- Author: Evelyn E. Smith
Read book online «Man's Best Friend by Evelyn E. Smith (books successful people read .TXT) 📕». Author - Evelyn E. Smith
By EVELYN E. SMITH
Illustrated by MEL HUNTER
[Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from
Galaxy Science Fiction April 1955.
Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]
Sometimes a job comes after the man ... and
this one came after Gervase like a tiger!
The annunciator aroused Gervase from pleasant semi-slumber. He knew the interruption was his own fault for not having turned off the device, but he so seldom had a visitor that he could hardly be blamed for his forgetfulness. Frowning, he pressed the viewer button. A round, red face appeared on the screen. "May I be the first to congratulate you, Mr. Schnee?" it said.
"You may, indeed," Gervase replied. "But for what?"
"You haven't heard the news? Good, then I'm the first. I imagine I got a head-start on the others because of my superior facilities for locating you. Your address wasn't given; these pronouncements do tend to be a bit vague. Matter of tradition, I suppose."
"I haven't heard any news for days," Gervase said, uncomfortably conscious that he was apologizing. "I've been listening to my sound-tapes and—and meditating," he added defiantly. "Wait a minute; I'll let you in."
He struggled with the door-stud, but the door refused to open. The autobursar must have neglected to pay the door bill—probably because Gervase had failed to put enough money into it. But his allowance was limited and sound-tapes, not to speak of meditators, were so expensive.
Sighing, Gervase got up and opened the door manually. The individual outside was short and stout and dressed, unfortunately, in the uniform of an upper-echelon salesman. Gervase had been caught! Still, he reminded himself, no one could force him to buy anything. He was a free citizen.
"Well, come in if you must," he said grudgingly. "I suppose the big news is that I'm the lucky householder to whom the Little Gem Room Expander will first be offered."
"Nothing of the sort!" the man replied indignantly.
At this point, Gervase noticed with surprise that the other wore a jeweled merchant-prince's badge. Apparently this was one of those consumer reaction tests in which executives themselves participated to check on their employees.
The man remembered to smile. "The Prognosticator has just given its fortnightly Prognostication. You, Mr. Schnee, are going to be our new Ruler." He seized the young man's limp hand and shook it enthusiastically. "And I'm sure you'll be a splendid one, too."
Gervase accepted a pale green cheroot from the dispenser. It shook in his lips. "And what's to become of the old Ruler?"
"You're scheduled to dispose of him sometime this month. Now, Mr. Schnee," the man went on briskly, "allow me to introduce myself. I am Bedrich Florea, vice president of the Florea Munitions and Container Corporation." He extracted a gleaming weapon from his brief case and offered it to Gervase. The young man recoiled. "If you will only agree to shoot Overlord Kipp with a Florea Semper Fidelis Gun," the executive continued, "my corporation will be happy to place a substantial amount of credits at your disposal in any bank you choose. Six billion, to be exact. Now if you'll just sign here on the dotted line...." He held out a stylus temptingly.
"Nonsense!" Gervase backed away.
"Even a Ruler can use money. Bribery for government officials, bread and circuses for the people—oh, money's a very useful commodity, Mr. Schnee. Shall we say seven billion?"
"I don't doubt that money is useful," Gervase replied, thinking wistfully of seven billion credits. "But when I said 'nonsense,' I meant the Prognosticator. The whole thing's a lot of—well, nonsense. A whole planet of supposedly intelligent people listening to what's nothing more, really, than an oracle! A machine can't read the future. It's impossible."
Florea's eyes bulged. "Mr. Schnee, that's sacrilege! You can't—confound it, sir, you can't talk that way about The Machine. After all," he added in a more placatory manner, "let's look at this reasonably. Machines can and do answer all the problems of our daily life, so why shouldn't a superior machine be able to tell the future?"
"If you ask me," Gervase all but sneered, "behind the wires and gimmicks and whatnots in The Machine, there's a secret room in which a half-mad, half-intoxicated old priestess sits delivering her Delphic pronouncements. Might as well have an aboveboard oracle and be done with it."
"Now, now, Mr. Schnee—" the executive smiled with obvious effort—"even our Ruler shouldn't flout the Authority of Machinery. Of course, it's all right when you're alone with friends, like me, but in public—"
The annunciator sounded again. An eager face appeared on the screen. "Mr. Schnee," an equally eager voice said, "I'm from the Daily Disseminator. How does it feel to be Ruler Prognosticate?"
There was the sound of a scuffle. His face disappeared, to be replaced by two others. "Mr. Schnee, will you tell us in your very own words—"
As Gervase clicked off the interviewer, the vidiphone blinked. Gervase lifted the receiver. The face of Overlord Kipp himself came into view, pale but composed. "I understand you're the young man who is destined to dispose of me and take my place?"
Gervase paled also. "Honestly, Your Honorship, I haven't the slightest inten—"
"You'll make it quick and painless, won't you? And it really would be very decent of you to give me the exact day and hour of my—er—demise so I won't have to sit around waiting."
"You don't look like a hard-hearted chap. As a matter of fact, I would say, offhand, that you had a kind face."
"Well, thank you, but—"
"I do wish you'd stop shilly-shallying and name the day. By the way, have you anything on for tomorrow?"
"I didn't have anything special planned—"
"Splendid! Suppose you come over to the Palace around one o'clock or so. We can have a bite of lunch and discuss the matter together. After all, I think you'll agree that I have been a reasonably good Ruler and so I have the right to die with dignity." He looked pleadingly at Gervase.
"Oh, absolutely," the young man said in haste. "No question of it. I think it's a very good idea to have a chat about it first. Awkward to—dispose of someone you haven't met previously."
The dictator gave him a wan smile. "Thank you, Mr. Schnee. I hope you'll find your successor as cooperative as yourself."
The screen darkened.
"Hmmm," Gervase mused. He took a lavender cheroot, forgetting he still held the lime one. "I wonder whether he wants me to make an appointment so he'll have a band of counter-assassins ready to kill me, saving him the expense of a stand-by guard. He is noted for his thriftiness, you know. Perhaps I just shouldn't show up at all."
"He wouldn't dream of doing anything of the sort," Florea said austerely. "Overlord Kipp knows what is due to his position. He has a sense of duty and responsibility which, unfortunately, seems to be lacking in his successor ... if you'll excuse my speaking frankly," he added in haste. "I am, of course, considerably older than you and so I feel—"
"It's quite all right," Gervase reassured him. "You may speak freely."
"Furthermore," Florea continued, "if he had you killed, the people would probably give him a painful and lingering death for attempting to interfere with the course of destiny.... There, I hear them now!"
And they could indeed hear the sound of voices raised in song—so many and so loud that they penetrated the soundproofing of the walls. "The polloi are coming to hail their new Leader," Florea beamed.
"Well, I'm not going to do it!" Gervase declared. "They can't make me kill him and take over and that's flat. I'm not the administrative type—never have been."
Florea took a cheroot of his own out of a platinum portable. "In that case, the people probably will kill you for attempting to interfere with fate."
"But I wouldn't have done anything!" Gervase protested.
"There are sins of omission as well as commission. Come now, it's true a Ruler's life expectancy isn't very long—at least it hasn't been for the last few reigns—but it's longer than yours will be if you refuse to fulfill your destiny."
"I wouldn't make a fit Ruler," Gervase said desperately. "Consider my origins. I wouldn't tell this to anyone but you—I'm illegitimate. I don't even know who my father is."
The other man smiled again. "It's a wise child who knows his own father. And some of the most celebrated leaders in history have been illegitimate. Look at William the Conqueror."
Gervase turned on the historiscope, dialed 1066 A.D., looked, shuddered, and turned it off. "I don't think that's much of a recommendation!"
"You see," Florea told him encouragingly, "almost anybody can be a leader. The important thing is that he be destined for leadership."
"But I'm no good! Everybody says so. I've never done a thing in my life. My aged mother has had to work to support me."
"Time enough that you stood on your two feet, my boy!" the businessman said, clapping the youth upon the shoulder. "And remember, destiny must take its course."
He flung open the door. A cheering crowd stood outside. "My friends, allow me to introduce you to your new Ruler—Gervase Schnee!"
A hoarse shout of approval went up.
"He is planning to assassinate Overlord Kipp with a Florea Semper Fidelis Gun. Florea Semper Fidelis Guns retail from c2.98 for the Peasant's Pistol all the way up to c1089.56 for the Super Deluxe Conspirator's Model, but each is the best obtainable for the price. Mr. Schnee, of course, will use the Super Deluxe model."
There were more cries, cheers and shouts.
"Thank you for your—for your confidence and support," Gervase said brokenly. "I only hope I prove worthy of them."
Gervase lunched with Overlord Kipp the next day and was not assassinated. The disposal was set for the coming Tuesday and announced to the public. Gervase was so nervous, he couldn't sleep the night before. When, early in the morning, he finally did manage to doze off, he was awakened by the encouraging telegrams that kept pouring in.
At nine, he finally got up and dressed himself in the immaculate black-and-silver assassin's uniform that had been custom-made for him without charge by an eminent tailor. He was in no mood for breakfast, so he went outside to the handsome black-and-silver limousine that had been presented to him by a thoughtful industrialist. As he emerged from his door, a brass band struck up the national anthem and the crowd waiting outside broke into cheers suitably restrained to fit the melancholy occasion.
Gervase bowed wanly left and right as he got into the car. His two hired assistants, dressed in the customary black cloak and hood of the body-remover, were, he noticed, already seated beside the chauffeur. They did not turn their heads as Gervase entered, but preserved the traditional impassivity of their calling.
The band started to play a funeral march as the car moved slowly down the boulevard. Stands had been put up all along the route and he was greeted by subdued cheering and applause from crowds neatly arranged according to rank. Little children of all classes rushed out into the street to present him with bouquets of flowers.
The television cameras joined him en route and followed him all the way to the Palace. On the steps, Bedrich Florea awaited him, magnificently garbed in full executive uniform, his jewels flashing in the clear sunlight.
"Allow me to load your Super Deluxe Conspirator's Florea Semper Fidelis Gun for you, Overlord Prognosticate," he announced in a ringing voice, as he turned his profile toward the cameras.
"It's already loaded," Gervase said, nervously clutching the gun in his pocket.
"Permit me to check it then." Florea put out an eager hand.
Gervase executed a deft chassé in the opposite direction. "It's perfectly all right, I tell you! No one," he added in a burst of inspiration, "would have any difficulty in loading a Florea Semper Fidelis Gun."
"That's right," the baffled munitions magnate admitted, falling back reluctantly. "Whether you buy the Peasant's or the Conspirator's Model, both have the same smooth free-loading mechanism...."
"Out of the way, Executive," a cameraman said, unceremoniously sweeping Florea aside as Gervase paced into the Palace, followed by his two black-robed henchmen, carrying an elaborate, gold-mounted stretcher between them.
"Candy, popcorn, hashish, yoghurt!" yelled a strident voice behind them. "Buy your refreshments here!"
Overlord Kipp stood beside his desk, dressed in his finest uniform—which was, however, virtually invisible, it was so bedecked with glittering and sparkling medals and decorations. Gervase waited patiently while the soon-to-be-disposed-of Ruler made a speech pointing out the numerous benefits and improvements his reign had brought to the people. It was rather a long speech and Gervase's nose began to itch. He would have liked to scratch it, but the cameras