President Folsom XXIV said petulantly to his Secretary of the Treasury: “Blow me to hell, Bannister, if I understood a single word of that. Why can’t I buy the Nicolaides Collection? And don’t start with the rediscount and the Series W business again. Just tell me why.”
The Secretary of the Treasury said with an air of apprehension and a thread-like feeling across his throat: “It boils down to--no money, Mr. President.”
The President was too engrossed in thoughts of the marvelous collection to fly into a rage. “It’s such a bargain,” he said mournfully. “An archaic Henry Moore figure--really too big to finger, but I’m no culture-snob, thank God--and fifteen early Morrisons and I can’t begin to tell you what else.” He looked hopefully at the Secretary of Public Opinion: “Mightn’t I seize it for the public good or something?”
The Secretary of Public Opinion shook his head. His pose was gruffly professional. “Not a chance, Mr. President. We’d never get away with it. The art-lovers would scream to high Heaven.”
“I suppose so... Why isn’t there any money?” He had swiveled dangerously on the Secretary of the Treasury again.
“Sir, purchases of the new Series W bond issue have lagged badly because potential buyers have been attracted to--”
“Stop it, stop it, stop it! You know I can’t make head or tail of that stuff. Where’s the money going?”
The Director of the Budget said cautiously: “Mr. President, during the biennium just ending, the Department of Defense accounted for 78 per cent of expenditures--”
The Secretary of Defense growled: “Now wait a minute, Felder! We were voted--”
The President interrupted, raging weakly: “Oh, you rascals! My father would have known what to do with you! But don’t think I can’t handle it. Don’t think you can hoodwink me.” He punched a button ferociously; his silly face was contorted with rage and there was a certain tension on all the faces around the Cabinet table.
Panels slid down abruptly in the walls, revealing grim-faced Secret Servicemen. Each Cabinet officer was covered by at least two automatic rifles.
“Take that--that traitor away!” the President yelled. His finger pointed at the Secretary of Defense, who slumped over the table, sobbing. Two Secret Servicemen half-carried him from the room.
President Folsom XXIV leaned back, thrusting out his lower lip. He told the Secretary of the Treasury: “Get me the money for the Nicolaides Collection. Do you understand? I don’t care how you do it. Get it.” He glared at the Secretary of Public Opinion. “Have you any comments?”
“No, Mr. President.”
“All right, then.” The President unbent and said plaintively: “I don’t see why you can’t all be more reasonable. I’m a very reasonable man. I don’t see why I can’t have a few pleasures along with my responsibilities. Really I don’t. And I’m sensitive. I don’t like these scenes. Very well. That’s all. The Cabinet meeting is adjourned.”
They rose and left silently in the order of their seniority. The President noticed that the panels were still down and pushed the button that raised them again and hid the granite-faced Secret Servicemen. He took out of his pocket a late Morrison fingering-piece and turned it over in his hand, a smile of relaxation and bliss spreading over his face. Such amusing textural contrast! Such unexpected variations on the classic sequences!
The Cabinet, less the Secretary of Defense, was holding a rump meeting in an untapped corner of the White House gymnasium.
“God,” the Secretary of State said, white-faced. “Poor old Willy!”
The professionally gruff Secretary of Public Opinion said: “We should murder the bastard. I don’t care what happens--”
The Director of the Budget said dryly: “We all know what would happen. President Folsom XXV would take office. No; we’ve got to keep plugging as before. Nothing short of the invincible can topple the Republic...”
“What about a war?” the Secretary of Commerce demanded fiercely. “We’ve no proof that our program will work. What about a war?”
State said wearily: “Not while there’s a balance of power, my dear man. The Io-Callisto Question proved that. The Republic and the Soviet fell all over themselves trying to patch things up as soon as it seemed that there would be real shooting. Folsom XXIV and his excellency Premier Yersinsky know at least that much.”
The Secretary of the Treasury said: “What would you all think of Steiner for Defense?”
The Director of the Budget was astonished. “Would he take it?”
Treasury cleared his throat. “As a matter of fact, I’ve asked him to stop by right about now.” He hurled a medicine ball into the budgetary gut.
“Oof!” said the Director. “You bastard. Steiner would be perfect. He runs Standards like a watch.” He treacherously fired the medicine ball at the Secretary of Raw Materials, who blandly caught it and slammed it back.
“Here he comes,” said the Secretary of Raw Materials. “Steiner! Come and sweat some oleo off!”
Steiner ambled over, a squat man in his fifties, and said: “I don’t mind if I do. Where’s Willy?”
State said: “The President unmasked him as a traitor. He’s probably been executed by now.”
Steiner looked grim, and grimmer yet when the Secretary of the Treasury said, dead-pan: “We want to propose you for Defense.”
“I’m happy in Standards,” Steiner said. “Safer, too. The Man’s father took an interest in science, but The Man never comes around. Things are very quiet. Why don’t you invite Winch, from the National Art Commission? It wouldn’t be much of a change for the worse for him.”
“No brains,” the Secretary for Raw Materials said briefly. “Heads up!”
Steiner caught the ball and slugged it back at him. “What good are brains?” he asked quietly.
“Close the ranks, gentlemen,” State said. “These long shots are too hard on my arms.”
The ranks closed and the Cabinet told Steiner what good were brains. He ended by accepting.
The Moon is all Republic. Mars is all Soviet. Titan is all Republic. Ganymede is all Soviet. But Io and Callisto, by the Treaty of Greenwich, are half-and-half Republic and Soviet.
Down the main street of the principal settlement on Io runs an invisible line. On one side of the line, the principal settlement is known as New Pittsburgh. On the other side it is known as Nizhni-Magnitogorsk.
Into a miner’s home in New Pittsburgh one day an eight-year-old boy named Grayson staggered, bleeding from the head. His eyes were swollen almost shut.
His father lurched to his feet, knocking over a bottle. He looked stupidly at the bottle, set it upright too late to save much of the alcohol, and then stared fixedly at the boy. “See what you made me do, you little bastard?” he growled, and fetched the boy a clout on his bleeding head that sent him spinning against the wall of the hut. The boy got up slowly and silently--there seemed to be something wrong with his left arm--and glowered at his father.
He said nothing.
“Fighting again,” the father said, in a would-be fierce voice. His eyes fell under the peculiar fire in the boy’s stare. “Damn fool--”
A woman came in from the kitchen. She was tall and thin. In a flat voice she said to the man: “Get out of here.” The man hiccupped and said: “Your brat spilled my bottle. Gimme a dollar.”
In the same flat voice: “I have to buy food.”
“I said gimme a dollar!“ The man slapped her face--it did not change--and wrenched a small purse from the string that suspended it around her neck. The boy suddenly was a demon, flying at his father with fists and teeth. It lasted only a second or two. The father kicked him into a corner where he lay, still glaring, wordless and dry-eyed. The mother had not moved; her husband’s handmark was still red on her face when he hulked out, clutching the money bag.
Mrs. Grayson at last crouched in the corner with the eight-year-old boy. “Little Tommy,” she said softly. “My little Tommy! Did you cross the line again?”
He was blubbering in her arms, hysterically, as she caressed him. At last he was able to say: “I didn’t cross the line, Mom. Not this time. It was in school. They said our name was really Krasinsky. God-damn him!” the boy shrieked. “They said his grandfather was named Krasinsky and he moved over the line and changed his name to Grayson! God-damn him! Doing that to us!”
“Now, darling,” his mother said, caressing him. “Now, darling.” His trembling began to ebb. She said: “Let’s get out the spools, Tommy. You mustn’t fall behind in school. You owe that to me, don’t you, darling?”
“Yes, Mom,” he said. He threw his spindly arms around her and kissed her. “Get out the spools. We’ll show him. I mean them.”
President Folsom XXIV lay on his death-bed, feeling no pain, mostly because his personal physician had pumped him full of morphine. Dr. Barnes sat by the bed holding the presidential wrist and waiting, occasionally nodding off and recovering with a belligerent stare around the room. The four wire-service men didn’t care whether he fell asleep or not; they were worriedly discussing the nature and habits of the President’s first-born, who would shortly succeed to the highest office in the Republic.
“A firebrand, they tell me,” the A.P. man said unhappily.
“Firebrands I don’t mind,” the U.P. man said. “He can send out all the inflammatory notes he wants just as long as he isn’t a fiend for exercise. I’m not as young as I once was. You boys wouldn’t remember the old President, Folsom XXII. He used to do point-to-point hiking. He worshipped old F.D.R.”
The I.N.S. man said, lowering his voice: “Then he was worshipping the wrong Roosevelt. Teddy was the athlete.”
Dr. Barnes started, dropped the presidential wrist and held a mirror to the mouth for a moment. “Gentlemen,” he said, “the President is dead.”
“O.K.,” the A.P. man said. “Let’s go, boys. I’ll send in the flash. U.P., you go cover the College of Electors. I.N.S., get onto the President Elect. Trib, collect some interviews and background--”
The door opened abruptly; a colonel of infantry was standing there, breathing hard, with an automatic rifle at port. “Is he dead?” he asked.
“Yes,” the A.P. man said. “If you’ll let me past--”
“Nobody leaves the room,” the colonel said grimly. “I represent General Slocum, Acting President of the Republic. The College of Electors is acting now to ratify--”
A burst of gunfire caught the colonel in the back; he spun and fell, with a single hoarse cry. More gunfire sounded through the White House. A Secret Serviceman ducked his head through the door: “President’s dead? You boys stay put. We’ll have this thing cleaned up in an hour--” He vanished.
The doctor sputtered his alarm and the newsmen ignored him with professional poise. The A.P. man asked: “Now who’s Slocum? Defense Command?”
I.N.S. said: “I remember him. Three stars. He headed up the Tactical Airborne Force out in Kansas four-five years ago. I think he was retired since then.”
A phosphorus grenade crashed through the window and exploded with a globe of yellow flame the size of a basketball; dense clouds of phosphorus pentoxide gushed from it and the sprinkler system switched on, drenching the room.
“Come on!” hacked the A.P. man, and they scrambled from the room and slammed the door. The doctor’s coat was burning in two or three places, and he was retching feebly on the corridor floor. They tore his coat off and flung it back into the room.
The U.P. man, swearing horribly, dug a sizzling bit of phosphorus from the back of his hand with a pen-knife and collapsed, sweating, when it was out. The I.N.S. man passed him a flask and he gurgled down half a pint of liquor. “Who flang that brick?” he asked faintly.
“Nobody,” the A.P. man said gloomily. “That’s the hell of it. None of this is happening. Just the way Taft the Pretender never happened in ‘03. Just the way the Pentagon Mutiny never happened in ‘67.”
“‘68,” the U.P. man said faintly. “It didn’t happen in ‘68, not ‘67.”
The A.P. man smashed a fist into the palm of his hand and swore. “God-damn,” he said. “Some day I’d like to--” He broke off and was bitterly silent.
The U.P. man must have been a little dislocated with shock and quite drunk to talk the way he did. “Me too,” he said. “Like to tell the story. Maybe it was ‘67 not ‘68. I’m not sure now. Can’t write it down so the details get lost and then after a while it didn’t happen at all. Revolution’d be good deal. But it takes people t’ make revolution. People. With eyes ‘n ears. ‘N memories. We make things not-happen an’ we make people not-see an’ not-hear...” He slumped back against the corridor wall, nursing his burned hand. The others were watching him, very scared.
Then the A.P. man caught sight of the Secretary of Defense striding down the corridor, flanked by Secret Servicemen. “Mr. Steiner!” he called. “What’s the picture?”
Steiner stopped, breathing heavily, and said: “Slocum’s barricaded in the Oval Study. They don’t want to smash in. He’s about the only one left. There were only fifty or so. The Acting President’s taken charge at the Study. You want to come along?”
They did, and even hauled the U.P. man after them.
The Acting President, who would be President Folsom XXV as soon as the Electoral College got around to it, had his father’s face--the petulant lip, the soft jowl--on a hard young body. He also had an auto-rifle ready to fire from the hip. Most of the Cabinet was present. When the Secretary of Defense arrived, he turned on him. “Steiner,” he said nastily, “can you explain why there should be a rebellion against the Republic in your department?”
“Mr. President,” Steiner said, “Slocum was retired on my recommendation two years ago. It seems to me that my responsibility ended there and Security should have taken over.”
The President Elect’s finger left the trigger of the auto-rifle and his lip drew in a little. “Quite so,” he said curtly, and, turned to the door. “Slocum!” he shouted. “Come out of there. We can use gas if we want.”
The door opened unexpectedly and a tired-looking man with three stars on each shoulder stood there, bare-handed. “All right,” he said drearily. “I was fool enough to think something could be done about the regime. But you fat-faced imbeciles are going to go on and on and--”