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

Previous: Chapter 5
Next: Chapter 7

Chapter 6

It is useless for the sheep to pass resolutions

in favour of vegetarianism .  .  . 

—R. W. Inge

"I've worked out what a general staff is. That's another spoke of the wheel reinvented."

"I've found a table of military ranks. I guess we should make our police chiefs and so forth generals."

"No!" said van Roberts, "It's easy enough to see what's happening: destroy every bit of Constitutional law and reform that has been achieved here and install a military or military-industrial dictatorship under the Nineteen Families worse than anything in the first settlement days! For what? An alleged signal from Sol and perhaps an alleged sighting of something by people who are virtually employees of the Families! Flap your ears all you want, but that's what it adds up to!"

"Rubbish! Irresponsible rubbish!"

"Is it?" That was Gretchen Kleinvogel. "We know the Nineteen Families like to think of themselves as the bearers of traditions. What greater ally and reinforcement of tradition is there than militarism?"

"What do you want next, flags and trumpets and regiments?" Van Roberts took this up. "We came to this world to make a new start, remember!"

"The Families formed the consortium that paid for the ships. You came courtesy of us!"

"As your hereditary underlings, so you thought!"

"No one compelled you!"

"The Families and their attached clans make up about eight percent of this planet's population. They have half the places on these committees. Is that democracy or a naked powerplay?"

"It's not a question of democracy."

"No, it never is, is it?"

"It's a question of leadership, and necessity."

"And of raising taxes! This proposal to lift lasers onto our moons! Have you any idea what that will cost!"

"The Serpent Swarmers are already installing lasers on their asteroids. We should do the same!"

"If they are doing it, why should we need to? They don't have to haul them out of a gravity well. It's just duplication of effort. Unless, of course, it's your ships that are contracted to do it, your factories that are contracted to build them. .  .  . I suppose you'll say the emergency means we have to bypass normal government tendering processes."

"In any case, it's a fait accompli. The ships are gone."

"There are too many tanj faits accompli. Again and again we hear something has already been done before we're told!"

"Personally, I'm not too happy about the Swarmers having any assets we lack."

It went on. But a few wheels seemed to be turning now.

"We've got the strakkaker factory back in production."

"And are we building more strakkaker factories?"

It broke up at last. The various factions on the committee departed separately, several barely on speaking terms with one another. I thought again that a sleep machine would be useful. I had not foreseen how quickly production priorities would change. A whole range of technical and electronic goods had disappeared from the shops.

I was buzzed. It was Leonie Hansen. A dozen others were standing around her. All my graduate students had been working on the orange hair.

"When we took it apart, its cell structure was radically unlike any Earth or Wunderland form," she said. "Nor does it match anything we have from Jinx, Plateau or the other new colonies."

"So what do you think?"

"It looks as if the Grossgeister felinoid may have been some sort of scout. It would be better for us all if I'm wrong," she said. Excitement and exhilaration sparkled in her eyes.

A rosette of light began to blink at the corner of the screen, a signal that someone with a Defense Committee comlink was trying to reach me. I thanked the students and told them to organize a report for the next day.

It was van Roberts and Gretchen Kleinvogel, calling from the lobby, asking to see me at once.

I was not identified with any traditional political faction. What little Herrenmann blood I had would never give me privileges or an estate, but my academic position gave me a place more or less outside the system, not Herrenmann, not Prolevolk, not even middle-class in any conventional sense of that much-misused word. Of Teutie background but speaking Tommie and in love, even if hopelessly, with a Tommie too, if it came to that.

Mainly, I had the good fortune that, unlike many on Wunderland, class position did not need to interest me. This wasn't due to lack of snobbishness, simply to my own circumstances. I was comfortably paid, I had absorbing work, and few personal grounds to either resent the system or become involved in it. The one thing wrong with my life it couldn't change. I had watched the political conflict with a good deal of detachment until recently my position as a witness for the reality of the aliens had aligned me with the Herrenmanner.

 

"We're facing a big challenge," said van Roberts. "Also, it's probably the biggest single opportunity we'll ever have."

"I don't understand."

"These creatures are intelligent, we can agree."

"Yes."

"And scientifically in advance of us. We've got various technologies for air and space flight that are good enough, but we've got nowhere with gravity control. Electromagnetic ground-effect technology is a dead-end that way: It only works on small masses close to the surface."

"So?"

"Creatures technologically advanced should also be politically advanced. They won't have any sympathy for the sort of neo-feudal society we have here. Obviously the entire structure of governance in Wunderland has got to change, and, if approached rightly, they could be allies in that change."

"I saw old Harry Bangate in the swamp after one of them had eaten him! A couple of bones and pools of blood! I still dream about it."

"Didn't you also say you also found his gun? And that it had been fired? Perhaps the creature was acting in self-defense. Also, your monk friends said it didn't attack them when it had a chance. That sounds like reasonable behavior to me."

"Except that as far as we can tell all the other marshmen's cabins had been cleaned out as well."

"And all marshmen are hunters. They carry guns and live by them. If these aliens look ferocious, look like large predatory animals, then the marshmen would have attacked. I'm not saying I blame the marshmen—I wasn't there—but isn't that a fact? Perhaps the aliens just defended themselves."

I supposed it was. There were dangerous creatures on Wunderland, and no question, yet, of endangered species. The humans living beyond the well-settled areas had no compunction about being quick on the draw as far as animals were concerned (more than once I had regretted it, finding an unusual specimen blasted into bits). Could these aliens—if everything hung together and there truly were aliens—be, if not like us, still motivated by something no more malevolent than scientific curiosity, and have been attacked?

I sat and thought. Van Roberts had a point. Indeed a better one than he realized: surely a spacefaring culture had to be both cooperative and scientific. Interstellar flight was not for primitives or for what had once been called savages.

Eating bodies? A different culture. It had taken humans a long time to understand the values of cetaceans who were relatively close kin. Dolphins could be savage and ruthless enough, and while their values and ethics were very real to them, studying and understanding them was the work of human lifetimes.

And it didn't, after all, hurt the dead to be eaten. Perhaps it was even some sort of compliment. I had read very recently of the Gallipoli campaign in the early twentieth century. The British and Australians had buried the dead, the Turks had left their bones to bleach on the ground which they had died to defend. Each side in a different way, the author said, was trying to honor them. Honor? It was an odd concept I had never got the hang of, except that it seemed to mean doing the right thing when things were difficult. But there was something more there.

And there had been another old classic author, the great Geoffrey Household himself, who had written that being eaten might be considered "the last offer of hospitality to a fellow hunter." After all, we were dealing with aliens . Maybe they had killed reluctantly, in self-defense, and eaten the dead to honor them. Maybe—for we had not lingered to investigate the sites thoroughly—those had not been pieces of human bone we had seen, or so I tried to tell myself briefly. But no, I was a professor of biology and knew a human femur when I saw one.

The creatures looked terrifying. So said the monks and the crew of the Angel's Pencil . Well, so did gorillas. And very nearly too late to save the last of the species, gorillas were found to be gentle, intelligent vegetarians, handicapped by lacking a voicebox. Right at the dawn of archaeology the shambling, bestial Neanderthals were found to have been altruistic, caring for grossly deformed and helpless individuals until they died at advanced ages, sometimes burying their dead poignantly with flowers.

Even carnivores that were bywords for savagery in Earth folklore, like wolves and killer whales, were found by scientific investigation to kill no more than they needed. Further, throughout nature on both planets some harmless creatures had evolved a threatening appearance as protection. And sometimes it worked the other way: our poison-fanged Beam's beast looked like a cuddly toy.

They had tried to cook the crew of the Angel's Pencil with some kind of heat induction ray. A tragically mistaken attempt to communicate? No alien had survived to explain. There had been Belters in the Pencil . Sol Belters, like our own Serpent Swarmers, were regarded by flatlanders as paranoid.

I remembered an old lit. course story, a "sequel" by another author to H. G. Wells's late-nineteenth-century classic The Time Machine , which revealed that the horrible, cannibalistic Morlocks had in fact been benevolent scientists trying to communicate with the panic-stricken and homicidal time-traveler. And Wells himself had written of 1914: "Nothing could have been more obvious to the people of the early twentieth century than the rapidity with which war was becoming impossible." War and science did not go together, and, we were told, never had—until we started reading those old fragments.

Appearances were against the felinoids, but .  .  . surely when humanity established its first interstellar colony it had brought with it some wisdom and experience, some humble recognition of past wrongs to other species and some sense of responsibility to the future? And I remembered that automatic gun twisted into scrap, and human bone in a puddle of blood.

"So what exactly are you saying?" I asked.

"These creatures could be allies in advancing democracy here. We should be communicating with them. Instead of which we are turning out panic-measure weapons. All right, let us say we know they react violently to provocation. Surely, Professor, you can see we may be standing on the edge of either a great hope for this planet or a terrible disaster—perhaps for two species. Civilization is a reality. You're a biologist. You know the mechanics of natural selection. Capabilities don't evolve in excess of needs. How could a carnivorous felinoid get enough brain for space travel? That's not how evolution works."

That was a point, certainly. But there was an answer to it:

"How could an omnivorous savanna-dwelling ape get enough brain for space travel? That's surely equally impossible."

I felt vibration through the floor. Another big ship taking off. They were lifting heavy material. From my window I could see construction crews at work on hilltops beyond the city, erecting new launching lasers built from old plans. We were moving now, and by all accounts the Belters of the Serpent Swarm were moving faster.

"The unions are behaving very shortsightedly," he went on, "A lot of their leadership sees the rearmament program simply in terms of more labor demand and more wages and so are supporting it. I think they're in for a rude shock. Do you know what a bayonet is?"

"I do now."

"It was described centuries ago as an instrument with a worker at each end. Even capitalists like Diderachs and the Herrenmanner should see the point: money spent on production repays itself and perhaps more; Money spent on armaments may give employment but in the long run it's wasted."

"It's a lot to think about," I said. I wasn't lying. The cetaceans that mankind had once hunted and experimented upon and drowned wholesale in driftnets were now trading partners and friends. There were pods of dolphins breeding in one of our smaller enclosed seas, arrivals on the last and biggest slowboat, waiting till their numbers and the numbers of Earth fish grew and they took possession of Wunderland's oceans.

"Think fast. We may not have much time."

I knew I wasn't going to get much sleep again that night. Pills, I knew by too much recent experience, would only make me groggy the next day, and the doc wouldn't dispense anything stronger without better reasons than I could give it. I called Dimity after a few hours, using a selector so I would not wake her if she was asleep. She wasn't.

I told her my major concern and hope: that a spacefaring race had to be peaceful. This was not a matter entirely of wishful thinking but also of the logic of technology and education. Cooperation and peace were needed to create cultures that could support the knowledge industries—the stable governments, the institutes and universities, the individual dreamers and inventors, and the workshops and factories, as well as the surplus of wealth—that made space flight eventually possible.

"Have you heard of the Chatham Islands on Earth?" she asked.

"Vaguely."

"In the Pacific, off New Zealand. Very late in pre-space-flight history, in the nineteenth century, a shipload of Maoris got there and ate the inhabitants. The old Maori war canoes had never gone that way, so the islanders had been left in peace. But these Maoris stole a European sailing ship and its charts."

"I see. Stolen technology."

"Think of the ancient Roman Empire. Or the ancient Chinese."

"I don't know much about them."

"Very low tech, but in their way great achievements. They were built up, one way or another, in periods of relative peace and order. Then savage barbarians came: but they didn't destroy them, they took them over.

"Indeed the Romans themselves seem to have been primitives who took over the heritages of the Greeks and Etruscans, so that you suddenly had a warrior culture, disciplined and armed and organized at a level far beyond anything it could have achieved on its own.

"Human history is full of such cases if you look: technology taken from somewhere else. The point is, human culture or civilization and technology have often been out of step. For all we know, this may be the same thing, on a bigger scale."

"For all we know .  .  . We have so little evidence of anything." I repeated van Roberts's words: "Civilization is a reality."

"We wouldn't be the first .  .  . Egyptians, Babylonians, Greeks, Romans .  .  . They all had civilization as a reality. Where are they now? I'm only saying it's a possibility that these creatures are out of whack too. I wonder how the Chatham Islanders felt when they saw the clipper ship. But that's something we'll never know."

"I hope you're right about that last bit."

 

 

Previous: Chapter 5
Next: Chapter 7