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*** START OF THIS PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK SENTRY OF THE SKY *** Produced by Greg Weeks, Mary Meehan and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team at


Illustrated by RITTER

[Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from
Galaxy Magazine February 1961.
Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]

There had to be a way for Sub-Archivist
Clarey to get up in the world—but this
way was right out of the tri-di dramas.

Clarey had checked in at Classification Center so many times that he came now more out of habit than hope. He didn't even look at the card that the test machine dropped into his hand until he was almost to the portway. And then he stopped. "Report to Room 33 for reclassification," it said.

Ten years before, Clarey would have been ecstatic, sure that reclassification could be only in one direction. The machine had not originally given him a job commensurate with his talents; why should it suddenly recognize them? He'd known of people who had been reclassified—always downward. I'm a perfectly competent Sub-Archivist, he told himself; I'll fight.

But he knew fighting wouldn't help. All he had was the right to refuse any job he could claim was not in his line; the government would then be obligated to continue his existence. There were many people who did subsist on the government dole: the aged and the deficient and the defective—and creative artists who refused to trammel their spirits and chose to be ranked as Unemployables. Clarey didn't fit into those categories.

Dispiritedly, he passed along innumerable winding corridors and up and down ramps that twisted and turned to lead into other ramps and corridors. That was the way all public buildings were designed. It was forbidden for the government to make any law-abiding individual think the way it wanted him to think. But it could move him in any direction it chose, and sometimes that served its purpose as well as the reorientation machines.

So the corridors he passed through were in constant eddying movement, with a variety of individuals bent on a variety of objectives. For the most part, they were of Low Echelon status, though occasionally an Upper Echelon flashed his peremptory way past. Even though most L-Es attempted to ape the U-E dress and manner, you could always tell the difference. You could tell the difference among the different levels of L-E, too—and there was no mistaking the Unemployables in their sober gray habits, devoid of ornament. It was, Clarey sometimes thought when guilt feelings bothered him, the most esthetic of costumes.

The machine in Room 33 extracted whatever information it was set to receive, then spewed Clarey out and sent him on his way to Rooms 34, 35, and 36, where other machines repeated the same process. Room 37 proved to be that rare thing in the hierarchy of rooms—a destination. There was a human Employment Commissioner in it, splendidly garbed in crimson silvet and alexandrites—very Upper Echelon, indeed. He wore a gold mask, a common practice with celebrities who were afraid of being overwhelmed by their admirers, an even more common practice with U-E non-celebrities who enjoyed the thrill of distinguished anonymity.

Then Clarey stopped looking at the Commissioner. There was a girl sitting next to him, on a high-backed chair like his. Clarey had never seen a U-E girl so close before. Only the Greater Archivists had direct contact with the public, and Clarey wasn't likely to meet a U-E socially, even if he'd had a social life. The girl was too fabulous for him to think of her as a woman, a female; but he would have liked to have her in his archives, in the glass case with the rare editions.

"Good morning, Sub-Archivist Clarey," the man said mellowly. "Good of you to come in. There's rather an unusual position open and the machines tell us you're the one man who can fill it. Please sit down." He indicated a small, hard stool.

Clarey remained standing. "I've been a perfectly competent Sub-Archivist," he declared. "If MacFingal has—if there have been any complaints, I should have been told first."

"There have been no complaints. The reclassification is upward."

"You mean I've made it as a Musician!" Clarey cried, sinking to the hard little stool in joyful atony.

"Well, no, not exactly a Musician. But it's a highly artistic type of job with possible musical overtones."

Clarey became a hollow man once more. No matter what it was, if it wasn't as duly accredited Musician, it didn't matter. The machine could keep him from putting his symphonies down on tape, but it couldn't keep them from coursing in his head. That it could never take away from him. Or the resultant headache, either.

"What is the job, then?" he asked dully.

"A very important position, Sub-Archivist. In fact, the future welfare of this planet may depend on it."

"It's a trick to make me take a job nobody else wants," Clarey sneered. "And it must be a pretty rotten job for you to go to so much trouble."

The girl, whom he'd almost forgotten, gave a little laugh. Her eyes, he noticed, were hazel. There were L-E girls, he supposed, who also had hazel eyes—but a different hazel.

"Perhaps this will convince you of the job's significance," the interviewer said huffily. He took off his mask and looked at Clarey with anticipation. He had a sleek, ordinary, middle-aged-to-elderly face.

There was an awkward interval. "Don't you recognize me?" he demanded.

Clarey shook his head. The girl laughed again.

"A blow to my ego, but proof that you're the right man for this job. I'm General Spano. And this is my Mistress, Secretary Han Vollard."

The girl inclined her head.

"At least you must know my name?" Spano said querulously.

"I've heard it," Clarey admitted. "'The Fiend of Fomalhaut,' they call you," he went on before he could catch himself and stop the words.

The girl clapped her hand over her mouth, but the laughter spilled out over and around it, pretty U-E laughter.

Spano finally laughed, too. "It's a phrase that might be used about any military man. One carries out one's orders to the best of one's ability."

"Besides," Clarey observed in a non-Archivistic manner, "what concern have I with your military morality?"

"He's absolutely perfect for the job, Steff!" she cried. "I didn't think the machines were that good!"

"We mustn't underestimate the machines, Han," Spano said. "They're efficient, very efficient. Someday they'll take over from us."

"There're some things they'll never be able to do," she said. Her hazel eyes lingered on Clarey's. "Aren't you glad, Archivist?"

"Sub-Archivist," he corrected her frostily. "And I hadn't really thought about it."

"That's not what the machines say, Sub-Archivist," she told him, her voice candy-sweet. "They deep-probed your mind. You don't do anything, but you've thought about it a lot, haven't you?"

Clarey felt the blood surge up. "My thoughts are my own concern. You haven't the right to use them to taunt me."

"But I think you're attractive," she protested. "Honestly I do. In a different way. Just go to a good tailor, put on a little weight, dye your hair, and—"

"And I wouldn't be different any more," Clarey finished. That wasn't true; he would always be different. Not that he was deformed, just unappealing. He was below average height and his eyes and hair and skin were too light. In the past, he knew, there had been pale races and dark races on Earth. With the discovery of other intelligent life-forms to discriminate against together, the different races had fused into a swarthy unity. Of course he could hide his etiolation with dye and cosmetics, but those of really good quality cost more than he could afford, and cheap maquillage was worse than none. Besides, why should his appearance mean anything to anybody but himself? He'd had enough beating around the bush! "Would you mind telling me exactly what the job is?"

"Intelligence agent," said Spano.

"Isn't it exciting?" she put in. "Aren't you thrilled?"

Clarey bounced angrily from his chair. "I won't sit here and be ridiculed!"

"Why ridiculed?" Spano asked. "Don't you consider yourself an intelligent man?"

"Being an intelligence agent has nothing to do with intelligence!" Clarey said furiously. "The whole thing's silly, straight out of the tri-dis."

"What do you have against the tri-dis, Sub-Archivist?" Spano's voice was very quiet.

"Don't you like any of them?" the girl said. "I just adore Sentries of the Sky!" Her enthusiasm was tinged, obscurely, with warning.

"Well, I enjoy it, too," Clarey said, sinking back to the stool. "It's very entertaining, but I'm sure it isn't meant to be taken seriously."

"Oh, but it is, Sub-Archivist Clarey," Spano said. "Sentries of the Sky happens to be produced by my bureau. We want the public to know all about our operations—or as much as it's good for them to know—and they find it more palatable in fictionalized form."

"Documentaries always get low ratings," the girl said. "And you can't really blame the public—documentaries are dull. Myself, I like a love interest." Her eyes rested lingeringly on Clarey's.

They must think I'm a fool, Clarey thought; yet why would they bother to fool me? "But I am given to understand," he said to Spano, "even by the tri-dis, that an intelligence agent needs special training, special qualifications."

"In this case, the special qualifications outweigh the training. And you have the qualifications we need for Damorlan."

"According to the machines, all I'm qualified for is human filing cabinet. Is that what you want?"

Spano was growing impatient. "Look, Clarey, the machines have decided that you are not a Musician. Do you want to remain a Sub-Archivist for the rest of your days or will you take this other road? Once you're on a U-E level, you can fight the machines; tape your own music if you like."

Clarey said nothing, but his initial hostility was ebbing slowly away.

"I wanted to be a writer," Spano said. "The machines said no. So I became a soldier, rose to the top. Now—this is in strictest confidence—I write most of the episodes of Sentries of the Sky myself. There's always another route for the man with guts and vision, and, above all, faith. Why don't we continue the discussion over lunch?"

It was almost unthinkable for L-E and U-E to eat together. For Clarey this was an honor—too great an honor—and there was no way out of it. Spano and the girl put on their masks; the general touched a section of the wall and it slid back. There was a car waiting for them outside. It skimmed over the delicately wrought, immensely strong bridges that, together with the tunnels, linked the great glittering metropolis into a vast efficient whole.

Spano was not really broadminded. Although they went to the Aurora Borealis, it was through a side door, and they were served in a private dining room. Clarey was glad and nettled at the same time.

The first few mouthfuls of the food tasted ambrosial; then it cloyed and Clarey had to force it down with a thin, almost astringent pale blue liquid. In itself, the liquor had only a mild, slightly pungent taste, but it made everything else increasingly delightful—the warm, luxurious little room, the perfume that wafted from the air-conditioning ducts, Han Vollard.

"Martian mountain wine," she warned him. "Rather overwhelming if you're not used to it, and sometimes even if you are...." Her eyes rested on the general.

"But there are no mountains on Mars," Clarey said, startled.

"That's it!" Spano chortled. "When you've drunk it, you see mountains!" And he filled his glass again.

While they ate, he told Clarey about Damorlan—its beautiful climate, light gravity, intelligent and civilized natives. Though the planet had been known for two decades, no one from Earth had ever been there except a few selected government officials, and, of course, the regular staff posted there.

"You mean it hasn't been colonized yet?" Clarey was relieved, because he felt he should, as an Archivist, have known more about the planet than its name and coordinates. "Why? It sounds like a splendid place for a colony."

"The natives," Spano said.

"There were natives on a lot of the planets we colonized. You disposed of them somehow."

"By co-existence in most cases, Sub-Archivist," Spano said drily. "We've found it best for Terrans and natives to live side by side in harmony. We dispose of a race only when it's necessary for the greatest good. And we would especially dislike having to dispose of the Damorlanti."

"What's wrong with them?" Clarey asked, pushing away his half-finished crême brulée a la Betelgeuse with a sigh. "Are they excessively belligerent, then?"

"No more belligerent than any intelligent life-form which has pulled itself up by its bootstraps."

"Rigid?" Clarey suggested. "Unadaptable? Intolerant? Indolent? Personally offensive?"

Spano smiled.

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