Authors: Piers Anthony
"Vengeance?" Neq asked softly, muscles taut.
"There is no profit in vengeance; you'll learn that one day," Bob said condescendingly. "It was merely practicality. When discipline deteriorates, the organization is defunct. It is kinder to terminate it outright."
"But the entire nomad society collapsed!"
Bob shrugged. "One must accept the consequence of one's mistakes."
It was plausible. Bob had known what he was doing. When others had tried to interfere, he had acted most effectively to suppress the mutiny. This was true leadership. Had Bob been in Neq's situation seven years ago, he would have arranged to kill Yod before Neqa ever was threatened. Neq knew that next to this man he was an innocent; he lacked the fortitude to do what was necessary. Neq had blundered through life, either prevailing extemporaneously or suffering harshly.
They came to another large cavern. "Ah, here she is," Bob said. "A fine, loyal woman who embodies the very principles of obedience and trust and discretion I require. Had the functionaries of Helicon only been similar..."
A shaggy, beariike creature with aquatic flipper-feet shuffled up: another fringe mutant. "Pleased to meet you, Boba," Neq said.
"Not Boba--that's decadent nomad nomenclature," Bob corrected him. "Mrs. Bob."
Neq nodded gravely. "Now I understand."
They met him the other side of the grave-dump. "What happened?" Jim demanded. "Did you kill him?"
"Of course not," Neq said, walking briskly on. "There is no profit in vengeance."
"But Bob was responsible for all the--" Sosa began.
"He has accepted the consequence of his mistake," Neq said. "As have I. Seal off the passage, and don't worry about the vines there; they make no difference." The fragrance was strong here, and he wanted to get out of it before his judgment was distorted again.
"Almost forgot," Jim said. "Someone's been trying to reach us on the radio--not the crazies. I had it switched to your office, but--"
In moments" Neq was there. The voice emerging from the speaker was foreign. He strode out of the tunnel and touched his broadcast button. "Speak English!" he snapped. "This is Helicon." Too bad the narcotic didn't make all things intelligible!
After a brief delay another voice came through, accented. "This is the Andes station. We have been trying to reach you. There has been no contact for seven years--"
"Merely an interruption," Neq said.
"But we sent an envoy by helicopter two years ago, and he reported that your premises were deserted--"
So that was the mysterious visitor! "There has been a change in personnel. We regret that our former leader, Robert, has had to retire. I am Neq. You may deal with me henceforth."
The voice sounded worried. "We dealt many years with Robert. How did he die?"
"Please, Andes!" Neq said, affecting shock. "Helicon is civilized! Bob left his position in order to devote his full energies to his wife--a charming creature. Send your representative again and we'll introduce him."
There was a pause. Then: "That will not be necessary. Are you in normal operation again? Do you need assistance?"
"How is your supply of young women?" Neq asked.
"How is your supply of electronic equipment?"
Neq smiled. He had a job to do, and suddenly he liked it.
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