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   Chapter 14 No.14

Uller Uprising By H. Beam Piper Characters: 25457

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04

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He woke with a guilty start and looked up at the clock on the ceiling; it was 0945. Kicking himself free of the covers, he slid his feet to the floor and sprinted for the bathroom. While he was fussing to get the shower adjusted to the right temperature, he bludgeoned his conscience by telling himself that a wide-awake general is more good than a half-asleep general, that there was nothing he could do but hope that Hargreaves's patrols would keep the bomb away from Konkrook until Pickering's brain-trust came up with one of their own, and that the fact that the commander-in-chief was making sack-time would be much better for morale than the spectacle of him running around in circles. He shaved carefully; a stubble of beard on his chin might betray the fact that he was worried. Then he dressed, put his monocle in his eye, and called the headquarters that had been set up in Sid Harrington's-now his-office. A girl at the switchboard appeared on his screen, and gave place to Paula Quinton, who had been up for the past two hours.

"The Northern Lights got in about three hours ago, general," she told him. "She had four of King Yoorkerk's infantry regiments aboard-the Seventh, Glorious-and-Terrible, the Fourth, Firm-in-Adversity, the Second, Strength-of-the-Throne, and the Twelfth, Forever-Admirable. They're the sorriest-looking rabble I ever saw, but Hideyoshi says they're the best Yoorkerk has, and they all have Terran-style rifles. General M'zangwe broke them into battalions, and put a battalion in with each of the Kragan regiments. I think they're more afraid of the Kragans than they are of the rebels."

He nodded. That was probably the best way to employ them, within the existing situation. The trouble was, Them M'zangwe was incurably tactical-minded. Put those geeks of Yoorkerk's in with the Kragans and they'd be most useful in conquering Konkrook, but the trouble was that, after associating with Kragans, they might develop into reasonably good troops themselves, to the undesired improvement of King Yoorkerk's army. On the other hand maybe not. Keep them in Company service long enough, and they might want to forget about Yoorkerk and stay there.

"How's the situation over in town?" he asked.

"Well, it's slowing up, since we began pulling contragravity out," she told him, "but the geeks are breaking up rapidly.... Oh, there was something funny about that hassle, last evening, when the Procyon came in. Two contragravity vehicles, an aircar and an air-lorry, that went out to meet the ship, are unaccounted for."

"You mean two of our vehicles are missing?"

She shook her head, frowning in perplexity. "Well, no. All the vehicles that answered that unidentified-aircraft alert returned, but there were these two that went out that we haven't any record of. Colonel Grinell is investigating, but he can't find out anything...."

"Tell him not to waste any more time," he said. "Those two were probably geeks from Konkrook. You know, that's how the von Schlichten family got out of Germany, in the Year Three-flew a bomber to Spain. The Konkrook war-criminals are getting out before the Army of Occupation moves in."

"Well, the posts at the old Kragan castles report some contragravity, and parties riding 'saurs, moving west from the city," she told him. "There are a lot of refugees on the roads. And combat reports from Konkrook agree that resistance is getting weaker every hour.... And the supra-atmosphere observation-craft-they're beginning to call her the Sky-Spy-is up a hundred and fifty miles over Keegark. We have radar and vision screens and telemetered radiation and other detectors here, tuned to her. They're installing a similar set on the Northern Lights at the shipyard. By the way, Air-Commodore Hargreaves wants to know if he can take a pair of 155-mm rifles from the Channel Battery and mount them on the Lights."

"Yes, of course, he can have anything he wants, as long as it isn't urgently needed for the bomb project."

"Sky-Spy reports normal contragravity traffic between Keegark and the farming-villages around-aircars, lorries, a few scows-but nothing suspicious. No trace of either of the Boer-class ships. Kankad's people are building receiving sets to install on the Procyon and the Aldebaran, and another set for Kankad's Town. Pickering and his people are still working, but they all look pretty frustrated. They have Major Thornton, at the ammunition plant, doing experimental work on chemical-explosive charges to bring the subcritical masses together and hold them together till an explosion can be produced; they're using most of the skilled electrical and electronics people to work up a detonating device. That's why Kankad's people are doing most of the detection-device work. Hargreaves is fitting a lot of small craft- combat-cars and civilian aircars-with radar sets, to use for patrolling."

"That sounds good," von Schlichten said. "I'll be around and see how things are, after I've had some breakfast."

He had breakfast at the main cafeteria, four floors down; there wasn't as much laughing and talking as usual, but the crowd there seemed in good spirits. He spent some time at headquarters, watching Keegark by TV and radar. So far, nothing had been done about direct reconnaissance over Keegark with radiation-detectors, but Hargreaves reported that a couple of privately owned aircars were being fitted for the job.

He made a flying inspection trip around the island, and visited the farms south of the city, on the mainland, and, finally, made a sweep in the command-car over the city itself. Reconnaissance in person was an archaic and unprogressive procedure, and it was a good way to get generals killed, but one could see a lot of things that would be missed on TV. He let down several times in areas that had already been taken, and talked to company and platoon officers. For one thing, King Yoorkerk's flamboyantly named regiments weren't quite as bad as Paula had thought. She'd been spoiled by the Kragans in her appreciation of other native troops. They had good, standard-quality, Volund-made arms; they were brave and capable; and they had been just enough insulted by being integrated into Kragan regiments to try to make a good showing.

By noon, resistance in the city was beginning to cave in. Surrender flags were appearing on one after another of the Konkrookan rebel strong-points, and at 1430, after he had returned to the Island, a delegation, headed by the Konkrookan equivalent of Lord Mayor and composed largely of prominent merchants, came across the channel under a flag of truce to surrender the city's Spear of State, with abject apologies for not having Gurgurk's head on the point of it. Gurgurk, they reported, had fled to Keegark by air the night before, which explained the incident of the unaccountable aircar and lorry. The Channel Battery stopped firing, and, with the exception of an occasional spatter of small-arms fire, the city fell silent.

At 1600, von Schlichten visited the headquarters Pickering had set up in the office building at the power-plant. As he stepped off the lift on the third floor, a girl, running down the hall with her arms full of papers in folders, collided with him; the load of papers flew in all directions. He stooped to help her pick them up.

"Oh, general! Isn't it wonderful?" she cried. "I just can't believe it!"

"Isn't what wonderful?" he asked.

"Oh, don't you know? They've got it!"

"Huh? They have?" He gathered up the last of the big envelopes and gave them to her. "When?"

"Just half an hour ago. And to think, those books were around here all the time, and.... Oh, I've got to run!" She disappeared into the lift.

Inside the office, one of Pickering's engineers was sitting on the middle of his spinal column, a stenograph-phone in one hand and a book in the other. Once in a while, he would say something into the mouthpiece of the phone. Two other nuclear engineers had similar books spread out on a desk in front of them; they were making notes and looking up references in the Nuclear Engineers' Handbook, and making calculations with their sliderules. There was a huddle around the drafting-boards, where two more such books were in use.

"Well, what's happened?" he demanded, catching Pickering by the arm as he rushed from one group to another.

"Ha! We have it!" Pickering cried. "Everything we need! Look!"

He had another of the books under his arm. He held it out to von Schlichten, and von Schlichten suddenly felt sicker than he had ever felt since, at the age of fourteen, he had gotten drunk for the first time. He had seen men crack up under intolerable strain before, but this was the first time he had seen a whole roomful of men blow their tops in the same manner.

The book was a novel-a jumbo-size historical novel, of some seven or eight hundred pages. Its dust-jacket bore a slightly-more-than-bust-length picture of a young lady with crimson hair and green eyes and jade earrings and a plunging-not to say power-diving-neckline that left her affiliation with the class of Mammalia in no doubt whatever. In the background, a mushroom-topped smoke-column rose, and away from it something intended to be a four-motor propeller-driven bomber of the First Century was racing madly. The title, he saw, was Dire Dawn, and the author was one Hildegarde Hernandez.

"Well, it has a picture of an A-bomb explosion on it," he agreed.

"It has more than that; it has the whole business. Case specifications, tampers, charge design, detonating device, everything. Why, the end-papers even have diagrams, copies of the original Nagasaki-bomb drawings. Look."

Von Schlichten looked. He had no more than the average intelligent layman's knowledge of nuclear physics-enough to recharge or repair a conversion-unit-but the drawings looked authentic enough. They seemed to be copies of ancient blueprints, lettered in First Century English, with Lingua Terra translations added, and marked TOP SECRET and U.S. ARMY CORPS OF ENGINEERS and MANHATTAN ENGINEERING DISTRICT.

"And look at this!" Pickering opened at a marked page and showed it to him. "And this!" He opened where another slip of paper had been inserted. "Everything we want to know, practically."

"I don't get this." He wasn't sick, anymore, just bewildered. "I read some reviews of this thing. All the reviewers panned hell out of it-'World War II Through a Bedroom Keyhole'; 'Henty in Black Lace Panties'-that sort of thing."

"Yeh, yeh, sure," Pickering agreed. "But this Hernandez had illusions of being a great serious historical novelist, see. She won't try to write a book till she's put in years of research-actually, about six months' research by a herd of librarians and college-juniors and other such literary coolies-and she boasts that she never yet has been caught in an error of historical background detail.

"Well, this opus is about the old Manhattan Project. The heroine is a sort of super-Mata-Hari, who is, alternately and sometimes simultaneously, in the pay of the Nazis, the Soviets, the Vatican, Chiang Kai-Shek, the Japanese Emperor, and the Jewish International Bankers, and she sleeps with everybody but Joe Stalin and Mao Tse-tung, and of course, she is in on every step of the A-bomb project. She even manages to stow away on the Enola Gay, with the help of a general she's spent fifty incandescent pages seducing.

"In order to tool up for this production-job, La Hernandez did her researching just where Louren?o Gomes probably did his-University of Montevideo Library. She even had access to the photostats of the old U.S. data that General Lanningham brought to South America after the debacle in the United States in A.E. 114. Those end-papers are part of the Lanningham stuff. As far as we've been able to check mathematically, everything is strictly authentic and practical. We'll have to run a few more tests on the chemical-explosive charges-we don't have any data on the exact strength of the explosives they used then-and the tampers and detonating device will need to be tested a little. But in about half an hour, we ought to be able to start drawing plans for the case, and as soon as they're finished, we'll rush them to the shipyard foundries for casting."

Von Schlichten handed the book back to Pickering, and sighed deeply. "And I thought everybody here had gone off his rocker," he said. "We will erect, on the ruins of Keegark, a hundred-foot statue of Se?orita Hildegarde Hernandez.... How did you get onto this?"

Pickering pointed to a young man with dull brick colored hair, who was punching out some kind of a probl

em on a small computing machine.

"Piet van Reenen, over there, he has a girl-friend whose taste runs to this sort of literary bubble-gum. She told him it was all in a book she'd just read, and showed him. We descended in force on the bookshop and grabbed every copy in stock. We are now running a sort of gaseous-diffusion process, to separate the nuclear physics from the pornography. I must say, Hildegarde has her biological data very well in hand, too."

"I'll bet she'd have fun writing a novel about these geeks," von Schlichten said. "Well, how soon do you think you can have a bomb ready for us?"

"Casting the cases is going to slow us down the most," Pickering said. "But, even with that, we ought to have one ready in three days, at the most. By two weeks, we'll be turning them out on an assembly-line."

"I hope we don't need more than one. But you'd better produce at least half a dozen. And have some practice-bombs made up, out of concrete or anything, as long as they're the right weight and airfoil and have some way of releasing smoke. Get them done as soon as you have your case designed. We want to be able to make a couple of practice drops."

There was no use, he thought, of raising hopes which might prove premature. He told Paula Quinton, of course, and Themistocles M'zangwe, and, by telecast on sealed beam, King Kankad and Air-Commodore Hargreaves. Beyond that, there was nothing to do but wait, and hope that Hargreaves could keep Orgzild's bombers away from Gongonk Island and Kankad's Town and that Hildegarde Hernandez had been playing fair with her public. He visited the city, where a few pockets of diehard resistance were being liquidated, and where everybody who had not been too deeply and publicly involved in the znidd suddabit conspiracy was now coming forward and claiming to have been a lifelong friend of the Terrans and the Company. Von Schlichten returned to Gongonk Island, debating with himself whether to declare a general amnesty or to set up a dozen guillotines in the city and run them around the clock for a week. There were cogent arguments for and against either procedure.

By 2100, the last organized resistance had been wiped out, and curfew had been imposed, and peace of a sort restored. There was still the threat from Keegark, but it was looking less ominous now than it had the evening before. Von Schlichten and Paula were having dinner in the Broadway Room, confident that there was nothing left to do that they could do anything about, when the extension phone that had been plugged in at their table rang.

"Colonel Quinton here," Paula identified herself into it, and listened for a moment. "There has? When?... Well, where did it come from?... I see. And the direction?... Anything else?"

Apparently there was nothing else. She hung up, and turned to von Schlichten.

"The Sky-Spy just detected a ship lifting out from Keegark, presumed one of the Boer-class freighters, either the Jan Smuts or the Oom Paul Kruger. It was first picked up on contragravity at about a hundred feet, rising vertically from near the Palace. The supposition is the geeks had her camouflaged since the time Commander Prinsloo first bombarded Keegark with the Aldebaran. That was about twenty minutes ago; at last report, she's fifty miles north of Keegark, headed up the Hoork River."

Von Schlichten started thinking aloud: "That could be a feint, to draw our ships north after her, and leave the approach to Konkrook or Kankad's open, but that would be presuming that they know about the Sky-Spy, and I doubt that, though not enough to take chances on. They know we have ground and ship-radar, and they may think they can slip down the Konk Valley either undetected or mistaken for one of our ships from North Uller."

He picked up the phone. "Get me through on telecast to Air-Commodore Hargreaves, aboard the Procyon," he said. "I'll take it in the office; I'll be up directly." He rose. "Finish your dinner, and have the rest of mine sent up," he told Paula.

Leaving the elevator, he rushed into the big headquarters room just as contact was established with the Procyon, on station over the northwestern corner of Takkad Sea, between Kankad's Town and Keegark. The Aldebaran, he knew, was west of Keegark; the Northern Lights, now fitted with a pair of 155-mm guns, in addition to her 90's, had just arrived at Kankad's. He had the Aldebaran sent north along the crest of the mountain-range between the Hoork and Konk river-valleys, where she could cover both with her own radar and other detection-devices and exchange information with the Sky-Spy, and the Gaucho sent in what looked like the right course to intercept the Boer-class freighter from Keegark. The Northern Lights, also with screens tuned to the Sky-Spy, was sent to take over the Aldebaran's regular station. Finally, he called Skilk and had the Northern Star sent south down the Hoork Valley.

After that, there was nothing to do but wait, and watch the screens. Paula Quinton put in an appearance shortly after he had finished calling Skilk, pushing a cocktail-wagon on which their interrupted dinners had been placed. They finished eating, and drank coffee, and smoked. Most of the rest of his staff who were not busy on the bomb-project or at the shipyards or with the occupation of Konkrook drifted in; they all sat and stared from one to another of the screens, which told, in radar-patterns and direct vision and telescopic vision and heat and radiation detection, the story of what was going on to the northeast of them.

Keegark was dark, on the vision-screen; evidently King Orgzild had invented the blackout, too. Not that it did him any good; the radar-screen showed the city clearly, and it was just as clear on the radiation and heat-screens. The Keegarkan ship was completely blacked out, but the radiations from her engines and the distinctive radiation-pattern of her contragravity-field showed clearly, and there was a speck that marked her position on the radar-screen. The same position was marked with a pin-point of light on the vision-screen-some device on the Sky-Spy, synchronized with the detectors, kept it focused there. The Company ships and contragravity vehicles all were carrying topside lights, visible only from above, which flashed alternate red and blue to identify them.

Time crawled slowly around the clock-face on the wall, the sixty-five-second minutes of Uller dragging like hours. The spots that marked the enemy ship and her hunters crawled, too; seen from the hundred-and-fifty-mile altitude of the Sky-Spy, even the six-hundred-mile speed of the Gaucho was barely visible. They drank coffee till the stuff revolted them; they smoked until their throats and mouths were dry, they watched the screens until they thought that they would see them in their dreams forever. Then the Gaucho reported radar-contact with the Keegarkan ship, which had begun to turn in a hairpin-shaped course and was coming south down the Konk Valley.

After that, the Gaucho began reporting directly, and her topside identification-light went out.

"... doused our lights; we're down in the valley, altitude about a thousand feet. We're trying to get a glimpse of her against the sky," a voice came in. "We're cutting in our forward TV-pickup." The voice repeated, several times, the wavelength, and somebody got an auxiliary screen tuned in. There was nothing visible on it but the darkness of the valley, the star-jeweled sky, and the loom of the East Konk Mountains. "We still can't see her, but we ought to, any moment; radar shows her well above the mountains. Ah, there she is; she just obscured Beta Hydrae V; she's moving toward that big constellation to the east of it, the one they call Finnegan's Goat. Now she'll be right in the center of the screen; we're going straight for her. We're going to try to slow her down till the Aldebaran can get here...."

The enemy ship was vaguely visible, now, becoming clearer in the starlight. She was a Boer-class freighter, all right. Probably the Jan Smuts; the Oom Paul Kruger had last been reported at Bwork, and there was little chance that she had slipped into Keegark since the uprising had started. For all anybody knew, she could have been destroyed in the fighting before the Bwork Residency fell.

"All right, we have her spotted; we're going to open up on her," the voice from the Gaucho announced. "She has two 90's to our one; we'll try to disable them, first." The vision-screen lit with the indirect glare of the gun-flash, and the image in it jiggled violently as the ship shook to the recoil, then steadied again, with the enemy ship visible in the middle of it, growing larger and larger as the Gaucho rushed toward her. The gun fired again and again, flooding the screen with momentary yellow light and disturbing the image as the recoil shook the gun-cutter. The enemy ship began firing in reply, the shots were all wide misses. Apparently the geek guncrew didn't know how to synchronize the radar sights, and were ignorant of the correct setting for the proximity-fuses. The Gaucho's searchlights came on, bathing her quarry in light. It was the Jan Smuts; the name and the figurehead-bust of the old soldier-philosopher were plainly visible. Her forward gun had been knocked out, and she was trying to swing about to get a field of fire for her stern-gun.

"We're going to give her a rocket-salvo," the voice said. "Watch this, now!"

The rockets leaped forward, from the topside racks, four and four and four and four, at half-second intervals. The first four hit the Smuts amidships and low, exploding with a flare that grew before it could die away as the second four landed. Nobody ever saw the third and fourth four land. The Jan Smuts vanished in a blaze of light that blinded everybody in the room; when they could see again, after some thirty seconds, the screen was dark.

In the direct-vision screen from the Sky-Spy, the whole countryside of the Konk Valley, five hundred miles north of Konkrook, was lighted. The heat and radiation detectors were going insane. And in the shifting confusion on the radar-screen, there was no trace either of the Jan Smuts or the Gaucho.

"Well, the geeks did have an A-bomb," Themistocles M'zangwe said, at length. "I'd been trying to kid myself that we were just preparing against a million-to-one chance. I wonder how many more they have."

"Paula, find out who was in command of the Gaucho; he'd be a junior-grade lieutenant. Fix up orders promoting him to navy captain, as of now. It's probably the only thing we can do for him, anymore. And promotions of the same order for everybody else aboard that cutter. Authority Carlos von Schlichten, acting Governor-General." He picked up a phone. "Get me Commander Prinsloo, on Aldebaran...."

He ordered Prinsloo to launch airboats and make a search; cautioned him to be careful of radiation, but to take no chances on any of the Gaucho's complement being still alive and in need of help. While that was going on, the Sky-Spy reported another ship coming over her horizon to the east, from the direction of Bwork. That would be the Oom Paul Kruger. Hargreaves had already learned of the advent of the second freighter. He was unwilling to take the Procyon off her station until the Aldebaran returned from the Konk Valley. In this, von Schlichten concurred.

Somebody suggested that a drink would be in order. They had just watched the all-but-certain death of three Terran officers, fifteen Terran airmen, and ten Kragans, but they had all been living in too close companionship with death in the past three days-or was it three centuries-to be too deeply affected. And they had also watched, at least for a day or so, the removal of the threat that had hung over their heads. And they had seen proof that they had a defense against King Orgzild's bombs.

They were still mixing cocktails when Pickering phoned in.

"Some good news, general, from Operation 'Hildegarde.' We ought to have at least one bomb ready to drop by 1500 tomorrow, four or five more by next midnight," he said. "We don't need to have cases cast. We got our dimensions decided, and we find that there are a lot of big empty liquid-oxygen flasks, or tanks, rather, at the spaceport, that'll accommodate everything-fissionables, explosive-charges, tampers, detonator, and all."

"Well, go ahead with it. Make up a few of them; as many as you can between now and 2400 Sunday." He thought for a moment. "Don't waste time on those practice bombs I mentioned. We'll make a practice drop with a live bomb. And don't throw away the design for the cast case. We may need that, later on."

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