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´╗┐Title: Nor Dust Corrupt
Author: McConnell, James V.
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 "Nor Dust Corrupt" ***

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                           Nor Dust Corrupt

                         BY  JAMES  MC CONNELL

                _Burial on Earth was the dream of every
             person in the galaxy. And Krieg was certainly
                rich enough to buy his way in. Valhalla
                 was his. But he changed his mind...._

           [Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from
             Worlds of If Science Fiction, February 1957.
         Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
         the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]


The room seemed more a mausoleum than an office, but that was as had
been intended. Perhaps thirty feet high, fifty feet wide, it stretched
a good hundred feet in length. It was paneled entirely in jet black
onyx, which gave a sense of infinity to it. The floor was a thick lawn
of heavy black pile carpeting. Only two areas of the room offered
mitigation to this oppressive gloom. Just past the middle, bathed in a
haze of light, was placed a large black desk, and behind it sat a man.
At the far end of the room, slightly elevated, was an alabaster statue,
an abstraction of incredible beauty and poignancy. The statue too was
wrapped in a soft nimbus. Few visitors to this room ever had to be told
the title of this work of art, for its meaning was apparent in its
every line--_Bereavement_.

The man behind the big black desk belonged to the room as much as did
the onyx walls, the thick carpet or the alabaster statue. Without the
presence of this man the chamber seemed strangely empty, strangely
morbid, and few of the man's associates cared to remain in the room
when he was not there. Somehow the warm air of benevolence to be
found in his fair, pinkish face softened the harsh somberness of the
appointments, while the gentle strength in his dark and mournful eyes
gave amelioration to the atmosphere of despair. His job was to be a
Janus, looking from the cheery rubric of today towards the unknown but
dimmer colors of tomorrow--to be a bridge between present pleasures and
future fears. There was no better man for the task in all the Galaxy
than Consolator Steen.

At the moment Consolator Steen sat waiting, thinking, planning. Soon
through the huge doors facing him would come a man, one Joseph Krieg by
name, who sought Steen's assistance. The fact that Krieg was one of the
richest men in all the known universe made the impending interview a
most important one, for Consolator Steen's assistance depended entirely
upon the price that could be paid.

Steen's fingers flicked over the set of hidden controls on his desk.
Everything was in readiness. "And another innocent fish gets hooked,"
he muttered to himself. He sighed once, shortly, then touched an
invisible button. "I will see Joseph Krieg now." In the outer office
Steen's aide-de-camp, Assistant Consolator Braun, sprang to an attitude
of proper deference as the huge bronze doors swung open. Braun bowed
slightly as Joseph Krieg strode past him and into the onyx chamber.

       *       *       *       *       *

Steen's eyes narrowed in admiration as he examined the man walking
towards him. Joseph Krieg was a huge person, just past middle age but
still retaining the hardened appearance of late youth. His face had
a chiseled squareness to it, and his manner indicated not so much
wealth as it did an obvious determination to succeed. This would be an
interesting fish to play with indeed, Steen thought.

About half-way to the desk Krieg stumbled slightly, but recovered
his pace with the cumbersome grace of some massive animal. A smile
flickered briefly over Steen's face. The thickness of the carpet had
more purposes than one. When Krieg was almost upon him, Steen stood up.

Krieg stopped in front of the desk, facing Steen, as if waiting for
some signal. Steen, who knew the value of silence, remained absolutely
still. After a few seconds, obviously perplexed, Krieg smiled
nervously. "Consolator Steen?"

"Welcome to Earth, Joseph Krieg. Welcome to the Heart of the Galaxy."
Steen's voice was rich, mellifluous, and the words fell from his mouth
like benedictions. He extended a hand. "Won't you please be seated?"

The chair received Krieg's body as if it were the most precious burden
it had ever held. Its soft contours almost demanded that he relax,
yield the tenseness of his muscles to its smooth and welcoming shape.
Its surface closed around him as if it were a second skin, then began
to tingle in gentle caress. Joseph Krieg had never felt so comforted in
his life.

Consolator Steen seated himself behind his desk, then waited until
his assistant, Braun, had taken a chair some feet away. He smiled
paternally. "May I ask you one favor? Would it seem presumptuous if
I called you Joseph? Perhaps you would feel it an impertinence on my
part, but...." Consolator Steen gestured slightly with both his hands,
as if to implore forgiveness.

Joseph Krieg smiled, nodded his head. "Of course I won't mind if you
use my first name. It would be an honor, Sir." The smile continued on
his face, but his eyes narrowed as if he were attempting to puzzle out
the figure behind the desk.

"You will excuse me too if I say that you've come too soon, Joseph,"
the Consolator said.

"Too soon?" Krieg replied quizzically. "I don't think I...."

Steen smiled warmly. "I only mean that you look still so young, so
strong and vibrant with life. And yet, perhaps you are the wiser to
come now, still in the vigor of living. It shows an honesty with
yourself, an ability to face the facts, which is much to be admired."

"Thank you, Sir," Krieg replied. He continued to stare at the
Consolator.

Steen knew full well the turmoil that was stirring within the man. The
entire interview had been psychologically planned to evoke dark and
dormant emotions which, when released, would destroy Krieg's normal
ability to judge situations impassively. Proof that things were going
as intended came from Krieg's continual use of the word "Sir." Krieg's
commercial empires spanned the Universe; from perfume to starships,
from food to fertilizers, he was king. And yet he would never
understand that it was Steen's quiet paternal power, the fact that he
wore wise sorrow wrapped around him the way some men wear a cloak, that
called forth this unfamiliar reverence. The psychological survey done
on Krieg had cost the Consolator a small fortune, and he didn't intend
to waste it.

"You must realize, Joseph, that the things which you have come to
discuss are matters of the deepest concern for all of us here on
Earth." Steen gesticulated towards Braun as if Braun represented
somehow all the other billions on Earth. "The problem is one that
touches deep within all of us, and we are anxious to be of whatever
service possible. But more than anything else, we want you to know
that we _understand_."

"Thank you, Sir," Krieg repeated. He frowned for a moment, then seemed
to smile. "But if you don't mind, maybe we could begin our discussion
of terms."

Steen raised one eyebrow slightly. The man showed a remarkable lack of
sentimentality. Corrections would have to be made in the approach....

"Of course. I am delighted to get on with things. And I must say, I
find your attitude extraordinarily sane. The problem is, really, a
simple one best met head on. You are here because you know that as it
come to all men, death must come to you too. And you feel the necessity
to make certain that when your time comes, you will be brought to
Earth to your final rest. You are a son of Earth. This is your great
ancestral home."

Krieg started slightly, then relaxed almost in reverie. Steen smiled
inwardly at the power of words, repeated, to invoke long forgotten
memories. For Steen knew that when Krieg had been no more than a
toddling child, learning to read, learning to respond to affection,
his simple-syllabled books had spoken in reverent tones of "The Great
Ancestral Home." In later years, all of Krieg's studies had had hidden
at their core an emotional dependence upon Earth. No place was finer,
more beautiful, more important. No, not all the rest of the stars put
together. He had been told it a million times until it had become an
inseparable part of his very personality, just so the words would have
the desired effect at this moment. _The Great Ancestral Home._

"You are so fortunate, my son," the Consolator continued. "So very few
of Earth's teeming children will ever have the opportunity that lies
within your grasp. You must make the most of it."

As Steen watched, Krieg seemed to shake some of the feeling of awe from
him. "I intend to make the most of it, Sir," he said, offering Steen
his most charming smile. "It just depends on how hard a bargain you
want to drive."

Consolator Steen gave Krieg a look of mild reproach. "There is no
'bargaining' to be done, Joseph. The monetary considerations are set
by law, and we have no choice in the matter. All that we can do is to
explain the services which we are prepared to extend to you, and then
help you as best we can to arrive at the most suitable decision. Our
position is simply that of catering to your individual wants as best we
can."

"My wants are simple," Krieg replied, and it seemed to Steen that far
too much of the man's usual forcefulness was returning to his voice. "I
wish to be buried on Earth when I die, and I want you to arrange this
for me."

"Of course, of course, my son," Steen said, letting just a glint of
steel appear in his eyes. "But what do we mean by burial? We have such
different problems here on Earth than you do elsewhere in the Galaxy.
You must understand that. We are forced to such strange solutions to
these problems. But perhaps if I merely show you the various types of
burial which we undertake, then you will understand." Steen laughed to
himself. The fish appeared fat and hungry, and now it was time to drop
in the bait.

       *       *       *       *       *

The Consolator touched a hidden switch atop his desk and one of the
black onyx walls rippled and seemed to dissolve in mist. A replica of
Earth swam through the haze and into view. "Earth. Such an incredibly
small planet, Joseph. But the heart of the Galaxy none the less."
The replica seemed to swell in size and geographical details became
apparent. "Earth. Once a world of gentle, rolling plains, winding
rivers, thick forests, wide oceans and soaring mountains. Just like any
other habitable planet. And now look at it. One solid mass of buildings
and machines, Joseph. We've drained the oceans and filled in their beds
with metal. We've destroyed the forests and the rolling plains and
planted the land for miles above and below with throbbing inorganic
monsters. We've hollowed out the very mountains to make more space.
Space for nine hundred billion people, Joseph. And still we are cramped
almost beyond belief. We need to expand a hundredfold. But we cannot.
There simply is no room left.

"No room for the living, Joseph, and this means no more room for the
dead, either. Here, let me show you." The scene changed, showing first
a huge building, and then, the bottom floor of the edifice. "This is
one of our larger buildings, Joseph. It is more than fifty miles long
and one hundred miles wide. The bottom floor alone is more than one
quarter mile high. This huge space is completely filled with cubes two
inches square. Each cube holds the ashes of one human being who wished
to find his final resting place on Earth."

Consolator Steen made a motion of resignation. "Notice that I said 'on
Earth,' Joseph, and not 'in Earth.' This is our 'pauper's field,' the
burial ground of those devoted souls who could not afford to be buried
_in_ the Earth itself."

Joseph Krieg frowned. "But surely underneath the building...."

"Underneath the bottom floor of that building are the bodies of many
millions more, Joseph, just as there are bodies under all of our
buildings. Bodies of those wealthy few who could afford to escape
cremation and find surcease of life in the loamy substance of the Earth
itself. I shudder to tell you how tightly packed they are, of the
skin-tight coffins which we had to devise, of the geometrical tricks
involved in jamming as many bodies as possible in the least amount of
space. And yet, it _is_ burial, and it is _in_ the Earth itself. No
granite monuments, of course, no vases of flowers, no green grass. Just
a perpetual flame burning in the main lobby of the building, and a
micro-film file available somewhere listing the vital statistics of all
those souls whose remains lie in the basement--or below."

Krieg's face was furrowed with a heavy frown. Steen's words had been
as shocking to the man as Steen had hoped they would be. "But the
Parks...."

"Ah, yes, Joseph. The Parks...." Consolator Steen leaned forward
slightly. The fish was sniffing at the bait quite properly now. "Our
Parks, which are the one remaining link with the past. Those green and
grassy meadows in the midst of our metallic forests. The last places
on Earth where you can be buried out in the open, with flowers over
your head and birds singing above. You want to be buried in one of the
Parks, don't you Joseph?" When the man nodded briefly, Steen continued.
"Which Park, Joseph?"

"Manhattan...."

Steen drew himself up with a sudden, silent movement. The fish had
taken a good look at the bait. Now to remove it from sight for a while.
Steen closed his eyes briefly, then raised a hand as if to brush away
a sudden tear. "I'm sorry, Joe. Very sorry indeed. I was afraid that
was what you wanted, and yet, there was always...." He blinked his
eyes. "Manhattan Park is impossible, Joe. Confucius Park in Hong Kong,
perhaps. I think there are still same plots available in Frogner Park
in Oslo. I'm certain that we could get you into Amundsen Park at the
South Pole. But Manhattan.... No, Joe. That's one dream I'm afraid
you'll just have to give up."

"Why?" Joseph Krieg asked quietly but determinedly.

"Have you ever seen it, Joe? I thought not. It's perhaps the most
beautiful part of this most beautiful planet in the Galaxy. Would you
like to see Manhattan?"

_Manhattan._ Steen was quite aware that to Joseph Krieg this was a
word of a hundred thousand associations, each of them connected with
love, security, devotion and repose. It was like asking a starving man
if he would care for something to eat.

Steen did not even wait for a reply. "I think it could be managed, as a
special favor. Permission to enter Manhattan Park is difficult to get,
you know, but I think this once...." Steen turned to Braun. "Put a call
through to the President's office...."

       *       *       *       *       *

Atop grassy knolls, supple willows trailed languid branches to the
ground. Silver-throated birds sang secret melodies while bees hummed
a scarcely audible background. Narrow graveled paths wound through
this gentle landscape, now hugging the edge of a tinkling stream, now
plunging through carpets of gorgeous flowers. The three men sat silent
on a rough stone bench observing the pastoral scene.

Finally Consolator Steen spoke softly. "I understand how you feel,
Joe. The first time any of us sees it, we are afflicted with silence.
Its beauty is almost painful, the memories it invokes almost beyond
bearing. Lincoln is buried there, just beyond that hillock; Landowski
not far from him. Shakespeare's grave is there to the right, and close
by is the body of Sharon, the poet of the Galaxy. Einstein's final
resting place is a mile or so away, and near to it you'll find Chi Wan,
who gave us Stardrive. Humanity's Valhalla, Joe."

Joseph Krieg had not cried openly since childhood, and yet now there
were tears in his eyes. "This has always been my dream...."

Consolator Steen placed a friendly arm around the man's shoulders.
"Yes, now you have seen it. Your dream has come true." He paused for
just a moment, then said, "And now, Joe, perhaps we had better go."

Joseph Krieg turned towards the man with an abrupt motion. "Go? Why
should we go? We've been here scarcely ten minutes."

"Because the longer you stay, the harder it will be for you to leave,
Joe. And the less attractive the other parks will seem to you. So, I'd
like for us to leave at once." His voice became businesslike. "First,
I'd like to show you Hong Kong, and then...."

"I don't want to see Hong Kong, or any place else. This is where I want
to be buried, Steen. Whatever the price is, I'll pay."

Consolator Steen sighed deeply. "I don't think you understand, Joe.
It isn't a matter of price. Manhattan is simply not available to you,
for the reason that it is not for sale. I know that you have heard
otherwise; I am sure that rumors have reached your ears that burial
in Manhattan could be effected for a mere trillion credits. But these
fantastic tales are incorrect--for two reasons.

"The first reason, Joe, is a financial one. To the average man, a mere
million credits is such a gigantic, unobtainable sum that he is sure
anything in the Galaxy could be obtained for a trillion. This is not
so, as you and I both know. Why, a million credits will scarcely get
you a burial in a two-inch-square cube in the bottom floor of one of
our huge buildings. Remember? I called those huge bargain basements
'pauper's fields.' And that they are--available to those poor people
throughout the Universe who have only a few millions to their names.
Incredible, isn't it?

"A trillion credits? Why, it takes a hundred billion to make you
eligible for burial _under_ one of the buildings, where you're packed
in like a sardine with millions of other bodies. And how many people
in the Galaxy can lay their hands on a hundred billion credits? The
answer, Joe, is too many people indeed. Some of them have so much more
money than that, they can actually afford to be buried in one of the
Parks.

"A trillion credits? Yes, that will get you buried in Hong Kong Park,
or in Frogner, or Amundsen. But not for long. You can rent a temporary
grave in Hong Kong, for example, for a mere billion credits a day. At
that rate, for a trillion credits, you'd stay buried on Earth for less
than three years, and then your body would have to be moved elsewhere.
Very few people can afford to purchase a permanent plot in one of
these parks. But they are available--at a cost of something like one
quadrillion credits. And just how many men in the Galaxy _have_ a
quadrillion credits or so?"

Consolator Steen knew the answer to this question exactly--he also knew
that Joseph Krieg was one of these men. Krieg could have afforded a
quadrillion credits, but it would have exhausted his fortune. Steen
waited until he was sure that the other man was deep in mental turmoil
and then he continued, his voice now softer, less commercial sounding.
"And having given you 'the prices,' so to speak, of the lesser
treasures, I will now surprise you by saying that the entry ticket to
Manhattan Park is free."

Joseph Krieg looked at the man intently, a curious fire of hope in his
eyes. "Free?"

Steen nodded. "And because it is free, it is unobtainable. It is not
generally known, Joe, but the only way one can be buried in Manhattan
Park is by permission of the Galactic Congress. Only certified heroes
are so honored, and they are few and far between. Remember the great
bacteriologist Manuel de Artega? It took the Galactic Congress more
than fifty years of debate after he died to decide to let him in--but
after all, the only claim to fame he had was that he saved a few
trillion lives from the Green Plague. He was buried here some thirteen
years ago. There has been no one since, and no one in sight."

Steen patted the man on the shoulder. "Now, come along, Joe. I want you
to take a look at Amundsen Park before you make up your mind. It's not
at all cold at the Pole these days--lovely flowers, trees...."

"No!" Joseph Krieg cried, standing up. Steen and Braun both rose too.
"There must be a way!"

The Consolator smiled inwardly. _The fish was responding
magnificently. Now to push the bait just a little closer...._

"Now, now, Joe. You mustn't get upset about this. The other Parks are
just as fine, I assure you," Steen murmured in consolation.

Krieg shook his head. "You can't tell me that sometime or other someone
didn't buy his way into Manhattan. It stands to reason...."

"Now, Joe. You're taking this much too hard...."

"I tell you, I know people. And that's all the Galactic Congress is
made up of--people. Tell me the truth, Steen. Has anyone ever bribed
his way into this Park?"

Steen frowned and turned his head slightly away from the man. _Just a
flick or two more of the line...._

       *       *       *       *       *

"I wish you wouldn't ask me questions like that, Joe. When I say
that it's impossible, I mean just that. You'll just excite yourself
needlessly by listening to foolish rumors...."

Krieg pounced on the word jubilantly. "What do you mean, rumors? Then
there _has_ been someone who bought his way in! Who was it, Steen? I
swear, if you don't tell me, I'll move heaven and earth to find out."

Consolator Steen seemed to consider for a moment, then sighed.
_Hooked._ "All right, Joe. But believe me, you'll wish you hadn't
asked. For what happened to ... to this other person is unattainable to
you."

"Who was it?" Krieg asked excitedly.

"Who was the richest man who ever lived, Joe?"

"You mean...."

"Who was it that founded the University you went to, the hospital in
which you were born? Who gave a magnificent library to every city in
the known universe, who was it...."

Krieg interrupted. "Old C. T. himself...."

Steen nodded. "Yes, old C. T. Anderman himself. Years ago, Joe, he
faced the same problem you face now, and he reacted the same way you
have. So he set out on a campaign to get into Manhattan the only way
he knew how--with money. There was one difference, Joe. Where you are
fabulously wealthy, C. T. Anderman was wealthy beyond all dreams. Do
you know that he gave away more than one quintillion credits--_gave it
away!_ Just to make his name universally known. 'The Philanthropist of
the Galaxy,' they called him. One quintillion credits! No wonder they
voted him a hero's grave. But what the press and the public never knew
is that it cost him more than twice that much--for he had to spend
another one quintillion credits for bribes and influence. It took him
fifty years, Joe, to pack the Galactic Congress with enough of his men
to swing the trick. But he finally did it."

There was a short silence, then Steen continued. "Now you see why I
didn't want to tell you, Joe--to raise false hopes. Only one man in
the Galaxy was ever wealthy enough to buy his way into Manhattan. And
he had to give up his entire fortune to do it. I'm afraid that you'll
never make the grade, Joe."

Krieg stood stunned. Steen was aware that two quintillion credits was
beyond Krieg's wildest dreams, for Steen knew that Joseph Krieg had
come to Earth determined to purchase his burial lot and then retire
from the business world.

Steen pulled lightly at Krieg's arm. "Now, come along, Joe. Let's go
take a look at Hong Kong." The three men started off down the path, but
before they had gone ten feet, a robot scurried out of the bushes and
dashed over to the bench they had been sitting on. It clucked softly
to itself, put forth several arms, and in a matter of seconds had
completely washed and disinfected the bench.

Joseph Krieg, an empty and numb look on his face, stopped to watch the
process. He stared for a few seconds, then asked hoarsely, "What's
that?"

Consolator Steen smiled. "One of the Guardians, Joe. Superb--and
completely incorruptible. Within minutes after we leave, every vestige
of our visit will be gone--each piece of gravel we tread on will be
scrubbed clean or replaced, each piece of grass we touch uprooted and
destroyed, even the very air we breathe will be sterilized to remove
our traces. We have our problem of vandals too, you know," Steen said,
a wisp of a smile playing about the corners of his mouth. "But these
are vandals who want to get in and leave something, not like those
of ancient times on Earth who broke into burial grounds to loot and
destroy. Yes, Joe, we found long ago that the only safe method was
to employ mechanical devices to guard against clandestine burials. So
even the gardeners who keep this Park in blossom are mechanical. See,
there's another one over there, hard at work."

Joseph Krieg turned and saw to one side, by a large bed of red flowers,
another robot with dozens of visible appendages. It purred an almost
silent tune as it clipped and pruned, dug and spaded, trimmed and
cleaned the beds, occasionally sprinkling a rich fertilizer dust here
and there.

"The Guardians of Valhalla, Joe. They were set into motion centuries
ago, and not even the President knows how to change their orders. They
can't be bribed, even if their human masters can be."

Joseph Krieg stooped down beside the bed of flowers. He reached out and
picked up a handful of the fine dirt and let it slip pensively through
his fingers. "Dust unto dust," he said slowly. "Man was created from
the soil of Earth, and to dust he returneth." There was a long silence
as Steen let the emotion run its course. Then he touched Krieg lightly
on the arm and the man stood up again. They started off down the path,
ignoring the machine that skittered along behind them, cleansing each
bit of gravel they stepped upon.

To Steen, this was always the most important part of the interview.
While the fish was masticating the bait, he had to prattle on to keep
the hook from becoming too visible. "Some day I must tell you of all
the ways people have tried to get themselves buried on Earth without
paying for the privilege, Joe. It makes a fascinating story. We're in a
difficult position here, you know, for we have to import every single
bit of food we eat, every machine we use, each piece of clothing that
we wear. But every single item that we import is carefully scanned to
make sure that no one has concealed so much as a single human hair
in the process." Steen watched Krieg's face closely as they walked.
The man should be going through hell just now, but not too much of it
showed on his face. Steen continued his prattle, a little puzzled.

"Oh, it's incredible the ways that people have tried to cheat. Some of
the methods used are too ugly to relate, some of them humorous beyond
belief. But this is why we've resorted to mechanical guards all the way
round--to maintain our incorruptibility. Even Anderman with all of his
quintillions could not have bribed his way past our machines." Steen's
voice betrayed none of the anxiety that he felt. For Joseph Krieg was
almost smiling now, was apparently feeling none of the great confusion
that Steen had counted upon.

They reached the gates. "Well, Joe. I think we'll head straight for
Hong Kong, if you don't mind. It will be early morning there by now,
and that's the best time...."

Joseph Krieg turned to face the man. "Thank you very much, Consolator,
but I don't think that will be necessary. You see, I've changed my
mind."

Steen repressed a frown. "Changed your mind?" he asked blandly.

"Yes. After giving it due consideration, I think that it would be
foolish to squander all of my fortune on a burial on Earth. My family
would be cheated out of its inheritance if I did, and after all, if my
sons carry on in their father's tradition, that's enough for me." Krieg
extended his hand. "I wish to thank you, Steen, for your kindness. I
regret that I have troubled you for nothing."

Steen shook the man's hand warmly, using his free hand to grasp Krieg's
arm in friendly fashion. "It was no trouble at all, I assure you. But
please understand, Joseph, if I can ever be of service to you in _any_
way, if I can ever be of assistance in any manner whatsoever, please
do not hesitate to call upon me. After all, even Anderman had certain
problems which...." Steen smiled knowingly.

Krieg returned the smile. "I think I understand. And I appreciate your
offer, although I must tell you that there is little likelihood that
I will be forced to take it up. Again my thanks. And now, good-bye."
Krieg turned and strode through the gates.

       *       *       *       *       *

Consolator Steen and his assistant, Braun, stood watching the man as he
disappeared into the distance. Then Steen turned and walked over to one
of the benches in the Park near to the gates. He sat down wearily.

"Braun," he said. "I don't like it. Not at all. He should have
been beside himself with worry, he should have pumped me for more
information, he should have done a thousand other things. But he
didn't. He just turned and left. I tell you, I don't like it at all."

Braun frowned. "He seemed to take the bait, Sir."

"And then, after sniffing it over carefully, he turned and spat it
right back in our faces. We can't afford mistakes like this, Braun.
Earth needs the money too badly. It's our only means of support, and we
can't let a fish like Krieg get off the hook."

"There are other fish around, Sir."

Steen's face took on an angry look. "Of course there are. But none
with the potentialities that Krieg showed. Don't you realize that ever
since that sad day when Earth realized that she was a has-been, she's
had to take advantage of every single opportunity offered her, just to
keep alive? Oh, they were clever, those ancient ones who realized that
if a civilization is to be kept together, it must have a myth. And so
they gave our civilization its myth--that of Earth, the Great Ancestral
Home. Just accidentally, it also offered Earth a means of retaining at
least a part of her power."

Steen waved his hands in the air. "From an economic viewpoint it was
nice too. Only the very wealthy could afford an Earth burial, and so it
became a means of hidden, graduated taxation--Earth soaked the rich and
ignored the poor, and cut her overt taxes while doing so. Burial became
so costly that it helped break up the huge estates, it helped leaven
out the wealth. Our propaganda was sharpened to the point where we
could take a man like Anderman and drive him all of his life towards an
almost unattainable goal, force him to expend his tremendous energies
in the accumulation of great wealth, extending the frontiers of the
Galaxy as he did so, building up our civilization's strength in the
process, and then, in the end, make him turn all of his wealth over to
Earth in one form or another. Oh, I tell you, Braun, those ancient ones
were clever."

The tirade halted. The air hung silent for a moment, and the twittering
of a nearby bird could be heard.

"They were very, very clever. They gave us all the tools, and somehow
we've failed to use them correctly. What was it, Braun? What did we do,
or fail to do, that let Krieg get away from us?"

Braun frowned. "I don't know, Sir. Perhaps he just changed his mind
about Earth."

Steen snorted. "Impossible! He's had too many years' exposure to our
propaganda for that. He can no more give up his dream of burial in
Manhattan than he can give up his very personality. No, Braun, I think
we just underestimated the man. Somewhere along the line he had an
idea, he saw something that we failed to see."

Braun shrugged his shoulders. "But what are we going to do about it?"

Consolator Steen pursed his lips. "I tell you what I'm going to do
about it. I'm going straight back to the office and sit and think, and
think, and then think some more. Krieg's got a good fifty years ahead
of him yet, and that means I've got exactly that long to guess what's
on his mind. I'll get that quintillion credits if it's the last thing I
do."

       *       *       *       *       *

They had no more than reached the gate when one of the mechanical
Guardians appeared from behind a bush, chortled to itself and scurried
over to the bench. It cleansed the rough-hewn stone, then washed the
path the two men had taken. Then, its exceptional chores accomplished,
it went back to its normal pursuits.

It approached a bed of begonias nearby. One appendage extended itself
and began digging up the dirt around the plants. Meanwhile, inside the
machine, other appendages ripped open a small bag and spilled the fine
dust inside the bag into a small trough. The empty bag was rolled up
and stuck in a disposal bin along with several other bags, all with
identical markings:

                        JOSEPH KRIEG AND SONS,
                            BY APPOINTMENT,
                           PURVEYORS OF FINE
                              FERTILIZERS
                      TO THE GALACTIC GOVERNMENT
                               ON EARTH

The machine clucked quietly to itself as it sprinkled the dust evenly
over the black, yielding earth. It patted the fertilizer gently into
the rich soil, making sure that each plant got its fair share. Then it
scurried off silently to tend to a bed of calla lilies nearby.





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