- Author: Evelyn E. Smith
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By EVELYN E. SMITH
As the vastly advanced guardians of mankind, the Belphins knew how to make a lesson stick—but whom?
Illustrated by DICK FRANCIS
Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from Galaxy, February, 1958. Extensive research did not reveal any evidence that the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.
Minor typographical errors have been corrected without note.
Ludovick Eversole sat in the golden sunshine outside his house, writing a poem as he watched the street flow gently past him. There were very few people on it, for he lived in a slow part of town, and those who went in for travel generally preferred streets where the pace was quicker.
Moreover, on a sultry spring afternoon like this one, there would be few people wandering abroad. Most would be lying on sun-kissed white beaches or in sun-drenched parks, or, for those who did not fancy being either kissed or drenched by the sun, basking in the comfort of their own air-conditioned villas.
Some would, like Ludovick, be writing poems; others composing symphonies; still others painting pictures. Those who were without creative talent or the inclination to indulge it would be relaxing their well-kept golden bodies in whatever surroundings they had chosen to spend this particular one of the perfect days that stretched in an unbroken line before every member of the human race from the cradle to the crematorium.
Only the Belphins were much in evidence. Only the Belphins had duties to perform. Only the Belphins worked.
Ludovick stretched his own well-kept golden body and rejoiced in the knowing that he was a man and not a Belphin. Immediately afterward, he was sorry for the heartless thought. Didn't the Belphins work only to serve humanity? How ungrateful, then, it was to gloat over them! Besides, he comforted himself, probably, if the truth were known, the Belphins liked to work. He hailed a passing Belphin for assurance on this point.
Courteous, like all members of his species, the creature leaped from the street and listened attentively to the young man's question. "We Belphins have but one like and one dislike," he replied. "We like what is right and we dislike what is wrong."
"But how can you tell what is right and what is wrong?" Ludovick persisted.
"We know," the Belphin said, gazing reverently across the city to the blue spire of the tower where The Belphin of Belphins dwelt, in constant communication with every member of his race at all times, or so they said. "That is why we were placed in charge of humanity. Someday you, too, may advance to the point where you know, and we shall return whence we came."
"But who placed you in charge," Ludovick asked, "and whence did you come?" Fearing he might seem motivated by vulgar curiosity, he explained, "I am doing research for an epic poem."
A lifetime spent under their gentle guardianship had made Ludovick able to interpret the expression that flitted across this Belphin's frontispiece as a sad, sweet smile.
"We come from beyond the stars," he said. Ludovick already knew that; he had hoped for something a little more specific. "We were placed in power by those who had the right. And the power through which we rule is the power of love! Be happy!"
And with that conventional farewell (which also served as a greeting), he stepped onto the sidewalk and was borne off. Ludovick looked after him pensively for a moment, then shrugged. Why should the Belphins surrender their secrets to gratify the idle curiosity of a poet?
Ludovick packed his portable scriptwriter in its case and went to call on the girl next door, whom he loved with a deep and intermittently requited passion.
As he passed between the tall columns leading into the Flockhart courtyard, he noted with regret that there were quite a number of Corisande's relatives present, lying about sunning themselves and sipping beverages which probably touched the legal limit of intoxicatability.
Much as he hated to think harshly of anyone, he did not like Corisande Flockhart's relatives. He had never known anybody who had as many relatives as she did, and sometimes he suspected they were not all related to her. Then he would dismiss the thought as unworthy of him or any right-thinking human being. He loved Corisande for herself alone and not for her family. Whether they were actually her family or not was none of his business.
"Be happy!" he greeted the assemblage cordially, sitting down beside Corisande on the tessellated pavement.
"Bah!" said old Osmond Flockhart, Corisande's grandfather. Ludovick was sure that, underneath his crustiness, the gnarled patriarch hid a heart of gold. Although he had been mining assiduously, the young man had not yet been able to strike that vein; however, he did not give up hope, for not giving up hope was one of the principles that his wise old Belphin teacher had inculcated in him. Other principles were to lead the good life and keep healthy.
"Now, Grandfather," Corisande said, "no matter what your politics, that does not excuse impoliteness."
Ludovick wished she would not allude so blatantly to politics, because he had a lurking notion that Corisande's "family" was, in fact, a band of conspirators ... such as still dotted the green and pleasant planet and proved by their existence that Man was not advancing anywhere within measurable distance of that totality of knowledge implied by the Belphin.
You could tell malcontents, even if they did not voice their dissatisfactions, by their faces. The vast majority of the human race, living good and happy lives, had smooth and pleasant faces. Malcontents' faces were lined and sometimes, in extreme cases, furrowed. Everyone could easily tell who they were by looking at them, and most people avoided them.
It was not that griping was illegal, for the Belphins permitted free speech and reasonable conspiracy; it was that such behavior was considered ungenteel. Ludovick would never have dreamed of associating with this set of neighbors, once he had discovered their tendencies, had he not lost his heart to the purple-eyed Corisande at their first meeting.
"Politeness, bah!" old Osmond said. "To see a healthy young man simply—simply accepting the status quo!"
"If the status quo is a good status quo," Ludovick said uneasily, for he did not like to discuss such subjects, "why should I not accept it? We have everything we could possibly want. What do we lack?"
"Our freedom," Osmond retorted.
"But we are free," Ludovick said, perplexed. "We can say what we like, do what we like, so long as it is consonant with the public good."
"Ah, but who determines what is consonant with the public good?"
Ludovick could no longer temporize with truth, even for Corisande's sake. "Look here, old man, I have read books. I know about the old days before the Belphins came from the stars. Men were destroying themselves quickly through wars, or slowly through want. There is none of that any more."
"All lies and exaggeration," old Osmond said. "My grandfather told me that, when the Belphins took over Earth, they rewrote all the textbooks to suit their own purposes. Now nothing but Belphin propaganda is taught in the schools."
"But surely some of what they teach about the past must be true," Ludovick insisted. "And today every one of us has enough to eat and drink, a place to live, beautiful garments to wear, and all the time in the world to utilize as he chooses in all sorts of pleasant activities. What is missing?"
"They've taken away our frontiers!"
Behind his back, Corisande made a little filial face at Ludovick.
Ludovick tried to make the old man see reason. "But I'm happy. And everybody is happy, except—except a few killjoys like you."
"They certainly did a good job of brainwashing you, boy," Osmond sighed. "And of most of the young ones," he added mournfully. "With each succeeding generation, more of our heritage is lost." He patted the girl's hand. "You're a good girl, Corrie. You don't hold with this being cared for like some damn pet poodle."
"Never mind Osmond, Eversole," one of Corisande's alleged uncles grinned. "He talks a lot, but of course he doesn't mean a quarter of what he says. Come, have some wine."
He handed a glass to Ludovick. Ludovick sipped and coughed. It tasted as if it were well above the legal alcohol limit, but he didn't like to say anything. They were taking an awful risk, though, doing a thing like that. If they got caught, they might receive a public scolding—which was, of course, no more than they deserved—but he could not bear to think of Corisande exposed to such an ordeal.
"It's only reasonable," the uncle went on, "that older people should have a—a thing about being governed by foreigners."
Ludovick smiled and set his nearly full glass down on a plinth. "You could hardly call the Belphins foreigners; they've been on Earth longer than even the oldest of us."
"You seem to be pretty chummy with 'em," the uncle said, looking narrow-eyed at Ludovick.
"No more so than any other loyal citizen," Ludovick replied.
The uncle sat up and wrapped his arms around his thick bare legs. He was a powerful, hairy brute of a creature who had not taken advantage of the numerous cosmetic techniques offered by the benevolent Belphins. "Don't you think it's funny they can breathe our air so easily?"
"Why shouldn't they?" Ludovick bit into an apple that Corisande handed him from one of the dishes of fruit and other delicacies strewn about the courtyard. "It's excellent air," he continued through a full mouth, "especially now that it's all purified. I understand that in the old days——"
"Yes," the uncle said, "but don't you think it's a coincidence they breathe exactly the same kind of air we do, considering they claim to come from another solar system?"
"No coincidence at all," said Ludovick shortly, no longer able to pretend he didn't know what the other was getting at. He had heard the ugly rumor before. Of course sacrilege was not illegal, but it was in bad taste. "Only one combination of elements spawns intelligent life."
"They say," the uncle continued, impervious to Ludovick's unconcealed dislike for the subject, "that there's really only one Belphin, who lives in the Blue Tower—in a tank or something, because he can't breathe our atmosphere—and that the others are a sort of robot he sends out to do his work for him."
"Nonsense!" Ludovick was goaded to irritation at last. "How could a robot have that delicate play of expression, that subtle economy of movement?"
Corisande and the uncle exchanged glances. "But they are absolutely blank," the uncle began hesitantly. "Perhaps, with your rich poetic imagination...."
"See?" old Osmond remarked with satisfaction. "The kid's brain-washed. I told you so."
"Even if The Belphin is a single entity," Ludovick went on, "that doesn't necessarily make him less benevolent——"
He was again interrupted by the grandfather. "I won't listen to any more of this twaddle. Benevolent, bah! He or she or it or them is or are just plain exploiting us! Taking our mineral resources away—I've seen 'em loading ore on the spaceships—and——"
"—and exchanging it for other resources from the stars," Ludovick said tightly, "without which we could not have the perfectly balanced society we have today. Without which we would be, technologically, back in the dark ages from which they rescued us."
"It's not the stuff they bring in from outside that runs this technology," the uncle said. "It's some power they've got that we can't seem to figure out. Though Lord knows we've tried," he added musingly.
"Of course they have their own source of power," Ludovick informed them, smiling to himself, for his old Belphin teacher had taken great care to instill a sense of humor into him. "A Belphin was explaining that to me only today."
Twenty heads swiveled toward him. He felt uncomfortable, for he was a modest young man and did not like to be the cynosure of all eyes.
"Tell us, dear boy," the uncle said, grabbing Ludovick's glass from the plinth and filling it, "what exactly did he say?"
"He said the Belphins rule through the power of love."
The glass crashed to the tesserae