Blake had gone. Gan's heart resumed beating. Cautiously, all too aware of the precarious balance of the rubble piled atop his lower body, he began shifting debris. He winced as the main slab creaked and slid sideways several inches. Exploring with his hands, he discovered that the beam pinning him was what had kept him from being crushed. It had saved his life, but now it had him trapped. That was the way life was, a tangled maze of contradictions. Or perhaps, not a maze, but a series of strings, pulling one in different directions, dancing like a puppet to fate's whims.
No use bewailing his fate. He, more than any other, should bow gracefully to the ultimate puppet-master. He remembered how it had all started...
He rubbed at his eyes, dispelling sleep yet again. Wading through the entire economic and sociopolitical situation in the Federation was an enormous undertaking, even for a man with an eidetic memory. It was a pity he couldn't assign the task to his staff. Those bright young Alphas and Betas were capable of compiling the statistics of crop failures and factory recalls of defective goods, but only the peculiar, multi-leveled insight of a psychostrategist of the first rank could link disconnected facts and rumours into a cohesive scenario.
The Federation was falling victim to its own success. Their leaders had no limits on their power. Ancient laws regarding personal freedom were discarded, while harsh penalties were enacted for dissension. If the future trends he extrapolated from the records were not radically altered, the Federation would fall and humanity with it.
And everyone was blind to the terror that lay in wait. He had been as placidly smug as any, until his eyes were opened by the merest chance. He had stayed after his normal hours in his office, with the lights off, doing a little soul-searching. In his early years at the Psychostrategists' College he had eagerly embraced the philosophy that understanding others begins with self-knowledge, both physical and mental. He even learned to control his autonomic system. Not that there was a great deal of use in being able to stop one's heart at will.
While he sat in the dark, contemplating, the Delta cleaners came on shift. He listened to their complaints about the brutality of security and the privations of rationing without undue distress. After all, everyone knew Deltas liked to complain and tell tall tales. Then the light came on and the workers saw him. Their absolute terror and groveling pleas for him not to report them were no stereotyped reaction.
His curiosity led him to access records. He found horrors he'd thought banished with the Dark Ages ™ modification into mutoids, memory revision, outright torture. For the most part, the higher classes were restricted subtly, but the pressure on the underclasses was blatant. Protest was dealt with by escalating proportions of drugs in water and food. This kept the workers from outright revolt, but it also made them dull and unproductive. This, combined with their poor education, made many of them resort to crime ™ which gave the government an excuse to treat them more harshly. This vicious cycle was now beginning to be repeated on the subject worlds. Logically, the eventual result would be a human anthill, with most of humanity unthinking automatons. Then would come the attack.
History was clear on one point: when an empire rotted, there was always someone waiting to take over. Or something. He was greatly afraid that it would not even be a human enemy and that the death-knell for the human race was already sounding.
He had always been an optimist. There must be a way to change the pattern, either from within the Federation or without. The rebels were a hopelessly muddled lot, so he pinned his hopes on the High Council. As a psychostrategist he was entitled to a hearing, and he had earnestly petitioned the more moderate members to consider his proposed changes. He'd appealed to their fear and to their greed, attempting to show them that under more lenient laws, the masses had been more cheaply controlled and more productive. They had seemed disturbed by his charts and findings, but demanded more proof.
So he concentrated on his computer and sighed with weariness.
The quiet voice behind him startled the man at the computer, but he showed no sign of his surprise. The teacher should never let the student see any weakness.
"Carnell." Oliver shut down the computer and turned, smiling. His smile faded when he saw the gun in the other man's hand. Carnell was as brightly cheerful as ever, his blue eyes sparkling and his blonde hair impeccably groomed. The boy had a definite future as a consultant. "Come for a talk?"
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