Praise for the Novels of Riverworld
“Riverworld is a venue where anyone can have adventures with anyone else…. The Riverworld books [are] interested in the play of character and ideas, free from the constraints of realism, place, or time. Or, to put it another way, they’re a venue for Farmer to talk about interesting stuff.”
The Magic Labyrinth
“A wide-screen adventure that never fails to provoke, amuse, and educate…His imagination is of the first rank…his velocity breathtaking…. Charts a territory somewhere between Gulliver’s Travels and The Lord of the Rings.”
“This book, like the series as a whole, offers delight to the sense of wonder and storytelling flow as irresistible as the river itself.”
To Your Scattered Bodies Go
“One of the most imaginative worlds in science fiction!”
“From the beginning, To Your Scattered Bodies Go gripped me in a way few books have been able to match.”
The Dark Design
“Its publication is an event with a capital E!”
—Parade of Books
For Harlan Ellison, Leslie Fiedler, and Norman Spinrad, alivest of the alive
Reason is Life’s sole arbiter, the magic Labyrinth’s single clue…
Where ’twill be man’s to see the whole of what on Earth he sees in part…
—The Kasîdah of Hâjî Abdû Al-Yazdi
1 The Mysterious Stranger
2 Aboard the Not For Hire
3 Aboard the Rex: The Thread of Reason
4 On the Not For Hire: New Recruits and Clemens’ Nightmares
5 Burton’s Soliloquy
6 On the Not For Hire: The Thread of Reason
7 Göring’s Past
8 The Fabulous Riverboats Arrive at Virolando
9 The First and Last Dogfight on the Riverworld
10 Armageddon: The Not For Hire vs. The Rex
11 The Final Duel: Burton vs. Bergerac
12 The Last 20,000 Miles
13 In the Dark Tower
14 Three-Cornered Play: Carroll to Alice to Computer
Now ends the Riverworld series, all loose ends tied together into a sword-resisting Gordian knot, all the human mysteries revealed, the millions of miles of The River and the many years of quests and The Quest completed.
Section 1 The Mysterious Stranger
“Everybody should fear only one person, and that person should be himself.”
That was a favorite saying of the Operator.
The Operator had also spoken much of love, saying that the person most feared should also be much loved.
The man known to some as X or the Mysterious Stranger neither loved nor feared himself the most.
There were three people he had loved more than he loved anybody else.
His wife, now dead, he had loved but not as deeply as the other two.
His foster mother and the Operator he loved with equal intensity or at least he had once thought so.
His foster mother was light-years away, and he did not have to deal with her as yet and might never. Now, if she knew what he was doing, she would be deeply ashamed and grieved. That he couldn’t explain to her why he was doing this, and so justify himself, deeply grieved him.
The Operator he still loved but at the same time hated.
Now X waited, sometimes patiently, sometimes impatiently or angrily, for the fabled but real Riverboat. He had missed the Rex Grandissimus. His only chance now was the Mark Twain.
If he didn’t get aboard that boat…no, the thought was almost unendurable. He must.
Yet, when he did get on it, he might be in the greatest peril he’d ever been in, bar one. He knew that the Operator was downRiver. The surface of his grail had shown him the Operator’s location. But that had been the last information he would get from the map. The satellite had kept track of the Operator and the Ethicals, except for himself, and the agents in The Rivervalley, beaming its messages to the grail which was more than a grail. Then the map had faded from the gray surface, and X had known that something had malfunctioned in the satellite. From now on he could be surprised by the Operator, by the agents, and by the other Ethical.
Long ago, X had made arrangements to track all those from the tower and the underground chambers. He had secretly installed the mechanism in the satellite. The others would have put in a device to track him, of course. But his aura-distorter had fooled the mechanism. The distorter had also enabled him to lie to the council of twelve.
Now, he was as ignorant and helpless as the others.
However, if anybody on this world would be taken aboard by Clemens, even if the complement was full, it would be the Operator. One look at him, and Clemens would stop the boat and hail him aboard.
And when the Mark Twain came along, and he, X, managed to become a crew member, he would have to avoid the Operator until he could take him by surprise.
The disguise, good enough to fool even the other stranded Ethical, would not deceive that great intelligence. He would recognize X instantly, and then he, X, would have no chance. Strong and quick as he was, the Operator was stronger and quicker.
Moreover, the Operator would have a psychological advantage. X, face-to-face with the being he loved and hated, would be inhibited and might not be able to attack the Operator with the fury and vigor demanded.
Cowardly though it was, a detestable act, he would have to take the Operator from behind. But his detestable deeds had been many since he had set himself against the others, and he could do this. Though taught from early childhood to loathe violence, he had also been taught that violence was justified if his life was in peril. The resurrecting force which for all practical purposes made everyone on the Riverworld indestructible just did not enter into it. Resurrection no longer worked but even when it had he’d still forced himself to be violent. Despite what his mentors said, the end did justify the means. Besides, all those he’d killed would not be dead forever. At least, he’d thought so. But he’d not foreseen this situation.
The Ethical was living in a bamboo leaf-thatched hut on the bank of The River, the right bank if you faced upstream. He hadn’t been there long. Now he sat on the thick short grass of the plain near the shore. There were approximately five hundred others around him, all waiting for lunchtime. At one time, there would have been seven hundred here, but, since the resurrections had ceased, the population had lessened. Accidents, mostly from encounters with the gigantic human-eating boat-smashing riverdragon fish, suicide, and murder, had accounted for most fatalities. Once, war had been the greatest death-maker, but there had been none in this area for many years. The would-be conquerors had been killed off, and now they would not be translated elsewhere along The River to make more trouble.
Also, the spread of the Church of the Second Chance, the Nichirenites, the Sufis, and other pacifistic religions and disciplines had had great effect in bringing peace.
Near the crowd was a mushroom-shaped structure of a red-flecked granite material. It was called a grailstone, though actually it was a highly electrically conductive metal. It had a broad base five feet high, and the top had a diameter of approximately fifty feet. On the surface of this were seven hundred depressions. In each one was a cylinder of gray metal, a device which converted energy discharged by the grailstone into food, liquor, and other items. The containers kept the vast population of the Riverworld, estimated to have been thirty-five to thirty-six billion at one time, from starving to death. Though the grail-provided food could be augmented by fish and acorn bread and the tips of young bamboo shoots, these were not enough to feed the dwellers of the narrow Valley, a valley which enclosed The River, ten million miles long.
The people by the stone chattered and laughed and kidded around. The Ethical did not speak to those near him; he was occupied with his thoughts. It had occurred to him that perhaps the malfunction of the satellite was not natural. Its tracking mechanism was designed to function for over a thousand years without breakdown. Had it failed because Piscator, the Japanese once named Ohara, had messed up something in the tower? Theoretically Piscator should have been destroyed by the various traps that he, X, had placed in the tower or been caught in a stasis field installed by the Operator. But Piscator was a Sufi, and he might have had the intelligence and perceptive powers to avoid these. That he could enter the tower showed that he was very ethically advanced. Not one in five million of the candidates, the resurrected Terrestrials, could have gone through the entrance on top. As for the one at the base, only that had been prepared by X, and only two knew about it until the expedition of ancient Egyptians had gotten to it. He’d been surprised and upset when he’d found their bodies in the secret room. Nor had he known then that one Egyptian had escaped and had been drowned and then translated back to The Valley until he’d heard the survivor’s story, somewhat distorted and via who knew how many tellers? Apparently no agents had heard it until it was too late for them to transmit the news to the Ethicals in the tower.
What worried him now was that if Piscator had indeed been responsible for accidentally causing the tracker to malfunction, then he might somehow bring the Ethicals back to life. And if he did that…he, X, was done for.
He stared across the plain at the foothills covered with the long-bladed grass and trees of various kinds and the gloriously colored blooms of the vines on the ironwood trees and then past them to the unscalable mountains walling in The Valley. His fear and frustration made him angry again, but he quickly used the mental techniques to dissipate his anger. The energy, he knew, made his skin temperature rise for a hundredth of a degree Celsius for a few seconds. He felt somewhat relieved, though he knew that he’d be angry again. The trouble with the technique was that it didn’t dissipate the source of his anger. He’d never be able to get rid of that, though he had appeared to do so to his mentors.
He shaded his eyes and glanced at the sun. Within a few minutes, the stone would vomit lightning and thunder along with the millions of others on both banks. He moved away from the stone and put the tips of his fingers in his ears. The noise would be deafening, and the sudden discharge still made one jump though you knew it was coming.
The sun reached its zenith.
There was an enormous roar and flashing upward of ravening blue-white-shot electricity.
On the left bank, not the right.
Once before, the right-bank grailstones had failed to function.
Those on the right bank waited with apprehension and then increasing fear when the stones failed to spout their energy for dinnertime. And when they failed again at breakfast time, the consternation and anxiety became panic.
By the next day, the hungry people invaded the left bank en masse.
Section 2 Aboard the Not For Hire
The first time that Sir Thomas Malory died was on Earth in A.D. 1471.
The English knight got through the terrible weeks after Resurrection Day without too many body wounds, though he suffered grievously from spiritual shock. He found the food in his “littel greal” fascinating. It reminded him of what he had written in The Book of King Arthur concerning Galahad and his fellow knights when they ate of the food provided by the Sangreal: “…ye shall be fed afore this table with sweetmeats that never knights tasted.”
There were times when Malory thought he’d go mad. He’d always been tempted by madness, a state in which a person was both touched with holiness by God and invulnerable to the cares and woes of the world, not to mention his own. But a man who’d spent so many years in prison on Earth without going crazy had to be basically tough. One of the things that had kept his mind unclouded in prison had been his writing of the first English prose epic. Though he knew that his readers would be very few, and most of them would probably not like it, he did not care one whit. Unlike his first work, which had been based on the great French writers of the cycles about King Arthur of ancient Britain, this was about the rejections but final triumph of his sweet Jesu. Unlike so many once-devout Christians, Malory clung to his faith with fierce obliviousness to “facts”—in itself an indication that he had gone mad, if his critics were to be believed.
Twice slain by savage infidels, Malory ended up in an area inhabited on one side by Parthians and on the other by Englishmen.
The Parthians were ancient horsemen who got their name from their habit of shooting backwards from their steeds as they retreated. In other words, they always got in a parting shot. At least, that was the explanation for their name according to one informant. Malory suspected that the grinning fellow was pulling his leg, but it sounded good, so why not accept it.
The Englishmen were chiefly of the seventeenth century and spoke an English which Malory had trouble understanding. However, after all these years, they also spoke Esperanto, that tongue which the missionaries of the Church of the Second Chance used as a universal medium of communication. The land, now known as New Hope, was peaceful, though it had not always been so. Once it had been a number of small states which had had a savage battle with the medieval German and Spanish states up north. These had been led by a man called Kramer, nicknamed the Hammer. After he had been killed, a long peace had come to the land, and the states eventually became one. Malory settled down there and took as his hutmate Philippa Hobart, daughter of Sir Henry Hobart. Though there was no longer a giving in marriage, Malory insisted that they be married, and he got a friend who had been a Catholic priest to perform the old ceremony. Later, he reconverted both his wife and the priest to their native faith.
He was set back somewhat, though, when he heard that the true Jesu Christ had appeared in this area with a Hebrew woman who had known Moses in Egypt and during the exodus. Jesu had also been accompanied by a man named Thomas Mix, an American, the descendant of Europeans who had emigrated to the continent discovered only twenty-one years after Malory had died. Jesu and Mix had burned to death together in bonfires ignited by Kramer.
At first, Malory had denied that the man calling himself Yeshua could be the real Christ. He might be a Hebrew of Christ’s time, but he was a fake.
Then Malory, after tracking down all the evidence he could of Yeshua’s statements and the events of his martyrdom, decided that perhaps Christ had truly been present. So he incorporated the tale told by the locals into the epic he was now writing with ink and a pen formed from the bone of a fish on bamboo paper. Malory also decided to canonize the American, and so Mix became Saint Thomas the Steadfast of the White Hat.
After a while Malory and his disciples forgot that the sainthood was a fiction and came to believe that Saint Thomas was indeed roaming The Valley in quest of his master, sweet Jesu, in this world which was purgatory, though not exactly the middle state between earth and heaven portrayed by the priests of lost Earth.
The ex-priest who’d married Thomas and Philippa, as a bishop ordained on Earth and so in the direct line of priesthood from Saint Peter, was able to instruct others and to make priests of them. The little group of Roman Catholics, however, had a different attitude in one respect from that they’d had in their Terrestrial days. They were tolerant; they did not attempt to bring back the Inquisition nor did they burn suspected witches. If they had insisted on these old customs, they would have quickly been exiled or perhaps even killed.
Late one night, Thomas Malory was lying in bed and pondering on the next chapter of his epic. Suddenly, there was a great shouting outside and a noise as of many running. He sat up and called to Philippa, who awoke frightened and trembling. They went out then to ask what the commotion was about. The people questioned pointed upward into the cloudless sky made bright as a full moon by the packed stars and flaming cosmic-gas sheets.
High up were two strange objects silhouetted against the celestial blaze. One, much smaller, was composed of two parts, a larger sphere above the other. Though those on the ground could not see any linkage between the two, they got the impression that the two were connected because they moved at the same speed. Then a woman who knew of such things said that it looked like a balloon. Malory had never seen one, but he had heard descriptions of them from nineteenth- and twentieth-centurians, and this did indeed look like the description.
The other object, far greater, resembled a gigantic cigar.
The same woman said that this was an airship or dirigible or perhaps was a vessel of the unknowns who’d made this planet.
“Angels?” Malory muttered. “Why would they have to use an airship? They have wings.”
He forgot about that and cried out with the others as the huge vessel of the air suddenly dived. And then he screamed with the others when the vessel exploded. Burning, it fell toward The River.
The balloon continued to travel northeastwards, and after a while it was gone. Long before that, the flaming airship struck the water. Its skeletal framework sank almost at once, but some pieces of its skin burned for a few minutes before they, too, were extinguished.
Neither angels nor demons had voyaged in that vessel of the sky. The man whom Malory and his wife pulled out of the water and rowed to shore in their boat was no more and no less human than they. He was a tall, dark, rapier-thin man with a big nose and a weak chin. His large black eyes stared at them in the torchlight, and he said nothing for a long while. After he had been carried into the community hall, dried off and covered with thick cloths, and had drunk some hot coffee, he said something in French and then spoke in Esperanto.
“How many survived?”
Malory said, “We don’t know yet.”
A few minutes later, the first of twenty-two corpses, some very charred, were brought to the bank. One of them was a woman’s. Though the search continued through the night and part of the morning, these were all that were found. The Frenchman was the single survivor. Though he was weak and still in shock, he insisted on getting up and taking part in the search. When he saw the bodies by a grailstone, he burst into tears and sobbed for a long time. Malory took this as a good indication of the man’s health. At least he wasn’t in such deep trauma that he was unable to express his grief.
“Where have the others gone?” the stranger demanded.
Then his sorrow became rage, and he shook his fist at the skies and howled damnation at someone named Thorn. Later, he asked if anyone had seen or heard another aircraft, a helicopter. Many had.
“Which way did it go?” he said.
Some said that the machine making the strange chopping noise had gone downRiver. Others said that it had gone upRiver. Several days later, the report came that the machine had been seen sinking into The River two hundred miles upstream during a rainstorm. Only one person had witnessed that, and he claimed that a man had swum from the sinking craft. A message via drum was sent to the area asking if any strangers had suddenly appeared. The reply was that none had been located.
A number of grails were found floating on The River, and these were brought to the survivor. He identified one as his, and he ate a meal from it that afternoon. Several of the grails were “free” containers. That is, they could be opened by anybody, and these were confiscated by the state of New Hope.
The Frenchman then asked if any gigantic boats propelled by paddle wheels had passed this point. He was told that one had, the Rex Grandissimus, commanded by the infamous King John of England.
“Good,” the man said. He thought for a while, then said, “I could just stay here and wait until the Mark Twain comes by. But I don’t think I will. I’m going after Thorn.”
By then, he felt recovered enough to talk about himself. And how he talked about himself!
“I am Savinien de Cyrano II de Bergerac,” he said. “I prefer to be called Savinien, but for some reason most people prefer Cyrano. So I allow that small liberty. After all, later ages referred to me as Cyrano, and though it was a mistake, I am so famous that people cannot get used to my preference. They think they know better than I do.
“No doubt you’ve heard of me.”
He regarded his hosts as if they should feel honored to have such a great man as their guest.
“It pains me to admit that I have not,” Malory said.
“What? I was the greatest swordsman of my time, perhaps, no, undoubtedly, of all times. There is no reason for me to be modest. I do not hide my light under a bushel or, in fact, under anything. I was also the author of some remarkable literary works. I wrote books about trips to the sun and to the moon, very pointed and witty satire. My play, The Pedant Out-Witted, was, I understand, used with some modifications by a certain Monsieur Molière and presented as his own. Well, perhaps I exaggerate. Certainly he did use much of the comedy. I also understand that an Englishman named Jonathan Swift used some of my ideas in his Gulliver’s Travels. I do not blame them, since I myself was not above using the ideas of others, though I improved upon them.”
“That is all very well, sir,” Malory said, forbearing to mention his own works. “But if it does not make you overwrought, you could tell us how you came here in that airship and what caused it to burst into flames.”
De Bergerac was staying with the Malorys until an empty hut could be found or he could be loaned the tools to construct one for himself. At this time, though, he and his hosts and perhaps a hundred more were seated or standing by a big fire outside the hut.
It was a long tale, more fabulous even than the teller’s own fictions or Malory’s. Sir Thomas, however, had the feeling that the Frenchman was not telling all that had happened.
When the narrative was finished, Malory mused aloud, “Then it is true that there is a tower in the center of the north polar sea, the sea from whence flows The River and to which it returns? And it is true that whoever is responsible for this world lives in that tower? I wonder what happened to this Japanese, this Piscator? Did the residents of the tower, who surely must be angels, invite him to stay with them because, in a sense, he’d entered the gates of paradise? Or did they send him elsewhere, to some distant part of The River, perhaps?
“And this Thorn, what could account for his criminal behavior? Perhaps he was a demon in disguise.”
De Bergerac laughed loudly and scornfully.
When he had stopped, he said, “There are no angels nor demons, my friend. I do not now maintain, as I did on Earth, that there is no God. But to admit to the existence of a Creator does not oblige one to believe in such myths as angels and demons.”
Malory hotly insisted that there were indeed such. This led to an argument in the course of which the Frenchman walked away from his audience. He spent the night, from what Malory heard, in the hut of a woman who thought that if he was such a great swordsman he must also be a great lover. From her accounts, he was, though perhaps too much devoted to that fashion of making love which many thought reached its perfection, or nadir of degeneracy, in France. Malory was disgusted. But later that day de Bergerac appeared to apologize for his ingratitude to the man who’d saved his life.
“I should not have scoffed at you, my host, my savior. I tender you a thousand apologies, for which I hope to receive one forgiveness.”
“You are forgiven,” Malory said sincerely. “Perhaps, though you forsook our Church on Earth and have blasphemed against God, you would care to attend the mass being said tonight for the souls of your departed comrades?”
“That is the least I can do,” de Bergerac said.
During the mass, he wept copiously, so much so that after it Malory took advantage of his high emotions. He asked him if he was ready to return to God.
“I am not aware that I ever left Him, if He exists,” the Frenchman said. “I was weeping with grief for those I loved on the Parseval and for those whom I did not love but respected. I was weeping with rage against Thorn or whatever his real name is. And I was also weeping because men and women are still ignorant and superstitious enough to believe in this flummery.”
“You refer to the mass?” Malory said icily.
“Yes, forgive me again!” de Bergerac cried.
“Not until you truly repent,” Malory said, “and if you address your repentance to that God whom you have offended so grievously.”
“Quelle merde!” de Bergerac said. But a moment later he embraced Malory and kissed him on both cheeks. “How I wish that your belief was indeed fact! But if it were, then how could I forgive God!”
He bade adieu to Malory, saying that he would probably never see him again. Tomorrow morning, he was setting out upRiver. Malory suspected that de Bergerac would have to steal a boat to do so, and he was right.
Malory often thought of the man who’d leaped from the burning dirigible, the man who had actually been to the tower which many spoke about but none had seen except for the Frenchman and his crewmates. Or if the story could be believed, a group of ancient Egyptians and a huge hairy subhuman.
Less than three years later, the second great paddle-wheeled boat came by. This was even more huge than the Rex and it was more luxurious and faster and better armored and weaponed. But it was not called the Mark Twain. Its captain, Samuel Clemens, an American, had renamed it the Not For Hire. Apparently, he’d heard that King John was calling his own boat, the original Not For Hire, the Rex Grandissimus. So Clemens had taken back the name and ceremoniously had it painted on the hull.
The boat stopped off to recharge its batacitor and to charge its grails. Malory didn’t get a chance to talk to the captain, but he did see him and his surprising bodyguard. Joe Miller was indeed an ogre, ten feet high and weighing eight hundred pounds. His body was not as hairy as Malory expected from the tales. He was no more hirsute than many men Malory had seen, though the hairs were longer. And he did have a face with massive prognathic jaws and a nose like a gigantic cucumber or a proboscis monkey’s. Yet he had the look of intelligence.
On drove the pursuer.
It was an hour to high noon. In another hour, the fabulous Riverboat would be anchored, and a very thick aluminum cable would connect a copper cap placed over a grailstone to the batacitor in the vessel. When the stone delivered its tremendous voltage, the batacitor would be charged again and the grails on another copper plate in the boat would be filled with food, liquor, and other items.
Its hull was white except over the paddle boxes, or wheel guards, over the four paddle wheels. On these were painted in big black letters: NOT FOR HIRE. Under this in smaller letters: Samuel Clemens, Captain. And under this line, in still smaller letters: Owned & Operated By The Avengers, Inc.
Above the pilothouse was a jack staff flying a square light blue flag on which was a scarlet phoenix.
From the stern or verge staff, leaning at a forty-five-degree angle from the stern of the lowest deck, was another flag with a light blue field and bearing a scarlet phoenix.
Sam’s boat was 550 feet and eight inches long. Its breadth over the paddle boxes, or paddle wheel guards, was 115 feet. Its draft was 18 feet when fully loaded.
There were five major decks. The lowest, the A or boiler deck, held various storage rooms, the enormous batacitor, which rose from a well into the next deck, the four electrical motors which drove the paddle wheels, and a huge boiler.
The batacitor was an enormous electrical device fifty feet wide and forty-three feet high. One of Sam’s engineers had claimed it was a late twentieth-century invention. But, since the engineer had said he’d lived past 1983, Sam suspected that he was an agent. (He was long dead.)
The batacitor (from battery-capacitor) could take in the enormous voltage discharged from a grailstone within a second and deliver it all within a second or in a mere trickle, as required. It was the power source for the four massive paddle wheel motors and for the other electrical needs of the boat, including the air-conditioning.
The electrically heated boiler was sixty feet wide and thirty high and was used to heat water for the showers and to heat the cabins, to make alcohol, to power the steam machine guns and fighter-plane steam catapults, and to provide air for the compressed-air cannon and steam for the boat’s whistles and the two smokestacks. The smokestacks were misnamed, since they only vented a steam which was colored to simulate smoke when Sam felt like putting on a show.
At water level in the rear of the boiler deck was a big door which could be raised to admit or let out the two launches and the torpedo-bomber.
The deck above, the B or main deck, was set back to provide an exterior passageway, called the promenade deck.
On the Mississippi riverboats which Sam had piloted when young, the lowest deck had been called the main deck and the one above that the boiler deck. But since the boiler in the Not For Hire had its base in the lowest deck, Sam had renamed that the boiler deck. And he called the one above it the main deck. It had been confusing at first for his pilots, who were accustomed to Terrestrial usage, but they had gotten used to it.
Sometimes, when the boat was anchored off the bank of a peaceable area, Sam gave the crew shore leave (except for the guards, of course). Then he would conduct a tour for the local high muckymucks. Dressed in a white fishskin-leather jacket, a long white kiltcloth, and white calf-length boots and wearing a white leather captain’s hat, he would take his guests from top to bottom of the boat. Of course, he and some marines kept a sharp eye on them, since the contents of the Not For Hire must have proved very tempting to landlubbing stay-at-homes.
Puffing on a cigar between his sentences, Sam would explain everything, well, almost everything, to his curious party.
Having led them through the A or boiler deck, Sam would then take them up the steps to the B or main deck.
“Navy people would call this series of steps a ladder,” he said. “But since most of my crew were landlubbers, and since we do have some real ladders aboard, I decided to call the stairways stairways. After all, you go up them on steps, not rungs. In the same spirit, I dictated, despite the outraged protests of naval veterans, that walls should not be called bulkheads but walls. However, I did allow a distinction between your ordinary door and hatches. Hatches are those thick airtight watertight doors which can be locked with a lever mechanism.”
“And what kind of weapon is that?” a tourist would ask. He’d point to a long tubular duraluminum device looking like a cannon and mounted on a platform. Big plastic tubes ran into the breech.
“That’s a steam machine gun, .80 caliber. It contains a complicated device which permits a stream of plastic bullets, fed through a pipe from below, to be fired at a rapid rate from the gun. Steam from the boiler provides the propulsive power.”
Once, a person who’d been on the Rex said, “King John’s boat has a.75-caliber steam machine gun, several of them.”
“Yes. I designed those myself. But the son of a bitch stole the boat, and when I built this one, I made my guns bigger than his.”
He showed them the rows of windows, “not ports but windows,” along the exterior passageway. “Which some of my crew have the unmitigated ignorance or brazen gall to call corridors or even halls. Of course, they do that behind my back.”
He took them into a cabin to impress upon them its commodiousness and luxuriousness.
“There are one hundred and twenty-eight cabins, each of which is fitted for two persons. Notice the snap-up bed, made from brass. Eyeball the porcelain toilets, the shower stall with hot and cold running water, the wash basin with brass plumbing, the mirrors framed in brass, the oak bureaus. They’re not very large, but then we don’t carry many changes of clothes aboard. Notice also the weapons rack, which may hold pistols, rifles, spears, swords, and bows. The carpeting is made of human hairs. And pop your eyes out at the painting on the wall. It’s an original by Motonobu, A.D. 1476 to 1559, the great Japanese painter who founded the style of painting called Kano. In the next cabin are some paintings by Zeuxis of Heraclea. There are ten in there. As a matter of fact it’s Zeuxis’ own cabin. He, as you may or may not know, was the great fifth-century B.C. painter born in Heraclea, a Greek colony in south Italy. It’s said of him that he painted a bunch of grapes so realistically that birds tried to eat it. Zeuxis won’t confirm or deny this tale. For myself, I prefer photographs, but I do have some paintings in my suite. One by a Pieter de Hooch, a Dutch painter of the seventeenth century. Near it is one by the Italian, Giovanni Fattori, A.D. 1825 to 1908. Poor fellow. It may be his final work, since he fell overboard during a party and was smashed to shreds by the paddle wheel. Even if he were resurrected, which isn’t likely, he won’t find pigments enough for a single painting anywhere but on this boat and the Rex.”
Sam took them along the outside or promenade deck to the bow.
Here was mounted an 88-millimeter cannon. So far, Sam said, it hadn’t been used, and new gunpowder would soon have to be made to refill the charges.
“But when I catch up with the Rex, I’ll blow Rotten John out of the water with this.”
He also pointed out the rocket batteries on the promenade, heat-seeking missiles with a range of a mile and a half and carrying warheads of forty pounds of plastic explosive.
“If the cannons miss, these’ll shred his ass.”
One of the women tourists was well acquainted with Clemens’ work and biographies about him. She spoke in a low voice to her companion. “I never realized that Mark Twain was so bloodthirsty.”
“Madame,” Sam said, having overheard her, “I am not bloodthirsty! I am the most pacifistic of men! I loathe violence, and the idea of war puts my bowels into an uproar. If you’d read my essays about war and those who love it, you’d know that. But I have been forced into this situation and many like it. To survive, you must lie better than the liars, deceive more than the deceivers, and kill the killers first! For me, it’s sheer necessity, though justified! What would you do if King John had stolen your boat after you’d gone through years of search for iron and other metals to build your dream! And years of fighting others who wanted to take them away from you after you’d found them, and on every side treachery and murder, all directed against you! And what would you do if that John killed some of your good friends and your wife and then sped away laughing at you! Would you let him get away with it? I think not, not if you’ve got an ounce of courage.”
“Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord,” a man said.
“Yes. Maybe. But if there is a Lord, and He works His vengeance, how’s He going to do it without using humans as His hands? Did you ever hear of any wicked person being struck down by lightning, except by accident? Lightning also strikes thousands of innocents every year, you know! No, He has to use human beings as His instruments, and who else is better qualified than me? Or more made by circumstances into His keen and purposefully designed tool?”
Sam was so upset that he had to send a marine up to the grand salon to get four ounces of bourbon to settle his nerves.
Before the drink was brought down to Sam, a tourist muttered, “Bullshit!”
“Throw that man off the boat!” Sam shouted. And it was done.
“You’re a very angry man,” the woman who knew his works said.
“Yes, ma’am, I am. And with good reason. I was angry on Earth, and I’m angry here.”
The marine brought Sam’s whiskey. He downed it quickly and then continued the tour with his good humor restored.
He led the group up the grand staircase to the grand salon. They paused in the entrance, and the tourists oohed and ahed. It was two hundred feet long and fifty wide and the ceiling was twenty feet above the floor. Along the center of the ceiling was a line of five huge cut-glass chandeliers. There were many windows making the huge room well lighted and many wall and ceiling lights and towering ornate brass floor lamps.
At the far end was a stage which Clemens said was used for live dramas and comedies and for orchestras. It also had a big screen which could be pulled down when movies were shown.
“We don’t use chemically treated film to shoot these,” he said. “We have electronic cameras. We make original films and also remake the classics of Earth. Tonight, for instance, we’re showing The Maltese Falcon. We don’t have any of the original cast except Mary Astor, whose real name is Lucille Langehanke, and she plays Sam Spade’s secretary. Astor was, from what I’ve been told, miscast. But then I don’t suppose most of you know what I’m talking about.”
“I do,” the woman who’d called him angry said. “Who played her part in your version?”
“An American actress, Alice Brady.”
“And who played Sam Spade? I can’t imagine anyone else but Humphrey Bogart in the role.”
“Howard da Silva, another American actor. His real name was Howard Goldblatt, if I remember correctly. He’s very grateful to get this role, since he claims he never had a chance to show his real acting ability on Earth. But he’s sorry that his audience will be so small.”
“Don’t tell me the director is John Ford?”
“I never heard of him,” Sam said. “Our director is Alexander Singer.”
“I never heard of him.”
“I suppose so. But I understand that he was well known in Hollywood circles.”
Irked at what he considered an irrelevant interruption, he pointed out the sixty-foot-long polished oak bar on the port side and the neatly stacked row of liquor bottles and decanters. The group was quite impressed with these and the lead-glass goblets. They were even more affected by the four grand pianos. Sam told them that he had aboard at least ten great pianists and five composers. For instance, Selim Palmgren (1878–1951), a Finnish composer and pianist who had been prominent in establishing the school of Finnish national music. There was also Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (1526–1594), the great composer of madrigals and motets.
“Amadeus Mozart was once on this boat,” Sam said. “He’s a really great composer, some say the greatest. But he turned out to be such a failure as a human being, such a sneak and lecher and coward, that I kicked him off the boat.”
“Mozart?” the woman said. “My God, Mozart! You beast, how could you treat such a wonderful composer, a genius, a god, like that?”
“Ma’am,” Clemens said, “believe me, there was more than enough provocation. If you don’t like my attitude, you may leave. A marine will escort you to shore.”
“You’re no fucking gentleman,” the woman said.
“Oh, yes, I am.”
They went down a passageway toward the bow, passing more cabins. The last one on the right-hand side was Clemens’ suite, and he showed them that. Their exclamations of surprise and delight gratified Sam. Across from his cabin, he said, was that of his bodyguard, Joe Miller, and Joe’s mate.
Beyond his quarters was a small room which contained an elevator. This led into the lowest of the three rooms of the pilothouse structure. This was the E deck or observation room, furnished with overstuffed chairs, lounges, and a small bar. There were also mounts in the windows for machine guns which shot plastic or wooden bullets.
The next room of the pilothouse structure was the F or cannon deck, called so because of the emplacement of four 20-millimeter steam cannons. These were fed ammunition by belts enclosed in a shaft which ran from the boiler deck.
The very highest deck, the pilothouse or control or G deck, was twice as large as the one beneath it.
“Big enough to hold a dance in,” said Clemens, who didn’t mind exaggeration at all, especially when he was the exaggerator.
He introduced them to the radio and radar operators, the chief executive officer, the communications officer, and the chief pilot. The latter was Henry Detweiller, a Frenchman who’d emigrated to the American Midwest in the early nineteenth century and become a river pilot, then a captain, and finally the owner of several steamboat companies. He’d died in Peoria, Illinois, in his palatial mansion.
The exec, John Byron, was an Englishman (1723–1786) who’d been a midshipman on Anson’s famous naval expedition around the world but was shipwrecked off the coast of Chile. When he became an admiral, he earned the nickname of “Foulweather Jack” because every time his fleet put to sea it ran into very bad storms.
“He is also the grandfather of the famous or infamous poet, Lord Byron,” Sam said. “Isn’t that right, admiral?”
Byron, a small blond man with cold blue eyes, nodded.
“Admiral?” said the woman who’d been bugging Clemens. “But if you’re the captain…?”
Sam puffed on his cigar, then said, “Yes, I’m the only captain aboard. The next highest rank is full admiral and so on down. The chief of my air force, which consists of four pilots and six mechanics, is a general. So is the chief of my marines. The latter, by the way, was once a full general in the United States army during the Civil War. He’s a full-blooded American Indian, a Seneca chief. Ely S. Parker or, to use his Iroquois name, Donehogawa, which means ‘Keeper of the West Gate.’ He is highly educated and was a construction engineer on Earth. He served on General Ulysses S. Grant’s staff during the war.”
Sam next explained the controls and instruments used by the pilot. He sat in a chair on each side of which were two long metal rods projecting from the floor. By moving the control sticks forward or backward, he could control the forward or backward rotations of the paddle wheels. Also, their rate of speed of turning. Before him was a panel with many dials and gauges and several oscilloscopes.
“One is a sonarscope,” Sam said. “Reading that, the pilot can tell exactly how deep the bottom of The River is and how far from the bank the boat is and also if there are any dangerously large objects in the water. By switching that dial marked AUTO CRUISE to ON, he doesn’t have to do a thing then except keep an eye on the sonarscope and another on the banks. If the automatic system should malfunction, he can switch to a backup system while the other is being repaired.”
“Piloting must be easy,” a man said.
“It is. But only an experienced pilot can handle emergencies, which is why most of them are Mississippi boat veterans.”
He pointed out that the deck of the control room was ninety feet above the surface of The River. He also called to their attention that the pilothouse structure was, unlike that on the riverboats on Earth, located on the starboard side, not in the middle of the deck.
“Which makes the Not For Hire resemble an aircraft carrier even more.”
They watched the marines drilling on the flight deck and the men and women busy practicing the martial arts, sword, spear, knife, and ax fighting, and archery.
“Every member of this crew, including myself, has to become proficient with all weapons. In addition, each person has to become fully qualified to handle any post. They go to school to learn electricity, electronics, plumbing, officering, and piloting. Half of them have taken lessons on the piano or with other musical instruments. This boat contains t more individuals with more varied skills and professions than any other area on this planet.”
“Does everybody take turns being the captain?” said the woman who’d angered him.
“No. That is the exception,” Sam said, his thick eyebrows forming a frown. “I wouldn’t want to put ideas into anybody’s head.”
He strode to the control panel and punched a button. Sirens began to wail, and the exec, John Byron, asked the communications officer to send the “Bridges, clearing” warning over the general intercom. Sam went to a starboard window and urged the others to gather by him. They gasped when they saw long thick metal beams slide out from the three lower decks.
“If we can’t sink the Rex,” Clemens said, “we’ll board it over those bridges.”
The woman said, “That’s fine. But the crew of the Rex can also board your vessel on your own bridges.”
Sam’s blue-green eyes glared above his falcon nose.
However, the others of the group were so awed, so astounded, that Sam’s hairy chest puffed from joy. He had always been fascinated by mechanical devices, and he liked others to share his enthusiasm. On Earth his interest in novel gadgets had been responsible for his going bankrupt. He’d put a fortune into the unworkable Paige typesetting machine.
The woman said, “But all this iron and aluminum and other metals? This planet is so mineral-poor. Where did you get these?”
“First,” Sam said, pleased to recount his exploits, “a giant nickel-iron meteorite fell into The Valley. Do you remember when, many years ago, the grailstones on the right bank ceased operating? That was because the falling star severed the line.
“As you know, it was back in operation twenty-four hours later. So…”
“Who repaired it?” a man said. “I’ve heard all sorts of stories, but…”
“I was in the neighborhood, in a manner of speaking,” Sam said. “In fact, the tidal wave of The River and the blast almost killed me and my companions.”
He mentally winced then, not because of the near fatality but because he remembered what he’d done later to one of his companions, the Norseman Erik Bloodaxe.
“So I can testify to the amazing but undeniable fact that not only had the line been repaired overnight, but the blasted land had also been restored. The grass and the trees and the stripped soil were all back.”
“Who did it?”
“They had to be the beings who made this Rivervalley and resurrected us. I’ve heard that they are human beings like us, in fact, Earthmen who lived ages after we did. However…”
“No, not human beings,” the man said. “Surely not. It was God who made all this for us.”
“If you’re so well acquainted with Him,” Clemens said, “give me His address. I’d like to write Him.”
He continued, “My group was the first to get to the site of the meteorite. The crater, which might have been as wide and deep as the famous one in Arizona, was buried by then. But we staked out a claim, and we began digging. Some time later, we heard that large deposits of bauxite and cryolite were under the land of a state downRiver. Its citizens, however, had no means of digging it up or then using it. But my state, Parolando, could make aluminum from the ores after we’d fashioned iron tools. That state, Soul City, attacked us to get the iron. We beat them and confiscated the bauxite and cryolite. We also found that some other states relatively nearby had some copper and tin deposits. Also, some vanadium and tungsten. We traded our iron artifacts for these.”
The woman, frowning, said, “Isn’t it strange that there was so much metal in that area, and elsewhere there is almost none? It’s quite a coincidence, isn’t it, that you were looking for these metals and just happened to be in the neighborhood when the meteorite fell?”
“Maybe God directed me to that place,” Sam said sneeringly.
No, he thought, it wasn’t God. It was that Mysterious Stranger, the Ethical who called himself X, who had arranged, who knew how many thousands of years ago, that the deposits should be so concentrated in that area. And who then directed that meteorite to fall near them.
For what purpose? To build a riverboat and to provide weapons so that Sam could voyage up The River, perhaps for ten million miles, and get to the headwaters. And from there to the tower which reared high in the mists of the cold northpolar sea.
And then do what?
He didn’t know. The Ethical was supposed to visit him again during a thunderstorm at night, as he always did. Apparently, he came at that time because the lightning interfered with the delicate instruments the Ethicals used to try to locate the renegade. He would give him more information. In the meantime, others visited by X, his chosen warriors, would find Sam and get on his boat and go with him upRiver.
But things had gone awry.
He’d not seen or heard from the Mysterious Stranger again. He’d built his boat, and then his partner, King John Lackland, had hijacked it. Also, some years later, the “little resurrections,” the “translations,” had ceased, and permanent death had come to the dwellers in The Valley again.
Something had happened to the people in the tower, the Ethicals. Something must also have happened to the Mysterious Stranger.
But he, Clemens, was going to the headwaters anyway and then try to get into the tower. He knew how difficult the climbing of the mountains which circled the sea would be. Joe Miller, the titanthrop, had seen the tower from a path along the side of that towering range when he’d accompanied the Pharaoh Akhenaten. Joe had also seen a gigantic aircraft of some sort descend to the top of the tower. And then he’d tripped over a grail left by some unknown predecessor and had fallen to his death. After being resurrected to a place in The Valley, he’d met Sam and had told his strange tale to him.
The woman said, “What about this dirigible we’ve heard rumors of? Why didn’t you go on that instead of the boat? You could have gotten to the headwaters in a few days instead of the thirty or forty years it’ll take you on the boat.”
That was a subject Sam didn’t like to talk about. The truth was that no one had even thought of an airship until shortly before the Not For Hire was to set out. Then a German dirigible man named von Parseval had come along and asked why he hadn’t built the ship.
Sam’s chief engineer, Milton Firebrass, an ex-astronaut, had liked the suggestion. So he’d stayed behind when the Not For Hire left, and he’d constructed the floating vessel. He’d kept in radio contact with the boat, and when the ship did get to the tower, he’d reported that it was a little over a mile high and almost ten miles in diameter. The Parseval had landed on its top, but only one of its crew, a Japanese ex-blimp man and Sufi who called himself Piscator, had been able to enter. The others had been restrained by some invisible but tangible force. Before that, an officer named Barry Thorn had placed a bomb on the helicopter carrying Firebrass and some others on a scouting landing. He’d set the bomb off with a radio signal and then stolen a helicopter and flown off the dirigible. But he’d been wounded, and the copter had crashed at the base of the tower.
Thorn was brought back to the dirigible and questioned. He refused to give information, but he was visibly shocked when he heard that Piscator had gotten into the tower.
Clemens suspected that Thorn was either an Ethical or one of their subordinates, whom the X’s recruits called agents.
He also had some suspicions that Firebrass had been one or the other. And perhaps the woman who’d died in the explosion of the helicopter, Anna Obrenova, had been an Ethical or agent.
Sam had concluded from his examination of all available evidence that something had long ago stranded a number of agents and perhaps some Ethicals in The Valley. X was probably one of them. Which meant that agents and Ethicals would have to use the same means as the Valleydwellers to get to the tower. Which meant that there were probably some disguised agents or Ethicals or both on his boat. Which meant that there were probably also some on the Rex.
Just why the Ethicals and agents hadn’t been able to use their aircraft to return to the tower, he didn’t know.
By now he’d reasoned that anyone who claimed to have lived after A.D. 1983 was one of the beings responsible for the Riverworld. It was his idea that the post-1983 story was false and was a code which enabled them to recognize each other.
He also reasoned that some of them might have figured that X’s recruits suspected this story-code. Therefore, they would be dropping that story.
Clemens said to the woman, “The airship was supposed to be a scout, to find out the lay of the land. Its captain was under orders, however, to get into the tower if it was possible. Then he was to return to the boat and pick up myself and some others. But no one but a Sufi philosopher named Piscator could get in, and he didn’t come back out. On the way back, its captain, a woman named Jill Gulbirra, who took over when Firebrass was killed, sent a raiding expedition in a copter against the Rex. King John was captured, but he escaped by jumping from the copter. I don’t know whether or not he survived. The aircraft flew back to the Parseval and continued on its course to the Not For Hire. Then Gulbirra reported sighting a very large balloon and was heading for it when Thorn got loose again. He flew off in a copter. Gulbirra, suspecting he’d planted a bomb, searched for it. None was found, but she couldn’t take a chance that there wasn’t one. She dived the dirigible toward the ground. She wanted to get her crew off just in case there was a bomb.
“Then she reported that there was an explosion. That was the last we heard from the Parseval.”
The woman said, “We’ve heard rumors that it crashed many thousands of miles upRiver. There was only one survivor.”
“Only one! My God, who was he? Or she?”
“I don’t know his name. But I heard that he was a Frenchman.”
Sam groaned. There was just one Frenchman on the airship. Cyrano de Bergerac, with whom Sam’s wife had fallen in love. Of all the crew, he was the only one whom Sam would not have sorrowed over.
It was late afternoon when Sam saw the strange being who was even more grotesque than Joe Miller. Joe was at least human, but this person had obviously not been born on Earth.
Sam knew at once that the being had to be one of the small group from a planet of Tau Ceti. His informant, the late Baron John de Greystock, had known one of them. According to his story, the Tau Cetans, in the early twenty-first century, had put into orbit a smaller vessel around Earth before descending in the great mothership to the surface. They’d been welcomed, but then one of them, Monat, had said on a TV talk show that the Cetans had the means for extending their lives to centuries. The Earth-people had demanded that this knowledge be given them. When the Cetans had refused, saying that the Terrestrials would abuse the gift of longevity, mobs had lynched most of the Cetans and then stormed the spaceship. Reluctantly, Monat had activated a scanner on the satellite, and this had projected a beam which killed most of the human life on Earth. At least, Monat thought it would do so. He didn’t see the results of his action. He, too, was torn apart by the mob.
He had set the death-beams into operation because he feared that Terrestrials would use the spaceship as a model to build more ships and then would go to his native planet and war against it, perhaps destroy all his people. He didn’t know whether or not they would actually do that, but he couldn’t take the chance.
The Cetan was standing up somewhat precariously in a narrow dugout and waving frantically at the Not For Hire. Obviously, he wanted aboard. So did a lot of people, Sam thought, but they don’t get their wish. This, however, was, if not a horse of a different color, a biped neither bird nor man. So Sam told the pilot to make a circle and then come alongside the dugout.
Presently, while the gaping crew lined the exterior passageways, the Cetan climbed a short ladder to the boiler deck. His companion, an ordinary-looking human male, followed him. The dugout drifted away to be grabbed by whoever got to it first.
Escorted by two marines and General Ely S. Parker himself, the two were soon in the control room. Sam, speaking Esperanto, shook their hands, introduced himself and the others, and then they introduced themselves.
“I am Monat Grrautut,” the biped said in a deep rich voice.
“Jesus H. Christ!” Sam said. “The very one!”
Monat smiled, exposing human-looking teeth.
“Ah, then you’ve heard of me.”
“You’re the only Tau Cetan whose name I know,” Sam said. “I’ve been scanning the banks for years for one of you, and I’ve never seen hair nor hide of any. And then to run smackdab into you yourself!”
“I’m not from a planet of Tau Ceti,” Monat said. “That was the story we gave when we came to Earth. Actually, I’m from a planet of the star Arcturus. We misled the Terrestrials just in case they proved to be warlike and then…”
“Good thinking,” Sam said. “Though you were a little tough on Earthpeople, as I understand. However, why did you stick to that story when you were resurrected here—without your permission?”
Monat shrugged. How humanlike, Sam thought.
“Habit, I suppose. Also, I wanted to make sure the Terrestrials still didn’t represent a danger to my people.”
“I can’t blame you.”
“When I knew positively that Earthpeople were no danger, I told the true story of my origin.”
“Sure you did,” Sam said and laughed. “Here. Have a cigar, you two.”
Monat was six feet eight inches tall, thin, and pink-skinned. He wore only a kiltcloth, allowing most of his features to show, but concealing the most interesting to some. Greystock had said that the fellow’s penis could pass for human and was circumcised, as were all men’s on this world. His scrotum, however, was a knobby sac which contained a number of small testes.
His face was semihuman. Below a shaved skull and very high forehead were two thick black curly-haired eyebrows that ran down to his very prominent cheekbones and spread out to cover them. The eyes were a dark brown. Most of his nose was more handsome than Sam had seen on many people. But a thin membranous fringe a sixteenth of an inch long hung from the sides of his nostrils. The nose ended in a thick, deeply clefted pad of cartilage. His lips were doglike, thin, leathery, and black. His lobeless ears displayed quite unhuman convolutions.
Each hand bore three fingers and a long thumb on each, and he had four toes on each foot.
I don’t suppose he’d scare anybody on skid row, Sam thought. Or in Congress.
His companion was an American born in 1918, deceased in 2008, when the Cetan or Arcturan beam swept Earth. His name was Peter Jairus Frigate, and he was about six feet tall, of muscular build, had black hair and green eyes and a not ugly face in front, but a rather craggy and short-jawed profile. Like Monat, he had a grail and a bundle of possessions and was armed with a stone knife, an ax, a bow, and a quiver of arrows.
Sam doubted very much that Monat was telling the truth about his place of birth or that Frigate was giving his right name. He doubted the story of anybody who said he’d lived past 1983. However, he wasn’t going to say anything about that until he became well acquainted with these two.
After having a drink served to them, he personally led them to the officers’ quarters near his suite.
“It just so happens that I’m short of three of my complement,” he said. “There’s a cabin available in the boiler deck. It’s not a desirable location, so I’ll roust out two junior officers from this cabin here. You can have theirs, and they can go below.”
The man and the woman who had to surrender their cabin didn’t look happy when they heard Sam’s order, but they got out quickly.
That evening, they ate at the captain’s table on china plates painted by an ancient Chinese artist and drank from cut-lead-glass goblets. The dining utensils were a solid silver alloy.
Sam and the others, including the gigantic Joe Miller, listened intently to the stories of both newcomers about their adventures on the Riverworld. When Sam heard that they’d journeyed for a long while with Richard Francis Burton, the famous nineteenth-century explorer, linguist, translator, and author, he felt a shock run through him. The Ethical had told him that he’d also recruited Burton.
“Got any idea where he is?” he asked calmly.
“No,” Monat said. “We were separated during a battle and could not find him after it though we searched for him.”
Sam urged Joe Miller to tell his story of the Egyptian expedition. Sam was getting impatient with his role of the polite questioner and host. He loved to dominate the conversation, but he wanted to see what effect Miller’s tale had on the two.
When Joe finished, Monat said. “So! Then there is a tower in the polar sea!”
“Yeth, goddam it, that’th vhat I thaid,” Joe said.
Sam intended to take at least a week hearing everything relevant they had to say about themselves. Then he would subject them to much more rigorous questioning.
Two days later, when the boat was anchored on the right bank at noon for recharging, the grailstones remained mute and flameless.
“Holy jumping Jesus!” Sam said. “Another meteorite?”
He didn’t think that was the cause for the failure. The Ethical had told him that meteor-deflecting guards had been set up in space, and that the only reason the one had gotten through was because he’d managed to make the guards fail at just the right moment to permit the meteor to pass through them. The guards would still be out there, floating in space, ready to do their job.
But if the failure hadn’t been caused by a meteorite, what had caused it?
Or was it another case of malfunction of the Ethicals’ systems? People were no longer resurrected, which meant that something had gone wrong and unrepaired in the mechanism which converted the heat of the planet’s core into electricity for the stones. Luckily, these were set in a parallel, not a series, arrangement. Otherwise, everybody would starve, not just those on the right bank.
Sam immediately ordered that the boat resume its course upstream. When it was near dusk the boat stopped at the left bank. Not unexpectedly, the locals did not agree to allow the use of a grailstone. There was a hell of a fight, a slaughter which sickened Sam. Frigate was one of those killed by a small rocket launched from the bank.
Then the starving desperates of the right bank invaded the left bank. They came in swarms that would not be stopped until so many had been killed that there was room enough on the stones for the grails of the survivors.
Not until the bodies no longer clogged the surface of The River did Clemens give the order to proceed upstream. A few days after that, he stopped long enough to replace those he’d lost in the bloodiness.
Section 3 Aboard the Rex: The Thread of Reason
It was Loghu and Alice who got Burton and the others onto King John’s boat.
Their group had traveled upRiver to the area at which the Rex had anchored for shore leave and repairs. They found the landing place temporarily overpopulated because of those curious to see the great vessel at close range, some of whom were also ambitious to get signed up as crew members. There were some vacancies aboard which rumor said had resulted when the captain had reprimanded too harshly six people whom he thought negligent in their duties. He didn’t seem in any hurry to replace them.
When John came ashore, he was surrounded by twelve marines, who gave him plenty of elbow room. It was no secret, though, that King John had an eye for beautiful women. So Loghu, an exceedingly beautiful ancient Tokharian blonde, walked by him clad only in a short kiltcloth. John stopped his marines and began talking to her. He wasn’t long in inviting her aboard for a tour of his boat. Though he didn’t say so, he intimated that his grand suite might take the longest to inspect and that only he and Loghu should do the inspecting.
Loghu laughed and said that she might come aboard, but her friends would have to come with her. As for the tête-à-tête, she would consider it but would not make up her mind until she had seen everything on the vessel.
King John looked sour, but then he laughed and said that he would show her something that most people didn’t get to see. Loghu was no fool and understood well what he meant. Nevertheless, she knew how desperately necessary it was to get aboard the Rex.
Thus Alice, Burton, Kazz, and Besst were also invited to the tour.
Burton was fuming since he did not wish to get John’s ear by having Loghu behave like a slut. It was the only way, however. His previous declarations that he would find some way to get onto the boat, no matter what the obstacles, had been so much excess steam, impressive but useless. There was no other course to take that would get him more than a very temporary stay on the Rex.
Thus, Loghu had taken a very old and still effective method. Without actually saying so, she had suggested that she might be willing to share John’s bed. Burton hadn’t liked it. He felt like a whoremonger, and it also angered him that it was a woman who had done what he couldn’t do. He wasn’t as upset as he would have been on Earth or even here many years ago. This world had given him a good opportunity to see what women could do once the inhibitions and strictures of Terrestrial society had been removed. Moreover, it was he who had written: Women the world over are what men have made them. That might have been true in Victorian times, but it no longer applied.
While going back to the boat, Loghu introduced the others. All except Burton were using their native names. He had decided this time not to use his old half-Arab, half-Pathan guise, not to be Mirza Abdullah Bushiri or Abdul Hassan or any of the many similar guises he’d used on Earth and here. This time, for a reason he didn’t explain to his companions, he was posing as Gwalchgwynn, a Dark-Age Welshman who’d lived when the Britons were making their final stand against the invading Angles, Saxons, and Jutes.
“It means ‘White Hawk,’ Your Majesty,” he said.
“So?” John said. “You are very dark for a white hawk.”
Kazz, the Neanderthal male, rumbled, “He is a great swordsman and marksman, Your Majesty. He would be a good fighter for you.”
“Perhaps I’ll give him a chance to demonstrate his skill sometime,” John said.
John looked through lowered lids at Kazz. John was five feet four inches in stature, but he looked tall alongside the Neanderthal. Kazz was squat and big-boned, as all early Old Stone Agers were. His breadloaf-shaped head, the low slanting forehead, thick shelving brows, broad flat nose, and very protruding jaws didn’t make him handsome. But he was not subhuman appearing like the Neanderthals in illustrations or the early reconstructions in museums. He was hairy but no more than the most hirsute of Homo sapiens.
His mate, Besst, was several inches shorter than he and just as unprepossessing.
John was interested in the two of them, however. They were small, but their strength was enormous, and both male and female would be good warriors. The low brows did not necessarily front a low intelligence since the gamut of brilliance to stupidity was the same in Neanderthals as in that of modern humanity.
Half of John’s complement was early Paleolithic.
John, nicknamed Lackland because for a long time he’d not been able to possess the states he claimed title to, was the younger brother of King Richard I the Lionhearted, the monarch to whom the legendary Robin Hood remained loyal while John ruled England as regent. He had broad shoulders and an athletic sturdy frame, a heavy jaw, tawny hair, blue eyes, and a terrible temper, though that was nothing unusual for a medieval king. He’d had a very bad reputation during and after his death, though he was no worse than many kings before or since and better than his brother. Contemporary and later chroniclers united to present an unfair portrait of him. He was so loathed that it became a tradition that no one of the British royal family should be named John.
Richard had designated his nephew, Arthur of Brittany, as his heir. John had refused to accept this, and, while fighting Arthur, had captured him and then imprisoned him in the castle of Falaise and later in Rouen. There Richard’s nephew disappeared under circumstances which made most people believe that John had slain him and then thrown the weighted body into the Seine. John had never denied or confirmed the accusations.
Another blot on his record, though no larger or blacker than that on the records of many monarchs, was the undeniable fact that he had caused to be starved to death the wife and son of an enemy, the Baron de Braose.
There were many more stories, some of which were true, about his evil deeds. But not until many centuries later did objective historians record that he had also done much good for England.
Burton didn’t know much about John’s life on the Riverworld except that he had stolen Samuel Clemens’ boat. He also knew that it would not be discreet to mention this to John.
The monarch himself was their guide. He showed them almost everything from the lowest deck to the top, the boiler, main, hurricane, flight, and texas deck, an extension from the lower story of the two-story pilothouse. While they were in the pilothouse, Alice told the king that she was his descendant through his great-great-grandson, John of Gaunt.
“Indeed,” he said. “Were you then a princess or a queen?”
“Not even of the nobility,” she said. “Though I was of the gentry. My father was a relative of Baron Ravensworth. I was born in the Year of Our Lord 1852, when Victoria, another descendant of yours, was queen.”
The king’s tawny eyebrows rose.
“You are the first descendant of mine I’ve ever met. A very pretty one, too.”
“Thank you, Sire.”
Burton burned even more. Was John contemplating incest, however rarefied the consanguinity might be?
John had apparently been considering taking all of them on as crewmembers, and Alice’s distant kinship decided him. After they had gone to the grand salon for a drink, he told them that they could, if they wished, travel the River with him. He told them in detail, first, what the general duties of the crew were and what the discipline consisted of, and then demanded they swear an oath of fealty to him.
So far, John had not followed up on his intimations that Loghu go to bed with him, but he undoubtedly meant to. Burton asked if he could talk to the others privately for a minute. John graciously gave permission, and they went to a corner to talk.
“I don’t mind,” Loghu said. “I might even like it. I’ve never been mounted by a king. Anyway, I have no man now and I haven’t since that bastard Frigate ran out on us. John isn’t a bad looker at all, even if he is shorter than I am.”
On Earth, Alice would have been horrified. But she’d seen too much and changed too much; most of her Victorian attitudes had long dissipated.
“As long as it’s voluntary,” she said, “then it’s not wrong.”
“I’d do it if it were wrong,” Loghu said. “We have too much at stake for me to be squeamish.”
“I don’t like it,” Burton said. He was relieved but didn’t want to admit it. “But if we miss this boat, we may not get a chance to get on the other. I’d say that boarding the Mark Twain would be as difficult as it would be for a politician to get into Heaven.
“However, if he should mistreat you…”
“Oh, I can take care of myself,” Loghu said. “If I can’t throw that runt clear across the cabin, I’ve lost my touch. As a last resort I can crack his nuts.”
Alice hadn’t changed so much that she didn’t blush.
“He might even make you his Number One mistress,” Kazz said. “Haw! That’d make you queen then! Hail, Queen Loghu!”
“I’m more worried about his current mistress than I am about him,” Loghu said. “John wouldn’t stab me in the back, though he might try to take me in the rear, but his woman might put a knife in my spine.”
“I still feel like a pimp,” Burton said.
“Why should you? You don’t own me.”
They returned to John and told him that they wished to take the oath.
John ordered drinks for the occasion. After these, he had his executive officer, a huge late-twentieth-century Yank named Augustus Strubewell, make arrangements for the swearing-in that evening.
Two days later, the Rex up-anchored and set out upRiver. Alice was attached as a nurse to the staff of one of the boat’s physicians, a Doctor Doyle. Loghu was to be trained as a pilot, after which she would be officially a pilot second-class, extra. The duties would require only that she substitute if one of the second-class pilots was unavailable. She would have plenty of spare time unless John kept her busy in his suite, which he did for some time to come. The woman she dispossessed seemed to be angry about it, but was only pretending. She’d been getting as tired of John as he of her.
Kazz and Burton were ranked as privates in the marines. Kazz was an axman; Burton, a pistoleer and rapiersman. Besst was put among the women archers.
One of the first things that Burton did was find out who on the boat claimed to have lived past A.D. 1983. There were four. One was Strubewell. He’d been with John when he hijacked the boat.
When the Reverend Mr. Dodgson, better known as Lewis Carroll, wrote Alice in Wonderland, he prefaced it with a poem. It begins with “All in the golden afternoon” and compresses that famous journey by boat up the Isis during which Dodgson was teased by the real Alice into writing down the tale he’d composed to please the “cruel Three.”
On that day of July 4, 1852, golden in memory only because it actually was cool and wet, Dodgson, who would be the Dodo in Alice and the White Knight in Through the Looking-Glass, was accompanied by Reverend Duckworth, who naturally became the Duck. Lorina, aged thirteen, was the Lory, and Alice, aged ten, Dodgson’s favorite, was of course Alice. Edith, the youngest sister, aged eight, would be the Eaglet.
The three little girls were the daughters of Bishop Liddell, whose surname rhymed with fiddle, as evidenced by a poem about the bishop sung by the rowdy Oxford students. Dodgson’s verse refers to the girls in Latin ordinals according to the ages. Prima, Secunda, and Tertia.
It seemed to Alice now, as she stood in the middle of Richard’s and her cabin, that she had in truth played the part of Secunda during her Earthly life. Certainly, on this world she was Secunda. Richard Burton regarded few men as his equal and no women, not even his wife and perhaps especially his wife, as equals.
She hadn’t minded. She was dreamy, gentle, and introverted. As Dodgson had written of her:
Still she haunts me, phantomwise.
Alice moving under skies
Never seen by waking eyes.
That would become true in more senses than Dodgson could have dreamed of. Now she was under a sky in which even at the blaze of noon she could see near the tops of the mountains the faint phantom glow of a few giant stars. And in the moonless night sky was the blaze of great gas sheets and enormous stars which shed the light of a full moon.
Under the light of day and night, she had been content, even eager, to have Richard make the decisions. These had often involved violence, and, contrary to her nature, she had fought like an Amazon. Though she did not have the physique of a Penthesilea, she did have the courage.
Life on the Riverworld had often been harsh, cruel, and bloody. After dying on Earth, she’d awakened naked and with all body hair shaven, in the body she’d had when she was twenty-five, though she’d died when eighty-two. Around her was not the room of the house in which she’d died, her sister Rhoda’s in Westerham, Kent. Instead towering unbroken mountain ranges enclosed the plains and the foothills and the river in the middle of the valley. As far as she could see, people stood on the banks, all naked, hairless, young, and in shock, screaming, weeping, laughing hysterically, or in horror-struck silence.
She knew no one and had by impulse attached herself to Burton. However, one of the items in her grail was a chiclelike stick containing some sort of psychedelic substance. She’d chewed it, and then she and Burton had copulated furiously all night and also done things she then regarded as perverted and some things which she still did.
She’d loathed herself in the morning and felt like killing herself. Burton she’d hated as she’d never hated anyone. But she continued to stay with him since anyone she switched to might be worse. Also she had to admit that he too was under the gum’s influence, and he did not press her to renew, as she then thought of it, their carnal acquaintance. Burton would have used an Anglo-Saxonism, as he called it, to describe their coupling.
In time she’d fallen in love with him—had, in fact, been in love that night—and they began living together. Living together was not exactly accurate since a good half of her time she spent by herself in their hut. Burton was the most restless man she’d ever known. After a week in one place he must be up and moving: From time to time they’d had quarrels, he doing most of the quarrelling, though by now she could hold her own. Eventually he disappeared for years and returned with a story that turned out to be the essence of cock-and-bull.
She was very hurt when she finally found out that he’d kept his most important secret from her for years. He’d been visited one night by a robed and masked being who said that he was an Ethical, one of the Council which governed those responsible for the resurrections of thirty-five billion or so Terrestrials.
The story went that these Ethicals had raised humanity to life to perform certain experiments. They meant to let humankind die, never to be resurrected again. One of the Council, this Ethical, this “man,” was secretly opposing this.
Burton was skeptical. But when the other Ethicals tried to seize him, Burton had run. He was forced to kill himself several times, utilizing the principle of resurrection, to get far away from his pursuers. After a while he decided that he might as well keep going. After 777 suicides, he awoke in the Council room of the twelve. These had told him what he knew already from X, that is, that there was a renegade among them. So far, they hadn’t been able to detect who he or she was. But they would.
Now that they had caught him, they would keep him under permanent surveillance. The memory of his visits from the Ethicals, in fact, everything since he’d first known X, would be wiped out of his mind.
Burton, however, on waking on the banks of The River, had found his memory unimpaired. Somehow, X had succeeded in averting the erasure and in fooling his colleagues.
Burton reasoned also that X must have arranged it so that the Ethicals couldn’t find him whenever they wished to. Burton had gone upRiver then, looking for the others whom X had recruited. Just when and how they could help him, X wouldn’t say, though he promised to reveal the time and the methods at a later time.
Something had gone wrong. X hadn’t appeared for years, and the resurrections had suddenly stopped.
Then Burton had found out that the Peter Jairus Frigate and the Tau Cetan, who’d been with Burton from the beginning, were either Ethicals or the Ethicals’ agents. Before Burton could seize them, the two had fled.
Burton could no longer hide his secret from his companions. Alice was shocked by the story, stunned. Later, she became furious. Why hadn’t he told her the truth long ago? Burton had explained that he wanted to protect her. If she knew the truth, she might be subject to abduction and questioning and God only knew what else by the Ethicals.
Since that time, she’d been slowly burning. The repressed anger had now and then broken out, and the flames had scorched Burton. He, always willing to burn back, had quarreled with her. And though they’d always reconciled afterwards, Alice knew that the day of parting had to come soon.
She should have made the break before signing on the Rex. But she also wanted to know the answers to the mysteries of the Riverworld. If she stayed behind, she would always regret not having gone on. So she had boarded with Richard, and here she was in their cabin wondering what to do next.
Also, she had to confess that there was more to her being here than the desire to reveal mysteries. For the first time in her life on this world, she had hot and cold running water and a comfortable toilet and bed and air-conditioning and a grand salon in which she could see movies and stage plays and hear music, classical and popular, played by orchestras which used the instruments known on Earth, not the clay and skin and bamboo substitutes used on the banks. There was also bridge and whist and other games. All these comforts of body and soul and others were hers. They would be hard to give up.
It was indeed a strange situation for a bishop’s daughter born May 4, 1852, next to Westminster Abbey. Her father was not only the dean of Christ Church College but famous as the coeditor of Liddell and Scott’s Greek-English Lexicon. Her mother was a beautiful and cultured woman who looked as if she were Spanish. Alice Pleasance Liddell came to Oxford when she was four and almost immediately made friends with the shy, stammering mathematician-clergyman with the offbeat sense of humor. Both lived in Tom Quad so that their meetings were frequent.
As the daughters of a bishop of royal and noble descent, she and her sisters had not been allowed to play with other children very often. They were educated principally by their governess, Miss Prickett, a woman who strove mightily to teach her girls but had not enough education herself. Nevertheless, Alice enjoyed all the advantages of a privileged Victorian childhood. John Ruskin was her drawing teacher. She often managed to eavesdrop on the conversations of her father’s dinner guests: the Prince of Wales, Gladstone, Matthew Arnold, and many other notables and greats.
She was a pretty child, dark, her straight hair in bangs, her face a reflection of her quiet dreaming soul when she was pensive but bright and eager when stimulated, especially by Dodgson’s wild stories. She read a lot and was largely self-educated.
She liked to play with her black cat, Dinah, and to tell her stories which were never as good as the reverend’s. Her favorite song was “Star of Evening,” which Dodgson was to satirize in Alice as the Mock Turtle’s song, “Turtle Soup.”
Soup of the evening, beautiful soup!
Soup of the evening, beautiful soup!
The real Alice’s favorite section of the book, however, was that about the Cheshire Cat. She loved cats, and even when she’d grown up she would occasionally talk to her pet as if it were human when no one else was around.
She’d grown up to be a good-looking woman with a splendid physique and something special about her, an indefinable misty air which had attracted Dodgson when she was a child and had also drawn Ruskin and others. To them she was the “child of pure unclouded brow and dreaming eyes of wonder.”
Despite her adult attractiveness, she did not get married until she was twenty-eight, which made her an old maid in Victorian 1880. Her husband, Reginald Gervis Hargreaves of the estate of Cuffnells, near Lyndhurst, Hampshire, was educated at Eton and Christ Church, and became a justice of the peace, living a very quiet life with Alice and her three sons. He liked to read, especially French literature, to ride and hunt, and he had a huge arboretum which included Douglas pines and redwoods.
Despite certain inhibitions and awkwardness in the beginning, she had adjusted to the sexual act and came to desire it. She loved her husband, and she sorrowed deeply when he died in 1926.
But Burton she had loved with a passion far exceeding that for Reginald.
No longer, she told herself.
She couldn’t put up with his eternal restlessness, though it looked as if he would be staying in one place for many years now. But it was the place that was moving him. His rages, his eagerness to pick a quarrel, his intense jealousy, were becoming tiresome. The very traits which had attracted her because she had lacked them were now driving her away.
The greatest wedge was that he had kept to himself The Secret.
The trouble with leaving Richard at once was that she had no place to go. All the cabins were taken. Some were occupied by single men, but she did not intend to move in with a man she didn’t love.
Richard would have scoffed at that. He claimed that all he wanted in a woman was beauty and affection. He also preferred blondes, but in her case he had waived this requirement. He would tell her to find some good-looking man with at least passable manners and live with him. No, he wouldn’t. He would threaten to kill her if she left him. Or would he? Surely, he must be getting as tired of her as she was of him.
She sat down and smoked a cigarette, something she wouldn’t have dreamed of doing on Earth, and she considered what to do. After a while, finding no answer, she left the cabin and went to the grand salon. There was always something pleasant or exciting there.
In the salon she walked around for a few minutes admiring the paintings and statuettes and listening to a piece by Liszt being played on the piano.
While she was feeling very lonely and hoping that someone would come up and break her mood, a woman approached her. She was about five feet tall, slim, long-legged, and had medium-sized conical breasts with up-tilted nipples thinly covered with a wispy cloth. Her features were beautiful despite her somewhat too long nose.
Exposing very white and even teeth, the blonde said, in Esperanto, “Hello, I’m Aphra Behn, one of His Majesty’s pistoleers and ex-mistresses, though he still likes an occasional rerun. You’re Alice Liddell, right? The woman of the fierce-looking ugly-handsome Welshman, Gwalchgwynn.”
Alice acknowledged that she was right and asked immediately, “Are you the authoress of Oroonoko?”
Aphra smiled again. “Yes, and of several plays. It’s nice to know that I was not unknown in the twentieth century. Do you play bridge? We’re looking for a fourth.”
“I haven’t played for thirty-four years,” Alice said. “But I loved it. If you don’t mind some clumsiness at first…”
“Oh, we’ll sharpen you up, though it may hurt some,” Aphra said. She laughed and led Alice by her hand toward a table near a wall and below a huge painting. This depicted Theseus entering the heart of Minos’ labyrinth where the Minotaur awaited him. Ariadne’s thread was tied to the hero’s enormous erection.
Aphra, seeing Alice’s expression, grinned.
“Does give you a start when you first see it, doesn’t it? Don’t know if Theseus is going to kill the bullman with his sword or bugger him to death, what?”
“If he does the latter,” Alice said, “he’ll break the thread and won’t be able to find his way back out to Ariadne.”
“Lucky woman,” Aphra said. “She can die still thinking he loves her, not knowing he plans to desert her at the first opportunity.”
So this was Aphra Amis Behn, the novelist, poet, and dramatist whom London called the Incomparable Astrea, after the divine star maiden of classical Greek religion. Before she died in 1689 at the age of forty-nine, she had written a novel, Oroonoko, which was a sensation in her time and was reprinted in 1930, giving Alice a chance to read it before she died. The book had been very influential in the development of the novel, and Aphra’s contemporaries rated her with Defoe when she was at her best. Her plays were bawdy and coarse but witty and had delighted the theatergoers. She was the first English woman to support herself entirely by writing, and she had also been a spy for Charles II during the war against the Dutch. Her behavior was scandalous, even for the Restoration period, but she was buried in Westminster Abbey, an honor denied the equally scandalous and far more famous Lord Byron.
Two men were waiting impatiently at the table. Aphra made the introductions, giving a slight biography of each.
The man at the west end of the table was Lazzaro Spallanzani, born A.D. 1729, died 1799. He had been one of the more well-known natural scientists of his time and was chiefly noted for his experiments with bats to determine how they could fly through total darkness. He’d discovered that they did so by use of a form of sonar, though that term wasn’t known in his day. He was short, slim, dark, and obviously Italian though he spoke Esperanto.
The man who sat at the north end was Ladislas Podebrad, a Czech. He was of medium height (for the middle and late twentieth century), very broad, muscular, and thick-necked. His hair was yellow, and his eyes were cold and blue. The eyebrows were very thick and yellowish. His eaglish nose was large, and his massive chin was deeply clefted. Though his hands were broad—as big as a bear’s, thought Alice, who tended to exaggerate—and the fingers were relatively short, he handled the cards like a Mississippi riverboat gambler.
Aphra commented that he’d been picked up only eight days ago and that he was an electromechanical engineer with a doctor’s degree. She also said—and here Alice was suddenly very interested—that Podebrad had attracted John’s attention when John saw him standing by the wreck of an airship on the left bank. After hearing Podebrad’s story and his qualifications, John had invited him to come aboard as an engineer’s mate in the engine room. The duraluminum keel and gondola of the semirigid dirigible had been cut up and put in a storage room in the Rex.
Podebrad didn’t talk much, seeming to be one of those bridge players who was all intent on the game. But since Behn and Spallanzani chattered back and forth, Alice was emboldened to ask him some questions. He replied tersely, but gave no outward signs of being annoyed. This didn’t mean that he wasn’t; his face was stony throughout the playing.
Podebrad explained that he had been head of a state far far downRiver called Nova Bohemujo, Esperanto for New Bohemia. He’d been qualified for the position since he’d also been head of a government post in Czechoslovakia and a prominent member of the Communist party. He no longer was a Communist, though, since that ideology was as useless and irrelevant as capitalism was here. Also, he’d been very attracted to the Church of the Second Chance, though he’d never joined.
He’d had a recurring dream that there were large deposits of iron and other minerals deep under the area of Nova Bohemujo. After much urging, he’d gotten his people to dig for them. This was a long and wearisome task and wore out many flint, chert, and wood tools, but his zeal had kept them at it. Besides, it gave them something to do.
“You must realize that I am not at all superstitious,” Podebrad said in a basso profundo. “I despise oneiromancy, and I would have ignored this series of dreams, no matter how sustained and compelling they were. That is, under most circumstances I would have. It seemed to me that they were the expressions of my unconscious, a term I don’t like to use, since I reject Freudianism, but useful here to describe the phenomena I was experiencing. They were, at first, only the expressions of my wishes to find metal, or so I thought. Then I came to believe that there might be another explanation, though the first was really no explanation. Perhaps there was an affinity between metal and myself, some sort of earth current that put me in its circuit, that is, the metal was one pole and I the other so that I felt the flow of energy.”
And he says he isn’t superstitious, Alice thought. Or is he kidding me?
Richard, however, would have gone for that sort of rot. He believed that there was an affinity between himself and silver. When he’d suffered from ophthalmia in India, he’d placed silver coins on his eyes, and, when he had gout in his old age, he’d put them on his feet.
“Though I do not believe in dreams as manifestations of the unconscious, I do believe that they may be a medium for transmission of telepathy or other forms of extrasensory perception,” Podebrad said. “Much experimentation was done with ESP in the Soviet Union. Whatever the reason, I felt strongly that there was metal deep under the surface of Nova Bohemujo. And there was. Iron, bauxite, cryolite, vanadium, platinum, tungsten, and other ores. All jumbled together, not in a natural stratum. Evidently whoever reformed this planet had piled the ores there during the process.”
All this was said between bidding, of course. Podebrad talked as if he hadn’t been interrupted, picking up exactly where he’d left off.
Podebrad had industrialized his state. His people had been armed with steel swords and fiberglass bows and firearms. He’d built two armored steamboats, neither nearly as large as the Rex.
“Not for conquest but for defense. The other states were jealous of our mineral wealth and would have liked to possess it, but they didn’t dare attack. My ultimate object, however, was to build a large boat with screw propellers to travel to the headwaters of The River. I didn’t know at that time that there were two giant boats already coming up The River. If I had known, I would have built my own vessel anyway.
“Eventually I fell in with some adventurers who proposed to get to the headwaters by means of an airship. Their idea intrigued me and soon after I made the blimp and set out in it. But a storm wrecked it. I and my crew got out alive, and then the Rex came along.”
The game was over a few minutes later with Podebrad and Alice winners and Spallanzani angrily demanding why Podebrad had led with a diamond instead of a club. The Czech refused to tell him but said that he should be able to figure it out for himself. He congratulated Alice on her correct playing. Alice thanked him, but she still didn’t know any more than Spallanzani how Podebrad had done it.
Before they parted, however, she said, “Sinjorino Behn forgot to say exactly when you were born and died on Earth.”
He looked sharply at her.
“Perhaps that is because she doesn’t know. Why do you want to know?”
“Oh, I’m just interested in that sort of thing.”
He shrugged and said, “A.D. 1912 to 1980.”
Alice hurried off to find Burton before she had to go on duty and learn to set bones and make plaster-of-paris casts. She caught him in the corridor on the way to their cabin. He was sweating, his dark skin looking like oiled bronze. He’d just finished two hours of stick-fighting and fencing and had half an hour before he fell in for drill.
On the way to the cabin, she told him about Podebrad. He asked her why she seemed so excited about the Czech.
“It’s nonsense, that about his dream,” she said. “I’ll tell you what I think about it. I think he’s an agent who got stranded and who knew where that deposit of ores was. He used the dream as an excuse to get his people to dig it up. Then he built the blimp and tried to get to the tower itself, not just the headwaters. He must have!”
“Oh, reeeally,” Burton drawled in that infuriating manner. “What other slight evidence do you have, if it’s even slight? After all, the chap didn’t live past 1983.”
“That’s what he said! But how do we know that some agents…you’ve said so yourself…haven’t changed their story? Anyway…”
She paused, her whole being radiating eagerness.
“You described the council of twelve. He looks like he might be the one called Thanabur or maybe the one called Loga!”
That rocked him. But after a few seconds, he said, “Describe this man again.”
When he’d heard her out he shook his head.
“No. Both Loga and Thanabur had green eyes. Loga was redheaded, and Thanabur was brown-haired. This Podebrad has yellow hair and blue eyes. He may look much like them, but I suppose there are millions who do.”
“But Richard! Hair color can be changed! He wasn’t wearing those plastic lenses that can change the eye color that Frigate told us about. But don’t you think the Ethicals would have the means to change eye color without obvious aids?”
“It’s possible. I’ll take a look at the fellow.”
After showering, he bustled down to the grand salon. Not finding Podebrad there he returned to the engine room. Later when he next met Alice, Burton said, “We’ll have to see. He could be Thanabur or Loga. If one can be a chameleon, the other can. But it’s been twenty-eight years since I saw them, and our meeting was very brief. I really can’t say.”
“Aren’t you going to do anything about it?”
“I can’t very well arrest him on John’s boat! No. We’ll just have to watch him, and if we get something to justify our suspicions, then we’ll see what we can do.
“Remember Spruce the agent. When we caught him, he killed himself just by thinking a sort of code and releasing poison into his system from that little black ball in his brain. It’ll be very tricky if we do act, and we can’t until we’re sure. Personally, I think it’s just a coincidence. Now, Strubewell…there’s someone we don’t have any doubt about. Well, not much perhaps. After all, it’s only a theory that anyone claiming to be post-1983 is an agent. It is possible that we just haven’t met many.”
“Well, I’ll be playing bridge a lot with Podebrad, if I don’t come a duffer. I’ll watch him.”
“Be very careful, Alice. If he is one of Them, he’ll be very observant. In fact, you shouldn’t have asked him about the dates. That may have put him on his guard. You should have found out from someone else.”
“Can’t you ever give me full credit?” she said, and she walked out.
Loghu was no longer the king’s favorite.
King John had become so smitten with a very pretty redhead with large blue eyes whom he’d seen on the bank that he decided to stay in the area for a while. The boat was anchored by a large dock the locals had built long ago. After two days to make sure that the people here were as friendly as they pretended to be, John permitted shore leave. He didn’t say anything to anybody at first about his sudden attack of irresistible lechery, but his behavior made that obvious.
Loghu didn’t especially care that she had to leave the grand suite after John had talked the woman into going to bed with him. She wasn’t in love with him. Besides, she was more than somewhat interested in one of the locals, a big dark Tokharian. Though he wasn’t of her century, he was of her nation, and they had many things to talk about between lovemaking. However, she was humiliated that she had lasted such a short time with the monarch, and she was heard to mutter that she might just push John overboard some dark night. There had been, there were now, there would be many who would like to remove him from the living.
Burton stood guard duty the first night. The next, he moved into a hut with Alice near the dock. The people here, most of whom were Early Minoan Cretans, were hospitable and fun-loving. They danced and sang around the bonfires in the evening until their allotment of lichen alcohol was gone and then reeled to bed to sleep or couple or “pluralize,” as Burton called it. He was happy to stay here for a few weeks anyway because he’d have a chance to add the language to his now long list. He mastered its basic grammar and vocabulary quickly since it was closely related to Phoenician and Hebrew. There were, however, many words which were non-Semitic, these having been borrowed from the aboriginals of Crete while the conquerors from the Middle East were assimilating them. They all spoke Esperanto, of course, though it deviated somewhat from the artificial tongue invented by Dr. Zamenhof.
John had no trouble getting his new mistress to agree to go to bed with him. But he had a problem. There was no cabin space for Loghu, and he couldn’t throw her off the boat without a good reason. Autocratic though he was, he was able to override her rights. His crew would see to that. Remembering the Magna Carta, he did not buck them, but he was undoubtedly trying to think of a way to get rid of Loghu which would seem justifiable.
On the fourth night of shore leave, while John was in his grand suite with Blue-eyes, and Burton was with Alice in their small but comfortable quarters, a helicopter dropped out of the night sky onto the landing deck of the Rex.
Burton would find out very much later that the raiders came from the airship Parseval and had been ordered to capture King John if they could or to kill him if they couldn’t. All he knew then was that the gunfire on the Rex meant bad trouble. He put on a cloth around his waist and fastened it with the magnetic tabs inside the material. Then, grabbing a rapier and a fully loaded pistol from the table by the bed, he ran outside while Alice was still yelling to him.
He could hear men screaming and shouting in the midst of shots and then a great explosion apparently in the engine room. He ran as fast as he could toward the boat. There were lights on in the pilothouse; somebody was at the controls. Then the paddle wheels began to turn. The boat started moving backwards, but Burton leaped onto the promenade of the boiler deck just before the lines tied to the pilings pulled them down and the dock collapsed.
A moment later, a stranger came down the stairs from the lowest story of the pilothouse. Burton emptied his pistol at him but missed. Cursing, he dropped the gun and proceeded toward the fellow. Then the slippery one showed up again with a rapier in his hand.
Never had Burton faced such a demon with the sword! No wonder. The tall thin demon was Cyrano de Bergerac! Playfully he introduced himself during a lull in the swordplay but Burton saw no such reason to waste breath. Both were slightly wounded—a good indication that they were evenly matched. Somebody shouted, Burton’s attention was distracted and that was enough. The Frenchman drove his blade deep into Burton’s thigh.
He fell to the deck, helpless. The agony came a few seconds later, making him clench his teeth to keep from screaming. De Bergerac was a gallant man. He made no effort to kill Burton, and, when one of his men appeared a moment after, de Bergerac told him not to shoot Burton.
The helicopter lifted off shortly thereafter as men shot at it from the deck. Before it had gotten a hundred feet, however, a naked white body appeared in the beam of a searchlight and then dropped into the darkness. Somebody had either leaped or been thrown from the craft. Burton guessed that it was King John.
Groaning, Burton wrapped the heavily bleeding wound in a cloth, tied its ends, and forced himself to hobble to the steps leading up to the pilothouse base. The Rex was drifting downRiver, and there was nothing to do about it. John was hauled aboard moments later, unconscious, an arm and a leg broken.
Five miles downstream, the Rex beached, and, ten minutes later, the first of the men who’d run all the way along the bank, following the boat, came aboard.
Dr. Doyle set John’s bones and administered Irish coffee for shock.
When John was fit enough to curse and rave, he did so. But he was glad to be alive, and the engine could be repaired with the precious aluminum wire in the storage room. That would take a month, though, and meanwhile the Clemens boat was slowly gaining on them.
Since twelve guards had been killed, there was a cabin for Loghu to move into. The king had to replace the dead men, but he seemed to be in no hurry to do so. After days of examining candidates and then putting some through mental and physical tests, he chose only two.
“There’s no hurry,” he said. “I want only the best. These locals are a scroungy lot.”
One result of the raid was that John became fond of Burton, whom he gave the most credit for saving his life. He couldn’t promote him over the heads of Burton’s fellow marines, but he could make him a bodyguard. And he promised Burton to give him a commission whenever it was possible to do so. Burton and Alice moved into the cabin next to John’s quarters.
Burton was displeased in one way because he liked to dance attendance to no man. However, it did give him an opportunity to be with Strubewell a lot and to study him. He listened carefully to the man’s speech for traces of a foreign accent. If Strubewell was an agent, he had mastered American Midwestern.
Alice kept an intent eye and ear on Podebrad while playing bridge and during other social activities. Loghu liked one of the suspected agents, a huge man named Arthur Pal who claimed to have been a Hungarian electrical engineer, so she moved in with him after his mate left him. Burton’s suspicions were increased when Loghu noted that Pal spent much time with Podebrad. Her efforts to trip him up on his story were fruitless, but Burton said that if enough time elapsed she was bound to do so. If the agents had a common story, they would have memorized it. However, they were (presumably) human and so would make mistakes. One contradiction would be enough.
Alice still had not been able to bring herself to force the split with Burton. She kept hoping that he would change his attitude toward her enough to justify staying with him. That their duties kept them apart most of the day helped ease matters. He seemed so glad to see her at the end of the day that she felt better, and she talked herself into believing that they would get back to their original passionate state. They were like an old married couple in many ways. They still had a certain fluctuating affection but were increasingly irritated by character traits they could have once easily overlooked.
In one sense, they were old though their youthful bodies had been restored. She had lived on Earth to be eighty-two and he to sixty-nine. (“Considering my sexual preferences, a significant age at which to die,” Burton had once drawled.) A long life tended to ossify more than the arteries; it also ossified habits and attitudes. It made it much more difficult to adjust, to change one’s self for the better. The impact of the resurrection and the Riverworld had shattered many people’s beliefs and helped set them up for change. It had decalcified many, though in some the fragmentation was only slight, in others much more, and many had been unable to adjust at all.
Alice had suffered a metamorphosis in many respects, though her basic character remained. It was down there in the abysm of the soul, the deeps which make the spaces between the stars seem a mere step over a puddle. It was the same with Burton.
So Alice stayed with him, hoping what she knew was hopeless.
At times, she dreamed of finding Reginald again. But she also knew that that was even more hopeless. She would never go back to him whether he had remained the same or changed. It was doubtful that he had changed. He was a good man, but, like all the good, he had faults, some grave, and he was too stubborn to change.
The thing was that no caterpillar could ever effect a metamorphosis in another. The other, if it is to become a butterfly, must do it itself. The difference between man and caterpillar was that the insect was preprogrammed and the human had to reprogram himself.
Thus the days passed for Alice, though there was much more to them than thinking such thoughts.
And then one day, when the Rex connected its batacitor and grail lines to a stone on the right bank, the stone failed to discharge.
Shock and panic.
Fifteen years ago, the grailstones on the left bank had quit operation. Twenty-four hours later, they had resumed functioning. King John had been told by Clemens that the line had been severed by a great meteorite but that it had been reconnected and all damage restored in that amazingly short period. It must have been done by the Ethicals, though anybody in the area to witness the reforming had been overcome by something—probably a gas—and slept through the whole project.
Now the question was: Would the line be repaired again?; the lesser question: What caused this disaster? Another meteorite? Or was it one more step downward in the breakdown of this world?
King John, though stunned, rallied swiftly. He sent his officers to calm down the crew, and he gave orders to serve everybody the mixture of lichen alcohol, water, and powdered irontree blooms called grog on the Rex.
After all were soaked enough in the drink that gives good cheer and courage, he ordered that the copper “feeder” cap be taken back into the boat. Then the Rex proceeded upRiver in the shallows near the left bank. There was enough energy in the batacitor to keep the boat going until the next mealtime. When it was two hours to dusk, John commanded that it stop and the copper cap be attached to a stone.
As expected, the locals refused to “loan” a stone to the Rex. One of the steam machine guns loosed a stream of plastic bullets over the heads of the crowd on the bank, and it ran back panicked halfway across the plain. The two amphibian launches, once named Firedragon I and II, now Eleanor and Henry, rumbled onto shore and stood guard while the cap was placed over the stone. Within an hour, however, locals from stones as far away as a mile on each side gathered, including those whose grailstones were in the foothills. Whooping war cries, yelling, thousands of men and women charged the amphibians and the Riverboat. At the same time, five hundred in boats attacked from the water.
Exploding shells and rockets from the Rex wiped out hundreds. The steam guns mowed down hundreds more. The marines and crew members lined along the railings shot rifles, pistols, and arrows, and launched small rockets from bazookas.
The bank and the waters around the Rex quickly became bloodied and strewn with corpses and pieces of corpses. The charge broke, but not before small and large rockets sent by the locals had done some damage and killed and wounded some of John’s people.
Burton could still barely walk though wounds healed more quickly than they would have on Earth. He nevertheless dragged himself to the railing of the texas-deck promenade and fired a rifle with .48-caliber wooden bullets. He hit at least a third of his targets, which were on The River side. When all the boats, dugouts, canoes, war canoes, and sailing boats had been sunk, he struggled around to the other side to help.
He got there in time for the third and final charge. This had been preceded by much haranguing by the enemy officers, pounding of drums, and blowing of fishhorns, and then, with another yell, the locals ran toward the boat. By this time, the launches had exhausted their ammunition and retreated to the dock in the rear of the motherboat. However, the two fighter planes, the single-seater reconnaissance, the torpedo bomber, and the helicopter went up to add their fire.
Almost, a few locals reached the water. Then, the ranks wilting, they broke and fled. Shortly thereafter, the stones boomed and flashed, and the grails and the batacitor were recharged.
“God’s teeth!” King John said, his eyes wild. “Today was bad enough! Tomorrow…! God save us!”
He was right. Before dawn the next day, the hunger-mad right-bankers came in hordes. Every boat available, including many two-masters, was jammed to capacity with men and women. Behind them came another horde of swimmers. And when the sun rose, for as far as the eye could reach, The River was alive with vessels and swimmers. The front ranks, the boats, were met with all the rockets and arrows the defenders had. Nevertheless, most of the boats grounded, and from them leaped the right-bankers.
Caught between two forces, the Rex battled mightily. Its fire cleared space around the grailstones, and the amphibians, spouting flame, rolled on their trackless treads to the stone. While they kept off the raging defenders and attackers alike, the crane of the Henry swung the cap onto the stone.
The grailstones thundered, and immediately the cap was swung off by the crane, which then telescoped into the interior of the Henry.
After the launches had returned to the boat, John ordered that the anchor be taken up. “And then full power ahead!”
It was easier commanded than carried out.
The press of vessels around the Rex was so great that it could move only very slowly. While the paddle wheels dug into the water, and the prow crushed into pieces the large sailing boats and ground the smaller between them, the right-bankers bombarded it. Men and women managed to clamber onto the promenade of the boiler deck, though they didn’t stay there long.
Finally, the Rex broke loose and headed for the other shore. There it swung into the weaker current near the bank and forged upRiver. Across the stream, the battle was still raging.
At noon, John had to decide whether or not to recharge. After a minute of deliberation, he ordered the boat to anchor by a big dock.
“We’ll let them kill each other,” he said. “We have plenty of smoked and dried food to keep us going through tomorrow. The day after, we’ll recharge. By then the slaughter should be over.”
The right bank was a strange sight indeed. They had gotten so used to seeing its throngs, noisy, chattering, laughing, that the unpeopled land was eerie. On this side, except for a very few wise or timid persons who’d elected not to try to fill their bellies at the expense of the left-bankers, not a soul was to be seen. The huts and the longhouses and the big state log buildings were tenantless, and so were the plains and the foothills. Since no animals, birds, insects, or reptiles existed on this planet, only the wind rustling the leaves of the few trees on the plains made any sound.
By then, the warring peoples across the stream had exhausted their gunpowder, and only occasionally could the Rex-ites hear a very low murmur, the diluted and compressed sound of people voicing their fury, hunger, and fear, their pain and their deaths.
The casualties on the Rex from both days were thirty dead and sixty wounded, twenty seriously, though it might be said that any wound was taken seriously by the sufferers. The corpses were cast in weighted fish skin bags and into the middle of The River after a brief ceremony. The bags were only to spare the feelings of the survivors since the bags would be ripped open and the flesh devoured by the fish before they reached the bottom.
Along the left bank the waters were thick with corpses, bumping into each other while the eating fish thrashed the bloodied waters. For a month, the logjam of bodies made The River hideous. Everywhere, apparently, the fighting had taken place, and it would be a long time before the drifting corpses disappeared. Meanwhile, the fish ravened, and the colossal riverdragonfish came up from the depths and took the bloating dead whole in their mouths until their stomachs were crammed. And when they had digested and eliminated these, they rose again to feed and to digest and to eliminate.
“It’s Armageddon, the Apocalypse,” Burton said to Alice, and he groaned.
Alice wept more than once, and she had nightmares. Burton comforted her so much that she felt that they were close again.
The afternoon of the next day, the Rex ventured across The River to recharge. But instead of going on, it went back to the right bank. It was necessary to make gunpowder and to repair damages. That took a month, during which time Burton completely recovered from his wound.
After the boat resumed its journey, some of its crew were tasked with making a count of the survivors in various areas picked at random. The result: an estimate that nearly half the population must have been killed, if the fighting had occurred on the same scale everywhere. Seventeen and a half billion people had died within twenty-four hours.
It was a long time before gaiety came back to the Riverboat, and the people on the bank behaved like ghosts. Even worse than the effect of the slaughter was the dread thought: What if the remaining grailstone line quits?
Now, thought Burton, was the time to question the suspected agents. But if they were cornered, they might kill themselves even if no resurrection awaited them. And there was also the restraint that the post-1983 people might be innocent.
He would wait. He could do nothing else but wait.
Meanwhile, Loghu was subtly questioning her cabinmate, and Alice, though not subtle, was doing her best with Podebrad. And Burton was waiting for Strubewell to make a slip.
Several days after the voyage had started again, John decided that he would do some recruiting. He stopped the Rex during the noontime meal and went ashore to make it known that he had empty berths to fill.
Burton, as Sergeant Gwalchgwynn, had the duty with others of wandering through the crowd looking for possible assassins. When he came across an obvious early paleolithic, a squat massive-boned fellow who looked like a pre-Generalized Mongolian, and started to talk to him, he forgot his job for a while. Ngangchungding didn’t mind giving him a quick lesson in the fundamentals of his native speech, one which Burton had never encountered before. Then Burton, speaking Esperanto, tried to get him to sign up on the Rex. Not only would he be a desirable marine, he would give Burton the opportunity to learn his language. Nganchungding refused his offer. He was, he said, a Nichirenite, a member of that Buddhist discipline which stressed pacifism as strongly as its chief rival, the Church of the Second Chance. Though disappointed, Burton gave him a cigarette to show that there were no hard feelings, and he went back to King John’s table.
John was interviewing a Caucasian whose back was partially blocked from Burton’s view by a tall, skinny-legged, long-armed, broad-shouldered Negro. Burton walked by them to place himself behind John.
He heard the white man say, “I am Peter Jairus Frigate.”
Burton whirled, stared, glaring and then he leaped at Frigate. Frigate went down under him, Burton’s hands around his throat.
“I’ll kill you!” Burton shouted.
Something struck him on the back of the head.
When he regained his senses, he saw the Negro and the four men who’d been behind him struggling with John’s bodyguards. The monarch had leaped on top of the table, and, red-faced, was shouting orders. There was some confusion for a minute before everybody settled down. Frigate, coughing, had gotten to his feet. Burton pulled himself up, feeling pain in the back of his head. Evidently, he’d been hit with the knobkerrie the black had carried suspended from a thong on his belt. It lay on the grass now.
Though not entirely clearheaded, Burton realized that he had, somehow, erred. This man looked much like the Frigate he knew, and his voice was similar. But neither his voice nor his features were quite the same, and he wasn’t as tall. Yet…the same name?
“I apologize, Sinjoro Frigate,” he said. “I thought…you looked so much like a man whom I have good reason to loathe…he did me a terrible injury…never mind. I am truly sorry, and if I may make amends…”
What the devil, he thought. Or perhaps it should be, Which the devil?
Though this was not his Frigate, he couldn’t help looking around for Monat.
“You almost scared the piss out of me,” the fellow said. “But, well, all right. I accept. Besides, I think you’ve paid for your error. Umslopogaas can hit hard.”
The black said, “I only tapped him to discourage him.”
“Which you did,” Burton said, and he laughed, though it hurt his head.
“You and your friends were fortunate you weren’t slain on the spot!” John bellowed. He got down from the table and sat down. “Now, what is the difficulty?”
Burton explained again, secretly elated since under the circumstances the “almost” Frigate couldn’t reveal to John that Burton was using an assumed name. John got assurances from Frigate and his four companions that they held no resentment against Burton and then ordered his men to release them. Before continuing the interviews, he insisted that Burton give him an account of why he had attacked Frigate. Burton made up a story which seemed to satisfy the monarch.
He said to Frigate, “How do you explain this startling resemblance?”
“I can’t,” Frigate said, shrugging. “I’ve had this happen before. Not the attack, I mean. I mean running across people who think they’ve seen me before, and I don’t have a commonplace face. If my father had been a traveling salesman, I could explain it. But he wasn’t. He was an electrical and civil engineer and seldom got out of Peoria.”
Frigate didn’t seem to have any superior enlistment qualifications. He was almost six feet tall and muscular but not especially so. He claimed to be a good archer, but there were hundreds of thousands of bowmen available to John. He would have dismissed him if Frigate had not mentioned that he’d arrived in an area a hundred miles upRiver in a balloon. And he’d seen a huge dirigible. John knew that had to be the Parseval. He was also interested in the balloon story.
Frigate said that he and his companions had been journeying upRiver with the intention of getting to the headwaters. They’d gotten tired of the slow rate of travel in their sailboat, and when they came to a place where metal was available, they’d talked its chief of state into building them a blimp.
“Ah!” John said. “What was this ruler’s name?”
Frigate looked puzzled. “He was a Czech named Ladislas Podebrad.”
John laughed until the tears came. When he’d finished, he said, “That is a good one. It just so happens that this Podebrad is one of my engineers now.”
“Yeah?” one of Frigate’s companions said. “We have a score to settle with him.”
The speaker was about five feet ten inches high. He had a lean muscular body and dark hair and eyes. His face was strong but handsome and distinctive-looking. He wore a cowboy’s ten-gallon hat and high-heeled boots, though his only other clothing was a white kiltcloth.
“Tom Mix at your service, Your Majesty,” he said in a Texas drawl.
He puffed on his cigarette and added, “I’m a specialist in the rope and the boomerang, Sire, and I was once a well-known movie star, if you know what that is.”
John turned to Strubewell. “Have you ever heard of him?”
“I’ve read about him,” Strubewell said. “He was long before my time, but he was very famous in the twenties and thirties. He was a star of what they called horse operas.”
Burton wondered if it was likely that an agent would know that.
“We sometimes make movies on the Rex,” John said, smiling. “But we don’t have horses, as you know.”
“Do I ever!”
The monarch asked Frigate more about the adventure. The American said that at the same time they’d sighted the dirigible, they’d sprung a leak in an apparatus used to heat the hydrogen in the envelope. While trying to cover the leak in the pipe with some quick-setting glue, they’d vented gas from the bag so they could drop quickly into thicker and warmer air and thus open the ports of the gondola.
The leak had been fixed, but a wind started blowing them back and the batteries supplying fresh hydrogen had become dead. They decided to land. When they heard that John had sent a launch ahead to this place to announce that he was recruiting, they’d sailed down here as fast as they could.
“What were you on Earth?”
“A lot of things, like most people. In my middle age and old age, a writer of science-fiction and detective stories. I wasn’t exactly obscure, but I was never near as well known as him.”
He pointed at a medium-sized but muscular man with curly hair and a handsome Irish-looking face.
“He’s Jack London, a great early twentieth-century writer.”
“I’m not too fond of writers,” John said. “I’ve had some on my boat, and they’ve generally caused a lot of trouble. However…who is the Negro who knocked my sergeant on the head without my permission?”
“Umslopogaas, a Swazi, a native of South Africa of the nineteenth century. He is a great warrior, especially proficient with his ax, which he calls Woodpecker. He also is notable as providing the model for the great fictional Zulu hero of the same name created by another writer, H. Rider Haggard.”
John pointed at a brown-skinned black-haired man with a big nose. He stood a little over five feet and wore a large green cloth wrapped in turban fashion.
“That is Nur ed-Din el-Musafir, a much-traveled Iberian Moor, Your Majesty. He lived in your time and is a Sufi. He also happened to have met Your Majesty at your court in London.”
John said, “What?” and stood up. He looked closely at the little man, then shut his eyes. When he opened them, he said, “Yes, I remember him well!”
The monarch got up and strode around the table, his arms open, speaking the English of his time rapidly and smiling. The others were astonished to see him embrace the little man and kiss him on both cheeks.
“Jeeze, another Frenchy!” Mix said, but he was grinning.
After the two had gabbled for some time, John said, “All I have to know is that Nur el-Musafir has traveled far with you and still regards you as his friends. Strubewell, you sign them up and give them instructions. Sergeant Gwalchgwynn, you assign them their cabins. Well, my good friend and mentor, we will talk after I have completed the interviews.”
On the way down the corridor to their quarters, they ran into Loghu. She stopped, turned pale, then red, and screaming, “Peter, you bastard!” she hurled herself at Frigate. He went down with her hands clutching his throat. Laughing, the black and Mix pulled her off of him.
“You sure got a way with people,” Mix said to Frigate.
“Another case of mistaken identity,” Burton said. He explained to Loghu what had happened.
After he’d quit coughing and feeling his finger-marked neck, Frigate said, “I don’t know who this other Frigate was, but he sure must not be likeable.”
Reluctantly, Loghu apologized. She was not fully convinced that this Frigate wasn’t her former lover.
Mix muttered, “She can grab me any time she wants to, but not around the neck.”
Loghu overheard him. She said, “If your whacker is as big as your hat, I might just grab it.”
Surprisingly, Mix blushed. When she had hip-swayed away, he said, “Too bold and brassy for me.”
Two days later, they were living together.
Burton was not content to admit that the resemblance of the two Frigates was just a coincidence. Whenever he had a chance, he talked to the fellow, delving into his background. What startled him was the discovery that this Frigate, like the other, had been a student of his, Burton’s, life.
The American, in his turn, had been watching Burton, though covertly. Every once in a while, Burton caught him staring at him. One night, Frigate cornered him in the grand salon. After looking around to make sure their conversation wasn’t overheard, the American said, without preamble and in English, “I’m familiar with the various portraits of Richard Francis Burton. I even had a big blowup of him when he was fifty on the wall in front of my desk. So I think I could recognize him without his mustachios and his forked beard.”
“I recall well a photograph of him taken when he was about thirty. He had only a mustache then, though it was very thick. If I mentally remove the lip-hair…”
“Burton looks remarkably like a certain Dark-Ages Welshman I know. The name he claims is Gwalchgwynn, which, translated into English, is white hawk. Gwalchgwynn is an early form of the Welsh name which became better known much later as Gawain. And Gawain was the knight who, in the earlier King Arthur cycles, was first to seek the Holy Grail. The metal cornucopias we call grails look remarkably like the tower that’s supposed to be in the middle of the north polar sea—from what I’ve heard. You might say it’s the Big Grail.”
“Very interesting,” Burton said after he’d sipped on his grog. “Another coincidence.”
Frigate looked steadily at him, disconcerting him a trifle. The devil take him. The fellow looked enough like the other to be his brother. Perhaps he was. Perhaps both were agents, and this one was playing with him as the other had.
“Burton would know all about the Arthurian cycles and the earlier folk tales on which they were based. It would be just like him, if he assumed a disguise—and he was famous on Earth for assuming many—to take the name of Gwalchgwynn. He would know that it signified a seeker after the Holy Grail, but he wouldn’t expect anyone else to.”
“I’m not so dense that I can’t see that you think I’m that Burton fellow. But I never heard of him, and I don’t care to have you pursue this matter even if it amuses you so much. I am not amused.”
He lifted the glass to his lips and drank.
“Nur told me when he was visited by the Ethical, the Ethical told him that one of the men he’d picked was Captain Sir Richard Francis Burton, the nineteenth-century explorer.”
Burton was able to control himself enough to keep from spitting the drink out.
Slowly, he put the glass down on the bar.
“You know him. Mr. Burton, the others are waiting in the stage-prop room. Just to show you how sure I am that you’re Burton, I’ll reveal something. Mix and London used to go under assumed names. But they recently decided to hell with it. Now, Mr. Burton, would you care to go with me there?”
Burton considered. Could Frigate and his companions be agents? Were they waiting to seize and question him, turning the tables on him?
He looked around the crowded and noisy salon. When he saw Kazz, he said, “I’ll go with you if you insist on this nonsense. But I’ll take my good friend the Neanderthal with me. And we’ll be armed.”
When Burton entered the prop room ten minutes later, he was accompanied also by Alice and Loghu.
When Mix saw Loghu, his jaw dropped in astonishment.
“You in on this, too?”
They had agreed never to talk about the Ethical or anything connected with him in their cabins. These might be bugged. Their next meeting was at a table where they played poker. Present were Burton, Alice, Frigate, Nur, Mix, and London. Loghu and Umslopogaas were on duty.
When Burton had heard Nur’s and Mix’s story of their visits from X, he had been convinced that they were indeed recruits of the Ethical. Nevertheless, he had listened to what each had to say in detail before he had admitted his real identity. Then he had told his story, holding back nothing.
Now he was saying, “See you and raise you ten. No, I don’t think we should plant eavesdropping devices in the cabins of any of the suspects. We might learn something valuable. But if they find one, then they’ll know that X’s agents, we could be called that, are on to them. It’s too dangerous.”
“I agree,” the little Moor said. “Do the rest of you?”
Even Mix, who’d proposed planting the bugs, nodded. However, he said, “What about Podebrad? I run into him now and then, and all he does is say howdy to me and then pass on grinning like a parson who’s just found out his girlfriend ain’t pregnant. It galls me. I’d like to tear into the bastard.”
“Me, too,” London said. “He figures he’s going to get away scot-free after making suckers of us.”
“Attacking him would only get you thrown off the boat,” Nur said. “Besides, he is tremendously strong. I believe that he would tear you apart while you were tearing into him.”
“I can take him!” Mix and London said at the same time.
“You’ve bloody good reason for revenge,” Burton said. “But it’s out, for the time being anyway. Surely you can see that?”
“But why’d he say he was taking us along on the blimp and then desert us like we had BO?”
Nur ed-Din said, “I’ve thought about that. The only reasonable explanation is that he somehow suspected that we were X’s men. That would be one more bit of evidence that he is an Ethical agent.”
“I think he’s just a goddamn sadist!” London said.
Burton said, “If he suspects you four, then you’ll have to be on guard. The rest of us will, too. I didn’t think of what Nur said or I’d not have suggested that we meet in the salon.”
“It’s too late to worry about that,” Alice said. “Anyway, he isn’t going to do anything, if he is an agent, until he gets to the headwaters. Any more than we are.”
Burton won the pot with three jacks and two tens. Alice dealt. Burton thought that Nur must be concentrating on other matters than poker. The Moor won about half the time, and Burton suspected that he could rake in the chips even more often if he cared to. Somehow, the little man seemed to be able to tell what his opponents had in their hand just by looking at their faces.
“We might as well enjoy the ride,” Frigate said.
Burton looked at him from lowered lids. The fellow had the same adulation for him that the other Frigate had or had pretended to have. Whenever he got the chance, he would ply Burton with questions, most of them about periods in his life which Burton’s biographers had only been able to speculate about. But, also like the other, he would question attitudes and beliefs which Burton held dear. His attitude toward women and the colored races, for instance, and his belief in telepathy. Burton had too often had to explain that what he had believed on Earth did not necessarily hold here. He had seen too much and experienced too much. He had changed in many respects.
Now he thought it was a good time to delve into the matter of the pseudo-Frigate.
“There has to be a very good reason for the so-called coincidence.”
“I’ve been pondering that, too,” the American said. “Fortunately, I was an avid science-fiction reader and writer in that field. So I have a certain flexibility of imagination, which you’ll need if you’re going to bear with me, because I believe that the Frigate you’ve known by no coincidence at all is my brother James, dead at the ripe old age of one year!
“Now, consider the children who died on Earth. One reason, the best, is that if they were raised here, they would jam the planet. There wouldn’t be enough living space here. In fact, the population of children deceased before five would be the largest segment of the entire population by far.
“So what would the Ethicals do with them? They’d resurrect them on another planet, perhaps one like this, perhaps not. Maybe it’d take two planets to hold them comfortably.
“Anyway, let’s assume that this has happened. Unless,” he lifted a finger, “unless for some reason they haven’t been resurrected as yet. Maybe they’re to be raised here after we’re gone. Who knows?
“I don’t. But I can speculate. Say that the infants were incarnated on another planet. It couldn’t be done with the entire population at once because there would have to be adults to take care of them. And that would crowd a planet the size of Earth. So maybe they’re incarnated at a certain rate, that is, so many infants within a certain time. These are raised to adulthood, and then they become the nurses, the teachers, the foster parents of more infants. And so on. Or maybe it’s all done at once on more than one planet. I doubt that, though. The energy involved in planet reforming would be enormous. On the other hand, they may use planets which don’t have to be reformed.”
“Keep dealing,” London said. “If you don’t people’ll wonder what the hell we’re talking about!”
“I can open,” Mix said.
They were silent except for announcing their play for a minute. Then Frigate said, “If what I propose were true, well, let me put it this way. Ah…I was the eldest child in my family. The oldest alive, that is. My older brother, James, died at one. I was born six months later. Now…ah…he would be resurrected. And when he grew up, he became an agent for the Ethicals.
“He was planted here on Resurrection Day. He was assigned to watch Burton. Why would he be assigned? Because the Ethicals knew that, somehow, Burton had awakened in that vast chamber of floating bodies before Resurrection Day, before he was supposed to awake. They must have figured that it was no accident, that…uh…somebody awakened him on purpose. Well, we don’t have to speculate on that. We know that’s what the Council of Ethicals told Burton when they caught him. He was supposed to have his memory of that erased, but X arranged it so that he kept it.
“Anyway, the Ethicals were suspicious. So they put this pseudo-Frigate, well, actually he’s a real Frigate, on Dick’s trail. My brother was to keep an eye on him and report anything suspicious. But like everybody in The Valley, he got caught with his kilt down.”
“I’ll take two cards,” Burton said. “That’s very intriguing, Peter. It seems a wild concept, but it may just be true. However, if your brother was an agent, then what was Monat the Tau Cetan or Arcturan or whatever he is? Certainly, he’d have to be an agent, a strange one true, but nevertheless…”
“Perhaps he’s an Ethical!” Alice said.
Burton, who didn’t like to be interrupted, glared.
“I was just going to say that. But if Monat is an agent, I don’t think he’s an Ethical, otherwise he’d have been in the Council…no, by Allah, he wouldn’t have been! If I’d have seen him there, I’d have known that he was one of ’em! And he wouldn’t have been able to stay with me. Though why he stuck to me, I don’t know.
“However, Monat’s presence means that there is more than one species…genus…zoological family…extra-Terrestrials…involved in this.”
“I’ll take one card,” Frigate said. “As I was about to say…”
“Pardon me,” London said. “But how could Peter’s brother know about Burton?”
“I suppose that the children are educated, probably better than they’d be on Earth. And maybe, just maybe, my brother knew I was his brother. How do we know what incredibly vast and minute knowledge the Ethicals have? Look at the photo of Burton which he found in the kilt of that agent, Agneau. It was taken when Dick was twenty-eight and a subaltern in the East India Army. Doesn’t that prove that the Ethicals were on Earth in 1848? Who knows how long they’ve been walking the streets of Earth taking data? Don’t ask me for what purpose.”
“Why would James take your name?” Nur said.
“Well, I was a rabid Burton fan. I even wrote a novel about him. Maybe it pleased James’ sense of humor. I have one. My whole family is known for…an odd sense of humor. And so it struck him funny to be his brother, to pretend to be the Peter that he never knew. Maybe he could vicariously relive the life he’d been denied on Earth. Maybe he thought that if he ran into someone who’d known the Frigate family, he could pass himself off as me. Maybe all these reasons are true. Whatever…I’m sure he punched out Sharkko, the crooked publisher, to avenge me, which shows that he knew much about my life on Earth.”
Alice said, “But what about the story that agent, Spruce, told? He said he was from the seventy-second century A.D., and he said something about a chronoscope, something which could look back in time.”
“Spruce may have been lying,” Burton said.
“Anyway,” Frigate said, “I don’t believe there could be a chronoscope or such a thing as time-travel in any form. Well, maybe I shouldn’t say that. We’re all time-traveling. Forward, the only way there is.”
“What nobody has said,” Nur said, “is that somebody had to resurrect the children. It may or may not have been people from the seventy-second century. More probably, it was Monat’s people who did it. Note also that it was Monat who did most of the questioning of Spruce. He may have been, in a sense, coaching Spruce.”
“Why?” Alice said.
That was one question nobody could answer unless the Ethical’s story was true. By now, his recruits thought that he might be as big a liar as his colleagues.
Nur closed that round with the speculation that the agents who’d gotten on the boat early in its voyage had told their post-1983 story and were stuck with it. Agents who’d gotten on later knew that the story might be suspect, so they’d avoided it. For instance, the huge Gaul named Megalosos—his name meant “Great”—claimed that he’d lived about Caesar’s time. His saying so, however, didn’t make it so. It seems he found Podebrad congenial, though how anyone could was beyond Nur. He could be an agent, too.
Section 4 On the Not For Hire: New Recruits and Clemens’ Nightmares
De Marbot’s eyes proved that the resurrection machinery did not always work perfectly.
Jean Baptiste Antoine Marcelin, Baron de Marbot, had been born in 1782 with brown eyes. Not until long after Resurrection Day did he find out that they had changed color. That was when a woman called him Blue-eyes.
“Sacre bleu! Is it true?”
He hastened to borrow a mica mirror which had recently been brought in a trading boat—mica was rare—and he saw his face for the first time in ten years. It was a merry face with its roundness, its snub nose, its ever-ready smile, its twinkling eyes. Not at all unhandsome.
But the eyes were a light blue.
Then he reverted to Esperanto.
“If I ever get within sword range of the abominable abominations who did this to me…!”
He returned fuming to the woman who lived with him, and he repeated his threat.
“But you don’t have a sword,” she said.
“Must you take me so literally? Never mind. I will get one someday; there must be iron somewhere in this stony planet.”
That night he dreamed of a giant bird with rusty feathers and vulture’s beak which ate rocks and the droppings of which were steel pellets. But there were no birds at all on this world, and if there had been there would have been no oiseau de fer.
Now he had metal weapons, a sabre, a cutlass, an épée, a stiletto, a long knife, an ax, a spear, pistols, and a rifle. He was the brigadier general of the marines, and he was very ambitious to be full general. But he loathed politics, and he had neither interest nor ability in the dishonorable game of intrigue. Besides, only by the death of Ely S. Parker could he be general of the marines of the Not For Hire, and that would have saddened him. He loved the jolly Seneca Indian.
Almost all the postpaleolithics aboard were over six feet, some of them huge. The paleolithics had small men among them, but these, with their massive bones and muscles, did not have to be so tall. De Marbot was the pygmy among them, only five feet four inches high, but Sam Clemens liked him and admired his feistiness and courage. Sam also liked to hear stories of de Marbot’s campaigns and to have people under him who had once been generals, admirals, and statesmen. “Humility is good for them, builds their character,” Sam said. “The Frenchy is a first-rate commander, and it amuses me to see him ordering those big apes around.”
De Marbot was certainly experienced and capable. After joining the republican army of France when he was seventeen, he rose rapidly in rank to aide-de-camp to Marshal Augereau, commanding the VII Corps in the war against Prussia and Russia from 1806 to 1807. He fought under Lannes and Masséna in the Peninsular War, and he’d gone through the Russian campaign in the War of 1812 and the terrible retreat from Moscow, and, among others, the German campaign in 1813. He’d been wounded eleven times, severely at Hanau and Leipzig. When Napoleon returned from his exile at Elba, he promoted de Marbot to general of brigade, and de Marbot was wounded at the bloody battle of Waterloo. De Marbot was exiled by the Bourbon king, but he returned to his native land in 1817. After serving under the July monarchy at the siege of Antwerp, he was rewarded some years later by being made a lieutenant general. From 1835 to 1840, he was in the Algerian expeditions, and at the age of sixty was wounded for the last time. He retired after the fall of King Louis Philippe in 1848. He wrote his memoirs, which so delighted Arthur Conan Doyle that he used him as the basis of his fictional character, Brigadier Gerard. The main difference between the literary and the real-life character was that de Marbot was intelligent and perceptive, whereas Gerard, though gallant, was not very bright.
When he was seventy-two years old, the brave soldier of Napoleon died in bed in Paris.
It was a measure of Clemens’ affection for him that he had told him about the Mysterious Stranger, the renegade Ethical.
Today the Riverboat was docked while Clemens interviewed volunteers for a post aboard. The hideous events after the right-bank stones had failed were two months behind the crew, and The River was now free of the stench and jampack of rotting bodies.
De Marbot, clad in a duraluminum helmet topped by a roach of glue-stiffened fish-leather strips and a duraluminum cuirass, looking like the popular conception of a Trojan warrior, walked up and down the long line of candidates. His job was to pre-interview them. In this way, he could sometimes eliminate the unfit and so save his captain time and work.
Near the middle of the line he saw four men who seemed to know each other well. He stopped by the first, a tall muscular dark man with huge hands. His color and very wavy hair could only mean that he was a quadroon, and he was.
At de Marbot’s polite inquiry, he said that his name was Thomas Million Turpin. He’d been born in Georgia sometime around 1873—he wasn’t sure just when—but his parents had moved to St. Louis, Missouri, when he was young. His father operated the Silver Dollar, a tavern in the red-light district. In his youth Tom and his brother Charles had purchased a share of the Big Onion Mine near Searchlight, Nebraska, and worked it, but, failing to find gold after two years, had roamed the west for a while before returning to St. Louis.
Turpin had settled down in the District and worked as a bouncer and piano player, among other things. By 1899 he was the most important man in the area, controlling the music, liquor, and gambling. His Rosebud Café, the center of his little empire, was famous throughout the nation. Downstairs it was a tavern-restaurant and upstairs a “hotel,” a whorehouse.
Turpin, however, was more than a big-time political boss. He was, according to his own statement, a great piano player, though he admitted he wasn’t quite as good as Louis Chauvin. A frontiersman in syncopated music, he’d been known as the father of ragtime in St. Louis, and his “Harlem Rag,” published in 1897, was the first ragtime piece published by a Negro. He’d written the famous “St. Louis Rag” for the opening of the world fair there, but that had been postponed. He died in 1922, and since he’d been on the Riverworld had wandered up and down.
“I hear there’s a piano on your boat,” he said, grinning. “I’d sure like to get my hands on them ivories.”
“There are ten pianos,” de Marbot said. “Here. Take this.”
He handed Turpin a wand of wood six inches long and incised with the initials: M.T.
“When you get to the table, give this to the captain.”
Sam would be happy. He loved ragtime, and he once had said that he couldn’t get enough players of popular music on his boat. Moreover, Turpin looked big and capable. He had to be to have bossed the rough black red-light district.
The man behind him was a wild-looking Chinese named Tai-Peng. He was about five feet ten inches tall and had large glowing green eyes and a demonic face. His black hair hung to his waist, and three irontree blooms were stuck in its crown. He claimed in a loud shrill voice to have been a great swordsman, lover, and poet in his time, which was that of the T’ang dynasty in the eighth century A.D.
“I was one of the six Idlers of the Bamboo Stream and also of the Eight Immortals of the Wine Cup. I can compose poetry on the spot in my native Turkish, in Chinese, in Korean, in English, in French, and in Esperanto. When it comes to swordplay, I am as quick as a hummingbird and as deadly as a viper.”
De Marbot laughed and said he didn’t choose the recruits. But he gave the Chinese a wand and moved on to the man behind Tai-Peng.
This was a short man, though still taller than de Marbot, dark-skinned, black-eyed, fat, and with a bulging Buddha’s belly. His eyelids were slightly epicanthic, and his nose was aquiline. His clefted chin was massive. He, he said, was Ah Qaaq, and he came from the eastern coast of a land which de Marbot would call Mexico. His people had called the area in which they lived the Land of Rain. He didn’t know exactly when he lived according to the Christian calendar, but from his talks with a scholarly man it must have been around 100 B.C. His native tongue was Mayan; he was a citizen of the people that later cultures had called Olmec.
“Ah, yes,” de Marbot said. “I have heard talk of the Olmecs. We have some very learned men at the captain’s table.”
De Marbot understood that the “Olmecs” had founded the first civilization in Mesoamerica and that all others in pre-Columbian times had derived from it, the later Mayas, the Toltecs, the Aztecs, what have you. The man, if he was an ancient Mayan, did not have the artificially flattened head and the squint-eyes so favored by that people. But on reflection de Marbot realized that these, of course, would have been rectified by the Ethicals.
“You’re that rarity, a fat man,” de Marbot said. “We of the Not For Hire lead an extremely active life, no room for indolents and overeaters, and we also require that the candidate have something special to qualify him.”
Ah Qaaq said in a high voice, though not as high as the Chinese’s, “The fat cat may look soft, but it is very strong and very quick. Let me show you.”
He took the handle of his flint-headed ax, a piece of oak eighteen inches long and two inches thick, and he snapped it as if it were a sugar-stick. Then he picked up the head and let the Frenchman heft it.
“About ten pounds, that one, I’d say,” de Marbot said.
Ah Qaaq took the ax head and hurled it as if it were a baseball. Eyes wide, de Marbot watched it soar high and far before it struck the grass.
“Mon Dieu! No one but the mighty Joe Miller could throw that as far! I congratulate you, sinjoro. Here. Take this.”
“I am also an excellent archer and axman,” Ah Qaaq said quietly. “You won’t regret taking me aboard.”
The man behind the Olmec was exactly his height and had a squat Herculean physique. He even looked like Ah Qaaq with his eaglish nose and rounded clefted chin. But he had no fat, and though he was almost as dark, he was no Amerindian. His name, he said, was Gilgamesh.
“I have arm-wrestled Ah Qaaq,” Gilgamesh said. “Neither of us can defeat the other. I am also a great axman and archer.”
“Very good! Well, my captain will be pleased with your tales of Sumeria, of which I’m sure you have plenty. And he will also be pleased to have a king and a god aboard. Kings he’s met, though he’s not been too happy with most of them. Gods, well, that’s a different story. The captain has never met a god before! Here. Take this!”
He moved on, and when he was out of sight and earshot of the Sumerian—if he was one—laughed until he rolled on the grass. After a while he got up, wiped off the tears, and resumed his interviewing.
The four were accepted with six others. When they marched up the gangplank onto the boiler deck, they saw Monat the extra-Terrestrial standing by the railing, his keen eyes sweeping over them. They were startled, but de Marbot told them to go on. He would explain all about the strange creature later on.
The recruits did not meet Monat that evening as planned. Two women quarreled about a man and started shooting at each other. Before the argument was settled, one woman was badly wounded and the other had jumped off the boat, her grail in one hand and a box of possessions in the other. The man decided to leave also since he preferred the woman who’d done the shooting. The boat was stopped, and he was let off. Sam was so upset that he called off the introductions in the grand salon until the next day.
Sometime that night, Monat Grrautut disappeared.
No one had heard a cry. No one had seen anything suspicious. The only clue was a bloodstain on the aft railing of the A deck promenade, and that might have been an oversight by the cleanup squads after the battles over the left-bank stones.
Clemens suspected that one of the four new recruits might have been responsible. These, however, claimed steadfastly that they were asleep in their bunks, and no one had any evidence to refute them.
While Sam pondered the case and wished he had Sherlock Holmes aboard, the Not For Hire forged ahead. Three days after Monat’s disappearance, Cyrano de Bergerac flagged the boat down. Sam cursed when he saw him. He’d hoped that they would pass Cyrano during the night, but there he was, and at least fifty of the crew had also seen him.
The Frenchman came aboard smiling and quickly kissing his male friends on the cheeks and his female friends on the mouth lingeringly. When he came into the control room, he cried, “Captain! What a tale I have!”
Clemens thought sourly that that could be said of any dog.
A man and a woman lay in bed. Their skins touched; their dreams were lightyears apart.
Sam Clemens was dreaming again of that day when he had killed Erik Bloodaxe. Rather, when he had set in motion other men, one of whom had put a spear into the Norseman’s belly.
Sam had wanted the buried meteorite for its nickel-steel. Without it, he could not build the great paddle-wheeled boat he envisaged so often. Now, in this dream, he talked to Lothar von Richthofen of what must be done. Joe Miller was not present, having been treacherously captured by the man who had once been king of England. An invading fleet was sailing from downRiver to seize the grave of the fallen star. King John was upRiver, readying a fleet to sail down and grab the site of the buried treasure of nickel-steel. Sam’s army was between the two and weaker than either one. His would be ground to meal between the millstones. There was no chance for victory except by making an alliance with John. Also, if Joe Miller was to get out alive, Sam would have to make a deal with his captor, King John.
But Erik Bloodaxe, Sam’s partner, had refused to consider the alliance. Besides, Erik hated Joe Miller, who was the only human he had ever feared—if you could call Joe a human. Bloodaxe said that his men and Sam’s would make a stand and would smash the two invaders in a glorious victory. This was foolish boasting, though the Norseman may have believed what he said.
Erik Bloodaxe was the son of Harald Haarfager (Harold Finehair), the Norwegian who’d united, for the first time, all of Norway and whose conquests had led to mass migrations to England and to Iceland. When Harald died circa A.D. 918, Erik became king. But Erik wasn’t popular. Even in a day of harsh and cruel monarchs, he led the pack. His half-brother, Haakon, then fifteen years old, had been reared in the court of King Athelstan of England since he was one year old. Supported by English troops, he raised a Norwegian army against his brother. Erik fled to Northumbria in England, where he was given its kingship by Athelstan, but he didn’t last long. According to the Norse chroniclers, he died in A.D. 954 in southern England while making a great raid there. The old English tradition had it that he was expelled from Northumbria and was killed during a battle at Stanmore.
Erik had told Clemens that the former account was the true one.
Clemens had joined the Norseman because Erik owned a very rare steel ax and was looking for the source of ore from which the ax had been made. Clemens hoped that there’d be enough ore to make a large paddle-wheeled steamboat in which he could go to the headwaters of The River. Erik didn’t think much of Sam but took him in as a member of his crew because of Joe Miller. Erik didn’t like Joe, but he knew that the titanthrop was a very valuable asset in battle. And then Joe had been made a hostage by King John. Desperate, fearful that Joe would be killed by King John and that he would lose the meteorite, Sam had discussed the situation with Lothar, the younger brother of “The Red Baron.” He had made his proposal. They should kill Bloodaxe and his Viking bodyguards. After that, they could talk to John, who would see the advantage of teaming up with Clemens’ force. Together, the two might be a match for von Radowitz’ forces from downRiver.
Sam further strengthened his rationalizations with the thought that Bloodaxe probably intended to kill him after their enemies had been defeated. A showdown was inevitable.
Lothar von Richthofen agreed. It wasn’t treachery if you attacked a traitor. Besides, it was the only logical thing to do. If Bloodaxe was a true friend, then the case would be different. But the Norseman was as trustworthy as a rattlesnake with a toothache.
And so the foul deed had been done.
Yet, even though it was justified by all counts, the deed was foul. Sam had never gotten over his guilt. After all, he could have walked away from the meteorite, given up his dream.
With Lothar and some picked men, he had approached the hut in which Bloodaxe and a woman were humping away. The fight lasted a minute, the Norse guards being taken by surprise by a larger force. The Viking king, naked, holding his great ax, had dashed out. Lothar had pinned him to the wall of the hut with the spear.
Sam had been about to vomit, but he thought that at least the deed was all over. Then a hand had clamped on his ankle, causing him almost to faint with terror. He had looked down, and there was the dying Bloodaxe, holding him with a grip like an eagle’s.
“Bikkja!” the Norseman had said, weakly but clearly.
That meant bitch, a word he often used to indicate his contempt for Clemens, whom he considered effeminate. “Droppings of Ratatosk,” he continued. In other words, crap of the giant squirrel, Ratatosk, that raced around the branches of the world tree, Yggdrasill, the cosmic ash which bound together earth, the abode of the gods, and hell.
And then Bloodaxe had prophesied, saying that Clemens would build his great boat. He would pilot it up The River. But its building and its voyage would be grief and sorrow for Clemens with little of the joy he anticipated. And when Clemens at long last neared the headwaters of The River, he would find that Bloodaxe would be waiting for him.
Sam remembered clearly the dying man’s speech. It came up now again from the shadowy figure that held his foot from a deep narrow hole in the ground. Eyes in the vague black mass in the earth burned into Clemens’.
“I will find you! I will be waiting on a distant boat, and I will kill you. And you will never get to the end of The River nor storm the gates of Valhalla!”
Even when the hand had slackened, Sam had been too cold with horror to move away. Death rattled in the throat of the sinister shadow, and still Sam was frozen on the outside, though vibrating inside.
Those were Erik Bloodaxe’s last words, echoing yet in his dreams down the years.
Sam had scoffed at the prophecy—later on. No one could see into the future. That was superstitious rot. Bloodaxe might be upRiver, but, if he was, it was due to chance alone. There was a fifty-fifty probability that he was downRiver. Moreover, even if the Norseman was waiting for revenge, he wasn’t likely to have an opportunity to wreak it. The boat only made three stops a day, except for some occasional shore leaves of a week or so. Very probably Bloodaxe would be standing on the bank when the Riverboat traveled by. Run or paddle or sail though he might, Erik could not catch up with the swift vessel.
Believing this did not, however, keep Bloodaxe out of Sam’s nightmares. Perhaps this was because, deep within him, Sam knew that he was guilty of murder. Therefore, he should be punished.
In one of those sudden shifts of scene the Supervisor of Dreams so slickly contrives, Sam found himself in a hut. It was night, and rain and lightning and thunder were like a cat-o’-nine-tails against the back of darkness. The flashes in the sky faintly illumined the interior of the hut. A shadowy figure squatted near him. The figure was cloaked; a huge dome on its shoulders covered its head.
“What’s the occasion for this unexpected visit?” Sam said, repeating the question he’d asked during the Mysterious Stranger’s second visit.
“The Sphinx and I are playing draw poker,” the Stranger said. “Would you like to sit in?”
Sam awoke. The luminous digits of the chronometer on the wall across the cabin read 03:33. What I tell you three times is true. Gwenafra, beside him, groaned. She muttered something about “Richard.” Was she dreaming about Richard Burton? Though she had only been about seven when she had known him, and had been with him for only a year, she still talked of him. Her child’s love for him had survived.
There was no sound now except for Gwenafra’s breathing and the far-off chuff-chuff of the great paddle wheels. Their cycling sent slight vibrations throughout the ship. When he had his hand on the duraluminum frame of the bed, he could feel the faint waves. The four wheels turned by the colossal electrical motors were driving the vessel toward his goal.
Out there, on both banks, people were sleeping. Night lay over this hemi sphere, and an estimated 8.75 billion were abed, dreaming. What were their shadowy visions? Some would be of Earth; some, of this world.
Was the ex-caveman turning restlessly in his sleep, moaning, dreaming of a saber-tooth prowling outside the fire in the entrance? Joe Miller often dreamed of mammoths, those hairy curving-tusked leviathans of his time, food to stuff his capacious belly and skin to make tents and ivory to make props for the tents and teeth to make enormous necklaces. He also dreamed of his totem, his ancestor, the giant cave bear; the massive shaggy figure came to him at night and advised him on matters that troubled him. And he dreamed sometimes of being beaten with clubs on the soles of his feet by enemies. Joe’s eight hundred pounds plus his bipedal posture caused flat feet. He could not walk all day like the Homo sapiens pygmies; he had to sit down and ease his aching feet.
Joe also had nocturnal emissions when dreaming of a female of his kind. Joe was sleeping with his present mate, a six-foot seven-inch beauty, a Kassubian, a Slavic speaker of the third century A.D. She loved Joe’s massiveness and hairiness and the grotesque nose and the gargantuan penis and most of all his essentially gentle soul. And she may have gotten a perverse pleasure from making love to a not-quite-human being. Joe loved her, too, but that didn’t keep him from dreaming amorously of his Terrestrial wife and any number of other females of his tribe. Or, like humans everywhere, of a mate constructed by the Master of Dreams, an ideal living only in the unconscious.
“Every man is a moon and has a dark side which he never shows to anybody.”
So Sam Clemens had written. How true. But the Master of Dreams, that master of ceremonies of bizarre circuses, trotted out his caged beasts and trapeze artists and tight-rope walkers and side-show freaks every night.
In last night’s dream, he, Samuel Langhorne Clemens, had been locked in a room with an enormous machine on the back of which rode his alter ego, Mark Twain. The machine was a monstrous and weird creature, squat, round-backed, a cockroach with a thousand legs and a thousand teeth. The teeth in the oblong mouth were bottles of patent medicine, “snake oil.” The legs were metal rods with round feet on the bottoms of which were letters from the alphabet. It advanced toward him, teeth clinking together while the legs squeaked and squealed from lack of oil. Mark Twain, seated in a gold-plated diamond-encrusted howdah on its back, pulled levers to direct it. Mark Twain was an old man with bushy white hair and a white bushy mustache. He wore an all-white suit. He grinned and then glared at Sam and jerked at the levers and steered his machine this way and that, trying to cut off Sam’s attempts to escape.
Sam was only eighteen, his famous mustache not yet grown. He clutched the handle of a carpetbag in one hand.
Round and round the room Sam fled, while the machine clinked and squeaked as it spun around and ran toward him and then backed up. Mark Twain kept yelling things at Sam, such as: “Here’s a page from your own book, Sam,” and “Your publisher sends you his regards, Sam, and asks for more money!”
Sam, squealing like the machine, was a mouse trapped by a mechanical cat. No matter how fast he ran, how he spun, whirled, and leaped, he was inevitably going to be caught.
Suddenly, ripples passed over the metal shell of the monster. It stopped, and it groaned. A clicking issued from its mouth; it squatted, the legs bending. From an orifice in its rear spurted a stream of green paper. They were thousand-dollar bills, and they piled against the wall and then began to flow over the machine. The pile grew and grew and then fell into the howdah, where Mark Twain was screaming at the machine that it was sick, sick, sick.
Fascinated, Sam crept forward, keeping a wary eye on the machine. He picked up one of the bills. “At last,” he thought, “at long last.”
The paper in his hand became human feces.
Now he saw that all the bills had suddenly turned to feces.
But a door had opened in the hitherto unbroken wall of the room.
H. H. Rogers stuck his head through. He was the rich man who’d aided Sam during his troubles, even though Sam had excoriated the big oil trusts. Sam ran toward him, yelling, “Help! Help!”
Rogers stepped into the room. He wore nothing except red longjohns, the rear flap of which hung unbuttoned. On his chest in gold letters was the legend: IN STANDARD OIL WE TRUST; ALL OTHERS, GOD.
“You’ve saved me, Henry!” Sam gasped.
Rogers turned his back for a minute, exposing the sign on his buttocks: PUT IN A DOLLAR AND PULL THE LEVER.
Rogers, frowning, said, “Just a minute.” He reached behind him and pulled out a document.
“Sign here, and I’ll let you out.”
“I haven’t got a pen!” Sam said. Behind him, the machine was beginning to move again. He couldn’t see it, but he knew that it was creeping up on him. Beyond Rogers, through the door, Sam could see a beautiful garden. A lion and a lamb sat side by side, and Livy was standing just behind them. She smiled at him. She wore nothing, and she was holding a huge parasol over her head. Faces peeked from behind flowers and bushes. One of them was Susy, his favorite daughter. But what was she doing? Something he knew he wouldn’t like. Was that a man’s bare foot sticking out from the bush behind which Susy was hiding?
“I don’t have a pen,” Sam said again.
“I’ll take your shadow for collateral,” Rogers said.
“I already sold it,” Sam said. He groaned as the door swung shut behind Rogers.
And that had been the end of that nightmare.
Where now were his wife Livy, Clara, Jean, and Susy, his daughters? What dreams were they dreaming? Did he figure in them? If so, as what? Where was Orion, his brother? Inept bumbling ne’er-do-well optimistic Orion. Sam had loved him. And where was his brother Henry, poor Henry, burned so badly when the paddle wheeler Pennsylvania blew up, lingering for six excruciatingly painful days in the makeshift hospital in Memphis. Sam had been with him, had suffered with him, and then had seen him carried off to the room where the undoubtedly dying were taken.
Resurrection has restored Orion’s charred skin, but it would never heal his interior wounds. Just as it had failed to heal Sam’s.
And where was the poor old whiskey-sodden tramp who had died when the Hannibal jail caught fire? Sam had been ten then, had been awakened out of sleep by the fire bells. He had run down to the jail and seen the man, clinging to the bars, screaming, blackly silhouetted against the bright red flames. The town marshal could not be found, and he had the only keys to the cell door. A group had tried to batter the oaken doors down and had failed.
Some hours before the marshal had picked up the bum, Sam had given the bum some matches to light his pipe. It was one of these that must have set fire to the straw bed in the cell. Sam knew that he was responsible for the tramp’s terrible death. If he had not felt sorry for him and gone home to get the matches for him, the man would not have died. An act of charity, a moment of sympathy, had caused him to be burned to death.
And where was Nina, his granddaughter? She was born after he’d died, but he had learned about her from a man who’d read her death notice in the Los Angeles Times of January 18, 1966.
RITES PENDING FOR NINA CLEMENS,
LAST DESCENDANT OF MARK TWAIN
The fellow had a very good memory, but his interest in Mark Twain had helped him to record the heading in his mind.
“She was fifty-five years old and was found dead late Sunday in a motel room at 20-something-or-other North Highland Avenue. Her room was strewn with bottles of pills and liquor. There wasn’t any note and an autopsy was ordered to find out the exact cause of her death. I never saw the report.
“She’d died across the street from her luxurious three-bedroom penthouse in the Highland Towers. Her friends said she often checked in there for the weekend when she was tired of being alone. The paper said she’d been alone most of her life. She’d used the name of Clemens after she divorced an artist by the name of Rutgers. She had been married to him briefly in, ah, 1935, I think. The paper said she was the daughter of Clara Grabrilowitsch, your only daughter. It meant that she was your only surviving daughter. Clara married a Jacques Samoussoud after her first husband died. In 1935, I think. She was a devout Christian Scientist, you know.”
“No, I didn’t know!” Sam said.
His informant, knowing that Sam loathed Christian Science, that he had once written a defamatory book about Mary Baker Eddy, had grinned.
“Do you suppose she was getting back at you?”
“Spare me your psychological analyses,” Sam had said. “Clara worshipped me. All my children did.”
“Anyway, Clara died in 1962, not long after she’d authorized publication of your unpublished Letters to the Earth.”
“That was printed?” Sam said. “What was the reaction?”
“It sold well. But it was pretty mild stuff, you know. No one was outraged or thought it was blasphemous. Oh, yes, your 1601, uncensored, was also printed. When I was young, it could be obtained only through private presses. But by the late 1960s, it was sold to the general public.”
Sam had shaken his head. “You mean children could buy it?”
“No, but a lot of them read it.”
“How things must’ve changed!”
“Anything, well, almost anything, went. Let’s see. The article said that your granddaughter was an amateur artist, singer, and actress. She was also a shutterbug—a person who liked to take photographs—she took dozens of pictures every week of friends, bartenders, and waiters. Even strangers on the street.
“She was writing an autobiography, A Life Alone, which title tells you a lot about her. Poor thing. Her friends said the book was ‘generally confused’ but parts of it showed some of your genius.”
“I always said that Livy and I were too high-strung to have children.”
“Well, she wasn’t suffering from lack of money. She inherited some trust funds from her mother, about $800,000, I believe. Money from the sale of your books. When she died, she was worth one and a half million dollars. Yet, she was unhappy and lonely.
“Oh, yes. Her body was taken to Elmira, New York…for burial in a family plot near the famed grandfather whose name she bore.”
“I can’t be blamed for her character,” Sam had said. “Clara and Ossip can take credit for that.”
The informant shrugged and said, “You and your wife formed the characters of your children, Clara included.”
“Yes, but my character was formed by my parents. And theirs by theirs,” Sam had said. “Do we go back to Adam and Eve to fix the responsibility? No, because God formed their temperaments when he created them. There is but one being who bears the ultimate responsibility.”
“I’m a free-willer myself,” the man had said.
“Listen,” Sam had said. “When the first living atom found itself afloat on the great Laurentian sea, the first act of that first atom led to the second act of that first atom, and so on down through the succeeding ages of all life until, if the steps could be traced, it would be shown that the first act of that first atom has led inevitably to the act of my standing in my kilt at this instant, talking to you. That’s from my What Is Man? slightly paraphrased. What do you think of that?”
“You say that because you have been determined to do so. You could not have said anything else.”
“You’re a sorry case, Mr. Clemens, if you don’t mind my saying so.”
“I do. But you can’t help saying that. Listen, what was your profession?”
The man looked surprised. “What’s that got to do with it? I was a realtor. I was also on the school board for many years.”
“Let me quote myself again,” Sam had said. “In the first place, God made idiots. This was for practice. Then he made School Boards.”
Sam chuckled now at the memory of the man’s expression.
He sat up. Gwen slept on. He turned on the nightlight and saw that she was smiling slightly. She looked innocent, childlike, yet the full lips and the full curves of the breast, almost entirely exposed, excited him. He reached out to awake her but changed his mind. Instead, he put on his kilt and a cloth for a cape and his visored high-peaked fish-leather cap. He picked up a cigar and left the room closing the door softly. The corridor was warm and bright. At the far end, the door was locked; two armed guards stood by it. Two also stood at the near end by the elevator doors. He lit a cigar and walked toward the elevator. He chatted for a minute with the guards and then entered the cage.
He punched the P button. The doors slid shut, but not before he saw a guard starting to phone to the pilothouse that La Bosso (The Boss) was coming up. The cage rose from the D or hangar deck, where the officers’ quarters were, through the two narrow round rooms below the pilothouse, and then to the top chamber. There was a brief wait while the third-watch exec checked out the cage with closed-circuit TV. Then the doors slid open, and Sam entered the pilothouse or control room.
“It’s all right, boys,” he said. “Just me, enjoying insomnia.”
There were three others there. The night pilot, smoking a big cigar, eyeing the dials lackadaisically. He was Akande Erin, a massive Dahomeyan who had spent thirty years operating a jungle riverboat. The most outrageous liar Sam had ever known, and he had met the world’s best. Third-mate Calvin Cregar, a Scot who had put in forty years on an Australian coastal steamer. Ensign Diego Santiago of the marines, a seventeenth-century Venezuelan.
“Just came to look around,” Sam said. “Carry on.”
The sky was unclouded, blazing as if that great arsonist, God, had set it afire. The Valley was broad here, and the light fell softly, showing dimly the buildings and boats on both banks. Beyond them was a darker darkness. A few sentinel fires made eyes in the night. Otherwise, the world seemed asleep. The hills rose dark with trees, the giant irontrees, a thousand feet high, spiring up from the others. Beyond, the mountains loomed blackly. Faint starlight sparked on the waves.
Sam went through the door to stand on the port walk that ringed the exterior of the pilothouse. The wind was cool but not yet cold. It ran fingers through his bushy hair. Standing on the deck, he felt like a living part, an organ, of the vessel. It was spanking along, paddle wheels churning, its flags flapping, brave as a tiger, huge and sleek as a sperm whale, beautiful as a woman, heading always against the current, its goal the Axis Mundi, the Navel of the World, the dark tower. He felt roots grow from his feet, tendrils that spread through the hull, extended from the hull, dropped through the black waters, touched by the monsters of the deep, plunged into the muck three miles below, grew laterally up through the earth, spread out, shooting with the speed of thought, growing vines which erupted from the earth, stabbed into the flesh of every living human being on this world, spiraled upward through the roofs of the huts, rocketed toward the skies, veined space with the shoots which wrapped themselves around every planet on which lived animal life and sentients, enveloped and penetrated these, and then shot exploring tentacles toward the blackness where no matter was, where only God existed.
In that moment, Sam Clemens was, if not one with the universe, at least integral with it. And for a moment he believed in God.
And at that moment Samuel Clemens and Mark Twain inhabited the same flesh, merged, became one.
Then the thrilling vision exploded, contracted, dwindled, shot back into him.
He laughed. For several seconds he had known an ecstasy that surpassed even sexual intercourse, up to that moment the supreme feeling in his, and humanity’s, lot, disappointing as it often was.
Now he was within himself again, and the universe was outside.
He returned to the control room. Erin, the black pilot, looking up at him, said, “You have been visited by the spirits.”
“Do I look that peculiar?” Sam said. “Yes, I have.”
“What did they say?”
“That I am nothing and everything. I once heard the village idiot say the same thing.”
Section 5 Burton’s Soliloquy
Late at night, while the exceptionally thick and high fog shrouded even the pilothouse, Burton prowled.
Unable to sleep, he roamed here and there with no place to go in mind—except that of getting away from himself.
“Damn me! Always trying to outrun my own self! If I had the wits of a cow, I’d stay and wrestle with him. But he can outrun, outwrestle me, the Jacob to my angel. Yet…I am Jacob also. I have a broken cog, not a broken thigh, I am an automaton Jacob, a mechanical angel, a robot devil. The ladder to heaven still leans against its window, but I can’t find it again.
“Destiny is happenchance. No, not that. I make my own. Not I, though. That thing which drives me, the devil that rides me. It waits grinning in the dark corner, and when I’ve reached my hand out to grab the prize, it leaps out and snatches it away from me.
“My ungovernable temper. The thing that cheats me and laughs and gibbers and runs away to hide and to emerge another day.
“Ah, Richard Francis Burton, Ruffian Dick, Nigger Dick, as they used to call me in India. They! The mediocrities, the robots running on the tracks of Victoria’s railroad…they had no interest in the native except to lay the women and eat good food and drink good drink and make a fortune if they could. They couldn’t even speak the native language after thirty years in the greatest gem in the queen’s crown. A gem, hah! A stinking pesthole! Cholera and its sisters! The black plague and its brothers! Hindus and Moslems laughing behind pukka Sahib’s back! The English couldn’t even fuck well. The women laughed at them and went to their black lovers for satisfaction after Sahib had gone home.
“I warned the government two years before it happened, the Sepoy Mutiny, and they laughed at me! Me, the only man in India who knew the Hindu, the Moslem!”
He paused on the top landing of the grand staircase. Light blazed out, and the sound of revelry tore through the mists without moving them. No curtain there to be moved by a breath.
“Arrgh! Damn them! They laugh and flirt, and doom waits for them. The world is falling apart. The rider on the black camel waits for them around the next bend of The River. Fools! And I, a fool also.
“And on this Narrboot, this great vessel of fools, men and women sleep who in their waking hours plot against me, plot against all natives of Earth. No. We’re all native to this universe. Citizens of the cosmos. I spit over the railing. Into the mists. The River flows below. It receives that part of me which will never return except in another form of water. H2O. Hell doubled over. That’s a strange thought. But aren’t all thoughts strangers? Don’t they drift along like bottles enclosing messages cast away by that Great Castaway into the sea? And if they chance to lodge in the mind, my mind, I think that I originated them. Or is there a magnetism between certain souls and certain thoughts, and only those with the peculiar field of the thinkers are drawn to the thinkers? And then the individual reshapes them to fit his own character and thinks proudly—if he thinks at all in any sense more than a cow does—that he originated them? Flotsam and jetsam, my thoughts, and I the reef.
“Podebrad! What are you dreaming of? That tower? Your home? Or are you a secret one or just a Czech engineer? Or both?
“Fourteen years I’ve been on this Riverboat, and the boat has been driving its paddle wheels upRiver for thirty-three. Now I’m captain of the marines of that exalted bastard and regal asshole, King John. Living proof that I can govern my temper.
“Another year and we arrive at Virolando. There the Rex stops for a while, and we talk to La Viro, La Fondinto, the pope of the poopery of the Church of the Second Chance. Second chance, my sainted aunt’s arse! Those who gave it to us don’t have a chance now. Caught in their own trap! Hoisted by their own petard, which is French for ‘little fart.’ As Mix says, we don’t have the chance of a fart in a windstorm.
“Out there on the banks. The sleeping billions. Where is Edward, my beloved brother? A brilliant man, and that gang of thugs beat his brains in, and he never spoke another word for forty years. You shouldn’t have gone tiger hunting that day, Edward. The tiger was the Hindu who saw his chance to beat and rob a hated Englishman. Though they’d been doing it to their own people, too.
“But does it matter now, Edward? You’ve had your terrible injury healed, and you’ve been talking as of yore. Perhaps not now, though. Lazarus! Your body rots. No Jesus for you. No ‘Arise!’
“And mother! Where is she! The silly woman who talked my grandfather into willing her vicious brother, his son, a good part of his fortune. Grandpa changed his mind and was on his way to see his solicitor to arrange that I get that money. And he dropped dead before he got to the solicitor, and my uncle threw the fortune away in French gambling halls. And so I could not buy myself a decent commission in the regular army, and I could not finance my explorations as they should have been and so I never became what I should have been.
“Speke! The unspeakable Speke! You cheated me out of finding the true source of the Nile, you incompetent sneak, you piece of dung from a sick camel! You sneaked back to England after promising you’d not announce our discoveries until I got there, and you lied about me. You paid; you put a bullet into yourself. Your conscience finally got to you. How I wept. I loved you, Speke, though I hated you. How I wept!
“But if I chance across you now—what? Would you run? Surely you’d not have the perverted courage to hold out your hand for me to shake. Judas! Would I kiss you as Jesus kissed the traitor? Judas! No, I’d kick your arse halfway up a mountain!
“Sickness, the iron talons of African disease, gripped me. But I’d have recovered, and I’d have discovered the headwaters of the Nile! Not Speke, not hyena, not jackal Speke! My apologies, Brother Hyena and Sister Jackal. You’re only animals and useful in the scheme of things. Speke wasn’t worthy to kiss your foul arseholes.
“But how I wept!
“The headwaters of the Nile. The headwaters of The River. Having failed to get to one, will I fail to get to the other?
“My mother never showed any of us, me, Edward, Maria, any affection. She might as well have been our governess. No. Our nannies showed us more love, gave us more time, than she did.
“A man is what his mother makes him.
“No! There is something in the soul that rises above the lack of love, that drives me on and on toward…what?
“Father, if I may call you that. No. Not father. Begetter. You wheezing selfish humorless hypochondriac. You forever self-exile and traveler. Where was our home? A dozen foreign lands. You went here and there seeking the health which you thought you didn’t have. And we dragged along in your wake. Ignorant women our nannies and drunken Irish clergymen our tutors. Wheeze away, damn you! But no more. You’ve been cured by the unknowns who made this world. Have you? Haven’t you found some excuse to cozen yourself into hypochondria? It’s your soul, not your lungs, that has asthma.
“By Lake Tanganyika, Ujiji, the sickness seized me in demon fingers. In my delirium I saw myself, mocking, gibing, jeering, leering at me. That other Burton which mocks at the world but mostly at me.
“It couldn’t stop me, though, I went on…no…not then. Speke went on, and he…he…hee, hee! I laugh, though it startles the revelers and wakes the sleeping. Laugh, Burton, laugh, you Pagliacci! That silly-arse Yank, Frigate, tells me that it was I who became known as the great explorer and your treachery became infamous. I, I, not you, you Unspeakable! I have been vindicated, not you.
“My misfortune began with my not being a Frenchman. I wouldn’t have had to fight against English prejudice, English rigidity, English stupidity. I…but I wasn’t born a Frenchman, though I am descended from a bastard of Louis XIV. The Sun-King. Blood will tell.
“What bloody nonsense! Burton blood, not the Sun-King’s, will tell.
“I traveled, restless-footed, everywhere. But Omne solum forti patria. Every region is a strong man’s home. It was I who was the first European to enter the holy and forbidden city of Harar and come alive out of that Ethiopian hellhole. It was I who made a pilgrimage as Mirza Abdulla Bushiri to Mecca and wrote the most famous, detailed, and true book about it and who could have been torn to pieces if I’d been found out. It was I who discovered Lake Tanganyika. It was I who wrote the first manual on the use of the bayonet for the British army. It was I…
“Why recount to myself these vain glories? It’s not what a man’s done that counts, it’s what he’s going to do.
“Ayesha! Ayesha! My Persian beauty, my first true love! I would’ve renounced the world, my British citizenship, I would have become a Persian and lived with you until I died. You were most foully murdered, Ayesha! I avenged you, I slew the poisoner with my own hands, choked the life from him and buried his body in the desert. Where are you, Ayesha?
“Somewhere. And if we met again—what? That ravening love is now a dead lion.
“Isabel. My wife. The woman…did I ever love her? Affection I had. Not the great love I had for Ayesha and still have for Alice. ‘Pay, pack, and follow’ I told her whenever I left for a journey, and she did so, as obediently and as uncomplaining as a slave. I was her hero, her god, she said, and she set herself a list of rules for the perfect wife. But when I became old and bitter, a neglected failure, she became my nurse, my keeper, my cager, my prison guard.
“What if I should see her again, this woman who said that she could never love another man on Earth or in Heaven? Not that this world is Heaven. What would I do, say, ‘Hello, Isabel. It’s been a long time’?
“No, I’d run like the veriest coward. Hide. Yet…
“And here’s the entrance to the engine room. Is Podebrad on duty tonight? What if he is? I cannot confront him until we get to the headwaters.
“There goes a figure, dim in the mists. Is it an agent of the Ethicals? Or X, the renegade, skulking in the fog? He is always here now, there then, as elusive as the concept of time and eternity, nothingness and somethingness.
“‘Who goes there?’ I should shout. But he—she—it is gone.
“While I was in that transition between sleeping and waking, between death and resurrection, I saw God. ‘You owe for the flesh,’ He said, that bearded old gentleman in the garments of 1890, and in another dream He said, ‘Pay up.’
“Pay what? What is the price?
“I didn’t ask for the flesh, I didn’t petition to be born. Flesh, life, should be gratis.
“I should have detained Him. I should have asked him if a man does have free will or are all his actions, his nonactions, too, determined. Written down in the world’s Bradshaw, so-and-so will arrive at such-a-place at 10:32 A.M. and will depart at 10:40 on track 12. If I am a train on His railway, then I am not responsible for anything I do. Evil and good are not my doing. In fact, there is no evil and good. Without free will, they don’t exist.
“But He won’t be detained. And if He were, would I understand his explanation of death and immortality, of determinism and indeterminism, of determinacy and indeterminacy?
“The human mind cannot grasp these. But if it can’t, it’s God’s fault—if there is a God.
“When I was surveying the Sind area in India, I became a Sufi, a Master Sufi. But watching them in the Sind and in Egypt and seeing them end by proclaiming themselves to be God, I concluded that extreme mysticism was closely allied to madness.
“Nur ed-Din el-Musafir, who is a Sufi, says that I do not understand. One, there are fake or deluded Sufis, degenerates of that great discipline. Two, when a Sufi says that he is God, he does not mean that literally. He is saying that he has become one with God, though not God.
“Great God! I will penetrate to His heart, to the heart of the Mystery and the mysteries. I am a living sword, but I have been attacking with my edge, not with my point. The point is the most deadly, not the edge. I will be from now on the point.
“Yet, if I’m to find my way through the magic labyrinth, I must have a thread to follow to the great beast that lives in its heart. Where is that thread? No Ariadne. I will be myself the thread and Ariadne and Theseus, just as…why didn’t I think of this before?—I am the labyrinth.
“Not quite true. What is? It’s always not quite. But in human, and divine, affairs, a near-hit is sometimes as good as a direct hit. The larger the exploding shell, the less it matters that it doesn’t strike the bull’s eye.
“Yet a sword is no good unless it’s well balanced. It has been said of me, I have the wide-reading Frigate for authority, that some have said that I was one in whom Nature ran riot, that I had not one but thirty splendid talents. But I had no sense of balance or of direction either. That I was an orchestra without a director, a fine ship with only one flaw: no compass. As I’ve said of myself, a blaze of light without focus.
“If I couldn’t do something first, I wouldn’t do it.
“That it’s the abnormal, the perverse, and the savage, in men, not the divine in their nature, that fascinate me.
“That, though I was deeply learned, I never understood that wisdom had little to do with knowledge and literature and nothing to do with learning.
“They were wrong! If they were once right, no more!”
Burton prowled on and on, looking for he knew not what. He passed down a dim corridor and paused by a door. Within should be Loghu, unless she was dancing in the grand salon, and Frigate. They were together again, having gone through two or three lovers in fourteen years. She had not been able to tolerate him for a long time, but then he’d won her over—though it might be the other Frigate whom she still loved—and now they shared the same quarters. Once more.
He went on, seeing a shadowy figure faintly outlined in the light over the exit. X? Another sufferer from insomnia? Himself?
He stood outside the texas and watched the guards pacing back and forth. Watchman, what of the night? Well, what of it?
On he walked. Where have you been? From walking to and fro, not over this giant world but on this pygmy cosmos of a Riverboat.
Alice was in his cabin again, having left him a little less than fourteen years ago and having returned twice. This time, they would be together forever. Perhaps. But he was glad that she was back.
He emerged on the landing deck and looked up at the dim light emanating from the control room. Its big clock boomed fourteen strokes. Two A.M.
Time for Burton to go back to bed and try to storm the citadel of sleep again.
He looked up at the stars, and, while doing so, a cold wind swept down from the north and cleared the upper deck of the mists—momentarily. Somewhere northward was the tower in the cold and gray mists. In it were, or had been, the Ethicals, the entities who thought they had a right to raise the dead without their permission.
Did they hold the keys to the mysteries? Not all mysteries, of course. The mystery of being itself, of creation, of space and infinity, time and eternity would never be solved.
Or would they?
Was there somewhere, in the tower or deep underground, a machine which converted the metaphysical into the physical? Man could handle the physical, and if he didn’t know the true nature of the beyond-matter, what of it? He didn’t know the true nature of electricity, either, but he had enslaved it for his own purposes.
He shook his fist at the north, and he went to bed.
Section 6 On the Not For Hire: The Thread of Reason
At first, Samuel Clemens had tended to avoid Cyrano de Bergerac as much as possible. The very perceptive Frenchman quickly detected that but seemed not to resent it. If he did, he was successfully hiding his reaction. He was always smiling and laughing, always polite but not cold. He acted as if Clemens liked him and had no reason not to.
After a while—several years—Sam began to warm up to the man who’d been Sam’s Terrestrial wife’s lover. They had much in common: a keen interest in people and in mechanical devices, a taste for literature, an abiding devotion to the study of history, a hatred for hypocrisy and self-righteousness, a loathing for the malevolent aspects of religions, and a deep agnosticism. Though Cyrano was not, like Sam, from Missouri, he shared with him a “show me” attitude.
Moreover, Cyrano was an adornment at any party but did not try to dominate the conversation.
So it was that one day Sam talked to his other self, Mark Twain, about his feelings for de Bergerac in the privacy of his suite. The result was that Sam now saw—though he’d always known deep within him—that he’d been very unfair to Cyrano. It wasn’t the fellow’s fault that Livy had fallen in love with him and had refused to leave him for her ex-husband after she’d found him. Nor, really, was it Livy’s fault. She could only do what her inborn temperament and predetermined circumstances forced her to do. And Sam had been acting as his inborn character, his “watermark,” and circumstances forced him to do. Now, as a result of another aspect of his character rising from the depths, plus the inevitable push of events, he had changed his attitude toward Cyrano. After all, he was a good fellow, and he’d learned to shower regularly, to keep his fingernails clean, and to quit urinating in corners at the end of corridors.
Whether Sam really believed that he was an automaton whose acts were programmed, Sam did not know himself. Sometimes, he thought that his belief in determinism was only an excuse to escape his guilt about certain matters. If this were true, then he was exercising free will in making up the explanation that he wasn’t responsible for anything, good or bad, that he did. On the other hand, one aspect of determinism was that it gave humans the illusion that they had free will.
In either case, Sam welcomed Cyrano into his company and forgave him for what really didn’t need forgiving.
So now, today, Cyrano was one of the group invited by Sam to talk about some puzzling features of what Sam called “The Case of X.” The others were Gwenafra (Sam’s cabinmate), Joe Miller, de Marbot, and John Johnston. The latter was huge, over six feet two and weighing 260 pounds without an ounce of excess fat. His head and chest were auburn-haired; he had extraordinarily long arms and hands that looked as large as the paws of a grizzly bear. The blue-gray eyes were often cold or dreamy but they could be warm enough when he was with trusted friends. Born about 1828 in New Jersey and of Scotch descent, he had gone to the West to trap the mountains in 1843. There he had become a legend even among the legendary mountain men, though it took some years before he became famous. When a wandering party of young unblooded Crow braves killed his Flathead Indian wife and unborn baby, Johnston swore a vendetta against the Crows. He killed so many of them that the Crows sent out twenty young men to track him down and kill him, and they were not to return to their tribe until the deed was done. One after the other got to him but were instead slain by Johnston. He cut out their livers and ate them raw, the blood dripping onto his red beard. It was these exploits that earned him the sobriquets of “Liver Eater” and “Crow Killer.” But the Crows were a fine tribe, dignified, honorable, and mighty warriors. So one day Johnston decided to call off the feud, and, having informed them of his decision, became their good friend. He was also a chief of the Shoshoni.
He died in 1900 at the Veterans’ Hospital in Los Angeles and was buried in the crowded cemetery there. But in the 1970s, a group who knew that he could never rest there, not the man who became vexed if his nearest neighbor was within fifty miles, had his bones taken to a mountainside in Colorado and reburied there.
“Liver Eating” Johnston had mentioned several times on the boat that he’d never been forced to kill a white man (while on Earth), not even a Frenchy. This remark had made de Marbot and Cyrano a little uneasy at first, but they had come to like and admire the huge mountaineer.
After they’d had a few drinks and some cigarettes and cigars and chatted idly, Sam brought up the subject he most wanted to talk about.
“I’ve been doing some thinking about the man who called himself Odysseus,” he said. “You remember what I said about him? He came to our help when we were battling von Radowitz, and it was his archery that killed off the general and his officers. He claimed to be the historical Odysseus, the real man to whom the legends and fairy tales were attached later and whose exploits furnished Homer with the materials for his Odyssey.”
“I never knew him,” Johnston said, “but I’ll take yer word fur it.”
“Yes. Well, he said that he also had been contacted by an Ethical and sent downRiver to help us. After the battle he hung around for a while, but when he went upRiver on a trading expedition, he disappeared. Dropped out of sight like he’d fallen through a trapdoor.
“What makes him particularly important is that he had a strange tale to tell about the Ethical. Now, the one that talked to me, X, the Mysterious Stranger, was a man. At least, his voice was certainly a male’s, though I suppose it could have been disguised. Anyway, Odysseus told me that his Ethical was a woman!”
Sam puffed out green smoke and looked at the brass arabesques on the ceiling as if they were hieroglyphs that held answers to his questions.
“Now, what could that mean?”
Gwenafra said, “That he was either telling the truth or lying.”
“Right! Give that pretty woman there a big cigar! Either there are two Ethicals who have become renegades or the self-named Odysseus was a liar. If a liar, then he would have to be my Ethical, X. Personally, I think he was mine, yours, too, Cyrano and John, and I think he was lying. Otherwise, why didn’t X tell us that there were two of his kind and that one was a woman? That would have been very important. I know he didn’t have much time to talk to us because the other Ethicals were hot on his trail, breathing down his neck. But surely that item of information was one he wouldn’t have neglected to impart.”
“Why would he lie?” de Marbot said.
“Because…” Here Sam pointed his cigar at the arabesques. “He knew that we might get caught by the other Ethicals. And they might get from us this false information. Then they’d be confused and even more alarmed. What? Two traitors in their midst? Holy smoke! And if they put us to some sort of lie detector, they’d see that we weren’t lying. After all, we believed what Odysseus told us. What X told us, I should say. It was just his way of confusing the issue still further! There! What do you think of that?”
There was a short silence, then Cyrano said, “But if that is true, we have seen the Ethical! And we know what he looks like!”
“Not necessarily true,” Gwenafra said. “He surely must have numerous aids for disguise.”
“Undoubtedly,” Cyrano said. “But can he change his height and his physique? Hair and eye color perhaps and some other things. But not…”
“I think we may take it that he’s short and has a very muscular body,” Clemens said. “But so have several billion other men. What we’ve done is to eliminate the possibility that there’s a female Ethical who’s also a renegade. At least, I believe so.”
“Mought be,” Johnston said, “that he was an agent who found out that we’d been contacted by X, and he was trying to confuse us.”
“I don’t think so,” Sam said. “If he was an agent who’d known that much, we’d have had the Ethicals on us faster than a wardman would sell his mother to gain a few votes. No. That Odysseus was Mr. X.”
“But,” Gwenafra said, “that…that takes us deeper than that. What about Gulbirra’s description of Barry Thorn? He resembled Odysseus in some respects. Could he have been X? And what about that so-called German, Stern, who tried to kill Firebrass? What was he? If he was an agent, he would’ve been Firebrass’ colleague. After all, we think Firebrass was an agent, and he was blown up by X so that he couldn’t get into the tower ahead of him. Firebrass lied to us when he told us he was one of X’s recruits. He…”
“No,” Cyrano said. “I mean, yes. He seems to have been an agent of the other Ethicals. But if he knew so much about us, why didn’t he inform the Ethicals and bring them down on our necks?”
“Because,” Sam said, “for some reason, he couldn’t tell the Ethicals. I think that was because about then the big troubles started in the tower. Why or how, I don’t know. But it seems to me that about the time Odysseus disappeared, rather, X vanished, that the whole project of the Ethicals went shebang. We didn’t notice it at the time, but it was shortly thereafter that the resurrections ceased. It wasn’t until the Not For Hire was some distance on its way that we began getting reports that the resurrections had stopped. When we were in Parolando, we noticed it but thought it was just a local phenomenon.”
“Hum,” Cyrano said. “I wonder if that Hermann Göring fellow, the missionary killed by Hacking’s men, was resurrected? He was a strange one, that.”
“He was a troublemaker, that one,” Sam said. “Anyway, maybe Firebrass did tell the Ethicals that he’d gotten hold of some of X’s recruits. But the Ethicals told him they wouldn’t do anything about it for a while. Firebrass was to learn all he could from us before they moved in. He would also tell them if he saw anybody who looked like X so they could jump him then and there. Who knows? But…I wonder if Firebrass planted any bugs on us so he’d know when X came to visit us again. Only, he never did.”
Cyrano said, “I believe that he, X, got stranded after he, as Odysseus, left us.”
“Then why didn’t he rejoin us as Odysseus?”
“Because he missed the Not For Hire,” Sam snapped. “We went by him during the night. But he’d heard that Firebrass was building a dirigible to go straight to the tower. That would be even better for him than the Not For Hire. But as Odysseus, an ancient Hellene, he wouldn’t be qualified for a post on the airship. So he became Barry Thorn, a much-experienced Canadian aeronaut.”
“But I,” Cyrano said, “was of the seventeenth century, yet I was a pilot on the Parseval. And John de Greystock was of a much earlier time, yet he was made captain of the blimp.”
“Despite that,” Sam said, “X would have a much better chance to get on the Parseval if he had experience. Only…I wonder where he got it? Why would an Ethical know all about a dirigible?”
“If you live a very long time or are immortal, perhaps you learn everything about everything in order to pass the time,” Gwenafra said.
Section 7 Göring’s Past
Hermann Göring woke up sweating and groaning. “Ja, mein Führer! Ja, mein Führer! Ja, mein Führer! Ja, ja, ja!”
The screaming face faded. The black gunsmoke pouring in through the shattered windows and broken walls vanished. The windows and walls disappeared. The bass Russian artillery which had been counterpointing der Führer’s alto soprano became muted, then withdrew, roaring sullenly. The droning which had been a counter-counterpoint to the madman’s screech dwindled and died. That noise, he was vaguely aware, had been from the motors of the American and British bombers.
The darkness of the nightmare was succeeded by the Riverworld’s night.
It was comforting and peaceful, though. Hermann lay on his back on the bamboo bed and touched the warm arm of Kren. She stirred and muttered something. Perhaps she was talking to someone in her dreams. She would not be distressed or bewildered or horrified. Her dreams were always pleasant. She was a Riverchild, dead on Earth at or around the age of six. She remembered nothing of her native planet. Her earliest memory, and that was vague, was waking in this valley, her parents gone, everything she’d known gone.
Hermann warmed himself with the touch and with pleasant memories of their years together. Then he got up, dressed in the body-covering early-morning outfit, and stepped outside. He was on a platform of bamboo. Ahead and behind on the same level as his hut were many others. Above was another level of dwellings, and there was another above that. Below were three levels. All were continuous bridges stretching for as far as he could see to the south and terminating far to the north. The supports were usually tall thin spires of rock or irontrees; each length of bridge was seldom less than one hundred and fifty feet or more than three hundred. Where extra support was needed, pylons of oak or mortared stone had been placed.
The Valley here was thirty miles wide. The River widened to form a lake ten miles broad and forty miles long. The mountains were no higher than six thousand feet, fortunately for the inhabitants, since The Valley here was far up in the northern hemi sphere and they needed all the daylight possible. At the west end of the lake, the mountains curved into The River itself. Here the waters boiled through a high narrow passage. In the warmer hours of the afternoon, the easterly wind pushed through the strait at an estimated fifteen miles an hour. It then lost some of its force, but it was carried up by the peculiar topography, causing updraughts of which the inhabitants took advantage.
Everywhere on the land, towers of rock, tall columns bearing many carved figures, rose. Between many of these were multilevel spans. These were of wood: bamboo, pine, oak, yew. At intervals, depending upon the weight the spans could bear, were huts. Gliders and folded balloon envelopes were stored on top of many of the broader spires.
Drums were beating; fish-bone horns, wailing. People began appearing in the doorways of the huts, stretching, yawning. The day was officially beginning. The sun had just shown its top. The temperature would rise to 60° F in the heavens, 30° F short of the zenith of the tropics. At the end of fifteen hours, the sun plunged below the mountains, and in nine hours would rise again. The length of its sojourn in the skies almost made up for the weakness of its oblique rays.
With two grails in the net attached to his back, Hermann climbed down the fifty feet to the ground. Kren had no duties today and so would sleep in. Later she would come down, pick up her grail from the storage shed near the stone, and eat a belated breakfast.
As he walked along he greeted those he knew, and in the population of 248,000, he could call ten thousand by their first names. The scarcity of paper in The Valley had forced a reliance on, and development of, memory, though on Earth his own memory had been phenomenal. The greetings were in the truncated, collapsed Esperanto dialect of Vivolando.
“Bon ten, eskop.” (“Good morning, Bishop.”)
“Tre bon ten a vi, Fenikso. Pass ess via.” (“A very good morning to you, Phoenix. Peace be yours.”)
He was formal and stately then, but a few seconds later he stopped a group to tell them a joke.
Hermann Göring at this time was happy. Yet he had not always been so. His tale was long, shot with gaiety and peace here and there but in general sad and stormy and by no means always edifying.
His Terrestrial biography went thus:
Born at Rosenheim, Bavaria, Germany, on January 12, 1893. His father was a colonial official, in fact, the first governor of German Southwest Africa. At the age of three months, Göring was parted from his parents, who went to Haiti for three years, where his father was the German consul general. This long separation from his mother at such a tender age had a very bad effect on Hermann. The pain and loneliness of this period never entirely left him. Moreover, when he became aware at an early age that his mother was having an affair with his godfather, he felt great contempt, mingled with rage, for her. He managed, however, to restrain any overt manifestations of his feelings. His father he treated with a silent contempt, though he was seldom openly insulting to him. But when his father was buried, Hermann wept.
At the age of ten he became very sick with a glandular disease. In 1915, a month after his father’s death, he became a lieutenant in the 112th Prinz Wilhelm Infantry Regiment. At this time the blue-eyed, blond, slender, and passably good-looking officer was a very popular person. He loved to dance and drink and in general was much fun. His godfather, a Jew converted to Christianity, gave him money to help him financially.
Shortly after World War I started, a painful arthritis in his knees hospitalized him. Eager to get into action, he left the hospital and became an observer in the plane of a friend, Lörzer. For three weeks he was unofficially absent without leave from the army. Though he was judged unfit to serve in the infantry because of his physical incapacity, Göring joined the Luftwaffe. His vigorous and unorthodox language amused the Crown Prince, who was commanding the 25th Field Air Detachment of the Fifth Army. In the autumn of 1915 he went through the Freiburg Aviation School, easily qualifying as a pilot. In November 1916 he was shot down, badly hurt, and was out of action for six months. Despite this, he flew again. His rise was rapid since he was not only an excellent officer and flier but an outstanding organizer.
In 1917 Hermann received the Ordre Pour le Mérite (the German equivalent of the Victoria Cross) in acknowledgment of his leadership qualities and for having shot down fifteen enemy planes. He was also given the Golden Airman’s Medal. On July 7, 1918, he was made commander of Geschwader 1, its commander Richthofen having been killed after eighty victories. Göring’s great interest in technical details and problems of equipment made him a natural for his position as commander. His deep knowledge of all aspects of aerial warfare was to stand him in good stead in later years.
By the time Germany surrendered, he had thirty enemy planes to his credit. But this did not do him any good during the period immediately following the end of the war. Aces were a drug on the market.
In 1920, after some time barnstorming in Denmark and Sweden, he became flight chief of the Svenska Lufttrafik in Stockholm, Sweden. Here he met Karin von Kantznow, sister-in-law of the Swedish explorer Count von Rosen. He married her, though she was a divorcée and mother of an eight-year-old boy. He was a good husband to her until she died. Despite his later career in an organization distinguished for gross immorality, he was faithful to her and to his second wife. Sexually, he was a puritan. He was also a political puritan. Once having given his loyalty, he did not withdraw it.
It was a wonder that he ever amounted to anything. Though he dreamed much of advancement to high positions and wealth, he drifted. Without any guiding light, he allowed chance people and events to carry him along.
It was his fortune, or misfortune, that he met Adolf Hitler.
During the abortive Putsch of 1923, in Munich, Göring was wounded. He escaped the police for a while by taking refuge in the home of Frau Ilse Ballin, wife of a Jewish merchant. Göring did not forget this debt. He aided her during the persecution of the Jews after Hitler became head of the German state, and he arranged for her and her family to flee to England.
Breaking his word of honor that he would not escape after his arrest, he fled to Austria. Here the badly infected wound hospitalized him, forcing him to take morphine for the pain. Sick and penniless, his virility affected by various operations, he became mentally depressed. At the same time, his wife’s health, never good, was getting worse.
Now a drug addict, he went to Sweden, where he spent six months in a sanatorium. Discharged as cured, he returned to his wife. All seemed hopeless, yet, having hit the bottom, his spirits rose, and he began to fight. This was typical of him. Somehow, from somewhere, he gathered his energy to fight when all seemed lost.
On returning to Germany, he rejoined Hitler, whom he believed to be the only man who could make Germany great again. Karin died in Sweden in October 1931. He was with Hitler in Berlin then, meeting Hindenburg, who had decided that Hitler would become his successor as head of the state. Göring always felt guilty because he had chosen to be with Hitler instead of with Karin when she was dying. Her death drove him back to morphine for a while. Then he met Emmy Sonnemann, an actress, and married her.
Though he had great talents as an organizer, Göring was inclined to be sentimental. He also had a hot temper which allowed his tongue to run away with him. During the trial of the men charged with burning the Reichstag building, Göring made wild accusations. Dimitrov, the Bulgarian Communist, coolly exposed the illegal methods and illogicality of the charges against him. Göring’s failure to control the trials spoiled their propagandistic effect and demolished the false façade of the Nazis’ propaganda machine.
Despite this, Göring was given the job of forming the Reich’s new air force. He was no longer the slender ace, having put on much weight. But his double personality had won him two new titles, Der Dicke (The Fatty) and Der Eiserne (The Man of Iron). His rheumatism was giving him pains in the legs and making him take drugs (chiefly paracodeine).
He was not a scholar or a writer, but he did dictate a book, Germany Reborn, which was published in London. He had a passion for the works of George Bernard Shaw and could quote long passages from them. He also was familiar with the German classics, Goethe, Schiller, the Schlegels, et al. His love of paintings was well known. He had a fondness for detective stories and for mechanical toys and gadgets.
By now he dreamed of a Göring dynasty, one which would last a thousand years and forever impress his name in history. It was highly probable that Hitler would have no child, and he had named Göring as his successor. This dream was shattered when his only child, a girl, Edda, was born. Emmy was not going to have any more children, and it was unthinkable to him to divorce her and take a wife who might produce sons. Though he must have been intensely disappointed, he did not reveal it. He loved Edda, and she loved him to the end of her life.
Another aspect of his puzzling persona was demonstrated when he visited Italy on a diplomatic mission. The King and the Crown Prince took him on a deer hunt. The three stood on a high platform while hundreds of deer were herded past them. The royalty slaughtered them, the King killing one hundred and thirteen. Göring was so disgusted that he refused to shoot at all.
Nor did he want to invade Czechoslovakia and Austria, and he especially objected to the invasion of Poland. Thought of war depressed him; he had been in low spirits at the idea just before both World War I and II. Nevertheless, he went along with his beloved leader in this matter, just as he had not protested publicly against the persecution of the Jews. But at his wife’s request, he saved dozens of Jews from imprisonment.
In 1939 Hitler promoted Hermann to Field Marshal and made him Economic Minister of the Reich. As Air Minister of the Luftwaffe he was also its commander-in-chief. He tried to get a stratobomber built which would attain a twenty-mile altitude and fly to America, but he did not succeed.
Despite his high positions, he had a tendency to turn away from realities. In 1939 he told the German public, “If any enemy bomber reaches the Ruhr, my name is not Hermann Göring. You can call me Meier.” (“Meier” was a folk-joke name, indicating a mythical character who bumbled and numbskulled his way through life.)
After a while, Göring was often called Meier by the Nazi party bigwigs and by the public. But the affectionate feeling implicit in Der Dicke was missing in Meier. The British and American bombers were making a shambles of Germany. The Luftwaffe had failed to soften England for invasion, and now it was failing to turn back the hordes of metal birds dropping deadly eggs onto the Reich. Hitler blamed Göring for both, though it was Hitler’s decision to bomb the English cities instead of first wiping out the Royal Air Force bases that were responsible for the Germans’ plight. Just as Hitler’s decision to attack neutral Russia before England was laid low was ultimately the cause of Germany’s downfall.
As it was, Hitler had wanted to invade Sweden, too, when Norway was taken. But, Göring, loving Sweden, had threatened to resign if Sweden was attacked. He had also pleaded the advantages of a neutral Sweden to Hitler.
His health had been getting worse before the war. During the great conflicts, his sicknesses and his lessening prestige made him turn to drugs. He was anxious, nervous, and given to melancholia, on the skids, out of control, and no way to stop the descent. And his beloved country was heading toward Götterdämmerung which horrified him but which, in a strange way, gratified Hitler.
With the Allies advancing across Germany on all fronts, Göring thought that it was time for him to take over the government. Der Führer, instead, stripped him of all his titles and positions and expelled him from the Nazi Party. His worst enemy, Martin Bormann, ordered his arrest.
Near the end of the war, while trying to flee the Russians, he was taken into custody by an Army lieutenant, ironically, a Jew. During his trial at Nuremberg, he defended himself but with a lack of conviction. Despite what Hitler had done, he defended him, too, loyal to the end.
The verdict was inevitable. He was sentenced to be hanged. The day before his execution, October 15, 1946, he swallowed one of the cyanide capsules he had hidden in his cell and died. He was cremated, and the ashes were, according to one story, flung onto a refuse heap in Dachau. Another, with more authority, says that the ashes were dropped onto a muddy country road outside Munich.
That should have been the end. Göring was glad to die, glad to be rid of his sicknesses of body and soul, of the consciousness of his great failure, and of the stigma as a Nazi war criminal. The only thing he regretted about dying was that his Emma and little Edda would be left unprotected.
But it was not the end. Like it or not, he had been resurrected on this planet. He was young in body again, a slender youth. How or why, he did not know. He was rid of his rheumatism, his swollen lymph glands, and the dependency on paracodeine.
He resolved to set out to look for Emma and Edda. Also, to find Karin. How he would be able to have both his wives was something he did not care to contemplate. The search would be long enough for thinking about this.
He never found them.
The old Hermann Göring, the highly ambitious and unscrupulous opportunist, still lived in him. He did many things of which he became deeply ashamed and remorseful when, after many adventures and much wandering,1 he was converted to the Church of the Second Chance. This happened suddenly and dramatically, much like the conversion of Saul of Tarsus on the road to Damascus, and it took place in the small and sovereign state of Tamoancan. This was composed chiefly of tenth-century Nahuatl-speaking Mexicans and twentieth-century Navahos. Hermann lived in the newcomers’ hall until he was thoroughly grounded in the tenets and disciplines of the Church.
He moved out then into a recently abandoned hut. After a while, a woman named Chopilotl was living with him. She, too, was a Chancer, but she insisted that they keep in their hut a soapstone idol. It was a hideous figure about thirty centimeters high, addressed as Xochiquetzal, the divine patroness of sexual love and childbirth. Chopilotl’s adoration of the goddess signified her passion for passion. She demanded that Hermann and she make love in front of the idol in the light of torches flanking it. Hermann did not mind that, but he did tire of the frequency of her insistence.
Also, it seemed to him that she shouldn’t be allowed to worship a pagan divinity. He went to his bishop, a Navaho who had been a Mormon on Earth.
“Yes, I know she has that statue,” Bishop Ch’agii said. “The Church doesn’t countenance idolatry or polytheism, Hermann. You know that. But it does permit its members to keep idols, provided that the owner fully realizes that it is only a symbol. Admittedly, this is dangerous, since the worshipper too easily takes the symbol for the reality. This failing wasn’t confined to the primitives, you know. Even the so-called civilized peoples were sucked into this psychological trap.
“Chopilotl is rather literal-minded, but she’s a good person. If we got too stubborn about her idiosyncrasy and demanded that she cast the idol out, she might backslide into a genuine polytheism. What we are doing might be called theological weaning. You have seen how many idols there are around here, haven’t you? Most of them at one time had a multitude of worshippers. But we have gradually detached the religionists from them, achieving this through a patient and gentle instruction. Now the stone gods have become only objets d’art to most of their former worshippers.
“In time, Chopilotl will come to regard her goddess as such. I’m banking on you to assist her to get over her present regrettable attitude.”
“You mean, give her a theological goose?” Hermann said.
The bishop looked surprised, then he laughed. “I had my PhD at the University of Chicago,” he said. “I do sound stuffy, don’t I? Have a drink, my son, and tell me more about yourself.”
At the end of a year, Hermann was baptized with many other naked shivering teeth-chattering neophytes. Afterwards, he toweled off a woman while she dried him. Then all donned body-covering cloths, and the bishop hung around the neck of each a cord from which was suspended the spiral vertebra bone of a hornfish. They were not titled priests; each was simply called Instruisto, Teacher.
Hermann felt as if he were a fraud. Who was he to be instructing others, and acting, in effect, as a priest? He was not even sure that his belief in God or in the Church was sincere. No, that was not right. He was sincere—most of the time.
“The doubts are about yourself,” the bishop said. “You think you can’t live up to the ideals. You think you aren’t worthy. You have to get over that, Hermann. Everybody has the potentiality of being worthy, which leads to salvation. You have it; I have it; all God’s children have it,” and he laughed.
“Watch two tendencies in yourself, son. Sometimes you are arrogant, thinking you are better than others. More often you are humble. Too humble. I might even say, sickeningly humble. That is another form of arrogance. True humility is knowing your true place in the cosmic scale.
“I’m still learning. And I pray that I may live long enough to be rid of all self-deceit. Meanwhile, you and I can’t spend all our time in exploring ourselves. We must also work among the people. Monasticism, retreat from the world, reclusivism, that’s a lot of crap. So where would you like to go? UpRiver or down?”
“I really hate to leave this place,” Hermann said. “I’ve been happy here. For the first time in a long time, I feel as if I’m part of a family.”
“Your family lives from one end of The River to the other,” Ch’agii said. “It contains many unpleasant relatives, true. But what family doesn’t? It’s your job to aid them to become right-thinking. And that is the second stage. The first is getting people to admit that they are wrong-thinking.”
“That’s the trouble,” Hermann said. “I don’t think I’m beyond the first stage myself.”
“If I believed that, I would not have permitted you to graduate. Which is it? Up or down?”
“Down,” Hermann said.
Ch’agii raised his eyebrows. “Good. But the neophyte usually chooses to go upRiver. They’ve heard that La Viro is somewhere in that direction. And they thirst to visit him, to walk and talk with him.”
“That is why I choose the other direction,” Hermann said. “I am not worthy.”
The bishop sighed, and he said, “Sometimes I regret we are forbidden any violence whatsoever. Right now, I would like to kick you in the ass.
“Very well, go down, my pale Moses. But I charge that you give a message to the bishop of whatever area you settle down in. Tell him or her that Bishop Ch’agii sends his love. And also tell the bishop this. Some birds think they are worms.”
“What does that mean?”
“I hope you find out some day,” Ch’agii said. He waved his right hand, three fingers extended, blessing. Then he hugged Hermann and kissed him on the lips. “Go, my son, and may your ka become an akh.”
“May our akhs fly side by side,” Hermann said formally. He left the hut with tears running down his cheeks. He had always been a sentimentalist. But he told himself that he was weeping because he loved the little dark sententious man. The distinction between sentiment and love had been drilled into him in the seminary. So, this was love he felt. Or was it?
As the bishop had said in a lecture, his students would not really know the difference between the two until they had much practice dealing with them. Even then, if they didn’t have intelligence, they wouldn’t be able to separate one from the other.
The raft on which he was to travel had been built by himself and the seven who were to accompany him. One of these was Chopilotl. Hermann stopped at the hut to pick up her and his few belongings. She was outside with two neighbor women, hoisting the idol onto a wooden sled.
“You’re not thinking about taking that thing along?” he said to her.
“Of course I am,” she said. “It would be like leaving my ka behind if I did not take her. And she is not just a thing. She is Xochiquetzal.”
“She’s just a symbol, need I remind you for the hundredth time,” he said, scowling.
“Then I need my symbol. It would be bad luck to abandon her. She would be very angry.”
He was frustrated and anxious. This was the first day of his mission, and he was confronted with a situation he wasn’t sure he could handle properly.
“Consider thy latter end, my son, and be wise,” the bishop had said in a lecture, quoting Ecclesiastes.
He had to act so that the final result of this particular event would be the right one.
“It’s that way, Chopilotl,” he said. “It’s all right, at least, not bad, keeping this idol in this country. The people here understand. But people elsewhere won’t. We’re missionaries, dedicated to converting others to what we believe to be the true religion. We have authority behind us, the teachings of La Viro, who received his revelations from one of the makers of this world.
“But how can we convince anybody if one of us is an idolater? A worshipper of a stone statue? Not a very pretty one, I might add, though that is really irrelevant.
“People will mock us. They’ll say we’re ignorant heathens, superstitious. And we’d be sinning grievously because we’d give people an entirely wrong picture of the Church.”
“Tell them that she is just a symbol,” Chopilotl said, sullenly.
His voice rose. “I told you they wouldn’t understand! Besides, it’d be a lie. It’s obvious that this thing is much more to you than just a symbol.”
“Would you throw away your spiral bone?”
“That’s different. It’s a sign of my belief, a badge of my membership. I don’t worship it.”
She flashed white teeth in a sardonic dark face.
“You throw it away, and I’ll abandon my beloved.”
“Nonsense!” he said. “You know I can’t do that! You’re being unreasonable, you bitch.”
“Your face is getting red,” she said. “Where is your loving understanding?”
He breathed deeply and said, “Very well. Bring that thing along.”
He walked away.
She said, “Aren’t you going to help me drag it?”
He stopped and turned. “And be an accessory to blasphemy?”
“If you’ve agreed that it can come with us, then you’re already an accessory.”
She wasn’t stupid—except in that one respect and that was emotional stupidity. Smiling a little, he resumed walking away. On reaching the raft, he told the others what to expect.
“Why do you allow this, brother?” Fleiskaz said. He was a huge red-haired man whose native language was primitive Germanic. This was one of the tongues of central Europe of the second millennium B.C. From it had originated twentieth-century Norwegian, Swedish, Danish, Icelandic, German, Dutch, and English. His nickname had been Wulfaz, meaning Wolf, because he was such a fear-inspiring warrior.
But on the Riverworld, when he’d converted to the Church, he’d renamed himself Fleiskaz. This, in his natal language, meant “a piece of torn flesh.” No one knew why he’d adopted that, but it might have been because he thought of himself as a piece of good flesh living in an evil body. This piece, torn from the old body, had the potentiality to grow into a complete new body, spiritually speaking, a thoroughly good body.
“Just bear with me,” Hermann said to Fleiskaz. “The whole matter will be settled before we have put fifty meters between us and the shore.”
They sat around, smoking and talking, watching Chopilotl pull the sled with its stone burden. By the time she had crossed the wide plain, she was scarlet-faced, sweating, and panting. She swore at Hermann, finished by telling him that he would be sleeping by himself for a long time.
“This woman doesn’t set a good example, brother,” Fleiskaz said.
“Be patient, brother,” Hermann said quietly.
The raft was butting into the bank, held from drifting by an anchor, a small boulder at the end of a fish-leather cable. Chopilotl asked those aboard the raft to help her haul the sled onto it. They smiled but did not move. Cursing under her breath, she got it onto the raft. Hermann surprised everybody by helping her scoot it off and rolling it to the middle of the raft.
They up-anchored and shoved off then, waving at the crowd assembled on the bank to wish them bon voyage. A single mast was set forward. The square sail was hoisted, and the braces slanted to drive them toward the middle of The River. Here the current and the wind speeded them, and they set the sail to get the full benefit of the breeze. Brother Fleiskaz was at the rudder.
Chopilotl retired to the tent close to the mast to sulk.
Hermann gently rolled the idol to the starboard edge of the raft. The others looked at him questioningly. Grinning, he held his finger to his lips. Chopilotl was not aware of what was going on, but when the idol was at the edge, its weight tipped the raft slightly. Feeling the tilt, she looked out from the tent. And she screamed.
By then Hermann had the statue upright.
“I am doing this for your good and for the good of the Church!” he shouted at her.
He pushed on the monstrous head as Chopilotl, shrieking, ran toward him. The idol toppled over into the water and sank beneath the surface.
Later, his companions told him that she had hit him on the side of the head with her grail.
He did regain enough of his senses to see her, buoyed by her grail, swimming toward the shore. Bessa, Fleiskaz’s woman, was swimming after Hermann’s grail, which Chopilotl had tossed overboard.
“Violence begets violence,” Bessa said as she handed him the cylinder.
“Thanks for rescuing it,” he said. He sat down again to nurse a painful head and aching conscience. It was obvious what her remark implied. By dumping the idol, he had committed violence. He had no right to deprive Chopilotl of it. Even if he had had the right, he should not have exercised it.
She had to be shown her error and then the example had to ferment in her mind until it boiled over onto her spirit. All he had done was to anger her so much that she became violent. And she would probably get somebody to carve another idol for her.
He certainly had not started out well.
That led to other thoughts of her. Why had he wooed her? She was pretty; she exuded sexuality. But she was an Indian, and he had felt a certain repugnance about coupling with a colored woman. Had he made her his woman because he wanted to prove to himself that he was not prejudiced against coloreds? Was it this unworthy motive that had compelled him?
If she had been a black, a kinky-haired blubber-lipped African, would he have even considered mating? To be truthful, no. And now that he remembered it, he had looked for a Jewish woman. But there were only two in the area that he knew of, and these were already taken. Besides, they had lived in the times of Ahab and Augustus and were as dark as Yemenite Arabs, squat, big-nosed, superstitious, and violence-prone. Anyway, they had not been Chancers. But, come to think of it, Chopilotl was also superstitious and violence-prone.
However, being a Church-member indicated that she had potentiality for spiritual advancement.
He steered his mind back to something which it wanted to avoid.
He had searched for a Jewish woman and had taken the Indian woman in order to salve his conscience. To demonstrate to himself that he had progressed spiritually.
Had he advanced? Well, he had not loved her but he had been fond of her. Once the initial dislike of physical contact with her had been overcome, he had not experienced anything but passion during their lovemaking.
However, during their infrequent but stormy quarrels, he had wanted to hurl racial insults at her.
True advancement, true love, would come when he did not have to restrain himself from voicing such pejoratives. There would be no inhibitions about such because he would not think of them.
You have a long way to go, Hermann, he told himself.
And if he did, then why had the bishop accepted him as a missionary? Surely Ch’agii must have seen that he was far from ready.
By the time, many years later, that Göring was near the state of Parolando, none of the original crew of people he’d set out with were with him. They’d been killed or had stopped at various areas to carry out their missionary activities there. When Göring was several thousand miles from Parolando, he began hearing rumors of the great falling star, the meteorite, that had struck downRiver. It was said that its impact had killed hundreds of thousands directly or indirectly, and wrecked the valley for over sixty miles each way. As soon as the area had been safe to enter, however, many groups had moved in, eager to get the nickel-steel of the meteorite. After a savage struggle, two bands had been triumphant. These had then allied and now held the site.
Among other rumors was that the meteorite had been mined and was being used to build a giant boat and that two famous men were directing the operations. One was the American writer, Sam Clemens. The other was King John of England, the brother of Richard the Lionhearted.
Hermann did not know why, but the gossip made his heart jump. It seemed to him that the land which held the fallen star was his goal and had been all along, though he hadn’t known it until now.
At the end of a long voyage, he arrived at Parolando. The rumors were true. Sam Clemens and King John, nicknamed “Lackland,” were corulers of the land which sat above the treasure of the meteorite. By this time, large amounts of the metal had been mined, and the area looked like a mini-Ruhr. In it were many steel furnaces, rolling mills, and nitric-acid factories, and bauxite and cryolite were being processed to make aluminum. The ores from which aluminum was made, however, were to be found in another state. And there was trouble over that.
Soul City was a state twenty-six miles downRiver from Parolando. It sat on large deposits of cryolite, bauxite, and cinnabar, and small deposits of platinum. Clemens and John needed these, but the two rulers of Soul City, Elwood Hacking and Milton Firebrass, were driving hard bargains. Moreover, it was evident that they would like to get their hands on the nickel and steel of the meteorite.
Hermann paid little attention to the local politics. His primary mission was to convert people to the doctrines of the Church of the Second Chance. His secondary mission, he decided after a while, was to stop the building of the great metal paddle wheeler. Clemens and John had become obsessed with the vessel. To build it, they were willing to turn Parolando into an industrial desolation, to strip the land of all vegetation except the invulnerable irontrees. They were polluting the air with the smoke and stink from the factories.
Worse, they were polluting their kas, and that made their business Hermann Göring’s. The Church maintained that humanity had been resurrected so that it could have another opportunity to save its kas. It had also been given youth and freedom from disease and want so that it could concentrate on salvation.
About a week after his arrival at Parolando, Hermann and some other missionaries held a large meeting. This was in the evening just after dusk. Scores of great bonfires were arranged around a platform lit by torches. Hermann and the local bishop were on the platform with a dozen of the more distinguished members of their organization. There was a crowd of about three thousand, composed of a small minority of converts and a majority who came to be entertained. The latter brought their bottles of alcohol and a tendency to heckle.
After the band finished playing a hymn, said to have been composed by La Viro himself, the bishop gave a short prayer. He then introduced Hermann. Boos here and there followed the mention of his name. Evidently some in the crowd had lived during his time, though it was possible they just didn’t like Chancers.
Hermann held up his hands until silence had fallen, and then he spoke in Esperanto.
“Brothers and sisters! Hear me out with the same love with which I speak to you. The Hermann Göring before you is not the man of the same name who lived on Earth. He abhors that man, that evil being.
“Yet, that I stand here before you today, a new man, reborn, testifies that evil can be overcome. A person can change for the better. I have paid for what I did. Paid in the only coin worth anything. Paid with guilt and shame and self-hate. Paid with a vow to kill off the old self, bury it, and go forth as a new man.
“But I’m not here to impress you with what a wretch I was. I’m here to tell you about the Church of the Second Chance. How it came into being, what its credo is, what its tenets.
“Now, I know that those of you who were raised in Judeo-Christian and Moslem countries, and those Orientals who encountered Christian or Moslem visitors or occupiers of their country, are expecting an appeal to faith.
“No! By the Lord among us, I will not do that! The Church doesn’t ask you to believe on faith only. The Church brings—not faith—but knowledge! Not faith, I say. Knowledge!
“The Church does not ask you to believe in things as they should be or perhaps will be some day. The Church asks you to consider facts and then to act as the facts require. It asks you to believe only in the believable.
“Consider this. Beyond any dispute, we were all born on Earth and we died there. Is there anyone among you who would contradict that?
“No? Then consider this. Man is born to sorrow and evil as the sparks fly upward. Can any of you, remembering your life on Earth and here deny that?
“Whatever the religion on Earth, it promised something that just was not true. The evidence of that is that we are not in Hell or Heaven. Nor are we going through reincarnations, except in a limited sense that we are given new bodies and new life if we die.
“The first resurrection was a tremendous, an almost shattering, shock. No one, religionist, agnostic, or atheist, was in the state he believed he’d be in after the end of Terrestrial existence.
“Yet, here we are, like it or not. Nor is escape from this world possible, as it was on Earth. If you are killed or kill yourself, you rise the next day. Can anyone deny this?”
“No, but I sure as hell don’t like it!” a man shouted. There was a general laugh, and Hermann looked at the man who had made the remark. He was Sam Clemens himself, standing in the middle of the crowd on a chair on a platform erected for this occasion.
“Please, brother Clemens, do me the courtesy of not interrupting,” Hermann said. “Very well. So far, facts only. Now, can anyone deny that this world is not a natural one? I do not mean by that that this planet itself, the sun, the stars, are artificial. This planet was created by God. But The River and The Valley are not natural. Nor is the resurrection a supernatural event.”
“How do you know that?” a woman yelled. “Now you’re getting away from facts. You’re slipping into surmise.”
“That isn’t all he’s slipping into!” a man shouted.
Hermann waited for the laughter to subside.
“Sister, I can prove to you that the resurrection is not something worked directly by God. It was and is performed by people like us. They may not be Terrestrials. They undoubtedly are superior in wisdom and science. But they look much like us. And some of us have talked face to face with them!”
Uproar. Not because the crowd had not heard this before, though not in just these terms. The unbelievers just wanted to have some fun, to relieve tension.
Hermann took a drink of water and by the time he’d put the cup down, he had comparative silence.
“This world and these resurrections, if not made with human hands, have been brought about by hands that are human in appearance. There are two men who can testify to this. For all I know, there may be many others. One of these is an Englishman named Richard Francis Burton. He was not unknown on Earth during his time, in fact, he was famous. He lived from 1821 to 1890, and he was an explorer, anthropologist, innovator, author, and linguist extraordinaire. Perhaps some of you have heard of him? If so, please raise your hands.
“Ah, I count at least forty, among them your consul, Samuel Clemens.”
Clemens did not seem to like what he was hearing. He was scowling and chewing frantically on the end of his cigar.
Göring proceeded to recount his experiences with Burton, stressing what Burton had told him. The crowd was caught; there was scarcely a sound. This was something new, something no Chancer missionary had ever spoken of.
“Burton called this mysterious being the Ethical. Now, according to Burton, the Ethical who talked to him did not agree with his fellows. Apparently, there is dissension even among beings whom we could account as gods. Dispute or discord in Olympus, if I may draw such a parallel. Though I do not think that the so-called Ethicals are gods, angels, or demons. They are human beings like us but advanced to a higher ethical plane. What their disagreement is, I frankly do not know. Perhaps it is about the means used to achieve a goal.
“But! The goal is the same! Have no doubt of that. And what is that goal? First, let me tell you of the other witness.
“Again, to be frank…”
“I thought you were Hermann!” a man shouted.
“Call me Meier,” Göring said, but he did not pause to explain the joke.
“About a year after Resurrection Day, he, the witness, was sitting in a hut on a ledge on a very high foothill in a land far to the north of here. He has a natal name, Jacques Gillot, but we of the Church usually refer to him as La Viro. The Man, in English. We also call him La Fondinto, the Founder. He had been a very religious man on Earth during all his long life. But now his faith was smashed, totally discredited. He was bewildered, very troubled.
“This man had always tried to lead a virtuous life according to the teachings of his church, which spoke for God. He did not think that he was a good man. After all, Jesus Himself had said that no man was good, including Himself.
“But, relatively speaking, Jacques Gillot was good. He was not perfect; he had lied but only so he would not hurt another’s feelings, never to escape the consequences of his own deeds. He had never said anything behind a person’s back he wouldn’t say to his face. He had never been unfaithful to his wife. He had given his wife and children an intense interest and love without spoiling them. He had never turned a person away from his table because of social position, political preference, race, or religion. He had been unjust a number of times, but that was from hastiness and ignorance, and he had always apologized and determined to repair these faults. He had been robbed and betrayed but had left vengeance up to God. However, he wouldn’t let anyone walk over him without a fight.
“And he had died with his sins forgiven and the rites administered.
“So what was he doing here, rubbing elbows with politicians, backstabbers, child-beaters, dishonest businessmen, unethical lawyers, rapacious doctors, adulterers, rapists, thieves, murderers, torturers, terrorists, hypocrites, cheaters, word-breakers, parasites, the mean, the grasping, the vicious, the unfeeling?
“As he sat in that hut just below the mountain, as the rain beat and the wind howled and the lightning exploded and the thunder boomed like the footsteps of an angry god, he pondered on the seeming injustice. And he reluctantly came to this conclusion. In the eyes of Someone, capital S, he was not much better than those others.
“It didn’t make him feel any better to reflect that everybody else was in his state. When a man’s sinking in a boat, knowing that everybody else aboard is going to drown doesn’t bring much joy.
“But what could he do about it? He didn’t even know what he was supposed to do.
“At this moment, as he stared into the small fire, he heard a knock on the door. He stood up and seized his spear. Then, as now, evil men roamed, looking for easy prey. He had nothing worth stealing, but there were men who liked to kill for the twisted pleasure it gave them.
“He called out in his native tongue, ‘Who is it?’
“‘No one you know,’ a man said. He spoke in Quebecan French but with a foreign accent. ‘No one who means you harm either. You won’t need that spear.’
“This astonished La Viro. The door and windows were closed. No one could see within.
“He unbarred the door. A lightning flash glowed behind the stranger, revealing a cloaked and hooded man of medium stature. La Viro stepped back; the stranger entered; La Viro closed the door. The man threw back his hood. Now the fire showed a white man with red hair, blue eyes, and handsome features. Under the cloak he wore a tight-fitting seamless suit of silvery material. From a silver cord around his neck hung a gold helix.
“The clothes were enough to tell La Viro that this was no River dweller. The man looked like an angel and might be one. After all, the Bible said that angels looked just like men. At least, that was what the priests had told him. The angels who had visited the daughters of men in the days of the patriarchs, the angels who rescued Lot, and the angel who wrestled with Jacob, passed for men.
“But the Bible and the priests who had read it to him had been wrong about many things.
“Looking at the stranger, La Viro was in awe. At the same time, he felt delighted. Why would an angel honor him, of all people, with a visit?
“Then he realized that Satan was also an angel, that the demons were all fallen angels.
“Which was he?
“Or was he neither? After all, La Viro, despite his lack of formal education and his humble station, was not unintelligent. It seemed to him that a third alternative existed. At that, he felt easier though still far from comfortable.
“After asking permission, the stranger sat down. La Viro hesitated, then he, too, sat down on a chair. They looked at each other for a moment. The stranger church-steepled his fingers and frowned as if trying to think how best to start. This was strange, since he knew what he wanted and should have had time to prepare for this visit.
“La Viro offered him a drink of alcohol. The stranger said he would take tea instead. La Viro busied himself with pouring the powder into the water and stirring it. The stranger was silent until he thanked La Viro for the tea. After taking a sip, he said, ‘Jacques Gillot, who I am and where I come from and why I am here would take all night and all day if I told all in detail.
“‘What little I can tell you will be the truth—in a form which you can understand at this stage. I am one of a group which has prepared this planet for you whom we resurrected. There are other planets reformed for other Terrestrials, but that is not at present your concern. Some are being used now. Some are waiting to be used.
“‘This world is for those who need a second chance. What is the second chance? What was the first chance? By now you must have accepted the fact that your religion, in fact, none of the Earthly religions, truly knew what the afterlife would be. All made guesses and then established these as articles of faith. Though, in a sense, some were near the mark, if you accept their revelations as symbolic.’
“And then the visitor said that his kind called themselves the Ethicals, though they had other names for themselves. They were on a higher plane of ethical development than most Earthlings. Notice that he said most. This indicates that there have been some of us who have achieved the same level as the Ethicals.
“The visitor said that his people were not the first Ethicals, not by any means. The first were an ancient species, nonhumans, who originated on a planet older than Earth.
“These were individuals who had deliberately retarded themselves, kept themselves in the flesh, as it were, instead of Going On. And when they saw that there was one species, also nonhuman, which was capable of carrying on The Work, they showed this species how to do it. And they passed on.
“The visitor called this species the Ancients. Yet, in comparison with those who had been their mentors, they were very young.
“Now, this is what the visitor said the Ethicals had learned from the Ancients. The Creator, God, the One Spirit, call it what you will, forms all. It is the universe; the universe is it. But its body is formed of two essences. One is matter; the other, for lack of a better word, is nonmatter.
“We all know what matter is. Philosophers and scientists have tried to define it exactly but have failed. Yet everyone knows what matter is. We directly experience it.
“But what about this nonmatter? What is it?”
“Avacuum!” A wag shouted. “The inside of your head!”
Clemens stood up and bellowed, “Quiet, there! Let the man speak his piece.” And then with a grin, “Even if he makes no sense!”
“Thank you, Mr. Clemens,” Göring said. “A perfect vacuum is the absolute absence of matter. A learned man once told me that there is no such thing as a perfect vacuum. It does not exist except as a concept. Even a vacuum is matter.
“Nonmatter is what the old religions of Earth spoke of as the soul. But the definitions of the soul were always vague, very abstract. The peoples of ancient and classical times, and their unliterate ancestors, thought of it as a shadowy thing, a ghostly entity reflecting palely the matter to which it had been attached before death.
“Later, more sophisticated peoples thought of it as an invisible entity, also attached to the body. But it could be refleshed after death, given a new and immortal body. Some Oriental religions thought of it as something which would be reabsorbed into the Godhead after numerous trials on Earth, after a good karma had been achieved.
“All these had some truth in them; they saw parts of the total truth.
“But we are not concerned with such philosophical probings. What we need are facts. The fact is that every living creature, from the simplest to the most complex, has its nonmatter twin. Even an amoeba has its nonmatter twin.
“But I don’t want to get into confusing issues or too much detail. Not at this time.
“The visitor said, ‘Nonmatter is indestructible. That means that your body on Earth had its indestructible nonmatter twin.’
“At this point, La Viro, who had said nothing before, interrupted.
“‘How many twins does a living creature have? I mean, a man changes in appearance. He gets older, he loses an eye or a leg. He gets a diseased liver. Is this nonmatter image like a series of photographs made of a man? If so, how often is the photograph made? Every second, once a month? What happens to the old photographs, the old images?’
“The visitor smiled, and he said, ‘The image, as you call it, is indestructible. But it records the changes in the physical body it’s attached to.’
“‘Then what happens?’ La Viro said. ‘Wouldn’t images of the rotting corpse be produced?’
“As I told you,” Göring said, “La Viro was illiterate and he had never been to a big city. But he was not stupid.
“‘No,’ the visitor said. ‘Forget for the moment about all matter and nonmatter except that composing humankind. The rest is irrelevant for our purposes. First, though, let’s give this entity which you call a soul another name. Soul has too many incorrect meanings for humans, too many verbal reverberations, too many contradictory definitions.
“‘Speak the word soul, and unbelievers will automatically become deaf to what follows. Those who believe in souls will always hear you through the mental constructs which they formed on Earth. Let us call this nonmatter twin the…ah…ka. That is an old Egyptian word for one of the several souls in their religion. Except for the Egyptians, it will have no special connotation or denotation. And they can adapt to it.’
“From which,” Göring said, “we know that the visitor knows something about Terrestrial history. Also, he could speak Canadian French, which means that he had studied much to prepare himself for this interview. Just as that Ethical who talked to Burton had learned English.
“‘Now,’ the visitor said, ‘we have the ka. As far as we know, it forms at the moment of conception, the union of sperm and egg. The ka changes in correspondence with the change in the body.
“‘The difference in the body and the ka at the moment of the body’s death is this. During life, the body projects an aura. This is invisible to the naked eye—except in the case of a favored few—and floats above the head of the living person. It can be detected through an instrument. Seen through this device, the aura seems to be a globe of many colors and hues, whirling, swelling, contracting, shifting colors, extending arms, collapsing them. A wild and wonderful thing the beauty of which has to be seen to be appreciated. We call it the wathan.
“‘A person loses the wathan or ka at the moment of death, which is when the body is beyond revivification. Where does the ka go? As seen through our device, let’s call it a kascope, it usually drifts off at once, carried by what etheric wind we don’t know. Sometimes it remains attached to a locality, why we can’t guess. But eventually it cuts loose and drifts off.
“‘The universe is filled with these, yet they can never increase enough to occupy all of space. They can intersect, pass through each other, an unlimited number can occupy the same space.
“‘We assume that the ka is unconscious though it contains the intelligence and memory of the dead person. So the ka wanders through eternity and infinity, a vessel for the mental potentiality of the living person. A frozen soul, if you will.
“‘When a dead person’s body is duplicated, the ka reattaches itself to that body. No matter how far away it might be from the body in spatial terms, it flashes back at the first second of life of that duplicated body. There is an affinity between the two that knows no bounds. But when the reunion takes place, the ka has no memory of the interval between the moment of death of the first body and the first moment of consciousness of the second or duplicate body.
“‘However, some have said that it is possible that the ka is fully conscious during its bodiless periods. Evidence for this theory was lent by a certain phenomenon of afterlife which was well documented, I understand, in the 1970s. As I remember the accounts a significant number of men and women who were legally dead were revivified. They testified that while dead they had experienced out-of-body flights, had watched relatives grieve and had been yanked back into life. Whether or not the ka does have a memory during these times, we are concerned only with its incarnations, its enfleshed states.’
“La Viro was both stunned and ecstatic. But he interrupted again, it seeming to be a human function, a built-in compulsion, to interrupt.”
Göring paused, then said, “As I know only too well.”
There was some laughter.
“‘Pardon me,’ La Viro said. ‘How do you make this duplicate body?’
“He looked down at his own body and thought of how it had been dust and now was whole again.
“‘We have instruments which can detect and scan the ka,’ the visitor said. ‘These can determine the nature of and location of each nonmatter molecule. From then on, it is a matter of energy-matter conversion.’
“‘Can you duplicate any ka at any stage?’ La Viro said. ‘I mean, what if a man died at eighty? Could you duplicate his ka at the age of twenty?’
“‘No. The ka of the eighty-year-old is the only one existing. Then, while the mind is unconscious, the body made from the records is regenerated to the twenty-year-old state. All defects are corrected. A recording of that body is made and destroyed. For the first resurrection on the surface of this planet, another energy-matter conversion is made. During this process, the bodies are unconscious.’
“‘What if you made two duplicates?’ La Viro asked. ‘At the same time? To which would the ka be attached?’
“‘Presumably, to the first that was revivified,’ the visitor said. ‘No matter how synchronized the new resurrections, there would still be at least a microsecond difference. Our machines cannot cut it so close that there is an absolutely simultaneous revivifying. Besides, that experiment would not be done. It would be evil. Unethical.’
“‘Yes,’ La Viro said, ‘but what if it were done?’
“‘The body without a ka would develop its own, I suppose. And though the second body is the duplicate of the first in the beginning, it would soon become another person. Its different environment, different experiences, would differentiate it from the first. In time, though it would always look like the first, it would become another person.
“‘But we are getting into minutiae. The important thing is this. Most disembodied kas go forever without consciousness. At least, we hope so. It would be hell to be imprisoned in an intangible body, without control of it, without communication with others, yet aware of it all. The inevitable result would be the torments of the damned. It is too horrible to contemplate.
“‘Anyway, nobody who’s been resurrected remembers the interval between death and the second life.’
“And so,” Göring said, “La Viro was told that out of the billions who died on Earth, only a minute fraction was not part of that wandering horde of kas. A few went out. Disappeared. The visitor did not know where and why. The Ancients had only told the Ethicals that these few had gone on. They had united with the Creator or were at least keeping company with It.
“The visitor said that he could see that La Viro had many questions. He would answer a few, but they would be confined to the center of this subject. How did the Ethicals know that a few kas had gone on? How could every one of the billions of kas be numbered, be kept track of?
“‘You must have some awareness of the vast powers of our science and technology,’ the visitor said. ‘Even the forces that shaped this world and brought you back to life are beyond your imagination. But what you experience here is only a small part of what is available to us. I tell you that we have counted every ka that came into being on Earth. It took over a hundred years to do it, but it was done.
“‘You see, it is science that has brought about what was thought to be possible only to the supernatural. The mind of humankind has done what the Creator did not intend to do Itself. Because, I suppose, the Creator knew that sentient beings would do it. Indeed, it is possible that sentiency is the ka of God.
“‘Let me detour a little myself, though it is not really an irrelevancy. You seem to regard me as, if not a god, at least a cousin to one. I can hear you breathing hard, smell the fright in your sweat, see the awe in your face. Be not afraid. It is true that I am ethically advanced beyond you. But I am not proud because of that. You could catch up with me. Even, perhaps, overtake and pass me.
“‘I have powers at my fingertips which make the science of your day look like an ape’s. But I am no more intelligent than the most intelligent of Riverdwellers. I can make mistakes and errors.
“‘Also, keep this in mind. When—or if—you go out to preach, stress this always. He who climbs up may slip back. In other words, beware of regression. You do not know the word? Then, beware of backsliding. Not until the ka has winged its way outward forever is it safe from regression. Who lives in flesh lives in danger.
“‘That advice applies to me as well as to you.’
“At this point, La Viro reached toward his visitor. He felt an urge to touch the man, to assure himself that he was indeed flesh and blood.
“The visitor recoiled and cried, ‘Do not do that!’
“La Viro withdrew his hand, but his injured feelings showed. His visitor said, ‘I am sorry, sorrier than you can imagine, but please do not touch me. I will say no more of this. But when you have gotten to the point where I may embrace you, then you will understand.’
“And so, my brothers and sisters,” Göring said, “the visitor proceeded to tell La Viro why he should found this new religion. The name of our organization was La Viro’s idea, nor did the visitor compel La Viro to found it. He merely asked that he should do so. But he must have known his man, for La Viro said he would do as his visitor asked.
“The principles of the Church of the Second Chance and the techniques for enfleshing them are not tonight’s subject. It will take too long to propound and defend them. That is for tomorrow night’s meeting.
“At the end, La Viro asked the Ethical why he had chosen him, of all people, to become the founder of the Church.
“‘I am an ignorant half-breed,’ La Viro said. ‘I was raised in the deep Canadian forest. My father was a white trapper, and my mother was an Indian. Both were looked down upon by the British who ruled our land. My mother was almost an outcast in her own tribe because she married a white man. My father was scorned as a squawman, a dirty Frenchie, by the English he worked for.
“‘When I was fourteen, very large for my age, I became a lumberjack. At twenty an accident lamed me, and I spent the rest of my life cooking for the lumber camps. My wife was also half-Indian, and she brought in money by washing clothes. We had seven children, four of whom died young, and the others were ashamed of their parents. Yet we sacrificed for them and gave them love and a devout upbringing. My two sons went to Montreal to work and then were killed in France fighting for the English, who despised them. My daughter became a whore and died of a disease—or so I heard. My wife died of a broken heart.
“‘I don’t tell you this because I ask for sympathy. I just want you to know who and what I am. How can you ask me to go out and preach when I could not convince my own children that my beliefs were right? And when my own wife died cursing God? How can I go out and talk to men who were scholars and statesmen and priests?’
“The visitor smiled and said, ‘Your wathan tells me that you can.’
“The visitor stood up. He lifted the silver cord from around his neck and past his head, and he placed it around La Viro’s neck. The golden helix now lay on La Viro’s chest.
“‘This is yours, Jacques Gillot. Do not dishonor it. Farewell. I may or may not see you again on this world.’
“La Viro said, ‘No! Wait! I have so many questions!’
“‘You know enough,’ the visitor said. ‘God bless you.’
“He was gone. The rain and thunder and lightning were still making a tumult. Gillot went out a moment later. He could see no sign of the visitor, and after searching the stormy skies he returned to his hut. There he sat until dawn came up with the thunder of the grailstones. Then he went down to the plains to tell his story. As he had expected, those to whom he told his story thought he was crazy. But in time there were those who came to believe him.”
Section 8 The Fabulous Riverboats Arrive at Virolando
Over thirty-three years ago, he had arrived in Virolando. It was his intention to stay only long enough to talk a few times to La Viro, if he were permitted to do so. Then he would go wherever the Church sent him. But La Viro had asked him to settle there, though he had not said why or how long he could remain. After a year there, Göring had adopted the Esperanto name of Fenikso (Phoenix).
Those had been the happiest years of his lives. Nor was there any reason to think he would not spend many more here.
This day would be much like the others, but its sameness was enjoyable and little varieties would garnish it.
After breakfast, he climbed up to a large building built on top of a rock spire on the left bank. Here he lectured his seminary students until a half-hour before noon. He went down swiftly to the ground and joined Kren at a grailstone. Afterwards, they went up to another spire and strapped themselves into hang gliders and launched themselves from the edge of the spire, six hundred feet above the ground.
The air above Virolando glittered with thousands of gliders which slanted up and down, turned, dipped, rose, swooped, danced. Hermann felt like a bird, no, a free spirit. It was an illusion of freedom, all freedom was illusion, but it was the best.
His glider was bright-red, painted so in memory of the squadron he had led after Manfred von Richthofen had died. Scarlet was also the symbol for the blood of the martyrs of the Church. There were many such in the skies, mingling their color with white, black, yellow, orange, green, blue, and purple craft. This land was blessed in having hematite and other ores from which pigments could be made. It was blessed in many things.
Hermann sped above and below the bridges holding houses, spanning the gap between the spires. He passed closely to the wooden and stone pylons, sometimes too closely. It was sinful to risk his life, but he could not resist it. The old thrill of flight on Earth had returned, doubling in ecstasy. There was no motor roaring in his ears, no fumes of oil in his nostrils, no sensation of being enclosed.
Sometimes he sailed by a balloon and waved at the people in the wickerwork baskets beneath them. During his holidays, he and Kren would board a balloon, rise to a height of a thousand meters, and let the wind carry them down The Valley. On long holidays, they would float for a whole day, talking, eating, making love in the cramped quarters while they rode without a bump, without a touch of the wind, since the balloon rode at the same speed as it did.
Venting the hydrogen at dusk, they would land on the bank, pack the collapsed envelope in the basket, and take a boat back upstream next day.
After half an hour, Hermann swooped down along The River, veered, and came down running on the bank. With hundreds of others, he disassembled the glider, and then walked with a cumbersome bundle on his back to the spire from which he had jumped.
A messenger wearing a chaplet of red and yellow blooms stopped him. “Brother Fenikso, La Viro wishes to see you.”
“Thank you,” Hermann said, but a small shock traveled through him. Had the chief bishop decided that the time had come to send him out?
The Man waited for him in his private quarters in the red-and-black-stone temple. Hermann was ushered through the high-ceilinged rooms to a small chamber, and the oaken door was closed behind him. The room was simply furnished: a big flat-topped desk; several large chairs of fish-skin leather; some small ones of bamboo; two cots; a table with pitchers of water and some flavored alcohol, cups, boxes of cigars, cigarettes, lighters, and matches; a chamberpot; two grails; pegs in the walls from which hung cloths; a table beside a mica mirror on the wall; another table holding the lipsticks, small scissors, and combs which the grails occasionally provided. There were several rugs of bamboo fiber and one star-shaped fish skin on the floor. Four torches burned, their ends thrust into wall-holders. The private door in the outside wall was open now, letting in the air and sunlight. Vents in the ceiling gave additional ventilation.
La Viro rose as Hermann entered. He was huge, about six feet six inches high, and very dark. His nose was the beak of a giant eagle.
“Welcome, Fenikso,” he said in a deep voice. “Sit down. Would you like a drink, a cigar?”
“No, thank you, Jacques,” Hermann said. He sat down in the easy chair indicated.
The chief bishop resumed his seat. “You’ve heard about this giant metal boat coming upRiver, of course? The drums say it’s about eight hundred kilometers from the southern border. That means it will reach our border in about two days.
“You have told me all you know about this man Clemens and his partner, John Lackland. You did not know what happened after you were killed, of course. But apparently those two succeeded in repelling their enemies and in building their boat. They are going to pass through our territory soon. From what I hear, they are not warlike, and so we need fear no trouble. After all, they are dependent upon cooperation from those who own the grailstones along The River. They have the power to take what they want, but they don’t use it unless they have to. However, I have heard some disturbing reports about the behavior of some of the crew when the boat has stopped for—what is it called?—shore leave. There have been some ugly incidents, mostly to do with drunkenness and women.”
“Pardon me, Jacques. That does not sound like the type of people Clemens would have on board. He was obsessed, and he did some things which he should not have done to get that boat built. But he isn’t, or at least wasn’t, one to condone such behavior.”
“In all these years, who knows how he’s changed? For one thing, the name of this boat is not what you told me it would be. Instead of the Not For Hire it is Rex Grandissimus.”
“That is strange. That sounds more like a name which King John would pick.”
“From what you tell me of this John, he may have killed Clemens and taken over the boat. Whatever the truth, I want you to meet the boat at the border.”
“You knew the men who built the boat. I want you to get aboard it at the border. You will find out what the situation is, what kind of people live on it. Also, you will estimate its military potential.”
Hermann looked surprised.
“Now, Fenikso, you have told me of the story which this giant long-nosed man—Joe Miller?—told Clemens and which Clemens told others. If it be true, there is a great tower in the middle of the sea at the north pole. These men mean to enter it if they can. I think their intent is evil.”
“Because that tower is obviously the work of the Ethicals. These boat people wish to penetrate that tower, to discover its secrets, perhaps to take captive or even kill the Ethicals.”
“You do not know that,” Hermann said.
“No, but it is reasonable to suppose that.”
“I never heard Clemens say that he wanted power. He just wanted to get to the headwaters.”
“What he says publicly and what privately may be two different things.”
“Really, Jacques,” Hermann said. “What do we care what they do even if they should manage to get to the tower? Surely you do not think that their puny machines and weapons can do anything to harm the Ethicals? Humans would be as worms to them. Anyway, what can we do about them? We may not use force to stop them.”
The bishop leaned forward, his huge brown hands gripping the edge of the desk. He stared at Hermann as if to peel him, layer by layer, and see what formed the center.
“There is something wrong in this world, grievously wrong! First, the little resurrections have stopped. This seems to have happened shortly after your last resurrection. You remember the consternation that this news caused?”
Hermann nodded and said, “I suffered much from anxiety myself. I was in a panic of doubt and despair.”
“So was I. But, as archbishop, I had to reassure my flock. However, I had no facts to use as a basis for hope. It was possible that we had been given the time we needed. All who were going to achieve Going On had done so. The rest would also die, and their kas would roam the universe, forever beyond redemption.
“But I did not think so. For one thing, I knew that I was not ready to Go On. I have a way to go, perhaps a long one, before I have done that.
“Yet, would the Ethical have picked me to found the Church if I were not a strong candidate for Going On?
“Or, and you can imagine my agony at this thought, had I failed? Had I been appointed to show others the way to salvation and yet I had to remain behind? Like Moses who led the Hebrews to the promised land but was forbidden to go down into it himself?”
“Oh, no!” Hermann murmured. “That could not be!”
“It could be,” La Viro said. “I am only a man, not a god. For a while, I even thought about resigning. Perhaps I had allowed myself to ignore my own ethical progress because I was too busy running the affairs of the Church. I had become arrogant; my power had corrupted me in a subtle way. I would let the bishops elect a new chief. I would change my name and go down The River as a missionary.
“No, do not protest. I was seriously considering that. But then I told myself that I would be betraying the trust given by the Ethicals. And perhaps there was another explanation for this terrible event.
“Meanwhile, I had to make some sort of public explanation. You know what it was; you were among the first to hear it.”
Hermann nodded. He had been entrusted to carry the message for two thousand miles below Virolando. That had meant being absent from his beloved country for over a year. But he had been glad to do it for La Viro and the Church. The message was: Be not afraid. Have faith. The last days are not here. The trial is not over. We are in an interim which will not last forever. Someday, the dead will arise again. That is promised. Those who made this world and gave you the chance to be immortal cannot fail you. The interim is a test. Be not afraid. Believe.
Many had asked Hermann what the “test” was. He could only reply that he did not know. Perhaps La Viro had learned what it was from the Ethicals. Perhaps to reveal the purpose of the test would be to defeat its end.
Some had not accepted this. Bitterly denouncing the Church, they had left it. The majority, however, had remained. Surprisingly, many new converts had been made. These had come in through fear, fear that perhaps there really was a second chance to attain immortality and now their time to do it was short. This was not a rational attitude, since La Viro had said that the resurrections would come again. But they were taking no chances of losing their chance.
Though fear did not make a long-term believer, it caused a step toward the right direction. Perhaps true faith would follow.
“The only statement in my message which was not strictly true,” La Viro said, “was that about the interim being a test. I had no direct authority, that is, no direct message from the visitor, that such was the case. But, in a sense, my statement was not a pious lie. The stopping of the resurrections is a test. A test of courage and belief. It does indeed try all of us.
“At that time, I thought that it was being done for some good purpose by the Ethicals. And it may well be that that is so. But the visitor did tell me that he and his fellows were no more than human despite the superpowers available to them. They could make mistakes and errors. Which means that they are not invulnerable. Accidents can happen to them. And enemies could do harm to them.”
Hermann sat straight up. “What enemies?”
“I cannot know their identity—if indeed there are any. Consider this. This subhuman, no, I will not call him that, since he is human, despite his strange appearance. This giant, Joe Miller, and the Egyptians got to the polar sea despite great odds. Also, others had preceded them. For all we know, others may have followed the Egyptians. How do we know that some of these may not have gotten into the tower? And there did something terrible, perhaps without meaning to do so?”
“I find it hard to believe that the Ethicals would not have invulnerable defenses,” Göring said.
“Ah!” La Viro said, holding up a finger. “You forget the ominous significance of the tunnel and the rope which Miller’s party found. Somebody bored the hole in the mountains and set the rope there. The question is, who and why?”
“Perhaps it was one of the second-order Ethicals, a renegade agent,” Hermann said. “After all, the visitor told you that regression was possible even to him. If it is possible to his kind, think how much more likely it is for an agent.”
La Viro was horrified. “I…I should have thought of that! But it is so…unthinkable…so perilous!”
“Yes. The agents have to be more advanced than we, yet even they…wait.”
La Viro closed his eyes, holding up his right hand with the thumb and index finger forming an O. Hermann said nothing. La Viro was mentally reciting the acceptance formula, a technique used by the Church, invented by La Viro himself. At the end of two minutes, La Viro opened his eyes and smiled.
“If it should be, we must face all its implications and be ready,” he said. “Reality be Thine…and ours.
“However, back to the main reason I sent for you. I want you to get on that boat and observe everything you can. Find out the disposition of the captain, this King John, and his crew. Determine if they are a threat to the Ethicals. By this, I mean, do they have devices and weapons which might conceivably allow them to get into the Tower.”
La Viro frowned and said, “It is time that we took a hand in this matter.”
“You surely do not mean that we may use violence?”
“No, not to people. But nonviolence and passive resistance apply only to persons. Hermann, if necessary, we will sink that boat! But we will only do it as a last and regrettable measure. And we will do it only if we can be sure that no one will be harmed.”
“I…I don’t know,” Hermann said. “It seems to me that, if we do that, we lack faith in the Ethicals. They should be able to handle anything that mere men can bring against them.”
“You have fallen into the trap the Church continually warns against, the trap of which you have warned many yourself. The Ethicals are not gods. There is only one God.”
Hermann stood up. “Very well. I will leave immediately.”
“You are pale, Fenikso. Don’t be so frightened. It may not be necessary to destroy that boat. In any event, we will do it only if we are one hundred percent sure that no one will be injured or killed.”
“It is not that which frightens me,” Hermann said. “What does is that a part of me is eager to get into the intrigue, thrilled with the idea of sinking that boat. It’s the old Hermann Göring, still alive down there, though I thought I had put him away forever.”
Rex Grandissimus was indeed a beautiful and awing vessel. She plowed speedily in the middle of The River, towering whitely, her great black smokestacks lofty, her two giant paddle wheels churning. From atop the pole above the pilothouse, her flag whipped, showing wavily three golden lions on a scarlet field.
Hermann Göring, waiting on the deck of a three-masted schooner, raised his eyebrows. The banner was certainly not the scarlet phoenix on blue which Clemens had planned.
The sky was freckled with hang-gliders swooping above the great Riverboat. The River itself was crowded with vessels of all kinds, officials, and sightseers.
Now the boat was slowing, its captain having interpreted correctly the meaning of the rockets fired from Göring’s schooner. Besides, the other craft were forming an obstacle beyond which he could not go without smashing them.
Finally, it stopped, its wheels turning just enough to match the current.
As the schooner came alongside, its captain yelled through a riverdragon-fish horn at the Rex. A man on the lowest deck hurried to a phone on a bulkhead and talked to the pilothouse. In a moment, a man leaned out of the pilothouse, holding an instrument with a horn. His voice blared from it, startling Hermann. The device must amplify sounds electrically, he thought.
“Come aboard!” the man said in Esperanto.
Though the captain was at least fifty-five feet above the water, and a hundred feet away horizontally, Hermann recognized him. The tawny hair, broad shoulders, and oval face were those of John Lackland, ex-King of England, Lord of Ireland, etc., etc. In a few minutes Hermann had boarded the Rex and was accompanied by two heavily armed officers via a small elevator to the top deck of the pilothouse. On the way he said, “What happened to Sam Clemens?”
The men looked surprised. One said, “How did you know about him?”
“Gossip travels faster than your boat,” Hermann said. This was true, and if he had not exactly told the truth, he also had not lied.
They entered the control room. John was standing by the pilot’s chair and looking outwards. He turned at the sound of the elevator closing. He was five feet five inches tall, a good-looking virile-seeming man with wide-set blue eyes. He wore a black uniform which he probably never put on except to impress locals. The black jacket, trousers, and boots were of riverdragon-leather. Gold buttons adorned the jacket, and a golden lion’s head roared soundlessly from above the visor of the cap. Hermann wondered where he had gotten the gold, an extremely rare item. Probably, he’d taken it from some poor wretch.
His chest was bare. Tawny hair, a shade or two darker than that on his head, curled thickly over the V of the jacket top.
One of the officers who escorted him snapped a salute. “The emissary of Virolando, Sire!’
So, Hermann thought, it was sire, not sir.
It was evident that John did not recognize his visitor. He surprised Hermann by walking to him, smiling, and holding out his hand. Hermann took it. Why not? He was not here to revenge himself. He had a duty to perform.
“Welcome aboard,” John said. “I am the captain, John Lackland. Though, as you see, I have no land I do have something even more valuable, this vessel.”
He laughed and added, “I was once the King of England and Ireland, if that means anything to you.”
“I am Brother Fenikso, a sub-bishop in the Church of the Second Chance and a secretary to La Viro. In his name I welcome you to Virolando. And, yes, Your Majesty, I have read about you. I was born in the twentieth century in Bavaria.”
John’s thick tawny eyebrows went up. “I’ve heard much of La Viro, of course, and we were told that he lived not too far upRiver.”
John introduced the others, none of whom Hermann knew except the first mate, Augustus Strubewell. He was an American, very large, blond, and handsome. He crushed Hermann’s hand and said, “Welcome, Bishop.” He didn’t seem to recognize him either. Göring shrugged mental shoulders. After all; he hadn’t been in Parolando long, and that was over thirty-three years ago.
“Would you like a drink?” John said.
Hermann said, “No, thank you. I hope you will let me stay aboard, Captain. I am here to escort you to our capital. We welcome you in peace and love and hope that you come in the same spirit. La Viro wishes to meet you and to extend his blessing. Perhaps you would like to stay a while and stretch your legs on shore. In fact, you may stay here as long as you wish.”
“I am not, as you see, a member of your congregation,” John said, accepting a cup of bourbon from an orderly. “But I have a high regard for the Church. It’s had a highly civilizing influence along The River. Which is more than I can say for the church to which I once belonged. It has made our voyage much easier, since it has reduced militancy. However, not many people would care to attack us anyway.”
“I’m glad to hear that,” Hermann said. He decided it would be best not to mention what John had done in Parolando. Perhaps the man had changed. He would give him the benefit of the doubt.
The captain made arrangements for Göring’s quarters. His cabin would be in the texas, a long structure which was an extension of the room just below the pilothouse and which was on the extreme forward starboard side of the landing deck. The top officers were cabined in this.
John asked about his Terrestrial life. Göring replied that the past wasn’t worth talking about. What mattered was the present.
John said, “Well, perhaps, but the present is the sum of the past. If you won’t talk about yourself, would you tell me of Virolando?”
It was a legitimate question, though Göring wondered if John wished to find out the state’s military potential. He wouldn’t tell him that it did not have any. Let him find out for himself. He did make it clear, however, that no one of the Rex would be allowed to bring arms ashore.
“If this were any other place, I wouldn’t abide by that rule,” John said, smiling. “But I’m sure we’ll be safe in the heart of the Church.”
“This land is, as far as I know, unique,” Hermann said. “Its topography and its citizens are remarkable. The first you can see for yourself,” and he waved at the rock spires.
“It’s a columnar country indeed,” John said. “But what makes the citizens so different?”
“The great majority of them are Rivertads. When the first resurrection occurred, this area was filled with children who had died between the ages of five and seven. There were about twenty to every adult. Nowhere else that I’ve heard of has had that proportion. The children seemed to be from many places and times, of many nations and races. They had one thing in common, though. They were frightened. But, fortunately, the adults were mostly from peaceful and progressive countries, Scandinavia, Iceland, and Switzerland of the twentieth century. The area wasn’t subjected to the vicious struggles for power that occurred elsewhere. The strait to the west cuts off the titanthrops who lived there. The people immediately westward downRiver were of the same kind as those here. Thus, the adults could give full time to taking care of the children.
“Then La Viro announced that he had spoken to one of the mysterious beings who had made this world. He would have been received as all prophets have been in the beginning of their careers. With rejection by all but a few. But La Viro had something substantial, something beyond words and his conviction. He had solid visible proof. It was something which no one else had, which had to be the product of the Ethicals.
“This was The Gift, as it’s generally called. You’ll see it in the Temple. A golden helix. And so he made his home here.
“The children were brought up with discipline and love, and it was they who built this culture you see all about you.”
John said, “If the citizens are as beautiful in spirit as their country is to the sight, then they must be angels.”
“They’re human,” Göring said, “and so this is no Utopia, no Paradise. I believe however, that you will not find any other place which has so many truly friendly, open, generous, and loving persons. It is a very pleasant place to live in, if you have a kindred spirit.”
“Perhaps this would be a good place for a long shore leave,” John said. “Besides, the motors need rewiring, and that takes time.”
“How long you stay here depends upon you,” Göring said.
John looked sharply at him.
Göring smiled. Was John considering how he could take advantage of the Virolanders? Or was he merely thinking that he could relax here, not have to worry about his boat being seized?
At this moment, a man entered the control room. He was about six feet high, deeply sun-bronzed, wide-shouldered, and barrel-chested. His straight hair was very black. Thick black eyebrows shaded large fierce black eyes. His face was as strong as any Göring had ever seen. The man radiated an aura which in Göring’s childhood would have been called “animal magnetism.”
John, catching sight of him said, “Ah, Gwalchgwynn, the captain of my marines. You must meet him. He is a capital fellow, a superb swordsman and pistol shot, a great poker player. He is a Welshman descended from kings on both sides of his family, if what he says is true.”
Göring felt as if his blood had deserted his heart.
He murmured, “Burton!”
No one seemed to have heard him.
From Burton’s shocked expression, quickly masked, Göring knew that he had recognized him. When Göring was introduced to him as Brother Fenikso, La Viro’s emissary and a sub-bishop, Burton bowed. He drawled, “Your Reverence,” and he smiled mockingly.
“The Church has no such titles, Captain,” Göring said. Burton knew that, of course. He was just being sarcastic.
That didn’t matter. What did matter was that Burton seemed to have no desire to reveal that Fenikso was in reality Göring. He wasn’t doing it to help Göring because he liked him, however. If he gave Göring’s natal name, then Göring would reveal Burton’s. And Burton must have much more at stake than he, Göring, had. Actually, Göring had no strong reason to be pseudonymous. He just wanted to avoid having to explain why he was now a member of the Church. It was a long story and took much time, and many just refused to believe that his conversion had been sincere.
King John was charming to his visitor. He must have completely failed to recognize the man whose head he’d once savagely struck with a pistol butt. Göring wanted it to stay that way. If John still believed that he could rape and rob the locals, he would be on guard if he knew that a victim of the past was present. If he thought Fenikso was just a simple innocent bishop, he might not be so careful to hide his intentions.
Of course, it might be that John’s nature had changed for the better. Would Burton serve him if it hadn’t?
Yes, he might if he wanted strongly to get to the headwaters.
But perhaps John was no longer a human hyena. Not that Göring meant to give the hyenas a bad name.
Wait and find out.
John invited the bishop to tour the boat. Göring accepted gladly. He’d been through it in Parolando before it was quite finished and so, even after so many years, knew its layout well. But now he could see it fully furnished and armed. He’d give a complete report to La Viro. His chief could then determine if it would be possible to sink the boat if it was necessary to do so. Göring didn’t really take La Viro’s statements about this seriously. He was sure that it couldn’t be done without some bloodshed. However, he’d keep his counsel until asked for it.
Burton disappeared shortly after the tour began. He reappeared behind them ten minutes later and quietly rejoined them. This was just before they went into the grand salon. On entering, Göring saw the American, Peter Jairus Frigate, and the Englishwoman, Alice Hargreaves, playing billiards. He was shocked, and he stuttered for a moment replying to one of John’s questions. The memory of what he’d done to them, especially to the woman, smote him with guilt.
Now his identity would be out. John would remember him. Strubewell would, too. And John would be deeply distrustful of him.
Göring wished now that he’d given his old name as soon as he met John. But who would have thought that, out of over thirty-five or -six billion people, one whom he’d known too well would be on this boat? And who would have imagined that not one but three such would be aboard?
Gott! Were there others? Where was that Neanderthal, Kazz, who worshipped Burton? The Arcturan who also claimed to be from Tau Ceti? The Tokharian, Loghu? The Jew, Ruach?
Like most of the many people in the salon, they looked up when the party entered. Even the black man playing the ragtime piece, “Kitten on the Keys,” on the piano stopped, his fingers poised.
Strubewell loudly asked for silence and attention and got it. He introduced Brother Fenikso, La Viro’s emissary, and said that Fenikso would be traveling with them to Aglejo. He was to be treated with every courtesy but at this time was not to be approached. His Majesty was taking him for a tour of the Rex.
The piano playing and the conversation started up again. Frigate and Hargreaves stared at him for a minute longer, then returned to their game. They did not seem to recognize him. Well, Göring thought, it has been nearly sixty years since we last saw each other. They didn’t have his near-perfect recall. Still, their experiences with him had been so harrowing that he would have thought they’d never forget his face. Besides, Frigate, on Earth, had seen many photographs of him as a young man, which should reinforce his memory.
No, they wouldn’t have forgotten. What had happened was that Burton had gotten to them during his absence from the tour. He’d told them to act as if they’d never seen him before.
To spare him guilt, their silence saying, in effect, “We forgive you now that you’ve changed. Let it be as if we’re meeting for the first time”?
That didn’t seem likely unless Burton’s character had also changed. The true reason probably was that Göring, if revealed, would then reveal Burton. And for all he knew, Frigate and Hargreaves were under false names.
He didn’t have much time to think about this matter. King John, playing the gracious host, insisted on showing him almost everything in the Rex. He also introduced him to many people, a large number of whom had been famous, infamous, or well known in their time. John, during the many years of travel up The River, had had a chance to pick up such notables. Which meant that he must have had to kick off those not so famous to make room for the famous.
Göring was not as impressed as John had expected him to be. As one who’d been the second-in-command of the German empire and thus had met many of the world’s greats, Göring was not easily awed or bamboozled. Even more, his experiences with the greats and the near-greats on both worlds had made him well aware that the public image and the person behind the façade were often pathetically or disgustingly dissimilar.
The one who’d impressed him most on the Riverworld was a man who, on Earth, would have been thought a complete nonentity and failure by almost anybody. That was Jacques Gillot, La Viro, La Fondinto.
During his Terrestrial existence, however, the person who’d awed him the most, in fact, overpowered him, enslaved him by force of personality alone, had been Adolf Hitler. Only once had he stood up to his Führer during the many times he’d known the Führer was wrong, and then he’d quickly backed down. Now, in the retrospect of many years on the Riverworld and the knowledge he’d gained as a Second Chancer, he had no respect at all for the madman. Nor did he have any respect for the Göring of that time. Indeed, he loathed him.
But, he wasn’t so full of self-hatred that he considered himself past salvation. To think thus was to put himself into a special class, to be criminally proud, to be full of hubris, to possess a peculiar form of self-righteousness.
However, there was also the danger of having all these prides because you didn’t have them. To be proud because you were humble.
This was a Christian sin, though also counted as such in some other religions. La Viro, who’d been a stoutly devout Catholic all his Terrestrial life, had never even heard of such a sin then. His priest had never mentioned it during his long sleep-inducing sermons. Gillot had conceived of this old but little-publicized sin himself after he’d come to this planet.
Though Göring recognized before the end of the war that Hitler was crazy, he’d still remained loyal to him. Loyalty was one of Göring’s virtues, though in him it was so resistant to reason that it became a fault. Unlike most of the others at the Nuremberg trial, Göring had refused to renounce and denounce his chief.
Now, he wished he’d had the courage to stand up to his leader even though it might have meant his downfall much earlier than it occurred and perhaps even his death. If only he could do it all over….
But as La Viro had told him, “You are doing it all over again now, every day. The circumstances differ, that’s all.”
The third person who’d made the greatest impression on him was Richard Francis Burton. Göring didn’t doubt that Burton, if he’d been in Göring’s place, would not have hesitated in saying to Hitler, “No!” or “You are wrong!” How, then, had Burton managed to keep from being thrown off the Rex in all these years? King John was a tyrant, arrogant, intolerant of those who argued with him.
Had John changed? Had Burton also changed? And then had the changes been enough so that each man could get along with the other?
John said, “Over there, playing draw poker, are the seven pilots of my air force. Come, I’ll introduce you.”
Göring was startled when Werner Voss stood up to shake hands with him. He had met him once, but Voss obviously didn’t recognize him.
Göring was a fine pilot, but he would readily admit that he could never equal Voss. Voss had scored his first victories, two Allied planes, in November 1916. On September 23, 1917, shortly after his twentieth birthday, Voss was shot down after a lone-wolf battle against seven of Britain’s best fighter pilots. In less than a year, during which he’d flown against the enemy, he’d scored forty-eight kills, enough to make him the fourth-ranking ace of the Imperial German Air Service. And in that short time he’d been removed several times from the front for administrative or other duties. It was not a coincidence that this happened when he was getting close to the score of Manfred von Richthofen. The baron had great influence, nor was Voss the only one whom von Richthofen had managed to withdraw from action for a while. Karl Schaefer and Karl Allmenröder, hot-shot pilots, had been similarly manipulated.
Voss was a first lieutenant of the air force, the second-ranker, John explained. The captain was Kenji Okabe, one of Japan’s great aces. The grinning little brown man bowed to Göring, who bowed back. Göring had never heard of him because Germany had not gotten much news from its ally during World War II. His record must have been impressive, though, for John to give him a higher rank than the great Voss. Or perhaps Okabe had joined the airmen before Voss and therefore had greater seniority.
The other aviators, the two fighter-plane replacement pilots, the pilots of the torpedo bomber and of the helicopter, were unknown to Göring.
Göring would have loved to have talked with Voss about the old days of World War I. Sighing, he followed John up a staircase to the C or hurricane deck. At the end of the tour, they went back to the grand salon for iced drinks. Göring took only one drink. John, he noted, downed two in a short time. His face got red, but his speech remained unslurred. He asked Göring many questions about La Viro. Göring answered truthfully. What was there to hide?
Could the bishop give John any indication about whether or not La Viro would give permission for the boat to put in for extended repairs?
“I can’t speak for La Viro,” Göring said. “But I believe that he’ll say yes. After all, you are potential converts to the Church.”
King John grinned and said, “By God’s teeth, I don’t care how many of my crew you hook after we sink Clemens’ boat! Perhaps you don’t know that Clemens tried to slaughter me and my good men so that he could have the boat for himself and his swinish followers. May God strike the polecat with lightning! But I and my brave men foiled him and almost succeeded in killing him! And we took the boat up The River while he stood on the bank raving and ranting and shaking his fist at us. I laughed then, thinking that that was the last time I’d ever see him. I was mistaken.”
Göring said, “Do you have any idea how close Clemens is to you?”
“I’d estimate that it will be only a few days behind,” John said, “after we get our motor rewinding done. We were also delayed for a long time because of the damage done by the raiders.”
“Then that means…?”
Göring did not like to put his thoughts into words.
John grinned savagely. “Yes, that means that we will fight!”
It was evident to Göring that John meant to use this wide and long lake for his stand. It would give him plenty of room for maneuvering. He didn’t think it would be wise to mention this at this time.
John began cursing out Clemens as a lying, traitorous, bloodthirsty, rapacious monster. He was a hellbent criminal, and John was his innocent victim.
Göring wasn’t fooled. Having known both Clemens and John, he was sure that John was the liar, the traitor, and the rapacious. He wondered how those who’d been in on the hijacking had managed to keep the truth from those who joined the crew afterwards.
Göring said, “Your Majesty, it’s been a very long, arduous, and dangerous voyage. Your casualty rate must have been high. How many of your original crew are left?”
John narrowed his eyes. “That’s a strange question. Why do you ask it?”
Göring shrugged and said, “It’s not important. It’s just that I was curious. There are so many savage peoples on The River, and I’m sure that many have tried to take the boat away from you. After all, it…”
“Is a treasure worth far more than its weight in diamonds?” John said, smiling. “Yes. It is. By God’s backside, I could tell you tales of the mighty battles we’ve had to keep the Rex from falling into enemy hands. The truth is that, of the fifty who left Parolando, only two are still on the boat. Myself and Augustus Strubewell.”
Which might mean, Göring thought, that John had managed that no loosemouth would tell new recruits the truth. A push in the dark of a rainstorm, a splash no one could hear. A quarrel provoked by John or Strubewell and the discharge of the crewman for incompetence or insubordination. There were many ways to kill and many excuses for throwing a man or woman off the boat. And accident and warfare and desertion would take care of the others.
Now Göring realized another reason why Burton might have kept silent about his identity. If John recognized Göring, he’d know that Göring would know that he was lying. And he might cause an “accident” to Göring before the boat got to Aglejo. Thus, no bad report about John would get to La Viro.
Perhaps, Göring thought, he was being too suspicious. He didn’t really think so.
They had left the grand salon and gone to the room at the bow end of the texas. This was semicircular and walled with shatterproof glass. The elevator shaft that went through the room above and to the pilothouse formed part of the rear wall. Here there were chairs and tables, several sofas, and a small bar. As in most places on the boat, music was piped in from a central station. But it could be turned off. After some conversation about the rewinding, which would take two months at least, Göring steered the talk toward the forthcoming battle. He wanted to say, “What good will it do to fight? What purpose could it serve? Why must all these people on your boat and Clemens’ risk death and mutilation and terrible pain just because of something that happened many decades ago?
“I think that you and Clemens are both mad. Why don’t you two call this off? After all, Clemens has his own boat now. What could he do with two boats? Which he isn’t going to have, anyway, because one boat is going to be destroyed, and I suspect it’ll be yours, Your Majesty. Knowing the size and potentiality of Clemens’ boat, there’s little doubt.”
What he said was, “Perhaps it won’t be necessary to fight Clemens. After all these years, could he still thirst for revenge? Do you want vengeance because he tried to kill you? Can’t you forgive him? The passage of time often cools hot passions and allows cool reason to reign. Perhaps…”
John shrugged broad heavy shoulders and raised his hands, palms upwards.
“Believe me, Brother Fenikso, I would thank God if Clemens had regained his mind and become a man of peace. I am not warlike. All I want is fellowship for everyone. I would lift my hand against none if none would lift their hand against me.”
“I am indeed happy to hear that,” Göring said. “And I know that La Viro will be very happy to act as intermediary so that any disputes between you two may be settled amicably. La Viro, all of us here, are eager to avoid bloodshed and to establish good will, love, if possible, between you and Clemens.”
“I doubt that that demon-possessed bloody-minded creature will agree even to a meeting…unless it is to kill me.”
“We can only do our best to arrange a meeting.”
“What troubles me, what makes me think that Clemens will always hate me, is that his wife, his ex-wife rather, was accidentally killed during the battle for the boat. Though they’d parted, he still loved her. And he will hold me responsible for her death.”
“But this happened before the resurrections stopped,” Göring said. “She would have been translated elsewhere.”
“That doesn’t matter. He’ll probably never see her again, so she is as good as dead to him. Anyway, she was dead to him before she died. As you may know, she was in love with that big-nosed Frenchman, de Bergerac.”
John laughed loudly.
“The Frenchman was one of the raiders. I kicked him in the back of the head when I escaped from the chopper. It was also de Bergerac who ran his épée through the thigh of Captain Gwalchgwynn. He’s the only man who’s ever defeated Gwalchgwynn in swordplay. Gwalchgwynn claims that he was distracted, otherwise de Bergerac never would have gotten through his guard. Gwalchgwynn would not like it if Clemens and I made peace. He too thirsts for revenge.”
Hermann wondered if Gwalchgwynn—Burton—did indeed feel this way, but when he looked around, the Englishman was gone.
At that moment, two crewmen entered carrying small kegs of watered alcohol. Göring recognized one of the men. Was this boat loaded with old acquaintances?
He was good-looking, of medium height, and with a slim but wiry physique. His short hair was almost sandy, and his eyes were hazel. His name was James McParlan, and he’d entered Parolando the day after Hermann’s arrival. Hermann had talked to him about the Church of the Second Chance and found him polite but resistant.
What strengthened Hermann’s memory of him was that McParlan had been the Pinkerton detective who’d infiltrated and eventually destroyed the Molly Maguires in the early 1870s. The Molly Maguires was a secret terrorist organization of Irish coal miners in the Pennsylvania counties of Schuylkill, Carbon, Columbia, and Luzerne. Göring, a twentieth-century German, would probably never have heard of it if he hadn’t been an ardent student of the Sherlock Holmes stories. He’d read that the fictional Scowrers, Vermissa, and McMurdo of A. Conan Doyle’s Holmes novel, The Valley of Fear, were based, respectively, on the real Molly Maguires, the Pennsylvania coal counties, and McParlan. That had led him to read Alan Pinkerton’s book on McParlan’s exploits, The Molly Maguires.
In October 1873 McParlan, under the name of James McKenna, succeeded in insinuating himself into the secret society. The young detective was in grave danger many times, but he slipped through safely by his courage, aggressiveness, and quick wits. After three years in this perilous disguise, he exposed the inner workings of the Maguires and the identities of its members. The chief terrorists were hanged; the power of the Molly Maguires was broken. And the mine owners continued for many decades to treat the miners as if they were serfs.
McParlan, going by Hermann on the way out, glanced at him. His face was expressionless. Yet Hermann believed that McParlan had recognized him. The eyes had flicked away too quickly. Moreover, the fellow was a trained detective, and he’d once told Göring that he never forgot a face.
Was it the discipline of a marine on duty which had prevented McParlan from reintroducing himself? Or was it for another reason?
Burton entered and joined the party. After a few minutes he went into the toilet by the elevator. Hermann excused himself and followed him in. Burton was at the far end of the urinal, and no one was near him. Hermann came up to his side and, while urinating, spoke in German in a low voice.
“Thanks for not telling your commander my natal name.”
“I didn’t do it for love of you,” Burton said.
Burton dropped his kilt, turned, and went to a washbasin. Hermann quickly followed him. Under cover of the gushing faucets, he said, “I am not the Göring you knew.”
“P’raps not. I fancy I don’t like either of you.”
Hermann burned to explain the difference of the two, but he dared not take the time. He hurried back to the observation room.
John was waiting to tell him the party was going to step out onto the deck. They would have a more open view of the lake, which the boat was just entering.
Ahead, for as far as they could see, rock spires of various heights and many shapes rose from the surface of the water. These were mostly rose-colored, but there were also black, brown, purple, green, scarlet, orange, and blue rocks. About one in twenty was striped horizontally in red, green, white, and blue, the stripes being of different widths.
Hermann told them then that at the western end of the lake the mountains curved in and formed a narrow strait about two hundred feet wide and between smooth vertical walls seven thousand feet high. The force of the current was so strong that no manual- or wind-driven vessel could go against it. The traffic by boat was all one-way, downRiver, and there was little of that.
However, some travelers had long ago cut out a narrow path on the southern cliff. This was about five hundred feet above the strait and went a mile and a half to the end of the strait. So there was some foot traffic.
“Just beyond the strait is a rather narrow valley, though The River there is a mile wide. There are grailstones there, but no one lives there. I suppose because of the current, which is so strong it precludes fishing or sailing anywhere but through the straits. Then, too, The Valley gets little sunshine. There is, though, a sort of bay about a half-mile up where boats may anchor.
“A few miles above the bay, The Valley widens considerably. There begins the land of the enormous-nosed hairy giants, the titanthrops or ogres. From what I’ve heard, so many of these have been killed that half the population is now your ordinary-sized human.”
Göring paused, knowing that what he would say would, or should, be vastly interesting to the others.
“It’s estimated that it’s only twenty thousand miles from the strait to the headwaters of The River.”
He was trying to give John the idea that it might be better to keep on going. If the headwaters were so close, why should he stop here to fight? Especially, since he was likely to be defeated. Why not go to the headwaters and from there launch the expedition toward the misty tower?
John said, “Indeed.”
If he had taken the bait, he gave no sign of having done so. He seemed interested only in the strait and the immediate area beyond it.
After some questions from John about these, Hermann understood what John was considering. The bay would be an excellent place for the rewinding. The strait would be near ideal for waiting for the Not For Hire. If the Rex could catch it while it was coming through the strait, it could loose some torpedoes in the passage. These would have to be remotely controlled, though, since the strait curved at least three times.
Also, if John docked in the bay, he would keep his crew from the pacifistic influence of the Second Chancers.
Göring’s speculations on John’s thinking were right. After a day’s visit with La Viro, John up-anchored the Rex and took it through the strait. It anchored again at the bay, and a floating anchored dock was built from the shore to the vessel. From time to time, King John and some of his officers, or just his officers, would come in a launch to Aglejo. Though invited to stay overnight or longer, they never did so.
John assured La Viro that he was not going to venture out onto the lake for a battle.
La Viro pleaded with him to negotiate for an honorable peace with La Viro as intermediary.
John refused during the first two meetings with La Viro. Then, on the third, he surprised La Viro and Göring by agreeing.
“But I think it will be a waste of time and effort,” John said. “Clemens is a monomaniac. I’m sure he thinks of only two things. Getting his boat back and killing me.”
La Viro was happy that John was at least willing to make the effort. Hermann was not so happy. What John said and what John did were often not the same.
Despite La Viro’s urgings, John refused to permit missionaries to talk to his crew about the Church. He had set up armed guards at the end of the cliff-path to insure that the missionaries didn’t come over it. His excuse, of course, was that he didn’t want to be attacked by Clemens’ marines. La Viro told John that he had no right to prevent nonhostiles from crossing over. John replied that he had signed no agreement with anyone concerning passage on the path. He held it, and that made him the determiner of the rights.
Three months passed. Hermann waited for his chance to get Burton and Frigate to one side when they came to Aglejo. Their visits were very infrequent and when they did come in he could never get them alone.
One morning, Hermann was summoned to the Temple. La Viro gave him the news, which had just come via the relay drums. The Not For Hire would be at Aglejo in two weeks. Göring was to meet it at the same place he’d boarded the Rex.
Even though Clemens had not been friendly when Hermann had known him in Parolando, he hadn’t been murderous. When Göring went up to the pilothouse, he was surprised to feel happy at seeing Clemens and the gigantic titanthrop, Joe Miller. Moreover, the American recognized him within four seconds of their introduction. Miller claimed to have known him within a second by his odor.
“Although,” Miller said, “you don’t thmell ekthactly as you uthed to. You thmell better than then.”
“Perhaps it’s the odor of sanctity,” Hermann said and laughed.
Clemens grinned, and said, “Virtue and vice have their own chemistries? Well, why not? How do I smell after these forty years of travel, Joe?”
“Thomething like old panther pithth,” Joe said.
It wasn’t quite like old friends meeting after a long absence. But Göring felt that, for some reason, they were as pleased to see him as he was them. Perhaps it was a perverted kind of nostalgia. Or guilt may have played some part in it. They may have felt responsible for what had happened to him at Parolando. They shouldn’t, of course, since Clemens had done his best to make him leave the state before something violent happened to him.
They told him in brief outline what had occurred since they’d last seen him. And he described his experiences since then.
They went down to the grand salon to get a drink and to introduce him to various notables. Cyrano de Bergerac was called down from the flight deck, where he’d been fencing.
The Frenchman remembered him, though not well. Clemens described again what Hermann had been doing, and then de Bergerac recalled the lecture Göring had given.
Time had certainly worked some changes with Clemens and de Bergerac, Hermann thought. The American seemed to have shed his great dislike for the Frenchman, to have forgiven him because he had taken Olivia Clemens as his mate. The two now were on easy terms, chatting, joking, laughing.
There came a time when the good time had to end. Hermann said, “I suppose you’ve heard that King John’s boat came to Aglejo three months ago? And that it’s waiting for you just beyond the strait at the western end of the lake?”
Clemens swore and said, “We’ve known that we were closing the gap between us fast. But no, we didn’t know that he’d stopped running!”
Hermann described what had happened since he’d boarded the Rex.
“La Viro still hopes that you and John will be able to forgive each other. He says that after this long a time, it doesn’t matter whose fault it was in the beginning. He says…”
Clemens’ face was red and grim.
“It’s easy enough for him to talk of forgiveness!” he said loudly. “Well, let him talk from now until doomsday about forgiveness, and I won’t stop him! A sermon never hurt anybody, and it’s often beneficial—if you need a nap.
“But I haven’t come this far after all the hardships and heartaches and treacheries and griefs just to pat John on the head and tell him what a good boy he is beneath all that rottenness and then kiss and make up.
“‘Here, John, you worked hard to get my boat and to keep it from all those thieving rascals that tried to take your hard-earned Riverboat away from you. What the hell, John, I loathed, despised, and detested you, but that was a long time ago. I don’t carry a grudge long; I’m a good-hearted sap.’
“The hell I am!” Clemens roared. “I’m going to sink his boat, the boat I once loved so much! I wouldn’t have it now! He’s dishonored it, made it into crap, stunk it up! I’ll sink it, get it out of sight. And one way or another, I’m ridding this world of John Lackland. When I’m done with him, his name’ll be John Lacklife!”
“We were hoping,” Hermann said, “that after all these years, two generations as they used to be counted, that your hatred had cooled, perhaps entirely died. That…”
“Well, sure, it did,” Clemens said with a sarcastic tone. “There were minutes, days, weeks, even months, even a year now and then, that I didn’t think of John. But when I tired of this eternal travel on The River, when I longed to go ashore and stay ashore and get the racket of the paddle wheels out of my ears and the never-ending routine, the three-times-a-day stop to recharge grails and batacitor, the always-going-on arguments to settle and the ever-recurring administrative details to manage and my heart stopping every once in a while when I saw a face that looked like my beloved Livy or Susy or Jean or Clara only to find out that she was none of them…Well, then when I tired and almost gave up, almost said, ‘Here, Cyrano, you take over the captainship. I’m going ashore and get some rest and have a good time, and forget about this monstrous beauty and you take it on up The River and don’t bring it back,’ then I remembered John and what he’d done to me and what I was going to do to him. And then I’d gather my forces together, and I’d cry, ‘Forward, onward, excelsior! Keep going until we’ve caught up with Evil John and sent him to the bottom of The River!’ And that, the thought of my duty and my dearest desire, to make John squeal before I wring his neck, is what’s kept me going for, as you describe it, two generations!”
Hermann could only say, “It grieves me to hear that.”
It was useless to say any more about that subject.
Burton, suffering again from his cursed insomnia, left his cabin quietly. Alice slept undisturbed. He went down the dimly lit corridor, out of the texas, and onto the landing deck of the Rex. The fog was building up below the railing of the B deck. The A deck was entirely shrouded. Directly above, the sky blazed brightly, but to the west clouds were swiftly moving toward the boat. On both sides of The Valley the mountains cut off much of the sky. Though the Rex was anchored in a small bay two miles up from the strait, The Valley had broadened only a little here. It was a cold place, gloomy, despondency-making. John had had a difficult time keeping up morale here.
Burton yawned, stretched, and thought about lighting up a cigarette or perhaps a cigar. Damn his sleeplessness! In sixty years on this world, he should have learned how to overcome the affliction which had lasted fifty years on Earth. (He’d been nineteen when the terrible affliction had struck him.)
Techniques to combat it had been offered aplenty to him. The Hindus had a dozen; the Moslems, another dozen. Several of the savage tribes of Tanganyika had their sure-fire remedies. And on this world, he’d tried a score or more. Nur el-Musafir, the Sufi, had taught him a technique which had seemed more efficacious than any he’d ever learned. But after three years, slowly, inching in night by night, Old Devil Insomnia had secured a good beachhead again. For some time, he’d been lucky if he got a good sleep two out of seven nights.
Nur had said, “You could conquer insomnia if you knew what was causing it. You could strike at the source.”
“Yaas,” Burton had replied. “If I knew what and where the source was, I could get my hands on it, I’d be able to conquer more than insomnia. I could conquer the world.”
“First, you’d have to conquer yourself,” the Moor had said. “But when you did that, you’d find out that it wasn’t worthwhile ruling the world.”
The two guards by the rear entrance to the texas were walking in the semidarkness of the landing deck, wheeling, marching to the middle of the deck, each solemnly presenting his rifle to the other’s, wheeling, then striding back to the edge of the landing deck, wheeling, and so on.
During this four-hour watch, Tom Mix and Grapshink were on guard duty. Burton didn’t hesitate to talk to them, since there were two guards at the front of the texas, two in the pilothouse, and many more at different parts of the boat. Ever since the raid by Clemens’ men, John had set up night sentinels all over the boat.
Burton chatted for a while with Grapshink, a native Amerind, in his own tongue, Burton having taken the trouble to learn it. Tom Mix joined them, and he told them a dirty joke. They laughed, but afterwards Burton said he’d heard a different version of it in the Ethiopian city of Harar. Grapshink confessed that he’d heard another version, too, when he was on Earth. This would have been about 30,000 B.C.
Burton told the two he’d be going on to check the other guards. He walked down the stairs to the B or main deck and went toward the stern. As he passed a diffused light in the fog, he saw something moving out of the corner of his left eye. Before he could turn toward it, he was struck on the head.
Some time later, he awoke on his back, staring upwards into the fog. Sirens were wailing, some very near him. The back of his head hurt him very much. He felt the bump, winced, and his fingers came away sticky. When he struggled to his feet, swaying, dizzy, he saw that the lights were on all over the boat. People ran past him calling out. One stopped by him. Alice.
She cried out, “What happened?”
“I don’t know,” he said, “except that someone coshed me.”
He started toward the bow but had to stop to steady himself with a hand against the wall.
“Here,” she said, “I’ll help you get to the sick bay.”
“Sick bay be damned! Help me to the pilothouse. I have to report to the king.”
“You’re crazy,” she said. “You may have a concussion or a fractured skull. You shouldn’t even be walking. You should be on a stretcher.”
He growled, “Nonsense,” and started to walk. She made him put his arm around her shoulder so she could half-support him. They started again toward the bow. He heard the anchors being pulled up, the chains rattling in the holes. They passed people manning the steam machine guns and the rocket tubes.
Alice called out to a man, “What happened?”
“I don’t know! Somebody said the big launch was stolen. The thieves took it up The River.”
Burton thought that if that was true, he’d been slugged by someone posted to insure that the thieves weren’t surprised.
The “thieves,” he was sure, had been crew members. He didn’t think that anybody could slip aboard unnoticed. The sonars, radar, and infrared detectors were operating at night and had been ever since the raid. Their operators dared not fall asleep. The last one who’d done that, ten years ago, had been thrown off the boat into The River two minutes after being caught.
Arriving at the pilothouse, Burton had to wait a few minutes before the busy king could speak to him. Burton reported what had happened to him. John wasn’t at all sympathetic; he was beside himself with rage, cursing, giving orders, stomping around.
Finally, he said, “Go to sick bay, Gwalchgwynn. If the doctor says you’re unfit for duty, Demugts will take over. There isn’t much the marines can do now, anyway.”
Burton said, “Yes, Sire,” and he went to the C deck hospital.
Dr. Doyle X-rayed his skull, cleansed the wound on his head, bandaged it, and ordered him to lie down for a while.
“There’s neither concussion nor fracture. All you need is some rest.”
Burton did so. Shortly thereafter, Strubewell’s voice came over the loudspeakers. Twelve people were missing, seven men, five women.
John took over then, apparently too enraged to allow his first mate to call out the names of the missing. His voice shaking, he denounced the twelve as “treacherous dogs, mutinous swine, scurvy stinking polecats, cowardly jackals, yellow-bellied hyenas.”
“Quite a menagerie,” Burton said to Alice.
He listened to the roll call. All were suspected agents, all having claimed to have lived past 1983.
John thought they had deserted because they were afraid to fight.
If he weren’t too furious to think straight, John would have remembered that the twelve had shown their courage in many battles.
Burton knew why they had fled. They wanted to get to the tower as quickly as possible, and they didn’t want to be in a fight which they regarded as totally unnecessary. So they had stolen the launch and were now racing upRiver as fast as possible. Undoubtedly, they were hoping that John wouldn’t go after them, that he’d be too concerned with Clemens.
In fact, John had been worried that the Not For Hire might come up through the strait while the Rex was chasing after the launch. However, the guards on the path above the strait had a transceiver, and they would report instantly if the Hire moved toward the channel. Still, if the Rex was too far up The River, it couldn’t get back in time to block the Hire.
Despite this, John was taking his chances. He was not going to allow the deserters to get away with the launch. He needed it for the coming battle. And he wanted desperately to catch and punish the twelve.
In the old days on Earth, he would have tortured them. He probably would like to put them to rack and wheel and fire now, but he knew that his crew, most of them anyway, wouldn’t tolerate such barbarisms. They would permit the twelve to be shot, though they wouldn’t relish the deed, because discipline did have to be maintained. Moreover, stealing the launch had compounded the felony.
Suddenly, Burton groaned. Alice said, “What’s the matter, dear?”
“Nothing,” he said. “Just a twinge.”
Since there were other nurses around, he couldn’t tell her that it had just occurred to him that Strubewell had stayed aboard. Why? Why hadn’t he gone with the other agents?
And Podebrad! Podebrad, the Czech engineer, the chief suspect. His name wasn’t on the list.
One more question to add to the dozens he would ask an agent someday. Perhaps he should not wait until someday. Why not go to John now and tell him the truth? John would have Strubewell and Podebrad into the brig and put them to the question with a speed unhampered by legalities and red tape.
No. It couldn’t be done now. John wouldn’t have the time to do this. He’d have to wait until after the battle. Besides, the two would just commit suicide.
Or would they?
Now that there were no resurrections, would an agent kill himself?
He might, Burton thought. Just because the Valley dwellers weren’t resurrected was no proof that agents weren’t. They could rise again somewhere else, in the vast underground chambers or in the tower.
Burton didn’t believe this. If the agents were resurrected elsewhere, they wouldn’t have hesitated to board the suicide express. They wouldn’t now be traveling via paddle wheeler to get to the tower.
If he and Strubewell and Podebrad survived the battle, he was going to catch them unawares, knock them out before they could transmit the mental code which would release the poison in the little black balls in their forebrains, and then hypnotize them as they came out of unconsciousness.
That was satisfying to visualize. But in the meantime, why had the twelve taken off and the two stayed?
Had Strubewell and Podebrad remained on the boat so they could sabotage it if it looked as if John were going to catch the twelve?
That seemed the only explanation. In which case, Burton must go to John to expose them.
But would John believe him? Wouldn’t he think that the blow on Burton’s head had deranged him?
He might, but he’d have to be convinced when Burton brought in Alice, Kazz, Loghu, Frigate, Nur, Mix, London, and Umslopogaas as witnesses.
By then, however, Strubewell and Podebrad might find out about what was going on and flee. Worse, they might blow up the boat or whatever they were planning on doing.
Burton wiggled his finger at Alice. When she came, he told her softly to take a message to Nur el-Musafir. Nur was to station one or more of their group with Podebrad in the boiler room and Strubewell in the pilothouse. If either did something suspicious, something which could threaten the boat, he was to be clubbed on the head at once. If that wasn’t possible, he was to be shot or stabbed.
Alice’s eyes widened.
“I’ll explain later!” he said fiercely. “Go while there’s still time!”
Nur would figure out what the orders meant. And he’d see that they were somehow carried out. It wasn’t going to be easy to get someone into the boiler room and the pilothouse. At the moment, everybody had his or her station. To leave it for any reason without authorization was a serious crime. Nur would have to think fast and cleverly to send somebody to watch the two.
And then Burton said, “I’ve got it!”
He picked up the sick-bay phone and called the pilothouse. The phone operator there was going to call Strubewell, but Burton insisted that he speak to the king instead. John was very annoyed, but he did as Burton requested and went down to the observation room. There he flicked a switch which made it impossible for their conversation to be listened to on the pilothouse line unless the line had been bugged.
“Sire,” Burton said, “I’ve been thinking. How do we know that the deserters haven’t planted a bomb on the boat? Then, if it looks as if we’re going to catch them, they transmit a coded message to the receiver, and the explosives are set off.”
After a short silence, John said, his voice a trifle high, “Do you think that’s a possibility?”
“If I can think of it, then why shouldn’t the deserters?”
“I’ll start a search at once. If you’re up to it, you join it.”
John hung up. A minute later, Strubewell’s voice bellowed over the loudspeakers. He gave orders that every inch of the vessel was to be examined for bombs. The officers were to organize parties at once. Strubewell laid out who was responsible for which area and told them to get going.
Burton smiled. It hadn’t been necessary to reveal anything to John, and Podebrad and Strubewell would find themselves directing a search for the very bombs they may have hidden.
Burton started out the door. Since he hadn’t been ordered to any area, he considered himself a free agent. He’d go to the boiler or A deck and inspect the engine room and the ammunition rooms.
Just as he started down the steps to B deck, he heard pistol shots and shouting. They seemed to come from below, so he hurried down, wincing with pain every time his foot hit a step. When he got to A deck he saw a crowd halfway down the boat by the railing. He walked to it, made his way through the people, and looked down at the object of attention.
It was an oiler named James McKenna. He was lying on his side, a pistol near his open hand. A tomahawk was firmly wedged in the side of his skull.
A huge Iroquoian, Dojiji, stepped forward, stooped, and wrenched the tomahawk loose.
“He shot at me and missed,” he said.
King John should have issued orders by word of mouth, not by the loudspeaker system. Then McKenna might have been caught while in the act of pressing the ten pounds of plastic explosive against the hull in a dark corner of the engine room. It really made no difference, however. McKenna had walked away from the alcove the moment he’d heard the search order. He had been cool, and his bearing was nonchalant. But an electrician’s mate had seen him and challenged him, and McKenna had shot him. He had run then and shot and killed a man and a woman on his way to the railing deck outside. A search party, running toward him, had shot at him and failed to hit him. He’d wounded one of them but had missed Dojiji. Now McKenna lay dead, unable to tell them why he had tried to blow up the boat.
King John came down to look at the bomb. The clock was attached by wires to the fuse and the shapeless mass of plastic. Its hands indicated 10.20 minutes to go.
“There’s enough to blow a hole in the hull bigger than the starboard side itself,” a bomb expert said cheerfully. “Shall I remove it, Sire?”
“Yes. At once,” King John said coolly. “One thing, though. This doesn’t have a receiver radio, too, does it?”
“No, Your Majesty.”
John had frowned. He said, “Very strange. I just don’t understand this. Why should the deserters leave one of their number behind to set the time clock when they could far easier have blown it with a wireless frequency? McKenna could have been with them. They’d not have to put one of their own in danger. It doesn’t make sense.”
Burton was with the group of officers accompanying John. He said nothing. Why bother to enlighten him, if indeed what he had to offer was enlightening?
McKenna had shown up immediately after the raid from the Parseval, and he’d volunteered to replace one of the men killed in it. It seemed evident to Burton, or at least a strong possibility, that McKenna had been dropped off from a plane or via parachute or glider from the airship Parseval. What did the twentieth century call such people? The…“fifth column”…that was it. Clemens had planted this man for the day when the Not For Hire caught up with the Rex. He’d been ordered to blow up the boat when that day came.
What Burton didn’t understand was why Clemens had told McKenna to wait until then. Why hadn’t McKenna blown the boat at the first opportunity? Why wait for forty years? Especially since it was very likely that McKenna, after living with the Rexites for so many years, might have found himself sympathetic with them? He’d be isolated from his fellows on the Not For Hire and almost inevitably, and subtly, his loyalties would transfer from those who’d become a distant memory to those he lived intimately with for a long time.
Or had Clemens not considered that?
That wasn’t probable. As anyone who’d read his works knew, Clemens was a master psychologist.
It was possible that Clemens had given McKenna orders not to destroy the Rex unless it was absolutely necessary.
King John gestured at the corpse and said, “Throw that filth into The River.”
It was done. Burton would have liked to find an excuse to have the body taken to the morgue. There he could open up the skull and inspect the cerebrum for a tiny black ball. Too late. McKenna would be opened up only by the fish.
Whatever had happened, it was over for McKenna. And though the one bomb had been found, the search continued for more. At last, it was called off. There was no secretly planted explosive device in the vessel or outside it. Divers had gone over every inch of the exterior of the hull.
Burton thought that the deserters, if they’d had their wits about them, would have made provisions to sink the craft before leaving. Then neither it nor the airplanes could have pursued them. But they were agents, loathing violence though able to deal with it if the situation required.
There had been only one way to make sure that McKenna was an agent of the Ethicals or an agent of Clemens.
One thing was certain. Podebrad and Strubewell were not saboteurs.
But why had they stayed aboard?
He thought about the problem, puzzling over it a while, then said, “Hah!”
They were volunteers. They’d elected to remain with the boat because there was someone or someones on the Not For Hire whom they wanted to make contact with. He or she or they might be enemies or friends, but the two had their reasons for wanting to get hold of the person or persons. So, they’d made the very risky decision to stay with the Rex through the battle. If the Rex won, which it might, though the odds now seemed against it, then the two, if they survived, would be able to get to whoever it was that was on Clemens’ boat.
But…how would the two know that the whoever was on the Not For Hire?
They might have some secret method of communication. Just what, Burton couldn’t imagine.
He got to thinking about the agents who’d deserted. Did they know about the boats in the cave on the shore of the polar sea and the door at the base of the tower?
He hoped that they hadn’t heard Paheri’s tale. As far as he knew, only he and Alice, Frigate, Loghu, Nur, London, Mix, Kazz, and Umslopogaas knew about the ancient Egyptian’s discovery. That is, they were the only ones on the boat who had. There would be others, perhaps many many people, who had heard Paheri’s tale firsthand and then second-, third-, and fourthhand.
However, for all he knew, X was among the deserters. Which meant that the agents would know about the hidden entrance, too.
Not necessarily. X might be posing as a friendly agent. He’d fled with them but planned to use them to get him to the tower. And then he’d see that they, like Akhenaton and the other Egyptians of his party, were rendered unconscious or dead.
Or perhaps…Podebrad and Strubewell somehow knew that X was on the Not For Hire.
But…either one of the two could be X.
Burton shrugged. He’d just have to let events take their course until he saw a chance to influence them. Then he’d pounce like an owl on a mouse.
That wasn’t a good simile. The agents and the Ethicals were potentially more like tigers.
It didn’t make any difference to him. He was going to attack when he had to.
Again, he considered telling King John everything. Thus, he’d insure that the captured agents would not be executed on the spot. Of course, the agent would have to be knocked out before he could commit suicide. But with twelve to seize, fourteen if Strubewell and Podebrad were included, surely at least one would be unconscious…well, he’d wait a little more. He might not have to divulge anything to John.
The boat had stopped to anchor again while the scuba divers had inspected the hull. It had then resumed its upRiver course at top speed. But it put into shore again to hook up the metal cap to a grailstone. Dawn came; the stones thundered and lightninged. The cap was swung back into the boat, and it sped after the deserters once more. Shortly after breakfast, the motors of three planes were warmed up. Then Voss and Okabe took off in their biplane fighters and the torpedo-bomber roared out of the swung-open stern section from the launch dock.
The pilots would be able to spot the launch within an hour or two. What would happen after that was up to them, within the limits of John’s orders. He did not want the launch sunk or badly damaged because he needed it in the expected battle. The planes could fire on the launch and keep it from continuing upRiver, if possible. They must delay it until the Rex could catch up with it.
An hour and twenty-two minutes after fly off, Okabe reported in. The launch was sighted, and he’d tried to talk to the deserters by radio. He’d gotten no reply. The three planes would swing down over the boat in single file and fire machine guns at it. Not for long, however, since the lead bullets were too valuable, too needed for the fight against the Not For Hire. If a few bursts didn’t make the deserters surrender or turn downRiver or abandon the launch, then bombs would be dropped near the vessel.
Okabe also reported that the launch was several miles past the point where The Valley suddenly widened out. This was the area to which the launch had gone two months ago during the rewinding. Its crew had talked to many of the titanthrops, in Esperanto, of course, in an effort to recruit about forty as marines. King John had envisaged closing in with the Not For Hire and sending the forty ogres over in the van of the boarders. Two score like Joe Miller would wipe the decks of Clemens’ boat clean in short order. Nor would the mighty Miller be able to withstand the onslaught of so many of his fellows.
Much to John’s disgust and disappointment, his men had discovered that every titanthrop interviewed was a member of the Church of the Second Chance. They refused to fight and in fact tried to convert the crew.
It was probable that there were titanthrops who had not succumbed to the preachings of the missionaries. But there wasn’t time to look for them.
Now the airplanes lowered toward the launch while the people on shore, part of them average-sized Homo sapiens, part veritable Brobdingnags, lined the banks to watch these machines.
Suddenly, Okabe said, “The launch is heading for the right bank!”
He dived but not to fire. He couldn’t have hit the launch without also hitting many locals, and he was under orders not to anger them in any way if he could help it. John didn’t want to go through a hostile area after the Rex had sunk the Not For Hire.
“The deserters are jumping out of the launch and wading to the bank!” Okabe said. “The launch is drifting with the current!”
John cursed and then ordered the torpedo-bomber to land on The River. Its gunner must board the launch and bring it back to the Rex. And he must do it quickly before some local decided to swim out and appropriate the launch for himself.
“The deserters are mingled with the crowds,” Okabe said. “I imagine they’ll head for the hills after we’ve left.”
“God’s teeth!” John said. “We’ll never be able to find them!”
Burton, in the pilothouse at this time, made no comment. He knew that the agents would later steal a sailboat and continue upRiver. The Rex would overtake it, if the Rex wasn’t sunk or too damaged to continue.
A few minutes after the launch was reberthed in the Rex and the two fighters had landed, a light on the pilothouse radio glowed orange. The operator’s eyes widened, and he was so astonished he couldn’t speak for a moment. For thirty years he and his fellow operators had waited for this to happen, though they’d not really expected it would.
At last the operator got the words out.
“Sire, Sire! The Clemens frequency!”
The frequency which the Not For Hire used was, of course, known. It could have been changed by Clemens, though even then the radio of the Rex would have scanned the spectrum until it had located it. But apparently Clemens had never seen any reason to shift to another wavelength. The few times that the Rex had received transmission from the Not For Hire, the message had been scrambled.
Not now. The message was not for the Parseval or the airplanes or launches of the Not For Hire. It was in non-scrambled Esperanto and meant for the Rex.
The speaker was not Sam Clemens himself. He was John Byron, Clemens’ chief executive officer. And he wished to talk to, not King John, but his chief officer.
John, who’d gone down to his quarters for sleep or dalliance with his current cabinmate, or both, was summoned. Strubewell did not dare to talk to Byron until his commander authorized it. John was at first determined to talk directly to Clemens. But Clemens, through Byron, refused to do that nor would he say why.
John replied, through his first mate, that there would be no communication at all then. But, after a minute, while the radio hissed and crackled, Byron said that he had a message to deliver, a “proposition.” His commander dared not speak to John face to face, as it were. Clemens was afraid that he’d lose his temper and cuss out King John as no one else in the universe had ever been cussed out before. And that included Jehovah’s denunciation of Satan before He hurled him headlong from Heaven.
Clemens had a sporting offer to make John. However, it was necessary, as John should now understand, that it be transmitted via intermediaries. After waiting half an hour to make Clemens swear and fume and fret, John replied via Strubewell.
Burton was again in the pilothouse and heard everything from the beginning. He was staggered when Clemens’ “proposition” was put forth.
John heard it all out, then replied that he’d have to talk about this to Werner Voss and Kenji Okabe, his top fighter pilots. He couldn’t order them to accept these conditions. And, by the way, who were Clemens’ two pilots?
Byron said that they were William Barker, a Canadian, and Georges Guynemer, a Frenchman. Both were famous aces of World War I.
There was more identification of the pilots. Their histories were expanded upon. John called Voss and Okabe to the pilothouse, and he told them what had happened.
They were astounded. But after they’d recovered, they talked to each other.
And then Okabe said, “Sire, we have been flying for twenty years for you. It’s mostly been dull work though occasionally dangerous. We’ve been waiting for this moment; we’ve known that it would happen. We won’t be facing fellow nationals or former allies, though I understand that my country was an ally of England and France in World War I.
“We will do this. We look forward to it.”
Burton thought, What are we? King Arthur’s knights? Idiots? Or both?
Nevertheless, part of him approved deeply and was very excited.
The Not For Hire had been anchored near the right bank a few miles up from the entrance to the lake. Göring was taken to Anglejo by the launch Post No Bills. Clemens sent his apologies to La Viro for not coming to meet him at once. Unfortunately, he said, a previous engagement had held him up. But late tomorrow or possibly the day after, he would come to the temple.
Göring had begged Clemens to make overtures of peace to King John. Clemens, as Hermann had expected, had refused to do so.
“The final act of this drama has been too long delayed. The damn intermission was forty years long. Now nothing is going to stop its being staged.”
“This isn’t a theater,” Hermann said. “Real blood will be shed. Real pain will be felt. The deaths won’t be faked. And for what?”
“For what matters,” Clemens said. “I don’t want to talk about it anymore.”
He puffed angrily on his big green cigar. Göring silently blessed him with the three-fingered gesture of the Church and left the pilothouse.
All day long the boat had been readied. The thick duraluminum plates with the small portholes were secured over the windows. Thick duraluminum doors were secured to the exterior entrances of the corridors and passageways. The ammunition was checked. The steam machine guns were fired for a few rounds. The elevation and vertical and horizontal movement machines of the 88-millimeter cannons were tested. Rockets were placed in the launching tubes, and the machinery for bringing more from the bowels of the A deck was checked. The one cannon using compressed air was tested. The airplanes were taken up for a wringout after being fully armed. The launches were also armed. The radar, sonar, and infrared detectors were given a checkout. The boarding bridges were extended and withdrawn.
Every station conducted a dozen drills.
After the batacitor and the grails were charged at evening, the Not For Hire went for a five-mile circular cruise, and more drills were conducted. Radar swept the lake and reported that the Rex was not within its range.
Before the crew went to bed, Clemens talked to almost all the crew in the grand salon. His short almost entirely serious speech went out over the loudspeakers to those on duty.
“We’ve had a fantastically long ride up The River, the longest river in the universe, perhaps. We’ve had ups and downs, our tragedies, our pains, our boredoms, our comedies, our cowardly deeds, our heroic. We’ve faced death many times. We’ve seen those we love die, though we’ve been somewhat recompensed for this by also seeing those we hated die.
“It’s been a long long ride. We’ve gone 7,200,020 miles. That’s about half of the estimated 14,500,000 miles of The River. It’s been a long voyage. But if we’d walked it, we’d still be walking. We would’ve walked only about 127,500 miles, leaving more than 7,000,000 miles to go.
“Everybody who signed on knew before signing what the ride on the greatest and most luxurious vessel in the world would cost him. He and she were made aware of the price of the ticket. This ride is paid for at the end, not the beginning.
“I know each of you well, as well as one human being can know another. You were all hand-picked, and you’ve all justified my judgment. You’ve gone through many tests and passed them with flying marks. So I have complete confidence that you’ll pass the final, the hardest, test tomorrow.
“I’m making this sound like an arithmetic examination in high school or like the speech a football coach gives before his team goes out to play. I’m sorry about that. This test, this game, is deadly, and some of you alive today won’t be by tomorrow’s end. But you knew the price when you signed up, and none should think of welshing.
“But after tomorrow is over…”
He paused to look around. Joe Miller, sitting on a huge chair on the podium, looked sad, and tears were trickling down his craggy cheeks.
Little de Marbot leaped up then and raised his glass of liquor and cried, “Three cheers for our commander and a toast to him!”
Everybody huzzahed loudly. After they had drunk, tall big-nosed rapier-thin de Bergerac stood up and said, “And a toast to victory! Not to mention death and damnation to John Lackland!”
Sam stayed up late that night. He paced back and forth for a while in the pilothouse. Though the boat was anchored, there was a full watch in the room. The Not For Hire could up-anchor and paddle wheel into the lake at top speed within three minutes. If John should try a night attack despite his promises not to, Sam’s vessel would be ready for it.
The pilothouse watch said little. Sam left them with a good night and walked for a few minutes on top of the flight deck. Ashore, many fires blazed. The Virolanders knew what was coming tomorrow, and they were too excited, too apprehensive, to get to sleep at their customary time. Earlier, La Viro himself had appeared on the bank in a fishing boat and requested permission to board. Clemens had told him, through a bullhorn, that he was certainly glad to meet him. But he could not discuss anything until after tomorrow. Sorry. That was the way it had to be.
The big dark man with the lugubrious features had departed, though not before blessing Sam. Sam felt ashamed.
Now Sam walked the length of every deck on both sides to test the alertness of the sentries. He was happy with the results, and he decided it was foolish to spend any more time prowling the boat. Besides, Gwenafra would be expecting him to come to bed. She’d probably want to make love, too, because one or both of them might not be alive after tomorrow. He didn’t feel like it at the moment, but she had some irresistible ways of arousing his spirits, among other things.
He was right. She did insist on it, but when his lack of enthusiasm became obvious, and she couldn’t generate any, she quit. Nor did she reproach him. She only asked that he hold her tight and that he talk to her. It was seldom that Sam didn’t have time to talk, so they spent at least two hours in conversation.
Shortly before they drifted into sleep, Gwenafra said, “I wonder if Burton could be on the Rex? Wouldn’t that be funny if he were? I mean, peculiar, not laughable. It would also be horrible.”
“You’ve never gotten over your little-girl crush on him, have you?” Sam said. “He must have been something. To you, anyway.”
“No, I haven’t,” she said, “though I couldn’t be sure, of course, that I’d like him now. Still, what if he were one of King John’s men, and we killed him? I’d feel terrible. Or what if someone you loved were on the Rex?”
“It’s just not very probable,” he said. “I’m not going to worry about it.”
But he did. Long after Gwenafra was breathing the easy breath of the deep sleeper, he lay awake. What if Livy were on the Rex? No, she wouldn’t be. After all, it was one of John’s men who’d killed her in Parolando. She’d never come aboard his boat. Not, that is, unless she wanted to kill him for revenge. No, she wouldn’t do that. She was too gentle for that, even though she’d fight fiercely in defense of her loved ones. But revenge? No.
Clara? Jean? Susy? Could one of them be on the Rex? The chances were very very low that they could be. Yet…the mathematically improbable sometimes happened. And a missile fired from his boat might kill her. And she’d be lost forever to him since there were no more resurrections.
Almost, almost, he rose from bed and went to the pilothouse and had the radio operator send a message to the Rex. A message that he would like to make peace, to call off the battle and the hatred and lust for revenge.
John would never agree anyway.
How did he, Sam, know that he wouldn’t unless he tested him?
No. John was incorrigible. As stubborn as his enemy, Sam Clemens.
“I’m sick,” Sam said.
After a while, he slid into sleep.
Erik Bloodaxe pursued him with his double-headed ax. Sam ran as he had run in so many nightmares about this terrible Norseman. Behind him, Erik screamed, “Bikkja! Droppings of Ratatosk! I told you I’d wait for you near the headwaters of The River! Die, you rotten backstabbers! Die!”
Sam awoke moaning, sweating, his heart pounding.
What irony, what poetic justice, what retribution if Erik should happen to be on the Rex.
Gwenafra murmured something. Sam patted her bare back and said, softly, “Sleep, little innocent. You never had to murder anyone, and I hope yon never will.”
But, in a way, wasn’t she being called on to commit murder tomorrow?
“This is too much,” he said. “I must sleep. I must be in top physical and mental condition tomorrow. Otherwise…an error on my part…fatigue…who knows?”
But the Not For Hire was too much larger than the Rex, too much more heavily armored and armed, not to win.
He must sleep.
He sat up suddenly, staring. Sirens were wailing. And from the intercom on the wall, Third Mate Cregar shouted, “Captain! Captain! Wake up! Wake up!”
Clemens rolled out of bed and crossed to the intercom. He said, “Yes, what is it?”
John was making a sneak attack? The rotten son of a bitch!
“The infrared operators report that seven people have gone overboard, Captain! Deserters, it looks like!”
So…his little speech about everybody having passed the test, about their proven courage, had been wrong. Some men and women had lost their bravery. Or, he thought, had come to their senses. And they’d taken off. Just as he had when the War Between the States had started. After two weeks in the Confederate volunteer irregulars in Missouri, after that innocent passerby had been shot by one of his comrades, he had deserted and gone west.
He didn’t really blame the seven. He couldn’t allow anyone to know that he felt that way, of course. He’d have to put on a stern face, rave and rant a little, curse the rats and so on. For the sake of discipline and morale, he must.
He had no sooner stepped into the elevator to go up to the pilothouse than the revelation came.
The seven were not cowards. They were agents.
They had no reason to stay aboard and perhaps be killed. They had a higher duty than to Clemens and the Not For Hire.
He walked into the pilothouse. The lights were on all over the vessel. Several searchlights showed some men and women carrying grails on the bank. They were running as if their deepest fears had been embodied and were about to seize them.
“Shall we fire on them?” Cregar said.
“No,” Sam said. “We might hit some of the locals. Let them go. We can always pick them up after the battle.”
The seven would undoubtedly take sanctuary in the temple. La Viro wouldn’t turn them over to Clemens.
Sam ordered Cregar to make a roll call. When the missing seven were identified, Sam looked at the list of names on the message screen. Four men and three women. All had claimed to have lived after 1983. His suspicions about this claim were valid. But it was too late to do anything about it.
No. Just now he couldn’t act. But after the battle he would find some way to abduct the seven and to question them. They knew enough to clear up at least half of the mysteries that perplexed him. Perhaps they knew enough to clear up all.
He spoke to Cregar.
“Turn off the sirens. Tell the crew that it’s a false alarm, to go back to sleep. Good night.”
It wasn’t a good night, though. He woke up many times, and he had some frightening nightmares.
Section 9 The First and Last Dogfight on the Riverworld
High noon in the valley of Virolando.
For thirty years, the sky beneath the zenith sun had been a kaleidoscope of multicolored gliders and balloons. Today, the blue was as unflecked as a baby’s eye. The River, which was always streaked with boats, with white, red, black, green, violet, purple, orange, and yellow sails, was today a solid green-blue.
The drums beat along both banks. Stay away from the air and the water and keep away from the banks.
Despite this, multitudes crowded the left bank. The majority, however, were on the spires or the bridges among the spires. They were eager to see the battle, their curiosity overriding their fear. No amount of exhortations by La Viro to stay on the hills could keep them away from this spectacle. They ignored the wardens who tried to press them back to a safe distance. Not having experienced anything like twentieth-century weapons, or, indeed, any weapons more advanced than those of 1 A.D., they had no idea of what would happen. Few of them had seen violence on even a small scale. And so the innocents flocked to the plains or climbed the spires.
La Viro, on his knees in the temple, prayed.
Hermann Göring, having failed to console him, went up a ladder to the top of a rock tower. Though he hated this viciousness, he intended to watch it. And, he had to admit to himself, he was as excited as a child awaiting the first act of a circus. It was deplorable; he had a long way to go before the old Göring was completely destroyed. But he could not stay away from the battle and its bloodshed. No doubt, he would regret this bitterly. But then nothing like this had ever happened before on the Riverworld. Nor would it happen again.
He was not going to miss it. In fact, for a moment, he longed to be flying one of the airplanes.
Yes, he had a long way to go. Meanwhile, he might as well enjoy this as much as he could. He was willing to pay for it with soul-suffering afterwards.
The giant boats, the Not For Hire and the Rex Grandissimus, plowed through the waters, headed for each other. They were at this time separated by six miles. The agreement was that when they were five miles apart, they would stop. Unless, that is, the air battle was over before then. After that, everything went, no holds barred, may the best boat win.
Sam Clemens paced the deck of the pilothouse. For an hour, he had been checking all stations and had been rehearsing the battle plan. The crew assigned to the SW were in A deck now, waiting. When the signal came, they would bring up the SW and mount it behind the thick steel shield which had once protected the fore steam machine gun. This had been removed, and the platform which had held the gun was ready for the SW.
The steam-gun crew had been startled when the orders had come down to remove it. They had asked questions which were not answered. Rumors flew through the boat from prow to stern, from deck to deck. Why had the captain made this strange move? What was going on?
Meanwhile, Clemens had talked three times to William Fermor, the marine lieutenant guarding the SW crew. Sam had impressed on him the importance of his duty.
“I am still worried about John’s agents,” he said. “I know that everybody has been triple-cleared. But that doesn’t mean much. Any saboteur sent by John will be as full of duplicity as a Missouri barnyard is of crap. I want everybody who comes near the SW room checked.”
“What could they do?” Fermor said, referring to the SW men. “None of them are armed. I even looked under their kilts to make sure they’re not concealing anything there. They did not like that, I tell you. They feel that they should be trusted.”
“They should understand the necessity,” Clemens said.
The control-room chronometer indicated 11:30. Clemens looked out on the rear port. The flight deck was ready. The airplanes had been brought up on the elevators, and one was now mounted on the steam catapult at the far end of the deck. There were two, the only single-seaters to survive the long voyage, and these had been wrecked and repaired several times.
Both original single-seaters, monoplanes, had been destroyed, one in battle, one in an accident. The two replacements, constructed from parts from the storage rooms, were biplanes with inline alcohol-burning motors capable of pulling them at 150 miles per hour at ground-level. Originally, they had been fueled by synthetic gasoline, but the supply of this had long ago run out. Twin belt-fed .50-caliber machine guns were on the nose just ahead of the open cockpit. They were capable of firing lead bullets from the brass cartridges at five hundred rounds a minute. The ammunition had been stored through the voyage for just such an event as today’s. Several days ago, the cartridges had been refilled with new charges and each had been rechecked for exact length, width, and straightness to insure against their jamming the guns.
Sam checked the chronometer again and then went down the elevator to the flight deck. A small jeep carried him to the planes, where the flight crew, the reserve pilots, and two chief pilots waited.
Both craft were painted white, and on the rudder and on the underside of the lower wings of each was painted a scarlet phoenix.
One bore on its sides a red stork in flight. Just below the cockpit were letters in black. Vieux Charles. Old Charlie. Georges Guynemer’s nickname for the planes he had flown during World War I.
On each side of the cockpit of the other plane was the head of a black and barking dog.
Both airmen were dressed in white palefish leather. Their knee-length boots were trimmed with red, as were their jodhpurs. Their jackets bore a scarlet phoenix on the left breast. The fliers’ leather helmets were topped by a tiny spike, the tip of a hornfish horn. Their goggles were edged with scarlet. Their gloves were white, but the gauntlets were red. They were standing by Old Charlie, talking earnestly with each other, when Clemens got out of the jeep. As he approached them, they snapped to a salute.
Clemens was silent for a moment, eyeing them. Though the exploits of the two men had happened after he had died, he was thoroughly conversant with them.
Georges Guynemer was a thin man of medium height with burning black eyes and a face of almost feminine beauty. At all times, or, at least, outside of his cabin, he was as taut as a violin string or a guy wire. This was the man whom the French had called “the Ace of Aces.” There were others, Nungesser, Dorme, and Fonck, who had shot more Boches out of the sky. But then they saw more action, since Georges’ career had been ended relatively early.
The Frenchman was one of those natural fliers who automatically became part of the machine, an airborne centaur. He was also an excellent mechanic and technician, as careful in checking out his airplane and weapons or devising improvements as the famous Mannock and Rickenbacker. During the Great War, he had seemed to exist for nothing but flying and air-fighting. As far as was then known, he had nothing to do with women as lovers. His only confidante was his sister, Yvonne. He was a master of aerobatics but seldom used this talent in the air. He roared into battle using “the thrust direct,” as the French fencers called it. He was as wild and uncautious as his English counterpart, the great Albert Ball. Like him, he loved to fly alone and, when he encountered a group of the enemy, no matter how large it was, he attacked.
It was seldom that he did not return with his Nieuport or Spad full of bullet holes.
This was not the way to live a long life in a war in which the average life of a pilot was three weeks. Yet he managed fifty-three victories before he himself fell.
One of his comrades wrote that when Guynemer got into the cockpit to take off, “The look on his face was appalling. The glances of his eyes were like blows.”
Yet this was the man who had been rejected by the French ground services as being unfit for duty. He was frail and easily caught cold, coughed much, and was unable to relax in the boisterous conviviality of his mates after the day’s fighting was done. He looked like a consumptive and probably was.
But the French loved him, and on that black day of April 11, 1917, when he died, the whole nation went into mourning. For a generation afterwards, the French schoolchildren were taught the legend that he had flown so high that the angels would not let him come back to Earth.
The truth, as known in those days, was that he had been alone as usual, and, somehow, a much lesser flier, a Lieutenant Wissemann, had shot him down. The plane had crashed into mud which was being churned by the shells of a great artillery duel. Before the thousands of explosions were done, Guynemer and his machine were blown to bits, mixed with mire, and completely disintegrated. Flesh and bone and metal became, not dust, but mud.
On the Riverworld, Georges had himself cleared up the mystery. While darting in and out of the clouds, hoping to surprise a Boche, or a dozen Boches—it made no difference to him—he had started to cough. The rackings got worse, and, suddenly, blood poured out of his mouth, running down his leather fur-lined combinaison. His fears that he had tuberculosis were now justified. But he could do nothing about it.
Even as his vitality drained away and his eyesight faded, he saw a German fighter plane approaching. Though dying, or believing that he was dying, he turned toward the enemy. His machine guns chattered, but his deadly marksmanship had deserted him. The German zoomed upwards, and Guynemer turned Old Charlie tightly to follow him. For a moment, he lost him. Then bullets pierced his windshield from behind. And then…unconsciousness.
He awoke naked upon the Riverbank.
Now he did not suffer from the white plague, and his flesh had filled out a little. But his intensity was still with him, though not as much as in 1917. He shared a cabin with a woman who now sat crying in it.
William George Barker, a Canadian, was a natural flier who had performed the amazing feat of soloing after only one hour of instruction.
On October 27, 1918, as major of the No. 201 Squadron of the RAF, he was flying alone in the new Sopwith Snipe. At twenty thousand feet over the Marmal Forest, he shot down a two-seater observation plane. One of its crew saved himself by parachuting. Barker was interested and perhaps a little angered when he saw this. Parachutes were forbidden to the Allied fliers.
Suddenly, a Fokker appeared, and a bullet entered his right thigh. His Snipe went into a spin, but he pulled it out, only to find himself surrounded by fifteen Fokkers. Two of these he hammered with bullets and drove away. Another, hit within a range of ten yards, flamed out. But Barker was wounded again, this time in the left leg.
He lost consciousness, regaining it just in time to bring his plane out of another spin. From twelve to fifteen Fokkers were around him. At less than five yards, he shot the tail off of one, only to have his left elbow shattered by a bullet from a Spandau machine gun.
Once more, he fainted, came to his senses, and found himself in the midst of about twelve Germans. Smoke was pouring from the Snipe. Believing that he was on fire and so doomed, he determined to ram one of the Boches. Just as the two planes were about to collide, he changed his mind. Firing, he sent the other craft up in flames.
Diving away, he reached the British lines, crashing near an observation balloon but alive.
This was Barker’s last flight, reckoned by all authorities as the greatest one-man aerial battle of WWI against overwhelming odds. Barker was in a coma for two weeks, and when he awoke the war was over. He was given the Victoria Cross for this exploit, but for a long time he had to use canes to walk and an arm-sling. Despite his crippling pain, he returned to flying, and helped organize the Royal Canadian Air Force. In partnership with the great ace William Bishop, he established the first large Canadian airline.
He died in 1930, while making a test flight of a new plane which crashed for no determinable reason. His official score was fifty enemy aircraft, though other records tallied it as fifty-three.
Guynemer also claimed fifty-three.
Clemens shook the hands of the two men.
“I’m against dueling, as you well know,” he said. “I ridiculed the notion in my books, and I’ve talked to you many times of how I loathed the old Southern wickedness of settling disputes by killing. Though I suppose that anybody that’s foolish enough to believe in that kind of arbitration ought to be killed.
“Now, I wouldn’t have objected to this aerial duel at all if I knew that you’d be dead today and alive the next, as in the old days. But this is for real. I did have reservations, as Sitting Bull said to Custer, but you two seemed so eager, like war horses hearing a trumpet call, that I saw no reason to turn down John’s offer.
“Still, I wonder what’s behind this. Bad John may be planning something treacherous. I gave my consent because I talked to one of his officers, men I knew or knew of, and they’re honest honorable men. Though what men like William Goffe and Peder Tordenskjöld are doing on that boat, serving under that evil man, I can’t imagine. He must have changed his ways, though I refuse to believe that he has changed the inner man.
“In any event, they assured me that everything was on the up and up. Their two men plan to leave the boat at the same time you do. Their planes will carry only machine guns, no rockets.”
Barker said, “We’ve gone over all this, Sam. We think you’re—we’re—in the right. After all, John did steal your boat and he tried to kill you. And we know he’s an evil man. Besides…”
“Besides, you two can’t resist the chance to get into action again,” Sam said. “You’re suffering from nostalgia. You’ve forgotten how brutal and bloody those times were, haven’t you?”
Guynemer said impatiently, “If they were not evil, they would not be on the Rex. Besides, we would be cowards if we did not accept their challenge.”
Barker said, “We have to warm up the motors.”
Sam Clemens said, “Well, I shouldn’t even be talking like this. So long, boys. And good luck. May the best men win, and I’m sure you’ll be the best!”
He shook hands again and walked to one side. This was both brave and foolish, he thought, but he had given his consent. The last-minute resumming up of the situation was due to his nervous ness. He shouldn’t have said anything. But, to tell the truth, he was looking forward to this. It was like the jousts of the knights of old. He hated those knights, since, historically, they were oppressors and bleeders of the peasants and the lower classes and rather murderous to their own class. A filthy bloody-minded bunch in reality. However, there was the reality, and there was the myth. Myth always put blinders on men, and perhaps there was something good to be said for myth. The ideal was the light; the real, the shadow. Here were two exceptionally capable and courageous men, going to fight to the death in a prearranged duel. For what reason? Neither had to prove himself; they had done that long ago when the proving meant something.
What was it? Machismo? Definitely not.
Whatever their motive, they were secretly pleasing Clemens. For one thing, if they could down John’s fliers, then they could go on to strafe the Rex. Of course, if they lost, then John’s pilots would be raking the Not For Hire. He preferred not to think about that.
But the main source of pleasure was watching the combat. It was childish, or, at least, not mature. But like most men and many women, he enjoyed sport as a spectator. And this was a sporting event, however fatal for the participants. The Romans certainly knew what they were doing when they put on the gladiatorial combats.
Sam was startled when a trumpet call rang out. This was immediately followed by the stirring “Up in the Wild Blue,” composed by Gioacchino Rossini for the boat’s air force. The music, however, was electronically produced.
Barker, as commander, was the first to climb into the cockpit. The propeller turned slowly with a whine, then began whirling swiftly. Guynemer got into his plane. The people lining the edge of the flight deck and crowding the lower two rooms of the pilothouse cheered. Presently, the roar of the motor of Barker’s fighter drowned out the huzzahs and hurrays.
Sam Clemens looked up at the control room. The executive officer, John Byron, stood at the stern port of the control room, ready to signal the captain. As soon as the chronometer indicated 12:00, he would drop a scarlet cloth from the port.
A woman burst from the crowd by the edge of the deck and threw bouquets of irontree blooms into the cockpits. Guynemer, looking through goggles, smiled and waved his bouquet. Barker raised his blooms as if to throw them out, then changed his mind.
Sam looked at his watch. The blood-colored cloth dropped. He turned and gestured that the catapult should be activated. There was a whoosh of steam and Barker’s machine, released, was hurtling forward. Fifty feet before reaching the edge of the deck, it lifted.
The Frenchman’s plane soared up eighty seconds later.
The crowd spread out over the flight deck as Clemens hurried to the pilothouse. From the control room he would climb a ladder through a hatch on the top of the structure. A chair and table were bolted down there, waiting for him. While he watched the dogfight he would drink bourbon and smoke a fresh cigar.
Nevertheless, he could not keep from worrying about King John. It was inevitable as a belch after beer that John was planning some sort of trickery.
The Rex Grandissimus was in the middle of the lake, its nose pointed into the wind, its paddle wheels rotating to drive it at ten miles per hour. This, added to the five-mph headwind, gave the airplanes a fifteen-mph wind to climb into during takeoff.
King John, clad in a blue kilt, scarlet cape, and black jackboots, was on the flight deck. He was talking to the two pilots while the deck crew was readying the aircraft. These were dressed in black leather uniforms similar to those of the enemy fliers. Near them were the fighter craft, being readied. These were also biplanes, though the noses were blunter than their counterparts. The wings and fuselage of one plane were covered with a blue-and-silver checkerboard pattern, on which were imposed the three golden lions of King John. Its crimson nose bore a white skull and crossbones. The second machine was white with the three lions on the wings and rudder. On both sides and the underside of the cockpit was a red ball, the rising sun of Japan, Okabe’s sign.
Out of several hundred candidates interviewed in the past seven years, John had picked two to fly for this long-expected day. Kenji Okabe was a short husky slim man who radiated determination. Yet, most of the time he was congenial, interested in others besides himself. At this time, he looked grim.
Voss, with Barker, was distinguished as having fought the two greatest one-man stands against superior forces in the aerial history of World War I.
On September 23, 1917, Voss, a destroyer of forty-eight Allied aircraft, was flying alone in one of the new Fokker triplanes when he encountered seven SES fighters of the RVC Squadron No. 56. Their pilots were among Britain’s finest fighter pilots. Five were aces, McCudden, Rhys-Davids, and Cecil Lewis being the best-known. Their leader, McCudden, immediately led his men into a circling attack. Voss was seemingly doomed to be shot down at once, the target of fourteen machine guns. But Voss flew his plane as if it were a gyrfalcon. Twice, just as McCudden had Voss in his sights, Voss went into a quick flat half-spin, a maneuver which none of the British had ever seen before. Performing outrageous yet perfectly controlled tricks, and also riddling some of their planes, Voss eluded the seven. But he could not break through the circle. Then Rhys-Davids, a superb marksman, kept him in his sights long enough to empty a drum of .50-caliber bullets from his Lewises into him. Voss’s plane fell, not without the regrets of the British. If it had been possible, they would have preferred to have brought him down alive. He was the finest fighter pilot they had ever seen.
Voss was of partly Jewish descent. Though he had encountered some prejudice in the German air force, his splendid flying abilities and determination had brought him recognition which he deserved. He had even served for a while under Richthofen, the so-called Red Baron, who had made him a flight leader and assigned him to fly top cover in the formation.
Kenji Okabe, the captain of King John’s air force, had been, during World War II, a noncommissioned officer, Naval Aviation Pilot First Class. He was one of his country’s greatest fighter pilots, and he’d set the Navy’s all-time record when, over Rabaul, the Bismarck Archipelago, he’d shot down seven American planes in one day. But while attacking a bomber over Bougainville, the Solomon Islands, he was surprised by an American plane diving from a high altitude. It shot off one of the wings of the Zero and set it on fire. Burning, Okabe fell.
John chatted with his two finest pilots for a few minutes. Then he shook Voss’ hand and returned Okabe’s bow, and the two got into the cockpits. Five thousand feet altitude, at a point halfway between the two boats, a spire with an onion-shaped top, was the agreed rendezvous.
The four biplanes spiraled upwards. On reaching the designated height, as indicated by the altimeters, they straightened out. None of them thought of cheating, since they were honorable men. Nor had John suggested to his pilots that they go even higher to get the advantage. He knew them too well.
Now they headed toward each other. The sun was on the right of Voss and Okabe; on the left of Barker and Guynemer. All four would have preferred to have the sun to their backs and in their opponents’ eyes. That was the classic method of attack. Hide in ambush in sun or cloud, then, after spotting the victim below, dive down, taking him by surprise.
The airplanes reached the stipulated five thousand feet. The two pairs, with two miles between them, headed straight for each other at a combined three hundred miles an hour. Perhaps five thousand people were watching the last aerial dogfight of Terrestrials.
Werner Voss headed straight for Bill Barker; Georges Guynemer and Kenji Okabe, for each other.
It was a coolly near-suicidal maneuver. Keep the machine dead-on a collision course. Hold the fire until within 1700 feet. Press the trigger button on the joystick. Loose about ten rounds. Hope that the burst would hit a propeller, knock it out of line a little, perhaps pierce an oil line or electrical wires. Maybe even skim the cowl, pierce the windshield and hit the pilot.
Then, at the last possible second, roll and turn away to the right. If there was a miscalculation, if the other pilot did not turn but continued on his course, smash!
Guynemer’s blazing black eyes looked out of his goggles and through the ring-sight just ahead of the windscreen. The white plane was edge-on, seemingly flattened out. The whirling propeller gave a clear view of the other man; his teeth showed whitely in the sun. Then, the plane was huge, swelling at a speed that would have frightened most men. The Frenchman pressed the button. At the same time, the muzzle of the gun of his opponent shot red.
The two airplanes rolled simultaneously, and their wheels almost collided. Both brought their craft up and around in a turn so tight that the blood drained from their heads.
For a second, as he circled, Guynemer had the checkerboard machine in his sights. But he did not waste any bullets. It was gone too quickly.
Barker and Okabe crossed, almost hitting each other, so close they saw each other’s faces.
It was a mad scramble now, each climbing with all the power of his motor, at an angle just short of a stall. Their motors sang with the labor.
Then Okabe slid off, dropping, and as his sight crossed Guynemer, he triggered a burst of four bullets.
The Frenchman ducked involuntarily as a hole was punched in his windscreen. Banking, he followed Okabe down, hoping to get on his tail. The plane displaying the red ball had taken a chance and almost succeeded. But now he was lower than Guynemer, and he must pay.
The Japanese came back up in a tight loop which almost stood the plane on its tail. It fell back, and Okabe, upside down, fired as Guynemer came into his sights again. The Frenchman was rolling then. Bullets stitched across the fuselage, just missing him. His fuel tank was hit, but it was self-sealing, a feature he didn’t have in his old Spad. Okabe straightened the plane out and climbed again. Guynemer curved his machine around, sped up, hung it on its nose for several seconds, and loosed four bullets. One shot through the cockpit, burning the Japanese’s hand on the stick. Grunting with pain, Okabe snatched his hand away. His plane fell off to the right, out of control for a moment.
Guynemer had fallen into a spin, though he brought it out quickly.
The Frenchman and the German were, without planning it, for a few seconds side by side, both climbing. Then Guynemer banked toward Voss, and, to prevent a collision, Voss also banked. Instead of turning away, as Guynemer had expected, Voss turned toward him but went down instead of up.
Voss’ wingtip missed Guynemer’s tail elevator by a half-inch.
The German drove down and then up in a loop, a maneuver not recommended when the enemy was on your tail. At its top, he rolled over and then dived.
Guynemer had thought, when Checkerboard turned into him, that it was all over. Quickly recovering, no time for thought about narrow escapes here, he started to climb, looking over his shoulder. For a moment he could not see Checkerboard. Then both it and Barker’s machine flashed by him. His friend was behind Checkerboard, having somehow gotten on his tail. Checkerboard went into a barrel roll, lost speed in the maneuver, and then did a flat half-spin. Voss was quick as a cat at the controls. Suddenly, he was pointed in the opposite direction. Barker’s plane shot by him, their wingtips almost touching.
Guynemer had no time for further looking except for the plane with the red ball. Now the fellow was behind him but below, climbing as fast as he but still unable to decrease the distance between them. His foe was about seven hundred feet, Guynemer estimated. Close enough to reach him with his fire but too distant for accurate shooting in the air.
Nevertheless, Red Ball did give him a burst. Holes walked across Guynemer’s right wing as he raised it to turn. Red Ball also turned, jockeying his machine so that he could zero in on the man in the cockpit. Guynemer pushed in on the throttle until it was flat against the panel. If only his motor had more power than Red Ball’s, he could pull away slowly even in this steep climb. But there was no use wishing. They were evenly matched in this respect.
He pulled the stick back with a smooth savagery. He decreased the angle of his climb, thus allowing Red Ball to narrow the gap between them. But Guynemer could not curve up and over onto his back without more power. To try that without flattening out his inclination to the horizon would send his ship into a stall. For about thirty seconds, he had to take a chance that his enemy’s fire would miss vital parts of his target.
Okabe closed up, wondering why Vieux Charles had slowed down. By now he assumed that its pilot was Guynemer. Like all airmen, he knew Guynemer’s history well. For some moments after seeing the name, he had felt strange. What was he doing up here trying to kill the famous Frenchie, to shoot down Old Charlie?
Okabe looked through the sight. When he came within fifty yards, he would shoot. Now, now he was in range. He depressed the button on top of the joystick; his craft shook as the machine gun spat. He wasn’t close enough to see if he had hit, but he doubted it. And now the white ship emblazoned with the red stork was pulling its nose up. Now, it was standing on its tail, and now, it had flipped over and was shooting at him.
But Okabe had kicked rudder and pushed the stick. At this altitude, the plane did not respond as swiftly as in straight flight. But it performed the half-roll and then he was diving away. He looked back and saw that Old Charlie was coming out of the dive in the opposite direction.
He turned steeply and headed toward it, hoping to catch it before it could get above him.
Voss, finding the plane marked with the dog’s head behind him, had little time to determine which maneuver might shake it off his tail. He doubted that any conventional aerobatics would do it. This man would just perform the same or would hang back a little and pounce on him when he came out of it.
Savagely, he yanked the throttle half-back.
Barker was surprised to come so close so suddenly. But he did not stop to think. Checkerboard was in his sight; the range was fifty yards and becoming less. Then the helmet of the pilot was inside the ring of his sight. He pressed on the trigger button.
Checkerboard, as if reading his mind, suddenly increased power and at the same time half-rolled. Barker’s bullets sped by where the head had been, scorching the bottom of the fuselage, knocking off the tail skid.
Immediately, the Canadian half-rolled. If he had to shoot while on his side, he would do so.
Checkerboard righted itself but continued into a half-roll to the right. Doghead followed it. Checkerboard regained horizontal attitude, and Doghead pressed on the trigger button again.
But Checkerboard slid on into a turning dive. He must be desperate, Barker thought. I can turn and dive as fast as he. He also thought that Checkerboard must be Voss. He had to be.
But Checkerboard pointed his nose up quickly, barrel-rolled, and fell down again. Barker refused to emulate the maneuver. He pushed on the stick, his thumb ready to press, sticking to Checkerboard as closely as a duckling to its mother.
Guynemer, coming out of the dive, was in Checkerboard’s line of fire. And Voss, estimating in a flash the vectors of his plane and Old Charlie’s, the wind and the range, let loose a burst. There were only six bullets fired, and Guynemer was gone by. But one struck the Frenchman in the thigh, penetrating it at a downward angle.
Barker did not know that Voss was shooting until he saw Georges throw up an arm and snap his head backwards. Then he closed his thumb on the button, but Voss had zoomed up and into a half-spin, suicidally throwing his wings around so that Barker had to bank away to keep from collision.
But he was around, turning as swiftly as a leopard fearing a ham-stringing by a wild dog. Voss had momentarily escaped him, though at a cost. Forced to dive again to regain speed before Barker could get to him, he was below him again.
Barker slid down toward him, looking around at the same time for Red Ball.
He saw it. It was headed for him from above, coming to aid its fellow, now that Guynemer was momentarily, perhaps permanently, hors de combat.
It was vital to abandon Voss for the moment. Barker turned his plane up, its nose pointed on the same plane and in the same direction as Okabe’s. Collision course.
But having to climb put him at a disadvantage. The enemy did not have to stay at the same level, nor did he. He banked slightly, turning to the left. Barker banked to the left. Okabe rolled to the right and then flattened out the dive. Evidently, he was trying to circle around to get on his tail. The Canadian looked down on both sides. Guynemer was climbing away now. He wasn’t so badly wounded he was out of the fight. And the German was heading toward the Frenchman, who was almost at the same level. He was underneath him, in a perfect position for Barker to attack him. Unfortunately, Barker was in the same situation as Voss with respect to Okabe.
Barker turned his plane while still climbing. Within about thirty seconds, Okabe would come screaming down and around and behind him.
To hell with Okabe. He was going to attack Voss anyway.
Barker’s plane dived in a long curve.
The wings shook with the speed of the descent. He glanced at his speedometer. Two hundred and sixty miles per hour. At ten miles per hour more, the wings would be under an intolerable strain.
He glanced back. Okabe was following him now but not that closely. Probably his wings had about the same tolerance as his own plane. Barker flattened out a little, decreasing the rate of descent. This would allow Okabe to narrow the gap between him and Barker. But Barker wanted to come up on Voss at a speed which would give him time for a long burst.
Now Voss, seeing Barker diving, the only target himself, turned his machine toward the swooping nemesis. For a few seconds, they were on the same line, and the muzzles of Voss’ guns spat flame. He was taking a long chance, the odds high against success, since the range was four hundred yards. But there was little else he could do.
If the plane had been miraculously hit, Barker himself was untouched. Now he banked away, altering slightly the curve. He throttled back, looking backwards at the same time. Okabe was getting closer, but he was still too far away to use his weapon.
Barker’s machine, the wind howling over the edge of the windscreen, came around and behind Voss. The German did not look back, but he would see Barker in his rearview mirror.
Evidently, he had, since he half-rolled and dropped back and away. Barker performed the same maneuver, and then he saw that Guynemer was going to be in Voss’ line of fire as Voss leveled out. For a second or two, Guynemer’s plane would be broadside to Voss’ guns. Twice, the Frenchman had been in the line of fire of Voss, both times by accident.
Barker still did not know whether or not his buddy had been hit. He and Voss zoomed past Guynemer; the back of Voss’ head was in Barker’s sight, the range only fifty yards, and he was closing the gap.
A glance in the mirror. Okabe was behind him by about fifty yards. And he was coming up fast. So fast that he would have only some seconds to fire unless he throttled back. Which he would do, of course, unless he was very sure of his marksmanship.
Barker pressed the trigger. Holes danced down the length of the fuselage from the tail, passed over the pilot, whose head exploded in a gout of blood, and danced along the motor.
The spectators on the shore now saw a strange sight. There were three airplanes in a line, and then, suddenly, four. Guynemer had come up behind Okabe. He was not above, the best position, and he did not have the speed which Okabe had gained in his dive. But as Voss’ skull disintegrated, as Barker’s spine was severed and the top of his head removed, Guynemer fired three rounds. One struck Okabe in the small of his back from below, angling up, ricocheting off the backbone, moving out toward the front of the body, and rupturing the solar plexus.
After that, Guynemer’s vision failed, and he dropped forward, shoving the stick down though not knowing it, while blood poured from his arm and his side. Two of Voss’ bullets had found their mark.
The checkerboard plane spun in, just missing the top of a rock spire on the bank, crashing through level after level of the bamboo bridges, and smashed into a hut. Flame gouted from it, burning alcohol splashed over neighboring huts and the wind took the flames to other buildings.
The first of many fires that was to become a holocaust had started.
The plane marked with the dog’s head smashed into a spire and fell burning along its length, breaking through levels of bridges and huts, scattering pieces of hot metal and flaming fuel for many yards around.
The machine marked with the red ball whirled like a corkscrew into the beach, struck scores of screaming spectators as they dashed for safety, plowed through scores more, and ended up against the great dance hall. The fire danced, too, leaping and whirling along the front and quickly enmeshing the entire structure in unquenchable scarlet and orange.
Old Charlie descended in a shallow steep dive, turning over just before impact. It struck the edge of the bank of The River, dug a trench through the grass-covered earth while it flamed, smashed five people fleeing for their lives, and stopped at the base of an irontree trunk.
Göring, pale and shaking, thought that nobody had proved anything except that courage and great skill were not guarantees of survival, that Dame Fortune plays an invisible hand, and that war is fatal to soldiers and civilians, belligerents and neutrals alike.
Section 10 Armageddon: The Not For Hire vs. The Rex