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   Chapter 9 No.9

Uller Uprising By H. Beam Piper Characters: 19927

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04

Don't Push Them Anywhere Put Them Back in the Bottle

He looked at his watch, and stood for a moment, pumping the stale air and tobacco-smoke of the telecast station out of his lungs, as the light airjeep let down into the street. Oh-one-fifteen-two hours and a half since the mutiny at the native-troops barracks had broken out. The Company reservation was still ablaze with lights, and over the roof of the hospital and dispensary and test-lab he could see the glare of the burning barracks. There was more fire-glare to the south, in the direction of the mine-equipment park and the mine-labor camp, and from that direction the bulk of the firing was to be heard.

The driver, a young lieutenant who seemed to be of predominantly Malayan and Polynesian blood, slid back the duraglass canopy for him to climb in, then snapped it into place when he had strapped himself into his seat.

"Can you handle the armament, sir?" he asked.

Von Schlichten nodded approvingly. Not a very flattering question, but the boy was right to make sure, before they started out.

"I've done it, once or twice," he understated. "Let's go; I want a look at what's going on down at the equipment-park and the labor-camp, first."

They lifted up, the driver turning the nose of the airjeep in the direction of the flames and explosions and magnesium-lights to the south and tapping his booster-button gently. The vehicle shot forward and came floating in over the scene of the fighting. The situation-map at the improvised headquarters had shown a mixture of pink and white pills in the mine-equipment park; something was going to have to be done about the lag in correcting it, for the area was entirely in the hands of loyal Company troops, and the mob of laborers and mutinous soldiers had been pushed back into the temporary camp where the workers had been gathered to await transportation to the Arctic. As he feared, the rioting workers, many of whom were trained to handle contragravity equipment, had managed to lift up a number of dump-trucks and powershovels and bulldozers, intending to use them as improvised airtanks, but Jarman's combat-cars had gotten on the job promptly and all of these had been shot down and were lying in wreckage, mostly among the rows of parked mining-equipment.

From the labor-camp, a surprising volume of fire was being directed against the attack which had already started from the retaken equipment-park. This was just another evidence of the failure of Intelligence and the Constabulary-and consequently of himself-to anticipate the brewing storm. There was, of course, practically no chance of keeping Ullerans from having native weapons, swords, knives, even bows and air-rifles, and a certain number of Volund-made trade-quality automatic pistols could be expected, but most of the fire was coming from military rifles, and now and then he could see the furnace-like backflash of a recoilless rifle or a bazooka, or the steady flicker of a machine-gun. Even if a few of these weapons had been brought from the barracks by retreating Tenth Infantry or Fifth Cavalry mutineers, there were still too many.

Hovering above the fighting, aloof from it, he saw six long troop-carriers land and disgorge Kragan Rifles who had been released by the liquidation of resistance at the native-troops barracks. A little later, two airtanks floated in, and then two more, going off contragravity and lumbering on treads to fire their 90-mm rifles. At the same time, combat-cars swooped in, banging away with their lighter auto-cannon and launching rockets. The titanium prefab-huts, set up to house the laborers and intended to be taken north with them for their stay on the polar desert, were simply wiped away. Among the wreckage, resistance was being blown out like the lights of a candelabrum. Push the white pills out, girls, he thought. Don't push them anywhere; put them back in the bottle. This year, there wouldn't be any mining done at the North Pole; next year, the stockholders'll be bitching about their dividend-checks. And a lot of new machine operators are going to have to be trained for next year's mining. If there is any mining, next year.

He took up the hand-phone and called HQ.

"Von Schlichten, what's the wavelength of the officer in command at the equipment-park?"

A voice at the telecast station furnished it; he punched it out.

"Von Schlichten, right overhead. That you, Major Falkenberg? Nice going, major, how are your casualties?"

"Not too bad. Twenty or thirty Kragans and loyal Skilkans, and eight Terrans killed, about as many wounded."

"Pretty good, considering what you're running into. Get many of your Kragans mounted on those hipposaurs?"

"About a hundred, a lot of 'saurs got shot, while we were leading them out from the stables."

"Well, I can see geeks streaming away from the labor-camp, out the south end, going in the direction of the river. Use what cavalry you have on them, and what contragravity you can spare. I'll drop a few flares to show their position and direction."

Anticipating him, the driver turned the airjeep and started toward the dry Hoork River. Von Schlichten nodded approval and told him to release flares when over the fugitives.

"Right," Falkenberg replied. "I'll get on it at once, general."

"And start moving that mine-equipment up into the Company area. Some of it we can put into the air; the rest we can use to build barricades. None of it do we want the geeks getting hold of, and the equipment-park's outside our practical perimeter. I'll send people to help you move it."

"No need to do that, sir; I have about a hundred and fifty loyal North Ullerans-foremen, technicians, overseers-who can handle it."

"All right. Use your own judgment. Put the stuff back of the native-troops barracks, and between the power-plant and the Company office-buildings, and anywhere else you can." The lieutenant nudged him and pushed a couple of buttons on the dashboard.

"Here go the flares, now."

Immediately, a couple of airjeeps pounced in, to strafe the fleeing enemy. Somebody must have already been issuing orders on another wavelength; a number of Kragans, riding hipposaurs, were galloping into the light of the flares.

"Now, let's have a look at the native barracks and the maintenance-yards," he said. "And then, we'll make a circuit around the Reservation, about two or three miles out. I'm not happy about where Firkked's army is."

The driver looked at him. "I've been worrying about that, too, sir," he said. "I can't understand why he hasn't jumped us, already. I know it takes time to get one of these geek armies on the road, but...."

"He's hoping our native troops and the mine laborers will be able to wipe us out, themselves," von Schlichten said. "For the timidity and stupidity of our enemies, Allah make us truly thankful, amen. It's something no commander should depend on, but be glad when it happens. If Firkked had had a couple of regiments on hand outside the reservation to jump us as soon as the Tenth and the Zirks mutinied, he could have swamped us in twenty minutes and we'll all have had our throats cut by now."

There was nothing going on in the area between the native barracks and the mountains except some sporadic firing as small patrols of Kragans clashed with clumps of fleeing mutineers. All the barracks, even those of the Rifles, were burning; the red-and-yellow danger-lights around the power-plant and the water-works and the explosives magazines were still on. Most of the floodlights were still on, and there was still some fighting around the maintenance-yard. It looked as though the survivors of the Tenth N.U.N.I. were in a few small pockets which were being squeezed out.

There was nothing at all going on north of the Reservation; the countryside, by day a checkerboard of walled fields and small villages, was dark, except for a dim light, here and there, where the occupants of some farmhouse had been awakened by the noise of battle. The airjeep dropped lower, and the driver slid open the window beside him; von Schlichten could hear the grunts and snorts and squawks of farm-animals, similarly aroused.

Then, two miles east of the Reservation, he caught a new sound-the flowing, riverlike, murmur of something vast on the move.

"Hear that, lieutenant?" he asked. "Head for it, at about a thousand feet. When we're directly above it, let go some flares."

"Yes, sir." The younger man had lowered his voice to a whisper. "That's geek, headed for the Reservation."

"Maybe Firkked's army," von Schlichten thought aloud. "Or maybe a city mob."

"Not quite noisy enough for a mob, is it, sir?"

"A tired mob," von Schlichten told him. "They'd start out on a run, yelling 'Znidd Suddabit!' By the time they got across the bridges to this side of the river, they'd be winded. They'd stop for a blow, and then they'd settle down to steady slogging to save their wind. Sometimes a mob like that's worse than a fresh mob. They get stubborn; they act more deliberately."

The noises were growing clearer, louder. He picked up the phone and punched the wavelength of the military airport.

"Von Schlichten, my compliments to Colonel Jarman. Tell him there's a geek mob, or possibly Firkked's regulars, on the main highway from Skilk, two miles east of the Reservation. Get some combat contragravity over here, at once. We'll light them up for you. And tell Colonel Jarman to start flying patrols up and down along the Hoork River; this may not be the only gang that's coming out to see us."

The sounds were directly below, now-the scuffing of horny-soled feet on the dirt road, the clink and rattle of slung weapons, the clicking and squeeking of Ulleran voices.

The lieutenant said, "Here go the flares, sir."

Von Schlichten shut his eyes, then opened them slowly. The driver, upon releasing the flares, had nosed up, banked, turned, and was com

ing in again, down the road toward the advancing column. Von Schlichten peered into his all-armament sight, his foot on the machine-gun pedal and his fingers on the rocket buttons. The highway below was jammed with geeks, and they were all stopped dead and staring upward, as though hypnotized by the lights. A second later, they had recovered and were shooting-not at the airjeep, but at the four globes of blazing magnesium. Then he had the close-packed mass of non-humanity in his sights; he tramped the pedal and began punching buttons. He still had four rockets left by the time the mob was behind him.

"All right, let's take another pass at them. Same direction."

The driver put the airjeep into a quick loop and came out of it in front of the mob, who now had their backs turned and were staring in the direction in which they had last seen the vehicle. Again, von Schlichten plowed them with rockets and harrowed them with his guns. Some of the Skilkans were trying to get over the high fences on either side of the road-really stockades of petrified tree-trunks. Others were firing, and this time they were shooting at the airjeep. It took one hit from a heavy shellosaur-rifle, and, immediately, the driver banked and turned away from the road.

"Dammit, why did you do that?" von Schlichten demanded, lifting his foot from the gun-pedal. "Are you afraid of the kind of popguns those geeks are using?"

"I am not afraid to risk my vehicle, or myself, sir," the lieutenant replied, with the extreme formality of a very junior officer chewing out a very senior one. "I am, however, afraid to risk my passenger. Generals are not expendable, sir; neither are they issued for use as clay pigeons."

He was right, of course. Von Schlichten admitted it. "I'm too old to play cowboy, like this," he said. "Back to the Reservation, telecast station."

Looking back over his shoulder, he saw eight or ten more flares alight, and the ground-flashes of exploding shells and rockets; the air above the road was sparkling with gun-flames. Jarman must have had some contragravity ready to be sent off on the instant.

While he had been out, somebody had gotten a TV-pickup mounted on a contragravity-lifter and run up to two thousand feet, on the end of a steel-tough tensilon mooring-line. The big circular screen was lit, showing the whole Company Reservation, with the surrounding countryside foreshortened by perspective to the distant lights of Skilk. The map had been taken up from the floor, and a big terrain-board had been brought in from the Chief Engineer's office and set up in its place. In front of the screen, Paula Quinton, Barney Mordkovitz, Colonel Cheng-Li, and, conspicuously silent, Jules Keaveney sat drinking coffee and munching sandwiches. Half a dozen Terrans, of both sexes, were working furiously to get the markers which replaced the pink and white pills placed on the board, and one of Captain Inez Malavez's non-coms, with a headset, was getting combat reports directly from the switchboard. Everything was clicking like well-oiled machinery.

On the TV-screen, the Residency area was ablaze with light, and so were the ship-docks, the airport and spaceport, the shops, and the maintenance-yard. On the terrain-board, the latter was now marked as completely in Company hands. The ruins of the native-troops barracks were still burning, and there was a twinkle of orange-red here and there among the ruins of the labor-camp. Much of the equipment for the polar mines had already been shifted into defensible ground. The rest of the circle was dark, except for the distant lights of Skilk, where the nuclear power plant was apparently still functioning in native hands.

Then, without warning, a spot of white light blazed into being southeast of the Company area and southwest of Skilk, followed by another and another. Instantly, von Schlichten glanced up at the row of smaller screens, and on one of them saw the view as picked up by a patrolling airjeep.

The army of King Firkked of Skilk had finally put in its appearance, coming in two columns, one southward from Skilk and the other northward along the west bank of the dry river. The former had crossed over and joined the latter, about three miles south of the Reservation. The scene in the screen was similar to the one he had, himself, witnessed through his armament-sight. The Skilkan regulars had been marching in formation, some on the road and some along parallel lanes and paths. They had the look of trained and disciplined troops, but they had made the same mistake as the rabble that had been shot up on the north side of the Reservation. Unused to attack from the air, they had all halted in place and were gaping open-mouthed, their opal teeth gleaming in the white flare-light. However, before the aircar had passed over them, the lead company of one regiment, armed with Terran rifles, had begun firing.

In the big screen, it could be seen that Colonel Jarman had thrown most of his available contragravity at them, including the combat-cars, that had already started to form the second wave of the attack on the mob to the north. Other flares bloomed in the darkness, and the fiery trails of rockets curved downward to end in yellow flashes on the ground.

The airjeep with the pickup circled back; the troops on the road and in the adjoining fields had broken. The former were caught between the fences which made Ulleran roads such death-traps when under air-attack. The latter had dispersed, and were running away, individually and by squads; at first, it looked like a panic, but he could see officers signaling to the larger groups of fugitives to open out, apparently directing the flight. By this time, there were ten or twelve combat-cars and about twenty airjeeps at work. In the moving view from the pickup-jeep, he saw what looked like a 90-mm rocket land in the middle of a company that was still trying to defend itself with small-arms fire on the road, wiping out about half of them.

"Make the most of it, boys," Barney Mordkovitz, his mouth full of sandwich, was saying. "Heave it to them; you won't get another chance like that at those buggers."

"Why not?" Colonel Paula Quinton wanted to know. Her military education was progressing, but it still had a few gaps to fill in.

"The next time they're air-struck, they won't stay bunched," Mordkovitz replied. "A lot of them didn't stay bunched this time, if you noticed. And they'll keep out from between the fences."

In the large screen, a quick succession of gun-flashes leaped up from the direction of the Hoork River and shells began bursting over the scene of the attack. The screen tuned to the pickup on the airjeep went dead; in the big screen, there was a twinkling of falling fire. Almost at once, thirty or forty rocket-trails converged on the gun-position, and, for a moment, explosions burned like a bonfire.

"They had a 75-mm at the rear of the column," somebody called from the big switchboard. "Lieutenant Kalanang's jeep was hit; Lieutenant Vermaas is cutting in his pickup on the same wavelength."

The small screen lighted again. In the big screen, a cluster of magnesium-lights appeared above where the Skilkan gun had been; in the small screen, there was a stubbled grain-field, pocked with craters, and the bodies of fifteen or twenty natives, all rather badly mangled. An overturned and apparently destroyed 75-mm gun lay on its side.

Five or six fairly large fires had broken out, by this time, around the point of attack. Von Schlichten nodded approvingly.

"I was wondering how long it'd take somebody to think of that," he said. "Granaries and forage-stacks on some of these farms. They'll burn for half an hour, at least." He looked at his watch. "And by that time, it'll be daylight."

"As far as we know, that was the only 75-mm gun Firkked had," Colonel Cheng-Li said. "He has at least six, possibly ten, 40-mm's. It's a wonder we haven't seen anything of them."

"Well, there's no way of being sure," Jules Keaveney said, "but I have an idea they're all at or around the Palace. Firkked knows about how much contragravity we have. He's probably wondering why we aren't bombing him, now."

"He doesn't know we've sold the Palace to King Jonkvank for an army," von Schlichten said. "And that reminds me-how much contragravity could Firkked scrape together, for an attack on us? I've been expecting a geek Luftwaffe over here, at any moment."

Colonel Cheng-Li studied the smoking tip of his cigarette for a moment. "Well, Firkked owns, personally, three ten-passenger aircars, a thing like a troop-carrier that he transports some of his courtiers around in, four airjeeps armed with a pair of 15-mm machine-guns apiece, and two big lorries. There are possibly two hundred vehicles of all types in Skilk and the country around, but some of them are in the hands of natives friendly to us and or hostile to Firkked. I can get the exact figures from the Constabulary office at Company House."

"That's close enough," von Schlichten told him. "And there'll be oodles of thermoconcentrate-fuel, and blasting explosives. Colonel Quinton, suppose you call Ed Wallingsby, the Chief Engineer, right away; have him commissioned colonel. Tell him to get to work making this place secure against air attack; tell him to consult with Colonel Jarman. Tell him to get those geeks Leavitt has penned in the repair-dock at the airport and use them to dig slit-trenches and fill sandbags and so on. He can use Kragan limited-duty wounded to guard them.... Mr. Keaveney, you'll begin setting up something in the way of an ARP-organization. You'll have to get along on what nobody else wants. You will also consult with Colonel Jarman, and with Colonel Wallingsby. Better get started on it now. Just think of everything around here that could go wrong in case of an air attack, and try to do something about it in advance."

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