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Check and checkmate, p.1

Check and Checkmate, page 1

 

Check and Checkmate
 


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Check and Checkmate


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

  CHECK and CHECKMATE

  By WALTER MILLER, Jr.

  Illustrated by TOM BEECHAM

  [Transcriber Note: This etext was produced from IF Worlds of ScienceFiction January 1953. Extensive research did not uncover any evidencethat the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]

  [Sidenote: _Victory hinges not always on the mightiest sword, but oftenon lowly subterfuge. Here is a classic example, with the Western Worldas stooge!_]

  John Smith XVI, new President of the Western Federation of AutonomousStates, had made a number of campaign promises that nobody reallyexpected him to fulfill, for after all, the campaign and the electionwere only ceremonies, and the President--who had no real name of hisown--had been trained for the executive post since birth. He had beenelected by a popular vote of 603,217,954 to 130, the dissenters castingtheir negative by announcing that, for the sake of national unity, theyrefused to participate in any civilized activities during thePresident's term, whereupon they were admitted (voluntarily) to the campfor conscientious objectors.

  But now, two weeks after his inauguration, he seemed ready to make goodthe first and perhaps most difficult promise of the lot: to confer byteleviewphone with Ivan Ivanovitch the Ninth, the Peoplesfriend andVicar of the Asian Proletarian League. The President apparently meant tokeep to himself the secret of his success in the difficult task ofarranging the interview in spite of the lack of any diplomatic contactbetween the nations, in spite of the Hell Wall, and the interferencestations which made even radio communication impossible between the twohalves of the globe. Someone had suggested that John Smith XVI hadfloated a note to Ivan IX in a bottle, and the suggestion, thoughludicrous, seemed not at all unlikely.

  John XVI seemed quite pleased with himself as he sat with his staff ofPrimary Stand-ins in the study of his presidential palace. His face, ofcourse, was invisible behind the golden mask of the official helmet, themask of tragedy with its expression of pathos symbolizing theself-immolation of public service--as well as protecting the President'sown personal visage from public view, and hence from assassination inunmasked private life, for not only was he publicly nameless, but alsopublicly faceless and publicly unknown as an individual. But despite theinvisibility of his expression, his contentment became apparent by acertain briskness of gesticulation and a certain smugness in his voiceas he spoke to the nine Stand-ins who were also bodyguards,council-members, and advisors to the chief executive.

  "Think of it, men," he sighed happily in his smooth tenor, slightlymuffled by the mask. "Communication with the East--after forty years ofthe Big Silence. A great moment in history, perhaps the greatest sincethe last peace-effort."

  The nine men nodded dutifully. The President looked around at them andchuckled.

  "'Peace-effort'," he echoed, spitting the words out distinctly as ifthey were a pair of phonetic specimens. "Do you remember what it used tobe called--in the middle of the last century?"

  A brief silence, then a Stand-in frowned thoughtfully. "Called it 'war',didn't they, John?"

  "Precisely." The golden helmet nodded crisply. "'War'--and now'peace-effort'. Our semantics has progressed. Our present'security-probe' was once called 'lynch'. 'Social-security' once meant alimited insurance plan, not connoting euthanasia and sterilization forthe ellie-moes. And that word 'ellie-moe'--once eleemosynary--was onceapplied to institutions that took _care_ of the handicapped."

  He waited for the burst of laughter to subside. A Stand-in, stillchuckling, spoke up.

  "It's our institutions that have evolved, John."

  "True enough," the President agreed. "But as they changed, most of themkept their own names. Like 'the Presidency'. It used to berabble-chosen, as our ceremonies imply. Then the QualificationsAmendment that limited it to the psychologically fit. And then theEducation Amendment prescribed other qualifying rules. And the GeneticAmendment, and the Selection Amendment, and finally the seclusion anddepersonalization. Until it gradually got out of the rabble's hands,except symbolically." He paused. "Still, it's good to keep the oldnames. As long as the names don't change, the rabble is happy, and say,'We have preserved the Pan-American way of life'."

  "While the rabble is really impotent," added a Stand-in.

  "Don't say that!" John Smith XVI snapped irritably, sitting quicklyerect on the self-conforming couch. "And if you believe it, you're afool." His voice went sardonic. "Why don't you try abolishing me andfind out?"

  "Sorry, John. I didn't mean--"

  * * * * *

  The President stood up and paced slowly toward the window where he stoodgazing between the breeze-stirred drapes at the sun-swept city ofAcapulco and at the breakers rolling toward the distant beach.

  "No, my power is of the rabble," he confessed, "and I am their friend."He turned to look at them and laugh. "Should I build my power on menlike you? Or the Secondary Stand-ins? Baa! For all your securities, youare still stooges. Of the rabble. Do you obey me because I controlmilitary force? Or because I control rabble? The latter I think. Fordespite precautions, military forces can be corrupted. Rabble cannot.They rule you through me, and I rule you through them. And I am theirservant because I have to be. No tyrant can survive by oppression."

  A gloomy hush followed his words. It was still fourteen minutes beforetime for the televiewphone contact with Ivan Ivanovitch IX. ThePresident turned back to the "window". He stared "outside" until he grewtired of the view. He pressed a button on the wall. The window wentblack. He pressed another button, which brought another view: Pike'sPeak at sunset. As the sky gathered gray twilight, he twisted a dial andran the sun back up again.

  The palace was built two hundred feet underground, and the study was asafe with walls of eight-inch steel. It lent a certain air of security.

  The historic moment was approaching. The Stand-ins seemed nervous. Whatchanges had occurred behind the Hell Wall, what new developments inscience, what political mutations? Only rumors came from beyond theWall, since the last big peace-effort which had ended in stalemate andtotal isolation. The intelligence service did the best that it could,but the picture was fuzzy and incomplete. There was still "communism",but the word's meaning had apparently changed. It was said that thethird Ivan had been a crafty opportunist but also a wise man who,although he did nothing to abolish absolutism, effected a bloodyreformation in which the hair-splitting Marxist dogmatics had beenpurged. He appointed the most pragmatic men he could find to succeedthem, and set the whole continental regime on the road to a harsh butpractical utilitarian civilization.

  A slogan had leaked across the Wall recently: "There is no God but aPractical Man; there is no Law but a Best Solution," and it seemed toaffirm that the third Ivan's influence had continued after hispassing--although the slogan itself was a dogma. And it might meansomething quite non-literal to the people who spoke it. The rabble ofthe West were still stirred to deep emotion by a thing that began, "Whenin the course of human events--" and they saw nothing incongruous aboutTertiary Stand-ins who quoted it in the name of the Federation's rule.

  But the unknown factor that disturbed the President most was not thepresent Asian political or economic situation, but rather, the state ofscientific development, particularly as it applied to military matters.The forty years of non-communication had not been spent in militarystasis, at least not for the West. Sixty percent of the federal budgetwas still being spent for defense. Powerful new weapons were still beingdeveloped, and old ones pronounced obsolete. The seventh John Smith hadeven conspired to have a conspiracy against himself in Argentina, withresulting
civil war, so that the weapons could be tested under actualbattle conditions--for the region had been overpopulated anyway. Theresults had been comforting--but John the Sixteenth wanted to know moreabout what the enemy was doing.

  * * * * *

  The Hell Wall--which was really only a globe-encircling belt ofbooby-trapped land and ocean, guarded from both sides--had its politicaladvantages, of course. The mysterious doings of the enemy, real andimagined, were a constant and suspenseful threat that made it easy forthe Smiths to keep the rabble in hand. But for all the present Smithknew, the threat might very well be real. He had to find out. It wouldalso be a popular triumph he could toss to the rabble, bolstering
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