Authors: Mack Reynolds
Tags: #Science fiction
THE FRACAS FACTOR
1. Mercenary from Tomorrow (1962)
2. The Earth War (1963)
3. The Fracas Factor (1978)
4. Sweet Dreams, Sweet Princes (1964) (with Michael Banks)
aka Time Gladiator
This country, with its institutions, belongs to
the people who inhabit it. Whenever they shall
grow weary of the existing government, they
can exercise their constitutional right of
amending it, or their revolutionary right to
dismember or overthrow it.
First Inaugural Address
Joe Mauser was in the dill. The former major of mercenaries had been in the dill many a time in combat when the situation had pickled. But he wasn’t in combat now. He was being stalked by five men who were obviously professional assassins, and he was inadequately armed. On top of that, he had an inexperienced companion to take care of, and little Max Mainz, being city-bred, was not only weaponless but wasn’t used to this desert terrain.
It was Joes own fault for getting off the main road. He had wanted to show Max the Guanajuato Military Reservation, where, more than ten years earlier, he had fought one of his most bloody fracases, the one between the two petroleum corporations, Pemex and Texas oil.
It had started in Frank Hodgson’s office in the Octagon. The secret revolutionary head, who had infiltrated the government of the United States of the Americas to the point that he was now the assistant, and power behind the throne, of the Director of the North American Bureau of Investigation, had picked Joe as a courier.
Hodgson was a tall man who carried himself in a strange manner, one shoulder held considerably lower than the other to the point that Joe, when he had first met the other, thought it might be the result of a wound. But no, the bureaucrat had obviously never been a soldier. He had a heavy office pallor, the complexion of the man who seldom gets into the sun, seldom exercises. He affected an air of languor, obviously assumed and artificial, his bright, usually darting, eyes belying the affectation.
On this occasion, he’d had Joe Mauser summoned, and sat for a moment, crossing his legs and dragging an aged briar from a side pocket. He had a pound tin of pipe tobacco on his desk and loaded up while Joe took a seat.
He said, “You speak Spanish, don’t you, Joe?”
Hodgson frowned at him, over the bowl of his pipe, even as he lit it. He said, “Where in the name of Zen did you ever learn Spanish? From your dossier, you were born a Lower, and, I assume, had all of the lack of educational opportunities that implies.”
Joe nodded acceptance of that. “I always made a point when I was in the hospital of studying, rather than reading fiction or watching telly. You’d be surprised how much intensive study you can get in when you’re laid up with a belly wound, or whatever, for a few months. Then I’ve fought a few times on the Chihuahua and Guanajuato Reservations in what they used to call Mexico, and once on the Honduras Reservation at San Pedro Sula. Gave me an opportunity to brush up my accent.”
Hodgson said, letting smoke drool from his nostrils, “Wizard. I assume that Señor Zavala speaks Amer-English, but it won’t hurt for you to have Spanish.”
“Señor Jesus Zavala, in Mexico City.”
“In Spanish, that’s pronounced Hey-Zeus. Not the way we pronounce Jesus,” Jose said. “What about him?”
“He’s a new contact. Potentially influencing quite a few people of the type we need to swing that part of the country over to our way of thinking. We want somebody to size him up, give him the complete message, and begin whatever steps seem called for.”
Joe frowned and gestured at the tellyphone on the others desk. “Why don’t you just phone him?”
Frank Hodgson sighed. “Joe, I sometimes fear that you’ll never get the hang of conspiracy. Any phone can be tapped—even mine. So far, Phil Holland and I have maintained our positions only by taking infinite pains to avoid exposure. We never discuss any ting pertaining to our underground organization over any public system of communications.”
“Lesson learned,” Joe said. “I’ll take the rocket shuttle to Mexico City tomorrow.”
Hodgson blew smoke through his nostrils again and shook his head. “No.”
Joe looked at him.
The bureaucrat said, “If you utilize your credit card to buy passage on either an airline or in the vacuum-tube transport system, it will be recorded in the computer data banks and the time may come when somebody might wonder why Joe Mauser had cause to go to Mexico City.”
“This is getting real cloak and dagger, Joe said. Should I take Max Mainz with me?”
“For the experience,” Joe told him. “He showed up well in that set-to we had in Budapest with the Sovs.”
“All right, take him along. By the way, we’re making arrangements to bounce him from Low-Lower to Mid-Lower. And were issuing him some Variable Basic Common Stock so hell be able to increase his standard of living.”
Joe scowled. “Mid-Lower? That’s still pretty far down on the totem pole. Why don’t you make him a Low-Middle?”
The bureaucrat relit his pipe and dropped the old fashioned kitchen match into an ashtray. He shook his head and said, “Because we need more members who can communicate with the Lowers. Our ranks are composed too largely of Upper caste with a sprinkling of middles and an even smaller sprinkling of Lowers. If this socioeconomic change we advocate is ever to come off, the ending of Peoples Capitalism and the Ultra-Welfare State, we’re going to have to be able to attract the Lowers. Zen knows, they compose ninety percent of the population. At any rate, you’ve got a car, Joe. Drive down. Get Señor Zavala’s address from Miss Mikhail. Report back to me when you return.”
It was in the way of being a dismissal. Frank Hodgson was one of the busiest men in Greater Washington.
“Got it,” Joe said, coming to his feet. He supposed that was one of the reasons Hodgson had chosen him for the job. Joe owned his own sports hovercar in an age when few people owned cars. It was much simpler to rent one when needed, or use the ultra-efficient vacuum-tube transport system. There would be no record of Joe Mauser’s trip to Mexico City in his own vehicle. Fresh power packs would allow him to drive all the way through, all the way back, without using his credit card. He and Max would have to sleep out at night and take food along with them. He assumed that Zavala could put them up one way or the other in Mexico City; otherwise, they could camp out. It was no hardship for old pro Military Category Joe Mauser. There would be no record of him going to the city of Montezuma.
They crossed the Rio Grande at McAllen to Reynosa and headed in the direction of Monterrey, even now still one of the most objectionably industrialized cities in North America, but Joe turned off at the town of China and headed southwest to Montemorelos and then down to Linares where he turned right.
This was one of the few drives in northern Mexico that had any charm. He’d been over it before. In fact, he’d had one of the most exciting bed companions he had ever known in Linares. It was later that her boy friend had confronted him. The boy friend was a knife man. An old timer at any type of combat, Joe Mauser had done everything possible not to hurt him overmuch. It seemed a long time ago, Joe decided. Ten years is a long time in the life of a professional mercenary. After a couple of years, you’re living on borrowed time. You’re living on the time of lads who went down, sacrificing some of theirs. Joe Mauser was one of the old hands who had taken much more than average borrowed time. He could remember few others who had lasted as long as he had. But now, of course, he was out of it. He was forbidden by law to participate in his former profession.
He tried to wrench his thoughts away from this sort of thing.
Max Mainz, who had started off as his batman in his last two fracases and was now his—what was he? an assistant?—said, “Holy Jumping Zen, Major, this is some hovercar. I never seen anything like it.”
“They make them by hand, over in a part of Common Europe they once called Switzerland,” Joe told him.
Max said admiringly, “I wouldn’t think even an Upper could afford anything like this.”
“An Upper-Upper gave it to me,” Joe said, remembering back.
“An Upper-Upper?” Max said. “Zen! I don’t think I ever even seen an Upper-Upper.” He was a small man, as feisty and as ugly as a chimpanzee. For some reason Joe couldn’t fathom, it seemed to endear him to women. Girls of his own caste seemed to tumble for him. Joe had never figured it out. Somehow, it isn’t the Adonises in life, nor even the Herculeses, that make out the most easily or the most often. Perhaps women felt a bit more secure with a little fellow like Max.
Now his companion was staring at him. He saw in Joe Mauser a man in his early thirties, about one eighty in weight, about five eleven in height and who carried himself with that calm dignity of one who had been in trouble many a time and had handled himself well. He was a moderately handsome man, and had brown hair and dark blue eyes and an even, not often smiling, mouth. His face was not particularly disfigured by the two scars, one on his chin, one on his forehead, which the cosmetic surgeons had not been completely able to erase.
Max said, in disbelief, “Gave it to you! How’d ya mean? Nobody’d give nobody something as valuable as this.”
Joe chuckled sourly and said, “Max, when you’ve been in the fracases as long as I have and become even a minor celebrity, such as I was, you begin to attract fans, fracas-buffs who follow everything you do. They get to know more about you than you do yourself. They remember every time the situation pickled on you. They know each time you copped one and how long you were in the hospital. They clip pictures and articles from the fracas-bluff magazines such as the Fracas Times and paste them into albums. They get your autograph and write you fan letters.”
“Sounds like a pain in the ass,” Max said.
“You can’t brush them off, ultimately the buffs lead to your promotion in rank, or to your being bounced up in caste level,” Joe told him. “At any rate, I had a buff to end them all. She…”
“She?” Max protested.
“That’s right. Actually, if anything, the women make more avid fracas fans than the men. This old mopsy followed my career for years, ever since I was a shavetail. She was more knowledgeable about military affairs than anyone I can remember off-hand, save possibly Field Marshal Stonewall Cogswell. I have no doubt at all but that she could have commanded a divisional magnitude fracas.”
“She died, well into her nineties. For years she’s sent me presents. Nothing important. Watches, jewelry, clothes, things like that. But when her will was read, she’d left me this car.”
Max shook his head unbelievingly. “May be I shoulda stayed in the fracases.”
Joe said, “Max, four out of five who do either wind up very dead or with a major wound that drops them out of combat.”
They turned right at Linares and drove the fifty-seven kilometers over the mountains to the ultra-highway which ran from Laredo to Mexico City. Joe opened the car up on it. After they had sped through San Luis Potosi, he began seeking out landmarks. It had been a long time since he had fought on the Guanajuato Military Reservation. More than ten years, he supposed. He had only been a staff sergeant.
The fracas had been largely a farce. It had only been of regimental magnitude and the reservation was too large to make much sense. The two forces had spent most of the time trying to seek out each other with their cavalry elements. The Category Military Department had given them a limit of one month to settle their controversy and at the end of that period Texas oil, Joe’s side, was ruled to have lost, though it had been more nearly a draw.
Yes, it had largely been a farce, but it had also led to possibly the most vicious action Joe Mauser had ever fought.
They reached San Luis de la Paz and he turned right.
The road traffic immediately fell off to the vanishing point.
“This is the Guanajuato Military Reservation,” Joe told Max. “The government’s moved everybody out, of course. They don’t use it much any more. It’s good for cavalry actions but cavalry’s going out in popularity. It’s too hard to keep horse on the telly lenses for the sake of the drooling slobs watching the combat while they sit in their living rooms sucking on trank to keep themselves perpetually happy.”
Max himself was not adverse to the institution of the fracas. He had been a buff for as long as he could remember. He said defensively, “What’s wrong with being happy?”
“Nothing,” Joe sighed “But not when it’s been arrived at by the use of chemicals. Real happiness is a contrast, Max. You can’t have it without going through equivalent periods of sorrow. Pleasure and pain are both contrasts. You can’t have either indefinitely. That’s one of the reasons the concept of heaven and hell is nonsense. After a few thousand years of perpetual enjoyment, I suspect that you’d begin getting bored. And after a few thousand years in boiling oil and brimstone, I doubt if you’d any longer be in pain.”