By MACK REYNOLDS
Almost anything, if it goes on long enough, can be reduced to, first a
Routine, and then, to a Tradition. And at the point it is, obviously,
Two king-sized bands blared martial music, the "Internationale" and
the "Star-Spangled Banner," each seemingly trying to drown the other in
a Götterdämmerung of acoustics.
Two lines of troops, surfacely differing in uniforms and in weapons, but
basically so very the same, so evenly matched, came to attention. A
thousand hands slapped a thousand submachine gun stocks.
Marshal Vladimir Ignatov strode stiff-kneed down the long march, the
stride of a man for years used to cavalry boots. He was flanked by
frozen visaged subordinates, but none so cold of face as he himself.
At the entrance to the conference hall he stopped, turned and waited.
At the end of the corridor of troops a car stopped and several figures
emerged, most of them in civilian dress, several bearing brief cases.
They in their turn ran the gantlet.
At their fore walked James Warren Donlevy, spritely, his eyes darting
here, there, politician-like. A half smile on his face, as though afraid
he might forget to greet a voter he knew, or was supposed to know.
His hand was out before that of Vladimir Ignatov's.
"Your Excellency," he said.
Ignatov shook hands stiffly. Dropped that of the other's as soon as
protocol would permit.
The field marshal indicated the door of the conference hall. "There is
little reason to waste time, Mr. President."
"Exactly," Donlevy snapped.
The door closed behind them and the two men, one uniformed and
bemedaled, the other nattily attired in his business suit, turned to
"Nice to see you again, Vovo. How're Olga and the baby?"
The soldier grinned back in response. "Two babies now—you don't keep up
on the real news, Jim. How's Martha?" They shook hands.
"Not so good," Jim said, scowling. "I'm worried. It's that new cancer.
As soon as we conquer one type two more rear up. How are you people
doing on cancer research?"
Vovo was stripping off his tunic. He hung it over the back of one of the
chairs, began to unbutton his high, tight military collar. "I'm not
really up on it, Jim, but I think that's one field where you can trust
anything we know to be in the regular scientific journals our people
exchange with yours. I'll make some inquiries when I get back home,
though. You never know, this new strain—I guess you'd call it—might be
one that we're up on and you aren't."
"Yeah," Jim said. "Thanks a lot." He crossed to the small portable bar.
"How about a drink? Whisky, vodka, rum—there's ice."
Vovo slumped into one of the heavy chairs that were arranged around the
table. He grimaced, "No vodka, I don't feel patriotic today. How about
one of those long cold drinks, with the cola stuff?"
"Cuba libra," Jim said. "Coming up. Look, would you rather speak
"No," Vovo said, "my English is getting rusty. I need the practice."
Jim brought the glasses over and put them on the table. He began
stripping off his own coat, loosening his tie. "God, I'm tired," he
said. "This sort of thing wears me down."
Vovo sipped his drink. "Now there's as good a thing to discuss as any,
in the way of killing time. The truth now, Jim, do you really believe in
a God? After all that's happened to this human race of ours, do you
really believe in divine guidance?" He twisted his mouth sarcastically.
The other relaxed. "I don't know," he said. "I suppose so. I was raised
in a family that believed in God. Just as, I suppose, you were raised in
one that didn't." He lifted his shoulders slightly in a shrug. "Neither
of us seems to be particularly brilliant in establishing a position of
Vovo snorted. "Never thought of it that way," he admitted. "We're
usually contemptuous of anyone still holding to the old beliefs. There
aren't many left."
"More than you people admit, I understand."
Vovo shook his heavy head. "No, not really. Mostly crackpots. Have you
ever noticed how it is that the nonconformists in any society are
usually crackpots? The people on your side that admit belonging to our
organizations, are usually on the wild eyed and uncombed
hair side—I admit it. On the other hand, the people in our citizenry
who subscribe to your system, your religion, that sort of thing, are
crackpots, too. Applies to religion as well as politics. An atheist in
your country is a nonconformist—in mine, a Christian is. Both
Jim laughed and took a sip of his drink.
Vovo yawned and said, "How long are we going to be in here?"
"I don't know. Up to us, I suppose."
"Yes. How about another drink? I'll make it. How much of that cola stuff
do you put in?"
Jim told him, and while the other was on his feet mixing the drinks,
said, "You figure on sticking to the same line this year?"
"Have to," Vovo said over his shoulder. "What's the alternative?"
"I don't know. We're building up to a whale of a depression as it is,
even with half the economy running full blast producing defense
Vovo chuckled, "Defense materials. I wonder if ever in the history of
the human race anyone ever admitted to producing offense materials."
"Well, you call it the same thing. All your military equipment is for
defense. And, of course, according to your press, all ours is for
"Of course," Vovo said.
He brought the glasses back and handed one to the other. He slumped back
into his chair again, loosened two buttons of his trousers.
"Jim," Vovo said, "why don't you divert more of your economy to public
works, better roads, reforestation,
dams—that sort of thing."
Jim said wearily, "You're a better economist than that. Didn't your boy
Marx, or was it Engels, write a small book on the subject? We're already
overproducing—turning out more products than we can sell."
"I wasn't talking about your government building new steel mills. But
dams, roads, that sort of thing. You could plow billions into such items
and get some real use out of them. We both know that our weapons will
never be used—they can't be."
Jim ticked them off on his fingers. "We already are producing more farm
products than we know what to do with; if we build more dams it'll open
up new farm lands and increase the glut. If we build more and better
roads, it will improve transportation, which will mean fewer men will be
able to move greater tonnage—and throw transportation employees into
the unemployed. If we go all out for reforestation, it
will eventually bring down the price of lumber and the lumber people are
howling already. No," he shook his head, "there's just one really
foolproof way of disposing of surpluses and using up labor power and
that's war—hot or cold."
Vovo shrugged, "I suppose so."
"It amounts to building pyramids, of course." Jim twisted his mouth
sourly. "And since we're asking questions about each other's way of
life, when is your State going to begin to wither away?"
"How was that?" Vovo asked.
"According to your sainted founder, once you people came to power the
State was going to wither away, class rule would be over, and Utopia be
on hand. That was a long time ago, and your State is stronger than
Vovo snorted. "How can we wither away the State as long as we are
threatened by capitalist aggression?"
Jim said, "Ha!"
Vovo went on. "You know better than that, Jim. The only way my
organization can keep in power is by continually beating the drums,
keeping our people stirred up to greater and greater sacrifices by using
you as a threat. Didn't the old Romans have some sort of maxim to the
effect that when you're threatened with unease at home stir up trouble
"You're being even more frank than usual," Jim said. "But that's one of
the pleasures of these get-togethers, neither of us resorts to
hypocrisy. But you can't keep up these tensions forever."
"You mean we can't keep up these tensions forever, Jim. And when they
end? Well, personally I can't see my organization going out without a
blood bath." He grimaced sourly, "And since I'd probably be one
of the first to be bathed, I'd like to postpone the time. It's like
having a tiger by the tail, Jim. We can't let go."
"Happily, I don't feel in the same spot," Jim said. He got up and went
to the picture window that took up one entire wall. It faced out over a
mountain vista. He looked soberly into the sky.
Vovo joined him, glass in hand.
"Possibly your position isn't exactly the same as ours but there'll be
some awfully great changes if that military based economy of yours
suddenly had peace thrust upon it. You'd have a depression such as
you've never dreamed of. Let's face reality, Jim, neither of us can
"Well, we've both known that for a long time."
They both considered somberly, the planet Earth blazing away, a small
sun there in the sky.
Jim said, "I sometimes think that the race would have been better off,
when man was colonizing Venus and Mars, if it had been a joint
enterprise rather than you people doing one, and we the other. If it had
all been in the hands of that organization ..."
"The United Nations?" Vovo supplied.
"... Then when Bomb Day hit, perhaps these new worlds could have gone on
to, well, better things."
"Perhaps," Vovo shrugged. "I've often wondered how Bomb Day started. Who
struck the spark."
"Happily there were enough colonists on both planets to start the race
all over again," Jim said. "What difference does it make, who struck the
"None, I suppose." Vovo began to button his collar, readjust his
clothes. "Well, shall we emerge and let the quaking multitudes know that
once again we have made a shaky agreement? One that will last until the
next summit meeting."
This etext was produced from Astounding Science Fiction,
February, 1960. Extensive research did not uncover any
evidence that the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.