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Chapter 7 Bismillah! How Dumb Can We Get?

  • The lights had come on inside the semicircular and now open storm-porch o_ompany House, but it was still daylight outside. The sky above the mountai_o the west was fading from crimson to burnt-orange, and a couple of th_righter stars were winking into visibility. Von Schlichten and the sergean_urried a hundred yards down the street between low, thick-walled offic_uildings to the telecast station, next to the Administration Building.
  • A woman captain met him just inside the door of the big soundproofed room.
  • "We have a wavelength open to Konkrook, general," she said. "In booth three."
  • He nodded. "Thank you, captain… . We've all lost a true friend, haven't we?"
  • Another girl, a tech-sergeant, was in the booth; on the screen was the imag_f a third young woman, a lieutenant, at Konkrook station. The sergeant ros_nd started to leave the booth.
  • "Stick around, sergeant," von Schlichten told her. "I'll want you to take ove_hen I'm through." He sat down in front of the combination visiscreen an_ickup. "Now, lieutenant, just what happened?" he asked. "How did he die?"
  • "We think it was poison, general. General M'zangwe has ordered autopsy an_hemical analysis. If you can wait about ten minutes, he'll be able to talk t_ou, himself."
  • "Call him. In the meantime, give me everything you know."
  • "Well, the governor decided to go to bed early; he was going hunting in th_orning. I suppose you know his usual routine?"
  • Von Schlichten nodded. Harrington would have taken a shower, put on hi_ressing-gown, and then sat down at his desk, lighted his pipe, poured a drin_f Terran bourbon, and begun to write his diary.
  • "Well, at 2210, give or take a couple of minutes, the Kragan guard-sergeant o_hat floor heard ten pistol-shots, as fast as they could be fired semi-auto, in the governor's room. The door was locked, but he shot it off with his ow_istol and went in. He found Governor Harrington on the floor, wearing onl_is gown, holding an empty pistol. He was in convulsions, frothing at th_outh, in horrible pain. Evidently he'd fired his pistol, which he kept on hi_esk, to call help; all the bullets had gone into the ceiling. The sergean_unched the emergency button, beside the bed, and reported, then tried to hel_he governor, but it was too late. One of the medics got there in fiv_inutes, just as he was dying. He'd written his diary up to noon of today, an_roken off in the middle of a word. There was a bottle and an overturned glas_n his desk. The Constabulary got there a few minutes later, and the_rigadier-General M'zangwe took charge. A white rat, given fifteen drops fro_he whiskey-bottle, died with the same symptoms in about ninety seconds."
  • "Who had access to the whiskey-bottle?"
  • "A geek servant, who takes care of the room. He was caught, an hour earlier, trying to slip off the island without a pass; they were holding him at th_uardhouse when Governor Harrington died. He's now being questioned by th_ragans." The girl's face was bleakly remorseless. "I hope they do plenty t_im!"
  • "I hope they don't kill him before he talks."
  • "Wait a moment, general; we have General M'zangwe, now," the girl said. "I'l_witch you over."
  • The screen broke into a kaleidoscopic jumble of color, then cleared; th_hocolate-brown face of Themistocles M'zangwe was looking out of it.
  • "I heard what happened, how they found him, and about that geek chamber-vale_eing arrested," von Schlichten said. "Did you get anything out of him?"
  • "He's admitted putting poison in the bottle, but he claims it was his ow_dea. But he's one of Father Keeluk's parishioners, so… ."
  • "Keeluk! God damn, so that was it!" von Schlichten almost shouted. "Now I kno_hat he wanted with Stalin, and that goat, and those rabbits!"
  • Five thousand miles away, in Konkrook, Themistocles M'zangwe whistled.
  • "Bismillah! How dumb can we get?" he cried. "Of course they'd need terrestria_nimals, to find out what would poison a Terran! Wait a minute; I'll make _ote of that, to spring on this geek, if the Kragans haven't finished him b_ow." Von Schlichten watched M'zangwe pick up a stenophone and whisper into i_or a moment. "All right, Carlos, what else?"
  • "Has Eric been notified?"
  • "We called Keegark, but he's in audience with King Orgzild, and we can't reac_im."
  • "Well, who's in charge at Konkrook, now?"
  • "Not much of anybody. Laviola, the Fiscal Secretary, and Hans Meyerstein, th_anking Cartel's lawyer, and Howlett, the Personnel Chief, and Buhrmann, th_ommercial Secretary, have made up a sort of quadrumvirate and are trying t_un things. I don't know what would happen if anything came up suddenly… ." _lue-gray uniformed arm, with a major's cuff-braid, came into the screen, handing a slip of paper to M'zangwe; he took it, glanced at it, and swore. Vo_chlichten waited until he had read it through.
  • "Well, something has, all right," the African said. "We just got a call fro_aikark's Palace—a revolt's broken out, presumably headed by Gurgurk; Household Guards either mutinied or wiped out by the mutineers, all but thos_wenty Kragan Rifles we loaned Jaikark. They, and about a dozen of Jaikark'_ourtiers and their personal retainers, are holding the approaches to th_ing's apartments. The native-lieutenant in charge of the Kragans just radioe_n; says the situation is desperate."
  • "When a Kragan says that, he means damn near hopeless. Is this bein_ecorded?" When M'zangwe nodded, he continued: "All right. Use the recordin_or your authority and take charge. I'm declaring martial rule at Konkrook, a_f now, 2253. Tell Eric Blount what's happened, and what you've done, as soo_s you can get in touch with him. I'm leaving for Konkrook at once; I ought t_et in by 0800.
  • "Now, as to the trouble at the Palace. Don't commit more than one company o_ragans and ten airjeeps and four combat-cars, and tell them to evacuat_aikark and his followers and our Kragans to Gongonk Island. And alert you_hole force. These geek palace revolutions are always synchronized wit_treet-rioting, and this thing seems to have been synchronized with Si_arrington's death, too. Get our Kragans out if you can't save anybody els_rom the Palace, but sacrificing thirty or forty men to save twenty is no kin_f business. And keep sending reports; I can pick them up on my car radio as _ome down." He turned to the girl sergeant. "Keep on this; there'll be mor_oming in."
  • He rose and left the booth. If we can pull Jaikark's bacon off the fire, h_as thinking, the Company can dictate its own terms to him afterward; i_aikark's killed, we'll have Gurgurk's head off for it, and then take ove_onkrook. In either case, it'll be a long step toward getting rid of all thes_eek despots. And with Eric Blount as Governor-General… .
  • The girl captain in charge of the station met him as he came out.
  • "Poison," he told her. "A geek servant did the job, on orders from Gurgurk an_ossibly Rakkeed. Gurgurk's started a putsch against King Jaikark; I'm goin_o Konkrook at once. Call the military airport and have my command-car brough_o Company House."
  • Harry Quong and Hassan Bogdanoff had been at the banquet, too; on a world o_izard-faced silicate-eaters, the social difference between a human genera_nd a human aircar-driver was almost infinitesimal. He'd have to talk t_arney Mordkovitz, too; when word of events at Konkrook got out among th_ocal geeks, as it probably had already… .
  • The inner door of the soundproofed telecast-room burst open, three men hurrie_nside, and it slammed shut behind them. In the brief interval, there had bee_iring audible from outside. One of the men had a pistol in his right hand, and with his left arm he supported a companion, whose shoulder was mangled an_ripped blood. The third man had a burp-gun in his hands. All were in civilia_ress-shorts and light jackets. The man with the pistol holstered it an_elped his injured companion into a chair. The burp-gunner advanced into th_oom, looked around, saw von Schlichten, and addressed him.
  • "General! The geeks turned on us!" he cried. "The Tenth North Uller'_utinied; they're running wild all over the place. They've taken thei_arracks and supply-buildings, and the lorry-hangars and the maintenance-yard; they're headed this way in a mob. Some of the Zirk Cavalry's joined them."
  • "How about the Kragans?"
  • "The Eighteenth Rifles? They're with us. I saw a party of them firing into th_ob; I saw some of the Tenth N.U.N.I. tossing a dead Kragan on their bayonets… ."
  • "Have any ammo left for that burp-gun? Come on, then; let's see what it's lik_t Company House," von Schlichten said. "Captain Malavez, you know what to d_bout defending this station. Get busy doing it. And have that girl in boot_hree tell Konkrook what's happened here, and say that I won't be coming down, as planned, just yet."
  • He opened the door, and the rattle of shots outside became audible again. Th_ivilian with the burp-gun knew better than to let a general go out first; elbowing von Schlichten out of the way, he crouched over his weapon and dashe_utside. Drawing his pistol, von Schlichten followed, pulling the door shu_fter him.
  • Darkness had fallen, while he had been inside; now the whole Compan_eservation was ablaze with electric lights. Somebody at the power- plant—either the regular staff, if they were still holding, or the mutineers, if they had taken it—had thrown on the emergency lights. There was a confuse_ass of gray-skinned figures in front of Company House, reflected ligh_winkling on steel over them; from the direction of the native-troops barrack_ore natives were coming on the run. On the roof of a building across th_treet, two machine-guns were already firing into the mob. A group of Terran_ame running out of a roadway between two buildings, from the direction of th_epair-shops; several of them paused to fire behind them with pistols. The_tarted toward Company House, saw what was going on there, and veered, dartin_nto the door of the building from which the auto-weapons were firing. From u_he street, a hundred-odd saurian-faced native soldiers were coming at th_ouble, bayonets fixed and rifles at high port; with them ran several Terrans.
  • Motioning his companion to follow, von Schlichten ran to meet them, falling i_eside a Terran captain who ran in front.
  • "What's the score, captain?" he asked.
  • "Tenth North Uller and the Fifth Cavalry have mutinied; so have these rag-ta_uxiliaries. That mob down there's part of them." He was puffing under th_ouble effort of running and talking. "Whole thing blew up in seconds; n_hance to communicate with anybody… ."
  • A Terran woman, in black slacks and an orange sweater, ran across the stree_n front of them, pursued by a group of enlisted "men" of the Tenth Nort_ller Native Infantry, all shrieking "Znidd suddabit!" The fugitive ran into _oorway across the street; before her pursuers were aware of their danger, th_ragans had swept over them. There was no shooting; the slim, cruel-blade_ayonets did the work. From behind him, as he ran, von Schlichten could hea_ragan voices in a new cry: "Znidd geek! Znidd geek!"
  • The mob were swarming up onto the steps and into the semi-rotunda of th_torm-porch. There was shooting, which told him that some of the humans wh_ad been at the banquet were still alive. He wondered, half-sick, how many, and whether they could hold out till he could clear the doorway, and, most o_ll, he found himself thinking of Paula Quinton. Skidding to a stop withi_ifty yards of the mob, he flung out his arms crucifix-wise to halt th_ragans. Behind, he could hear the Terrans and native-officers shoutin_ommands to form front.
  • "Give them one clip, reload, and then give them the bayonet!" he ordered.
  • "Shove them off the steps and then clear the porch!"
  • "One clip, fire, and reload, at will!" somebody passed it on in Kragan.
  • The hundred rifles let go all at once, and for five seconds they poured _eafening two thousand rounds into the mutineers. There was some fire i_eply; a Zirk corporal narrowly missed him with a pistol, he saw the captain'_ead fly apart when an explosive rifle-bullet hit him, and half a doze_ragans went down.
  • "Reload! Set your safeties!" von Schlichten bellowed. "Charge!"
  • Under human officers, the North Uller Native Infantry would have stood firm.
  • Even under their native-officers and sergeants, they should not have broken a_hey did, but the best of these had paid for their loyalty to the Company wit_heir lives, and the rest had destroyed their authority by revolting agains_he source from which it was derived. At that, the Skilkan peasantry who mad_p the Tenth Infantry and the Zirk cavalrymen tried briefly to fight a_ndividuals, shrieking "Znidd suddabit!" until the Kragans were upon them, stabbing and shooting. They drove the rioters from the steps or killed the_here, they wiped out those who had gotten into the semicircle of the storm- porch. The inside doors, von Schlichten saw, were open, but beyond them wer_errans and a dozen or so Kragans. Hideyoshi O'Leary and Barney Mordkovit_eemed to be in command of these.
  • "We had about thirty seconds' warning," Mordkovitz reported, "and the Kragan_n the hall bought us another sixty seconds. Of course, we all had ou_istols… ."
  • "Hey! These storm-doors are wedged!" somebody discovered. "Those goddam gee_ervants … !"
  • "Yeah, kill any of them you catch," somebody else advised. "If we could hav_otten these doors closed… ."
  • The mob, driven from the steps, was trying to reform and renew the attack.
  • From up the street, the machine-guns, silent during the bayonet-fight, bega_ammering again. The mob surged forward to get out of their fire, and were me_y a rifle-blast and a hedge of bayonets at the steps; they surged back, an_he machine-guns flailed them again. They started to rush the building fro_hence the automatic-fire came, and there was a fusillade and a shriek of
  • "Znidd geek!" from up the street. They turned and fled in the direction fro_hence they had come, bullets scourging them from three directions at once.
  • For a moment, von Schlichten and the three Terrans and eighty-odd Kragans wh_ad survived the fight stood on the steps, weapons poised, seeking mor_nemies. The machine-guns up the street stuttered a few short bursts and wer_ilent. From behind, the beleaguered Terrans and their Kragan guards wer_merging. He saw Jules Keaveney and his wife, Commander Prinsloo of th_ldebaran, Harry Quong and Bogdanoff. Ah, there she was! He heaved a breath o_elief and waved to her.
  • The Kragans were already setting about their after-battle chores. About twent_f them spread out on guard; the others, by fours, went into the street, on_overing with his rifle while the other three checked on their own casualties, used the short, leaf-shaped swords they carried to slash off the heads o_nemy wounded, and collected weapons and ammunition. A couple of hundred mor_ragans, led by Native-Major Kormork, the co-parent of young with King Kankad, came up at the double and stopped in front of Company House.
  • "We were in quarters, aboard the Aldebaran and in the guesthouse at th_irport," Kormork reported. "We were attacked, fifteen minutes ago, by a mob.
  • We took ten minutes beating them off, and five more getting here. I sen_ative-Captain Zeerjeek and the rest of the force to retake the supply-depo_nd the shops and lorry hangars, which had been taken, and relieve th_ilitary airport, which is under attack."
  • There was still firing from the commercial airport and the smaller militar_irfield. Once there was a string of heavy explosions that sounded like 80-m_ockets.
  • "Good enough. I hope you didn't spread yourself out too thin. What's th_ituation at the commercial airport?"
  • "The two ships, the Aldebaran and the freighter Northern Star, are both safe,"
  • Kormork replied. "I saw them go on contragravity and rise to about a hundre_eet."
  • "Whose crowd is that you have?" he asked the Terran lieutenant who had take_ver command of the first force of Kragans.
  • "Company 6, Eighteenth Rifles, sir. We were on duty at the guardhouse; fighting broke out in the direction of the native barracks. A couple o_unners from Captain Retief of Company 4 came in with word that he was bein_ttacked by mutineers from the Tenth N.U.N.I. but that he was holding the_ack. So Captain Charbonneau, who was killed a few minutes ago, left a Terra_ieutenant and a Kragan native-lieutenant and a couple of native-sergeants an_hirty Kragans to hold the guardhouse, and brought the rest of us here."
  • Von Schlichten nodded. "You'd pass the military airport and the power-plant, wouldn't you?" he asked.
  • "Yes, sir. The military airport's holding out, and I saw the red-and-yello_anger-lights on the fence around the power-plant."
  • That meant the power-plant was, for the time, safe; somebody'd turned twent_housand volts into the fence.
  • "All right. I'm setting up my command post at the telecast station, where th_ommunication equipment is." He turned to the crowd that had come out onto th_orch from inside. "Where's Colonel Cheng-Li?"
  • "Here, general." The Intelligence and Constabulary officer pushed through th_rowd. "I was on the phone, talking to the military airport, the commercia_irport, ordnance depot, spaceport, ship-docks and power-plant. All answer.
  • I'm afraid Pop Goode, at the city power-plant, is done for; nobody answer_here, but the TV-pickup is still on in the load-dispatcher's room, and th_lace is full of geeks. Colonel Jarman's coming here with a lorry to ge_ombat-car crews; he's short-handed. Port-Captain Leavitt has all the nativ_abor at the airport and spaceport herded into a repair dock; he's keepin_hem covered with the forward 90-mm gun of the Northern Star. Lorry-hangars, repair-shops and maintenance-yards don't answer."
  • "That's what I was going to ask you. Good enough. Harry Quong, Hassa_ogdanoff!"
  • His command-car crew front-and-centered.
  • "I want you to take Colonel O'Leary up, as soon as my car's brought here… .
  • Hid, you go up and see what's going on. Drop flares where there isn't an_ight. And take a look at the native-labor camp and the equipment-park, sout_f the reservation… . Kormork, you take all your gang, and half these soldier_rom the Eighteenth, here, and help clear the native-troops barracks. An_on't bother taking any prisoners; we can't spare personnel to guard them."
  • Kormork grinned. The taking of prisoners had always been one of thos_rrational Terran customs which no Ulleran regarded with favor, or eve_omprehension.