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

Previous: Chapter 9
Next: Chapter 11

Chapter 10

Raargh swung and slashed. Even in darkness he had little difficulty in telling friend from foe. In this kind of battle smell mattered at least as much as sight. He screamed and leaped, giving himself up, as in the fight with the morlocks, to the joy of roaring, claw-to-claw slaughter he had long suppressed.

After a time he found himself alone again. The humans called this sort of battle a "dogfight," and Raargh had known them to end this way before, as pursued and pursuers scattered in individual combats. Yet the suddenness with which the fight broke up always surprised him.

He checked his weapon. A light on the stock indicated it was still charged, but the light itself could be a dangerous giveaway and he covered it with blood from his last enemy. He also checked himself. No serious wounds.

Kzin footfalls behind him. He tensed himself to spring again, then recognized the smell of Vaemar. The two groomed each other quickly, each relieved to find the blood his tongue tasted matting the other's fur was that of enemies.

"Back to the battle, Raargh-Hero?" asked Vaemar. The anxiety in his voice was nothing to do with fear, apart from fear that he might miss something. V aemar is a genius,Raargh thought to himself, but he is also a young warrior kzin. He proves this day he has the courage to bring down more than gagrumphers.  

"Yes, but quietly and cautiously," he told the youngster. "Remember the lessons of your Honored Sire. We do not expose ourselves to the enemy until we know the strategic situation."

There was a little reflected light from distant fires, enough to be caught by the felinoids' eyes, and together, slinging their weapons, they climbed a ladder to the upper gangways. Damaged though some of these were, they seemed to offer a quicker and less exposed passage than the tunnels. Though kzinti were descended from plains cats, they were quick and confident high among any structures strong enough to bear their weight. Below them was the bluish glare of the Sinclair field that had blocked their passage. More footfalls told Raargh others were climbing too. Well, if they were enemies, he would deal with them.

More footsteps closer in the near-darkness, echoing hollowly on the metal. Lighter, clumsier. Human. Not the smell of any of the humans he had just journeyed with. Henrietta! He saw she was unarmed. No need, then, to unsling his heavy weapon. The Kzin's natural armament of fangs and claws would be more than enough and far more satisfactory. The monkey who had kidnapped them both, insulting him and the blood of the Riit! His claws extended, jaws gaped, and he braced himself to leap.

And then he stopped. In her rattle-brained monkey way she had tried to be loyal.

"Come forward," he said slowly. Even if she could not see or smell, she would know the kzin voice. "Monkey play false, monkey die."

"Kill me now if you wish," she said. "All is surely lost."

"You are loyal slave of Chuut-Riit," said Raargh. "Go. Hide."

"Emma will destroy everything," she said. "I do not want that  .  .  .  nor  .  .  .  nor did he."

"Then go! Many kzinti on Ka'ashi. Many need advice to live with humans. No more rebellion in hopeless conditions!"

"That was never what I wanted.  .  .  ."

"Swear to it! Name as Word!"

"Would you trust the Name of a monkey? A slave? A female?"

"Swear on the name of Chuut-Riit!"

"Very well. No hopeless rebellion, on the Name of Chuut-Riit, I swear."

"Stop!" It was the voice of another human female, one Rarrgh remembered well. Jocelyn stepped onto the gangway. She carried a strakkaker in one hand and a nerve-disrupter in the other. Raargh knew he and Vaemar were quicker than any human, but she was a trained fighter, and her fingers were already on the triggers. The nerve-disrupter, a short-range pistol-sized device both agonizingly and lethally effective on human and kzinti nervous systems, broadcast impulses in a cone and did not even need to be aimed.

"So," she said, "the arch ratcat-lover and the ratcats arranging things together. How appropriate!" She waved the disrupter at Raargh and Vaemar. "You will each, one by one, take the other's weapon," she told them, "and, without placing your claws near the stock or trigger, or in any way moving quickly, drop them from the gangway. Do it now, and do it very slowly."

"Jocelyn van der Stratt," Henrietta's voice dripped contempt. "Last time I saw you was with Chuut-Riit, helping control the crowd at one of the public hunts—hunts that one day I might have had reduced! I had heard you were quick to change your pelt."

"Then you were wrong. I always worked for the Resistance. I have Kzin and collabo heads and ears to prove it in plenty, but not enough yet."

"What will you do?" That was Vaemar. His voice, Raargh thought, sounded under perfect control. As far as he could duplicate a human tone he suggested mild curiosity.

"You all have one more part to play," she told them. "Come with me."

She marched them in single file back along several galleries, compelling them to hold out their arms at different angles so all could be seen. A discharge from either weapon would have got the lot of them.

There was more wreckage below them here, burning with flickering, smoky flames, and there were some regular lights. They could see bodies—human and kzin—on the ground. There were also voices. Raargh guessed the survivors on both sides could be re-forming. How many were left? Not many of his own human party, which had been too small to start with, against a much bigger formation of well-equipped kzinti as well as the other humans he had seen. At a word from Jocelyn they halted. Below them was the bluish bulge of another Sinclair field.

"Look there!" Below them and up the passage to the left, behind a small barricade of wreckage, were two humans. Raargh recognized them as Leonie and the Dimity female. Leonie was lying in an attitude that told Raargh that she was wounded near death. The Dimity female was doing something to the lower part of her body—first aid, he guessed, from the pumping movements she was making. He could not tell much more. His ziirgah sense was useful for stalking, but in battle the emotions of all around overwhelmed it.

"Leonie Rykermann, a leader of the Resistance, and Dimity Carmody, a hyperdrive scientist. In fact credited by her profile from We Made It as the hyperdrive scientist, the interpreter of the Outsider manual. Either a ratcat or a ratcat-lover would have plenty of motive to kill both of them."

"You kill Leonie!"

"Carmody stopped me finishing the job. It's better this way.  .  .  .  Actually, Henrietta, Leonie Rykermann has turned into something of a ratcat-lover herself, but living the retired life you do in this place you wouldn't have heard that. Their deaths will be blamed on you, or on the Kzin. That alone, that they killed those two heroines, will be all the Exterminationists need. And for me, it kills more than, almost literally, two birds with one stone. It also eliminates both my—"

Raargh leaped. It was a difficult leap from where he stood on the gangway behind Henrietta, and he felt his hind claws slash damagingly down on her as he cleared her body. Jocelyn swung up her weapons, but as she did so her upper body flashed into flame. The blast knocked Raargh sideways and he nearly fell off the gangway. Not perhaps a killing fall for a feline in Wunderland gravity, but there was the Sinclair field directly below. With his prosthetic arm he seized the catwalk and scrabbled back.

Jocelyn was still standing, her upper body burning. Then she slowly toppled from the catwalk.

"Back!" shouted a human voice. Then, in something like Heroes' Battle Imperative: "Blast alert!"

Raargh's explosion reflex took him back, pushing Vaemar before him. As Jocelyn's burning body hit and passed into the field, the flames, in time-compression, flashed out like a bomb. Light scorched the walls around them. In another instant the heat would have cremated the kzinti where they stood. But the hellish glare was only a flash. The flames vanished, the fuel and oxygen in the field exhausted in an instant. Raargh's artificial eye adjusted before his natural one. He waited for Vaemar's sight to readjust, then ventured back toward the catwalk, gingerly, for his whiskers were scorched and shriveled and he felt unbalanced without them. The field was still glowing beneath them, with something black crumbing to fragments in it as he watched. The metal of the catwalk was fortunately a poor conductor.

Nils Rykermann, carrying a laser pistol, stepped onto the catwalk.

"We are too exposed up here," he said. "And they need us down there. Hurry!"

"Help me!" cried Henrietta. She was sprawling, trying to rise. Raargh remembered the bones he had felt breaking as he kicked down at her. Rykermann raised the laser pistol to her, then lowered it.

"Your people are here somewhere," he said. "I'll leave you to them."

* * *

"Over here!" It was Arthur Guthlac. Raargh, Vaemar, and Rykermann dragged him back behind the makeshift barricade.

"Leg gone, and a few ribs, I think," he told them. "I can shoot, but I can't walk."

"All right. We hold here."

Arthur Guthlac found little comfort in the situation. With Dimity fully occupied keeping Leonie alive after the terrible accident with Jocelyn's laser, and Jocelyn herself separated from them in the fighting ( Let her be safe!he prayed) Rykermann, Raargh, and Vaemar were the only fighters left. Raargh's strength and endurance were colossal but not limitless—already he could see signs of pain and gathering exhaustion in the old kzin—and Vaemar was half-grown and inexperienced. They had gathered up the weapons about but beyond that had no way of replenishing charges or other ammunition. Enemies who certainly outnumbered them had the high ground. At this moment things seemed quiet but they could hardly resist another attack for long. Raargh and Vaemar were noisily eating a couple of the dead. Rykermann did not seem to notice. They are alien, after all, Guthlac thought. Not humans in tiger skins. And they need to keep their strength up and their heads clear for all our sakes. No point in trying to stop them. And then: My God! What is happening to me, that I think of kzin in those terms? They would have eaten Selina that way, if they didn't kill her in space.  

Well, I've other things to worry about now. If they leave us alone, find some other way out or fall back into the caves, we might get out of this mess more or less alive. If they attack us again we're done for. I'd like to die on my feet, but I suppose that's too much to ask. And thank you, Jocelyn. As you said to me, I did get lucky on Wunderland. If we live, I'll show you how much I love you. 

Footsteps, human and kzin, clanging on the gantries and echoing up the tunnels. They were attacking again. One shot hit a pile of containers stacked against the passage wall. Burning liquid fuel poured out.

They were attacking from three places above, at least. Lifting his head momentarily, Arthur Guthlac fired desperate, unaimed shots, hoping for little more than to make them keep their own heads down. Humans and kzin were leaping down, their falls slowed by lift-belts. The leader of the humans in the pseudo-kzin costumes ahead of the group. He was raising a strakkaker at Leonie and Dimity, halting to get a better aim. Guthlac aimed at him and squeezed the trigger. The dot of the laser-sight was on the tattoo on the human's forehead. It was a certain shot at a momentarily stationary target, but his weapon's power was exhausted. Vaemar passed him in an orange flash, smashing into the human, the two rolling like a catherine wheel. Claws flashed. The human's detached head flew straight up and lodged somewhere in the gantries above. Raargh fired into the bunch of kzinti, then, flinging his empty weapon away, charged too, w'tsai out. The kzinti scattered under his charge, apart from two his w'tsai gutted. Another crossed blades with him, to be beaten to the ground with blows of his prosthetic arm. Guthlac dragged himself toward Dimity and Leonie as Raargh and Vaemar returned. Wriggling along the ground with astonishing speed, the two kzinti resembled fat, hairy, orange snakes.

The burning fuel was approaching the makeshift barricade where Dimity and Leonie were huddled. They were, Arthur Guthlac realized, in a dip in the ground that would act as a sump and pour it on them. He shouted for Dimity to leave Leonie and run while she had time, but she remained with her. Then the fire flowed all about her, cutting off her escape. Rykermann rushed toward the two women, then staggered back, beaten by the heat.

Raargh screamed something and leaped across the flames, the fur of his legs on fire. Gathering Leonie in the crook of his natural arm, holding Dimity with his prosthetic one, he leapt again across the flames and carried them away at a dead run, Vaemar following, backing away and firing. A second later an explosion shattered the ground where they had been, splashing the stream of fire as it poured into it. Guthlac saw that some of the enemy had brought a small mortar into action and others were setting up a plasma gun, a small piece of artillery specially designed for clearing out caves and tunnels with flame. A party of kzinti and humans were passing up ammunition and other heavier weapons.

A sudden howling and trembling filled Guthlac's ears and the air trembled. Sonic stunners , he realized. He struggled for consciousness. Just before everything went black he saw a squad of troops in UNSN combat gear, another squad in the gray of the Free Wunderland Forces, charging down the corridor, Cumpston at their head, and another who he recognized as Markham.

 

Raargh deposited Leonie and Dimity in a sheltered alcove. Another run secured Dimity's medical equipment. He rolled on the ground and beat at the flames on his fur.

"My Honored Step-Sire is in much pain," Vaemar told Dimity. "Can you ease it?"

"Yes, yes, I think so." She extracted a needle from the small field-doc. A gauge showed it was much depleted but not yet empty. "It's human specific, but it ought to work."

"Yes," said Vaemar. "Human and kzin have similar body chemistry. It leads to interesting speculations as to our common microbe origins. Proteins are not identical but we can eat same food for a long time."

Dimity injected Raargh, finding the best purple artery with Vaemar's assistance. She also sprayed the area heavily with the white foam of Universal Burn Repair. Raargh hefted his weapon but the sounds of battle were diminishing as the sonics took effect. He and Vaemar picked off several more figures as they slumped into unconsciousness or lay prone on the gantries. Dimity had turned back to Leonie. Vaemar made an interrogative feline sound that covered a number of questions.

"He is no stranger to pain, I think," she said to Vaemar, without looking up. "It should be diminishing now."

"He is Hero," said Vaemar.

"And you," said Dimity, "are Hero and something else. You speak of 'interesting speculations' in the midst of a battle."

"Of course. Interesting speculations are always interesting, particularly, I think, this one, and when I spoke no targets presented themselves and the battle was plainly all but won. I calculated I could afford distraction for that measure from fighting, given the state of the tactical situation. I have just hunted and killed and it is perhaps now safe to obey the promptings of my system and relax a little."

"I thought  .  .  .  I thought I was the only one  .  .  ."

"Further," said Vaemar "I wish to think upon my Honored Sire Chuut-Riit's purported testament in the light of certain of my own experiences and auditions here. Is that strange? I would be glad if you would tell me, should it strike you as such. My Honored Step-Sire says I must learn human ways and values."

"It is not strange to me," said Dimity, still not looking up from her work. "But then, I believe that I am not a typical human. I have sometimes wondered what I am."

"I too have wondered what I am," said Vaemar.

Colonel Cumpston, carrying beam rifle and stunner, walked wearily up the corridor to join them. The fighting seemed to have stopped. The UNSN and Wunderland troops were gathering up the unconscious bodies of the enemy. There were a couple of medics, guiding a larger doc on a gravity sledge.

"Hurry!" Dimity called. "Hurry! Over here!"

"I'm very tired," she said, as the medics took over.

"Manrret rest," said Raargh. And then: "Manrret Hero, too." He and Vaemar caught her as she stumbled with weariness and set her down. She clung for a moment to Raargh's great arm.

 

Arthur Guthlac recovered consciousness to find himself looking into the face of Ulf Reichstein Markham. "In all, der results positif haf been," said Markham. In moments of stress the Germanic sentence-structure and pronunciation of Wunderlander became thicker in his accent. Guthlac saw the stock-light on the heavy kzin weapon he carried was glowing with the warning of insufficient charge. It had evidently seen a lot of firing very recently. Markham drew a deep breath and when he spoke again his accent was much diminished.

"If necessary we will get you a new leg. Let it not be said Wunderland is inhospitable to her distinguished visitors. And you have done us a service.  .  .  .  Do you know where Jocelyn is?"

"No." Jocelyn   .  .  .  you said you loved me, you proved you desired me.  .  .  .  Have you completed the transformation of my life, wiped away the last of Arthur Guthlac, the misfit museum guard and finished making Arthur Guthlac the Man? Jocelyn, where are you? 

Somehow, as he whispered that question, he knew it would never be answered. Jocelyn was gone with Selina.

 

There was a cover hiding the lower part of Leonie's body, but Nils Rykermann had seen laser wounds before. He could, if he allowed himself, imagine what was there. A medic was attending the tubing that ran under it, and something was pumping fluid.

He knelt beside her head. Her hands were fluttering feebly, plucking at something invisible. He stroked one with his fingertips.

"A lot of fighting," she whispered.

"It's over now."

"So the Exterminationists win?"

"No."

"Tell me. It's all right. I can hear. I can understand."

"There is no kzin rebellion. And the Exterminationists have had a blow. They've lost Jocelyn. She was their most powerful figure. Guthlac is wavering, I think. And .  .  . so am I." He bent and kissed her cold forehead. "Lion cub," he whispered.

"Good .  .  . good." She did not speak again.

"Live," he breathed. "Don't run out on me. Or on old Raargh."

Her eyes closed slowly. Rykermann could not tell if she was dead or unconscious. He turned away, his face buried in his hands, and he did not see the medics remove her.

 

Dimity Carmody was sitting on an empty ammunition box. She had taken out one of her small music boxes and was listening to it. Raargh and Vaemar approached her. The white foam, setting hard, covered the burns on Raargh's legs. He was walking, but carefully.

"Hullo," she said.

"Do not fear ratcats," said Raargh, remembering the terror he had picked up from her previously. "Raargh and Vaemar and Dimity manrret companions in battle."

"Yes," said Dimity. "I've been told a bit about it all. Well, there are some ratcats I don't fear now."

"Dimity helped Leonie," said Raargh.

"Yes, of course."

"Raargh and Leonie old companions."

"Funny, she is one of the flashes of memory I have. Quite a lot of it is coming back. Seeing her now, I remember, I was jealous of her. I never dared betray that to him. .  .  . She was Nils's best student, his favorite. And she wasn't a freak like me. I don't suppose this means much to you."

"Manrretti sentient. Always problems," said Raargh. "Dominant kzintosh have harem, some kzintosh allocated one kzinrret, most have none. Humans untidy."

"It must have been hard for you to change, to live with humans as you do," Dimity said.

"Hero do hard things," said Raargh. "Otherwise not Hero."

"No," said Dimity. "Otherwise not Hero."

"The human Andre, one who tried to kill you and Leonie," said Raargh. He produced something and tossed it with a moist sound from hand to hand. "I have his maleness here. A gift for you and Leonie."

"Honored Step-Sire Raargh-Hero," said Vaemar, "I do not think Dimity human understands kzinti customs. I will take. But here is a gift," he held out a chess knight, moulded in osmium with sapphire eyes. "Vaemar made." Dimity accepted the substitute gift with some relief.

"Not fear?" asked Raargh.

"Not so much." As Leonie had done previously, she reached out with a tentative hand and tickled his chin. Raargh had just killed and eaten to satiety. This time he allowed himself to purr.

"You play chess?" she asked Vaemar.

"Oh, yes!"

"I haven't played more than a couple of times. But a game between us might be interesting." Raargh reached out and picked up Dimity's music box. Vaemar looked at it curiously. "May I see it?" he asked.

"Wind it," she said, "It's running down."

"It is decorous," said Vaemar, fiddling at the tiny handle with his claws. "Delicate."

"Keep it, if you like. A gift."

"Thank you." A few tiny musical chimes drifted across the chamber.

 

"If I killed a couple of them, I'm not going to take the credit for it," Colonel Cumpston said to Arthur Guthlac. The two Earth officers and Markham had drifted together. "The low profile suits me." He had already removed the memory bricks from the main control console. With Arthur Guthlac then immobilized and Markham commanding the troops hunting down the surviving enemy, he had been the senior military officer on the spot and no one questioned this. Their records should harvest valuable security data, and any untoward scenes that had been recorded could be discreetly removed.

Arthur Guthlac, his chest bound up and leg encased in a flexi-splint, was now walking again. The damage, in the event, had not required amputation and transplant, but even with modern nerve-and-bone growth factors it would be some days before he was fully healed. They had identified the quite simple mechanisms that controlled the Sinclair fields and were turning them off one by one.

"Well, somebody killed this one," said Arthur Guthlac, as the field before them died. "But a long time ago."

There was part of a human skeleton. Around the bare shin and ankle-bones were orange-and-black pseudo-Kzin-striped fabric trousers, much discolored. The pelvis was female. There was some dried, crumbling tissue on and in the torso and rib cage. There was no skull. Above the clavicles there was nothing.

"No," said Cumpston, "not a long time ago. That must be Henrietta, if she fell feet first into the field still alive. The lower part of her body would have passed into time-compression first. It received no blood-supply and her feet and legs were dead and decomposing by the time her heart passed into it. But her heart was still beating. Everything left in the circulatory system went into her head, which was still in normal time, and from which the blood had no way of returning at such speed. Bang! A quick way to die, at least from the brain's point of view, but the results aren't very cosmetic." It was probably Henrietta, he thought. But she had not been the only one in that costume. He would look at that later. But Henrietta officially dead would help defuse the time bomb of revenge on this planet. He might not look too hard.

The other bodies that concerned Cumpston, those that had gone into a Sinclair field already dead, would be either crumbling mummies or skeletons before long, depending on how much bacteria had been present. The longer it was before that particular field was found and deactivated, the less easy it would be to tell any cause of death. Certainly if laser wounds were still discernible it would be impossible by now to identify the laser that had caused them in the confused fighting. They had had the hallmarks of genuine ARM personnel, which another ARM could recognize, as there was something else some ARMs might also recognize, but despite what he had been told, Cumpston felt credentials and mannerisms could always be faked. Anyway, they might or might not have been Early's men. ARM was no monolith: It was, he felt, a series of interlocking and competing conspiracies like those fiendish things the kzinti called w'kkai puzzles. Well, when this place was cleaned up, all the bones of humans and kzinti would go for proper disposal. Manpower was still scarce on Wunderland, and police resources would hardly be used to investigate all the bones of kzinti victims that lay around.

"Where's Rykermann?"

"Sedated. He's had a rough time. It seemed to hit him all at once."

"What happened to Jocelyn?" Arthur Guthlac had asked this several times now. Cumpston had seen the phenomenon after battles before. People would keep asking the same question, but the answer would not stay in their heads.

"Nobody seems to know. But she had no motive to run away. That business with the laser  .  .  .  Accidents happen in battle. Everyone accepts that."

"I think she was in love with Nils Rykermann," said Markham. "Love can do strange things to people, I am told." He was speaking good English with a fierce effort and his face was impassive. Betrayal! Stinking betrayal! But what else can one expect from prolevolk scum! And she used my Mother's name! If he saw Arthur Guthlac flinch, he betrayed no notice of the fact.

"Maybe after what happened she just took off. We'll look, of course. Maybe she'd had enough. She was a heroine of the Resistance. Maybe she'd just run out of  .  .  .  of  .  .  ."

"We all feel that way sometimes  .  .  .  I'm told," said Cumpston. Markham said nothing, but his clenched hands were trembling minutely.

"I know it," said Guthlac. He sounded composed and normal, if a little sad. "And the Resistance's price on Henrietta's head?"

"I suppose if he pushed her into the field Raargh has the claim to it, if it's accepted that this is she," said Cumpston. "I haven't asked him, but he was in the area and she had kidnapped and insulted him and his protégé—dangerous business to kidnap a kzin. I can imagine how much the Resistance veterans who posted the bounty will enjoy handing it over to him! They may not come at it, of course, and he may not want it. She was loyal to Chuut-Riit after all. .  .  .

"Odd thing to say about the arch-collaborator," he went on, "but in her way she was loyal to humanity, too." And was she altogether on the wrong track? he wondered to himself, thinking of the last injunction of Chuut-Riit's testament. "I'm not sure it was Raargh who killed her. There were others with motive. But I'm not going to cross-examine him on the matter.  .  .  .

"Anyway, he won't do too badly. You know there are females here. He acquires most of the property and the harems of all the kzinti he killed!"

"Good," said Arthur Guthlac.

"You're not getting fond of the old ratcat, are you?"

"No!" A slightly sheepish smile, and a laugh Guthlac cut off as his ribs pained him. "Well, to tell the truth, he did show up pretty well. I'm no kzin-lover yet, but perhaps my attitude's been a bit simplistic. I need to think. I've accumulated quite a lot of leave in the course of this war, and the time might be coming to take it. Probably take a couple of years to get my application through the bureaucracy, though. Leave would be good. Not alone, perhaps.  .  .  .  Where's Jocelyn?"

 

Previous: Chapter 9
Next: Chapter 11