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   Chapter 6 No.6

Uller Uprising By H. Beam Piper Characters: 13957

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04

The Bad News Came After the Coffee

The last clatter of silverware and dishes ceased as the native servants finished clearing the table. There was a remaining clatter of cups and saucers; liqueur-glasses tinkled, and an occasional cigarette-lighter clicked. At the head table, the voices seemed louder.

"... don't like it a millisol's worth," Brigadier-General Barney Mordkovitz, the Skilk military CO, was saying to the lady on his right. "They're too confounded meek. Nowadays, nobody yells 'Znidd suddabit!' at you. Nobody sticks all four thumbs in his mouth and waves his fingers. Nobody commits nuisance on the sidewalk in front of you. They just stand and look at you like a farmer looking at a turkey the week before Christmas, and that I don't like!"

"Oh, bosh!" Jules Keaveney, the Skilk Resident-Agent, at the head of the table, exclaimed. "You soldiers are all alike-begging your pardon, General von Schlichten," he nodded in the direction of the guest of honor. "If they don't bow and scrape to you and get off the sidewalk to let you pass, you say they're insolent and need a lesson. If they do, you say they're plotting insurrection."

"What I said," Mordkovitz repeated, "was that I expect a certain amount of disorder, and a certain minimum show of hostility toward us from some of these geeks, to conform to what I know to be our unpopularity with many of them. When I don't find it, I want to know why."

"I'm inclined," von Schlichten came to his subordinate's support, "to agree. This sudden absence of overt hostility is disquieting. Colonel Cheng-Li," he called on the local Intelligence officer and Constabulary chief. "This fellow Rakkeed was here, about a month ago. Was there any noticeable disorder at that time? Anti-Terran demonstrations, attacks on Company property or personnel, shooting at aircars, that sort of thing?"

"No more than usual, general. In fact, it was when Rakkeed came here that the condition General Mordkovitz was speaking of began to become conspicuous. We did catch some of Rakkeed's disciples trying to get in among the enlisted men of the Tenth N.U.N.I. and the Fifth Zirk Cavalry and promote disaffection. That was reported at the time, sir."

"And acted upon, as far as the civil administration would permit," von Schlichten replied. "And I might say that Lieutenant-Governor Blount has reported from Keegark, where he is now, that the same unnatural absence of hostility exists there."

"Well, of course, general," Keaveney said patronizingly. "King Orgzild has things under pretty tight control at Keegark. He'd not allow a few fanatics to do anything to prejudice these spaceport negotiations."

"I wonder if the idea back of that spaceport proposition isn't to get us concentrated at Keegark, where Orgzild could wipe us all out in one surprise blow," somebody down the table suggested.

"Oh, Orgzild wouldn't be crazy enough to try anything like that," Commander Dirk Prinsloo, of the Aldebaran, declared. "He'd get away with it for just twelve months-the time it would take to get the news to Terra and for a Federation Space Navy task-force to get here. And then, there'd be little bits of radioactive geek floating around this system as far out as the orbit of Beta Hydrae VII."

"That's quite true," von Schlichten agreed. "The point is, does Orgzild know it? I doubt if he even believes there is a Terra."

"Then where in Space does he think we come from?" Keaveney demanded.

"I believe he thinks Niflheim is our home world," von Schlichten replied. "Or, rather, the string of orbiters and artificial satellites around Niflheim. Where he thinks Niflheim is, I wouldn't even try to guess."

"Well, it takes six months for a ship to go between here and Nif," Prinsloo considered. "Because of the hyperdrive effects, the experienced time of the voyage, inside the ship, is of the order of three weeks. Taking that as the figure, he'd estimate the distance at about a quarter-million miles, assuming the velocity as being the speed of one of our contragravity-ships here on Uller. I'm assuming he doesn't even know there is a hyperdrive."

"Yes. After he'd wiped us out, he might even consider the idea of an invasion of Niflheim with captured contragravity ships," Hideyoshi O'Leary chuckled. "That would be a big laugh-if any of us were alive, then, to do any laughing."

"You don't really believe that, general?" Keaveney asked. His tone was still derisive, but under the derision was uncertainty. After all, von Schlichten had been on Uller for fifteen years, to his two.

"Any question of geek psychology is wide open as far as I'm concerned; the longer I stay here, the less I understand it." Von Schlichten finished his brandy and got out cigarette-case and lighter. "I have an idea of the sort of garbled reports these spies of his who spend a year on Niflheim as laborers bring back."

"You know the line Rakkeed's been taking, of course," Colonel Cheng-Li put in. "He as much as says that Niflheim's our home, and that the farms where we raise food here, and those evergreen plantings on Konk Isthmus and between here and Grank are the beginning of an attempt to drive all native life from this planet and make it over for ourselves."

"And that savage didn't think an idea like that up for himself; he got it from somebody like Orgzild," the black-bearded brigadier-general added. "You know, the main base off Niflheim is practically self-supporting, with hydroponic-gardens and animal-tissue culture vats. And it's enough bigger than one of the City ships to pass for a little world. Yes, somebody like Orgzild, or King Firkked here, could easily pick up the idea that that's our home planet."

"But King Kankad was talking about...." Paula Quinton began.

"We were speaking of geeks, not Kragans." Von Schlichten lit his cigarette and held his lighter for hers. "You saw that big Beta Hydrae orrery at Kankad's observatory. Well, there's quite a little story about that. You know, it's generally realized by the natives here that Uller is a globe. The North Zirks have ridden all the way around it, on hipposaur-back, in the high latitudes, and the thalassic peoples at the Equator have sailed all the five equatorial seas and portaged all the isthmuses between. But, of course, Uller is the center of the universe; the sun travels around it, on a rather complicated double-spiral track. As a theory, it explains most of what they're able to observe, and any minor effects that don't conform to it are just ignored. They have a model, a most ingenious affair run by clockwork, at the University of Konkrook, to show the apparent movement and position of Beta Hydrae in the sky; it does so fairly accurately.

"Well, some of our astronomers constructed this orrery, and exhibited it to a gathering of the leading native scholars, who are also the high-priests of the local religion. Sort of combined Academy of Arts and Sciences and College of Cardinals. Th

ey almost were massacred. As soon as the assembled pundits saw this thing and grasped its meaning, they began geeking and skreeking and yorking and squawking and brandishing knives-it was blasphemous, and sacrilegious, and undermined the Faith, and invalidated the whole logic-system.

"I was brigadier-general, in command of Konkrook military district, then-the post Them M'zangwe has now. When I got a riot-call from the University, I hustled around with a company of Kragans, and we cleared the hall with the bayonet and ran the reverend professors out onto the campus, and after we got things in hand, the Kragans crowded around the orrery, trying to set it up to show the existing position of the planet relative to the primary and figure out the theory back of it. They were very much interested; some of them must have sent word home about it, because Kankad came in on the next ship, wanting to see it. He was so much taken with it that Sid Harrington gave it to him. It's one of his most cherished possessions, but the Konkrook pundits bite all four thumbs and wave their fingers every time they think of it." He warmed his coffee from a controlled-temperature pot. "You can't use Kragan thinking on any subject as a criterion of what somebody like Orgzild's opinions will be."

"I never could understand the admiration some of you military people have for those cutthroats," Keaveney declared. "Oh, yes, I can. You like them because they do your dirty work for you."

"He reads Stanley-Browne, too, I'll bet," Hideyoshi O'Leary said. "Miss Quinton, how did you like your visit to Kankad's Town? Still think the Kragans are cultural mongrels?"

"Why, they're wonderful! I never expected anything like it. They just seem to have picked up everything they could from us, and then gone on from there to develop a culture of their own with our techniques. For instance, those big guns, the ones they call the Ridge Battery, that they built for themselves. They aren't copies of Terran guns. They don't look like our work, or give you the feel our work would. And that telescope at the observatory," she continued. "Did they build that, too?"

"Yes, all we furnished was a couple of textbooks on lens-grinding and telescope-design, and a book on optics. You see, when we made that deal with them, they realized that we weren't any better fighters than they were; we just had better weapons. To have the same kind of weapons, they'd have to learn to make them, and once they began studying technology, they found that they had to study science. Weapon-making was the entering-wedge; after that, they found that they could use the same skills to make anything else they wanted. Give them another century or so and they'll be one of the great races of the galaxy."

"Yes, and it's a good thing they're our friends, too," Mordkovitz added. "I'm only sorry there are so few of them, and so many of the geeks."

"Yes, the Company ought to let us stockpile nuclear weapons here, just to be on the safe side," another officer, farther down the table, said.

"Well, I'm not exactly in favor of that," von Schlichten replied. "It's the same principle as not allowing guards who have to go in among the convicts to carry firearms. If somebody like Orgzild got hold of a nuclear bomb, even a little old First-Century H-bomb, he could use it for a model and construct a hundred like it, with all the plutonium we've been handing out for power reactors. And there are too few of us, and we're concentrated in too few places, to last long if that happened. What this planet needs, though, is a visit by a fifty-odd-ship task-force of the Space Navy, just to show the geeks what we have back of us. After a show like that, there'd be a lot less znidd suddabit around here."

"General, I deplore that sort of talk," Keaveney said. "I hear too much of this mailed-fist-and-rattling-saber stuff from some of the junior officers here, without your giving countenance and encouragement to it. We're here to earn dividends for the stockholders of the Uller Company, and we can only do that by gaining the friendship, respect and confidence of the natives...."

"Mr. Keaveney," Paula Quinton spoke up. "I doubt if even you would seriously accuse the Extraterrestrials' Rights Association of favoring what you call a mailed-fist-and-rattling-saber policy. We've done everything in our power to help these people, and if anybody should have their friendship, we should. Well, only five days ago, in Konkrook, Mr. Mohammed Ferriera and I were attacked by a mob, our native aircar driver was murdered, and if it hadn't been for General von Schlichten and his soldiers, we'd have lost our own lives. Mr. Ferriera is still hospitalized as a result of injuries he received. It seems that General von Schlichten and his Kragans aren't trying to get friendship and confidence; they're willing to settle for respect, in the only way they can get it-by hitting harder and quicker than the geeks can."

Somebody down the table-one of the military, of course-said, "Hear, hear!" Von Schlichten came as close as a man wearing a monocle can to winking at Paula. Good girl, he thought; she's started playing on the Army team!

"Well, of course...." Keaveney began. Then he stopped, as a Terran sergeant came up to the table and bent over Barney Mordkovitz' shoulder, whispering urgently. The black-bearded brigadier rose immediately, taking his belt from the back of his chair and putting it on. Motioning the sergeant to accompany him, he spoke briefly to Keaveney and then came around the table to where von Schlichten sat, the Resident-Agent accompanying him.

"Message just came in from Konkrook, general," he said softly. "Sid Harrington's dead."

It took von Schlichten all of a second to grasp what had been said. "Good God! When? How?"

"Here's all we know, sir," the sergeant said, giving him a radioprint slip. "Came in ten minutes ago."

It was an all-station priority telecast. Governor-General Harrington had died suddenly, in his room, at 2210; there were no details. He glanced at his watch; it was 2243. Konkrook and Skilk were in the same time-zone; that was fast work. He handed the slip to Mordkovitz, who gave it to Keaveney.

"You from the telecast station, sergeant?" he asked. "All right, let's go."

"Wait a minute, general." Keaveney put out a hand to detain him as he took his belt and put it on. "How about this?" He gestured nervously with the radioprint slip.

"Get up and make an announcement, now," von Schlichten told him, fastening the buckle and hitching his pistol and survival-kit into place. "It'll be out all over the planet in half an hour. Never hold news out unnecessarily." He stubbed out his cigarette. "Come on, sergeant."

As he hurried from the banquet-room, he could hear Keaveney tapping on his wine-glass.

"Everybody, please! Let me have your attention! There has just come in a piece of the most tragic news...."

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