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     © Copyright Julia Latynina
     © Copyright translation by Boris Itin (bitin@nysbc.org)
     Date: 08 Dec 2004
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     The First Chapter
     Where Kissur  the  White Falcon gets  in  an accident  while  the first
vice-minister of finance discusses  the reasons for the dearth  in the state
treasury.

     The Second Chapter
     Where  the  sad history of  the Assalah  spacefield is told  while  the
ex-first minister of Empire finds himself a new friend.

     The Third Chapter
     Where Kissur opens the Emperor's eyes to a foreign briber while Terence
Bemish received a gift of a luxury villa.

     The Fourth Chapter
     Where Kissur tells investment bankers how to train a highwayman's horse
while Terence  Bemish makes an acquintance with other contenders for Assalah
stocks.

     The Fifth Chapter
     Where Terence Bemish is being persuaded to drop  out of Assalah  stocks
auction while Shavash reminds the visitors that he is  not familiar with the
financial term dictatorship.

     The Sixth Chapter
     Where company AC declares its real  name while Mr. Shavash shares  some
unusual thoughts about democracy's drawbacks.

     The Seventh Chapter
     Where all investors' difficulties are solved in the best way.

     The Eight Chapter
     Where Terence Bemish pays taxes with fallen  leaves while the rock with
an ancient foretelling is dug out at the construction.

     The Ninth Chapter
     Where the demons' boss makes a pact with the pious people.

     The Tenth Chapter
     Where Terence Bemish  becomes  familiar  with provincial  life  of  the
Empire while Mr. Shavash  offers an original plan  for  the restructuring of
the state debt.

     The Eleventh Chapter
     Where  Terence  Bemish's  assistant  goes  to  the sectants' meeting in
Imissa while Kissur the White Falcon looks around  the Galaxy  for abandoned
warheads.

     The Twelfth Chapter
     Where the  Emperor  of  the Country  of Great Light  finds out the real
purpose of the Assalah construction from the opposition  press and expresses
his confusion.

     The Thirteenth Chapter
     Where the nation expresses its will with unpredictable results.

     The Fourteenth Chapter
     Or the first minister as an international terrorist.

     The Fifteenth Chapter
     Where  the  saviors  of  the Country  of  Great Light  pull the biggest
insider deal in the history of the Galaxy.







     where  Kissur the  White  Falcon gets  in an accident  while  the first
vice-minister  of  finance discusses the reasons for the dearth in the state
treasury.

     The walls of the living  room  were  covered with  blue  silk  and  the
corners were overlayed with hexagonal tiles making the room an  octagon, the
shape guided its owner's success in life and smoothed all turns in his fate.
Embroiderings grew over silk  - blossoming lotuses  with leaves lowered from
heat, plum flowers opening up, a snow white duck in a  pond and a sping sun.
A  light hung  almost  all  the  way down  to  the  floor,  looking  like  a
transparent upside  down mushroom and golden figures of animals ran over its
rim.
     A  small  table with a frosted  jar and an  armchair  were next  to the
light.  A 30 year  old man sitting in the armchair was dressed  in the  silk
pants and a jacket,  girdled with  a belt made from large silver  links. His
face was very handsome but  cruel, with blue eyes and eyebrows rising at the
tips.  Old rings of delicate worksmanship looked  strange on his  predator's
hands with untrimmed nails. His hair was  twisted  in a bun and  held with a
tortoise comb. A 3D transvisor on a fat golden leg stood in the left corner.
     Periodically, the  man would fill a small five walled cup from the jar,
close the cup with a lacquered cap enclosing a straw, and stick the straw in
his mouth. He was watching the transvisor.
     On his left  hand,  a  small drawing  hung  in  a  sable fur frame  - a
beautiful  drawing  of  a  sick  chickadee  in  snow.  The picture  bore the
Emperor's  signature.  It was a personal  gift from the Emperor. Two  golden
rings of orchids and clematis  hang next to  it.  A sonar rabbit ear antenna
stuck up above the transvisor and a silvered pot with  a blooming flower was
behind the antenna. The flower had a artful name "furled belle's eyebrows."
     The picture in the transvisor greatly  differed  from that on the  silk
paintings decorating the room. The transvisor was not  showing either a sick
chickadee    or   blossoming   plums.   The   transvisor   was   showing   a
press-conference. A self-important patrician  Earthman  was  talking and his
piggish eyes were routinely squinting from camera flashes. A whole flock  of
microphones was  gosseling  out in front  of the Earthman. He was  earnestly
attempting  to look inside  the room through the screen and he probably felt
alien surrounded by blooming plums and golden flower rings.
     Somebody asked the man on the screen in a  thin voice,  and he answered
benevolently,
     "While we  are not interfering in  any  way with the independent nation
and are  not  pressuring its  government, the Federation  of  Nineteen would
encourage the Emperor  to  conduct the first  Parliament  elections  in  the
history of your country as a  one more step in of  your nation's integration
into the galactic society."
     The man  sitting  in the chair poured the last remnants from the silver
jar  into  the cup.  He slightly  raised  his  hand and threw the jar at the
forehead of the smiling Earthman on the screen. The Earthman stopped smiling
and disappeared.  The  screen  squeaked  and  exploded in tiny  pieces.  The
"furled  belle's  eyebrows"  loudly  crashed,  and the  nauseating  smell of
burning plastic  intestines filled the room. The  painted doors  moved apart
and a middle-aged majordomo in a blue caftan rolled into the room.
     "Take it away," the man in the armchair said without raising his voice.
     The majordomo threw his hands up and exclaimed,
     "Oh, Mr. Kissur, that's the third one this week."
     Kissur jumped out of the chair, slammed the door and was gone.
     The majordomo in the room stuck his hand in the empty jar, scratched it
and licked... The lord was not even drunk, or almost not drunk - there was a
light palm  wine  in a jar, generously diluted by the apricot  juice. Kissur
could get  drunk and get drunk to his eyebrows, drunk enough to fight, drunk
enough to cut dogs or people cut in half. But, he could do  it only at merry
party with a dozen friends. Kissur never drank by himself.
     Kissur ran  gasping  down  the staircase and  leaped out into the inner
yard. The night was already in. It smelled of mint from countryside gardens,
gasoline and horses. A city mansion with  a flat roof surrounded the yard on
three sides. A left wing tower decorated with grape carvings rose gracefully
like  a  reed leaf.  In the past,  high-ranking officials built  towers like
this, for them to touch the  sky like  little fingers. The  towers  would be
like  a staircase  that Fortune walk down from the sky to the officials.  In
the past, people had said that only the Emperor's castle spires were higher.
Now, one would not be able to say that, since a construction crane made from
steel matches  was showing  up  on the  black sky background; the crane  was
touching  the  sky with its little finger. Enraged Kissur threw his fist  to
the sky and stomped flying down the moonlighted path.
     A servant in a short blue jacket stood in the backyard, in front of the
gates wrapped  by brass vines. The servant lovingly washed a long glossy car
like he would be braiding a horse's tail. The black sides of the car gleamed
in the moonlight and  the silver  gills  of the hydrogen engine  air intakes
shined.
     Kissur ripped the hose out  of  the slave's hand and threw himself in a
car. The  tires screeched -  the slave was barely able  to  jump  away.  The
terrified booth  guard hit the button on the  keyboard, the gates bobbed up,
and  the car flew  out on the deserted and wet night highway. "Once he won't
be able to get the gates up  in  time", Kissur thought,  "and  I'll break my
neck at my own wall."
     The car was purring and eating hydrogen - isn't it strange that a horse
eats when  it's  resting while  this  black ironmonger  eats  only when it's
moving, and when it's not moving it doesn't eat  anything. Yes! Seven  years
ago when gloom was sometimes eating at his soul,  Kissur would take a  black
stallion  with  a wide  back and  tall legs and  race him  in the  Emperor's
garden,  in the gullies  overgrown with bushes  and grass, till the sunrise.
Where is this  garden  now?  They peddled it,  sold it  like a  wench in the
market, for  some glass  contraption. It was shameful,  since Kissur himself
sold it to some corporation .
     The highway ended abruptly at a flooded  river; Kissur  almost  flipped
over in the water on  the sliver of the pontoon bridge. At least, this thing
does  race  faster than a  horse even if it  stinks of  iron.  Only  weapons
smelled like iron in the  past, while  now in an  every beaurocrat's house a
barrel like this hangs out and stinks like iron. It's terrifying to think of
the size of the motherland piece  this  beaurocrat sold  for  this barrel...
Kissur turned around  and slowly drove back. In a  hundred yards,  a  cement
road forked off the highway.  Moon tatters floated in a little puddle at the
road turn. "What road is that?", Kissur was curious and turned the car.
     The road  ended in ten minutes. The car beams  tore at the darkness and
illuminated a tall concrete fence with barbed wire on top and a lonely guard
getting bored at the watchtower. A dark open field could be seen on the left
and a  yellow light  beam from the beacon was hitting the  field. Kissur got
out of the car and walked down the field to the excavator that was ascending
like a  clockwork mole  over a  not-yet-fully-eaten hill. Tracks and  wheels
bulldozed  the field and  water gleamed in the clay ruts.  The excavator was
huge, taller  than a poplar. It was one  of these huge machines that swallow
clay  with  some  additives  delivered  from  afar  and  spit  out  finished
construction blocks.
     Kissur climbed up a steep staircase to the top of the excavator. It was
a  long  climb; the staircases  twisted, went  horizontal, changed in narrow
paths between steel casings covering various mechanisms and finally finished
at a tiny booth. The booth was locked; constellations of  blue lights at the
napping console looked at Kissur through the glass.
     At this  moment, the  moon  peered out of clouds again;  Drunken  River
gleamed far away with the multi-coloured tower  of Seven Clouds Bridge above
it. Kissur suddenly recognized this field; it  happened  here, next to Seven
Clouds, eight years ago. Kissur caught up with the rebel Khanalai right when
he  was going to enter the  capital;  Kissur and his  five  hundred horsemen
drowned  four  thousand  rebels  in  the  river.  The  commander wore a ruby
necklace; Kissur  remembered very well how he cut off his head with one hand
and stuffed the necklace in his coat with the other.
     Kissur  turned  around  and started to climb down the narrow staircase,
smelling of oil and chemistry. His car purred  quietly and  complained about
the open door. The guard  hesitantly  shifted from foot to foot in his nest.
What's  happening?  Did some boss come in a luxurious barrel to look  at the
construction at night? It doesn't look like a robber... Take this excavator,
such an insanely  expensive machine  that's tall  like a  cypress, walks  by
itself, digs earth by itself,  piles the blocks behind  by  itself. They say
that this machine costs three times more than the village that the guard was
born  and grew up  in.  They say  even  that it's  more expensive  than  the
Emperor's  scepter covered  with jewels and gold. That's probably  bullshit;
the Emperor's sceptor is the focus of the world and the buttress  of  power.
When the Emperor  knocks his scepter,  flowers  bloom and birds build nests;
how can you compare it some ironmongery? You can't compare it to ironmongery
and that's why people from  the sky get angry and laugh at the scepter. Like
it's  all  crap  and the Spring comes  not because  the  Emperor knocks  the
sceptor on the floor in the Hall of Hundred Fields  but  because Weia planet
turns  its side to the sun differently. But what if the people from  the sky
don't bullshit? What if their excavator  is more powerful than the Emperor's
scepter?
     "Hey," Kissur asked, "what are they building here?"
     " I don't know, sir", the frightened guard answered. "They say it  will
be a garbage plant."
     "Who is building it?"
     The puzzled guard was silent for a moment.
     "I knew, sir, but the name is such difficult..."
     "Earthmen?"
     "Earthmen."
     The  beacon from  the  tower  was  blinding Kissur's  eyes, shamelessly
eclipsing the moon. Kissur rolled on the heels,  threw a coin to  the guard,
got in the car and left.
     He  didn't  care  where he went, but the wheels drove  him of their own
accord to Jasper Hills, the most  expensive  suburb  of the capital. Painted
walls extended behind the sidewalk covered with blue cloth; trees and turnip
shaped  turrets  flashed behind the walls, and traffic lights blinked in the
intersections illuminating statues of gods  and road signs with  transparent
lights.
     Kissur drove the wrong way down  a one way street, turned the wrong way
again and raced  down  night  intersections  not  bothering to  decrease his
speed. He passed red lights twice without  problems, but third  time  he was
less lucky. Out of a white fence came a grey Daiquiri, looking like a gopher
with a sharp snout, the last year model made by the Republic of Gera.
     Kissur   wrenched  the  steering  wheel  left  even   before  the  slow
biolectronic guts of the car smelled danger. The brakes of both cars sang an
ugly song in  the night. Grey Daiquiri swerved  left. Everything would  have
been fine,  if not for the wet road cover. The grey car spun like a  top and
hit Kissur's car right side head-on.
     Metal screeched desperately, like a chainlink mail parting under an old
sword strike.
     Everything became quiet.
     The owner of Daiquiri  jumped out of  the car and  rushed to the  other
auto; he  jerked  the  driver's door open and looked inside. He was probably
expecting  to  find  a  corpse  or  somebody  severely  wounded;  he  looked
astonished  when he discovered  that the  culprit was sitting in the car and
getting his wallet out. Then, Kissur looked in rearview mirror, shifted from
the collision,  and noticed  that his hair twisted in  a bun was in disarray
and the comb popped out of the  bun  like  a button out  of a safety switch.
Kissur pulled the comb out and started to arrange his hair.
     The other driver's face contorted like an image in a transvisor with  a
bad  tracking;  he  started  pulling Kissur  out  and hissed awfully  in the
language of the people from the stars.
     "You, Weian monkey! Climb down a tree first, before you start driving."
     The  smile slowly left Kissur's face.  He left the comb alone,  grabbed
the Earthman's wrists with his hands, got out  of the car, and with a slight
swing  punched the Earthman in the solar  plexis with his knee. He went limp
and said "Ouch."  Red  unglazed tiles  that were covering the ditch caved in
with a crunch and the  Earthman tumbled down through the tiles with his legs
sticking up.
     Kissur  grinned,  straightened up his shirt and started opening the car
door.
     In the next second, something gleamed above  his head and  refracted in
the  long titanium oxide rib of the car. Kissur turned with lightning speed.
Great  Wei! The  Earthman  dragged himself  out of  the tiled ditch and  was
flying at Kissur prancing like  a goose. Astounded Kissur avoided  the first
punch, but  the  second almost  shattered his jaw. Kissur was hurled in  the
corner between the door and rearview mirror.  The mirror crunched and Kissur
noticed the Earthman's right foot an  inch away from his ear. Kissur grabbed
and twisted this leg, but the masterly Earthman instead of smashing his face
in the  road, let out  a war cry, threw his body strangely  in the  air  and
punched Kissur's  belly  with another leg. Kissur even fainted for a second.
When he opened his eyes again, he found himself lying on the road like a pod
from an eaten  bean and  the Earthman was  going  to punch him again. Kissur
threw  himself to the  side; Earthman  missed,  and  Kissur adroitly punched
Earthman  right in the place  where the Earthman's corn grew from. This time
Earthman's cry was less warlike. Kissur jumped with his back, bounced on his
feet and  hit the foe in the  face,  once  and again; he  went limp.  Kissur
prodded him  in the groin to check, lifted him and flang the Earthman at the
grey Daiquiri's windshield. The layered glass  cracked and started to break,
the Earthman dropped his head and lost consciousness.
     Kissur stood breathing deeply and blinking with half mad eyes.  He  was
trained  to  loose  any  self control during  a fight; at times  like  this,
Kissur's ancestors  turned into wolves and bears.  If Kissur had a sword, he
would cut the scoundrel down.  However, it would  be stupid  to wear a sword
now and Kissur didn't have a liking for all these things with nulls, lights,
gases  -  all  having a hole in the  middle like a wench. Though  he had  an
automatic six pound  laser and another very fashionable gadget  in the car's
trunk, Kissur didn't know even why he carried them. His friends did, so  did
he.
     Kissur  stood and shook his head  purposelessly, slowly coming  back in
this world. The Earthman was lying on the car hood like a squashed frog. His
white shirt and tie were hopelessly soiled with cranberry juice. The traffic
light at the  intersection blinked and changed color  -  the fugurine  of  a
god-protector  of intersections sparkled  with  green light. Kissur  finally
came to his senses. He chewed his lips and retrieved his round wallet out of
a pocket. Kissur didn't respect plastic. He got out  everything that he  had
in  the  wallet - he  vaguely remembered that  it was twenty or maybe  fifty
thousand -  rolled the money in a wad and  stuck it in the Earthmans's split
lips. He didn't want them to say that he beat people free of charge.
     Then he got in his car and left.



     The car slowly rolled forward. Kissur felt slightly sick; blood dripped
out of his nose. It wouldn't be proper to come back home looking like this.
     Kissur  passed several more mansions and stopped in front  of beautiful
brass gates. Horses and peacocks intertwined  in a dance  on the gates;  the
blue enamel on  the horsetails glistened in  the beam lights. The  beauty of
gates was  such  they  seemed to lead from  earth to heaven. Night  garden's
sweet smells wafted out from behind the gates. The turnip shaped turrets  of
the side  houses stuck out from the dark mass of trees. Melancholic gods sat
on the flat roofing of  the covered road.  At the side of the gates, a small
ivory plaque glimmered, "Shavash  Ahdi. The first  vice-minister of finance.
Vice prefect  of the Sky City." A small figurine of the god-protector of the
gates was next to the plaque. The god had  a  small basket with fish in  his
hand. A marble cup  stood under the figurine. A piece of dried oil saturated
cow  dung burned in the cup; it demontrated  the owner's modesty and honored
the cane-built huts of ancient officials.
     Surprisingly, the gates were closed  - the  vice prefect of the capital
was not feeding either officials or paupers today.
     Kissur smirked.
     The mansion's owner  could've had numerous titles written on the plaque
- the Keeper of Piety, the Brocade of Truth, the Flower Garden of the Wisdom
Beyond  the Sky, the Meadow of the State Virtue, etc... etc... He  regularly
received these titles from  the Emperor and was supposed  to engrave them on
gate plaques. However,  the owner of the mansion has often had visitors from
the skies and  he probably realized that the Brocade of Truth and the Flower
Garden of Wisdom were not titles that would impress the foreigners.
     Kissur  blinked  the  lights;  the  gates suddenly  moved to the  sides
without a call and Kissur drove in.
     The yard was brightly lit. Streams  of water and light erupted from the
fountains and multi  coloured  balls bounced on the streams. Rows of columns
and rose bushes led to the  open front  entrance. The columns tops made from
carved  jade and inlaid  silver pointed to the  moon.  The host  was already
running down the staircase rushing to the wide path. A bowing servant opened
the car  door and  Kissur stepped out of the car. Mr. Shavash froze as if he
had  ran into a wall but  he recovered at once, opened his arms and embraced
Kissur.
     "Hello," he said.
     "Well," said Kissur, "I was  driving and decided to drop by. Sorry that
I  didn't warn  you... I don't  like these  -  beep, beep,"  Kissur traced a
sickly body of a T-phone with his hand. "Are you busy?"
     Mr. Shavash regarded the caved in car door and looked Kissur over  from
his head to his toes.
     "Give me your  driver's license," said the vice-minister of finance and
the vice prefect of the capital.
     Kissur bent his eyebrows, got the  wallet out  and  handed  his license
over. The vice prefect waved the license, thought a bit, tore  it  apart and
threw it in the lighted fountain.
     "Whom have you run over?"
     "I haven't run anybody over," answered Kissur, "I hit a pole."
     This lie would have a short life span. If the Earthman is dead, Shavash
will learn everything tomorrow morning. If he is alive,  Shavash  may  learn
about it tonight.  Kissur,  however,  didn't come  to  Shavash  to  avoid  a
scandal. Thank God, the time  hasn't  come yet for a foreigner wearing a tie
to turn in a complaint about a personal friend of the Emperor.
     "The pole," mentioned Shavash, "had leaden fists."
     "Are you waiting for  somebody,"  asked Kissur,  "did I come at a wrong
time?"
     Shavash became slightly embarassed.
     "You are always welcome."
     Shavash gave orders;  Kissur followed to the guest chambers.  A servant
rushed  along in mincing steps carrying a basket with clean sheets.  Shavash
said to Kissur's back,
     "You will not drive again. Otherwise you will die sometime."
     "It's ok," replied Kissur, "if Gods like a man, he dies young."



     Twenty minutes later,  bowing  servants  walked  Kissur down the roofed
path to the Pavilion of White Creeks.
     There  were  two  pavilions  for  receiving  important  guests  in  the
Shavash's  estate  -  the Pavilion of White  Creeks  and  the Red  Pavilion.
Pavilion of White Creeks was decorated in the traditional  style, the floors
were covered  with  knee deep  white rugs, flower  spheres  swang under  the
ceiling, incense flowed from golden braziers, silken scrolls rimmed with fur
hang  on the walls, while the corners  (corners are indeed atrocious things,
everything bad in a house  comes  from the corners) were  hidden well from a
random  glance by long  ivy plants  rising all  the  way to the ceiling. Red
Pavilion was designed by an Earthman.
     Shavash  usually  received Weians  in the Pavilion of White  Creeks and
Earthmen  in the Red Pavilion. They claimed that  these  places  had magical
properties  - when  Mr. Shavash received  Weians  in the Pavilion  of  White
Creeks  he  discoursed one  way, but  when  he received Earthmen  in the Red
Pavilion his  speeches were very different. For  instance,  when  questioned
about the  reasons for the Empire's poverty in the Pavilion of White Creeks,
he complained about the greed of  people from the skies  who only try to buy
as much Weia  as possible  for a keg of marinated onions. However when asked
the same  question in the  Red Pavilion, he complained  about  laziness  and
selfishness of Weian officials.  Since these  different speeches belonged to
the  same person, you have to  agree,  that the magical  properties of these
buildings had to be involved.
     The servants brought trays of roasted goose and baskets of picked fruit
and covered the table  with vegetable and meat appetizers.The melon floating
in a silver basin was delivered the last. Shavash seated Kissur as the guest
of honor  and broke off the top of  clay wine jar. Kissur caught the top and
glanced at the stamp.
     "Good wine," Kissur, "if this stamp is not counterfeited."
     "There  are  no fakes in my house," Shavash replied,  "it was  made  in
Inissa in the fifth year of sovereign Varnazd rein."
     "It  was made when the empire was still the empire. It was made when  I
was not a minister yet,  when I was a brigand in Kharain  mountains and when
my wife was your fiancee.
     Shavash smiled slightly and poured wine in the cups.
     "I would," Kissur spoke, "drink a wine that was bottled in the times of
sovereign Irshahchan. When there were no merchants and bribers and  when all
these barbarians from the mountains or from the sky didn't wave their swords
or their science in front of our people's faces.
     "I  am afraid," Shavash replied, "that no wine that ancient exists. And
even if it's around still, it has turned into vinegar."
     The friends intertwined their hands and drank wine.
     After  that, Shavash  started  on  a young  bamboo  shoot and  a  river
calimari with  a spicy  Iniss sauce appetizers. Kissur, squinting,  rolled a
cup in his hands and looked at the man sitting across the table.
     Even among Weian  officials that nobody would suspect to be excessively
uncorrupted, Shavash had made himself quite a reputation. Shavash's servants
took bribes, Shavash's assistants took  bribes, Shavash's wife (by  the way,
Kissur's  wife was  her sister) took bribes; they took bribes with lands and
stocks, with licenses and money, with options and  thoroughbreds,  with  the
newest  financial tools and  ancient paintings, took bribes  from provincial
and  center  worlds,  took bribes  from the  Federation  of Nineteen and the
Republic of Gera - though the dictator of Gera didn't take bribes and didn't
really give much.  One official asked what kind of place  a supermarket was;
they told him that it was a place where one could by anything. "Oh, it's Mr.
Shavash's house," the astonished official exclaimed. Kissur once, after some
really offensive deal, grabbed Shavash by his shirt at the  Emperor's soiree
and  asked what the current price was  for a  pound  of  motherland. "I love
motherland and I charge a  lot for it," Shavash leered. Mr. Shavash liked to
state  that if a man says that  he doesn't  like money, it means  that money
doesn't like him.
     Since the  Earthmen came  to the  planet, seven years and four cabinets
have  passed.  Every  one  of  the  cabinets  fired  all  its  predecessor's
functionaries. Shavash was the only higher level official who worked for all
the cabinets and survived. The first man he betrayed in order to survive was
his teacher and lord,  Nan, who  had made him  a big  boss  out of an street
urchin thief. Thanks to such a long political life, Shavash was able to pull
all the  strings  of  power and influence in  the country  in  spite  of his
relative youth - he was only two years older than Kissur.
     Shavash could help or hinder anything. Even the biggest country bumpkin
Earthmen - who came to  Weia to invest in a  construction of some resort  in
the  middle of untamed nature or  in the development of a uranium  mine that
will sooner or later finish this  untamed nature off - knew that they should
introduce themselves to the  first vice minister of finance and  they should
invest in Shavash first, and in a mine next.
     Kissur had just finished  half of the goose, when a bowing servant slid
in the room  and  handed  Shavash  a  paper. "At the  intersection of Spring
Fires, the traces of a two car collision were found, the unglazed tile ditch
cover was broken through, blood and fragments of headlights identical to the
broken headlight of  Kissur's car  were  present.  The grey paint  particles
stuck to  Kissur's car trunk match  to the grey paint particles found at the
collision  place." That was the  answer to the orders Shavash had  given his
secretary twenty minutes ago.
     Shavash folded the paper sheet and put it in his pocket.
     "What," Kissur asked, "are they building at the Seven Clouds field?"
     The official pondered.
     "Garbage processing plant," he said.
     "Who? Another of their corporations?"
     "The company CB  Trade.  The owner  of company is Kaminski. What's  the
problem?"
     "Nothing. I was just passing by and got curious."
     "So, have they built the plant?"
     "No," Kissur said, "they haven't built it yet. They built a big road to
the garbage plant."
     Shavash reflectively touched the paper in his pocket. Kissur sucked  on
a goose breast bone, washed it down with another wine cup and said, "Garbage
plant! Our ancestors swept garbage out  of their houses only at a full moon.
They used to call a  charmer, so that a warlock would not be able to pick up
trash and  put a spell on  them. Imagine  what  would happen  in  Earthmen's
houses if they threw garbage out only once a month? All their wraps and cans
would rise  above the ceiling even thought their ceilings are very high! How
can a people that generates so much garbage  call itself civilized? How dare
these  people teach  us  to  manufacture  goods  only  to  dispose  of  them
afterwards?!
     Shavash  didn't react  to  this  tirade  in  any way.  Kissur  silently
finished wine and his eyes became even more desperate.
     "Why,"  Kissur  asked,  "does  the capital  need a  garbage  processing
plant?"
     "Probably," Shavash supposed, "to process garbage."
     "Crap,"  Kissur  objected,  "Earthmen  don't  need  plants  to  process
garbage.  They produce  garbage,  as  an excuse  to build garbage processing
plants. Why don't we ask the  sovereign to ban this construction? Almost  in
the center of the capital!"
     Shavash pressed his thumb  in the armchair  and looked thoughtfully  at
Kissur. It looked like he was pondering something.
     "Don't be afraid,"  Shavash said suddenly, "Kaminski will not built his
garbage plant."
     "How so?"
     "As you mentioned, this is almost downtown. The status of the land will
be reconsidered; industrial construction will  be  prohibited; the  business
and industrial land committee will submit  a complaint;  the sovereign  will
sign it and the garbage plant construction will be cancelled."
     "But the foundation is already there."
     "Mr.  Kaminski will  receive  a  compensation  for the foundation - two
million."
     "And then?"
     "Then,  Mr.  Kaminski  will  built a new business  center instead of  a
garbage plant on the business zoned land."
     "I  am probably very stupid," Kissur remarked, "but  I don't understand
what's going on."
     "Lands of the Empire that  are sold to foreign investors as  a  private
property," Shavash patiently explained, "can be divided in four categories -
agrarian, residential, industrial  and business lands. Industrial zoned land
costs twelve  times less than business zoned one. If Mr. Kaminsky had bought
the land for a business center, it would have been too expensive for him."
     "And what about the foundation?" Shavash spread his hands.
     "I  am not an  engineer, of course, and  they  don't allow outsiders to
visit the construction. If  however,  I  was  an engineer  and I was allowed
there,  I would  probably  notice  that  the foundation and the  underground
communications  confirm  to a  business  center specifications and not to  a
garbage processing facility specifications."
     Kissur's face froze.
     "So," he said, "that's what Kaminsky will get two million  compensation
for?"
     "Kaminsky,"  Shavash  responded, "will not  get  the  compensation. The
compensation will be procured by a  Weian official who affirms the complaint
and transfer land from one zoning category into another."
     "Hold on, this deal must have passed through your prefecture!"
     "In this case, the contract  did not pass via the prefecture. It passed
through Mr. Khanida's department."
     "I  see.  You  can't  forgive Khamida  that it was him and  not you  to
receive the money."
     "This money wouldn't hurt me"
     Kissur stood up and started pacing in the pavilion.
     "Mutual profit," Shavash talked, "is the basis of cooperation. Kaminsky
will save  four  hundred million; Khamida will  receive two  million.  Weian
officials cost cheap."
     "What  if everything  falls through?  If the  sovereign  fires  Khamida
before he changes the land zoning?"
     "Well, Kaminsky gave Khamida only a little bit, less than seven hundred
thousand. The rest Khamida will get only upon a successful completion of the
deal and  he  will  not  get it from the Earthman - he  will get it from the
state. Khamida is not the one who invented it, it's a well known setup."
     "What other setups are there?" Kissur asked quickly.
     The  official  spread  his  hands  smiling  like  a  porcelain cat.  He
evidently didn't want to tell Kissur about all the different ways of selling
his own country, even though he  was much more  nimble than Khanida in  this
business.
     "Kissur, you haven't seen my watch collection in a while. Let's go  and
look at  it." Standing  up unhurriedly,  Shavash approached  a fifth dynasty
cabinet that stood in the living room. Shavash' s collection of Weian pocket
watches  was filling  the sparkling  malachite shelves  in  the cabinet. The
collection had indeed improved. A tiny sand watch in a tumbler  braided with
gold knots was added.  Also new were three  mechanical pocket  watches  that
just started to appear in the Empire before the catastrophe  and were luxury
and   therefore  art,  with   fanciful  ornament   and   decorations,   with
mother-of-pearl hands made in the image of the eternity god, hence  they had
nothing to do with this flat crap that even women now worn  on their wrists.
Other  new additions were present: a tiny watch embedded in a lid of  a jade
powder box  - it didn't have a glass cover, it had a twined filigree lattice
and a single hour  hand languished  behind  it as if in prison cell; an oval
watch strewn with pearls had two faces - one face for the minute and another
for the hour  hand - and a long chain with jade pendants that high officials
used to wear personal seals.  A seal was at the botton and the watch covered
with tiny jewels at the top.
     Kissur suddenly grabbed Shavash by his right hand - a homely watch with
a simple platinum face  was there and twenty six hours  of Weian  time  were
marked with Earthern numerals.
     "Yes,"  Shavash  said thickly, "there are  no  more Weian numerals. Our
time has been severed. Let my hand go now or you will break it again."
     Grinning Kissur released Shavash's hand, turned to the shelf and picked
up an  onion shaped  watch  with a crystal top.  Agitation briefly  ran over
Shavash's  face -  he  loved this onion  more than any of his concubines and
Kissur knew  that. Kissur squeezed the  onion in his fist and  waved  it  in
front of Shavash's face.
     "So," Kissur  asked,  "what  other  ways are  there?  How many  of your
monthly salaries did this onion cost?"
     Shavash suddenly twisted like a cat protecting its kittens.
     "Put it back now," he hissed.
     Nobody knows how Kissur woud have  answered if  a brass  gong  had  not
banged at the hall entrance and an incoming servant announced,
     "Mr. Bemish begs forgiveness for being late."
     "Let him in," Shavash cried desperately.
     Kissur's lips twitched; he put the onion back in place and for a second
longer  looked at the  numerals in  the hands  of  the  eternity god twisted
around the dial.
     Isn't it strange? A while ago  this fashion for watches  was started by
this scoundrel, minister Nan, who  later appeared to be a barbarian from the
stars, - Kissur couldn't stand this fashion - how could it  be that a  watch
hand commanded a Man like an owner his slave. And now his heart hurt when he
saw the Weian numerals and a Weian device.
     When Kissur turned  around, the official  was already standing  at  the
entrance and bowing ceremoniously to the Earthman.
     "Please," Shavash  said, "let  me  introduce you to each other. Terence
Bemish, the general  director  of ADO company and Mr.  Kissur,  an Emperor's
personal friend...."
     The Earthman and Kissur looked at each other.
     Kissur's eyes popped out;  it was the same man he had a fight with only
two hours ago. Great Wei! Kissur thought  the Earthman had died  and the guy
even managed to change his shirt!
     "We have  met already,"  the Earthman  reported  in an  even  voice and
added,  "Mr. Kissur, I was just going to hand you over a letter." He stepped
closer to Kissur and put a white envelope  in his hand. Kissur felt a wad of
crimpled money under the plastic paper.
     Kissur guffawed and slapped Bemish on the shoulder. Bemish bit his lips
for a second,  pondering if he should punch the  guy in the face, but Kissur
was laughing so merrily that Bemish couldn't help but join him.
     Shavash batted his eyelids  apprehensively. The  official had  to solve
several problems quickly and the most pressing one  was where to receive the
guests and  what language to  use.  It was  a very important question due to
this strange quality of Shavash's soul; as we have discussed, a conversation
in  a different language seemingly transferred  it to a different world.  We
have mentioned, that when somebody asked Shavash in
     Interenglish  about  the reasons  for  pauperism in the Empire, Shavash
denounced  passionately unbearable state expenses and the state budget  that
half of the country's banks made  fortunes  on. However, when somebody asked
him the same question  in  Weian, he castigated the  gluttony of  the people
from the  stars who were  buying the country  for a wine jar. Hence, Shavash
avoided speaking Interenglish next to a Weian and  speaking  Weian next to a
person from the stars. His brain got muddled otherwise.
     Shavash carefully  pulled a  window curtain  away and looked outside. A
taxi  stood far outside, behind the  white wall.  Oh,  the Earthman  flew in
yesterday  and rented a car - a grey Daiquiri. Hmm, to change a car  is more
difficult than to change a shirt.
     "Well, gentlemen," Shavash said,  still undecided  about the hall, "the
night  is divine, why should  we sit inside eight walls,  let's go  into the
garden."
     "I apologize," Kissur bowed, " but I need to go."
     "What..." Shavash started.
     "Gentlemen," Kissur said, "I'll only get in  your way. Two  respectable
people  are going to discuss an  important business. It's not  a place for a
vagrant like me. You are not going to waste your time on small things like a
garbage plant, are you?"




     Where the  sad  history  of  the Assalah spacefield is  told  while the
ex-first minister of Empire finds himself a new friend.

     Next morning Terence Bemish sat in his room on the seventh floor of the
local  Hilton hotel nudging  the back of  his head and feeling annoyed.  His
head hurt as hell. A large peony-shaped bruise swelled on his cheekbone.
     Somebody knocked in the door - Stephen C. Welsey, an employee of one of
the largest investment banks in the Galaxy and Terence's  colleague on  this
stupid trip, walked in.
     "Wow," Welsey  said, looking  curiously at  the peony bruise,  "is it a
local mafia?"
     "Ah, a guy shattered my car's headlamps."
     "And then?" Welsey asked with  an undisguised curiosity knowing  that a
while ago the sixteen year old future corporate raider Terence Bemish got to
the semi-finals of a youth kickboxing Galaxy championship.
     "To be honest," Bemish said, "I was a complete pig. These jerks charged
me three times more for the rent  than this tin can really costs. I  grabbed
the guy by his  shirt and called him a  Weian monkey or something like that.
He punched me in the face."
     "Thank God, you were smart enough to hold back."
     "To the contrary," Bemish said bitterly, "I punched him back."
     Welsey's raised his eyebrows in astonishment.
     "To summarize," Bemish explained, "he  drove away  and left me  sitting
with my butt inside the crashed windshield."
     "What about Shavash?"
     "I changed my clothing and went to Shavash."
     "Well?"
     "Shavash is a very intelligent person," Bemish said, "and his education
is impeccable.  He  knows  everything about  IPO,  underwriters,  cumulative
privileged stocks, etc...  You have to admit that  in  a  country where most
people are sure that when an  Earth  starship  reaches the sky, the Earthmen
knock  in the sky and God opens them a brass door, that's pretty impressive.
He is a very intelligent man who encompassed the best in the both cultures -
Weian and Galactic ones."
     "What does it mean?"
     "He  can bankrupt  you without breaking a  sweat  like  a  vulture fund
manager and he can personally cut your head  off like a true Weian official.
He is the most charming man."
     "So, what has the most charming  man told  you about your desire to buy
Assalah?"
     "That  to agree to our proposal means to sell the motherhood for a sour
cream jar."
     "Well, should we pack our things and leave?"
     "Not necessarily. Mr. Shavash hinted that he would be ready to sell the
motherhood for a sour cream jar, if the jar was big enough."
     Welsey hummed.
     "Don't I dream sometimes," he said, "that  at some point the Securities
and Stocks Committee will allow us to  have an entry  in a balance  sheet  -
"for  bribing  of  the developing  markets  officials" - and it will be  tax
deductible... How much does he want?"
     "We didn't get to particular numbers."
     Bemish was silent for a moment and continued,
     "The company  stocks are unbelievably under priced. I am  not going  to
give him any money. Let him buy stock warrants, this way it would  be in his
interest for the company to survive and prosper."
     "What is that you don't like?"
     "Shavash is not the director of the company."
     "Excuse  me,"  Welsey  was  amazed, "what  do  you  mean,  he is  not a
director? All the forms say - Shavash Ahdi, the  director of the state-owned
Assalah Company."
     "Stephen, it is a  poor  translation. The company  is  not owned by the
state,  it is owned by the sovereign. Do you see the difference? "State" and
"sovereign" are two different conjugations of the same word in Weian - nouns
have conjugations here  - what a language... When  the translation says, the
state  appoints, it  really means,  the sovereign  appoints.  The  sovereign
personally  appoints  and  revokes  the  company  president;  the  sovereign
personally accepts financial plans.  What if the  sovereign does not  accept
the IPO plan? Bye-bye sour cream..."
     "Hmm," Welsey  said,  "From what  I've  heard, you can't  really say he
spends   all  his   time   studying   companies'   IPO   plans  during   the
de-nationalization process. They say he has seven hundred concubines..."
     "Yes,  but what's the  guarantee that  some  official  that can't stand
Shavash doesn't go to the sovereign and tell him about the sour cream jar."
     "Giles from IC told me that we would not even be able to get papers for
the space field preliminary checkup without bribing Shavash first."
     Bemish retorted, "What is the IC? I've never heard about this company."
     Somebody knocked in the door.
     "Come in," Welsey shouted.
     A boy with a card on a  silver tray materialized at the entrance.  As a
local custom  demanded, the boy kneeled  down on a scrawny knee in  front of
the foreigner. Bemish took the card. The boy said,
     "A gentleman  would like to have a breakfast with you. The gentleman is
waiting down in the foyer."
     "I am coming," Bemish said.
     The  boy backed away  and left. Bemish hurriedly pulled on pants  and a
jacket. Welsey took the card.
     "Kissur," he  read, "wow, isn't he the Emperor's favorite who filched a
Van Leyven's bomber plane and slaughtered  the  rebels next to  the capital?
Didn't he  later get on LSD and gang up with anarchists on Earth? Where  did
you pick this drug addict up?"
     Bemish checked his bruise out in the mirror.
     "Drug addicts," Bemish said, "don't fight like this."



     Terence Bemish descended.
     Slim and smiling  Kissur sat  on the car hood. He wore soft  grey pants
girdled by a wide belt embroidered with  silver  sharks and a grey jacket. A
wide  necklace  made of  jade  plates  set in  gold glistened under the open
jacket akin to  a collar. The attire was  similar enough to the contemporary
fashion to  look unobtrusive, except for the necklace and  the finger rings.
Bemish winced  involuntarily  and touched his  cheekbone where Kissur's ring
tore the skin off.
     "Hello," Kissur said, "general director! Never in my life have I met  a
general director who fights like this. Are you special?"
     "I am special," Terence Bemish agreed.
     Laughing, Kissur embraced him,  seated  him in the car and  started the
engine.
     "What have you seen in our capital?" Kissur asked.
     "Nothing."
     "Have you seen nothing at all?"
     "Well, I saw  cards in the hotel hall," Bemish said, "and I also saw  a
warning there - don't eat fried river calamari on the market if the calamari
are from the left river, where the leather processing plant "flows" to."
     "Got you," Kissur said, "let's go then."
     They  drove over the river across a blue lacquered bridge,  loaded with
market stalls and people. Kissur stopped on the bridge in front of  a wreath
shop,  bought  three of  them, put one  on his neck, another on Bemish's and
later left the third one in the temple of the Sky Swans.
     After that, Kissur drove Bemish around the city.
     The city, that Bemish hadn't  seen  yet, was both beautiful  and  ugly.
Temple  turrets  and  muraled  precinct gates  mixed  with astonishing  five
storied shanty  houses  built from the stuff  that  Bemish  wouldn't dare to
build a  cardboard  box; potters on the floating  market sold enticing  jars
painted with grasses  and flowers and empty rainbow hued Coke bottles. Melon
peels and colorful wraps floated down the canal - the remnants of everything
that grew on Weia and came from the skies,  everything that found a place in
the mammoth belly of the Sky City but didn't find a place in the weak bowels
of its sewage.
     They  watched a  puppet show  at the market based on  a new  popular TV
series demonstrating the mutual  integration  of the cultures; they fed holy
mice and dropped by the Temple of Isia-ratouph,  where stone gods dressed in
long caftans and high  suede boots nodded to visitors  if they dropped coins
(bought here) down a slot in the wall.
     Kissur  showed the  Earthman a wonderful town  clock  made  in the very
beginning of  the sovereign Kassia's rule.  There were twenty three thousand
figurines next to the  clock, a thousand for an every province, and they all
represented officials, peasants and artisans. They spun in front of the dial
displaying  a blue  mountain.  Bemish asked  why the  mountain was blue  and
Kissur answered that was the mountain that stood above the sky and  had four
colors - blue, red,  yellow and  orange. The blue side of the mountain faces
the Earth - that's why sky  is blue. The orange side of  the mountain  faces
the gods, hence the sky above the place where gods live is orange.
     This was a standard cultural program except  for the fact the  director
of a modest company registered  in the state of Delaware, USA, Federation of
Nineteen was accompanied by one of the richest people in the Empire.
     Finally,  Kissur  stopped  at a temple somewhere at the city outskirts.
He, probably, stopped there because of  a two thousand step  long  staircase
leading  to  the  temple.  Kissur started running  up the  steps  and Bemish
desperately  tried  to  keep up.  He was out  of  breath and his  heart  was
pounding in the chest, but the Earthman and the Weian  got to the top of the
colonnade side by side, looked at each other and laughed.
     "Like a pig race," Kissur said, gasping for breath,  "Terence, have you
seen a pig race?"
     "No."
     "We must go there. I threw away twenty thousand last week on  this  Red
Nose bastard."
     It was  dark and  cool inside the temple. A  bronze  god  in  a brocade
caftan  and high suede boots  sat amidst green and gold columns and his wife
sat in the next  hall. Kissur  said  that  Weians  didn't put much stock  in
bachelor gods. A god should be a good family  man and an  exemplary  father,
otherwise what can he expect from people?
     Bemish  listened  to the strange silence in the temple and perused  the
face of the god and the family man.
     "By the way, where did you learn to fight?"
     "My  father taught me," Bemish  said, "he was a well-known sportsman. I
almost became one myself."
     The ex-first minister's  eyebrows, furled in contempt were visible even
in the temple dusk
     "Sportsman..."  he  drawled,  "it's a  shameful  business  to fight for
plebeian delight. Why haven't you become a warrior?
     Terence Bemish was amazed. To  say the  truth, it has never occurred to
him to join the army, not even in his wildest dreams.
     "The army," Bemish said, "is for losers."
     The ex-premier grinned.
     "Yes," he replied, "for an Earthman, anything that can't procure wealth
is  for losers. The  Earthmen make  money out  of wars no longer; they  make
money out of money.
     "I didn't mean that," Bemish objected,  "I want to be myself  and not a
trigger pulling machine. The army means the loss of freedom."
     "Crap," said Kissur, "the army  is  the  only way to freedom.  There is
nobody between a warrior and god."
     "Maybe," Bemish agreed, "only our army hasn't fought for the  last  one
hundred thirteen years."
     They  left the hall, walked through a rock and flower  garden and found
themselves in another  temple wing - enticing smells wafted  from  there and
Bemish  saw cars with  diplomatic plate licenses through  a  twined lattice.
Bemish thought the temple rented this house out but Kissur told  him that an
eatery had always been there.
     They walked  down  into  the  yard. A  fountain  babbled  in  the  yard
inconsolably and people  sat at the tables  under the swaying  yellow tents.
Kissur  seated Bemish at a table, grabbed a passing waiter, plucked two wine
jars from his basket and ordered food.
     "So,"  Kissur said, pouring  spicy palm wine  down the clay mugs,  "you
have never been to a war. What do you do then?"
     "I  am in finance. The  company that  belongs  to  me  will possibly be
interested in buying some stuff here."
     "Are you rich?"
     "You don't have to be rich in order to acquire a company. You just have
to have a reputation of a man who can triple the stock price of this company
in a year and a financial company who can raise money for you."
     "Aha. Do you have one?"
     "Yes. My colleague Welsey represents it. It's LSV bank."
     "Are foreign banks allowed here?"
     "LSV  is not a  deposit bank. They  are in investment business, "Bemish
said, feeling slightly offended for the fifth largest investment bank in the
Galaxy.
     Here, Kissur astounded Bemish.  The  ex-first minister of the Empire of
the Great Light looked at Bemish and asked,
     "Oh, do banks engage in anything beyond usury?"
     Bemish was silent for a moment. Then he carefully inquired,
     "Kissur, do you know what a stock is?"
     "Hmm," the ex-minister said, "it's when you get a loan?"
     Bemish almost choked.
     "Am I not right?"
     "When they loan money and issue securities it is called bonds."
     "That's what I am saying. Isn't it the same thing?"
     "No,"  Bemish said, "When a company issues stocks, whoever buys a stock
becomes a co-owner of  the company and has a right to vote at a stock holder
meeting. He  also gets dividends  and their size  depends on  the  company's
performance. On the  other hand, when a company issues bonds,  it means that
it  borrows money and whoever buys bonds will have guaranteed  payments till
the loan will be paid off, if the company does not go bankrupt, of course."
     "Oh, how interesting," Kissur said; he snapped his fingers and shouted,
     "Chief! Where is the jellyfish?"
     Bemish  had  never eaten  marinated  jellyfish  before  and  he  wasn't
particularly curious about it; he sincerely wished that the place ran out of
them.  However,  the jellyfish  arrived,  looking  like  a  pile  of  broken
plexiglass smothered in with red sauce, and Kissur continued,
     "What company are you aiming at?"
     "The  company that  received  a  concession for  the Assalah  spaceport
construction.  Since  the  sovereign  owns  65%  of  the company's  capital,
accordingly to your laws he appointed the company director - Mr. Shavash."
     Kissur, having some  vague recollection  that Shavash owned twelve more
companies like  that  including the Galaxy's second  biggest  (and rated one
hundred eighteenth in efficiency) uranium mine, silently nodded.
     "Are you definitely buying it?"
     "It depends on a number of factors."
     "Such as?"
     "It depends on  the current state of the construction, the state of the
world stock market by the time of the IPO, the IPO volume and its prospects,
- you see, LSV can act as an underwriter and get a profit selling securities
but prices may go down after the IPO and then LSV will incur all the losses.
It  is also important what kind of  securities it will be, stocks, bonds, or
derivatives.
     "Bonds would be better," Kissur said.
     "Why?"
     "You said  it  yourself  - if  anybody  buys stocks,  he also  buys the
company. What if somebody buys the spaceport?  All these  ... trying to worm
their way in here..."
     Bemish choked a bit, but it was probably caused by the unusual taste of
jellyfish.
     "Tell me more about the company," Kissur demanded.
     The Assalah Company was founded four years ago for the construction and
the industrial usage  of  a spaceport with a twenty five square mile landing
area  that  could  potentially be  increased.  15 square  miles  of  peasant
communal land was appropriated for  the construction. The company issued six
hundred  forty million stocks with a  nominal price of one  hundred isheviks
each.  The  state  kept  65% of the stocks and the  management received five
percent. The community peasants  got about seven percent. Instead of getting
cash for the  appropriated lands, these people obtained a partnership in the
future  construction.   Fifteen   percent  of   stocks  was   sold  via  the
over-the-counter market.
     The  construction was  going along rapidly; the stocks were pretty high
up and their price reached  three thousand  isheviks  or  eighteen  Galactic
dinars  on  the stock  exchange. Then the  director embezzled too much and a
scandal   burst;   it  became  apparent  that  only  one  third  of  planned
construction had been accomplished,  the market crashed, almost all of upper
managers were arrested, the workers scurried away picking up everything that
the managers hadn't stolen yet;  the construction halted on its own volition
and never started up  again. Shavash was appointed  the head of the company,
though I think that he had originally been on the Board of Directors.
     "That's simple,"  Kissur said,  "if Shavash was  on the Board  to begin
with,  it  means  that  he  quarreled  with  his  colleagues  and  had  them
imprisoned."
     "I don't  know," Bemish said, "you see, this kind of stuff would not be
included in IPO prospects. Shavash tried to  set up an international IPO and
he got in touch with "Merrill Roberto Darnhem." He almost pulled  it off but
the investors refused to undersign the issue in the end."
     "Why?"
     "Because,"  Bemish gleefully explained,  "a rebellion or  something the
government considered  a rebellion happened in  Chakhar  that  month, and  a
certain  Kissur  led  his tanks  among other  things through the  production
facilities of a soft beverage joint corporation, squashing under his  tracks
a manager named Rodger Gernis. After this little trip, the securities of six
Weian companies that had passed the international certification plunged down
and bruised themselves and nobody wanted to talk about a new IPO. Didn't you
know about it?"
     Kissur twirled his head thoughtfully.
     "I've  heard something about it,"  he said,  "but I don't  see anything
wrong if your sharks don't eat our carp."
     "Your carp won't get smarter if nobody swallows it."
     Kissur raised his  head  and  looked thoughtfully at Bemish.  His  jaws
moved powerfully, crunching the jellyfish like it was not a jellyfish but at
least a lamb bone.
     "That's well  said,  financier,  " Kissur  mentioned,  "it's frank,  at
least. Do you own a construction company?"
     "More or less."
     "What kind of construction?"
     "It makes automated doors for monorail subway cars."
     Kissur pondered. He was evidently trying to figure out the relationship
between the automated doors and the Assalah spacefield and he just could not
fathom it.
     "Have you inherited it from your father?" Kissur asked.
     "No, I bought it a year ago."
     "Why?"
     "To use it as a tool to acquire a bigger company."
     This  statement  was more  frank  and  even scandalous compared to  the
previous one about the carp.  It would make the Galactic  Reserve bureaucrat
twitch but Kissur clearly didn't care.
     Kissur poured  Bemish  palm wine and they drank a mug  and then another
one.
     "What's so special about you, director?" Kissur asked suddenly.
     Bemish was  silent for a moment. He wouldn't mind having Kissur  as  an
ally.  He realized that  Kissur  detested everything to do with Earthmen and
their  money  and he couldn't  predict  the Kissur's  reaction  to his  next
statement.
     "Most  general directors,"  Bemish delivered  ,  "slowly  climb  up the
corporate ladder, play golf with their equals and charge their own companies
for  the their cats' space travels.  They  won't let me play golf with them.
They call me and my  likes corporate raiders. We don't play by the rules. We
buy  companies and fire  ineffective management. We buy companies with other
people's money and pay off loans by selling half of what we bought."
     Kissur sipped wine. He didn't care a fig that the Securities and Stocks
Committee was now discussing the legal  issues of corporate raiders' actions
yet again, and that Terence  Bemish's name was  often being mentioned in not
the most favorable way.
     "So," Kissur said,  "the Assalah spacefield.  It's in Chakhar,  at  the
border with the capital region... They grow great grapes in Assalah... Isn't
one hole in the sky enough for Chakhar?"
     "No,"  Bemish said, "one hole in the sky appears not to  be  enough. It
was  also supposed  to be a temporary hole  built  in a swamp.  The  Chakhar
capital  becomes  as inaccessible in  the rainy season, as  a marsh  village
during a flood.  The landing blocks  grow wet mildew and the spaceships hang
out there  in space and charge so much for  the delays, that cost as much as
ten spacefields or one palace. "
     "How horrible!" Kissur exclaimed.
     "Didn't you know that?"
     "I  am  not  a shopkeeper,"  the  ex-first minister of  the Empire  was
offended, "everybody,  interested in this,  starts giving bribes  or  making
money sooner or later."
     He was silent for a moment and then added, "so did you  come to Shavash
about  this  ... hole  in the sky? How much  did  he  ask?"  Bemish  grinned
savagely.
     "I  am  not  in the habit of giving anything  to the  management of the
companies acquired by me accept for a kick in the butt. Assalah will be sold
on an investment auction. I will win this auction and that's it."
     Kissur's  blue eyes  bored  in  the Earthman sitting  in from  of  him.
"Something is funky here, "Kissur thought. "Either the Earthman is afraid to
confess about the bribe or Shavash  is going to get foxy on him. One of them
is lying to me and I'll rub an onion in his eyes.



     Bemish drove away in  an unknown direction. Stephen Welsey shaved, took
a shower, ate breakfast, prepared related papers,  visited an official named
Ishmik,  who  was  connected  to  the  state archive,  where  the  financial
documentation of the Assalah company's previous stage was stored accordingly
to the Empire laws.
     Next  to  the gates covered with silver curls and golden  feathers, two
guards squatted and shelled earth nuts.
     "Is it Mr. Ishmik's house?" Welsey asked  in Interenglish, slowing down
and sticking his head out of the car.
     "Yep," one guard answered.
     Welsey got out of the car and barely stepped on a white sand path.
     "Where are the gifts?" the guard said.
     "What gifts?" Welsey was astonished.
     "Gifts so that we announced you to Mr. Ishmik."
     Welsey got back in the car, turned around and left. Five minutes passed
by. The guards still sat  shelling the earth nuts and looked thoughtfully at
the empty road.
     "Nissan 254, " one of the guards said, "last model."
     "Such ignorance," the other said, "how can you visit a  high official's
house without gifts. Such an uncultured man!"
     Welsey's next visit was to the land rights precinct.  He needed to find
out the exact status of the peasant and state lands acquired for the Assalah
landing strips. The  IPO documentation that he studied on Earth, mentioned a
long  term lease  with  a right to  buy out,  and  Welsey needed to find out
whether or  not  the  acquisition  had  already happened. A  plump  official
rumpled  the  papers in his  hands for a  while and even  pretended  to read
English while holding the document upside down.
     "Why isn't the  paper signed?" he proclaimed suddenly, returning Welsey
the sheet. "But this  is the first page!" Welsey said, "The signature  is on
the second page."
     The official knitted his brows.
     "What if the first page is a fake?"
     "Are you going to  force me fly back  to  Earth to get the signature, "
Welsey asked irritably, "why don't you pay for a ticket then?"
     The official realized how ignorant the man was and did his best  to get
rid of him.
     In  the third  precinct, Welsey  barely stepped in the  office, where a
young official with smart penetrating eyes stood to  meet him, when the door
opened quietly  again and a Tserrina consulate courier darted in, holding  a
large basket in his hands. The official looked desperately at Welsey and the
latter uttered, "I'll wait outside,  "  and stepped out. In a moment, Welsey
heard in Interenglish,
     "Please  accept  this trifle from me and turn a benevolent face towards
me."
     Welsey rushed out.



     After  the pub, Kissur dragged Bemish home. Bemish didn't find Kissur's
mansion to be entirely immured in the past -  a closed circuit camera  roved
its eye and the powerful neon  lamps hung among the marble columns flanking,
customarily, the path  to the main  building. However,  Bemish made  out  an
altar in the garden and a lamb, slashed wide open, lay on it.
     Evidently, Kissur brought Bemish home for dinner and  their food at the
pub was just  the appetizing hors d'oervres. Bemish hiccuped.  Kissur warned
Bemish away from the women's quarters and went away vociferously instructing
the proper preparation of pheasants.
     The Earthman  was  left in one of the  halls  with  windows facing  the
garden  and  walls  draped with archaic  silks.  A  weapons  collection  was
arranged on the wall - an encrusted with mother-of-pearl and gold  poleax, a
simple  battle-axe, swords,  one  arrow-head  covered in blood.  When Kissur
returned, Bemish inquired about the strange collection theme.
     "These are the weapons I was not killed with," Kissure answered.
     He moved to the wall and picked a heavy spear with  a  blue pinecone at
the end.
     "In a two day trip from your Assalah, the mountains begin and I was cut
off in  the mountain  woods with maybe a thousand people, and Kharan  - that
was  the  scoundrel's  name - had  about  fifteen thousand. But while Kharan
dawdled on the plains, I ordered  the trees along the road  to be axed  part
way. When they finally entered  the  forest,  the  trees started falling  on
their heads and we butchered the ones who were still alive. Still, it wasn't
such an easy feat and I was almost killed with this spear."
     Kissur was silent for a moment.
     "It's silly to  kill somebody with it now,  isn't it? A laser would  be
way more reliable."
     Kissur pivoted and threw the spear. It flew through the open window and
implanted itself in a decorated gazebo pole. Bemish walked out to look - the
spear had completely run through  the  pole. The pole was more than ten inch
thick.
     Bemish wrenched the spear out and returned to the room.
     Having eaten, Kissur hauled his new friend across the  river, where the
Lower City shined  and  melted  in the afternoon sunlight, thousand year old
dwellings of artisans, shopkeepers, and  thieves, filled with  crooked  back
alleys making  them impassable for cars  and blocked by gates that the local
denizens  used  to  defend themselves  against  bandits  and,  occasionally,
officials.
     A  market thundered deafeningly  next to the river; it smelled of fried
fish and fresh blood; an old woman with  a face like a dried fig was quickly
and  deftly  plucking  a  cock; passing by a  cabbage  cart while unloading,
Bemish noticed a small rocket launcher under the cabbage.
     Slightly further, people  crowded around a  movable stage where a  show
was taking place.
     "Let's go, Kissur suddenly yanked the Earthman, "you have to see this."
     Kissur and Bemish squeezed in closer.
     A dignified  oldster  in  a  waving  red dress  manufactured  two human
figurines with an incredible nimbleness - one out of clay and another out of
white rock -  put them on  the stage, covered them  with a decrepit  rag. He
passed his hands, took the rag off - and where the clay figurines had been -
two youths jumped up.  The youths started to dance in front of the audience,
and soon a lively conversation  between them and  the oldster  issued forth.
Intrigued Bemish asked Kissur what the play was about.
     "The show is based on an old myth," Kissur said.
     You see, when god was making the world, he made two people - one out of
clay, another  out of rock. Both of  them knew as  much as the gods knew but
the  clay man was simple and guileless  while the iron man  was envious  and
crafty.  The  gods  took  heed and thought,  "People  walk among us and they
probably know as much as we do. We could get in trouble."
     They called the iron man in and  asked, "What do  you know?" Since  the
iron man was crafty and secretive, he answered, just in case, that he was no
smarter than the carp had  in his basket. The gods dismissed him  and called
the clay man in.  They asked him, what he knows. "Everything," the guileless
clay man replied. The gods pondered and took half of his knowledge away.
     After Kissur  had  explained  the  meaning of the  play to  him, Bemish
started to follow what was happening on the stage. Soon it became evident to
him, that nothing good came out  of the man who lied to the gods and knew as
much as they did. This man cooked up a  lot of schemes, stole stars from the
sky, made an  iron horse plow fields for  him  and was caught when he took a
god's image and fornicated with his wife.
     After that,  the god in the red dress chased after the iron  man with a
bundle of whips; the iron man squealed and flipped over into an  open hatch.
The audience guffawed. The  show came to an end and the god in the red dress
started to walk among the people with a plate.
     Bemish enjoyed this folk show much more than the morning TV play.
     "Did I get it right that the iron man died?" Bemish queried.
     "No.  He dropped  underground  and  he  had  children and grandchildren
there. Since then, the iron people live underground and they are responsible
for all the calamities above ground.  They  cajole the  mountain  spirits to
start earthquakes and  generals to  rebel. Accordingly to the legend, at the
end of the world, the iron men will crawl out from underground in the flesh,
or more precisely, in the iron; will take the land away from the people, the
sacrifices away from the gods and will generally misbehave."
     "Will there be the second act?"  Bemish asked. He wanted to see how the
iron men cajoled generals to rebel.
     "Inevitably," Kissur grinned.
     Then, the  god stopped in front of them with the tray full  of jingling
coins;  Kissur,  grinning widely,  put  two large pink  bills with  a  crane
picture on the tray. "Braggart," Bemish thought irritably. He didn't want to
appear miserly, and  he looked in the wallet. He didn't find any large Weian
banknotes there but he had about hundred dinars in the passport just in case
-  the  Earthman  had been warned  that  ATM machines didn't readily present
themselves. Bemish extracted two notes and put them on the tray.
     The  god in a ragged dressing gown took the  gray interplanetary  money
with rainbow water signs along  the  edge, waved  them in  the  air, merrily
announced something to the crowd - and tore them apart. Bemish stupidly took
it for trick.
     "What did he say," he asked Kissur.
     "That he doesn't take iron men's money," Kissur replied.
     The  crowd parted quickly  and menacingly  and Kissur  quickly  dragged
Bemish out - several gibes and a rotten tomato flew at the Earthman.
     In  just  a moment,  they  were  crossing the  gleaming river over  the
lacquered pedestrian  bridge covered with shops. Bemish  was still upset. He
didn't  care  about money, but he  just couldn't  figure out  how  a man who
earned  twenty  coins for the performance  tore apart  a  sum  hundred times
bigger. Bemish would have never done it himself.
     "Is he mad, this illusionist?" Bemish asked.
     "They use the performances to draw people in."
     "Who are they?"
     "Well, you would call them an opposition, we would call them a sect."
     "There is a large difference between a sect  and an opposition," Bemish
noted irritably.  "Why have  I come to  this planet?," a thought passed  his
mind,  "who claimed that the Federal Committee  guys would be able  to prove
anything in the RCORP stocks story? I just bought them, that was it..."
     "The difference, " Kissur agreed ,  "is ample. An opposition hangs  out
in a  parliament and a sect  hangs  on  the  gallows.  Don't worry about the
money. They are  great tricksters; he certainly didn't tear it  apart and he
is now buying vodka  for the local trash with it,  since the trash  believes
the shows but it believes them even better when watered with vodka.
     He waited a moment and then added,
     "There are things on  Weia that you, the Earthmen, will not understand.
You will never understand why  this oldster calls your automobile a  phantom
and why they call you iron imps when they see your spaceships. You can  take
in account the copper in our mountains, but how will you  take  this oldster
in account?"
     "We can take him in account perfectly well," Bemish objected drily.
     "How so?"
     "In the  stock price. In your stock prices,  Kissur,  that cost cheaper
than toilet paper. The name for this oldster is country risk."



     When Welsey returned to the hotel in the evening, angry and disheveled,
the porter handed him over a note from Bemish. Bemish announced that  Welsey
shouldn't expect  him  in the evening since he flew to Blue Mountains  for a
fishing trip.
     Bemish was out of town all week, while Welsey continued knocking on the
state precincts' doors. It appeared to be absolutely  impossible  to get the
simplest things done, to sign papers for a permission to transport necessary
equipment to this damned planet with a discount tariff, or to gain access to
the spacefield's stinking ruins. Stephen filled forms and  refilled them, he
paid the scribes and he paid the officials.
     At the White Clouds street precinct, he said,
     "I would be very grateful to you if you sign this form."
     "May  I  know  the  size  of  your  gratitude?"  the  official  replied
immediately.
     At the  Fertile Valleys street  precinct, he was  told to  fill all the
forms in Weian.  Welsey found a scribe and  filled everything.  The official
leafed the papers through and said,
     "It is not allowed to accept the  papers from Earthmen that they didn't
fill out themselves."
     "Be merciful!" Welsey said.
     "Mercy is an honorable trait." the official agreed pompously.
     At  the  Autumn Leaves street  precinct, Welsey banged  his fist on the
table and screamed,
     "Aren't you afraind of prison?"
     "In  our world,"  the official objected,  "fright follows  tranquility,
tranquility follows fright  and only the  sovereign's  well-being  is always
serene."
     Then he asked Welsey for a ten thousand isheviks bribe.
     In a week, Welsey cracked a bit. He  was not an innocent maiden, and he
had had to appear twice before the Securities Committee. Admittedly, the LSV
bank was not only the fifth biggest but  also  the most notorious investment
bank  in the  Galaxy.  Welsey  knew  how  to  give  bribes  to influence  an
election's  results and he  had been telling  dirty stories about Federation
officials  all  his  life.  Verily,  he  had  never  ever heard a Federation
official reply  to, "I am grateful to you," by explicitily asking about  the
size of your gratitude.
     On Friday  evening, Welsey dropped by the central communication station
and called the work number of Ronald T. Trevis  - the head of LSV bank - the
man  that some  people called the un-crowned king of the Galaxy finances and
the others called the un-crowned bandit.
     "How is it going?" a normal voice from a normal planet reached Welsey.
     "It's  not  going,"  Welsey  replied, "I  have  not obtained  a  single
signature  in  a week.  I've  been  twice in their  central office  -  their
secretaries know nothing and there is nobody around besides them."
     "And Bemish?"
     "Terence  Bemish  is fishing  in Blue  Mountains,"  Welsey said  with a
vengeance.
     "Who wants bribes and how much do they want?"
     "I don't know," Welsey said, "there is a man named Shavash, the finance
vice-minister and a local  Talleyrand, considered by  some to be the hope of
the evolving nation. My impression is that the hope of the nation received a
huge bribe from IC so that  not  a  single serious IC competitor could  take
place in the auction."
     "Do you  think  that  your  difficulties  were  caused by  Mr.  Shavash
himself?"
     "Yes."
     Then, something clicked in the receiver and the connection disappeared.
     Welsey  was going back to  the hotel down  the  evening streets when he
heard a siren  coming from behind  him. A police car made him  pull  over. A
guard in a yellow coat - national police uniform - and with an assault rifle
in his  hands jumped out of the car and  tore the driver's  door out  of the
Welsey's  "environmental"  car  with a hydrogen  tank looking like a swollen
cucumber.
     "Your papers!"
     "What's  are you doing?.." the Earthman started extending his  driver's
license out.
     But the guard didn't even look at the celluloid rectangle. He bent over
Welsey, grabbed  the  yellow briefcase  lying on the  passenger's  seat  and
pulled it out of the car.
     "How dare you?" Welsey clamored.
     The guard elbowed the sky boor off.
     "It is a personal order of the minister himself!"
     Crappy tires screeched and the police car drove away.
     Welsey sat in his cucumber on wheels and felt totally shocked. That was
not a minor bribe anymore. That... There could be only one explanation - the
connection with the Earth didn't break off  accidentally. He was followed by
the Shavash's agents. The conversation was tapped.
     The consequences were catastrophic.
     As mentioned  before, he was not a virgin child  and  certain  sums  of
money had transferred hands from him to the Empire officials. While  he  was
not able to obtain even  the most  trivial information  in  some  places, he
obtained  absolutely  confidential  information in other  places - and  some
confidential materials lodged in his briefcase. The rough drafts  of the IPO
were also there, including various  financial machination notes and even the
approximate numbers of kickbacks.
     This information  would not hurt the  Empire officials but, oh  my God,
what could it do  to LSV bank! From  the moment  of Ronald's Trevis meteoric
rise, LSV bank has joined the ranks of  the most profitable but not the most
ethical banks of the Galaxy. The financial establishment used any pretext to
set "these bandits" back;  the managers of the companies, passing away under
LSV-staged  hostile  takeovers, complained about  wiretapping  and employees
being bribed; two  of  Travis clients' inner circle members were in prison -
for insider trading and stock parking.
     Actually,  Terence Bemish,  young  and promising  upstart  supported by
Trevis, got the hint that his presence at  the civilized capital markets was
not  appreciated  -  that's  why  he  went  to  Weia.  In  this  country  of
de-nationalizing economy, there were many companies with poor management and
no stock exchange rules.
     And now, the  Federation  newspapers had a  great opportunity to  grind
Terence Bemish, Ronald Trevis,  and Welsey himself flat - all this caused by
the  Welsey's bumble. His future  appeared to  the young  banker darker than
night. Trevis had thrown people out for smaller blunders and a banker, fired
by Trevis, could expect a cashier's job in a supermarket at best.
     Welsey drove slowly to the nearest police precinct, pushed a frightened
guard away and walked to the supervisor's office.
     "My name is Stephen Welsey," he said, "I represent a  financial company
LSV and  I flew in  here from Sydney to consult our client taking part in an
investment  auction. I  have  just been stopped by a police car with a plate
number  34-29-57. The  guards  confiscated my  papers  and  escaped. This is
probably  a  misapprehension. I  hope  to receive  the documents back within
three hours, otherwise I will act with no holds barred.
     A young police official  squinted frightened at the Earthman, ran in  a
next room and chattered away on a computer keyboard.
     "Number 34-29-57," he finally said, "That's wrong. There is no car with
this license  plate number  registered  in the police department.  In  fact,
there is no car registered with this license plate number at all.



     Three hours later,  Welsey came back to hotel feeling atrocious.  If he
needed a final proof that there was no law in  this country,  he got  it. He
washed  the  lip cut  by the sharp policeman's (or fake  policeman's)  fist,
opened the case and started to throw his belongings in  randomly. He  called
the spaceport, found out that the next Earth flight would be in eleven hours
and reserved a ticket.
     The case was packed in fifteen minutes. Welsey looked at his watch - he
had ten more hours before the flight's departure. The trip to  the spaceport
would take two hours. Welsey  shrugged his shoulders,  walked to the  draped
window, pulled the curtain away, and looked from the fifth floor down at the
street. Thank  God, he will leave this planet in ten more hours! The country
of  scoundrels!  Bribers!  Malingerers!  Oh my God, why did  he  give a five
thousand  bribe  to  this bug-eyed  guy  from  the eighth precinct? Now,  if
Shavash arrests  Welsey, he would  force the guy to claim that the bribe was
hundred thousand and the official promised... Ouch!
     The  square  in  front  of  the  hotel  was  brightly  lit.  A delicate
eight-columned temple stood slightly lower  and  across it.  The garden beds
were arranged in front  of the temple,  and the  spotlights hidden among the
flowers  beamed right at the  temple, illuminating marble columns and turnip
roof curls from below, scattering in a faraway fountain in the middle of the
temple  yard,  challenging large ripe  stars. "Such beauty!", Welsey thought
suddenly.
     Right then, a car  appeared at the  square's far  end. It drove over  a
flower  bed edge, flattened  a  spotlight,  swerved to the opposite lane and
stopped  down there  at the hotel  entrance.  Pulling in, it  crashed into a
truck standing in front  of  it,  but not too badly,  no  deeper  than  five
inches. Welsey's eyes popped out.
     The car door opened and Bemish landed outside. Two valets rushed to him
from the glass entrance. Bemish stepped  left, then right.  Thence he lifted
his head  and, swaying,  started  to contemplate  the  lighted entrance.  He
sighed and  sat on the curb. Even from  the fifth floor, it was evident that
he was boozed up to the hilt.
     Welsey shrugged his shoulders and walked down.
     Two valets were  already deferentially  half  carrying half  supporting
Bemish towards  him.  Bemish  resisted and  assured everybody  that  he  was
totally sober.  He  aspired to sing and invited  both valets to fish  in the
Blue Mountains. Valets  quietly and  with  concentration dragged him  up the
staircase  to  the room. They  possibly  couldn't understand him. They  were
probably used to these sights.
     Welsey  felt himself blushing. Bemish was dragging the  high  status of
Earthman and  beacon of civilization right down in  the  mud. Welsey stepped
towards  him, grabbed Bemish  by his tie  and, with the  valets' assistance,
dragged  him to the room. Bemish was rolling his eyes around and opening his
mouth like a karaoke singer with the sound track turned off.
     When Welsey threw Bemish on  the  couch, he  swung his finger drunkenly
and said,
     "Surprise."
     And he fell asleep. A pig. A drunken pig.
     Welsey tore his pants and jacket off, hung them  on the  chair and  got
out. The jacket was too heavy - the chair tipped over and the jacket crashed
to  the floor. Welsey returned  and  picked the jacket to hang  it back. The
jacket  inside pocket was  crammed with  rumpled papers.  Welsey  pried  the
papers   out  and  unrolled   them.  These  were   all   the   requests  and
power-of-attorney forms that  police  in yellow  jackets  confiscated  three
hours ago. Welsey leafed through them and found the right signatures on them
all. More than that, the forms were stamped with personal seals and that was
plain impossible.
     Welsey went downstairs.  He checked the Bemish's car out  and found the
yellow briefcase,  seized by the  police,  in the trunk. Mysteriously, there
was a grilled lamb lying next to the briefcase in the trunk. The lamb held a
thick gold ring in the mouth. The lamb was lying on a silver dish.
     Welsey walked  upstairs and put  the  recovered papers in the recovered
briefcase. He called the spaceport and canceled the reservation. He called a
boy valet and they hauled the lamb, the ring, and the dish upstairs.
     The rest  of the night, Welsey spent next  to the  window  in  his room
looking at the pink eight-columned temple, thoughtfully chewing on a grilled
lamb leg and washing it down with disgustingly warm carbonated water.



     The most  bewildering part of that all,  was that  Bemish couldn't even
recall  how the signatures came  to existence.  He remembered perfectly well
the temple, two hundred kilometers away from the capital, that he and Kissur
drove to,  and the  manor, that belonged to a  Kissur's friend, Khanadar the
Dried Date, next to the temple. They  had fun in the manor -  at  first with
weapons, then  at the table, and  then with the  chicks. Khanadar and Kissur
took turns making bets and shooting at a peach on each other's head at first
with a bow  and then  with  a gun. The  trick was to hit it right  in a pit.
Bemish refused decisively to shoot the bow  and, to  assert  his manhood, he
had a horrible fight with sinewy Khanadar, strong like a steam press.
     Khanadar the Dried Date was the most extraordinary man  - he was  on of
the bravest Kissur's commanders and one of the best Empire's poets.
     He  plundered huge  spoils during the civil war; he squandered money as
quickly as he got it and started looking for more. Piracy was the choice and
Khanadar  wrestled  a  smugglers' space boat away  from  them . The boat was
designed with  escape rather than attack  in mind, but Khanadar decided that
the cowardly dogs from the skies wouldn't really notice this trifle if their
pockets were  threatened. Unfortunately, Khanadar  was  not  as  good with a
photon reactor as  he was with a Kharran sword and at the  end of the second
trip the  newly assigned pirate dinghy  dug a three meter deep  ditch in the
ground and was no longer in any shape to fly.
     It  was awfully  fashionable to  assist  Weia then and Khanadar  almost
received a  literature Nobel Prize for his  songs, full of  wild beauty. So,
the  information  agencies are  making two announcements in  one  day - that
Weian poet Khanadar  is  nominated  for  a literature  Nobel Prize  and that
somebody  named  Khanadar  is  wanted for the transgalactic  liner  "Mekong"
robbery. This is how Khanadar did not receive a Nobel Prize first time.
     Then, Khanadar became the Arakka governor  and generously gave money to
the people and tax cuts to the entrepreneurs.  The money was  from the state
budget  and  it was quickly gone; and since the tax  cuts were abundant, the
money  didn't come  back. Khanadar asked a  local  polymetallic  factory for
money;  an Earthman owned the factory.  The Earthman gave money  once,  once
more, and stopped; the people  loved  their  governor and  laid waste to the
factory.
     Meanwhile, the time  for  the next Nobel Prize  approached.  Hence, the
information  agencies are  making two announcements in one day -  that Weian
poet  Khanadar  is  nominated for a literature Nobel Prize and that governor
Khanadar  incited  a  mob and  caused  a  three  billion  denars  damage  to
MetalPMOre company.  This  is how Khanadar  did not receive  a  Nobel  Prize
second time.
     Then, the sovereign revoked Khanadar's appointment for overstepping his
bounds and Khanadar peacefully resided in a  manor bestowed to him,  next to
Shechen  river  in Inissa. Why did the head of the planet Gera trade mission
have to buy himself a villa nearby?
     So,  another  year  passes by  and  the Gera chief  trade  deputy  sues
Khanadar for brawling on his land and burning his pig farm. Khanadar attends
the trial and asks the judge  to give him  a small paper  cutting knife. The
judge offers him the  knife and Khanadar attacks the trade  deputy  with the
knife right in front  of the jury.  The trade  deputy escapes from the court
yard and does  not return.  Since it is a personal suit and the plaintiff is
not present in  the court, the  judge cancels  the trial and  Khanadar saves
bribe money.
     Again,  the Nobel Prize time approaches,  and the information  agencies
are  making  two  announcements  -  that the famous Weian poet  Khanadar  is
nominated for a literature Nobel Prize and that Khanadar well-nigh cut  down
a representative of a civilized nation right in a court.
     This is  how Khanadar never  received his Nobel Prize, but it's an  old
story and we should come back to Terence Bemish.
     The  next  day,  Khanadar,  Kissur, Bemish,  and  two  servants  loaded
themselves in a  helicopter  and  flew to the Blue Mountains. They harpooned
large white fishes and had many fistfights. Sun and merriness were abundant.
The helicopter rotated its  winglets  next to a raspberry colored  tent with
silver stakes; the slaves brought horses for the evening. Four days went by.
     Khanadar asked  Bemish  what  brought him to the Country of  the  Great
Light  and  Bemish  told him what he  had already told Kissur.  Khanadar the
Dried Date said the foreigner  would drown in the paperwork, and Kissur said
that they should help him.
     On Friday afternoon they flew to the Kissur's palace - the first guests
were  already  crowding  there.  Kissur introduced Bemish  to the  Shavash's
direct  boss -  minister of  finance - and to  the minister of police and to
many other  respectable  people.  Shavash  was also there.  The minister  of
finance  told  Bemish  that his  -  minister of finance's - friend  had seen
Bemish's friend, Welsey, and he was the fairest and the most honest man. The
minister of police told Mr. Bemish that,  from this moment  on,  the goal of
his  life would  be to do what Mr.  Bemish tells  him to. The  foreign trade
minister invited  Mr.  Bemish to his mansion and told him that he would roll
his Iniss carpet out under the wheels of the Mr. Bemish's car.
     Bemish didn't  remember how exactly  it all  got to the  signatures. By
that time the heads of the Empire were drunk and Bemish was drunk even more.
The minister  of  police called  his secretary and commanded to  find  a man
named Welsey immediately, take the papers from him and  bring them here. The
secretary was probably drunk too and he,  moreover, had with him a girl that
was licking his ear. In an hour, the papers were delivered to Bemish.
     Bemish didn't really remember the rest. He remembered how roses  poured
down  from  the ceiling, how  some  drunk girl jumped  across a  golden ring
entwined with burning paper, how they waded in a  large pond with the girls,
how  he couldn't share  a girl with somebody, in the God's name, how was  it
possible  not to share a girl if there were two of them  per man? Wasn't  he
pissed off at Welsey? He  remembered perfectly well how he got pissed off at
Welsey. Puritan! Pig! He just handed the papers rudely over to the secretary
but he refused to come himself.
     Bemish decided that he would drive to the hotel  and  get  Welsey. They
were probably trying to stop him. But Bemish outfoxed them - he tore through
the grapevines, got  in the  car and went for  the  banker. Yes,  he had the
papers with him and he knew for sure that they were signed.
     But who collected the signatures? For God's sake, he couldn't remember.
Kissur was likely to get them - he was more sober than  others and though he
drank he wasn't getting drunk. Or... No, it was not Kissur, it was Shavash -
Shavash,  smiling gently, was handing a form over to the minister of finance
while Kissur, yowling horribly, was cutting some rag with a sword on a bet.



     Bemish was splashing  in the shower, when somebody knocked in the door.
Welsey opened it - a large basket stood by the door and an errand boy looked
from behind.
     "The gifts from  Mr. Ireda for Mr. Bemish, " he declared,  unloaded the
basket and he was off.
     Welsey carried the basket in the room but, before he arranged it on the
table, somebody knocked  in  the door again. Welsey  opened the  door  - the
messenger had a blue  caftan  on instead of a yellow  one and  had  a casket
entwined with bands instead of a basket.
     "Let Mr. Bemish accept these trifles from Mr. Ranik and a portal to the
heaven open in his soul, " the messenger said.
     Welsey put the casket on the bed and noticed something leaking from the
basket. He hurried to the basket. Right then, wet and  sad from the hangover
Bemish looked out  of the shower. The phone rang and somebody knocked in the
door the same moment.
     "Come in," Bemish said and picked up the receiver.
     "Yes."
     "Mr.  Bemish,"  a  soft caressing  voice said  in  the receiver,  "it's
Shavash speaking, vice-minister  of finance.  I would  be happy if you could
visit me at 2pm."
     "Of  course,  " Bemish  said and put  the  receiver down. The door slid
open.
     "Let me introduce you, Welsey, " Bemish said, "to  Kissur. Kissur, this
is Welsey. As I have told you before, he is represents LSV bank here."
     Kissur  and  Welsey looked  at  each other.  Kissur  saw a skinny young
Earthman with  a face white and  round like  a  headache pill. Welsey  saw a
blue-eyed rascal, a bit  above thirty, with a real golden  chain on his neck
descending  all the way down to the belt on the narrow washed down jeans. In
the  open  shirt neck there was a tattoo  - a bird of prey crossed by a pink
scar. Welsey learned later that this was a  falcon and this way of tattooing
was an old  custom of  the barbarian aloms. If they cut a war chief head off
in a  battle and  undressed him,  how else would it be possible to recognize
the body?
     Kissur looked at Welsey and said,
     "Listen,  Terence, you  want to  buy  the  spaceport but what  is  this
whey-faced fish doing here?"
     "I explained it to you,"  Bemish replied, "I don't have money. LSV gets
money for me."
     "Will they loan it to you?"
     "They will underwrite the bonds."
     Kissur pondered it and asked then,
     "What interest do these usurers charge you?"
     "The interest on the bonds will be sixteen percent."
     "Why is it so expensive?" Kissur was aggravated.
     "Because  there  is  no collateral," Welsey gave voice, "if the company
goes  bankrupt,  it won't have any  property  it could sell off to cover the
debts."
     "Shut  up, leech," Kissur  recoiled,  "nobody is  asking  you.  By  the
sovereign  Irshakhchan  laws,  usurers  were boiled  in oil  and the  Golden
Sovereign forbade interest rates higher than 3%"
     "What was the inflation rate at the Golden Sovereign?" Welsey inquired.
     "I don't know what the heck the  inflation is," Kissur declared, "but I
do know that the Golden Sovereign would hang the first  official, who  tried
to arrange it, so high that nobody would even dream of it afterwards."
     Welsey kept a shocked silence.
     "Well, let's go? Kissur told Bemish.
     "Stephen?"
     "I would rather take a  nap," Welsey uttered nervously - he didn't want
to get himself deeper in a capital market discussion with Kissur.
     In a moment, Kissur and Bemish were downstairs, missing  another basket
of gifts on the way.
     They  got  in  a car and Kissur  dished out  a wad of  money to Bemish.
Bemish was dumbfounded,
     "What the heck?!"
     "We, " Kissur said, "are going to Mr. Ireda. The man was nice to  you -
you should express your gratitude."
     "But..." Bemish started.
     They arrived to Ireda's palace in half an hour and gave him money.
     Ireda's palace  was located right next to the  sovereign's palace wall.
The wall was huge and thick; wooden silvered geese stood on the top lowering
their heads  and looked down with  disapproval.  Coolness  flowed  from  the
yawning gate in  the middle of the  wall oozed like  from a well and all the
space in front of the gates was crammed with multi-hued cars.
     "The Gate of the Barbarians," Kissur said.
     "Eh?"
     "In the ancient times, there  were four gates facing four sides of  the
world.the  Gate of  the  Emperor's  Paramount  Appearance, the Gate  of  the
Officials, the Gate  of the Commoners, and the Gate  of the Barbarians. Dumb
illiterate chiefs in  loincloths entered the palace through the Gate  of the
Barbarians.  I was ten  year old  when they brought me to the palace via the
Barbarians Gate and all my friends teased me and laughed at me."
     Kissur was silent for a moment.
     "Now, only Earthmen enter the palace through the Barbarian Gate."
     Their car was slowly crawling by a colorful crowd of parked vehicles.
     "What about the present  sovereign? How  did  he feel when our presence
ended the war?"
     "An insignificant  Emperor's  subject  does not dare  to  consider  his
sovereign's thoughts," Kissur answered. Bemish jerked.
     "What about you?"
     "I was quite impressed," Kissur answered after a pause.
     Bemish couldn't  help but smile - during the  day that Kissur first met
the Earthmen, he called them vultures, hijacked a military plane and, having
massacred the rebel camp, finished the civil war.
     "What impressed you? Our weapons?"
     "No,  your weapons didn't faze  me.  I thought  that in  six months our
sovereign would buy the same stuff, maybe  slightly older and cheaper. Then,
I saw the houses your commoners reside in and the vehicles they  drive and I
thought that  there was  no way our sovereign would buy our  people the same
houses and cars either in six or in sixty months.
     "Haven't  anything  shocked  you?" Bemish asked, "our  pop culture, our
commercials... A lot of people say that Earthmen have too much material life
and not enough existence. They use Weia as an example."
     "If somebody is unhappy, they can visit us. I 'll send them to my Iniss
mines and they will have a lot of ... existence."
     He grinned and added,"
     "Good-bye  for now, Terrence.  I need to go to the palace and it's time
for your visit to Shavash."
     Bemish appeared at Shavash's place right on time.
     Mr. Shavash received the Earthman in the Red Office.
     The  host and  the visitor  bowed  each  other  ceremoniously. A polite
servant  poured  tea  in  the  porcelain  cups and  disappeared  behind  the
gold-gilded doors.  Bemish  noticed  no  paintings  drawn and  signed by the
Emperor  hanging on the office  walls, otherwise  decorated with  the utmost
grace.  Bemish  didn't know  yet  that a roll  signed  and bequested  by the
Emperor costs more than a rank  and a title, and that Shavash offered half a
million to the Emperor's suckling  brother, Ishim, to persuade the sovereign
Varnazd  to bequest him a gift. Ishim, however, had  to return  the money  -
somehow, the sovereign did not like Shavash.
     "I am very grateful to you," Bemish mentioned at  the desert, "that you
signed all these papers yesterday and agreed to help me."
     Shavash smiled gently,
     "Verily, everybody at the court can only talk about your great success.
How can such an insignificant person as me, assist you with anything."
     Bemish lowered his eyes.
     "Are you and Kissur old friends?"
     "We met just before the end of the civil war."
     "Where?"
     "In a duel," Shavash said calmly, "Kissur rushed at me with a sword and
I shot at him with a revolver."
     Bemish thought for a moment and wondered
     "What revolver? The Earthmen hadn't..."
     "It's a  long  story,"  Shavash  waved his hand,  "and  a revolver  was
jury-rigged."
     "What happened then?"
     I almost missed and Kissur's friends charged at me and started to teach
me how to conduct duels. Then, they tied me to a rope and dragged me all the
way  through the  city. My back and  ribs were broken...  Then, the Earthmen
appeared and managed to heal  me. I've  been limping  slightly since. And my
hand...
     Bemish noticed a while ago  that Shavash  was holding the cup  with the
left hand while his  right  palm was shriveled and the fingers were slightly
twisted.
     "What were you fighting about?"
     "A  woman. Lady Idari, Kissur's main wife  had  been  my fiancee before
Kissur  became  the first minister and I became  a  roadside pebble.  Kissur
arrested  a man that I owed my  carreer to and obtained his position  and my
fiancee."
     Shavash suddenly followed Bemish's glance and  hid the right hand under
the table, but Bemish managed to notice his twisted fingers shaking.
     "Now we are married to two sisters. My wife is the Lady Idary's younger
sister."
     "Why is he telling me this?" Bemish was horrified.
     Shavash put a peach  morsel, soaked  in honey, in  his mouth  and  said
after a brief hesitation,
     "Mr.  Bemish! I would like  to  warn  you as a  friend.  Kissur  is the
sovereign's favorite. He can obstruct you  easily, but he can't really  help
you. A lot of officials hate Kissur for being Kissur. For the disdain Kissur
has towards bribers and entrepreneurs,  while he  lives  by  the sovereign's
benefactions. For  the  Kissur's opinion that no fortune is more disgraceful
than a merchant's profit. For the feasts he throws for the  people; for  the
zealots  and  heretics  calling him the sovereign Irshakhchan reborn...  Mr.
Inada promised to roll Iniss carpet under your car's wheels when a friend of
Kissur  visits his villa... Mr.  Inada will  roll Iniss  carpet  under  your
wheels  and he  will  plant a plastic  bomb  under  the  Iniss  carpet.  The
offiicials  will be signing  your papers  and playing foul behind your back.
Kissur will  praise you  to the sovereign - they will prove to the sovereign
that Kissur is mistaken. My advice to you is to keep your distance from him.
     Bemish chewed on his lip.
     "Mr.  Shavash,"  he said,  "I would like to remind you  that if  LSV is
interested in acquiring  your company, we will just buy it at an open-access
auction. I guarrantee you that we will offer higher price that  IC will, and
that  nobody will be able to kick us out of the auction due to some invented
technicalities.  Regarding the  access to the financial  documentation, I am
sure that without Kissur  I would have spend two more years obtaining it and
I know probably the reasons for it. Also, if I may advise you, when you fake
the  reports, pay  more  attention to secondary indicators. You  know,  it's
impossible that the construction  rate increased by  300%  while  the energy
consumption stayed the same.
     The official was silent for a moment and he closed his eyes.
     "Of course. Good-bye, Mr. Bemish, and I wish you the best luck."



     Bemish has  barely  driven through the Shavash's mansion gates,  when a
white limousine, long  like a  sturgeon,  slid a  millimeter away from  him.
Kissur's stuck his head out of the window and waved a hand. Bemish will-less
swerved to the curb. They got out of the cars and embraced.
     "Let's go drive," Kissur demanded.
     Bemish glanced at his Urun indecisively.
     Kissur clicked his tongue - a small servant in  linen pants got out  of
the back seat. Kissur pointed a finger at him.
     "Give him the keys and he return the car." Bemish gave him the keys and
sat next to Kissur.
     "There is a great pub nearby," Kissur said, "let's go there."
     The  pub was low  and  damp;  a fountain  splashed in the  middle  of a
octagonal yard.  Next to  the  fountain, a flat dancing  god  stood, with an
colossal-sized penis and four breasts.  The  god was generally naked  except
for a huge advertisement boards covering him  on three sides. The  ad called
to buy 3D-sets by the Corund company.
     A  nimble  chief appeared  next  to Kissur and placed a  great  grilled
goose, sprinkled with lime juice and covered with a golden crust, and a palm
wine jar in front of  the guests. Kissur noticed that Bemish was ogling  the
god and asked the host,
     "How much did they pay you for putting the boards up?"
     "Two."
     "Here is four. Go and scrape this offal away." Bemish lowered his eyes.
He felt  crappy  after  the yesterday's  binge,  he didn't  eat  anything at
Shavash's place - he couldn't even look at the goose! What should he do now?
Bemish  realized that, when Shavash  mentioned the offiicials hating Kissur,
he meant  himself first of all - that's why he told Bemish about his fiancee
and  his  shriveled  hand... Should  he  tell Kissur that his brother-in-law
hates him? But they are friends. It would look  like an Earthman dropped by,
did some fishing with Kissur and quickly contrived to sow a discord  between
him  and  his  brother-in-law.  Should  he not say anything? What  if Kissur
considers Shavash his friend and will be snared sooner or later?
     Though, Kissur is  hardly  all that  innocent.  Bemish remembered  how,
despite being totally stoned, he was shocked by one of  the Khanadar's songs
about a battle with Akol people. A local tribal king  dispatched his brother
and other highly  placed  war chiefs to Kissur asking him  not to attack the
tribe. Kissur said, "So it will be," and showered  the envoys with the gifts
way more luxurous than customary. They couldn't refuse the gifts, of course,
without insulting  the Empire's most  powerful  military commander. So, they
returned to the king and Kissur sent them letters  in  such a  way that  the
king intercepted them. Kissur reminded in the letters that  he  promised not
to touch their land in exchange for their king's head and he asked them when
they were  going  to fulfill  their part of agreement.  The  rich gifts were
presented as a bribe for the king's head.  The king, naturally, ordered  the
butchering of his brother  and war chiefs, beheading the army leadership and
arousing  the  tribe's discontent. After  that, it took  Kissur  two days to
finish him off.
     And  even though  everybody agreed that Kissur  was not even  close  to
deceased  Arfarra with the tricks of this sort - he still didn't  resemble a
guileless lamb.
     Kissur,  meanwhile,  poured  wine in the cups,  covered  them with  the
lacquered tops with straws going through, and offered Bemish a cup.
     "You are driving," Bemish reminded him.
     Kissur grasped the straw  imperturably  and,  seemingly, gulped all the
wine  in a minute. Anyway, he opened the cup immediately and started to pour
more wine.
     "Why  are you so sad?" Kissur asked, "was the  bribe,  Shavash demanded
from you, too large?"
     "No. It's just that I've never found myself in such a position. I don't
know what to do."
     "You  are  doing  great,"  Kissur laughed, "you  have  already  fleeced
Shavash for six million."
     "What?" Bemish was astonished.
     "Didn't you  know?  The IC company gave  Shavash six million so that it
gets the spaceport. Shavash has to return money now as an honest briber."
     "It's  impossible," Bemish said, "the auction takes  a precedence  over
bribes."
     "How do you know that it all depends on the auction?"
     "I  came  here," Bemish said  drily,  "only  after  I  had  learned the
experts' names  and  met  the other companies' representatives, for example,
Eseko.  None  of  them  had  any  difficulties  obtaining  a  permission  to
participate in the auction."
     "What about you?"
     Bemish got a bit embarrassed.
     "Well... small officials wanted small gifts..."
     "It has nothing  to  do  with gifts," Kissur said, "IC paid Shavash six
million dollars so that not a single company, that could really compete with
it,  took part in  the  auction.  This  Eseko of  yours  could get  all  the
permissions with no sweat, while you and some other folks were blacklisted."
     "Shavash  is really afraid  this Trevis  of  yours. He is nervous  that
Trevish will devour him whole."
     "What's he raving about?" a thought passed Bemish's mind. "Where  could
this IC, a small  and practically unknown  company,  scrape up such a bribe?
And why? It's local mythology and tabloids."
     "I am sure," Bemish said, "that's you are not correct."
     Kissur burst out laughing and waved his hands.
     "Yeah!  Shavash has already started  digesting these six millions and -
kabloom! You get the company!"
     Kissur laughed, happy with Shavash's failure.
     "Hold on," Bemish exclaimed, "firstly, I didn't get the company, I just
obtained a permission to take part in the auction. Secondly..."
     Bemish wanted  to  say that,  secondly, he  wasn't all that  hot  about
quarrelling with Shavash...
     "But you will win the auction!"
     "If my offer is better than the others,"
     Here,  Kissur slid his hand in the  pocket and pulled  out, to Bemish's
astonishment, a small white box.
     "What is it," Bemish asked.
     "It's  a  plasma  bomb,"  Kissur answered, taking  it  amiss  that  the
Earthman has never seen such a commonplace invention of his own culture."
     "What?!! Why?!!!"
     "Why what? We'll leave it under the IC representative's door and, if he
doesn't get out of the planet then, we'll stick it under his pillow."
     Bemish was dumbfounded for a while and, then, he said drily,
     "I will not do that."
     "Why? Are you afraid to get bagged?"
     "Kissur, listen," the Earthman asked, "is it true that you engaged in a
personal combat  during  your  wars, with the  enemy's commanders before the
battles."
     "So?"
     "Why  wouldn't you, during the fight, order your  archers to shoot your
opponent?
     "Are you  nuts?" Kissur was  astounded, "all my troops would abandon me
after such a base trick."
     "Was it the only reason?"
     Kissur lowered his eyes. Of course, it was not the only reason.
     Bemish sighed,
     "You  know, Kissur,  we grew up  in different worlds  and,  if I  was a
military commander, I wouldn't engage in a personal combat before a  battle.
But, when I participate in an investment auction, I will not slip a  bomb to
my opponent. You should have some decency."
     "I've always thought, " Kissur said, "that, when money comes into play,
there is no place for decency."
     "It may be true on Weia," Bemish said, "but it's not true on Earth."
     Kissur put  the  bomb  back  in  his pocket as  casually as a  pack  of
cigarettes.


     The Third Chapter

     Where Kissur opens the Emperor's eyes to a foreign briber while Terence
Bemish received a gift of a luxury villa.

     The next morning, Kissur  was desperately bored.  He called  Bemish but
Bemish was running  around  somewhere like  a chicken with his head cut off.
Kissur could find him but what was the point?  The man  is rushing from  one
office to another - you can screw  a slut together - but bribing an official
is a private matter; why  would  Bemish need Kissur  as a witness? The other
guy, Welsey, said that tomorrow they would go to the spaceport.
     Kissur beat a servant with no reason -  Kissur  didn't beat him really,
he just pushed  him a bit, but the  servant slammed  into a bronze vase  and
hurt  himself  badly with  the vase.  Kissur ate goose  and  marinated liver
pirogi  for  breakfast  and  went  to  a   pub   and,  after  that,  to  the
fortune-tellers. All the damned fortune-tellers were familiar, however, with
the sovereign favorite's mug and Kissur didn't learn anything interesting.
     Finally, Kissur  returned  home,  undressed  and  dived in a huge pond,
inlaid with heavily veined Chakhar  marble and surrounded by blooming trees,
with an altar in the Western Gazebo hanging over the water.
     Kissur was leisurely swimming in  the pond, when a  faraway car rustled
behind the carved lattice. A door  banged, voices  clamored excitedly, a man
from the car evidently shook the  servants  off and stomped  down the garden
path.
     Kissur dived. When he got  to  the surface, shining leather shoes stood
on the pond's marble edge. Excellent quality  grey pants  ascended above the
shoes.
     "Ok, how much do you want?"
     Kissur raised his  head - an unfamiliar Earthman, with a red and round,
like a street light, face stood in front  of  him. The  Earthman's eyes were
crazed and his chin stuck out aggressively.
     "How much do you need?" the Earthman repeated. Kissur got  out of water
unhurriedly and shook himself like a dog. The  water drops  from  his  blond
hair  splashed  the  Earthman's  expensive  suit.  The Earthman  was clearly
uncomfortable - Kissur bathed naked, out of an old Alom habit, and he didn't
even  try to cover himself with a towel, demonstrating his  contempt for the
visitor.
     "Who are you?" Kissur asked, "And what has happened to you?"
     "You know perfectly well who I am!"
     Having  planted his  feet against the pond's marble edge, Kissur  moved
his bare toes. Reddish Weian  sun danced  on Kissur's  wet hair and  on  the
water drops stuck in the cracks between his powerful muscles.
     "Ok. My name is Kaminsky.  Five months ago, I bought the land and  they
promised me  to  classify  it as  industrial  zoning.  I started to build  a
garbage processing  plant.  Now,  thanks  to the complaint you filed  to the
sovereign, it is classified as business zoning. If I want to keep this land,
I have to pay the difference in price - two hundred million. If I don't want
to pay the difference, I can get my money back and the land will be resold."
     "What's my part here?"
     "Khanida demanded one million and three hundred thousand more; how much
do you need?"
     "I don't sell my country."
     Kaminsky burst out laughing.  His  stout face shook  - he  was probably
starting to get hysterical. He stuck his fat finger at Kissur.
     "All  Weian  officials  can be  bought  and  they can  be  bought  at a
clearance price. I have never seen people who want to sell  so much of their
motherland at such a low price."
     Kissur paled and his eyes narrowed a bit.
     "These words," Kissur said, "are not like the land in Godfather's Dale.
You will pay full price for these words."
     Kaminsky  burst  out  laughing  and  he  suddenly  pulled  out a  large
crocodile skin wallet.
     "Of course,"  he said. "I'll  pay. How much should it be per word? Will
ten thousand  be enough? Just don't  tell anybody,  please, that I pay money
for every spit or people will be waiting in line to spit at me..."
     Kissur grabbed the Earthman by  his broad tie with one hand and twisted
his arm and pulled him towards  himself with the other. The Earthman flipped
over  in the air, drew an  arc and, with a thundering  splash, landed in the
pond.  Kissur  wrapped  a towel  around  himself and, not interested  in the
least, whether or not his pestering visitor drowned, walked to the house.



     Bemish  spent  all  night   studying  the   company  reports   (clearly
fabricated) and he spent all day dashing around the precincts.
     He spoke to Earth three times. They told him that Werner McCormick, the
LSV expert on industrial construction,  would arrive at  the spaceport, next
to the capital, in the evening.
     At three o'clock, Bemish drove to DJ Securities. One of the best broker
firms in the Empire resided in a tiny place in a distinguished neighborhood.
It  was  located in  the  palace  pavilion's western wing  -  previously the
building had housed  the Cheese Bureau.  All  these  bureaus were dissolved,
along  with  the  palace  administration  that  used to duplicate  the state
apparatus. The Earthmen moved in the former palace officials' pavilions. The
small building,  crammed  with  super modern hardware,  greeted Bemish  with
wondrous flower smells and a silver fox snout jutting out of the bushes.
     The broker, he came to talk to, was  a fat young man with eyes, merrily
jumping,  like the numbers on a  money  counter  display,  and smooth golden
skin. His name was Alexander Krasnov.
     Krasnov led Bemish to an  office, closed the window facing  the garden,
turned the air  conditioning on, and they started to talk about Assalah. The
approaching investment auction rumors  slightly raised  the Assalah  shares'
prices. Almost nobody was, however, willing to sell them. The Assalah stocks
could still be  considered non-liquid  assets  - the difference between  the
buying and selling price had reached 20%.
     Bemish  was  greatly  impressed  with  the  fine emanations of success,
coming from the small office, excellent employees' cars and cute long-legged
secretaries.
     Before coming  to  Weia,  Bemish  had carefully studied  various  Weian
companies' conditions and prospects; he had  chosen Assalah  and acquired in
advance quite a significant block of shares- more than 80% of the stocks had
been acquired through Krasnov. These were  bearer stocks, but  an owner of a
block of shares larger than  5% was supposed  to register.  Bemish currently
owned 6% of the Assalah shares but he had not intention of declaring it.
     Bemish and  Krasnov discussed  their financial dealings and, then,  the
young  broker  plunged  into  his  reminiscences of  the  Weian  securities'
fabulous  cheapness. The brokers had literally paid  cents buying securities
but  it would  not  happen again unless the  "Followers of the  Path" gained
power.
     "It was such a  margin," Krasnov described. "Imagine, they sold  stocks
for a  rice  vodka crock. Do you  know  how  much  I paid for  twenty  seven
thousand shares of Ossoriy nickel concession? A vodka barrel for the village
and a  Hershey chocolate bar! Do you know how much  I sold them  for? I sold
them for four hundred thousand dinars!"
     Bemish grinned,  "How much did  you pay the  peasants  for the  Assalah
shares?"
     The broker was silent, pondering. Then he  did something unexpected. He
started to undress. He took off his jacket  and wide wine colored tie; then,
he  took off a fashionable shirt with a vertical collar  and turned his back
towards Bemish.  Horrified Bemish  loudly  exhaled. The Krasnov's  back  was
covered with pale, but still  noticeable  pink welts,  from the neck  to the
tailbone.
     Krasnov put the shirt on and coolly explained.
     "When I  arrived  in  Assalah, a  local  official met me.  "Broker?"  -
"Broker."  - "Buying  stocks?" - "Yes." -  "Let's get to the  precinct, I'll
weigh you the goods." We came to the precinct, and he put me in a manure pit
overnight, gave orders to whip me with a whip  soaked in brine, and told me,
"I wouldn't like to see you in Assalah again."
     "Oh, my God!"
     "By the way, he kindly explained his actions to me. He claimed that the
people  are  like  children,  selling  stocks for  a  vodka crock,  and  the
officials should take care of the people's welfare. While he is alive, not a
single foreign hyena will dare show its face in Assalah. Not that I couldn't
appreciate his  welcome,  really. You  know, I  hadn't  been whipped with  a
brined whip before."
     "Haven't you sued him for the whipping?" Bemish wondered.
     But Krasnov just looked at him in such  a way that Bemish realized what
a stupid thing he just blurted out.
     Having  returned to the  hotel, Bemish felt  hungry and  ambled to  the
restaurant.  Galactic  dinar  prices were  the  only  civilized part  of the
restaurant. Bemish  randomly tapped  couple  of  entries.  In a  moment, the
waiter brought him a  full bowl  of steaming  soup  with dumplings,  several
small plates with appetizers and an object that reminded belatedly to Bemish
about the locals' favorite - dog meat burgers.
     Bemish had just finished  the appetizers, when a guy took a sit next to
him.  Bemish  raised his eyes - it was a  middling tall man with stern eyes,
transparent like gasoline, and with a  body that local peasants described as
"a really  inept god hewed  him out." However, upon more careful inspection,
the guy's face didn't  go together  with the  overall  crude image -  it was
hard, as if made from the twisted together wires.
     "Good day,  Mr.  Bemish," the  man said, "My  name is  Robert Giles.  I
represent  IC  company  -  you know,  we  are participating in  the  Assalah
spaceport investment auction.
     "What a coincidence," Bemish said, "I am participating also in it."
     "But you are not in good standing with Mr. Shavash."
     "It's not a reason for disappointment."
     "I recommend you, Mr. Bemish, to leave this planet before they kick you
out of here."
     "And I recommend you to get out of this table before I bathe  you in my
soup."
     "Believe me, Mr. Bemish. A company's hostile takeover is intended for a
civilized  country.  While, if  you try  to buy  a  local company,  when its
director  doesn't  want it... do  you  know that  this  director has his own
jail?"
     "I know," Bemish  said, "that this  director can be  dismissed  by  the
sovereign  if somebody  close  to  the sovereign proves  that  this director
doesn't act in the company's best interest. Have you heard what  happened to
Joseph Kaminsky thanks to Kissur? Have I made myself clear?"
     "Quite. So, Kissur stands behind you and  Shavash stands behind me. Who
will flatten whom into the ground?"
     Here, the waiter brought Bemish the  dessert and, elongating  his neck,
inquired Giles if he liked to order anything.
     "No," Giles said, "I am leaving. And if you, Mr. Bemish, knew the local
cuisine well, you wouldn't have ordered a guinea pig burger."



     Kissur spent the rest of the day  with Khanadar, the Dried Date, and  a
couple of close friends in the pubs. Kissur lost twenty thousand in dice and
he didn't really drink much,  though  he did thwack somebody's  mug. In  the
evening, Kissur got in his car and drove to Shavash.
     Shavash was in the Cloud Gazebo and he had an Earthman as a visitor.
     The  Earthman  had to be a close  enough  associate  because,  firstly,
Shavash received him  in the gazebo for the Weian guests and, secondly,  two
beautiful girls were also there. They were more  undressed than dressed; one
girl sat  on the Earthman's  knees  and  another  one,  breathing zestfully,
licked  that particular object sticking its  bloated head  out  of Shavash's
unzipped  pants. Shavash reclined,  leaning backward,  on the carpet and his
jacket  and shirt sprawled nearby. The table was filled with  appetizers and
fruits - the friends had finished the business part were starting to relax.
     The Earthman shook the wench off and got up.
     "Robert Giles," Shavash said, "the IC representative."
     Kissur silently took the Earthman's chair and sat astride it.
     "I  guess,  I should  go,"  the  Earthman  said, glancing  at  the girl
regretfully."
     "Go,"  Kissur said,  "these girls  cost five isheviks per pair  next to
Trans-Gal, don't be greedy."
     The Earthman left. Shavash pulled the girl on himself, half closing his
eyes, and the girl mounted him. Shavash breathed heavily and greedily.
     "Lie  on  your back," he  told  the  girl.  She  followed  the  command
obediently.
     Kissur waited till Shavash came.
     "Why don't you go, bring a jar of Inissa  wine," Kissur told the girls.
"Both of you."
     The girls left the  gazebo. Shavash  lay on the carpet  groping for the
shirt with his hand.
     "Everybody, like, is running around with this spaceport," Kissur  said,
"and they all run to you."
     "I am the company director."
     "Who was the director before you?"
     "A man named Rashar."
     "Hey, wasn't  he  your secretary? So,  at first you  sent  him  to  the
director's chair, and then to jail."
     "You shouldn't steal," Shavash replied, "in busloads."
     "Come on.  He would give  you away half a  busload and you wanted three
quarters. You will waste the country, scoundrels."
     Shavash finally buttoned up the shirt and pants, propped himself up and
poured a cup of wine.
     "Kissur, one little tank trip of yours over the Coke plant cost more to
the country than everything I have ever stolen and I will ever steal."
     "Why  do  you all  fret  so  much  about  this  stupid factory?" Kissur
exclaimed. "And Terence  was  just yakking  about  the  same thing." Shavash
silently sucked on a straw.
     "Whatever. Bemish will buy your company and make you all sweat."
     "He will  hardly  buy the  company," Shavash said.  "Mr.  Bemish  often
acquires companies but I haven't heard him actually buying a single one."
     "What do you mean?"
     "Mr.  Bemish  is  quite  a  good financier  but he made his  money  the
following way.  He would buy a company  stocks threatening it by a takeover,
and  then sell the shares back to the company  at higher  than market price.
It's called greenmail. He worked with very small companies in the beginning,
then, he switched to the larger ones but, then, they asked him to get out of
the civilized countries.  He hasn't really broken any  laws but they made it
clear  for him and  his boss that they  should go out and have fun someplace
else."
     "His boss?"
     "His LSV boss. Ronald Trevis. Where do  you think he got  the greenmail
money? Trevis raised money for him and Bemish was just a cudgel. Did you see
a  gentleman  named  Welsey, next  to Bemish? This is Trevis -  a morsel  of
Trevis."
     "I see," Kissur said.
     "LSV is a cool company," Shavash continued, "They find people, ready to
get out of their own skins and skin the others to scrape together a dinar, a
crown and a dollar,  and  they  set  them  at large companies.  They are not
financiers - they are gangsters. They would be shot dead on our planet. They
were reproached  elsewhere and they decided  to move  to the places  with no
strict financial laws and a lot of under priced property."
     Shavash was silent and, then, added,
     "This rascal  bought  7% of the Assalah shares through the dummy agents
and he has been  buying them in small blocks for  many months to not disturb
the market."
     The girls came back with wine and one of them sat on Kissur's knees and
other one crawled  to Shavash  and started to touch him with her hands under
the shirt and  Shavash laughed  and put  the  wine  glass on the  table  and
reclined on his back again.



     The next day, the first vice-minister of finance Shavash stood in front
of the head of the government, old Mr. Yanik.
     Mr. Yanik became first minister a  year and  a half ago after the death
of   his  predecessor's,  a  certain  Mr.  Arfarra.   Everybody  unanimously
considered Yanik to be a  nonentity and  a temporary replacement.  Who cares
how to plug a hole as long as it doesn't leak? However,  the nonentity clung
to his position  way  longer  than  many  people who thought  him  to  be  a
temporary incident.
     Yanik  and  Shavash  belonged   to   different  generations,  and  more
importantly,  to  different  parties. Shavash  occasionally expressed  quite
loudly his  opinion  about Yanik while  the  latter  occasionally  and quite
loudly used the  former, as an example to  express his regret about  the old
times when  the overly rapacious  officials would find themselves hanging on
all four palace gates - a quarter per gate.
     "Make yourself familiar," Yanik  said, handing Shavash  a white plastic
folder.
     Shavash opened the folder and concentrated on reading.
     It was  a construction project of a  humongous aluminum complex in  the
east  of  the  Empire,  in Tar'Salim,  rich in  alumina  but  poor in energy
resources.  The  construction  consisted  of  the  aluminum  extraction  and
processing facilities, two power plants  -  fission and magneto-hydrodynamic
ones, and a small plant making composite alloys for gravitonic engines.
     The  total  construction estimated expenditure was  two hundred million
galactic dinars. The company was naturally state-owned.
     Shavash  turned the  last page and  found what he was looking for - the
person nominated  for the  company general director position was Chanakka  -
the first minister's twice removed grandson, an empty-headed and debased man
who  had already failed  at  at least three  projects. Cosmopolitan Shavash,
with his impeccable  knowledge of  the major  Galactic languages and stylish
suits, especially loathed Chanakka's fanatical nationalism.
     "This,"  the  first  minister  said,  "is  an unquestionably  important
project. No longer will we drag behind the Civilized Worlds. No other planet
has such a facility!"
     Shavash thought that both  Tranar and  Dakia had  the  same facilities.
They, however, were not state-owned.
     "In  two  year,"  the first minister said, "we will  control the  space
engines market!  Your department has a week to budget seventy million dinars
for the primary equipment."
     "We can't do that," Shavash said coolly.
     "Why?"
     "We don't have money. The officials in Chakhar haven't  been paid since
last year."
     Yanik looked at the  finance vice-minister disapprovingly. Shavash  was
too young. Yanik still remembered times when the words "We don't have money"
just didn't carry any meaning  in Weian Empire. If money ran out, more of it
could  always be printed.  None of  it  influenced  the  prices,  since  the
merchandise prices were determined not by the amount of money in circulation
but by the Bill of Prices for goods and services.
     "Mr. Shavash," Yanik asked, "what is your monthly salary?"
     "It is three hundred isheviks," Your Eminence.
     Is it true  that your last toy,  a  private space  yacht of the Emerald
class cost four hundred fifty thousand isheviks?"
     "It was a friends' gift," the official smiled.
     "Mr.  Shavash,"  Yanik  said,  "Tas'Salim is  the  our  country's  most
important construction.  We must find money for it. Otherwise,  we will take
care of your yacht. Do you understand me?"
     "Quite."



     Shavash returned to his luxurious office sincerely upset. He snapped at
the secretary, flung a fashionable jacket on the chair's back, threw himself
in  the  armchair, and sat immobile  for a while.  Those, who  knew  Shavash
superficially, would be certain that  he was upset  by the first  minister's
open threat -  the  beautiful yacht clearly aggravated some people.  However
strange it may sound, Shavash was upset due to totally different reasons. In
any case,  in  the absolute quietude of  his  office equipped  with  a dozen
counter-tapping  devices, he  allowed himself to wrap  his hands around  his
head and quietly utter,
     "What are they doing? Do these fuckers understand what they are doing?"
     He turned the office  speaker on and  ordered.  "Daren! Could  you find
Stephen Sigel for me, quickly?"
     Stephen  Sigel was a representative of Naren and  Lissa Joint Bank, the
twelfth largest bank  in this Galaxy sector; he had showed up on Weia a week
ago hoping to start joint projects.
     Stephen Sigel appeared in the  first finance vice-minister's office  in
two hours.
     "Mr. Sigel," Shavash rushed head-on,  "the  Weian government would like
to obtain a seventy  million  galactic dinar loan immediately from the Naren
and Lissa Joint Bank for six months at a nineteen percent interest. Could we
do it?"
     Stephen  Sigel  swallowed.  19% interest was a  very  sweat  deal.  The
Federation bonds had 7% interest rate,  the Earth Bonds - 7.5%.  Though, the
Weian  Empire finances were, no doubt, in a way worse state than the Earth's
finances, the bank would've considered 16% to be quite a decent number.
     "Yes," Stephen Sigel said.
     "Great," the official replied, "the credit agreement will be signed one
hour after one  half of a percent from the loan  appears on my table, in  an
envelope."
     Next  morning,  one hour  before  the  government  meeting,  the  first
vice-minister of finance Shavash put on the first minister Yanik's table the
credit agreement with the Naren and Lissa Joint Bank.
     "Here is your seventy million," he  said, "I  assume there  is no point
including  it  in  the   budget  revenue.  The  money  is  allocated  as  an
out-of-budget industry support fund.
     He turned away and left the office.
     "He  is  such  an  incredibly  deft  man," the touched  first  minister
thought, "How has he managed to procure money so quickly?"
     Of course, the first minister  understood  vaguely that there  was some
connection  between Shavash's ability to obtain galactic credits quickly and
his buying trinkets like a private space yacht. On the other hand, the first
minister  enjoyed the thought that  the money Shavash  grabbed on this deal,
paled next to the rake-off his twice removed grandson would make buying  the
galactic equipment for his company from the front intermediaries  at doubled
prices.



     The same  day, when the budget problems for the Galaxy's fourth largest
aluminum facility were  happily solved, McCormick,  Welsey, and Bemish drove
to another construction - also state-owned and also humongous.
     Halfway to their destination,  they almost drowned in a huge  pothole -
the road started  again in seven meters  after  the rut. An oldster,  living
nearby, gathered the people and they dragged  the jeep across the pothole on
a  sledge.  They  charged  so  little  that  Bemish  even  relinquished  his
suspicions about the old guy  digging the hole himself to make money  on it.
Later Bemish learned that two districts joined at that point and their heads
could not agree on who would fix the pothole.
     At the ruins, Bemish felt such sadness as he had never felt in his life
before - from  the inconceivable waste of nature and construction equipment.
The black gate  on  the  landing field  lonely  stuck out  on the  blue  sky
background like a victory arch,  it was decorated by various appeals to gods
and demons. Ponds, yellow and  round like  owl eyes,  bloomed in the landing
chutes.  The  giant overpass had fallen apart, grass and flowers grew on the
poles and the blocks, ants dashed back and forth  on the road  designed  for
multi-ton trucks.
     An even and incredibly thorny  hedge with little  blue flowers and half
inch barbs covered exactly half the space field making it look like a forest
surrounding the Sleeping Beauty's castle. Alas,  the thorns didn't disappear
with Bemish's arrival.
     The spaceport administration wing  was cleaved at the first floor level
and  an elevator chute pointed right in the  sky. There was no way, somebody
could work here but Bemish  remembered clearly an office expenditures entree
in  a company  report  and  it was about this building. There  was something
horrifying in  this  place that  ceased to be  a  part of nature  but didn't
become a part of the industrial world.
     "However,  the construction' expenses will be twice lower here," Bemish
noted.
     The  sun was hurrying up to  noon, when  Bemish and  McCormick left the
building for a small  bamboo  grove rattling in the background of the bright
stainless steel hangar. Bemish saw that they were not the only ones here - a
helicopter  stood on  the fanned out  paws behind the  bamboo  grove and the
wind, raised by its wings, entangled gentle green grass stuck to the landing
field. Bemish  walked down to the  helicopter. Under  its belly,  a  man, in
washed out jeans, laid out  a napkin  and was eating a  ham sandwich. Having
recognized Giles from IC, Bemish smirked. Another man  stood nearby, petting
on the back a red horse with white stockings - Kissur.
     "Good day," Bemish said, approaching. "Did you fly in together?"
     "No," Kissur said, "I am riding."
     And  he  pointed to  the side,  where two  more  riders were circling -
Khanadar the Dried Date and a servant.
     "Did you ride here from the capital?" Welsey was shocked.
     "I  have friends  nearby, and  they have  a  private  airport,"  Kissur
explained.
     "Yeah, they know how  to build here," Welsey  said,  "they  juiced five
billions in and nobody even mows the hay  down.  Why don't they, do you have
any idea?"
     "They are afraid of ghosts," Bemish supposed.
     "Exactly right," Kissur said, "Do you know how a witch gets born?"
     None  of  the Earthmen  was  a  witch  genesis  specialist  and  Kissur
explained.
     Sometimes,  a  temple  or  even  a simple  house  is  built  at  a road
intersection  and  then  the world  changes  its masters,  the  temple  gets
forgotten or a house owner moves away,  God knows where to. The house cries,
grows older,  grass grows on  the  roof and  a  hat of moss covers the  gate
poles. Water starts to cut doodles and lines on the pole and a crow builds a
nest there. In the  evening, the locals get frightened passing by the pole -
they think, somebody is standing guard in the dark. The fear grows  into the
pole, covers its features and  seeps in  its soul. The pole's soul gets born
of fear and wind, it starts to watch the moon and walk in the rain and slush
- that's how a pole witch appears.
     Kissur pointed  at the wide open gate  on the  summer field and  added.
"Who knows, maybe these poles also stroll around at night?"
     Giles chortled. Kissur turned to Bemish and asked.
     "So, does it cost a lot?"
     "You  should  ask  McCormick," Bemish replied.  "I  am not a specialist
here. My field is finance."
     "They  abandoned the  construction  to  sell  it  cheaper  afterwards,"
McCormick said. "They built it for a while and abandoned in three years."
     "Why was it exactly three years?" Kissur wondered.
     "Because,  accordingly  to  your  laws,  a  start-up  company is salary
tax-exempt and can import equipment  with half  the custom tariffs for three
years," Bemish replied.
     "Ahh," ex-minister drawled, "and whom are they going to sell it to?"
     "Not to me," Bemish noted.
     Kissur turned around and stared at Giles. The IC representative feigned
a yawn.
     "It's time to go," Giles claimed. "I can give a ride  to the capital to
anybody except the jeep."
     "Terence will stay here," Kissur said. "We will ride horses together."
     Kissur nodded to one of his companions and he jumped of the horse. They
walked  the horse closer  to Bemish  and he stared in a large brown eye. The
horse chewed on  its mouthpiece  and  her sides  rose and lowered. The horse
watched Bemish and Bemish watched the horse.
     "This  is the tail," Kissur said, "this  is  the head and the  driver's
seat is in the middle. What are you waiting for? Get in."
     "I don't  like,"  Bemish replied,  "that  it  moves before  I  turn the
ignition on."
     Kissur and his servants laughed agreeably.
     Bemish,  however,  had to climb on the horse  and trek through  a crazy
forest where the  power line  poles entwined by lianas grew instead  of  the
trees. Bemish tired out, battered his butt and finally almost drowned  in  a
lawn which in reality proved to be a swamp inside a landing chute.
     Kissur said,  that  he would  cripple the horse  riding this  way,  and
Bemish said that he  would like to  observe Kissur driving a  car  ten years
ago. Then,  Kissur sent his  people off with the  horses and walked on  foot
next to Bemish. Bemish enquired, where they were going, and Kissur explained
that the future owner of the spaceport should better get acquainted with the
local  villages. "In ancient  times, a good official always arrived  to  his
appointment  region incognito, to learn the problems and difficulties of the
oppressed locals," Kissur said with admonition. Bemish wanted  to point out,
that  he was  not an  official and  he  was not  going  to solve the locals'
problems, but he was afraid of overdoing it and he shut up.
     By the evening, they both departed from the spaceport through a hole in
the wall and walked in the dusk down a beautiful beaten dusty  road, winding
by the neatly planted  gardens and rice paddies. They were both unbelievably
dirty. Kissur braided a  water lily wreath for himself and dashed around the
road, laughing.
     "Kissur," Bemish said, "I have a request for you."
     "Yes?"
     "The spaceport is built on the peasant land, even though there is a lot
of state land around. But it was built on the communal land and the families
were handed shares in the way of compensation. I could buy them out."
     "How much will you pay them?"
     Bemish hesitated. He would happily buy them for a rice vodka jug but he
could still see the whip marks on the Krasnov's shoulders.
     "These  shares  aren't  liquid, Kissur.  They cost  no more  than three
hundred isheviks each. I am ready to pay this money."
     "And, when you  build the spaceport, will each  one  cost three hundred
thousand? You will swindle this money out of the peasants."
     "They  will  not  cost  three  hundred thousand  if I don't  build  the
spaceport."
     "Shavash told me that you are not even going to build it."
     Bemish shuddered.
     "Shavash said,"  Kissur  continued,  "that  you  make money,  buying  a
company stocks, and  then threatening the  company management, till they buy
the stocks back  at triple price, and that you are reputed to be such a man,
a greenmailer. Is it true?"
     "Yes," Bemish said.
     "So, are you going to buy Assalah?"
     "I am."
     "Why haven't you bought the other companies before?"
     "I  wanted to  buy them. Only, the stock price increased so much during
the  fight,  that it would be stupid to buy them. As Shavash maybe told you,
two companies, whose management bought me off, went bankrupt."
     "Has it happened because of you?"
     "It was their choice to set a ludicrous stock price."
     "The same will happen to  Assalah,  won't it? The price  will seem  too
high for you, you will sell the stocks and the company will go bankrupt."
     I don't think so. You see, enormous amount of money was sunk in Assalah
and,  despite all this view around us, - Bemish here gestured with  his  arm
encompassing the bamboo growth far away and the semicircular  administration
center  hulk, looking like an empty watermelon  rind- despite  all this, the
spaceport is more than three quarters built. If we try hard, the first ships
will  start  landing  practically in  six  months.  You  heard,  why it  was
abandoned  -  to  cost  very  cheap.  Also,  everybody has  heard, that it's
dangerous to invest in a  market  like yours, but  not everybody understands
that spaceports and, also,  interstellar  communication systems are the only
safe  parts  of your  economy.  This  item will  not  be  abandoned  at  any
government and it depends on the local communications, in the least, because
its main profits come from the sky. Assalah costs now less than two eateries
in the middle of Toronto but, really, it is impossibly under priced. So, the
stock price may increase tenfold but it will still be a good acquisition.
     Kissur was silent for a moment.
     "Are you buying the Assalah stocks now?"
     "Yes."
     "How much do you have?"
     "The Empire  Fund Committee requires registration of any company  stock
acquisition of more than 5%. I have more now but I would ask you to  keep it
confidential. I haven't registered it."
     "How is it possible?"
     "Several companies act as the dummy agent stockholders for me."
     Kissur paused and asked then,
     "What is this investment auction of yours?"
     "Ffty one percent of  government stocks will be divided in two blocks -
20% and 31%. As you see, I will have a controlling block of shares even if I
get only a 20% block at the auction."
     "Wouldn't it be better to offer a good price at the auction?"
     "I am not entirely satisfied by the tender conditions. They are defined
so cleverly that they allow, for instance, the government to raise the price
after the winner is selected."
     "What, if you don't come out as a winner, and Shavash sells the company
to somebody else, will you sell these stocks with a multiple-fold profit?"
     "I will buy Assalah."
     Kissur  was silent. The birds fluttered  out of the  grass, a  lost cow
mooed far away in the field, and the sun, round like a pumpkin, rolled above
the Earthman's and the Empire ex-first minister's heads.
     "What did the clerks do? The ones bankrupted by you?"
     "What clerks?"
     "Well, these..." Kissur clicked his fingers, "general directors."
     "Nothing. They are civilized people."
     "Now remember this, Bemish. I will  help you. But, if you do as Shavash
said, I will shoot you."
     Kissur got up and walked down the road.



     Richard  Giles,  the  IC  company  representative,  found  the  finance
vice-minister, Shavash, performing a ceremony. Shavash walked stately around
the  new building of Adako bank carrying in his hands a golden basin, with a
burning  candle  floating  on a  splinter,  and  two dozen children  in  the
identical silk clothes followed him with the same candles in their arms.
     Numerous gapers enjoyed the view.
     Shavash entered the building,  sluiced water on  the marble floor  and,
with the proper  words, handed  the basin to the new bank's president  - his
good friend's nephew.
     When  the  ceremony finished in  five minutes,  Shavash withdrew to the
future  director's office. Giles followed him. Shavash dropped the billowing
silk vestment and an impeccable white suit underneath revealed itself.
     "Oh, that's you, Dick," he said. "Welcome here, how didn't I see you at
the ceremony start?"
     "I flew to Assalah," Giles replied dryly. "Bemish was also there."
     "He  is  in his  right," Shavash shrugged his  shoulders.  "You have to
agree,  if  the  company wants to  participate  in the auction,  its general
director can visit a spaceport."
     "We had an agreement that he would not take part in the auction."
     "A man can't fulfill all his promises," Shavash explained, "especially,
if the other offer is better."
     Giles swore glumly  and said. "Damn it, if we pay a dinar per share, we
can't afford somebody else applying for the auction!"
     "I regret,  but  you will have  to raise the  price.  Terence Bemish is
offering seven point seven dinars - just raise the price."
     "I didn't pay you, Shavash, to pay for the shares. Kick Bemish out."
     "I  am sorry," Shavash said, "but  Bemish is a Kissur's protg. If  we
show  him the door, Kissur will complain  to the  sovereign. Do  you want  a
second Kaminsky scandal?"
     "Enraged Giles  silently  slammed the door. His friend was  waiting for
him in the corridor.
     "So?"
     "The damned briber!" the enraged Earthman hissed, "Kissur's protg, my
ass! Do you know who  got the officials'  signatures on the papers when they
were  all  drunk? Kissur? Devil's spawn!  Kissur was lying  with  a  wench -
Shavash was getting the signatures!  He will  now harry  us with this Bemish
till we pay three dinars for a share."



     By  four o'clock, Bemish was  fatigued. The road was dusty and  covered
with potholes, the spaceport disappeared a long  time ago behind the endless
flat  fields  and the rows of olive trees, planted next to  the road so that
the  dust  settled  on olives  and they ripened faster. They made  at  least
twenty  five miles, not including the  morning  spaceport trip.  Bemish  was
tired as a dog and was slowly getting nuts - what is Kissur trying to prove?
That  he walks on foot better than Bemish? It comes as no surprise in  a man
who  fought  in  a  country  with  motorized  divisions  consisting  of  one
horsepower units! The temptation to make it all  clear  to Kissur was pretty
strong.  But  Bemish  still  kept  silence  and  dragged  himself  after the
ex-minister like a dog's tail.
     By the evening, Bemish and Kissur reached a local village and came in a
tavern.  Both  wanderers  were  dirty  up  to  their  ears   and  looked  so
unprepossessing, that the host didn't even move seeing them at the entrance.
Only,  when  Kissur  sat at  the  table and bellowed,  did he amble  to  the
visitors. Kissur inspected the geese the host offered, demanded to grill one
of them and ordered, additionally, mushroom sauce, appetizers and wine.
     The goose soon appeared in front of the  travelers in the grilled state
and it was impossible to recognize - such an appetizing crust covered it and
so cheerfully did  the goose  fat drip down in the steaming rice plate.  The
travelers embarked  on the food and, though Bemish was very hungry, he  soon
realized that  he had no chance holding his own with Kissur.  They conversed
in  English. Bemish noticed suddenly that Kissur was trying  to not  to bang
his  spoon  on the plate and  was listening to the conversation  between two
poorly dressed peasants  -  they  were  scraping rice  quickly out  of their
plates with their heads down. Finally  Kissur  couldn't hold it, he bid them
come to the table,  handed over  some goose  and started to  ask  questions.
Bemish,  being barely able to  understand  a few  words, inquired  what  the
problem was.
     "These are the  peasants  from the  second village,"  Kissur said, "and
they  are going to the manor's headman. Two years  ago, their  father became
sick and they borrowed  money  from  the headman for  medical treatment,  at
first, and then for the funeral.  In two years,  the interest  grew to match
the original  loan size. At that point, the headman sent his servants to the
village and  took their  sister  as a loan  payment.  The guys went to their
relatives to borrow money  but it didn't work out and they are going to  the
headman again." They were silent for a while.
     "What  about the shares,"  Bemish wondered. "Did you ask them about the
shares?"
     "They don't know what shares are," Kissur replied, "if you mean the red
paper pieces they were issued for their land, they gave it to the headman as
a name day gift."
     "But  they  cost  ten  isheviks  a  share even  now!" Bemish  exclaimed
involuntarily, totally forgetting a vodka crock.
     The peasants swung their heads nervously, listening to two bums talking
- they were clearly speaking some thief's argot - the peasants couldn't make
a single word  out! Kissur pulled a wad of money  out  of his pants, counted
two hundred isheviks and gave them to the older guy.
     "Hold it," he said, "that's for your sister's bail." The peasant's eyes
bulged  out  at  the bum, he fell down on his knees  and started kissing the
earth in front of Kissur, till Kissur threw him outside.
     "Where are we going now?" Bemish asked when the peasants left.
     Kissur opened his dirty coat's flap, making sure that the gun was still
there, and  said, "Let's spend  a  night in the manor  where the  sister was
taken to."
     By  the late evening, tired as  a dog  Bemish slogged after Kissur to a
hilltop crowned  by a toothy tarred  fence. Upon  the  travelers' arrival, a
gate  appeared in the fence and  a servant with a flashlight  and an assault
rifle appeared in the gate.
     "Talk," Kissur elbowed Bemish.
     "I... our... sleep," Bemish started.
     The  servant raised  his flashlight a bit, realized that he was dealing
with the foreigners that understood the human speech worse than dogs and let
them into the manor with hardly a word.



     It's  should be pointed  out, that the headman, in the  manor they came
to, was an  awful man. He fleeced the peasants mercilessly, traded in girls,
purchased stolen  goods  and ruled  a  racketeering gang.  He  had  a  great
relationship with  the regional  authorities. At the same time, he attempted
to look  honorable. Fleecing the peasants,  he  always referred to the manor
owner's merciless orders. Since  the local peasants were really dumb, it had
never  even come to their mind to complain  to the manor's owner, living  in
the capital and totally ignorant of all  these depravities. In such a simple
way the headman persuaded the peasants that he was their protector.
     So, Kissur  and  Bemish  found a  place in a hay bale inside the cattle
yard and watched the peasants come  to the meeting  hall.  The  headman even
came out to meet them.
     "I am so sorry about this," he declared,  "but I have already sent your
sister  to the lord in the capital, so there is  no way  to get her back. If
the lord likes her, you are lucky - maybe he  will agree to forgive  you the
rest of your debt."
     "But we managed to get the money,"  the peasant said happily and handed
the banknotes over.
     Who could guess that the headman had quarreled with one of his servants
yesterday and  bashed his head in with  a stick? He stuck the  body into the
trunk afterwards, got it out of the manor and threw it into  the bushes next
to the construction. In the morning, he said that he had sent the servant to
buy some stuff in the capital. He was going to report the  servant as having
deserted afterwards but  an incredible  idea came  to  him, when he saw  the
money.  He  leafed through the bank notes again and, suddenly, he pulled one
of them out - it was a twenty isheviks note with a "200" ink bank mark.
     "Hold them,"  he  cried to  the servants. "I gave  this twenty isheviks
note  to my  servant Anai when  I  sent him out  yesterday. Anai should have
returned this morning;  they must have  robbed and  killed  him.  Otherwise,
where would they get the money?"
     The servants grabbed the bewildered peasants.
     "Where did you get the money?" the headman attacked them.
     "Your grace," the elder begged,  "a  bum gave us  the money;  it looked
like  he followed us here - he is sleeping now on the hay bale! How would we
know if he robbed somebody?"
     The headman ordered the servants to take a look and they reported in no
time that, truly, one sturdy bum was  sleeping on a bale and another one had
dug himself in it. The headman was pleased. "The prey comes to the hunter on
its own," he  thought, "I will arrest these  bums  and  accuse them  of  the
murder!" But  then he  changed  his  mind. "Who  knows where these bums came
from?  Only  bandits carry this  kind  of  money  on them and they  won't be
overjoyed, if  I accuse an acclaimed gang member  of murder  and robbery!  I
will meet my end  this way. To the opposite, the bandits  will appreciate my
tact if I don't get them mixed in this business."
     And he assailed the peasants.
     "It's such  nonsense! Where  would bums get this money? You don't  even
stop at  accusing innocent fellow  travelers." And he ordered to bring whips
and canes.



     Kissur was by no means sleeping in the bale at that time. He aspired to
see his philanthropy's  results. To avoid  attention, he took  the boots off
and  stuck  them  in the hay,  so that  they  looked  like a sleeper's legs,
noiselessly  climbed  on  the  barn roof and jumped from  there to  the main
house. He took off his belt with a  hook on the end, snatched a  post on the
roof with a hook and  lowered himself down the belt, to a cornice encircling
the house. He walked down the cornice to the entry hall. Hanging down there,
he  heard the peasants  being accused of the  servant's  murder and he heard
them breaking down at the torture and confessing their guilt.
     In a while, the prisoners were taken away, the headman locked the money
in the small metal safe in the  corner and everybody left. Having waited for
half an  hour, Kissur carefully pried the wooden frame open with a knife and
climbed inside.



     Bemish woke up in the middle of the night - Kissur  was missing. "Where
is he hanging his ass  out?" Bemish got angry. The moon shined and the roofs
of  wing houses and utility shacks were clearly outlined  on  the night  sky
background. Just then, Bemish saw a man's silhouette sneaking along the main
house rooftop with a sack under his armpit. Bemish  shuddered and rubbed his
eyes. The man jumped over  to  the garage roof and disappeared inside. "Hold
the thief!" a scream  issued,  and something glistened  in the house. Bemish
jumped.
     Something boomed  in the  garage, its gate  was thrown wide  open and a
truck rushed out puffing.
     "Jump!" Kissur screamed.
     Bemish leaped  on the  truck, tore the door open and  fell on the seat.
The  truck scurried around the yard, kicked  out the  gate and sprinted down
the  slope. Awaken  servants rushed after it but, since everybody was afraid
that  the robbers  could  start firing and  make some holes  in the lackeys'
hides,  - they limited  their activities to the loud screams and  flashlight
hustling.
     The headman silently contemplated the stripped safe. "These robbers are
crummy people," he thought, "in my benevolence, I  didn't prosecute them for
the murder and they thanked me in such a way!"



     The  truck swerved down the  night  road and,  inside the truck  Bemish
castigated the Empire ex-first minister. Bemish finished and Kissur asked,
     "Terence, have you killed anybody at the construction?"
     The Earthman only flapped his hands at such a question.
     "I also  think that you haven't killed anybody," Kissur  agreed, "then,
how did  the  headman recognize this note?" and he started recounting,  what
happened between the headman and the peasants.
     "I  think," the  Earthman said,  "the problem is, that the headman  has
already sent the girl to his lord and he is  afraid to call her back. That's
why  he kicked this  hoax with the money off; the servant ran away somewhere
or he will come in a week."
     "You think well," Kissur  said, "and the peasants likely think the same
way. Keep it."
     And to the financier's horror, the Empire ex-minister handed him over a
wad of square  notes  that Bemish immediately  recognized to be  the Assalah
bearer stocks.
     "My God," Bemish moaned, "what is this?"
     "These are your stocks. Do you remember  the  peasants' story, how  the
headman requested them as a gift?"
     "Why?!"
     "You said it yourself, that if you have  these shares, you will be able
to control Shavash."
     "Kissur! Firstly, I can  buy  low and sell high but I've never acquired
securities yet  with  a  bandit's lock pick.  Secondly, exactly five minutes
after this  story comes out, not a single  bank will  agree  to  finance me.
Thirdly,  this  story will surely come out, since the headman will  complain
about one  of  the robbers being a  foreigner  and there are not  that  many
foreigners..."
     "He won't run to  complain," Kissur said,  "or he will have to explain,
how he got the shares as a gift."
     Bemish gestured with his hand and became silent.
     It took  them  an  hour to drive back to the beginning of the destroyed
overpass, where Bemish and McCormick had  abandoned the car in the morning -
the car was still there. Kissur got out of the truck, threw the stolen stuff
on the back seat and took the clean clothes out of the trunk.
     "Change you clothes."
     Kissur drove the car and Bemish  grouched, kept silence and, looking at
Kissur, thought, "He is not a man, he is a walking scandal." They arrived at
a crumbly town and stopped in front of a red lacquered gate. Bemish realized
that  it was a  district precinct. It was probably the  same  precinct where
Krasnov was whipped for an attempt to acquire the shares.
     "Are you going to rob another precinct head?"
     Kissur, not responding, knocked  in the gate. The district head, having
learned about the Emperor favorite's  visit, put the clothes on and went out
to meet them. Kissur introduced Bemish to him.
     "We  were inspecting  the construction till  the  nightfall and we were
barely able to get out," Kissur explained.
     In the morning,  even  before  Kissur and  Bemish walked downstairs,  a
bustle issued in the house. The official reported, bowing.
     "Mr. Kissur!  Your  manor  is  located  nearby, and a modest man  named
Khanni is the headman there.  Yesterday night, two bums robbed the house and
stole  four  hundred thousand!  Probably,  these two  guys also  killed  his
servant and lifted his money  - the servant's body  was found today  in  the
riverside bushes!
     Bemish understood some of the official's talk and froze.
     They drove to the headman -  a dozen Kissur's  servants, that he called
that night  from the  capital, joined  them on the  way. The  district  head
entered the yard, with a large crowd already assembled, and Kissur stayed in
the crowd screened by his servants.
     The murdered servant's body was delivered, two peasants were brought in
and the headman accused them.
     "Everything is clear. These two made a deal with the bandits and robbed
and killed  my  servant - they didn't  expect  me recognizing the money. You
were going to rob the manor together next but,  since you were arrested, the
bums  went ahead  on their  own.  Answer me - where did you  bump into them?
Imagine it, I was trying to protect you before your lord, turned your sister
over to him, so that he would become lenient."
     Here, the crowd moved  and Kissur moved out of  it surrounded by  three
sturdy chaps.
     "Hey, Khanni! What was this girl you turned over to me?"
     The headman went gray in the face with horror. The crowd reacted.
     "How much, are you saying, they stole from me?" Kissur continued.
     "Four hundred thousand," the headman fretted. Here Kissur took the sack
of his shoulder and emptied it right out for everybody to see.
     "Khanni,"  Kissur stated, "when I gave you  this manor,  I said, 'Don't
oppress the people, only take one tenth.' Yesterday, I was  passing by, with
a  friend, and  I decided  to check,  how you obey my  orders, and  when you
arrested  the  people I  gave money to, claimed this money for yourself, and
told them that I dishonored their sister that  I haven't even met, it looked
to me, that you obeyed my orders like a pig you are - that you sucked on the
people's  marrow and drank their blood. I decided to look in your safe and I
carried away from it  not  four hundred thousand  but, rather, six  and half
thousand and, secondly, I  carried away from it  the loan  agreements signed
with  my signature -  and  this is a fake  signature. Then I realized that I
didn't  waste  my time poking  into this safe,  because you would doubtfully
have shown me these faked agreements!"
     The headman could not speak - he bleated and crawled at Kissur's feet.
     "Spit it  out," Kissur barked.  "How  many girls  have  you sold to the
whorehouses in my name?"
     "Twenty of them, at least," somebody in the crowd responded.
     Here, Kissur leaped at the headman and crushed his nose and  many other
parts, and  then ordered to "hang this  fucker on  the gate" -  Bemish could
barely persuade him to call the lynching off.
     They still stuffed the headman in the stocks at the punishment pole. By
mid afternoon, hundreds of peasants drifted into the manor.
     "That's what  happened," the peasants  were saying, "the damned headman
lied to us and cheated the  master! Thanks to the master for coming here and
sorting things out!"
     Kissur  ordered to  set a table across the pole, sat  down at the table
and started  to hand  the loan agreements  out  to  the  peasants  while the
district head, happy to  still have his nose  whole, was certifying that the
deeds were fake.
     By  the  evening, the  headman  was  taken away  in the stocks  and the
satisfied crowd dispersed.



     Kissur and Bemish stayed in the orphaned manor overnight.
     "So, how was I?" Kissur  inquired  Bemish at  the  dinner. He  reminded
Bemish of a victorious fighting cock.
     "If a  society's fairness," Bemish  said, "depended on  the  number  of
squashed noses, then your Empire would be the fairest place in the Universe.
However, the situation is reversed."
     Kissur frowned.
     "The objective is," the  Earthman said instructively, "not to break the
corrupted  officials' noses.  The objective is to  position the officials in
such a way that they couldn't harass the people."
     "How do you like this place?"
     "Wonderful place," Bemish  said, "one could build a heaven  here or, at
least, a wondrous chicken farm."
     Kissur burst out in laughter and slapped him on the shoulder.
     "It's all yours, then!"
     Bemish was astonished.
     "I can't accept such a gift."
     "Why?  You just stated that the goal is not to kick a bad owner's butt,
but to find an honest one. You are all bark and no bite."
     "But I don't even speak the language."
     Kissur, however, wasn't even going to listen.
     "Also,  you need to live somewhere," he declared,  "you will surely get
this company  in your  pocket,  don't worry! I  will  wheedle it out of  the
sovereign for you."
     And he started enthusiastically treating Bemish with wine.



     Bemish woke up late. The sun was pushing in the open window and dancing
on a deity's jade mug, grinning above the door, on an ancient silver lantern
where an electric light bulb bloated like a  white  bubble. With  an effort,
Bemish recalled yesterday events. "There  was  a fight... We drank... Oh, my
God! He granted me the manor!" Bemish  jumped up in the bed - the house deed
and a note from Kissur lay on the table - he returned to the capital.
     In  an hour,  Bemish  thoughtfully consumed  breakfast  on  a  veranda.
Frightened servants ran around. He could barely talk to the servants and was
absolutely unable to understand their replies. He thought for a moment, went
inside and called to Mr. Shavash's office.
     "Mr.  Shavash,"  the Earthman said,  "could  you  recommend me a really
honest administrator?"
     The  first  finance  vice-minister assured  him,  in  a slightly ironic
voice, that he would be happy to find for Mr. Bemish anything in the world -
an eternal phoenix, three-headed dragon, and even an honest administrator.



     At the other end of the line, Shavash hung up the receiver. He pondered
for  a  moment and,  then, he  called  the secretary and gave  the necessary
orders.
     Soon, a young  man, with a round face  and pleasant but sad azure eyes,
entered his  office.  The young man's  face was unusually pale, a raw  dough
color. An Earthman or another ignorant person  would think that  the  face's
owner  was  unhealthy  or hadn't left  home  for  a  while.  A  Weian  would
immediately suspect that the guy had been in jail.
     So,  the young man named Adini, approached to the official's table  and
froze three steps away, waiting for orders.
     "Kissur," Shavash said, "bestowed to a Earthman,  named Terence Bemish,
a manor next to Assalah and the Earthman is looking for a manor's headman. I
would like to bestow you to him."
     "Yes, master," Adini said deferentially.
     "You will watch him and report all his meetings and plans to me."
     Shavash picked a sheet of paper with a personal seal out of a folder.
     "The moment  Bemish leaves the  planet,"  Shavash said, "this sheet  of
paper will be destroyed. It is  in  your best interests,  to operate so that
Bemish leaves the planet quickly. Do you understand me?"
     "Yes, master."
     "Terence  Bemish is a smart man and  he, most certainly, expects me  to
use this opportunity to send him a spy."
     "Why did he ask you for a headman, then?"
     "He  hopes to allure the  spy to his side. Once he has given you enough
favors, you may pretend that it indeed has happened. Remember, however, that
Bemish can give you money or a stipend but only I can  get rid of this paper
for you. Also remember that, if Bemish had this sheet, he would not act as a
good Samaritan  towards you. He will be kind to you  only because he doesn't
have another weapon."



     Bemish  was  enjoying the ancient mosaic overlaying  the  walls  on the
second floor, when he heard a  descending flyer's  characteristic rustle. He
walked  out to the gallery  - a white  flyer  stood in  the yard,  the  last
"rainbow" shimmers were beating above its wings. In a moment, the  "rainbow"
dimmed, the  flyer's  roof  opened up like a poppy  flower  carpel,  and two
people got out of the  car  - a handsome  lithe youth in a strict white suit
and  another guy, more scrawny than  slim, in a checked shirt  with torn-off
sleeves  and a  red flower in  his  hair,  following the  contemporary rebel
fashion.
     "You can live here two months and  more," the youth in the  strict suit
said loudly in  English, evidently  being sure that nobody  could understand
him, "no one will  say a word. The local headman has sinned quite  a bit and
he won't even tell my brother about you."
     "And how much has he sinned?"
     "Not more than any damned bank director."
     Here, the older youth turned around and noticed Bemish who was standing
openly at the gallery encircling the villa at the second store.
     "Hey, who are you?" the youth called out in Weian.
     "I am Terence Bemish and I am the villa's owner."
     "That's nonsense! The villa belongs to my brother."
     "That's true.  However, Kissur threw out the manor's  headman yesterday
and gave the manor to me."
     The youth span his head nervously and Bemish said,
     "You are welcome. I don't think that Kissur would be happy to know that
I showed his brother and his guest off."
     Bemish ordered the  servants to  serve the terrace table  and, soon, he
and  his  unexpected  guests  were  devouring  an  ample  breakfast.  Kissur
brother's name was Ashidan and his companion introduced himself, not without
sarcasm, as John Smith.
     "What do you do?" Ashidan asked.
     "I am a financier."
     "My brother makes strange acquaintances," Ashidan noticed.
     "What do you do?" Bemish inquired from the new guest.
     "It's none of your business, shithead."
     Bemish was a bit flustered.
     "Excuse me," he  asked, "didn't we meet two minutes  ago? I don't  know
anything about you. What do you know about me to call me a shithead?"
     "What class did you fly coming here?"
     "First class."
     "That's it. How can a man with  enough  money to fly first class not to
be a shithead?"
     "Are you an anarchist," Bemish wondered, "a communist?"
     "I am a sympathizer"
     "Whom and what do you sympathize with? Esinole? Marks? Le Dan?"
     "I  sympathize  with the people  that the  likes  of you  shit  on with
money."
     "Why do you sympathize with them on Weia?"
     "This planet  is interesting for me," Smith said.  "People here haven't
choked on their money.
     "Yes," Bemish agreed, recalling peasants, crawling in the fields, "they
haven't. But I hope to fix it."
     "Eh?"
     "I will help them to choke on their money," Bemish stated.
     "It's nonsense! You don't care about anything except your profits!"
     Bemish was unhurriedly eating  the morning soup. Last time he heard the
same thing from the former ADO general  director, whom he kicked  out from a
comfortable for him, but burdensome for the company, armchair.
     "Don't  push it, Johnny," Ashidan  said sarcastically, "or  he  will be
calling police in a second."
     "I  would certainly call police," Bemish said, "if I saw  you  making a
bomb. Since you are just yakking, why the heck should I call them?"
     "Will you tell my brother?"
     Bemish carefully looked  at Ashidan. "What a  brood,"  a thought passed
his  mind, "one  drives  tanks  down  the foreign companies'  facilities and
another reads Marx  in Princeton... Why didn't Kissur  give him the  villa?"
Bemish  fished  a  satellite phone out of his  pocket and  handed  it to the
youth.
     "Tell him yourself," Bemish suggested.
     Ashidan got up and walked to the garden to make a call. Right then, the
servants rushed to the terrace to announce the district head's arrival.
     The district head brought gifts with him - three dishes of grilled meat
with  garlic, a  suckling pig, salads in flat baskets and, also, a  plate of
walnut  shaped  cookies  and  a  round sweet quince pie  decorated  with the
Bemish's last name misspelled on top.
     Bemish walked the guest to the garden gazebo. The official bowed to him
with the pie and said, "It's a  great honor for us, Mr. Bemish that you will
now,  in  a way, live  with us.  I am happy to express  my gratitude to you.
Thanks to your help and Kissur's  courage, a crime of unimaginable magnitude
and horror was uncovered.
     "I think you were aware of it," Bemish said.
     "Hola, how can you say so?! I was shocked, squashed like a frog under a
wagon!"
     Bemish shrugged his shoulders.  A servant knocked and appeared  in  the
door with a steaming teapot and sweets in woven baskets.
     The guest  and the  host  treated each  other  with  tea and, then, the
district head inquired,
     "They say that you will be in the charge of our construction?"
     "It's too early to say," Bemish said.
     Here it seemed to Bemish that the district head winked his  eye at  him
in a coarse and canny way.
     "Well, say," the district head said, "there is no reason  to doubt now.
Believe me, I  and  the others around will be utterly happy to do everything
they can for Kissur's friend and their future colleague."
     "Did you whip Krasnov?" Bemish asked.
     "Eh?"
     "I mean the trader, who came to Assalah for  the stocks. You said, that
you wouldn't allow foreigners to rob the people."
     The district head nodded understandingly. His face became now important
and benevolent.
     "Unfortunately," he said,  "the people are like children  and officials
should protect them. How  can I  let them  sell invaluable  property for two
cents?"
     "You can't let them sell it for two cents but you  can let them sell it
for free? To pay for the taxes you invented?"
     "Hola!" the district head exclaimed, "how can you say so?"
     His round kind face reddened and tears appeared on the wide open eyes.
     "Do you have company shares? Did you pay a cent for them?"
     The district head's eyes looked at Bemis honestly and directly.
     "From now on,"  the district  head said, "the meaning of  my life is to
serve you! What would you like me to do? Tell me and I will carry it out."
     "I would like you," Bemish said, "to  sell me the Assalah shares at the
same price the peasants sold them to you - for free."
     The official choked.
     "Otherwise," Bemish continued,  "the sovereign will know how you chased
foreign  vultures from here  with a brined whip  to bleed the people on your
own."
     The official was silent for a moment and then bowed and pronounced, "It
will be my honor to serve you."
     "I should get him fired," Bemish thought, "so that a man grateful to me
for the appointment and not the  man hating me because of the shares is head
of the precinct.



     When Bemish  walked  down in the garden, Ashidan  was standing  on  the
swimming pool edge and throwing thin well sharpened darts into a fat pot.
     "Well, did you talk to this mongrel? Ashidan asked, "How much money did
he give you, so that you didn't prosecute him?"
     "Don't be rude, Ashidan."
     "This district head is a real  weirdo, "the youth continued, "He is the
only local official who spends every day in the  office. Do you know what he
engages in in there?"
     "Well?"
     "He  locks himself with his  young  male secretary since his wife comes
from a much better family than he does, and she doesn't allow  these  little
tricks at home."


     The Fourth Chapter

     Where Kissur tells investment bankers how to train a highwayman's horse
while Terence  Bemish makes an acquintance with other contenders for Assalah
stocks.

     The next day after his return to the capital, Bemish found himself at a
party thrown by the  district  prefect  to celebrate the  plum blossoming or
some other divine occasion.
     The party was grand. All of the high society arrived.
     The  officials  discussed  the  inflation  and  the  importance  of the
preservation  of  the  customs.  The people from  the  stars  discussed  the
inflation and the importance of the preservation of the customs.
     In  a  corner,  the  foreign  entrepreneurs   shared   more  particular
impressions from the local business surroundings with each other.
     "So,  this  abbot comes to  me and offers  to bless the bank against  a
misfortune  and  he asks for two hundred thousand dinars for the ceremony. I
refuse and the next  night a fire  starts in  the  office. The next day this
vermin  comes to  me  again,  expresses its  condolences, and  asks  for two
hundred  thousand again. When  I complained to the police, they gave me  the
advice - don' buck and cough up the money - the abbot is connected to Horn's
gang."
     "By  the way,  speaking  about  banks  -  do  you  know that  only  the
companies, with accounts  in Shavash controlled banks,  received the  budget
financing this month? They say that Shavash had a ten percent kickback.
     And so on. And so forth.
     Bemish met the Federation of Nineteen  envoy, an elderly Malaysian, and
the envoy led Bemish into a  corner immediately and started telling him true
stories from local officials' lives.
     There were about dozen envoys present. Bemish was suddenly surprised by
the number. He thought that only fifteen... not even fifteen - ten years ago
- the envoys' number would  be way smaller. The Earth  colonies were leaving
the Federation  of Nineteen one  after another,  peacefully  or with  swords
drawn.
     Bemish  was also introduced to the Gera envoy. The envoy was talking to
two people that looked familiar to Bemish.
     "Mr. Lawrence Edwards," the envoy introduced one of them.
     "Mr. Jonathan Rusby," he introduced the other one.
     Bemish didn't bat an eyelid.
     Half the  Galaxy police have been looking for Mr. Lawrence Edwards. Mr.
Edwards  had  owned  one  of  the  Galaxy's  largest  and  most  respectable
businesses.  An airport  technician's  son,  he  made a five  billion  dinar
fortune by  the  age of  thirty. He  used land  allotments  he  acquired for
construction purposes, as collateral to obtain the bank loans, and the banks
trusted  him completely.  Unfortunately,  Mr.  Edwards  had  more  and  more
difficulties in the last several years and he created a network of companies
buying  these land  allotments  from each  other and  using  them  later  as
collateral  for bank loans. At the  fifth  act's end,  Edwards escaped. When
disappointed banks arrested the land allotments  and unfinished skyscrapers,
they found out their real  price was  very  different from the price paid by
the affiliated  companies,  and  it  didn't even cover  one twentieth of Mr.
Edwards loans.
     As  for  Mr. Rusby, he had also been a financial legend and the manager
of  a successful  offshore fund  investing citizens' savings  in  risk  free
government  securities. Unfortunately,  the  interest promised  by Mr. Rusby
exceeded the  possible  government  securities  trading  profits  by 3% and,
henceforth,  Mr. Rusby,  while promising the complete  safety,  invested his
clients' money using  much  more  profitable  but much less secure financial
instruments.  The clients,  lured by high risk free  profits, crowded at his
office, the modest retirees and dishwashers who would have never invested in
his fund if they had known the fund's structure, brought their money to him.
Rusby, with his incredible nose for trading, often  gleaned up huge pickings
buying a bankrupted  company's  shares at  5%  of the face value that  would
later rise to 90% and he had a great  time meanwhile with the margin between
his take-in and his payments to the clients.
     It was not  economical  but rather  political quandaries that destroyed
him - a new tax  law on Aegeia,  where his head office was, and  a couple of
the  adroit auditors.  Rusby's assets were  arrested, his wife divorced  him
scandalously, the  fund immediately  bankrupted  and Rusby  escaped to Gera,
where he kept  insisting that, all this time, he  fulfilled his  obligations
towards the clients and paid them exactly as he promised.
     By the way, the federal committee didn't argue that.
     It just claimed that if the Rusby investments' real risk level had been
known, he would have had to pay the investors five-fold.
     "Eh, Mr. Bemish," Rusby said with a friendly smile,  "I  heard that you
were also taking part in the Assalah auction?"
     "Also?" Bemish winced. "Wow! Would Shavash really let this  man, wanted
by the Galaxy police, participate in an auction."
     Next to a lighted pond with gold fish, a small man stood - Shavash.
     "Thanks for the headman," Bemish said, "what salary should I pay him?"
     "Nothing - he is your slave."
     Bemish choked.
     "I thought there is no slavery on Weia.
     "Call  it the way you  want. This man  owes  me  two  hundred  thousand
isheviks and he signed a contract that he would work this debt off any way I
choose. I will transfer  the  contract to you and send  it tomorrow with the
courier."
     Bemish was silent.
     "By  the  way,"  Shavash asked  suddenly,  "they say,  all  the Assalah
documentation was transferred to you. What's your opinion?"
     "What do you mean?"
     "I meant just what I said. You just familiarized yourself with the most
detailed documentation, you are a financier. What do you say?"
     Bemish hesitated.
     I'd say that  I realized  how they make money on Weia.  They make money
not on private profits  but on state  expenses. They fed off Assalah in  two
ways.  The  first way was the  inflated contracts and the second way was the
written-off equipment. For instance, the company Alarcon  was  in charge  of
the land works. The same man was both the  Assalah  director and the Alarcon
founder.  He  owned 20%  of the  shares.  There  is the  geological  study's
conclusion,  that Assalah  stands  on an excellent basalt foundation  with a
forest situated above it. There are, also, seven  million  isheviks  paid to
Alarcon for draining swamps that  have  never existed. There is construction
equipment paid for with the budget money at triple fold prices. And the same
equipment was  sold  to Alarcon in  two  weeks and 97%  of the resource  was
claimed to be exhausted. How can you  exhaust 97%  of the resource of a step
excavator  in ten working days? I  bet, it  was still standing unpacked at a
warehouse, new and shiny! Any action was a financial pump  that pumped state
budget money from the company a manager was in charge of, to the company the
manager owned.
     Shavash listened to the Earthman with eyes half closed.
     "You said that the director owned 20% of the Alarcon shares. Who  owned
the other 80%?"
     "I assume that you owned it, Shavash."
     A deferential  waiter stopped  next to  them and Shavash took a crystal
glass on a thin stem from the silver tray.
     "However, I didn't understand  certain things," Bemish continued, "what
is an "ishevik bill of credit"?"
     Shavash spread his hands.
     "We  were forced to do  this. When the ministry doesn't have  money, it
has sometimes to  issue short-term bills of credit maturing in three months.
You need to pay the contractors somehow."
     "In other words, you, Mr. Shavash, issue your own money."
     "Not  exactly,"  the  vice-ministry pointed  out indifferently,  "Money
costs as much as it costs. While, when you obtain "ishevik bills of credit",
you go  to a bank  to exchange them  for money. The bank can pay  you thirty
percent of the face value or it  can pay you hundred percent. It depends  on
how good friends you, I and bank are."
     "I  believe,"  Bemish enquired,  "it's  meaningless to ask you  if  you
approve of cutting the ineffective industry subsidies down."
     "Theoretically  speaking,  I approve of it," Shavash said tiredly. "You
don't read local media. I am an enthusiastic supporter of the budget deficit
curbing.  This Assalah thing  swallowed two billion isheviks while the  real
expenses were not even two million."
     The  official's voice didn't carry  either cynicism or sarcasm  in  it.
Bemish  kept silent  - he didn't know how  to snub  a man  who issued pseudo
money  as  the first finance  vice-minister, received it  on  the  Assalah's
account as a Board  of  Director's  member, and ferried it  to  his personal
account as real money.
     Right  then, Bemish realized a very simple thing - Kissur can bequest a
villa to him, Kissur  can secure Assalah for  him - but only Shavash has the
life and death power over money in this country.
     "Who was the  man who visited the  manor with  Ashidan?" Shavash  asked
suddenly. "Did you recognize him?"
     "No," Bemish came to his senses.
     Shavash  silently opened the folder he  had  with  him and extracted  a
newspaper  article. The article showed the late Ashidan's companion and  the
title announced,  "The  main suspect  in the Menszel trading exchange center
escapes in an unknown direction."
     Bemish hadn't  heard about the explosion and he leafed through the text
quickly. The  explosion was indeed a small one - two  or three doors cracked
and  a computer  had its brains blown out. The  blast was small because only
one explosive  device performed -  a non-fragmentation demolition shell with
ten grams  of  trinex.  A  case  with the equivalent of three  kilograms  of
dynamite was next to it but, miraculously, it didn't detonated. If the  case
had exploded, the victim count would have been in tens or, even hundreds.
     "They left the villa," Bemish said, "the same day."
     "Ashidan has  nasty companions, " Shavash  said. "Though this  guy is a
friend of Kissur's."
     "Pardon  my  curiosity,  Mr. Shavash -  it's  surprising how  you  know
everything. You  know even what  happens at a  villa two hundred  kilometers
away from the capital. Are you a vice-minister of finance or of police?"
     "I am  simply a rich man," the small official said. "And a  rich man is
not the man who owns a personal villa or a personal spaceship.  It  is a man
who owns a personal jail."
     "A personal jail? Is that a joke?"
     Shavash smiled.
     "Would you like to see it? I can organize a trip."
     "One way?"
     "Never  joke about jail, Mr.  Bemish," calmly  and  coldly  the  Empire
official said. They were silent for a moment and, then, Bemish said,
     "How much is IC going to pay for the stocks? I can pay more?"
     "It  doesn't matter,  Terence,  whether  you pay  more or less  for the
stocks,"  Shavash grinned. "Imagine, that  you pay for  the  stocks more but
your application is not set up correctly."
     "How much does a correct application cost?"
     In  the uneven  light  by  the  lamps  outside  the window,  the  small
official's raised eyebrows were easy to see.
     "Come on," Shavash smiled.
     "Listen," Bemish  said quietly and clearly, "a  fantastic sum  given to
you by IC was mentioned to me.  I  don't know whether or not it's true. I am
not going to offer  you  this kind of money. If, however, I buy the  company
and  you buy the  stock options, in three  years,  your shares will be worth
eighteen times more than any of IC's pitches."
     Shavash only smiled.
     "You know perfectly well what IC is, Shavash. And you know that it will
bankrupt Assalah, and you know why it will do it."
     Shavash had a  perfect composure but Bemish noticed surprise  or, even,
horror passing in his eyes.
     Here, the Gera envoy with another man entered the hall and Bemish bowed
and walked away to the balcony.
     Giles sat at  a  corner table on the  balcony.  A glass of  palm vodka,
mixed with mango  juice, stood next to him and an open  magazine, that Giles
was probably reading, was under the glass.
     "Good day,  Mr. Bemish! They say that you already own half  the Assalah
with a cute villa on top?"
     Giles was drunk.  He lamented  probably that half  the  Assalah  didn't
belong to him.
     "I haven't asked for this gift,"  Bemish  said,  "and, anyway, I  found
myself in an idiotic position."
     "Especially, since  you  are not going  to buy the  company anyway, are
you?"
     Bemish was tempted to empty the glass of vodka in the Giles face.
     "Let me introduce you to  our  executive  director," Giles said lazily,
"James McFergson."
     Bemish turned  around  - behind  him, a stout short  man with unusually
lively eyes and a mole  on a pug nose was smiling and extending amicably his
hand.
     "Overjoyed to meet you," MacFergson declared, shaking Bemish's hand. It
really looked, as  if he was  overjoyed to meet Bemish, and, as if no Bemish
existed in this world, he would fall dead with sorrow.
     Here, the stage  in  the  garden under the balcony  was  lightened, the
harmonious  sounds of flutes and lute-shells poured forth and a  performance
started  below - in not too  prudish dresses, four  beauties  were dancing a
complex  dance with swords. Quite a  crowd surrounded the stage quickly and,
when the performance finished, a  guest -likely drunk- climbed the boards to
kiss the dancing girls.
     "Who is this bloke?" Bemish enquired.
     "The Adana envoy, " McFergson answered. "The envoy fits the country."
     "An Earthman?" Bemish said with surprise.
     "They are  no longer  Earthmen," McFergson smirked,  "the planet Adana,
for your  information, was settled by SD Warheim. So,  Warheim brought there
several  dozen  thousand  unemployed  people  -  subsidizing  their  one-way
tickets. In  just  a short while, the unemployed realized that there were  a
lot of jobs on  Adana and  no unemployment benefits.  So,  they all screamed
that it was slavery in disguise and demanded that the company transport them
back to  Earth. When the company offered the opportunity to  earn  money for
the  transportation  fees on their own, they called it Earth imperialism and
declared independence.  However, I heard that their current President  makes
them work way harder than the company did and in concentration camps  rather
than free."
     "Mr. Bemish  knows that," Giles interrupted  his colleague.  "Just when
the trouble started, he bought United Ferrous  shares and sold them later at
triple fold price when the new Adana government transferred all of Warheim's
concessions to United."
     Several people from the group of Weian officials noiselessly approached
the conversing Earthmen. Among them, Bemish noticed Jonathan  Rusby with the
smiling Gera envoy.
     "Mr. Bemish has also provided a great assistance to Andjey Gerst. In my
opinion,  your decision to create a Gera-oriented portfolio  investment fund
made many financiers pay attention to Gera economics."
     "What's so bad about it?" Bemish enquired irritably.
     "Gerst is a dictator."
     "And how exactly does it show?"
     "So far, it  shows,  "  Giles  said,  "in  him  attracting  high  level
scientists  and  advancing  huge  loans  to local companies  for  the newest
technologies  development - our  government is forced to spend this money on
social expenses. And Gera banks are  reputed  to be the most reliable in the
Galaxy, though not due  to the government protection but  rather due to  the
very  strict  laws  specifying  the  total  personal  responsibility of  the
management."
     "Whose nails do they pull out?"
     "Nobody's."
     "And where is the dictatorship?
     "Eh," Giles said,  "in your opinion,  a dictatorship is when  they pull
the people's nails out and talk stupidly...  Only a weak  dictatorship pulls
the people's nails out, it's not a dangerous dictatorship, it will expire of
its own accord, it's  doomed because when  they pull the people's nails out,
the people don't  work  as much and the less they work, the  more nails they
have to pull out."
     "Do I  understand  you correctly,"  Bemish  inquired, "that any  state,
where they don't pull your nails out, is a strong dictatorship? I think  you
just envy that Gera is better off than your own eh...?"
     "Australia," Giles said, "I am an Australian. I understand you, though.
You have better opinion of Gera than of your own country  because Gera's Dow
index grows faster."
     He stood up.
     "It's a stupid argument," he said, "I've been to Gera and I could  give
you hundred proofs that its Leader is thousand times more dangerous than all
the psychopaths...  Why don't you think about this  - the Gera  army's total
military capabilities are  approaching  those  of Earth and  all  the  other
Federation  of  Nineteen members'  armies  combined,  and  every time,  when
somebody in the Federation Assembly proposes to  boost the defense spending,
the owners of  the accounts in the stable Gera banks start screaming that we
should  not  spend  money  on  war,  we  should spend  the money  on  social
assistance."
     Kissur came in after midnight - by his looks, he spent the evening in a
more interesting way - in a pub.  He ran  into Bemish on a garden path, next
to  a  grotto  that,  due  to an  evident reason, Bemish needed to  visit in
private.
     Kissur slapped Bemish on the shoulder and noted.
     "I haven't expected to meet  you at this zoo!  So, trader,  haven't you
yet changed your mind about buying Assalah?"
     "I will buy  Assalah," Bemish said, "no matter  what. At least, so that
Giles wouldn't get it."
     "What's the  difference  between Giles or  you  buying it?" Bemish  was
silent for a moment. Kissur was clearly drunk and Bemish wasn't a picture of
sobriety either.
     "The difference? I guess, I will explain  to you, Kissur, what Giles is
doing. Giles represents a company that nobody knows  anything about. He says
that a private financier stays hidden behind the IC initials and he is ready
to  invest ten billion in this business. That's bullshit.  There are no such
investors."
     "Why is he doing that?"
     This is  chicanery. Whoever is behind Giles gets Assalah and issues the
new shares. Your planet desperately  lacks  the space  infrastructure,  it's
generally a state property, and  private  spaceport  investments  should  be
fantastically  profitable. The  stocks prices  rise through the  ceiling, IC
makes  billions  on  the  price  differential and  gets  out.  Shavash  gets
millions,  IC gets billions and  the  Federation  investors with  the Empire
nationals get a fly speck. I spent this week making enquires about IC. It is
a phantom. This is a trickster company that had a couple of projects on some
planets that nobody  has heard anything about, -  and these planets had been
expelled from the United Nations. A  planet that's not a UN  member - from a
financial viewpoint  -  Kissur,  is  a planet where  the  public  companies'
accounting doesn't have to follow the Federal financial committee standards.
They  have  a  well  developed system  -  they  bribe an official, issue the
stocks, advertising their "connections  to  the  government",  peddle  these
stocks to fools through a phony company, the stocks grow, the company cleans
the cream off, and then - kabloom! Got it?
     "Got  it,"  Kissur  said. "I got  it, that  our  companies have a merry
choice -  they can choose  between a disreputable  greenmailer and a company
like IC."
     Kissur left soon, having loud-mouthed the Federation envoy and publicly
promised some official to set the dogs at him, "If you, bastard, demonstrate
your disdain to the sovereign again  by parking  your ill-gotten with bribes
Rolls-Royce next to the Nut Pavilion."
     He  did, however, invite Bemish  for a dinner at Red Dog restaurant the
day after tomorrow.



     The next day, Bemish returned to the city and went, first  thing, to DJ
securities.  The flower pot  with  summer hyacinths, right  in front  of the
office entrance, was bent  in by bulky jeep tires and people bustled through
the wide open office doors like ants in a smashed anthill.
     "What's going on?" Bemish inquired from Krasnov coming out to meet him.
     "Tax  police  visited  us,"  Krasnov  said.  "They  locked up  all  the
paperwork."
     "What laws did you break?"
     "You should  better ask  what laws we  didn't break! What laws  can you
avoid breaking in a country where the regulations are made not with the goal
of paying the taxes to the state but  with the goal of paying the hush money
to the tax collectors!"
     "Haven't you tamed the tax collectors?"
     "We? Come on, Bemish, every  month... They apologized - we  wouldn't do
it but we were ordered to..."
     "Who exactly signed the order?"
     "A man named Danisha. He is a protg of Shavash's, by the way."
     "Is it because of Assalah?"
     The broker shrugged his shoulders.
     "Have you seen the article?"
     ` "What article?"
     Krasnov took a battered yellowish newspaper from a desk drawer and gave
it to  Bemish. The  newspaper was local and Bemish was only able to make out
Shavash's picture and he was barely able to get the paper's name - Red Star.
On the picture, Shavash appeared from the waist up, presenting an outrageous
sight  with a girl,  dressed only in  a  band, coquettishly  tied around her
neck.
     "What is it about?"
     "It is  about the Assalah company investment auction, where a corrupted
and lewd official Shavash settled with  a foreign shark  Bemish to  sell him
Assalah for the price of a rotten melon."
     Bemish took  the newspaper with  him and, in  half  an  hour, he  drove
through Kissur's mansion gate.  The  majordomo  wordlessly walked him to the
living room; excited voices were coming from it. Bemish  entered. The voices
stopped. A  very  beautiful  thirty-year-old  woman, with the eyes, black as
boysenberries, and a black braid tied  around her head, rose to meet him. On
the  coach, dismayed  Shavash pressed  himself  against the pillows. Shavash
hurled the bundle of papers, he held in his hands, to the floor and said,
     "Let  me  introduce you - Terence Bemish - the house mistress."  Bemish
realized that Mrs. Idari, Kissur's wife, was in  front of him  and he  bowed
awkwardly. The woman laughed. Her laughter was akin to a silver bell.
     "Where is Kissur?" Bemish asked stupidly.
     "Kissur is not here," the official answered. "He will fly in tomorrow."
     Bemish suddenly felt himself blushing furiously.
     "I ... I will go... I didn't know..."
     "Please stay," Idari said politely, "I will leave. It is not  befitting
for a woman  to  stay  too long with a  man her husband hasn't introduced to
her."
     She  bowed  and  left  -  only the black braid  tied  around  her  head
glistened in the door. Bemish was looking after her  and blinking piteously.
Then, he turned to the official.
     "Sit down, " Shavash waved his hand, "sit down and eat. Every time this
obnoxious majordomo sees me with his mistress, he would even bring a peddler
to the room."
     The peddler comparison didn't please Bemish.
     Shavash took him by his  hand and walked him to a veranda where a round
table  covered for  two people stood next  to the gold-gilded rails. A plump
maid was  already standing next to a silver hand washing  jar. Bemish washed
his hands and dried them carefully  with an  embroidered towel and, when  he
turned around, the servants were already loading on the table a flat leather
dish with an aromatic mound of chopped steaming meat.
     Having propped himself on the pillows, Shavash watched the Earthman.
     "What is, "Shavash asked, "sticking out of your pocket?
     "The Red Star article."
     "Ahh," Shavash drawled. "These nutcases... Where did you get it, by the
way?"
     "My  broker  showed  it  to  me. Tax  police  busted  him. A  man named
Danisha."
     Bemish got used to Shavash enough to be ready now for an ugly snub from
him. He could  easily imagine Shavash smiling and saying, "Oh, Terence, what
should we do! The Earthmen  allow themselves  so  much  on Weia, it's scary!
These people had three different sets of books and didn't pay any taxes this
year. They can loose the license."
     But Bemish didn't expect to see what happened next.
     Shavash's eyebrows levitated in astonishment.
     "What are you saying!" the small official said. "Verily, if you send an
idiot to bring you water, he will revert a spring to your house!"
     He grabbed a T-phone off his belt.
     "Danisha," Shavash started speaking in the receiver in several seconds,
"what happened to DJ securities?"
     The receiver quacked.
     "I'll  show you three sets  of books," Shavash screamed. "I'll show you
taking the  license away!  You  will  bring  me  the fine,  they  paid  you,
personally. And you will bring me, what Giles paid you! You will bring it in
an hour or you can go away to Inissa as a cheese inspector in two hours."
     Shavash threw the receiver down.
     "Not convincing," Bemish said.
     "I have nothing  to do  with  it,"  Shavash snorted. "I just introduced
Danisha to this scoundrel of Giles."
     "And the Red Sun article is not yours."
     "Come on!" Shavash drawled. "That's disgusting sleaze. I would sue them
but I don't want to get my hands dirty."
     "Well, this article came out just right  for you. Now, you can refer to
the article to  say,  'if I  sell this company to Bemish,  I  will  lose  my
reputation."
     Shavash shrugged his shoulders.
     "I don't even want to listen  to you, Terence. Red Star is the zealots'
newspaper. They tried to assassinate me twice."
     "What zealots?"
     "You saw them yourself while walking with  Kissur -  remember  the iron
people show?"
     Bemish shuddered slightly. As if it's not enough, that  Shavash already
knew  who and when anyone visited Kissur's villa in Assalah! What's he doing
- does he follow Bemish's every step?
     "Where did this iron men story come from?"
     "It  was an old book," the finance vice-minister smiled,  "with an iron
braggart story.  There  was  a prophecy  at the end of the book, that at the
world's  end, plagues, hail and  dishonest officials will come, and the iron
men will crawl  out from  the  underground. I have  to say that  every  time
rebellions  or barbarian invasions happened in the Empire,  the rebels  were
thought to be the iron men. However,  once the rebels  took power, everybody
would  immediately realize  that they  were  not the iron  men.  As  for the
Earthmen -  you don't grab  the power and don't hang your enemies. Can't you
be anybody else but the iron men?"
     "The ones that crawl out from underground?"
     "The ones that crawl  out from the underground, eat  children's brains,
and carry nave  peasants and officials underground,  down  their  bewitched
halls, to inflict visions on them."
     "And how many people believe it?"
     "A lot of people," Shavash said, "peasants, officials, artisans. Hey, I
fired my secretary, Akhhar, because of that, right after our US tour."
     Bemish finally realized that Shavash was making fun of him.
     "Well," he said, smiling,  "you secretary,  having flown to  Earth,  is
unlikely to think that we crawled out of hell."
     "My friend," Shavash said, "Akhhar just considers it to be an allegory,
the wisdom of our ancestors who possessed the hidden knowledge and warned us
about  the  danger.  You  see,  when you  talk  about  science,  you  either
understand how a nuclear reactor works, or you don't. A myth,  meanwhile, is
capable of joining together the  most different people's groups and minds. A
simple peasant  understands the prophecy literally,  while an  educated  man
interprets it metaphorically."
     "And how," Bemish asked, "do the preachers understand the prophecy?"
     "Oh, while  talking to the authorities, they claim  it  is an allegory!
Are they idiots to admit that they know the real truth about the iron men?"
     "It's incredible," Bemish muttered. "Can't  you explain to your crazies
what's really going on?"
     "It's impossible to explain to them, it's only possible to hang them. I
think, however, that if we start hanging people for believing Earthmen to be
demons, than you, the demons, will raise a horrible buzz."
     Bemish lowered his head.
     "Don't feel bad. These  people have  a special  gift of quarrelling not
only with the state but also with each other.  Take cars, for  instance. One
sect will believes  that cars don't exist,  that they are  demonic phantoms,
and that  you are  not moving in a car  but rather  are  moved by  a demonic
force. Another one believes that the ancestors themselves sent  us the cars,
but the iron demons grabbed the gift on the way and used it illegally."
     Shavash picked the newspaper up, waved it at Bemish's nose and said.
     "I am  explaining all  this to you, Bemish, so that you  understand how
difficult it would be for me to get an article published in Red Star, where,
on the top of  it,  they christen me," Shavash squinted slightly and started
translating the text, "a foul dung beetle, "a cockroach with a sack  of gold
instead of the heart," and "the foam of sacrilege..."
     Shavash paused for a moment and unexpectedly added.
     "You know, what my conclusion from the article is?"
     Bemish  couldn't  help  but glance.  The dirty article, as it  has been
mentioned,  was  accompanied  by  the picture  of  Shavash naked  and Bemish
imagined for a moment, what he would feel if he appeared on a newspaper page
in such a saucy way.
     "My conclusion  is  that I should lose some weight.  It's a shame of  a
picture, don't you think so?"



     Bemish was leaving the mansion when a dark  skinned servant reported to
him, bowing.
     "The mistress is expecting you in the Blooming Plums Gazebo."
     Bemish walked into the  garden. The woman that  had  withdrawn from the
room before the dinner was now walking on a white garden path, overcast with
sideways moon shadows, and  the lace  decorating her dress sleeves resembled
moon rays coiling around her wrists.
     Bemish bowed shyly and said.
     "Believe me, I am very sorry that you didn't dine with us."
     "Men  and  women do not  eat  together," Idari  objected.  "Are you the
Earthman that has been buying Assalah via DJ securities?"
     "You  are  informed  surprisingly  well,"  Bemish  muttered  abashedly,
realizing  that  the Idari's husband  is  unlikely  to  even  know  that  DJ
securities exist.
     "Well, if women eat separately from  men,"  Idari  smiled, "it  doesn't
really mean that they don't know anything. Are you married?"
     "I am divorced."
     "Did your wife love you?"
     "She loved my bank account."
     Idari sat down on a  bench in a fluid catlike motion and Bemish heard a
hydrangea bush  rustle against her skirt. Idari gestured Bemish to sit  next
to her.
     "I appreciate everything you have done for my husband," Idari said.
     "I haven't done anything for him," the Earthman objected, "while he has
done a lot for me."
     "You are  the  first man from the stars that he made friends with. It's
so strange that this man belongs to Ronald Travis' circle."
     And Bemish was again quite surprised by Idari's awareness.
     "I thought he had Earthmen friends."
     "Yes.  People who  throw bombs  at  the supermarkets and  use drugs  to
liberate themselves from the corrupting influence of the civilization."
     Idari and Bemish sat very  close to each other. The night had descended
already  but  the  two moons shone powerfully like beacons and  Bemish could
clearly  see  Idari's  profile, a small  head  with the  black braid wrapped
around the head and the hairpins glistening in the moonlight.
     "My husband exerts a great influence on the  Emperor," Idari continued,
"and you may exert a great influence on my husband. It would  have been very
bad for my country, if Kissur had befriended, instead of you, the  people he
had met two years ago on Earth."
     Idari paused.
     "What do you know of our history?"
     Bemish flushed. His  ignorance of everything  related to Weian  history
was  practically absolute, it could only compare to  his ignorance  of Earth
history.  If anything was of  interest to him  on this  planet - it  was the
budget  deficit size or  the central bank  interest rate.  The central  bank
interest rate did not depend on history in any way.
     "Is the name Arfarra familiar to you?"
     Bemish faltered.
     "He was the first minister..."
     "He was the  first minister twice. Once, before  Earthmen. Second time,
after  them.  Once the Earthmen  came to Weia,  the Emperor  appointed a man
named Nan as the first minister. Then,  Nan  was removed - with my husband's
help."
     Bemish vaguely remembered the five-year-old scandal - since the scandal
took  place on  Earth, not on Weia. There  was something  about Kissur - the
Weian  ex-first minister, hanging out on  Earth.  Or was  it on Lann? Amidst
terrorists  and drug abusers. A stolen car, drugs, a beaten  policeman,  the
arrest of a terrorist  activity suspect, a  scandal diligently stirred up by
somebody,  and finally Kissur's  statement that  Nan was the main culprit in
the  tragedy that  happened after the  hijacking of a  military  plane. This
statement played a part in the Earthman-minister resignation.
     "Afterwards,  a  different premier  and  a  different program of  state
investment policy were instated. The taxes were high and the budget expenses
were huge. The only money left in the country was that in the state treasury
and  in  the banks  with  the highest  officials  as the stock holders.  The
workers were not allowed  to  leave the  companies  they worked  for and  to
testify against their owners."
     Idari grinned and added.
     Shavash was,  at that time,  one  of the most active supporters of  the
state investments. He needed to clean his reputation up after his friendship
with Nan and he invented all the programs for  the government,  where  money
just sank in the sand. Three tons of concrete were claimed where one ton  of
concrete was  used; five  kilos  of  paint  were reported where one kilo was
applied.
     Concerning  the laws that enslaved the workers, he wrote  a  memorandum
where he claimed, that  the Weian way  is  different from the Galactic  one,
since an owner doesn't exploit the  workers as  a hired  cattle, but  rather
takes  fatherly  life-long  care  of  them.  It  should have ended  with the
destruction  of  the  country   but  it  ended  with  a  rebellion  and  the
government's resignation.
     Then, Arfarra came in. He cut the state expenses down and rescinded the
employment laws. Meanwhile, my husband  crushed the rebellions in the places
where the governors missed the old times.
     Bemish almost didn't hear, what the woman was saying. The crossed light
bands from the two full breasted moons gleamed on the marble garden path and
silver bracelets like many-winged snakes entwined Idari's wrists, as thin as
ivy twigs.
     "A  bit  later, Arfarra said to a man, named Van  Leyven, that  used to
invest a lot of money in Weia,  "we are selling state constructions now, why
don't you buy Assalah?" - "I won't do that," Van Leyven said, "it's the most
disgusting of all Shavash's feeding troughs." - "Weian  economics improved a
lot  this  year,"  Arfarra  said,  "but  you used  this year to  freeze  the
constructions, sell them to the state  or get  rid  of the stocks via  dummy
fronts.  Why?" - Van Leyven thought for a bit and said. "I invested a lot of
money in Weia and incurred big losses. I staked it all and I  lost. You  let
the time slip by. The people lost their trust to the officials, the Earthmen
and the sovereign. You  are old and sick, what will  happen when you die?" -
"I've been dying for six years," Arfarra got angry, "will you buy Assalah or
not?" - "No." They parted then. Arfarra died the next day.
     Bemish was now listening and holding his breath.
     "My  husband idolized Arfarra," Idari continued, "and  it was extremely
difficult for me to persuade him not to take vengeance on Van Leyven outside
of Weia. He still had to leave  Weia,  since his death  here would have been
certain, and he lost much more money than he had expected. I am saying this,
Mr. Bemish, so that you  realized that profit  and death walk closer to each
other on Weia, than they do on Earth. Especially if you buy Assalah and make
friends with Kissur."
     Bemish returned to the hotel late at night. Dogs yapped far away in the
city,  stars  hung above  the white temple  and, in the next  block,  a  sad
woman's voice was singing something accompanied by a flute.
     Falling asleep, Bemish thought about the woman, with the black eyes and
the black braid wrapped  around her head, and  about the two people  who had
lost their heads over that woman - Kissur and Shavash. He also thought about
Clyde Van Leyven;  he knew a  lot about this man, unlike the other actors of
the  Idari's story. Since, Van  Leyven  was a  billionaire and the financial
community  watched his each step  holding  its breath.  Unlike Idari, Bemish
knew that Van Leyven  almost died half  a year  after the Weian events - the
brakes  on his air  cushioned seven-meter-long  limo failed,  the  car broke
through the rail  and dived  in water from a twenty-meter-high  bridge,  the
driver  drowned,  the bodyguard  broke his head on the front panel,  and Van
Leyven miraculously survived. This story didn't hit the newspapers thanks to
Van Leyven's connections. And now Bemish was  not sure that Kissur  had held
on to his promise not to retaliate outside of Weia.
     The Red Dog tavern was located in a less  than  prominent neighborhood.
Its  entrance was gated by two  snake gods entwining  around two brass  door
poles,  brass  lamps with sparkles swung under the planked ceiling,  and the
wooden walls  were decorated by a  couple dozen signatures and  crosses. The
signatures have been  collected for  the last twenty years and they belonged
to the most famous  literate  thieves of  the current sovereign's  rule. The
crosses belonged to the most famous illiterate thieves.
     At  least two people  from  this respectable  circle  sat in  a  corner
discussing their
     crooked dealings and, upon Kissur's arrival, approached to greet him.
     Kissur   introduced   them   to  Bemish.  The   first   thief,  a  glum
golden-toothed middle aged handsome man extracted a business card out of his
pocket,  where  he was presented as  some  company's director,  and  assured
Bemish, that he would be happy to be  of any  service if Bemish ever  needed
him.
     Hence,  both  thieves,  accompanied  by  their  bodyguards, left in  an
unknown direction. Kissur glumly mentioned that they were going to a meeting
with their  competitors and,  if they were apprehended,  there would be  one
less shoot out in the city.
     "Apprehend them, then," Bemish suggested.
     "Why? Let the spiders devour themselves."
     Kissur  and Bemish had just started on a suckling piglet, rising like a
soft white mountain from a savory sauce sea, when Kissur suddenly raised his
head  -  Kaminsky stood in  front of  him. The  businessman  had a  somewhat
down-hearted look to him.  He  had a huge blue spot under his  eye  - like a
shaman painting himself  before a divination-  and his  hand hung in a  silk
sling.
     "I  came  to  say good-bye,"  Kaminsky  said.  "I  am  flying to  Earth
tomorrow."
     Kissur was looking at him silently.
     Kaminski pushed a chair away and sat down.
     "I was wrong," he said. "Out of all the Weian  officials you are indeed
the only honest one. You didn't want a penny from me. Having  returned, I'll
certainly tell  all  my  friends,  that  there are  two  types of  the Weian
officials - the officials who demand bribes from the  Earthmen  and use them
as pawns in their feuds  and  the  one honest  official who  bathed me  in a
swimming pool."
     "You  will  also,"  Kissur said,  "tell them that you  are an  innocent
victim  of the  dark machinations;  that  you wanted to buy  land for twelve
millions but the officials persuaded you to buy it for a million and a  half
with a knife at your throat."
     "No," Kaminsky said.
     I will not tell  them  what  exactly has  happened. But I wouldn't mind
telling you about  it, ex-minister, to improve your  economics  education. I
arrive here  and go to Khanida, "I would like to  build  a business center."
Khanida is politeness personified.  He pours lavish praise all  over  me. He
has the utmost desire for future collaboration. He praises my  unselfishness
and is so overwhelmed  with it that he offers  me  the land  not for  twelve
million  but  for a million  and  a half.  Reluctant to  engage  in doubtful
dealings,  I  refuse. Well! Twelve million it  will  be. Mr.  Khanida  is so
happy. He says that a base man cares about profit and an honorable man cares
about fairness. He sees both of us  belonging to the honorable people ranks.
I start the construction and invest the money. Meanwhile,  the land is still
not  bought yet - they assure me  - it's a pure formality. On  a nice day, I
visit Mr. Khanida and he starts  the million and a half talk again. I refuse
politely. Khanida  shrugs his  shoulders and becomes  as cold as a frog.  He
says that he is breaking the contract off. I lose it - come on, I've already
sunk big  money in! For  an answer, Khanida  utters  through clenched  teeth
something about exploitators sucking  on Weia's blood  and liver. Then, I go
to Shavash, your dearest friend. He offers  me... it's  enough to  say,  Mr.
Kissur, that he  offers  me  something similar but he wants twice  more than
Khanida. I made a mistake here. I should've turned away and  left. Screw the
expenses. But I felt bad about the lost money. I've  already inhaled  enough
of your stink. I saw that Khanida would do what he promised and I signed the
contract. My  mistake was that  I forgot about  Shavash, who offered me  the
same  deal as Khanida. Shavash was  irritated  that Khanida didn't share the
loot with him. Naturally, the local customs code didn't allow him to  rat on
me  directly. And so, having chosen a right  moment, he  tells you the story
and  you raise the buzz! And this buzz reverberates in  Shavash's  soul with
coins jingling  pleasantly.  And the Empire is left empty-handed  again, and
Shavash is left in  the full confidence  that Khanida will give him half the
money next time, just to avoid the problems!
     Kissur got the checkbook out of his pocket and asked.
     "How much money did you give to Khanida?"
     Kaminsky was astounded, and then, laughed.
     "I don't need your money."
     "Money is the only thing  the Earthmen need. That's why  the Earthmen's
destiny  is suffering, since money not  spent for friends  and  alms  brings
trouble."
     "Where do you get money, Kissur, eh?  You don't trade,  you  don't take
bribes  and you  don't rob passers-by! Where  does the money come from?  The
Emperor just  gives  it to you, doesn't he? And it doesn't cost anything  to
the Emperor - when the treasury runs  out of money, he invents another  tax.
You  call a  man who sells and buys a  criminal, and a man who collects  the
taxes for you, the cornerstone of the state! That's why you won't like it if
a parliament  forms and only parliament can authorize the taxes collected in
this country."
     "Do you want to swim again?"
     Kaminsky took heed.
     "No," he said  bitterly, "I  don't want to swim. You  almost killed  me
that  time. Since you don't have any  arguments other than swimming, I would
rather be silent. But I will advise all my friends on Earth and, by the way,
Terence Bemish, sitting next to you, never, under no  circumstances,  do any
business  on Weia since nothing will come out of  it  besides debasement and
shame. Believe me, Mr. Kissur - I could still patch everything together. But
I am grateful to you that I lost  this money;  I  recalled again that I have
honor and self-respect."
     He turned and walked away.
     Kissur looked at Bemish.
     "Well," Kissur asked, "is he correct?"
     "Yes," Bemish said.
     "Will you leave?"
     "No," Bemish shook his head "I won't leave. You, however, should."
     "Where?"
     "Anywhere."
     "Too late,"  Kissur  replied.  "I applied  to  the Federation  Military
Academy. They didn't accept me. I  am not interested  in any other  place in
your Galaxy, full of worms like a year-old fig."



     The next day, Bemish flew to the  villa, where several members  of  his
team and two LSV employees arrived. They  had a simple task - to develop the
contract's financial shell by the week's end.
     The  bankers worked  day and night. In  two days, a helicopter arrived,
carrying a cheerful and slightly drunk Kissur and a much more sober Shavash.
Kissur  barged in the  central hall  where  the bankers,  having  pulled  an
all-nighter, were finishing the IPO prospectus.
     "You are not asleep, too!" Kissur heartened.  "Where did  you ditch the
girls? Let's drink!"
     And he  banged a jar  of expensive Inissa wine on the table next to the
printer,  spitting out the  financial projections. At  this point, generally
phlegmatic Welsey, scared to  hell by  Kissur, demonstrated a true greatness
of the spirit.
     "Kissur," he said, "I will drink  with  you only after  you  help me to
calculate the cash flow  in the company if the embargo on the Gera  trade is
enacted and the cargo flow decreases correspondingly."
     Kissur was astounded. He was not able to calculate cash flows.
     "C-cads!" he muttered drunkenly.
     Bemish  found  him a girl in the village and returned  to  the  office,
where Shavash  was  waiting for him. Shavash sat  in the armchair next to  a
window looking thoughtfully at the neglected garden.
     "What's your price," Shavash asked.
     "Eight fifty five for a share."
     "Thirty  four million total," Shavash noted. "What are  your investment
obligations?"
     "Sixty million. I am going  to land the first ships in six months after
the construction starts."
     "You don't have any experience building spaceports, do you?"
     "I have  experience involving  professionals  and setting up  financial
contracts, Mr. Shavash.  This company should start bringing in cash  flow in
less than a year, otherwise it will go bankrupt."
     "How are you going to finance the deal?"
     "The banks  provide  ten million  out of ninety  four.  This is  a  ten
percent loan, with the  company property as collateral. Eighty four  million
are financed  through the high interest bonds  issued  by my company ADO and
placed by  LSV  on the intergalactic  exchange  market.  Approximately  four
million belong to me and my friends."
     "So, you risk only four million of your money out of ninety four."
     "I  risk the other people's money and my own head." Shavash reclined in
the armchair.
     "As far as I  know, it's  a standard way  for buying the companies with
existing  cash flow used to pay interest.  While you are  buying a hole that
you need to fill with piles of money."
     "We will try to construct the contract's financial shell in such  a way
that  we  won't  pay anything  this  year. We  are  planning  to  issue some
zero-coupon  bonds  with  a  two  year  maturity  time.  It  means,"  Bemish
explained,  "that the bonds will be  sold at a discount to their  face value
and the  difference between the selling bond price and  the  maturity price,
equal to the face value, will make a profit."
     "Don't take me for Kissur, Terence," Shavash  pointed out. "I know what
zero-coupon bonds are."
     Bemish quacked in exasperation.
     "We  are  also  considering  securities  with  the  alternative  coupon
payments - they can be paid with money or with the new bonds."
     Shavash paused.  Trumpet sounds  suddenly entered the  room through the
window - the shepherd was herding the cows back to the village.
     "That's a risky  affair, Mr.  Bemish. I am not sure if your bond  price
will get to 70% of its face value on the market. What will remain then, from
your so-called eight and a half dinars per share?"
     Bemish swallowed. He knew that the official was all too correct.
     "The  securities  will cost dinar for a dinar,"  Bemish said.  "The IPO
prospectus has a condition, that  the bond  interest will be re-evaluated  a
year after the issue so that the securities cost will be equal to their face
value."
     Shavash paused.
     "It's quite an unusual decision," he said finally.
     "This decision will allow me to lower the cost of financing the deal by
three percent."
     "What if, to the contrary, your securities price falls?"
     "The price will only rise," Bemish said.
     Terence Bemish was so sure of himself that he was not going to frighten
the investors by a predetermined ceiling of  the adjustable rate. As it came
out afterwards, he had signed the death verdict to Assalah project.
     Then, however,  Shavash seemed to be positively impressed with Bemish's
words.
     "There are Weian banks," he  said, "that would be glad  to take part in
this affair and buy your bonds  on a big scale. However, the affair is quite
risky and  you  need  to  sweeten  it  up  a bit. I suppose  that  the large
investors  could have an  opportunity to  buy, besides the bonds,  the stock
warrants for three years - ten shares for  a dinar. You could reserve 20% of
the shares for this purpose."
     Bemish  raised  his eyebrows  slightly. Shavash's idea meant  that  the
warrant's buyer will be able to acquire the Assalah stocks at their  current
price in  three years. Bemish hoped that, in three years, the Assalah shares
will cost hundred times more.
     "So, who will buy the warrants?" Bemish asked.
     "The Weian banks which will acquire the bonds."
     "Can you be more precise?"
     "It will be I and my friends."



     In an hour, Welsey and Shavash  descended to  the  central hall. Bemish
stayed on the upper floor to  take a shower and  change his shirt  - he  had
broken a sweat. When  he  walked down,  Kissur was sitting  in  the hall and
instructing two young Trevis' aides  how to train a  highwayman's horse,  so
that it could find  the road in  the dark and didn't neigh in an ambush. The
bankers  listened  attentively.  Their young  and honest  faces  expressed a
sincere interest. The bankers were used to express a sincere interest to any
client. One could suppose  that setting up ambushes among  rocky gorges  was
their primary occupation.
     "If  the path is rocky, you  should  wrap the  hoofs with felt," Kissur
said.
     He turned around to the sound of steps.
     "Why are you so glum, Terence," he said in Weian, "and why is it all so
dirty?"
     Kissur trailed his fingers in disgust down an expensive pink wood table
- a banker dropped pizza on the table, hurriedly eating it.
     "You  don't  have a woman - that's the  problem,"  Kissur noted. "Idari
says the same."
     The headman, having  noiselessly  approached  on  the side,  bowed  and
quickly popped in.
     "If the lord needs a maid, I have a good candidate - a small official's
daughter, a seventeen-year-old maiden, gentle as jasmine  petals. Her father
was  caught stealing and he is currently under an investigation.  To collect
the money to butter the judges up and secure his daughter's future, he could
sell her for fifty thousand."
     Bemish glanced quickly towards his colleagues - the conversation was in
Weian and they clearly didn't understand it.
     "I'll think about it," Bemish said.
     "There is nothing to think about," Kissur stated. "I'll check  the girl
out and, if she is as good as this scoundrel claims, she is yours."
     A  printer  rattled  at  the  table   nearby  and  the  last  financial
projections crawled out of it.



     When the next night, deathly tired,  Bemish walked up to his bedroom at
two o'clock, he found that he was not the only one there. In the bed, coiled
like  a doughnut, a  cute girl  of about  seventeen  years  age was sleeping
tranquilly. Bemish  pulled the blanket  off  her  and found her  to be quite
naked -  Adani  probably brought her  in the evening and  he  was afraid  of
bothering the  master, busy with calculations -  the girl waited and  waited
some more and fell asleep.
     Once Bemish  raised  the blanket, the girl got  cold  - she woke up and
stared at Bemish with her eyes, large and round like the moon. She had small
budding  breasts with  tiny nipples,  heavy thighs and long white legs.  Her
pubic hair  was shaved off. The  girl  looked  at Bemish  unabashedly, as if
unknown foreigners inspected her, naked, every day.
     "What's your name," Bemish asked, mangling Weian words.
     "Inis."
     "How old are you?"
     "Sixteen."
     "Are you a maiden?"
     "Of course, master. Mr. Kissur has chosen me himself."
     Bemish jerked his eyebrows irritated.
     "How did Kissur choose you?"
     "He took me to Mrs. Idari,"  Inis said, "and the mistress said that you
needed a woman for your body and your house. She checked that I was a virgin
and that I cooked well, and she was satisfied."
     When Idari's name was mentioned, Bemish's hands perspired suddenly. The
girl smiled and added teasingly.
     "She was afraid  of  leaving me to Kissur. She is  a very good wife. Do
you have a wife?"
     Not answering her, Bemish released the blanket and it covered  the girl
again. The thought about Jane destroyed all the pleasure. And also Idari! He
knew  that, while  caressing  the Idari's gift, he would always  think  only
about the gift bearer.
     "Put your clothes on. Ask Adini to find a bedroom for you."
     "Won't we make love?" the frightened girl asked.
     "No."
     "Why did you buy me?"
     "So, that somebody else wouldn't buy you."
     It could  be  a sixty-year-old sadist in  the district  head  rank, who
makes love to his secretaries in his office.
     The girl was upset.
     "If you made love to me,"  she said, "you would give me a new skirt and
earrings but you won't give me anything now."
     "What skirt do you want?"
     "I've just seen one at a fair - a long blue silk skirt, with a "dancing
flowers" embroidering and with three bands along the  lap  with pictures  of
fishes, animals, and birds."
     Bemish  grinned.  "All  they want is  money for the skirts," he thought
about Jane. "Blessed is the world, where they just ask openly for it."
     He lay silently on the bed, in the pants and the jacket.
     "Undress me," he ordered Inis.


     The Fifth Chapter

     Where Terence Bemish is being persuaded to drop out of  Assalah  stocks
auction while Shavash reminds  the visitors that he is not familiar with the
financial term dictatorship.

     One and a half tons of the equipment  (out of the three tons ordered by
Bemish) arrived at the spaceport,  and the  Earthmen were  spending days and
nights there.
     On the third day, the precinct head herded the peasants to fix the road
with old  concrete blocks so that the new White Villa master could drive his
iron barrel from the villa to the construction site.
     The next week Bemish  started  to  search for the missing equipment and
found it at Ravadan spaceport where it had been from the  beginning. He  had
to go to Ravadan.
     Passing by the nearest village, Bemish noticed an unhitched wagon - the
peasants  were  gathering  at  the  wagon and unloading the  planks  for the
assembling stage. It  seemed  to Bemish that the oldster  in charge  of  the
construction  was the same  oldster, who  played a god on the  market in the
capital and tore apart the banknotes Bemish gave him.
     An inspector in  Ravadan claimed  that  the  equipment  containers were
emitting gamma radiation (it happened, rarely)  and that they had to undergo
an  expensive  treatment. Bemish silently gave five thousand isheviks to the
inspector  and, in half an hour, he was organizing the boxes being loaded in
a rented truck. The containers didn't emit any radiation whatsoever.
     The boxes rode  to Assalah,  while Bemish stayed at  the  capital for a
reception given in the honor of the sovereign's ancestor, who had slept with
a mermaid three hundred and forty years ago.
     There were very few women at the reception and Bemish's heart skipped a
beat when he saw Idari  next to  a lighted pool. She had  a black dress with
sparkles and black shoes on. Two heavy  braids entwining her head were  held
by a butterfly shaped hairpin, strewn  with the  pink pearls, and a necklace
of the  same pearls encircled  her  neck.  She  was  talking  to Shavash and
another man, unfamiliar to Bemish.
     "Here you are, Bemish," Shavash turned around. "Let me introduce you  -
the Empire's first minister, Mr. Yanik."
     Bemish had been looking at Idari till then;  he quickly  turned to  the
first minister. He was  a neat senior man with a head, slightly flattened at
the temples, and  grey  eyes,  more  clever than intelligent. He was dressed
accordingly to Galactic fashion. Bemish didn't see anything striking  in his
face and he immediately recalled  the  rumors about Yanik being  a temporary
figurehead, a non-entity,  put  forth  to  the  Emperor,  till  his  patrons
couldn't settle  on a  compromise;  the  non-entity  stuck  to his position,
however, for a longer time, than the patrons had planned.
     "Mr. Bemish would like to buy Assalah spaceport," Shavash said.
     "Where will the money come from?"
     "Mr.   Bemish  expects  to   collect  the  necessary   money  via   the
high-interest bonds, underwritten  on the world market by the well known LSV
bank."
     At that point, a voice came from behind.
     "It  would  be great, if Mr.  Bemish explained  where he will find  the
money to pay the interest if  the  spaceport  doesn't give two  cents in the
first year."
     Bemish turned around. Quite a number of people approached Yanik and the
words belonged to Giles.
     "Mr. Giles' company,"  Shavash explained, "is also participating in the
auction,"
     "The spaceport's  owner," Bemish  said, "will jump out of his pants  to
find  money.  What will  you  do, however, besides buying the shares at  one
price and offering them at the market at another? What will prevent you from
washing your hands?"
     "That's  right," another voice  came in. "Your company's  reputation is
not the best one."
     "Mr.  Rusby,"  Shavash  introduced,  "is  another   investment  auction
participant."
     Bemish and Giles turned around almost simultaneously.
     "It's not for you to talk about reputation," Giles cried out.
     "Who, exactly, is financing your offer?" Bemish was surprised.
     Standing next to  Rusby, the Gera envoy inclined his  head slightly and
said.
     "Several Gera banks support Mr. Rusby."
     "Be careful," Giles grinned, "this man cheated the Galaxy investors out
of one and a half billion."
     "The Securities Commission cheated them out of one and a half billion,"
Rusby objected. "Nobody can blame me  in failing to  pay what I promised, in
unsuccessful investments or in a pyramid scheme."
     Giles went blue in the face.
     "Is it true, Mr. Shavash," he said, "that  the man  who bankrupted  two
hundred thousand investors, is participating in the Assalah auction?"
     "Everybody is participating in the auction," the small official said.
     "Including a rogue supported by the dictator's money?"
     "I  am  not  familiar  with  a financial  term  dictatorship,"  Shavash
replied.
     Bemish  looked  around  and noticed another  witness of  this  ruckus -
Khanadar the Dried Date looked  at him out  of a corner. Bemish quietly came
to him and asked.
     "So, how do you like the business world?"
     Khanadar grinned.
     "Once, twenty years ago," he said, "my comrades and I  were coming back
from a not-so-successful trip. We had been going to pillage  a town but when
we came in, the  town  had  already  been pillaged  and  the  guys, who  had
pillaged  it, drove us away. We were  famished  since we didn't eat anything
for days. Even our horses croaked. Finally, we reached the coast and a town,
and the food and the loot in the town. Then, we got friendlier to each other
and began to hug and  we had tried to keep a ten step distance, before, - to
avoid being eaten."
     "I  see.  So, the Earthmen  resemble you in this trip, before you found
this town."
     "Eh, Terence-rey  (Khanadar used a  respectful  Alom postfix.) We  only
needed three  rolls for  a  man not to worry about being  eaten, but I still
haven't  figured  out  how  much an  Earthman  needs,  not  to  eat  another
Earthman."



     The officials  attended  to Bemish extensively and soon the whole villa
was filled by their gifts - Bemish, however, had to make gifts of his own in
return.
     Shavash  send Bemish a painting as a gift. The painting was done in the
"thousand scales" style with spider web lines drawn on silk; a girl, feeding
from  her hand a dragon that stuck its head out of the water,  was depicted.
The girl  with black  hair and eyes,  big  like olives, resembled Idari  and
Bemish hung  it right above the table in his office. At  their next meeting,
Shavash  praised  Bemish's  taste  and said  that it  was  a  fifth  dynasty
painting,  most  probably,  an  excellent copy of  a  Koinna's  masterpiece.
Bemish, somewhat galled  that the gift  was only a copy, inquired about  the
original's location  and  Shavash, laughing,  told him that the original was
stored  in the palace  and was  fated to an  eternal confinement,  like  the
Emperor's wives.



     "However,"  Shavash  added  with a  grin,  "they  now sell  the  palace
treasures  left and right. I think that nobody reaps as  much  money  as the
custodians of paintings and bowls; at least one third of everything that has
ever been painted and potted in  by Eukemen is stored  in the palace. Nobody
except the Emperor and the custodian in charge has  access to the treasures,
there is absolutely no order there - steal as much as you want."
     The headman heard this conversation and,  arching his body in the usual
way, told Bemish that a far relative of his worked in  the  palace and would
love to meet the Earthman.
     Bemish met  him. The  far  relative appeared  to  be a  small red nosed
official from  the Department of Paintings, Tripods, and Bowls. The relative
showed Bemish color photographs of the astoundingly beautiful  fifth dynasty
vessels and several paintings done  in the "morning fog" style, most popular
at the Golden Sovereign times, and in the  "thousand scales" style. The girl
and dragon painting was not there. Or, more  precisely, it was there and not
one, but several of them - it  was a popular sea prince tale - but  none  of
them belonged to Koinna's hand.
     The official offered Bemish to sell anything the latter  would like and
the price  he asked for the fifth dynasty  last survived silk  paintings was
twice  less  than what  any  modern doodle, sold in Bonn's  galleries, would
cost.
     Bemish thanked the official and refused.



     Kissur arranged for Bemish an audience in the Hundred Fields Hall.
     Bemish left his  car  next  to the Sky  Palace wall and he was escorted
down the sanded paths and fragrant alleys.
     In a light flooded hall, resembling a fragment from  a fairy  tale from
the sky, the officials  whispered, dressed in ancient court clothes. In half
an  hour,  a silver  curtain moved  to the side -  the  Emperor  Varnazd was
sitting on the amethyst throne. The Emperor was dressed in white,  he  had a
sad delicate face with strikingly  made-up eyebrows, rising at the  tips. It
looked like  a silent single  actor play. Bemish thought it to be a very sad
play.
     The curtain soon moved back and the officials dispersed to attend their
own business.
     Bemish  crossed  the  fragrant gardens and exited the  palace gate. The
square  in  front of the  palace  gasped with  heat,  two  half-naked  brats
explored a stinking street rut with their hands.
     Bemish opened his car,  foraged  in  the  glove compartment and  dished
several chocolate  bars  out  to  the brats. They  tore the  wrappers  apart
sinking their rotting teeth into the chocolate.
     "Hey," Bemish asked in his crappy Weian, "do you know what Earth is?"
     "Of course. It's a place in the sky, where we'll go after we die, if we
behave ourselves and obey the Emperor."
     Having  turned the  air  conditioning on, Bemish sat in  the car  for a
while, looking at  the silver beasts on the palace  wall crest,  remembering
the Hundred  Fields  Hall's  immense  luxury,  the golden ceiling  and  jade
columns. "A very rich government of a very poor nation," he thought.



     In  two weeks, Bemish was at  a party that the first minister threw  to
celebrate his birthday. There  was food and binge drinking and girls.  There
was  swimming in a night pond. There were various contracts made  and papers
signed amidst the  dishes with stuffed dates and the dishes  with everything
that was raised in the sky and raised on the ground, these very papers would
normally involve huge  bribes; the bribes,  however, were still supposed  be
paid later. There were also songs and poetry. A ministry of finance official
- was his name Tai? - took something resembling a lute  and  started playing
music and singing.
     Then, a girl  sang a song - it was a very lyrical song. Bemish was told
that an official named Andarz had written this  song about twenty years ago.
He  was  the  police minister  and  he had suppressed  the Chakhar uprising,
having hung everybody who couldn't buy him off and letting off everybody who
could.  Coming  back to the capital, he wrote  the cycle of his  best poetry
about the four seasons. Bemish  felt  chills run  down his spine, he  leaned
over to Kissur and said.
     "This is a great singer."
     The girl  finished  the song  and sat,  by  Kissur's order, on Bemish's
knees.
     Afterwards, they started playing rhymes. Bemish, of course, didn't know
Weian good enough to compose a verse with a given rhyme or to finish a line.
But, somehow,  he  felt that he wouldn't do  any better in English  than  in
Weian.
     A street singer was brought in.
     Bemish  recalled how he was  driving  from the spaceport  and asked his
interpreter - the guy had started as one of the Weians that washed dishes on
the ground - to stop the car. He wanted to look at the street puppeteer with
a crowd gathered  around him on the curb.  The  interpreter answered that it
was "uncultured." Bemish asked what was "cultured," and he found out that it
was "cultured"  for the  whole neighborhood to attend trashy  Hollywood  and
Seilass movies.
     Here, among the  higher  officials, nobody thought that listening  to a
street singer was uncultured.
     The street singer sang praise to the guests and they tossed  money into
his  hat and  showed  him  to  the  kitchen. The officials  started  singing
themselves.
     If only they hadn't sung! Then, everything would have  been fine and it
would  have  just  been corrupted bureaucrats' drunken debauchery. But  they
sang so well! Bemish had a difficulty imagining state  department  officials
coming to their boss's party and singing so well - or signing such papers at
the same party.
     Or was it all related? And will the poetry follow the corruption on its
way  to extinction? Mr. Andars  departed  Chakhar,  burned by him,  for  the
capital and composed his most beautiful poetry cycle  about summer and fall.
He  was  probably  very happy. He probably obtained  a  lot of  booty on the
Chakhar trip.
     Eight years later, Kissur and  Andars found themselves on the different
sides  of the  same sword and Kissur had hung  rebellious  Andars  and loved
listening to his poetry.
     The next week, Bemish arranged a return feast at his villa.
     During the dinner, Shavash kept  glancing at Inis, who  was serving the
guests.  When she, having  provided  the guests  with the  sweets, walked by
Shavash with an empty tray, the official pulled her to himself  suddenly and
seated her on his knees. Inis jumped off hurriedly, upsetting  Shavash's cup
with her sleeve. Fortunately, there was no wine left in the cup.
     Excusing himself, Shavash left earlier than  the others. Bemish  walked
him down.
     Getting in his car, Shavash said.
     "Inis is  charming, Terence. They say you made her  your secretary? She
is as smart as she is attractive, isn't she?"
     "Yes."
     "I will never believe it! Would you like  a  bet -  I  will  take  your
secretary  in  for  two  weeks, and  if I  am satisfied,  I  owe  you  fifty
thousand."
     Bemish was silent.
     "Mr. Bemish!"
     "I can't do you this favor, vice-minister."
     "Let me have her for one night, then. She can choose afterwards."
     "Look, Shavash,  have you  asked Kissur to  let you have  Idari  for  a
night?"
     "How can  you  compare it?" Shavash was  offended. "Idari is a highborn
lady  and what do  you have here? A small  briber's daughter that you bought
for thirty thousand -  they  cheated  you by  charging twice  more  than the
regular price."
     "Get  out  of  here,  vice-minister,"  Bemish said,  "before  you  hurt
yourself over my fist."



     In  the evening, after all the guests had  left, Bemish walked upstairs
to  the bedroom. Inis lay in the bed. Bemish sat  on the  blanket's edge and
the woman, propping herself up, started to unbutton his jacket and shirt.
     "This official,  Shavash,  asked me  to hand you over  to him,"  Bemish
said. "At  first,  he  hoped that I  would  offer you myself and,  then,  he
couldn't hold it any longer and just blurted it out. I almost trounced him."
     Inis shuddered.
     "Don't give me  away to Shavash," she said. "He  is a nasty man. He has
five  wives and a whip  for  each one. He hangs out in red light streets  at
night and locks himself with his secretaries during the daytime - a week ago
a secretary of his hanged himself - they said he embezzled too much. And how
he entertains himself in bawdy houses!"
     Bemish reddened. His knowledge of  Shavash's behavior in  bawdy  houses
was based on  personal observations. And he  doubted his  behavior  was much
better.



     The  next day, when  Bemish walked  upstairs, Inis's room was  empty. A
pale note lay  lonely on the  table. "I hate him. But he called me and  said
that he would hang my father."
     Bemish was at the ministry of finance in an hour. He threw a frightened
secretary away and appeared at Shavash's office door.
     "You scoundrel,"  Bemish  said. "I'll tell Kissur everything. I'll tell
the sovereign..."
     "And the human rights committee," the official nodded. "I don't want to
place you in  an uncomfortable  position, director. I assure you that Inis's
father deserves a rope - I have his dossier here. It's pretty horrible - all
these dirty tricks  that a small, stupid, and greedy briber  can commit, the
dirty tricks that ended with deaths and dishonor. Can you believe that - for
a bribe, he switched some names on the arraignment  orders after the Chakhar
rebellion, he accepted  as  completed a water dam that  burst in a month and
destroyed a whole village. I assure you - if you complain to the  sovereign,
her father will certainly be executed."
     "Give me back my wife," Bemish screamed.
     The official stood up unhurriedly from his armchair, walked  around the
table and stopped  right next to the Earthman. Bemish stared right into  his
attentive golden eyes and long lightly mascara coated eyelashes.
     "What do you want from me?" Bemish said. "Deals? Bribes?"
     Shavash  smiled at  the  Earthman without answering. Shavash was  still
very  beautiful, maybe  slight overweight  for  his height,  and Bemish  was
surprised to notice some grey strands in his hair.
     Shavash  raised  his  hand  slowly  and  suddenly  started to  unbutton
Terence's  jacket.  Bemish  was confounded and  he closed  his eyes. The hot
hands slipped under his shirt and a soft voice sounded right next to him.
     "If you  want  to quench your  thirst,  don't  quarrel with  a  spring,
Earthman."
     Bemish didn't feel repulsion. But he  definitely felt horror. Shavash's
lips  appeared next  to  his  and,  at least  a minute passed,  till  Bemish
realized that they were kissing. Then, a phone rang far away.
     Bemish came back to his senses.
     His jacket was  unbuttoned, the shirt  stood out above  the pants  in a
funny way and something jutted in the  pants. The small  official  stood  in
front of him and looked at the Earthman with laughing eyes.
     Bemish raised his hand lifelessly and wiped his mouth with the palm.
     "Beat  it," Shavash said.  "Take your concubine and  beat it. She bores
me. She mewled in bed all night."
     Bemish retreated crabwise to the door, turned around and rushed out.
     "Button yourself, at least!" the  official  sarcastically shouted after
him.
     Having  torn  out the  office door handle, Bemish  jumped out  into the
foyer.  Something flapped in the air  and a plastic folder fell at  Bemish's
feet with multicolored pages standing out. It was the folder with  the Inis'
father dossier. Bemish snatched it and kept running.



     Nobody believed  that Kissur  would  make  friends with  the  Earthman.
Greenmailer,  par  venue,  gobbler  that  has  recently  swallowed  a  small
automated door
     company with  LSV help  and used it  as  a  step to  swallow  something
bigger;  one of the youngsters, that  Trevis made  his money with - a nobody
without Trevis. This man had  the  crappiest reputation on Wall Street. "The
hungriest  of  Trevis's  scoundrels," the  director  of the  automated  door
company said  about  him after  he  had been fired.  How could  Kissur,  who
considered  a well-behaved president of,  say, Morgan James to be  an usurer
fit for the gallows, be friends with this financial horse thief?
     The friendship between the Earthman and Kissur caused a bit of harmless
gossip  -  everybody  expected  that  either the  Earthman  calls  Kissur  a
pedigreed bandit or  Kissur reproaches  Bemish with  the latter's passionate
avarice. However, Kissur's presenting Bemish with his manor, caused thoughts
and glances in the five main precincts.
     Bemish visited the capital  police prefect to sign a  paper with a blue
line. The prefect congratulated him with the manor, sighed and said.
     "You  shouldn't be so  close to Kissur. Do you know how he launched his
career? He and his seven friends robbed a state  caravan. They killed thirty
six guards and Kissur put  the caravan master's head on a stake, thought the
man was not guilty of anything except having children and an old mother that
he needed to support. Then,  Kissur quarreled with the robbers because their
leader didn't want to step aside for him and he baked the leader in an earth
oven."
     "But now," Bemish quipped, "Kissur doesn't have to rob caravans."
     The prefect passed his hand over his cheek.
     "There  are,  alas, dozens  of people  around Kissur. These people  can
handle weapons, despise bribers and traders and think robbery to be the only
respectable profit  source.  Do you think  that our country is poor  due  to
bribers  and  large  taxes? Alas, our businessmen  don't  pay  money to  the
government, they, instead,  pay money to the bandits who  protect  them from
the other bandits."
     "Nobody," Bemish said, "asked me for the protection money."
     "Exactly," the police prefect said.
     Bemish wanted to grab the damn official by his neck and ask him whether
he was hinting  that  Kissur  was in charge  of  the  capital criminals. He,
however, thanked  him for the signature and  left. Although, Kissur did take
him to  one of the  city's most famous  thief's taverns and  he  was welcome
there  - Bemish learned later that if  he ambled  in this tavern  without  a
pass, he  wouldn't  have just been killed there - the tavern's guests  would
have been fed his body in a soup - that was their cute way of getting rid of
the corpses.



     That  day, Bemish  was in  the finance ministry, at Shavash's. Entering
his office, he stumbled upon a  pale upset man, dressed in standard clothing
but having soft Weian manners.
     Shavash led him into the garden, where fountains and birds chirped, and
ordered a  table  with appetizers.  Somehow  the  conversation  unnoticeably
drifted to Idari, Kissur's wife. Shavash said that  if not for Idari, Kissur
would have smashed his head long time ago.
     "He  loves  her a lot," Shavash  said, sighing. Three  months  ago,  he
feasted the people at her naming day, and he spent three million."
     He paused and added.
     "Where do you think Kissur gets so much money if he doesn't take bribes
and doesn't do any business?"
     "It's the tax police business  and not mine, to know where he  gets the
money,"  Bemish said.  "And it's the sovereign's business, since he bequests
him an oil well or a manor every month."
     Shavash waved his hand and started drinking  tea.  In five  minutes, he
suddenly said.
     "Do you know the man who left just before you came in? He is the Damass
insurance company  director.  It  was  robbed  yesterday. They  took  twenty
million dinars in cash."
     Bemish was surprised - newspapers published nothing about the robbery.
     "Why did they have so much money in cash?" Bemish inquired.
     "That's exactly the problem," Shavash sighed. "That's the question, who
is the company going to pay such a sum of money to - on a holiday evening?"
     He paused.
     "It  will  not appear in the  newspapers. But the  company  was  indeed
robbed."
     "Will it appear to the police?"
     "Yes,"  Shavash said, "since our police - if asked  - will  not inquire
why the company needed this money."
     Bemish finished his coffee and asked.
     "Listen, Shavash, are you trying to tell me  that Kissur robs banks  at
nights or that you, at least, will do your best to convince the sovereign of
it?"
     "Come on,  Mr. Bemish," the official was taken aback, "why did  you..."
And suddenly he tousled his hair. "He is  a madman! If he is passing a house
on fire, he will rush inside to get a  child  out  and, if  he  is passing a
house that's not burning, he will set it aflame."
     Bemish  bit his lip.  The official was lying gently and consciously but
he  was correct on  one point  - Kissur despised bankers  unflappably and he
would approve of a bank  robber. The words "order," "debt,"  and "commitment
to  the  sovereign" were never  far from his lips  but Bemish knew perfectly
well, that this  adherent of order lived his life in such a way that  he far
outperformed any  anarchist and rebel  buff. Kissur  wouldn't rob a bank for
money but the sovereign's  favorite could easily take the money  for fun and
throw it in the next canal.



     In the evening, when Bemish dropped by the hotel, yearning for the food
of  his  childhood  and  hoping to  get  something other  than  a  marinated
jellyfish or a guinea pig burger, somebody called  him. Bemish turned around
and  recognized Richard  Giles and  another  Richard - MacFarlein  -  the IC
people.
     "Drop it," Giles said.
     "What?"
     "Drop  this  project.  You won't  get anything  out  of  it, anyway. Do
something else - build the business center instead of Kaminsky."
     Bemish felt his face paling with rage. It looked like Giles has already
picked up the local officials' manners.
     "I," Bemish said, "have invested too much in this business to just drop
it."
     "How  much  have  you  invested,"  Giles  smiled.  "IC  will  pay  your
expenses."
     "How is that?  Since when do the private companies pay the competitors'
expenses?"
     "You will not win this auction," Giles said.
     Here, McFarlein spoke softly.
     "Mr.  Bemish,"  he  said,  "why  do  you  need  this  planet?  Bribers,
criminals,  heretics,  zealots,  and  now,  terrorists. Have  you heard that
yesterday an Earthman was shot in Chakhar - he owned  several plants. By the
way, the Chakhar governor's  son did  the shooting - a Sorbonne graduate, an
anarcho-communist or something like that. Another lad, an Earthman, was with
him...  "We   will   instigate  a   full-scale  terror  against  the   Earth
exploitators,  weed  the bribers  out  and build the  Crystal Palace on Weia
afterwards,  and erect two monuments in front of the palace - for  Karl Marx
and for the sovereign Irshahchan."
     Bemish  stared at him dumbfounded. "Uh-huh," a thought passed his mind,
"isn't it the same lad who came with Ashidan?"
     And Giles cast a transparent eye and delivered.
     "Yeah. Aren't  you  afraid  to be shot  by  a  heretic, a local  or  an
imported one?"
     Bemish took Giles by a button and said.
     "Listen, Giles, have you seen how Kissur casts a spear?"
     "What does a spear have to do with it?" Giles was astonished.
     "Kissur just casts a spear and the spear runs through a hefty birch all
the way. And today one guy told me that I should keep away from Kissur since
he  robbed caravans and another hinted that I  should  keep away from Kissur
since he robbed banks. And though Kissur doesn't rob  banks - I am sure, you
know, that if I  pass our  conversation to Kissur, and I'll do it, and I  am
killed  afterwards  - then Kissur  will kill you, Mr.  Giles  and  you,  Mr.
McFarlein.  And  he will  assuredly kill you -  nobody  has  heard yet about
Kissur wanting to kill somebody and failing."
     Giles stepped  back. Clearly,  he didn't like all that  much  the words
about the spear and the birch.



     Richard Giles walked upstairs  to his  room still under the  impression
from the  conversation in the  hall. Whistling through his teeth,  he dialed
the  personal Shavash's line number - no secretaries - and, in two  seconds,
he said in the receiver.
     "This son of a bitch, Bemish - are you still going to  admit him to the
auction?"
     "I  guarantee  you,"  Shavash  replied,  "that  this man  is absolutely
harmless. Everything will happen accordingly to our plan."
     "Harmless?" Giles screamed. "Do  you know that half of  his inquires on
Earth deal with IC? Do you know what he told Kissur?"
     "I know," Shavash said ironically, "if I am  not mistaken, you got  the
taped conversation from me."
     "Damn it! Yes, that was you. Anyway, do you  think that's fine? What if
Kissur repeats these words to the sovereign? Where will we be then?"
     "What do you want?"
     "Take action."
     "I will not take any action," Shavash said, "causing your newspapers to
write that the Empire is an unsafe place  for foreign investors. If you take
such an action, you will not get even the tiniest piece of Assalah, not even
the size of a melon seed. Have I made myself clear?"
     "Very clear," Giles muttered.
     "You have no reasons to be nervous," Shavash said.
     "No reasons? What if he just buys the damn company?"
     "You  will have  to  offer a bit  more for  the  shares. Nine point one
dinar, at least. You have to agree  that I just can't give the  company away
to an investor that paid twice less for it. Everything has a limit."
     "Son of  a bitch," Giles said, slamming the  receiver down. "He is just
using this Bemish to squeeze more money out of us. Nine point one! How can I
get a clearance for this money?"
     "No  problem," his companion said. "We can  use an alternative approach
and deflate his ego meanwhile."
     "Have you heard, what he said?"
     "I heard it. I said - a totally alternative approach. Who finances this
Bemish guy? Trevis..."
     Bemish left  the hotel for the city.  He spent some time in the  temple
that he had visited with Kissur and descended to the tavern. A young man met
him in the tavern.
     The young man offered to sell him twenty thousand Assalah shares at six
hundred a piece.
     They bargained  a bit  and  Bemish bought the  shares  for five hundred
eighty.
     Bemish silently  pulled the checkbook out and tore of a  check that was
already  filled with  the  correct  number.  The young  man  looked  at  him
respectfully and said.
     "How did you know what price we would agree on?"
     Bemish  grinned. He had three checkbooks in his pockets and all of them
had the  first check filled  out - the other two checks Bemish would feed to
the garbage burner in an hour.
     Bemish signed the check and gave it to the youth.
     "Would you like to eat?" Bemish asked.
     "I'd rather go."
     "Hold on. How did you get the shares?"
     "They are not mine, they belong to my uncle."
     "How did your uncle get them?"
     "He bought them."
     "Why did he buy these shares in particular?"
     "He bought a lot of securities."
     "Why did he decide to sell them?"
     "He needs money urgently. He got sent to prison."
     "Why?"
     The youth pointed at his basket.
     "Because of the Assalah shares?"
     "The  investigator  was   asking   him  about   these   shares  at  the
interrogation. He hinted my uncle that he would let him go if my uncle gives
the shares to a higher official that would like to acquire them."
     "Shavash?"
     "Don't say it out loud. It works this way, Mr. Earthman -  while a word
is in your mouth -  you are its master,  and when the  word  is out of  your
mouth - it is your master."
     "Why didn't your uncle give the shares to the official?"
     "He  went nuts,  when he  heard it," the  youth said.  "He said that he
would give these shares to a man that can kick the official in the butt."
     "He could sell them cheaper, then."
     "No. The jailers  take too much. Good food in the  jail costs more than
in the  best restaurant, you know. Also, very  strict orders  concerning  my
uncle have been given  and  the jailers charge him  a higher price for being
benevolent."
     "Oh, well," Bemish said.  "It could  be worse,  two million for half  a
percent."
     The youth hesitated.
     "It's actually,"  he  said,  "no  more  than twenty five hundredth of a
percent."
     "Whaaat?!"
     "Don't you know that? Half a year ago,  when the share price  was lower
than  the  moon  in a well, Shavash secretly  issued additional  shares  and
distributed them among his friends."
     "Secret shares?!!"
     "What's wrong with that?"
     "Nothing, this  is first time  in my  life when  I  stumbled upon  this
particular type of securities manipulation. And how  many  shares  have been
issued?"
     "I don't  know. Some people say that it  was a million and a half, some
people say that it was two million."
     "Who says that? Where could I find this out?"
     "Promise not to refer to my uncle's name."
     "I don't know his name, how can I refer to it?"
     "Still, promise it."
     "Ok."
     "I think  that the  Assalah  district chief judge has  these shares and
knows a lot."



     Bemish  returned to  Kissur's  villa  late  at night. He  almost always
stopped there now when he visited  the capital. He wanted to see Idari  more
often.
     A phone call woke Bemish in the middle of the night.
     "Yes?"
     "Terence?"
     Bemish  almost jumped up.  The  LSV director was talking  to  him  from
Earth.
     "We have a great offer for you," Trevis said, "the Union  Disk company.
They make laser disks. Get here. It can be bought."
     "I am working on Assalah."
     "It's not a promising deal. We will not finance it."
     Bemish fell apart inside.
     "Ronald! You guaranteed it..."
     "We will pay you the forfeit."
     "I don't need the forfeit, I need Assalah."
     "Get back to Earth," Trevis said, "and we will talk about Union Disk."
     "What should I do with the Assalah shares? I bought 17%!!!"
     "Sell them. It's your profession."
     "If you don't finance this deal, I will find another company."
     "You will not find  another company,  Terence, because no other company
lets you on their doorstep. You are nothing, Terence. You are  a greenmailer
with twenty  million dollars in  your pocket. We made you. Nobody else needs
you.  You are a  financial pirate.  I will be waiting for you tomorrow in my
office, at fifteen thirty. If you don't get stuck in traffic, you  will make
it."
     And Ronald Trevis put the receiver down.



     Bemish turned the light on, put the clothes on and sat at the table. He
sat there for a while, till he heard the door creaking. Bemish turned around
-  Kissur  and  Khanadar  the  Dried Date walked in. Khanadar  looked  quite
dashing in  black  laced pants and  a brocade barbarian jacket. Kissur had a
grey suit and a tie on.
     "Hey," Kissur said, "it's fantastic that you are not asleep. We decided
to get some kicks in a pub. Let's go."
     Bemish was silent.
     "What has happened  to  you, Terence? You look  like  a fly  in  insect
spray!"
     "I am screwed," Bemish said. "Trevis refuses to finance the deal."
     "Why?"
     "I  don't  know.   I  don't  know  where  Shavash  got   such  powerful
connections."
     "I see. What are you going to do?"
     "I am going to sell the shares. I don't have any other choice."
     "Are  you going to  sell them at the higher price  than you bought them
at?"
     "Naturally... I hold a large  block. I can make  IC's  life hard  if it
doesn't buy it at the price I want. If I, for  instance, appeal IC's actions
in  an  international  arbiter  court,  it  will  get into  one  hell  of  a
trouble..."
     "It's called greenmail, right?" Kissur specified.
     "Yes."
     "Shavash was right, then," Kissur said.
     "How  dare  you!"  Bemish shouted,  leaping up -  and  he  saw Kissur's
contorted face in front of  him and  the white  knuckles on his fist. Bemish
managed to duck the first punch. The second one threw him  off the chair and
to the floor. Bemish somersaulted and bounced back on his feet, the Kissur's
boot square tip missed his ear by a centimeter.
     Bemish had a chance of holding his own against Kissur but Khanadar  the
Dried Date was also in the office.
     "Dumb  jerk,"  Bemish screamed getting  in  a fighting  stance but here
Khanadar  grabbed  him by  the  elbows. At  the  next moment,  Kissur's knee
collided with  Bemish's  groin; Kissur  turned and kicked Bemish in the  ear
with the same  leg. The  Earthman  collapsed to the floor. Kissur sat atride
him and started to choke him.
     "Haven't I  told  you,"  Kissur  hissed  sitting  astride  the expiring
Earthman, "that I would kill you?"
     Bemish   grunted  and  hissed  striving  to  say  something.   Khanadar
approached and stood next to them.
     "Let him go for a second," Khanadar said, "let him admit that he wanted
to cheat us  from the very beginning.  He thinks it's a planet he can take a
good crap at."
     Kissur grinned and loosened up the clench.  Bemish lay like a worm on a
garden path.
     "Idiot," the financier coughed, "I wanted to buy Assalah."
     An atrocious kick with a boot in the ribs silenced him.
     "Again."
     "I wanted to buy Assalah. Trevis was ready to finance the deal. I don't
know why he refused. He was browbeaten."
     Another kick followed, this time it was the groin.
     "Liar! Trevis didn't refuse  anything. You were  playing your  favorite
game! You took us for worms, didn't you?"
     "I wanted to buy Assalah. Trevis was browbeaten."
     "Who?"
     "Shavash."
     "Yeah? Why wasn't it IC?"
     "IC has  headquarters in an Arkansas dog's kernel.  Their balls are too
small to push Trevis around. They should buy a new fax machine first."
     "Why is Shavash afraid of you?"
     "Shavash wants  a  buyer who will blink at all his frauds. It was not a
company - they were just pumping the budget money into private pockets! Last
year Shavash secretly issued more bonds! I think that this goes against even
the bizarre local securities regulations."
     "What is "secret bond issue?"
     "I don't know. I have never stumbled upon such a financial product as a
secretly issued bond in  all my life. But, basically, it  means that Shavash
re-divided the company accordingly  to his wishes - he gave his friends more
and he devalued the stocks belonging to his enemies or bystanders."
     "What about the state's share?"
     "It depends on how many additional shares the state obtained."
     "He  is  lying  through  his teeth,"  Khanadar said.  "They  would have
arranged  it with Shavash about thieving. He was going to  cheat us from the
very beginning."
     "No!"
     "All  right,"  Kissur  said.  "I  will  believe you but  only  with one
condition. You will sell  the company shares  at the  same price  you bought
them."
     "No."
     Kissur  grinned  and took one of the swords hanging in the  room from a
prop. He got it out of the sheath  and pushed its triangular tip in Bemish's
throat.
     "Yes, or I will kill you."
     Bemish licked his  lips. He didn't  doubt that Kissur would  kill  him.
It's stupid. Terence Bemish, a successful financier, half-crook half-genius,
had  never  considered ending his life  in a huge city  manor  of  an Empire
ex-minister -  in the manor, where not a single servant would ever blurt out
anything about  his fate or, to the  opposite,  all the servants would swear
that Bemish left the manor gate whole and unhurt... Nobody would ever  prove
anything. Even Shavash  would not kill him. Not because he  minded  killing,
but because he was a rational man and he  clearly  would not want Weia to be
declared  a  place  where  foreign investors were  found with their  throats
cut...  Nothing is  cheaper than  hiring  a killer.  But Shavash didn't kill
Bemish, he  went  for  Trevis  instead - it was an  order of  magnitude more
difficult and expensive...
     "If I don't sell the shares  with a rake-off,"  Bemish  said, "I'll  go
bankrupt. They will point their fingers at me. I will not do what you want."
     "Take your knife,  Kissur, and cut his balls off, " Khanadar  said, "it
doesn't befit you to dirty your noble sword by a money-grubber."
     "You wanted that from the very beginning, didn't you?"
     "No, I wanted to buy Assalah."
     "How much do you need to buy Assalah?"
     "If only half of my  potential creditors fulfill their promises without
Trevis, I'll need five million."
     "I will find this  money,"  Kissur said, throwing the sword back in the
sheath and he left.


     The Sixth Chapter

     Where  company AC  declares its real  name  while Mr. Shavash  mentions
several unexpected thoughts about democracy's drawbacks.


     The announcement of  the investment auction for the acquisition of  the
state-owned block of shares was published in the government's White Herald a
day before  the  application  deadline.  The announcement mandated that  the
auction participants should turn in a  deposit of 6% of projected investment
and should demonstrate  reliable  proof of being able to fulfill the assumed
financial obligations.
     Trevis  hadn't called  Bemish since - it was below his  dignity. On the
other hand, the  corporate  financing department head called and told Bemish
that he didn't need to hurry back to Trevis' headquarters since  he wouldn't
be received anyway.
     The next day, Bemish stepped  out of a luxurious limo that  arrived  at
the ministry of finance, formerly first minister Rush's palace.  A crowd was
already there, including the  local  financiers who, having heard  about the
Assalah  fray, were  willing to  risk  taking part  in  the auction.  Kissur
appeared in the registration hall at almost the same time as Bemish.
     Shavash, the director of the company offered for tender, ignored Bemish
utterly. He was talking to an Earth journalist. The subject of the  talk was
the importance of  foreign investors - only  they  were  able to force Weian
companies to correspond to  international audit standards and  raise  Empire
finances to a new level.
     Bemish silently watched the  official  registering his application  and
entering the  necessary  financial contrivances into the  computer. What  if
this bastard makes an error  and Bemish won't be allowed  to participate  on
technical grounds.
     The  official finished the registration, shoved an embossed sheet  with
the application in the printer and, having printed everything, carried it to
Shavash  for  a  signature.  Shavash,  without  being  distracted  from  the
progressive interview, signed everything.
     Bemish moved away to a small table where, by Weian custom, fruits and a
special bowl constantly filled with peach  juice stood. The juice filled the
bowl through  a special  tube and symbolized the everlasting plenty.  Bemish
poured some juice in a cup and here Giles approached him.
     "Can I ask you where you got the money?" Giles enquired.
     "The investment company Plana offered me credit."
     "What kind of company is it?"
     "It's a company located on Gera," Bemish replied gloating.
     "A company located on  Gera? Why not a company  located  in  a  devil's
arse? When did it come to being, yesterday?"
     Bemish looked at his watch.
     "To be precise, it came to being today, three hours ago."
     Meanwhile,  Shavash  finished his enlightened interview  and led Kissur
aside.
     "Did you," he asked, "loan Bemish money?"
     "Am I a usurer?" Kissur was offended, "to loan money? It was a gift."
     "You were born of  a Barsharg goat!" Shavash swore.  "This is the  last
you'll see of it."
     "Let's see," Kissur said, "who wins the auction."
     Here,  another  Earth  journalist  approached Shavash  and the  company
director started repeating how only a scrupulous foreign investor could save
Weian economics.
     By the evening, the  bored journalists, hanging out  at the cafe, could
record in their  notebooks that  three  companies  were  interested  in  the
state's  offer  -  Bemish's ADO,  IC  Corporation,  and Rusby  and C  - were
offering to buy the shares out first and to finance the  construction out of
the galactic  company resources  afterwards.  Five or  six large  investment
banks  were  also  interested. They were not going  to  buy  Assalah  shares
themselves.  They mostly  offered to  the government various alternatives of
convertible  bonds  that  these  banks  would  distribute  to  the  Galactic
investors - the bonds would be converted, at  some date,  to Assalah  shares
now belonging to the state. Such a large number of investment bank aspirants
had surprised Bemish at first but he was told later that actually his modest
person was the  source. The  players on the  fund  market  ferreted out that
Terence  Bemish  was  going to buy  some  blip-blop limited in  some  banana
republic, decided  that it  had to be a swell deal and followed him like the
honey gatherers follow a bee.



     A phone call from Kissur woke Bemish up at 3am.
     "Hello, Terence. The investment auction is cancelled.  Two hours, after
the applications had been submitted, Shavash sold 51% of state-owned Assalah
shares to IC Company at five and a half dinars per share."
     "What do you mean sold?" Bemish choked.
     The line went off.



     Fifteen minutes later, a car stopped under the hotel windows and Kissur
jumped out of it.
     "Dress," Kissur said. "We are going to the sovereign."
     "Why?"
     At this point, the phone rang again. Bemish picked up the receiver.
     "Terence, this is Shavash. Call your complaint off."
     "What complaint?"
     "Don't pretend. Call off the complaint that you  wrote to the sovereign
requesting to arrest me for bribery."
     "Have you lost your mind? I've never written this crap!"
     "Terence, if you go to the sovereign you will be squashed flat. You can
forget about working  in a bank -  they  won't hire you as  a cashier  in  a
supermarket. Got it?"
     "I haven't..."
     Shavash slammed the receiver.
     "I signed the complaint for you, Bemish," Kissur said.  "The  sovereign
will examine it at this morning audience."
     Bemish grabbed his head.
     "Oh, my  God, Kissur are you nuts? If you don't have mercy for me, have
mercy for your own country!"
     "I have mercy for my country,"  Kissur said. "You explained to me, what
IC is  yourself.  They will just rob us and that's it. Or, were you  bulling
me?"
     "I didn't bull you, Kissur. Just get it - the contract has been signed.
That's it. Finita la comedia.  These stocks  are IC's property. If they find
out  that an international company can have its  property taken away from it
on  your planet just  because some authorities think that  some bribes  were
involved, you will not need any spaceports  anymore! No financier  will ever
come here! It's worse than tank trips over a joint company. "
     Kissur  stuck out  his lip stubbornly. Clearly, the threat that no more
dinar and dollar fans appear in the Empire, didn't frighten him much.
     "Get it, you stupid idiot, that any losses resulting from  Assalah sold
off incorrectly won't  even come  close with the losses  resulting from  the
cancellation  of a completed contract.  I will not even mention  that nobody
will let me back to LSV. I will not  even mention that IC is  totally in its
right to  sue me in arbitration court  even  if I get  your complaint thrown
back at my face!"
     "But I will say that it's my complaint."
     "And they will, of  course, believe you on  the spot," Bemish waved his
hand. "Well, leave me alone for these three hours."
     "What are you gonna do?"
     "Think," Bemish said.



     Exactly four hours later, Bemish, accompanied by Kissur walked down the
sovereign garden's paths to a small six  room  pavilion. Above the  pavilion
entrance,  a  flag  with an inscription Fairness and Concentration Hall  was
swaying.  Two golden peacocks  of wondrous  craftsmanship guarded  the inner
hall  entrance. The  sovereign  Varnazd  sat in  a down armchair  next  to a
window. He wore a long white dress, with wide sleeves fastened at the wrists
by pearl clasps and, uncovered, his face, thin as onion  undergarment peels,
looked somewhat lost and nave.  Shavash followed Bemish into  the  hall and
first minister Yanik  also came in.  Shavash and Yanik  were  draped in  the
ceremonial kaftans with  all their rank insignias  -  Bemish had  never seen
them before. A red fiery dragon, with rubies sewn in his claws, on the first
minister's dress dazed him unexpectedly  and Bemish suddenly felt  something
he had never suspected before - a certain meagerness of  his impeccably made
cashmere  wool suite compared  to the  red  dragon  with  the ruby decorated
claws. As for  Kissur, he was dressed  the same way as he had been  earlier,
visiting Bemish, - in ragged leather pants.
     "You filed  a complaint, Mr.  Bemish," the sovereign said,  "could  you
describe how you were mistreated."
     "I  didn't  file  this  complaint," Bemish  said.  "And, having certain
business   ethics  views,   I   consider   it   impossible   to  request   a
re-consideration of a completed contract.  However, I have a question to Mr.
Shavash - what  was your decision to  cancel the investment auction based on
and what was your decision to sell the company for a three times less money,
than I offered, based on?"
     The sovereign turned to the vice-minister of finance.
     "I would like to hear your answer, Mr. Shavash."
     "We  didn't cancel the  auction," Shavash stated. "We just ran  it on a
shorter time scale. Considering Mr. Bemish's application, we judged it to be
incomplete since LSV investment bank, which had been  expected to underwrite
the bonds, and several other large commercial banks, which had been expected
to  advance  credit to Mr. Bemish, pulled out having realized that the offer
had been overpriced.
     "After some investors pulled out, I found others!" Bemish cried out.
     "The  company from  Gera, that loaned  money to  you,  doesn't have any
credit  history  and  is  very  suspicious.  SC  Trading  that  promised  to
distribute your  bonds  is  a tiny  investment boutique  with absolutely  no
authority on  the capital market. We doubt that the bonds distributed by  it
will be worth more than fifty cents for a dinar. Therefore, your application
is comparable with that of IC."
     Shavash paused and continued.
     "Meanwhile, Mr. Bemish's actions clearly  demonstrated that  he was not
going  to  acquire Assalah.  Long  before  his arrival, he had  been  buying
Assalah  stocks  through  several  companies.  Violating the law, he  didn't
register the fact that he owned  in reality more than 13% of Assalah stocks.
The only  goal of his actions  was  to  put  pressure  at the future company
management so that  they would  acquire the  stocks at  a  higher price.  To
achieve this purpose Terence Bemish didn't shrink from anything. A foreigner
ignoring  the ways  and customs  of  our country,  thinking only  about  his
rake-off,  - he  abused his  position as a  manor owner forcing the peasants
present  him with their  shares.  Using his  highly placed  connections,  he
browbeat a local official into giving him the Assalah shares that the latter
acquired when their price was forty ishevik a share;  afterwards, he had the
gall to  fire  the official. Since Terence  Bemish violated  the regulations
regarding share block registration, I  demand the companies  Raniko, Alvisir
Trust  and LLA  be  removed from  the Assalah  stock owners list without any
compensation. "
     The Emperor raised his hand.
     "These are serious accusations, Mr. Bemish. Can you answer them?"
     "Can I answer them? Of course! Shavash has just mentioned 13% of shares
that the  peasants  had  received  free of charge as  compensation  for  the
spaceport construction taking place on their land. Would you really  believe
that  Shavash  waited for  me to seize the stocks from  the peasants? Yes! I
confiscated  the stocks  from the official  and I  didn't pay him anything -
because I was  going to return these stocks to the peasants. Shavash accuses
me of violating the local  securities regulations. It would have taken place
if  Raniko  had owned  more than  5% of  shares  and  hadn't  registered it.
Otherwise, there  are no  violations  involved.  Unlike  me,  Shavash can be
accused  of  many  things,  most  importantly,  that  when the  stock  price
plummeted  to   the  minimum,  Shavash   secretly  issued  more  stocks  and
distributed  them among his  friends. Weian securities regulations are quite
bizarre but those  actions are criminal even  here. I will be bold enough to
claim  that IC  was aware of this outrage  taking place and that nothing but
this thievery caused Mr. Shavash to sell the company to the people that will
not make any complaints.
     "Can you answer these accusations, Mr. Shavash?" the Emperor asked.
     "Of course,"  Shavash said. "I will,  however, need  a computer  with a
CDROM."
     It  took  a moment, for  a CD  player  (instead  of a computer)  to  be
delivered to the room. Shavash fished a disk out of his pocket,  inserted it
in a slit and pressed a button.
     An open tavern veranda appeared  on  the  screen, together with a table
and  a window.  Bemish sat at  the  table  with  a  small man - tensing,  he
recognized the  palace  official offering him the  paintings from the Empire
treasury on sale.
     The official pulled several photographs out  and Bemish started to leaf
through them. The camera zoomed in on the photographs  where Bemish suddenly
saw  the Koinna's painting. Then, Bemish pointed at a girl and a dragon with
his finger and he chose several more photographs. The official nodded.
     Then,  the  camera  glanced  over  a group of people delivering several
boxes to Bemish's villa and zoomed in on a girl and a dragon in his office.
     "This man talks about ethics," Shavash said, "buying, meanwhile,  for a
thousand  dinars the  paintings  that cost millions - the paintings from the
forbidden  chambers that  a  mere  mortal  could  not put his eyes  on!  The
Koinna's  painting is  a national treasure, this painting  numbers among the
palace's  first  hundred  sacred  objects,  the  Emperor's ancestors brought
bloodless sacrifices and prayed for  the dynasty  fortune  in  front of this
painting  -  in his gall,  this man hung this painting above his table -  so
that  the two founders of the Alom dynasty could look at the  doughnuts that
the Earthman eats at his table assessing the Empire value at his computer! I
don't know,  what punishments fit the  exchange brokers,  but nobody has yet
rescinded the law  about palace thieves  having their  guts  torn  out!  And
nothing is written there about exceptions being made for Earthmen, since the
law was enacted four hundred  fifty years ago when the Empire was the center
of the world and nobody heard  a whisper yet about all these people from the
skies!"
     The  first  minister  Yanik  even  clicked  his  tongue  in  admiration
listening  to  Shavash. Unlike  the  Earthmen, he  knew  very well that  the
sovereign was indifferent to securities and uranium mines, that he knew very
little about, but  that he  was  enraged to  the utmost  by  palace robbery;
almost everything  stolen had not only artistic  value but  was also sacred,
and the ignorance of the Earthmen buying invaluable objects for a penny hurt
the sovereign to his heart.
     "You gave me this painting!" Bemish shouted.
     "I  gave  you  a  copy, while  you arranged  it  with  the  thieves  to
substitute it for an original!"
     "You are a piece of shit  and a scoundrel," Kissur screamed at Shavash.
"And this tape is a fake."
     "I am ready  to  submit  this  tape  to  an international examination,"
Shavash  claimed,  smiling, "with  experts'  opinions  published  in all the
newspapers."
     Giles quietly leaned towards Bemish and whispered.
     "They warned you, Bemish, that they would flatten you  into the ground.
That they would make  egg powder out of you and send  it as humanitarian aid
to Ganaya lizards. Do you understand that you stand a chance to be hanged?"
     "Can I have your complaint, please, Mr. Bemish?" the Emperor said.
     Bemish  sat completely  dismayed. He was close to bursting into  tears.
Shavash smiling impudently pulled the  folder out of his  hand and handed it
to  the sovereign.  The  sovereign  took  an ancient  quill dusted with gold
powder and signed the  complaint. Then, he  took the seal, showing a  dragon
catching its tail, off  his  neck, pressed the seal to  a pad saturated with
incensed phoenix's  blood  ink  and  stamped it  on the paper. He handed the
sheet over to Bemish and said.
     "Accept  my  congratulations, Mr.  Bemish - I relieved Mr. Shavash from
the company director position and appointed you at this post."
     "But sovereign," Shavash exclaimed with indignation. The sovereign spun
and his embroidered sleeves cuffed Bemish in the face.
     "Be silent, vice-minister. I do not need foreign experts to tell me who
is the scoundrel - you or the Earthman! And  if you dare show your tape even
to a frog in a road ditch, you will lose more than Assalah!"
     Bemish picked the paper sheet with a lifeless hand, glanced  at  it and
noticed with  astonishment that  the order was  dated with yesterday's date.
The  papers  asserted  that  Shavash had  been  fired before  he signed  the
contract with IC.
     Pale with spite, Shavash silently stood up and left the room.
     "Could you, kindly, leave  me,  gentlemen," the sovereign said  smiling
sadly. "You tired me out. Kissur, visit me tomorrow morning."



     Bemish  was  too shocked  to  think  coherently.  Having  departed  the
pavilion, he  dragged  himself  to a rocky pond, where  white-bellied  seals
splashed, and slumped on a flower hill, probably breaking all  the etiquette
rules. The question was - what should he do next?  Next, Terence Bemish, the
Assalah state company director, will sell this  company to  Terence  Bemish,
the  ADO  director.  Dammit,  Assalah  has  to   be  sold  to  ADO  so  that
intergalactic, instead of Weian,  securities land on the market... What will
the business  ethics committee  say?  Having  watching  the tape... A shadow
stood above his shoulder and Kissur slumped on the grass nearby.
     "It's very clear,"  Kissur said, "that  you  haven't smelled shit. They
used to say that  I had fish scales on my sides and my ears grew together at
the back of my head - big deal, a spliced tape."
     "He was ready to submit the tape to any examination,"  Bemish said. "He
was not  bluffing. Do you  understand what  it  means? Where did he get  the
hardware  to  bake a  forgery  that  can withstand any  examination?  Do you
understand that this hardware was not acquired for a single usage, that this
hardware was  not  acquired for me,  it was acquired for you, for Yanik, for
the other local officials..."
     "Well," Kissur said,  "we need to wash this deal  down. Let's  go  to a
pub."
     And they went to a pub.



     It was  dark when they  left the  pub, and large  constellation bundles
shone in the sky faded like an old watercolor, so alien to Bemish, and a man
in a summer silk suit and white  jacket dallied leaning on a long car shaped
like a water droplet.
     "I will give Mr. Bemish a ride," the silky man said. He raised his head
and Bemish recognized the small official.
     They sat silently on the back seat.  The car started. Shavash dug a fat
package from under his feet and handed it over to Bemish.
     "What is it?" Bemish said.
     "This  is the  company documentation.  You have  seen  most of it,  new
director. This is the original tape; you can throw it in a brazier tonight."
     And the small official handed the laser disk box to Bemish.
     "Are you sure that  it's really  documentation," Bemish inquired,  "and
not a  remotely controlled  bomb, two hundred thousand in Gera currency or a
drug load I will be arrested tonight for possession?"
     The small official was silent.
     "Damn you," Bemish said, "if, perchance, your Emperor had woken up in a
different mood today, I could have been hanged  for real.  I should hate you
for your tricks."
     "And I should hate you."
     "Me?"
     "All of you, Earthmen."
     "Why? What have we done to you?"
     "What? Do you know what  it means to be  an official of the Empire that
owns the world, and suddenly this Empire appears to be a pebble  on a beach,
crummy and penniless as well?"
     "We,  at least, left  you  free,"  Bemish  noted,  "but would  you, Mr.
Shavash, like this country to  be  occupied by another empire and you  being
turned into a slave who rubs his owner's back?"
     "That's exactly right. You left us free. If I became a slave and rubbed
my owner's back, I would be a  headman  there in  two years and  I  would be
manumitted and appointed  to a minister position in two more  years. But you
left  us  free and I  can become  the first minister on Weia with no problem
but, you have  to agree,  that even if I emigrate - what is the chance of me
becoming a Federation Assembly member?"
     Bemish  gaped.  He had  not  met  yet  such  an interpretation  of  the
fatherland independence concept. They drove in silence.
     Parting with Bemish at the hotel cabin gate, Shavash suddenly grinned.
     "You have a guest, don't you? I will not hinder your meeting."
     Indeed, a white like goose down Volvo  dallied  next  to trimmed bushes
and a  man with a colorless face  dressed in a cream colored  suit - Richard
Giles - walked back and forth the terrace. Bemish drew himself together.
     "Good  day," Giles  rendered,  "I have been  waiting  for you for three
hours."
     "Why did you come around?"
     "I came," Giles said smiling, "to offer you a job in our company."
     "Why is that?"
     "Why  not?  We have a history of several projects that were carried out
quite successfully..."
     "You  are nuts," Bemish said,  "three  blown  soap bubbles in countries
kicked out of UN..."
     "Oh-oh,"  Giles interrupted him, "Nika and Sadun have joined UN a while
ago and the Lakhar situation has started to improve recently..."
     "But at the time you were there, they were not UN members yet."
     "Exactly," Giles said. "When we came here, they had nutcase governments
in  charge. That's why I am saying, 'successfully carried  out projects', in
spite of their evident financial bust."
     "What do you do?"
     Giles silently pulled a plastic card out of his pocket and handed it to
Bemish.   It   was   an   ID  of   a   senior   Federal   Intelligence   and
Counterintelligence Bureau officer.
     "I can't believe it,"  Bemish said. "I had no clue that our  spies made
billions  on  fake  stocks.  And afterwards  they collect taxes  from us for
democracy development!"
     "Yes," Giles agreed.  "We usually offer not exactly reputable financial
projects  to  our partners in  the  government of the country  that makes us
nervous.  And these  officials, having pocketed several millions,  find  out
that  if they want  to have more millions  and  not  to have a scandal, they
should push certain political decisions through."
     "Why does this country make you nervous?"
     "Weia?  This country doesn't make anybody  nervous.  This  country, Mr.
Bemish, is now  located in  the Galaxy backyard and  it will  be  there  for
another two hundred years... Whatever political adventures happen here, they
will not cause problems for anybody except the Weians  themselves. It's Gera
that makes us nervous."
     "Gera?"
     "Yeah. Weia is located halfway between Gera and the Federation planets.
It is  a  strategically important Galaxy location - an ideal  base  for  the
defense forces - and if it gets to a war between Gera and the Federation, it
would be better if..."
     "If  the  war  happened  around  a  corrupted planet  in  the  Galaxy's
backyard," Bemish completed.
     Giles nodded.
     "And how are you going to transform a  financial gamble  in a  military
base?"
     "Like a charm. We buy the company, we build as many bases as we can, we
do the construction behind barbed wire, we do not publish financial  reports
and we arrange a  leak claiming that the barbed wire is caused by  the total
absence  of  any  construction.  The  company's  shares plummet; the defense
committee buys all the securities and announces  that it has a military base
for a scrap of the price. "
     "Are you serious?"
     "Come on!  You can build a business center on this planet  calling it a
garbage  processing  facility. You  can  make  narcotics  using  tax  breaks
reserved for the production of medical  drugs! A  military spaceport instead
of a civil one - is nothing by local standards!"
     "Why are you telling me this?"
     "You upset our plans and became the company director. Now you are going
to build the base."
     "Will  you leave on your own," Bemish inquired, "or should I  throw you
over the rails?"
     "Don't you want to help your own country?"
     "You are  out of your  mind," Bemish  said. "You wanted to drown  me in
shit! You made this mucky  tape - now I understand why Shavash assured us it
would withstand any examination - and when they sent you to hell, you have a
gall to come to me with this talk."
     "That's your personal aggravation. What about the good of the country?"
     "The  good  of  the country!"  the  raider  exploded.  "The good of the
country is when  the  state doesn't stick  its nose in corporate business! I
guarantee  you  that,  in  half an  hour,  I will find in  your project five
incorrect  decisions and  ten less-than-optimal ones! I haven't seen a state
project  that  was less than three times  pricier  than a private  one! Why?
Because, the more  expensive the project is, the more important the official
in charge of it feels! You  can't save a  penny and here you are, discussing
the good of the country.  Save money on this  construction and this will  be
for the good of the country!"
     "Is that all?" Giles queried.
     "No, that's not all!  This is only economics. As for the rest, what you
call "preventive actions" is  what actually starts wars.  You say, "We don't
want to  fight but we  should  be able to defend ourselves!" Gerans say, "We
don't want to fight  but they built  a  military base right under our nose!"
Before five years pass, both sides  will be armed to their teeth, the  taxes
that you collected from me will turn to  vapor,  and you'll raise your hands
on TV screens  and  catechize, "The Gerans  wouldn't  be  so impudent  if we
invested five billion more in defense!" And the citizens squawk and give you
five more billion!"
     Having  heard this, Giles,  instead of leaving, sat in a  low armchair,
trimmed to the floor with feathers, leaned all the way back and asked.
     "So, do  you think  that there  is no difference between the  democracy
officials and the Weian ones?"
     "There  is  a difference," Bemish said. "Here,  the state is set  up in
such  a way that  the  officials'  pickings  go directly  to  their pockets.
Democracy   doesn't  give  you  this  opportunity.  You,  however,  have  an
opportunity to push through  the  projects  that will  require tripling  the
taxes I pay  but  will also enlarge  your  departments and  demonstrate your
importance. If you simply embezzled, it would cause less harm."
     "So, you won't work on our project."
     "No. If Gera is dangerous, try to push this project through congress."
     "One month before your arrival," Giles said imperturbably, "I talked to
Mr. Shavash. I  found out that we could pay the state a billion and a  half,
get the permit and build  the military base ourselves. We could also pay the
state a billion and a half, get the permit and build the civil spaceport. We
could  also  pay seven  million not  to the state but rather to Shavash, and
then the  state will take care of the above mentioned construction. A  dummy
front company would get the spaceport,  both  sides would share the expenses
and,  if the reporters  on Gera  or Earth  ferreted out  anything  about the
construction,  Earth would  have  nothing to  do with it  -  see, the  Weian
officials, known for their  ingrained tendency  to cheat their  own  people,
started quietly to make a military base out of a civil spaceport."
     "Shavash  doesn't  believe  his  motherland  is   worth  much,"  Bemish
muttered.
     "It's even cheaper than you think. Since we found out that if we openly
start building the  military base, the Weian people  and the  sovereign  may
have issues with it.  They  may say for  instance that  we are clandestinely
occupying the country. Or that we are making  Weia a pawn in a big game - if
the war with Gera starts, Weia will be attacked first as the closest to Gera
Federation  military base. If however Weia was  in  charge of the  spaceport
construction, all these issues would not arise."
     "And  did you," Bemish  uttered  through  his  teeth,  "decide  to save
money?"
     "It's not  the  question of saving money. As you acutely remarked,  the
state unlike private  companies doesn't really care  about savings.  But you
know perfectly well that while the President has minority in  the  Assembly,
we  will  never  obtain funding  for  one  more military  base  - that's one
problem. All the peace lovers, free ones and the ones  on Gera payroll, will
raise their hands with banners to the sky and take it  to the streets to get
on  the evening news - that's the  second  problem. The base  is  twice more
important if it's kept under wraps - that's the third problem."
     Bemish   was  silent.  Somehow  the  whole   thing  seemed   especially
disgusting.  Yes,  everybody  around traded in the sovereign's name, but, in
the end, it was the private agents and companies that gave  bribes on  Weia.
But, for a bribe  and such  a huge bribe  to be given by  the  Federation of
Nineteen... Has  it  happened because  parliament  wouldn't  approve of this
project?
     "Out  of this money,"  Giles said, "one half has already been  paid and
quite a number of  classified  documents are in Shavash's hands. If  Shavash
doesn't get  the second half, to squeeze  some profit he will find  a way to
sell the papers to  Gera. It won't hurt Shavash - such deeds are  considered
to be valiant on Weia - but what a scandal will burst in the Federation."
     Bemish could easily imagine this, jumbo titles everywhere.
     "Bribes  instead of bread!",  "A little bit of war", "We are controlled
by the Intelligence Service."
     "Shavash,"  Bemish said, "will not get what he  deserves, because he is
an Empire official, and you will  get everything you deserve because you are
democracy  officials.  If you have to build a base, you  should  be  able to
explain  it to the people.  If you can't explain  it to the people, than you
are lying about the construction being necessary. If the President considers
that he can't make certain things public  but he has to do  them,  he should
change his occupation immediately. Why didn't you  raise the  question about
the base in public?"
     "Because  everybody  thinks   the  way  you  do,"  Giles  shrugged  his
shoulders.
     "Because  nobody  looks  beyond  his  personal  profit  and,  once  the
government endeavors  to  do something about the common  good, they  all get
nervous about  raising  the  taxes! Because thanks to the  idiots  like you,
Gera, while  lagging  great  distance behind  us  economically, has  already
surpassed us militarily."
     "Get out."
     "Not before we shake hands on it," the spy said, lying in the armchair.
     The next moment,  Bemish jerked him  out of the armchair with  one hand
and socked  him on the jaw with all his  heart. The punch was strong  enough
for the  Federation  agent to flip over  the armchair and  to  the floor. He
however  somersaulted over his head, bounced softly in a fighting stance and
hissed.
     "You are Geran slut."
     Thence Giles attempted to land  a right hand punch  on Bemish's temple.
He shouldn't have done it. The bungling  spy's hand was blocked  and twisted
and  Giles squeaked  piteously  and dropped on his knees  facing  away  from
Bemish. He couldn't move - his hand would break.
     "Your training isn't any good,"  Bemish commented, "if a financier  can
wipe your mug!"
     "I will  wipe your  mug;  I will jail  you for illegal parking for five
years... Ouch..."
     At this moment, Kissur showed  up on the terrace - behind  their yells,
Bemish and Giles didn't even hear the rustle that the car  made entering the
gate. Bemish freed the  spy's  wrist.  Giles hissed  something  through  his
teeth,  picked  the folder off the  table, locked it in his black  case  and
said.
     "I am sorry, but I have to go.  I'll  see you tomorrow  noon as agreed,
Mr. Bemish."
     "Did  I get  in  your  way?" Kissur  inquired, looking over  the recent
discussion participants with curiosity.
     "Not at all,"  Giles said, "sorry, I am  in hurry. I will not take your
time, Mr. Kissur."
     He  fixed the collar torn by Bemish and disappeared. The next moment, a
flyer whistled taking off in the backyard.
     Bemish was chewing on his lips and tapping on a twined rail pole.
     "Where have I seen his mug?" Kissur said. "Oh, yes, he was also at  the
sovereign's. This is the jerk that bribed Shavash so that  nobody except his
company could get the spaceport concession. IC. Yes, IC Company. What did he
want?"
     Bemish paused.
     "He  let me know that the contract  will  be  sabotaged. You  know, the
workers will go on a strike, the officials will support the workers..."
     "You don't have to tell me," Kissur said. "I know how it happens. I was
the first minister myself. What are you gonna do now?"
     At this point, an idea came to Bemish's mind, simple and evident like a
soft  beverage  commercial.  "I'll leave. I'll  drop it all  and  leave.  If
somebody has to be a bastard, at least, it won't be me. Let it be the day of
farewell."
     "Let's go riding,"  Bemish  said. They trotted for a  while down yellow
roads amidst blue fields and they tied the horses afterwards  and had a bare
knuckle fistfight and swam in a pond, round and green like a bottle bottom.
     Bemish  rode back, tired  and reticent, looking  at the road, with  the
palm  trees planted along it, and a fair spread beneath the white wall  of a
capital  suburb. The  day  was hot, the clouds  boiled away, the sun bubbled
like  an egg yolk  on  a frying  pan.  Kissur kept  glancing  at his friend.
Somebody really upset  the  Earthman. They had  let him know that they would
foul the contract up.  Well,  construction is different from a duel. You can
go  to  a  duel  uncaring  whether  you  win  or  die.  You  can't  work  on
construction, understanding  that you  will not obtain any  profit.  He will
leave.  It's  too bad. Kissur suddenly realized  that he  became attached to
this man. He lied much less than the local officials and he had some honesty
inside in spite of his occupation that didn't encourage honor.
     "What  was this parking thing  that Giles was  going to  jail you for?"
Kissur asked suddenly.
     "It's not here. It's on Earth," Bemish replied mechanically.
     "No way!" Kissur was astonished. "Where  did you  park your auto to get
five years in prison? Did you drive on the Federation Assembly roof?"
     Bemish  wanted to  explain  that  it wasn't  about  parking  but Kissur
continued.
     "What kind of  laws are you  guys making? They  fine their citizens for
spitting on  the  streets  and allow Gera  more  than we allow  our bandits!
Though we, I have to admit, allow our bandits a lot."
     "What has Gera got to do with this?" Bemish exclaimed in anger.
     "Well, while you feed the homeless  and  make  laws that protect  green
parrot species from getting extinct, they finance military programs and they
will conquer you in five years! Even a donkey would get that, so I can."
     "They won't conquer us," Bemish objected, "we are more powerful."
     "You are not more powerful,"  Kissur said, "you are richer. The history
has it  that the rich, but lacking in spirit, countries get conquered by the
poor  and warlike  countries.  See, wealth  makes a country stuffed and lazy
like a fat ram while poverty makes it sinewy and greedy like a wolf."
     "In this case, Gera will conquer you first - you are weaker."
     "Why would they conquer us? Nobody needs us even free of charge. Wolves
feed on sheep, not on northern moss."
     Bemish puffed up  and  kept silence.  It was nonsense.  Barbarians have
indeed  gobbled empires  up because  their  citizens were  lazier  than  the
barbarians while barbarian weapons were not any worse. While Gera - damn it,
Gera's  weapons  may be  the  same... Still, the analogy  is stupid. History
doesn't  gallop  in  a  circle  anymore.  It's  funny  that  the  Federation
Intelligence thinks along the same lines as an educated barbarian...
     They parted by midnight and Kissur returned to his palace. He sat in  a
hall  for  a  long  while  and, then,  he  called  a servant  to  arrange  a
sacrificial basket and walked to a  small room, adjoining his bedroom, where
an  Arfarra memorial  altar  stood. In front of the altar, a  candle  burned
fixed atop a tortoise shield and  a fresh  pine  branch  floated in a silver
water bowl.  Kissur kneeled in front of the altar and  sipped a bit from the
bowl.
     "Arfarra," he said quietly, "what should I do? My gods are silent. They
have been silent for  seven years. You had been next  to me before that. You
made decisions  for me  everywhere except war and I was free at  war because
there is  nobody  between a warrior  and  god.  Can't I do anything  for  my
country or can I only  muck things up? Send me somebody! I have nobody. What
are these  Earthmen? The best  of their best have credit cards, where  their
hearts  should be,  and the  others  are god knows what!  Khanadar is like a
goldfinch, who can  only sing silly songs, and this  man, Nan, that  I could
ask for  an advice, would advise me to break my neck because it will be most
useful for the country and most pleasing for Nan."
     Kissur prayed  like this  for a while  and called  Arfarra. Suddenly he
felt  a draught coming from the door.  Kissur froze. The door  slowly opened
and somebody's shadow stretched at the doorstep
     "Great Wei!" Kissur cried out jumping on his feet  and  turning around.
"Oh, it's you."
     The Earthman stood in the door frame - Terence Bemish.
     "Have you  been  waiting  for somebody?" Bemish  was  concerned. Kissur
looked at the altar with his head bowed.
     "No," Kissur responded, "he will hardly come."
     Bemish sat in the armchair.
     "You  were  right, Kissur,"  he said. "IC did give Shavash six  million
dollars for this contract. But  it was not IC money.  This money belonged to
Federation  Intelligence.  IC  is just  a front.  They  wanted  to cram  the
spaceport  with surveillance hardware and then with military equipment. They
want to watch Gera first, and then..."
     "But then Weia," Kissur said, "will become an Earth's military ally."
     "It will become a military ally  for those who don't want to fight. And
when  it  all  comes  out,  Weia  will  become a  target  for  Gera and  the
Federation, the first point to attack in the case of war!"
     "A military ally," Kissur repeated. His eyes lit, he looked over Bemish
to the altar.
     "Don't sprout crap!" Bemish cried out. "If Gera  is not going to fight,
why  would the Federation need military allies? And if it is - imagine  what
your planet  will be  turned  into.  You will  be the  grass that  elephants
trample as they fight! Your planet's destruction will be, of course, a great
rallying cry for the Earth's people indignation - Earth will wake up at your
expense."
     "Military  ally,"  Kissur repeated for the third time. And  he laughed.
"And did Shavash charge your government six million for such a gift?"
     "And so they wanted to cover me in mud with this tape - you understand,
Kissur, it  was our Intelligence that made the  tape for Shavash - and after
that they have the gall to come to me and offer me a dance at their tune!"
     "I hope you said, yes."
     "I refused. I make money out of air but not out of shit."
     At this moment, the door squeaked again and Shavash entered the room.
     "Just as I thought,"  he declared, taking a look at disheveled  enraged
Bemish and Kissur, coldly baring his teeth at the altar.
     Kissur approached Shavash, embraced and kissed him.
     "I am sorry," he said.
     Shavash  gently  freed  himself  from his  embrace  and turned  to  the
Earthman.
     "So? Has Kissur persuaded you yet?"
     "No," Bemish shouted, "you are both blockheads! You, Shavash, are ready
to sell you motherland for a fried chicken and, when this guy hears the word
"war" he's jumping out of his pants with joy."
     "I...," Shavash started with dignity.
     Bemish threw the folder at him.
     You can have it! The contract is here. I am leaving for Earth.
     Shavash  picked up scattered  papers  and  suddenly he  gawked  at them
fixedly.  His eyes gaped wide in  astonishment and his  face assumed such an
astounded look that Bemish couldn't help but ask.
     "What are you reading there?"
     "Tomorrow newspapers," Shavash said sweetly,  "it's written  here  that
the zealots from the Marked by the Sky sect killed Terence P. Bemish who had
been  appointed by  the  sovereign  to  the  Assalah  construction  director
position. Or... no,  not  Marked by The Sky but  Following the Way. Yes,  of
course! This  sect has a branch next to Assalah and they also learned of the
dishonest ways that Bemish  used to obtain  the shares... These ways will of
course be published, too..."
     "How dare you?"
     "Mr. Bemish! I  dared much  more  than  that. And  I saved  you  from a
certain  death  twice  when Giles  was  ready to pay  for your  head! If the
zealots kill  you, it  will  cause  wide  spread abhorrence. If you suddenly
decline the sovereign's appointment, it will cause a lot of false rumors and
your silence is not guaranteed."
     "He doesn't look like a man who will keep silent," Kissur said.
     Bemish came to the table where  a phone was, picked up the receiver and
dialed a number.
     "Is  it  Ravadan?  When  is the next Earth passenger  flight? Is  it in
twenty  hours? No  I don't  want a stopover.  Yes, I would like  to buy  two
tickets,  please.  Terence Bemish... hmm... Inis  Bemish. Yes, damn it, your
Weian name - Inis. No, just one way, I don't need round trip tickets.
     During  the conversation, Shavash was  whispering something at Kissur's
ear. Bemish finished the phone call,  pulled a table drawer out and took out
Kissur's small laser that he knew  Kissur tended to keep there. He stuck the
gun under his belt and left.
     Kissur rose to follow him but Shavash grabbed him by his hand.
     "Don't do  it -  let everybody see that  he left  this  house alive and
unhurt."



     At  the night's wane  Bemish appeared  at the  finance  vice-minister's
mansion.  The  small  official sat  in  the  office  sleepily  checking some
numbers.
     "Why didn't you take off?" Shavash asked.
     "Why didn't you kill me?" Bemish snapped back.
     He sat in an armchair on bird legs and said.
     "I agree on one condition."
     The official raised his eyebrows.
     Bemish  silently handed him a paper sheet. Shavash looked the text over
- it was an act abolishing ishevik bills of credit."
     "Do you understand," Shavash said, "that without ishevik bills we would
spend three times more in subsidies?"
     "Why don't you abolish subsidies together with ishevik bills."
     Shavash grinned.
     "Do you know how much money you, Terence Bemish, could make on it?"
     "I would make nothing.  I  would make this  money  for one, two,  three
years. Then, the Galactic Bank, where like in any other large  company where
only idiots are employed, will finally realize that ishevik bills are pseudo
money  printed  personally  by  Mr. Shavash,  all  this  shit  will turn  to
hyperinflation, your insurance rating will  keel over  and I will  lose five
times more on my stocks than I'll steal on ishevik bills.
     Shavash raised his eyebrows just a bit.
     People  like you,  Mr.  Bemish,  used  to come to a bad end in the  old
times. They handed the sovereign reports about the importance  of  integrity
and..."
     "And they had their heads cut off," Bemish grinned.
     "Yes,  sometimes  they  had their heads  cut  off.  And  sometimes  the
sovereign would  turn his ear towards their reports and  they started to cut
the other people's heads off."


     The Seventh Chapter

     Where all investors' difficulties are solved in the best way.

     The  full  transfer  didn't  take  much  time  -  less than  five days.
Everything worked out in  the end.  Bemish became the Assalah  president and
CEO. Richard Giles,  who believe it or  not had resigned from IC, became the
first  vice-president.  Shavash  kept  his  appointment  at   the  Board  of
Directors.
     Trevis, naturally,  started  financing the  whole  project  again.  The
financing layout  developed  by  Bemish was not changed. 51% of the company,
meaning the  whole  state stock  block,  was  sold by  the  Assalah  company
director Terence Bemish to the ADO director Terence Bemish and the observers
commented  acidly that the  shares were sold at not  such a high  price. The
same day, Ronald  Trevis sent out a note that his bank assured - it would be
possible  to raise the money necessary for the investment through ADO bonds.
In  a  month, ADO  issued junk bonds for two million dinars that made up the
first-round  financing and big-league investors  fought  for the  bonds like
starving hyenas.
     The second-round financing was made of  convertible  bonds. These bonds
had  8% coupons and could  be converted in  stocks  within one  year at  the
present  stock  face   value.  This  operation  promised  to  be  incredibly
profitable -  if  everything  worked  out,  the Assalah  stock  price  could
increase hundred fold. Even technically, the stocks were available only to a
very small investors' circle - to those who were  allowed to invest money in
the derivatives of, accordingly to the Galaxy business world virtuous choice
of  words,  "the  third reliability  category  markets." Bemish,  Trevis and
Shavash narrowed this circle down even more, having sold the bonds mostly to
the people they needed.
     Additionally,  there were  warrants  - the  stock warrants acquired  at
three  dinars per  warrant. In two  years, they enabled the buyer to acquire
Assalah stocks  at their  present cost. In the worst case, the  buyer  would
lose three dinars,  in the best he would acquire a share at a price hundreds
times less  than the current one.  The project, submitted to the  sovereign,
pointed out  that warrants were needed to  encourage  the biggest investors,
necessary to  attract  their attention  to a  remote  and  dangerous market.
Mudslingers  claimed that 50% of  the  warrants  ware shared  among Shavash,
Trevis and Bemish. The mudslingers were wrong. These three shared 75% of the
warrants.
     The relationship between Bemish and  the state  proved  to  be mutually
profitable. For instance, it was  great to have  a spaceport, of course, but
how  would  you  pass  the loads and  passengers  further? The highway  from
Assalah  to the capital was  built in sovereign Irshahchan times, and though
in  sovereign  Irshahchan  times   it  was  a  miraculous  highway  enabling
government informers to reach  Assalah in two  days and the troops,  sent to
pacify  the rebels,  in four  days,  it didn't  really  satisfy contemporary
requirements. From the north - from Liss, the region promising to become one
of the Galaxy's  largest  mining areas - a modern highway stretched.  But it
was cut off forty kilometers  away from the  spaceport by Orkh River, one of
the largest rivers in the  Empire. These forty kilometers also needed  to be
connected somehow.
     Bemish spent  this month  delivering  popular presentations at  all the
Federation financial centers. Two air flights  a day and three space flights
a week were normal for the new director and his team. The success thundered.
Really,  junk bonds  and  developing  markets seemed to be  created for each
other.  A fringe market company  acquired by a small Federation company that
had passed Galaxy  exchange listing;  and this company  later  financed  the
production issuing junk bonds - it was beautiful. It was bold.
     Neither  Kissur  nor  Shavash attended  the presentations. Kissur could
frighten  a Swiss  mutual fond representative  or  a London insurer to death
with his  escapades.  Shavash's position  - a finance  vice-minister of some
dinky empire, or  even the first vice-minister - wouldn't mean  much for  an
uninformed man.
     Shavash asked the Empire first minister, Yanik, however, to attend  and
the investors rightfully concluded that  Bemish had  good relations with the
Empire authorities. Shavash also asked an Empire ex-first minister, Nan,  or
more precisely, David N. Streighton, to attend.
     Having resigned after his adversaries ran a smear campaign - that a man
from the  stars shouldn't be  in charge of the Empire - Nan resided on Earth
and he didn't  try  to hide that his Weian  appointment made him  not just a
millionaire, but a billionaire.  His  knowledge  of Weian current events was
unsurpassed  and  his  active  buying  of Assalah  securities  boosted their
trading to a great degree. It is should be pointed out that Nan obtained 20%
of the warrants out of remaining 25%.
     The  only  dark  spot  blemishing Bemish's triumph was headman  Adini's
fate. There was no doubt that he had been the culprit  in the trick with the
paintings and that he had acted on Shavash's orders.
     When  Bemish, Khanadar and Kissur  flew to  the villa the next day, the
young headman was bustling around there  as if nothing had  happened. Bemish
was  especially  surprised that Shavash hadn't  even tried to  warn his spy,
though he knew perfectly well that Adini wouldn't get out of it unscathed.
     Kissur, who had never been noted for exquisite manners, threw  Adini to
the  floor and  kicked  him a couple times  and,  then, having  snatched his
throat with one hand  and lifted him to the  knees with  the other, demanded
all of the truth from him, "So that I knew whom to hang on the same log with
you."
     Adini blurted everything  out and, accordingly to his tale, Shavash and
Giles should have hung on the same log with him.
     Having gotten attached  to the young headman, Bemish started to ask him
how  he, Bemish,  had maltreated him and Adini covered with blood, sweat and
tears confessed  that,  having been young  and silly,  he had taken part  in
palace pilfering a year  ago -  just  a little  bit,  two  Iniss  rugs,  not
particularly old, were the only things that he had peddled. A powerful gang,
probably connected  to Shavash, ratted on the competitor or they  decided to
write the stolen stuff off using  Adini. Thus, he found himself in Shavash's
personal jail and he was freed only after he had admitted of being guilty in
three hundred million dinars worth of palace thefts.
     Bemish ordered Adini to beat it but Kissur snatched  the young guy  and
said that the cad should be hanged and that to let him go would mean to lose
face. Bemish said that  hanging Adini would be like an  official, castigated
by his superior, venting his anger at his wife.
     Kissur agreed  with this argument but  he  claimed  that he would  keep
Adini  and  have  some words with  him  about his pilfering  -  it's kind of
doubtful that Adini had stolen only two rugs. Bemish agreed and he shouldn't
have  -  the next morning  they found  Adini hung  on the gate of  Shavash's
luxurious mansion.
     Everybody  thought that  the Assalah company director himself  had gave
this order and they respected Bemish mightily for adhering to local customs;
Kissur proved to Bemish that it was crystal clear -  the guy was  rotten all
the way through,  complete  as  a water putrefied nut.  Hanged Adini visited
Bemish's dreams for  a week  or two and then stopped. The  painting with the
dragon and the princess Terence, of course,  returned to the palace the same
day with apologies.
     Five  carts  and priests  dressed in heavy brocade pallias came for the
painting.



     In a month, Bemish arrived at Assalah accompanied by a large retinue of
investors.  Shavash organized a  brilliant reception for them  in  a  temple
complex located about twenty  kilometers away from the spaceport - the Black
Valley.
     About two  and  half thousand years ago, one  would have found there  a
wonderful Temple of Isii-ratouph,  who  was depicted  then not as a squirrel
but rather as a webbed snake and was considered to be not a woman but a man.
Nothing was left from  the old temple besides the  huge columns - and  right
around here, about a kilometer away, the  sacred gardens began  with chapels
strewn here and there.
     The reception was wonderful. Blooming rhododendrons stood as if dressed
in  multihued fur coats, brocade leg and  jasmine fragrances  rode  over the
aroma  from the  delicacies  and  tame squirrel-ratouphs  with  gilded tails
jumped  amidst the invited  guests.  Assuming a certain  ignorance  of Weian
history, the dishes served to the guests could  be taken  for the exact copy
of the  delicacies present  here ten  years  ago at the  province governor's
appointment celebration.
     The  guests were served with a  wondrous lamb, just lanced and  grilled
for  a god (the gods were fed  smells and  the guests would be fed meat) and
Shavash  stood  and made a  short speech. Shavash said  that he was happy to
inform  the guests that the territory belonging to the  company had obtained
immunity by a sovereign's bill - it was now exempt from the local officials'
jurisdiction and  the company had  revenue  and judicial rights  within  its
territory.
     "However,"  Shavash immediately reassured, "the  company  won't  really
have to pay taxes since the sovereign's bill gives it extensive tax deferral
for the next two years.
     Once  the  dumbfounded guests  had  digested  the  pleasant news,  that
somewhat  compromised the  state sovereignty in the company's favor, Shavash
continued that poor communications  was one  of  the main Assalah drawbacks,
considered  at the examination of  the project  - the  direct highway to the
capital had been  built in sovereign Irshahchan  times  and the road to  the
rich  Liss  region  was  cut off forty kilometers away  from  Assalah by the
second largest Empire river. Shavash was happy to inform the guests that the
state had already allocated funds for the road and the bridge construction.
     Why,  would you think  though, should  the government bustle  about? If
Assalah needs it,  let  Assalah build it, Assalah has  loads of  dough,  why
would you spend budget money in a starving country?
     Large investors are an intelligent crowd  and they  all took a  note of
Shavash's part at the presentation and the very polite attitude displayed by
the first minister  Yanik towards him. Five  people or so asked Bemish if he
was going to limit himself to Assalah or to create a Weian stocks investment
fund.
     After  Shavash's speech, Trevis, having met  Shavash in  person for the
first time,  approached him trying  to  clarify the  tax referral situation.
Shavash, however, avoided a direct answer.
     "Don't  worry,  either way  this  company will not pay  taxes," he said
imperturbably.
     Here, a cute girl appeared in front of Trevis, the girl  held a  silver
tray, of ram grilled with plants and roots, in her hands. The girl bowed and
sang  that an  ancient  custom  commanded  to  meet  a  guest  with  a black
sacrificial ram.
     Trevis took a piece with pleasure.
     "A great custom," he noted,  trying tender meat out, "so coming back to
tax exempts..."
     "The  custom is  great," Shavash replied,  "but it's not  exactly  like
this."
     Trevis raised his eyebrows.
     "The ancient custom says to meet a guest with a grilled black dog," the
official explained.
     Trevis almost dropped the plate and, then, he burst in laughter.
     "Why doesn't he want to become a first minister?"  Trevis asked Bemish,
when Shavash stepped aside.
     "The Emperor will never allow it."
     "He is an amazing man."
     "Yes.  Once he  expressed  his  regret  about  the Earthmen not  having
conquered the Empire and enslaved him.  He said  that by today he would have
been the Earth Emperor's senior trusted personage..."
     Trevis grinned.
     "I would like to  have slaves,"  he said  suddenly, "especially  people
like Shavash. Do you have slaves, Bemish?"
     Bemish frowned slightly. Adini was his first slave.
     "Yes. These three, cleaning up the tables - but I haven't  bought them,
I have obtained them as gifts from different people."
     "We are investing money in a funky business," Ronald Trevis muttered.
     Bemish nodded heedlessly.
     "By  the way,"  Trevis said,  "when  we were driving by  your villa,  I
noticed a tall peasant standing in the crowd, he was missing his left ear. I
am sure that  I  saw him  next  to the hotel  in the capital and he was  not
dressed as a peasant then, he sat deep inside a Hurricane."
     "You  are as  watchful  as  usual,  Ronald," Bemish said.  "He is not a
peasant, he is one of the best known Weian criminals."
     "Oh, my God! Does he want to fleece some foreign sheep?"
     "To the contrary, doing  a  favor  to some  influential  people,  he is
protecting these sheep from some lice."
     "What are you whispering about?"
     Bemish turned around. Kissur stood in front of him, dressed in Earthern
clothing and not  even a bit drunk. During the whole  evening, Kissur hadn't
caused any disturbance yet  - he hadn't broken  a single investor's jaw  and
hadn't washed anybody in  a  pool. The reason was very  simple  - Kissur was
with his wife, Idari.
     "Let me  introduce you," Bemish said, "Ronald  Trevis,  the head of LSV
bank. Kissur, an ex-owner of the same villa."
     "Also an ex-minister of the Empire," Kissur finished with  a  grin. And
he  added right away, talking to Bemish.  "I didn't know that the  sovereign
bestowed you with immunity."
     "You see,  Kissur,  after you  gave me  the villa,  the  local official
herded the  peasants to fix the road for free,  to  curry  my favor. I don't
want  the local officials to  curry my favor this way. And I  promise you to
fleece the peasants three times less and to hang five times less criminals."
     "That's exactly wrong," Kissur stated. "In order  to  be respected, you
have  to  hang twice more,  otherwise why do you need this immunity? What do
you think, Trevis?"
     It was ten in the evening, when the temple abbot noiselessly approached
Bemish, standing on a lawn and encircled by the guests, and whispered in his
ear  that  Shavash wanted to  talk  to him in private.  Bemish  finished the
cocktail and left the guests unnoticed.
     He found Shavash on the temple tower second  floor - the small official
stood with a wine glass in his hand and he seemed to clink  the glass with a
goddess  dancing in the alcove.  Having heard  the Bemish's steps, he turned
around.  Bemish  brandished  his  hand welcomingly and sat in an  oak-backed
armchair standing to the right of the window.
     "Trevis says that you will raise twice more money than you need. People
really stand in lines to buy a piece of Weia if Bemish himself handles their
finances. What are you going to do with the extra money?"
     "I could create a couple of funds," Bemish said.
     Shavash, half turned to the window, gestured with the glass. Outside of
the window in  the sunset  light, the dense gardens' greenery and  the  even
squares  of  rice patties  gleaned.  Ivory imps danced above  the window and
smiled  mockingly at the official. Bemish noticed that Shavash  was drunk  -
not as much as he  was at Weian feasts when everybody walked on their  hands
and  knees  by  a  night's  end,  but  much  more  that  it was customary on
Earthmen's business meetings.
     "This planet," Shavash said, "is a planet of  mad opportunities. It has
the least developed natural resources in the Galaxy. It has human resources.
It doesn't have money."
     Shavash turned around abruptly.
     "You will bring this money in, Terence. How much can you raise for your
funds?"
     Bemish contemplated.
     "I could raise five hundred million in the first year.  Then it depends
on the fund's profitability."
     "You will  sell what  I say and buy what I say. First year your  profit
will be seven hundred million. Your real profit will be one billion. But you
will give three hundred million to me. Do you understand it?"
     Bemish paused.
     "They jail you for such things."
     Shavash leaned over the Earthman.
     "You are mistaken, Terence. They jail you for such things on  Earth. On
Weia, they cut your head off."
     "Why are you risking  your head  for money?"  The  pale vice-minister's
face with mad  golden  eyes and  raised eyebrows' tips  moved right  to  the
Earthman.
     "You understand nothing here,  Terence. I  don't need  money. I need to
turn this country in  something  decent. It is possible only if I become the
richest official  in  this  country.  For that -  I need money. I  need huge
money, money that this country doesn't have. But, the Galaxy has  this money
and you, Terence, will deliver this money from the Galaxy to here."



     To conclude,  the reception  worked out great if not for an accident at
its  very end. It was already midnight, the time  when men liked to have fun
was  getting closer and the  wives of several higher Weian officials hurried
to take leave and disappear and women's laughter  started to come out of the
temple gazebos. Bemish and Trevis walked  down a  garden path under  falling
cherry  petals  by  the gods  cramped in  the darkness. They  had  discussed
everything  already and they simply  enjoyed in silence the  dark  and  tart
night,  dusted by the fragrance of night flowers and the faraway singing  of
expensive whores.
     The road led them to  a small  pond, where  a marble god  in a  brocade
caftan stood on the bank.
     "Here  is  Shavash," Trevis said, "but  it  looks like  the  timing  is
wrong."
     Shavash half sat under the god's statue and fondled a midnight cowgirl.
Something made Bemish hearken and he stopped.
     "Let's get out of here," Trevis restrained him.
     Suddenly something gleaned in the woman's hand.
     "Terence!"
     Bemish didn't remember  how  he dashed  across the lawn.  He remembered
only Idari's voice and  the  dagger in  her  hands. The  next second, Bemish
pulled the official to  the side. A fish scale  flash of the dagger tore air
right where Shavash had just sat.  Idari leaped to her feet, lithe and agile
like a sand lizard.
     Shavash stank with cognac and palm tree wine - a killer combination. He
was boozed up to the hilt - much more than he  had been an hour  ago in  the
tower.
     "What are you doing?" the official rasped.
     Bemish silently pulled  a  short  jab  at Shavash's jaw.  The  official
closed  his eyes  and went down to the ground. Trevis rushed to Bemish, pale
as death.
     "Bye-bye your fund," Trevis muttered.
     "He will remember nothing," Bemish objected.
     "I hope that you will also remember nothing," Idari said.
     Bemish's heart was hopping like a mouse in a jar.
     "Should I walk you?" he asked Idari.
     But  the  woman  only  shook her  head  slightly and,  in a moment, she
disappeared  in the  bushes. The  dagger had vanished even  earlier  in  her
blowsy sleeve folds. Shavash mumbled something, turned over on his back  and
started snoring.
     "Why did you have to beat him?" Trevis got angry. "Is she your lover or
what?"
     Furious Bemish turned around. Trevis pulled back.
     "Just forget it," Bemish muttered finally, "otherwise we will all get a
lot of problems."
     They  were almost  at the house,  when Bemish, having kept glum silence
all the way, suddenly said, "If a civil war starts in  this  Empire, it will
start on this woman's account."



     The morning after the  reception, some guests signed a treaty of intent
- about creating together with  Shavash and Bemish  several  joint companies
specializing mostly in  export-import operations. Weian  tariffs  were quite
high,  but Shavash hinted to the people present that they probably  wouldn't
have to pay them.
     The official was  pale after  the yesterday's binge  and a huge  bruise
blossomed under  his  cheekbone,  artistically  masked by  various  powders.
Bemish didn't have to torture himself long about whether or not the official
remembered  who  socked him. Having returned to his room,  Bemish discovered
there a  gift basket full of soft turquoise figs and Shavash's note. "As you
see, I can be grateful," Shavash wrote in calligraphy. "You had given me one
fig and I gave you hundred." A bruise was called a fig in Weian.

     ****

     The next day after the investors had left  Bemish returned to the villa
and was stopped by a small peasant crowd.
     "What's the problem?" Bemish asked.
     A tall barefoot old man stepped out of the crowd.
     "They told us," He said, "that the great Lord from the stars will build
a magic city in this place."
     "More or less," Bemish agreed.
     "They  told us  that this city will  be  built on  our lands. What will
happen to us?"
     "You will have the lands across the river," Bemish answered.
     "We are happy that the Lord from  the  skies gives out part of our land
to us. But our old land was taken away from us without any payments."
     "You were  paid  by company shares," Bemish said. "You squandered these
shares and you don't retain any rights to them."
     "Does  it  mean  that  the  Lord from  the  stars  has money  to  treat
officials, but he doesn't have money to pay us for our land?"
     "I will not pay you a cent," Bemish cut them off.
     Having learned about this accident with the peasants, Kissur said.
     "You  acted like a man, Terence. Why do Earthmen act like men only when
it comes to money?"
     The new headman approved of his boss altogether.
     "These people are such," he said, "that if you show them a finger, they
will devour the whole hand. They are but spongers!"
     "Don't you come from  the same people?" Bemish  cut him off and the new
headman shut up, offended.



     Bemish had  to see Idari quite  often. A great  number of the company's
contracts - lumber,  concrete,  tungsten glass  - in  a nutshell, everything
that  was cheaper and more  profitable to buy in the Empire,  passed through
Kissur's estate and his wife was in charge of it.
     Only  gradually Bemish realized how  important  a  part  this  graceful
fragile woman plays not only in the economics of Kissur's  estate but in the
economics of the Empire. Thanks  to  her and only to her, not  a single  oil
well that the  sovereign had bestowed on  Kissur passed away  or was sold to
cover debts - to the opposite, every gift was preserved, multiplied and grew
and this fragile woman controlled with an iron fist at least three banks and
the  second biggest Weian aluminum plant. They said that the applicants  for
the  bank positions  had  interviews in  front  of a curtain -  Idari didn't
consider it possible to talk in private with a male stranger and Bemish  had
never seen her in anything other than Weian dress.
     Idari  had only one son and Bemish saw that it deeply hurt her, because
in her view, a good wife should bring  a litter every year. To conceive more
children, she  had even submitted to an Earthman physician but the physician
had only raised his hands  and said that  nothing could be done.  Three boys
that Kissur fathered whoring around and a total orphan that Kissur extracted
from under his own tank tracks were being brought up in the house.
     A lot of maligners told Kissur that the Earthman visited Idari somewhat
more often that  the business  contacts required but, since  the  people who
said that wanted very much to obtain everything Bemish had from the  Empire,
Kissur ignored these words.


     The Eight Chapter

     Where Terence Bemish pays taxes with  fallen leaves while the rock with
an ancient foretelling is dug out at the construction.

     Ashinik was born into a peasant family that was ruined during the civil
war. His father was recruited into the local prince's army  and killed there
and  his  mother  died just  quietly.  In the  last year,  Ashinik  was also
recruited,  but  by  this  time the prince's army had  dwindled down to five
hundred  people and the prince was called  a  prince no longer  but  he  was
rather called  a  bandit. When  the  prince heard  that  nothing was left of
Khanalai's army, conducting  a siege on the capital, but  two barns of ashes
and that the new masters - the people from the skies - were giving orders in
the  capital, he was scared  and rushed in to beg for  peace.  The sovereign
forgave  him and the people from the stars gave everybody a fancy can with a
picture of meat in sauce drawn on it. Ashinik hid the can under his head and
went to sleep and  when he pulled the can out in the morning,  he  found out
that it didn't have the bottom and was empty. Ashinik  rushed to his friends
that had just  finished the breakfast and they burst  in laughter  and  they
said that it had been this way from the beginning.
     Ashinik dragged himself from the city back to the village, to the land,
but there was no land. A fence  of brushwood and concrete was where the land
had been and the Earthman was  behind the fence.  It came out that Ashinik's
father bequeathed the land to the  prince and the prince sold this  land  in
the capital to a  trust that dug a hole in the ground. Having heard  Ashinik
out, the Earthman went crazy and threw him out.
     What happened was that the  Earthman had  long ago realized the  prince
cheated him and he hadn't held the title for all of  the land. He gave money
to the first petitioners and,  having heard about it, all the locals  rushed
picking up their relatives  and friends and testifying  that  they  had held
such  and such piece of land. With their  peasants' minds they instinctively
sized  Earthmen  up  as a  power-to-be and held it for a virtue to cheat the
trust that was so  stupid  that  it was ready to pay for the  land which had
already been sold to it, even  if  the people that sold the  land didn't own
it. The Earthman had seen that he was being hoodwinked and now he kicked out
everybody who came with a complaint about the land as cheaters.
     "I didn't get much  from the Earthmen for my field - an empty can and a
kick  in the butt," Ashinik  thought. Ashinik  left for his relatives in the
neighboring province, but he got sick on  the way. An old  couple picked him
up and ministered to him. Having learned that the total strangers washed him
and  spoon fed him, the youth burst into  tears - it was the fourth  year he
lived as a snail without a shell, only a lazy man wouldn't step on him.
     The  people, who  nursed Ashinik back to health,  were tanners. Ashinik
started helping them  with their work and with the house. At first,  Ashinik
didn't notice anything  except that they didn't eat  meat in the  house  but
then,  listening  to the masters' conversations, he started  to realize that
his hosts  were  some sect's members.  This sect had existed for a long time
and  it  was based on a prophecy  about  iron  people who  would appear from
underground to destroy  the Empire. On  numerous  occasions, they had  taken
barbarians and rebels for iron men but then a  rebel would become an Emperor
and  it would become clear that the prophecy  was not about him. The masters
hinted to  Ashinik a number of times that Earthmen  were these  iron demons,
and that they wanted to destroy the Empire and that the mine, he was invited
to work on, was  nothing else but a hole to hell - the demons would drag him
down there and eat him.
     At  first, Ashinik  didn't  really believe it. He had  also heard  some
really dirty gossip  about zealots - they were rumored to entice people with
their lies,  nurse the infirm, pick up orphans, and then preach stupid stuff
and  engage  them in orgies and even worse  on  their meetings. But  he felt
uncomfortable arguing with the elders who had saved his life and he also had
nowhere else to go.
     Soon, they took him to a meeting where they directly said that Earthmen
were demons  and all the things they owned were either phantoms or  had been
stolen  from the  gods. Then a  teacher, clothed in white, in front of their
eyes grew a golden staircase out of a seed, climbed up  it to the  skies and
came back with a fancy pot that the gods gave him.
     Ashinik started taking part  in the weekly meetings but doubts assailed
him.  "Of course,  all I got from the Earthmen for my field was an empty can
and a kick in the butt," Ashinik thought. "But if I consider everybody I got
a kick  in  the  butt from  to be  demons,  there  would be more demons than
people." Finally,  these thoughts hurt him so  unbearably that  once in  the
repair shop Ashinik fainted and crashed to the ground.  When he came back to
his senses, people were crowded around him - it appeared that a great spirit
had seized him and he had been preaching.
     Ashinik  was taken  to the  teachers, they housed  him with them. Since
Ashinik's words were always taken  with great attention, the fits started to
happen more and more often but Ashinik never remembered what  he was saying.
Thanks to his prophecy gift and natural cleverness, Ashinik suddenly started
to climb  quickly up the hierarchical ladder. Ashinik was especially shocked
by the following. The zealots he  found  himself with at first believed that
Earthmen  were really demons. On the second level, they told him  that words
iron   devil   and  demon  with   respect  to  Earthmen  should  be  treated
metaphorically and Earthmen live  on the sky rather than underground. He was
told that the stupider were the  rumors about Earthmen, the easier the  dumb
people would believe them. But on the third level, he was told that Earthmen
were  demons! And  they explained  to  him  that  the  more metaphorical the
prophecies' interpretations  were, the easier would silly officials  believe
them since they wouldn't see the gut sense behind the  false reasoning.  And
on the fourth level, he was told again that the prophecy  should  be treated
metaphorically!
     When he achieved the seventh level - there were ten of them all in  all
-  Ashinik  couldn't  distinguish  anymore  where a metaphor  was, where the
reality was and where the  deep meaning of  both of  them was. Talking to  a
commoner, he spoke as if he was  on the  first level. Talking to an educated
man, he spoke  as if  he  was on  the  second  level. He  believed what  his
audience could believe. Thanks to that, his sermons gathered huge crowds. He
was also taught to prophecy right at the meetings and  he usually remembered
what he had said.
     Four years passed this  way - Ashinik was  now  twenty. Once the  White
Elder called and  commanded  him  to  leave for Assalah  village on  Chakhar
border. He said,
     "The demons build  their holes there. They call this hole  a  spaceport
and they  say that they  fly to the sky out of these holes, but, in reality,
these holes go underground all the  way  to hell. The Assalah demons wronged
our peasants mightily and we have  a strong society there. But yesterday the
society head died. Go to Assalah and take his place."



     This  time  the trip  to the  capital took eight  hours  instead of two
months  - the  next day's morning a yellow bus left Ashinik at the road fork
going to spaceport.
     Ashinik threw  his  sack  over his  shoulder and  started  walking. The
trucks, looking like huge silk worms, flew  past him to  the construction, a
cloud of dust and bad smells hung over the road and in the fields, recoiling
from the curb, ripening rice ears were covered with a  thick layer of cement
dust.  It was a long walk and  Ashinik tried waving a twig  several times to
hitch a ride but  nobody stopped.  Even  during  the worst war years Ashinik
remembered always being  able to get a ride from a  passerby in a cart. They
could  kill you once they had picked you up, but at least they  would always
pick you up.
     Suddenly a car  slowed  down. Ashinik  nervously saw  that it was not a
truck but  rather a  passenger car shaped like a tiny bug. The  driver threw
open a door - after a brief hesitation Ashinik climbed inside. They drove in
silence for a while.
     "Are you going to the construction site?" the driver asked. He spoke in
demon's brogue.
     "No," Ashinik replied, "I am going to the village."
     "Who are you going to?"
     "My uncle called me in. His son died - maybe he will adopt me."
     "There  are  a lot of  zealots," the driver  said,  "in  this  village.
Following the Way. Are you one of them?"
     "Yes."
     "What level are you?"
     "What do you know about levels?"
     The driver looked the lad over - he had a round good-natured face, wide
lips and adjoining thick eyebrows over his beautiful brown eyes.
     "A  week ago," the driver said, "the local Following the Way  man died.
You are coming to replace him, aren't you?"
     "What do you do?"
     "My name is Terence Bemish, I am the Assalah company director."
     Ashinik swallowed.
     "Do you pick all passersby up or did you know that I was coming?"
     "I pick all the bums up," Bemish said. "The drivers at the construction
rarely give a  ride to anybody and  if you  are  a bum, they might even kill
you. They have already killed two people this way."
     "Your workers aren't any good."
     "It's  difficult  to get any  worse.  They drink, steal,  and make  the
newcomers do the  same. There are gangs among them. Two of them  were caught
yesterday - they sold an  anti-corrosion  paint box.  How much do  you think
they sold it for? They sold it for a rice vodka  crock! Yesterday, one guard
shot  at another  guard -  he was boozed up. They  arrested  him, started an
investigation  and discovered that he was wanted in the capital  for robbery
and  murder.  Everybody  who wants  to  escape  the  capital  after screwing
something up there, go here."
     "Yes,"  Ashinik said,  "it's not easy. I have  never had to own  people
that drink, steal and eat meat. A master is like a seed  and his subordinate
is  like grass that  grows  out of  the seed.  Grass follows seeds. It's not
surprising that the demons' servants steal anti-corrosion paint from them."
     Bemish was so upset by  this comment that he lost his self control. His
true nature emerged and  Ashinik noticed  at  once that  Bemish's  head  was
really just a meat egg. Ashinik felt himself very uncomfortable. "What if he
asks now - do you really think I am a demon?"
     But Bemish didn't ask anything like  this,  he shook  his meat egg  and
said.
     "The  village  is  just beyond this  hill.  Would  you be uncomfortable
entering the village in my car? Would you like to get out at the turn?"
     "Not a problem at all," Ashinik said.
     In  the evening,  the  whole village  listened to  their new  prophet's
stories about riding in the  chief demon's car and seeing a meat  egg on the
demon's shoulders.



     Bemish  was not exaggerating the problems in his  conversation with the
future zealots' guru. The construction  situation  worsened  every day.  The
worsening,  however, was  reflected  neither in the balance books nor in the
profits  and expenses reports and the  most meticulous auditor  would not be
able to enter the locals' feelings into the company's debits column.
     It was also partly Bemish's fault. As an ardent player who felt  better
next to a  computer  screen rather on the  construction site, Bemish visited
the  latter  only occasionally,  being engrossed completely in  the  capital
business maelstrom.
     He started up a hedge fund acquiring  Weian stocks  -  it was quoted in
the intergalactic system. Trevis raised money for him, a sum unheard-off for
a developing market - five hundred  million  dinars. He  acquired the broker
house  DJ securities and  used it to conduct  the hedge fund operations;  he
also acquired 12% shares of the bank that Assalah Company had an account in.
     Together  with Idari, Shavash and two other useful people, he founded a
local Assabank and soon, by a special sovereign's law,  all the budget funds
allocated   by  the   government   for  the  construction   of  the   roads,
communications and the other Assalah infrastructure passed this bank.
     Bemish swam like a fish in the market where the quotes often fluctuated
30-40% a week,  where  even  relatively liquid  shares had an 8%  spread and
where trading based on insider information was  not a crime but a  norm.  He
had disposed of almost all the stocks a week before the government announced
the new tax regulations that caused a market crash and by the year's end his
fund was the only  one  showing a profit gain  of 36% compared to the  other
funds'  losses  fluctuating between 14% and  86%. The  real profit  was even
higher, but as it had already been agreed on, Shavash  obtained one third of
it.
     However, while Terence Bemish hung out in the capital, bought and  sold
accordingly to Shavash's hints,  opened new banks,  had  fun with Kissur and
gave an interview  to Galamoney as the head of the company in charge of  the
most successful fund of the year,  other people controlled the construction,
most of all the company vice-president Richard Giles. Oh, of  course, Bemish
received  the  construction  and  money  flow  reports  every  day. A  minor
financial glitch, not even close to larceny, would not remain unnoticed.
     "Why do you have this leftover at  the  active  accounts?" angry Bemish
screamed at the receiver. "Couldn't you place an overnight credit?"
     And the leftover was only five thousand dinars.
     But the  peasants and workers' attitude was not reflected in any way in
the  financial  reports and increasing theft was  at  first  written  off by
Bemish as the bad heritage of two thousand years of socialism.
     As  Bemish realized looking  back,  a  lot of  things would  have  been
different  if the  construction  had started not when the peasants  had been
planting rice  and when every  pair  of  hands  had  been precious.  But the
construction started right  in the spring  - the peasants didn't  let  their
lads  go to the  construction  site and  the guys who came later  met with a
construction  lifestyle  already  in  place  - the  lifestyle  of lost  city
dwellers,  bums and simply  bandits  that stole watermelons from the fields,
trampled  rice  down,  fought  the village lads en masse and considered hard
porn with stereo effects to be the highest achievement of the alien culture.
     At one point, Bemish ran into a ceremony of Following the Way on a road
and the sect's head, a tall old man with a grey beard, pointed his finger at
him and  started calling him a sorcerer  of the basest type. Bemish inquired
what exactly his sorcery was and received an answer.
     "All your flashy  labels and commercials, cigarettes  and movies - they
are all your  dirty  magic  and rituals.  You  use  all this to  get  people
together."
     Bemish objected.
     "I am sick of these commercials no less than you are."
     "This is even worse," the old  man grinned. "It means that you have one
culture   for  small  people  and  another  one  for  big  people.  This  is
ill-conceived because everything can be  different  for small people and for
big people - what they own and  what they wear - but their culture should be
the same. The spring day is celebrated by a farm hand and in the palace. And
if  your workers go  to  see The  Triple Strike and you don't...  What's the
point of talking about it?!"
     He thought and added with curiosity.
     "Is it true, that you live underground just like the wild people in the
North who change their ruler every four  years and, having  changed him, eat
him?"
     "We change a ruler," Bemish admitted, "but we don't eat him."
     The  old man  died  then,  Ashinik arrived  to take his  place and  the
situation worsened. Whatever Bemish did, it came out wrong. They delivered a
worker  to  the  hospital with  appendicitis  for surgery and  Ashinik  made
everybody believe that the demons from the skies cut  the guy's corn off and
attached a goat's equipment instead and now only goats  would  be born  from
him.
     Bemish  had loaned some  money to the  village, at the previous village
headman's time, and  Ashinik started a rumor that  they tricked  the headman
using his poor knowledge of English and made him sign a paper permitting the
Earthmen to  demolish  the  whole  village.  There  was another  rumor  also
contrived by Ashinik that  Bemish had a black cord. One  end of the cord was
in a table  drawer,  in  the  villa, and the sovereign  himself was  tied to
another end.  If the  Earthman pulled on the cord, the sovereign would  toss
and groan and hail would start coming down from the sky.
     Slowly,   bypassing   official   district   authorities  and   official
construction  management, underground organizations started  to  form in the
village and at the construction site. The sect grew quickly in the  village.
The  number  of  zealots increased  from the starting  few  as  quickly as a
crystal grows in a  saturated solution  once  a seed  crystal  is  submerged
there. As for the construction... let's be honest, mafia started to rule the
construction.
     At some point,  a  name appeared among  the  private  cofounders of new
import-export companies - O'Hare -  the same O'Hare who had  been introduced
to Bemish in the thief's tavern and who had taken care of the presentation.
     Bemish  crossed the  cofounder's  name out with red ink commenting that
such  a  company  would  end  up selling  drugs  and that  would  be  really
disgusting.  Giles,  as  an Intelligence employee  agreed  with  the company
director wholeheartedly.
     Only now Bemish realized how horribly he  had been tricked by the small
official  Shavash when he  agreed to take the construction  out of the local
authorities'  jurisdiction.  The   district  officials  were  corrupted  and
unceremonious. They  could have  managed  both  the bandits and zealots  and
happily ignored any humanitarian issues. They could have relocated the whole
village to, say, Chakhar in three days or just burned it to the ground.
     Unlike them, Bemish would  not be able to drive a tank over the village
or land in the middle of it, "as a miss", a sixty thousand ton space freight
ship - as Shavash suggested to  him altogether  seriously. And not a  single
international legal  system  existed  that  would ban  planet  dwellers from
singing songs and going nuts en masse.
     Now, Bemish found  himself  in a  classical chess fork -  if he started
arresting the zealots himself, even the most pro-Earthmen officials would be
indignant. If he asked for the authorities' help, it would be a sign of  his
utter powerlessness.
     The  tipping point  for the  village and construction confrontation was
the following. They started to dig the foundation pits for service buildings
on the northern hill and dug out old temple complex remnants.
     Having checked it  out with archives, they found out the  remnants were
the  old temples  of Adera-benefactor goddess that had  prospered almost two
thousand  years ago when  the capital  officials hadn't dared to force their
way  into these surroundings calling the local  dwellers "bandits"  but not,
however, making any attempts to eradicate them.
     This Adera lady had quite an  irritable disposition, she had a tendency
to  appear in people's  dreams extorting  gifts  and even  human sacrifices,
threatening   with  floods;   indescribable   orgies   took  place   at  her
celebrations. The sovereign  Irshahchan  obliterated the temple mercilessly,
recognizing this cult to be a crime against humanity and disobedience to the
authorities.
     Having being trained to  respect  any  ruin,  Bemish  stopped  all  the
construction there  and asked  Shavash and Kissur  what he should do. Kissur
told  him to  clean up  the damned  temple  and recycle it for  construction
materials,  if needed. Shavash  took a look  at  the  altar  where boys were
rumored  to be offered  as  a  sacrifice and  said  that  the altar was  not
impressive as a cultural monument since carving was too crude.
     The  newspapers did  hear about  the  temple  however.  The  newspapers
demanded  the Earthmen  to take  their dirty  hands away  from the  national
heritage. Bemish  snapped back tactlessly  that  the  Weians themselves  had
destroyed the temple while the Earthmen actually found it.
     Soon, the most unbelievable myths related to the temple riches emerged.
They had dug  out a large two hundred meter  deep well in the  temple, and a
rumor  emerged that  every  local  dweller  had  thrown  his  most  valuable
belongings down this well as a sacrifice to Adera for  centuries. Half-drunk
construction  workers and deranged religious peasants believed every inch of
it and  were  climbing  over the fence built  around the temple  twenty four
hours a day. Bemish  ordered an exploration of the well's bottom and, in the
presence of  the authorities and the journalists, loads of flint arrowheads,
brass  round  handles  and  clay female  figurines  with  huge  bellies  was
extracted. There was a possibility that the local denizens had indeed thrown
their most valuable belongings down the Adera well but, during these  times,
flint arrowheads had been the most valuable things here.
     That, of course, didn't hurt the myth. Everybody saw how much equipment
was thrown at the well and that a hundred men spent three days around it! No
need! The rumors assured  that  the  well appeared to be  empty because  the
managers  had  robbed  it earlier.  The money  amounts,  the  names  of  the
spaceships  used  to  transport  the  treasure to Earth,  the  names  of the
museums, the  name  of  the construction  director and Shavash's  name  were
specified.
     The morning of the eighteenth, Bemish found himself in the capital at a
conference dealing with developing countries investments issues.  Bemish was
presented there both as a speaker and an exhibition object.
     Bemish  conversed with  the relevant people  and, immediately after the
talk he left for the spaceport, having picked up a man named Born - a United
Galactic  Fund representative  who was  observing  the  situation  with  the
stabilization credit allocated for the Empire.
     A  flock of  local journalists waited for Bemish at  the helicopter and
attacked him with their questions.
     "Mr. Bemish, is it true that when an old catalpa was ripped out at your
construction,  blood  appeared  at its  roots?  Doesn't  this omen  foretell
misfortunes?"
     "No."
     "Is it true that a she-goat nearby changed to a he-goat?"
     "A she-goat didn't change to a he-goat."
     "Is it true, that they dug out a rock that had been buried during White
Emperor's times and  it had words written on it, "In a month after this rock
is extracted the construction will perish."
     "It  is  true.  The words  were,  however,  written  with phenyl  paint
developed and set  in  production five years ago. If the zealots  decide  to
counterfeit the White Emperor's words again, I would advise  them not to buy
paint in the nearest kiosk."
     "Mr. Bemish,  is  it true  that  you paid  taxes  this year with  Weian
National Bank bonds at their face value?"
     Here,  Bemish's  escort -  he, accordingly to a local  custom, obtained
himself  three  beefy flatheads - socked  the peppiest journalist on his jaw
and the newspapermen bolted.
     On  the  return  helicopter  trip  to  Assalah, Born  inquired  why the
journalist's had been punched in his mug.
     "He is from White Sky," Bemish  answered. "This is a newspaper owned by
zealots who think Earthmen to  be demons crawling out from underground. They
say  that  if we flew from  the  sky, we would meet gods on the way.  He was
asking boorish questions."
     "Ah, zealot," the satisfied banker drawled, "zealots aren't dangerous."
     "It's not dangerous but it's annoying," Bemish agreed.
     "What were they asking about taxes?"
     Bemish paused deciding whether  or not he should explain. But the whole
thing had raised a stink and  they had mentioned about  it in the newspapers
couple times.
     "There was  a bank," Bemish  said, "that went bankrupt.  The government
nationalized it, restructured its loans and turned them into bonds."
     "And what is the bonds' value?"
     "It's seven-ten percent of their nominal value."
     "And at what value were your bonds appraised?"
     "They were appraised at hundred percent of their nominal value."
     The banker  grunted  with astonishment, but he controlled  himself  and
didn't say anything.
     Bemish asked Born what Weian official he liked the most, and Mr. Gerald
Born named  Shavash without hesitation.  And he added, "What do you think  -
would Mr. Shavash agree to resign from  his  Empire appointment and head the
developing markets department in our bank?"
     Bemish almost gaped.
     "Why  do  you think,"  He asked  cautiously, "that Shavash  may want to
retire?"
     "Because of all this slander directed at him! I can tell you with total
frankness  that  not  a  single  tranche  of  our  credit  would  reach  its
destination  if it  was  not  for  Shavash! The  local officials  would have
embezzled everything! This  is the  only man who is doing something  to save
the country's  economy. And what does he get back? The best Empire economist
languishes  under a  dimwitted minister  and  the officials fling disgusting
slander at him being unable to endure one honest man in their midst. I think
that  the  best  solution  for him  would be  to leave  this planet.  Do you
disagree?"
     "No, not really," Bemish  said, "Shavash is  an amazing  man -  you are
right."
     Bemish wanted to pass Born into Giles's hands, so that the latter dealt
with the guest till the take off, but Giles  vanished somewhere and even his
cell was off - Bemish resolved to thrash him soundly.
     Bemish personally walked his old acquaintance to the boarding ramp. The
latter was  pleasantly  surprised  having learned that the  spaceport had an
extraterritorial  status and the spaceport's management collected taxes  and
had independent jurisdiction."
     Bemish had barely returned to his office when a phone rang.
     Bemish picked up the receiver.
     "Hello, Terence," the  fairest Empire  economist told him. "What's  the
story with Golden Deer Company? I heard that you detained their freight."
     "There is no story," Bemish said.  "It's just that there is  forty tons
of electronics there  and  they paid tariffs for five tons  only.  Why don't
they pay everything required and pick it up."
     "Terence, be so kind. Their guy will drop by - stamp his papers and let
him go." And Shavash put the receiver down not waiting for a reply.
     Giles announced himself  in  half  an hour. He  shakily walked  in  the
office. His face was smashed and his expensive suit was splattered in mud.
     "Oh, my God, Giles what's happened to you?"
     "Somebody attacked me."
     "Who was it?"
     "Who was it? It was some hoodlums. It was all the damn hoodlums of this
planet  who don't  have anything  better  to  do than to  get  hired at this
construction!"
     "Security is  your problem, Giles. If your crappy service  can't pacify
two dozen crooks, how is it going to pacify two dozen dictators?
     "We will pacify crooks,"  Giles exploded. "Security troops will be here
in a week."
     "What? Have you sent a request?"
     "I will send it today."
     "I forbid you."
     "Why?"
     "Because, at the moment it becomes public, everybody will start selling
my securities! At first, Federation Special Forces will send their troops to
devaluate the construction  and then they  will  buy  it dirt  cheap,  won't
they?"
     "Won't zealots and bandits devaluate it?
     "Exchange market doesn't  care about zealots! It doesn't know what they
mean. It perfectly well understands what the Special Forces mean!"
     Giles touched his torn cheekbone.
     Bemish picked up the receiver and called Shavash.
     "Shavash, my deputy was  assaulted today. Who? Crooks! Send your police
in and eradicate these hoods."
     "Terence, only  Federation laws are  valid at  the spaceport territory.
You can call your troops in but not our police."
     "Call this stupid immunity off!"
     "You grumbled about corrupted officials yourself..."
     "Your corrupted officials, at least, will not overload  themselves with
legalities bashing these hoods' teeth in."
     "I am glad that you see some advantages of our officials."
     "They have advantages only compared to your crooks."



     On the  other end,  Shavash  switched  to  another line  and  told  his
secretary to summon a car. In an hour, a  narrow silver car drove Shavash to
a decorated  gate of a bawdy house, famous across the  whole country. Having
ignored the  welcoming girls who  leaped up at his arrival,  Shavash  walked
upstairs.
     In  a  secluded office, a fully dressed short fifty-year-old  Weian was
cooling his heels off.
     "You  got it," Shavash said.  "Bemish  is  going to cleanse  Assalah of
crooks using federal troops."
     "It's not good if Long Stick sends the troops," the short man said.
     "I can't do anything here," Shavash spread his hands. "It's your fault.
Who robbed Giles?"
     "I will find out," the man said.
     "Find  it out, please. It's  useful to know sometimes  what your people
do."
     Shavash paused and added.
     "You, O'Hara, are like a parasite at the construction. You suck but you
don't feed, you harvest and you  don't  plough. Why would  Bemish  love you?
While if you helped him..."
     "How can I help him? Should I not steal? How will I make my living?"
     "Why should you  not steal? For  instance, Bemish  has serious problems
with zealots. If you step on the zealots' tails, you will help Bemish."
     The guy looked at the vice-minister with animosity. Weian crooks didn't
attack zealots as  a rule. The pickings would be slim, and the zealots would
go totally mad  -  if you touched them they wouldn't rest  till they cut the
whole gang down and declare it to be gods' wrath.
     "I have a feeling that the zealots blighted you, not Bemish," the thief
said, "and that I will do a favor to you rather than to Bemish."



     Two hours later, Bemish's helicopter landed in Kissur villa's backyard.
     "The master  is not at home," a  maid reported, "the mistress will  see
you in a moment. Could you, please, step into Lake Hall?"
     Idari met  him  dressed in a blue skirt with golden sable  trim  and  a
jacket embroidered with peacocks and squirrels. Her hair was pulled  up in a
large  black bun and  a silver  hairpin in  the shape of  a  Lamass  rowboat
pierced the bun. Bemish looked  at the hairpin and it seemed to him that the
hairpin was piercing his heart.
     Bemish kissed the house mistress' hand and said.
     "I am touched that you received me in Kissur's absence."
     Idari  sat on the couch and pulled  a  tambour with a partially knitted
belt onto her knees.
     The belt was embroidered with clouds and rivers.  She almost always had
needlework with her.
     Two  servants  brought  fruit and  cookie baskets  to the  veranda  and
departed.  A  tame  peacock  dropped  by the  veranda,  unfolded  his  tail,
scratched the doorstep with his red foot and left for the garden.
     "What are you upset about,  Mr. Bemish?" Idari  asked. "Do you have any
problems with the fund?"
     "No,"  Bemish said.  "It's just  that  while I bought  and  sold  other
people's stocks, I possibly wasted my own company."
     "I thought that you finished assembling the first  line of landing pads
a week before you planned."
     "I  mean the mood  at  the construction  - zealots  and crooks. I can't
eradicate them.  Shavash tricked me when he obtained legal immunity for  the
construction." Idari was silent.
     "Why did  he do  it?" Bemish  cried  out.  "Did he need me to hang  the
zealots?  Does he need  the Earthmen  to butcher these idiots instead of the
Empire,  so  that his hands are clean and the Earthmen's  hands  are smeared
with shit?"
     "What am I saying?"  a thought passed in Bemish's  mind.  "I am sitting
with a woman that I would  give  all of  Assalah away for  - ok, not all  of
Assalah  but  at least thirty percent  of it - and I am talking to her about
god knows what and she considers me to be a greedy and cowardly Earthman."
     "He is not fully satisfied with you," Idari said.
     "What is  he  not satisfied  with? The only  thing  I  don't  export is
drugs!"
     "That's exactly right."
     Bemish froze, as if he just collided with a wall.
     "Are you...serious?"
     "I mean that all  the legal violations  taking place  at  the spaceport
deal only  with taxes. You  have not broken any  criminal laws yet, Terence,
and Shavash doesn't like that. If you break tax laws you  can  be prosecuted
only  at  this planet. If  you  break criminal  laws, you  can be prosecuted
across the whole Galaxy. The  more crimes you commit, the more power Shavash
will have over you."
     "Bastard," Bemish muttered glumly. "If only I had known..."
     "Shavash is better than you are," Idari objected.
     "Shavash? Better?!!"
     "Shavash will be forgiven many things because he wants a  lot. He wants
women, power, glory, while you want only money."
     "I want you. I want you more than money," Bemish wanted to say.
     "You  are right, Idari," he  said, "I  like money  more  than  anything
else."



     The next evening, the phone rang in  Bemish's office. Ross called  - an
ex-colleague of Giles - now his deputy on security issues.
     "We have an emergency," Ross said. "A packer boy was knifed. We got the
killer."
     "Did he resist?"
     "No. He is quite a lout."
     "Bring him to me," Bemish ordered.
     Murders  happened  quite often  at  the  construction.  Generally,  the
killers  could  not  be found. Even if a man was killed in  broad  daylight,
somehow nobody saw anything.
     Bemish  was  leafing through a  draft  of  the  yearly  company  report
prepared  by the PR department on Earth when two  wide-angled guys  from the
security  department  brought the killer  in the  office -  an inconspicuous
sixty-year-old man in washed out jeans and  a jacket with white trim showing
that he worked  in the fifth roadwork team. The  killer's hands were twisted
behind his head and locked with handcuffs.
     The guys left and Bemish pointed the involuntary visitor to a chair.
     "Sit down."
     He sat silently. Bemish was leafing through the report's last pages.
     "Why don't you let me go, boss. They say you have a right to do it."
     Bemish was staggered by his gall.
     "Why did you kill the lad?"
     "I wanted  to talk to you, boss," the visitor said. "See, it ain't easy
to speak to you.  I made an  appointment with you, see, three  times and you
were just cooling it off. I make another appointment today, come in and they
tell  me,  "the  boss ain't here  for  you, Weian peasant  mug,  the boss is
driving a big dog around the  construction, it's not your lawn anymore, move
it - go back to your barrack. So, I went back and it put me out. Why won't I
do something that the boss notice me?"
     Bemish  didn't interrupt the  man yet. He had realized a while ago that
sooner or  later the  bandits would visit him but  he  hadn't suspected that
they would choose such an original way. And this knave is also reminding  in
a subtle way - I have no problem knifing a boy down or you, boss...
     "That was not a good idea," Bemish grinned, "because they will cut your
head off now."
     "Our authorities?"  the  bandit laughed out,  "Boss, it's  not my first
murder, and my head is still with me. Do you  think you  will find witnesses
against me?"
     That was true. The witnesses were available when the bandit had to meet
Bemish. Concerning his head though...
     "What did you want to offer me in person?"
     "Let's get things in order."
     "What order?"
     "What's  all this mess around?  They pick up stuff,  swear  - you  know
what's going on - steal materials, drink people away. Say, yesterday, a gang
came  in and started  to  play, six  people sold themselves into slavery. So
they are slaves and what  happens next? They work  and their owner rubs  his
belly and gets paid. We, on the other hand, would tidy things up."
     "And what do you want in return?"
     "Appoint me the landing field security manager."
     "Do you want to traffic drugs?"
     "Why should I traffic drugs, people make fortunes just  on  cigarettes.
Say, you  boss,  made a  company  with  Shavash and everybody says that  the
company hauls everything it wants and doesn't pay any tariffs."
     "Is that it?"
     "Pay us ten million dinars."
     "Why should I pay you exactly ten million dinars?"
     "You carried away two hundred million  worth of Adera treasure and this
treasure belongs to the people. The brothers think that if you return people
one twentieth part it would be fair.
     Bemish froze.
     "The Adera  treasure,"  Bemish  said, "doesn't exist.  There is neither
gold nor silver in Chakhar, where could the treasure  come from two thousand
years ago?"
     "Don't bullshit me,  boss," the  bandit  said, "and  don't  act  like a
little white lamb. You hang around with Shavash, he stole  half  the country
and we only pick up the crumbs..."
     "I won't collaborate with you."
     "Aha, you can do it with Shavash but you can't do it with us."
     "There is a certain  intelligence gap,"  Bemish  said, "that makes  our
collaboration  impossible.  Shavash  can  pocket  several  million  after  a
financial  trick  but he  will not believe that a  well with  emerald  walls
exists in a God-forsaken hole."
     And he barked into the intercom.
     "Escort the prisoner!"
     In a  moment,  the security department guys were dragging the thief out
of the chair.
     "Remember," he turned  around at the door,  "you stole  more  than your
underling, boss, but it would be just as easy to knife you."
     "Move it," a beefy guy,  barbarian Alom,  said and jabbed the thief  in
his ribs.
     Bemish turned the air  conditioner on and opened  the  window  wide  to
clear the office of the thief's smell.
     The night air was stuffy and soaked by the dust raised by the dozens of
excavators and the hundreds of trucks. Far away a compressor station rumbled
and the stars, large and jagged like the shards from  a bottle that the gods
smashed at the stone firmament, were cooling off above him.
     Bemish was dismayed. Life  was  a disgusting and useless  thing. He was
building a military spaceport on a crazy planet with corrupted officials and
an illiterate population and, as if it was not enough already,  mafia coming
to him and  offering  to transfer  cars  and  cigarettes via the functioning
spaceport's sectors. At the same time, it  was totally  clear to Bemish that
the  thief  acted on  Shavash's hints and all his castigations  against  the
vice-minister were probably staged  by  this  same small  official. Idari is
right  this man will  not stop pestering him  till he starts exporting drugs
via the spaceport...
     The door squeaked.
     Bemish span around and darted to the table where a  gun was stored in a
drawer.  Needless to  say, the thief's  warning made  a strong impression on
him.
     The gun, however, would not be needed. On the doorstep, Kissur stood in
fancy velvet pants and a multihued shirt embroidered with kissing ducks.
     "Oh, my God! What brought you here?"
     "Ah,"  Kissur  said, "I spent  too  much time  at home. I  thought,  "I
haven't inhaled that  gasoline smell at Bemish's for a  while." But I should
get used to it. Soon, my whole country will stink like your spaceport."
     Bemish was silent.
     "Why are you so sad?"
     "A  thief today  told  me  straight  that  if I didn't collaborate with
mafia,  I would  regret it.  Do you  know what  he  asked as a proof  of our
friendship? He asked me for the Adera treasure."
     "Hm," Kissur said,  "Maybe  you  should give this treasure away to  the
bandit? I've heard it brings misfortune to its owner, anyway."
     Terence stared  at  Kissur with astonishment. The latter suddenly broke
into laughter and slapped the Earthman on his shoulder.
     "I gotcha!" Kissur cried out, "I gotcha again! Don't you get jokes?"
     A  phone squealed. Bemish  picked up  the receiver and slammed it  back
down.
     "It's not that I just  stopped getting jokes," Bemish screamed. "I will
start believing in this  treasure myself tomorrow! I will believe in a field
witch that is born of a rotten pole, in  a tin can witch that  is born of an
old tin can and in a carburetor  witch coming from a carburetor dumped  in a
swamp. I will believe that I am building a hole to hell, put a white robe on
and go  preaching  to  the Following the Way that Earthmen  are  demons  and
everything made by them is a phantom because I am not able to prove it's not
true."
     "Actually, it's very easy," Kissur said.
     "What?"
     "It's easy to prove that Earthmen don't send phantoms."
     "Be so kind, tell me."
     "It's a very old trick," Kissur said, "I used it myself eight years ago
when I ran across a gang of  crazies  in some province. Their  chief assured
that he  was  invulnerable to arrows and I told him that if it was the  case
why  wouldn't  he stand next to a wall and I would shoot at him with my bow.
And he believed what he was saying and he stood next to a wall. I struck him
so that my arrow entered his  chest and stuck out  of his spine  for a  full
elbow and he pulled his legs from under himself and hung from this arrow and
his followers ran away, disappointed. It would be enough  for you to take an
assault rifle and suggest to their preacher to place his belly in the way of
a rifle burst. If  you,  say, stay alive than all our hardware is a  phantom
and I promise  you to leave, and if you  die than  you  lied. Don't you like
it?"
     "No."
     "Why? Are you afraid the rifle will misfire?"
     Bemish paused and asked.
     "So, Kissur  what should I  do with the bandits? Should I make peace or
war?"
     "How are you  to make war with the  bandits?" Kissur  got  angry. "I am
telling you - if you want to kill the zealots off, take a gun and shoot at a
zealot - he will approach  you himself! You don't want to shoot  at a zealot
that  will stick his belly at you. Do you think that a bandit will stick his
belly at you?"
     "What would be your advice then?"
     "You  are  a  chicken,  Terence.  You  turned  the  construction  in  a
shithouse.  Just  recently Shavash was  amazed  how you accounted  for  some
equipment in such a way that you managed to shave the tax by  half a million
and he was so amazed by this - even he didn't know this trick. And while you
were accounting  your contraptions and books..." and  Kissur grinned. "Well,
if gods didn't give you the ability to shoot, you will have to make peace."
     "What if I asked you to kill the bandits off?"
     "I won't do it."
     "Why? Do you have a lot of good friends among them?"
     Kissur paused.  At this  moment, the  office door flung open  and angry
Giles flew in.
     "Why  don't you answer the phone, Terence,"  he shouted, "what  is this
habit of hanging the receiver!"
     "Do you have something urgent?"
     "Urgent?  Do  you  know  what's  happening at  the  Adera Temple?  This
preacher, Ashinik, brought a  crowd in,  they broke the  fence, forced their
way into the temple and they are having a worship service."
     Bemish turned and picked  up a close-knit  hemp overcoat  that he often
wore at the construction to be less conspicuous.
     "What are you going to do?"
     "I am going to attend the worship."
     "You're  going nuts," Giles  said. "Call Shavash. Call  the  troops in.
They have finally broken the laws!"
     "Call the troops in and what? Should I jail the whole village?"
     "You should jail the rabble-rousers."
     "And  I  should  turn  the  others  from  ill-wishers into  terrorists,
shouldn't I?"
     "Bemish was tying the overcoat's laces decisively."
     "I know what Terence wants," Kissur said, "I will go with him."
     "Where  are you going? Just the two of you? Oh, my God!" the spy roared
and seeing Kissur and Bemish rushing out of the office, followed them.


     The Ninth Chapter

     Where the demons' boss makes a pact with the pious people.

     Adera's temple  floated in the  night lit with torches from  below. The
crowd was  huge - people in woolen jackets and  grass overcoats girdled with
red belts crowded in the broken hall where the sky instead of a roof covered
a hurriedly  built  stage.  Kissur and two Earthmen,  dressed in  rural hemp
overcoats, were ignored. Only when  Bemish, while elbowing  energetically to
the stage, pushed somebody in the back a guy jammed him in  return and  said
rudely, "Don't push like a demon!"
     On the left and on  the right of the stage, huge copper lanterns burned
and a round basin with fragrant water steamed on the altar. At the very edge
of the stage, Ashinik stood - the young preacher of  Following  the Way. His
face, thin as an  onion peel, reddened, his eyes glistened in the torchlight
and the crowd responded with an ardent bellow to his every word. Ashinik was
dressed in a red hooded  overcoat embroidered with red winged bulls reaching
all the  way to the ground. His belt was made out of polished copper plates.
Black suede  high  boots  looked out  from under the overcoat. A bound white
goose lay at Ashinik's feet.
     Ashinik  preached about Earthmen. More  precisely, he preached that the
clothing sewn by demons should not be worn.
     "Two  hundred years ago, in  the last years of Emperor Sashar's  rule,"
the man  in  the  red overcoat  gleaning  in the  torchlight was saying,  "a
fashion spread among the people from the country of  Great Light - a fashion
to wear the clothing  made out of wool brought  in by barbarians.  It  was a
clear omen that the barbarians  would  conquer  the  country. And now people
wear the clothing sewn by demons - a clear omen that the demons will conquer
the country. So, everyone wearing their foul jeans or jackets is, basically,
walking  naked.  You should know  that everything  that demons make is  just
phantom and deceit. And they can't make anything but phantoms. Although they
are very powerful sorcerers, we are even more powerful than they are."
     "Bullshit," Kissur said.
     Everybody present turned facing him.
     "Who are you?" Ashinik cried.
     "My  name  is Kissur the White Falcon  and this  is Terence Bemish, the
construction boss, my best friend and we came today to see how you go nuts."
     "It doesn't befit  you, Kissur, to hobnob  with  demons," Ashinik spoke
harshly, "Since many  people call you Irshahchan  reborn but,  truly, even a
white cloud dirties itself over an unclean mole."
     Kissur unhurriedly ascended the stage and poked the youth in the chest.
Ashinik's  bodyguards stirred agitatedly -  didn't Ashinik see Kissur in his
last sovereign prophecy?
     "You are a dog and you are a dog's bone," Kissur shouted with the  same
voice he  used  to  command an army of  many thousand  troops and the  voice
carried above the quelled  crowd  without any speakers - you addle  people's
minds and prattle a lot of nonsense and you say that white is  black and mix
up hell and Big Galaxy and nothing but harm to the state comes from zealots.
And if you think that everything Earthmen make is phantoms - do you see what
this is?"
     "It's a weapon of theirs," Ashinik said.
     "Laser  gun  Star-M,"  Kissur  thundered,  "fan  effect  with  improved
specifications. And you will  stand at this gross shithouse that you call an
altar and I will  shoot at you with this gun. And if  Earthmen's weapons are
phantoms and you are a sorcerer, you will stay  alive, and if the Earthmen's
weapons are weapons and  you are a liar  and a cheat, you will keel over and
go to hell that you say so much crap about."
     Ashinik paled. He had never stood in front of a laser barrel. He  heard
many times that the  demons shot at the pious and  it all came  out  to be a
phantom. But...
     "Are you afraid?!" Kissur shouted. And he turned to the peasants. "Yes,
he is afraid; he knows that he is lying to you!"
     "Shoot," Ashinik cried.
     "Go to the altar!" Kissur shouted. "And all of you move aside and watch
with two eyes and don't tell people afterwards what didn't happen."
     The crowd quieted  and only breathed intensely. Ashinik snarled  at his
bodyguards  and they crawled aside  hurriedly.  Ashinik  came to the  altar,
raised his hands and faced Kissur.
     "It's all stupidity and  phantom,"  Ashinik  said and you, Kissur, fell
prey to  it. But when  you shoot and I come back alive,  your delusion  will
disperse and  you will not shame your  name any more  and will stand with us
against demons.
     Kissur silently picked a  fresh "doughnut" out of his pocket, recharged
the  gun and  turned off  the safety  switch with  a  clip.  The  eye on the
"doughnut's"  top swelled  with  green  light.  Ashinik closed  his eyes and
extended  his hands forward. Bemish  could clearly  see the zealots'  leader
young face covered with sweat and his chicken neck in the torchlight.  "Good
lad," Giles whispered nearby. Kissur raised the laser.
     "Don't you dare shoot, Kissur," Bemish said.
     "What are you doing?" Giles hissed from the side.
     Bemish pushed him away and leaped on the stage.
     "Don't shoot!"
     "Idiot," Kissur smirked.
     "I can't  allow you to kill a man right at  my eyes,  whatever this man
believes in!"
     "You  are demon!"  Ashinik  shrieked, "Look, people,  he  knows that he
can't kill me!"
     The crowd clamored threateningly and rocked to the stage.
     "Son of a bitch," Giles screeched, yanking a Kalet laser from under his
armpit.
     "Kill them," Ashinik screamed. "They can't harm you!"
     People were pushing at the stage.
     "One more step and we will shoot," Giles shouted.
     "Stop!" Bemish cried out.
     Strangely, the crowd stopped for a moment.
     Bemish turned to  the crowd spreading  his  palms  -  a local  greeting
gesture.
     "What are you  blaming me for?" he asked. "Not  all the Earthmen,  just
me, you know, I can't be responsible for every conman born on the other side
of the sky. What do you blame me personally for, Terence Bemish, the Assalah
construction director?"
     Jumbled shouts came out of the crowd.
     "They  beat the villagers... Walk around drunk... Took the land away...
Make a lot of money..."
     "Ah, make a lot of money!" Bemish shouted. "Why don't you make a lot of
money? Have I offered  you a job? I have!  I have hundreds of jobs  for you!
Whose fault is it that you make less? Is it  mine? Or is it  those who don't
allow you to work at the construction?"
     The crowd was getting restless.  It was evident that the idea about the
sect being  guilty of current  problems had indeed popped in various  minds,
especially  the young ones  but  nobody  had said it aloud and it's as if an
unsaid idea doesn't really exist.
     "There is no order at the construction," a cry came out of the crowd.
     Bemish raised his hand.
     "You are right. I was not able to establish order at the construction."
     And he turned to Ashinik.
     "Will you be able to establish it?"
     "The god  is capable  of everything and I  am his servant here,  in the
village," Ashinik said.
     "Excellent,"  Bemish said, "Your adherents  are right. I can't maintain
order at the construction. The sovereign, after all, can't maintain order in
this whole country, who am I to maintain order in the spaceport?  Scoundrels
and cads trickled  in  to  the construction and  I can't figure  out who the
culprits are. So,  I am asking you, Ashinik,  to  become my  vice-president,
fire everybody you would like to and hire everybody you would like to."
     The zealot looked somewhat shocked.
     "I can't serve demons," Ashinik said.
     "In this case,"  Bemish said, "You  will be responsible  for the  every
binge, fight and depravity  happening at the spaceport. Since, if you worked
at the construction, you would be able to prevent this depravity. Why do you
refuse to  do good for the people? Can't you do this? Why then do you muddle
people's minds calling  yourself a man of  power? Don't you want to do this?
Why do you call yourself a pious man then?"
     The grey crowd looking like a huge centipede  with burning eyes made of
the  torches  turned  and moved  and voices reached  Bemish, standing on the
stage.
     "If Ashinik became a boss, everything would be really different."
     Ashinik was silent.  Bemish waited - what kind of  man is he and what's
stronger in him - the desire to hurt the people from the stars or the desire
to help the peasants.
     "You  know my beliefs, Mr.  Bemish," Ashinik uttered. "Do  you think  I
will exchange them for your window they disburse money from?"
     "I," Bemish said, "Believe in the freedom of conscience. The freedom of
conscience is  not, when you let  your employees believe in  what  you like,
it's when you let your employees believe  what they  want to. If you want to
consider me a demon -  go  ahead. If  you are  afraid that a close encounter
with me will weaken your beliefs, then they aren't worth much."
     "All right," Ashinik said, "I accept your offer."
     "You are nuts, Bemish," Giles said dismally.
     Annoyed Kissur weighed the gun in his  hand and threw it down the black
Adera well.
     "You  are a  fool, Terence,"  he  said, "and all of you,  Earthmen, are
fools. It looks like your chicanery is of more use than your weapons."
     The  next day, the old bandit was taken to the  capital in a  truck. On
its way, a crowd of peasant zealots stopped the truck, pulled the bandit out
and dragged him to the village, somehow the bandit happened to be torn apart
on the way.
     Not informing local police, Bemish  called special  troops in masks but
with an  evident  barbarian  accent  from the  capital -  mostly  they  were
Kissur's  ex-warriors  -  and  they  scoured  the  hired  workers'  barracks
mercilessly fishing  everybody suspicious  out. They found about fifty  such
people, beat them senseless, deposited them in a net and attached the net to
a freight helicopter. The helicopter  made three triumphal circles above the
spaceport and flew to the capital.
     Afterwards Bemish  let Ashinik  and his zealots  into  the barracks. He
gave full power to Ashinik and he proved  to be right. The young fanatic was
a great manager and his intelligence service seemed to  know the  background
of each worker. They knew who in the barracks was a perspective zealot cowed
by the bandits and the thieves, who was an honest worker away from all these
catfights,  who had robbed  an Iniss  bank last year and who  had begged  in
Upper Kharaine. Ashinik just brought Bemish the lists of workers to be fired
and  Bemish  initialed them without  asking  for  any  explanations  that he
wouldn't get anyway.
     The same day, Shavash called Bemish and insistently demanded the arrest
of  all  of the zealots. Bemish  refused saying that they was  necessary  to
exterminate the bandits. Shavash said that he would give Bemish two weeks to
finish the  bandits off and then Bemish should consecutively arrest  all the
zealots  for  abusing their authority,  lynching and  sadistic treatment  of
their subordinates. Actually, Shavash didn't suggest this  plan out loud but
rather pretended that it had been  Bemish's plan from the very beginning. To
destroy  one infection  using  another one and  then  to  write  off all the
depravities that had happened during the extermination of the  former to the
latter.
     During that week, order and  cleanliness came to rule the construction.
Bemish didn't entertain any illusions about the  methods the zealots used to
attain  this  cleanliness  -  he saw  how two  janitors were  whipping their
colleague for a rug that he hadn't washed at his  shift's end - they whipped
him bloody with cries and brined whips.
     For two weeks,  Bemish wordlessly signed Ashinik's requests including a
request for  buying, at the company's expense, three hundred meters of white
silk and three white  geese even though Bemish was totally aware that  white
silk  would  be used for  belts the zealots covered with spells  and wore on
their bodies and the three geese would be used for  the divination about the
demons' fate.
     In  the  beginning  of  the  third  week,  Bemish  found his new  human
resources  manager sitting and reading  an acetylene welder construction and
repair  manual that a zealot, considering acetylene welding to be a  phantom
and illusion, was not supposed to do.



     The next  day, a  highly placed committee  from a  Federation financial
advisory body arrived. The  committee was supposed to study  Weian economics
and  collect  data  on  the  Galactic  Bank  target  loan  provided  by  the
Federation. From Bemish's point of view, this endeavor  was pointless  since
he  hadn't  seen a single target loan yet that was used  for  purposes other
than the construction of suburban villas for the officials  in charge of the
credit  distribution.  The  loans  were  humongous and  the  villas came out
luxurious. And  since the loans were guaranteed by the state, the Federation
officials didn't give a damn what they were used for.
     The  committee  landed  in Assalah  spaceport and expressed a desire to
examine  the  finished  buildings  and  also the  construction's next stage,
separated from the spaceport's operating part by steel mesh.
     The  committee  was  absolutely   impressed  with  the   order  at  the
construction  site. Parting  with Bemish,  the  committee head, the Galactic
Bank  of  Development Assistance  vice-chairman,  told  him  that  he  had a
brilliant trade union leader.
     "It's incredible! Terence, where have you found this treasure? Have you
seen how the workers listen  to him? They listen to him holding their breath
as if he was a prophet, and he is not even twenty yet!"
     The  vice-president  said  that  this  guy  should  immediately  get  a
scholarship  and go to  Havishem  or  Harvard and promised  to write  him  a
reference letter.
     Upon the committee's departure, Ashinik asked Bemish why Shavash hadn't
arrived  with the  Earthmen,  since  he had mostly been responsible  for the
distribution of  the above mentioned loans. Bemish answered that Shavash had
been busy.  In fact,  Shavash had called an hour before the  flight and said
that he would come on  one  condition only -  if he could take back with him
Ashinik's head  in  a  sack.  Shavash  expressed himself exactly  this way -
"head."
     "Do  you know,"  Shavash  asked,  "That  these  Following  the Way guys
organized the last attempt at my assassination?"
     "How  would  I know,"  Bemish snapped  back, "If you hanged  completely
different people for it?"



     The next day, Bemish saw the Okuri company stock price skyrocketing and
it happened since Okuri perchance had secured from the  sovereign the rights
to  develop copper deposits recently found in  the Chakhar mountains. Bemish
called  Shavash to  find  out if Okuri had really gobbled  this  chunk or if
somebody  was  spreading  the rumors  to pick some dough and to  find out if
there really was any copper ore in the Chakhar Mountains to begin with.
     "I will exchange  information  about Okuri on Ashinik's balls," Shavash
said.
     "No," Bemish said.
     "What's happened to you,  Terence, have you fallen in love  with him? I
haven't noticed you leaning this way before."
     Bemish choked.
     "I  am kidding.  Since  you  love a different  - woman,"  Shavash  said
heavily and with a hidden meaning. And he dropped the receiver.
     This evening, when Ashinik was having a dinner in the common cafeteria,
Bemish sat next to him. After tea, Bemish asked.
     "Why does your sect dislike Shavash so much?"
     Ashinik paused.
     "Shavash is a briber and a scoundrel."
     "Ashinik, sonny,  all Weian officials  are bribers and scoundrels. You,
however, dislike Shavash much  more than, say, Khanida  or Akhaggar  - while
they cause just as much harm."
     "Khanida hasn't tried to destroy us."
     "That's why. And has Shavash tried?"
     "Yes. He filled our  circle with spies and dissidents. He  bribed those
who were not  firm in their convictions and  they started preaching a lot of
nonsense and many people let themselves be lured."
     "What kind of nonsense did they preach?"
     "He bribed  Dakhak and Dakhak  started saying that  it's wrong  to deny
salvation to demons and that they would not be damned forever. And he bribed
Amarn  and  Amarn  started  teaching..."  Ashinik   suddenly  stopped.  "Our
teachings are none of your business," he finished.
     Bemish couldn't conceal his smile.
     "Are you sure  that every zealot that doesn't believe  the  same things
you do, is necessarily bribed or seduced?"
     "These people were bribed by Shavash," Ashinik cut him off.
     Bemish paused. Really,  Ashinik's words could be  true. Shavash himself
told  the Earthman that nothing was more  efficient at killing  the  zealots
than discords  among  the  sects.  And  the  whole  thing  just  looked like
Shavash's  doing. Yes, this official  stole,  embezzled and  it  was not  an
accident  that a joke about him traveled around -  out of  all  gods Shavash
envied ten  handed Khagge the most - imagine how much you can steal with ten
hands? At the same time, only Shavash among all the bribers surrounding  him
could be seriously concerned with the future danger of Following the Way.
     Yes. It makes sense that Shavash tried to take  care of the sect  in  a
way that wouldn't cause an international scandal.  It would  be one thing to
hang the zealots  publicly pissing off all the  human  rights committees and
another thing to make them throttle each other.



     At the end of the third week, Bemish found Ashinik  on the border of an
unfinished  sector. The  lad was holding  Bemish's gun that he  had probably
picked up in a drawer in the office  and, having extracted the battery,  was
contemplating the "doughnut" thoughtfully. Ten meters away from  Ashinik,  a
huge basalt rock arose; it had been left on the field since it was too heavy
to transport. Now, a  regular  Atari could drag the rock away in two trips -
it  was  cut in  half and black basalt foam  bubbled  at the  jagged wound's
edges.
     The  light on the "doughnut" top blinked  red  -  the battery was dead.
When Bemish approached, the zealot threw the gun on the grass and asked.
     "Why didn't Kissur shoot me?" Bemish rolled on his feet.
     "I've already told you. I can't let a deliberate murder happen right in
front of me even if the victim doesn't mind."
     "I thought that this thing couldn't shoot me. At that moment, I thought
that you didn't allow Kissur to show that I was right."
     Bemish silently looked at  the youth.  It  would be interesting to know
how  much time  it  took  him  to  quarter the  rock.  Star's  "doughnut" is
specified for forty eight minutes of uninterrupted shooting.
     "It's very difficult," Ashinik said, "when you had seen that  something
was black and then it appeared to be white."
     "Have you really had visions, Ashinik?"
     "I still have them."
     "What are they about? Are they about Earthmen being demons?"
     "Yes," Ashinik remarked, "Tell me, could a man  be born out of a golden
egg?"
     "Read a biology textbook," Bemish dryly suggested.



     The next  day, Ashinik was managing the forest  clearing in a new  area
and he fainted in the  workers'  view. He regained his senses in ten minutes
and  continued working even though Bemish told  him  on the radio to  go and
rest.
     Ashinik felt fine for two  days and he fainted again on  the third one.
Then, he told the workers  that he would turn them into  cockroaches if they
told Bemish  about  the  fits and Bemish  didn't  know anything till, in two
weeks, Ashinik fainted at a morning business meeting.
     He  recovered  quickly but  Bemish, not  letting  him  open  his mouth,
dragged him to the health services -  to Isaak Malinovskii who was in charge
of influenza, accidents and malaria at the construction  and who  also  kept
terrorizing Bemish with the possibility of a cholera epidemic.
     Malinovskii  took the youth's blood  pressure, put him  on  the  couch,
wrapped  him with wires and ran a tomography  on him. Ashinik didn't resist.
He didn't seem to care.
     "What problems do you have?" Malinovskii  finally asked, having covered
the youth with a blanket and sitting next to him.
     "Am I fine?"
     "You have a bad case of  nervous exhaustion. What happens to you before
you faint?"
     "I  see different pictures. I was  sitting, for example, at the today's
meeting  and then  everybody around  started  growing horns and snouts and a
wall tied around me and began choking me."
     Ashinik paused.
     "Tell me, doctor, am I crazy?"
     "Why are you asking this question?"
     "I have visions.  I read this thick book  -  a  psychiatry textbook. It
said that if a man saw what others didn't, it meant that something was wrong
with his brains."
     "If an Earthman came to me  and told me what you had just described,  I
would definitely  recommend him a psychiatrist. But the  specific subculture
you belong to is very different. For Following the Way  a  trance  is normal
and the  ability  to  fall in  a trance is one  of  the ways  to prove  your
leadership skills. You are  a  very  nervous and excitable man, Ashinik, but
you are mentally normal.  And I think that  your visions will disappear soon
because  here, working  for  the company, you've found  another way to be  a
leader.
     Malinovskii  attached  a plastic drug vial  to a syringe and said, "And
now you need to sleep long and well."
     When  Ashinik woke up, it was already day time.  The  fiery snouts that
had buzzed in his mind yesterday disappeared. He lay in a wide bed in a room
with  carved pink wood walls and  a wide open window. A cardinal sat on  the
windowsill  and studied him with eyes  that looked like mercury droplets and
far  away,  behind  the  bird's red feathers  and bush greenery two  hundred
meters of Assalah spaceport control tower soared in the sky.
     Ashinik  realized  that he had probably been  moved to Terence Bemish's
villa. He hadn't been to the  villa yet because there was  a lot  of work at
the  spaceport and because Bemish either slept  at the spaceport or flew  to
the capital on business.
     Ashinik  turned his head and saw  a girl sitting next to him. The  girl
was  dressed  in a  velvet jacket  and  a  long bell  shaped skirt sewn with
flowers and grasses. A hazy silk belt tied with a  five-petal knot fluttered
behind her back like butterfly wings.
     The girl smiled  at Ashinik  shyly and  Ashinik  suddenly smiled  back.
Something  scurried  between them  -  Ashinik imagined for a moment  a furry
little animal jumping out one smile into another.
     "Mr. Bemish said that you should stay in bed and should not get up."
     "Are  you  Bemish's  concubine?"  Ashinik  asked.  His  voice  suddenly
acquired the cold confidence that he preached to hundreds of people with.
     "Yes."
     "I heard about you. You are Inis. How much did he pay for you?"
     Inis shuddered.
     "He paid for me as much as they asked."
     "Does he love you?"
     "Mr. Bemish likes me quite a bit." Inis said.
     "Why haven't I seen you at the construction?"
     Inis smiled guiltily.
     "Mr. Bemish really wanted me to be at the construction," Inis said.
     "He  taught me  himself how to work  with accounting software  and make
accounting reports. He made me his secretary. And then this crap happened...
I was once sitting in the office  in the evening when three workers came in.
They were going to file a complaint about their manager but when they saw me
sitting  there alone, they  assaulted me and... I was just  able to call for
help.  After  that, I asked Mr.  Bemish to let me  stay in the villa and  he
agreed."
     Inis straightened up and added proudly.
     "But I do  a  lot of stuff here. I check all the bills and last month I
saved  Mr.  Bemish  two hundred thousand  when I noticed one  local official
running fake accounts through the company."
     She sighed and added.
     "We still had to give this official a fifty thousand bribe."
     "What software do you use," Ashinik asked.
     He  had practically no experience  with computers and,  frankly, he was
afraid  of these scary answerers that Earthmen always carried with them like
handkerchiefs and at every  third  word took  them  out of their pockets and
spread open. Seeing them always reminded him one  of  the most  popular sect
myths  - that demons  took  their souls out  and put them  in these  organic
silicon  handkerchiefs or iron boxes and  the demons'  souls felt lonely and
blinked on the monitors with multicolored lights.
     Inis started  saying something but Ashinik  had drifted off. "The demon
is  not very jealous if he leaves  his concubine alone with a young man," he
thought.



     Ashinik returned to the construction  in three days and Bemish was very
happy since it  was quite  difficult to manage things  without  him.  Bemish
happened to send Ashinik to villa several times for important papers or with
some orders and Ashinik always drove there with a visible delight.
     Soon  Inis  appeared  in  Bemish's  office  again  as  a  secretary and
Ashinik's frequent trips to the villa came to an end. Ashinik  and Inis were
quite a bit younger than Terence Bemish - she was seventeen, he was twenty -
but  Bemish just  didn't  notice how  Inis'  blushed when his  young  deputy
entered  the company  director's office and how often Ashinik  and Inis  ate
together  in the company cafeteria or in one of the  port's restaurants that
had grown around like mushrooms.
     Although, Terence  Bemish declared at his first meeting with  Inis some
words  about the freedom of will, in reality  this  freedom of will extended
only  as far as  him making Inis  his secretary  - while Inis was a nice and
kind girl, blindingly  bright she was not. Bemish  was quite  happy when she
handed  him a clean shirt and socks in the morning, excellent coffee at noon
and spent nights in his bed - when, of course,  the Assalah company head was
not having fun  in a capital bordello or  at  a high rank official reception
that would usually come to an end in the same bordello.
     Bemish took as good care of her as he  did of expensive house furniture
but he knew that nothing better than a secretary  could come out of Inis - a
nice pleasant  girl with a warm heart and, let's admit it, not a  very smart
head. And Terence Bemish assigned  automatically any unintelligent person to
a place at the very bottom of his rating list.



     The next week, Trevis visited  the construction. The meeting  had  been
planned  a  while ago and  had nothing  to  do  with the zealots' affair but
Trevis  probably heard something  during the flight. His first question upon
arrival was,
     "Terence, what's going on here? They say that you appointed some zealot
to be your deputy?"
     "Let me introduce Ashinik to you," Bemish said.
     Ashinik bowed. Trevis stared at the youth.
     "Do you consider me a demon?" Trevis inquired.
     "I  am not familiar  with you," Ashinik  answered seriously,  "But what
I've heard about you makes  me  think that a lot of people would call you  a
demon and you wouldn't take an offence at this name anyway."
     Trevis laughed out.
     "Well, even if you are a zealot, at least you are not crazy," he said.



     On the eighteenth, Bemish  spoke to the sovereign  Varnazd. It happened
the following way.
     Bemish collected quite a number of papers requiring Shavash's signature
and  he arrived  to the capital in person bringing the papers and gifts with
him.  He  was told that Shavash was in the palace and he would be there till
morning. Bemish went to the palace. He entered without an issue.
     Umpteen  pavilions  and  inner yards and  the  gardens  breathing  with
freshness were so unexpectedly  beautiful that Bemish,  tired of the banging
concrete  blocks  and  of  all the filth  of his  huge  construction, forgot
everything  walking  thoughtlessly amidst  the  dancing  gods and  pompously
cackling peacocks. Suddenly somebody called him out of a carved gazebo.
     "Mr. Bemish!"
     Bemish turned around and came closer trying to recall where, out of all
the endless receptions, he saw this young official with a nice and uncertain
face and eyebrows pulling upwards like a sparrow's tail.
     "Don't you recognize me?" the official asked smiling.
     "Oh, my sovereign," Bemish exclaimed, going down  on one knee, "How can
one not recognize you?!"
     The  sovereign  pointed Bemish to  a  woven chair deep in  the  gazebo.
Bemish sat in the chair and pushed the paper folder behind his back.
     "I   wanted   to  ask   you,"   the   sovereign   continued,  "What  is
"unfathomable?"
     "What?"  Bemish  was astounded. The sovereign picked a volume lying  in
front of him and read, stretching the vowels slightly.
     Unfathomable sea, whose waves are years,
     Ocean of time, whose waters of deep woe,
     Are salted with the salt of human tears...
     Bemish lowered his eyes looking at the front page - it was Percy Bysshe
Shelley.
     "Ah," Bemish  said, "Unfathomable means bottomless. It's a poetic word.
I don't think anybody would need it now."
     "Yes," the sovereign  nodded,  "A lot of poetic words  disappeared from
your language. But numerous abbreviations appeared, didn't they?
     Bemish nodded.
     "It's a pity," the sovereign said, "that they don't translate  your old
books. They translate dictionaries and manuals but not Shelley."
     "Do  you like Shelley?" Bemish  asked with trepidation to  maintain the
conversation, even though the only Shelley  he had  read  was a certain A.D.
Shelley, one  of  the co-authors of a  book  Assembling Radiowave Beacons on
Geostationary Orbits in Order to Correct the  Spaceship's  Trajectory in the
Proximity of Planets."
     "Yes,"  the sovereign  said,  "Reading  him  I understand  that we  and
Earthmen are very much alike. Or we were alike. You know this representation
of   time  that  brings  downfall  to  the  best  and   the  proudest,  goes
backwards..."
     The sovereign paused.
     "Were you looking for someone?" he said suddenly, nodding at the folder
a corner of which was sticking out of the armchair.
     "Yes, I was looking for Shavash. I need his signature."
     "Maybe  I  could  sign  something  here?  I  am  sure  you  don't  have
anything... reprehensible."
     Sovereign Varnazd  smiled  shyly saying  these words and Bemish had  an
unpleasant  feeling.  What does he mean, "anything reprehensible?"  Does  he
mean  that Bemish is not a swindler? Or that all the filth doesn't touch the
papers?
     "So would you like me to sign anything?"
     Bemish  hesitated.  On  one  side,   two  papers  indeed  required  the
sovereign's signature  - he would have to wait three weeks to get it. On the
other hand, what if Shavash gets displeased? He will think that Bemish crept
into the garden, found the sovereign behind the Shavash's back, told him God
knows what, left Shavash  without  rightly earned  gifts  and,  to conclude,
acted improperly.
     Bemish raised his eyes. The Emperor suddenly smiled bitterly and spoke.
     "I am  sorry.  I know that  my signature doesn't mean  much but I often
forget that it can also cause damage."
     Oh, my  God!  -  Bemish was astonished - he understands everything! But
why...
     "I would like to do something nice for you," the sovereign said.
     "You... I have seen some of your paintings. May I see others?"
     The sovereign smiled.
     "Let's go."
     In five  minutes,  they passed  through the sovereign's bedroom into  a
light room  with eight  corners. The guards  gaped,  if any  Earthmen -  Van
Leyven or Nan - had found themselves in the  guarded halls, at least, it had
happened a long time ago.
     Bemish  wasn't  mistaken  -  the   sovereign's  Varnazd  drawings  were
wondrously good. He probably wasn't a genius painter, he likely followed one
of the old  masters - every  single drawing was done in a traditional manner
with light watercolors, slightly  faded from the beginning, - and there  was
something  sad and  defenseless in all  of them,  something  that  resonated
surprisingly well with the face of the sovereign of Great  Light Country. "I
wouldn't hire him even as a department head," Bemish thought.
     Bemish stopped for a  long  while in  front of a  certain  drawing.  It
depicted a view out of a window - probably a palace one, judging by a curled
frame  corner  - a view of a winter garden. Huge  wet snow sheets pushed dry
flowers to the ground, four commoner  gardeners looking  like  sparrows with
ruffled  feathers, were starting  a fire  in the  middle of  a  large  black
clearing. A forlorn  spear was poised behind the fire. It was clear that the
painter felt  bad for these people but  he thought  that he couldn't  change
anything. It was winter coming year after year. Unfathomable sea whose waves
are years...
     "Well," the sovereign Varnazd said, "Which one do you like the most?"
     Bemish pointed at the drawing with the gardeners at the fire.
     "What else?"
     Bemish picked another one.
     "You  have  an excellent  taste," the  sovereign  said. "These are  the
best."
     "Have you painted them a while ago?"
     "Yes, it  was seven years ago when I was  a  Khanalai's prisoner. These
are my guards. Do you see the spear?"
     Bemish  paled. Yes,  sovereign Varnazd  was a Khanalai's prisoner seven
years ago and not just a prisoner - Khanalai did everything but starved him,
wiped his  fingers at Varnazd's  hair during his feasts, and just waited for
the full victory to execute an unworthy emperor...
     "It's possible that to  draw well, you have to  suffer. I had a  reason
then to pity myself."
     "You seem not to pity yourself," Bemish dared.  "You  seem to pity  the
peasants that guard you."
     They left the eight cornered room for a terrace.  A light armchair with
a golden head and spreading  wings at the sides - it seemed to  be  flying -
stood next  to the balustrade and several foot stools stood next to  it. The
sovereign sat in  the armchair and showed Bemish  to a stool. They sat down,
the sovereign paused and asked.
     "They write in  your newspapers that I should have a parliament elected
and transfer the  power to  the people - that  is, they say, the only way to
manage corruption and power  abuse. And my officials keep  pointing out that
the  people  are  poor, lost and  embittered  and that there  are  a lot  of
underground sects  in  the  country. If  only rich are  allowed  to  vote, a
rebellion  will fire up and  if  everybody is allowed to vote, crazy zealots
will make one half of parliament and the officials bribed by the criminals -
another  half. They  also  say that an  assembly  can rule only during  easy
times,  and  one man  should rule during uneasy times. It  is in assemblies'
nature to  think  slowly  and in  the  uneasy  times one has  to  make  fast
decisions and any slow decision in uneasy times will be a wrong one. What do
you think?"
     Bemish  felt  uncomfortable  sitting  on  a gilded perch - he wasn't  a
parrot, was he? He stood and said.
     "I  think that one can always find a thousand reasons why  democracy is
not good.  And  I think that all these  reasons  are untrustworthy. I  don't
think that people are as stupid as unscrupulous politicians picture them and
I bring you my apologies, sovereign, but I am sure that it is more difficult
to fool a million of stupid commoners than one smart emperor."
     Varnazd paused.
     "When I was Khanalai's prisoner,  I thought a  lot about  it. I thought
that  my own  errors caused the civil war and the worst  of it  was that  it
wasn't really my fault. It's just that if  everything depends on one person,
the officials  around him  want to  solve all their problems by fooling this
person and they, of course, succeed. And I decided that  one  man  shouldn't
rule  the  country  because  perfect sovereigns  don't  exist  and only  the
sovereigns who consider themselves be perfect, exist."
     Bemish grinned.
     "I  apologize,  sovereign, but it's  not really  evident  that you have
chosen this way."
     "I was talked out of it," Varnazd said, "By  the Earthmen - Nan and Van
Leyven.  They started arguing that an election would cause anarchy, that the
people would consider it to  be a shame and a concession to the Earthmen who
forced their decisions  on the  freed  emperor, that even Khanalai  realized
that the Empire  of Great Light existence was based on  worshipping God-king
while an elected assembly would be despised,  not respected. It may  all  be
correct, but  the real reason was  that Nan and  Van Leyven knew it would be
easier for them to rule in my name  than in an elected assembly's name. Yes,
they talked me out of it."
     "I don't think so,"  Bemish said.  "You let yourself be  persuaded. You
had shrunk away from power when you hadn't  had it, but when you got it back
you didn't really want to refuse it."
     Bemish  expected anger or an emotionless "no" but the sovereign lowered
his head suddenly and tears showed at his eyelashes.
     "It's so strange,"  Varnazd said. "I told myself  what you've just said
many times. And now you told me  the same words and I  am ready to hate  you
for it."
     And he flapped his sleeves.
     "Where  is it, my power? You are even afraid to get your papers signed,
the same  ones that Shavash will bring tomorrow  for  my signature!  You are
afraid that Shavash will suspect you  conniving something  and will not  let
you use the papers signed by me! And you and Shavash are friends!"
     "Sovereign," Bemish said, "if you understand everything, why do you act
this way? Why wouldn't you set an election day?"
     "Do  you  know," Varnazd asked, "who  will become  the  Empire's  first
minister after the election?"
     Bemish shrugged his shoulders.
     "Shavash! I don't believe that my people will elect a zealot or a fool!
They will elect a smart man. Shavash will bribe everybody and everybody will
like him, he will even find  a path to the zealots' hearts using his spies -
but  while I  am alive,  Mr. Bemish,  I will not  allow Shavash  to rule  my
people. We don't have a god similar to your Satan but believe me, if we did,
Shavash would be his son."
     Before leaving Bemish, the sovereign Varnazd suddenly brought his guest
to  a pavilion where  the  paintings  drawn the previous centuries hung. The
paintings  covered the  wall like a spotty carpet  -  like  an iconostasis -
small  marble altars,  braziers and  gold basins  with  fresh pine  branches
floating in them, stood in front of the most beautiful paintings.
     Bemish saw a girl and a dragon immediately - an altar stood in front of
it  - and Bemish thought  worriedly  whether  the brazier  smoke  harmed the
drawing or, to the contrary, protected it.
     "I would like to give it to you," the emperor said. Bemish bowed.
     "Your Eternity, I can't accept such a gift."
     "But I would like you to!"
     "A man was killed because of  this  painting. It will always remind  me
about his death."
     "Who was he?"
     "It  was my headman, Adini. The man, who swapped  the original  and the
copy, following Shavash's orders."
     Bemish  hesitated, considering whether  he  was going to  say something
that would be taken as an affront, and finished.
     "I would prefer the gardeners around a fire."
     The sovereign didn't give  Bemish  the gardeners, of  course.  Two days
later,  he  however  bestowed  a  watercolor to  the Earthman that  depicted
mermaids, imps and people in a  dancing frenzy around  a fire soaring to the
sky. The colors were painfully bright, the people's pupils narrowed from the
blinding light and the fire itself was formed by a circle of the intertwined
transparent snakelike demons.  One  of the guests whispered to Bemish with a
smile that somewhere around fifth century, the god of wealth secret worships
had been depicted in such a way.
     Terence Bemish  had an overcoat, that such  gifts were  supposed  to be
accepted in, put on his  shoulders and  he kneeled  and kissed the emperor's
hand and the golden brush attached to the roll's right corner.
     The very fact, that the emperor bestowed one of his own  paintings to a
man from the stars, brought forth many rumors - Terence Bemish was the first
man born on the sky that received such a gift. The whispers started that the
foreigner would soon be offered a Chakhar governor or  a minister of finance
position but better  informed people shook their  heads and said that nobody
would  change a  bill prohibiting people from the stars from taking Empyreal
appointments - this bill had been designed specially to kick Nan out  of the
country.



     The  day  that  Bemish spent talking to  sovereign  Varnazd,  his first
deputy Ashinik spent at the  new site A-33. The place was barely developed -
a tractor path wove in the middle of it but it was enough to step ten meters
away to see birds  fluttering out of the grass and lizards  presenting their
green back to the sun on the spotty rocks. When lunch time came, the workers
climbed in a jeep and drove to the  cafeteria. Ashinik wanted to  spend some
time alone. He  walked up a sunlit hillock, sat on the grass and uncovered a
rug his lunch was wrapped  in - two flatbread  pieces  with sheep cheese and
butter.
     Somebody settled down on the grass  next to him. Ashinik turned around.
Near him, a man sat in a rough hay overcoat and a yellow repairman belt - it
was not a repairman, however, but a man named Yadan. Yadan was the very same
zealot that had  taught Ashinik and raised him to the third level. Yadan was
not  the  head  of the  zealots,  there  was one man  above him  who was not
supposed to be  called by his  name and  whom  everybody called White Elder.
White Elder was not a nickname - it was a position. If the White Elder died,
Yadan  would  become the White  Elder.  Yadan was  the  most  uncompromising
Earthmen's opponent in the sect and he was the second in its hierarchy.
     "Good day, Ashinik."
     "Good  day, teacher. Why didn't you say that you wanted to see me? It's
dangerous for you to come here. What if somebody identifies you?"
     "Why is it dangerous?  I thought that this  is the  safest place in the
whole Empire for me. Isn't  everybody working at the construction devoted to
us?"
     "What can you require from simple peasants, teacher? It's easy to tempt
a man  with a  high salary  and a  thick bun and this demon Giles  stuck his
steel eyes everywhere and watches me all the time. All that he  wants is  to
use me to catch  a big  fish  that  will feed demons' Intelligence  and that
Shavash will enjoy."
     Ashinik was saying these words mechanically squeezing the unwrapped rag
with a bun and cheese in his hand.  He  felt fear shoving its sticky fingers
in his  heart.  What  will  Yadan ask  from him?  The teacher's voice didn't
promise anything  pleasant. He will be punished now...  Why? What rules  has
Ashinik broken? He always  followed  all rituals  and  customs carefully. An
evening hasn't passed yet without Ashinik calling the workers in for a brief
prayer,  a morning hasn't  passed  without  him  getting out of  the bed and
splashing  his  left  shoulder  with  water...  And  still  Ashinik's  heart
fluttered....
     "You  are  afraid," Yagan said  unexpectedly.  "Why  are  you  shaking,
Ashinik?"
     Ashinik was silent.
     "Oh, I am sorry my lad, that I am asking such a stupid question," Yadan
spoke suddenly.  "It's difficult  to  live amidst demons and  not be afraid,
isn't it?"
     "Yes, of course."
     They  were silent  for a moment.  Yadan,  dry and rangy, stared at  the
uprooted  patch and  a  covered  with  clay excavator immobilized at a  huge
foundation pit.
     "I am hungry," Yadan spoke suddenly.
     Ashinik hurriedly broke the bun in half.
     "Hola,  my lad!" the zealot  said quietly.  "Do  you  eat demons'  food
already?"
     Ashinik looked at the bun in horror.
     He  picked  up  the snack at a road stand where  a village  matron  was
selling cheap Weian food. The bun was frankly of the simplest kind, the same
one  as women had baked here for  the thousands  of years and the cheese was
homemade sharp goat cheese rolled  in small white  balls. But red  hot sauce
between cheese and onions - here Yadan was totally right - came not from the
local places  but  out of an imported demons' can. Ashinik went cold. Even a
month ago, he, Ashinik, would  have noticed himself that it was demons' food
and here he  just bought the  bun  and  wrapped it in the rug automatically.
Gods, what's  happening to him, Ashinik, that he  doesn't notice  so  simple
things? Or, is it all that important what can this sauce comes from?
     Ashinik  blushed furiously and threw  the bun  in the  pit filled  with
water.
     "How often do you eat their food?"
     Ashinik kept guilty silence. Constantly having body cleanliness and the
teacher's  admonitions  in  mind, he mostly  tried  to avoid  the Earthmen's
dishes but it wasn't easy. The first time, he had to  eat their  food was at
that bank committee reception. Ashinik was seated with the other people at a
banquet table and, though  Ashinik  could handle hunger, he couldn't  handle
the understanding and relaxed look that Terence Bemish  glanced at Ashinik's
empty plate with.
     Then - either a meeting after which Inis  gets a  pizza or working till
late night and a hamburger - it's difficult to live with  the demons and not
eat their  food. Forget about the  food, it such a shame that  Ashinik has a
suit  hanging in his closet  - made out of the same  demons' cloth  that  he
frightened the believers with.
     "Do you eat demons' food often?" Yadan repeated his question.
     "I have to sometimes," Ashinik uttered.
     "So, that's what is happening,"  Yadan  grinned.  "The gods addled  the
demons' minds and turned them into the gods' tool - did we  suppose that the
demons would handle their main construction over to us..."
     And he stood suddenly.
     "It's enough of demons' food for you; the time has  come for you to eat
food for your soul. Come to Inissa by the sixth, you know, where you  should
be."
     He turned away and disappeared.
     Ashinik sat unmoving for a while. He thought that everything could have
been way worse. Yadan could order him to kill Bemish or  to set a  bomb  off
next to a passenger terminal. What would have Ashinik done then? He couldn't
refuse...
     Instead  of this, they just called him to Inissa for an  all-round sect
meeting. What  does  it  mean?  Do they approve of his actions? Or  are they
going to bring him to a trial and the sixth will become his life's last day?
Or  he  will be  commanded to make up for his crime by killing the very same
man that tempted him away from the true road - Terence Bemish?
     Ashinik stood up abruptly. He suddenly  felt how his body became sticky
with  sweat and he also felt horrible hunger  pangs. Really, he hadn't eaten
since five am. He would  have happily picked up the bun if he  had thrown it
to  the ground.  Ashinik  was a simple and resilient  village lad and by the
war's end, during the famine, he had to eat not just buns covered in mud but
also  live caterpillars. But he  had thrown the bun away  in the  foundation
pit, should he swim after it?
     Ashinik  slowly  lumbered  west  where  the  spaceport's  hangars   and
technical services started on the other side of the torn out fence's planks.
     In five minutes,  he  entered  the  main  building  via  an underground
tunnel. Weian and English words blinked on a board, alien words  hang in the
air like flies and thousands of people scurried back and forth.
     Ashinik spun his  head around looking for the nearest Weian seller but,
then, he  turned  sharply  and approached  a huge  gleaming fast  food stand
covered with all kinds of hamburgers and bottles full of dyed water.



     In half  an  hour,  Ashinik ran right into Giles on the  twelfth floor.
Ashinik didn't  like Giles.  He knew that  the latter  was  Shavash's  close
friend, and unlike Terence Bemish, who never grilled Ashinik  about the sect
or the reasons behind his  orders,  Giles constantly  wondered about customs
and meetings and more than once or twice he would start explaining pompously
to Ashinik why, accordingly to Earth scientific laws, nothing could get born
out of a golden egg.
     "Hey, Ashinik, what do you need here?" Giles inquired.
     "The report that I gave to Mr.  Bemish yesterday," Ashinik answered. "I
need to fix some stuff."
     "Ah, hm-hm," the security chief  said mysteriously.  Here, the elevator
doors opened finally, Giles jumped in and left.
     Ashinik twitched  his mouth  and opened  the door to  Bemish's personal
office. He told Giles the truth and nothing but the truth - he  did need his
yesterday's report.  Leaving for the capital, Bemish said  that he scribbled
some remarks on it and  Ashinik needed to fix the report accordingly  to the
remarks and hand it over to Bemish when the latter returned.
     The report however was nowhere to be found. Ashinik cautiously searched
the  papers  strewn  across  Terence's  table  and  found  nothing.  Ashinik
hesitated  and,  having approached a door at the  far end of  the office, he
pushed it and entered.
     It was  Terence  Bemish's  personal  residence.  A forty  square meters
living room started right behind  the office doors, its windows, made out of
soundproof glass, faced  the landing pads. A personal elevator could deliver
the owner to the bedroom and  the guests even higher, to the  very tower top
where a rocky garden  with  cactuses and agaves  was  set out. Other  plants
didn't take well to this height, either wind  got in their way or it was the
nonstop roaring  of  the ships taking off -  there was  no  soundproof glass
around the plants.
     Going to his bedroom, Bemish generally used, instead of the elevator, a
wide and beautiful staircase that started right in the living room.
     The report  was not in the  living room  either.  Ashinik thought  that
Bemish had slept here yesterday  and most probably he had left the report on
a table in the bedroom. Bemish had left papers there before occasionally and
he had sent Ashinik  after them. Ashinik,  after  a brief hesitation, walked
upstairs.
     Semi-darkness and cleanliness ruled the bedroom and Ashinik noticed the
blasted  report at once - it lay under the bed, next  to Bemish's  slippers,
and one could see  how mercilessly it had been scribbled over  even  all the
way  from the door.  Then, something  moved  to  the side next  to a mirror.
Ashinik turned his head and saw Inis.
     "What are you doing here?" Inis said.
     "I  came to get the report," Ashinik answered, bending  and picking  up
the papers. "And you?"
     "Don't you  see?  It's the new skirt!" Indeed, Inis  stood next  to the
mirror  twisting  around to see her  own  profile and, instead of  a  somber
business  suit that she  had had  on in the morning,  she was  dressed  in a
wraparound skirt.
     Ashinik, still holding the report in his hands,  sat on  the  bed  edge
mechanically.
     "Has Mr. Bemish bought it?"
     "Silly! It's a surprise. It's a gift from Idari."
     Inis picked the skirt edge with her fingertips and raised her hands and
suddenly  swirled  across the room. Entranced  Ashinik  looked at  her white
legs.
     He had  never noticed before  what Inis  was dressed  in. He had always
undressed her in his thoughts.
     "It's beautiful. Isn't it beautiful, really?"
     "It's very beautiful," Ashinik whispered.
     Inis laughed and ran to  the  door on her toes. Her  hand groped  for a
switch. She turned the light  off. However, it was still quite bright in the
bedroom, thanks to wide windows going across the whole wall. The windows had
no  curtains  - a  layer of  special  compound  inside them of them  blocked
incoming light either partially or completely. Now, the windows were working
part way, softening blinding  lights of  the launching pads and, the lights'
positions told  Ashinik  that a  ship in K1 pad was  going  to take  off any
minute.
     It should be howling outside by now, but the walls cut the sound off.
     "Imagine, Mr. Bemish would sit  like this,  and I would  appear  here,"
Inis spoke.
     She swirled around  the room and suddenly froze spreading the  skirt at
the lighted  window background.  At that  moment, the yellow take off lights
fired, the nose of  a large  freight Atlant shuddered and moved up, fire and
smoke  beams started under its  exhausts, bulky like  hippopotamus legs, the
room was  lit in a blinding  blood red  color and  Ashinik saw Inis's  black
silhouette standing out on this blood red light background.
     "Ouch," Inis cried out, stumbling for a moment.
     She  fell on the  bed  and Ashinik  pressed her to himself at the  same
moment.
     "Exactly," Inis spoke laughing, "Here,  Mr. Bemish will embrace me like
this... let me go..."
     Not answering, Ashinik was kissing her.
     "Let me go!"
     Ashinik and Inis had kissed several times before that,  but now Ashinik
wasn't  really   controlling  himself.  He  was  madly  frightened  by   the
conversation with Yadan, the  darkness  and the faraway light bursts excited
him  and he  was absolutely certain that Terence  Bemish was in the capital,
two hours away, and nobody would enter his bedroom.
     "Inis,  I  am  leaving soon.  I  can't  leave  without  that."  Ashinik
whispered.
     Inis  was  fighting him  no more.  The  girl,  having  thrown her  head
backwards, let him kiss her and moaned slightly. Ashinik pulled her closer.
     "Hold on," Inis suddenly said, "I will take the  skirt off or you  will
tear it."
     Ashinik relaxed his hands and looked at Inis unbuttoning her blouse and
pulling the skirt over her head in a lithe feline movement. Then,  her hands
embraced the youth and before Ashinik figured out what's happening, the girl
unbuckled  his belt  and  her  thin nimble fingers slid  down  to  his  male
nature...
     "Wow, what a python I have awakened," Inis whispered.



     In  half an hour, they were still lying completely naked in the Assalah
company director's wide queen size bed and Inis was thoughtfully gliding her
finger over Ashinik's  flat boyish stomach. Going into the sky  torches were
still blazing up and fading behind the window. Ashinik extended his hand and
having found the transparency regulator, made the window slightly darker.
     "Where is the master sending you to?" Inis asked suddenly.
     "Eh?"
     Ashinik didn't immediately figure out what she meant.
     "It's not the master. It's... I just need to go back to my place."
     They were silent. Ashinik felt  a  strange fury thinking  that tomorrow
night she would be  lying with  Bemish the same way and everything  that she
was able to do - and she was able to do a lot and she had demonstrated it to
Ashinik - all of it she learned from the man from the stars.
     "In the past,"  Insis said thoughtfully sorting  Ashinik's  hair, "they
put adulterous concubines in sacks and threw them alive into a river."
     "Terence  Bemish  will hardly  through  you into  the  river,"  Ashinik
objected. "He is an Earthman."
     "I wonder, what he would do to us," Inis pondered.
     "He won't do anything to us if we tell him nothing."
     "The workday is finished. Stay here," Inis suggested. "The master is in
the capital anyway and he won't return before the morning."
     "I still need to fix the report," Ashinik said.
     "You can fix it in the morning."
     And Ashinik stayed.
     Bemish indeed  returned only the  next day and not even in the morning,
but  in  the afternoon. Ashinik  had  managed  to  fix the report but Bemish
didn't even look at it. He  called a meeting  and demanded that work on  the
fifteenth  launch pad be temporarily  frozen  and all freed  workforce to be
used at the new storage construction. Ashinik sat at the meeting not raising
his eyes. A full bookshelf hung behind Bemish's back and Ashinik  remembered
that a Lassal's demolition manual was on the shelf. Ashinik needed this book
but he was afraid to take it out that morning because it seemed to  him that
the security head Giles  had indeed seen  old Yadan  and  if Ashinik started
reading  demolition  manuals after  Yadan's  visit,  then  Giles would place
surveillance bugs even in Ashinik's pants.
     "Ashinik, do you understand what you need to do?"
     Ashinik raised  his head  bewildered. Bemish was telling him something,
but  he missed it all. Ashinik nodded and only  then he noticed the  company
director's swollen cheeks and dark  circles under his eyes - he had probably
had a lot of fun yesterday.
     Yikes, bordellos - demons' pastime  where corrupted officials put Weian
girls in the demons' beds...
     "Yes, I got it."
     "Ashinik, what's wrong with you? Are you sick?"
     "I am all right. I'll go..."
     "You will go and lie still in my bedroom. Do you understand?"
     Bemish  embraced the lad with one hand and flung the  door to the inner
living  room  with the other. Out  of the wide open office door, Inis caught
embarrassed Ashinik's glance and smiled at him slightly.



     Of course, when in two hours, Bemish walked upstairs to the bedroom, he
found Ashinik not lying in bed but, to  the contrary, sitting hunched on the
floor  and reading  a  book.  Bemish  approached  him  and looked  over  his
shoulder. The lad shuddered. The book was a Lassal's demolition manual.
     "It's an old  manual,"  Bemish said.  "Let's  go  - I'll try  to find a
better book."
     They  walked to Bemish's  office  and the construction  director having
rummaged  around  in  the  books,  dug  out  a fundamental and  intelligible
Feinstein's textbook.
     "Here it is," Bemish said.
     Ashinik held the book tightly like a shepherd would  hold a  sick lamb,
hunched and walked to the door. Bemish watched him carefully. It seemed that
Ashinik was expecting a question  - why would he need  a  demolition manual,
though why would a  manager at the construction  that uses up three kilos of
TNT equivalent a week - not read this manual."
     Ashinik pushed the door open.
     "Hold on," Bemish said, "I need to talk to you."
     Ashinik returned and sat down obediently. "Giles spied on me and Inis,"
a thought glanced in his mind. "Or  he spied  on Yadan. Great gods, let this
conversation be about Yadan!"
     "Is it very difficult for you?" Bemish asked.
     "Why should it be difficult for me?" Ashinik responded in a dull voice.
     "Because you became my deputy to establish order in the company but you
could do it only as  the head of the sect that considers the construction to
be demons' business. So, you could be  my  deputy only being the sect's head
and you can be the sect's head only not being my deputy."'
     "I will manage, Ashinik said.
     He was still looking down hunching.
     "You almost fainted two hours ago."
     "What do you want?"
     "You  could  leave,"  Bemish said. "They  send  many  people  to  study
overseas.  It's not right that you work fourteen hours and then  sit reading
books."
     "He is throwing  me  out!" a thought lit in Ashinik's mind. "He used me
to  establish  order at the construction and  now he is throwing  me  out at
Shavash's order!"
     "May I go to Inissa for a week?" Ashinik asked.
     "You don't  have folks in Inissa, do  you?  Are you  going to a  sect's
meeting?"
     Ashinik was silent.
     "Of course, you can go, Ashinik," Bemish said.



     Ashinik  had  barely  stepped out  of  the  office, when Giles took his
place.  Strangely,  Bemish and  spy became good friends. The reason was that
Giles demonstrated good businessman qualities -  he  scurried around all the
country, looked for the best agreements, contrived, plotted, gave bribes and
pushed  himself  to the limit for  the company. He, also, appeared to  be an
amiable companion. He often  slept over  at the  villa where  he, like  most
Earthmen employees, had his own room; he was a charming talker and got along
well with Inis. He never talked to Bemish  about the good of the Federation,
having figured out  that  a businessman  and a  spy had  absolutely opposite
views to what was the good of the Federation.
     "What happened," Bemish inquired.
     Giles threw a picture on the table.
     "Do you know this guy?"
     Bemish looked at the picture for a while. The guy on the photo sat near
a fire in ragged local clothing with his feet under him cramming gruel.
     "Beats me... Maybe I've seen him somewhere at the construction..."
     "You haven't seen him  at the construction. You have  seen him at  your
villa with Kissur's brother, Ashidan." Bemish shuddered. Of course!
     ""Damn it! Does he work at the construction?"
     "He worked here till yesterday."
     "And what happened yesterday?"
     "Yesterday, one  of  my people found  out that somebody  was trying  to
crack  the security software  at  five  in  the morning  and at five  in the
morning this guy was cleaning his room."
     "And..."
     "Somebody was able to warn the guy. He took off."
     "I will ask Ashinik..."
     "Nobody  besides  Ashinik's  people  could've warned  him. It's a funny
combination - Following the Way sect and an anarcho-syndicalist demon, isn't
it?"
     "It's totally unbelievable."
     "There is something even more unbelievable - the guy came here from one
of  Kissur's manors. And his reference letter was signed by Kissur. You know
- that he was a diligent worker and gathered hay just great...By the way, he
is an old acquaintance of Kissur's."
     Bemish paused.
     "What exactly was he ferreting out?"
     "Oh,  his  interests  were  all-inclusive.   Mostly,  however,  he  was
interested  in  certain  trading  operations  of  Weian  New Age  fund.  For
instance, he was interested in the  situation  when several hours  before an
announcement  about  transnational Metal Uranium buying a totally non-liquid
uranium mine came  out, you had bought  two hundred  thirty million worth of
this  mine's shares. And you sold them in  two  days at  three billion.  Oh,
there is another strikingly interesting accident - Shavash's friend Igon who
was  in charge of the country's international loans, claimed that  Weia  was
considering  postponing  paying off the interest on  the international  loan
known as Iron  Bonds.  Since, say,  some  bearer's bonds had been  stolen at
Lamass  bank robbery and  they needed to  find  out  how  the current bonds'
owners  had  acquired them.  The securities'  rating  collapsed almost  by a
factor of two and  in a day Shavash threw Igon out with a scandal, published
a denouncement  and paid the  interest off right on time so that practically
in  a  week the rating  was back  to  normal. Remarkably,  you bought  forty
million worth  of these securities right  after Igon's announcement and sold
them in  a week at, correspondingly, eighty million. You were also  reckless
enough to transfer, at the same time, quite a significant amount of money to
Shavash's and Igon's accounts."
     "Has  the anarchist  dug  it out  or  has it  been your  work?"  Bemish
inquired.
     "It was the anarchist. He spent a month in  your  computer  and then he
tried hacking into our systems and he was uncovered.  He was also likely  to
find out a lot of interesting stuff about the spaceport."
     Bemish was silent. The guy  could  surely learn  a  lot  of interesting
stuff about  the spaceport. Bemish  clenched  his  teeth sometimes realizing
what was happening at the spaceport. The  "fan" approach to the formation of
export-import  companies that existed for two months only, till the deadline
for  the first tax declaration, was the most innocent  trick out of what was
happening.
     But there was nothing else to do - so many gifts were required, so many
unofficial expenses  were  needed on  the top of official  ones, and  Bemish
sadly  realized  that the larger was the embezzlement  scale, the  safer the
embezzlement was.



     The next  day, the security department  crew  got together  in Bemish's
office again.
     The size  of  the  damage  caused  by  the anarchist  was  quite large;
Bemish's calls had most probably been tapped. Certainly,  the anarchist  had
had access to the Assalah director's personal computer and therefore to  the
files dealing with the funds' operations.
     "Frankly,"  Giles admitted after  the conversation had  been  finished,
"The theft itself bothers me less than the guy's contacts with Kissur. He is
such  an  unpredictable  man!  He  patronizes us  and at  the  same  time he
patronizes the guy who would smear a launching chute with plastic explosives
without any guilt whatsoever!"
     "Would you like, Giles, to prevent  Kissur  from  hanging out  together
with terrorists?"
     "Well?"
     "He applied to the military academy, didn't he? Accept him."
     "It's impossible..."
     "Why?"
     "Firstly,  this  man   started  his  acquaintance  with  our  equipment
kidnapping a  military airplane that he immediately put to its intended use.
Secondly, Kissur is a savage. He should learn algebra first."
     "Come on, you are not going to make  a rocket  battle cruiser commander
out of him. Eight  years ago this man was an excellent  war  leader. War and
freedom were the same for him because freedom was for him the right to kill.
And  when the sovereign asked him to  eradicate separatists three years ago,
he and his people appeared to manage rocket launchers pretty well."
     "Are  you asking this  on  your own volition," Giles inquired, "or  has
Kissur asked you?"
     "I  am asking this on my  own. Kissur will  die first  before  he  asks
Earthmen for  anything. But I  know, Giles, that  he is capable of God knows
what if he  is  not busy  with something  useful.  He  is  not going to take
bribes, he  can't  be  a  sovereign's lapdog, the only thing he can do is to
fight. Earthmen came and  destroyed his old war. He  applied to  the academy
but they didn't  let  him  into the  new  war. How can  a  man, who won more
battles that our generals conducted maneuvers, take it?"
     "The new war is not what Kissur thinks it is."
     "That's exactly  why  it would  be  useful  for Kissur  make  a  closer
acquaintance with it."



     In  two  days, Shavash  finally  appeared at  the  spaceport. It was an
official visit - Shavash accompanied a Joined Economics Assembly committee -
and  they were in  public  during the  entire  visit.  At the second  chute,
Shavash leaned to the company director's ear and asked quietly,
     "Where is your deputy, Ashinik, by the way?"
     "He took a one week vacation," Bemish said.
     "Ah, he took a vacation... You  know something akin to  a Following the
Way meeting  started  in Inissa, in Gaddar. They are having a celebration of
somebody's "resurrection" and working meetings of the circles' heads.
     "Well?" Bemish said.
     "These people are very dangerous," Shavash shook his head. "We have  to
smile and tell the world community that the  people who consider Earthmen to
be demons  are  no more important  than the people on Earth who spend  their
time in mental  institutions  and claim  themselves  to be Napoleons - but I
warn you, Terence, that even you don't know how dangerous they are."
     "What are you whispering about?" a committee member asked.
     Bemish  turned to  his countryman  and said that  they were  whispering
about  local Dahan  factory  that  supplied the construction  with  titanium
supports and started explaining the problems they had with supplies.


     The Tenth Chapter

     Where Terence  Bemish becomes familiar  with  provincial  life  of  the
Empire  while Mr. Shavash offers an  original plan for the restructuring  of
the state debt.

     Giles  returned from Earth in three days and he brought  a bulky bundle
of  papers sealed with  vacuum  tape - for authorized personnel only.  Giles
handed the bundle to Bemish and locked the door, and Bemish mounted his legs
on the table and engrossed himself in the papers.
     In an hour, having looked through the documents, Bemish said,
     "That's great but have you talked to your bosses about my request?"
     "What request do you mean?"
     "I mean Kissur and the military academy."
     "Yes. They are against it."
     "Why?"
     Giles paused.
     "Terence, tell me, have you told Kissur what we are building here?"
     "How does it matter?"
     "It matters because  five  years  ago, after  Kissur  had escaped  from
Earth,  he found himself  in a Gera  training  camp. It  was  there  that he
learned  how  to handle  rocket launchers and all the  other modern  killing
machinery that he manages now so well."
     "Is that all?"
     "No,  it's not all. Haven't  you  forgotten the  guy who  came  to  the
construction with Kissur's reference letter and hacked your computer?"
     "It was not Kissur's  reference letter. It was a  reference letter from
one of his bailiffs. These letters cost ten "pinkies"  a piece on  the local
black market. Would you like me to get a dozen for you by tomorrow?"
     "A month ago Kissur flew  to Cassandra.  He met an old  acquaintance of
his there - this guy."
     And Giles fished a photo out of his pocket and put it down in  front of
Bemish.
     "This man, by the way, led at some  point anarcho-terrorist  group ABC.
He has on his account..."
     "I am not interested in his account," Bemish cut off the spy.
     "Really? Shavash was quite interested."
     "I would  recommend to  you not to discuss these matters with Shavash -
you and Shavash have different goals."
     "What do you mean?"
     "You  want to  figure  out  whether  or  not  Kissur  is  connected  to
terrorists  and Shavash wants to prove  that  he  is  connected to  them. Of
course, he will prove it."
     "Will his conclusion be purely arbitrary?"
     "Kissur is a thousand and one adventures. If a house next to him is  on
fire,  he will run in and save  a child. If a house  is not on  fire, he may
start one. Of course, a terrorist visited  Kissur. Kissur is too  colorful a
figure not to be visited. So what? I didn't see Shavash right when  you were
asking him this question but I could swear that he was dying of laughter. If
he had answered you honestly, he would have said on  the spot that a man who
dared to compare the sovereign Irshahchan  with  this wasted Earthman Marx -
this  man was risking taking  a bath  in  a  swimming pool right there.  But
Shavash didn't say that because Shavash hates Kissur. You dished an idea out
to Shavash - he  will find the proofs. He will find  terrorists' liaisons to
Kissur  and  he  will  train  them  what  they  should  say.  Kissur  is  an
unpredictable  man but Shavash can  predict even  him.  If a  man approaches
Kissur and says, "Let's bomb this bank for a glorious future's sake," Kissur
will throw  him out of  a window.  While a  man  instructed  by Shavash will
approach Kissur and say,
     "Why don't  we bomb this bank and feed these  bribers with a  dish they
deserved?"
     "What a wonderful idea!" Kissur will exclaim. It will enable Shavash to
annihilate Kissur even  though  it would  be proper  to jail Shavash and not
Kissur for the bank robbery."
     Giles paused.
     "I thought the same, Terence," he said. "I started shouting that it was
all  crap...  To make  the  long  story short,  they  introduced  me  to  an
investigator. Kissur traffics in drugs."
     "What?!!"
     "Kissur sells drugs. They grow  a  lot of  wolf's wisk  on his lands in
Upper  Warnaraine. It  happens with  a full blessing of the landowner. I  am
very sorry Terence but we can't  accept to the military academy one of Weian
drug mafia bosses."
     And  the spy left the office, having carefully  closed the door  behind
him.
     In about five  minutes, Ashinik walked into  the office with a bunch of
printouts.
     "What's wrong with you, master? Are you crying?"
     Bemish was not responding.
     "Are you ok? Should I call a doctor?"



     In three days, Kissur with Khanadar the Dried Date, Aldon the Lynx  Cub
and a couple of dogs dropped by Bemish and all five of them left for a horse
ride.
     The field  they  were riding  over  was  already  covered with concrete
blocks. Tree stumps stuck out far away on a knoll like teeth leftovers in an
old man's mouth and  a  cheerful red  tractor was pulling  them out of earth
amidst din and screech.
     The new  road ended unnoticed  - the riders  raced  down  an old Empire
track with yellowish stone  ruts, wide palm  trees  and  narrow pyramids  of
poplars planted  along the road  accordingly  to  the ancient  laws... Green
knolls and rice paddies covered with water flashed far away. Bemish spun his
head excitedly - the beauty around seemed to be like a photo.
     A squirrel  sat on  a poplar  branch and ate  a  nut.  Amusing himself,
Khanadar the Dried Date shot at the nut and knocked it out of the squirrel's
paws; it whisked up the tree in horror.
     "Hunting used to be good here," Khanadar told Bemish. "And now the only
big game here is your bulldozers."
     "Hey," Kissur said, "Why don't we go to Black  Nest?  Hunting is  great
there."
     "When?"
     "Why don't we go there right now?"
     "Riding?"
     "That's a great idea," Kissur said. "Let's ride!"
     Khanadar laughed uproariously.
     And they raced. Bemish felt as  good as he had  never felt in his life.
He  wanted to cancel all  the  meetings in the world, he  didn't give a damn
about the spaceport and the investment funds - he  just wanted to ride  down
this road  where his car would get stuck and his bulldozer would  just  tear
up.
     By the  evening,  Kissur  pointed at  an  altar  house  overgrown  with
burdocks and inquired,
     "Will we sleep over here or in the field?"
     Bemish came to his senses.
     "Kissur," he said, "I have a business meeting tomorrow at  eight in the
morning. Will we be able to return before sunrise?"
     Khanadar almost fell off the saddle laughing.
     "Terence," he said,  "Black  Nest is  Kissur's clan castle in  Mountain
Warnaraine. Old Elda lives there and Ashidan arrived there a week ago."
     "Hold on," Bemish said. "It's fifteen hundred kilometers!"
     "It's  sixteen hundred  thirty,  if I  haven't  forgotten  your  damned
units," Khanadar chortled. Bemish turned his horse back.
     "I am sorry gentlemen," he  spoke, "but I don't have time for a ten day
ride next to good highways."
     "Hey," Kissur said, "you  can't go back on your word! You promised me a
hunt in Black Nest!"
     "I didn't promise to ride a horse there," Bemish stormed.
     "One  can't," Khanadar said, "reach a real castle by a car. One has  to
ride to the  real castle  for five days and five nights.  And the Earthman's
butt is already sore."
     The comment was unfair. It was especially unfair  since Bemish had been
riding a  horse  around the  construction  in the morning for  the last  two
months, having  admitted the  advantage a horse had  over a heavy-assed jeep
and a fleeting flyer. So, Bemish became quite a decent horse rider though he
was not in the same league with the barbarians whose fathers had put them on
horses before their mothers started teaching them to walk.
     "All right,"  Kissur said, "You can  go back but I will be waiting  for
you in Black Nest on the twenty third."
     "What do you mean twenty third? Are you going to ride your horse to the
castle in five days?"
     "Seven years ago," Khanadar said, "I made this trip in five days and  I
had two  hundred  shield  and spear horsemen  with me and we  had a skirmish
every day."
     "All right,"  Bemish said," I will take  a car and  drive to your Nest,
whether  it's black  or white, and  I am sure  that  I will get there before
you."



     The  guests  came in  the  next  morning  - the  Federation  envoy, Mr.
Liddell, Shavash  and his  direct boss,  the finance  minister  Sarjik.  The
finance  minister  was in  really bad shape -  his bald head  shook  and his
watery eyes kept running.  Shavash  extracted  this  man  from somewhere  in
Chakhar province where  he had  been sitting since sovereign Neevik's times.
Accordingly to  the non-confirmed rumors,  the  finance minister didn't have
credit cards and, seeing other people using them,  he would shake his  head,
"Nothing good will come out of it I assure you! Say, Shakunik Bank had  also
issued private  money and then the bank  was  confiscated and the money  was
lost!  What  if the Federation government runs out of  money and confiscates
your bank?" The old minister firmly grasped in his youth the  following rule
- the  richer is an entrepreneur, the more the state covers his riches - and
he couldn't change himself.
     They  abandoned the minister in a  room and Shavash drove examining the
construction.
     "Where is Kissur," he asked. "And why are you so disheveled?"
     "Kissur," Bemish said, "rode to Black Nest with his friends, on a horse
back."
     Shavash grinned.
     "And what's happened to you?"
     "And  I  rode  back  all night. There  was  not  a single phone  in the
villages around and I was dumb enough not take a satellite phone with me."
     Bemish was exhausted, since he rode slowly, afraid of tiring  the horse
out,  and he couldn't  sleep in saddle  and he  wasn't going to  learn  this
skill.
     "I see," Shavash said, "Khanadar the Dried  Date is going to  ride down
the glorious battles' path. These people live in the previous century."
     In  the  end, Bemish  asked, where the story  of Kissur  trafficking in
drugs came from, but smiling Shavash claimed his total ignorance.



     Upon serious  consideration, Bemish  decided to  drive and he was  very
proud that he would see the  Country of  Great Light not through an airplane
window but through a windshield.
     He chose an old 4WD jeep with  large wheels and he put in the trunk the
second  spare  tire,  high hunting boots, a whole battery of drinking  water
bottles and  several tinned food cans. He welded steel  supports to the rack
and fastened a light motorcycle to them.  Bemish remembered how Khanadar had
smiled  saying that it was impossible to reach Black  Nest by a  car and one
had to ride there on  a horse. Knowing Khanadar,  he suspected  that he  had
been a butt of a dirty joke and a car road to the castle existed only on the
map.
     Bemish  was  driving  out of  the  Empire's  center  to  its  barbarian
outskirts and  it  seemed  that every  kilometer,  put  between  him and the
capital, was transposing him backwards  in time. Cute manors  with satellite
dishes disappeared first, foreign goods on the road stands disappeared next,
factory-made  shirts  on  people around  him  disappeared last.  A different
landscape  stretched  around him -  rice paddies  covered  with  water, clay
villages where dogs barked and drums boomed in precincts  and where peasants
in hemp pants sang thousand-year-old songs while collecting the harvest, and
only a  perfect  highway,  like a  bridge  spanning over time for a  curious
observer, connected a sprightly rolling jeep with the faraway world of glass
and steel.
     In thousand  kilometers  the  road  finally  ended - the  jeep  started
hopping  down  a rocky  mountain  path  -  the  highest  achievement of  the
construction  methods in  sovereign Irshahchan's  times.  The animals became
more audacious  and  began crossing the road.  Occasional  people,  however,
dashed away  from a weird cart into the woods. Rice paddies disappeared; the
few  villages  existing  in  these  mountains  still  lived by  hunting  and
gathering and by robbing occasional travelers.
     In  the  second  day's  evening, Bemish saw  five  familiar horses at a
roadside tavern and stopped there.
     Kissur and his companions were sitting at a plank table and gobbling up
a wild boar. Bemish joined them.
     "I'll leave you behind," Bemish said.
     "Hmm," Kissur said, "By the way, I could order to puncture your tires."
Bemish bantered back, "And I can sue you."
     Kissur was chewing greedily on the boar.
     "This is  my land.  I am the master of taxes and jurisdiction here. So,
if you sue me, I may as well sentence you to hanging for perjury."
     "Do you judge this way often?"
     "Never," Kissur  said. "If you  sentence a man to death,  his relatives
will start hunting you in a vendetta. Who will avenge you?"
     "Nobody  will  avenge  an Earthman,"  Khanadar  the Dried Date  agreed.
"Earthmen  think  that their  government  should  avenge  them.  Soon, their
government will sleep with their women for them."
     Bemish was assigned the best den  in the  tavern  and Kissur sent him a
girl.  The  girl had been washed  and she was quite cute.  She  stood  shyly
tugging at a mat with her bare toes. Bemish seated the girl on his knees and
started fingering her necklace.  There were numerous coins on the necklace -
several heavy silver  asymmetric coins  with a  hole  inside and a partially
rubbed off Gold Sovereign's  seal,  a dozen  of dimes and quarters, a  Swiss
frank  and even as far  as Bemish could decipher  German, one Cologne subway
nickel token.
     Bemish pushed the girl off his knees, dug in his wallet and spilled all
the change on his hand. He found there a dime that had spent  a long time in
the  wallet,  showed it to  the  girl and  tapped with  his finger  a silver
"unicorn" the size of a chicken egg, square  shaped and with a round hole in
the  middle  and an encryption  glorifying  sovereign  Meenun  on the girl's
necklace.
     "Let's exchange," he said.
     The girl's  eyes  blossomed with joy. She quickly  started  pulling the
necklace off her neck. Bemish grabbed her hand.
     "Listen, stupid," he said.  "If you  take  this dime and one more and a
hundred more and a thousand more and fill this coffer in the corner with all
these dimes, the whole coffer will be  worth less than this silver coin. Got
it?"
     The girl nodded.
     "And now get out," Bemish said. The girl's eyes saddened.
     "Won't we exchange?"  she asked looking at the dime with an unconcealed
longing. Bemish gave her the dime and kicked her out.
     When Bemish woke up next morning, Kissur and his retinue were no longer
there, they had ridden away at the crack of dawn.
     "Will I catch up with them soon?" Bemish asked the hostess.
     "No," the hostess said,  "You need  to take a detour via the White Pass
and they rode straight. You will reach the castle by the evening."
     "And what will happen to them?"
     "Hmm," the woman hesitated, "If snow melts a bit in the  daytime and an
avalanche comes  down,  you,  of  course,  will get their  first  but  if no
avalanche happens they, of course, will get there before you."
     "Is the straight path hard?"
     "I don't know. Since  old  Shun broke  his  neck there  ten years  ago,
nobody has taken it."
     The  mountain road winded like a pumpkin vine. Heavy rain shredded with
snow started suddenly. The  wipers were  not able to handle  it. Bemish  was
horrified  for Kissur  - he was not old Shun, of course, but he  still could
break his neck.
     This mountainous  area was  wild to the utmost. Trade had flourished in
the coastal regions and three dozens years ago  local cities such as  Lamass
or Kudum could  brag about their good communities and  abundant traders. The
civil war in the Empire turned everything around -  the castles' inhabitants
straightened up, the traders' sons left for the castles' regiments and their
daughters became concubines. The  demand for warlike Alom nobility was  such
that  an  average  knight could rob  more in two month in the Empire than an
average trader  could make in two  years. By the war's end, trading paid off
so little that Lamass traders became extinct and  it was the land of bandits
and robbers that welcomed the people from the stars.
     The  hands  of  the  Empire  could  barely  reach this strange  region;
formally  a castle owner was  responsible for  upholding  order in the local
lands  but  he  usually  happened to  be  the  biggest  bandit.  Nobody even
considered  mine  development  here  because horsemen with  rocket launchers
under  their  armpits  invariably  approached  mine engineers  to  demand  a
tribute.
     No passerby was safe here. The most  disgusting accident happened three
years ago when  a World Bank vice president, an amateur mountaineer, and two
friends of his decided, damn it, to conquer a local mountain Aych-Akhal.
     While approaching the peak, he was  taken prisoner by a local pedigreed
bandit and escorted to his castle. Next day the bank  received a  fax with a
picture of the vice president sitting chained in a real underground pit  and
a one  trillion dinars ransom  demand. The World Bank stock capital was five
trillion dinars.
     The media howled.
     The  Galaxy  demanded  the  Empire to take decisive actions. The Galaxy
demanded to locate the castle  the prisoner  was in.  "Whatever," the Empire
envoy shrugged his  shoulders,  "Whoever caught him  keeps him."  The Galaxy
demanded the decisive actions to be taken at this region.
     The castle owner announced that if anybody resorts to decisive actions,
the prisoner would have his throat cut. Kissur helped the World Bank out. He
flew to his castle immediately and called the local lords in for a feast and
counsel. They arrived. Kissur imperturbably arrested the three dozens guests
that came to visit him and announced that he would shoot all  these folks if
the vice president was not released.
     The  landowner  who took  the  vice president prisoner  was not present
among Kissur's  guests.  However,  his  brother and  his  father-in-law were
there. The same night, the  vice president was  released without any ransom.
Afterwards, Kissur didn't even bother meeting the man he had saved.
     By the evening,  Bemish reached  the main  and the only  one street  in
Black Village; faraway on the mountain amidst the clouds, the castle and its
wall, jagged like an EEG, showed up for a moment.
     Right at this moment, a goose appeared on the wet road.
     Bemish expected the goose  to move aside and let the car pass since, in
the Earthman's opinion,  roads were  created  for cars  not  geese.  In  the
goose's opinion however, roads were created for geese and accordingly to his
views the goose stared at the car with curiosity and then turned its back to
it and lowered its head.
     They explained  to Bemish afterwards that he  should have lowered speed
and driven over the goose and the goose would have been unharmed and the car
would have been fine. But Bemish wasn't familiar with local geese' customs.
     He turned the steering  wheel to the right and floored  the brake.  The
car spun like a feather. Bemish flew into boysenberry bushes that the locals
used for fences and he almost split his head apart over the  steering wheel.
The car shuddered and froze. Bemish slammed the door and stepped out to take
a  look. The front  wheels  sat  deep in the rut and  one of them fell  off.
Bemish looked around.  The gosling,  glancing sideways, desperately ran away
from the road. "Son of a bitch!" Bemish said loudly.
     It was  getting dark quickly.  There  was no way to  fix the car. A dog
behind the  boysenberry fence tried to compensate for a  lacking fire alarm.
More and more dogs were joining  it. As for the  people - the village seemed
to be dead.
     "Hei," Bemish shouted, "is anybody there?"
     He had to shout  for a while. Finally a house  door opened and somebody
asked from a doorstep,
     "What's this shouting in the dark?"
     Something  was gleaming behind the door but Bemish was not able to  see
the man.
     "Do you have a phone?" Bemish asked.
     "I don't have a phone. I have a fan laser," the answer was.
     Bemish bared his teeth.
     "I have a fan laser myself."
     The guy shut the door. Bemish kicked the car thoughtfully. He threw the
fan emitter on  his left shoulder,  a daypack on his right shoulder and took
the small bike off  the rack. "Fan  laser," he  thought, thinking about  the
gleam in the opened door, "No way, it's a fan laser, damn it - it's at least
a plasma rocket launcher."



     The guards let  Bemish into the castle without any surprise; bike or no
bike  - who can  understand these Earthmen? "Yes,"  Bemish thought,  "people
here are very different from the plains' dwellers, they  hugged their swords
in  silence  for  a thousand years and  now  they silently hug their  rocket
launchers, every trial verdict starts a vendetta here..."
     It  was  slippery  and  wet  in the  castle yard,  like in  a defrosted
refrigerator. Kissur hadn't arrived yet. Old Elda was napping in an armchair
in the upper hall. She looked at the nervous Earthman as she would look at a
frog  and  said  that  the Earthman's  iron cart  would  fall  apart  on the
Earthmen's roads  smooth like a eunuch's cheek before  her son falls from  a
steep slope in the local mountains.
     Bemish took off together with his nerves.
     The young castle owner  Ashidan, a Cambridge student, was passed out in
the main hall having dropped his golden curls into a plate with leftovers. A
bull  mask  with torches  in  place of horns bared  its teeth above him  and
something smoldering in the fireplace  under the  mask  produced a  horrible
smell; at a closer view it, appeared to be a hand phone remnants.
     "What is it?" Bemish asked the majordomo.
     "Lady  Elda," he answered, "said  that  she didn't want  any witchcraft
objects in her house. She just found it  in the morning having gone over the
rooms."
     Bemish  looked  Ashidan  over   more  carefully.  He  slept  shuddering
nervously and he didn't appear to Bemish to be drunk.
     "Aren't there any communication devices in the castle?"
     "Oh," the  servant  said,  "what communication are you  talking about?!
Look  - even  the cloth is homespun. She would burn anything else."  And  he
pointed at  his dress. Bemish felt  his sleeve -  it  really was  burlap. He
hadn't understood that at first and thought in surprise that the servant had
a very luxurious jacket - thick knotted cloth like this was fashionable this
year.
     Bemish  didn't sleep at night and tossed;  old pines  squeaked behind a
narrow window,  designed to  shoot out from not  to look  out  of, and their
squeaking branches made sounds  like a  hanged man's  rope. Bemish pulled an
antenna out  of  a small radio and started listening. Suddenly while  he was
searching  for  a station,  he  heard his  name and a long  string of  words
spitted out in Alom -  Bemish didn't make them out through the noise. Bemish
turned the dial again but the conversation had ended. "Hmm," Bemish thought,
"Somebody in this castle hid a transmitter away from old Elda."



     In the  morning Bemish left for the  village. He didn't really  want to
complain to old  Elda that his iron cart fell apart on the road that even  a
ram would pass through in  a snowstorm and he was also sure that the  castle
inhabitants knew as  much  about  cars  as he  knew about divination on oil.
Bemish  walked down  a  fresh  road passing  boysenberry fences  and curious
chicken,  thinking  about this strange area where a  phone in a  house was a
luxury and an assault rifle was a necessary tool.
     He reached the car and stopped in surprise.
     The car  stood at  the same place and the busted wheel still hunched in
the rut. The other three wheels had  disappeared  in an unknown direction  -
the lonesome car sank on its axles. The wipers  were gone off the windshield
and the  windshield  was  also  gone.  Bemish's eyes traveled into the car -
radio,  head  supports,  rugs,  handles and  all  five  windows  beside  the
windshield  had carefully packed up and left. An untouched first aid kit sat
in the back seat.
     Bemish  walked  around the car  and opened the trunk. There was nothing
inside except for a pair of old worn out  bark sandals. Bemish was surprised
at first because  he didn't have a habit of wearing bark sandals but then he
realized that the thief probably put Bemish's leather boots on and left  the
bark sandals there. With  gloomy  anticipation, Bemish raised  the hood  and
gazed  at the engine. Bemish was  quite familiar  with the car's design.  He
immediately realized that  the night  thieves were  much  more familiar with
this design.
     Bemish  looked around - geese and turkey with red snot  surrounded  him
and the  same rocket launcher old guy was digging cabbage  in his garden. He
didn't  have the  rocket launcher  next  to  him,  probably  thanks  to  the
daylight.
     "Hey," Bemish said.
     The old guy turned around. He wore a shirt that used to be white in its
youth and the pants that nobody would be able to say anything about.
     "Come  here,"  Bemish said.  The old guy approached.  Further  into the
garden, his son hoed  the ground mechanically without looking around. Bemish
waved the bark sandals and extended them over the fence.
     "Do you know," Bemish said, "Who owns these?"
     The  old  man took  the sandals  and  fished out a  ten dinar note that
Bemish had pushed down the toe  earlier. He  rolled  the note  and stuck  it
behind his ear and handed the sandals back to Bemish.
     "I don't know," he said.
     Bemish lost his speech.
     He looked  at himself suddenly with the  peasant's eyes. He looked at a
well  dressed alien coming  out of the world that all the people, who worked
well and obeyed the authorities, would go to after death - and he looked  at
this half bare destitute village where no  phones  existed  but news about a
car  that  could be  stripped  spread quickly without the  phone,  where  no
toilets  existed but  mortars  were available, and everybody knew everything
but would  say nothing  about his neighbors -  and he  realized  with  utter
clarity that even if the night adepts  had stripped the car in  the view  of
the whole village and it probably had happened  this way, not all the police
in the world would be able to find out who had done this.
     Wheels rustled on the road.
     "What's the problem?"
     Bemish turned around.  Behind him in a sport  car, turquoise and narrow
like  an orchid petal,  Kissur's  brother, Ashidan  sat. A perfect shirt,  a
precise hairdo, the  smell of  cologne - a starting manager and a  Cambridge
graduate - Bemish felt his world pleasantly coming back to him.
     Terence Bemish sardonically raised the bark footwear.
     "Here," he  said, "somebody decided to  exchange  transportation  means
with me."
     But Ashidan had figured it out already. He  got out  of the car, opened
the passenger's door and bowed to Bemish  inviting him into  the car. Bemish
got in. The peasant watched them with frightened eyes.
     "Hey,"  Ashidan  shouted to  the guy  in the  garden,  "come here!" The
peasant approached.
     "Get in the car," Ashidan told the guy.
     Bemish stretched to open a door.
     "Get in the trunk," Ashidan added, looking in disgust at the guy's bare
and dirty feet. "Ah, well, you may change your clothing."
     The guy ran to the house. Bemish regained his speech.
     "Why do  you think,"  Bemish asked, "that he stripped the car? It could
be anybody..."
     "If," Ashidan said in an even voice, "a crime is committed in a village
and the criminal is not apprehended, the lord should  arrest several village
inhabitants and keep them  as  hostages till they  die  or  till  the others
deliver the guilty party."
     Bemish stared  at Ashidan with wide opened eyes. The charming boy - and
he was a very beautiful  lad - looked very  much like a  successful manager.
"In this  voice his  ancestors  spoke generation  after generation,"  Bemish
thought, "It looks like progress here is characterized by the lord putting a
peasant in a car's trunk instead of tying him to a horse's tail."
     "This man," Ashidan said, pointing at Bemish, "is a named brother of my
brother  and a  guest  of  my ancestors. My  brother is coming today  -  the
servants  brought news that  he  got stuck at  the  Trekking Pass and took a
detour via Lokh."
     The peasant dropped to his knees.
     "Master!" it was unclear whether he addressed Ashidan or the alien.
     The peasant's son walked out of the house in  clean white clothing with
a satchel in his hand. A ten-year-old boy accompanied him.
     "Master," the oldster continued, "take the younger one, we have so much
work now!"
     Ashidan thoughtfully tapped the leather steering wheel.
     "Our  ancestor's guest," he said, "had a bad dream that somebody robbed
his car. I had  this dream, too, and I hurried here.  But now it seems to me
that it was a false  dream  and  that the car, complete and  unharmed,  will
return to the castle by the evening."
     Having said this, Ashinik  floored the  accelerator and the car sprayed
the white peasant's dress with a load of mud and rushed away.



     Kissur reached  the castle only by  noon. The  rumors  appeared  to  be
correct  -  an  avalanche  had descended off the  Trekking Pass  and it  had
brushed by  the  people  and the horses.  Everybody was  alive  but Kissur's
horse, Stargazer, with a white arrow on  his forehead and  wide hooves,  was
dragged down and only a red spot blinked in the snow for a moment. They took
the same  road that Bemish had used; Kissur's eyes  swelled with blood  like
ripe cherries because of the horse. Kissur glanced at Bemish and snapped,
     "You won the bet. We will hunt tomorrow." And he ran upstairs.
     Bemish didn't pursue him. Something scary suddenly hung in the air, the
stone  gods'  masks  grimaced with  their mouths at the Earthman and clanged
their teeth. Bemish turned around  - pale Ashidan stood  next to him rubbing
his temples.
     Kissur  locked  himself in a  corner tower  and  didn't let anybody in.
Khanadar explained that he was mourning the horse following the customs.
     When Bemish's car drove into  the  castle's yard in the evening, Bemish
was sitting on a  guard  tower looking at the dragon-like clouds. Bemish ran
downstairs.
     A well-built flaxen guy stepped out of the car and, bowing,  handed the
keys to him. Everything was fixed including the broken wheel.  Bemish looked
the guy over and said,
     "Thanks. How many auto repair shops are in the village?"
     "One," the guy answered without blushing.
     Bemish looked at the guy's feet -  he stood in a pool wiggling his bare
toes.  The Earthman walked around  the car and unlocked the trunk - the case
bristled  there  self-importantly.  Bemish opened the case  - underwear  and
clothing was there, only two shirts were wet - clearly, they had been washed
and ironed. Bemish extracted leather boots out of the case.
     "Hold it," Bemish said, "That's a gift for you. The guy gasped and took
the  boots. Bemish stuck  his hand in his pocket, took three  hundred  local
"unicorns" out and handed them to the guy.
     "It's for your work."
     "Mister," the  guy  said,  "we  just  fixed  the wheel. It costs twenty
"unicorns."
     "Where are you going now?" Bemish asked.
     "I am going to the Blue Ravine, to the village's left end."
     "Get in,"  Bemish  said, "I'll  give you a ride." The village stretched
along the road, between the mountain and the canyon. It was rarely more than
hundred  meters  wide  and  about eight  kilometers  long.  The guy squeezed
himself in a corner almost under  the seat and kept silent. One could  think
that he sat in the car first  time  in his life. "Hmm,"  Bemish thought, "on
the other hand, a master and an alien is giving  him  a  ride for  the first
time... I hope I am not compromising White Falcon clan's honor."
     "How long has Ashidan been living in the castle?" Bemish asked.
     "It's been two months, master."
     "Does he drink?"
     "No, master," the guy said nervously.
     Bemish  dropped the  guy off at a field where  girls  in  blue  and red
skirts were already starting to dance  and  came closer  to see  what it was
that they grew in this field. He was going to  ask for how long the peasants
had  been growing this  stuff but  the bailiff  rushed towards  him.  Bemish
turned around and drove away.
     It was just before the sunset - he drove down a forest till  he found a
nice lawn to  the  road's left. He drove  into the lawn, turned the ignition
off, lifted the hood and gazed at the engine.
     The carburetor  was assembled like a  bird's  nest from many  different
parts and the air filter was also taken from another  car. The night thieves
from the only auto repair shop in the village had installed  everything else
where they had taken it from.
     Bemish turned around and drove back.
     Kissur had already descended  to the yard and they explored  the castle
together. It was huge, the walls rose one after another like cabbage leaves.
     The castle sat on the very mountaintop and only one road led to it from
the west. The outer wall hovered above an abyss  on all the  other sides and
the abyss had been hewed off for  better defense, forming a wall smooth like
glass.
     Kissur showed his guest a  yard  where Kanut the Falcon had been killed
and a small castle garden where Kissur's great grandmother had sinned with a
winged two-headed bull under an apple tree. Bemish told Kissur that tourists
from the whole Galaxy could visit the castle.
     "This castle is not fit  for tourists," Kissur  smirked, "It  does  not
have disabled  access." And  he squeezed  himself  nimbly onto a narrow  and
incredibly steep staircase spiraling along one of the outside walls.
     Merriness ruled  the castle in  the evening  - the  grooms braided  the
horses'  tails,  servants  dragged out  of the  closets huge  yew  old bows,
wrapped in old rotten cloth  with silver inscriptions. Bemish glanced into a
semi-dark  stable and froze  -  Kissur,  smiling coldly, was hiding a stubby
black assault rifle in a saddlebag.
     Bemish stepped inside. Kissur lowered the woven bag lid.
     "What game," Bemish asked, "are we going to hunt tomorrow?"
     "In  this area,"  Kissur  said, "people  have been hunting big  game  -
boars, bears - since old times."
     A  question hung on Bemish's tongue tip, "What  kind of boar  would you
hunt with an assault  rifle?"  But Bemish licked  his lips and swallowed the
question.
     They rode out before the crescent left the black sky, equipped the same
way as eight or hundred  years ago - Kissur  wore  grey  suede  tall  boots,
decorated with  lilies, with high red heels but  without  spurs, green pants
and  a red jacket girdled with a heavy belt made  out of gold plates - every
plate depicted a beast or a fish. Kissur's overcoat was also green, with two
wide lanes  sewn with golden mesh. A bow hung  on his shoulder and a leather
quiver hung behind his back; arrow  feathers, white like plastic foam, stuck
out of the quiver. A throw-axe  hung at his belt and two yew javelins  and a
sword hung at the saddle. The  other nobles  were  dressed the same way.  It
would  be  wrong  to call  it carnival dress  - Kissur, like the majority of
Weians, dressed archaically even  in  the capital and he  practically always
wore  a wide necklace,  made  out  of  jade  plates  set  in woven  gold and
depicting falcons. As for Bemish, he clearly understood that his hunting bib
layered with PVC  would call the local gods' fury at his head and they would
withhold the  game that they guarded, from him. Now he felt like an impostor
in leather pants embroidered with silver.
     Before  leaving, Kissur threw a piece of fresh meat on an altar next to
the gate and tapped a bare sword over a rock to attract the god's attention.
     Bemish looked at the sword with interest; it  was very  heavy and long,
with a three  edged blade and some engraving that looked like running horses
along its edge. The handle had been made in the shape of intertwined snakes.
Bemish asked why  they needed  a sword  and Kissur replied that  gods didn't
grant fortune without  a sword since the road to the other  world went along
its edge and they brought and took away beasts down this road.
     They  watched  the sunrise from  a  mountaintop, aerial wind danced  in
their horses'  tails - they  said that  this wind used to  mount fillies  in
ancient times and black horses with white spots had been born of this wind -
shells scrunched occasionally under the hooves reminding that a sea had been
there millions of years ago. Then, Kissur espied a deer that also decided to
enjoy the sunrise and they released the dogs and rode following them.
     There  were five nobles  -  Kissur,  Ashidan, Khanadar the Dried  Date,
Aldon and Bemish, there were also eight dogs and three servants - they drove
the deer at Kissur and he, having opened his eyes  wide and screamed wildly,
threw a spear handed to him by one of  the servants. Painted yellow,  with a
green  pinecone on the end, the spear  almost  pierced  the deer all the way
through easier  than  it pierced  the  old maple  in Kissur's manor  in  the
capital.  Suddenly  the  forest buzzed and leaves  flew.  Either it  entered
Bemish's mind on its own or the gods gave him a hint, "Kissur will get in an
accident. The mountain took the horse yesterday, today..."
     By  noon,  Bemish was drunk  with blood, the servants lagged  somewhere
behind,  he,  Kissur  and Ashidan  rode  out to a  lawn  overgrown  with red
flowers. Kissur, having ridden to another side of the  lawn, was  making out
moss on a tree, he was probably foretelling.
     At this moment, a bear cub jumped out on the lawn and crazily rushed up
the tree.
     "Don't do it," Kissur told his brother, "It's a bad omen."
     But Ashidan had already pulled his bow  and shot - the cub let the tree
go and  fell. Ashidan  jumped off the saddle and ran to the cub. The  bushes
were pulled  apart, a roar issued forth and a huge black and  brown she-bear
barged in.
     "Ashidan," Bemish screamed.
     Ashidan turned around. The she-bear rose on her hind paws and the youth
stood in front of her, bewildered with a broken arrow pulled out of her son.
     Bemish  snatched  at  his  gun. Before  he raised his hand, Kissur  had
rolled off his saddle with a sword  in his hand  and dived  under the bear's
belly. Ashidan  with a squeal jumped aside. Bemish fired. The bear swung its
paws heavily in the air and crashed  on Kissur. She shuddered and froze like
a pile of peat dumped off a truck.
     Bemish and Ashidan rushed to the bear.
     "Kissur are you alive?"
     No answer issued.
     Bemish approached the bear and started pulling it  by  its ear. At this
moment the pile of seemingly dead meat moved and Kissur materialized.
     "Damn," he bared his teeth, "sword..."
     But the sword, after they had turned the bear over, appeared to be fine
- it had entered  her belly almost all the way to the guard.  They  examined
her snout - the bullet hit the bear right in her eye.
     Yes,  the hunt was excellent,  even Dried Date  who  was not capable of
smiling screamed and hooted. He sat at the  fire next  to Kissur's knees and
started  singing  his songs that  Bemish had heard so  many times  from boom
boxes in the workers' barracks that he came to liking them.
     They  rode back  in the dusk. The  horses  walked  down  the  path  two
abreast, black oily earth crumbled under their hooves, a forested slope rose
like a dark wall on the right, the fuzzy sun was rolling  behind the faraway
mountains  covered  with gleaming  snow like a cake glazed  with white.  The
birds fluttered up from under the hooves and life  was wondrously good. "Oh,
my God, it's  such a  great place for  a  hotel," a thought passed  Bemish's
mind. He was a  practical man and he always sought for ways to adjust nature
to money.
     After the bear cub accident, Ashidan  saddened  and it happened somehow
that Kissur and his retinue raced in front and Bemish lagged behind them and
rode next to Ashidan. The latter was  pale - either due to the weed that the
peasants  grew in a  local field  or  because of Cambridge. Bemish leaned to
Ashidan and asked quietly,
     "Does Kissur know that you are a drug addict?"
     "I am not  a  drug addict, I  am  just  curious!  I  can stop this  any
moment."
     Bemish sniggered involuntarily. The  youth shuddered.  Then he abruptly
turned  his  grey  eyes  to  the  Earthman.   His  pupils  were  unnaturally
contracted.
     It's not my fault, it's  yours,"  he  said, "Seven years ago Warnaraine
was ruled from  this  castle, and now it's  a dump because there is no eight
line  highway next to  it! You  have chased our gods away and what have  you
given us instead, a Pepsi can?"
     Ashidan grabbed the Earthman by his hand.
     "This weed has always grown here! They ate it to speak to the gods! You
declared even talking to the gods to be a crime!"
     "Come on, Ashidan! You  don't  converse to a  god or a demon, you  just
gobble this weed up to get high and you are afraid of Kissur because he will
throw you into a hospital for drug addicts or just chain you."
     "I am afraid of the sword  he took," Ashidan said, "I saw this sword in
Khanalai's hand and if people are killed, their souls enter their swords."
     Khanalai was the rebel that fought Kissur seven years ago.
     "Khanalai?" Bemish was astonished, "Have you met Khanalai?"
     "He took me prisoner," Ashidan answered.
     Bemish  stared  at the  youth -  he  was  young, slim like a  snake and
incredibly beautiful, with  golden hair and grey eyes heavily mascara coated
for the hunt.
     "Oh, my God! How old were you?"
     "I  was fifteen, almost fifteen. Kissur entrusted me with five thousand
horsemen and Dried Date  and Aldon's uncle - Aldon  the  Striped - were with
me.  We should have waited for Kissur  in  the Black Mountains. But we heard
that down there, in the town of Lukhun, merchants had come in for a fair and
were bunched all together there because of the war. We decided to seize this
town because we would get more loot if we didn't wait for Kissur.
     So, we approached this town  with a guide and when the sun came out  we
realized  that  it was  a trap  - Khanalai's army encircled us. Khanalai was
going to catch Kissur."
     Ashidan rocked in the saddle.
     I rode forward  and challenged Khanalai to  a duel.  My  shield  had an
image of the White Falcon on it; Khanalai thought that Kissur himself got in
his trap. He really didn't want to fight but he had to accept the challenge.
He was afraid that his captains would mock him.
     There is not much to say about  this fight - Khanalai split my shoulder
and threw me to the ground like a kitten  and  then he  removed my helmet to
cut  my  head  off. He was really surprised  and he asked me,  "Who are you,
brat,  to wear a White Falcon shield?"  I told him that  my name was Ashidan
and that my brother Kissur would avenge me and why wouldn't he just shut his
lousy trap and cut my head off. I was a  very cute boy and Khanalai suddenly
took pity on  me. He raised his sword and then he thought, "I will die - and
these words contained all  the horror of irreversible, you couldn't sleep at
night having heard them. So, would it be worth it to  bring the sword down?"
At  least, that's what  he  told me  afterwards. So he threw me like a wench
over his horse's back and rode to his army. And my army was obliterated down
to the last man. You see, it was a war very different from a war between two
countries.  When  one country  and another country make a war, it's  fair to
spare the enemy and to make him your vassal. While  when a government fights
rebels, it's fair to obliterate the rebels completely.
     "What happened to Dried Date?" Bemish suddenly realized.
     "Dried Date and old Aldon were taken prisoners."
     "And what happened next?"
     They brought me and Dried Date to Khanalai's tent where he was feasting
after the battle and  Khanalai said that he would like to hear a  song about
this  battle from Dried  Date. Dried Date  answered that  the battle was not
finished  yet because not  everybody, supposed to  be  executed  after  this
battle, was executed and when Khalai executed everybody who  was supposed to
be executed, there would be nobody left to sing this song.  Khanalai grinned
and gave  his new lute and his sword to  Dried  Date, and this sword  was so
valuable that  it cost more that Dried  Date's honor. He sat and sang a song
of praise to  Khanalai and I don't think that you'll ever hear it from Dried
Date or  on  a tape recorder. Then, Khanalai turned to  me and said that  he
would like to let me  go. I  was insolent to him. He  paused  and said, "All
right, they  will  crucify you tomorrow, brat.  At first they  will  crucify
Aldon and then you."
     "What happened tomorrow?"
     "They brought Aldon and me out and Khanalai said, `If you let me pardon
you, I will let Aldon go.' I spit in his face."
     Ashidan paused. He  face paled completely  and Bemish suddenly imagined
how cute a boy he had been at "almost fifteen."
     "Khanalai rocked on his  feet for a  while and then said,  `You are too
beautiful a boy to die.' They  crucified Aldon and quarreled for a while and
then took me away."
     "And what happened to Dried Date?"
     "Dried Date sang songs of praise to Khanalai till he was offended, that
he, a man from a noble family, was serving a commoner  who used to tread cow
dung in his childhood.  He cut one of Khanalai's aides head off, threw it in
a sack  and raced  to Kissur  with this ransom. And he  also gave Khanalai's
sword to Kissur."
     Ashidan paused and said,  "I also met Khanalai's son there - we were of
the same age and the lad was quite gifted. I  think that Khanalai took mercy
on  me because  of him. He asked me once, "What if Kissur gets a hold  of my
son? Do you think he will let him live like I let you?"
     "Yes,"   Bemish  thought,  "Kissur,  however,   didn't  take  mercy  on
Khanalai's son and he didn't take mercy on anybody else."
     "Hey," Khanadar the Dried Date shouted  ahead, "have you fallen asleep?
Come here quickly!"
     Bemish  and Ashidan hastened their horses.  The road  split  in two  in
front of them, the riders grouped at the fork.
     "We should go left," Kissur said, "We should visit  Aldis  so that  the
next hunt would be even more fruitful than the last one."
     "Well," Ashidan objected, "we won't reach the castle before nightfall."
     "No problem," Kissur said, "we will sleep over at the old altar house."
     Ashidan's face fell.
     "Look," Khanadar said, "you  aren't afraid of the old altar  house, are
you?"
     And he continued having turned to Bemish,
     "Aldis  the  White Falcon is  buried  next  to  the old  altar  and two
families were  assigned  to take care of the  grave.  But they ignored their
duty  and Aldis ate  them  and he liked it  - he started  climbing out every
night,  chased passersby with all his retinue and herded them into his place
for a feast. A traveler passes by and sees a  manor with lights on, and only
his  bones  are left by the morning. People took notice - if on a  new  moon
night  there were fire  and commotion at the old  altar house  -  then, some
family would wail  somewhere soon enough. They  would  have pounded a  stake
down his coffin long time ago if he had been a  commoner but they are afraid
of doing it - you know, he is Kissur's great grandfather." Ashidan grinned.
     "It's  not  fitting  to  visit  ancestors'  graves  with   an  Earthman
outlander,"  he said, "It's  enough for a stranger that  we took  him for  a
hunt."
     "I have never hunted  here before," Kissur answered, "and not shared my
booty with my ancestor."
     And they rode to the old altar house, having dismissed the servants and
having tied the bear cub's body to a saddle.
     The  old  altar  house sat  between  a  forest and  a  horseshoe shaped
mountain on the  very edge of a sheer, as if cut with a knife, gorge. Behind
a black carved fence,  one could see a roof tied  in  a  knot; yellow  light
issued forth from  a round window, people's voices  were  coming from behind
the fence. Ashidan's face acquired a pallid color of toothpowder.
     "Oh-ho-ho," Kissur said, "is Aldis getting rowdy again?"
     The  riders quietly dismounted, Kissur petted  his horse so it wouldn't
neigh  and stuck covertly a stubby assault rifle  under his overcoat. A pine
tree, that  had fallen last year, crushed the fence and miraculously  spared
the chapel - they took a look over the tree  log into a wide yard. There, on
a stone site, a  small space boat Orinoko-22 stood looking  like  a  striped
squash. People in body suits were standing  in a line and passing sacks from
the altar house to the boat.
     "Heia," Kissur said loudly, "that's called progress! Even ghosts can no
longer fly without engines!"
     He bounced over the log and stepped in the lit  circle. Frankly, it was
Kissur that looked more like  a  ghost here  - a  hunter in an ancient green
caftan  with  a yew bow hanging over his shoulder and his  face painted with
blue  stripes for the hunt - amidst people in  flying suits  who froze for a
moment next to  a  cargo hatch. The people dropped plastic sacks. Three guys
jumped out  of  an  altar house window  with  long  barreled lasers in their
hands.  A  horse quietly neighed - Khanadar and Ashidan stepped out into the
light from the other side, leading their horses.
     "False alarm," somebody said, "these are the landlords."
     Kissur  unhurriedly walked to a short round eyed character  whom Bemish
recognized to be the local bailiff.
     "Oh, it's you Lakhor. What are you doing here?"
     "You know, my  Lord," Lakhor  said  with  a  certain dignity,  "We  are
loading..."
     Kissur placed his foot on a sack, dragged a hunting knife from his belt
and ripped the plastic cover from top to bottom.
     "I swear by god's goiter," Kissur  said, "Everybody around says "Lord,"
"Lord" to you, kisses your knees while you don't even  know  what it is that
you lord over. What are these  oats you are hauling to the boat? Nothing but
oats has ever grown around here, if my memory doesn't fail me."
     Kissur scooped up a bit out of the sack with his hand and sniffed it.
     "No," he shook his head, "no way, oats could smell like this. Khanadar,
do you know what it is?"
     Khanadar also picked a sack, tore it apart with his whip's claw, picked
some weed  up and stuck it under his horse's nose. It neighed and turned its
head aside.
     "No," Khanadar  said, "I don't know what it is but it's not oats. Look,
Striped is putting its nose up and it doesn't want it." At this point, Aldon
the Lynx Cub joined the conversation.
     "Hey,  it's  hemp," he  said,  "wolf's  whisk." Weian zealots and local
serfs have used it since old times  to visit the skies  and now people carry
it to  the Sky  in  plastic bags.  I heard, they pay a lot of money for this
weed on the sky. Earthmen always pay a lot of money for what a horse put its
nose up away."
     The  only thing that Bemish couldn't understand  was why  they were all
still alive.
     Here, Ashidan's breaking voice sounded.
     "Kissur," he said, "it's my fault. I failed to ask your permission."
     Kissur span around.
     "Are you trying to say," he spoke with a phony astonishment, "that  you
allowed my serfs  to  trade weed grown  in my lands  without  asking  for my
consent?"
     "But I was not sure..." Ashidan started.
     "Tell me," Kissur inquired, "who is the senior in our clan, you or me?"
     "You are."
     "And who owns the land and everything above it and below it, the senior
or the junior?"
     "The senior does."
     "Then, why are you breaking the law and  pocketing the profit from this
business?"
     "I was afraid that you won't understand..."
     "Of course, I won't understand," Kissur thundered, "my serfs on my land
start  a  business and  don't pay  me  two  cents! Who  should  feed me, the
sovereign or my own holding?"
     "My Lord, my  Lord,"  round eyed Lakhor  hurried, "We didn't know  that
master Ashidan paid you nothing, I'll turn into a frog if we wanted to break
the law!"
     At this point, a man in a flying suit ducked out of the cargo hatch.
     "I bring my apologies, Mr. Kissur," he said in Interenglish, "We really
didn't know that you were not aware of our modest business."
     Kissur looked him over from head to toes.
     "How much do you pay my brother for a sack?"
     "Ten."
     "You will pay me twelve. I want money now."
     "Do you think I have so much?" the pilot snapped.
     "Don't cross him," Lakhor peeped in horror.
     "I  am  waiting," Kissur said coldly, "or  I  will  rip all  the  sacks
apart."
     "Don't pick a fight with him," another Earthman said, "he is livid."
     "You would become livid  here," Khanadar the Dried Date objected, "when
your own serfs don't pay you their taxes fairly and you brother cheats you -
hasn't Ashidan promised you Kissur's protection?"
     Kissur and the pilot disappeared in  the  hatch opening. Ashidan sat on
the  log  not raising his pale  face. Bemish's mind was  reeling.  If Kissur
hadn't known  whom  he would meet at the old altar house, why had he brought
the assault  rifle that he was now carefully hiding  under his hunting coat?
And if  he had known, why  had he dragged Bemish with him? Did he think that
Bemish would  keep  silent? No, damn  it,  did he think  that Terence Bemish
would swallow even that? Or would he suggest landing these boats  in Assalah
spaceport?
     Kissur and  the pilot stepped out  of the hatch again.  The  pilot  was
smiling.  It was  clear  that in his opinion he got  away cheaply and  found
himself  such a  protector that all Weian police would not be able to  lay a
finger on him. Kissur stuck the money in his pants  pocket and,  having bent
his leg, placed it right in front of the pilot on a boarding ramp's aluminum
stair.
     The latter started looking around confusedly.
     "Stupid," old Lakhor hissed, "Kiss the foot, the Lord's foot."
     The Earthman shrugged his shoulders and bended down to the dusty boot.
     At this  moment, Kissur  kneed the  pilot  under  his  chin. The  pilot
squealed. His body flew upwards and Kissur's joined hands crushed his neck -
his backbone crunched.
     Out of  the corner of his eye,  Bemish barely managed to  see how Aldon
plucked  Ashidan and  threw him into  the bushes. Kissur  went flat behind a
steel  landing  support,  whipped  his  gun out  and started  firing  at the
confused people, Aldon and Khanadar joined the fray.
     Three Earthmen with guns  went  supine,  the fourth  one, unnoticed  by
Kissur, leaped out of the altar house. Bemish jumped at him  and kicked  his
gun away; both of them went to the ground. The gunman seized Bemish's throat
and started  choking  him. Bemish rolled on his back and quite nimbly kicked
the  attacker  in  the  place where legs grow  from. The  latter said "ouch"
loudly and let Bemish go but he immediately recovered  and butted him in the
stomach  and  then  punched him with the right hand. Bemish intercepted this
punch,  seized  the gunman's sleeve with his  left  hand  and,  with fingers
spread apart, hit him in the eyes. One eye burst and oozed down his cheek.
     "Aaahhh!" the gunman screamed. In a tight embrace, they rolled down  to
the abyss over boulders and hummocks.
     Bemish banged a rock  with his back badly and he fainted  for a moment.
The gunman whipped an arrow out of the quiver, hanging behind Bemish's back.
The arrow  was sharp and firm, with white icy feathers. A hexagonal titanium
tip gleaned in the moonlight above Bemish. "That's it," Bemish thought.
     The smuggler dropped the arrow, however, and then he sighed and fell on
Bemish's chest. Bemish shook himself  up and climbed from under  his enemy's
body. A long knife  was stuck in the guy's back and Khanadar  the Dried Date
stood over the knife.
     Date extended his hand and helped Bemish get up. They climbed the loose
rocks uphill to the lighted altar house and space boat.
     Everything had already  been  done there. Bemish  counted the corpses -
sixteen  people, five wore body suits or jeans and the  others were  locals.
The gunpowder smell  of shots  mixed with the smell of fresh hemp and blood.
Ashidan sat on a rock holding his head in his hands.
     Following Kissur's orders they gathered the  corpses and the sacks next
to the altar house walls, poured gas over them and lit them on fire.
     "I feel bad about the grave," Khanadar said.
     "It's  desecrated now, what can  we  do?"  Kissur responded.  Still, he
untied the bear cub off the saddle and threw it in the fire.
     Afterwards, Kissur  tore off  the  emergency control  seals, turned the
safety  block  off and  started clicking  the switches till the main  screen
swelled red and screamed in an ugly voice.
     "Mount," Kissur  yelled,  running out  of  the space boat. Khanadar had
already leaped across the broken fence and he was prancing on his horse next
to the forest.
     "Should I repeat it for you?" Kissur screamed at Ashidan, "It will blow
up in a moment."
     Ashidan raced following the others.
     It  blew up in such a way that the moon almost dropped off the sky  and
fire imps leaped out of  the mountains and danced  over the altar house left
behind;  when  people in  the village  found the remnants, they  said,  with
astonishment, that  old Aldis had dragged stupid travelers  from the sky  to
him and nothing good, of course, had come out of it.
     With his head low, Ashidan rode between Aldon and Khanadar and Khanadar
held his horse's reins.
     Bemish rode behind everybody. He didn't feel all that good. A dull pain
walked up and  down where his spine had banged against the rock and his side
was skinned in places. Kissur suddenly slowed his horse a bit and waited for
his friend.
     Kissur jabbed Bemish with his elbow and said, with a laugh,
     "So,  Earthman, admit that your feet got cold? Admit that you decided I
would ask you to land this boat next time in Assalah spaceport?"
     "You should have called police in."
     "I,"  Kissur said, "am  the master over this land's  taxes  and courts.
What  would have  happened if I had called police? Firstly, I wouldn't  have
found this boat, because our justice is worse than a whore and they would be
warned away. When the justice sells out, a man  should  take  it in its  own
hands. Or do you think that I acted wrongly?"
     "Yes," Bemish answered, "I don't think that you acted right. It was not
justice you cared about but  rather shame besmirching your clan's honor.  If
you had executed people accordingly to their guilt,  Ashidan would have been
executed first since  he knows perfectly well that selling drugs is a crime,
unlike a stupid old serf  who did what his master told him  to and anyway he
had  no  clue that  it's illegal to eat this weed, since all the shamans  in
this  village  have been  eating it for the last thousand years and so what?
You would have given him couple lashes and sent him away."
     They  rode down  a broad dark path between the abyss  and the cliff and
the sky on the other side of the cliff was red and crackled.
     "Ashidan,"  Kissur quietly  called  out, "do  you  hear what Terence is
saying? He is saying that your guilt is larger than  that  of people who are
dead already and it's not fair."
     Even in the light brought by the moon and by the faraway fire one could
see the youth's shoulders shaking.
     "Get  off the  horse,  Ashidan," Kissur  ordered.  Ashidan  dismounted.
Kissur  also jumped down  and pulled the sword with the  intertwined  snakes
handle out of the sheath fastened to the saddle.
     "Get on your knees," Kissur ordered.
     Ashidan wordlessly kneeled next to  the abyss. The wind started playing
with his golden hair and it  glistened in the moonlight. Ashidan lowered his
head and pulled his hair off the base of the neck with his own hand.
     "It would have  been  better," Kissur spoke, "if  you had died  of  his
sword  eight years ago  and  not  now," and he raised  the  sword  over  the
brother's bowed head.
     Bemish jumped off his horse and seized Kissur's hand.
     "Isn't enough for today, Kissur? You are drunk with blood."
     "You  said it  yourself,"  Kissur  objected, "that I  acted unfairly. I
don't want people to say that about me."
     "Damn it," Bemish said, "you did everything correct. Let the lad be."
     "Get in the saddle, Ashidan," Kissur spoke quietly.



     In a week, Bemish returned to the capital. He was buried up to his neck
in work, he had to attend a benefit dinner, a risk  strategy and  investment
conference, a Fall Leaves celebration in the palace, and a negotiation round
with the management of a Chakhar company that Bemish had plans for.
     Ronald Trevis  was also at the conference, he gained some weight  since
they  had met  last time and,  as Bemish learned, he had exchanged his third
wife for a fourth one. Shavash invited both friends to  join his retinue and
visit Chakhar and after the vice minister had introduced the two Earthmen to
the company director, the negotiations were concluded surprisingly quickly.
     In the evening, Bemish and Trevis suddenly  found themselves at a villa
with Shavash while  the rest of his retinue  hung out at another  hotel. The
guests  were  served  an incomparable  dinner but, when  the girls that  had
circling around  the guests left  and a waiter  from the security department
brought a counter  surveillance device with the desert, Bemish realized that
the serious conversation was just starting.
     "I would like," Shavash said, leaning  back in his armchair and putting
an empty  bowl for the glazed fruits aside, "to  discuss with you  our state
debt. We are stuck all the way  to our ears. The interest payments alone are
bigger that one third of our GDP."
     "I wouldn't say that  you have a large state  debt,"  Trevis mentioned,
"You just have a very small GDP."
     "That's  what  I  have  in  mind,"  Shavash  nodded,  "when  I  suggest
restructuring the debt."
     Trevis bounced in  his chair  about  to  protest against this idea  but
Shavash's next words caused his eyes to pop out.
     "I think that  it would be  possible to create a  private  company that
will  be responsible for paying  interest on certain state debt tranches and
this company will obtain Chakhar."
     "What do you mean, Chakhar?" Trevis was astonished.
     "I mean Chakhar or any other province where this company would  be able
to collect taxes, make laws  and  build factories.  If  a province frightens
you, you can limit yourself with some mining deposits."
     A long silence ruled the table.
     "Shavash,  aren't  you  afraid  that someday they will  arrest  you for
treason?" Trevis finally inquired.
     The small official shrugged his shoulders.
     "Why? It's just a way to decrease budget expenses. If a company doesn't
pay the state debt out, it will, of  course, loose the license. I've already
talked  to  Dachanak  and  Ibinna and  they  are ready to  be  the company's
co-founders.  Mr. Bemish  will  fit perfectly  there  and as for you,"  here
Shavash smiled  charmingly at  the  banker,  "I would  like you,  Ronald, to
handle the negotiations with the bonds' owners."
     Ronald Trevis leaned  forward - his  eyes reflected the lights from the
candles  burning  on  the table and the  green illumination coming from  the
counter surveillance device. "He will never stop," a thought passed Bemish's
mind, "He will handle the most fantastic  deals for Shavash because  Shavash
can offer  him what nobody has ever done  in the Galaxy  yet.  He will  be a
consultant if Shavash asks him to privatize the ministry of finance."
     Three days later, Bemish dropped by Assalah, for a couple of hours - he
was accompanying a Galactic Bank committee.
     The  committee  was shown a  new section  of finished  launching  pads,
numbers seven to seventeen, and was escorted down the unfinished but already
working  spaceport  building  with  twelve underground service floors  and a
fifteen story tower that housed Bemish's office on its very top.
     Bemish   entered  his   office  with  the   bank  vice   president  and
contemplated, smiling slightly, his table covered  with a barely perceptible
layer of dust.
     After the committee had left, Giles walked into the office.
     "How is Kissur's castle?" the spy inquired.
     Bemish mumbled something vague.
     "By the way," Giles said, "satellites observed  a space  boat explosion
in this area. It was something like a Colombine or a Trial with a boosted up
engine - they use them to traffic drugs. By any chance, have you heard about
it?"
     "I witnessed it," Bemish  said. "Kissur blew  up the boat. Before that,
he torched ten million worth of drugs and  killed sixteen men. Afterwards he
almost  cut  his  own  brother's  head  off.  Ashidan  was involved  in  the
business."
     "Did you memorize the space boat's license plate number?"
     "It was D-3756A Orinoko, if the plate wasn't a fake."
     Giles paused.
     "Do  you think that Kissur took you  with him on  purpose?  Did he know
that  we suspected him in drug trafficking  and  that  they had  refused his
application to the military academy exactly because of this?"
     "Yes. Only, Kissur is a proud man and he will die before he says it out
loud."
     Giles was biting his lips.
     "Where is Ashidan now?" he asked finally.
     "Ashidan stayed  in  the  castle.  More  precisely, he  stayed  in  the
castle's cellar." Bemish specified.
     He paused and added,
     "You  said that  you had proof of Kissur's connection to drug  dealers.
Where did you get this proof?"
     "Make a guess."
     "Shavash?"
     Giles nodded and spoke,
     "But he could just be mistaken."
     Bemish blew up and banged his fist on the table,
     "There is no way this bastard could be mistaken!" he screamed, "You can
fool the Earthmen from a sky far away and tell  them that Kissur traffics in
drugs! You can't  fool  Shavash!  He  has  better  spies  that all the local
gangsters  combined! He knew for sure that Kissur had nothing to do with it!
But  he also knew that Kissur, if cornered, would sooner or later  break his
head!"
     "But Shavash is Kissur's friend..."
     "Friend? The only thing he wants is to get into  Idari's bed! If Kissur
keels over, before a year goes by,  Idari  will have a choice - either to go
bumming or to marry Shavash!"
     Giles looked at Bemish and said suddenly,
     "I think that Mrs. Idari  will also have  the  third  alternative -  to
marry the  Assalah spaceport  director.  Not that a barbarian from the stars
could really allure her..."


     The Eleventh Chapter

     Where  Terence Bemish's assistant  goes  to  the  sectants' meeting  in
Imissa while  Kissur the White  Falcon looks around the Galaxy for abandoned
warheads.

     Two days later, Ashinik returned to the spaceport and  he didn't drop a
word about the Inissa meeting. It could not  be ruled out  that the  zealots
had made certain decisions and  that these decisions could include  an order
for Ashinik to plant a  bomb  for  Bemish  or to  throw it down a  launching
chute. But Bemish didn't have time to think about it.
     Three days later, Bemish  wandered into his office for half  an hour to
dictate  a whole  pile of documents,  Ashinik  interrupted him calling  from
somewhere in the port.
     "Mr. Bemish,  could you find an  hour for  me? There  is a man here who
would like to meet you. "
     "What man?" Bemish asked.
     "It's an... old man."
     Bemish was quite impressed.  He cleaned up  his office and  changed his
jacket, just in case; he hung his regular one in the closet and picked out a
light grey jacket that had one very useful feature - it could resist a laser
burst at a three meter distance.
     Ashinik led into the office an eighty-year-old man in peasant clothing,
with white and bushy eyebrows, straight back and a square cap on a seemingly
bald head. The old man looked at the Earthman with scary bulging eyes.
     "You," the old man said, "are the boss of this place. And who am I?"
     "You are probably," Bemish said, "the boss of the people who don't like
this place."
     "We  don't have  bosses," the  old man declared, "We  have students and
teachers."
     Bemish had nothing to reply, so he asked, "Would you like some tea?"
     Strangely, the old  man agreed. Bemish ordered it and soon Inis entered
the office carrying a  tray with a teapot, cups, and several  baskets filled
with sweet cookies.
     The old man disapprovingly stared at Inis'  skirt. It  was exactly  one
meter shorter than  what he would consider decent. Even Bemish, in  the back
of his mind, disapproved of Inis strolling in this skirt anywhere outside of
his  bedroom.  But  what  could he do? Inis enjoyed very few  things besides
skirts and earrings and Bemish felt sorry for her and never contradicted her
about her skirts.
     The main demon and the arch foe of  the demons silently drank tea for a
while.
     "How are  you going  to scamper from  here to the sky?" the White Elder
asked. "I  walked around your construction and I saw holes going down but  I
haven't seen any ladders going to the sky."
     "We don't use ladders,"  Bemish explained patiently, "to go to the sky.
We use space ships. Before starting, these ships stay in underground chutes,
like pigeons resting in a pigeon house between flights."
     The  White  Elder looked  at  him  with  interest  and  Bemish  started
explaining where to and  why ships flew. He  tried very hard. He even got to
the  concept  of an escape velocity  when  the old  man interrupted  him and
asked, "Ok,  I believe that you fly to  the sky and not underground. But why
wouldn't you still build a ladder so that people don't get confused?"
     Bemish  suppressed a desire to burst into hysterical  laughter. Then he
recalled the stories about the zealots' cunning and how they enjoyed placing
a man in  absurd situations  and watching his actions. What  if the  old man
understood everything about space ships?  He knew exactly that Bemish  would
be able to explain to him  what  an escape velocity was  but  he didn't know
what Bemish would do after such a question.
     Bemish hadn't exactly  shown himself in the best light and he stuck his
nose in the tea cup.
     "Listen," the  old man  said, having  realized that he wouldn't get  an
answer, "you talked to this puppy and  to  Kissur and to the great sovereign
and even to this briber Shavash and you  managed to find  the  common ground
with everyone. How have you managed it?"
     "I don't know," Bemish said. "It probably happened because I always try
to speak  truth.  People rarely tell the truth  to each  other.  They either
flatter each other and  think  that they are lying or they are  rude to each
and think that they are  telling the truth. But they  tell  the  truth  very
rarely."
     "What truth will you say about yourself? Will you  admit that you are a
demon?"
     "No," Bemish said, "I will not lie and say that I am a demon and I will
not say that you are wrong. You see, I grew up in a country where they think
that  the  people  are  always  right.  If so, many people  feel  themselves
slighted, they must have reasons  for  it.  If so many  people hate Earthmen
they must have reasons for it. I think that  the main reason is that you are
poorer than Earthmen. And I think that the  only way to change it is to help
you to become as rich as Earthmen. That's why I am building this spaceport."
     "You  are connected to  some  very bad people,"  the old man said, "For
instance, to  a man named Shavash.  He  is a backside of the world, a jerboa
turned into a  man, a filthy duck with seven tongues and  no soul. His black
shadow found its way into our  counsel  and his  black shadow stretches over
the construction. Think upon my words."
     Having said this,  the old  man stood and left without  bowing. Ashinik
rushed out with him.



     Three more days passed and Ashinik  said, "Mr.  Bemish, if you  wish to
talk to the White Elder again, you should be  in the  capital, in the  hotel
Archan the day after tomorrow at the dew hour."
     Bemish  couldn't   fall  asleep  throughout   the  night.   Archan  was
unquestionably the  Empire's most  luxurious  hotel. It  was  located in the
Emperor's  palace territory, where the place  where  the  Cloud  Houses  for
visiting officials used to be. Archan retained all the crazy  luxury  of the
dwellings built  for  visiting provincial governors  and judges of the ninth
rank;  additionally  it  acquired   all  the   newest   comforts,  including
computerized  climate control. Evil  tongues added that Archan also retained
hidden passages that executioners had used to visit  the governors called to
the capital to receive capital  punishment. The medieval  spy holes had been
adapted  for  communication  equipment  and  much  more modern  surveillance
hardware had taken over.
     The fact  that  White Elder stayed at  Archan  and  not at a five  star
Hilton  demonstrated that the sect not only had considerably more money that
Bemish  had suspected  before  but it also had some patrons at the very top.
Who were these patrons? Clearly, it was not Shavash. The old man spoke about
Shavash with fresh  disgust. Bemish was  ready to swear that an informer  of
Shavash's had either been near Iniss or even attended the meeting itself and
that crabs had already feasted on him.
     Bemish lay in his bed and thought that maybe he,  the main demon of the
Empire, who  never sent spies, never bribed and never intrigued, managed  to
succeed where  the cunning official  Shavash  failed. He managed to make the
White Elder, the Earthmen's enemy, reconsider his policy.
     "You are absent-minded tonight," Inis said. "Has anything happened?"
     Terence smiled in the dark.
     "It's nothing. Sleep little one."
     The woman carefully caressed his chest.
     "Oh, Mr. Bemish, I can feel that you are troubled. I hope that it's not
due to the  accounting error I  made yesterday. If it's something  else, why
don't you tell me about it?"
     Bemish smiled  slightly imagining Inis advising him.  She, however, was
right - he, indeed, needed advice.
     Bemish climbed out of bed and,  having walked to the bathroom, dialed a
number. Surprisingly, he heard  an answer  immediately even  though  it  was
quite late.
     "Mrs. Idari? This is Bemish. I need to talk to you."
     "I am listening, Terence."
     "It's not a phone conversation. I  will be in the capital in two hours.
May I see you?"
     "Yes."



     Idari  met him  in  the large  living room.  Bemish  didn't  ask  about
Kissur's  whereabouts  - the  majordomo  had already  whispered to  him that
Kissur was on a pub crawl accompanied by two barbarians and one bandit.
     Idari wore a solemn house mistress dress - long black pants and a black
blouse.  The blouse's sleeves  were embroidered  with  entwined  flowers and
stems. She  was girdled  by a  wide belt of  silver segments. She  walked by
Bemish  carefully stepping on the  beasts and grasses weaved on the rugs and
Bemish felt as if her feet were stepping on his heart.
     Bemish  sat down in a soft chair in the small living room and Idari sat
cross legged across him on the carpet.
     "I am meeting the White Elder tomorrow," Terence said.
     Alarm crossed the woman's face.
     "Be careful, Terence, it has to be a trap. They can kill or kidnap you.
You  have  tamed a kitten Ashinik  but don't think that you  have learned  a
forest tiger's habits."
     "It's not a trap,"  Bemish  said. "They can't set a trap for my body in
that  place.  But... You see... The sect is  ready  to reconsider its policy
towards Earthmen."
     Idari smiled with her blue eyes.
     "I... I was happy at first. I was able to do what Shavash couldn't. You
know how dangerous  they are. But now I am afraid. The White  Elder is doing
me a huge favor. He will ask something in return. An  eye for an eye. I want
to know what it will be."
     "It's very simple," Idari said.  "They say you are the foreigner who is
the closest to the sovereign. The White Elder will ask  you to  persuade the
sovereign to dismiss Shavash."
     Bemish shuddered. The  negotiations concerning the  company  that would
obtain  a   half  of   Chakhar's  ore  deposits   in   exchange  for  taking
responsibility of one  of the state loans were proceeding at full speed. The
company even  had a name, BOAR project. Nobody knew  about the project  yet,
but...
     "But... But... Oh my God, it's impossible! Shavash will bankrupt me!"
     The woman smiled imperceptibly.
     "You should have realized what could  happen, Terence, when you offered
Ashinik a job. Or do you think that Following the Way would have let Ashinik
serve a demon if they hadn't thought that the demon had made himself a snare
they could catch him with?"
     Bemish arrived at Archan at eight thirty.
     The hotel's  malachite columns gleamed and the mirrors  on the  lobby's
walls were inlaid with the thinnest silver layers on top. Above the mirrors,
where  the gods had been depicted in the past,  elegant clocks were now set;
they showed the local time, Melbourn time - Melbourn being the Federation of
Nineteen capital during this decade - and time  in London, New  York, Khoine
and in a dozen other largest Galaxy's business centers.
     A certain disturbance was taking place in the hotel's  lobby, a  palace
guardsman  in  a  green  caftan (palace guardsmen were  in  charge of  hotel
security) was silently  and  forcefully pushing  a journalist with a  camera
away. Bemish approached  the  registration desk and expressed a wish to talk
to  the resident of room number fifteen on the hotel  phone. The girl behind
the desk was quite  surprised. A hand  touched  Bemish on  the back and  the
hand's owner turned Bemish around to face him in a somewhat impolite manner.
     "My  dear  fellow,"  he  started unceremoniously  and then  he  choked,
thought a bit and asked tightly, "Mr. Bemish?"
     "That's me."
     The man with palace guard captain insignia was clearly nervous.
     "Excuse  me," he  said,  "do  I  understand  correctly  that  you  were
inquiring about the resident of the room number fifteen?"
     "Yes," Bemish said exasperatedly, "I have a meeting with him at nine."
     "It's impossible."
     "Why?"
     "An hour and  a half ago the man who stayed in the room number  fifteen
and two bodyguards of his were killed by a bomb that exploded in the room."
     Bemish put  his elbows  on  the desk and squeezed his temples  with his
hands in  anguish and, right  at that moment, a  journalist hiding behind  a
large flower pot happily clicked his camera.



     In half an hour  Bemish rushed up Shavash's city  manor staircase.  The
vice-minister was drinking his morning tea in the blue living room.
     "What happened, Terence?" he stood up in astonishment, meeting Bemish.
     "Murderer!" Bemish shouted.
     "What's happened?"
     "Don't play games with me!"
     "Are you  talking about the Archan accident?  Terence, honestly, I have
nothing to do with it..."
     Shavash's face demonstrated sincere  surprise  and  affection. Bemish's
fist  collided with this affectionate  face maybe not at a half  of his full
power but definitely at one third of it.
     Shavash flew to the floor. He squeaked, rolled on the carpet and jumped
on his feet. His face burned and a red mark stretched across his left cheek.
     "Listen,  Terence," the official said, chewing on his lips,  "you  will
fall  out the zealots' favor this  morning.  It will be bad if you also fall
out of my favor..."
     Bemish sagged heavily in a chair.
     "Well, tell me what happened."
     "There is nothing to  tell you.  You know  it  all.  This morning I was
supposed  to meet the White Elder  in  Archan. The  White Elder was going to
reconsider his attitude towards Earthmen. Now he is as dead as a wasted frog
and, since it happened thanks to his meeting with  an Earthman, the  zealots
will  consider us demons just as  they considered  us before. They will also
remain  banned  and, being more dangerous for the country, they will be less
dangerous for you, Shavash."
     The small official grinned.
     "Don't  you think Terence  that if you  meet  a man  who signed a death
warrant to your friend, you should let you friend know about it?"
     "No."
     Shavash threw himself back in  the chair. His voice became  flatter and
less caressing.
     "Suppose,"  Shavash  said, "that  somebody informed me about the  White
Elder's stay in Archan and his meeting with you. Don't I know the conditions
of  this meeting and what they asked you  to  do so that Earthmen would stop
being demons?"
     "They didn't ask me anything."
     "They would have asked my resignation from you."
     "And it's better  for you to kill a man who could  make a peace between
Earthmen and millions of people that to resign, isn't it?"
     "Oh, Terence, you don't  understand  anything. Tell me, what  could you
tell the sovereign that the sovereign could revoke my appointment?"
     "What?! One tenth of what I know..."
     "Exactly. You can get me  to  resign  only  based on the deals  we have
handled  together. And if my part  in  these  deals is known, would  I  keep
silence about your  part?  And  if your  part is  known, even  the  moderate
newspapers will agree that you are a demon."
     Shavash spread his hands.
     "The White Elder had no intention of making peace with Earthmen. He was
going to use you as a tool to cause  my resignation and your own destruction
while the sect's attitude would not change a bit. I think that this decision
was made  in  Inissa during the same sect's meeting that you beloved Ashinik
attended."
     "This is bullshit,"  Bemish  said, "This  is bullshit  that  you  don't
believe, because if it had happened this way, you would have just talked and
told me that the White Elder was leading me by my nose. Instead of that  you
killed him, because they came to another decision at the sect's meeting."
     "Actually, I was going to talk to you," Shavash  replied, "today, after
your meeting with the White Elder. But somebody outwitted us both."
     "Who is it?"
     "It's Yadan."
     "Who?"
     "He is the teacher of your Ashinik, the number  two man in the sect who
will  become  the first one now. I bet  that he was the only one who knew or
suspected about the  White Elder's plan to throttle you with your own hands.
He  killed   him  to  take  his  position,  knowing  that  in  the   current
circumstances half Weia would blame  me for  the murder  and the other  half
would blame you."
     "Bullshit! I  saw  enough  to  be  sure  that  it  was  a  professional
assassination. Should I believe that the  same people who call all the Earth
technology a phantom, used sinex explosives?"
     "They call it a phantom but they can  use it quite well, Terence. Don't
worry. And they have many more opportunities to organize an assassination; I
can bet my life that it was a suicide bomber."



     Ashinik spent this night in the company director's bed with Inis, as he
spent  all the  other nights  when Bemish  was away from  the spaceport.  He
learned about the accident from the morning news  report,  right from one of
the multiple screens hanging in a lounge that Ashinik was passing through.
     Ashinik stood in  silence  boring  the screen through with his eyes.  A
worker passed by and slid a note  into the lad's hand. He unwrapped and read
it; the note  ordered him to attend  a meeting at one  of the sect's  secret
places -  an  old  temple next to a tavern  three hundred kilometers to  the
north from Assalah.
     Ashinik paled and hurried to an exit.
     They waited  for him  at  the  exit -  two people  in  black  and white
uniforms of the  security  service silently blocked his way. Ashinik made an
attempt to turn aside.
     "Follow us, vice-president,"  an  officer said quietly, "the boss would
like to talk to you."
     He raised his hand to his  mouth  and spoke into a  round  badge on his
wrist,
     "We are going upstairs, sir,"
     Richard Giles, the spaceport  security head  was waiting for Ashinik in
his white soundproof office on the tower's twelfth floor. When Giles saw the
vice-president who actually outranked him, he didn't even move.
     The people in black and white uniform seated Ashinik in an armchair and
left at a sign  from their  boss.  The office doors slid towards each  other
behind their backs with a soft hiss; Ashinik and Giles were alone.
     "Have you introduced the White Elder to Terence?" Giles asked.
     It was useless to deny it.
     "Yes."
     "Why haven't I been notified?"
     "It's Mr. Bemish's prerogative," Ashinik answered, "If he had liked to,
he would've let you know. When I came to work here, Bemish promised  me that
I  didn't have to answer any questions  and I haven't been asked anything so
far."
     "That was under different circumstances. What  did Bemish and the White
Elder talk about?"
     "I don't know."
     "What was discussed at your sect's meeting in Inissa?"
     "I won't tell you."
     "Either you, Ashinik,  tell  me what  happened in Inissa or I will tell
Terence  in whose bed you sleep every  night that he  spends outside  of the
spaceport, including tonight."
     Ashinik paled.
     "And I can even show him some pictures." Ashinik sat motionlessly.
     "What happened in Inissa?
     "We... we agreed not to consider Earthmen to be demons."
     "How interesting... Why?"
     "It was my suggestion."
     "Did everybody support it?"
     "The White Elder agreed. That was enough."
     "What about the others? Who was against it?"
     "Yadan, Akhunna and a man nicknamed Garlic Dan were against it."
     "Why did the White Elder agree?"
     "He said  that he  would  make peace  with the  spaceport's boss if the
latter broke up with Shavash."
     "Aha. So, who killed the White Elder, Shavash or Yadan?"
     "I don't know."
     "What will happen to you?"
     Giles was silent.
     "Ashinik,   have  you  received  anything  from  the  sect   after  the
assassination?"
     "No."
     Giles looked at the youth carefully.
     "When you receive anything, let me know."
     Ashinik was silent.
     "Ashinik, don't you understand?  You were the  one who supported making
an  agreement with  Earthmen!  You will  be the next victim after the  White
Elder. They will kill you if you are not with us!"
     "I know," Ashinik said quietly.
     Giles sighed.
     "Listen, Ashinik,"  he  spoke suddenly,  "why have  you gotten involved
with Inis? She is a dumb broad; you can get a bunch of them for an ishevik."



     In the evening Ashinik sat at the same table again, together with Giles
and Bemish. Wind and engines howled behind a huge dark window, the glares of
the  beacons  darted  across  the landing field  and  chunks of pollen  from
blooming  nut  trees  traveled  back  and  forth  over  the  landing  space.
Technicians  cursed under their breath - the pollen found its way inside all
the hardware. Superstitious  locals said  that  it was  a bad  omen.  Pollen
whirlwinds were always considered to be  witches  and the places where  they
moved particularly high were known to be damned.
     On the space  field open to the  winds and to the powerful  blows  from
plasma engines the witches danced their best.
     "When are you meeting Yadan?" Bemish asked.
     Ashinik was silent. He had burned the note long ago but its words still
flared inside his mind. Should he answer or not?
     But here Giles entered the conversation.
     "We know that a  courier from Yadan arrived in the spaceport territory.
He gave you a note. When did it happen?"
     "Nobody  has  given  me  any notes. Where  is your  courier?  Have  you
arrested or photographed him?"
     "No," Giles admitted.
     "Why not?"
     "Shavash's people saw him. They told me."
     "Don't  you understand that Shavash  lied to  you," Ashinik asked, "and
that you can't believe a single word of his?"
     "Listen, Ashinik,"  Giles said,  "I know that  after the  death of your
sect's head, the  new head has to be elected in two days. And I know that as
a member  of the  upper circle, you have  to be there because otherwise  the
meeting will be invalid. Where and when do you meet?"
     "I don't know."
     Giles grabbed the youth by the lapels of his jacket.
     "Idiot! Do  you understand that they  called you there to kill you? You
will get out of there alive only if you agree to kill Terence!"
     Ashinik paled. His pupils suddenly dilated covering his whole eyeballs.
     "Don't touch me, demon!" the youth suddenly screamed.
     Bemish leaped  up. Ashinik's face was contorted and foam bubbled on his
lips - a fit started.



     Ashinik was carried away and then an inner door to Giles' office opened
and  a man, who had  watched the conversation from the next room, walked out
of it; it was Shavash.
     "Are you sure that a meeting will occur?" Giles asked.
     "I  am  three hundred percent sure," Shavash replied.  "The top  of the
sect will  be there. It's our only  chance  -  to pick them all and cut them
down to a demon's snot!"
     "It's your only chance," Bemish said through his teeth.
     "Terence!  We are both in the  same shit  here. Zealots  are  not  like
Galactic police. Nobody is gonna  care whether it was you or me who sent the
bomb to the White Elder. They will finish both of us off. Give me Ashinik."
     "What do you mean?" Bemish inquired.
     "Are you a child?"
     And a private jail's owner made a straightforward gesture with his hand
as if he was squeezing water out of a sheet.
     "No," Bemish cut him off.
     "Ronald  will be very  angry with you," Shavash purred. "He has already
started  the negotiations with the owners of large debt blocks. If you don't
join BOAR stock owners..."
     "I will think about it," Bemish said in a suddenly low voice.
     Shavash didn't insist. He knew that the Earthman  had never exchanged a
friend's life before for a certain - even  if very large  - amount  of money
and he thought that a man had to get used to such a thought.
     He stopped talking and he excused  himself soon. Giles  stepped out  to
walk him  down. On the space field  where nobody could  overhear them, Giles
whispered several words to Shavash and the latter smiled at the spy with his
eyes.



     Ashinik woke up  late at night. He was in the medical room on the fifth
floor and the sky blinked red and blue behind the window.
     He didn't remember what exactly happened before  and during the fit. It
seemed like this  demon, Shavash, demanded something from him.  A demon? How
could it be  a demon? Shavash is a  Weian. But Yadan is also a Weian  and he
killed the  White Elder. Only a demon could  kill the White Elder. Then, are
the zealots demons? No, they only invent demons. But if you invent somebody,
you will turn into him...
     Ashinik sat  up in bed with a  jerk. He remembered now. He, as a member
of the first circle, was called to the sect's meeting. If he doesn't arrive,
he  will  be  outlawed.  What  if he arrives? It's crazy. The  Earthmen  are
watching him. He will act as a bee leading them to its beehive and they will
burn the beehive out with their rocket launchers.
     Ashinik looked around. The room wasn't large and though he couldn't see
anything  out of  ordinary around him, Ashinik felt as if the closed circuit
cameras were  zooming in  at  him  from  all directions. Ashinik  dug in his
clothing hanging on a  chair next to him and  fished out a flat pebble  with
two holes. They had  given  him this pebble at  Inissa meeting and  told him
that  the  pebble had been  bewitched  and  it  would  render  all  Earthmen
electronic eyes impotent.
     Ashinik smiled bitterly; he  knew all too well  that no  sorcery  would
help  against a  video camera. "If  I  don't  come and use surveillance as a
reason they will  accuse  me of  unbelieving  into the  power  of  the  holy
talisman," a thought glanced in his mind.
     Why would they watch him though? He usually  stayed in bed for a day or
two after a fit. Who would figure it out that the foam on his lips came from
a "foamy  nut" that he had chewed on and that he fainted from this nut for a
couple of hours at most.
     At  the  same  time  he  needed  to leave due to a very  simple reason.
Ashinik couldn't rely  on Bemish's behavior. It's true that the Earthman had
been  very magnanimous  so far but  it  had also been  in  his interest. Now
Bemish was utterly interested  in  the destruction of the sect and  he would
doubtfully be particularly nice to Ashinik.
     Ashinik  stood and pulled on the door handle. It was not locked but the
corridor it led to  was blocked by a closed department door  in two or three
meters.  Ashinik  knew  it  for  sure  that  unlocking this  door  would  be
dangerous. It was connected to the night alarm system in case of thieves and
other accidents.
     Ashinik stuck his  nose  into  a  couple of offices.  They  were mostly
filled  with medical equipment. Two rooms teemed with plastic paint  buckets
and other construction  paraphernalia  - they  were being  furnished.  Sharp
paint smell hadn't disappeared completely yet and the  workers laboring here
during the day had left a window ajar.
     A couple of disgustingly dirty worker overalls lay on the floor.
     The next moment, Ashinik's  eyes  gleamed and  he rushed  to  where the
paint was. Yes!  A small white roll, about  an elbow wide, was there, behind
the plastic buckets. It  was not  a rope, no;  it  was  just sound resistant
insulation tape that  was used for seal soundproofing linnit blocks. Ashinik
knew,  however,  that  the tape  was  incredibly  strong - the  construction
workers  loved  to  sell it  on the  side  to the peasants  who  wove  horse
harnesses out of it. The tape length in a standard pack was sixty meters but
the workers  had  already utilized  some. By  Ashinik's estimate, about  one
sixth of the tape  had been used. It should  be  enough for eighteen floors.
Ashinik pulled torn overalls over his pajama, walked to a window and wrapped
the tape's end around the window frame. He briefly prayed to the White Elder
and climbed out of the window.
     The descent was hard. The  tape was sticky just to the right degree and
it  was unwrapping slowly under Ashinik's weight. Sometimes it got stuck and
Ashinik had to pull  the tape  off jerkily  with one hand while hanging from
the other one.
     In  five  minutes, Ashinik jumped down onto a sidewalk and  ran at  top
speed across stiff and booming thermoconcrete. This spaceport's  sector  was
relatively empty -  two helicopters stood  next to  its  border and a  hefty
trans-galactic liner was being loaded far away. With an open mouth,  Ashinik
stared at the  containers floating into the cargo hatch for several moments.
What if he just crept in the ship and flew away  from this damned planet? At
least, nobody would kill or betray him there.
     Ashinik raced to the fifth sector, squeezed through a hole in the fence
and ran  down an unpaved road, illuminated by silvery moonlight, to  a small
jeep that was perched at the curb. Earlier, he had asked a worker to leave a
car there.
     Ashinik jumped  into  the jeep and  stuck his  hand under  the driver's
seat. Thank God  -  the car keys were right where they were  supposed to be,
wrapped in a dirty rag. Ashinik turned the ignition on and a cold gun barrel
touched his temple  and somebody said quietly,  "Be nice and drive straight,
cutie."
     Ashinik glanced aside -  he  could  see  the  speaker  in  the rearview
mirror. Ashinik recognized him to be a personal bodyguard of Shavash's,  one
out of five that he was rumored to hold in his complete confidence.
     "Go!"
     The jeep started moving slowly. The guard got his radio out and quietly
reported,
     "The fish is  on the  hook. Meet us behind  the bridge." Ashinik ground
his teeth.
     "Just wait," he uttered,  "my master will learn that you seized  me and
you will get you butt kicked!" The guard laughed.
     "Firstly," he spoke, "it would be difficult for Bemish to find out that
we  caught  you  because  you escaped on your own.  But  if  you are  really
interested in  it, it was  Mr.  Bemish who handed you over to us. He told us
where the jeep would be and suggested that we trapped you.
     Ashinik's heart plummeted.
     "You are lying! The master wouldn't do it!"
     "Eh,  my  dear, the master didn't do it  while he  still hoped  to make
peace with  the sect. And now he can only hope to find out where the Meeting
of Choosing will occur and burn them all out with  a laser or  with DDT.  We
can learn where it is from  you, right? Of course, Mr. Bemish could skin you
himself  but  Bemish is a  squeamish Earthman.  Why should he  get his hands
dirty  if  there  are  other  people  around? That's  why  he sold you  out,
Ashinik."
     Ashinik drove silently. Nearby, the spaceships' exhausts hissed warming
up and signal  lights blinked behind  the  spaceport wall. The unpaved  road
finally  ended, the jeep climbed onto a six lane  highway and rolled towards
Lannah Bridge.
     "So, where is the meeting?"
     "I don't know."
     The  car  raced over  a ramp  next  to the  spaceport eastern  gates; a
passenger car's lights blinked below.
     "Ashinik, why are you so stubborn? Don't  you understand that  you  are
the third one on their extermination  list, right after Bemish  and my boss?
You aren't crazy. You don't believe that Yadan was born out of a golden egg,
do you? Tell us and we will let you go because my masters are normal  people
and yours are nuts!"
     Ashinik suddenly swerved the steering  wheel all the way to the  right.
The car  hit  the  concrete sidewalk, jumped and  hit the fence head-on. The
guard  shot and the bullet burned Ashinik's hair and made a neat hole in the
windshield.
     "Ouch! What are you doing, bastard?!"
     The rail caved  in, bursting. Ashinik  threw the door  open  and rolled
out. He was barely able to grab the poles at the ramp's edge.
     The busted rail links glimmered on their way  down and the car followed
them spinning in the  air. Ashinik heard it hitting the ground; the sound of
a muted explosion came next.
     Ashinik climbed onto the ramp and ran as fast as he could.
     The next morning, barefoot  Ashinik dressed  in peasant clothing with a
sack behind his shoulder stepped out of a bus three hundred kilometers  away
from Assalah.
     In half an hour, he entered a village tavern on Mer Lake shore.
     Five people in simple  clothing sat in  the tavern. It seemed that none
of them paid any attention  to Ashinik. It was as if  not a man came through
the door but just a  bug flew  in. "Why  have I come," a thought desperately
beat at Ashinik's mind, "Why have I come? They will kill me like they killed
the White Elder." Ashinik sat on an unoccupied chair.  Now all six chairs at
the table were taken.
     "Rashan is dead," one of  the seated people stated quietly. "He is dead
because he desired to make peace with the demons and the man who advised him
to do so is responsible for his death."
     Rashan was the White Elder's name and it was forbidden to say  it while
he held  this position.  Since this name was mentioned, it  meant  that  the
White Elder had already been elected and Ashinik's  heart  shuddered when he
realized that it had been done without him.
     All five people turned and started looking at Ashinik.
     "Rashan's soul is lonely; those that defiled it should follow it," Dush
said; he sat next to Ashinik.
     Two small  seven-year-old  boys  entered the  room and  started walking
among the people with two goblets, a white and a black one. Everyone put his
hand into one goblet and then into the other one.
     Dush also  lowered  his hand  into  the white goblet and then  into the
black one. He had a dry bean in his hand - he was supposed to drop it in one
of the  goblets  -  nobody  could see in which  one. Ashinik didn't have any
difficulties, however, guessing that Dush chose the white one.
     The  boys walked around all six people and then they turned the goblets
over onto the table.  There was nothing in the black one and there were five
beans in the  white  one.  Five out of six  people  sitting  here  voted for
Ashinik's death. The sixth one abstained.
     Ashinik observed  himself with a  cold curiosity. His mind separated in
two halves  and both halves were  watching the current events independently.
One half was Ashinik-Assalah vice-president, the youngest Weian manager, the
man who earned ten times more money than all the other people here combined.
Another half  was Ashinik-zealot who put the Elder's orders above his death.
What's the value of one life if  there are  so many  of them? It's better to
die with honor and come  to your next life into a good family than to die as
a coward and be reborn as a spider.
     Two  men  in red hoods  picked Ashinik up by his hands, dragged him for
several steps and put him on a rug unrolled between two tripods. One of them
threw a sturdy rope noose over Ashinik's neck quickly and efficiently. "No!"
Ashinik wanted to cry out as an Earthman would have cried at his place.
     "Let me  put  my hair in  place,"  Ashinik heard his  own voice and his
hands rose and removed several hair curls from under the rope."
     One  executioner pushed  him  closer  to  the  altar and the other  one
started  unhurriedly putting  the  candles'  flame out  with a wooden board.
Ashinik knew that he would be killed when the last candle dies.
     Ashinik stood on his knees immobile and watched how darkness was slowly
conquering the room. Soon only one flame tongue was left...
     "Leave us alone," a voice spoke suddenly.
     The rope on his neck was loosened up. Ashinik heard the chairs and door
squeaking quietly.  He turned  his head  slightly and  saw that he was  left
alone with  Yadan. He  realized that Yadan  was  now the  White Elder by how
quickly his order had been obeyed.
     "It's not right to kill a man," Yadan said, "who can serve  our purpose
still, however guilty he is. You want to serve our purpose, don't you?"
     "I want it with all my heart."
     "Do you agree that you are responsible for Rashan's demise?"
     "Yes."
     Ashinik  answered  automatically.  He  knew what he would be told to do
now. He would be commanded to kill Shavash or his master.
     "The demons taught you a lot. Can you return to Terence Bemish?"
     "No. Bemish betrayed me."
     "It's  not   important   that  Bemish   betrayed  you,"  Yadan  noticed
sarcastically.  "It's important that Bemish betrayed Rashan. He will  answer
for that."



     Two  days later, when Bemish flew  to hunt with Khanadar, he heard that
yet  another  assassination  attempt had  been made on Shavash's  life. This
time, it was no longer amateurs. A car packed with serit explosives had been
parked in Shavash's car path and it exploded exactly when the cars were next
to each  other. The assassination attempt had  been organized very well; the
criminals had clearly studied all of the vice-minister's possible routes and
they  had maintained constant radio communication. Once it became clear that
Shavash would drive by Azure circle, the corresponding order had been given.
The  car with explosives had been parked literally five minutes  before  the
official drove by.
     Shavash  was saved  by  a freaky accident. Just  a  moment  before  the
explosion, a doll rolled onto the road and an eight-year-old girl rushed out
there after  it. The driver stepped on the brake sharply  trying not  to hit
the girl and the car spun across the road.
     Right then the  explosion hit. Since the car faced the  blast  with its
back instead  of its side, it was hurled forward for  several  meters and it
hit a glass shop  window (while it was already  disintegrating) head on.  It
bounced  backwards,  jumped and its trunk hit a small electric auto that was
quietly hurrying to the Cheese Precinct.
     The car  leaped quite nimbly on the electric auto with its rear wheels,
jumped from its hood onto its  roof, froze there for a  second,  tipped over
and banged into the road cover face on.
     The driver  banged his forehead on  the steering wheel and hurt himself
quite a bit.  Shavash obtained a minor concussion and got the driver's blood
all over  his  excellent  suit. The bodyguard had  been  sitting in the back
seat, against the regulations, and he was not so lucky  - he sustained a rib
fracture and a lacerated spleen.
     Having  learned  about  serit  explosives,   Bemish   went  cold.  This
particular  explosive had been used  often  in  the  earlier  stage  of  the
spaceport's construction.
     Quite a crowd gathered in the foyer in front of Bemish's office. Bemish
walked  into  his  office gesturing  to Giles  to  follow him. The  security
service director's  face acquired a  wooden  expression  and he  came  after
Bemish.
     "Ashinik hasn't showed up, has he?" Bemish asked Giles.
     "No," the latter said.
     "Dick,  run  a check on the used explosives up to the last  milligram,"
Bemish said quietly.
     "If  I was you, I would not address this issue," Giles answered just as
quietly even though they were alone.
     "Being me, I will not wait till Shavash addresses this issue."
     In an hour Inis entered Bemish's office. Bemish raised his eyes and got
a surprise - Inis  was very serious,  her eyebrows were furled and her  face
was pale. She even wore a skirt that almost reached to the  ground though it
was somewhat transparent.
     "Terence," she said, lowering her eyes, "Ashinik has been arrested.  He
had just  being  sitting  in a tavern and they jumped upon him and drove him
away."
     "How do you know this?"
     "I got a phone call."
     Bemish paused.
     "Terence, I swear to you that he  is  not guilty!  These people... they
just used  him as a dummy front! It's their technique - they  decided to get
rid of  the man who is  half Earthman already and they decided to do it with
Shavash's hands!"
     Bemish was astonished.  Inis could  well be correct. But how  did  this
girl figure it  out? Who suggested this to her? Bemish almost asked her this
question and then he went pale. He understood what had happened. It  was not
"who" it was "what."
     "You should go to Shavash," Inis said.
     "Why?"
     Inis suddenly put her hands on her hips.
     "Three  months  ago you would  not ask, "Why?" You would  know that you
couldn't control the  workers without Ashinik. Now Ashinik has performed his
function  and  you  can give him away! He  taught the workers to be rich and
sated and nobody will betray you anymore!"
     Oh my God! Inis was no longer a bedding girl, content  with her dresses
and  sweets.  Bemish  leaped  from  his  armchair  and  grabbed  her  by her
shoulders.
     "Why are you asking for him? Why do you care about my  deputy? Why have
they called you and not me?"
     Then,  Inis burst into  tears. She kneed,  embraced  Bemish's  legs and
wailed confusedly, "I... I can't be without him..."
     Bemish paled.
     "Are you lovers?"
     Inis was crawling next to his feet. Bemish ran his hands over the table
and the woman cried out and leapt up. She looked at the intercom button with
horror  as if  she was  expecting Terence Bemish to  push  it and order  the
spaceport's security  service director to find  a jute sack somewhere, stick
the unfaithful lover of the general director in it and sew it up.
     Bemish turned and rushed out of the office.
     When Bemish got to Shavash, the small official was eating a breakfast.
     "You've arrested  my  employee!" Bemish  declared  at the doorstep. "On
what grounds did you do it?"
     "He  is  a  zealot  and he was  involved  in  yesterday's assassination
attempt."
     "Where is the proof?"
     Shavash grinned.
     "The arrest comes first. He will supply us with the proof later."
     "If I  were you, I wouldn't particularly trust to a  testimony obtained
under torture."
     "And I would never," Shavash said, "trust a zealot's testimony obtained
without torture. Why are you  looking at  me  as if a  live  carp  is  stuck
between my teeth?"
     "You are a scoundrel!" Bemish shouted.
     "You have said it before, Terence."
     "And you are shaking with fright  and rushed  to arrest  everybody left
and right!"
     "Terence," Shavash said, "we are now on one side. Look, Ashinik had run
away from you and he never came back to you.  Why? Because he was ordered to
wring our necks."
     "If he  had returned  to  Assalah," Bemish noticed, "it would have been
much easier."
     "If he had returned  to Assalah,  Giles would take him apart in half  a
minute."
     "Shavash,  I know  Ashinik a  little bit.  Listen, if he  had  set this
assassination up, you would not  have  survived.  He would  have used  three
times more explosives. He would not let any accidents get in his way."
     "It's possible," Shavash said, "but you see, if you arrest  a fool that
carried out the  assassination, he  can only tell you  what a fool knows. If
you arrest Ashinik who is  not particularly strong in his faith,  thanks  to
your efforts,  he will tell  us everything.  Three days later, after Ashinik
tells us everything, nothing will be left of the sect."
     "Nothing will be left except the reasons for its existence - poverty of
the people, embezzling officials and rude Earthmen."
     Shavash grinned.
     "You are a strange man, Terence. If I were you, I would thank a man who
arrested my concubine's lover."
     Bemish paled.  Even  that was out.  Damn  it,  everybody, including the
zealots, knew it except for him...
     "You, of course, do not love  Inis. You love another woman.  But  still
it's not a reason to appeal on Inis' beau's behalf."
     Shavash yawned and covered his mouth with his hand.
     Bemish shouted  in  such a  voice that the glass  doors  in  a  cabinet
clanged.
     "Either you will show me the proof that Ashinik's arrest is based on or
you will go with me and free him!"
     Shavash thought for a bit and then he rose, gestured at Bemish with his
finger to  follow  him and  stepped  out of the office.  They  walked down a
corridor  with a  beautiful hardwood  floor, passed  by  two  or three halls
decorated  with  the utmost  luxury and  covered  with ancient  rugs. It was
rumored that Shavash had ordered  these  rugs to be ripped off  the walls of
Isia-ratough temple in Chakhar (they had processed this robbery later as the
sale of these rugs at some ridiculously  low  price). Having  passed  two or
three  more  doors,  they  found  themselves  in a concrete corridor leading
underground.  Bemish  suddenly  remembered with  a shudder how  Shavash  had
boasted about  his personal jail. He  also recalled the words attributed  to
Shavash, "You are powerful not if  you can afford a personal villa;  you are
powerful if you can afford a  personal dungeon."  So, they hadn't even taken
Ashinik to a state prison...
     A low  desperate cry  came  from  behind  a door at the very end of the
corridor. Shavash threw the door wide open.
     Bemish noticed a pile of bloody rags in a corner, some pliers in a bowl
and Ashinik's dead eyes. Completely naked, he was hanging head down on metal
rings attached to a wall and Bemish's attention was pulled to his right hand
- all the nails there had been torn out. Then Shavash stepped forward moving
his friend  aside  and said in a tired  and  ironic voice, "The first set is
finished. Take the pear off the branch."
     They  took half-dead Ashinik  off the rings and  seated  him  astride a
chair. Shavash stood above the prisoner,  pulled his head up and asked, "Who
placed the bomb?"
     Ashinik was silent. His black hair stood up straight soaked with blood.
Bemish rushed to the youth but the guards blocked his way at once and one of
them, baring his rotten teeth, silently stuck a gun into Bemish's side.
     Ashinik's  eyes were as  empty as RAM in a turned off computer. Then he
whispered something. His lips didn't work. Bemish understood only the end of
the sentence - Ashinik swore dirty.
     "That's not an answer." Shavash said.
     Ashinik  licked his  broken lips and  spit  with all  his  strength  at
Shavash's face.
     His saliva  and blood  were all  over the  official's  lips  and  chin.
Everybody froze. Shavash slowly turned  and walked to an old sink built into
the room's right corner.  The  splashing  water and  the  washing official's
snorts  sounded very  clear  in the quiet room. Shavash  closed  the tap and
approached the prisoner again.
     "Do you hope that your boss will get you out of this?"
     He spun to Bemish.
     "Choose, Terence - this guy or the controlling stock block of BOAR."
     The  single second, that  passed by,  seemed like  eternity to Ashinik.
Then the Assalah general director pushed the gun,  pointed at  him, away and
said loudly, "You are such a scoundrel, Shavash!"
     Astonishment glanced in Ashinik's wide open eyes.
     "You  are  free,"  Shavash told Ashinik, "And when  you set  up another
assassination,  take  care that your  boss is around,  otherwise nobody will
step in on your behalf."
     Bemish pushed the official away, looked around and, grinning viciously,
started  pulling the pants and shirt off one of the torturers. The  torturer
squeaked fearfully, pulled out of the boss' hands and ran away. He came back
in a minute, carrying clean clothes.
     The second guard  smiled  exasperatedly  and unlocked the cuffs holding
Ashinik's bloodied wrists together.
     "Shouldn't we wash the lad?" he asked.
     Bemish hissed at him  like a  goose  and started pulling  the  pants on
Ashinik. Then he buttoned up the jacket on the youth and dragged him away.
     Bemish had  dropped  his car  right at the main staircase  of the  city
manor. He threw the lad into the car like a sack and he drove the car over a
flower bed planted with rare orchids while making a turn.
     Bemish stopped at the first private hospital; they washed Ashinik and a
physician with frightened eyes  bandaged  him.  The youth  was silent and he
only cried occasionally.
     Bemish  looked at  the  crying Ashinik and  thought  that  he  and  the
official had not even discussed whether or not the lad was guilty.
     When they arrived to Assalah,  the sun  was setting down. The pilot and
Bemish  picked up Ashinik  and helped him  to  walk  to  the  administration
building. Ashinik was slowly getting  over  the shock  and his eyes  started
looking more alert.
     Bemish locked  the  youth in  his  office  and went to  deal  with  the
representatives of the freight company SpaceMart.
     When  he returned in  an hour,  he had a white plastic  folder  in  his
hands. Ashinik had squeezed into a corner and he sat there shaking horribly.
A comfortable leather armchair was next to him but  Ashinik squatted  in his
ancestors' way. It was strange to see a man in Earth clothing squatting.
     Bemish walked to the youth.
     "Did you have anything to do with this explosion?"
     "No."
     "Will you lie to me, like you just lied to Shavash?  Do I look like his
executioners?"
     The  Assalah  company vice president squeezed himself further into  the
wall.
     "Ashinik, I  know that there are  people you must obey  unquestionably.
They  could have given  you  orders.  If this  is the  case, I wouldn't tell
Shavash anything. I will help  you to go to Earth, to any place where nobody
can give you orders. Did you have anything to do with this explosion?"
     "They told me that  you had sold me to  Shavash. That you exchanged  me
for a controlling stock block of the aluminum plant!"
     "Oh-ho,"  Bemish muttered, "and you tried to kill Shavash. Did  you try
to kill me, too?"
     Ashinik hid his face in his knees and burst in tears.
     "Master! Why are you torturing me?  It was Shavash first, now it's you!
Not again!"
     Bemish  was   silent.  In  six  months  he  grew   attached   to   this
twenty-year-old youth as if the latter were his son. The  lad was almost the
right  age. Bemish  had gotten used to feeling  like  Ashinik's  patron.  He
picked  up  a  dirty guy with  lice  in  his hair  and crazy visions and  he
transformed him into a manager with a tie  around his neck and a cell  phone
in his pocket. And now this manager seduced his concubine. He  also tried to
send to the other world a man who in a strange way had become one of Terence
Bemish's closest friends. And, possibly...
     Bemish paused.
     "Our score is even, Ashinik," the Earthman said. "You saved my company.
I saved your life. It's one to one. I don't owe you anything."
     Bemish threw the white plastic folder at his deputy.
     "You will find  here your last check  from Assalah Company, two tickets
to Earth, and an application form to Havishem; it's one of the best business
schools. I talked to Trevis - they will  accept you to Havishem. Trevis will
pay your tuition fees."
     Ashinik pulled the  papers out of the  folder. His bandaged  right hand
shook slightly.
     "There are two tickets," Ashinik said suddenly.
     "Don't worry," Bemish snickered, "I'll buy myself a new concubine."



     While  all these  unpleasant  adventures related  to the White  Elder's
assassination were taking place  on  the  planet of Weia, Kissur napped in a
wide  first class  seat of a  passenger spaceship flying  to the  planet  of
Lakhan.
     The flight took almost eighteen hours.
     Kissur left the  spaceport  for a  cheap hotel, took a  shower, changed
into old grey pants and a worn out shirt with a popular band's logo pictured
on  it, made a couple of phone calls and  took  off. He went to  the western
part of the city, to Danachin University; the famous Lakhan student uprising
had taken place there ten years ago.
     Kissur took  the main  street  across  the block,  turned left and left
again  and,  bending  slightly,  dived into  the roar and light  of a  bar's
entrance.  He chose  a table next a window,  leaned  to a wall  and  started
waiting.
     In  half an  hour, Kissur finally saw a tall and  skinny guy with olive
skin and a ponytail who was finding his way to the bar's stand.
     "Hey, Lore," Kissur said.
     Lore turned around and shuddered but he recovered and, having picked up
a beer can, he joined Kissur.
     "How  is  it going, dude?" Lore  asked. "You haven't gone  back to your
Weia, have you?"
     Kissur just waived his hand.
     "I have a question to you," he said, "You've told me once that you knew
a man who was ready to trade a tiny gadget."
     "What gadget?"
     Kissur picked up a napkin and drew something on it.
     Lore's eyes widened a bit.
     "There  is such a man," he said, "but  capitalist rot has eaten all the
way through him. He will not do anything for his brothers, he only works for
money."
     "Tell him that there is a man who will pay money for his goods."
     "How many pieces do you want to buy?"
     "I want everything."
     Lore's eyes grew suspicious.
     "Kissur, where have you gotten the dough?"
     Kissur  silently presented  a three-day-old newspaper to him. It was  a
Weian paper published in Interenglish and an article  about a daring robbery
of Weian Industrial Bank, the second largest bank in the Empire, covered its
front page.
     "We will teach these capitalists a good lesson," Kissur spoke, "we will
show them that we can fight for peace not only with our mouths."



     Denny Hill  worked on  a stationary base  Nordwest  located on  a  tiny
natural moon of  Danae planet.  Nordwest was the only base  constructed on a
planet that didn't have either atmosphere or population. It was only fitting
that it had assumed  an unpleasant  role  of a nuclear waste garbage pit for
all the outdated and not particularly outdated armament of the whole Galaxy.
Nordwest  storage  areas  bored  through  the  planet  like huge honeycombs.
Weaponry was sent there  if it became  obsolete or  banned due  to political
reasons or due to the activities of peace mongers.
     The rumors traveled around the  base that  the oldest units in  storage
were  shells from the First  Moon  War.  What  Denny  Hill, a technician  at
Nordwest, knew for sure however, was that  retired Cassiopeia missiles  were
stored at Nordwest.
     These missiles had caused  a major military scandal at some  point. The
missiles  were equipped  with S-field  generators capable of  twisting space
around them. It meant that,  once launched, they could  not  be intercepted.
Any wall,  defense  screen  or  field  can, in principle,  be  destroyed. To
destroy something, however, you have to interact with  it. Interaction means
passing through space but it's impossible to pass through twisted space.
     Ten years  ago, Gera had raised a great hassle demanding the ban of all
types of offensive  armament equipped with  S-field. It had been  calculated
that   the  construction  of  one  S-field  missile  cost  as  much  as  the
construction of twenty five subsidized houses for the underprivileged.
     The world shed tears. Instead of  building missiles  and  employing the
same underprivileged as  a workforce  - that would  enable them to buy their
houses with their earned income - the Federation  signed a treaty offered by
Gera and started constructing houses for the poor.
     Now  Gera  now  didn't have to  build  expensive missiles  and  it  put
everything into an effort to develop alternative types of S-field that would
not be covered by the treaty and would be cheaper.
     Some  missiles had been destroyed outright and  some had been partially
disassembled and brought to a "relatively disabled" stage. The missiles from
three bases - Arcon, Mino and Delos - had been transported to Nordwest.
     The accompanying  documentation pointed out that there were one hundred
forty  six "relatively disabled"  missiles.  The  whole  Galaxy thought that
there were  one hundred  forty  six  of  them.  Only Denny Hill,  a civilian
technician at the base, was energetic enough to take  a  count of the newest
(though disassembled) missiles and he found out that there were  one hundred
fifty eight of them. The  missiles were  stored in  a huge  depositary  area
where the alarm system had been disabled by a local  anaerobic life form and
Denny  Hill was  supposed  to  take  a  census of the storage  once a month.
Formally speaking, it should have been a committee made  out of  three local
employees and  federal inspectors but the army didn't have any money for all
these stupid committees and the base didn't have enough employees. That  was
why Denny Hill conducted the census on his own.



     In two weeks on a  planet  with the beautiful name of Grace, two people
approached  Denny Hill who was spending his vacation there. Denny would have
ever  taken  them  for students - both  guys  were well-built and  lean like
pedigreed greyhounds and the senior  guy  had an old horrible scar above his
neckline. They were Kissur and Khanadar.
     "Lore sends you his greetings," Kissur said.
     "Hello," Denny Hill said guardedly. "Why are there two of you?"
     "You are seeing only one person here. Consider  the other one to be his
shadow."
     Denny Hill  was not completely  satisfied with  this explanation and he
continued sipping on his soup silently-  the  meeting was taking place  at a
restaurant table.
     Kissur sat still. He wanted Hill to start talking first.
     "Is it true that you would like to buy goods?"
     "Yes."
     "How much?"
     "Twelve."
     "Three million a piece."
     "One million nine hundred."
     "Two seventy five."
     "One million eight hundred."
     "Two fifty. It's manufacturing cost."
     "Nobody sells stolen goods at their manufacturing cost."
     "When these birdies fly to their destination, the  counter-intelligence
will be ready to cough  up ten million  for information about their original
residency."
     "They won't fly anywhere," Kissur said.
     "Lore told me something else."
     "Who cares what Lore said? I am an Emperor's servant. Do you think that
a sovereign  of the Amaride Dynasty and a  man of the White Falcon clan will
buy your toys to bust a supermarket? Don't you know that we are a Federation
ally? The Federation won't go nuts if it learns that its ally obtained these
trifles."
     "Well, that's different," Denny agreed. "I want two million a piece and
a new passport because I won't like to be here when  they start figuring out
who should  get  a  medal  for  providing a  Federation ally  with  military
support."



     In a month, the next scheduled ship arrived at  Nordwest  bringing food
rations  in  bright  boxes.  The  ship  was going  to take retired  scanning
equipment away. Loading was completely automatic and the only person  at the
dock was Denny Hill. Theoretically, the regulations required the presence of
two people, a civilian and a military operator that would track each other's
actions.  But only a  quarter of  the positions was  currently filled at the
base and the only thing that the regulations were good for was taking memory
in the computer.
     Denny Hill counterfeited a backup copy of the loading papers and locked
it in a safe. He was not able to fake the files in the computer itself - the
computer was protected too well.
     Three days later Denny shoved Jack the Ripper virus into the  computer,
the virus overwrote all of the files' headers  and  Denny's boss told him to
clean the computer up and  to recover all the documentation  from the backup
copies.
     Denny pulled the fake backup copy out of the safe  and wrote it  to the
hard drive removing the last traces of his real activities.
     It took three hours for the cargo ship Antei, license number 284-AP-354
registered at the planet of  Agassa, to  reach Lakhan spaceport.  Lore Sigel
was  in charge of freight  shipping at the spaceport. A  while ago, Lore had
been a very promising young man but his social-anarchy tendencies interfered
with  his career. He spent three days in jail for offending the public  - he
attempted to  register a pig bought  at a  pig  farm  as  a candidate on the
presidential elections in Austria. He was a witness at a number of notorious
terrorist trials and he  had a habit of constantly  moving from one place to
another. All this finally brought Lore to this small provincial planet where
he worked as a cargo department manager.
     Lore  employed as longshoremen  five  or  six friends that nobody  else
would hire since the central department of security wouldn't recommend it.
     Not  surprisingly,  the  unloading  of  the  ship with  license  number
284-AP-354 started  very late, after the ship's yawning  crew walked away to
sleep in a hotel next to the port.
     Lore and his friends unloaded the boxes with the retired radio scanning
equipment.  There  were  twelve  more  boxes  in  the  ship  than  had  been
registered. The identification numbers on the  extra boxes  were removed and
the boxes were packed in the  new  containers and sealed. The new containers
were loaded on the ship Astra flying to the planet Issan. Accordingly to the
documentation, the  new  containers housed  geo-physical  equipment for  the
company Ambeko.
     The containers, however, never reached  the  planet Issan. Three  hours
after the ship's departure, the  captain extracted a box  out of his pocket.
Out of the  box,  he extracted  a  paralyzed lightning beetle, a  dweller of
Lakhan deserts known for its ability to  generate 370V  electric sparks. The
beetle  was placed  under the front panel cover of the control room.  Having
regained its senses the beetle discharged, causing minor damages to the main
flight control system. The ship had to exit  hyperspace  and the  crew began
repairs. While the  technicians were digging  out the beetle and fixing  the
problems, twelve containers were dumped off the ship.
     The ship soon continued its way. The reason for its deviation off route
in  deep space  was documented and presented to the  authorities in a bottle
with formaldehyde. The  authorities  reprimanded the crew  for  its lack  of
attention  that had  let  the malevolent representative of  the local  fauna
infiltrate the ship and the captain didn't receive a bonus.



     Meanwhile, a small ship picked up the containers; since the ship was on
a charter flight, it didn't really require all the justifying paperwork. The
ship's name was Laissa. The documentation accompanying the twelve containers
was changed again and  the containers  were now marked as medical equipment.
The ship was flying to the planet of Weia, to the Assalah spaceport.



     On the seventeenth  of  the month of rains,  Terence Bemish got a phone
call  in  the evening.  Shavash  was  on the line. They discussed a  Chakhar
nickel facility construction  project for a while and then  Shavash  advised
his  friend to sell  Inissa Logging Corporation stocks in  case  Terence had
them.
     "Oh, by the way, Shavash recalled, "a charter ship  Laissa will  arrive
at your spaceport  tomorrow. Could you make sure that  customs don't  bother
them  too  much and check  that their freight  could be stored in  some nice
storage facility."
     "All my storage space is crammed," Bemish replied.
     "Why don't you load it into 17B?"
     17B storage was  empty - it had been built for military  equipment  and
its walls, covered with lead sheets, insulated all irradiation.
     "What about Giles?"
     "Giles won't object," Shavash snorted.



     The next day, the phone rang in Bemish's office. It was Ashinik.
     "A charter flight has arrived," Ashinik said...
     "Is it Laissa?"
     "Yes."
     "Send them to 17B storage."
     In half an  hour Ashinik  came to Bemish to get  storage "keys"  -  its
electronic locks required an ingenious system of codes and, additionally, it
had a microprocessor  that could recognize the  owner's retina  pattern. The
lock could store ten retina patterns in its memory but it currently had only
two - Bemish's and Giles'. Only Bemish, however, knew the password.
     The cargo delivered by Laissa was registered as medical equipment. That
was  not surprising.  Every  day,  three hundred  tons of  medical equipment
passed  the spaceport. Accordingly  to  Bemish's  calculations, every  Weian
peasant had by now one and a half CAT scanner.
     Medical equipment was  the only hardware that could be imported without
tariffs and a lot of  stuff entered the planet registered as  such. It would
be pretty  hard to transport an oil drill, even  disassembled, in  cardboard
boxes from Pepsi-Cola.
     This time the cargo was too heavy to be unloaded by a forklift.  Bemish
watched for a while loading platforms with huge cubes, sealed and painted in
green color, moving inside the classified storage area.
     "Who owns the cargo?" Bemish inquired.
     "Ascon Company."
     Having returned to his office, Bemish checked Ascon Company out. It had
been registered  two  months  ago and  it  was an IC  offshoot. Out  of  its
cofounders,  two  were anonymous  -  they  were  probably colonel  Giles and
Shavash.
     That's  our  Giles,  that's our fighter for democracy! No surprise here
that he won't object about his offshoot company using his storage area!



     In three days, a party took place in Lore's house that was located half
an hour away from the spaceport. Lore, five longshoremen, and Kissur were at
the party.
     Lore said, "I  don't  have to introduce our old friend to  you. I  will
only say that two thousand years ago, a man named Irshahchan achieved at his
planet  what Marx  wrote  about  five  centuries ago  and  Shrainer  half  a
century... Of course, Irshahchan was limited  by his epoch  and culture but,
generally, his  actions  were  correct.  And I don't  think that anybody has
achieved more for the recovery of Irshahchan's and Marx'  ideals than Kissur
has. Now, we - six Earthmen - should be proud that we are helping, albeit to
a small degree, to fix the world that our countrymen, obsessed by the spirit
of capitalism, have corrupted."
     Everybody agreed that, generally, the sovereign Irshahchan had  thought
a lot in unison with Marx and Shrainer - half a century ago - even though he
had been somewhat backwards compared to the abovementioned thinkers.  He had
still been a despotic ruler of a patriarchic society.
     By the midnight the company had gotten pretty high and Kissur suggested
driving  around.  They  loaded  in Lore's  Dodge and rushed  downhill  on  a
mountainous road. At a  zigzag turn Lore, driving the  car,  suddenly saw  a
beetle shaped truck blocking the road. Lore lost  his wits for  a moment and
Kissur,  sitting next to him,  swerved the  steering wheel to  the right and
having opened the door, jumped out of the car.
     None of the other  passengers  had  Kissur's  reflexes. The car smashed
through the guard rail, dived into the gulf, flew two hundred meters down to
the  rocks  and  exploded.  The  explosion wouldn't  have happened all  that
easily, if Kissur had not put an extra hydrogen tank in the trunk. This tank
went off.
     Kissur looked beyond the torn guard rail, made sure that everything was
fine, climbed into the beetle shaped truck and was gone. Khanadar the  Dried
Date was at the truck's steering wheel.
     The death of Lore Sigel and his friends didn't cause any suspicions. He
had had at least eight crashes before and he had been quite high every time.
And now they also found LSD in the blood of the magnificent six.
     Nobody  found  anything connecting  this  episode  and  an  unfortunate
accident that happened two days  later on  a provincial planet  Issan. Denny
Hill, a technician  from  Nordwest  base, was  on the  vacation  at a  local
resort. He swam too far out in the local ocean and drowned.


     The Twelfth Chapter

     Where the Emperor  of  the Country  of  Great  Light finds out the real
purpose of the Assalah construction from  the opposition press and expresses
his confusion.

     In the beginning of May a large  article filled  a quarter of a page in
one  of the  most influential  newspapers  - MegaMoney. A well known economy
journalist and a Ronald Trevis' fan Christopher Blant figured out (or got  a
hint) to perform the simplest calculation - he took secondary balances  that
large  banks had  to publish and  added  up all the credits  granted to  the
Empire of Great Light.
     The  result was  that this year Weia had to  pay  off about one hundred
forty million dinars on all its foreign and domestic loans; at the same time
the total sum of all  taxes  collected this year would be only  one  hundred
twenty million  dinars.  "The real total of all the  Weian loans is probably
higher,"  Blant  wrote, "and it's clear  that  the only  way  Weia  can make
payments on  its loans is to obtain more loans at a higher interest rate. It
can't go  on forever. Weian  economy  will crash and  Weian ishevik  will be
devalued."
     The investors  clutched their heads. They demanded the Weian government
to publish the real debt figures. During next week, the government published
three different figures - eighty, hundred and hundred and thirteen billion -
all of them signed by the finance minister.
     It only spread the panic further.
     Somebody  started  a rumor that the payments on the two billion  dinars
credit  obtained  by Weia from Galactic Bank would be postponed first - this
credit had been turned into securities and distributed  on the market  after
the bank had gone public.
     The quotes went down by a factor of two and after that Weian government
came out with a restructuring plan.
     The  two  billion loan  would be taken over  by a new company BOAR that
would obtain in exchange - at  no cost - one of the largest nickel and other
non-ferrous metals deposits in  the Galaxy  where the government had already
built an ore enrichment facility. The concern  and all the  other  companies
registered  at its  territories would  not have to pay anything  towards the
state's budget.
     Three very influential  Weian entrepreneurs and Terence Bemish were the
company's cofounders. Even by the most modest estimate,  the profit from the
export  of non-ferrous  metals would be three times larger that the payments
on the  state's  debt that the company would  have to make. The  bond prices
skyrocketed at once to 97% of their face value.
     The bankers were tearing their hair out in shock. The newspaper article
resulted -  without any responsibility from the Weian government's side - in
devaluation  of the bonds. Their  value  could have dropped to  even  30% if
somebody hadn't bought devalued securities through Ronald Trevis.
     Inissa governor came, probably, the closest to the understanding of the
true reasons behind the panic; he didn't really like Shavash and he sent him
a birthday gift - a disinfectant can with a label "for avarice."
     Bemish started visiting Earth often on BOAR business  and every time he
would  wonder  at  a skyline  awkwardly constricted  by the buildings and  a
meager lonely moon. Once, in June,  Trevis  remarked that  the  calculations
that Bemish held  in  his hands had been done by Ashinik and the lad had  an
internship in the head office during his holidays.
     "How is he?" Bemish asked unaffectedly.
     "He is trying hard," Trevis said, "but he is very disappointed."
     "What is he disappointed with?"
     "He is disappointed that nobody kisses his boots. They kissed his boots
on Weia when he led the sect, didn't they?"
     "No," Bemish answered, "they didn't kiss his boots.  They gathered dust
where he walked and gave it to the pregnant and to the sick to drink."
     "Well," Trevis said, "he is disappointed that nobody gathers his dust."
     "How is his wife doing?" Bemish asked unexpectedly.
     "Is he married?" Trevis was surprised.
     Bemish didn't answer.
     Bemish  had  a bit of  time after  his  meetings and  before the ship's
departure; he ascended to his hotel room and  connected  to the White  Pages
website via a computer. The  computer thought  for  a while and then belched
forth  several  green lines.  On the black screen, they  resembled a  rim of
meson  irradiation formed around  the  exhausts of an interstar ship. Bemish
sat on a coach motionless for a while and then he ordered a taxi and rode in
it to the address that he got in the White Pages.
     Ashinik was renting an apartment  in  an old building and there was  no
camera at the entrance, only intercom  buttons bristled to the right. Bemish
pushed the button number 27.
     "Who is it?" Ashinik's voice replied.
     Bemish let the button go. He expected that Ashinik wouldn't be at  home
at daytime, only Inis would be  there.  His expectations proved to be wrong.
There were  two  more  hours left before the ship's departure; Bemish turned
and walked away.
     Only  when the  ship  pulled into the  orbit and  was almost out of the
regular T-phone reception range, Bemish called Trevis.
     "Listen," Bemish said, "I looked through the papers prepared by Ashinik
and I found them to be pretty good. Send him to me."
     Trevis said that he would like to  have  the young Weian in  his office
due to the growing number of Weian deals.
     "This guy cost me ten percent of a company with a yearly export size of
forty billion dinars," Bemish said, "and he will work it all off for me."
     Trevis asked something else but  then  the  receiver croaked and hissed
and the connection broke off.



     Ashinik  returned  to  Weia  in  three  weeks.  He   looked  completely
different. Instead of a skinny frightened young lad that had left the Empire
eight  months  ago, a confident man  with cold blue eyes and  wide shoulders
walked into Bemish's office.
     "I  am sorry that I pulled you out," Bemish said, embracing the  youth,
"but I need you. It concerns BOAR."
     Ashinik lowered his head. When half a year ago, half-dead  from torture
he heard Shavash's voice offering his master to choose between him, Ashinik,
and a twenty five percent controlling  BOAR  stock block,  the  company name
couldn't  tell  him anything.  Now the  word  BOAR decorated  the  financial
newspapers' front pages and Bemish's share of the company was perfectly well
known to be fourteen  percent. Ashinik knew for sure that neither his direct
boss nor Trevis nor even Ashinik himself would have exchanged the control of
the deal of the century for a man.
     "I...I...," Ashinik muttered. Bemish took the youth's hand.
     "It doesn't matter. Where are you staying?"
     "I  am staying in a hotel," the lad replied turning to a window. There,
behind the burned caramel color glass and sharp points of  the ships, a huge
glass body of a luxurious hotel was melting in the sun.
     "You can move to my villa," Bemish said. "How is Inis doing?"
     "She is with me," Ashinik  replied. He paused  and added, "I don't want
to leave her alone. She shouldn't wave her skirt around.
     It became quiet for a moment in the office, and then Bemish said,
     "I  left her  alone  often  and nothing good came  out  of it. In three
hours, Giles will meet people from Chakhar Trade Bank in the  capital. Could
you go with him?"
     Ashinik went to the capital. He  took part in the talks and stayed at a
party  celebrating  the  third  year  anniversary  of  Sadd  Company.  Giles
introduced him to the economics minister.
     Ashinik's hands went cold when,  having approached a cluster of people,
he saw in its center the beautiful, slightly corpulent face of Shavash.
     "How  is  your  health,"  Shavash  asked  abruptly,   interrupting  his
conversation with an Earthman and nodding welcomingly to Ashinik.
     "I am well,  thanks,"  Ashinik heard his own voice as if  it was coming
out of a phone receiver.
     "How is your wife doing?"
     Ashinik uttered something about his wife being also fine.
     "I  recommend you  this young man," Shavash said, "He  helped us  a lot
with BOAR company."
     The  people  who crowded around Shavash  but  stood  to far to start  a
conversation with him moved slowly and started surrounding Ashinik.
     In a while after Shavash had  left, Ashinik realized suddenly with cold
curiosity  that  he  felt  good  about Shavash's nodding to him  - the  same
Shavash that he had been  trained in his previous life to exterminate like a
mongoose exterminates snakes.  In the hierarchy  of his  new life  this  nod
immediately distinguished him out of the other young people and it was as if
a small beacon  lit above  Ashinik's head and the  guests flew towards  this
beacon as moths fly towards light.
     The  door slammed behind Ashinik  and  Bemish still  sat  the  same way
looking absent-mindedly at a field through the window. He picked up a lot of
Empire's customs in his two  years on Weia. One thing  he  hadn't apparently
done yet - he had never killed a man because he wanted his wife.
     Now, in seven months after their last meeting,  Bemish  didn't have any
feelings towards ex-zealot Ashinik who started to resemble, frighteningly, a
polished novice broker. He only  felt quite annoyed thinking about  the lost
BOAR  shares.  On  the  other hand,  the  accident  brought  Bemish  certain
benefits.  It had somehow leaked out - probably via Shavash who  didn't find
anything appalling there - and it improved Bemish's reputation tremendously.
The biggest people on Weia knew that the Earthman hadn't  turned his  friend
into for money and it was  a Weian custom not to betray friends. It would be
fine  to send  an innocent  man  to  the gallows  to  help your friend or to
embezzle  money from  the state treasury but  to betray your friend was  not
nice.
     Bemish didn't  need  Ashinik. But he realized with  a surprise  that he
needed Inis. While his concubine had been  next to him and he could take her
any minute, could walk upstairs with  her or  simply  lock the office  door,
caress her soft  body  and  think  about  another  woman  -  unavailable and
forbidden - then  it seemed  to Bemish  that  talking  about love  would  be
stupid. Do you love your car? You just use it and  if you  crash it, you buy
another one.
     But  buying another car  proved to be difficult. Bemish tried three  or
four concubines  during  that time  and  threw them out,  wincing. The sluts
called in by Bemish didn't help either. Kissur seeing the Earthman suffering
once took him to such a place that... yikes, it's better to forget all about
it...
     Then,  there  was  some celebration at Shavash's palace where,  besides
everything else, they  presented an  ancient play  about  an  Inissa prince.
Watching it, Bemish suddenly realized that in  this world it had always been
considered normal for a man to desire two women simultaneously and  that he,
Terence Bemish, had turned Weian to a greater degree than he expected.
     A  penetrating beep of  the phone  interrupted Bemish's  contemplation.
Having answered the call, Bemish stood up  abruptly. It was time to face the
truth  - he called  Ashinik to Weia to take his wife away from him. It would
possibly not work on Earth.  But here, on Weia, where Bemish was no longer a
man that would be called "businessman" on Earth but rather became a man that
would be called "prince" - nobody would dare refuse him.
     When Bemish  with a large  wrapped gift package  entered a hotel  room,
Inis sat next to a mirror. She turned around and froze  seeing the Earthman.
Bemish, without taking his light overcoat off, approached her and kissed her
silently. The woman didn't resist.
     "It's  for  you,"  Bemish  said,  gently  pushing her  away  in several
minutes.
     Blushing with joy,  Inis  started unwrapping the package. In  a moment,
she cried out happily admiring a necklace of large bluish pearls.
     Bemish carefully took the  necklace out of her hands and put it on  her
neck. Inis tried to turn away.
     "What's wrong?"
     Bemish tenderly  turned her face towards him. It was only then that  he
noticed an ugly round bruise on her cheekbone.
     "What is it?"
     "Ashinik hit me."
     "Ashinik?"
     "He beats me often."
     "Why?"
     "He doesn't like anything," Inis said. "He doesn't  like my dresses, he
doesn't like that I was his master's concubine, he doesn't like that  people
don't kowtow in front  of  him, and  he doesn't like  it when  I dance  with
anybody else.  At first he works day and night  closing  a  deal and then he
gets  a  bonus and says that it's a  sugar lump that they gave  to a trained
Weian dog for jumping through a hoop."
     Bemish  sat  on the bed.  He suddenly didn't have  anything to say. Two
people in the room were silent and the setting sun, melting  in the sky, was
rapidly floating to the west following a rising freight ship.
     "You didn't  buy  yourself  a new concubine,  did  you?"  Inis suddenly
asked.
     "No," Bemish said.
     "Why?"
     "I don't know. I think I didn't stop loving the previous one enough."
     Inis carefully  sat  down next  to Bemish's feet.  Her eyes, large  and
green,  were  almost  like  Idari's  eyes and  they  looked at  Bemish  with
admiration and hope.



     When  Ashinik returned to  the hotel  room in  the evening, the bedroom
door was slightly open and an immobile silhouette sat on the bed.
     "Inis!" Ashinik called opening the door and stopped short.
     It was not Inis sitting on the bed, it was Yadan.
     It  was  difficult  to  recognize  the  zealots'  leader -  he  wore  a
well-tailored suit with a fashionable standing collar and a wide tie.
     "Are you back?" Yadan asked.
     Ashinik felt cold fury rising inside him.
     "What do you want from me?"
     "I  saved you  ten years ago, my  boy. I gave you a  gift  of your life
after my predecessor's death. It's time to pay back."
     "I paid you back. It's a miracle that I survived."
     "You didn't pay back well and a lot of  people could not understand why
your bomb was not as good as the demons promised."
     "I  don't owe  you anything, Yadan. I owe Terence Bemish who made a man
out of me."
     "They bought you, my boy."
     "No."
     "Yes.  The  demons  buy  some people  for a  gold  piece, others  for a
thousand gold pieces, others for a  million. They say, you were bought for a
billion, for a piece of the demon's  company that you called BOAR and for an
opportunity to live like demons. You even got a concubine that her owner was
bored with..."
     Yadan paused and then cried out,
     "You, a man who could become the  White Elder and rule  the millions of
hearts,  were bought  for  an opportunity to have  a  house in  Los  Angeles
suburbs and to work eight hours a day!"
     "Get out!" Ashinik squealed.
     "Have you forgotten how  you  talked  to  the  gods, Ashinik? Have  you
forgotten how they took you alive to the sky, how thousands of ears listened
to  you  in  the way that  nobody  listens to anybody  in  this whole stupid
Galaxy?"
     "And what have the gods spilled out to me? That you  were born out of a
golden egg? That one could stop a laser ray with a spell? That Earthmen were
demons? Great things your gods have told me!"
     "You are a fool, Ashinik," Yadan grinned,  "and Earthmen are demons. Do
you know that they built this spaceport for a war between Gera and Earth and
that when this war  commences,  it will start raining bombs  on our  planet.
They made our world  a  lawn where elephants will tread and  nobody will get
two cents for  it  except  Shavash who  collected  six  million out  of  it!
Wouldn't you call it demons' work?"
     "Bullshit," Ashinik replied,  "there is as much bullshit here as  there
is in the fable about you hatching out of a gold egg."
     "Do you know that Giles works for Federal Intelligence?"
     "I built this spaceport and I know that it's a civil port!"
     "And do you know how much they steal there? Do you know how much of our
Motherhood they rob via this spaceport?
     Right then, light steps sounded in  the corridor  and Inis flitted into
the room.
     "Get  out of here," Ashinik told Yadan quietly but furiously, "I am not
afraid of all of you anymore."
     "You don't talk to the gods anymore, do you?" Yadan grinned.
     Having risen  quietly,  he  slid  by Inis to the door.  Ashinik  didn't
notice how Yadan covertly threw  a grain of yellow substance into  a  barely
smoking brazier while leaving.
     He sat on the bed with his hands  wrapped  about his head. Yadan's last
words stung  him sharply. He  really didn't speak to the  gods  anymore. And
though  today's Ashinik  new very  well that only  mad people talked to  the
gods, he  remembered these conversations deep in his mind and he  remembered
that it had been a proof of him being chosen.
     Inis  approached him and  stroked  him  on his  head  and  Ashinik  was
surprised to see an antique necklace of bluish Assaisse pearls.
     "Where have you been?" irritated Ashinik asked her.
     "Well, I walked around the town."
     "Where did you get this necklace?"
     "It's  a  gift from  Idari," the woman replied quickly.  "I received it
today in a basket."
     Such a quick answer put Ashinik on his guard.
     "Is it a gift from Bemish?" he bared his teeth.
     Inis put her hands on her hips.
     "And  so what?!"  she cried out, "If you don't give me beautiful things
you shouldn't at least forbid other people do it!"
     "You still love him, don't you?" Ashinik screamed.
     "Shame on you!"
     "You love him!  You were  just  jealous  of this bitch Idari! Everybody
knows that she had slept with Shavash before Kissur! And then she and Bemish
hit it off together! You whored with me to punish your Terence!"
     Ashinik  could no longer  hear what he  was  screaming; his eyes darted
wildly  as  if  they  were  trying to follow something invisible filling the
room. His  vision became  obscured by a  red wavering  veil  that seemed  to
separate this place from the otherworld and it could  fall apart any moment.
Noises and voices were buzzing in his ears as if a TV set had fifty channels
on simultaneously... Ashinik was quite familiar with this state - it used to
precede an event that his  brothers in sect  called an "appearance  of gods"
and Earthmen called a fit.
     "Give it to me!" Ashinik screamed  grabbing the woman  and falling onto
the bed with  her and  he started tearing the necklace off. But the necklace
was strong and small and it wasn't easy to either tear the thread or take it
off Inis.
     "You  slept  with him, didn't  you," Ashinik shouted,  "in exchange for
this thing?"
     "So what," Inis grinned suddenly. "Or are you  going to buy a  necklace
for  me with  your  stipend? What  would you  have  become  without Terence,
Ashinik? Would you be entertaining a crowd  at a  fair with your talks about
demons?"
     Something exploded in Ashinik's mind and  white light  blazed across it
and he heard a familiar voice telling him,
     "Kill  the demoness! Kill the demon's lover or she  will get knocked up
and a demon will be born that will destroy the whole world!"
     Instead  of tearing the necklace,  his  hands tightened it around Inis'
neck.  The  woman  screamed and thrashed.  "Pull it!  Pull  it!"  the  voice
screamed in Ashinik's mind. "Pull it, my son!"



     Ashinik regained his senses only  in the morning. He lay  supine on the
red carpet and the morning sun seeped through the blinds. He didn't remember
anything except the very beginning of the quarrel.
     "Inis," Ashinik called.
     There was no response. "She left,"  a thought passed through  Ashinik's
mind, "she left for the Earthman!"
     Somebody knocked into the door.
     "Who is there?" Ashinik asked hoarsely.
     "Breakfast," the answer came.
     Ashinik walked unsteadily to the living room and opened the door.
     A cute maid looked at him with certain sympathy - the young financier's
suit was wrinkled and bedraggled  and the suit's  owner  stood there swaying
with disheveled hair and black circles under his eyes.
     "When did my wife leave?" Ashinik asked hoarsely.
     "I don't know," the  maid answered and winked slightly at the man, "but
if you need a woman..."
     "Go away."
     The maid rushed out of the room.
     Ashinik  climbed  into  the  bathtub  and  washed  and  shaved  himself
recovering slowly. His recollections  were  becoming  clearer and now he was
absolutely  sure that  he indeed had had a fit yesterday.  Damned Yadan!  He
drove  Ashinik  to it with his  forked tongue. But  how could Inis walk away
when  he was  in  the middle of a  fit?  Did she  leave her helpless husband
rolling on the floor?
     Wincing, Ashinik swallowed two cups  of coffee  and walked back  to the
bedroom to change his clothing. Only now he noticed what  he had not noticed
half an  hour ago - a white woman's arm on the carpet, on the other side  of
the bed, closer to the window.
     Ashinik moved nearer and froze.
     Inis lay on the carpet on the other  side of the bed and the pearls set
in silver were scattered all around her - the  necklace did snap. A red mark
darkened  her neck but  that  was not all of it - her  body was  hacked  and
covered in blood and a knife with a bone handle lay next to her.
     "Inis!" Ashinik screamed desperately clutching at his wife's face.
     Ashinik stood  up from his knees in fifteen minutes. He was  completely
covered with blood now.  He swayed. His thoughts darted  around like  hungry
mice in a cage. His memory was getting clearer  and clearer. An ugly quarrel
had happened at first and a fit  followed it. Is it possible  that he killed
his wife during  the  fit? It's possible. The  police  will  certainly think
along these lines. It will be a gift worthy of an Emperor for Shavash...
     What  if it was not him?  He refused to  follow Yadan's  orders - Yadan
knows that Ashinik loses himself completely during a fit; one of Yadan's men
could have been there  watching them and he  could have punished Ashinik for
being obstinate!
     It just had to have happened like that!
     Though why would the sect need  a  scandal that would certainly hit it?
The "yellow coats" will squeeze everything  out of Ashinik! Does Yadan  hope
that Ashinik will run back to the zealots for help? "Only they can help me,"
Ashinik thought, "Only they can hide a corpse and hide me."
     Or maybe it's not Yadan. It could be a spy of  Shavash's.  It  could be
anybody who hates Ashinik. Who hates Ashinik? The whole world hates him! His
only home is the sect but the Earthmen took it away from him!
     Bemish! Terence Bemish will understand him!



     In  seven minutes Ashinik,  pale but already groomed, climbed out  of a
taxi at  the main spaceport  building. He  didn't have  an ID  that  allowed
access to  the service floors anymore but  a manager  recognized Ashinik and
walked him upstairs.
     Thankfully, Terence Bemish was in his office. He immediately  stood  up
greeting Ashinik.
     "Oh my God, Ashinik! What happened to you? Are you sick?"
     "I had a fit," Ashinik said. "What  am I saying,"  a thought glanced in
his mind, "When they find Inis, he will immediately  think about the fit. On
the other hand, I am going to tell him everything..."
     But at that point something beeped and whined at Bemish's belt.
     "Yes," the Assalah director shouted into the receiver. Having turned it
off in five minutes, he said, "Ashinik, I need to go!"
     "I will come with you!"
     "No, it's ok. Get yourself a coffee and I'll be back in a moment."
     He disappeared through the door.
     Ashinik mechanically sat down in  the office owner's armchair.  He  was
confused and deeply offended that Terence hadn't even heard him out. Several
minutes had passed before Ashinik moved. It  was not the first occasion when
he was sitting in this armchair as the Assalah director's deputy but then he
had used his own password...
     When  Bemish  returned  to his office in  three hours,  he didn't  find
Ashinik there.
     "He figured out why  I called him  to  Weia," Bemish thought. He leaned
back in the armchair and dialed Ashinik's hotel room number.  Nobody  picked
up a receiver  - the room was empty. Bemish called his villa and his headman
told him that the mistress  hadn't arrived yet and that everything was ready
for her arrival accordingly to Bemish's orders.
     With a smile Bemish  called  the border control chief -  just in case -
and told him not to let  Ashinik and Inis  off  the  planet. Time  and again
later he blamed himself that he  hadn't called  police at  once,  though  it
would have made no difference by then.



     In two days at five in the morning,  a phone call woke Bemish up at the
villa. It was Shavash's personal secretary and Bemish's heart skipped a beat
because a phone call so early could be only about Inis - she and Ashinik had
disappeared out of  the hotel room without  a trace like a rotting  mushroom
would disappear in the earth in the fall.
     "Mr. Bemish?"
     "Yes."
     "Have you seen today's Blue Sun?"
     "No, I haven't seen it."
     "Take a look."
     The secretary hung the receiver.
     "Where  are  the  newspapers?!"  Bemish  screamed  rushing  out at  the
terrace.
     His secretary, pale with  fear, handed the newspapers to him. The front
page had it all, "The Earthmen  are building  a  military base  next to  the
capital  - Weia is now a hostage in the superpowers' fight." The second page
boasted  another  title,  "The last bribe of Shavash's. What's the  price of
your country?" The phone rang. It was Kissur.
     "Terence?  The Emperor wants to see you. You should  be in the Fragrant
Solemnity Pavilion in half an hour."
     The phone screamed again.
     "I am not here,  not here, I am already flying!" Bemish shouted leaping
out of  his bathrobe. A helicopter was beating  his transparent wings at the
landing field behind the white wall.
     Bemish spent  half an hour in the helicopter studying  the  damned Blue
Sun, a shitty newspaper that belonged to the rebels. "I've always known that
it  would  come  to that," he thought. The newspaper lied only in  the minor
details.  The bribe received  by  Shavash  had actually been  thirty percent
higher. Terence Bemish was called "a professional spy, an  experienced agent
who  wormed his  way  into  the  confidence  of  some  people  close  to the
sovereign." There was even some bullshit story about Bemish being kicked out
of Gera  three years  ago for  espionage - it didn't speak  in  favor of his
spying skills.
     They were already awaiting him  in the carved halls. Sweetish smoke was
rising out of  the silver corollas of the braziers.  The gold peacocks, cast
during Empress Cassia's rule, stood on  the both sides of the forbidden door
and gawked  at the Earthman with bewilderment and condemnation. The Emperor,
confused and pale, sat  in an armchair. Dressed up Shavash faced the Emperor
expressionlessly and the first  minister Yanik stood  to  the  right. He was
devouring Shavash with his eyes.
     "How do you do, Mr. Bemish?" the Emperor said.
     Bemish  felt  himself  blushing  as if  he  were  a  boy  caught  in  a
supermarket  while stealing a chocolate bar and not the man responsible  for
the largest military scandal of the century.
     The sovereign  paused  and  added, "It's not  my  place  to  judge but,
really, should the Emperor of the Country of Great Light find what you do to
my country out of newspapers?"
     Precisely at that moment,  the doors of the golden peacocks moved apart
and another character - Giles - walked in.
     Bemish turned to him and said vengefully, "Well, what have  I told you?
We got it."
     "I  am  very  upset,  Mr.  Bemish,"  sovereign  Varnazd  continued,  "I
considered you to be an honest man. I am always wrong about people."
     "Bemish has  nothing to  do  with  it,"  Giles  said, "Our company  was
supposed to get  the license.  It took us a  while to persuade Mr. Bemish so
that he agreed to build it our way."
     "And how much  has it cost you  for Mr. Bemish  to  agree?" the Emperor
smiled.
     Bemish  became as red as the apples on the tapestry  behind the Emperor
and said, "It cost them  nothing. I thought that if I had to screw around, I
would at least do it for free."
     "Just a moment," Giles was astonished,  "What do you  mean, "for free?"
You received..."
     Bemish turned and started walking towards Giles.
     "Son  of  a bitch,"  he  hissed. At that  point, Shavash spoke  in calm
voice, "This is my fault, Mr.  Giles. I took some  money from you to give to
Mr.  Bemish  but I spoke to him and he refused the money. So, I took it upon
myself to keep it."
     Absurdly, Giles and Bemish burst out laughing.
     "I swear  by god's  goiter," Yanik  spoke  through  his  clenched teeth
looking at the small official. But  the Emperor didn't pay much attention to
Shavash's confession;  he  was probably  used  to  these things.  The  first
minister started pompously, "They used  to boil criminals in oil for selling
the country and to crucify them on  gates! How can you justify yourself, Mr.
Shavash?"
     "I," Shavash said, "don't see what I should  justify. I signed a treaty
that transformed Weia from a pebble in the Galaxy's backyard into an ally of
the Federation of Nineteen  and its potential member. The way the  agreement
is defined makes it most profitable for the Weian people. Accordingly to the
treaty,  three months ago we obtained a  seven billion dinar credit that the
first minister had conducted unsuccessful negotiations  for. I made the most
profitable deal for Weia in the last seven years and I made the Earthmen pay
for it with a seven billion credit!"
     "Well," the Emperor hesitated, "if it is indeed the case..."
     "But how  will this  man justify  his actions?" Shavash  continued, "He
lost  his way among his bribes and he is completely  incapable of performing
his duties. He is ready to destroy the Empire just  to  destroy me with  it.
How will this  man  justify his  actions  when  he delivered the information
concerning a  classified agreement  to the  newspapers of the heretics?  How
will you justify it, first minister?"
     Yanik went gray in the face.
     "It's not true," he muttered.
     "Nonsense! I  will prove that it's true and I will demonstrate how you,
instead  of notifying the Emperor, preferred to let the heretics  know about
everything!"
     "Come here, Mr. Yanik," the Emperor said.
     The old minister made one hesitating step forward, than another one.
     "Is it correct? Who gave the information to Blue Sun?"
     The official paled and his hands started shaking.
     "Tell me the truth..."
     "I... I...," the old man muttered, "It's the military consul of Gera...
I didn't take  any  actions against it, but...  Unfortunately, I  don't know
what to do..."
     "Resign," the Emperor said. The  old official  desperately threw up his
hands. Shavash banged his fist on a brazier.
     "Who  cares  about Gera?" he  cried out, "We  are  now Earth's ally. We
should admit that Bemish's  company will  obtain a  military commission from
us! We  should admit that the Empire has  finally drawn a lucky number after
seven years of suffering!"
     The Emperor faced Shavash with a sick smile.
     "Should we appoint you to the first minister position?"
     "Yes," Shavash said, "it will confirm that we made a military agreement
with Earth and that we will not turn away."
     "If Mr. Shavash becomes the first minister," Giles reached  out, "Earth
will  consider it  to  be  a...  favorable  omen.  It  would mean  that  the
government's position is firm. We are ready to consider a new loan."
     "Sovereign," Shavash said," I haven't taken a single bribe that was not
beneficial for our people but you can't have  a  first minister  who betrays
his country and his Emperor in order to get even with his personal enemy!"
     The Emperor was quiet. Everybody stood motionless.  The golden peacocks
stretched their necks listening  to the silence.  The brazier  smoke quietly
danced atop a sun ray. When the Emperor spoke, it seemed to Bemish that gods
on the skies and demons in the underground went still listening to him.
     "You are  right, Mr. Shavash. It would  make  sense to appoint you as a
first minister. Unfortunately, I can't do it."
     "Why?" Shavash asked.
     The Emperor raised his grey eyes at the official.
     "I can't do it because you are a scoundrel, Shavash."
     The official was taken  aback. In another place, he would probably make
a  standard repartee  that  he had never  heard that scoundrels  couldn't be
first ministers  and he would generally comment  in  detail about this  most
childish argument.  Here, he suddenly  closed his mouth and blinked  like  a
gosling.
     "I  will  not appoint  you  as a  first minister, Shavash,  while  I am
alive,"  the  Emperor  continued quietly.  "You  are  a scoundrel.  When you
appoint a  scoundrel to such a position,  in the  end he always  causes more
harm that good for the country."
     He paused and raised his eyes at Bemish.
     "Great Wei, what should I do? What would you, Terence, do at my place?"
     "I had an honor to present my opinion to you," Bemish answered, "And my
opinion was that first ministers should not be appointed by a sovereign, but
rather be appointed by the people via their duly elected representatives."
     The sovereign laughed nervously. Then he guffawed out loud.
     "You  are  right, Terence,"  he spoke,  "You  are right! I  will gather
your...  representatives. Let them  decide themselves  who  is gonna be  the
minister!  And  let  Mr. Shavash prove  them that he acted for the  people's
good, let's see if my people are as stupid as I am!"
     The Emperor  rose  and rushed into the inner  halls.  Giles and Shavash
hurried  after  him but the guards didn't  let them through.  Bemish  turned
around,  tripped over a golden peacock and  bolted downstairs. Halfway down,
he almost collided with Kissur who was ascending quickly.
     "Kissur," Bemish said desperately, "You know that they forced  me to do
it."
     Kissur just waved his hand.
     "How is the sovereign?" he asked.
     "He fired Yanik."
     "Great Wei! Who is the first minister?! Shavash?!"
     "Nobody," Bemish said, "The sovereign promised to announce elections to
the Parliament."
     Kissur's face contorted.
     "You suggested this to him, didn't you?"
     "You know my views."
     "I know your views. You don't give a damn about this country. You think
that democracy will raise the stock quotes of your blasted companies!"
     "Time spent with me was beneficial for you, Kissur. How long ago was it
when your understanding of stocks equaled my understanding of horses?"
     Kissur threw himself down on a stair and squashed Bemish's foot. He sat
there for a while and then he stood up.
     "It's not a problem. I've hanged one fully assembled parliament already
and  I will hang  another one. Take this  into account  when  you  plan your
investments."
     And he  ran up jumping over three stairs at a time - however, they were
quite low.
     Still  airborne  on his  way to Assalah, Bemish spent  an  hour  giving
orders  to buy the stocks  of Weian  companies,  to buy as many  of  them as
possible and to keep low profile while doing it.
     In an hour, having finished all his  calls, Bemish extracted a sheet of
paper  and started  drawing a diagram illustrating his company's refinancing
scheme. High yield  Assalah  bonds currently paid  off at fourteen percent a
month. Parliament elections  and the subsequent rise of the country's rating
would increase the bonds' value. Accordingly to Bemish's calculations,  they
should cost a hundred and three to a hundred  and four  cents for a dinar in
two to three months. Even now they reached a hundred and one point one cents
for a dinar - under  these conditions  even a bond bought at the price above
its  face  value still brought  thirteen  percent. Accordingly to  the IPO's
conditions, rise (and fall) of the bonds' value caused the interest rates to
adjust so that  the  bonds would cost  hundred cents  per dinar. New Assalah
bonds, Bemish calculated, should make eleven to twelve percent.
     A phone call interrupted his calculations.
     "I have news about Inis," over the receiver he heard Giles' cold voice.
     "Finally. Where is she?"
     "You should better come to the villa."
     In half an hour  Bemish stood in a far corner of  his luxurious garden,
next to a carved gazebo entwined with ivy. He stood near an  ornamental well
that was a necessary  feature - together with a hermit's hut and tame deer -
of a country  manor. Nobody used  it  for the original purpose since running
water available was available. But tame beasts started behaving strange next
to the well and three hours ago a meticulous  gardener had taken a look into
it in case something was wrong.
     Bemish stood  and  watched two security service  guys,  clad  in  tight
rubber and leather, pulling a  white  swollen body over the well's edge. Far
away in the sky among the stars, danced blue and yellow lights of the rising
ships and  a  bold  nightingale  in  a  neighboring  bush was singing a song
accompanied by a chorus of night cicadas.
     "Do you know what Blue Sun will publish tomorrow?"  Giles moved nearby.
"It will write that a foreign vampire killed  his lover  and hid her body in
an abandoned well.
     Bemish turned and Giles  saw  with horror  that the  businessman's grey
eyes were as empty as a safe that robbers had broken into. Then, the general
director of  Assalah  Company  swayed and, unconscious, slowly  collapsed in
Giles's hands.


     The Thirteenth Chapter

     Where the nation expresses its will with unpredictable results.

     Two  months  passed by. Preparations  for  the elections were at  their
peak. Throughout  the whole country,  the officials had their precinct gates
wide open and fed their  future electorate with, square like Weia, rice pies
and with, round  like the  sky,  wheat pies.  Throughout  the whole country,
zealots  performed shows  about iron  people. Throughout  the whole country,
entrepreneurs   and  traders  made  donations  to  the  officials'  election
campaigns instead of bribing them.
     Bemish spent this time flying around the Galaxy. The  people closest to
him knew that he was horribly  upset about Inis' death.  The Earthman hadn't
stepped  out of  his  bedroom  for the  first two days  and,  then, he threw
himself  into his business like a fish dives into  the ocean with an evident
and almost hysterical desire to drive the recent events out of his mind.
     Various suggestions were made about the murderer's identity,  including
the  ex-first minister  Yanik and the Following  the Way; a number of people
suspected them to be connected. Mr. Yanik, alike the zealots, didn't approve
of  the Empire being bought by the people from the stars.  He wholeheartedly
wanted his friends to buy the Empire but, unfortunately, the people from the
stars had more money.
     Shavash was also  mentioned quite often; people said that the  vengeful
official had killed Ashinik in retaliation for the old assassination attempt
and that he had killed the  woman because once Bemish hadn't shared her with
him  and  also to  mislead  the investigation.  They  said that the Earthman
grieved so much because he knew  who the  man  behind the murder  was but he
could avenge it only by destroying his business in the process. Frankly, the
comments hit reasonably close to the truth.
     Another rumor  was  also popular - the Earthman had knifed the woman to
demonstrate his grief and to alleviate  the suspicions  about his  love  for
another woman - they mentioned Idari quite loudly.
     They searched  for Ashinik very thoroughly, sometimes suspecting him of
his  wife's murder and sometimes  thinking that he had  been killed together
with his wife as a traitor. But  Ashinik disappeared without  a trace. They,
however,  found  the man  who had handed the  papers  about  the spaceport's
military future  to  the  zealots.  It was  the  marxist technician who  had
arrived with Ashidan at Kissur's villa and spied on the spaceport later.
     Bemish went to see what was what left of this man. The next day, during
negotiations in Los Angeles Bemish would catch himself thinking occasionally
about possible reactions of his polite colleague in tortoise glasses if this
colleague knew  that six  hours  ago  the respectable  director  of  Assalah
Company had cold-bloodedly observed  how an  alive man had his flesh cut off
him bit after bit and how this man screamed at the top of  his lungs that he
knew nothing, absolutely nothing about Inis.



     Having  traveled  for  a  month,   Bemish  returned  to  Weia.  He  had
practically finished the negotiations concerning  BOAR. At the spaceport, he
ran into a flock of journalists  who arrived to monitor the  fairness of the
election  preparations. One  of  the  journalists  asked  him, "What do  you
estimate Yadan's chances to win the elections are?"
     Three hours  before  Bemish's  arrival, the leader of the White Sect, a
mortal  foe of  the  Earthmen  and, therefore a  mortal  foe  of  all  their
inventions  such as democracy, credit  cards and pizza, had declared that he
would participate in the elections.
     "What are Yadan's chances?" Bemish was astonished.
     "He is a madman who believes that Earthmen  are demons. He  looks at my
spaceport and says that I built a  hole to hell. He  says  that he climbs  a
ladder to the  sky every morning and  there  are  no Earthmen here. It means
that all our  ships  and equipment are phantoms and our spaceports are holes
leading underground. He also says that he was born out of a golden egg."
     The  journalist  grinned  and asked, "Why, in this case,  does  Ashinik
follow  Yadan  in the  party's hierarchy?  He  was  a vice-president in your
company and he  seems to have  worked under the  billionaire Ronald  Trevis.
Does he also think that the spaceport is a hole leading underground?"
     Bemish froze.  Ashinik  is  alive!  The journalist pursed  his lips and
said, "Aren't you ashamed to repeat the rumors spread by corrupted officials
to discredit the people's leaders?"
     The next day, Bemish read an article about Weia in  an influential and,
therefore, liberal newspaper Standard  Times. The article was written by the
abovementioned journalist. The  article presented  the  election company  on
Weia as the fight between the corrupted  officials and  the true  democratic
representatives of the people. Yadan was the true democratic  representative
of  the people. The  corrupted officials and certain Earthmen who had reaped
off a lot of money robbing  Weia tried all they could to smear  the people's
leader.
     An  interview with Yadan  followed  the  article.  The journalist asked
Yadan, "Is it true that you consider Earthmen to be demons?"
     "I don't  know where  this crazy  rumor came from. You see,  Mr. Bemish
doesn't speak Weian very well.  You  sometimes say "Go  to  hell" and we say
"You are a  demon,  go home."  It could  be that one of  my friends swore at
Bemish  and he, not  really  understanding our culture, took this expression
literally. I  can give you another example. Some Earthmen  started  a  rumor
that Following the Way claimed that their  leader had  been  born  out  of a
golden egg. But  it's just a metaphorical expression.  "To be born out  of a
golden egg" is equivalent to your expression "to be born with a silver spoon
in your mouth."
     Having finished the article, Bemish ordered Ashinik to be  delivered to
him. It appeared to  be a difficult task. Even though Ashinik was no  longer
in  hiding,  he  appeared  everywhere  accompanied  by  a  triple  layer  of
bodyguards. Bemish had  to limit  himself  to the  zealot's  satellite phone
number which was known only to a dozen people. He called him and screamed at
him  in  perfect Weian,  "I  don't really  speak Weian, do  I?  Was  it your
invention,  Ashinik, to  use Earth media to  strengthen the sect's position?
Was  it your  idea  to persuade  a  passerby pen  pusher that  he  knew  the
subtleties of local culture better than the Assalah Company director?"
     "Ai-tana khari (Demon, go  home)," Ashinik replied sarcastically and he
dropped the receiver.
     Bemish was pissed off to such a degree  that he gave  an order to  fire
Ashinik.  The  latter  had  still been formally  a  member  of the  Board of
Directors.
     Together  with the majority  of the Earthmen living and working  in the
Empire Bemish found himself facing a strange problem. On one hand, the local
Earthmen understood perfectly well - better than  the local officials - what
exactly  the so-called party  of the people's  freedom,  led by  co-chairmen
Yadan  and  Ashinik, was about. It would  not be difficult  to start a large
scale  media campaign against these  people. But such a campaign would crash
the Weian stock market because nothing is as easy to scare away as money. At
the same time, this campaign  would not  hurt the zealots since  they didn't
give a damn about demons' newspapers anyway.
     The local Earthmen took a counsel and came to the conclusion that there
was no  chance  these halfwits would win  the election. So,  let the liberal
newspapers idolize the new heroes. Why should they bother exposing them?  It
would only be bad publicity for the new IPOs.
     As the elections  were approaching,  the  fund  index grew like bamboo,
since fund indexes in developing countries always grow before the elections.
To  scream  about  the party of the people's freedom under these  conditions
meant killing  your  own profit.  A  considerable  part  of  the  paper  and
speculation  profits, obtained by the Earthmen financiers and manufacturers,
was  donated to Shavash's  election campaign. They  and their  wallets  just
loved this future country's leader. Their enthusiasm for donations was based
on  the solid and  persuading results of the sociological studies predicting
Shavash's victory.
     What the financiers didn't know was that these studies were paid for by
Shavash. It is much easier to buy two hundred sociologists than to buy fifty
million of voters.
     The  elections caused certain  problems, however,  to  Assalah Company.
Ashinik occasionally appeared  on the pages of  the Galaxy newspapers. While
his  general  comments towards  Earthmen were  restrained, he  used  Terence
Bemish as an example to  explain  the peculiarities of the corruption in the
Empire. Mostly, he commented  on the abuses of Assalah customs and unabashed
insider trading in Bemish's funds.
     It wasn't  particularly beneficial  for the company's quotes and  their
growth lagged noticeably behind the general fund index.
     But the worst for  Bemish was that, due  to the elections,  Kissur  and
Shavash -  two people that meant a  lot  for the  planet and quite a bit for
Bemish personally - quarreled. Their breach started  almost unnoticeably, at
the  moment  when  Kissur declared  openly  that  he  was  against  all  the
elections.  Shavash  had  opposite  views. When the  sovereign  declared  in
Shavash's face  that he would never appoint him as a first minister, Shavash
realized that  he would be able to become a first  minister only by people's
volition.
     Practically  immediately, in a  great  hurry, Shavash channeled all his
power  and money into a huge political campaign and into the creation of his
own party. Shavash's methods were as primordial as  they were effective. The
doors to the vice-prefect's manor stood wide  open for the poor - they could
get there free soup and pies day and night.
     The minimal  wage law  was under  consideration at that time. The first
minister  Yanik  insisted  on a  fifty isheviks  minimal wage while  Shavash
suggested eighty. Yanik won. Then, the vice-prefect Shavash declared that he
would pay the difference to  the workers in the capital drawing a  salary of
less than eighty isheviks.
     Two assassination attempts  were  made at Shavash's life. It's  hard to
say whether or not they were  real but Shavash clearly gained from them.  He
became  the only  man opposing  the zealots for both  foreign investors  and
well-intentioned people.
     While Kissur  and Shavash  could live in peace at the  Emperor's court,
the fallout between became inevitable once the latter emerged as the head of
Weian Democratic Alliance party since the former  considered democracy to be
an ultimate stupidity that Weia needed just as much as somebody would need a
fur hat amidst a hot summer.
     The  final  quarrel  happened at  a party in one of  Shavash's  country
houses.  Bemish attended it - he needed to meet some officials from  Chakhar
and hand a check for the election campaign to Shavash.
     They  were all drunk; Kissur was somewhat more  sober while Shavash was
boozed  up completely.  Shavash  reclined  on a sofa with one of his  slaves
sitting  on his knees. The slave was a cute fourteen-year-old boy and nobody
had any  doubts  about  the precise nature of his relationship with Shavash.
The boy was  kissing his master's fingers and picking bits off his plate and
finally the time arrived when  the future prime minister, the light and hope
of  the people, the enemy of inflation  and the paragon  of  virtue  started
walking towards  an  exit pushing the boy in front of him and looking horny.
Two or  three supplicants had been circling around Shavash hoping to discuss
some important matters; they jumped out of his way not  willing  to distract
the vice minister away from his modest boy.  At that point,  Kissur appeared
in front of Shavash.
     "Shavash," an Empire's ex-first minister said, "are you really going to
Lannakh tomorrow?"
     A  meeting of three provinces was  taking  place in Lannakh with feasts
for the chosen and pies for everybody.
     "Yes."
     "I beseech you not to go there."
     Shavash smiled confounded.
     "I can't, Kissur. The people are waiting for me there."
     "I beseech you, Shavash,  don't do it.  I  ask  you in the  name of our
friendship. It's not  befitting  for a Weian  official  to  ape these stupid
Earthmen and to take part in the elections."
     Shavash giggled drunkenly.
     "Is it your personal request?"
     "No, I speak on the other's behalf."
     Kissur didn't say "other person's". He never called the Emperor Varnazd
a man. The Emperor was always a god in his eyes.
     "Is he, in whose name you speak, afraid of me winning the elections?"
     "You are not worthy of heading the country."
     Everybody  was listening to this dialog  breathlessly; soon afterwards,
it was to acquire the most fantastic details  added to  it.  Both Kissur and
Shavash  were boozed up to the hilt and what a  sober man has on his mind, a
drunkard has on his tongue...
     Shavash laughed.
     "What would you offer me instead, Kissur?"
     "Anything  you wish. You wanted Iman. (The sovereign  gave  to Kissur a
lot of land in the oil-rich  areas of Iman). Would you like me to cut  Yadan
down?"
     Shavash giggled  louder. He  swayed and  grabbed  Kissur's  shoulder to
avoid falling. Then,  he missed  a step and dropped on his  knees.  His lips
touched Kissur's hand.
     "Kissur... Give me Idari and I won't participate in the elections."
     Everybody  froze not comprehending  yet what was happening. Kissur  was
the first one to react. His hands were next to Shavash's face, they suddenly
locked together on their own and Kissur hit Shavash with his locked hands in
the chin.
     The vice minister sailed in a long arch through the air and landed with
his back on the banquet table.  Sauces  and appetizers flew to the sides and
priceless fifth dynasty china plates were smashed.
     Kissur grabbed the  object that  was closest  to him and it was  a tall
five candle chandelier  in the shape of a  burning rose  on a bronze rod and
rushed at Shavash roaring wildly. At this point, Bemish and Shavash's guards
tackled  him  and if it  had not been for them, Kissur  would have certainly
slaughtered the welcoming  host. As  it  was,  he  had  to limit himself  to
killing one guard and leaving another one disabled.



     The next day Bemish came  to  Kissur's manor to  beg forgiveness. Green
with hangover, Kissur lay  in a wide bed  with  a broken hand  in  a  sling.
Bemish had broken this hand yesterday.
     Kissur's brother, Ashidan, and Khanadar the  Dried Date sat at Kissur's
feet and they weren't particularly welcoming towards Bemish.
     "Son of  a bitch," Kissur  said  out  of his  pillows.  "I'll  kill him
anyway."
     He meant Shavash.
     "You were drunk," Bemish objected, "You will still make peace."
     Kissur laughed hoarsely.
     "Don't  be an idiot, Kissur! Shavash is  just a horny  goat.  He almost
took Inis away from me! He sleeps with the wives of all his employees!"
     "Exactly. He sleeps  with everything that has  a hole between  its legs
whether this hole is in the front  or in the back, he never leaves the pubs,
he drags  his brat even to the negotiations  with Galactic Bank and he dares
to ask me to give him my wife!"



     The elections for the first Weian parliament took place on the fifth of
Shuyun,   July,   17th  by   the  interplanetary  calendar.   The
overwhelming majority of the electorate - 67.5% - voted for the party of the
people's freedom, the ex-sect Following the Way.
     The  same day, the sovereign  declared the results invalid  and  issued
arrest warrants for Yadan and Ashinik, two best known leaders of the sect.
     Yadan disappeared. Ashinik escaped  to Earth. His arrival caused a huge
sensation in the liberal media. He was  a charming twenty two year old young
man with perfect English, a year's working experience as a vice president in
a large trans galactic company and a one year college experience in an elite
business  school.  He totally didn't  look  like somebody  accused  by Weian
authorities of terrorism, manipulation of people's minds, mass  hypnosis and
the  literal understanding  of the electoral  campaign slogan "Earthmen  are
demons."
     Two days after his escape, Ashinik gave a long interview on the seventh
intergalactic TV channel. He explained all of the rumors attacking the party
of the people's  freedom in a very simple way. The  officials had decided to
run the elections hoping to obtain more power than they had before. When the
people's party won the elections, the  results were declared  invalid and  a
huge incomparable libel campaign started against the party.
     They  asked Ashinik if his party was  going  to nationalize the foreign
companies' property if it came to power.
     "No," Ashinik answered, "but we  were  going  to  make businessmen  and
financiers of the Federation of Nineteen follow the Federation's laws."
     As  an example,  Ashinik  referred to Terence  Bemish.  Mr.  Bemish had
created  one of  the largest  industrial companies  on Weia and Ashinik  had
worked  for him for a year. Terence Bemish  bought eighteen  million dollars
worth of Ichar  non-ferrous  metals  facility stocks  in  an hour after  his
friend Shavash had cleared this  facility's sale to MetalUranium Company and
a day before the deal went public. Terence Bemish made thirty million.
     Terence Bemish  bought  twenty million  worth of gold loan bonds  after
Shavash's close  friend Oshin had announced that the payments on this loan's
interest would possibly  be postponed; this announcement  dropped the bonds'
prices by forty percent. Oshin  was  fired  in a week, the bonds' value grew
back to  the same level and Terence Bemish made sixteen millions. In a week,
Bemish hired Oshin as a manager of one of his funds.
     "These actions  resemble  insider trading  too  much;  they would cause
legal proceedings to happen anywhere else in the world," Ashinik claimed.
     "Clearly, Terence Bemish has bought securities knowing that their value
would  increase  sharply.  Persecution of these criminal  activities doesn't
threaten the  market.  On the opposite, it would guarantee equal opportunity
for everyone. As for  Assalah Company," Ashinik explained,  "it hasn't  only
provided ships  with  landing  opportunities; it also has allowed  the  ship
owners  to avoid paying import  tariffs. A conveyor  belt  of  export-import
companies was created at the spaceport with every company's life  time being
two  months.  Accordingly to Weian  regulations, a  company should issue tax
reports every two months  and, if it exists less  than that, it just doesn't
pay  any taxes. Of course, the local officials knew everything about it  but
they  were  browbeaten  or  bought  off.  The companies were  used  for  two
purposes.  Mostly  a  successor  company  would  fulfill  its  predecessor's
obligations in full  but  sometimes, if Bemish or Shavash needed  to  punish
somebody, the successor would not pay for the goods or,  inversely, wouldn't
deliver prepaid merchandise. It was not difficult since  most freight didn't
have  accompanying  documentation  issued. That's  why Assalah  imports were
thirty percent cheaper than imports via any other spaceport."
     "Does  it mean," a journalist inquired,  "that having gained power  you
will collect all the tariffs in full?"
     "No," the clever Havishem graduate  answered,  "quite  the opposite, we
will lower tariffs. We are against protectionism and limiting foreign trade.
But I would  like to stress that Yanik's  government charged  some companies
and  didn't  charge  the  others. This  is  not  protectionism  of  domestic
industry. They favor some importers at the price paid by the others and this
is even worse than protectionism."
     The journalist  inquired how conscientiously Assalah paid its taxes and
Ashinik said that the year before last, Bemish  had paid the taxes with  the
bonds  of  bankrupted  Weian National  Bank. The trick was  that  Bemish had
bought the securities on Exchange at 7% of their face value while  the state
budget accepted them at 100% of their face value.
     The last year they started experimenting  issuing tax promissory  notes
on Weia. These promissory  notes were securities  based a company's debts to
the treasury.  Everybody knew  that  Bemish wouldn't  pay  anything on these
promissory notes and they cost 3-4% of  their face value. Bemish bought them
at this price via dummy fronts and he didn't have to pay the taxes this year
anymore. Bemish also acquired  a  lot  of promissory notes  of the companies
that  he had some designs for and the state helped him to exchange the notes
into the stocks of these companies.
     The Assalah securities didn't take this  interview well -  their  price
plummeted by thirty points.
     Bemish  ordered  his  employees to  compile  and send to Earth a  small
ethnographic report  about the activities of Following the Way, so  that the
TV  audience could clearly understand that the political goals  of  the sect
were  not limited to the  removal of  protectionism and  insider  trading in
stock market.
     The  next  day,  Ashinik made  an  official announcement  that  nuclear
weapons  were stored  in  Assalah  spaceport  including  Cassiopeia  nuclear
missiles equipped  with S-field that had been delivered there accordingly to
a  secret treaty between  the  Empire and the  Federation  governments.  The
proliferation  of  these  missiles  had  been  banned   accordingly  to  the
S-armament non-proliferation treaty signed by the UN countries.
     Bemish called this statement a horrible lie.
     Ashinik demanded the spaceport to be inspected by the people.
     Bemish announced that he would not allow a  people's inspection because
a Weian peasant would not see any difference between a nuclear missile and a
landing  stabilizer support and he, Bemish, didn't want somebody to throw an
explosive device  in a  landing chute  during such an "inspection." All this
"people's  inspection"  was demagoguery anyway, why didn't experts just come
in and inspect whatever they want to?
     Ashinik claimed  that  Earth experts would  be bought by Bemish and the
Federation counter-intelligence.
     Bemish announced that he  didn't understand  what a people's inspection
was.
     Ashinik promised to explain to Bemish what a people's inspection was.



     Two days later, the spaceport security service  informed Bemish  that a
crowd  was  moving towards the  spaceport.  Almost  synchronously, two dozen
zealots, that had  infiltrated the lounge  before, descended to  the storage
area to reclaim their luggage containing rocket launchers and other assorted
killing utensils.
     The luggage had been X-rayed earlier and  the  zealots were arrested in
flagrant  delicti.  Bemish  announced that  it  was  an organized  terrorist
activity and, if the people's inspection was going to  happen along the same
lines, he  wouldn't allow  it. The zealots were taken to the capital and all
the confessions were beaten out of them quite quickly.
     Bemish issued to order to guard the whole spaceport's perimeter closely
and  to  allow only  ticket  holders inside  the port  due to  the emergency
situation.  The next day, he showed to the journalists two  bombs  extracted
from  an unknown  man's luggage;  the  man  arrived at the spaceport with  a
ticket to the planet of Gera and left the spaceport in an unknown direction.
     Ashinik claimed that Bemish had engineered the whole thing himself just
as he had with  the  zealots and rocket launchers. As for their "confession"
to the Weian  police, Ashinik noted that  Mr. Shavash could make an elephant
confess that it was a  mouse in  disguise. Ashinik claimed that the protests
were perfectly peaceful.
     A huge crowd of zealots blocked the spaceport. The journalists from all
over the Galaxy flew to Assalah in search of prize news.
     New  people  arrived  at  the  roadblocks  every  day. They  introduced
themselves to the  journalists  as  "simple  peasants that didn't like their
motherland being  traded away for a jar of sour cream." Bemish, on the other
hand, claimed that they were not peasants but staunch zealots.
     The  traffic  on  the highway  connecting  Assalah to  the  capital was
completely  paralyzed. Two monorails,  Assalah  - Sky  City  and  Assalah  -
I-Chakhar, were used  for  cargo  transport.  The  blocked-off  area in  the
vicinity  of  the  monorails  was  controlled  by  the  satellites  launched
specifically for this purpose; the satellites called alarm three times a day
and the  trains had to be stopped; the cargo transportation schedule went to
hell.
     Trucks   traveled  in  groups  accompanied  by  sharpshooters.   Bemish
announced  that   the  spaceport's   administration  would   not   take  any
responsibility for the people's safety if they used passenger cars to get to
the capital. The car rental agencies went hysterical. The helicopter drivers
lived  in the  state  of bliss.  Three  hundred  taxi drivers  that had been
temporarily hired  by the spaceport security were ready to tear the  zealots
apart.
     The  media approach shocked Bemish somewhat.  They would  interview  an
ardent zealot - a professional  agitator who  had been bumming  around fairs
since the age  of five and who was  lost in  his own lies to such  an extant
that he no longer knew whether or not  Earthmen were demons. They would call
him  a  "Weian peasant who came  to  Assalah to fight for the freedom of the
elections and his country's freedom." On the other hand, a Weian taxi driver
whose  car had been burned  out two days ago by a zealot crowd was called "a
secret agent of security service bought by Bemish."
     The spaceport sustained huge  losses  due  to cargo  being  delayed and
frightened passengers hurriedly picking other travel routes. Twenty thousand
tons of gourmet Iniss  peaches turned into peach chowder after spending five
hours in  crazy summer heat  in a  monorail train  with  a disabled  cooling
system. Ashinik  called  a bomb found  on the  monorail "a spaceport special
services' instigation."
     Continuous  magnetrone  inspection  of  cargo damaged a Crudge-14A with
superconductive circuits  traveling to the Iniss branch of Mountain  TDL and
the corporation raised a horrible fuss about it.
     The  security service employees  had all of  their vacations cancelled.
They worked fourteen hours a day  without holidays  and  slept right  there,
crowding in the spaceport hotel rooms. Three  hundred enraged  taxi  drivers
and long distance truck drivers joined the  security  service. Three hundred
highly professional  colleagues of  Giles' arrived quietly at the  spaceport
and the journalists learned about their incognito arrival five minutes after
the space liner had landed.
     Assalah stocks  dropped  five points  a  day  on  the average.  Assalah
high-margin bonds were being  sold twenty cents a dinar  by the end of  this
week.
     However, Bemish's personal finances were in much better state than that
of the company. Bemish had realized that the zealots were sure to win before
the election's results were declared  invalid and he ordered to sell quickly
practically everything that they traded with on  Weian Exchange. Going short
brought at least forty million dinars to Weian Special and Second Investment
Fund but it was the first time in  Terence  Bemish's life  when  he was  not
particularly happy to short.
     Bemish requested  governmental  assistance  with  the  protesters.  The
government  dallied and wavered  and  finally  told him  that while  it  was
sympathetic  towards  the Assalah issues  but it was  not willing to utilize
Weian  police  against  Weian peasants to protect a  foreign  company  that,
additionally,  employed a  right  of "tax and trial"  inside its  territory.
Confidentially the government hinted that it was  afraid to be kicked out of
power if tried to do anything along these lines.



     Ronald Trevis  arrived  at Assalah  on the third day. Three hours after
his arrival,  a  twenty  person Ajax  landed in  the spaceport and suntanned
Kissur  climbed out  of  it.  Kissur  hurried  to Bemish's  office  where  a
management meeting  was taking  place and he started shouting right  at  the
doorstep.
     "What's this mess? Why don't you just  shoot this muck?  What  are  all
these rubber sticks doing here instead of rocket launchers?"
     "If I shoot all this muck," Bemish said, "I will do what Ashinik dreams
about.  It  will  bury  the relationship between  Weia and  the  Federation.
Ashinik  will  start  screaming  that  foreigners at  his  planet  shoot  at
absolutely peaceful protestors. He  will be somewhat correct about that. The
foreigners should not have a right to make such decisions."
     "Why the hell did you ask for the right of "trial and taxes?"
     "It was my mistake."
     "I  swear  by the  god's balls!" Kissur cursed.  "Why don't you ask the
police minister for assistance?"
     "I've asked him already.  The government doesn't  want to shoot its own
citizens for  a  foreign company's profit. If  it does it, it will  have  to
shoot its own citizens to  save its own  ass tomorrow. Also, everybody knows
that  an  official,  who gives such an order, will find a bomb  in his first
Sunday soup even though Ashinik will  assure  that the  bomb was planted  by
provocateurs."
     "All right," Kissur said and he slammed the door and took off.



     Kissur returned in six hours, after dark. Eight skyers with large  load
capacity landed at the spacefield and delivered about five  hundred fighters
with blackened teeth  wearing soft  ox leather Alom boots. The fighters were
armed right up to their blackened teeth.
     Two beetle-shaped amphibian  tanks dropped out of  the skyers' bellies;
the tanks were  equipped with unusually short guns and they stuck upwards at
the rear resembling beetle's forewings folded at  its  back.  The tanks were
covered with a non-metallic dully gleaming skin. Astonished, Giles whispered
into  Bemish's  ear  that  these were  the  latest  generation  BCC-29 tanks
designed to be dropped off a plane with a parachute onto any surface no less
than six minutes after a thermonuclear explosion.
     Presenting  his  blackened teeth to flashing  cameras, Kissur explained
that he came here to help his friend Bemish out and that his people couldn't
be taken for foreigners by  any stretch  of imagination  and  that  only his
friend Bemish's  squeals stopped him from burning this zealot muck one meter
deep into the ground.
     He  said that Bemish  was a pansy, that the government was a  flock  of
horny dumb  goats and that Ashinik  was a  dog  that he, Kissur, would  hang
right at that loading crane if they found one more bomb in the spaceport.
     Kissur's people took over  almost all spaceport security. A half of all
regular  spaceport security  employees  went  to  sleep.  Frankly, they were
mostly  peaceful  people who had never  seen anything more dangerous than  a
drug trafficker trying to hide hundred grams  of barnithole or good old  LSD
in   his  stomach;  their   familiarity  with  electric  shockers  was  only
theoretical.
     The  passengers  arriving  at the  spaceport  glanced  with  frightened
admiration  at  the huge,  almost  two  meter  tall,  wild looking  men  who
seemingly  napped at  the  terminals  having  folded  their  hands on stubby
assault  rifles. The  ladies felt quite  a specific curiosity towards  these
lads, comparing them  with their civilized husbands who contemplated morning
meetings even in bed.
     The journalists waited  breathlessly. It seemed absolutely certain that
any careless action  of the crowd besieging  the spaceport would lead to the
crowd's bloody demise.
     It was five pm when Kissur entered Bemish's office; Ronald  Trevis, the
head  of  LSV bank,  had  just arrived from  Earth  and  he  sat in the room
reclining in an armchair.
     "Hello," Kissur said, "What are you doing here?"
     "We are discussing the spaceport's future," Trevis replied.
     "Oh, yes. These...eh stocks of yours plummeted."
     "The spaceport's stocks," Trevis spoke,  "belong to me, Bemish and Nan.
We are discussing the future of bonds."
     "What's wrong with those?"
     "They cost twenty cents a dinar."
     "So what?"
     "It  would  not be  a problem if  they  were  regular bonds. They  are,
however, bonds with adjustable rate."
     "What kind of beast is that?"
     "It was my suggestion. The interest payments on the bonds are set up in
such a way that a bond's value is hundred cents for a dinar," Bemish entered
the conversation.
     "I don't understand."
     "The  interest on  the bonds  is fourteen and  a half percent,"  Bemish
said. "It's quite a  bit.  I  hoped that I would  be  able to  lower it. The
Assalah  bonds cost  hundred and three cents a dinar before the crisis. They
cost twenty cents now."
     "It's crazy. I never knew about these clever securities."
     "Unlike  you, Ashinik knew  it perfectly well," Bemish said,  "I walked
him through our financial structure myself."
     "Are you going to adjust yield?"
     "No. There is not a single company that could handle it, even if it had
a large cash flow. Our cash flow dropped by thirty percent this month."
     "What are you going to do?"
     "I offered new securities to the investors instead of this crap."
     "What did they do?"
     "They sent me to hell. Ronald just delivered their responses."
     "I see. Is this company bankrupt?"
     Bemish didn't answer.
     "If we flatten  all this shit  into the ground,  will  your  bonds cost
more?"
     "We should flatten this shit into the ground  anyway," Trevis muttered,
"even if it doesn't save the company."



     Later,  they  reconstructed  the  events the following way.  At  18:00,
Kissur  accompanied by Khanadar the Dried Date and  by  ten  fighters walked
into  the  main office where  all the upper company  management had  already
gathered;  Trevis was also  there  with two aides. Bemish and  Giles came in
slightly  later.  They were both armed. Bemish took a  note that Kissur  was
dressed  very carefully - he wore a perfect white shirt, a proper black suit
and an  unassuming tie of correct width  -  the  clothing  item that  Kissur
loathed the  most. On the other hand, a  gun under Kissur's armpit was large
enough  that  even  a perfectly designed  suit  failed  to conceal it. Giles
slapped Kissur on the shoulder and said, "Damn it,  Kissur! You are the man!
Without you we would be in shit up to our necks!"
     "This way we will be in blood up to our necks," Bemish spoke quietly.
     Giles spun.
     "Be silent, Terence, when other people have to do your laundry." And he
turned back to Kissur.
     "What are you going to do to the zealots?"
     "What should I do to them to be accepted to the military academy?"
     Giles was dumb-founded for a moment and then he answered, "Shoot them."
     Bemish  swallowed.  He  was  certain that  Kissur would  agree  to this
proposal.  Doesn't he  understand,  however,  that no public  opinion  would
tolerate him in the academy after such a bloodbath?
     Kissur laughed out,  slapped,  in his turn, Giles  on his  shoulder and
declared, "Better late  than  never. You, Earthmen, get bold only  when  the
stocks of your companies plummet! Listen, Dick, let's exchange!"
     And Kissur pulled his 9mm Star out of the gun holder and handed it over
to Giles handle first. The gun's barrel was in its original  state while its
handle was covered by beautiful engraving over attached silver plates.
     Giles hesitated for a moment, pulled his gun out and handled it over to
Kissur.
     He  took the gun, checked if  it was loaded  and declared loudly,  "And
now, monkeys, stick your faces in the floor  and your asses in the  air! You
are under arrest!"
     The fighters behind Kissur raised their assault rifles.
     "Are you joking, Kissur?"
     "It's not a joke, dog! Get down! Down!"
     Giles was lost; he  looked at  the  Star  in  his  hands and pulled the
trigger. The gun only clicked - it was not loaded.
     Several employees started slowly rising out of the table with the hands
up.
     The next moment, Bemish whipped  his gun out of the  holder but, before
he was able to pull the trigger, fighter kicked the gun out of his hand with
his rifle's  butt. Bemish  turned and, with a dull thud,  his  fist collided
with the fighter's solar plexus. The latter moaned and sagged to the floor.
     Two Alom fighters  rushed  at Giles. The  security service head dropped
the useless gun  and the guys started twisting his elbows back. Giles butted
one of them with  his  head in the stomach and threw the other one over. The
fighter  dropped his rifle  and Giles snatched the falling weapon. The  next
moment a rifle burst sounded -  Kissur was firing. One after another,  heavy
bullets with zinc outer layer were making holes in the clothing and the body
of the  security service  chief. Giles swayed. His face showed astonishment.
He looked at his jacket stained with  blood, muttered, "Why?" and crashed to
the floor letting the gun go.
     Meanwhile, two more fighters rushed at Bemish. Having cried out, one of
them  smashed  into the table with  his  face. The  papers prepared  for the
meeting flittered and flew around the room like  white geese. The other  one
sailed ass forward into a flat, built in terminal, crashed to the  floor and
stayed  there. Bemish leaped over  the table and charged at Kissur. A  rifle
burst formed a series of holes in the floor in front of Bemish and he froze.
Kissur and the company director stood surrounded by the fighters.
     "Don't be dumb, Terence," Kissur said, waving the gun, "Put your  hands
behind your head or you will enter the other world together with Giles."
     Bemish stood  with his tie askew and his perfect  shirt's  collar torn.
The shirt had  been absolutely fresh. Bemish  took a shower half an hour ago
and changed it and  he felt now how the cloth  under his armpits and  behind
his back was getting wet and sticky with his sweat.
     "Raise your hands, Terence," Trevis muttered lying on the floor, "Don't
you see - they are nuts."
     The next  moment  Bemish dove  forward  and his hand locked on Kissur's
wrist. In a moment the  gun flew  to the side  and Kissur  and Bemish rolled
over the floor in  a  tight embrace. The fighters didn't  dare shoot  - they
were afraid of hitting  their master and they also believed that to kill one
of the enemies locked in personal combat was not cool.
     Kissur's  steel hands locked at his foe's neck. Bemish's ears rung, the
room's  ceiling spun and started floating  upwards. Bemish hit Kissur in the
groin with  his knee.  The latter hissed but didn't let go. Twisting, Bemish
rolled onto his side and drove his heel into Kissur's kneecap.
     Kissur  roared. A  lock  and a snatch  followed and, having thrown  the
barbarian over, Bemish leapt on his feet.
     Time froze as a sentinel at  a gate. Bemish was watching Kissur falling
vertically, head  down to the  floor and he could already hear the crunching
sound  that vertebrae  would make breaking over  hard wood.  For a moment he
wanted to rush  to his  friend and spot him but he realized that he would be
late. He also realized that he would die a second after this sound came.
     At the last moment, Kissur threw his arms forward and his hands rustled
touching the hardwood floor. Kissur somersaulted  over  his  head and having
pushed himself off the  floor  with his hands, kicked  Bemish  horribly with
both legs in his  chest. Bemish flew away to the wall.  Kissur's fist missed
his jaw by  a  millimeter. Bemish dove and  landed a  short jab  in Kissur's
solar plexus. Kissur  swayed. Bemish drove his heel into Kissur's groin. The
latter roared. The  next moment, he  jumped at his  opponent  and he  jammed
Bemish in the ribs  with  his knee.  The company director was thrown  to the
floor. He barely had time to  turn aside and then Kissur's heavy boot kicked
him in the chin once and again.
     Bemish tucked  his knees in and,  right  at this moment, he saw  in the
ceiling's light Kissur's contorted face far above him and his blackened fist
right next  to  his eyes. Then  something  exploded and flashed  in Bemish's
head.  The world sank and fell like a flower petal and Bemish  lolled on the
floor like  a man  who had his skeleton extracted so  that only the meat was
left. Two  fighters  locked handcuffs on  his wrists and dragged  him by his
legs out  of the room. The Assalah director's head trailed down the office's
freshly waxed hardwood floor, blood seeped out of his light hair.
     "If anybody moves," Kissur said, "he will get nine grams heavier."
     And he pointed at dead Giles.
     "What does it mean?" Ronald Trevis asked from the floor.
     "The spaceport is taken over."
     "Who took over it?"
     "It is the party of people's freedom."
     Then, dressed in Earth  clothing, Kissur smiled and took a broad marine
knife from a  warrior standing next  to him. Slowly and enjoying himself, he
wrapped his dark red bordeaux colored tie around his left hand and, grinning
broadly, he cut it off at the top.



     Afterwards,  everybody  admitted  that,  on  the  technical  side,  the
operation had been performed brilliantly.
     At  18.05,  an  announcement  sounded  out  of  the  Assalah  spaceport
loudspeakers. A slightly  hoarse voice with  a trace of  Alom  accent  said,
"Ladies and gentlemen! The  Assalah spaceport  is controlled  by me, Kissur,
and  the  party  of people's  freedom.  All  the spaceport  guards have been
disarmed. Nobody  should  move from  where  they  are.  Anybody resisting my
troops  will  be shot  dead on  the  spot. Any  panic  will be considered  a
resistance attempt.
     The Earthmen will soon be allowed to leave  the spaceport. Before that,
however, they are considered to be hostages  and they will be killed if they
take any hostile actions towards us.
     Ladies and gentlemen, have a good day. Goodbye."
     Immediately after  the  announcement,  Kissur's  fighters,  present  in
practically every lounge, custom corridor,  restaurant and shop jerked their
assault rifles up at the ready position and screamed, "Everybody down on the
floor! Ass up, hands behind your  head! Go! The majority of people submitted
obediently, dropping in the  process  the souvenirs they  just bought - Inis
lacquered figurines and flat wooden bottles with Chakhar  vodka.  This order
effectively stopped panic (that was to be treated as resistance). Occasional
gun bursts  above the  heads took  place; five  spaceport  security  service
employees attempted to escape  - four were shot dead and the fifth died  two
hours later at a surgery table.
     In the  air  traffic  control room, assault rifles  were aimed  at  the
workers and  the latter unquestioningly obeyed  Khanadar's  directions -  to
announce Assalah, without getting into any extra details, to be a closed-off
zone. Therefore, the ships  that  were not on  the landing  trajectory  yet,
should go  land  anywhere the hell they want  but  not in Assalah; the ships
that were already moving on the landing trajectory should continue landing.
     The pilots are a well trained crowd and they were accustomed to landing
the  way they were told  to. The last two ships had time to figure  out that
they were landing in a spaceport taken over by terrorists.  Attesting to the
professional  level of their crews,  the ships didn't vacillate in the air -
that could've been very dangerous  - and  landed in the spaceport. After the
landing, they immediately required a  permission  to  launch; the permission
was refused.
     At least, not a single  ship crashed missing  the  launching chutes; it
would've been very probable if the air traffic controllers had panicked.
     The  flight  schedule board  in the main lounge blinked and  went dead.
Then,  an announcement  appeared on it,  "Long live  the  party  of people's
freedom!" The announcement  was written  in Weian  and  English. The English
variation contained a grammatical mistake.
     There were  total of  eight  thousand  people  in  the  spaceport, five
hundred volunteer  and  regular  security service  employees,  twenty  three
hundred of regular personnel and fifty two hundred passengers.
     About four dozens  passengers, mostly journalists,  recognizable thanks
to  their cameras,  were pulled out of the crowd and  brought to  an office.
Kissur and his younger brother  Ashidan sat there and young Ashinik with the
old  man Yadan represented  the  zealots. Kissur offered the  guests to take
part  in  the  inspection of the spaceport and he  added that he  would rely
completely upon their honest reports.  Afterwards, the  whole Galaxy saw the
pictures made by these journalists.



     The following  is an excerpt  from  the testimony  given by Francis  F.
Carr, an employee  of a  large auditing firm  Coupere, Lir and Gambacher; he
had been among the forty selected hostages. Mr. Carr gave this testimony  to
a  senate  committee during  an  investigation  concerning  the  spaceport's
takeover a month and a half later.
     "Why did they pick you?"
     "I don't know. Two fighters approached me, one of them stuck his finger
at me and they took me away.  They didn't speak English. I thought that they
were going to shoot me."
     "Did they beat you?"
     "Frankly, I got a good  kick in the butt and, when  we were passing the
peasants, somebody threw a rotten tomato at me."
     "What did they fighters do?"
     "They screamed something  at the crowd and they cleaned the  tomato off
me."
     "What happened next?"
     "They took me  to  a large room, there were already about thirty people
there. A  lot of journalists were there  and  nobody  obstructed from taking
pictures. Kissur and his brother sat at a table together with the leaders of
the party  of people's freedom. Kissur  told the  journalists  to save their
film - he  was going to take them  on a trip through the spaceport  and they
would get good shots there."
     "What happened next?"
     "Kissur said that he demanded that everything photographed was shown on
Galactic channels. He said that the films should be sent to a place that had
broadcasting  equipment  and  that  the  broadcast  should be  shown  on all
channels. He said that they  had agents on different planets and that if the
broadcast started  later  than 9am of the  next  day,  he  would  shoot five
hostages for every  minute of delay. Somebody asked what would happen to the
hostages  if  his demands  were complied with. Kissur  said that he was  not
enough of a scoundrel to make eight thousand Earthmen hostages in his future
fight with Gera. Then, they asked him why he had seized the spaceport and he
said that it was the only way to expose all its secret depositaries. He said
that it was impossible to pick a  moment when no passengers were present  in
the spaceport and that he didn't know  any way  to  prevent  panic spreading
among civilians but to make them drop on their bellies  and to shoot a dozen
or two as an example.  They asked  him what he  was  going  to  do with  the
passengers and he said that after the broadcast was shown, he would free the
hostages."
     "What about the personnel?"
     "He said that he had  to detain the  employees that were  necessary for
the proper operation of the spaceport."
     "Have you witnessed any abuse of the passengers?"
     "Yes.  I saw  a  terrorist  hitting a man  with  his rifle's butt  only
because the man rose  without  obtaining permission.  Also a guy, sitting on
the floor, stretched his legs; a terrorist thought that  the guy  was trying
to trip him and the fighter hit him with his knee in the temple."
     "What else has Kissur said?"
     "He  said that  he had arrived  at the  spaceport to  defend his friend
Bemish.  Then, he  obtained reliable information that the military had  been
transporting toxic gas  in a ship and that they were going to use it against
the  protesters. He  had tried to persuade  Bemish's deputy, an Intelligence
Service employee Giles, not to utilize the gas. The latter  said,  "Shut up,
Weian monkey." Kissur shot Giles."
     "Have you seen the gas?"
     "Yes. In a  ship  that  was one  of the  latest  to arrive,  neurotoxin
containers made up half the cargo. The containers were marked as  a military
cargo  accordingly to the standard rules  of  the Federation Space Force. We
were the first ones  to  enter the  ship  and  the  journalists photographed
everything."
     "Are you aware  of  the  fact  that the  Federation defense  department
claims that it does not own these containers?"
     "Yes, your honor."
     "In your opinion, could  Kissur load the containers before showing them
to you?"
     "That would be impossible. When we stood at the loading dock, the after
landing  warning  lights  were still lit on  the  board and  they  were just
dragging the crew outside."
     "What happened next?"
     "They took us down a lot of storage areas.  Quite often, the goods that
were  stored there had nothing to do with custom department's  documentation
describing them.  More precisely,  it was practically never  the  case. Cars
were  called medical  equipment, computers  were called canned  food. I  saw
boxes of Lamass lace that were exported as glass."
     "Were you offered any explanation?"
     "Yes.  The goods that were not duty free were documented  as goods that
were. Most export-import companies had  a  life expectation of less than two
months. I don't know how corruption in customs looks on other planets  but I
was shocked by what I saw there. They didn't steal by containers, they stole
by whole cargo loads."
     "What happened next?"
     "Finally, they took us to an  area of space field that was almost never
used  for the civil flights. The chutes there looked slightly different from
the civil ones. They showed  us papers demonstrating that these chutes  were
intended for military ships. There were certain differences in  construction
between military and civil chutes, for instance  ceramics deposition  on the
support columns allowed a ship  to have a launching acceleration  of five to
six times higher than a civilian spaceship would require. They also..."
     "We are not discussing technical parameters of  military chutes at this
hearing. Did you only see chutes?"
     "No. There were  several storage areas there - 17A, 17B  and 17C - that
had walls and locks designed in a different way. In particular, the storages
had  radiation  shielding.  Mr.  Bemish was brought  in and  he  opened  the
storage."
     "How was Bemish treated?"
     "They dragged him on a leash."
     "How did he look?"
     "He looked  horrible. His  suit was torn, there was blood on  his shirt
and he  had a huge wale under  his right eye. On the other hand,  Kissur had
the same size wale under his  left eye  and, as far as I know, Bemish got it
all while fighting. Nobody beat him when his hands were tied."
     "What was in the storage?"
     "Some imported  apparel was stored  in  17A though, accordingly  to the
documentation,  it was  supposed  to be empty.  17B  was also supposed to be
empty  accordingly to  the  documentation. However, containers  with medical
markings  were  stored  there.  Right   in  front  of  us,  they   extracted
constructions  out of the containers that were later identified as partially
functional Cassiopeia missiles."
     "Why was Bemish needed there?"
     "The storage areas  were  computer controlled and the  computer had eye
retina  recognition lock system. There  were only  two retina  images loaded
into  the computer  memory, the  spaceport  director's  and  his  deputy's -
Terence Bemish and Richard Giles."
     "Therefore, the missiles could be  stored there only if the above named
persons were involved. Is it correct?"
     "Yes, your honor."



     Bemish lay on a leather sofa in his own office and  his hands were tied
tightly behind  his  back.  If he  moved  his  eyes to  the side strenuously
enough,  he  could  see  out  of an office's window a  small section  of the
landing  field  and an arching asphalt ramp. Peasants wandered around in the
landing field. A beetle shaped passenger bus crawled down the ramp.
     The  door  squeaked  and  Kissur  entered  the  office.  Bemish  turned
pointedly to the wall; the pain in his twisted hand made him hiss sharply.
     "Hello to a TV star," Kissur said,  "They will show you tomorrow on all
the channels - together with 17B storage area."
     Bemish turned and hissed again.
     "How did those damned missiles get here?" Bemish asked.
     "My dear," Kissur said, "that's a question for you."
     "Don't clown around! I sent them there on Shavash's request..."
     "And  Shavash  thought that he  was importing cute little cars," Kissur
finished for him.
     "You  know, Shavash can goof  up sometimes too... I  don't have my  own
dummy fronts so I had to use one of vice minister's."
     "What  are you striving for, Kissur?" Bemish asked. "Have you forgotten
how you shouted with joy when they told you that they would build a military
base here? And I was almost killed when I refused to do it!"
     Kissur was smiling and nursing an assault rifle on his knees.
     "All  right. You  abased  Shavash.  You filmed  him being a thief.  You
filmed me being  a  thief.  You  buried  our military in unforgettable  shit
though, for my  death's sake, I  can't figure  out how you got  these damned
missiles. What do you want?"
     "What do I want?  I want  this spaceport to be nationalized. I want all
this crap that the foreigners have built  here to be nationalized. I want to
change the government that steals just like our  little brother Shavash. The
foreigners station armaments, which  are forbidden across the  whole Galaxy,
on  our land and without  our  knowledge. Do you think that it's enough of a
reason to expropriate the goods that the rich  had stolen from us and return
them to the people?"
     Bemish jerked.
     "Idiot! You will fail completely!"
     "Why?"
     "Why?!  Are you  asking  me,  why?  Just look  at the people you allied
yourself with! You will ruin your country and lose your head! Can you name a
single official allied with you, can you name just one  man who knows what a
budget is  and what a  balance  is?!  Your  allies are idiots who think that
Earthmen are demons! Look, Ashinik can only  discourse on the eradication of
protectionism and setting the same rules for everybody till  the moment when
he gets to power. When he gets to power, however, either he will do what his
party wants  or  they will devour  him  whole. Do  you think  that with such
allies you  will be able to produce  anything but a circuit performance?  Do
you  think  that  anybody will talk to you? What about the hostages  and the
victims?"
     "I will release the hostages," Kissur said.
     "You mean the passengers. What about the personnel? Damn it, if you let
the  personnel go, the whole  place will collapse. Are you going to  stick a
Weian zealot behind a VIS operating terminal?"
     "I  will  release all the  Earthmen  hostages,"  Kissur repeated,  "The
personnel  staying here  are citizens of the  Empire. I assure you that  all
Earth journalists will say that  I released the hostages since they consider
only Earthmen  to  be the  hostages.  The  Empire's  officials  don't care -
hostages or no hostages - we have never considered it to be a crime to begin
with."
     Bemish shut his  eyes and groaned. It was correct. If Kissur was saying
the  truth, it was the end of it. The  party of people's freedom had  in its
power five thousand  foreigners and it  immediately released them. The whole
thing would  look pretty good compared to the thievery and missiles that had
been  discovered after the  party's  desperate actions. And it was not  just
that; all the rumors  that the government had been spreading about the party
such  as  the  zealots considering  Earthmen  to  be  demons...  The party's
honorable  actions  would  prove the rumors to  be  a  bunch of lies. It was
smart. It was smart and... unlike Kissur.
     At that point, another man showed up at the office's entrance.
     "So, we've met again, master."
     Bemish turned his head.
     "Should I thank you, Ashinik," he asked, "for PR strategy and tactics?"
     The young man smiled. His hands nursed an assault rifle nervously.
     "You are probably cursing the day  when you didn't allow Kissur to kill
me, aren't you, master?"
     Bemish ground his teeth.
     "Just a bit," he muttered, "At least, Inis would have been alive."
     "Don't touch her name, murderer!" Ashinik leaped.
     "What's this crap?"
     "You would've killed me too if I hadn't escaped!"
     "That's bullshit. She was killed on Yadan's command in order to cause a
quarrel between us! Yadan acted exactly the same way as he had done  earlier
with his predecessor! Why would I've killed her?"
     "You did it out of jealousy."
     "What jealousy are you talking  about, idiot?  I had  given her away to
you. And she asked me that day to take her back!"
     "Gave her away, take her back," Ashinik paled and whispered, "Are Weian
women property to take and give away?"
     "How long are you going to carp for?" Kissur inquired.
     Ashinik regained his senses.
     "Ashinik hasn't told  us the  most  important thing  yet," Bemish noted
sarcastically. "What tree  is  he going to  use  to hang the murderer  of an
unfaithful concubine?  This is not, by the  way, a crime  accordingly to the
ancient laws that he holds so dear."
     "Mr. Bemish," Ashinik  said, "the new Weian revolutionary government is
not  going  to  detain you.  We would like  you  to convey our  demands, the
demands  of  the people. They are very  simple  and  they  are in  the  best
interest  of both the Emperor and the people.  Only corrupted officials  and
gluttonous  foreigners  would  resist  them.  We  demand  that  the  current
government  resign and that  the corrupted officials  are persecuted  by the
court. We demand that Kissur the White Falcon leads the Empire as he did ten
years ago. We  demand that the foreign  concept of elections is  crossed out
from the government's edicts - this concept  is not  fitting for  the  Weian
people's spirit. Since our  party won your  stupid elections, we are clearly
acting in the majority's  interests. We demand all the companies that belong
to the  foreigners  to be  unconditionally nationalized.  We demand  all the
other private property holders submit themselves to an investigation. We are
not  against  businessmen,  we  are  against  the  bad  and  the  gluttonous
businessmen that  suck  on the  people's  marrow and  don't think  about the
people's  interests!  We  will  eradicate  the bad businessmen and  we  will
support the good ones!"
     "In your opinion, the bad businessmen," Bemish couldn't  hold it  back,
"are  the ones that don't  bribe you and the  good  businessmen are the ones
that do!"
     "Shut up!" Ashinik screamed.  "It's not for you to talk about  bribery,
Mr.  Bemish!  Not  after  they  took a  walk  down your storage  areas  with
cameras!"


     The Fourteenth Chapter

     Or the first minister as an international terrorist.

     At 19.54  they crammed Bemish  into his  own Mercedes and an  unsmiling
Khanadar drove him to the last post located in front of the old village. The
village  seemed  to  be dead.  Dust  hovered above  the field -  a  flock of
military skyers had just passed by.
     About two hundred meters away from the post, a  roadblock gate had been
installed  in a hurry.  Antennas, resembling overgrown burdocks,  stuck  out
behind  the gate  and a  herd of  military  Jeeps  hang  out nearby. Another
kilometer further, Bemish's own villa stood out, a gift from the terrorists'
chief and the Empire's ex-first minister...
     It was two hundred meters. Two hundred meters separated an ex-spaceport
taken over by  the terrorists from the normal world populated with corrupted
officials and stupid Earthmen. It was two hundred meters for the ex-director
of  Assalah  Company,  Mr. Bemish.  On  his  neck,  he  carried  a  suitcase
containing the terrorists' demands to nationalize his company and a key from
the handcuffs - his hands were still locked behind his back. For two hundred
meters sun rays and the red lights of laser sights danced on his face.
     Bemish stepped behind the gate.  The red lights went out and  people in
military uniforms  rushed towards him.  There  were some civilians  present;
Bemish  recognized  Michael  Severin,   the  Federation  envoy.  There  were
absolutely no journalists present.
     They crammed Bemish into a car and the car rushed towards the villa.
     "How did the missiles got there?" a man in a colonel's uniform screamed
at Bemish.
     "You should ask Shavash  about it,"  Bemish  bit back, "He  asked me to
take care of this cargo."
     "We will ask him," the colonel uttered.
     "We know  how  the missiles got there," the  second guy said. "They got
there  from  NordWest  base.  It's a  base  located on Agaia's moon. An  old
acquaintance  of Kissur's -an anarchist -  used  to work  in  one of Agaia's
spaceports. He visited Weia six months ago and Kissur went Agaia last month.
A week after his  arrival, an accident occurred. This anarchist Lore and his
five  friends missed a sharp  turn on a  road and  fell into a chasm. It was
just an accident. The same day, another accident occured  a light year and a
half  away from Agaia; a  mechanic at the base, Denny  Hill,  simply drowned
next  to  a crowded  beach - he was on a vacation. It's  quite  clear  where
Kissur got the missiles.  On  the  other hand,  how  did you  get  them, Mr.
Bemish?"
     "Why don't  you  start with yourselves?"  Bemish bit  back. "They steal
your missiles  like they would steal wheat out of a kitchen cabinet. Do  you
know their demands?"
     "We do. They have already reported them on SV. Do you think that he can
really kill the hostages if we don't transmit the news over TV?"
     "Kill them?" Bemish got angry. "He is capable of eating them, marinated
or  fried!  Do  you know that nine years  ago he  hanged three thousand city
dwellers that rebelled in the capital? During the civil war, he hanged three
hundred people on  the  Orch's left  shore  and three hundred  people on the
right one! Have you forgotten about the Khanalai's camp?"
     The car stopped in the villa's yard and Bemish was  the first  to  jump
out of it on the sand.
     "Where are the journalists, by the way?" he asked.
     "That's just what we are missing," the colonel snorted.
     "You  are  wrong,"  Bemish said.  "Kissur is  running  a show  for  the
journalists while you kicked them out. They lack minds of their own and they
repeat whatever you tell them. You will see that they will praise Kissur and
shit on you."
     "They will praise Kissur, won't they?!" the colonel was  enraged. "Will
they praise a scoundrel who took eight thousand people hostage?!"



     Shavash rushed towards Bemish right from the villa staircase. He hadn't
come to meet him - he was scared! The small official was deathly pale  and a
sleeve of his velvet coat was dirty - it looked out of place on usually tidy
Shavash.
     "What is  he doing?!" Shavash cried out. "Has he  demanded anything  of
me, Terence?"
     "He demanded exactly the  same,"  Bemish  replied, "as  he did when you
suggested swapping wives."
     Shavash grabbed his head.
     "Terence Bemish claims," The colonel said, "that the cargo belonging to
Dassa Company was placed into 17B storage  area accordingly to your  orders.
Is it true?"
     Shavash raised his crazy eyes.
     "How does it matter?!" he shouted exasperated.
     "Were those your orders or not?"
     "Oh my God, I probably ordered it," the official screamed in fury, "Big
deal!  They gave me two hundred thousand  for a  phone call and I called. It
was not my cargo!"
     "It's  clearly not yours!" the colonel  spoke with unconcealed contempt
looking at the small official.
     "Are  you  any better?!" Shavash screamed. "They go around  shoplifting
your missiles in your base  like chocolate bars in a supermarket, why do you
point your finger at me?"



     Ten minutes later,  in the main  villa's hall - it was a  charming hall
decorated with blue  and pale yellow silk - the  Assalah emergency committee
opened a  session. The following  people took place in the meeting: six high
Weian officials, Terence Bemish as the  director of the  company where  this
whole  disgrace was taking place, the Earth envoy, three  military advisors,
also from Earth, and two colleagues of deceased Giles from  the Intelligence
Service. Mr. Shavash headed the committee which was quite unusual. The small
official  generally preferred  to stay in the  shadow during storms but this
time  he  didn't have enough patience  for it. He  presided over the meeting
looking like a corpse.
     "Generally speaking,  it's quite  a surprising alliance," envoy Severin
said.  "There  is  practically nothing  in  common between  Kissur  and  the
zealots.  Kissur didn't take  part in the  elections, the  zealots won them.
Kissur is an ex-first  minister of Weia; his political  views are those of a
strong  armed state  supporter  if  not  of  an  outright  fascist. He hates
everything  that  weakens state's  power. It's natural for him to hate sects
and heresies. Ignoring the liberal media's views, the zealots, even the ones
that studied at Hevishem - here the  Envoy glanced at Bemish reproachfully -
consider Earthmen to be demons. Kissur  doesn't think so. The demands of the
nationalization of  the  foreign companies clearly  come  from  the zealots.
However  extravagant Kissur's  views  are,  the  presence of Mr. Bemish here
demonstrates  that Kissur  is capable of  a  very  good  attitude towards  a
foreign swindler... I think that it would be enough  just to stall  it for a
while and this coalition will fall apart on its own  - they  just don't have
anything in common..."
     "Can't you  see what  they  have  in  common?!"  Shavash  cried  out in
desperation. "They want my head separated from my body!"
     Everybody was somewhat  shocked by this cowardice. The colonel,  having
leaned towards Bemish, whispered at his ear,  "If this  is  the case, I will
soon join the coalition."
     "Are  you  trying to  say, Mr.  Shavash," the envoy inquired  in an icy
voice, "that it was only the desire to hang you that  made them organize the
massacre at the spaceport, take eight thousand people hostage, discredit our
military forces and demand the changeover of the Empire's government?"
     "Gentlemen, let's  stop bickering," Bemish said, "You should figure out
your response to Kissur's demands. And I would like to note that since these
demands  concern the Weian government and its internal  politics, it's quite
astonishing that half of our committee are Earthmen."
     "Have  you  forgotten  that Earthmen  have  been taken hostages at  the
spaceport?" the colonel asked.
     "The Earthmen are a minority of the hostages,"  Bemish replied. "As the
Assalah director, I should inform you that 80% of  the passengers and 93% of
the  personnel  are  Weian.  Go ahead and  calculate  how  many Earthmen are
currently at the spaceport."
     "I  can tell you, Terence, why the Earthmen are  sitting here," Shavash
intervened. "Our government decided  to request the Federation of Nineteen's
military assistance to quench the rebellion and free the hostages."
     "So,  you  are  not going  to  accept  their  demands, are you?" Bemish
inquired.
     "It's  simply impossible," the foreign affairs minister Khasha claimed.
"Aren't you of the same opinion, Mr. Bemish?"
     "I would succumb to their demands," Bemish said.
     Everybody went still for a moment.
     "Oh," the  minister spoke smirking. "Haven't you forgotten that one  of
their demands is gratis nationalization  of foreign  companies? Do you  have
another spaceport with one and a half billion isheviks annual profit stashed
somewhere, director?"
     Bemish paused.
     "I  would  prefer  to  get the  spaceport  back  in two years,"  Bemish
replied,  "after  Kissur's  policy  crashes  completely,  rather than  be  a
murderer of eight thousand people."
     "You  have  it easy, Earthman," the  minister said. "You will lose  the
spaceport while others will lose their heads."
     "Don't  you understand,  Terence,"  Shavash  cried,  "he's a  psycho, a
maniac! This man  will grind you flat. What do you  think will happen to the
country when they  start sorting good businessmen from bad  ones?! We should
annihilate him! We should call the Federation troops in and squash him  like
a bug!"
     "As the chairman of the Assalah  Company's board of directors,"  Bemish
said,  "I  protest  fully against  allowing  the  Federation  troops on  its
territory.  And  I would like to remind the people present here that if they
start using Federation troops to solve their internal problems..."
     "Don't teach us, Earthman,"  an  enraged  Shainna screamed - he was the
deputy chairman of Weia Central Bank and a buddy of Shavash's.
     "I will teach you!" Bemish  screamed just as loudly, "You  don't give a
damn about Kissur's industry  nationalization demands! You have been  living
for two thousand  years with  nationalized industry! What you care about  is
that Kissur demands to hang you personally,  Shainna,  and you, Shavash  for
corruption! Here, a lot of people would agree with Kissur..."
     Shavash stood.
     "As  the official inspector  having full  authority to  deal  with  the
Assalah emergency  situation,  I request the assistance of the Federation of
Nineteen troops."
     Bemish rose.
     "Gentlemen, I refuse to take part in this abomination."
     And he left.
     The  sunrise was starting  somewhere far  away.  The  fragrance of  the
jasmine  bushes was sharp  and  sleepy  bulls  mooed in  the village  having
returned from the late plowing.
     Wrapping himself in an overcoat and shuddering from cold, Bemish walked
to an old gazebo. A servant, stepping softly, brought a basket with  liquors
to the gazebo and asked what they should serve the guests for the dinner and
what they should do  to the policemen. The latter started screaming  already
and the servants had to give them twenty sacks from storage...
     Bemish barked at him such that the slave ran  away in fear. The basket,
however,  came to be quite  useful.  Bemish grabbed  a wooden bottle plaited
with bark,  tore the plug out, threw his head back and started gulping  palm
vodka.
     He stopped only after having drunk half of it.
     Far away, through  a woven  gazebo  wall  he could see  the  spaceport.
Unlike usual, t didn't gleam at night. The main buildings shined with a dull
light and where only yesterday the landing lights used  to sparkle, darkness
and  fog sprawled above the  chutes. The  monorail gleamed as a lonely  horn
sticking  out  of the dark and posts of armed  people swarmed every  hundred
meters on the highway.
     Somewhere  far away,  at the  first  gates  blocking  the access to the
villa, the  whole crowd of  journalists  was throwing  a fit. These  idiots,
Weian officials, insisted on  not letting them in... Bemish, however, didn't
want to see the journalists. He could  imagine what questions they would ask
him.  And he couldn't even tell them one tenth of what he had  said  at  the
emergency committee meeting.
     The gazebo door squeaked. Bemish turned his head and saw the envoy. The
latter's  crazy eyes  wandered around for  a while and then  he  grabbed the
vodka bottle.
     "I've drunk out of it already," Bemish warned him.
     The envoy just waved his hand.
     "You were  correct  when you left," Severin said. He finished the vodka
off  and dropped heavily on a bench. "Everybody taking part in this accident
will be in shit up to their ears."
     "Have they decided to call the troops in?"
     "The commandoes will be  here in two  hours. It's  the Eleventh Federal
Paratrooper Division. They are  damned  good. At the moment Kissur  lets the
hostages go, they'll roll over him."
     "In two hours?! How did they get here so fast?"
     "They were being moved to their new positions."
     "So, that they could be closer to Gera, right?"
     The envoy smirked and nodded.
     "Do you understand that this is Shavash's decision? The only thing that
he is afraid of is that Kissur will hang him on the tallest catalpa? He went
nuts from fear."
     "That's right," the envoy said. "I have never seen it before in my life
-  Mr. Shavash made a public statement supporting a certain decision and  he
took all the  responsibility. Can you imagine that  - he  signed the request
for the  Federal  troops himself! All the ministers there kindly passed this
honor to him..."
     Bemish muttered something.
     "Do you  know why  the  officials  agreed to invite  the  troops?  They
understand that  this  will  make  Shavash  a  political  nonentity...  You,
however, were very brave. Don't you regret losing your company?"
     Bemish paused. Then he added, smiling.
     "My company is bankrupt.  My  stocks are worth less than rutabaga in  a
farmer's market. I don't care whether my creditors get one cent or ten cents
for a dinar."



     By the time sunrise came to Assalah  spaceport  and another working day
ended in Melbourne, the Federation capital, the news of the Assalah accident
had spread  across the  whole Galaxy.  Assalah was  photographed from above,
from below  and from the  side. This  place used to be known only to a small
group of financiers  as a  great example  of  investment into a  development
market. Now it occupied the front  pages of newspapers. A number of channels
started delivering  hourly news from Assalah. Everybody was waiting for  the
broadcast that  was assigned to start (after minor  technical arguments with
Kissur)  at  fifteen  thirty.  Even  if  Kissur  hadn't given  his  horrible
ultimatum  -  five shot  hostages for every  minute  of  delay  - few people
would've missed such a possibility to peep at history.



     The  division arrived in Weian  orbit by  seven. They  landed in Salgar
spaceport by eight and, in four hours, military helicopters unloaded most of
the  commandoes  next to  Bemish's villa. Tanks, gleaming dully and  looking
like  huge beetles, spread in  a large  semicircle; indecipherable peeps  of
coded signals filled  ether;  soldiers  had already  started  setting  hardy
camouflaged tents; bread and canned meat were being  passed to the companies
off the helicopters.
     At the same time, the first  media conference finally took place. Weian
"yellow  jackets" ran a body search on  a dozen of journalists, crammed them
in  a bus and  drove them to the villa.  There,  Shavash,  Bemish  and Envoy
Severin sat decorously in a row, expecting them.
     Shavash familiarized  the media with Kissur's  ultimatum  and  he  kept
talking  for a while. Accordingly  to his words, the  Weian government would
not allow  any  nationalization of private  industry to take place. He  also
said that as  the  Assalah  emergency committee  head,  he had requested the
Federation's  military  assistance and  that 11th space  commando
division was currently disembarking next to Assalah.
     "Are they going to attack the spaceport?" a journalist asked.
     "Absolutely not,"  Shavash  lied  unabashedly. "We can't  endanger  the
hostages. We are  going  to blockade the spaceport so that we can  negotiate
from a better position."
     At  fifteen  thirty,  Bemish  and  the other members of  the  emergency
committee gathered to watch the broadcast made by the hostage journalists.
     One had to admit  that the journalists  did  their best.  They made  it
clear that they were reporting at gun point. They made it clear that the men
who  had  them  at  gun point  would  sacrifice  the  other  people's  lives
unhesitatingly. They  also  made  it clear  that the  terrorists  would also
sacrifice their own lives unhesitatingly.
     Their denunciations were  horrifying. The  cameras coldly stared inside
the  reinforced  chutes   while,  behind  the  screen,  Kissur  monotonously
commented that these particular types of boarding joints were built only for
military rockets. The  dull sides of Cassiopeia  missiles  gleamed slightly.
The  old accusations spread  by  zealots about the  spaceport's dual purpose
were  confirmed.  The  most  fantastic  rumors  spread  by  Gera  about  the
Federation  clandestinely breaking the non-proliferation  treaties pompously
signed in the past were also confirmed.
     Luxury cars had  been imported labeled as assistance to  the victims of
natural disasters and ancient Lamass vases had been exported as scrap brass.
Laws and regulations  had been flouted  at an incredible scale. The takeover
of  the spaceport  looked  like  a  desperate  attempt -  however  cruel and
despicable  it was - to  demonstrate  the scale of current  administration's
thievery, corruption and  treachery.  Several Earth auditors  and financiers
unwillingly confirmed Ashinik's calculations of the chicanery that had taken
place at the spaceport.
     Once the broadcast had come to  an  end, the party of  people's freedom
started a media conference.  It was  relayed to Weia in real time and to the
Galaxy with a five minute delay.
     Kissur and his  cronies  sat in the  company's  director office. Kissur
said  that  right  after the  conference,  they would  start  releasing  the
hostages.
     "Aren't you afraid," a journalist asked, "that they will obliterate you
immediately after the hostages are released?"
     Here  Kissur answered  that the party of people's freedom had acted out
of  despair and had tried to reveal the ultimate  corruption  of the current
government.  They also  wanted to demonstrate  that  the  military treaties,
catastrophic for Weia, did in fact exist in spite  of blatant denials coming
from  the  government.  Killing several thousand unarmed peasants would only
confirm the treaty's presence  and  it  would  be difficult  to  imagine the
government ready to compromise itself so much.
     Ashinik spoke afterwards.
     He said that certain corrupted Weian officials attempted  to  force the
Emperor to  follow their policies. When the  Emperor had  refused  to oblige
them, they forced him to declare the elections. They hoped to gain the power
that the Emperor refused them by lying to the people. When the  bureaucrats'
party lost the elections, they refused to acknowledge their results.
     Ashinik  stressed that he was one of leaders of the  party that had won
the elections and his  demands were the demands of the  people. He  declared
that his party demanded the complete changeover of the  government and  that
the  most  corrupted officials should  be  taken to trial. He  declared that
people  wanted to  see  Kissur as  the first  minister  and  he  listed  the
remaining  future  cabinet. (Ashinik  would  become the  finance  minister.)
Ashinik said  that the  Weian government would have  to stop payments on its
loans.
     "The largest part of the  country's debt consists of private bank loans
that the finance  ministry had been bribed to take at a very high interest,"
Ashinik declared. "It's very difficult for me to  say this but it's the only
way out for a country  where the total taxation  amount is  smaller that the
debt  payments.  In any  case,  it's  absolutely  impossible that  the  most
profitable companies would  use paying this debt off  as  an excuse to avoid
paying taxes and would turn into practically  independent  states inside our
country. At first Shavash  received millions leading the country into a debt
trap and now he wants  to  receive billions getting  the country out of this
trap."
     Ashinik  also claimed that  in exceptional cases, related to the  state
security  or following  ultimate  abuses of  the state's interests,  foreign
companies should be nationalized. Assalah spaceport was such a case.
     "The Assalah spaceport's director claims," a journalist said, "that you
would like to  nationalize all Weian industry, throw the foreigners out  and
ban private property. Is it true?"
     "That's  a monstrous  lie," Ashinik stated. "I don't know  where Bemish
got this idea."



     The  press  conference  with Kissur  in Assalah spaceport and the press
conference with emergency committee  at Bemish's villa, ten kilometers away,
took  place  practically  simultaneously. Shavash,  Bemish and  Earth  envoy
answered the journalists' questions.
     They  asked Bemish what he could say about the new government's demands
and Bemish stated, "The banishment  of foreign businessmen would only be the
first step. Having obtained  power, these  people  will  start nationalizing
industry."
     "How do you know this?" a journalist asked.
     "Their leader, Ashinik, officially stated that at our last meeting."
     "We  have  also  received this information," the  journalist said. "Ten
minutes ago, Ashinik, Yadan and Kissur claimed that they had never said such
a stupid  thing. How would you explain, Mr. Bemish, the fact that during the
election campaign  the party of  people's  freedom  had been repeatedly  and
falsely claimed to hold monstrous views and programs?"
     Bemish gaped at  such affront of the  terrorists. "Oh-oh, I got it,"  a
thought glanced in his head.
     "This party has never taken hostages either!" Severin exploded, "hasn't
it? They are practically saints!"
     "Is it  true  that a secret  military  agreement  signed during Assalah
construction included building a military base at the spaceport and delivery
and storage of Cassiopeia missiles?"
     "That's a monstrous lie," the envoy said.
     "How  will you  then  explain  the  presence  of  the missiles  at  the
spaceport?"
     "We are currently investigating how terrorists were able to steal these
missiles  from  one of  our  space  military  bases  and  transport  them to
Assalah."
     "Are  you trying to say that they  stole twelve missiles from our bases
in such a way that nobody noticed anything and that the best use of them the
thief was able to figure out was  to hide them at a  storage area that could
be unlocked only by two people in the Galaxy?"
     "We are investigating it."
     "Could you, please, tell us, if the fact  that Earth  troops have  been
summoned here confirms that there was a secret  military agreement?  Does it
also  confirm, indirectly, that  the presence of missiles was a part  of the
agreement?"
     "No."




     Kissur  held  his  word.  Immediately  after  the  end   of  the  press
conference, the journalists started taping buses and monorail trains leaving
the  spaceport.  The  hostages  cried, but  were  incredibly  obedient.  The
fighters  screamed that  they  would shoot anybody  who would cut  the  line
trying to get into a bus and nobody tried cutting the line.
     Five LSV bank  employees  and  Ronald Trevis - bearing  some  cuts  and
biting  his lips  -  left  with one of the buses.  Journalists  ambushed him
leaving  the  bus but  he blocked  his face  with  his  hands,  bolted to  a
helicopter and  flew to  Arvadan. Two hours later he left Arvadan for  Earth
and became completely inaccessible. Journalists yearned to question the king
of  the  hidden  market  about  his  company's  part  in financing  the most
scandalous construction of  the century. The  journalists  didn't have their
yearning  satisfied  and  they  had  to  limit  themselves  with  their  own
commentaries. These commentaries were not particularly benevolent.
     By 18:00  the  last  train  with  passenger hostages left the platform.
About eighty employees stayed in the spaceport - they were necessary for the
crucial spaceport's systems to  function.  Five hundred  armed  fighters and
several thousand Weian zealot peasants also stayed.



     Also  by 18:00, next to the spaceport  the 11th division had
almost finished d disembarking. Heavy helicopters were landing  right on the
fields behind  the  company director's villa, amphibian tanks were  crawling
out of their  bellies and sturdy guys  in bulletproof uniforms  were jumping
out.
     Bemish  walked down where the  same two  counter-intelligence guys were
meeting the division commander - colonel Rogov, short and sturdy like a ball
bearing.
     "I think," The colonel  said, "that Mr. Bemish should also take part in
the planning of  the operation. As I understand, you  have  constructed this
spaceport  and you should know how to  infiltrate the buildings with minimal
losses."
     "Yes," Bemish  nodded, "I've already  thought about  it.  For instance,
there  is a place where the monorail station's ventilation chutes  are right
next to  a cave  system. It wouldn't be difficult to  enter  the caves about
three  kilometers   away  from  here.  We   had  to  reinforce  them  during
construction."
     "That's excellent," the colonel rejoiced.
     "Unfortunately," Bemish continued, "a man  named Ashinik was my closest
assistant. He is now heading the terrorists and he remembers this story with
the caves quite well."
     One of counter-intelligence officers swore loudly.
     "What do you think about toxic gases?" the colonel asked.
     "I  have to disappoint  you. A  possibility of chemical attack or, more
precisely, an  explosion or damage  of rocket elements emitting  toxins  has
been taken into  account  during the construction. A monitoring system would
automatically   turn   an   alarm  on,  block   buildings  off   and   start
detoxification."
     The colonel bit his lips for a while.
     "I am  not a military man," Bemish said, "but I think that if  you want
to kick the  terrorists  out of the spaceport, the only way  to  do it is to
drive tanks in and shoot at everything that shoots or surrenders.
     "It looks like you are correct," the colonel said.
     "What losses will you sustain?" the envoy asked the colonel.
     "Well, I don't think that this party of people's freedom will fight all
that well. It's just civilians..."
     Bemish got suddenly irritated at the military man.
     "The  zealots can't fight. But if I were you, I wouldn't be in a  hurry
to classify Aloms as civilians..."
     "Aloms?!"
     Bemish looked at him, surprised.
     "I mean Kissur's  Aloms. It's a  mountain people who... Listen, haven't
you been briefed about the Assalah takeover?"
     "No," the commander said,  "I  don't know  the  details. The assistance
request said  that  it was a  rebellion of Weian  zealots who  had  won  the
elections."
     "Generally,  it's correct,"  the  envoy  shrugged his  shoulders.  "The
majority of people in the spaceport are zealots."
     "So, is  the  spaceport  occupied by Aloms  and not  by  the indigenous
people of  the  Empire?"  the  colonel  specified  with  unnatural  lack  of
expression.
     "What difference does it make for you?" the exasperated envoy shouted.
     Bemish shuddered.
     "Sorry,  colonel,  but how  do you know  about  the  difference between
Weians and Aloms?"
     "Yes," the colonel said, "what's the difference? We follow orders."
     It  was already dark,  when  Bemish,  having finished briefing  colonel
Rogov on the spaceport's specific details, walked into the garden.
     Bemish had never run into the Federation Army before even though he had
recently  become acquainted to the Federation Counter Intelligence. He liked
colonel  Rogov -  Bemish  had considered  military people to  be  much  more
stupid. One thing astounded him. There  were  dozens of populated planets in
the  Galaxy.  Weia was located in the backyard of  the civilized world.  How
could a Federal Army colonel  know about the enmity between Weians and Aloms
who had conquered the former a number of times? When did they start teaching
galactic  ethnography in  military  academies? Even he,  Bemish,  had needed
quite a bit of time to realize how deep was the gap between the peoples that
outsider observers  considered  to belong  to the  same race  -  the "Empire
people" and the "mountainous barbarians."
     Bemish stood and looked at the night bustling with people. Somewhere an
engine yelped piteously like a cat that somebody  kept stepping on the tail.
The  crackling  of cicadas mixed with  rustling  of faraway  power stations.
That's  it. Tomorrow  this  division  would  throw  all  its  force  at  the
construction  -  he had  dedicated the last two  years of  his  life to this
construction  and he had put his soul  into it. They would hack the roadways
with their  tanks, turn  buildings and terminals  into  dust.  Crazy zealots
would face the  tanks  with  prayers and spells; they would be sure that all
this machinery was simply demonic phantoms and that their leaders would rise
into  the  air  and turn the demonic fighting machines into paper  and their
grenade launchers into beans...
     Tomorrow Kissur would die. Because even if a termite shell's direct hit
didn't flatten him into the floor and a fan  laser burst didn't find him and
a  shock  wave didn't roll over  him, he  would still kill himself. It would
happen because Kissur always lived as if he had died a long  time ago. Never
would Kissur let himself be taken alive by commandos called in by Shavash.
     And then somebody just to Bemish's left said in Alom,
     "Do you have a fag?"
     Bemish turned there in astonishment.
     A Federation soldier sitting next to a fire  silently flicked a pack of
cigarettes to his comrade.
     Bemish rushed  to the soldier.  The latter was clicking his lighter but
having seen a civilian he stood up to attention hurriedly.
     "What have you just said?" Bemish asked.
     "I  asked for a smoke, sir," the  soldier was speaking  English now. He
spoke it with a strange but quite familiar accent.
     A horrible hunch entered Bemish's mind.
     "Are you Alom?" he asked sharply in Alom. The soldier was silent.
     "Are you Alom?"
     Federation soldiers are forbidden to speak foreign languages, sir," the
private replied.
     "To the hell with this! What's your name?"
     "Khaina, sir."
     Khaina,  "wolf,"  was one  of  the most widely  used  names  among  the
fighting clans of the mountainous country.
     "Whose vassal was your father?"
     "He was a vassal of Sarvak clan."
     Sarvak clan! Sarvaks were vassals of the White Falcon clan  that Kissur
belonged to.
     "How many Aloms are in  the  division?" Bemish asked trying to suppress
shudder in his voice.
     "I can't know, sir. We  are Federation soldiers and we swore an oath to
serve the Federation. Aloms do not break their oaths."
     Bemish  paused. Ten soldiers sitting around the fire looked at him with
curiosity.  Almost  everybody  had  blond  or  reddish hair,  wide  eyes and
eyebrows tips that were almost flying...
     "What's your contract salary?" Bemish asked suddenly.
     "Three hundred credits a year, sir," Khaina said.
     Three hundred credits  a year! The minimal yearly unemployment benefits
for a Federation citizen was eleven hundred twelve credits!
     Bemish  turned  and  walked away  searching  for  the  colonel.  Now he
understood why the latter knew the difference between Aloms and Weians.



     Bemish found Rogov in the living  room. The colonel and  several of his
officers watched the day's broadcast closely. The colonel was interested not
in the broadcast's content but rather in the layout of hangars, storages and
chutes. The officers were watching the broadcast for the  third time and the
sound  was turned  off. It was  difficult to guess, looking at  their faces,
what they thought about the broadcast after having seen it the first time.
     "Colonel! How many Aloms are in the division?"
     The  colonel and  the officers turned around like one. It  looked  like
there were no Aloms among them  except for this one, on  the  side... No, he
was not  an Alom,  he was a half-breed something like  a mix of a Dane and a
Vietnamese...
     "Nobody  has counted them," the colonel said calmly, as  if he had been
waiting for this question for  a while, "but  I think that it's about eighty
to eighty five percent."
     "Eighty?!! Why?"
     The colonel grinned.
     "Mr. Bemish, have you ever served in the army?"
     "No."
     "Why?"
     "Because..." Bemish broke off. On the second day of their acquaintance,
Kissur  had asked  him  why he  had  never  served in  the army  and  Bemish
remembered what he had said.
     The colonel smiled as if he guessed what  Bemish had answered  then and
said.
     "The majority of fully fledged  Federation citizens share your attitude
towards  the  army,  director. The army receives  twenty times  less  budget
financing than medicine.
     "And you enlist Aloms in the army!"
     "We enlist anybody who agrees to serve in the army."
     Here Bemish turned around  and noticed that two more people entered the
living room attracted by the argument - the Earth envoy, Mr. Severin and the
emergency committee head, Mr. Shavash.
     "But  three  hundred  credits  is  four  times  less  than unemployment
benefits!"
     "The unemployment benefits are allotted to Federation citizens,  not to
Aloms. You  know very well that they are doomed  to much  greater poverty in
their mountains. For centuries they have been  indoctrinated that war is the
only occupation worthy of a man, that man should kill, that death is the way
to glory. They are  happy to join Federation forces. The  ones who pass  our
admission  committees take it as  a pass to heaven. They know that they will
obtain citizenship in ten years of service. By  the way, having received it,
they  don't leave  the service.  They are  as happy to hold weapons in their
hands as  others are to hold women or money... Where else will you find such
warriors?  If a Federation  citizen  is born  in a middle  class  family, he
graduates from a college and he makes money. If he is born in a garbage can,
he receives unemployment benefits and gobbles up hallucinogens..."
     "But three hundred credits!"
     "How much can we  pay them? The military budget  is one half percent of
the GDP!"
     The  envoy listened to  their conversation in astonishment. Clearly, he
also hadn't known who exactly  guarded the borders of his  great motherland.
Probably, it  was  a delicate  and  not particularly  popular  subject.  The
military command was not in a hurry to announce that foreign barbarians made
up  eighty percent of the army, and that strong, healthy guys with excellent
muscles  and  decent  brains  got  paid  three times  less  than  hereditary
unemployed saturated with drugs.
     "So,  your soldiers are happy, aren't they?" Bemish  asked with certain
irony.
     "They  are  very happy,  businessman! They grew up without commercials,
human rights, credit cards and whores. They  were taught  that battle is the
road to  God!  When  their  contracts  run  out and  they become  Federation
citizens, they enlist again. They stay in the service!"
     "Where else  can  they go  to?" Bemish  grinned,  "Into  an  investment
company? You don't teach them  anything but to how to kill. They  are aliens
in the world of the Federation."
     "They love the  army! And  they make twenty  times more money here than
they would make in their mountains!"
     "I  think  that they love  the army in their first  year, colonel. They
love the army when they come there out of a mountain hut where their fathers
had two sheep and where ten people slept in one room on a mud floor.  In the
barracks  they have their own bunk beds and  they get good food and they see
3D TV  first time in their lives. But half a year  or a year passes and they
watch TV and learn our language. They start  understanding  that the country
that enlisted them  into their army pays their soldiers four times less than
it  pays its unemployed. They start understanding that three hundred credits
would be enough to buy a farm in the mountains but it would not be enough to
afford  a bottle of  beer every evening in  a bar half a kilometer away from
the camp... And they start comparing their own bunk beds not with their clay
huts but with the cottages that they pass as they ride to training. And they
start thinking  that it's not fair that  brave  and  strong  people  sit  in
barracks  for three hundred credits a year while drooling  weaklings  sit on
boards of directors. Is it true?"
     The colonel was silent.
     "Do you know how the previous Weian dynasty fell?"
     "Yes. Aloms conquered the Empire."
     "Your soldiers misinformed you, colonel. The people of  the Empire were
rich and lazy. They didn't like fighting and the government  enlisted mostly
war-loving  barbarians into  the army. Aloms didn't conquer the Empire. They
simply served in its  army and  they  came to own  the Empire when no  other
troops were left."
     "How can you say so, Bemish?" the envoy was  startled. "It's absolutely
impossible.  We  are  talking about  a totally different time; they are just
commandos, for God's sake!"
     A moan  -  or maybe a  squeal  - sounded next to Bemish..  The Earthman
turned  around. Shavash  - the emergency committee's  chairman, the official
who called Federation  troops in to Assalah to destroy his enemies - covered
his face with his  hands and was  slowly sliding down the door  frame to the
floor.  Shredding  cloth  crackled  -  Shavash's jacket  caught on  a  brass
decoration  on the  door  frame,  the jacket ripped apart and  the  official
fainted and fell all the way to the floor.



     Bemish stepped across his partner in export-import cooperative, Assako,
and walked outside.  Stars  sparkled  in the garden  and  the  engine of  an
armored troop carrier still roared just as rhythmically as  it had roared an
hour ago - something was wrong with it. The army  still bustled in the dark.
It  was  not evident anymore,  however, what side the  army was on.  Half of
these people were White  Falcons' vassals. The  vassal oath was not inferior
in  any way  to a military one! And  nobody could claim  that  White Falcons
would  send them to fight for three hundred credits  while they were sitting
idle and getting rich. White Falcons didn't consider war to be an occupation
suitable only for people who couldn't make  money on  the Exchange. Whatever
else  happened, when an Alom army entered a battle, White Falcons would ride
in front.
     Somebody  moved  behind  Bemish. The latter glanced aside  and saw  the
colonel. Simultaneously, they started slowly walking down a path.
     "On what side do you think, your soldiers will fight?" Bemish asked.
     "I was going to ask you the same question," the colonel answered.
     They walked silently for a while.
     "I've heard a lot about Kissur," the colonel said.
     "Have you heard about him from the soldiers?"
     "Yes. I mean, from their  songs. They  don't always  go  nuts about our
bands. They often sing their own songs."
     "Do they sing about Kissur?"
     "They  sing  about  Kissur,  about  his  father,   grandfather,   great
grandfather, and so on - all the  way to the original clan founder who, if I
am not mistaken, married a forest mermaid."
     "You are mistaken. He  didn't marry her, he raped her.  And that caused
some  friction  between him  and  a variety  of  forest  and  other  outdoor
fairies."
     "Oh,  yes,  that's right. They sang something along these lines. By the
way, these are the songs by their other idol, Khanadar."
     "This villa is a gift of Kissur's," Bemish said.
     Here the garden path finished and they found themselves next to a pond.
A small altar to Buzhva stood on the lawn in front of the pond and behind it
rhododendrons were  blooming.  Bemish noticed some  food  out of a trooper's
ration  lying in the cup  on the altar.  If Aloms  ate next to  a god,  they
always shared their food.
     Seven  or  eight  soldiers  sat  on  the   ground  under  the  blooming
rhododendrons passing along a white plastic  flask  with local wine.  Bemish
silently sat next to the soldiers and the colonel sat next to him.
     "Is it true that they don't allow you  to  speak Alom?"  Bemish asked a
soldier suddenly.
     He leaped up startled.
     "No... Why not..." He muttered in his native tongue.
     The colonel lay on the ground and closed his eyes.
     The  soldier looked  embarrassed;  he  stood  up quickly  and hurriedly
disappeared behind the bushes.
     "This is the first man who talked to me in Alom," Bemish said.
     "He didn't know the Earthmen's language," the colonel spoke quietly.
     It took a bit for the colonel's words to soak into Bemish's mind.
     "He didn't  know the Earthmen's language... Are you trying to  say that
it was not your soldier but rather a scout of Kissur's?"
     "Be  silent,  Mr.  Bemish. I am  not  going to  make  speeches  for you
tonight."
     The soldiers around  the fire sat in silence as if they didn't hear the
conversation. The soldier that the spy had sat next to, handed the flask  to
Bemish.
     "Drink with us," he said in English.



     Bemish  didn't  fall  asleep  till  four  am,  he  watched  the  camp's
inhabitants escaping it like rats running away from a sinking ship. He saw a
helicopter  with the Federation  envoy lifting - the latter suddenly decided
to visit  the  capital.  A  couple  of  officials left afterwards.  Then the
counter-intelligence  officers left. Strangely, Shavash was the last one  to
sneak away to the  capital.  Three officials, whose names decorated the list
of the functionaries  to be hanged, left with  him. Now, only Federal troops
were left.
     What's  the deal, if you think about it? Why should it  matter  where a
soldier  was born? In the end, all of them swore  the  oath of allegiance to
the Federation while only slightly more than one third of them were Kissur's
vassals.
     The sentries stood  guard perfectly but Bemish  heard more  and more of
Alom  spoken  around  the tents.  They  switched  back  to  English  at  his
appearance, however.
     Bemish returned  to the bedroom about four. Not taking his clothes off,
he crashed down on the bed and almost immediately fell asleep.
     It was light, by the time Bemish woke up, wind out of the window blew a
gauze  curtain  inside  and the  sun  beat and  hopped on a  marble  table's
surface.
     Bemish turned  around  still feeling  groggy - something was lacking in
his  attire. What  was it,  jacket or, excuse  me,  underwear? Bemish turned
around again, feeling the empty gun holder flatten under him. Everything was
there except for the gun.
     Bemish jumped off the bed and ran to the entrance door. The door opened
wide and Bemish was relieved to see a commando  wearing a Federation uniform
behind  it. The commando, placed his feet wider  apart, shifted his hands on
his assault rifle to a more comfortable position and declared,
     "Sorry, Mr. Bemish. You are not allowed to leave."
     "Who says so?"
     "I do," a voice came from behind.
     Bemish turned around.
     Kissur  stood next  to  the door leading  into the inner halls. Two  or
three paratroopers lingered behind him.
     Bemish silently, without thinking jumped  at  Kissur. This time he  was
even less lucky. Kissur locked his leg and Bemish tried twisting in the air.
At this moment, the commando standing behind him connected  his rifle's butt
to Bemish's head. The  latter barely  heard Kissur screaming at the soldier,
then, the  walls  and  floor around  him  turned  into  thousands  of  fiery
butterflies and flew at him. Bemish fainted.
     He regained his  senses much later  -  he  sat in a military helicopter
that had,  probably,  just taken  off the  villa's roof. Bemish's hands were
handcuffed to a  stand behind the pilot's chair and commandos guarded him on
both sides. Bemish thought  that he  was unlikely  to  escape  but here  the
helicopter  jerked in the air. Bemish dropped his head on an Alom's shoulder
and fainted again.
     Next  time, he recovered in the  spaceport - in his  own  office,  well
known  to him. His wrists were still  handcuffed and  somebody  thoughtfully
deposited  him on a black leather sofa located behind his own working table.
Having  turned his head slightly, he could barely make out the tall back  of
his own armchair - the armchair that  Ashinik had  boorishly sat in two days
ago.  However,  nobody  was  present  in  the  armchair now. Kissur adroitly
operated Bemish's own  computer  sitting  slightly  to  the  side,  where  a
department's head would usually be.
     "Well," Kissur said, "Who was right, you or  me? I didn't loose a fight
with the special forces' paratroopers, did I?"
     "You knew," Bemish articulated. His  tongue resisted him and  lolled in
his mouth like a swollen sausage.
     "You knew how many Aloms served in Federal troops."
     "Naturally I did."
     "You are  an idiot,  Kissur.  You took over  one division and you think
that you won the fight with Federation."
     "Oh, are you going to send me more troops? Thank you, it's very kind of
Earthmen."
     "Cretin! How many of you,  Aloms,  are in the army -  twenty  or thirty
thousand? Do  you  think  that  ten  thousand -  even if they are very  well
trained cutthroats - can  win a fight with the Federation of twenty billion?
With all our equipment? They will just press a button and eliminate you."
     "How?"  Kissur asked him, "Are you  going to drop a nuclear bomb on us?
Or is it going to be a meson one?"
     Bemish  bit his lip.  It was true. To use standard shock troops against
Kissur would be either dangerous - if there were Aloms among them- or simply
useless. The  troops would  meet  with  at least equally  trained Federation
paratroopers. To use nuclear weapons  against a  tiny bit of barbarians on a
backwards  planet  would   demonstrate   Federation's  incredible   military
weakness.  It  went  without saying,  that  such  actions would violate  all
official and unofficial human rights regulations.
     "You  are  free," Kissur said. "You  can go to the  capital. Tell them,
that our conditions changed. We demand Federation representatives to come to
Assalah - we would like  to discuss the future relationship between Weia and
the  Federation. The Federation president  or the first minister should come
with the delegation."
     Bemish suddenly  imagined  old Yadan  conducting talks with the demons'
president and this idea was so comical that he couldn't smother laughter.
     "I would like to ask you one thing, Kissur," Bemish spoke unexpectedly.
     "Everything that you ask for is yours," the Alom replied.
     "Don't kill Shavash... He... In the end, you  got your commandos thanks
to him!"
     A strange, almost laughing expression came over Kissur's face.
     "He  has already  killed  the little scoundrel..."  Bemish thought. "He
killed or disabled him with his own hands..."
     At this moment, however, something moved  on his  side. Shavash entered
the office and sat to the right of Kissur, in the director's armchair.
     "I took it upon myself to overhear your  conversation at the door," the
official  spoke, smiling. "Your request touched me, Terence. But as you see,
Kissur was not going to kill me, to begin with."
     "You? What are you doing in this office?"
     Shavash, laughing, placed his hand on Kissur's shoulder.
     "Why shouldn't  I be  in  this  office? You  see, it's  my  armchair...
Haven't you forgotten that I was the  Assalah Company director? Do you think
that could  I  request  this state appointment  back  due  to  the company's
bankruptcy?"
     "Do you think, Terence," Kissur inquired, "that Shavash didn't know how
many Aloms serve in your army? But even he had to sweat quite a bit,  to get
them called in! I've never thought that there could be a country that was so
set against sending its troops anywhere!"
     Bemish  lowered  his  head. He  could  see  already  the  scale of  the
swindling operation. Oh, my God!  That's why such a careful official for the
first time in his life insisted so decisively on taking an unpopular action.
To think  that the other  Weians agreed to it  to compromise Shavash! Still,
something smelled fishy here...
     "So,"  Bemish said, "was the quarrel between you  and Kissur completely
faked?
     "I am sorry, Terence, I am so sorry. It was a complete and utter fake."
     "But Yadan,  you  and  Yadan,  you and  Ashinik  - it's  not  possible,
Shavash! The fanatics hate you."
     Kissur  left  the room, smiling; he  was probably  going to  give  some
orders. The official silently beckoned Bemish with his finger and the latter
crawled  off the sofa,  fighting the pain.  Shavash  approached a window and
pulled the blinds up. Bemish stretched his  head over Shavash's shoulder and
looked out of the window.
     Out of the director's office windows, a beautiful view opened up at the
landing  field  strewn  with the black  bodies  of fighter  helicopters  and
commandos  in spotty camouflage.  But the  construction's director attention
was pulled towards something else. They had  used railroad  tracks to pull a
huge cargo crane RV-37 into the middle of the field. The crane was generally
used to correct the positioning  of rockets  and to load containers  heavier
than 700 tons. This time, the crane's load was much smaller than the maximum
allowed  weight.  The crane's  jib  pointed to the  sky  and  twelve...  no,
thirteen bodies were swinging under it and Bemish recognized his ex-deputy -
young Ashinik - hanging  to  the  side. Two squeaking  yellow  vultures were
already circling the crane...
     "The zealots and rebels," Shavash  said coolly, "disturbed the  Empire,
babbled too much and  addled  people's minds. It was  not possible to  catch
them all  at once -  they hid, showed up  only separately  and threatened to
avenge the deaths of their comrades. Now we gathered  all of the zealots  in
one place and destroyed  this filth once and forever. Now,  when  we are not
bothered by the crazy gangs, we can negotiate  with the Federation as a real
state. The simple people that believed  zealots  will  believe  Kissur.  The
officials terrified by zealots will trust me."
     Shavash turned  away from the window.  The setting sun was  burning and
melting in the small official's eyes, his half-opened lips were twisted in a
smile...
     "Why?"  Bemish asked suddenly. "Why do  you hate us, Shavash?  I  don't
mean myself, I mean the Federation."
     The official's face contorted.
     "Why?  Can't you figure it out, Terence? I hate  you because you are so
clean; I  hate  your sparkling cars, your gleaming wraps, your advertisement
boards. I hate you because when you arrive at the dirtiest town, you build a
hotel for  yourself without dirt and poverty. A poor people hate a rich one,
haven't you known that?"
     "I didn't  know that you  were poor,"  Bemish muttered. "I thought that
you stole enough from your own people."
     Shavash laughed.
     "I  was not  always rich - have you forgotten that?  Do you know how  I
became literate?  I stood  next  to announcement  boards  and  compared  the
herald's words  with  letters.  My  father  was  the  poorest  shaman in the
village; I stole on the streets and drank out of mud  pools. I was lucky - I
met Nan and instead of ending  up in a gang, I ended up in  the White Buzhva
Lycee. Not that it would make any difference to an Earthman... When I was an
official  seven years ago,  I  had been  waiting  for my arrest, torture and
exile every day. Have you ever expected being arrested, Terence? Even if you
were arrested  for DWI, I  don't think  that you would be thrown in an earth
pit."
     "I don't argue that," Bemish agreed. "The earth pits are a strong point
of your civilization."
     "They are  a strong  point, indeed, Terence  - life lacks spice without
them. It's like meat without salt." Shavash swung his hand sharply.
     "When  you convey our demands for negotiations Terence, don't forget to
stress that  they  should  take place at the  highest level.  The Federation
president will head the Galactic delegation and I will head the Weian one."
     "You are both  nuts," Bemish  muttered glumly. "Damn  the  day  when  I
thought that you, Shavash, were a  normal  official only because you  took a
lot of bribes."



     Accompanied by Kissur, Bemish  walked down the main spaceport building.
It was  in  somewhat better  condition than he had expected  - he  saw  even
occasional unbroken bottles in the bars. The floor had been cleaned recently
and  the main hall's announcement board still  carried the  old slogan "Long
live the party of people's freedom."
     The building had suffered several millions worth of damage but  Bemish,
surprisingly, didn't really care. Really, yesterday morning he had been sure
that they would fire meson artillery  directly at the construction. What was
a  torn  apart monitor next  to  a SpaceExtra  stand  after  that?  Ashinik,
Ashinik!  Did  you  think that after demanding  Kissur's  appointment to the
first minister that  the latter  would hang  you  on a tower crane in twenty
four hours?!
     "Where are common zealots?"
     Kissur ran his hand across his neck. Bemish realized why the floor  had
been recently washed.
     "How many of them were here?"
     "It was no more than a hundred," Kissur lied coolly.
     "Bullshit! There were more than two thousand of them!"
     Kissur shrugged his shoulders.
     "Can I see colonel Rogov?" Bemish asked.
     They  walked up a motionless ascender  to the  second floor and entered
the air traffic control room.
     The colonel lay on the table. Somebody had  placed a white pillow under
his head, crossed  his hands  on his  chest and placed a funeral wreath made
out of white flowers. It was an Alom burial custom for warriors.
     "Have they killed him?"
     "He was  a real  warrior  and he didn't need another's hand to pull the
trigger," Kissur answered.
     Bemish  shifted the wreath up and  saw a  barely noticeable hole at the
colonel's temple under large whitecandle petals."
     "Should I have done the same?" Bemish asked.
     "You are a businessman. It's not yours."
     Bemish lowered the wreath silently and left the room.
     Kissur stayed for a moment to rearrange the flowers correctly.
     "I am glad that there are still warriors left on Earth," Kissur said.



     It proved impossible later to find out how many zealots had been killed
that day  accordingly  to Shavash's  and Kissur's  orders. It was absolutely
known  that not a single zealot present in the spaceport during the night of
ninth had escaped it alive.
     Shavash and Kissur always claimed that it had been about one hundred to
one hundred  fifty corpses. They were interested in  bringing  the estimated
number of "lunatic maniacs" down. Accordingly  to  Bemish's calculations, at
least three thousand zealots crowded in  the spaceport when the whole  thing
started.  They had  all been  let  inside the buildings  and on  the landing
field. Most  of these peasants had  never seen before wondrous  buildings of
glass and steel  where  staircase  moved on their own and  announcement  ran
across  the ceiling,  where they couldn't even squat in a  corner to take  a
crap.  Few of them walked away, returning to their homes,  on the second day
of their stay in the spaceport, especially since "yellow coats"  blocked the
roads.  It became clear why Kissur  had let the passenger  hostages go -  he
didn't want any witnesses around and he didn't  want them  to get in the way
accidentally.
     Later, Bemish dragged  some  details  of  the massacre out of  his  own
employees.  Everything  happened  only  after the paratroopers had come  in.
There were two thousand of Aloms in the spaceport and there were two trained
supermen per  every unarmed peasant. They killed the zealots with knives and
bare hands; they didn't use any  firearms or lasers. They were not afraid of
noise, especially since lasers didn't make any. However, they were afraid of
damaging the equipment and they  didn't want a  laser ray, for  instance, to
jab into the  floor  and leave a trace that  they would not  be able to hide
afterwards. They  accidentally killed a  dozen  personnel including the head
technician of the heating systems. He was the only heating systems tech left
in the spaceport and they almost got themselves into a crisis. Thankfully, a
commando sergeant figured the system out.
     Then they performed  the great cleaning of the  building -  they washed
the floors, scrubbed guts of the walls,  checked everything mercilessly - so
that,  God forbid,  somebody's  brains would not get stuck in a bar behind a
box with salted peanuts.
     They dragged  the  corpses  away  to  the  landing  field,  opened  the
thermoconcrete up and burned the hell  out of everything with modern weapons
- neutron guns and annihilators. Not a speck was left of the corpses and the
ground was baked  for  two hundred meters down into a  glass pancake... Then
they  sealed  thermoconcrete  back  up  and  everything  was  tip-top.  They
threatened  the  personnel  to  cut  their families down to a fifth  removed
degree,  including  children in their  mothers' bellies  if anybody spoke an
extra word to the media. One hundred fifty people were all.  You could count
them - all  the stiffs were present, lying in a neat  pile next to the cargo
terminal...
     Concerning commandos, it  was  discovered  that  there  were twenty six
hundred  three  Aloms  and  eighty six Earthmen  in  the  division.  Sixteen
Earthmen were officers. The most  interesting  part of it was that while all
non-Aloms had the opportunity to leave, some of them stayed. The colonel and
two  more   officers  shot   themselves  and   sixteen  Earthmen,  desperate
adventurers joined their comrades and  went  to Kissur the  White Falcon. In
spite of the official Federation language  being the only one allowed spoken
in the army, they had picked up some Alom on the way.


     They took Bemish on a brief trip  around the  building that belonged to
him. At every corner, he saw people wearing Federation military uniforms and
babbling in Alom. In the air traffic control office, he saw a small group of
personnel that were so sleep deprived that they were no longer frightened of
anything. The guards walked Bemish to a car that stood on the  landing field
with the engine already running and politely suggested  to him to get out of
there.
     Bemish silently  climbed into the  car  and pushed the accelerator. One
after another, the  gates on the landing  field opened, letting him through.
Bemish drove down the same road that they had taken  yesterday bringing  him
in.
     Rice fields still glistened  in  the sun  and  olive trees  still stood
along the old road. The soldiers and the zealots had torn all the fruits off
breaking the branches in the process. Olive  trees were always planted along
the roads - road dust covered fruits forcing them to ripe quicker.
     A fighting banner of the White Falcon clan and a standard of the Empire
were swaying above his villa. Bemish kept going forward.
     Kissur, however, still  didn't have that many soldiers and it looked to
Bemish like they were mostly concentrated in  the spaceport. Few  posts were
present  on  the  road  -  they  were   constantly  on  the  line  with  the
headquarters.  Next to the turn leading to the villa, Bemish noticed a dozen
commandos.
     A  line of  "yellow jackets" and  Empire  troops  started soon after, a
kilometer and a half away from the villa. Journalists lingered behind them.
     The soldiers at the road  block  waved their  hands  and  their assault
rifles at  him. A  studded chain  lay across the  road,  Bemish slowed down,
turned across the chain  and waited - a large pack of policemen, journalists
and Earthmen was running towards him.
     Strangely, there were many  more journalists this time and Bemish could
only  blink at the camera flashes.  The reasons for that were pretty simple.
Most of  the officials  that had tried  to  keep the media away were now  in
Assalah.
     "Are you all right, sir?" a guard  asked. Another clicked the gun bolt.
The assault rifle in his hands gleamed in the sun reflecting rice fields and
clouds turned upwards down.
     "Yes,"  Bemish said climbing  out  of  the  car. Five minutes later,  a
police  helicopter  with  a  yellow band  on  the side - the  symbol of  the
Department of Serenity and Justice - was flying him to the capital.
     The  helicopter landed next  to the sovereign's palace, right  at Seven
Grains Hotel. Here, the highest provincial functionaries used to await their
award or execution; here, the head of the sect that wanted to make  peace to
Earthmen had been killed eleven months ago.
     A whole  flock of  journalists rushed  towards Bemish. The  first among
them  was a  guy  wearing  a  square pattern sleeveless shirt.  This guy had
written a while ago that the Assalah Company director hadn't been proficient
in  Weian and  had  mistakenly taken metaphorical  "demons"  for  a literate
statement.
     "Is  it  true  that  the Federation  troops switched  their alliance to
Kissur?"
     "It is true," Bemish replied.
     "Why?"
     "The division was 90% Alom," Bemish replied.  "At the  same time, there
was not a  single Alom officer in it. So, the Federation soldiers decided to
fight for the man who belonged to the clan that their ancestors swore fealty
to. They didn't  want to fight for the people that paid them  three  hundred
credits  a year. I was told that  the other  commando divisions had the same
number of Aloms in them."
     "About ten  members  of  the emergency committee ended  up in  Kissur's
hands. Kissur demanded their arrest and execution. What happened to them? Is
it true that Shavash is dead?"
     "Shavash is quite alive," Bemish said. "His quarrel with  Kissur was an
utter fabrication.  He called the  Federation  soldiers in to provide Kissur
with troops."
     Everybody  gaped -  they  didn't know anything  yet  and Bemish was the
first one to openly state what had happened.
     "What about the zealots?" a journalist shouted, "Are they also in?"
     "No," Bemish said.
     "The fight  between Shavash  and zealots could end only with one of the
sides being destroyed.  Once  the  Federation soldiers  had  switched  their
alliance  to Kissur, he  used  them to exterminate the zealots.  I  saw  the
sect's leaders hanging on a cargo crane with my own eyes."
     It  was astonishing  that nobody asked at that moment what  happened to
the rest  of the  zealots. Somehow everybody decided that "the extermination
of zealots" was limited only to the execution of a dozen leaders.
     "What  does Kissur  want?" somebody  shouted.  "They  demanded that the
corrupted government to step  down and now half  of the corrupted government
is hanging out in Assalah! What's gonna happen next?"
     "Kissur has no more demands for his own government,"  Bemish explained.
"Kissur  would like  Weia  and the  Federation to conduct talks  about their
future relations.  The negotiations are  to be held at the highest  possible
level."
     After this brief but shocking interview, Bemish entered the hotel where
they were already waiting for him.
     In  the Hall of the  Gifts from  Afar, a table made in  the shape  of a
grape bunch stood on gilded legs that resembled ram's hooves. At this table,
provincial  governors  had officially  delivered gifts to palace  department
heads. Now twenty  people sat behind it.  Bemish recognized half a  dozen of
them -  Federation  envoy Severin, general Stesh, the deceased  Giles' boss,
ex-first minister  Yanik  and a couple of high Weian  officials.  The others
were Earthmen - five senators and three people with general insignias.
     "They flew in here without troops," Bemish thought about the people  in
military uniforms. "They don't make  generals out  of Aloms,  they only make
soldiers out of them."
     Bemish's story about his  stay in the terrorists' nest was heard out in
dead silence.
     "Are you sure that there is not a single zealot left in the spaceport?"
envoy Severin asked again.
     "There is not a single alive zealot present," Bemish assured him.
     "But it totally changes the situation," a  delegate  said. "We wouldn't
have  been  able to conduct negotiations  with  zealots. Shavash's  presence
changes the picture. He is a normal person..."
     "Shavash is a normal  man, isn't he?!" Bemish  shouted. "Would, in your
opinion, a normal man get three thousand people together just to exterminate
them all?"
     "Well, you can't deny that  it improved  the situation in the  country.
Shavash's desire to get rid of destabilizing forces..."
     "He wouldn't give a fig about them being destabilizing  forces! Shavash
would make a  deal with destabilizing forces, demons, devils, Gera, with God
knows  whom. He just had a  misfortune  to  have a personal quarrel with the
zealots' spiritual head and so he killed them all."
     "What are you suggesting we do?" it was Severin talking.
     "There are no more hostages in the spaceport. There are only terrorists
and soldiers that  betrayed their oath. We have the right to destroy them by
any means accessible to a superpower," Bemish said.
     "Do you mean nuclear weapons?" Severin inquired.
     "I suggest doing what Kissur would do in  our situation.  He would  not
think for a moment about negotiating with an enemy. He would not think about
it even if there were three thousand hostages! We should  not do what Kissur
expects us to."
     One   general  elbowed  another  quietly  and   asked  him  about   the
relationship between  Bemish and the spaceport. Having found out that Bemish
was  certainly the  owner of the property to be  destroyed, he gazed at  the
businessman with satisfaction.
     "I have a firm opinion," Bemish continued, "that we should not hold any
negotiations  with  Shavash.  This  man doesn't  even  know what ethics  is,
whether is has wings  or a tail. He treats people in the following way,  "If
one parrot keels over, we'll  buy another one." He will cheat you because he
will lie to you about the things that you take  for  granted.  You  wouldn't
even  consider  checking  them  out  as  you  wouldn't  consider testing the
gravitational constant."
     "Unfortunately," a  counter-intelligence officer spoke, "there are  six
large paratrooper  divisions  currently  in  Weian orbit.  They had all been
called in just before the commandos switched over to Kissur. There are about
ten thousand  commandos there  and eighty five  hundred  of them  are Aloms.
These ships rotate around Weia and we  don't really know whose side they are
on.  As  long  as  the Federation agrees to negotiate  with Kissur, they are
certainly the Federal troops. If the soldiers learn, however,  that an order
came out to use nuclear weapons against Kissur..."
     "What will happen then?"
     "We have certain  reasons to believe," the officer  spoke surrounded by
dead  silence, "that in this case  our own commandos  may commit a series of
terrorist attacks similar to Kissur's.  They may do it on Earth, on Vain, on
Tennox - on the largest Federation planets."
     "So, we just don't have an alternative - we have to  negotiate with Mr.
Shavash," Bemish summarized.
     "Yes. We have to do it at the highest level, as they demanded."



     Truly, the delegation came out to be very impressive. It was led by the
state secretary Khaime Khodsky, the third person in the Federation after the
president. It also included the foreign affairs minister Camilla Leyson, the
defense minister, two four star generals  (one of them commanded the  Fourth
Space Army) and five senators.
     They spent a  while arguing  about  where to conduct the talks. Shavash
told them to  fly to Assalah  - just land on  the  field and  we'll meet you
there.  However,  Bemish didn't like  that idea.  The  belligerent financier
somehow  happened to become one  of the key  figures during the talks and he
was especially appreciated by  the army people who had insisted on immediate
cancellation  of  the negotiations.  Bemish  claimed  that  as  the  Assalah
spaceport director he couldn't guarantee the safety of the landing on purely
technical  grounds.  It was  not a joke - there were almost no qualified air
traffic  controllers  left and  the  few  that were still  around  had  been
crapping in their pants with fright for three days in a row.
     Shavash declared that he would not go to the capital.
     "Are you afraid that you will be arrested?"
     Shavash briskly  objected that he  was  afraid of nothing but he didn't
trust a  lot of people, first of all, Mr. Bemish who had learned some things
on Weia.
     "Who  have  I learned it from?" Bemish exploded right in the face  that
was smiling at him from the screen, "Hasn't it been you and Kissur?"
     "State secretary, could you please, get this mutt out of here?" Shavash
demanded. "He is not even a Federation official!"
     Bemish silently turned  away  and left  the hall without  waiting to be
shown to the door.



     Behind the wall, in the foyer, General Ackles, the Fourth  Space Army's
commander, sat surrounded by  all the military HQ  small fries and  silently
studied the carved ceiling.
     The ceiling was decorated with hanging grape bunches.
     "That's  a fancy room," the general said. "What  does the writing above
the door say?"
     "It's the name of the room," Bemish answered.  "It's the  Hall of Seven
Grape Bunches. It's quite a historic place. Here Emperor Attakh ordered  the
head to be hacked off to his most faithful military commander."
     "Why?" the general inquired.
     "The people  claim that it happened because of an  imps' wedding. These
local demons needed a place for a wedding and they bribed a palace official.
The demons  had fun in the hall all night  and no correct  decisions can  be
made here since. That's why the commander was executed."
     The general  gave  a long turbid look to the company director and  then
asked him,
     "Have they arranged the meeting?"
     "No. Shavash is afraid of coming to the capital."
     "Do you understand what he wants?"
     "Hell knows what he wants," Bemish said exasperatedly. "He can't really
want any  territorial  concessions, can he,  general? And  if he  wants  the
Earthmen to get off Weia, he  doesn't even have to ask us about  it. I think
that after what's happened, we will run away  from this planet faster than a
mouse runs away from a fox."
     "If  they can't agree on where  to hold the negotiations, it  will  all
fall through," the general noted.
     Here, somebody  carefully  touched Bemish on the  shoulder. The  latter
turned around - the minister of the police, Mr. Akhotoi stood behind him.
     "They would  like to talk  to  you," Akhotoi said,  "Could you, please,
follow me?"
     Akhotoi walked Bemish down hotel corridors, where frightened brass gods
squinted their eyes from the daylight lamps,  and down garden  paths covered
with yellow sand. Akhotoi walked Bemish to a small pavilion with a roof that
resembled swallow's wings and opened the doors in front of him.
     A slim man with a  white, almost  transparent face and flying  eyebrows
sat  inside  the pavilion.  Even though  the man wore European dress, Bemish
recognized the  Emperor almost  immediately and he was jolted a  bit. It was
quite  surprising  that  during  the  last three  days of  the  crisis  when
everybody - Kissur, zealots, governmental officials and even Earthmen  - had
the Emperor's  name on their tongue tips the entire time, nobody, as far  as
Bemish  remembered, heard  anything  from  the  Emperor  himself. And nobody
discussed  anything with him. Or was  that really the case?  Did Kissur call
the Emperor?
     Another man stood next  to the Emperor - an Empire's ex-first  minister
Nan also known as David Steighton.
     "Bow immediately," the police minister hissed from behind.
     Bemish  hurriedly created something between a  bow and a one knee stand
and as he was rising, he saw a sarcastic smile on Nan's face.
     "Good day, Mr. Bemish," Emperor Varnazd's voice was quiet  as usual and
it somewhat resembled a child's cry. "I  am glad to see  you hale. Tell  me,
what," here the Emperor stumbled "does my vice minister of finance, Shavash,
want from the Federation?"
     "Is he still a vice minister? Hasn't he been declared a criminal?"
     The Emperor looked sulky. That's right. Shavash had so many friends now
that even the Emperor would not even dare to  withdraw his appointment. Damn
it, the man was blackmailing  the whole Galaxy and his state was  too  timid
even to kick him in the butt! That was no good. It looked like an authorized
Empire official would be making demands of the Earthmen.
     "It would  be very hard  for  me to  declare  Kissur  a criminal,"  the
Emperor whispered. "What do they want?"
     "I  don't  know.  They  will  announce  it  only  when  they  meet  the
delegation."
     "Nan is saying the same," the Emperor spoke, turning  his face  towards
the figure standing  soundlessly next to a carved column.  "But he landed in
Assalah."
     That was news for Bemish. He knew that the ex-first minister was flying
to Weia but to land in the spaceport taken over by the terrorists...
     "When will the talks start?"
     "It's unknown. Our delegation is not going to go to Assalah and Shavash
is scared to death  of  going  to the  capital of the county where  he is an
authorized official."
     The  sarcasm in Bemish's voice was  too evident and  the Emperor looked
petulant.
     "The talks can take  place in my  palace," sovereign  Varnazd  said. "I
swear that both sides will be safe  here. I  don't think that our troops  or
Earth's  security services would  dare to smear our traditions and start any
violence in my palace. I also don't think that Mr. Shavash would dare refuse
coming  into his  sovereign's  palace when  the  sovereign  guarrantees  his
safety."
     The sovereign lowered his head showing that the meeting came to an end.
Bemish bowed to take a leave when suddenly the Emperor said quietly,
     "What about Kissur? How is he? He looked so pale on the screen..."
     "Kissur  feels like  a fish  in the river," Bemish assured him, "unlike
the three thousand men he killed yesterday."
     And he left.



     Of  course, Shavash didn't dare to ignore the  guarantees given by  the
sovereign. Really, if  an Empire's vice minister, defending the  sovereign's
interests, refused to come to the  palace,  in the least, it would look like
he handed an official resignation notice.
     A helicopter  with  Shavash accompanied by a  dozen  of his  bodyguards
landed at the  sovereign's palace at six in  the morning. Palace guards with
expressionless faces walked  the  incomers to the Rainbow Pavilion where the
Federation delegates had gathered.
     The meeting took place on the first floor, in the Hall of White Clouds.
The  Earthmen sat  around the table  and  silently  studied  their notebooks
involuntarily glancing at the  beautiful jars of pure silver decorated  with
dancing swans  and peacocks.  The  palace  servants  brought these  jars in,
filled with special palace wine aged on nut leaves mixed with pine needles.
     The  state  secretary Khodsky was  probably very  thirsty  -  he  would
constantly wet his lips  in a wine glass, sniff at the smell that felt wrong
at a diplomatic meeting and put the glass back down.
     Bemish  suddenly  realized that  conducting the negotiations in  palace
territory handed certain advantages  to  Shavash. Everything here was filled
with traditions and Empire; the proficient palace servants put wondrous wine
jars on the table but they didn't even think about bringing mineral water in
plastic bottles. The people sitting here were quite well off and one of them
had almost had to resign a year ago having spent too much money refurnishing
a new Federation Defense building. However, the deeply  alien luxury of this
hall, scaly pictures on the  walls and silver beams that were round like the
sun could not  but influence the delegates,  albeit on a subconscious level.
Shavash, on the other  hand, had visited this hall for  dozens  of times. He
was in his element.
     At 6:15 they heard steps  and Shavash walked  into the meeting hall. He
wore a  European suit and he was impeccably  shaved  but  something  foreign
entered  the hall  with  him. Bemish  sniffed and  realized what  happened -
instead  of eau-de-cologne Shavash used  an expensive local  perfume. Bemish
unwillingly thought that it would throw the delegates off a bit. At the same
time,  when Shavash started giving interviews to  journalists, he would look
like a true Galaxy man - you could not film a perfume.
     After some hesitation, state secretary Khodsky  silently  rose to  meet
Shavash. The  latter  bowed  to him and took a place across  the table  from
Khodsky.  Bemish  noticed  Khodsky's  nose  twitching  alertly   taking  the
unfamiliar smell in.
     "We,"  the  state  secretary  said,  "fulfilled  your requirements  and
arrived at Weia. Now, we would like to listen to your conditions."
     "We  would like," Shavash answered, "you  to accept the Empire of Great
Light into the Federation of Nineteen."
     Bemish thought that he had missed something.
     "We  will  withdraw  from the confrontation and release  the  remaining
hostages," Shavash repeated, "if Weia joins the  Federation of Nineteen as a
federation state."
     Several seconds passed by in stunned silence.
     "To  achieve  this," the Fourth Space Army commander acidly noted, "you
didn't have to declare a war on the Federation of Nineteen."
     "On the contrary," Shavash objected, "if we hadn't declared a  war, you
wouldn't have even  considered  our proposition. You  would have  calculated
quickly the cost of  all the social programs and long-term investments  that
you would have  to run  on Weia as a Federation state. Afterwards, you would
have politely told  us  that  moral  reasons would prevent  you from  taking
actions that could be considered as a annexation of an independent state."
     Shavash was  smiling. Bemish went cold. Really, incorporating Weia into
the  Federation of Nineteen would solve many  if not all of its  problems...
But... Such  a  pile of money... Bemish  imagined a  barefoot street  beggar
getting minimal Federation unemployment benefits.
     "But," the state secretary broke off, "there are no precedents..."
     "That's  not  true," Shavash replied,  "In the first century BC,  Latin
tribes declared a war on Rome trying to obtain Roman citizenship. During the
Mexican War of 1848, the radical party of  Mexico  insisted that the country
should be annexed by  the United States. It's  sad,  gentlemen, that a Weian
knows your history better than you do."
     Bemish  grinned. Referring to  the  past was indeed typical for a Weian
official. Shavash continued, smiling.
     "Imagine that you reject our proposal and continue the war. Accordingly
to  well-known reasons,  your  mobile tactical units are unreliable and  you
can't use them. There are too many Weians there. It means that you will have
to destroy half of the  Empire with strategic weapons. The reputation of the
Federation of Nineteen will be horribly compromised!
     At the  same time, you will exhibit  unspeakable  cruelty  destroying a
completely powerless  country  and you  will  exhibit unspeakable  weakness.
Really,  what's can you say about the  fighting ability of the  country when
half of  its shock  troops comes from  a potential enemy?! The  Federation's
authority will be  shattered. Gera and other enemies of yours will obtain  a
moral   advantage.  The   Federation   members,  that  have  been  demanding
independence, will hurry to leave the  union -  they will declare  that they
completely disagree with Earth's politics."
     Shavash paused, sipped on his wine and continued.
     "Let's imagine now that you agree to our proposal and the Federation of
Nineteen becomes the Federation of Twenty. It will be a triumph of democracy
and freedom!  An empire, a whole  planet voluntarily  sheds  its freedom and
independence to become a member of  the Federation!  The Federation  doesn't
need any weapons - it simply wins hearts over!"
     "It's crazy," the state secretary muttered.
     "This century is the  time of  separatism. Maybe the Empire is fated to
turn this process back.  Vadda desires independence. Won't its people change
their  opinion after the  Empire's  example? In any  case, local politicians
will find it more difficult to assure  the nation  that real happiness  will
come when the politicians don't have to obey the metropolis any longer."
     The  state  secretary's eyes lit up.  He  arrived at the Empire, having
interrupted  negotiations with  Vadda. This planet was  going  to leave  the
Federation either with a scandal  or with a huge scandal. Merry  imps danced
across the state secretary's eyes as he was thinking about Shavash's words.
     Meanwhile, Shavash continued.
     "What  are the gains of winning a war? You take  over a foreign country
for the present and protect your future. What are the drawbacks of winning a
war?  The  losers are embittered  and they want  revenge; the  neighbors get
wary. We  offer you all the gains  of  a  victorious war  without its single
drawback!
     Our proposal takes care of a multitude of problems.
     For instance, there is the problem of the lands surrounding the Empire.
Their  development  has  already  started. It will clearly  cause  conflicts
between  the  sovereign  Empire and the Federation. If we are  to  join, the
reasons for the conflicts will be gone.
     If  you  let us get away with our  actions,  you  will demonstrate your
weakness. Having declared a war on us, you will exhibit weakness and cruelty
simultaneously. Both winning and losing the war will be catastrophic for you
- you will  find  yourselves internationally  isolated. You  will look  like
demagogues instead of democrats. The Federation forces developing planets to
respect  the  human  rights. However, when the same planets ask it to uphold
human rights, the Federation drops nuclear bombs on them having decided that
upholding the human rights is just too expensive.
     If you reject our proposal, even a victorious  war will be catastrophic
for you. If you accept  it, you remain a beacon of democracy and freedom. In
the case of war, you  will find yourself without tactical troops  but with a
reputation of a militaristic state.  In the case of  peace, you will  obtain
again the  most  reliable  soldiers in  the  Galaxy and the reputation of  a
peaceful country!"
     "What will happen to the Emperor?" the state secretary asked.
     "What's wrong about having  an Emperor?" the official  objected. "There
are kings and emperors in  various states of Earth -  in Arabia, in Belgium.
The Emperor will be  the  symbol of the nation  and the country will have  a
first minister and universal elections."
     "And Earth will be  accused of forcing democracy on you, won't it?" the
state secretary inquired.
     Shavash spread his hands.
     "It's  unlikely,"  he  said, "that Earth  will be  accused  in  forcing
democracy on us in the current circumstances."
     Somebody snickered.
     "Also,"  the  official  added,  "we  have  already  silenced  the  most
bellicose blabbermouths so that you won't get too upset."
     "You  did  it as  preliminary measure  before  instituting  democracy,"
General Al Saad noted.
     Shavash preferred to  ignore the  comment and  continued, "We  are  not
talking about Weia; we  are talking about the Federation.  Will it prefer to
become internationally  isolated and  fall apart  or  to obtain a  strategic
stronghold and  flourish? Take  into account that in twenty years  you  will
have to spend forty times more for a war against Gera than you would have to
invest now into economics and infrastructure of the Federation's new state!"
     "We will think your proposal over," the state secretary said.



     Bemish left the hall together with Fifth Fleet commander Al Saad.
     "What do you think about this?" Bemish inquired.
     "Do you know," the general answered, "this joke? A man is  walking down
a forest  and an old woman  points a  blaster at  him. "Weren't you going to
rape me, dearie?" -"Absolutely  not,  granny!" -  "You  don't have a choice,
dearie!"
     Bemish burst out in laughter.
     Five minutes  later, tired  and  hungry  Bemish ascended  into  a small
triangular hall. The tables  for the  delegation  stood  there, filled  with
appetizers and dishes. The guards were everywhere and a dozen of journalists
waiting for the negotiations to finish, hunted the solitary delegates.
     Having come  in, Bemish  discovered that  the  adroit  journalists  and
attendants  had already taken  care of the  food  and  only  the most exotic
dishes were  left. Bemish  made  himself comfortable  next  to a dish  of  a
sauteed dog and Al Saad, having hesitated for a moment, followed him.
     A wide  TV screen stood  in the right  corner of the hall. It  showed a
Weian meeting next to the palace walls, first, and the Geran envoy's speech,
second. The  Geran thanked Kissur and the selfless Weians for uncovering the
intrigues of Earth  warmongers.  He confirmed  that Gera was ready to assist
the exploited and mislead  Weian people  if the  Federation dared  to attack
them.
     Then Shavash entered the hall accompanied by two or three attendants.
     Shavash  probably didn't  want to  approach the Assalah director but he
clearly wanted to  eat. The  only edible object left  on the table  was  the
sauteed dog that Bemish sat next to.
     Shavash  came to  the dog  and started cutting it with a knife.  Bemish
pointedly turned away.
     The  anchorman  on  the  TV  screen  read  the  announcement  of  Geran
president. The  president promised assistance to Weians and everybody  else.
He suggested to everybody exploited by the Federation to unite in defense of
the  betrayed  Weians  and  to  join their  ranks  fighting  "the  corrupted
democracy of the Federation."
     The TV set was not performing well. An indistinct web of blue and green
lines pulsated  on the screen.  It was an  indication that  a  powerful  two
channel trans  communication unit  was  working somewhere nearby. The  state
secretary was probably speaking directly to the Federation president. Bemish
stared fixedly at the green lines  on  the screen as if he could figure  the
conversation's content out of them.
     The palace servants came in, changed tablecloths and covered the tables
with new dishes. However, Bemish was full. In about an  hour, green and blue
ripples disappeared and, almost immediately, envoy Severin entered the hall.
Severin approached Shavash and asked him to walk upstairs.
     "The Federation president would like to  talk to you," he said quietly,
"on the transcom."
     Shavash  walked   upstairs;   Bemish  and  the   general  followed  him
simultaneously. A number of people  were  present in  the room  upstairs - a
dozen diplomats and the same number  of technicians.  Nobody  stopped Bemish
and the general when they entered the room following Shavash.
     A  simple  computer with  a transcom unit  connected  directly  to  the
parallel port stood on the table. Shavash leaned over the keyboard, somebody
quickly  pushed  a  button and president's Kerry face  appeared in  front of
Shavash on the wide monitor screen.
     "Mr. Shavash?" the president said.
     "I am listening to you," the small official replied.
     "I  discussed your proposal with the heads of the Federation states. We
concluded  that it would put the Federation in a difficult, almost  critical
financial situation.  However, it is mutually profitable and honorable.  The
executive  heads  of the Federation will  agree  to  your  proposal  on  one
condition."
     "What is it?"
     "Your  personal  actions,  Mr.  Shavash,  are  extraordinary,  or  more
directly, monstrous. You obtained quite a scandalous reputation even on your
own planet.  It's possible  that,  thanks to  your  successful  actions, the
people will choose you as the head of the new Federation state.  It  will be
very  unpleasant  for us to see  you in the  Assembly of  the  heads  of the
states.  Our  condition  is  the  following -  we will accept  Weia into the
Federation as long as you  don't  participate  in the new elections.  If you
really care about your country's well-being,  you will find it easy to agree
to our condition."
     For  a  while, Shavash  expressionlessly  looked at the screen.  Bemish
suddenly recalled  with malice how the  small official had regretted a while
ago  that  the Federation  hadn't conquered  Weia and he, Shavash,  couldn't
become the Federation Emperor's slave and worm his way into the  Assembly of
the heads of the states.
     "I agree," the first vice minister of finance finally said.



     Half an hour later,  Bemish sat  in  the  garden with a  laptop  in his
hands,  deeply immersed in calculations. The  year  before last,  the  total
volume of direct and  portfolio  investments into  the Empire's  economy was
four  billion dinars.  The  last year,  thanks  to  Bemish's example, it was
sixteen  billion. Just before the elections, the investment flow increased a
bit more and it dropped almost to zero afterwards.
     The total sum of allowances, benefits and investment credits for  a new
Federation  member  would  be, accordingly  to  Bemish's  calculations,  six
thousand four billion dinars - six trillion.
     Somebody approached and stood next to him. Bemish turned around and saw
Nan and Shavash.
     "Why are you pouting,  Terence,"  Shavash asked.  "Can  you imagine how
much Assalah stocks will cost tomorrow?"
     "That's why I am upset," Bemish grinned. "You could at least  give me a
hint. Confess, how much have you made on this deal?"
     "I don't really know yet," the small  official spoke. "I, however, have
a gift for you, Mr. Bemish. During the crisis, I  took it upon myself to buy
Assalah  bonds at  the  total sum  of  three hundred million  dinars. On the
average, I  paid eight cent for a dinar. I would  like to give you a half of
them."
     Shavash paused.
     "Also, as you remember, I am authorized to  invest Special Weian fund's
money in whatever way I  see fit. During the  emergency, the fund was buying
everything it could."
     Bemish  raised his  eyes  at him, shocked.  Of  course, he  immediately
realized that for every stock that Shavash had bought  for the fund,  he had
bought twenty for himself.
     Bemish  realized  that the foxy  official managed the most  astonishing
insider deal in the  stock  market history  - he had  dropped  the  market's
rating at the very bottom and had bought everything. He knew that after  his
ultimatum, Weia would obtain the federal exchange status and his investments
would increase tenfold. Suddenly Bemish understood why Shavash agreed to the
president's condition - not to participate in the elections - so easily.
     "Why did you instigate the whole thing?" Bemish asked. "Did you want to
get 2000% profit in ten days? Were  you trying to save  your country or were
you spinning an insider deal?"
     "Where  is insider trading here?" Shavash was surprised. "I didn't know
how your government would reply to my proposal."
     "And still, having reaped your profits, you refused to become the first
minister of Weia."
     Here Shavash smiled slowly and victoriously.
     "There  are  a lot  of people,"  he  said, "who are  worthier  of  this
appointment than I am. At a certain  point,  Mr. Nan was dismissed from  the
first minister  position under  the pretext that he was a citizen of another
country. They passed a law that made  it  impossible for foreigners  to hold
governmental  appointments.  Now, we are all citizens of the  same state and
the  law  is  no longer valid.  You  have  to agree,  that it  will be quite
advantageous if an Earthman represents  our  country in the  Assembly of the
heads of the states."
     Bemish was completely shocked.
     "Shavash, everybody thought that you betrayed Nan."
     "Never follow the general opinion, Terence.  If you had thought  better
about me, you would have been a billion or two richer today."
     Having  said this,  the  small  official  bowed  ceremoniously  to  the
Earthman  and walked  down the  path,  back to the  carved spires  and onion
shaped turrets of the main palace pavilions.


Популярность: 35, Last-modified: Tue, 07 Dec 2004 22:06:36 GMT