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   Chapter 13 No.13

Uller Uprising By H. Beam Piper Characters: 21226

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


A Bag of Tricks We Don't Have

He flinched inwardly, and tightened his eye-muscles on the edge of the monocle to keep from flinching physically as well, trying to freeze out of his face the consternation he felt.

"That's bad, Kent," he said. "Very bad. I'd been counting heavily on Dr. Gomes to design a bomb of our own."

"Well, general, if you please." That was Air-Commodore Leslie Hargreaves. "You say you suspect that King Orgzild has developed a nuclear bomb. If that's true, it's a horrible danger to all of us. But I find it hard to believe that the Keegarkans could have done so, with their resources and at their technological level. Now, if it had been the Kragans, that would have been different, but...."

"Paula, you'd better carry on and explain what you told me, and add anything else you can think of that might be relevant.... Is that sound-recorder turned on? Then turn it on, somebody; we want this taped."

Paula rose and began talking: "I suppose you all understand what conditions are on Niflheim, and how these Ulleran native workers are employed; however, I'd better begin by explaining the purpose for which these nuclear bombs were designed and used...."

He smiled; she realized that he needed time to think, and she was stalling to provide it. He drew a pencil and pad toward him and began doodling in a bored manner, deliberately closing his mind to what she was saying. There were two assumptions, he considered: first, that King Orgzild already possessed a nuclear bomb which he could use when he chose, and, second, that in the absence of Dr. Gomes, such a bomb could only be produced on Gongonk Island after lengthy experimental work. If both of these assumptions were true, he had just heard the death-sentence of every Terran on Uller. The first he did not for a moment doubt. The reasons for making it were too good. He dismissed it from further consideration and concentrated on the second.

"... what's known as a Nagasaki-type bomb, the first type of plutonium-bomb developed," Paula was saying. "Really, it's a technological antique, but it was good enough for the purpose, and Dr. Gomes could build it with locally available materials...."

That was the crux of it. The plutonium bomb, from a military standpoint, was as obsolete as the flintlock musket had been at the time of the Second World War. He reviewed, quickly, the history of weapons-development since the beginning of the Atomic Era. The emphasis, since the end of the Second World War, had all been on nuclear weapons and rocket-missiles. There had been the H-bomb, itself obsolescent, and the Bethe-cyle bomb, and the subneutron bomb, and the omega-ray bomb, and the nega-matter bomb, and then the end of civilization in the Northern Hemisphere and the rise of the new civilization in South America and South Africa and Australia. Today, the small-arms and artillery his troops were using were merely slight refinements on the weapons of the First Century, and all the modern nuclear weapons used by the Terran Federation were produced at the Space Navy base on Mars, by a small force of experts whose skills were almost as closed to the general scientific and technical world as the secrets of a medieval guild. The old A-bomb was an historical curiosity, and there was nobody on Uller who had more than a layman's knowledge of the intricate technology of modern nuclear weapons. There were plenty of good nuclear-power engineers on Gongonk Island, but how long would it take them to design and build a plutonium bomb?

"... also has a good understanding of Lingua Terra," Paula was saying. "He and Dr. Murillo conversed bilingually, just as I've heard General von Schlichten and King Kankad talking to one another. I haven't any idea whether or not Gorkrink could read Lingua Terra, or, if so, what papers or plans he might have seen."

"Just a minute, Paula," he said. "Colonel Grinell, what does your branch have on this Gorkrink?"

"He's the son of King Orgzild, and the daughter of Prince Jurnkonk," Grinell said. "We knew he'd signed on for Nif, two years ago, but the story we got was that he'd fallen out of favor at court and had been exiled. I can see, now, that that was planted to mislead us. As to whether or not he can read Lingua Terra, my belief is that he can. We know that he can understand it when spoken. He could have learned to read at one of those schools Mohammed Ferriera set up, ten or fifteen years ago."

"And Dr. Gomes and Dr. Murillo and Dr. Livesey left papers and plans lying around all over the place," Paula added. "If he went to Niflheim as a spy, he could have copied almost anything."

"Well, there you have it," von Schlichten said. "When Gorkrink found out that plutonium can be used for bombs, he began gathering all the information he could. And as soon as he got home, he turned it all over to Pappy Orgzild."

"That still doesn't mean that the Kee-geeks were able to do anything with it," Air-Commodore Hargreaves argued.

"I think it does," von Schlichten differed. "As soon as Orgzild would hear about the possibility of making a plutonium bomb, he'd set up an A-bomb project, and don't think of it in terms of the old First Century Manhattan Project. There would be no problem of producing fissionables-we've been scattering refined plutonium over this planet like confetti."

"Well, an A-bomb's a pretty complicated piece of mechanism, even if you have the plans for it," Kent Pickering said. "As I recall, there have to be several subcritical masses of plutonium, or U-235, or whatever, blown together by shaped charges of explosive, all of which have to be fired simultaneously. That would mean a lot of electrical fittings that I can't see these geeks making by hand."

"I can," Paula said. "Have you ever seen the work these native jewelers do? And didn't you tell me about a clockwork thing they have at the university here, to show the apparent movements of the sun...."

"That's right," von Schlichten said. "And what they couldn't make, they could have bought from us; we've sold them a lot of electrical equipment."

"All right, they could have built an A-bomb," Buhrmann said. "But did they?"

"We assume they tried to. Gorkrink got back from Nif on the Canberra, three months ago," von Schlichten said. "If Orgzild decided to build an A-bomb, he wouldn't give the signal for this uprising until he either had one or knew he couldn't make one, and he wouldn't give up trying in only three months. Therefore, I think we can assume that he succeeded, and had succeeded at the time he sent Gorkrink here to get that four tons of plutonium we let him have, and, incidentally, to tell Ghroghrank to pass the word to have Sid Harrington poisoned according to plan."

"Then why didn't he just use it on us at the start of the uprising?" Meyerstein wanted to know.

"Why should he? Getting rid of us is only the first step in Orgzild's plan," Grinell said. "Back as far as geek history goes, the Kings of Keegark have been trying to conquer Konkrook and the Free Cities and make themselves masters of the whole Takkad Sea area. Let Konkrook wipe us out, and then he can move in his troops and take Konkrook. Or, if we beat off the geeks here, as we seem to be doing, he can bomb us out and then move in on Konkrook. I think that as long as we're fighting here, he'll wait. The more damage we do to Konkrook, the easier it'll be for him."

"Then we'd better start dragging our feet on the Konkrook front," Laviola said. "And get busy trying to build a bomb of our own."

Von Schlichten looked up at the big screen, on which the battle of Konkrook was being projected from an overhead pickup.

"I'll agree on the second half of it," von Schlichten said. "And we'll also have to set up some kind of security-patrol system against bombers from Keegark. And as soon as Procyon gets here, we'll have to send her out to hunt down and destroy those two Boer-class freighters, the Jan Smuts and the Kruger. And we'll have to arrange for protection of Kankad's Town; that's sure to be another of Orgzild's high-priority targets. As to the action against Konkrook, I'll rely on your advice, Them. Can we delay the fall of the city for any length of time?"

M'zangwe shook his head. "When we divert contragravity to security-patrol work, the ground action'll slow up a little, of course. But the geeks are about knocked out, now."

"The hell with it, then. I doubt if we'd be able to buy much time from Orgzild by delaying victory in the city, and we'll probably need the troops as workers over here." He turned to Pickering. "Dr. Pickering, what sort of a crew can you scrape together to design a bomb for us?" he asked.

"Well, there's Martirano, and Sternberg, and Howard Fu-Chung, and Piet van Reenen, and...." He nodded to himself. "I can get six or eight of them in here in about twenty minutes; I'll have a project set up and working in a couple of hours. There has to be somebody qualified on duty at the plant, all the time, of course, but...."

"All right, call them in. I want the bomb finished by yesterday afternoon. And everybody with you, and you, yourself, had better revert to civilian status. This isn't something you can do by the numbers, and I don't want anybody who doesn't know what it's all about pulling rank on your outfit. Go ahead, call in your gang, and let me know what you'll be able to do, as soon as possible."

He turned to Hargreaves. "Les, you'll have charge of flying the security patrols, and doing anything else you can to keep Orgzild from bombing us before we can bomb him. You'll have priority on everything second only to Pickering."

Hargreaves nodded. "As you say, general, we'll have to protect Kankad's, as well as this place. It's about five hundred miles from here to Kankad's, and eight-fifty miles from Kankad's to Keegark...."

He stopped talking to von Schlichten, and began muttering to himself, running over the names of ships, and the speeds and pay-load capacities of airboats, and distances. In about five minutes, he would have a programme worked out; in the meantime, von Schlichten could only be patient and contain himself. He looked along the table, and caught sight of a thin-faced, saturnine-looking man in a green shirt, with a colonel's three concentric circles marked on the shoulders in silver-paint. Emmett Pearson, the communications chief.

"Emmett," he said, "those orbiters you have strung around this planet, two thousand miles out, for telecast rebroadcast stations. How much of a crew could be put on one of them?"

Pearson

laughed. "Crew of what, general? White mice, or trained cockroaches? There isn't room inside one of those things for anything bigger to move around."

"Well, I know they're automatic, but how do you service them?"

"From the outside. They're only ten feet through, by about twenty in length, with a fifteen-foot ball at either end, and everything's in sections, which can be taken out. Our maintenance-gang goes up in a thing like a small spaceship, and either works on the outside in spacesuits, or puts in a new section and brings the unserviceable one down here to the shops."

"Ah, and what sort of a thing is this small spaceship, now?"

"A thing like a pair of fifty-ton lorries, with airlocks between, and connected at the middle; airtight, of course, and pressurized and insulated like a spaceship. One side's living quarters for a six-man crew-sometimes the gang's out for as long as a week at a time-and the other side's a workshop."

That sounded interesting. With contragravity, of course, terms like "escape-velocity" and "mass-ratio" were of purely antiquarian interest.

"How long," he asked Pearson, "would it take to fit that vehicle with a full set of detection instruments-radar, infrared and ultra-violet vision, electron-telescope, heat and radiation detectors, the whole works-and spot it about a hundred to a hundred and fifty miles above Keegark?"

"That I couldn't say, general," Emmett Pearson replied. "It'd have to be a shipyard job, and a lot of that stuff's clear outside my department. Ask Air-Commodore Hargreaves."

"Les!" he called out. "Wake up, Les!"

"Just a second, general." Hargreaves scribbled frantically on his pad. "Now," he said, raising his head. "What is it, sir?"

"Emmett, here, has a junior-grade spaceship that he uses to service those orbital telecast-relay stations of his. He'll tell you what it's like. I want it fitted with every sort of detection device that can be crammed into or onto it, and spotted above Keegark. It should, of course, be high enough to cover not only the Keegark area, but Konkrook, Kankad's, and the lower Hoork and Konk river-valleys."

"Yes, I get it." Hargreaves snatched up a phone, punched out a combination, and began talking rapidly into it in a low voice. After a while, he hung up. "All right, Mr. Pearson-Colonel Pearson, I mean. Have your space-buggy sent around to the shipyard. My boys'll fix it up." He made a note on another piece of paper. "If we live through this, I'm going to have a couple of supra-atmosphere ships in service on this planet.... Now, general, I have a tentative setup. We're going to need the Elmoran for patrol work south and east of Konkrook, and the Gaucho and Bushranger to the north and northeast, based on Kankad's. We'll keep the Aldebaran at Kankad's, and use her for emergencies. And we'll have patrols of light contragravity like this." He handed a map, with red-pencil and blue-pencil markings, along to von Schlichten. "Red are Kankad-based; blue are Konkrook-based."

"That looks all right," von Schlichten said. "There's another thing, though. We want scout-vehicles to cover the Keegark area with radiation-detectors. These geeks are quite well aware of radiation-danger from fissionables, but they're accustomed to the ordinary industrial-power reactors, which are either very lightly shielded or unshielded on top. We want to find out where Orgzild's bomb-plant is."

"Yes, general, as soon as we can get radiation detectors sent out to Kankad's, we'll have a couple of fast aircars fitted with them for that job."

"We have detectors, at our laboratory and reaction-plant," Kankad said. "And my people can make more, as soon as you want them." He thought for a moment. "Perhaps I should go to the town, now. I could be of more use there than here."

Kent Pickering, who had been talking with his experts at a table apart, returned.

"We've set up a programme, general," he said. "It's going to be a lot harder than I'd anticipated. None of us seem to know exactly what we have to do in building one of those things. You see, the uranium or plutonium fission-bomb's been obsolete for over four hundred years. It was a classified-secret matter long after its obsolescence, because it hadn't been rendered any the less deadly by being superseded-there was that A-bomb that the Christian Anarchist Party put together at Buenos Aires in 378 A.E., for instance. And then, after it was declassified, it had been so far superseded that it was of only antiquarian interest; the textbooks dealt with it only in general terms. The principles, of course, are part of basic nuclear science; the "secret of the A-bomb" was just a bag of engineering tricks that we don't have, and which we will have to rediscover. Design of tampers, design of the chemical-explosive charges to bring subcritical masses together, case-design, detonating mechanism, things like that."

"The complete data on even the old Hiroshima and Nagasaki types is still in existence, of course. You can get it at places like the University of Montevideo Library, or Jan Smuts Memorial Library at Cape Town. But we don't have it here. We're detailing a couple of junior technicians to make a search of the library here on Gongonk Island, but we're not optimistic. We just can't afford to pass up any chance, even when it approaches zero-probability."

Von Schlichten nodded. "That's about what I'd expected," he said. "I suppose Gomes got his data out of one of the dustier storage-stacks at Jan Smuts or Montevideo, in the first place.... Well, I still want that bomb finished by yesterday afternoon, but since that's impractical, you'll have to take a little-but as little as possible-longer."

"What are we going to do about publicity on this?" Howlett, the personnel man, asked. "We don't want this getting out in garbled form-though how it could be made worse by garbling I couldn't guess-and having the troops watching the sky over their shoulders and going into a panic as soon as they saw something they didn't understand."

"No, we don't. I've seen a couple of troop-panics," von Schlichten said. "There can't be anything much worse than a panic."

"I think the Terrans ought to be told the worst," Hargreaves said. "And told that our only hope is to get a bomb of our own built and dropped first. As to the Kragans.... What do you think, King Kankad?"

"Tell them that we are building a bomb to destroy Keegark; that we are running short of ammunition, and that it is our only hope of finishing the war before the ammunition is gone," Kankad said. "Tell them something of what sort of a bomb it is. But do not tell them that King Orgzild already has such a bomb. Old Kankad, who made me out of himself, told me about how our people fled in panic from the weapons of the Terrans, when your people and mine were still enemies. This thing is to the weapons they faced then as those weapons were to the old Kragans' spears and bows.... And when the geeks from Grank come here, tell them that we are winning and that if they fight well, they can share the loot of Konkrook and Keegark."

Von Schlichten looked up at the big screen. Already, Themistocles M'zangwe had ordered the Channel Battery to reduce fire; the big guns were firing singly, in thirty-second-interval salvos. There was less bombing, too; contragravity was being drawn out of the battle.

"Well, we all have things to do," he said, "and I think we've discussed everything there is to discuss. Anybody think of anything we've forgotten?... Then we're adjourned."

He and Paula Quinton took the elevator to the roof, and sat side by side, silently watching the conflagration that was raging across the channel and the nearer flashes of the big guns along the island's city side.

"Wednesday night, I thought we were all cooked," Paula told him. "Cleaning up the north in two days seemed like an impossibility, too. Maybe you'll do it again."

"If I pull this one out of the fire, I won't be a general; I'll be a magician," he said. "Pickering'll be a magician, I mean; he's the boy who'll save our bacon, if it's saveable." He looked somberly across the flame-reflecting water. "Let's not kid ourselves; we're just kicking and biting at the guards on the way up the gallows-steps."

"Well, why stop till the trap's sprung?" she asked. "What'll happen to these people on this planet, after we're atomized?"

"That I don't want to think about. Kankad's Town will get the second bomb; Orgzild won't dare leave the Kragans after he's wiped us out. Yoorkerk and Jonkvank, in the north, will turn on Keaveney and Shapiro and Karamessinis and Hid O'Leary and wipe them out. And when the next ship gets in here and they find out what happened, they'll send the Federation Space Navy, and this planet'll get it worse than Fenris did. They'll blast anything that has four arms and a face like a lizard...."

Half a dozen aircars lifted suddenly from the airport and streaked away to the northeast. As they went past, in the light of the burning city, he could see that at least three of them had multiple rocket-launchers on top. In a matter of seconds, a gun-cutter raced after them, and a second, which had been over Konkrook, jettisoned a bomb and turned away to follow.

"Maybe that's it," Paula said.

"Well, if it is, we won't be any better off anywhere else than here," he told her. "Let's stay and watch."

After what seemed like a long time, however, a twinkle of lights showed over the East Konk Mountains. They weren't the flashes of explosions; some were magnesium flares, and some were the lights of a ship.

"That's Procyon, from Grank," he said. "Everybody gets a good mark for this-detection stations, interceptors, gun-cutters. If that had been it, there'd have been a good chance of stopping it." He felt better than he had since Pickering had told him that Louren?o Gomes was dead. "It's a good thing Gorkrink didn't pick up any dope on guided missiles, while he was at it. As long as they have to deliver it with contragravity, we have a chance."

They rose from the balustrade where they had been sitting, and, for the first time, he discovered that he had had his left arm over her shoulder and that she had had her right hand resting on the point of his right hip, just above his pistol. He picked up the folder of papers she had been carrying, and put her into the elevator ahead of him, and it was only when they parted on the living-quarters level that he recalled having followed the older protocol of gallantry rather than the precedence of military rank.

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