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´╗┐Title: Cultural Exchange
Author: Laumer, Keith
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 "Cultural Exchange" ***

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                           CULTURAL EXCHANGE

                            BY KEITH LAUMER

                 It was a simple student exchange--but
                       Retief gave them more of
                   an education than they expected!

           [Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from
             Worlds of If Science Fiction, September 1962.
         Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
         the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]


                                   I

Second Secretary Magnan took his green-lined cape and orange-feathered
beret from the clothes tree. "I'm off now, Retief," he said. "I hope
you'll manage the administrative routine during my absence without any
unfortunate incidents."

"That seems a modest enough hope," Retief said. "I'll try to live up to
it."

"I don't appreciate frivolity with reference to this Division," Magnan
said testily. "When I first came here, the Manpower Utilization
Directorate, Division of Libraries and Education was a shambles. I
fancy I've made MUDDLE what it is today. Frankly, I question the
wisdom of placing you in charge of such a sensitive desk, even for two
weeks. But remember. Yours is purely a rubber-stamp function."

"In that case, let's leave it to Miss Furkle. I'll take a couple of
weeks off myself. With her poundage, she could bring plenty of pressure
to bear."

"I assume you jest, Retief," Magnan said sadly. "I should expect even
you to appreciate that Bogan participation in the Exchange Program may
be the first step toward sublimation of their aggressions into more
cultivated channels."

"I see they're sending two thousand students to d'Land," Retief said,
glancing at the Memo for Record. "That's a sizable sublimation."

Magnan nodded. "The Bogans have launched no less than four military
campaigns in the last two decades. They're known as the Hoodlums of
the Nicodemean Cluster. Now, perhaps, we shall see them breaking that
precedent and entering into the cultural life of the Galaxy."

"Breaking and entering," Retief said. "You may have something there.
But I'm wondering what they'll study on d'Land. That's an industrial
world of the poor but honest variety."

"Academic details are the affair of the students and their professors,"
Magnan said. "Our function is merely to bring them together. See
that you don't antagonize the Bogan representative. This will
be an excellent opportunity for you to practice your diplomatic
restraint--not your strong point, I'm sure you'll agree."

A buzzer sounded. Retief punched a button. "What is it, Miss Furkle?"

"That--bucolic person from Lovenbroy is here again." On the small desk
screen, Miss Furkle's meaty features were compressed in disapproval.

"This fellow's a confounded pest. I'll leave him to you, Retief,"
Magnan said. "Tell him something. Get rid of him. And remember: here
at Corps HQ, all eyes are upon you."

"If I'd thought of that, I'd have worn my other suit," Retief said.

Magnan snorted and passed from view. Retief punched Miss Furkle's
button.

"Send the bucolic person in."

       *       *       *       *       *

A tall broad man with bronze skin and gray hair, wearing tight trousers
of heavy cloth, a loose shirt open at the neck and a short jacket,
stepped into the room. He had a bundle under his arm. He paused at
sight of Retief, looked him over momentarily, then advanced and held
out his hand. Retief took it. For a moment the two big men stood, face
to face. The newcomer's jaw muscles knotted. Then he winced.

Retief dropped his hand and motioned to a chair.

"That's nice knuckle work, mister," the stranger said, massaging his
hand. "First time anybody ever did that to me. My fault though. I
started it, I guess." He grinned and sat down.

"What can I do for you?" Retief said.

"You work for this Culture bunch, do you? Funny. I thought they were
all ribbon-counter boys. Never mind. I'm Hank Arapoulous. I'm a farmer.
What I wanted to see you about was--" He shifted in his chair. "Well,
out on Lovenbroy we've got a serious problem. The wine crop is just
about ready. We start picking in another two, three months. Now I don't
know if you're familiar with the Bacchus vines we grow...?"

"No," Retief said. "Have a cigar?" He pushed a box across the desk.
Arapoulous took one. "Bacchus vines are an unusual crop," he said,
puffing the cigar alight. "Only mature every twelve years. In between,
the vines don't need a lot of attention, so our time's mostly our own.
We like to farm, though. Spend a lot of time developing new forms.
Apples the size of a melon--and sweet--"

"Sounds very pleasant," Retief said. "Where does the Libraries and
Education Division come in?"

Arapoulous leaned forward. "We go in pretty heavy for the arts. Folks
can't spend all their time hybridizing plants. We've turned all the
land area we've got into parks and farms. Course, we left some sizable
forest areas for hunting and such. Lovenbroy's a nice place, Mr.
Retief."

"It sounds like it, Mr. Arapoulous. Just what--"

"Call me Hank. We've got long seasons back home. Five of 'em. Our
year's about eighteen Terry months. Cold as hell in winter; eccentric
orbit, you know. Blue-black sky, stars visible all day. We do mostly
painting and sculpture in the winter. Then Spring; still plenty cold.
Lots of skiing, bob-sledding, ice skating; and it's the season for
woodworkers. Our furniture--"

"I've seen some of your furniture," Retief said. "Beautiful work."

Arapoulous nodded. "All local timbers too. Lots of metals in our soil
and those sulphates give the woods some color, I'll tell you. Then
comes the Monsoon. Rain--it comes down in sheets. But the sun's getting
closer. Shines all the time. Ever seen it pouring rain in the sunshine?
That's the music-writing season. Then summer. Summer's hot. We stay
inside in the daytime and have beach parties all night. Lots of beach
on Lovenbroy; we're mostly islands. That's the drama and symphony time.
The theatres are set up on the sand, or anchored off-shore. You have
the music and the surf and the bonfires and stars--we're close to the
center of a globular cluster, you know...."

"You say it's time now for the wine crop?"

"That's right. Autumn's our harvest season. Most years we have just the
ordinary crops. Fruit, grain, that kind of thing; getting it in doesn't
take long. We spend most of the time on architecture, getting new
places ready for the winter or remodeling the older ones. We spend a
lot of time in our houses. We like to have them comfortable. But this
year's different. This is Wine Year."

       *       *       *       *       *

Arapoulous puffed on his cigar, looked worriedly at Retief. "Our wine
crop is our big money crop," he said. "We make enough to keep us going.
But this year...."

"The crop isn't panning out?"

"Oh, the crop's fine. One of the best I can remember. Course, I'm only
twenty-eight; I can't remember but two other harvests. The problem's
not the crop."

"Have you lost your markets? That sounds like a matter for the
Commercial--"

"Lost our markets? Mister, nobody that ever tasted our wines ever
settled for anything else!"

"It sounds like I've been missing something," said Retief. "I'll have
to try them some time."

Arapoulous put his bundle on the desk, pulled off the wrappings. "No
time like the present," he said.

Retief looked at the two squat bottles, one green, one amber, both
dusty, with faded labels, and blackened corks secured by wire.

"Drinking on duty is frowned on in the Corps, Mr. Arapoulous," he said.

"This isn't _drinking_. It's just wine." Arapoulous pulled the wire
retainer loose, thumbed the cork. It rose slowly, then popped in the
air. Arapoulous caught it. Aromatic fumes wafted from the bottle.
"Besides, my feelings would be hurt if you didn't join me." He winked.

Retief took two thin-walled glasses from a table beside the desk. "Come
to think of it, we also have to be careful about violating quaint
native customs."

Arapoulous filled the glasses. Retief picked one up, sniffed the deep
rust-colored fluid, tasted it, then took a healthy swallow. He looked
at Arapoulous thoughtfully.

"Hmmm. It tastes like salted pecans, with an undercurrent of crusted
port."

"Don't try to describe it, Mr. Retief," Arapoulous said. He took a
mouthful of wine, swished it around his teeth, swallowed. "It's Bacchus
wine, that's all. Nothing like it in the Galaxy." He pushed the second
bottle toward Retief. "The custom back home is to alternate red wine
and black."

       *       *       *       *       *

Retief put aside his cigar, pulled the wires loose, nudged the cork,
caught it as it popped up.

"Bad luck if you miss the cork," Arapoulous said, nodding. "You
probably never heard about the trouble we had on Lovenbroy a few years
back?"

"Can't say that I did, Hank." Retief poured the black wine into two
fresh glasses. "Here's to the harvest."

"We've got plenty of minerals on Lovenbroy," Arapoulous said,
swallowing wine. "But we don't plan to wreck the landscape mining 'em.
We like to farm. About ten years back some neighbors of ours landed a
force. They figured they knew better what to do with our minerals than
we did. Wanted to strip-mine, smelt ore. We convinced 'em otherwise.
But it took a year, and we lost a lot of men."

"That's too bad," Retief said. "I'd say this one tastes more like roast
beef and popcorn over a Riesling base."

"It put us in a bad spot," Arapoulous went on. "We had to borrow
money from a world called Croanie. Mortgaged our crops. Had to start
exporting art work too. Plenty of buyers, but it's not the same when
you're doing it for strangers."

"Say, this business of alternating drinks is the real McCoy," Retief
said. "What's the problem? Croanie about to foreclose?"

"Well, the loan's due. The wine crop would put us in the clear. But
we need harvest hands. Picking Bacchus grapes isn't a job you can
turn over to machinery--and anyway we wouldn't if we could. Vintage
season is the high point of living on Lovenbroy. Everybody joins in.
First, there's the picking in the fields. Miles and miles of vineyards
covering the mountain sides, and crowding the river banks, with gardens
here and there. Big vines, eight feet high, loaded with fruit, and deep
grass growing between. The wine-carriers keep on the run, bringing wine
to the pickers. There's prizes for the biggest day's output, bets on
who can fill the most baskets in an hour.... The sun's high and bright,
and it's just cool enough to give you plenty of energy. Come nightfall,
the tables are set up in the garden plots, and the feast is laid on:
roast turkeys, beef, hams, all kinds of fowl. Big salads. Plenty of
fruit. Fresh-baked bread ... and wine, plenty of wine. The cooking's
done by a different crew each night in each garden, and there's prizes
for the best crews.

"Then the wine-making. We still tramp out the vintage. That's mostly
for the young folks but anybody's welcome. That's when things start to
get loosened up. Matter of fact, pretty near half our young-uns are
born after a vintage. All bets are off then. It keeps a fellow on his
toes though. Ever tried to hold onto a gal wearing nothing but a layer
of grape juice?"

       *       *       *       *       *

"Never did," Retief said. "You say most of the children are born after
a vintage. That would make them only twelve years old by the time--"

"Oh, that's Lovenbroy years; they'd be eighteen, Terry reckoning."

"I was thinking you looked a little mature for twenty-eight," Retief
said.

"Forty-two, Terry years," Arapoulous said. "But this year it looks bad.
We've got a bumper crop--and we're short-handed. If we don't get a big
vintage, Croanie steps in. Lord knows what they'll do to the land. Then
next vintage time, with them holding half our grape acreage--"

"You hocked the vineyards?"

"Yep. Pretty dumb, huh? But we figured twelve years was a long time."

"On the whole," Retief said, "I think I prefer the black. But the red
is hard to beat...."

"What we figured was, maybe you Culture boys could help us out. A loan
to see us through the vintage, enough to hire extra hands. Then we'd
repay it in sculpture, painting, furniture--"

"Sorry, Hank. All we do here is work out itineraries for traveling
side-shows, that kind of thing. Now, if you needed a troop of Groaci
nose-flute players--"

"Can they pick grapes?"

"Nope. Anyway, they can't stand the daylight. Have you talked this over
with the Labor Office?"

"Sure did. They said they'd fix us up with all the electronics
specialists and computer programmers we wanted--but no field hands.
Said it was what they classified as menial drudgery; you'd have thought
I was trying to buy slaves."

The buzzer sounded. Miss Furkle's features appeared on the desk screen.

"You're due at the Intergroup Council in five minutes," she said. "Then
afterwards, there are the Eogan students to meet."

"Thanks." Retief finished his glass, stood. "I have to run, Hank," he
said. "Let me think this over. Maybe I can come up with something.
Check with me day after tomorrow. And you'd better leave the bottles
here. Cultural exhibits, you know."


                                  II

As the council meeting broke up, Retief caught the eye of a colleague
across the table.

"Mr. Whaffle, you mentioned a shipment going to a place called Croanie.
What are they getting?"

Whaffle blinked. "You're the fellow who's filling in for Magnan, over
at MUDDLE," he said. "Properly speaking, equipment grants are the
sole concern of the Motorized Equipment Depot, Division of Loans and
Exchanges." He pursed his lips. "However, I suppose there's no harm in
telling you. They'll be receiving heavy mining equipment."

"Drill rigs, that sort of thing?"

"Strip mining gear." Whaffle took a slip of paper from a breast pocket,
blinked at it. "Bolo Model WV/1 tractors, to be specific. Why is MUDDLE
interested in MEDDLE's activities?"

"Forgive my curiosity, Mr. Whaffle. It's just that Croanie cropped up
earlier today. It seems she holds a mortgage on some vineyards over
on--"

"That's not MEDDLE's affair, sir," Whaffle cut in. "I have sufficient
problems as Chief of MEDDLE without probing into MUDDLE'S business."

"Speaking of tractors," another man put in, "we over at the Special
Committee for Rehabilitation and Overhaul of Under-developed Nations'
General Economies have been trying for months to get a request for
mining equipment for d'Land through MEDDLE--"

"SCROUNGE was late on the scene," Whaffle said. "First come, first
served. That's our policy at MEDDLE. Good day, gentlemen." He strode
off, briefcase under his arm.

"That's the trouble with peaceful worlds," the SCROUNGE committeeman
said. "Boge is a troublemaker, so every agency in the Corps is out
to pacify her. While my chance to make a record--that is, assist
peace-loving d'Land--comes to naught." He shook his head.

"What kind of university do they have on d'Land?" asked Retief. "We're
sending them two thousand exchange students. It must be quite an
institution."

"University? D'Land has one under-endowed technical college."

"Will all the exchange students be studying at the Technical College?"

"Two thousand students? Hah! Two _hundred_ students would overtax the
facilities of the college."

"I wonder if the Bogans know that?"

"The Bogans? Why, most of d'Land's difficulties are due to the unwise
trade agreement she entered into with Boge. Two thousand students
indeed!" He snorted and walked away.

       *       *       *       *       *

Retief stopped by the office to pick up a short cape, then rode the
elevator to the roof of the 230-story Corps HQ building and hailed a
cab to the port. The Bogan students had arrived early. Retief saw them
lined up on the ramp waiting to go through customs. It would be half
an hour before they were cleared through. He turned into the bar and
ordered a beer.

A tall young fellow on the next stool raised his glass.

"Happy days," he said.

"And nights to match."

"You said it." He gulped half his beer. "My name's Karsh. Mr. Karsh.
Yep, Mr. Karsh. Boy, this is a drag, sitting around this place
waiting...."

"You meeting somebody?"

"Yeah. Bunch of babies. Kids. How they expect--Never mind. Have one on
me."

"Thanks. You a Scoutmaster?"

"I'll tell you what I am. I'm a cradle-robber. You know--" he turned
to Retief--"not one of those kids is over eighteen." He hiccupped.
"Students, you know. Never saw a student with a beard, did you?"

"Lots of times. You're meeting the students, are you?"

The young fellow blinked at Retief. "Oh, you know about it, huh?"

"I represent MUDDLE."

Karsh finished his beer, ordered another. "I came on ahead. Sort of
an advance guard for the kids. I trained 'em myself. Treated it like
a game, but they can handle a CSU. Don't know how they'll act under
pressure. If I had my old platoon--"

He looked at his beer glass, pushed it back. "Had enough," he said. "So
long, friend. Or are you coming along?"

Retief nodded. "Might as well."

       *       *       *       *       *

At the exit to the Customs enclosure, Retief watched as the first of
the Bogan students came through, caught sight of Karsh and snapped to
attention, his chest out.

"Drop that, mister," Karsh snapped. "Is that any way for a student to
act?"

The youth, a round-faced lad with broad shoulders, grinned.

"Heck, no," he said. "Say, uh, Mr. Karsh, are we gonna get to go to
town? We fellas were thinking--"

"You were, hah? You act like a bunch of school kids! I mean ... no! Now
line up!"

"We have quarters ready for the students," Retief said. "If you'd like
to bring them around to the west side, I have a couple of copters laid
on."

"Thanks," said Karsh. "They'll stay here until take-off time. Can't
have the little dears wandering around loose. Might get ideas about
going over the hill." He hiccupped. "I mean they might play hookey."

"We've scheduled your re-embarkation for noon tomorrow. That's a long
wait. MUDDLE's arranged theater tickets and a dinner."

"Sorry," Karsh said. "As soon as the baggage gets here, we're off." He
hiccupped again. "Can't travel without our baggage, y'know."

"Suit yourself," Retief said. "Where's the baggage now?"

"Coming in aboard a Croanie lighter."

"Maybe you'd like to arrange for a meal for the students here."

"Sure," Karsh said. "That's a good idea. Why don't you join us?" Karsh
winked. "And bring a few beers."

"Not this time," Retief said. He watched the students, still emerging
from Customs. "They seem to be all boys," he commented. "No female
students?"

"Maybe later," Karsh said. "You know, after we see how the first bunch
is received."

Back at the MUDDLE office, Retief buzzed Miss Furkle.

"Do you know the name of the institution these Bogan students are bound
for?"

"Why, the University at d'Land, of course."

"Would that be the Technical College?"

Miss Furkle's mouth puckered. "I'm sure I've never pried into these
details."

"Where does doing your job stop and prying begin, Miss Furkle?" Retief
said. "Personally, I'm curious as to just what it is these students are
travelling so far to study--at Corps expense."

"Mr. Magnan never--"

"For the present. Miss Furkle, Mr. Magnan is vacationing. That leaves
me with the question of two thousand young male students headed for
a world with no classrooms for them ... a world in need of tractors.
But the tractors are on their way to Croanie, a world under obligation
to Boge. And Croanie holds a mortgage on the best grape acreage on
Lovenbroy."

"Well!" Miss Furkle snapped, small eyes glaring under unplucked brows.
"I hope you're not questioning Mr. Magnan's wisdom!"

"About Mr. Magnan's wisdom there can be no question," Retief said. "But
never mind. I'd like you to look up an item for me. How many tractors
will Croanie be getting under the MEDDLE program?"

"Why, that's entirely MEDDLE business," Miss Furkle said. "Mr. Magnan
always--"

"I'm sure he did. Let me know about the tractors as soon as you can."

       *       *       *       *       *

Miss Furkle sniffed and disappeared from the screen. Retief left the
office, descended forty-one stories, followed a corridor to the Corps
Library. In the stacks he thumbed through catalogues, pored over
indices.

"Can I help you?" someone chirped. A tiny librarian stood at his elbow.

"Thank you, ma'am," Retief said. "I'm looking for information on a
mining rig. A Bolo model WV tractor."

"You won't find it in the industrial section," the librarian said.
"Come along." Retief followed her along the stacks to a well-lit
section lettered ARMAMENTS. She took a tape from the shelf, plugged
it into the viewer, flipped through and stopped at a squat armored
vehicle.

"That's the model WV," she said. "It's what is known as a continental
siege unit. It carries four men, with a half-megaton/second firepower."

"There must be an error somewhere," Retief said. "The Bolo model I want
is a tractor. Model WV M-1--"

"Oh, the modification was the addition of a bulldozer blade for
demolition work. That must be what confused you."

"Probably--among other things. Thank you."

Miss Furkle was waiting at the office. "I have the information you
wanted," she said. "I've had it for over ten minutes. I was under the
impression you needed it urgently, and I went to great lengths--"

"Sure," Retief said. "Shoot. How many tractors?"

"Five hundred."

"Are you sure?"

Miss Furkle's chins quivered. "Well! If you feel I'm incompetent--"

"Just questioning the possibility of a mistake, Miss Furkle. Five
hundred tractors is a lot of equipment."

"Was there anything further?" Miss Furkle inquired frigidly.

"I sincerely hope not," Retief said.


                                  III

Leaning back in Magnan's padded chair with power swivel and
hip-u-matic concontour, Retief leafed through a folder labelled "CERP
7-602-Ba; CROANIE (general)." He paused at a page headed Industry.

Still reading, he opened the desk drawer, took out the two bottles of
Bacchus wine and two glasses. He poured an inch of wine into each and
sipped the black wine meditatively.

It would be a pity, he reflected, if anything should interfere with the
production of such vintages....

Half an hour later he laid the folder aside, keyed the phone and put
through a call to the Croanie Legation. He asked for the Commercial
Attache.

"Retief here, Corps HQ," he said airily. "About the MEDDLE shipment,
the tractors. I'm wondering if there's been a slip up. My records show
we're shipping five hundred units...."

"That's correct. Five hundred."

Retief waited.

"Ah ... are you there, Retief?"

"I'm still here. And I'm still wondering about the five hundred
tractors."

"It's perfectly in order. I thought it was all settled. Mr. Whaffle--"

"One unit would require a good-sized plant to handle its output,"
Retief said. "Now Croanie subsists on her fisheries. She has perhaps
half a dozen pint-sized processing plants. Maybe, in a bind, they
could handle the ore ten WV's could scrape up ... if Croanie had any
ore. It doesn't. By the way, isn't a WV a poor choice as a mining
outfit? I should think--"

"See here, Retief! Why all this interest in a few surplus tractors?
And in any event, what business is it of yours how we plan to use the
equipment? That's an internal affair of my government. Mr. Whaffle--"

"I'm not Mr. Whaffle. What are you going to do with the other four
hundred and ninety tractors?"

"I understood the grant was to be with no strings attached!"

"I know it's bad manners to ask questions. It's an old diplomatic
tradition that any time you can get anybody to accept anything as a
gift, you've scored points in the game. But if Croanie has some scheme
cooking--"

       *       *       *       *       *

"Nothing like that, Retief. It's a mere business transaction."

"What kind of business do you do with a Bolo WV? With or without a
blade attached, it's what's known as a continental siege unit."

"Great Heavens, Retief! Don't jump to conclusions! Would you have us
branded as warmongers? Frankly--is this a closed line?"

"Certainly. You may speak freely."

"The tractors are for transshipment. We've gotten ourselves into a
difficult situation, balance-of-payments-wise. This is an accommodation
to a group with which we have rather strong business ties."

"I understand you hold a mortgage on the best land on Lovenbroy,"
Retief said. "Any connection?"

"Why ... ah ... no. Of course not, ha ha."

"Who gets the tractors eventually?"

"Retief, this is unwarranted interference!"

"Who gets them?"

"They happen to be going to Lovenbroy. But I scarcely see--"

"And who's the friend you're helping out with an unauthorized
transshipment of grant material?"

"Why ... ah ... I've been working with a Mr. Gulver, a Bogan
representative."

"And when will they be shipped?"

"Why, they went out a week ago. They'll be half way there by now. But
look here, Retief, this isn't what you're thinking!"

"How do you know what I'm thinking? I don't know myself." Retief rang
off, buzzed the secretary.

"Miss Furkle, I'd like to be notified immediately of any new
applications that might come in from the Bogan Consulate for placement
of students."

"Well, it happens, by coincidence, that I have an application here now.
Mr. Gulver of the Consulate brought it in."

"Is Mr. Gulver in the office? I'd like to see him."

"I'll ask him if he has time."

"Great. Thanks." It was half a minute before a thick-necked red-faced
man in a tight hat walked in. He wore an old-fashioned suit, a drab
shirt, shiny shoes with round toes and an ill-tempered expression.

       *       *       *       *       *

"What is it you wish?" he barked. "I understood in my discussions with
the other ... ah ... civilian there'd be no further need for these
irritating conferences."

"I've just learned you're placing more students abroad, Mr. Gulver. How
many this time?"

"Two thousand."

"And where will they be going?"

"Croanie. It's all in the application form I've handed in. Your job is
to provide transportation."

"Will there be any other students embarking this season?"

"Why ... perhaps. That's Boge's business." Gulver looked at Retief with
pursed lips. "As a matter of fact, we had in mind dispatching another
two thousand to Featherweight."

"Another under-populated world--and in the same cluster, I believe,"
Retief said. "Your people must be unusually interested in that region
of space."

"If that's all you wanted to know, I'll be on my way. I have matters of
importance to see to."

After Gulver left, Retief called Miss Furkle in. "I'd like to have a
break-out of all the student movements that have been planned under the
present program," he said. "And see if you can get a summary of what
MEDDLE has been shipping lately."

Miss Furkle compressed her lips. "If Mr. Magnan were here, I'm sure
he wouldn't dream of interfering in the work of other departments.
I ... overheard your conversation with the gentleman from the Croanie
Legation--"

"The lists, Miss Furkle."

"I'm not accustomed," Miss Furkle said, "to intruding in matters
outside our interest cluster."

"That's worse than listening in on phone conversations, eh? But never
mind. I need the information, Miss Furkle."

"Loyalty to my Chief--"

"Loyalty to your pay-check should send you scuttling for the material
I've asked for," Retief said. "I'm taking full responsibility. Now
scat."

The buzzer sounded. Retief flipped a key. "MUDDLE, Retief speaking...."

Arapoulous's brown face appeared on the desk screen.

"How-do, Retief. Okay if I come up?"

"Sure, Hank. I want to talk to you."

In the office, Arapoulous took a chair. "Sorry if I'm rushing you,
Retief," he said. "But have you got anything for me?"

Retief waved at the wine bottles. "What do you know about Croanie?"

"Croanie? Not much of a place. Mostly ocean. All right if you like
fish, I guess. We import our seafood from there. Nice prawns in monsoon
time. Over a foot long."

"You on good terms with them?"

"Sure, I guess so. Course, they're pretty thick with Boge."

"So?"

"Didn't I tell you? Boge was the bunch that tried to take us over here
a dozen years back. They'd've made it too, if they hadn't had a lot of
bad luck. Their armor went in the drink, and without armor they're easy
game."

Miss Furkle buzzed. "I have your lists," she said shortly.

"Bring them in, please."

       *       *       *       *       *

The secretary placed the papers on the desk. Arapoulous caught her eye
and grinned. She sniffed and marched from the room.

"What that gal needs is a slippery time in the grape mash," Arapoulous
observed. Retief thumbed through the papers, pausing to read from time
to time. He finished and looked at Arapoulous.

"How many men do you need for the harvest, Hank?" Retief inquired.

Arapoulous sniffed his wine glass and looked thoughtful.

"A hundred would help," he said. "A thousand would be better. Cheers."

"What would you say to two thousand?"

"Two thousand? Retief, you're not fooling?"

"I hope not." He picked up the phone, called the Port Authority, asked
for the dispatch clerk.

"Hello, Jim. Say, I have a favor to ask of you. You know that
contingent of Bogan students. They're traveling aboard the two CDT
transports. I'm interested in the baggage that goes with the students.
Has it arrived yet? Okay, I'll wait."

Jim came back to the phone. "Yeah, Retief, it's here. Just arrived.
But there's a funny thing. It's not consigned to d'Land. It's ticketed
clear through to Lovenbroy."

"Listen, Jim," Retief said. "I want you to go over to the warehouse and
take a look at that baggage for me."

Retief waited while the dispatch clerk carried out the errand. The
level in the two bottles had gone down an inch when Jim returned to
the phone.

"Hey, I took a look at that baggage, Retief. Something funny going on.
Guns. 2mm needlers, Mark XII hand blasters, power pistols--"

"It's okay, Jim. Nothing to worry about. Just a mix-up. Now, Jim,
I'm going to ask you to do something more for me. I'm covering for a
friend. It seems he slipped up. I wouldn't want word to get out, you
understand. I'll send along a written change order in the morning that
will cover you officially. Meanwhile, here's what I want you to do...."

Retief gave instructions, then rang off and turned to Arapoulous.

"As soon as I get off a couple of TWX's, I think we'd better get down
to the port, Hank. I think I'd like to see the students off personally."


                                  IV

Karsh met Retief as he entered the Departures enclosure at the port.

"What's going on here?" he demanded. "There's some funny business with
my baggage consignment. They won't let me see it! I've got a feeling
it's not being loaded."

"You'd better hurry, Mr. Karsh," Retief said. "You're scheduled to
blast off in less than an hour. Are the students all loaded?"

"Yes, blast you! What about my baggage? Those vessels aren't moving
without it!"

"No need to get so upset about a few toothbrushes, is there, Mr.
Karsh?" Retief said blandly. "Still, if you're worried--" He turned to
Arapoulous.

"Hank, why don't you walk Mr. Karsh over to the warehouse and ...
ah ... take care of him?"

"I know just how to handle it," Arapoulous said.

The dispatch clerk came up to Retief. "I caught the tractor equipment,"
he said. "Funny kind of mistake, but it's okay now. They're being
off-loaded at d'Land. I talked to the traffic controller there. He said
they weren't looking for any students."

"The labels got switched, Jim. The students go where the baggage was
consigned. Too bad about the mistake, but the Armaments Office will
have a man along in a little while to dispose of the guns. Keep an eye
out for the luggage. No telling where it's gotten to."

"Here!" a hoarse voice yelled. Retief turned. A disheveled figure in a
tight hat was crossing the enclosure, arms waving.

"Hi there, Mr. Gulver," Retief called. "How's Boge's business coming
along?"

"Piracy!" Gulver blurted as he came up to Retief, puffing hard. "You've
got a hand in this, I don't doubt! Where's that Magnan fellow?"

"What seems to be the problem?" Retief said.

"Hold those transports! I've just been notified that the baggage
shipment has been impounded. I'll remind you, that shipment enjoys
diplomatic free entry!"

"Who told you it was impounded?"

"Never mind! I have my sources!"

Two tall men buttoned into gray tunics came up. "Are you Mr. Retief of
CDT?" one said.

"That's right."

"What about my baggage!" Gulver cut in. "And I'm warning you, if those
ships lift without--"

"These gentlemen are from the Armaments Control Commission," Retief
said. "Would you like to come along and claim your baggage, Mr. Gulver?"

"From where? I--" Gulver turned two shades redder about the ears.
"Armaments?"

"The only shipment I've held up seems to be somebody's arsenal," Retief
said. "Now if you claim this is your baggage...."

"Why, impossible," Gulver said in a strained voice. "Armaments?
Ridiculous. There's been an error...."

       *       *       *       *       *

At the baggage warehouse Gulver looked glumly at the opened cases of
guns. "No, of course not," he said dully. "Not my baggage. Not my
baggage at all."

Arapoulous appeared, supporting the stumbling figure of Mr. Karsh.

"What--what's this?" Gulver spluttered. "Karsh? What's happened?"

"He had a little fall. He'll be okay," Arapoulous said.

"You'd better help him to the ship," Retief said. "It's ready to lift.
We wouldn't want him to miss it."

"Leave him to me!" Gulver snapped, his eyes slashing at Karsh. "I'll
see he's dealt with."

"I couldn't think of it," Retief said. "He's a guest of the Corps, you
know. We'll see him safely aboard."

Gulver turned, signaled frantically. Three heavy-set men in identical
drab suits detached themselves from the wall, crossed to the group.

"Take this man," Gulver snapped, indicating Karsh, who looked at him
dazedly, reached up to rub his head.

"We take our hospitality seriously," Retief said. "We'll see him aboard
the vessel."

Gulver opened his mouth.

"I know you feel bad about finding guns instead of school books in
your luggage," Retief said, looking Gulver in the eye. "You'll be busy
straightening out the details of the mix-up. You'll want to avoid
further complications."

"Ah. Ulp. Yes," Gulver said. He appeared unhappy.

Arapoulous went on to the passenger conveyor, turned to wave.

"Your man--he's going too?" Gulver blurted.

"He's not our man, properly speaking," Retief said. "He lives on
Lovenbroy."

"Lovenbroy?" Gulver choked. "But ... the ... I...."

"I know you said the students were bound for d'Land," Retief said. "But
I guess that was just another aspect of the general confusion. The
course plugged into the navigators was to Lovenbroy. You'll be glad to
know they're still headed there--even without the baggage."

"Perhaps," Gulver said grimly, "perhaps they'll manage without it."

"By the way," Retief said. "There was another funny mix-up. There
were some tractors--for industrial use, you'll recall. I believe you
co-operated with Croanie in arranging the grant through MEDDLE. They
were erroneously consigned to Lovenbroy, a purely agricultural world. I
saved you some embarrassment, I trust, Mr. Gulver, by arranging to have
them off-loaded at d'Land."

"D'Land! You've put the CSU's in the hands of Boge's bitterest enemies!"

"But they're only tractors, Mr. Gulver. Peaceful devices. Isn't that
correct?"

"That's ... correct." Gulver sagged. Then he snapped erect. "Hold the
ships!" he yelled. "I'm canceling the student exchange--"

His voice was drowned by the rumble as the first of the monster
transports rose from the launch pit, followed a moment later by the
second, Retief watched them out of sight, then turned to Gulver.

"They're off," he said. "Let's hope they get a liberal education."


                                   V

Retief lay on his back in deep grass by a stream, eating grapes. A tall
figure appeared on the knoll above him and waved.

"Retief!" Hank Arapoulous bounded down the slope and embraced Retief,
slapping him on the back. "I heard you were here--and I've got news
for you. You won the final day's picking competition. Over two hundred
bushels! That's a record!"

"Let's get on over to the garden. Sounds like the celebration's about
to start."

In the flower-crowded park among the stripped vines, Retief and
Arapoulous made their way to a laden table under the lanterns. A tall
girl dressed in loose white, and with long golden hair, came up to
Arapoulous.

"Delinda, this is Retief--today's winner. And he's also the fellow that
got those workers for us."

Delinda smiled at Retief. "I've heard about you, Mr. Retief. We
weren't sure about the boys at first. Two thousand Bogans, and all
confused about their baggage that went astray. But they seemed to like
the picking." She smiled again.

"That's not all. Our gals liked the boys," Hank said. "Even Bogans
aren't so bad, minus their irons. A lot of 'em will be staying on. But
how come you didn't tell me you were coming, Retief? I'd have laid on
some kind of big welcome."

"I liked the welcome I got. And I didn't have much notice. Mr. Magnan
was a little upset when he got back. It seems I exceeded my authority."

Arapoulous laughed. "I had a feeling you were wheeling pretty free,
Retief. I hope you didn't get into any trouble over it."

"No trouble," Retief said. "A few people were a little unhappy with
me. It seems I'm not ready for important assignments at Departmental
level. I was shipped off here to the boondocks to get a little more
experience."

"Delinda, look after Retief," said Arapoulous. "I'll see you later.
I've got to see to the wine judging." He disappeared in the crowd.

"Congratulations on winning the day," said Delinda. "I noticed you at
work. You were wonderful. I'm glad you're going to have the prize."

"Thanks. I noticed you too, flitting around in that white nightie of
yours. But why weren't you picking grapes with the rest of us?"

"I had a special assignment."

"Too bad. You should have had a chance at the prize."

Delinda took Retief's hand. "I wouldn't have anyway," she said. "I'm
the prize."





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