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"But won't your people object? Doesn't that deny your basic philosophy of non-interference with others?"

Kron grinned ferociously. "Not at all. Like others of your race, you have never understood the real significance of our social philosophy.

What it actually boils down to is simply this--we respect the customs and desires of others but require in turn that they respect ours."

"You mean that you will use force against the rest of the Confederation?

But you can't do that! You wouldn't stand a chance against the Navy."

"We will first try a method we have used with our own tribes who get out of line. I don't think anything more will be necessary." Kron's voice was flat. "It goes against the grain to do this, but we are left no choice." He turned and left the room without a farewell, which was a measure of his agitation.

I sat there behind my desk wondering what the Niobians could do. Like my ex-boss Alvord Sims, I had a healthy respect for them. It just could be that they could do plenty.

They could.

Organization! Man, you've never seen anything like what the Niobians tossed at our startled heads! We always thought the Planetary Council was a loose and ineffective sort of thing, but what happened within the next twenty hours had to be seen to be believed. I saw it. But it was days before I believed it.

Within a day the natives had whipped up an organization, agreed on a plan of action and put it into effect. By noon of the next day Niobe was a closed planet. A message was sent to the Confederation informing them that Niobe was withdrawing until the emergency was over. An embargo was placed on all movement of shipping.

And everything stopped.

No factories operated. The big starfreighters stood idle and empty at the polar bases. Not one ounce of gerontin or its concentrate precursor left Niobe. Smiling groups of Niobians, using subsonics to enforce their demands, paralyzed everything the Confederation had operated on the planet. No one was hurt. The natives were still polite and friendly. But Confederation business came to an abrupt halt, and stayed halted.

It was utterly amazing! I had never heard of a planet-wide boycott before. But Niobe was entirely within her rights. The Confederation had to accept it.

And, of course, the Confederation capitulated. If the Niobians were fools enough to want pests as a condition of resuming viscaya shipments--well, it was their affair. The Confederation needed viscaya.

It was willing to do almost anything to assure its continued supply.

With the full power of the Confederation turned to giving Niobe what she wanted, it wasn't long before the oysters were under control. We established a systematic seeding procedure for the starfish that kept arriving by the freighter load. In a few months Bergdorf reported that an ecological balance had been achieved.

"But didn't the starfish create another pest problem?" Perkins asked.

"Not at all," Lanceford said. "I told you that the Niobians had an odd sense of taste. Starfish proved to be quite acceptable to the Niobian palate. They merely added another item to Niobe's food supply."

Perkins shuddered delicately. "I wouldn't eat one of those things in a million years."

"You're going to have to eat vork.u.m if you expect to survive on this world. Compared to vork.u.m, a starfish is sheer pleasure! But that wasn't the end of it," Lanceford added with a smile. "You see, shortly after things had simmered down to normal Kron dropped into my office.

"'I think, friend Lanceford,' he said, 'that we are going to have to create a permanent organization to keep unwanted visitors out. This little affair has been a needed lesson. I have been reading about your planetary organization, and I think a thing like your Customs Service is vitally needed on our world to prevent future undesirable biological importations.'

"'I agree,' I replied. 'Anything that would prevent a repetition of this business would be advisable.'

"So that was how the Customs Service started. The insigne you will recognize as a starfish opening an oyster. Unfortunately the Niobians are quite literal minded. When they say any biological importation will be quarantined and examined, they mean Confederation citizens too!

"And that, of course, was the entering wedge. You'll find things quite homelike once you get out of here. The natives have developed an organization that's a virtual copy of our Administrative Branch.

Customs, as you know, is a triumph of the bureaucratic system, and naturally the idea spread. Once the natives got used to a permanent government organization that was available at all times, it was only a question of time before the haphazard tribal organization became replaced by a planetary union. You could almost say that it was an inevitable consequence."

Lanceford grinned. "The Niobians didn't realize that the importation of foreign Customs was almost as bad as the importation of foreign animals!" He chuckled at the unconscious pun.