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High above Dover, a jet plane roared past. Without looking up, David Goldfarb couldn't tell whether it was a Lizard aircraft or a British Meteor. Given the thick layer of gray clouds hanging low overhead, looking up probably wouldn't have done him any good, either.
"That's one of ours," Flight Lieutenant Basil Roundbush declared.
"If you say so," Goldfarb answered, tacking on "Sir" half a beat too late.
"I do say so," Roundbush told him. He was tall and handsome and blond and ruddy, with a dashing mustache and a chestful of decorations, first from the Battle of Britain and then from the recent Lizard invasion. As far as Goldfarb was concerned, a pilot deserved a bloody medal just for surviving the Lizard attack. Even Meteors were easy meat against the machines the Lizards flew.
To make matters worse, Roundbush wasn't just a fighting machine with more ballocks than brains. He'd helped Fred Hipple with improvements on the engines that powered the Meteor, he had a lively wit, and women fell all over him. Taken all in all, he gave Goldfarb an inferiority complex.
He did his best to hide it, because Roundbush, within the limits of possessing few limits, was withal a most likable chap. "I am but a mere 'umble radarman, sir," Goldfarb said, making as if to tug at a forelock he didn't have. "I wouldn't know such things, I wouldn't."
"You're a mere 'umble pile of malarkey, is what you are," Roundbush said with a snort.
Goldfarb sighed. The pilot had the right accent, too. His own, despite studious efforts to make it more cultivated, betrayed his East End London origins every time he opened his mouth. He hadn't had to exaggerate it much to put on his 'umble air for Roundbush.
The pilot pointed. "The oasis lies ahead. Onward!"
They quickened their strides. The White Horse Inn lay not far from Dover Castle, in the northern part of town. It was a goodly hike from Dover College, where they both labored to turn Lizard gadgetry into devices the RAF and other British forces could use. It was also the best pub in Dover, not only for its bitter, but also for its barmaids.
Not surprisingly, it was packed. Uniforms of every sort--RAF, army, Marines, Royal Navy--mingled with civilian tweed and flannel. The great fireplace at one end of the room threw heat all across it, as it had been doing in that building since the fourteenth century. Goldfarb sighed blissfully. The Dover College laboratories where he spent his days were clean, modern--and bloody cold.
As if in a rugby scrum, he and Roundbush elbowed their way toward the bar. Roundbush held up a hand as they neared the promised land. "Two pints of best bitter, darling!" he bawled to the redhead in back of the long oaken expanse.
"For you, dearie, anything," Sylvia said with a toss of her head. All the men who heard her howled wolfishly. Goldfarb joined in, but only so as not to seem out of place. He and Sylvia had been lovers a while before. It wasn't that he'd been mad about her; it wasn't even that he'd been her only one at the time: she was, in her own way, honest, and hadn't tried to string him along with such stories. But seeing her now that they'd parted did sometimes sting--not least because he still craved the sweet warmth of her body.
She slid the pint pots toward them. Roundbush slapped silver on the bar. Sylvia took it. When she started to make change for him, he shook his head. She smiled a large, promising smile--she was honestly mercenary, too.
Goldfarb raised his mug. "To Group Captain Hipple!" he said. He and Roundbush both drank. If it hadn't been for Fred Hipple, the RAF would have had to go on fighting the Lizards with Hurricanes and Spitfires, not jets. But Hipple had been missing since the Lizards attacked the Bruntingthorpe research station during their invasion. The toast was all too likely to be the only memorial he'd ever get.
Roundbush peered with respect at the deep golden brew he was quaffing. "That's bloody good," he said. "These handmade bitters often turn out better than what the brewers sold all across the country."
"You're right about that," Goldfarb said, thoughtfully smacking his lips. He fancied himself a connoisseur of bitter. "Well hopped, nutty--" He took another pull, to remind himself of what he was talking about.
The pint pots quickly emptied. Goldfarb raised a hand to order another round. He looked around for Sylvia, didn't see her for a moment, then he did; she was carrying a tray of mugs over to a table by the fire.
As if by magic, another woman materialized behind the bar while his head was turned. "You want a fresh pint?" she asked.
"Two pints--one for my friend here," he answered automatically. Then he looked at her. "Hullo! You're new here."
She nodded as she poured beer from the pitcher into the pint pots. "Yes--my name's Naomi." She wore her dark hair pulled back from her face. It made her look thoughtful. She had delicate features: skin pale without being pink, narrow chin, wide cheekbones, large gray eyes, elegantly arched nose.
Goldfarb paid for the bitter, all the while studying her. At last, he risked a word not in English: "Yehudeh?"
Those eyes fixed on him, sharply. He knew she was searching his features--and knew what she'd find. His brown, curly hair and formidable nose had not sprung from native English stock. After a moment, she relaxed and said, "Yes, I'm Jewish--and you, unless I'm wrong." Now that he heard more than a sentence from her, he caught her accent--like the one his parents had, though not nearly so strong.
He nodded. "Guilty as charged," he said, which won a cautious smile from her. He left her a tip as large as the one Basil Roundbush had given Sylvia, though he could afford it less well. He raised his mug to her before he drank, then asked, "What are you doing here?"
"In England, do you mean?" she asked, wiping the bar with a bit of rag. "My parents were lucky enough, smart enough--whatever you like--to get out of Germany in 1937. I came with them; I was fourteen then."
That made her twenty or twenty-one now: a fine age, Goldfarb thought reverently. He said, "My parents came from Poland before the First World War, so I was born here." He wondered if he should have told her that; German Jews sometimes looked down their noses at their Polish cousins.
But she said, "You were very lucky, then. What we went through ... and we were gone before the worst. And in Poland, they say, it was even worse."
"Everything they say is true, too," David answered. "Have you ever heard Moishe Russie broadcast? We're cousins; I've talked with him after he escaped from Poland. If it hadn't been for the Lizards, there wouldn't be any Jews left there by now. I hate being grateful to them, but there you are."
"Yes, I have heard him," Naomi said. "Terrible things there--but there, at least, they're over. In Germany, they go on."
"I know," Goldfarb said, and took a long pull at his bitter. "And the Nazis have hit the Lizards as many licks as anyone else, maybe more. The world's gone crazy, it bloody well has."
Basil Roundbush had been talking with a sandy-haired Royal Navy commander. Now he turned back to find a fresh pint at his elbow--and Naomi behind the bar. He pulled himself straight; he could turn on two hundred watts of charm the way most men flicked on a light switch. "Well, well," he said with a toothy smile. "Our publican's taste has gone up, it has indeed. Where did he find you?"
Not sporting, Goldfarb thought. He waited for Naomi to sigh or giggle or do whatever she did to show she was smitten. He hadn't seen Roundbush fail yet. But the barmaid just answered, coolly enough, "I was looking for work, and he was kind enough to think I might do. Now if you will excuse me--" She hurried off to minister to other thirst-stricken patrons.
Roundbush dug an elbow into Goldfarb's ribs. "Not sporting, old man. You have an unfair advantage there, unless I'm much mistaken."
Damn it, he was sharp, to have identified the accent or placed her looks so quickly. "Me?" Goldfarb said. "You're a fine one to talk of advantages, when you've got everything in a skirt from here halfway to the Isle of Wight going all soppy over you."
"Whatever could you be talking about, my dear fellow?" Roundbush said, and stuck his tongue in his cheek to show he was not to be taken seriously. He gulped down his pint, then waved the pot at Sylvia, who had at last come back. "Another round of these for David and me, if you please, darling."
"Coming up," she said.
Roundbush turned back to the Royal Navy man. Goldfarb asked Sylvia, "When did she start here?" His eyes slid toward Naomi.
"A few days ago," Sylvia answered. "You ask me, she's liable to be too fine to make a go of it. You have to be able to put up with the drunken, randy sods who want anything they can get out of you--or into you."
"Thanks," Goldfarb said. "You've just made me feel about two inches high."
"Blimey, you're a gent, you are, next to a lot of these bastards," Sylvia said, praising with faint damn. She went on, "Naomi, her way looks to be pretending she doesn't notice the pushy ones, or understand what they want from her. That's only good for so long. Sooner or later--likely sooner--somebody's going to try reaching down her blouse or up her dress. Then we'll--"
Before she could say "see," the rifle-crack of a slap cut through the chatter in the White Horse Inn. A Marine captain raised a hand to his cheek. Naomi, quite unperturbed, set a pint of beer in front of him and went about her business.
"Timed that well, I did, though I say so my own self," Sylvia remarked with more than a little pride.
"That you did," Goldfarb agreed. He glanced over toward Naomi. Their eyes met for a moment. He smiled. She shrugged, as if to say, All in a day's work. He turned back to Sylvia. "Good for her," he said.
Liu Han was nervous. She shook her head. No, she was more than nervous. She was terrified. The idea of meeting the little scaly devils face-to-face made her shiver inside. She'd been a creature under their control for too long: first in their airplane that never came down, where they made her submit to one man after another so they could learn how people behaved in matters of the pillow; and then, after she'd got pregnant, down in their prison camp not far from Shanghai. After she'd had her baby, they'd stolen it from her. She wanted her child back, even if it was only a girl.
With all that in her past, she had trouble believing the scaly devils would treat her like someone worth consideration now. And she was a woman herself, which did nothing to ease her confidence. The doctrine of the People's Liberation Army said women were, and should be, equal to men. In the top part of her mind, she was beginning to believe that. Down deep, though, a lifetime of teachings of the opposite lesson still shaped her thoughts--and her fears.
Perhaps sensing that, Nieh Ho-T'ing said, "It will be all right. They won't do anything to you, not at this parley. They know we hold prisoners of theirs, and what will happen to those prisoners if anything bad happens to us."
"Yes, I understand," she said, but she shot him a grateful glance anyhow. In matters military, he knew what he was talking about. He'd served as political commissar in the first detachment of Mao's revolutionary army, commanded a division in the Long March, and been an army chief of staff. After the Lizards came, he'd led resistance against them--and against the Japanese, and against the counterrevolutionary Kuomintang clique--first in Shanghai and then here in Peking. And he was her lover.
Though she'd been born a peasant, her wits and her burning eagerness for revenge on the little devils for all they'd done to her had made her a revolutionary herself, and one who'd risen quickly in the ranks.
A scaly devil emerged from the tent that his kind had built in the middle of the Pan Jo Hsiang Tai--the Fragrant Terrace of Wisdom. The tent looked more like a bubble blown from some opaque orange shiny stuff than an honest erection of canvas or silk. It clashed dreadfully not only with the terrace and the walls and the elegant staircases to either side, but also with everything on the Ch'iung Hua Tao, the White Pagoda Island.
Liu Han stifled a nervous giggle. Peasant that she was, she'd never imagined, back in the days before the little scaly devils took hold of her life and tore it up by the roots, that she would find herself not just in the Imperial City inside Peking, but on an island the old Chinese Emperors had used as a resort.
The little devil turned one turreted eye toward Liu Han, the other toward Nieh Ho-T'ing. "You are the men of the People's Liberation Army?" it asked in fair Chinese, and added a grunting cough at the end of the sentence to show it was a question: a holdover from the usages of its own language. When neither human denied it, the scaly devil said, "You will come with me. I am Essaff."
Inside the tent, the lamps glowed almost like sunlight, but slightly more yellow-orange in tone. That had nothing to do with the material from which the tent was made; Liu Han had noticed it in all the illumination the little scaly devils used. The tent was big enough to contain an antechamber. When she started to go through the doorway, Essaff held up a clawed hand.
"Wait!" he said, and tacked on a different cough, one that put special emphasis on what he said. "We will examine you with our machines, to make sure you carry no explosives. This had been done to us before."
Liu Han and Nieh Ho-T'ing exchanged glances. Neither of them said anything. Liu Han had had the idea of sending beast-show men whose trained animals fascinated the scaly devils to perform for them--with bombs hidden in the cases that also held their creatures. A lot of those bombs had gone off. Fooling the little devils twice with the same trick was next to impossible.
Essaff had the two humans stand in a certain place. He examined images of their bodies in what looked like a small film screen. Liu Han had seen its like many times before; it seemed as common among the little devils as books among mankind.
After hissing like a bubbling pot for a minute or two, Essaff said, "You are honorable here in this case. You may go in."
The main chamber of the tent held a table with more of the scaly devils' machines at one end. Behind the table sat two males. Pointing to them in turn, Essaff said, "This one is Ppevel, assistant administrator, eastern region, main continental mass--China, you would say. That one is Ttomalss, researcher in Tosevite--human, you would say--behavior."
"I know Ttomalss," Liu Han said, holding emotion at bay with an effort of will that all but exhausted her. Ttomalss and his assistants had photo- graphed her giving birth to her daughter, and then taken the child.
Before she could ask him how the girl was, Essaff said, "You Tosevites, you sit down with us." The chairs the scaly devils had brought for them were of human make, a concession she'd never seen from them before. As she and Nieh Ho-T'ing sat, Essaff asked, "You will drink tea?"
"No," Nieh said sharply. "You examined our bodies before we came in here. We cannot examine the tea. We know you sometimes try to drug people. We will not drink or eat with you."
Ttomalss understood Chinese. Ppevel evidently did not. Essaff translated for him. Liu Han followed some of the translation. She'd learned a bit of the scaly devils' speech. That was one reason she was here instead of Nieh's longtime aide, Hsia Shou-Tao.
Through Essaff, Ppevel said, "This is a parley. You need have no fear."
"You had fear of us," Nieh answered. "If you do not trust us, how can we trust you?" The scaly devils' drugs did not usually work well on people. Nieh Ho-T'ing and Liu Han both knew that. Nieh added, "Even among our own people--human beings, I mean--we Chinese have had to suffer under unequal treaties. Now we want nothing less than full reciprocity in all our dealings, and give no more than we get."
Ppevel said, "We are talking with you. Is this not concession enough?"
"It is a concession," Nieh Ho-T'ing said. "It is not enough." Liu Han added an emphatic cough to his words. Both Ppevel and Essaff jerked in surprise. Ttomalss spoke to his superior in a low voice. Liu Han caught enough to gather that he was explaining how she'd picked up some of their tongue.
"Let us talk, then," Ppevel said. "We shall see who is equal and who is not when this war is over."
"Yes, that is true," Nieh Ho-T'ing agreed. "Very well, we shall talk. Do you wish this discussion to begin with great things and move down to the small, or would you rather start with small things and work up as we make progress?"
"Best we start with small things," Ppevel said. "Because they are small, you and we may both find it easier to give ground on them. If we try too much at the beginning, we may only grow angry with each other and have these talks fail altogether."
"You are sensible," Nieh said, inclining his head to the little scaly devil. Liu Han listened to Essaff explaining to Ppevel that that was a gesture of respect. Nieh went on, "As we have noted"--his voice was dry; the People's Liberation Army had noted it with bombs--"we demand that you return the girl child you callously kidnapped from Liu Han here."
Ttomalss jumped as if someone had jabbed him with a pin. "This is not a small matter!" he exclaimed in Chinese, and added an emphatic cough to show he meant it. Essaff was put in the odd position of translating for one little devil what a different one said.
Nieh Ho-T'ing raised an eyebrow. Liu Han suspected the gesture was wasted on the scaly devils, who had no eyebrows--nor any other hair. Nieh said, "What would you call a small matter, then? I could tell you I find the stuff from which you have made this tent very ugly, but that is hardly something worth negotiating. Compared to having all you imperialist aggressors leave China at once, the fate of this baby is small, or at least smaller."
When that had been translated, Ppevel said, "Yes, that is a small matter compared to the other. In any case, this land is now ours, which admits of no discussion--as you are aware."
Nieh smiled without replying in words. The European powers and the Japanese had said such things to China, too, but failed in their efforts to consolidate what they had taken at bayonet point. Marxist-Leninist doctrine gave Nieh a long view of history, a view he'd been teaching to Liu Han.
But she knew from her own experience that the little scaly devils had a long view of history, too, one that had nothing to do with Marx or Lenin. They were inhumanly patient; what worked against Britain or Japan might fail against them. If they weren't lying, even the Chinese, the most anciently and perfectly civilized nation in the world, might have been children beside them.
"Is my daughter well?" Liu Han asked Ttomalss at last. She dared not break down and cry, but talking about the girl made her nose begin to run in lieu of tears. She blew between her fingers before going on, "Are you taking good care of her?"
"The hatchling is both comfortable and healthy." Ttomalss took out a machine of a sort Liu Han had seen before. He touched a stud. Above the machine, by some magic of the scaly devils, an image of the baby sprang into being. She was up on all fours, wearing only a cloth around her middle and smiling wide enough to show two tiny white teeth.
Liu Han did start to weep then. Ttomalss knew enough to understand that meant grief. He touched the stud again. The picture vanished. Liu Han didn't know whether that made things better or worse. She ached to hold the baby in her arms.
Gathering herself, she said, "If you talk to people as equals or something close to equals, you do not steal their children from them. You can do one or the other, but not both. And if you do steal children, you have to expect people to do everything they can to hurt you because of it."
"But we take the hatchlings to learn how they and the Race can relate to each other when starting fresh," Ttomalss said, as if that were almost too obvious to need explanation.
Ppevel spoke to him in the scaly devils' tongue. Essaff declined to translate what he said. Nieh looked a question to Liu Han. She whispered, "He says one thing they have learned is that people will fight for their hatchlings, uh, children. This may not have been what they intended to find out, but it is part of the answer."
Nieh neither replied nor looked directly at Ppevel. Liu Han had enough practice at reading his face to have a pretty good notion that he thought Ppevel no fool. She had the same feeling about the little devil.
Ppevel's eye turrets swung back toward her and Nieh Ho-T'ing. "Suppose we give back this hatchling," he said through Essaff, ignoring another start of dismay from Ttomalss. "Suppose we do this. What do you give us in return? Do you agree to no more bombings like those that marred the Emperor's birthday?"
Liu Han sucked in a long breath. She would have agreed to anything to have her baby back. But that decision was not hers to make. Nieh Ho-T'ing had authority there, and Nieh loved the cause more than any individual or that individual's concerns. Abstractly, Liu Han understood that that was the way it should be. But how could you think abstractly when you'd just seen your baby for the first time since it was stolen?
"No, we do not agree to that," Nieh said. "It is too much to demand in exchange for one baby who cannot do you any harm."
"Giving back the hatchling would harm our research," Ttomalss said.
Both Nieh and Ppevel ignored him. Nieh went on, "If you give us the baby, though, we will give you back one of your males whom we hold captive. He must be worth more to you than that baby is."
"Any male is worth more to us than a Tosevite," Ppevel said. "This is axiomatic. But the words of the researcher Ttomalss do hold some truth. Disrupting a long-term research program is not something we males of the Race do casually. We require more justification for this than your simple demand."
"Does child-stealing mean nothing to you as a crime?" Liu Han said.
"Not a great deal," Ppevel answered indifferently. "The race does not suffer from many of the fixations on other individuals with which you Tosevites are so afflicted."
Worst, Liu Han realized, was that he meant it. The scaly devils were not evil, not in their own strange eyes. They were just so different from mankind that, when they acted by their own standards of what was right and proper, they couldn't help horrifying the people on whom they inflicted those standards. Understanding that, though, did nothing to get her daughter back.
"Tell me, Ppevel," she asked with a dangerous glint in her eye, "how long have you been assistant administrator for this region?"
Nieh Ho-T'ing's gaze slid toward her for a moment, but he didn't say anything or try to head her off. The Communists preached equality between the sexes, and Nieh followed that preaching--better than most, from what she'd seen. Hsia Shou-Tao's idea of the proper position for women in the revolutionary movement, for instance, was on their backs with their legs open.
"I have not had this responsibility long," Ppevel said. "I was previously assistant to the assistant administrator. Why do you ask this irrelevant question?"
Liu Han did not have a mouthful of small, sharp, pointed teeth, as the little scaly devils did. The predatory smile she sent Ppevel showed she did not need them. "So your old chief is dead, eh?" she said. "Did he die on your Emperor's birthday?"
All three scaly devils lowered their eyes for a moment when Essaff translated "Emperor" into their language. Ppevel answered, "Yes, but--"
"Who do you think will replace you after our next attack?" Liu Han asked. Interrupting at a parley was probably bad form, but she didn't care. "You may not think stealing children is a great crime, but we do, and we will punish all of you if we can't reach the guilty one"--she glared at Ttomalss--"and you don't make amends."
"This matter requires further analysis within the circles of the Race," Ppevel said; he had courage. "We do not say yes at this time, but we do not say no. Let us move on to the next item of discussion."
"Very well," Nieh Ho-T'ing said, and Liu Han's heart sank. The little scaly devils were not in the habit of lying over such matters, and she knew it. Discussion on getting her daughter back would resume. But every day the little girl was away would make her stranger, harder to reclaim. She hadn't seen a human being since she was three days old. What would she be like, even if Liu Han finally got her back?
From the outside, the railroad car looked like one that hauled baggage. David Nussboym had seen that, before the bored-looking NKVD men, submachine guns in hand but plainly sure they wouldn't have to use them, herded him and his companions in misfortune into it. Inside, it was divided into nine compartments, like any passenger car.
In an ordinary passenger car, though, four to a compartment was crowded. People looked resentfully at one another, as if it was the fault of the person on whom the irritated gaze fell that he took up so much space. In each of the five prisoner compartments on this car ... Nussboym shook his head. He was a scrupulous man, a meticulous man. He didn't know how many people each of the other compartments held. He knew there were twenty-five men in his.
He and three others had perches--not proper seats--upon the baggage racks by the ceiling. The strongest, toughest prisoners lay in relative comfort --and extremely relative it was, too--on the hard middle bunk. The rest sat jammed together on the lower bunk and on the floor, on top of their meager belongings.
Nussboym's rackmate was a lanky fellow named Ivan Fyodorov. He under- stood some of Nussboym's Polish and a bit of Yiddish when the Polish failed. Nussboym, in turn, could follow Russian after a fashion, and Fyodorov threw in a word of German every now and again.
He wasn't a mental giant. "Tell me again how you're here, David Aronovich," he said. "I've never heard a story like yours, not even once."
Nussboym sighed. He'd told the story three times already in the two days--he thought it was two days--he'd been perched on the rack. "It's like this, Ivan Vasilievich," he said. "I was in Lodz, in Poland, in the part of Poland the Lizards held. My crime was hating the Germans worse than the Lizards."
"Why did you do that?" Fyodorov asked. This was the fourth time he'd asked that question, too.
Up till now, Nussboym had evaded it: your average Russian was no more apt to love Jews than was your average Pole. "Can't you figure it out for yourself?" he asked now. But, when Fyodorov's brow furrowed and did not clear, he snapped, "Damn it, don't you see I'm Jewish?"
"Oh, that. Yeah, sure, I knew that," his fellow prisoner said, sunny still. "Ain't no Russian with a nose that big, anyhow." Nussboym brought a hand up to the offended member, but Ivan hadn't seemed to mean anything by it past a simple statement of fact. He went on, "So you were in Lodz. How did you get here? That's what I want to know."
"My chums wanted to get rid of me," Nussboym said bitterly. "They wouldn't give me to the Nazis--even they aren't that vile. But they couldn't leave me in Poland, either; they knew I wouldn't let them get away with collaborating. So they knocked me unconscious, took me across Lizard-held country till they came to land you Russians still controlled--and they gave me to your border patrols."
Fyodorov might not have been a mental giant, but he was a Soviet citizen. He knew what had happened after that. Smiling, he said, "And the border patrol decided you had to be a criminal--and besides, you were a foreigner and a zhid to boot--and so they dropped you into the gulag. Now I get it."
"I'm so glad for you," Nussboym said sourly.
The window that looked out from the compartment to the hallway of the prison car had crosshatched bars over it. Nussboym watched a couple of NKVD men make their way toward the compartment entrance, which had no door, only a sliding grate of similar crosshatched bars. The compartment had no windows that opened on the outside world, just a couple of tiny barred blinds that might as well not have been there.
Nussboym didn't care. He'd learned that when the NKVD men walked by with that slow deliberate stride, they had food with them. His stomach rumbled. Spit rushed into his mouth. He ate better in the prison car--a Stolypin car, the Russians universally called it--than he had in the Lodz ghetto before the Lizards came, but not much better.
One of the NKVD men opened the grate, then stood back, covering the prisoners with a submachine gun. The other one set down two buckets. "All right, you zeks!" he shouted. "Feeding time at the zoo!" He laughed loudly at his own wit, though he made the joke every time it was his turn to feed the prisoners.
They laughed too, loudly. If they didn't laugh, nobody got anything to eat. They'd found that out very fast. A couple of beatings soon forced the recalcitrant ones into line.
Satisfied, the guard started passing out a chunk of coarse, black bread and half a salted herring apiece. They'd got sugar once, but the guards said they were out of that now. Nussboym didn't know whether it was true, but did know he was in no position to find out.
The prisoners who reclined on the middle bunk got the biggest loaves and fishes. They'd enforced that rule with their fists, too. Nussboym's hand went to the shiner below his left eye. He'd tried holding out on them, and paid the price.
He wolfed down the bread, but stuck his bony fragment of herring in a pocket. He'd learned to wait for water before he ate the fish. It was so salty, thirst would have driven him mad till he got something to drink. Sometimes the guards brought a bucket of water after they brought food. Sometimes they didn't. Today they didn't.
The train rumbled on. In summer, having two dozen men stuffed into a compartment intended for four would have been intolerable--not that that would have stopped the NKVD. In a Russian winter, animal warmth was not to be despised. In spite of being cold, Nussboym wasn't freezing.
His stomach growled again. It didn't care that he would suffer agonies of thirst if he ate his herring without water. All it knew was that it was still mostly empty, and that the fish would help fill it up.
With a squeal of brakes, the train pulled to a halt. Nussboym almost slipped down onto men below. Ivan had done that once. They'd fallen on him like a pack of wolves, beating and kicking him till he was black and blue. After that, the fellows perched on the baggage racks had learned to hang on tight during stops.
"Where are we, do you think?" somebody down below asked.
"In hell," somebody else answered, which produced laughs both more bitter and more sincere than the ones the guard had got for himself.
"This'll be Pskov, I bet," a zek in the middle bunk declared. "I hear tell we've cleared the Lizards away from the railroad line that leads there from the west. After that"--he stopped sounding so arrogant and sure of himself--"after that, it's north and east, on to the White Sea, or maybe to the Siberian gulags."
Nobody spoke for a couple of minutes after that. Winter labor up around Archangel or in Siberia was enough to daunt even the heartiest of spirits.
Small clangs and jerks showed that cars were either being added to the train or taken off it. One of the zeks sitting on the bottom bunks said, "Didn't the Hitlerites take Pskov away from the rodina? Shit, they can't do anything worse to us than our own people do."
"Oh yes, they can," Nussboym said, and told them about Treblinka.
"That's Lizard propaganda, is what that is," the big-mouthed zek in the middle bunk said.
"No," Nussboym said. Even in the face of opposition from the powerful prisoner, about half the zeks in the car ended up believing him. He reckoned that a moral victory.
A guard came back with a bucket of water, a dipper, and a couple of mugs. He looked disgusted with fate, as if by letting the men drink he was granting them a privilege they didn't deserve. "Come on, you slimy bastards," he said. "Queue up--and make it snappy. I don't have all day."
Healthy men drank first, then the ones with tubercular coughs, and last of all the three or four luckless fellows who had syphilis. Nussboym wondered if the arrangement did any good, because he doubted the NKVD men washed the mugs between uses. The water was yellowish and cloudy and tasted of grease. The guard had taken it from the engine tender instead of going to some proper spigot. All the same, it was wet. He drank his allotted mug, ate the herring, and felt, for a moment, almost like a human being instead of a zek.
Georg Schultz spun the U-2's two-bladed wooden prop. The five-cylinder Shvetsov radial caught almost at once; in a Russian winter, an air-cooled engine was a big advantage. Ludmila Gorbunova had heard stories about Luftwaffe pilots who had to light fires on the ground under the nose of their aircraft to keep their antifreeze from freezing up.
Ludmila checked the rudimentary collection of dials on the Kukuruznik's instrument panel. All in all, they told her nothing she didn't already know: the Wheatcutter had plenty of fuel for the mission she was going to fly, the compass did a satisfactory job of pointing toward north, and the altimeter said she was still on the ground.
She released the brake. The little biplane bounced across the snowy field that served as an airstrip. Behind her, she knew, men and women with brooms would sweep snow over the tracks her wheels made. The Red Air Force took maskirovka seriously.
After one last jounce, the U-2 didn't come down. Ludmila patted the side of the fuselage with a gloved but affectionate hand. Though designed as a primary trainer, the aircraft had harassed first the Germans and then the Lizards. Kukuruznik's flew low and slow and, but for the engine, had almost no metal; they evaded the Lizards' detection systems that let the alien imperialist aggressors hack more sophisticated warplanes out of the sky with ease. Machine guns and light bombs weren't much, but they were better than nothing.
Ludmila swung the aircraft into a long, slow turn back toward the field from which she'd taken off. Georg Schultz still stood out there. He waved to her and blew her a kiss before he started trudging for the pine woods not far away.
"If Tatiana saw you doing that, she'd blast your head off from eight hundred meters," Ludmila said. The slipstream that blasted over the windscreen into the open cockpit blew her words away. She wished something would do the same for Georg Schultz. The German panzer gunner made a first-rate mechanic; he had a feel for engines, the way some people had a feel for horses. That made him valuable no matter how loud and sincere a Nazi he was.
Since the Soviet Union and the Hitlerites were at least formally cooperating against the Lizards, his fascism could be overlooked, as fascism had been overlooked till the Nazis treacherously broke their nonaggression pact with the USSR on 22 June 1941. What Ludmila couldn't stomach was that he kept trying to get her to go to bed with him, though she had about as much interest in sleeping with him as she did with, say, Heinrich Himmler.
"You'd think he would have left me alone after he and Tatiana started jumping on each other," Ludmila said to the cloudy sky. Tatiana Pirogova was an accomplished sniper who'd shot at Nazis before she started shooting at Lizards. She was at least as deadly as Schultz, maybe deadlier. As far as Ludmila could see, that was what drew them together.
"Men," she added, a complete sentence. Despite enjoying Tatiana's favors, Schultz still kept trying to lay her, too. Under her breath, she muttered, "Damned nuisance."
She buzzed west across Pskov. Soldiers in the streets, some in Russian khaki, others in German field-gray, still others in winter white that made their nationality impossible to guess, waved at her as she flew by. She didn't mind that at all. Sometimes, though, human troops would fire at her in the air, on the assumption that anything airborne had to belong to the Lizards.
A train pulled out of the station, heading northwest. The exhaust from the locomotive was a great black plume that would have been visible for kilometers against the snow had the low ceiling not masked it. The Lizards liked shooting up trains whenever they got the chance.
She waved to the train when she came closest to it. She didn't think anyone on board saw it, but she didn't care. Trains pulling out of Pskov were a hopeful sign. During the winter, the Red Army--and the Germans, Ludmila thought reluctantly--had pushed the Lizards back from the city, and back from the railroad lines that ran through it. These days, you could, if you were lucky, get through to Riga by train.
But you still needed luck, and you still needed time. That was why Lieutenant General Chill had sent his despatch with her--not only did it have a better chance of getting through, it would reach his Nazi counterpart in the Latvian capital well before it could have got there by rail.
Ludmila skinned back her teeth in a sardonic grin. "Oh, how the mighty Nazi general wished he could have sent a mighty Nazi flier to carry his message for him," she said. "But he didn't have any mighty Nazi fliers, so he was stuck with me." The expression on Chill's face had been that of a man biting into an unripe apple.
She patted the pocket of her fur-lined leather flying suit in which the precious despatch rested. She didn't know what it said. By the way Chill had given it to her, that was a privilege she didn't deserve. She laughed a little. As if he could have stopped her from opening the envelope and reading what was inside! Maybe he thought she wouldn't think of that. If he did, he was stupid even for a German.
Perverse pride, though, had made her keep the envelope sealed. General Chill was--formally--an ally, and had entrusted her with the message, no matter how reluctant he was about it. She would observe the proprieties in return.
The Kukuruznik buzzed along toward Riga. The countryside over which it skimmed was nothing like the steppe that surrounded Kiev, where Ludmila had grown up. Instead of endless empty kilometers, she flew above snow-dappled pine woods, part of the great forest that stretched east to Pskov and far, far beyond. Here and there, farms and villages appeared in the midst of the forest. At first, the human settlements in the middle of the wilderness almost startled Ludmila. As she flew on toward the Baltic, they grew ever more frequent.
Their look changed about halfway to Riga, when she crossed from Russia into Latvia. It wasn't just that the buildings changed, though plaster walls and tile roofs took the place of wood and sometimes thatch. Things became more orderly, too, and more conservative of space: all the land was used for some clearly defined purpose--cropland, town, woodlot, or whatever it might have been. Everything plainly was being exploited, not lying around waiting in case some use eventually developed for it.
"It might as well be Germany," Ludmila said aloud. The thought gave her pause. Latvia had only been reincorporated into the Soviet Union a little more than a year before the Hitlerites treacherously invaded the rodina. Reactionary elements there had welcomed the Nazis as liberators, and collaborated with them against Soviet forces. Reactionary elements in the Ukraine had done the same thing, but Ludmila tried not to think about that.
She wondered what sort of reception she'd get in Riga. Pskov had had Soviet partisans lurking in the nearby forests, and was now essentially a codominion between German and Soviet forces. She didn't think any significant Soviet forces operated anywhere near Latvia--farther south, maybe, but not by the Baltic.
"So," she said, "there soon will be a significant Soviet force in Latvia: me." The slipstream blew away the joke, and the humor from it.
She found the Baltic coast and followed it south toward Riga. The sea had frozen some kilometers out from the shore. The sight made her shiver. Even for a Russian, that was a lot of ice. Smoke rose from Riga harbor. The Lizards had been pummeling harbors lately. When Ludmila approached the docks, she started drawing rifle fire. Shaking her fists at the idiots who took her biplane for a Lizard aircraft, she swung away and looked around for someplace to land the Kukuruznik.
Not far from what looked like the main boulevard, she spied a park full of bare-branched trees. It had enough empty space--snow and dead, yellow-brown grass--and to spare for the biplane. No sooner had she slid to a jerky stop than German troops in field-gray and white came running up to her.
They saw the red stars on the Kukuruznik's wings and fuselage. "Who are you, you damned Russian, and what are you doing here?" one of them shouted.
A typically arrogant German, he assumed she spoke his language. As it happened, he was right this time. "Senior Lieutenant Ludmila Gorbunova, Red Air Force," Ludmila answered in German. "I have with me a despatch for General Brockdorff-Ahlefeldt from General Chill in Pskov. Will you be so kind as to take me to him? And will you camouflage this aircraft so the Lizards cannot spot it?"
The Hitlerite soldiers drew back in surprise to hear her voice. She was sitting in the cockpit, and her leather flying helmet and thick winter gear had effectively disguised her sex. The German who'd spoken before leered now and said, "We've heard of pilots who call themselves Stalin's Hawks. Are you one of Stalin's Sparrows?"
Now he used du rather than Sie. Ludmila wasn't sure whether he intended the familiar intimacy or insult. Either way, she didn't care for it. "Perhaps," she answered in a voice colder than the weather, "but only if you're one of Hitler's Jackasses."
She waited to see whether that would amuse or anger the German. She was in luck; not only did he laugh, he threw back his head and brayed like a donkey. "You have to be a jackass to end up in a godforsaken place like this," he said. "All right, Kamerad--no, Kameradin--Senior Lieutenant, I'll take you to headquarters. Why don't you just come along with me?"
Several Germans ended up escorting her, maybe as guards, maybe because they didn't want to leave her alone with the first one, maybe for the novelty of walking along with a woman while on duty. She did her best to ignore them; Riga interested her more.
Even after being battered by years of war, it didn't look like a god- forsaken place to her. The main street--Brivibas Street, it was called (her eyes and brain needed a little while to adjust to the Latin alphabet)--had more shops, and smarter-looking ones, than she'd seen in Kiev. The clothes civilians wore on the street were shabby and none too clean, but of better fabric and finer cut than would have been usual in Russia or the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic.
Some of the people recognized her gear. In spite of her German escort, they yelled at her in accented Russian and in Latvian. She knew the Russian was insulting, and the Latvian sounded less than complimentary. To rub in the point, one of the Germans said, "They love you here in Riga."
"There are plenty of places where they love Germans even more," she said, which made the Nazi shut up with a snap. Had it been a chess game, she would have won the exchange.
The Rathaus where the German commandant had his headquarters was near the corner of Brivibas and Kaleiyu Streets. To Ludmila, the German-style building looked old as time. Like the Krom in Pskov, it had no sentries on the outside to give away its location to the Lizards. Once inside the ornately carved doors, though, Ludmila found herself inspected by two new and hostile Germans in cleaner, fresher uniforms than she was used to seeing.
"What do you have here?" one of them asked her escort.
"Russian flier. She says she has a despatch from Pskov for the commanding general," the talky soldier answered. "I figured we'd bring her here and let you headquarters types sort things out."
"She?" The sentry looked Ludmila over in a different way. "By God, it is a woman, isn't it? Under all that junk she's wearing, I couldn't tell."
He plainly assumed she spoke only Russian. She did her best to look down her nose at him, which wasn't easy, since he was probably thirty centimeters the taller. In her best German, she said, "It will never matter to you one way or the other, I promise you that."
The sentry stared at her. Her escorts, who'd been chatting with her enough to see her more or less as a human being--and who, like any real fighting men, had no great use for headquarters troops--suppressed their snickers not quite well enough. That made the sentry look even less happy. In a voice full of winter, he said, "Come with me. I will take you to the commandant's adjutant."
The adjutant was a beefy, red-faced fellow with a captain's two pips on his shoulder straps. He said, "Give me this despatch, young lady. General- leutnant Graf Walter von Brockdorff-Ahlefeldt is a busy man. I shall convey to him your message as soon as it is convenient."
Maybe he thought the titles and double-barreled name would impress her. If so, he forgot he was dealing with a socialist. Ludmila stuck out her chin and looked stubborn. "Nein," she said. "I was told by General Chill to give the message to your commandant, not to anyone else. I am a soldier; I follow orders."
Red-Face turned redder. "One moment," he said, and got up from his desk. He went through a door behind it. When he came out again, he might have been chewing on a lemon. "The commandant will see you."
"Good." Ludmila headed for that door herself. Had the adjutant not hastily got out of her way, she would have walked right over him.
She'd expected an overbred aristocrat with pinched features, a haughty expression, and a monocle. Walter von Brockdorff-Ahlefeldt had pinched features, all right, but plainly for no other reason than that he was a sick man. His skin looked like yellow parchment drawn tight over bones. When he was younger and healthier, he'd probably been handsome. Now he was just someone carrying on as best he could despite illness.
He did get up and bow to her, which took her by surprise. His cadaverous smile said he'd noticed, too. Then he surprised her again, saying in Russian, "Welcome to Riga, Senior Lieutenant. So--what news do you bring me from Lieutenant General Chill?"
"Sir, I don't know." Ludmila took out the envelope and handed it to him. "Here is the message."
Brockdorff-Ahlefeldt started to open it, then paused and got up from his chair again. He hurriedly left the office by a side door. When he came back, his face was even paler than it had been. "I beg your pardon," he said, finishing the job of opening the envelope. "I seem to have come down with a touch of dysentery."
He had a lot more than a touch; by the look of him, he'd fall over dead one fine day before too long. Intellectually, Ludmila had known the Nazis clung to their posts with as much courage and dedication--or fanaticism, one--as anyone else. Seeing that truth demonstrated, though, sometimes left her wondering how decent men could follow such a system.
That made her think of Heinrich Jńger and, a moment later, start to blush. General Brockdorff-Ahlefeldt was studying General Chill's note. To her relief, he didn't notice her turning pink. He grunted a couple of times, softly, unhappily. At last, he looked up from the paper and said, "I am very sorry, Senior Lieutenant, but I cannot do as the German commandant of Pskov requests."
She hadn't imagined a German could put that so delicately. Even if he was a Hitlerite, he was kulturny. "What does General Chill request, sir?" she asked, then added a hasty amendment: "If it's not too secret for me to know."
"By no means," he answered--he spoke Russian like an aristocrat. "He wanted me to help resupply him with munitions--" He paused and coughed.
"So he would not have to depend on Soviet equipment, you mean," Ludmila said.
"Just so," Brockdorff-Ahlefeldt agreed. "You saw the smoke in the harbor, though?" He courteously waited for her nod before continuing, "That is still coming from the freighters the Lizards caught there, the freighters that were full of arms and ammunition of all sorts. We shall be short here because of that, and have none to spare for our neighbors."
"I'm sorry to hear that," Ludmila said, and found she was not altogether lying for the sake of politeness. She didn't want the Germans in Pskov strengthened in respect to Soviet forces there, but she didn't want them weakened in respect to the Lizards, either. Finding a balance that would let her be happy on both those counts would not be easy. She went on, "Do you have a written reply for me to take back to Lieutenant General Chill?"
"I shall draft one for you," Brockdorff-Ahlefeldt said. "But first--Beck!" He raised his voice. The adjutant came bounding into the room. "Fetch the senior lieutenant here something from the mess," Brockdorff-Ahlefeldt told him. "She has come a long way on a sleeveless errand, and she could no doubt do with something hot."
"Jawohl, Herr Generalleutnant!" Beck said. He turned to Ludmila. "If you would be so kind as to wait one moment, please, Senior Lieutenant Gorbunova." He dipped his head, almost as if he were a maitre d' in some fancy, decadent capitalist restaurant, then hurried away. If his commander accepted Ludmila, he accepted her, too.
When Captain Beck came back, he carried on a tray a large, steaming bowl. "Maizes zupe ar putukrejumu, a Latvian dish," he said. "It's corn soup with whipped cream."
"Thank you," Ludmila said, and dug in. The soup was hot and thick and filling, and didn't taste that alien. Russian-style cooking used a lot of cream, too, though sour as often as sweet.
While Ludmila ate, Beck went out to his own office, then came back a couple of minutes later to lay a sheet of paper on General Brockdorff- Ahlefeldt's desk. The German commander at Riga studied the message and glanced over at Ludmila, but kept silent until, with a sigh, she set down the bowl. Then he said, "I have a favor to ask of you, if you don't mind."
"That depends on what sort of favor it is," she answered cautiously.
Graf Walter von Brockdorff-Ahlefeldt's smile made him look like a skeleton that had just heard a good joke. "I assure you, Senior Lieutenant, I have no improper designs upon your undoubtedly fair body. This is a purely military matter, one where you can help us."
"I didn't think you had designs on me, sir," Ludmila said.
"No?" The German general smiled again. "How disappointing." While Ludmila was trying to figure out how to take that, Brockdorff-Ahlefeldt went on, "We are in contact with a number of partisan bands in Poland." He paused for a moment to let that sink in. "I suppose I should note, this is partisan warfare against the Lizards, not against the Reich. The bands have in them Germans, Poles, Jews--even a few Russians, I have heard. This particular one, down near Hrubieszˇw, has informed us they could particularly use some antipanzer mines. You could fly those mines to them faster than we could get them there any other way. What say you?"
"I don't know," Ludmila answered. "I am not under your command. Have you no aircraft of your own?"
"Aircraft, yes, a few, but none like that Flying Sewing Machine in which you arrived," Brockdorff-Ahlefeldt said. Ludmila had heard that German nickname for the U-2 before; it never failed to fill her with wry pride. The general went on, "My last Fieseler Storch liaison plane could have done the job, but it was hit a couple of weeks ago. You know what the Lizards do to larger, more conspicuous machines. Hrubieszˇw is about five hundred kilometers south and a little west of here. Can you do the job? I might add that the panzers you help disable will probably benefit Soviet forces as much as those of the Wehrmacht."
Since the Germans had driven organized Soviet forces--as opposed to partisans--deep into Russia, Ludmila had her doubts about that. Still, the situation had grown extremely fluid since the Lizards arrived, and a senior lieutenant in the Red Air Force did not know all there was to know about deployments, either. Ludmila said, "Will you be able to get word to Lieutenant General Chill without my flying back to give it to him?"
"I think we can manage that," Brockdorff-Ahlefeldt answered. "If it's all that stands in the way of your flying this mission, I'm sure we can manage it."
Ludmila considered. "You'll have to give me petrol to get there," she said at last. "As a matter of fact, the partisans will have to give me petrol to let me get back. Have they got any?"
"They should be able to lay their hands on some," the German general said. "After all, it hasn't been used much in Poland since the Lizards came. And, of course, when you return here, we will give you fuel for your return flight to Pskov."
She hadn't even asked about that yet. In spite of that forbidding name and those titles, Generalleutnant Graf Walter von Brockdorff-Ahlefeldt was indeed a gentleman of the old school. That helped Ludmila make up her mind to nod in agreement to him. Later, she would decide she should have picked better reasons for making up her mind.
Richard Peterson was a decent technician but, as far as Brigadier General Leslie Groves was concerned, a hopeless stick-in-the-mud. He sat in the hard chair in Groves' office in the Science Building of the University of Denver and said, "This containment scheme you have in mind, sir, it's going to be hard to maintain it and increase plutonium production at the same time."
Groves slammed a big, meaty fist down on the desk. He was a big, meaty man, with short-cropped, gingery hair, a thin mustache, and the blunt features of a mastiff. He had a mastiff's implacable aggressiveness, too. "So what are you telling me, Peterson?" he rumbled ominously. "Are you saying we're going to start leaking radioactives into the river so the Lizards can figure out where they are? You'd better not be saying that, because you know what'll happen if you are."
"Of course I know." Peterson's voice went high and shrill. "The Lizards will blow us to kingdom come."
"That's just exactly right," Groves said. "I'm damn lucky I wasn't in Washington, D.C., when they dropped their bomb there." He snorted. "All they got rid of in Washington was some Congresscritters--odds are, they helped the war effort. But if they land one on Denver, we can't make any more nuclear bombs of our own. And if we can't do that, we lose the war."
"I know that, too," Peterson answered. "But the reprocessing plant can only do so much. If you get more plutonium out of it, you put more byproducts into the filters--and if they make it through the filters, they go into the South Platte."
"We have to have more plutonium," Groves said flatly. "If that means putting in more filters or doing more scrubbing of the ones we have, then take care of it. That's what you're for. You tell me you can't do it, I'll find somebody who can, I promise you that. You've got top priority for getting materials, not just from Denver but from all over the country. Use it or find another job."
Behind his horn-rimmed glasses, Peterson looked like a puppy who'd got a kick in the ribs for no reason at all. "It's not the materials, General. We're desperately short of trained personnel. We--"
Groves glowered at him. "I told you, I don't want excuses. I want results. If you don't have enough trained men, train more. Or else use untrained men and break all your procedures down into baby steps any idiot can understand: if this happens when you do that, then go on and do this next thing. If something else happens, do that instead and try the procedure again. And if that or that happens, yell for your boss, who really knows what's going on. Takes a while to draft procedures like that, so you'd better get cracking on it."
"But--" Peterson began. Groves ignored him--ostentatiously ignored him, picking up the topmost sheet from his overflowing IN basket. The technician angrily got up and stomped out of the office. Groves had all he could do not to laugh. He'd seen furious stomps much better done. He made a mental note to keep an extra close watch on the plutonium reprocessing plant over the next few weeks. Either Peterson would get production up without releasing radioactive contamination into the river, or somebody else would get a crack at the job.
The sheet Groves had picked up was important in its own right, though, important even by the standards of the moment, where everything in any way connected with atomic weapons had top priority. He rubbed his chin. This one was routed through the Office of Strategic Services, which was something he didn't see every day.
"So the damn Russians want our help, do they?" he muttered. He didn't think much of the Russians, either their politics or their engineering ability. Still, they'd made the first human-built atomic bomb, even though they had used fissionables they'd stolen from the Lizards. That showed they had more on the ball than he'd given them credit for.
Now, though, they were having trouble turning out their own radio- actives, and they wanted somebody to get over there some kind of way and give them a hand. If it hadn't been for the Lizards, Groves would have reacted to that with all the enthusiasm of a man who'd had a rattlesnake stuck in his skivvies. But with the Lizards in the picture, you worried about them first and only later about the prospect of Uncle Joe with an atomic bomb, or rather a whole bunch of atomic bombs.
Groves leaned back in his swivel chair. It squeaked. He wished for a cigarette. While you're at it, why not wish for the moon? Instead of worrying about the moon, he said, "I wish Larssen were still with us. He'd be the perfect guy to ship off to Moscow."
Larssen, though, was dead. He'd never been the same after his wife took up with that Army fellow--Yeager, that was his name. Then, even after Larssen made it to Hanford, Washington, and back, nobody'd wanted to disrupt work at the Metallurgical Laboratory by relocating. That had been a hell of a trip; too bad it was wasted. When it came to coping with the travails of the open road, Larssen was top-notch.
What he couldn't handle were his own inner demons. Finally, they must have got the better of him, because he'd shot a couple of men and headed east, toward Lizard-held territory. If he'd sung a song for the aliens, as Grove had feared he might, nuclear fire would have blossomed above Denver. But the cavalry had hunted him down before he could go over to the enemy.
"Well, who does that leave?" Groves asked the office walls. Trouble was, the memorandum he'd got didn't tell him enough. He didn't know where the Reds were having trouble. Did they even have an atomic pile going? Was separating plutonium from an active pile their problem? Or were they trying to separate U-235 from U-238? The memo didn't say. Trying to figure out what to do was like trying to put together a jigsaw puzzle when you didn't have all the pieces and weren't sure which ones were missing.
Since they were Russians, he had to figure their problems were pretty basic. His own problem was pretty basic, too: could he spare anybody and ship him halfway around the world in the middle of war, with no guarantee he'd get there in one piece? And if he could, who did he hate enough to want to send him to Moscow, or wherever the Russians had their program?
He sighed. "Yeah, Larssen would have been perfect," he said. Nothing he could do about that, though. Nothing anybody could do about it, not till Judgment Day. Groves was not the sort to spend time--to waste time, as he would have thought of it--on something he couldn't do anything about. He realized he couldn't decide this one off the top of his head. He'd have to talk things over with the physicists.
He looked at the letter from the OSS again. If somebody went over to lend the Russians a hand, the U.S.A. would get paid back with gadgets taken from a Lizard base that had mutinied and surrendered to the Soviet Army.
"Have to make sure the Reds don't cheat and give us stuff that doesn't work or that we've already got," he told the walls. The one thing you could rely on about the Russians was that you couldn't rely on them.
Then he stopped and read the letter again. He'd missed something there by letting his worries about the Russians blind him to the other things that were going on.
"A Lizard base up and mutinied?" he said. He hadn't heard of anything like that happening anywhere else. The Lizards made for solid, disciplined troops, no matter how much they looked like chameleons with delusions of grandeur. He wondered what had driven them far enough over the edge to go against their own officers.
"Damn, I wish Yeager and those Lizard POWs were still here," he muttered. "I'd pump 'em dry if they were." Inciting Lizards to mutiny had nothing to do with his current assignment, but, when curiosity started itching at him, he felt as if he had to scratch or die.
Then, reluctantly, he decided it was just as well Yeager hadn't been around when Jens Larssen got back from Hanford. Larssen probably would have gone after him and Barbara both with that rifle he carried. That whole mess hadn't been anybody's fault, but Larssen hadn't been able to let go of it, either. One way or another, Groves was sure it had flipped him over the edge.
"Well, no point in worrying about it now," he said. Larssen was dead, Yeager and his wife were gone to Hot Springs, Arkansas, along with the Lizard POWs. Groves suspected Yeager was still doing useful things with the Lizards; he'd had a real flair for thinking along with them. Groves didn't know exactly what that said about Yeager's own mental processes--nothing good, odds were--but it was handy.
He dismissed Yeager from his thoughts as he had Larssen. If the Russians were willing to pay to get the knowledge they needed to build atomic bombs, they needed it badly. On the other hand, Lenin had said something about the capitalists' selling the Soviet Union the rope the Reds would use to hang them. If they got nuclear secrets, would they think about using them against the United States one fine day?
"Of course they will--they're Russians," Groves said. For that matter, had the shoe been on the other foot, the U.S.A. wouldn't have hesitated to use knowledge in its own best interests, no matter where that knowledge came from. That was how you played the game.
The other question was, did such worries really matter? It was short-term benefits versus long-term risks. If the Russians had to bail out of the war because they got beat without nuclear weapons, then worrying about what would happen down the line was foolish. You'd fret about what a Russia armed with atomic bombs could do to the United States after Russia had done everything it could do to the Lizards.
From all he'd learned--Yeager and the Lizard prisoners came back to mind--the Lizards excelled at long-term planning. They looked down their snouts at people because people, measured by the way they looked at things, had no foresight. From a merely human perspective, though, the Lizards were so busy looking at the whole forest that they sometimes didn't notice the tree next door was in the process of toppling over and landing on their heads.
"Sooner or later, we'll find out whether they're right or we are, or maybe that everybody's wrong," he said.
That wasn't the sort of question with which he was good at dealing. Tell him you needed this built within that length of time for the other amount of money and he'd either make it for you or tell you it couldn't be done--and why. Those were the kinds of questions engineers were supposed to handle. You want philosophy, he thought, you should have gone to a philosopher.
And yet, in the course of his engineering work for this project, he'd listened to a lot of what the physicists had to say. Learning how the bomb did what it did helped him figure out how to make it. But when Fermi and Szilard and the rest of them got to chewing the fat, the line between engineering and philosophy sometimes got very blurry. He'd always thought he had a good head for math, but quantum mechanics made that poor head spin.
Well, he didn't have to worry about it, not in any real sense of the word. What he did have to worry about was picking some luckless physicist and shipping him off to Russia. Of all the things he'd ever done in his nation's service, he couldn't think of one that roused less enthusiasm in him.
And, compared to the poor bastard who'd actually have to go, he was in great shape.