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Robert Sheckley. A Ticket to Tranai

26 January, 2015 Prose

Some ideas for methods of monitoring the activities of goverment official and their responsibility can be taken from science fiction. As an example we bring to your attention an excerpt from a story “A Ticket to Tranai” by Robert Sheckley.


Нe was kept so busy that he had practically no time to explore further the mores and folkways of Tranai. He did manage to see the Citizen’s Booth. This uniquely Tranaian institution was housed in a small building on a quiet back street.

Upon entering, he was confronted by a large board, upon which was listed the names of the present officeholders of Tranai, and their titles. Beside each name was a button. The attendant told Goodman that, by pressing a button, a citizen expressed his disapproval of that official’s acts. The pressed button was automatically registered in History Hall and was a permanent mark against the officeholder.

No minors were allowed to press the buttons, of course.

“And is the Supreme Presidency still mine for the asking?”

“Of course. And with no strings attached. Do you want it?”

Goodman thought deeply for a moment. Did he really want it? Well, someone had to rule. Someone had to protect the people. Someone had to make a few reforms in this Utopian madhouse.

“Yes, I want it,” Goodman said.

The door burst open and Supreme President Borg rushed in. “Wonderful! Perfectly wonderful! You can move into the National Mansion today. I’ve been packed for a week, waiting for you to make up your mind.”

“There must be certain formalities to go through…”

“No formalities,” Borg said, his face shining with perspiration. “None whatsoever. All we do is hand over the Presidential Seal; then I’ll go down and take my name off the rolls and put yours on.”

Goodman looked at Melith. The immigration minister’s round face was expressionless.

“All right,” Goodman said.

Borg reached for the Presidential Seal, started to remove it from his neck —

It exploded suddenly and violently.

Goodman found himself staring in horror at Borg’s red, ruined head. The Supreme President tottered for a moment, then slid to the floor.

Melith took off his jacket and threw it over Borg’s head. Goodman backed to a chair and fell into it. His mouth opened, but no words came out.

“It’s really a pity,” Melith said. “He was so near the end of his term. I warned him against licensing that new spaceport. The citizens won’t approve, I told him. But he was sure they would like to have two spaceports. Well, he was wrong.”

“Do you mean… I mean… how… what…”

“All government officials,” Melith explained, “wear the badge of office, which contains a traditional amount of tessium, an explosive you may have heard of. The charge is radio-controlled from the Citizens Booth. Any citizen has access to the Booth, for the purpose of expressing his disapproval of the government.” Melith sighed. “This will go down as a permanent black mark against poor Borg’s record.”

“You let the people express their disapproval by blowing up officials?” Goodman croaked, appalled.

“It’s the only way that means anything,” said Melith “Check and balance. Just as the people are in our hands, so we are in the people’s hands”.

“And that’s why he wanted me to take over his term. Why didn’t anyone tell me?”

“You didn’t ask,” Melith said, with the suspicion of a smile, “Don’t look so horrified. Assassination is always possible, you know, on any planet, under any government. We try to make it a constructive thing. Under this system, the people never lose touch with the government, and the government never tries to assume dictatorial powers. And, since everyone knows he can turn to the Citizens Booth, you’d be surprised how sparingly it’s used. Of course, there are always hotheads…”

Goodman got to his feet and started to the door, not looking at Borg’s body.

“Don’t you still want the Presidency?” asked Melith.


“That’s so like you Terrans,” Melith remarked sadly. “You want responsibility only if it doesn’t incur risk. That’s the wrong attitude for running a government.”

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