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This One Problem   By:

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Piracy in the past has acquired the gaudy technicolor of high romance. In the present, piracy is as tawdry as tabloid headlines. But piracy in the far future, when presented as vividly as in this story, can be scary stuff.

this one problem

by ... M. C. Pease

The shortest distance between two points may be the long way around and a path of dishonor may well turn into the high road to virtue.

Marc Polder, Resident Comptroller of Torran, strolled idly down the dusty littered path that passed for a street. In the half light of the pint sized moon overhead the town looked almost romantic. One day, when civilization had at last been brought to these Asteroid bases, memory would make Torran heroic. But now, with the fact before the eyes, it was merely dirty and squalid. Only the scum of the Solar System called it home.

Idly Marc Polder pushed a swinging door aside and entered what passed on Torran for a restaurant. Pushing his way through the tables until he saw his only aide, Female Personnel Manager Lee Treynor, he sat down.

"What's new?" he asked.

"Not a thing." But for a certain softness of voice and curve of unmade up lips, Lee could have passed for a boy. Her light hair was short, she wore a man's coveralls. She added, "Only the usual murder, arson and brigandage that you don't want to hear about."

"Don't let such trifles get you down," said Marc with a crooked half smile.

"I'm fed up," the girl said shortly. "I must have been still wet behind the ears when I agreed to come out here two months ago. I thought I was going to help establish a place where decent people could live and work. So far I've just watched my boss swig Venerian swamp beer with the worst elements in town, and do nothing about the lawlessness that runs riot all over the place."

"Look, lady," Marc answered gently, "I certainly admire those lofty sentiments of yours. I admit they are maybe what ought to be. But the way I see it they just don't fit the facts. Out here the Federation space fleet is supposed to be the big stick. Only right now it's off playing mumbly peg with the Venerians.

"The Big Wheels seem to think there'll be a shooting war in a couple of months. There's only three or four destroyers left in the whole damn Asteroid Belt. And without the big stick behind me I'm not hankering to commit suicide by looking for trouble."

Marc smiled again ruefully. "What I can do I try to do," he added with sudden earnestness. "I figure the most important thing is to protect the Asteroid Development Company so they can buy the nuclear ore the Astrodites bring in. Without that ore the Federation's going to be in a hell of a fix if it actually does come to war. And along with that there's the matter of guarding the stuff the Navy's got stored here." He waved toward the Navy warehouse that could be seen outside the window.

"Listening to and fraternizing with the characters you call the biggest crooks in town," the comptroller went on with a shrug, "I've a chance at getting tipped off in advance to anything that may make trouble for our interests. As long as I ignore their rackets they accept me in their midst, talk freely with me around. And it's a hell of a lot easier to stop something when you know the score beforehand."

The young woman's lips parted as if she seemed about to say something. Then they closed in a thin line. Obviously she was not happy with Marc Polder's explanation. She was too young to be willing to compromise her ideals, no matter how potent the logic of necessity.

She was about to leave the table when the shrill screams of a distant whistle sliced through the noise of the crowd. Voices broke off in mid sentence and bodies froze into immobility. As the siren's piercing tones faded the restaurant's customers looked at one another in silent terror. Then, as the shock wore off and unanswered questions were beginning to fly, a man suddenly ran in through the revolving doors... Continue reading book >>

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