The K-Factor

Harry Harrison
The K-Factor, by

Harry Harrison (AKA Henry Maxwell Dempsey) This eBook is for the
use of anyone anywhere at no cost and with almost no restrictions
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Title: The K-Factor
Author: Harry Harrison (AKA Henry Maxwell Dempsey)
Illustrator: Summers
Release Date: September 8, 2007 [EBook #22540]
Language: English
Character set encoding: ASCII

Produced by Greg Weeks, Stephen Blundell and the Online Distributed
Proofreading Team at


Speed never hurt anybody--it's the sudden stop at the end. It's not how
much change that signals danger, but how fast it's changing....
Illustrated by Summers
"We're losing a planet, Neel. I'm afraid that I can't ... understand it."
The bald and wrinkled head wobbled a bit on the thin neck, and his
eyes were moist. Abravanel was a very old man. Looking at him, Neel
realized for the first time just how old and close to death he was. It was
a profoundly shocking thought.
"Pardon me, sir," Neel broke in, "but is it possible? To lose a planet, I
mean. If the readings are done correctly, and the k-factor equations
worked to the tenth decimal place, then it's really just a matter of
adjustment, making the indicated corrections. After all, Societics is an
exact science--"
"Exact? Exact! Of course it's not! Have I taught you so little that you
dare say that to me?" Anger animated the old man, driving the shadow
of death back a step or two.
Neel hesitated, feeling his hands quiver ever so slightly, groping for the
right words. Societics was his faith, and his teacher, Abravanel, its only
prophet. This man before him, carefully preserved by the age-retarding
drugs, was unique in the galaxy. A living anachronism, a refugee from
the history books. Abravanel had singlehandedly worked out the
equations, spelled out his science of Societics. Then he had trained
seven generations of students in its fundamentals. Hearing the article of
his faith defamed by its creator produced a negative feedback loop in
Neel so strong his hands vibrated in tune with it. It took a jarring effort
to crack out of the cycle.
"The laws that control Societics, as postulated by ... you, are as exact as

any others in the unified-field theory universe."
"No they're not. And, if any man I taught believes that nonsense, I'm
retiring tomorrow and dropping dead the day after. My science--and it
is really not logical to call it a science--is based on observation,
experimentation, control groups and corrected observations. And
though we have made observations in the millions, we are dealing in
units in the billions, and the interactions of these units are multiples of
that. And let us never forget that our units are people who, when they
operate as individuals, do so in a completely different manner. So you
cannot truthfully call my theories exact. They fit the facts well enough
and produce results in practice, that has been empirically proven. So far.
Some day, I am sure, we will run across a culture that doesn't fit my
rules. At that time the rules will have to be revised. We may have that
situation now on Himmel. There's trouble cooking there."
"They have always had a high activity count, sir," Neel put in
"High yes, but always negative. Until now. Now it is slightly positive
and nothing we can do seems to change it. That's why I've called you in.
I want you to run a new basic survey, ignoring the old one still in
operation, to re-examine the check points on our graphs. The trouble
may lie there."
Neel thought before he answered, picking his words carefully.
"Wouldn't that be a little ... unethical, sir? After all Hengly, who is
operator there now, is a friend of mine. Going behind his back, you
"I know nothing of the sort." Abravanel snorted. "We are not playing
for poker chips, or seeing who can get a paper published first. Have you
forgotten what Societics is?"
Neel answered by rote. "The applied study of the interaction of
individuals in a culture, the interaction of the group generated by these
individuals, the equations derived therefrom, and the application of
these equations to control one or more factors of this same culture."

"And what is the one factor that we have tried to control in order to
make all the other factors possible of existence?"
"War." Neel said, in a very small voice.
"Very good then, there is no doubt what it is we are talking about. You
are going to land quietly on Himmel, do a
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