/ Language: English / Genre:sf_fantasy / Series: Worldwar

Tilting the Balance

Harry Turtledove

World War II screeched to a halt as the great military powers scrambled to meet an even deadlier foe. The enemy's formidable technology made their victory seem inevitable. Already Berlin and Washington, D.C., had been vaporized by atom bombs, and large parts of the Soviet Union, the United States, and Germany and its conquests lay under the invaders' thumb. Yet humanity would not give up so easily, even if the enemy's tanks, armored personnel carriers, and jet aircraft seemed unstoppable. The humans were fiendishly clever, ruthless at finding their foe's weaknesses and exploiting them. While Stalin, Churchill, Roosevelt, and Togo planned strategy, the real war continued. In Warsaw, Jews welcomed the invaders as liberators, only to be cruelly disillusioned. In China, the Communist guerrillas used every trick they knew, even getting an American baseball player to lob grenades at the enemy. Though the invaders had cut the United States practically in half at the Mississippi River and devastated much of Europe, they could not shut down America's mighty industrial power or the ferocious counterattacks of her allies. Whether delivering supplies in tiny biplanes to partisans across the vast steppes of Russia, working furiously to understand the enemy's captured radar in England, or battling house to house on the streets of Chicago, humanity would not give up. Meanwhile, an ingenious German panzer colonel had managed to steal some of the enemy's plutonium, and now the Russians, Germans, Americans, and Japanese were all laboring frantically to make their own bombs. As Turtledove's global saga of alternate history continues, humanity grows more resourceful, even as the menace worsens. No one could say when the hellish inferno of death would stop being a war of conquest and turn into a war of survival-the very survival of the planet. In this epic of civilizations in deadly combat, the end of the war could mean the end of the world as well.

Harry Turtledove

Tilting the Balance

(Worldwar — 2)


(Characters with names in CAPS are historical, others fictional)


ANIELEWICZ, MORDECHAI Leader of Jewish fighters in Poland

Auerbach, Rance Captain, U.S. Army Cavalry

Bagnall, George flight engineer in RAF bomber crew

Barisha Tavern keeper in Split, Independent State of Croatia

Berkowicz, Stefan Landlord in Lodz

BLAIR, ERIC BBC talks producer, Indian Section, London

Borcke, Martin Wehrmacht captain and interpreter in Pskov

CHILL, KURT Wehrmacht lieutenant general, 122nd Infantry, in Pskov

CHURCHILL, WINSTON prime minister of Great Britain

COMPTON, ARTHUR supervisor, University of Chicago Metallurgical Laboratory

Cooley, Mary Waitress in Idaho Springs, Colorado

Daniels, Pete ("Mutt") Sergeant, U.S. Army, in Illinois; former minor-league manager

DIEBNER, KURT Nuclear physicist, Hechingen, Germany

Donlan, Kevin U.S. Army private in Naperville, Illinois

Embry, Ken pilot of RAF bomber crew

FERMI, ENRICO nuclear physicist at the University of Chicago Metallurgical Laboratory

FERMI, LAURA Enrico Fermis wife

Fiore, Bobby Lizard experimental subject; former baseball player

FLEROV, GEORGI Soviet nuclear physicist

Fritzie Cowboy in Chugwater, Wyoming

Fukuoka, Yoshi Japanese soldier in China

GERMAN, ALEKSANDR Commander of Second Partisan Brigade in Pskov

Goldfarb, David RAF radarman

Gorbunova, Ludmila Red Air Force pilot

GROVES, LESLIE Engineer, U.S. Army colonel

Harvey Civilian guard in Idaho Springs, Colorado

HEISENBERG, WERNER Nuclear physicist in Hechingen, Germany

Henry Wounded U.S. soldier in Chicago

Hexham U.S. Army colonel in Denver

Hicks, Chester U.S. Army lieutenant in Chicago

Higuchi Japanese scientist

Hipple, Fred RAF group captain in Bruntingthorpe

Ho-T'ING, NIEH Chinese Communist guerrilla officer

Horton, Leo RAF radarman in Bruntingthorpe

HULL, CORDELL U.S. secretary of state

Isaac Jew in Leczna, Polan

Jacobi, Nathan BBC broadcaster in London

Jager, Heinrich Wehrmacht panzer colonel

Jones, Jerome RAF radarman

Karpov, Feofan Red Air Force colonel

Kennan, Maurice RAF flight lieutenant in Bruntingthorpe

Klein, Sid U.S. Army captain in Chicago

Klopotowski, Roman Townsman in Leczna, Poland

Klopotowski, Zofia Daughter of Roman Klopotowsk

KONIEV, IVAN Red Army general

KURCHATOV, IGOR Soviet nuclear physicis

Laplace, Freddie U.S. Army private in Illinois

Larssen, Barbara see Yeager, Barbara

Larssen, Jens nuclear physicist, University of Chicago Metallurgical Laboratory

Leon Jewish fighter in Lodz

Lidov, Boris NKVD lieutenant colonel, Moscow

Liu Han Chinese peasant woman; Lizard experimental subject

Lo Communist Chinese partisan

Maczek U.S. Army captain in Illinois

Meineckt, Klaus Sergeant, gunner on Heinrich Jdger's panzer

MOLOTOV, VYACHESLAV foreign commissar of the USSR

Morozkin, Sergei Red Army interpreter in Pskov

MURROW, EDWARD R. Radio news broadcaster

Nakayama Japanese scientist

NISHINA, YOSHIO Japanese nuclear physicist

Okamoto, Major Japanese interpreter and interrogator of Teerts

Olson, Louise Inhabitant of New Salem, North Dakota

Olson, Thorkil Inhabitant of New Salem, North Dakota

Oscar U.S. Army bodyguard in Denver

Peary, Julian RAF wing commander in Bruntingthorpe

Petrovic, Marko Captain, Independent State of Croatia

Potter, Lucille Nurse in Illinois

RIBBENTROP, JOACHIM VON German foreign minister

ROOSEVELT, FRANKLIN D. President of the United States

Roundbush, Basil RAFflight officer in Bruntingthorpe

RUMKOWSKI, MORDECHAI CHAIM Eldest of the Jews in the Lodz ghetto

Russie, Moishe ex-medical student in the Warsaw ghetto

Russie, Reuven Moishe Russie ‘s son

Russie, Rivka Moishe Russie’s wife

Sawatski, Emilia Wife of Wladyslaw Sawatski

Sawatski, Ewa Daughter of Wladyslaw and Emilia Sawatski

Sawatski, Jozef Son of Wladyslaw and Emilia Sawatski

Sawatski, Maria Daughter of Wladyslaw and Emilia Sawatski

Sawatski, Wladyslaw Polish farmer

Schultz, Georg Former Welarnacht panzer gunner; Red Air Force mechanic

Sharp, Hiram Physician in Ogden, Utah

Shmuel Jewish fighter in Lodz

Sholudenko, Nikifor NKVD man in the Ukraine

Shura Whore in Shanghai


Sobieski, Tadeusz Grocer in Leczna, Poland

STALIN, IOSEF General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union

Sumner, Joshua ("Hoot") Justice of the peace in Chugwater, Wyomin

Szabo, Bela ("Dracula") U.S. Army private in Illinois

SZILARD, LEO nuclear physicist, University of Chicago Metallurgical Laboratory

Tatiana Sniper and companion of Jerome Jones in Pskov

TOGO, SHIGENORI Japanese foreign minister

Tolya Groundcrew man, Red Air Force

Tsuye Japanese scientist

Ussishkin, Judah Doctor in Leczna, Poland

Ussishkin, Sarah Wife of Judah Ussishkin; midwife in Leczna, Polan

van Alen, Jacob U.S. Coast Guard lieutenant in Oswego, New York

VASILIEV, NIKOLAI Commander First Partisan Brigade in Pskov

Vernon, Hank Ship's engineer in the Duluth Queen

Victor Wounded U.S. soldier in Chicago

Whyte, Alf RAF navigator

Wittman, Rolf Driver in Heinrich Jdgers panzer

Yeager, Barbara Former graduate student in medieval literature; Sam Yeager's wife

Yeager, Sam outfielder Decatur Commodores (I–I-I League)

ZHUKOV, GEORGI Marshal of the Soviet Union


Atvar fleetlord, conquest fleet of the Race

Bunim Official in Lodz

Drefsab Intelligence agent and ginger addict

Forssis Landcruiser gunner in BesanVon, France

Hessef Landcruiser gunner in BesanVon, France

Ianxx Officer in Shanghai

Kassnass Landcruiser unit commander in BesanVon, France

Kirel Shiplord of the 127th Emperor Hetto

Nejas Landcruiser commander in BesanCon, France

Nossat Psychologist

Ristin Lizard POW with the Metallurgical Laboratory

Sherran The first male to circumnavigate Home, Landcruiser gunner in BesanVon, France

Skoob The first male to circumnavigate Home, Landcruiser gunner in BesanVon, France

Ssamraff Investigator in China

Starraf Researcher in China

Straha shiplord of the 206th Emperor Yower

Teerts POW in Japan

Tessrek senior psychologist

Ttomalss Researcher in China

Tvenkel Landcruiser gunner in BesanCon, Franc

Ullhass soldier captured by U.S. Army

Ussmak landcruiser driver


For nostalgia’s sake, Fleetlord Atvar called up the hologram of the Tosevite warrior he had often studied before the invasion fleet actually reached the world of Tosev 3. Nostalgia was an emotion that came easily to the Race: with a unified history of a hundred thousand years, with an empire that stretched over three solar systems and now reached out to a fourth, the past seemed a safe, comfortable place, not least because it was so much like the present.

The hologram sprang into being before the fleetlord: a stalwart savage, his pinkish face sprouting yellowish hairs, clad in soft iron mail and woven animal and plant fibers, armed with spear and rust-flecked sword, and mounted on a Tosevite quadruped that looked distinctly too scrawny for the job of carrying him.

Sighing, Atvar turned to the shiplord Kirel, who commanded the 127th Emperor Hetto, bannership of the invasion fleet. He stabbed a fingerclaw at the image. “If only it had been so easy,” he said with a sigh.

“Yes, Exalted Fleetlord.” Kirel sighed, too. He turned both eye turrets toward the hologram. “It was what the probe led us to expect.”

“Yes,” Atvar said sourly. Preparing in its methodical way for another conquest, the Race had sent a probe across the interstellar void sixteen hundred years before (years of the Race, of course; Tosev 3 orbited its primary only about half as fast). The probe dutifully sampled the planet, sent its images and data back Home. The Race prepared the invasion fleet and sent it out, certain of easy victory: how much could a world change in a mere sixteen hundred years?

Atvar touched a control in the base of the holographic projector. The Tosevite warrior disappeared. New images took the Big Ugly’s place: a Russki landcruiser, red star painted on its turret, lightly armed and protected by the Race’s standards but well-designed, with sloped armor and wide treads for getting over the worst ground; an American heavy machine gun, with a belt full of big slugs that tore through body armor as if it were fiberboard; a Deutsch killercraft, turbojets slung under swept wings, nose bristling with cannon.

Kirel pointed toward the killercraft. “That one concerns me more than either of the others, Exalted Fleetlord. By the Emperor”-both he and Atvar briefly cast down their eyes at the mention of the sovereign-“the Deutsche did not have that aircraft less than two years ago, when our campaign began.”

“I know,” Atvar said. “All their aircraft-all Tosevite aircraft then-were those slow, awkward things propelled by rapidly rotating airfoils. But now the British are flying jets, too.”

He summoned an image of the new British killercraft. It didn’t look as menacing as the machine the Deutsche made: its wings lacked sweep and its lines were more graceful, less predatory. From the reports Atvar had read, it didn’t perform quite as well as the Deutsch killercraft, either. But it was a quantum leap better than anything the British had put into the air before.

Fleetlord and shiplord stared glumly at the hologram. The trouble with the natives of Tosev 3 was that they were, by the Race’s standards, insanely inventive. The social scientists attached to the fleet were still trying to figure out how the Big Uglies had gone from barbarism to a full-grown industrial civilization in the blink of an historical eye. Their solutions-or rather, conjectures-had yet to satisfy Atvar.

Part of the answer, he suspected, lay in the squabbling multiplicity of empires that divided up Tosev 3’s meager land surface. Some of them weren’t even empires in the strict sense of the word; the regime of the SSSR, for instance, openly boasted of liquidating its former ruling dynasty. The idea of impericide was enough to make Atvar queasy.

Empires and not-empires had competed fiercely among themselves. They’d been fighting a planetwide war when the Race arrived. Doctrine from earlier conquests said the Race ought to have been able to take advantage of their factionalism, play off one side against another. The tactic had worked now and again, but not as well and not as often as doctrine suggested it would.

Atvar sighed and told Kirel, “Before I came to Tosev 3, I was like any sensible male: I was sure doctrine held all the answers. Follow it and you’d obtain the results it predicted. The males who designed our doctrines should have seen this world first; it would have broadened their horizons.”

“This is truth, Exalted Fleetlord,” the shiplord said. “One thing Tosev 3 has taught us is the difference between precept and experience.”

“Yes. Well put,” Atvar said. The last world conquest the Race had undertaken lay thousands of years in the past. The fleetlord had pored over the manuals of what had worked then, and in the Race’s previous victory, even more thousands of years before that. But no one having had any practice using what was in the manuals.

The Tosevites, by contrast, conquered one another and dickered with one another all the time. They made deception and deceit into an art, and were perfectly willing to educate the Race as to their use. Atvar had learned the hard way how much-or rather, how little-Big Ugly promises were worth.

“The other trouble is, they make war the same way they conduct the rest of their dealings with us: they cheat,” Atvar grumbled.

“Truth again, Exalted Fleetlord,” Kirel said.

The fleetlord knew it was truth. Machine against machine, the Big Uglies could not match the Race: one landcruiser Atvar commanded, for instance, was worth anywhere between ten and thirty of its Tosevite opponents. The Big Uglies fought back with everything from mine-carrying animals trained to run under landcruiser tracks to set off their explosives to attacks that concentrated so many of their inferior weapons against the Race’s thin-stretched resources that they achieved breakthrough in spite of lower technology.

Kirel might have plucked that thought from Atvar’s head. “Will we resume our assault on the city by the lake in the northern section of the smaller continental mass? Chicago, the local name is.”

“Not immediately,” Atvar answered, trying to keep from his voice all the frustration he felt at the failure. Taking advantage of Tosev 3’s truly abominable winter weather, the Americans had broken through the flanks of the assault force, cut off the lead element, and wrecked most of it. It was the worst-and most expensive-embarrassment the Race had suffered on Tosev 3.

“We do not enjoy as many resources as we would like,” Kirel observed.

Now Atvar had to say, “Truth” The Race was careful and thorough: the weapons they’d brought from Home would have conquered a hundred times over the Tosev 3 they thought they would find, very possibly without losing a male. But on the industrialized planet they discovered, they’d taken major losses. They’d inflicted far worse, but the Big Uglies’ factories kept turning out weapons.

“We need to keep working to co-opt as much of their industrial capacity as we can,” Kirel said, “and to wreck that part which persists in producing arms used against us.”

“Unfortunately, the two goals often contradict each other,” Atvar said. “Nor is our progress in destroying their fuel sources as great as they would wish us to believe, though we persist in those efforts.”

The three males who had bombed the refineries at Ploesti, which supplied the Deutsche with much of their fuel, were convinced they’d wrecked the place. Since then, a pall of smoke had continuously lain over it, making reconnaissance difficult.

For as long as he could-for longer than he should have-Atvar believed with his, pilots that that smoke meant the Deutsche could not control the refinery fires. But it wasn’t so; he couldn’t make himself think it was any more. The Big Uglies were shipping refined petroleum out of Ploesti every way they knew how: by water, by their battered rail network, by motorized conveyance, even by animal-drawn wagon.

The story wasn’t much different at the other refinery complexes scattered across Tosev 3. They were easy to damage, hard to eliminate; since they were huge fire hazards just by existing, the Big Uglies had built them to minimize danger from explosions. They ferociously defended them and repaired bomb damage faster than the Race’s alleged experts had thought possible.

Atvar’s phone squawked at him. He welcomed the distraction from his own gloomy thoughts. “Yes?” he said into the speaker.

Exalted Fleetlord, the male Drefsab awaits your pleasure in the antechamber,” an aide reported.

“I am still conferring with the shiplord Kirel,” Atvar said. “Tell Drefsab I shall see him directly when I’m finished.”

“It shall be done, Exalted Fleetlord.” The aide switched off.

Being reminded of Drefsab did nothing to improve Atvar’s mood. “There’s something else that hasn’t worked as well as I’d hoped,” he complained.

“What’s that, Exalted Fleetlord?” Kirel asked.

“The whole problem with that vile Tosevite herb, ginger,” Atvar said. “Drefsab recently tracked down and eliminated the Big Ugly who was a major supplier of the horrid drug, and I had hoped that would help us control our addicted males’ demand for it. Unfortunately, a thicket of smaller dealers has sprung up to take the exterminated major supplier’s place.”

“Frustrating,” Kirel observed, “to say nothing of dangerous to our cause.”

Atvar swung one eye turret toward Kirel in a sidelong glance of suspicion. The commander of the bannership was the second highest ranking male in the fleet, his body paint less elaborate only than Atvar’s own. If Atvar’s policies led to disaster, he was the next logical choice as fleetlord. He was stable and conservative and had always acted loyal, but who could say when the fangs of ambition would begin to grow? Any remark that sounded like criticism made Atvar wary.

Not that ginger wasn’t a problem. One more thing we didn’t learn from the probe, Atvar thought. The cursed herb made males feel they were brighter and stronger than they really were; it also made them want to recapture that feeling as often as they could. They’d do almost anything to get ginger, even trade weapons and information to the Big Uglies.

“With the problem ginger poses to our security, it occurs to me that we may have been lucky the Big Uglies succeeded in blowing up the ship which carried the bulk of our nuclear weapons,” the fleetlord said. “Otherwise, some male seeking pleasure for his tongue might have sought to convey one to the Tosevites in exchange for his precious herb.”

“There’s a pleasant thought!” Kirel exclaimed. “The Tosevites are barbarians without care for tomorrow-they would not hesitate to ruin their own planet if it meant defeating us.”

“Truth,” Atvar said glumly. After initial in-atmosphere bursts to wreck Tosevite communications with electromagnetic pulse (unsuccessfully, because the Big Uglies’ electronic devices were too primitive to use solid-state components), the Race had expended only two nuclear devices: against Berlin and Washington, centers of local resistance. But resistance had continued anyhow.

“Ironic that we have a greater obligation to maintain this world as nearly intact as possible than does the species that evolved on it,” Kirel said. “Of course, the Tosevites are not aware our colonization fleet is on the way behind us.”

“Indeed,” Atvar said. “If it arrives and finds Tosev 3 uninhabitable, we will have failed here, no matter what else we accomplish.”

“We also have to bear in mind that the Big Uglies are engaging in nuclear weapons research of their own, certainly with the material their guerrillas captured from us in the SSSR and, the evidence would suggest, with projects altogether their own as well,” Kirel said. “Should one of those projects succeed, our problems here will become measurably more difficult.”

“Immeasurably, you mean,” Atvar said. The Big Uglies would not worry about what they did to Tosev 3, as long as that meant getting rid of the Race. “Deutschland, the SSSR, the United States, maybe those little island empires, too-Nippon and Britain-we have to keep both eye turrets on every one of them. The trouble is, a planet is a very large place. Their projects will not be easy to track down. But it must be done.” He spoke as much to remind himself as to tell Kirel.

“It shall be done,” the shiplord echoed loyally.

It had better be done, they thought together.

The horse-drawn wagon pulled to a stop in New Salem, North Dakota. Sam Yeager looked around. As a seventeen-year veteran of bush-league baseball and its endless travel, he was a connoisseur of small towns. New Salem might have had a thousand people in it; then again, it might not.

He scrambled out of the wagon. Barbara Larssen handed him his Springfield. He took the rifle, slung it over his shoulder, then held out a hand to help Barbara down. They clung to each other for a moment. He kissed the top of her head. The ends of her dark blond hair still showed traces of permanent wave. Most of it was straight, though; a long time had gone by since she’d got a permanent.

He didn’t want to let her go, but he had to. He grabbed the rifle again, pointed it at the wagon. Military routine, he thought, and then, military fiddlesticks. But since he wore a corporal’s stripes these days, he played the game by the rules. “Come on out, boys,” he called.

Ristin and Ullhass, the two Lizard POWs who accompanied the Metallurgical Laboratory’s wagon train on the way from Chicago to the Lab’s planned new home in Denver, poked their heads up over the side of the wagon. “It shall be done, superior sir,” they chorused in hissing English. They dropped down in front of Yeager and Barbara.

“Hard to think-things-so small could be so dangerous,” Barbara murmured. Neither of the Lizards came up even to her shoulder.

“They aren’t small with guns in their hands, or inside tanks, or inside planes, or inside their spaceships,” Yeager answered. “I fought against them, remember, before my unit captured these boys.”

“We thought you kill us,” Ullhass said.

“We thought you kill us, then eat us,” Ristin agreed.

Yeager laughed. “You’d been reading too much science fiction, both of you.” He laughed again, more reflectively. If he hadn’t been in the habit of reading science fiction himself to pass the time on trains and buses, he never would have volunteered-or been accepted-as the Lizards’ principal guard, translator, and explainer of matters Earthly.

He’d been with them continuously for better than six months now, long enough to come to see them as individuals rather than mere creatures. They never had been much like the bug-eyed monsters he used to read about. They were short and skinny and, even dressed in multiple layers of warm clothes that hung on them like sacks, complained all the time about how cold it was (it wasn’t just midwinter on the northern Great Plains, either; they’d complained about all but the hottest days back in Chicago, too).

By now, Yeager took for granted their turreted eyes that, chameleonlike, moved independently of each other, the green-brown scales they used for skin, their clawed hands and feet, their wide mouths full of little pointed teeth. Even the bifurcated tongues they sometimes used to lick their hard, immobile lips were just part of them, although he’d needed quite a while to get used to those.

“We will be warm tonight?” Ristin asked. Though he spoke English, at the end of the sentence he tacked on the little cough the Lizards used: sort of an audible question mark.

“We will be warm tonight,” Sam answered in the Lizards’ language, punctuating his sentence with a different cough, the one that put emphasis on his words.

He had reason for his confidence. The Lizards’ bombers hadn’t hit North Dakota badly: not much up here needed hitting, Yeager thought. The flat farming country reminded him of the flat farming country in eastern Nebraska where he’d grown up. New Salem could easily have been one of the little towns between Lincoln and Omaha.

The wagon had stopped not far from a snow-covered boulder with an unnaturally flat top. Barbara brushed off the snow with her sleeve. “Oh, it has a plaque on it,” she said, and brushed away more snow so she could read the words on the bronze. She started to laugh.

“What’s so funny?” Yeager asked. He absentmindedly tacked the interrogative cough onto that question, too.

“This is the Wrong Side Up Monument,” she answered. “That’s what the plaque says, anyhow. Seems one of the early farmers had just started breaking the ground so he could plant for the first time when an Indian came along, looked at a chunk of sod, set it back the right way, and said, ‘Wrong side up.’ The farmer thought about it, decided he was right, and went into dairying instead. This is part of a big dairy area now.”

“We should eat well tonight, then.” Yeager’s mouth watered at the thought of milk, cheese, probably big steaks, too-the folk around here might well be inclined to do some slaughtering for their guests, because they wouldn’t be able to keep feeding all their livestock now that the Lizards had made moving grain and hay on a large scale impossible.

More wagons from the convoy came into town, some carrying people but more loaded down with the equipment that had filled much of Eckhart Hall back at the University of Chicago. Not all the wagons would stop here tonight, they were spread out for miles along the highway and back roads that ran parallel to it, both to avoid looking interesting to the Lizards and to keep from taking too much destruction from an air attack if they did.

Enrico Fermi helped his wife Laura down from their wagon, then waved to Yeager. He waved back. He still felt a rush of pride at hanging around with scientists and even helping them when they had questions for the Lizard prisoners. Till a few months ago, his closest brush with scientists had been with the near-supermen who populated the pages of Astounding.

The real ones, while bright enough, weren’t a lot like their fictional counterparts. For one thing, a lot of the best ones-Fermi, Leo Szilard, Edward Teller, Eugene Wigner-were dumpy foreigners with funny accents. Fermi talked like Bobby Fiore’s father (he wondered what had happened to his old roommate, the second baseman on the Decatur Commodores). For another; just about all of them, foreign and American, were much more human than their fictional analogs; they’d have a drink (or more than one), they’d tell stories, and they’d argue with their wives. Yeager liked them more for it, not less.

Steaks there proved to be, cooked over open flames and eaten by the fireside-no gas and no electricity in New Salem. Yeager cut his into very small pieces as he ate it: though he wouldn’t be thirty-six for another couple of months, he had full upper and lower plates. He’d almost died in the influenza epidemic of 1918, and his teeth had rotted in his head. The only teeth of his own he had were the ones that gave everybody else trouble: seven or eight years after the epidemic, his wisdom teeth had come in fine.

Ullhass and Ristin, by contrast, held big chunks of meat up to their mouths and worried bites off them. The Lizards didn’t chew much; they’d get a gobbet in and then gulp it down. The locals watched with undisguised curiosity-these were the first Lizards they’d ever seen. Yeager had watched that at every stop all the way across Minnesota and North Dakota.

“Where you going to put those critters tonight?” a man asked him. “We sure as hell don’t want them getting loose.”

“They’re not critters. They’re people-funny kind of people, but people,” Yeager said. With small-town politeness, the man didn’t argue, but obviously didn’t believe him, either. Yeager shrugged; he’d seen that happen before, too. He asked, “Do you have a jail here?”

The local hooked a thumb into the strap of his denim overalls. “Yah, we do,” he said. Yeager hid a smile-he’d heard “yah” for “yes” at every stop in North Dakota. Grinning, the local went on, “We’ll put a drunk Indian in there every now and again-or sometimes a drunk squarehead, too. Hell, I’m an eighth Sioux myself, even if my name is Thorkil Olson.”

“That’d be perfect,” Yeager said, “especially if you can put a board or a blanket or something over the window, if there is one. Lizards can’t take as much cold as people can. Can you take us there, let me look it over?”

With Ristin and Ullhass safely behind bars, Yeager figured he had the night off. A lot of times, he’d had to stay alert because they were in the next room of a private house. He didn’t think they’d try to escape; they risked both freezing and getting shot on a world not their own. You couldn’t afford to take chances, though.

He and Barbara went home with Olson and his wife Louise, a pleasant, red-cheeked woman in her late forties. “Take the spare bedroom for the night, and welcome,” Louise said. “We’ve rattled around the house since our boy George and his wife headed down to Kansas City so he could work in a defense plant.” Her face clouded. “The Lizards are in Kansas City. I pray he’s all right.”

“So do I, ma’am;” Yeager said. Barbara’s hand tightened on his; her husband Jens, a Met Lab physicist, had never come back from a cross-country trip that had skirted Lizard-held territory.

“Plenty of blankets on the bed, folks, and Grandma’s old thundermug under it,” Thorkil Olson boomed as he showed them the spare room. “We’ll feed you breakfast when you get up in the morning. Sleep tight, now.”

There were plenty o. blankets, heavy wool ones from Sears, with a goose-down comforter on top. “We can even get undressed,” Yeager said happily. “I’m sick of sleeping in three, four layers of clothes.”

Barbara looked at him sidelong. “Stay undressed, you mean,” she said, and blew out the candle Olson had set on the nightstand. The room plunged into darkness.

Afterwards, Sam peeled off his rubber, then groped around under the bed till he found the chamber pot. “Something for them to cluck over after we leave,” he said. He dove back under the covers as fast as he could; without them, the bedroom was a chilly place.

Barbara clung to him, for warmth, but for reassurance, too. He ran a hand down the velvety skin of her back. “I love you,” he said softly.

“I love you, too.” Her voice caught; she shoved herself against him. “I don’t know what I would have done without you. I’d have been so lost. I-” Her face was buried in the hollow of his shoulder. A hot tear splashed down on him. After a few seconds, she raised her head. “I miss him so much sometimes. I can’t help it.”

“I know. You wouldn’t be who you are if you didn’t.” Yeager spoke with the philosophy of a man who had spent his entire adult life playing bush-league ball and never come close to the majors: “You do the best you can with the cards you get dealt, even if some of them are pretty rotten. Me, I never got an ace before.” Now he squeezed her.

She shook her head; her hair brushed softly across his chest. “But it’s not fair to you, Sam. Jens is dead; he has to be dead. If I’m going to go on-if we’re going to go on, I have to look ahead, not backwards. As you said, I’ll do the best I can.”

“Can’t ask for more than that,” Yeager agreed. Slowly, he went on, “Seems to me, honey, that if you hadn’t loved your Jens a lot, and if he hadn’t loved you, too, you wouldn’t have been anybody I’d’ve wanted to fall in love with. And even if I had, just on account of you’re such a fine-looking woman”-he poked her in the ribs, because he knew she’d squeak-“you wouldn’t have loved me back. You wouldn’t have known how to.”

“You’re sweet. You make good sense, too. You seem to have a way of doing that.” Instead of clutching, now Barbara snuggled against him; he felt her body relax. The tip of her nipple brushed his arm, just above the elbow. He wondered if she felt like making love again. But before he could try to find out, she yawned enormously. Voice still blurry, she said, “If I don’t get some sleep, God only knows what kind of wreck I’ll be tomorrow.” In the darkness, her lips found his, but only for a moment. “Good night, Sam. I love you.” She rolled over onto her side of the bed.

“I love you, too. Good night.” Sam found himself yawning, too. Even if she had been interested, he wasn’t sure he could have managed two rounds so close together. He wasn’t a kid any more.

He rolled over onto his left side. His behind brushed against Barbara’s. They chuckled and moved a little farther apart. He popped out his dentures, set them on the nightstand. Inside a minute and a half, he was snoring.

Jens Larssen most cordially cursed the United States Army, first in English and then in the fragmentary Norwegian he’d picked up from his grandfather. Even as the oaths fell from his lips, he knew he was being unfair: if the Army hadn’t scooped him up as he was making his way across Indiana, he might well have got himself killed trying to sneak into Chicago as the Lizard attacks on the city rose to a climax.

And even now, after General Patton and General Bradley had pinched off the neck of that attack, nobody would let him fly out to join the rest of the Met Lab team in Denver. Again, the brass had their reasons-save for combat missions, aviation had almost disappeared in the United States. Human aviation had almost disappeared, anyhow. The Lizards dominated the skies.

“Hellfire,” he muttered, clinging to the rail of the steamer Duluth Queen, “the damn Army wouldn’t even tell me where they’d gone. I had to go into Chicago and find out for myself.”

That rankled; it struck him as security gone mad. So did everyone’s refusal to let him send on any word to the Met Lab crew. He couldn’t even let his wife know he was alive. Once more, though, the mucky-mucks had a point he couldn’t honestly deny: the Met Lab was America’s only hope of producing an atomic bomb like the ones the Lizards had used on Berlin and Washington, D.C. Without that bomb, the war against the aliens would probably fail. Nobody, then, could afford to draw any sort of attention toward the Metallurgical Laboratory or communicate with it in any way, for fear the Lizards would intercept a message and draw the wrong-or rather, the right-conclusions from it.

The orders he’d been given made just enough sense for him not to try disobeying. But oh, how he hated them!

“And now I can’t even get into Duluth,” he grumbled.

He could see the town, which lay by the edge of Lake Superior where it narrowed to its westernmost point. He could see the gray granite bluffs that dwarfed man’s houses and buildings, and felt he could almost reach out and touch some of the homes atop these bluffs, the taller business buildings that climbed the steep streets toward them. But the feeling was an illusion; a sheet of blue-gray ice held the Duluth Queen away from the Minnesota town that had given it its name.

Jens turned to a passing sailor. “How far out on the lake are we?”

The man paused to think. His breath came out thick as smoke as he answered, “Can’t be more than four, five miles. Up to less than a mouth ago, it was open water all the way in.” He chuckled at Larssen’s groan. “Some years the port stays open all winter long. More often, though, it’ll freeze for twenty miles out, so this ain’t so bad.” He went on his way, whistling a cheery tune.

He’d misunderstood why Jens groaned. It wasn’t at the cold weather; Jens had grown up in Minnesota, and spent enough time skating on frozen lakes to take for granted that water-even as massive a body of water as Lake Superior-turned to ice when winter came. But a month before, he could have gone straight into town. That ate at him. Probably the same blizzard that let Patton launch his attack against the Lizards had also finally frozen the lake.

In any other year, the Duluth Queen would have stopped sailing for the winter. The Lizards, though, had paid much more attention to knocking out road and rail traffic than to knocking out ships. Jens wondered what that meant about their home planet-maybe it didn’t have enough water for them to take shipping seriously as a way of getting things from, one place to another.

If that was so, the aliens were missing a trick. The Duluth Queen carried ball bearings, ammunition, gasoline, and motor oil to keep resistance to the Lizards’ strong in Minnesota; it would take back steel from Duluth and milled grain from Minneapolis to forge into new weapons and feed the people who fought and built.

Lots of little boats-boats small enough to haul across the ice, some of them even rowboats-clustered around the steamship. Deck cranes lowered crates to them and picked up others, with a lot of shouted warnings going back and forth with the goods. A quasi-harbor had sprung into being at the edge of the ice: crates from the Duluth Queen went back and forth toward town on man-hauled sledges, while others, outbound, were muscled onto the boats for transport out to the Queen.

Jens doubted the system was even a tenth as efficient as a proper harbor. But the proper harbor was icebound, and what the locals had worked out was a lot better than nothing. From his point of view, the only real trouble was that cargo was so much more important than passengers that he couldn’t get off the steamship.

The sailor came back down the deck, still whistling. Larssen felt like throttling him. “How much longer before you’ll be able to start moving actual real live people off?” he asked.

“Shouldn’t be more than another day or two, sir,” the fellow answered.

“A day or two!” Jens exploded. He wanted to dive into Lake Superior and swim the mile or so over to the edge of the ice. He knew perfectly well, though, that he’d freeze to death if he tried it.

“We’re doing the best we can,” the sailor said. “Everything’s screwed up since the Lizards, came, that’s all. Wherever you need to get to, people will understand that you’ve been held up.”

That this was true made it no easier to bear. Unconsciously, Larssen had assumed that because the Lizards had been beaten back from Chicago and he was free to travel again without the Army trying to tie him down, the world would automatically unfold at his feet. But the world was not in the habit of working that way.

The sailor went on, “Long as you’re stuck on, board, sir, you might as well enjoy yourself. The grub’s good here, and there aren’t many places ashore where you’ll find steam heat, running water, and electric lights.”

“Isn’t that the sad and sorry truth?” Jens said. The Lizards’ invasion had badly disrupted the complex web the United States had become, and pointed out the hard way how much every part of the country depended on every other-and how ill-equipped most parts were to go it alone. Burning wood to keep warm and depending on muscles-animal or human-to move things about made America feel as if it had slipped back a century from 1943.

And yet, if Jens ever made it to Denver, he’d get back to work on a project that seemed to belong at least a hundred years in the future. The world to come would spring into being amidst the obtrusive reemergence of the past. And where was the present? The present, thought Jens, who had a weakness for puns, is absent.

He went below, to get out of the cold and to remind himself the present still existed. The Duluth Queen’s galley boasted not only electric lights but a big pot of hot coffee (a luxury that grew rarer as stocks dwindled) and a radio. Jens remembered his parents saving up to buy their first set in the late twenties. It had felt like inviting the world into their parlor. Now, most places, you couldn’t invite the world in even if you wanted to.

But the Duluth Queen didn’t depend on distant power plants, now likely to be either wrecked or out of fuel, for electricity. It made its own. And so, static squawked and muttered as Hank Vernon spun the tuning knob and the red pointer slid across the dial. Music suddenly came out. The ship’s engineer turned to Larssen, who was getting a mug of coffee. “The Andrews Sisters suit you?”

“They’re okay, but if you can find some news, that would be even better.” Jens poured in cream. The Duluth Queen had plenty of that, but no sugar.

“Let’s see what I can do. I wish this was a shortwave set.” Vernon worked the knob again, more slowly now, pausing to listen to every faint station he brought in. After three or four tries, he grunted in satisfaction. “Here you go.” He turned up the volume.

Larssen bent his head toward the radio. Even through the waterfall of static, he recognized the newscaster’s deep, slow voice: “-three days of rioting reported from Italy, where people went into the streets to protest the government’s cooperation with the Lizards. Pope Pius XII’s radio appeal for calm, monitored in London, seems to have had little effect. Rioters are calling for the return of Benito Mussolini, who was spirited to Germany after being placed under arrest by the Lizards-”

Hank Vernon shook his head in bemusement. “Isn’t it a hell of a thing? A year ago, Mussolini was the enemy with a capital E because he was buddies with Hitler. Now he’s a hero because the krauts got him away from the Lizards. And Hitler’s not such a bad guy any more, since the Germans are still fighting hard. Just because you’re fighting the Lizards doesn’t make you a good guy in my book. Was Joe Stalin a good guy just on account of he was fighting the Nazis? People say so, yeah, but they can’t make me believe it. What do you think?”

“You’re probably right,” Larssen answered. He agreed with most of what the engineer had said, but wished Vernon hadn’t chosen just then to say it-his loud, nasal tones drowned out Edward R. Murrow, to whom Jens was trying to listen.

Vernon, however, kept right on talking, so Jens got the news in disconnected snatches: ration cuts in England, fighting between Smolensk and Moscow, more fighting in Siberia, a Lizard push toward Vladivostok, a passive resistance campaign in India.

“Is that against the English or the Lizards?” he asked.

“If it’s all the way over in India, what the devil difference does it make?” the engineer said. On a cosmic scale, Larssen supposed he had a point, but for someone who was trying to catch up with what was going on in the world, losing any facts felt frustrating.

From the radio, Murrow said, “And for those who think the Lizard devoid of humor, consider this: outside of Los Angeles, the Army Air Force recently had occasion to build a dummy airport, complete with dummy planes. Two Lizard aircraft are said to have attacked it-with dummy bombs. This is Edward R. Murrow, somewhere in the United States.”

“Nobody on the radio admits where they are any more, you notice that?” Vernon said. “From FDR on down, it’s ‘somewhere in the United States.’ It’s like if anybody knows where you are, you can’t be a bigshot, ’cause if you were a bigshot and the Lizards knew where you are, they’d go after you. Am I right or am I right?”

“You’re probably right,” Jens said again. “You don’t happen to have a cigarette, do you?” Now that he didn’t get the chance to drink coffee often, one cup kicked the way three or four had in the good old days. The same was even more true of tobacco.

“Wish to hell. I did,” ‘Vernon answered. “I smoked cigars myself, but I wouldn’t turn down anything these days. I used to work on the rivers in Virginia, North Carolina, and we’d go right past the tobacco farms, never even think a thing about ’em. But when it can’t get from where they grow it to where you want to smoke it-”

“Yeah,” Larssen said. It was true of more than tobacco. That was why the Lizards didn’t have to conquer the whole country to make the United States stop working. It was why the Duluth Queen sat off the ice and unloaded: anything to keep the wheels turning.

He stayed stuck for the next three days, biding his time and biting his nails. When he finally did get to descend into one of the small boats that was unloading the Duluth Queen, he almost wished he’d stayed stuck longer. Clambering down a cargo net with a knapsack and a rifle slung over his shoulder was not his notion of fun.

One of the sailors lowered his Schwinn on a line. It banged against the side of the steamship a couple of times on the way down. Jens grabbed it and undid the knot. The line snaked back up to the Duluth Queen.

The small boat had a crew of four. They all looked at the bicycle. “You’re not going anywhere far by yourself on that, are you, mister?” one of them said at last.

“What If I am?” Larssen had ridden a bicycle across most of Ohio and Indiana. He was in the best shape of his life. He’d always look skinny, but he was stronger than most people with bulging biceps.

“Oh, I won’t say you couldn’t do it-don’t get me wrong,” the crewman said. “It’s just that-this is Minnesota, after all.” He patted himself. He was wearing boots with fur tops, an overcoat over a jacket over a sweater, and earmuffs on top of a knitted wool cap. “You don’t want to get stuck in a snowstorm, is what I mean. You do and you won’t even start to stink till spring-and spring comes late around Duluth.”

“I know what Minnesota’s like. I was raised here,” Jens said.

“Then you ought to have better sense,” the sailor told him.

He started to come back with a hot reply, hut it didn’t get past his lips. He remembered all the winter days he’d had to stay home from school when snow made the going impossible. And his grammar school had been only a couple of miles from the farm where he’d grown up, the high school less than five. If a bad storm hit while he was in the middle of nowhere, he’d be in trouble and no doubt about it.

He said, “Things must move, or else you guys wouldn’t be out here working in the middle of winter. How do you do it?”

“We convoy,” the sailor answered seriously. “You wait until there’s a bunch of people going the same way you are, and then you go along with ’em. Where you headin’ for, mister?”

“Denver, eventually,” Jens said. “Any place west of Duluth now, I guess.” In a pocket of his overcoat he had a letter from General Patton that essentially ordered the entire civilized world to drop whatever it was doing and give him a hand. It had got him his cabin on the Duluth Queen … but the Duluth Queen was going from Chicago to Duluth anyhow. Even a sizzling letter from Patton probably couldn’t call a land convoy into being at the drop of a hat. But that sparked a thought.

“Any trains still running?”

“Yeah, we try to keep ’em going, best we can, anyhow. I tell you, though, it’s like, playing Russian roulette. Maybe you’ll get through, maybe you’ll get your ass bombed off. If it was me, I wouldn’t ride one, not now. The Lizards go after ’em on purpose, not for the hell of it like they do ships.”

“I may take my chances,” Larssen said. If the trains were running right, he could be in Denver in a couple of days, not a couple of weeks or a couple of months. If they weren’t-He tried not to worry about that.

The boat drifted to a stop at the edge of the ice. Gunnysacks made the treacherous surface easier to walk on. The crew handed Larssen his gear, wished him good luck, and headed back to the Duluth Queen.

He headed over toward a dog-drawn sledge that didn’t have too many crates in it. “Can I get a ride?” he called, and the driver nodded. He felt like a character out of Jack London as he got in behind the man.

The trip across the ice gave him more time to think. It also convinced him that if he was going to live in the twentieth century, he’d use its tools where he could. He’d do better even if the Lizards did bomb him while he was just partway to Denver. When at last he got into Duluth, he went looking for the train station.

The hauler aircraft rolled to a stop. Ussmak stared out the window at the Tosevite landscape. It was different from the flat plains of the SSSR where the landcruiser driver had served before, but that didn’t make it any better, not as far as he was concerned. The plants were a dark, wet-looking green under sunlight that seemed too white, too harsh.

Not that the star Tosev adequately heated its third world. Ussmak felt the chill as soon as he descended from the hauler onto the concrete of the runway. Here, though, at least water wasn’t falling frozen from the sky. That was something.

“Landcruiser crew replacements!” a male bawled. Ussmak and three or four others who had just deplaned tramped over to him. The male took their names and identity numbers, then waved them into the back of an armored transporter.

“Where are we?” Ussmak asked as the machine jounced into life. “Whom are we fighting?” That was a better question; the names the Big Uglies gave to pieces of Tosev 3 meant little to him.

“This place is called France,” a gunner named Forssis answered. “I served here for a while shortly after we landed, before the commander decided it was largely pacified and transferred my unit to the SSSR.”

All the males let their mouths fall open in derisive laughter at that. Everything had seemed so easy in the days right after the landing. Ussmak remembered being part of a drive that had smashed Soviet landcruisers as if they were made of cardboard.

Even then, though, he should have had a clue. A sniper had picked off his commander when Votal, like any good landcruiser leader, stuck his head out the cupola to get a decent view of what was going on. And Krentel, the commander who replaced him, did not deserve the body paint that proclaimed his rank.

Well, Krentel was dead, too, and Telerep the gunner with him. A guerrilla-Ussmak did not know whether he was Russki or Deutsch-had blown the turret right off the landcruiser while they were trying to protect the crews cleaning up nuclear material scattered when the Big Uglies had managed to wreck the starship that carried the bulk of the Race’s atomic weapons.

From his driver’s position, Ussmak had bailed out of the landcruiser when it was stricken-out of the landcruiser and into radioactive mud. He’d been in a hospital ship ever since… till now.

“So whom are we fighting?” he repeated. “The Francais?”

“No, the Deutsche, mostly,” Forssis answered. “They were ruling here when we arrived. I hear the weapons we’ll be facing are better than the ones they threw at us the last time I was here.”

Silence settled over the transporter’s passenger compartment. Fighting the Big Uglies, Ussmak thought, was like poisoning pests: the survivors kept getting more resistant to what you were trying to do to them. And, like any other pests, the Big Uglies changed faster than you could alter your methods of coping with them.

The heated compartment, the smooth ride over a paved highway, and the soft purr of the hydrogen-burning engine helped most of the males doze off before long: veterans, they knew the value of snatching sleep while they had the chance. Ussmak tried to rest, too, but couldn’t. The longing for ginger gnawed at him and would not let go.

An orderly had sold him some of the precious herb in the hospital ship. He’d started tasting as much out of boredom as for any other reason. When he was full of ginger, he felt wise and brave and invulnerable. When he wasn’t-that was when he discovered the trap into which he’d fallen. Without ginger, he seemed stupid and fearful and soft-skinned as a Big Ugly, a contrast just made worse because he so vividly remembered how wonderful he knew himself to be when he tasted the powdered herb.

He didn’t care how much he gave the orderly for his ginger: he had pay saved up and nothing he’d rather spend it on. The orderly had an ingenious arrangement whereby he got Ussmak’s funds even though they didn’t go directly into his computer account.

In the end, it hadn’t saved him. One day, a new orderly came in to police up Ussmak’s chamber. Discreet questioning (Ussmak could afford to be discreet then, with several tastes hidden away) showed that the only thing he knew about ginger was the fleetlord’s general order prohibiting its use. Ussmak had stretched out the intervals between tastes as long as he could. But finally the last one was gone. He’d been gingerless-and melancholy-ever since.

The road climbed up through rugged mountains. Ussmak got only glimpses out the transporter’s firing ports. After the monotonous flatlands of the SSSR and the even more boring sameness of the hospital ship cubicle, a jagged horizon was welcome, but it didn’t much remind Ussmak of the mountains of Home.

For one thing, these mountains were covered with frozen water of one sort or another, a measure of how miserably cold Tosev 3 was. For another, the dark conical trees that peeked out through the mantling of white were even more alien to his eye than the Big Uglies.

Those trees also concealed Tosevites, as Ussmak discovered a short while later. Somewhere up there in the woods, a machine gun began to chatter. Bullets spanged off the transporter’s armor. Its own light cannon returned fire, filling the passenger compartment with thunder.

The males who had been dozing were jerked rudely back to awareness. They tumbled for the firing ports to see what was happening, Ussmak among them. He couldn’t see anything, not even muzzle flashes.

“Scary,” Forssis observed. “I’m used to sitting inside a landcruiser where the armor shields you from anything. I can’t help thinking that if the Tosevites had a real gun up there, we’d be cooked.”

Ussmak knew only too well that not even landcruiser armor guaranteed protection against the Big Uglies. But before he could say as much, the transporter driver came on the intercom: “Sorry about the racket, my males, but we haven’t rooted out all the guerrillas yet. They’re just a nuisance as long as we don’t run over any mines.”

The driver sounded downright cheery; Ussmak wondered if he was tasting ginger. “I wonder how often they do run over mines,” Forssis said darkly.

“This male hasn’t, or he wouldn’t still be driving us,” Ussmak said. A couple of the other landcruiser crewmales opened their mouths at him.

After a while, the mountains gave way to wide, gently rolling valleys. Forssis pointed to neat rows of gnarled plants that clung to stakes on south-facing slopes. He said, “I saw those when I was in this France place before. The Tosevites ferment alcoholic brews from them.” He ran his tongue over his lips. “Some have a very interesting flavor.”

The passenger compartment had no view straight forward. The driver had to make an announcement for the males he was hauling: “We are coming into the Big Ugly town of Besancon, our forward base for combat against the Deutsche. You will be assigned to crews here.”

All Ussmak had seen of Tosevite architecture was the wooden farming villages of the SSSR. Besancon was certainly different from those. He didn’t quite know what to make of it. Compared to the tall, blocklike structures of steel and glass that formed the cities of Home, its buildings seemed toys. Yet they were very ornate toys, with columns and elaborate stone and brickwork and steep roofs so the frozen water that fell from the sky hereabouts would slide off.

The Race’s headquarters in Besancon was on a bluff in the southeastern part of the town. Not only was the place on high ground, Ussmak discovered on alighting from the transporter that a river flowed around two sides of it. “Well sited for defense,” he remarked.

“Interesting you should say that,” the driver answered. “This used to be a Big Ugly fortress.” He pointed to a long, low, gloomy-looking building. “Go in there. They’ll process you and assign you to a crew.”

“It shall be done.” Ussmak hurried toward the doorway; the cold was nipping at his fingers and eye turrets.

Inside, the building was heated to the point of comfort for civilized beings-Ussmak hissed gratefully. Otherwise, though, the local males were mostly using the furnishings they’d found. A planet was a big place, and the Race hadn’t brought enough of everything to supply all its garrisons. And so a personnel officer seemed half swallowed by the fancy red velvet chair in which he sat, a chair designed to fit a Big Ugly. The male had to stretch to reach the computer on the heavy, dark wood table in front of him; the table was higher off the ground than any the Race would have built.

The personnel officer turned one eye toward Ussmak. “Name, specialization, and number,” he said in a bored voice.

“Superior sir, I am Ussmak, landcruiser driver,” Ussmak answered, and gave the number by which he was recorded, paid, and would be interred if he got unlucky.

The personnel officer entered the information, used his free eye to read Ussmak’s data as they came up. “You were serving in the SSSR against the Soviets, is that correct, until your landcruiser was destroyed and you were exposed to excess radiation?”

“Yes, superior sir, that is correct.”

“Then you’ve not had combat experience against the Deutsche?”

“Superior sir, I am told the guerrilla team that wrecked my vehicle was part Deutsch, part Soviet. If you are asking whether I’ve faced their landcruisers, the answer is no.”

“That is what I meant,” the personnel officer said. “You will need to maintain a higher level of alertness hereabouts than was your habit in the SSSR, landcruiser driver. Tactically, the Deutsche are more often clever than perhaps any other Tosevite group. Their newest landcruisers have heavier guns than you will have seen, too. Combine these factors with their superior knowledge of the local terrain and they become opponents not to be despised.”

“I understand, superior sir,” Ussmak said. “Will my landcruiser commander be experienced?” I hope.

The personnel officer punched at the computer again, waited for a response to appear on the screen. “You’re going to be assigned to Landcruiser Commander Hessef’s machine; his driver was wounded in a bandit attack here in Besancon a few days ago. Hessef compiled an excellent record in Espafia, south and west of here, as we expanded out of our landing zone. He’s relatively new to the northern sector.”

Ussmak hadn’t known Espafia from France until the moment the personnel officer named them. And no matter what that officer said about the superior skills of the Deutsche, to Ussmak one band of Big Uglies seemed pretty much like another. “I’m glad to hear that he has fought, superior sir. Where do I report to him?”

“The hall we are using as a barracks is out the door through which you entered and to your left. If you do not find Hessef and your gunner-whose name is Tvenkel-there, try the vehicle park down past the antiaircraft missile launcher.”

Ussmak tried the vehicle park first, on the theory that any commander worth his body paint took better care of his landcruiser than he did of himself. Seeing the big machines lined up in their sandbagged revetments made him eager to get back to the work for which he’d been trained, and also eager for the tight-knit fellowship that flowered among the males of a good landcruiser crew.

Crewmales working on their landcruisers directed him to the one Hessef commanded. But when he walked into its stall, he found it buttoned up tight. That presumably meant Hessef and Tvenkel were back at the barracks. Not a good sign, Ussmak thought as he began to retrace his steps.

He longed to feel a part of something larger than himself. That was what the Race was all about: obedience from below, obligation from above, all working together for the common good. He’d known that feeling with Votal, his first commander, but after Votal died, Krentel proved such an incompetent that Ussmak could not bond to him as subordinate was supposed to bond to superior.

Then Krentel had got himself killed, too, and Ussmak’s original gunner with him. That worsened the driver’s feeling of separation, almost of exclusion, from the rest of the Race. The long stay in the hospital ship and his discovery of ginger had pushed him even further out of the niche he’d been intended to fit. If he couldn’t have ginger any more, crew solidarity would have been a good second best. But how could he really feel part of a crew that didn’t have the simple sense to treat their landcruiser as if their lives depended on it?

As he walked back past the missile launcher, bells began to ring down in the town of Besancon. He turned to one of the males. “I’m new here. Are those alarms? Where should I go? What should I do?”

“Nothing-take no notice of them,” the fellow answered. “The Big Uglies just have a lot of mechanical clocks that chime to divide up the day and night. They startled me at first, too. After a while here, you won’t even notice them. One is spectacular for something without electronics. It must have seventy dials, and these figures all worked by gears and pulleys come out and prance around and then disappear back into the machine. When you get some slack time, you ought to go see it: it’s worth turning both eye turrets that way.”

“Thanks. Maybe I will.” Relieved, Ussmak kept on toward the barracks building. Just as he pushed the door open, the sweet metallic clangor ceased. Even the cots the males were using had formerly belonged to the Big Uglies. The thin mattresses looked lumpy, the blankets scratchy. They were undoubtedly woven from the hair of some native beast or other, an idea that made Ussmak itch all by itself. A few males lounged around doing nothing in particular.

“I seek the landcruiser commander Hessef,” Ussmak said as some of those males turned an eye or two toward him.

“I am Hessef,” one of them said, coming forward. “By your paint, you must be my new driver.”

“Yes, superior sir.” Ussmak put more respect into his voice than he truly felt. Hessef was a jittery-looking male, his body paint sloppily applied. Ussmak’s own paint was none too neat, but he thought commanders should adhere to a higher standard.

Another male came up to stand beside Hessef. “Ussmak, I introduce you to Tvenkel, our gunner,” the landcruiser commander said.

“Be good to have a whole crew again, go out and fight,” Tvenkel said. Like Hessef, he couldn’t quite hold still. His body paint was, if possible, in even worse shape than the landcruiser commander’s-smeared, blotched, daubed on in a hurry. Ussmak wondered what he’d done to deserve becoming part of this substandard crew.

Hessef said, “Sitting around the barracks all day with nothing to do is as boring as staying awake while you go into cold sleep.”

Then why aren’t you out tending to your landcruiser? Ussmak thought. But that wasn’t something he could say, not to his new commander. Instead, he answered, “Boredom I know all about, superior sir. I just spent a good long while in a hospital ship, recovering from radiation sickness. There were times when I thought I’d been in that cubicle forever.”

“Yes, that could be bad, just staring at the metal walls,” Hessef agreed. “Still, though, I think I’d sooner stay in a hospital ship than in this ugly brick shed that was never made for our kind.” He waved to show what he meant. Ussmak had to agree: the barracks was indeed a dismal place. He suspected even Big Uglies would have found themselves bored here.

“How did you get through the days?” Tvenkel asked. “Recovering from sickness makes time pass twice as slowly.”

“For one thing, I have every video from the hospital ship’s library memorized,” Ussmak said, which drew a laugh from his new crewmales. “For another-” He stopped short. Ginger was against regulations. He didn’t want to make the commander and gunner aware of his habit.

“Here, drop your gear on this bed by ours,” Hessef said “We’ve been saving it against the day when we’d be whole again.”

Ussmak did as he was asked. The other two males crowded close around him, as if to create the unity that held a good landcruiser crew together. The rest of the males in the barracks looked on from a distance, politely allowing Ussmak to bond with his new comrades before they came forward to introduce themselves.

Quietly, Tvenkel said, “You may not know it, driver, but the Big Uglies have an herb that makes life a lot less boring. Would you care to try a taste, see what I mean?”

Ussmak’s eyes both swung abruptly, bored into the gunner. He lowered his voice, too. “You have-ginger?” He hesitated before he named the precious powder.

Now Tvenkel and Hessef stared at him. “You know about ginger?” the landcruiser commander whispered. His mouth fell open in an enormous grin.

“Yes I know about ginger. I’d love a taste, thanks.” Ussmak wanted to caper like a hatchling. Instead, the three males looked at each other for a long time, none of them saying anything. Ussmak broke the silence: “Superior sirs, I think we’re going to be an outstanding crew.”

Neither commander nor gunner argued with him.

The big Maybach engine coughed, sputtered, died. Colonel Heinrich Jager swore and flipped up the Panther D’s cupola. “More than twice the horsepower of my old Panzer III,” he grumbled, “and it runs less than half as often.” He pulled himself out, dropped down to the ground.

The rest of the crew scrambled out, too. The driver, a big sandy-haired youngster named Rolf Wittman, grinned impudently. “Could be worse, sir,” he said. “At least it hasn’t caught fire the way a lot of them do.”

“Oh, for the blithe spirit of the young,” Jager said, acid in his voice. He wasn’t young himself. He’d fought in the trenches in the First World War, stayed in the Weimar Republic’s Reichswehr after it was over. He’d switched over to panzers as soon as he could after Hitler began rearming Germany, and was commanding a company of Panzer IIIs in the Sixteenth Panzer Division south of Kharkov when the Lizards came.

Now, at last, the Reich had made a machine that might make the Lizards sit up and take notice when they met it. Jager had killed a Lizard tank with his Panzer III, but he was the first to admit he’d been lucky. Anybody who came out alive, let alone victorious, after a run-in with Lizard armor was lucky.

The Panther he now stood beside seemed decades ahead of his old machine. It incorporated all the best features of the Soviet T-34-thick sloped armor, wide tracks, a powerful 75mm gun-into a German design with a smooth suspension, an excellent transmission, and better sights and gun control than Jager had ever imagined before.

The only trouble was, it was a brand-new German design. Bumping up against the T-34 and the even heavier KV-l in 1941 had been a nasty surprise for the Wehrmacht The panzer divisions had held their own through superior tactics and started upgunning their Panzer IIIs and IVs, but getting better tanks became urgent. When the Lizards arrived, urgent turned mandatory.

And so development had been rushed, and the Panther, powerful machine that it was, conspicuously lacked the mechanical reliability that characterized older German models. Jager kicked at the overlapping road wheels that carried the tracks. “This panzer might as well have been built by an Englishman,” he growled. He knew no stronger way to condemn an armored fighting vehicle.

The rest of the crew leaped to their panzer’s defense. “It’s not as bad as that, sir,” Wittman said.

“It has a real gun in it, by Jesus,” added Sergeant Klaus Meinecke, “not one of the peashooters the English use.” The gun was his responsibility; he sat to Jager’s right in the turret, on a chair that looked like a black-leather-covered hockey puck with a two-slat back.

“Having a real gun doesn’t matter if we can’t get to where we’re supposed to use it,” Jager retorted. “Let’s fix this beast, shall we, before the Lizards fly by and strafe us.”

That got the men moving in a hurry. Attack from the air had been frightening enough when it was a Shturmovik with red stars painted on wings and fuselage. It was infinitely worse now; the rockets the Lizards fired hardly ever missed.

“Probably the fuel lines again,” Wittman said, “or maybe the fuel pump.” He rummaged in one of the outside stowage bins for a wrench, attacked the bolts that held the engine louvers onto the Panther’s rear deck.

The crew was a good one, Jager thought. Only veterans, and select veterans at that, got to handle Panthers: no point in frittering away the important new weapon by giving it to men who couldn’t get the most out of it.

Klaus Meinecke grunted in triumph. “Here we go. This gasket in the pump is kaput. Do we have a spare?” More rummaging in the bins produced one. The gunner replaced the damaged part, screwed the top back onto the fuel pump case, and said, “All right, let’s start it up again.”

The crew had to take off the jack to get at the starter dog clutch. “That’s poor design,” Jager said, and pulled a piece of paper and pencil out of a pocket of his black panzer crewman’s tunic. Why not stow jack vertically between exhausts, not horizontally below them? he scribbled.

Cranking up the Panther was a two-man job. Wittman and Meinecke did the honors. The engine belched, farted, and came back to life. After handshakes all around, the crew climbed back into the machine and rolled on down the road.

“We’ll want to look for a good patch of woods where we can take cover for the night,” Jager said. Such a patch might be hard to find. He checked his map. They were somewhere between Thann and Belfort, heading down to try to hold the Lizards away from the latter strategic town.

Jager stuck his head out of the drum-shaped cupola. If he was where he thought he was-He nodded, pleased with his navigation. There ahead stood Rougement-le-Chateau, a Romanesque priory now in picturesque ruin. Navigating through the rugged terrain of Alsace and the Franche-Comte was a very different business from getting around on the Ukrainian steppe, where, as on the sea, you picked a compass heading and followed it. If you got lost here, heading across country wasn’t so easy. More often than not, you had to back up and retrace your path by road, which cost precious time.

The woods were still leafless, but Jager found a spot where bare branches interlaced thickly overhead. Behind scattered clouds, the pale winter sun was low in the west. “Good enough,” he said, and ordered Wittman to pull off the road and conceal the Panther from prying eyes in the sky.

Within the next half hour, four more tanks-another Panther, two of the new Panzer IVs with relatively light protection but a long 75mm gun almost as good as the Panther’s, and a huge Tiger that mounted an 88 and armor poorly sloped but so thick and heavy that it made the panzer slower than it should have been-joined him there. The crews swapped rations, spare parts, and lies. Somebody had a deck of cards. They played skat and poker till it got too dark to see.

Jager thought back to the splendid organization of Sixteenth Panzer when the division plunged into the Soviet Union. Back then, the thought of getting tanks into action by these dribs and drabs would have caused apoplexy in the High Command. That was before the Lizards had started plastering the German rail and road networks. Now any movement toward the front was counted a success.

He squeezed butter and meat paste from their tubes onto a chunk of black bread. As he chewed, he reflected that a lot of things had happened to him that he never would have expected before the Lizards came. He’d fought against the alien invaders side by side with a band of Russian partisans, most of them Jews.

He hadn’t had much use for Jews before then. He still didn’t have a whole lot of use for them, but now he understood why the Jews of Warsaw had risen against the town’s German occupiers to help the Lizards take it. Nothing the aliens did to them could come close to what they’d suffered at the hands of the Reich.

And yet those same Polish Jews had let him cross their territory, and hadn’t even confiscated from him all the explosive metal that had been his booty from the joint German-Soviet raid on the Lizards. True, they’d taken half to send it to the United States, but they’d let him deliver the rest to his own superiors. Even now, German scientists were working to avenge Berlin.

He took another bite. Even that wasn’t the strangest. Had anyone told him on June 22, 1941, that he would-have an affair with? fall in love with? (he still wasn’t sure about that himself}-a Soviet pilot, his most likely reaction would have been to punch the teller in the eye for calling him a fairy. On the day the war with the Soviet Union started, no one in Germany knew the Russians would use female fliers in combat.

He hoped Ludmila was all right. They’d first met in the Ukraine, where she’d plucked him and his gunner (he hoped Georg Schultz was all right, too) off a collective farm and taken them to Moscow so they could explain to the Red Army brass how they’d managed to kill a Lizard panzer. He’d written to her after that-she had some German, he a little Russian-but got no answer.

Then they’d come together at Berchtesgaden, where Hitler had pinned on him the German Cross in gold (a medal so ugly he wore only the ribbon these days) and she’d flown in Molotov for consultation with, the Fuhrer. He smiled slowly. That had been as magical a week as he’d ever known.

But what now? he wondered. Ludmila had flown back to the Soviet Union, where the NKVD would not look kindly upon her for sleeping with a Nazi… any more than the Gestapo was pleased with him for sleeping with a Red. “Screw ’em all,” he muttered, which drew a quizzical glance from Rolf Wittman. Jager did not explain.

A motorcycle came put-putting slowly down the road, its headlight dimmed almost to extinction by a blackout slit cap. With the Lizards’ detectors, even that could be dangerous, but not so dangerous as driving a winding French road in pitch darkness.

The motorcycle driver spotted the panzers off under the trees. He stopped, throttled down, and called, “Anyone know where I can find Colonel Heinrich Jager?”

“Here I am,” Jager said, standing up. “Was ist los?”

“I have here orders for you, Colonel.” The driver pulled them out of his tunic pocket.

Jager unfolded the paper, stooped down and held it in front of the motorcycle headlamp so he could read it. “Scheisse,” he exclaimed. “I’ve been recalled. They just put me back in frontline service, and now I’ve been recalled.”

“Yes, sir,” the driver agreed. “I am ordered to take you back with me.”

“But why?” Jager said. “It makes no sense. Here I am an experienced fighter for Fuhrer and Vaterland against the Lizards. But what good will I do in this Hechingen place? I’ve scarcely even heard of it.”

But he had heard of it, and fairly recently, too. Where? When? He stiffened as memory came. Hechingen was where Hitler had said he was sending the explosive metal. Without another word, Jager walked over to his Panther, got on the radio, and turned command over to the regimental lieutenant-colonel. Then he slung his pack onto his shoulders, went back to the motorcycle, climbed on behind the driver, and headed back toward Germany.


Ludmila Gorbunova did not care for Moscow. She was from Kiev, and thought the Soviet capital drab and dull. Her impression of it was not improved by the endless grilling she’d had from the NKVD. She’d never imagined the mere sight of green collar tabs could reduce her to fearful incoherence, but it did.

And, she knew, things could have been worse. The chekists were treating her with kid gloves because she’d flown Comrade Molotov, second in the Soviet Union only to the Great Stalin, and a man who loathed flying, to Germany and brought him home in one piece. Besides, the rodina-the motherland-needed combat pilots. She’d stayed alive through most of a year against the Nazis and several months against the Lizards. That should have given her value above and beyond what she got for ferrying Molotov around.

Whether it did, however, remained to be seen. A lot of very able, seemingly very valuable people had disappeared over the past few years, denounced as wreckers or traitors to the Soviet Union or sometimes just vanished with no explanation at all, as if they had suddenly ceased to exist…

The door to the cramped little room (cramped, yes, but infinitely preferable to a cell in the Lefortovo prison) in which she sat came open. The NKVD man who came in wore three crimson oblongs on his collar tabs. Ludmila bounced to her feet. “Comrade Lieutenant-Colonel!” she said, saluting.

He returned the salute, the first time that had happened since the NKVD started in on her. “Comrade Senior Lieutenant,” he acknowledged. “I am Boris Lidov.” She blinked in surprise; none of her questioners had bothered giving his name till now, either. Lidov looked more like a schoolmaster than an NKVD man, not that that meant anything. But he surprised her again, saying, “Would you like some tea?”

“Yes, thank you very much, Comrade Lieutenant-Colonel,” she answered-quickly, before he changed his mind. The German attack had deranged the Soviet distribution system, that of the Lizards all but destroyed it. These days, tea was rare and precious.

Well, she thought, the NKVD will have it if anyone does. And sure enough, Lidov stuck his head out the door and bawled a request. Within moments, someone fetched him a tray with two gently steaming glasses. He took it, set it on the table in front of Ludmila. “Help yourself,” he, said. “Choose whichever you wish; neither one is drugged, I assure you.”

He didn’t need to assure her; that he did so made her suspicious again. But she took a glass and drank. Her tongue found nothing in it but tea and sugar. She sipped again, savoring the taste and the warmth. “Thank you, Comrade Lieutenant-Colonel. It’s very good,” she said.

Lidov made an indolent gesture, as If to say she didn’t need to thank him for anything so small. Then he said idly, as if making casual conversation, “You know, I met your Major Jager-no, you’ve said he’s Colonel Jager now, correct? — your Colonel Jager, I should say, after you brought him here to Moscow last summer.”

“Ah,” Ludmila said, that being the most noncommittal noise she could come up with. She decided it was not enough.

“Comrade Lieutenant-Colonel, as I have said before, he is not my colonel by any means.”

“I do not necessarily condemn,” Lidov said, steepling his fingers. “The ideology of the fascist state is corrupt, not the German people. And”-he coughed dryly-“the coming of the Lizards has shown that progressive economic systems, capitalist and socialist alike, must band together lest we all fall under the oppression of the ancient system wherein the relationship is slave to master, not worker to boss.”

“Yes,” Ludmila said eagerly. The last thing she wanted to do was argue about the dialectic of history with an NKVD man, especially when his interpretation seemed to her advantage.

Lidov went on, “Further, your Colonel Jager helped perform a service for the people of the Soviet Union, as he may have mentioned to you.”

“No, I’m afraid he didn’t. I’m sorry, Comrade Lieutenant-Colonel, but we talked very little about the war when we saw each other in Germany. We-” Ludmila felt her face heat. She knew what Lidov had to be thinking. Unfortunately-from her point of view-he was right.

He looked down his long, straight nose at her. “You like Germans well, don’t you?” be said sniffily. “This Jager in Berchtesgaden, and you attached his gunner”-he pulled out a scrap of paper, checked a name on it-“Georg Schultz, da, to the ground crew at your airstrip.”

“He is a better mechanic than anyone else at the airstrip. Germans understand machinery better than we do, I think. But as far as I am concerned, he is only a mechanic,” Ludmila insisted.

“He is a German. They are both Germans.” So much for Lidov’s words about the solidarity of peoples with progressive economic systems. His flat, hard tone made Ludmila think of a trip to Siberia on an unheated cattle car, or of a bullet in the back of the neck. The NKVD man went on, “It is likely that Comrade Molotov will dispense with the services of a pilot who forms such un-Soviet attachments.”

“I am sorry to hear that, Comrade Lieutenant-Colonel,” Ludmila said, though she knew Molotov would have been glad to dispense with the services of any pilot, given his attitude about flying. But she insisted, “I have no attachments to Georg Schultz save those of the struggle against the Lizards.”

“And to Colonel Jager?” Lidov said with the air of a man calling checkmate. Ludmila did not answer, she knew she was checkmated. The lieutenant-colonel spoke as if pronouncing sentence: “Because of this conduct of yours, you are to be returned to your former duties without promotion. Dismissed, Comrade Senior Lieutenant.”

Ludmila had been braced for ten years in the gulag and another five of internal exile. She needed a moment to take in what she’d just heard. She jumped to her feet. “I serve the Soviet state, Comrade Lieutenant-Colonel!” Whether you believe me or not, she added to herself.

“Prepare yourself for immediate departure for the airport,” Lidov said, as if her mere presence polluted Moscow. An NKVD flunky must have been listening outside the door or to a concealed microphone, for in under half a minute a fellow in green collar tabs brought in a canvas bag full of her worldly goods.

Before long, a troika was taking her from the Kremlin to the airport on the edge of Moscow. The sleigh’s runners and the hooves of the three horses that drew it kicked up snow gone from white to gray thanks to city soot. Only when her beloved little U-2 biplane came into view on the runway did she realize she’d been returned to this duty, which she wanted more than any other, as if it were a punishment. She chewed on that a long time, even after she was in the air.

“I’m bloody lost,” David Goldfarb said as he pedaled his RAF bicycle through the countryside south of Leicester. The radarman came to an intersection. He looked for signs to tell him where he was-and looked in vain, because the signs taken down in 1940 to hinder a feared German invasion had never gone back up.

He was trying to get to the Research and Development Test Flying Aerodrome at Bruntingthorpe, to which he’d been ordered to report. South from the village of Peatling Magna, his directions read. The only trouble was, nobody had bothered to tell him (for all he knew, nobody was aware) two roads ran south from Peatling Magna. He’d taken the right-hand track, and was beginning to regret it.

Peatling Magna hadn’t looked magna enough to boast two roads when he rolled through it; he wondered if there could possibly be a Peatling Minima, and, if so, whether it was visible to the naked eye.

Ten minutes of steady pedaling brought him into another village. He looked around hopefully for anything resembling an aerodrome, but nothing he saw matched that description. A matronly woman in a scarf and a heavy wool coat was trudging down the street. “Begging your pardon, madam,” he called to her, “but is this Bruntingthorpe?”

The woman’s head whipped around-his London accent automatically made him out to be a stranger. She relaxed, a little, when she saw he was in RAF dark blue and thus had an excuse for poking his good-sized nose into a place where he didn’t belong. But even though she used the broader vowels of the East Midlands, her voice was sharp as she answered, “Bruntingthorpe? I should say not, young man. This is Peatling Parva. Bruntingthorpe lies down that road.” She pointed east.

“Thank you, madam,” Goldfarb said gravely. He bent low over his bicycle, rode away fast so she wouldn’t hear him start to snicker. Not Peatling Minima-Peatling Parva. The name fit; it had looked a pretty parva excuse for a village. Now, though, he was on the right track and-he looked at his watch-near enough on time that he could blame his tardiness on the train’s getting into Leicester late, which it had.

He hadn’t gone far toward Bruntingthorpe when he heard a screaming roar, saw an airplane streak across the sky at what seemed an impossible speed. Alarm and fury coursed through him-had he come here just in time to see the Lizards bomb and wreck the aerodrome?

Then he played in his mind the film of the aircraft he’d just seen. After the Lizards destroyed the radar station at Dover, he’d been an aircraft spotter the old-fashioned way, with binoculars and field telephone, for a while. He recognized the Lizards’ fighters and fighter-bombers. This aircraft, even if it flew on jets, didn’t match any of them. Either they’d come up with something new or the plane was English.

Hope replaced anger. Where was he more likely to find English jet aircraft than at a research and development aerodrome? He wondered why the powers that be wanted him there. He’d find out soon.

The village of Bruntingthorpe was no more prepossessing than either of the Peatlings. Not far away, though, a collection of tents, corrugated-iron Nissen huts, and macadamized runways marred the gently rolling fields that surrounded the hamlets. A soldier with a tin hat and a Sten gun demanded to see Goldfarb’s papers when he pedaled up to the barbed-wire fence and gate around the RAF facility.

He surrendered them, but could not help remarking, “Seems a fairish waste of time, if anyone wants to know. Not bloody likely I’m a Lizard in disguise, is it?”

“Never can tell, chum,” the soldier answered. “Besides, you might be a Jerry in disguise, and we’re not dead keen on that even if the match there won’t be played to a finish.”

“Can’t say I blame you.” Goldfarb’s parents had got out of Russian-ruled Poland to escape pogroms against the Jews. By all accounts, the Nazis’ pogroms after they conquered Poland had been a hundred times worse, bad enough for the Jews there to make common cause with the Lizards against the Germans. Now, from the reports that leaked out, the Lizards were beginning to make things tough on the Jews. Goldfarb sighed. Being a Jew wasn’t easy anywhere.

The sentry opened the gate, waved him through. He rode over to the nearest Nissen hut, got off his bicycle, pushed down the kickstand, and went into the hut. Several RAF men were gathered round a large table there, studying some drawings by the light of a paraffin lamp hung overhead. “Yes?” one of them said.

Goldfarb stiffened to attention: the casual questioner, though just a couple of inches over five feet tall, wore the four narrow stripes of a group captain. Saluting, Goldfarb gave his name, specialization, and service number, then added, “Reporting as ordered sir!”

The officer returned the salute. “Good to have you with us, Goldfarb. We’ve had excellent reports of you, and we’re confident you’ll make a valuable member of the team. I am Group Captain Fred Hipple; I shall be your commanding officer. My speciality is jet propulsion. Here we have Wing Commander Peary, Flight Lieutenant Kennan, and Flight Officer Roundbush.”

The junior officers all towered over Hipple, but he dominated nonetheless. He was a dapper little fellow who held himself very erect; he had slicked-down wavy hair, a closely trimmed mustache, and heavy eyebrows. He spoke with almost professional precision: “I am told that you have been flying patrols aboard a radar-equipped Lancaster bomber in an effort to detect Lizard aircraft prior to their reaching our shores.”

“Yes, sir, that’s correct,” Goldfarb said.

“Capital. We shall make great use of your experience, I assure you. What we are engaged in here, Radarman, is developing a jet-propelled fighter aeroplane to be similarly equipped with radar, thus facilitating the acquisition and tracking of targets and, it is to be hoped, their destruction.”

“That’s-splendid, sir.” Goldfarb had always thought of radar as a defensive weapon, one to use to detect the enemy and send properly armed planes after him. But to mount it on a fighter already formidably armed in its own right… He smiled. This was a project in which he would gladly take part.

Flight Officer Roundbush shook his head. He was as big and blond and blocky as Hipple was spare and dark. He said, “It’d be a lot more splendid if we could make the bloody thing fit in the space we have for it.”

“Which is, at the moment, essentially nil,” Ripple said with a rueful nod. “The jet fighter you may have seen taking off a few moments ago, that little Gloster Pioneer, is not what one would call lavishly equipped with room. It was, in fact, in the air more than a year before the Lizards came.” Bitterness creased his face. “As I had produced a working jet engine as far back as 1937, I find the delay unfortunate, but no help for it now. When the Lizards descended, the Pioneer, though intended only as an experimental aircraft, was rushed into production to give us as much of an equalizer as was possible.”

“Might as well be tanks,” Roundbush murmured. Both the German invasion of France and the fighting in the North African desert had shown severe deficiencies in British armor, but the same old obsolescent models kept getting made because they did work, after a fashion, and England had no time to tool up to build anything better.

Group Captain Hipple shook his head. “It’s not as bad as that, Basil. We have managed to get the Meteor off the ground, after all.” He turned back to Goldfarb. “The Meteor is more a proper fighter than the Pioneer. The latter carries a single jet engine placed in back of the cockpit, whereas the former has two, of an improved design, mounted on the wings. The improvement in performance is considerable.”

“We also have a considerable production program laid on for the Meteor,” Flight Lieutenant Kennan said. “With luck, we should be able to put large numbers of jet fighters into the air by this time next year.”

“Yes, that’s so, Maurice,” Hipple agreed. “Of all the great powers, we and the Japanese have proved most fortunate, in that the Lizards did not invade either island nation. From the depths of space, I suppose we seemed too small to be worth troubling over. We’ve endured a worse blitz than the Jerries gave us, but life does go on despite a blitz. You should know that, eh, Goldfarb?”

“Yes, sir,” Goldfarb said. “It got a bit lively at Dover now and again, but we came through.” Though only a first-generation Englishman, he had a knack for understatement.

“Exactly.” Hipple’s nod was vehement, as If Goldfarb had said something important. The group captain went on, “As Flight Lieutenant Kennan and I have noted, our industrial capacity is still respectable, and we shall be able to get considerable numbers of Meteors airborne within a relatively short period. What point to it, however, if,once airborne, they are shot down again in short order?”

“Which is where you come in, Goldfarb,” Wing Commander Peary said. He was a slim fellow of medium height with sandy hair starting to go gray; his startling bass voice seemed better suited to a man of twice his bulk.

“Exactly,” Hipple said again. “Julian-the wing commander-means we need a chap with practical experience in airborne radar to help us plan its installation in Meteors as quickly as possible. Our pilots must be able to detect the enemy’s presence at a distance comparable to that at which he can ‘see’ us. D’you follow?”

“I believe so, sir,” Goldfarb said. “From what you say, I gather you intend the Meteor to have a two-man cockpit, pilot and radar observer. With the sets we have, sir, a pilot would be hard-pressed to tend to them and fly the aircraft at the same time.”

The four RAF officers exchanged glances. Goldfarb wondered if he’d just stuck his foot in it. That would be lovely, a lowly radarman affronting all his superiors within five minutes of arriving at a new posting.

Then Julian Peary rumbled, “This is a point which was much debated during the design of the aircraft. You may be interested to know that the view you just expressed is the one which prevailed.”

“I’m-pleased to hear that, sir,” Goldfarb said, with such transparent relief that Basil Roundbush, who seemed not overburdened with military formality, broke into a large, toothy grin.

Group Captain Hipple said, “Having established your level of expertise with such dispatch, Radarman, you give me hope you will also be able to assist us in reducing the size of the radar set to be carried. The fuselage of the Meteor is rather less spacious than the bomb bay of the Lancaster where you were previously ensconced. Perhaps you’ll have a look at these drawings with us so you can get a notion of the volume involved-”

Goldfarb stepped up to the table. With no more fanfare than that, he found himself a part of the team. He said, “I don’t know the solution to one problem we faced in the Lanc.”

“Which is?” Ripple asked.

“Of course, the Lizards’ guided rockets can knock down a plane at longer range than any guns that we have can hit back. One of those rockets definitely seems to home in on our radar transmissions-probably the same sort the Lizards used to knock out our ground stations. Turning off the set made that particular rocket go wild, but it also left us blind-something I shouldn’t fancy if I were in the midst of a dogfight.”

“Indeed not.” Ripple nodded vigorously. “Even under ideal circumstances, the Meteor does not pull us level with the Lizards; it merely reduces our disadvantage. We remain deficient in speed and, as you say, in armament as well. To have to engage enemy aircraft without being able to detect them past the range of the pilot’s eye would be a dreadful handicap. I do not pretend to be an expert in radar; as I said, engines are my speciality.” He turned to the other officers. “Suggestions, gentlemen?”

Basil Roundbush said, “Can your airborne radar set emit more than one frequency, Goldfarb? If so, perhaps switching between one and the next might, ah, confuse the rocket and cause it to miss without losing radar capacity.”

“That might work, sir, I honestly don’t know,” Goldfarb said. “We weren’t any too keen on experimenting, not up above Angels Twenty, if you know what I mean.”

“No quarrel there,” Roundbush assured him. “We’d have to try it on the ground first: if a transmitter there survived by shifting frequencies, the result might be worth testing in aircraft as well.”

He paused to scribble some notes. Goldfarb was delighted research and development had not stopped because of wartime emergencies, and even more delighted to be a part of the effort at Bruntingthorpe. But he’d already promised himself that, when the radar-equipped Meteors flew, he’d be in the rear seat of one of them. Having become part of an aircrew, he knew he’d never again be content to stay on the ground.

Moishe Russie was tired of staying underground. The irony of his position hit him in the teeth like a rifle butt in the hands of an SS man. When the Lizards came to Earth, he’d thought they were the literal answer to his prayers; absent their arrival, the Nazis would have massacred the Jews in the Warsaw ghetto, and in the others they’d set up throughout Poland.

The Jews had been looking for a miracle then. When Moishe declared that he’d had one, he gained enormous prestige in the ghetto; before, he’d been just another medical student slowly starving to death along with everyone else. He’d urged the Jews to rise, to help throw the Germans out and let the Lizards in.

And so he’d become one of the Lizards’ favorite humans. He’d broadcast propaganda for them, telling-truthfully-of the horrors and atrocities the Nazis had committed in Poland. The Lizards came to think he would say anything for them. They’d wanted him to praise their destruction of Washington, D.C., and say it was as just as the devastation that had fallen on Berlin.

He’d refused… and so he found himself here, hiding in a ghetto bunker that had been built with the Nazis, not the Lizards, in mind.

His wife Rivka picked that moment to ask, “How long have we been down here?”

“Too long,” their son Reuven chimed in.

He was right; Moishe knew he was right. Reuven and Rivka had been cooped up in the bunker longer than he had; they’d gone into hiding so the Lizards couldn’t use threats against them to bend him to their will. After that, the Lizards put a gun to his head to make him say what they wanted. He did not think of himself as a brave man, but he’d defied them even so. They hadn’t killed him. In a way, what they did was worse-they killed his words; broadcasting a twisted recording that made him seem to say what they wanted even when he hadn’t.

Russie had had his revenge; he’d made a recording in a tiny studio in the ghetto that detailed what the Lizards had done to him, and the Jewish fighters had managed to smuggle it out of Poland to embarrass the aliens. After that, he’d had to disappear himself.

Rivka said, “Do you even know, Moishe, whether it’s day or night up there?”

“No more than you do,” he admitted. The bunker had a clock; both he and Rivka had been faithful about keeping it wound. But the clock had only a twelve-hour dial, and after a while they’d lost track of which twelve hours they were in. Even by candlelight, he could see the dial from where he stood: it was a quarter past three. But did that mean bustling afternoon or dead of night? He had no idea. All he knew was that, at the moment, everyone here was awake.

“I don’t know how much longer we can stand this,” Rivka said. “It’s no fit life for a human being, hiding down here in the darkness like a rat in its hole.”

“But if it’s the only way we can go on, then go on we will,” Moishe answered sharply. “Life in wartime is never easy-do you think you’re in America? Even if we are underground, we’re better off now than when the Nazis ruled the ghetto.”

“Are we?”

“I think so. We have plenty of food-” Their other child, a daughter, had died during the Nazi occupation, of dysentery aggravated by starvation. Moishe had known what he needed to do to save her, but without food and medicine he’d been helpless.

But now Rivka said, “So what? We could see our friends before, share our troubles. If the Germans beat us on the streets, it was just because we happened to be there. If the Lizards spy us, they’ll shoot us on sight.”

Since that was manifestly true, Moishe chose the only ploy left to him: he changed the subject. “Even now, our people are better off under the Lizards than they were under the Germans.”

“Yes, and that’s thanks in large part to you,” Rivka retorted. “And what have you got for it? Your whole family, buried alive!” So much anger and bitterness clogged her voice that Reuven started to cry. Even as he comforted his son, Moishe blessed the little boy for short-circuiting the argument.

After he and Rivka got Reuven calmed down again, Moishe said carefully, “If you feel you must, I suppose you and Reuven can go back above ground. Not that many people knew you by sight; with God’s help, you might go a long time before you were betrayed. Anyone who wanted to curry favor with the Lizards could gain it by turning me in. Or a Pole might do it for no better reason than that he hates Jews.”

Rivka sighed. “You know we won’t do that. We won’t leave you, and you’re right, you can’t come up. But if you think we’re well off here, you’re meshuggeh.”

“I never said we were well off,” Russie answered after a brief pause to search his memory and make sure he really hadn’t said anything so foolish. “I only said things could be worse, and they could.” The Nazis could have shipped the whole Warsaw ghetto to Treblinka or that other extermination camp they were just finishing when the Lizards came, the one they called Auschwitz. He didn’t mention that to his wife. Some things, even if true, were too horrific to use as fuel in a quarrel.

The argument petered out. Reuven got sleepy, so they put him to bed. That meant they needed to go to bed themselves not much later; they couldn’t get much sleep when the boy was awake and bouncing off the walls of the cramped bunker.

Noises woke Rivka first, then Moishe. Reuven snored on, even when his parents sat up. Noises in the cellar of the block of flats that concealed the bunker were always frightening. At times, Jewish fighters whom Mordechai Anielewicz led came down with fresh supplies for the Russies, but Moishe always wondered if the next appearance would be the one that brought the knock on the plasterboard panel hiding the doorway.

Rap, rap, rap! The sharp sound echoed through the bunker. Russie started violently. Beside him, Rivka’s lips pulled back from her teeth, her eyes widened, and the skin all over her face tightened down onto the bones in a mask of fear. Rap, rap, rap!

Russie had vowed he wouldn’t go easily. Moving as quiet as he could, he slid out of bed, grabbed a long kitchen knife, and blew out the last lamp, plunging the bunker into darkness blacker than any above-ground midnight.

Rap, rap, rap! Shoving and scraping noises as the plasterboard panel was dislodged and pushed aside. The bunker door itself was barred from the inside. Moishe knew it wouldn’t hold against anyone determined to break it down. He raised the knife high. The first one who came through-Jewish traitor or Lizard-would take as much steel as he could give. That much he promised himself.

But instead of booted feet pounding on the door or a battering ram crashing against it, an urgent Yiddish voice called, “We know you’re in there, Reb Moishe. Open this verkakte door, will you? We have to get you away before the Lizards come.”

A trick? A trap? Automatically, Moishe looked toward Rivka. The darkness he’d made himself stymied him. “What to do?” he called softly.

“Open the door,” she answered.


“Open the door,” Rivka repeated. “Nobody in the company of the Lizards would have sworn at it that way.”

It seemed a slim reed to snatch. If it broke, it would pierce more than his hand. But how could he hold the invaders at bay? All at once, he realized they didn’t have to come in after him. Suppose they just stood back and sprayed the bunker with machinegun bullets… or started a fire and let him and his wife and child roast? He let the kitchen knife clatter to the floor, fumbled blindly for the bar, lifted it out of its rest, and pushed the door open.

One of the two Jews in the cellar carried an oil-burning lantern and a pistol. The lantern wasn’t very bright, but dazzled Moishe anyhow. The fighter said, “Took you long enough. Come on. You have to hurry. Some mamzer talked where he shouldn’t, and the Lizards’ll be here soon.”

Belief took root in Russie. “Get Reuven,” he called to his wife.

“I have him,” she answered. “He’s not quite awake, but he’ll come-won’t you, dear?”

“Come where?” Reuven asked blurrily.

“Out of the bunker,” Rivka said, that being all she knew. It was plenty to galvanize the boy. He let out a wild whoop and bounded out of bed. “Wait!” Rivka exclaimed. “You need your shoes. In fact, we all need our shoes. We were asleep.”

“At half past eight in the morning?” the Jew with the lantern said. “I wish I was.” After a moment, though, he added, “Not down here, though, I have to admit.”

Moishe had forgotten he wore only socks. As he pulled on shoes and tied the laces, he asked, “Do we have time to take anything with us?” The books on a high shelf had become more like siblings than friends.

But the other Jew impatiently waiting outside, the one with a German Mauser slung on his back, shook his head and answered, “Reb Moishe, if you don’t get moving, you won’t have time to take yourself.”

Even the low-ceilinged cellar seemed spacious to Moishe. He started to pant on his way up the stairs; he’d had no exercise at all in the bunker. The gray, leaden light at the top of the stairwell made him blink and set his eyes to watering. After so long with candles and oil lamps, even a distant hint of daylight was overwhelming.

Then he walked out onto the street. Thick clouds hid the sun. Dirty, slushy snow lay in the gutters. The air was hardly less thick and smoky than it had been in his underground hideaway. All the same, he wanted to throw his arms wide and dance like a Chasid to let loose his delight. Reuven did caper, coltlike; with a child’s compressed grasp of time, he must have felt he’d been entombed forever. Rivka walked steadily beside him, but her pale face was alight with joy and wonder, too.

Pale-Moishe looked down at his own hands. Beneath dirt, they were white and transparent as skimmed milk. His wife and son were just as pale. Everyone grew pallid through a Polish winter; but if he and his family lost any more color, they’d disappear.

“What’s the date?” he asked, wondering how long he’d been cooped up in the bunker.

“Twenty-second of February,” the Jew with the lantern answered. “A month till spring.” He snorted. Spring seemed more likely a year away than mere weeks.

The first Lizard Moishe saw on the street made him want to run back to the bunker. The alien, though, paid him no special attention. Lizards had as much trouble telling humans apart as people did with Lizards. Moishe glanced over to Reuven and Rivka. The aliens’ difficulties in that regard had helped the Jews spirit the two of them away from right under their snouts.

“In here,” the fighter with the pistol said. The Russies obediently went up a stairway and into another block of flats. The halls smelled of cabbage and unwashed bodies and urine. In an apartment at the back of the third floor, more of Anielewicz’s warriors waited. They whisked Moishe and his family inside.

One of them grabbed Moishe by the arm and hustled him over to a table set out with a bar of yellow-tan soap, an enameled basin, a pair of shears, and a straight razor. “The beard, Reb Moishe, has to come off,” he said without preamble.

Moishe drew back in dismay. A protective hand rose to cover his chin. The SS had cut off the beards-and sometimes the ears and noses-of Jews in the ghetto for sport.

“I’m sorry,” the fellow-bearded himself-said. “We’re going to move you, we’re going to hide you. Look at yourself now.” He picked up a fragment of what might once have been a full-length mirror, thrust it in Moishe’s face.

Moishe perforce looked. He saw-himself, paler than usual, his beard longer and fuzzier than usual because he hadn’t bothered trimming it while in the bunker, but otherwise the same rather horse-faced, studious-looking Jew he’d always been.

The fighter said, “Now imagine yourself clean-shaven. Imagine a Lizard with a photograph of you as you are now looking at you-and walking on to look at someone else.”

The closest Moishe could come to seeing himself beardless was remembering what he’d looked like before his whiskers sprouted. He had trouble bringing the youth across the years and putting that face on the man he’d become.

Then Rivka said, “They’re right, Moishe. It will make you different, and we need that. Please, go ahead and shave.”

He sighed deeply, a token of surrender. Then he took the mirror from the fighter and leaned it on a shelf so he could see what he was doing. He picked up the shears and rapidly clipped as short as he could the beard he’d worn his whole adult life. What he knew about shaving was all theoretical. He splashed his face with water, then lathered the strong-smelling soap, and spread it over cheeks and chin and neck.

Reuven snickered. “You look funny, Father!”

“I feel funny.” He picked up the razor. The bone grip molded itself to his hand, like the handle of a scalpel. The comparison seemed even more apt a few minutes later. He thought he’d seen less blood flow at an appendectomy. He nicked his ear, the hollow under his cheekbone, his chin, his larynx, and he made a good game try at slicing off his upper lip. When he rinsed himself, the water in the basin turned pink.

“You look funny, Father,” Reuven said again.

Moishe peered into the scrap of mirror. A stranger stared back at him. He looked younger than he had with the beard, but not really like his earlier self. His features were sharper-edged, bonier, more defined. He looked tougher than he’d expected. The dried blood here and there on his face might have had something to do with that; it gave him the air of a boxer who’d just lost a tough match.

The fellow who’d handed him the mirror patted him on the back and said, “Don’t worry, Reb Moishe. They say it gets easier with practice.” He wasn’t speaking from experience; his own gray-brown beard reached halfway down his shirtfront.

Russie started to nod, then stopped and stared. It hadn’t occurred to him that he’d have to do this more than once. But of course the fighter was right-if he wanted to keep up his disguise, he’d have to go on shaving. It struck him as a great waste of time. Even so, after he rinsed and dried the razor, he stuck it into a pocket of his long, dark coat.

The man with the pistol who’d plucked him from the bunker said, “All right, I think we can get you out of here now without too many people recognizing you.”

His own mother wouldn’t have recognized him… but she was dead, like his daughter, of intestinal disease aggravated by starvation. He said, “If I stay in Warsaw, sooner or later I’ll be spotted.”

“Of course,” the fighter said. “So you won’t stay in Warsaw.”

It made sense. It was like a kick in the belly just the same. He’d spent his whole life here. Till the Lizards came, he’d been sure he would die here, too. “Where will I-where will we-go?” he asked quietly.

“Lodz,” the fellow answered.

The word tolled through the room like the deep chime of a funeral bell at a Catholic church. The Germans had done their worst to the Lodz ghetto, second largest in Poland after Warsaw’s, just before the Lizards came. Many of the quarter million Jews who had lived there were shipped to Chelmno and Treblinka, never to come out again.

Russie’s newly bared face must have shown his thoughts all too clearly. The Jewish fighter said, “I understand how you feel, Reb Moishe, but it’s the best place. No one, not even, God willing, a Lizard, would think to look for you there, and if you’re needed, we can bring you back in a hurry.”

He could not fault the logic, but when he looked at Rivka, he saw the same sick dread in her eyes that he felt himself. The Jews of Lodz had passed into the valley of the shadow of death. Going to live in a town where that shadow had fallen…

“Some of us still survive in Lodz,” the fighter said. “We’d not send you there otherwise, you may be sure of that.”

“Let it be so, then,” Russie said with a sigh.

The fighter with the pistol drove the horse-drawn wagon out of Warsaw. Russie sat beside him, feeling horribly visible and vulnerable. Rivka and Reuven huddled in back along with several other women and children amid scraps and rags and odd-shaped pieces of sheet metal: the stock of a junkman’s trade.

The Lizards had a checkpoint on the highway just outside of town. One of the males there carried a photograph of Russie with his beard. His heart thuttered in alarm. But after a cursory glance, the Lizard turned to his comrade and said in his own language, “Just another boring bunch of Big Uglies.” The comrade waved the wagon ahead.

After a couple of kilometers, the fighter pulled over to the side of the road. The women and children who had served to camouflage Reuven and Rivka got down and started walking back to Warsaw. The fighter flicked the reins, clucked to the horse. The wagon rattled down the road toward Lodz.

Liu Han looked mistrustfully at the latest assortment of canned goods the little scaly devils had brought into her cell. She wondered what was most likely to stay down this time. The salty soup with noodles and bits of chicken, perhaps, and the canned fruit in syrup. She knew she wouldn’t touch the stew with the thick gravy; she’d already given that back twice.

She sighed. Being pregnant was hard enough anywhere. It was even worse imprisoned here in this airplane that never came down. Not only was she alone in the little metal room except when the scaly devils brought Bobby Fiore to her, but almost all her food was put up by foreign devils like him and not to her taste.

She ate what she could, wishing she were back in her Chinese village or even in the prison camp from which the little scaly devils had plucked her. In either place, she would have been among her own kind, not caged all alone like a songbird for the amusement of her captors. If she ever got out of here, she vowed she would free every bird she could.

Not that getting out seemed likely. She shook her head-no indeed. Her straight black hair tumbled over her, face, over her bare shoulders-the scaly devils, who wore no clothes themselves, allowed their human prisoners none and kept the cell too warm to make them comfortable anyhow-and across her newly tender breasts. Her hair hadn’t been long enough to do that when the little devils brought her up here. It was now, and growing toward her waist.

She belched uncomfortably and got ready to dash for the plumbing hole. But what she’d eaten decided to stay where it belonged. She wasn’t sure exactly how far gone she was, not in here where the little scaly devils never turned off the light to let her reckon the passage of days. But she wasn’t throwing up as much as she had at first. Her belly hadn’t started to swell, though. Getting close to four months was the best guess she could make.

Part of the floor, instead of being metal like the rest, was a raised mat covered with slick gray stuff that looked more like leather than anything else but didn’t smell like it. Her body, sweaty in the heat, stuck to the mat when she lay down on it, but it was still better for resting than anywhere else in the cell. She closed her eyes, tried to sleep. She’d been sleeping a lot lately, partly because she was pregnant and partly because she had nothing better to do.

She was just dozing off when the door to her cell hissed open again. She opened one eye, sure it would be the little devil who came in to take away the cans after every meal. Sure enough, in he skittered, but several others came with him. A couple of them had body paint more ornate than she was used to seeing.

One, to her surprise, spoke Chinese after a fashion. Pointing to her, he said, “You come with us.”

She quickly got to her feet. “It shall be done, superior sir,” she said, using one of the phrases she’d learned of the little devils’ language.

The devils fell in around her at more than arm’s length. She was on the small side, an inch or so above five feet, but she towered over the scaly devils, enough so to make them nervous around her. She joined them eagerly enough; any trip out of her cell was unusual enough to count as a treat. And maybe, better still, they would take her to Bobby Fiore.

They didn’t; they led her in the opposite direction from his cell. She wondered what they wanted with her. Wondering made her hopeful and anxious by turns. They might do anything at all to her, from setting her free to taking her away from Bobby Fiore and giving her to some new man who would rape and beat her. She had no say. She was just a prisoner.

What they did reached neither extreme. They took her down an oddly curved stairway to another deck. She felt lighter there than she should have; her stomach didn’t like it. But much of her fear went away. She knew they’d brought Bobby Fiore here, and nothing too bad had happened to him.

The scaly devils escorted her into a chamber full of their incomprehensible gadgetry. The devil sitting behind the desk surprised her by speaking fair Chinese: “You are the female human Liu Han?”

“Yes,” she answered. “Who are you, please?” Her own language tasted sweet in her mouth. Even with Bobby Fiore, she spoke a curious mixture of Chinese, English, and the little devils’ tongue, eked out with much gesture and dumb show.

“I am called Nossat,” the scaly devil answered. “I am a-I do not know it, your language has an exact word for it-I am a male who studies how you humans think. I am colleague to Tessrek, who spoke with your mate Bobby Fiore.”

“Yes, I understand,” Liu Han said. That was the little scaly devil with whom Bobby Fiore had spoken down here. What had he called the devil Tessrek? English had a name for what that devil did-psychologist, that was it. Liu Han relaxed. Talking could not be dangerous.

Nossat said, “You are going to lay an egg in the time to come? No, your kind does not lay eggs. You are going to give birth? Is that what you say, ‘give birth’? You will have a child?”

“I am going to have a child, yes,” Liu Han agreed. Of themselves, the fingers of her right hand spread fanlike over her belly. She had long since resigned herself to being naked in front of the scaly devils, but she remained automatically protective of the baby growing inside her.

“The child is from matings between Bobby Fiore and you?” Nossat said. Without waiting for her to reply, he stuck one of his thin, clawed fingers into a recess on the desk. A screen, as if for motion pictures, lit up behind him. The picture that moved upon it was of Bobby Fiore thrusting atop Liu Han.

She sighed. She knew the little scaly devils took pictures of her while she made love, as well as any other time they chose. They had mating seasons like farm animals, and were utterly uninterested in matters of the flesh at any other time. The way people mated the whole year round seemed to fascinate and appall them.

“Yes,” she answered as the picture played on, “Bobby Fiore and I made love to start this baby.” Before long, it would begin to kick inside her, hard enough to feel. She remembered what a marvel that was from the boy she’d borne her husband before the Japanese killed him and the child.

Nossat stuck his finger into a different recess. Liu Han was not sorry to see the picture of her joined gasping to Bobby Fiore fade. A different moving picture took its place, this one of an immensely pregnant black woman giving birth to her baby. Liu Han watched the woman with more interest than the birth process: she knew about that, but she’d never before seen a black, man or woman. She hadn’t known the palms of their hands and soles of their feet were so pale.

“This is how your young are born?” Nossat said as the baby’s head and then shoulders emerged from between the straining woman’s legs.

“What else could it possibly be?” To Liu Han, the little scaly devils were an incomprehensible blend of immense and terrifying powers on the one hand and childishly abysmal ignorance on the other.

“This is-dreadful,” Nossat said. The motion picture kept running. The woman delivered the afterbirth. It should have been over then. But she kept on bleeding. The blood was hard to see against her dark skin, but it spread over and soaked into the ground where she lay. The little scaly devil went on, “This female died after the young Tosevite came out of her body. Many females in the land we hold have died bearing their young.”

“That does happen, yes,” Liu Han said quietly. It was not something she cared to think about. Not just bleeding, but a baby trying to come out while in the wrong position, or fever afterwards… so many things could go wrong. And so many babies never lived to see their second birthday, their first outside their mother.

“But it’s not right,” Nossat exclaimed, as if he held her personally responsible for the way people had their babies. “No other kind of intelligent creature we know puts its mothers in such danger just to carry on life.”

Liu Han had never imagined any kind of intelligent creatures but human beings until the little scaly devils came. Even after she knew of the devils, she hadn’t thought there could be still more varieties of such creatures. Irritation in her voice, she snapped, “Well, how do you have your babies, then?” For all she knew, the little devils might have been assembled in factories rather than born.

“Our females lay eggs, of course,” Nossat said. “So do those of the Rabotevs and Hallessi, over whom we rule. Only you Tosevites are different.” His weird eyes swiveled so that one watched the screen behind him while the other stayed accusingly on Liu Han.

She fought to keep from laughing, fought and lost. The idea of making a nest-out of straw, maybe, like a chicken’s-and then sitting on it till the brood hatched was absurd enough to tickle her fancy. Hens certainly didn’t seem to have trouble laying eggs, either. It might be an easier way to do the job. But it wasn’t the way people did it.

Nossat said, “Your time to have the young come out of your body is now about a year away?”

“A year?” Liu Han stared at him. Didn’t the little scaly devils know anything?

But the devil said, “No-this is my mistake, for two years of the Race, more or less, make one of yours. I should say-should have said-you are half a year from your time?”

“Half a year, yes,” Liu Han said. “Maybe not quite so long.”

“We have to decide what to do with you,” Nossat told her. “We have no knowledge of how to help you when the young is born. You are only a barbarous Tosevite, but we do not want you to die because we are ignorant. You are our subject, not our enemy.”

Fear blew through Liu Han, a cold wind. Give birth here, in this place of metal, with only scaly devils beside her, without a midwife to help her through her pangs? If the least little thing went wrong, she would die, and the baby, too. “I will need help,” she said, as plaintively as she could. “Please get some for me.”

“We are still planning,” Nossat said, which was neither yes nor no. “We will know what we do before your time comes.”

“What if the baby is early?” Liu Han said.

The little devil’s eyes both swung toward her. “This can happen?”

“Of course it can,” Liu Han said. But nothing was of course for the little scaly devils, not when they knew so little about how mankind-and, evidently, womankind-functioned. Then, suddenly, Liu Han had an idea that felt so brilliant, she hugged herself in delight. “Superior sir, would you let me go back down to my own people so a midwife could help me deliver the baby?”

“This had not been thought of.” Nossat made a distressed hissing noise. “I see, though, from where you stand, it may have merit. You are not the only female specimen on this ship who will have young born. We will-how do you say? — consider. Yes. We will consider.”

“Thank you very much, superior sir.” Liu Han looked down at the floor, as she had seen the scaly devils do when they meant to show respect. Hope sprang up in her like rice plants in spring.

“Or maybe,” Nossat said, “maybe we bring up a-what word did you use? — a midwife, yes, maybe we bring up a midwife to this ship to help you here. We will consider that, too. You go now.”

The guards took Liu Han out of the psychologist’s office, led her back to her cell. She felt heavier with each step up the curiously curving stairway that returned her to her deck-and also because the hope which had sprouted now began to wilt.

But it didn’t quite die. The little scaly devils hadn’t said no.

A blank-faced Nipponese guard shoved a bowl of rice between the bars of Teerts’ cell. Teerts bowed to show he was grateful. Feeding prisoners at all was, in Nipponese eyes, a mercy: a proper warrior would die fighting rather than let himself be captured. The Nipponese were in any case sticklers for their own forms of courtesy. Anyone who flouted them was apt to be beaten-or worse.

Since the Nipponese shot down his killercraft, Teerts had had enough beatings-and worse-that he never wanted another (which didn’t mean he wouldn’t get one). But he hated rice. Not only was it the food of his captivity, it wasn’t something any male of the Race would eat by choice. He wanted meat, and could not remember the last time he’d tasted it. This bland, glutinous vegetable matter kept him alive, although he often wished it wouldn’t.

No, that was a falsehood. If he’d wanted to die, he had only to starve himself to death. He did not think the Nipponese would force him to eat; if anything, he might gain their respect by perishing this way. That he cared whether these barbarous Big Uglies respected him showed how low he had sunk.

He lacked the nerve to put an end to himself, though; the Race did not commonly use suicide as a way out of trouble. And so, miserably, he ate, half wishing he never saw another grain of rice, half wishing his bowl held more.

He finished just before the guard came back and took away the bowl. He bowed again in gratitude for that service, though the guard would also have taken it even if he hadn’t finished.

After the guard left, Teerts resigned himself to another indefinitely long stretch of tedium. So far as he knew he was the only prisoner of the Race the Nipponese held here at Nagasaki. No cells within speaking distance of him held even Big Ugly prisoners, lest he somehow form a conspiracy with them and escape. He let his mouth fall open in bitter laughter at the likelihood of that.

Six-legged Tosevite pests scuttled across the concrete floor. Teerts let his eye turrets follow the creatures. He had nothing in particular against them. The real pests on Tosev 3 were the ones who walked upright.

He drilled away into a fantasy where his killercraft’s turbofans hadn’t tried to breathe bullets instead of air. He could have been back at a comfortably heated barracks talking with his comrades or watching the screen or piping music through a button taped to a hearing diaphragm. He could have been snapping bites off a chunk of dripping meat. He could have been in his killercraft again, helping to bring the pestilential Big Uglies under the Race’s control.

Though he heard footsteps coming down the corridor toward him, he did not swing his eyes to see who was approaching. That would have returned him to grim reality too abruptly to bear.

But then the maker of those footsteps stopped outside his cell. Teerts quickly put fantasy aside, like a male saving a computer document so he can attend to something more urgent. His bow was deeper than the one he’d given the guard who fed him. “Konichiwa, Major Okamoto,” he said in the Nipponese he was slowly acquiring.

“Good day to you as well,” Okamoto answered in the language of the Race. He was more fluent in it than Teerts was in Nipponese. Learning a new tongue did not come naturally to males of the Race; the Empire had had but one for untold thousands of years. But Tosev 3 was a mosaic of dozens, maybe hundreds, of languages. Picking up one more was nothing out of the ordinary for a Big Ugly. Okamoto had been Teerts’ interpreter and interrogator ever since he was captured.

The Tosevite glanced down the hall. Teerts heard jingling keys as a warder drew near. Another round of questions, then, the pilot thought. He bowed to the warder to show he was grateful for the boon of leaving the cell. Actually he wasn’t as long as he stayed in here, no one hurt him. But the forms had to be observed.

A soldier with a rifle tramped right behind the warder. He covered Teerts as the other male used the key. Okamoto also drew his pistol and held it on Teerts. The pilot would have laughed, except it wasn’t really funny. He only wished he were as dangerous as the Big Uglies thought he was.

The interrogation room was on an upper floor of the prison. Teerts had seen next to nothing of Nagasaki. He knew it lay by the sea; he’d come here by ship after being evacuated from the mainland when Harbin fell to the Race. He didn’t miss seeing the sea. After that nightmare voyage of storms and sickness, he hoped he’d never see-much less ride upon-another overgrown Tosevite ocean again.

The guard opened the door. Teerts walked in, bowed to the Big Uglies inside. They wore white coats rather than uniforms like Okamoto’s. Scientists, not soldiers, Teerts thought. He’d come to realize the Tosevites used clothing to indicate job and status as the Race used body paint. The Big Uglies, however, were much less systematic and consistent about it-typical of them, he thought.

Nonetheless, he was glad not to face another panel of officers. The military males had been much quicker than scientists to resort to the instruments of painful persuasion in the interrogation room.

One of the men in white addressed Teerts in barking Nipponese, much too fast for him to follow. He turned both eye turrets toward Major Okamoto, who translated: “Dr. Nakayama asks whether, as has been reported, all members of the Race who have come to Tosev 3 are male.”

Hai,” Teerts answered. “Honto.” Yes, that was the truth.

Nakayama, a slim male on the small side for a Tosevite, asked another long question in his own tongue. Okamoto translated again: “He asks how you can hope to keep Tosev 3 with males alone.”

“We don’t, of course,” Teerts answered. “We who are here make up the conquest fleet. Our task is to subjugate this world, not to colonize it. The colonization fleet will come. It was being organized even as we set out, and will arrive in this solar system about forty years from now.”

So long a gap should have given the males of the conquest fleet plenty of time to get Tosev 3 into good running order for the colonists. It would have done just that, had the Big Uglies been the pre-industrial savages the Race thought they were. Teerts still thought they were savages, but, worse luck, they were anything but pre-industrial.

All three Nipponese in white started talking volubly at one another. Finally one of them put a question to Teerts. “Dr. Higuchi wants to know whether you mean your years or ours.”

“Ours,” Teerts said; would he waste his time learning Tosevite measurements? “Yours is longer-I don’t remember how much.”

“So, then, this colonization fleet, as you call it, will arrive on our planet in fewer than forty years’ time as we reckon it?” Higuchi said.

“Yes, superior sir.” Teerts suppressed a sigh. It should have been so easy: smash the Big Uglies, prepare the planet for full exploitation, then settle down and wait till the colonists arrived and were thawed out. When at last he smelled mating pheromones again, Teerts might even have sired a couple of clutches of eggs himself. Raising hatchlings, of course, was females’ work, but he liked thinking of passing on his genes so he could contribute to the future of the Race.

The way things looked now, this world might still be troublesome when the colonization fleet got here. And even if it wasn’t, his own chance of being around to join the colony’s gene pool wasn’t big enough to be visible to the naked eye-he couldn’t see it, at any rate.

He had a while to think of such things, because the Nipponese were chattering furiously among themselves again. Finally the male who hadn’t addressed him before spoke through Major Okamoto: “Dr. Tsuye wishes to know the size of the colonization fleet as opposed to that of the conquest fleet.”

“The colonization fleet is not opposed to the conquest fleet,” Teerts said. Clearing up the idiom took a couple of minutes. Then he said, “The colonization fleet is larger, superior sir. It has to be: it carries many more males and females as well as what they will need to establish themselves here on Tosev 3.”

His answer produced more sharp colloquy among the Nipponese. Then the one named Tsuye said, “This colonization fleet-is it, ah, as heavily armed as your invasion fleet?”

“No, of course not. There would be no need-” Teerts corrected himself. “There was thought to be no need for including many weapons with the colonization fleet. It was assumed that you Tosevites would already be thoroughly subdued by the time the colonists arrived here. We hadn’t counted on your resisting so ferociously.” I hadn’t counted on being shot down, the pilot added to himself.

His words seemed to please the Nipponese. They bared their flat, square teeth in the facial gesture they used to show they were happy. Major Okamoto said, “All Tosevites are brave, and we Nipponese the bravest of the brave.”

Hai,” Teerts said. “Honto.” The interrogation broke up not long after that. Okamoto and the guard, who had waited outside, escorted Teerts back, to his cell. That evening, he found small chunks of meat mixed in with his rice. That had only happened a couple of times before. Flattery, he thought as he gratefully swallowed them down, had got him something.

Mutt Daniels looked at his hand: four clubs and the queen of hearts. He discarded the queen. “Gimme one,” he said.

“One,” Kevin Donlan agreed. “Here you go, Sarge.” The new card was a diamond. None of the other soldiers in the game would have known it from Mutt’s face. He’d played countless hours of poker on trains and bus rides as a minor-league (and, briefly, major-league) catcher and as a longtime minor-league manager. He’d played in the trenches in France, too, in the last war. He didn’t care to risk a big roll of money when he gambled, but he won more often than he lost. Every so often he’d stolen a pot on a busted flush, too.

Not tonight, though. One of the privates in his squad, a big hunkie named Bela Szabo who was universally called Dracula, had drawn three cards and raised big when it was his turn to bet. Mutt pegged him for at least three of a kind, maybe better. When the action came round to him, he tossed in his cards. “Can’t win ’em all,” he said philosophically.”

Kevin Donlan, who couldn’t possibly have been as young as he looked, hadn’t learned that yet. Calling Szabo was okay if you had two little pair, but raising back struck Mutt as foolhardy. Sure as hell, Dracula was holding three kings. He scooped up the folding money.

“Son, you gotta watch what the other guy’s doin’ better’n that,” Daniels said. “Like I told you, you ain’t gonna win ’em all.” If nothing else, years of managing in the minors had pounded that home as a law of nature. Mutt chuckled. The life he’d lived beat the hell out of the one he’d have had if he hadn’t played ball. Likely he’d still be watching a mule’s hind end on the Mississippi farm where he’d been born and raised.

Like trains in the distance, shells rumbled by overhead. Everybody looked up, though the roof of the barn where they sheltered held the sky at bay. Szabo cocked his head, gauging the sound. “Southbound,” he said. “Those are ours.”

“Probably landing on the Lizards in Decatur right now,” Kevin Donlan agreed. A moment later, he added, “What’s funny, Sarge?”

“I reckon I’ve said I was managing the Decatur team in the Three-I League when the Lizards came,” Mutt answered. “Matter of fact, I was on the train from Madison to Decatur when we got strafed right outside o’ Dixon, upstate. This here’s the closest I’ve come to makin’ it to where I was goin’ since, and most of a year’s gone by now.”

“This here”-the barn-was on a farm just south of Clinton, Illinois, about halfway between Bloomington and Decatur. The Americans had taken Bloomington in an armored blitz. Now it was slow, tough work again, trying to push the Lizards farther back from Chicago.

More shells hissed through the sky, these from the south. “Goddamn, the Lizards are quick with counterbattery fire,” Donlan said.

“They’re dead on, too,” Mutt said. “I hope our boys moved their guns before those little presents came down on ’em.”

The poker game went on by lantern light, shelling or no shelling. Mutt won a hand with two pair, lost expensively to a straight when he was holding three nines, didn’t waste money betting on a couple of others. Another American battery opened up, this one a lot closer. The, thunder of the big guns reminded Mutt of bad weather back home.

“Hope they blow all the Lizards in Decatur straight to hell,” Szabo said.

“Hope one of ’em lands on second base at Fan’s Field and blows the center-field fence out to where it belongs,” Daniels muttered. It was 340 down each foul line at the Decatur ball-park, a reasonable poke, but dead center was only 370, a pain in the ERA to every Commodore pitcher who took the mound.

Small-arms fire rattled only a few hundred yards away, some M-Is and Springfields, some from the automatic rifles the Lizards carried. Before Mutt could say a word, everybody in the latest hand grabbed his money from the pot, stuffed it into a pocket, and reached for his weapon. Someone blew out the lantern. Someone else pushed the barn door open. One by one, the men emerged.

“You want to be careful,” Mutt said quietly. “The Lizards have those damn night sights, let ’em see like cats in the dark.”

Dracula Szabo laughed, also softly. “That’s why I got me this here Browning Automatic Rifle, Sarge. Put out enough lead and some of it’ll hit somebody.” He wasn’t much older than Donlan, young enough to be gut-sure no bullet could possibly find him. Mutt knew better. France had convinced him he wasn’t immortal, and several months fighting the Lizards drove the lesson home again.

“Spread out, spread out,” Daniels called in an urgent whisper. To his ear, the men sounded like a herd of drunken rhinos. Several were new recruits; by virtue of having lived through several encounters with the Lizards, Mutt was reckoned suitable for showing others how to do likewise.

“How many Lizards you think there are, Sarge?” Kevin Donlan asked. Donlan wasn’t eager any more; he’d been through enough of the tough defensive fighting outside Chicago to be sure his number could come up. The question came in a tone of intelligent professional concern.

Daniels cocked his head, listened to the firing. “Damfino,” he said at last. “Not a whole bunch, but I wouldn’t peg it tighter’n that. Those rifles o’ theirs shoot so fast, just a couple can sound like a platoon.”

Off to one side lay the concrete ribbon of US 51. A couple of soldiers charged straight down it. Daniels yelled at them, but they kept going. He wondered why they didn’t paint big red-and-white bull’s-eyes on their chests, too. He dodged from bush to upended tractor to hedgerow, making himself as tough a target as he could.

That wasn’t the only reason he fell behind most of the squad. He had fifty-odd years and a pot belly under his belt, though he was in better shape now than he had been before the Lizards came. Even in his long-gone playing days, he’d been a catcher, so he’d never moved what anybody would call fast.

He was panting and his heart thudded in his chest by the time he half jumped, half fell into a shell hole at the edge of the American firing line. Somebody not far away was screaming for a medic and for his mother; his voice was ebbing fast.

Cautiously, Mutt raised his head and peered into the night to see if he could pick up muzzle flashes from the Lizards’ rifles. Over there, a yellow-white flicker… He raised his Springfield to his shoulder, squeezed off a round, worked the bolt, fired again. Then he threw himself flat again.

Sure enough, bullets cracked by, just above the hole where he hid. If he could pick up the Lizards’ muzzle flashes, they could find his as well. And if he fired again from here, he was willing to bet some turret-eyed little scaly sharpshooter would punch his ticket for him. The Lizards weren’t human, but they were pretty fair soldiers.

He scrambled out of the hole and crawled across cold ground over to something made of bricks-a well, he realized when he got behind it. Szabo was making a hell of a racket with that BAR; if he wasn’t hitting the Lizards, he was sure making them keep their heads down. Even more warily than before, Daniels looked south again.

He saw a flash, fired at it. In the night, it was the next closest thing to shooting blind. No more flickers of light came from that spot, but he never found out whether it was because he’d scored a hit or the Lizard moved to a new firing spot, as he’d done himself.

After fifteen or twenty minutes, the firing faded. The Americans slowly moved forward to discover the Lizards had pulled out. “Just a recon patrol,” said another sergeant who, like Mutt, was trying to round up his squad and not having much luck.

“Don’t rightly recall the Lizards doin’ a whole lot o’ that, not at night and not on foot,” Daniels said with a thoughtful frown. “Ain’t been their style.”

“Maybe they’re learning,” the other noncom answered. “You don’t really know what the other fellow’s doing till you sneak around and see it with your own eyes.”

“Yeah, sure, but the Lizards, they mostly fight one way,” Mutt said. “Don’t know as how I like ’em learnin’ how to do their job better. That’ll mean they got more chance of shootin’ my personal, private ass off.”

The other sergeant laughed. “Somethin’ to that, pal. I don’t know what we can do about it, though, short of giving their patrols enough lumps to make ’em try something else instead.”

“Yeah,” Mutt said again. He blew air out through his lips to make a whuffling noise. This hadn’t been too bad-just a little skirmish. As far as he could tell, he didn’t have anybody dead or even hurt. But if the Lizards were skirmishing outside of Clinton, it was liable to be a good long while yet before he saw Decatur.


Clip-clop, clip-clop. Colonel Leslie Groves hated slowness, hated delay, with the restless passion of an engineer who’d spent a busy lifetime fighting inefficiency wherever it reared its head. And here he was, coming into Oswego, New York, in a horse-drawn wagon because the cargo he had in his charge was too important to risk putting it on an airplane and having the Lizards shoot it down. Clip-cop, Clip-clop.

Rationally, he knew this slow, safe trip didn’t stall anything. The Met Lab team, traveling by the same archaic means he was using himself, wasn’t close to Denver yet and couldn’t work with the uranium or whatever it was that the British had fetched over to the United States from eastern Europe.

Clip-clop, clip-cop. Riding alongside the wagon was a squadron of horse cavalry, an antique arm Groves had long wished would vanish from the Army forever. The horsemen were useless against the Lizards, as they had been for years against any Earthly mechanized force. But they did a first-class job of overawing the brigands, bandits, and robbers who infested the roads in these chaotic times.

“Captain, will we reach the Coast Guard station by sunset?” Groves called to the commander of the cavalry unit.

Captain Rance Auerbach glanced westward, gauged the sun through curdled clouds. “Yes, sir, I believe so. Only a couple more miles to the Jake shore.” His Texas drawl drew looks here in upstate New York. Groves thought he should be wearing Confederate gray and maybe a plume in his hat, too; he was too flamboyant for olive drab. That he called his horse Jeb Stuart did nothing to weaken that freewheeling image.

The wagon rolled past a wooden ballpark with a sign that read, OTIS FIELD, HOME OF THE OSWEGO NETHERLANDS, CANADIAN-AMERICAN LEAGUE. “Netherlands,” Groves said with a snort. “Hell of a name for a baseball team.”

Captain Auerbach pointed to a billboard across the street. In faded, tattered letters it proclaimed the virtues of the Netherland Ice Cream and Milk Company. “Bet you anything you care to stake they ran the team, sir,” he said.

“No thank you, Captain,” Groves said. “I won’t touch that one.”

Otis Field didn’t look as if it had seen much use lately. Planks were missing from the outer fence; they’d no doubt helped Oswegians stay warm during the long, miserable winter. The gaps showed the rickety grandstand and the dugouts where in happier-and warmer-times the opposing teams had sheltered. Stands and dugout roofs also had the missing-tooth effect from vanished lumber. If the Netherlands ever returned to life, they’d need somewhere new to play.

From long experience, Groves reckoned Oswego a town, of twenty or twenty-five thousand. The few people out on the streets looked poor and cold and hungry. Most people looked that way these days. The town didn’t seem to have suffered directly in the war, though the Lizards were in Buffalo and on the outskirts of Rochester. Groves guessed Oswego wasn’t big enough for them to have bothered pulverizing it. He hoped they’d pay for the omission.

On the east side of the Oswego River stood the U.S. Military Reservation, with the earthworks of Fort Ontario. The fort dated back even further than the French and Indian War. Holding enemies at bay now, unfortunately, wasn’t as simple as it had been a couple of centuries before.

The Coast Guard station was a two-story white frame building at the foot of East Second Street, down by the cold, choppy gray waters of Lake Ontario. The cutter Forward was tied up at a pier out in the lake. A seaman policing up outside the station spied the wagon and its escort approaching. He ducked into the building, calling loudly, “The U.S. Cavalry just rode into town, sir!”

Groves smiled at that, in amusement and relief. An officer came out of the station. He wore a U.S. Navy uniform; in time of war, the Coast Guard was subsumed into the Navy. Saluting, he said, “Colonel Groves?”

“Right here.” Groves ponderously descended from the wagon. Even with wartime privation, he carried well over two hundred pounds. He returned the salute and said, “I’m afraid I wasn’t given your name”-the Coast Guardsman had two broad stripes on his cuffs and shoulder blades-“Lieutenant, ah…?”

“I’m Jacob van Alen, sir,” the Coast Guardsman said.

“Well, Lieutenant van Alen, I gather the messenger got here ahead of us.”

“From what Smitty yelled, you mean? Yes, sir, he did.” Van Alen had an engaging grin. He was a tall, skinny fellow some where close to thirty, very blond, with an almost invisible little mustache. He went on, “Our orders are to give you whatever you want, not to ask a whole lot of questions, and never, ever put your name on the radio. I’m paraphrasing, but that’s what they boil down to.”

“It sounds right,” Groves agreed. “You’d be better off forgetting we even exist once we’re gone. Impress that on your sailors, too; if they start blabbing and any word of us gets out, they’ll be arrested and tried as traitors to the United States. That comes straight from President Roosevelt, not from me. Make sure your people understand it.”

“Yes, sir.” Van Alen’s eyes sparkled. “If they hadn’t told me to keep my big mouth shut, I’d have at least a million questions for you; you’d best believe that.”

“Lieutenant, believe me-you don’t want to know.” Groves had seen the slagged ruin a single Lizard bomb had made of Washington, D.C. If the Lizards had that power, the United States had to have it, too, to survive. But the idea of a uranium bomb chilled him. Start throwing those things around and you were liable to end up with an abattoir instead of a world.

“What you say has already been made very clear to me, Colonel,” van Alen said. “Suppose you tell me what it is you want me to do for you.”

“If the Lizards weren’t in Buffalo, I’d have you sail me all the way to Duluth,” Groves answered. “As it is, you’re going to take me across to the Canadian side so I can continue on the overland route.”

“To wherever you’re going.” Van Alen raised a hand. “I’m not asking, I’m just talking. One thing I do need to know, though: whereabouts on the Canadian side am I taking you? It’s a biggish country, you know.”

“I have heard rumors to that effect, yes,” Groves said dryly. “Sail us across to Oshawa. They should be expecting me there; if a messenger got through to you, no reason to think one didn’t make it to them.”

“You’re right about that. The Lizards haven’t hit Canada as hard as they’ve hit us.”

“By all I’ve heard, they don’t care for cold weather.” Now Groves held up a broad-palmed hand. “I know, I know-if they don’t care for cold weather, what are they doing in Buffalo?”

“You beat me to it,” the Coast Guardsman said. “Of course, they did get there in summertime. I hope they had themselves a hell of a surprise along around November.”

“I expect they did,” Groves said. “Now then, Lieutenant, much as I’d like to stand around shooting the breeze”-something he loathed-“I have a package to deliver. Shall we get moving?”

“Yes, sir,” van Alen answered. He glanced toward the wagon from which Groves had got down. “You won’t be bringing that aboard the Forward, will you? Or the horses?”

“What are we supposed to do for mounts without ’em?” Captain Auerbach demanded indignantly.

“Captain, I want you to take a good look at that cutter,” Jacob van Alen said. “It carries me and a crew of sixteen. Now there’s what, maybe thirty of you folks? Okay, we can squeeze you onto the Forward, especially just for one fast run across the lake, but where the hell would we stow those animals even if we could get ’em on board?”

Groves looked from the Forward to the cavalry detachment and back again. As an engineer, he was trained in using space efficiently. He turned to Auerbach. “Rance, I’m sorry, but I think Lieutenant van Alen knows what he’s talking about. What is that, Lieutenant, about an eighty-foot boat?”

“You have a good eye, Colonel. She’s a seventy-eight-footer, forty-three tons displacement.”

Groves grunted. Thirty-odd horses weighed maybe twenty tons all by themselves. They’d have to stay behind, no doubt about it. He watched Captain Auerbach unhappily making the same calculation and coming up with the same result. “Cheer up, Captain,” he said. “I’m sure the Canadians will furnish us with new mounts. They don’t know what we’re carrying, but they know how important it is.”

Auerbach reached out to stroke his mount’s velvety muzzle. He answered with a cavalryman’s cri de coeur. “Colonel if they took your wife away and issued you a replacement, would you be satisfied with the exchange?”

“I might, if they issued me Rita Hayworth.” Groves let both hands rest on his protuberant belly. “Trouble is, she probably wouldn’t be satisfied with me.” Auerbach stared at him, let out an amazingly horsey snort, and spread his palms in surrender.

Lieutenant van Alen said, “Okay, no horses. What about the wagon?”

“We don’t need that either, Lieutenant.” Groves walked over, reached in, and pulled out a saddlebag that had been fixed with straps so he could carry it on his back. It was heavier than it looked, both from the uranium or whatever it was the Germans had stolen from the Lizards and from the lead shielding that-Groves hoped-kept the metal’s ionizing radiation from ionizing him. “I have everything required right here.”

“Whatever you say, sir.” What van Alen’s eyes said was that the pack didn’t look important enough to cause such a fuss. Groves stared stonily back at the Coast Guardsman. Here, as often, looks were deceiving.

Regardless of what van Alen might have thought, he and his crew efficiently did what was required of them. Inside half an hour the Forward’s twin gasoline engines were thundering as the cutter pulled away from the dock and headed for the Canadian shore.

As Oswego receded, Groves strode up and down the Forward, curious as usual. The first thing he noticed was the sound of his shoes on the deck. He paused in surprise and rapped his knuckles against the cutter s superstructure. That confirmed his first impression. It s made out of wood’ he exclaimed, as if inviting someone to contradict him.

But a passing crewman nodded. “That’s us, Colonel-wooden ships and iron men just like the old saying.” He grinned impudently. “Hell leave me out in the rain and I rust.”

“Get out of here,” Groves said. But when he thought about it, it made sense. A Coast Guard cutter wasn’t built to fight other ships; it didn’t need an armored hull. And wood was strong stuff. Apart from its use in shipbuilding, the Russians and England both still used it to build highly effective aircraft (or so the Mosquito and LaGG were reckoned before the Lizards came). Even so, it had taken him aback here.

Lake Ontario had a light chop. Even Groves, hardly smooth on his feet, effortlessly adjusted to it. One of his cavalrymen, though, bent himself double over the port rail puking his guts out. Groves suspected the sailors’ ribbing would have been a lot more ribald had the luckless fellow’s friends not outnumbered them two to one and been more heavily armed to boot.

The Forward boasted a one-pounder mounted in front of the superstructure. “Will that thing do any good if the Lizards decide to strafe us?” Groves asked the Coast Guardsman in charge of the weapon.

“About as much as a mouse giving a hawk the finger when the hawk swoops down on it,” the sailor answered. “Might make the mouse feel better, for a second or two, anyhow, but the hawk’s not what you’d call worried.” In spite of that cold-blooded assessment, the man stayed at his post.

The way the Coast Guardsmen handled their jobs impressed Groves. They knew what they needed to do and they did it, without fuss, without spit and polish, but also without wasted motion. Lieutenant van Alen hardly needed to give orders.

The trip across the lake was long and boring. Van Alen invited Groves to take off his pack and stow it in the cabin. “Thank you, Lieutenant, but no,” Groves said. “My orders are not to let it out of my sight at any time, and I intend to take them literally.”

“However you like, sir,” the Coast Guardsman said. He eyed Groves speculatively. “That must be one mighty important cargo.”

“It is.” Groves let it go at that. He wished the heavy pack were invisible and weightless. That might keep people from jumping to such accurate conclusions. The more people wondered about what he was carrying, the likelier word was to get to the Lizards.

As if the thought of the aliens were enough to conjure them out of thin air, he heard the distant scream of one of their jet planes. His head spun this way and that, trying to spot the aircraft through scattered clouds. He saw the contrail, thin as a thread, off to the west.

“Out of Rochester, or maybe Buffalo,” van Alen said with admirable sangfroid.

“Do you think he saw us?” Groves demanded.

“Likely he did,” the Coast Guardsman said. “We’ve been buzzed a couple times, but never shot at. Just to stay on the safe side, we’ll crowd your men down below, where they won t show and look as ordinary as we can for a while. And if you won’t leave that pack in the cabin, maybe you’ll step in yourself for a bit.”

It was as politely phrased an order as Groves had ever heard. He outranked van Alen, but the Coast Guardsman commanded the Forward, which meant authority rested with him. Groves went inside, jammed his face against a porthole. With luck, he told himself the Lizard pilot would go on about his business, whatever that was. Without luck…

The throb of the engines was louder inside, so Groves needed longer to hear the shriek the Lizard plane made. That shriek grew hideously fast. He waited for the one-pounder on the foredeck to start banging away in a last futile gesture of defiance, but it stayed silent. The Lizard plane screamed low overhead. Through the porthole, Groves saw van Alen looking up and waving. He wondered if the Coast Guard lieutenant had gone out of his mind.

But the jet roared away, the scream of its engine fading and dopplering down into a deep-throated wail. Groves hadn’t known he was holding his breath until he let it out in one long sigh. When he couldn’t hear the Lizard plane any more, he went out on deck again. “I thought we were in big trouble there,” he told van Alen.

“Naah.” The Coast Guardsman shook his head. “I figured we were all right as long as they didn’t notice all your men on deck. They’ve seen the Forward out on the lake a good many times, and we’ve never done anything that looks aggressive. I hoped they’d just assume we were out on another cruise, and I guess they did.”

“I admire your coolness, Lieutenant, and I’m glad you didn’t have to show coolness under fire,” Groves said.

“You can’t possibly be half as glad as I am, sir,” van Alen answered. The Coast Guard cutter sailed on toward the Canadian shore.

In the midst of the trees-some bare-branched birches, more dark pine and fir-the ice-covered lake appeared as suddenly as a rabbit out of a magician’s hat. “By Jove,” George Bagnall exclaimed as the Lancaster bomber ducked down below treetop height to make it harder for Lizard radar to pick them up. “That’s a nice bit of navigating, Alf.”

“All compliments gratefully accepted,” Alf Whyte replied. “Assuming that’s actually Lake Peipus, we can follow it straight down to Pskov.”

From the pilot’s seat next to Bagnall, Ken Embry said, “And if it’s not, we don’t know where the bloody hell we are, and we’ll all be good and Pskoved.”

Groans filled the earphones on Bagnall’s head. The flight engineer studied the thicket of gauges in front of him. “It had better be Pskov,” he told Embry, “for we haven’t the petrol to go much farther.”

“Oh, petrol,” the pilot said airily. “We’ve done enough bizarre turns in this war that flying without petrol wouldn’t be that extraordinary.”

“Let me check my parachute first, if you don’t mind,” Bagnall answered.

In fact, though, Embry had a point. The aircrew had been over Cologne on the thousand-bomber raid when Lizard fighters started hacking British planes out of the sky by the score. They’d made it back to England and gone on to bomb Lizard positions in the south of France-where they were hit. Embry had set the crippled bomber down on a deserted stretch of highway by night without smashing or flipping it. If he could do that, maybe he could fly without petrol.

After getting to Paris and being repatriated with German help (that still grated on Bagnall), they’d been assigned to a new Lanc, this one a testbed for airborne radar. Now, the concept being deemed proved, they were flying a set to Russia so the Reds would have a better chance of seeing the Lizards coming.

Ice, ice, close to a hundred miles of blue-white ice, with white snow drifted atop it. From the bomb bay, Jerome Jones, the radarman, said, “I looked up Pskov before we took off. The climate here is supposed to be mild; the proof adduced is that the snow melts by the end of March and the ice on the lakes and rivers in April.”

More groans from the aircrew. Bagnall exclaimed, “If that’s what the Bolshies make out to be a mild climate, what must they reckon harsh?”

“I’m given to understand Siberia has two seasons,” Embry said: “Third August and winter.”

“Good job we have our flight suits on,” Alf Whyte said. “I don’t think there’s another item in the British inventory that would do in this weather.” Below the Lanc, Lake Peipus narrowed to a neck of water, then widened out again. The navigator went on, “This southern bit is called Lake Pskov. We’re getting close.”

“If it’s all one lake, why has it got two names?” Bagnall asked.

“Supply the answer and win the tin of chopped ham, retail value ten shillings,” Embry chanted, like an announcer over the wireless. “Send your postal card to the Soviet Embassy, London. Winners-if there are any, which strikes me as unlikely-will be selected in a drawing at random.”

After another ten or fifteen minutes, the lake abruptly ended. A city full of towers appeared ahead. Some had the onion domes Bagnall associated with Russian architecture, while others looked as if they were wearing witches’ hats. The more modern buildings in town were scarcely worth noticing among such exotics.

“Right-here’s Pskov,” Embry said. “Where’s the bloody airfield?”

Down in the snow-filled streets, people scattered like ants when the Lancaster flew by. Through the bomber’s Perspex windscreen, Bagnall spied little flashes of light. “They’re shooting at us!” he yelled.

“Stupid sods,” Embry snarled. “Don’t they know we’re friendly? Now where’s that bleeding airfield?”

Away to the east, a red flare rose into the sky. The pilot swung the big heavy aircraft in that direction. Sure enough, a landing strip appeared ahead, hacked out of the surrounding forest. “It’s none too long,” Bagnall observed.

“It’s what we’ve got.” Embry pushed forward on the stick. The Lancaster descended. The pilot was one of the best. He set the bomber down at the back edge of the landing strip and used up every inch braking to a stop. The tree trunks ahead were looking very thick and very hard when the Lancaster finally quit moving. Embry looked as if he needed to will himself to let go of the stick, but his voice was relaxed as he said, “Welcome to beautiful, balmy Pskov. You have to be balmy to want to come here.”

No sooner had the Lancaster’s three-bladed props spun to a stop than men in greatcoats and thick padded jackets dashed out of the trees to start draping it with camouflage netting. Groundcrews had done that back in England, but never with such elan. The outside world disappeared in a hurry; Bagnall could only hope the bomber disappeared from outside view as quickly.

“Did you see?” Embry asked quietly as he disconnected his safety belt.

“See what?” Bagnall asked, also freeing himself.

“Those weren’t all Russians out there covering us up. Some of them were Germans.”

“Bloody hell,” Bagnall muttered. “Are we supposed to give them the airborne radar, too? That wasn’t in our orders.”

Alf Whyte stuck his head out from the little black-curtained cubicle where he labored with map and ruler and compasses and protractor. “Before the Lizards came, Pskov was headquarters for Army Group North. The Lizards ran Jerry out, but then they left themselves when winter started. It’s Russian enough now for us to land here, obviously, but I expect there will be some leftover Nazis as well.”

“Isn’t that wonderful?” By Embry’s tone, it was anything but.

The cold hit like a blow in the face when the aircrew left the Lanc. They were an abbreviated lot, pilot, flight engineer (Bagnall doubled as radioman), navigator, and radarman. No bomb-aimer on this run, no bombardiers, and no gunners in the turrets. If a Lizard jet attacked, machine guns weren’t going to be able to reply to its cannon and rockets.

“Zdrast’ye,” Ken Embry said, thereby exhausting his Russian. “Does anyone here speak English?”

“I do,” two men said, one with a Russian accent, the other in Germanic tones. They looked suspiciously at each other. Some months of joint battle against a common foe had not eased the memory of what they’d been doing to each other before the Lizards came.

Bagnall had done some German before he left college to join the RAF. That was only three years ago, but already most of it had vanished from his brain. Like most undergraduates taking German, he’d come upon Mark Twain’s “The Awful German Language.” That he remembered, especially the bit about sooner declining two beers than one German adjective. And Russian was worse-even the alphabet looked funny.

To Bagnall’s surprise, Jerome Jones started speaking Russian-halting Russian, but evidently good enough to be understood. After a brief exchange, he turned back to the air crew and said, “He-Sergei Leonidovich Morozkin there, the chap who knows a bit of English-says we’re to accompany him to the Krom, the local strongpoint, I gather.”

“By all means let us accompany him, then,” Embry said. “I didn’t know you had any Russian, Jones. The chaps who put this mission together had a better notion of what they were about than I credited them for.”

“I doubt that, sir,” Jones said, unwilling to give RAF higher-ups any credit for sense. But he had reason on his side: “When I was at Cambridge, I was interested for a while in Byzantine history and art, and that led me to the Russians. I hadn’t the time to do them properly, but I did teach myself a bit of the language. That wouldn’t be in any of my papers, though, so no one would have known of it.”

“Good thing it’s so, all the same,” Bagnall said, wondering if Jones was a Bolshevik himself. Even if he was, it didn’t matter now. “My German is villainous, but I was about to trot it out when you spoke up. I wasn’t what you’d call keen on trying to speak with our Soviet friends and allies in the language of a mutual foe.”

The German who spoke English said, “Against the Eidechsen-I am sorry, I do not know your word; the Russians call them Yashcheritsi-against the invaders from the sky, no men are foes to one another.”

“Against the Lizards, you mean,” Bagnall and Embry said together.

“Lizards.” Both the German and Morozkin, the anglophone Russian, echoed the word to fix it in their minds; it was one that would be used a good deal in days to come. The German went on, “I am Hauptmann-Captain auf Englisch, ja? — Martin Borcke.”

As soon as the men of the aircrew had introduced themselves in turn, Morozkin said, “Come to Krom now. Get away from airplane.”

“But the radar-” Jones said plaintively.

“We do. Is in box, da?”

“Well, yes, but-”

“Come,” Morozkin said again. At the far end of the airstrip-a long, hard slog through cold and snow-three-horse sleighs waited to take the Englishmen into Pskov. Their bells jangled merrily as they set off, as If in a happy winter song. Bagnall would have found the journey more enjoyable had his Russian driver not had a rifle slung across his back and half a dozen German potato-masher grenades stuffed into his belt.

Pskov had been built in rings where two rivers came together. The sleigh slid past churches and fine houses in the center of town, many bearing the scars of fighting when the Germans had taken it from the Soviets and when the Lizards struck north.

Closer to the joining of the two streams were a marketplace and another church. In the market, old women with scarves around their heads sold beets, turnips, cabbages. Steam rose from kettles of borscht. People queued up to get what they needed, not with the good spirits Englishmen displayed on similar occasions but glumly, resignedly, as if they could expect nothing better from fate.

Guards prowled the marketplace to make sure no one even thought of turning disorderly. Some were Germans with rifles and coal-scuttle helmets, many still wearing field-gray great-coats. Others were Russians, carrying everything from shotguns to military rifles to submachine guns, and dressed in a motley mixture of civilian clothes and khaki Soviet uniform. Everyone, though-Germans, Russians, even the old women behind their baskets of vegetables-wore the same kind of thick felt boot.

The sleigh driver had on a pair, too. Bagnall tapped the fellow on the shoulder, pointed at the footgear. “What do you call those?” He got back only a smile and a shrug, and regretfully tried German: “Was sind sie?”

Comprehension lit the driver’s face. “Valenki.” He rattled off a couple of sentences in Russian before he figured out Bagnall couldn’t follow. His German was even slower and more halting than the flight engineer’s, which gave Bagnall a chance to understand it: “Gut-gegen-Kalt.”

“Good against cold. Thanks. Uh, danke. Ich verstehe.” They nodded to each other, pleased at the rudimentary communication. The valenki looked as if they’d be good against cold; they were thick and supple, like a blanket for the feet.

The sleigh went past a square with a monument to Lenin and then, diagonally across from it, another onion-domed church. Bagnall wondered if the driver was conscious of the ironic juxtaposition. If he was, he didn’t let on. Letting on that you noticed irony probably wasn’t any safer in the Soviet Union than in Hitler’s Germany.

Bagnall shook his head. The Russians had become allies because they were Hitler’s enemies. Now the Russians and Germans were both allies because they’d stayed in the ring against the Lizards. They still weren’t comfortable company to keep.

The horses began to strain as they went uphill toward the towers that marked old Pskov. As the beasts labored and the sleigh slowed, Bagnall grasped why the fortress that was the town’s beginning had been placed as it was: the fortress ahead, which he presumed to be the Krom, stood on a bluff protected by the rivers. The driver took him past the tumbledown stone wall that warded the landward side of the fortress. Some of the tumbling down looked recent; Bagnall wondered whether Germans or Lizards were to blame.

The sleigh stopped. Bagnall climbed out. The driver pointed him toward one of the towers; its witches’-hat roof had had a bite taken out of it. A German sentry stood to one side of the doorway, a Russian to the other. They threw the doors wide for Bagnall.

As soon as he stepped over the threshold, he felt as if he’d been taken back through time. Guttering torches cast weird, flickering shadows on the irregular stonework of the wall. Up above, everything was lost in gloom. In the torchlight, the three fur-clad men who sat at a table waiting for him, weapons in front of them, seemed more like barbarian chieftains than twentieth-century soldiers.

Over the next couple of minutes, the other Englishmen came in. By the way they peered all around, they’ had the same feeling of dislocation as Bagnall. Martin Borcke pointed to one of the men at the table and said, “Here is Generalleutnant Kurt Chill, commander of the 122nd Infantry Division and now head of the forces of the Reich in and around Pskov.” He named the RAF men for his commander.

Chill didn’t look like Bagnall’s idea of a Nazi lieutenant general: no monocle, no high-peaked cap, no skinny, hawk-nosed Prussian face. He was on the roundish side and badly needed a shave. His eyes were brown, not chilly gray. They had an ironic glint in them as he said in fair English, “Welcome to the blooming gardens of Pskov, gentlemen.”

Sergei Morozkin nodded to the pair who sat to Chill’s left. “Are leaders of First and Second Partisan Brigades, Nikolai Ivanovich Vasiliev and Aleksandr Maksimovich German.”

Ken Embry whispered to Bagnall, “There’s a name I’d not fancy having in Soviet Russia these days.”

“Lord, no.” Bagnall looked at German. Maybe it was the steel-rimmed spectacles he wore, but he had a schoolmasterly expression only partly counteracted by the fierce red mustache that sprouted above his upper lip.

Vasiliev, by contrast, made the flight engineer think of a bearded boulder: he was short and squat and looked immensely strong. A pink scar-maybe a crease from a rifle bullet-furrowed one cheek and cut a track through the thick, almost seallike pelt that grew there. A couple of inches over and the partisan leader would not have been sitting in his chair.

He rumbled something in Russian. Morozkin translated: “He bid you welcome to forest republic. This we call land around Pskov while Germans rule city. Now with Lizards”-Morozkin pronounced the word with exaggerated care-“here, we make German-Soviet council-German-Soviet soviet, da?” Bagnall thought the play on words came from the interpreter; Vasiliev, even sans scar, would not have seemed a man much given to mirth.

“Pleased to meet you all, I’m sure,” Ken Embry said. Before Morozkin could translate, Jerome Jones turned his words into Russian. The partisan leaders beamed, pleased at least one of the RAF men could speak directly to them.

“What is this thing you have brought for the Soviet Union from the people and workers of England?” German asked. He leaned forward to wait for the answer, not even noticing the ideological preconceptions with which he’d freighted his question.

“An airborne radar, to help aircraft detect Lizard planes at long range,” Jones said. Both Morozkin and Borcke had trouble turning the critical word into their native languages. Jones explained what a radar set was and how it did what it did. Vasiliev simply listened. German nodded several times, as if what the radarman said made sense to him.

And Kurt Chill purred, “You have, aber naturlich, also brought one of these radar sets for the Reich?”

“No, sir,” Embry said. Bagnall started to sweat, though the room in this drafty old medieval tower was anything but warm. The pilot went on, “Our orders are to deliver this set and the manuals accompanying it to the Soviet authorities at Pskov: That is what we intend to do.”

General Chill shook his head. Bagnall sweated harder. No one had bothered to tell the RAF crew that Pskov wasn’t entirely in Soviet hands. Evidently, the Russians who’d told the English where to fly the set hadn’t thought there would be a problem. But a problem there was.

“If there is only one, it shall go to the Reich,” Chill said.

As soon as Sergei Morozkin translated the German’s English into Russian, Vasiliev snatched up the submachine gun from the table in front of him and pointed it at Chill’s chest. “Nyet,” he said flatly. Bagnall needed no Russian to follow that.

Chill answered in German, which Vasiliev evidently under stood. It also let Bagnall understand some of what was going on. The Nazi had courage, or at least bravado. He said, “If you shoot me, Nikolai Ivanovich, Colonel Schindler takes command-and we are still stronger around Pskov than you.”

Aleksandr German did not bother gesticulating with the pistol on the table. He simply spoke in a dry, rather pedantic voice that went well with his eyeglasses. His words sounded like German, but Bagnall had even more trouble with them than he had in following Kurt Chill. He guessed the partisan was actually speaking Yiddish. To stay up with that, they should have kept David Goldfarb as crew radarman.

Captain Borcke made sense of it. He translated: “German says the Wehrmacht is stronger around Pskov than Soviet forces, yes. He asks if it is also stronger than Soviet and Lizard forces combined.”

Chill spoke a single word: “Bluff.”

Nyet,” Vasiliev said again. He put down his weapon and beamed at the other partisan leader. He’d found a threat the Germans could not afford to ignore.

Bagnall did not think it was a bluff, either. Germany had not endeared itself to the people of any of the eastern lands it occupied before the Lizards came. The Jews of Poland-led by, among others, a cousin of Goldfarb’s-had risen against the Nazis and for the Lizards. The Russians might do the same if this Chill pushed them hard enough.

He might, too. Scowling at the two partisan brigadiers, he said, “You may do this. The Lizards may win a victory through it. But this I vow: neither of you will live long enough to collaborate with them. We will have that radar.”

Nyet.” This time Aleksandr German said it. He switched back to Yiddish, too fast and harsh for Bagnall to follow. Captain Borcke again did the honors: “He says this set was sent to the workers and people of the Soviet Union to aid them in their struggle against imperialist aggression, and that surrendering it would be treason to the Soviet state.”

Communist rhetoric aside, Bagnall thought the partisan was dead right. But if Lieutenant General Chill didn’t, the flight engineer’s opinion counted for little.

And Chill was going to be hard-nosed about it. Bagnall could see that. So could everyone else in the tower chamber. Captain Borcke edged away from the RAF air crew to one side, Sergei Morozkin to the other. Both men slid a hand under their coats, presumably to grab for pistols. Bagnall got ready to throw himself flat.

Then, instead, he hissed at Jerome Jones: “You have the manuals and such for the radar, am I right?”

“Of course,” Jones whispered back. “Couldn’t very well come without them, not when the Russians are going to start making them for themselves. Or they will if anyone comes out of this room alive.”

“Which doesn’t look like the best wager in the world. How many sets have you got?”

“Of the manuals and drawings, you mean? Just the one,” Jones said.

“Bugger.” That put a crimp in Bagnall’s scheme, but only for a moment. He spoke up in a loud voice: “Gentlemen, please!” If nothing else, he succeeded in distracting the Germans and partisans from the bead they were drawing on each other. Everyone stared at him instead. He said, “I think I can find a way out of this dispute.”

Grim faces defied him to do it. Trouble was, he realized suddenly, the Germans and Russians really wanted to have a go at each other. In English, Kurt Chill said, “Enlighten us, then.”

“I’ll do my best,” Bagnall answered. “There’s only the one radar, and no help for that. If you hijack it, word will get back to Moscow-and to London. Cooperation between Germany and her former foes will be hampered, and the Lizards will likely gain more from that than the Luftwaffe could from the radar. Is this so, or not?”

“It may be,” Chill said. “I do not think, though, there is much cooperation now, when you give the Russians and not us this set.” Captain Borcke nodded emphatically at that.

There was much truth in what the German general said. Bagnall was anything but happy about sharing secrets with the Nazis, and his attitude reflected that of British leaders from Churchill on down. But setting the Wehrmacht and the Red Army back at each other’s throats wasn’t what anyone had had in mind, either.

The flight engineer said, “How is this, then? The radar itself and the manuals go on toward Moscow as planned. But before they do”-he sighed-“you make copies of the manuals and send them to Berlin.”

“Copies?” Chill said. “By photograph?”

“If you have that kind of equipment here, yes.” Bagnall had been thinking of doing the job by hand; Pskov struck him as a burnt-out backwater town. But who could say what sort of gear the division intelligence unit of the 122nd Infantry-or whatever other units were in the area-had available?

“I’m not sure the higher-ups back home would approve, but they didn’t anticipate this situation,” Ken Embry murmured. “As for me, I’d say you’ve managed to saw the baby in half. King Solomon would be proud.”

“I hope so,” Bagnall said.

Sergei Morozkin was still translating his suggestion for the partisan leaders. When he finished, Vasiliev turned to Aleksandr German and said with heavy humor, “Nu Sasha?” It had to be more Yiddish-Bagnall had heard that word from David Goldfarb.

Aleksandr German peered through his spectacles at Chill the German. Having Goldfarb in the aircrew for a while had made Bagnall more aware of what the Nazis had done to Eastern European Jews than he otherwise would have been. He wondered what went on behind German’s poker face, how much hatred seethed there. The partisan did not let on. After a while, he sighed and spoke one word: “Da.”

“We shall do this, then.” If Chill was enthusiastic about Bagnall’s plan, he hid it very well. But it gave him most of what he wanted, and kept alive the fragile truce around Pskov.

As if to underline how important that was, Lizard jets streaked overhead. When bombs began to fall, Bagnall felt something near panic: a hit anywhere close by would bring all the stones of the Krom down on his head.

Through the fading wail of the Lizards’ engines and the ground-shaking crash of the bombs came the rattle of what sounded like every rifle and submachine gun in the world going off at once. Pskov’s defenders, Nazis and Communists alike, did their best to knock down the Lizards’ planes.

As usual, their best was not good enough. Bagnall listened hopefully for the rending crash that would have meant a fighter-bomber destroyed, but it never came. He also listened for the roar that would warn of a second wave of attackers. That didn’t come, either.

“Anyone would think that flying more than a thousand miles would take us out of the bloody blitz,” Alf Whyte complained.

“They called it a world war even before the Lizards came,” Embry said.

Nikolai Vasiliev shouted something at Morozkin. Instead of translating it, he hurried away to return a few minutes later with a tray full of bottles and glasses. “We drink to this-how you say? — agreement,” he said.

He was pouring man-sized slugs of vodka for everyone when a partisan burst in, shouting in Russian. “Uh-oh,” Jerome Jones said. “I didn’t catch all of that, but I didn’t care for what I understood.”

Morozkin turned to the RAF air crew. “I have-bad news. Those-how you say? — Lizards, they bomb your plane. Is wreck and ruin-is that what you say?”

“That’s what we say,” Embry answered dully.

Nichevo, tovarishchi,” Morozkin said.

He didn’t translate that, maybe because it was so completely Russian that doing so never occurred to him. “What did he say?” Bagnall demanded of Jerome Jones.

“ ‘It can’t be helped, comrades’-something like that,” the radarman answered. “ ‘There’s nothing to be done about it,’ might be a better rendering.”

Bagnall didn’t care a pin for fine points of translation. “We’re stuck here in bloody Pskov and there’s bloody nothing to be done about it?” he burst out, his voice rising to a shout. “Nichevo,” Jones said.

Science Hall was a splendid structure, a three-story red brick building on the northwest corner of the University of Denver campus. It housed the university’s chemistry and physics departments, and would have made a fine home for the transplanted Metallurgical Laboratory from the University of Chicago. Jens Larssen admired the facility intensely.

There was only one problem: he had no idea when the rest of the Met Lab team would show up.

“All dressed up with no place to go,” he muttered to himself as he stalked down a third-floor corridor. From the north-facing window at the end of that corridor, he could see the Platte River snaking its way south and east through town, and beyond it the state capitol and other tall buildings of the civic center. Denver was a pretty place, snow still on the ground here and there, the air almost achingly clear. Jens delighted in it not at all.

Everything had gone so perfectly. He might as well have been riding the train in those dear, vanished pre-Lizard days. He wasn’t bombed, he wasn’t strafed, he had a lower Pullman berth more comfortable than any bed he’d slept in for months. He had heat on the train and electricity; the only hint there was a war on was the blackout curtain on the window and a sign taped alongside it: USE IT. IT’S your NECK.

An Army major had met him when the train pulled into Union Station, had taken him out to Lowry Field east of town, had arranged a room for him at the Bachelor Officers’ Quarters. He’d almost balked at that-he was no bachelor. But Barbara wasn’t with him, so he’d gone along.

“Stupid,” he said aloud. Going along even once had got him tangled up again in the spiderweb of military routine. He’d had a taste of that in Indiana under George Patton. The local commanders were less flamboyant than Patton, but no less inflexible.

“I’m sorry, Dr. Larssen, but that will not be permitted,” a bird colonel named Hexham had said. The colonel hadn’t sounded sorry, not one bit. By that he meant Larssen’s going out of town to find out where the rest of the Met Lab team was.

“But why?” Jens had howled, pacing the colonel’s office like a newly caged wolf. “Without the other people, without the equipment they have with them, I’m not much good to you by myself.”

“Dr. Larssen, you are a nuclear physicist working on a highly classified project,” Colonel Hexham had answered. He’d kept his voice low, reasonable; Jens supposed he’d got on the fellow’s nerves as well as the other way round. “We cannot let you go gallivanting off just as you please. And if disaster befalls your colleagues, who better than you to reconstruct the project?”

Larssen hadn’t laughed in his face, but he’d come close. Reconstruct the work of several Nobel laureates-by himself? He’d have to be Superman, able to leap tall buildings at a single bound. But there was just enough truth in it-he’d been part of the project, after all-to keep him from taking off on his own.

“Everything is fine,” Hexham had told him. “They’re heading this way; we know that much. We’re delighted you’re here ahead of them. That means you can help get things organized so they’ll be able to hit the ground running when they arrive.”

He’d been a scientist at the Met Lab, not an administrator. Administration had been a headache for other people. Now it was his. He went back to his office, wrote letters, filled out forms, tried the phone three or four times, and actually got through once. The Lizards hadn’t hit Denver anywhere near the way they’d plastered Chicago; to a large degree, it still functioned as a modern city. When Jens turned the switch on the gooseneck lamp on his desk, the bulb lit up.

He worked a little longer, then said the hell with it and went downstairs. His bicycle waited there. So did a glum, unsmiling man in khaki with a rifle on his back. He had a bike, too. “Evening, Oscar,” Jens said.

“Dr. Larssen.” The bodyguard nodded politely. Oscar wasn’t his real name, but he answered to it. Jens thought it amused him, but his face didn’t show much Oscar had been detailed to keep him safe in Denver-and to keep him from leaving town. He was depressingly good at his job.

Larssen rode north up University, turned right toward Lowry Field. Oscar stuck to the physicist like a burr. Jens was in good shape. His bodyguard, he was convinced, could have made the Olympic team. All the way back to BOQ, he sang, “I’m Only a Bird in a Gilded Cage.” Oscar joined in the choruses.

But in the next morning, instead of biking back to the University of Denver, Larssen (Oscar in his wake) reported to Colonel Hexham’s office. The colonel looked anything but delighted to see him. “Why aren’t you at work, Dr. Larssen?” he said in a tone that probably turned captains to Jell-O.

Jens, however, was a civilian, and a fed-up civilian at that. “Sir, the more I think about my working conditions here, the more intolerable they look to me,” he said. “I’m on strike.”

“You’re what?” Hexham chewed toothpicks, maybe in lieu of scarce cigarettes. The, one he had in his mouth jumped. “You can’t do that!”

“Oh yes I can, and I’m going to stay on strike until you let me get in touch with my wife.”

“Security-” Hexham began. Up and down, up and down went the toothpick.

“Stuff security!” Jens had wanted to say that-he’d wanted to scream it-for months. “You won’t let me go after the Met Lab. Okay, I guess I can see that, even if I think you’re pushing it too far. But you as much as told me the other day you know where the Met Lab wagon train is, right?”

“What if I do?” the colonel rumbled. He was still trying to intimidate Larssen, but Larssen refused to be intimidated any more.

“This if you do: unless you let me send a letter-just an ordinary, handwritten letter-to Barbara, you get no more work out of me, and that’s that.”

“Too risky,” Hexham said. “Suppose our courier is captured-”

“Suppose he is?” Jens retorted. “I’m not going to write about uranium, for God’s sake. I’m going to let her know I’m alive and in one piece and that I love her and I miss her. That’s all. I won’t even sign my last name.”

“No,” said Hexham.

“No,” said Larssen. They glared at each other. The toothpick twitched.

Oscar escorted Larssen back to BOQ. He lay down on his cot. He was ready to wait as long as it took.

The fat man in the black Stetson paused in the ceremony first to spit a brown stream into the polished brass spittoon near his feet (not a drop clung to his handlebar mustache) and then to sneak another glance at the Lizards who stood in one corner of his crowded office. He half shrugged and resumed: “By the authority vested in me as justice of the peace of Chugwater, Wyoming, I now pronounce you man and wife. Kiss her, boy.”

Sam Yeager tilted Barbara Larssen’s-Barbara Yeager’s-face up to his. The kiss was not the decorous one first post-wedding kisses are supposed to be. She molded herself against him. He squeezed her tight.

Everybody cheered. Enrico Fermi, who was serving as best man, slapped Yeager on the back. His wife Laura stood on tiptoe to kiss Sam’s cheek. Seeing that, the physicist made a Latin production out of kissing Barbara on the cheek. Everybody cheered again, louder than ever.

Just for a second, Yeager’s eyes went to Ullhass and Ristin. He wondered what they made of the ceremony. From what they said, they didn’t mate permanently-and to them, human beings were barbarous aliens.

Well, to hell with what they think of human beings, he thought. As far as he was concerned, having Fermi as his best man was almost-not quite-as exciting as getting married to Barbara. He’d been married once before, unsuccessfully, and he’d sometimes thought about marrying again. But never in all the hours he’d spent reading science fiction on trains and buses between one minor-league game and the next had he thought he’d really get to hobnob with scientists. And having a Nobel Prize winner as your best man was about as hob a nob as you could find.

The justice of the peace-the sign on his door said he was Joshua Sumner, but he seemed to go by Hoot-reached into a drawer of the fancy old rolltop desk that adorned his office. What he pulled out was most unjudicial: a couple of shot glasses and a bottle about half full of dark amber fluid.

“Don’t have as much here as we used to. Don’t have as much here as we’d like,” he said as he poured each glass full. “But we’ve still got enough for the groom to make a toast and the bride to drink it.”

Barbara eyed the full shot dubiously. “If I drink all that, I’ll just go to sleep.”

“I doubt it,” the justice of the peace said, which raised more whoops from the predominantly male crowd in his office. Barbara turned pink and shook her head in embarrassment but took the glass.

Yeager took his, too, careful not to spill a drop. He knew what he was going to say. Even though he hadn’t expected to have to propose a toast, one leaped into his mind the moment Sumner said he’d need it. That didn’t usually happen with him; more often than not, he’d come up with snappy comebacks a week too late to use them.

Not this time, though. He raised the shot glass, waited for quiet. When he got it, he said, “Life goes on,” and knocked back the shot. The whiskey burned its way down his throat, filled his middle with warmth.

“Oh, that’s good, Sam,” Barbara said softly. “That’s just right.” She lifted the shot glass to her lips. She started to sip, but at the last moment drank it all down at once as Sam had. Her eyes opened very wide and started to water. She turned much redder than she had when the justice of the peace flustered her. What should have been her next breath became a sharp cough instead. People laughed and clapped anyhow.

Joshua Sumner said, “Don’t do that every day, you tell me?” He had the deadpan drollness that goes with many large men who are sparing of speech.

As the wedding party filed out of the justice of the peace’s office, Ristin said, “What you do here, Sam, you, and Barbara? You make”-he spoke a couple of hissing words in his own language-“to mate all the time?”

“An agreement that would be in English,” Yeager said. He squeezed Barbara’s hand. “That’s just what we did, even if I am too old to mate ‘all the time.’ ”

“Don’t confuse him,” Barbara said with a cluck in her voice.

They went outside Chugwater was about fifty miles north of Cheyenne. Off against the western horizon, snow-cloaked mountains loomed. The town itself was a few houses, a general store and the post office that also housed the sheriff’s office and that of the justice of the peace. Hoot Sumner was also postmaster and sheriff, and probably none too busy even if he did wear three hats.

The sheriff’s office (fortunately, from Yeager’s point of view) boasted a single jail cell big enough to hold the two Lizard POWs. That meant he and Barbara got to spend their wedding night without Ristin and Ullhass in the next room. Not that the Lizards were likely to pick that particular night to try to run away, nor, being what they were, that they would make anything of the noises coming from the bridal bed. Nevertheless…

“It’s the principle of the thing,” Sam explained as he and the new Mrs. Yeager, accompanied by cheering well-wishers from the Met Lab and from Chugwater, made their way to the house where they’d spend their first night as man and wife. He spoke a little louder, a little more earnestly, than he might have earlier in the day: when they found they were going to host a wedding, the townsfolk had pulled out a good many bottles of dark amber and other fluids.

“You’re right,” Barbara said, also emphatically. Her cheeks glowed brighter than could be accounted for by the chilly breeze alone.

She let out a squeak when Sam picked her up and carried her over the threshold of the bedroom they’d use, and then another one when she saw the bottle sticking out of a bucket on a stool by the bed. The bucket was ordinary galvanized iron, straight out of a hardware store, but inside, nestled in snow-“Champagne!” she exclaimed.

Two wineglasses-not champagne flutes, but close enough-rested alongside the bucket. “That’s very nice,” Yeager said. He gently lifted the bottle out of the snow, undid the foil wrap and the little wire cage, worked the cork a little-and then let it fly out with a report like a rifle shot and ricochet off the ceiling. He had a glass ready to catch the champagne that bubbled out, then finished filling it the more conventional way.

With a flourish, he handed the glass to Barbara, poured one for himself. She stared down into hers. “I don’t know if I ought to drink this,” she said. “If I have a whole lot more, I will fall asleep on you. That wouldn’t be right. Wedding nights are supposed to be special.”

“Any night with you is special,” he said, which made her smile. But then he went on more seriously, “We ought to drink it, especially now that we’ve opened it. Nobody has enough of anything any more to let it go to waste.”

“You’re right,” she said, and sipped. An eyebrow rose. “That’s pretty good champagne. I wonder how it got to the great metropolis of Chugwater, by God, Wyoming.”

“Beats me.” Yeager drank, too. He didn’t know much about champagne; he drank beer by choice and whiskey every so often. But it did taste good. The bubbles tickled the inside of his mouth. He sat down on the bed, not far from the stool with the bucket.

Barbara sat down beside him. Her glass was already almost empty. She ran a hand along his arm, let it rest on his corporal’s chevrons. “You were in uniform, so you looked fine for the wedding.” She made a face. “Getting married in a gingham blouse and a pair of dungarees isn’t what I had in mind.”

He slid an arm around her waist, then drained his glass of champagne and pulled the bottle from its bed of snow. It held just enough to fill them both up again. “Don’t worry about it. There’s only one proper uniform for a bride on her wedding night.” He reached behind her, undid the top button of her blouse.

“That’s the proper uniform for bride and groom both,” she said. Her fingers fumbled as she worked at one of his buttons. She laughed. “See-I told you I shouldn’t have had that champagne. Now I’m having trouble getting you out of soldier’s uniform and into bridegroom’s.”

“No hurry, not tonight,” he said. “One way or another, we’ll manage.” He drank some more, then looked at the glass with respect. “That takes me to a happier place than I usually go when I’ve had a few. Or maybe it’s the company.”

“I like you Sam!” Barbara exclaimed. For some reason-maybe it was the champagne that made him feel better than if she’d said I love you.

Presently, he asked, “Do you want me to blow out the candles?”

Her eyebrows came together in thought for a moment. Then she said, “No, let them burn, unless you’really want it to be dark tonight.”

He shook his head. “I like to look at you, honey.” She wasn’t a Hollywood movie star or a Vargas girl: a little too thin, a little too angular, and, if you looked at things objectively, not pretty enough. Sam didn’t give two whoops in hell about looking at things objectively. She looked damn good to him.

He ran his hands over her breasts, let one of them stray down her belly toward where her legs joined. She stretched luxuriously and made a noise like a purring cat, down deep in her throat. His tongue teased a nipple. She grabbed the back of his head, pulled him against her.

After his mouth had followed his hand downward, she rubbed at the soft flesh of her inner thighs. “I wish there were more razor blades around,” she said in mock complaint. “Your face chafes me when you do that.”

He touched her, gently. Her breath sighed out. She was wet. “I thought you liked it while it was going on,” he said, grinning. “Shall I get that rubber now?”

“Wait.” She sat up, bent over him, and lowered her head. It was the first time she’d ever done that without being asked. Her hair spilled down and tickled his hipbones.

“Easy, there,” he gasped a minute later. “You do much more and I won’t need to bother with a rubber.”

“Would you like that?” she asked, looking up at him from under her bangs. She still held him. He could feel the warm little puffs of breath as she spoke.

He was tempted, but shook his head. “Not on our wedding night. Like you said, it ought to be perfect. And it’s for something else.”

“All right, let’s do something else,” she said agreeably, and lay back on the bed. He leaned over the side and pulled a rubber out of the back pocket of his chinos. But before he could peel it open, she grabbed his wrist and repeated, “Wait.” He gave her a quizzical look. She went on, “I know you don’t like those all that much. Don’t bother tonight-if we’re going to make it perfect, that will help. It should be okay.”

He tossed the rubber onto the floor. He wasn’t fond of them. He wore them because she wanted him to, and because he could see why she didn’t want to get pregnant. But if she felt like taking a chance, he was eager to oblige.

“It does feel better without overshoes,” he said. He guided himself into her. “Oh, God, does it!” Their mouths met, clung. Neither of them said anything then, not with words.

“I always said you were a gentleman, Sam,” Barbara told him as he rolled off her: “You keep your weight on your elbows.” He snorted. She said, “Don’t go away now.”

“I wasn’t going anywhere, not without you.” He put an arm around her, drew her close. She snuggled against him. He liked that. In some ways, it seemed more intimate than making love. You could make love with a stranger; he’d done it in a fair number of minor-league whorehouses in minor-league towns. But to snuggle with somebody, it had to be somebody who really mattered to you.

As if she’d picked the thought out of his head, Barbara said, “I love you.”

“I love you, too, hon.” His arms tightened around her. “I’m glad we’re married.” That seemed just the right thing to say on a wedding night.

“So am I.” Barbara ran the palm of her hand along his cheek. “Even if you are scratchy,” she added. He tensed, ready to grab her; sometimes when she made jokes in bed, she’d poke him in the ribs. Not tonight-she turned serious instead. “You made exactly the right toast this afternoon. ‘Life goes on’… It has to, doesn’t it?”

“That’s what I think, anyhow.” Yeager wasn’t sure whether she was asking him or trying to convince herself. She still couldn’t be easy in her mind about her first husband. He had to be dead, but still…

“You have the right way of looking at things,” Barbara said, serious still. “Life isn’t always neat; it’s not orderly; you can’t always plan it and make it come out the way you think it’s supposed to. Things happen that nobody would expect-”

“Well, sure,” Yeager said. “The war made the whole world crazy, and then the Lizards on top of that-”

“Those are the big things,” she broke in. “As you say, they change the whole world. But little things can turn your life in new directions, too. Everybody reads Chaucer in high-school English, but when I did, he just seemed the most fascinating writer I’d ever come across. I started trying to learn more about his time, and about other people who were writing then… and so I ended up in graduate school at Berkeley in medieval literature. If I hadn’t been there, I never would have met Jens, I never would have come to Chicago-” She leaned up and kissed him. “I never would have met you.”

“Little things,” Sam repeated. “Ten, eleven years ago, I was playing for Birmingham down in the Southern Association. That’s Class A-1 ball, the second highest class in the minor leagues. I was playing pretty well, I wasn’t that old-if things had broken right, I might have made the big leagues. Things broke, all right. About halfway through the season, I broke my ankle. It cost me the rest of the year, and I wasn’t the same ballplayer afterwards. I kept at it-never found anything I’d rather do-but I knew I wasn’t going anywhere any more. Just one of those things.”

“That’s just it.” She nodded against his chest. “Little things, things you’d never expect to matter, can turn up in the most surprising ways.”

“I’ll say.” Yeager nodded, too. “If I hadn’t read science fiction, I wouldn’t have gotten chosen to take our Lizard POWs back to Chicago or turned into their liaison man-and I wouldn’t have met you.”

To his relief, she didn’t make any cracks about his choice of reading; someone who dove into Chaucer for fun was liable to think of it as the literary equivalent of picking your nose at the dinner table. Instead, she said, “Jens always had trouble seeing that the little things could make-not a big difference, but a surprising difference. Do you see what I’m saying?”

“Mm-hmm.” Yeager kept his answer to a grunt. He didn’t have anything against Jens Larssen, but he didn’t want his ghost coming between them on their wedding night, either.

Barbara went on, “Jens wanted things just so, and thought they always had to be that way. Maybe it was because his work was so mathematically precise-I don’t know-but he thought the world operated that way, too. That sort of need for exactitude could be hard to live with sometimes.”

“Mm-hmm.” Sam grunted again, but something loosened in his chest even so. He never remembered her criticizing Jens before.

No sooner had that thought crossed his mind than she said, “I guess what I’m trying to tell you, Sam, is that I’m glad I’m with you. Taking things as they come is easier than trying to fit everything that happens into some pattern you’ve worked out.”

“That calls for a kiss,” he said, and bent his head down to hers. She responded eagerly. He felt himself stirring, and knew a certain amount of pride: if you couldn’t wear yourself out on your wedding night, when were you supposed to?

Barbara felt him stirring, too. “What have we here?” she said when the kiss finally broke. She reached between them to find out. Yeager’s lips trailed down her neck toward her breasts again. Her hand tightened on him. His found the dampness between her legs.

After a while, he rolled onto his back: easier to stay hard for a second round that way, especially if you weren’t in your twenties any more. He’d learned Barbara didn’t mind getting on top every so often.

“Oh, yes,” he said softly as she straddled him. He was glad she hadn’t made him put on a rubber tonight; you could feel so much more without one. He ran his fingers lightly down the smooth curve of her back. She shivered a little.

Afterwards, she didn’t pull away, but sprawled down on top of him. He kissed her cheek and the very corner of her mouth. “Nice,” she said, her voice sleepy. “I just want to stay right here forever.”

He put his arms around her. “That’s what I want, too, hon.”

Oscar appeared in the doorway of Jens Larssen’s BOQ room. “Colonel Hexham wants to see you, sir. Right away.”

“Does he?” Larssen had been sprawled out on the cot, reading the newest issue of Time-now getting on toward a year old-he could find. He got up in a hurry. “I’ll come.” He hadn’t been “sir” to Oscar since he’d gone on strike, not till now. Maybe that was a good sign.

He didn’t think so when the guard escorted him back into the colonel’s office. Hexham’s toothpick was going back and forth like a metronome, his bulldog face pinched and sour. “So you won’t do any work unless you write your miserable letter, eh?” he ground out, never opening his mouth wide enough for the toothpick to fall out.

“That’s right,” Jens said-not defiantly, but more as if stating a law of nature.

“Then write it.” Hexham looked more unhappy than ever. He shoved a sheet of paper and a pencil across the desk at Jens.

“Thank you, sir,” Larssen exclaimed, taking them gladly. As he started to write, he asked, “What made you change your mind?”

“Orders.” Hexham bit the word off. So you’ve been overruled have you? Jens thought as he let the pencil race joyously across the paper. Trying to get a little of his own back, the colonel went on, “I will read that letter when you’re done with it. No last names, no other breaches of security will be permitted.”

“That’s fine, sir. I’ll go back to Science Hall the minute I’m done here.” Larssen scrawled Love, Jens and handed the paper back to Colonel Hexham. He didn’t bother waiting for Hexham to read it, but started out to keep his end of the bargain. If you worked at it, he thought, you could make things go the way they were supposed to.


Bobby Fiore almost wished he was still on the Lizards’ spaceship. For one thing, as far as he was concerned, the food had been better up there. For another, all the human beings on the spaceship had been aliens, guinea pigs. Plopped down in the middle of God only knew how many Chinamen, he was the alien in this refugee camp.

His lips quirked wryly. “I’m the only guinea here, too,” he said out loud.

Speaking English, even to himself, felt good. He didn’t get much chance to do it these days, even less than he’d had when he was up in space. Some of the Lizards there had understood him. Here nobody did; if the Lizard camp guards spoke any human language-not all of them did-it was Chinese. Only Liu Han knew any English at all.

His face set in a frown. He hated depending on a woman; it made him feel as if he were eight years old again, and back in Pittsburgh with his mama. He couldn’t help it, though. Except for Liu Han, nobody for miles around could speak with him.

He rubbed his chin. He needed a shave. The first thing he’d done when the Lizards dumped him here was get a razor and get rid of his beard. Not only did shaving make him stand out less from everybody else, a razor was a handy thing to have in a fight. He’d seen enough barroom brawls to know that; he’d been in a few, too.

The funny thing was how little notice he drew. He wore wide legged pants and baggy shirts that reminded him of pajamas, the same as the Chinese (even with them, he was cold a lot of the time-and he wasn’t used to that after the spaceship, either), which helped him fit in. A lot of the locals were too busy to pay him any mind, too; they made stuff for the Lizards out of straw and wicker and leather and scrap metal and God only knew what all else, and they worked hard.

But what really surprised him was that his looks weren’t so far out of place. Sure, he still had his big Italian nose; his eyes were too round and his hair was wavy. But eyes and hair were dark; a blond like Sam Yeager would have stood out like a sore thumb. And his olive skin wasn’t that different from the color of the people around him. As long as he stayed clean shaven, he wasn’t that remarkable.

“I’m even tall,” he said, smiling again. Back in the States, five-eight was nothing. Even here he wasn’t huge, but for a change he was bigger than average.

Sudden shouts not far away-even when he didn’t speak the language, Fiore knew fury and outrage when he heard them. He turned toward the sudden racket. Being taller than most let him see over the crowd. A man was running his way with a hen under each arm. Behind him, screeching like a cat with its tail stuck in a door, dashed a skinny woman. The chicken thief gained ground with every stride.

Fiore looked down to the dirt of the street. A nice-sized rock lay there, just a couple of feet away. He snatched it up, took a couple of shuffling steps sideways to get a clear shot at the man, and let fly.

When he was playing second base for the Decatur Commodores, he’d had to get off accurate throws to first with a runner bearing down on him with spikes high. Here he didn’t even need to pivot. He hadn’t done any throwing since the Lizards took him up into space, but he’d played pro ball for a lot of years. The smooth motion was still there, automatic as breathing.

The rock caught the fellow with the chickens right in the pit of the stomach. Fiore grinned; he couldn’t have placed it any better with a bull’s-eye to aim at. The would-be thief dropped the chickens and folded up like an accordion. His face was comically amazed as he fell-he had no idea what had hit him.

The two chickens ran away, squawking. The screeching woman started kicking the fellow who’d swiped them. She might have been better advised to chase them, but she seemed to put revenge ahead of poultry. The chicken thief couldn’t even fight back. He’d had the wind knocked out of him, and had to lie there and take it.

One of the chickens darted past Fiore. It disappeared between two huts before he could decide to grab it for himself. “Damn,” he said, kicking at the dirt. “I should’ve brought that home for Liu Han.” Somebody else-almost certainly not its proper owner-would enjoy it now.

“Too bad,” he muttered. He’d eaten some amazing things since the Lizards stuck him here. He’d thought he knew what Chinese food was all about. After all, he’d stopped at enough chop suey joints on the endless road trips that punctuated his life. You could fill yourself up for cheap, and it was usually pretty good.

The only familiar thing here was plain rice. No chop suey, no crunchy noodles, no little bowls of ketchup and spicy mustard. No fried shrimp, though that made sense, because he didn’t think the camp was anywhere near the ocean. Not even fried rice, for God’s sake. He wondered if the guys who ran the chop suey places were really Chinese at all.

The vegetables here looked strange and tasted stranger, and Liu Han insisted on serving them while they were still crunchy, which meant raw as far as he was concerned. He wanted a string bean-not that there were any string beans-to keep quiet between his teeth, not fight back. His mama had cooked vegetables till they were soft, which made it Gospel to him.

But Liu Han’s mama had had different ideas. He wasn’t about to cook for himself, so he ate what Liu Han gave him.

If the vegetables were bad, the meat was worse. Papa Fiore had known hard times in Italy; every once in a while, he’d slip and call a cat a roof rabbit. Roof rabbit seemed downright tempting compared to some of the things for sale in the camp marketplace: dog meat, skinned rats, elderly eggs. Bobby had quit asking about the bits and strips of flesh Liu Han served along with her half-raw vegetables: better not to know. That was one of the reasons he regretted not grabbing the chicken-for once, he would have been sure of what he was eating.

The woman quit kicking the chicken thief and started after the bird that hadn’t come near Fiore. That hen had sensibly decided to go elsewhere. The woman stopped screeching and started wailing. What with all the racket she made, Fiore decided he was on the chicken’s side. That wouldn’t help the bird; if it stayed anywhere in camp, it would end up in somebody’s pot pretty damn quick.

Fiore picked his way through the crowded, narrow streets back toward his hut. He was glad he had a good sense of direction. Without it, he wouldn’t have gone out past his own front door. Nobody here had ever heard of street signs, and even if signs hung on every corner, they wouldn’t have been in a language he could read.

Liu Han was chattering away in Chinese with a couple of other women when he walked in. They turned and stared at him, half in curiosity, half in alarm. He bowed, which was good manners here. “Hello. Good day,” he said in his halting Chinese.

The women giggled furiously, maybe at his accent, maybe just at his face: as far as they were concerned, anybody who wasn’t Chinese might as well have been a nigger. They spoke rapidly to each other; he caught the phrase foreign devil, which they applied to those not of their kind. He wondered what they were saying about him.

They didn’t stay long. After goodbyes to Liu Han and bows to him-he had been polite, even if he was a foreign devil-they headed back to wherever they lived. He hugged Liu Han. You still couldn’t tell she was pregnant when she wore clothes, but now he felt the beginning of a bulge to her belly when they embraced.

“You okay?” he asked in English, and added the Lizards’ interrogative cough at the end.

“Okay,” she said, and tacked on the emphatic cough. For a while, the Lizards’ language had been the only one they had in common. Nobody but the two of them understood the mish-mash they spoke these days. She pointed to the teapot, used the interrogative cough.

M’goi-thanks,” he said. The pot was cheap and old, the cups even cheaper, and one of them cracked. The Lizards had given them the hut and everything in it; Fiore tried not to think about what might have happened to whoever was living there before.

He sipped the tea. What he wouldn’t have given for a big mug of coffee with sugar and lots of cream! Tea was okay once in a while, but all the time every day? Forget it. He started to laugh.

“Why funny?” Liu Han asked.

“Up there”-their shorthand for the spaceship-“you eat my kind food.” Most of the canned goods the Lizards fed them with came from the States or from Europe. Fiore made a horrible face to remind her how well she’d liked them. “Now I eat your kind food.” He made the face again, but this time he pointed to himself.

A mouse scuttled across the floor, huddled against the baked-clay hearth to get warm. Liu Han didn’t carry on the way a lot of American women would have. She just pointed at it.

Fiore picked up a brass incense burner and flung it at the mouse. His aim was still good. He caught the rodent right in the ribs. It lay there twitching. Liu Han picked it up by the tail and threw it out. She said, “You”-she made a throwing gesture-“good.”

“Yeah,” he said. With their three languages and a lot of dumb show, he told her how he’d nailed the chicken thief. “The arm still works.” He’d tried explaining about baseball. Liu Han didn’t get it.

She made the throwing gesture. “Good,” she repeated. He nodded; this wasn’t the first mouse he’d nailed. The camp was full of vermin. It had been a jolt, especially after the metallic sterility of the spaceship. It was also another reason not to want to know too much about what he ate. He’d never worried about what health departments back in the U.S.A. did. But seeing what things were like without them gave him a new perspective.

“Should make money, arm so good,” Liu Han said. “Not do like here.”

“God knows that’s so,” Fiore answered, responding to the second part of what she’d said. Most Chinamen, he thought scornfully, threw like girls, shortarming it from the elbow. Next to them, he looked like Bob Feller. Then he noticed the key word from the first part. “Money?”

He didn’t need much, not in camp. He and Liu Han were still the Lizards’ guinea pigs, so they didn’t pay rent for the hut and nobody dared haggle too hard in the marketplace. But more cash never hurt anybody. He’d made a little doing the hard physical work-hauling lumber and digging trenches-he’d started playing ball to avoid. And he won more than he lost when he gambled. Still…

Mountebanks did well here, among people starved for any other entertainment: jugglers, clowns, a fellow with a trained monkey that seemed smarter than a lot of people Fiore knew. All the baseball skills he had-throwing, catching, hitting, even sliding-were ones the people here didn’t use. He’d never thought about turning baseball into a vaudeville act, but you could do it.

He bent to kiss Liu Han. She liked that-not just that he did it, but that he made a production of it. She needed to know he kept caring for her. “Baby, you’re brilliant,” he said. Then he had to stop and explain what brilliant meant, but it was worth it.

Ussmak was unenthusiastic about leaving the nice warm barracks at Besancon. The cold outside made his muzzle tingle. He hurried toward his landcruiser, whose crew compartment had a heater.

“We’ll kill all the stupid Deutsch Big Uglies as far as the eye can see, then come back here and relax some more. Shouldn’t take long,” Hessef said. The landcruiser commander let the lid to his cupola fall with a clang.

That’s the ginger talking, Ussmak thought. Hessef and Tvenkel had both tasted just before they started this mission: ginger was cheap and easy to come by here in France. They’d both laughed at him for declining-he’d used even more than they had while sitting around waiting for something to happen.

But he still thought combat was different. The Big Uglies were barbarous, but he knew they could fight. He’d had landcruisers wrecked around him; he’d lost crewmales. And the Deutsche were supposed to be more dangerous than the Russki had been. That was plenty to make him want to go at them undrugged.

Tvenkel had sneered, “Don’t worry about it. The landcruiser just about fights itself.”

“Do what you want,” Ussmak had answered. “I’ll taste plenty when we get back, I promise you that.” He missed the confidence and exuberance ginger gave him, but he didn’t think he really was smarter when he tasted-he only felt that way. A lot of tasters failed to draw the distinction, but he thought it was there.

At Hessef’s blithe order, he started the landcruiser’s engine. Part of a long column, the big, heavy machine rumbled out of the fortress and through the narrow streets of Besancon. Big Uglies in their ridiculous clothes stared as it went past. Some of the Big Uglies yelled things. Ussmak hadn’t learned any Francais, but the tone didn’t sound friendly.

Males of the Race, aided here and there by Tosevites in low, flat-topped cylindrical hats, held back local traffic until the column passed by. Most of the traffic was Big Uglies on foot or on the two-wheeled contraptions that used their own body energy for propulsion. Others sat atop animal-drawn wagons that seemed to Ussmak something straight out of an archaeology video.

One of the animals let a pile of droppings fall to the street. None of the Big Uglies rushed to clean it up; none of them seemed to notice it was there. Hessef spoke to Ussmak from the landcruiser’s intercom: “Filthy creatures, aren’t they? They deserve to be conquered, and we’re going to do it.” An unnatural confidence filled, his voice.

But for the landcruisers, only a couple of motorized vehicles moved in Besancon. Both of them had big metal cylinders rising from the rear like tumors. “What are those things?” Ussmak asked. “Their engines?”

“No,” Tvenkel answered. The gunner went on, “They’re built to burn petroleum by-products, like Tosevite landcruisers. But they can’t get those by-products any more. The gadgets you see extract burnable gas from wood. They’re ugly makeshifts like most of what the Big Uglies do, but they work after a fashion.”

“Oh.” Up in the fortress that overlooked Besancon, Ussmak had grown used to smells he’d never smelled before. Now that he saw what produced some of those smells, he wondered what they were doing to his lungs.

The operations order said the landcruisers were to proceed northeast from Besancon. Through the town, however, they rumbled northwest. Ussmak wondered if that was right, but didn’t say anything about it. All he was doing was following the male in front of him. You couldn’t possibly get in trouble if you did that.

The male in front of him-and all the males in the column, right up to the lead driver, who had to make his own decisions-proved to know what they were doing. They rattled across a bridge (to the relief of Ussmak, who wasn’t sure it would take his landcruiser’s weight), past the earthworks of yet another fort, and then out onto a road that led in the proper direction.

Ussmak undogged his entry hatch and stuck out his head. Driving unbuttoned gave him the best view, even if the breeze in his face was chilly. Shouldn’t be dangerous here, he thought. Nothing even slightly out of the ordinary had happened since he came to Besancon. He’d become convinced the area was thoroughly pacified.

Up ahead, something went whump. Ussmak recognized that noise from the SSSR: somebody had driven over a land mine. Sure enough, landcruisers started going off the road on either side to get around a disabled vehicle. From the commander’s cupola, Hessef said, “Ah, will you look at that? It’s blown the track right off him.”

The ground to either side of the paved road was soft and soggy: not surprising, Ussmak supposed, since the highway ran parallel to the river that flowed through, Besancon. He didn’t think anything of it until a landcruiser, and then another one, bogged down in the muck.

From the woods to the north of the road came another sound with which Ussmak had become intimately familiar in the SSSR: a sharp, fast, harsh tac-tac-tac. He slammed the hatch with a clang. “They’re shooting at us!” he screamed. “That’s an egg-addled machine gun, that’s what that is!” Bullets ricocheting from the landcruiser’s composite armor underscored his words.

In the turret, Hessef shouted in high excitement. “I see muzzle flashes, by the Emperor! There he is, Tvenkel, right over there! Bring the turret around-that’s the way. Give him some with the machine gun, and then a round of high explosive. We’ll teach the Big Uglies to fool with us!”

Ussmak let out a slow hiss of wonder. Hessef’s sloppy commands weren’t anything like the ones that had been drilled into the landcruiser crews in endless days of simulator training and exercises back on Home. Ussmak realized he was listening to the ginger talking again. An adjutant monitoring Hessef would have swelled up as if he had the gray staggers.

However unorthodox the orders, though, they accomplished their purpose. Hydraulics whirred as the turret smoothly traversed. The coaxial machine gun opened up. Heard from inside the landcruiser, it wasn’t loud at all. “Fool with us, will they?” Tvenkel yelled. “I’ll teach them this world belongs to the Race!” He fired a long, long burst. Not being turned toward the Big Uglies with the machine gun, Ussmak at first had trouble judging how effective Tvenkel’s shooting was. But then more bullets pattered off the landcruisers like pebbles thrown at a metal roof. They did no more damage than pebbles would have, but showed the Tosevite gunners were still in business.

“Give ’em the real thing,” Hessef said. Again, thick armor muffled the cannon’s roar, though the landcruiser rocked slightly on its treads as it took up the recoil.

“There, that’s done it,” Tvenkel said with satisfaction. “We put enough rounds on that machine gun so the Big Uglies running it won’t bother their betters again.” As if to underscore his words, bullets stopped hitting the landcruiser.

Ussmak peered through his forward vision slits. Some of the other vehicles in the column were already moving ahead. A moment later, Hessef said, “Forward.”

“It shall be done, superior sir.” Ussmak released the brake, put the landcruiser into low gear. It rumbled forward. He steered very close to the machine that had thrown a track, keeping one of his own on the paved road to make sure he didn’t bog down. As soon as he was past the crippled landcruiser, he sped up to try to recapture some of the time everyone had lost shooting at the Big Uglies and their machine gun.

Hessef said, “Not bad at all. The column commander reports only two wounds, neither serious. And we obliterated those Tosevites.”

The ginger was still talking through him, Ussmak thought. Landcruiser crews shouldn’t have taken any casualties from a nuisance machine gun. Besides which, Hessef was ignoring the disabled fighting vehicle and the delay that sprang from the little firefight. If you’d tasted ginger a while before, such setbacks were too small to be worth noticing. Had Ussmak tasted along with the rest of the crew, he wouldn’t have noticed them, either. Without a particle of the herb in him, though, they bulked large. He wondered just how clever he really was after a good taste.

From behind and to the left, bullets clattered off the landcruiser’s rear deck and the back of the turret. The Big Uglies at their machine gun had lived through the firestorm around them after all.

“Halt!” Hessef screeched. Ussmak obediently hit the brake. “Five rounds high explosive this time,” the commander ordered. “Do you hear me, Tvenkel? I want those maniacal males blown to bloody bits.”

“So do I,” the gunner said. He and his commander agreed perfectly, just as training said members of a landcruiser crew should. The only trouble was that the tactic on which they agreed struck Ussmak as insane.

The landcruiser’s main armament boomed, again and again. And Hessef’s was not the only crew that had halted. Through his vision slits, Ussmak watched several other landcruisers stop so they could pour fire down on the Tosevites who had had the temerity to annoy them. The driver wondered if their commanders were tasting, too.

When the barrage was done, Hessef said, “Forward,” in tones of self-satisfaction. Ussmak obeyed again. Not much later, the landcruiser column came to an enormous hole blown in the highway. “The Big Uglies can’t stop us with nonsense like that,” Hessef declared. And sure enough, the armored fighting vehicles’ swung off the road one by one.

The machine just in front of Ussmak’s rolled over a mine and lost a track. As soon as it slewed to a stop, a concealed Tosevite machine gun opened up. The landcruisers again returned fire with cannon and machine guns.

The column was very late reaching its assigned destination.

Heinrich Jager paced through the cobblestoned streets of Hechingen. Up on a spur of the Schwabische Alb stood Burg Hohenzollern. Its turrets, seen mistily through fog, made Jager think of medieval epic, of maidens with long golden tresses and of the dragons that coveted them for their own dragonish reasons.

The trouble these days, however, was Lizards, not dragons. Jager wished he were back at the front so he could do something useful about them. Instead, he was stuck here with the best scientific minds of the Reich.

He had nothing against them: on the contrary. They were far more likely to save Germany-to save mankind-than he was. But they thought they needed him to help them do it, and in that, as far as he could see, they were badly mistaken.

He’d watched soldiers make the same kind of mistake. If a detachment from the quartermaster’s office brought a new model field telephone to the frontline soldiers, they were automatically seen as experts on the gadget, even if the only thing they knew about it was how to get it out of its crate.

So with him now. He’d helped steal the explosive metal from the Lizards, he’d hauled it across the Ukraine and Poland. Therefore, the presumption ran, he had to know all about it. Like a lot of presumptions, that one presumed too much.

Coming up the street toward him, munching on a chunk of black bread, was Werner Heisenberg. In spite of the bread, Heisenberg looked very much the academic: he was tall and serious-looking, with bushy hair combed straight back, fluffy eyebrows, and an expression mostly, as now, abstracted.

“Herr Doktor Professor,” Jager said, touching the brim of his service cap. No matter how bored he was, he remained polite.

“Ah; Colonel Jager, good day. I did not see you.” Heisenberg chuckled uneasily. Being taken for the traditional absentminded professor had to embarrass him, not least because he really wasn’t that way. Up till now, he’d always seemed plenty sharp-and not just brilliant, which went without saying-to Jager. He went on, “I am glad to find you, though I must thank you again for the material you have given us to work with.”

“To serve the Reich is my pleasure and my duty,” Jager answered, politely still. If Heisenberg had ever seen combat, he didn’t show it. He could thank Jager for bringing the explosive metal, but he didn’t really know what that meant, or how much blood had been spilled to get him his experimental material.

He proceeded to prove that, saying, “A pity you could not have fetched us a bit more. Theoretical calculations indicate the amount we have is marginal for the production of a uranium explosive. Another three or four kilos would have been most beneficial.”

That did it. Jager’s boredom boiled away in fury. “Dr. Diebner had the courtesy to be grateful for what was provided rather than to complain about it. He also had the sense, sir”-Jager loaded the title with scorn-“to remember how, many lives were lost obtaining it.”

He’d hoped to make Heisenberg ashamed. Instead, he flicked him on his vanity. “Diebner? Ha! He has not even his Habilitation. He is, if you ask me, more tinkerer than physicist.”

“He knows what war entails, which is more than you seem to. And, by all accounts, he and his group are further along than yours in setting up the apparatus to produce more of this explosive metal for ourselves after we expend what we procured from the Lizards.”

“By no means is his work theoretically sound,” Heisenberg said, as if he were accusing the other physicist of embezzlement.

“I don’t care about theory. I care about results.” Jager automatically reacted like a soldier. “Without results, theory is irrelevant.”

“Without theory, results are impossible,” Heisenberg retorted. The two men glared at each other. Jager wished he hadn’t bothered to greet the physicist. By the expression on his face, Heisenberg wished the same thing.

Jager shouted, “The metal is more real to you than the men who fell getting it.” He wanted to clout Heisenberg down from his cloud, make him glimpse, however distantly, the world beyond equations. He also wanted to kick him in the teeth.

“I tried to express to you a civil good day, Colonel Jager,” Heisenberg said in tones of ice. “That you’return it to me with such, such recriminations I can take only as the mark of an unbalanced mind. Believe me, Colonel, I shall trouble you no further.” The physicist stalked off.

Still steaming, Jager stalked, too, in the opposite direction. He jumped and almost grabbed for his sidearm when someone said, “Well, Colonel, what was that in aid of?”

“Dr. Diebner!” Jager said. “You startled me.” He took his hand away from the flap of his holster.

“I shall try not to do that again,” Kurt Diebner said. “I can see it might not be healthy for me.” Where Heisenberg looked like a professor, Diebner at first glance seemed more likely to be a farmer. He was in his thirties, with a broad, fleshy face and a receding hairline which he emphasized by slicking down his dark hair with grease and combing it straight back. He wore his baggy suit as if he’d been out walking the fields in it. Only the thick glasses that showed how nearsighted he was argued for a different interpretation of his character.

Jager said, “I had a-disagreement with your colleague.”

“I saw that, yes.” Behind the glasses, amusement glinted in Diebner’s eyes. “I don’t believe I have ever seen Dr. Heisenberg so provoked; he normally cultivates an Olympian imperturbability. I came round the corner only for the tail end of the-disagreement, you said? — and was wondering what touched it off.”

The panzer colonel hesitated, since his compliments for Diebner had helped set Heisenberg off. At last he said, “I was concerned that Professor Heisenberg did not, ah, fully realize the difficulties in getting this metal to you nuclear physicists so you could exploit it.”

“Ah.” Diebner turned his head, peered this way and that; unlike Jager and Heisenberg, he was careful about who heard him speak. His big thick spectacles and their dark rims gave him the air of a curious owl. “Sometimes, Colonel Jager,” he said when he was sure the coast was clear, “from the top of the ivory tower it is hard to see the men struggling down in the mud.”

“This may be so.” Jager studied Diebner. “And yet-forgive me, Herr Doktor Professor-it seems to me, a colonel of panzers admittedly ignorant of all matter pertaining to nuclear physics, that you, too, dwell in this ivory tower.”

“Oh, I do, without a doubt.” Diebner laughed; his plump cheeks shook. “But I do not dwell on the topmost floor. Before the war, before uranium and its behavior became so important to us all, Professor Heisenberg concerned himself almost exclusively with the mathematical analysis of matter and its behavior. You have perhaps heard of the Uncertainty Principle which bears his name?”

“I’m sorry, but no,” Jager said.

“Ah, well.” Diebner shrugged. “Put me in charge of a panzer and I would be quickly killed. We all have our areas of expertise. My gift is in physics, too, but in experimenting to see what the properties of matter actually are. Then the theoreticians, of whom Professor Heisenberg is among the best, use these data to develop their abstruse conclusions over what it all means?”

“Thank you. You have clarified that for me.” Jager meant it-now he understood why Heisenberg had sneeringly called Diebner a tinkerer. The difference was something like the one between himself and a colonel of the General Staff. Jager knew he didn’t have the broad strategic vision he’d need to succeed as a man with the Lampassen-the broad red stripes that marked a General Staff officer-on his trousers. On the other hand, a General Staff officer wasn’t likely to have acquired the nuts-and-bolts knowledge (often in the literal sense of the words) to run a panzer regiment.

Diebner said, “Do try to bear with us, Colonel. The difficulties we face are formidable, not least because we are under such desperate pressure of time and strategy.”

“I follow,” Jager said. “I wish I were back with my unit, so I could use what I have learned to help hold the Lizards out of the Reich and let you complete your work. I am badly out of place here.”

“If you advance our building of the uranium bomb, you will have done more for the Reich than you could possibly accomplish in the field. Believe me when I say this.” Now Diebner looked earnest, like a farmer solemnly explaining how excellent his beets were.

“If.” Jager remained unconvinced that he could do anything useful here at Hechingen: he was about as valuable as oars on a bicycle. He came up with a plan, though, one that made him smile. Diebner smiled back; he seemed a very decent fellow. Jager felt a little guilty at going against him, but only a little.

When he got back to his quarters, he drafted a request to be returned to active duty. On the space in the form that asked his reason for seeking the transfer, he wrote, I am of no use to the physicists here. If confirmation is required please inquire of Professor Heisenberg.

He sent the request off with a messenger and awaited results. They were not long in coming-the application got approved faster than he had thought possible. Diebner and a couple of the other physicists expressed regret that he was leaving. Professor Heisenberg said not a word. He’d no doubt had his say to the office who’d called or telegraphed about Jager.

Maybe he thought he’d had his revenge. As far as Jager was concerned, the distinguished professor had done him a favor.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil, for Thou art with me. Lodz constantly put Moishe Russie in mind of the Twenty-third Psalm, and of that valley. Lodz, though, had only walked into the valley, not through it. The shadow of death still lay over the town.

In Warsaw, thousands in the ghetto had died of starvation and disease before the Lizards came. Starvation and disease had walked the streets of Lodz, too. But the Nazis hadn’t let them work alone here. They’d started shipping Jews off to their murder factories. Maybe the memory of those death transports was what made Lodz still seem caught in the grip of a nightmare.

Russie walked southeast down Zgierska Street toward the Balut Market square to buy some potatoes for his family. Up the street toward him came a Jewish policeman of the Order Service. His red-and-white armband bore a six-pointed black star with a white circle in the center, marking him as an underofficer. He had a truncheon on his belt and a rifle across his back. He looked like a tough customer.

But when Russie tugged at the brim of his hat in salute, the Order Service man returned the gesture and kept on walking. Emboldened, Russie turned and called after him: “How are the potatoes today?”

The policeman stopped. “They’re not wonderful, but I’ve seen worse,” he answered. Pausing to spit in the gutter, he added, “We all saw worse last year.”

“Isn’t that the sad and sorry truth?” Russie said. He headed on down to the market while the Order Service man resumed his beat.

More policemen roamed the Balut Market square, to keep down thievery, maintain order-and cadge what they could. Like the underofficer, they still wore the emblems of rank they’d got from the Nazis.

That helped make Lodz feel haunted to Russie. In Warsaw the Judenrat-the Jewish council that had administered the ghetto under German authority-collapsed even before the Lizards drove out the Nazis. Its police force had fallen with it. Jewish fighters, not the hated and discredited police, kept order there now. The same held true in most Polish towns.

Not in Lodz. Here, the walls of the buildings that fronted the market square were plastered with posters of balding, white-haired Mordechai Chaim Rumkowski. Rumkowski had been Eldest-puppet ruler-of Lodz’s Jews under the Nazis. Somehow, he was still Eldest of the Jews under the Lizards.

Russie wondered how he’d managed that. He must have jumped from the departing train to the arriving one at just the right instant. In Warsaw, there were stories that he’d collaborated with the Nazis. Russie had asked no questions of that sort since he got into Lodz. He didn’t want to draw Rumkowski’s attention toward him and his family. For all he knew, the Eldest would turn him over to Zolraag, the local Lizard governor.

He got into line for potatoes. The lines moved fast; the Order Service men saw to that. They were fierce and fussy at the same time, a manner they must have learned from the Germans. Some of them still wore German-style jackboots, too. As with the ghetto stars on their armbands, the boots raised Russie’s hackles.

When he reached the front of the line, such worries fell away. Food was more important. He held out a burlap bag and said, “Ten kilos of potatoes, please.”

The man behind the table took the bag, filled it from a bin, plopped it onto a scale. He’d had endless practice; it weighed ten kilos on the dot. He didn’t hand it back to Russie. Instead, he asked, “How are you going to pay? Lizard coupons, marks, zlotys, Rumkies?”

“Rumkies.” Russie pulled a wad of them out of his pocket. The fighter who’d driven him into Lodz had given him what seemed like enough to stuff a mattress. He’d imagined himself rich until he discovered that the Lodz ghetto currency was almost worthless.

The potato seller made a sour face. “If it’s Rumkies, you owe me 450.” The potatoes would have cost only a third as many Polish zlotys, the next weakest currency.

Russie started peeling off dark blue twenty-mark notes and blue-green tens, each printed with a Star of David in the upper left-hand corner and a cross-hatching of background lines that spiderwebbed the bills with more Magen Davids. Each note bore Rumkowski’s signature, which gave the money its sardonic nickname.

The potato seller made his own count after Moishe gave him the bills. Even though it came out right, he still looked unhappy. “Next time you come, bring real money,” he advised. “I don’t think we’re going to take Rumkies a whole lot longer.”

“But-” Russie waved to the ubiquitous portraits of the Jewish Eldest.

“He can do what he wants in here,” the potato seller said. “But he can’t make anybody outside think Rumkies are good for anything but wiping your behind.” The merchant’s shrug was eloquent.

Russie started back to his flat with the potatoes. It was on the corner of Zgierska and Lekarska, just a couple of blocks from the barbed wire that had sealed off the ghetto of Lodz-Litzmannstad, the Nazis had renamed it when they annexed western Poland to the Reich-from the rest of the city.

Much of the barbed wire remained in place, though paths had been cut through it here and there. In Warsaw, Lizard bombs had knocked down the wall the Germans made. Of course, that barrier had looked like a fortification and most of this one didn’t. But something else went on here, too. The potato seller had said that Rumkowski could do what he wanted inside the ghetto. He’d meant it scornfully, but Moishe thought his words held a truth he hadn’t intended. He had the feeling Rumkowski liked being a big fish, no matter how small his pond was.

At least there were enough potatoes to go around these days. The Lodz ghetto had been as hungry as Warsaw’s, maybe hungrier. The Jews inside remained gaunt and ragged, especially compared to the Poles and Germans who made up the rest of the townsfolk. They weren’t actively starving any more, though. From where they’d been a year before, that wasn’t just progress. It felt like a miracle.

A horse-drawn wagon clattered up behind Russie. He stepped aside to let it pass. It was piled high with curious-looking objects woven out of straw. “What are those things, anyway?” Russie called to the driver.

“You must be new in town.” The fellow pulled back on the reins, slowed his team to an amble so he could talk for a while. “They’re boots, so the Lizards won’t freeze their little chicken feet every time they go out in the snow.”

“Chicken feet-I like that,” Russie said.

The driver grinned. “Every time I see two or three Lizards together, I think of the front window of a butcher’s shop. I want to go down the street yelling, ‘Soup! Get your soup fixings here!’ ” He sobered. “We were making straw boots for the Nazis before the Lizards came. All we had to do was make ’em smaller and change the shape.”

“Wouldn’t it be fine to make what we wanted just for ourselves, not for one set of masters or another?” Russie said wistfully. His hands remembered the motions they’d made sewing seams on field-gray trousers.

“Fine, yes. Should you hold your breath? No.” The drive coughed wetly. Tuberculosis, said the medical student Russie had once been. The driver went on, “It’ll probably happen about the time the Messiah comes. These days, stranger, I’ll take small things-my wife’s not embroidering little eagles for Luftwaffe men, a kholereye on them, to wear on their shoulders. You ask me, that’s fine.”

“It is fine,” Russie agreed. “But it shouldn’t be enough.”

“If God had asked me when He was making the world, I’m sure I could have done much better for His people. Unfortunately, He seems to have been otherwise engaged.” Coughing again, the driver flicked the reins and sent the wagon rattling on down the street. Now at least he could go outside the ghetto.

More posters of Rumkowski were plastered on the front of Russie’s block of flats. Under his lined face was one word-WORK-in Yiddish, Polish, and German. His hope had been to make the industrious Jews of Lodz so valuable to the Nazis that they would not want to ship them to extermination camps. It hadn’t worked; the Germans were running trains to Chelmno and other camps until the day the Lizards drove them away. Russie wondered how much Rumkowski had known about that.

He also wondered why Rumkowski fawned so on the Lizards when only horror had come from his efforts at accommodating the Nazis. Maybe he didn’t want to lose the shadowy power he enjoyed as Jewish Eldest. Or maybe he just didn’t know any other way to deal with overlords so much mightier than he. For the Eldest’s sake, Russie hoped the latter was true.

Shlepping the potatoes up three flights of stairs as he walked down the hallway to his flat, years of bad nutrition and weeks of being cooped up inside the cramped bunker had taken their toll on his wind and on his strength generally. He tried the door. It was locked. He rapped on it. Rivka let him in.

A small tornado in a cloth cap tackled him just above the knees. “Father, Father!” Reuven squealed. “You’re back!” Ever since they’d come out of the bunker-where they’d been together every moment, awake and asleep-Reuven had been nervous about his going away for any reason. He was, however, starting to get over that, for he asked, “Did you bring me anything?”

“Sorry, son; not this time. I just went out for food,” Moishe said. Reuven groaned in disappointment. His father pulled his cap down over his eyes. He thought that was funny enough to make up for the lack of trinkets.

People sold toys in the market square. How many of them, though, used to belong to children who’d died in the ghetto or been taken away to Chelmno or some other camp? When even something that should have been joyous, like buying a toy, saddened and frightened you because you wondered why it was for sale, you began to feel in your belly what the Nazis had done to the Jews of Poland.

Rivka took the sack of potatoes. “What did you have to pay?” she asked.

“Four hundred and fifty Rumkies,” he answered.

She stopped in dismay. “This is only ten kilos, right? Last week ten kilos only cost me 320. Didn’t you haggle?” When he shook his head, she rolled her eyes toward the heavens. “Men! See if I let you go shopping again.”

“The Rumkie’s worth less every day,” he said defensively. “In fact, it’s almost worthless, period.”

As if she were explaining a lesson to Reuven, she said, “Last week, the potato seller’s first price for me was 430 Rumkies. I just laughed at him. You should have done the same.”

“I suppose so,” he admitted. “It didn’t seem to matter, not when we have so many Rumkies.”

“They won’t last forever,” Rivka said sharply. “Do you want us to have to go to work in the Lizards’ factories to make enough to keep from starving?”

“God forbid,” he answered, remembering the wagon full of straw boots. Making things for the Germans had been bad enough; making boots and coats for the aliens who aimed to conquer all mankind had to be worse, although the wagon driver hadn’t seemed to think so.

Rivka laughed at him. “It’s all right. I got us some nice onions from Mrs. Jakubowicz downstairs for next to nothing. That should cancel out your foolishness.”

“How does Mrs. Jakubowicz come by onions?”

“I didn’t ask. One doesn’t, these days, but she had enough of them that she didn’t gouge me.”

“Good. Do we have any of that cheese left?” Moishe asked.

“Yes-plenty for today, with some left over for tomorrow, too.”

“That’s very good,” Moishe said. Food came first. The ghetto had taught him that. He sometimes thought that if he ever got rich (not likely) and if the war ever ended (which seemed even less likely), he’d buy himself a huge house, live in half of it, and fill the other half with meat and butter (in separate rooms, of course) and pastries and all manner of wonderful things to eat. Maybe he’d open a delicatessen. Even in wartime, people who sold food didn’t go as hungry as those who had to buy it.

The part of him that had studied human nutrition said cheese and potatoes and onions could keep body and soul together a long time. Protein, fat, vitamins (he wished for something green, but that would have been hard to come by in Poland in late winter even before the war), minerals. Unexciting food, yes, but food.

Rivka carried the sack of potatoes into the kitchen. Moishe trailed after her. The apartment was scantily furnished-just the leftovers of the people who had lived, and probably died, here before his family came. One thing it did boast, though, was a hot plate, and Lodz, unlike Warsaw even now, had reliable electricity.

Rivka peeled and chopped up a couple of onions. Moishe drew back a few paces. Even so, the onions were strong enough to make tears start in his eyes. The onions went into the stew pot. So did half a dozen potatoes. Rivka didn’t peel them. She glanced over to her husband. “Nutrients,” she said seriously.

“Nutrients,” he agreed. Potatoes in their jackets had more than potatoes without. When potatoes were most of what you ate, you didn’t want to waste anything.

“Supper in-a while,” Rivka said. The hot plate was feeble. It would take a long time to boil water. Even after it did, the potatoes would take a while to cook. When your stomach was none too full, waiting came hard.

Without warning, a huge bang! rattled the windows. Reuven started crying. As Rivka rushed to comfort him, sirens began to wail.

Moishe followed his wife out to the front room. “It frightened me,” Reuven said.

“It frightened me, too,” his father answered. He’d tried to forget how terrifying an explosion out of the blue could be. Hearing just one took him back to the summer before, when the Lizards had forced the Germans out of Warsaw, and to 1939, when the Nazis had pounded a city that couldn’t fight back.

“I didn’t think the Germans could hurt us any more,” Rivka said.

“I didn’t, either. They must have gotten lucky.” Moishe spoke as much to reassure himself as to hearten his wife. Believing they were safe from the Nazis was as vital to them as to every other Jew in Poland.

Bang! This one was louder and closer. The whole block of flats shook. Glass tinkled down on the floor as two windows blew in. Faint in the distance, Moishe heard screams. The rising bay of the sirens soon drowned them out.

“Lucky?” Rivka asked bitterly. Moishe shrugged with as much nonchalance as he could find. If it wasn’t just luck-He didn’t want to think about that.

“The Deutsche got lucky,” Kirel said. “They launched their missiles when our antimissile system was down for periodic maintenance. The warheads did only relatively minor damage to our facilities.”

Atvar glowered at the shiplord, though it was only natural that he try to put the best face on things. “Our facilities may not be badly damaged, but what of our prestige?” the fleetlord snapped. “Shall we give the Big Uglies the impression they can lob these things at us whenever it strikes their fancy?”

“Exalted Fleetlord, the situation is not so bad as that,” Kirel said.

“No, eh?” Atvar was not ready to be appeased. “How not?”

“They fired three more at our installations the next days and we knocked all of those down,” Kirel said.

“This is less wonderful than it might be,” Atvar said. “I presume we expended three antimissile missiles in the process?”

“Four, actually,” Kirel said. “One went wild and had to be destroyed in flight.”

“Which leaves us how many such missiles in our inventory?”

“Exalted Fleetlord, I would have to run a computer check to give you the precise number,” Kirel said.

Atvar had run that computer check. “The precise number, Shiplord, is 357. With them, we can reasonably expect to shoot down something over three hundred of the Big Uglies’ missiles. After that, we become as vulnerable to them as they are to us.”

“Not really,” Kirel protested. “The guidance systems on their missiles are laughable. They can strike militarily significant targets only by accident. The missiles themselves are-”

“Junk,” Atvar finished for him. “I know this.” He poked a claw into a computer control on his desk. The holographic image of a wrecked Tosevite missile sprang into being above the projector off to one side. “Junk,” he repeated. “Sheet-metal body, glass-wool insulation, no electronics worthy of the name-”

“It scarcely makes a pretense of being accurate,” Kirel said.

“I understand that,” Atvar said. “And to knock it out of the sky, we have to use weapons full of sophisticated electronics we cannot hope to replace on this world. Even at one for one, the exchange is scarcely fair.”

“We cannot show the Big Uglies how to manufacture integrated circuits,” Kirel said. “Their technology is too primitive to let them produce such sophisticated components for us. And even if it weren’t, I would hesitate to acquaint them with such an art, lest we find ourselves on the receiving end of it in a year’s time.”

“Always a question of considerable import on Tosev 3,” Atvar said. “I thank the forethoughtful spirits of Emperors past”-he cast his eyes down to the floor, as did Kirel-“that we stocked any antimissiles at all. We did not expect to have to deal with technologically advanced opponents.”

“The same applies to our ground armor and many other armaments,” Kirel agreed. “Without them, our difficulties would be greater still.”

“I understand this,” Atvar said. “What galls me still more is that, despite our air of superiority, we have not been able to shut down the Big Uglies’ industrial capacity. Their weapons are primitive, but continue to be produced.”

He had once more the uneasy vision of a new Tosevite landcruiser rumbling around a pile of ruins just after the Race’s last one had been lost in battle. Or maybe it would be a new missile flying off its launcher with a trail of fire, and no hope of knocking it down before it hit.

Kirel said, “Our strategy of targeting the Tosevites’ petroleum facilities has not yet yielded the full range of desired results.”

“I am painfully aware of this,” Atvar replied. “The Big Uglies are better at effecting makeshift repairs than any rational being could have imagined. And while their vehicles and aircraft are petroleum-fueled, the same is not true of a large proportion of their heavy manufacturing capacity. This also makes matters more difficult.”

“We are beginning to get significant amounts of small-arms ammunition from Tosevite factories in the areas under our control,” Kirel said, resolutely looking at the bright side of things. “The level of sabotage in production is acceptably low.”

“That’s something, anyhow. Up till now, these Tosevite facilities have produced nothing but frustration for us,” Atvar said. “The munitions they turn out are good enough to damage us, but not of sufficient quality or precision to be useful to us in and of themselves. We cannot merely match them bullet for bullet or shell for shell, as they have more of each. Ours, then, must have the greater effect.”

“Indeed so, Exalted Fleetlord,” Kirel said. “To that end, we have recently converted a munitions factory we captured from the Francais to producing artillery ammunition in our calibers. The Tosevites manufacture the casings and the explosive charges; our only contribution to the process is the electronics for terminal guidance.”

Something Atvar said again. “But when our supply of seeker heads runs out-” In his mind that ugly smoke-belching landcruiser came out from behind the pile of ruins again.

“Such stocks are still fairly large,” Kirel said. “Again, we now have factories in Italia, France, and captured areas of the U S A and the SSSR beginning to turn out brakes and other mechanical parts for our vehicles.”

“This is progress,” Atvar admitted. “Whether it proves sufficient progress remains to be seen. The Big Uglies, unfortunately, also progress. Worse still, they progress qualitatively, where we are lucky to be able to hold our ground. I still worry about what the colonization fleet will find here when it arrives.”

“Surely the conquest will be complete by then,” Kirel exclaimed.

“Will it?” The more Atvar looked ahead, the less he liked what he saw. “Try as we will, Shiplord, I fear we shall not be able to prevent the Big Uglies from acquiring nuclear weapons. And if they do, I fear for Tosev 3.”

Vyacheslav Molotov detested flying. That gave him a personal reason for hating the Lizards to go along with reasons of patriotism and ideology. Ideology came first, of course. He hated the Lizards for their imperialism, for the efforts to cast all of mankind-and the Soviet Union in particular-back into the ancient economic system, with the aliens taking the role of masters and reducing mankind to slaves.

But beneath the imperatives of the Marxist-Leninist dialectic, Molotov also despised the Lizards for making him fly here to London. This trip wasn’t as ghastly as his last one, when he had flown in the open cockpit of a biplane from just outside Moscow to Berchtesgaden to beard Hitler in his den. He’d been in a closed cabin all the way-but he’d been no less nervous.

True, the Pe-2 fighter-bomber that had brought him across the North Sea was more comfortable than the little U-2 he’d used before. But it was also more vulnerable. The U-2 seemed too small for the Lizards to notice. Not so the machine he’d flown in yesterday. If he’d gone down into the cold, choppy gray water below, he knew he wouldn’t have lasted long.

But here he was, at the heart of the British Empire. For the five major powers still resisting the Lizards-the five major powers which, before the Lizards came, had been at war with one another-London remained the most accessible common ground. Large parts of the Soviet Union, the United States, and Germany and its European conquests lay under the aliens’ thumb, while Japan, though like England free of invaders, was next to impossible for British, German, and Soviet representatives to reach.

Winston Churchill strode into the Foreign Office conference room. He nodded first to Cordell Hull, the American Secretary of State, then to Molotov, and then to Joachim von Ribbentrop and Shigenori Togo. As former enemies, they stood lower on his scale of approval than did the nations that had banded together against fascism.

But Churchill’s greeting included all impartially: “I welcome you, gentlemen, in the cause of freedom and in the name of His Majesty the King.”

Molotov’s interpreter murmured the Russian translation for him. Big Five conferences got along on three languages: America and Britain shared English, while Ribbentrop, a former German ambassador to the Court of St. James’s, was also fluent in that tongue. That left Molotov and Togo linguistically isolated, but Molotov, at least, was used to isolation-serving as foreign commissar for the only Marxist-Leninist state in a capitalist world was good pariah training.

The envoys delivered their replies. When Molotov’s turn came, he said, “The peasants and workers of the Soviet Union express through me their solidarity with the peasants and workers of worldwide humanity against our common foe.”

Ribbentrop gave him a dirty look. Getting the Nazi’s goat, though, was no great accomplishment; Molotov thought of him as nothing more than a champagne salesman jumped up beyond his position and his abilities. Churchill’s round pink face, on the contrary, remained utterly imperturbable. For the British Prime Minister, Molotov had a grudging respect. No doubt he was a class enemy, but he was an able and resolute man. Without him, England might have yielded to the Nazis in 1940, and he had unhesitatingly gone to the support of the Soviet Union when the Germans invaded a year later. Had he thrown his weight behind Hitler then in the crusade against Bolshevism he’d once preached, the USSR might have fallen.

Cordell Hull said, “It’s a good idea that we get together when we can so we can plan together the best way of ridding ourselves of the damned Lizards.” As he had been at previous meetings, Molotov’s interpreter was a little slower in translating for Hull than he had been for Churchill: the American’s dialect differed from the British English he’d learned.

“Ridding ourselves of the Lizards now is not our only concern,” Shigenori Togo said.

“What could possibly be of greater concern to us?” Ribbentrop demanded. He might have been a posturing, popeyed fool, but for once Molotov could not disagree with his question.

But Togo said, “We also have now a future concern. Surely you all hold captives from among the Lizards. Have you not observed they are all males?”

“Of what other gender could warriors properly be?” Churchill said.

Molotov lacked the Englishman’s Victorian preconceptions on that score: female pilots and snipers had gone into battle-and done well-against both the Germans and the Lizards. But even Molotov reckoned that a tactic of desperation. “What are you implying?” he asked of the Japanese foreign minister.

“Under interrogation, a captive Lizard pilot has informed us that this enormous invasion force is but the precursor to a still larger fleet now traveling toward our planet,” Togo replied. “The second fleet is termed, if we understand correctly, the colonization fleet. The Lizards intend not merely conquest but also occupation.”

He could have created no greater consternation if he’d thrown a live grenade onto the gleaming mahogany surface of the table in front of him. Ribbentrop shouted in German; Cordell Hull slammed the palm of his hand down onto the tabletop and shook his head so that the fringe of hair he combed over his bald crown flailed wildly; Churchill choked on his cigar and coughed harshly.

Only Molotov still sat unmoved and unmoving. He waited for the hubbub to die down around him, then said, “Why should we allow this to surprise us, comrades?” He used the last word deliberately, both to remind the other dignitaries that they were in the struggle together and to irk them on account of their capitalist ideology.

Speaking through an interpreter had its advantages. Among them was getting the chance to think while the interpreter performed his office. Ribbentrop started off in German again (a mark of indiscipline, to Molotov’s mind), then switched to spluttering English: “But how are we to defeat these creatures if they throw at us endless waves of attack?”

“This is a question you Germans should have asked yourselves before you invaded the Soviet Union,” Molotov said.

Hull raised a hand. “Enough of that,” he said sharply. “Recriminations have no place at this table, else I would not be sitting here with Minister Togo.”

Molotov dipped his head slightly, acknowledging the Secretary of State’s point. He enjoyed twitting the Nazi, but enjoyment and diplomacy were two separate things.

“The depths of space between the stars are vaster than any man can comfortably imagine, and traveling them, even near the speed of light, takes time, or so the astronomers have led me to believe,” Churchill said. He turned to Togo. “How long have we before the second wave falls on us?”

The Japanese foreign minister answered, “The prisoner states that this colonization fleet will reach earth in something under forty of his kind’s years. That is less than forty of our years, but by how much he does not know.”

The interpreter leaned close to Molotov. “I am given to understand that two of the Lizards’ years are more or less equal to one of ours,” he murmured in Russian.

“Tell them,” Molotov said after a moment’s hesitation. Revealing information of any sort went against his grain, but joint planning required this.

When the interpreter finished speaking, Ribbentrop beamed. “So we have twenty years or so, then,” he said. “This is not so bad.”

Molotov was dismayed to see Hull nod at that. To them, he concluded, twenty years hence was so far distant that it might as well not exist. The Soviet Union’s Five Year Plans forced a concentration on the future, as did continued study of the ineluctable dynamics of the historical dialectic. As far as Molotov was concerned, a state that did not think about where it would be twenty years from now did not deserve to be anywhere.

He saw, intense concentration on Churchill’s face. The Englishman had no dialectic to guide him-how could he, when he represented a class destined for, the ash-heap of history? — but was himself a student of history of the reactionary sort, and thus used to contemplating broad sweeps of time. He could look ahead twenty years without being dizzied at the distance.

“I shall tell you what this means, gentlemen,” Churchill said: “It means that, even after we have defeated the Lizards even now encroaching on the green hills of Earth, we shall have to remain comrades in arms-even if not comrades in Commissar Molotov s sense-and ready ourselves and our world for another great battle.”

“I agree.” Molotov said. He was willing to let Churchill twit him without mercy if that advanced the coalition against the Lizards. Next to them even a fossilized conservative like Churchill was reminted in shiny progressive metal.

Ribbentrop said, “I agree also. I must say, however, that certain countries now preaching the gospel of cooperation would do well to practice it. Germany has noted several instances of new developments transmitted to us incompletely or only with reluctance, while others at this table have shared more equally and openhandedly.”

Churchill’s bland face remained bland. Molotov did not change expression, either-but then he rarely did. He knew Ribbentrop was talking about the Soviet Union, but declined to feel the least bit guilty. He was still sorry that Germany had succeeded in smuggling even half his share of explosive metal back to his homeland. That hadn’t been part of the Soviet plan. And Churchill couldn’t be enthusiastic about sharing British secrets with the power that had all but brought Britain to her knees.

“Minister Ribbentrop, I want to remind you that this notion of sending new ideas runs both ways,” Cordell Hull said. “You haven’t shared your fancy long-range rockets with the rest of us, I notice, nor the improved sights I hear tell about in your new tanks.”

“I will investigate this,” Ribbentrop said. “We shall not be less forthcoming than our neighbors.”

“While you are investigating, you ought to look into the techniques involved in your Polish death camps,” Molotov said. “Of course, the Lizards have publicized them so well that I doubt many secrets are left any more.”

“The Reich denies these vicious fabrications advanced by aliens and Jews,” Ribbentrop said, sending Molotov an angry glare that made him want to smile-he’d hurt the German foreign minister where it mattered. And Germany could deny all she pleased; no one believed her. Then Ribbentrop went on, “And in any case, Herr Molotov, I doubt whether Stalin needs any instruction in the art of murder.”

Molotov bared his teeth; he hadn’t expected the normally fatuous German to have such an effective comeback ready. Stalin, though, killed people because they opposed him or might be dangerous to him (the two categories, over the years, had grown closer together until they were nearly identical), not merely because of the group from which they sprang. The distinction, however, was too subtle for him to set it forth for the others around the mahogany table.

Shigenori Togo said, “We need to remember that, while we were enemies, we now find ourselves on the same side. Things which detract from this should be left by the wayside as inessential. Perhaps one day we shall find the time to pick them up once more and reexamine them, but that day is not yet.”

The Japanese foreign minister was the appropriate man to speak to both Molotov and Ribbentrop, as his country had been allied with Germany and neutral to the Soviet Union before the Lizards came.

“A sensible suggestion,” Hull said. His agreement with Togo meant something, for the United States and Japan had the same reasons for hatred as Russians and Germans.

Molotov said, “As best we can, then, we shall maintain our progressive coalition and continue the struggle against the imperialist invaders, at the same time seeking ways to share the fruits of technical progress among ourselves?”

“As best we can, yes,” Churchill said. Everyone else around the table nodded. Molotov knew the qualification would weaken their combined effort. But he also knew that, without it, the Big Five might have balked at sharing anything at all. An agreement with an acknowledged flaw was to his mind better than one that could blow up without warning.

They were keeping the fight alive. Past that, little mattered now.


The air-raid siren at Bruntingthorpe began to howl. David Goldfarb sprinted for the nearest slit trench. Above the siren came the roar of the Lizards’ jets. It seemed to grow impossibly fast.

Bombs started falling about the time Goldfarb dove headlong into the trench. The ground shook as if it were writhing in pain. Antiaircraft guns hammered. The Lizard planes screamed past at just above treetop height. Their cannon were pounding, too. Through everything, the siren wailed on.

The jets streaked away. The AA around Bruntingthorpe sent a last few futile rounds after them. Shell fragments pattered down from the sky like jagged metal hail. Stunned, half deafened, filthy, his heart pounding madly, Goldfarb climbed to his feet.

He glanced down at his watch. “Bloody hell,” he muttered, and then, because that didn’t have enough kick, “Gevalt.” Hardly more than a minute had gone by since the air raid warning began.

In that minute, Bruntingthorpe had been turned upside down. Craters pocked the runway. One of the bombs had struck an airplane in spite of the camouflaged revetment in which it huddled. A column of greasy black smoke rose into the cloudy sky.

Goldfarb looked around. “Oh, bloody fucking hell,” he said. The Nissen hut where he’d been studying how to fit a radar into the Meteor jet fighter was just a piece of rubble. Part of the curved roof of corrugated galvanized iron had been blown fifty feet away.

The radarman scrambled out of the trench and dashed toward the Nissen hut, which was beginning to burn. “Group Captain Hipple!” he shouted, and then called in turn the names of the other men with whom he’d been working. A dreadful fear that he would hear no reply rose in him.

Then, one by one, the heads of the RAF officers popped up out of the trench close by the hut. Only the top of Hipple’s cap was visible; be really was very short. “That you, Goldfarb?” he called. “Are you all right?”

“Yes, sir,” Goldfarb said. “Are you?”

“Quite, thanks,” Hipple answered, scrambling out spryly. He looked around at the hut, shook his head. “There’s a good deal of work up in smoke. I’m glad we salvaged what we did.” As the other officers got out, he waved Goldfarb over to see what he meant.

The bottom of the slit trench was covered with manila folders and the papers that had spilled out of them. Goldfarb stared from them to Hipple and back again. “You-all of you-stopped to grab papers when the air raid alarm went off?”

“Well, the work upon which we are engaged here is of considerable importance, don’t you think?” Hipple murmured, as if he hadn’t imagined doing anything but what he’d done. He probably hadn’t. Had Goldfarb been in the Nissen hut with the others, the only thing he would have thought about was getting to cover as fast as he could.

Groundcrew men had already emerged from their shelters. They swept and pushed chunks of tarmac off onto the winter-brown grass to either side of the newly hit runways, or else tossed them into the craters the bombs had made. Others started dragging up lengths of pierced steel planking material to put over the holes until they could make more permanent repairs.

Flight Lieutenant Kennan pointed toward the burning aircraft. “I do hope that’s not one of our Pioneers.”

“Not in that revetment, sir.” Flight Officer Roundbush shook his head. “It’s only a Hurricane.”

Only a Hurricane?” Kennan looked scandalized; he’d flown one during the Battle of Britain. “Basil, if it weren’t for Hurricanes, you’d have had to trim that mustache of yours down to a toothbrush and start learning German. The Spitfires grabbed the glory-they look like such thoroughbreds, after all-but Hurricanes did more of the work.”

Roundbush’s hand went protectively to the bushy blond growth on his upper lip. “I beg your pardon, sir. Had I realized the Hurricane stood between my mustache and war’s desolation, I should have spoken of it with more respect-even if it is as obsolete as a Sopwith Camel these days.”

If possible, Kennan looked even more affronted, not least because Roundbush was in essence right. Indeed, against the Lizards a Sopwith Camel might have been of more use than a Hurricane, simply because it contained very little metal and so was hard for radar to pick up.

Before Kennan could return to the verbal charge, Group Captain Hipple said, “Maurice, Basil, that’s quite enough.” They shuffled their feet like a couple of abashed schoolboys.

Wing Commander Peary jumped back down into the trench, started rummaging through file folders. “Oh, capital,” he said a minute later. “We didn’t lose the drawings for the installation of the multifrequency radar in the Meteor fuselage.”

At the same time as Goldfarb breathed a silent sigh of relief, Basil Roundbush said, “I had to save those. David would have smote me hip and thigh if I’d left them behind.”

“Heh,” Goldfarb said. He wondered if Roundbush was using that pseudo-Biblical language to mock his Jewishness. Probably not, he decided. Roundbush made fun of everything on general principles.

“Shall we gather up our goods and see who will give us a temporary home?” Hipple said. “We shan’t have a hut of our own for a while now.”

Planes were taking off and landing on the damaged runways by that afternoon. By then, Goldfarb and the RAF officers were back at work in a borrowed corner of the meteorological crew’s Nissen hut. The inside of one of the temporary buildings was so much like that of another that for a few minutes at a time Goldfarb was able to forget he wasn’t where he had been.

The telephone rang. One of the weathermen picked it up, then held it out to Hipple. “Call for you, Group Captain.”

“Thank you.” The jet engine specialist took the phone, said, “Hipple here.” He listened for a couple of minutes, then said, “Oh, that’s first-rate. Yes, we’ll be looking forward to receiving it. Tomorrow morning some time, you say? Yes, that will do splendidly. Thanks so much, for calling. Goodbye.”

“What was that in aid of?” Wing Commander Peary asked.

“There may be some justice in the world after all, Julian,” Hipple answered. “One of the Lizard jets which strafed this base was later brought down by antiaircraft fire north of Leicester. The aircraft did not burn upon impact, and damage was less extensive than in most other cases where we have been fortunate enough to strike a blow against the Lizards. An engine and the radar will be sent here for our examination.”

“That’s wonderful,” Goldfarb exclaimed; his words were partly drowned by similar ones from the other members of his team and from the meteorologists as well.

“What happened to the pilot?” Basil Roundbush’ asked, adding, “Nothing good, I hope.”

“I was told he used one of the Lizards’ exploding seats to get free of the aircraft, but he has been captured by Home Guards,” Hipple answered. “Perhaps it might be wise for me to seek to have him placed here so we can draw on his knowledge of the parts of his aircraft once he gains some command of English.”

“I’ve heard the Lizards sing like birds once they get to the point where they can talk,” Roundbush said. “They’re supposed to be even worse than the Italians for that. It’s odd, if you ask me.”

Maurice Kennan walked into the trap: “Why’s that?”

“Because they all come with stiff upper lips, of course.” Roundbush grinned.

“You’re one of the brightest Britain has to offer?” Kennan said, groaning. “God save us all.”

Goldfarb groaned, too-Basil Roundbush would have been disappointed if he hadn’t-but he was also smiling. He’d seen this kind of chaffing at the radar station in Dover at the height of the Battle of Britain, and then again with the Lancaster crew testing airborne radar. It made men work better together, lessened their friction against one another. Some, like Group Captain Hipple, didn’t need such social lubrication, but most mere mortals did.

They labored on until well past eight, trying to make up for time lost to the Lizard raid. They didn’t catch up; Goldfarb spent most of his time looking for the papers he needed, and didn’t always find them. The other four men, being more concerned with engines than radar, had grabbed those file folders first and his as an afterthought.

When Fred Hipple yawned and stood up from his stool, that was a signal for everyone else to knock off, too: if he’d had enough, they didn’t need to be ashamed to show they were worn. Goldfarb felt it in the shoulders and in the small of the back.

Hipple, a man of uncommon rectitude, headed for the refectory and then, presumably, for his cot-such, at least, was his usual habit. Goldfarb, though, had had a bellyful-in both the literal and figurative senses of the word-of the food the RAF kitchens turned out. After a while, stewed meat (when there was meat), soya links, stewed potatoes and cabbage, dumplings the size, shape, and consistency of billiard balls, and stewed prunes got to be too much.

He climbed onto his bicycle and headed for nearby Bruntingthorpe. Nor was he surprised to hear the rattling squeak of another bicycle’s imperfectly oiled chain right behind him. Looking back over his shoulder in the darkness would have been an invitation to go straight over the handlebars. Instead, he called, “A Friend In Need-”

Basil Roundbush’s chuckle came ahead to him. The flight officer finished the catch phrase: “-is a friend indeed.”

A few minutes later, they both pulled up in front of A Friend In Need, the only pub Bruntingthorpe boasted. Without the RAF aerodrome just outside the hamlet, the place would not have had enough customers to stay open. As things were, it flourished. So did the fish-and-chips shop next door, though Goldfarb fought shy of that one because of the big tins of lard that showed up in its refuse bins. He was not nearly so rigid in his Orthodox faith as his parents, but eating chips fried in pig’s fat was more than he could stomach.

“Two pints of bitter,” Roundbush called. The publican poured them from his pitcher, passed them across the bar in exchange for silver. Roundbush raised his pint pot in salute to Goldfarb. “Confusion to the Lizards!”

They both drained their pints. The beer was not what it had been before the war. After the first or second pint, though, you stopped noticing. Following immemorial custom, Goldfarb bought the second round. “No confusion to us tomorrow, when they fetch the damaged goods,” he declared. He said no more, not off the base.

“I’ll drink to that, by God!” Roundbush said, and proved it “The more we can learn about how they do what they do, the better our chance of keeping them from doing it”

The innkeeper leaned across the waxed oak surface of the bar. “I’ve still got half a roasted capon in the back room, lads,” he said in a confidential voice. “Four and six, if you’re interested-”

The slap of coins on the bar gave his sentence its end punctuation. “Light meat or dark?” Goldfarb asked when the bird appeared: as an officer, Roundbush had the right to choose.

“I fancy breasts more than legs,” Roundbush answered, and added, after the perfect tiny pause, “and I like light meat better, too.”

So did Goldfarb, but he ate the dark without complaint; it was vastly better than anything they made back at the aerodrome. The two RAF men each bought another round. Then, regretfully, they rode back to the base. Keeping bicycles on a steady course seemed complicated after four pints of even bad bitter.

The headache Goldfarb had the next morning told him he probably shouldn’t have drunk the last one. Basil Roundbush looked disgustingly fresh. Goldfarb did his best to keep Group Captain Hipple from noticing he was hung over. He thought he succeeded, and got help because no one was working at his best, not only because of yesterday’s raid, but also because everyone was looking forward to examining the wreckage from the Lizard plane.

Said wreckage did not arrive until nearly eleven, which put everyone, even the patient, mild-mannered Hipple, on edge. When it finally happened, though, the arrival was a portent: the fragments came to Bruntingthorpe aboard a pair of 6x6 GMC trucks.

The big rumbling American machines seemed to Goldfarb almost as great a prodigy as the cargo they bore. Next to them, the British lorries he was used to were awkward makeshifts, timid and underpowered. If the Lizards hadn’t come, thousands of these broad-shouldered bruisers would have been hauling men and equipment all around England. As it was, only the earliest handful of arrivals were working here. The Yanks had more urgent use for the rest on their own side of the Atlantic.

That a couple of the precious American lorries had been entrusted with their present cargo spoke volumes about how important the RAF reckoned it. The lorries also boasted winches, which helped get the pieces out of the cargo compartments: radar and engine, especially the latter, were too heavy for convenient manhandling.

“We have to get these under cover as quickly as we can,” Hipple said. “We don’t want Lizard reconnaissance aircraft noting that we’re trying to learn their secrets.”

Even as he spoke, men from the groundcrew were draping camouflage netting over the wreckage. Before long, it looked pretty much like meadow from above. Goldfarb said, “They’ll expect us to rebuild the Nissen hut they wrecked yesterday. When we do, it might be worthwhile to move this gear into it. That way, the Lizards won’t be able to tell we have it.”

“Very good suggestion, David,” Hipple said, beaming. “I expect we’ll do that as soon as we have the opportunity. Yet no matter how quickly they can run up a Nissen hut, we shan’t wait for them. I want to attack these beasts as rapidly as possible, as I’m certain you do also.”

There Hipple was right. Even though it was gloomy under the netting, Goldfarb got to work right away. The Lizard plane must have come down on its belly rather than nose first, a happy accident that had indeed kept it from being too badly smashed up. Part of the streamlined nose assembly remained in place in front of the parabolic radar antenna.

The antenna itself had escaped crumpling. It was smaller than Goldfarb had expected; for that matter, the whole unit was smaller than he’d expected. The Lizards had mounted it in front of their pilot-that was obvious. It was good design; Goldfarb wished the set that would go into the Meteor was small enough to imitate it.

Some of the sheet metal around the radar had torn. Peering through a gap, Goldfarb saw bundles of wires with bright-colored insulation. Coded somehow, he thought, wishing he knew which color meant what.

Even wrecked, the finish of the Lizard aircraft was very fine. Welds were smooth and flat, rivets countersunk so their heads lay flush with the metal skin. Even tugging with pliers at a tear in the metal to widen it so he could reach inside felt like tampering to Goldfarb.

Behind the radar antenna lay the magnetron; he recognized the curved shape of its housing. It was the last piece of apparatus he did recognize. Things that looked like screws held it to the rest of the unit. They did not, however, have conventional heads. Instead of openings for a flat-blade or Phillips-head screwdriver, they had square cavities sunk into the centers of the heads.

Goldfarb rummaged through the tools on his belt till he found a flat-blade screwdriver whose blade fit across the diagonal of one of the Lizard screws. He turned it. Nothing happened. He gave the screw a hard look that quickly turned speculative and tried to turn it the other way. It began to come out.

Bad language was coming from the RAF men working on the engine. Suspecting he knew why, Goldfarb called, “The screws are backwards to ours: anticlockwise tightens, clockwise loosens.”

He heard a couple of seconds’ silence, then a grunt of satisfaction. Fred Hipple said, “Thank you, David. Lord only knows how long that would have taken to occur to us. One can sometimes become too wedded to the obvious.”

Goldfarb fairly burst with pride. This from the man who had designed and patented the jet engine almost ten years before the war began! Praise indeed, he thought.

The bad language from the engine crew faded away as the officers got the casing off and started looking at the guts. “They use fir-tree roots to secure the turbine blades, sir,” Julian Peary said indignantly. “Pity you had so much trouble convincing the powers that be it was a good notion.”

“The Lizards have had this technology in place rather longer than we have, Wing Commander,” Hipple answered. Despite long thwarting by RAF indifference and even hostility, he showed no bitterness.

“And look,” Basil Roundbush said. “The blades have a slight twist to them. How long ago did you suggest that, sir? Two years? Three?”

Whatever Hipple’s answer was, Goldfarb didn’t hear it. He’d loosened enough screws himself to get off a panel of the radar’s case. He had a good notion of what he’d find inside: since physical laws had to be the same all through the universe, he figured the Lizard set would closely resemble the ones he was used to. Oh, it would be smaller and lighter and better engineered than RAF models, but still essentially similar. Valves, after all, remained valves-unless you went to the United States, where they turned into tubes.

But the second he got a good look at the radar, the flush of pride he’d felt a little while before evaporated. Hipple and his team could make some sense of what they saw inside the jet engine. The parts of the radar set remained a complete mystery to Goldfarb. The only thing of which he could be certain was that it had no valves… or even tubes.

What took their place was sheets of grayish-brown material with silvery lines etched onto them. Some had little lumpy things of various shapes and colors affixed. Form said nothing about function, at least not to Goldfarb.

Basil Roundbush chose that moment to inquire, “How goes it with you, David?”

“I’m afraid it doesn’t go at all.” Goldfarb knew he sounded like a bad translation from the French. He didn’t care: he’d found the simplest way to tell the truth.

“Pity,” Roundbush said. “Well, I don’t suppose we need every single answer this morning. One or two of them may possibly wait until tonight.”

Goldfarb’s answering laugh had a distinctly hollow ring.

Mutt Daniels drew the cloth patch through the barrel of his tommy gun. “You got to keep your weapon clean,” he told the men in his squad. Telling-even ordering-accomplished only so much. Leading by example worked better.

Kevin Donlan obediently started in on his rifle. He obeyed Daniels like a father (or maybe, Mutt thought uneasily, like a grandfather-he was old enough to be the kid’s grandfather, if he and his hypothetical child had started early). Other than that, though, he had a soldier’s ingrained suspicion of anyone of higher rank than his own-which in his case meant just about the whole Army. He asked, “Sarge, what are we doing in Mount Pulaski anyways?”

Daniels paused in his cleaning to consider that. He wished he had a chaw; working the wad of tobacco in his mouth always helped him think. He hadn’t come across one in a long time, though. He said, “Near as I can see, somebody looked at a map, saw ‘Mount,’ and figured this here was high ground. Hell of a mountain, ain’t it?”

The men laughed. Mount Pulaski was on higher ground than the surrounding hamlets-by twenty, thirty, sometimes even fifty or sixty feet. It hardly seemed worth having spent lives to take the place, even if it did also sit at the junction of State Roads 121 and 54.

Bela Szabo said, “They finally figured out we weren’t about to take Decatur, so they figured they’d move us someplace new and see how many casualties we can take here.” Szabo wasn’t much older than Kevin Donlan, but had a couple of extra lifetimes’ worth of cynicism under his belt.

But Mutt shook his head. “Nash, that ain’t it, Dracula. What they’re really after is seein’ how many fancy old-time buildings they can blow to hell. They’re gettin’ right good at it, too.”

The Mount Pulaski Courthouse was his case in point, here. Almost a hundred years old, it was a two-story Greek Revival building of red-brown brick with a plain classical pediment. Or rather, it had been: after a couple of artillery hits, more of it was rubble than building. But enough still stood to show it would have been worth saving.

“You boys hungry?” a woman called. “I’ve got some ducks and some fried trout here if you are.” She held up a big wicker picnic basket.

“Yes, ma’am,” Mutt said enthusiastically. “Beats the sh-pants off what the Army feeds us-when they feed us.” Quartermaster arrangements had gone to hell, what with the Lizards hitting supply lines whenever they could. If it hadn’t been for the kindness of locals, Daniels and his men would have gone hungry a lot more than they did.

The woman came up to the front porch of the wrecked house where the squad was sitting. None of the young soldiers paid her any particular mind-she was a year or two past forty, with a tired face and mousebrown hair streaked with gray. Their attention was on the basket she carried.

Springfields and M-1s still came with bayonets, even If nobody was likely to use them in combat any more. They turned out to make first-rate duck carvers, though. The roast ducks were greasy and gamy. Mutt still ate duck in preference to trout; the only fish he cared for was catfish.

“Mighty fine, ma’am,” Kevin Donlan said, licking his fingers. “Where’d you come by all this good stuff, anyhow?”

“Up in Lincoln Lakes, six, seven miles north of here,” she answered. “They aren’t real lakes, just gravel pits filled with water but they re stocked with fish and I can use a shotgun.”

“Found that out,” Mutt said His teeth had stumbled on birdshot a couple of times. You could break one that way If you weren’t lucky. He tossed aside a leg bone gnawed bare, then went on, “Mighty kind, of you to go to so much trouble for us, uh”-his eyes flicked to her left hand to see if she wore a ring-“Miss…”

“I’m Lucille Potter,” she answered. “What’s your name?”

“Pleased to meet you, Miss Lucille,” he said. “I’m M-uh, Pete Daniels.” He thought of himself as Mutt these days; he had for years. But that didn’t seem the right way to introduce yourself to a woman you’d just met. The kids might ignore her-they were younger than most of the players he’d managed-but she didn’t look half bad to him.

Only trouble was, the kids wouldn’t let him get away with being Pete. Some of them started rolling in the dirt; even Kevin Donlan snorted. Lucille looked from one of them to the next. “What’s so funny?” she asked.

Resignedly, Daniels said, “My name’s Pete, but they usually call me Mutt.”

“Is that what you’d rather be called?” she asked. When he nodded, she went on, “Why didn’t you say so, then? There’s nothing wrong with that.”

Her brisk tones made a couple of the soldiers look abashed, but more of them didn’t care what she said, even If she had brought them food. The matter-of-fact common sense in her words made him eye her speculatively. “You a schoolteacher, ma’am?”

She smiled. That made some of her tiredness fall away and let him see what she’d looked like when she was twenty-five or so. No, she wasn’t bad at all. She said, “Pretty good guess, but you didn’t notice my shoes.”

They were white-an awfully dirty white now-with thick, rubbery soles. “You’re a nurse,” Mutt said.

Lucille Potter nodded. “I sure am. I’ve been doing a doctor’s work since the Lizards came, though. Mount Pulaski only had Doc Hanrahan, and somebody’s bomb-God knows whose-landed in his front yard just when he was coming out the door. He never knew what hit him, anyhow.”

“Lord, I wish we could take you with us, ma’am,” Kevin Donlan said. “The medics we got, they ain’t everything they oughta be. ‘Course, what is these days?”

“That purely is a fact,” Daniels agreed. The Army tried hard, the same as it did with supplies. As with supplies, war’s disruption was too great to permit hurt men proper care. He suspected his grandfathers in the War Between the States hadn’t risked much worse medical treatment. Doctors knew a lot more nowadays, but so what? All the knowledge in the world didn’t matter if you couldn’t get your hands on the medicines and instruments you needed to use it.

Lucille Potter said, “Why the hell not?”

Mutt gaped at her, startled twice-first at the casual way she swore and then by how she fell in with Donlan’s suggestion, which had been more wistful than serious. Mutt said, “But, ma’am, you’re a woman.” He thought that explained everything.

“So?” Lucille said-evidently she didn’t. “Would you care if I was digging a bullet out of your leg? Or do you think your boys here are going to gang-rape me the second your back is turned?”

“But-But-” Mutt spluttered like a man who can’t swim floundering out of a creek. He felt his face turn red. His men were staring at Lucille Potter with their mouths open. Rape wasn’t a word you said around a woman, let alone a word you expected to hear from one.

She went on, “Maybe I should bring my shotgun along. You think that might make ’em behave?”

“Y all mean it,” he said, surprised again this time into a Southernism he seldom used.

“Of course I. mean it,” she said. “Get to know me for a while and you’ll find out I hardly ever say things I don’t mean. People in town were stupid, too, till they started coming down sick and breaking bones and having babies. Then they found out what I could do-because they had to. You can’t afford to wait around like that, can you? If you give me five minutes, I’ll go home and get my black bag. Or”-she shrugged-“you can do without.”

Mutt thought hard. Whatever the trouble she brought with her, could it be worse than the hurts they’d take that would go bad without a doctor? He didn’t think so. But he also wanted to find out why she was volunteering, so he asked, “How come you want to leave this town, If you’re the only thing even halfway close to a doctor here?”

“When the Lizards held this part of the state, I had to stay here-I was the only one around who could do anything,” Lucille answered. “But now that proper human beings are back in charge, it’ll be easier to bring a real doctor around. And an awful lot of what I’ve been doing lately is patching up hurt soldiers. I hate to put it so plain, Mutt, but I think you people are liable to need me worse than Mount Pulaski does.”

“That makes sense,” Mutt said. Glancing at Lucille Potter, he got the feeling she would make sense a lot of the time. He rubbed his chin. “Tell you what, Miss Lucille. Let’s take you over to Captain Maczek, see what he thinks about the idea. If it’s all right with him, I like it.” He looked over to the men in his squad. They were all nodding. Mutt suddenly grinned. “Here-bring some of this duck along with you. That’ll help put him in the right kind of mood.”

Maczek was around the corner, eating with another squad from the company. He was maybe half Mutt’s age, but not altogether lacking in sense. Mutt grinned again to see him digging a spoon in what looked like a can of baked beans. He held up the duck leg. “Got something better’n that for you, sir-an’ here’s the lady who shot the bird.”

The captain stared in delight at the duck, then turned to Lucille. “Ma’am, my hat’s off to you.” He took himself literally, doffing his net-covered helmet. The sweaty blond hair underneath it stuck up in all directions.

“Pleased to meet you, Captain.” Lucille Potter gave her name, shook Maczek’s hand with a decisive pump. Then the captain took the drumstick and thigh from Daniels and bit into it. Grease ran down his chin. His expression turned ecstatic.

“You know what else, sir?” Mutt said. He told Maczek what else.

“Is that a fact?” Maczek said.

“Yes, sir, it is,” Lucille said. “I’m not a proper doctor, and I don’t claim to be one. But I’ve learned a hell of a lot these past few months, and I’m a lot better than nothing.”

Maczek absently took another bite of duck. As Mutt had, he eyed the men around him. They’d all been listening with eager curiosity. You couldn’t run an army by asking what everybody thought all the time, but you didn’t ignore what people thought, either, not if you were smart. Maczek wasn’t stupid, anyhow. He said, “I’ll clear it with the colonel later, but I don’t think he’ll say no. It’s irregular as all get out, but this whole stinking war is irregular.”

“I’ll go get my tools,” Lucille said, and strode off to do just that.

Captain Maczek watched her no-nonsense walk for a few seconds before he turned back to Daniels. “You know, Sergeant, if you’d come along to me with some little chippy you’d found, I’d have been very angry at you. But this one-I think she may do. If I’ve ever seen a female who can take care of herself, she’s it.”

“Reckon you’re right, sir.” Mutt pointed to the bones Maczek was still holding. “And we already know she can handle a shotgun.”

“That’s true, by God.” Maczek laughed. “Besides, she’s old enough to be a mother for most of the men. You have anybody in your squad with an Oedipus complex, you think?”

With a what, sir?” Mutt frowned-just because Maczek had been to college, he didn’t need to show off. And besides-“She’s not bad-lookin’, I don’t think.”

Captain Maczek opened his mouth to say something. By the glint in his eye, it would have been lewd or rude or both. But he didn’t say it-he was too smart an officer to make fun of his noncoms, especially in front of a bunch of listening soldiers. What he did finally say was, “However you like, Mutt. But remember, she’s going to be medic for the whole company, maybe the battalion, not just your squad.”

“Yeah, sure, Captain, I know that,” Daniels said. To himself, he added, I saw her first, though.

The U-2 droned through the night just above the treetops. The cold slipstream buffeted Ludmila Gorbunova’s face. It was not the only reason her teeth chattered. She was deep inside Lizardheld territory, If anything went wrong, she wouldn’t make it back to her dirt airstrip and the cramped little space she shared with the other female pilots.

She forced such thoughts from her mind, concentrated on the mission at hand. That was the only way to get through them, she’d learned: keep your mind firmly fixed on what you had to do now, then what you had to do next, and so on. Look ahead or off to one side and you were in trouble. That had been true against the Nazis; it was doubly so against the Lizards.

“What I have to do now,” she said, aloud, letting the slip-stream fling her words away behind her, “is find the partisan battalion.”

Easier said than done, in what looked like endless stretches of forest and plain. She thought her navigation was good, but when you were flying by compass and wristwatch, little errors always crept in. She thought about gaining altitude so she could see farther, but rejected the idea. It would also have made it easier for the Lizards to spot her.

She worked the pedals and the stick, swung the U-2 into a wide, slow spiral to search the terrain below. The little wood-and-fabric biplane responded beautifully to the controls, probably better than it had when it was new. Georg Schultz, her German mechanic, might be-was-a Nazi, but he was also a genius at keeping the aircraft not only flying but flying well in spite of an almost complete lack of spare parts.

There down below-was that a light? It was, and a moment later she spotted the other two with it. She’d been told to look for an equilateral triangle of lights. Here they were. She buzzed slowly overhead, hoping the partisans had all their instructions straight.

They did. As goon as they heard the sewing-machine whine of the U-2’s little Shvetsov engine, they set out two more lights, little ones, that were supposed to mark out the beginning of a stretch of ground where she could land safely. Her mouth went dry, as it did every time she had to land at night on a strip or a field she’d never seen before. The Kukuruznik was a rugged machine, but a mistake could still kill her.

She lined up on the landing lights, lost altitude, killed her airspeed-not that the U-2 had much to lose. At the last moment, the lights disappeared: they must have had collars, to keep them from being seen at ground level. Losing them made her heart thump fearfully, but then she was down.

The biplane bounced along over the field. Ludmila hit the brakes hard; every meter she traveled was one more meter in which a wheel might go into a hole and flip the U-2 over. Fortunately, it did not need many meters in which to stop.

Men-dark shapes in darker night-came running up and got to the Kukuruznik while the prop was still spinning. “You have presents for us, Comrade?” one of them called.

“I have presents,” Ludmila agreed. She heard the mutters when they heard her voice-variations on the theme of a woman! She was used to that; she’d been dealing with it ever since she joined the Red Air Force. But there were fewer such murmurs among the partisans than there had been at some air force bases to which she’d flown. A fair number of partisans were women, and most male partisans understood that women could fight.

She climbed down from the front cockpit, set a foot in the metal stirrup on the left side of the fuselage that gave access to the rear one. She didn’t go up into it, but started handing out boxes. “Here we are, Comrades: presents,” she said. “Rifles-with ammunition… submachine guns-with ammunition.”

“The weapons are good, but we already have most of the weapons we need,” a man said. “But next time you come, Comrade Pilot, bring us lots more bullets. It’s the ammunition we’re short of-we use a lot of it.” Wolflike chuckles rose from the partisans’ throats.

From back in the crowd of fighters, someone called, “Comrade, did you fetch us any 7.92mm ammunition? We have a lot of German rifles and machine guns we could use more if we had bullets for them.”

Ludmila hauled out a canvas bag that clinked metallically. The partisans’ murmurs turned appreciative; a couple of them clapped gloved hands together in delight. Ludmila said, “I am told to tell you: you cannot expect this bounty on every resupply run. We have to scavenge German cartridges-we don’t manufacture them. The way things are, we have a hard enough time manufacturing our own calibers.”

“Too bad,” said the man who had asked about German ammunition. “The Mauser is not a great rifle-accurate, da, but a slow, clumsy bolt-but the Nazis make a very fine machine gun.”

“Maybe we can work a trade,” the fellow who’d first greeted Ludmila said. “There’s a mostly German band of fighters back around Konotop, and they use our weapons just as we use theirs. They might swap some of their caliber for some of ours.”

Those couple of sentences spoke volumes about the anguish of the Soviet Union. Konotop, a hundred fifty kilometers east of Ludmila’s native Kiev, had been in German hands. Now it belonged to the Lizards. When would the Soviet workers and people be able to reclaim the rodina, the motherland?

Ludmila started handing out cardboard tubes and pots of paste. “Here you are, Comrades. Because wars are not won only by bullets, I bring also the latest posters by Efrimov and the Kukryniksi group.”

That drew pleased exclamations from the partisans. Newspapers hereabouts had been forced to echo the Nazi line; now they slavishly reproduced Lizard propaganda. Radios, especially those able to pick up signals from land still under human control, were few and far between. Posters gave one way of striking back. They could go up on a wall in seconds and show hundreds the truth for days.

“What do the men of Kukryniksi do this time?” a woman asked.

“It’s one of their better ones, I think,” Ludmila said, which was no small praise, for the team of Kupryanov, Krylov, and Sokolov probably turned out the best Soviet poster art. She went on, “This one shows a Lizard in Pharaoh’s headdress lashing Soviet peasants; the caption reads, ‘A Return to Slavery.’ ”

“That is a good one,” the partisan leader agreed. “It will make the people think, and make them less likely to collaborate with the Lizards. We will post it widely, in towns and villages and at collective farms.”

“How much collaboration goes on with the Lizards?” Ludmila asked. “This is something of which our authorities need to be aware.”

“It’s not as bad as what went on with the Germans at first,” the man answered. Ludmila nodded; little could be as bad as that. Large segments of the Soviet populace had welcomed the Nazis as liberators in the early days of their invasion. If they’d played on that instead of working to prove they could be even more savage and brutal than the NKVD, they might have toppled the Soviet regime. The partisan went on, “We do have collaboration, though. Many people passively accept whatever power they find above them, while others welcome the rather indifferent rule of the Lizards as superior to the hostility they had known before.”

“Hostility from the fascists, you mean,” Ludmila said.

“Of course, Comrade Pilot.” The partisan leader’s voice was innocence personified. No one could safely speak of hostility to the people from the Soviet government, though that shadow lay across the whole of the rodina.

“You called the Lizards’ rule indifferent,” Ludmila said. “Explain that more fully, please. Intelligence is worth more than many rifles.”

“They take crops and livestock for themselves; in the towns, they try to set up manufacturers that might be useful to them: forges and chemical works and such. But they care nothing for what we do as people,” the partisan said. “They do not forbid worship, but they do not promote it, either. They do not even forbid the Party, which would be only elementary prudence on their part. It is as If we are beneath their notice unless we take up arms against them. Then they hit hard.”

That much Ludmila already knew. The other perplexed her. By the sound of his voice, it perplexed the partisan, too. They were used to a regime that minutely regulated every aspect of its citizens’ lives-and disposed of them without mercy when they didn’t meet its expectations… or sometimes even If they did. Simple indifference seemed very alien by contrast. She hoped her superiors would have a better idea of what to make of it.

“Does anyone have letters for me?” she asked. “I’ll be glad to take them along, though with the post as disrupted as it is, they may be months on the way.”

The partisans queued up to hand her their notes to the outside world. None of them had envelopes; those had been in short supply before the Lizards came. The papers were folded into triangles to show they came from soldiers: the Soviet mail system carried such letters, albeit slowly, without a postage fee.

When she had the last letter, Ludmila climbed back into the front cockpit and said, “Would you please swing my aircraft around nose for tail? If I landed safely on this strip, I’d like to take off down the same ground.”

The little U-2 was easy to haul around by hand; it weighed less than a thousand kilos. Ludmila had to explain to someone how to turn the prop. As always on these missions, she had an anxious moment wondering whether the engine would start-no mechanical starter here If it didn’t. But it was still warm from the flight in, and kicked over almost at once.

She released the brake, pushed the stick forward. The Kukuruznik jounced over the rough field. A few partisans ran alongside, waving. They soon fell behind. The takeoff run was longer than the one she’d needed to land. That meant she was going over some new terrain (to say nothing of the holes she might have missed while she was landing). But after a last couple of jolts, the biplane made an ungainly leap into the air.

She swung the U-2 north and west, back toward the base from which she’d set out. Finding it again would take the same kind of search she’d needed to locate the partisans’ makeshift airstrip. A base that advertised its presence soon drew the attention of the Lizards. Once that happened, the base was unlikely to remain present for long.

Not that she had any guarantees of getting back safely, anyhow. U-2s were detected and destroyed less often than any other Soviet aircraft; Ludmila’s best guess was that they were too small and light and flimsy to be noticed most of the time. But Kukuruzniks did not always come home, either.

Off in the distance, she saw flashes, like heat lightning on a summer evening: someone’s artillery, probably the Lizards’. She glanced at her watch and compass, made the best position estimate she could. When she landed, she’d report it to Colonel Karpov. Maybe one day before too long, the partisans would fire a rack of Katyusha rockets that way.

Stars twinkled through gaps in the clouds. A couple of times, she spotted brief twinkles of light on the ground, too: muzzle flashes. They made the stars seem less safe and friendly.

Watching the compass and her watch, she flew on toward the base. When she thought she was overhead, she looked down and saw-nothing. That failed to surprise her; finding it on the first try by dead reckoning was no likelier than plunging your hand into a haystack and bringing out a needle between thumb and forefinger.

She began another search spiral. Now she watched her fuel gauge, too. If she was lost and had to set down in a field, she wanted to do it while she still had power, not dead stick.

Just when she was beginning to worry she might have to do exactly that, she spied the lights she’d been looking for. She gratefully made for them; knowing where you were made you feel ever so much more in control of things.

The airstrip had supposedly been leveled. As a matter of fact, it was no smoother than the one the partisans had marked off for her. Ludmila’s teeth clicked together at every jolt until the U-2 stopped. She told herself the roughness made the runway harder to spot. Was that consolation enough for the bruises she’d have wherever her safety harness touched her? Maybe.

She unbuckled the harness, got out of the plane while the prop was still spinning. The groundcrew ran up, hauled the Kukuruznik away to its between-missions home in a camouflaged revetment. “Where’s Colonel Karpov?” she asked.

“He went to bed an hour ago,” somebody answered. “It is close to three in the morning. You have anything so important it won’t keep till dawn?”

“I suppose not,” she said. The Lizard artillery wasn’t something he had to know about right now. She followed the Kukuruznik toward its shelter.

Ludmila would have bet as much money as she had that she’d find Georg Schultz waiting at the revetment. Sure enough, there he was. “Alles khorosho?” he asked in his usual mixture of German and Russian.

“Gut, da,” she answered, mixing the languages the same way.

He scrambled up into the cockpit No lantern was lighted, not even beneath the camouflage netting; the Lizards had gadgets that could pick up the tiniest gleam. That didn’t stop Schultz from starting to work on Ludmila’s biplane. He tested the pedals and other controls, leaned out to say, “Left aileron cable not good-feels a little loose. Come light, I fix.”

“Thank you, Georgi Mikhailovich,” Ludmila answered. She hadn’t noticed anything wrong with the cable, but If Schultz said it needed tightening, she was willing to believe him. His understanding for machinery was, to her way of thinking, all but uncanny. She flew the aircraft; Georg Schultz projected himself into it as if he were part plane himself.

“Nothing else bad,” he said, “but here-you leave on floor.”

He handed her a folded triangle of paper.

“Thank you,” she said again. “Our post is unreliable enough without me losing a letter before it ever gets into the mail.” She wasn’t sure how much of that he understood, but found herself yawning enormously. She was too tired to try to dredge up German to make things clear for him. If Colonel Karpov was asleep, she saw no reason she shouldn’t grab a couple of hours for herself, too.

She shrugged out of her parachute harness-not that she’d have much chance to use a chute if she got hit while she was hedgehopping the way she usually did-and stowed it in the cockpit, then started out of the revetment toward her sleeping quarters. As she passed Georg Schultz, he patted her on the backside.

Ludmila took a skittering half step, half jump. She whirled around in fury. This wasn’t the first time such things had happened to her since she’d joined the Red Air Force, but somehow she’d thought Schultz too kulturny to try them.

“Don’t you ever do that again!” she blazed in Russian, then switched to German to drive it home: “Nie wieder, verstehst du?” It was the du of insult, not intimacy. She added, “What would your Colonel Jager think if he found out what you just did?”

Schultz had been the gunner in the tank Jager commanded; he thought highly of his former leader. Ludmila hoped reminding him of that would bring him to his senses. But he just laughed quietly and said, “He would think I wasn’t doing anything he hadn’t done himself.”

A short, deadly silence followed. Ludmila broke it in tones of ice: “That is none of your business. If it will not make you keep your hands where they belong, maybe this will: remember, you are the only Nazi on a base full of Red Air Force men. They leave you alone because you work well. But they do not love you. Verstehst du dos?”

He drew himself to stiff attention, did his best to click his heels in soft felt valenki, shot out his arm in a defiant Hitlerite salute. “I remember very well, and I do understand.” He stomped away.

Ludmila wanted to kick him. Why couldn’t he have just said he was sorry and gone on about his business instead of getting angry, as If she had somehow wronged him instead of the other way round? Now what was she supposed to do? If he was that angry with her, did she still want him working on her aircraft? But if he didn’t, who would?

The answer to that formed in her mind with the question: some quarter-trained Russian peasant who hardly knew the difference between a screwdriver and a pair of pliers. She could do some work herself, but not all, and she knew she didn’t have Schultz’s artist’s touch with an engine. Her show of temper was liable to end up getting her killed.

But what should she have done? Let him treat her like a whore? She shook her head violently. Maybe she should have responded with a joke instead of a blast, though.

Too late to worry about it now. Slowly, tiredly, she walked over to the building that sheltered the women pilots. It wasn’t much of a shelter: the walls were dirt-filled sandbags and bales of hay like the revetments that protected the aircraft, the roof camouflage netting over straw over unchinked boards. It leaked and let in the cold. But no one here, Colonel Karpov included, had quarters any better.

The door to the improvised barracks had no hinges, and had to be pushed aside. Inside was a blackout curtain. Ludmila pulled the door closed before she went through the curtain. Let no light leak out was a rule she took as much for granted as take off into the wind.

The barracks held little light to leak, anyhow: a couple of candles and an oil lamp were enough to keep you from stumbling over blanket-wrapped women snoring on straw pallets, but that was about all. Yawning, Ludmila stumbled toward her own place.

A white rectangle lay on top of her folded blankets. It hadn’t been there when she ‘went out on her mission a few hours earlier. “A letter!” she said happily-and from a civilian, too, or it would have been folded differently. Hope flared in her, painfully intense: she hadn’t heard from anyone in her family since the Lizards came. Maybe they were safe after all, when she’d almost given up on them.

In the dim light, she had to pick up the letter to realize it was in an envelope. She turned it over, bent her head close to it to look at the address. She needed a moment to notice part of it was written in the Roman alphabet, and the Cyrillic characters were printed with a slow precision that said the person who used them wasn’t used to them.

Then her eyes fixed on the stamp. Had anyone told her a year before that she’d have been glad to see a picture of Adolf Hitler, she’d either have thought him mad or been mortally insulted-probably both. “Heinrich,” she breathed, doing her best to pronounce the H at the beginning of the name, which was not a sound the Russian language had.

She tore the envelope open, eased out the letter. To her relief, she saw Jager had considerately printed: she found German handwriting next to indecipherable. She read, My dear Ludmila, I hope this finds you safe and well. In fact, I have to hope it finds you at all.

In her mind’s eye she could see one corner of his mouth quirking upwards as he set his small joke down on paper. The perfection and intensity of the image told her how much she missed him.

I was on duty in a town I cannot name lest the censor reach for his razor, he went on. I will be leaving in the next day or two, though, and going back to a panzer outfit I also cannot name. I wish I were returning to you instead, or you to me. So much easier to travel long distance by plane than by horse or even by panzer.

She remembered some of his stories of crossing Lizard occupied Poland on horseback. That made anything she’d done in her U-2 seem tame by comparison. In the letter, he went on, I wish we could be together more. Even at best, we have so little time on this world, and with the war we do not have the best. Yet without it, we would not have met, you and I, so I suppose I cannot say it is altogether a bad thing.

“No, it isn’t,” she whispered. Having an affair with an enemy might be stupid (a feeling Jager no doubt shared with her), but she couldn’t make herself believe it was a bad thing.

The letter continued, I thank you for looking out for my comrade Georg Schultz; your country is so vast that only great luck could have brought him to your base, as you said when we were last together. Greet him for me; I hope he is well.

Ludmila didn’t know whether to laugh or cry when she read that. Schultz was well, all right, and she had looked out for him, and all he wanted was to get her pants down. She wondered whether he had enough sense of shame to be embarrassed if she showed him Jager’s letter.

She didn’t have to decide now. She wanted to finish the letter and get a little sleep. Everything else could wait. She read, If fate is kind, we will meet again soon in a world at peace. If it is less kind, we will meet again though the war goes on. It would have to be very cruel to keep us from meeting again at all. With love and the hope you stay safe-Heinrich.

Ludmila folded the letter small and stuck it in a pocket of her flying suit. Then she took off her leather helmet and goggles, but none of the rest of the outfit, not even her valenki. The inside of the barracks was cold. She lay down on the straw, pulled the blanket up over her head, and fell asleep almost at once.

When she woke the next morning, she found one hand in the pocket where she’d put the letter. That made her smile, and resolved her to answer it right away. Then she had to figure out whether to show it to Schultz. She decided she would, but not this minute. Time enough when they were calmer, not actively angry at each other. Meanwhile, she still had to make her report to Colonel Karpov.

The Nipponese guard handed Teerts his bowl of food. He bowed polite thanks, turned one eye toward it to see what he’d got. He almost hissed with pleasure: along with the rice, the bowl was full of chunks of some kind of flesh. The Big Uglies had been feeding him better lately; by the time he finished the meal, he was almost content.

He wondered what they were up to. Captivity had taught him they were not in the habit of doing gratuitous favors for anybody. Up till now, captivity had taught him they weren’t in the habit of doing any favors whatever. The change made him suspicious.

Sure enough, Major Okamoto and the usual stone-faced, rifle-toting guard marched up to the cell door not long after the bowl was taken away. As the door swung open, Okamoto spoke in the language of the Race: “You will come with me.”

“It shall be done, superior sir,” Teerts agreed. He left the cell with no small relief. His step seemed lighter than it had in a long time; going upstairs to the interrogation chamber of the Nagasaki prison felt like good exercise, not a wearing burden. Amazing what something close to proper food can do, he thought.

Again, the Nipponese inside the chamber wore the white robes of scientists. The Big Ugly in the center chair spoke. Major Okamoto translated: “Dr. Nishina wishes to discuss today the nature of the bombs with which the Race destroyed the cities of Berlin and Washington.”

“Why not?” Teerts answered agreeably. “These bombs were made from uranium. In case you do not know what uranium is, it is the ninety-second element in the periodic table.” He let his mouth fall slightly open in amusement. The Big Uglies were so barbarous, they would surely have not the slightest notion of what he was talking about.

After Okamoto relayed his answer to the Nipponese scientists, he and they talked back and forth for some time. Then he returned his attention to Teerts, saying, “I do not have the technical terms I need to ask these questions in proper detail. Give them to me as we speak, please, and do your best to understand even without them.”

“It shall be done, superior sir,” Teerts said, agreeable still.

“Good.” Okamoto paused to think; his rubbery Big Ugly features made the process easy to watch. At length, he said, “Dr. Nishina wishes to know which process the Race uses to separate the lighter, explosive kind of uranium from the more common heavy kind.”

Teerts bit down on that as if it were an unsuspected bone in his meat. Not in his wildest nightmares-and he’d had some dreadful ones since his capture-had he imagined that the Big Uglies had the slightest clue about atomic energy, or even that they’d heard of uranium. If they did-He abruptly realized they might be dangerous to the Race, not just the horrid nuisances they’d already proved themselves.

To Major Okamoto, he said, “Tell the learned Dr. Nishina that I do not know which processes he means.” He had to work not to turn an eye turret toward the instruments of torture in the interrogation chamber.

Okamoto fixed him with a stare he’d come to identify as hostile, but passed his words on to Nishina without comment. Nishina spoke volubly in reply, ticking off points on his fingers as If he were a male of the Race.

When he was through, Okamoto translated: “He says theory shows several ways which might accomplish this. Among them are successive barriers to a uranium-containing gas, heating the gas so that part of it which has the lighter kind of uranium rises more than the other, using a strong electromagnet”-a word that took a good deal of backing and filling to get across-“and using rapid spinning to concentrate the lighter kind of uranium. Which of these does the Race find most efficient?”

Teerts stared at him. He was even more appalled than he had been when his killercraft got shot down. That had affected only his own fate. Now he had to worry about whether the Race had any idea what the Tosevites were up to. They might be barbarians-by everything Teerts had seen, they were barbarians-but they were also alarmingly knowledgeable… which meant it behooved Teerts to be more than cautious in his answers. He’d have to do his best to avoid giving away any information at all.

He took so long figuring that out that Okamoto snapped, “Don’t waste time dreaming up lies. Answer Dr. Nishina.”

“I beg your pardon, superior sir,” Teerts said, and added, “Gomen nasai-so sorry,” from his limited stock of Nipponese. “Part of the problem is my not having enough words to give a proper answer, and another part is my own ignorance, for which I again beg pardon. You must remember that I am-I was-a pilot. I had nothing at all to do with uranium.”

“You certainly were glib enough talking about it a little while ago,” Okamoto said. “You do not want to make me disbelieve you. Some of the tools back there are very sharp, others can be made hot, and still others can be hot and sharp at the same time. Do you want to learn which is which?”

“No, superior sir,” Teerts gasped with utmost sincerity. “But I truly am ignorant of the knowledge you seek. I am only a pilot, not a nuclear physicist. What I know of flying, I have freely told you. I am not an expert in the matter of atomic weapons. What little I know of nuclear energy I learned in school as I was growing from hatchlinghood. It is no more and no less than any other ordinary male of the Race would know.”

“This is difficult to believe,” Okamoto said “You spoke quite a lot about uranium just a little while ago.”

That was before I realized how much you knew about it, Teerts thought. He wondered how he was going to escape with his integument intact. He knew he couldn’t lie to the Nipponese; he didn’t know how much they knew, and the only way to find out-getting caught-would involve the painful penetration of that integument.

He said, “I do know that atomic weapons do not necessarily use uranium alone. Some involve, I am not sure how, hydrogen as well-the very first element.” Let the Japanese chew on that paradox for a while, he thought: how could a weapon involve the lightest and heaviest elements at the same time?

After Okamoto interpreted, the team of Big Ugly scientists chattered for a while among themselves. Then Nisbina, who seemed to be their spokesman, put a question to Okamoto. The major translated for Teerts: “The uranium explosion, then, is hot enough to make hydrogen act as it does in the sun and convert large amounts of matter to energy?”

Horror filled Teerts. Every time he tried to escape from this hideous mess in which he found himself, he sank deeper instead. The Big Uglies knew about fusion. To Teerts, the product of a civilization that grew and changed at a glacial pace, knowing about something was essentially the same as being able to do it. And If the Tosevites could make fusion bombs…

Major Okamoto knocked him out of his appalled reverie by snapping, “Answer the learned Dr. Nishina!”

“I beg your pardon, superior sir,” Teerts said. “Yes, everything the learned, doctor says is true.”

There. He’d done it Any day now, he feared, the Nipponese would start using nuclear weapons against the Race on the mainland-which still struck Teerts as nothing more than a big island; he was used to water surrounded by land, not the other way around.

He heard Okamoto say “Honto,” confirming his answer to the Nipponese scientist’s question. The cold of the interrogation room sank deeply into his spirit. The Nipponese hardly seemed to need him. By their questions, they had all the answers already, just waiting to be put into practice.

Then Nishina spoke again: “We return to the question of getting the lighter uranium, the kind which is explosive, out of the other, more common, type. This as yet we have not succeeded in doing; indeed, we have only just begun the attempt. That is why we will learn from you how the Race solves this problem.”

Teerts needed a moment to understand that The Race had been shocked when they reached Tosev 3 to discover how advanced the Big Uglies were. Before Teerts was captured, pilots had talked endlessly about that; they’d expected no opposition, and here the Tosevites were, shooting back-not very well, and from inadequate aircraft, but shooting back. How could they have learned to build combat aircraft in the eight hundred local years since the Race’s probe examined them?

Now, for the first time, Teerts got a glimmering of the answer. The Race made change deliberately slow. When something new was discovered, extrapolationists performed elaborate calculations to learn in advance how it would affect a long-stable society, and how best to minimize those effects while gradually acquiring the benefits of the new device or principle.

With the Big Uglies, the tongue was on the other side of the mouth. When they found something new, they seized it with both hands and squeezed until they got all the juice out. They didn’t care what the consequences five generations-or even five years-hence would be. They wanted advantages now, and worried about later trouble later, if at all.

Eventually, they’d probably end up destroying themselves with that attitude. At the moment, it made them far more deadly opponents than they would have been otherwise.

“Do not waste time thinking up lies. I warned you before,” Major Okamoto said. “Tell Dr. Nishina the truth at once.”

“By what I know, superior sir, the truth is that we do not use any of these methods,” Teerts said. Okamoto drew back his hand for a slap. Afraid that would be the start of a torture session worse than any he’d yet known, Teerts went on rapidly, “Instead, we use the heavier form of uranium: isotope is the term we use.”

“How do you do this?” Okamoto demanded after a brief colloquy with the Nipponese scientists. “Dr. Nishina says the heavier isotope cannot explode.”

“There is another element, number ninety-four, which does not occur in nature but which we make from the heavier, nonexplosive-Dr. Nishina is right-isotope of uranium. This other element is explosive. We use it in our bombs.”

“I think you are lying. You will pay the penalty for it, I promise you that,” Okamoto said. Nevertheless, he translated Teerts’ words for the Big Uglies in the white coats.

They started talking excitedly among themselves. Nishina, who looked to be the senior male, sorted things out and relayed an answer to Okamoto. He said to Teerts, “I may have been wrong. Dr. Nishina tells me the Americans have found this new element as well. They have given it the name plutonium. You will help us produce it.”

“Past what I have already said, I know little,” Teerts warned: Despair threatened to consume him. Every time he’d revealed something new to the Nipponese, it had been with the hope that the technical difficulties of the new revelation would force them off the road that led toward nuclear weapons. Instead, everything he told them seemed to push them further down that road.

He wished a plutonium bomb would fall on Nagasaki. But what were the odds of that?


WELCOME TO CHUGWATER, POPULATION 286, the sign said. Colonel Leslie Groves shook his head as he read it. “Chugwater?” he echoed. “Wonder why they call it that.”

Captain Rance Auerbach read the other half of the sign. “ ‘Population 286,’ ” he said. “Sounds like Jerkwater’d be a better name for it.”

Groves looked ahead. The cavalry officer had a point. It didn’t look like much of a town. But cattle roamed the fields around it. This late in winter, they were on the scrawny side, but they were still out there grazing. That meant Chugwater had enough to eat, anyhow.

People came out to look at the spectacle of a cavalry company going through town, but they didn’t act as impressed as townsfolk had in Montana and farther north in Wyoming. One boy in ragged blue jeans said to a man in overalls who looked just like him, “I liked the parade a couple of weeks ago better, Dad.”

“You had a parade through here a couple of weeks ago?” Groves called to a heavyset man whose black coat, white shirt, and string tie argued that he was a person of some local importance.

“Sure as hell did.” The pear-shaped man spat a stream of tobacco juice into the street. Groves envied him for having tobacco in any form. He went on, “Only thing missing then was a brass band. Had us a whole slew o’ wagons and soldiers and foreigners who talked funny and even a couple of Lizards-silly-lookin’ little things to cause all the trouble they do, aren’t they?”

“Yes, now that you mention it.” Excitement coursed through Groves. That sounded very much like the Met Lab crew. If he was only a couple of weeks behind them, they’d be into Colorado by now, not too far from Denver. He might even catch them before they got there. Whether he did or not, the lead-lined saddlebag in his wagon would push their work forward once they got themselves settled. Trying to make his hope a certainty, he asked, “Did they say what they were up to?”

The heavyset man shook his head. “Nope. They were right close-mouthed, as a matter of fact. Friendly enough people, though.” His chest inflated, although not enough to stick out over his belly. “I married off a couple of ’em.”

One of the other men on the sidewalk, a stringy, leathery fellow who looked like a real cowboy, not the Hollywood variety, said, “Yeah, go on, Hoot, tell him how you laid the bride, too.”

“You go to hell, Fritzie,” the pear-shaped man-Hoot-said. A cowboy named Fritzie? Groves thought. Before he had time to do more than marvel, Hoot turned back to him. “Not that I would’ve minded: pretty little thing, a widow I think she was. But I do believe the corporal she married would have kicked my ass around the block if I’d even looked at her sideways.”

“You’d’ve deserved it, too,” Fritzie said with a most uncowboylike giggle.

“Oh, shut up,” Hoot told him. Again, he returned to Groves: “So I don’t know what they were doing, Colonel, only that there were a lot of ’em, heading south. Toward Denver, I think, not Cheyenne, but don’t make me swear to that.”

“Thank you very much. That helps,” Groves said. If they weren’t talking about the crew from the University of Chicago, he’d eat his hat. He’d made better time coming across Canada and then down through Montana and Wyoming than they had traveling straight west across the Great Plains. Of course, his party had only the one wagon in it, and that lightly loaded, while theirs was limited to the speed of their slowest conveyance. And they’d have been doing a lot more scrounging for fodder than his tight band. If you couldn’t think in terms of logistics, you didn’t deserve to be an Army engineer.

“You folks going to put up here for the night?” Hoot asked. “We’ll kill the fatted calf for you, like the Good Book says. ‘Sides, there’s nothin’ between here and Cheyenne but miles and miles of miles and miles.”

Groves looked at Auerbach. Auerbach looked back, as if to say, You’re the boss. Groves said, “I know things are tight, Mister, uh-”

“I’m Joshua Sumner, but you may as well call me Hoot; everybody else does. We got plenty, at least for now. Feed you a nice thick steak and feed you beets. By God, we’ll feed you beets till your eyeballs turn purple-we had a bumper crop of ’em. Got a Ukrainian family up the road a couple miles, they showed us how to cook up what they call borscht-beets and sour cream and I don’t know what all else. They taste a sight better that way than what we were doing with ’em before, I tell you for a fact.”

Groves was unenthusiastic about beets, with or without sour cream. But he didn’t think he’d get anything better farther south on US 87. “Thanks, uh, Hoot. We’ll lay over, then, if it’s all right with you people.”

Nobody in earshot made any noises to say it wasn’t. Captain Auerbach raised his hand. The cavalry company reined in. Groves reflected that a couple of the old-timers on the street had probably seen cavalry go through town before, back before the turn of the century. The idea left him unhappy; it was as If the Lizards were forcing the United States-and the world-away from the twentieth century.

Such worries receded after he got himself outside of a great slab of fat-rich steak cooked medium-rare over a wood fire. He ate a bowl of borscht, too, not least because the person who pressed it on him was a smiling blonde of about eighteen. It wasn’t what he would have chosen for himself, but it wasn’t as bad as he’d thought it would be, either. And somebody in Chugwater made homebrew beer better than just about anything that came out of a big Milwaukee brewery.

Hoot Sumner turned out to be sheriff, justice of the peace, and postmaster all rolled into one. He gravitated to Groves, maybe because they were the leaders of their respective camps, maybe just because they were about the same shape. “So what brings you through town?” he asked.

“I’m afraid I can’t answer that,” Groves said. “The less I say, the less chance the Lizards have of finding out.”

“As If I’m gonna tell ’em,” Sumner said indignantly.

“Mr. Sumner, I have no way of knowing whom you’d tell, or whom they’d tell, or whom they’d tell,” Groves said. “What I do know is that I have orders directly from President Roosevelt that I tell no one. I intend to obey those orders.”

Sumner’s eyes got big. “Straight from the President, you say? Must be something important, then.” He cocked his head, studied Groves from under the brim of his Stetson. Groves looked back at him, his face expressionless. After close to a minute of that tableau, Sumner scowled in frustration. “Goddamn, Colonel, I’m glad I don’t play poker against you, or I’d be walking home in my long johns, I think.”

“Hoot, If I can’t tell you anything, that means I really can’t tell you anything,” Groves said.

“Thing is, though, a small town like this one here runs on gossip. If we can’t get any, we’ll just shrivel up and die,” Sumner said. “The folks who came through a couple weeks ago were just as tight-lipped as you people are-they wouldn’t’ve said shit if they had a mouthful, if you know what I mean. All this stuff going through us, and we don’t even get to find out what the hell it is?”

“Mr. Sumner, it’s altogether possible that you and Chugwater don’t want to know,” Groves said. His face did twist then, in annoyance at himself. He shouldn’t have said anything at all. How many mugs of that good home brew had he drunk?

He consoled himself with the thought that he’d learned something from Sumner. If the previous set of travelers had been as secretive as he was, the odds were even better than good that they came from the Metallurgical Laboratory.

The justice of the peace said, “Hellfire, man, those people even had an Eyetalian with ’em, and ain’t Eyetalians supposed to be the talkingest people on the face of the earth? Brother, not this one! Nice enough feller, but he wouldn’t give you the time of day. What kind of an Eyetalian is that?”

A smart one, Groves thought. It sounded like Enrico Fermi to him… which just about nailed things down.

“Only time he unbent a-tall,” Sumner went on, “was when he did best man duty at the wedding I told you about-kissed the bride right pert, he did, even though his own wife-not a bad looker herself-was standing right there beside him. Now that sounds like an Eyetalian to me.”

“Maybe so.” Groves wondered where Sumner got his ideas about how Italians were supposed to act. Not in the great metropolis of Chugwater, Wyoming-or at least Groves hadn’t seen any here. Most likely from Chico Marx, he thought.

Wherever he got those ideas, though, Sumner was no fool in matters directly under his own eye. Nodding to Groves, he said, “Stands to reason your business, whatever it is-and I won’t ask any more-is somehow connected with that other crowd. We hadn’t seen hardly anybody from the outside world since things went to hell last year, and then two big bunches both goin’ the same direction, almost one on top of the other. You gonna tell me it’s a coincidence?”

“Mr. Sumner, I’m not saying yes and I’m not saying no. I am saying we’d all be better off-you and me and the country, too-if you didn’t ask questions like that.” Groves was a Career Army man; to him, security was as natural as breathing. But civilians didn’t, wouldn’t, think that way. Sumner set a finger alongside his nose and winked, as If Groves had told him what he wanted to know.

Gloomily, Groves sipped more homemade beer. He was afraid he’d done just that.

“Ah, the vernal equinox,” Ken Embry exclaimed. “Harbinger of mild weather, songbirds, flowers-”

“Oh, shut your bleeding gob,” George Bagnall said, with heartfelt sincerity.

Breath came from both Englishmen in great icy clouds. Vernal equinox or not, winter still held Pskov in an iron grip. The oncoming dawn was just beginning to turn the eastern horizon gray above the black pine forests that seemed to stretch away forever. Venus blazed low in the east, with Saturn, far dimmer and yellower, not far above her. In the west, the full moon was descending toward the land. Looking that way, Bagnall was painfully reminded of the Britain he might never see again.

Embry sighed, which turned the air around him even foggier. He said, “I’m not what you’d call dead keen on being demoted to the infantry.”

“Nor I,” Bagnall agreed. “That’s what we get for being supernumeraries. You don’t see them handing Jones a rifle and having him give his all for king and country. He’s useful here, so they have him teaching everything he can about his pet radar. But without the Lanc, we’re just bodies.”

“For commissar and country, please-remember where we are,” Embry said. “Me, I’d sooner they tried training us up on Red Air Force planes. We are veteran aircrew, after all.”

“I’d hoped for that myself,” Bagnall said. “Only difficulty with the notion is that, as far as I can see, the Red Air Force, whatever may be left of it, hasn’t got any planes within God knows how far from Pskov. If there’s damn all here, they can hardly train us up on it.”

“Too true.” Embry tugged at his shlem-sort of a balaclava that didn’t cover his nose or mouth-so it did a better job of keeping his neck warm. “And I don’t like the tin hat they’ve kitted me out with, either.”

“Then don’t wear it. I don’t fancy mine, now that you mention it.” Along with Mauser rifles, both Englishmen had received German helmets. Wearing that coal scuttle with its painted swastika set Bagnall’s teeth on edge, to say nothing of worrying him lest he be mistaken for a Nazi by some Russian more eager for revenge against the Germans than to attack the Lizards.

“Don’t like to leave it off, either,” Embry said. “Puts me too much in mind of the last war, when they went for a year and a half with no tin hats at all.”

“That is a poser,” Bagnall admitted. Thinking about the infinite slaughter of World War I was bad enough anyhow. Thinking how bad it had been before helmets was enough to make your stomach turn over.

Alf Whyte came walking toward them. He had his helmet on, which made his silhouette unnervingly Germanic. He said, “You chaps ready to find out about the way our fathers fought?”

“Sod our fathers,” Bagnall muttered. He stamped his feet up and down. Russian felt boots kept them warm; boots were the one part of his flying suit he’d willingly exchanged for their local equivalents.

Other small groups of men gathered in Pskov’s market square, chatting softly among themselves in Russian or German. It was a more informal muster than any Bagnall had imagined; the occasional female voice among the deeper rumbles only made the scene seem stranger.

The women fighters were as heavily bundled against the cold as their male counterparts. Pointing to a couple of them, Embry said, “They don’t precisely put one in mind of Jane, do they?”

“Ah, Jane,” Bagnall said. He and Alf Whyte both sighed. The Daily Mirror’s marvelous comic-strip blonde dressed in one of two ways: very little and even less. Bagnall went on, “Even Jane would dress warmly here. And the Russians, even dressed like Jane, wouldn’t much stir me. The ones I’ve seen are most of them lady dockwallopers or lorry drivers.”

“Too right,” Whyte said. “This is a bloody place.” All three Englishmen nodded glumly.

A couple of minutes later, officers-or at least leaders-moved the fighters out. Bagnall’s rifle was heavy; it made him feel lopsided and banged his shoulder at every step he took. At first it drove him to distraction. Then it became only a minor nuisance. By the time he’d gone a mile or so, he stopped noticing it.

He did expect to see some difference in the way the Russians and Germans went off to war. German precision and efficiency were notorious, while the Red Army, although it had a reputation for great courage, was not long on spit and polish. He soon found what such cliches were worth. He couldn’t even tell the two groups apart by their gear: many Russian partisans bore captured German equipment, while about an equal number of Hitler’s finest eked out their own supplies with Soviet stocks.

They even marched the same way, in loose, widespread groups that got looser and more spread out as the sun rose. “We might do well to emulate them,” Bagnall said. “They have more experience at this kind of thing than we do.”

“I suppose it’s to keep too many from going down at once if they’re caught out in the open by aircraft,” Ken Embry said.

“If we’re caught out in the open, you mean,” Alf Whyte corrected him. As If with one accord, the three RAF men spread out a little farther.

Before long, they entered the forest south of Pskov. To Bagnall, used to neat, well-trimmed English woods, it was like stepping into another world. These trees had never been harvested; he would have bet money that many of them had never been seen by mortal man till this moment. Pine and fir and spruce held invaders at bay with their dark-needled branches, as if the only thing they wanted in all the world was for the men to go away. The occasional pale gray birch trunks among them startled Bagnall each time he went past one; they reminded him of naked women (he thought again of Jane) scattered among matrons properly dressed for the cold.

Off in the distance, something howled. “A wolf!” Bagnall said, and grabbed for his rifle before he realized there was no immediate need. Wolves had been hunted out of England for more than four hundred years, but he reacted to the sound by instinct printed on his flesh by four hundred times four hundred generations.

“We’re rather a long way from home, aren’t we?” Whyte said with a nervous chuckle; he’d started at the wolf call, too.

“Too bloody far,” Bagnall said. Thinking about England brought him only pain. He tried to do it as little as he could. Even battered and hungry from war, it felt infinitely more welcoming than wrecked Pskov, tensely divided between Bolsheviks and Nazis, or than this forbidding primeval wood.

In amongst the trees, the almost eternal ravening wind was gone. That let Bagnall grow as nearly warm as he’d been since his Lancaster landed outside Pskov. And Jerome Jones had said the city was known for its mild climate. Trudging through snow as spring began gave the lie to that, at least If you were a Londoner. Bagnall wondered if spring ever truly began here.

Alf Whyte said, “What precisely is our mission, anyhow?”

“I was talking with a Jerry last night.” Bagnall paused, and not just to take another breath. He had a little German and no Russian, so he naturally found it easier to talk with the Wehrmacht men than with Pskov’s rightful owners. That bothered him. He was so used to thinking of the Germans as enemies that dealing with them in any way felt treasonous, even if they loved the Lizards no better than he.

“And what did the Jerry say, pray tell?” Whyte asked when he didn’t go on right away.

Thus prompted, Bagnall answered, “There’s a Lizard… I don’t know what exactly-forward observation post, little garrison, something-about twenty-five kilometers south of Pskov. We’re supposed to put paid to it.”

“Twenty-five kilometers?” As a navigator, Whyte was used to going back and forth between metric and imperial measures. “We’re to hike fifteen miles through the snow and then fight? It’ll be nightfall by the time we get there.”

“I gather that’s pare of the plan,” Bagnall said. Whyte’s scandalized tone showed what an easy time England had had in the war. The Germans and, from what Bagnall could gather, the Russians took the hike for granted: just one more thing they had to do. They’d done worse marches to get at each other the winter before.

He munched cold black bread as he shuffled along. While he paused to spend a penny against the trunk of a birch tree, a Lizard jet wailed by, far overhead. He froze, wondering if the enemy could have spotted the advancing human foes. The trees gave good cover, and most of the fighters wore white smocks over the rest of their clothes. Even his own helmet had whitewash splashed across it.

The leaders of the combat group (or so his German of the night before had called it) took no chances. They hurried the fighters along and urged them to scatter even more widely than before. Bagnall obeyed, but worried. He’d thought nothing could be worse than fighting in these grim woods. But suppose he got lost in them instead? The shiver that brought had nothing to do with cold.

On and on and on. He felt as If he’d marched a hundred miles already. How was he to fight after a slog like this? The Germans and Russians seemed to think nothing of it. A British Tommy might have felt the same, but the RAF let machines carry warriors to combat. In a Lanc, Bagnall could do things no infantry could match. Now, quite literally, he found the shoe on the other foot.

The sun swung through the sky. Shadows lengthened, deepened. Somehow, Bagnall kept up with everyone else. As shadows gave way to twilight, he saw the men ahead of him going down on their bellies, so he did, too. He slithered forward. Through breaks in the forest he saw a few houses-huts, really-plopped down in the middle of a clearing. “That’s it?” he whispered.

“How the devil should I know?” Ken Embry whispered back. “Somehow, though, I don’t think we’ve been invited here for high tea.”

Bagnall didn’t think the village had ever heard of high tea. By its look, he wondered if it had heard of the passing of the tsars. The wooden buildings with carved walls and thatched roofs looked like something out of a novel by Tolstoy. The only hint of the twentieth century was razor wire strung around a couple of houses. No one, human or Lizard, was in sight.

“It can’t be as easy as it looks,” Bagnall said.

“I’d like it if it were,” Embry answered. “And who says it can’t? We-”

Off in the distance a small pop! interrupted him. Bagnall had been involved in dropping countless tons of bombs and had been on the receiving end of more antiaircraft fire than he cared to think about, but this was the first time he’d done his fighting on the ground. The mortar tired again and again, fast as its crew-Bagnall didn’t know whether they were Russians or Germans-could serve it with bombs.

Snow and dirt fountained upward as the mortar rounds hit home. One of the wooden houses caught fire and began to burn merrily. Men in white burst from the trees and dashed across the clearing: Bagnall wondered if the village really was a Lizard outpost after all.

He fired the Mauser, worked the bolt, fired again. He’d trained on a Lee-Enfield, and vastly preferred it to the weapon he was holding. Instead of angling down to where it was easy to reach, the Mauser’s bolt stuck straight out, which made quick firing difficult, and the German rifle’s magazine held only five rounds, not ten.

Other rifles started hammering, and a couple of machine guns, too. Still no response came from the village. Bagnall began to feel almost sure they were attacking a place empty of the enemy. Relief and rage fought in him-relief that he wasn’t in danger after all, rage that he’d made that long, miserable march in the snow.

Then one of the white-cloaked figures flew through the air, torn almost in two by the land mine he’d stepped on. And then muzzle flashes began winking from a couple of the village buildings as the Lizards returned fire. The charging, yelling humans began to go down as if scythed.

Bullets kicked up snow between Bagnall and Embry, whacked into the trees behind which they hid. Bagnall hugged the frozen earth like a lover. Shooting back was the last thing on his mind. This was, he decided in an instant, a much uglier business than war in the air. In the Lanc, you dropped your bombs on people thousands of feet below. They shot back, yes, but at your aircraft, not at your precious and irreplaceable self. Even fighter aircraft didn’t go after you personally-their object was to wreck your plane, and your gunners were trying to do the same to them. And even if your aircraft got shot down, you might bail out and survive.

It wasn’t machine against machine here. The Lizards were doing their best to blow large holes in his body so he’d scream and bleed and die. Their best seemed appallingly good, too. Every one of however many Lizards there were in the village had an automatic weapon that spat as much lead as one of the raiders’ machine guns and many times as much as a bolt-action rifle like his Mauser. He felt like Kipling’s Fuzzy-Wuzzy charging a British square.

But you couldn’t charge here, not if you felt like living. The Russians and Germans who’d tried it were most of them down, some chewed to bits by a hail of bullets, others shredded like the first luckless fellow by stepping on a mine. The few still on their feet could not go forward. They fled for the shelter of the woods.

Bagnall turned to Embry, shouted, “I think we just stuck our tools in the meat grinder.”

“Whatever gave you that idea, dearie?” Even in the middle of battle, the pilot managed to come up with a high, shrill falsetto.

In the gathering gloom, one of the houses in the village began to move. At first Bagnall rubbed his eyes, wondering if they were playing tricks on him. Then, after Mussorgsky, he thought of the Baba Yaga, the witch’s hut that ran on chicken’s legs. But as the wooden walls fell away, he saw that this house moved on tracks. “Tank!” he screamed. “It’s a bleeding tank!”

The Russians were yelling the same thing, save with a broad a rather than his sharp one. The Germans screamed “Panzer!” instead. Bagnall understood that, too. He also understood that a tank-no, two tanks now, he saw-meant big trouble.

Their turrets swiveled toward the heaviest firing. Machine guns opened up on them as they did so; streams of bullets struck sparks from their armor. But they’d been made to withstand heavier artillery than most merely Earthly tanks commanded-the machine guns might as well have been firing feathers.

Their own machine guns started shooting, muzzle flashes winking like fireflies. One of the raiders’ machine guns-a new German one, with such a high cyclic rate that it sounded like a giant ripping an enormous canvas sail when it opened up-abruptly fell silent. It started up again a few seconds later. Bagnall admired the spirit of the men who had taken over for its surely fallen crew.

Then the main armament of one of the tanks spoke, or rather bellowed. From less than half a mile away, it sounded to Bagnall like the end of the world, while the tongue of flame it spat put him in mind of hellmouth opening. The machine gun stopped firing once more, and this time did not open up again.

The other tank’s cannon fired, too, then slowed so it pointed more nearly in Bagnall’s direction. He scrambled deeper into the woods: anything to put more distance between himself and that hideous gun.

Ken Embry was right with him. “How the devil do you say, ‘Run like bloody hell!’ in Russian?” he asked.

“Not a phrase I’ve learned, I’m afraid, but I don’t believe the partisans need our advice in that regard,” Bagnall answered. Russians and Germans alike were in full retreat, the tanks hastening on their way-and hastening too many of them into the world to come-with more cannon rounds. Shell splinters and real splinters blown off trees hissed through the air with deadly effect.

“Someone’s reconnaissance slipped up badly,” Embry said. “This was supposed to be, an infantry outpost. No one said a word about going up against armor.”

Bagnall only grunted. What Embry had said was self-evidently true. Men were dying because of it. His main hope at present was not being one who did. Through the crash of the cannon, he heard another noise, one he didn’t recognize: a quick, deep thutter that seemed to come out of the air.

“What’s that?” he said. Beside him, Embry shrugged. The Russians were running faster than ever, crying “Vertolyet!” and “Avtozhir.” Neither word, unfortunately, meant anything to Bagnall.

Fire came out of the sky from just above treetop height: streaks of flame as if from a Katyusha launcher taken aloft and mounted on a flying machine instead of a truck. The woods exploded into flame as the rocket warheads detonated. Bagnall shrieked like a lost soul, but couldn’t even hear himself.

Whatever had fired the rockets, it wasn’t an ordinary airplane. It hung in the sky, hovering like a mosquito the size of a young whale, as it loosed another salvo of rockets on the humans who had presumed to attack a Lizard position. More deadly shrapnel flew. Buffeted, half stunned by the blast, Bagnall lay flat on the ground, as he might have during a great earthquake, and prayed the pounding would end.

But another helicopter came whickering up from the south and poured two more salvos of rockets into the raiders’ ranks. Both machines hovered overhead and raked the forest with machine-gun fire. The tanks came crashing closer, too, smashing down everything that stood in their way but the bigger trees.

Somebody booted Bagnall in the backside, hard. “Get up and run, you bloody twit!” The words were in English. Bagnall turned his head. It was Ken Embry, his foot drawn back for another kick.

“I’m all right,” Bagnall said, and proved it by getting up. As soon as he was on his pins again, adrenaline made him run like a deer. He fled north-or, at any rate, away from the tanks and the helicopters’ killing ground. Embry matched him stride for desperate stride. Somewhere in their mad dash, Bagnall gasped out, “Where’s Alf?”

“He bought his plot back there, I’m afraid,” Embry answered.

That hit Bagnall like-like a machine-gun round from one of the deathships up there, he thought. Watching Russians and Germans he didn’t know getting shot or blown to bits was one thing. Losing someone from his own crew was ten times worse-as if a flak burst had torn through the side of his Lancaster and slaughtered a bombardier. And since Whyte was-had been-one of the three other men in Pskov with whom he could speak freely, he felt the loss all the more.

Bullets still slashed the woods, most of them, though, behind the fleeing Englishmen now. The Lizards’ tanks did not press the pursuit as aggressively as they might have. “Maybe they’re afraid of taking a Molotov cocktail from someone up a tree whom they don’t spy till too late,” Embry suggested when Bagnall said that out loud.

“Maybe they are,” the flight engineer said. “I’m damned sure I’m afraid of them.”

The gunfire and rockets and cannon rounds had left his ears as dazed as any other part of him. Dimly, as If from far away, he heard screams of terror and the even more appalling shrieks of the wounded. One of the helicopters flew away, then, after a last hosing of the woods with bullets, the other one. Bagnall looked down at his wrist. The glowing hands of his watch said only twenty minutes had gone by since the first shots were fired. Those twenty minutes of hell had stretched for an eternity. Though not ordinarily a religious man, Bagnall wondered how long a real eternity of hell would seem to last.

Then his thoughts snapped back to the present, for he almost stumbled over a wounded Russian lying in a pool of blood that looked black against the snow at night. “Bozhemoi,” the Russian moaned. “Bozhemoi.”

“My God,” Bagnall gasped, unconsciously translating. “Ken, come over here and help me. It’s a woman.”

“I hear.” The pilot and Bagnall stooped beside the wounded partisan. She pressed a hand against her side, trying to stanch the flow of blood.

As gently as he could, Bagnall undid her quilted coat and tunic so he could see the wound. He had to force her hand away before he could bandage it with gauze from his aid kit. She groaned and thrashed and weakly tried to fight him off.

Nemtsi,” she wailed.

“She thinks we’re Jerries,” Embry said. “Here, give her this, too.” He pressed a morphia syrette into Bagnall’s hand.

Even as he made the injection, Bagnall thought it a waste of precious drug: she wasn’t going to live. Her blood had already soaked the bandage. Maybe a hospital could have saved her, but here in the middle of a frozen nowhere… “Artzt!” he yelled in German. “Gibt es Artzt hier? Is there a doctor here?”

No one answered. He and Embry and the wounded woman might have been alone in the woods. She sighed as the morphia bit into her pain, took a couple of easy breaths, and died.

“She went out peacefully, anyhow,” Embry said; Bagnall realized the pilot hadn’t thought she’d make it, either. He’d done her the last favor he could by freeing her death from agony.

Bagnall said, “Now we have to think about staying alive ourselves.” In the middle of the cold woods, after a crushing defeat that showed only too clearly how the Lizards had seized and held great stretches of territory from the mightiest military machines the world had known, that seemed to require considerable thought.

Liu Han called, “Come and see the foreign devil do amazing things with stick and ball and glove. Come and see! Come and see!”

Mountebanks of all sorts could be sure of an audience in the Chinese refugee camp. Behind her, Bobby Fiore tossed into the air the leather-covered ball he’d had made. Instead of catching it in his hands, he tapped it lightly with his special stick-a bat, he called it. The ball went a couple of feet into the air, came straight down. He tapped it up again and again and again. All the while, he whistled a merry tune.

“See!” Liu Han pointed to him. “The foreign devil juggles without using his hands!”

A spattering of applause came from the crowd. Three or four people tossed coins into the bowl that lay by Liu Han’s feet. Some others set rice cakes and vegetables on the mat next to the bowl. Everyone understood that entertainers had to eat or they wouldn’t be able to entertain.

When no donations came for a minute or so, Bobby Fiore tapped the ball up one last time, caught it in his free hand, and glanced toward Liu Han. She looked out into the crowd and said, “Who will play a game where, if he wins, the foreign devil will look ridiculous? Who will try this simple game?”

Several men shouted and stepped toward her. Nothing delighted Chinese more than making a European or American into an object of ridicule. Liu Han pointed toward the bowl and the mat: If they wanted to play, they had to pay. A couple of them made their offerings without a word, but one asked belligerently, “What is this game?”

Bobby Fiore handed her the ball. She held it up in one hand, bent to pick up a flat canvas bag stuffed with rags which she displayed in the other. Then she put the bag back on the ground, gave the ball to the belligerent man. “A simple game, an easy game,” she said. “The foreign devil will stand well back and then run toward the bag. All you have to do is stand in front of it and touch him with the ball before he reaches it. Win and you get back your stake and twice as much besides.”

“That is easy.” The man with the ball puffed out his chest and tossed a silver trade dollar into the bowl. It rang sweetly. “I will put the ball on him, no matter what he does.”

Liu Han turned to the crowd. “Clear a path, please. Clear a path so the foreign devil can run.” Chattering among themselves, the people moved aside to form a narrow lane. Bobby Fiore walked down it. When he was almost a hundred feet from the man with the ball, he turned and bowed to him. The arrogant fellow did not return his courtesy. A couple of people clucked reproachfully at that, but most didn’t think a foreign devil deserved much courtesy.

Bobby Fiore bowed again, then ran straight at the man with the ball. The Chinese man clutched it in both hands, as if it were a rock. He set himself for a collision as Fiore bore down on him.

But the collision never came. At the last instant, Fiore threw himself to the ground on his hip and thigh and hooked around the clumsy lunge the man made with the ball. His foot came down on the stuffed bag. “Safe!” he yelled in his own language.

Liu Han didn’t quite know what safe meant, but she knew it meant he’d won. “Who’s next?” she called, taking the ball from the disgruntled Chinese man.

“Wait!” he said angrily, then turned and played to the crowd: “You all saw that! The foreign devil cheated me!”

Fear coursed through Liu Han. She called Bobby Fiore yang kwei-tse-foreign devil-herself, but only to identify him. In the angry man’s mouth, it was a cry to turn an audience into a mob.

Before she could answer, Fiore spoke for himself in clumsy Chinese: “Not cheat. Not say let win. He quick, he win. He slooow.” He stretched the last word out in a way no native Chinese would have used, but one insultingly effective.

“He’s right, Wu-you missed him by a li,” someone yelled from the crowd. The miss hadn’t really been a third of a mile, but it hadn’t been close, either.

“Here, give me the ball now,” someone else said. “I’ll put it on the foreign devil.” He said yang kwei-tse the same way Liu Han did, to name Bobby Fiore, not to revile him.

Liu Han pointed to the bowl. As Wu stamped away, the next player tossed in some paper money from Manchukuo. It wasn’t worth as much as silver, and Liu Han did not like it because of what Manchukuo’s Japanese puppet masters had done to China-and to her own family, just before the Lizards came. But the Japanese were still fighting hard against the Lizards, which gave them prestige they hadn’t had before. She let the bills lay, handed the man the ball.

Bobby Fiore brushed dirt off his pants, shooed the spectators back so he could take his running start. The Chinese man stood in front of the bag, holding the ball in his left hand and leaning left, as if to make sure Fiore wouldn’t use on him the trick that had fooled the first player.

Bobby Fiore ran down the aisle of chattering Chinese, as before. When he got within a couple of strides of the waiting Chinese, he took a small step in the direction the fellow was leaning. “Ha!” the man cried in triumph, and brought the ball down.

But Bobby Fiore was not there to be tagged. After that small step made the man commit himself, Fiore took a long, hard stride on his other leg, changing directions as nimbly as any acrobat Liu Han had ever seen. The man tagged to the left; Bobby Fiore slid to the right. “Safe!” he yelled again.

The man with the ball ruefully flipped it to Liu Han. His sheepish grin said he knew he’d been outsmarted. “Let’s see if this fellow can put the ball on the foreign devil,” he said, now using the label almost in admiration. “If I couldn’t, I’ll make a side bet he can’t, either.”

Another man set down a meaty slab of pork ribs to pay for the privilege of trying to tag Bobby Fiore. The fellow making side bets did a brisk business: now that Fiore had gone one way and then the other, what tricks could he have left?

He promptly demonstrated a new one. Instead of going right or left, he dove straight toward the bag on his belly, snaked a hand through his opponent’s legs, and grabbed the bag before the ball touched his back. “Safe!” Now a couple of people in the crowd raised the victory cry with him.

He kept running and sliding as long as men were willing to pay to try to put the ball on him. Sometimes he’d hook one way, sometimes the other, and once in a while he’d dive straight in. A couple of people did manage to guess right and tag him, but Liu Han watched the bowl fill with money and the mat with food. They were doing well.

When the sport began to seem routine rather than novel, Liu Han called, “Who wants revenge?” She tossed the ball up and down in her hand. “You can throw at the foreign devil now. He will not dodge, but if you hit him anywhere but his two hands, you win three times what you wager. Who will try?”

While she warmed up the crowd, Bobby Fiore put on the padded leather glove he’d had made along with the ball. He stood in front of the wall of a shack, then made a fist with his other hand and pounded it into the glove, as if confident no one would be able to touch him.

“From how close do we get to throw?” asked the man who’d been making side bets.

Liu Han paced off about forty feet. Bobby Fiore grinned at her. “Do you want to try?” she asked the man.

“Yes, I’ll fling at him,” he answered, dropping more money into the bowl. “I’ll put it right between his ugly round eyes, you see if I don’t.”

He tossed the ball into the air once or twice, as if to get the feel of it in his hand, and then, as he’d said, threw it right at Bobby Fiore’s head. Whack! The noise it made striking that peculiar leather glove was like a gunshot. It startled Liu Han, and startled the people in the crowd even more. A couple of them let out frightened squawks. Bobby Fiore rolled the ball back to Liu Han.

She stooped to pick it up. Before long, that wouldn’t be easy, not with her belly growing. “Who’s next?” she asked.

“Whoever it is, he can wager with me that he misses, too,” said the fellow who liked to make side bets. “I’ll pay five to one if he hits.” If he couldn’t beat Bobby Fiore, he was convinced nobody could.

The next gambler paid Liu Han and let fly. Wham! That wasn’t ball hitting glove, that was ball banging against the side of the shack-the man had thrown too wildly for Bobby Fiore to catch his offering. Fiore picked up the ball and tossed it gently back to him. “You try again,” he said; he’d practiced the phrase with Liu Han.

Before the fellow could take another throw at him, the old woman who lived in the shack came out and screamed at Liu Han: “What are you doing? Are you trying to frighten me out of my wits? Stop hitting my poor house with a club. I thought a bomb landed on it.”

“No bomb, grandmother,” Liu Han said politely. “We are only playing a gambling game.” The old woman kept on screaming until Liu Han gave her three trade dollars. Then she disappeared back into her shack, obviously not caring what happened to it after that.

The fellow who hadn’t thrown straight took another shot at Bobby Fiore. This time he was on target, but Fiore caught the ball. The man squalled curses like a scalded cat.

If the old woman had thought that first ball was like a bomb landing, she must have figured the Lizards had singled out her house for bombardment practice by the time the next hour had passed. One of the things Liu Han discovered about her countrymen during that time was that they didn’t throw very well. A couple of them missed the shack altogether. That sent boys chasing wildly after the runaway ball, and meant Liu Han had to pay small bribes to get it back.

When no one else felt like trying to hit the quick-handed foreign devil, Liu Han said, “Who has a bottle or clay pot he doesn’t mind losing?”

A tall man took a last swig from a bottle of plum brandy, then handed it to her. “Now I do,” he said thickly, breathing plummy fumes into her face.

She gave the bottle to Bobby Fiore, who set it on an upside-down bucket in front of the wall. He walked back farther than the spot from which the Chinese had taken aim at him.

“The foreign devil will show you how to throw properly,” Liu Han said. This last stunt made her nervous. The bottle looked very small. Bobby Fiore could easily miss, and if he did he’d lose face.

His features were set and tight-he knew he could miss, too. His arm went back, then snapped forward in a motion longer and smoother than the Chinese had used. The ball flew, almost invisibly fast. The bottle shattered. Green glass flew every which way. Chatter from the crowd rose to an impressed peak. Several people clapped their hands. Bobby Fiore bowed, as if he were Chinese himself.

“That’s all for today,” Liu Han said. “We will present our show again in a day or two. I hope you enjoyed it.”

She picked up all the food the show had earned them. Bobby Fiore carried the money. He also hung onto ball and bat and glove. That made him different from all the Chinese men Liu Han had known: they would have added to her burden without a second thought. She’d already seen up in the plane that never came down that he had the strange ways ascribed to foreign devils. Some of them, such as his taste in food, annoyed her; this one she found endearing.

“Show good?” he asked, tacking on the Lizards’ interrogative cough.

“The show was very good.” Liu Han used the emphatic cough to underline that, adding, “You were very good too there, especially at the end-you took a chance with the bottle, but it worked, so all the better.”

Of necessity, she spoke mostly in Chinese, which meant she had to repeat herself several times and go back to use simpler words. When Fiore understood, he grinned and slipped an arm around her thickening waist. She dropped an onion so she could break away to pick it up. Showing affection in public was one foreign devil way she wished he would forget in a hurry. It not only embarrassed her, but lowered her status in the eyes of everyone who saw her.

As they approached the hut they shared, she stopped fretting over such relatively trivial concerns. Several little scaly devils stood outside, two with fancy body paint and the rest with guns. Their unnerving turreted eyes swung toward Liu Han and Bobby Fiore.

One of the little devils with fancy paint spoke in hissing but decent Chinese: “You are the human beings who live in this house, the human beings brought down from the ship 29th Emperor Fessoj?” The last three words were in his own language.

“Yes, superior sir,” Liu Han said; by his perplexed look, Bobby Fiore hadn’t understood the question. Even though the scaly devil used words that were individually intelligible, she had trouble following him, too. Imagine calling the airplane that never came down a ship!

“Which of you is carrying the growing thing that will become a human being in her belly?” the devil with the fancy paint asked.

“I am, superior sir.” Not for the first time, Liu Han felt a flash of contempt for the little scaly devils. They not only couldn’t tell people apart, they couldn’t even tell the sexes apart. And Bobby Fiore, with his tall nose and round eyes, was unique in this camp, yet the little devils didn’t recognize him as a foreign devil.

One of the gun-carrying little devils pointed at Liu Han and hissed something to a companion. The other devil’s mouth fell open in a devilish laugh. They found people preposterous, too.

The little devil who spoke Chinese said, “Go in this little house, the two of you. We have things to say to you, things to ask of you.”

Liu Han and Bobby Fiore went into the hut. So did the two little devils with elaborate paint on their scaly hides, and so did one of the more drably marked guards. The two higher-ranking little devils skittered past Liu Han so they could sit on the hearth that also supported the hut’s bedding. They sank down on the warm clay with rapturous sighs-Liu Han had seen they didn’t like cold weather. The guard, who liked it no better, had to stand where he could keep his eyes on the obviously vicious and dangerous humans.

“I am Ttomalss,” the scaly devil who spoke Chinese said-a stutter at the front of his name and a hiss at the end. “First I ask you what you were doing with these strange things.” He turned his eye turrets toward the ball and bat and glove Bobby Fiore held, and pointed at them as well.

“Do you speak English?” Fiore asked in that language when Liu Han had put the question into their peculiar jargon. When neither little scaly devil answered, he muttered, “Shit,” and turned back to her, saying, “You better answer. They won’t follow me any more than I follow them.”

“Superior sir,” Liu Han began, bowing to Ttomalss as if he were her village headman back in the days (was it really less than a year before?) when she’d had a headman… or a village, “we use these things to put on a show to entertain people here in this camp and earn money and food for ourselves.”

Ttomalss hissed to translate that to his companion, who might not have known any human language. The other scaly devil hissed back. Ttomalss turned his words into Chinese: “Why do you need these things? We give you this house, we give you enough to get food you need. Why do you want more? Do you not have enough?”

Liu Han thought about that. It was a question that went straight to the heart of the Tao, the way a person should live. Having too much-or caring in excess about having too much-was reckoned bad (though she’d noticed that few people who had a lot were inclined to give up any of it). Cautiously, she answered, “Superior sir, we seek to save what we can so we will not be at want if hunger comes to this camp. And we want money for the same reason, and to make our lives more comfortable. Can this be wrong?”

The scaly devil did not reply directly. Instead, he said, “What sort of show is this? It had better not be one that endangers the hatchling growing inside you.”

“It does not, superior sir,” she assured him. She would have been happier for his concern had it meant he cared for her and the baby as persons. She knew it didn’t. The only value she, the baby, and Bobby Fiore had to the little devils was as parts of their experiment.

That worried her, too. What would they do when she’d had the child? Snatch it away from her as they’d snatched her away from her village? Force her to find out how fast she could get pregnant again? The unpleasant possibilities were countless.

“What do you do, then?” Ttomalss demanded suspiciously.

“Mostly I speak for Bobby Fiore, who does not speak Chinese well,” she said. “I tell the audience how he will hit and catch and throw the ball. This is an art he brings with him from his own country, and not one with which we Chinese are familiar. Things that are new and strange entertain us, help us pass the time.”

“This is foolishness,” the little devil said. “The old, the familiar, should be what entertains. The new and strange-how could they be interesting? You will not be-what is the word? — familiar with them. Is this not frightening to you?”

He was even more conservative than a Chinese, Liu Han realized. That rocked her. The little scaly devils had torn up her life, to say nothing of turning China and the whole world on their ear. Moreover, the little devils had their vast array of astonishing machines, everything from the cameras that took pictures in three dimensions to the dragonfly planes that could hover in the sky. She’d thought of them as flighty gadgeteers, as if they were Americans or other foreign devils with scales and body paint.

But it wasn’t so. Bobby Fiore had almost burst with excitement at the idea of bringing something new into the prison camp and making a profit from it. She’d liked the notion, too. To the scaly devil, it seemed as alien and menacing as the devil did to her.

Her wool-gathering irritated Ttomalss. “Answer me,” he snapped.

“I’m sorry, superior sir,” she said quickly. She didn’t want to get the little devils annoyed at her. They might cast her and Bobby Fiore out of this home, they might take her back to the plane that never came down and turn her into a whore again, they might take her baby away as soon as it was born… or they might do any number of appalling things she couldn’t imagine now. She went on, “I was just thinking that human beings like new things.”

“I know that.” Ttomalss did not approve of it; his blunt little stump of a tail switched back and forth, like an angry cat’s. “It is the great curse of you Big Uglies.” The last two words were in his own language. Liu Han had heard the little scaly devils use them often enough to know what they meant. Ttomalss resumed, “Were it not for the mad curiosity of your kind, the Race would have brought your world under our sway long ago.”

“I am sorry, but I do not follow you, superior sir,” Liu Han said. “What does this have to do with preferring new entertainments to old? When we see the same old thing over and over, we grow bored.” How getting bored at old shows was tied to the devils’ not conquering the world was beyond her.

“The Race also has this thing you call growing bored,” Ttomalss admitted, “but with us it comes on more slowly, and over a long, long time. We are more content with what we already have than is true of your kind. So are the other two races we know. You Big Uglies break the pattern.”

Liu Han did not worry about breaking patterns. She did wonder if she’d understood the scaly devil aright. Were there other kinds of weird creatures besides his own? She found it hard to believe, but she wouldn’t have believed in the scaly devils a year earlier.

Ttomalss stepped forward, squeezed at her left breast with his clawed fingers. “Hey!” Bobby Fiore said, and started to get to his feet. The scaly devil with a gun turned it his way.

“It’s all right,” Liu Han said quickly. “He’s not hurting me.” That was true. His touch was gentle; although his claws penetrated her cotton tunic and pricked against her skin, they did not break it.

“You will give the hatchling liquid from your body out of these for it to eat?” Ttomalss asked, his Chinese becoming awkward as he spoke of matters and bodily functions unfamiliar to his kind.

“Milk, yes,” Liu Han said, giving him the word he lacked.

“Milk.” The scaly devil repeated the word to fix it in his memory, just as Liu Han did when she picked up something in English. Ttomalss continued, “When you mate, this male”-he pointed at Bobby Fiore-“chews there, too. Does he get milk as well?”

“No, no.” Liu Han had all she could do not to laugh.

“Then why do this?” Ttomalss demanded. “What is its-function, is that the proper word?”

“That is the proper word, yes, superior sir.” Liu Han sighed. The little devils talked so openly about mating that her own sense of shame and reticence had eroded. “But he does not draw milk from them. He does it to give me pleasure and to arouse himself.”

Ttomalss gave a one-word verdict: “Disgusting.” He spoke in his own language to the other little devil with fancy paint. That one and the guard both swung their eyes from Liu Han to Bobby Fiore and back again.

“What’s going on?” Fiore demanded. “Honey, they asking filthy questions again?” Though he liked publicly showing affection in a way in which no Chinese would have felt easy, he was and had stayed far more reticent than Liu Han in speaking of intimate matters.

“Yes,” she answered resignedly.

The scaly devil with fancy paint who didn’t speak Chinese sent several excited sentences at Ttomalss, who turned to Liu Han. “You use the kee-kreek? This is our speech, not yours.”

“I am sorry, superior sir, but I do not know what the kee-kreek is,” Liu Han said.

“The-” Ttomalss made the little devils’ interrogative cough. “Do you understand now?”

“Yes, superior sir,” Liu Han said. “Now I understand. Bobby Fiore is a foreign devil from a country far away. His words and my words are not the same. When we were up in the plane that never came down-”

“The what?” Ttomalss interrupted. When Liu Han explained, the little devil said, “Oh, you mean the ship.”

Liu Han still wondered how it could be a ship if it never touched water, but the little devil seemed insistent about the point, so she said, “When we were up in the ship, then, superior sir, we had to learn each other’s words. Since we both knew some of yours, we used those, too, and we still do.”

Ttomalss translated for the other little scaly devil, who spoke volubly in reply. “Starraf”-Ttomalss finally named the other devil-“says you could do without all this moving back and forth between languages if you spoke only one, as we do. When your world is all ours, all you Big Uglies who survive will use our language, just as the Rabotevs and Halessi, the other races in the Empire, do now.”

Liu Han could see that having everyone speak the same language would be simpler: even other dialects of Chinese were beyond her easy comprehension. But the unspoken assumptions in the scaly devil’s words chilled her. Ttomalss seemed very sure his kind would conquer the world, and also that they would be able to do as they pleased with its people (or as many of them as were left when the conquest was complete).

Starraf spoke again, and Ttomalss translated: “You have shown, and we have seen at other places, that you Big Uglies are not too stupid to learn the tongue of the Race. Maybe we should begin to teach it in this camp and others, so that you can begin to be joined to the Empire.”

“Now what?” Bobby Fiore asked.

“They want to teach everyone how to talk the way we do,” Liu Han answered. She’d known the scaly devils were overwhelmingly powerful from the moment they first descended on her village. Somehow, though, she’d never thought much about what they were doing to the rest of the world. She was only a villager, after all, and didn’t worry about the wider world unless some part of it impinged on her life. All at once, she realized the little devils didn’t just want to conquer mankind; they aimed to make people as much like themselves as they could.

She hated that even more than she hated anything else about the little scaly devils, but she hadn’t the slightest idea how to stop it.

Mordechai Anielewicz stood at attention in Zolraag’s office as the Lizard governor of Poland chewed him out. “The situation in Warsaw grows more unsatisfactory with each passing day,” Zolraag said in pretty good German. “The cooperation between you Jews and the Race which formerly existed seems to have disappeared.”

Anielewicz scowled; after what the Nazis had done to the Warsaw ghetto, hearing the word “Jews” in German was plenty to set his teeth on edge all by itself. And Zolraag used it with arrogance of a sort not far removed from that of the Germans. The only difference Anielewicz could see was that the Lizards thought of all humans, not just Jews, as Untermenschen.

“Whose fault is that?” he demanded, not wanting Zolraag to know he was concerned. “We welcomed you as liberators; we shed our blood to help you take this city, if you’remember, superior sir. And what thanks do we get? To be treated almost as badly under your thumb as we were under the Nazis.”

“That is not true,” Zolraag said. “We have given you enough guns to make your fighters the equal of the Armija Krajowa, the Polish Home Army. Where you were below them, we set you above. How do you say we treat you badly?”

“I say it because you care nothing for our freedom,” the Jewish fighting leader answered. “You use us for your own purposes and to help make slaves of other people. We have been slaves ourselves. We didn’t like it. We don’t see any reason to think other people like it, either.”

“The Race will rule this world and all its people,” Zolraag said, as confidently as if he’d remarked, The sun will come up tomorrow. “Those who work with us will have higher place than those who do not.”

Before the war, Anielewicz had been a largely secularized Jew. He’d gone to a Polish Gymnasium and university, and studied Latin. He knew what the Latin equivalent of work together was, too: collaborate. He also knew what he’d thought of the Estonian, Latvian, and Ukrainian jackals who helped the German wolves patrol the Warsaw ghetto-and what he’d thought of the Jewish police who betrayed their own people for a crust of bread.

“Superior sir,” he said earnestly, “with the guns we have from you, we can protect ourselves from the Poles, and that is very good. But most of us would rather die than help you in the way you mean.”

“This I have seen, and this I do not understand,” Zolraag said. “Why would you forgo such advantage?”

“Because of what we would have to do to get it,” Anielewicz answered. “Poor Moishe Russie wouldn’t speak your lies, so you had to play tricks with his words to make them come out the way you wanted them. No wonder he disappeared after that, and no wonder he made you out to be liars the first chance he got.”

Zolraag’s eye turrets swung toward him. That slow, deliberate motion held as much menace as if they’d contained 38-centimeter battleship guns rather than organs of vision. “We are still seeking to learn more of these events ourselves,” he said. “Herr Russie was an associate, even a friend, of yours. We wonder how and if you helped him.”

“You questioned me under your truth drug,” Anielewicz reminded him.

“We have not learned as much with it as we hoped from early tests,” Zolraag said. “Some early experimental subjects may have deceived us as to their reactions. You Tosevites have a gift for being difficult in unusual ways.”

“Thank you,” Anielewicz said, grinning.

“I did not mean it as a compliment,” Zolraag snapped.

Anielewicz knew that. Since he’d been up to his eyebrows in getting Russie away and in making the recording in which Russie blasted the Lizards, he was less than delighted to learn the Lizards had found their drug was worthless.

Zolraag resumed, “I did not summon you here, Herr Anielewicz, to listen to your Tosevite foolishness. I summoned you here to warn you that the uncooperative attitude of you Jews must stop. If it does not, we will disarm you and put you back in the place where you were when we came to Tosev 3.”

Anielewicz gave the Lizard a long, slow, measuring stare. “It comes to that, does it?” he said at last.

“It does.”

“You will not disarm us without a fight,” Anielewicz said flatly.

“We beat the Germans. Do you think we cannot beat you?”

“I am sure you can,” Anielewicz said. “Superior sir, we will fight anyhow. Now that we have guns, we will not give them up. You will beat us, but one way or another we will manage to hurt you. You will probably set off the Poles, too. If you take our guns away, they’ll fear you’ll take theirs, too.”

Zolraag didn’t answer right away. Anielewicz hoped he’d managed to distress the Lizard. The Race was good at war, or at least had machines of almost invincible power. When it came to diplomacy, though, they were as children; they had no feel for the likely effects of their actions.

The Lizard governor said, “You do not seem to understand, Herr Anielewicz. We can hold your people hostage to make sure you turn in your rifles and other weapons.”

“Superior sir, you are the one who does not understand,” Anielewicz answered. “Whatever you want to do to us, we went through worse before you came. We will fight to keep that from happening again. Will you start up Auschwitz and Treblinka and Chelmno and the rest again?”

“Do not make disgusting suggestions.” The German death camps had revolted all the Lizards, Zolraag included. They’d gotten good propaganda mileage out of them. There, Russie and Anielewicz and other Jews had felt no compunctions about helping the Lizards tell the world the story.

“Well, then, in that case we have nothing to lose by fighting,” Anielewicz said. “We were getting ready to fight the Nazis even though we had next to nothing. Now we have guns. If you are going to treat us the way the Nazis did, do you think we’d not fight you? What would we have to lose?”’

“Your lives,” Zolraag said.

Anielewicz spat on the floor of the governor’s office. He didn’t know whether Zolraag knew how much scorn the gesture showed, but he hoped so. He said, “What good are our lives if you push us back into the ghetto and starve us once more? No one will do that to us again, superior sir, no one. Do what you like with me. The next Jew you pick as puppet leader will tell you the same-or his own people will deal with him.”

“You are serious in this matter,” Zolraag said in tones of wonder.

“Of course I am,” Anielewicz answered. “Have you talked with General Bor-Komorowski about taking guns away from the Home Army?”

“He did not seem pleased with the idea, but he did not reject it in the way you have,” Zolraag said.

“He’s politer than I am,” Anielewicz said, adding the alter kacker to himself. Aloud, he went on, “That doesn’t mean you’ll get any real cooperation from him.”

“We get no real cooperation from any Tosevites,” Zolraag said mournfully. “We thought you Jews were an exception, but I see it is not so.”

“We owed you a lot for throwing out the Nazis and saving us from the death camps,” Anielewicz said. “If you’d treated us as free people who deserved respect, we would have worked with you. But you just want to be another set of masters and treat everyone on Earth the way the Nazis treated us.”

“We would not kill the way the Germans did,” Zolraag protested.

“No, but you would enslave. When you were through, not a human being on this world would be free.”

“I do not see that this matters,” Zolraag said.

“I know you don’t,” Anielewicz said-sadly, for Zolraag was, given the limits of his position, a decent enough being. Some of the Germans had been that way, too; not all by any means enjoyed exterminating Jews for the sake of extermination. But enjoy it or not, they’d done it, as Zolraag resented freedom now.

That ate at Anielewicz’s. Nineteen hundred years before, Tacitus had remarked with pride that good men-the one in particular he had in mind was his father-in-law-could serve a bad Roman emperor. But when a bad ruler required good men to do monstrous things, how could they obey and remain good? He’d asked himself the question more times than he could count, but never yet found an answer.

Zolraag said, “You claim we cannot make you obey by force. I do not believe this, but you say it. Let us think… does this language have a word for thinking of something so as to examine it?”

“ ‘Assume’ is the word you want,” Anielewicz said.

“Assume. Thank you. Let us assume, then, that what you say is true. How in this case are we to rule you Jews and have you obey our requirements?”

“I wish you would have asked that before events drove a wedge between you and us,” Anielewicz answered. “The best way, I think, is not to force us to do anything that would damage the rest of mankind.”

“Even the Germans?” Zolraag asked.

The Jewish fighting leader’s lips curled in what was not a smile. Zolraag knew his business, sure enough. What the Nazis had done to the Jews in Poland-all over Europe-cried out for vengeance. But if the Jews collaborated with the Lizards against the Germans, how could they say no to collaborating with them against other peoples as well? That dilemma had sent Moishe Russie first into hiding and then into flight.

“Don’t use us as your propaganda front.” Anielewicz knew he wasn’t answering directly, but he could not force himself to say yes or no. “Whether you win your war or lose it, you make the rest of the world hate us by doing that.”

“Why should we care?” Zolraag asked.

The trouble was, he sounded curious, not vindictive. Sighing, Anielewicz replied, “Because that would give you your best chance of ruling here quietly. If you make other people hate us, you’ll also make us hate you.”

“We gave you privileges early on, because you did help us against the Germans,” Zolraag said. “By our way of thinking, you abused them. Issuing threats will not make us want to give you more. You may go, Herr Anielewicz.”

“As you say, superior sir,” Anielewicz answered woodenly. Trouble coming, he thought as he left the Lizard governor’s office. He’d managed to get Zolraag to hold off on trying to disarm the Jews, or at least he thought he had, but that wasn’t concession enough.

He sighed. He’d found a hiding place for Russie. Now he was liable to need one himself.


“I wish we were in Denver,” Barbara said.

“Well, so do I,” Sam Yeager answered as he helped her out of the wagon. “The weather can’t be helped, though.” Late-season snowstorms had held them up as they made their way into Colorado. “Fort Collins is a pretty enough little place.”

Lincoln Park, in which several Met Lab wagons were drawn up, was a study in contrasts. In the center of the square stood a log cabin, the first building that had gone up on the Poudre River. The big gray sandstone mass of the Carnegie Public Library showed how far the area had come in just over eighty years.

But Barbara said, “That’s not what I mean.” She took his arm and steered him away from the wagon. He looked back toward Ulhass and Ristin, decided the Lizard POWs weren’t going anywhere, and let her guide him.

She led him over to a tree stump out of earshot of anybody else. “What’s up?” he asked, checking the Lizards again. They hadn’t poked their heads out of the wagon; they were staying down in the straw where it was warmer. He was as sure as sure could be that they wouldn’t pick this moment to make a break, but ingrained duty made him keep an eye on them anyhow.

Then Barbara asked him something that sounded as if it came out of the blue: “Remember our wedding night?”

“Huh? I’m not likely to forget it.” As Sam remembered, a broad smile spread over his face.

Barbara didn’t smile back. “Remember what we didn’t do on our wedding night?” she persisted.

“There wasn’t a whole lot we didn’t do on our wedding night. We-” Yeager stopped when he took a close look at Barbara’s half-worried, half-smiling expression. A light went on inside his head. Slowly, he said, “We didn’t use a rubber.”

“That’s right,” she said. “I thought it would be safe enough, and even if it wasn’t-” Her smile grew broader, but still had a twist in it. “My time of the month should have started a week ago. It didn’t, and I’ve always been very steady. So I think I’m expecting a baby, Sam.”

Had it been a normal marriage in a normal time, he would have shouted, That’s wonderful! The time was anything but normal, the marriage very new. Yeager knew Barbara hadn’t wanted to get pregnant. He set down his rifle, took her in his arms. They clung to each other for a couple of minutes. “It’ll work out,” he said at last. “One way or another, we’ll take care of it, and it’ll be okay.”

“I’m scared,” she said. “Not many doctors, or equipment, and us in the middle of the war-”

“Denver’s supposed to be better off than most places,” he said. “It’ll be all right, honey.” Please, God make it all right, he thought, something that would have been closer to a real prayer if God had given any signs lately of listening. After another few seconds, he went on, “I hope it’s a girl.”

“You do? Why?”

“Because she’d probably look just like you.”

Her eyes widened. She stood up on tiptoe to give him a quick kiss. “You’re sweet, Sam. It wasn’t what I expected, but-” She kicked at the dirty snow and at the mud that showed through it. “What can you do?”

For a career minor leaguer, What can you do? was an article of faith that ranked right alongside the commandments Moses had brought down from the mountain. Actually, Yeager knew there was something you could do if you wanted to. But finding an abortionist wouldn’t be easy, and the procedure was liable to be more dangerous than having the baby. If Barbara brought it up, he’d think about it then. Otherwise, he’d keep his mouth shut.

She said, “We’ll just do the best we can, that’s all. Right?”

“Sure, honey,” Sam said. “Like I said, we’ll manage. The idea kind of grows on me, you know what I mean?”

“Yes, I do.” Barbara nodded. “I didn’t want this to happen, but now that it has… I’m scared, as I said, but I’m excited, too. Something of ours, to go on after we’re gone-that’s something special, and something wonderful.”

“Yeah.” Yeager saw himself tying a little girl’s shoes, or maybe playing catch with a boy and teaching him to hit well enough to get all the way to the top in pro ball. What the father might have done, the son would. He would, anyhow, if the Lizards were beaten and there ever was pro ball again. Sam should have been in spring training, getting ready for yet another season on the road, hoping to move up as better players got drafted, still with a ghostly chance at a big-league slot and glory. As it was…

Someone shouted, “Back to the wagons, everybody. They’re going to billet us at the college on the south edge of town.”

Yeager hadn’t thought Fort Collins big enough to boast a college. “You never can tell,” he muttered, which would have been a good handle for the whole past year. Hand in hand, he and Barbara walked back toward Ullhass and Ristin. “Careful getting up there,” he warned as she scrambled in.

She made a face at him. “For God’s sake, Sam, I’m not made out of cut glass. If you start treating me as if I were going to fall to pieces any minute now, we’ll have trouble.”

“Sorry,” he said. “I’ve never had to worry about anybody expecting before.”

The wagon driver’s head whipped around. “You gonna have a baby? That’s great. Congratulations!”

“Thanks,” she said. As the wagon rattled forward, she shook her head wryly. Yeager knew she wasn’t as delighted as she might have been. He wasn’t, either. He couldn’t imagine a worse time to try to raise a kid. But all they could do now was give it their best shot.

Sure enough, the Colorado State College of Agriculture and the Mechanic Arts sat on the southern border of Fort Collins. Its red and gray brick buildings clustered along an oval drive that ran through the heart of the campus. The cafeteria wasn’t far from the south end of the drive. Women in surprisingly clean white dished out fried chicken and biscuits. That was good, but the burnt-grain brew they called coffee tried to bite off Yeager’s tongue.

“Where do we sleep tonight?” he asked as he walked out of the cafeteria.

“Girls’ dormitory,” a soldier answered, pointing northward. Grinning, he went on, “Jeez, I dreamed for years of getting into one o’ those, but it just ain’t the same this way.”

The only rooms in the dorm with doors that locked from the outside were the rest moms. Fortunately, it had three, so Sam didn’t feel guilty, about commandeering one for the Lizard prisoners to use during the night. He and Barbara had a two-coed room for themselves. Looking at the steel-framed cots, he said, “I think I’d sooner have been quartered with some nice, friendly people back in town.”

“It’ll be all right for one night,” she said. “It’s easier for them to keep track of us if we’re together here instead of scattered around Fort Collins.”

“I suppose so,” he said, unenthusiastic still. But then, as he set his rifle down, be exclaimed, “I’m going to be a father! How about that?”

“How about that?” Barbara echoed.

Only one candle lit the room. Her face was hard to read. Electricity had taken the mystery out of night, turned it bright and certain as day. Now mystery was back, with a vengeance. Yeager studied the shifting shadows. “We’ll do the best we can, that’s all,” he said, as he had when she first gave him the news.

“I know,” she answered. “What else can we do? And,” she added, “If anyone can take care of me and help me take care of a baby, I know it’s you, Sam. I do love you. You know that.”

“Yeah. I love you, too, hon.”

She sat down on one of the cots, smiled over at him. “How shall we celebrate the news?”

“No booze around. No firecrackers… I guess we’ll just have to make our own fireworks. How does that sound?”

“It sounds good to me.” Barbara took off her shoes, then stood up for a moment so she could slide out of her slacks and panties. When she sat down again, she made a face and bounced back to her feet. “That wool blanket scratches. Wait a second; let me turn down the sheet.”

Some happy time later, Sam asked, “Do you want me to put on a rubber, in case you’re wrong?”

“Don’t bother,” she said. “I’m regular as clockwork; even getting sick doesn’t throw me off. And I haven’t been sick. The only thing that could make me this late is a bun in the oven. And since there’s one in there, we don’t need to worry about keeping the oven door closed.”

“Okay.” Sam poised himself over her. She tilted her hips up to ease his way, locked her legs and arms around him. Afterwards, he rubbed at his back; she’d clawed him pretty hard. “Maybe you should get knocked up more often,” he said.

Barbara snorted and poked him in the ribs, which almost made him fall off the narrow cot. Then she leaned over and kissed him on the tip of his nose. “I love you. You’re crazy.”

“I’m happy, is what I am.” He squeezed her against him, tight enough to make her squeak. She was all the woman he’d ever wanted and then some: pretty, bright, sensible, and, as he’d just delightedly found out again, a handful and a half in bed. And now she was going to have his baby. He stroked her hair. “I don’t know how I could be any happier.”

“That’s a sweet thing to say. I’m happy with you, too.” She took his hand, set it on her belly. “That’s ours in there. I wasn’t expecting it. I wasn’t quite ready for it, but”-she shrugged-“it’s here. I know you’ll make a good father.”

“A father. I don’t feel like a father right now.” He let his hand slide lower, through her little nest of hair to the softness it concealed. His fingertip traced small, slow circles.

“What do you feel like?” she whispered. The candle burned out about then. They didn’t need it.

The next morning, Yeager woke still a little worn. Feels like I played a doubleheader yesterday. He grinned. I did.

The cot squeaked when he sat up. The noise woke Barbara. Her cot squeaked, too. He wondered how much racket they’d made the night before. At the time, he hadn’t noticed.

Barbara rubbed her eyes, yawned, stretched, looked over at him and started to laugh. “What’s so funny?” he asked. He didn’t sound as grumpy as he would have a few months before; he’d finally got used-or resigned-to facing the day without coffee.

She said, “You have a large male leer pasted all over your face. That’s what’s funny.”

“Oh.” Now that he thought about it, that was funny. “Okay.” He put his corporal’s uniform back on. The last time it had been washed was in Cheyenne. He’d got used-or resigned-to dirty clothes, too. Just about everybody’s clothes were dirty these days; it wasn’t as if Corporal Sam Yeager stood out as a special slob. He slung his rifle over his shoulder and said, “I’m going downstairs to turn Ristin and Ullhass loose. They’ll be glad to see the light of day, I expect.”

“Probably. It seems mean to keep them locked up all night long.” Barbara laughed again, this time at herself. “I’ve been with them so long now that I think of them as people, not as Lizards.”

“I know what you mean. I do the same thing myself.” Yeager considered, then said, “Come on, you get dressed, too. Then we can go over to the cafeteria with them and we’ll have breakfast.”

Breakfast was bacon and eggs. The bacon came in great thick slices and was obviously home-cured; it took Yeager back to the smokehouse on the Nebraska farm where he’d grown up. The stuff that came in packages of cardboard and waxed paper just didn’t have the same flavor.

The Lizard POWs wouldn’t touch eggs, maybe because they were hatched themselves. But they loved bacon. Ristin ran his long, lizardy tongue around the edges of his mouth to get rid of grease. “That is so good,” he said, adding the emphatic cough. “It reminds me of aasson back on Home.”

“Not salty enough for aasson,” Ullhass said. He reached for the salt shaker, poured some onto the bacon, took another bite. “Ah-better.” Ristin held out his hand for the salt shaker. He, too, hissed with pleasure after he’d sprinkled the bacon.

Sam and Barbara exchanged glances: the bacon had salt enough, for any human palate. In the manner of an Astounding reader, Yeager tried to figure out why the Lizards wanted it with even more. They’d said Home was hotter than Earth, and its seas smaller. Maybe that meant they were saltier, too, the way Salt Lake was. When he got to Denver, he’d have to ask somebody about that.

Back to the wagons. Ullhass and Ristin scrambled aboard theirs, then all but disappeared under the straw and blankets they used to fight the cold. Yeager was about to help Barbara up-no matter what she said, he wanted to make sure she took extra care of herself-when a fellow on horseback came trotting up the oval drive toward them. He was dressed in olive drab and wore a helmet instead of a cavalryman’s hat, but he put Yeager in mind of the Old West just the same.

Most of the Met Lab wagons were untenanted. Some didn’t even have their teams hitched to them yet: a lot of people were still eating breakfast. The rider reined in when he saw Yeager and Barbara. He called to her, “Ma’am, you wouldn’t by any chance know where to find Barbara Larssen, would you?”

“I am-I was-I am Barbara Larssen,” she said. “What do you want?”

“Right the first time,” the cavalryman exclaimed happily. “Talk about your luck.” He swung down from his horse, walked over to Barbara. Maybe it’s his boots that make him look that way, Yeager thought. They were tall and black and shiny and looked as if they’d hurt like hell if he had to walk more than a few feet in them. He reached inside his coat, pulled out an envelope, handed it to Barbara and said, “This here is for you, ma’am.” Then he stumped back to his horse, remounted, and rode off, trappings jingling, without a backward glance.

Yeager watched him go before he turned back to Barbara. “What do you suppose that’s all about?” he said.

She didn’t answer right away. She was staring down at the envelope. Sam took a look at it, too. It didn’t have a stamp or a return address, just Barbara’s name scrawled hastily across it. Her face was dead pale when she lifted it to him. “That’s Jens’ handwriting,” she whispered.

For a couple of seconds, it didn’t mean anything to Yeager. Then it did. “Oh, Jesus,” he muttered. He felt as if a Lizard shell had just landed next to where he was standing. Through stunned numbness, he heard himself say, “You’d better open it.”

Barbara nodded jerkily. She almost tore the letter along with the envelope. Her hands shook as she unfolded the sheet of paper. The note inside was in the same handwriting as her name had been. Yeager read over her shoulder:

Dear Barbara, I had to twist arms to get them to let me write this and send it to you, but I finally managed to do it. As you’ll gather, I’m already in the town you’re going toward. I had some interesting (!!) times getting back to the town from which we both left, but came through them all right. I hope you’re OK, too. I’m so glad you’ll be here soon-I miss you more than I can say. With all the love there is, Jens. There was a row of X’s under the signature.

Barbara looked at the letter, then at Yeager, then at the letter again. She held it in her right hand. Her left hand, which didn’t seem to know what her right was doing, pressed at her belly through the ratty wool sweater she was wearing.

“Oh my God,” she said, maybe to herself, maybe to Yeager, and maybe to God, “what am I supposed to do now?”

“What are we supposed to do now?” Yeager echoed.

She stared at him, as if consciously reminded of his presence for the first time. Then she noticed her hand, fingers spread fan-fashion, stretched over her belly. She jerked it away.

He flinched as if she’d hit him. Her face twisted when she saw that. “Oh, Sam, I’m sorry,” she exclaimed. “I didn’t mean-” She started to cry. “I don’t know what I meant. Everything’s just turned upside down.”

“Yeah,” he said laconically. He startled himself by laughing.

Barbara glared through tears. “What could possibly be funny about this, this-” She gave up in the middle of the sentence. Yeager didn’t blame her. No words were strong enough to fit the mess they’d just landed in.

He said, “Last night I found out I was going to be a father, and now I don’t even know if I’m a husband any more. If that isn’t funny, what is?”

He wondered if it would be too risque for Hollywood to touch. Probably. Too bad. He could all but see Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant and somebody else-Robert Young, maybe-to play the guy who didn’t get her, all of them going through their antics bigger than life up on the screen. It would be a great way to kill a couple of hours, and you’d come out of the theater, holding your sides.

But it wasn’t the same when it really happened to you, not when you were wondering whether you had the Cary Grant part or the Robert Young one… and when you were afraid you knew the answer.

Barbara’s small smile was the sun coming out from behind rain clouds. “That is funny. Like something out of a silly movie-”

“I just thought the very same thing,” he said eagerly. Any sign that they were on the same wavelength felt doubly welcome.

The clouds covered the sun again. Barbara said, “Somebody’s going to get hurt, Sam; I’m going to have to hurt somebody I love. That’s the last thing in the world I want, but I don’t see how I can help it.”

“I don’t, either,” Yeager said. He did his best not to show his worry, his fear. It wouldn’t help, any more than it would have at the tryout for his first pro team half a lifetime ago. Would he make it or wouldn’t he?

Show them or not, the worry and fear were there. How could Barbara pick him? She’d been married to Jens for years and years, while she’d only known him a matter of months, and they hadn’t even been lovers for most of that time. And besides, with a choice between a nuclear physicist and a minor league outfielder with an ankle that told him when it was gonna rain, whom would she take?

But she was carrying his kid. That had to count for something. Didn’t it? Lord, if this was any kind of normal time, lawyers would be coming out of the woodwork like cockroaches. Maybe cops, too. Bigamy, adultery… Maybe the chaos the Lizard invasion had brought wasn’t such a bad thing after all.

He sucked in a deep breath. “Honey?”

“What is it?” Barbara asked warily. She’d been reading the letter again. He couldn’t blame her for that, either, but just the same he wished she hadn’t been.

He took her hands in his. She let him do it, but she didn’t grab hold of him back the way she usually did. The edge of the sheet of paper scraped against the side of his palm. He made himself ignore it, concentrated on what he had to do as if he were trying to pick up the spin of a curveball right out of the pitcher’s hand.

“Honey,” he said again, and then paused to feel for the perfect words even though Barbara knew a thousand times more about words than he’d learn if he lived to be a hundred. He went on, one tough phrase at a time, “Honey, the most important thing in the whole world for me-is for you to be happy. So you-go ahead and do-whatever it is you’ve got to do-and that’ll be all right with me. Because I love you and-like I said-I want you to be happy.”

She started crying again, hard this time, and buried her head in the hollow of his shoulder. “What am I supposed to do, Sam?” she said between sobs, her voice so small and broken he could hardly understand her. “I love you, too, and Jens. And the baby-”

He kept his arms around her. He wasn’t more than an inch from breaking down and blubbering himself, either. Enrico Fermi picked that precise moment to walk up, hand in hand, with his wife Laura. “Is something wrong?” he asked, concern in his accented voice.

“You might say so, sir,” Yeager answered. Then he remembered the physicist needed to know Jens Larssen was alive, too. He patted Barbara on the back and said, “Honey, you’d better show Dr. Fermi the letter.”

She handed it to Fermi. The physicist put on reading glasses, peered owlishly through them at the sheet of paper. “But this is wonderful news!” he exclaimed, his face lighting up in a smile. He spoke rapidly in Italian to his wife. She answered more hesitantly. Fermi’s smile went out. “Oh,” he said. “It is, ah, complicated.” He nodded to himself, pleased at finding the right word. “Si, complicated.”

“It sure is,” Yeager said bleakly.

“It’s more than just complicated,” Barbara added. “I’m going to have a baby.”

“Oh,” Fermi said again, this time echoed by Laura. He tried again: “Oh, my.” He was completely at home in abstruse realms of thought which Sam Yeager knew he could never enter. But when it came to merely human ways of messing up your life, the Nobel laureate was just as lost as anybody else. Somehow that heartened Sam.

“We like to say congratulations.” Laura Fermi’s accent was thicker than her husband’s. She spread her hands helplessly. “But-”

“Yeah,” Yeager said. “But-”

Fermi handed the letter back to Barbara. He said, “You are good people. One way or another, I am sure you will work this out in the fashion that is best for all of you,” He touched a hand to the brim of his hat and walked on with his wife.

At first, Yeager was touched at the physicist’s compliment. Then he realized Fermi had just said, It’s not my problem, Jack. He started to get angry. But what was the point of that? The man was right. One way or another, he and Barbara and Jens would work it out.

The only trouble was, he had no idea what that way might be.

They made about thirteen miles that day, almost all of them in silence. Barbara seemed lost in her own thoughts, and Sam didn’t want to break in. He had plenty on his mind, too; maybe she also avoided intruding on him. Ullhass and Ristin, oblivious to what was going on around them, chattered with each other, but whenever they ventured into English, the answers they got were so monosyllabic, they soon gave up.

The St. Louis Hotel on St. Louis Avenue in Loveland had seen better days. The food wasn’t up to college cafeteria standards, and the room Sam and Barbara got wasn’t much bigger than the one at the college dorm. It wasn’t very clean, either.

It had a double bed. At first Sam was glad to see that; sleeping with Barbara warm and soft beside him was one of the joys of his life. Doing other things on a roomy mattress was wonderful, too. Or it had been, anyhow.

Barbara looked at the bed, at him, back again. He could see the same set of thoughts going through her mind as were in his. He didn’t say anything. It wasn’t really up to him.

Barbara quickly scanned the rest of the room. Other than the bed, it held only a night table, a couple of rickety chairs, and a chamber pot-the plumbing didn’t work, then. She shook her head. “I’m not going to put you on the floor, Sam,” she said. “That wouldn’t be right.”

“Thank you, hon.” He’d slept hard while he was out in the field against the Lizards. He knew he could do it… but doing it with his wife in the room would have been unbearably lonely.

“This is even more complicated than I thought it was going to be,” Barbara said. She managed a shaky laugh. “They said it couldn’t be done.”

“Yeah-tell me about it.” Sam sat down on one of the chairs, pulled off his shoes and let them fall to the threadbare carpet with two loud clunks.

Barbara peeled back the bedspread. The blankets underneath were the best thing about the room; there were lots of them and they were nice and thick. She clucked approvingly, opened her suitcase and took out a long cotton flannel nightgown. “We won’t have to sleep in all our clothes tonight,” she said. She reached up to her neck to pull off her sweater, then froze, her eyes on Sam.

“Do you want me to turn my back?” he asked, though every word hurt.

He watched her think about it. That hurt, too. But finally she shook her head. “No, never mind, don’t be silly,” she said. “I mean, we’re married, after all-kind of married, anyway.”

Kind of married indeed, Yeager thought, and had another vision of swarming lawyers. He got out of his shirt and chinos while she was taking off the sweater and slacks. The flannel nightgown rustled as it slid down over her smooth skin. He liked to sleep with as few clothes as the weather would allow. Tonight, with all those heavy blankets, that meant socks and boxer shorts and undershirt. He dove under the covers in a hurry; the room itself was cold.

Barbara slipped in beside him. She blew out the candle on the night table. Darkness enfolded them; with the blinds closed and the curtains drawn, it was almost absolute. “Good night, honey,” he said, and without thinking, leaned over for a kiss. He got it, but her lips didn’t welcome his the way they had before.

He got back to his own side of the bed in a hurry. They lay together on the same mattress, but a Maginot Line might have sprung up between them. He sighed and wondered if he’d ever go to sleep. He tossed and turned and turned and tossed and felt Barbara doing the same, but they were both careful not to bump into each other. After some time that seemed forever but probably was before midnight, he drifted off.

He woke in the wee small hours, needing to use the chamber pot. Regardless of how he and Barbara had kept apart from each other awake, they’d come together in sleep, maybe for warmth, maybe for no real reason at all. Her nightgown had ridden up a lot; her bare thigh sprawled across his legs.

He cherished the feeling, wondering if he’d ever know it again, wondering if he was just sticking pins in himself for staying with her now when he didn’t think she’d end up picking him. But what the hell? He’d played umpteen seasons of ball, stubbornly hoping he’d catch a break. Why be different here?

And he did have to use the pot. He slid away as gently as he could, hoping not to wake her. But he did; the mattress shifted as her head came off the pillow. “Sorry, hon,” he whispered. “I need to get up for a second.”

“It’s okay,” she whispered back. “I have to do the same thing. Go ahead and go first.” She rolled over to her own side, but not, this time, as If she thought she’d get leprosy from touching him. He groped around by the bed, found the chamber pot, did what he had to do, and handed the pot to her.

The flannel nightgown rustled again as she hiked it up. She used the pot, too, then slid it out of the way and got back into bed. Yeager did, too. “Good night again,” he said.

“Good night, Sam.” To his surprise and delight, Barbara slid across to his side of the bed and gave him a hug. His arms slid around her, squeezed her to him. She was good to hang on to in the middle of the night. Too soon, though, she slipped away, and he knew that if he tried to hold her there, he was liable to lose her forever.

He tossed and turned for another long while before he went back to sleep. He wondered what that hug meant for his future, trying to read it the same way he’d tried to gauge managers’ oracular pronouncements in years gone by to see whether he was liable to get promoted or shipped down.

As with a lot of those pronouncements, he couldn’t figure out exactly what the hug foretold. He just knew he was gladder with it than he would have been without it. He also knew this mess wouldn’t unravel quickly, no matter what. More than the other, that thought calmed him and helped him fall asleep at last.

Heinrich Jager set a hand on the stowage compartment that rode atop the track assembly of his Panther. The steel was warm against his palm-spring came to France more quickly than to Germany, and far more quickly than to the Soviet Union, where he’d waited out last winter.

The panzer crews stood by their machines, waiting for him to speak. Sunlight dappled down through trees in new leaf. With their black coveralls, the tankers looked like splotches of shadow. Their panzers were painted in what the camouflage experts called ambush pattern-red-brown and green splotches over ocher, and then smaller ocher patches over the red-brown and green. It was the best scheme the Wehrmacht had come up with for making its vehicles invisible from the air. Whether it was good enough-they were about to find out.

“Fuel pump aside,” Jager said, giving his Panther an affectionate thwack, “this is the best human-made panzer in the world.” The crewmen of the Tigers attached to his unit glared at him, as he’d known they would. They liked their massive beasts’ 88mm gun better than the Panther’s 75, even if the Panther was more maneuverable and had its armor properly sloped.

“But,” Jager went on, and let the word hang in the air, “if you try to fight the Lizards straight up with your machines, the only thing you’ll do is get yourselves killed. The Fatherland can’t afford that. Remember it. Think of yourselves as going up against T-34s in a Panzer II.”

That got their attention in the way he wanted. Next to one of the tough Soviet machines, a Panzer II, with its 20mm cannon and cardboard-thin protection, was a crew’s worth of “sad duty to inform you” letters waiting to happen. And yet, despite technical shortcomings, the Wehrmacht had advanced deep into Russia.

“We’ll try to hit them from ambush, then,” Jager said. “We’ll lure them, put some of our panzers where we can get a shot at them from flank or rear. You all know how to do that; you’ve most of you done it on the Eastern Front.” He was glad he had picked crews here. Sending new fish against the Lizards would have been an invitation to slaughter. Casualties would be bad enough as things were.

“Their equipment will be better than ours,” he emphasized. “Their tactics and doctrine won’t. From what I saw in the Ukraine last year, they’re even more stereotyped than the Bolsheviks, but their equipment is so good, they’ll hurt you if you make any mistakes at all. In fact, they’ll hurt you even if you don’t make any mistakes. As tankers they’re nothing much, but if I had a chance to capture one of their panzers, I’d give up a lot to do it. Questions?”

“Will we have any air support?” one of the Tiger crewmen asked.

“I wouldn’t hold my breath,” Jager answered dryly. “Anything we put up, they knock down.” He thought about Ludmila Gorbunova in her little flying sewing machine. He hadn’t had any reply to the latest letter he’d posted. With the state of the mails these days, that meant nothing, but he worried all the same. Going into the air against the Lizards was more nearly suicidal than fighting them in panzers.

The same tanker asked, “We’ll see their helicopters, though, won’t we?”

“If you already know the answer, why ask the question?” Jager said. “Yes, we probably will. If you hear one and it hasn’t spied you, get under tree cover as fast as you can. If a panzer in your squad blows up and you don’t think you’re in contact with the enemy, you’d better do the same. Anything else? No? Let’s go, then. Heil Hitler!”

Heil Hitler! the panzer crews chorused. They piled into their machines. Jager tried to gauge their attitude. They weren’t confident of victory any more, the way they had been before the blows against the Poles or the French or the Russians. They all knew what the Lizards could do.

But no one hung hack or hesitated. Better to hold the Lizards as far from the Fatherland as possible: they all knew that. Without much hope and without fear, they’d try to accomplish it.

Jager climbed up onto the turret of his Panther, slid down inside through the open cupola. Beneath and behind him, the big Maybach engine thundered into life. He wished it were a diesel like the ones the Russians used; a petrol power plant didn’t just burn when it got hit-it exploded.

“Down the road southwest,” he told the driver over the intercom. “We’re looking for good defensive positions, remember. We want to be in ambush before we run into the Lizards nosing north from Besancon.”

As seemed their habit since the blitzkrieg that followed their arrival on Earth, the Lizards were moving on Belfort slowly and methodically-with luck, even more slowly than they’d planned, because they had a way of overreacting to harassment fire from German infantry and French guerrillas. With more luck, Jager’s panzer regiment-panzer combat group was a better name for it, given the mixed and mixed-up nature of his command-would slow them further. With a whole lot more luck, he might even stop them.

The Panther had a much smoother ride than the Panzer III in which he’d advanced into Russia. The interleaved road wheels had a lot to do with that. Not feeling as if his kidneys were shaking loose was a pleasant novelty. Now if the damned fuel pump wouldn’t keep breaking down…

In spite of the engine’s rumble and the rattle and squeak and grind of the treads, riding with his head and shoulders out of the cupola was pleasant on a bright spring day. New grass sprouted in meadows and in cracks in the macadam of the road. In a normal year, traffic would have smashed that latter hopeful growth flat, but the column of German panzers might have been the first motorized traffic the road had known in months. Here and there in the grass, wildflowers made bright splashes of red and yellow and blue. The air itself smelled green and growing.

To Jager’s right, Klaus Meinecke sneezed sharply, once, twice, three times. The gunner pulled a handkerchief from the breast pocket of his tunic, and let out a long, mournful honk. “I hate springtime,” he mumbled. His eyes were puffy and tracked with red. “Miserable hay fever kills me every year.”

Nothing makes everybody happy, Jager thought. They ran through Montbeliard, where the big Peugeot works stood idle for want of fuel and raw materials, then followed the road that paralleled the Doubs River southwest toward Besancon-and toward the Lizards surely on the way. up toward Belfort.

Jager’s head swiveled up and down, back and forth, watching every moment for the airplane or helicopter that could turn his panzer into a funeral pyre. Meinecke chuckled. “You’ve got the deutsche Blick all right, Colonel,” he said.

“The German glance?” Jager echoed, puzzled. “What’s that?”

“They recruited me for Panthers out of the Afrika Korps, not the Russian war,” the gunner explained. “It was a joke we made there, a takeoff on the deutsche Gruss, the German salute. We were always on the lookout for aircraft, first British, then from the Lizards. Spot one and it was time to find a hole in the ground.”

Before the Lizards came, Jager had envied the tankers who fought in North Africa. The war against the British there was clean, gentlemanly-war as it should be, he thought. Both sides in Russia had fought as viciously as they could. Jager thought of the massacres of Jews at Babi Yar and other places. A miracle the Polish Jews hadn’t killed him on his way back to Germany.

He didn’t care to brood on that too long; it made him wonder about what his country had been doing in the lands it had conquered. Instead he said, “So what was it like in the desert after the Lizards came?”

“Bad,” Meinecke answered. “We’d been beating the British, they were brave, but their panzers didn’t match up to ours, and their tactics were pretty bad. If we’d had proper supplies, we’d have mopped them up, but everything kept going to the Eastern Front.”

“We never had enough, either,” Jager put in.

“Maybe not, Colonel, but a lot even of what was supposed to go to us ended up on the bottom of the Mediterranean. But you asked about the Lizards. They mopped up the Tommies and us both. They liked the desert, and we couldn’t hide from their planes there. Talk about the deutsche Blick-Gott in Himmel! The Tommies had it, too.”

“Misery loves company,” Jager said. Then, still looking around,’ he suddenly called “Halt!” to the Panther’s driver.

The big battle tank slowed, stopped. Jager stood tall in the cupola, waving the column to a halt behind him. He studied the little ridge that rose off to one side of the road. It was covered with old brush and saplings, and its crest could have been more than four hundred meters from the roadway. He’d have to scout out what lay behind, check his line of retreat-the one thing you couldn’t do was stand toe-to-toe with the Lizards, or before long you wouldn’t have any toes left.

He ordered the Panther up the rise to the crest. The longer he looked at the setup, the better he liked it. He didn’t think he’d come across a better defensive position, anyhow.

At his command, most of the German panzers deployed hull down on the reverse slope of the ridge line. He sent three or four Panzer IVs and a Tiger forward to meet the Lizards ahead of his main position and, with luck, bring them back all unsuspecting into the ambush he’d set up.

That left nothing to do but wait and stay alert. In back of the ridge lay a pond fed by a small stream. A fish leaped out of the water after a fly, fell back with a splash. Somewhere in his gear, Jager had a couple of hooks and a length of light line. Pan-fried trout or pike sounded a lot better to him than the miserable rations he’d been eating.

A Frenchman in civilian clothes came out of the bushes on the far side of the pond. Jager wasn’t surprised to see he had a rifle on his back. He waved to the Frenchman, who returned the gesture before stepping back into the undergrowth. Before the Lizards came, the French underground had nipped at the Germans who occupied their country. Now they worked together against the new invaders: in French eyes, the Germans were the lesser of two evils.

That’s something, anyhow, Jager thought. In Poland, the Lizards had seemed the lesser of two evils to the Jews. From what he’d learned, he couldn’t blame them for feeling that way.

A couple of times, he’d tried talking with officers he trusted about what Germany had done in the east. It hadn’t worked: he’d been met by a refusal to listen that almost amounted to saying, I don’t want to know. He hadn’t brought up the subject now for some time.

Away in the distance, he heard the harsh, abrupt bark of a panzer cannon. At the same time, a shout sounded in his earphones: “Engaging lead element of enemy panzer column! Will attempt to carry out plan as outlined. Will-” The transmission cut off abruptly; Jager feared he knew why.

More booms: from the Panzer IV’s 75mm guns; heavier, deeper ones from the Tiger’s 88; and, sharp as thunderclaps, from the Lizards’ cannon. Then another sort of roar, lower and more diffuse, with smaller blasts and cheery pop-pops all mixed in with it. That was the sound of a panzer brewing up.

“Armor-piercing,” Jager said quietly. The loader slammed a black-nosed shell into the breech of the cannon. Out of sight down the road, another panzer exploded. Jager bit his lip; those were men, comrades-in-arms, dying nastily. And the officer part of him whispered, if all my panzers get killed before any make it back here, what good is my ambush? He was inured to sacrificing men; throwing them away was something else again.

He stood up in the cupola, made a hand sign: be ready. Panzer commanders passed it down the line. He didn’t want to use radio, not now. The Lizards were too good at picking up their foes signals. As if from very far away he felt his heart thudding in his chest, his bowels loosening. That was what fear did to your body. It didn’t have to rule you if you didn’t let it.

Up the road, motor going flat out, men inside probably shaken to blood pudding, raced a Panzer IV. It sounded like an explosion in a smithy, roaring and clattering and clanking as if it were about to fall to pieces.

Behind it, almost silent by comparison, glided a Lizard panzer, then another and another and another. Jager knew they were toying with the Panzer IV. They had a way of stabilizing their guns so they shot accurately even on the move, but they were enjoying the chase for a while before they ended it.

Let’s see how they enjoy this, he thought, and yelled, “Fire!”

Because his head was outside the cupola, the bellow of the cannon half stunned him. Flame and smoke spurted from the gun’s muzzle. “Hit!” he cried in delight. It was a solid hit, too, right at the join between the turret and body of the Lizard panzer. The turret tilted, almost torn out of its ring; Jager wouldn’t have wanted to be inside when that 6.8-kilo round came knocking.

But the Lizards made their panzers tough. That shell would have torn the turret right off a British tank or a Soviet T-34, and turned either of them into an inferno on the instant. Not only did this one not catch fire, its driver threw it into reverse and did his best to escape the trap in which he found himself. “Hit him again!” Jager shouted. His gunner required no urging-the second shot punctuated Jager’s sentence.

All the rest of the hull-down German panzers along the ridge line opened up, too. The Lizards offered them a target tankers dream about: the less heavily armored flanks and engine compartments of their vehicles. One of those vehicles brewed up in a flash of orange and blue flame-somebody’s round had penetrated to something vital. Jager wondered if that had been a Panther’s kill or a Tiger’s: the heavier panzer’s 88 fired a correspondingly more massive shell, but the Panther’s gun had a higher muzzle velocity and would pierce just as much armor, maybe more.

The Lizards did not react well to being taken in flank. Jager had counted on that: they were even more vulnerable to the unexpected than Soviet troops. For a crucial few seconds, they either tried to back out of trouble like the panzer Jager had hit or traversed their turrets toward the concealed German armor without shifting the tanks themselves. That let the Germans keep pounding away at their more vulnerable sides and rears. Another Lizard panzer turned into a fireball, then another.

But the Lizards did not stay stupid forever. One by one, they turned toward the Germans’ fire. No German panzer gun could beat their front glacis plates. Jager’s gunner tried. His shell buried itself almost to the drive bands, but did no damage anyone could find.

Then the aliens started shooting back. They had only small targets at which to aim, but they didn’t need anything big: their fire-control arrangements were even better than the ones the new Panthers boasted. And while a Panther shell couldn’t quite shift one of their turrets, the Lizards’ projectiles smashed German panzer turrets as if they were anvils dropping on cockroaches.

Two tanks down from Jager, a Panzer IV was abruptly beheaded. Shells cooking off inside, its turret smashed down the rear slope of the ridge and skidded into the pond. The hull exploded in flames, too, and started a fire in the brush.

Then a Tiger got hit. Its turret flew off, too, which rocked Jager; he’d hoped the 100mm of armor there might be proof against anything the Lizards could throw at it. No such luck, though. Now he got on the radio. “Fall back!” he ordered. Keep things moving, keep them confused: that was how you got whatever chance you had against the Lizards. In a set-piece battle, you were dead.

As if he were back on the other side of the rise, Jager saw what the Lizard panzer commander would be thinking: it they came straight up the slope and charged after the retreating Germans, they’d keep presenting their invulnerable frontal armor to his comrades and him. Then they could destroy the panzer force at their convenience and press on up the road toward Belfort.

He got on the command frequency again: “Peel off to either side as you’retreat. We’ll want to get some decent shots at their flanks when they come after us.”

His Panther backed through the little stream that fed the pond; water sprayed up on either side. Sure enough, just as he’d guessed, a couple of Lizard panzers breasted the rise and advanced on the Germans. They were too confident of their own invincibility; had he been an instructor on a training ground, he would have lowered their mark. The proper tactical solution was to stay hull down on the reverse slope and pound the Germans while exposing as little of themselves as possible.

He remembered his first big fight with the Lizard panzers, in the Ukraine. They’d made the same mistake then, and he’d killed one of their tanks with a Panzer III-he was one of a bare handful of German tankers who could say that.

This time, though, he didn’t get a chance to put a shell into the enemy’s belly, where his armor was thinnest. One of the Lizards fired. A Panzer IV went up in gouts of flame. But the Germans were hitting back, too, and their high-velocity armor-piercing shells could hurt the Lizards when they hit the right spot. One of the Lizard panzers slewed to a halt, road wheels wrecked by a shell. That made the machine only marginally less dangerous; its main armament still worked, and its turret swung toward a Panther. It took the German panzer out with one shell straight through the sloped front plate that was supposed to deflect enemy fire.

More rounds slammed into the disabled Lizard panzer. Hatches popped open in the turret and at the driver’s position in the front of the hull. Lizards jumped out Machine guns chattered. The Lizards went down. Jager felt some sympathy for them-they’d fought bravely, If not with a lot of brains. That didn’t keep him from yelling like a wild-west Indian when they fell.

A moment after the last Lizard bailed out and was shot down, the disabled panzer brewed up. A smoke ring, perfect as any an old man with a cigar in his mouth might make but twenty times as big, blew out of the commander’s open cupola. Then all the ammunition stowed in there must have cooked off at once, for the panzer went up in a fireball that sent blazing debris flying for a hundred meters.

A Lizard helicopter fluttered over the ridge just then, rockets stabbing out from it like knives of fire. Machine gunners opened up on it, but it was armed against their fire. But a Panzer IV, traversing its cannon toward the second Lizard tank, happened to line up on the flying machine. Jager never knew whether the commander gave the order or the gunner acted on his own initiative. Either way, the 75mm shell tore through the helicopter’s belly and swatted it out of the air in flames. Jager screamed with delight.

The commander of the other Lizard panzer that had come over the ridge should have pulled back then. The panzer’s turret swung back and forth, as if the Lizards inside couldn’t make up their minds on a target. The Germans had no such hesitation-and Panthers and Tigers, though far from a match for the Lizard machine, could hurt it when they got a chance like this one. Even the new Panzer IVs, though hideously vulnerable to return fire, had in their long 75s main armament little inferior to what the Panthers carried.

When the Lizard did decide to go back, it was too late. Smoke and almost transparent blue flames boiled from the enemy panzer’s engine compartment. That crew bailed out, too. Jager didn’t know if they all perished; the smoke was too thick for him to be sure. If they didn’t, though, it wasn’t for lack of effort.

“Forward the Panthers,” he ordered. “Tigers and IVs lay back to support.”

“How many Panthers are still running?” Klaus Meinecke asked. Jager blinked; the gunner’s question hadn’t occurred to him, but it was a damn good one. It would be a hell of a thing to go swarming over the ridge to confront the Lizards… alone. But no. At least two other machines rumbled past the flaming hulks of friends and foes to renew the fight against the Lizards on the Belfort road.

The smartest thing the Lizards could have done was to keep right on moving toward Belfort, make the Germans react to them. With their rotten fuel pumps, the Panthers would surely have broken down if pushed hard. And the Lizard panzers were faster than the ones Jager commanded, anyhow. Guderian and Manstein had invented the drill: first force your opening, then worry about what happens next.

But the Lizards in this column didn’t have a Guderian leading them. Jager stuck his head and torso out of the cupola to see what they were about. They still waited on the road, face-on toward the ridge line. “Halt hull down,” he called to his comrades. He also ordered his own panzer to halt; no sense in exposing more of it to enemy fire than he had to.

For the moment, standoff. Jager saw no point in firing from his present position. He’d just waste ammunition and announce to the Lizards where he was. About the only way he could hurt them from here would be to put one right down a cannon barrel. He laughed at that and muttered, “If I want a miracle, I’ll ask for it in church.”

The Lizards weren’t eager to swarm up the ridge any more, though, not when the two that had tried it didn’t come back. They weren’t used to armor fights where their foes had a decent chance of doing them in. Jager didn’t think they were afraid; he’d stopped underestimating enemies after his first couple of weeks in Russia. He did think he’d made the Lizards thoughtful.

He was about to order his reserves to try a flanking maneuver using the ridge for cover when a shell slammed into the side of the northernmost Lizard panzer. Another followed a few seconds later and set the armored vehicle ablaze. Jager was still trying to figure out who was doing the shooting when the Lizard crew bailed out of their panzer and ran for the brush. Machine-gun fire cut them down.

Jager whooped. “It’s that Panzer IV!” he yelled. “They should have chased it down and killed it, but they got busy with us and forgot all about it.” He’d forgotten all about it, too, but he didn’t have to admit that, even to himself.

The Lizards certainly had left it out of their plans. Its unexpected return to action did the same thing to them that the unexpected in combat often did to the Russians: it panicked them and sent them into a retreat they didn’t have to make. Jager fired a couple of rounds at them from the ridge line, just to remind them he was there, but didn’t pursue-coming out into the open against them was asking to get shot up.

Klaus Meinecke looked up from his gunsight, a grin stretched wide across his face. “By God, Colonel, they’re as sensitive about their flanks as any virgin I ever tried to lay,” he exclaimed.

“So they are.” Jager laughed, too, but under the coarse joke lay a grain of truth. He had seen the same thing fighting the Red Army. Come straight at them and they’d die in place by thousands sooner than yielding a meter of ground. Flank them out-or even threaten to flank them out-and they were liable to run like rabbits. Half to himself, he said, “They aren’t quick to adapt, not even a little.”

“No, sir,” the gunner agreed. “And they’ve paid for being slow, that they have.”

“You’re right.” Jager sounded wondering, even to himself. His men had killed at least five Lizard panzers-to say nothing of a helicopter-in this fight. They’d lost more than that-Tigers, Panthers, Panzer IVs-but they’d done the enemy some real damage. He wondered how long it had taken the Wehrmacht’s armor to kill five Lizard panzers last year. Weeks probably, maybe months. Panzer IIs, Panzer IIIs, Czech machines impressed into action, Panzer IVs with the stubby 75mm guns for infantry support-they were all toys, set against the Lizards’ tanks.

He must have said that aloud, for Meinecke answered, “That was last year. This is now. And who knows what they’ll come up with next? Maybe a Tiger with sloped armor and a really long-barreled 88. That’d make the Lizards sit up and think.”

It made Jager sit up and think, too. He liked the idea. Then he looked around again. Now he didn’t see smoke and flame and shattered flesh and metal. He saw that his comrades were still here and the Lizards had fled. “We held the position,” he exclaimed.

“We did, by God!” The gunner sounded as surprised-almost dazed-as Jager felt. “I’m not used to that.”

“Nor I,” Jager said. “I’ve been part of a partisan raid that stung them, but every time I went up against them in regular combat, I always ended up retreating… till now.” He started thinking about what needed to happen next. “Now we can bring some infantry forward, send ’em down the road to screen for us.”

“Infantry!” Meinecke spoke the word with a tanker’s ingrained scorn. “What’s infantry going to do against panzers?”

“Give us warning when they’re on the move, if nothing else,” Jager answered. “Snipers may pick off a commander or two; the Lizards come out of their cupolas when they think it’s safe, same as we do. Maybe even an unbuttoned driver. And I hear they’re going to get some sort of antipanzer rocket the Americans have passed on to us.”

“That’d be something, if it works,” the gunner said. “The Lizards have hurt us plenty with rockets.”

“I know. They’ve hurt us with their panzers, too, a lot worse than they did today.” Jager scratched his head. His hair was matted with greasy sweat. “I haven’t seen them foolish that way before-those couple that charged straight at us. They should have known better. I wonder why they didn’t.”

“don’tknow that, sir,” Meinecke said, “but I m not going to complain about it. You?”

“No,” Jager said.

Ussmak desperately wanted a taste of ginger. He needed to feel strong and bright and in control of things, even if he knew he wasn’t. Back in the turret of the landcruiser, Hessef and Tvenkel were undoubtedly dipping their tongues into the supply of the drug they’d brought along. Undoubtedly, too, it made them see the fight from which they’d just retreated as a small thing, hardly more than some cracked pavement on the path to the Race’s inevitable victory.

Ussmak wished he could feel the same way. But no matter how much he craved ginger, he didn’t trust it any more. Ginger could make you do stupid things, things stupid enough to get you killed. Two landcruisers had swarmed over that rise after the Deutsche. Neither one had come back.

Everything had seemed so easy when he started out on the plains of the SSSR: easier even than the training simulators, for those had assumed an opposition of a quality to match his own, and the Soviets’ machines didn’t come close, while their tactics weren’t anything special, either.

When he’d got into Besancon, the males had warned him the Deutsche were better at armored warfare. Now he knew what they’d meant. Nobody’d paid any attention to that rise until the Deutsche started shooting from it. They’d lured the Race’s landcruisers right into an ambush, he realized. They were just Big Uglies-they shouldn’t have been able to trick males of the Race like that.

And their landcruisers weren’t just inflammable targets any more. These were a lot bigger and heavier than the Soviet tanks he’d faced in the SSSR, let alone the little Deutsch models. Their guns could hurt, too.

Hessef’s voice came over the audio button taped to Ussmak’s hearing diaphragm: “Come on back here. We’ve got enough herb to share with you, even if you didn’t bring any of your own.”

“I’ll be there soon, superior sir,” Ussmak answered. Just blind luck, he thought, that Hessef hadn’t gone charging after the Big Uglies himself and gotten his landcruiser-and Ussmak with it-blown to bits.

He wanted to pop the hatch above his reclining seat and get a little fresh if chilly air, but he knew that wasn’t a good idea. The side of the road closer to the river offered no cover for Big Uglies with guns, but any number of Tosevite raiders might be lurking in the woods that led up onto the mountain slopes to the west, just waiting for a male to show himself, even for a moment.

As with landcruisers, the Big Uglies’ personal weapons were less effective than those of the Race: most of their individual firearms could shoot only one bullet at a time, while their machine guns were too heavy and clumsy to be easily portable. As with the landcruisers again, though, you didn’t want to make a mistake or you’d find that one of those inferior weapons was plenty good enough to kill you.

Ussmak crawled back through the fighting compartment, then, and stuck his head up through the opening in the bottom of the turret. “Here you are, just another shell to be expended,” Tvenkel exclaimed. “Well, as long as you are here, you might as well have a taste.”

Before Ussmak could say no as he’d intended, his tongue shot out and licked the little mound of ginger from the palm of the gunner’s hand. He opened and closed his jaws several times, gulped the powder down his throat.

“That’s good,” he exclaimed. With the herb buzzing through him, he felt like a brand-new male. All his worries, all his fears, ebbed away. “I wish we had the Big Uglies in our sights again.” Part of him knew that was just the ginger talking, but none of him cared.

“So do I,” Tvenkel said fiercely. “If they think I’d miss ’em again at that range, I tell you they’re wrong.”

So Tvenkel had missed when he should have hit, had he? Under the influence of the ginger, Ussmak felt almost as much contempt for him as he did for the Big Uglies. The bungling incompetent couldn’t hit a city if he was in the middle of it, he thought.

Hessef said, “We didn’t do as well as we should have.” His voice held melancholy uncertainty; the drug was wearing off, leaving crushing sadness and emptiness behind. He also sounded more thoughtful than usual as he continued, “Maybe Ussmak is right: maybe we should go into combat without tasting first.”

“I think that would be a good idea, superior sir,” Ussmak said. At the moment, he would have thought any ideas good that agreed with his own. He went on, “We may think we do well when we taste the herb, but in fact we don’t.” The contrast between belief and reality hit him with stunning force, almost as if his own words came not from his mouth but from one of the great departed Emperors of the past.

“It may be so,” Hessef agreed mournfully. He was sliding down from his peak of omnipotent euphoria, sure enough.

“Nonsense, superior sir.” Tvenkel must have had another taste just before he gave one to Ussmak, for he still sounded ginger-certain about things. “Just bad luck, that’s all. Can’t hit everything all the time-and these Big Uglies had the advantage of position on us.”

“Yes, and how did they get it?” Ussmak answered his own question: “They got it because we rushed ahead without taking proper notice of our surroundings and we did that because too many of us were tasting.” His mouth fell open. Here he was complaining about tasting while he had a head full of ginger. The irony struck him as deliciously funny.

“We should smash them anyhow,” Tvenkel declared.

“When we first landed, we would have, I think,” Hessef said. “Now we face tougher landcruisers… and ours remain the same.”

“Still better by far than anything the Big Uglies have,” Tvenkel said with an angry hiss; the herb was making him confident to the point of being combative. “Even these new machines are slow and weak next to ours.”

“That’s so,” Hessef said, “but they’re not as slow or as weak as the ones we met before. And who can say what the Tosevites will build next?” He shivered a little. Just as Tvenkel was arrogant under the influence of ginger and ignored real problems, Hessef saw those problems magnified in the depression that came when the drug wore off.

“If we conquer them, they won’t build anything next,” Tvenkel said.

Ussmak liked that idea. Since he was riding his taste of ginger up to the heights, he felt as Tvenkel did: that the Race could accomplish whatever it desired, and that nothing would be allowed to stand in its way. But he had learned that what he felt when he tasted was not to be relied upon, which was something few other ginger tasters seemed to have realized. He tried to stand outside himself, to look at what the ginger did to him as if it were happening to someone else.

He said, “We had better conquer them soon, or they will build their new machines. And every one they do build makes them that much harder to overcome.”

“Retreating from their landcruisers isn’t going to make conquering them any easier,” Hessef said, almost moaning. “But losing five machines in battle against them doesn’t get the job done, either. The Emperor only knows what they’re saying about that back in Besancon.” He cast down his eyes at the mention of the Race’s sovereign, and didn’t raise them again right away. Sure enough, after-ginger depression held him in its claws.

“Superior sir, what you need is another taste,” Tvenkel said. He took out a vial of ginger, poured some into his hand, offered it to Hessef. The landcruiser commander’s tongue flicked out. The powdered drug disappeared.

“Ah, that’s better,” Hessef said as the ginger began to take hold of him once more.

“Why is it better?” Ussmak wondered aloud. “The world is still the same as it was before you tasted, so how have things really changed?”

“They’ve changed because now I have this lovely powder inside of me. No matter how ugly the Big Uglies outside the landcruiser are, I don’t have to worry about it. All I have to do is sit here in my seat and not think about a thing.”

And if some Tosevite chooses this moment to sneak up on us with a satchel charge, we’re all liable to die because you’re not thinking. Ussmak held that to himself. Despite all he’d been through, despite the herb coursing through him, the subordination drilled into him since his hatchling days remained strong.

In any case, he didn’t think the Big Uglies had pursued the Race’s retreating landcruisers. Why should they have? They’d kept the Race from pushing north, which was what they’d had in mind. They didn’t have to conquer, they just had to resist. For how long? Ussmak wondered. The answer slammed into him like a cannon shell: till we have no equipment left.

Five landcruisers gone today in this engagement alone. Hessef was right: they would be gnashing their teeth in Besancon over that news. Ussmak wondered how many landcruisers the Race had left, all over Tosev 3. In the first heady days of the invasion, it hadn’t seemed to matter. They advanced as they would, and swept all before them. They didn’t sweep any more; they had to fight. And when they fought, they got hurt.

Oh, so did the Tosevites. Though his ginger euphoria was starting to ebb, Ussmak still acknowledged that. Even in the botched engagement from which the Race’s landcruisers had just retreated, they’d killed many more enemy vehicles than they’d lost themselves. When transcribing his after-action report onto disk, the unit commander would probably be able to present the engagement as a victory.

But it wasn’t a victory. The clarity of thought the drug brought to Ussmak let him see that only too well. The Big Uglies were losing landcruisers at a prodigal rate, yes, but they were still making them, too, and making them better than they had before. Ussmak wondered how many landcruisers remained aboard the freighters that had fetched them from Home. Even more than that, he wondered what the Race would do when no more landcruisers were left on those freighters.

When he said that aloud, Hessef answered, “That’s why we’d better conquer quickly: if we don’t, we’ll have nothing left to do the job with.” Even the landcruiser commander’s new taste of ginger didn’t keep him from seeing as much for himself.

“We’ll beat them. It’s our destiny-we are the Race,” Tvenkel said. The herb left him confident still. He gave his gun’s autoloader an affectionate slap.

Thus reminded of the device, Hessef said, “We ought to perform maintenance on that gadget. We expended a lot of rounds today. It goes out of adjustment easily, and then we’re left with main armament that won’t shoot.”

“It’ll be all right, superior sir,” Tvenkel said. “If it hasn’t gone wrong, odds are it won’t.”

Ussmak expected Hessef to come down angrily on the gunner for that: maintenance was as much a part of a landcruiser crew’s routine as eating. But Hessef kept quiet-the ginger made him more confident than he should have been, too. Ussmak didn’t like that. If the autoloader wouldn’t feed shells into the cannon, what good was the landcruiser? Good for getting him killed, that was all.

Though the gunner outranked him, Ussmak said, “I think you ought to service the autoloader, too.”

“It’s working fine, I tell you,” Tvenkel said angrily. “All we need is to top up on ammunition and we’ll be ready to go out and fight some more.”

As if on cue, a couple of ammunition carriers rolled up to the landcruisers. One was a purpose-built vehicle made by the Race, but the other sounded like a Tosevite rattletrap. Ussmak went back to the driver’s position, undogged the hatch, and peered out. Sure enough, it was a petroleum-burning truck; its acrid exhaust made him cough. When the driver-a male of the Race-got out, Ussmak saw he had wooden blocks taped to the bottoms of his feet to let him reach the pedals from a seat designed for bigger beings.

Tvenkel climbed out through the turret, hurried over to the ammunition carriers. So did the gunners from the rest of the landcruisers in the unit. After a low-voiced comment from one of the resupply drivers, one of them shouted, “What do you mean, only twenty rounds per vehicle? That’ll leave me less than half full!”

“And me!” Tvenkel said. The rest of the gunners echoed him, loudly and emphatically.

“Sorry, my friends, but it can’t be helped,” the male driving the Tosevite truck said. His foot blocks made him tower over the angry gunners but, instead of dominating them, he just became the chief target of their wrath. He went on, “We’re a little short all over the planet right now. We’ll share what we have evenly, and it’ll come out well in the end.”

“No, it won’t,” Tvenkel shouted. “We’re facing real landcruisers here, don’t you see that, with better guns and tougher armor than anybody else has to worry about. We need more ammunition to make sure we take them out.”

“I can’t give you what I don’t have,” the truck driver answered. “Orders were to bring up twenty rounds per landcruiser and that’s what we brought, no more, no less.”

The Race didn’t need to run out of landcruisers to find itself in trouble against the Big Uglies, Ussmak realized. Running out of supplies for the landcruisers it had was less dramatic, but would do the job just fine.


After darkness, light. After winter, spring. As Jens Larssen peered north from the third floor of Science Hall, he thought that light and spring had overtaken Denver all at once. A week before, the ground had been white with snow. Now the sun blazed down from a bright blue sky, men bustled across the University of Denver campus in shirtsleeves and without hats, and the first new leaves and grass were beginning to show their bright green faces. Winter might come again, but no one paid the possibility any mind-least of all Jens.

Spring sang in his heart, not because of the warm weather, not for the new growth on lawns and trees, not even because of early arriving birds warbling in those trees. What fired joy in him was at first sight much more prosaic: a long stream of horse-drawn wagons making their slow way down University Boulevard toward the campus.

He could wait up here no longer. He dashed down the stairs, his Army guard, Oscar, right behind him. When he got to the bottom, his heart pounded in his chest and his breath came short with exercise and anticipation.

Jens started over to his bicycle. Oscar said, “Why don’t you just wait for them to get here, sir?”

“Dammit, my wife is in one of those wagons, and I haven’t seen her since last summer,” Jens said angrily. Maybe Oscar didn’t breathe hard even in bed.

“I understand that, sir,” Oscar said patiently, “but you don’t know which one she’s in. For that matter, you don’t even know if she’s in any of the ones coming in today. Isn’t the convoy broken into several units to keep the Lizards from paying too much attention to it?”

The right way, the wrong way, and the Army way, Jens thought. This once, the Army way seemed to have something going for it. “Okay,” he said, stopping. “Maybe you’re smarter than I am.”

Oscar shook his head. “No sir. But my wife isn’t on one of those wagons, so I can still think straight.”

“Hmm.” Aware he’d lost the exchange, Larssen turned toward the wagons, the first of which had turned off University onto East Evans and was now approaching Science Hall. I’ll have the best excuse in the world for getting out of BOQ now, he thought.

He didn’t recognize the only man aboard the lead wagon: just a driver, wearing olive drab. Oscar had had a point, he reluctantly admitted to himself. A lot of these wagons would just be carrying equipment, and the only people aboard them would be soldiers. He’d have felt a proper fool if he’d pedaled up and down the whole length of the wagon train without setting eyes on Barbara.

Then he saw Leo Szilard sitting up alongside another driver. He waved like a man possessed. Szilard returned the gesture in a more restrained way: so restrained, in fact, that Jens wondered a little. The Hungarian physicist was usually as open and forthright a man as anyone ever born.

Larssen shrugged. If he was going to read that much into a wave, maybe he should have chosen psychiatry instead of physics.

A couple of more wagons pulled up in front of Science Hall before he saw more people he knew: Enrico and Laura Fermi, looking incongruous on a tarp-covered hay wagon. “Dr. Fermi!” he called. “Have you seen Barbara? Is she all right?”

Fermi and his wife exchanged glances. Finally he said, “She is not that far behind us. Soon you will see her for yourself.”

Now what the devil was that supposed to mean? “Is she all right?” Larssen repeated. “Is she hurt? Is she sick?”

The Fermis looked at each other again. “She is neither injured nor ill,” Enrico Fermi answered, and then shut up.

Jens scratched his head. Something was going on, but he didn’t know what. Well, if Barbara was just a few wagons behind the Fermis, he’d find out pretty soon. He walked up the stream of incoming wagons, then stopped dead in his tracks. Ice ran up his spine-what were two Lizards doing here attached to the Met Lab crew?

He relaxed a bit when he saw the rifle-toting corporal in the wagon with the Lizards. Prisoners might be useful; the Lizards certainly knew how to get energy out of the atomic nucleus. Then all such merely practical thoughts blew out of his head. Sitting next to the corporal was-

“Barbara!” he yelled, and sprinted toward the wagon. Oscar the guard followed more sedately.

Barbara waved and smiled, but she didn’t jump down and run to him. He noticed that, but didn’t think much of it. Just seeing her again after so long made the fine spring day ten degrees warmer.

When he fell into step beside the wagon, she did get out. “Hi, babe, I love you,” he said, and took her in his arms. Squeezing her, kissing her, made him forget about everything else.

“Jens, wait,” she said when lack of oxygen forced him to take his mouth away from hers for a moment.

“The only thing I want to wait for is to get us alone,” he said, and kissed her again.

She didn’t respond quite the way she had the first time. That distracted him enough to let him notice the corporal saying, “Ullhass, Ristin, you two just go on along. I’ll catch up with you later,” and then getting down from the wagon himself. His Army boots clumped on the pavement as he walked back toward Jens and Barbara.

Jens broke off the second kiss in annoyance that headed rapidly toward anger. Oscar had enough sense to keep his distance and let a man properly greet his wife. Why couldn’t this clodhopper do the same?

Barbara said, “Jens, this is someone you have to know. His name is Sam Yeager. Sam, this is Jens Larssen.”

Not, my husband, Jens Larssen? Jens wondered, but, trapped in the rituals of politeness, he grudgingly stuck out a hand. “Pleased to meet you,” Yeager said, though a dark blond eyebrow quirked up as he spoke. He was a handful of years older than Larssen, but considerably more weathered, as if he’d always spent a lot of time outdoors. Gary Cooper type, Jens thought, not that the corporal was anywhere near so good-looking.

“Pleased to meet you, too, pal,” he said. “Now if you’ll excuse us-” He started to steer Barbara away.

“Wait,” she said again. He stared at her, startled. She was looking down at the ground. When she raised her eyes, she looked not to him but to this Yeager character, which not only startled Jens but made him mad. The corporal nodded. Now Barbara turned toward Jens. In a low voice, she went on, “There’s something you have to know. You and Sam have-something in common.”

“Huh?” Jens gave Yeager another look. The soldier was human, male, white, and, by the way he talked, might well have sprung from the Midwest. Past that, Larssen couldn’t see any resemblance between them. “What is it?” he asked Barbara.


At first, he didn’t understand. That lasted only a heartbeat, maybe two; the way she said it didn’t leave much room to doubt what she meant. Numbness filled him, to be replaced in an instant by all-consuming rage.

He almost threw himself blindly at Sam Yeager. He’d always been a peaceable man, but he wasn’t afraid of a fight. After attacking a Lizard tank when Patton’s troops drove the aliens back from Chicago, the idea of taking on somebody carrying a rifle didn’t faze him.

Then he took another look at Yeager’s face. The corporal wasn’t toting that rifle just for show. Somewhere or other, he’d done some work with it. The way his eyes narrowed as he watched Jens said that louder than words. Jens hesitated.

“It wasn’t the way it sounds,” Barbara said. “I thought you were dead; I was sure you had to be dead. If I hadn’t been, I never would have-”

“Neither would I,” Yeager put in. “There’s names for people who do stuff like that. I don’t like ’em.”

“But you did,” Jens said.

“We did it the right way, or the best way we knew how.” Yeager’s mouth twisted; those weren’t the same, not here. He went on, “Up in Wyoming a little while back, we got married.”

“Oh, Lord.” Larssen’s eyes went to Barbara, as if begging her to tell him it was all some dreadful joke. But she bit her lip and nodded. Something new washed over Jens then: fear. She wasn’t just telling him she’d made a mistake with this miserable two-striper. She really had a thing for him.

“There’s more,” Yeager said grimly.

“How could there be more?” Jens demanded.

Barbara held up a hand. “Sam-” she began.

Yeager cut her off. “Hon, he’s gotta know. The sooner all the cards are on the table, the sooner we can start figuring out what the hand looks like. Are you gonna tell him, or shall I?”

“I’ll do it,” Barbara said, which surprised Jens not at all: she’d always been one to take care of her own business. Still, she had to gather herself before she brought out a blurted whisper: “I’m going to have a baby, Jens.”

He started to say, “Oh, Lord,” again, but that wasn’t strong enough. The only things that were, he didn’t want to say in front of Barbara. He thought he’d been afraid before. Now-how could Barbara possibly want to come back to him if she was carrying this other guy’s child? She was the best thing he’d ever known, most of the reason he’d kept going across Lizard-held Ohio and Indiana… and now this.

He wished they’d started their family before the Lizards came. They’d talked about it, but he kept reaching for the rubbers in the nightstand drawer-and times he hadn’t (there were some), nothing happened. Maybe he was shooting blanks. Yeager sure as hell wasn’t.

Jens also wished, suddenly, savagely, that he’d screwed the ears off the brassy blond waitress named Sal when the Lizards held them and a bunch of other people in that church in Fiat, Indiana. She’d done everything but send up a flare to let him know she was interested. He’d stayed aloof, figuring he’d be back with Barbara soon, but when he finally got back to Chicago, she was already gone, and now that he’d finally caught up with her-she was pregnant by somebody else. Wasn’t that a kick in the nuts? It sure was. And he’d gone and wasted his chance.

“Jens-Professor Larssen, I guess I mean-what are we gonna do about this?” Sam Yeager asked.

He was being as decent as he could. Somehow, that made things worse, not better. Worse or better, though, he’d sure found the sixty-four-dollar question. “I don’t know,” Jens muttered with a helplessness he’d never felt while confronting the abstruse equations of quantum mechanics.

Barbara said, “Jens, I guess you’ve been here a while.” She waited for him to nod before she went on, “Do you have some place where we could talk for a while, just the two of us?”

“Yeah.” He pointed back toward Science Hall. “I’ve got an office on the third floor there.”

“Okay, let’s go.” He wished she’d headed off with him without a backwards glance, but she didn’t. She turned back to Sam Yeager and said, “I’ll see you later.”

Yeager looked as unhappy about her going with Jens as Jens felt about her looking back at the corporal, which oddly made him feel a little better. But Yeager shrugged-what else could he do? “Okay, hon,” he said. “You’ll probably find me riding herd on the Lizards.” He mooched after the wagon that had held him and Barbara and the aliens.

“Come on,” Jens said to Barbara. She fell into step beside him, their strides matching as automatically as they always did. Now, though, as he watched her legs move, all he could think of was them locked around Sam Yeager’s back. That scene played over and over in his mind, in vivid Technicolor-and brought pain just as vivid.

Neither of them said much as they walked back to Science Hall, nor as they climbed the stairs. Jens sat down behind his cluttered desk, waved Barbara to a chair. The minute he did that, he knew it was a mistake: it felt more as if he was having a conference with a colleague than talking with his wife. But getting up and coming back around the desk would have made him look foolish, so he stayed where he was.

“So how did this happen?” he asked.

Barbara looked at her hands. Her hair tumbled over her face and down past her shoulders. He wasn’t used to it so long and straight; it made her look different. Well, a lot of things had suddenly turned different.

“I thought you were dead,” she said quietly. “You went off across country, you never wrote, you never telegraphed, you never called-not that the phones or anything else worked very well. I tried and tried not to believe it, but in the end-what was I supposed to think, Jens?”

“They wouldn’t let me get hold of you.” His voice shook with fury ready to burst free, like a U-235 nucleus waiting for a neutron. “First off, General Patton wouldn’t let me send a message into Chicago because he was afraid it would foul up his attack on the Lizards. Then they wouldn’t let me do anything to draw attention to the Met Lab. I went along. I thought it made sense; if we don’t make ourselves an atomic bomb, our goose is probably cooked. But, Jesus-”

“I know,” she said. She still would not look at him.

“What about Yeager?” he demanded.

More rage came out in his voice. Another mistake: now Barbara did look up, angrily. If he attacked the bum, she was going to defend him. Why shouldn’t she? Larssen asked himself bitterly. If she hadn’t had a feel for him, she wouldn’t have married him (God), wouldn’t have let him get her pregnant (God oh God).

“After you-went away, I got a job typing for a psychology professor at the university,” Barbara said. “He was studying Lizard prisoners, trying to figure out what makes them tick. Sam would bring them around-he helped capture them, and he’s sort of their keeper, I guess you’d say. He’s very good with them.”

“So you got friendly,” Jens said.

“So we got friendly,” Barbara agreed.

“How did you get-more than friendly?” With an effort, Larssen kept his voice steady, neutral.

She looked down at her hands again. “A Lizard plane strafed the ship that was taking us out of Chicago.” She gulped. “A sailor got killed-horribly killed-right in front of us. I guess we were both so glad just to be alive that-that-one thing led to another.”

Jens nodded heavily. Things like that could happen. Why do they have to happen to me, God? he asked, and got no answer. As if twisting the knife in his own flesh, he asked, “And when did you get married to him?”

“Not even three weeks ago, up in Wyoming,” Barbara answered. “I needed to be as sure as I could that that was something I really wanted to do. I figured out I was expecting the evening we got into Fort Collins.” Her face twisted. “A soldier on horseback brought your letter the next morning.”

“Oh, for Christ’s sake,” Jens groaned.

“What’s the matter?” Barbara asked, worry in her voice.

“Nothing anybody can help now,” he said, though he wanted to twist a knife, not in his own flesh, but in Colonel Hexham’s. If the miserable blunder-brained, brass-bound, regulation- and security-crazy son of a bitch had let him write a letter when he first asked, most of this mess never would have happened.

Yeah, she and Yeager still would have had their fling, but he could deal with that-she’d thought he was dead, and so had Yeager. She wouldn’t have married the guy, or got pregnant by him. Life would have been a hell of a lot simpler.

Jens asked himself a new and unsettling question: how would things go between Barbara and him if she decided to give Yeager the brush and come back to him forever? How would he handle her giving birth to the other man’s kid and then raising it? It wouldn’t be easy; he could see that much.

He sighed. So did Barbara, at almost the same moment. She smiled. Jens stayed stony-faced. He asked, “Have the two of you been sleeping together since you found out?”

“In the same bed, you mean?” she said. “Of course we have. We traveled all the way across the Great Plains like that-and it still gets cold at night.”

Though he habitually worked with abstractions, he wasn’t deaf to what people said, and he sure as hell knew evasion when he heard it. “That’s not what I meant,” he told her.

“Do you’really want to know?” Her chin went up defiantly. Pushing her made her angry, all right; he’d been afraid it would, and he was right. Before he could answer what might have been a rhetorical question, she went on, “As a matter of fact, we did, night before last. And so?”

Jens didn’t know and so. Everything he’d looked forward to-everything except work, anyhow-had crumbled to pieces inside the last half hour. He didn’t know whether he wanted to pick up those pieces and try to put them together again. But if he didn’t, what did he have left? The answer to that was painfully obvious: nothing.

Barbara was still waiting for her answer. He said, “I wish to God it had been me instead.”

“I know,” she said, which was not the same as I wish it had, too. But something-maybe the naked longing in his voice-seemed to soften her. She continued, “It’s not that I don’t love you, Jens-don’t ever think that. But when I thought you were gone forever, I told myself life went on, and I had to go on with it. I can’t turn off what I feel about Sam as if it were a light switch.”

“Obviously,” he said, which made her angry again. “I’m sorry,” he added quickly, though he wasn’t sure he meant it. “The whole thing is just fubar.”

“Fubar? What’s that?” Barbara’s eyes lit up. She lived for words. When she found one she didn’t know, she pounced.

“I picked it up from the Army guys I was with for a while,” he answered. “It stands for ‘fouled’-but that’s not what they usually say-‘up beyond all recognition.’ ”

“Oh, like snafu,” she said, neatly cataloging it.

After that, silence stretched between them. Jens wanted to ask the one question he hadn’t put to her-“Will you come back to me?”-but he didn’t. Part of him was afraid she’d say no. A different part was just as much afraid she’d say yes.

When he didn’t say anything, Barbara said: “What are we going to do?”

“I don’t know,” he answered, which was honest enough to make her nod soberly. He went on, “In the end, it’s more or less up to you, isn’t it?”

“Not altogether.” Her left hand spread over her belly; he wondered if she knew it had moved. “For instance, do you want me back-under the circumstances?”

Since he’d been asking himself the same thing, he couldn’t exclaim Yes! the way he probably should have. When a couple of seconds passed without his saying anything, Barbara looked away. That frightened him. He didn’t want to throw her out, either. He said, “I’m sorry, dear. Too much landing on me all at once.”

“Isn’t that the sad and sorry truth?” She shook her head wearily, then got to her feet. “I’d better get downstairs and help with the work, Jens. I’ve sort of turned into assistant Lizard liaison person.”

“Wait.” He had work, too, a load that was going to quadruple now that the Met Lab was finally here. But that didn’t have to start at this precise instant. He got up, too, hurried around the desk and took her in his arms. She held him tight; her body molded itself to his. It felt so familiar, so right. He wished he’d had the sense to lock his office door: he might have tried to drag her down to the floor then and there. It had been so long… He remembered the last time they’d made love on the floor, with Lizard bombs falling all over Chicago.

She tilted her face up, kissed him with more warmth than she’d shown down on East Evans. But before he could try dragging her down to the floor even with the door unlocked, she pulled away and said, “I really should go.”

“Where will you stay tonight?” he asked. There. That brought it out in the open. If she said she’d stay with him, he didn’t know what he’d do-not go back to the BOQ, that was for sure.

But she just shook her head and answered, “Don’t ask me that yet, please. Right now I don’t even know which end is up.”

“All right,” he said reluctantly; he’d been up when they held each other.

Barbara walked out of the office. He listened to her footsteps receding down the hallway and then in the stairwell. He went back to his desk, looked out the window behind it. There she came, out, of Science Hall.

And there she went, over to Sam Yeager. No doubt who he was, even from three floors up: plenty of men in Army uniforms standing around, but only one of them stayed by the two Lizard prisoners. Jens felt like a Peeping Tom as he watched his wife hug and kiss the tall soldier, but he couldn’t make himself tear his eyes away. When he compared the way she held Yeager to how she’d embraced him, a cold, inescapable conclusion formed in his mind: wherever she slept tonight, it wouldn’t be with him.

At last Barbara broke free of the other man, but her hand lingered affectionately at his waist for an extra few seconds. Jens made himself turn away from the window and look at his desk. No matter what happens to the rest of my life, there’s still a war on and I have a ton of work to do, he told himself.

He could make himself lean forward in the chair. He could make himself pull a report from the varnished pine IN basket and set it on the blotter in front of him. But, try as he would, he couldn’t make the words mean anything. Misery and rage strangled his brains.

If that was bad, pedaling back to the BOQ with a silent Oscar right behind him felt ten times worse. “I won’t take it,” he whispered again and again, not wanting the guard to hear. “I won’t.”

Normal life. Moishe Russie had almost forgotten such a thing could exist. Certainly he’d known nothing of the sort for the past three and a half years, since the Stukas and broad-winged Heinkel 111s and other planes of the Nazi war machine began dropping death on Warsaw.

First the bombardment. Then the ghetto: insane crowding, disease, starvation, overwork-death for tens of thousands, served up a centimeter at a time. Then another spasm of war as the Lizards drove the Germans from Warsaw. And then that strange time as the Lizards’ mouthpiece. He’d thought that was close to normal; at least he and his family had had food on the table.

But the Lizards were as eager to put shackles on his spirit as the Nazis had been to squeeze work out of his body and then let it die… or to ship him away and just kill him, regardless of how much work was left in him.

Then God only knew how long underground in a dark sardine tin, and then the flight to Lodz. None of that had been even remotely normal. But now here he was, with Rivka and Reuven, in a flat with water and electricity (most of the time, at least), and with no sign the Lizards knew where he’d gone.

It wasn’t paradise-but what was? It was a chance to live like a human being instead of a starving draft horse or a hunted rabbit. This, by now, is my definition of normal? Russie asked himself as he strode down Zgierska Street to see what the market had to offer.

He shook his head. “Not normal,” he insisted aloud, as if someone had disagreed with him. Normal would have meant going back to medical school, where the worst he would hate had to endure was hostility from the Polish students. He itched to be able to start learning again, and to start practicing what he’d learned.

Instead, here he came, ambling along down a street in a town not his own, clean-shaven, doing his best to act like a man who’d never had a thought in his life. This was safer than the way he’d been living, but… normal? No.

As usual, the Balut Market square was packed. Some new posters had gone up on the dirty brick walls of the buildings surrounding the square. Bigger than life, Mordechai Chaim Rumkowski looked down on the ragged men and women gathered there, his arms and hands outstretched in exhortation. WORK MEANS FREEDOM! the poster cried in Yiddish, Polish, and German.

ARBEIT MACHT FREI. A shiver ran down Russie’s back when he saw that in German. The Nazis had put the same legend above the gates of their extermination camp at Auschwitz. He wondered if Rumkowski knew.

He got in line to buy cabbage. More of Rumkowski’s posters stood behind the peddler’s cart. So did other, smaller ones with big red letters that announced WANTED FOR THE RAPE AND MURDER OF A LITTLE GIRL in the three most widely spoken languages of Lizard-held Poland.

Who could be such a monster? Russie thought. His eyes, drawn by those screaming red letters, looked to the picture on the poster. It was one of the fancy photographs the Lizards took, in full color and giving the effect of three dimensions. Moishe noticed that before he realized with horror that he recognized the face on the poster. It was his own.

The poster didn’t call him by his proper name-that would, have given the game away. Instead, it styled him Israel Gottlieb. It said he’d committed his ghastly crimes in Warsaw and was being sought all over Poland, and it offered a large reward for his capture.

His head whipped wildly back and forth. Were people staring at him, at the poster, getting ready to shout at him or grab him and drag him to the cobblestones? He’d never imagined the Lizards would come up with such a devilish way of trying to bring him back into their hands. He felt as if they’d set the mark of Cain on his forehead.

But none of the men in hats or caps, none of the women in head scarves, acted as if the mark were visible. Few even glanced at the poster, of those who did, none looked from it to Russie.

His eyes went to it once more. On that second examination he began to understand. The Lizards’ photo showed him as he had been when he was speaking on the radio for Zolraag: in other words, bearded and in a dark homburg rather than clean-shaven and with a flat gray cloth cap of the sort he wore these days. To him, the difference seemed minuscule: it was, after all, his own face. But nobody else seemed to have the faintest suspicion he was the alleged monster whose visage would undoubtedly be used to frighten children.

Bristles rasped under his fingers as he rubbed his chin. He needed a shave. From here on out, he’d shave every day, no matter what: putting it off till tomorrow was liable to make him resemble himself too much.

He finally reached the head of the line, bought a couple of cabbages, and asked the price of some green onions the peddler had in a little wicker basket on his cart. When the fellow told him, he clapped a hand to his forehead and exclaimed, “Ganef! You should grow like an onion-with your head in the ground.”

“An onion should grow from your pippuk,” the vegetable seller retorted, answering one Yiddish execration with another. “Then it would be cheaper.”

They haggled for a while, but Russie couldn’t beat the man down to a price that wouldn’t leave Rivka furious at him, so he gave up and left, carrying his cabbages in a canvas bag. He thought about stopping to buy a cup of tea from a fellow with a battered tin samovar, but decided that would be tempting fate. The sooner he got out of the square, the fewer eyes would have a chance to light on him.

Going out, though, was swimming against the tide. The Balut Market square had filled even fuller when he stood in line. Then, abruptly, the swarm of people coming in slowed. Russie looked up just in time to keep from being run over by Chaim Rumkowski’s coach.

The horse that drew the four-wheeled carriage snorted in annoyance as the driver, a hard-faced man in a gray greatcoat and quasimilitary cap, hauled back on the reins to stop it. The driver looked annoyed, too. Russie touched the brim of his own cap and mumbled, “Sorry, sir.” He’d had plenty of practice fawning on the Germans, but doing it for one of his own people grated even harder on him.

Mollified, the driver dipped his head, but from behind him came the querulous voice of an elderly man:

“You up there-come here.” Heart sinking, Russie obeyed. As he walked back toward Rumkowski, he saw that the driver’s bench still sported a neat sign left over from the days of German domination: WAGEN DES AELTESTEN DER JUDEN (coach of the Eldest of the Jews), with the same in smaller letters in Yiddish below.

He wondered if the Eldest still wore a yellow Star of David on his right breast, as the Nazis had required the ghetto Jews to do. No, he found to his relief, although he could still see where the star had been sewn onto Rumkowski’s herringbone tweed overcoat.

Then Moishe stopped worrying about small things, for sitting beside Rumkowski, almost hidden by his bulk, was a Lizard. Russie didn’t think he had ever seen this particular alien, but he couldn’t be sure. He felt as if all the posters with his picture on them were growing hands and pointing straight at him.

Rumkowski pointed straight at him, too, with a stubby forefinger. “You should be careful. You were almost badly hurt.”

“Yes, Eldest. I’m sorry, Eldest.” Russie looked down at the ground, both to show humility and to keep Rumkowski and the Lizard from getting a good look at him. The aliens had as much trouble telling people apart as people did with their kind, but he did not want to find himself an exception to the rule.

The Lizard leaned forward to see him without being blocked by Rumkowski’s body. Its eye turrets swiveled in a way Russie knew well. In fair German, it asked him, “What do you have in that bag?”

“Only a couple of cabbages.” Russie had the presence of mind not to add superior sir, as he had learned to do back in Warsaw. That would just let the Lizard know he was familiar with the usages of its kind.

“How much did you pay for these cabbages?” Rumkowski asked.

“Ten zlotys, Eldest,” Moishe said.

Rumkowski turned to the Lizard and said, “You see, Bunim, how we have flourished under your rule. A few months ago, these cabbages would have been many times as dear. We are always grateful for your aid, and will do whatever we can to continue deserving your favor.”

“Yes, of course,” Bunim said. Had he been a human, Russie would have thought his voice full of contempt: how could one not feel contemptuous of such an abject thing as Rumkowski had become? Yet the Lizards, even more than the Germans, assumed themselves to be the Herrenvolk, the master race. Perhaps Bunim accepted sycophancy from the Eldest simply as his due.

Rumkowski pointed to his own propaganda posters on the walls of the market square. “We know our debt, Bunim, and we work hard to repay it.”

Bunim swung one eye toward the posters while keeping the other on Russie. Moishe made ready to fling the cabbages at his scaly face and flee. But the Lizard just said, “Continue on this course and all will be well.”

“It shall be done, superior sir,” Rumkowski said in the hissing language of the Race. Moishe had all he could do to keep his face blank and stupid; if he was just an ordinary shlemiel on the street, he had no business understanding the Lizards’ speech. The Eldest seemed to remember he was there. “Take your food home to your family,” he said, dropping back into Yiddish. “We may not be so hungry as we once were, but I know the memory lingers.”

“You’re right about that.” Russie touched the brim of his cap. “Thank you, Eldest.” He scuttled away from the carriage as fast as he could without seeming to be running for ms life. Acrid sweat dripped from his armpits and down his back.

Along with the fear came anger. Rumkowski had chutzpah and to spare, if he thought to impress anyone by talking about how hungry “we” had been. His fleshy frame didn’t look to have missed many meals under German control of the ghetto, and he’d earned his food with the sweat and the blood of his fellow Jews.

But that, dreadful as it was, was also by the way. For now, the only thing that truly mattered to Russie was that he’d got away with the toughest test his flimsy disguise was ever likely to face. He wasn’t surprised the Lizard had failed to recognize him; the Lizard might not have known who he was even if he’d still had his beard.

But Chaim Rumkowski… Rumkowski was a Lizard puppet as Moishe had been a puppet. It wouldn’t have been too surprising if he’d seen Moishe’s face in a Lizard photograph or in one of the propaganda films Zolraag and his sons had taken back when he and Russie got along. But if he had, he didn’t associate it with a shabby Jew carrying cabbages home to his wife.

“And a good thing, too,” Moishe said.

When he got back to his block of flats, he waved to Reuven, who was kicking a ball around with a couple of other boys and dodging in and out amongst passersby on the street. That game would have been impossibly dangerous before the war, when whizzing motorcars killed children every week.

These days, even the Eldest of the Lodz ghetto rode in a carriage like a nineteenth-century physician on his rounds; the only motor vehicle in the ghetto that Moishe knew about was the fire engine. People got about on bicycles or in carts hauled by their fellow men, or most often, afoot. And so sport got safer for little boys. Even the worst wind blows in a little good with it, Russie thought.

He carried the cabbages upstairs to his apartment. Rivka pounced on them. She did no more than raise an eyebrow when he told her how much he’d paid, from which he concluded he hadn’t done too badly. “What else did they have down there?” she asked.

Tzibeles-green onions-but I couldn’t get a decent price for them, so I didn’t buy any,” he said. Rivka positively beamed; by her expression, she’d expected him to spend all their money for one dried-up little onion. He went on, “That’s not all,” and told her about the posters.

“That’s terrible,” she said, before he even had a chance to let her know what they claimed he’d done. When he did, she clenched her fists and ground out, “It’s worse than terrible-it’s filthy.”

“So it is,” Moishe answered. “But the pictures show me the way I used to be, and I look different now. I proved it after I got these cabbages.”

“Oh? How?”

“Because the Eldest of the Jews and the Lizard he had in the carriage with him both spoke to me, and neither one of them had the least idea who I was even though my picture was plastered all over the market square.” Russie spoke as if he’d been through something that happened every day, hoping not to alarm Rivka. He alarmed himself instead; all the fright he’d felt came back in a rush.

And he frightened his wife. “That’s it,” she said in a voice that brooked no argument. “From now on, you don’t go out of the flat unless it’s a matter of life or death-any time you do go out, it turns into a matter of life or death.”

He could not disagree with that. He did say, “I had been thinking of going to the hospital and offering my services there. Lodz-and especially its Jews-still has far too much sickness and not enough people trained in medicine.”

“If you were only putting your own neck in the noose, that would be one thing,” Rivka said. “But if they catch you, Moishe, they catch Reuven and me, too. They won’t be very happy with us, either; remember, we disappeared right under their snouts when we went into hiding.”

“I know,” he answered heavily. “But after being cooped up so long under Warsaw, the idea of having to stay here leaves me sick.”

“Better you should be left sick than left dead,” Rivka said, to which he had no good reply. She went on, “I’m a better shopper than you, anyhow, and you know it. We’ll save money with you at home.”

He knew that, too. Had he gone straight from the Warsaw bunker to close confinement in this flat, he could have borne it easily enough. But a taste of freedom left him hungry for more. It had been the same in Warsaw. If the Lizards had treated its Jews the same way the Germans had, people there might well have accepted it, simply because it was what they’d grown used to. After a spell of mild rule, though, tough strictures would have been hard to reimpose. He’d certainly rebelled when the Lizards tried to make him into nothing but their mouthpiece.

Rivka inspected the cabbages, peeled off a couple of wilted outer leaves, and threw them away. That was a measure of how far they’d come. In the days when the Nazis ruled the ghetto, wilted cabbage leaves would have been something to fight over. Their being just garbage again showed that the family wasn’t in the last stages of starving to death any more.

The rest of the cabbage, chopped, went into the soup pot with potatoes and a big white onion from a vegetable basket by the counter. Moishe wished for a roasted pullet or barley and beef soup with bones full of marrow. Cabbage and potatoes, though, you could live a long time on that, even without meat.

“It certainly seems like a long time, anyhow,” he muttered.

“What’s that?” Rivka asked.

“Nothing,” he answered loyally, thinking of all the vitamins and other nutrients in potatoes and cabbages and onions. But man did not live by nutrients alone, and the soup, however nourishing the medical part of him knew it to be, remained uninspiring despite Rivka’s best efforts.

She put a lid on the soup pot. The hot plate would eventually bring it to a boil. Moishe had given up on quickly cooked food-not that soup cooked quickly any which way. Rivka said, “I wonder how long Reuven will play outside.”

“Hmm.” Moishe sent her a speculative look. She smiled back. Just for a moment, the tip of her tongue appeared between her teeth. He did his best to sound severe: “I think you’re just trying to butter me up.” He listened to himself. Severe? He sounded eager as a bridegroom.

As a matter of fact, he was eager as a bridegroom. He took a couple of quick steps across the kitchen. Rivka’s arms went around him at the same time his went around her. After a few seconds, she said, “For this, I may even like you better clean-shaven. Your mustaches used to tickle my nose when we kissed.”

“If you like it so well-” he said, and resumed. His hand cupped her breast through the wool of her dress. She made a small noise deep in her throat and pressed herself tighter against him.

The door opened.

Moishe and Rivka jumped away from each other as if they had springs in their shoes. From the doorway, Reuven called, “Is there anything to eat? I’m hungry.”

“There’s a heel of bread in here you can have, and I’m making soup,” Rivka answered. “Your father brought home a couple of lovely cabbages.” Her shrug to Moishe was full of humorous frustration.

He understood the feeling because he shared it. In the insanely overcrowded Warsaw ghetto, concerns about privacy had fallen to pieces, because so little was to be had. People did what they did, and the other people crammed into a flat with them, no matter how young, pretended not to notice. But decorum had returned to the family as soon as they were out of that desperate overcrowding.

Reuven wolfed down the bread his mother gave him, then sat on the kitchen floor to stare expectantly at the soup pot. Above him, Rivka said “Tonight” to Moishe.

He nodded. His son let out an indignant squawk: “The soup won’t be ready till tonight?”

“No, I was talking about something else with your father,” Rivka said.

Partway appeased, Reuven resumed his pot watching. The idea of privacy had come back after they were no longer stuffed into a flat like sardines. But food… they all still worried about food, even though they weren’t starving any more. If they hadn’t, Moishe wouldn’t have noticed Rivka throwing out the wilted cabbage leaves, wouldn’t have counted that as a sign of their relative affluence.

“Do you know,” he said out of the blue, “I think I understand Rumkowski better?”

“Nu?” Rivka said. “Tell me. How he could go on dealing with the Lizards, and with the Nazis before them-” She shivered.

Moishe explained his thoughts about the cabbage leaves, then went on, “I think Rumkowski’s the same way, only about power, not food. However he thought of it when this was a Nazis ghetto, he can’t change his mind now. He’s-fixated, that’s the word.” It came out in German; Yiddish didn’t have a term for the precise psychological concept Moishe was trying to get across. Rivka nodded to show she followed.

Reuven said, “You threw out some cabbage leaves, Mama?” He got up and went over to the garbage can. “May I eat them?”

“No, just leave them there,” Rivka said, and then again, louder, “Leave them there, I told you. You’re not going to starve to death before the soup is done.” She stopped with a bemused look on her face.

Progress, Moishe thought. He shook his head. To such had he been reduced that he measured progress by the existence of garbage.

Rasputitsa-the time of mud. Ludmila Gorbunova squelched across the airstrip, her boots making disgusting sucking and plopping noises at every step. Each time she lifted one, more mud clung to it, until she thought she was carrying half a kolkhoz’s worth on each foot.

The mud came to Russia and the Ukraine twice a year. In the fall, the rains brought it. The fall rasputitsa could be heavy or light, depending on how much rain fell for how long before it turned to snow and froze the ground.

The spring rasputitsa was different. When the spring sun melted the snow and ice that had accumulated since last fall, millions of square kilometers turned into a bog. That included roads, none of which was paved outside the big cities. For several weeks the only ways to get around were by panje wagons, which were almost boat-shaped and had wheels high enough to get down through the glop to solid ground, and by wide-tracked T-34 tanks.

That also meant most aviation came to a halt during the rasputitsa. The Red Air Force flew off dirt strips, and all the dirt was liquid for the time being. Taxiing for takeoffs and landings wasn’t practical; just keeping aircraft from sinking into the swamp wasn’t easy.

As usual, one model proved the exception: the U-2. With skis of the same sort the little biplane used to operate in heavy snow, it could skid along the surface of the mud until it gained enough speed to take off, and could also land in muck… provided the pilot set it down as gently as if eggs were under the skis. Otherwise it dug its nose into the ground and sometimes flipped, with unfortunate results for all concerned.

The mud in the revetment that housed Ludmila’s U-2 was heavily strewn with straw, which meant she didn’t even sink to her ankles, let alone to midcalf as she had outside. She didn’t squelch as much, either.

Georg Schultz was adjusting one of the struts that joined the U-2’s upper and lower wings when she came into the revetment. “Guten Tag,” he said cautiously.

“Good day,” she returned, also in German, also cautiously. He hadn’t made any unwelcome advances since she’d rounded on him for trying it, and he had kept on maintaining her Kukuruznik with his usual fanatic attention to detail. They still weren’t easy around each other: she’d caught him watching her when he didn’t think she’d notice, while he had to be nervous she’d speak to her fellow Russians about what he’d done. A thoroughgoing fascist, he was tolerated only for his mechanical skills. If the Russians found a reason not to tolerate him, he wouldn’t last long.

He stuck a screwdriver into a pocket of his coveralls, came to attention so stiff it mocked the respect it was supposed to convey. “The aircraft is ready for flight, Comrade Pilot,” he reported.

“Thank you,” Ludmila answered. She did not call him “Comrade Mechanic” in return, not because it sounded unnatural to her in German, but because Schultz used for sarcasm what should have been a term of egalitarian respect. She wondered how he’d survived in Hitlerite Germany; in the Soviet Union that attitude would surely have seen him purged.

She checked the fuel level and the ammunition loads herself: no such thing as being too careful. When she was satisfied, she stepped out of the revetment and waved for groundcrew men. She, they, and Schultz manhandled the Kukuruznik out onto the runway. It stayed on top of the mud more easily than they did.

When Schultz yanked at the prop, the little Shvetsov five cylinder radial began to buzz almost at once. The engine’s exhaust fumes made Ludmila cough, but she nodded approvingly at its note. Nazi and lecher though he was, Georg Schultz knew his work.

Ludmila, released the brake, applied the throttle. The U-2 slid down the airstrip, mud splattering in its wake. When she d built up the speed she needed (not much), she eased back on the stick and the biplane abandoned the boggy earth for the freedom of the sky.

With the rasputitsa below her, Ludmila could savor the beginnings of spring. The slipstream that slid over the wind-screen no longer turned her nose and cheeks to lumps of ice. The sun shone cheerily out of a blue sky with only a few plump white clouds, and would not disappear below the horizon when later afternoon came. The air smelled of growing things, not of the mud in which they grew.

She wished she could fly higher to see more. This was a day when flying was a joy, not a duty. But just when, for a moment, she was on the verge of forgetting why she flew, she skimmed low over the rusting hulks of two T-34s, one with its turret lying upside down fifteen meters away from the hull. She wondered whether the Germans or Lizards had killed the Soviet tanks.

Either way, the melancholy sight reminded her someone would kill her, too, if she failed to remember she was in the middle of a war. With every second, Lizard-held territory drew closer.

After so many missions, flying into country the alien imperialist invaders controlled had begun to approach the routine. She’d dropped small bombs on them and shot at them, smuggled in weapons and propaganda for the partisans. Today’s mission was different.

“You are to pick up a man,” Colonel Karpov had told her. “His name is Nikifor Sholudenko. He has information valuable to the Soviet Union. What this information is, I do not know, only its importance.”

“I understand, Comrade Colonel,” Ludmila had answered. The more one knew, the more one could be… encouraged to tell if captured.

An apple orchard halfway between Konotop and Romni. That’s what he’d said, at any rate. It would have been easy if she’d been able to fly straight over Konotop on a course for Romni. Well, it would have been easier, anyhow. But the Lizards held Konotop in their little clawed hands. Flying over it would have resulted in the untimely demise she’d so far managed to forestall.

And so, as usual, she flew a track that reminded her of what she’d learned in biology of the twists of the intestines within the abdominal cavity, all performed less than fifty meters off the ground. If everything went perfectly, the last jink would put her right at the orchard. If things went as they usually did-well, she told herself, I’ll manage somehow.

Off to her left, she watched a Lizard tank struggling to pull three or four trucks from the morass into which they’d blundered. The tank wasn’t having a much easier time moving than the trucks. Ludmila’s lips skinned back from her teeth in a predator’s grin, If she hadn’t been under orders, she could have shot up the convoy. But deviating from the mission assigned would have caused her more grief than it was worth.

Another change of course and-if everything had gone right-the apple orchard should have been a couple of kilometers dead ahead. It wasn’t, of course. She began a search spiral, not something she was happy to do in broad daylight: too much chance of flying past Lizards who weren’t so preoccupied as that last bunch had been.

There! Bare-branched trees beginning to go green, with here and there the first white blossoms that before long would make the orchard look as if snow had fallen on it, though all the rest of the world was verdant with spring. A man waited in amongst the trees.

Ludmila looked around for the best place to land her plane. One stretch of boggy ground seemed no different from another. She’d hoped the partisans would have marked off a strip, but no such luck. After a moment, she realized no one had told her this Sholudenko was connected with the partisans. She’d assumed as much, but what were assumptions worth? Not a kopeck.

“As close to the orchard as I can,” she said, making the decision aloud. She’d landed on airfields which were just that-fields-so often that she took one more such landing for granted. Down she came, killing her airspeed and peering ahead to make sure she wasn’t about to go into a hole or anything of the sort.

She was down and sliding along before she saw the old gnarled roots sticking out of the ground. She realized then, too late, that the orchard had once been bigger than it was now. She couldn’t wrench back on the stick and take off again; she wasn’t going fast enough.

The Kukuruznik didn’t need much room to land. God willing (a thought that welled up unbidden through her Marxist-Leninist education and training), everything would be all right.

She almost made it. But just when she started to believe she would, the tip of her left ski caught under a root as thick as her arm. The U-2 tried to spin back around the way it had come. A wing dug into the ground; she heard a spar snap. The prop smacked the ground and snapped. One wooden blade whined past her head. Then the Kukuruznik flipped over onto its back, leaving Ludmila hanging upside down in the open pilot’s cabin.

Bozhemoi-my God,” she said shakily. No, the dialectic somehow didn’t spring to mind when she’d just done her best to kill herself.

Squelch, squelch, squelch. Someone, presumably the fellow who’d been standing in the apple orchard, was coming up to what had been her aircraft and was now just so much junk. In a dry voice, he said, “I’ve seen that done better.”

“So have I,” Ludmila admitted. “… Comrade Sholudenko?”

“The same,” he said. “They didn’t tell me you would be a woman. Are you all right? Do you need help getting out?”

Ludmila took mental inventory. She’d bitten her lip, she’d be bruised, but she didn’t think she’d broken anything but her aircraft and her pride. “I’m not hurt,” she muttered. “As for the other-” She released the catches of her safety harness, came down to earth with a wet splat, and, filthy, crawled out from under the U-2. “Here I am.”

“Here you are,” he agreed. His Russian, like hers, had a Ukrainian accent. He looked like a Ukrainian peasant, with a wide, high-cheekboned face, blue eyes, and blond hair that looked as if it had been cut under a bowl. He didn’t talk like a peasant, though: not only did he sound educated, he sounded cynical and worldly-wise. He went on, “How do you propose to take me where I must go? Will another aircraft come to pick up both of us?”

It was a good question, one for which Ludmila lacked a good answer. Slowly, she said, “If they do, it won’t be soon. I’m not due back for some hours, and my aircraft has no radio.” No U-2 that she knew of had one; poor communications were the bane of all Soviet forces, ground and air alike.

“And when you do not land at your airstrip, they are more likely to think the Lizards shot you down than that you did it to yourself,” Sholudenko said. “You must be a good pilot, or you would have been dead a long time ago.”

“Till a few minutes ago, I thought so,” Ludmila answered ruefully. “But yes, you have a point. How important is this information of yours?”

I think it has weight,” Sholudenko said. Someone in authority must have agreed with me, or they would not have sent you to do tumbling routines for my amusement. How large my news bulks in the world at large… who can say?”

Ludmila slapped at the mud on her flying suit, which spread it around without getting much of it off. Tumbling routines… she wanted to hit him for that. But he had influence, or he wouldn’t have been able to get a plane sent after him. She contented herself with saying, “I don’t think we should linger here. The Lizards are very good at spotting wreckage from the air and coming round to shoot it up.”

“A distinct point,” Sholudenko admitted. Without a backwards glance at the U-2, he started north across the fields.

Ludmila glumly tramped after him. She asked, “Do you have access to a radio yourself? Can you transmit the information that way?”

“Some, at need. Not all.” He patted the pack on his back. “The rest is photographs.” He paused, the first sign of uncertainty he’d shown. Wondering whether to tell me anything, Ludmila realized. At length he said, “Does the name Stepan Bandera mean anything to you?”

“The Ukrainian collaborator and nationalist? Yes, but nothing good.” During the throes of the Soviet Revolution, the Ukraine had briefly been independent of Moscow and Leningrad. Bandera wanted to bring back those days. He was one of the Ukrainians who’d greeted the Nazis with open arms, only to have them throw him in jail a few months later. No one loves a traitor, Ludmila thought. You may use him if that proves convenient, but no one loves him.

“I know of nothing good to hear,” Sholudenko said. “When the Lizards came, the Nazis set him free to promote solidarity between the workers and peasants of the occupied Ukraine and their German masters. He paid them back for their treatment of him, but not in a way to gladden our hearts?”

Ludmila needed a few seconds to work through the implications of that. “He is collaborating with the Lizards?”

“He and most of the Banderists.” Sholudenko spat on the ground to show what he thought of that. “They have a Committee of Ukrainian Liberation that has given our patriotic partisan bands a good deal of grief lately.”

“What is the rodina, the motherland, coming to?” Ludmila said plaintively. “First we had to deal with those who would sooner have seen the Germans enslave our people than live under our Soviet government, and now the Banderists prefer the imperialist aliens to the Soviet Union and the Germans. Something must be dreadfully wrong, to make the people hate government so.”

No sooner were the words out of her mouth than she wished she had them back again. She did not know this Nikifor Sholudenko from a hole in the ground. Yes, he dressed like a peasant, but for all she knew, he might be NKVD. In fact, he probably was NKVD, if he had pictures of Banderists in his knapsack. And she’d just criticized the Soviet government in front of him.

Had she been so foolish in 1937, she’d likely have disappeared off the face of the earth. Even in the best of times, she’d have worried about a show trial (or no trial) and a stretch of years in the gulag. She suspected the Soviet prison camp system still functioned at undiminished efficiency; most of it was in the far north, where Lizard control did not reach.

Sholudenko murmured, “You do like to live dangerously, don’t you?”

With almost immeasurable relief, Ludmila realized the world wasn’t going to fall in on her, at least not right away. “I guess I do,” she mumbled, and resolved to watch her tongue more closely in the future.

“In the abstract, I could even agree with you,” Sholudenko said. “As things are-” He spread his hands. That meant that, as far as he was concerned, this conversation was not taking place, and that he would deny anything she attributed to him if the matter came to the attention of an interrogator.

“May I speak-abstractly-too?” she asked.

“Of course,” he said. “The constitution of 1936 guarantees free expression to all citizens of the Soviet Union, as any schoolgirl knows.” He spoke without apparent irony, yet his hypothetical schoolgirl had to know also that anyone trying to exercise her free speech (or any of the other rights guaranteed-or entombed-in the constitution) would discover she’d picked a short trip into big trouble.

Somehow, though, she did not think Sholudenko, for all his cynicism, would betray her after giving her leave to speak.

Maybe that was naive on her part, but she’d already said enough to let him ruin her if that was what he had in mind, and so she said, “It’s terrible that our own Soviet government has earned the hatred of so many of its people. Any ruling class will have those who work to betray it, but so many?”

“Terrible, yes,” Sholudenko said. “Surprising, no.” He ticked off points on his fingers like an academician or a political commissar. “Consider, Comrade Pilot: a hundred years ago, Russia was entirely mired in the feudal means of production. Even at the time of the October Revolution, capitalism was far less entrenched here than in Germany or England. Is this not so?”

“It is so,” Ludmila said.

“Very well, then. Consider also the significance of that fact. Suddenly the revolution had occurred-in a world that hated it, a world that would crush it if it could. You are too young to remember the British, the Americans, the Japanese who invaded us, but you wilt have learned of them.”

“Yes, but-”

Sholudenko held up a forefinger. “Let me finish, please. Comrade Stalin saw we would be destroyed if we could not match our enemies in the quantity of goods we turn out. Anything and anyone standing in the way of that had to go. Thus the pact with the Hitlerites: not only did it buy us almost two years’ time, but also land from the Finns, on the Baltic, and from the Poles and Rumanians to serve as a shield when the fascist murderers did attack us.”

All that shield had been lost within a few weeks of the Nazi invasion. Most of the people in the lands the Soviet Union had annexed joined the Hitlerites in casting out the Communist Party, which spoke volumes on how much they’d loved falling under Soviet control.

But did that matter? Sholudenko had a point. Without ruthless preparation, the revolution of the workers and peasants would surely have been crushed by reactionary forces, either during the civil war or at German hands.

“Unquestionably, the Soviet state has the right and duty to survive,” Ludmila said. Sholudenko nodded approvingly. But the pilot went on, “But does the state have a right to survive in such a way as to make so many of its people prefer the vicious Germans to its own representatives?”

If she hadn’t still been shaky from flipping her airplane, she wouldn’t have said anything so foolish to a probable NKVD man, even “abstractly.” She looked around the fields through which they were slogging. No one was in sight. If Sholudenko tried to place her under arrest… well, she carried a 9mm Tokarev pistol in a holster on her belt. The comrade might have a tragic accident. If he did, she’d do her best to get his precious pictures back to the proper authorities.

If he contemplated arresting her, he gave no sign of it. Instead, he said, “You are to be congratulated, Comrade Pilot; this is a question most would not think to pose.” It was a question most would not dare to pose, but that was another matter. Sholudenko went on, “The answer is yes. Surely you have been trained in the historical use of the dialectic?”

“Of course,” Ludmila said indignantly. “Historical progress comes through the conflict of two opposing theses and their resulting synthesis, which eventually generates its own antithesis and causes the struggle to recur.”

“Congratulations again-you are well instructed. We stand in the historical process at the step before true communism. Do you doubt that Marx’s ideal will be fulfilled in our children’s time, or our grandchildren’s at the latest?”

“If we survive, I do not doubt it,” Ludmila said.

“There is that,” Sholudenko agreed, dry as usual. “I believe we should have beaten the Hitlerites in the end. The Lizards are another matter; Party dialecticians still labor to put them into proper perspective. Comrade Stalin has yet to speak definitively on the subject. But that is beside the point-you might have asked the same question had the Lizards never come, da?”

“Yes,” Ludmila admitted, wishing she’d never asked the question at all.

Sholudenko said, “If we abandon the hope of our descendants’ living under true communism, the historical synthesis will show that reactionary forces were stronger than those of progress and revolution. Whatever we do to prevent that is justified, no matter how hard it may be for some at present.”

By everything she’d learned in school, his logic was airtight, however much it went against the grain. She knew she ought to shut up; he’d already shown more patience with her than she had any right to expect. But she said, “What if, in seeking to move the balance our way, we are so harsh that we tilt it against us?”

“This, too, is a risk which must be considered,” he said. “Are you a Party member, Comrade Pilot? You argue most astutely.”

“No,” Ludmila answered. Then, having come so far, she took one step further: “And you, Comrade-could you be from the People’s Commissariat for the Interior?”

“Yes, I could be from the NKVD,” Sholudenko answered evenly. “I could be any number of things, but that one will do.” He studied her. “You needed courage, to ask such a question of me.”

That last step had almost been one step too far, he meant. Picking her words with care, Ludmila said, “Everything that’s happened over the past year and a half-it makes one think about true meanings.”

“This I cannot deny,” Sholudenko said. “But-to get back to matters more important than my individual case-the dialectic makes me believe our cause will triumph in the end, even against the Lizards.”

Faith in the future had kept the Soviets fighting even when things looked blackest, when Moscow seemed about to fall late in 1941. But against the Lizards-“We need more than the dialectic,” Ludmila said. “We need more guns and planes and tanks and rockets, and better ones, too.”

“This is also true,” Sholudenko said. “Yet we also need the half of imperialist invaders, whether from Germany or the depths of space. The dialectic predicts that on the whole we shall have their support.”

Instead of answering, Ludmila stooped by the edge of a little pond that lay alongside the field through which she and Sholudenko were walking. She cupped her hands, scooped up water, and scrubbed mud from her face. She pulled up dead grass and did her best to scrape her leather flying suit clean, too, but that was a bigger job. Eventually the mud there would dry and she could knock most of it off. Till then she’d just have to put up with it. Plenty of foot soldiers had gone through worse.

She straightened up, pointed to the pack on Nikifor Sholudenko’s back. “And for those who choose to ignore the teaching of the dialectic-”

Da, Comrade Pilot. For those folk, we have people like me.” Sholudenko smiled broadly. His teeth were small and white and even. They reminded Ludmila of a wolf’s fangs just the same.


Mutt Daniels crouched in a foxhole on the edge of Randolph, Illinois, hoping and praying the Lizard bombardment would ease up before it smeared him across the small-town landscape.

He felt naked with just a hole in the ground for cover. Back in France during the Great War, he’d been able to dive into a deep dugout when German shells came calling. If you were unlucky, of course, a shell would come right in after you, but most of the time a dugout was pretty safe.

No dugouts here. No proper trench lines, either, not really. This war, unlike the last one, moved too fast to let people build elaborate field fortifications.

“Plenty of foxholes, though,” Matt muttered. The local landscape looked like pictures of craters on the moon. The Lizards had taken Randolph last summer in their drive on Chicago. Patton’s men had taken it back in the pincers movement that brought them into Bloomington, six or eight miles north. Now the Lizards were moving again. If Randolph fell, they’d be well positioned to drive back into Bloomington.

Yet another shell crashed into the ground, close enough to lift Daniels into the air and fling him back to earth as if body-slammed by a wrestler. Dirt pattered down on him. His lungs ached from the blast when he drew in a shaky breath.

“Might as well be between Washington and Richmond, the way we’re goin’ back and forth here,” Daniels said. Both his grandfathers had fought for the South in the War Between the States; as a small boy, he’d listened avidly to the tales they told, tales that grew taller with each passing year. No matter how tall the tales got, though, France and now this convinced him his grandfathers hadn’t had it as tough as they’d thought.

More shells whistled overhead, these southbound from Bloomington. Mutt hoped they were registered on the Lizard guns, but they probably weren’t; the Lizards outranged American artillery. Giving Lizard infantry a taste of what he was going through wasn’t the worst thing in the world, either. A flight of prop-driven fighters screamed by at treetop height. Mutt touched his helmet in salute to courage; pilots who flew against the Lizards didn’t last long.

Once the planes zipped out of sight, he didn’t spot them again. He hoped that meant they were returning to base by a different route instead of getting knocked down. “No way to find out for sure,” he said.

He abruptly stopped being interested, too, because Lizard shelling picked up again. He embraced the ground like a lover, pressed his face against her cool, damp neck.

Some of the blasts that shook him where he lay were explosions of the same sort he’d known in France. Others had a sound he’d first met retreating toward Chicago: a smaller bang, followed by a pattering as of hail.

“Y’all want to look, sharp,” he called to the scattered members of his squad. “They’re throwin’ out them goddamn little mines again.” He hated those little baseball-sized blue explosives. Once a regular shell went off, at least it was gone. But the Lizards’ fancy ammo scattered potential mutilation over what seemed like half an acre and left it sitting there waiting to happen. “Instant goddamn mine field,” Mutt said resentfully.

After a while, the barrage let up. Daniels grabbed his tommy gun and took a cautious peek out of the foxhole. If the Boches had been doing that shelling, they’d follow up with an infantry attack just as sure as you were supposed to hit the cutoff man. But the Lizards didn’t always play by the book Mutt knew. Sometimes they fooled him on account of that. More often, he thought, they hurt themselves.

So here: if they wanted to drive the Americans out of Randolph, they’d never have a better chance than now, while the shelling had stunned and disorganized their human foes. But they stayed back in their own lines south of town. The only sign of action from them was a single plane high overhead, its path through the sky marked by a silvery streak of condensation.

Mutt gave the aircraft a one-finger salute. “Gonna see how bad you beat on us before you send in the ground-pounders, are you?” he growled. “Mis’able cheap bastards.” What was infantry for, after all, if not to pay the butcher’s bill?

His battered eardrums made the quiet that followed the barrage seem even more intense than it was. The short, sharp bang! that punctuated it wouldn’t have seemed worth noticing, save for the shriek right after.

“Oh, shit,” Mutt exclaimed. “Somebody went and did somethin’ dumb. Goddamn it to hell, why don’t nobody never listen to me?” He’d thought minor-league ballplayers were bad at paying attention to what a manager told them. Well, they were, but they looked like Einsteins when you set ’em next to a bunch of soldiers.

He scrambled out of the foxhole. His body was skinnier and sprier than it had been while he was wearing his Decatur Commodores uniform, but he’d have cheerfully gone back to fat and flab if anybody offered him the choice.

No one did, of course. He crawled over battered ground and through ruined buildings toward where that shriek had come from. Memory wasn’t his only guide; a low moaning kept him on course.

Kevin Donlan lay just outside a shell hole, clutching his left ankle. Below it, everything was red ruin. Mutt’s stomach did a slow lurch. “Jesus Christ, kid, what did you do?” he said, though the answer to that was all too obvious.

“Sarge?” Donlan’s voice was light and clear, as if his body hadn’t really told him yet how bad he was hurt. “Sarge, I just got out to take a leak. I didn’t want to piss in my hole, you know, and-”

Next to what he had, swimming a river of piss was nothing. No point telling him that, though, not now. “Miss Lucille!” Mutt bawled. While he waited for her, he got a wound bandage and a packet of sulfa powder out of a pouch on Donlan’s belt. He dusted the powder onto the wound. He wondered if he ought to get the remains of Donlan’s shoe off his foot before he started bandaging it, but when he tried, the kid started screaming again, so he said the hell with it and wrapped the bandage over foot, shoe, and all.

Lucille Potter scrambled up a minute later, maybe less. In dirty fatigues and a helmet, she looked like a man except that she didn’t need a shave. The helmet bore a Red Cross on a white circle; the Lizards had learned what that mark meant, and weren’t any worse than people about respecting it.

She looked at the way blood was soaking through the bandage, clicked her tongue between her teeth. “We’ve got to get a tourniquet on that wound, Sergeant.”

Mutt looked down at Donlan. The kid’s eyes had rolled up in his head. Mutt said, “You do that, Miss Lucille, he’s gonna lose the foot.”

“I know,” she said. “But if we don’t do it, he’s going to bleed to death. And he’d lose the foot anyhow; no way to save it with a wound like that.” Her sharp stare dared him to argue. He couldn’t; he’d seen enough wounds in France and Illinois to know she was right.

She cut Donlan’s torn trousers, took out a length of bandage and a stick, and set the tourniquet. “Hell of a thing,” Daniels said, to himself and her both: another young soldier on crutches for the rest of his life.

“It’s hard, I know,” Lucille Potter answered. “But would you rather have him dead? Ten years from now, if this war ever ends, would he rather we’d let him die?”

“I reckon not,” Daniels said. In his younger days in Mississippi, a lot of the older white men he’d known were shy an arm or a leg or a foot from the States War. They weren’t glad of it, naturally, but they got on better than you’d expect. When you got right down to it, people were pretty tough critters.

He sent a runner over to Captain Maczek. Where the captain was, the company field telephone would be, too. After that, there was nothing to do but wait. Donlan seemed pretty shocky. When Mutt remarked on it, Lucille Potter said, “It’s probably a blessing in disguise-he won’t feel that foot as much.”

The forward aid station wasn’t much more than a quarter of a mile back of the line. A four-man litter team got to Donlan in less than fifteen minutes. The boss of the team, a corporal, looked at the youngster’s ruined foot and shook his head. “Nothing much we’ll be able to do about that,” he said. “They’ll have to take him back into Bloomington, and I expect they’ll chop it off there.”

“You’re almost certainly right,” Lucille said. All the litter bearers stared when she spoke. She stared right back, daring them to make something out of it. None of them did. She went on, “The sooner he goes back, the sooner they can treat him.”

The team got Donlan onto the stretcher and carried him away. “Too stinkin’ bad,” Mutt said. “He’s a good kid. Ain’t this war a-” He stopped, inhibited in his language by a woman’s presence. After a sigh, he resumed, “Lord, I wish I had me a cigarette, or even a chaw.”

“Filthy habits, both of them,” Lucille Potter said, her voice so sharp he turned to give her an irritated look. Then, with a wry chuckle, she added, “I wish I had a smoke, too. I ran out of tobacco months ago, and I miss it like anything.”

“Might be some back in Bloomington,” Mutt said. “We ever get a real lull, could be I’d send Szabo back there to see how the foraging is. You want to liberate somethin’ from where it rightly belongs, ol’ Dracula’s the man for the job.”

“He’s certainly good at coming up with home brew and moonshine,” Lucille said, “but people make those around here. Illinois isn’t tobacco country, so we can’t get hold of bootleg cigars.”

“Can’t get hold of much of anything these days,” Mutt said. “I’m skinnier’n I’ve been for close to thirty years.”

“It’s good for you,” she answered, which made him give her another resentful glance. She was on the lean side, and looked to have always been that way: not an ounce of excess flesh anywhere. What did she know about what felt comfortable and what didn’t?

He wasn’t in a mood to argue, though, so he said, “I just hope Donlan’s gonna make out okay. He’s a good kid. Hell of a thing to be crippled so young.”

“Better than dying. I thought we already settled that,” Lucille Potter answered. “I’m just glad the field telephone was working and the litter crew was on the ball. If they hadn’t gotten here inside of about another ten minutes, I was going to take his foot off myself.” She tapped her little black bag. “I’ve got some ether in here. He wouldn’t have felt anything.”

“You know how?” Daniels asked. Battlefield wounds were one thing, but cutting into a man on purpose… He shook his head. He was sure he couldn’t do it.

Lucille said, “I haven’t had to do an amputation yet, but I’ve read up on the technique. I-”

“I know that,” Mutt broke in. “Every time I see you, you got a doctor’s book in your hand.”

“I have to. Nurses don’t operate, and I wasn’t even a scrub nurse to watch doctors work. But a combat medic had better be able to do as much as she can, because we’re not always going to have a lull like this one to get our casualties back to the aid station. Does that make sense to you?”

“Yeah,” Daniels said. “You usually do-” Off to the left, small arms began to chatter on both sides of the line. Mutt interrupted himself to scramble into the shell hole from which unlucky Kevin Donlan had emerged to relieve himself. Lucille Potter jumped in beside him. Her only combat experience was what she’d had in the past few weeks, but take cover was a lesson you learned in a hurry, at least if you wanted to keep on living.

Then the artillery started up again, the Lizards firing steadily, the Americans in bursts of a few rounds here, a few rounds there, a few somewhere else. They’d learned the hard way that if their pieces stayed in one place for more than a short salvo, the Lizards would zero in on them and knock them out.

The ground began tossing like the stormy sea, though Mutt had never been in a natural storm that made such a god-awful racket. He pushed Lucille down flat on her belly, then lay on top of her to protect her from splinters as best he could. He didn’t know whether he did it because she was a woman or because she was the medic. Either way, he figured, she needed to stay as safe as possible.

As suddenly as it had begun, the barrage stopped. Mutt stuck his head up right away. Sure as hell, Lizard ground troops were scurrying forward. He squeezed off a long burst with his tommy gun. The Lizards flattened out on the ground. He didn’t know whether he’d hit any of them; the tommy gun wasn’t accurate out past a couple of hundred yards.

He wished he had one of the automatic weapons the Lizards carried. Their effective range was something like double that of his submachine gun, and their cartridges packed a bigger kick, too. He’d heard of dogfaces who toted captured specimens, but keeping them in the right ammo was a bitch and a half. Most of the weapons the Lizards lost went straight back to the high-forehead boys in G-2. With luck, the Americans would get toys just as good one of these days.

That train of thought abruptly got derailed. He moaned, down deep in his throat. The Lizards had a tank with them. Now he understood what the poor damned Germans had felt like in France in 1918 when those monsters came clanking their way and they couldn’t stop them or even do much to slow them down.

The tank and the Lizard infantry screening it slowly advanced together. The aliens had learned something since the winter before; they’d lost a lot of tanks then for lack of infantry support. Not any more.

Lucille Potter peered over the forward lip of the foxhole beside Mutt. “That’s trouble,” she said. He nodded. It was big trouble. If he ran, the tank’s machine gun or the Lizard foot soldiers would pick him off. If he stayed, the tank would penetrate the position and then the Lizard infantry would get him.

Off to the right, somebody fired one of those new bazooka rockets at the Lizard tank. The rocket hit the tank right in the turret, but it didn’t penetrate. “Damn fool,” Mutt ground out. Doctrine said you were supposed to shoot a bazooka only at the rear or sides of a Lizard tank; the frontal armor on the aliens’ machines was just too thick for you to kill one with a straight-on shot.

Being too eager cost the fellow who’d fired at the tank. It turned toward him and his buddies and opened up first with its machine gun and then its main armament. For good measure, the Lizard infantry moved in on the bazooka man, too-their job was to make sure nobody got a good shot at the armored fighting vehicle. By the time they were done, there probably wasn’t enough of the American and his buddies left to bury.

Which meant they forgot about Mutt. For a second, he didn’t think that would do him any good: if the line was overrun, he would be, too, in short order. Ever so cautiously, he raised his head again. There sat the tank, maybe a hundred feet away, ass end on to him, still pouring fire at a target more necessary to destroy than he was.

He ducked back down, turned to Lucille Potter. “Gimme that ether,” he snapped.

“What? Why?” She took a protective grip on the black bag. “The-stuff’ll burn, won’t it?” His pa’s hard hand on his backside and across his face had taught him never to swear where a woman could hear, but he almost slipped that time. “Now gimme it!”

Lucille’s eyes widened. She opened the bag, handed him the glass jar. It was about half full of a clear, oily-looking liquid. He hefted it thoughtfully. Yeah, it would throw just fine. His bat had kept him from having a decent big-league career; nobody’d ever complained about his arm. He’d been a good man with a grenade in France, too.

It wasn’t even as if he had to throw all of a sudden, as he would have with a runner breaking for second. He could take a few moments, think through what he was going to do, see every step of it in his mind before it actually happened.

Doing that took longer than the throw itself. He popped up as if exploding out of his crouch behind a batter, fired the jar for all he was worth, and ducked back down again. Nobody who wasn’t looking right at him would have known he’d appeared.

“Did you hit it?” Lucille demanded.

“Miss Lucille, I tell you for a fact, I didn’t stay up long enough to find out. I tried to smash it off the back of the turret so it’d drip down into that nice, hot engine compartment.” Mutt’s shoulder twinged; he hadn’t put that much into a snap throw in years. It had felt straight, but you never could tell. A little long, a little short, and he might as well not have bothered.

Then he heard hoarse yells from the Americans in other scattered foxholes. That encouraged him to take another cautious peek. When he did, he yelled himself, in sheer delight. Flames danced all over the engine compartment and were licking up the back of the turret. As he watched, an escape hatch popped open and a Lizard jumped onto the ground.

Mutt ducked down for his tommy gun. “Miss Lucille, that there is one Lizard tank that’s out stealing.”

She pounded him on the back as any other soldier would have. He wouldn’t have tried to kiss another soldier, though. She let him do it, but she didn’t do much in the way of kissing back. He didn’t worry about that; he popped up out of the foxhole and started blazing away at the fleeing Lizard tank crew and the foot soldiers, who were much less terrifying without armor to back them up.

The Lizards fell back. The tank kept burning. A Sherman would have brewed up a hell of a lot faster than it did, but eventually its ammunition and its fuel tank went up in a spectacular blast.

Mutt felt as if he’d been hit over the head with a sledgehammer. “Lord!” he exclaimed. “You couldn’t make a fancier explosion in the movies.”

“No, probably not,” Lucille Potter agreed, “nor one that did more for us. We’ll hold Randolph a while longer now, I expect. That was a wonderful throw; I’ve never seen a better one. You must have been a very fine baseball player.”

“You don’t make the majors unless you’re pretty fair,” he said, shrugging. “You don’t stick there unless you’re better’n that, and I wasn’t.” He brushed a hand across the front of his shirt, as if he’d been a pitcher shaking off a sign rather than a catcher; baseball wasn’t what he wanted to talk about at the moment. After a couple of tentative coughs, he said, “Miss Lucille, I hope you don’t think I was too forward there.”

“When you kissed me, you mean? I didn’t mind,” she said, but not in a way that encouraged him to try it again; by her tone, once had been okay but twice wouldn’t be. He kicked at the churned-up dirt inside the foxhole. Lucille added, “I’m not interested, Mutt, not that way. It’s not you-you’re a good man. But I’m just not.”

“Okay,” he said; he was too old to let his pecker do his thinking for him. But that didn’t mean he’d forgotten he had one. He pushed up his helmet so he could scratch his head above one ear. “If you like me, why-” He broke off there. If she didn’t want to talk about it, that was her business.

For the first time since he’d met her, he found her at a loss for words. She frowned, obviously not caring for that herself. Slowly, she said, “Mutt, it’s not something I can easily explain, or care to. I-”

Easily or not, she didn’t get the chance to explain. Following a cry of “Miss Lucille!” a soldier from another squad in the platoon came scrambling over to the foxhole and gasped out, “Miss Lucille, we’ve got two men down, one hit in the shoulder, the other in the chest. Peters-the guy with the chest wound-he’s in bad shape.”

“I’m coming,” she said briskly, and climbed out of the hole she’d shared with Mutt. As she hurried away, he scratched his head again.

Even in these times, David Goldfarb had expected things to be handled with more ceremony. The Prime Minister, after all, did not visit the Bruntingthorpe Research and Development Test Flying Aerodrome every day.

But there was no line of RAF men in blue serge standing to attention for Winston Churchill to inspect, no flyby of a squadron of Pioneers or Meteors to impress him with what Fred Hipple and his team had accomplished in jet propulsion. In fact, up until an hour before Churchill got to Bruntingthorpe, no one knew he was coming.

Group Captain Hipple brought the news back from the administrative section’s Nissen hut. It produced a brief, startled silence from his subordinates, who were laboring mightily to pull secrets from the wreckage of the Lizard fighter-bomber that had been brought down not far from the aerodrome.

Typically, Flight Officer Basil Roundbush was first to break that silence: “Generous of him to give us notice enough to make sure our flies are closed.”

“I can’t tell you how delighted I am to be confident yours is, dear boy,” Hipple returned. Roundbush covered his face with his hands, acknowledging the hit. The group captain might have been shorter than his subordinates, but gave away nothing in wit. He continued, “I gather no one knew until moments ago: quite a lot of security laid on, for reasons which should be plain enough.”

“Wouldn’t do for the Lizards to pay us a visit just now, would it, sir?” Goldfarb said.

“Yes, that would prove-embarrassing,” Hipple said, an understatement Roundbush might have coveted.

And so, just as Goldfarb had, the Prime Minister came down from Leicester by bicycle, pedaling along on an elderly model like a grandfather out for a constitutional. He dismounted outside the meteorology hut, where Hipple and his team still labored after the latest Lizard bombing raid. When Goldfarb saw the round pink face and the familiar cigar through the window, he gulped. He’d never expected to meet the leader of the British Empire.

Wing Commander Julian Peary’s reaction was more prosaic. In the big deep voice that went so oddly with his slight physique, he said, “I do hope he’s not damaged any of the beets.”

It was only half a joke. Like everyone else at Bruntingthorpe-like everyone else in Britain, or so it seemed-Hipple’s team cultivated a garden. The British Isles held more people than they could easily feed, and shipments from America were down, not so much because the Lizards bombed them (they still took much less notice of ships than of air or rail or road transport) as because the Yanks, beset at home, had little to spare.

So, gardens. Beets, potatoes, peas, beans, turnips, parsnips, cabbages, maize… whatever the climate would permit, people grew-and sometimes guarded with cricket bats, savage dogs, or shotguns against two-legged thieves too big to be frightened by scarecrows.

Everyone did come to attention when the Prime Minister, accompanied by a bodyguard who looked as if he never smiled, walked into the Nissen hut. “As you were, gentlemen, please,” Churchill said. “After all, officially I am not here, but speaking over the BBC in London. Because I am in the habit of speaking live, I can occasionally use the subterfuge of sound recordings to let myself be in two places at once.” He let out a conspiratorial chuckle. “I hope you won’t give me away.”

Automatically, Goldfarb shook his head. Hearing Churchill’s voice without the static and distortion of a wireless set was to him even more intimate than seeing the Prime Minister in the tubby flesh rather than through photographs: pictures captured his image more accurately than the airwaves did his voice.

Churchill strode over to Fred Hipple, who was standing beside a wooden table on which lay pieces of the turbine from the crashed Lizard fighter’s jet engine. Pointing to them, the Prime Minister asked, “How long before we shall be able to duplicate that engine, Group Captain?”

“Duplicate it, sir?” Hipple said, “It won’t be soon; the Lizards are far ahead of us in control mechanisms for the engine, in machining techniques, and in the materials they employ: they do things with titanium and ceramics we’ve never dreamt of, much less attempted. But in determining how and why they make things as they do, we learn how to do better ourselves.”

“I see,” Churchill’ said thoughtfully. “So even though you have the book in front of you”-he pointed to the Disassembled chunks of turbine again-“you cannot simply read off what is on its pages, but must decode it as if it were written in a cipher.”

“That’s a good analogy, sir,” Hipple said. “The facts of the engine are relatively straightforward, even if we can’t yet produce one identical to it ourselves. When it comes to the radar from the same downed aircraft, I fear we are still missing a great many code groups, so to speak.”

“So I have been given to understand,” Churchill said, “although I do not fully grasp where the difficulty lies.”

“Let me take you over to Radarman Goldfarb, then, sir,” Hipple said. “He joined the team to help emplace a radar set in production Meteors, and has labored valiantly to unlock the secrets of the Lizard unit that fell into our hands.”

As the group captain brought the Prime Minister over to his workbench, Goldfarb thought, not for the first time, that Fred Hipple was a good man to work for. A lot of superior officers would have done all the explaining to the brass themselves, and pretended their subordinates didn’t exist. But Hipple introduced Goldfarb to Churchill, then stood back and let him speak for himself.

He didn’t find it easy at first. When he stammered, the Prime Minister shifted the subject away from radar: “Goldfarb,” he said musingly. “Was I not told you are the lad with a family connection to Mr. Russie, the former Lizard spokesman from Poland?”

“Yes, that’s true, sir,” Goldfarb answered. “We’re cousins. When my father came to England before the Great War, he urged his sister and her husband to come with him, and he kept urging them to get out until the second war started in ‘39. They wouldn’t listen to him, though. Moishe Russie is their son.”

“So your family kept up the connection, then?”

“Till the war cut us off, yes, sir. After that, I didn’t know what had happened to any of my relatives until Moishe began speaking on the wireless.” He didn’t tell Churchill most of his kinsfolk had died in the ghetto; the Prime Minister presumably knew that already. Besides, Goldfarb couldn’t think about their fate without filling up with a terrible anger that made him wish England were still at war with the Nazis rather than the Lizards.

Churchill said, “I shan’t forget this link. It may yet prove useful for us.” Before Goldfarb could work up the nerve to ask him how, he swung back to radar: “Suppose you explain to me how and why this set is so different from ours, and so baffling.”

“I’ll try, sir,” Goldfarb said. “One of our radars, like a wireless set, depends on valves-vacuum tubes, the Americans would say-for its operation. The Lizards don’t use valves. Instead, they have these things.” He’ pointed to the boards with little lumps and silvery spiderwebs of metal set across them.

“And so?” Churchill said. “Why should a mere substitution pose a problem?”

“Because we don’t know how the bloody things work,” Goldfarb blurted. Wishing the ground would open up and swallow him, he tried to make amends: “That is, we have no theory to explain how these little lumps of silicon-which is what they are, sir-can perform the function of valves. And, because they’re nothing like what we’re used to, we’re having to find out what each one does by cut and try, so to speak: we run power into it and see what happens. We don’t know how much power to use, either.”

Churchill fortunately took his strong language in stride. “And what have you learnt from your experiments?”

“That the Lizards know more about radar than we do, sir,” Goldfarb answered. “That’s the long and short of it, I’m afraid. We can’t begin to make parts to match these: a chemical engineer with whom I’ve spoken says our best silicon isn’t pure enough. And some of the little lumps, when you look at them under a microscope, are so finely etched that we can’t imagine how, let alone why, it’s been done.”

“How and why are for those with the luxury of time, which we have not got,” Churchill said. “We need to know what the device does, whether we can match it, and how to make it less useful to the foe.”

“Yes, sir,” Goldfarb said admiringly. Churchill was no boffin, but he had a firm grip on priorities. No one yet fully understood the theory of the magnetron, or how and why the narrow channels connecting its eight outer holes to the larger central one exponentially boosted the strength of the signal. That the device operated so, however, was undeniable fact, and had given the RAF a great lead over German radar-although not, worse luck, over what the Lizards used.

Group Captain Hipple said, “What have we learnt which is exploitable, Goldfarb?”

“Sorry, sir; I should have realized at once that was what the Prime Minister needed to know. We can copy the design of the Lizards’ magnetron; that, at least, we recognize. It gives a signal of shorter wavelength and hence more precise direction than any we’ve made ourselves. And the nose dish that receives returning pulses is a very fine bit of engineering which shouldn’t be impossible to incorporate into later marks of the Meteor.”

“Very good, Radarman Goldfarb,” Churchill said. “I shan’t keep you from your work any longer. With the aid of men like you and your comrades in this hut, we shall triumph over this adversity as we have over all others. And you, Radarman, you may yet have a role to play even more important than your work here.”

The Prime Minister looked uncommonly cherubic. Three years in the RAF had taught Goldfarb that rankers who wore that expression had more up their sleeves than their arms. They’d also taught him he couldn’t do anything about it, so he said what he had to say: “I’ll be happy to serve in any way I can, sir.”

Churchill nodded genially, then went back to Hipple and his colleagues for more talk about jet engines. After another few minutes, he put his hat back on, tipped it to Hipple, and left the Nissen hut.

Basil Roundbush grinned at Goldfarb. “I say, old man, after Winnie makes you an MP, do remember the little people who knew you before you grew rich and famous.”

“An MP?” Goldfarb shook his head in mock dismay. “Lord, I hope that’s not what he had in mind. He said he had something important instead of this.”

That sally met with general approval. One of the meteorologists said, “Good job you didn’t tell him you’re a Labour supporter, Goldfarb.”

“It doesn’t matter, not now.” Goldfarb had backed Labour, yes, as offering more to the working man than the Tories could (and, as was true of a lot of Jewish immigrants and their progeny, his own politics had a slant to the left). But he also knew no one but Churchill could have rallied Britain against Hitler, and no one else could have kept her in the fight against the Lizards.

Thinking of the Nazis and the Lizards together made Goldfarb think of the invasion so many had feared in 1940. The Germans hadn’t been able to bring it off, not least because radar kept them from driving the RAF from the skies. If the Lizards came, no one could offer any such guarantee of success. Ironically, the Germans holding northern France served as England’s shield against invasion by the aliens.

But the shield was not perfect. The Lizards had control of the air when they chose to use it. They could leapfrog over northern France and the Channel both. Just because, they hadn’t done it didn’t mean they wouldn’t or couldn’t.

Goldfarb snorted. The only thing he could do about that was try to make British radar more effective, which would in turn make the Lizards pay more if they decided to invade. It wasn’t as much as he’d have wanted to do in an ideal world, but it was more than most people could say, so be supposed it would do.

And he’d not only met Winston Churchill, but talked business with him! That wasn’t something everyone could say. He couldn’t write home to his family that the Prime Minister had been here-the censors would never pass it-but he could tell them if he ever got down to London. He’d almost given up on the notion of leave.

Fred Hipple said, “Churchill’s full of good ideas. The only difficulty is, he’s also full of bad ones, and sometimes telling the one from the other’s not easy till after the fact.”

“What he said about tackling the Lizards’ radar circuitry was first-rate,” Goldfarb said. “What is more important for us now than how or why; we can use what we learn without knowing why it works, just as some stupid clot can drive a motorcar without cluttering his head with the theory of internal combustion.”

“Ah, but someone must understand the theory, or your stupid clot would have no motorcar to drive,” Basil Roundbush said.

“That’s true only to a limited degree,” Hipple said. “Even now, theory takes you only so far in aircraft design; eventually, you just have to go out and see how the beast flies. That was much more the case during the Great War, when practically everything, from what the older engineers have told me, was cut and try. Yet the aircraft they manufactured did fly.”

“Most of the time,” Roundbush said darkly. “I’m bloody glad I never had to go up in them.”

Goldfarb ignored that. Roundbush made wisecracks the same way other men fiddled with rosaries or cracked their knuckles or tugged at one particular lock of hair: it was a nervous tic, nothing more.

Clucking softly to himself, Goldfarb fixed a power source to one side of a Lizard circuit element and an ohmmeter to the other. He’d measure voltage and amperage next: with these strange components, you couldn’t tell what they were supposed to do to a current that ran through them except by experiment.

He turned on the power. The ohmmeter swung; the component did resist the current’s flow. Goldfarb grunted in satisfaction: He’d thought it would: it looked like others that had. He noted down the reading, as well as where the circuit element sat on its board and what it looked like. Then he turned off the power and hooked up the voltage meter. One tiny piece at a time, he added to the jigsaw puzzle.

As Vyacheslav Molotov turned the knob that led him into the antechamber in front of Stalin’s night office, he felt and suppressed a familiar nervousness. Elsewhere in the Soviet Union, his word went unchallenged. In negotiating with the capitalist states that hated the Soviet revolution, even in discussions with the Lizards, he was the unyielding representative of his nation. He knew he had a reputation for being inflexible, and did everything he could to play it up.

Not here, though. Anyone who was unyielding and inflexible with Stalin would soon know the stiffness of death. Then Molotov had no more time for such reflections, for Stalin’s orderly-oh, the fellow had a fancy title, but that was what he was-nodded to him and said, “Go on in. He expects you, Vyacheslav Mikhailovich.”

Molotov nodded and entered Stalin’s sanctum. This was not where the General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union was photographed with diplomats or soldiers. He had a fancy office upstairs for that. He worked here, at hours that suited him. It was one-thirty in the morning. Stalin would be at it for at least another couple of hours. Those who dealt with him had to adjust themselves accordingly.

Stalin looked up from the desk with the gooseneck lamp. “Good morning, Vyacheslav Mikhailovich,” he said with his throaty Georgian accent. His voice held no irony; morning it was, as far as he was concerned.

“Good morning, Iosef Vissarionovich,” Molotov replied. Whatever his feelings about the matter were, he had schooled himself not to reveal them. He found that important at any time, doubly so around the ruler of the Soviet Union.

Stalin waved Molotov to a chair, then stood up himself. Though well-proportioned, he was short, and did not like other men looming over him. What he did not like did not occur. He filled his pipe from a leather tobacco pouch, lit a match, and got the pipe going.

The harsh smell of makhorka, cheap Russian tobacco, made Molotov’s nose twitch in spite of himself. Under the iron-gray mustache, Stalin’s lip curled. “I know it’s vile, but it’s all I can find these days. What shipping we get has no room aboard for luxuries.”

That said as much as anything about the plight in which mankind found itself. When the leader of one of the three greatest nations on the planet could not get decent tobacco even for himself, the Lizards were the ones with the upper hand. Well, if he understood what was in Stalin’s mind, this meeting was to be about how to tilt the balance back the other way.

Stalin sucked in more smoke, paced back and forth. At length he said, “So the Americans and Germans are pressing ahead with their programs to make bombs of this explosive metal?”

“So I have been given to understand, Iosef Vissarionovich,” Molotov answered. “I am also told by our intelligence services that they had these programs in place before the Lizards began their invasion of the Earth.”

“We also had such a program in place,” Stalin answered placidly.

That relieved Molotov, who had heard of no such program. He wondered how far along Soviet scientists had been compared to those in the decadent capitalist and fascist countries. Faith in the strength of Marxist-Leninist precepts made him hope they might have been ahead; concern over how far the Soviet Union had had to come since the revolution made him fear they might have been behind. With hope and fear so commingled, he dared not ask Stalin which was the true state of affairs.

Stalin went on, “We now have an advantage over both the United States and the Hitlerites: in that raid against the Lizards last fall, we obtained a considerable supply of the explosive metal, as you know. I had hoped the German taking the metal back to the Hitlerites would be waylaid in Poland, and his share lost.” Stalin looked unhappy.

So did Molotov, who said, “This much I did know, and how he had to give up half his share, though not all, to the Polish Jews, who then passed it on to the Americans.”

“Yes,” Stalin said. “Hitler is a fool, do you know that?”

“You have said it many times, Iosef Vissarionovich,” Molotov answered. That was true, but it had not kept Stalin from making his nonaggression pact with Germany in 1939, or from living up to it for almost the next two years, or from being so confident Hitler would also live up to it that he’d ignored warnings of an impending Nazi attack, ignored them so completely that the Soviet state had almost crashed in ruins because of it. Since Molotov had supported Stalin in those choices, he could hardly bring them up now (if he hadn’t supported him then, he would be in no position to bring them up now).

Stalin drew on his pipe again. His cheeks, pitted from a boyhood bout of smallpox, twitched with distaste. “Not even from so close as Turkey can I get decent tobacco. But do you know why I say Hitler is a fool?”

“For wantonly attacking the peace-loving people of the Soviet Union, who had done nothing to deserve it.” Molotov gave the obvious answer, and a true one, but it left him unhappy. Stalin was looking for something else.

Sure enough, he shook his head. But, to Molotov’s relief, he was only amused, not angry. “That is not what was in my mind, Vyacheslav Mikhailovich. I say he was a fool because, when his scientists discovered the uranium atom could be split, they published their findings for all the world to see.” Stalin chuckled rheumily. “Had we made that finding here… Can you imagine such an article appearing in the Proceedings of the Akademia Nauk, the Soviet Academy of Sciences?”

“Hardly,” Molotov said, and he chuckled, too. He was normally the most mirthless of men, but when Stalin laughed, you laughed with him. Besides, this was the sort of thing he did find funny. Stalin was dead right here-Soviet secrecy would have kept such an important secret from leaking out where prying eyes could fasten on it.

“I will tell you something else that will amuse you,” Stalin said. “It takes a certain amount of explosive metal to explode, our scientists tell me. Below this amount, it will not go off no matter what you do. Do you understand? Oh, it is a lovely joke.” Stalin laughed again.

Molotov also laughed, but uncertainly. This time, he did not see the joke.

Stalin must have sensed that; his uncanny skill at scenting weakness in his subordinates was not least among the talents that had kept him in power for twenty years. Still in that jovial mood, he said, “Never fear, Vyacheslav Mikhailovich; I shall explain. I would far sooner the Germans and Americans had no explosive metal, but because the Polish Jews divided it between them, neither has enough for a bomb. Now do you see?”

“No,” Molotov confessed, but he reversed course a moment later: “Wait. Yes, perhaps I do. Do you mean that we, with an undivided share, have enough to make one of these bombs for ourselves?”

“That is exactly what I mean,” Stalin said. “See, you are a clever fellow after all. The Germans and the Americans will still have to do all the research they would have required anyhow, but we-we shall soon be ready to fight the Lizards fire against fire, so to speak.”

Just contemplating that felt good to Molotov. Like Stalin, like everyone, he had lived in dread of the day when Moscow, like Berlin and Washington, might suddenly cease to exist. To be able to retaliate in kind against the Lizards brought a glow of anticipation to his sallow features.

But his joy was not undiluted. He said, “Iosef Vissarionovich, we shall have the one bomb, with no immediate prospect for producing more, is that right? Once we have used the weapon in our hands, what is to keep the Lizards from dropping a great many such weapons on us?”

Stalin scowled. He did not care for anyone going against anything he said, even in the slightest way. Nevertheless, he thought seriously before he answered; Molotov’s question was to the point. At last he said, “First of all, our scientists will go on working to produce explosive metal for us. They will be strongly encouraged to succeed.”

Stalin’s smile reminded Molotov of that of a lion resting against a zebra carcass from which it had just finished feeding. Molotov had no trouble visualizing the sort of encouragement the Soviet nuclear physicists would get: dachas, cars, women if they wanted them, for success… and the gulag or a bullet in the back of the neck if they failed. Probably a couple of them would be purged just to focus the minds of the others on what they were doing. Stalin’s methods were ugly, but they got results.

“How long before the physicists can do this for us?” Molotov said.

“They babble about three or four years, as if this were not an emergency,” Stalin said dismissively. “I have given them eighteen months. They shall do as the Party requires of them, or else suffer the consequences.”

Molotov chose his words with care: “It might be better if they did not undergo the supreme penalty, Iosef Vissarionovich. Men of their technical training would be difficult to replace adequately.”

“Yes, yes.” Stalin sounded impatient, always a danger sign. “But they are the servants of the peasants and workers of the Soviet Union, not their masters; we must not let them get ideas above their station, or the virus of the bourgeoisie will infect us once again.”

“No, that cannot be permitted,” Molotov agreed. “Let us say that they do all they have promised. How do we protect the Soviet Union in the time between our using the bomb we have made from the Lizards’ explosive metal and that in which we begin to manufacture it for ourselves?”

“For one thing, we do not use that one bomb immediately,” Stalin answered. “We cannot use it immediately, for it is not yet made. But even if it were, I would wait to pick the proper moment. And besides, Vyacheslav Mikhailovich”-Stalin looked smug-“how will the Lizards be certain we have only the one bomb? Once we use it, they shall have to assume we can do it again, not so?”

“Unless they assume we used their explosive metal for the first one,” Molotov said.

He wished he’d kept his mouth shut. Stalin didn’t shout or bluster at him; that he would have withstood with ease. Instead, the General Secretary fixed him with a glare as cold and dark and silent as midwinter at Murmansk. That was Stalin’s sign of ultimate displeasure; he ordered generals and commissars shot with just such an expression.

Here, though, Molotov’s point was too manifestly true for Stalin to ignore. The glare softened, as winter’s grip did at last even in Murmansk. Stalin said, “This is another good argument for carefully choosing the time and place we use the bomb. But you also must remember, if we face defeat without it, we shall surely use it against the invaders no matter what they do to us in return. They are more dangerous than the Germans, and must be fought with whatever means come to hand.”

“True enough,” Molotov said. The Soviet Union had 190,000,000 people; throw twenty or thirty million on the fire, or even more, and it remained a going concern. Just getting rid of the kulaks and bringing in collectivized agriculture had killed millions through deliberate famine. If more deaths were what building socialism in the USSR required, more deaths there would be.

“I am glad you agreed, Vyacheslav Mikhailovich,” Stalin said silkily. Under the silk lay jagged steel; had Molotov persisted in disagreeing, something most disagreeable would have happened to him.

The Foreign Commissar of the Soviet Union was fearless before the leaders of the decadent capitalist states; he had even confronted Atvar, who led the Lizards. Before Stalin, Molotov quailed. Stalin genuinely terrified him, as he did every other Soviet citizen. Back in revolutionary days, the little mustachioed Georgian had not been so much, but since, oh, but since…

Nevertheless, Molotov owed allegiance not just to Stalin, but to the Soviet Union as a whole. If he was to serve the USSR properly, he needed information. Getting it without angering his master was the trick. Carefully, he said, “The Lizards have taken a heavy toll on our bombing planes. Will we be able to deliver the bomb once we have it?”

“I am told the device will be too heavy and bulky to fit in any of our bombers,” Stalin said. Molotov admired the courage of the man who had told-had had to tell-that to Stalin. But the Soviet leader did not seem nearly so angry as Molotov would have guessed. Instead, his face assumed an expression of genial deviousness that made Molotov want to make sure he still had his wallet and watch. He went on, “If we can dispose of Trotsky in Mexico City, I expect we can find a way to put a bomb where we want it.”

“No doubt you are right, Iosef Vissarionovich,” Molotov said. Trotsky had thought he was safe enough to keep plotting against the Soviet Union, but several inches of tempered steel in his, brain proved that a delusion.

“No doubt I am,” Stalin agreed complacently. As undisputed master of the Soviet Union, he had developed ways not altogether different from those of other undisputed masters. Molotov had once or twice thought of saying as much, but it remained just that-a thought.

He did ask, “How soon can the Germans and Americans begin producing their own explosive metal?” The Americans didn’t much worry him; they were far away and had worries closer to home. The Germans… Hitler had talked about using the new bombs against the Lizards in Poland. The Soviet Union was an older enemy, and almost as close.

“We are working to learn this. I expect we shall be informed well in advance, whatever the answer proves to be,” Stalin answered, complacent still. Soviet espionage in capitalist countries continued to function well; many there devoted themselves to furthering the cause of the socialist revolution.

Molotov cast about for other questions he might safely ask. Before he could come up with any, Stalin bent over the papers on his desk, a sure sign of dismissal. “Thank you for your time, Iosef Vissarionovich,” Molotov said as he stood to go.

Stalin grunted. His politeness was minimal, but then, so was Molotov’s with anyone but him. When Molotov closed the door behind him, he permitted himself the luxury of a small sigh. He’d survived another audience.

For getting his consignment of uranium or whatever it was safely from Boston to Denver, Leslie Groves had been promoted to brigadier general. He hadn’t yet bothered replacing his eagles with stars; he had more important things to worry about. His pay was accumulating at the new rate, not that that meant much, what with prices going straight through the roof.

At the moment what galled him worse than inflation was the lack of gratitude he was getting from the Metallurgical Laboratory scientists. Enrico Fermi looked at him with sorrowful Mediterranean eyes and said, “Valuable as this sample may be, it does not constitute a critical mass.”

“I’m sorry, that’s not a term I know,” Groves said. He knew nuclear energy could be released, but nobody had done much publishing on matters nuclear since Hahn and Strassmann split the uranium atom, and, to complicate things further, the Met Lab crew had developed a jargon all their own.

“It means you have not brought us enough with which to make a bomb,” Leo Szilard said bluntly. He and the other physicists round the table glared at Groves as if he were deliberately holding back another fifty kilos of priceless metal.

Since he wasn’t, he glared, too. “My escort and I risked our lives across a couple of thousand miles to get that package to you,” he growled. “If you’re telling me we wasted our time, smiling when you say it isn’t going to help.” Even relatively lean as the journey had left him, he was the biggest man at the conference table, and used to using his physical presence to get what he wanted.

“No, no, this is not what we mean,” Fermi said quickly. “You could not have known exactly what you had, and we could not, either, until you delivered it.”

“We did not even know that you had it until you delivered it,” Szilard said. “Security-pah!” He muttered something under his breath in what might have been Magyar. Whatever it was, it sounded pungent. Groves had seen his dossier. His politics had some radical leanings, but he was too brilliant for that to count against him.

Fermi added, “The material you brought will be invaluable in research, and in combining with what we eventually produce ourselves. But by itself, it is not sufficient.”

“All right, you’ll have to do here what you were going to do at Chicago,” Groves said. “How’s that coming?” He turned to the one man from the Met Lab crew he’d met before. “Dr. Larssen, what is the status of getting the project up and running again here in Denver?”

“We were building the graphite pile under Stagg Field at the University of Chicago,” Jens Larssen answered. “Now we’re reassembling it under the football stadium here. The work goes-well enough.” He shrugged.

Groves gave Larssen a searching’ once-over. He didn’t seem to have the driving energy he’d shown in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, the summer before. Then, he’d passionately urged the federal government-in-hiding to do all it could to hold Chicago against the Lizards. But the Met Lab had had to move even though Chicago was held, and now-well, it just didn’t seem as if Larssen gave a damn. That kind of attitude wouldn’t do, not when the work at hand was so urgent.

The meeting with the physicists went on for another half hour, over lesser but still vital issues like keeping electricity coming into Denver and into the University of Denver in particular so the men could do their jobs. People in the United States had taken electricity for granted until the Lizards came. Now, over too much of the country, it was a vanished luxury. But if it vanished in Denver, the Met Lab would have to find somewhere else to go, and Groves didn’t think the country-or the world-could afford the delay.

Unlike nuclear physics, electricity was something with which, by God, he was intimately familiar. “We’ll keep it going for you,” he promised, and hoped he could make good on the vow. If the Lizards got the idea humans were experimenting with nuclear energy here, they’d have something to say about the matter. Keeping them from finding out, then, was going to be a sizable part of keeping the lights on.

When the meeting broke up, Groves fell into step with Larssen and ignored the physicist’s efforts to break away. “We need to talk, Dr. Larssen,” he said.

“No we don’t, Colonel-sorry, General-Groves,” Larssen said, loading the title with all the scorn he could. “The Army’s already done enough to screw up my life, thanks very much. I don’t need any more help from you.” He turned his back and started to stamp off.

Groves shot out a big, meaty hand and caught him by the arm. From the way Larssen whirled around, Groves thought he was going to swing on him. Decking a physicist wasn’t part of his own job description, but if that was what it took, that was what he’d do.

Maybe Larssen saw that in his eyes, for he didn’t throw the punch. Groves said, “Look, your life is your business. But when it makes you have trouble with your job, well, your particular job is too important to let that happen. So what’s eating you, and how come you think it’s the, Army’s fault?”

“You want to know? you’really want to know?” Larssen didn’t wait for an answer from Groves, but plowed ahead: “Well, why the hell shouldn’t I tell you? Somebody else will if I don’t. After I saw you last year, I managed to get all the way to western Indiana on my own. That’s when I ran into General Patton, who wouldn’t let me send my wife a message so she’d know I was alive and okay.”

“Security-” Groves began.

“Yeah, security. So I couldn’t get her a message then, and by the time I got to Chicago, it was too late-the Met Lab team had already taken off. And I couldn’t get a message to Barbara after that-security again. So she figured I was dead. What was she supposed to think?”

“Oh,” Groves said. “I’m sorry. That must have been a shock when she came into Denver. But I’ll bet you had quite a reunion.”

“It was great,” Larssen said, his voice deadly cold. “She thought I was dead, so she fell for this corporal who rides herd on Lizard POWs. She married him up in Wyoming. I was already in Denver, but Colonel Hexham, God bless him, still wouldn’t let me write. Security one more time. Now she’s gonna have the guy’s baby. So as far as I’m concerned, General Groves; sir, the U.S. Army can go fuck itself. And if you don’t like it, throw me in the brig.”

Groves opened his mouth, closed it again. He’d been through Chugwater just after that wedding in Wyoming. He’d known something was eating Larssen, but not what. No wonder the poor bastard was in a blue funk. Mahatma Gandhi wouldn’t have stayed cool, calm, and collected with this landing on him.

“Maybe she’ll come back to you,” he said at last. It sounded lame, even in his own ears.

Larssen laughed scornfully. “Doesn’t look that way. She’s still going to bed with Sam stinking Yeager, that’s for sure. Women!” He clapped a hand to his forehead. “You can’t live without ’em and they won’t live with you.”

Groves hadn’t seen his own wife in months, either, or sent her a note or anything else. He didn’t worry about her running around, though; he just worried about her being all right. Maybe that just meant he was older and more settled than Larssen and his wife. Maybe it meant his marriage was in better shape. Or maybe (unsettling thought) it meant he didn’t know what to worry about.

He fell back on his own training: “Dr. Larssen, you cannot let it get you down to the point where it affects your work. You cannot. More than just you and your wife depends on what you do here, more even than your country. I am not exaggerating when I say the fate of humanity rests on your shoulders.”

“I know that,” Larssen said. “But it’s hard to give a damn about the fate of humanity when the one human being who really matters to you goes and does something like this.”

There Groves could not argue with him, nor did he try. He said, “You’re not the only one in that boat. It happens all the time-maybe more in war than in peace, because things are more broken up nowadays-but all the time. You have to pick up the pieces and keep going.”

“You think I don’t know that?” Larssen said. “I tell myself the same thing twenty times a day. But it’s damned hard when I keep seeing her there with that other guy. It hurts too much to stand.”

Groves thought about shipping out the other guy-Yeager, Larssen had said his name was. With the war on, keeping a physicist happy counted for more than the feelings of a Lizard liaison man. But even if he did that, he had no guarantee it would bring Barbara back into Jens’ arms, not if she was carrying Yeager’s baby.

And she and Yeager wouldn’t have got married if they hadn’t thought Larssen was dead. They’d tried to make things right, the best way they knew how. It hadn’t worked, but they hadn’t had all the data they needed, and humans couldn’t be engineered like electrons, anyhow.

Just the same, Groves wished he could order Barbara to go to bed with Jens for the good of the country. It would have made things a lot simpler. But, while a medieval baron might have gotten away with an order like that, a twentieth-century woman would spit in his eye if he tried it. That was what freedom was about. He believed in freedom… no matter how inconvenient it was at the moment.

“Professor Larssen, you’ve got yourself a mess,” he said heavily.

“Yeah. Now tell me one I haven’t heard.”

When Larssen broke away this time, Groves didn’t try to stop him. He just stood and watched till the physicist turned a corner and disappeared. Then he shook his head. “That’s trouble, waiting to happen,” he muttered, and started slowly down the hall himself.

Atvar turned one eye turret to the left side of the audience chamber, the other to the right. The assembled shiplords stared back at him. He tried to gauge their temper. They’d been struggling for close to two years, almost one of Tosev 3’s slow revolutions around its star, to bring the miserable world into the Empire. By all they’d known when they left from Home, the conquest should have been over in a matter of days-which only proved they hadn’t known much.

“My fellow males, let us consider the status of our enterprise,” he said.

“It shall be done, Exalted Fleetlord,” the shiplords chorused in a show of the perfect obedience the Race so esteemed. No virtue was more fundamental than obedience. So Atvar had been taught since he came from his egg; so he’d believed till he came to Tosev 3.

He still believed it, but not as he had back on Home. Tosev 3 corroded every assumption the Race made about how life should be lived. The only thing the Big Uglies knew about obedience was that they weren’t very good at it. They’d even overthrown and murdered emperors: to Atvar, whose ruling dynasty had held the throne for tens of thousands of years, a crime almost incomprehensibly heinous.

He said, “We do continue to make progress in our campaigns. Our counterattacks south of the Tosevite city known as Chicago on the smaller continental mass have pushed back the enemy, and-”

Straha, shiplord of the 206th Emperor Yower, raised a hand. Atvar wished he could ignore the male. Unfortunately, Straha was next most senior shiplord after Kirel, who commanded the bannership itself. Even more unfortunately, from Atvar’s point of view, Straha headed a loud and vocal faction of males whose principal amusement seemed to be carping about the way the war against the Tosevites was going.

Having been (reluctantly) recognized, Straha said, “May it please the exalted fleetlord, I would respectfully note that the campaign continues to have obvious shortcomings. I hope I shall not try his patience if I elucidate?”

“Proceed,” Atvar said. Maybe, he thought hopefully, Straha will say something really unforgivable and give me the excuse I’ve been looking for to sack him. It hadn’t happened yet, worse luck.

Straha stood a little straighter, the better to display his elaborate, punctiliously applied body paint. He had his own agenda, Atvar knew: if he could persuade enough males that the fleetlord was botching his leadership of the war, he might become fleetlord himself. It would be irregular, but everything about the conquest-the attempted conquest-of Tosev 3 was irregular. If Straha succeeded where Atvar had failed, the Emperor would turn his eye turrets away from the irregularity.

The fractious shiplord said, “First and most important is the increased punishment our armor is taking at the hands of the Big Uglies. Loss rates are up significantly from last year’s fighting to this. Such a toll cannot continue indefinitely.”

There Atvar, try as he would, could not disagree with Straha. He made his voice sharp, though, as he answered, “I cannot produce landcruisers out of thin air, nor can the Big Uglies under our control manufacture any that meet our needs. Meanwhile, those out of our control continue to improve their models, and to introduce new weapons such as antilandcruiser rockets. Thus our losses are higher of late.”

“The Tosevites out of our control always seem capable of more than those we have conquered,” Straha said acidly.

With an effort, the fleetlord ignored the sarcasm and replied to the literal sense of Straha’s words: “This is not surprising, Shiplord. The most technologically advanced regions of this inhomogeneous planet are precisely the ones most capable of extended resistance and, I suppose, of innovation.”

He spoke the last word with a certain amount of distaste. In the Empire, innovation came seldom, and its effects were tightly controlled. On Tosev 3, it ran wild, fueled by the endless squabbling among the Big Uglies’ tiny empires. Atvar thought such quick change surely malignant for the long-term health of a civilization, but the Tosevites cared nothing for the long term. And in the short term, quick change made them more dangerous, not less.

“Let that be as you say, Exalted Fleetlord,” Straha answered. Atvar gave him a suspicious look; he’d yielded too easily. Sure enough, he went on, “Some of our losses, however, may be better explained by causes other than Tosevite technical progress. I speak in reference to the continued and growing use among our fighting males of the herb termed ginger.”

“I concede the problem, Shiplord,” Atvar said. He could hardly do otherwise, what with some of the after-action reports he’d seen from the landcruiser combats in France. Had things gone as planned, the Race would have been pushing into Deutschland. Instead, they’d taken a pounding almost as costly as the one that had held them out of Chicago, and without the excuse of winter.

Atvar continued, “Surely, though, you cannot hold me responsible for the effects of an unanticipated alien herb. We are making every effort to diminish its consequences on our operations. If you have any concrete suggestions in that regard, I would gratefully receive them.”

He’d hoped that would shut Straha up. It didn’t; nothing seemed to. But it did make the shiplord change the subject: “Exalted Fleetlord, what have we learned of the Big Uglies’ efforts to produce their own nuclear weapons?”

Where Straha had been playing to his own faction before, now he seized the attention of all the assembled males. If the Tosevites got their clawless hands on nuclear weapons, the campaign stopped being a war of conquest and turned into a war of survival. And what would the onrushing colonization fleet do if, between them, the Big Uglies and the Race rendered Tosev 3 uninhabitable?

Hating Straha, Atvar answered, “Though they did steal nuclear material from us, we have found no sign that they can yet produce a weapon with it.” The fleetlord had expected that question to arise, if not from Straha, then from someone else. He touched a recessed button on the podium. A holograph of one of the Race’s power plants appeared. Seeing the familiar egg-shaped protective dome over the reactor made him long bitterly for Home. Forcing down the emotion, he went on, “We have also detected no indications of any structures like this one, which would be required for them to utilize their own radioactive materials.”

Most of the shiplords relaxed when they heard that. Even Straha said, “So they won’t be able to use nuclear weapons against us for the next few years, eh? Well, there’s something, anyhow.” If that wasn’t praise, it wasn’t carping criticism, either. Atvar gratefully accepted it.

Loyal, steadfast Kirel raised a hand. Atvar was delighted to recognize him. Then Kirel said, “Excuse me, Exalted Fleetlord, but the Big Uglies are good at camouflage. And besides, some of their primitive structures look very little like those of ours which perform equivalent functions.” Are we truly as certain as we would like to be that their nuclear weapons programs are not progressing under our very snouts, to emerge as unexpectedly as some of their other weapons?”

Aside from the difficulty of proving a negative, Atvar had no answer prepared for that. The meeting did not dissolve on the note for which he’d hoped.


Teerts was coming to look forward to mealtimes. For one thing, the Nipponese had been feeding him better lately, with many more bits of meat and fish mixed in with the rice that made up the greater part of his diet. For another, they’d also taken to spicing his food instead of leaving it bland and boring; his tongue tingled pleasantly when he ate now. The spices weren’t the same as the ones cooks back on Home would have used, but they livened up meals in a similar way.

And for a third, food these days gave him a lift that carried him altogether out of the depression that had gripped him since his killercraft went down near Harbin. For a while after he ate, he felt bright and strong and ever so wise. The feeling never lasted as long as he wished it would, but having it even for a little while was welcome.

The Nipponese seemed to notice his changed attitude, too. They’d developed the habit of interrogating him right after he ate. He didn’t mind. Food made him seem so omniscient that he dealt with their questions with effortless ease.

He heard a squeak and a rattle down the hall: the food cart. He sprang to his feet, waited eagerly by the bars of his cell for the cart to arrive. One guard unlocked the cell. Another stood watch with a knife-tipped rifle. The fellow who actually served the food handed Teerts his bowl.

“Thank you, superior sir,” he said in Nipponese, bowing as he did so. The guard locked the cell door again. The cart clattered away.

Out of necessity, Teerts had become adept with the little paired sticks the Nipponese used to manipulate food. He brought a chunk of fish to his mouth, twisted his tongue around it. It didn’t taste the way it had for a good many meals. It wasn’t bad, though. They’ve changed the herbs they’re using, he thought, and gulped it down.

He got to the bottom of the bowl in a hurry; although the Nipponese were feeding him better than they had, he wasn’t any great threat to get fat. As he ran his tongue over his hard outer mouthparts to clean them, he waited for the wonderful feeling of well-being that had come to accompany each meal.

He didn’t get it, not this time. He’d been more than unusually gloomy when the feeling passed away after a meal. Now, failing to find it at all, he felt desperate, betrayed; the iron bars of his cell seemed to be closing in around him. He paced restlessly back and forth, his tailstump jerking like a metronome.

He hadn’t realized how much he’d depended on that mealtime burst of euphoria till it was denied him. He opened his mouth, displaying his full set of small, sharp teeth. If Major Okamoto came by, he’d gnaw a chunk off him. That would give him a good feeling, by the Emperor!

Not much later, Major Okamoto did come down the hallway. He stopped in front of Teerts’ cell. The captured killercraft pilot’s dreams of vengeance turned to fear at the sight of the Big Ugly, as they always did.

“Good day,” Okamoto said in the language of the Race. He’d become quite fluent, much more so than Teerts was in Nipponese. “How are you feeling today?”

“Superior sir, I am not so well as I would like,” Teerts answered; among the Race, that question was taken literally.

Okamoto’s rubbery face twisted into what Teerts had come to recognize as an expression of amusement. That worried the male; Okamoto’s amusement often came at his expense. But the Big Ugly’s words were mild enough: “I may know what is troubling you, and may even have a medicine to cure your trouble.”

Honto? — Really?” Teerts asked suspiciously: From all he’d seen of what the Big Uglies called medicine, he’d sooner have taken his chances on being sick.

“Hai, honto,” Okamoto answered, also falling back into Nipponese. From a pocket of his uniform, he pulled out a small waxed-paper bag. He poured a little of the brown powder it held into the palm of his hand, then held the hand out to Teerts through the bars. “Here, put your tongue on this.”

Teerts sniffed first. The powder had a pungent, spicy odor that seemed familiar, though he could not place it at once. He reflected that the Tosevites could kill him any time they chose; they did not need to put on an elaborate charade if they wanted him dead. Therefore he flicked out his tongue and licked up the powder.

As soon as he tasted it, he knew what it was: the flavor that had been missing from his latest bowl of food. A moment later, he realized the Nipponese must have been feeding it to him in tiny doses till now. He didn’t just feel good; he felt as if the sacred Emperor were some sort of lowly cousin of his. Ruling the Race would have been too small a job for him; keeping track of all the planets in all the galaxies seemed about right.

Through the omnipotence that blazed in him, he saw Okamoto’s face contort again. “You like that, neh?” the Big Ugly asked, all but the last word in Teerts’ tongue.

“Yes,” Teerts said, as if from very far away. He wished Okamoto were very far away, so he would not pester him at this transcendent moment.

But the interrogator and interpreter did not pester him. The Big Ugly just leaned back against the bars of the empty cell across from Teerts’ and waited. For a while, Teerts ignored him as being beneath notice, let alone contempt. The glorious feeling from the powder he’d licked up, though, didn’t last as long as he’d hoped it would. And when it was gone…

When it was gone, Teerts crashed into depths deeper than the heights he had scaled. The weight of all the worlds he’d so blithely imagined he could oversee came down on his narrow shoulders and crushed him. Now he ignored Okamoto because the Big Ugly was outside his sphere of intensely personal misery. Nothing the Nipponese did to him could be worse than what his own body and brain were doing. He huddled in a corner of the cell and wished he could die.

Okamoto’s voice pursued him. “Not so good? Want another taste?” The Big Ugly held out his broad, fleshy hand, a small mound of powder in the middle of the palm.

Even before his conscious mind willed him to action, Teerts was on his feet and bounding toward the bars between which that hand so temptingly protruded. But before his tongue could touch that precious powder, Okamoto jerked the hand back. Teerts almost slammed his muzzle against the cold, unyielding iron that caged him. Careless of his own safety, he cursed Okamoto as vilely as he knew how.

The Tosevite threw back his head and let out several of the loud barking noises his kind used for laughter. “So you want more ginger, do you? I thought you might. We have learned males of the Race are-how do you say it? — very fond of this herb.”

Ginger. Now Teerts had a name for what be craved. For some reason, that only made him crave it more. His fury collapsed into depression once again. Instead of hissing at Okamoto, he pleaded with him: “Give it to me, I beg. How can you hold it away from me if you know how badly I need it?”

Okamoto laughed again. “One who lets himself be captured does not deserve to have anything given to him.” When it came to prisoners of war, the Nipponese knew only scorn. Okamoto went on, “Maybe, though, just maybe, you can earn more ginger for yourself. Do you understand?”

Teerts understood too miserably well. The trap’s teeth were sharp, sharp. His captors had given him a taste for ginger in his food, withheld it, shown him exactly what he craved, and now were withholding it again. They expected that would make him submit. They were, he admitted to himself, dead right. Hating the cringing whine he heard in his own voice, he said, “What do you want me to do, superior sir?”

“More exact answers to the questions we have been putting to you on explosive metals might make us more pleased with you,” Okamoto said.

Teerts knew that was a lie. Because he’d let himself be taken prisoner, the Nipponese would never be happy with him, no matter what he did. But they might find him more useful; he’d already seen how his treatment varied with their perception of his value. If he satisfied them, they would give him ginger. The thought tolled in his head like the reverberations from a big bass drum.

Despite it, he had to say, “I have already given you the best and truest answers I can.”

“So you claim now,” Okamoto answered. “We shall see how you’reply when you want ginger more than you can imagine now. Maybe then you will remember better than you do today.”

The teeth of the trap were not only sharp, they were jagged as well. The Nipponese didn’t just want Teerts to be their prisoner, they wanted him to be their slave, Slavery had vanished from the culture of the Race long before Home was unified, but the Rabotevs (or was it the Hallessi? — Teerts had always dozed through history lessons) practiced it whenever their world, whichever it was, came into the Empire. They returned the concept, if not the institution, to the notice of the Race. Teerts feared it wasn’t just a concept on Tosev 3.

He also feared that if he went without ginger, he would go mad. The craving ate at him like acid dripping on his scaly skin. “Please, let me taste it now,” he begged.

Some of his Nipponese captors had been wantonly cruel, and exulted in their cruelty in the exact proportion that they enjoyed power over his helplessness. They would have refused, merely to experience the pleasure they took from watching him suffer. Okamoto, to give him his limited due, did not daub on that pattern of body paint. Having shown Teerts he was indeed trapped, the Big Ugly let him sample the bait once more.

The feeling of power and wisdom flooded through Teerts again. While he reached that ecstatic, exalted peak, he did his best to come up with a way to escape the prison where the Nipponese held him. For an all but omnipotent genius, it should have been easy.

But no brilliant ideas came. Maybe the ginger did sharpen his analytical faculty a little: he swiftly concluded the feeling of brilliance it gave him was just that, a feeling, and nothing more. Had the powder not been coursing through his veins, he would have been bitterly disappointed. As things were, he noted the problem, then dismissed it.

Tosevites were impetuous, hot-blooded, always doing things. The Race’s virtues were study, patience, careful planning. So Teerts had been indoctrinated, and little he had seen inclined him to doubt what his killercraft squadron’s briefing officers had said. But now, out in the hallway, Okamoto stood quietly and waited as patiently as any male of the Race.

And Teerts? As the joy from the ginger ebbed in him, leaving only a memory of sensation, Teerts became a veritable parody of a Big Ugly, grabbing at the bars of his cell, shouting curses, reaching uselessly for Okamoto in a foredoomed effort to get more ginger onto his tongue: in short, he acted blindly, without the slightest concern for consequences. He should have been ashamed of himself. He was ashamed of himself-but not enough to stop.

Okamoto waited until his blustering had died away, swallowed in the crushing depression that followed ginger euphoria. Then, at just the right instant, the Nipponese said, “Tell me everything you know about the process that transforms element 92 to element 94.”

“The special word for this in our language is ‘transmutes,’ ” Teerts said. “It takes place in several steps. First-” He wondered how much Okamoto would make him talk before he got another taste.

Bobby Fiore threw an easy peg to the young Chinese man who stood waiting to catch the ball. The fellow actually did catch it, too; it slapped into the leather glove (a duplicate of Fiore’s) he wore, and he covered it with his bare hand.

“Good job!” Fiore said, using tone and expression and dumb show to get across what he still had trouble saying in Chinese. “Now throw it back.” Again, gesture showed what he wanted.

The Chinese, whose name was Lo, threw high. Fiore sprang and caught the ball. He landed lightly, ready to throw again himself: after so many years on so many infields, he could probably do that in his sleep. Drop a ball anywhere near him and he’d be on it like a cat.

“Don’t throw like a girl,” he told Lo; this once, it was just as well that his pupil didn’t understand exactly what he had to say. He demonstrated, exaggerating the from-the-elbow style the Chinese had used and shaking his head violently to show it wasn’t the best way to do the job. Then he showed the full-arm motion American kids picked up on farmyards, parks, and vacant lots.

Lo didn’t seem to think one better than the other. Instead of using his handmade, expensive baseball to prove the point, Bobby Fiore bent down to get an egg-sized rock. He and Lo were not far from the razor-wire fence around the Lizards’ camp. He turned and threw the rock as far as he could into the green fields beyond the perimeter.

He found another rock, tossed it underhand to Lo. “Let’s see you top that, throwing like you do,” he said. Again, gestures eked out meaning. Lo nodded and let fly, grunting with effort. His rock flew barely half as far as Fiore’s had. He looked at the American, nodded thoughtfully, and tried the full-arm motion. Fiore clapped his hands. “That’s the idea!”

The truth was, he couldn’t antagonize a cash customer. He and Liu flan still put on their baseball show, but it didn’t pull in as much as it had when it was new. A few Chinese had been interested enough to pay to learn more, so he was teaching them to hit and catch and throw. Had the camp had enough open space, they could have put on a real game.

He didn’t care to kowtow to Chinamen, but he’d grown used to the little luxuries spare cash allowed him to buy. And it wasn’t as if he was selling something they had to have. If he got ’em mad at him, they’d just leave. So he did his best to stay on good behavior.

“Come on, try it with the ball,” he said, and tossed it to Lo. The Chinese threw it back, still not too straight but with a better motion. “That’s the way to do it!” Fiore said, clapping his hands in encouragement.

After several more throws that showed he was starting to get the idea, Lo picked up another rock and flung it out over the razor wire into the field. Throwing with his whole arm, he made it go a good deal farther than he’d managed before, but still not as far as Fiore had flung it. The ballplayer puffed out his chest, thinking no Chink was going to get the better of him.

Maybe Lo thought the same thing, for he bowed to Fiore and spoke several sharp sentences. Almost in spite of himself, Fiore was starting to understand Chinese. He didn’t follow all of this, but, got the idea that Lo was praising his arm and wanted to bring by some friends who would also be interested in the way he threw.

“Yeah, sure, that’d be fine,” Fiore answered in English, and then did his best to turn it into Chinese. Evidently Lo got the idea, because he bowed again and nodded, then gave the glove back to Fiore and went on his way.

Well enough pleased with how the afternoon had gone, Fiore headed back toward the house he shared with Liu Han. He started whistling “Begin the Beguine” to himself as he walked along, but had to cut it out when the Chinese he walked past stared at him. As far as he was concerned, Chinese music sounded as if it were made by stepping on cats’ tails-out-of-tune cats, at that. The locals returned the sentiment when he made melodies he liked. Since there were lots of them and one of him, he shut up.

When he opened the door to the hut the Lizards had given him and Liu Han, his nostrils twitched appreciatively. Something tasty was cooking, even if the vegetables that went with it would be strange and underdone for his taste. “Smells good,” he said, and added the Lizards’ emphatic cough.

Liu Han looked up from the pan in which she was cooking. It was, to Fiore’s way of thinking, a funny kind of pan, being shaped like the wide, conical hats a lot of Chinese wore. It had a funny name, too: she called it a walk. Whenever he heard that, he pictured the pan tossing away its bat and trotting down to first base.

Liu Han tilted the walk on its stand so he could see the bite-sized pieces of chicken in it. “Cooked with five spices,” she said. He nodded, smiling. He didn’t know what all five spices were, but they made for mighty tasty cooking.

After supper, he gave her the trade dollars Lo had paid him for learning the art of throwing straight. “He has other people he may want me to teach, too,” he said. “If they all pay as well as he did, that should keep us in groceries a good long while.”

He said it first in English, then added Chinese and Lizard words till he was sure she’d got the idea. When she talked to him, she used a Chinese frame padded with English and Lizard. As time passed, they gained more and more words in common.

She said, “If they pay silver like this Lo, I be fat even without baby.” She was starting to show now, her belly pressing against the cotton tunic that had been loose.

“Babe, you still look good to me,” he said, which made her smile. He got the idea she was surprised he kept wanting her even though she was pregnant. He hadn’t been sure he would, either, but the growing mound of her belly didn’t bother him. It meant he couldn’t just climb on top all the time, but doing it other ways was broadening his horizons.

Thinking about it made him want to do it. One nice thing about the way Liu Han cooked was that it didn’t leave him feeling as if he’d swallowed an anvil, the way pasta did sometimes. If you got too full, you had trouble staying interested in other things. As it was…

Before he could get up and head for the blankets on the kang, somebody knocked on the door. He made a sour face. Liu Han giggled; she must have known what was on his mind. “Whoever it is, I’ll get rid of him in a hurry,” he said, climbing to his feet.

But when he opened the door, there stood Lo with several other men behind him. Business, Fiore thought. He waved them in. Business counted, too, and Liu Han would still be there after they’d gone. Now she’d be hostess and interpreter. She offered the newcomers tea. Fiore still missed his coffee, thick with cream and sugar, but tea, he’d decided, would do in a pinch.

The last of the newcomers shut the door behind him. Lo and his Friends-six men in all-crowded the hut. They sat quietly and seemed polite, but the longer Fiore looked at them, the more he wished he hadn’t let them all in at once. They were all young and on the hard side and, with their silence, more disciplined than the usually voluble Chinese of the camp. He carefully didn’t glance over to the corner where he’d leaned his bat against the wall, but he didn’t let them get between him and it.

He knew about shakedowns. His uncle Giuseppe, a baker, had paid protection money for a while for the privilege of going to work every day without getting his arms broken. He wasn’t going to let that happen to him, not from a bunch of Chinamen. They could do their stuff on him tonight, but he’d have the Lizards on them tomorrow.

Then he realized the only one whose name he knew was Lo, and even Lo was only half a name. The rest-would he recognize them again? Maybe. Maybe not.

He grabbed the bull by the horns, asking, “What can I do for you guys? You’re interested in learning to throw the right way, yeah?” He made a proper, full-arm throwing motion without any ball.

“We are interested in throwing, yes,” Lo answered through Liu Han. Then he asked a question of his own: “Are you and your woman lackeys and running dogs of the little scaly devils or just their prisoners?”

Bobby Fiore and Liu Han looked at each other. Though he had been thinking of siccing the Lizards on these guys if they turned out to be hoodlums, that question had only one possible answer. “Prisoners,” he said, and mimed holding his hands up to the bars of a cell.

Lo smiled. So did two or three of his buddies. The others just sat, still and watchful. Lo said, “If you are prisoners, you must want to help the oppressed peasants and workers strike a blow for freedom.”

Liu Han’s translation wasn’t anywhere near as smooth as that. Fiore cocked his head to one side anyway. Traveling through small and medium-sized towns in an America staggered by the Depression, he’d heard plenty of guys standing on crates at street corners who talked like that. He pointed a finger at Lo. “You’re a Red, that’s what you are-a Communist, a Bolshevik.”

Liu Han didn’t recognize any of the English (or Russian). She stared and spread her hands, at a loss to interpret. But one of the terms made sense to Lo. He nodded soberly to Bobby Fiore, as if to say he was smarter than the Chinese had figured. Then he spoke to Liu Han, letting her know what was going on.

She didn’t gasp as if she’d just seen a rat scurry across the floor, the way a lot of American women would have. She just nodded and tried to explain to Fiore, then fell silent when she realized he already understood. “They not bad,” she told him. “They fight Japanese, more than Kuomintang does.”

“Okay,” he said. “The Reds were on our side before the Lizards came, sure. And everybody wants to give them a good swift kick. But what do these guys want with me?”

Lo didn’t answer, not with words. Instead, he nudged one of his comrades. The young man reached under his tunic and pulled out a grenade. He didn’t say anything, either. He just let it sit in the palm of his hand.

Bobby didn’t need more than a heartbeat before the light went on in his head. He started to laugh. “So you want me to do your pitching for you, huh?” he said, not caring that neither Lo nor Liu Han understood what he was talking about. “I wish Sam Yeager was here. You think my arm’s hot stuff, you oughta see his.”

Lo politely waited till he was done before speaking. Liu Han hesitantly translated: “They want you-” She forgot the English for throw, but made a gesture to show what she meant. Fiore nodded. Then she pointed at the grenade.

“Yeah, I already worked that out,” Fiore said. He’d worked out some other things, too: if he said no, for instance, he and Liu Han were liable to end up wearing whatever Chinamen used for concrete overshoes. This wasn’t just a shakedown. If he said no, he was a big danger to these people. From everything he’d ever heard, Bolsheviks didn’t let people who were dangerous to them keep walking and breathing.

And besides, he didn’t want to say no. He wished he could have chucked some grenades at the Lizards back in Cairo, Illinois, after they caught him the first time. That would have kept him out of this whole mess. Even though he did care for Liu Han, he would have given a lot to be back in the good old U.S. of A.

Since he couldn’t have that, giving the little scaly bastards a hard time here on the other side of the world would have to do. “So what do you want me to blow up?” he asked Lo.

Maybe the Red hadn’t expected such enthusiastic cooperation. He talked in low tones with his friends before he turned back to Liu Han. She sounded worried as she told Fiore, “They want you to go with them. No say where.”

He wondered if he ought to insist that Lo tell Liu Han where he’d be. After a second’s doubt, he decided that would be stupid. If she didn’t know, she couldn’t tell anybody, especially the Lizards… and, if she didn’t know, the Reds would have less reason to come after her to shut her up in case things went wrong.

He got to his feet. “Let’s go take care of it,” he said to Lo.

He felt edgy, almost bouncy, as he walked, as if Mutt Daniels (and he wondered what had happened to old Mutt) had flashed him the sign to steal home on the next pitch. Well, why not? He wasn’t just trying to steal home. He was going into combat.

Sooner or later, he was sure, he would have volunteered for the Army. But even then, he would have trained for months before he got the chance to see action. Now-it was as if he’d got his rifle and headed up to the front line one right after the other. No wonder he felt all loosey-goosey.

He blew Liu Han a kiss. Lo and his fellow Bolsheviks snickered and said things that were probably rude to one another: Chinese men weren’t in the habit of showing they gave a damn about their women. Well, to hell with them, too, he thought. Liu Han managed a return smile, but he could see she was frightened about this whole business.

Night in the prison camp was darker than anything Fiore had known back in the States, even in the panicky blackouts that had followed Pearl Harbor. Few of the huts had any windows, and few of what windows there were had lights showing through them. If the moon was up in the sky, a thick layer of clouds made sure nobody could see it. Though that made Fiore stumble along, he didn’t bellyache, not even to himself: darkness would give the Lizards a harder time spotting him. That he liked.

The Chinese picked their way through the black as if they had headlights. A couple of times, Bobby Fiore heard people getting out of their way in a hurry. A large group of disciplined men traveling confidently was something few wanted to mess with. He liked that, too.

Before long, he had no idea where in the camp Lo was taking him. It all looks alike to me, he thought, and stifled a nervous giggle. He didn’t know if the Bolsheviks were walking him around in circles to get him lost or if it just worked out that way, but lost he undoubtedly was.

Lo opened the door of a shabby little hut, gestured for his companions and Fiore to go in. The inside of the hut was darker than the alley had been. That didn’t stop Lo. He shoved aside a heavy wooden chest-by all appearances, the only furniture in the place-and pulled up a square piece of board underneath it. He and two of his friends dropped down into the tunnel the board concealed.

One of the remaining Reds nudged Fiore and pointed to the round mouth of the tunnel. He went into it with all the eagerness of a man walking to the electric chair. As he had when he left the hut he shared with Liu Han, he learned new lessons about how dark darkness could be. As far as his eyes were concerned, he’d just gone blind. But with Chinese ahead and Chinese pushing him on from behind, he could have no doubt about which direction to go.

The tunnel wasn’t tall enough for him to stand upright, or even to crouch. He had to crawl along on hands and knees, and even then the top of his head kept bumping on the roof and showering clods of dirt down onto his neck. The air in the tunnel smelled like moist earth, dank and musty, and felt dead, as if nobody had any business breathing down here.

He had no idea how long he crawled, either in time or distance. It seemed forever, either way. He imagined the tunnel was sloping up several times, but each one proved to be just that: imaginary. Without eyes to help it, his sense of balance played tricks on him.

At last, though, he smelled fresh air. He hurried forward, and now found himself going unmistakably upward as well. He scrambled out and lay gasping in relief in a hollow in a field. After the tunnel, that seemed a wonderful luxury. It also seemed almost bright as day. The other three Chinese Reds came out of the hole just as eagerly as he had. That made him feel better.

Lo cautiously raised his head. He turned to Bobby Fiore, pointed. Fiore raised his head, too. Off in the distance sat a Lizard guard station on the camp perimeter. Fiore mimed lobbing a grenade in that direction. Lo smiled, his teeth startlingly white in the darkness. Then he reached out and thumped Fiore on the shoulder, as if to say, You’re okay, Mac.

He whispered something to one of the other young men, who handed Bobby Fiore a grenade. He felt for the pin, found it. Lo held up fingers close to his face-one, two, three. Then he, too, mimed throwing. “Yeah, I know I gotta get rid of it,” Fiore said laconically.

The fellow who’d given him the grenade proved to have three more, which he also passed on. Fiore took them, but less enthusiastically each time. He figured he could throw one, maybe two, and get away in the confusion, but anything after that and he’d be asking to get blown to pieces.

But the Reds weren’t asking him to do anything they weren’t game for themselves. Some of them pulled out pistols from the waistbands of their trousers; Lo and one other fellow had submachine guns instead-not tommy guns like gangsters, but stubbier, lighter weapons of a make Fiore didn’t recognize. He wondered if they were Russian. Any which way, he was glad he hadn’t tried using that baseball bat back in his hut.

Lo started crawling through the field-beans were growing in it, Fiore discovered-toward the Lizard outpost. The other raiders and Fiore trailed after him. The reek of night soil (as poetic a way of saying shit as he’d ever heard) filled his nostrils; the Chinese used it for fertilizer.

The Lizards obviously weren’t expecting trouble from the outside. The humans easily got within fifty yards of their perimeter. Lo looked a question to Bobby Fiore: was this close enough? He nodded. Lo nodded back and thumped him on the shoulder again. For a Chinaman and a Communist, Lo was all right.

The raiders slithered out into a rough skirmish line. Lo stayed close by Fiore. He gave his comrades maybe a minute and a half to find firing position, then pointed to Fiore and then to the guard station.

I get to open the show, huh? It was an honor Fiore could have done without, but nobody’d asked his opinion. He yanked the pin out of one of the grenades, hurled it as if he’d just taken a relay in short right and was trying to nail a runner at the plate. Then he flung himself flat on the stinking ground.

Bang! The blast was oddly disappointing; he’d expected more. But it did what it was supposed to do: it got the Lizards’ attention. Fiore heard hissing shouts, saw motion in and around the guard post.

That was what the Chinese had been waiting for. Their guns opened up with a roar quite satisfyingly loud. Lo went through a whole magazine in what seemed no more than a heartbeat; his submachine gun spat a flame bright and searingly yellow as the sun. He rammed in another clip and started shooting again.

Did the hisses turn to screams? Did Lizards fall, pierced by bullets? Fiore didn’t know for sure. He jumped up and threw another grenade. Its boom added to the cacophony all around.

For somebody who’d never seen action till that moment, he’d gauged it pretty well. No sooner had he hit the dirt again than the Lizards woke up. Searchlights came on. If the muzzle flash from Lo’s submachine gun had been sun-bright, they were like looking at the naked face of God. And the machine guns they opened up with reminded Fiore of God, too, or at least of His wrath. Bobby even wished he were back in the tunnel.

Off to his left, one of the Chinese raiders started screaming and wouldn’t stop. Off to his right, fire from the second submachine gun cut off in the middle of a burst and didn’t start up again. Just over his head, bullets clipped off the tops of growing bean plants like a harvester from hell.

Lo kept right on shooting, which made him either brave or out of his ever-loving mind. Two searchlights swung toward him, which meant that for a moment none was pointing at Bobby Fiore. He threw his third grenade, got down, and started rolling away from where he had been. The location didn’t seem healthy any more.

Lo’s weapon fell silent. Fiore didn’t know whether he was dead or also moving. He kept rolling himself until he fetched up against a long obstruction: a dead Chinese, pistol still in hand. Fiore took it and scuttled away from the Lizard guns. He’d done all the fighting he intended to do today.

He put all the distance he could between himself and that terrible fire. Bullets lashed the plants all around him, kicking up dirt that spattered his hands, his feet, his neck. Somehow, none of the bullets hit him. If Lizard infantry came out after him, he knew he was dead. But the aliens relied on firepower instead, and however awesome it was, it wasn’t perfect-not quite. The last Chinaman stopped shooting and started shrieking.

Alternating Hail Marys with under-his-breath mutters of “Where the fuck’s that tunnel?” Fiore slithered back toward where he thought it was. After a while, he realized he must have gone too far. At the same instant, he also realized he couldn’t possibly go back, not if he wanted to keep on breathing.

“If I can’t get back into camp, that means I better get my ass outta here,” he mumbled. He crawled and scuttled as fast as he could. No searchlights picked hip up as he dodged between rows of beans. Then he tumbled into a muddy ditch or tiny creekbed in the poorly tended field that providentially ran diagonally away from the Lizard guard post. He hoped the Chinese Reds had done some damage there, but was whatever they’d done worth six lives?