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   Chapter 3 No.3

Uller Uprising By H. Beam Piper Characters: 11777

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


Four-and-Twenty Geek Heads

Governor-General Sidney Harrington sat on the comfortably upholstered bench on the dais of the Audience Hall, flanked by von Schlichten and Eric Blount. He didn't look particularly regal, even on that high seat-with his ruddy outdoorsman's face and his ragged gray mustache and his old tweed coat spotted with pipe-ashes, he might have been any of the dozen-odd country-gentleman neighbors of von Schlichten's boyhood in the Argentine. But then, to a Terran, any of the kings of Uller would have looked like a freak birth in a lizard-house at a zoo; it was hard to guess what impression Harrington would make on an Ulleran.

He took the false palate and tongue-clicker, officially designated as an "enunciator, Ulleran" and, colloquially, as a geek-speaker, out of his coat pocket and shoved it into his mouth. Von Schlichten and Blount put in theirs, and Harrington pressed the floor-button with his toe. After a brief interval, the wide doors at the other end of the hall slid open, and the Konkrookan notables, attended by a dozen Company native-officers and a guard of Kragan Rifles, entered. The honor-guard advanced in two columns; between them marched an unclad and heavily armed native carrying an ornate spear with a three-foot blade upright in front of him with all four hands. It was the Konkrookan Spear of State; it represented the proxy-presence of King Jaikark. Behind it stalked Gurgurk, the Konkrookan equivalent of Prime Minister or Grand Vizier; he wore a gold helmet and a thing like a string-vest made of gold wire, and carried a long sword with a two-hand grip, a pair of Terran automatics built for a hand with six four-knuckled fingers, and a pair of matched daggers. He was considerably past the Ulleran prime of life-seventy or eighty, to judge from the worn appearance of his opal teeth, the color of his skin, and the predominantly reddish tint of his quartz-speckles. An immature Ulleran would be a very light gray, white under the arms, and his quartz-specks would run from white to pale yellow. The retinue of nobles behind Gurgurk ran through the whole spectrum, from a princeling who was almost oyster-gray to old Ghroghrank, the Keegarkan Ambassador, who was even blacker and more red-speckled than Gurgurk. All of them carried about as much ironmongery as the Prime Minister-the pistols were all Terran, and the swords and daggers were mostly made either on Terra or at the Terran-operated steel-works on Volund.

Four slaves brought up the rear carrying an ornately inlaid box on poles. When the spear-bearer reached the exact middle of the hall, he halted and grounded his regalia-weapon with a thump. Gurgurk came up and halted a couple of paces behind and to the left of the spear, and all the other nobles drew up in two curved lines some ten paces to the rear, with considerable pushing and jostling and a sotto voce argument, with overtones of weapon-fingering, about precedence. All, that is, but Ghroghrank and another noble, who came up and planted themselves beside Gurgurk. Von Schlichten regarded the assemblage sourly through his monocle. Maybe Sid Harrington did look regal, after all.

The Governor-General rose slowly and descended from the dais, advancing to within ten paces of the Spear, von Schlichten and Blount accompanying him. Out of the corner of his eye, von Schlichten watched a couple of Kragan mercenaries with fifty-shot machine-rifles move unobtrusively to positions from whence they could, if necessary, spray the visitors with bullets without endangering the Terrans.

"Welcome, Gurgurk," Harrington gibbered through his false palate. "The Company is honored by this visit."

"I come in the name of my royal master, His Sublime and Ineffable Majesty, Jaikark the Seventeenth, King of Konkrook and of all the lands of the Konk Isthmus," Gurgurk squeaked and clicked. "I have the honor to bring with me the Lord Ghroghrank, Ambassador of King Orgzild of Keegark to the court of my royal master."

"And I," Ghroghrank said, after being suitably welcomed, "am honored to be accompanied by Prince Gorkrink, special envoy from my master, his Royal and Imperial Majesty King Orgzild, who is in your city to receive the shipment of power-metal my royal master has been honored to be permitted to purchase from the Company."

More protocol about welcoming Gorkrink. Then Gurgurk cleared his throat with a series of barking sounds.

"My royal master, His Sublime and Ineffable Majesty, is prostrated with grief," he stated solemnly. "Were his sorrow not so overwhelming, he would have come in His Own Sacred Person to express the pain and shame which he feels that people of the Company should be set upon and endangered in the streets of the royal city."

If he weren't doped to the ears, von Schlichten substituted mentally. There was a native drug which had, on its users, the combined effects of hashish, heroin and yohimbine; Jaikark and all his court circle were addicts. He probably hadn't even heard of the riot.

"The soldiers of His Sublime and Ineffable Majesty came most promptly to the aid of the troops of the Company, did they not, General von Schlichten?" Harrington asked.

"Within minutes, Your Excellency," von Schlichten replied gravely. "Their promptness, valor, and efficiency were most exemplary."

Gurgurk spoke at length, expressing himself as delighted, on behalf of his royal master, at hearing such high praise from so distinguished a soldier. Eric Blount then contributed a short speech, beseeching the gods that the deep and beautiful friendship existing between the Chartered Uller Company and His Sublime etcetera would continue unimpaired, and that His Sublime etcetera would enjoy long life and peaceful reign, managing, by a trick of Konkrookan grammar, to imply that the second would be conditional upon the first. The Keegarkan Ambassador

then spoke his piece, expressing on behalf of King Orgzild the deepest regret that the people of the Company should be so molested, and managing to hint that things like that simply didn't happen at Keegark.

The Prince Gorkrink then spoke briefly, in sympathy for the great and good friend of all Ulleran peoples, Mohammed Ferriera, who had been injured, and hoping that he would soon enjoy full health again. He also managed to convey King Orgzild's pleasure at having obtained the plutonium. Von Schlichten noticed that a few of his more recent quartz-specks were slightly greenish in tinge, a sure sign that he had, not long ago, been exposed to the fluorine-tainted air which men and geeks alike breathed on Niflheim. When a geek prince hired out as a laborer for a year on Niflheim, he did so for only one purpose-to learn Terran technologies.

Gurgurk then announced that so enormous a crime against the friends of His Sublime etcetera had not been allowed to go unpunished, signaling behind him with one of his lower hands for the box to be brought forward. The slaves carried it to the front, set it down, and opened it, taking from it a rug which they spread on the floor. On this, from the box, they placed twenty-four newly severed opal-grinning heads, in four neat rows. They had all been freshly scrubbed and polished, but they still smelled like crushed cockroaches.

The three Terrans looked at them gravely. A double-dozen heads was standard payment for an attack in which no Terran had been killed. Ostensibly, they were the heads of the ringleaders: in practice, they were usually lopped from the first two-dozen prisoners or over-age slaves at hand, without regard for whether the victims had even heard of the crime which they were expiating. If the Extraterrestrial's Rights Association were really serious about the rights of these geeks, they'd advocate booting out all these native princes and turning the whole planet over to the Company. That had been the Terran Federation's idea, from the beginning; why else give the Company's chief representative the title of Governor-General?

There was another long speech from Gurgurk, with the nobles behind him murmuring antiphonal agreement-standard procedure, for which there was a standard pun, geek chorus-and a speech of response from Sid Harrington. Standing stiffly through the whole rigamarole, von Schlichten waited for it to end, as finally it did.

They walked back from the door, whence they had escorted the delegation, and stood looking down at the saurian heads on the rug. Harrington raised his voice and called to a Kragan sergeant whose chevrons were painted on all four arms.

"Take this carrion out and stuff it in the incinerator," he ordered. "If any of you think you can clean up this rug and this box, you're welcome to them."

"Wait a moment," von Schlichten told the sergeant. Then he disgorged and pouched his geek-speaker. "See that head, there?" he asked, rolling it over with his toe. "I killed that geek, myself, with my pistol, while Them and Hid were getting Ferriera into the car. Miss Quinton killed that one with the bolo; see where she chopped him on the back of the neck? The cut that took off the head was a little low, and missed it. And Hid O'Leary stuck a knife in that one." He walked around the rug, turning heads over with his foot. "This was cut-rate head-payment; they just slashed off two-dozen heads at the scene of the riot. I don't like this butchery of worn-out slaves and petty thieves any better than anybody else, but this I don't like either. Six months ago, Gurgurk wouldn't have tried to pull anything like this. Now he's laughing up his non-existent sleeve at us."

"That's what I've been preaching, all along," Eric Blount took up after him. "These geeks need having the fear of Terra thrown into them."

"Oh, nonsense, Eric; you're just as bad as Carlos, here!" Harrington tut-tutted. "Next, you'll be saying that we ought to depose Jaikark and take control ourselves."

"Well, what's wrong with that, for an idea?" von Schlichten demanded. "Don't you think we could? Our Kragans could go through that army of Jaikark's like fast neutrons through toilet-paper."

"My God!" Harrington exploded. "Don't let me hear that kind of talk again! We're not conquistadores; we're employees of a business concern, here to make money honestly, by exchanging goods and services with these people...."

He turned and walked away, out of the Audience Hall, leaving von Schlichten and Blount to watch the removal of the geek-heads.

"You know, I went a little too far," von Schlichten confessed. "Or too fast, rather. He's got to be conditioned to accept that idea."

"We can't go too slowly, either," Blount replied. "If we wait for him to change his mind, it'll be the same as waiting for him to retire. And that'll be waiting too long."

Von Schlichten nodded seriously. "Did you notice the green specks in the hide of that Prince Gorkrink?" he asked. "He's just come back from Niflheim. Not on the Pretoria, I don't think. Probably on the Canberra, three months ago."

"And he's here to get that plutonium, and ship it to Keegark on the Oom Paul Kruger," Blount considered. "I wonder just what he learned, on Niflheim."

"I wonder just what's going on at Keegark," von Schlichten said. "Orgzild's pulled down a regular First-Century-model iron curtain. You know, four of our best native Intelligence operatives have been murdered in Keegark in the last three months, and six more have just vanished there."

"Well, I'm going there in a few days, myself, to talk to Orgzild about this spaceport deal," Blount said. "I'll have a talk with Hendrik Lemoyne and MacKinnon. And I'll see what I can find out for myself."

"Well, let's go have a drink," von Schlichten suggested, consulting his watch. "About time for a cocktail."

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