Wednesday, September 28, 2016

"The Only Witness Against Him Was Himself"

"The Man Who Staked the Stars."
By Charles Dye (1925-60; ghost written by Katherine MacLean, born 1925).
First appearance: Planet Stories, July 1952.
Reprinted in High Adventure, March 2014 and Katherine MacLean Science Fiction Collection (2016).
Novelette (37 pages).
Online at SFFAudio HERE (PDF) and Project Gutenberg HERE.
(Parental caution: Some strong language.)
"Bryce Carter could afford a smug smile. For hadn't he risen gloriously from Thieves Row to director of famed U.T.? Was not Earth, Moon, and all the Belt, at this very moment awaiting his command for the grand coup? And wasn't his cousin-from-Montehedo a star-sent help?"
The Board of Directors of Union Transport (UT), a megacorporation that enjoys a monopoly on travel on Earth and in space, have just become aware of a serious threat coming from within their ranks, one that could bring down the company ("UT," we're told, "had a week more to live in respected public service before an outraged public tore it apart"—but only one man, the "mole" hiding in the organization, knows that); their best recourse (unless you consider outright murder as a valid course of action—and some Board members do) is to outsource and hire someone from a consulting firm called the Manoba Group, one of whose specialties is the use of psychology in ways that Freud never dreamed of . . .
Major characters:
~ Neiswanger:
   "I take it then that our corporation is being used as a criminal means of large scale smug-gling of drugs, transport of criminals on false identification and transport for resale of the goods resulting from their thefts. Is that correct? And you would say that the organization responsible is centered in this corporation?"
~ Stout:
   "We'll have to stop it, of course. I understand we have a good detective agency. If we put them on this with payment for speed and silence—"
~ Bryce Carter:
   "Suppose the top man is high in the company? What then?"
~ Sheila Wesley:
   "Aren't you Bryce Carter? We were introduced in there, I think, but the name didn't click."
~ Donahue:
   "You don't chant spells and hire ghosts, do you?"
~ Beldman:
   "That's right, start shootin' when you're surrounded by innocent spectators; when you know I can't draw on you. That's the way of a crook."
~ Roy Pierce:
   "I want to be your right arm. He told me you're on the way up. I want a slice of that, and I want it the easy way, hitching my wagon to your rocket. You can use me. A big man is too public. You need a new hand and a new voice, one that does what you want done, and can do it in the dark or the light, without your name—a stand-in for alibis, and a contriver of accidents so they break for you without your motion. A left arm that your enemies don't recognize as yours."

Comment: This story could just as easily be entitled (with apologies to Piers Anthony) Bio of a (Would-Be) Space Tyrant (According to Psychoanalytic Theory).

It could be verse:

   When the tubes conk out, the fuel runs down,
   The cold creeps in to where I lie.
   I'll take the meteor's trail—go home to Earth
   And make a Viking's funeral in the sky.

Of course, but then how would you measure it?
   ~ "Efficiency is, and should be, unnoticeable."

It pays to be cautious:
   ~ ". . . he who arrives first finds no ambush."

Space—it's really, really big:
   ~ "The secrecy of any meeting in space is practically absolute. If there is one thing which space has plenty of, it's distance—distance enough to lose things in, distance enough to hide in, distance enough so that even if you know where something is by all the figures of its coordinates, if it's smaller than a planet you can't find it even when you are there. To put it crudely, what space has is space. And finding something that doesn't want to be found in space is like looking for a missing germ in the Atlantic."

Saved by the Coriolis effect:
   ~ "He waited for a sign of motion, his magnomatic ready, looking up at the gunman lying overhead, forty feet away on the other side of the globe. The limp figure was unmoving, it looked badly tangled in vines, and its gun was gone. There was no need to shoot, but he wondered suddenly, if he had, what kind of a curve would the bullet have followed?"

One way to dispose of a corpse:
   ~ "They braced against the silver curve of the floating spaceship and gave the body a com-bined strong shove towards Earth. Spinning slowly end over end it dwindled into a dark speck against the glowing orb of Earth, destined to be a meteorite and make a small bright streak in the Earth sky several days later."

Out of the cradle:
   ~ "He looked at Earth hanging splendidly in space. It was beautiful and he was fond of it, but— He said, 'I don't think we'll ever go back.' Nor would mankind itself. Never again—through all conquests from this point in time—would mankind go back down into the mesh of gravity to be a thin film over the surface of a planet."

The final frontier:
   ~ "Man has reached space—do you think he'll ever go back to the ground? In space he has gravity only when he wants it, and any weight of gravity he likes, depending on how fast he spins his house. And no gravity when he wants that. You see what that means to engineers in the advantage of building things? No weight in transportation, no weight in travel, limit-less speed and almost no cost as long as he stays away from planet pulls. His house is in the sky, and when he steps out of it he can fly like a bird. And food. To grow food there is sunlight Earth never dreamed of. For heat and power there is sunlight to focus. Space is flooded with heat, irradiated with power— It's not child's play taming it, and those on the ground don't see it yet. But the next step of mankind is out into space, and it's never coming back."

Adventure can be found almost anywhere, even behind a desk:
   ~ "The adventures of explorers, research men, and detectives were written into stories, but not money men. The life and growth and death and blackmail of individuals were in the stories he had read, but not the murder of planets and cities, the control and blackmail of whole populations, in this odd legal game with the simple rules. Funny there hadn't been lurid stories about this in the magazines he read as a kid. He grinned— Well, the kids would read about him. In fifteen years he'd have everyone under his thumb and they'd smile and bow and be frightened just speaking to him."

Typo: "The roter drifted down"
- For more about Charles Dye, go to the SFE (HERE) and the ISFDb (HERE); for the scoop on Katherine MacLean, see Wikipedia (HERE).
- Apposite information relating to our story, especially about the space frontier, can be found on the Atomic Rockets hypersite (HERE).
The actual author of our story

The bottom line: "Dependence begets subservience and venality, suffocates the germ of virtue, and prepares fit tools for the designs of ambition."
Thomas Jefferson

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