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The Reason







From: The Highest ... Treason

"Let me ask you one thing, Tallis," MacMaine said. "Would you do
anything in your power to save Keroth from destruction? Anything, no
matter how drastic, if you knew that it would save Keroth in the long
run?"

"A foolish question. Of course I would. I would give my life."

"Your life? A mere nothing. A pittance. Any man could give his life.
Would you consent to live forever for Keroth?"

Tallis shook his head as though he were puzzled. "Live forever? That's
twice or three times you've said something about that. I don't
understand you."

"Would you consent to live forever as a filthy curse on the lips of
every Kerothi old enough to speak? Would you consent to be a vile,
inhuman monster whose undead spirit would hang over your homeland like
an evil miasma for centuries to come, whose very name would touch a
flame of hatred in the minds of all who heard it?"

"That's a very melodramatic way of putting it," the Kerothi said, "but
I believe I understand what you mean. Yes, I would consent to that if
it would be the only salvation of Keroth."

"Would you slaughter helpless millions of your own people so that other
billions might survive? Would you ruthlessly smash your system of
government and your whole way of life if it were the only way to save
the people themselves?"

"I'm beginning to see what you're driving at," Tallis said slowly. "And
if it is what I think it is, I think I would like to kill you--very
slowly."

"I know, I know. But you haven't answered my question. Would you do
those things to save your people?"

"I would," said Tallis coldly. "Don't misunderstand me. I do not loathe
you for what you have done to your own people; I hate you for what you
have done to mine."

"That's as it should be," said MacMaine. His head was clearing up more
now. He realized that he had been talking a little wildly at first. Or
was he really insane? Had he been insane from the beginning? No. He
knew with absolute clarity that every step he had made had been cold,
calculating, and ruthless, but utterly and absolutely sane.

He suddenly wished that he had shot Tallis without wakening him. If his
mind hadn't been in such a state of shock, he would have. There was no
need to torture the man like this.

"Go on," said Tallis, in a voice that had suddenly become devoid of all
emotion. "Tell it all."

"Earth was stagnating," MacMaine said, surprised at the sound of his
own voice. He hadn't intended to go on. But he couldn't stop now. "You
saw how it was. Every standard had become meaningless because no
standard was held to be better than any other standard. There was no
beauty because beauty was superior to ugliness and we couldn't allow
superiority or inferiority. There was no love because in order to love
someone or something you must feel that it is in some way superior to
that which is not loved. I'm not even sure I know what those terms
mean, because I'm not sure I ever thought anything was beautiful, I'm
not sure I ever loved anything. I only read about such things in books.
But I know I felt the emptiness inside me where those things should
have been.

"There was no morality, either. People did not refrain from stealing
because it was wrong, but simply because it was pointless to steal what
would be given to you if you asked for it. There was no right or wrong.

"We had a form of social contract that we called 'marriage,' but it
wasn't the same thing as marriage was in the old days. There was no
love. There used to be a crime called 'adultery,' but even the word had
gone out of use on the Earth I knew. Instead, it was considered
antisocial for a woman to refuse to give herself to other men; to do so
might indicate that she thought herself superior or thought her husband
to be superior to other men. The same thing applied to men in their
relationships with women other than their wives. Marriage was a social
contract that could be made or broken at the whim of the individual. It
served no purpose because it meant nothing, neither party gained
anything by the contract that they couldn't have had without it. But a
wedding was an excuse for a gala party at which the couple were the
center of attention. So the contract was entered into lightly for the
sake of a gay time for a while, then broken again so that the game
could be played with someone else--the game of Musical Bedrooms."

He stopped and looked down at the helpless Kerothi. "That doesn't mean
much to you, does it? In your society, women are chattel, to be owned,
bought, and sold. If you see a woman you want, you offer a price to her
father or brother or husband--whoever the owner might be. Then she's
yours until you sell her to another. Adultery is a very serious crime
on Kerothi, but only because it's an infringement of property rights.
There's not much love lost there, either, is there?

"I wonder if either of us knows what love is, Tallis?"

"I love my people," Tallis said grimly.

MacMaine was startled for a moment. He'd never thought about it that
way. "You're right, Tallis," he said at last. "You're right. We do
know. And because I loved the human race, in spite of its stagnation
and its spirit of total mediocrity, I did what I had to do."

"You will pardon me," Tallis said, with only the faintest bit of acid
in his voice, "if I do not understand exactly what it is that you did."
Then his voice grew softer. "Wait. Perhaps I do understand. Yes, of
course."

"You think you understand?" MacMaine looked at him narrowly.

"Yes. I said that I am not a psychomedic, and my getting angry with you
proves it. You fought hard and well for Keroth, Sepastian, and, in
doing so, you had to kill many of your own race. It is not easy for a
man to do, no matter how much your reason tells you it must be done.
And now, in the face of death, remorse has come. I do not completely
understand the workings of the Earthman's mind, but I----"

* * * * *

"That's just it; you don't," MacMaine interrupted. "Thanks for trying
to find an excuse for me, Tallis, but I'm afraid it isn't so. Listen.

"I had to find out what Earth was up against. I had a pretty good idea
already that the Kerothi would win--would wipe us out or enslave us to
the last man. And, after I had seen Keroth, I was certain of it. So I
sent a message back to Earth, telling them what they were up against,
because, up 'til then they hadn't known. As soon as they knew, they
reacted as they have always done when they are certain that they face
danger. They fought. They unleashed the chained-down intelligence of
the few extraordinary Earthmen, and they released the fighting spirit
of even the ordinary Earthmen. And they won!"

Tallis shook his head. "You sent no message, Sepastian. You were
watched. You know that. You could not have sent a message."

"You saw me send it," MacMaine said. "So did everyone else in the
fleet. Hokotan helped me send it--made all the arrangements at my
orders. But because you do not understand the workings of the
Earthman's mind, you didn't even recognize it as a message.

"Tallis, what would your people have done if an invading force, which
had already proven that it could whip Keroth easily, did to one of your
planets what we did on Houston's World?"

"If the enemy showed us that they could easily beat us and then hanged
the whole population of a planet for resisting? Why, we would be fools
to resist. Unless, of course, we had a secret weapon in a hidden
pocket, the way Earth had."

"No, Tallis; no. That's where you're making your mistake. Earth didn't
have that weapon until after the massacre on Houston's World. Let me
ask you another thing: Would any Kerothi have ordered that massacre?"

"I doubt it," Tallis said slowly. "Killing that many potential slaves
would be wasteful and expensive. We are fighters, not butchers. We kill
only when it is necessary to win; the remainder of the enemy is taken
care of as the rightful property of the conqueror."

"Exactly. Prisoners were part of the loot, and it's foolish to destroy
loot. I noticed that in your history books. I noticed, too, that in
such cases, the captives recognized the right of the conqueror to
enslave them, and made no trouble. So, after Earth's forces get to
Keroth, I don't think we'll have any trouble with you."

"Not if they set us an example like Houston's World," Tallis said, "and
can prove that resistance is futile. But I don't understand the
message. What was the message and how did you send it?"

"The massacre on Houston's World was the message, Tallis. I even told
the Staff, when I suggested it. I said that such an act would strike
terror into the minds of Earthmen.

"And it did, Tallis; it did. But that terror was just the goad they
needed to make them fight. They had to sit up and take notice. If the
Kerothi had gone on the way they were going, taking one planet after
another, as they planned, the Kerothi would have won. The people of
each planet would think, 'It can't happen here.' And, since they felt
that nothing could be superior to anything else, they were complacently
certain that they couldn't be beat. Of course, maybe Earth couldn't
beat you, either, but that was all right; it just proved that there was
no such thing as superiority.

"But Houston's World jarred them--badly. It had to. 'Hell does more
than Heaven can to wake the fear of God in man.' They didn't recognize
beauty, but I shoved ugliness down their throats; they didn't know love
and friendship, so I gave them hatred and fear.

"The committing of atrocities has been the mistake of aggressors
throughout Earth's history. The battle cries of countless wars have
called upon the people to remember an atrocity. Nothing else hits an
Earthman as hard as a vicious, brutal, unnecessary murder.

"So I gave them the incentive to fight, Tallis. That was my message."

Tallis was staring at him wide eyed. "You are insane."

"No. It worked. In six months, they found something that would enable
them to blast the devil Kerothi from the skies. I don't know what the
society of Earth is like now--and I never will. But at least I know
that men are allowed to think again. And I know they'll survive."

He suddenly realized how much time had passed. Had it been too long?
No. There would still be Earth ships prowling the vicinity, waiting for
any sign of a Kerothi ship that had hidden in the vastness of space by
not using its engines.

"I have some things I must do, Tallis," he said, standing up slowly.
"Is there anything else you want to know?"

Tallis frowned a little, as though he were trying to think of
something, but then he closed his eyes and relaxed. "No, Sepastian.
Nothing. Do whatever it is you have to do."

"Tallis," MacMaine said. Tallis didn't open his eyes, and MacMaine was
very glad of that. "Tallis, I want you to know that, in all my life,
you were the only friend I ever had."

The bright green eyes remained closed. "That may be so. Yes, Sepastian,
I honestly think you believe that."

"I do," said MacMaine, and shot him carefully through the head.





Next: -and Epilogue

Previous: The Results



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