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   Chapter 15 No.15

Uller Uprising By H. Beam Piper Characters: 18073

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04

A Place in my Heart for Hildegarde

The company fleet hung off Keegark, at fifteen thousand feet, in a belt of calm air just below the seesawing currents from the warming Antarctic and the cooling deserts of the Arctic. There was the Procyon, from the bridge of which von Schlichten watched the movements of the other ships and airboats and the distant horizon. The Aldebaran was ten miles off, to the west, her metal sheathing glinting in the red light of the evening sun. There was the Northern Star, down from Skilk, a smaller and more distant twinkle of reflected light to the north of Aldebaran. The Northern Lights was off to the east, and between her and Procyon was a fifth ship; turning the arm-mounted binoculars around, he could just make out, on her bow, the figurehead bust of a man in an ancient tophat and a fringe of chin-beard. She was the Oom Paul Kruger, captured by the Procyon after a chase across the mountains northeast of Keegark the day before. And, remote from the other ships, to the south, a tiny speck of blue-gray, almost invisible against the sky, and a smaller twinkle of reflected sunlight-a garbage-scow, unflatteringly but somewhat aptly rechristened Hildegarde Hernandez, which had been altered as a bomb-carrier, and the gun-cutter Elmoran. With the glasses, he could see a bulky cylinder being handled off the scow and loaded onto the improvised bomb-catapult on the Elmoran's stern. Shortly thereafter, the gun-cutter broke loose from the tender and began to approach the fleet.

"General, I must protest against your doing this," Air-Commodore Hargreaves said. "There's simply no sense in it. That bomb can be dropped without your personal supervision aboard, sir, and you're endangering yourself unnecessarily. That infernal machine hasn't been tested or anything; it might even let go on the catapult when you try to drop it. And we simply can't afford to lose you, now."

"No, what would become of us, if you go out there and blow yourself up with that contraption?" Buhrmann supported him. "My God, I thought Don Quixote was a Spaniard, instead of a German!"

"Argentino," von Schlichten corrected. "And don't try to sell me that Irreplaceable Man line, either. Them M'zangwe can replace me, Hid O'Leary can replace him, Barney Mordkovitz can replace him, and so on down to where you make a second lieutenant out of some sergeant. We've been all over this last evening. Admitted we can't take time for a long string of test-shots, and admitted we have to use an untested weapon; I'm not sending men out under those circumstances and staying here on this ship and watch them blow themselves up. If that bomb's our only hope, it's got to be dropped right, and I'm not going to take a chance on having it dropped by a crew who think they've been sent out on a suicide mission. What happened to the Gaucho when she blew the Smuts up is too fresh in everybody's mind. But if I, who ordered the mission, accompany it, they'll know I have some confidence that they'll come back alive."

"Well I'm coming along, too, general," Kent Pickering spoke up. "I made the damned thing, and I ought to be along when it's dropped, on the principle that a restaurant-proprietor ought to be seen eating his own food once in a while."

"I still don't see why we couldn't have made at least one test shot, first," Hans Meyerstein, the Banking Cartel man, objected.

"Well, I'll tell you why," Paula Quinton spoke up. "There's a good chance that the geeks don't know we have a bomb of our own. They may believe that it was something invented on Niflheim for mining purposes, and that we haven't realized its military application. There's more than a good chance that the loss of the Jan Smuts has temporarily demoralized them. Personally, I believe that both King Orgzild and Prince Gorkrink were aboard her when she blew up. That's something we'll never know, positively, of course. That ship and everything and everybody in her were simply vaporized, and the particles are registering on our geigers now. But I'm as sure as I am of anything about these geeks that one or both of them accompanied her."

"Paula knows what she's talking about," King Kankad jabbered in the Takkad Sea language which they all understood. "Just like Von saying that he has to go on our cutter, to encourage the crew. They always insist that their kings and generals go into battle, particularly if something important is to be done. They think the gods get angry if they don't."

"And we have to hit them now," von Schlichten said. "They still have a couple of bombs left. We haven't been able to locate them with detectors, but those geeks Kankad's men caught on that commando-raid, last night, say that there were at least three of them made. We can't take a chance that some fanatic may load one into an aircar and make a kamikaze-raid on Gongonk Island."

The Elmoran ran alongside, with her Masai-warrior figurehead and the black cylinder on her catapult aft. Somebody had painted, on the bomb: DIRE DAWN by Hildegarde Hernandez. Compliments of the author to H.M. King Orgzild of Keegark. A canvas-entubed gangway was run out to connect the ship with the cutter. Von Schlichten and Kent Pickering went down the ladder from the bridge, the others accompanying them. As he stepped into the gangway, Paula Quinton fell in behind him.

"Where do you think you're going?" he demanded.

"Along with you," she replied. "I'm your adjutant, I believe."

"You definitely are not going along. Personally, I don't believe there's any danger, but I'm not having you run any unnecessary risks...."

"Von, I don't know much about the way Terrans think, except about fighting and about making things," Kankad told him. "And I don't know anything at all about the kind of Terrans who have young. But I believe this is something important to Paula. Let her go with you, because if you go alone and don't come back, I don't think she will ever be happy again."

He looked at Kankad curiously, wondering, as he had so often before, just what went on inside that lizard-skull. Then he looked at Paula, and, after a moment, he nodded.

"All right, colonel, objection withdrawn," he said.

Aboard the Elmoran, they gave the bomb a last-minute inspection and checked the catapult and the bomb-sight, and then went up on the bridge.

"Ready for the bombing mission, sir?" the skipper, a Lieutenant (j.g.) Morrison, asked.

"Ready if you are, lieutenant. Carry on; we're just passengers."

"Thank you, sir. We'd thought of going in over the city at about five thousand for a target-check, turning when we're half-way back to the mountains, and coming back for our bombing-run at fifteen thousand. Is that all right, sir?"

Von Schlichten nodded. "You're the skipper, lieutenant. You'd better make sure, though, that as soon as the bomb-off signal is flashed, your engineer hits his auxiliary rocket-propulsion button. We want to be about fifteen miles from where that thing goes off."

The lieutenant (j.g.) muttered something that sounded unmilitarily like, "You ain't foolin', brother!"

"No, I'm not," von Schlichten agreed. "I saw the Jan Smuts on the TV-screen."

The Elmoran pointed her bow, and the long blade of the figurehead warrior's spear, toward Keegark. The city grew out of the ground-mist, a particolored blur at the delta of the dry Hoork River, and then a color-splashed triangle between the river and the bay and the hills on the landward side, and then it took shape, cross-ruled with streets and granulated with buildings. As they came in, von Schlichten, who had approached it from the air many times before, could distinguish the landmarks-the site of King Orgzild's nitroglycerin plant, now a crater surrounded by a quarter-mile radius of ruins; the Residency, another crater since Rodolfo MacKinnon had blown it up under him; the smashed Christiaan De Wett at the Company docks; King Orgzild's Palace, fire-stained and with a hole blown in one corner by the Aldebaran's bombs.... Then they were past the city and over open country.

"I wish we had some idea where the rest of those bombs are stored, sir," Lieutenant Morrison said. "We don't seem to have gotten anything significant when we flew reconnaissance with the radiation detectors."

"No, about all that was picked up was the main power-plant, and the radiation-escape from there was normal," Pickering agreed. "The bombs themselves wouldn't be detectable, except to the extent that, say, a nuclear-conversion engine for an airboat would be. They probably have them underground, somewhere, well shielded."

"Those prisoners Kankad's commandos dragged in only knew that they were in the city somewhere," von Schlichten considered. "How about midway between the Palace and the Residency for our ground-zero, lieutenant? That looks like the center of the city."

The cutter turned and started back, having risen another ten thousand feet. Morrison passed the word to the bombardier. The city, with the sea beyond it no

w, came rushing at them, and von Schlichten, standing at the front of the bridge, discovered that he had his arm around Paula's waist and was holding her a little more closely than was military. He made no attempt to release her, however.

"There's nothing to worry about, really," he was assuring her. "Pickering's boys built this thing according to the best principles of engineering, and the stuff they got out of that big-economy-size shilling-shocker all checked mathematically...."

The red light on the bridge flashed, and the intercom shouted, "Bomb off!" He forced Paula down on the bridge deck and crouched beside her.

"Cover your eyes," he warned. "You remember what the flash was like in the screen when the Jan Smuts blew up. And we didn't get the worst of it; the pickup on the Gaucho was knocked out too soon."

He kept on lecturing her about gamma-rays and ultra-violet rays and X-rays and cosmic rays, trying to keep making some sort of intelligent sounds while they clung together and waited, and, with the other half of his mind, trying not to think of everything that could go wrong with that jerry-built improvisation they had just dumped onto Keegark. If it didn't blow, and the geeks found it, they'd know that another one would be along shortly, and....

An invisible hand caught the gun-cutter and hurled her end-over-end, sending von Schlichten and Paula sprawling at full length on the deck, still clinging to one another. There was a blast of almost palpable sound, and a sensation of heat that penetrated even the airtight superstructure of the Elmoran. An instant later, there was another, and another, similar shock. Two more bombs had gone off behind them, in Keegark; that meant that they had found King Orgzild's remaining nuclear armament. There were shattering sounds of breaking glass, and heavy thumps that told of structural damage to the cutter, and hoarse shouts, and lurid cursing as Morrison and his airmen struggled with the controls. The cutter began losing altitude, but she was back on a reasonably even keel. Von Schlichten rose, helping Paula to her feet, and found that they had been kissing one another passionately. They were still in each other's arms when the pitching and rolling of the cutter ceased and somebody tapped him on the shoulder.

He came out of the embrace and looked around. It was Lieutenant (j.g.) Morrison.

"What the devil, lieutenant?" he demanded.

"Sorry to interrupt, sir, but we're starting back to Procyon. And here, you'll want this, I suppose." He held out a glass disc. "I never expected to see it, but at that it took three A-bombs to blow you loose from your monocle."

"Oh, that?" Von Schlichten took his trademark and set it in his eye. "I didn't lose it," he lied. "I just jettisoned it. Don't you know, lieutenant, that no gentleman ever wears a monocle while he's kissing a lady?"

He looked around. They were at about eight hundred to a thousand feet above the water, with a stiff following wind away from the explosion area. The 90-mm gun, forward, must have been knocked loose and carried away; it was gone, and so was the TV-pickup and the radar. Something, probably the gun, had slammed against the front of the bridge-the metal skeleton was bent in, and the armor-glass had been knocked out. The cutter was vibrating properly, so the contragravity-field had not been disturbed, and her jets were firing.

"It was the second and third bombs that did the damage, sir," Morrison was saying. "We'd have gone through the effects of our own bomb with nothing more than a bad shaking-of course, on contragravity, we're weightless relative to the air-mass, but she was built to stand the winds in the high latitudes. But the two geek bombs caught us off balance...."

"You don't need to apologize, lieutenant. You and your crew behaved splendidly, lieutenant-commander, best traditions, and all that sort of thing. It was a pleasure, commander, hope to be aboard with you again, captain."

They found Kent Pickering at the rear of the bridge, and joined him looking astern. Even von Schlichten, who had seen H-bombs and Bethe-cycle bombs, was impressed. Keegark was completely obliterated under an outward-rolling cloud of smoke and dust that spread out for five miles at the bottom of the towering column.

There had been a hundred and fifty thousand people in that city, even if their faces were the faces of lizards and they had four arms and quartz-speckled skins. What fraction of them were now alive, he could not guess. He had to remind himself that they were the people who had burned Eric Blount and Hendrik Lemoyne alive; that two of the three bombs that had contributed to that column of boiling smoke had been made in Keegark, by Keegarkans, and that, with a few causal factors altered, he was seeing what would have happened to Konkrook. Perhaps every Terran felt a superstitious dread of nuclear energy turned to the purposes of war; small wonder, after what they had done on their own world.

For one thing, he thought grimly, the next geek who picks up the idea of soaking a Terran in thermoconcentrate and setting fire to him will drop it again like a hot potato. And the next geek potentate who tries to organize an anti-Terran conspiracy, or the next crazy caravan-driver who preached znidd suddabit, will be lynched on the spot. But this must be the last nuclear bomb used on Uller....

Drunkard's morning-after resolution! he told himself contemptuously. The next time, it will come easier, and easier still the time after that. After you drop the first bomb, there is no turning back, any more than there had been after Hiroshima, four-hundred-and-fifty-odd years ago. Why, he had even been considering just where, against the mountains back of Bwork, he would drop a demonstration bomb as a prelude to a surrender demand.

You either went on to the inevitable catastrophe, or you realized, in time, that nuclear armament and nationalism cannot exist together on the same planet, and it is easier to banish a habit of thought than a piece of knowledge. Uller was not ready for membership in the Terran Federation; then its people must bow to the Terran Pax. The Kragans would help-as proconsuls, administrators, now, instead of mercenaries. And there must be manned orbital stations, and the Residencies must be moved outside the cities, away from possible blast-areas. And Sid Harrington's idea of encouraging the natives to own their own contragravity-ships must be shelved, for a long time to come. Maybe, in a century or so....

Kankad had a good idea, at that, a most meritorious idea. He was sold on it, already, and he doubted if it would take much salesmanship with Paula, either. Already, she was clinging to his arm with obvious possessiveness. Maybe their grandchildren, and the Kankad of that time, would see Uller a civilized member of the Federation....

They paused, as the gun-cutter nuzzled up to the Procyon and the canvas-entubed gangway was run out and made fast, looking back at the fearful thing that had sprouted from where Keegark had been.

"You know," Paula was saying, echoing his earlier thought, "but for that female pornographer, that would have been Konkrook."

He nodded. "Yes. I hope you won't mind, but there will always be a place in my heart for Hildegarde."

Then they turned their backs upon the abomination of Keegark's desolation and went up the gangway together, looking very little like a general and his adjutant.

* * *

With a broadsword in his hand, von Schlichten fought his way toward the throne. There Firkked waited, a sword in one of his upper hands, his Spear of State in the other, and a dagger in each lower hand. Von Schlichten fought on, trying not to think of the absurdity of a man of the Sixth Century A.E., the representative of a civilized Chartered Company, dueling to the death with a barbarian king for a throne he had promised to another barbarian ... or of what could happen on Uller if he allowed this four-armed monstrosity to kill him!

Ace Science Fiction Books by H. Beam Piper













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So the Ulleran challenge begins, with the rantings of a prophet and a seemingly incidental street riot. Only when a dose of poison lands in the governor-general's whiskey does it become clear that the "geeks" have had it up to their double-lidded eyeballs with the imperialist Terran Federation's Chartered Uller Company. Then, overnight, war is everywhere.

How it will end is in the (merely) two Terran hands of the new governor-general, a man shrewd enough to know that "it is easier to banish a habit of thought than a piece of knowledge." The problem is, the particular piece of knowledge he needs hasn't been used in 450 years....

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