Story type: Literature
Sometimes getting a job is harder than the job after you get it–and sometimes getting out of a job is harder than either!
The symphony was ending, the final triumphant paean soaring up and up, beyond the limit of audibility. For a moment, after the last notes had gone away, Paul sat motionless, as though some part of him had followed. Then he roused himself and finished his coffee and cigarette, looking out the wide window across the city below–treetops and towers, roofs and domes and arching skyways, busy swarms of aircars glinting in the early sunlight. Not many people cared for Joao Coelho’s music, now, and least of all for the Eighth Symphony. It was the music of another time, a thousand years ago, when the Empire was blazing into being out of the long night and hammering back the Neobarbarians from world after world. Today people found it perturbing.
He smiled faintly at the vacant chair opposite him, and lit another cigarette before putting the breakfast dishes on the serving-robot’s tray, and, after a while, realized that the robot was still beside his chair, waiting for dismissal. He gave it an instruction to summon the cleaning robots and sent it away. He could as easily have summoned them himself, or let the guards who would be in checking the room do it for him, but maybe it made a robot feel trusted and important to relay orders to other robots.
Then he smiled again, this time in self-derision. A robot couldn’t feel important, or anything else. A robot was nothing but steel and plastic and magnetized tape and photo-micro-positronic circuits, whereas a man–His Imperial Majesty Paul XXII, for instance–was nothing but tissues and cells and colloids and electro-neuronic circuits. There was a difference; anybody knew that. The trouble was that he had never met anybody–which included physicists, biologists, psychologists, psionicists, philosophers and theologians–who could define the difference in satisfactorily exact terms. He watched the robot pivot on its treads and glide away, trailing steam from its coffee pot. It might be silly to treat robots like people, but that wasn’t as bad as treating people like robots, an attitude which was becoming entirely too prevalent. If only so many people didn’t act like robots!
He crossed to the elevator and stood in front of it until a tiny electroencephalograph inside recognized his distinctive brain-wave pattern. Across the room, another door was popping open in response to the robot’s distinctive wave pattern. He stepped inside and flipped a switch–there were still a few things around that had to be manually operated–and the door closed behind him and the elevator gave him an instant’s weightlessness as it started to drop forty floors.
When it opened, Captain-General Dorflay of the Household Guard was waiting for him, with a captain and ten privates. General Dorflay was human. The captain and his ten soldiers weren’t. They wore helmets, emblazoned with the golden sun and superimposed black cogwheel of the Empire, and red kilts and black ankle boots and weapons belts, and the captain had a narrow gold-laced cape over his shoulders, but for the rest, their bodies were covered with a stiff mat of black hair, and their faces were slightly like terriers’. (For all his humanity, Captain-General Dorflay’s face was more like a bulldog’s.) They were hillmen from the southern hemisphere of Thor, and as a people they made excellent mercenaries. They were crack shots, brave and crafty fighters, totally uninterested in politics off their own planet, and, because they had grown up in a patriarchial-clan society, they were fanatically loyal to anybody whom they accepted as their chieftain. Paul stepped out and gave them an inclusive nod.
* * * * *
“Good morning, gentlemen.”
“Good morning, Your Imperial Majesty,” General Dorflay said, bowing the couple of inches consistent with military dignity. The Thoran captain saluted by touching his forehead, his heart, which was on the right side, and the butt of his pistol. Paul complimented him on the smart appearance of his detail, and the captain asked how it could be otherwise, with the example and inspiration of his imperial majesty. Compliment and response could have been a playback from every morning of the ten years of his reign. So could Dorflay’s question: “Your Majesty will proceed to his study?”
He wanted to say, “No, to Niffelheim with it; let’s get an aircar and fly a million miles somewhere,” and watch the look of shocked incomprehension on the captain-general’s face. He couldn’t do that, though; poor old Harv Dorflay might have a heart attack. He nodded slowly.
“If you please, general.”
Dorflay nodded to the Thoran captain, who nodded to his men. Four of them took two paces forward; the rest, unslinging weapons, went scurrying up the corridor, some posting themselves along the way and the rest continuing to the main hallway. The captain and two of his men started forward slowly; after they had gone twenty feet, Paul and General Dorflay fell in behind them, and the other two brought up the rear.
“Your Majesty,” Dorflay said, in a low voice, “let me beg you to be most cautious. I have just discovered that there exists a treasonous plot against your life.”
Paul nodded. Dorflay was more than due to discover another treasonous plot; it had been ten days since the last one.
“I believe you mentioned it, general. Something about planting loose strontium-90 in the upholstery of the Audience Throne, wasn’t it?”
And before that, somebody had been trying to smuggle a fission bomb into the Palace in a wine cask, and before that, it was a booby trap in the elevator, and before that, somebody was planning to build a submachine gun into the viewscreen in the study, and–
“Oh, no, Your Majesty; that was–Well, the persons involved in that plot became alarmed and fled the planet before I could arrest them. This is something different, Your Majesty. I have learned that unauthorized alterations have been made on one of the cooking-robots in your private kitchen, and I am positive that the object is to poison Your Majesty.”
They were turning into the main hallway, between the rows of portraits of past emperors, Paul and Rodrik, Paul and Rodrik, alternating over and over on both walls. He felt a smile growing on his face, and banished it.
“The robot for the meat sauces, wasn’t it?” he asked.
“Why–! Yes, Your Majesty.”
“I’m sorry, general. I should have warned you. Those alterations were made by roboticists from the Ministry of Security; they were installing an adaptation of a device used in the criminalistics-labs, to insure more uniform measurements. They’d done that already for Prince Travann, the Minister, and he’d recommended it to me.”
That was a shame, spoiling poor Harv Dorflay’s murder plot. It had been such a nice little plot, too; he must have had a lot of fun inventing it. But a line had to be drawn somewhere. Let him turn the Palace upside down hunting for bombs; harass ladies-in-waiting whose lovers he suspected of being hired assassins; hound musicians into whose instruments he imagined firearms had been built; the emperor’s private kitchen would have to be off limits.
Dorflay, who should have been looking crestfallen but relieved, stopped short–shocking breach of Court etiquette–and was staring in horror.
“Your Majesty! Prince Travann did that openly and with your consent? But, Your Majesty, I am convinced that it is Prince Travann himself who is the instigator of every one of these diabolical schemes. In the case of the elevator, I became suspicious of a man named Samml Ganner, one of Prince Travann’s secret police agents. In the case of the gun in the viewscreen, it was a technician whose sister is a member of the household of Countess Yirzy, Prince Travann’s mistress. In the case of the fission bomb—-“
The two Thorans and their captain had kept on for some distance before they had discovered that they were no longer being followed, and were returning. He put his hand on General Dorflay’s shoulder and urged him forward.
“Have you mentioned this to anybody?”
“Not a word, Your Majesty. This Court is so full of treachery that I can trust no one, and we must never warn the villain that he is suspected–“
“Good. Say nothing to anybody.” They had reached the door of the study, now. “I think I’ll be here until noon. If I leave earlier, I’ll flash you a signal.”
* * * * *
He entered the big oval room, lighted from overhead by the great star-map in the ceiling, and crossed to his desk, with the viewscreens and reading screens and communications screens around it, and as he sat down, he cursed angrily, first at Harv Dorflay and then, after a moment’s reflection, at himself. He was the one to blame; he’d known Dorflay’s paranoid condition for years. Have to do something about it. Any psycho-medic would certify him; be no problem at all to have him put away. But be blasted if he’d do that. That was no way to repay loyalty, even insane loyalty. Well, he’d find a way.
He lit a cigarette and leaned back, looking up at the glowing swirl of billions of billions of tiny lights in the ceiling. At least, there were supposed to be billions of billions of them; he’d never counted them, and neither had any of the seventeen Rodriks and sixteen Pauls before him who had sat under them. His hand moved to a control button on his chair arm, and a red patch, roughly the shape of a pork chop, appeared on the western side.
That was the Empire. Every one of the thousand three hundred and sixty-five inhabited worlds, a trillion and a half intelligent beings, fourteen races–fifteen if you counted the Zarathustran Fuzzies, who were almost able to qualify under the talk-and-build-a-fire rule. And that had been the Empire when Rodrik VI had seen the map completed, and when Paul II had built the Palace, and when Stevan IV, the grandfather of Paul I, had proclaimed Odin the Imperial planet and Asgard the capital city. There had been some excuse for staying inside that patch of stars then; a newly won Empire must be consolidated within before it can safely be expanded. But that had been over eight centuries ago.
He looked at the Daily Schedule, beautifully embossed and neatly slipped under his desk glass. Luncheon on the South Upper Terrace, with the Prime Minister and the Bench of Imperial Counselors. Yes, it was time for that again; that happened as inevitably and regularly as Harv Dorflay’s murder plots. And in the afternoon, a Plenary Session, Cabinet and Counselors. Was he going to have to endure the Bench of Counselors twice in the same day? Then the vexation was washed out of his face by a spreading grin. Bench of Counselors; that was the answer! Elevate Harv Dorflay to the Bench. That was what the Bench was for, a gold-plated dustbin for the disposal of superannuated dignitaries. He’d do no harm there, and a touch of outright lunacy might enliven and even improve the Bench.
And in the evening, a banquet, and a reception and ball, in honor of His Majesty Ranulf XIV, Planetary King of Durendal, and First Citizen Zhorzh Yaggo, People’s Manager-in-Chief of and for the Planetary Commonwealth of Aditya. Bargain day; two planetary chiefs of state in one big combination deal. He wondered what sort of prizes he had drawn this time, and closed his eyes, trying to remember. Durendal, of course, was one of the Sword-Worlds, settled by refugees from the losing side of the System States War in the time of the old Terran Federation, who had reappeared in Galactic history a few centuries later as the Space Vikings. They all had monarchial and rather picturesque governments; Durendal, he seemed to recall, was a sort of quasi-feudalism. About Aditya he was less sure. Something unpleasant, he thought; the titles of the government and its head were suggestive.
He lit another cigarette and snapped on the reading screen to see what they had piled onto him this morning, and then swore when a graph chart, with jiggling red and blue and green lines, appeared. Chart day, too. Everything happens at once.
* * * * *
It was the interstellar trade situation chart from Economics. Red line for production, green line for exports, blue for imports, sectioned vertically for the ten Viceroyalties and sub-sectioned for the Prefectures, and with the magnification and focus controls he could even get data for individual planets. He didn’t bother with that, and wondered why he bothered with the charts at all. The stuff was all at least twenty days behind date, and not uniformly so, which accounted for much of the jiggling. It had been transmitted from Planetary Proconsulate to Prefecture, and from Prefecture to Viceroyalty, and from there to Odin, all by ship. A ship on hyperdrive could log light-years an hour, but radio waves still had to travel 186,000 mps. The supplementary chart for the past five centuries told the real story–three perfectly level and perfectly parallel lines.
It was the same on all the other charts. Population fluctuating slightly at the moment, completely static for the past five centuries. A slight decrease in agriculture, matched by an increase in synthetic food production. A slight population movement toward the more urban planets and the more densely populated centers. A trend downward in employment–nonworking population increasing by about .0001 per cent annually. Not that they were building better robots; they were just building them faster than they wore out. They all told the same story–a stable economy, a static population, a peaceful and undisturbed Empire; eight centuries, five at least, of historyless tranquility. Well, that was what everybody wanted, wasn’t it?
He flipped through the rest of the charts, and began getting summarized Ministry reports. Economics had denied a request from the Mining Cartel to authorize operations on a couple of uninhabited planets; danger of local market gluts and overstimulation of manufacturing. Permission granted to Robotics Cartel to—- Request from planetary government of Durendal for increase of cereal export quotas under consideration–they wouldn’t want to turn that down while King Ranulf was here. Impulsively, he punched out a combination on the communication screen and got Count Duklass, Minister of Economics.
Count Duklass had thinning red hair and a plump, agreeable, extrovert’s face. He smiled and waited to be addressed.
“Sorry to bother Your Lordship,” Paul greeted him. “What’s the story on this export quota request from Durendal? We have their king here, now. Think he’s come to lobby for it?”
Count Duklass chuckled. “He’s not doing anything about it, himself. Have you met him yet, sir?”
“Not yet. He’s to be presented this evening.”
“Well, when you see him–I think the masculine pronoun is permissible–you’ll see what I mean, sir. It’s this Lord Koreff, the Marshal. He came here on business, and had to bring the king along, for fear somebody else would grab him while he was gone. The whole object of Durendalian politics, as I understand, is to get possession of the person of the king. Koreff was on my screen for half an hour; I just got rid of him. Planet’s pretty heavily agricultural, they had a couple of very good crop years in a row, and now they have grain running out their ears, and they want to export it and cash in.”
“Can’t let them do it, Your Majesty. They’re not suffering any hardship; they’re just not making as much money as they think they ought to. If they start dumping their surplus into interstellar trade, they’ll cause all kinds of dislocations on other agricultural planets. At least, that’s what our computers all say.”
And that, of course, was gospel. He nodded.
“Why don’t they turn their surplus into whisky? Age it five or six years and it’d be on the luxury goods schedule and they could sell it anywhere.”
Count Duklass’ eyes widened. “I never thought of that, Your Majesty. Just a microsec; I want to make a note of that. Pass it down to somebody who could deal with it. That’s a wonderful idea, Your Majesty!”
* * * * *
He finally got the conversation to an end, and went back to the reports. Security, as usual, had a few items above the dead level of bureaucratic procedure. The planetary king of Excalibur had been assassinated by his brother and two nephews, all three of whom were now fighting among themselves. As nobody had anything to fight with except small arms and a few light cannon, there would be no intervention. There had been intervention on Behemoth, however, where a whole continent had tried to secede from the planetary republic and the Imperial Navy had been requested to send a task force. That was all right, in both cases. No interference with anything that passed for a planetary government, but only one sovereignty on any planet with nuclear weapons, and only one supreme sovereignty in a galaxy with hyperdrive ships.
And there was rioting on Amaterasu, because of public indignation over a fraudulent election. He looked at that in incredulous delight. Why, here on Odin there hadn’t been an election in the past six centuries that hadn’t been utterly fraudulent. Nobody voted except the nonworkers, whose votes were bought and sold wholesale, by gangster bosses to pressure groups, and no decent person would be caught within a hundred yards of a polling place on an election day. He called the Minister of Security.
Prince Travann was a man of his own age–they had been classmates at the University–but he looked older. His thin face was lined, and his hair was almost completely white. He was at his desk, with the Sun and Cogwheel of the Empire on the wall behind him, but on the breast of his black tunic he wore the badge of his family, a silver planet with three silver moons. Unlike Count Duklass, he didn’t wait to be spoken to.
“Good morning, Your Majesty.”
“Good morning, Your Highness; sorry to bother you. I just caught an interesting item in your report. This business on Amaterasu. What sort of a planet is it, politically? I don’t seem to recall.”
“Why, they have a republican government, sir; a very complicated setup. Really, it’s a junk heap. When anything goes badly, they always build something new into the government, but they never abolish anything. They have a president, a premier, and an executive cabinet, and a tricameral legislature, and two complete and distinct judiciaries. The premier is always the presidential candidate getting the next highest number of votes. In the present instance, the president, who controls the planetary militia, is accusing the premier, who controls the police, of fraud in the election of the middle house of the legislature. Each is supported by the judiciary he controls. Practically every citizen belongs either to the militia or the police auxiliaries. I am looking forward to further reports from Amaterasu,” he added dryly.
“I daresay they’ll be interesting. Send them to me in full, and red-star them, if you please, Prince Travann.”
He went back to the reports. The Ministry of Science and Technology had sent up a lengthy one. The only trouble with it was that everything reported was duplication of work that had been done centuries before. Well, no. A Dr. Dandrik, of the physics department of the Imperial University here in Asgard announced that a definite limit of accuracy in measuring the velocity of accelerated subnucleonic particles had been established–16.067543333–times light-speed. That seemed to be typical; the frontiers of science, now, were all decimal points. The Ministry of Education had a little to offer; historical scholarship was still active, at least. He was reading about a new trove of source-material that had come to light on Uller, from the Sixth Century Atomic Era, when the door screen buzzed and flashed.
* * * * *
He lit it, and his son Rodrik appeared in it, with Snooks, the little red hound, squirming excitedly in the Crown Prince’s arms. The dog began barking at once, and the boy called through the phone:
“Good morning, father; are you busy?”
“Oh, not at all.” He pressed the release button. “Come on in.”
Immediately, the little hound leaped out of the princely arms and came dashing into the study and around the desk, jumping onto his lap. The boy followed more slowly, sitting down in the deskside chair and drawing his foot up under him. Paul greeted Snooks first–people can wait, but for little dogs everything has to be right now–and rummaged in a drawer until he found some wafers, holding one for Snooks to nibble. Then he became aware that his son was wearing leather shorts and tall buskins.
“Going out somewhere?” he asked, a trifle enviously.
“Up in the mountains, for a picnic. Olva’s going along.”
And his tutor, and his esquire, and Olva’s companion-lady, and a dozen Thoran riflemen, of course, and they’d be in continuous screen-contact with the Palace.
“That ought to be a lot of fun. Did you get all your lessons done?”
“Physics and math and galactiography,” Rodrik told him. “And Professor Guilsan’s going to give me and Olva our history after lunch.”
They talked about lessons, and about the picnic. Of course, Snooks was going on the picnic, too. It was evident, though, that Rodrik had something else on his mind. After a while, he came out with it.
“Father, you know I’ve been a little afraid, lately,” he said.
“Well, tell me about it, son. It isn’t anything about you and Olva, is it?”
Rod was fourteen; the little Princess Olva thirteen. They would be marriageable in six years. As far as anybody could tell, they were both quite happy about the marriage which had been arranged for them years ago.
“Oh, no; nothing like that. But Olva’s sister and a couple others of mother’s ladies-in-waiting were to a psi-medium, and the medium told them that there were going to be changes. Great and frightening changes was what she said.”
“She didn’t specify?”
“No. Just that: great and frightening changes. But the only change of that kind I can think of would be … well, something happening to you.”
Snooks, having eaten three wafers, was trying to lick his ear. He pushed the little dog back into his lap and pummeled him gently with his left hand.
“You mustn’t let mediums’ gabble worry you, son. These psi-mediums have real powers, but they can’t turn them off and on like a water tap. When they don’t get anything, they don’t like to admit it, and they invent things. Always generalities like that; never anything specific.”
“I know all that.” The boy seemed offended, as though somebody were explaining that his mother hadn’t really found him out in the rose garden. “But they talked about it to some of their friends, and it seems that other mediums are saying the same thing. Father, do you remember when the Haval Valley reactor blew up? All over Odin, the mediums had been talking about a terrible accident, for a month before that happened.”
“I remember that.” Harv Dorflay believed that somebody had been falsely informed that the emperor would visit the plant that day. “These great and frightening changes will probably turn out to be a new fad in abstract sculpture. Any change frightens most people.”
They talked more about mediums, and then about aircars and aircar racing, and about the Emperor’s Cup race that was to be flown in a month. The communications screen began flashing and buzzing, and after he had silenced it with the busy-button for the third time, Rodrik said that it was time for him to go, came around to gather up Snooks, and went out, saying that he’d be home in time for the banquet. The screen began to flash again as he went out.
* * * * *
It was Prince Ganzay, the Prime Minister. He looked as though he had a persistent low-level toothache, but that was his ordinary expression.
“Sorry to bother Your Majesty. It’s about these chiefs-of-state. Count Gadvan, the Chamberlain, appealed to me, and I feel I should ask your advice. It’s the matter of precedence.”
“Well, we have a fixed rule on that. Which one arrived first?”
“Why, the Adityan, but it seems King Ranulf insists that he’s entitled to precedence, or, rather, his Lord Marshal does. This Lord Koreff insists that his king is not going to yield precedence to a commoner.”
“Then he can go home to Durendal!” He felt himself growing angry–all the little angers of the morning were focusing on one spot. He forced the harshness out of his voice. “At a court function, somebody has to go first, and our rule is order of arrival at the Palace. That rule was established to avoid violating the principle of equality to all civilized peoples and all planetary governments. We’re not going to set it aside for the King of Durendal, or anybody else.”
Prince Ganzay nodded. Some of the toothache expression had gone out of his face, now that he had been relieved of the decision.
“Of course, Your Majesty.” He brightened a little. “Do you think we might compromise? Alternate the precedence, I mean?”
“Only if this First Citizen Yaggo consents. If he does, it would be a good idea.”
“I’ll talk to him, sir.” The toothache expression came back. “Another thing, Your Majesty. They’ve both been invited to attend the Plenary Session, this afternoon.”
“Well, no trouble there; they can enter by different doors and sit in visitors’ boxes at opposite ends of the hall.”
“Well, sir, I wasn’t thinking of precedence. But this is to be an Elective Session–new Ministers to replace Prince Havaly, of Defense, deceased, and Count Frask, of Science and Technology, elevated to the Bench. There seems to be some difference of opinion among some of the Ministers and Counselors. It’s very possible that the Session may degenerate into an outright controversy.”
“Horrible,” Paul said seriously. “I think, though, that our distinguished guests will see that the Empire can survive difference of opinion, and even outright controversy. But if you think it might have a bad effect, why not postpone the election?”
“Well–It’s been postponed three times, already, sir.”
“Postpone it permanently. Advertise for bids on two robot Ministers, Defense, and Science and Technology. If they’re a success, we can set up a project to design a robot emperor.”
The Prime Minister’s face actually twitched and blanched at the blasphemy. “Your Majesty is joking,” he said, as though he wanted to be reassured on the point.
“Unfortunately, I am. If my job could be robotized, maybe I could take my wife and my son and our little dog and go fishing for a while.”
But, of course, he couldn’t. There were only two alternatives: the Empire or Galactic anarchy. The galaxy was too big to hold general elections, and there had to be a supreme ruler, and a positive and automatic–which meant hereditary–means of succession.
“Whose opinion seems to differ from whose, and about what?” he asked.
“Well, Count Duklass and Count Tammsan want to have the Ministry of Science and Technology abolished, and its functions and personnel distributed. Count Duklass means to take over the technological sections under Economics, and Count Tammsan will take over the science part under Education. The proposal is going to be introduced at this Session by Count Guilfred, the Minister of Health and Sanity. He hopes to get some of the bio-and psycho-science sections for his own Ministry.”
“That’s right. Duklass gets the hide, Tammsan gets the head and horns, and everybody who hunts with them gets a cut of the meat. That’s good sound law of the chase. I’m not in favor of it, myself. Prince Ganzay, at this session, I wish you’d get Captain-General Dorflay nominated for the Bench. I feel that it is about time to honor him with elevation.”
“General Dorflay? But why, Your Majesty?”
“Great galaxy, do you have to ask? Why, because the man’s a raving lunatic. He oughtn’t even to be trusted with a sidearm, let alone five companies of armed soldiers. Do you know what he told me this morning?”
“That somebody is training a Nidhog swamp-crawler to crawl up the Octagon Tower and bite you at breakfast, I suppose. But hasn’t that been going on for quite a while, sir?”
“It was a gimmick in one of the cooking robots, but that’s aside from the question. He’s finally named the master mind behind all these nightmares of his, and who do you think it is? Yorn Travann!”
* * * * *
The Prime Minister’s face grew graver than usual. Well, it was something to look grave about; some of these days—-
“Your Majesty, I couldn’t possibly agree more about the general’s mental condition, but I really should say that, crazy or not, he is not alone in his suspicions of Prince Travann. If sharing them makes me a lunatic, too, so be it, but share them I do.”
Paul felt his eyebrows lift in surprise. “That’s quite too much and too little, Prince Ganzay,” he said.
“With your permission, I’ll elaborate. Don’t think that I suspect Prince Travann of any childish pranks with elevators or viewscreens or cooking-robots,” the Prime Minister hastened to disclaim, “but I definitely do suspect him of treasonous ambitions. I suppose Your Majesty knows that he is the first Minister of Security in centuries who has assumed personal control of both the planetary and municipal police, instead of delegating his ex officio powers.
“Your Majesty may not know, however, of some of the peculiar uses he has been making of those authorities. Does Your Majesty know that he has recruited the Security Guard up to at least ten times the strength needed to meet any conceivable peace-maintenance problem on this planet, and that he has been piling up huge quantities of heavy combat equipment–guns up to 200-millimeter, heavy contragravity, even gun-cutters and bomb-and-rocket boats? And does Your Majesty know that most of this armament is massed within fifteen minutes’ flight-time of this Palace? Or that Prince Travann has at his disposal from two and a half to three times, in men and firepower, the combined strength of the Planetary Militia and the Imperial Army on this planet?”
“I know. It has my approval. He’s trying to salvage some of the young nonworkers through exposing them to military discipline. A good many of them, I believe, have gone off-planet on their discharge from the SG and hired as mercenaries, which is a far better profession than vote selling.”
“Quite a plausible explanation: Prince Travann is nothing if not plausible,” the Prime Minister agreed. “And does Your Majesty know that, because of repeated demands for support from the Ministry of Security, the Imperial Navy has been scattered all over the Empire, and that there is not a naval craft bigger than a scout-boat within fifteen hundred light-years of Odin?”
That was absolutely true. Paul could only nod agreement. Prince Ganzay continued:
“He has been doing some peculiar things as Police Chief of Asgard, too. For instance, there are two powerful nonworkers’ voting-bloc bosses, Big Moogie Blisko and Zikko the Nose–I assure Your Majesty that I am not inventing these names; that’s what the persons are actually called–who have been enjoying the favor and support of Prince Travann. On a number of occasions, their smaller rivals, leaders of less important gangs, have been arrested, often on trumped-up charges, and held incommunicado until either Moogie or Zikko could move into their territories and annex their nonworker followers. These two bloc-bosses are subsidized, respectively, by the Steel and Shipbuilding Cartels and by the Reaction Products and Chemical Cartels, but actually, they are controlled by Prince Travann. They, in turn, control between them about seventy per cent of the nonworkers in Asgard.”
“And you think this adds up to a plot against the Throne?”
“A plot to seize the Throne, Your Majesty.”
“Oh, come, Prince Ganzay! You’re talking like Dorflay!”
“Hear me out, Your Majesty. His Imperial Highness is fourteen years old; it will be eleven years before he will be legally able to assume the powers of emperor. In the dreadful event of your immediate death, it would mean a regency for that long. Of course, your Ministers and Counselors would be the ones to name the Regent, but I know how they would vote with Security Guard bayonets at their throats. And regency might not be the limit of Prince Travann’s ambitions.”
“In your own words, quite plausible, Prince Ganzay. It rests, however, on a very questionable foundation. The assumption that Prince Travann is stupid enough to want the Throne.”
He had to terminate the conversation himself and blank the screen. Viktor Ganzay was still staring at him in shocked incredulity when his image vanished. Viktor Ganzay could not imagine anybody not wanting the Throne, not even the man who had to sit on it.
* * * * *
He sat, for a while, looking at the darkened screen, a little worried. Viktor Ganzay had a much better intelligence service than he had believed. He wondered how much Ganzay had found out that he hadn’t mentioned. Then he went back to the reports. He had gotten down to the Ministry of Fine Arts when the communications screen began calling attention to itself again.
When he flipped the switch, a woman smiled out of it at him. Her blond hair was rumpled, and she wore a dressing gown; her smile brightened as his face appeared in her screen.
“Hi!” she greeted him.
“Hi, yourself. You just get up?”
She raised a hand to cover a yawn. “I’ll bet you’ve been up reigning for hours. Were Rod and Snooks in to see you yet?”
He nodded. “They just left. Rod’s going on a picnic with Olva in the mountains.” How long had it been since he and Marris had been on a picnic–a real picnic, with less than fifty guards and as many courtiers along? “Do you have much reigning to do, this afternoon?”
She grimaced. “Flower Festivals. I have to make personal tri-di appearances, live, with messages for the loving subjects. Three minutes on, and a two-minute break between. I have forty for this afternoon.”
“Ugh! Well, have a good time, sweetheart. All I have is lunch with the Bench, and then this Plenary Session.” He told her about Ganzay’s fear of outright controversy.
“Oh, fun! Maybe somebody’ll pull somebody’s whiskers, or something. I’m in on that, too.”
The call-indicator in front of him began glowing with the code-symbol of the Minister of Security.
“We can always hope, can’t we? Well, Yorn Travann’s trying to get me, now.”
“Don’t keep him waiting. Maybe I can see you before the Session.” She made a kissing motion with her lips at him, and blanked the screen.
He flipped the switch again, and Prince Travann was on the screen. The Security Minister didn’t waste time being sorry to bother him.
“Your Majesty, a report’s just come in that there’s a serious riot at the University; between five and ten thousand students are attacking the Administration Center, lobbing stench bombs into it, and threatening to hang Chancellor Khane. They have already overwhelmed and disarmed the campus police, and I’ve sent two companies of the Gendarme riot brigade, under an officer I can trust to handle things firmly but intelligently. We don’t want any indiscriminate stunning or tear-gassing or shooting; all sorts of people can have sons and daughters mixed up in a student riot.”
“Yes. I seem to recall student riots in which the sons of his late Highness Prince Travann and his late Majesty Rodrik XXI were involved.” He deliberated the point for a moment, and added: “This scarcely sounds like a frat-fight or a panty-raid, though. What seems to have triggered it?”
“The story I got–a rather hysterical call for help from Khane himself–is that they’re protesting an action of his in dismissing a faculty member. I have a couple of undercovers at the University, and I’m trying to contact them. I sent more undercovers, who could pass for students, ahead of the Gendarmes to get the student side of it and the names of the ring-leaders.” He glanced down at the indicator in front of him, which had begun to glow. “If you’ll pardon me, sir, Count Tammsan’s trying to get me. He may have particulars. I’ll call Your Majesty back when I learn anything more.”
* * * * *
There hadn’t been anything like that at the University within the memory of the oldest old grad. Chancellor Khane, he knew, was a stupid and arrogant old windbag with a swollen sense of his own importance. He made a small bet with himself that the whole thing was Khane’s fault, but he wondered what lay behind it, and what would come out of it. Great plagues from little microbes start. Great and frightening changes—-
The screen got itself into an uproar, and he flipped the switch. It was Viktor Ganzay again. He looked as though his permanent toothache had deserted him for the moment.
“Sorry to bother Your Majesty, but it’s all fixed up,” he reported. “First Citizen Yaggo agreed to alternate in precedence with King Ranulf, and Lord Koreff has withdrawn all his objections. As far as I can see, at present, there should be no trouble.”
“Fine. I suppose you heard about the excitement at the University?”
“Oh, yes, Your Majesty. Disgraceful affair!”
“Simply shocking. What seems to have started it, have you heard?” he asked. “All I know is that the students were protesting the dismissal of a faculty member. He must have been exceptionally popular, or else he got a more than ordinary raw deal from Khane.”
“Well, as to that, sir, I can’t say. All I learned was that it was the result of some faculty squabble in one of the science departments; the grounds for the dismissal were insubordination and contempt for authority.”
“I always thought that when authority began inspiring contempt, it had stopped being authority. Did you say science? This isn’t going to help Duklass and Tammsan any.”
“I’m afraid not, Your Majesty.” Ganzay didn’t look particularly regretful. “The News Cartel’s gotten hold of it and are using it; it’ll be all over the Empire.”
He said that as though it meant something. Well, maybe it did; a lot of Ministers and almost all the Counselors spent most of their time worrying about what people on planets like Chermosh and Zarathustra and Deirdre and Quetzalcoatl might think, in ignorance of the fact that interest in Empire politics varied inversely as the square of the distance to Odin and the level of corruption and inefficiency of the local government.
“I notice you’ll be at the Bench luncheon. Do you think you could invite our guests, too? We could have an informal presentation before it starts. Can do? Good. I’ll be seeing you there.”
When the screen was blanked, he returned to the reports, ran them off hastily to make sure that nothing had been red-starred, and called a robot to clear the projector. After a while, Prince Travann called again.
“Sorry to bother Your Majesty, but I have most of the facts on the riot, now. What happened was that Chancellor Khane sacked a professor, physics department, under circumstances which aroused resentment among the science students. Some of them walked out of class and went to the stadium to hold a protest meeting, and the thing snowballed until half the students were in it. Khane lost his head and ordered the campus police to clear the stadium; the students rushed them and swamped them. I hope, for their sakes, that none of my men ever let anything like that happen. The man I sent, a Colonel Handrosan, managed to talk the students into going back to the stadium and continuing the meeting under Gendarme protection.”
“Sounds like a good man.”
“Very good, Your Majesty. Especially in handling disturbances. I have complete confidence in him. He’s also investigating the background of the affair. I’ll give Your Majesty what he’s learned, to date. It seems that the head of the physics department, a Professor Nelse Dandrik, had been conducting an experiment, assisted by a Professor Klenn Faress, to establish more accurately the velocity of subnucleonic particles, beta micropositos, I believe. Dandrik’s story, as relayed to Handrosan by Khane, is that he reached a limit and the apparatus began giving erratic results.”
Prince Travann stopped to light a cigarette. “At this point, Professor Dandrik ordered the experiment stopped, and Professor Faress insisted on continuing. When Dandrik ordered the apparatus dismantled, Faress became rather emotional about it–obscenely abusive and threatening, according to Dandrik. Dandrik complained to Khane, Khane ordered Faress to apologize, Faress refused, and Khane dismissed Faress. Immediately, the students went on strike. Faress confirmed the whole story, and he added one small detail that Dandrik hadn’t seen fit to mention. According to him, when these micropositos were accelerated beyond sixteen and a fraction times light-speed, they began registering at the target before the source registered the emission.”
“Yes, I–What did you say?“
Prince Travann repeated it slowly, distinctly and tonelessly.
“That was what I thought you said. Well, I’m going to insist on a complete investigation, including a repetition of the experiment. Under direction of Professor Faress.”
“Yes, Your Majesty. And when that happens, I mean to be on hand personally. If somebody is just before discovering time-travel, I think Security has a very substantial interest in it.”
The Prime Minister called back to confirm that First Citizen Yaggo and King Ranulf would be at the luncheon. The Chamberlain, Count Gadvan, called with a long and dreary problem about the protocol for the banquet. Finally, at noon, he flashed a signal for General Dorflay, waited five minutes, and then left his desk and went out, to find the mad general and his wirehaired soldiers drawn up in the hall.
* * * * *
There were more Thorans on the South Upper Terrace, and after a flurry of porting and presenting and ordering arms and hand-saluting, the Prime Minister advanced and escorted him to where the Bench of Counselors, all thirty of them, total age close to twenty-eight hundred years, were drawn up in a rough crescent behind the three distinguished guests. The King of Durendal wore a cloth-of-silver leotard and pink tights, and a belt of gold links on which he carried a jeweled dagger only slightly thicker than a knitting needle. He was slender and willowy, and he had large and soulful eyes, and the royal beautician must have worked on him for a couple of hours. Wait till Marris sees this; oh, brother!
Koreff, the Lord Marshal, wore what was probably the standard costume of Durendal, a fairly long jerkin with short sleeves, and knee-boots, and his dress dagger looked as though it had been designed for use. Lord Koreff looked as though he would be quite willing and able to use it; he was fleshy and full-faced, with hard muscles under the flesh.
First Citizen Yaggo, People’s Manager-in-Chief of and for the Planetary Commonwealth of Aditya, wore a one-piece white garment like a mechanic’s coveralls, with the emblem of his government and the numeral 1 on his breast. He carried no dagger; if he had worn a dress weapon, it would probably have been a slide rule. His head was completely shaven, and he had small, pale eyes and a rat-trap mouth. He was regarding the Durendalians with a distaste that was all too evidently reciprocated.
King Ranulf appeared to have won the toss for first presentation. He squeezed the Imperial hand in both of his and looked up adoringly as he professed his deep honor and pleasure. Yaggo merely clasped both his hands in front of the emblem on his chest and raised them quickly to the level of his chin, saying: “At the service of the Imperial State,” and adding, as though it hurt him, “Your Imperial Majesty.” Not being a chief of state, Lord Koreff came third; he merely shook hands and said, “A great honor, Your Imperial Majesty, and the thanks, both of myself and my royal master, for a most gracious reception.” The attempt to grab first place having failed, he was more than willing to forget the whole subject. There was a chance that finding a way to dispose of the grain surplus might make the difference between his staying in power at home or not.
Fortunately, the three guests had already met the Bench of Counselors. Immediately after the presentation of Lord Koreff, they all started the two hundred yards march to the luncheon pavilion, the King of Durendal clinging to his left arm and First Citizen Yaggo stumping dourly on his right, with Prince Ganzay beyond him and Lord Koreff on Ranulf’s left.
“Do you plan to stay long on Odin?” he asked the king.
“Oh. I’d love to stay for simply months! Everything is so wonderful, here in Asgard; it makes our little capital of Roncevaux seem so utterly provincial. I’m going to tell Your Imperial Majesty a secret. I’m going to see if I can lure some of your wonderful ballet dancers back to Durendal with me. Aren’t I naughty, raiding Your Imperial Majesty’s theaters?”
“In keeping with the traditions of your people,” he replied gravely. “You Sword-Worlders used to raid everywhere you went.”
“I’m afraid those bad old days are long past, Your Imperial Majesty,” Lord Koreff said. “But we Sword-Worlders got around the galaxy, for a while. In fact, I seem to remember reading that some of our brethren from Morglay or Flamberge even occupied Aditya for a couple of centuries. Not that you’d guess it to look at Aditya now.”
* * * * *
It was First Citizen Yaggo’s turn to take precedence–the seat on the right of the throne chair. Lord Koreff sat on Ranulf’s left, and, to balance him, Prince Ganzay sat beyond Yaggo and dutifully began inquiring of the People’s Manager-in-Chief about the structure of his government, launching him on a monologue that promised to last at least half the luncheon. That left the King of Durendal to Paul; for a start, he dropped a compliment on the cloth-of-silver leotard.
King Ranulf laughed dulcetly, brushed the garment with his fingertips, and said that it was just a simple thing patterned after the Durendalian peasant costume.
“You have peasants on Durendal?”
“Oh, dear, yes! Such quaint, charming people. Of course, they’re all poor, and they wear such funny ragged clothes, and travel about in rackety old aircars, it’s a wonder they don’t fall apart in the air. But they’re so wonderfully happy and carefree. I often wish I were one of them, instead of king.”
“Nonworking class, Your Imperial Majesty,” Lord Koreff explained.
“On Aditya,” First Citizen Yaggo declared, “there are no classes, and on Aditya everybody works. ‘From each according to his ability; to each according to his need.’”
“On Aditya,” an elderly Counselor four places to the right of him said loudly to his neighbor, “they don’t call them classes, they call them sociological categories, and they have nineteen of them. And on Aditya, they don’t call them nonworkers, they call them occupational reservists, and they have more of them than we do.”
“But of course, I was born a king,” Ranulf said sadly and nobly. “I have a duty to my people.”
“No, they don’t vote at all,” Lord Koreff was telling the Counselor on his left. “On Durendal, you have to pay taxes before you can vote.”
“On Aditya the crime of taxation does not exist,” the First Citizen told the Prime Minister.
“On Aditya,” the Counselor four places down said to his neighbor, “there’s nothing to tax. The state owns all the property, and if the Imperial Constitution and the Space Navy let them, the State would own all the people, too. Don’t tell me about Aditya. First big-ship command I had was the old Invictus, 374, and she was based on Aditya for four years, and I’d sooner have spent that time in orbit around Niffelheim.”
Now Paul remembered who he was; old Admiral–now Prince-Counselor–Gaklar. He and Prince-Counselor Dorflay would get along famously. The Lord Marshal of Durendal was replying to some objection somebody had made:
“No, nothing of the sort. We hold the view that every civil or political right implies a civil or political obligation. The citizen has a right to protection from the Realm, for instance; he therefore has the obligation to defend the Realm. And his right to participate in the government of the Realm includes his obligation to support the Realm financially. Well, we tax only property; if a nonworker acquires taxable property, he has to go to work to earn the taxes. I might add that our nonworkers are very careful to avoid acquiring taxable property.”
“But if they don’t have votes to sell, what do they live on?” a Counselor asked in bewilderment.
“The nobility supports them; the landowners, the trading barons, the industrial lords. The more nonworking adherents they have, the greater their prestige.” And the more rifles they could muster when they quarreled with their fellow nobles, of course. “Beside, if we didn’t do that, they’d turn brigand, and it costs less to support them than to have to hunt them out of the brush and hang them.”
“On Aditya, brigandage does not exist.”
“On Aditya, all the brigands belong to the Secret Police, only on Aditya they don’t call them Secret Police, they call them Servants of the People, Ninth Category.”
A shadow passed quickly over the pavilion, and then another. He glanced up quickly, to see two long black troop carriers, emblazoned with the Sun and Cogwheel and armored fist of Security, pass back of the Octagon Tower and let down on the north landing stage. A third followed. He rose quickly.
“Please remain seated, gentlemen, and continue with the luncheon. If you will excuse me for a moment, I’ll be back directly.” I hope, he added mentally.
* * * * *
Captain-General Dorflay, surrounded by a dozen officers, Thoran and human, had arrived on the lower terrace at the base of the Octagon Tower. They had a full Thoran rifle company with them. As he went down to them, Dorflay hurried forward.
“It has come, Your Majesty!” he said, as soon as he could make himself heard without raising his voice. “We are all ready to die with Your Majesty!”
“Oh, I doubt it’ll come quite to that, Harv,” he said. “But just to be on the safe side, take that company and the gentlemen who are with you and get up to the mountains and join the Crown Prince and his party. Here.” He took a notepad from his belt pouch and wrote rapidly, sealing the note and giving it to Dorflay. “Give this to His Highness, and place yourself under his orders. I know; he’s just a boy, but he has a good head. Obey him exactly in everything, but under no circumstances return to the Palace or allow him to return until I call you.”
“Your Majesty is ordering me away?” The old soldier was aghast.
“An emperor who has a son can be spared. An emperor’s son who is too young to marry can’t. You know that.”
Harv Dorflay was only mad on one subject, and even within the frame of his madness he was intensely logical. He nodded. “Yes, Your Imperial Majesty. We both serve the Empire as best we can. And I will guard the little Princess Olva, too.” He grasped Paul’s hand, said, “Farewell, Your Majesty!” and dashed away, gathering his staff and the company of Thorans as he went. In an instant, they had vanished down the nearest rampway.
The emperor watched their departure, and, at the same time, saw a big black aircar, bearing the three-mooned planet, argent on sable, of Travann, let down onto the south landing stage, and another troop carrier let down after it. Four men left the aircar–Yorn, Prince Travann, and three officers in the black of the Security Guard. Prince Ganzay had also left the table: he came from one direction as Prince Travann advanced from the other. They converged on the emperor.
“What’s happening here, Prince Travann?” Prince Ganzay demanded. “Why are you bringing all these troops to the Palace?”
“Your Majesty,” Prince Travann said smoothly, “I trust that you will pardon this disturbance. I’m sure nothing serious will happen, but I didn’t dare take chances. The students from the University are marching on the Palace–perfectly peaceful and loyal procession; they’re bringing a petition for Your Majesty–but on the way, while passing through a nonworkers’ district, they were attacked by a gang of hooligans connected with a voting-bloc boss called Nutchy the Knife. None of the students were hurt, and Colonel Handrosan got the procession out of the district promptly, and then dropped some of his men, who have since been re-enforced, to deal with the hooligans. That’s still going on, and these riots are like forest fires; you never know when they’ll shift and get out of control. I hope the men I brought won’t be needed here. Really, they’re a reserve for the riot work; I won’t commit them, though, until I’m sure the Palace is safe.”
He nodded. “Prince Travann, how soon do you estimate that the student procession will arrive here?” he asked.
“They’re coming on foot, Your Majesty. I’d give them an hour, at least.”
“Well, Prince Travann, will you have one of your officers see that the public-address screen in front is ready; I’ll want to talk to them when they arrive. And meanwhile, I’ll want to talk to Chancellor Khane, Professor Dandrik, Professor Faress and Colonel Handrosan, together. And Count Tammsan, too; Prince Ganzay, will you please screen him and invite him here immediately?”
“Now, Your Majesty?” At first, the Prime Minister was trying to suppress a look of incredulity; then he was trying to keep from showing comprehension. “Yes, Your Majesty; at once.” He frowned slightly when he saw two of the Security Guard officers salute Prince Travann instead of the emperor before going away. Then he turned and hurried toward the Octagon Tower.
* * * * *
The officer who had gone to the aircar to use the radio returned and reported that Colonel Handrosan was bringing the Chancellor and both professors from the University in his command-car, having anticipated that they would be wanted. Paul nodded in pleasure.
“You have a good man there, Prince,” he said. “Keep an eye on him.”
“I know it, Your Majesty. To tell the truth, it was he who organized this march. Thought they’d be better employed coming here to petition you than milling around the University getting into further mischief.”
The other officer also returned, bringing a portable viewscreen with him on a contragravity-lifter. By this time, the Bench of Counselors and the three off-planet guests had become anxious and left the luncheon pavilion in a body. The Counselors were looking about uneasily, noticing the black uniformed Security Guards who had left the troop carrier and were taking position by squads all around the emperor. First Citizen Yaggo, and King Ranulf and Lord Koreff, also seemed uneasy. They were avoiding the proximity of Paul as though he had the green death.
The viewscreen came on, and in it the city, as seen from an aircar at two thousand feet, spread out with the Palace visible in the distance, the golden pile of the Octagon Tower jutting up from it. The car carrying the pickup was behind the procession, which was moving toward the Palace along one of the broad skyways, with Gendarmes and Security Guards leading, following and flanking. There were a few Imperial and planetary and school flags, but none of the quantity-made banners and placards which always betray a planned demonstration.
Prince Ganzay had been gone for some time, now. When he returned, he drew Paul aside.
“Your Majesty,” he whispered softly, “I tried to summon Army troops, but it’ll be hours before any can get here. And the Militia can’t be mobilized in anything less than a day. There are only five thousand Army Regulars on Odin, now, anyhow.”
And half of them officers and noncoms of skeleton regiments. Like the Navy, the Army had been scattered all over the Empire–on Behemoth and Amida and Xipetotec and Astarte and Jotunnheim–in response to calls for support from Security.
“Let’s have a look at this rioting, Prince Travann,” one of the less decrepit Counselors, a retired general, said. “I want to see how your people are handling it.”
The officers who had come with Prince Travann consulted briefly, and then got another pickup on the screen. This must have been a regular public pickup, on the front of a tall building. It was a couple of miles farther away; the Palace was visible only as a tiny glint from the Octagon Tower, on the skyline. Half a dozen Security aircars were darting about, two of them chasing a battered civilian vehicle and firing at it. On rooftops and terraces and skyways, little clumps of Security Guards were skirmishing, dodging from cover to cover, and sometimes individuals or groups in civilian clothes fired back at them. There was a surprising absence of casualties.
“Your Majesty!” the old general hissed in a scandalized whisper. “That’s nothing but a big fake! Look, they’re all firing blanks! The rifles hardly kick at all, and there’s too much smoke for propellant-powder.”
“I noticed that.” This riot must have been carefully prepared, long in advance. Yet the student riot seemed to have been entirely spontaneous. That puzzled him; he wished he knew just what Yorn Travann was up to. “Just keep quiet about it,” he advised.
* * * * *
More aircars were arriving, big and luxurious, emblazoned with the arms of some of the most distinguished families in Asgard. One of the first to let down bore the device of Duklass, and from it the Minister of Economics, the Minister of Education, and a couple of other Ministers, alighted. Count Duklass went at once to Prince Travann, drawing him away from King Ranulf and Lord Koreff and talking to him rapidly and earnestly. Count Tammsan approached at a swift half-run.
“Save Your Majesty!” he greeted, breathlessly. “What’s going on, sir? We heard something about some petty brawl at the University, that Prince Ganzay had become alarmed about, but now there seems to be fighting all over the city. I never saw anything like it; on the way here we had to go up to ten thousand feet to get over a battle, and there’s a vast crowd on the Avenue of the Arts, and—-” He took in the Security Guards. “Your Majesty, just what is going on?”
“Great and frightening changes.” Count Tammsan started; he must have been to a psi-medium, too. “But I think the Empire is going to survive them. There may even be a few improvements, before things are done.”
A blue-uniformed Gendarme officer approached Prince Travann, drawing him away from Count Duklass and speaking briefly to him. The Minister of Security nodded, then turned back to the Minister of Economics. They talked for a few moments longer, then clasped hands, and Travann left Duklass with his face wreathed in smiles. The Gendarme officer accompanied him as he approached.
“Your Majesty, this is Colonel Handrosan, the officer who handled the affair at the University.”
“And a very good piece of work, colonel.” He shook hands with him. “Don’t be surprised if it’s remembered next Honors Day. Did you bring Khane and the two professors?”
“They’re down on the lower landing-stage, Your Majesty. We’re delaying the students, to give Your Majesty time to talk to them.”
“We’ll see them now. My study will do.” The officer saluted and went away. He turned to Count Tammsan. “That’s why I asked Prince Ganzay to invite you here. This thing’s become too public to be ignored; some sort of action will have to be taken. I’m going to talk to the students; I want to find out just what happened before I commit myself to anything. Well, gentlemen, let’s go to my study.”
Count Tammsan looked around, bewildered. “But I don’t understand—-” He fell into step with Paul and the Minister of Security; a squad of Security Guards fell in behind them. “I don’t understand what’s happening,” he complained.
An emperor about to have his throne yanked out from under him, and a minister about to stage a coup d’etat, taking time out to settle a trifling academic squabble. One thing he did understand, though, was that the Ministry of Education was getting some very bad publicity at a time when it could be least afforded. Prince Travann was telling him about the hooligans’ attack on the marching students, and that worried him even more. Nonworking hooligans acted as voting-bloc bosses ordered; voting-bloc bosses acted on orders from the political manipulators of Cartels and pressure-groups, and action downward through the nonworkers was usually accompanied by action upward through influences to which ministers were sensitive.
* * * * *
There were a dozen Security Guards in black tunics, and as many Household Thorans in red kilts, in the hall outside the study, fraternizing amicably. They hurried apart and formed two ranks, and the Thoran officer with them saluted.
Going into the study, he went to his desk; Count Tammsan lit a cigarette and puffed nervously, and sat down as though he were afraid the chair would collapse under him. Prince Travann sank into another chair and relaxed, closing his eyes. There was a bit of wafer on the floor by Paul’s chair, dropped by the little dog that morning. He stooped and picked it up, laying it on his desk, and sat looking at it until the door screen flashed and buzzed. Then he pressed the release button.
Colonel Handrosan ushered the three University men in ahead of him–Khane, with a florid, arrogant face that showed worry under the arrogance; Dandrik, gray-haired and stoop-shouldered, looking irritated; Faress, young, with a scrubby red mustache, looking bellicose. He greeted them collectively and invited them to sit, and there was a brief uncomfortable silence which everybody expected him to break.
“Well, gentlemen,” he said, “we want to get the facts about this affair in some kind of order. I wish you’d tell me, as briefly and as completely as possible, what you know about it.”
“There’s the man who started it!” Khane declared, pointing at Faress.
“Professor Faress had nothing to do with it,” Colonel Handrosan stated flatly. “He and his wife were in their apartment, packing to move out, when it started. Somebody called him and told him about the fighting at the stadium, and he went there at once to talk his students into dispersing. By that time, the situation was completely out of hand; he could do nothing with the students.
“Well, I think we ought to find out, first of all, why Professor Faress was dismissed,” Prince Travann said. “It will take a good deal to convince me that any teacher able to inspire such loyalty in his students is a bad teacher, or deserves dismissal.”
“As I understand,” Paul said, “the dismissal was the result of a disagreement between Professor Faress and Professor Dandrik about an experiment on which they were working. I believe, an experiment to fix more exactly the velocity of accelerated subnucleonic particles. Beta micropositos, wasn’t it, Chancellor Khane?”
Khane looked at him in surprise. “Your Majesty, I know nothing about that. Professor Dandrik is head of the physics department; he came to me, about six months ago, and told me that in his opinion this experiment was desirable. I simply deferred to his judgment and authorized it.”
“Your Majesty has just stated the purpose of the experiment,” Dandrik said. “For centuries, there have been inaccuracies in mathematical descriptions of subnucleonic events, and this experiment was undertaken in the hope of eliminating these inaccuracies.” He went into a lengthy mathematical explanation.
“Yes, I understand that, professor. But just what was the actual experiment, in terms of physical operations?”
* * * * *
Dandrik looked helpless for a moment. Faress, who had been choking back a laugh, interrupted:
“Your Majesty, we were using the big turbo-linear accelerator to project fast micropositos down an evacuated tube one kilometer in length, and clocking them with light, the velocity of which has been established almost absolutely. I will say that with respect to the light, there were no observable inaccuracies at any time, and until the micropositos were accelerated to 16.067543333-1/3 times light-speed, they registered much as expected. Beyond that velocity, however, the target for the micropositos began registering impacts before the source registered emission, although the light target was still registering normally. I notified Professor Dandrik about this, and—-“
“You notified him. Wasn’t he present at the time?”
“No, Your Majesty.”
“Your Majesty, I am head of the physics department of the University. I have too much administrative work to waste time on the technical aspects of experiments like this,” Dandrik interjected.
“I understand. Professor Faress was actually performing the experiment. You told Professor Dandrik what had happened. What then?”
“Why, Your Majesty, he simply declared that the limit of accuracy had been reached, and ordered the experiment dropped. He then reported the highest reading before this anticipation effect was observed as the newly established limit of accuracy in measuring the velocity of accelerated micropositos, and said nothing whatever in his report about the anticipation effect.”
“I read a summary of the report. Why, Professor Dandrik, did you omit mentioning this slightly unusual effect?”
“Why, because the whole thing was utterly preposterous, that’s why!” Dandrik barked; and then hastily added, “Your Imperial Majesty.” He turned and glared at Faress; professors do not glare at galactic emperors. “Your Majesty, the limit of accuracy had been reached. After that, it was only to be expected that the apparatus would give erratic reports.”
“It might have been expected that the apparatus would stop registering increased velocity relative to the light-speed standard, or that it would begin registering disproportionately,” Faress said. “But, Your Majesty, I’ll submit that it was not to be expected that it would register impacts before emissions. And I’ll add this. After registering this slight apparent jump into the future, there was no proportionate increase in anticipation with further increase of acceleration. I wanted to find out why. But when Professor Dandrik saw what was happening, he became almost hysterical, and ordered the accelerator shut down as though he were afraid it would blow up in his face.”
* * * * *
“I think it has blown up in his face,” Prince Travann said quietly. “Professor, have you any theory, or supposition, or even any wild guess, as to how this anticipation effect occurs?”
“Yes, Your Highness. I suspect that the apparent anticipation is simply an observational illusion, similar to the illusion of time-reversal experienced when it was first observed, though not realized, that positrons sometimes exceeded light-speed.”
“Why, that’s what I’ve been saying all along!” Dandrik broke in. “The whole thing is an illusion, due—-“
“To having reached the limit of observational accuracy; I understand, Professor Dandrik. Go on, Professor Faress.”
“I think that beyond 16.067543333-1/3 times light-speed, the micropositos ceased to have any velocity at all, velocity being defined as rate of motion in four-dimensional space-time. I believe they moved through the three spatial dimensions without moving at all in the fourth, temporal, dimension. They made that kilometer from source to target, literally, in nothing flat. Instantaneity.”
That must have been the first time he had actually come out and said it. Dandrik jumped to his feet with a cry that was just short of being a shriek.
“He’s crazy! Your Majesty, you mustn’t … that is, well, I mean–Please, Your Majesty, don’t listen to him. He doesn’t know what he’s saying. He’s raving!”
“He knows perfectly well what he’s saying, and it probably scares him more than it does you. The difference is that he’s willing to face it and you aren’t.”
The difference was that Faress was a scientist and Dandrik was a science teacher. To Faress, a new door had opened, the first new door in eight hundred years. To Dandrik, it threatened invalidation of everything he had taught since the morning he had opened his first class. He could no longer say to his pupils, “You are here to learn from me.” He would have to say, more humbly, “We are here to learn from the Universe.”
It had happened so many times before, too. The comfortable and established Universe had fitted all the known facts–and then new facts had been learned that wouldn’t fit it. The third planet of the Sol system had once been the center of the Universe, and then Terra, and Sol, and even the galaxy, had been forced to abdicate centricity. The atom had been indivisible–until somebody divided it. There had been intangible substance that had permeated the Universe, because it had been necessary for the transmission of light–until it was demonstrated to be unnecessary and nonexistent. And the speed of light had been the ultimate velocity, once, and could be exceeded no more than the atom could be divided. And light-speed had been constant, regardless of distance from source, and the Universe, to explain certain observed phenomena, had been believed to be expanding simultaneously in all directions. And the things that had happened in psychology, when psi-phenomena had become too obvious to be shrugged away.
“And then, when Dr. Dandrik ordered you to drop this experiment, just when it was becoming interesting, you refused?”
“Your Majesty, I couldn’t stop, not then. But Dr. Dandrik ordered the apparatus dismantled and scrapped, and I’m afraid I lost my head. Told him I’d punch his silly old face in, for one thing.”
“You admit that?” Chancellor Khane cried.
“I think you showed admirable self-restraint in not doing it. Did you explain to Chancellor Khane the importance of this experiment?”
“I tried to, Your Majesty, but he simply wouldn’t listen.”
“But, Your Majesty!” Khane expostulated. “Professor Dandrik is head of the department, and one of the foremost physicists of the Empire, and this young man is only one of the junior assistant-professors. Isn’t even a full professor, and he got his degree from some school away off-planet. University of Brannerton on Gimli.”
“Were you a pupil of Professor Vann Evaratt?” Prince Travann asked sharply.
“Why, yes, sir. I—-“
“Ha, no wonder!” Dandrik crowed. “Your Majesty, that man’s an out-and-out charlatan! He was kicked out of the University here ten years ago, and I’m surprised he could even get on the faculty of a school like Brannerton, on a planet like Gimli.”
“Why, you stupid old fool!” Faress yelled at him. “You aren’t enough of a physicist to oil robots in Vann Evaratt’s lab!”
“There, Your Majesty,” Khane said. “You see how much respect for authority this hooligan has!”
On Aditya, such would be unthinkable; on Aditya, everybody respects authority. Whether it’s respectable or not.
Count Tammsan laughed, and he realized that he must have spoken aloud. Nobody else seemed to have gotten the joke.
“Well, how about the riot, now?” he asked. “Who started that?”
“Colonel Handrosan made an investigation on the spot,” Prince Travann said. “May I suggest that we hear his report?”
“Yes indeed. Colonel?”
Handrosan rose and stood with his hands behind his back, looking fixedly at the wall behind the desk.
“Your Majesty, the students of Professor Faress’ advanced subnuclear physics class, postgraduate students, all of them, were told of Professor Faress’ dismissal by a faculty member who had taken over the class this morning. They all got up and walked out in a body, and gathered outdoors on the campus to discuss the matter. At the next class break, they were joined by other science students, and they went into the stadium, where they were joined, half an hour later, by more students who had learned of the dismissal in the meantime. At no time was the gathering disorderly. The stadium is covered by a viewscreen pickup which is fitted with a recording device; there is a complete audio-visual of the whole thing, including the attack on them by the campus police.
“This attack was ordered by Chancellor Khane, at about 1100; the chief of the campus police was told to clear the stadium, and when he asked if he was to use force, Chancellor Khane told him to use anything he wanted to.”
“I did not! I told him to get the students out of the stadium, but—-“
“The chief of campus police carries a personal wire recorder,” Handrosan said, in his flat monotone. “He has a recording of the order, in Chancellor Khane’s own voice. I heard it myself. The police,” he continued, “first tried to use gas, but the wind was against them. They then tried to use sono-stunners, but the students rushed them and overwhelmed them. If Your Majesty will permit a personal opinion, while I do not sympathize with their subsequent attack on the Administration Center, they were entirely within their rights in defending themselves in the stadium, and it’s hard enough to stop trained and disciplined troops when they are winning. After defeating the police, they simply went on by what might be called the momentum of victory.”
“Then you’d say that it’s positively established that the students were behaving in a peacable and orderly manner in the stadium when they were attacked, and that Chancellor Khane ordered the attack personally?”
“I would, emphatically, Your Majesty.”
“I think we’ve done enough here, gentlemen.” He turned to Count Tammsan. “This is, jointly, the affair of Education and Security. I would suggest that you and Prince Travann join in a formal and public inquiry, and until all the facts have been established and recorded and action decided upon, the dismissal of Professor Faress be reversed and he be restored to his position on the faculty.”
“Yes, Your Majesty,” Tammsan agreed. “And I think it would be a good idea for Chancellor Khane to take a vacation till then, too.”
“I would further suggest that, as this microposito experiment is crucial to the whole question, it should be repeated. Under the personal direction of Professor Faress.”
“I agree with that, Your Majesty,” Prince Travann said. “If it’s as important as I think it is, Professor Dandrik is greatly to be censured for ordering it stopped and for failing to report this anticipation effect.”
“We’ll consult about the inquiry, including the experiment, tomorrow, Your Highness,” Tammsan told Travann.
Paul rose, and everybody rose with him. “That being the case, you gentlemen are all excused. The students’ procession ought to be arriving, now, and I want to tell them what’s going to be done. Prince Travann, Count Tammsan; do you care to accompany me?”
* * * * *
Going up to the central terrace in front of the Octagon Tower, he turned to Count Tammsan.
“I notice you laughed at that remark of mine about Aditya,” he said. “Have you met the First Citizen?”
“Only on screen, sir. He was at me for about an hour, this morning. It seems that they are reforming the educational system on Aditya. On Aditya, everything gets reformed every ten years, whether it needs it or not. He came here to find somebody to take charge of the reformation.”
He stopped short, bringing the others to a halt beside him, and laughed heartily.
“Well, we’ll send First Citizen Yaggo away happy; we’ll make him a present of the most distinguished educator on Odin.”
“Khane?” Tammsan asked.
“Khane. Isn’t it wonderful; if you have a few problems, you have trouble, but if you have a whole lot of problems, they start solving each other. We get a chance to get rid of Khane and create a vacancy that can be filled by somebody big enough to fill it; the Ministry of Education gets out from under a nasty situation; First Citizen Yaggo gets what he thinks he wants—-“
“And if I know Khane and if I know the People’s Commonwealth of Aditya, it won’t be a year before Yaggo has Khane shot or stuffs him into jail, and then the Space Navy will have an excuse to visit Aditya, and Aditya’ll never be the same afterward,” Prince Travann added.
The students massed on the front lawns were still cheering as they went down after addressing them. The Security Guards were conspicuously absent and it was a detail of red-kilted Thoran riflemen who met them as they entered the hall to the Session Chamber. Prince Ganzay approached, attended by two Household Guard officers, a human and a Thoran. Count Tammsan looked from one to the other of his companions, bewildered. The bewildering thing was that everything was as it should be.
“Well, gentlemen,” Paul said, “I’m sure that both of you will want to confer for a moment with your colleagues in the Rotunda before the Session. Please don’t feel obliged to attend me further.”
Prince Ganzay approached as they went down the hall. “Your Majesty, what is going on here?” he demanded querulously. “Just who is in control of the Palace–you or Prince Travann? And where is His Imperial Highness, and where is General Dorflay?”
“I sent Dorflay to join Prince Rodrik’s picnic party. If you’re upset about this, you can imagine what he might have done here.”
Prince Ganzay looked at him curiously for a moment. “I thought I understood what was happening,” he said. “Now I—- This business about the students, sir; how did it come out?”
Paul told him. They talked for a while, and then the Prime Minister looked at his watch, and suggested that the Session ought to be getting started. Paul nodded, and they went down the hall and into the Rotunda.
The big semicircular lobby was empty, now, except for a platoon of Household Guards, and the Empress Marris and her ladies-in-waiting. She advanced as quickly as her sheath gown would permit, and took his arm; the ladies-in-waiting fell in behind her, and Prince Ganzay went ahead, crying: “My Lords, Your Venerable Highnesses, gentlemen; His Imperial Majesty!”
Marris tightened her grip on his arm as they started forward. “Paul!” she hissed into his ear. “What is this silly story about Yorn Travann trying to seize the Throne?”
“Isn’t it? Yorn’s been too close the Throne for too long not to know what sort of a seat it is. He’d commit any crime up to and including genocide to keep off it.”
She gave a quick skip to get into step with him. “Then why’s he filled the Palace with these blackcoats? Is Rod all right?”
“Perfectly all right; he’s somewhere out in the mountains, keeping Harv Dorflay out of mischief.”
* * * * *
They crossed the Session Hall and took their seats on the double throne; everybody sat down, and the Prime Minister, after some formalities, declared the Plenary Session in being. Almost at once, one of the Prince-Counselors was on his feet begging His Majesty’s leave to interrogate the Government.
“I wish to ask His Highness the Minister of Security the meaning of all this unprecedented disturbance, both here in the Palace and in the city,” he said.
Prince Travann rose at once. “Your Majesty, in reply to the question of His Venerable Highness,” he began, and then launched himself into an account of the student riot, the march to petition the emperor, and the clash with the nonworking class hooligans. “As to the affair at the University, I hesitate to speak on what is really the concern of His Lordship the Minister of Education, but as to the fighting in the city, if it is still going on, I can assure His Venerable Highness that the Gendarmes and Security Guards have it well in hand; the persons responsible are being rounded up, and, if the Minister of Justice concurs, an inquiry will be started tomorrow.”
The Minister of Justice assured the Minister of Security that his Ministry would be quite ready to co-operate in the inquiry. Count Tammsan then got up and began talking about the riot at the University.
“What did happen, Paul?” Marris whispered.
“Chancellor Khane sacked a science professor for being too interested in science. The students didn’t like it. I think Khane’s successor will rectify that. Have a good time at the Flower Festivals?”
She raised her fan to hide a grimace. “I made my schedule,” she said. “Tomorrow, I have fifty more booked.”
“Your Imperial Majesty!” The Counselor who had risen paused, to make sure that he had the Imperial attention, before continuing: “Inasmuch as this question also seems to involve a scientific experiment, I would suggest that the Ministry of Science and Technology is also interested and since there is at present no Minister holding that portfolio, I would suggest that the discussion be continued after a Minister has been elected.”
The Minister of Health and Sanity jumped to his feet.
“Your Imperial Majesty; permit me to concur with the proposal of His Venerable Highness, and to extend it with the subproposal that the Ministry of Science and Technology be abolished, and its functions and personnel divided among the other Ministries, specifically those of Education and of Economics.”
The Minister of Fine Arts was up before he was fully seated.
“Your Imperial Majesty; permit me to concur with the proposal of Count Guilfred, and to extend it further with the proposal that the Ministry of Defense, now also vacant, be likewise abolished, and its functions and personnel added to the Ministry of Security under His Highness Prince Travann.”
So that was it! Marris, beside him, said, “Well!” He had long ago discovered that she could pack more meaning into that monosyllable than the average counselor could into a half-hour’s speech. Prince Ganzay was thunderstruck, and from the Bench of Counselors six or eight voices were babbling loudly at once. Four Ministers were on their feet clamoring for recognition; Count Duklass of Economics was yelling the loudest, so he got it.
* * * * *
“Your Imperial Majesty; it would have been most unseemly in me to have spoken in favor of the proposal of Count Guilfred, being an interested party, but I feel no such hesitation in concurring with the proposal of Baron Garatt, the Minister of Fine Arts. Indeed, I consider it a most excellent proposal—-“
“And I consider it the most diabolically dangerous proposal to be made in this Hall in the last six centuries!” old Admiral Gaklar shouted. “This is a proposal to concentrate all the armed force of the Empire in the hands of one man. Who can say what unscrupulous use might be made of such power?”
“Are you intimating, Prince-Counselor, that Prince Travann is contemplating some tyrannical or subversive use of such power?” Count Tammsan, of all people, demanded.
There was a concerted gasp at that; about half the Plenary Session were absolutely sure that he was. Admiral Geklar backed quickly away from the question.
“Prince Travann will not be the last Minister of Security,” he said.
“What I was about to say, Your Majesty, is that as matters stand, Security has a virtual monopoly on armed power on this planet. When these disorders in the city–which Prince Travann’s men are now bringing under control–broke out, there was, I am informed, an order sent out to bring Regular Army and Planetary Militia into Asgard. It will be hours before any of the former can arrive, and at least a day before the latter can even be mobilized. By the time any of them get here, there will be nothing for them to do. Is that not correct, Prince Ganzay?”
The Prime Minister looked at him angrily, stung by the realization that somebody else had a personal intelligence service as good as his own, then swallowed his anger and assented.
“Furthermore,” Count Duklass continued, “the Ministry of Defense, itself, is an anachronism, which no doubt accounts for the condition in which we now find it. The Empire has no external enemies whatever; all our defense problems are problems of internal security. Let us therefore turn the facilities over to the Ministry responsible for the tasks.”
The debate went on and on; he paid less and less attention to it, and it became increasingly obvious that opposition to the proposition was dwindling. Cries of, “Vote! Vote!” began to be heard from its supporters. Prince Ganzay rose from his desk and came to the throne.
“Your Imperial Majesty,” he said softly. “I am opposed to this proposition, but I am convinced that enough favor it to pass it, even over Your Majesty’s veto. Before the vote is called, does Your Majesty wish my resignation?”
He rose and stepped down beside the Prime Minister, putting an arm over Prince Ganzay’s shoulder.
“Far from it, old friend,” he said, in a distinctly audible voice. “I will have too much need for you. But, as for the proposal, I don’t oppose it. I think it an excellent one; it has my approval.” He lowered his voice. “As soon as it’s passed, place General Dorflay’s name in nomination.”
The Prime Minister looked at him sadly for a moment, then nodded, returning to his desk, where he rapped for order and called for the vote.
“Well, if you can’t lick them, join them,” Marris said as he sat down beside her. “And if they start chasing you, just yell, ‘There he goes; follow me!’”
The proposal carried, almost unanimously. Prince Ganzay then presented the name of Captain-General Dorflay for elevation to the Bench of Counselors, and the emperor decreed it. As soon as the Session was adjourned and he could do so, he slipped out the little door behind the throne, into an elevator.
* * * * *
In the room at the top of the Octagon Tower, he laid aside his belt and dress dagger and unfastened his tunic, than sat down in his deep chair and called a serving robot. It was the one which had brought him his breakfast, and he greeted it as a friend; it lit a cigarette for him, and poured a drink of brandy. For a long time he sat, smoking and sipping and looking out the wide window to the west, where the orange sun was firing the clouds behind the mountains, and he realized that he was abominably tired. Well, no wonder; more Empire history had been made today than in the years since he had come to the Throne.
Then something behind him clicked. He turned his head, to see Yorn Travann emerge from the concealed elevator. He grinned and lifted his drink in greeting.
“I thought you’d be a little late,” he said. “Everybody trying to climb onto the bandwagon?”
Yorn Travann came forward, unbuckling his belt and laying it with Paul’s; he sank into the chair opposite, and the robot poured him a drink.
“Well, do you blame them? What would it have looked like to you, in their place?”
“A coup d’etat. For that matter, wasn’t that what it was? Why didn’t you tell me you were springing it?”
“I didn’t spring it; it was sprung on me. I didn’t know a thing about it till Max Duklass buttonholed me down by the landing stage. I’d intended fighting this proposal to partition Science and Technology, but this riot blew up and scared Duklass and Tammsan and Guilfred and the rest of them. They weren’t too sure of their majority–that’s why they had the election postponed a couple of times–but they were sure that the riot would turn some of the undecided Counselors against them. So they offered to back me to take over Defense in exchange for my supporting their proposal. It looked too good to pass up.”
“Even at the price of wrecking Science and Technology?”
“It was wrecked, or left to rust into uselessness, long ago. The main function of Technology has been to suppress anything that might threaten this state of economic rigor mortis that Duklass calls stability, and the function of Science has been to let muttonheads like Khane and Dandrik dominate the teaching of science. Well, Defense has its own scientific and technical sections, and when we come to carving the bird, Duklass and Tammsan are going to see a lot of slices going onto my plate.”
“And when it’s all cut up, it will be discovered that there is no provision for original research. So it will please My Majesty to institute an Imperial Office of Scientific Research, independent of any Ministry, and guess who’ll be named to head it.”
“Faress. And, by the way, we’re all set on Khane, too. First Citizen Yaggo is as delighted to have him as we are to get rid of him. Why don’t we get Vann Evaratt back, and give him the job?”
“Good. If he takes charge there at the opening of the next academic year, in ten years we’ll have a thousand young men, maybe ten times that many, who won’t be afraid of new things and new ideas. But the main thing is that now you have Defense, and now the plan can really start firing all jets.”
“Yes.” Yorn Travann got out his cigarettes and lit one. Paul glanced at the robot, hoping that its feelings hadn’t been hurt. “All these native uprisings I’ve been blowing up out of inter-tribal knife fights, and all these civil wars my people have been manufacturing; there’ll be more of them, and I’ll start yelling my head off for an adequate Space Navy, and after we get it, these local troubles will all stop, and then what’ll we be expected to do? Scrap the ships?”
They both knew what would be done with some of them. It would have to be done stealthily, while nobody was looking, but some of those ships would go far beyond the boundaries of the Empire, and new things would happen. New worlds, new problems. Great and frightening changes.
“Paul, we agreed upon this long ago, when we were still boys at the University. The Empire stopped growing, and when things stop growing, they start dying, the death of petrifaction. And when petrifaction is complete, the cracking and the crumbling starts, and there’s no way of stopping it. But if we can get people out onto new planets, the Empire won’t die; it’ll start growing again.”
“You didn’t start that thing at the University, this morning, yourself, did you?”
“Not the student riot, no. But the hooligan attack, yes. That was some of my own men. The real hooligans began looting after Handrosan had gotten the students out of the district. We collared all of them, including their boss, Nutchy the Knife, right away, and as soon as we did that, Big Moogie and Zikko the Nose tried to move in. We’re cleaning them up now. By tomorrow morning there won’t be one of these nonworkers’ voting blocks left in Asgard, and by the end of the week they’ll be cleaned up all over Odin. I have discovered a plot, and they’re all involved in it.”
“Wait a moment.” Paul got to his feet. “That reminds me; Harv Dorflay’s hiding Rod and Olva out in the mountains. I wanted him out of here while things were happening. I’ll have to call him and tell him it’s safe to come in, now.”
“Well, zip up your tunic and put your dagger on; you look as though you’d been arrested, disarmed and searched.”
“That’s right.” He hastily repaired his appearance and went to the screen across the room, punching out the combination of the screen with Rodrik’s picnic party.
* * * * *
A young lieutenant of the Household Troops appeared in it, and had to be reassured. He got General Dorflay.
“Your Majesty! You are all right?”
“Perfectly all right, general, and it’s quite safe to bring His Imperial Highness in. The conspiracy against the Throne has been crushed.”
“Oh, thank the gods! Is Prince Travann a prisoner?”
“Quite the contrary, general. It was our loyal and devoted subject, Prince Travann, who crushed the conspiracy.”
“But–But, Your Majesty—-!”
“You aren’t to be blamed for suspecting him, general. His agents were working in the very innermost councils of the conspirators. Every one of the people whom you suspected–with excellent reason–was actually working to defeat the plot. Think back, general; the scheme to put the gun in the viewscreen, the scheme to sabotage the elevator, the scheme to introduce assassins into the orchestra with guns built into their trumpets–every one came to your notice because of what seemed to be some indiscretion of the plotters, didn’t it?”
“Why … why, yes, Your Majesty!” By this time tomorrow, he would have a complete set of memories for each one of them. “You mean, the indiscretions were deliberate?”
“Your vigilance and loyalty made it necessary for them to resort to these fantastic expedients, and your vigilance defeated them as fast as they came to your notice. Well, today, Prince Travann and I struck back. I may tell you, in confidence, that every one of the conspirators is dead. Killed in this afternoon’s rioting–which was incited for that purpose by Prince Travann.”
“Then—- Then there will be no more plots against your life?” There was a note of regret in the old man’s voice.
“No more, Your Venerable Highness.”
“But—- What did Your Majesty call me?” he asked incredulously.
“I took the honor of being the first to address you by your new title, Prince-Counselor Dorflay.”
He left the old man overcome, and blubbering happily on the shoulder of the Crown Prince, who winked at his father out of the screen. Prince Travann had gotten a couple of fresh drinks from the robot and handed one to him when he returned to his chair.
“He’ll be finding the Bench of Counselors riddled with treason inside a week,” Travann said. “You handled that just right, though. Another case of making problems solve each other.”
“You were telling me about a plot you’d discovered.”
“Oh, yes: this is one to top Dorflay’s best efforts. All the voting-bloc bosses on Odin are in a conspiracy to start a civil war to give them a chance to loot the planet. There isn’t a word of truth in it, of course, but it’ll do to arrest and hold them for a few days, and by that time some of my undercovers will be in control of every nonworker vote on the planet. After all, the Cartels put an end to competition in every other business; why not a Voting Cartel, too? Then, whenever there’s an election, we just advertise for bids.”
“Why, that would mean absolute control—-“
“Of the nonworking vote, yes. And I’ll guarantee, personally, that in five years the politics of Odin will have become so unbearably corrupt and abusive that the intellectuals, the technicians, the business people, even the nobility, will be flocking to the polls to vote, and if only half of them turn out, they’ll snow the nonworkers under. And that’ll mean, eventually, an end to vote-selling, and the nonworkers’ll have to find work. We’ll find it for them.”
“Great and frightening changes.” Yorn Travann laughed; he recognized the phrase. Probably started it himself. Paul lifted his glass. “To the Minister of Disturbance!”
“Your Majesty!” They drank to each other, and then Yorn Travann said, “We had a lot of wild dreams, when we were boys; it looks as though we’re starting to make some of them come true. You know, when we were in the University, the students would never have done what they did today. They didn’t even do it ten years ago, when Vann Evaratt was dismissed.”
“And Van Evaratt’s pupil came back to Odin and touched this whole thing off.” He thought for a moment. “I wonder what Faress has, in that anticipation effect.”
“I think I can see what can come out of it. If he can propagate a wave that behaves like those micropositos, we may not have to depend on ships for communication. We may be able, some day, to screen Baldur or Vishnu or Aton or Thor as easily as you screened Dorflay, up in the mountains.” He thought silently for a moment. “I don’t know whether that would be good or bad. But it would be new, and that’s what matters. That’s the only thing that matters.”
“Flower Festivals,” Paul said, and, when Yorn Travann wanted to know what he meant, he told him. “When Princess Olva’s Empress, she’s going to curse the name of Klenn Faress. Flower Festivals, all around the galaxy, without end.”