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       Upstarts, p.1

           Joseph Wesley
 
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Upstarts


  Produced by Greg Weeks, Stephen Blundell and the OnlineDistributed Proofreading Team at https://www.pgdp.net

  UPSTARTS

  Earth was being bet on to break her blockade ... but what was the purse ... and who was to collect?

  By L. J. STECHER, JR.

  Illustrated by DILLON

  The sight of an Earthman on Vega III, where it was impossible for anoutlander to be, brought angry crowds to surround John Crownwall as hestrode toward the palace of Viceroy Tronn Ffallk, ruler of Sector XII ofthe Universal Holy Empire of Sunda. He ignored the snarling, thespitting, the waving of boneless prehensile fingers, as he ignored theheavy gravity and heavier air of the unfamiliar planet.

  John Crownwall, florid, red-headed and bulky, considered himself to be abold man. But here, surrounded by this writhing, slithering mass ofeight-foot creatures, he felt distinctly unhappy. Crownwall had heardabout creatures that slavered, but he had never before seen it done.These humanoids had large mouths and sharp teeth, and theyunquestionably slavered. He wished he knew more about them. If theycarried out the threats of their present attitude, Earth would have tosend Marshall to replace him. And if Crownwall couldn't do the job,thought Crownwall, then it was a sure bet that Marshall wouldn't have achance.

  He climbed the great ramp, with its deeply carved Greek key design,toward the mighty entrance gate of the palace. His manner demonstratedan elaborate air of unconcern that he felt sure was entirely wasted onthese monsters. The clashing teeth of the noisiest of them were onlyinches from the quivering flesh of his back as he reached the upperlevel. Instantly, and unexpectedly to Crownwall, the threatening crowddropped back fearfully, so that he walked the last fifty meters alone.

  Crownwall all but sagged with relief. A pair of guards, their purplehides smoothly polished and gleaming with oil, crossed their ceremonialpikes in front of him as he approached the entrance.

  "And just what business do you have here, stranger?" asked the senior ofthe guards, his speaking orifice framing with difficulty the sibilancesof Universal Galactic.

  "What business _would_ I have at the Viceroy's Palace?" asked Crownwall."I want to see Ffallk."

  "Mind your tongue," growled the guard. "If you mean His Effulgence,Right Hand of the Glorious Emperor, Hereditary Ruler of the SeventySuns, Viceroy of the Twelfth Sector of the Universal HolyEmpire"--Universal Galactic had a full measure of ceremonial words--"hesees only those whom he summons. If you know what's good for you, you'llget out of here while you can still walk. And if you run fast enough,maybe you can even get away from that crowd out there, but I doubt it."

  "Just tell him that a man has arrived from Earth to talk to him. He'llsummon me fast enough. Meanwhile, my highly polished friends, I'll justwait here, so why don't you put those heavy pikes down?"

  Crownwall sat on the steps, puffed alight a cigarette, and blew expertsmoke rings toward the guards.

  An elegant courtier, with elaborately jeweled harness, bustled frominside the palace, obviously trying to present an air of strollingnonchalance. He gestured fluidly with a graceful tentacle. "You!" hesaid to Crownwall. "Follow me. His Effulgence commands you to appearbefore him at once." The two guards withdrew their pikes and froze intoimmobility at the sides of the entrance.

  Crownwall stamped out his smoke and ambled after the hurrying courtieralong tremendous corridors, through elaborate waiting rooms, underguarded doorways, until he was finally bowed through a small curtainedarch.

  At the far side of the comfortable, unimpressive room, a plump thing,hide faded to a dull violet, reclined on a couch. Behind him stood aheavy and pompous appearing Vegan in lordly trappings. They examinedCrownwall with great interest for a few moments.

  "It's customary to genuflect when you enter the Viceroy's presence,"said the standing one at last. "But then I'm told you're an Earthling. Isuppose we can expect you to be ignorant of those niceties customaryamong civilized peoples."

  "It's all right, Ggaran," said the Viceroy languidly. He twitched atentacle in a beckoning gesture. "Come closer, Earthling. I bid youwelcome to my capital. I have been looking forward to your arrival forsome time."

  * * * * *

  Crownwall put his hands in his pockets. "That's hardly possible," hesaid. "It was only decided yesterday, back on Earth, that I would be theone to make the trip here. Even if you could spy through buildings onEarth from space, which I doubt, your communications system can't getthe word through that fast."

  "Oh, I didn't mean _you_ in particular," the Vegan said with a negligentwave. "Who can tell one Earthling from another? What I meant was that Iexpected someone from Earth to break through our blockade and come here.Most of my advisors--even Ggaran here--thought it couldn't be done, butI never doubted that you'd manage it. Still, if you were on your homeplanet only yesterday, that's astonishing even to me. Tell me, how didyou manage to get here so fast, and without even alerting my detectionweb?"

  "You're doing the talking," said Crownwall. "If you wanted someone fromEarth to come here to see you, why did you put the cordon around Earth?And why did you drop a planet-buster in the Pacific Ocean, and tell usthat it was triggered to go off if we tried to use the distorter drive?That's hardly the action of somebody who expects visitors."

  Ffallk glanced up at Ggaran. "I told you that Earthlings wereunbelievably bold." He turned back to Crownwall. "If you couldn't cometo me in spite of the trifling inconveniences I put in your way, yourpresence here would be useless to both of us. But you did come, so I cantell you that although I am the leader of one of the mightiest peoplesin the Galaxy, whereas there are scarcely six billions of you squattingon one minor planet, we still need each other. Together, there isnothing we can't do."

  "I'm listening," said Crownwall.

  "We offer you partnership with us to take over the rule of the Galaxyfrom the Sunda--the so-called Master Race."

  "It would hardly be an equal partnership, would it, considering thatthere are so many more of you than there are of us?"

  His Effulgence twitched his ear stalks in amusement. "I'm Viceroy of oneof the hundred Sectors of the Empire. I rule over a total of a hundredSatrapies; these average about a hundred Provinces each. Provincesconsist, in general, of about a hundred Clusters apiece, and everyCluster has an average of a hundred inhabited solar systems. There aremore inhabited planets in the Galaxy than there are people on yoursingle world. I, personally, rule three hundred trillion people, half ofthem of my own race. And yet I tell you that it would be an equalpartnership."

  "I don't get it. Why?"

  "Because you came to me."

  Crownwall shrugged. "So?"

  * * * * *

  The Vegan reached up and engulfed the end of a drinking tube with hiseating orifice. "You upstart Earthlings are a strange and a frighteningrace," he said. "Frightening to the Sunda, especially. When you showedup in the spaceways, it was decreed that you had to be stopped at once.There was even serious discussion of destroying Earth out of hand, whileit is still possible.

  "Your silly little planet was carefully examined at long range in aroutine investigation just about fifty thousand years ago. There were atthat time three different but similar racial strains of pulpy bipeds,numbering a total of perhaps a hundred thousand individuals. They showedmany signs of an ability to reason, but a complete lack of civilization.While these creatures could by no means be classed among the intelligentraces, there was a general expectation, which we reported to the Sunda,that they would some day come to be numbered among the Servants of theEmperor. So we let you alone, in order that you could develop in yourown way, until you reached a high enough civilization to be useful--ifyou were going to.

  "Intelligence is very rare in the Galaxy. In all, it has been found onlyfifteen ti
mes. The other races we have watched develop, and some we haveactively assisted to develop. It took the quickest of them just under amillion years. One such race we left uncontrolled too long--but nomatter.

  "You Earthlings, in defiance of all expectation and all reason, haveexploded into space. You have developed in an incredibly short space oftime. But even that isn't the most disconcerting item of yourdevelopment. As an Earthling, you have heard of the details of the firstexpedition of your people into space, of course?"

  "_Heard_ about it?" exclaimed Crownwall. "I was _on_ it." He settleddown comfortably on a couch, without requesting permission, and thoughtback to that first tremendous adventure; an
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