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

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Chapter 7

It's reasoning that ruins people at the critical hours of their history.   

—Pierre Daninos

"You know, Professor," said Kristin von Diderachs, "there's an aspect of all this we haven't fully considered. These aliens may be an opportunity as well as a threat."

" You'veno doubt they are real?" I had been doing another broadcast for the Defense Council. The contents of the script I had been given were reassuring and optimistic, but I was tired and did not feel reassured.

"No. Whatever van Roberts and his merry band of cranks and radicals may say, we didn't fake those transmissions or anything else. And between you and me, I understand things are happening in space already. But even setting that aside, surely you can see that we are treating them as a genuine warning. What else have we all been sweating over? Do they think we want a high-tax regime?"

"Possibly. If it keeps them down."

"Nonsense. We pay more tax than they do. And how can it help us to increase popular discontent? Have you any idea what the costs have been already?"

"I think I've got some idea."

"I doubt it. Practically every aspect of industrial production has been disrupted. War production helps create an illusion of prosperity but in the long run it's money thrown away. We are treating these aliens as potential enemies because it's the sensible thing to do. But there's a chance they are not enemies. We should meet them—as far out in space as we can travel—and negotiate. I know there are people in Sol System thinking along the same lines. They've sent us accounts of negotiating games they've set up."

"How useful are they?"

"They are putting a lot of thought into them. Think what the cats could teach us!"

"Oddly enough, I have been thinking a bit along those lines. So have some other people."

"That could be hopeful. They could be a big positive influence for order and stability. And order is what we need at the moment. Human occupation of this planet is still vulnerable."

"I'm well aware of it."

"This could give us a chance to work together."

"You mean that in times of crisis people turn to the certain things?"

"Well, yes, partly that. But what I really meant was that .  .  . these outsiders could be allies."

"I don't see .  .  ."

"You don't build spaceships without cooperation. That means you don't build them without respect for ideals of order and discipline. Somebody has to give the orders. I've studied Earth history. Would the Greek democracies have got into space? No, they spent all their time squabbling among each other until the Romans took them over and organized them. Remember Shakespeare: 'Take but degree away, untune that string, /And, hark, what discord follows!' That's a universal truth. If they have space travel they have a scientific civilization, and that means a class-based civilization."

"I certainly hadn't seen it that way before."

"The defense preparations are obviously necessary, but for more reasons than one. The Prolevolk leaders aren't all wrong in their appreciation of the situation. Things are starting to break up here. They've got to be set to rights. I'm telling you this so you'll know who to side with when the time comes—if it comes.

"I've studied and thought about history. When the ancient explorers on Earth discovered a new country, it was the people in control they naturally allied with. When Europeans reached the Pacific islands it was the local kings they went to. If the Polynesian kings played their cards sensibly, they could do all right. I've been studying the records. The kingship of Tonga goes on today; there is still a Maori aristocracy and a restored monarchy of an old line. We could learn from their experience, and last longer, perhaps become stronger than ever. If we handle these newcomers properly and have them for friends."

"They kill people. I've seen the bones."

"Possibly there have been unfortunate incidents. Tragic incidents. After all, if the creature allegedly seen near the monastery was the same species as were on the Angel's Pencil , they may have reason to approach us warily. The behavior of the Angel's Pencil has rather committed us to a certain situation."

"Yes, I suppose so."

"And after all, can we know what really happened? Who attacked first? They have to be something like us .  .  . don't they?"

"I don't know." It was an argument that had been going on in my own head ceaselessly. Reason said yes, something else said no. I brushed him off and got into my car.

 

Six weeks had passed. The most obvious change had been the number of ships taking off from the Munchen spaceport around the clock and the number that seemed to land by night. But there were other changes too. We seemed to know as little about keeping security as we did about anything else military. Everybody knew. But there was a strange taboo about speaking of it.

There were new looks on the faces in the Munchen streets, everything from excitement to haunted terror. There were people who walked differently, and people who looked at the sky. There were a couple of ground-traffic snarls, and no one seemed to be attending to them. The Muncheners stuck to some old-fashioned ways, including one or two cops on foot with the crowds. Not this evening, though. The police seemed to be somewhere else.

There were also, I noticed, people lining up at certain shops. Food shops mainly, but sporting goods, hardware, camping, car parts and others as well. I had not seen that before except at the Christmas–New Year's sales.

That reminded me of something else, and I took a detour past St. Joachim's Cathedral. Its imposing main doors were normally shut except when Christmas and Easter produced more than a handful of worshipers. Its day-to-day congregation, such as it was, went in and out through a small side door. Now the main doors were open, and there seemed to be a number of people going up the steps.

There were also some new street stalls set up near the cathedral, and they seemed to be drawing a crowd, too. I stopped to investigate, and found they were peddling lucky charms, amulets and spells.

 

"This is the plan for something called a Bofors gun. From the twentieth century. One of the Families boasted an eccentric collector who brought it as a souvenir of Swedish industry. It fires exploding shells, but we have calculated that shells loaded to this formula wouldn't damage even the material of a modern car, let alone what we might expect of enemy armor."

"So?"

"We're building it anyway. At least we have the plans and drawings, and we've modernized it as much as we can. We've strengthened the barrel, breech and other mechanisms and hope they'll take modern propellants without blowing apart. We've rebuilt something from the old plans called a sabot round that may pierce very strong material. We've been able to speed up the loading too, and of course we have better radars and computers for aiming. We'll put modern mining explosive and depleted uranium in the shells and hope for the best."

"It looks slow."

"We're linking it with modern radar and computers and powering up the traverse. For a long time the tendency in war seems to have been more speed with everything. But that comes to a plateau. It may be different in space with decisions being made electronically, but infantry fighting can only get just so fast. Even with every electronic enhancement, it seems human beings—and I hope others—have some sort of limit to the speed with which they can make complicated battlefield decisions. And of course it may be that you're often fighting without electronics.

"Further, your own speed can become a weapon against you: run into something too fast and your speed exacerbates the impact. Also you lose control. That's the theory, anyway. At the moment theory is all we've got. The same collection as gave us the Bofors gun gave us this—it's called a Lewis gun. Not as powerful or as futuristic as it looks, but it's quick and simple to make.

"There's something else called a Gatling gun. We were very puzzled by the descriptions until we realized they referred to two guns with the same name, about 120 years apart."

"The later is likely to be the better."

"Well, we're trying to build the one we've got some drawings of. We're not sure which one it is."

 

"There's another message from Sol System," said Grotius. He was wearing new clothes now, a gray outfit with an old-fashioned cap and badges at the collar and shoulders. An archaic concept called a "uniform," meant to make hierarchy obvious and facilitate decision-making and enforcement. Several other Defense Committee folk were wearing them too, chiefly Herrenmanner.

"There's been more trouble. Scientific vessels, ferries to the colonies, robot explorers, have just stopped transmitting. There was still no full public announcement on Earth when this message was sent, but of course they've got ARM to organize things. They let us know so we can do what we 'think best.' They've reminded us about the Meteor Guard and its weapons potential, as though we hadn't thought of that for ourselves. Telling us doesn't compromise ARM's precious security."

"Decent of them." We "Star-born" had a somewhat patronizing attitude to the flatlanders of Earth—to all Sol Systemers in fact—but I had never heard them spoken of with such bitterness and anger before. "If they'd told us a couple of months ago it might have been useful."

"ARM has useful inventions suppressed long ago that they could tell us about. It's like the Roman emperor's reputed last message to Britain as the legions withdrew to defend the Roman heartland: 'The cantons should take steps to defend themselves.' That means: 'Good-bye and good luck!' for those of you who aren't ancient historians."

"We're setting up distribution points to hand out strakkakers, jazzers, ratchet knives and anything else that can be used as a weapon. But the factories can't keep the supply up."

"We've said it again and again: tool up more factories."

"We're trying. There are still so many bottlenecks. All our professionals at this—police, security guards—are being used as instructors. Those that haven't run for the hills. Some have. As for our industrial effort in general—well, we haven't made this public, but more than nine-tenths of our efforts are going to the Meteor Guard forces."

"In what form?"

"I don't know. I don't need to know." Another new phrase. There were a lot of new phrases now. "But from what I gather .  .  . they are already in action. They have been for a while."

"So when can we field an 'army'?" Like "uniform," that was an ancient word that still sounded odd.

"How good an army do you want? We've got armed people at the main landing field now. We're hoping to get cover for major government buildings, roads, bridges, factories, arms depots and so forth next, and then we think we can begin to start with a field force." The Argyl raised his haggard, sunken face. He had been Tommie-Herrenmann-handsome not long ago. "Meanwhile our General Staff are still trying to speed-read every book they can find that mentions a war. They've worked out why armies were traditionally divided into cavalry, infantry and artillery, and what skirmishers were. Quite a few things like that.

"We're also trying to move assets out of the city. We think that, and the spaceports in particular, will be their first objective."

"We should be getting machines away. We'll need machines to make weapons."

"Do you know how complex a modern factory is? It's not a matter of piling parts in the back of a carrier. And we can't spare any. We need weapons now ."

 

"We've seen nothing more," said the abbot.

Things had changed in Munchen. The monastery had changed too. If it had looked a little like a fortress before, it looked more like one now. There were new bars on the main gate, and small gaps in the courtyard walls had been repaired with stone.

The lower parts of the windows had stones piled about them, too, and in the tower I could see watchers, presumably armed. Repair work was still going on, with human workers as well as machines. Another strange, archaic spectacle: It seemed indecent to watch humans at this type of labor. I knew the monks did a lot by hand, but these workers were new to me.

"Possible novices," said the abbot, when I remarked on this. "We've had a burst of applicants recently. We'll see how they like tending a concrete mix for a while."

"It looks very .  .  . quaint."

"Suddenly new machines aren't available. Anyway," he went on, "we've seen nothing more, either there"—he pointed to the slope of parkland and the swamp beyond—"or there."

He pointed to the sky. Another orange column was rising from the Munchen spaceport. Another ship lifting some cargo to the Serpent Swarmers or the Meteor Guard. I didn't know the details any longer. There were new faces on the Defense Council and I was being sidelined, though I was still being given statements to make for broadcasting. In any event, even for people at my level there had been a blackout of real news for more than a month.

And every night now there seemed to be unusual numbers of meteors, even by Wunderland standards, and other strange lights moving in the sky. No one was quite sure when this had started, but many had remarked upon it.

More importantly, while the Spaceport had never seemed busier, all passenger space traffic to Tiamat and the Serpent Swarm, and all other scientific and commercial flights, had stopped. That had caused a lot of anger, and possible reasons, all of them highly discreditable to one or all factions of the ruling powers, formed a staple of the new industry of streetcorner and public-square oratory.

Security was getting tighter, and political disorders, I had heard, were getting worse. There were rumors of rioting.

"You know what we may be up against?" I asked him.

"I think so, Nils. We're not flatlanders."

"No, we're not flatlanders. We don't live on a tamed world and we're used to dealing with dangerous beasts. Our farmers still have guns. But if we're right, these dangerous beasts have gravity control and spaceships that make inertialess turns. They have beams and bomb-missiles. It's rather a different order of things."

"I know."

"Then why bother with this? Strengthening your walls won't hold them off. With the wrong wind, the radiation from one fusion point detonated over Munchen, not even aimed here, could obliterate you."

"If they want to destroy this world, there's not a lot we can do about it. But why should they? And as for the walls, I might say that if they settle for something less than total destruction, we still have our fellow humans to worry about, as always."

"Yes," I said. "That's been brought home to me rather clearly lately."

"Paranoia is not only believing in nonexistent enemies. It's more commonly believing your enemies are more organized and efficient than they actually can be."

"At the moment, I'm wondering who our enemies actually are."

"And wondering what your place in it all is, I suspect."

"Yes. I was put on the Defense Committee when it was formed but I know no more about defense than any of the others."

"But probably no less than any of the others either."

"I don't know that van Roberts and von Diderachs see things quicker or slower than I do. What has a biologist got to do with defense, anyway? Oh, I might think of some weapons to use against an alien enemy—biological weapons, I mean, I've read a little about them lately, but I have precisely one hair to work on."

"I thought you were getting data from Earth."

I hadn't known he knew about that. But I realized he must have many sources of information.

"It's stopped. Or at least, I've had nothing lately."

"Ours, too. Some time back."

So they weren't as determinedly medieval as they let on. That linked up with something else in my subconscious, but I could not pursue it at that moment. It filed itself away somewhere. He went on:

"We're staying, of course. It's human to want to run, but it seems our vows must have meaning after all. When I've spoken of the people of Wunderland as our flock, you know I've meant it more than half in jest—an amusing archaism from the pastoral days when the Church had a more definite mission and when human beings could really be thought of in terms of sheep needing a shepherd. But it's a poor shepherd who deserts his flock and runs when the first real wolf appears."

"A wolf?"

"Know that I've also asked myself: 'What if it's more than a wolf? This might be a tiger.' It might also be a poor shepherd who commits suicide. If that's what staying means."

"And I remember a verse," I told him.

 

I was a shepherd to fools,

Causelessly bold or afraid.

They would not abide by my rules.

Yet they escaped. For I stayed.   

 

"Who said that?"

"An old poet called Kipling. It was meant as a war epitaph. It was in one of the old books I've been reading lately."

"I've not heard of him."

"ARM didn't like him. He'd just about disappeared from public libraries before the first slowboat lifted. But he was one of the craft, it seems. Our lodge has a small library of its own. .  .  . Reading! .  .  . I feel useless. I make my contribution to the committee—try to say something, but when I do I feel it's a waste of time. Too many cooks spoiling the broth. There's nothing special I can contribute. If I were an engineer, I'd be far more use. Speed matters, and I might be able to enhance human reflexes with biological engineering, but the point is academic. To do anything meaningful in that direction would take years and resources I don't have."

"I'll have to say I'm glad of that. The Church doesn't approve of BE, for humans most of all. And yet things seem to be happening. I've never heard so many ships taking off. And there are new factories."

"They are happening with little help from me."

"Think carefully. Act honorably. And pray. That's all I can tell you."

 

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