Down to Earth
(Colonization — 2)
Atvar, the fleetlord of the Race’s conquest fleet, and Reffet, the fleetlord of the colonization fleet, were having a disagreement. They had agreed on very little since Reffet brought the colonization fleet to Tosev 3. Atvar was convinced Reffet still had no real understanding of the way things worked on this miserable planet. He didn’t know what Reffet was convinced of-probably that things on Tosev 3 were in fact the way the Race had fondly imagined them to be before sending out the conquest fleet.
“I do not know what you wish me to do, Reffet,” he said. They were equals; neither of them was Exalted Fleetlord to the other. They could be, and often were, equally impolite to each other. “No matter what you may believe, I cannot work miracles?” He swiveled his eye turrets this way and that to show exasperation.
Reffet swiveled his eye turrets, too, and hissed for good measure. “I do not see that it is so difficult. The ship the Big Uglies have launched is under very low acceleration. You have plenty of time to send a reconnaissance probe after it and keep it under close, secret observation?”
“And you brought starships across the light-years between Home and here!” Atvar exclaimed. “You must have had good officers and good computers, for you surely were not up to the job unaided.” He paced across his office, which had been a suite in Shepheard’s Hotel before the Race occupied Cairo. It gave him plenty of room to pace; Tosevites were larger than males and females of the Race, and, naturally, built in proportion to their own size.
“Leave off your insults,” Reffet replied with another hiss, an angry one. His tailstump switched back and forth, back and forth. “I repeat, I do not see that what I have asked is so very difficult. As I said, that ship, that Clewis and Lark, is under acceleration of no more than a hundredth of the force of gravity.”
“Lewis and Clark.” Atvar took no small relish in correcting his colleague and rival over even minute details that shouldn’t have mattered to anyone save a Big Ugly. “That it is under tiny acceleration does not matter. That it is under continuous acceleration does. If we are to observe it closely and continually, our reconnaissance must be under acceleration, too. And how, I ask, do you propose to keep that secret? A spacecraft with a working engine is by the nature of things anything but secret.”
“By the Emperor!” Reffet burst out. He lowered his eyes to the floor when naming his sovereign. So did Atvar, on hearing the title. From training since hatchlinghood, any member of the Race would have done the same. Still furious, Reffet went on, “These accursed Tosevites have no business flying in space?” He used an emphatic cough to underline his words. “They have no business having instruments that let them detect what we do when we fly in space, either.”
Atvar let his mouth fall open in amusement. “Come here, Reffet,” he said, walking over to the window. “Come here-it is safe enough. I intend no tricks, and the riots seem to have quieted down again, so no Big Ugly is likely to be aiming a sniper’s rifle in this direction at the moment. I want to show you something.”
Suspicion manifest in every line of his forward-sloping body, Reffet came. “What is it?” The suspicion filled his voice, too.
“There.” Atvar pointed west across the great river that flowed past Cairo. “Do you see those three stone pyramids, there in the sand?”
Reffet deigned to turn one eye turret in that direction. “I see them. What of it? They look massive, but weathered and primitive.”
“They are primitive-that is my point,” Atvar said. “They are as old as any monuments on this world. They were built as memorials to local rulers eight thousand years ago, more or less: eight thousand of our years-half that many for the years of Tosev 3. Eight thousand years ago, we had already had a planetwide Empire for more than ninety thousand years. We had already conquered the Rabotevs. We had already conquered the Hallessi. We were beginning to wonder if the star Tosev-this world’s star-had any interesting planets. Here, civilization was just hatching from its egg.”
“And it should have taken much longer to hatch, too,” Reffet said irritably. “The Big Uglies should still be building monuments much like these, as we were not long after we started gathering in cities?”
“Truth?” Atvar’s voice was sad. “They should have. In fact, we thought they had. You will have seen this picture of a Tosevite warrior in full battle regalia before you set out from Home, of course?”
He walked over to the hologram projector and called up an image. He had seen it countless times himself, both before reaching Tosev 3 and since. It showed a hairy Big Ugly in rusty chainmail, armed with sword and spear and iron-faced wooden shield and riding a four-legged beast with a long head, an unkempt mane, and a shaggy tail.
“Yes, of course I have seen that image,” Reffet said. “It is one of those our probe took sixteen hundred years ago. From it, we assumed the conquest would be easy.”
“So we did,” Atvar agreed. “But the point is, in those intervening sixteen hundred years-eight hundred of this planet’s revolutions-the Tosevites somehow developed industrial civilization. However much you and I and every other member of the Race may wish they had remained primitive, the sorry fact is that they did not. We have to deal with that fact now.”
“It was not planned thus.” Reffet made that an accusation. The Race moved by plans, by tiny incremental steps. Anything different came hard.
Atvar had been dealing with the Big Uglies for more then forty of his years. By painful necessity, he’d begun to adapt to the hectic pace of Tosev 3. “Whether it was planned or not, it is so. You cannot crawl back into your eggshell and deny it.”
Reffet wanted to deny it. Again, every line of his body showed as much. So did the big breath of air he sucked deep into his lung. “I think I would rather deal with the Tosevites than with you,” he snarled. “I know they are aliens. With you, I cannot tell whether you have become half alien or are simply addled like an egg gone bad.”
That did it. Atvar drew in a deep, angry breath of his own. It brought the stinks of Cairo-the stinks of Big Uglies and of their food and their wastes, as well as the stinks from the hydrocarbon-burning engines they had developed themselves-across the scent receptors in his tongue. “Go away,” he told Reffet, and added an emphatic cough of his own. “I have not the time to deal with your stupidity. Whatever the Big Uglies in that spacecraft do, they will not do it soon. I am facing a serious uprising in the subregion of the main continental mass called China. I have to deal with that now. I will deal with the American spacecraft as I find the chance, or when it becomes urgent. Meanwhile, good day.”
“You have turned into a Big Ugly,” Reffet said furiously. “All you care about is the immediate. Anything that requires forethought is beyond you.”
“Tosev 3 will do that to a male-unless it kills him first,” Atvar answered. Then he paused. Both his eye turrets swung thoughtfully toward Reffet. “Have you any notion how many casualties the Big Uglies’ continual revolts have cost us?”
“No, I do not?” Reffet sounded peevish. As far as Atvar was concerned, Reffet sounded peevish far too often. The fleetlord of the colonization fleet went on, “Had you done a proper job of conquering this planet, I would not have to concern myself with such things-and neither would you.”
I will not bite him, Atvar thought. I will not tear his belly open with my fingerclaws. But he hadn’t known such temptation to pure, cleansing violence since a ginger-induced mating frenzy in Australia. Fortunately, he had no ginger coursing through him now, nor could he smell any females’ pheromones. That let him stay his usual rational self. “Deal with things here as they are, Reffet,” he said, “not as you wish they would be. Our casualties have been heavy, far heavier than anyone could possibly have anticipated before we left Home. Like it or not, that is a truth.”
“Very well. That is a truth.” Reffet still sounded peevish. “I do not see how it is a truth to concern me, however. I am in charge of colonists, not soldiers.”
“All you care about is the immediate,” Atvar said, waggling his jaw as he dropped it to turn his laugh nasty. He took malicious pleasure in bouncing the other fleetlord’s words off his snout. “Anything that requires forethought is beyond you.”
“Very well.” Now Reffet sounded condescending. “What fresh nonsense is this?”
“It is no nonsense at all, but something we would have had to face sooner or later during our occupation of Tosev 3,” Atvar answered. “It might as well be now. Have you noticed that this is a world consumed by war and rebellion, that the Big Uglies in the regions we occupy continually try to overthrow our rule, and that the Tosevites’ independent not-empires-the SSSR, the Greater German Reich, the United States, and also the weaker ones like Nippon and Britain-train large numbers of their inhabitants as soldiers year after year?”
“I have noticed it,” Reffet admitted, “but you are the fleetlord of the conquest fleet. Soldiers are your responsibility.”
“Truth,” Atvar said. “They are. This is not Home, where, save in a Soldiers’ Time of preparation for conquest, we have no soldiers, only police. Here, we will need soldiers continuously, for hundreds of years to come. Where shall we get them, if we do not begin the training of males, and possibly females as well, from among your precious colonists?”
“What?” Reffet cried. “This is madness! It is nothing but madness! My colonists are colonists. How can they become fighters?”
“The males I command managed,” Atvar said. “I am certain I can recruit trainers from among them. Think, Reffet.” He didn’t bother being sardonic, not any more; the more he thought on this, the more important it looked. “How, long can the Race endure here on Tosev 3 without soldiers to defend us?”
Reffet did think. Reluctantly, Atvar gave him credit for it. After a pause, the fleetlord of the colonization fleet said, “It could be that you are correct. I shall not commit myself further than that without analysis from my experts. If you would also convene a panel of your experts to examine the issue, I should be grateful.”
With any other member of the Race on or near Tosev 3, Reffet could have given an order and heard It shall be done as reply. Having to make a polite request of Atvar surely grated on him. Atvar knew having to make a request of Reffet grated on him. Here, the request was nothing if not reasonable. “I will do that, and soon,” Atvar promised. “It is something we need to examine, as I said.”
“So it is.” Like Atvar’s, Reffet’s temper seemed to be cooling. He said, “If it proves we must do this thing, it will make us different from the members of the Race back on Home and inhabiting Rabotev 2 and Halless 1.”
“Males of the conquest fleet are already different from all other members of the Race,” Atvar replied. “My hope is that, over the course of hundreds of years, we will gradually incorporate all the Big Uglies into the Empire and assimilate them to our way of doing things. If we succeed there, the differences between those of the Race here on Tosev 3 and those living on the other worlds of the Empire will gradually disappear.”
“By the Emperor, may it be so,” Reffet said. He and Atvar cast down their eyes again. Then, half talking to himself, Reffet went on, “But what if it is not so?”
“That is my nightmare,” Atvar told him. “That has been my nightmare since we first discovered the Big Uglies’ true nature. They change faster than we do. They grow faster than we do. They are still behind us, but not by so much as they were when we came to Tosev 3. If they, or some of them, remain hostile, if they look like they are passing us…” His voice trailed away.
“Yes?” Reffet prompted. “What then?”
“We may have to destroy this world, and our own colony on it,” Atvar answered unhappily. “We may have to destroy ourselves, to save the Race.”
Under an acceleration of.01g, Lieutenant Colonel Glen Johnson had to wear a seat belt to stay in his chair. His effective weight was just over a pound and a half-not enough for muscles used to Earth’s robust gravity to notice. Any fidgeting at all would have sent him bouncing around the Lewis and Clark’s control room. Bouncing around in a room full of instruments wasn’t recommended.
He turned to Colonel Walter Stone, the American spaceship’s chief pilot. “This is the best seat in the house,” he said.
“You’d best believe it, Johnson,” Stone answered. The two of them might have been cousins: they were both lean, athletic men in their early middle years; both crew cut; both, by coincidence, from Ohio. Johnson had started in the Marines, Stone in the Army Air Corps. Each looked down his nose at the other because of that.
At the moment, though, Johnson wasn’t interested in looking anywhere except out through the panoramic window. It was double-coated to reduce reflection; peering out through it was about as close as a man could come to looking out on bare space. He saw more stars than he had since another guy after the same girl sucker-punched him in high school.
The Lewis and Clark was aimed roughly in the direction of Antares, the bright red star at the heart of Scorpio. The Milky Way was near its thickest there, and all the more impressive for not being dimmed and blurred by the lights and air of Earth. But Johnson didn’t pay much attention to the stars liberally sprinkled thereabouts. Instead, leaning forward in his seat, he peered farther south, toward a region that, even against the black sky of space, wasn’t so heavily populated.
He suddenly pointed. “That’s it! At least, I think that’s it.”
Walter Stone looked at him in bemusement. “Which one? And what’s it supposed to be, anyhow?”
“That faint orange one there.” Johnson pointed again. “I think that’s Epsilon Indi, the star the Lizards call Halless. They rule a planet that goes around that star.”
“Ah.” Enlightenment filled Stone’s craggy features. “You look farther west, and up closer to the equator, you can spot Tau Ceti, too. That’s the place the little scaly bastards call Home.” A moment later, he said “Home.” again, this time in the language of the Race. Returning to English, he went on, “And Epsilon Eridani’s farther west still. Rabotev is the Lizard name. Nothing to make either one of ’em stand out much. They’re just stars like the sun, a little smaller, a little cooler. Epsilon Indi’s quite a bit smaller and cooler.”
“Yeah.” Glen Johnson nodded. “What I wouldn’t give to be able to pay a call on the Lizards one of these days, you know what I mean?”
“Oh, yes?” Stone nodded, too. “I know exactly what you mean. I’d say the line for that particular craving forms on the left.”
“But they can come here, so it’s important that we figure out how to go there,” Johnson said. “Look at history. The people who discovered other people usually came off pretty well. The ones who got discovered didn’t have such a happy time of it. The Spaniards got rich. The Indians ended up slaving for them. No way in hell the Indians could have sailed to Spain, except in Spanish ships.”
“Yeah. That’s interesting, isn’t it?” Stone didn’t sound as if he liked the way it was interesting. Then he stabbed out a finger at Johnson. “But what about the Japs? What about the goddamn Japs, huh? They got discovered instead of the other way round, and they’re still in business.”
“Yes, sir, that’s right, they are, damn them. But you know how come they’re still in business?” Without giving Stone a chance to answer, Johnson continued, “They’re still in business because they wised up in a hurry. They learned everything they could from us and England and Germany and France, and inside of nothing flat they had their own factories going and they were making their own steamships and then they could damn well sail wherever they pleased. They started playing the same game everybody else was.”
“Yeah, and then the slant-eyed sons of bitches chose to sail for Pearl Harbor and give us one right in the nuts,” Stone growled. Like most purely human conflicts, the one between the USA and Japan had gone by the boards when the Lizards attacked. It was gone, but not forgotten.
“Oh, hell, yes, sir,” Johnson said. “But that’s the point: they were able to sail across the Pacific and kick us when we weren’t looking. If we’re able to do that to the Lizards one of these days, we won’t be so bad off. Even if we don’t do it, we won’t be so bad off, because we can.”
“I see what you’re saying,” Stone told him. The chief pilot waved around the Lewis and Clark’s control room. “This isn’t a bad first step, is it?”
“It’s a lot better than what we would have had if the Lizards hadn’t come, I’ll tell you that,” Johnson answered. “I wonder if we would even have been in space by now.” He shrugged. “No way to tell, I guess.” He didn’t say so aloud, but he thought of the Lewis and Clark as the equivalent of the first Japanese-built coastal steamer, which had surely been a clumsy, makeshift vessel that barely dared sail out of sight of land. It was very fine in its way, but what he wanted were battleships and aircraft carriers out on the open sea.
Stone coughed. “You’re not supposed to be here to start a bull session, you know. You’re supposed to be here to learn how to fly this thing in case Mickey and I both wake up dead one morning.”
“Sir, the only controls that are a whole lot different from ones I’ve used before are the ones for the reactor-and if I have to mess with those, we’re all in a lot of trouble,” Johnson said. The motor sat at the end of a long boom to minimize the risk for the rest of the Lewis and Clark if anything went wrong with it.
“One of the reasons you’re learning is that we’re all liable to be in a lot of trouble,” Stone pointed out. “Face it: you came aboard because you were curious about us, right?” Johnson could hardly argue with that; it was the Gospel truth. Stone waited to see if he’d say something anyhow, then nodded when he didn’t. “Uh-huh. Okay, you aren’t the only one. What if the Lizards send a present after us? What are we going to do about it?”
“Or the Germans,” Johnson said.
Stone shook his head now. “They can’t catch us, not any more. This may not sound like a hot ship-.01g? Wow!” He had a gift for the sardonic. “We tack on a whole four inches to our velocity every second. Doesn’t sound like much, does it? It adds up, though. At the end of a day, we’re going five miles a second faster than we were when that day started. Regular rockets kick a lot harder to start with, but once they’re done kicking, it’s free fall the rest of the way. The Nazis don’t have any constant-boost ships, though I’ll bet you dollars to doughnuts they’re working on them now. The Lizards, damn them, do.”
“All right,” Glen Johnson said agreeably. “Suppose they come after us at, say,1g? That’s ten times our acceleration. We can run, we can’t hide, and we can’t even dodge-the Lewis and Clark is about as maneuverable as an elephant on roller skates. So what do we do then? Besides go down in flames, I mean?”
“If we have to, we fight,” Stone answered. “That’s what I was coming to. The fighting controls are right here.” He pointed. “We’ve got machine guns and missiles for close-in defense. None of that stuff is much different than what you used on the Peregrine, so you know what it can do.”
“Nuclear tips on the missiles and all?” Johnson asked.
“That’s right,” the senior pilot said, “except you carried two and we’ve got a couple dozen. And that doesn’t say anything about the mines.” He pointed to another rank of switches.
“Mines, sir?” Johnson raised an eyebrow. “Now you’ve got me: I don’t have the faintest idea what you’re talking about.”
“There are five of them, one controlled by each switch here,” Stone explained. “They’re the strongest fusion bombs we can build… and they’re equipped with the most sensitive timers we’ve got. If we know the Lizards are trying to come up our rear ends, we leave them behind, timed to explode right when the enemy ship is closest to them. Maybe we nail it, maybe we don’t, but it’s sure as hell worth a try.”
“Even if we don’t wreck it, we might fry its brains.” Johnson grinned. “I like that. Whoever thought of it has a really sneaky mind.”
“Thank you,” Walter Stone said.
Johnson’s eyebrows jumped. “Was it you?”
Stone grinned at him. “I didn’t say that. I said, ‘Thank you.’ Here, let’s fire up the simulator and see what you do if the Lizards decide to take a whack at us after all.”
The simulator was a far cry from the Link machines on which Johnson had trained before the Lizards came. Like so much human technology, it borrowed-stole, really-wholesale from things the Race knew and people hadn’t back in 1942. The end result was something like a game, something like a God’s-eye view of the real thing, with the Lewis and Clark reduced to a glowing blip on a screen, the hypothetical Lizard pursuit ship another blip, and all the things they might launch at each other angry little sparks of light.
Johnson “lost.” the Lewis and Clark six times in a row before finally managing to save the ship with a perfectly placed mine. By then, sweat soaked his coveralls and slid away from his forehead in large, lazy drops. “Whew!” he said. “Here’s hoping the Lizards don’t decide to come after us, because we’re sure as hell in trouble if they do.”
“Amen,” Stone answered. “You will get better with practice, though-or you’d better get better, anyhow.”
“I can see that,” Johnson said. “First couple of missions I flew, the only thing that kept me from killing myself was fool luck.” He paused, eyeing the man who was training him. “You practice on this thing a lot, don’t you?”
“Every day, every chance I get,” Stone said solemnly.
“I figured you would. It’s as close as you can come to the real McCoy,” Johnson said. The senior pilot nodded once more. Johnson took a deep breath. “Okay. With all the practice you put in, how often do you win?”
“A little less than half the time,” Stone replied. “The goddamn Lizards can do more things than we can. Nothing’s going to change that. If you can’t handle the notion-well, too bad.”
“They shot me down,” Johnson said.
“Me, too.” Walter Stone reached over and slapped Johnson on the back. Without the safety strap, the blow would have knocked Johnson out of his chair. Stone went on, “We had to be crazy, going up against the Lizards in those prop jobs?”
“They were what we had, and the job needed doing,” Johnson said. The life expectancy of a pilot who’d flown against the Lizards during the fighting was most often measured in hours. If Johnson hadn’t been wounded when the Lizards knocked his plane out of the sky, if he hadn’t spent a lot of his time afterwards flat on his back, odds were he would have gone up again and bought himself the whole plot instead of just a piece of it. He didn’t care to dwell on those odds.
Stone said, “I think we’ve put you through the wringer enough for one day. Why don’t I turn you loose a couple minutes early so you can make it down to the mess hall before shift change?”
“Thank you, sir,” Johnson said, and unbuckled his belt. “My next shift back here with you, I want another go at the simulator.”
“You wouldn’t be much use to me if you didn’t,” Stone told him. “Somehow or other, I think that can be arranged.”
Catching one of the many handholds in the control room, Johnson swung toward the mess hall; at.01g, brachiating worked much better than walking. He almost approached eagerness. For good stretches-sometimes even for hours at a time-he could forget he was never going home again.
Lieutenant Colonel Sam Yeager was muttering at the Lizard-built computer on his desk. Sorviss, a male of the Race who lived in Los Angeles, had been doing his best to restore Yeager’s full access to the Race’s computer network. So far, his best hadn’t been good enough. Sam had learned a great deal on the network pretending to be a male of the Race named Regeya. As Sam Yeager, human being, he was allowed to visit only a small part of the network.
“You son of a bitch,” he told the screen, which said ACCESS DENIED in large red letters-Lizard characters, actually.
He was picking up the telephone to let Sorviss know his latest effort had failed when his son Jonathan burst into the study. Yeager frowned; he didn’t like getting interrupted while he was working. But what Jonathan said made him forgive the kid: “Come quick, Dad-I think they’re hatching!”
“Holy smoke!” Sam put the phone back on its hook and sprang to his feet. “They’re three days early.”
“When President Warren gave them to you, he said the best guess for when they’d hatch might be ten days off either way.” Jonathan Yeager spoke with the usual impatience of youth for age. He’d turned twenty not too long before. Sam Yeager didn’t like thinking of it in those terms; it reminded him he’d turned fifty-six not too long before. Jonathan was already on his way up the hall. “Are you coming or not?” he demanded.
“If you don’t get out of the way, I’ll trample you,” Sam answered.
Jonathan laughed tolerantly. He was a couple of inches taller than his father, and wider through the shoulders. If he didn’t feel like being trampled, Sam would have had a devil of a time doing it. The overhead light gleamed off Jonathan’s shaved head and off the body paint adorning his chest and belly: by what it said, he was a landcruiser-engine mechanic. Young people all over the world imitated Lizard styles and thought their elders stodgy for clucking.
Sam’s wife Barbara was standing in front of the incubator. The new gadget made the service porch even more crowded than it had been when it held just that washing machine and drier and water heater. “One of the eggshells already has a little hole in it,” Barbara said excitedly.
“I want to see,” Sam said, though getting close to the incubator in that cramped little space wasn’t easy. He went on, “I grew up on a farm, remember. I ought to know something about how eggs work.”
“Something, maybe,” Barbara said with a distinct sniff, “but nobody-nobody on Earth, anyhow-has ever watched a Lizard egg hatch till now.”
As she often did, she left him struggling for a comeback. While he was struggling, Jonathan gave him something else to think about: “Dad, may I call Karen to come over and watch them with us?”
His girlfriend was as fascinated by the Race as he was. She wore body paint, too, often with nothing but a tiny halter top to preserve the decencies. She didn’t shave her head, though some girls did. But that wasn’t what made Yeager hesitate. He said, “You know I didn’t get these eggs to entertain you… or Karen.”
“Of course I know that,” his son said indignantly. “Do you think I’m addled or something?” That bit of slang had made it from the Lizards’ language into English.
“No, of course not,” Sam answered, doing his best to remember how touchy he’d been when he was twenty. “But it’s liable to be important not to let anyone know we have Lizard eggs-or hatchlings, which is what we’ll have pretty darn quick now.” Eighteen years of minor-league ball and twenty in the Army had given him a vocabulary that could blister paint at forty paces. Around his wife and son, he did his best not to use too much of it.
Jonathan rolled his eyes. “What are you going to do, Dad, hide them in the garage whenever people or males of the Race come over?”
“When males of the Race come over, I just might,” Sam said. But he sighed. His son had a point. His orders were to raise the baby Lizards as much like human beings as he could. How was he supposed to do that if they never met anybody but his family and him? With another sigh, he nodded. “Okay, go ahead. But when she gets here, I’m going to have to warn her she can’t blab.”
“Sure, Dad.” Jonathan was all smiles now that he’d got his way. “This is so hot!” The Race liked heat. That made it a term of approval. He sprinted for the telephone.
Worry in her voice, Barbara said, “Sooner or later, the Race is going to find out that we have these hatchlings. There’ll be trouble when that happens?”
“I expect you’re right,” Yeager said. “But it’ll be trouble for the government, not trouble for us. If we have to give them up, we have to give them up, that’s all. No point to worrying too much ahead of time, right?”
“Right,” Barbara said, but she didn’t sound convinced.
Sam didn’t know that he was convinced, either, but he forced whatever worries he had down to the bottom of his mind. “Let me have a look, will you?” he said, as he had a moment before. “I’m the only one in the house who hasn’t seen the eggs this morning.”
Now that Jonathan was gone, Barbara had a little more room to move on the service porch. As she stepped aside, Yeager lifted the lid on top of the incubator and peered down. The two eggs inside, both a good deal larger than hen’s eggs, were yellow, speckled with brown and white; he would have bet they got laid in sand. Sure enough, one shell showed a small hole. “Will you take a look at that?” he said softly.
Barbara had already taken a look at that. Her question-typical of her questions-was very much to the point: “Do you really think we’ll be able to take care of them, Sam?”
“Well, hon, we managed with Jonathan, and he turned out okay,” Yeager said.
“I see three things wrong with that as an answer,” she said crisply. She ticked them off on her fingers: “Number one, we’re twenty years older than we were then. Number two, there are two of these eggs, and there was only one of him. And number three, not to belabor the obvious, they’re Lizards. It won’t be like raising babies.”
“It’s supposed to be as much like raising babies as we can make it,” Sam replied. “That’s why we’ve got the job, not a fancy lab somewhere. But yeah, you’re right; from everything I’ve read, it won’t be the same.”
“From everything I’ve read, too.” Barbara set a hand on his arm. “Are they really going to be like little wild animals till they’re three or four years old?”
He did his best to make light of it, saying, “What, you don’t think Jonathan was?” Instead of letting her hand rest quietly on his sleeve, she started drumming her fingers there. He coughed sheepishly, then sighed. “From everything I’ve been able to pick up, that’s about right. They don’t learn to talk as fast as babies do, and they’re able to move around by themselves as soon as they hatch. If that doesn’t make them little wild animals, I don’t know what would. Except we’re supposed to do our best to turn them into little tame animals instead.”
“I wonder if we can,” Barbara said. “How many stories does the Race tell about eggs back on Home that hatched in out-of-the-way places, and about Lizards that lived like hunting beasts till they were found and civilized?”
“Lots of them,” Sam allowed. “Of course, we have stories like that, too.”
“Wild children.” Barbara nodded. “But even in those, something always helps the babies when they’re small-the she-wolf suckling Romulus and Remus, for instance.” She had her literary references all lined up; she’d done graduate work in medieval English. “And just about all of our stories are legends-myths, really. The ones from the Lizards sound like news items; they read as if they came off the United Press International wire.”
Before Yeager could answer, Jonathan came running back onto the service porch. “Karen’s on her way,” he reported breathlessly. “She says not to let them hatch before she gets here.”
“Fine with me,” Sam said. “Did she tell you how we were supposed to manage that?” Jonathan glared at him. He’d been glared at by professionals, from managers and umpires all the way up to generals and a couple of presidents. He wasn’t about to let his son faze him. He pointed down into the incubator. “Look-the Lizard inside the other egg’s starting to poke his way out, too.”
They jockeyed for position in front of the incubator; it wasn’t easy for all of them to see at once. Sure enough, both eggshells had holes in them now. Jonathan said, “Those are more tears than cracks. The shells look kind of leathery, don’t they, not hard, like hens’ eggs are.”
“As hens’ eggs are,” Barbara said, and then, under her breath, “Honestly, I don’t know what they teach people these days.”
Having watched a lot of chicks hatching, Sam knew it didn’t happen instantly. Sure enough, the tears in the shells hadn’t got much bigger before the front doorbell rang. Jonathan dashed off to the door, and returned a moment later with Karen. “I greet you, Senior Ordnance Specialist,” Sam said in the language of the Race, eyeing her body paint. With both Barbara and Jonathan there, he conscientiously didn’t eye the skin on which the body paint was displayed. That wasn’t easy-she was a pretty redhead, and freckled all over-but he managed.
“I greet you, superior sir,” she answered in the same language. Like Jonathan, like the rest of the younger generation, she couldn’t remember a time when the Lizards hadn’t been around. She and he studied their language at UCLA the same way they studied math or chemistry. Despite aping the Race, they took Lizards more for granted than Sam or Barbara ever would.
Four people crowding around the incubator made looking in harder than ever. Karen happened to have the best view when the first Lizard’s snout poked out of the shell. “Look!” she said. “He’s got a little horn on the end of his nose.”
“It’s not a horn, it’s an egg tooth,” Sam said. “Turtles and snakes and ordinary small-l lizards have ’em, too, to help them hatch. It’ll drop off in a few days.”
Little by little, the baby Lizards (hatchlings sounded reproachfully in his mind, in the language of the Race) fought their way free of the eggs that had confined them. They were a light greenish brown, lighter than they would be as adults. Their scaly hides glistened with the last fluids from the eggs, though the lightbulbs in the incubators swiftly dried them. “Their heads look too big,” Jonathan said.
“So did yours, when you were first born,” Sam said. Barbara nodded. Jonathan looked embarrassed, though Karen’s head had undoubtedly looked too big for her body when she was a newborn, too.
Hearing voices above them, the Lizard hatchlings turned their tiny eye turrets toward the people. Sam wondered what he looked like to them. Nothing good, evidently; they skittered around the bottom of the incubator, looking for somewhere to hide. Jonathan hadn’t done that when he was a baby. And thank God, too, Sam thought.
He reached in to grab one of the Lizards. It hissed and snapped at him. Also unlike Jonathan as a newborn, it had a mouthful of sharp little teeth. He jerked his hand back. “Where are those leather gloves?” he asked.
“Here.” Barbara handed them to him. He slipped them on, then caught one of the Lizard hatchlings behind the head, as if it were a corn snake back on the Nebraska farm where he’d grown up. It couldn’t get away and it couldn’t bite, though it tried to do both. He carried it up the hall to the spare room that wasn’t spare any more. When he set it down, it scurried into one of the many hiding places he’d set up in the room: an upside-down bucket with a doorway cut into the side. Carefully closing the door behind him, he went back and captured the other hatchling. “All right, we’ve got ’em,” he said as he started up the hall with that wiggling little Lizard. “Now we get to make something of ’em.”
Felless was doing her best to talk sense into an official from the Great German Reich ’s Ministry of Justice: an inherently thankless task. “If you do not do more than you have to control ginger smuggling into lands ruled by the Race, it is only natural that we have retaliated as we have,” she told the Big Ugly. “Is it not just that we should assist the passage of Tosevite drugs into the Reich?”
The official, a deputy minister named Freisler, listened as his secretary translated Felless’ words into the guttural language of the Deutsche, which she had not bothered to learn. He spoke with what sounded like passion. The secretary’s reply, however, was all but toneless: “Herr Freisler rejects this equivalence out of hand. He warns that drug smugglers seized inside the Reich, whether Tosevites or belonging to the Race, will be brought before People’s Courts and will be subjected to the maximum punishment allowed by law.”
“Will be killed, you mean,” Felless said with distaste. The secretary wagged his head up and down, the equivalent of the Race’s affirmative hand gesture. The Deutsche had a habit of killing anyone of whom they did not approve completely; even for Big Uglies, they were savage.
And to think I was fool enough to specialize in the Race relations with newly conquered species. Felless let out a soft hiss of self-derision. When she’d wakened from cold sleep after the colonization fleet got to Tosev 3, she’d discovered that hundreds of millions of Tosevites remained unconquered, the Deutsche among them. She’d also discovered that the Big Uglies, independent and conquered both, were far more alien to the Race than either the Rabotevs or the Hallessi.
And she’d discovered ginger, which was an irony in its own right. Thanks to the Tosevite herb, her own mating behavior had acquired a frenzied urgency not far removed from that of the Big Uglies. The same was true of other females who tasted, which was the greatest reason the Race tried so hard to suppress the trade. Even as she argued against ginger to this Freisler creature, she craved a taste herself.
She took a breath to tear the Big Ugly limb from rhetorical limb, but her telephone hissed for attention before she could speak. “Excuse me,” she told the secretary, who nodded. She took the phone from her belt. “Felless speaking.”
“I greet you, Senior Researcher,” a male said into her hearing diaphragm. “Slomikk speaking here.”
“I greet you, Science Officer,” Felless replied. “What news?”
“I am pleased to inform you that both hatchlings from your clutch have lost their egg teeth within a day of the normal period,” Slomikk said.
“That is indeed good news,” Felless replied. “I am glad to hear it. Out.” She broke the connection and returned the phone to its belt pocket.
“What good news is this?” the Deutsch secretary inquired.
Perhaps he was politely interested-perhaps, but not probably. What he was probably doing was seeking intelligence information. Felless did not care to give him any. “Nothing of great importance,” she said. “Now… your superior there was attempting to explain why circumstances that apply to the Race should not apply to the Reich. So far, his explanations have merely been laughable.”
When that was translated, the Big Ugly named Freisler let out several loud, incoherent splutters, then said, “I am not accustomed to such rudeness.”
“No doubt: you have made the Tosevites who came before you afraid,” Felless said sweetly. “But I do not fall under your jurisdiction, and so cannot be expected to waste time on fear.”
More of the Deutsch official’s blood showed under his thin, scaleless skin, a sign of anger among the Big Uglies. Felless enjoyed angering the Deutsche. Their murderous style of government-and their irrationality-angered her. That they were misguided enough to reckon themselves-Tosevites! — the Master Race angered her even more. Getting a little of her own back felt sweet.
She did not think of her hatchlings again till she was leaving Freisler’s office. He had not yielded in the matter of curbing ginger smugglers; angering him had also left him stubborn. Diplomacy-and the idea that she needed to be diplomatic toward Big Uglies-still came hard to Felless, as it did to many of the Race.
She hadn’t been lying when she told the Deutsch secretary the news Slomikk gave her was of no great consequence. The only reason the hatchlings crossed her mind was an idle wish that she still had an egg tooth herself. Were it so, she might have torn the arrogant, noisy Freisler apart like an eggshell. The temptation to violence the Big Uglies raised in her was appalling.
So was their weather. They did not heat the interiors of their buildings to temperatures comfortable to civilized beings (by which, in her mind, she meant females and males of the Race). But leaving the grandiose Justice Ministry and going out onto the streets of Nuremberg was another savage jolt. Blaming the Tosevites for the cold made no logical sense. Trying not to freeze, Felless cared little for logic.
Fortunately, her heated motorcar waited nearby. “Back to the embassy, superior female?” asked the driver.
“Yes, back to the embassy,” Felless answered. “I must report the Tosevites’ obstinacy to Ambassador Veffani.”
“It shall be done,” the driver said, and set the motorcar in motion. It was of Deutsch manufacture, but ran reasonably well. The Big Uglies had been in the habit of fueling their motors with petroleum distillates; now many of them burned hydrogen, another technology stolen from the Race. Tosevites seemed to take such thefts, and the changes that sprang from them, for granted. They would have driven the Race mad. Felless more than half believed dealing with change on Tosev 3 had driven a good many males from the conquest fleet mad.
Nuremberg’s main boulevards struck her as absurdly wide, even for the capital city of an independent not-empire. The Nazis, the faction ruling the Deutsche, had an ideology that assumed bigger was automatically better. A constable in one of their preposterously fancy uniforms-which also served an ideological function-halted traffic so a female Big Ugly leading an immature Tosevite by the hand and pushing another in a wheeled cart could cross. She took her time about it, not caring that she was inconveniencing Felless.
Felless tried to take advantage of the inconvenience by studying the way the female cared for her hatchlings. The one in the cart was as absurdly helpless as all newly hatched-no, the Big Ugly term was born — Tosevites were after emerging from their mothers’ bodies. But even the one that walked by itself clung to the female who had presumably given it life. Of its own free will, it submitted itself to her authority.
Hatchlings of the Race, till reason truly sprouted in them, assumed that their elders were predators, and did their best to avoid them. Maybe that was why obedience and subordination were so thoroughly drilled into those hatchlings once they became educable. The lessons almost always sank deep. But Big Uglies, who began so compliant, ended up more individualistic than members of the Race.
Paradox. The changes came with sexual maturation, of course. That propelled Tosevites toward the autonomy to which they clung so fiercely from then on. The Race stayed on the quieter path, untouched by hormonal tides except during mating season-or when stimulated by ginger, Felless thought. Ginger disrupted patterns unshakable back on Home.
After what seemed like forever, the constable permitted traffic to move again. Now that her attention had been drawn to them, Felless kept noticing Big Uglies-mostly females, by their wrapping styles and the length of their hair-caring for Tosevite hatchlings of various sizes.
She tried to imagine leading her own pair of hatchlings down the street, holding each one by the hand. The absurdity of the notion made her mouth drop open into a wide laugh. The little creatures would do their best to bite her and escape. Civilizing hatchlings wasn’t easy. It was, in fact, one of the first specializations the Race had developed, back at, or rather before, the dawn of its history. Systematically civilizing hatchlings had helped lead to civilizing the Race.
The motorcar pulled to a halt in front of the Race’s embassy to the Greater German Reich. Felless sighed with relief, not only relief at escaping the absurd fantasy that had filled her mind but also at seeing a sensible, functional cube of a building. The newer Tosevite structures in Nuremberg partook of the Nazis’ passion for immense pretentiousness. The older ones struck her as hideously overdecorated. Escaping to simplicity was a delight.
Felless hurried to Veffani’s office. The ambassador said, “I greet you, Senior Researcher. I am glad to see you resuming your full range of duties after laying your eggs.”
“I thank you, superior sir,” Felless replied. Either Veffani or Ttomalss, an experienced researcher in Tosevite psychology, had fertilized those eggs; they’d both mated with her when ginger made her seasonal pheromones spring to life. Had she been a Tosevite, she knew she would have cared which one was the father. Luckily, being a female of the Race, she didn’t need to worry about that. Business came first. “Superior sir, I regret to report that the Deutsche appear unyielding on the matter of ginger smuggling.”
“I am disappointed, but I am not surprised,” the ambassador said. “Corrupting us appears to be part of their strategy.”
“Truth,” Felless said, though Veffani had been tactless. He could scarcely help knowing she was one of those ginger had corrupted, not when he’d been stimulated to mate with her. She feared he also knew she still craved the herb, though penalties for females who used it grew ever more severe.
“They do not fear our countersmuggling efforts, then?” Veffani said.
“If they do, they give little sign of it,” Felless said, “though you have warned me they are adept at bluffing.”
“They are better than adept. They are liars from the moment they leave their eggshells-uh, that is, the bodies of their mothers,” Veffani corrected himself.
“What is our course to be, then?” Felless asked.
“I shall have to consult with my superiors,” the ambassador replied. “My own inclination is to continue on our present course until its failure is manifest. That has certainly not been proved. The Deutsche will smuggle. We should do the same, to show them the game has its prices.”
“Truth, superior sir,” Felless said. “In fact, if you will recall, I was the first to warn the Deutsche that we were on the point of instituting such a policy.” She wanted credit for it, too.
“I do recall, Senior Researcher. I was there, after all.” Veffani sounded amused.
She didn’t mind if he laughed, so long as he remembered it, But, having reminded him, she thought it wiser to change the subject: “Slomikk tells me my hatchlings have shed their egg teeth.” As he might have sired them, that might be of some small interest to him, as it was to her.
“Yes, it would be about time for that,” he agreed, with the polite attention she’d expected. “Now, back to ways of dealing with the miserable Deutsche…”
Monique Dutourd angrily shook her head. “No, I don’t want to go to the cinema with you,” she told Dieter Kuhn. “I don’t want to go to supper with you. I don’t want to go anywhere with you. If you care anything at all about making me happy, go away and leave me alone.”
Kuhn was slight and dark. He looked as much like a native of Marseille as Monique did. She’d assumed he was a Frenchman when he enrolled in her Roman history class at the university. He wrote French like a native. But he was no Frenchman. He was a Sturmbannfuthrer in the SS, in Marseille to bring ginger smuggling through the port under the control of the Reich.
He folded his arms across his chest in the lecture hall, which was, to Monique’s dismay, empty but for the two of them. “I do not ask this because of my duty,” he said. His spoken French was good, but doubly alien in her ears: he used Parisian French, not the local dialect, and had a guttural accent that showed he was from the wrong side of the Rhine. “I ask for myself.”
“How big a fool are you? How big a fool do you think I am?” Monique demanded hotly. “You’ve arrested my brother before. Now that Pierre’s gone back on the arrangement he had with you, you want to kill him. The only reason you ever cared about me was to get at him.”
“That was a reason, true,” he agreed with a brisk nod not in the least French. “But it was not the only reason. I have always found you attractive.”
He’d said that before. He’d done so little besides saying it every now and again that she’d put it down for just another ploy. She’d wondered if he preferred boys, in fact. If not, wouldn’t he have tried harder to get her into bed? A woman in occupied France who told an SS man no ran all sorts of risks, but he’d never used his position to take advantage of her, either.
Never till now. Smiling not so pleasantly, he went on, “You should be friendlier to me. Would you really care to have the Reichs Security Service examine the political content of your lectures on the Germanic invasions of the Roman Empire? Believe me, I can arrange it.”
Ice ran through her. When the Germans investigated you they locked you up, threw away the key, and decided later-sometimes much later-whether they wanted to find it again. But Dieter Kuhn had given her warnings like that once or twice before. He hadn’t followed up on them. And so she shook her head again. “Go away,” she said, and then added a localism that meant the same thing but was a good deal stronger.
She hadn’t really thought he would understand it. By the way his face froze, he did. “I believe you will discover you have made a mistake,” he said, and turned on his heel with a military precision altogether Teutonic. When he strode out of the hail, she discovered to her surprise that she felt worse alone in it than she had with him.
She looked down at her hands. They were shaking-a curious mixture of fury and fear. Her legs felt very light as she went downstairs to liberate her bicycle from its slot in the rack. She rode north up Rue Breteuil toward her flat, which was not far from the Old Port, the one that had attracted the ancient Greeks to what they’d called Massilia. The weather was crisp but not cold; even February in Marseille rarely had much bite.
As she pedaled along, Frenchmen whistled at her. She was used to that, and ignored it. A couple of Wehrmacht troopers in a field-gray Volkswagen utility vehicle also loudly approved of the way she looked. She ignored them, too. They didn’t know who she was, just that she was a woman they found pretty. That made them harmless.
She wished something would make Dieter Kuhn harmless, too.
Along with the Frenchmen and — women and Germans on the streets of Marseille, she also saw a fair number of Lizards. They’d held the city, and much of the south of France, during the fighting, and still did a lot of business with the Greater German Reich here. Some of that business was legitimate, and craved by the occupiers. But the Nazis would have suppressed the rest if only they could. Ever since it was named Massilia, Marseille had been a smugglers’ paradise.
And so, when Monique noticed a Lizard slowly walking past her block of flats, she didn’t think much of it. She came to a stop and got ready to lug the bicycle upstairs. In this part of town, unlike the university, it would not be waiting for her in the morning if she left it in the street.
Before she could manhandle it into her building, the Lizard came up to her and spoke in hissing, not too grammatical French: “Est-ce que vous etes Monique Dutourd?”
“Yes, I’m Monique Dutourd,” she answered with some surprise. “What do you want with me?”
“You are the brother-no, I err, the sister-of the famous Pierre Dutourd, is it not so?” the Lizard asked. “I seek to reach the famous Dutourd on a matter of business for both of us, but I have the difficulties. You can, it could be, help?”
His business had to be ginger, ginger or drugs for people. “Go away,” Monique said quietly. She wanted to scream it. Dieter Kuhn or some other Nazi was surely keeping an eye on her. The Germans wanted her brother, too.
“But why do you wish me to go?” the Lizard asked. His kind, she had heard, were naive, but she hadn’t expected him to be so naive as to ask a question like that. Before she could say anything, he went on, “There could be much profit in the business I do with your famous brother. Some of that profit would go to you, as middleman.”
Monique laughed in his face, which startled him into drawing back a step. “Go away,” she repeated. “Don’t you know the Germans spy on me? They are also looking for my brother, my famous brother.” She laughed again, though doubting the Lizard understood the irony. “They are looking for him so they can kill him.”
“But why is this?” The male seemed honestly bewildered. “He still smuggles ginger to the Race. It is only that now he smuggles also other things to you Tosevites. Could they care so much about this?”
Explaining things struck Monique as more trouble than it was worth. Without even bothering to tell him to go away again, she started taking the bicycle up the stairs. She had papers to grade and, with a little luck, a long-stalled project on the epigraphy of the cult of Isis in Gallia Narbonensis to work on.
Finally sensing he wasn’t going to get anywhere, the Lizard called after her: “Tell him my name is Ssimachan. He will know of me. He will want to do business with me. We can make much profit together, he and I.”
Monique had no intention of telling Pierre any such thing. This Ssimachan struck her as so inept, he was far more likely to bring danger with him than profit. He probably had swarms of Gestapo men following him, too. If they happened to run into the ones who were, or might be, shadowing her… That was as unpleasant a thought as she’d had in quite a while.
She sauteed squid in olive oil for supper, a meal the Romans would also have enjoyed. Then she went through the papers as fast as she could. As usual, Dieter Kuhn’s-he went by the name of Laforce in her classes-was very good. She snarled something under her breath. He never gave her any excuse to fail him, or even to give him less than a superior mark.
After recording the grades, she got out her photographs and photostats and copies of drawings made and published by classicists over the previous three centuries. If she ever finished her monograph on Isis-worship in this part of the world during Roman times, she could publish it without too much fear. Unlike remarks on Romano-German relations, the cult of Isis held few modern political overtones.
At about eleven, her yawns made her realize she wouldn’t get anything more done that night. She put away the inscriptions and her notes, got into a nightgown, and went to bed. She’d sometimes thought her life would be easier had Dieter Kuhn wanted nothing more than her body. Even so, she was delighted to sleep alone.
The peremptory knock on her door came, in the best cinematic style, a few minutes past midnight.
Too logy with sleep to be as frightened as she should, she staggered out of bed and went to the door. “Go away,” she said, as she had to the Lizard. “You damned drunk, you’re trying to get into the wrong apartment.”
“You will open at once, in the name of the Security Service of the Greater German Reich,” a cold voice from the hall replied. After that, she wasn’t sleepy any more, and was as frightened as anyone could reasonably have expected her to be.
Numbly, she opened the door. One of the Germans standing in the hall aimed a pistol at her. Another one shone a bright flashlight in her face. Two more stepped forward and grabbed her by the arms. They hustled her down the stairs and into their waiting van. She hoped they’d closed the door after her, but didn’t get the chance to look back and see. If they hadn’t, her apartment would be picked clean by the time she got back.
Of course, that assumed she would be coming back. The glares the Nazis gave her made such an assumption look worse by the minute.
The Palais de Justice lay on the Rue Breteuil; she cycled past it every day. What the German occupiers meant by justice was liable to be different from what the builders of the Palais had in mind.
Her captors frogmarched her into the building, then shoved her at a trio of hard-faced blond women in field-gray. “Search her,” one of the men said in German, and the women did, with a thoroughness none of her doctors, not even her gynecologist, had ever come close to matching. They enjoyed probing her at least as much as men would have, and didn’t bother hiding it. She was smarting in more than one sensitive spot when they flung her into a cell.
Humiliated, terrified, she lay down on the hard, lumpy cot and dozed off. She was in the middle of a nightmare when another brilliant light pried her eyelids open. A couple of German troopers hauled her off the cot with effortless strength. “Time for questions now,” an SS man said cheerfully.
They sat her down and started grilling her. The questions were what she might have expected: about her brother, about his dealings with the Lizards, about the Lizard who’d tried to use her to reach him. Her chief interrogator grinned at her. “Your precious Pierre won’t be very happy when he hears we’ve nabbed you, will he?”
“I don’t know. He might not even care,” she answered. If the Germans were using her as a lever against her brother, they were liable to be disappointed. She hadn’t even known he was alive till Dieter Kuhn told her, and the milk of human kindness ran thin in his veins.
But her answer wasn’t what the German wanted to hear. “Lying bitch!” he snarled, and backhanded her across the face. Things rapidly went downhill from there.
She told the Germans everything they asked, everything she knew. It wasn’t enough to satisfy them. Nothing, she thought, would have been enough to satisfy them. At one point, she moaned, “At least let me telephone the university and let them know I won’t be in today.” Whatever happened to her, she-and her administrators-reckoned classes sacred.
Her interrogator didn’t. He slapped her again, and painfully squeezed her breast through the thin cotton of her nightgown. “I hope they fire you, whore,” he said with a laugh. “Then you can turn tricks for a living, the way you did with that kike of a Goldfarb. Who put him on to you, anyhow?”
“I don’t know,” she answered. “He never told me.” That got her another slap.
After some endless time-long enough for Monique to piss herself, for they made her go through that humiliation rather than pausing long enough for her to use a toilet-they took her back to the cell, without food, without water, without anything worth having. She didn’t care. She was past caring. She lay down and fell asleep, or perhaps passed out.
And then, of course, someone shook her awake. Blearily, blurrily, she looked up (one eye was swollen nearly shut) and saw Dieter Kuhn standing over her. “Bonsoir, Monique,” the SS man said with a pleasant smile. “Would you care to take supper with me tomorrow night?”
She knew what she wanted to tell him. She almost did. But now she also knew what could happen to anyone who made the Germans unhappy. She’d thought she knew before, but now she understood the difference between academic knowledge and personal experience. Though she hated herself, what passed her bruised, dry lips was one croaked word: “Yes.”
Group Captain Burton Paston, the commander of the RAF radar station on the outskirts of Belfast, looked from the papers on his desk to Flight Lieutenant David Goldfarb, who sat across the desk from him. “You truly wish to resign your commission in the Royal Air Force?” Paston sounded incredulous, as if Goldfarb were coming to him for permission to commit some particularly sordid crime.
“Yes, sir,” Goldfarb said firmly.
Paston scratched at his salt-and-pepper mustache. “And why, might I ask, do you seek to do such a thing?”
“It’s in the forms I filled out, sir,” David Goldfarb answered. Group Captain Paston should have read them. That he hadn’t was a bad sign. “My family and I have the opportunity to emigrate to Canada, but the Dominion won’t accept any serving officers in Her Majesty’s forces.”
“A policy of which I heartily approve, I might add.” Paston peered at Goldfarb through the top half of his bifocals. “Why would you want to emigrate, in any case?”
“Sir…” David stared at the station commander in dismay. Group Captain Paston hadn’t come along yesterday. He was no fool; Goldfarb knew as much. If he was deliberately acting obtuse, that had to mean trouble ahead. Taking a deep breath, Goldfarb laid it on the line: “Sir, you know I’m a Jew. And you have to know that things have been getting harder and harder for Jews in Britain the past few years…”
His voice trailed off again. His parents had fled to England from what was then Russian-held Poland to escape pogroms before the First World War. But now, with the United Kingdom shorn of its empire by the Lizards, with the Greater German Reich across the Channel, Britain was slowly accommodating herself to the masters of the Continent. That left little room for people like David Goldfarb and his family.
“And you want to get out while the getting is good, is that it?” Paston asked.
“Yes, sir, I’m afraid that is about it,” David answered.
“Caring nothing whatever for the service that took you out of East End London and made you into someone worthy of respect,” Group Captain Paston said.
Goldfarb’s cheeks and ears heated. “I’ll care for the RAF till my dying day. But I must say, sir, I haven’t always got whatever respect I may be worth from some RAF officers-not you, sir, I hasten to add. But there are some in this service who think one of Her Majesty’s officers has nothing better to do than help smuggle ginger, which is how I ended up in the Nazis’ gaol in Marseille.”
“If we can hurt the Lizards in no other way than with ginger for the time being, then ginger we must use,” Paston said. “I do admit, the line between official and unofficial can grow blurry in those circumstances, but-”
“Not half!” Goldfarb broke in. “Some of those blokes”-he had Group Captain Basil Roundbush, a former colleague and current oppressor, in mind-“have got themselves rich off the smuggling trade.”
“None of which has anything to do with you,” the group captain told him, his voice suddenly distant and chilly. “Nor can I in good conscience accept a resignation based on petty personal problems. Accordingly, your request is denied, and you will return to your normal duties at once.”
“What?” David yelped. “You can’t do that!”
“Not only can I, Flight Lieutenant, I just have,” Paston answered.
He was right-he could. Goldfarb hadn’t expected that he would, though. Paston had always been pretty decent, as far as commanding officers went. But Goldfarb had point-blank refused to do any more smuggling for Basil Roundbush, and Roundbush had promised he’d regret it. “My God!” he burst out. “They’ve told you to keep me stuck in the service so I can’t leave the country!” He didn’t know exactly who they were, but he did know Roundbush had friends in high places.
“I haven’t the faintest notion of what you’re talking about,” Group Captain Paston said, but for the first time he spoke with something less than perfect self-assurance. “And I have given you quite enough of my time, too.”
“You want to be rid of me,” Goldfarb said. “Well, I want to be rid of the RAF I’ll do that any way I have to, believe me.”
“By a deliberate show of disobedience or incompetence, do you mean?” Paston asked, and David nodded. The radar-station commander gave him a thin, chilly smile. “If you try that, Flight Lieutenant, you will indeed leave the RAF. You will leave it with a bad-conduct discharge, I promise you. And you are welcome to see how well you do emigrating with that on your record.”
Goldfarb stared at him in dismay. He could have said several different things. Any one of them might have brought him the sort of discharge Group Captain Paston had mentioned. At last, after some effort, he managed, “I believe that’s most unjust, sir.”
“I’m sorry you think so,” Paston said. “But I have already told you I have no more time to listen to your complaints. You are dismissed.”
“Why, you-” Again, David Goldfarb bit back a response that would have landed him in trouble. Shaking, he got to his feet. As he turned to leave the group captain’s office, though, he couldn’t help adding, “They have got to you.”
Paston busied himself with the papers in his in basket. Goldfarb didn’t think he was going to answer, but he did: “We all have to do certain things for the sake of the service as a whole, Flight Lieutenant.”
“And I’m the pawn to be sacrificed, is that it?” Goldfarb said. This time, Group Captain Paston didn’t reply, but he didn’t really need to, either.
Still shaking his head in disgust, Goldfarb strode out of his office. He didn’t slam the door behind him, however much he wanted to. That would have been a petty revenge, and the revenge he wanted was anything but petty. How to get it without ending up in trouble much worse than a bad-conduct discharge was, unfortunately, another question altogether.
A couple of enlisted men saluted him as he walked out into the watery February sunshine that was the best Belfast had to offer. To them, his officer’s uniform spoke more loudly than his sallow skin, his beak of a nose, and his curly hair of a brown (now graying) not quite the right shade for one whose ancestors were respectably Anglo-Saxon or Celtic. Goldfarb snorted bitterly as he returned the salutes. He wished his superiors thought the same way.
What am I going to do? he wondered. He knew he had to do something. Staying in a Britain slowly succumbing to the embrace of the Reich didn’t bear thinking about. His parents had seen the writing on the wall and escaped from Poland. His wife’s parents had got her out of Germany not long before the Kristallnacht spelled the beginning of the end for Jews there. Waiting for trouble to land wasn’t in his blood, or Naomi’s, either.
Without leaving the RAF, he couldn’t go to Canada, and he couldn’t get out of the RAF. He didn’t think he could go to the United States, either, though the secretary at the American consulate hadn’t been quite so definite about it. “Have to find out,” he muttered under his breath.
Suppose the Yanks said no? He didn’t want to suppose that. He wanted to suppose anything but that. The way his luck was running, though-the way Basil Roundbush and his pals were helping to make his luck run-he wouldn’t have bet on anything going his way.
“Where else can I go?” Another question, this one addressed to the washed-out, smoke-stained sky. The few bits of Europe the Germans didn’t occupy were far more subservient to the Reich than the United Kingdom. The Soviet Union? He snorted again. That would be jumping back into the frying pan his parents had fled. The Russians might want him for what he knew about radars, but that didn’t mean they’d treat him like anything but a damn Jew.
Goldfarb was about to climb aboard his bicycle to ride back to his flat in the officers’ housing and give Naomi the bad news when he paused. If all he wanted was to escape Britain, he was leaving more than half the world out of his calculations-the part the Lizards ran.
“Well, it’s no wonder I didn’t think of that straight off,” he said, as if someone had asserted the opposite. He’d fought the Lizards even harder than he’d fought the Nazis. He’d gone into a Polish prison carrying a Sten gun to get his cousin Moishe Russie out of there, and he’d fought with everything he could get his hands on when the Race invaded England.
And now he wanted to live under their rule?
He shook his head. He didn’t want to. Living under the rule of the Race was one of the last things he wanted to do. But staying in Britain any longer was the very last thing he wanted to do.
After a moment, he shook his head again. That wasn’t right. He might think it was when he was feeling down, but it wasn’t. Getting arrested in Marseille had been very instructive in that regard. He would much sooner have tried to spend the rest of his life in Britain than set foot in the Greater German Reich again for even ten minutes-which was about how long he thought he’d last.
“And I’ve even got wires to pull,” he murmured. These days, Moishe Russie, far from languishing in a Lizard prison, sometimes advised the fleetlord himself on how to deal with troublesome Tosevites. His cousin’s influence had got him out of that Nazi gaol. Maybe it could get him out of Britain, too.
He swung onto the bicycle and started to ride. As he did so, a new name welled up in his mind. Palestine. His cousin Moishe lived in Jerusalem. He’d gone there after the Nazis resentfully turned him loose. What would living in Palestine be like?
Next year in Jerusalem. For how many centuries had that been a Jewish prayer? Could he make it come true?
An Austin-Healey almost ran him over. He shouted something unkind at the driver, who kept on going without a clue about the near miss. Goldfarb had had to make his way against the tide of anti-Semitism throughout his life. He’d conducted himself creditably in combat on the ground and in the air, and had the medal ribbons above his breast pocket to prove it. Against idiot drivers, though, the gods contended in vain.
After his brush with death, Goldfarb realized he’d asked himself the wrong question. He thought he had a good chance of being able to move his family to Palestine if he couldn’t get to Canada or the USA. Which counted for more, freedom or simple survival?
“How much freedom will I have ten years from now if I stay here?” he mused. “How much will my children have?” He didn’t like the answers he found for either of those questions. His parents had known enough to get out when the getting was good. So had Naomi’s. That made up his mind for him. If traffic didn’t do him in, he’d keep trying to escape, even if escape meant Palestine.