March 1966 50^

T HE LONG W A Y T O EARTH

Cbrnplete Short Novel of Iriterstellar Adventure'

by aOHN BRUNNER ;

A^> ^

SANCE by KEITH LAUMER

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SCIENCE FICTION

Vol. 16, No. 3 MARCH, 1966 ISSOf 100

ALL NEW STORIES

Frederik Pohl, BdHor David Parton, Prodvdion Mgr,

Robari M. Guinn, Publisher Mavk Pkber, Subs, Mgr.

COMPLETE SHORT NOVM

THE LONG WAY TO EARTH by Jokn BraiiMr 5

NOVELETTE

DAM NUISANCE by KeMi Loumer 64

SERIAL

THE MOON IS A HARSH MISTRESS ^

by Robert Heinlein 93

SHORT STORIES

OULED NAIL by H. H. Hollis S3

DRAFT DODGER by Kenneth Bulmer 83

FEATURES ^

Editorial .71 1 4

HUE AND CRY by The Readers 160

Cover by Castellon from DRAFT DODGER

IF published monthly by Galaxy Publishing Corporation/ Robert M. Guinn/ President, Vol. 16, No. 3. Main Office: 421 Hudson Street/ New York/ New York/ 100T4. 50c per copy. Subscription 12 issues $6.00 in the United States/ Canada/ Mexico, South America and Central America and U. S. Possessions/ elsewhere $6.00. Second-clau postage paid at New York, New York/ and at additional mailing offices. Copyright by Galaxy Publishing Corporation, 1966. All rights, including translations reserved. All material submitted must be accompanied by self-addressed stamped envelope. The pubKsher assumes no responsibility for unsolidted material. Ail stories are fl» tion, and any similarity between characters and actual persons Is coinddenfal. Printed in the U. S. A. by the Guinn Company, New York, N. Y. 10014

IF Editorial

IF

Besides bein^ the title of this magazine, If is of course a poem by Rudyard Kipling which goes in part:

If you can keep your head when all about you

Are Wsing theirs ^ and blaming it on you ....

Kipling did well with the poem; next to Gunga Din and The Road to Mandalay it is about the most successful piece of writing he ever did. The poem If is a passionate plea for calm. Keep your head, it says. Don't panic. Don't despair. Keep plowing right ahead . . . and then you'll be a man, my son.

This is no doubt good advice in certain circumstances. In others, maybe not so good. It is the kind of advice that is handed out freely by people in high places, in all coun- tries, who aren't really themselves too sure what the future is going to produce but don't want their elec- torate to get upset. Does the north- east part of the United States go through a total power failure? Never fear, they say, it can't hap- pen again. Are we clearly headed for a population pressure that not all our^ tractors and fertilizers can feed? Not to worry; we'll find a way, say they.

Of course, human history argues powerfully on the side of the Princes of Serendip who soothe us with these words. The human race

has in fact muddled through a great many challenges over the past half- million years. World War Two pro- vides some illuminating examples. Be calm, said Neville Chamberlain, we have Peace in Our Time, while Winston Churchill flapped and shouted in the background ^but it was Churchill, not Chamberlain, who had to pick up the pieces when the whole facade of calm fell apart under Hitler's attack.

Today the issues are not the same, but the words are. We will find a way; the Free World will muddle through. (On the other side of the fence the words go: “History is on our side; we of the People's Repub- lics will outlive our enemies.") But is there really any firm ground for believing that this is so?

Or have we in fact reached a point in human history where mud- dling through, with its penalties of shock, disruption, cataclysm and de- struction, is simply a luxury we can no longer afford?

We who are turned on to science fiction who like to look at the fu- ture; who try to see beyond tomor- row's TV programs perhaps would rewrite some of the sage advice Kipling offered about keeping our heads. Maybe calm is not the best response to the challenges of today. Maybe we should adopt the altered version of Kipling's poem that was current in the armed forces a few years ago, which runs like this:

If you can keep your head when all about you

Are losing theirs . . .

Then, fella, maybe you just don't have a very good grasp of what the situation is all about!

The Editor

4

IF ^ Complete Short NoiM

THE

LONG WAY TO EARTH

by JOHN BRUNNER

Illustrated by ADKINS

The job called for very simple skills. You had fo be willing to be the only human being oa the planet and fo die there!

It wasn’t the first time in her life she’d been the odd one out, so that figured. For example and the most glaring example she hadn’t had to leave Earth.

That marked her off immediately even on a comparativety highly pop- ulated outerwodd hke Nefertiti. The massive **encouraged emlgratioin” of

I

There was one item on display in the enormous window: a zygra pelt. Kynance Foy stood and looked at k. There were a lot of other women doing the same thing.

But she was the only one who was gritting her teeth.

5

the Diotatrix period had lowered the premiums on wanderlust at home. It was a full generation since Nefer- titi declared itself independent and set quotas for Earthside immigrants, and then found them superfluous because the demand wasn’t there.

For the umpteenth time Ky nance read the discreet hand-lettered price tag attached to one corner of the stand on which the zygra pelt was draped. It read: One million credits. No other price had ever been asked for the pelts.

Okay, Ky nance told herself sour- ly. I was naive, , , .

She had never confessed it even to her closest friends, but one of the things she had planned to bring back wihen she returned to astonish those who had mocked her was a zygra pelt. She had pictured herself emerging from the exit of the star- ship wearing it: not elegantly, but casually, tossed around her, her body molded by it into insurpass- able perfection, yet her pose im- plying that she had had it so long she was becoming faintly bored with the attention she attracted.

At this moment she did not even possess the price of a square meal.

Other plans, other ambitions, had been shed one by one as she dog- gedly worked her way towards Nef- ertiti, reasoning that the closer one came to the source the cheaper the pelt might become. Not so. Only the cost of interstellar freight shrank, while the asking price remained steady at one million.

She stood watching its shifts of sheen and texture, wondering what exotic perfumes it had been trained to secrete. What, for instance.

matched that liquid rainbow phase when the pelt seemed to run in endless streams of pure color? She cursed her own stupidity.

Yet. . . .

Was I to know?

Oh, maybe. Her brash confidence, though, hadn’t lacked evidence to support it.

She was fresh out of college with a brilliant record. She had deliberate- ly changed her major to qua-space physics and her minor to interstellar commerce when she made her mind up, but before that she ‘had been well grounded in the unfeminine combination of business law and practical engineering the latter by accident, merely to get her own back on a sneering boy friend who once offered to fix her skycar.

This, moreover, was not her only equipment. She was exactly one meter seventy tall; she was exotical- ly gorgeous, having inherited dark eyes and sinuous grace from a Dutch ancestor who fell from grace in Java in company of a temple dancer, and hair of a curious iron- gray shade traceable only to a colony of Cornish tin-miners totalling some five hundred persons in a multi- billion galactic population, against which her tanned skin burned like new copper.

There was no risk so she had argued of her ever being strand- ed. If the worst came to the worst, and neither qua-space physics nor her encyclopedic knowledge of in- terstellar commerce could secure her employment, she could al- ways ....

Well, she had never phrased the idea clearly to herself, but k in-

6

IF

THE LONG WAY TO EARTH

solved some romantically handsome jfoung starship officer willing to hazard his career for the sake of her company on a trip to some more promising planet, a crochety cap- tain won over by her dazzling per- sonality and delivery with unsoli- cited testimonials to an entrepeneur in need of a private secretary when they arrived.

She had begun to suspect she had made the wrong decision on the first stop out from Earth, when ^e still had the cash in hand to go home.

What she had overlooked was that during the miserable regime of the Dictatrix incredible numbers of non-pioneer types had been in the official terminology of the day “encouraged” to emigrate, chief among them intractable intellectuals doubtful of the universal benefits Her Magnificence was supposed to be bestowing. Consequently the out- worlds had been colonized, forcibly, by a swarm of brilliant and very angry men and women. Having noth- ing left but the desire to get even, they had buckled to and made the best of what they had.

Not for this breed of colonist was the broad axe or the draft-ox or the log-cabin. They were used to lasers, vidding and mufable furniture. They knew the necessary techniques; and with the determination of fanatics they had set out not merely to pro- vide such luxuries for themselves but to insure that if the same fate overtook their children or their chil- dren’s children the youngsters would be able to repeat the process.

Which was not to imply that there were absolutely no openings on such old-settled words as Ge and New Medina for moderately talent- ed young women. Had this been the case she would have turned around despite the scorn she would face from her friends on retreating to Earth. Instead, she found tempor- ary work; saved up; moved on, con- vincing herself that things would be different further out.

They were.

By her third or fourth stopover, she was encountering sea-^harvesters supervised by ten-year-olds, each re- sponsible for two thousand tons of protein-rich food a week and a mainstay of the planetary economy, and reading bulletin boards at space- ports bearing blanket warnings to save the labor of writing the words on every single advertisement that no one lacking a Scholar degree in the relevant subjects need bother to apply.

And even her asset of last resort, her appearance, failed her. What she had failed to reckon with or omitted to find out was that once they were clear of Earth, and the traditional association of ap- pearance with regional origins, the emigrants whether forced or vol- untary were satisfied to be human beings rather than Europeans or Africans or Asians. By the time a couple of generations had slipped away, the mixing of the gene-pool was already throwing up types which made the concept “exotic’* seem irrelevant. Swedisih and Que- chua. Chukchi and Matabele, the wildest extremes of physique met

8

IF

in a mad succession of paradoxes. And the outcrossing, in good genetic fashion, produced its quota of fan- tasy. Tlien, released from Earthside attachment to local types, the more prosperous girls started to experi- ment, drawing on some of the fin- est talents in biology and surgery. Within ten yards of where Kynance was standing, there were a Negress with silver hair and blood-red irises, a miniaturized Celtic redhead no higher than her elbow and stacked and a shimmering golden girl with slanted eyes and the quiet hypnotic movements of a trained geisha. Any of the three would have monopolized a roomful of sophisticated Earthmen.

On Druid, somebody had asked Kynance to marry him. On Quetzal someone else had asked her to act as hostess for him and be his acknowledged mistress. On Loki a third man had suggested, rather bored'ly, that she become his son’s rhistress, the son being aged sixteen and due to submit his scholar’s thesis in cybernetics.

And on Nefertiti she would have been grateful for even that much attention.

Confronted with the symbol of her »empty ambitions, she admitted the truth to herself at last. She was scared.

Well, gawping at the zygra pelt wasn’t solving the problem of hun- ger. She made to move away.

At that moment, a soft voice em- anated from the air. It came over a biaxial interference speaker, so for practical purposes the statement was exact. She stopped dead.

“The Zygra Company draws your attention to a vacancy occurring shortly on its staff. Limited service contract, generous remuneration, comfortable working conditioiis, previous experience not necessary, standard repatriation clause. Apply at this office, inquiring for Execu- tive Shuster.’’

The message was repeated twice. Kynartce stood In a daze, waiting for the rusih to begin. There was no rush. The only reaction was the sound of an occasional sarcastic laugh as people who had been gaz- ing at the pelt were disturbed and decided to wander on.

No. Ridiculous. Im'possible. She must have dreamed it. Not enough food and too much worry had con- spired to create an illusion.

Nonetheless she was on her way to the entrance of the Zygra Build- ing. She hadn’t taken a conscious decision she was following a tro- pism as automatic as that of a thirsty man spotting an oasis across the desert.

She did wonder why one or two people sihe jostled looked pityingjy at her eagerness, but that was af- terwards.

U

Executive Shuster wias a vain man of early middle age. It was obvious he was vain. His expensive clothes were meant to look expen- sive. His fastidiously arranged office was a frame for him. And his man- ner as he looked her over implied that he hoped she would instantly fall on her knees.

THE LONG WAY TO EARTH

f

Kynance did no;hing of the sort. Right now she had room in her head for precisely one thought, and she uttered it.

“You’re offering a job. What is it?’’

Shuster looked her over a second time, shrugged and put on a prac- ticed artificial smile. “I must say that it’s seldom I have the pleasure of interviewing such an attractive candidate for one of our posts.”

“What’s the job?”

Shuster blinked. He retreated to Position Two: superior knowledge- ability. “I can tell by your accent you're not Nefertitian. Do sit down, won’t you? And would you care for a drink?”

Kynance stayed put. Not that she cared what the job was. She’d have accepted the chance to be junior wasiher-up on an interstellar tramp, providing the contract carried the standard repatriation clause.

That was the bait which had brought her into this room not the propect of getting on the inside of The Zygra Company itself. She would have traded every pelt in the galaxy for a berth on a ship bound for borne.

The repatriation clause was one of »he few attempts made by Earth’s current government to impose a de- cree on the unnriy outworlds, and the only attempt to have succeeded. Following the Dictatrix period, everyone in the galaxy was shy of absolute decrees. But there was enough mobility among the out- worlds themselves to generate sup- port for the concept of compulsory repatriation, so even the greediest

entrepeneurs had had to succumb and write in the clause.

It stated simply that if the place of work was on another planet than the world where the labor was en- gaged, compliance with the condi- tions of employment entitled the employee to repatriation at the ex- pense of the company . . . whether or not the planet of origin was the one where the worker had been hired.

Prior to this, some of ,the less scrupulous companies had forcibly colonized outworlds by methods even less polite than the Dictatrix’s: luring workers into their net with temptingly high salaries, then aban- doning them light-years from any place where they could spend their earnings.

To Kynance, this was salvation if she got the job.

“I would not care for a drink,” she said. “All I want is a plain answer.”

Shuster retreated to Position Umpteen, sighed and gestured at his desketary. “The contract is a very long and detailed one.” he mur- mured with a last attempt at regain- ing lost ground. “I do think you should sit down while we discuss it.”

With the mobile bulk of the desk- etary to help him, he outnum- bered Kynance. She was forced to accept a seat on a two-th in-person lounge along the window wall, where Shuster joined her. He then man- euvered the desketary so that she couldn’t run away across the room, and rubbed his shoulder against hers.

10

IF

When he gets to the knee-maul- ing stage, Kynaoce promised herself, ril ril think about it.

She was that desperate, and hadn’t realized it before.

“The post,” Shuster was saying urbanely, “isn’t such a demanding one, really. It’s a shame, in fact, that so lovely a girl

“Executive, unless you’re stupid you’ve already caught on to what interests me about the job,” Kynaoce snapped.

“The repatriation clause? Oh, it’s there, in full.” Shuster smiled and moved a little closer. “Though strictly in confidence

“If you don’t give girls straight answers,” Ky nance purred with malice, “don’t you expect them to misunderstand you?”

The trap worked fine. Shuster diminished the pressure of his shoulder against hers by at least ten per cent and spoke in a voice as mechanical as a desketary’s.

“Supervisor of Zygra for a term of one year at a salary of a hundred thousand credits.”

Supervisor of Zygra ?

There was a long silence. At last Kynance said in a thin voice. “You can’t possibly mean the planet Zygra? You must mean a farm, or a plantation, or or something!” Shuster curled his lips into a pleased grin. “Of course, coming as you do from Ge, you wouldn’t know much about zygra pelt production, would you?”

“Your announcement said no ex- perience was necessary. And I’m from Earth, not Ge.”

She bit her tongue, fractionally

too late, seeing in imagination her chance of the post vanishing into vacuum. With repatriation involved, logically the Zygra Company would prefer to hire someone from Nefer- titi, where it had its registered HQ, or from some nearer world than Barth at least some worlds coQr venient for its own ships. For tlM sake of a gibe at this horrible stran- ger she had sacrificed . . .

But what was he saying?

Unperturbed, Shuster was con- tinuing in the same tone. “But you must have spent some time on Ge, at least? I could have sworn I de- tected it in your accent. Well, let’s set the record straight, shall we? Central Computing, please,” he added to the desketary. “Category application for employment, sub- category supervisor of Zygra, candi- date Foy, Kynance, new reference number.”

He sat back, contriving to restore the pressure on her. “By the way, I did mean supervisor of the planet Zygra,” he concluded, and enjoyed the smashing impact of the words.

That at leastt, Kynance decided bitterly, settled the matter. For the task of supervising the unique, jealously guarded home of the pelts, they would never pick

Hang on, though! Why was the job described in these terms any- way? The demand for pelts implied a massive installation at the point of origin a staff of hundreds, more likely thousands breeding, train- ing, a million-and-one subsidiary tasks. . . .

She frowned and rubbed her fore- head in a frantic attempt to remem-

THE LONG WAY TO EARTH

11

her what little she had ever known about the production of zygra pelts. Something about the planet being unfit for colonization . . . ?

“How are the things raised?” she asked, surrendering.

Shuster leaned confidentially close.

“Tlhe term ‘pelt’ is a misnomer. It’s no breach of company secrecy to say so nowadays, although when they were first being imported to civilized worlds the admission would have been an automatic breach of an employee’s contract, since it was thought advisable to mislead pur- diasers and possible rivals by mak- ing them think it was the skin of an animal. In fact, the pelts are entire lifeforms in themselves. Insofar as they’re related to anything we know they’re a kind of moss. So I sup- pose ‘plantation’ is as good a term as any for the place where they grow!” He laughed and }abbed her in the ribs.

“Though it’s impossible to grow anything else there, I tell you frankly. Zygra is a sort of now, how shall I describe it?”

“You’ve been there yourself?” Ky nance suggested, trying to wrig- gle away and finding her progress firmly blocked by the end of the narrow lounge.

“Naturally I’ve been there,” Shuster said loftily. “In actual fact, the supervisor of Zygra is responsi- ble to me, so one of the duties which I undertake is ensuring that the terms of the contract are strictly adhered to. Of course this involves direct inspection and . . .”

He ran on at some length, to make sure she didn’t miss the point. In essence, he was saying: it pays to be nice to me,

“You were telling me about Zy- gra,” she murmured finally.

“Oh yes! A sort of vegetable stew is as near as one can come to describing it, I think. Marshland, a few patches of open water, much smaller than oceans on planets which have satellites, and plants. I be- lieve the parasitism extends to the fourteenth degree. In other words, there are some highly evolved forms, including the pelts, which can’t ab- sorb nutriment until it’s been pro- cessed by an ecological chain four- teen units long. They remain plants rather than animals, you under- stand.”

Dim facts were beginning to seep from Ky nance’s memory not dim merely because she had never studied the subject seriously, but also because as a matter of policy the Zygra Company shroud^ its operations in mystery. Not even the Dictatrix had dared to monkey with so powerful and wealthy an organi- zation.

Come to think of it, it was a wonder that they’d agreed to re- patriation clauses. They, and they alone, might have managed to stand out against the general trend.

A little faintly, she said, ’’Look, I’m sorry if I’m being silly, but the impression I get is that this job in- volves being the only person on Zy- gra.”

“That is correct.” He eyed her calculatingly. “So, if you wish to re- consider the application I’ll find it

12

IF

perfectly understandable. To be alone on a strange planet is bad enough when there are millions of people there already, as I’m sure you’ve found out. So why don’t I take you around a bit and introduce you to some of my friends, get you over the worst of it? Believe me, I know how difficult it is to “Repatriation clause,” Kynance muttered between clenched teeth, too faintly for Shuster to hear her. He Was edging even closer now, a feat she would have thought im- possible.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t hear that?” You weren't meant to. Aloud and with a flashing smile, Kynance said, “Then how is the plantation run?”

“Automated,” Shuster sighed. “The most complete and elaborate system of automation, and I may add the most thoroughly defended against interference, in the entire galaxy. The supervisor’s post is a sinecure.”

She turned it over in her mind.

A sinecure for which the all- powerful Zygra Company pays this vast salary? There must be a catch, but Tm damned if / can see what Oh, this matter of being the only person on the planet!

“Let me get this quite right,” she said. “The supervisor is alone on the planet?”

“The supervisor of Zygra,” Shus- ter said patiently, “is the only em- ployee of the Zygra Company whose place of employment is on Zygra itself.”

“Claim-jumping,” Kynance said.

“What?”

“Claim-jumping! Automated equipment in operalioa doesn’t con- stitute possession of an astral body: Government and People of the Unit- ed States versus Government and People of the Soviet Union, Inter- national Court of Justice, 1971. You have to maintain at least the. fiction of human habitation, or anybody else could step in an4 occupy Zyg- ra.”

Shuster, she was delighted to see, blanched. He said, “You you’ve studied law?”

“Of course.”

“Well, then . . Shuster rubbed his chin and withdrew a few milli- meters.

You look as if you've forgotten something, buster. And you have. You should have exploited this per- fect opportunity to find out all about me.

Absolutely correct. Shuster’s next step was to reach for the controls of the desketary.

“There is the slight additional point to consider, isn’t there?” he muttered. “I mean, not only wheth- er the job suits you, but whether you suit the job. Uh Central Com- puting!”

“Waiting,” said the desketary rather sullenly.

“Applicant Foy, Kynance. Per- sonal and career details follow.”

“I am twenty-five years old,” Kynance began clearly, and went ahead from there, visualizing a stan- dard application form in her mind’s eye. Halfway through her college courses the idea struck her that Shuster was getting nervous; she

THE LONG WAY TO EARTH

13

went on with as much detail as she could muster, hoping she was on the right track, and found she was when the desketary finally started to ring an interruption bell.

“Further information superflu- ous,” the mechanical voice grunted.

“Shut up!” Shuster rapped, but the machine finished what it had to say anyhow.

“Applicant’s qualifications greatly in excess of stipulated minimum!”

There must he a catch in it. Must be, must be! Maybe it*s in the con-' tract itself.

It was Shuster’s turn to detect worry. He recovered fast from his annoyance at what the desketary had revealed or rather, the com- pany’s economically-minded comput- ers, determined not to waste time on questions to which the answer was known.

“That’s fine, then, isn’t it?” he said. “So but I see you’re not happy.”

“Show me the contract, please,” Kynance said, and waited for the desketary to issue a copy of it.

Somewhat to her surprise, it was by no means the most weasely she had seen. It was long, but it was explicit. All but a handful of its clauses were patterned on a hope- ful standard form laid down by Earth’s government in the aftermath of the Dictatrix period, and conse- quently weighted heavily against ar- bitrary conditions.

So the trap is in the non-standard clauses.

Her instinct in similar situations before had been to get an independ-

ent evaluation, preferably from a computer programmed by a reform- ed confidence trickster with a deep knowledge of human deceit. Now, lacking even the price of a meal, she had to rely on her own judgment

I wish my eyes wouldn't keep drifting back to the repatriation hit!

She said, without looking up, “When does the contract come into force?”

“On signature,” Shuster said. His tone suggested he was enjoying a private and rather cruel joke. “The commencement of actual work is according to the schedule you’ve read, and the basic term is one Nef- ertitian year. Option to renew must be signified in advance but not less than one month before due date of repatriation.”

She pounced. “In other words, I start work less than one month from now?”

“Ah not exactly.” But Shuster didn’t seem put out. “The previous incumbent is due to leave in two months’ time, but you understand we must insure ourselves against the contingency you’ve already men- tioned: the risk of leaving Zygra without a legal occupant acting for the company. Also there is a short period of training, environmental familiarization and so forth. Custo- marily we advertise ahead of the due date.”

“But I become an employee di- rectly I validate the contract?”

“If I were in your place I shouldn’t jump at it,” Shuster said insinuating- ly. “Why don’t you consider ?”

None of his alternative proposals was apt to contain a repatriation

14

IF

daruse. Kynance shuddered as im- perceptibly as possible and went on examining the form.

One wouldn’t expect the Zygra Company to be tender-hearted, but even so the schedule was stark. In this sector most stars were margi- nally hotter than Sol, so habitable planets orbited a little farther out. Like Nefertiti, Zygra had a year longer than Earth’s. Once in the course of that year the company landed a ship, staying about a week at the time when the harvest was ripe. (That was awe-inspiring, in a way. One ship per year, and its cargo paid for everything several times over!) The “incumbent”, to borrow Shuster’s term, was delivered on one visit, fetched away the next. If he was injured or fell sick, the policy was straightforward and in- deed spelt out: he or she was kept alive by prosthetic devices so that when the next ship landed continuity in the legal sense was established. After that it was presumably a mat- ter of chance whether you died on the way home. The company wouldn’t be bothered.

Might sue for your injuries . . .7 No, forbidden as an ex post facto breach of contract. Arguable, might not stand, in a court, but a helpless cripple up against the Zygra Com- pany would be ill advised to find out. Of course, some rival firm might finance a claim, but to what purpose? They’d settle with the of- fer of an undernourished surplus-to- requirement pelt, and the owner would become instantly rich.

Stick to the point, woman! Ky- nance adjured herself.

There were a good many ways to break the contract and render k void, but try as she might she couldn’t imagine herself throwing away the chance of repatriation for any of the conceivable reasons. And as for the inconceivable ones, it must purely be legal excess of caution that put them in. For example, this non- standard clause mortared into the middle of half a dozen stock items: “It shall be absolute and agreed grounds to void this contract if the signatory B the employee “shall at any time during his/her term of employment herein specified reveal, divulge, indicate or in any fashion whatsoever communicate to a person not an employee of the signatory A the Zygra Company “any information relevant to the production, training, conditioning or other process of manufacture of the product known as Zygra pells; or shall signal or shall attempt to signal or in any way establish communica- tion from the place of employment to or with any person not an em- ployee of the signatory A on any subject whatsoever whether or not specified above.”

The place of employment was de- fined as “the surface of the planet Zygra or any place or places what- soever in the absolute discretion of the signatory A defined as a place or places where the business of the signatory A is carried on.”

Was that the hole? Did it imply that the contract was void k, prior to the year’s end, she told a spacelines booking clerk she had been working on Zygra?

THE LONG WAY TO EARTH

15

It might, but even a year’s isola- tion wasn’t going to lower her deter- mination to go home! She could keep her mouth shut as long as she had to, and not even the Zygra Company could compel her to stay quiet once the year was over.

A final time she leafed through the contract; then she reached out abruptly and moistened her thumb on the desketary’s validation pad. Her hand poised over the form. And still she hesitated.

“How many other applicants have there been for this post?” she said abruptly.

Shuster had forgotten to cancel his circuit to the firm’s computers; blindly the voice rang out.

“No other candidate has

“Shut up!” Shuster roared, and this time he was quick enough to activate the cancelling mechanisms. Kymance looked at him and said nothing.

“Ah . . .” He ran his finger around the collar of his tunic. “I could tell something was bothering you, and I’m not surprised. Of course, there’s the point that we’ve only just begun to advertise the post

Kynance tapp^ the form stonily. According to the schedule incorpor- ated in it, the harvesting ship was due to call in less than seven weeks.

“Moreover, even at the salary we offer, there are few people who are willing to’ accept a year’s absolute isolation.” Shuster was recovering again ^he bounced back fast and al- ways to the same orbit. Now he was sliding his arm behind her, fingers groping for the bare skin under her nape-hair.

“But in strict and total confidenot there is someithing which hddi people back from applying, even people like yourself who are lonely on Nefertiti and have few friendi . . .” The fingers slithered down her shoulder; the other hand fumbled around her waist and upwards. Ky- naince waited, frozen.

“If you take my advice,” Shuster whispered, “I think you’ll find it pays in the long run, and k’s much more fun than sitting for a year watching machines look after a lot of moss beautiful moss, but just moss in the last analysis. Look, be- fore you validate the contract shall we—?”

/ know what the reason is why people don*t apply in droves. The word's got around that they have to get past you.

Kynance made four precisely timed movements. The first slid out from the grip on her shoulder; the second detached the hand trespassing on her bosom; the third stabbed her thumb hard on the validation box of the contract; and the fourth slapped Shuster resoundingly on the cheek.

For long seconds he didn’t react. Then, the mark burning redly on his pale skin, he took the contract and entered the firm’s validation also, making the gesture a complete vocabulary of abuse.

Finally he spoke between clenched teeth:

“And 1 hope you rot."

m

If, in that moment, anyone had told Kynance only a few more

16

IP

days would pass befome she foimd herself wisbmg for another sight of SbusitcT, she would have thought the speaker crazy. Yet that was how it turned out.

There was something absolutely terrifying for an Eanthsider in the impersonal, almosit machine-like way the Zygra Company accepted its new employee. Of course, outworld- ere were accustomed to this method of treatment. People whose family tradition embraced the concept of taming a whole planet with less than a thousand responsible adults, or homesteading half a continent with servos jury-rigged out of spaceship scrap, would probably prefer emo- tionless mechanical supervision to the unpredictability of human be- ings.

Kynance’s previous jobs since leaving Earth, though, had been with small entrepeneurial undertakings, or with private individuals. These were flexible enough to put up with the non-standard human material she represented. Firms in the middle brackets had their sights fixed on expansion; they needed outworlders who fitted their present requirements and had no slack available to make adjustments for strangers.

A firm as huge as the Zygra Company, by contrast, simply took it for granted that its employees did fit. If they didn’t actually do so the company ignored the fact.

Superficially she had no cause to complain of the way she was treat- ed. Once instructed that she was working for the company, the com- puters accorded her strictly what she was entitled to. She was given

an advance against salary, a bed- room m a subsidiary wing of the headquarteirs building and a sched- ule for her training program; she was medkaMy examin^ and cured of a minor sinus infection which had been bothering her since Loki; she was automatically interrogated un- der flicker-stimulaition to make cer- tain she wasn’t hired by some rival organization ^but that she had an- ticipated, and could hardly resent.

\^at wore her down, though, was the way in which the Zygra Com- pany reflected the sparse population of all the outworld in microcosmic form. Days of empty corridors, empty elevators, blankly closed doors and offices, testified to the efficien- cy with which human resources were exploited. No time wasted in going fix>m place to place around the building, nor in casual chatting. That habit would come back in another generation or two. Right now, there was still a shortage of n^mpower, so that the Zygra Company which owned ethe whole of a planet had fewer staff at its headquarters than aboard one of its interstellar freight- ers.

A slight consolation was the fact that the training program was inten- sive.

Shuster had said the post was a sinecure. That might be true, but the company’s computers were of an economical turn, as she had already established, and no one had tc^d them not to take trouble. In the id-