For Every Man A Reason
by Patrick Wilkins
from If Worlds of Science Fiction November 1954
Illustrated by Paul Orban
BY PATRICK WILKINS
FOR EVERY MAN A REASON
To love your wife is good; to love your State is good, too.
it comes to a question of survival, you have to love one
than the other. Also, better than yourself. It was simple for
enemy; they knew which one Aron was dedicated to....
The thunder of the jets died away, the sound drifting wistfully off
into the hills. The leaves that swirled in the air returned to the
ground slowly, reluctantly.
The rocket had gone.
Aron Myers realized that he was looking at nothing. He noticed that
his face was frozen into a meaningless smile. He let the smile slowly
dissolve as he turned to look at his wife.
She was a small woman, and he realized for the first time how
fragile she was. Her piquant face, framed by long brown, flowing hair,
was an attractive jewel when set on the plush cushion of civilization.
Now her face, set in god-forsaken wilderness, metamorphosed into the
frightened mask of a small animal.
They were alone.
Two human beings alone on this wild, lonely planet. Aron's mind
suddenly snapped from that frame of referencehis subjective view of
their positionto the scale of galaxies. It was a big planet to them,
but it was a marble in the galaxy that man had discovered and claimed,
and was now fighting with himself to retain. This aggregate of millions
of pebbles was wracked with the violence of war, where marbles were
more expendable than the microbes that dwelt on them.
The two walked hand in hand away from the meadow where the ship had
been. The feeble wind snuffled at the scraps of paper and trash, the
relics of man's passing.
They walked up the hill to their station, the reason for their being
on this wayside planet.
Aron thought about the scenery around them. The compact, utilitarian
building that was the station did not seem out of place against the
bleak landscape. The landscape did not clash or conform to its
locationit just didn't give a damn whether there was a building there
Aron and Martha, his wife, took their time. They had an abundance of
that elusive quantity known as time at this lonely outpost. The trail
up to the station was rough, with rocks and weeds tearing at them. Aron
resolved that that would be one of his first projects, to put in a good
path to the meadow where the rocket would come for themfive years
The sunset did nothing to enhance the countryside. There was not
enough dust in the air to create any striking colors. As the shadows
began to lap at the hill, they hurried the last few steps to the
* * * * *
That evening they were both nervous, justifiably so, for not only
were they starting on the questionable adventure of sequestered
watchdogs on the planet, they were starting the adventure of marriage.
Aron had met Martha on Tyros, a planetary trade center of some
importance. She was a waitress.
Since he was marking time on Tyros, waiting for his assignment, he
had a chance to cultivate her acquaintance. On their dates, what he had
to tell her about his life was brief, impersonal.
Aron was in the Maintenance division of the Territorial
Administration and his duties were to hold posts on various planets and
act as an observer of that planet's caprices.
The rush of mankind from Earth, like a maddened swarm of bees from a
hive, had carried it through the galaxy in a short time. On all the
discovered planets that had to be reserved for future inhabitants, the
Territorial Administration had set up observation stations. The men
posted there were merely to record such fascinating information as
meteorological and geographical conditions.
When the time came to expand, the frail little creatures with the
large brains and larger egos would know the best havens for migration.
Another reason for these stations was the war. When man had flung
himself madly at the galaxy, he had diffused himself thinly over a
macroscopic area. Some almost isolated colonies had developed the
inevitable thirst for independence.
From local but violent wars between colonies, some semblance of
order had been wrought. Now there were two sprawling interstellar
empires, the United EmpireAron and Martha were citizensand the
Since Aron's realm relied on industrial technology and agriculture
and the People's Republic based its economy on mining and trade, there
seemed to be plenty of room for consolidation.
Unfortunately this consolidation, or even peaceful trading, was not
possible, due to the fact that the two dominions had entirely different
forms of government and religion. The result was, as always, war.
These were the general facts that both Aron and Martha knew. What
Aron discussed with his fiance were the effects of this macropolitical
situation upon their personal lives. The previous posts that Aron had
held in the TA were planets in the interior of the United Empire.
During his stay on Tyros, he received the assignment he expected. It
was a post on the fringe of the empire, a planet called Kligor. These
stations of the fringe served dual purposes, not only their usual
function of planetary observation but as military outposts to warn and
halt any attempted invasion.
When he heard this assignment, Aron proposed, holding up to Martha
the prospect of comfortable living in civilization once the five year
hitch on Kligor was over.
She consentednot really knowing if she loved him or not.
They had been married the day they left. The space ship was so
crowded there was no chance for privacy, so the two had no honeymoon
till they reached the station.
* * * * *
Aron and his bride arrived on Kligor in what was autumn on the
planet, for the seasons were consistent in all hemispheres.
Aron planned to spend a week at the station with his wife and then
begin a planetary check of the various automatic observation stations
that compiled the meteorological and other data and relayed it by radio
to the main station. This check had to be completed before snow came to
In that week they learned about each other. Neither of them was
young and both were mature and prosaic enough to develop the daily
routine of a long-married couple. There were many free hours which they
would spend talking about themselves.
To Martha, marriage was not new. She had experienced matrimony
before. Her husband, a gambler, had killed himself after a bad loss,
leaving her with an impossible burden of debt and a disillusioned mind.
Since then she had worked, gradually paying off his debts. When Aron
had come along, she liked the big man and thought that the years on
Kligor would give her respite from a demanding reality.
She did not picture herself as a tragic figure, but rather as merely
competent and stable, not realizing that that attitude in itself is a
sure sign of instability. A smile seldom found her face. She was
slightly nervous with a tendency towards moodiness.
Aron's history was not so bitter. He was born in a large family and
had formed an aloof, reserved nature to achieve a sense of
individuality in the group. His life had been spent in government work
and he had never tasted the variable brew of the nuptial cup till he
He was not a deep man in emotion. His nature was such that he had to
be constantly occupied with somethingnot the frenzied scurrying of
insecure individualsbut a solid problem that he could work out. A
project that he could carefully shape with a keen analytical mind or
They did not think of each other in terms of these thumbnail
sketches, but merely watched and observedand adjusted to each other.
Their marriage was almost one of convenience, with just enough
affection involved to oil over any disputes.
The spell of the planet gradually lulled them into hypnotic
acceptance of their sequestered lives. Their daily duties became the
only things worth thinking about.
* * * * *
Aron learned about the planet in the next two months on his tours of
inspection. He used a small atmosphere flier to cover the various posts
scattered over its surface.
The small blockhouses were automatic and hermetically sealed to
preserve the instruments, but something could go wrong and then it was
his job to fix it.
As for the military defense system of Kligor, that was also
automatic but not Aron's responsibility. It was a series of artificial
satellites on the rim of the planetary system, with long-range
detecting and tracting systems that would activate and co-ordinate
firing mechanisms to blast any ship from the void.
It was Aron's duty to de-activate them with a control in his station
if he was signalled by a pre-arranged code from a friendly United
Republic ship. That was all he had to, or could, do with them.
The planetary stations were all in good shape except for minor
repairs, which Aron attended to with the quiet joy of a man who loves
machinery. He was home sooner than expected and just in time. The next
day it began to snow.
The weather had opposite effects on the people in the station. Aron,
long used to such confinements, settled down and began reading some of
the great mass of books which he had brought, or working painstakingly
Martha grew more distraught as the snowbound months went by. The
wild enthusiasm of her youth had left her, but she was not stoic enough
to take the long confinement and inactivity. She tried to pick
arguments, but Aron wouldn't argue. She tried to get interested in some
time-consuming hobby, but she lacked the patience.
Spring finally came. On the first nice day Martha went on a long
walk to watch the few flowers that Kligor boasted push their fragile
buds into the air. Aron spent the day working on the path and the
clearing that was a spaceport.
When night came, he was alone at the station.
Aron waited up all night, knowing it would be futile to search in
the dark, not knowing in which direction or how far she had gone on her
stroll. Aron was not too worried, since there were no dangerous
animals. She was probably lost or had a sprained ankle, in which case
she would have the sense to find a sheltered place and be safe for the
When morning came he began searching. He used the atmosphere flier
to cruise over the nearby country.
Up and down hillsides he flew the craft, gliding slowly at a low
altitude. He stopped over clumps of bushes for a careful scan,
occasionally roaring towards what looked like a piece of cloth, but
always turned out to be a bright stone.
When he found her, he knew before he landed. She was sprawled at the
bottom of a high cliff.
She was not pretty any more. She wasn't even a live animal, just
dead flesh lying there, smeared with blood and covered with tattered
Aron remained in a stage of pre-shock, a state of cold clear
rationality, until he had taken her back to the station, dug a grave
and buried her. He wasn't sad, it was just a job to be done. This
wasn't his wife he was burying.
It wasn't until that evening that the fact of her death penetrated
and was accepted by his mind.
* * * * *
The next few days were spent in routine actions. Aron relied on his
usual anodynework. The pathway and the meadow were filled with cement
by the end of the fifth day.
He let his stunned mind become wrapped in the problem of completing
this jobthe weight of the shovel in his hand, the heat of the sun on
his backthese were what he thought about. It was not a solution or
even escape, just a stall.
The sixth day brought a visitor.
The shock of someone knocking at the door, walking in, introducing
himself and sitting down to talk yanked Aron's mind into awareness.
The only way to achieve a landing would be for a friendly ship to
signal him and have him de-activate the defenseswhich definitely had
Therefore it was hallucination, a miracle, or at least an
interesting trick that this man had appeared at his station. Aron took
interest, demanding that the man start from the beginning again as he
had missed the introductions due to slight surprise.
I said I am Karl Rondwell, an agent and representative of the
People's Republic, being a member of the Intelligence department of her
imperial navy, the man replied.
The first question is, naturally, Aron said, How the Hell did you
A slight smile. Your much-vaunted defenses that are supposed to be
able to snuff out the mightiest fleet, these defenses are easy to
passfor one man.
Aron could see that easily enough. What is your purpose here then?
A deal, naturally!
I imagined so. You will have to persuade me, because you can't
remove me and take over those defenses. Lack of knowledge of the proper
code would trip you up when our United Empire ships came snooping
around as they do so often.
Since we understand the rules of the game, the enemy agent said,
let's proceed with it.
Let me begin with a discussion of civilization. You may have
forgotten something about it in your secluded life here.
The agent went on to speak of civilization, its comforts. Since he
was a spy, he had spent a good deal of time in the United Republic. He
spoke in terms of a man with money, the plush night spots, the
beautiful girls that would be only too glad to be friendly with a
All right, Aron interrupted him. That's clever oratory, but money
isn't all I'll take to sell out my empire. What else have you to offer,
and remember, I'm not buyingjust looking.
The agent made his case stronger by comparing plush civilization to
the futile hermit's existence of a TA observer, throwing in a few
remarks about the brevity of one's life to be wasted in such a barren
pastime as five years in solitary confinement.
When he began talking about a comfortable married life in a
civilized community, he noticed Aron growing distraught.
Why does talk of marriage so disturb you? he asked.
Aron looked at him with a sneer in his eyes, You must know, you
check your victims before you begin your Judas acts.
With a rueful grin, the agent replied, That is one place our agents
can't penetrate, your Personnel Records Office. You, being a hard man
to know, have made very few acquaintances that we could approach to get
Silence. Then Aron said, All right, here's a bone I'll toss you.
You may use it, I don't give a damn!
My wife died five days ago on this planet. He said it with
vehemence, probably imagining by some twist of thought that he was
shocking, hurting the enemy agent, whereas he actually was deliberately
shocking himself. Masochism.
Your wife? the agent was amazed. I didn't know your TA observers
took wives with them.
I'll bet you didn't know. Though, most of them don't, come to think
The agent relaxed, lighted a cigarettean ancient habit that
cropped up in all eras.
Men can take it, he began quietly. Women are different. They can
take it if they want to, but it's hard to find the right woman; and
even then she must want to take it by being with the man she loves, or
perhaps it is psychologicalmartyring themselves to gain a subtle
control of that man, which they all want to do.
When you get a woman who can't, or doesn't want to take it, she can
pull a beautiful crack-up. Without friends to appreciate her martyrdom,
with a husband who refuses to acknowledge it, she sometimes uses the
supreme martyrdom to gain recognition.
Instinct tells me to slug you in the teeth, Aron said, but apathy
Couldn't it be that you refuse to slug me because you want me to
keep talking? Because you recognize the truth, that your wife committed
suicide because of the loneliness and now your devotion to state has
become meaningless? 'The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away' was the
old maxim, but 'the State only taketh away' is the new.
There was more talk and some drinking, for the agent had
conveniently brought some choice liquor.
The next morning, after they had arisen from where they had fallen
asleep in a stupor, the agent proposed his plan. With the disgust and
despair of the hangover, the agent's biting attack on his pride and his
state, Aron listened. Later the agent was no longer the enemy, but a
partner in a deal.
* * * * *
The next week the ships came. Twenty-seven proud cruisers of the
People's Republic; also troop and supply ships. They landed in the
broad valley on the main continent of Kligor, twenty miles from Aron's
The professional fighters emerged from their tools of war, the dull
hulls of the ships and the dark uniforms lapping up the pleasant
sunshine. The only reflection was from the polished bits of metal that
hung at their sides, bits of metal that could spit destruction in ten
They looked at the planet but did not see it, it was just their
newly gained base. They did not see the poignant beauty of the
seemingly senescent hills covered with wisps of green and bathed in
blazing sunshine. They only saw strategic positions, avenues of
approach and tactical advantages.
The pebble had become a pawn. War had come to Kligor. The slow,
subtle weavings of individual threads of human psychology were ripped
and snarled as the Mass Effort took over.
Conferences were held, land surveyed, machinery trundled from the
cavernous holds of supply ships and the base was begun. To the cadence
of barked orders, shuffling feet and grinding, pounding, thumping
machinery, the buildings rose, the men moved in.
There was the usual bustle of a new military operation, the normal
tension of a top-secret operation, the usual bungling and mix-up of
supplies. But there was a slightly different attitude toward the
gradually growing base. This was not a standard military location, one
that had existed for years, or an enemy one that had been captured, or
even a piece of ground that had been paid for in blasted hulks and
This gain was by treason.
Naturally then, the men felt contempt for the operation and their
contempt was manifested in sloppiness. The commanding officers would
ordinarily have become raging martinets at such lax discipline and
slovenliness, but the taint and contempt of treasonous gain was upon
This contempt was displayed openly whenever the Traitor came to the
base. Weak egos must be flattered by derision of others. They would
have killed him as a matter of course, if he hadn't been clever enough
to refuse to relinquish the secret codes which allowed the friendly
ships to pass. Torture was obsolete, for hypnosis allowed a victim to
die before he could reveal secret information.
He came every week to get free supplies and have conferences with
the Intelligence men. The Traitor would walk the freshly-laid sidewalk
boldly, his head up, his eyes flashing about to take in every new
The soldiers hazed him, spitting at him, bumping into him, glaring
and swearing at him; but he always reciprocated with such a withering
look of contempt that they soon grew tired of the sport.
The worst day for the Traitor, alias Aron Myers, was when he went
into the Soldier's Club to quench his thirst of a hot day. Since it was
a week-end and there was nowhere to go on what few week-end passes were
given, the Club was packed.
In the dimmed-light atmosphere, the black uniforms made the place
seem filled with vagrant and ominous shadows with white faces. The
noise was almost unbearable and Aron had a mind to leave.
He was confronted by a group of these shadows. They were all the
same, indistinguishable in their identical uniforms, crew-cuts and
young, arrogant faces.
Hello Mr. Myers, one of them said. Won't you join us in a drink?
When he started to demur, they interrupted, But we insist, Mr.
Myers. One took him by an arm and led him to a table.
After all, they said as the drinks came up, We owe you at least a
drink for giving us such a nice new base and everything, now don't we.
It was sarcasm, and hammy sarcasm at that, Aron thought.
He recognized the situation as another case of hazing, but this time
by a group of soldiers made even more obnoxious and bellicose by the
liquor in their guts.
You don't owe me anything, Aron said, I gave it to you for my own
reasons and not for money. Sure enough, they even came out with the
He let them play out their little satire without protest. Their
grandiose courtesy towards him, the toasts drunk in his honor. That is,
until one of them, more drunk than the others, said, Mr. Myers, I hope
you don't mind my telling you, but you are a. The epithet was a new
slang word but its vileness stemmed from prehistoric days.
Aron replied with blazing eyes. I can't insult you back and you
know it. I don't want to be killed that badly. All I can say is:
Who are you to judge me? You are blind little men in a cage trying
to judge someone on the outside.
Your hearts and minds have been forged in the crucible of duty and
battle. You live for your uniforms and the distinction those uniforms
bring you. You live to fight and die, to spend your spare time in dank,
noisy holes like this. Drinking and lying to each other about your
adventures and love-life.
Then you try to judge galactic politics and the decisions of a man
caught up in the rip tides of these politics, when all you know is your
own vicious lives. You are traitors as much as any man, for you have
sacrificed your normal lives to dedicate yourself to the violent
dead-end of a soldier of space.
Yes, you know what I am talking about, the Fermi radiations! The
hard radiations of space that make every person who stays in space any
length of time a sure candidate for an early grave.
You're young now, so terribly young, only twenty or so years old in
a possible life-span of a hundred years.
You are traitors to yourselves by rejecting this life-span for a
few brief years of glory as a soldier, then a slow decay for ten years
till you are in a grave at thirty or forty.
Your motto ought to be, 'live fast, fight hard, die young and have
a radiation-rotted corpse'.
And yet you condemn a man because he tries to seek a few comforts
from an uncomfortable, implacable universe.
They didn't get it. They never get it, he thought ruefully. They
continued in their cat and mouse game until they realized the mouse
refused to be terrified, then they let him go.
During the next few weeks, someone started the rumor that the
Traitor was actually a native of the People's Republic who had been
trained and then planted in the United Empire's TA to do this job for
Intelligence. The soldiers quickly believed it and almost came to
respect the Traitor.
* * * * *
From the way that the Intelligence officers freely talked about
classified information with him in his weekly visits, Aron was aware
that they would probably kill him once his usefulness was over. He was
devising ways, though, to get around that at the last minute.
From this knowledge that had been blatantly tossed in front of him,
he knew how strategic Kligor was in the stalemated war between the
The People's Republic now had a fair-sized striking force based
there, so that when an all-out offensive, which was scheduled in a few
weeks, started, this hidden force could attack United Republic's
squadrons from the rear and be doubly effective because of surprise.
So the weeks trotted by, the soldiers' camp expanding daily as the
Traitor let the supply ships through the barrier. There are moods in
war just as in people. This was a crucial point, the People's Republic
had gained a slight edge by its gain on Kligor. So the usual pitch of
anticipation was infused with the higher excitement of a sure victory.
The days were slipping furtively away as the Kligor garrison
gathered itself together, crouched and got ready to spring into blind,
violent action on the big day.
The laughter of the soldiers was tinged with nervous hysteria, but
when they thought of that grim array of defense satellites, with its
all-seeing eyes, its electronic brain, its steel guts and large parcel
of hell in its fist, all this United Empire strength protecting them,
their laughter grew louder and more sincere.
* * * * *
Aron thanked providence that Kligor didn't have any moons. This
particular night called for every ebony patch of darkness that he could
He was on a nocturnal visit to the base, not using his flier. He
knew there were guards posted near his station that would notify the
camp when this craft was used. Slipping out the night before and
avoiding the guards, Aron had begun the twenty mile hike to the base.
As he neared the base his precautions increased, his speed
decreasing proportionately. Avoiding the outer ring of guards was easy,
as they were spaced far apart. Moving in undetected, through the
tighter nets of guards around the camp, required the skill and patience
of a feline.
That this base should have foot soldiers patrolling the ground
around it seemed absurd on the face of it, especially to the men who
had to do it. The planet was uninhabited and their only worry was from
the skies above where the TA satellites defended them.
The Intelligence officers knew better. They knew how easily one man
could slip through these defences. One man at a time, for several
weeks, and a sizable ground force could be built up in some remote spot
on Kligor. It was a long shot probability, but it was their duty to
protect against such a probability destroying what they had achieved.
There was also a traitor, one of those fluctuating spineless things,
loose on the planeta clever man who couldn't be trusted by anyone.
This lack of trust was justified as Aron crawled and inched his way
through the last circle of sentries. His whole body was a detecting
device, listening for footsteps, watching for dim figures in the dark,
even his nose was waiting to detect the odor of a cigarette.
According to the paper he had been lucky enough to read in the
Intelligence offices when they weren't looking, he knew the Captain of
the guards should be making an inspection about then. The seconds hung
suspended, reluctant to pass, and Aron waited.
The Captain finally showed up, walking briskly, a smile on his face.
This smile was rudely erased and all future occasions for smiles
removed by a swiftly moving figure that plunged a knife into his throat
before his mind could translate the shock into a cry of alarm.
More movement on the path and a new Captain of the guards emerged,
walking just as briskly, but in a new direction.
The People's Republic's base occupied the narrow end of the valley,
with a canyon entrance serving as the apex of the triangle it covered.
Near this apex were the buildings, the dozens of barracks and
administrative buildings, all dwarfed by the massive concrete
warehouses set around them against the hills. In these warehouses were
the fuel, food and munitions of the enemy.
Below these buildings were the ships, first the rows of the 27
warships and then the 40 or so cargo and troop ships. These supply
ships made up the base of the triangle. From the air these ships looked
like a tiny forest of needles stuck upright in the ground, but from
close range on the ground, where Aron walked in the captain's uniform,
they were mammoth towers of steelagain, a matter of scale.
He emerged from the sentry lines near the cargo ships. These were
all sealed and unoccupied and he passed the rows of them without a
glance. It was a long walk, for the ships were hundreds of feet apart.
The open field where they rested had the rough ground of a meadow,
making his attempted military stride more of a burlesque jerky gait
while he tried not to stumble.
There was a guard outside the airlock of each of the warships, for
the crews remained aboard constantly. These guards were standing around
talking to friends or moving restlessly about.
The sentries saluted Aron as he marched by, for they could see the
brass on his uniform gleaming in the dark. He found what he wanted, a
group of four guards talking by one airlock. They snapped to attention
as he approached.
The base had expanded so rapidly, with new units and men being
shifted constantly, that Aron counted on the men not knowing exactly
who the Captain of the guards should be. All the sentries knew was the
insignia of the Captain was before them and the man who wore them was
to be obeyed.
His orders sent a chill of alarm through them. He said he had
received a report of someone slipping through the guards and moving
among the cargo ships. Since the soldiers were needed to patrol, he
wanted these men to gather all the warship guards together and search
the area of the cargo ships.
In answer to the question in their eyes, he said he knew the
warships would be unguarded but he was ordering a special detail to
replace them immediately.
The four dispersed and, in a few minutes, all of the lock guards had
left their posts and were moving down to the cargo ships.
Time was the critical element now. Aron had taken a terrific chance
by donning the Captain's uniform, but he had pulled off the bluff and
now he had to capitalize on itfast!
While the ship sentries were on their futile search, he ran from
ship to ship, jumped into the open airlocks and worked quickly with
pliers and a screwdriver. It was a little trick that he had learned
from a talkative spaceman in a bar many years ago. It worked on any
ship. Disconnect a tiny spring, cut a wire, and it was impossible to
close the massive airlock door.
Aron wanted very badly to have those doors stay open.
Twenty-seven ships, hundreds of feet apart. He was on his last five
when the search was abandoned and the sentries began returning. He
hoped they would react normally, taking their time, dragging their feet
and talking to each other in disgust about the wild goose chase.
On the last two ships he had to use different tactics. The sentinels
had returned. When he walked up to them, they came to attention
sullenly, waiting the chance to deride the usual stupidity of the
soldiers and their Captain.
Instead, they had their throats cut.
Finishing the last airlock, Aron then walked through the post. Right
up the main street he strode, his heart in his throat but his step and
demeanor firm. The time of night helped him, for there were few
soldiers about that might recognize him, and what few patches of light
were thrown out from windows and doors were quickly swallowed by the
black maw of darkness.
Up the main street, past the barracks, towards the last warehouse at
the head of the valley. The two pillars of rock that marked the opening
of the canyon served as a background for the massive blank walls of
At the little door set in the center of the front wall there was a
sentry. He was grumbling to himself about having to do such a damn-fool
thing as guard a warehouse when there wasn't an enemy within light
years of the building.
He was wrong. And the enemy killed him.
Inside the warehouse, there being no lock on the door, Aron groped
about in the stuffy, pitch blackness till he came to a little fire
station set against a wall. There was a locker containing an insulated
suit, hatchet and other fire-fighting equipment, at this station.
He donned the fire-fighting suit and helmet and went to one end of
the building that was walled-off. In this separate room was the
emergency power supply for the base. There was a turbine with a fuel
supply and tiers of high-voltage storage batteries. There was also a
fire hose on one wall because of the presence of the combustible
* * * * *
Aron had to pause for a minute to gather his thoughts. He had come
so far, so fast through the first steps of his plan and now he was
ready for the final action.
What Aron now needed for success was three things. Sulphuric acid
and salt water in large quantities and the right wind.
The first two had been thoughtfully provided by the People's
Republic. The third was a matter of waiting. The land on Kligor was
dry. What little water supplies were available weren't enough to
maintain a base the size the garrison had built. Since the ocean was
only fifteen miles from the valley where the base was located, it was a
simple matter to pipe in water.
One of the mammoth cargo ships had been loaded with six inch
flexible hose, tougher than steel, wound on drums. It was a matter of a
day's work to fly the ship slowly from the ocean to the base, laying
out fifteen miles of this flexible pipe on the ground.
It was salt water, then, that was received at the base. Most of it
was filtered through a chemical plant in the valley to make fresh
water, but it was salt water that was available to the fire hoses for
the needed quantity and pressure.
The emergency power supply and the fire hoses were only normal
safety precautions, but now, in the hands of the Traitor, they became
By pushing the lever that removed the lids from the storage
batteries automatically for inspection he had sulphuric acidfor the
law of conservation of energy said that man had achieved the highest
efficiency of electro-chemical conversion, in practical form, in the
lead acid storage battery.
After finding the light switch and flipping it on, Aron found this
lever and released it. Now all he needed was wind, and he had that,
blowing a cool ten miles an hour down the canyon and over the valley.
He had to consult the weather maps at his station for weeks to
determine the probability of this wind occurring and the weather
conditions that produced it. One small breeze to chart, when his
recording instruments gave hourly descriptions of the whole planet's
climate. It wasn't too hard a job.
Yet that breeze had to be at the right time, at night and on the
night he wanted. Close enough to the attack date to be effective yet
not too soon. Last night his instruments recorded the data that would
produce this wind, so he was making his strike tonight.
He could not stand and gloat exultantly over his success. There were
dead sentries and sprung airlocks that might be discovered.
With a twist of a nozzle, the fire hose came to life, throwing a
pulsing stream of water on the batteries.
What Aron had done by ingenuity, luck, daring and careful planning
was finished. It was now nature's turn.
* * * * *
The next night after his one man attack on the base, Aron had a
visitor at his weather station. The visitor was in sad shape. His
clothing was disheveled, his face dirty and unshaven, his eyes
bloodshot and he seemed to be on the verge of a mental collapse with a
frantic gleam to his eye.
But he held a pistol in his hand and Aron didn't.
He was an officer of the Intelligence Corps of the People's
Republic. It was not the officer who had first visited Aron, but one of
the others that Aron had come vaguely to know, like picking out sheep
from a flock.
He had been away from the base on a planetary reconnaissance mission
the night before. Since then he had gone through a nightmare ordeal.
He had returned to his base to find sixty ships of the People's
Republic about to fall into enemy hands without a struggle, because
200,000 men were dead or dying of chlorine gas poisoning.
The gas that had come pouring out of the warehouse at the head of
the valley last night. It had billowed down the valley, its streamers
and tentacles pushed by the gentle wind bringing the sleeping men awake
coughing and gasping only to fall asleep againpermanently.
It had seeped through the barracks, the warehouses and into the open
airlocks of ships, while dying men tried frantically to close those
locks. They wouldn't close though, and the spacemen died puzzled as to
In galactic warfare, with the emphasis on speed, maneuverability,
range and power of space cannon, et cetera, everyone had forgotten an
archaic weapongas. Aron hadn't.
After the horror of this discovery, the Intelligence officer had
taken a flier to Aron's station.
He was feeling justifiably sorry for himself and his empire's
thwarted plans for conquest, now completely impossible since the United
Empire had been notified of the impending attack, and since the most
strategic part of that attack, the Kligor task force, had been
His military mind refused to admit that one man, the Traitor, Aron,
could have caused this tragic defeat. He was willing, however, to vent
his desire for revenge on this one man.
Aron was unmoved by his threats and denunciations. The Intelligence
man was going to kill him, certainly, but the officer wanted to make
him suffer first, to make him squirm.
When one man has defeated and completely made fools of a galactic
empire, killing is too simple.
We weren't stupid enough to try to coerce you with pure logic, the
agent was saying to Aron. We knew you must have a large amount of
patriotism to even take such a thankless job as this Kligor post.
There had to be something else, some stronger reason to make you
reject your empire.
Aron watched him warily. He could tell by the malevolent gleam of
the Intelligence man's eye and the sneer that he was playing a trump,
that he had a choice bit of information he thought would hurt Aron. All
Aron could do was listen.
You came here happily married and full of patriotic zeal, the
armed man said. That way you were no prospect for us.
We changed those conditions by a very simple act.
We killed your wife.
The officer watched him like a hungry animal, waiting for the
The reaction was a pitying smile and the following words.
Why don't you sit down. I know you are going to kill me, there's
nothing I can do about it and, actually, I don't object. But I would
like to say several things first and you might as well be comfortable
while I'm talking.
I want to speak my piece mostly to clarify my ideas before death,
but also so that you, who will continue to live, will be able to think
about them in the future.
While the agent sat down with a puzzled look, Aron continued, That
is why, when there is combat between men, it will always be in doubt.
Even though one side may be outnumbered, outmaneuvered and have all the
military laws of advantage against it, that side can still win.
You have made the one mistake, the perpetual mistake, of combat.
You forgot about the psychological factor. The force that can make a
man surrender when the odds are with him, or fight like a demon when it
So long as there is war, this psychological factor will make it an
even, undecided combat despite all laws of logic.
The psychological factor in this case, the one you overlooked, was
that I love my empire more than my wife. She was merely a companion.
You wouldn't know that, or the reasons for it, unless you knew my whole
lifeand not just the events of my life, my whole psychological life.
Of course we couldn't know that, the enemy agent said, but we
could go on general rules of human behavior, and those rules deny the
fact that a man can love a state more than a woman.
Good God! Aron exclaimed. What training do you Snooper boys get?
You don't even know the rudiments of psychology. Intelligence menha!
All you know how to do is steal papers, kill in the dark and be
suspicious of everyone all the time.
In a quieter tone, Aron went on, It is easy to love a state like a
woman, because a State is a woman.
A love for State fulfills all emotional needs. The censorship of
yourself by your super-ego, manifested in a desire for repentance or
masoschism, this need is effected by dedication such as my lonely watch
Your destructive tendencies, half of the love-hate primary drive of
life, can be expressed by fighting and destroying an enemy. You can't
destroy your wife because of laws, yet everyone wants to.
The other half of the ambivalent drive, your love desire can be
committed in a platonic admiration or a patriotic zeal as you call it.
Sure, the State is a woman. It'll kick you around, neglect you and
abuse you; but when she rewards you, she does so lavishly. And this,
plus the self-satisfaction of having protected her from her enemies and
helping her to survivethis is all the consumation of a love affair
that a man could want.
I know, what about the physical love? If all your other emotional
needs are so well satisfied, you can be happy without that, especially
if you're used to it
The agent interrupted. Aron knew he was not comprehending what he
was saying, the man was still in a state of shock. But Aron knew the
words were there, in the man's brain till he died. He could reason them
All right, all right, the agent said, I am not here to argue
philosophy. I just want to know why our plans failed.
Since your wife's death didn't make you disillusioned enough to be
receptive to treason, weren't you at least impressed with our offers of
fabulous wealth and release from this prison?
Aron rose from his chair and walked to the window. He didn't notice
the agent and his menacing gun. He didn't care.
He looked out at the lifeless sunset of the world that sported the
bare minimum of vegetation so it couldn't be insulted with the word
Just another case of Intelligence men's stupidity, Aron said so
quietly that the other man had to lean forward to hear. Don't you know
anything about your own territorial administration or ours? Do you know
how they choose their men for these stations?
No, that isn't our department, was the answer.
Aron turned from the window and looked at him, seeming surprised to
see him and hear him.
Well, what sort of men would they choose? Where could they get men
with the intelligence and ability required to operate one of these
stations and cope with situations such as I've faced here? Where would
they get such men to renounce the brilliant careers they could have
amongst civilization with such capabilities?
Damn it! Stop playing games. Spill what you've got to say!
Aron looked at him coldly, searchingly, Since you are attached to
the Navy I imagine you've clocked many hours in space. When the agent
nodded, Aron said, Then, if you are lucky and show enough sense, you
will become a TA man.
Slowly, comprehension came to the Intelligence man. The gun clutched
in his hand lowered, his whole body slumped as he caught on to the fact
they had overlooked. The fact that caused the failure of their plans.
The fact that was his grim future.
Fermi radiations! Aron barked. They rot your cells, weaken the
blood, ruin the body. A man can spend about five years as a spaceman,
about twenty months of which is spent in actual space. Twenty months
and the man is doomed.
If the man is smart he can become a space officer, then when he
retires at twenty-five, he can land a good job with the TA. He doesn't
want anything to do with civilization. That five years has made him
love space, love isolation. So, they are willing to take these jobs, to
be put out to pasture on wayward planets until they die at
thirty-five. It was said with all the bitterness of a condemned man.
What use would I have of your offers, even if they were true. When
I finish, or rather, if I had finished my stay on Kligor, I'd only have
a few months till I die. Your pleasant little cries of adventure,
luxury, women, meant nothing.
I just wanted to be alone to die.
Now it was the enemy agent's turn to speak bitterly. Then you
planned it all along. You led our men on, pretending you were going to
aid us while you were in our midst learning everything about us to
You finally found the method, God knows where you dug up that
fiendish idea of sulphuric gas, but you planned and watched. I'll never
know how you were so luckyand it was pure luck, but you did it. You
destroyed our base.
With a smile, Yes, I was lucky, I had a chance to end my life in a
final battle and victory. That's all a man can ask for.
Aron was still smiling when the blast of the Intelligence man's gun
blew his head off.
As he left the station, all the agent could think of was one phrase
he had heard many times jokingly; but now it became a grim
accompaniment for his footsteps. Though he didn't want to hear it, it
kept whispering through his mind every few seconds.
Live fast, fight hard, die youngand have a radiation-rotted
Two hours later the United Empire fleet landed on Kligor. They came
to claim the sixty ships lying waitingwaitingin the peaceful valley
that was still tainted with the smell of chlorine.