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Chapter 14 The Reviewers Panned Hell Out of It

  • He woke with a guilty start and looked up at the clock on the ceiling; it wa_945. Kicking himself free of the covers, he slid his feet to the floor an_printed for the bathroom. While he was fussing to get the shower adjusted t_he right temperature, he bludgeoned his conscience by telling himself that _ide-awake general is more good than a half-asleep general, that there wa_othing he could do but hope that Hargreaves's patrols would keep the bom_way from Konkrook until Pickering's brain-trust came up with one of thei_wn, and that the fact that the commander-in-chief was making sack-time woul_e 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 tha_e was worried. Then he dressed, put his monocle in his eye, and called th_eadquarters that had been set up in Sid Harrington's—now his—office. A gir_t 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-lookin_abble I ever saw, but Hideyoshi says they're the best Yoorkerk has, and the_ll have Terran-style rifles. General M'zangwe broke them into battalions, an_ut a battalion in with each of the Kragan regiments. I think they're mor_fraid of the Kragans than they are of the rebels."
  • He nodded. That was probably the best way to employ them, within the existin_ituation. The trouble was, Them M'zangwe was incurably tactical-minded. Pu_hose geeks of Yoorkerk's in with the Kragans and they'd be most useful i_onquering Konkrook, but the trouble was that, after associating with Kragans, they might develop into reasonably good troops themselves, to the undesire_mprovement of King Yoorkerk's army. On the other hand maybe not. Keep them i_ompany service long enough, and they might want to forget about Yoorkerk an_tay there.
  • "How's the situation over in town?" he asked.
  • "Well, it's slowing up, since we began pulling contragravity out," she tol_im, "but the geeks are breaking up rapidly… . Oh, there was something funn_bout that hassle, last evening, when the Procyon came in. Two contragravit_ehicles, an aircar and an air-lorry, that went out to meet the ship, ar_naccounted for."
  • "You mean two of our vehicles are missing?"
  • She shook her head, frowning in perplexity. "Well, no. All the vehicles tha_nswered that unidentified-aircraft alert returned, but there were these tw_hat 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 geek_rom Konkrook. You know, that's how the von Schlichten family got out o_ermany, in the Year Three—flew a bomber to Spain. The Konkrook war-criminal_re getting out before the Army of Occupation moves in."
  • "Well, the posts at the old Kragan castles report some contragravity, an_arties riding 'saurs, moving west from the city," she told him. "There are _ot of refugees on the roads. And combat reports from Konkrook agree tha_esistance is getting weaker every hour… . And the supra-atmospher_bservation-craft—they're beginning to call her the Sky-Spy—is up a hundre_nd fifty miles over Keegark. We have radar and vision screens and telemetere_adiation and other detectors here, tuned to her. They're installing a simila_et on the Northern Lights at the shipyard. By the way, Air-Commodor_argreaves wants to know if he can take a pair of 155-mm rifles from th_hannel Battery and mount them on the Lights."
  • "Yes, of course, he can have anything he wants, as long as it isn't urgentl_eeded 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 trac_f either of the Boer-class ships. Kankad's people are building receiving set_o install on the Procyon and the Aldebaran, and another set for Kankad'_own. Pickering and his people are still working, but they all look prett_rustrated. They have Major Thornton, at the ammunition plant, doin_xperimental work on chemical-explosive charges to bring the subcritica_asses together and hold them together till an explosion can be produced; they're using most of the skilled electrical and electronics people to work u_ detonating device. That's why Kankad's people are doing most of th_etection-device work. Hargreaves is fitting a lot of small craft— combat-car_nd civilian aircars—with radar sets, to use for patrolling."
  • "That sounds good," von Schlichten said. "I'll be around and see how thing_re, after I've had some breakfast."
  • He had breakfast at the main cafeteria, four floors down; there wasn't as muc_aughing and talking as usual, but the crowd there seemed in good spirits. H_pent 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 aircar_ere being fitted for the job.
  • He made a flying inspection trip around the island, and visited the farm_outh 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 an_nprogressive procedure, and it was a good way to get generals killed, but on_ould see a lot of things that would be missed on TV. He let down severa_imes in areas that had already been taken, and talked to company and platoo_fficers. For one thing, King Yoorkerk's flamboyantly named regiments weren'_uite as bad as Paula had thought. She'd been spoiled by the Kragans in he_ppreciation of other native troops. They had good, standard-quality, Volund- made arms; they were brave and capable; and they had been just enough insulte_y 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 wer_ppearing on one after another of the Konkrookan rebel strong-points, and a_430, after he had returned to the Island, a delegation, headed by th_onkrookan equivalent of Lord Mayor and composed largely of prominen_erchants, came across the channel under a flag of truce to surrender th_ity's Spear of State, with abject apologies for not having Gurgurk's head o_he point of it. Gurgurk, they reported, had fled to Keegark by air the nigh_efore, which explained the incident of the unaccountable aircar and lorry.
  • The Channel Battery stopped firing, and, with the exception of an occasiona_patter of small-arms fire, the city fell silent.
  • At 1600, von Schlichten visited the headquarters Pickering had set up in th_ffice building at the power-plant. As he stepped off the lift on the thir_loor, 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 t_elp 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 the_o her. "When?"
  • "Just half an hour ago. And to think, those books were around here all th_ime, 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 o_is 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. Tw_ther nuclear engineers had similar books spread out on a desk in front o_hem; they were making notes and looking up references in the Nuclea_ngineers' Handbook, and making calculations with their sliderules. There wa_ 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 h_ushed 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 th_ge of fourteen, he had gotten drunk for the first time. He had seen men crac_p under intolerable strain before, but this was the first time he had seen _hole roomful of men blow their tops in the same manner.
  • The book was a novel—a jumbo-size historical novel, of some seven or eigh_undred pages. Its dust-jacket bore a slightly-more-than-bust-length pictur_f a young lady with crimson hair and green eyes and jade earrings and _lunging—not to say power-diving—neckline that left her affiliation with th_lass of Mammalia in no doubt whatever. In the background, a mushroom-toppe_moke-column rose, and away from it something intended to be a four-moto_ropeller-driven bomber of the First Century was racing madly. The title, h_aw, 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-paper_ven have diagrams, copies of the original Nagasaki-bomb drawings. Look."
  • Von Schlichten looked. He had no more than the average intelligent layman'_nowledge of nuclear physics—enough to recharge or repair a conversion- unit—but the drawings looked authentic enough. They seemed to be copies o_ncient blueprints, lettered in First Century English, with Lingua Terr_ranslations added, and marked TOP SECRET and U.S. ARMY CORPS OF ENGINEERS an_ANHATTAN 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 som_eviews of this thing. All the reviewers panned hell out of it—'World War I_hrough a Bedroom Keyhole'; 'Henty in Black Lace Panties'—that sort of thing."
  • "Yeh, yeh, sure," Pickering agreed. "But this Hernandez had illusions of bein_ great serious historical novelist, see. She won't try to write a book til_he's put in years of research—actually, about six months' research by a her_f librarians and college-juniors and other such literary coolies—and sh_oasts that she never yet has been caught in an error of historical backgroun_etail.
  • "Well, this opus is about the old Manhattan Project. The heroine is a sort o_uper-Mata-Hari, who is, alternately and sometimes simultaneously, in the pa_f the Nazis, the Soviets, the Vatican, Chiang Kai-Shek, the Japanese Emperor, and the Jewish International Bankers, and she sleeps with everybody but Jo_talin and Mao Tse-tung, and of course, she is in on every step of the A-bom_roject. She even manages to stow away on the Enola Gay, with the help of _eneral she's spent fifty incandescent pages seducing.
  • "In order to tool up for this production-job, La Hernandez did her researchin_ust where Lourenço Gomes probably did his—University of Montevideo Library.
  • She even had access to the photostats of the old U.S. data that Genera_anningham brought to South America after the debacle in the United States i_.E. 114. Those end-papers are part of the Lanningham stuff. As far as we'v_een able to check mathematically, everything is strictly authentic an_ractical. We'll have to run a few more tests on the chemical-explosiv_harges—we don't have any data on the exact strength of the explosives the_sed then—and the tampers and detonating device will need to be tested _ittle. But in about half an hour, we ought to be able to start drawing plan_or the case, and as soon as they're finished, we'll rush them to the shipyar_oundries for casting."
  • Von Schlichten handed the book back to Pickering, and sighed deeply. "And _hought everybody here had gone off his rocker," he said. "We will erect, o_he ruins of Keegark, a hundred-foot statue of Señorita Hildegarde Hernandez… . How did you get onto this?"
  • Pickering pointed to a young man with dull brick colored hair, who wa_unching out some kind of a problem on a small computing machine.
  • "Piet van Reenen, over there, he has a girl-friend whose taste runs to thi_ort of literary bubble-gum. She told him it was all in a book she'd jus_ead, and showed him. We descended in force on the bookshop and grabbed ever_opy in stock. We are now running a sort of gaseous-diffusion process, t_eparate the nuclear physics from the pornography. I must say, Hildegarde ha_er biological data very well in hand, too."
  • "I'll bet she'd have fun writing a novel about these geeks," von Schlichte_aid. "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 tw_eeks, 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 _ozen. And have some practice-bombs made up, out of concrete or anything, a_ong as they're the right weight and airfoil and have some way of releasin_moke. Get them done as soon as you have your case designed. We want to b_ble to make a couple of practice drops."
  • There was no use, he thought, of raising hopes which might prove premature. H_old Paula Quinton, of course, and Themistocles M'zangwe, and, by telecast o_ealed beam, King Kankad and Air-Commodore Hargreaves. Beyond that, there wa_othing to do but wait, and hope that Hargreaves could keep Orgzild's bomber_way from Gongonk Island and Kankad's Town and that Hildegarde Hernandez ha_een playing fair with her public. He visited the city, where a few pockets o_iehard resistance were being liquidated, and where everybody who had not bee_oo deeply and publicly involved in the znidd suddabit conspiracy was no_oming forward and claiming to have been a lifelong friend of the Terrans an_he Company. Von Schlichten returned to Gongonk Island, debating with himsel_hether to declare a general amnesty or to set up a dozen guillotines in th_ity and run them around the clock for a week. There were cogent arguments fo_nd against either procedure.
  • By 2100, the last organized resistance had been wiped out, and curfew had bee_mposed, and peace of a sort restored. There was still the threat fro_eegark, but it was looking less ominous now than it had the evening before.
  • Von Schlichten and Paula were having dinner in the Broadway Room, confiden_hat there was nothing left to do that they could do anything about, when th_xtension phone that had been plugged in at their table rang.
  • "Colonel Quinton here," Paula identified herself into it, and listened for _oment. "There has? When?… Well, where did it come from?… I see. And th_irection?… 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 o_he Boer-class freighters, either the Jan Smuts or the Oom Paul Kruger. It wa_irst picked up on contragravity at about a hundred feet, rising verticall_rom near the Palace. The supposition is the geeks had her camouflaged sinc_he time Commander Prinsloo first bombarded Keegark with the Aldebaran. Tha_as about twenty minutes ago; at last report, she's fifty miles north o_eegark, headed up the Hoork River."
  • Von Schlichten started thinking aloud: "That could be a feint, to draw ou_hips 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 doub_hat, 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 undetecte_r mistaken for one of our ships from North Uller."
  • He picked up the phone. "Get me through on telecast to Air-Commodor_argreaves, aboard the Procyon," he said. "I'll take it in the office; I'll b_p directly." He rose. "Finish your dinner, and have the rest of mine sen_p," he told Paula.
  • Leaving the elevator, he rushed into the big headquarters room just as contac_as established with the Procyon, on station over the northwestern corner o_akkad Sea, between Kankad's Town and Keegark. The Aldebaran, he knew, wa_est 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 Aldebara_ent north along the crest of the mountain-range between the Hoork and Kon_iver-valleys, where she could cover both with her own radar and othe_etection-devices and exchange information with the Sky-Spy, and the Gauch_ent in what looked like the right course to intercept the Boer-clas_reighter from Keegark. The Northern Lights, also with screens tuned to th_ky-Spy, was sent to take over the Aldebaran's regular station. Finally, h_alled 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. Paul_uinton 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 hi_taff who were not busy on the bomb-project or at the shipyards or with th_ccupation of Konkrook drifted in; they all sat and stared from one to anothe_f the screens, which told, in radar-patterns and direct vision and telescopi_ision and heat and radiation detection, the story of what was going on to th_ortheast of them.
  • Keegark was dark, on the vision-screen; evidently King Orgzild had invente_he blackout, too. Not that it did him any good; the radar-screen showed th_ity clearly, and it was just as clear on the radiation and heat-screens. Th_eegarkan ship was completely blacked out, but the radiations from her engine_nd the distinctive radiation-pattern of her contragravity-field showe_learly, 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 i_ocused there. The Company ships and contragravity vehicles all were carryin_opside lights, visible only from above, which flashed alternate red and blu_o identify them.
  • Time crawled slowly around the clock-face on the wall, the sixty-five-secon_inutes of Uller dragging like hours. The spots that marked the enemy ship an_er hunters crawled, too; seen from the hundred-and-fifty-mile altitude of th_ky-Spy, even the six-hundred-mile speed of the Gaucho was barely visible.
  • They drank coffee till the stuff revolted them; they smoked until thei_hroats and mouths were dry, they watched the screens until they thought tha_hey 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-shape_ourse and was coming south down the Konk Valley.
  • After that, the Gaucho began reporting directly, and her topsid_dentification-light went out.
  • "… doused our lights; we're down in the valley, altitude about a thousan_eet. 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 wa_othing 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 ough_o, 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 t_he east of it, the one they call Finnegan's Goat. Now she'll be right in th_enter of the screen; we're going straight for her. We're going to try to slo_er 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 Oo_aul Kruger had last been reported at Bwork, and there was little chance tha_he had slipped into Keegark since the uprising had started. For all anybod_new, she could have been destroyed in the fighting before the Bwork Residenc_ell.
  • "All right, we have her spotted; we're going to open up on her," the voic_rom the Gaucho announced. "She has two 90's to our one; we'll try to disabl_hem, 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, the_teadied again, with the enemy ship visible in the middle of it, growin_arger and larger as the Gaucho rushed toward her. The gun fired again an_gain, flooding the screen with momentary yellow light and disturbing th_mage as the recoil shook the gun-cutter. The enemy ship began firing i_eply, the shots were all wide misses. Apparently the geek guncrew didn't kno_ow to synchronize the radar sights, and were ignorant of the correct settin_or the proximity-fuses. The Gaucho's searchlights came on, bathing her quarr_n light. It was the Jan Smuts; the name and the figurehead-bust of the ol_oldier-philosopher were plainly visible. Her forward gun had been knocke_ut, 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 an_our, at half-second intervals. The first four hit the Smuts amidships an_ow, exploding with a flare that grew before it could die away as the secon_our landed. Nobody ever saw the third and fourth four land. The Jan Smut_anished in a blaze of light that blinded everybody in the room; when the_ould see again, after some thirty seconds, the screen was dark.
  • In the direct-vision screen from the Sky-Spy, the whole countryside of th_onk Valley, five hundred miles north of Konkrook, was lighted. The heat an_adiation detectors were going insane. And in the shifting confusion on th_adar-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-grad_ieutenant. Fix up orders promoting him to navy captain, as of now. It'_robably the only thing we can do for him, anymore. And promotions of the sam_rder for everybody else aboard that cutter. Authority Carlos von Schlichten, acting Governor-General." He picked up a phone. "Get me Commander Prinsloo, o_ldebaran… ."
  • He ordered Prinsloo to launch airboats and make a search; cautioned him to b_areful of radiation, but to take no chances on any of the Gaucho's complemen_eing still alive and in need of help. While that was going on, the Sky-Sp_eported another ship coming over her horizon to the east, from the directio_f Bwork. That would be the Oom Paul Kruger. Hargreaves had already learned o_he advent of the second freighter. He was unwilling to take the Procyon of_er station until the Aldebaran returned from the Konk Valley. In this, vo_chlichten concurred.
  • Somebody suggested that a drink would be in order. They had just watched th_ll-but-certain death of three Terran officers, fifteen Terran airmen, and te_ragans, but they had all been living in too close companionship with death i_he past three days—or was it three centuries—to be too deeply affected. An_hey had also watched, at least for a day or so, the removal of the threa_hat had hung over their heads. And they had seen proof that they had _efense 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 a_east one bomb ready to drop by 1500 tomorrow, four or five more by nex_idnight," he said. "We don't need to have cases cast. We got our dimension_ecided, and we find that there are a lot of big empty liquid-oxygen flasks, or tanks, rather, at the spaceport, that'll accommodat_verything—fissionables, explosive-charges, tampers, detonator, and all."
  • "Well, go ahead with it. Make up a few of them; as many as you can between no_nd 2400 Sunday." He thought for a moment. "Don't waste time on those practic_ombs I mentioned. We'll make a practice drop with a live bomb. And don'_hrow away the design for the cast case. We may need that, later on."