuel, food and
munitions of the enemy.

Below these buildings were the ships, first the rows of the 27 warships
and then the 40 or so cargo and troop ships. These supply ships made up
the base of the triangle. From the air these ships looked like a tiny
forest of needles stuck upright in the ground, but from close range on
the ground, where Aron walked in the captain's uniform, they were
mammoth towers of steel--again, a matter of scale.

He emerged from the sentry lines near the cargo ships. These were all
sealed and unoccupied and he passed the rows of them without a glance.
It was a long walk, for the ships were hundreds of feet apart. The open
field where they rested had the rough ground of a meadow, making his
attempted military stride more of a burlesque jerky gait while he tried
not to stumble.

There was a guard outside the airlock of each of the warships, for the
crews remained aboard constantly. These guards were standing around
talking to friends or moving restlessly about.

The sentries saluted Aron as he marched by, for they could see the brass
on his uniform gleaming in the dark. He found what he wanted, a group of
four guards talking by one airlock. They snapped to attention as he
approached.

The base had expanded so rapidly, with new units and men being shifted
constantly, that Aron counted on the men not knowing exactly who the
Captain of the guards should be. All the sentries knew was the insignia
of the Captain was before them and the man who wore them was to be
obeyed.

His orders sent a chill of alarm through them. He said he had received a
report of someone slipping through the guards and moving among the cargo
ships. Since the soldiers were needed to patrol, he wanted these men to
gather all the warship guards together and search the area of the cargo
ships.

In answer to the question in their eyes, he said he knew the warships
would be unguarded but he was ordering a special detail to replace them
immediately.

The four dispersed and, in a few minutes, all of the lock guards had
left their posts and were moving down to the cargo ships.

Time was the critical element now. Aron had taken a terrific chance by
donning the Captain's uniform, but he had pulled off the bluff and now
he had to capitalize on it--fast!

While the ship sentries were on their futile search, he ran from ship to
ship, jumped into the open airlocks and worked quickly with pliers and a
screwdriver. It was a little trick that he had learned from a talkative
spaceman in a bar many years ago. It worked on any ship. Disconnect a
tiny spring, cut a wire, and it was impossible to close the massive
airlock door.

Aron wanted very badly to have those doors stay open.

Twenty-seven ships, hundreds of feet apart. He was on his last five when
the search was abandoned and the sentries began returning. He hoped they
would react normally, taking their time, dragging their feet and talking
to each other in disgust about the wild goose chase.

On the last two ships he had to use different tactics. The sentinels had
returned. When he walked up to them, they came to attention sullenly,
waiting the chance to deride the usual stupidity of the soldiers and
their Captain.

Instead, they had their throats cut.

Finishing the last airlock, Aron then walked through the post. Right up
the main street he strode, his heart in his throat but his step and
demeanor firm. The time of night helped him, for there were few soldiers
about that might recognize him, and what few patches of light were
thrown out from windows and doors were quickly swallowed by the black
maw of darkness.

Up the main street, past the barracks, towards the last warehouse at the
head of the valley. The two pillars of rock that marked the opening of
the canyon served as a background for the massive blank walls of this
warehouse.

At the little door set in the center of the front wall there was a
sentry. He was grumbling to himself about having to do such a damn-fool
thing as guard a warehouse when there wasn't an enemy within light years
of the building.

He was wrong. And the enemy killed him.

Inside the warehouse, there being no lock on the door, Aron groped about
in the stuffy, pitch blackness till he came to a little fire station set
against a wall. There was a locker containing an insulated suit, hatchet
and other fire-fighting equipment, at this station.

He donned the fire-fighting suit and helmet and went to one end of the
building that was walled-off. In this separate room was the emergency
power supply for the base. There was a turbine with a fuel supply and
tiers of high-voltage storage batteries. There was also a fire hose on
one wall because of the presence of the combustible turbine fuel.

       *       *       *       *       *

Aron had to pause for a minute to gather his thoughts. He had come so
far, so fast through the first steps of his plan and now he was ready
for the final action.

What Aron now needed for success was three things. Sulphuric acid and
salt water in large quantities and the right wind.

The first two had been thoughtfully provided by the People's Republic.
The third was a matter of waiting. The land on Kligor was dry. What
little water supplies were available weren't enough to maintain a base
the size the garrison had built. Since the ocean was only fifteen miles
from the valley where the base was located, it was a simple matter to
pipe in water.

One of the mammoth cargo ships had been loaded with six inch flexible
hose, tougher than steel, wound on drums. It was a matter of a day's
work to fly the ship slowly from the ocean to the base, laying out
fifteen miles of this flexible pipe on the ground.

It was salt water, then, that was received at the base. Most of it was
filtered through a chemical plant in the valley to make fresh water, but
it was salt water that was available to the fire hoses for the needed
quantity and pressure.

The emergency power supply and the fire hoses were only normal safety
precautions, but now, in the hands of the Traitor, they became deadly
weapons.

By pushing the lever that removed the lids from the storage batteries
automatically for inspection he had sulphuric acid--for the law of
conservation of energy said that man had achieved the highest efficiency
of electro-chemical conversion, in practical form, in the lead acid
storage battery.

After finding the light switch and flipping it on, Aron found this lever
and released it. Now all he needed was wind, and he had that, blowing a
cool ten miles an hour down the canyon and over the valley. He had to
consult the weather maps at his station for weeks to determine the
probability of this wind occurring and the weather conditions that
produced it. One small breeze to chart, when his recording instruments
gave hourly descriptions of the whole planet's climate. It wasn't too
hard a job.

Yet that breeze had to be at the right time, at night and on the night
he wanted. Close enough to the attack date to be effective yet not too
soon. Last night his instruments recorded the data that would produce
this wind, so he was making his strike tonight.

He could not stand and gloat exultantly over his success. There were
dead sentries and sprung airlocks that might be discovered.

With a twist of a nozzle, the fire hose came to life, throwing a pulsing
stream of water on the batteries.

What Aron had done by ingenuity, luck, daring and careful planning was
finished. It was now nature's turn.

       *       *       *       *       *

The next night after his one man attack on the base, Aron had a visitor
at his weather station. The visitor was in sad shape. His clothing was
disheveled, his face dirty and unshaven, his eyes bloodshot and he
seemed to be on the verge of a mental collapse with a frantic gleam to
his eye.

But he held a pistol in his hand and Aron didn't.

He was an officer of the Intelligence Corps of the People's Republic. It
was not the officer who had first visited Aron, but one of the others
that Aron had come vaguely to know, like picking out sheep from a flock.

He had been away from the base on a planetary reconnaissance mission the
night before. Since then he had gone through a nightmare ordeal.

He had returned to his base to find sixty ships of the People's Republic
about to fall into enemy hands without a struggle, because 200,000 men
were dead or dying of chlorine gas poisoning.

The gas that had come pouring out of the warehouse at the head of the
valley last night. It had billowed down the valley, its streamers and
tentacles pushed by the gentle wind bringing the sleeping men awake
coughing and gasping only to fall asleep again--permanently.

It had seeped through the barracks, the warehouses and into the open
airlocks of ships, while dying men tried frantically to close those
locks. They wouldn't close though, and the spacemen died puzzled as to
why not.

In galactic warfare, with the emphasis on speed, maneuverability, range
and power of space cannon, et cetera, everyone had forgotten an archaic
weapon--gas. Aron hadn't.

After the horror of this discovery, the Intelligence officer had taken a
flier to Aron's station.

He was feeling justifiably sorry for himself and his empire's thwarted
plans for conquest, now completely impossible since the United Empire
had been notified of the impending attack, and since the most strategic
part of that attack, the Kligor task force, had been destroyed.

His military mind refused to admit that one man, the Traitor, Aron,
could have caused this tragic defeat. He was willing, however, to vent
his desire for revenge on this one man.

Aron was unmoved by his threats and denunciations. The Intelligence man
was going to kill him, certainly, but the officer wanted to make him
suffer first, to make him squirm.

When one man has defeated and completely made fools of a galactic
empire, killing is too simple.

"We weren't stupid enough to try to coerce you with pure logic," the
agent was saying to Aron. "We knew you must have a large amount of
patriotism to even take such a thankless job as this Kligor post."

"There had to be something else, some stronger reason to make you reject
your empire."

Aron watched him warily. He could tell by the malevolent gleam of the
Intelligence man's eye and the sneer that he was playing a trump, that
he had a choice bit of information he thought would hurt Aron. All Aron
could do was listen.

"You came here happily married and full of patriotic zeal," the armed
man said. "That way you were no prospect for us.

"We changed those conditions by a very simple act.

"We killed your wife."

[Illustration]

The officer watched him like a hungry animal, waiting for the reaction.

The reaction was a pitying smile and the following words.

"Why don't you sit down. I know you are going to kill me, there's
nothing I can do about it and, actually, I don't object. But I would
like to say several things first and you might as well be comfortable
while I'm talking.

"I want to speak my piece mostly to clarify my ideas before death, but
also so that you, who will continue to live, will be able to think about
them in the future."

While the agent sat down with a puzzled look, Aron continued, "That is
why, when there is combat between men, it will always be in doubt. Even
though one side may be outnumbered, outmaneuvered and have all the
military laws of advantage against it, that side can still win.

"You have made the one mistake, the perpetual mistake, of combat. You
forgot about the psychological factor. The force that can make a man
surrender when the odds are with him, or fight like a demon when it is
hopeless.

"So long as there is war, this psychological factor will make it an
even, undecided combat despite all laws of logic.

"The psychological factor in this case, the one you overlooked, was that
I love my empire more than my wife. She was merely a companion. You
wouldn't know that, or the reasons for it, unless you knew my whole
life--and not just the events of my life, my whole psychological life."

"Of course we couldn't know that," the enemy agent said, "but we could
go on general rules of human behavior, and those rules deny the fact
that a man can love a state more than a woman."

"Good God!" Aron exclaimed. "What training do you Snooper boys get? You
don't even know the rudiments of psychology. Intelligence men--ha! All
you know how to do is steal papers, kill in the dark and be suspicious
of everyone all the time."

In a quieter tone, Aron went on, "It is easy to love a state like a
woman, because a State is a woman.

"A love for State fulfills all emotional needs. The censorship of
yourself by your super-ego, manifested in a desire for repentance or
masoschism, this need is effected by dedication such as my lonely watch
here.

"Your destructive tendencies, half of the love-hate primary drive of
life, can be expressed by fighting and destroying an enemy. You can't
destroy your wife because of laws, yet everyone wants to.

"The other half of the ambivalent drive, your love desire can be
committed in a platonic admiration or a patriotic zeal as you call it.

"Sure, the State is a woman. It'll kick you around, neglect you and
abuse you; but when she rewards you, she does so lavishly. And this,
plus the self-satisfaction of having protected her from her enemies and
helping her to survive--this is all the consumation of a love affair
that a man could want.

"I know, what about the physical love? If all your other emotional needs
are so well satisfied, you can be happy without that, especially if
you're used to it--"

The agent interrupted. Aron knew he was not comprehending what he was
saying, the man was still in a state of shock. But Aron knew the words
were there, in the man's brain till he died. He could reason them out
later.

"All right, all right," the agent said, "I am not here to argue
philosophy. I just want to know why our plans failed."

"Since your wife's death didn't make you disillusioned enough to be
receptive to treason, weren't you at least impressed with our offers of
fabulous wealth and release from this prison?"

Aron rose from his chair and walked to the window. He didn't notice the
agent and his menacing gun. He didn't care.

He looked out at the lifeless sunset of the world that sported the bare
minimum of vegetation so it couldn't be insulted with the word "barren".

"Just another case of Intelligence men's stupidity," Aron said so
quietly that the other man had to lean forward to hear. "Don't you know
anything about your own territorial administration or ours? Do you know
how they choose their men for these stations?"

"No, that isn't our department," was the answer.

Aron turned from the window and looked at him, seeming surprised to see
him and hear him.

"Well, what sort of men would they choose? Where could they get men with
the intelligence and ability required to operate one of these stations
and cope with situations such as I've faced here? Where would they get
such men to renounce the brilliant careers they could have amongst
civilization with such capabilities?"

"Damn it! Stop playing games. Spill what you've got to say!"

Aron looked at him coldly, searchingly, "Since you are attached to the
Navy I imagine you've clocked many hours in space." When the agent
nodded, Aron said, "Then, if you are lucky and show enough sense, you
will become a TA man."

Slowly, comprehension came to the Intelligence man. The gun clutched in
his hand lowered, his whole body slumped as he caught on to the fact
they had overlooked. The fact that caused the failure of their plans.
The fact that was his grim future.

"Fermi radiations!" Aron barked. "They rot your cells, weaken the blood,
ruin the body. A man can spend about five years as a spaceman, about
twenty months of which is spent in actual space. Twenty months and the
man is doomed.

"If the man is smart he can become a space officer, then when he retires
at twenty-five, he can land a good job with the TA. He doesn't want
anything to do with civilization. That five years has made him love
space, love isolation. So, they are willing to take these jobs, to be
put out to pasture on wayward planets until they die at thirty-five." It
was said with all the bitterness of a condemned man.

"What use would I have of your offers, even if they were true. When I
finish, or rather, if I had finished my stay on Kligor, I'd only have a
few months till I die. Your pleasant little cries of adventure, luxury,
women, meant nothing.

"I just wanted to be alone to die."

Now it was the enemy agent's turn to speak bitterly. "Then you planned
it all along. You led our men on, pretending you were going to aid us
while you were in our midst learning everything about us to destroy us.

"You finally found the method, God knows where you dug up that fiendish
idea of sulphuric gas, but you planned and watched. I'll never know how
you were so lucky--and it was pure luck, but you did it. You destroyed
our base."

With a smile, "Yes, I was lucky, I had a chance to end my life in a
final battle and victory. That's all a man can ask for."

Aron was still smiling when the blast of the Intelligence man's gun blew
his head off.

As he left the station, all the agent could think of was one phrase he
had heard many times jokingly; but now it became a grim accompaniment
for his footsteps. Though he didn't want to hear it, it kept whispering
through his mind every few seconds.

"Live fast, fight hard, die young--and have a radiation-rotted corpse."

Two hours later the United Empire fleet landed on Kligor. They came to
claim the sixty ships lying waiting--waiting--in the peaceful valley
that was still tainted with the smell of chlorine.





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