- Author: Murray Leinster
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Bors felt as if he'd been hit over the head. This was ridiculous! He'd planned and carried out the destruction of that warship because the information of its existence and location was verified by a magnetometer.
But, if he'd known how the information had been obtained—if he'd known it had been guessed at by a discharged spaceport employee, and a paranoid personality, and a man who used a hazel twig or something similar—if he'd known that, he'd never have dreamed of accepting it. He'd have dismissed it flatly!
Aficionados of science fiction recognize and respect MURRAY LEINSTER as a writer of rare talent. His ingenuity of plot, his technical know-how and flight of imagination in TALENTS, INCORPORATED will go far to increase his stature and popularity as an exciting and thought-provoking storyteller.
AVON BOOK DIVISION
The Hearst Corporation
572 Madison Avenue—New York 22, N.Y.
Copyright, ©, 1962, by Murray Leinster.
All rights reserved.
Published by arrangement with the author.
Printed in the U.S.A.
Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed. Minor spelling and typographical errors have been corrected without note.
A table of contents, though not present in the original publication, has been provided below:Part One Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 4 Part Two Chapter 5 Chapter 6 Part Three Chapter 7 Chapter 8 Chapter 9 Part Four Chapter 10 Chapter 11 Chapter 12
Part OneChapter 1
Young Captain Bors—who impatiently refused to be called anything else—was strangely occupied when the communicator buzzed. He'd ripped away the cord about a thick parcel of documents and heaved them into the fireplace of the office of the Minister for Diplomatic Affairs. A fire burned there, and already there were many ashes. The carpet and the chairs of the cabinet officer's sanctum were coated with fine white dust. As the communicator buzzed again, Captain Bors took a fireplace tool and stirred the close-packed papers to looseness. They caught and burned instead of only smouldering.
The communicator buzzed yet again. He brushed off his hands and pressed the answer-stud.
He said bleakly: "Diplomatic Affairs. Bors speaking."
The communicator relayed a voice from somewhere else with an astonishing fidelity of tone.
"Spaceport, sir. A ship just broke out of overdrive. We don't identify its type. One ship only, sir."
Bors said grimly;
"You'd recognize a liner. If it's a ship from the Mekinese fleet and stays alone, it could be coming to receive our surrender. In that case play for time and notify me."
"Yes, sir.—One moment! It's calling, sir! Here it is—."
There was a clicking, and then there came a voice which had the curious quality of a loudspeaker sound picked up and relayed through another loudspeaker.
"Calling ground! Calling ground! Space-yacht Sylva reports arrival and asks coordinates for landing. Our mass is two hundred tons standard. Purpose of visit, pleasure-travel."
A pause. The voice from the spaceport:
Captain Bors said impatiently, "Oh, let him down and see if he knows anything about the Mekinese. Then advise him to go away at once. Tell him why."
A click. Young Captain Bors returned to his task of burning papers. These were the confidential records of the Ministry for Diplomatic Affairs. Captain Bors wore the full-dress uniform of the space navy of the planet Kandar. It was still neatly pressed but was now smudged with soot and smeared with ashes. He had burned a great many papers today. Elsewhere in the Ministry other men were burning other documents. The other papers were important enough; they were confidential reports from volunteer- and paid-agents on twenty planets. In the hands of ill-disposed persons, they could bring about disaster and confusion and interplanetary tension. But the ones Captain Bors made sure of were deadly.
He burned papers telling of conditions on Mekin itself. The authors of such memoranda would be savagely punished if they were found out. Then there were papers telling of events on Tralee. If it could be said that he were more painstakingly destructive than average about anything, Captain Bors was about them. He saw to it that they burned to ashes. He crushed the ashes. He stirred them. It would be unthinkable that such morsels could ever be pieced together and their contents even guessed at.
He went on with the work. His jaunty uniform became more smeared and smudged. He gave himself no rest. There were papers from other planets now under the hegemony of Mekin. Some were memoranda from citizens of this planet, who had traveled upon the worlds which Mekin dominated as it was about to dominate Kandar. They, especially had to be pulverized. Every confidential document in the Ministry for Diplomatic Affairs was in the process of destruction, but Captain Bors in person destroyed those which would cause most suffering if read by the wrong persons.
In other ministries and other places similar holocausts were under way. There was practically nothing going on on Kandar which was not related to the disaster for which the people of that world waited. The feel of bitterness and despair was everywhere. Broadcasting stations stayed on the air only to report monotonously that the tragic event had not yet happened. The small space-navy of Kandar waited, aground, to take the king and some other persons on board at the last moment. When the Mekinese navy arrived—or as much of it as was needed to make resistance hopeless—the end for Kandar would have come. That was the impending disaster. If it came too soon, Bors's task of destruction couldn't be completed as was wished. In such a case this Ministry and all the others would hastily be doused with incendiary material and fired, and it would desperately be hoped that all the planet's records went up in the flames.
Captain Bors flung more and more papers on the blaze. He came to an end of them.
The communicator buzzed, again. He answered once more.
"Sir, the space-yacht Sylva is landed. It comes from Norden and has no direct information about the Mekinese. But there's a man named Morgan with a very important letter for the Minister for Diplomatic Affairs. It's from the Minister for Diplomatic Affairs on Norden."
Bors said sardonically, "Maybe he should wait a few days or hours and give it to the Mekinese! Send him over if he wants to take the chance, but warn him not to let anybody from his yacht leave the spaceport!"
Bors made a quick circuit of the Ministry building to make sure the rest of the destruction was thoroughly carried out. He glanced out of a window and saw the other ministries. From their chimneys thick smoke poured out—the criminal records were being incinerated in the Ministry of Police. Tax records were burning in the Ministry of Finance. Educational information about Kandarian citizens flamed and smoked in the Ministry of Education. Even voting and vehicle-registry lists were being wiped out of existence by flames and the crushing of ashes at appropriate agencies. The planet's banks were completing the distribution of coin and currency, with promissory notes to those depositors they could not pay in full, and the real-estate registers were open so individuals could remove and hide or destroy their titles to property. The stockholders' books of corporations were being burned. Small ships parted with their wares and took promises of payment in return. The planet Kandar, in fact, made ready to receive its conquerors.
It was not conquered yet, but there could be no hope.
Bors was in the act of brushing off his hands again, in a sort of symbolic gesture of completion, when a ground-car stopped before the Ministry. A stout man got out. A rather startlingly pretty girl followed. They advanced to the door of the Ministry.
Presently, Captain Bors received the two visitors. His once-jaunty uniform looked like a dustman's. He was much more grim than anybody his age should ever be.
"Your name is Morgan," he said formidably to the stout man. "You have a letter for the Minister. He's not here. He's gathering up his family. If anyone's in charge, I am."
The stout man cheerfully handed over a very official envelope.
Bors said caustically, "I don't ask you to sit down because everything's covered with ash-dust. Excuse me."
He tore open the envelope and read its contents. His impatience increased.
"In normal times," he said, "I'm sure this would be most interesting. But these are not normal times. I'm afraid—"
"I know! I know!" said the stout man exuberantly. "If times were normal I wouldn't be here! I'm president and executive director of Talents, Incorporated. From that letter you'll see that we've done very remarkable things for different governments and businesses. I'd like to talk to someone with the authority to make a policy decision. I want to show what we can do for you."
"It's too late to do anything for us," said Bors. "Much too late. We expect the Mekinese fleet at any instant. You'd better go back to the spaceport and take off in your yacht. They're going to take over this planet after a slight tumult we expect to arrange. You won't want to be here when they come."
Morgan waved a hand negligently.
"They won't arrive for four days," he said confidently. "That's Talents, Incorporated information. You can depend on it! There's plenty of time to prepare before they get here!" He smiled, as if at a joke.
Young Captain Bors was not impressed. He and all the other officers of the Kandarian defense forces had searched desperately for something that could be done to avert the catastrophe before them. They'd failed to find even the promise of a hope. He couldn't be encouraged by the confidence of a total stranger,—and a civilian to boot. He'd taken refuge in anger.
The pretty girl said suddenly, "Captain, at least we can reassure you on one thing. Your government chartered four big liners to remove government officials and citizens who'll be on the Mekinese black list. You're worried for fear they won't get here in time. But my father—"
The stout man looked at his watch.
"Ah, yes! You don't want the fleet cluttered up with civilians when it takes to space! I'm happy to tell you it won't be. The first of your four liners will break out of overdrive in—hm—three minutes, twenty seconds. Two others will arrive tomorrow, one at ten minutes after noon, the other three hours later. The last will arrive the day after, at about sunrise here."
Bors went a trifle pale.
"I doubt it. It's supposed to be a military secret that such ships are on the way. Since you know it, I assume that the Mekinese do, too. In effect, you seem to be a Mekinese spy. But you can hardly do any more harm! I advise you to go back to your yacht and leave Kandar immediately. If our citizens find out you are spies, they will literally tear you to pieces."
He looked at them icily. The stout man grinned.
"Listen, your h— Captain, listen to me! The first liner will report inside of five minutes. That'll be a test. Here's another. There's a Mekinese heavy cruiser aground on Kandar right now! It's on the sea bottom fifty fathoms down, five miles magnetic north-north-east from Cape Farnell! You can check that! The cruiser's down there to lob a fusion bomb into your space-fleet when it starts to take off for the flight you're planning—to get all the important men on Kandar in one smash! That's Talents, Incorporated information! It's a free sample. You can verify it without it costing you anything, and when you want more and better information—why—we'll be at the spaceport ready to give it to you. And you will want to call on us! That's Talents, Incorporated information, too!"
He turned and marched confidently—almost grandly—out of the room. The girl smiled faintly at Bors.
"He left out something, Captain. That cruiser— It could hardly act without information on when to act. So there's a pair of spies in a little shack on the cape. They've got an underwater cable going under the sand beach and out and down to the space-cruiser. They're watching the fleet on the ground with telescopes. When they see activity around it, they'll tell the cruiser what to do." Then she smiled more broadly. "Honestly, it's true! And don't forget about the liner!"
She followed her father out of the room. Outside, as they got into the waiting ground-car, she said to her father, "If he smiled, I think I'd like him."
But Bors did not know that at the time. He would probably not have paid any attention if he had. Kandar was about to be taken over by the Mekinese, as his own Tralee had been ten years before, and other planets before that. Mekin was making an empire after