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Uller Uprising By H. Beam Piper Characters: 16075

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


If You Read It in Stanley-Browne

Von Schlichten and Blount entered the bar together-the Broadway Room, decorated in gleaming plastics and chromium in enthusiastic if slightly inaccurate imitation of a First Century New York nightclub. There were no native servants to spoil the illusion, such as it was: the service was fully automatic. Going to a bartending machine, von Schlichten dialed the cocktail they had decided upon and inserted his key to charge the drinks to his account, filling a four-portion jug.

As they turned away, they almost collided with Hideyoshi O'Leary and Paula Quinton. The girl wore a long-sleeved gown to conceal a bandage on her right wrist, and her face was rather heavily powdered in spots; otherwise she looked none the worse for recent experiences.

"Well, you seem to have gotten yourself repaired, Miss Quinton," he greeted her. "Feel better, now?... Miss Quinton, this is Lieutenant-Governor Blount. Eric, Miss Paula Quinton."

"Delighted, Miss Quinton," Blount said. "Carlos tells us he found you standing over poor Mohammed Ferriera, fighting like a commando. How is Mohammed, by the way? No danger, I hope; we all like him."

Mohammed Ferriera was still unconscious, the girl reported; he had a minor concussion, but the medics were not greatly disturbed, and expected him to be fully recovered in a few weeks. Von Schlichten invited her and her escort to join him and Blount. Colonel O'Leary was carrying a cocktail jug and a couple of glasses; finding a table out of the worst of the noise, they all sat down together.

"I suppose you think it's a joke, our being nearly murdered by the people we came to help," Paula began, a trifle defensively.

"Not a very funny joke," von Schlichten told her. "It's been played on us till it's lost its humor."

"Yes, geek ingratitude's an old story to all of us," Blount agreed. "You stay on this planet very long and you'll see what I mean."

"You call them that, too?" she asked, as though disappointed in him. "Maybe if you stopped calling them geeks, they wouldn't resent you the way they do. You know, that's a nasty name; in the First Century Pre-Atomic, it designated a degraded person who performed some sort of revolting public exhibition...."

"Biting off live chickens' heads, in a sideshow wild-man act," Hideyoshi O'Leary supplied. "When you get up north, watch how the peasants kill these little things like six-legged iguanas that they raise for food."

"That isn't the reason, though," von Schlichten said. "As we use it, the word's pure onomatopoeia. You've learned some of the languages; you know what they sound like. Geek-geek-geek."

"As far as that goes, you know what the geek name for a Terran is?" Blount asked. "Suddabit."

She looked puzzled for a moment, then slipped in her enunciator. Even in the absence of any native, she used her handkerchief to mask the act.

"Suddabit," she said, distinctly. "Sud-da-a-bit." Taking out the geek-speaker, she put it away. "Why, that's exactly how they'd pronounce it!"

"And don't tell me you haven't heard it before," O'Leary said. "The geeks were screaming it at you, over on Seventy-second Street, this afternoon. Znidd suddabit; kill the Terrans. That's Rakkeed the Prophet's whole gospel."

"So you see," Eric Blount rammed home the moral, "this is just another case of nobody with any right to call anybody else's kettle black.... Cigarette?"

"Thank you." She leaned toward the lighter-flame O'Leary had snapped into being. "I suspect that of being a principle you'd like me to bear in mind at the polar mines, when I see, let's say, some laborer being beaten by a couple of overseers with three foot lengths of three-quarter-inch steel cable."

"Well, you could also remember that a native's skin is about half an inch thick, and a good deal tougher than a human's," von Schlichten told her. "And it wouldn't hurt any if you found out how these laborers are treated at home. Mostly they're serfs hired from the big landowners; it's a fact you can easily verify that permission to join the labor-companies at the polar mines is regarded as a privilege, granted as a reward or denied as a punishment. And most of the geek landowners are bitterly critical of the way we treat our labor at the mines; they claim we make them dissatisfied with the treatment they get at home."

"Of course, they're always glad to have the peasants taken off their hands during a slack agricultural season," Blount added, "and we train workers to handle contragravity power-equipment. I won't deny that there's a lot of unnecessary brutality on the part of the native foremen and overseers, which we're trying, gradually, to eliminate. You'll have to remember, though, that we're dealing with a naturally brutal race."

"Of course, mistreatment of native labor is always blamed on other natives, never on the gentle and kindly Terrans," she replied. "That's been SOP on every planet our Association's had any experience with."

"Now look; you just came here from Niflheim," von Schlichten objected. "The Company employs quite a few geeks there; how much brutality did you run into there?"

"Well, I must admit, the Ullerans who work there are very well treated. Except that I don't think it's right to employ any people with silicone body-tissues where they're going to breathe fluorine-tainted air."

"Nobody ought to be employed on that planet!" Hideyoshi O'Leary declared. "I did a two-year hitch there, when I was first commissioned in the Company service."

"I put in two years there, too," Blount supported him. "And I might add that that's a year longer than any Ulleran native is ever allowed to spend on Niflheim. You know what the setup is, there, don't you? The Terran Federation Space Navy discovered and explored both Uller and Niflheim, which made both planets public domain. The Company was originally formed to exploit Uller alone, but the Federation insisted that both planets would have to be franchised to the same company. They wanted Niflheim exploited, mainly because of the uranium-deposits there. As it turned out, the Company's making as much money out of Niflheim as we are out of Uller."

"What you miss is this," von Schlichten pointed out. "On Niflheim, there are about a thousand Terrans, and not more than five hundred geeks, all employed on construction-work and in the mines, on the planet itself, working directly under Terran supervision. We use them because they have four hands, and in the power-driven contragravity armor that's necessary there, they can manipulate more controls and do more things at once than we can. Here on Uller, at the polar mines, there are about ten thousand geeks working under five hundred Terrans, and most of the latter are engineers or technicians who don't do supervisory work. So we have to use native foremen, and they're guilty of what mistreatment the workers suffer."

"And remember, too," O'Leary added, "work at the polar mines can only go on for about two months out of the year-mid-September to mid-November at the Arctic, and mid-March to mid-May at the Antarctic. Naturally, things have to be done in a hurry and under pressure."

"Well, why do you work mines at the poles? Aren't there mineral deposits in places where you can work all year 'round?"

"Not as rich, or as accessible," Blount said. "You know what the seasons are like, at the poles of this planet. The temperature will range from about two-fifty Fahrenheit in mid-summer to a hundred and fifty below in winter. There's the most intense sort of thermal erosion you can imagine-the ice-cap melts in the spring to a sea, which boils away completely by the middle of the summer. There will be violent circular storms of hot wind, blowing away the light sand and dust and leaving the heavier particles of metallic ores and metals behind. Then, when the winds fall, we move in for a couple of months. It isn't really mining, or even quarrying; we just scoop up ore from the surface, load it onto ore-boats, a

nd fly it down to Skilk and Krink and Grank, where it's smelted through the winter. The natives run the smelters; use the heat to thaw frozen food for themselves and their livestock while they're melting the ore. In the north, metallurgy and food-preparation have always been combined that way."

"Yes, if you think the natives who work at the mines feel themselves ill-treated, you might propose closing them down entirely and see what the native reaction would be," von Schlichten told her. "Independently hired free workers can make themselves rich, by native standards, in a couple of seasons; many of the serfs pick up enough money from us in incentive-pay to buy their freedom after one season."

"Well, if the Company's doing so much good on this planet, how is it that this native, Rakkeed, the one you call the Mad Prophet, is able to find such a following?" Paula demanded. "There must be something wrong somewhere."

"That's a fair question," Blount replied, inverting a cocktail jug over his glass to extract the last few drops. "When we came to Uller, we found a culture roughly like that of Europe during the Seventh Century Pre-Atomic, or, more closely, like that of Japan before the beginning of the First Century P. A. We initiated a technological and economic revolution here, and such revolutions have their casualties, too. A number of classes and groups got squeezed pretty badly, like the horse-breeders and harness-manufacturers on Terra by the invention of the automobile, or the coal and hydroelectric interests when direct conversion of nuclear energy to electric current was developed, or the railroads and steamship lines at the time of the discovery of the contragravity-field. Naturally, there's a lot of ill-feeling on the part of merchants and artisans who weren't able or willing to adapt themselves to changing conditions; they're all backing Rakkeed and yelling 'Znidd suddabit!' now. You know, it's a shame that geek messiah isn't a smart crook, instead of an honest fanatic; he could take in the equivalent of a couple of million sols a year off the North Uller merchants and the Equatorial Zone shipowners. But it is a fact, which not even Rakkeed can successfully deny, that we've raised the general living standard of this planet by about two hundred percent."

"Rakkeed is a Zirk," von Schlichten said. "They're the nomads who hire out to the northern merchants as caravan-drivers, and also prey, or used to prey, on the caravans as brigands. Since our air-freighters got into operation, neither caravan-driving nor caravan-raiding has been a paying business, and our air-patrols have made caravan-raiding suicidal as well. So the Zirks don't like us. The only thing they know or are willing to learn is handling these six-legged riding-and pack-animals we call hipposaurs. We employ a few of them as cavalry, and a few more of them work as the local equivalent of gauchos, and the rest just sit around and listen to Rakkeed's sermons."

Both jugs were empty. Colonel O'Leary, as befitted his junior rank, picked them up; after a good-natured wrangle with von Schlichten, Blount handed the colonel his credit-key.

"The merchants in the north don't like us; beside spoiling the caravan-trade, we're spoiling their local business, because the land-owning barons, who used to deal with them, are now dealing directly with us. At Skilk, King Firkked's afraid his feudal nobility is going to try to force a Runnymede on him, so he's been currying favor with the urban merchants; that makes him as pro-Rakkeed and as anti-Terran as they are. At Krink, King Jonkvank has the support of his barons, but he's afraid of his urban bourgeoisie, and we pay him a handsome subsidy, so he's pro-Terran and anti-Rakkeed. At Skilk, Rakkeed comes and goes openly; at Krink he has a price on his head."

"Jonkvank is not one of the assets we boast about too loudly," Hideyoshi O'Leary said, pausing on his way from the table. "He's as bloody-minded an old murderer as you'd care not to meet in a dark alley anywhere."

"We can turn our backs on him and not expect a knife between our shoulders, anyhow," von Schlichten said. "And we can believe, oh, up to eighty percent of what he tells us, and that's sixty percent better than any of the other native princes, except King Kankad, of course. The Kragans are the only real friends we have on this planet." He thought for a moment. "Miss Quinton, are you doing sociographic research-work here, in addition to your Ex-Rights work?" he asked. "Well, let me advise you to pay some attention to the Kragans. You'll only find them treated at any length at all in that compendium of misinformation, Willard Stanley-Browne's Short Sociographic History of Beta Hydrae II, and ninety percent of what Stanley-Browne says about them is completely erroneous."

"Oh, but they're just a parasite-race on the Terrans," Dr. Paula Quinton objected. "You find races like that all through the explored galaxy-pathetic cultural mongrels."

Both men laughed heartily. Colonel O'Leary, returning with the jugs, wanted to know what he'd missed. Blount told him.

"Ha! She's been reading that thing of Stanley-Browne's," he said.

"What's the matter with Stanley-Browne?" Paula demanded.

"Stanley-Browne is one author you can depend on," O'Leary assured her. "If you read it in Stanley-Browne, it's wrong. You know, I don't think she's run into many Kragans. We ought to take her over and introduce her to King Kankad."

Von Schlichten allowed himself to be smitten by an idea. "By Allah, so we had!" he exclaimed. "Look, you're going to Skilk, in the next week, aren't you? Well, do you think you could get all your end-jobs cleared up here and be ready to leave by 0800 Tuesday? That's four days from today."

"I'm sure I could. Why?"

"Well, I'm going to Skilk, myself, with the armed troopship Aldebaran. We're stopping at King Kankad's Town to pick up a battalion of Kragan Rifles for duty at the polar mines, where you're going. Suppose we leave here in my command-car, go to Kankad's Town, and wait there till the Aldebaran gets in. That would give us about two to three hours. If you think the Kragans are 'pathetic cultural mongrels,' what you'll see there will open your eyes. And I might add that the nearest Stanley-Browne ever came to seeing Kankad's Town was from the air, once, at a distance of four miles."

"Well, they live entirely by serving as mercenary soldiers for the Uller Company, don't they?"

"More or less. You see, when we came to Uller, they were barbarian brigands; had a string of forts along caravan-roads and at fords and mountain-passes, and levied tolls. They raided into Konkrook and Keegark territory, too. Well, we had to break that up. We fought a little war with them, beat them rather badly in a couple of skirmishes, and then made a deal with them. That was before my time, when old Jerry Kirke was Governor-General. He negotiated a treaty with their King, bought their rievers'-forts outright, and paid them a subsidy to compensate for loss of tolls and raid-spoil, and agreed to employ the whole tribe as soldiers. We've taught them a lot-you'll see how much when you visit their town-but they aren't cultural mongrels. You'll like them."

"Well, general, I'll take you up," she said. "But I warn you; if this is some scheme to indoctrinate me with the Uller Company's side of the case and blind me to unjust exploitation of the natives here, I don't propagandize very easily."

"Fair enough, as long as you don't let fear of being propagandized blind you to the good we're doing here, or impair your ability to observe and draw accurate conclusions. Just stay scientific about it and I'll be satisfied. Now, let's take time out for lubrication," he said, filling her glass and passing the jug.

Two hours and five cocktails later, they were still at the table, and they had taught Paula Quinton some twenty verses of The Heathen Geeks, They Wear No Breeks, including the four printable ones.

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