“These Alcorians have been on Earth for only a month,” David Locke said, “but already they’re driving a wedge between AL&O and the Social Body that can destroy the Weal overnight. Boyle, it’s got to be stopped!”
He put his elbows on Moira’s antique conversation table and leaned toward the older man, his eyes hot and anxious.
“There are only the two of them--Fermiirig and Santikh; you’ve probably seen stills of them on the visinews a hundred times--and AL&O has kept them so closely under cover that we of the Social Body never get more than occasional rumors about what they’re really like. But I know from what I overheard that they’re carbonstructure oxygen-breathers with a metabolism very much like our own. What affects them physically will affect us also. And the offer they’ve made Cornelison and Bissell and Dorand of Administrative Council is genuine. It amounts to a lot more than simple longevity, because the process can be repeated. In effect, it’s--”
“Immortality,” Boyle said, and forgot the younger man on the instant.
The shock of it as a reality blossomed in his mind with a slow explosion of triumph. It had come in his time, after all, and the fact that the secret belonged to the first interstellar visitors to reach Earth had no bearing whatever on his determination to possess it. Neither had the knowledge that the Alcorians had promised the process only to the highest of government bodies, Administrative Council. The whole of AL&O--Administration, Legislation and Order--could not keep it from him.
“It isn’t right,” Locke said heatedly. “It doesn’t fit in with what we’ve been taught to believe, Boyle. We’re still a modified democracy, and the Social Body is the Weal. We can’t permit Cornelison and Bissell and Dorand to take what amounts to immortality for themselves and deny it to the populace. That’s tyranny!”
The charge brought Boyle out of his preoccupation with a start. For the moment, he had forgotten Locke’s presence in Moira’s apartment. He had even forgotten his earlier annoyance with Moira for allowing the sophomoric fool visitor’s privilege when it was Boyle’s week, to the exclusion of the other two husbands in Moira’s marital-seven, to share the connubial right with her.
But the opportunity tumbled so forcibly into his lap was not one to be handled lightly. He held in check his contempt for Locke and his irritation with Moira until he had considered his windfall from every angle, and had marshalled its possibilities into a working outline of his coup to come.
He even checked his lapel watch against the time of Moira’s return from the theater before he answered Locke. With characteristic cynicism, he took it for granted that Locke, in his indignation, had already shared his discovery with Moira, and in cold logic he marked her down with Locke for disposal once her purpose was served. Moira had been the most satisfactory of the four women in Boyle’s marital-seven, but when he weighed her attractions against the possible immortality ahead, the comparison did not sway his resolution for an instant.
Moira, like Locke, would have to go.
“You’re sure there was no error?” Boyle asked. “You couldn’t have been mistaken?”
“I heard it,” Locke said stubbornly.
He clenched his fists angrily, patently reliving his shock of discovery. “I was running a routine check on Administration visiphone channels--it’s part of my work as communications technician at AL&O--when I ran across a circuit that had blown its scrambler. Ordinarily I’d have replaced the dead unit without listening to plain-talk longer than was necessary to identify the circuit. But by the time I had it tagged as a Council channel, I’d heard enough from Cornelison and Bissell and Dorand to convince me that I owed it to the Social Body to hear the rest. And now I’m holding a tiger by the tail, because I’m subject to truth-check. That’s why I came to you with this, Boyle. Naturally, since you are President of Transplanet Enterprises--”
“I know,” Boyle cut in, forestalling digression. Locke’s job, not intrinsically important in itself, still demanded a high degree of integrity and left him open to serum-and-psycho check, as though he were an actual member of AL&O or a politician. “If anyone knew what you’ve overheard, you’d get a compulsory truth-check, admit your guilt publicly and take an imprisonment sentence from the Board of Order. But your duty came first, of course. Go on.”
“They were discussing the Alcorians’ offer of longevity when I cut into the circuit. Bissell and Dorand were all for accepting at once, but Cornelison pretended indecision and had to be coaxed. Oh, he came around quickly enough; the three of them are to meet Fermiirig and Santikh tomorrow morning at nine in the AL&O deliberations chamber for their injections. You should have heard them rationalizing that, Boyle. It would have sickened you.”
“I know the routine--they’re doing it for the good of the Social Body, of course. What puzzles me is why the Alcorians should give away a secret so valuable.”
“Trojan horse tactics,” Locke said flatly. “They claim to have arrived at a culture pretty much like our own, except for a superior technology and a custom of prolonging the lives of administrators they find best fitted to govern. They’re posing as philanthropists by offering us the same opportunity, but actually they’re sabotaging our political economy. They know that the Social Body won’t stand for the Council accepting an immortality restricted to itself. That sort of discrimination would stir up a brawl that might shatter the Weal forever.”
Deliberately, Boyle fanned the younger man’s resentment. “Not a bad thing for those in power. But it is rough on simple members of the Social Body like ourselves, isn’t it?”
“It’s criminal conspiracy,” Locke said hotly. “They should be truth-checked and given life-maximum detention. If we took this to the Board of Order--”
“No. Think a moment and you’ll understand why.”
Boyle had gauged his man, he saw, to a nicety. Locke was typical of this latest generation, packed to the ears with juvenile idealism and social consciousness, presenting a finished product of AL&O’s golden-rule ideology that was no more difficult to predict than a textbook problem in elementary psychology. To a veteran strategist like Boyle, Locke was more than a handy asset; he was a tool shaped to respond to duty unquestioningly and to cupidity not at all, and therefore an agent more readily amenable than any mercenary could have been.
“But I don’t understand,” Locke said, puzzled. “Even Administration and Legislation are answerable to Order. It’s the Board’s duty to bring them to account if necessary.”
“Administration couldn’t possibly confirm itself in power from the beginning without the backing of Order and Legislation,” Boyle pointed out. “Cornelison and Bissell and Dorand would have to extend the longevity privilege to the other two groups, don’t you see, in order to protect themselves. And that means that Administrative Council is not alone in this thing--it’s AL&O as a body. If you went to the Board of Order with your protest, the report would die on the spot. So, probably, would you.”
He felt a touch of genuine amusement at Locke’s slack stare of horror. The seed was planted; now to see how readily the fool would react to a logical alternative, and how useful in his reaction he might be.
“I know precisely how you feel,” Boyle said. “It goes against our conditioned grain to find officials venal in this day of compulsory honesty. But it’s nothing new; I’ve met with similar occasions in my own Transplanet business, Locke.”
He might have added that those occasions had been of his own devising and that they had brought him close more than once to a punitive truth-check. The restraining threat of serum-and-psycho had kept him for the greater part of his adult life in the ranks of the merely rich, a potential industrial czar balked of financial empire by the necessity of maintaining a strictly legal status.
Locke shook himself like a man waking out of nightmare.
“I’m glad I brought this problem to a man of your experience,” he said frankly. “I’ve got great confidence in your judgment, Boyle, something I’ve learned partly from watching you handle Transplanet Enterprises and partly from talking with Moira.”
Boyle gave him a speculative look, feeling a return of his first acid curiosity about Locke and Moira. “I had no idea that Moira was so confidential outside her marital-seven,” he said dryly. “She’s not by any chance considering a fourth husband, is she?”
“Of course not. Moira’s not unconventional. She’s been kind to me a few times, yes, but that’s only her way of making a practical check against the future. After all, she’s aware it can’t be more than a matter of--”
He broke off, too embarrassed by his unintentional blunder to see the fury that discolored the older man’s face.
The iron discipline that permitted Boyle to bring that fury under control left him, even in his moment of outrage, with a sense of grim pride. He was still master of himself and of Transplanet Enterprises. Given fools enough like this to work with and time enough to use them, and he would be master of a great deal more. Immortality, for instance.
“She’s quite right to be provident, of course,” he said equably. “I am getting old. I’m past the sixty-mark, and it can’t be more than another year or two before the rejuvenators refuse me further privilege and I’m dropped from the marital lists for good.”
“Damn it, Boyle, I’m sorry,” Locke said. “I didn’t mean to offend you.”
The potential awkwardness of the moment was relieved by a soft chime from the annunciator. The apartment entrance dilated, admitting Moira.
She came to them directly, slender and poised and supremely confident of her dark young beauty, her ermine wrap and high-coiled hair glistening with stray raindrops that took the light like diamonds. The two men stood up to greet her, and Boyle could not miss the subtle feminine response of her to Locke’s eager, athletic youth.
_If she’s planning to fill my place in her marital-seven with this crewcut fool, Boyle thought with sudden malice, then she’s in for a rude shock. And a final one._
“I couldn’t enjoy a line of the play for thinking of you two patriots plotting here in my apartment,” Moira said. “But then the performance was shatteringly dull, anyway.”
Her boredom was less than convincing. When she had hung her wrap in a closet to be aerated and irradiated against its next wearing, she sat between Boyle and Locke with a little sigh of anticipation.
“Have you decided yet what to do about this dreadful immortality scheme of the Councils, darlings?”
Boyle went to the auto-dispenser in a corner and brought back three drinks, frosted and effervescing. They touched rims. Moira sipped at her glass quietly, waiting in tacit agreement with Locke for the older man’s opinion.
“This longevity should be available to the Social Body as well as to AL&O,” Boyle said. “It’s obvious even to non-politicals like Locke and myself that, unless equal privilege is maintained, there’s going to be the devil to pay and the Weal will suffer. It’s equally obvious that the Alcorians’ offer is made with the deliberate intent of undermining our system through dissension.”
“To their own profit, of course,” Locke put in. “Divide and conquer...”
“Whatever is to be done must be done quickly,” Boyle said. “It would take months to negotiate a definitive plebiscite, and in that time the Alcorians would have gone home again without treating anyone outside AL&O. And there the matter would rest. It seems to be up to us to get hold of the longevity process ourselves and to broadcast it to the public.”