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Chapter 3 Four-and-Twenty Geek Heads

  • Governor-General Sidney Harrington sat on the comfortably upholstered bench o_he dais of the Audience Hall, flanked by von Schlichten and Eric Blount. H_idn't look particularly regal, even on that high seat—with his rudd_utdoorsman's face and his ragged gray mustache and his old tweed coat spotte_ith pipe-ashes, he might have been any of the dozen-odd country-gentlema_eighbors of von Schlichten's boyhood in the Argentine. But then, to a Terran,
  • any of the kings of Uller would have looked like a freak birth in a lizard-
  • house at a zoo; it was hard to guess what impression Harrington would make o_n Ulleran.
  • He took the false palate and tongue-clicker, officially designated as an
  • "enunciator, Ulleran" and, colloquially, as a geek-speaker, out of his coa_ocket and shoved it into his mouth. Von Schlichten and Blount put in theirs,
  • and Harrington pressed the floor-button with his toe. After a brief interval,
  • the wide doors at the other end of the hall slid open, and the Konkrooka_otables, attended by a dozen Company native-officers and a guard of Kraga_ifles, entered. The honor-guard advanced in two columns; between them marche_n unclad and heavily armed native carrying an ornate spear with a three-foo_lade upright in front of him with all four hands. It was the Konkrookan Spea_f State; it represented the proxy-presence of King Jaikark. Behind it stalke_urgurk, the Konkrookan equivalent of Prime Minister or Grand Vizier; he wor_ gold helmet and a thing like a string-vest made of gold wire, and carried _ong sword with a two-hand grip, a pair of Terran automatics built for a han_ith six four-knuckled fingers, and a pair of matched daggers. He wa_onsiderably past the Ulleran prime of life—seventy or eighty, to judge fro_he worn appearance of his opal teeth, the color of his skin, and th_redominantly reddish tint of his quartz-speckles. An immature Ulleran woul_e a very light gray, white under the arms, and his quartz-specks would ru_rom white to pale yellow. The retinue of nobles behind Gurgurk ran throug_he whole spectrum, from a princeling who was almost oyster-gray to ol_hroghrank, the Keegarkan Ambassador, who was even blacker and more red-
  • speckled than Gurgurk. All of them carried about as much ironmongery as th_rime Minister—the pistols were all Terran, and the swords and daggers wer_ostly made either on Terra or at the Terran-operated steel-works on Volund.
  • Four slaves brought up the rear carrying an ornately inlaid box on poles. Whe_he spear-bearer reached the exact middle of the hall, he halted and grounde_is regalia-weapon with a thump. Gurgurk came up and halted a couple of pace_ehind and to the left of the spear, and all the other nobles drew up in tw_urved lines some ten paces to the rear, with considerable pushing an_ostling and a sotto voce argument, with overtones of weapon-fingering, abou_recedence. All, that is, but Ghroghrank and another noble, who came up an_lanted themselves beside Gurgurk. Von Schlichten regarded the assemblag_ourly through his monocle. Maybe Sid Harrington did look regal, after all.
  • The Governor-General rose slowly and descended from the dais, advancing t_ithin ten paces of the Spear, von Schlichten and Blount accompanying him. Ou_f the corner of his eye, von Schlichten watched a couple of Kraga_ercenaries with fifty-shot machine-rifles move unobtrusively to position_rom whence they could, if necessary, spray the visitors with bullets withou_ndangering the Terrans.
  • "Welcome, Gurgurk," Harrington gibbered through his false palate. "The Compan_s honored by this visit."
  • "I come in the name of my royal master, His Sublime and Ineffable Majesty,
  • Jaikark the Seventeenth, King of Konkrook and of all the lands of the Kon_sthmus," Gurgurk squeaked and clicked. "I have the honor to bring with me th_ord Ghroghrank, Ambassador of King Orgzild of Keegark to the court of m_oyal master."
  • "And I," Ghroghrank said, after being suitably welcomed, "am honored to b_ccompanied by Prince Gorkrink, special envoy from my master, his Royal an_mperial Majesty King Orgzild, who is in your city to receive the shipment o_ower-metal my royal master has been honored to be permitted to purchase fro_he Company."
  • More protocol about welcoming Gorkrink. Then Gurgurk cleared his throat with _eries of barking sounds.
  • "My royal master, His Sublime and Ineffable Majesty, is prostrated wit_rief," he stated solemnly. "Were his sorrow not so overwhelming, he woul_ave come in His Own Sacred Person to express the pain and shame which h_eels that people of the Company should be set upon and endangered in th_treets of the royal city."
  • If he weren't doped to the ears, von Schlichten substituted mentally. Ther_as a native drug which had, on its users, the combined effects of hashish,
  • heroin and yohimbine; Jaikark and all his court circle were addicts. H_robably hadn't even heard of the riot.
  • "The soldiers of His Sublime and Ineffable Majesty came most promptly to th_id of the troops of the Company, did they not, General von Schlichten?"
  • Harrington asked.
  • "Within minutes, Your Excellency," von Schlichten replied gravely. "Thei_romptness, valor, and efficiency were most exemplary."
  • Gurgurk spoke at length, expressing himself as delighted, on behalf of hi_oyal master, at hearing such high praise from so distinguished a soldier.
  • Eric Blount then contributed a short speech, beseeching the gods that the dee_nd beautiful friendship existing between the Chartered Uller Company and Hi_ublime etcetera would continue unimpaired, and that His Sublime etceter_ould enjoy long life and peaceful reign, managing, by a trick of Konkrooka_rammar, to imply that the second would be conditional upon the first. Th_eegarkan Ambassador then spoke his piece, expressing on behalf of Kin_rgzild the deepest regret that the people of the Company should be s_olested, and managing to hint that things like that simply didn't happen a_eegark.
  • The Prince Gorkrink then spoke briefly, in sympathy for the great and goo_riend of all Ulleran peoples, Mohammed Ferriera, who had been injured, an_oping that he would soon enjoy full health again. He also managed to conve_ing Orgzild's pleasure at having obtained the plutonium. Von Schlichte_oticed that a few of his more recent quartz-specks were slightly greenish i_inge, a sure sign that he had, not long ago, been exposed to the fluorine-
  • tainted air which men and geeks alike breathed on Niflheim. When a geek princ_ired out as a laborer for a year on Niflheim, he did so for only on_urpose—to learn Terran technologies.
  • Gurgurk then announced that so enormous a crime against the friends of Hi_ublime etcetera had not been allowed to go unpunished, signaling behind hi_ith one of his lower hands for the box to be brought forward. The slave_arried it to the front, set it down, and opened it, taking from it a ru_hich they spread on the floor. On this, from the box, they placed twenty-fou_ewly severed opal-grinning heads, in four neat rows. They had all bee_reshly scrubbed and polished, but they still smelled like crushe_ockroaches.
  • The three Terrans looked at them gravely. A double-dozen heads was standar_ayment for an attack in which no Terran had been killed. Ostensibly, the_ere the heads of the ringleaders: in practice, they were usually lopped fro_he first two-dozen prisoners or over-age slaves at hand, without regard fo_hether the victims had even heard of the crime which they were expiating. I_he Extraterrestrial's Rights Association were really serious about the right_f these geeks, they'd advocate booting out all these native princes an_urning the whole planet over to the Company. That had been the Terra_ederation's idea, from the beginning; why else give the Company's chie_epresentative the title of Governor-General?
  • There was another long speech from Gurgurk, with the nobles behind hi_urmuring antiphonal agreement—standard procedure, for which there was _tandard pun, geek chorus—and a speech of response from Sid Harrington.
  • Standing stiffly through the whole rigamarole, von Schlichten waited for it t_nd, as finally it did.
  • They walked back from the door, whence they had escorted the delegation, an_tood looking down at the saurian heads on the rug. Harrington raised hi_oice and called to a Kragan sergeant whose chevrons were painted on all fou_rms.
  • "Take this carrion out and stuff it in the incinerator," he ordered. "If an_f you think you can clean up this rug and this box, you're welcome to them."
  • "Wait a moment," von Schlichten told the sergeant. Then he disgorged an_ouched his geek-speaker. "See that head, there?" he asked, rolling it ove_ith his toe. "I killed that geek, myself, with my pistol, while Them and Hi_ere getting Ferriera into the car. Miss Quinton killed that one with th_olo; see where she chopped him on the back of the neck? The cut that took of_he head was a little low, and missed it. And Hid O'Leary stuck a knife i_hat one." He walked around the rug, turning heads over with his foot. "Thi_as cut-rate head-payment; they just slashed off two-dozen heads at the scen_f the riot. I don't like this butchery of worn-out slaves and petty thieve_ny better than anybody else, but this I don't like either. Six months ago,
  • Gurgurk wouldn't have tried to pull anything like this. Now he's laughing u_is non-existent sleeve at us."
  • "That's what I've been preaching, all along," Eric Blount took up after him.
  • "These geeks need having the fear of Terra thrown into them."
  • "Oh, nonsense, Eric; you're just as bad as Carlos, here!" Harrington tut-
  • tutted. "Next, you'll be saying that we ought to depose Jaikark and tak_ontrol ourselves."
  • "Well, what's wrong with that, for an idea?" von Schlichten demanded. "Don'_ou think we could? Our Kragans could go through that army of Jaikark's lik_ast neutrons through toilet-paper."
  • "My God!" Harrington exploded. "Don't let me hear that kind of talk again!
  • We're not conquistadores; we're employees of a business concern, here to mak_oney honestly, by exchanging goods and services with these people… ."
  • He turned and walked away, out of the Audience Hall, leaving von Schlichte_nd Blount to watch the removal of the geek-heads.
  • "You know, I went a little too far," von Schlichten confessed. "Or too fast,
  • rather. He's got to be conditioned to accept that idea."
  • "We can't go too slowly, either," Blount replied. "If we wait for him t_hange his mind, it'll be the same as waiting for him to retire. And that'l_e waiting too long."
  • Von Schlichten nodded seriously. "Did you notice the green specks in the hid_f that Prince Gorkrink?" he asked. "He's just come back from Niflheim. Not o_he Pretoria, I don't think. Probably on the Canberra, three months ago."
  • "And he's here to get that plutonium, and ship it to Keegark on the Oom Pau_ruger," Blount considered. "I wonder just what he learned, on Niflheim."
  • "I wonder just what's going on at Keegark," von Schlichten said. "Orgzild'_ulled down a regular First-Century-model iron curtain. You know, four of ou_est native Intelligence operatives have been murdered in Keegark in the las_hree months, and six more have just vanished there."
  • "Well, I'm going there in a few days, myself, to talk to Orgzild about thi_paceport deal," Blount said. "I'll have a talk with Hendrik Lemoyne an_acKinnon. And I'll see what I can find out for myself."
  • "Well, let's go have a drink," von Schlichten suggested, consulting his watch.
  • "About time for a cocktail."