by Murray Leinster
It was, as usual, a decision on which the question of peace or atomic war depended. The Council of the Western Defense Alliance, as usual, had made the decision. And, as usual, the WDA Coordinator had to tell the Com Ambassador that the Coms had won again. The WDA would not risk atomic war over a thirty-mile shift of a national border in southeast Asia.
“Perhaps,” said the Com Ambassador politely, “it will be easier for you personally if I admit that our Intelligence Service has reported the decision of your Council.” He paused, and added, “in detail.”
The Coordinator asked wearily, “How much detail?”
“First,” said the Ambassador, “you are to insist that no decision has been reached. You are to play for time. If I do not agree, you are to offer to compromise. If I do not agree, you are to accept the settlement we suggested. But you are to ask urgently for time in which to remove the citizens we might feel ought to be shot. This is not an absolute condition, but you are to use every possible means to persuade me to grant it.”
The Coordinator ground his teeth. But the Council wouldn’t go to war for a few thousand citizens of an Asiatic country—who would probably be killed in the war anyhow. There would be millions killed in Western countries if the war did come.
“I have much respect for you,” said the Ambassador politely, “so I agree to three days of delay during which you may evacuate disloyal citizens by helicopter. On the fourth day our troops will move up to the new border. It would be unfortunate if there were clashes on the way.”
“We can’t get them out in three days!” protested the Coordinator. “It’s impossible! We haven’t enough copters!”
“With warning to flee,” said the Ambassador, “many can reach the new border on foot.”
The Coordinator ground his teeth again. That would be a public disgrace—and not the first one—for the WDA for not protecting its friends. But the public in the Western nations did not want war. It would not allow its governments to fight over trivial matters. Its alliance could not make threats. On the other hand, the public in the Com nations had no opinions its governments had not decreed. The Com nations could threaten. They could even carry out threats, though made for trivialities. So the WDA found itself yielding upon one point after another. Eventually it would fight, and fight bravely, but too late.
The Coordinator said heavily, “You will excuse me, Mr. Ambassador. I have to see about getting as many copters as possible to southeast Asia.”
Some hundreds of light-years away, the Survey ship Lotus floated in space, a discreet number of millions of miles from the local sun. It was on a strictly scientific mission, so it would not be subject to Com suspicion of having undesirable political intentions. At least they hadn’t demanded to have an observer on board. Com intelligence reports were notoriously sound, however, and possibly spies had assured their employers that the Lotus’s mission was bona fide. Her errand was the mapping and first-examination of a series of sol-type solar systems. This was the ninth such system on the list. The third planet out from the sun, here, lay off to starboard. It was near enough to have a visible disk to the naked eye, and moderate magnification showed ice-caps and permanent surface markings that could be seas and continents. As was to be expected, it was very much like a more familiar third planet out—Earth.
The skipper gave Nolan the job of remote inspection while the gross examination of the system went on. Nolan had a knack for such work, and much of it naturally fell to him.