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The Unnullified World

by Lloyd Biggle, Jr.

The world was named Llayless. Its principal community—in fact, its only community of any size—was a desert mining center named Pummery. A number of narrow-gauge electric railway lines left Pummery through tubes built to protect their tracks from the swirling sands. When they reached the steep slopes of the surrounding mountains, they emerged to become cog railways.

At one of the railheads, swinging down from the single passenger car that was attached to an interminable string of empty ore cars, Birk Dantler encountered a sign that announced Laughingstock Mines. A short distance beyond it, he found a tiny town nestled amidst the clutter of the mining operation. There were machines to load ore into the railway cars. Farther up the slope, there were machines extracting ore from the mountain. Other machines were bringing ore to the railhead. The town was little more than a spread of small worker's cottages except for a neat, prefab building that housed the mining offices, and, standing next to it, another prefab building that was, unmistakably, a school.

All of this represented a substantial capital outlay for a mining claim on a remote world, which meant that the mines collectively known as Laughingstock were productive enough to provide that capital.

Dantler went directly to the mining office and asked a clerk for information. The clerk looked at him narrowly. "You got a reason for being here, fellow?"

Dantler presented his credentials. The clerk glanced at them and winced. "GBI? You're a Galactic Bureau of Investigation Officer? What's the Inter-World Council want with us?" When Dantler did not answer, he shrugged and grinned. "Your credentials say anyone who doesn't cooperate with you will be deported instantly, and that's reason enough to cooperate. You must know personally all of the many skeletons in the Llayless Mining Corporation's closets to be able to pry a document like that out of it." He returned the credentials. "What is it you want to know?"

"Nothing complicated, I'm sure. Where is the mine called Last Hope?"

"That's fairly complicated until you get through the Laughingstock diggings. After that there's a path. I'd better draw you a map." He went over it with Dantler, and when he was satisfied that his directions were clear, he leaned back and scrutinized Dantler's energy-charged form, taut face—no one had ever called him handsome—and neat, conservative dress. "You prepared for a long walk?" he asked.

"Isn't there any transportation?"

"There are a couple of pack mules, but they're kept on the other side of the mountain. Figure on a long walk."

"How do they bring the ore out?"

"Slowly and with great difficulty. When they've accumulated enough, they load the two pack mules and fill two or three handcarts. All the men they have take the day off and haul ore. The Llayless Mining Corporation built them a short siding off our railway line, and it keeps an ore car parked there. When they get it filled, the Corporation hauls it away and leaves an empty for them. That's as much as it's willing to do for a marginal operation. The men at Last Hope confidently expect the vein they are working to get richer instead of playing out as most marginal mines do. All miners are optimists."

Then he leaned over his desk to look at Dantler's feet. "At least you've got sturdy shoes. As I told you, it's a long walk. I've never tackled it myself, no reason to, but those who have say it's a good ten miles, and half of that is a steep climb up to the pass. It's best to make a two-day trip of it, and you have to figure on an uncomfortable night. There's no hotel or bed and breakfast place—no houses at all, in fact. And you'll be lucky if they can provide you with a sleeping bag, but you'd be an idiot to try to find your way back here in the dark. You got urgent business with the Last Hope?"

"I think it's urgent," Dantler said. "I'm investigating a murder."

The clerk nodded thoughtfully. "I did hear something about that, but it must have been two or three years ago. You just getting around to investigate now?"

"God's mill grinds slow but sure," Dantler said and left the clerk staring after him perplexedly.

Dantler found the path without too much difficulty and began to climb. It led steeply upward through a dense forest of native trees with large, ovate, yellowish leaves and shaggy green bark with strips of red in it. They seemed to exude fresh-smelling oxygen. Without them, the climb into thinner air would have been far more difficult.

When he reached the top, he discovered that the steep descent was almost as difficult as the climb. It was late in the day when he finally reached the Last Hope diggings. There was a scattering of holes with heaps of dirt around them. He walked on, past several small tents, past a makeshift corral from which the two mules eyed him suspiciously, past a more ambitious digging that had produced a tunnel burrowed into the mountain.

Suddenly he received a sharp blow on the head that nearly knocked him senseless. He reacted instinctively, twisting as he fell, somersaulting into a thick growth of shrubbery, and coming to his feet ready for action.

There were three bearded, shabby-looking men facing him. All of them were armed with whatever they had been able to grab when they saw him coming. One brandished the handle of some kind of hand-operated machine. Another had a piece of firewood. The third had an ax raised high over his head. They began to edge forward.

Dantler's head ached, and when he brushed his hand across a swelling lump, it came away bloody. He sensed that the men were about to rush him, so he decided to act before they did and talk afterward. He drew a small electronic pistol from an inner pocket and sprayed them.

They were halted in their tracks. One at a time they toppled forward and lay twitching on the ground. Dantler noticed a spring nearby, and he went to it, drank deeply, and washed the blood from his head. Then he seated himself on a convenient boulder and waited. He felt exhausted, and his head throbbed fiercely. He wanted to lie down with the three men and twitch for a few minutes, but he couldn't spare himself that luxury.

As the charge began to wear off, his victims displayed the usual reactions. They rolled over onto their backs. They flexed arms and legs. They touched their faces and wriggled tingling fingers. None of them had come through his ordeal unscathed. One, a man with a long gray beard and a fierce-looking mustache, had a bloody nose from his fall. Another, with a blond beard, had smacked his forehead on a stone. It was already a black and blue swollen lump. The third, with a neatly trimmed black beard and newish-looking clothing, was going to have a splendid black eye.

Finally the man with the mustache, sat up. He stared at Dantler.

"Bashing a visiting stranger over the head is a perverted kind of hospitality," Dantler observed pleasantly. "Or were you expecting someone else?"

The other two men struggled to sitting positions. "What'd you do to us?" the man with a blond beard asked.

"Something a trifle more civilized than the bashing you had in mind," Dantler said. "I trust that one dose will be sufficient."

"Hell, yes," the man with the mustache said. "Who are you?"

"As I said, a visiting stranger. I walked ten miles over the mountain to ask the favor of some information. I wasn't expecting this kind of welcome. I have credentials issued by this world's factor. Perhaps you would like to examine them." He held one of them under the man's nose. "As you see, a word from me, and the Last Hope mine will have exhausted its last hope. All of its employees will leave Llayless on the next ship. I was hoping I wouldn't have to use it. Are you ready to talk?"

"No reason not to. We thought you were a whacker."

"What's a whacker that makes him deserve that kind of reception?"

"Whackers kill miners and take over their claims."

"Really. Are there whackers on Llayless?"

"Don't know of any, but we've encountered them elsewhere. Better to act first and then ask questions."

"Only yesterday I talked with Jeffrey Wallingford Pummery, who is the esteemed—I hope—factor of the world of Llayless and he told me Llayless was the most law-abiding world in the galaxy."

The man laughed derisively. "That's a good one. Llayless has got no government. It's got no laws—just a few regulations about mining. If it had laws, there would be no one to enforce them. It's got no law officers. It's got no judges and courts. On my mining claim, I'm the law—that's what my contract says. The only law on Llayless is what the person who controls a bit of ground can enforce at the end of a stick."

The man with the black beard had recovered enough to get to his feet and hobble around. "Never expected to get stunned out here in the mountains," he said resentfully. "What's this information you want?"

"I want to hear all about the murder of Douglas Vaisey by Roger Lefory."

"Never heard of either of them," the man with the black beard said. "What's that got to do with us?"

"Walt is a newcomer," the man with the drooping mustache explained to Dantler. "The murder happened before his time. I thought all that was dead history."

"Murders are never dead history."

"What do you want to know?"

"Everything," Dantler said. "By the way, who are you?"

"Kit Grumery. I'm the claim owner here. Everything I know about that murder won't take long to tell. My men work on shares, see. They get fed but nothing fancy. They make their own sleeping arrangements. Beyond that, whatever the ore smelts down to is divided into shares. It's hard work and poor pay, but we all hope to hit a mother lode and get rich. Lefory and Vaisey were working for the Laughingstock, and they came here taking a gamble on sharing in something big. Dougie was a nice kid, a good worker. Lefory was a loafer. He took so many breaks it sometimes was hard to say whether he was working or not, and he had a hell of a temper. He and Dougie got in an argument over Lefory not doing his fair share, and Lefory charged at him and brained him with a hand ax. Killed him instantly. That's all there was to it."

"Not quite all," Dantler said. "What did you do then?"

"Did what I always do when a worker is killed. Mining is dangerous work. Death doesn't happen often, but it does happen, and there's a procedure to follow. We buried Dougie—I can show you his grave if you like. Regulations don't call for it, but we held a bit of a ceremony for him. Shorty Klein—he's working further up the mountain today—has an old Bible, and he read a couple of passages and did a prayer, and I carved a marker for Dougie's grave myself. As I said, he was a nice kid, and I liked him. That's all, except that I also took care of the paperwork."

"What sort of paperwork?"

"Every death has to be reported to the Llayless Record Section. It insists on knowing who's still on the planet. I also figured what Dougie had coming from his work share, and I filled out the form the Record Section requires and sent it down to Pummery along with a voucher for the money due Dougie and the few trifles of personal effects he owned. The Record Section is supposed to cash in a dead man's return ticket and put the amount received with the other assets the man had. Everyone arriving here has to place on file a fully paid return ticket to the world he came from or they won't let him off the ship."

"I know about that," Dantler said. "I suppose it's sort of a guarantee he won't become a public charge."

"Right. Records is supposed to cash the return ticket and send the money along with all of his other assets to his designated beneficiary. Whether it actually does this I couldn't say. And that's the whole story."

"You didn't report the murder to the police authorities?"

"What police authorities? I just told you—Llayless has got no government. It's got no authorities, police or any other kind. Who would I report it to?"

"Then a murderer can't be arrested and brought to trial?"

"Who would arrest him, and who would hold his trial? There's no police. There's no court. There's no judge. There's no jail for wrongdoers. Actually, it was a dirty shame. Dougie was well liked, and Lefory was a jerk. Everyone was angry about what happened."

"But you let him carry on scot-free as though he hadn't done anything?"

"I wouldn't say that. We shouldered him right out of camp."

"How did you do that?"

"No one would talk with him. No one would work with him. No one would eat with him—we form teams and take turns cooking. No team would have him. No one would kip with him. After a couple of days of that, he left. Sneaked out of camp early one morning and walked over the mountain to the Laughingstock. It was almost a day before anyone missed him."

"That seems like a rather mild punishment for a murderer," Dantler observed dryly. "What happened to him after that?"

"He got a job at the Laughingstock. Llayless's mines are always short of labor. But we let the Laughingstock workers know about him, and he didn't stay there long. Probably they shouldered him, too."

"But you don't know that for certain."

"No, I don't know it for certain. But I know he didn't stay there long."

"Do you know where he went from there?"

"I never heard him mentioned again after he left the Laughingstock, but you can bet that the workers there passed the information about him along to workers at the next place he caught on."

Dantler stayed overnight. The men gave him what was, for the Last Hope, a fabulous luxury—a tent all to himself. The food was rough but filling. The other amenities were just a shade above zero. There was barely enough hot water—heated over a campfire—to go around. There was plenty of ore soup, though—a hot, stimulating drink made with local herbs—and it was obvious that no one at the camp went hungry. Early the next morning he walked back over the mountain to the Laughingstock. All of the camp's men came along to make certain he didn't get lost. The loaded mules came, too, and the men took turns pushing cartloads of ore.

"Paths look different going the other way," Kit Grumery explained.

At the Laughingstock settlement, he took his leave of his Last Hope companions and went directly to the office and asked to see the manager. A different clerk was on duty, and for a second time Dantler presented his credentials. He was admitted to the manager's office at once and greeted by Ed Mullard, a grizzled oldster who had spent his life scratching for pay dirt and finally rode to riches on the coattails of someone luckier than he who found the Laughingstock claim.

He scowled at Dantler's credentials, then scowled more fiercely at Dantler. "I hope you're not about to interfere with our operations. There's nothing for the GBI to investigate here."

"My information is that you harbored a murderer. That's what I want to know about."

Mullard leaned back and stared at Dantler. "If there's ever been a murderer on this claim, it's news to me."

"A man named Roger Lefory came to work for you immediately after murdering a fellow worker at Last Hope."

"Lefory," Mullard mused. "Yes, I do remember him because he was always complaining about something. But I had no idea he was a murderer."

"Tell me about him," Dantler said.

Mullard leaned back and meditated. "For one thing, he was the most accident-prone man I've ever met. Mining is a dangerous business, and things do happen, but with Lefory it got to be ridiculous. Tunnels only seemed to collapse while he was in them. Scaffolding gave way only when he was passing it. Machinery failed dangerously only when he was tending it. Hot water spilled only when he was there to get burned. He kept complaining that his fellow workers arranged these accidents, which of course was nonsense. No one could have arranged all that. They were the sort of things that are bound to occur from time to time, and he happened to be unlucky. Finally a gear broke on a tipcart loaded with ore, and he was buried up to his neck and had to be dug out. He just missed being buried alive. The next day he turned up missing. There's a passenger car on every ore train, so it's easy for men to desert if for any reason they don't like their work here."

"Do you know where he went?"

"To Pummery. That's where all the ore trains go. He found a job at one of the smelters. I received a notice with the usual request for his work history."

"Did you send down his personal effects and any wages he had due him?"

"By quitting without notice, he forfeited any wages owed to him. I know nothing about his personal effects. Probably he took with him anything he wanted to keep. He hadn't been here long enough to have accumulated much."

Obviously Mullard had nothing more to tell him, so Dantler boarded the passenger car on the next departing ore train and rode down to Pummery in a totally frustrated mood.

* * *

The world of Llayless had been named after an early explorer, but through eight sectors of space it was known as "Lawless." Among worlds, it was a genuine oddity—a single-owner world. Old Albert Nicols, the original owner, who had managed, by dint of rigged poker games, loans foreclosed with indecent haste, and questionable wills to consolidate several hundred claims into one title deed, had taken a young wife just before he died. By that time Llayless was an extremely wealthy mining world with only a tiny fraction of its potential being exploited, and the widow inherited everything. She immediately established her residence several sectors away on a world that offered far more comfort than the world of Llayless could have provided for her, and from that vantage point she kept close tabs on her accumulating mining royalties and gave generously to charities.

Single ownership was not the world's only peculiarity. It had no government. Those who leased land and mineral rights were responsible, by contract, for their holdings and everyone they permitted on them. Some administered them in a stern, paternal fashion; some were tyrannical dictators; a few ran their holdings congenially as partnerships. Occasionally one let things degenerate into rowdyism but only until the world's factor heard about it.

Finally, the world of Llayless was "Unnullified." This was a form of probation inflicted on all recently discovered and newly settled worlds. The sacred constitution of the Inter-World Federation guaranteed certain human rights and considerations throughout its territory, and a world that failed in this respect was nullified, which meant that it was totally embargoed. A world without government was placed in limbo with the label "Unnullified" until it got its act together. After a reasonable time the world would either be normalized or changed to Nullified status.

Birk Dantler had looked into the Llayless's history before he left on his assignment. He was startled to find that there had been no updating of its status since it was, as a newly settled world, marked "Unnullified." He took the matter to his superiors, who took it to their superiors. Someone had goofed. As a result, Dantler was given an important subsidiary mission. In addition to tracking down a murderer, he was to give the world a long-overdue evaluation of its status. If the unusual nature of the world posed any complications for him, he had the authority to recommend immediate reclassification to "Nullified."

Arriving on Llayless, Dantler discovered that custom and immigration procedures were both informal and simple. There almost weren't any. Each new arrival had to place on file a fully paid return ticket to the world he came from. His fingerprints and the name of his next-of-kin were recorded, but that was only so the Llayless Mining Corporation would know who was on the world just in case some other world's investigative branch should come looking, and so there would be someone to notify and send his property to in case he died. These formalities taken care of, a wave of the hand conferred the freedom of the planet.

One thing about this process puzzled Dantler. As the new arrival passed through the gate that opened on the world of Llayless, he was immediately swarmed upon by a dozen or so lean and voracious-looking men who reminded Dantler of a flock of vultures. He asked the man ahead of him in line who the vultures were.

"Labor brokers," the other replied. "Didn't anyone warn you? You have to watch yourself, or you may suddenly find you've signed away your life for the next seven years. If you catch so much as a glimpse of a piece of paper coming your way, put your hands in your pockets. If you find a stylus in your fingers that you don't remember picking up, throw it as far as you can. Be careful who you drink with. They have to get your signature and also your fingerprints on the contract, but no contract has ever been voided because the man who signed it claimed he was drunk."

When Dantler's turn came, he brushed the fingerprinting pad aside along with the rest of the formalities and passed his credentials across the counter: passport with several pages bearing arrival and departure stamps from various worlds, an embossed identification card, and a letter. The clerk scrutinized them in turn and, after giving Dantler a startled glance, turned to a computer, typed briefly, and accepted the result from a printer. He added one more stamp to Dantler's passport. Then, as an afterthought, he carefully printed a number beside it.

He handed Dantler the form the computer had produced. "You should keep this with your passport," he said. "You'll be asked for it when you leave Llayless. Just in case you lose it, which has happened, I've recorded your arrival number in your passport. If you lose that, there'll have to be a tedious investigation, so don't lose it. The town is only half a kilometer from the port, but don't try to walk there unless you're equipped with sand shoes. There's a conveyor you can ride, or there's a 'bus that's a little faster and a lot less comfortable."

He added, "Welcome to Llayless. I hope you enjoy your stay," and turned to the next new arrival. Towing his space trunk, Dantler passed through the gate and was surprised to be totally ignored by the labor brokers. The clerk must have given them some sort of signal.

Dantler headed directly for the exit and opted for the 'bus. When he arrived on a new world, he wanted to see as much as possible as quickly as possible, and he knew he wouldn't be seeing anything at all while riding in a conveyor tube. The 'bus was a sturdy, tracked conveyance, and a glance at it told a traveler all he needed to know about travel in the deserts of Llayless. Mountains loomed on all sides, providing a distant haze of superb beauty. The desert was a disaster of sand dunes and slag heaps. Crossing the former, the 'bus left a cloud of sand behind. With slag heaps, it was a cloud of dust.

Pummery, the principal commercial city of the world of Llayless, had been almost invisible when the spaceship was settling in for a landing. It was a complex of massive domes enclosing business buildings, residences, smelters, and the immense nuclear power plant, with tubes for the network of railway lines that extended in all directions like spreading tentacles. Domes and tubes were more than half buried in the shifting sands of a narrow, elongated desert. The spaceport, unfortunately, had to be kept cleared of sand, and a platoon of dozers worked full time at the task.

The domes and tubes were an afterthought engendered by necessity. In its remote past, which could have been as long ago as three or four decades, the municipality of Pummery had been a struggling desert mining town calling itself Struth. Then someone struck it rich, and the manipulators took over. After the usual period of underhanded contrivance and downright chicanery, Old Albert emerged triumphant.

When he died, his widow hired a factor, one Jeffrey Wallingford Pummery, to manage the world for her, after which she shook the sands of Llayless from her heels forever. One of the factor's first acts was to manipulate a name change. Llayless's principal commercial center, Struth, became Pummery, thus splashing the factor's own name prominently on the world's map. No one objected. As long as Pummery operated efficiently and honestly and kept her royalties coming, the widow didn't bother herself with minor things like name changes. The factor was, for all that Dantler had heard, a shrewd and honest operator who built for the future.

The Llayless desert was a terrible place for a world's commercial center, but Pummery was perfectly situated to serve mining operations in the mountains on all sides. The narrow-gauge electric railway lines bringing ore to the smelters from the mines were able to coast down the mountain slopes, thus hauling their loads at a profit because they generated electricity in the process. The only cost was for replacing their frequently worn-out brakes.

Those mines were rich enough to occupy the Llayless Mining Corporation for years to come. Until they played out, the remainder of the world would remain untouched.

The 'bus stopped in front of the Llayless Mining Corporation's world headquarters. Dantler climbed out along with several others who had come to Llayless on business, left his space trunk to be delivered to a sprawling, dilapidated, one-story building farther along the town's central street—its faded sign bore the message " . . . OTEL" —and stood regarding the headquarters building with puzzled scrutiny. Apparently Jeffrey Wallingford Pummery did not go in for luxury, as he was using the same ramshackle three-story building that had been Old Albert's headquarters. It hadn't even been treated to a new coat of paint for years.

Dantler's fellow passengers entered the building ahead of him. Either they were directed at once to the departments that concerned them or they already knew the way because they had vanished by the time Dantler entered. He approached the receptionist, a pert, overalled young lady with bluish blond hair. She eyed him disdainfully. The lobby proctor took in Dantler's appearance with a snort and decided not to like his looks. He took a step forward.

Dantler proffered a letter to the young lady—the same he had shown the clerk at the port. She glanced at it, glanced at Dantler again, and suddenly decided to read it slowly and with care. The proctor came forward and read over her shoulder. When the young lady had finished her reading and made a copy of the letter, the proctor took it and read it a second time.

His attitude had flip-flopped. "Mr. Pummery's personal offices occupy the third floor," he said politely. "If you will follow me, please, I'll show you to the tubes." The levitation tubes were J. Wallingford Pummery's one concession to modern comfort. Probably he became tired of negotiating three flights of stairs to and from his office several times a day.

The receptionist must have warned everyone that Dantler was coming. He moved as if by magic through the various barricades that Pummery had erected to protect himself from unwanted intruders. Five minutes later, having been shown into a cramped office that was as spartan as Dantler expected, Dantler was settled comfortably in a guest chair and scrutinizing the great man himself while a scowling Pummery scrutinized him. He might have been a retired university professor—tall, slender, neatly bearded, scholarly. The beard was gray, but Pummery looked young and energetic.

Dantler passed a letter across the desk. It was not the letter he had shown the receptionist—that one had functioned merely to get him into Pummery's presence. This one was highly confidential. Pummery read it with obvious astonishment.

"You're a Galactic Bureau of Investigation Officer?" he asked.

"Officer Dantler, at your service," Dantler murmured politely.

"Nonsense. The GBI doesn't serve anyone unless by doing so it forwards it's own interests. You're here on a special inspection trip to reevaluate the world's status?"

Dantler nodded diffidently.

"The letter says you are also here to conduct an investigation. The Inter-World Council has something it wants investigated on Llayless?"

"It does."

Pummery tilted back in his chair and regarded him with puzzled interest. "This is a world without a government. For that reason, people call it a totally lawless world, and they couldn't be more wrong. The fact that a world has no government doesn't mean it has no laws. Humankind brings its own laws with it wherever it goes—sometimes like unwanted baggage it can't get rid of, but it always has them. They are an expression of the deep-seated customs and attitudes it must live by. Is the Inter-World Council trying to introduce its own brand of law and order here?"

"Surely you have read the Federation's constitution," Dantler murmured. "I'm here to evaluate the world's status as the constitution provides and to conduct an investigation of something that has already occurred. If my investigation confirms information the Bureau has received, then I will see that proper action is taken."

"What is it that they want investigated?"

"A murder."

"There has been a murder on Llayless?"

"There has. After I have confirmed that the murder has taken place and that the identity of the murderer has been reported to the GBI correctly, I intend to apprehend the murderer and bring him to justice."

Pummery took the time to read the letter through again, slowly. Then he touched a button and spoke in a normal tone of voice. "Mr. Jabek, please."

While they waited, Dantler amusedly counted the seconds. He had reached six when the door opened. As he expected, Pummery kept everyone who worked for him on his toes.

Pummery did not bother to introduce Jabek. Instead, he introduced Dantler. He said, "This is Birk Dantler, an officer of the GBI, the Galactic Bureau of Investigation. The GBI is the investigative arm of the Inter-World Council. He has been sent here on a confidential mission of inspection and investigation. Do you know what that means?"

"No, sir," Jabek answered apologetically.

"The Inter-World Council has a stranglehold on every world in the galaxy—if it chooses to apply it. At this moment, Officer Dantler is the most powerful man on the world of Llayless. If he finds this organization or any organization or individual on the world less than completely cooperative, he can express his dissatisfaction, and an absolute embargo will be placed on us. No ship will arrive; no ship will leave.

"You will prepare the necessary credentials for him. He can go wherever he likes, and transportation is to be arranged for him whenever he needs it; he is to see whatever he wants to see; he is to talk with whomever he wants to talk with. Any person who fails to cooperate fully will find him or herself on the next outbound spaceship. The credentials you give him should make that clear."

Pummery turned to Dantler. "I can order everyone on the world of Llayless to cooperate with you, but I have no control over what they say, and I can't make them tell the truth. Neither can I tell you anything about this murder myself because I have no knowledge about it.

"I want to make one thing clear. We may have no government here, but as I already mentioned, we are not without laws—though we don't call them that. We have rules of conduct that we impose on ourselves, and they make human society possible. Until you arrived I would have said lawless Llayless is the most law-abiding world in the galaxy. If there has been a murder on this world, the fact that I never heard of it doesn't mean that the crime hasn't been noticed and the murderer hasn't already been punished—under our form of law, not yours. If I can assist you further, come and see me."

He got to his feet and touched Dantler's hand briefly. Mr. Jabek murmured, "Come with me, please," and led him into the adjoining office.

Half an hour later, armed with every credential Mr. Jabek could provide for him, Dantler returned to the ground floor and nodded perfunctorily at the blue-blond receptionist as he passed her on his way to the exit.

* * *

Hunting for a murderer on a world without government was an entirely new experience for Dantler. Regardless of what Pummery had said, there was a principle that held true everywhere in the galaxy: No government meant no laws. As he left for the Last Hope mine, the reported scene of the murder, he wondered again what he would charge the murderer with when he caught him, and what court of justice he would bring him before on a world that had no courts.

Probably it would have to be an intergalactic court on some other world, but on strictly local issues, such courts usually applied the laws of the world on which the lawbreaking occurred. There would have to be some roundabout charge—perhaps based on the fact that by murdering Douglas Vaisey, Roger Lefory had summarily terminated his right to that nebulous old saw of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The attorneys would have the time of their lives with it, but Dantler was confident of a conviction. Murder was the most serious charge in the legal arsenal, and courts would lean over backward to properly punish a murderer—especially when the murder had occurred on an Unnullified world that had neither government, law, nor courts.

Now Dantler was back in Pummery again, having tracked his murderer to Pummery's huge Smelter No. 2. It was an all-electric operation—clean, quiet, and effectively temperature controlled. Dantler's credentials gave him direct and immediate access to its superintendent, a youngish-looking black man named Edwin Sharle, who seemed as quietly competent and efficient as his smelter.

He was completely unaware that he had harbored a murderer among his employees, but the name "Roger Lefory" was familiar to him. "The man was always complaining about something," he said. "He kept claiming that the other employees were making him the victim of all their pranks. They smeared glue on his chair, and when he sat in it, he couldn't get up. He had to cut his trousers off, and they were ruined. His fellow workers had a way of timing their breaks so he was left with all the work to do. They filled his locker with trash, and another time they balanced a can of paint so it dumped on him when he opened the locker's door. That's only the beginning of a list. I'm sure a record was made. Do you want to see it?"

Dantler shook his head. "What did you make of all that?"

"I checked his work record from the Last Hope mine and, before and after that, the Laughingstock. Everywhere he worked, he found excuses for not working. Many of the pranks he described sounded like fellow workers being fed up with his constantly shifting his workload to them. So I told him to try to be more friendly and cooperative with the people who worked with him and to do a little work himself."

"With what result?"

"He quit without notice. Went to one of the more distant mines, the Shangri-la, and got a job there. I know that because they asked me for his work record. I never heard him mentioned again."

Dantler's next stop was the Llayless Record Section, where he was given a computer station and access to the complete record of Roger Lefory—to the extent that the world kept records on one of its lesser residents. Lefory's entire employment history was there as far as the Shangri-la. Every employer, including the last one, remarked that the man was lazy and avoided work whenever he could. The file ended with a terse note from the Shangri-la manager, dated almost a year before. Employee Roger Lefory was missing from his job. There was nothing unusual about that—he had left every job he had held without notice—but this time there was no record that he had gone anywhere else. He had simply vanished.

Dantler made inquiries. There were a few solitary prospectors searching for paydirt on the far side of the mountains surrounding Pummery. Some of them had developed a knack for living off the country. There were edible plants, berries, and fruits. There were game birds and animals for those who had the skill to catch them. Most Llayless residents had no time for that sort of thing, but prospectors usually had little money and in any case didn't want to take the time for a long trip back to a commissary. There was nothing unusual about a man being missing for almost a year.

Before leaving for the Shangri-la mine, Dantler paid another call on Jeffrey Wallingford Pummery. The factor greeted him courteously and asked how he could be of service.

Dantler described his investigation to date. "A man was murdered," he said. "There are witnesses who saw it done. No report was made to anyone on the management level of the mines where Lefory worked, or to the smelter where he worked, or to world management because no report was required. The murderer was left free to drift from job to job. Now he has gone prospecting and may be difficult to find. This represents a flagrant violation of the Inter-World Federation's constitution—failing to protect the lives of your citizens by providing no mechanism for taking action against a murderer. I'm going to recommend that your world's status be changed immediately from 'Unnullified' to 'Nullified.' I'll get a spacegram off today. As the law requires, I am giving you written notice of that fact so you can prepare your defense. There will be a hearing, of course."

Pummery glanced at the paper Dantler handed to him and then handed it back. There was a faint smile on his face. "I suggest that you hold off with your report—and with your notification—until you have completed your investigation. You haven't visited the Shangri-la mine, yet. Surely your investigation will be incomplete without evidence from the last place Lefory is known to have worked."

Dantler studied him warily. He scented a trap. After a moment's thought, he said, "Certainly, if you prefer it. It probably won't delay things more than a day."

* * *

The Shangri-la was just as promising a mine as the Laughingstock, its manager—one Pierre Somler—told Dantler, but it was still in an early stage of development. Thus far its profits had been invested in machinery; the dwellings were shacks, and so was the office.

The manager vividly remembered Lefory. "The record said he was lazy. He was spectacularly lazy. On my visits to the diggings, I rarely found him working. He was always taking a break."

"But you kept him on because of the labor shortage," Dantler said wearily.

Somler nodded. "That, and because we always hope that a poor employee will change his habits. Usually that happens when dividends are paid and everyone else receives a tidy bonus. A poor employee's long list of demerits results in his receiving nothing. He immediately decides to be at the top of the list when the next dividends are declared. But it didn't happen that way with Lefory. Shiftless he was; shiftless he remained.

"Then there were his complaints about his fellow workers. He kept saying they were trying to 'get' him. He had the darndest accidents, some of them almost unbelievable. He wanted to be a heavy machine operator, but on his first try, a freak short circuit nearly electrocuted him. After that he wouldn't go near one of the machines. The head flew off a fellow worker's pickax and put him in the hospital for a few days. If it'd hit him in the head instead of the back, it would have killed him. That sort of thing. Finally he vanished."

"Was it a planned disappearance? I mean—did he accumulate supplies for a stay in the wilderness and take prospecting equipment with him?"

"I think he did. He had mentioned to one of the workers that he was going back to Pummery the next morning and leave Llayless on the first ship out. He thought this was an unlucky world for him, and he could do better starting fresh somewhere else. But that night someone broke into the commissary and took the sort of supplies a prospector would want, and a worker saw Lefory sneaking away on a mountain path with a pack on his back."

"Is there any other evidence that he is out there in the wilderness?"

"No. But it's the ideal place for him. No fellow workers he has to get along with, he can work whatever hours he sets for himself, and take a day off when he wants to. All he has to do is figure out how to eat regularly."

"And all I have to do," Dantler said, "is figure out how to catch him. A world without a government, and without any police force, is a poor place for a manhunt."

* * *

Jeffrey Wallingford Pummery said with interest, "Do you mean you've abandoned your search?"

"Right. Lefory is bound to show up sometime. I'll leave a warrant for him. You'll have to apprehend him the moment he appears."

"Solitary prospectors who go off into the blue are usually looking for gold. They show up only at long intervals to cash in their accumulation, and if they've been lucky, they may buy supplies that will last for years."

"If he shows up at all, the warrant will see that he is detained for galactic police authorities."

"Have you considered the possibility that he might live the rest of his life out without being seen again?" Pummery asked. "He might be able to cash in his gold without being seen if he has a confederate. Are you still intent on changing the status of this world to 'Nullified?' "

"I am."

"We'll contest the petition, of course. And we'll win."

"How can you possibly win? There is no doubt at all that organizations on Llayless harbored a murderer. Not only did they fail to punish him, but they helped him avoid punishment."

Pummery smiled. "I told you when you arrived—an Unnullified world, a world without government, can be far more law-abiding than your so-called normal worlds. According to the results of your own investigation, Lefory is one of the most severely punished men in galactic history."

"How do you figure that? No one punished him at all."

"Study your notes again. At the Last Hope mine, he was shouldered. At the Laughingstock, he was much more emphatically shouldered. Once he was almost killed. At Smelter No. 2, more of the same thing. The danger to his life was increasing. Finally, at the Shangri-la, he was escaping death by narrower and narrower margins.

"It isn't necessary for management to take a hand in the punishment of a murderer, you see. Every person on Llayless knows that if a Roger Lefory can murder in a fit of temper and escape the consequences, no person is safe. So the people of Llayless set about making an example of him. They put him through living hell, one place after another. And when he finally announced to a fellow worker that he was leaving Llayless, they gave his punishment the final twist."

"And what was that?" Dantler demanded.

"You've already answered your question: He disappeared. His fellow workers so frightened him that he gave up his plan to return to Pummery and leave the planet. He was afraid he wouldn't live long enough to get there. Instead, he went to hide out beyond the mountains, thus condemning himself to perpetual hell. Don't you believe for a moment that he is gleefully basking in the wilderness and chuckling about how he got away with murder. He is eating plants that make him sick and half starving because he hasn't the knack for catching birds or animals. He simply isn't the type for solitary prospecting. He wouldn't recognize paydirt if he fell in it. He desperately needs fellow workers he can shift his own share of work onto. Running back to Pummery and using the return ticket he has on file to get off the world is his kind of gambit, but he was too terrified to try it.

"The sanctity of life is a basic law among humans everywhere. An Unnullified world doesn't need the apparatus of government and courts to punish murderers. Word of a murder circulates among workers almost instantly. The murderer's deed dogs his tracks forever after. It followed Lefory everywhere, and his fellow workers reacted accordingly. If he shows up again, Llayless's community of workers will resume where it left off. His punishment is already a legend that will deter people from murder far into the future. Do you know how many murders there have been on Llayless in its history?"

Dantler shook his head.

"Two," Pummery said. "One happened twenty-eight years ago. That murderer's punishment is still remembered and still a deterrent—as Lefory's punishment will be for decades to come. How many murderers do you know of on normal worlds who have been released through lack of evidence or through legal manipulations? So many you couldn't answer, I'm sure. On an Unnullified world, where the people are the law, punishment is certain—and it is perpetual. It will dog Lefory again if he ever emerges from the wilderness. He can't escape it—can't escape the planet—because no one will let him."

"It sounds suspiciously like mob rule, which the Inter-World Federation outlaws. That simply won't do."

"Ah, but mob rule—thoughtless mob punishment without proper evidence—is an entirely different thing. It wouldn't have popular support. Further, it would bring every management on Llayless down on it. We simply couldn't permit that. Punishment of the mob would be official, immediate, and severe."

He got to his feet. "I'm pleased to be able to introduce you to the way the law works on a world without government—a lawless world. I'm sorry you can't stay longer. We are very strong on law but unfortunately weak in amenities, and I apologize for that."

He nodded politely. Dantler, feeling himself dismissed, left. He had reached the street before he remembered that he had failed to serve on Pummery the notice of his intention to recommend an immediate change in Llayless's status.

He took the paper from his pocket, hesitated, and then tore it into very small pieces. The pieces dropped almost at his feet, and he kicked at them as he walked away.



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