Book: Man-Kzin Wars X : The Wunder War (Man-Kzin Wars)

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Chapter 4

The Glory Bee had dropped out of hyperdrive beyond Alpha Centauri's vast singularity and commenced its slow fall through the double star's gravity well several days previously.

Now Wunderland's surface filled most of the bridge's view-ports. Dawn was approaching Munchen but the city's lights could be made out at the edge of the retreating crescent of night. They were cleared to land in a few hours.

"Well, does any of it come back?" Patrick Quickenden's voice was tender.

She gazed down with wide eyes. "The sky .  .  . some of the sky is familiar, I think. I remember the constellations."

"That's good."

"I hope so. I've read enough to be apprehensive."

"There's been a lot of rehabilitation and rebuilding in the last five years."

"There must have been. That looks like a big city."

"We'll know the details of it soon enough."

"It's a strange feeling, Paddy. I can't tell you .  .  . It's frightening."

"I think I can guess something of it. But there's no need for fear."

"Nightmares of great tiger-cats, for years." She gave a little off-key laugh. "Death, flames. Comforting myself when I woke up with the thought that they were only nightmares. And then finding they were all real. .  .  . I have one flash often, of a horrible scene in a burning street. And .  .  . seeing a flash that I know is a deliberate nuclear explosion. I'm frightened of the tigers, still. Silly of me. But they were with me in that coldsleep coffin. They've got deep into what's left of my brain."

"There's no need for fear now," he told her gently. "Remember, the Kzin are beaten on Wunderland and humans are pushing them back across space. Thanks to you. We'll push them farther yet, again thanks to you."

"I'm afraid that I shouldn't have come back, though I was the one who insisted on it." She gripped his hand tightly, her free hand brushing at her head with a nervous gesture. Her fingertips touched scars, invisible under plastic surgery and under the gold of her hair.

"We've got a job to do," he said. "I know you'll do it."

"Brain .  .  . my brain's still pretty good, isn't it?"

"Well, if you don't strain it too much, it can handle little jobs like building the engine that shatters the light barrier from nothing but an alien manual. I'd say that's at least a reasonable performance. About average for someone of your IQ, perhaps—if there was another human being to take an average from."

"I always hated being .  .  . abnormal. .  .  . But now it's the absence .  .  . that chunk of memory that's gone. .  .  . What was I?"

"When they pulled you out of the coldsleep tank on that derelict, your alpha-wave was still off the scale. No one, no one , else could have done what you did! Don't you know why they sometimes called you Lydia Pink?"

"I did hear that name a couple of times when we were on Earth. I didn't know they were referring to me. I remember somebody said it and you shut him up pretty quickly. I wondered about that at the time."

"I suppose I'm overprotective. There are security considerations, and  .  .  .  other things. But if you've any doubts about your mind  .  .  ."

"What's it mean? I suppose compared to a Jinxian I'm pink. I don't live under Sirius."

"It's from a very old song someone rediscovered. Under Templemount, the Pychwar people on Earth went through all the ancient army and navy songs they could find when keeping morale up was a tough business. It wasn't one of the useful ones then, but somebody kept it in mind. Only the first three lines are relevant:

 

"So we'll drink drink, drink 

To Lydia Pink, to Lydia Pink, 

The savior of the Human Race .  .  .    

 

"Dimity, don't cry, please!" He kissed her forehead. "Anyway, there are good reasons why your identity, and certainly your precise role in the scheme of things, shouldn't be publicized too widely. Call me paranoid, but I'd rather the Kzin—and some humans, for that matter—didn't know the interpreter of the Outsiders' manual,—the chief builder of the hyperdrive, was in space, even now.

"Don't worry," he went on, "songs round a piano don't carry over four light-years, and both the hyperwave and the ship traffic is monitored. No one here knows who you are who shouldn't. .  .  ."

"It's not that sort of fear. Do I go to Wunderland under a false name?"

"A good idea if we can keep it up. There are still kzin on Wunderland. It's well-named, by all accounts. A beautiful, glorious world: open skies—I hope I can get used to that—low gravity. Can you sleep for a while? I'll make you something?"

"I'm still afraid. I don't know why. Please, hold me, Paddy."

 

Jocelyn van der Stratt read the details of the We Made It party with considerable interest. She called up some verifying information, and then confirmed to her deputy that she would join Arthur Guthlac and the Wunderland Science and Industry Authorities' delegations in meeting them personally. She also called Ulf Reichstein Markham and canceled their meeting that evening. She had not changed her mind about his usefulness as a tool, but he could be put into reserve. It looked as if another and possibly neater solution to the problem of Leonie Rykermann might be in the offing.

Arthur Guthlac should be brought more firmly on side. That could be accomplished . You'll be harder to seduce than Markham, I guess,she thought, but I've had bigger challenges before. You're not bad-looking either. I don't think the kzinrret-suit for you. Not the first time, anyway. I've never had a Flatlander, or a Brigadier, or, unless I miss my guess, a virgin. But you might find you get lucky on Wunderland tonight. She dressed, again with some thought, and put a call to Guthlac on her vidphone. Postwar Wunderland lacked such luxuries as transfer booths but, she was sure, he would come quickly enough.

 

Colonel Cumpston landed his car near Grossdrache, the cave mouth that was the main entrance to the great complex of the Drachenholen. He had changed into UNSN field dress with the badges of his rank discreetly visible. Students were still shrouding the human mummies. One armed with a strakkaker disposed of a small pack of snuffling advokats and a couple of the even more detested zeitungers, also poisonous little carrion eaters and disease reservoirs but with, in addition, a limited psychic power of broadcasting depression to humans and other sophonts.

The kzin fragments had been stacked in one of the many blast craters nearby and burned, without deliberate insult if without particular reverence or ceremony. In any event, cremation was common among kzinti.

Nils Rykermann had had the caves gazetted as a wildlife sanctuary and restricted area long before the war, but now, when they still contained many dead bodies and many live munitions, that restriction was taken more seriously. None of the students had the authority to question Cumpston's ARM credentials, but they insisted he take mask, lamp, compass, helmet and utility pack and provided him with a guide.

The Rykermanns were at the site of one of the old morlock "towns." Long-dead bodies lay around still: dead morlocks, dead humans, dead kzinti. Lights shone off grinning skulls with peeling crusts of blackened skin, on corpses cuddled over sheaves of bare ribs, on long, naked limb bones.

"A lot of old friends," said Rykermann, when the guide had left. "We keep rediscovering unknown or forgotten chambers. It was a long war."

"Well," said Cumpston, "it's over now."

"Is it?"

"It is for this planet. And against the hyperdrive the kzinti don't have much chance in space."

"You think so? We're going to drop out of hyperspace and say to them: 'Nice planet you've got here. Just hand it over, if you wouldn't mind?' And they'll say: 'Oh indeed, Noble Monkey! Anything to oblige!' It's going to be like that, is it? Do you know how many we lost taking Hssin? Not even a proper planetary base, just a collection of bubble habitats? Have you heard any reports on the fighting on Down?"

Cumpston said nothing to Rykermann's sarcasm. He had, he told himself, sometimes regretted opening his mouth, but had never regretted not opening it. His first remark had been to test Rykermann's reaction, in any event. "I can tell you about Down," he said. "My information's fairly up to date."

"It's not over," said Rykermann. "And as for this planet, it won't be over while kzin are on it."

"Nils!" Leonie Rykermann's voice could have been conveying a number of things, but her body language betrayed distress.

"I'm sorry .  .  ." said Nils Rykermann. "I get a bit emotional sometimes. .  .  ." And then, as he saw a couple of the small decorations Cumpston had made a point of wearing for this visit: "You were there on Hssin, weren't you?"

"Yes."

"Then you know how ferocious they are. And what fighters. Every male trained in high-tech warfare, and practically every male who lives to adulthood, even the telepaths or computer nerds, who are considered feeble and ridiculous by kzinti standards, capable of dismantling a tiger in claw-to-claw combat."

"I think I've known that for quite a while. Hssin wasn't the first fight I've been in."

"These morlocks tend to be more complete than a lot of the other remains," said Rykermann. "But we'll have to find out more about their life cycle before we can try to re-create the species."

"How interesting a species are they? Are they worth re-creating?"

"I was interested, before the Invasion, in seeing how intelligent they were. They gave us a surprise in the fighting by using stone weapons. I also noticed a great variety of noises they made. There's a strong possibility they had language. And the fact that they broke the legs of prisoners to stop them escaping while they kept them alive and fresh to eat shows a certain capacity to plan and anticipate behavior. They're a species, however unattractive, with minds, however dim, and no threat to us now. Given that, perhaps we have some sort of duty to re-create them."

"I see. How effective were their weapons?"

"You see these scars?" Rykermann touched his neck and shoulders. "Most of them are from morlock blows. The kzin who was with us got a similar collection, even prettier."

"Do you happen to know that Kzin's Name?"

"Just a minute!" Rykermann suddenly drew himself up and stared at Cumpston as if seeing him for the first time. The tall Wunderlander easily overtopped the stocky Earthman. "What's this about? Who are you? What are you doing here? This is a restricted project!"

Cumpston produced a card and shone his light on it. Nils Rykermann inspected the card in silence, showed it to Leonie and handed it back.

Rykermann drew a deep breath. "All right," he said more calmly. "I'll ask again. What do you want?"

"This was quite a long hike for me," said Cumpston, "and breathing the dust on the way is thirsty work. You wouldn't have anything like a cup of tea, would you?"

Leonie looked at him gratefully. Nils Rykermann breathed heavily for a moment, then he seemed calmer. Cumpston remembered that Rykermann was now also a politician.

"All right," he said. There were a couple of camp stools set up in one corner with a small utility module. Cumpston sat himself on a thick section of broken stalagmite column. Leonie poured the tea, which, from his dossier, he knew she was fond of. With the skulls and the mummies staring at them under the harsh lights, it was, Cumpston thought, a strange place for a picnic.

Rykermann seemed to welcome the chance to talk now. Cumpston drew him out on the battles that had been fought in the caves. After some time he brought the talk back to the kzin soldier who had fought with them against the morlocks.

"Was that Raargh?"

"Yes .  .  ."

"He seems to have been a reasonable ratcat. Didn't you save each other's lives?"

"How did you know that?"

"I know things. Records are my business. Who knows, I might write a history of the war someday."

"He was on an operation to wipe us out in the caves."

"You don't look wiped out from where I'm standing."

"I repaid him .  .  . I suppose there was one other thing I owe him for, though. He saw me when I was being treated and told me his Name. Orderly who sewed me up wanted to castrate me to make me more docile if I was to be allowed to live, but Raargh told him it was incompatible with Fighters' Privileges and didn't seem to work with monkeys anyway. As well as being Sergeant, Raargh had just got his Name, and Orderly took notice. I was grateful for that." Rykermann laughed sardonically. "Apart from anything else, we had no transplant facilities for any subsequent .  .  . rectification."

"If I may ask in turn, how did you know what they were saying?"

"I'd been studying the Heroes' Tongue as well as the slave language ever since the Invasion. It had been a long war even then."

"I remember. Did you have dealings with Raargh again?"

"I kept out of all kzinti's way. We both did."

"You never thought about him?"

"Why should I?"

"I think I would have, in the circumstances .  .  . wondered what made up such a creature, and so on."

"I knew all I wanted to know about the kzinti. I'd been involved in ground fighting from the first. We .  .  . someone else and I  .  .  . got away from Manstein's Folly just before they nuked it. As for Raargh .  .  . Kzin NCOs tend to be .  .  . something like human NCOs. Tough. Capable. It's rarer for them to become full officers, because of the immobilist nature of Kzin society. I had to study them once. I don't have to now. I've got enough to think about here."

"Raargh—I only discovered his new Name later—saved us both," said Leonie. "I'd given no word not to fight, and I'm not sure the Kzinti would have taken the word of a female Man anyway, but .  .  . I didn't want to fight him."

"Have you seen him since?"

"No. Is that why you're here?"

"Yes. I gather he may be looking for you—not as an enemy, I might say. He's lived with humans successfully since the end of the fighting. Actually, I think he wants to ask your advice."

Rykermann shrugged. "If you're what your credentials say you are, you know our interests. Apart from my Parliamentary duties I'm interested in these caves and in my students." He watched Leonie move away to take recordings from some instruments, then continued: "I've no time for or interest in ratcats. I've seen enough of them to last me the rest of my life. When we get the ecosystems of these caves functioning again I've plenty of other projects. One of my first dreams as a young naturalist was to explore and classify Grossgeister Swamp properly. But it's a little below the caves in my list of priorities now—and it breaks my heart to see it. Our furry friends boiled the center out of Grossgeister with their heat-induction ray when some Wabbits took refuge in it. A great biological paradise, a Golconda of new species, only a short flight from Munchen, and more than half of it sterilized by them! Rehabilitating Grossgeister will be my next project, though there's no way I can bring back the lost species there—we don't even know what most of them were! Classifying Grossgeister was going to be my greatest project, but they've destroyed its heart as they've destroyed so much of our lives. And once a thing is lost .  .  . it's lost."

"Don't you know what he wants to ask you about? Or want to know?"

"Not particularly. I'm not in the business of advising ratcats." He laughed abruptly. "If one bizarre day they got the vote and they were in my Parliamentary constituency I suppose I'd have to talk to them. I can't see that happening, somehow."

"Well, I seem to have come on a fool's errand," said Cumpston. "Still, seeing your work has been fascinating."

"Come back in another five years," said Rykermann. "We might have a clean planet by then. Leonie will show you the way back to the crepuscular zone."

 

Cumpston fed the tapes of the conversation and the films of Rykermann and Leonie into the car's computer. Buford Early was back to him before he had traveled far.

"According to the speech and body language analyses, coupled with the analyses of their earlier speeches and their contact profiles several things emerge plainly," he said. "Rykermann is an Exterminationist. His wife isn't. She half-knows he is and she's trying to convince herself he doesn't mean it."

"That's bad."

"But it's not quite that simple. He wants all kzin dead but he feels under a debt to Raargh. For Leonie's life at least as much as for his own. I don't think he values his own life very highly. There's a lot of death wish in that boy."

"Do we know why?"

"Do I have to draw you a diagram? Little thing you might have noticed called the war. It screwed up a lot of Wunderlanders pretty badly. And not only Wunderlanders. People did things they can't live with now, lost people they can't live without, sometimes. The euphoria of Liberation is wearing off and survivors' guilt is coming back. People are blaming themselves for things they did to stay alive. Certainly he has a major hang-up about this girl professor, for whose death he blames the Kzin and himself about equally, depending on the weather and what he last ate. Who knows all the details? But after fifty-three years of Kzinti occupation there aren't too many on Wunderland who are a picture of glowing mental health. And Rykermann had a tougher war than most. Why do you think he's working a lot harder than he needs to now?"

"Because he's politically ambitious?"

"In that case he'd be concentrating on the one thing: politics. Instead of which he's scattering himself all over the shop—politics, cave antics, television features, the memorial to this professor—all displacement activity. He's trying to stop himself thinking, and I think he's going to snap soon, but he could do a lot of harm before he does."

"So what do we do?"

"Give me time to think, boy. I can't come up with an optimum plan in a second."

"Raargh is seeking him out."

"What for? Still wanting his head for a wall decoration? Wouldn't be popular now, not with Rykermann a celebrity. That's how he found him, I suppose. The old devil must watch monkey television."

"For his advice. I gather he trusts him because of their old alliance."

"Advice? Advice on what?"

"What to do about Vaemar's future. I think Vaemar is with him."

"Cumpston, Vaemar is valuable!"

"Raargh thinks so too. For what it's worth, so do I. That's why I disturbed your esteemed labors."

"There are hopes riding on that cub for .  .  . for .  .  . Where are they now?"

"Close by. I've got them on the tracker."

"Get in closer. In fact check them now."

"They're not far away. But .  .  . Buford, the signal is odd. Muzzy. But it's there. They may be resting up in a cave. They're cats. They love exploring holes."

"Find them! Go in now! Close enough to help them if need be. If they must see you, so be it. Keep them away from Rykermann. If you need help I'll send the cavalry."

 

"They called the spaceport the Himmelfährte," said Jocelyn. "The way to Heaven. Not for the reason you might think obvious, but because so many humans died slaving here when the Kzin wanted to expand it in a hurry. This place is built on human bones."

"I see," said Arthur Guthlac.

"There are the memorials."

"Pretty realistic. Are those children?"

"Yes," she said. "We commissioned the best sculptors on Wunderland. Something never to be forgotten. There are going to be a lot of memorials on this planet. We're going to make sure nothing's forgotten, ever."

A section of one of the kzinti warcraft hulks, cut free, fell to the ground in a metallic crash and a cloud of dust. A clutch of dead kzin, freeze-dried in space years before, stared out eyelessly at them from the new cavity in the hull. Jocelyn banked the car away and headed for the main spaceport building.

"I suppose the ratcat-lovers are very pleased it's all kzin-sized," she remarked as they flew between the huge doors into the parking bays. "Convenient for them when they come back." In fact human-sized facilities were replacing the giant and brutally utilitarian kzinti military buildings and installations. Black paint was smeared over a wall that had once been adorned with a heroic kzin mural. "That'll be them now." She gestured to the tube extending from a recently-landed shuttle. Professor Meinertzhagen, the head of the Wunderland Science Authority, and other gray-uniformed Wunderland officials who Arthur Guthlac had met previously, joined them.

"She's turning a few heads!" he remarked, as the We Made It party approached.

"Not my image of a hyperdrive expert," Jocelyn told him. There was no need to specify who they meant. "That's odd," she added.

"What?"

"I'd say she's a Wunderlander. That's not a Crashlander's musculature. Look at the rest of them. Far more solidly built. Blondie's muscles were formed in Wunderland gravity with a lot of exercise, although I'd say she's lived in Crashlander gravity for a while since. Also, she's walking scared."

"Agoraphobia? The original Crashlander party that returned to Earth tended to suffer from it under an open sky."

"There are treatments for that now. And those ears. Those are Herrenmann ears."

"I wouldn't know."

"You're a flatlander. And I'm a cop, remember?" She gave him an enigmatic smile as she said it. Her swinging hand brushed his and for a moment she squeezed his fingers.

"We notice things like that," she went on. "Look at her eyes. She's as jumpy as a Kzin on a hot osmium roof. Watch." She made a peculiar and difficult noise with her lips. The ears of the blonde woman and of several passersby twitched noticeably. The blonde woman looked bewildered. Jocelyn's face was composed as if nothing had happened.

"Once I looked for UNSN infiltrators."

Her words had taken them into uncomfortable territory. The head of the Crashlander delegation shook hands, carefully restraining his grip.

"Patrick Quickenden," he introduced himself. "Helen Moffet, Roger Selene, Sam Kim .  .  ."

"We've got a couple of cars waiting," said Jocelyn when the introductions were completed. "We're lunching at the university. You'll be able to see the city on the way."

The Crashlander party had seen Earth, but as the belt carried them toward the cars, they gazed in astonishment at Wunderland's open skies, mild weather, tall hills and buildings and blazes of multicolored plants. We need not spend our lives under a single star again, thought Arthur Guthlac. Once I saved money in the hope of a cheap holiday on the Moon before I died. The hyperdrive has liberated us from more than the Kzin. Let this war finish—let the threat be destroyed, and Starman will come into his own! And then, Why, I could be a Wunderlander!  

"There's more dust in the air," said the blond woman suddenly. She had been watching a flutterby that rested on the tip of her finger, fanning its delicate wings.

"More dust than what?" Arthur asked.

"Than I expected, I suppose. The light is different."

"There was a war," said Jocelyn. "A big war. There were nukes used during the Invasion, during the intra-kzinti war, during the Liberation, and worse than nukes during the UNSN's ramscoop raid before that. It hasn't all settled yet. But it will. We're going to build a better planet here. A cleaner planet!"

"I see .  .  . of course." Her face contorted suddenly and she clutched at Arthur Guthlac's arm. Whatever gravity she came from, her grip was so painfully tight he thought for a moment she was attacking him. Her blue eyes were wide with terror. He saw her fight down a scream.

Three of the scrapyard workers across the way were loading a sled. One of them was a kzin.

"There are quite a few of them around," Jocelyn said, following her gaze. Her voice was cold and expressionless. Either she disliked the sight or she despised the woman's obvious stab of terror. " Youneedn't worry about it." She rustled the dried objects that hung from her belt-ring. "Kzinti ears," she said, then added, "and human collabos. A custom we copied from them."

The blond woman stared at the things for a moment. Her hand brushed her hair in a gesture Jocelyn had already noted. The sledge was loaded now. The workers killed the engines of their lifts and one of the humans opened a flask. He tossed a can of beer to the other human and one to the kzin. The delegation and the reception committee boarded their cars and headed toward the university, flying by a scenic route. But more than one head turned to look back at the trio.

 

 

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