From: The Highest ... Treason
Convincing the Kerothi that he was in earnest was more difficult than
MacMaine had at first supposed. He had done his best, and now, after
nearly a year of captivity, Tallis had come to tell him that his offer
had been accepted.
General Tallis sat across from Colonel MacMaine, smoking his cigarette
"Just why are they accepting my proposition?" MacMaine asked bluntly.
"Because they can afford to," Tallis said with a smile. "You will be
watched, my sibling-by-choice. Watched every moment, for any sign of
treason. Your flagship will be a small ten-man blaster-boat--one of our
own. You gave us one; we'll give you one. At the worst, we will come
out even. At the best, your admittedly brilliant grasp of tactics and
strategy will enable us to save thousands of Kerothi lives, to say
nothing of the immense savings in time and money."
"All I ask is a chance to prove my ability and my loyalty."
"You've already proven your ability. All of the strategy problems that
you have been given over the past year were actual battles that had
already been fought. In eighty-seven per cent of the cases, your
strategy proved to be superior to our own. In most of the others, it
was just as good. In only three cases was the estimate of your losses
higher than the actual losses. Actually, we'd be fools to turn you
down. We have everything to gain and nothing to lose."
"I felt the same way a year ago," said MacMaine. "Even being watched
all the time will allow me more freedom than I had on Earth--if the
Board of Strategy is willing to meet my terms."
Tallis chuckled. "They are. You'll be the best-paid officer in the
entire fleet; none of the rest of us gets a tenth of what you'll be
getting, as far as personal value is concerned. And yet, it costs us
practically nothing. You drive an attractive bargain, Sepastian."
"Is that the kind of pay you'd like to get, Tallis?" MacMaine asked
with a smile.
"Why not? You'll get your terms: full pay as a Kerothi general, with
retirement on full pay after the war is over. The pick of the most
beautiful--by your standards--of the Earthwomen we capture. A home on
Keroth, built to your specifications, and full citizenship, including
the freedom to enter into any business relationships you wish. If you
keep your promises, we can keep ours and still come out ahead."
"Good. When do we start?"
"Now," said Tallis rising from his chair. "Put on your dress uniform,
and we'll go down to see the High Commander. We've got to give you a
set of general's insignia, my sibling-by-choice."
Tallis waited while MacMaine donned the blue trousers and gold-trimmed
red uniform of a Kerothi officer. When he was through, MacMaine looked
at himself in the mirror. "There's one more thing, Tallis," he said
"This hair. I think you'd better arrange to have it permanently
removed, according to your custom. I can't do anything about the color
of my skin, but there's no point in my looking like one of your wild
"You're very gracious," Tallis said. "And very wise. Our officers will
certainly come closer to feeling that you are one of us."
"I am one of you from this moment," MacMaine said. "I never intend to
see Earth again, except, perhaps, from space--when we fight the final
battle of the war."
"That may be a hard battle," Tallis said.
"Maybe," MacMaine said thoughtfully. "On the other hand, if my overall
strategy comes out the way I think it will, that battle may never be
fought at all. I think that complete and total surrender will end the
war before we ever get that close to Earth."
"I hope you're right," Tallis said firmly. "This war is costing far
more than we had anticipated, in spite of the weakness of your--that
is, of Earth."
"Well," MacMaine said with a slight grin, "at least you've been able to
capture enough Earth food to keep me eating well all this time."
Tallis' grin was broad. "You're right. We're not doing too badly at
that. Now, let's go; the High Commander is waiting."
* * * * *
MacMaine didn't realize until he walked into the big room that what he
was facing was not just a discussion with a high officer, but what
amounted to a Court of Inquiry.
The High Commander, a dome-headed, wrinkled, yellow-skinned, hard-eyed
old Kerothi, was seated in the center of a long, high desk, flanked on
either side by two lower-ranking generals who had the same deadly, hard
look. Off to one side, almost like a jury in a jury box, sat twenty or
so lesser officers, none of them ranking below the Kerothi equivalent
As far as MacMaine could tell, none of the officers wore the insignia
of fleet officers, the spaceship-and-comet that showed that the wearer
was a fighting man. These were the men of the Permanent Headquarters
Staff--the military group that controlled, not only the armed forces of
Keroth, but the civil government as well.
"What's this?" MacMaine hissed in a whispered aside, in English.
"Pearr up, my prrotherr," Tallis answered softly, in the same tongue,
"all is well."
MacMaine had known, long before he had ever heard of General Polan
Tallis, that the Hegemony of Keroth was governed by a military junta,
and that all Kerothi were regarded as members of the armed forces.
Technically, there were no civilians; they were legally members of the
"unorganized reserve," and were under military law. He had known that
Kerothi society was, in its own way, as much a slave society as that of
Earth, but it had the advantage over Earth in that the system did allow
for advance by merit. If a man had the determination to get ahead, and
the ability to cut the throat--either literally or figuratively--of the
man above him in rank, he could take his place.
On a more strictly legal basis, it was possible for a common trooper to
become an officer by going through the schools set up for that purpose,
but, in practice, it took both pull and pressure to get into those
In theory, any citizen of the Hegemony could become an officer, and any
officer could become a member of the Permanent Headquarters Staff.
Actually, a much greater preference was given to the children of
officers. Examinations were given periodically for the purpose of
recruiting new members for the elite officers' corps, and any citizen
could take the examination--once.
But the tests were heavily weighted in favor of those who were already
well-versed in matters military, including what might be called the
"inside jokes" of the officers' corps. A common trooper had some chance
of passing the examination; a civilian had a very minute chance. A
noncommissioned officer had the best chance of passing the examination,
but there were age limits which usually kept NCO's from getting a
commission. By the time a man became a noncommissioned officer, he was
too old to be admitted to the officers training schools. There were
allowances made for "extraordinary merit," which allowed common
troopers or upper-grade NCO's to be commissioned in spite of the
general rules, and an astute man could take advantage of those
Ability could get a man up the ladder, but it had to be a particular
kind of ability.
* * * * *
During his sojourn as a "guest" of the Kerothi, MacMaine had made a
point of exploring the history of the race. He knew perfectly well that
the histories he had read were doctored, twisted, and, in general,
totally unreliable in so far as presenting anything that would be
called a history by an unbiased investigator.
But, knowing this, MacMaine had been able to learn a great deal about
the present society. Even if the "history" was worthless as such, it
did tell something about the attitudes of a society that would make up
such a history. And, too, he felt that, in general, the main events
which had been catalogued actually occurred; the details had been
blurred, and the attitudes of the people had been misrepresented, but
the skeleton was essentially factual.
MacMaine felt that he knew what kind of philosophy had produced the
mental attitudes of the Court he now faced, and he felt he knew how to
handle himself before them.
Half a dozen paces in front of the great desk, the color of the floor
tiling was different from that of the rest of the floor. Instead of a
solid blue, it was a dead black. Tallis, who was slightly ahead of
MacMaine, came to a halt as his toes touched the edge of the black
Uh-oh! a balk line, MacMaine thought. He stopped sharply at the same
point. Both of them just stood there for a full minute while they were
carefully inspected by the members of the Court.
Then the High Commander gestured with one hand, and the officer to his
left leaned forward and said: "Why is this one brought before us in the
uniform of an officer, bare of any insignia of rank?"
It could only be a ritual question, MacMaine decided; they must know
why he was there.
"I bring him as a candidate for admission to our Ingroup," Tallis
replied formally, "and ask the indulgence of Your Superiorities
"And who are you who ask our indulgence?"
Tallis identified himself at length--name, rank, serial number,
military record, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.
By the time he had finished, MacMaine was beginning to think that the
recitation would go on forever. The High Commander had closed his eyes,
and he looked as if he had gone to sleep.
There was more formality. Through it all, MacMaine stood at rigid
attention, flexing his calf muscles occasionally to keep the blood
flowing in his legs. He had no desire to disgrace himself by passing
out in front of the Court.
Finally the Kerothi officer stopped asking Tallis questions and looked
at the High Commander. MacMaine got the feeling that there was about to
be a departure from the usual procedure.
Without opening his eyes, the High Commander said, in a brittle, rather
harsh voice, "These circumstances are unprecedented." Then he opened
his eyes and looked directly at MacMaine. "Never has an animal been
proposed for such an honor. In times past, such a proposal would have
been mockery of this Court and this Ingroup, and a crime of such
monstrous proportions as to merit Excommunication."
MacMaine knew what that meant. The word was used literally; the
condemned one was cut off from all communication by having his sensory
nerves surgically severed. Madness followed quickly; psychosomatic
death followed eventually, as the brain, cut off from any outside
stimuli except those which could not be eliminated without death
following instantly, finally became incapable of keeping the body
alive. Without feedback, control was impossible, and the
organism-as-a-whole slowly deteriorated until death was inevitable.
At first, the victim screamed and thrashed his limbs as the brain sent
out message after message to the rest of the body, but since the brain
had no way of knowing whether the messages had been received or acted
upon, the victim soon went into a state comparable to that of catatonia
and finally died.
If it was not the ultimate in punishment, it was a damned close
approach, MacMaine thought. And he felt that the word "damned" could
be used in that sense without fear of exaggeration.
* * * * *
"However," the High Commander went on, gazing at the ceiling,
"circumstances change. It would once have been thought vile that a
machine should be allowed to do the work of a skilled man, and the
thought that a machine might do the work with more precision and
greater rapidity would have been almost blasphemous.
"This case must be viewed in the same light. As we are replacing
certain of our workers on our outer planets with Earth animals simply
because they are capable of doing the work more cheaply, so we must
recognize that the same interests of economy govern in this case.
"A computing animal, in that sense, is in the same class as a computing
machine. It would be folly to waste their abilities simply because they
are not human.
"There also arises the question of command. It has been represented to
this court, by certain officers who have been active in investigating
the candidate animal, that it would be as degrading to ask a human
officer to take orders from an animal as it would be to ask him to take
orders from a commoner of the Unorganized Reserve, if not more so. And,
I must admit, there is, on the surface of it, some basis for this
"But, again, we must not let ourselves be misled. Does not a spaceship
pilot, in a sense, take orders from the computer that gives him his
orbits and courses? In fact, do not all computers give orders, in one
way or another, to those who use them?
"Why, then, should we refuse to take orders from a computing animal?"
He paused and appeared to listen to the silence in the room before
"Stand at ease until the High Commander looks at you again," Tallis
said in a low aside.
This was definitely the pause for adjusting to surprise.
It seemed interminable, though it couldn't have been longer than a
minute later that the High Commander dropped his gaze from the ceiling
to MacMaine. When MacMaine snapped to attention again, the others in
the room became suddenly silent.
"We feel," the hard-faced old Kerothi continued, as if there had been
no break, "that, in this case, we are justified in employing the animal
"However, we must make certain exceptions to our normal procedure. The
candidate is not a machine, and therefore cannot be treated as a
machine. Neither is it human, and therefore cannot be treated as human.
"Therefore, this is the judgment of the Court of the Ingroup:
"The animal, having shown itself to be capable of behaving, in some
degree, as befits an officer--including, as we have been informed,
voluntarily conforming to our custom as regards superfluous hair--it
shall henceforth be considered as having the same status as an untaught
child or a barbarian, insofar as social conventions are concerned, and
shall be entitled to the use of the human pronoun, he.
"Further, he shall be entitled to wear the uniform he now wears, and
the insignia of a General of the Fleet. He shall be entitled, as far as
personal contact goes, to the privileges of that rank, and shall be
addressed as such.
"He will be accorded the right of punishment of an officer of that
rank, insofar as disciplining his inferiors is concerned, except that
he must first secure the concurrence of his Guardian Officer, as
"He shall also be subject to punishment in the same way and for the
same offenses as humans of his rank, taking into account physiological
differences, except as hereinafter provided.
"His reward for proper service"--The High Commander listed the demands
MacMaine had made--"are deemed fitting, and shall be paid, provided his
duties in service are carried out as proposed.
"Obviously, however, certain restrictions must be made. General
MacMaine, as he is entitled to be called, is employed solely as a
Strategy Computer. His ability as such and his knowledge of the
psychology of the Earth animals are, as far as we are concerned at this
moment, his only useful attributes. Therefore, his command is
restricted to that function. He is empowered to act only through the
other officers of the Fleet as this Court may appoint; he is not to
"Further, it is ordered that he shall have a Guardian Officer, who
shall accompany him at all times and shall be directly responsible for
"That officer shall be punished for any deliberate crime committed by
the aforesaid General MacMaine as if he had himself committed the
"Until such time as this Court may appoint another officer for the
purpose, General Polan Tallis, previously identified in these
proceedings, is appointed as Guardian Officer."
The High Commander paused for a moment, then he said: "Proceed with the
investment of the insignia."
Next: The Strategy
Previous: The Escape