(ed note: in the novel the Alerion aliens have captured a human colony world of New Europe in the Phoenix. For political reasons having to do with appeasement, the nations of Terra are loath to do anything about it. Gunnar Heim, a private citizen, finds a loop-hole in the archaic concept of privateers.)
Heim looked at the bent head, and the rage in him seemed about to tear him apart. "I'd like to go out myself!" he shouted.
"This would be piracy," Coquelin sighed.
"No ... wait, wait, wait." The thought flamed into being. Heim sprang to his feet. "Privateers. Once upon a time there were privately owned warships."
"Eh, you have read a little history, I see." Some life came back to Coquelin. He sat straighter and watched the huge, restless figure with eyes again alert. "But I have read more. Privateering was outlawed in the nineteenth century. Even countries not signatory to that pact observed the prohibition, until it came to be regarded as a part of international law. Admitted, the Federal Constitution does not mention so archaic a matter. Still"—
"Exactly!" Heim roared; or was it the demon that had come to birth in his skull?
"No, no, flout the law and the Peace Control forces arrive. I am too old and tired, me, to stand trial before the World Court. To say nothing of the practical difficulties. France cannot declare war by herself. France cannot produce nuclear weapons." Coquelin uttered a small sad chuckle. "I am a lawyer by past profession. It there were a, you say loophole?—I could perhaps squirm through. But here—"
Word by word, Heim said: "I can get hold of the weapons."
Coquelin leaped in his seat. "Qu'est-ce que vous dites?"
"Off Earth. I know a place. Don't you see—Alerion has to put space defenses in orbit around New Europe, or she can't hold it against any determined attack." Heim was leaning on the desk now, nose to nose with the other, talking like a machine gun. "New Europe has only a limited industry. So the Aleriona will have to bring most of the stuff from home. A long supply line. One commerce raider—what'd that do to their bargaining position? What'd it do for our own poor buffaloed people? One ship!"
"But I have told you—"
"You told me it—was physically and legally impossible. I can prove the physical possibility. And you said you were a lawyer."
Coquelin rose too, went to the window, and stared long out across the Seine. Heim's pace quivered the floor. His brain whirled with plans, data, angers, hopes; he had not been so seized by a power since he bestrode his bridge at Alpha Eridani.
And then Coquelin turned about. His whisper filled the silence: "Peut-etre—" and he went to the desk and began punching keys on an infotrieve.
"What are you after?" Heim demanded.
"Details of the time before quite every country had joined the Federation. The Moslem League did not recognize that it had any right as a whole to deal with them. So during the troubles, the Authority was charged with protecting Federation interests in Africa." Coquelin gave himself entirely to his work. Once, though, he met Heim's eyes. His own danced in his head. "Mille remercîments, man frère," he said. "It may be for no more than this night, but you have given me back my youth."
"Here's the situation. One commerce raider in the Phoenix can make trouble out of all proportion to its capabilities. Besides disrupting schedules and plans, it ties up any number of warships, which either have to go hunt for it or else run convoy. As a result, the Aleriona force confronting ours in the Marches will be reduced below parity. So if then Earth gets tough, both in space and at the negotiations table—we shouldn't have to get very tough, you see, nothing so drastic that the peacemongers can scream too . loud—one big naval push, while that raider is out there gobbling Aleriona ships—We can make them disgorge New Europe. Also give us some concessions for a change."
"It may be. It may be." Vadasz remained sober. "But how can you get a fighting craft?"
"Buy one and refit it. As for weapons, I'm going to dispatch a couple of trusty men soon, in a company speedster, to Staurn—you know the place?"
"I know of it. Ah-ha!" Vadasz snapped his fingers. His eyes began to glitter.
"Yep. That's where our ship will finish refitting. Then off for the Auroran System."
"But ... will you not make yourself a pirate in the view of the law?"
"That's something which Coquelin is still working on. He says he thinks there may be a way to make everything legal and, at the same time, ram a spike right up the exhaust of Twyman and his giveaway gang. But it's a complicated problem. If the ship does have to fly the Jolly Roger, then Coquelin feels reasonably sure France has the right to try the crew, convict them, and pardon them. Of course, the boys might then have to stay in French territory, or leave Earth altogether for a colony—but they'll be millionaires, and New Europe would certainly give them a glorious reception."
"Mr. President, honorable delegates—" The translation could only suggest how the voice shifted, became the dry detached recital of an attorney making a technical point. "The Federation was founded and still exists to end the tragic anarchy that prevailed among nations before, to bring them under a law that serves the good of all. Now law cannot endure without equal justice. The popularity of an argument must be irrelevant. Only the lawful cause may be admitted. In the name of France, I therefore advance the following points."
"1. The Constitution forbids each member nation to keep armed forces above the police level or to violate the territorial integrity of any other member nation in any way. To enforce this, the Peace Control Authority is vested with the sole military power. It may and must take such measures as are necessary to stop aggressive acts, including conspiracy to commit such acts. The individuals responsible must be arrested and brought to trial before the World Court."
"2. The naval branch of the Authority has been used beyond the Solar System, albeit only in relatively minor actions to suppress insurrection and riot or to protect the lives and property of humans on distant planets. By authorizing such action, and by negotiating agreements with various aliens, the Federation has de facto and de jure assumed the posture with respect to non-human societies that was traditional between governments on Earth prior to the Constitution. Hence Earth as a whole is a sovereign state with the lawful prerogative of self-defense."
"3. By attacking New Europe and subsequently occupying it, Alerion has committed an act of territorial aggression.
"4. If Alerion is not regarded as a sovereign state, negotiation of this dispute is legally impossible, and the Authority is required to take military measures against what can only be considered banditry."
A roar went through the hall. Fazil banged his desk. Coquelin waited, sardonicism playing over his mouth. When order had been restored, the spokesman of France said:
"Evidently this assembly does consider Alerion to be sovereign like Earth. So, to proceed—
"5. If Alerion is indeed a legitimate state, then by the preamble to the Constitution it belongs to the family of nations. Therefore it must be regarded as either (a) obliged to refrain from territorial aggression on pain of military sanctions, or (b) not so obliged, since it is not a member of the Federation.
"6. In case (a), Alerion is automatically subject to military sanctions by the Peace Control Authority. But in case (b), the Authority is also required, by the Constitution and by past precedent, to safeguard the interests of individual humans and of member states of the Federation. Note well, the Authority has that obligation. Not this honorable assembly, not the World Court, but the Peace Control Authority, whose action must under the circumstances be of a military nature.
"7. Accordingly, in either case an automatic state of war now exists between Alerion and the World Federation."
Chaos broke loose.
Somehow quiet was enforced. Coquelin waited until the silence had become deathly. He raised another typewritten sheet and resumed in the same parched tone:
"8. In the event of territorial aggression, member states of the Federation are required to give every appropriate assistance to the Peace Control Authority, in the name of the Federation."
"9. In the judgment of France, this imposes an inescapable duty to provide armed assistance to the colonists of New Europe. However, a member of the Federation is prohibited the manufacture or possession of nuclear weapons."
"10. There is no prohibition on individuals obtaining such weapons outside the Solar System for themselves, provided that they do not bring them back to the Solar System."
"11. Nor is there any prohibition on the unilateral authorization by a member state of the Federation of a private military expedition which so outfits itself. We grant that privateers were formerly required to be citizens of the country whose flag they flew, and that this might conflict with the national disarmament law. We grant also that eventually the issuance of letters of marque and reprisal was banned, by the Declaration of Paris in 1856. But while such treaties remain binding on their signatories, including France, they are not binding on the Federation as a whole, which is not a signatory and indeed has members such as the United States of America which never were signatories. And we have seen that the Federation is a sovereign state, possessing all rights and responsibilities not explicitly waived.
"12. Therefore the Federation has the unrestricted right to issue letters of marque and reprisal.
"13. Therefore, and in view of paragraphs 7, 8, and 9, France has the right and the duty to issue letters of marque and reprisal in the name of the Federation.
"France has done so."
(ed note: Gunnar Heim is recruiting crew for his privateer. He is interviewing a Naqsan alien named Uthg-a-K'thaq for the post of chief engineer)
He dismissed worry and said, "Right. This is actually a raiding cruise. Are you still interested?"
"Yes. Hawe you worgotten that horriwle den you wound me in?"
Heim had not. Tracking rumors to their source, he had ended in a part of New York Welfare that appalled even him. A Naqsan stranded on Earth was virtually helpless. Uthg-a-K'thaq had shipped as technical adviser on a vessel from the planet that men called Caliban, whose most advanced tribe had decided to get into the space game. Entering the Solar System, the inexperienced skipper collided with an asteroid and totaled his craft. Survivors were brought to Earth by the Navy, and the Calibanites sent home; but there was no direct trade with Naqsa and, in view of the crisis in the Phoenix where his world also lay, no hurry to repatriate Uthg-a-K'thaq.
Damnation, instead of fooling with those Aleriona bastards, Parliament ought to be working out a distressed-spaceman covenant