A Slave Is a Slave

by H. Beam Piper

Tags: Science Fiction, Novel-Classic,

Desc: Science Fiction Story: There has always been strong sympathy for the poor, meek, downtrodden slave--the kindly little man, oppressed by cruel and overbearing masters. Could it possibly have been misplaced...?

Jurgen, Prince Trevannion, accepted the coffee cup and lifted it to his lips, then lowered it. These Navy robots always poured coffee too hot; spacemen must have collapsium-lined throats. With the other hand, he punched a button on the robot’s keyboard and received a lighted cigarette; turning, he placed the cup on the command-desk in front of him and looked about. The tension was relaxing in Battle-Control, the purposeful pandemonium of the last three hours dying rapidly. Officers of both sexes, in red and blue and yellow and green coveralls, were rising from seats, leaving their stations, gathering in groups. Laughter, a trifle loud; he realized, suddenly, that they had been worried, and wondered if he should not have been a little so himself. No. There would have been nothing he could have done about anything, so worry would not have been useful. He lifted the cup again and sipped cautiously.

“That’s everything we can do now,” the man beside him said. “Now we just sit and wait for the next move.”

Like all the others, Line-Commodore Vann Shatrak wore shipboard battle-dress; his coveralls were black, splashed on breast and between shoulders with the gold insignia of his rank. His head was completely bald, and almost spherical; a beaklike nose carried down the curve of his brow, and the straight lines of mouth and chin chopped under it enhanced rather than spoiled the effect. He was getting coffee; he gulped it at once.

“It was very smart work, Commodore. I never saw a landing operation go so smoothly.”

“Too smooth,” Shatrak said. “I don’t trust it.” He looked suspiciously up at the row of viewscreens.

“It was absolutely unnecessary!”

That was young Obray, Count Erskyll, seated on the commodore’s left. He was a generation younger than Prince Trevannion, as Shatrak was a generation older; they were both smooth-faced. It was odd, how beards went in and out of fashion with alternate generations. He had been worried, too, during the landing, but for a different reason from the others. Now he was reacting with anger.

“I told you, from the first, that it was unnecessary. You see? They weren’t even able to defend themselves, let alone...”

His personal communication-screen buzzed; he set down the coffee and flicked the switch. It was Lanze Degbrend. On the books, Lanze was carried as Assistant to the Ministerial Secretary. In practice, Lanze was his chess-opponent, conversational foil, right hand, third eye and ear, and, sometimes, trigger-finger. Lanze was now wearing the combat coveralls of an officer of Navy Landing-Troops; he had a steel helmet with a transpex visor shoved up, and there was a carbine slung over his shoulder. He grinned and executed an exaggeratedly military salute. He chuckled.

“Well, look at you; aren’t you the perfect picture of correct diplomatic dress?”

“You know, sir, I’m afraid I am, for this planet,” Degbrend said. “Colonel Ravney insisted on it. He says the situation downstairs is still fluid, which I take to mean that everybody is shooting at everybody. He says he has the main telecast station, in the big building the locals call the Citadel.”

“Oh, good. Get our announcement out as quickly as you can. Number Five. You and Colonel Ravney can decide what interpolations are needed to fit the situation.”

“Number Five; the really tough one,” Degbrend considered. “I take it that by interpolations you do not mean dilutions?”

“Oh, no; don’t water the drink. Spike it.”

Lanze Degbrend grinned at him. Then he snapped down the visor of his helmet, unslung his carbine, and presented it. He was still standing at present arms when Trevannion blanked the screen.

“That still doesn’t excuse a wanton and unprovoked aggression!” Erskyll was telling Shatrak, his thin face flushed and his voice quivering with indignation. “We came here to help these people, not to murder them.”

“We didn’t come here to do either, Obray,” he said, turning to face the younger man. “We came here to annex their planet to the Galactic Empire, whether they wish it annexed or not. Commodore Shatrak used the quickest and most effective method of doing that. It would have done no good to attempt to parley with them from off-planet. You heard those telecasts of theirs.”

“Authoritarian,” Shatrak said, then mimicked pompously: “‘Everybody is commanded to remain calm; the Mastership is taking action. The Convocation of the Lords-Master is in special session; they will decide how to deal with the invaders. The administrators are directed to reassure the supervisors; the overseers will keep the workers at their tasks. Any person disobeying the orders of the Mastership will be dealt with most severely.’”

“Static, too. No spaceships into this system for the last five hundred years; the Convocation--equals Parliament, I assume--hasn’t been in special session for two hundred and fifty.”

“Yes. I’ve taken over planets with that kind of government before,” Shatrak said. “You can’t argue with them. You just grab them by the center of authority, quick and hard.”

Count Erskyll said nothing for a moment. He was opposed to the use of force. Force, he believed, was the last resort of incompetence; he had said so frequently enough since this operation had begun. Of course, he was absolutely right, though not in the way he meant. Only the incompetent wait until the last extremity to use force, and by then, it is usually too late to use anything, even prayer.

But, at the same time, he was opposed to authoritarianism, except, of course, when necessary for the real good of the people. And he did not like rulers who called themselves Lords-Master. Good democratic rulers called themselves Servants of the People. So he relapsed into silence and stared at the viewscreens.

One, from an outside pickup on the Empress Eulalie herself, showed the surface of the planet, a hundred miles down, the continent under them curving away to a distant sun-reflecting sea; beyond the curved horizon, the black sky was spangled with unwinking stars. Fifty miles down, the sun glinted from the three thousand foot globes of the two transport-cruisers, Canopus and Mizar.

Another screen, from Mizar, gave a clearer if more circumscribed view of the surface--green countryside, veined by rivers and wrinkled with mountains; little towns that were mere dots; a scatter of white clouds. Nothing that looked like roads. There had been no native sapient race on this planet, and in the thirteen centuries since it had been colonized the Terro-human population had never completely lost the use of contragravity vehicles. In that screen, farther down, the four destroyers, Irma, Irene, Isobel and Iris, were tiny twinkles.

From Irene, they had a magnified view of the city. On the maps, none later than eight hundred years old, it was called Zeggensburg; it had been built at the time of the first colonization under the old Terran Federation. Tall buildings, rising from wide interspaces of lawns and parks and gardens, and, at the very center, widely separated from anything else, the mass of the Citadel, a huge cylindrical tower rising from a cluster of smaller cylinders, with a broad circular landing stage above, topped by the newly raised flag of the Galactic Empire.

There was a second city, a thick crescent, to the south and east. The old maps placed the Zeggensburg spaceport there, but not a trace of that remained. In its place was what was evidently an industrial district, located where the prevailing winds would carry away the dust and smoke. There was quite a bit of both, but the surprising thing was the streets, long curved ones, and shorter ones crossing at regular intervals to form blocks. He had never seen a city with streets before, and he doubted if anybody else on the Empire ships had. Long boulevards to give unobstructed passage to low-level air-traffic, of course, and short winding walkways, but not things like these. Pictures, of course, of native cities on planets colonized at the time of the Federation, and even very ancient ones of cities on pre-Atomic Terra. But these people had contragravity; the towering, wide-spaced city beside this cross-gridded anachronism proved that.

They knew so little about this planet which they had come to bring under Imperial rule. It had been colonized thirteen centuries ago, during the last burst of expansion before the System States War and the disintegration of the Terran Federation, and it had been named Aditya, in the fashion of the times, for some forgotten deity of some obscure and ancient polytheism. A century or so later, it had seceded from or been abandoned by the Federation, then breaking up. That much they had gleaned from old Federation records still existing on Baldur. After that, darkness, lighted only by a brief flicker when more records had turned up on Morglay.

Morglay was one of the Sword-Worlds, settled by refugee rebels from the System States planets. Mostly they had been soldiers and spacemen; there had been many women with them, and many were skilled technicians, engineers, scientists. They had managed to carry off considerable equipment with them, and for three centuries they had lived in isolation, spreading over a dozen hitherto undiscovered planets. Excalibur, Tizona, Gram, Morglay, Durendal, Flamberge, Curtana, Quernbiter; the names were a roll-call of fabulous blades of Old Terran legend.

Then they had erupted, suddenly and calamitously, into what was left of the Terran Federation as the Space Vikings, carrying pillage and destruction, until the newborn Empire rose to vanquish them. In the sixth Century Pre-Empire, one of their fleets had come from Morglay to Aditya.

The Adityans of that time had been near-barbarians; the descendants of the original settlers had been serfs of other barbarians who had come as mercenaries in the service of one or another of the local chieftains and had remained to loot and rule. Subjugating them had been easy; the Space Vikings had taken Aditya and made it their home. For several centuries, there had been communication between them and their home planet. Then Morglay had become involved in one of the interplanetary dynastic wars that had begun the decadence of the Space Vikings, and again Aditya dropped out of history.

Until this morning, when history returned in the black ships of the Galactic Empire.

He stubbed out the cigarette and summoned the robot to give him another. Shatrak was speaking:

“You see, Count Erskyll, we really had to do it this way, for their own good.” He wouldn’t have credited the commodore with such guile; anything was justified, according to Obray of Erskyll, if done for somebody else’s good. “What we did, we just landed suddenly, knocked out their army, seized the center of government, before anybody could do anything. If we’d landed the way you’d wanted us to, somebody would have resisted, and the next thing, we’d have had to kill about five or six thousand of them and blow down a couple of towns, and we’d have lost a lot of our own people doing it. You might say, we had to do it to save them from themselves.”

Obray of Erskyll seemed to have doubts, but before he could articulate them, Shatrak’s communication-screen was calling attention to itself. The commodore flicked the switch, and his executive officer, Captain Patrique Morvill, appeared in it.

“We’ve just gotten reports, sir, that some of Ravney’s people have captured a half-dozen missile-launching sites around the city. His air-reconn tells him that that’s the lot of them. I have an officer of one of the parties that participated. You ought to hear what he has to say, sir.”

“Well, good!” Vann Shatrak whooshed out his breath. “I don’t mind admitting, I was a little on edge about that.”

“Wait till you hear what Lieutenant Carmath has to say.” Morvill seemed to be strangling a laugh. “Ready for him, Commodore?”

Shatrak nodded; Morvill made a hand-signal and vanished in a flicker of rainbow colors; when the screen cleared, a young Landing-Troop lieutenant in battle-dress was looking out of it. He saluted and gave his name, rank and unit.

“This missile-launching site I’m occupying, sir; it’s twenty miles north-west of the city. We took it thirty minutes ago; no resistance whatever. There are four hundred or so people here. Of them, twelve, one dozen, are soldiers. The rest are civilians. Ten enlisted men, a non-com of some sort, and something that appears to be an officer. The officer had a pistol, fully loaded. The non-com had a submachine gun, empty, with two loaded clips on his belt. The privates had rifles, empty, and no ammunition. The officer did not know where the rifle ammunition was stored.”

Shatrak swore. The second lieutenant nodded. “Exactly my comment when he told me, sir. But this place is beautifully kept up. Lawns all mowed, trees neatly pruned, everything policed up like inspection morning. And there is a headquarters office building here adequate for an army division...”

“How about the armament, Lieutenant?” Shatrak asked with forced patience.

“Ah, yes; the armament, sir. There are eight big launching cradles for panplanetary or off-planet missiles. They are all polished up like the Crown Jewels. But none, repeat none, of them is operative. And there is not a single missile on the installation.”

Shatrak’s facial control didn’t slip. It merely intensified, which amounted to the same thing.

“Lieutenant Carmath, I am morally certain I heard you correctly, but let’s just check. You said...”

He repeated the lieutenant back, almost word for word. Carmath nodded.

“That was it, sir. The missile-crypts are stacked full of old photoprints and recording and microfilm spools. The sighting-and-guidance systems for all the launchers are completely missing. The letoff mechanisms all lack major parts. There is an elaborate set of detection equipment, which will detect absolutely nothing. I saw a few pairs of binoculars about; I suspect that that is what we were first observed with.”

“This office, now; I suppose all the paperwork is up to the minute in quintulplicate, and initialed by everybody within sight or hearing?”

“I haven’t checked on that yet, sir. If you’re thinking of betting on it, please don’t expect me to cover you, though.”

“Well, thank you, Lieutenant Carmath. Stick around; I’m sending down a tech-intelligence crew to look at what’s left of the place. While you’re waiting, you might sort out whoever seems to be in charge and find out just what in Nifflheim he thinks that launching-station was maintained for.”


“I think I can tell you that, now, Commodore,” Prince Trevannion said as Shatrak blanked the screen. “We have a petrified authoritarianism. Quite likely some sort of an oligarchy; I’d guess that this Convocation thing they talk about consists of all the ruling class, everybody has equal voice, and nobody will take the responsibility for doing anything. And the actual work of government is probably handled by a corps of bureaucrats entrenched in their jobs, unwilling to exert any effort and afraid to invite any criticism, and living only to retire on their pensions. I’ve seen governments like that before.” He named a few. “One thing; once a government like that has been bludgeoned into the Empire, it rarely makes any trouble later.”

“Just to judge by this missileless non-launching station,” Shatrak said, “they couldn’t even decide on what kind of trouble to make, or how to start it. I think you’re going to have a nice easy Proconsulate here, Count Erskyll.”

Count Erskyll started to say something. No doubt he was about to tell Shatrak, cuttingly, that he didn’t want an easy Proconsulate, but an opportunity to help these people. He was saved from this by the buzzing of Shatrak’s communication-screen.

It was Colonel Pyairr Ravney, the Navy Landing-Troop commander. Like everybody else who had gone down to Zeggensburg, he was in battle-dress and armed; the transpex visor of his helmet was pushed up. Between Shatrak’s generation and Count Erskyll’s, he sported a pointed mustache and a spiky chin-beard, which, on his thin and dark-eyed face, looked distinctly Mephistophelean. He was grinning.

“Well, sir, I think we can call it a done job,” he said. “There’s a delegation here who want to talk to the Lords-Master of the ships on behalf of the Lords-Master of the Convocation. Two of them, with about a dozen portfolio-bearers and note-takers. I’m not too good in Lingua Terra, outside Basic, at best, and their brand is far from that. I gather that they’re some kind of civil-servants, personal representatives of the top Lords-Master.”

“Do we want to talk to them?” Shatrak asked.

“Well, we should only talk to the actual, titular, heads of the government--Mastership,” Erskyll, suddenly protocol-conscious, objected. “We can’t negotiate with subordinates.”

“Oh, who’s talking about negotiating; there isn’t anything to negotiate. Aditya is now a part of the Galactic Empire. If this present regime assents to that, they can stay in power. If not, we will toss them out and install a new government. We will receive this delegation, inform them to that effect, and send them back to relay the information to their Lords-Master.” He turned to the Commodore. “May I speak to Colonel Ravney?”

Shatrak assented. He asked Ravney where these Lords-Master were.

“Here in the Citadel, in what they call the Convocation Chamber. Close to a thousand of them, screaming recriminations at one another. Sounds like feeding time at the Imperial Zoo. I think they all want to surrender, but nobody dares propose it first. I’ve just put a cordon around it and placed it off limits to everybody. And everything outside off limits to the Convocation.”

“Well thought of, Colonel. I suppose the Citadel teems with bureaucrats and such low life-forms?”

“Bulging with them. Literally thousands. Lanze Degbrend and Commander Douvrin and a few others are trying to get some sensible answers out of some of them.”

“This delegation; how had you thought of sending them up?”

“Landing-craft to Isobel; Isobel will bring them the rest of the way.”

He looked at his watch. “Well, don’t be in too much of a rush to get them here, Colonel. We don’t want them till after lunch. Delay them on Isobel; the skipper can see that they have their own lunch aboard. And entertain them with some educational films. Something to convince them that there is slightly more to the Empire than one ship-of-the-line, two cruisers and four destroyers.”

Count Erskyll was dissatisfied about that, too. He wanted to see the delegation at once and make arrangements to talk to their superiors. Count Erskyll, among other things, was zealous, and of this he disapproved. Zealous statesmen perhaps did more mischief than anything in the Galaxy--with the possible exception of procrastinating soldiers. That could indicate the fundamental difference between statecraft and war. He’d have to play with that idea a little.

An Empire ship-of-the-line was almost a mile in diameter. It was more than a battle-craft; it also had political functions. The grand salon, on the outer zone where the curvature of the floors was less disconcerting, was as magnificent as any but a few of the rooms of the Imperial Palace at Asgard on Odin, the floor richly carpeted and the walls alternating mirrors and paintings. The movable furniture varied according to occasion; at present, it consisted of the bare desk at which they sat, the three chairs they occupied, and the three secretary-robots, their rectangular black casts blazened with the Sun and Cogwheel of the Empire. It faced the door, at the far end of the room; on either side, a rank of spacemen, in dress uniform and under arms, stood.

In principle, annexing a planet to the Empire was simplicity itself, but like so many things simple in principle, it was apt to be complicated in practice, and to this, he suspected, the present instance would be no exception.

In principle, one simply informed the planetary government that it was now subject to the sovereignty of his Imperial Majesty, the Galactic Emperor. This information was always conveyed by a Ministerial Secretary, directly under the Prime Minister and only one more step down from the Emperor, in the present instance Jurgen, Prince Trevannion. To make sure that the announcement carried conviction, the presumedly glad tidings were accompanied by the Imperial Space Navy, at present represented by Commodore Vann Shatrak and a seven ship battle-line unit, and two thousand Imperial Landing-Troops.

When the locals had been properly convinced--with as little bloodshed as necessary, but always beyond any dispute--an Imperial Proconsul, in this case Obray, Count Erskyll, would be installed. He would by no means govern the planet. The Imperial Constitution was definite on that point; every planetary government should be sovereign as to intraplanetary affairs. The Proconsul, within certain narrow and entirely inelastic limits, would merely govern the government.

Unfortunately, Obray, Count Erskyll, appeared not to understand this completely. It was his impression that he was a torch-bearer of Imperial civilization, or something equally picturesque and metaphorical. As he conceived it, it was the duty of the Empire, as represented by himself, to make over backward planets like Aditya in the image of Odin or Marduk or Osiris or Baldur or, preferably, his own home world of Aton.

This was Obray of Erskyll’s first proconsular appointment, it was due to family influence, and it was a mistake. Mistakes, of course, were inevitable in anything as large and complex as the Galactic Empire, and any institution guided by men was subject to one kind of influence or another, family influence being no worse than any other kind. In this case, the ultra-conservative Erskylls of Aton, from old Errol, Duke of Yorvoy, down, had become alarmed at the political radicalism of young Obray, and had, on his graduation from the University of Nefertiti, persuaded the Prime Minister to appoint him to a Proconsulate as far from Aton as possible, where he would not embarrass them. Just at that time, more important matters having been gotten out of the way, Aditya had come up for annexation, and Obray of Erskyll had been named Proconsul.

That had been the mistake. He should have been sent to some planet which had been under Imperial rule for some time, where the Proconsulate ran itself in a well-worn groove, and where he could at leisure learn the procedures and unlearn some of the unrealisms absorbed at the University from professors too well insulated from the realities of politics.

There was a stir among the guards; helmet-visors were being snapped down; feet scuffed. They stiffened to attention, the great doors at the other end of the grand salon slid open, and the guards presented arms as the Adityan delegation was ushered in.

There were fourteen of them. They all wore ankle-length gowns, and they all had shaven heads. The one in the lead carried a staff and wore a pale green gown; he was apparently a herald. Behind him came two in white gowns, their empty hands folded on their breasts; one was a huge bulk of obesity with a bulging brow, protuberant eyes and a pursey little mouth, and the other was thin and cadaverous, with a skull-like, almost fleshless face. The ones behind, in dark green and pale blue, carried portfolios and slung sound-recorder cases. There was a metallic twinkle at each throat; as they approached, he could see that they all wore large silver gorgets. They came to a halt twenty feet from the desk. The herald raised his staff.

“I present the Admirable and Trusty Tchall Hozhet, personal chief-slave of the Lord-Master Olvir Nikkolon, Chairman of the Presidium of the Lords-Master’s Convocation, and Khreggor Chmidd, chief-slave in office to the Lord-Master Rovard Javasan, Chief of Administration of Management of the Mastership,” he said. Then he stopped, puzzled, looking from one to another of them. When his eyes fell on Vann Shatrak, he brightened.

“Are you,” he asked, “the chief-slave of the chief Lord-Master of this ship?”

Shatrak’s face turned pink; the pink darkened to red. He used a word; it was a completely unprintable word. So, except for a few scattered pronouns, conjunctions and prepositions, were the next fifty words he used. The herald stiffened. The two delegates behind him were aghast. The subordinate burden-bearers in the rear began looking around apprehensively.

“I,” Shatrak finally managed, “am an officer of his Imperial Majesty’s Space Navy. I am in command of this battle-line unit. I am not“--he reverted briefly to obscenity--”a slave.”

“You mean, you are a Lord-Master, too?” That seemed to horrify the herald even more that the things Shatrak had been calling him. “Forgive me, Lord-Master. I did not think...”

“That’s right; you didn’t,” Shatrak agreed. “And don’t call me Lord-Master again, or I’ll...”

“Just a moment, Commodore.” He waved the herald aside and addressed the two in white gowns, shifting to Lingua Terra. “This is a ship of the Galactic Empire,” he told them. “In the Empire, there are no slaves. Can you understand that?”

Evidently not. The huge one, Khreggor Chmidd, turned to the skull-faced Tchall Hozhet, saying: “Then they must all be Lords-Master.” He saw the objection to that at once. “But how can one be a Lord-Master if there are no slaves?”

The horror was not all on the visitors’ side of the desk, either. Obray of Erskyll was staring at the delegation and saying, “Slaves!” under his breath. Obray of Erskyll had never, in his not-too-long life, seen a slave before.

“They can’t be,” Tchall Hozhet replied. “A Lord-Master is one who owns slaves.” He gave that a moment’s consideration. “But if they aren’t Lords-Master, they must be slaves, and...” No. That wouldn’t do, either. “But a slave is one who belongs to a Lord-Master.”

Rule of the Excluded Third; evidently Pre-Atomic formal logic had crept back to Aditya. Chmidd, looking around, saw the ranks of spacemen on either side, now at parade-rest.

“But aren’t they slaves?” he asked.

“They are spacemen of the Imperial Navy,” Shatrak roared. “Call one a slave to his face and you’ll get a rifle-butt in yours. And I shan’t lift a finger to stop it.” He glared at Chmidd and Hozhet. “Who had the infernal impudence to send slaves to deal with the Empire? He needs to be taught a lesson.”

“Why, I was sent by the Lord-Master Olvir Nikkolon, and...”

“Tchall!” Chmidd hissed at him. “We cannot speak to Lords-Master. We must speak to their chief-slaves.”

“But they have no slaves,” Hozhet objected. “Didn’t you hear the ... the one with the small beard ... say so?”

“But that’s ridiculous, Khreggor. Who does the work, and who tells them what to do? Who told these people to come here?”

“Our Emperor sent us. That is his picture, behind me. But we are not his slaves. He is merely the chief man among us. Do your Masters not have one among them who is chief?”

“That’s right,” Chmidd said to Hozhet. “In the Convocation, your Lord-Master is chief, and in the Mastership, my Lord-Master, Rovard Javasan, is chief.”

“But they don’t tell the other Lords-Master what to do. In Convocation, the other Lords-Master tell them...”

“That’s what I meant about an oligarchy,” he whispered, in Imperial, to Erskyll.

“Suppose we tell Ravney to herd these Lords-Master onto a couple of landing-craft and bring them up here?” Shatrak suggested. He made the suggestion in Lingua Terra Basic, and loudly.

“I think we can manage without that.” He raised his voice, speaking in Lingua Terra Basic:

“It does not matter whether these slaves talk to us or not. This planet is now under the rule of his Imperial Majesty, Rodrik III. If this Mastership wants to govern the planet under the Emperor, they may do so. If not, we will make an end of them and set up a new government here.”

He paused. Chmidd and Hozhet were looking at one another in shocked incredulity.

“Tchall, they mean it,” Chmidd said. “They can do it, too.”

“We have nothing more to say to you slaves,” he continued. “Hereafter, we will speak directly to the Lords-Master.”

“But ... The Lords-Master never do business directly,” Hozhet said. “It is un-Masterly. Such discussions are between chief-slaves.”

“This thing they call the Convocation,” Shatrak mentioned. “I wonder if the members have the business done entirely through their slaves.”

“Oh, no!” That shocked Chmidd into direct address. “No slave is allowed in the Convocation Chamber.”

He wondered how they kept the place swept out. Robots, no doubt. Or else, what happened when the Masters weren’t there didn’t count.

“Very well. Your people have recorders; are they on?”

Hozhet asked Chmidd; Chmidd asked the herald, who asked one of the menials in the rear, who asked somebody else. The reply came back through the same channels; they were.

“Very well. At this time tomorrow, we will speak to the Convocation of Lords-Master. Commodore Shatrak, see to it that Colonel Ravney has them in the Convocation Chamber, and that preparations in the room are made, so that we may address them in the dignity befitting representatives of his Imperial Majesty.” He turned to the Adityan slaves. “That is all. You have permission to go.”

They watched the delegation back out, with the honor-guard following. When the doors had closed behind them, Shatrak ran his hand over his bald head and laughed.

“Shaved heads, every one of them. That’s probably why they thought I was your slave. Bet those gorgets are servile badges, too.” He touched the Knight’s Star of the Order of the Empire at his throat. “Probably thought that was what this was. We would have to draw something like this!”

“They simply can’t imagine anybody not being either a slave or a slave-owner,” Erskyll was saying. “That must mean that there is no free non-slave-holding class at all. Universal slavery! Well, we’ll have to do something about that. Proclaim total emancipation, immediately.”

“Oh, no; we can’t do anything like that. The Constitution won’t permit us to. Section Two, Article One: _Every Empire planet shall be self-governed as to its own affairs, in the manner of its own choice, and without interference._”

“But slavery ... Section Two, Article Six,” Erskyll objected. “_There shall be no chattel slavery or serfdom anywhere in the Empire; no sapient being of any race whatsoever shall be the property of any being but himself._”

“That’s correct,” he agreed. “If this Mastership intends to remain the planetary government under the Empire, they will be obliged to abolish slavery, but they will have to do it by their own act. We cannot do it for them.”

“You know what I’d do, Prince Trevannion?” Shatrak said. “I’d just heave this Mastership thing out, and set up a nice tight military dictatorship. We have the planet under martial rule now; let’s just keep it that way for about five years, till we can train a new government.”

That suggestion seemed to pain Count Erskyll almost as much as the existing situation.

They dined late, in Commodore Shatrak’s private dining room. Beside Shatrak, Erskyll and himself, there were Lanze Degbrend, and Count Erskyll’s charge-d’affaires, Sharll Ernanday, and Patrique Morvill and Pyairr Ravney and the naval intelligence officer, Commander Andrey Douvrin. Ordinarily, he deplored serious discussion at meals, but under the circumstances it was unavoidable; nobody could think or talk of anything else. The discussion which he had hoped would follow the meal began before the soup-course.

“We have a total population of about twenty million,” Lanze Degbrend reported. “A trifle over ten thousand Masters, all ages and both sexes. The remainder are all slaves.”

“I find that incredible,” Erskyll declared promptly. “Twenty million people, held in slavery by ten thousand! Why do they stand for it? Why don’t they rebel?”

“Well, I can think of three good reasons,” Douvrin said. “Three square meals a day.”


“And no responsibilities; no need to make decisions,” Degbrend added. “They’ve been slaves for seven and a half centuries. They don’t even know the meaning of freedom, and it would frighten them if they did.”

“Chain of command,” Shatrak said. When that seemed not to convey any meaning to Erskyll, he elaborated: “We have a lot of dirty-necked working slaves. Over every dozen of them is an overseer with a big whip and a stungun. Over every couple of overseers there is a guard with a submachine gun. Over them is a supervisor, who doesn’t need a gun because he can grab a handphone and call for troops. Over the supervisors, there are higher supervisors. Everybody has it just enough better than the level below him that he’s afraid of losing his job and being busted back to fieldhand.”

“That’s it exactly, Commodore,” Degbrend said. “The whole society is a slave hierarchy. Everybody curries favor with the echelon above, and keeps his eye on the echelon below to make sure he isn’t being undercut. We have something not too unlike that, ourselves. Any organizational society is, in some ways, like a slave society. And everything is determined by established routine. The whole thing has simply been running on momentum for at least five centuries, and if we hadn’t come smashing in with a situation none of the routines covered, it would have kept on running for another five, till everything wore out and stopped. I heard about those missile-stations, by the way. They’re typical of everything here.”

“That’s another thing,” Erskyll interrupted. “These Lords-Master are the descendants of the old Space-Vikings, and the slaves of the original inhabitants. The Space Vikings were a technologically advanced people; they had all the old Terran Federation science and technology, and a lot they developed for themselves on the Sword-Worlds.”

“Well? They still had a lot of it, on the Sword-Worlds, two centuries ago when we took them over.”

“But technology always drives out slavery; that’s a fundamental law of socio-economics. Slavery is economically unsound; it cannot compete with power-industry, let alone cybernetics and robotics.”

He was tempted to remind young Obray of Erskyll that there were no such things as fundamental laws of socio-economics; merely usually reliable generalized statements of what can more or less be depended upon to happen under most circumstances. He resisted the temptation. Count Erskyll had had enough shocks, today, without adding to them by gratuitous blasphemy.

“In this case, Obray, it worked in reverse. The Space Vikings enslaved the Adityans to hold them in subjugation. That was a politico-military necessity. Then, being committed to slavery, with a slave population who had to be made to earn their keep, they found cybernetics and robotics economically unsound.”

“And almost at once, they began appointing slave overseers, and the technicians would begin training slave assistants. Then there would be slave supervisors to direct the overseers, slave administrators to direct them, slave secretaries and bookkeepers, slave technicians and engineers.”

“How about the professions, Lanze?”

“All slave. Slave physicians, teachers, everything like that. All the Masters are taught by slaves; the slaves are educated by apprenticeship. The courts are in the hands of slaves; cases are heard by the chief slaves of judges who don’t even know where their own courtrooms are; every Master has a team of slave lawyers. Most of the lawsuits are estate-inheritance cases; some of them have been in litigation for generations.”

“What do the Lords-Master do?” Shatrak asked.

“Masterly things,” Degbrend replied. “I was only down there since noon, but from what I could find out, that consists of feasting, making love to each other’s wives, being entertained by slave performers, and feuding for social precedence like wealthy old ladies on Odin.”

“You got this from the slaves? How did you get them to talk, Lanze?”

Degbrend and Ravney exchanged amused glances. Ravney said:

“Well, I detailed a sergeant and six privates to accompany Honorable Degbrend,” Ravney said. “They ... How would you put it, Lanze?”

“I asked a slave a question. If he refused to answer, somebody knocked him down with a rifle-butt,” Degbrend replied. “I never had to do that more than once in any group, and I only had to do it three times in all. After that, when I asked questions, I was answered promptly and fully. It is surprising how rapidly news gets around the Citadel.”

“You mean you had those poor slaves beaten?” Erskyll demanded.

“Oh, no. Beating implies repeated blows. We only gave one to a customer; that was enough.”

“Well, how about the army, if that’s what those people in the long red-brown coats were?” Shatrak changed the subject by asking Ravney.

“All slave, of course, officers and all. What will we do about them, sir? I have about three thousand, either confined to their barracks or penned up in the Citadel. I requisitioned food for them, paid for it in chits. There were a few isolated companies and platoons that gave us something of a fight; most of them just threw away their weapons and bawled for quarter. I’ve segregated the former; with your approval, I’ll put them under Imperial officers and noncoms for a quickie training in our tactics, and then use them to train the rest.”

“Do that, Pyairr. We only have two thousand men of our own, and that’s not enough. Do you think you can make soldiers out of any of them?”

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