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Ultima Thule
by Dallas McCord Reynolds
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The end of it was that they eliminated everyone employed in the UP building.

The cards were stacked back on Mouley Hassan's desk again, and the three of them sat around and looked glumly at them.

Ronny said, "He's tinkered with the files. He counterfeited fake papers for himself, or something. Possibly he's pulled his own card and it isn't in this stack you have."

Mouley Hassan said, "We'll double-check all those possibilities, but you're wrong. Possibly a few hundred years ago, but not today. Forgery and counterfeiting are things of the past. And, believe me, the Bureau of Investigation and especially Section G, may look on the slipshod side, but they aren't. We're not going to find anything wrong with those cards. Tommy Paine simply is not working for UP on New Delos."

"Then," Ronny said, "there's only one alternative. He's on this UP ship going to, what was the name of its destination?"

"Avalon," Mouley Hassan said, his face thoughtful.

Tog said, "Do you have any ideas on the men aboard?"

Mouley Hassan said, "There were four crew men, and six of our agents."

Tog said, "Unless one of them has faked papers, the six agents are eliminated. That leaves the crew members. Do you know anything about them?"

Hassan shook his head.

Ronny said, "Let's communicate with Avalon. Tell our representatives there to be sure that none of the occupants of that ship leaves Avalon until we get there."

Mouley Hassan said, "Good idea." He turned to his screen and said into it, "Section G, Bureau of Investigation, on the Planet Avalon."

In moment the screen lit up. An elderly agent, as Section G agents seemed to go, looked up at them.

Mouley Hassan held his silver badge so the other could see it and on the Avalon agent's nod said, "I'm Hassan from New Delos. We've just had a crisis here and there seems to be a chance that it's a Tommy Paine job. Agent Bronston here is on an assignment tracking him down. I'll turn it over to Bronston."

The Avalon agent nodded again, and looked at Ronny.

Ronny said urgently, "We haven't the time to give you details, but every indication is that Paine is on a UP spacecraft with Avalon as its destination. There are only ten men aboard, and six of them are Section G operatives."

The other pursed his lips. "I see. You think you have the old fox cornered, eh?"

"Possibly," Ronny said. "There are various ifs. Miss Tog and I can double check here. Then as soon as we can clear exit visas, we'll make immediate way for Avalon."

The Avalon Section G agent said, "I haven't the authority to control the movements of other agents, they have as high rank as I have," he added, expressionlessly, "and probably higher than yours."

Ronny said, "But the four-man crew?"

The other said, "These men are coming to Avalon to work on a job that will take at least six months. We'll make a routine check, and I'll try and make sure the whole ten will still be on Avalon when and if you arrive."

They had to be satisfied with that. They checked all ways from the middle, nor did it take long. There was no doubt. If this was a Tommy Paine job, and it almost surely was, then there was only one way in which he could have escaped from the planet and that was by the single spacecraft that had left, destination Avalon. He was not on the planet, that was definite Ronny felt. A stranger on New Delos was as conspicuous as a walrus in a goldfish bowl. There simply were no such.

They spent most of their time checking and rechecking United Planets personnel, but there was no question there either.

Mouley Hassan and others of UP personnel helped cut the red tape involved in getting exit visas from New Delos. It wasn't as complicated as it might have been a week or two before. No one seemed to be so confident of his authority in the new provisional government that he dared veto a United Planets request.

Mouley Hassan was able to arrange for a small space yacht, slower than a military craft, but capable of getting them to Avalon in a few days time. A one-man crew was sufficient, Ronny, and especially Tog, could spell him on the watches.

Time aboard was spent largely in studying up on Avalon, going over and over again anything known about the elusive Tommy Paine, and playing Battle Chess and bickering with Tog Lee Chang Chu.

If it hadn't been for this ability to argue against just about anything Ronny managed to say, he could have been attracted to her to the detriment of the job. She was a good traveler, few people are; she was an ultra-efficient assistant; she was a joy to look at; and she never intruded. But, Great Guns, the woman could bicker.

The two of them were studying in the ship's luxurious lounge when Ronny looked up and said, "Do you have any idea why those six agents were sent to Avalon?"

"No," she said.

He indicated the booklet he was reading. "From what I can see here, it sounds like one of the most advanced planets in the UP. They've made some of the most useful advances in industrial techniques of the past century."

"Oh, I don't know," Tog mused. "I haven't much regard for Industrial Feudalism myself. It starts off with a bang, but tends to go sterile."

"Industrial feudalism," he said indignantly. "What do you mean? The government is a constitutional monarchy with the king merely a powerless symbol. The standard of living is high. Elections are honest and democratic. They've got a three-party system...."

"Which is largely phony," Tog interrupted. "You've got to do some reading between the lines, especially when the books you're reading are turned out by the industrial feudalistic publishing companies in Avalon."

"What's this industrial feudalism, you keep talking about? Avalon has a system of free enterprise."

"A gobbledygook term," Tog said, irritatingly. "Industrial feudalism is a socio-economic system that develops when industrial wealth is concentrated into the hands of a comparatively few families. It finally gets to the point of a closed circle all but impossible to break into. These industrial feudalistic families become so powerful that only in rare instances can anyone lift himself into their society. They dominate every field, including the so-called labor unions, which amount to one of the biggest businesses of all. With their unlimited resources they even own every means of dispensing information."

"You mean," Ronny argued, "that on Avalon you can't start up a newspaper of your own and say whatever you wish?"

"Certainly you can, theoretically. If you have the resources. Unfortunately, such enterprises become increasingly expensive to start. Or you could start a radio, TV or Tri-Di station—if you had the resources. However, even if you overcame all your handicaps and your newspaper or broadcasting station became a success, the industrial feudalistic families in control of Avalon's publishing and broadcasting fields have the endless resources to buy you out, or squeeze you out, by one nasty means or another."

Ronny snorted. "Well, the people must be satisfied or they'd vote some fundamental changes."

Tog nodded. "They're satisfied, and no wonder. Since childhood every means of forming their opinions have been in the hands of industrial feudalistic families—including the schools."

"You mean the schools are private?"

"No, they don't have to be. The government is completely dominated by the fifty or so families which for all practical purposes own Avalon. That includes the schools. Some of the higher institutions of learning are private, but they, too, are largely dependent upon grants from the families."

——————————————————-

Ronny was irritated by her know-all air. He tapped the book he'd been reading with a finger. "They don't control the government. Avalon's got a three-party system. Any time the people don't like the government, they can vote in an alternative."

"That's an optical illusion. There are three parties, but each is dominated by the fifty families, and election laws are such that for all practical purposes it's impossible to start another party. Theoretically it's possible, actually it isn't. The voters can vary back and forth between the three political parties but it doesn't make any difference which one they elect. They all stand for the same thing—a continuation of the status quo."

"Then you claim it isn't democracy at all?"

Tog sighed. "That's a much abused word. Actually, pure democracy is seldom seen. They pretty well had it in primitive society where government was based on the family. You voted for one of your relatives in your clan to represent you in the tribal councils. Every one in the tribe was equal so far as apportionments of the necessities of life were concerned. No one, even the tribal chiefs, ate better than anyone else, no one had a better home."

Ronny said, snappishly, "And if man had remained at that level, we'd never have gotten anywhere."

"That's right," she said. "For progress, man needed a leisure class. Somebody with the time to study, to experiment, to work things out."

He said, "We're getting away from the point. You said in spite of appearances they don't have democracy on Avalon."

"They have a pretense of it. But only free men can practice democracy. So long as your food, clothing and shelter are controlled by someone else, you aren't free. Wait until I think of an example." She put her right forefinger to her chin, thoughtfully.

Holy smokes, she was a cute trick. If only she wasn't so confounded irritating.

Tog said, "Do you remember the State of California in Earth history?"

"I think so. On the west coast of North America."

"That's right. Well, back in the Twentieth Century, Christian calendar, they had an economic depression. During it a crackpot organization called Thirty Dollars Every Thursday managed to get itself on the ballot. Times were bad enough but had this particular bunch got into power it would have become chaotic. At first no thinking person took them seriously, however a majority of people in California at that time had little to lose and in the final week or so of the election campaign the polls showed that Thirty Dollars Every Thursday was going to win. So, a few days before voting many of the larger industries and businesses in the State ran full page ads in the newspapers. They said substantially the same thing. If Thirty Dollars Every Thursday wins this election, our concern will close its doors. Do not bother to come back to work Monday."

Ronny was scowling at her. "What's your point?"

She shrugged delicate shoulders. "The crackpots were defeated, of course, which was actually good for California. But my point is that the voters of California were not actually free since their livelihoods were controlled by others. This is an extreme case, of course, but the fact always applies."

A thought suddenly hit Ronny Bronston. "Look," he said. "Tommy Paine. Do you think he's merely escaping from New Delos, or is it possible that Avalon is his next destination? Is he going to try and overthrow the government there?"

She was shaking her head, but frowning. "I don't think so. Things are quite stable on Avalon."

"Stable?" he scowled at her. "From what you've been saying, they're pretty bad."

She continued to shake her head. "Don't misunderstand, Ronny. On an assignment like this, it's easy to get the impression that all the United Planets are in a state of socio-political confusion, but it isn't so. A small minority of planets are ripe for the sort of trouble Tommy Paine stirs up. Most are working away, developing, making progress, slowly evolving. Avalon is one of these. The way things are there, Tommy Paine couldn't make a dent on changing things, even if he wanted to, and there's no particular reason to believe he does."

Ronny growled. "From what I can learn of the guy he's anxious to stir up trouble wherever he goes."

"I don't know. If there's any pattern at all in his activities, it seems to be that he picks spots where things are ripe to boil over on their own. He acts as a catalyst. In a place like Avalon he wouldn't get to first base. Possibly fifty years from now, things will have developed on Avalon to the point where there is dissatisfaction. By that time," she said dryly, "we'll assume Tommy Paine will no longer be a problem to the Commissariat of Interplanetary Affairs for one reason or the other."

Ronny took up his book again. He growled, "I can't figure out his motivation. If I could just put my finger on that."

For once she agreed with him. "I've got an idea, Ronny, that once you have that, you'll have Tommy Paine."

——————————————————-

They drew blank on Avalon.

Or, at least, it was drawn for them before they ever arrived.

The Section G agent permanently assigned to that planet had already checked and double checked the possibilities. None of the four-man crew of the UP spacecraft had been on New Delos at the time of the assassination of the God-King. They, and their craft, had been light-years away on another job.

Ronny Bronston couldn't believe it. He simply couldn't believe it.

The older agent, his name was Jheru Bulchand, was definite. He went over it with Ronny and Tog in a bar adjoining UP headquarters. He had dossiers on each of the ten men, detailed dossiers. On the face of it, none of them could be Paine.

"But one of them has to be," Ronny pleaded. He explained their method of eliminating the forty-eight employees of UP on New Delos.

Bulchand shrugged. "You've got holes in that method of elimination. You're assuming Tommy Paine is an individual, and you have no reason to. My own theory is that it's an organization."

Ronny said unhappily, "Then you're of the opinion that there is a Tommy Paine?"

The older agent was puffing comfortably on an old style briar pipe. He nodded definitely. "I believe Tommy Paine exists as an organization. Possibly once, originally, it was a single person, but now it's a group. How large, I wouldn't know. Probably not too large or by this time somebody would have betrayed it, or somebody would have cracked and we would have caught them. Catch one and you've got the whole organization what with our modern means of interrogation."

Tog said, "I've heard the opinion before."

Jheru Bulchand pointed at Ronny with his pipe stem. "If its an organization, then none of that eliminating you did is valid. Your assassin could have been one of the women. He could have been one of the men you eliminated as too young—someone recently admitted to the Tommy Paine organization."

Ronny checked the last of his theories. "Why did Section G send six of its agents here?"

"Nothing to do with Tommy Paine," Bulchand said. "It's a different sort of crisis."

"Just for my own satisfaction, what kind of crisis?"

Bulchand sketched it quickly. "There are two Earth type planets in this solar system. Avalon was the first to be colonized and developed rapidly. After a couple of centuries, Avalonians went over and settled on Catalina. They eventually set up a government of their own. Now Avalon has a surplus of industrial products. Her economic system is such that she produces more than she can sell back to her own people. There's a glut."

Tog said demurely, "So, of course, they want to dump it in Catalina."

Bulchand nodded. "In fact, they're willing to give it away. They've offered to build railroads, turn over ships and aircraft, donate whole factories to Catalina's slowly developing economy."

Ronny said, "Well, how does that call for Section G agents?"

"Catalina has evoked Article Two of the UP Charter. No member planet of UP is to interfere with the internal political, socio-economic or religious affairs of another member planet. Avalon claims the Charter doesn't apply since Catalina belongs to the same solar system and since she's a former colony. We're trying to smooth the whole thing over, before Avalon dreams up some excuse for military action."

Ronny stared at him. "I get the feeling every other sentence is being left out of your explanation. It just doesn't make sense. In the first place, why is Avalon as anxious as all that to give away what sounds like a fantastic amount of goods?"

"I told you, they have a glut. They've overproduced and, as a result, they've got a king-size depression on their hands, or will have unless they find markets."

"Well, why not trade with some of the planets that want her products?"

Tog said as though reasoning with a youngster, "Planets outside her own solar system are too far away for it to be practical even if she had commodities they didn't. She needs a nearby planet more backward than herself, a planet like Catalina."

"Well, that brings us to the more fantastic question. Why in the world doesn't Catalina accept? It sounds to me like pure philanthropy on the part of Avalon."

Bulchand was wagging his pipe stem in a negative gesture. "Bronston, governments are never motivated by idealistic reasons. Individuals might be, and even small groups, but governments never. Governments, including that of Avalon, exist for the benefit of the class or classes that control them. The only things that motivate them are the interests of that class."

"Well, this sounds like an exception," Ronny said argumentatively. "How can Catalina lose if the Avalonians grant them railroads, factories and all the rest of it?"

Tog said, "Don't you see, Ronny? It gives Avalon a foothold in the Catalina economy. When the locomotives wear out on the railroad, new engines, new parts, must be purchased. They won't be available on Catalina because there will be no railroad industry because none will have ever grown up. Catalina manufacturers couldn't compete with that initial free gift. They'll be dependent on Avalon for future equipment. In the factories, when machines wear out, they will be replaceable only with the products of Avalon's industry."

Bulchand said, "There's an analogy in the early history of the United States. When its fledgling steel industry began, they set up a high tariff to protect it against British competition. The British were amazed and indignant, pointing out that they could sell American steel products at one third the local prices, if only allowed to do so. The United States said no thanks, it didn't want to be tied, industrially, to Great Britain's apron strings. And in a couple of decades American steel production passed England's. In a couple of more decades American steel production was many times that of England's and she was taking British markets away from her all over the globe."

"At any rate," Ronny said, "it's not a Tommy Paine matter."

Just for luck, though, Ronny and Tog double checked all over again on Bulchand's efforts. They interviewed all six of the Section G agents. Each of them carried a silver badge that gleamed only for the individual who possessed it. All of which eliminated the possibility that Paine had assumed the identity of a Section G operative. So that was out.

They checked the four crew members, but there was no doubt there, either. The craft had been far away at the time of the assassination on New Delos.

On the third day, Ronny Bronston, disgusted, knocked on the door of Tog's hotel room. The door screen lit up and Tog, looking out at him said, "Oh, come on in, Ronny, I was just talking to Earth."

He entered.

Tog had set up her Section G communicator on a desk top and Sid Jakes' grinning face was in the tiny, brilliant screen. Ronny approached close enough for the other to take him in.

Jakes said happily, "Hi, Ronny, no luck, eh?"

Ronny shook his head, trying not to let his face portray his feelings of defeat. This after all was a probationary assignment, and the supervisor had the power to send Ronny Bronston back to the drudgery of his office job at Population Statistics.

"Still working on it. I suppose it's a matter of returning to New Delos and grinding away at the forty-eight employees of the UP there."

Sid Jakes pursed his lips. "I don't know. Possibly this whole thing was a false alarm. At any rate, there seems to be a hotter case on the fire. If our local agents have it straight, Paine is about to pull one of his coups on Kropotkin. This is a top-top-secret, of course, one of the few times we've ever detected him before the act."

Ronny was suddenly alert, his fatigue of disgust of but a moment ago, completely forgotten. "Where?" he said.

"Kropotkin," Jakes said. "One of the most backward planets in UP and seemingly a setup for Paine's sort of trouble making. The authorities, if you can use the term applied to Kropotkin, are already complaining, threatening to invoke Article One of the Charter, or to resign from UP." Jake looked at Tog again. "Do you know Kropotkin, Lee Chang?"

She shook her head. "I've heard of it, rather vaguely. Named after some old anarchist, I believe."

"That's the place. One of the few anarchist societies in UP. You don't hear much from them." He turned to Ronny again. "I think that's your bet. Hop to it, boy. We're going to catch this Tommy Paine guy, or organization, or whatever, soon or United Planets is going to know it. We can't keep the lid on indefinitely. If word gets around of his activities, then we'll lose member planets like Christmas trees shedding needles after New Year's." He grinned widely. "That's sounds like a neat trick, eh?"

——————————————————-

Ronny Bronston had got to the point where he avoided controversial subjects with Tog even when provoked and she had a sneaky little way of provoking arguments. They had only one really knock down and drag-out verbal battle on the way to Kropotkin.

It had started innocently enough after dinner on the space liner on which they had taken passage for the first part of the trip. To kill time they were playing Battle Chess with its larger board and added contingents of pawns and castles.

Ronny said idly, "You know, in spite of the fact that I'm a third generation United Planets citizen and employee, I'm just beginning to realize how far out some of our member planets are. I had no idea before."

She frowned in concentration, before moving. She was advancing her men in echelon attack, taking losses in exchange for territory and trying to pen him up in such small space that he couldn't maneuver.

She said, "How do you mean?"

Ronny lifted and dropped a shoulder. "Well, New Delos and its theocracy, for instance, and Shangri-La and Mother and some of the other planets with extremes in government of socio-economic system. I hadn't the vaguest idea about such places."

She made a deprecating sound. "You should see Amazonia, or, for that matter, the Orwellian State."

"Amazonia," he said, "does that mean what it sounds like it does?"

She made her move and settled back in satisfaction. Her pawns were in such position that his bishops were both unusable. He'd tried to play a phalanx game in the early stages of her attack, but she'd broken through, rolling up his left flank after sacrificing a castle and a knight.

"Certainly does," she said. "A fairly recently colonized planet. A few thousand feminists no men at all—moved onto it a few centuries ago. And it's still an out and out matriarchy."

Ronny cleared his throat delicately. "Without men ... ah, how did they continue several centuries?"

Tog suppressed her amusement. "Artificial insemination, at first, so I understand. They brought their, ah, supply with them. But then there were boys among the first generation on the new planet and even the Amazonians weren't up to cold bloodedly butchering their children. So they merely enslaved them. Nice girls."

Ronny stared at her. "You mean all men are automatically slaves on this planet?"

"That's right."

Ronny made an improperly thought out move, trying to bring up a castle to reinforce his collapsing flank. He said, "UP allows anybody to join evidently," and there was disgust in his voice.

"Why not?" she said mildly.

"Well, there should be some standards."

Tog moved quickly, dominating with a knight several squares he couldn't afford to lose. She looked up at him, her dark eyes sparking. "The point of UP is to include all the planets. That way at least conflict can be avoided and some exchange of science, industrial techniques and cultural gains take place. And you must remember that while in power practically no socio-economic system will admit to the fact that it could possibly change for the better. But actually there is nothing less stable. Socio-economic systems are almost always in a condition of flux. Planets such as Amazonia might for a time seem so brutal in their methods as to exclude their right to civilized intercourse with the rest. However, one of these days there'll be a change—or one of these centuries. They all change, sooner or later." She added softly, "Even Han."

"Han?" Ronny said.

Her voice was quiet. "Where I was born, Ronny. Colonized from China in the very early days. In fact, I spent my childhood in a commune." She said musingly, "The party bureaucrats thought their system an impregnable, unchangeable one. Your move."

Ronny was fascinated. "And what happened?" He was in full retreat now, and with nowhere to go, his pieces pinned up for the slaughter. He moved a pawn to try and open up his queen.

"Why don't you concede?" she said. "Tommy Paine happened."

"Paine!"

"Uh-huh. It's a long story. I'll tell you about it some time." She pressed closer with her own queen.

He stared disgustedly at the board. "Well, that's what I mean," he muttered. "I had no idea there were so many varieties of crackpot politico-economic systems among the UP membership."

"They're not necessarily crackpot," she protested mildly. "Just at different stages of development."

"Not crackpot!" he said. "Here we are heading for a planet named Kropotkin which evidently practices anarchy."

"Your move," she said. "What's wrong with anarchism?"

He glowered at her, in outraged disgust. Was it absolutely impossible for him to say anything without her disagreement?

Tog said mildly, "The anarchistic ethic is one of the highest man has ever developed." She added, after a moment of pretty consideration. "Unfortunately, admittedly, it hasn't been practical to put to practice. It will be interesting to see how they have done on Kropotkin."

"Anarchist ethic, yes," Ronny snapped. "I'm no student of the movement but the way I understand it, there isn't any."

Tog smiled sweetly. "The belief upon which they base their teachings is that no man is capable of judging another."

Ronny cast his eyes ceilingward. "O.K., I give up!"

She began rapidly resetting the pieces. "Another game?" she said brightly.

"Hey! I didn't mean the game! I was just about to counterattack."

"Ha!" she said.

——————————————————-

The Section G agent on Kropotkin was named Hideka Yamamoto, but he was on a field tour and wouldn't be back for several days. However, there wasn't especially any great hurry so far as Ronny Bronston and Tog Lee Chang Chu knew. They got themselves organized in the rather rustic equivalent of a hotel, which was located fairly near UP headquarters, and took up the usual problems of arranging for local exchange, meals, means of transportation and such necessities.

It was a greater problem than usual. In fact, hadn't it been for the presence of the UP organization, which had already gone through all this the hard way, some of the difficulties would have been all but insurmountable.

For instance, there was no local exchange. There was no medium of exchange at all. Evidently simple barter was the rule.

In the hotel—if it could be called a hotel—lobby, Ronny Bronston looked at Tog. "Anarchism!" he said. "Oh, great. The highest ethic of all. And what's the means of transportation on this wonderful planet? The horse. And how are we going to get a couple of horses with no means of exchange?"

She tinkled laughter.

"All right," he said. "You're the Man Friday. You find out the details and handle them. I'm going out to take a look around the town—if you can call this a town."

"It's the capital of Kropotkin," Tog said placatingly, though with a mocking background in her tone. "Name of Bakunin. And very pleasant, too, from what little I've seen. Not a bit of smog, industrial fumes, street dirt, street noises—"

"How could there be?" he injected disgustedly. "There isn't any industry, there aren't any cars, and for all practical purposes, no streets. The houses are a quarter of a mile or so apart."

She laughed at him again. "City boy," she said. "Go on out there and enjoy nature a little. It'll do you good. Anybody who has cooped himself up in that one big city, Earth, all his life ought to enjoy seeing what the great outdoors looks like."

He looked at her and grinned. She was cute as a pixie, and there were no two ways about that. He wondered for a moment what kind of a wife she'd make. And then shuddered inwardly. Life would be one big contradiction of anything he'd managed to get out of his trap.

He strolled idly along what was little more than a country path and it came to him that there were probably few worlds in the whole UP where he'd have been prone to do this within the first few hours he'd been on the planet. He would have been afraid, elsewhere, of anything from footpads to police, from unknown vehicles to unknown traffic laws. There was something bewildering about being an Earthling and being set down suddenly in New Delos or on Avalon.

Here, somehow, he already had a feeling of peace.

Evidently, although Bakunin was supposedly a city, its populace tilled their fields and provided themselves with their own food. He could see no signs of stores or warehouses. And the UP building, which was no great edifice itself, was the only thing in town which looked even remotely like a governmental building.

Bakunin was neat. Clean as a pin, as the expression went. Ronny was vaguely reminded of a historical Tri-Di romance he'd once seen. It had been laid in ancient times in a community of the Amish in old Pennsylvania.

He approached one of the wooden houses. The things would have been priceless on Earth as an antique to be erected as a museum in some crowded park. For that matter it would have been priceless for the wood it contained. Evidently, the planet Kropotkin still had considerable virgin forest.

An old-timer smoking a pipe, sat on the cottage's front step. He nodded politely.

Ronny stopped. He might as well try to get a little of the feel of the place. He said courteously, "A pleasant evening."

The old-timer nodded. "As evenings should be after a fruitful day's toil. Sit down, comrade. You must be from the United Planets. Have you ever seen Earth?"

Ronny accepted the invitation and felt a soothing calm descend upon him almost immediately. An almost disturbingly pleasant calm. He said, "I was born on Earth."

"Ai?" the old man said. "Tell me. The books say that Kropotkin is an Earth type planet within what they call a few degrees. But is it? Is Kropotkin truly like the mother planet?"

Ronny looked about him. He'd seen some of this world as the shuttle rocket had brought them down from the passing liner. The forests, the lakes, the rivers, and the great sections untouched by man's hands. Now he saw the areas between homes, the neat fields, the signs of human toil—the toil of hands, not machines.

"No," he said, shaking his head. "I'm afraid not. This is how Earth must once have been. But no longer."

The other nodded. "Our total population is but a few million," he said. Then, "I would like to see the mother planet, but I suppose I never shall."

Ronny said diplomatically, "I have seen little of Kropotkin thus far but I am not so sure but that I might not be happy to stay here, rather than ever return to Earth."

The old man knocked the ashes from his pipe by striking it against the heel of a work-gnarled hand. He looked about him thoughtfully and said, "Yes, perhaps you're right. I am an old man and life has been good. I suppose I should be glad that I'll unlikely live to see Kropotkin change."

"Change? You plan changes?"

——————————————————-

The old man looked at him and there seemed to be a very faint bitterness, politely suppressed. "I wouldn't say we planned them, comrade. Certainly not we of the older generation. But the trend toward change is already to be seen by anyone who wishes to look, and our institutions won't long be able to stand. But, of course, if you're from United Planets you would know more of this than I."

"I'm sorry. I don't know what you're talking about."

"You are new indeed on Kropotkin," the old man said. "Just a moment." He went into his house and emerged with a small power pack. He indicated it to Ronny Bronston. "This is our destruction," he said.

The Section G agent shook his head, bewildered.

The old-timer sat down again. "My son," he said, "runs the farm now. Six months ago, he traded one of our colts for a small pump, powered by one of these. It was little use on my part to argue against the step. The pump eliminates considerable work at the well and in irrigation."

Ronny still didn't understand.

"The power pack is dead now," the old man said, "and my son needs a new one."

"They're extremely cheap," Ronny said. "An industrialized planet turns them out in multi-million amounts at practically no cost."

"We have little with which to trade. A few handicrafts, at most."

Ronny said, "But, good heavens, man, build yourselves a plant to manufacture power packs. With a population this small, a factory employing no more than half a dozen men could turn out all you need."

The old man was shaking his head. He held up the battery. "This comes from the planet Archimedes," he said, "one of the most highly industrialized in the UP, so I understand. On Archimedes do you know how many persons it takes to manufacture this power pack?"



"A handful to operate the whole factory, Archimedes is fully automated."

The old man was still moving his head negatively. "No. It takes the total working population of the planet. How many different metals do you think are contained in it, in all? I can immediately see what must be lead and copper."

Ronny said uncomfortably, "Probably at least a dozen, some in microscopic amounts."

"That's right. So we need a highly developed metallurgical industry before we can even begin. Then a developed transportation industry to take metals to the factory. We need power to run the factory, hydro-electric, solar, or possibly atomic power. We need a tool-making industry to equip the factory, the transport industry and the power industry. And while the men are employed in these, we need farmers to produce food for them, educators to teach them the sciences and techniques involved, and an entertainment industry to amuse them in their hours of rest. As their lives become more complicated with all this, we need a developed medical industry to keep them in health."

The old man hesitated for a moment, then said, "And, above all, we need a highly complicated government to keep all this accumulation of wealth in check and balance. No. You see, my friend, it takes social labor to produce products such as this, and thus far we have avoided that on Kropotkin. In fact, it was for such avoidance that my ancestors originally came to this planet."

Ronny said, scowling, "This gets ridiculous. You show me this basically simple power pack and say it will ruin your socio-economic system. On the face of it, it's ridiculous."

The old man sighed and looked out over the village unseeingly. "It's not just that single item, of course. The other day one of my neighbors turned up with a light bulb with built-in power for a year's time. It is the envy of the unthinking persons of the neighborhood most of whom would give a great deal for such a source of light. A nephew of mine has somehow even acquired a powered bicycle, I think you call them, from somewhere or other. One by one, item by item, these products of advanced technology turn up—from whence, we don't seem to be able to find out."

Under his breath, Ronny muttered, "Paine!"

"I beg your pardon," the old man said.

"Nothing," the Section G agent said. He leaned forward and, a worried frown working its way over his face, began to question the other more closely.

Afterwards, Ronny Bronston strode slowly toward the UP headquarters. There was only a small contingent of United Planets personnel on this little populated member planet but, as always, there seemed to be an office for Section G.

Ronny stood outside it for a moment. There were voices from within, but he didn't knock.

In fact, he cast his eyes up and down the short corridor. At the far end was a desk with a girl in the Interplanetary Cultural Exchange Department working away in concentration. She wasn't looking in his direction.

Ronny Bronston put his ear to the door. The building was primitive enough, rustic enough in its construction, to permit his hearing.

Tog Lee Chang Chu was saying seriously, "Oh, it was chaotic all right, but no, I don't really believe it could have been a Tommy Paine case. Actually I'd suggest to you that you run over to Catalina. When I was on Avalon I heard rumors that Tommy Paine's finger seemed to be stirring around in the mess there. Yes, I'd recommend that you take off for Catalina immediately. If Paine is anywhere in this vicinity at all, it would be Catalina."

For a moment, Ronny Bronston froze. Then in automatic reflex his hand went inside his jacket to rest over the butt of the Model H automatic there.

No, that wasn't the answer. His hand dropped away from the gun.

He listened, further.

Another voice was saying, "We thought we were on the trail for a while on Hector, but it turned out it wasn't Paine. Just a group of local agitators fed up with the communist regime there. There's going to be a blood bath on Hector, before they're through, but it doesn't seem to be Paine's work this time."

Tog's voice was musing. "Well, you never know, it sounds like the sort of muck he likes to play in."

The strange voice said argumentatively, "Well, Hector needs a few fundamental changes."

"It could be," Tog said, "but that's their internal affairs, of course. Our job in Section G is to prevent troubles between the differing socio-economic and religious features of member planets. Whatever we think of some of the things Paine does, our task is to get him."

——————————————————-

Ronny Bronston pushed the door open and went through. Tog Lee Chang Chu was sitting at a desk, nonchalant and petitely beautiful as usual, comfortably seated in easy-chairs were two young men by their attire probably citizens of United Planets and possibly even Earthlings.

"Hello, Ronny," Tog said softly. "Meet Frederic Lippman and Pedro Nazare, both Section G operatives. This is my colleague, Ronald Bronston, gentlemen. Fredric and Pedro were just leaving, Ronny."

The two agents got up to shake hands.

Ronny said, "You can't be in that much of a hurry. What's your assignment, boys?"

Lippman, an earnest type, and by his appearance not more than twenty-five or so years of age, began to answer, but Nazare said hurriedly, "Actually, it's a confidential assignment. We're working directly out of the Octagon."

Lippman said, frowning, "It's not that confidential, Tog. Bronston's an agent, too. What's your assignment, Ronny?"

Ronny said very slowly, "I'm beginning to suspect that it's the same as yours and various pieces are beginning to fall into place."

Lippman was taken aback. "You mean you're looking for Tommy Paine?" His eyes went to his associate. "How could that be, Tog? I didn't know more than one of us were on this job. Why, that means if Bronston here finds him first, I won't get my permanent appointment."

Ronny looked at Tog Lee Chang Chu who was sitting demurely, hands in lap, and a resigned expression on her face. He said, "Nor if you find him first, will I. Look here, Tog, how many men does Sid Jakes have out on this assignment?"

"I wouldn't know," she said mildly.

He snapped, "A few dozen or so? Or possibly a few hundred?"

"It seems unlikely there could be that many," she said mildly. She looked at the other two agents. "I think you two had better run along. Take my suggestion I made earlier."

"Wait a minute," Ronny snapped. "You mean that they go to Catalina? That's ridiculous."

Tog Lee Chang Chu looked at Pedro Nazare and he turned and started for the door followed by Fredric Lippman who was still scowling his puzzlement.

"Wait a minute!" Ronny snapped. "I tell you it's ridiculous. And why follow her suggestions? She's just my assistant."

Pedro Nazare said, "Come on, Fred, let's get going, we'll have to pack." But Lippman wasn't having any.

"His assistant?" he said to Tog Lee Chang Chu.

Tog Lee Chang Chu's face changed expression in sudden decision. She opened her bag and brought forth a Section G identification wallet and flicked it open. The badge was gold. "I suggest you hurry," she said to the two agents.

They left, and Tog turned back to Ronny, her eyebrows raised questioningly.

Ronny sank down into one of the chairs recently occupied by the other two agents and tried to unravel thoughts. He said finally, "I suppose my question should be, why do Ross Metaxa and Sid Jakes send an agent of supervisor rank to act as assistant to a probationary agent? But that's not what I'm asking yet. First, Lippman just called his buddy Tog. How come?"

Tog took her seat again, rueful resignation on her face. "You should be figuring it out on your own by this time, Ronny."

He looked at her belligerently. "I'm too stupid, eh?" The anger was growing within him.

"Tog," she said. "It's a nickname, or possibly you might call it a title. Tog. T-O-G. The Other Guy. My name is Lee Chang Chu, and I'm of supervisor grade presently working at developing new Section G operatives. Considering the continuing rapid growth of UP, and the continuing crises that come up in UP activities, developing new operatives is one of the department's most pressing jobs. Each new agent, on his first assignment, is always paired with an experienced old-timer."

"I see," he said flatly. "Your principal job being to needle the fledging, eh?"

She lowered her eyes. "I wouldn't exactly word it that way," she said. She was obviously unrepentant.

He said, "You must get a lot of laughs out of it. If I say, it seems to me democracy is a good thing, you give me an argument about the superiority of rule by an elite. If I say anarchism is ridiculous, you dredge up an opinion that it's man's highest ethic. You must laugh yourself to sleep at nights. You and Metaxa and Jakes and every other agent in Section G. Everybody is in on the Tog gag but the sucker."

"Sometimes there are amusing elements to the work," Lee Chang conceded, demurely.

"Just one more thing I'd like to ask," Ronny rapped. "This first assignment, agents are given. Is it always to look for Tommy Paine?"

She looked up at him, said nothing, but her eyes were questioning.

"Don't worry," he snapped. "I've already found out who Paine is."

"Ah?" She was suddenly interested. "Then I'm glad I ordered that other probationary agent to leave. Evidently, he hasn't. Obviously, I didn't want the two of you comparing notes."

"No, that would never do," he said bitterly. "Well, this is the end of the assignment so far as you and I are concerned. I'm heading back for Earth."

"Of course," she said.

——————————————————-

He had time on the way to think it all over, and over and over again, and a great deal of it simply didn't make sense. He had enough information to be disillusioned, sick at heart. To have crumbled an idealistic edifice that had taken a lifetime to build. A lifetime? At least three. His father and his grandfather before him had had the dream. He'd been weaned on the idealistic purposes of the United Planets and man's fated growth into the stars.

He was a third-generation dreamer of participating in the glory. His grandfather had been a citizen of Earth and gave up a commercial position to take a job that amounted to little more than a janitor in an obscure department of Interplanetary Financial Clearing. He wanted to get into the big job, into space, but never made it. Ronny's father managed to work up to the point where he was a supervisor in Interplanetary Medical Exchange, in the tabulating department. He, too, had wanted into space, and never made it. Ronny had loved them both. In a way fulfilling his own dreams had been a debt he owed them, because at the same time he was fulfilling theirs.

And now this. All that had been gold, was suddenly gilted lead. The dream had become contemptuous nightmare.

Finally back in Greater Washington, he went immediately from the shuttleport to the Octagon. His Bureau of Investigation badge was enough to see him through the guide-guards and all the way through to the office of Irene Kasansky.

She looked up at him quickly. "Hi," she said. "Ronny Bronston, isn't it?"

"That's right. I want to see Commissioner Metaxa."

She scowled. "I can't work you in now. How about Sid Jakes?"

He said, "Jakes is in charge of the Tommy Paine routine, isn't he?"

She shot a sharper look up at him. "That's right," she said warily.

"All right," Ronny said. "I'll see Jakes."

Her deft right hand slipped open a drawer in her desk. "You'd better leave your gun here," she said. "I've known probationary agents to get excited, in my time."

He looked at her.

And she looked back, her gaze level.

Ronny Bronston shrugged, slipped the Model H from under his armpit and tossed it into the drawer.

Irene Kasansky went back to her work. "You know the way," she said.

This time Ronny Bronston pushed open the door to Sid Jakes' office without knocking. The Section G supervisor was poring over reports on his desk. He looked up and grinned his Sid Jakes' grin.

"Ronny!" he said. "Welcome back. You know, you're one of the quickest men ever to return from a Tommy Paine assignment. I was talking to Lee Chang only a day or so ago. She said you were on your way."

Ronny grunted, his anger growing within him. He lowered himself into one of the room's heavy chairs, and glared at the other.

Sid Jakes chuckled and leaned back in his chair. "Before we go any further, just to check, who is Tommy Paine?"

Ronny snapped, "You are."

The supervisor's eyebrows went up.

Ronny said, "You and Ross Metaxa and Lee Chang Chu—and all the rest of Section G. Section G is Tommy Paine."

"Good man!" Sid Jakes chortled. He flicked a switch on his order box. "Irene," he said, "how about clearing me through to the commissioner? I want to take Ronny in for his finals."

Irene snapped back something and Sid Jakes switched off and turned to Ronny happily. "Let's go," he said. "Ross is free for a time."

Ronny Bronston said nothing. He followed the other. The rage within him was still mounting.

In the months that had elapsed since Ronny Bronston had seen Ross Metaxa the latter had changed not at all. His clothing was still sloppy, his eyes bleary with lack of sleep or abundance of alcohol—or both. His expression was still sour and skeptical.

He looked up at their entry and scowled, and made no effort to rise and shake hands. He said to Ronny sourly, "O.K., sound off and get it over with. I haven't too much time this afternoon."

Ronny Bronston was just beginning to feel tentacles of cold doubt, but he suppressed them. The boiling anger was uppermost. He said flatly, "All my life I've been a dedicated United Planets man. All my life I've considered its efforts the most praiseworthy and greatest endeavor man has ever attempted."

"Of course, old chap," Jakes told him cheerfully. "We know all that, or you wouldn't ever have been chosen as an agent for Section G."

Ronny looked at him in disgust. "I've resigned that position, Jakes."

Jakes grinned back at him. "To the contrary, you're now in the process of receiving permanent appointment."

Ronny snorted his disgust and turned back to Metaxa. "Section G is a secret department of the Bureau of Investigation devoted to subverting Article One of the United Planets Charter."

Metaxa nodded.

"You don't deny it?"

Metaxa shook his head.

"Article One," Ronny snapped, "is the basic foundation of the Charter which every member of UP and particularly every citizen of United Planets, such as ourselves, has sworn to uphold. But the very reason for the existence of this Section G is to interfere with the internal affairs of member planets, to subvert their governments, their economic systems, their religions, their ideals, their very way of life."

Metaxa yawned and reached into a desk drawer for his bottle. "That's right," he said. "Anybody like a drink?"

Ronny ignored him. "I'm surprised I didn't catch on even sooner," he said. "On New Delos Mouley Hassan, the local agent, knew the God-King was going to be assassinated. He brought in extra agents and even a detail of Space Forces guards for the emergency. He probably engineered the assassination himself."

"Nope," Jakes said. "We seldom go that far. Local rebels did the actual work, but, admittedly, we knew what they were planning. In fact, I've got a sneaking suspicion that Mouley Hassan provided them with the bomb. That lad's a bit too dedicated."

"But why," Ronny blurted. "That's deliberately interfering with internal affairs. If the word got out, every planet in UP would resign."

"Probably no planet in the system that needed a change so badly," Metaxa growled. "If they were ever going to swing into real progress, that hierarchy of priests had to go." He snorted. "An immortal God-King, yet."

Ronny pressed on. "That was bad enough, but how about this planet Mother, where the colonists had attempted to return to nature and live in the manner man did in earliest times."

"Most backward planet in the UP," Metaxa said sourly. "They just had to be roused."

"And Kropotkin!" Ronny blurted. "Don't you understand, those people were happy there. Their lives were simple, uncomplicated, and they had achieved a happiness that—"

Metaxa came to his feet. He scowled at Ronny Bronston and growled, "Unfortunately, the human race can't take the time out for happiness. Come along, I want to show you something."

He swung around the corner of his desk and made his way toward a ceiling-high bookcase.

Ronny stared after him, taken off guard, but Sid Jakes was grinning his amusement.

Ross Metaxa pushed a concealed button and the bookcase slid away to one side to reveal an elevator beyond.

"Come along," Metaxa repeated over his shoulder. He entered the elevator, followed by Jakes.

There was nothing else to do. Ronny Bronston followed them, his face still flushed with the angered argument.

The elevator dropped, how far, Ronny had no idea. It stopped and they emerged into a plain, sparsely furnished vault. Against one wall was a boxlike affair that reminded Ronny of nothing so much as a deep-freeze.

For all practical purposes, that's what it was. Ross Metaxa led him over and they stared down into its glass-covered interior.

Ronny's eyes bugged. The box contained the partly charred body of an animal approximately the size of a rabbit. No, not an animal. It had obviously once been clothed, and its limbs were obviously those of a tool using life form.

Metaxa and Jakes were staring down at it solemnly, for once no inane grin on the supervisor's face. And that of Ross Metaxa was more weary than ever.

Ronny said finally, "What is it?" But he knew.

"You tell us," Metaxa growled sourly.

"It's an intelligent life form," Ronny blurted. "Why has it been kept secret?"

"Let's go on back upstairs," Metaxa sighed.

Back in his office he said, "Now I go into my speech. Shut up for a while." He poured himself a drink, not offering one to the other two. "Ronny," he said, "man isn't alone in the galaxy. There's other intelligent life. Dangerously intelligent."

In spite of himself Ronny reacted in amusement. "That little creature down there? The size of a small monkey?" As soon as he said it, he realized the ridiculousness of his statement.

Metaxa grunted. "Obviously, size means nothing. That little fellow down there was picked up by one of our Space Forces scouts over a century ago. How long he'd been drifting through space, we don't know. Possibly only months, but possibly hundreds of centuries. But however long he's proof that man is not alone in the galaxy. And we have no way of knowing when the expanding human race will come up against this other intelligence—and whoever it was fighting."



"But," Ronny protested, "you're assuming they're aggressive. Perhaps coming in contact with these aliens will be the best thing that ever happened to man. Possibly that little fellow down there is the most benevolent creature ever evolved."

Metaxa looked at him strangely. "Let's hope so," he said. "However, when found he was in what must have been a one-man scout. He was dead and his craft was blasted and torn—obviously from some sort of weapons' fire. His scout was obviously a military craft, highly equipped with what could only be weapons, most of them so damaged our engineers haven't been able to figure them out. To the extent they have been able to reconstruct them, they're scared silly. No, there's no two ways about it, our little rabbit sized intelligence down in the vault was killed in an interplanetary conflict. And sooner or later, Ronny, man in his explosion into the stars is going to run into either or both of the opponents in that conflict."

Ronny Bronston slumped back into his chair, his brain running out a dozen leads at once.

Metaxa and Jakes remained quiet, looking at him speculatively.

Ronny said slowly, "Then the purpose of Section G is to push the member planets of UP along the fastest path of progress, to get them ready for the eventual, inevitable meeting."

"Not just Section G," Metaxa growled, "but all of the United Planets organization, although most of the rank and file don't even know our basic purpose. Section G? We do the dirty work, and are proud to do it, by every method we can devise."

Ronny leaned forward. "But look," he said. "Why not simply inform all member planets of this common danger? They'd all unite in the effort to meet the common potential foe. Anything standing in the way would be brushed aside."

Metaxa shook his head wearily. "Would they? Is a common danger enough for man to change his institutions, particularly those pertaining to property, power and religion? History doesn't show it. Delve back into early times and you'll recall, for an example, that in man's early discovery of nuclear weapons he almost destroyed himself. Three or four different socio-economic systems co-existed at that time and all would have preferred destruction rather than changes in their social forms."

Jakes said, in an unwonted quiet tone, "No, until someone comes up with a better answer it looks as though Section G is going to have to continue the job of advancing man's institutions, in spite of himself."

The commissioner made it clearer. "It's not as though we deal with all our member planets. It isn't necessary. But you see, Ronny, the best colonists are usually made up of the, well, crackpot element. Those who are satisfied, stay at home. America, for instance, was settled by the adventurers, the malcontents, the non-conformists, the religious cultists, and even fugitives and criminals of Europe. So it is in the stars. A group of colonists go out with their dreams, their schemes, their far-out ideas. In a few centuries they've populated their new planet, and often do very well indeed. But often not and a nudge, a push, from Section G can start them up another rung or so of the ladder of social evolution. Most of them don't want the push. Few cultures, if any, realize they are mortal; like Hitler's Reich, they expect to last at least a thousand years. They resist any change—even change for the better."

——————————————————-

Ronny's defenses were crumbling, but he threw one last punch. "How do you know the changes you make are for the better?"

Metaxa shrugged heavy shoulders. "It's sometimes difficult to decide, but we aim for changes that will mean an increased scientific progress, a more advanced industrial technology, more and better education, the opening of opportunity for every member of the culture to exert himself to the full of his abilities. The last is particularly important. Too many cultures, even those that think of themselves as particularly advanced, suppress the individual by one means or another."

Ronny was still mentally reeling with the magnitude of it all. "But how can you account for the fact that these alien intelligences haven't already come in contact with us?"

Metaxa shrugged again. "The Solar System, our sun, is way out in a sparsely populated spiral arm of our galaxy. Undoubtedly, these others are further in toward the center. We have no way of knowing how far away they are, or how many sun systems they dominate, or even how many other empires of intelligent life forms there are. All we know is that there are other intelligences in the galaxy, that they are near enough like us to live on the same type planets. The more opportunity man has to develop before the initial contact takes place, the stronger bargaining position, or military position, as the case may be, he'll be in."

Sid Jakes summed up the Tommy Paine business for Ronny's sake. "We need capable agents badly, but we need dedicated and efficient ones. We can't afford anything less. So when we come upon potential Section G operatives we send them out with a trusted Tog to get a picture of these United Planets of ours. It's the quickest method of indoctrination we've hit upon; the agent literally teaches himself by observation and participation. Usually, it takes four or five stops, on this planet and that, before the probationary agent begins sympathizing with the efforts of this elusive Tommy Paine. Especially since every Section G agent he runs into, including the Tog, of course, fills him full of stories of Tommy Paine's activities.

"You were one of the quickest to stumble on the true nature of our Section G. After calling at only three planets you saw that we ourselves are Tommy Paine."

"But ... but what's the end?" Ronny said plaintively. "You say our job is advancing man, even in spite of himself when it comes to that. We start at the bottom of the evolutionary ladder in a condition of savagery, clan communism in government, simple animism in religion, and slowly we progress through barbarism to civilization, through paganism to the higher ethical codes, through chattel slavery and then feudalism and beyond. What is the final end, the Ultima Thule?"

Metaxa was shaking his head again. He poured himself another drink, offered the bottle this time to the others. "We don't know," he said wearily, "perhaps there is none. Perhaps there is always another rung on this evolutionary ladder." He punched at his order box and said, "Irene, have them do up a silver badge for Ronny."

Ronny Bronston took a deep breath and reached for the brown bottle. "Well," he said. "I suppose I'm ready to ask for my first assignment." He thought for a moment. "By the way, if there's any way to swing it, I wouldn't mind working with Supervisor Lee Chang Chu."

THE END

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