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

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Chapter 5

That fatal drollery called a representative

government .  .  . 

—Benjamin Disraeli

Despite the seriousness of what I had found, several days passed before I got a chance to see Grotius. I filed a report with the police but received a mere mechanical acknowledgment. Grotius, when I did see him at a meeting of the committee, was abstracted and uninterested. He looked weary and surprisingly aged. My report of evidence of multiple homicides produced little more than a shake of the head.

"I've no officers to spare now," he said. "Most of them are busy trying to find out how to reinvent the wheel. Or they're at the spaceport, working on the meteor guardships.

"And I need them in the streets, as well as everywhere else. One thing we've learned already is that a bunch of fifty people can't keep a secret. There have been rumors in the streets for days. It'll be on the newscast in a few hours. We can't stop that.  .  .  . We could, actually, but it would do more harm than good. My cops are so busy that I'm expecting crime too. There are almost no police on patrol. We've got a few extra strakkakers in store and I'm issuing them. At least that will look threatening if there's an emergency. "

"How many strakkakers have we got?" That was Talbot.

"I don't know, exactly. We had the one batch made for police needs, plus replacements and spares."

"When?"

"Years ago. The factory's closed down now."

"Don't you think we should open it again? Fast!"

"What for?" A pause, then, "Oh, I see."

"There are police message-lasers, too. We can dial them up to weapons."

"Really?"

"Of course. It was always in the design."

"Yes. I see."

"I should clear it with the council."

"Later."

Grotius looked at him, then opened a hand-phone and began to speak fast. The Defense Committee had taken an executive action.

"I've been at the library all day," said Talbot. "Reading every book on war I could find. There aren't many."

"ARM went through our library before we left Earth. There are some records of old wars in a general way, even some copies of ancient visual films. There are a few books. But so little that is actually of practical use. They didn't want us building armies."

"No."

"I found one on a Japanese attack on some American sea-ships at Hawaii, Day of Infamy . The American ships had guns to defend themselves against flying engines, covered by awnings. An officer on one began untying the lines that held the awnings in place as the flying engines attacked. A cook ran up and cut them with a knife. We have to think differently.

"Grotius, we don't want one factory making strakkakers. We want every factory we can get on line. We want factories making factories making strakkakers. Now!"

"No! Strakkakers aren't the be-all and end-all. They are police weapons of last resort. We may want battlefield weapons, space weapons! Tie up too much of our industrial production in one thing and you lose in other ways."

"What are battlefield weapons? How are they different from other weapons?"

"I don't know. But I gather they used to have them, on Earth. I've found references to something called a main battle tank."

"We'd better ask the meteor people. They use big lasers, don't they? And bomb-missiles."

"Are you seriously suggesting .  .  ."

"Yes. Of course I am! There are old launching lasers on Tiamat and down at Equatoria. They're got to be brought back on line."

Other voices raised.

"Think of the cost! Runaway inflation! We've only got one economy to play with on this planet!"

"We don't want factories for strakkakers! We want factories for plutonium!"

"Whatever for? Plutonium's dangerous .  .  . Oh, I see."

"It's already happening. The Meteor Guard .  .  ."

"Shut up, you fool!"

"What trained fighters have we got? Only a handful of cops. They should be training instructors to train recruits!"

"Don't you think they've got enough to do already?"

Grotius turned to me: "Did you overfly the whole swamp?

"No. It's big."

"We should overfly it. I said we haven't time to consider homicides, but there may have been other things, things left behind."

"Aren't we jumping to conclusions?" van Roberts said. "This could be a completely purposeless panic that will do nothing but damage if we let it go on."

"But the monks saw—"

"The monks could have been mistaken. Or worse. The monastery has always been friendly to the Families, hasn't it?"

"I suppose so. The Order got the land as a deed of gift from the original Freuchens, before they moved out to the Norlands."

"And I imagine the old records will show that Families paid their passage here!"

"As a matter of fact, they don't." I happened to know that, because while waiting I had combed the old passenger lists looking for people whose occupations or profiles suggested might have brought useful books or equipment that their descendants might still have. A couple of the Families had brought private chaplains, but there was no record of the monks aboard the original slowboats. He ignored my interruption.

"And they've survived on handouts from the Families since. All that's left of the Church has. It's been very handy for the Families. Keeping people docile by promising them a pie-in-the-sky Afterlife, and at the same time getting rid of landless younger sons by putting them into skirts."

"That's propaganda, and utterly false! Anyway, there's plenty of land left!"

"Then why do you restrict the sale of it?"

"So there will be someone to work it. Do you want a planet all of landowners starving for lack of labor?"

"That argument might have made sense six hundred years ago. There are such things as machines now! I suppose you spend so little time on your own estates you neither know nor care whether they are worked by robots or peons. You keep the land of a nearly empty world locked up to preserve your own hegemony, and your own rents!"

"Then go to the High Limestone! Go and settle in the badlands! Some people do. Tougher, gutsier people than you, Teutie prole!"

I waited for Grotius to intervene. Then I saw he was asleep at the table. We'll have to bring back electro-current sleep , I thought. Natural sleep is a luxury we may not be able to afford soon . I was tired myself, I knew, and my thoughts were jumping about ineffectually.

"All right," van Roberts was saying. "So you admit the monastery is in the pocket of the Families."

"I admit some of the Families have been friends of the Church. That's hardly anything to be ashamed of."

"And your monks will say anything they're told to, including corroborating your story of hostile aliens!"

"This is preposterous!" I intervened. "They are trusted friends of mine. I saw the tracks, I saw the destroyed shacks, and found human bones."

"I assume you are telling the truth," said van Roberts, "but what does it prove? People have lied before. The Families may have got rid of the marshmen one way or another. What evidence are bones of anything—bones you didn't even bring back with you for testing? Apart from more obvious possibilities, they could have come from a cemetery, or a medical school, or even a plastics factory. Didn't monasteries once keep what they called relics of saints?"

"Why should anyone do such a thing?"

"Because the Nineteen Families are losing power. Bring in a police state, a regime of strict social control, and they can keep power forever. In the meantime everyone is panicking."

"Do you really believe that?"

"The whole tendency of political progress here has been evolution toward a less hierarchical, more representative form of government. This is profoundly regressive. It means increasing coercive authority which means giving the Families further powers."

"Who do you want in authority? The Families and the council on which you sit or cats with six-inch fangs?"

I looked around the faces. The Defense Committee did not want to believe in the—what was the word?—the Kzin. I did not want to believe in them myself. But I had stood in that swamp. My collecting clothes were stained with the mud and blood of the place .  .  . unless .  .  . I grabbed my own telephone and shut my house down.

I know the body language of animals professionally. A majority of the members of the Defense Committee were looking at van Roberts as a leader. Not because they all agreed with him politically, far from it. But he was presenting reassurance of a sort.

"We've got our families' futures to think of," said van der Stratt. "I have a little daughter who I want to grow up in a free and peaceful world. Some of you have children too."

Grotius woke up. "I'm sorry," he said. "Too much to do. I've also been reading all the military literature we can find. So many new terms. Everything from electronic battlefield management to caltrops. I really need a whole staff to help me."

"What's Electronic Battlefield Management?" asked van der Trott.

"What's caltrops?" asked Apfel.

"What's a staff?" asked somebody else.

"I don't like the degree of emotion that's getting into all this," said Lufft. "It's an unprecedented situation, certainly, but that doesn't mean we can't make decisions rationally. Let's bear in mind the fact we are twenty-fourth-century Humans, the children of a high science, the star-born, and guided by science and reason. We are not primitives and we shouldn't behave like primitives."

 

"All battles and all wars are won in the end by infantrymen."

What on Earth (literally what on Earth?) did it mean? It was attributed to someone with the odd and cumbersome name of Field Marshal Viscount Wavell.

Infantrymen? Infant men?

We were in a dusty back room in the warren of the old Mechanics' Institute, which had once served as Munchen's public library. Hermanson had opened it and was rummaging through boxes of old disks. We were lucky to have an almost equally antique computer that could display them. It had been standing under a dome as an exhibit in the entrance hall.

When the first slowboats had set out from Earth to Wunderland they had carried libraries of Earth historical material. Not much military historical material, though. ARM didn't approve of that even at first. We gathered that things had got even tighter by the time the last slowboat left.

Not that anyone had cared much. Some of the first generation had missed Earth, but why study its history when we had our own world, a wonderful, beautiful and exciting world? We had our own history to make, and life to live on a scale flatlanders could only dream of. The Belters had been humanity's first proud space-born. We, in exalted moments, sometimes called ourselves the Children of the Stars.

Weight and volume had been critical for our migrating ancestors, too, even in craft the size of the slowboats. Practically all books had been reduced to computer disks. Some, over the years, had been lost or corrupted. Some had been reprinted in conventional book form, but these had been largely textbooks of strictly practical matters, of which there were many, or the literary classics. There were books published on Wunderland, certainly—this library and the new and bigger ones were a matter of some pride—but they were our books. And after the frontier, pioneering days, librarianship had largely had to be rediscovered.

General Earth history—unlike the histories of agriculture, ecology, oceanography, physics or computing—had become largely a matter of oldsters' tales, a unit in junior high school. As a university course it had never been popular and soon faded away—it was obviously useless, and most of us had enough scraps of family traditions to think we knew it anyway. Even oldsters who found themselves homesick for Earth had done themselves no favors by brooding over it.

Now we were looking at scraps. And many of them seemed to make no sense. Scraps like "infantry" and related words. Infants? There was something that seemed like a sort of song:

 

He'll attack in the face of murderous fire

On flat sand or through craters of mud.

He'll smash through the lines, over wire and mines

On the point of his bayonet is blood.

   

If you meet him untidy, begrimed and fatigued,

Don't indulge in unwarranted mirth.

For the brave infanteer deserves more than your sneer,

He is truly the salt of the Earth.   

 

It was English. We all knew English. It was one of Wunderland's main official tongues, but this was also like a foreign language. Wire and mines? Mines? What had mines to do with military matters? There were plenty of mines on Wunderland: the more modern used biologically engineered worms to digest and process rare minerals. "Infanteer" again? Or this: "The niche-warriors of the future will wage information-intensive warfare." That seemed to be saying something. If only we knew exactly what. And this, that had come up under "weapons":

 

Whatever happens, we have got

The Maxim Gun, and they have not.   

 

We had all been tired when we arrived, and this seemed utterly futile. "Let's see what's in the archives, under 'Military Science,' " von Diderachs had said, almost light-heartedly. Now half a dozen of us were staring disconsolately at a few boxes of rubbish and fragments. I had been scheduled to fly down to Castledare to address the Rotary Club, and though someone said unkindly that Rotary lunches had not changed in four hundred years and four and a half light-years, I wished that was where I was.

"Here is a fragment from someone called Gerald Kersh, from a book, They Died with their Boots Clean , published about .  .  . 1942. Listen:

 

"We came of the period between 1904 and 1922 .  .  . Those of us not old enough to remember the war-weariness of the century in its 'teens, are children of the reaction of the 1920s, when 'No More War' was the war-cry.  .  .  . If only our own propagandists took a little of the blood and thunder that the peace propagandists so effectively used to move us!

"From page after laid-out page, the horrors of war gibbered at us .  .  . stripped men, dead in attitudes of horrible abandon .  .  . people (were they men or women?) spoiled like fruit, indescribably torn up .  .  . shattered walls that had enclosed homes, homes like ours, homes of men, men like us .  .  . cathedrals shattered; the loving work of generations of craftsmen demolished like slum tenements .  .  . children starving, nothing left of them but bloated bellies and staring eyes .  .  . trenches full of dead heroes rotting to high heaven .  .  . long files of men with bandaged eyes, hand-on-shoulder like convicts, blind with gas .  .  . civilians cursing God and dying in the muck-heaps of blasted towns .  .  .

"Oh yes. We saw all the pictures and heard all the gruesome stories, which we knew were true. We were the rich culture-ground of the peace-propaganda that said: 'If war was like this then, what will it be like next time, with all the sharpened wits of the death-chemists working on new poison gas and explosives, and the greatest engineers of all time devoting themselves to aeroplanes that can come screaming down like bats out of Hell?

"When we heard that first siren on the Sunday of the declaration of war, things like damp spiders ran up and down our backs.  .  .  ."

 

He paused and drew breath.

"Damp spiders .  .  . I'm not surprised."

"It goes on:

 

"And then .  .  . we went out and begged .  .  . Men of 60, who had seen the things at the pictures of which we had lost our breakfasts, and who had spent twenty years saying: 'never again!' declared on oath that they were 40 and beseeched the authorities to give them rifles. . . . Because it couldn't take us all at once, we cursed the War Office."

 

"It seems there is a good deal about our ancestors we didn't know."

"Blind with gas .  .  . blind with gas .  .  . I wonder how that would work."

"On them or us?"

Up came something headed "strategical matrices"—rows of outdated mathematical notations. "Axis of advance"? "Maginot Line"? "Cones of fire"? Was that something like a Bunsen burner? And what did they want it for ?

Among the scraps the search of "war" had found us was another piece, of no immediate value, but which I would remember much later:

 

In one Japanese prisoner-of-war camp in World War II a prisoner was caught stealing supplies from the Japanese guards. Other prisoners had been brutally beaten or tortured to death for the most petty infractions of discipline or for slow work, and hundreds were dying of starvation and other ill-treatment. The Japanese authorities, however, decided to make a real example of this man: The punishment they devised was so hideous that even the ordinary Japanese guards were sickened and ashamed by it, and went out of their way to give the victim extra food and otherwise try to compensate for the atrocity. The punishment that so horrified them was this: the prisoner was compelled to wear an armband saying "I am a thief."

 

Yes, I remembered that later.

"I'm worried," said Peter Brennan. He too had been perusing old texts, trying to sort fact from fiction and put it all into some sort of coherent order. "Listen to this:

' "See what you have done!" cried the King, "Cost us a proven warrior on the eve of battle." ' "

"Why does that worry you?" I asked. It seemed an odd thing to arouse his concern among so much else.

"Because .  .  . because when I read those words, I realized I would like someone to refer to me as a 'proven warrior.' I don't know why. I'm very uncomfortable about it."

"Don't worry," said von Diderachs, "the occasion is hardly likely to arise."

I looked again at one of the first things I had collected:

 

Pale Ebenezer thought it wrong to fight.

But roaring Bill, who killed him, thought it right.   

 

I had been too late shutting the house down: The cleaner had got to my clothes, but there was some mud from our shoes on the floor of the car. None of the police forensic laboratories had people available, but I had my own laboratory at the Institute.

Analysis produced DNA fragments: mine and Dimity's, other human DNA that might have come from the island or from previous passengers, a mess of countless Wunderland microbes, nucleic acid fragments and other microscopic biological debris, and a single hair, origin unknown, of an orange color. I had Dimity coopted onto the Defense Committee.

We would be moving into permanent session, I was told. Apparently it had been decided that Defense was a full-time job.

I was advised to get my senior graduate students to take over my basic teaching. The best of them wouldn't like that, I thought. They had research projects of their own. Or perhaps the best researchers were those who loved teaching too.

I was told to tell them it was the first step to tenure. And, anyway, it was an emergency. I called Leonie Hansen first. It is a dreadful failing for an academic to have favorites, but one can't help picking out the brightest. I told myself my good opinion of her was entirely due to the quality of her work, and not at all because she reminded me a little of Dimity.

 

 

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