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Chapter One


Second suns-set was an hour past, but the sky, ablaze with the myriad gleaming suns of the Shamballa Cluster, shone with brilliance enough to read even the five-point italic type of a footnote to a standard CDT Stern Note of Protest rendered in its most tightly spaced third-level obfuscese. Second Assistant Deputy Undersecretary Jame Retief of the Corps Diplomatique Terrestrienne was at that moment less interested in the radiance of B'rukley's night sky, however, than he was with the angry tenor of the gathering crowd.

The mob had been building itself to a frenzy all afternoon, beginning with a demonstration at the university campus at firstnoon, then spilling out in all directions until seemingly every street and corner of the sprawling Terry enclave of High Gnashberry was packed either with marching, chanting protesters or the silent throngs of B'ruklian natives enjoying the spectacle. The focus of the march, apparently, was the Plaza of Articulate Naiveté, directly in front of the glass, faux marble, and antique plasteel elegance of the Terran Embassy. The plaza already was packed, standing room only, and more and more protesters were streaming in from every direction.

Retief had a good view, standing, as he did, head and shoulders—and a bit more—above the heads of the thronging local populace. He struck a dopestick alight and leaned against the ivy-cluttered façade of a university bookstore, typical of such establishments, filled with books, tapes, and tri-D disks on everything from theoretical economic calculus and artistic meditation to pornographic histories of galactic exploration. The store was empty at the moment. Everyone in the city, it seemed, had turned out on this star-radiant evening to watch the marching Terries.

"Whatcher doin' there, Terry?" a leather-faced local grated in harshly gargled Standard at Retief's elbow. "Why'n't youse marchin' fer a piece of yer valiant comrades an' their war?"

"I thought I'd sit this one out," he replied easily in B'rukkk, the local patois. "All that marching for either piece or peace can be hard on the feet."

"Unh," the local agreed in the same language, nodding his massive, knobbed and wrinkled head. The long-jawed, crocodilian head showed uneven rows of carnivore teeth. "Good point. Though, I dunno. You Terries is only got two feet to get sore. Now, when a B'ruklian gets sore feet, he's got something to gripe about! Like the Holy Mystic Fortune Cookies say, if you muffle your noofnard, you'll regret it come suns-rise."

"Wise words to live by," Retief agreed. "But then, all of our weight is distributed on two feet instead of on eight. Four times the ground pressure, you see?"

"Yeah . . . yeah." The octocentauroid native nodded as he chewed on the idea. "Never thought of it that way." He shifted back to Standard. "Geeze, how d'youse Terries manage, anyway?"

"We're tougher than we look," Retief replied, matching the local's linguistic shift. "Some of us sit through four-hour staff meetings on economic policy to build up our stamina. After a few of those, a twenty-mile hike sounds like heaven."

"Yeah? What's this . . . whatchacallum . . . 'sit'?"

Retief glanced along the length of the native's body—stocky, massive, four-armed, and with a heavy, segmented abdomen supported by eight stubby legs. "It's something we Terries do when two legs aren't enough. We kind of fold over in the middle to redistribute the ground pressure."

The local nodded sagely. "I get it. Like the Holy Mystic Fortune Cookies say, it's a poor grullard what can't hold his drollops."

"You just might have something there, friend," Retief said, exhaling a stream of hyacinth-scented smoke. "I'm not certain what, exactly, but I think you do have something."

A particularly boisterous knot of students tromped down the broad avenue opposite Retief's vantage point, chanting with considerable fervor.


"Peace! Peace! We want peace!
"Peace! Peace! We want peace!
"Peace! Peace! We want peace!" 


"I just wonder," the local said slowly, "what it is they want a piece of."

"Ambassador Crapwell's hide, possibly," Retief said judiciously. "Or possibly they'd settle for a piece of the hide of the military attaché. But they're definitely interested in getting their message across to the Terry Embassy."

"I guess mebee they don't like th' way your war's goin' out on Odiousita."

"They don't like the fact that the war is going at all. And in that, I don't blame them one bit. Still, though . . . I wonder . . ."

"Whatcha wonder, Terry?"

"I'm just having a little trouble believing that all of these protesters are from USC."

A number of hand-lettered signs were in evidence, wielded overhead like blunt weapons. "Hands off Odiousita V!" one read. "Have sex, not a kitten," another proclaimed. "The Krll are friends we just haven't met yet!" declared a third.

"Hey, you read Terry words, right?" the local said, nudging Retief's side.


"That sign there, the big one . . . does it say what I think it does? Somethin' about the Krll bein' our friends?"

"Words paraphrased directly from the Preface to the CDT Embassy Manual," Retief told him. "The 85th Edition, Revised, Annotated, and Expurgated, to be precise."

"Yeah? What's that?"

"Something like your Holy Mystic Fortune Cookies," he replied. "Only somewhat longer-winded."

"Well, each being to its own brand o' ritual suicide," the local said with a philosophical shrug of his massive shoulders. "But I gotta wonder if those Terries ever seen a Krll in the flesh . . . uh . . . Krll in the durasteel, I mean. They ain't exactly whatcha call friendly, if'n ya know what I means."

"Maybe that's just because we don't really know them," Retief said. "'To know all is to forgive all,' right?"

The B'ruklian snorted, a sound not unlike a peculiarly productive nasal blast into a large pocket handkerchief. "That ain't what the Holy Mystic Fortune Cookies say."

"Really? What do they have to say about the Krll?"

"Nothing about them babies. But . . . 'Know where your gnashberries are snickered,' that's one. An' 'A garbling groftpot natters no nookkem.' That's another. I think that's my favorite."

"I like that," Retief said, nodding. "Mind if I use it sometime?"

"Hey, be my guest, pal. The Wisdom o' the Ancients is there fer all, y'know? Ain't got my copyright on it."

"You know," Retief said after another long moment, "I really had no idea there were so many Terry students at the university here."

"Well, hey! The University of the Shamballa Cluster is the place o' higher learning and graduate study in th' whole Shamballa Cluster. They gotta have a student body of five, mebee six thou, somethin' like that."

"The enrollment records for this year indicate a student population of four thousand, eight hundred and seven," Retief said, thoughtful.

"Like I said. Five thou, near enough."

"Very true. But that number includes one thousand, seven hundred eighty-five students of Terry descent, most from Terry-colonized worlds here in the Cluster. The rest are Yaha, Fustian, Atlu, Gaspierran, Yill, Prutians . . . quite a menagerie, in fact."

"And us B'ruk! Don't fergit us B'ruk!"

"How could I? USC started off as a B'ruk educational establishment . . . what, almost a thousand years ago standard, now, isn't it?"

"Durned straight. B'ruk Middle-High Elementary and Charm School, PS-18, established in 827 AB. And now look at her! The whatchacallum premier cornerstone of higher education fer th' whole Armpit."

"I see you've been reading the university's public relations brochures."

"I'm on th' faculty, if that's whatcher mean."


"Yup. Doctor Dunudiddledinldink," he said, nodding. He then added, formally, in B'ruk Common, "That's Professor-Doctor Dinwiddle Dunudiddledinldink."

"Pleased to meet you, Doctor," he replied in the same language. "I'm Retief."

"Charmed, I'm sure." He switched back to thickly accented Standard. "Anyways, most us here city-zens of High Gnashberry work fer the university one way or another. S'what's yer point?"

"Only that it looks to me like we have more than seventeen hundred Terries in the street today."

"How can you tell? Ya count 'em all?"

"Nope. Just an off-the-cuff impression."

"Well, mebee you should wait until you can make an on-the-cuff impression. More accurate, don'cha know."

"Could be. You said you were on the faculty. What do you teach?"

"Irrational Numerology an' the formal mathematics of the eight-footed gavotte. I also fill in fer th' diction an' granma department, onna 'count of they's short-footed right now."

Retief continued watching the chanting, sign-waving parade march past. There were, he noted, a number of other races represented, though most appeared to be human. Directly in front of him, a Fustian, massive, wrinkled, and ponderous despite the absence of the heavy shell of an oldster, held aloft a crudely claw-hieroglyphed sign in Old High Fustian reading "Don't Be Hasty." The more fleet-of-foot and/or -tentacled beings in the crowd around him—and that meant all of them—were surging past, impatient with the testudoid's stately pace.

One large and turbulent knot of protesters spilled past the Fustian and as a result jostled close to the walkway where Retief leaned against the wall. Both his height and his clothing—he was wearing his sequined powder-blue-with-magenta trim hemi-demi-informal coveralls, mid-to-late afternoon, for use during—made him more than a little conspicuous.

"Hey, mister!" a college-aged girl cried out. "Like, join us!"

The knot tumbled closer, scattering the B'ruks lining the street. The young woman, Retief saw, was quite fetching in her formal school bikini briefs, beret, and cloak, all three in the USC hot pink, Day-Glo chartreuse, and International Orange tartan colors. Her nipple rings flickered dizzyingly in red and pink flashes of LED light. Not much taller than the locals, she looked up at him with a bright and inviting grin. "So, whatcha, like, standin' there for? Like, the action is, y'know, like out here!"

"Like, I like it here, miss," Retief replied, shifting to her like-dialect. "But, like, I do like the invitation. Thank you."

"Hey, like, wait a sec," one of the other students, a pimply-faced youth in a Grateful Reincarnated T-shirt, said, crowding closer. He pointed at the small, gold CDT crest on Retief's hemi-demi-coveralls. "It's, like, wunna th' pigs!"

"Like, I think you need to brush up on your species identification, son."


"Naw, Marty," the girl said. "He's, like, y'know, too sweet t'be wunna them!"

"Marty's right," another student cried. "That's, like, a CDT patch!"

"It's not like a CDT patch," Retief told him, shifting to Standard. "It is one. Do you have a problem with that?"

"You, like, makin' fun a' the way I talk?"

"Not particularly. I much prefer having stimulating conversations with people fluent in Standard."

"Yeah, pops? Stimulate this!" Marty threw a hard right straight at Retief's face. Retief caught the young tough's wrist in his right hand and held it, hard, the fist still twelve inches in front of his face.

"Hey! Leggo!" Marty tried to pull his hand back, but the fist remained immobile in Retief's grasp. He brought up his free hand and tried to prize Retief's one-handed grip loose, with no success. "No fair! Lemmee go!"

"Nice ring," Retief commented, observing the bright blue stone set in imitation plastic on Marty's pinky. "Sigma Omicron Beta. I didn't know they had a chapter at USC."

"Whazit to you? Geeze, fella! C'mon! That hurts! Let go!"

"I haven't heard the magic word."


Retief released Marty's arm, and the kid dropped to his knees, cradling his bruised wrist.

"Where are you kids from?" Retief asked, addressing the group.

"We, like, uh . . . like . . ." one explained carefully.

"It's, uh, like this, like, uh . . ." the girl suggested.

"Yeah, an', like, we gotta be, like, goin', man," another added helpfully. The group began fading back into the marching mob of protesters.

"I still think he's, like, cute," the girl said.

"Shaddap!" Marty told her, rising to his feet and hustling her back toward the street.

"Like, look me up, mister!" she called back over a shapely shoulder. "At, like, the Student Union? After the demonstration?"

"I, like, said, like, shaddap, Aquaria!" Marty snapped. "That old guy's, like, trouble!"

"Get real, Marty! He's, like, not so old!" And then the crowd of demonstrators swallowed them.

"Interesting," Retief said. "Were any of them students of yours, by chance?"

"How should I know?" Dunudiddledinldink replied with a complicated shrug of all four shoulders. "Sorry, but all youse Terries look alike to me. I mean, not meanin' to comment on racial deficiencies an' all, but youse only got the two legs an' the two arms an' you usually keep your zoobles covered up in them artificial integuments youse all wear, which it makes it hard t'read your emotions an' all. No offense, see?"

"None taken, Professor. I doubt very much you'd want to see the emotions displayed by our zoobles, however. Some things are best left covered."

"Yeah, ya got that right. Like the Holy Mystic Fortune Cookies say, 'It's best to leave dangling gnashberries high, cuz th' low ones'll garfle yer dillidums.' An' they will, too."

"And I, for one, don't care to have my dillidums garfled," Retief said.

"Well, hey! Who does? Uh-oh."

"What is it, Professor?"

The local lifted his massive head, pointing with a jutting chin across the street, which was momentarily unblocked by sign-waving marchers. The pimple-faced tough who'd confronted Retief a moment before was in the watching crowd opposite, apparently in conversation with a hulking, heavily cloaked Grothelwaith.

"Don't look now, but isn't that there th' guy you just sent packin'?"

"Sure is. I thought you said you couldn't tell one Terry from another?"

"Can't, usually," he said, shifting back to B'ruk Common. "But I recognize the pattern of lesions on that one's . . . groz. What's the word in Standard? The bumpy area round your oculars."

"Face," Retief supplied. "And you're right. That's our acne-prone friend Marty."

"So what's he doing with that Grothelwaith? Them folks ain't what you call gracious social mixers."

"I don't know, Professor. I've been watching those two for several minutes, now. My impression is that Marty is giving his friend a detailed rundown on our conversation."

"That ain't so good, Retief. Marty was mad, th' way you being-handled him, an' all, and Grothelwaiths can be mean-honkin' customers!"

A thin, high-pitched warble cut through the crowd noise.

"Ow!" Dunudiddledinldink said, clapping two of his hands over his noof-organs. "Them snarf-vibrations is shrill enough to garfle a dead limlom!"

"Sorry, Professor." Retief plucked his handphone from its hip holster and thumbed down the volume on the ringer. He held it to his ear. "Retief."

"Retief!" a reedy voice sounded, the edge to the name wavering somewhere between urgency and desperation. "Where in the Name of Undeclared Ambiguity are you?"

"Hello, Mr. Magnan," Retief told his boss. "I'm right here."

"Yes, but where is here? Ah! Never mind that now. The Ambassador is most upset, Retief, most upset! He has ordered an all-hands evolution. . . ."

"Good," Retief said. "Some of the hands could use some evolving."

"Your flippancy does you no credit, Retief. I will remind you that your semiquarterly ERs are coming up, and you are not, at the moment, well positioned in that regard, careerwise!"

"And what would a well position be, Mr. Magnan?"

"For starters, it would be here. In my office! The staff has been directed to gather in ten minutes!"

Retief cast a glance across the sea of chanting, gesticulating beings filling the Plaza of Articulate Naiveté. Beyond rose the high wall of gray stone surrounding the Terran Embassy and the chancery. The Marine guards, he noted, had withdrawn inside the iron bars of the front gate. Getting through the mob between the gate and him would take more than ten minutes, he estimated, even if the crowd wasn't against him.

"I'll see what I can do, Mr. Magnan. But go ahead and start without me if you have to."

He snapped the handphone shut, cutting off Magnan's voice in mid-squawk. There was, fortunately, another way. . . .


Half a block down from where Retief had been watching the parade and around the corner onto the Avenue of Much Walking, tucked away within an unprepossessing greenstone façade, a bar and bookstore resided beneath a tastefully garish neon sign in alien script that looked for all the world like the word "Thingamaboob," rendered in sweepingly ornate cursive strokes. A ramp designed for stubby B'ruklian legs led down to a street entryway with a recessed door. Inside, artificial smoke hung in dense clouds near the pink lights on the ceiling, and the heavy silence of the latest thing in nomusic throbbed in the air. An alligator-faced local looked up from the low bar and stopped polishing the surface in mid-swipe.

"Hey, Mr. Retief!" the bartender called, showing a rubbery-lipped smile that hid the rows of carnivore teeth beyond. "Long time, no groz!"

"Hi, Joe. What's the problem? Not many customers this evening."

Joe surveyed the empty bar. He and Retief were the only macroscopic life-forms present. "Ah, everyone's out watching the parade. Not that that's any scales off my nose, of course. Empty or full house, I get paid, just the same." He gave Retief a broad wink. "Like the Holy Mystic Fortune Cookies say, it's a yellow burble that can't defenestrate."

"True enough. And I'm sure you'll have plenty of business after a bit. Protesting is thirsty work."

"Maybe." He began polishing a glass with two hands, while continuing to wipe down the counter with the other two. His name, Retief knew, was Jolopoppoppalnlnit, but for some reason the embassy staff called him "Joe." Joe's Bar and Bookstore—the translation of the neon sign outside—was the local watering hole for Terry diplomats, newsmen, and spies in High Gnashberry. The B'ruklian furnishings of the outer bar were more for show than for serious drinking.

"Y'know, though," Joe continued, still polishing the already sparkling glass, "my best customers haven't put in an appearance today."

"What?" Retief exclaimed in tones of mock alarm. "Not for elevenses? Or the traditional ritual of the three-martini lunch? The early afternoon cocktail hour? Or . . . not even happy hour?"

"Nope. Nary a nip."

"If I didn't know better, I'd say that they don't care for crowds."

"What crowds? This joint's been quiet as a metaphor all day!"

"I meant outside, Joe. My esteemed colleagues may feel safer behind walls and the ceremonial weapons of a platoon of Marine Embassy guards."

"Oh, yeah." Joe shrugged two sets of narrow shoulders. "Well, their loss. Like I says, I get paid either way."

"Yes, that is a sweet deal you have with the Embassy commissariat. I gather you're on a very nice retainer, and all you have to do is maintain the place for thirsty diplomats and reporters."

"And spies, Mr. Retief. Don't forget the spies! This whole thing was dreamed up by your own Mr. Smith, y'know."

"Ah, yes. John Smith, of the embassy's Covert Illegal Actions desk."

"Huh? I heard it was the department of Casually Innocent Activities."

"It all depends on your point of view, Joe. You get many spies in here?"

"Yeah, they come and they go. Lousy tippers, though."

"Well, I hope you stay in business long enough to assemble a new and more generous clientele. Especially after you lose the subsidy."

"Yeah, you got that right, Retief. Why, I wouldn't be surprised if . . . huh?" He stopped his polishing in mid-polish. "Whaddaya mean after I lose the subsidy? What subsidy?"

"The CIA black-operations money that keeps you in business. That crowd out there seems pretty determined to run the Terry Embassy out of town. If the diplomats leave, you might have to start running a real business. No more freebies from the government."

Joe looked startled, an effect created by having both eyes open wide, one rolling in its socket to stare at the bar's front door while the other remained fixed on Retief. "Aw, no! You CDT Johnnies ain't thinkin' of leaving, are you?"

"Well, listen to them out there," Retief invited.

Someone had instigated a mass chant, pulsing waves of sound thundering from the Plaza of Articulate Naiveté, just around the corner. "Terries go home! Terries go home! Terries go home! . . ."

"I can't be sure," Retief told the startled bartender, "but it sounds to me like we aren't welcome."

"Aw, geeze, Retief! Them's just college kids, y'know? Youthful high spirits! The indiscretions of children! Fraternity hijinks! That's all!"

"I don't know, Joe. That sounds like more than a fraternity beer-bust out there."

"No, no, you got it all wrong! Why, most of them protesters out there are Terries themselves! You know . . . the ones with only two legs and two arms? You can't miss 'em! I mean . . . why would they want to send themselves home? They can't crawl back into the nest! Like the Holy Mystic Fortune Cookies say, 'An egg twice broken makes a very poor drooze.'"

"Now I'm worried. That almost made sense. Do the fortune cookies say anything about making omelets?"

"Only that you can't make them without grobbling a chutwinkle. But, listen here, Retief. All this higher philosophy and stuff aside . . . are things really that serious? You embassy Johnnies might be leaving?"

"As to that, I'm not sure even your Holy Mystic Fortune Cookies can say for sure. The embassy's mission here on B'rukley is twofold, after all—providing diplomatic relations with the B'ruks and providing consul facilities for the large Terry student population here. Now, Terra will want to maintain diplomatic relations with your world for as long as the Krll permit, but if the students don't want our services, we will at the very least have to scale back on our presence here. And if the Krll have their way . . ."

"Naw, naw, Mr. Retief! You can't let a few boisterous high spirits get you shook! And, as for the Krll, well, sure they get carried away with the speech-making and rhetoric every once in a while. You know, symbolic saber-rattling, ritual drum-beating, ceremonial chest-thumping. It don't mean nothin'!"

"I take it you don't want to see the Terries leave, Joe."

"Course I don't! I know which side of my bread substitute has the ikky-wax!"

"How do you think other B'ruks feel about it?"

"We're a practical people, Mr. Retief. We live by the Sacred Pronouncements of the Holy Mystical Fortune Cookies and put a high premium on rational thought and sanity. Half the population of High Gnashberry works for the university, and the other half works for them. If the Terries leave, the university is dead . . . and if the Krll come through, the university is blown up, burned out, torn down, and dead and buried, with salt sown on the grave and a steak grilled on both its hearts!"

"Yes, but how do you really feel?"

"Geeze, Mr. Retief! How do we feel? Do you think we're fleaglin' berries?"

"'Nuts,' Joe."

"Sure, Mr. Retief." He slid a bowl of shelled thribble nuts across the counter. "Help yourself."

Retief helped himself to a small handful. They had a delicate flavor behind the sharp crunch, somewhere between almonds and cashews.

The door to the bar opened, allowing the chanting outside to become momentarily louder. A tall and statuesque woman walked in, then stood by the door, surveying the bar. Gorgeously attired in a long, low-cut, formal evening miniskirt, with large dark glasses and a dress trench coat slung by one finger over her shoulder, she seemed to be looking for somebody.

"Evening, miss," Joe said. "Can we help you?"

"No, thanks," she replied. "I'm meeting someone. May I . . . ?"

Joe gestured with three of his arms toward the room in back. "Help yourself. Can I get you a drink?"

"No, thank you," she replied coolly. She gave Retief a searching glance, then walked through the bar and into the lounge in the back.

"Well," Retief told Joe, "looks like maybe you'll be doing all right tonight after all! And after the festivities die down outside, you may find business picking up even more. After all, talking is thirsty work too, and the evening is still young."

"Yeah. But you still got me worried, Mr. Retief. I don't want to see you Terries leave!"

"And in this modern galaxy, that is a most refreshing change, Joe. Thank you. I'll see what I can do."

"That's great, Mr. Retief. Good luck t'you! Hey, y'want something to wet your whazoo? Glass of Bacchian black, mebee?"

"Not this time, Joe. My whazoo has to wait. Duty calls."

"Right you are, Mr. Retief. I'll cycle you through." He reached beneath the bar and pulled down one of the dispenser handles. "And, like the Holy Mystic Fortune Cookies say, hold on to your jizzlestross, 'cause that first gnosh is a dowser."

"My jizzlestross, Mr. Jolopoppoppalnlnit," Retief said in B'rukkk, "is always firmly in hand."

Retief threaded his way past several dozen empty tables—all quite low to the floor and without any chairs, in deference to B'ruklian anatomy. The back room, however, a large and ornate lounge, was tastefully appointed in faux-plastic booths and tables and chairs appropriate to normal Terry articulation, with larger-than-life-sized trideos hanging from the walls of various Great Men in CDT history—Pouncetrifle, Sternwheeler, Nitworth, Straphanger, and a dozen others. The woman, Retief noted, had taken a seat in one of the back-corner booths. She glanced up as he entered, then looked away, carefully avoiding eye contact behind her dark glasses.

Recognizing the glasses for what they were, Retief gave her a cheerful nod, certain she was studying him closely. Those glasses, he thought, were Russian imitations of a Groaci theft of a Bogan copy of an ancient Japanese design popular with the CIA and other covert groups and would be fully equipped with range finder, X-ray scanning, weapons detection, radar, homing and tracking, stereoscopic telephoto, long-range audiopickup, deluxe entertainment center, and even filters for both UV and bright light.

"I like the sunglasses, darling," Retief murmured in a whisper so low it was barely audible to himself and smiled as the woman jumped, startled.

He considered striking up a conversation with her, but a glance at his fingerwatch told him he didn't have the time. Instead, he turned off to the left.

There, up a short flight of stairs and as was popular in many of the finer bars throughout the Eastern Arm, a small bookstore and reading area had been tucked away in a back corner of the lounge, so that serious drinkers had a place to relax as they imbibed.

Slipping into an aisle between the shelves in the back, Retief went straight to the section labeled "Games and Philosophy," found the copy of Machiavelli's The Prince, and gave the tome a tug. Immediately, with a soft snick, the rack of bookshelves rotated, exposing a hidden passageway. This Way to the Top Secret Back Door to the Embassy read a sign stenciled on the wall.

Boot steps echoing off ferrocrete walls and ceiling, Retief followed the sub-B'ruklian tunnel as it sloped gently downward, then leveled off as it passed beneath the Avenue of Much Walking.


"Where the devil have you been!" Deputy Undersecretary Ben Magnan exclaimed. "The Ambassador is beside himself!"

"If he's beside himself," Retief replied, walking into Magnan's spacious office, "he doesn't need me. Three's a crowd, and crowds make him nervous."

"Your japes, as usual, betray your inappropriately cavalier attitude toward your chosen career path, Retief. As for crowds, you would do well to note the crowd gathering in the plaza outside the Embassy front gates. Their mood is ugly, and we must prepare to run for it—that is, prepare for the worst, if necessary."

"I've seen the crowd, Mr. Magnan. It is pretty ugly, in spots, I'll grant you, though some of the protesters look quite nice, actually."

"You were in the crowd?" Magnan exclaimed, his normally dour features animated by a carefully rehearsed expression of Shocked Surprise (82-F) mingled with Genuine Alarm (54-B). "Surely you weren't taking part in the protest march!"

"Oh, some of them invited me to join in, Mr. Magnan, but I regretfully declined."

"I should think so! These peace marches have cast our diplomatic mission here in a decidedly reactionary and undignified light. It wouldn't do at all to give out the impression that CDT personnel were actually marching on our own Embassy and protesting our own war!"

"Perish the thought. War is so good for business, after all."

"Exactly! Uh, what?" Magnan stopped and glared at Retief, an expression of Anger, Barely Restrained (173-G) leavened with a studied Watch It, Bub (215-K). "That is, our police action here in the Shamballa Cluster serves a variety of social and governmental needs, not least of which is the necessity of restraining the somewhat youthfully exuberant Krll interests in acquisitions of planetary real estate beyond the Galactic Core."

"What I don't understand, Mr. Magnan," Retief said, "is . . . if this is a police action, why don't we just go in and arrest the Krll? Aggravated criminal trespass. Breaking and entering. Littering without a permit. Gross military escalation without an escalator. Warmongering out of season. We could throw the book at them."

"Save your undignified japes for someone who cares, Retief," Magnan sniffed, applying an expression of Lack of Concern for Unimportant Issues Sniffed at With Disdain (1221-Q).

"Are your allergies acting up again, Mr. Magnan?" Retief asked, assaying a 455-E, Concern for One's Superior's Health.

"Your 455 needs work, Retief. For a moment, I thought you were attempting a 961, Have Your People Talk to My People and We'll Do Lunch. About a 'K,' I would say."

"To tell the truth, Mr. Magnan, I could never really tell the difference between a 455 and a 961."

"You do grimace with a slight accent, Retief. Now, however, is not the time for practicing face-making protocol." Magnan stood, gathering his briefcase, for middle-grade embassy staff use of, and started for the door. "Ambassador Crapwell has called an emergency staff meeting to discuss the apparent threat to the embassy, and our presence is required."

"Why? Is the Ambassador looking for scapegoats already?"

"Ambassador Crapwell is among the most distinguished and accomplished of senior Great Men within the Corps, Retief. You would do well to remember that. Great Men of his caliber don't require scapegoats, unless the situation has already degenerated into abject disaster."

"Well," Retief told the back of his boss's semiformal late-afternoon CDT undress blazer as they walked out of Magnan's office and into the corridor beyond, "that is a great relief."



"The situation," Ambassador Chauncey Crapwell said above precisely steepled, pudgy fingers, "has already degenerated into abject disaster. We need to put on our thinking caps and find a reasonable solution to this contretemps."

"Good heavens, man!" Colonel Marwonger, the military attaché, exclaimed, bringing a beefy fist down hard on the polished iridium surface of the Conference Room table with a thump. "Do you mean to say the Krll have broken through our boys' lines on Odiousita? That's bad!"

"Or . . . or worse!" First Secretary and Cultural Attaché Birdbush quavered. "Their warwalkers are here? On B'rukley? That's very bad!"

"I knew it!" the Political Officer, Willy Hanglow, said, rising from his chair. "The Navy's done gone and abandoned us! They've pulled out and left us to the tender mercies of the Krll, which they ain't got none! That's very, very bad!"

"Nonsense!" Fleet Captain Tathbub said, glaring. "The 10th Fleet would most certainly not have left without me . . . that is to say, I mean, without us . . . not unless . . . unless . . ."

"Unless what, Eustace?" Marwonger asked the naval attaché.

"Unless the damned Krlljoys managed to wipe out the Fleet!" Tathbub said in a hoarse whisper. "That would be very, very, very bad! My God, what a disaster, unparalleled in the history of naval—"

"You can't possibly mean," Undersecretary Dinewiner cried, "that the Embassy liquor stores have been pilfered by the locals! That would be very, very, very, very—"

"Gentlemen, please!" the Ambassador called over the rising tide of very bads from his place at the head of the conference table. The Great Man leaned back in his Hip-U-Matic contour chair, fingers now interlacing over his rounded abdomen as he surveyed the near-riot within his domain. Crapwell was a most distinguished-looking senior diplomat, which was to say weak of chin, myopic of vision, bald of pate, and pot of belly, the whole transformed into Authority Personified by the four thousand-GUC pinstripe suit, early evening, demiformal, ambassadorial personnel, for use by, with optional power lapels. He assumed an expression of Patient Longsuffering Held Rigidly in Check But Growing Thin (226-R) overlaid by just a hint of Knock It Off, Knuckleheads (992-A). "Your attitude of blind panic is most unseemly. I'll tell you when to panic, do you hear?"

"Goodness, Retief," Magnan said, sotto voce. "Did you see His Excellency's masterful application of a 226 playing off a 992? We are indeed privileged to witness true and masterful Greatness in Action!"

"I had no idea, Mr. Magnan," Retief murmured. "And here I thought it was just gas."

"A little more diligence in your studies of Manfried's Ritual Expressionism: A Study in Political Facial Dynamics would not go amiss for you, careerwise, that is."

"Mister Magnan!" Crapwell boomed from the table's head. "What can be so important that we must put a seven-nova nuclear-meltdown emergency Galactic Utter Top Secret embassy staff conference on hold while you discuss matters with the junior staff? Would you care to share your observations with the rest of us?"

"Ah . . . erp!" Magnan squeaked, taking in the two long rows of silent faces all turned now to regard him with an array of steely 1106s (Distasteful Examination of Something Unpleasant on the Nether Surface of a Pedal Extremity), the expressions ranging from Hy Felix's mildly reproving and disinterested level "B" on up to Colonel Marwonger's scathing "V."

"Speak up, man," the Ambassador said, his voice now carrying a cold, hard edge. "We'd all be very interested in hearing what you have to say."

"I was . . . I mean, that is to say . . . that is . . . Retief was just saying . . . or, rather, I was, that . . ."

"Come, come, man! Enough with the excuses. Spit it out!"

"I was . . . er . . . that is, I was admiring your incredibly facile application of advanced parenthetical grimacing applied to tactical advantage within conversational martial arts, a respectful aside in no way intended to disrupt the proceedings!"

"Watch then, Magnan," the Great Man said, "and learn!" The Ambassador's face rearranged itself in an almost puttylike way into a stern 623-Q (Greatness Sorely Tried), slipped down two numbers to a 621-J (Restrained Impatience), edged up a few degrees to a 621-W (Severely Restrained Impatience), fluttered a bit between a 602-A and a 927-S (Indignation and Viewing With Alarm, Second Degree), then writhed into a goggle-eyed 1231 (Astonishment at a Gaffe of Unprecedented Proportions) before settling with a masterful blending of rapidly escalating expressions into a cold-eyed 999-K (Don't Make Me Warn You Again) lightly seasoned with a delicately executed 1195-B (I Do Hope You've Learned Your Lesson).

"Amazing!" Magnan cried, rising and clapping his hands wildly. "A stunning, a virtuoso performance, I must say!"

"Must you, Ben?" Hy Felix said from across the table. The information service attaché was a small, baggy-looking man with trousers to match. "All this here ritual grimacing and stuff is all very well, but I'd still like someone to tell me what the heck the emergency is! I'll have you all know that I had to put a very hot date on hold tonight in order to attend tonight's . . . festivities." He nudged Willy Hanglow, who was sitting at his left, with an elbow jab to the ribs. "I don't want to keep the young lady waiting longer than necessary, if you know what I mean, eh, Willy?"

"Why, Felix!" Horace Smallbody, the Career Minister, exclaimed. "Who'd have ever thought that you . . . ?"

"Sit down, Mr. Magnan," Crapwell said, letting his features shift easily into the composed moue of an 881-C (You See What I Have to Put Up With) for the benefit of the others at the table. He did appear somewhat mollified by Magnan's rave review of his performance, however. "The wolf is at the door."

"Wolf?" General Services Officer Marvin Lackluster cried, whirling in his chair. "What wolf?"

"A figure of speech, Marvin. A metaphor, if you will, of the nightmare threat even now hammering at the embassy gates!"

"Which we'd have already known all about if it weren't for the grimacing," Felix pointed out.

"I speak," Crapwell said in tones of Grave Warning (411-C), edged with just a shade of Impending Doom (731-A), "of none other than the student radical revolt in the streets of High Gnashberry outside the precincts of the Embassy itself! They show every sign of adhering to those ancient high ceremonial rituals of student revolt as practiced by religious fundamentalists, fanatic demagogues, and archconservatives of every stripe, to wit, a desire to rush the gates, storm the embassy, and take the senior diplomatic staff hostage!"

"It's a peace march, Your Excellency," Secretary Birdbush pointed out. "Not a military assault!"

"Indeed, Thurman?" Crapwell said. "I trust you'll find that comforting when the dacoits break through the gates to lay violent hands upon your person!"

"They don't sound very peace-loving," Colonel Marwonger observed. "Listen to 'em! You can hear 'em all the way in here . . . 'Peace! Peace! Peace!' It's enough to turn your stomach!"

"Well, peace is okay in its place," Undersecretary Dinewiner said. "I mean, just so long as one is not extremist about it."

"They'll change their tune when the Krll show up," Captain Tathbub pointed out. "From all reports, the Krll love peace. Planetary surfaces scorched lifeless by orbital bombardment can be very peaceful."

"Gentlemen!" Crapwell barked, mastering a difficult Determination to Get the Discussion Back on Topic (1313-G). "I will entertain suggestions as to how we should deal with the crisis."

"Entertain?" Hanglow asked, puzzled. "You mean, like, with a song and dance?"

"He means," Smallbody suggested, "that His Ex is fresh out of ideas as to how to cover his ass, and he's looking for us to help him out."

"A big job," Felix noted. He held up his hands, as though framing a headline. "Terran Ambassador's Ass Covered." As Crapwell glared at him, he shrugged. "Story at eleven," he added.

"If we can continue," the Ambassador continued with dogged determination, "I would like to address the problem of the peace demonstrators and their presumed intent to storm this embassy."

"Shoot 'em," Colonel Marwonger said.

"Now, now, Heracles," Crapwell chided the military attaché. "A less precipitous solution would be more in tune with the essentially diplomatic character of this mission. Further, a massacre might reflect poorly on our participation in the Interplanetary Tribunal for the Curtailment of Hostilities. We would definitely lose points at the peace table . . . assuming, of course, that ITCH is indeed able to bring the Krll to the peace table. Thus far the Krll Empire has been most intransigent."

"Of course they have, Chauncey," Marwonger replied. "They don't have a single reason to come to the peace table when all their bets are riding on the war table. Our stand on Odiousita V is the first time the Krll juggernaut has even been slowed down.

"In fact, we believe that they may be induced to negotiate if our forces deal them a severe enough drubbing on Odiousita. Of course, that presupposes that we give them the drubbing and not have them give the drubbing to us."

"Gentlemen, gentlemen, please!" Crapwell cried. "In the first place, the sacred halls of a CDT embassy are no place for a discussion of such a warlike nature! In the second, we are not here to discuss the Krll and their aspirations, but the threat to the embassy and its staff presented by the noisy rabble outside the gates!"

"Shoot 'em," Marwonger suggested.

"Are there any other suggestions?" the Ambassador said, disfavoring the military attaché with a Withering Glance (346-D).

"Well," the Embassy Chief of Security, Rupert Numbly, said, "not to get put down my ownself with one of your deadly 346s, Chief . . . but, like, howzabout letting the embassy Marines carry loaded weapons?"

"What?" Birdbush demanded. "Rupert, have you gone nuts? That is exactly the sort of inflammatory and ill-conceived action that could precipitate a disastrous conflagration, peacekeeperwise."

"Unthinkable!" Dinewiner added.

"Preposterous!" Mortimer Moriarity, the Personnel Officer, exclaimed.

"I wonder why the Marines even have weapons," Retief said, addressing no one in particular.

"Eh? What was that?" Crapwell demanded. "You, sir. At the far end of the table. Who are you?"

"Retief, Your Excellency. Second Assistant Deputy Undersecretary of Operations."

"Was that intended as some sort of radical remark? A criticism of established doctrine?"

"Not at all, sir. I simply note that the Embassy's Marine guard detachment is equipped with blast rifles, Mark XXX power pistols, and a number of other technological toys which do represent considerable firepower. Since standing orders require that they shoulder those weapons without power packs or magazines, it seems something of a waste to even carry them."

"Harrumph," the Ambassador harrumphed. "Obviously, you are new to the diplomatic arena. The key word, sir, you said yourself. Marine weapons represent firepower. With such representation, there is no need for the actual article."

"I dunno, Your Excellency," Dinewiner said. "Retief may have a point. Having the Marines carry rifles openly may be provoking the mob."

"I suggest we have the Marine guards disarm at once," Birdbush said.

"Excellent idea, Thurman." Crapwell examined the fingernails of his left hand, then rapidly poked at them with the right, entering a note on his Fingernail Pilot. "See to it, Numbly."

"Yes, sir." The Security Chief shook his head. "But why do we even have Marines if they can't protect us!"

"For one thing, Numbly," Crapwell pointed out reasonably, "they're pretty. Those blue and red full-dress uniforms . . . very snazzy. And furthermore, the firepower they represent is fully sufficient to keep hostile parties at bay, just as this gentleman . . . what did you say your name was?"

"Retief, Your Excellency."

"As Retief, here, pointed out." He favored Retief with a Warm Glow of Beneficent Approbation, a look unusual enough at most diplomatic functions, high-level negotiations, and staff meetings that it had no formal code designation. "Good job, Retief," the Great Man said. "A most cogent observation on your part."

"Sir, that wasn't what I meant to—"

Magnan elbowed Retief in the arm. "Shush, man!" he whispered with urgent ferocity. "You've just won at least five full career advancement points with that coup! Don't give His Ex reason to have second thoughts!"

"I'd rather hoped that he might have some first thoughts," Retief said, standing up. "Mr. Ambassador!"

"Eh? What is it, young man?"

"Disarming the Marines was not my idea, sir, cogent or otherwise. The CDT Regulations Handbook specifically calls for the Marines to provide operational security at all diplomatic installations, stations, and embassies . . . that would be as called for under Articles and Regulations; Article XXI; Section 3, Security, Embassy, Maintenance of; Subsection 12, paragraphs 5 through 9. Subsection 13 specifies the use of weapons in order to employ deadly force, as authorized by the relevant command authority, in order to safeguard Terran diplomatic, military, and civilian personnel, property, and diplomatic installations from all threats, foreign and domestic—"

"I know the regulations, young man!" Crapwell barked.

"I'm relieved to hear it, sir."

"Sit down, sir, and be still! You are young and inexperienced in the milieu of galactic politics and, as such, a certain amount of youthful indiscretion can be tolerated, even, I daresay, overlooked. But you overreach yourself in quoting CDT Regulations Handbook chapter and verse to me!"

The Great Man paused to glare at the faces of the other staff members around the polished table. No one dared meet his eyes or Retief's. Indeed, Magnan, on Retief's right, and Marvin Lackluster, on his left, edged their chairs away from his, less they be contaminated by fallout from the detonation of Unrestrained Ambassadorial Wrath.

Crapwell made another note on his Fingernail Pilot. "I am deducting ten career advancement points for that gaffe, Retief. No! Make that twelve! See to that, Morty."

"Yes, sir," the personnel officer said, making a note of his own.

"I have heard rumor," Crapwell went on, "of some bizarre, to say the least, episodes involving flagrant disregard for Corps policy, decorum, and discipline, episodes revolving around a junior Corps officer by the name of Retief. Would that, by any chance, be you, young man?"

"It's certainly possible, sir. Especially the decorum part."

"Harrumph! Well, be advised that I will tolerate no deviation from established and official Corps policy at this installation and that the traditional discipline and decorum of the Corps will be maintained. Do I make myself clear?"

"Perfectly, sir."

"And for your information, sir, the key line in the regulations you so unadvisedly quoted at me a moment ago was as authorized by the relevant command authority. As the senior Terran diplomatic officer on B'rukley, the command authority resides with me, which means that it is I who determines the advisability of arming my Marines. Who is your supervisor?"

"That would be Mr. Magnan, sir."


"Ah . . . erp? That is to say, yes, Your Excellency?"

"This Retief is your responsibility, sir. You will keep an eye on him. I will tolerate no radicals, no rabble-rousers, no metaphorical loose cannons in my command! Do you understand?"

"Yes, sir! Absolutely, sir! No radical-rousing, no loose cannons, and no metaphors, sir!"

"Good. Now . . . where were we?"

"We were explaining why I had to tell my hot date to cool her heels while I came to get briefed on the emergency," Hy Felix said, "which you still haven't done anything about."

"Why should we do something about your date, Hy?" Dinewiner said, looking Confused (32-F).

"Let's just get this meeting over with so I can go apologize to her. She's awfully sensitive, poor thing."

"I'm afraid your love life will have to wait, Hy," Crapwell told him. "If we survive this night with the revolutionaries storming our barricades, metaphorically speaking—"

"I thought we weren't allowed to use metaphors," Dinewiner said, extending his 32-F to a 32-J.

" . . . if, indeed," Crapwell continued, ignoring the comment, "the embassy still stands in the morning, perhaps then . . ."

"In the morning!" Felix wailed.

" . . . perhaps then we all may return to the blessed normalcy of everyday life in the arms of family and loved ones . . ."

"Naw, I just want to have dinner with her . . ."

" . . . holding them close to our bosoms . . ."

" . . . maybe a little dancing afterward, at this little disco I know on the Street of Libidinous Expectations . . ."

" . . . indeed, when we can rest, all of us, secure in the blessed knowledge that nocturnal Jacobins shall not rouse us from our slumber, battering down the very gates of our domestic habitats, securitywise. . . ."

" . . . and, well, I guess maybe a bit of snuggling later, at the Spaceport Motel, which has some really nice rooms with fake fireplaces and heart-shaped hot tubs . . ."

" . . . but, in the meantime, it remains the sacred duty of each and every one of us, as we man our stations onboard this ship of diplomatic state, rising to the occasion . . ."

" . . . well, maybe we'll do a little more than just snuggle, seeing as how she is so hot and all . . ."

" . . . indeed, our honor, our heroic caliber, the very nature of our character, as diplomats and as upright men, is now being tested to the very fullest . . ."

" . . . and I'm betting she's really good at . . ."

" . . . and indeed we must not be found limp and spent, manhoodwise, in this hour of gravest peril . . ."

Retief slid his chair back quietly and rose.

"Ssst!" Magnan hissed, grasping his arm. "Where do you think you're going?"

Retief nodded toward the Great Man at the head of the table, who was now warming to the rolling-thunder rhythm of his monologue.

"His Ex has just slipped into Full Grandiloquent Mode," Retief whispered back. "I figure I have at least twenty minutes."

"Retief!" Magnan said in a worried, nasal whisper. "You heard what he said! And I'm supposed to be responsible for you!"

"Don't worry, sir," Retief reassured him. "I promise not to use a single metaphor."

"But where are you going?"

"I feel the need to use a euphemism."

"Ah. The little diplomat's room? Very well. But hurry back! His Excellency is indeed in FGM, but the urgency of the situation may curtail his eloquence to a mere fifteen minutes or so. Do not tarry!"

"I'm sure you can carry on without me, Mr. Magnan. Your survival skills at enduring extreme eloquence in the course of interminable staff meetings are nothing short of legendary."

"Well, thank you, Retief. Most kind of you. I must say that . . . Retief?"

But Retief was gone.



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