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

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Chapter 8

"Patrick's too flattering," said Dimity, as the outlying farmlands flashed away below the car. "I'm not a key member of our group. I'm largely a theoretician and the original work I did on the hyperdrive has been done. I got myself on this party because I wanted to see Wunderland again."

"Again?" Arthur Guthlac raised his eyebrows. It was on the face of it such an obviously bizarre thing to say. Before the hyperdrive, interstellar travel had involved decades-long flights in hibernation, had been extremely costly and invariably one-way.

"To find out what had happened. I was born here, grew up here.  .  .  .  You think that's impossible?"

"You're saying you are the Dimity Carmody? Go on. Possibly I know what may have happened."

"The Crashlanders pulled me out of a ship that reached Procyon flying on automatic pilot, its life systems destroyed by a laser blast and everyone else on board dead. I was in a tank. But I couldn't remember much of my life. Not who I was apart from my name or what had happened to us. A title that I didn't understand. I only remembered that something terrible had happened. Images of great ravening cat-beasts, and a man with a yellow beard .  .  . and later, when I started reading again, of mathematical symbols. .  .  . You don't look too surprised."

"I'm not. Not after something I heard a couple of nights ago, added to what I've seen of you .  .  . but now, I wonder."

"About me?"

"No, whether this trip today was an entirely good idea," he glanced rather guiltily at Jocelyn, sitting in a blister in the forward part of the car and out of hearing. "Still, we're on our way now."

Below them the farmlands were giving way to barren, unsettled country. Flat-topped mesas, several now adorned with sensors or batteries of weapons, told of ancient erosion. Here and there was uncleared wreckage of war.

"It looks familiar," said Dimity. The great escarpment of the Hohe Kalkstein loomed blue-gray to the northeast.

"This part can't have changed much in a long while. Not like Munchen and the university. It's never been settled," said Jocelyn, returning to the main cabin. She dialed them drinks. Dimity toyed with hers nervously. As it approached the cliffs the car banked slightly and flew up a long canyon. There was a laden vehicle parked on the ground.

The car had a new, kzinti-derived gravity motor and settled with a quiet purring in front of the Drachenholen's mouth. There was none of the noise and stone-spitting of an old ground-effect vehicle. As they cut the engine several humans emerged from the great cave. "Poor security," remarked Jocelyn. "This place isn't so pacified as not to need a lookout."

Arthur Guthlac surveyed the scene with the car's security sensors.

"There is a lookout," he told her. "At least I very much hope that's what it is. Just inside the cave, partially concealed. I read the signature of a large specimen of what the monitor rather quaintly identifies as Pseudofelis sapiens ferox ."

The Munchen party descended from the car, three of Guthlac's four guards triangulating the position with professional alertness.

Nils and Leonie Rykermann and their remaining students hurried to greet the party, Raargh emerging after a moment to join them. He carried one of the salvaged kzinti weapons, a thing the size of a small human artillery piece and too heavy for any human in the group to port. Rykermann was carrying a strakkaker he had been cleaning, and Leonie had another slung over her shoulder. The students were also armed.

"Jocelyn! Arthur! I'm glad to see you!" he called, "We've got a problem here!" With the air of one springing a surprise that might not be agreeable, he turned to Jocelyn, "I hope you can stand a bit of a shock. As you can see, Raargh, formerly Raargh-Sergeant, is here.

"I know you are old sparring partners," he went on, awkwardly trying to make light of the situation, "but he has done us a service and brought us valuable information." He counted the Munchen party. "But we may .  .  . need .  .  . more .  .  ."

His voice died away. There was a metallic rattle as he dropped the strakkaker on the ground. He stood staring, his mouth working.

Jocelyn turned from her affectionate greeting of Leonie. "Hullo, Nils," she said. "I believe you're met Dimity Carmody before. Recently arrived from We Made It."

Dimity Carmody too was staring as if she could hardly credit her senses. In mirror-image gestures each raised a hand. Their fingertips, trembling, touched. Their fluttering fingers raised, slowly, to touch each other's faces.

Neither had eyes for Jocelyn van der Stratt as she turned abruptly away from them, her face contorted. Only Raargh saw it. He was not an expert in interpreting simian expressions, but his ziirgah sense picked up a hatred like a physical blow. For a second he gave renewed thanks he was not a telepath. He thought this sudden wave of volcanic hatred that flowed from her was directed entirely at him. But he was a Hero practiced in self-control, and the situation demanded discipline. Seeing, at long last, what sort of monkeymeat Jocelyn made would not help Vaemar. His tail lashed the ground, but he remained otherwise impassive.

 

"I'm sorry," said Dimity. She was still staring at Nils Rykermann but speaking apparently to everyone. "There is a lot I don't remember. I was hurt, you know."

They made their way to the main camp. Dimity stared about her, touching the back of her head with a characteristic nervous gesture, keeping well away from Raargh. She seemed to recognize the module. Jocelyn and Raargh glared at one another, Jocelyn's body language almost kzinlike, with barely pent attack reflex, Raargh using his lips and tongue to cover his teeth with a conscious effort, the tips of the glistening black claws of his natural hand peeping from between the pads. Nils Rykermann walked like a man in a daze.

Leonie, blank-faced as a soldier under inspection, explained what had happened, Raargh elucidating at various points.

"Can we be sure it's Henrietta?" Jocelyn ground out. Her teeth were clenched and her eyes shining now. Her fingers ran through the ears on her belt-ring, as if counting them over and over.

"That's how she identified herself. Raargh never saw her before. But why should any impostor wish to boast falsely of being the most hated human on the planet? And she has a recording of Chuut-Riit. Raargh thinks it's probably genuine, not a VR mock-up. He saw Chuut-Riit alive."

"I have seen Chuut-Riit alive, and I have seen her before!" said Jocelyn. "The last time was when she accompanied Chuut-Riit to the start of a public hunt. Among the game turned loose for the kzin were some convicted humans in whom I had a  .  .  .  very personal interest. And I was in police uniform. I remained impassive and betrayed nothing, like a well-trained monkey. To have betrayed anything would only have achieved a place for me in the hunt as well. It was as I stood there that I vowed to kill her with my own hands. I will get her. If necessarily alone."

Raargh raised the torn remnants of his ears in the equivalent of a human nod of understanding. Actually he was thinking of what dead Trader-Gunner had said to him the day of the cease-fire when he met Jocelyn: "Those manrretti can be trouble." I have always wanted that tree-swinger dead, but for Vaemar's sake as well as the word I gave I must be calm, he thought again. He had schooled himself for the company of one or two humans, preferably on his own ground or in the open. Being confined in the living-module with thirteen of them was a strain, especially with several of them giving out emotions that battered at his ziirgah sense. Leonie, who, after the battle with the Morlocks he thought he knew, was throwing out an emotional shield such as he had never encountered before. He wondered why. A short time before she had seemed relaxed and calm. That had been after mating, he knew, but even allowing for what monkeys were like, what had been a radiant, almost tangible happiness seemed to have worn off very quickly.

As for the mad manrret Henrietta and her even madder get, her presumption of some kind of partnership with Chuut-Riit would have been an intolerable insult even if she had not dared to lay forcible hands on Vaemar and himself.

He noticed the Jocelyn manrret looking at his ears. Torn as they were, it seemed, she could read that simple gesture. Her body language altered and his ziirgah sense recorded the waves of hatred that flowed from her mind being modified by something like brief fellow-feeling. We both understand vengeance. And then he thought: One of us two is not going to see another sunrise.  

"They must suspect Raargh has given the alarm. They will be pulling out now," said Leonie. "I suggest we send a blocking force back up the route Raargh took getting here, and another to watch for the main exits. It would be easier if we knew what the main exits looked like, but there you are."

"I don't like dividing our force," said Arthur Guthlac. "There are too few of us as it is. And we don't know how many there are."

"We're not challenging battle. Only watching them till substantial forces arrive. They may not think Raargh went to humans. Perhaps they think he's headed to the kzin community at Arhus to bring them into the revolt. But we've got to move fast."

"I've called for reinforcements," said Guthlac. "Anyway, if Cumpston failed to report to Early after a certain time, emergency procedures would be triggered automatically."

"How much do you know of Early's schemes?"

"Not a lot nowadays. And frankly I don't want to. His work was always secretive, and it's become more so lately. Don't forget, he got to where he is not only by being a brilliant military strategist, but by being the most ferocious carnivore in ARM's internal politics. That means manipulating ARM factions against one another, never letting the right hand know what the left hand is doing. Hunting kzin with a pocketknife in a dark room is child's play compared to the games Early plays."

"No more monkey-chatter!" said Raargh. "Vaemar is captive. Must rescue now!"

"If Raargh says Vaemar is important, he is," said Leonie.

"All right," said Arthur Guthlac after a moment. "Can you guide us back through the caves?"

"Yes, trail is marked."

"And we don't know the other entrance or entrances. It or they are presumably well hidden. Very well. This is my plan. It you don't like it, say so very quickly." He turned to two of the soldiers. "Dunkerton and Collins, you will take our car and the university car and fly north. Commence a box search of the area using deep radar. Remember they may have both a human and a kzin prisoner, both important. Don't fire on them under any circumstances. Track them till reinforcements arrive. Take both cars in case they split up. The rest of us will head back through the caves. That's the only way I can think of that gives us a chance to block both ends of the burrow at once."

No one disagreed.

"Right, Nils and Leonie, I'll get you and your students to organize weapons, equipment, food, lamps for us all. You know best what we'll need. We may be underground a long time."

The module emptied quickly under Leonie's direction. Arthur Guthlac turned to the desk and spoke to it urgently. Jocelyn alone remained with him, drawing him aside.

"Early says reinforcements are on the way," he told her. "Markham's coming too."

"Why not just let this revolt go ahead? It would do the Exterminationists' work for them." Her voice had a seductive burr in it. Her fingers brushed his thigh. She bent slowly towards him and kissed his mouth, then drew away, gazing up at him catlike from under her long lashes. Her breasts heaved slightly but noticeably.

Arthur Guthlac looked at her with troubled eyes.

"Don't think the idea doesn't tempt me," he said. "But .  .  . I began my military career—poring over fragments of old forbidden books in a museum—because I cared about the fact that honor seemed to have departed from our world .  .  . from Earth's society, anyway. We were sheeplike masses almost without volition, directed and controlled by the ARM bureaucracy, of which I myself was a tiny part. Without realizing it, we were undergoing a sort of death. I wanted to keep some threatened values alive. If it's true that humans can only have a civilization as long as less civilized humans guard it, and I am one of the guardians, then I will still try to be as civilized as possible. Otherwise the whole thing ends up kind of pointless.

"During the war I did plenty of ruthless things, including acting as an agent provocateur to discredit the pacifist movement when the situation on Earth required it. I've slept well with many deaths on my conscience—and I'm not talking about kzin deaths. But to just let these lunatics go ahead with their attempted mayhem seems wrong—perhaps because that old kzin trusts Rykermann, perhaps because we're all getting old and less hot-livered—I mean hot-tempered! Even seeing that kzin and those humans working together at the spaceport. Perhaps I'm wobbling a bit about Exterminationism. Also, who knows how much damage the revolt might do before we crushed it? I need to think the whole thing over."

"I don't! But there's one reason for me against just sitting back, my love: If Henrietta is there I'm going after her! Alone if need be! But I suppose it would be silly to resent reinforcements."

As Cumpston had a habit of pinching his lower lip when thinking, Arthur Guthlac had a habit of sticking his out. Jocelyn leaned closer to him, bit it gently between her teeth, then licked his face. She thought of how Markham had enjoyed that.

 

"Leonie liver not happy," said Raargh in his blend of Wunderlander and the former slaves' patois. It was a statement, not a question, the vocabulary somewhat broken down. Leonie was not as fluent as the colonel.

"No," she said, "Leonie liver not happy."

"We go into battle," said Raargh. Even though Leonie was a female, it—she—was a fighter, and surely the prospect of action should rouse any fighter's spirits. "Good for soldier to go into battle with high liver. Fight best  .  .  .  Memory Raargh and Leonie fight morlocks?  .  .  .  Why Leonie not happy? Leonie just mate. Mating make females happy."

"How did you know that?"

"Ziirgah sense," he told her. "Not telepath," he emphasized. "Not tell thoughts. But tell feelings. Leonie happy when Raargh wake. Now .  .  ."

She laughed.

"Why Leonie discharge from eyes? That also show humans not happy, Raargh know. .  .  . Once, Leonie dig Raargh out of trap. Once, Raargh help Leonie breathe. Leonie female, but still Leonie and old Raargh companions, Raargh thinks."

"Yes, Leonie and Raargh companions," she replied. "Life was simple then. But Leonie is stupid manrret."

"Some manrretti not stupid," he told her. "Some manrretti clever. Leonie clever .  .  . Some mans," he went on, "like clever manrretti."

"Yes, Raargh," said Leonie. "That is problem. Some mans like clever manrretti. Hard to explain to Hero." She put out a hand and scratched the great scarred head under the lower jaw. Raargh resisted an undignified temptation to purr.

"Rarrgh companion," he said.

"Yes, Raargh companion."

"Leonie have enemies, Raargh have enemies. Raargh eat! Raargh have long fangs, sharp claws." He demonstrated. "Raargh old, but Raargh quick! .  .  . Is Jocelyn manrret Leonie enemy?" he asked hopefully.

"You would, too, wouldn't you? No, companion, it's not that simple. Leonie has no enemies. Not here."

"Leonie not want to kill kzinti  .  .  .  kill ratcats. Raargh knows."

"No. But I will fight if I must today.  .  .  . Otherwise  .  .  .  maybe disaster."

"Yes. Raargh knows."

Very carefully, imitating a gesture he had seen among humans, Raargh laid his great clawed hand on Leonie's shoulder. Surprised, she turned her tear-streaked face to him. Arthur Guthlac entered. His own eyes widened for a moment at the scene.

"We're ready!" he barked. "We're all going!"

"Shouldn't we leave someone here?" Leonie asked.

"We're too thin on the ground to divide our forces any further. Professor Carmody is our guest on this planet, and I'm charged with keeping her out of danger. But leaving her here with or without a guard is hardly a practical option. In any case, she has said she doesn't want to be left here and she'll come. But I want no lives lost. Remember, we're not going to fight, but to blockade them till Early's troops arrive.

"Raargh," he went on, "I am declaring this a military situation. Will you take orders from me?"

"Yes." Five years had accustomed Raargh to humans' notions of discipline. The old kzin did not even growl. And that , thought Arthur Guthlac, weakens me as an Exterminationist a little more. I am a soldier, and that old ratcat becomes one of my troops. Honor is a tanjed awkward thing. And what was the old ratcat doing just now? It looked for a moment as if he was comforting her. .  .  . But why? .  .  . Of course! As the song goes: 'What kind of fool am I?' .  .  . and it took a kzin to see it!  

"Let's move out!" he snarled.

 

"What now?" Vaemar asked Colonel Cumpston.

"Waiting is very difficult. At the moment it is all we can do."

"I think they are listening to us."

"Yes."

"It does not matter," said Vaemar. "Seizing me by a trick and insulting my Honored Step-Sire Raargh—even insulting you, my chess-partner—is not the way to gain my cooperation. .  .  ."

"If she and Emma have you, they can use your Name to the other kzinti."

"And what you said .  .  . that Emma's plans would destroy every kzin on Wunderland. .  .  . Do you believe that?"

"Yes, Vaemar. Worse, it would mean no peace between our kinds would ever be possible. That will be difficult enough as things are."

"It surprises me, that she should behave so."

"Not me, so much, perhaps, but I have read more of human history. And lived longer."

"Do you think Henrietta is truly loyal to my Honored Sire?"

"She probably thinks she is. Whether he would approve of what she says in his name is another matter.  .  .  .  Suppose, Vaemar, suppose against all odds Emma's plans succeeded—that the Kzin revolted and captured the hyperdrive. How would you feel?"

"I am a kzin. I am Chuut-Riit's son. But I am also a kzin of Ka'ashi—of Wunderland. I know you and other humans .  .  . difficult."

"According to the holo, your honored Sire Chuut-Riit knew Henrietta had influenced him. And he wanted her, if he died, to influence his own sons and Traat-Admiral. He was looking—as far as being what he was allowed him to look—as some sort of eventual partnership—or at least I know of no other notion that described it more closely. His ideas were perhaps not so far removed from those we now hear from Markham and a few others—save, of course, that he saw the Kzin as the utterly dominant ones and the humans existing on sufferance—slaves perhaps at best one day a little above the Jotok." And monkey-meat if they were fractious, he thought. But if we ever get out of this, I want this young ratcat thinking about a human-kzin relationship on more positive lines. Civilize them for a few—perhaps more than a few—generations, and who knows?  

"Yes," said Henrietta, stepping into the room, Emma beside her. "Chuut-Riit knew I influenced his policies, knew I helped him understand humans. He accepted it. But listening to you has told me a good deal. I seek to stop the secret manipulation of the human race as well as the Kzin. It appears my daughter has an altogether different agenda."

"There is no point in hiding it any longer," said Emma. "It is I who am truly loyal to the Patriarchy, and the memory of the Riit."

"This ARM officer is right! Your plans are insane!" Henrietta cried out. "To guide and instruct Vaemar to help destroy the ARM conspiracy when he leads the kzinti of Wunderland is my charge and my sacred goal. You would destroy everything in a mad adventure!"

"Mad! You call me mad! Have you looked at your own brain lately?"

"Andre sides with me. We have planned this for years."

Emma raised one hand and made a gesture. "Go and make ch'rowl with your pet monkey, then! Behold!" A dozen male kzin entered the room, standing about her. They were all, Cumpston saw, young. Older than Vaemar, taller and bulkier, but several still with the last traces of juvenile and adolescent spotting on their coats. There were also several more humans with them.

"The loyal humans and the loyal Heroes side with me !" Emma snarled. One or two of the kzin growled. Emma addressed them in the hiss-spit of the Heroes' Tongue. Cumpston was astonished that a human could pronounce it so well. She turned back to Henrietta. "You forget! Half these Heroes' Sires were of Ktrodni-Stkaa's pride! They follow me!"

"I have given them refuge." Henrietta's hand went to the weapon on her belt. "I have tried to help the kzin of Wunderland, of every pride, but not for this! And you have here the blood of Chuut-Riit, who you would risk! Chuut-Riit, who was my good Master! Yes, and who called me friend as well as slave!"

"Chuut-Riit! You cannot impress us with that name! My loyalty is to the Riit! The true Riit, whose traditions were borne by Ktrodni-Stkaa! Chuut-Riit was a compromiser, if nothing worse! If Riit he truly was! Chuut-Riit's reward was foul death at the hands of a human assassination team. Ktrodni-Stkaa saw Chuut-Riit and Traat-Admiral for what they were! Monkey-lovers! Much good it did them!"

Cumpston looked at Vaemar with alarm. To insult a kzin—for a human to insult a kzin!—was more than bad enough. To insult a kzin's Sire was far worse. And for a human to insult a kzin's Sire of Riit blood was .  .  . unreal. But Vaemar betrayed no emotion save an unnatural stillness.

Two more humans rushed in, wearing the odd pseudo-kzin costume that seemed to be the uniform of these people.

"We've picked up activity in the south passages! Large life-forms. About a dozen of them. They appear to be human but at least one kzin."

The human identified as Andre strode forward. "We have a common enemy!" he shouted. "We must destroy these invaders. Defense stations!" He stepped to the control console.

Vaemar screamed and leaped. One slash sent the human behind Andre who blocked his way spinning across the room, blood splattering. Then Vaemar ripped at the control console. The lights went out, save for the illuminated numbers of a couple of clocks and other pinpoints. The air was a confusion of kzin and human shrieks. There was the gingery smell of kzinti battle-reflexes. Cumpston felt the weight and sharpness of a clawed Kzinti hand on him.

"It is I, Vaemar," a voice hissed in his ear. "Follow. Hold my tail. We must find a hiding place!"

Emergency lights were coming on as they left. Henrietta and Emma seemed to be working together at the console. The kzinti and humans were seizing weapons from the racks.

 

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Next: Chapter 9