Mack Reynolds: Planetary Agent X

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Mack Reynolds Planetary Agent X
  • Название:
    Planetary Agent X
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    Ace Books
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    Фантастика и фэнтези / на английском языке
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Planetary Agent X: краткое содержание, описание и аннотация

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This novel originally appeared in in two parts under the titles and .

Mack Reynolds: другие книги автора

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His indoctrination course was a strain such as he’d never known in school years. Ross Metaxa was evidently of the opinion that a man could assimilate concentrated information at a rate several times faster than any professional educator ever dreamed possible. No threats were made, but Ronny realized that he could be dropped even more quickly than he’d seemed to have been taken on. There were no classes, to either push or retard the rate of study. He worked with a series of tutors, and pushed himself. The tutors were almost invariably Section G agents, temporarily in Greater Washington between assignments, or for briefing on this phase or that of their work.

Even as he studied, Ronny Bronston kept in mind the eventual assignment at which he was to prove himself. He made a point of inquiring of each agent he met about Tommy Paine.

The name was known to all, but no two reacted in the same manner. Several of them even brushed the whole matter aside as pure legend. Nobody could accomplish all the trouble that Tommy Paine had supposedly stirred up.

To one of these, Ronny said plaintively, “Look, the Old Man believes in him, Sid Jakes believes in him. My final appointment depends on arresting him. How can I ever secure this job, if I’m chasing a myth?”

The other shrugged. “Don’t ask me. I’ve got my own problems. O.K., now, let’s run over this question of Napoleonic law. There are at least two hundred planets that base their legal system on it.”

But the majority of his fellow employees in Section G had strong enough opinions on the interplanetary firebrand. Three or four even claimed to have seen him fleetingly, although no two descriptions jibed. That, of course, could be explained. The man could resort to plastic surgery and other disguises.

Theories there were in plenty, some of them going back long years, and some of them pure fable.

“Look,” Ronny said in disgust one day after a particularly unbelievable siege with two agents recently returned from a trouble spot in a planetary system that involved three aggressive worlds which revolved about the same sun. “Look, it’s impossible for one man to accomplish all this. He’s blamed for half the coups d’états, revolts and upheavals that have taken place for the past quarter century. It’s obvious nonsense. Why, a revolutionist usually spends the greater part of his life toppling a government. Then, once it toppled, he spends the rest of his life trying to set up a new government—and he’s usually unsuccessful.”

One of the others was shaking his head negatively. “You don’t understand this Tommy Paine’s system, Bronston.”

The other agent, a Nigerian, grinned widely. “You sure don’t. I’ve been on planets where he’d operated.”

Ronny leaned forward. The three of them were having a beer in a part of the city once called Baltimore. “You have?” he said. “Tell me about it, eh? The more background I get on this guy, the better.”

“Sure. And this’ll give you an idea of how he operates, how he can get so much trouble done. Well, I was on this planet Goshen, understand? It had kind of a strange history. A bunch of colonists went out there, oh, four or five centuries ago. Pretty healthy expedition, as such outfits go. Bright young people, lots of equipment, lots of know-how and books. Well, through sheer bad luck everything went wrong from the beginning. Everything. Before they got set up at all they had an explosion that killed off all their communications technicians. They lost contact with the outside. O.K. Within a couple of centuries they’d gotten into a state of chattel slavery. Pretty well organized, but static. Kind of an Athenian Democracy on top, a hierarchy, but nineteen people out of twenty were slaves, and I mean real slaves, like animals. They were at this stage when a scout ship from the UP Space Forces discovered them and, of course, they joined up.”

“Where does Tommy Paine come in?” Ronny said. He signaled to a waiter for more beer.

“He comes in a few years later. I was the Section G agent on Goshen, understand? No planet was keener about Articles One and Two of the UP Charter. The hierarchy understood well enough that if their people ever came to know about more advanced socio-economic systems it’d be the end of Goshen’s Golden Age. So they allowed practically no intercourse. No contact whatsoever between UP personnel and anyone outside the upper class, understand? All right. That’s where Tommy Paine came in. It couldn’t have taken him more than a couple of months at most.”

Ronny Bronston was fascinated. “What’d he do?”

“He introduced the steam engine, and then left.”

Ronny was looking at him blankly. “Steam engine?”

“That and the fly shuttle and the spinning jenny,” the Nigerian said. “That Goshen hierarchy never knew what hit them.”

Ronny was still blank. The waiter came up with the steins of beer, and Ronny took one and drained half of it without taking his eyes from the storyteller.

The other agent took it up. “Don’t you see? Their system was based on chattel slavery, hand labor. Given machinery and it collapses. Chattel slavery isn’t practical in a mechanized society. Too expensive a labor force, for one thing. Besides, you need an educated man and one with some initiative—qualities that few slaves possess—to run an industrial society.”

Ronny finished his beer. “Smart cooky, isn’t he?”

“He’s smart, all right. But I’ve got a still better example of his fouling up a whole planetary socio-economic system in a matter of weeks. A friend of mine was working on a planet with a highly-developed feudalism. Barons, lords, dukes, counts and no-accounts, all stashed safely away in castles and fortresses up on the top of hills. The serfs down below did all the work in the fields, provided servants, artisans and foot soldiers for the continual fighting that the aristocracy carried on. Very similar to Europe back in the Dark Ages.”

“So?” Ronny said. “I’d think that’d be a deal that would take centuries to change.”

The Section G agent laughed. “Tommy Paine stayed just long enough to introduce gunpowder. That was the end of those impregnable castles up on the hills.”

“What gets me,” Ronny said slowly, “is his motivation.”

The other two both grunted agreement to that.


Toward the end of his indoctrination studies, Ronny appeared one morning at the Octagon Section G offices and before Irene Kasansky. Watching her fingers fly, listening to her voice rapping and snapping, and rejecting, he came to the conclusion that automation could go just so far in office work and then you were thrown back on the hands of the efficient secretary. Irene was a one-woman office staff.

She looked up at him. “Hello, Ronny. Thought you’d be off on your assignment by now. Got any clues on Tommy Paine?”

“No,” he said. “That’s why I’m here. I wanted to see the commissioner.”

“About what?” She flicked a switch. When a light flickered on one of her order-boxes, she said into it, “No,” emphatically, and turned back to him.

“He said he wanted to see me again before I took off.”

She fiddled some more, finally said, “All right, Ronny. Tell him he’s got time for five minutes with you.”

“Five minutes!”

“Then he’s got an appointment with the Commissioner of Interplanetary Culture,” she said. “You’d better hurry along.”

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