“Of course not.” Nick rose, stretched, stifled a colossal yawn. “But it seemed like the quickest solution to invent it.”
“Quickest!” Sweetwater withdrew half a pace, eyes large with awe, and started to count off on her fingers. “Near as I can figure it, you had to write the signal in proper jargon, find a reference number for it, encode it in the proper cipher for today, feed it to Lowndes over the proper circuit—”
“Mark it for automatic decipherment instead of being left over to the morning like most nighttime signals traffic,” Ted butted in. “Right, Nick?”
“Mh-hm,” he agreed around another and fiercer yawn. “But that wasn’t what took the time. I had to track down General Neugebauer’s home code, which is ex-directory at all levels below Class Two Star priority. And he wasn’t happy at being woken up, either.”
“And you did it in less than ten minutes?” Kate said faintly.
Nick gave a shy grin. “Oh, looking back on it, I feel I had all the time in the world.” Drawing herself up to her full height, Suzy Dellinger advanced on him.
“It doesn’t often happen,” she said with a trace of awkwardness, “that a mayor of this town has to undertake the sort of formal ceremony you find in other places. We tend to do it without the trimmings. This is that sort of occasion. I don’t have to ask permission of my fellow citizens. Anybody who disagreed wouldn’t be a Precipician. Nicholas Kenton Haflinger, in my official capacity, I’m proud to convey the thanks of us all.” She made to shake hands with him. And was forestalled.
Natty Bumppo had as usual taken station next to his owner. Unexpectedly he rose, shouldered Suzy aside, planted his vast front paws on Nick’s chest, and slapped him across both cheeks with his broad red tongue.
Then he resumed his stance beside Ted.
“I—uh…” Nick had to swallow before he could go on. “I guess that must be what you call an accolade.” Suddenly everyone was laughing, except him. And except Kate, whose arms were around him and whose face was wet with tears.
“Nothing like this happened before, did it?” she whispered.
“Not that I know of,” he answered softly.
“And you did the right thing, the only thing…” She caught him around the neck and drew his ear close to her mouth to utter words no one else was meant to hear.
“Wise man!” Upon which he kissed her, thoroughly and for a long time.
THE CONTENT OF THE PROPOSITIONS
#1: That this is a rich planet. Therefore poverty and hunger are unworthy of it, and since we can abolish them, we must.
#2: That we are a civilized species. Therefore none shall henceforth gain illicit advantage by reason of the fact that we together know more than one of us can know.
THE OUTCOME OF THE PLEBISCITE Well—how did you vote?