Nils Rykermann looked out at the night over Munchen. Rebuilding after the Liberation had been quick. The craters and the vast chaos of rubble and ruins were gone, as were many of the Kzin's architectural contributions. The last of the refugee camps and shantytowns on the outskirts were being cleared away. There in the light of Alpha Centauri B was the glittering steel spire of St. Joachim's as it had always been.
But even, or especially, under the night sky, it was not the prewar city. The suburbs stretched farther, the spaceport was far bigger. Beyond the spaceport was a vast scrapyard where the hulks of Kzinti warcraft were piled. Moving dots of light showed where salvage teams worked on some of them. And now laser and missile batteries, and more experimental and esoteric weapons, visible and hidden, ringed the city and the surrounding hills.
The sky was different too. One moon blown to pieces, and virtually every prewar and preliberation satellite shot down by one side or the other. Where there had once been advertising signs in orbit there were now guard ships and weapons systems. A double improvement, thought Rykermann.
The people had changed more than the city. Most of Rykermann's Wunderlander contemporaries were dead. Born in 2332, he had been 35 at the time of the Kzin landings. His body, tonight in the grey uniform of the Wunderland Armed Forces with its discreet cluster of oak leaves at the collar, was slim, strong and taut. He was 93 now, in what on Earth was counted early middle age, and he looked less than early middle-aged until one saw his eyes.
Like Raargh's, his neck and shoulders bore a complex of scars, including, strangely, the rough-and-ready suturing of a kzin field-medic, and an identifying kzin brand which he had not had removed. But he had regrown his beard, a moderately asymmetrical spike identifying him as important—what had once been called "quality"—without being quite Families, and there was little gray in its gold yet.
One of his visitors was an obvious Earthman, shorter and heavier, wearing the crisp uniform of a Staff Brigadier of UNSN Intelligence. He was of about the same apparent age as Rykermann, or perhaps younger. In his case the geriatric drugs had never been interrupted.
The other was Jocelyn van der Stratt. She was in the uniform of the Wunderland Police, with badges of high rank. Like certain other Wunderlanders she had adopted the kzinti custom of wearing a belt-ring, with a collection of dried Kzin and human ears.
"The lady you lost, who you spoke of earlier, Dimity Carmody," said Guthlac. "If I may ask, what happened to her?" His voice was careful, delicate. "I do not mean to cause distress, but in this case I need to know. I know Jocelyn's story, and I know why she is committed to our cause."
"Not the usual," said Rykermann. "On this planet," he went on, " 'the usual' was disease, hunger or kzinti teeth. I suppose Dimity was lucky, or so I've told myself often enough. She was a scientist, and I thought she had something valuable, a theory about FTL. At my insistence there was an attempt to get her away in a slowboat, but by that time the Kzin had got tired of their cat-and-mouse game with the slowboats and destroyed it in space.
"I had the privilege of watching, via a camera on her ship . . . until the screen went blank. At least I know she died quickly. In fact she can't have known anything about it. She'd been injured already and was in a doc. They were trying to reach We Made It."
He strode across the room and opened a paneled cupboard with a key. He reached in and produced a small music box. "That's what I've got left of Dimity," he said. "A kzin kindly returned it to me . . . another story. . . . I've kept it for fifty-eight years . . . All I have!" He struck his fist on the table.
"Selina was probably long dead by then," said Arthur Guthlac. "The Happy Gatherer just disappeared. One of the first ships to go. I imagine them approaching some kzinti vessel . . . innocent, excited at the prospect of contact. . . . I imagine it often. . . ."
"Your wife? . . . Your lover?"
"My sister. We were very close. It had always been the two of us against the world. Two square pegs in round holes. She went into space: the brilliant one. I'd become a museum guard and out of sheer bloody-mindedness I got involved in illegal studies."
"Military history. Totally forbidden. You could get your memory wiped and draw a few years' rehabilitation digging for water ice in the canyons on Mars for that in those days. And there were times before that when it would have been the organ banks. ARM had a long-term project to breed aggression out of the human race, and part of it was banning and systematically destroying military history. My chief at the museum was ARM, of course—all we museum staff were.
"My forbidden studies were inevitably discovered, but I was lucky with the timing of that. . . . I remember standing in front of my chief waiting to be formally charged and arrested, and wondering how much worse my case would be because I was a junior ARM officer myself. Anyway, he'd found I wasn't the only one in the place involved: 'I don't seem to have a very law-abiding general staff, Guthlac,' he said, 'but at this moment it's about all the General Staff that Earth's got.' Strange the difference a couple of capital letters can make. ARM had just concluded that the Angel's Pencil 's messages were genuine . . . that the Kzin were real and they were coming to get us."
"It wasn't like that on Wunderland," said Rykermann. "We didn't censor old history so much as lose interest in it. Earth history was Earth business. Irrelevant to us. We had a whole world to shape. . . . A brave new world it still was. . . . I remember, after we got the warnings, those months of scrabbling through old, chance preserved, fragments of Earth books and records trying to reinvent the wheel."
"We did something the same," said Guthlac.
"We were just getting a military production base together here when the Kzin arrived."
"You look as if you had your share of it."
"After Dimity was killed, I got away into the hills," Rykermann said. "I was a biologist and I knew some low-tech organic chemistry—nearly all our people were helpless without modern laboratories and industrial plants. I also knew as much as anyone about the great caves, full of bones and phosphates. I was the Resistance's biochemical production manager, overseeing the secret factories where nitrates and phosphates were made into explosives and war-gases.
"I was also one of the few leaders deemed indispensable enough to get—when possible—geriatric drugs and other sophisticated medical treatment from the Resistance's stolen supplies. Leonie was another."
"She was fortunate to be your wife."
"We didn't marry until we'd been in the hills for some time . . . and, I'll say . . . after the memory of Dimity had receded for me, a little. After I'd stopped hoping quite so hard that every attack we launched would turn out to be a suicide mission. In any case, we hardly had room for such sentimentalism as giving geriatric drugs to a spouse. The few we had went where they were needed most and she got them on her own merits. Not even my decision.
"She'd been one of my postgraduate biology students, and in addition she had natural gifts with low-tech medical care. That made her important. We'd forgotten we were aliens on this world. Exotic diseases, which our parents and grandparents had controlled so easily with modern medicine and autodocs that we'd forgotten they existed, came raging out, along with a lot of the old human diseases we'd also forgotten and which we'd lost resistance against.
"We did still have quite a lot of more-or-less old-fashioned farmers, thank God!—that's why we're not all dead—but most of us were twenty-fourth-century, machine-dependent people. Robots did a lot of the farming and other dirty jobs. Hell, apart from never seeing a dead animal, a lot of us ex–city dwellers had never seen recognizable meat! At first people starved from ignorance as much as shortages. Like the caveman, shivering with cold on a ledge of coal, fleeing weaponless from the cave-bear over outcrops of iron ore, lapping water muddy with clay. . . . More of us perished from general softness . . . humaneness, lack of ruthless decisiveness, not knowing what mattered for immediate survival and what didn't.
"Then they got the country and the old estates organized, and there was a supply of food back to the cities again. Some sort of government was got together under kzinti supervision and factories started turning over. Someone persuaded the Kzin that we couldn't pay taxes or slave for them if we were dead of starvation.
"I was in the wild country by that time and didn't see it. Disease was what we were concerned about in the hills. Some of the old bacteria and viruses had been eliminated in our ancestors before they left Sol system—that's another reason why some of us lived—but it turned out that there were still plenty left. Common colds alone—to which we'd lost quite a lot of resistance—killed far more people than the Kzin killed directly. That's before we start counting the score of the big-league diseases and Wunderland's own contributions. Things were bad enough in the cities, but at least they kept some modern medical facilities functioning. Even there they suddenly had to find puppy dogs and sheep to make something called insulin. Do cataract operations by hand —yes, you may well look queasy. And that was high-tech compared to what we had in the hills. There was no proper birth control once the contraceptive implants' lives ran out, and yet for women pregnancy became a deadly danger again. Leonie—and it was not only her scientific training but also a matter of intuition with her—turned out to be a priceless asset.
"She was a good fighter, too. A natural tactician and strategist and handy with a beam rifle. We've both outlived most of our contemporaries. It's not nice, watching your friends die of black rot or old age. Still, we've been happy together. She's an extraordinary woman. Kind to me, kind to all the world. The liberation, when it came, was a savage time, as savage as the invasion in its way, and a lot of people were in a sort of drunkenness of joy and vengeance. But even before the fighting stopped, before the relief operations were set up, she was taking care of stray kittens along with the pups and the orphans."
"Some people do. We had cats at home."
"I mean kzin kittens! She's always believed in some kind of eventual . . . reconciliation."
"And you don't?"
"No! First, it's impossible and suicidal, and second . . . I cannot forgive."
"Nor I. And yet . . ."
"I have heard that you had dealings with the kzinti and survived."
"That was in the caves. A kzin and I found ourselves in a sort of temporary alliance against the morlocks—the big carnivores that live at the top of the food chain there. We thought we were going to die together. Then, when the other kzinti came, this one got them to sew me up, and they let me go with a branding and another implant in my skin—kzin-sized and a good deal less comfortable than human ones—and my word not to fight against Heroes again."
"And did you?"
"Is one's word to a ratcat binding? But there were other ways of helping the human cause by then. I think I kept to the letter of my promise, shall we say, though I exploited some loopholes in it."
"Scrupulous of you."
"Partly pride. Whatever you say about the ratcats, they keep their word, and I wanted to show that a human could do so, too. Partly Leonie made me. The kzin in question had saved her life, too. Though I think she would have had me keep my word anyway. Partly fear. Break your word to the Kzin and you fare much worse than an ordinary monkey if you fall into their claws subsequently. . . . I was still valuable to the human cause. There was plenty of work to be done in backwoods biochemistry that didn't require one to be a direct fighter.
"Anyway, my motives were mixed. I'm human, aren't I? Mixed motives are our nature. I think my nerve was starting to go then and I'd had enough of tangling with kzinti. I thought of their tortures." He paused again, steepling his fingers in thought.
"The Masonic orders kept some of Kipling's poetry alive on Wunderland when it had been banned on Earth for militarism," he said. "We used to recite it in our camps before battle sometimes:
"Our world is passed away
In wantonness o'erthrown.
There is nothing left to-day
But steel and fire and stone.
"Though all we knew depart
The old commandments stand:
'In courage keep your heart,
In strength lift up your hand!"
"But I recall another poem of his I found that is not particularly militaristic. It went something like this:
"What with noise, and fear of death,
Waking, and wounds and cold,
They filled the cup for My Mother's Son
Fuller than it could hold.
"That was the point that my mother's son had reached, too."
Jocelyn van der Stratt nodded. "We understood that," she said. "Few could have done more than you."
"In any case again," Rykermann went on, "The kzinti weren't fools. They could track me with the implant, and any attempt to remove it would have killed me and anyone helping. Thing called a zzrou in their charming language. Full of poison and explosive. Still, I made myself useful enough to find, rather to my surprise, that I had a political base after the liberation. So here I am."
"Markham has talked of a just settlement with them," Guthlac said. Jocelyn made a feral noise in her throat. Rykermann shook his head.
" Justiceisn't possible! Recently I've looked at the history of war crimes trials on Earth in ancient times. But war crimes trials for kzinti make no sense. How can you try members of an alien species whose concepts are so different from our own and who thought of us as slaves and prey animals? There was some rough and ready approximation of justice after the liberation, of course: a lot of the most brutal kzin individuals who survived were hunted down and killed—taking a lot of humans with them, often enough. The followers of Ktrodni-Stkaa, who had been especially savage and saw humans as nothing but monkey-meat, in particular. Those who'd treated humans better often got a better shake—often, that is, not always. The human collaborators . . . that was another matter. They'd done what they'd done knowingly.
"The fighting didn't all stop at once, but when it did stop, there was very little in the way of an organized resistance—largely because so much of the kzin military had fought to the death before the cease-fire, also because they just don't think as we do. Some of the survivors went berserk, but there was no equivalent to the human Resistance after the kzinti invasion, no organized sabotage or uprisings. Also, of course, they'd destroyed all of their military assets that they could.
"And it wasn't long before we put the kzinti to work: doing a lot of dirty, dangerous jobs like disarming explosive devices where there was no point in risking human lives. Advising on dismantling the hulked kzin warships. Telepaths were useful from Day One, and many telepaths were not particularly loyal to the Patriarchy anyway. But soon others were showing they could be useful too.
"So much of Wunderland's infrastructure was wrecked that there were real fears of chaos. We had generations of lawless feral humans, including children—ever heard of the Wascal Wabbits? Kzin security guards made a difference there. . . . With so much machinery destroyed, muscles were needed, too. Any muscles. They still are."
"That's the peril!" Jocelyn exclaimed. "We are accommodating them! Giving them a place in our hierarchy! Getting used to them there. There are even some sick—"
"I have heard some humans refer to Chuut-Riit and some of his pride, like Tratt-Admiral, or Hroth, as relatively enlightened, at least compared to a Ktrodni-Stkaa," said Rykermann. Jocelyn gave another, louder snarl that had something feline and feral in it.
"So have I," said Guthlac. "Mainly humans from Earth of the post-war generation. On behalf of us Flatlanders I apologize for them. They never had to endure the horror here."
"Exactly. In a few years, if things go on as they are, we will have a generation growing up who see kzin in the streets and think they know them, but who never experienced the war or kzinti rule," said Rykermann. "What are ruined and exterminated generations to them? Perhaps torn photographs of people they never met. Our stories and histories will become the boring—perhaps to them even comic—tales of grandparents: 'Oh, yes, the Public Hunts and all that.' The photographs of our dead will be rubbish to be burned in the general house-cleaning by our heirs when we die. Until the Kzin return!
"I can honor a kzin," Rykermann went on. "I can respect individual kzinti, but never, never, will I forget watching the kzin laser burn into Dimity's ship. I understand ARM's plan for the Wunderkzin —to create a kzin caste who can be partners with humans on a human world, perhaps even allies one day, not to mention hostages. I understand it, but I will destroy it."
"Does this come between you and your wife?" asked Guthlac. "That you seek vengeance so for the death of another woman?"
"The answer for me is: 'Why burden Leonie with it?' I don't."
"You put a lot of time into building a memorial to her. Doesn't Leonie think it's a bit . . ." Guthlac made an eloquent gesture.
"Jocelyn and every Wunderlander knows the answer to that," said Rykermann. "Dimity Carmody would have been worth a memorial if she had been as sexless as a bumblebee. She was a child when she discovered Carmody's Transform which gave our technology the greatest independent boost it's ever had. Given a few more years and we might have. . . . Just before the Kzin arrived she'd been working on what she called a 'shunt' that she thought could break the light barrier. If anyone could have done it, it would have been she. She showed me some of her calculations, but they meant nothing to me. The famous Professor Rykermann couldn't even understand the symbols she used. But isn't 'shunt' how the scientists on We Made It describe the principle of the Outsiders' hyperdrive? My guess, my belief rather, is that she was working on the right lines.
"But in any case Leonie never guessed how I felt about Dimity, how all-consuming my love for her had been. I'm not even sure if she knew her. She was a biology student and Dimity had her own department." He gave a lopsided laugh. "It was an unconsummated love, by the way. The professor of biology was too much in awe of the supergenius to actually do anything in that direction until too late. The only times we got to sleep together we slept . Holding one another, exhausted and terrified and with the Kzin after us." There was a sudden shake in Rykermann's voice. Guthlac turned his eyes away from him with a peculiar expression of embarrassment. "There was no reason to tell Leonie," said Rykermann, after an awkward pause. "There was no deceit involved. You can hardly be unfaithful with the dead. Why burden her with something that is in the past forever and that can't be changed?
"There are plenty of good objective reasons for wanting every kzin in the universe dead," he went on. "Their incidental interference in my private life is an inconvenience, shall I say, and an additional motivation for me. Perhaps that last vision of the laser burning into the ship carrying Dimity before the screen went blank"—his voice struggled again momentarily—"simply helps me to see the state of things more clearly. Let that species continue to maraud through the universe and more Dimitys will die. More Leonies, more millions to join the millions of Wunderlanders who lie in unmarked graves, whose bodies drift eyeless and freeze-dried between the worlds, those who have no grave where any heart may mourn. More dead like your sister, like Jocelyn's people. Other races too . . . countless . . ."
"We cannot share a universe with the Kzin," said Jocelyn. She spoke quietly but her eyes burned.
"And your Dimity?"
"What would Dimity have said, had she lived? I don't know. I only know that she must be avenged. She and all the other dead innocents. I can't be an open Exterminationist. That would bring me into conflict with Markham. He seems to have become some sort of kzin-lover."
"I thought he was the greatest leader of the Resistance! Carried the fight on in space," said Guthlac.
"Yes, and now he's the greatest obstacle in our path. He's not much good as a democratic politician—far too much the Herrenmann still—but, as you say, he's the Resistance's greatest hero. He fought in space, while we grubbed around in caves and skulked in swamps and alleyways with dung bombs."
"What's his problem, then?"
"I think he admires the Kzin," Rykermann said. "So, in a sense, do I, though I want them dead. I can admire certain qualities in them, anyway. They have the toughness and courage of any successful barbarians. But I think he sees them as fellow aristocrats. He himself is only Families on his mother's side, and that makes him more extreme than the twenty-two-carat article.
"If I wished to slander him I'd say he prefers the Kzin to the impudent prolevolk who no longer give him and the Nineteen Families the deference which he must convince himself every hour to be his due, and who have had the great estates broken up. I don't mean that seriously, of course, but . . . maybe there's a little grain of subconscious truth in it."
"Prefers the Kzin?" asked Guthlac. He frowned as if peering through a bad light. "Wasn't he their most daring and ruthless enemy?"
"I'd be the last to question his bravery and leadership," said Rykermann, "but there's a difference between fighting in space and fighting a guerrilla war on the ground. People relatively seldom get wounded in space battles, for example. Markham didn't have to see so many messy wounds—wounds there was often no way to treat. He could regard the Kzin more . . . abstractly. The enemy in battle was an image on a radar screen for him, not a tower of fangs and claws suddenly looming over you in a cave or chasing you through a swamp to tear you apart for monkey meat. Or simply taking over a district's last farmland for a hunting preserve so hundreds of humans died slowly of starvation. Or leveling a last makeshift human hospital because it was a handy site for an ammunition dump. For Markham, the Kzin was not even the horrible Thing waiting for you at the end of the process that might begin with the collabo police's 3 a.m. door knock.
"Space battles can, I imagine, be fun if you're young and have no hostages to fate and are in the right frame of mind—provoke a Kzinti Vengeful Slasher –class into chasing you and then drop a cloud of ball-bearings in your wake for it to hit at .8 of lightspeed. Things like that.
"Jocelyn"—he gestured to her deferentially—"had the worst part: She worked for the collaborationist police while helping the Resistance. She carried a suicide pill for years in case it was casually announced one day that there would be a telepath check. . . . Markham had what you might call a relatively clean war. Also, the Kzin control of the asteroids was always less total than it was planetside. They liked Wunderland and its elbow room, and they left a lot of the work of squeezing taxes out of the asteroid settlements—the Serpent Swarm—to human collaborationists. In a lot of the Swarm it was still fairly easy for humans to come and go and forget the terror and ghastliness that was always with us here, though as Kzinti numbers increased, human freedom to breathe was gradually being lost everywhere." Rykermann paused a moment, gathering his thoughts. Then he went on.
"The anti-Exterminationists aren't a monolith, of course. Markham, I think, admires the Kzin for what they are. ARM, as always, has its own secret agendas, which I don't expect even you, Arthur, know much of. Others value them not for what they are, but for what they might become."
"Like your wife?
"Yes. But I will not be disloyal to her as a wife, and anyone who thinks I am is mistaken. She has a noble and generous vision and dauntless courage. She believes contact with humans is changing the Kzin, that already those born on Wunderland are different—more flexible, more empathic. I think she is mistaken, though I salute her intentions. And in any case a more flexible, more imaginative Kzin would only be more dangerous."
"And you and I and Jocelyn lost loved ones to them. To love anyone is to make a perpetual hostage of your heart. Markham is a cold, sexless creature, brought up on Nietzsche, mother-fixated. I doubt he's ever loved anyone else, let alone lost them. He married only fairly recently, I think chiefly for the purpose of getting an heir—that's another kzin-like thing about him. But maybe to be a Markham you have to be like that.
"I don't know how much damage he did the Kzin battle-fleets—his whole collection of makeshift warships couldn't have engaged even one of their great dreadnaughts with a hope of survival—but the damage he did their bases and shipyards and the intelligence that his people masered to Sol wasn't negligible. Perhaps he helped buy Earth and Sol System breathing space between the Kzin fleet attacks. That may have been crucial. Gave time for the miracle of the hyperdrive to come from We Made It. I'm told Earth was at its last gasp when the Crashlanders arrived."
"It was," said Guthlac. "If they expected a heroes' welcome it was nothing to the one they got!"
"Markham certainly kept flames of hope and defiance alive here when they were desperately needed. I'd be the last to deny we owe him plenty, and perhaps Sol System does too.
"I've tried to understand what makes him tick," Rykermann went on. "Especially now that we're in Parliament together. He counted those who died with him as warriors fallen in a noble cause, and I'm sure he's been punctilious in seeing their names are spelled correctly on the memorials. I think his feelings for them would have stopped there. Remember Frederick the Great's words to encourage his troops when they hesitated in battle: 'Hunde, wollt ihr ewig leben?' When I read that, I thought: 'That's Markham!' But I see the laser burning into Dimity's ship almost every night of my life. We didn't see the end, as I told you, but I imagine it passing through her body as she lay in that medical coffin. . . ."
"Jocelyn? Do you feel the same?" Guthlac asked.
"I'm a civil servant. And like all senior police officers on this planet I've plenty of enemies from the past. I was exonerated after the Liberation and decorated and promoted for my role in helping the Resistance, but I did wear the collabo uniform. It would be easy for some enemies to take what I did—what I had to do—out of context. 'Who is the genuine friend of humanity? Ulf Reichstein-Markham, who fought the Kzin in the Serpent Swarm in improvised warships; Markham whose name even Chuut-Riit knew; or the former so-called Captain Jocelyn van der Stratt who supervised . . . supervised . . .' No, I can't say it, even here. You can work out the rest of it. But that's what they'd say."
"One thing I've learned in politics," said Rykermann, "is the softly, softly approach. Nils Rykermann fighting Ulf Reichstein Markham—and the UNSN—on Exterminationism wouldn't get me far. It might get me the personal attentions of ARM. . . . You understand."
"I was about to say: 'They wouldn't dare!' But of course they would," said Guthlac. "I was part of ARM's planning staff and I know them better than most. War does things to people, but even before the war ARM's ethos was that it couldn't afford scruples. Buford Early had no scruples about killing tens of thousands of humans—maybe more, we still don't know how many exactly—in the ramscoop raid. I did certain things on Earth when it looked as if the pacifist movement was getting too powerful—and I'd do them again if I had to without a backward glance. ARM as a whole had no scruples about holding back on all sorts of technology that would have helped us in the war, until it was almost too late, for fear it might get into the wrong hands—as if that would have been worse than a Kzin victory destroying human civilization forever! You're right to be distrustful of it."
"Nils Rykermann as Exterminationist leader would be quietly stymied, I think," Rykermann told him. "But Nils Rykermann the mainstream politician reluctantly forced into supporting Exterminationism might be a different matter."
"So we're agreed."
"Yes. Softly, softly," Arthur Guthlac nodded. "By the way, Jocelyn's people and I are among those meeting a delegation from We Made It in a few days to discuss expanding hyperdrive factories here. Her section is in charge of security for the project."
"I know. And more hyperdrive factories here are the best news I've heard for a long time. We're going to need them," Rykermann said. "If we do exterminate the Wunderkzin, I think it rules out the chance of a peace with the Kzin anywhere, ever. The others will hardly be inclined to surrender. We're in for a long war."
"That's exactly what we must have. Like it or not, they're too dangerous to be in the universe, Nils."
"We know," said Jocelyn.
"Come with me, if you like," said Guthlac. "I'm sure they'll want to meet you."
"Thanks, but I'm back to the caves tomorrow," said Rykermann. "Thank God, politics still isn't a full-time job. I remain a biologist, remember. Even a celebrity biologist! Leonie's there, with some students. We're trying to rehabilitate the ecosystem. It got messed up pretty thoroughly in the war. Odd, I suppose, that we should be trying to preserve the morlocks as a species now."
"They can hardly be much of a threat."
"No, they're barely sapient and they stay in the dark. Still, that's the human race for you: trying to preserve its enemies."
"Not all its enemies, I trust."
"So do I."