Possibly a new beginning, possibly just a short
 
"You can't," Gomer said flatly.

The blunt, unadorned statement startled everybody in the high-ceilinged, airy room for a moment. Kaichang Belgardis narrowed her eyes as she turned from the picture window and its view of lake and trees. Verneen Halannim looked up from her book. Orville Torres ceased to practise bass riffs on the back of the bentwood chair he was leaning on. Korynn Mitwoch, who had been silent anyway, kept on being silent, but the quality of his silence altered subtly.

And Tollain Kintarsh squared his shoulders, reared back in his chair and said "Why not?"

"Seir Kintarsh," Gomer said, resuming his more florid manner, "let me explain. You're young, you're a musician, you've said many times you don't care about politics, maybe this got past you. You live on an Affiliated world. All right, not that long Affiliated, but it's an on-off thing, you can't be just a little Affiliated. That means that the planet is bound by Sagittarian law, and that means no trading with UnAffiliated planets."

"We're not going to trade," Tollain pointed out. "We're going to play music."

"Even I know this one, love," his wife Suncat said, uncoiling herself from her armchair. "Playing music *is* trading. We're giving our talents, our expertise and our gorgeous good looks, and in return we get money. That's trade. That's what you pay Gomer to manage for you so you don't have to bother your pretty little head about it. You do remember that you pay Gomer for that?"

"Yes, yes," Tollain said impatiently. "But it's not *that* kind of trade. We're not, I don't know, selling saucepans or groundcars or guns. What we supply is music. That can't be--"

Gomer was nodding slowly and sadly. "Yes it is, Seir Kintarsh, that's what I'm saying. Your music is a valuable product, I know you don't like me calling it that but that's what it is, and if you go and play on a load of UnAffiliated worlds you will not only be giving them something produced on an Affiliated world, you will be bringing back probably if I know you a huge amount of UnAffiliated world currency. The Sagittarians don't like that, Seir Kintarsh, it makes them unhappy."

"All right," Tollain said mutinously, "but what can they do to us? They're so secret some people don't even believe they exist. They don't have any power over individuals, only over governments."

"Here it comes," Kaichang said, to nobody in particular.

"Yes, they have power over governments, Seir Kintarsh, and governments have power over individuals. Not much, under Sagittarian law, true, but in this case quite a lot. For a start, Argenthome would be immediately disAffiliated."

"What?"

"No exceptions, no workarounds, no loopholes. Anyone from an Affiliated world engaging in trade on an UnAffiliated one breaks the law and the planet is removed from Affiliation. So, once you've wrecked the planetary economy and destroyed all its interstellar trade, how do you think the Speakers' Council will feel about you, hmm?"

"That's not fair!" Tollain burst out.

"Under the system to which Argenthome signed up, it's entirely fair. The system, I might add, which prohibits slavery, discrimination, corruption in government and a whole lot of other nasty things I know you don't like. There's a price, Seir Kintarsh, there's always a price. In this case it means that you can't go and play on UnAffiliated worlds, and why would you want to anyway?" Gomer spread his hands. "They can be horribly dangerous, uncivilised places. You get unfettered capitalism and even worse perversions. You get crime, poverty--a lot of people would be too poor to go to your gigs even if you could get them. You get Nyronds..."

"You're a Nyrond," Verneen said.

"I got better," Gomer retorted instantly. "Affiliated worlds are nicer, Seir Kintarsh. They're prosperous, they're peaceful, they appreciate the arts, and they like your music, but they like being Affiliated just a teensy bit better, I'm afraid. So no, I'm sorry, Seir Kintarsh, you know that under ordinary circumstances nothing gives me greater pleasure than to fulfil your slightest wish, but this time, I simply can not."

Tollain thought for a moment. "They can't stop us going."

"No, that's true, Seir Kintarsh, they can't. Nobody can be prevented from going anywhere they wish as long as they have the means to get there, and you have the means, no doubt about that. You could go and play your gigs, have a great time, knock yourself out...but what would you be coming back to? A world in chaos, Seir Kintarsh, because of what you did. You wouldn't be punished...but you would be responsible. And I think I know you well enough to know that you're not going to do anything selfish and rash like that."

Tollain frowned. "You know me altogether too well, Gomer." He tapped out a rhythm on his knees while he thought. The others watched his face. Outside a bird sang. Tollain got up, paced restlessly over to the window. The bird sang again, and he whistled back in exact mimicry.

"Hang on," Orville said. "We could argue that by going and playing on UnAffiliated worlds we'd be showing them what kind of thing they're missing out on. Sort of an advertisement. 'Come and join us' kind of thing."

Gomer looked at him, not unkindly. "I think the Sagittarians are of the opinion," he said, "that the benefits of Affiliation are slightly more fundamental than getting to hear some good tunes, Seir Torres. Anyway--"

"Boing," Tollain said, turning sharply back from his colloquy with the bird, which rustled some leaves somewhere as it flew away. "Gomer, there's nothing to stop us visiting an UnAffiliated world, is there?"

"If your tastes run that way, Seir Kintarsh, no," Gomer said reluctantly. "Though most people have better sense. As long as you neither buy nor sell anything that would result in you bringing either goods or money off that planet when you leave."

"And there would be nothing to stop us taking our gear along, just for the ride, would there?" Tollain continued innocently.

Gomer looked alarmed. "Seir Kintarsh--"

Tollain turned to the rest of the group. "Good news, people," he said. "We can still do the tour. We just do it for free."

Reliable witnesses reported that Gomer's scream was clearly audible three miles away.