By MACK REYNOLDS
ILLUSTRATED by BERNKLAU
According to tradition,
the man who held the
Galactic Medal of Honor
could do no wrong. In a
strange way, Captain Don
Mathers was to learn
that this was true.
Don Mathers snapped to
attention, snapped a crisp
salute to his superior, said,
"Sub-lieutenant Donal Mathers
The Commodore looked up at
him, returned the salute, looked
down at the report on the desk.
He murmured, "Mathers, One
Man Scout V-102. Sector A22-K223."
"Yes, sir," Don said.
The Commodore looked up at
him again. "You've been out
only five days, Lieutenant."
"Yes, sir, on the third day I
seemed to be developing trouble
in my fuel injectors. I stuck it
out for a couple of days, but
then decided I'd better come in
for a check." Don Mathers added,
"As per instructions, sir."
"Ummm, of course. In a Scout
you can hardly make repairs in
space. If you have any doubts at
all about your craft, orders are
to return to base. It happens to
every pilot at one time or another."
"However, Lieutenant, it has
happened to you four times out
of your last six patrols."
Don Mathers said nothing. His
face remained expressionless.
"The mechanics report that
they could find nothing wrong
with your engines, Lieutenant."
"Sometimes, sir, whatever is
wrong fixes itself. Possibly a spot
of bad fuel. It finally burns out
and you're back on good fuel
again. But by that time you're
also back to the base."
The Commodore said impatiently,
"I don't need a lesson in
the shortcomings of the One Man
Scout, Lieutenant. I piloted one
for nearly five years. I know
their shortcomings—and those of
"I don't understand, sir."
The Commodore looked down
at the ball of his thumb. "You're
out in space for anywhere from
two weeks to a month. All alone.
You're looking for Kraden ships
which practically never turn up.
In military history the only remotely
similar situation I can
think of were the pilots of
World War One pursuit planes,
in the early years of the war,
when they still flew singly, not
in formation. But even they were
up there alone for only a couple
of hours or so."
"Yes, sir," Don said meaninglessly.
The Commodore said, "We,
here at command, figure on you
fellows getting a touch of space
cafard once in a while and, ah,
imagining something wrong in
the engines and coming in.
But," here the Commodore cleared
his throat, "four times out
of six? Are you sure you don't
need a psych, Lieutenant?"
Don Mathers flushed. "No,
sir, I don't think so."
The Commodore's voice went
militarily expressionless. "Very
well, Lieutenant. You'll have the
customary three weeks leave before
going out again. Dismissed."
Don saluted snappily, wheeled
and marched from the office.
Outside, in the corridor, he
muttered a curse. What did that
chairborne brass hat know
about space cafard? About the
depthless blackness, the wretchedness
of free fall, the tides of
primitive terror that swept you
when the animal realization hit
that you were away, away, away
from the environment that gave
you birth. That you were alone,
alone, alone. A million, a million-million
miles from your nearest
fellow human. Space cafard, in
a craft little larger than a good-sized
closet! What did the Commodore
know about it?
Don Mathers had conveniently
forgotten the other's claim to
five years' service in the Scouts.
He made his way from Space
Command Headquarters, Third
Division, to Harry's Nuevo
Mexico Bar. He found the place
empty at this time of the day
and climbed onto a stool.
Harry said, "Hi, Lootenant,
thought you were due for a patrol.
How come you're back so
Don said coldly, "You prying
into security subjects, Harry?"
"Well, gee, no Lootenant. You
know me. I know all the boys. I
was just making conversation."
"Look, how about some more
credit, Harry? I don't have any
pay coming up for a week."
"Why, sure. I got a boy on
the light cruiser New Taos. Any
spaceman's credit is good with
me. What'll it be?"
Tequila was the only concession
the Nuevo Mexico Bar
made to its name. Otherwise, it
looked like every other bar has
looked in every land and in every
era. Harry poured, put out lemon
Harry said, "You hear the
news this morning?"
"No, I just got in."
"Colin Casey died." Harry
shook his head. "Only man in the
system that held the Galactic
Medal of Honor. Presidential
proclamation, everybody in the
system is to hold five minutes of
silence for him at two o'clock,
Sol Time. You know how many
times that medal's been awarded,
Lootenant?" Before waiting for
an answer, Harry added, "Just
Don added dryly, "Twenty-eight
of them posthumously."
"Yeah." Harry, leaning on the
bar before his sole customer,
added in wonder, "But imagine.
The Galactic Medal of Honor,
the bearer of which can do no
wrong. Imagine. You come to
some town, walk into the biggest
jewelry store, pick up a diamond
bracelet, and walk out. And
Don growled, "The jewelry
store owner would be over-reimbursed
by popular subscription.
And probably the mayor of the
town would write you a letter
thanking you for honoring his
fair city by deigning to notice
one of the products of its shops.
Just like that."
"Yeah." Harry shook his head
in continued awe. "And, imagine,
if you shoot somebody you
don't like, you wouldn't spend
even a single night in the Nick."
Don said, "If you held the
Medal of Honor, you wouldn't
have to shoot anybody. Look,
Harry, mind if I use the phone?"
"Go right ahead, Lootenant."
Dian Fuller was obviously in
the process of packing when the
screen summoned her. She looked
into his face and said, surprised,
"Why, Don, I thought
you were on patrol."
"Yeah, I was. However, something
She looked at him, a slight
frown on her broad, fine forehead.
He said impatiently, "Look, I
called you to ask for a date.
You're leaving for Callisto tomorrow.
It's our last chance to
be together. There's something
in particular I wanted to ask
She said, a touch irritated,
"I'm packing, Don. I simply don't
have time to see you again. I
thought we said our goodbyes
five days ago."
"This is important, Di."
She tossed the two sweaters
she was holding into a chair, or
something, off-screen, and faced
him, her hands on her hips.
"No it isn't, Don. Not to me,
at least. We've been all over this.
Why keep torturing yourself?
You're not ready for marriage,
Don. I don't want to hurt you,
but you simply aren't. Look me
up, Don, in a few years."
"Di, just a couple of hours this
Dian looked him full in the
face and said, "Colin Casey finally
died of his wounds this morning.
The President has asked for
five minutes of silence at two
o'clock. Don, I plan to spend that
time here alone in my apartment,
possibly crying a few tears for
a man who died for me and the
rest of the human species under
such extreme conditions of gallantry
that he was awarded the
highest honor of which man has
ever conceived. I wouldn't want
to spend that five minutes while
on a date with another member
of my race's armed forces who
had deserted his post of duty."
Don Mathers turned, after the
screen had gone blank, and walked
stiffly to a booth. He sank
onto a chair and called flatly to
Harry, "Another tequila. A
double tequila. And don't bother
with that lemon and salt
An hour or so later a voice
said, "You Sub-lieutenant Donal
Don looked up and snarled. "So
what? Go away."
There were two of them.
Twins, or could have been.
Empty of expression, heavy of
build. The kind of men fated to
be ordered around at the pleasure
of those with money, or
brains, none of which they had
or would ever have.
The one who had spoken said,
"The boss wants to see you."
"Who the hell is the boss?"
"Maybe he'll tell you when he
sees you," the other said, patiently
"Well, go tell the boss he can
go to the ..."
The second of the two had
been standing silently, his hands
in his great-coat pockets. Now he
brought his left hand out and
placed a bill before Don Mathers.
"The boss said to give you this."
It was a thousand-unit note.
Don Mathers had never seen a
bill of that denomination before,
nor one of half that.
He pursed his lips, picked it up
and looked at it carefully. Counterfeiting
was a long lost art. It
didn't even occur to him that it
might be false.
"All right," Don said, coming
to his feet. "Let's go see the boss,
I haven't anything else to do and
his calling card intrigues me."
At the curb, one of them summoned
a cruising cab with his
wrist screen and the three of
them climbed into it. The one
who had given Don the large
denomination bill dialed the address
and they settled back.
"So what does the boss want
with me?" Don said.
They didn't bother to answer.
The Interplanetary Lines
building was evidently their destination.
The car whisked them
up to the penthouse which topped
it, and they landed on the terrace.
Seated in beach chairs, an
autobar between them, were two
men. They were both in their
middle years. The impossibly corpulent
one, Don Mathers vaguely
recognized. From a newscast?
From a magazine article? The
other could have passed for a
video stereotype villain, complete
to the built-in sneer. Few men,
in actuality, either look like or
sound like the conventionalized
villain. This was an exception,
He scowled at them. "I suppose
one of you is the boss," he said.
"That's right," the fat one
grunted. He looked at Don's two
escorts. "Scotty, you and Rogers
They got back into the car and
The vicious-faced one said,
"This is Mr. Lawrence Demming.
I am his secretary."
Demming puffed, "Sit down,
Lieutenant. What'll you have to
drink? My secretary's name is
Rostoff. Max Rostoff. Now we all
know each other's names. That
is, assuming you're Sub-lieutenant
Don said, "Tequila."
Max Rostoff dialed the drink
for him and, without being asked,
another cordial for his employer.
Don placed Demming now.
Lawrence Demming, billionaire.
Robber baron, he might have
been branded in an earlier age.
Transportation baron of the solar
system. Had he been a pig he
would have been butchered long
ago; he was going unhealthily to
Rostoff said, "You have identification?"
Don Mathers fingered through
his wallet, brought forth his I.D.
card. Rostoff handed him his tequila,
took the card and examined
it carefully, front and back.
Demming huffed and said,
"Your collar insignia tells me you
pilot a Scout. What sector do you
Don sipped at the fiery Mexican
drink, looked at the fat man
over the glass. "That's military
information, Mr. Demming."
Demming made a move with
his plump lips. "Did Scotty give
you a thousand-unit note?" He
didn't wait for an answer. "You
took it. Either give it back or tell
me what sector you patrol, Lieutenant."
Don Mathers was aware of the
fact that a man of Demming's
position wouldn't have to go to
overmuch effort to acquire such
information, anyway. It wasn't
of particular importance.
He shrugged and said, "A22-K223.
I fly the V-102."
Max Rostoff handed back the
I.D. card to Don and picked up
a Solar System sector chart from
the short-legged table that sat
between the two of them and
checked it. He said, "Your information
was correct, Mr. Demming.
He's the man."
Demming shifted his great
bulk in his beach chair, sipped
some of his cordial and said,
"Very well. How would you like
to hold the Galactic Medal of
Don Mathers laughed. "How
would you?" he said.
Demming scowled. "I am not
jesting, Lieutenant Mathers. I
never jest. Obviously, I am not
of the military. It would be quite
impossible for me to gain such an
award. But you are the pilot of
"And I've got just about as
much chance of winning the
Medal of Honor as I have of giving
birth to triplets."
The transportation magnate
wiggled a disgustingly fat finger
at him, "I'll arrange for that
part of it."
Don Mathers goggled him. He
blurted finally, "Like hell you
will. There's not enough money
in the system to fiddle with the
awarding of the Medal of Honor.
There comes a point, Demming,
where even your dough can't carry
Demming settled back in his
chair, closed his eyes and grunted,
Max Rostoff took up the ball.
"A few days ago, Mr. Demming
and I flew in from Io on one of
the Interplanetary Lines freighters.
As you probably know, they
are completely automated. We
were alone in the craft."
"So?" Without invitation, Don
Mathers leaned forward and dialed
himself another tequila. He
made it a double this time. A
feeling of excitement was growing
within him, and the drinks
he'd had earlier had worn away.
Something very big, very, very
big, was developing. He hadn't
the vaguest idea what.
"Lieutenant, how would you
like to capture a Kraden light
cruiser? If I'm not incorrect,
probably Miro class."
Don laughed nervously, not
knowing what the other was at
but still feeling the growing excitement.
He said, "In all the
history of the war between our
species, we've never captured a
Kraden ship intact. It'd help a
lot if we could."
"This one isn't exactly intact,
but nearly so."
Don looked from Rostoff to
Demming, and then back. "What
in the hell are you talking
"In your sector," Rostoff said,
"we ran into a derelict Miro class
cruiser. The crew—repulsive
creatures—were all dead. Some
thirty of them. Mr. Demming
and I assumed that the craft had
been hit during one of the actions
between our fleet and theirs
and that somehow both sides had
failed to recover the wreckage.
At any rate, today it is floating,
abandoned of all life, in your
sector." Rostoff added softly,
"One has to approach quite close
before any signs of battle are
evident. The ship looks intact."
Demming opened his eyes
again and said, "And you're going
to capture it."
Don Mathers bolted his tequila,
licked a final drop from the
edge of his lip. "And why should
that rate the most difficult decoration
to achieve that we've ever
"Because," Rostoff told him,
his tone grating mockery, "you're
going to radio in reporting a
Miro class Kraden cruiser. We
assume your superiors will order
you to stand off, that help is
coming, that your tiny Scout isn't
large enough to do anything
more than to keep the enemy
under observation until a squadron
arrives. But you will radio
back that they are escaping and
that you plan to attack. When
your reinforcements arrive, Lieutenant,
you will have conquered
the Kraden, single-handed,
against odds of—what would you
say, fifty to one?"
Don Mathers' mouth was dry,
his palms moist. He said, "A One
Man Scout against a Miro class
cruiser? At least fifty to one, Mr.
Rostoff. At least."
Demming grunted. "There
would be little doubt of you getting
the Galactic Medal of Honor,
Lieutenant, especially since
Colin Casey is dead and there
isn't a living bearer of the
award. Max, another drink for
Don said, "Look. Why? I
think you might be right about
getting the award. But why, and
why me, and what's your percentage?"
Demming muttered, "Now we
get to the point." He settled
back in his chair again and
closed his eyes while his secretary
Max Rostoff leaned forward,
his wolfish face very serious.
"Lieutenant, the exploitation of
the Jupiter satellites is in its
earliest stages. There is every
reason to believe that the new
sources of radioactives on Callisto
alone may mean the needed
power edge that can give us the
victory over the Kradens. Whether
or not that is so, someone is
going to make literally billions
out of this new frontier."
"I still don't see ..."
"Lieutenant Mathers," Rostoff
said patiently, "the bearer of the
Galactic Medal of Honor is above
law. He carries with him an unalienable
prestige of such magnitude
that ... Well, let me use
an example. Suppose a bearer of
the Medal of Honor formed a
stock corporation to exploit the
pitchblende of Callisto. How difficult
would it be for him to dispose
of the stock?"
Demming grunted. "And suppose
there were a few, ah, crossed
wires in the manipulation of
the corporation's business?" He
sighed deeply. "Believe me,
Lieutenant Mathers, there are an
incredible number of laws which
have accumulated down through
the centuries to hamper the business
man. It is a continual fight
to be able to carry on at all. The
ability to do no legal wrong
would be priceless in the development
of a new frontier." He
sighed again, so deeply as to
make his bulk quiver. "Priceless."
Rostoff laid it on the line, his
face a leer. "We are offering you
a three-way partnership, Mathers.
You, with your Medal of
Honor, are our front man. Mr.
Demming supplies the initial
capital to get underway. And I ..."
He twisted his mouth with
evil self-satisfaction. "I was
present when the Kraden ship
was discovered, so I'll have to
be cut in. I'll supply the brains."
Demming grunted his disgust,
but added nothing.
Don Mathers said slowly, looking
down at the empty glass he
was twirling in his fingers,
"Look, we're up to our necks in
a war to the death with the Kradens.
In the long run it's either
us or them. At a time like this
you're suggesting that we fake
an action that will eventually enable
us to milk the new satellites
to the tune of billions."
Demming grunted meaninglessly.
Don said, "The theory is that
all men, all of us, ought to have
our shoulders to the wheel. This
project sounds to me like throwing
rocks under it."
Demming closed his eyes.
Rostoff said, "Lieutenant, it's
a dog-eat-dog society. If we
eventually lick the Kradens, one
of the very reasons will be because
we're a dog-eat-dog society.
Every man for himself and the
devil take the hindmost. Our
apologists dream up some beautiful
gobbledygook phrases for it,
such as free enterprise, but actually
it's dog-eat-dog. Surprisingly
enough, it works, or at
least has so far. Right now, the
human race needs the radioactives
of the Jupiter satellites. In
acquiring them, somebody is going
to make a tremendous
amount of money. Why shouldn't
it be us?"
"Why not, if you—or we—can
do it honestly?"
Demming's grunt was nearer
a snort this time.
Rostoff said sourly, "Don't be
naive, Lieutenant. Whoever does
it, is going to need little integrity.
You don't win in a sharper's
card game by playing your cards
honestly. The biggest sharper
wins. We've just found a joker
somebody dropped on the floor; if
we don't use it, we're suckers."
Demming opened his pig eyes
and said, "All this is on the academic
side. We checked your
background thoroughly before
approaching you, Mathers. We
know your record, even before
you entered the Space Service.
Just between the three of us,
wouldn't you like out? There are
a full billion men and women in
our armed forces, you can be
spared. Let's say you've already
done your share. Can't you see
the potentialities in spending the
rest of your life with the Galactic
Medal of Honor in your
It was there all right, drifting
slowly. Had he done a more thorough
job of his patrol, last time,
he should have stumbled upon it
If he had, there was no doubt
that he would have at first reported
it as an active enemy
cruiser. Demming and Rostoff
had been right. The Kraden ship
looked untouched by battle.
That is, if you approached it
from the starboard and slightly
abaft the beam. From that angle,
in particular, it looked untouched.
It had taken several circlings
of the craft to come to that conclusion.
Don Mathers was playing
it very safe. This thing
wasn't quite so simple as the
others had thought. He wanted
no slip-ups. His hand went to a
food compartment and emerged
with a space thermo which
should have contained fruit juice,
but didn't. He took a long pull at
Finally he dropped back into
the position he'd decided upon,
and flicked the switch of his
A base lieutenant's face illuminated
it. He yawned and looked
questioningly at Don Mathers.
Don said, allowing a touch of
excitement in his voice, "Mathers,
Scout V-102, Sector A22-K223."
"Yeah, yeah ..." the other
began, still yawning.
"I've spotted a Kraden cruiser.
Miro class, I think."
The lieutenant flashed into
movement. He slapped a button
before him, the screen blinked,
to be lit immediately again.
A gray-haired Fleet Admiral
looked up from papers on his
Don Mathers rapped, "Miro
class Kraden in sector A22-K223,
sir. I'm lying about fifty miles
off. Undetected thus far—I
think. He hasn't fired on me yet,
The Admiral was already doing
things with his hands. Two
subalterns came within range of
the screen, took orders, dashed
off. The Admiral was rapidly firing
orders into two other screens.
After a moment, he looked up at
Don Mathers again.
"Hang on, Lieutenant. Keep
him under observation as long
as you can. What're your exact
Don gave them to him and
A few minutes later the Admiral
returned to him. "Let's
take a look at it, Lieutenant."
Don Mathers adjusted the
screen to relay the Kraden cruiser.
His palms were moist now,
but everything was going to plan.
He wished that he could take another
The Admiral said, "Miro class,
all right. Don't get too close,
Lieutenant. They'll blast you to
hell and gone. We've got a task
force within an hour of you. Just
"Yes, sir," Don said. An hour.
He was glad to know that. He
didn't have much time in which
He let it go another five minutes,
then he said, "Sir, they're
"Damn," the Admiral said,
then rapid fired some more into
his other screens, barking one
order after another.
Don said, letting his voice go
very flat, "I'm going in, sir.
They're putting on speed. In another
five minutes they'll be
underway to the point where I
won't be able to follow. They'll
get completely clear."
The Admiral looked up, startled.
"Don't be a fool."
"They'll get away, sir." Knowing
that the other could see his
every motion, Don Mathers hit
the cocking lever of his flakflak
gun with the heel of his right
The Admiral snapped, "Let it
go, you fool. You won't last a
second." Then, his voice higher,
"That's an order, Lieutenant!"
Don Mathers flicked off his
screen. He grimaced sourly and
then descended on the Kraden
ship, his flakflak gun beaming it.
He was going to have to expend
every erg of energy in his Scout
to burn the other ship up to the
point where his attack would
look authentic, and to eliminate
all signs of previous action.
The awarding of the Galactic
Medal of Honor, as always, was
done in the simplest of ceremonies.
Only the President and Captain
Donal Mathers himself
were present in the former's office
in the Presidential Palace.
However, as they both knew,
every screen in the Solar System
was tuned into the ceremony.
Don Mathers saluted and stood
The President read the citation.
It was very short, as Medal
of Honor citations were always.
... for conspicuous gallantry
far and beyond the call of duty,
in which you single-handedly, and
against unbelievable odds, attacked
and destroyed an enemy
cruiser while flying a Scout
armed only with a short-beam
flakflak gun ...
He pinned a small bit of ribbon
and metal to Don Mathers' tunic.
It was an inconspicuous, inordinately
ordinary medal, the Galactic
Medal of Honor.
Don said hoarsely, "Thank
The President shook hands
with him and said, "I am President
of the United Solar System,
Captain Mathers, supposedly the
highest rank to which a man can
attain." He added simply, "I
wish I were you."
Afterwards, alone in New
Washington and wanting to remain
alone, Don Mathers strolled
the streets for a time, bothered
only occasionally when someone
recognized his face and people
would stop and applaud.
He grinned inwardly.
He had a suspicion already
that after a time he'd get used to
it and weary to death of it, but
right now it was still new and
fun. Who was the flyer, way back
in history, the one who first flew
the Atlantic in a propeller-driven
aircraft? His popularity must
have been something like this.
He went into O'Donnell's at
lunch time and as he entered the
orchestra broke off the popular
tune they were playing and
struck up the Interplanetary Anthem.
The manager himself escorted
him to his table and made
suggestions as to the specialties
and the wine.
When he first sat down the
other occupants of the restaurant,
men and women, had stood
and faced him and applauded.
Don flushed. There could be too
much of a good thing.
After the meal, a fantastic
production, Don finished his
cigar and asked the head waiter
for his bill, reaching for his wallet.
The other smiled. "Captain, I
am afraid your money is of no
value in O'Donnell's, not for just
this luncheon but whenever you
honor us." The head waiter
paused and added, "in fact, Captain,
I doubt if there is a restaurant
in the Solar System where
your money holds value. Or that
there will ever be."
Don Mathers was taken aback.
He was only beginning to realize
the ramifications of his holding
his Galactic Medal of Honor.
At Space Command Headquarters,
Third Division, Don
came to attention before the
Commodore's desk and tossed the
other a salute.
The Commodore returned it
snappily and leaned back in his
chair. "Take a seat, Captain.
Nice to see you again." He added
pleasantly, "Where in the world
have you been?"
Don Mathers slumped into a
chair, said wearily, "On a bust.
The bust to end all busts."
The Commodore chuckled.
"Don't blame you," he said.
"It was quite a bust," Don
"Well," the Commodore chuckled
again, "I don't suppose we
can throw you in the guardhouse
for being A.W.O.L. Not in view
of your recent decoration."
There was nothing to say to
"By the way," the Commodore
said, "I haven't had the opportunity
to congratulate you on
your Kraden. That was quite a
"Thank you, sir," Don added,
modestly, "rather foolish of me,
"Very much so. On such foolishness
are heroic deeds based,
Captain." The Commodore looked
at him questioningly. "You
must have had incredible luck.
The only way we've been able
to figure it was that his detectors
were on the blink. That may
be what happened."
"Yes, sir," Don nodded quickly.
"That's the way I figure it.
And my first blast must have
disrupted his fire control or
The Commodore said, "He
didn't get in any return fire at
"A few blasts. But by that
time I was in too close and moving
too fast. Fact of the matter
is, sir, I don't think they ever
recovered from my first beaming
"No, I suppose not," the Commodore
said musingly. "It's a
shame you had to burn them so
badly. We've never recovered a
Kraden ship in good enough
shape to give our techs something
to work on. It might make
a basic difference in the war,
particularly if there was something
aboard that'd give us some
indication of where they were
coming from. We've been fighting
this war in our backyard for
a full century. It would help if
we could get into their backyard
for a change. It's problematical
how long we'll be able to hold
them off, at this rate."
Don Mathers said uncomfortably,
"Well, it's not as bad as
all that, sir. We've held them
His superior grunted. "We've
held them this far because we've
been able to keep out enough
patrol ships to give us ample
warning when one of their task
forces come in. Do you know how
much fuel that consumes, Captain?"
"Well, I know it's a lot."
"So much so that Earth's industry
is switching back to petroleum
and coal. Every ounce
of radioactives is needed by the
Fleet. Even so, it's just a matter
Don Mathers pursed his lips.
"I didn't know it was that bad."
The Commodore smiled sourly
at him. "I'm afraid I'm being a
wet blanket thrown over your
big bust of a celebration, Captain.
Tell me, how does it feel
to hold the system's highest
Don shook his head, marveling.
"Fantastic, sir. Of course,
like any member of the services
I've always known of the Medal
of Honor, but ... well, nobody
ever expects to get it." He added
wryly, "Certainly not while he's
still alive and in health. Why,
sir, do you realize that I haven't
been able to spend one unit of
money since?" There was an
element of awe in his voice. "Sir,
do you realize that not even a
beggar will take currency from
The Commodore nodded in appreciation.
"You must understand
the position you occupy,
Captain. Your feat was inspiring
enough, but that's not all of it.
In a way you combine a popular
hero with an Unknown Soldier
element. Awarding you the Galactic
Medal of Honor makes a
symbol of you. A symbol representing
all the millions of unsung
heroes and heroines who have
died fighting for the human species.
It's not a light burden to
carry on your shoulders, Captain
Mathers. I would imagine it a
very humbling honor."
"Well, yes, sir," Don said.
The Commodore switched his
tone of voice. "That brings us
to the present, and what your
next assignment is to be. Obviously,
it wouldn't do for you to
continue in a Scout. Big brass
seems to be in favor of using
you for morale and ..."
Don Mathers cleared his
throat and interrupted. "Sir, I've
decided to drop out of the Space
"Drop out!" The other stared
at Mathers, uncomprehending.
"We're at war, Captain!"
Don nodded seriously. "Yes,
sir. And what you just said is
true. I couldn't be used any longer
in a Scout. I'd wind up selling
bonds and giving talks to old
"Well, hardly that, Captain."
"No, sir, I think I'd really be
of more use out of the services.
I'm tendering my resignation
and making arrangements to
help in the developing of Callisto
and the other Jupiter satellites."
The Commodore said nothing.
His lips seemed whiter than before.
Don Mathers said doggedly,
"Perhaps my prestige will help
bring volunteers to work the
new mines out there. If they see
me, well, sacrificing, putting up
with the hardships ..."
The Commodore said evenly,
"Mr. Mathers, I doubt if you
will ever have to put up with
hardships again, no matter
where you make your abode.
However, good luck. You deserve
Outside headquarters, Don
Mathers summoned a cab and
dialed his hotel. On the way
over, he congratulated himself.
It had gone easier than he had
expected, really. Although, come
to think of it, there wasn't a
damn thing that the brass could
He had to laugh to himself.
Imagine if he'd walked in on
the Commodore a month ago and
announced that he was going to
drop out of the Space Service.
He would have been dropped all
right, all right. Right into the
lap of a squadron of psycho experts.
At the hotel he shucked his
uniform, an action which gave
him considerable gratification,
and dressed in one of the score
of civilian costumes that filled
his closets to overflowing. He
took pleasure in estimating what
this clothing would have cost in
terms of months of Space Service
pay for a Sub-lieutenant or
even a Captain. Years, my boy,
He looked at himself in the
dressing-room mirror with satisfaction,
then turned to the
autobar and dialed himself a
stone-age-old Metaxa. He'd lost
his taste for the plebian tequila
in the last few days.
He held the old Greek brandy
to the light and wondered pleasurably
what the stuff cost, per
pony glass. Happily, he'd never
have to find out.
He tossed the drink down and
whistling, took his private elevator
to the garages in the second
level of the hotel's basement
floors. He selected a limousine
and dialed the Interplanetary
He left the car at the curb before
the main entrance, ignoring
all traffic regulations and entered
the building, still whistling
softly and happily to himself.
He grinned when a small crowd
gathered outside and smiled and
clapped their hands. He grinned
and waved to them.
A receptionist hurried to him
and he told her he wanted to see
either Mr. Demming or Mr. Rostoff,
and then when she offered
to escort him personally he noticed
her pixie-like cuteness and
said, "What're you doing tonight,
Her face went pale. "Oh, anything,
sir," she said weakly.
He grinned at her. "Maybe
I'll take you up on that if I'm
not too busy."
He had never seen anyone so
taken aback. She said, all flustered,
"I'm Toni. Toni Fitzgerald.
You can just call this
building and ask for me. Any
"Maybe I'll do that," he smiled.
"But now, let's see Old Man
That took her back too. Aside
from being asked for a date—if
asked could be the term—by the
system's greatest celebrity, she
was hearing for the first time
the interplanetary tycoon being
called Old Man Demming.
She said, "Oh, right this way,
Don said, "Mr. Mathers now,
I'm afraid. I have new duties."
She looked up into his face.
"You'll always be Captain Mathers
to me, sir." She added, softly
and irrelevantly, "My two brothers
were lost on the Minerva in
that action last year off Pluto."
She took a deep breath, which
only stressed her figure. "I've
applied six times for Space Service,
but they won't take me."
They were in an elevator now.
Don said, "That's too bad, Toni.
However, the Space Service isn't
as romantic as you might think."
"Yes, sir," Toni Fitzgerald
said, her soul in her eyes. "You
ought to know, sir."
Don was somehow irritated.
He said nothing further until
they reached the upper stories
of the gigantic office building.
He thanked her after she'd
turned him over to another receptionist.
Don Mathers' spirits had been
restored by the time he was
brought to the door of Max Rostoff's
office. His new guide evidently
hadn't even bothered to
check on the man's availability,
before ushering Mathers into
the other's presence.
Max Rostoff looked up from
his desk, wolfishly aggressive-looking
as ever. "Why, Captain,"
he said. "How fine to see you
again. Come right in. Martha,
that will be all."
Martha gave the interplanetary
hero one more long look and
then turned and left.
As soon as the door closed behind
her, Max Rostoff turned
and snarled, "Where have you
been, you rummy?"
He couldn't have shocked Don
Mathers more if he'd suddenly
sprouted a unicorn's horn.
"We've been looking for you
for a week," Rostoff snapped.
"Out of one bar, into another,
our men couldn't catch up with
you. Dammit, don't you realize
we've got to get going? We've
got a dozen documents for you
to sign. We've got to get this
thing underway, before somebody
Don blurted, "You can't talk
to me that way."
It was the other's turn to
stare. Max Rostoff said, low and
dangerously, "No? Why can't I?"
Don glared at him.
Max Rostoff said, low and dangerously,
"Let's get this straight,
Mathers. To everybody else, but
Demming and me, you might be
the biggest hero in the Solar
System. But you know what you
are to us?"
Don felt his indignation seeping
"To us," Max Rostoff said
flatly, "you're just another demi-buttocked
incompetent on the
make." He added definitely, "And
make no mistake, Mathers, you'll
continue to have a good thing
out of this only so long as we
can use you."
A voice from behind them
said, "Let me add to that, period,
end of paragraph."
It was Lawrence Demming,
who'd just entered from an inner
He said, even his voice seemed
fat, "And now that's settled, I'm
going to call in some lawyers.
While they're around, we conduct
ourselves as though we're
three equal partners. On paper,
we will be."
"Wait a minute, now," Don
blurted. "What do you think
you're pulling? The agreement
was we split this whole thing
Demming's jowls wobbled as
he nodded. "That's right. And
your share of the loot is your
Galactic Medal of Honor. That
and the dubious privilege of
having the whole thing in your
name. You'll keep your medal,
and we'll keep our share." He
growled heavily, "You don't
think you're getting the short
end of the stick, do you?"
Max Rostoff said, "Let's knock
this off and get the law boys in.
We've got enough paper work
to keep us busy the rest of the
week." He sat down again at his
desk and looked up at Don.
"Then we'll all be taking off for
Callisto, to get things under
way. With any luck, in six
months we'll have every ounce
of pitchblende left in the system
There was a crowd awaiting
his ship at the Callisto Spaceport.
A crowd modest by Earth
standards but representing a
large percentage of the small
population of Jupiter's moon.
On the way out, a staff of the
system's best speech writers,
and two top professional actors
had been working with him.
Don Mathers gave a short preliminary
talk at the spaceport,
and then the important one, the
one that was broadcast throughout
the system, that night from
his suite at the hotel. He'd been
well rehearsed, and they'd kept
him from the bottle except for
two or three quick ones immediately
before going on.
The project at hand is to extract
the newly discovered deposits
of pitchblende on these
satellites of Jupiter.
He paused impressively before
It's a job that cannot be done
in slipshod, haphazard manner.
The system's need for radioactives
cannot be overstressed.
In short, fellow humans, we
must allow nothing to stand in
the way of all out, unified effort
to do this job quickly and efficiently.
My associates and I have
formed a corporation to manage
this crash program. We invite
all to participate by purchasing
stock. I will not speak of profits,
fellow humans, because in this
emergency we all scorn them.
However, as I say, you are invited
Some of the preliminary mining
concessions are at present
in the hands of individuals or
small corporations. It will be
necessary that these turn over
their holdings to our single all-embracing
organization for the
sake of efficiency. Our experts
will evaluate such holdings and
recompense the owners.
Don Mathers paused again for
This is no time for quibbling.
All must come in. If there are
those who put private gain before
the needs of the system,
then pressures must be found
to be exerted against them.
We will need thousands and
tens of thousands of trained
workers to operate our mines,
our mills, our refineries. In the
past, skilled labor here on the
satellites was used to double or
even triple the wage rates on
Earth and the settled planets and
satellites. I need only repeat, this
is no time for personal gain and
quibbling. The corporation announces
proudly that it will pay
only prevailing Earth rates. We
will not insult our employees by
"bribing" them to patriotism
through higher wages.
There was more, along the
It was all taken very well. Indeed,
On the third day, at an office
conference, Don waited for an
opening to say, "Look, somewhere
here on Callisto is a
young woman named Dian Fuller.
After we get me established
in an office, I'd like her to be my
Demming looked up from some
reports he was scanning. He
grunted to Max Rostoff, "Tell
him," and went back to the
Max Rostoff, settled back into
his chair. He said to the two
bodyguards, stationed at the
door, "Scotty, Rogers, go and
make the arrangements to bring
that damned prospector into
When they were gone, Rostoff
turned back to Don Mathers.
"You don't need an office, Mathers.
All you need is to go back
to your bottles. Just don't belt
it so hard that you can't sign
papers every time we need a signature."
Don flushed angrily, "Look,
don't push me, you two. You
need me. Plenty. In fact, from
what I can see, this corporation
needs me more than it does
you." He looked scornfully at
Demming. "Originally, the idea
was that you put up the money.
What money? We have fifty-one
percent of the stock in my name,
but all the credit units needed
are coming from sales of stock."
He turned to Rostoff. "You were
supposed to put up the brains.
What brains? We've hired the
best mining engineers, the best
technicians, to do their end, the
best corporation executives to
handle that end. You're not
Demming grunted amusement
at the short speech, but didn't
bother to look up from his
Max Rostoff's face had grown
wolfishly thin in his anger.
"Look, bottle-baby," he sneered,
"you're the only one that's vulnerable
in this set-up. There's
not a single thing that Demming
and I can be held to account for.
You have no beefs coming, for
that matter. You're getting
everything you ever wanted.
You've got the best suite in the
best hotel on Callisto. You eat
the best food the Solar System
provides. And, most important of
all to a rummy, you drink the
best booze and as much of it as
you want. What's more, unless
either Demming or I go to the
bother, you'll never be exposed.
You'll live your life out being
the biggest hero in the system."
It was Don Mathers' turn to
sneer. "What do you mean, I'm
the only one vulnerable? There's
no evidence against me, Rostoff,
and you know it. Who'd listen
to you if you sounded off? I
burned that Kraden cruiser until
there wasn't a sign to be
found that would indicate it
wasn't in operational condition
when I first spotted it."
Demming grunted his amusement
Max Rostoff laughed sourly.
"Don't be an ass, Mathers. We
took a series of photos of that
derelict when we stumbled on it.
Not only can we prove you didn't
knock it out, we can prove that
it was in good shape before you
worked it over. I imagine the
Fleet technician would have
loved to have seen the inner
workings of that Kraden cruiser—before
you loused it up."
Demming chuckled flatly. "I
wonder what kind of a court
martial they give a hero who
turns out to be a saboteur."
He ran into her, finally, after
he'd been on Callisto for nearly
eight months. Actually, he didn't
remember the circumstances of
their meeting. He was in an alcoholic
daze and the fog rolled
out, and there she was across the
table from him.
Don shook his head, and looked
about the room. They were in
some sort of night spot. He
didn't recognize it.
He licked his lips, scowled at
the taste of stale vomit.
He slurred, "Hello, Di."
Dian Fuller said, "Hi, Don."
He said, "I must've blanked
out. Guess I've been hitting it
She laughed at him. "You
mean you don't remember all the
things you've been telling me the
past two hours?" She was obviously
quite sober. Dian never
had been much for the sauce.
Don looked at her narrowly.
"What've I been telling you for
the past two hours?"
"Mostly about how it was
when you were a little boy.
About fishing, and your first .22
rifle. And the time you shot the
squirrel, and then felt so sorry."
"Oh," Don said. He ran his
right hand over his mouth.
There was a champagne bucket
beside him, but the bottle in it
was empty. He looked about the
room for a waiter.
Dian said gently, "Do you
really think you need any more,
He looked across the table at
her. She was as beautiful as ever.
No, that wasn't right. She was
pretty, but not beautiful. She
was just a damn pretty girl, not
one of these glamour items.
Don said, "Look, I can't remember.
Did we get married?"
Her laugh tinkled. "Married!
I only ran into you two or three
hours ago." She hesitated before
saying further, "I had assumed
that you were deliberately avoiding
me. Callisto isn't that big."
Don Mathers said slowly,
"Well, if we're not married, let
me decide when I want another
bottle of the grape, eh?"
Dian flushed. "Sorry, Don."
The headwaiter approached
bearing another magnum of vintage
wine. He beamed at Don
Mathers. "Having a good time,
"Okay," Don said shortly.
When the other was gone he
downed a full glass, felt the
fumes almost immediately.
He said to Dian, "I haven't
been avoiding you, Di. We just
haven't met. The way I remember,
the last time we saw each
other, back on Earth, you gave
me quite a slap in the face. The
way I remember, you didn't
think I was hero enough for
you." He poured another glass
of the champagne.
Di's face was still flushed. She
said, her voice low, "I misunderstood
you, Don. Even after your
brilliant defeat of that Kraden
cruiser, I still, I admit, think I
basically misunderstood you. I
told myself that it could have
been done by any pilot of a
Scout, given that one in a million
break. It just happened to
be you, who made that suicide
dive attack that succeeded. A
thousand other pilots might also
have taken the million to one suicide
chance rather than let the
"Yeah," Don said. Even in his
alcohol, he was surprised at her
words. He said gruffly, "Sure
anybody might've done it. Pure
luck. But why'd you change your
mind about me, then? How come
the switch of heart?"
"Because of what you've done
He closed one eye, the better
He recognized the expression
in her eyes. A touch of star
gleam. That little girl back on
Earth, the receptionist at the
Interplanetary Lines building,
she'd had it. In fact, in the past
few months Don had seen it in
many feminine faces. And all for
Dian said, "Instead of cashing
in on your prestige, you've been
devoting yourself to something
even more necessary to the fight
than bringing down individual
Don looked at her. He could
feel a nervous tic beginning in
his left eyebrow. Finally, he
reached for the champagne again
and filled his glass. He said,
"You really go for this hero
stuff, don't you?"
She said nothing, but the star
shine was still in her eyes.
He made his voice deliberately
sour. "Look, suppose I asked you
to come back to my apartment
with me tonight?"
"Yes," she said softly.
"And told you to bring your
overnight bag along," he added
Dian looked into his face.
"Why are you twisting yourself,
your inner-self, so hard, Don?
Of course I'd come—if that's
what you wanted."
"And then," he said flatly,
"suppose I kicked you out in the
Dian winced, but she kept her
eyes even with his, her own moist
now. "You forget," she whispered.
"You have been awarded the
Galactic Medal of Honor, the
bearer of which can do no
"Oh, God," Don muttered. He
filled his glass, still again, motioned
to a nearby waiter.
"Yes, sir," the waiter said.
Don said, "Look, in about five
minutes I'm going to pass out.
See that I get back to my hotel,
will you? And that this young
lady gets to her home. And,
waiter, just send my bill to the
The other bowed. "The owner's
instructions, sir, are that
Captain Mathers must never see
a bill in this establishment."
Dian said, "Don!"
He didn't look at her. He raised
his glass to his mouth and
shortly afterward the fog rolled
When it rolled out, the unfamiliar
taste of black coffee was
in his mouth. He shook his head
He seemed to be in some working
class restaurant. Next to
him, in a booth, was a fresh-faced
Sub-lieutenant of the—Don
squinted at the collar tabs—yes,
of the Space Service. A
Don stuttered, "What's ...
goin' ... on?"
The pilot said apologetically,
"Sub-lieutenant Pierpont, sir.
You seemed so far under the
weather, I took over."
"Oh, you did, eh?"
"Well, yes, sir. You were, well,
reclining in the gutter, sir. In
spite of your, well, appearance,
your condition, I recognized you,
"Oh." His stomach was an objecting
The Lieutenant said, "Want to
try some more of this coffee now,
sir? Or maybe some soup or a
Don groaned. "No. No, thanks.
Don't think I could hold it
The pilot grinned. "You
must've thrown a classic, sir."
"I guess so. What time is it?
No, that doesn't make any difference.
What's the date?"
Pierpont told him.
It was hard to believe. The
last he could remember he'd
been with Di. With Di in some
nightclub. He wondered how
long ago that had been.
He fumbled in his clothes for
a smoke and couldn't find one.
He didn't want it anyway.
He growled at the Lieutenant,
"Well, how go the One Man
Pierpont grinned back at him.
"Glad to be out of them, sir?"
Pierpont looked at him
strangely. "I don't blame you, I
suppose. But it isn't as bad these
days as it used to be while you
were still in the Space Service,
Don grunted. "How come?
Two weeks to a month, all by
yourself, watching the symptoms
of space cafard progress. Then
three weeks of leave, to get
drunk in, and then another
stretch in space."
The pilot snorted deprecation.
"That's the way it used to be."
He fingered the spoon of his coffee
cup. "That's the way it still
should be, of course. But it isn't.
They're spreading the duty
around now and I spend less than
one week out of four on patrol."
Don hadn't been listening too
closely, but now he looked up.
Pierpont said, "I mean, sir, I
suppose this isn't bridging security,
seeing who you are, but
fuel stocks are so low that we
can't maintain full patrols any
There was a cold emptiness in
Don Mathers' stomach.
He said, "Look, I'm still
woozy. Say that again, Lieutenant."
The Lieutenant told him again.
Don Mathers rubbed the back
of his hand over his mouth and
tried to think.
He said finally, "Look, Lieutenant.
First let's get another
cup of coffee into me, and maybe
that sandwich you were talking
about. Then would you help me
to get back to my hotel?"
By the fourth day, his hands
weren't trembling any longer.
He ate a good breakfast, dressed
carefully, then took a hotel
limousine down to the offices of
the Mathers, Demming and Rostoff
At the entrance to the inner
sanctum the heavyset Scotty
looked up at his approach. He
said, "The boss has been looking
for you, Mr. Mathers, but right
now you ain't got no appointment,
have you? Him and Mr.
Rostoff is having a big conference.
He says to keep everybody
"That doesn't apply to me,
Scotty," Don snapped. "Get out
of my way."
Scotty stood up, reluctantly,
but barred the way. "He said it
applied to everybody, Mr. Mathers."
Don put his full weight into
a blow that started at his waist,
dug deep into the other's middle.
Scotty doubled forward, his eyes
bugging. Don Mathers gripped
his hands together into a double
fist and brought them upward in
a vicious uppercut.
Scotty fell forward and to the
Don stood above him momentarily,
watchful for movement
which didn't develop. The hefty
bodyguard must have been doing
some easy living himself. He
wasn't as tough as he looked.
Don knelt and fished from under
the other's left arm a vicious-looking
He tucked it under his own
jacket into his belt, then turned,
opened the door and entered the
supposedly barred office.
Demming and Rostoff looked
up from their work across a double
Both scowled. Rostoff opened
his mouth to say something and
Don Mathers rapped, "Shut up."
Rostoff blinked at him. Demming
leaned back in his swivel
chair. "You're sober for a
change," he wheezed, almost accusingly.
Don Mathers pulled up a
stenographer's chair and straddled
it, leaning his arms on the
back. He said coldly, "Comes a
point when even the lowest
worm turns. I've been checking
on a few things."
Demming grunted amusement.
Don said, "Space patrols have
been cut far below the danger
Rostoff snorted. "Is that supposed
to interest us? That's the
problem of the military—and the
"Oh, it interests us, all right,"
Don growled. "Currently, Mathers,
Demming and Rostoff control
probably three-quarters of
the system's radioactives."
Demming said in greasy satisfaction,
"More like four-fifths."
"Why?" Don said bluntly.
"Why are we doing what we're
They both scowled, but another
element was present in
their expressions too. They
thought the question unintelligent.
Demming closed his eyes in
his porcine manner and grunted,
Rostoff said, "Look, Mathers,
don't be stupid. Remember when
we told you, during that first
interview, that we wanted your
name in the corporation, among
other reasons, because we could
use a man who was above law?
That a maze of ridiculously binding
ordinances have been laid on
business down through the centuries?"
"I remember," Don said bitterly.
"Well, it goes both ways. Government
today is also bound,
very strongly, and even in great
emergency, not to interfere in
business. These complicated laws
balance each other, you might
say. Our whole legal system is
based upon them. Right now,
we've got government right
where we want it. This is free
enterprise, Mathers, at its pinnacle.
Did you ever hear of Jim
Fisk and his attempt to corner
gold in 1869, the so-called Black
Friday affair? Well, Jim Fisk
was a peanut peddler compared
"What's this got to do with
the Fleet having insufficient fuel
to ..." Don Mathers stopped as
comprehension hit him. "You're
holding our radioactives off the
market, pressuring the government
for a price rise which it
Demming opened his eyes and
said fatly, "For triple the price,
Mathers. Before we're through,
we'll corner half the wealth of
Don said, "But ... but the
species is ... at ... war."
Rostoff sneered, "You seem to
be getting noble rather late in
the game, Mathers. Business is
Don Mathers was shaking his
head. "We immediately begin
selling our radioactives at cost
of production. I might remind
you gentlemen that although
we're supposedly a three-way
partnership, actually, everything's
in my name. You
thought you had me under your
thumb so securely that it was
safe—and you probably didn't
trust each other. Well, I'm blowing
Surprisingly fast for such a
fat man, Lawrence Demming's
hand flitted into a desk drawer
to emerge with a twin of the
scrambler tucked in Don's belt.
Don Mathers grinned at him,
even as he pushed his jacket
back to reveal the butt of his
own weapon. He made no attempt
to draw it, however.
He said softly, "Shoot me,
Demming, and you've killed the
most popular man in the Solar
System. You'd never escape the
gas chamber, no matter how
much money you have. On the
other hand, if I shoot you ..."
He put a hand into his pocket
and it emerged with a small, inordinately
ordinary bit of ribbon
and metal. He displayed it on
The fat man's face whitened
at the ramifications and his hand
relaxed to let the gun drop to
the desk. "Listen, Don," he
broke out. "We've been unrealistic
with you. We'll reverse ourselves
and split, honestly—split
Don Mathers laughed at him.
"Trying to bribe me with
money, Demming? Why don't
you realize, that I'm the only
man in existence who has no
need for money, who can't spend
money? That my fellow men—whom
I've done such a good job
of betraying—have honored me
to a point where money is meaningless?"
Rostoff snatched up the fallen
gun, snarling, "I'm calling your
bluff, you gutless rummy."
Don Mathers said, "Okay,
Rostoff. There's just two other
things I want to say first. One—I
don't care if I die or not.
Two—you're only twenty feet or
so away, but you know what? I
think you're probably a lousy
shot. I don't think you've had
much practice. I think I can get
my scrambler out and cut you
down before you can finish me."
He grinned thinly, "Wanta try?"
Max Rostoff snarled a curse
and his finger whitened on the
Don Mathers fell sideward,
his hand streaking for his weapon.
Without thought there came
back to him the long hours of
training in hand weapons, in
judo, in hand to hand combat.
He went into action with cool
At the spaceport he took a cab
to the Presidential Palace. It was
an auto-cab, of course, and at
the Palace gates he found he
had no money on him. He snorted
wearily. It was the first time in
almost a year that he'd had to
pay for anything.
Four sentries were standing
at attention. He said, "Do one of
you boys have some coins to feed
into this slot? I'm fresh out."
A sergeant grinned, approached,
and did the necessary.
Don Mathers said wearily, "I
don't know how you go about
this. I don't have an appointment,
but I want to see the
"We can turn you over to one
of the assistant secretaries, Captain
Mathers," the sergeant said.
"We can't go any further than
that. While we're waiting, what's
the chances of getting your autograph,
sir? I gotta kid ..."
It wasn't nearly as complicated
as he'd thought it was going
to be. In half an hour he was
seated in the office where he'd
received his decoration only—how
long ago was it, really less
than a year?
He told the story briefly, making
no effort to spare himself.
At the end he stood up long
enough to put a paper in front
of the other, then sat down
"I'm turning the whole corporation
over to the government...."
The President said, "Wait a
minute. My administration does
not advocate State ownership of
"I know. When the State controls
industry you only put the
whole mess off one step, the
question then becomes, who controls
the State? However, I'm
not arguing political economy
with you, sir. You didn't let me
finish. I was going to say, I'm
turning it over to the government
to untangle, even while
making use of the inventories of
radioactives. There's going to be
a lot of untangling to do. Reimbursing
the prospectors and
small operators who were blackjacked
out of their holdings by
our super-corporation. Reimbursing
of the miners and other
laborers who were talked into
accepting low pay in the name
of patriotism." Don Mathers cut
it short. "Oh, it's quite a mess."
"Yes," the President said.
"And you say Max Rostoff is
"That's right. And Demming
off his rocker. I think he always
was a little unbalanced and the
prospect of losing all that money,
the greatest fortune ever conceived
of, tipped the scales."
The President said, "And
what about you, Donal Mathers?"
Don took a deep breath. "I
wish I was back in the Space
Services, frankly. Back where I
was when all this started. However,
I suppose that after
my court martial, there won't
The President interrupted
gently. "You seem to forget,
Captain Mathers. You carry the
Galactic Medal of Honor, the
bearer of which can do no
Don Mathers gaped at him.
The President smiled at him,
albeit a bit sourly. "It would
hardly do for human morale to
find out our supreme symbol of
heroism was a phoney, Captain.
There will be no trial, and you
will retain your decoration."
"But I don't want it!"
"I'm afraid that is the cross
you'll have to bear the rest of
your life, Captain Mathers. I
don't suppose it will be an easy
His eyes went to a far corner
of the room, but unseeingly. He
said after a long moment, "However,
I am not so very sure about
your not deserving your award,
This etext was produced from Amazing Science Fiction Stories November
1960. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence
that the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.