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This etext was prepared from a 1979 reprint of the 1958 original. There is no evidence that the copyright on this publication was renewed.
Obvious typesetting errors in the source text have been corrected
A Division of Charter Communications Inc.
A GROSSET & DUNLAP COMPANY
360 Park Avenue South
New York, New York 10010
LONE STAR PLANET
Copyright © 1958 by Ace Books, Inc.
Originally published as A PLANET FOR TEXANS
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any means, except for the inclusion of brief quotations in a review, without permission in writing from the publisher.
All characters in this book are fictitious. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
This Ace Printing: April 1979
Printed in U.S.A.
They started giving me the business as soon as I came through the door into the Secretary's outer office.
There was Ethel K'wang-Li, the Secretary's receptionist, at her desk. There was Courtlant Staynes, the assistant secretary to the Undersecretary for Economic Penetration, and Norman Gazarin, from Protocol, and Toby Lawder, from Humanoid Peoples' Affairs, and Raoul Chavier, and Hans Mannteufel, and Olga Reznik.
It was a wonder there weren't more of them watching the condemned man's march to the gibbet: the word that the Secretary had called me in must have gotten all over the Department since the offices had opened.
"Ah, Mr. Machiavelli, I presume," Ethel kicked off.
"Machiavelli, Junior." Olga picked up the ball. "At least, that's the way he signs it."
"God's gift to the Consular Service, and the Consular Service's gift to Policy Planning," Gazarin added.
"Take it easy, folks. These Hooligan Diplomats would as soon shoot you as look at you," Mannteufel warned.
"Be sure and tell the Secretary that your friends all want important posts in the Galactic Empire." Olga again.
"Well, I'm glad some of you could read it," I fired back. "Maybe even a few of you understood what it was all about."
"Don't worry, Silk," Gazarin told me. "Secretary Ghopal understands what it was all about. All too well, you'll find."
A buzzer sounded gently on Ethel K'wang-Li's desk. She snatched up the handphone and whispered into it. A deathly silence filled the room while she listened, whispered some more, then hung it up.
They were all staring at me.
"Secretary Ghopal is ready to see Mr. Stephen Silk," she said. "This way, please."
As I started across the room, Staynes began drumming on the top of the desk with his fingers, the slow reiterated rhythm to which a man marches to a military execution.
"A cigarette?" Lawder inquired tonelessly. "A glass of rum?"
There were three men in the Secretary of State's private office. Ghopal Singh, the Secretary, dark-faced, gray-haired, slender and elegant, meeting me halfway to his desk. Another slender man, in black, with a silver-threaded, black neck-scarf: Rudolf Klüng, the Secretary of the Department of Aggression.
And a huge, gross-bodied man with a fat baby-face and opaque black eyes.
When I saw him, I really began to get frightened.
The fat man was Natalenko, the Security Coördinator.
"Good morning, Mister Silk," Secretary Ghopal greeted me, his hand extended. "Gentlemen, Mr. Stephen Silk, about whom we were speaking. This way, Mr. Silk, if you please."
There was a low coffee-table at the rear of the office, and four easy chairs around it. On the round brass table-top were cups and saucers, a coffee urn, cigarettes—and a copy of the current issue of the Galactic Statesmen's Journal, open at an article entitled Probable Future Courses of Solar League Diplomacy, by somebody who had signed himself Machiavelli, Jr.
I was beginning to wish that the pseudonymous Machiavelli, Jr. had never been born, or, at least, had stayed on Theta Virgo IV and been a wineberry planter as his father had wanted him to be.
As I sat down and accepted a cup of coffee, I avoided looking at the periodical. They were probably going to hang it around my neck before they shoved me out of the airlock.
"Mr. Silk is, as you know, in our Consular Service," Ghopal was saying to the others. "Back on Luna on rotation, doing something in Mr. Halvord's section. He is the gentleman who did such a splendid job for us on Assha—Gamma Norma III.
"And, as he has just demonstrated," he added, gesturing toward the Statesman's Journal on the Benares-work table, "he is a student both of the diplomacy of the past and the implications of our present policies."
"A bit frank," Klüng commented dubiously.
"But judicious," Natalenko squeaked, in the high eunuchoid voice that came so incongruously from his bulk. "He aired his singularly accurate predictions in a periodical that doesn't have a circulation of more than a thousand copies outside his own department. And I don't think the public's semantic reactions to the terminology of imperialism is as bad as you imagine. They seem quite satisfied, now, with the change in the title of your department, from Defense to Aggression."
"Well, we've gone into that, gentlemen," Ghopal said. "If the article really makes trouble for us, we can always disavow it. There's no censorship of the Journal. And Mr. Silk won't be around to draw fire on us."
Here it comes, I thought.
"That sounds pretty ominous, doesn't it, Mr. Silk?" Natalenko tittered happily, like a ten-year-old who has just found a new beetle to pull the legs out of.
"It's really not as bad as it sounds, Mr. Silk," Ghopal hastened to reassure me. "We are going to have to banish you for a while, but I daresay that won't be so bad. The social life here on Luna has probably begun to pall, anyhow. So we're sending you to Capella IV."
"Capella IV," I repeated, trying to remember something about it. Capella was a GO-type, like Sol; that wouldn't be so bad.
"New Texas," Klüng helped me out.
Oh, God, no! I thought.
"It happens that we need somebody of your sort on that planet, Mr. Silk," Ghopal said. "Some of the trouble is in my department and some of it is in Mr. Klüng's; for that reason, perhaps it would be better if Coördinator Natalenko explained it to you."
"You know, I assume, our chief interest in New Texas?" Natalenko asked.
"I had some of it for breakfast, sir," I replied. "Supercow."
Natalenko tittered again. "Yes, New Texas is the butcher shop of the galaxy. In more ways than one, I'm afraid you'll find. They just butchered one of our people there a short while ago. Our Ambassador, in fact."
That would be Silas Cumshaw, and this was the first I'd heard about it.
I asked when it had happened.
"A couple of months ago. We just heard about it last evening, when the news came in on a freighter from there. Which serves to point up something you stressed in your article—the difficulties of trying to run a centralized democratic government on a galactic scale. But we have another interest, which may be even more urgent than our need for New Texan meat. You've heard, of course, of the z'Srauff."
That was a statement, not a question; Natalenko wasn't trying to insult me. I knew who the z'Srauff were; I'd run into them, here and there. One of the extra-solar intelligent humanoid races, who seemed to have been evolved from canine or canine-like ancestors, instead of primates. Most of them could speak Basic English, but I never saw one who would admit to understanding more of our language than the 850-word Basic vocabulary. They occupied a half-dozen planets in a small star-cluster about forty light-years beyond the Capella system. They had developed normal-space reaction-drive ships before we came into contact with them, and they had quickly picked up the hyperspace-drive from us back in those days when the Solar League was still playing Missionaries of Progress and trying to run a galaxy-wide Point-Four program.
In the past century, it had become almost impossible for anybody to get into their star-group, although z'Srauff ships were orbiting in on every planet that the League had settled or controlled. There were z'Srauff traders and small merchants all over the galaxy, and you almost never saw one of them without a camera. Their little meteor-mining boats were everywhere, and all of them carried more of the most modern radar and astrogational equipment than a meteor-miner's lifetime earnings would pay for.
I also knew that they were one of the chief causes of ulcers and premature gray hair at the League capital on Luna. I'd done a little reading on pre-spaceflight Terran history; I had been impressed by the parallel between the present situation and one which had culminated, two and a half centuries before, on the morning of 7 December, 1941.
"What," Natalenko inquired, "do you think Machiavelli, Junior would do about the z'Srauff?"
"We have a Department of Aggression," I replied. "Its mottoes are, 'Stop trouble before it starts,' and, 'If we have to fight, let's do it on the other fellow's real estate.' But this situation is just a little too delicate for literal application of those principles. An unprovoked attack on the z'Srauff would set every other non-human race in the galaxy against us.... Would an attack by the z'Srauff on New Texas constitute just provocation?"
"It might. New Texas is an independent planet. Its people are descendants of emigrants from Terra who wanted to get away from the rule of the Solar League. We've been trying for half a century to persuade the New Texan government to join the League. We need their planet, for both strategic and commercial reasons. With the z'Srauff for neighbors, they need us as much at least as we need them. The problem is to make them understand that."
I nodded again. "And an attack by the z'Srauff would do that, too, sir," I said.
Natalenko tittered again. "You see, gentlemen! Our Mr. Silk picks things up very handily, doesn't he?" He turned to Secretary of State Ghopal. "You take it from there," he invited.
Ghopal Singh smiled benignly. "Well, that's it, Stephen," he said. "We need a man on New Texas who can get things done. Three things, to be exact.
"First, find out why poor Mr. Cumshaw was murdered, and what can be done about it to maintain our prestige without alienating the New Texans.
"Second, bring the government and people of New Texas to a realization that they need the Solar League as much as we need them.
"And, third, forestall or expose the plans for the z'Srauff invasion of New Texas."
Is that all, now? I thought. He doesn't want a diplomat; he wants a magician.
"And what," I asked, "will my official position be on New Texas, sir? Or will I have one, of any sort?"
"Oh, yes, indeed, Mr. Silk. Your official position will be that of Ambassador Plenipotentiary and Envoy Extraordinary. That, I believe, is the only vacancy which exists in the Diplomatic Service on that planet."
At Dumbarton Oaks Diplomatic Academy, they haze the freshmen by making them sit on a one-legged stool and balance a teacup and saucer on one knee while the upper classmen pelt them with ping-pong balls. Whoever invented that and the other similar forms of hazing was one of the great geniuses of the Service. So I sipped my coffee, set down the cup, took a puff from my cigarette, then said:
"I am indeed deeply honored, Mr. Secretary. I trust I needn't go into any assurances that I will do everything possible to justify your trust in me."
"I believe he will, Mr. Secretary," Natalenko piped, in a manner that chilled my blood.
"Yes, I believe so," Ghopal Singh said. "Now, Mr. Ambassador, there's a liner in orbit two thousand miles off Luna, which has been held from blasting off for the last eight hours, waiting for you. Don't bother packing more than a few things; you can get everything you'll need aboard, or at New Austin, the planetary capital. We have a man whom Coördinator Natalenko has secured for us, a native New Texan, Hoddy Ringo by name. He'll act as your personal secretary. He's aboard the ship now. You'll have to hurry, I'm afraid.... Well, bon voyage, Mr. Ambassador."CHAPTER II
The death-watch outside had grown to about fifteen or twenty. They were all waiting in happy anticipation as I came out of the Secretary's office.
"What did he do to you, Silk?" Courtlant Staynes asked, amusedly.
"Demoted me. Kicked me off the Hooligan Diplomats," I said glumly.
"Demoted you from the Consular Service?"