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The Man Who Played to Lose   By: (1933-2002)

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Transcriber's Note:

This etext was produced from Analog Science Fact & Fiction October 1961. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.





Sometimes the very best thing you can do is to lose. The cholera germ, for instance, asks nothing better than that it be swallowed alive....

Illustrated by Douglas

When I came into the control room the Captain looked up from a set of charts at me. He stood up and gave me a salute and I returned it, not making a ceremony out of it. "Half an hour to landing, sir," he said.

That irritated me. It always irritates me. "I'm not an officer," I said. "I'm not even an enlisted man."

He nodded, too quickly. "Yes, Mr. Carboy," he said. "Sorry."

I sighed. "If you want to salute," I told him, "if it makes you happier to salute, you go right ahead. But don't call me 'Sir.' That would make me an officer, and I wouldn't like being an officer. I've met too many of them."

It didn't make him angry. He wasn't anything except subservient and awed and anxious to please. "Yes, Mr. Carboy," he said.

I searched in my pockets for a cigarette and found a cup of them and stuck one into my mouth. The Captain was right there with a light, so I took it from him. Then I offered him a cigarette. He thanked me as if it had been a full set of Crown Jewels.

What difference did it make whether or not he called me "Sir"? I was still God to him, and there wasn't much I could do about it.

"Did you want something, Mr. Carboy?" he asked me, puffing on the cigarette.

I nodded. "Now that we're getting close," I told him, "I want to know as much about the place as possible. I've had a full hypno, but a hypno's only as good as the facts in it, and the facts that reach Earth may be exaggerated, modified, distorted or even out of date."

"Yes, Mr. Carboy," he said eagerly. I wondered if, when he was through with the cigarette, he would keep the butt as a souvenir. He might even frame it, I told myself. After all, I'd given it to him, hadn't I? The magnificent Mr. Carboy, who almost acts like an ordinary human being, had actually given a poor, respectful spaceship Captain a cigarette.

It made me want to butt holes in the bulkheads. Not that I hadn't had time to get used to the treatment; every man in my corps gets a full dose of awe and respect from the services, from Government officials and even from the United Cabinets. The only reason we don't get it from the man in the street is that the man in the street unless he happens to be a very special man in a very unusual street doesn't know the corps exists. Which is a definite relief, by the way; at least, off the job, I'm no more than Ephraim Carboy, citizen.

I took a puff on my cigarette, and the Captain followed suit, very respectfully. I felt like screaming at him but I kept my voice polite. "The war's definitely over, isn't it?" I said.

He shrugged. "That depends, Mr. Carboy," he said. "The armies have surrendered, and the treaty's been signed. That happened even before we left Earth three or four weeks ago. But whether you could say the war was over ... well, Mr Carboy, that depends."

"Guerrillas," I said.

He nodded. "Wohlen's a jungle world, mostly," he said. "Sixty per cent water, of course, but outside of that there are a few cities, two spaceports, and the rest eighty or ninety per cent of the land area nothing but jungle. A few roads running from city to city, but that's all."

"Of course," I said. He was being careful and accurate. I wondered what he thought I'd do if I caught him in a mistake. Make a magic pass and explode him like a bomb, probably. I took in some more smoke, wondering whether the Captain thought I had psi powers which, of course, I didn't; no need for them in my work and musing sourly on how long it would take before the job was done and I was on my way back home... Continue reading book >>

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