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IF... WORLDS of SCIENCE FICTION AUGUST 1955

BIRTHRIGHT

Why was Cyril Kirk, highest man in his class, assigned to such
an enigmatic place as Nemar? Of what value was it—if any-
thing? No one could tell him the answer. He wouldnt have
believed them
...

BY APRIL SMITH

CYRIL KIRK'S first sight of the planet from the spaceship did nothing to abate the anger seething within him. He stared at it in disgust, glad there were no other passengers left to witness his arrival.

All during the long trip, he had felt their curious stares and excited whispers everywhere he passed, and he had felt a small wave of relief whenever a large batch of them had been unloaded on some planet along the way. None of them had come this far—which was hardly surprising, he thought; the last of them had been taken off two-thirds of the way to Nemar. He was very glad to see them go, though by that time they had stopped making their cautious, deferential attempts to draw him into conversation and elicit some clue about his mission and destination.

He had let them wonder. He knew that his aloofness was being taken as snobbishness, but he was past caring. They all recognized that he was a Planetary Administrator by the blazing gold insignia on the dark uniform, insignia calling for awe and respect all over the galaxy. They guessed that this was his first appointment, but the thing that really aroused their curiosity was the bitter, angry look that went with what they considered his arrogant reserve.

Since polite efforts at conversation by the braver or more confident among the company were met with icy monosyllables that cut off further attempts, they were left with a wide range of controversy. Some of them held, though they had never actually seen a Planetary Administrator before in the flesh, that all PA's were like this. They argued that the long, grueling years of study, the ascetic, disciplined life from childhood, and the constant pressure of competition, knowing that only a small percentage would finally make the grade, made them kind of inhuman by the time they finished. Besides, they were near-geniuses or they wouldn't have been selected in the first place—and everybody knows geniuses are sort of peculiar.

One of the bolder and more beautiful girls on board had been argued into making a carefully planned attempt to draw information out of him, and bets had been placed on the results. She was eager enough to try her hand at this rich prize, and her self-confidence was justified by a long trail of broken hearts in high places, but the attempt came to nothing. Kirk was aware of her efforts and aware that in another mood he would have appreciated her charm, but he felt too sick and miserable to respond.

Remembering her piquant, laughing face later in his cabin, Kirk thought morosely of the long train of girls he had known in the past. Many of them had been lovely—a fledgling PA was considered a highly desirable date, even though the chances were always that he wouldn't make it in the end. But Kirk had always been filled with an iron determination that he was going to make it in the end, and this meant no distractions. If he began to feel he might get really emotionally entangled with a girl, he stopped seeing her at once. He saw them seldom enough, anyway. The regulations of the PA Institute gave him a fair amount of free time, but the study requirements made the apparent freedom meaningless.

How hard he'd worked for the day he'd be wearing this uniform, he thought bitterly. How proud and happy he'd thought he'd feel wearing it! And now, instead, here he was, practically hiding in his cabin, hoping nobody would discover the name of his destination and guess the reason for the humiliated rage that was still coursing through him.

He'd gone over the interview with Carlin Ross a hundred times since the trip started, and he wasn't any nearer to making sense out of it than when he began...

He'd entered Ross's office for the interview in which he would be awarded his post, full of confidence and pride. The final examination results posted in the main lobby were headed by his name. He knew that, because of his good record and general popularity, he had been watched with special interest by the teachers and staff for some time; and he looked forward to being awarded a particularly desirable planet, in spite of its being his first post.

Technical ability and sound training in administration had long ago been decided upon as more important than practical experience, as mankind began to sicken of the bungling of political appointees. The far-flung planets that had been colonized or held an intelligent, humanoid population were so numerous that even an experienced Planetary Administrator could know very little about each one. Only someone brought up on a planet could have a detailed knowledge of it, and it was a basic premise of the Galactic Union that governors with a common upbringing and training on Terra were necessary to keep the varied parts of the empire from splitting off and becoming alienated from the rest.

Ross was one of the half-dozen men in the top echelon governing the galaxy and its warring components. His official title was Galactic Coordinator, and one of his minor duties was the supervision of the Institute of Training for Planetary Administration, which had been home to Kirk for so long. Although he was the Institute's official head, he was too busy to be seen in its halls more than rarely, but Kirk had had several brief talks with him and one long one. He had the feeling that Ross had a special interest in him, and this had added to his anticipation on the fatal day.

As he entered the room, Ross looked up, his blue eyes friendly and alert in the weathered, tanned face. "Hello, Kirk," he said. As always, the simple warmth of his smile threw Kirk off guard. It had never failed to surprise him the few times he had seen Ross. In this place of dedicated, serious men, of military crispness of speech, of stiffly erect carriage, Ross's relaxed body and quiet, open expression seemed startlingly out of place. Except for the alertness and intelligence of the eyes, he looked like a country farmer who had wandered in by mistake. Kirk, and his friends, had more than once wondered how such an anomaly had risen to the high position of Galactic Coordinator.

However, if his manner left you puzzled, it also made you feel surprisingly comfortable, and Kirk had felt relaxed and happy as Ross motioned him to a chair. Nothing prepared him for the shock that was to come.

He remembered the apparent casualness with which Ross had spoken. "I'm sending you to Nemar."

For a moment Kirk felt blank. The name did not register. His private speculations had centered on the question of whether he would be sent to a thriving, pleasant, habitable planet or to one of those whose bleak surface contained some newly discovered, highly valuable mineral and whose struggling colonists lived under pressurized domes. Either type could have held the chance to work up to the galactic eminence and power he had set his heart on. He had been over and over the list of planets that were due to receive new PA's (there was a rotational system of five years, with an additional five years made optional), and he had a private list of those which, as the star graduate of his class, he hoped he might draw. Nemar was not among them.

His face stayed blank for a minute as he searched his memory for the name, and as vague bits of information filtered through to him, his eyes widened in disbelief. "But, sir—" He fumbled for words. "That's on the very edge of the galaxy."

Ross's voice was quiet. "Yes, it's a long way."

"But there's nothing on it!"

Ross sounded a little amused. "There are some very nice people on it—the natives are of the same species as we are, though they look a little different. That means the air is breathable without aids. It's quite a pleasant planet."

"That's not what I mean, sir. I mean there's nothing of any value —no minerals, no artifacts, no valuable plant or animal products." He searched his memory for what little he could remember about Nemar from classes. He recalled that the planet had been discovered only forty years ago by a Survey ship that had gone off course far toward the outer rim of the galaxy. It had been incorporated into the Galactic Union because it was considered dangerous to leave any inhabited planet free of control; but it had not been considered a valuable addition. It was far off the established trade routes, and seemed to contain nothing worth the expense of transporting it. "The culture is very primitive, isn't it?" Kirk asked, half thinking aloud.

"It is so considered," Ross answered.

The reply struck Kirk as odd. A sudden hope filled him. Maybe something new had been discovered about the place, possibly something that only Ross and a few of the top command knew about. He threw a sharp glance at Ross's face, but it told him nothing. "I don't remember too much about the place from class," he ventured.

Ross rose, and with his incongruously quick, lazy grace strode to the filing cabinet along the wall, pulling out documents and pamphlets. He plumped them in a pile in front of Kirk. "Most of the factual information we have is in these. You can try the library, too, but I doubt if you'll find anything more." He added a book to the pile. "This covers their language. You'll have two months of intensive instruction in it before you go. You were always good in your language structure courses, so I doubt that you'll have any trouble with it. You'll have another two weeks to learn the stuff in these documents, and two more weeks to rest or do whatever you like before you leave." He resumed his chair. "You're luckier than some of the others. The boy who got Proserpine will have a stack of books up to there to absorb." He gestured toward the ceiling.

At the mention of Proserpine, Kirk's brown eyes darkened. Proserpine had been recently discovered, too, but that was all it had in common with Nemar. Its inhospitable surface held vast amounts of a highly valuable fuel ore, and it had been one of the places on his list. He wondered who was going there, his insides suddenly twisting with envy. He tried to keep his voice even. "I don't understand why I'm being sent to Nemar." He searched for words. After all, he couldn't exactly mention his graduating first and his record. "Is there something I don't know about? Has something valuable been discovered that hasn't been publicized, or—" He waited hopefully.

Ross's answer was flat. "No, there's nothing there that can be transported that's worth transporting."

Kirk felt despair surging through him, then suddenly changing to sharp anger. "I've worked hard. I have a good record. Why are you giving me this—this lemon? Why don't you give it to whoever graduated lowest, or better still to some older PA who bungled things somewhere, but not quite enough to be retired!" His face was burning with rage. Somewhere inside he felt shocked at himself for speaking to a Coordinator this way; at the same time he felt a violent urge to carry it farther and sock Ross in the nose. His body was shaking...

Remembering the scene now as he watched Nemar swing closer, Kirk felt the anger again, time hadn't dimmed it at all. Ross must have perceived his fury, but he had shown no signs of it. Looking as friendly as ever, he had told him mildly that he did not consider Nemar a "lemon", that he had excellent reasons for sending him there, but he preferred not to tell him what they were. He wanted him to discover them for himself after he arrived. The rest of the interview had concerned itself mainly with practical information, most of which Kirk had scarcely heard through his fog of emotion.

His endless speculations since then had gotten him nowhere. He had dredged out of his memory every incident that might reveal some trait for which he was being discreetly given a back seat. He recalled a roommate who had said he was going to become a living machine if he kept it up, and no machine had the right to have jurisdiction over people. But Jere had flunked out along the way, like most candidates who had an attitude like that. He went over the time he had been called to Ross's office and gently rebuked for working men under him on a project too hard. "I don't ask anything from them I don't ask of myself," he had protested.

"I know," Ross had answered, "and I respect that. But you work that hard from choice." Then he had nodded in dismissal.

Kirk had puzzled over these and other incidents, searching for a clue, but found nothing. All his probing in a more optimistic direction led to blind alleys also. The documents on Nemar, all the information he could dig up, confirmed Ross's statement that the planet held nothing of commercial value.

The planet, to judge by what he had read, was a pleasant place, apparently very pretty, with heavy vegetation and a warm, temperate climate, and the natives were hospitable and friendly. But all this held very little comfort for him and did little to assuage the sense of angry humiliation that had made him seek isolation from the other passengers.

He could see the planet more clearly now as the ship began to angle into an orbit, preparatory to sending out the smaller landing ship which would take him down. Hastily he reviewed in his mind once more the few facts he knew about the place, and shaped his tongue to the unfamiliar sounds of the native language. He fought down the feeling of humiliation, and straightened his shoulders. After all, to these people, he would be the most important person on the planet. If he was to be a big frog in a small puddle, he was still supreme administrator here, and he had no intention of letting them know his arrival signified a disgrace to him.

FROM THE airlock of the landing ship, Kirk looked out on a cleared plain. In the foreground a group of natives were gathered to greet him, and a scattering of dark uniforms among them indicated the officials who would make up the Terran part of his staff. As the natives approached him, he noted the green-gold hair and the slightly greenish tinge to their skin, for which his studies had prepared him.

Nothing in his studies, however, had prepared him for the extraordinary grace and beauty of these people.

They were dressed, men and women alike, in a simple fold of bright-colored cloth circling their body from the waist and reaching a third of the way to their knees. Kirk noted, with a slight sense of shock, that the women wore nothing above the waist except for a strand of woven reeds, interlaced with shells and flowers, which fell loosely to their breasts. In these brief and primitive garments, the natives bore themselves with such imperious grace and assurance that for a moment Kirk felt as if his role had been abruptly reversed— as if instead of being the powerful representative of a great civilization to a backward people, he were the humble primitive waiting for their acceptance.

One of the older natives stepped forward from the rest, his palm outstretched, shoulder high, in greeting. "Welcome to Nemar," he said, his ...

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