LONE STAR PLANET
H. Beam Piper and John J. McGuire
Transcriber's Note: This etext was prepared from a 1979 reprint of the 1958 original. There is no evidence that the copyright on this publication was renewed. Obvious typesetting errors in the source text have been corrected
Lone Star Planet
A Division of Charter Communications Inc.
A GROSSET & DUNLAP COMPANY
360 Park Avenue South
New York, New York 10010
LONE STAR PLANET
Copyright (C) 1958 by Ace Books, Inc.
Originally published as A PLANET FOR TEXANS
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any means, except for the inclusion of brief quotations in a review, without permission in writing from the publisher.
All characters in this book are fictitious. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
This Ace Printing: April 1979
Printed in U.S.A.
They started giving me the business as soon as I came through the door into the Secretary's outer office.
There was Ethel K'wang-Li, the Secretary's receptionist, at her desk. There was Courtlant Staynes, the assistant secretary to the Undersecretary for Economic Penetration, and Norman Gazarin, from Protocol, and Toby Lawder, from Humanoid Peoples' Affairs, and Raoul Chavier, and Hans Mannteufel, and Olga Reznik.
It was a wonder there weren't more of them watching the condemned man's march to the gibbet: the word that the Secretary had called me in must have gotten all over the Department since the offices had opened.
"Ah, Mr. Machiavelli, I presume," Ethel kicked off.
"Machiavelli, Junior." Olga picked up the ball. "At least, that's the way he signs it."
"God's gift to the Consular Service, and the Consular Service's gift to Policy Planning," Gazarin added.
"Take it easy, folks. These Hooligan Diplomats would as soon shoot you as look at you," Mannteufel warned.
"Be sure and tell the Secretary that your friends all want important posts in the Galactic Empire." Olga again.
"Well, I'm glad some of you could read it," I fired back. "Maybe even a few of you understood what it was all about."
"Don't worry, Silk," Gazarin told me. "Secretary Ghopal understands what it was all about. All too well, you'll find."
A buzzer sounded gently on Ethel K'wang-Li's desk. She snatched up the handphone and whispered into it. A deathly silence filled the room while she listened, whispered some more, then hung it up.
They were all staring at me.
"Secretary Ghopal is ready to see Mr. Stephen Silk," she said. "This way, please."
As I started across the room, Staynes began drumming on the top of the desk with his fingers, the slow reiterated rhythm to which a man marches to a military execution.
"A cigarette?" Lawder inquired tonelessly. "A glass of rum?"
There were three men in the Secretary of State's private office. Ghopal Singh, the Secretary, dark-faced, gray-haired, slender and elegant, meeting me halfway to his desk. Another slender man, in black, with a silver-threaded, black neck-scarf: Rudolf Klueng, the Secretary of the Department of Aggression.
And a huge, gross-bodied man with a fat baby-face and opaque black eyes.
When I saw him, I really began to get frightened.
The fat man was Natalenko, the Security Cooerdinator.
"Good morning, Mister Silk," Secretary Ghopal greeted me, his hand extended. "Gentlemen, Mr. Stephen Silk, about whom we were speaking. This way, Mr. Silk, if you please."
There was a low coffee-table at the rear of the office, and four easy chairs around it. On the round brass table-top were cups and saucers, a coffee urn, cigarettes—and a copy of the current issue of the Galactic Statesmen's Journal, open at an article entitled Probable Future Courses of Solar League Diplomacy, by somebody who had signed himself Machiavelli, Jr.
I was beginning to wish that the pseudonymous Machiavelli, Jr. had never been born, or, at least, had stayed on Theta Virgo IV and been a wineberry planter as his father had wanted him to be.
As I sat down and accepted a cup of coffee, I avoided looking at the periodical. They were probably going to hang it around my neck before they shoved me out of the airlock.
"Mr. Silk is, as you know, in our Consular Service," Ghopal was saying to the others. "Back on Luna on rotation, doing something in Mr. Halvord's section. He is the gentleman who did such a splendid job for us on Assha—Gamma Norma III.
"And, as he has just demonstrated," he added, gesturing toward the Statesman's Journal on the Benares-work table, "he is a student both of the diplomacy of the past and the implications of our present policies."
"A bit frank," Klueng commented dubiously.
"But judicious," Natalenko squeaked, in the high eunuchoid voice that came so incongruously from his bulk. "He aired his singularly accurate predictions in a periodical that doesn't have a circulation of more than a thousand copies outside his own department. And I don't think the public's semantic reactions to the terminology of imperialism is as bad as you imagine. They seem quite satisfied, now, with the change in the title of your department, from Defense to Aggression."
"Well, we've gone into that, gentlemen," Ghopal said. "If the article really makes trouble for us, we can always disavow it. There's no censorship of the Journal. And Mr. Silk won't be around to draw fire on us."
Here it comes, I thought.
"That sounds pretty ominous, doesn't it, Mr. Silk?" Natalenko tittered happily, like a ten-year-old who has just found a new beetle to pull the legs out of.
"It's really not as bad as it sounds, Mr. Silk," Ghopal hastened to reassure me. "We are going to have to banish you for a while, but I daresay that won't be so bad. The social life here on Luna has probably begun to pall, anyhow. So we're sending you to Capella IV."
"Capella IV," I repeated, trying to remember something about it. Capella was a GO-type, like Sol; that wouldn't be so bad.
"New Texas," Klueng helped me out.
Oh, God, no! I thought.
"It happens that we need somebody of your sort on that planet, Mr. Silk," Ghopal said. "Some of the trouble is in my department and some of it is in Mr. Klueng's; for that reason, perhaps it would be better if Cooerdinator Natalenko explained it to you."
"You know, I assume, our chief interest in New Texas?" Natalenko asked.
"I had some of it for breakfast, sir," I replied. "Supercow."
Natalenko tittered again. "Yes, New Texas is the butcher shop of the galaxy. In more ways than one, I'm afraid you'll find. They just butchered one of our people there a short while ago. Our Ambassador, in fact."
That would be Silas Cumshaw, and this was the first I'd heard about it.
I asked when it had happened.
"A couple of months ago. We just heard about it last evening, when the news came in on a freighter from there. Which serves to point up something you stressed in your article—the difficulties of trying to run a centralized democratic government on a galactic scale. But we have another interest, which may be even more urgent than our need for New Texan meat. You've heard, of course, of the z'Srauff."
That was a statement, not a question; Natalenko wasn't trying to insult me. I knew who the z'Srauff were; I'd run into them, here and there. One of the extra-solar intelligent humanoid races, who seemed to have been evolved from canine or canine-like ancestors, instead of primates. Most of them could speak Basic English, but I never saw one who would admit to understanding more of our language than the 850-word Basic vocabulary. They occupied a half-dozen planets in a small star-cluster about forty light-years beyond the Capella system. They had developed normal-space reaction-drive ships before we came into contact with them, and they had quickly picked up the hyperspace-drive from us back in those days when the Solar League was still playing Missionaries of Progress and trying to run a galaxy-wide Point-Four program.
In the past century, it had become almost impossible for anybody to get into their star-group, although z'Srauff ships were orbiting in on every planet that the League had settled or controlled. There were z'Srauff traders and small merchants all over the galaxy, and you almost never saw one of them without a camera. Their little meteor-mining boats were everywhere, and all of them carried more of the most modern radar and astrogational equipment than a meteor-miner's lifetime earnings would pay for.
I also knew that they were one of the chief causes of ulcers and premature gray hair at the League capital on Luna. I'd done a little reading on pre-spaceflight Terran history; I had been impressed by the parallel between the present situation and one which had culminated, two and a half centuries before, on the morning of 7 December, 1941.
"What," Natalenko inquired, "do you think Machiavelli, Junior would do about the z'Srauff?"
"We have a Department of Aggression," I replied. "Its mottoes are, 'Stop trouble before it starts,' and, 'If we have to fight, let's do it on the other fellow's real estate.' But this situation is just a little too delicate for literal application of those principles. An unprovoked attack on the z'Srauff would set every other non-human race in the galaxy against us.... Would an attack by the z'Srauff on New Texas constitute just provocation?"
"It might. New Texas is an independent planet. Its people are descendants of emigrants from Terra who wanted to get away from the rule of the Solar League. We've been trying for half a century to persuade the New Texan government to join the League. We need their planet, for both strategic and commercial reasons. With the z'Srauff for neighbors, they need us as much at least as we need them. The problem is to make them understand that."
I nodded again. "And an attack by the z'Srauff would do that, too, sir," I said.
Natalenko tittered again. "You see, gentlemen! Our Mr. Silk picks things up very handily, doesn't he?" He turned to Secretary of State Ghopal. "You take it from there," he invited.
Ghopal Singh smiled benignly. "Well, that's it, Stephen," he said. "We need a man on New Texas who can get things done. Three things, to be exact.
"First, find out why poor Mr. Cumshaw was murdered, and what can be done about it to maintain our prestige without alienating the New Texans.
"Second, bring the government and people of New Texas to a realization that they need the Solar League as much as we need them.
"And, third, forestall or expose the plans for the z'Srauff invasion of New Texas."
Is that all, now? I thought. He doesn't want a diplomat; he wants a magician.
"And what," I asked, "will my official position be on New Texas, sir? Or will I have one, of any sort?"
"Oh, yes, indeed, Mr. Silk. Your official position will be that of Ambassador Plenipotentiary and Envoy Extraordinary. That, I believe, is the only vacancy which exists in the Diplomatic Service on that planet."
At Dumbarton Oaks Diplomatic Academy, they haze the freshmen by making them sit on a one-legged stool and balance a teacup and saucer on one knee while the upper classmen pelt them with ping-pong balls. Whoever invented that and the other similar forms of hazing was one of the great geniuses of the Service. So I sipped my coffee, set down the cup, took a puff from my cigarette, then said:
"I am indeed deeply honored, Mr. Secretary. I trust I needn't go into any assurances that I will do everything possible to justify your trust in me."
"I believe he will, Mr. Secretary," Natalenko piped, in a manner that chilled my blood.
"Yes, I believe so," Ghopal Singh said. "Now, Mr. Ambassador, there's a liner in orbit two thousand miles off Luna, which has been held from blasting off for the last eight hours, waiting for you. Don't bother packing more than a few things; you can get everything you'll need aboard, or at New Austin, the planetary capital. We have a man whom Cooerdinator Natalenko has secured for us, a native New Texan, Hoddy Ringo by name. He'll act as your personal secretary. He's aboard the ship now. You'll have to hurry, I'm afraid.... Well, bon voyage, Mr. Ambassador."
The death-watch outside had grown to about fifteen or twenty. They were all waiting in happy anticipation as I came out of the Secretary's office.
"What did he do to you, Silk?" Courtlant Staynes asked, amusedly.
"Demoted me. Kicked me off the Hooligan Diplomats," I said glumly.
"Demoted you from the Consular Service?" Staynes asked scornfully. "Impossible!"
"Yes. He demoted me to the Cookie Pushers. Clear down to Ambassador."
They got a terrific laugh. I went out, wondering what sort of noises they'd make, the next morning, when the appointments sheet was posted.
I gathered a few things together, mostly small personal items, and all the microfilms that I could find on New Texas, then got aboard the Space Navy cutter that was waiting to take me to the ship. It was a four-hour trip and I put in the time going over my hastily-assembled microfilm library and using a stenophone to dictate a reading list for the spacetrip.
As I rolled up the stenophone-tape, I wondered what sort of secretary they had given me; and, in passing, why Natalenko's department had furnished him.
Queer name, but in a galactic civilization, you find all sorts of names and all sorts of people bearing them, so I was prepared for anything.
And I found it.
I found him standing with the ship's captain, inside the airlock, when I boarded the big, spherical space-liner. A tubby little man, with shoulders and arms he had never developed doing secretarial work, and a good-natured, not particularly intelligent face.
See the happy moron, he doesn't give a damn, I thought.
Then I took a second look at him. He might be happy, but he wasn't a moron. He just looked like one. Natalenko's people often did, as one of their professional assets.
I also noticed that he had a bulge under his left armpit the size of an eleven-mm army automatic.
He was, I'd been told, a native of New Texas. I gathered, after talking with him for a while, that he had been away from his home planet for over five years, was glad to be going back, and especially glad that he was going back under the protection of Solar League diplomatic immunity.
In fact, I rather got the impression that, without such protection, he wouldn't have been going back at all.
I made another discovery. My personal secretary, it seemed, couldn't read stenotype. I found that out when I gave him the tape I'd dictated aboard the cutter, to transcribe for me.
"Gosh, boss. I can't make anything out of this stuff," he confessed, looking at the combination shorthand-Braille that my voice had put onto the tape.
"Well, then, put it in a player and transcribe it by ear," I told him.
He didn't seem to realize that that could be done.
"How did you come to be sent as my secretary, if you can't do secretarial work?" I wanted to know.
He got out a bag of tobacco and a book of papers and began rolling a cigarette, with one hand.
"Why, shucks, boss, nobody seemed to think I'd have to do this kinda work," he said. "I was just sent along to show you the way around New Texas, and see you don't get inta no trouble."
He got his handmade cigarette drawing, and hitched the strap that went across his back and looped under his right arm. "A guy that don't know the way around can get inta a lotta trouble on New Texas. If you call gettin' killed trouble."
So he was a bodyguard ... and I wondered what else he was. One thing, it would take him forty-two years to send a radio message back to Luna, and I could keep track of any other messages he sent, in letters or on tape, by ships. In the end, I transcribed my own tape, and settled down to laying out my three weeks' study-course on my new post.
I found, however, that the whole thing could be learned in a few hours. The rest of what I had was duplication, some of it contradictory, and it all boiled down to this:
Capella IV had been settled during the first wave of extrasolar colonization, after the Fourth World—or First Interplanetary—War. Some time around 2100. The settlers had come from a place in North America called Texas, one of the old United States. They had a lengthy history—independent republic, admission to the United States, secession from the United States, reconquest by the United States, and general intransigence under the United States, the United Nations and the Solar League. When the laws of non-Einsteinian physics were discovered and the hyperspace-drive was developed, practically the entire population of Texas had taken to space to find a new home and independence from everybody.
They had found Capella IV, a Terra-type planet, with a slightly higher mean temperature, a lower mass and lower gravitational field, about one-quarter water and three-quarters land-surface, at a stage of evolutionary development approximately that of Terra during the late Pliocene. They also found supercow, a big mammal looking like the unsuccessful attempt of a hippopotamus to impersonate a dachshund and about the size of a nuclear-steam locomotive. On New Texas' plains, there were billions of them; their meat was fit for the gods of Olympus. So New Texas had become the meat-supplier to the galaxy.
There was very little in any of the microfilm-books about the politics of New Texas and such as it was, it was very scornful. There were such expressions as 'anarchy tempered by assassination,' and 'grotesque parody of democracy.'
There would, I assumed, be more exact information in the material which had been shoved into my hand just before boarding the cutter from Luna, in a package labeled TOP SECRET: TO BE OPENED ONLY IN SPACE, AFTER THE FIRST HYPERJUMP. There was also a big trunk that had been placed in my suite, sealed and bearing the same instructions.
I got Hoddy out of the suite as soon as the ship had passed out of the normal space-time continuum, locked the door of my cabin and opened the parcel.
It contained only two loose-leaf notebooks, both labeled with the Solar League and Department seals, both adorned with the customary bloodthirsty threats against the unauthorized and the indiscreet. They were numbered ONE and TWO.
ONE contained four pages. On the first, I read:
FINAL MESSAGE OF THE FIRST SOLAR LEAGUE AMBASSADOR TO NEW TEXAS ANDREW JACKSON HICKOCK
I agree with none of the so-called information about this planet on file with the State Department on Luna. The people of New Texas are certainly not uncouth barbarians. Their manners and customs, while lively and unconventional, are most charming. Their dress is graceful and practical, not grotesque; their soft speech is pleasing to the ear. Their flag is the original flag of the Republic of Texas; it is definitely not a barbaric travesty of our own emblem. And the underlying premises of their political system should, as far as possible, be incorporated into the organization of the Solar League. Here politics is an exciting and exacting game, in which only the true representative of all the people can survive.
After five years on New Texas, Andrew Jackson Hickock resigned, married a daughter of a local rancher and became a naturalized citizen of that planet. He is still active in politics there, often in opposition to Solar League policies.
That didn't sound like too bad an advertisement for the planet. I was even feeling cheerful when I turned to the next page, and:
FINAL MESSAGE OF THE SECOND SOLAR LEAGUE AMBASSADOR TO NEW TEXAS CYRIL GODWINSON
Yes and no; perhaps and perhaps not; pardon me; I agree with everything you say. Yes and no; perhaps and perhaps not; pardon me; I agree...
After seven years on New Texas, Ambassador Godwinson was recalled; adjudged hopelessly insane.
FINAL MESSAGE OF THE THIRD SOLAR LEAGUE AMBASSADOR TO NEW TEXAS R. F. GULLIS
I find it very pleasant to inform you that when you are reading this, I will be dead.
Committed suicide after six months on New Texas.
I turned to the last page cautiously, found:
FINAL MESSAGE OF THE FOURTH SOLAR LEAGUE AMBASSADOR TO NEW TEXAS SILAS CUMSHAW
I came to this planet ten years ago as a man of pronounced and outspoken convictions. I have managed to keep myself alive here by becoming an inoffensive nonentity. If I continue in this course, it will be only at the cost of my self-respect. Beginning tonight, I am going to state and maintain positive opinions on the relation between this planet and the Solar League.
Murdered at the home of Andrew J. Hickcock. (see p. 1.)
And that was the end of the first notebook. Nice, cheerful reading; complete, solid briefing.
I was, frankly, almost afraid to open the second notebook. I hefted it cautiously at first, saw that it contained only about as many pages as the first and that those pages were sealed with a band around them.
I took a quick peek, read the words on the band:
Before reading, open the sealed trunk which has been included with your luggage.
So I laid aside the book and dragged out the sealed trunk, hesitated, then opened it.
Nothing shocked me more than to find the trunk ... full of clothes.
There were four pairs of trousers, light blue, dark blue, gray and black, with wide cuffs at the bottoms. There were six or eight shirts, their colors running the entire spectrum in the most violent shades. There were a couple of vests. There were two pairs of short boots with high heels and fancy leather-working, and a couple of hats with four-inch brims.
And there was a wide leather belt, practically a leather corset.
I stared at the belt, wondering if I was really seeing what was in front of me.
Attached to the belt were a pair of pistols in right- and left-hand holsters. The pistols were seven-mm Krupp-Tatta Ultraspeed automatics, and the holsters were the spring-ejection, quick-draw holsters which were the secret of the State Department Special Services.
This must be a mistake, I thought. I'm an Ambassador now and Ambassadors never carry weapons.
The sanctity of an Ambassador's person not only made the carrying of weapons unnecessary, so that an armed Ambassador was a contradiction of diplomatic terms, but it would be an outrageous insult to the nation to which he had been accredited.
Like taking a poison-taster to a friendly dinner.
Maybe I was supposed to give the belt and the holsters to Hoddy Ringo....
So I tore the sealed band off the second notebook and read through it.
I was to wear the local costume on New Texas. That was something unusual; even in the Hooligan Diplomats, we leaned over backward in wearing Terran costume to distinguish ourselves from the people among whom we worked.
I was further advised to start wearing the high boots immediately, on shipboard, to accustom myself to the heels. These, I was informed, were traditional. They had served a useful purpose, in the early days on Terran Texas, when all travel had been on horseback. On horseless and mechanized New Texas, they were a useless but venerated part of the cultural heritage.
There were bits of advice about the hat, and the trousers, which for some obscure reason were known as Levis. And I was informed, as an order, that I was to wear the belt and the pistols at all times outside the Embassy itself.
That was all of the second notebook.
The two notebooks, plus my conversation with Ghopal, Klueng and Natalenko, completed my briefing for my new post.
I slid off my shoes and pulled on a pair of boots. They fitted perfectly. Evidently I had been tapped for this job as soon as word of Silas Cumshaw's death had reached Luna and there must have been some fantastic hurrying to get my outfit ready.
I didn't like that any too well, and I liked the order to carry the pistols even less. Not that I had any objection to carrying weapons, per se: I had been born and raised on Theta Virgo IV, where the children aren't allowed outside the house unattended until they've learned to shoot.
But I did have strenuous objections to being sent, virtually ignorant of local customs, on a mission where I was ordered to commit deliberate provocation of the local government, immediately on the heels of my predecessor's violent death.
The author of Probable Future Courses of Solar League Diplomacy had recommended the use of provocation to justify conquest. If the New Texans murdered two Solar League Ambassadors in a row, nobody would blame the League for moving in with a space-fleet and an army....
I was beginning to understand how Doctor Guillotin must have felt while his neck was being shoved into his own invention.
I looked again at the notebooks, each marked in red: Familiarize yourself with contents and burn or disintegrate.
I'd have to do that, of course. There were a few non-humans and a lot of non-League people aboard this ship. I couldn't let any of them find out what we considered a full briefing for a new Ambassador.
So I wrapped them in the original package and went down to the lower passenger zone, where I found the ship's third officer. I told him that I had some secret diplomatic matter to be destroyed and he took me to the engine room. I shoved the package into one of the mass-energy convertors and watched it resolve itself into its constituent protons, neutrons and electrons.
On the way back, I stopped in at the ship's bar.
Hoddy Ringo was there, wrapped up in—and I use the words literally—a young lady from the Alderbaran system. She was on her way home from one of the quickie divorce courts on Terra and was celebrating her marital emancipation. They were so entangled with each other that they didn't notice me. When they left the bar, I slipped after them until I saw them enter the lady's stateroom. That, of course, would have Hoddy immobilized—better word, located—for a while. So I went back to our suite, picked the lock of Hoddy's room, and allowed myself half an hour to search his luggage.
All of his clothes were new, but there were not a great many of them. Evidently he was planning to re-outfit himself on New Texas. There were a few odds and ends, the kind any man with a real home planet will hold on to, in the luggage.
He had another eleven-mm pistol, made by Consolidated-Martian Metalworks, mate to the one he was carrying in a shoulder-holster, and a wide two-holster belt like the one furnished me, but quite old.
I greeted the sight and the meaning of the old holsters with joy: they weren't the State Department Special Services type. That meant that Hoddy was just one of Natalenko's run-of-the-gallows cutthroats, not important enough to be issued the secret equipment.
But I was a little worried over what I found hidden in the lining of one of his bags, a letter addressed to Space-Commander Lucius C. Stonehenge, Aggression Department Attache, New Austin Embassy. I didn't have either the time or the equipment to open it. But, knowing our various Departments, I tried to reassure myself with the thought that it was only a letter-of-credence, with the real message to be delivered orally.
About the real message I had no doubts: arrange the murder of Ambassador Stephen Silk in such a way that it looks like another New Texan job....
Starting that evening—or what passed for evening aboard a ship in hyperspace—Hoddy and I began a positively epochal binge together.
I had it figured this way: as long as we were on board ship, I was perfectly safe. On the ship, in fact, Hoddy would definitely have given his life to save mine. I'd have to be killed on New Texas to give Klueng's boys their excuse for moving in.
And there was always the chance, with no chance too slender for me to ignore, that I might be able to get Hoddy drunk enough to talk, yet still be sober enough myself to remember what he said.
Exact times, details, faces, names, came to me through a sort of hazy blur as Hoddy and I drank something he called superbourbon—a New Texan drink that Bourbon County, Kentucky, would never have recognized. They had no corn on New Texas. This stuff was made out of something called superyams.
There were at least two things I got out of the binge. First, I learned to slug down the national drink without batting an eye. Second, I learned to control my expression as I uncovered the fact that everything on New Texas was supersomething.
I was also cautious enough, before we really got started, to leave my belt and guns with the purser. I didn't want Hoddy poking around those secret holsters. And I remember telling the captain to radio New Austin as soon as we came out of our last hyperspace-jump, then to send the ship's doctor around to give me my hangover treatments.
But the one thing I wanted to remember, as the hangover shots brought me back to normal life, I found was the one thing I couldn't remember. What was the name of that girl—a big, beautiful blond—who joined the party along with Hoddy's grass widow from Alderbaran and stayed with it to the end?
Damn, I wished I could remember her name!
When we were fifteen thousand miles off-planet and the lighters from New Austin spaceport were reported on the way, I got into the skin-tight Levis, the cataclysmic-colored shirt, and the loose vest, tucked my big hat under my arm, and went to the purser's office for my guns, buckling them on. When I got back to the suite, Hoddy had put on his pistols and was practicing quick draws in front of the mirror. He took one look at my armament and groaned.
"You're gonna get yourself killed for sure, with that rig, an' them popguns," he told me.
"These popguns'll shoot harder and make bigger holes than that pair of museum-pieces you're carrying," I replied.
"An' them holsters!" Hoddy continued. "Why, it'd take all day to get your guns outa them! You better let me find you a real rig, when we get to New Austin...."
There was a chance, of course, that he knew what I was using and wanted to hide his knowledge. I doubted that.
"Sure, you State Department guys always know everything," he went on. "Like them microfilm-books you was readin'. I try to tell you what things is really like on New Texas, an' you let it go in one ear an' out the other."
Then he wandered off to say good-bye to the grass widow from Alderbaran, leaving me to make the last-minute check on the luggage. I was hoping I'd be able to see that blond ... what was her name; Gail something-or-other. Let's see, she'd been at some Terran university, and she was on her way home to ... to New Texas! Of course!
I saw her, half an hour later, in the crowd around the airlock when the lighters came alongside, and I tried to push my way toward her. As I did, the airlock opened, the crowd surged toward it, and she was carried along. Then the airlock closed, after she had passed through and before I could get to it. That meant I'd have to wait for the second lighter.
So I made the best of it, and spent the next half-hour watching the disc of the planet grow into a huge ball that filled the lower half of the viewscreen and then lose its curvature, and instead of moving in toward the planet, we were going down toward it.
New Austin spaceport was a huge place, a good fifty miles outside the city. As we descended, I could see that it was laid out like a wheel, with the landings and the blast-off stands around the hub, and high buildings—packing houses and refrigeration plants—along the many spokes. It showed a technological level quite out of keeping with the accounts I had read, or the stories Hoddy had told, about the simple ranch life of the planet. Might be foreign capital invested there, and I made a mental note to find out whose.
On the other hand, Old Texas, on Terra, had been heavily industrialized; so much so that the state itself could handle the gigantic project of building enough spaceships to move almost the whole population into space.
Then the landing-field was rushing up at us, with the nearer ends of the roadways and streets drawing close and the far ends lengthening out away from us. The other lighter was already down, and I could see a crowd around it.
There was a crowd waiting for us when we got out and went down the escalators to the ground, and as I had expected, a special group of men waiting for me. They were headed by a tall, slender individual in the short black Eisenhower jacket, gray-striped trousers and black homburg that was the uniform of the Diplomatic Service, alias the Cookie Pushers.
Over their heads at the other rocket-boat, I could see the gold-gleaming head of the girl I'd met on the ship.
I tried to push through the crowd and get to her. As I did, the Cookie Pusher got in my way.
"Mr. Silk! Mr. Ambassador! Here we are!" he was clamoring. "The car for the Embassy is right over here!" He clutched my elbow. "You have no idea how glad we all are to see you, Mr. Ambassador!"
"Yes, yes; of course. Now, there's somebody over there I have to see, at once." I tried to pull myself loose from his grasp.
Across the concrete between the two lighters, I could see the girl push out of the crowd around her and wave a hand to me. I tried to yell to her; but just then another lighter, loaded with freight, started to lift out at another nearby stand, with the roar of half a dozen Niagaras. The thin man in the striped trousers added to the uproar by shouting into my ear and pulling at me.
"We haven't time!" he finally managed to make himself heard. "We're dreadfully late now, sir! You must come with us."
Hoddy, too, had caught hold of me by the other arm.
"Come on, boss. There's gotta be some reason why he's got himself in an uproar about whatever it is. You'll see her again."
Then, the whole gang—Hoddy, the thin man with the black homburg, his younger accomplice in identical garb, and the chauffeur—all closed in on me and pushed me, pulled me, half-carried me, fifty yards across the concrete to where their air-car was parked. By this time, the tall blond had gotten clear of the mob around her and was waving frantically at me. I tried to wave back, but I was literally crammed into the car and flung down on the seat. At the same time, the chauffeur was jumping in, extending the car's wings, jetting up.
"Great God!" I bellowed. "This is the damnedest piece of impudence I've ever had to suffer from any subordinates in my whole State Department experience! I want an explanation out of you, and it'd better be a good one!"
There was a deafening silence in the car for a moment. The thin man moved himself off my lap, then sat there looking at me with the heartbroken eyes of a friendly dog that had just been kicked for something which wasn't really its fault.
"Mr. Ambassador, you can't imagine how sorry we all are, but if we hadn't gotten you away from the spaceport and to the Embassy at once, we would all have been much sorrier."
"Somebody here gunnin' for the Ambassador?" Hoddy demanded sharply.
"Oh, no! I hadn't even thought of that," the thin man almost gibbered. "But your presence at the Embassy is of immediate and urgent necessity. You have no idea of the state into which things have gotten.... Oh, pardon me, Mr. Ambassador. I am Gilbert W. Thrombley, your charge d'affaires." I shook hands with him. "And Mr. Benito Gomez, the Secretary of the Embassy." I shook hands with him, too, and started to introduce Mr. Hoddy Ringo.
Hoddy, however, had turned to look out the rear window; immediately, he gave a yelp.
"We got a tail, boss! Two of them! Look back there!"
There were two black eight-passenger aircars, of the same model, whizzing after us, making an obvious effort to overtake us. The chauffeur cursed and fired his auxiliary jets, then his rocket-booster.
Immediately, black rocket-fuel puffs shot away from the pursuing aircars.
Hoddy turned in his seat, cranked open a porthole-slit in the window, and poked one of his eleven-mm's out, letting the whole clip go. Thrombley and Gomez slid down onto the floor, and both began trying to drag me down with them, imploring me not to expose myself.
As far as I could see, there was nothing to expose myself to. The other cars kept coming, but neither of them were firing at us. There was also no indication that Hoddy's salvo had had any effect on them. Our chauffeur went into a perfect frenzy of twisting and dodging, at the same time using his radiophone to tell somebody to get the goddamn gate open in a hurry. I saw the blue skies and green plains of New Texas replacing one another above, under, in front of and behind us. Then the car set down on a broad stretch of concrete, the wings were retracted, and we went whizzing down a city street.
We whizzed down a number of streets. We cut corners on two wheels, and on one wheel, and, I was prepared to swear, on no wheels. A couple of times, with the wings retracted, we actually jetted into the air and jumped over vehicles in front of us, landing again with bone-shaking jolts. Then we made an abrupt turn and shot in under a concrete arch, and a big door banged shut behind us, and we stopped, in the middle of a wide patio, the front of the car a few inches short of a fountain. Four or five people, in diplomatic striped trousers, local dress and the uniform of the Space Marines, came running over.
Thrombley pulled himself erect and half-climbed, half-fell, out of the car. Gomez got out on the other side with Hoddy; I climbed out after Thrombley.
A tall, sandy-haired man in the uniform of the Space Navy came over.
"What the devil's the matter, Thrombley?" he demanded. Then, seeing me, he gave me as much of a salute as a naval officer will ever bestow on anybody in civilian clothes.
"Mr. Silk?" He looked at my costume and the pistols on my belt in well-bred concealment of surprise. "I'm your military attache, Stonehenge; Space-Commander, Space Navy."
I noticed that Hoddy's ears had pricked up, but he wasn't making any effort to attract Stonehenge's attention. I shook hands with him, introduced Hoddy, and offered my cigarette case around.
"You seem to have had a hectic trip from the spaceport, Mr. Ambassador. What happened?"
Thrombley began accusing our driver of trying to murder the lot of us. Hoddy brushed him aside and explained:
"Just after we'd took off, two other cars took off after us. We speeded up, and they speeded up, too. Then your fly-boy, here, got fancy. That shook 'em off. Time we got into the city, we'd dropped them. Nice job of driving. Probably saved our lives."
"Shucks, that wasn't nothin'," the driver disclaimed. "When you drive for politicians, you're either good or you're good and dead."
"I'm surprised they started so soon," Stonehenge said. Then he looked around at my fellow-passengers, who seemed to have realized, by now, that they were no longer dangling by their fingernails over the brink of the grave. "But gentlemen, let's not keep the Ambassador standing out here in the hot sun."
So we went over the arches at the side of the patio, and were about to sit down when one of the Embassy servants came up, followed by a man in a loose vest and blue Levis and a big hat. He had a pair of automatics in his belt, too.
"I'm Captain Nelson; New Texas Rangers," he introduced himself. "Which one of you-all is Mr. Stephen Silk?"
I admitted it.
The Ranger pushed back his wide hat and grinned at me.
"I just can't figure this out," he said. "You're in the right place and the right company, but we got a report, from a mighty good source, that you'd been kidnapped at the spaceport by a gang of thugs!"
"A blond source?" I made curving motions with my hands. "I don't blame her. My efficient and conscientious charge d'affaires, Mr. Thrombley, felt that I should reach the Embassy, here, as soon as possible, and from where she was standing, it must have looked like a kidnapping. Fact is, it looked like one from where I was standing, too. Was that you and your people who were chasing us? Then I must apologize for opening fire on you ... I hope nobody was hurt."
"No, our cars are pretty well armored. You scored a couple of times on one of them, but no harm done. I reckon after what happened to Silas Cumshaw, you had a right to be suspicious."
I noticed that refreshments, including several bottles, had been placed on a big wicker table under the arched veranda.
"Can I offer you a drink, Captain, in token of mutual amity?" I asked.
"Well, now, I'd like to, Mr. Ambassador, but I'm on duty ..." he began.
"You can't be. You're an officer of the Planetary Government of New Texas, and in this Embassy, you're in the territory of the Solar League."
"That's right, now, Mr. Ambassador," he grinned. "Extraterritoriality. Wonderful thing, extraterritoriality." He looked at Hoddy, who, for the first time since I had met him, was trying to shrink into the background. "And diplomatic immunity, too. Ain't it, Hoddy?"
After he had had his drink and departed, we all sat down. Thrombley began speaking almost at once.
"Mr. Ambassador, you must, you simply must, issue a public statement, immediately, sir. Only a public statement, issued promptly, will relieve the crisis into which we have all been thrust."
"Oh, come, Mr. Thrombley," I objected. "Captain Nelson'll take care of all that in his report to his superiors."
Thrombley looked at me for a moment as though I had been speaking to him in Hottentot, then waved his hands in polite exasperation.
"Oh, no, no! I don't mean that, sir. I mean a public statement to the effect that you have assumed full responsibility for the Embassy. Where is that thing? Mr. Gomez!"
Gomez gave him four or five sheets, stapled together. He laid them on the table, turned to the last sheet, and whipped out a pen.
"Here, sir; just sign here."
"Are you crazy?" I demanded. "I'll be damned if I'll sign that. Not till I've taken an inventory of the physical property of the Embassy, and familiarized myself with all its commitments, and had the books audited by some firm of certified public accountants."
Thrombley and Gomez looked at one another. They both groaned.
"But we must have a statement of assumption of responsibility ..." Gomez dithered.
"... or the business of the Embassy will be at a dead stop, and we can't do anything," Thrombley finished.
"Wait a moment, Thrombley," Stonehenge cut in. "I understand Mr. Silk's attitude. I've taken command of a good many ships and installations, at one time or another, and I've never signed for anything I couldn't see and feel and count. I know men who retired as brigadier generals or vice-admirals, but they retired loaded with debts incurred because as second lieutenants or ensigns they forgot that simple rule."
He turned to me. "Without any disrespect to the charge d'affaires, Mr. Silk, this Embassy has been pretty badly disorganized since Mr. Cumshaw's death. No one felt authorized, or, to put it more accurately, no one dared, to declare himself acting head of the Embassy—"
"Because that would make him the next target?" I interrupted. "Well, that's what I was sent here for. Mr. Gomez, as Secretary of the Embassy, will you please, at once, prepare a statement for the press and telecast release to the effect that I am now the authorized head of this Embassy, responsible from this hour for all its future policies and all its present commitments insofar as they obligate the government of the Solar League. Get that out at once. Tomorrow, I will present my credentials to the Secretary of State here. Thereafter, Mr. Thrombley, you can rest in the assurance that I'll be the one they'll be shooting at."
"But you can't wait that long, Mr. Ambassador," Thrombley almost wailed. "We must go immediately to the Statehouse. The reception for you is already going on."
I looked at my watch, which had been regulated aboard ship for Capella IV time. It was just 1315.
"What time do they hold diplomatic receptions on this planet, Mr. Thrombley?" I asked.
"Oh, any time at all, sir. This one started about 0900 when the news that the ship was in orbit off-planet got in. It'll be a barbecue, of course, and—"
"Barbecued supercow! Yipeee!" Hoddy yelled. "What I been waitin' for for five years!"
It would be the vilest cruelty not to take him along, I thought. And it would also keep him and Stonehenge apart for a while.
"But we must hurry, Mr. Ambassador," Thrombley was saying. "If you will change, now, to formal dress ..."
And he was looking at me, gasping. I think it was the first time he had actually seen what I was wearing.
"In native dress, Mr. Ambassador!"
Thrombley's eyes and tone were again those of an innocent spaniel caught in the middle of a marital argument.
Then his gaze fell to my belt and his eyes became saucers. "Oh, dear! And armed!"
My charge d'affaires was shuddering and he could not look directly at me.
"Mr. Ambassador, I understand that you were recently appointed from the Consular Service. I sincerely hope that you will not take it amiss if I point out, here in private, that—"
"Mr. Thrombley, I am wearing this costume and these pistols on the direct order of Secretary of State Ghopal Singh."
That set him back on his heels.
"I ... I can't believe it!" he exclaimed. "An ambassador is never armed."
"Not when he's dealing with a government which respects the comity of nations and the usages of diplomatic practice, no," I replied. "But the fate of Mr. Cumshaw clearly indicates that the government of New Texas is not such a government. These pistols are in the nature of a not-too-subtle hint of the manner in which this government, here, is being regarded by the government of the Solar League." I turned to Stonehenge. "Commander, what sort of an Embassy guard have we?" I asked.
"Space Marines, sergeant and five men. I double as guard officer, sir."
"Very well. Mr. Thrombley insists that it is necessary for me to go to this fish-fry or whatever it is immediately. I want two men, a driver and an auto-rifleman, for my car. And from now on, I would suggest, Commander, that you wear your sidearm at all times outside the Embassy."
"Yes, sir!" and this time, Stonehenge gave me a real salute.
"Well, I must phone the Statehouse, then," Thrombley said. "We will have to call on Secretary of State Palme, and then on President Hutchinson."
With that, he got up, excused himself, motioned Gomez to follow, and hurried away.
I got up, too, and motioned Stonehenge aside.
"Aboard ship, coming in, I was told that there's a task force of the Space Navy on maneuvers about five light-years from here," I said.
"Yes, sir. Task Force Red-Blue-Green, Fifth Space Fleet. Fleet Admiral Sir Rodney Tregaskis."
"Can we get hold of a fast space-boat, with hyperdrive engines, in a hurry?"
"Eight or ten of them always around New Austin spaceport, available for charter."
"All right; charter one and get out to that fleet. Tell Admiral Tregaskis that the Ambassador at New Austin feels in need of protection; possibility of z'Srauff invasion. I'll give you written orders. I want the Fleet within radio call. How far out would that be, with our facilities?"
"The Embassy radio isn't reliable beyond about sixty light-minutes, sir."
"Then tell Sir Rodney to bring his fleet in that close. The invasion, if it comes, will probably not come from the direction of the z'Srauff star-cluster; they'll probably jump past us and move in from the other side. I hope you don't think I'm having nightmares, Commander. Danger of a z'Srauff invasion was pointed out to me by persons on the very highest level, on Luna."
Stonehenge nodded. "I'm always having the same kind of nightmares, sir. Especially since this special envoy arrived here, ostensibly to negotiate a meteor-mining treaty." He hesitated for a moment. "We don't want the New Texans to know, of course, that you've sent for the fleet?"
"Well, if I can wait till about midnight before I leave, I can get a boat owned, manned and operated by Solar League people. The boat's a dreadful-looking old tub, but she's sound and fast. The gang who own her are pretty notorious characters—suspected of smuggling, piracy, and what not—but they'll keep their mouths shut if well paid."
"Then pay them well," I said. "And it's just as well you're not leaving at once. When I get back from this clambake, I'll want to have a general informal council, and I certainly want you in on it."
On the way to the Statehouse in the aircar, I kept wondering just how smart I had been.
I was pretty sure that the z'Srauff was getting ready for a sneak attack on New Texas, and, as Solar League Ambassador, I of course had the right to call on the Space Navy for any amount of armed protection.
Sending Stonehenge off on what couldn't be less than an eighteen-hour trip would delay anything he and Hoddy might be cooking up, too.
On the other hand, with the fleet so near, they might decide to have me rubbed out in a hurry, to justify seizing the planet ahead of the z'Srauff.
I was in that pleasant spot called, "Damned if you do and damned if you don't...."
The Statehouse appeared to cover about a square mile of ground and it was an insane jumble of buildings piled beside and on top of one another, as though it had been in continuous construction ever since the planet was colonized, eighty-odd years before.
At what looked like one of the main entrances, the car stopped. I told our Marine driver and auto-rifleman to park the car and take in the barbecue, but to leave word with the doorman where they could be found. Hoddy, Thrombley and I then went in, to be met by a couple of New Texas Rangers, one of them the officer who had called at the Embassy. They guided us to the office of the Secretary of State.
"We're dreadfully late," Thrombley was fretting. "I do hope we haven't kept the Secretary waiting too long."
From the looks of him, I was afraid we had. He jumped up from his desk and hurried across the room as soon as the receptionist opened the door for us, his hand extended.
"Good afternoon, Mr. Thrombley," he burbled nervously. "And this is the new Ambassador, I suppose. And this—" He caught sight of Hoddy Ringo, bringing up the rear and stopped short, hand flying to open mouth. "Oh, dear me!"
So far, I had been building myself a New Texas stereotype from Hoddy Ringo and the Ranger officer who had chased us to the Embassy. But this frightened little rabbit of a fellow simply didn't fit it. An alien would be justified in assigning him to an entirely different species.
Thrombley introduced me. I introduced Hoddy as my confidential secretary and advisor. We all shook hands, and Thrombley dug my credentials out of his briefcase and handed them to me, and I handed them to the Secretary of State, Mr. William A. Palme. He barely glanced at them, then shook my hand again fervently and mumbled something about "inexpressible pleasure" and "entirely acceptable to my government."
That made me the accredited and accepted Ambassador to New Texas.
Mr. Palme hoped, or said he hoped, that my stay in New Texas would be long and pleasant. He seemed rather less than convinced that it would be. His eyes kept returning in horrified fascination to my belt. Each time they would focus on the butts of my Krupp-Tattas, he would pull them resolutely away again.
"And now, we must take you to President Hutchinson; he is most anxious to meet you, Mr. Silk. If you will please come with me ..."
Four or five Rangers who had been loitering the hall outside moved to follow us as we went toward the elevator. Although we had come into the building onto a floor only a few feet above street-level, we went down three floors from the hallway outside the Secretary of State's office, into a huge room, the concrete floor of which was oil-stained, as though vehicles were continually being driven in and out. It was about a hundred feet wide, and two or three hundred in length. Daylight was visible through open doors at the end. As we approached them, the Rangers fanning out on either side and in front of us, I could hear a perfect bedlam of noise outside—shouting, singing, dance-band music, interspersed with the banging of shots.
When we reached the doors at the end, we emerged into one end of a big rectangular plaza, at least five hundred yards in length. Most of the uproar was centered at the opposite end, where several thousand people, in costumes colored through the whole spectrum, were milling about. There seemed to be at least two square-dances going on, to the music of competing bands. At the distant end of the plaza, over the heads of the crowd, I could see the piles and tracks of an overhead crane, towering above what looked like an open-hearth furnace. Between us and the bulk of the crowd, in a cleared space, two medium tanks, heavily padded with mats, were ramming and trying to overturn each other, the mob of spectators crowding as close to them as they dared. The din was positively deafening, though we were at least two hundred yards from the center of the crowd.
"Oh, dear, I always dread these things!" Palme was saying.
"Yes, absolutely anything could happen," Thrombley twittered.
"Man, this is a real barbecue!" Hoddy gloated. "Now I really feel at home!"
"Over this way, Mr. Silk," Palme said, guiding me toward the short end of the plaza, on our left. "We will see the President and then ..."
"... then we will all go to the barbecue."
In the center of the short end of the plaza, dwarfed by the monster bulks of steel and concrete and glass around it, stood a little old building of warm-tinted adobe. I had never seen it before, but somehow it was familiar-looking. And then I remembered. Although I had never seen it before, I had seen it pictured many times; pictured under attack, with gunsmoke spouting from windows and parapets.
I plucked Thrombley's sleeve.
"Isn't that a replica of the Alamo?"
He was shocked. "Oh, dear, Mr. Ambassador, don't let anybody hear you ask that. That's no replica. It is the Alamo. The Alamo."
I stood there a moment, looking at it. I was remembering, and finally understanding, what my psycho-history lessons about the "Romantic Freeze" had meant.
They had taken this little mission-fort down, brick by adobe brick, loaded it carefully into a spaceship, brought it here, forty two light-years away from Terra, and reverently set it up again. Then they had built a whole world and a whole social philosophy around it.
It had been the dissatisfied, of course, the discontented, the dreamers, who had led the vanguard of man's explosion into space following the discovery of the hyperspace-drive. They had gone from Terra cherishing dreams of things that had been dumped into the dust bin of history, carrying with them pictures of ways of life that had passed away, or that had never really been. Then, in their new life, on new planets, they had set to work making those dreams and those pictures live.
And, many times, they had come close to succeeding.
These Texans, now: they had left behind the cold fact that it had been their state's great industrial complex that had made their migration possible. They ignored the fact that their life here on Capella IV was possible only by application of modern industrial technology. That rodeo down the plaza—tank-tilting instead of bronco-busting. Here they were, living frozen in a romantic dream, a world of roving cowboys and ranch kingdoms.
No wonder Hoddy hadn't liked the books I had been reading on the ship. They shook the fabric of that dream.
There were people moving about, at this relatively quiet end of the plaza, mostly in the direction of the barbecue. Ten or twelve Rangers loitered at the front of the Alamo, and with them I saw the dress blues of my two Marines. There was a little three-wheeled motorcart among them, from which they were helping themselves to food and drink. When they saw us coming, the two Marines shoved their sandwiches into the hands of a couple of Rangers and tried to come to attention.
"At ease, at ease," I told them. "Have a good time, boys. Hoddy, you better get in on some of this grub; I may be inside for quite a while."
As soon as the Rangers saw Hoddy, they hastily got things out of their right hands. Hoddy grinned at them.
"Take it easy, boys," he said. "I'm protected by the game laws. I'm a diplomat, I am."
There were a couple of Rangers lounging outside the door of the President's office and both of them carried autorifles, implying things I didn't like.
I had seen the President of the Solar League wandering around the dome-city of Artemis unattended, looking for all the world like a professor in his academic halls. Since then, maybe before then, I had always had a healthy suspicion of governments whose chiefs had to surround themselves with bodyguards.
But the President of New Texas, John Hutchinson, was alone in his office when we were shown in. He got up and came around his desk to greet us, a slender, stoop-shouldered man in a black-and-gold laced jacket. He had a narrow compressed mouth and eyes that seemed to be watching every corner of the room at once. He wore a pair of small pistols in cross-body holsters under his coat, and he always kept one hand or the other close to his abdomen.
He was like, and yet unlike, the Secretary of State. Both had the look of hunted animals; but where Palme was a rabbit, twitching to take flight at the first whiff of danger, Hutchinson was a cat who hears hounds baying—ready to run if he could, or claw if he must.
"Good day, Mr. Silk," he said, shaking hands with me after the introductions. "I see you're heeled; you're smart. You wouldn't be here today if poor Silas Cumshaw'd been as smart as you are. Great man, though; a wise and farseeing statesman. He and I were real friends."
"You know who Mr. Silk brought with him as bodyguard?" Palme asked. "Hoddy Ringo!"
"Oh, my God! I thought this planet was rid of him!" The President turned to me. "You got a good trigger-man, though, Mr. Ambassador. Good man to watch your back for you. But lot of folks here won't thank you for bringing him back to New Texas."
He looked at his watch. "We have time for a little drink, before we go outside, Mr. Silk," he said. "Care to join me?"
I assented and he got a bottle of superbourbon out of his desk, with four glasses. Palme got some water tumblers and brought the pitcher of ice-water from the cooler.
I noticed that the New Texas Secretary of State filled his three-ounce liquor glass to the top and gulped it down at once. He might act as though he were descended from a long line of maiden aunts, but he took his liquor in blasts that would have floored a spaceport labor-boss.
We had another drink, a little slower, and chatted for a while, and then Hutchinson said, regretfully that we'd have to go outside and meet the folks. Outside, our guards—Hoddy, the two Marines, the Rangers who had escorted us from Palme's office, and Hutchinson's retinue—surrounded us, and we made our way down the plaza, through the crowd. The din—ear-piercing yells, whistles, cowbells, pistol shots, the cacophony of the two dance-bands, and the chorus-singing, of which I caught only the words: The skies of freedom are above you!—was as bad as New Year's Eve in Manhattan or Nairobi or New Moscow, on Terra.
"Don't take all this as a personal tribute, Mr. Silk!" Hutchinson screamed into my ear. "On this planet, to paraphrase Nietzsche, a good barbecue halloweth any cause!"
That surprised me, at the moment. Later I found out that John Hutchinson was one of the leading scholars on New Texas and had once been president of one of their universities. New Texas Christian, I believe.
As we got up onto the platform, close enough to the barbecue pits to feel the heat from them, somebody let off what sounded like a fifty-mm anti-tank gun five or six times. Hutchinson grabbed a microphone and bellowed into it: "Ladies and gentlemen! Your attention, please!"
The noise began to diminish, slowly, until I could hear one voice, in the crowd below:
"Shut up, you damn fools! We can't eat till this is over!"
Hutchinson introduced me, in very few words. I gathered that lengthy speeches at barbecues were not popular on New Texas.
"Ladies and gentlemen!" I yelled into the microphone. "Appreciative as I am of this honor, there is one here who is more deserving of your notice than I; one to whom I, also, pay homage. He's over there on the fire, and I want a slice of him as soon as possible!"
That got a big ovation. There was, beside the water pitcher, a bottle of superbourbon. I ostentatiously threw the water out of the glass, poured a big shot of the corrosive stuff, and downed it.
"For God's sake, let's eat!" I finished. Then I turned to Thrombley, who was looking like a priest who has just seen the bishop spit in the holy-water font. "Stick close to me," I whispered. "Cue me in on the local notables, and the other members of the Diplomatic Corps." Then we all got down off the platform, and a band climbed up and began playing one of those raucous "cowboy ballads" which had originated in Manhattan about the middle of the Twentieth Century.
"The sandwiches'll be here in a moment, Mr. Ambassador," Hutchinson screamed—in effect, whispered—in my ear. "Don't feel any reluctance about shaking hands with a sandwich in your other hand; that's standard practice, here. You struck just the right note, up there. That business with the liquor was positively inspired!"
The sandwiches—huge masses of meat and hot relish, wrapped in tortillas of some sort—arrived and I bit into one.
I'd been eating supercow all my life, frozen or electron-beamed for transportation, and now I was discovering that I had never really eaten supercow before. I finished the first sandwich in surprisingly short order and was starting on my second when the crowd began coming.
First, the Diplomatic Corps, the usual collection of weirdies, human and otherwise....
There was the Ambassador from Tara, in a suit of what his planet produced as a substitute for Irish homespuns. His Embassy, if it was like the others I had seen elsewhere, would be an outsize cottage with whitewashed walls and a thatched roof, with a bowl of milk outside the door for the Little People ...
The Ambassador from Alpheratz II, the South African Nationalist planet, with a full beard, and old fashioned plug hat and tail-coat. They were a frustrated lot. They had gone into space to practice apartheid and had settled on a planet where there was no other intelligent race to be superior to....
The Mormon Ambassador from Deseret—Delta Camelopardalis V....
The Ambassador from Spica VII, a short jolly-looking little fellow, with a head like a seal's, long arms, short legs and a tail like a kangaroo's....
The Ambassador from Beta Cephus VI, who could have passed for human if he hadn't had blood with a copper base instead of iron. His skin was a dark green and his hair was a bright blue....
I was beginning to correct my first impression that Thrombley was a complete dithering fool. He stood at my left elbow, whispering the names and governments and home planets of the Ambassadors as they came up, handing me little slips of paper on which he had written phonetically correct renditions of the greetings I would give them in their own language. I was still twittering a reply to the greeting of Nanadabadian, from Beta Cephus VI, when he whispered to me:
"Here it comes, sir. The z'Srauff!"
The z'Srauff were reasonably close to human stature and appearance, allowing for the fact that their ancestry had been canine instead of simian. They had, of course, longer and narrower jaws than we have, and definitely carnivorous teeth.
There were stories floating around that they enjoyed barbecued Terran even better than they did supercow and hot relish.
This one advanced, extending his three-fingered hand.
"I am most happy to make connection with Solar League representative," he said. "I am named Gglafrr Ddespttann Vuvuvu."
No wonder Thrombley let him introduce himself. I answered in the Basic English that was all he'd admit to understanding:
"The name of your great nation has gone before you to me. The stories we tell to our young of you are at the top of our books. I have hope to make great pleasure in you and me to be friends."
Gglafrr Vuvuvu's smile wavered a little at the oblique reference to the couple of trouncings our Space Navy had administered to z'Srauff ships in the past. "We will be in the same place again times with no number," the alien replied. "I have hope for you that time you are in this place will be long and will put pleasure in your heart."
Then the pressure of the line behind him pushed him on. Cabinet Members; Senators and Representatives; prominent citizens, mostly Judge so-and-so, or Colonel this-or-that. It was all a blur, so much so that it was an instant before I recognized the gleaming golden hair and the statuesque figure.
"Thank you! I have met the Ambassador." The lovely voice was shaking with restrained anger.
"Gail!" I exclaimed.
"Your father coming to the barbecue, Gail?" President Hutchinson was asking.
"He ought to be here any minute. He sent me on ahead from the hotel. He wants to meet the Ambassador. That's why I joined the line."
"Well, suppose I leave Mr. Silk in your hands for a while," Hutchinson said. "I ought to circulate around a little."
"Yes. Just leave him in my hands!" she said vindictively.
"What's wrong, Gail?" I wanted to know. "I know, I was supposed to meet you at the spaceport, but—"
"You made a beautiful fool of me at the spaceport!"
"Look, I can explain everything. My Embassy staff insisted on hurrying me off—"
Somebody gave a high-pitched whoop directly behind me and emptied the clip of a pistol. I couldn't even hear what else I said. I couldn't hear what she said, either, but it was something angry.
"You have to listen to me!" I roared in her ear. "I can explain everything!"
"Any diplomat can explain anything!" she shouted back.
"Look, Gail, you're hanging an innocent man!" I yelled back at her. "I'm entitled to a fair trial!"
Somebody on the platform began firing his pistol within inches of the loud-speakers and it sounded like an H-bomb going off. She grabbed my wrist and dragged me toward a door under the platform.
"Down here!" she yelled. "And this better be good, Mr. Silk!"
We went down a spiral ramp, lighted by widely-scattered overhead lights.
"Space-attack shelter," she explained. "And look: what goes on in space-ships is one thing, but it's as much as a girl's reputation is worth to come down here during a barbecue."
There seemed to be quite few girls at that barbecue who didn't care what happened to their reputations. We discovered that after looking into a couple of passageways that branched off the entrance.
"Over this way," Gail said, "Confederate Courts Building. There won't be anything going on over here, now."
I told her, with as much humorous detail as possible, about how Thrombley had shanghaied me to the Embassy, and about the chase by the Rangers. Before I was half through, she was laughing heartily, all traces of her anger gone. Finally, we came to a stairway, and at the head of it to a small door.
"It's been four years that I've been away from here," she said. "I think there's a reading room of the Law Library up here. Let's go in and enjoy the quiet for a while."
But when we opened the door, there was a Ranger standing inside.
"Come to see a trial, Mr. Silk? Oh, hello, Gail. Just in time; they're going to prepare for the next trial."
As he spoke, something clicked at the door. Gail looked at me in consternation.
"Now we're locked in," she said. "We can't get out till the trial's over."
I looked around.
We were on a high balcony, at the end of a long, narrow room. In front of us, windows rose to the ceiling, and it was evident that the floor of the room was about twenty feet below ground level. Outside, I could see the barbecue still going on, but not a murmur of noise penetrated to us. What seemed to be the judge's bench was against the outside wall, under the tall windows. To the right of it was a railed stand with a chair in it, and in front, arranged in U-shape, were three tables at which a number of men were hastily conferring. There were nine judges in a row on the bench, all in black gowns. The spectators' seats below were filled with people, and there were quite a few up here on the balcony.
"What is this? Supreme Court?" I asked as Gail piloted me to a couple of seats where we could be alone.
"No, Court of Political Justice," she told me. "This is the court that's going to try those three Bonney brothers, who killed Mr. Cumshaw."
It suddenly occurred to me that this was the first time I had heard anything specific about the death of my predecessor.
"That isn't the trial that's going on now, I hope?"
"Oh, no; that won't be for a couple of days. Not till after you can arrange to attend. I don't know what this trial is. I only got home today, myself."
"What's the procedure here?" I wanted to know.
"Well, those nine men are judges," she began. "The one in the middle is President Judge Nelson. You've met his son—the Ranger officer who chased you from the spaceport. He's a regular jurist. The other eight are prominent citizens who are drawn from a panel, like a jury. The men at the table on the left are the prosecution: friends of the politician who was killed. And the ones on the right are the defense: they'll try to prove that the dead man got what was coming to him. The ones in the middle are friends of the court: they're just anybody who has any interest in the case—people who want to get some point of law cleared up, or see some precedent established, or something like that."
"You seem to assume that this is a homicide case," I mentioned.
"They generally are. Sometimes mayhem, or wounding, or simple assault, but—"
There had been some sort of conference going on in the open space of floor between the judges' bench and the three tables. It broke up, now, and the judge in the middle rapped with his gavel.
"Are you gentlemen ready?" he asked. "All right, then. Court of Political Justice of the Confederate Continents of New Texas is now in session. Case of the friends of S. Austin Maverick, deceased, late of James Bowie Continent, versus Wilbur Whately."
"My God, did somebody finally kill Aus Maverick?" Gail whispered.
On the center table, in front of the friends of the court, both sides seemed to have piled their exhibits; among the litter I saw some torn clothing, a big white sombrero covered with blood, and a long machete.
"The general nature of the case," the judge was saying, "is that the defendant, Wilbur Whately, of Sam Houston Continent, is here charged with divers offenses arising from the death of the Honorable S. Austin Maverick, whom he killed on the front steps of the Legislative Assembly Building, here in New Austin...."
What goes on here? I thought angrily. This is the rankest instance of a pre-judged case I've ever seen. I started to say as much to Gail, but she hushed me.
"I want to hear the specifications," she said.
A man at the prosecution table had risen.
"Please the court," he began, "the defendant, Wilbur Whately, is here charged with political irresponsibility and excessive atrocity in exercising his constitutional right of criticism of a practicing politician.
"The specifications are, as follows: That, on the afternoon of May Seventh, Anno Domini 2193, the defendant here present did arm himself with a machete, said machete not being one of his normal and accustomed weapons, and did loiter in wait on the front steps of the Legislative Assembly Building in the city of New Austin, Continent of Sam Houston, and did approach the decedent, addressing him in abusive, obscene, and indecent language, and did set upon and attack him with the machete aforesaid, causing the said decedent, S. Austin Maverick, to die."
The court wanted to know how the defendant would plead. Somebody, without bothering to rise, said, "Not guilty, Your Honor," from the defense table.
There was a brief scraping of chairs; four of five men from the defense and the prosecution tables got up and advanced to confer in front of the bench, comparing sheets of paper. The man who had read the charges, obviously the chief prosecutor, made himself the spokesman.
"Your Honor, defense and prosecution wish to enter the following stipulations: That the decedent was a practicing politician within the meaning of the Constitution, that he met his death in the manner stated in the coroner's report, and that he was killed by the defendant, Wilbur Whately."
"Is that agreeable to you, Mr. Vincent?" the judge wanted to know.
The defense answered affirmatively. I sat back, gaping like a fool. Why, that was practically—no, it was—a confession.
"All right, gentlemen," the judge said. "Now we have all that out of the way, let's get on with the case."
As though there were any case to get on with! I fully expected them to take it on from there in song, words by Gilbert and music by Sullivan.
"Well, Your Honor, we have a number of character witnesses," the prosecution—prosecution, for God's sake!—announced.
"Skip them," the defense said. "We stipulate."
"But you can't stipulate character testimony," the prosecution argued. "You don't know what our witnesses are going to testify to."
"Sure we do: they're going to give us a big long shaggy-dog story about the Life and Miracles of Saint Austin Maverick. We'll agree in advance to all that; this case is concerned only with his record as a politician. And as he spent the last fifteen years in the Senate, that's all a matter of public record. I assume that the prosecution is going to introduce all that, too?"
"Well, naturally ..." the prosecutor began.
"Including his public acts on the last day of his life?" the counsel for the defense demanded. "His actions on the morning of May seventh as chairman of the Finance and Revenue Committee? You going to introduce that as evidence for the prosecution?"
"Well, now ..." the prosecutor began.
"Your Honor, we ask to have a certified copy of the proceedings of the Senate Finance and Revenue Committee for the morning of May Seventh, 2193, read into the record of this court," the counsel for the defense said. "And thereafter, we rest our case."
"Has the prosecution anything to say before we close the court?" Judge Nelson inquired.
"Well, Your Honor, this seems ... that is, we ought to hear both sides of it. My old friend, Aus Maverick, was really a fine man; he did a lot of good for the people of his continent...."
"Yeah, we'd of lynched him, when he got back, if somebody hadn't chopped him up here in New Austin!" a voice from the rear of the courtroom broke in.
The prosecution hemmed and hawed for a moment, and then announced, in a hasty mumble, that it rested.
"I will now close the court," Judge Nelson said. "I advise everybody to keep your seats. I don't think it's going to be closed very long."
And then, he actually closed the court; pressing a button on the bench, he raised a high black screen in front of him and his colleagues. It stayed up for some sixty seconds, and then dropped again.
"The Court of Political Justice has reached a verdict," he announced. "Wilbur Whately, and your attorney, approach and hear the verdict."
The defense lawyer motioned a young man who had been sitting beside him to rise. In the silence that had fallen, I could hear the defendant's boots squeaking as he went forward to hear his fate. The judge picked up a belt and a pair of pistols that had been lying in front of him.
"Wilbur Whately," he began, "this court is proud to announce that you have been unanimously acquitted of the charge of political irresponsibility, and of unjustified and excessive atrocity.
"There was one dissenting vote on acquitting you of the charge of political irresponsibility; one of the associate judges felt that the late unmitigated scoundrel, Austin Maverick, ought to have been skinned alive, an inch at a time. You are, however, acquitted of that charge, too.
"You all know," he continued, addressing the entire assemblage, "the reason for which this young hero cut down that monster of political iniquity, S. Austin Maverick. On the very morning of his justly-merited death, Austin Maverick, using the powers of his political influence, rammed through the Finance and Revenue Committee a bill entitled 'An Act for the Taxing of Personal Incomes, and for the Levying of a Withholding Tax.' Fellow citizens, words fail me to express my horror of this diabolic proposition, this proposed instrument of tyrannical extortion, borrowed from the Dark Ages of the Twentieth Century! Why, if this young nobleman had not taken his blade in hand, I'd have killed the sonofabitch, myself!"
He leaned forward, extending the belt and holsters to the defendant.
"I therefore restore to you your weapons, taken from you when, in compliance with the law, you were formally arrested. Buckle them on, and, assuming your weapons again, go forth from this court a free man, Wilbur Whately. And take with you that machete with which you vindicated the liberties and rights of all New Texans. Bear it reverently to your home, hang it among your lares and penates, cherish it, and dying, mention it within your will, bequeathing it as a rich legacy unto your issue! Court adjourned; next session 0900 tomorrow. For Chrissake, let's get out of here before the barbecue's over!"
Some of the spectators, drooling for barbecued supercow, began crowding and jostling toward the exits; more of them were pushing to the front of the courtroom, cheering and waving their hip-flasks. The prosecution and about half of the friends of the court hastily left by a side door, probably to issue statements disassociating themselves from the deceased Maverick.
"So that's the court that's going to try the men who killed Ambassador Cumshaw," I commented, as Gail and I went out. "Why, the purpose of that court seems to be to acquit murderers."
"Murderers?" She was indignant. "That wasn't murder. He just killed a politician. All the court could do was determine whether or not the politician needed it, and while I never heard about Maverick's income-tax proposition, I can't see how they could have brought in any other kind of a verdict. Of all the outrageous things!"
I was thoughtfully silent as we went out into the plaza, which was still a riot of noise and polychromatic costumes. And my thoughts were as weltered as the scene before me.
Apparently, on New Texas, killing a politician wasn't regarded as mallum in se, and was mallum prohibitorum only to the extent that what happened to the politician was in excess of what he deserved. I began to understand why Palme was such a scared rabbit, why Hutchinson had that hunted look and kept his hands always within inches of his pistols.
I began to feel more pity than contempt for Thrombley, too. He's been on this planet too long and he should never have been sent here in the first place. I'll rotate him home as soon as possible....
Then the full meaning of what I had seen finally got through to me: if they were going to try the killers of Cumshaw in that court, that meant that on New Texas, foreign diplomats were regarded as practicing politicians....
That made me a practicing politician too!
And that's why, when we got back to the vicinity of the bandstand, I had my right hand close to my pistol, with my thumb on the inconspicuous little spot of silver inlay that operated the secret holster mechanism.
I saw Hutchinson and Palme and Thrombley ahead. With them was a newcomer, a portly, ruddy-faced gentleman with a white mustache and goatee, dressed in a white suit. Gail broke away from me and ran toward him. This, I thought, would be her father; now I would be introduced and find out just what her last name was. I followed, more slowly, and saw a waiter, with a wheeled serving-table, move in behind the group which she had joined.
So I saw what none of them did—the waiter suddenly reversed his long carving-knife and poised himself for a blow at President Hutchinson's back. I simply pressed the little silver stud on my belt, the Krupp-Tatta popped obediently out of the holster into my open hand. I thumbed off the safety and swung up; when my sights closed on the rising hand that held the knife, I fired.
Hoddy Ringo, who had been holding a sandwich with one hand and a drink with the other, dropped both and jumped on the man whose hand I had smashed. A couple of Rangers closed in and grabbed him, also. The group around President Hutchinson had all turned and were staring from me to the man I had shot, and from him to the knife with the broken handle, lying on the ground.
Hutchinson spoke first. "Well, Mr. Ambassador! My Government thanks your Government! That was nice shooting!"
"Hey, you been holdin' out on me!" Hoddy accused. "I never knew you was that kinda gunfighter!"
"There's a new wrinkle," the man with the white goatee said. "We'll have to screen the help at these affairs a little more closely." He turned to me. "Mr. Ambassador, New Texas owes you a great deal for saving the President's life. If you'll get that pistol out of your hand, I'd be proud to shake it, sir."
I holstered my automatic, and took his hand. Gail was saying, "Stephen, this is my father," and at the same time, Palme, the Secretary of State, was doing it more formally:
"Ambassador Silk, may I present one of our leading citizens and large ranchers, Colonel Andrew Jackson Hickock."
Dumbarton Oaks had taught me how to maintain the proper diplomat's unchanging expression; drinking superbourbon had been a post-graduate course. I needed that training as I finally learned Gail's last name.
It was early evening before we finally managed to get away from the barbecue. Thrombley had called the Embassy and told them not to wait dinner for us, so the staff had finished eating and were relaxing in the patio when our car came in through the street gate. Stonehenge and another man came over to meet us as we got out—a man I hadn't met before.
He was a little fellow, half-Latin, half-Oriental; in New Texas costume and wearing a pair of pistols like mine, in State Department Special Services holsters. He didn't look like a Dumbarton Oaks product: I thought he was more likely an alumnus of some private detective agency.
"Mr. Francisco Parros, our Intelligence man," Stonehenge introduced him.
"Sorry I wasn't here when you arrived, Mr. Silk," Parros said. "Out checking on some things. But I saw that bit of shooting, on the telecast screen in a bar over town. You know, there was a camera right over the bandstand that caught the whole thing—you and Miss Hickock coming toward the President and his party, Miss Hickock running forward to her father, the waiter going up behind Hutchinson with the knife, and then that beautiful draw and snap shot. They ran it again a couple of times on the half-hourly newscast. Everybody in New Austin, maybe on New Texas, is talking about it, now."
"Yes, indeed, sir," Gomez, the Embassy Secretary, said, joining us. "You've made yourself more popular in the eight hours since you landed than poor Mr. Cumshaw had been able to do in the ten years he spent here. But, I'm afraid, sir, you've given me a good deal of work, answering your fan-mail."
We went over and sat down at one of the big tables under the arches at the side of the patio.
"Well, that's all to the good," I said. "I'm going to need a lot of local good will, in the next few weeks. No thanks, Mr. Parros," I added, as the Intelligence man picked up a bottle and made to pour for me. "I've been practically swimming in superbourbon all afternoon. A little black coffee, if you don't mind. And now, gentlemen, if you'll all be seated, we'll see what has to be done."
"A council of war, in effect, Mr. Ambassador?" Stonehenge inquired.
"Let's call it a council to estimate the situation. But I'll have to find out from you first exactly what the situation here is."