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´╗┐Title: A Matter of Order
Author: Holden, Fox B.
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.

*** Start of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "A Matter of Order" ***

                           A MATTER OF ORDER

                           BY FOX B. HOLDEN

                   _Balance is a fundamental law of
                  cancel such a principle even though
                  the future of Mankind demands it?_

           [Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from
               Worlds of If Science Fiction, August 1956.
         Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
         the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]

"I don't like it at all," the tall thin man said. His name was Tharn,
and he was known throughout the sprawling colony for the high-strung
nervousness that was understandable enough in a youth of fifty, but
hardly normal for a man of his years. You had to be careful how you
talked to Tharn, even if you were Angelo, Dean of Masters, himself. "I
don't like it," Tharn reiterated, with another dramatic sweep of his
long bony arm, "one bit, Angelo. Look at them, circling up there."

The thin, lined face turned squarely to Angelo's own, and the large,
almost protruding black eyes snapped with all the vibrant fire of the
fine artistic mind that boiled constantly behind them.

Angelo turned his own eyes upward, momentarily following Tharn's
still-upthrust arm. Although he did not need to look again. It was
as the Second-Eldest of the colony said, of course. The slender,
stylus-shaped object that reflected the golden midday sunlight in
splintering shards against the almost cloudless cobalt of the sky still

It would land at the edge of the great colony. Angelo knew this, Tharn
knew it, the colony knew it.

Angelo turned his old eyes back upon Tharn, and the ghost of a smile
plucked at his white-bearded lips. Tharn colored, suddenly aware of the
incongruous picture he presented. Poised with all the drama of a Mark
Antony pleading to the populace to sorrow for a Caesar, while rather
mundanely bedecked in his paint-spattered working-smock! The high color
in his seamed face remained, but he pursued his point as though Angelo
had never smiled at all. "They won't be satisfied--"

Angelo got up from the canvas stool before his easel, and the motion
itself was enough to halt Tharn in mid-sentence. There was going to be
some sort of action, anyway.

"Now look," Angelo said slowly. His voice carried the measured
deliberation that its rich, deep timbre complemented so harmoniously.
"First of all, Tharn, if we begin showing signs of undue alarm, you
know what it will do to our younger men and women. They'll be upset for
weeks, and we'll have another one of those terrible Realist periods."
Angelo grimaced with his incredibly bushy eyebrows. "Besides that, if
you'd take a really careful look at that ship, you'd see in a moment
that it's certainly of a type none of us have ever seen. We certainly
cannot prevent its landing. We certainly do not have the means to
present a hostile front when it does. Therefore, we shall go to the
Dell and greet it. I would estimate--" Angelo turned his massive,
white head slowly for another glance above the low, alabaster walls of
the mosaic-tiled court-yard, "that they will effect a landing within
another ten minutes or so. If you'll send an apprentice to go fetch
Maler, the Philosopher, and Ghezi, the Semanticist, and--and I think
Ojar, the Orator, with word to meet us by the Lesser Amphitheater
there, we can be on our way directly. Oh--and Tharn--"

Tharn followed the First-Elder's glance to his paint-smeared smock,
colored once more, and immediately erupted into a volcano of action,
as though rounding up a young jack-a-napes apprentice and locating and
donning a suitable street toga were things that could be simultaneously

He exited, mumbling heatedly between cries of "Boy! _Boy!_" and Angelo
smiled again, and prepared his own person for the meeting. He mused
that Maler, the Philosopher, commented often in his evening wine that
to run was never to escape, only to change the pattern of pursuit,
and of course you couldn't argue much with Maler. Not and win,--but
then, nobody on Ste. Catherine very often argued to win. Where was the
pleasure in that?

       *       *       *       *       *

There was a great, scorched spot in the soft greenness of the
gently-rolling earth, and it widened like an undammed, muddy pool as
the thundering, cylinder of steel lowered itself on a pillar of flame.

They kept a respectable distance; Angelo, Tharn, Maler, Ghezi, Ojar,
and the several hundred curious and apprehensive of the colony who had
followed. Angelo had decided the closest possible spot for waiting,
stopped there, and then made no move save to shield his eyes from the
terrible glare of the ship's landing-jets as it made its cautious
descent. As he had predicted, the chosen landing-spot was at the
extreme northern edge of the Dell, near the Lesser Amphitheater. And
they had all just arrived in time.

The ship settled; its thunder ceased.

Masters, Students, and apprentices alike unshielded their eyes, and
then all were turned in unbroken silence toward Angelo himself. He was
Dean. He could deal with this.

Angelo hesitated for perhaps a full minute. In that time he ordered
the scene in his mind; the ship from Space, thrust upward toward
the heavens like some weapon of challenge, surrounded by the gentle
undulations of the low Renoir range to the far west; the rugged,
ice-capped Alps of Cezanne to the south and further distant still; the
low, wind-tossed and wild Van Gogh Plain that stretched endlessly to
the east, and finally to the north, the fertile richness of the Valleys
of Rembrandt which reached as far as the eye could see.

All this, and the warmth of the clear atmosphere that embraced it all
was seen and felt in that minute--by Angelo, and by the rest, as he
intended they should. _This_, the minute seemed to say, _is yours. Do
not betray it._

And then he was walking with the dignified deliberation of his office
toward the ship, the pure white of his full toga billowing gently in
the soft breezes of the Dell.

There was a clanging sound. A round section of the ship, near the
wide fins of its stern, swung open; men came through it, started down
a series of metal rungs to the ground. As he walked, Angelo counted
them--one; two; three. Three men.

Three men from Earth, of course.

And he knew what they wanted.

They met halfway; three men from Earth in their blue-and-silver
uniforms, their heads close-shaven, their boots polished as though
fashioned of metal ... and Angelo, inches shorter than they, far
greater in girth than they, with his feet in hide sandals, and his long
white hair falling free to merge with the rolling folds of his single

The man in the middle of the uniformed trio spoke; the obvious leader.

"This is the--the Colony of Artists, Planet of Ste. Catherine?" The
heavy sound of his voice seemed to balk at the words ever so slightly.
"You are their leader?"

"I am Angelo, Dean of Masters here," Angelo replied. "I do not lead,
but guide, instead. I am at your service, gentlemen of Earth."

"You seem certain of where we are from."

"But of course--do I not immediately recognize and speak your tongue?"

"You would, of course," the leader said, and Angelo did not miss the
hint of grudging acknowledgement in his voice as he said it. In face
he was little different than the other two, although perhaps a year or
two older. But for all practical purposes they were the same--the high
foreheads, the too-closely-spaced blue eyes, the sharp, disciplined
features, the lack of any genuine character at all. They were as much
of the same bolt of cloth as the uniforms they wore.

"Of course," Angelo smiled. "Our memories here on Ste. Catherine are
fortunately long, and our libraries are well-filled--and well-used! And
of course we have been expecting you."

"_Expecting_ us?"

"Naturally," and again Angelo smiled. "It is a philosophical truth
after all--Man is a social creature by nature, and as such, must
continually seek the company of his own kind. And of course," and there
was the hint of a repressed glitter in the old man's eyes, "the people
of Earth have always known, and have--have never forgotten where we of
Ste. Catherine were to be found."

The leader reddened and seemed on the point of explosive speech, and
the muscles of his jaw hardened as he controlled his impulse. Angelo

"You are of course--correct," he said after a moment's pause. "And it
will perhaps be best for all that we understand each other clearly from
the beginning. We come to you in some embarrassment, we come to you
asking a favor." The last word the leader uttered with a distaste that
the best of his self-discipline could not control, and Angelo chuckled
inwardly. A favor, was it? Embarrassed, were they? He could quite

"Perhaps," Angelo said, "it would be more comfortable to discuss your
mission in my studio. Will you gentlemen follow me, please?"

He turned and began walking back to where the others waited, and
the three men from Earth followed him. At first they balked for the
briefest moment, but they followed him.

       *       *       *       *       *

The studio of Angelo, Dean of Masters, was open to the sky like his
court-yard, for this was the fair season on Ste. Catherine in this
latitude, and not yet time to draw the transparent tarpaulin skylight
across the tops of the studio walls. Angelo had seated himself near
the center of the superbly-muraled room, on one of the low, colorful
cushions so widely preferred in the colony to the more formal furniture
that was still to be found, to some extent, in the shops and homes of
the artisans. Artists in their own way, of course--and some practical
work had to be put up with to satisfy the more mundane requirements of
existence. As long as they took true pride in the beauty of their work,
the artisans would always be very welcome members of the colony--as
well, to be sure, as necessary.

And seated in a semi-circle behind Angelo were the other Elders,
and two or three advanced Students to cater to whatever needs might
arise during the conference. There would be no apprentices here!
Before Angelo, taking to their cushions rather awkwardly (his beard,
fortunately, was of sufficient luxuriance to cloak the tiny smile of
satisfaction at his lips!) were the three Earthmen; their leader, of
course, in the center and facing Angelo directly.

"We may begin at any time," Angelo said in his most courtly fashion.
Those behind him nodded--Tharn for once a little absently, because he
had become involved in a rather difficult line-sketch on the tablet
supplied him for note-taking. He didn't approve of these strangers, but
there were more important things than interstellar visitors, especially
since they were only Earthmen, and Angelo was insisting on taking full
charge. He, Tharn, was through arguing. Walking multiplication-tables!
Pah! Angelo could have them, then!

"It is possible you are not aware, here on Ste. Catherine," the leader
began with the slightest tinge of sarcasm, "that on Earth there is, at
present, a rather regrettable difference of thinking on policy."

"Another political slaughter, that is," Angelo countered not too
lightly for the obvious allusion to Ste. Catherine's complete lack of
any kind of electrical or electronic communications. "A major war, in
other words."

The leader flushed slightly. "Well, yes. As a matter of fact, it has
gotten somewhat out of control." His teeth were almost clenched as he
made the admission, and Angelo easily sensed the pain in the man at
having to make it to the Artists of Ste. Catherine, of all people in
the universe. "Out of control," the leader was continuing, "to the
point where, in fact, and according to the unimpeachable findings
of our actuarial computers, human life on Earth is threatened with
complete extinction." The leader hesitated, interpreted the looks in
the eyes of the men whom he faced, and found himself not quite able to
meet them with his own. But he continued; best to get it said once and
for all.

"We are now, of course, well aware that predictions which were once
thought the mere rantings of alarmists--religious and philosophical
cranks--were tragically accurate. Both sides are perfectly matched
from the technological aspect, of course. The so-called 'secrets' of
science cannot be kept 'secret' at all, at least not by men. They exist
everywhere in the universe, for any man to seek and to exploit as he
sees fit." He paused, at last found the temerity to meet the gazes of
the others.

"Go on," Angelo said.

"Both sides have come to absolute stalemate. But not, regrettably, the
kind of stalemate that means cessation of activity. In a conflict to
the death, stalemate simply means battle without victory; battle until
neither side has a living man left to fight.

"So, in short, we are desperate. There _must_ be a victor, or Earth is
lost entirely. One more mass strato-attack with L-bombs and.... Well,
at any rate--there must, as you can readily understand, be a victor,
and soon. Obviously, the Others must be defeated."

_Yes of course_, thought Maler, the Philosopher. _It is the_ Others,
_always, who must be defeated_....

"And so we have," the leader was saying, "come to you for help."

He stopped speaking then, for a moment, waiting for Angelo's
reply. Waiting simply for him to ask "what kind of help could we
Artists possibly give _you_...."--waiting for, and prepared to take
unflinchingly, the searing taunt that could not help but be in the
question ... "--you who can fly ships through Space, who have at your
computer-tips the hard-won miracles of science and engineering?" But
wordlessly, the leader waited.

And in the brief moment before he spoke, the history of it all flashed
through Angelo's mind; the history that began with the Revolt. Three
centuries ago, with the Ancestors of them all on Ste. Catherine. The
artists, the philosophers, the writers, the orators, the dramatists,
the poets--all of them, who had, when at last they could no longer
stomach their civilization's arrested adolescence and its refusal to
be weaned from its electronic and atomic toys, remembered the first
Fundamental Law of Order in art, and put it to devastating use. Unity.

In Unity, they rebelled.

They warned, first, in fairness. They took pains to point out
carefully that it is a healthy sign for the developing child to become
intrigued with movement, sound, and color--that it was normal for a
child to spend hours observing, examining, operating, even building a
new mechanical toy. But when his new books gathered dust and fell into
disuse--when he could quote all of Faraday and none of Swinburne--when
this happened, his development as a human being of full depth and
breadth was at an end.

When he became hypnotized by his toys--

When motion and force became an obsession--

When the means became an end in itself; when the tool became the
_raison-d'etre_, rather than the structure it had been fashioned only
to help build, then the point of civilization had been hopelessly lost,
and thinking men had but one alternative: leave, and start over.

And so, banded together, they had left.

It had not been so difficult. For to the Ancestors, a tool was always
that and nothing more. They could not build spaceships, but they could
buy them, and so they had.

They could not navigate Space nor pilot their craft, so they hired the
technicians and engineers who could.

And when the Ancestors had arrived at a planet of their choice (the
scientists had been duly proud of their superior accomplishment in
being able to find just such a planet--and of course were paid more
than the engineers and technicians) the Ancestors gave them all
sizable bonuses and sent them packing back to Earth where there were so
many fine Things to spend their money on.

The Ancestors had, of course, been called dreamers, ivory-towerists,
alarmists, fools. They had been called madmen who lived in the
unenlightened past, believers in some foolishness called artistic
integrity; schizoids who were afraid to face Reality. Posh, polish,
and good riddance muttered the sane ones over their charts and
oscilloscopes as the last of the Ancestors' ships blasted free of
Earth. Muttered, of course, because there was, somehow, a vague
awareness that the Culture-Vultures hadn't left in fear of the bright,
quick Machines, but in--well, _they_ said, in _disgust_!

Good riddance to childish rubbish.

But now, apparently, the men of Earth had gotten themselves into
something so peculiarly impossible that they were desperate enough to
face the cutting wit of the fat-bottomed Artists on Ste. Catherine,
who wouldn't be able to say "I told you so" in a straightforward,
matter-of-fact way and let it go at that. Oh, no. But it would be
better to have their damned articulate tongues tear you apart than an

       *       *       *       *       *

The moment of reflection was spent, and Angelo asked the question.

"And how can we help you?" was all he said.

The leader took a deep breath.

"One moment," Angelo said as he was about to speak. "Just a word of
warning if you please. If you want anything of us at all, simply state
your case in plain language. Don't try to 'sell' us anything--we can
beat you roundly at that! And if we agree to your request, you will
accept _exactly_ what we give you; beggars, no matter how expert in
_some_ things, are still not in the position of choosers! A matter,
after all, of--shall we say, artistic integrity?"

The leader's eyes flashed: _Damn you and your infernal artistic
integrity!_ but it was his mouth which, fortunately for him under the
circumstances, did the talking.

"Very well. As I said, both Sides are in perfect technological and
therefore military balance--"

"Balance _is_ so important," interrupted Angelo. Behind him, Ojar, the
Orator was having a difficult time repressing a yelp of pure mirth.
It was unfair, of course, to bait these stumble-witted fellows like
this, but it _was_ amusing--especially when Angelo did it, who, though
a Painter, was well up on his word-play. "... Perhaps you have already
noticed," Angelo was going on, quite oblivious to the perspiration on
the leader's high forehead, and exactly as Ojar had expected, "how well
we of Ste. Catherine observe the Fundamental Laws of Order. The Rhythm
of our very way of life, for example--but excuse me! You were outlining
your request...."

The leader had reddened helplessly, and his subordinates had both
stolen quick glances at him. It was as though images of the man
himself, reflected from mirrors at either side, had suddenly taken on
a volition of movement of their own. But quite quickly they became
well-behaved images again.

"Both sides have equally effective weapons and defenses," the leader
went on, "and so it has become a disastrous war of attrition. To win,
we must have something they do not have, obviously."

"To bring your Side into Dominance, of course," said Angelo sagely. "To
prevent your Subordination, as it were...." Ojar had a sudden, violent
fit of coughing.

"Yes," the leader said. There was a momentary blankness in his eyes,
and Angelo decided that enough was enough. Unfairness was unfairness,
after all. They must hear the man out.

"We have looked back over history," the leader said. "It was an
unprecedented step, to be sure, but we _were_ desperate! At any rate,
we discovered that one time, it was possible to make an enemy believe
he was wrong, and that you, _his_ enemy, were _right_, through a rather
obscure verbal art called, I believe it was, propaganda?"

"Yes," said Angelo. "The province in Art of writers and orators. As a
painter or sculptor will create illusion with paints or stone, just so
did the writer create illusion with letters."

"So we came to understand," the leader said, trying a little note of
sarcasm of his own. "Our present difficulty is this: we of course have
no such peop--er, Artists--at our disposal. We of course tried our own
hand at it but nobody ever seemed quite able to agree on just what it
was we were trying to talk about, so--well--We have come to you. Will
you do this for us? A few words, for the sake of humanity?"

Clever, thought Maler, at that. An intended appeal to the philosophical
side of the artistic mind. Maybe the poor wretch really meant it, even
if he wasn't aware that "humanity" meant _both_ Sides.

"To answer you," Angelo was replying, "I'll of course have to summon
our Master of Letters. It may not be easy to win his assent, I warn
you. He can trace his own ancestry all the way back to newspaper
reporters, advertising copywriters and trade-journal writers--and so
has naturally inherited their bitterness toward all such prostitutions
of the Art of Writing, and artistic integrity in general. And you will
admit that hacking out propaganda to order is of course just that, to
say nothing of the moral aspects involved! However--"

Magnanimously, Angelo lifted his right arm and beckoned, and a Student
was at once at his side.

"Fetch Master Forsyth at once. And tell him I said to leave his new
Quarto behind; this is urgent."

The young woman left, and they waited.

"A cigarette?" Angelo proffered the leader.

There was surprise on the man's face. "You mean you can make--"

"Just crude paper and tobacco grown in the soil," Angelo said
apologetically. "Untouched by any rays but the sun's, I'm afraid,
and our few medicine-men--we have all kinds of hobbies here of
course--just won't comment. Here ... and a light...."

The leader had almost finished his cigarette when the Master of Letters

"Angelo, you churl, sir! Do you know how long I've been working on
that line? You know how difficult it is for me to get a decent trochee
when I'm--oh, company? Capital! 'Come fill the Cup, and in the Fire of

"Please, Forsyth. These men are here on business. They want you to do
them a favor."

Resignedly, Forsyth kept quiet. And listened for good measure.

He listened for ten minutes. And then the leader was finished and
Forsyth said "A pox on't!"

"Please, Forsyth--"

"He's _right_!" came Tharn's voice. "I told you I didn't like it, and I
_don't_, and--"

"_He_ doesn't like it?" bellowed Forsyth. "Then by Heav'n, I'll _do_
it! Teach you, sire, to make charcoal caricatures of _me_ on a day when
I'm not lampooning _you_! Very well, but I don't think I've got too
many apprentices that aren't engaged right at the moment. Nonetheless,

The leader was beyond control. "_Apprentices_, did you say?" he croaked
hoarsely. "Why, you--"

"What in Dante did you think, man-child?" shot back Forsyth. "You
don't suppose I'd give you finished, creative _writers_ for the job
of a trained ape, do you? _Some_ apprentices I've got, and _some_
apprentices you'll get--and only because Dean Angelo here says so."

       *       *       *       *       *

The three men from Earth strode with military precision back toward
their ship. The leader was in the center, and his subordinates, each
with bulging briefcases in both hands, were on either side. A large
group from the colony walked at a slower pace behind. Angelo, as usual,
was at their head, and flanking him were Tharn and Forsyth.

"Another whole _week_ wasted!" lamented Forsyth. "Not that the time
means anything, but those sensitive young boys and girls of mine will
never be the same! One of them, just this morning, told me she was
thinking of taking up _politics_ as a hobby! The tortures I go through
for you, Angelo--"

"I _still_ don't like it!" Tharn cut him off. "And I don't like them!
And, Forsyth, I saw what you had your precious little apprentices
doing! You had them writing _exactly_ the same tripe they wrote for
that _other_ crowd that landed two weeks ago!"

"Tharn, you certainly aren't the only one who has no use for that
barbaric breed. So--as long as they remain equally matched, they'll
eventually, uh--"

"_But that means_--"

"A Fundamental Law of Order, of course, my dear Tharn. _Balance_, as I
think I may already have pointed out...."

Forsyth quoted something from on obscure source about the importance
of artistic integrity, and then they watched together as the ship from
Earth blasted homeward.

*** End of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "A Matter of Order" ***

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