How To Become a Dragon
©2016, Markus Baur
This is a work of Fiction. It is based in part on the Alternate History World known as “The Domination,” written and copyrighted by S.M. Stirling in 1988. The author agrees to abide by the Stirling Fan Fiction site disclaimer. This work is copyrighted by Markus Bauer in 2016, except for those parts derived from “Marching through Georgiar“ and its sequels, which are copyrighted by S. M. Stirling and used here by permission. All characters in this fiction are, in fact, fictional, and any resemblance to persons living or dead is coincidental.
With thanks to my friends Andrew, Anne, Duane, Peter, Scott and many others for their helpful comments and encouragement.
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— Foreword —
My life has been divided in two parts… these notes are an autobiography of the second half. I will not write a dedicated and detailed memory of the first half of my life (if only to avoid giving the Krypteia even more ulcers), but the kind reader will be able to infer much from my comments and attitudes. That I studied history helped me understand as well.
I started this autobiography after my arrival in the second half of my life in the form of an diary and a collection of notes — the diary was “official;” it started as a logbook, after a strong hint by the Krypteia to me, but the notes were private. (It’s amazing what you can hide on a computer, if you are the only one who really understands the filing system.)
Of course this is not an exhaustive or complete history — or even authoritative. It is more or less a loose collection of scenes that stuck in my memory for various reasons — important or funny or sad.
Anyway, how did it all start?
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— Prologue —
The day before; Day –1
Until shortly before the end of the first half of my life, I was employed by a small company that worked in military electronics — mostly communications. I resigned for a number of reasons. I was bored; I had a better offer from another company in a different country (with a nicer climate to boot), and I could see bad changes in my old company looming ahead. It had been sold to a much larger combine and the new managers installed by the new owners were massively clueless.
So I decided to bail while the going was good. I accepted the rather nice severance package offered by the new managers in their drive to reduce the employee numbers; there were a good number of zeroes on the check!
The next day, I took all the vacation I had accumulated in the past years, returned my keys and left the company two months before the end of the contract. I am fairly sure that this was not the new management’s intention.
I used my vacation time to look for a new home near my new company and — having found one — moved. Most of my stuff I sent by freight, but some important things I loaded into my car and began a leisurely multi–day road trip.
It was very early on a pleasurable Saturday morning. The road I was traveling on had little traffic at that time. The Passat station wagon I was driving was fully loaded with boxes and stuff. I had no specific goal for that day, so I was just cruising along the winding road. Everything was nice and calm until…
…a loud trumpet fanfare was heard and a shining gate framed by a rainbow appeared ahead, leading onto a road paved with gold…
Well — that wasn’t what happened.
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— Day 0 —
There was a short, very bright flash — a feeling like I had triggered one of the common radar speed–trap cameras hidden alongside the streets in order to catch people violating the speed laws. Of course there was no road paved with gold bricks.
Instead of the trumpet fanfare, there was an almighty rattling as my car was suddenly bouncing on a gravel road at a speed only safe on tarmac. I managed to stop while barely staying on the gravel road, more by luck than by superior driving. Only then I could look around.
“What the fuck…!”
The whole area had changed, from a well–groomed alpine landscape with a hard–surfaced road to a much milder hilly countryside with a gravel road leading through obviously untended dry scrub; mostly shrubs, brown and red in color, with some long, dry grass around them barely covering the bare red earth.
In the rearview mirror, a hundred meters or so behind the car, I could see a dark gray area on the road. Reversing the car there, I found a piece of tarmac, two lanes wide and about fifty meters long. Left and right of this piece of road there were green alpine plants, clashing with the shrubs around them.
I was still sitting in the car, trying to get over my shakes, when I received my next shock. An animal stepped out of the shrubs — an impala antelope, usually found somewhere in Africa.
“One of us really took a wrong turn somewhere… and I’m pretty sure it wasn’t you!”
The impala ignored my comment, waggled its ears and started to munch on the beautiful, soft green juicy alpine grass that had no business to be here.
Just as I have no business to be here, wherever here might be, I thought to myself.
I took out my mobile phone — no net, what else? Shutting down the phone and switching back on without the PIN—code in order to grab any available net for calls to emergency numbers unfortunately gave the same result: no net.
Sigh — back to the drawing board. Ok — let’s find some natives and get help. But where?
The area, apart from the well—tended gravel road, looked pretty empty and uninhabited. It was quiet; the only sounds around were those of wildlife, and not too much of that… some birds peeping and fluttering around in the shrubbery. The weather was beautiful — nicely blue sky with only a few very small white puffballs — and a comfortable shirtsleeve temperature. In fact, it felt exactly like the holiday I spent with my parents in South Africa, wintertime in Kruger Park.
No houses or power lines visible, or contrails in the sky — actually no man–made sounds objects visible anywhere… odd.
People tend to be found at the end of a road. I still had fuel for more than 500 kilometers in my tank, so I decided to drive along the road and look for the people. Since both directions looked the same, I picked one at random. Ok, I was too lazy to turn the car around…
After about fifteen minutes or so, meeting various samples of African wild life on the road side, I saw something ahead which I thought first to be just some more animals. Quickly it became apparent that it was two horses and a dismounted rider; who was waving vigorously.
I stopped besides the waver; actually, there were three kids. Behind the horses was a boy, sprawled on the ground, roughly bandaged, and another boy trying his best to keep those bandages in place. All three were young, mid–teens, I’d say. They all wore the remains of practical khaki colored clothing. The injured boy was unconscious and I didn’t like the bright red stains seeping through the cloth. The youngsters had a number of pistols and rifles on them and their horse gear. The two conscious ones had a good collection of blood stain, but no obvious injuries; probably from applying that rough first aid.
My “Kann ich Ihnen helfen? … Can I help you?” came at the same time as his, “Stop, please, we’uns needaz helpin…”
Who are these people, and what kind of English — if that’s what it is — are they speaking?
I racked my brains, trying to translate through the heavy, unfamiliar accent.
“Thank all the Gods yaz here,” said the girl, holding the reins of the horses, who were dancing and rolling their eyes. “Gettin’ ready to ridez ovah to the nearest Landholdin’ foah help…”
If I can’t understand them, well, they probably have the same difficulties with my accent — Austrian German colored English.
Trying to talk slowly and very clearly, I got out of the car.
“No problem with helping you — but please speak slowly, as I have serious difficulties with your accent.”
I knelt beside the boy lying on the ground. He was very pale and shocky, barely reacted to my presence at all. His arm was badly mangled, despite a highly placed and tight tourniquet, seeping blood. I took a quick look and from the little I knew about the subject I could find nothing obviously wrong with the first aid except the missing ambulance helicopter. “What caused this?” I asked, puzzled by the style and form of the injury.
A flash of impatience crossed the other boy’s face. “Kaffernbüffel,” he said shortly. I was not much the wiser with this information. He continued and said something I could barely comprehend. “We’az needin’ tah hurry… he’z lookin’ raight bad…”
That was true and I reacted at once, getting up from the ground. I opened the rear hatch of my car and started to pull out bags and boxes, placing them on the verge of the road.
“Come on, help me!” I pointed to the luggage still on the rear seats — then I moved to the other side of the car, and began clearing the front seat and the other side of the rear bench.
The uninjured boy seemed to bristle for a moment, his posture visibly stiffening, his face showing a flash of anger or insult. The girl said something to him in a low voice that I did not catch. He started to help with putting the baggage on the wayside.
“Can you leave the horses here? I need one of you in the back, taking care of him, the other one to tell me where to go. Yes?”
The girl agreed immediately, taking care with her accent — she was much easier to understand than her male companion. She turned and began to strip the horses; the gear went into the same pile of my stuff. In the meantime, I’d also cleared out most of the stuff in the back of the station wagon and folded down one side of the rear bench to create a flat area. She turned the two nervous horses, speaking quietly to them. I could see they were lathered and nervous, rolling their eyes and jerking. Then she raised her hand and shouted at the same time, smacking one on the rump. They bolted. After that, with a set look on her face, she came to help us.
We spread my picnic blanket on the ground beside the injured boy. The girl took command of the transfer of his body onto the blanket, then we placed him in the car. I locked the safety belt over his breast and good arm and noticed that the youngsters looked a bit bewildered at this. I pointed the boy to the rear seat.
“Sit, put your safety belt on. You are in charge of watching him.”
He sat, but did not reach for the belt.
“Safety belt. You need to put it on,” I said. Still no reaction — had he never used a safety belt before?
“Safety belt. The buckle is on the wall over your shoulder. Pull it down and across your body and push it in here. The red button opens it again.” I demonstrated while I talked. I got into the car and helped the girl sitting beside me with her safety belt, and belted myself in.
“Which way? And how far?”
“Down ze road heyar, in dis diractshun… be ‘bout an hour, so—there, by our cahz…”
After a few minutes of rolling down the gravel road at a good clip, nearly fifty kilometers per hour, the boy suddenly said, “Can we’uns go any damn faster, Citizen?”
“Is he doing badly?”
“Yaz, damn it… we’uns needs to move fastuh. Naow.”
“Scheisse. Ok — here we go.” I could probably take it up to seventy or eighty kilometers per hour, but only with help from the girl. To her I said, “I need you to tell me about every curve or bend in advance, before we get there. Left or right and how sharp. And also about all other things that might be important like jumps or depressions…” Inside I just hoped she actually knew every bend and pot hole of the road. It was going to get very tense.
I shifted down and stepped on the gas. I still remember that drive; not too fondly. I even dream of it sometimes. We were as close to the limit as I dared to go, the car floating left and right on the gravel and sometimes drifting through the curves. And we managed a sedate hour’s drive in thirty–five minutes. Thank God for anti—lock braking and electronic stability augments; I quickly passed a hundred kilometers an hour and kept the car moving.
As we crested a chain of hills, we looked down into a wide valley that was clearly under cultivation. Fields and orchards with a few small lakes scattered between them,; it was a lot more green then the scrub behind us. We passed over a cattle grid through a stout, high fence topped with barbed wire.
“Next, dere’s a road crossin’ up aheadz… left turn. It’s sharp.” Her voice was tight with concern.
“Left turn coming up!” We turned into another road — still gravel, but wider and in very good condition.
“Naow, turnz raight, tru dat dere saafn laager, straight on up ‘head.”
We tore into a village, slowing down, but still close to a hundred kilometers per hour, warning blinker and horn going, taking out one unwary chicken in a sudden storm of feathers, passing a rider on a horse standing in a crossing path. Seen from the corner of my eye, both looked shocked as we passed.
“Up on deh hill, dere, red house on deh top.”
We stopped in front of a house with an overhanging reed roof and a large porch painted terra cotta red. The girl tore at the safety belt, unsuccessfully. I reached down and pressed the red button for her. She moved so fast into that house, it almost looked like she teleported there, calling urgently.
Soon, with some help from people in the house we had the injured boy unloaded and transported inside. Having done what I could, I left them to the work they had. The house was obviously a doctor’s residence and practice. I returned to my car and slowly — so that I could catch my breath and do something with my hands besides trembling — started to put the car back into order: pulling up the rear bench again, and closing doors.
“I never, ever want to have to do something like that again!”
I took my bottle of water out of the car door and took a long sip. A horse with a female rider was coming up the road from the village, saafn laager, was what the girl had called it.
Odd accent, odd words. Some faintly familiar; yet, it’s like nothing I’ve ever heard.
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— Day 0 — 10.AUG.1935
“Wharz dat madman drivin’ the cahr?”
The lady was mid—sized, high up on a huge horse, in her mid–forties or so. Well–muscled, as far as I could see under her practical outdoor clothes. Safari style, like the kids, up to and including a wide brimmed hat hanging on the saddle horn, and was that hatband a stripe of leopard fur?
She had brown hair somehow bound behind her head in a no–nonsense style and a well–tanned face with shrewd eyes. Around her waist was a well–used looking belt with a holstered gun, balanced by a not too small knife on the other side.
What was it with these people and weapons? Those kids were also lugging around a small arsenal.
She sounded… well, slightly annoyed would have been an understatement.
At that point I was also slightly annoyed — and still a bit agitated from the drive. I turned towards her, looked her in the eyes and used my best imitation BBC accent.
“Ma’am, I believe you are looking for me.”
I could see her hesitating for a moment, narrowing her eyes, taking in the whole picture: me, answering her with a strange accent, blood stains on my shirt, standing with crossed arms besides a very strange looking car. I used her pause to get another few words in. “I usually do not drive so just for the fun of it. The reason is the injured child in there.” I pointed to the red house.
“Hmmph. Let’s discuss this laytah, Citizen.”
She got off her horse, tying the reins to one of the porch pillars, and went into the house.
The only place with shade nearby was that selfsame porch so I wandered over to it. It’s no use standing around in the sun like you’ve just missed your bus, and there was a nice wooden bench there. This was my first chance to look over the surroundings and the village.
The village looked planned, not grown. It was missing the irregularities that a place with a long history will accumulate — all the houses were on a rectangular grid of paths, with a single straight road going through it. Most of the houses were of the same size and type, even mostly painted the same color. There were large gardens behind every house; everything was clean and orderly and in good repair. Most of the houses had a little hut away from the main structure in every garden; perhaps the privy.
The uniformity, like the streets of old style factory row cottages you find in some mining towns in England, struck me. Company town, but with an African flavor. Only a few of the houses were larger or of a different design or color — like the one I was sitting in front of.
There were no cars or TV antennas or electric power lines in sight. The most modern thing I could see around were a few bicycles leaning on front porches. The village did not look impoverished, but not affluent either. It was old fashioned, and very well kept, not like some villages and slums I remembered.
There were several larger, agricultural looking buildings; barns and stables and such stuff, on the outskirts of the village. Everything looked quiet and peaceful, with a light cooling breeze blowing through my hair. It had the atmosphere of a long, lazy summer vacation day and helped me to calm down from my shaky nerves after that drive. I felt exhausted, so I just sat there under porch roof, looking out at the bright blue sky, looking around.
There was very little traffic, human or animal. Two dark skinned women walked by the red house, both with farming tools and buckets in their hands. Apart from what looked like a sketched bow towards me, or the house, both very obviously did not look at me.
I heard voices inside the house, becoming louder. The door to the porch opened. Out came the uninjured boy, the girl, the horse lady and a smallish man talking to her — he sounded nervous. I found it funny that his accent was much closer to British English — halfway between an Oxford and the local accent.
“Mistis, Ah’ll do what Ah can with what Ah have here… but he does have a rayruh blood type and we’uns have no one heeyah on the Landholdin’ who can donate bee–neg.”
She was definitely not happy about this news. I couldn’t see her face, but the man was literally cringing.
And was he using “Mistress” to address her?
I felt a sudden chill.
Horse Lady turned and spoke to the boy. “Conrad, use this here horse and ride to the communications room. Call for an ambulance from the hospital and tell them to pack out lots of stored blood for that blood type for Frederic. Now!”
Over time, their accents were becoming easier to interpret, or I was just so wired from everything that’d gone on in the last hour… I rubbed my head.
I’ve still never heard any English like this, ever. Anywhere.
“Yaz, Ma! Blood type B negative, and as quick as they’uns can get here…” The boy lithely vaulted onto the horse as his mother untied the reins. Hooves beat into the pathway by the house and he was gone.
“Sigrid, you know what to do, raight?”
The girl nodded unhappily. “I’ll radio the Vashons. They’ll get here as fast as possible, tonight or tomorrow early.” She left, jogging fast and with purpose.
I cleared my throat. “Ahrumph. Excuse me, but I could not help overhearing. Did I understand correctly that you need blood type B negative and you don’t have enough in stock?”
“Yaz.” Again with those narrowed eyes.
I decided to try to do something about that look by smiling. “Then you are in luck. I happen to have a few liters with me.”
“What?!” Yes — that suspicious look turned into a confused one for a moment. It took her a second or two to get my meaning. Quite a bonus.
“Your blood is ..?”
I just smiled and nodded affirmatively.
“That would be… very damn kind of you, Citizen…” She paused for a moment. Then she took a more formal stance, and held out her hand. “Freydis Karolius, Landholder of Praetoriuskop Plantation, in the Reserves, currently.”
I tried to imitate the style of her introduction. “Kurt Gersen, software and electronics designer, and very, very much a foreigner around here.”
There was a brief fumble with our hands; these people did not go for a handshake, but seemed to prefer a clasping of the wrists.
“This should properly be much more formal; I must apologize for the circumstances. Our house is your house as long as you care to stay.” She looked a tiny bit embarrassed.
“Ms. Karolius — first, thank you. And, please, I do understand and I am not be offended in the least bit if we delay the formalities until a better moment. I think we all have more pressing duties right now.” I pointed at the doctor, still standing behind her on the porch.
“Right. Aslan,” she said, over her shoulder. The cringing man nodded at her, wringing his hands with worry.
“The Citizen has offered to donate some blood for Citizen Vashon. Take good care of him.”
“Yaz, Mistis. Of course!” He led the way, holding the door open for me.
The medical office was painfully clean, but very old fashioned, like a museum display or a historical movie. One examination table with an electric operating light, enameled machinery and instruments, lots of brass fittings; it was all very principe de deuxième siècle. There even was something that looked a lot like an x–ray machine with a large fluorescent screen; the kind that works directly, without taking pictures on a film.
The typical medical smells were in the air — soap, alcohol and disinfectant — overlaid by a whiff of flowers and garden coming in through an open window at the side of the room and some kind of floor wax for the simple hardwood floor.
I was soon lying on a gurney and my shirt removed. My arm was being scrubbed by the nurse. The gurney’s legs expanded up and down and after some work I was positioned fifty centimeters above the limp boy, who was thickly bandaged, pale and unconscious. Aslan made me more comfortable with a heavy blanket. Quickly a large needle punctured my vein in the crook of my elbow and some complicated tubing connected to what looked like a pump, was strung up using several poles and stands before being connected to the boy, who’d been named Frederic Vashon. He really did look more like waxwork than a living human at that point. On the other side he was receiving some kind of serum solution. All that would do was replace volume in his circulatory system. Important, but it wasn’t going to help without red blood cells, as well.
The doctor and his nurse (his wife?) swarmed around me, taking my blood pressure, offering me something to drink out of a glass with a bent straw, checking the boy. Clearly they wanted the blood to flow very slowly between us. I knew nothing about blood transfusions. Their anxiety told me that it wasn’t the easy and benign procedure I though of it as being. They checked the boy periodically, and kept offering me sips of water and juice.
“Massah, Sir, please keep pumping slowly with your hand until we say ‘Wait.’ And please tell us the moment you feel dizzy or nauseous. Spots before your eyes! Those we must know about!” He handed me some kind of soft rubber ball.
I nodded and smiled, trying to act reassuring towards the nervous doctor. This was the first time in this whole crazy day that I had a chance to think about what had happened to me. I tried to figure what or where I had landed. The way I arrived here! I could have been killed by that sudden transition from hardtop to gravel road. I thought about that large circle of asphalt road and alpine plants back where I had “landed.”
The area and the animals looked like South Africa. But there were no power lines in sight, no cars, no aircraft, no contrails. Most especially, no teeming masses of people and no shanty towns. Huge plantations right beside huge tracts of wilderness. The people; there were some people walking around with guns, others being nervous and obsequious when talking to them, addressing them as mistress or master.
Saafn — I know that word from somewhere.
The language of the people I had met, the way of introducing oneself. The pieces of the mosaic were falling into their places and I did not like the picture they made one bit. Then it hit me. Oh, shit! I could feel the blood drain from my face.
My sudden pallor must have worried the doctor. He leaned over to take my blood pressure again. As he came closer to the gurney where I was laying, I noticed his sad eyes bracketed by worry lines in a Mediterranean face. He obviously had shaved in the morning but dark stubble was showing. I felt like I had eaten something that disagreed with me — an uneasy fluttering deep in my stomach.
“Sir — Massah — do you want to stop? Do you feel dizzy or unwell?”
“No, no problem! I just had an ugly thought. How much have you transferred to the boy so far?”
He looked at his wristwatch. “About half a liter by now.”
“And does he need more?”
“Yaz, Sir…” With a sudden flash of hidden humor he said, “More than you can give, Massah, but you will give enough that he will live until the stocks arrive from the hospital at Nova Karnak.”
“Then let us keep doing this a little longer; give him the best chance of survival. By the way, where exactly are we here? I seem to have lost my way at some point on this trip.”
“This is Praetoriuskop Plantation, about a hundred—fifty kilometers from Nova Karnak.”
“And Nova Karnak is?”
“In the Northmark district, about half a day’s trip from Archona, Sir.”
I closed my eyes for a second and took a deep breath, getting another nervous inquiry from the doctor for my pains. “No, Doctor, no. I’m fine… really.”
Inside, I was thinking.
No, no, no, this can’t be — Archona doesn’t exist! Or it exists only in the fantasy of a writer of science fiction books. I’ve read about Archona, it’s not in a place I would ever want to go, not even for a short visit.
But Archona neatly dovetails with the other little facts I have seen and heard so far.
I am so fucked.
And I better be very careful with what I do and say. Or I will be really, literally and lethally fucked.
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Sometime later the doctor removed the needle and placed a nice pressure bandage on my arm. Sigrid walked in without knocking. “Oh good, you’re already finished, Citizen? Ma asked me to show you the way to the house.”
“That would be very kind of you. Shall we use my car or should I leave it here? I do promise not to speed this time.”
She answered my grin with one of her’s. “We should use the car then.”
I was just fishing in my pocket for the car keys when I suddenly felt very dizzy. Holding onto the porch rail I just managed to say, “Should not have insisted on giving more blood.”
My vision faded.
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— Day 0 — 10.AUG.1935
Waking up in a strange bed in a strange room always creates a little bit of disorientation, especially so if you do not remember how you got into said room and bed. I woke up in a large bed, lying as usual on my side. I was looking at a largish room, kept reasonably dark from the direct sun mostly by closed drapes. The quality of the light did not feel like morning, more like afternoon.
I was dizzy and tired and my arm hurt. A quick look showed me where the elbow was covered by a neat bandage. There were distant sounds from the outside; a breeze rustling some leaves, wind and some bird calls. It was quiet, that deep silence that comes with thick solid walls and deep carpets, and isolation.
I had known that I was not at home in my bed before opening my eyes. If you travel enough you learn to recognize that even before fully waking up. It’s probably the smells that are subtly different from home. Here it was something like cedar wood in the air, overlain a little bit with some kind of wood resin smell.
There was a sofa, a table and some comfortable looking chairs by a window that stretched over almost the entire length of the far wall. The room was not filled to the brim with furniture. There was lots of empty space to move around in. What furniture there was all had a distinct oriental flavor; tropical wood and brass, low chairs and tables with lots of complex ornamental carvings and mother of pearl inlay work. A few carpets covered the parquet floor, deepening the oriental impression.
There was a small sound behind me. Turning over I saw a door opposite the window. Beside the door a young girl, kneeling on a thick pad, was bowing deeply with her hands over her eyes, her head touching the floor.
“A good day to you, Sir!”
Just what am I supposed to do with her?
She was damn pretty — at a guess about seventeen or eighteen years old, a full figured nubile girl; a Mediterranean beauty with a classical face. She wore a white blouse, a dark skirt with sandals, and had black braided hair reaching the small of her back.
Whatever I do, better be careful; she probably will be reporting back to whoever sent her.
“I am called Tugce, Sir. Mistis Freydis sent me to take care of you.”
“That is very kind of her. Ahh. First things first. I urgently need to visit a toilet. Which way?”
Sitting up in the bed I found that — oops — I was nude under the silken sheets. Silken? I had always slept nude, but I did not expect to be nude in unfamiliar company. She gracefully flowed from keeling to standing, picked up a bath robe and helped me into it. One problem solved.
“This way, Sir.”
Still, the accent is so odd, so strong.
“Can you get me fruit juice, orange, apple, mango, whatever. I’m not particular and some water. And a few slices of unbuttered toast?”
She nodded and left me to the bathroom. It was actually a bathing suite, large and luxurious, late Roman opulence being met by modern technology.
And peace and quiet with no servants underfoot.
Unfortunately I could not stay in there forever. It would have been rude to my hosts to lock myself into the bathroom because I did not know how to handle their servants.
I was sitting at the table when Tugce came back with a serving tray in her hands, holding the cure for my raging thirst, (must be the blood loss). After she had put the things on the table and poured the mango juice, she knelt down on another of those pads, close by the table. I asked her where my clothes had gone.
“Sir — all your luggage was collected from the road and we have put the clothes into the closet. I have sent a few of the things to be washed and pressed. I hope this meets your approval.” She looked a little apprehensive, eyes widening.
“Very good, thank you.”
“Your other bags have not been unpacked, but are also in the closet. When you are feeling well enough, Mistis would request your presence downstairs.”
“Do you think it would disturb your mistress’s plans if I take a quick shower first?”
“Sir, I am sure that this will not create any problem at all.”
I took a sip of the mango juice and some of the toast to calm my stomach, then something occurred to me.
“Tugce, what date do we have today?”
“August 8th, 1936, Sir.”
“Ah, thank you.” I suddenly needed some more toast for my stomach. Some more pieces for my mosaic, fitting well into the total picture.
But did they make my picture brighter or darker? There are many things to think through and very little time to do so.
At least this is not the Final Society, or I would have already danced attendance to two young drakensis hours ago. And it is before the earliest books in the series, so I have at least a little idea of what is going to happen.
These people — the Draka — are scary. I must not let them see my fear or I will end up a slave.
And I better keep the knowledge about those books to myself. If any of the parties in those books, the bad or the not so bad, learned of my pre—knowledge they would squeeze me out like a ripe lemon and then vanish me away for the political advantage. And this knowledge gives me at least a small card up my sleeve.
So mum’s the word. I should wipe off a few selected files as soon as I can get my computers back up and running.
I took a quick shower and dressed with the help of Tugce. It was difficult for me; the last time I had help dressing myself was sometime before my first day of school. On the other hand, my arm hurt! And so I was glad of the help.
Before I left I pocketed two little items out of my bags in the closet.
❀ ❁ ❀
Tugce led me through a huge house. It was full of tasteful decorations and furniture, all obviously valuable in an understated way, with a few odd color selections and lots of floral decorations, almost, but not quite art deco or Jugendstil. Old money, yes. We walked down a wide flight of steps, into an entrance hall that would have done well in many châteaus.
The whole family was there: Sigrid and Conrad, their mother Freydis, and a man and a woman I had not met before. The woman was about my age, late twenties. Like everyone I had met so far, she looked pretty athletic. The man was about Freydis’ age, large and almost as wide as he was tall, no fat at all, with a thick neck, blond, stubbly hair and blue eyes.
Also present was a servant, elderly and distinguished looking, white shirt, dark trousers, with a long, gray streaked braid, carrying a large tray with a wine carafe and six glass goblets. The huge front doors to the entrance hall had been left open. They were made of some kind of unfamiliar wood, very thick, with huge metal studs. On the outside of the doors they had turned green with age. The inside studs were brightly polished brass. There were murals on the two side walls. I only had enough time to glance at one; it showed several people on horses before a background that looked a lot like what I had been driving through earlier today. It was littered with the dead and dying. One of the horsemen was dismounted and putting his boot on the neck of a black warrior kneeling on the ground in front of him.
Introductions were made, in the style as practiced before on the doctor’s porch. This time I didn’t fumble the wrist clasp. The man was Gerrit Karolius, Freydis’s husband and the woman a cousin of theirs, Alexandra Collingswood, here on vacation.
After the introductions, I was again welcomed to the house, this time with a goblet of a very nice, dry red wine. Then we moved to another room, off the entrance hall. As I passed by Sigrid and Conrad, I stopped for a moment and addressed them. “It is possible that I might have given the impression of being abrupt or even rude this morning. If that was the case, I sincerely apologize for that. It was by no means intentional. It was purely a result of the situation and my unfamiliarity with your rules of conduct.”
Conrad answered, “Think nothing of it, Mr. Gersen; there were a few mutual misunderstandings. No bad feelings at all.”
“Thank you. I would ask a favor of both of you. In my ignorance, I am almost sure to stumble into another faux pas at some point; when that happens, please, just tell me.”
Sigrid smiled impishly. “Gladly, Mr. Gersen.” She extended her hand to give me another wrist clasp.
I raised an eyebrow and whispered, “Like just now?” She nodded. Whereupon I quickly offered my hand to Conrad, too.
A minute look of approval flashed over her mother’s face.
In Victorian times the room I was ushered into might have been called the drawing room. I would have called it an opulent den. It was large, lots of artwork, dead animals and old weapons on the walls. The fireplace was framed by two enormous elephant tusks and comfortable chairs and sofas clustered around low tables.
The older servant set aside the wine and goblets in the entrance hall and knelt on a pad between Freydis and Gerrit. Tugce positioned herself somewhere to my right; the kids and Alexandra also rated one servant each at their sides.
Not servants — if this is the Domination of the Draka I read about in those stories they are serfs. Slaves by any other name. And it put Tugce in a difficult position. She must attend someone who is unsure around her and does not know the standard operating procedures and traditions, while being directly under the eye of her owners. Tread carefully.
Other servants circulated and offered drinks and some finger foods — some of them had long hair, some were sporting a buzz cut. I decided not to ask directly why the difference in haircuts. Then the interrogation started in earnest. It seemed that Freydis had appointed herself as friendly grand inquisitor with the others played supporting roles. Unfortunately for their plans, I derailed the inquisition pretty damn quick.
“So, where do you come from, Mr. Gersen? Or should it be some other form of address?”
“Whatever you feel more comfortable with. I do not have any particular preference in this regard. I am from Austria, the town of Innsbruck, which is more or less in the middle of the Alps.”
“That must be an interesting and beautiful country with all those mountains. Our countryside here must look a little bland to you with only those hills. Our large mountains are a bit away from here.”
“Oh your country, the little I have seen so far, is far from bland and more than a little surprising. But I would like to ask a little question.”
Here we go — let’s not screw this up, or you will end up in the serf quarters at best. Damn! I am afraid, but I can’t let them see that I am, or they’ll be all over me in an instant.
“Today’s date is August 8th, 1936, right?”
Out of the corner of my eye I could see Tugce shift slightly. And there was a little consternation amongst the listeners over my sudden incomprehensible change of subject.
“Yes, that’s today’s date — why are you asking, Citizen?”
“I was afraid you would be saying that.”
“And you are not running some kind of very complex joke or hoax on me?” I put my goblet back on the table, very carefully. I tried to keep my hands from trembling.
“Not at all.” One could almost see the frost forming on the exposed surfaces in the room.
“Then I have a very, very serious problem. You see, the date on the day I left my home was the 12th of May, 2014. That’s two thousand and fourteen. And I have not the slightest idea how I got here into this time, nor where I actually am.”
Another pause. Then everyone, except the serfs, were talking at the same time.
“That’s not possible!”
“I do not understand.”
“What do you mean?”
“That’s quite preposterous, Mr. Gersen!” I could hear the Mister being stressed strongly by Freydis, and the temperature in the room kept falling. She obviously did not like being the perceived target of a joke, even if it was not a joke at all, at least by me.
Gerrit put his hand on her arm and said in his deep voice, “Let the man explain himself, please, dear. So you claim to come from the future?” He paused for a short moment. “Seventy seven years in the future? How?”
“Thank you. Yes. Almost seventy eight years is what I figured. As for the how, I have not the slightest idea.”
I kept looking both landholders straight into their eyes, trying to ignore the angry looks of the others in the room, while the serfs were trying hard to be invisible. Nodding to Freydis, who obviously was the alpha wolf of this particular pack, I said, “I do know this is a very extraordinary claim, and as they say, extraordinary claims demand extraordinary proof.” I reached into my pocket and handed over one of the two items I had brought from my room. The second item I put on the table in front of me.
“This is what we use instead of slide rules.”
“What is this? Texas Instruments?” She stressed the Texas with a distrusting tone in her voice.
“That’s just the name of the company. I believe these things are built somewhere in China; says so on the back. As for what it is, it can do everything your slide rule can do, and a lot more — all while being both faster and more accurate.”
Let’s not go into too much detail here on a Yankee or American company, at least not right now. The situation is dangerous enough, no need to muddle the waters even more.
Some minutes passed as I explained and they explored. Their exclamations about the pocket calculator were informative.
Gerrit leaned back and asked in a bemused voice, “So, no more slide rules?”
“The last one I saw was in an antiques shop, going for a larger price than it originally cost — just like about everything else in that shop.”
“Funny, I seem to remember such shops in Archona too.”
Freydis choose this moment to re—enter the discussion. At least she was no longer stressing the mister and the hoarfrost had vanished.
“This is a fascinating gadget, Mr. Gersen. What other extraordinary proof can you offer us?”
“In terms of gadgets? I was moving my household and my car is loaded with stuff that is even more advanced than this; the contents of my work room. A careful analysis of my things should offer lots and lots of corroboration. But I can also offer something quite different as proof. Whatever brought me and my car here, also brought a good piece of the hardtop road I was traveling on. It’s sitting right atop your gravel road a few kilometers beyond the place I picked up your children. We could go there and take a look.”
“For a piece of road?”
“Well, it’s at least something like fifty meters long and about as wide —— so it’s the road plus a bit of the surrounding landscape. The antelopes found the green grass fascinating.”
She glanced aside at her husband, who just nodded.
“This we must see — there’s enough time before sundown.” She spoke to the serf kneeling beside her. “Dinner will be later today; have the large car made ready.”
“So, while we wait for the car, what else have you brought us, Mr. Gersen?” asked Gerrit, pointing at the item still lying on the table in front of me.
“This? It’s a music player system that I often wear when I am running or working out — I have loaded a few hundred musical pieces into it. But I must warn you, my friends think I have a strange taste in music.” I turned it on, showed how the ear buds are used and handed it over. “If you press here, you get the next piece of music, the display shows the title.”
“How?” asked Alexandra Collingswood, who had been very quiet during the explanations and demonstrations.
“How does that thing work? The explanation might take a little while and it would be helpful to have something to write and draw upon. In fact! Tugce, can you get me a writing pad and something to write with?”
“No. I meant how did you get here?”
“I am sorry, Citizen Collingswood, I misunderstood you.” I spread my hands. “I really do not have the slightest idea. I am not a physicist, just an interested engineer, but to the best of my knowledge time travel is considered an impossibility by the physicists back home. If you would catch yourself a hundred physicists and ask them, at least 99 would answer NO very loudly. And I really, really would love to have an idea how this time travel works, because that would mean that I also might have a small chance to return back home.”
She was clearly not enthused by my answer. Well, to tell the truth, I wasn’t either. Tough luck.
Sigrid interrupted with another question. “What kind of music is this? The piece is fun, but really strange.”
“May I see the display? Ahh. It’s a piece by Ennio Morricone. He was… will be… has will been… a really well known Italian composer back in the nineteen seventies and eighties.”
Pause — and a rueful grin. “I think language is going to need a few more tenses to deal with time travel. Anyhow, there are a lot of his pieces on that. I like his style: it’s also a highly distinctive one.”
The kids seem to have found something worth their attention judging by the way they share the pod between them. Now let’s see what we do for the next trick — juggling armed conversational hand grenades perhaps?
Alexandra pitched the next hand grenade. “And what would that hundredth physicist say?”
“He would be the outlier, his answer would be something like maybe, but only if this or that obscure hypothesis can be proven to be right. Whereupon the other ninety–nine would shake their heads disapprovingly upon this unorthodox opinion.” That seemed to hit some chord with her; a brief smile crossed her face.
The car was announced, the kids scurried away to get something that turned out to be several large rifles, some of them with scopes mounted on them. Tugce reappeared with a writing pad in a nice leather folder, with some pencils stuck into it; we all trooped through the entrance hall to a car standing on the gravel in front of the house.
The car was larger than many vans, of old fashioned styling with a huge engine bonnet and large round lights on the front, a little steam or white smoke curling out from the underside. The car made a whirring sound, a lot like what the ventilators on a server would sound like. Tugce had laid out trousers and a polo shirt from my clothes and I found that this fit the temperature outside perfectly. I still stuck out among the group as they all wore what I would have called slightly old fashioned high end safari dress, complete with ammo bulging pockets, knives on hips and a few wide brimmed hats. Their boots crunched on the gravel as we approached the car.
A serf, this one with short hair, stood beside the opened rear door, bowed with his hands before his face. After we had all embarked into the large and nicely appointed passenger compartment, he closed the door and took his seat behind the huge steering wheel in a separate compartment in the front. We went off almost silently, with only a quiet hissing and chuffing sound.
❀ ❁ ❀
“I would like to ask another strange sounding question, just where exactly are we?” I waved my hand at the scenery outside the car. “I mean, judging by plants and animals, it’s clear that we are somewhere in southern Africa. In fact it looks a lot like Kruger Park, but when I try to remember the maps I simply cannot place any large town named Archona.”
“You don’t remember where Archona is? And what is Kruger Park?” Gerrit asked back with an unbelieving expression.
“I don’t remember any Archona at all on the maps I have seen, and you implied that it was a large town, so it should have been there. Kruger Park is the largest national park in the Republic of South Africa — I visited it with my parents some years ago.”
“Archona’s the capital of the Domination of the Draka,” injected Sigrid in a tone that clearly said that every bumpkin should better know that or else…
At the same time Gerrit asked, “What’s a national park and what’s the Republic of South Africa?”
Perfect — now let us not give the explanation for multiple timelines too quickly … it has to look natural. Better yet if they would offer it.
I leant back into the seat and looked from one face to the other. The kids were looking slightly confused and trying to hide it. Alexandra and Freydis had thoughtful expressions and Gerrit was curious. I took the drawing pad, drew a very rough map of Africa and penciled in what I remembered of the borders of South Africa and its neighboring states.
“South Africa with Cape Town, Johannesburg about here, the capital Pretoria should be close by that, Kruger Park about here.”
Freydis reached for the pad and answered. “Well, Capetown is in the right place. Archona’s about where you drew in Johannesburg and Pretoria, which I never have heard of. And we’d be somewhere around here.”
And then she slid her hand all over Africa. “And the Domination’s all of that.”
“All of Africa? But there never was a single state covering all of Africa…”
“But there is one,” answered Freydis with a little predatory smile.
“Wait, wait…” interrupted Alexandra. “Let me see if we can get this to work. You said there never has been a Domination of the Draka in your maps or history books?”
“And there’s no chance that you might be a victim of disinformation?”
“You mean propaganda, deleting an entire nation from the books?”
“No. Even if this were something we did on a regular basis, there would be too many different sources with too much history behind them… I do not see how they could have deleted something as large as the Domination from the books.”
“Then something must have happened in your version of history that made the existence of the Domination impossible and created this…” pointing at my map of Africa.
Yes! Good girl! So now let’s make it official that this idea came from you.
“You mean an alternate time line? Where someone dies of an illness instead of recovering or where some little battle went the other way because a bullet hit its target instead of missing? And that changes all the history coming from that?”
“So far that’s just been a pass–time of overly creative historians and writers…”
“And it sounds like real nonsense too!” added Gerrit.
Alexandra waved her hand at his interruption. “Actually, Uncle, there are some parts of quantum physics that might be interpreted in just such a way to make multiple universes possible.”
I added, “You mean like Schrödinger’s cat, where the wave function of the cat collapses into one of the two states: dead or alive, the moment you open the box to observe? But actually it collapses into both states, but in two different universes that just split off each other?”
“Kubbelman’s rat and the many worlds idea, yes, exactly.”
“Rat, cat, waves… just what are you two talking about?” asked Freydis.
Alexandra proceeded to give a good explanation of the Schrödinger’s cat thought experiment and the theory behind it — both its orthodox interpretation and the unorthodox many universes interpretation. But the Draka wisely used a rat in the box. I always have thought that there are things you should not try to do to a cat.
Gerrit asked me, “And you understand what she was just talking about?”
“I do not fully understand all the fine points of the theory and mathematics behind it, but to my engineer’s ears, this sounded just like the things I learned in school, yes.”
“And what use would an engineer have for such abstruse theories?”
“Well, most of the gadgets I showed to you would not work without quantum physics… and I am obviously from a different universe, so there just might be some sufficient truth in the theory.”
Conversation broke down for minute or so as everyone present tried to digest the most recent revelation. Then Alexandra said, “Mr. Gersen, we really will have to discuss the technological advances your home has made.”
But Gerrit’s voice rumbled again. “Not now. Mr. Gersen, I must make a request.”
Uh, oh, I do not like the tone of his voice and his expression.
“I must ask you to discuss your origin from another universe and especially the non–existence of the Domination in that universe only when there are no saafn present, only citizens, just like now.”
“So you don’t want me to discuss this in front of the servants?”
“Not servants, Mr. Gersen, at least not as you seem to understand the word. You might not yet have realized that saafn are serfs, or, if you do not want to finely split judicial hairs: slaves.”
Damn it — there is a difference between knowing something like this intellectually, even seeing it from a distance and being told in cold blood by someone who actually owns slaves. Thank god the revelation did not punch me enough in the gut to disturbed my facial expression.
Gerrit’s a smart guy to have guessed that I was from a non–slave owning society from the little clues I’ve given them so far. Now let’s concentrate on continuing to hint that I am very much a non—slave or I might end up in the cage.
“Yes, slaves; property. We own them just like my wife and I own this car here, up to and including the power of life and death over them.”
How can a cold bastard like that be likable as a large teddy bear most of the time? Not a teddy bear, a huge brown bear, only looking and acting cuddly! Beware the claws and teeth.
I took a deep breath, turned my head and looked forward through the partitioning glass plate into the driver’s compartment.
Freydis added in a calm voice, “Yes. That one too, just like all the others. If you look carefully, you will see its number tattooed on the side of its neck.” She used the impersonal pronoun with intent, to drive home the point. And yes — there was a small, yellow tattoo on the driver’s neck. Looking carefully I could see a combination of numbers and letters.
Conversation stopped after that. One of the kids once took a breath and was on the verge of saying something, but was stopped by a small movement of Gerrit’s hand.
I stared out the window for a while, then took a deep breath and turned around. I answered Gerrit directly, speaking slowly, “I believe I understand your reasoning, and I will honor your request.” I put stress on the last word.
Request — because you do not give me an order. Orders you can give to your slaves or in the military — I am neither and don’t you both forget that.
Both Freydis and Gerrit nodded at my answer. “Thank you, Mr. Gersen.” The tension in car was suddenly much lighter, it seemed I had cleared another social hurdle.
❀ ❁ ❀
— Day 0 — 10.AUG.1935
Late afternoon, evening
“I believe it was around here where you picked us up, Mr. Gersen,” said Sigrid.
I answered, looking around, “Could be, but I admit I did not really check for landmarks at the time. So we should be at the piece of my road in a few more minutes then.” I wondered what had happened to the horses. “Did the horses get back?”
“No, but we sent out the stableman and they were found and retrieved.” I was relieved to hear it.
Shortly after we passed over a slight elevation and saw a green spot a few kilometers away. As we came closer, a giraffe stopped nibbling the top of a pine and ambled off.
The whole sight was surreal: in the midst of a sea of dry bushes with red and brown leaves there were a few shrubs and trees and grass — all green — left and right of a piece of hardtop road.
The federal road back home had been running along a hill or mountain side, the terrain here, on its right angling up strongly above the rather flat surrounding area, only to stop abruptly with a cliff that went back down to the level around us. The area to the left side of the level hardtop went down steeply, a few meters below the level of the surrounding bush, also to end in an almost vertical rock face stepping back up to normal level.
It just looked like something had taken a huge scoop out of a mountainside, cut a hole in a table top and placed the mountainside into the table, some of it jutting up above the table, some descending below the table — with the road on the mountain side being exactly at the level of the table top.
There was silence in the car as approached. We stopped a short distance from the site; our driver got out and opened our door, bowing again.
“Stay with the car, boy.”
“Yes, Mistis!” He looked around nervously and especially at the green area.
Everyone was armed, except me, and it seemed to me that they had just fallen into arranging watch sectors among them without any talking. Probably lots and lots of practice. Gerrit pointed at something in the fine dust ground besides the gravel road and Freydis said, “It would be good, if you would stay close to one of us at all times, Mr. Gersen.”
I raised my eyebrows inquiringly.
“Lion tracks. They are probably still around somewhere close by.”
“Ahh — yes!”
We walked closer, the green grass had been cropped short by some animals and there were a lot of small dark brown pellets lying around. The shrubs and trees were also missing a lot of the leaves and needles they had had this morning.
“This is quite a sight!”
“Yes, Citizen Collingswood, I must admit that it was not so impressive in my memory, but then I was probably too busy staring at the impala eating the grass to take much notice of my other surroundings.”
Gerrit asked, “So you were traveling on this road when it happened, Mr. Gersen?”
“Yes. Moving away from us. I was cruising along at perhaps a bit more than 100 kilometers per hour when there was a sudden bright flash. When I was able to see again, I was already crossing over to the gravel road and then things got a bit hectic for a few seconds.”
He laughed quietly. “Yes. I would think so. A hundred is too fast for this road, but then you seem to like driving fast a lot, judging at least by what my children tell me.” He grinned at me.
“Only if it’s really necessary, trust me, taking the injured kid to the doctor was not fun. I would have preferred a much more sedate pace. By the way, I forgot to ask. How is the boy?”
“He’ll live and he will likely have full use of his arm, thanks to you. His parents have come to be with him; they are connections of ours.”
By this time we were standing in front of the curving wall that terminated the uphill side of the displaced landscape. It had a very nice and even surface, like a very high quality polish. It felt slick, oily to the touch, or slippery like ice.
“What is this? Some kind of marble?” asked Freydis
“I don’t think there are any marble deposits in the area I was traveling. I think that’s just common limestone with a very, very good surface finish. Look here — here you have a rock cropping out onto the surface. The upper surface is just weathered limestone, but the side that is part of the wall has this superfine surface polish. And the edge where the two faces meet…”
I leaned forward and looked at it very closely, then tore a piece of paper out of the writing pad and pulled it over the edge — which cut it easily.
“…is very, very sharp. Perhaps whatever picked me up and made the time transport had a really sharp cut off. No fuzzy border to the effect. We need to get this to a microscope, but I would not be astonished if this edge is only a single molecule wide. And the same for the surface polish. Perhaps a roughness of a single molecule too. The molecules sticking out of the effects border were simply left at home.”
While everyone else also tried the stunt with the paper, I stood a few meters away with Freydis, who suddenly said in a very quiet tone, quietly enough not to be heard by the others, “Mr. Gersen, I think I owe you an apology. I did not know what to think of you in the beginning, and I did not believe your story. But this here…” she waved her hand. “…this weirdness, it has adjusted my attitude. I am sorry for not believing you.”
Thank God! Does this mean I am out of the “slave candidate” category, at least for you? And perhaps even out of the “stranger not to be trusted” category too? That would be nice for a change, but I cannot dare to let down my guard.
I answered, equally quietly. “Thank you, Citizen Karolius. I am not sure about this, but would it be proper to shake hands on this?”
“Clasp wrists — yes.”
“And if all this feels weird to you, Citizen Karolius, have you considered how it must feel to me?”
❀ ❁ ❀
Dusk, the car was returning to… well, not home, but to the plantation. The Landholding. There was only some small talk of no consequence, perhaps because everybody was still trying to work through the implications of what we had just seen.
“May I ask what engine this car uses? It is awfully quiet,” I asked of nobody in particular.
Conrad suddenly perked up and answered. “It’s a steam engine, not a fighter aeroplane engine like in yours. That’s awfully loud.”
Hmm, is he relaxing enough to start punning?
“A steam engine? Oh my! That’s another path that was not taken back home. There were only few steam cars in the beginning and then we standardized on internal combustion for a long time. Only recently have there been serious experiments in other drive trains again.”
“Another path not taken? That’s an interesting expression, Mr. Gersen,” said Gerrit.
“Yes. I think we will stumble over this phenomenon more often when we start comparing the histories.”
“So, what kind of engine does your car use?” asked Conrad again.
“It’s a turbo charged four cylinder Diesel with about 180 horse power.”
“What’s a Diesel?”
“That’s the name of the inventor. It’s an internal combustion engine with ignition not by a spark, but by the heat of compression of the gas in the cylinder. It also uses a heavier fuel oil than gasoline, which is less flammable.”
“Ah! We use those engines mostly for ship and airship engines; we have never put them into cars.”
“Airships? You use airships?” And off went a vigorous discussion about technical differences between timelines. Until we came to a discussion of electric generation.
“Well, the actual mix varies from nation to nation, depending on geography and resources. But for electric power plants, we mostly use hydro power and steam, with fuels for that ranging from coal to oil to gas to nuclear. And recently we have been adding unconventional sources like solar, wind, and geothermal.”
Alexandra suddenly sat up straighter as Gerrit asked, “What’s nuclear?”
“Nuclear power, it uses uranium and …”
“Is not something we should discuss right now, Mr. Gersen,” interrupted Alexandra in a cold voice. Silence fell for a few seconds as everyone in the car looked at Alexandra.
Whoa! What happened? Gerrit is bristling quite a bit about this and Freydis has raised her eyebrows. Alexandra is staring at me. Might be best not to step into this particular mess. But why?
After a few seconds it dawned on me that Alexandra was a physicist, who had not been very forthcoming about which area she worked in. It was 1935 by their statement, and the Draka might have already started working on their nuclear program, which might not be public knowledge. And Alexandra just swung the axe in order to protect the secret.
Which in turn means that the Draka most definitely will not let me go. Shit.
Thank God we arrived at the house soon after this scene. As we left the car, Alexandra and Gerrit stayed behind, arguing quietly.
“Mr. Gersen, dinner will be in about an hour, at 2000 hours,” said Freydis as we entered the house. “Tugce will know where.”
“Thank you, Citizen Karolius!”
Off to my room, and finally a chance to rest for a bit and to calm down — out of sight and constant observation.
❀ ❁ ❀
I entered my room and found that I would not be alone. Tugce was on her customary pad close by the bed and bowed deeply with face on the ground. It took me a few seconds to realize that she was not coming up, but stayed with her face on the ground.
She straightened and looked at me with fearful eyes.
Damn? What is it now? I was hoping for some solitude to get myself at least halfway together again and now this. Better make sure that I do not sound pissed off or that girl will keel over with a heart attack. Shit, I am not ready for all this!
“Sir, I sent some of your items for washing. One was damaged when the laundry girl tried to iron it; the large blue blanket.”
Large blue blanket? Oh — the picnic blanket we used to carry the injured boy.
I tried hard to smile at the girl. “It melted, right?”
“And the laundry girl probably thinks she will be punished for that?”
“Yes, Sir. Her boss is waiting with the caning for your command.” She looked down at my feet. “The boss will also cane me for this, if you so wish, Sir!”
“That blanket is made from an artificial fiber. There was no way anyone here could have known it would melt when ironed. No punishment at all for anyone; it was not her or your fault. Please go right now and make sure the boss gets the message right away and also tell the laundry girl.”
“Yes, Sir! Thank you, Sir!”
She bowed again, then rose gracefully and left the room very quickly and with some bounce to her step.
Peace at last.
I went into the bathroom, undressed, stepped into the shower and turned on the water, not hot, just pleasantly warm. The shower was not a simple little shower stall, but an alcove large enough to shower with four or five good friends at the same time. It didn’t have a curtain or door and was so large the water could splash around without getting into the rest of the room.
The water was running down on me, when the shakes hit me seriously. My thoughts were not really coherent, just running around in circles, chasing and biting their own tails.
That little scene just now. I am not ready for such a thing. A single word from me and I could have had that laundry girl whipped. I do not want to have that kind of power.
I am terrified; bloody terrified of what will happen to me and of what I will be turned into during the process.
There is no way out, no way home, not ever! I do not know how time travel works… and even if I did know, they would not let me go. I am the main prize in the lottery!
By this time I was no longer standing — I had leaned against the wall and then slowly slid down, until I was sitting on the ground, the lukewarm warm pouring over me, my face in my hands. Basically frozen in terror of the future… past… whatever…
My God! What can I do?
Suicide is not an option. I simply don’t think I can do that.
So what else might happen? They might just kill me out of hand. Unlikely; I think I have already whetted their appetites.
They can turn me into a slave. I am sure they can turn anyone into a good little slave if they really want to. They have had enough practice.
Sooner or later their version of the Gestapo will turn up and ask a lot of questions, probably in a very painful way. I don't want that — I am not fond of pain. So I have to tell them that I am willing to work with them, but not as a slave.
This is going to be tricky.
This is going to be dangerous.
I am afraid. I am so afraid that I am sitting on the floor of the shower, shaking…
I think I went through that whole cycle — with variations and curlicues, and everything up to and including the kitchen sink in technicolor detail at least five or six times. It’s good that you cannot see tears fall in the shower.
What broke me out of it was the girl coming into the bathroom, picking up my clothes and folding them nicely. By the time she was finished with that and asked me if I needed anything, I had at least something of a grip on my emotions again.
Okay I will not fear, or at least I will not show fear. How did that go? I will not fear. Fear is the mind killer, it is the little death that brings total obliteration… right.
“No. Not right now. What is the customary dress for dinner?”
“Sir, I will put out a few things for you to select from.”
“Very good.” Fortunately the Draka did not seem to go for dinner jackets and black ties. I had somehow neglected to bring any. “Will you be present during dinner?”
“Only if you wish so, Sir. Usually the personal saafn eat at the same time in a room close by. I can be with you immediately if necessary.”
❀ ❁ ❀
I later got hold of the following transcript of a phone call that must have happened at about that time.
SdE: “Good evening, Alexandra! Nice of you to call in during your vacation. What can I do for you?”
AC: “Glory to the Race, Director. I am afraid this is an official call.”
SdE: “Service to the State, Citizen Collingswood. That’s a bit unexpected, but please go on.”
AC: “This is not a secure line, Director. So I will have to speak somewhat carefully. I have a bad situation here, Director. It’s really, really unprecedented. It’s at least tangentially connected with the project and it needs the attention of our security: the project’s security, not the head–hunters. I’m sure they will try to barge in at some point.”
SdE: “You’re serious about this. I can hear it in your voice. How many?”
AC: “Four or five should be enough. But please make sure that they send at least a few smart ones. This is not a situation that calls for the sjambok, but for subtlety.”
SdE: “We’ll send someone. Can you hold it together until they arrive?”
AC: “Yes, I think so.”
SdE: “Good. Make sure of that. I look forward to learning what’s going on there. Glory to the Race.”
AC: “Service to the State.”
❀ ❁ ❀
Dinner was downstairs. Tugce led me to the dining room’s door, bowed and left.
Before we sat down to eat, Alexandra approached me and said, “Mr. Gersen, I’m afraid I have to tell you that I had to inform Project Security of your presence. They should be here some time tomorrow. In the meantime I would consider it a favor if you would not leave the house without company.”
I happened to see both Freydis’s and Gerrit’s faces at this moment. I was glad that their looks were not directed at me, but at Alexandra’s back.
“Citizen Collingswood, thank you for this information. I will consider your request carefully.”
I turned slightly and addressed the Landholders Karolius. “If your security is anything similar to ours, then I am truly sorry to be the cause for this particular circus descending on your home.” Which seemed to go a lot better with both of them than Alexandra’s little speech.
I do not remember much of the dinner but I remember that there was a truly excellent ostrich. Discussion of this lead to comparisons of different cuisines of the countries I had travelled to both on business and privately. There were also spicy grilled sausages, laid out in a spiral that tasted a lot like the Borewoers I had eaten at my visit to South Africa, with lots of coriander seed. It seemed to me that Boer heritage was still around here in the Domination, or at least in this family, as I learned later. During dinner, there was very soft background music, played on something that looked like a Celtic harp made partially from antelope horns. The young man musician knelt on a pad in one of the corners of the room; another serf.
Of course the polite interrogation continued during eating.
“Have you been in the military, Mr. Gersen?”
“Yes, for the mandatory year. I was a bit lucky as I managed to get into a unit where I actually could use the sports I love and have been doing since I was a kid,— skiing and rock climbing. I was drafted into the mountain troops.”
“Austrian mountain troops? The Kaiserjäger? They still exist in your time?” asked Gerrit
“No more Kaiser in Austria, hence only Gebirgsjäger. But the traditions of the Kaiserjäger regiments still endure.”
“Are you are still in the army, then?”
“Reserves, actually. I have to return for a few weeks every year.”
“Mr. Gersen, if I may make this little suggestion. Among us it’s customary to not only give one’s name and occupation, but also one’s military status at an introduction. Not doing so jars a bit and makes you stick out even more,” said Freydis.
“Thank you. I will try to remember that. So it would be better to say, Kurt Gersen, electronics engineer, mountain troops, reserves?”
“That would be perfect.”
“So you ski and climb, any other sports?”
“Well, I can’t climb every day, so I try to run to keep fit. And I dabble a bit in sailing.”
“Skiing and climbing might be difficult here, no snow or high mountains close by.”
“Yes, your climate here might not be the really right one for skiing, though Kilimanjaro might be good skiing! But you don’t need high mountains for climbing. I saw a few nice hills with exposed rock faces — might be interesting to try one of them. But tomorrow I would just like to try to run, if I still have enough blood in my veins for that after today.”
“Skiing on the Kilimanjaro? Now, that is an audacious idea,” added Freydis
“Well — there is snow on the Kilimanjaro!”
No reaction to that quote… perhaps there was no Hemingway?
“Gerrit and I will take a ride through the plantation tomorrow late in the morning. Perhaps you want to join us?”
“Thank you for the invitation. One question, ride as in on a horse?”
“Yes,” confirmed Freydis.
“Then there a tiny problem with that plan. I don’t know how to ride. I have never been on a horse in my whole life.”
Freydis was taken aback for a moment by this news, then she started to grin. “We have a solution for that little problem.”
There was a pregnant pause, then the whole family chimed in together: “Dotterbloem!” “Dotterbloem!” “Dotterbloem!”
“Do I dare to ask what a dotterbloem is and why it is the solution?”
“Dotterbloem is the first horse our children rode. She’s very calm and gentle and very, very unlikely to get you into trouble. She’s getting a bit old, but I think you will like her.”
“Then I will look forward to meet that paragon of equine virtue and merit.”
❀ ❁ ❀
I was told about the following conversation later, much later, by both parties. The time was shortly after dinner.
Gerrit: “Dear, you suddenly seem to have taken quite a liking of Mr. Gersen. Inviting him to ride with us?”
Freydis: “I have a hunch about that young man.”
Gerrit: “A hunch? Like all your other hunches? Not that they aren’t lucrative, like that doctor and his family, but I fear Mr. Gersen might not make a good serf.”
Freydis: “No, as a Metic Citizen.”
Gerrit: “A Metic — him?”
Freydis: “Yes! Look at him carefully. He’s smart and is not afraid to use it, has a spine, he’s willing to take calculated risks and he definitely is able to keep his cool. Think about the number of shocks he must have received today! We both know enough Citizens who would be raving hysterics by now in his place.”
Gerrit: “Yes, I can think of quite a number. He also seems to take decent care of himself. He could use a little conditioning, but that could be done with a good trainer in a few months. And his service with those mountain troops isn’t bad either. They might not be up to our standards, but they do have a good reputation. Not somebody you would enjoy to go against on their kind of ground. But a Metic?”
Freydis: “Yes, a Metic. He still will have to swim or sink on his own, but I’m actually thinking of sponsoring him.”
Gerrit: “Sponsoring him as a Metic? That’s old, old law.”
Freydis: “Yes, but the law’s still on the books. If he’s successful, he might be someone it would be good to have a connection to. Consider all the things he knows; he might become quite important. If he doesn’t succeed, well, it won’t really harm us. And finally, just think of dear Alexandra’s face when she finds out that she cannot simply vanish her new toy away.”
Gerrit: “Oh, yes. That would be a nice side benefit. I do understand that there might be some security issues with Gersen and her project, but her behavior today was not properly guest—like.”
❀ ❁ ❀
After dinner, I returned to my room. I was already bone tired due to the stress of the day and also perhaps due to the blood loss. Tugce was already in the room and helped me to undress, which was not uncomfortable at that time; having somebody to fold and put away your clothes is nice.
And it is something you better get used to.
After that I took another shower, the third of the day, a short one this time.
What am I trying to do here, already washing my hands like Pontius Pilatus?
I was standing in the shower when I heard Tugce say, “Do you want me to scrub your back, Sir?”
I like getting my back scratched, so I readily agreed, and she surely did not sound like it was something she did not want to do. And it did feel good.
Was that just her training making her to ask that? Or was it her initiative? Whoa! Wait a moment — that’s a pretty liberal definition of the term scrubbing your back.
I caught her wrist, but kept my back to her. “Are you trying to seduce me, girl?”
“Don’t you want me to play pony for you, Sir?”
Play pony? Ah yes, I know that Draka expression from the books.
“Not today, Tugce. I had a pretty bad day today and I am very tired.”
“Do you find me not pleasing, Sir?”
I looked at her. She was pouting. Pouting like only a teenager can, but tinged with a little else. Fear perhaps?
And I think I am not yet ready to boink a slave girl on my first evening in Drakastan, even if she seems to be willing. Or is that just her training? Including that pout? Damn! And sending her away might get her into hot water indeed.
“No, you are very pleasing, Tugce, no need to have any fears on that point. But I simply don’t feel up to that after today, with the blood donation and all that. Maybe later.”
Tugce dried my back, keeping her hands where they should be, and helped me into a bathing robe. She definitely was pouting.
❀ ❁ ❀
— Day 1 — 11.AUG.1935
“Do you mind if we join you, Mr. Gersen?”
I was on the terrace of the great house, doing stretches for my morning run, when both the kids arrived. They were dressed in what might be running gear, although few joggers would bother to carry a small automatic gun or a huge hunting knife on their belts. Well, except perhaps in New York or a similar place.
Well — they probably have orders to keep an eye on me. And carrying a weapon is most likely the badge of citizenship.
“Gladly, it’s usually more fun to run together.”
The run through the well–groomed park in front of the house was a bit less enjoyable then it could have been. I did not want to give in early in front of those two young hellions, but I was feeling the effects of the blood loss.
I did not wave the white flag easily.
We returned through the park, very nicely done in the British landscape style, probably needing battalions of gardeners. Right in front of the house the kids took a sudden left turn and started to strip, while still running.
What the heck? Oh, the pool.
We all three ended up in the pool, large enough to do some serious swimming, with a nice dolphin and fish and sea life mosaic on the bottom. We also ended up completely sans clothing. Thank God I had had some previous experience with Scandinavian style saunas which are also both co–ed and naked.
We played around in the pool. Yes, I was and still am amenable to water fights and can hold my breath pretty well — and the zero–g environment of the pool does give some advantages to experience over unarmed combat training.
At some point two young serfs appeared at the edge of the pool, holding dressing gowns and towels — followed by a slightly flushed Tugce a minute or two later.
As we were being dried and robed, I saw another serf picking up the discarded clothes. “Tugce,” I said, pointing with my head, “washing only, no ironing!”
“Yes, Sir!” she answered, grinning.
Breakfast was a lazy family affair on a large, covered terrace, almost cosy — with a service and food quality rivaling that of a five—star plus hotel. Although the hotel management might have raised an eyebrow at slapping a male waiter playfully on the ass, complete with giggles from the waiter and other staff. Or hand feeding female waiters with cheese bits.
If I could paint, this might have the title “Family breakfast with slaves” — the dynamics between the present people surely were interesting. And I could see a lot less open fear then I would expect.
“So how was the run?” asked Freydis.
“Not really too bad,” answered Conrad.
Oh my — I can hear the unspoken teenager thoughts, “for having to run with an old man!”
“Actually, it was pretty bad,” I added, looking at the display of the pulse clock on my wrist. “Both speed and pulse rate were way off my usual values.”
“Another of your gadgets?” asked Gerrit.
“Yes — it measures both speed and pulse rate, which is pretty useful if you try to train for endurance.”
“Yes — could even be smaller, although we keep running into the problems of not being able to make things any smaller, because you still need to be able to read the display and hit the buttons.”
Which answer made Gerrit give me a bemused look.
“Mr. Gersen, by the way, I have sent a few riding clothes to your room. Tugce will help with them. If you could meet us in the entrance hall in an hour or so, around ten?”
❀ ❁ ❀
I was in the entrance hall five minutes before ten, wearing a classic pair of jodhpurs, flared at the hip — making me feel like I was about to go to a costume ball. I had a feeling that Draka culture would run on military punctuality which is five minutes before the stated time. I was right.
The whole group, with only Gerrit and Alexandra missing, moved outside. In passing I nicked an apple from a fruit arrangement as an equine bribe. The horses were waiting outside, with one serf per horse. Conrad lent me his belt knife.
“There’s Dotterbloem — don’t give her the whole apple in one piece — keep some for later!”
“Oh — thank you!”
I did not know much about horses at that time, but to my untrained eye it looked brown, full sized, but not large (unlike the horse Freydis used) and it stood there with its eyes half closed. This changed immediately when I cut the apple into smaller pieces — she obviously was not asleep, but paying some attention to her surroundings.
One piece of apple and three attempts to mount later I finally sat in the saddle. The whole thing worked a lot better than I had feared — and I got lots of helpful hints from the riders around me.
The next few hours we rode around on the plantation. Not only did I receive a very basic introduction to the equestrian arts, but also a lecture on “Running a Plantation 101” that was quite interesting.
The plantation was to a large degree self–sufficient in terms of food stuff and work force — plus some good amount of produce for sale to towns and market. Production itself was close to what we would call organic farming in my time. No or only very limited use of chemicals and artificial fertilizer, little use of machines, lots of handwork. All very sustainable and virtuous. I knew quite a number of people who would have loved it. There was only one little fly in the ointment — ninety nine percent of the work was done by slaves.
We were just passing through the slave quarters — the saafn laager. I do remember how the slums on that business trip to Nigeria looked like. The people here look way healthier. And I do not see any of the empty, hopeless or aggressive faces we saw when we were rushed through the slums in our guarded limousines.
Scheisse — being here only for one day and already starting to see positive sides of slavery?
We had finished our ride without any serious accident on my side. Judging by the slobber marks on my shirt, Dotterbloem was highly appreciative of me and my pieces of apple. After returning to the great house in the early afternoon, I forced myself to walk normally. I found I could do it, but the muscles were pulling and seriously hurting. My pride, however, helped. I suspected my hosts had no idea it hurt the first time on a horse; everybody rode from so young. There was a light lunch with a small dessert bombshell.
“Is there any word when the security will arrive?”
“No, Mr. Gersen,” answered Alexandra, “but they should arrive any minute now. I took the liberty to tell your girl to be sure that your things are packed, as we’ll probably leave soon afterwards.”
“I see — thank you, Citizen Collingswood. I would like to ask a question?”
“Yes, Mr. Gersen?”
“Judging by the way security back home would react to the sudden appearance of a time traveller from 2100 and by the subtle hints you all have given to me — am I correct in believing that there is little or no chance in me being allowed to leave the Domination to go elsewhere?”
I suddenly looked into expressionless poker faces — looking from one to the other, even the kids had that look.
“Ahh — I thought so.” I said quietly and with, I think, a sad smile.
“Thank you for your honesty!”
Fuck, fuck, fuck … I thought so, it was only logical! But the confirmation still hits me hard.
I could see Freydis and Gerrit exchanging glances — Gerrit nodding very lightly. Freydis launched the opening salvo. “Alexandra — Gerrit and I have been thinking about sponsoring Mr. Gersen here.”
“Huh? Sponsoring? For what?”
“As a Metic Citizen.”
Alexandra was clearly surprised and a little disturbed by this news. “Freydis — I think that would not be a good idea at all, since Mr. Gersen is going to be taken in by project security.”
“So you would suggest not doing that,” asked Gerrit, slowly in his deep, rumbly voice.
“No, I would definitely suggest not. It will be creating troubles later. Much easier if Mr. Gersen keeps his current status.”
“His current status as a — possibly illegal — alien?” asked Gerrit, looking at his fingernails. He looked up at Alexandra. “This is going to be a bit awkward, Alexandra, if you’re so opposed to our sponsoring Mr. Gersen. You see, I already did it, officially, about an hour ago.”
Alexandra did not answer him directly. She excused herself from the table shortly afterwards.
Now what happened? Alexandra was just told something about me — and my status — she did not like at all. And judging by that deadpan delivery from Gerrit; that snub was very intentional. Let’s see if an explanation will be forthcoming, if I prompt them a bit — because I know that term from the books.
“Metic? I think I have heard that word before… history lessons at school, something Roman; no! Greek. Something to do with foreigners getting partial citizenship rights. Ahh, I begin to see.”
“Yes. Our constitution restricts full Citizenship to those who were born in the Domination. As an immigrant, the best you can gain is Metic Citizenship. The differences are mostly limits on the things you’re allowed to do in politics,” answered Gerrit.
Freydis added, “Today immigrants who are accepted are automatically sponsored by the state, but the old way was for Citizens to sponsor individual immigrants. That part of the law is still in the books, it’s just being used rarely.”
Sigrid chimed in, “The idea was to set up a social tradition like patron—client relationships, similar to the ones used by the ancient Romans.”
My, my — I think Freydis and Gerrit would have preferred if that little titbit would not have been mentioned — at least not right now.
“I see. So it is quite an honor to be sponsored by you. Thank you!” I said, nodding gratefully to both of them.
“Well. The State still has to accept you as an immigrant, which won’t be that easy.”
“I am not exactly arriving with empty hands…”
As I said this, the older serf with the long, braided hair entered the room, approached Gerrit and whispered something to him.
“Very well. Make sure that Citizen Collingswood knows of this.” The serf left hurriedly.
“The security people are just arriving — let’s all meet them at the entrance.”
Is it just me or did I just hear some thoughts suspiciously like “before they start bashing in doors and tracking mud all over the parquet?”
We arrayed ourselves on the top step of the stairs leading to the entrance — Freydis and Gerrit in the middle, Alexandra and me at their sides and the kids as flankers. As we took positions on the stairs, I pressed the pocket calculator into Alexandra’s hands.
“I think you might need a conversation piece, Citizen Collingswood.”
❀ ❁ ❀
— Day 1 — 11.AUG.1935
Midday to Evening
Three cars were approaching, all of them about the same size as the one we had used, that is to say, large. Two of them were painted a dark khaki and had some numbers and letters on the doors — looked a lot like the tactical markings on a military transport. The third one carried no insignia.
They pulled up and people got out of the cars — men and women in black and gray uniforms from the first two cars. Some more people got out of the civilian car — one man in a black uniform, a woman in a green uniform and a second woman in civilian clothes and three serfs. The man in the uniform was around forty or so, the woman thirty five — the civilian was quite a bit older, perhaps fifty five? At that time, it was hard for me to correctly estimate the age, as all these people were so damnably fit, but she had a grandmotherly flair to her — perhaps it was just her gray hair.
She introduced herself as Sophie d’Espagnat, another physicist and obviously someone known to Alexandra. The man was introduced as Cohortarch Thomas McWirther, War Directorate intelligence and head of security for the project — small and lithe, with a foxy face, amplified by very red hair. The woman in the green uniform was introduced as Angelina Redenrunt, Security Directorate, large-framed with lots of muscle and a round face with a perpetual frown.
Ok, green uniforms are what those books called so charmingly the head hunters — and yes, she has nice a little skull on her collar tabs. Be extra careful around such people. That black seems to be the regular army, or perhaps the intelligence department.
That was the moment when I noticed that there was no serf with wine goblets to be seen anywhere near us. It seemed that this was not to be a social visit at all. The introductions were kept to the Landholders and the three senior visitors — neither the children nor I were introduced. And Alexandra seemed already to be known to all of the visitors.
After the introductions, Alexandra asked Freydis if she could use the drawing room in private for a short while. Freydis and Gerrit agreed to this, obviously without great enthusiasm. Alexandra led me and the new arrivals d’Espagnat and McWirther there together with most of their people, distributing them in the room to keep everything and everyone under their eyes. Alexandra also made sure that no serfs would enter the room — which did raise a few eyebrows.
“Glory to the Race, Director — I didn’t expect you to come here personally.”
“Service to the State. Alexandra. You sounded sufficiently mysterious for my curiosity to be wakened. So, what’s going on here?”
“What do you think of this?” asked Alexandra as she handed over the calculator. “It’s one of the little toys Mr. Gersen here has brought with him.”
“Mister?” One could undoubtedly hear the distrustful question mark, while d’Espagnat was playing with calculator. “And what is this thing, by Loki?”
Alexandra showed her how to use the calculator. It took d’Espagnat only a minute or so to realize just how advanced the gadget was. “The Damnyanks have something this good?”
Like hell I am going to let Alexandra run this show all by herself. So let’s get into the discussion.
“No, the Yanks don't have anything like this, Citizen d’Espagnat, and won’t have for a long time. As for me, yes, I am a foreigner… much more foreign that you imagine. Perhaps more foreign than you can imagine. Which is part and parcel of the problem.”
Alexandra said, “Director, you still have that book in your library by that French author, the title is ‘The Time Machine,’ yes?”
Both Citizens d’Espagnat and McWirther looked at Alexandra with a really strange expression, then at me. D’Espagnat raised an eyebrow and answered, “Yes. It is a fun to read book; its so—called science is utter nonsense.” Her voice took on a severe schoolteacher’s tone. “Citizen Collingswood, I repeat, what is going on here?”
“I am a time traveller,”
“He’s from the future,”
said we …at the same time.
❀ ❁ ❀
Throwing a live hand grenade into the room could hardly have produced a much livelier reaction. Things calmed down after director d’Espagnat ordered Alexandra to give a full report. Which she did in the best military oral report style, It took about ten or fifteen minutes or so. It was quite a complete report too, with only a few things that would need correction later on.
By the end, McWirther, whose face carried a more and more pained expression, waved the green uniformed woman to him and whispered something into her ear. She left, taking all the other security officers. Then he said to d’Espagnat, “You know, Director, this is going to open a huge can of worms. Everyone and his serf will want a piece of this.”
“I know, but we found him first! And he knows about the project, so we get first dibs. You do know about the project, don’t you, Mr. Gersen?”
“I do not know about your project, but I can make some guesses what it is, based on Citizen Collingswood’s reactions. I am not a nuclear physicist or engineer, but I have always been interested in nuclear energy. So what you will get will be the layman's version. Many of the details and numbers I don’t know or remember exactly. However, I can look them up. So. To make it easier to start, where are you in your research at this point. Have you already got a reactor running?”
Citizen d’Espagnat just shook her head sadly. “Mr. Gersen, I will not tell you where we are. You will tell us. From the beginning. Everything.”
“Everything might take a little while. And from the beginning?” There were nods all around.
“So from the beginning it shall be…” I raised my hands and intoned, “In the beginning, the universe created the uranium atom. And lo, not all uranium atoms were created equal…”
I stopped, looked into their astonished faces, grinned and said, “Sorry! I will try to remember not to make silly jokes…”
The following two hours were filled with me lecturing on nuclear chain reactions, reactors in general and reactor type families in specific. It was a complete exposition, complete, with lots of vigorous gesturing, reams of drawings and discussions about terminology. We had to define terms, as the Draka often used different words for what I was explaining. At some point when I was talking about reactors, Alexandra started to take notes. Most of the questions came from d’Espagnat, with McWirther being a mostly quiet observer.
“I do have some information on reactor design in some dedicated documents. But much more stuff is scattered around. For example in the different accident reports on Chernobyl, Three Mile Island and Fukushima. We will have to look them all up and mine them for data.”
“Yes, we had some bad ones. As a side note, power reactors in my world never had full insurance for the amount of damage they could do. That was always assumed to be a public risk, i.e. an indirect subsidy. It’s simply not possible to insure that much risk. Every insurer would tell the power company trying that to close his door from the outside and never darken his threshold again.”
“That much risk?” asked d’Espagnat.
“I was using the term as insurers use it. Total probability times total damage value. The probability is low, but since you can render whole counties unusable with a nuclear accident, the damage value is very, very high.”
“We’ll have to look into those carefully. It would not do to repeat such things when it’s possible to learn from others,” mused Alexandra.
And I am going to feed you nice stuff on Chernobyl and Majak and Hanford and all the other fun places.”
“So what else do you use atomic power for in your time?” asked d’Espagnat.
“Radioactive isotopes can be very useful for research as marker and tracer materials. There are medical applications as well, measuring, diagnosis and treatment, for example, for cancers. I am pretty sure I can find some documents referring to that. There are also a number of technical uses for them for measuring or quality control for example and things like sterilization of medical supplies. I think I also have something on food conserving with irradiation somewhere.”
I leaned back and looked at the three citizens who were interrogating me.
“Citizen d’Espagnat, are you seriously trying to make me believe that no one in your project group has yet considered the possible means and the probable effects and results of releasing that much energy in a very small space in a very, very short time?”
I was getting those expressionless faces again. Only McWirther looked faintly amused. “He got you there, Director.”
She shot him a dirty glance, then said, “Let’s take a short break, then resume.”
Everyone left the drawing room, leaving me with two gray uniformed watch dogs, one male, one female. I got up.
“Eh, just where do you think you are going?”
“To the toilet, taking a piss… care to accompany me?”
❀ ❁ ❀
I had taken the liberty to order several carafes with mango juice and ice water during the break. We now had more listeners. Some of the security officers had returned from whatever mysterious errands they had been running.
“Citizen d’Espagnat, in order to prevent us from doing another dance around this subject, yes, nuclear weapons do exist and work. I do have some documents about this subject matter with me. I will likely be able to look up the details you surely want to know.”
“You keep saying that,” mused McWirther.
“I keep saying what?”
“That you can look up the details. You must have brought a whole library with you.”
“No, he did not!” interjected a hoarse and unpleasant voice. It was Citizen Redenrunt, the moon–faced female security officer sitting beside McWirther. She continued with smirk. “I checked his luggage, no books. The car’s locked, but I could see through the windows, no books either.”
She turned her basilisk gaze onto me. “So, where are all your books, Gersen?”
Are you the designated bad cop? Anyhow — I think it’s time to rattle the cage a little bit.
I answered, “Books?” and returned her stare.
I paused dramatically. Then answered pensively, leaning back. “Books, books, books?! You mean dead trees that are ground into paste, spread out into thin, flat sheets and dried, and finally stamped with paint and bundled. That kind of thing?”
There was a longer pause. In the meantime I pulled out my key ring and removed a little something from it. I continued, “How quaint.”
The basilisk stare had gained a measure of befuddlement.
I used my index finger to slowly push a small metal rectangle across the table.
“This is called a USB memory stick. We use them to store any kind of data or information. Text, like books; sound, like music; pictures, movies. Back home these thingies are almost as ubiquitous as pencils.”
“Now — let us assume I have used this one here to store pure text files, like books. How many pages do you think one could fit onto this? Make a wild guess.”
While citizen security officer moon–face was staring at me and the USB stick with even more befuddlement, I made a quick mental calculation.
“Ten thousand pages!” she answered.
“Not a bad guess, Citizen Redenrunt, not a bad guess at all. Wrong by only about three orders of magnitude.”
Alexandra Collingswood sudden seemed to have trouble swallowing her mango juice.
“At two and a half thousand letters per page that little thing will hold about six and half million pages — or about thirteen thousand books with five hundred pages each. Do you, still worry about where I might have all my books?”
McWirther picked up the USB stick, looked at it with raised eyebrows, then did some sleight of hand movement to make it vanish.
“Citizen McWirther, that one does not have any books on it. And I do ask you not to lose it, as it holds the only pictures of my family I have with me. Also, please do not try to open it; you would only destroy it.”
D’Espagnat stretched out her open hand to McWirther, who produced the memory stick with a rueful smile and handed it to her.
“How do you read… is that the right word? One of these things?”
“Yes. We do also use the word read for that. It’s simple, you just plug it into your computer and read the file you are interested in.”
“I think I can see how this might perhaps work with text, but with pictures or music? A computer’s just a calculating machine.”
“At least you do not use the word in the old sense, a person sitting there with an abacus or a slide rule, doing calculations.”
“No. We’ve had electric computers for quite some time now,” answered d’Espagnat.
“Let’s assume a picture consists of a thousand lines with a thousand points each, quite a nice resolution. This gives you a total of a million picture points or pixels, just like a mosaic made from rectangular stones. You now go and assign each pixel a numeric brightness value. Let’s say ranging from zero to two hundred and fifty—five. If you want to display the picture, you just send the brightness value for that million pixels to the screen or to the printer. If you want to see a movie, you do that twenty five times a second. It’s just a question of shoveling the data fast enough. Any of my machines can do that easily. In fact, that’s the way I usually watch a movie or a documentary at home.”
Director d’Espagnat seemed to be bewildered. “Using a computer to watch movies?”
Alexandra added, “Shoveling the data fast enough. Wait a moment. A movie then means twenty five million numbers per second… just how fast are your computers, Mr. Gersen?”
“That’s not a simple question to answer. It depends on exactly how you try to measure it. We often use a unit of measurement called FLOPS, meaning one FLOating Point operation per Second. Or one floating point calculation.” I tried to sound out the capital letters. “Now, the fastest of my machines is the gaming box. I never actually measured the speed but it should run somewhere in excess of 10 GigaFlops.”
“And what is a Gigaflops? Besides sounding silly.”
“Giga is the standard prefix for ten to the power of nine.”
“A billion? Ten bloody billion floating point operations per fucking second?” Alexandra’s voice kept climbing in volume and treble as she spoke. D’Espagnat just sat there staring and shaking her head, while McWirther looked at the two women with trepidation.
OK — now let’s twist that knife a little more!
“That’s my fastest machine. The work computer is a little slower, but still pretty good, followed by the computer for entertainment and videos. The slowest one probably is the laptop, which is expressly designed to be portable.”
“And which of these have you brought in your car?”
“All four of them. Why ?”
“Oh, all ye gods and little godlings,” whispered d’Espagnat.
McWirther looked at me for a few seconds in silence, and then he asked, “I happen to know how large the computer back at the project is. How large are yours?”
I showed the size with my hands. “About this big, metal boxes, mostly black or silver. Citizen Redenrunt should have found them in my luggage.”
He turned to her and raised an eyebrow in question.
“Yes. Two of them and I could see perhaps a few more in the car.”
Citizen Redenrunt bristled a little bit at the comment I made after that.
“I just hope you did not try to open them. That would be bad.”
Were you tempted to look into the gift box, girl?
“So they are sensitive?”
“As long as you know what you are doing, not particularly. Just like any other complex, but well–designed machine.”
And that will hopefully keep all curious fingers out until I have a chance to set up.
He nodded. “So, what books did you bring in your library?”
“Literature? Several hundred to perhaps a thousand titles — but my literary tastes are limited, so this is not a really representative sample of the future’s literature. But you might like some of the books by Tom Clancy, for example. Technical documents and books? An awful lot. A few hundred at least, main subjects would be computer science of all kinds, cryptography, aviation and space technology. Nuclear stuff and lots of odds and ends. I’ve never counted that stuff. I also have some other stuff like the largest encyclopedia ever written.”
“That sounds like a very nice professional library,” observed Alexandra.
“Professional? No, not really, or better, only a small part of it. Most of the stuff is just in a big heap, uncatalogued and without an index. Just things I came across at some point and that I made copies of. You see, I am a data pack rat.”
“A mad collector of obscure and strange information, books and documents. Which is good luck for you!”
❀ ❁ ❀
Discussions wound down after this. For a little longer time we mostly talked about the different subject areas I had collected. The usual reactions were disbelieving head shakes.
By that time I was tired. Physically this had been a long day, and I was still feeling the effects from the loss of blood; not to mention my first time on a horse. And mentally trying to adjust to the situation and the alien culture around me, knowing that one bad misstep could mean my death, or worse, enslavement ; that’s hard work. The fresh air outside, as we moved to the cars, helped a bit with my physical state. The strong tea I had drunk had had only a limited effect.
We all moved into the cars to visit the piece of road I had brought with me. People were impressed, at least those who had the wits to understand what they were seeing. I also somehow gained two more gray uniformed security officers keeping a constant eye on me. I later learned that gray uniforms were janissaries; serf soldiers.
“I wonder how deep this goes?” asked McWirther, standing in front of the polished rock outcrop with a well giraffe–browsed pine tree on top.
I answered. “Making a very wild, wild guess here, twenty–five meters. I THINK my car was at the center of whatever made this effect when it happened. So after looking around I would assume a sphere with a radius of twenty–five meters, half of which is below ground. I am going to make another wild guess — you are going to dig it out. If so, get an archaeologist.”
Citizens Collingswood and d’Espagnat had overheard my little conversation with the security officer. “Why?” asked Alexandra.
“Who else would be willing and able to dismantle the entire substructure of this road here with a trowel and a paintbrush, looking for additional clues?”
“You think there’s something to be found here that might give us an idea how it happened?”
“I have not the slightest idea, but I don’t think so. On the other hand, can you afford the chance to overlook a clue?”
“You’re right. We’ll probably dig this out. If only to be able to tell ourselves that we left no stone unturned,” answered McWirther.
We returned to the plantation, where I was informed that we would drive to the next airport, where an airship would be taking us and my car to the project site. My luggage was already packed and mostly stowed. Only one small issue needed to be cleared up.
“You’re going to travel in our car,” stated McWirther.
“And who is going to drive my car?”
“One of my people.”
“While I have no doubt that whoever will be selected is an excellent driver, he or she is an excellent driver of steam cars, which my car is most decidedly not.”
In the end it was decided that I would drive the car myself, with McWirther, d’Espagnat and Redenrunt in the car with me.
I said good bye to the Karolius family and thanked them for the stay and for their help. Freydis smiled and said that she was sure that I would return to their Landholding soon, and that she and Gerrit and the rest of the family would be happy to see me again.
We drove into the dusk, sandwiched between the military cars. d’Espagnat beside me, McWirther behind her and Redenrunt behind my seat. The conversation meandered all over the place, starting with the safety features of the car, turning to the sound system and then finally to the next days.
“So, when we arrive at the project site sometime tomorrow, what will be next, Director?”
“Well, you will have to be fully debriefed of course. And at the same time we are going to put you and your fabulous computers to work for us.”
“Citizen d’Espagnat, I will gladly work with you, but not for you. I believe this is a small, but important semantic distinction. One that implies some kind of mutually agreeable quid pro quo.”
I kept my eyes on the road during this sentence, but I could hear and feel them stir a bit.
Careful, their hairs are bristling. Do not tease the animals. But if I break and start to run away even only metaphorically, I will only trigger the hunting and dominance reflexes.
“We could always make you work for us.”
“No doubt, Citizen McWirther, of that I have no doubt at all. After all you people clearly have enough experience in that kind of thing. But there is only one of me and there is a difference between enforced compliance and willing cooperation. Especially when it comes to creative work in an area none of you have any experience in.”
“So you are holding out for that Metic citizenship you got the Landholders Karolius to sponsor you for?”
“I did nothing to entice or provoke that particular offer. But if that is the kind of deal that is legally possible, then it is the kind of deal I am willing to do and am looking for.”
“That seems to be rather mercenary to me,” mused d’Espagnat. “Willing to change citizenship that easily and quickly.”
I raised my right hand to stop her.
“Citizen d’Espagnat! Before you accuse me of treason to my home in not so many words, where is my home?”
“Oh.” She looked at me, her face suddenly slackening from the calculating look it had worn a minute before. “Oh, I did not…”
I interrupted her. “Please let me continue. My home is surely not in this universe and time, and it is exceedingly unlikely that I will ever be able to return there, regardless of how much I want that. The likelihood of the Domination being able to reach other universes in some nebulous future cannot be determined, but given the sheer number of possible universes, it will be basically impossible for you to find the right one. Whatever I do cannot conceivably damage my home and thus I cannot commit treason. So let’s table that particular concept right here and now.”
Full steam ahead and damn the torpedoes. Do not appear weak.
“Now, for the next point. Given what I am and what I know, you will not allow me to leave the Domination. Or am I mistaken, Citizen McWirther?”
It took him only a second or two to answer in a very even tone. “No, you’re correct, Mr. Gersen.”
“And even if it would be allowed, where could I go? This world of 1936 is alien to me, wherever I would go. Returning to the Austria of this time and universe is likely to hurt me most, simply because it’s closest to what my home will have been, while still being extremely alien. So it comes down to two options, work with you or work for you. I prefer the first. I am not overly fond of pain.”
“So, what’s in it for us to make you a Metic?” McWirther challenged me.
I lifted my hand again from the gear shift and started to hold up fingers. “One, you will save time. Both the computers and the data and documents stored on them are a wasting resource. At some time the computers will start to break down, making the documents inaccessible and there will be no way to repair them. This way you get results earlier and faster.”
I moved a finger up.
“Two, better quality. Programming work is creative work which is done both better and faster by people who like their work and their life. And once you see what the computers can do, you will definitely want me programming as well as helping you design new ones. Also, to get the most out of the documents you will need filtering; what is serious, what not. And interpretation; what is the context, technical, historical, cultural.”
I added a finger to the single one up.
“Three, you will sleep better. The computers and the documents represent an absolutely unique resource, both in terms of value and in terms of not being reproducible. Do you really want somebody working on those machines who is unhappy? Making me a Metic will probably not completely restore your quality of sleep, I understand enough about the security mind–set to know that, but should improve it a lot.”
The third finger joined the previous two.
“Don’t you think we could prevent you from doing any harm?”
I bit off a short laugh. “In one word! No. You do not have anyone who is able to check on my work; not even your best computer programmers. The only way to keep those machines absolutely safe from me is not to turn them on.”
Citizen Redenrunt had been silent until then, suddenly had an opinion. “Any sabotage would mean your death, Gersen.”
“Of course, Citizen Redenrunt. But I got the impression there would be the same final result for a serf as for a citizen in such a case.”
“The same end result, why, yes, Gersen. But the path to get that result, and especially the time and pain necessary to reach it, would differ a lot.”
Brrr. It’s suddenly getting cold in here. I happen to know what she means. But let’s not give away that I do know about that little grisly detail.
“Citizen Redenrunt, judging by the love of antiquity you people seem to have, it would not surprise me in the least if you would have selected one of the more drawn–out execution methods history offers in such plenitude.”
“Oh, yes,” her voice sounding almost like she were purring. “The usual execution method for a rebellious serf is the Turk — a sharpened stake up your ass and your own weight slowly pulling you down, pushing the stake deeper and deeper, it can take two whole days.”
“It seems to me that offers of citizenship are not that rare, and probably for a lot less compared with what I will bring to the table, so, putting me on a stake would be quite a loss for you all.”
And I am not going to ask her if she happens to have Transylvanian ancestry.
❀ ❁ ❀
A short time later we arrived at the airport (or properly, air haven; for airships are huge) so even small provincial air haven with only one hangar and two mooring masts took up a lot of space. Both masts were occupied, one with a really huge air ship with a large official looking dragon with sword and chains in his claws painted on its belly, the other somewhat smaller, with much more colorful decorations; in fact, a gaudy paint job.
We drove directly to the smaller one, where my car was loaded onto a cargo palette and netted down. The palette was then lifted up directly into the airship’s belly under the watchful eyes of her captain. In front of the loading hatch there were several huge windows and a small gondola under the bow, looking a bit like an Adams apple. Everything else was severely streamlined. The propellers on large engine gondolas are not hanging outside the hull, but sticking out of the ship’s side on slender outriggers, with the engines inboard.
Judging from the accouterments, this ship seemed to be intended as an executive transport, complete with a large lounge with huge picture windows and a few small cabins. Lift off was very interesting to watch. I stood at the panorama window, lost in reverie.
“Your first flight?”
“No and yes, Citizen d’Espagnat. I have traveled a lot by air. But I never thought I would ever fly on an airship. There are only ten or twenty left in the whole world. None of them as large as this one here.”
“Only ten! So everything other is heavier than air; interesting. I also noticed that you showed no reaction to our captain being a woman. All the Europeans I have met so far would have been surprised in some way.”
“Why? Flying an aircraft is mostly a mental exercise. Why should a woman not be able to do this as well or better than a man?”
“Some foreign guests have different opinions. By the way, there will be a light dinner in a few minutes. After that I would ask that you retire to your cabin.”
“Translation, you need to discuss today’s events in private, Citizen d’Espagnat?”
She nodded. “Yes, Mr. Gersen.”
“I would be happy to oblige you.”
❀ ❁ ❀
— Day 2 — 12.AUG.1935
Next day, early morning, the airship circled an air haven waiting for something; probably the landing clearance or the fog to disperse completely. I was standing at the large windows again, holding a cup of tea, looking out at the air haven and the countryside around it.
“Citizen Collingswood, is that the Table Mountain back there on the horizon? ”
“Yes, but how? Ah, yes. You said you’ve been here in southern Africa before. So you must have seen it.”
“Actually, I climbed up on it, my parents took the cable car and we met at the top. But I am sure that your Capetown is very different.”
By that time, the airship had taken a strong nose down position and increased engine power, pushing towards the ground.
“We better sit down, Mr. Gersen.”
The landing, (or is it called mooring?) was interesting to watch. It was an obviously well trained evolution, using only few people on the ground. Soon we were locked to the single mooring mast of the air haven, waiting to disembark. A number of cars waited for us on the ground.
D’Espagnat left first with her serfs in one of the cars, after signing some paperwork with the captain. From the little I heard, I understood that the ship had been chartered by d’Espagnat personally, not by the project per se. Seemed she was a woman of some substance.
Then some of the security people were sent away to prepare something or other. McWirther had been called away to clear up some bureaucratic tangle with the airship or the air haven, and I was left with Alexandra Collingswood, Redenrunt and two of the security janissaries on board the ship, waiting for the tangles to be untangled. We passed the time discussing air travel.
A car approached, painted a dark green, and parked somewhere behind and below the ship. Redenrunt left the airship saloon and returned a few minutes later, with two men in tow, wearing green uniforms just like hers. She walked over to the window we were standing by. Alexandra turned towards her, like she wanted to ask something, and received a vicious punch in her solar plexus. She went down, gasping for breath.
Redenrunt snarled at me. “You stay put.” Over my shoulder, she ordered, “You two, on the floor, hands on your necks.” I turned around and saw both security men covered by the guns of the Security Directorate officers. Redenrunt removed Alexandra’s weapons and pulled out a syringe. One–handed she jabbed her with it.
The security officers also received one syringe each while lying on the ground. My hands were pulled behind my back and handcuffed. Then I was marched out of the airship’s saloon and down the gangway. The green car was parked right beside the gangway; I was pushed onto its floor in the rear, with someone’s boot resting on my legs. Someone else pulled a dark hood over my head. The car moved off.
I was helpless and tried to think of anything I could actually do to make my position better, or even safer. Trying to remember the movements of the car is probably useless. So what is this? One faction stealing the main lottery prize from the other? And why does the Security directorate do it this way? One would expect them to just march in and order the prisoner to be handed over.
The handcuffs were very unpleasant, not too thin, but rigid and narrow, holding my hands so close together that the palms were pressed together. This put a lot of stress on my arms and shoulders.
The hood was made of a densely woven cloth, completely shutting off all light and almost airtight. I started to sweat under it almost immediately. The car turned left and right, speeded up and slowed down. Thank god I never was prone to sea sickness; getting sick with that hood on my head would not have been fun.
“So — what did this little piggy do?” The sudden speech was accompanied by a slight kick to my ribs. Perhaps it was not really intended to hurt, only to indicate who the unknown man was talking about. It still hurt.
“You do not want to know, Andersen,” answered the hoarse voice of Redenrunt.
I do not know how long the car trip took. It can’t have been much longer than an hour or so, given what I know today, but being in such a situation plays hell with one’s sense of time. The simple fact that my captors were not talking among themselves did not help either. It for sure felt a lot longer than it actually was.
Anyway, after some indefinite time, the car took a sudden, sharp turn to the left and the sound of the tires changed from hard top to the crunching of gravel for a short time, then we stopped. It seemed we had arrived. I was pulled from the car, stood upright and frog marched somewhere. The damn hood was very disorienting.
“Hood and cuffs stay on. Strip search, class zero uniform and leg shackles, put him on the chair in room three! All his effects on the side table in that room.”
“Yah, Suh!” A much rougher accent, harder to understand than anything I heard so far, replied.
Somebody held me in position by grabbing the rear lower edge of the hood from the back and twisting it until it started to strangle me. Somebody else used some sort of knife to cut my shirt and trousers off me. My underwear got the same treatment. The room was on the chilly side if you were made to stand there, suddenly naked.
Being unable to see or even guess what’s around you, and unable to move your hands or arms at all, (let’s say to cover your suddenly naked cock, for example!) makes you feel very vulnerable.
Something smacked me on the back of my legs, hard, stinging a lot. I jumped into the stranglehold of the hood, which gave the person holding it only some incentive to twist it even harder.
“Out of your shoes and socks, buck, now!”
Seems I was not fast enough doing that without my hands as I got whacked on my legs twice more. Perhaps they just liked to hear my yelps. Shackles were slapped on my ankles; then my cuffed hands were roughly lifted so that I had to bend forward for the rough cavity search. Being frogmarched somewhere else after that was almost a let—down in comparison.
I was pushed onto something that might be a wooden chair with a straight back, legs widely spread with some straps, also a strap across my chest and my cuffed hands fixed somewhere behind the chair back. A door was closed. By the sound of it, a thick one. Silence descended and I sat there, waiting for things to happen. A hospital smell of disinfectant slowly became noticeable under my hood. The chair was not very comfortable at all, missing only a set of spikes on the seat to be a credible replica of a Renaissance witch finder general’s comfy chair.
We will now wait until your nerves fray. Ha! As if my nerves are not already in shreds. Just sitting there and waiting until someone comes around to ask me questions, or shout at me or hurt me was bad enough. It was fucking frightening.
The door opened again sometime later and more than one person entered the room. The hood was pulled off, but because of a bright light I could not see much. The voice, however, was recognizable: Redenrunt.
My world dissolved in red as I absorbed the slap to my face. It had come without any preparation or wind up, so fast that I had not seen it coming at all.
“I don’t like your attitude, Gersen, not at all. I think it will bring me great pleasure to adjust that attitude and to break you properly to the yoke. And bringing you to heel will get me out of the dead end of my career. But duty before pleasure. Do you know what this is?”
From the table at her side she picked up a metal—looking wand, with a black grip with large finger guards and a cable leading away. An evil smirk appeared on her face.
“Come on, make a wild guess!”
Is this her payback for my jibe about her answer being only three orders of magnitude wrong? Me and my loud mouth.
She touched me with the tip of the wand between my wide–spread legs.
“That was only level two; there are more levels to choose from, levels that are worse, orders of magnitude worse. Now, I won’t use it on your upper body or your head. We don’t want your heart to stop working or your brain becoming permanently addled. That would be a real disaster before you’ve told us everything.”
I kept fixating on that weaving motion of the wand tip. It had very suddenly become the most important object in my field of view.
“What do you want to know, Citizen Redenrunt?”
Crack! Another slap in the face, this time on the other side.
“Talk more humbly, boy. And we will not ask many questions. You will want to tell us everything you think we might want to know on your own, enthusiastically. Then you will tell us everything you think we might not be interested in and then you will beg us to be allowed to tell the rest. But all that talking will come later; first we’ll make sure that you will want to talk.”
There was a sudden pain in my upper arm. Compared to earlier, it was nothing. It felt like a vaccination done by an inept doctor.
The straps holding me to the chair were loosened; then I was pulled across the room and stuffed into something about the size and shape of a gym locker. I suddenly felt very hot and found it very hard to get enough air, but I am unsure if that was the effect of the narrow space in the locker or the effects of the drugs I had just been injected with.
I do not remember very many details of the time following. Which is probably for the best as there was quite a lot of pain.
Redenrunt seemed delighted to be able to use her toy wand on my legs and feet and other points below the waistline. She used it whenever she thought it was necessary to induce more talking, or when she did not like what I was saying, or my tone or my attitude.
The reality of some of the details I remember is also a bit suspect.
Like being put back into my locker and seeing frost forming on its walls.
Or when the noodles in the bowl of the single meal I was been given started to slither around.
I also distinctly remember a crocodile tap dancing on its rear legs, wearing Doc Marten boots, groin protector, bowler hat and a walking stick, singing “Singing and dancing in the rain” and hitting me with the walking stick in time to the song; I am pretty sure that it was a drug–induced hallucination.
❀ ❁ ❀
— Excerpt from: “The 1930—ies —
a transitional period in the relationship between the Security Directorate and the War Directorate,” Capetown University Press, 1964 — Copy of a private note from Senator Jourgensen (Conservative Expansionists) to Strategos Xavier (Security Directorate)
This copy was found in the private files of Senator Jourgensen which were being prepared by her for publishing after her death (in 1961).
This isn’t a note from your hunting friend. This is a note from the senator gal you come to when you need a senate intelligence or security committee nannied, so pay attention.
I tried to call you but keep getting told that you’re in a meeting and cannot be reached or called out. So I’m getting this note hand–delivered to you (that meeting, by the way, was not on your calendar yesterday afternoon, and yes, I do occasionally read your calendar).
I have just spent a thoroughly delightful afternoon! Let me tell you about it:
First I got a call from the rector of Capetown University, who yammers for half an hour at me about Security absconding with an important foreign visitor, one Kurt Gersen, from an airship. He keeps on yammering that this is a very important science man, etc., etc., ad nauseam. The reason why I’m unable to hang up on him is that Tabletop–U is our oldest and most respected university. And if they keep on being loudly unhappy with whatever it is that’s happening, the whole academic sector will also be unhappy.
Next I had Strategos Karl von Shrakenberg from the War Directorate storming my office, quite literally and unannounced, with his adjutant in tow. He tells me point blank that the War Directorate is currently running an extremely important and delicate military intel–operation in the Cape province and that SD interference is to stop right now! Or else! The adjutant stayed in the room while the Strategos (oh so politely) dressed down a Senator: me. If you are wondering why the adjutant is important, that is KvS’s charming way of informing me that this cannot and will not be brushed under the carpet if things go badly.
Finally I get another call, from my constituency, one Gerrit Karolius, who proceeds to bellow at me (that man does not need a phone to be heard in Archona from Northmark) that the SD is torpedoing a Metic citizenship application and sponsoring; of a certain Kurt Gersen. Notice something about the names popping up this afternoon? Without the SD going through proper channels or having a good reason. As a goodbye, he mentions he’s coming down to Archona to meet Senator Ingolfsson; that green–eyed mamba. Did I mention that Karolius is an important leader of the conservative neutral landholders and Senator Ingolfsson is a lot of things, but NOT conservative? I; we! don’t need him talking seriously to her.
If I get that much shit planted on my desk in only two hours, there is much more going on behind the scenes that I simply have not found out yet. A warning from your side would have been nice.
So whatever it is you and your merry men in green are up to down there in the Cape Province, stop it and make up with the War directorate. And call me back!
❀ ❁ ❀
Things kept going on slowly, badly and painfully. I think Citizen Redenrunt got more and more irritable as time went on; she also kept leaving the room or was called out repeatedly.
My memories of this particular phase were more coherent — not necessarily better memories, but ones making more sense. The drugs I had been given were probably wearing off.
I was cold. Sitting naked on a steel chair with a metal seat will do that to you. There was something like a hip belt securing me to the chair, my feet were somehow fixed to the chair legs and my hands were cuffed behind my back, secured to the chair back. All in all, not a comfy chair. The room was kept dark, with a spotlight illuminating me and the table in front of me. I was not sure if I was still in the same room as before.
The first hint that the cavalry was coming over the hill was when the door to the interrogation room was opened and someone shouted for Redenrunt to come quickly. A short time later, there was more shouting and two gunshots cracked somewhere outside the room.
A few seconds later, people in black uniforms stormed the room, covering everyone in the room with their rifles, followed shortly by McWirther. I was released from my chair. Someone had managed to find a coverall and stuff me into it; I was even able again to stand on my own and walk slowly.
We left the building through a corridor leading to the garages, where several cars were waiting for us. Citizen Redenrunt was lying in the corridor, by the wall, in a slowly spreading puddle of blood and other stuff from her head wound. I stopped for a moment, crouched down and touched her to take the pulse on her carotid. I managed to get up again and make it a few steps before leaving my noodle meal in a bowl with a flower arrangement.
After we arrived at our destination, a doctor poked and prodded at me for a few minutes, then gave me something to drink. Some serfs were detailed to wash and tuck me in.
❀ ❁ ❀
From a Security Directorate internal report on the “Redenrunt Debacle”
Analysis of the G interrogation is very difficult. Not only did the main interrogator not follow standard interrogation procedures, her death and the absence of all sound records of the interrogation are forcing us to rely on stenographic records and recollections of surviving personal. Attempts to recover the sound records from the War Directorate have so far been unsuccessful.
This is very problematic as many of G’s answers were in idiomatic and colloquial German (G being a German native speaker, with English as a second language, reverting to his first language under the influence of the interrogation drugs), with a large non–standard vocabulary, recorded by non–German speaking stenographers as phonetic transcription only. Presence of a native German speaker at the interrogation would have to be preferred, at a minimum being able to analyze the records by other German native speakers might have gained us more insights.
The English language portions of the G transcripts are almost as bad. We have no doubt that there are no or only very small attempts of intentional deception by G, but while the words themselves are clear and unequivocal, we are missing so much cultural context and technical knowledge that the answers might just as well be gibberish.
One example, not extremely out of the ordinary. With the exception of the acronyms every single word makes sense, as long as it is considered for itself alone:
On the “customer–facing” side, IPv6 is implemented as it would be for any native Internet Protocol service delivered by the service provider. On the “Service Provider–facing” side, encapsulation over Ethernet, ATM or PPP, as well as control protocols such as PPPoE, IPCP, DHCP, and so on, all remain unchanged from current IPv4 operation.
Attempts to clear up matters by follow–up questions very often made things only worse. The notes and drawings made by G as an aid to explanation are rudimentary and hard to understand. The brief duration of the interrogation did not allow the interrogator to gain sufficient insight and information to offset that handicap. Presence of one or more experts in the subject fields during the interrogation would likely have been useful.
❀ ❁ ❀
—Days 3 and 4.— 13 and 14.AUG.1935—
It seemed I began to have a regular practice of waking up in beds or rooms without any real recollection of how I had arrived there. Again I woke up in a strange bed and room, again there was someone around to help. Sadly this serf was more subdued than Tugce.
I was getting a bit tired of this. It would be nice to stay in a place for a little while and not wake up in the next anonymous luxury guest room. It would also be nice not to be terrified or in pain or both. And it would be especially nice if I could just go home. THAT would not happen.
I had awoken in the early afternoon. Apparently the effects of the interrogation drugs and whatever the doctor who checked me out gave me had made me sleep very late. I was escorted by one of the gray–uniformed janissary guards I seem to have acquired to Citizen d’Espagnat’s office which was located in another building. The whole area looked like a small collection of Mediterranean villas with two or three larger, more utilitarian buildings in between. The utilitarian buildings looked like they were a lot newer.
After greetings and being offered something to drink and nibble on, d’Espagnat said, “You gave us quite a fright yesterday.”
“I gave you a fright? Citizen, I believe that sentence suffers from some serious mix–up of its personal pronominal words. You — plural here — gave me a fright. But I must admit Citizen McWirther and his cavalry coming over the hill were a quite a good sight for me.”
“Oh, thank you,” said a male voice right behind me.
“Gah!” I jerked and spun around. Yes, there were still some injuries from yesterday.
He sat down at the table I was sharing with the Director, then added, “I think I have to offer an apology, as well. Having you absconded this way was unprofessional of me. I wouldn’t have been surprised if she’d produced some orders to hand you over to her. I must admit that I didn’t expect our Security Directorate watchdog to go rogue and act without orders. She blindsided me.”
“And that’s why you shot her?”
“No. I shot her because I actually did have orders for her to hand you back over. She refused the orders, and then tried to pull a gun on me.”
“I see. Again, thank you. So what will prevent a recurrence of yesterday’s, erhem, proceedings?”
“Several things. For one, it has been clarified at a very high level that the War Directorate is responsible for you, not the Security Directorate. And, at least for the moment, that means me. There is no doubt that the head hunters will try to stick their oar in again, but currently they’ll have to play by the book.”
D’Espagnat added, “Also, yesterday’s events made a lot of people in very high positions sit up and pay attention. So for the moment, you’ll stay attached to this here project. We can be sure that we’ll receive lots of inquiries and fact finding missions. Incidentally that will also give good visibility to the application for Metic citizenship that’s currently winding its way through the offices.”
“Now that is something that is good to hear. I do realize that such an application will take some time until all the i’s are crossed and all t’s are dotted, but is there a chance that someone relevant and high enough will give some informal assurance that the application will be concluded positively? Especially in view of yesterday’s events?”
“I’ll see what I can do in this regards, Mr. Gersen.”
“Thank you very much, Director!”
That worked a lot better than just storming her office and screaming, “What the fuck was going on yesterday?”
“Do you think it’s too early to discuss the requirements I would have for setting up the computers? Things like power, space, personnel?”
“Not at all, Mr. Gersen. Actually I was hoping you’d be willing to do that today,” answered d'Espagnat.
McWirther added, “We also need to discuss security. But if I may I’d like to ask a question first. Yesterday, when we left the SD safe house, you stopped by Redenrunt’s body and took her pulse. Why? Did you just want to see if she was dead?”
“No. I wanted to make sure she was dead.”
McWirther raised his eyebrows in question.
“Citizen McWirther, a good theatrical make–up artist or movie special effect man could have faked those wounds easily. Her missing pulse would be a lot harder to fake. At the time of my rescue, I thought it quite possible that you and Redenrunt might be running a good cop/bad cop interrogation ploy on me. But actually shooting and killing your second in command just to give that ploy verisimilitude did not seem too likely to me.”
There was a pause. Then McWirther answered with a grin. “Mr. Gersen, you have an interesting way of thinking.”
❀ ❁ ❀
McWirther and I were jogging around the project site, or at least I was trying to jog, but my legs did not really work that well, combining orientation with a little training. As we moved through the area I noticed that it looked a little run down. Some of the buildings could use new paint and the park–like landscape between the houses clearly needed work. Some of the shrubbery threatened to take over the world — or at least the park.
“This whole complex was created as a resort for mid–level city dwellers, something close to a weekend house in the countryside. There are a number of such resorts that are quite successful — but this one did not work out. The holder shot herself and the land fell back to the State. The place was then shuffled around between different departments for some time. Finally the War Directorate snapped it up. It’s large enough and easily can be further enlarged; it’s also private and easily secured and it’s close enough to Capetown with its industry and universities, so we can use that for infrastructure. Above all, it was cheap and the project’s cash–strapped.”
He pointed out some of the buildings.
“That one over there is the stables — right now there are only some private horses, but the project’s thinking of adding a few that can be borrowed by project members.”
He was not even breathing hard, while I was really not up to form, my leg muscles were still hurting from the electro–shock’s after–effects.
We passed by a few bushes and scared up one of several flocks of cape starlings with their brilliantly metallic blue–green colors. Lots of these birds were around the place, usually very curious and hard to scare, but two people running at them was reason enough for them to take to their wings.
“And that is the project’s palaestra.”
“Hmm. You’d probably call it the sports club, a large, very nice pool, steam baths and a salle for sparring, training machines; whatever you need to stay in shape. We even have a found a few good massage wenches. I would strongly suggest you find a few hours every day to go there.”
“Am I in such a bad shape?”
“You could and should be in better shape, and when your Metic citizenship comes through, you’d be liable to be called up for military service. The few immigrants we have and accept tend to be too old or otherwise unable. You’re still young enough for that. And service to the state is the main obligation of a Citizen.”
“Really. I thought that working on this project would count as service to the state?”
“Yes, most likely. The commission in the War Directorate that decides such things for Metics has a lot of leeway, so it most likely will not be a problem for you. But an indication that you intend to honor your obligations by getting into shape would surely go well with them, and not being in shape could earn you punitive call–ups.”
“That does not sound like fun. A question; is there something like a primer — Metic citizenship for dummies — that I could read?” I spent the next minute or so explaining the concept of the “xxx for dummies” book series. McWirther found the idea and the title hilarious for some reason.
“I’m not sure that such a guide book exists, but I’ll see what I can find out. But I’d like to return to the previous subject; there’s a second reason for visiting the palaestra daily.”
“And this is?”
“You need to meet people. So far you’ve met only a few Citizens and frankly, those you have met aren’t average. Unfortunately we cannot let you run around in Capetown on your own. I think you understand why we’ll have to keep you under wraps for some time. So your best chance to socialize will be the palaestra.”
“I see. Yes, that is a pretty good reason.”
“In the same vein… we think it’s better not to move you into your own house at this time. Unless you strongly disagree, the director would welcome you in her guest quarters for some time to come. Or you could move your things over to my villa.”
“No insult intended — but you still have an enormous amount to learn about our customs and traditions, if you want to operate as a Metic. If only to prevent you from being called out to a duel by accident.”
“No, that would not be so good, especially as my life expectancy would be pretty low.”
We both laughed.
I did not remember that part from the books about dueling until just then and rereading them is currently out of the question.
“You are trying hard — everyone who meets you and wants to see will recognize that — but there’s a lot to learn. And there are always people who do not want to see.”
“About those customs and traditions?”
“I sometimes find that ‘Citizen someone’ address a bit cumbersome. When someone says “Mr. Gersen,” I feel I should turn around and look for my father. Would it be possible to use first names? At least in private and non–official situations, or would that be seen as inappropriate and send signals I do not want to send, like implied intimacy?”
“No, that kind of usage would be acceptable.”
“Follow up question: am I right to assume that the presence of serfs makes no difference if a situation is counted private or not?”
“Yes, you’re right. Serfs don’t count in this regards. They’re the ‘tool that thinks,’ you know.”
I think this is the hardest thing to get used to in this place, the way they treat people like furniture.
“So.” I laughed briefly. “Since I think we are going to see each other quite often over the next long time, my first name is Kurt.”
By then we had just reached the top of a little hill, giving a view of a few more houses. There was activity at one of the houses, with several delivery vehicles around it.
“That’s the house we’re going to put your project in, Kurt. It even has enough space for some growth. The air conditioning will be put in tomorrow and the transformer to adjust voltages is on a rush–rush order — might arrive tomorrow evening or in the night. Want to take a look?”
“Oh, yes, gladly. By the way, do you prefer Thomas or Tom?”
We walked through the house, among a multitude of bowing serfs cleaning, repainting walls, carrying furniture. The house smelled of dust, fresh paint and floor wax for the hardwood parquets; there was hammering and the sound of a parquet grinding machine.
“It looks ugly.” McWirther commented. “It really needs a mural or something.” We were standing in what would become my office, a large room, about ten meters square, parquet floor and whitewashed walls.
“Thomas, I like white walls. I find them a lot more restful then being stared at by a lion all the time. And since we return to that subject, yes, I want that one wall in the lobby left white too.”
He grumbled a bit about that.
“But the house looks good, Thomas. It should be a nice place to work and hopefully it’s large enough, so we should be able to grow at least for some time without having to move. And I foresee this little project is going to grow.”
“You’re right about that, it’s already starting. We also need to talk about secrecy and classifications. You will get all this in writing too, it’s just being prepared, and we’ll need your signature on that. You will need to understand and follow the rules.”
He looked at me, obviously waiting for some kind of conformation. I nodded.
“Your existence and the information you bring are, of course, high above top secret. It’s gotten its own code word classification: TRIANGLE. Everyone who’s cleared for TRIANGLE knows in general that you exist, but does not have access to any specific data you generate.”
“Let me see if I understand this correctly. I am only allowed to tell people with TRIANGLE where I come from? All others will get some cover story; which one? Would that not retroactively give the landholders Karolius TRIANGLE clearance by necessity?”
“Yes, and that’s been cause for some discussion. There are some who would have preferred to limit the number of people with TRIANGLE clearance to the utmost; they’re decidedly unhappy with anything or anybody who extends that. And yes, we’ll have to sit down and talk about the cover story, too.”
“Thomas, that must have made those people also unhappy with me.”
He nodded. “They would have liked you to be a bit more discreet. But there’s actually very little you could have done differently in your situation.”
And at least I ended up in the clutches of the War Directorate, so it couldn’t have been all that bad from their point of view.
“You, of course, and the other people completely inside our project, are cleared TRIANGLE STAR with access to all the raw data. If you produce a report or information that’s relevant to a specific item or other project, it would be classified TRANGLE plus the code word for that item.”
I laughed softly. “That is going to produce an awful lot of classifications.”
“Oh, yes. The rules and code words will probably be changed several times until things settle down.”
“Or whenever somebody becomes nervous about keeping me secret.”
“Or that, yes.”
At some point, we will need to discuss about the levels of secrecy. I think someone is trying to declare sunrises top secret, I thought.
“Question, these classification levels also apply to serfs?”
“Necessarily, yes. Something else, Kurt, I’m required to start debriefing you, today, this evening.”
“Debriefing? I trust that is going to be a somewhat more civilized process then what Redenrunt attempted to do?”
“Yes, it’s going to be much more civilized.” He smiled, slowly.
❀ ❁ ❀
Dinner — and a spirited discussion about music with director d’Espagnat, was made a bit more complicated as I had been told that the serfs in her house were not TRIANGLE cleared. There was also the little fact that much of the music mentioned by both sides of the discussion was unknown to the other side. We agreed to listen to lots of records in the near future, punctuated with threats to drag me off to the concert house in Capetown. It seemed that d’Espagnat was quite a music lover.
After dinner I was escorted by my janissary watchdog over to McWirther’s villa, where I was already expected and ushered into the drawing room. Thomas was already there, together with three other citizens. Introductions were made.
“Kurt Gersen, Austrian Gebirgsjäger, in reserves, computer programmer and time traveller.”
“Grace Springer, Merarch, War Directorate, Technical section, computers.” Mid–forties, dark hair, a bit longer than the usual Draka haircut and a prominent nose in her face.
“Elliot Gardiner, Archonal Guards, retired, scientific consultant.” I believe he was the first Draka I saw who was on the far side of sixty; smallish and slender, lively eyes, silver hair. Try to imagine a wide awake elderly pixie in safari jacket with a largish gun on his belt.
“Benedict Arnold, Cohortarch, Security Directorate.” A very unremarkable and unmemorable face, green uniform, with those tasteful skulls on the collar and the regulation rolled up whip on the belt. I found it impossible to keep my feelings entirely off my face. He added, “I’m here as an observer only.”
“That is very good, Citizen Arnold. I have to admit that I only recently found out that green is one of my least favorite colors.” Everyone in the room was staring at me, with the exception of Arnold, who just nodded. Springer was actually wincing.
Not one of my smartest moves, but one that was very much me at that time.
“I can understand why that is so, Mr. Gersen. Please let me add this, completely personal, comment.” The ‘completely personal’ was oddly stressed, the accent was pure BBC English, and the voice was that dry, slightly bored tone used to announce diplomatic communiqués. “Redenrunt acted without any orders and without consulting her superiors before the fact. She also did not fully and immediately communicate all pertinent information to her superiors after the fact. Her actions were also highly unprofessional, if not to say erratic. Above all, her actions were stupid.”
Everyone in the room was now staring at Arnold, some with utter astonishment on their faces, like he had just grown a second head, complete with antennae. I committed his statement to memory for later careful parsing and answered. “I see. Citizen Arnold, I think we might just have found a modus vivendi.”
It took the other people in the room a moment to re–establish their equilibrium. Then McWirther called in a serf who prostrated herself full on the floor.
“This wench here is Leotha; she will take notes during the debriefings, in addition to the records we’re going to make.”
He pointed at some complex recording equipment sitting on a table in the corner and some old fashioned microphones on the table.
“During the day she will also be the projects secretary and will report directly to you and me.”
“I see. Up, girl.”
The serf sat up, still kneeling, her ass on her feet and her hands on her knees. She did not look afraid, just a bit apprehensive, but then she was meeting her new boss and did not know what to expect. Brown skin, a narrow face with brown eyes over strong cheek bones and full lips.
“You will be using stenography to take the notes?”
“Yes, Master.” She had a nice, bright voice.
“Tell me if I am talking too fast or if you need a word spelled out.”
“Yes, thank you, Master.”
I made a shooing movement with my hand, smiling a bit. “Then go, attend to your work.” She took her place on a stool at a smaller table close to the one where we were seated.
❀ ❁ ❀
The recording machines were started. During a coffee break I found out that these were magnetic wire recorders, precursors to tape machines.
“Let’s start with your name, place and date of birth.”
“My name is Kurt Gersen, I will be born on the 29th of May 1989. Place of birth will be Innsbruck in the province of Tyrol in Austria.”
Three hours of that, with questions mostly from McWirther and only a few from the others. No questions at all from Arnold, but he occasionally jotted a note on a pad.
“So, the company you were working for as a programmer and electronics engineer, what did they make?” asked Grace Springer.
“Oh, this will probably interest you very much: we were providing secure communication solutions for private citizens, businesses and government agencies. In other words, we were making cypher machines.”
Ah! That did wake them back up and get their interest.
“Why did you not tell me, Kurt?”
“Because perhaps the subject has not come up so far, Thomas.”
“Cypher machines as advanced as your computers? We need to talk about this — no! I have to tell my department and we’ll have to start a project to investigate,” said Merarch Springer.
“No. I am very sorry, Citizen Springer, but, no. At least not yet and now.”
“But, this is so very important!”
I raised my hand. “Please, let me finish. I fully understand how essential secure communications are, after all I work in that area. But the project here, the main project right now, is to get the computers running and the data extraction up to speed. Then we can think about spawning off new sub–projects. Doing it the other way around will achieve nothing and will only hold us up. We will be mired in countless sub–projects without any efficient way to get at the data for analysis if we do this. Because I guarantee you, Citizen Springer, we will be spawning off sub–projects like crazy.”
Gardiner interrupted, “He’s right, Springer, think it through. I myself have already noted down a few subjects that I would like to investigate and it has only been three hours or so.”
“But cryptography is important!”
I answered. “Yes it is. So are transistors, microchips, the internet, the Cambridge titanium process, LiON batteries, hi–bypass turbofans or carbon fiber structures. Just to name the first few things that come to my mind.”
Everyone abruptly started to make notes.
“I am fully willing and prepared to support a cryptography sub–project, but we have to keep our first stage target in our eyes.”
I could see that Springer was not willing to let it go, when McWirther interceded. “I’ll put a special recommendation into my report, but at this point we won’t rearrange priorities until we know a lot more.” Which closed this subject for the evening.
Good to know who has the final word here.
❀ ❁ ❀
We had finished the debriefing for the evening and I was walking “home” to d’Espagnat’s house in the night, again accompanied by the janissary guard, crunching over the gravel path. The night was cool and moist, with a fresh wind from the sea. Broken clouds scudded rapidly across a half moon.
“Mr. Gersen, a moment, if you please.”
I could have sworn that I had left McWirther’s house before Arnold, but there he was in front of me, stepping out for some side path, gesturing to the guard to get lost.
“Yes, Citizen Arnold, what can I do for you?”
We sat down on two facing stone benches, carved with lots of flowers and vines and half hidden among bushes, illuminated only by a few distant lights. Some unknown small animals rustled the leaves behind us.
“Citizen Arnold, I admired your skilfull and public delivery of, hmm, let’s call it an officially unofficial non–apology. Would that be about right?”
“That's a very nice turn of phrase, and yes, quite close to the intention.”
“Which in turn means that this will be about as good as it gets. I think I can live with that.”
“Very good. It’s one of the nicer things about working with foreigners or in foreign lands — they typically tend to have a better understanding of the niceties of diplomatic communications then my compatriots.”
“May I ask which embassies you were posted to? As cultural or as press attaché? Or perhaps assistant attaché for trade relations?”
“Why are you asking about these specific attaché postings?”
“Because they are the traditional postings for diplomatically accredited spies?”
He had a very nice laugh, round and full.
“London, Berlin and New York.”
“New York? Whatever happened to Washington as a capital?”
“That malarial swamp? The Yankees gave up on it after it was burned down by the British.”
“Interesting — I really need to get one of your history books to compare with my history.”
“I’m sure that this will become one of the dreaded spawned off sub–projects at some point, Mr. Gersen.”
“You are probably right about that — but I somehow believe you did not waylay me to reminisce about your diplomatic postings.”
“You are right.”
There was a pause, then he spoke in a quiet voice.
“Mr. Gersen, a word to the wise. Many of my colleagues…” He flicked his collar tabs with his fingertips. “Unfortunately do not have my sense of humor or my foreign experience. It might not be a good idea to repeat such things like your comment on the color green where they might hear them or learn of the fact afterwards. They would misunderstand and their reactions might be unfortunate.”
He looked at me with unblinking eyes. I answered after a few seconds.
“Your warning is received and appreciated, Citizen Arnold.”
“Very good.” He smiled. “Then we’ll see each other tomorrow morning. Good night, Mr. Gersen!”
He left. The janissary guard returned, carefully not looking at the departing Security Directorate officer.
❀ ❁ ❀
“Handcuffing yourself to the table?”
Next morning in the electronics workroom next door to the computer centre to be, McWirther, Arnold, Gardiner and Springer were looking over my shoulders as I opened the computers for cleaning and checking. Also present was a serf photographer for documentation and Leotha to take notes. The room was quite full.
“It’s not a handcuff, it’s a grounding strap. Computers — that is, their microelectronics, can be a bit sensitive to discharges of static electricity. Grounding prevents that. Back home I would not worry about that for this kind of simple maintenance, the risk is not that high. But back home I can jump into the car and go to the nearby computer store for a replacement if I should really manage to fry something. I can’t do that here, so I am going to turn paranoid. Which reminds me, Leotha?”
“Yes, Master?” she asked from the background.
“We need a sign for the door to the computer room. No drinking, no eating, no smoking beyond this door. Please see to that later.”
“No smoking?” came the question from Gardiner, who was carrying an unlit pipe in the pocket of his jacket.
“Both the ash and the fine particulates in the smoke are not really that good for computers, besides all the nasty and unhealthy chemicals carried in the smoke.”
“So the Germans are right?”
“I don’t know what the Germans exactly are saying, but if it is that smoking is unhealthy, they got that very right.”
By that time I had opened the first computer and started to vacuum dust out of the casing, pointing out the major components. Springer was almost crawling into the computer case, looking at the details. The photographer finished the inspection by taking pictures.
“This is as far as I can take it without having a working power supply. Do we have any new word on when the transformer will arrive?”
Again it was Leotha who had the information. “Master, the transformer is unfortunately delayed a bit, but should leave Archona on the night mail express this evening. Which means it should be here tomorrow morning. The technicians will be standing by for installation.”
❀ ❁ ❀
I had lunch with McWirther, the first time we had been alone for some time, truly alone. Even the serfs had been sent out of the room on some errand or other. Something was up.
“Your comments yesterday evening.”
Ahh! Thought so!
“About the color green? I saw your face, Thomas and the faces of the others. It seems that I committed some awful faux pas.”
He glanced very quickly to the sides, right, then left — without really moving his head, as if to check if there was somebody else in the room. “Yes, you could bloody well say that. Telling a head–hunter to his face what you think of him. I wish you would not do such things.”
“I will try to in the future. But I will also try not to lie. Arnold seems to have taken it calmly, judging both by his statement and the little chat we had after the de–briefing.”
“I heard about the chat. What was it about?”
“Not much was said explicitly or clearly, but we talked about his experience in the Foreign Service. I told him that I thought he had been a spy with diplomatic cover and he admitted that he had been in several of your embassies, but not what he had been doing there exactly. Which is also a kind of answer. Finally he gave me a warning. I must say that Arnold is an interesting guy.”
“Yes. How did he phrase it? Word to the wise, not everyone wearing green would have his sense of humor and his experience with foreigners. So I should take more care what, how and where I speak. Delivered in a very nice and friendly way. I could almost have believed him. In other words, I got my leash tugged.”
“Kurt, do take care about him. Arnold isn’t anybody’s friend. He’s dangerous!”
“Oh, yes. But I must say that I like his style. One could also admire the delivery and timing of his non–apology yesterday. Judging from the amazed stares of all present, I guess that such admissions of failure are not issued often by the Security Directorate.”
Thomas nodded. “Yes, that was a bit outside the usual. Actually, very unusual.”
“Which is an interesting datum in itself. I think that at some point in the near future, I will need to sit down with citizen Arnold and have a discussion on the limits of what may be said and how. Just to prevent future embarrassments for all involved parties.”
“I’m not sure that’s a good idea, Kurt.”
“I am not sure either, but I think it needs to be done nevertheless.”
❀ ❁ ❀
—Day 5.— 15.AUG.1935—
I checked the display on the multi–meter and leaned back.
“Ok, so far, so good. Let’s do the smoke test.”
“Smoke test? What’s a smoke test?” asked Gardiner. I again had many observers on the festive occasion of actually switching on the computers.
“I will switch it on and if it starts to smoke, I did something wrong!” My index finger stabbed the power switch on the UPC, which promptly went — beep — beep — beep — tshunk — as the power relay switched. “Now that sounds pretty good. And you see that what you do not see is smoke.”
I started up all four computers. My work box, the gaming computer, the entertainment machine and the laptop and all checked out satisfactorily. I quickly copied a stack of documents into a subdirectory and gave those present a short lesson on how to use the document viewer. Then I sat down on my work computer and started to install the copy of Wikipedia I had, or at least I tried to. It did not take long before the first interruption.
“Loki’s balls! Mach 3.3 — that’s three and a half thousand km per hour? Faster than a speeding bullet.”
“Mach 3.3 means you probably found an article on the SR&nmdash;71.”
“Whatever that is. Actually it’s an article on how air inlets work on something called supersonic jet engines, which I think are a type of gas turbines that produce thrust by pure reaction. And yes, it mentions an aircraft called SR—71.”
The conversation devolved into a long discussion about aircraft engines. Finally I brought it to a halt.
“Citizen Gardiner, most of what we had been just discussing you could look up for yourself, once I have the encyclopedia up and running on the computers. The directory with documents I pointed you at was just an interim solution, so that I would have a little more time do that, and prepare some other things as well.”
He grinned. “What you carefully do not want to say is that I keep you from working.”
“I know that these discussions are important and frankly, I enjoy them. But they would go much faster and better if we would have more information at our finger tips. This,” I pointed at the screen, displaying the subdirectory with file names of technical documents. “is just going to whet your appetite.”
Springer interrupted, “So what are your plans?”
“First of all, get my copy of the encyclopedia up and running. Then figure a way to transfer information from the screens to microfilm. I am going to look at one of your microfilm cameras tomorrow, and probably will talk to someone who knows his way around them. Once that is in hand, I will have to write a program that will manage and keep records of these transfers, or we will end up with missing articles and articles may be transferred three times.” The people around me winced a little and nodded. I continued. “Once that works, train a few serfs in using the stuff. By that time we also will hopefully have been able to welcome that Citizen Research librarian. Are we sure we need a Citizen for that?”
“Yes,” answered McWirther. “The material is just too sensitive and if whatever you tell us is true, it needs really in–depth analysis, not just filing away, and that’s a job for a Citizen.”
Arnold added. “All that sounds like a lot of work. How long do you expect this to take? The reason I’m asking is because you said something about training serfs. It takes a little time to get serfs that have been properly raised and selected for whatever kind of work you’re going to need from them.”
McWirther added dryly, “Yes, and then we’ll have to make sure that they understand the security needs of the project properly. It would not do if they go and babble into the wrong ears.”
I wonder just whose ears McWirther means and if these ears sit over collars made from green cloth?
❀ ❁ ❀
Sometime later, I had been doing some clean up, basically, I was still preparing for the installation of the Wikipedia encyclopedia download. But I did not get very far, as this work was punctuated by many questions from Singer about how things worked on my computers. Neither the concepts of a separate operating system nor of running multiple programs at the same time on one machine had made it yet into the Domination.
“What is so important about organ donors?”
“We’re reading here a short article on the effects of types of laws in different nations on the numbers of organ donors. Why are anatomy studies so important?” asked Arnold.
“Yes. It is important to train doctors properly in anatomy. The article seems to imply that do you not get enough bodies to dissect for your medical students.”
“Ah, now I understand! That article is not talking about dead bodies for dissection — it is talking about organ donors. Taking, let’s say, the heart of somebody who has just died from some not–heart related reason and transplanting it into the body of somebody who has a heart disease, replacing the defective heart.”
The silence was deafening.
“You can do that?”
“Yes. It’s not easy, simple or cheap and there often are medical problems afterwards as you usually have to partly suppress the immune system to avoid rejection of the transplanted organ by the body, but it can be done with a number of organs. In fact, the first successful heart transplant was done here in Capetown, some time in the 1960s.”
The discussion that followed went into all the aspects of organ transplants; medical, cultural and legal.
Gardiner pointed at the screen. “I dare say that we’re not likely to have these legal difficulties as described. For one, our Citizens tend to be healthier than you describe the people of your world, reducing the need. And the Citizens will be a lot less likely to resist the idea of donation — especially when it’s described as a way to serve the Race and the State even after your death.” He looked at me in a grandfatherly way, then continued. “And — you’re not going to like this too much — we obviously have a very large number of possible donors who do not have a say in it.”
I looked down at my hands, somehow some of Larry Niven’s more gruesome stories about the organ banks and the society they created came to mind. “No. I am not too happy about that particular idea.”
I looked up again. Everyone in the room was looking back at me, with different expressions on their faces. Some of them were searching, like Gardiner or neutral; but two, McWirther and interestingly Arnold, actually looked sympathetic.
What have I done? But have I done anything? They would have figured all that out just a little later on their own without my help. And am I not just trying to numb my conscience with such thoughts of inevitability?
“Something nice to think about on a sleepless evening with a good bottle of wine, isn’t it?”
❀ ❁ ❀
“This is not good.”
“What's the problem?” asked Springer.
“I just tried to install the encyclopedia and it crashed — rather badly too.”
“So you have to try again?”
“First I have to figure out what exactly is wrong. Then I can try the installation again.”
“But why did you not install it when you were still back home? From what you told us so far, it’s something that you used very often, so I would have thought it’s already on your computer.”
“This encyclopedia is called the Wikipedia, and it’s not something you usually have on your own computer, it simply changes too quickly. It’s one of those things you connect to over the internet, that way you always have access to the most recent version.”
Gardiner entered the conversation. “An encyclopedia that changes too quickly? I don’t see how that works. An encyclopedia is supposed to contain only well–established information. At least to me, that seems to preclude fast changes.”
We discussed Wikipedia for some time, what it is, how it works and its critical differences to classic paper printed encyclopedia.
Gardiner concluded, “I still don’t see how all that might produce a usable and accurate encyclopedia.”
“That’s almost exactly what all producers of paper encyclopedia said only a few years ago — why Wikipedia could and would never amount to anything. Their problem is that by now half of them are dead. That’s an oops.”
“But what has this all to do with the failed installation?” asked Springer.
“I pulled an archive version of the Wikipedia from the net, together with an experimental program that converts that archive into readable articles on the fly. Our company intended to use something like that to distribute and manage user and service manuals and other technical documentation, so I did some testing. The whole package was already a bit temperamental and finicky when I tried it out a year ago or so.”
“But you will be able to get it working?”
I nodded. “Yes, it will just be a bit of work. The mostly likely culprit for that installation problem now is one of the updates that were made during that time to the operating system or the database management system that is the backbone for that program.”
Sometime later, after wading through source code listings, writing little test programs and trying out things. “Thomas, Citizen Arnold, I fear that we will have to postpone the evening debriefing. This is turning into a true all–nighter. I am finally on the track of the problem and I would not like to stop now.”
“Hmm, yes, let’s do it your way, but tomorrow we definitely will have a debriefing. No ifs, and or buts or other excuses.”
❀ ❁ ❀
Three o’clock in the morning. My minder has already been changed twice. We had agreed on a rule that no one would ever be in the computer room alone. In fact it was paranoid of me to introduce the rule, but both security officers immediately agreed to it.
Right now Arnold was sitting at the other computer, browsing through technical files and other documents producing occasional exclamations or chuckles. It must have been boring watching me programming, juggling umpteen windows while rapidly typing mysterious and impenetrable text and giving undecipherable explanations when being prompted to do so. I hit the enter key and the Wikipedia start screen came up.
“Yessssss!!! Citizen Arnold, do you think the swimming pool at the palaestra is still open?”
“At this hour? There will be no attendants there at this time of the night.”
While I did some very fast tests on Wikipedia searches, I answered. “Attendants are not necessary.” The test results were positive. “I need just three more minutes here, then I am finished and would like to swim a few rounds before bed, care to join me?”
I finished up by creating shortcuts and throwing them onto the desktops of the three other machines and we did swim for about half an hour in a moonlit pool under a starry sky.
❀ ❁ ❀
—Days 6 and 7.— 16 and 17.AUG.1935—
Lunch break. The TRIANGLE project had in the meanwhile acquired, in addition to our secretary, household staff to keep things in and around the house neat and tidy in the way Draka seem to like it. Thank God Thomas McWirther took over that part since I would not have known what to do with a gardener. I was supposed to sit in on the morning meetings where the orders of the day were given out. Obviously another part of my ongoing education on being Draka.
The staff included a cook who was, apart from feeding the serfs, responsible for feeding us during the day.
I looked at the slightly stunned faces of those present and asked with a grin, “So, how does it feel being the first victims of Wikipedia Browsing Syndrome in the Domination?”
Alexandra Collingswood, who had been made the official liaison between TRIANGLE and the nuclear project only that morning, answered. “It’s like trying to drink a mouthful of water from a fire hose!”
Gardiner added, “And I take everything back I ever said or thought about this strange way of creating an encyclopedia. This is a wonderful thing and a weird one.”
“I noticed that you jumped around a lot, from one subject area to another.”
“Yes — I found that following those links without a plan can lead you to strange places in a hurry. I have to keep careful notes or I will surely lose something interesting or important.”
“There is a parlor game called six degrees of Wikipedia — you might want to look it up.”
“It has its own article?”
“Of course it has, something that does not have a Wikipedia entry most probably does not exist at all.” I tried to keep a straight face while giving this answer, but do not succeed entirely. “Anyhow. Are there any important or urgent questions right now? I will spend a large part of the afternoon over in the atomics admin building, looking over one of the microfilm machines. I have no real idea how long that will take, but you can find me there if you need me for something.”
❀ ❁ ❀
“Tomorrow is Saturday,” said Sophie d’Espagnat with the same gravity she would have used to announce some irrefutable physics fact.
I answered nonplussed, “Yes, and?”
“We’re going shopping to Capetown and you’re coming with us, young man. You need some proper clothes.”
“Yes. Alexandra,” (who was standing there with a gleeful face), “will come, too.”
I turned to McWirther, who was standing behind me and tried for the theatrical. “Help! I am about to be abducted by a pride of shopping–mad lionesses!”
Sophie pounced. “Nice try. And thank you very much for the lioness. But flattery won’t help you here and now.”
I sighed. “Is this really necessary?”
“Yes!” came the answer in unison. Alexandra added. “No offense intended. I do realize that you left your formal wardrobe back home, but much of what you have brought with you as holiday clothes would be seen by many as only fit for a serf, and not a very high level one at that.”
“No offense taken. And while I might perhaps agree that it is just barely possible that I might be in the need of a little sartorial upgrade,” stressing all the conjunctives, “this raises the completely serious question how I am supposed to pay for it. I somehow doubt that your shop owners will take my Euro notes.”
“Ah,” answered McWirther. “We were planning to do something about that in a week or two. A bank account and such. I’ll have to figure out something.”
“That, Thomas, only proves you are not part of that,” I pointed at the women, “cabal.”
Interesting. Is this an indication that the Metic citizenship is not that far away? Together with the sudden need for presentable clothes? I am not going to press for details although it’s hard not to be curious.
❀ ❁ ❀
The next day we drove to Capetown in one of the big cars that had been assigned to the project. ‘We’ consisted of Alexandra and Sophie and myself plus Benedict Arnold, who had somehow inveigled himself into the shopping posse. Also included were a janissary driver and two serf girls to do the fetching and carrying. Those two were almost bouncing on their seats in anticipation. I only later found out that being taken along on such a shopping expedition was considered a treat.
Seeing Arnold in civilian clothing was something of an eye opener. Trousers and shirt in a turquoise colored silk damask, with lots of embroidery in bright, sometimes contrasting colors to bring out the woven pattern of the fabric, lace on the sleeves and the collar. The whole thing was topped by a bolero style jacket in deep burgundy red, also with lots of embroidery trim. On the trip to Capetown I learned that he was a bit of a clothes horse, complaining that his past posting had not allowed him to keep up with fashion.
Capetown was interesting. This was the first place in the Domination where I had visited its counterpart in our universe. The geology and thus the lay of the land was of course identical, with the Table Mountain as a huge backdrop and lower Lions Head and Signal Hill to its south—western side. I have always looked at mountains with a bit more than the layman’s interest. Even the general directions of the roads were very similar, as they were mostly governed by geography.
But the city itself was full of huge differences. Wider roads, lots and lots of green. The houses were different too. Only a very few buildings had more than four or five floors, quite contrary to the Capetown I had known. Many of the buildings were decorated in vines and plants in something close to an art deco style. So as long as I kept my eyes down on the buildings it was easy to forget where I was. But once I looked up and saw the mountains in the background, cognitive dissonance raised its head as the unknown buildings jarred with the known mountains.
Road traffic was a lot less than I had expected, but then it was 1935, after all. The private cars were mixed with a good number of commercial delivery vehicles, most of them small. There was something strange about the road traffic in this city and it took me quite some time to realize just what the strangeness was. The traffic was very quiet. Steam cars do not make much noise beyond some kind of hissing and soft whirring, and even in large numbers they did not produce much sound, especially at low speeds. It was not only the traffic; the city itself was generally very quiet, with nobody talking loudly, but this was something I realized only after a few hours being there.
The other thing that was strange about the traffic was the smell. It was different from what I was used to back home, but it was hard to say what exactly was different. The closest thing to it I had experienced before was the smell in a collection of steam locomotives. It seems that hot steam and hot metal have their own fragrance.
Looking at the people walking in the streets, it was pretty clear who was a Citizen and who a serf, not only because the Citizens carried weapons in plain sight even in town. The very clothes were different, with many of the serfs wearing overalls, often marked with logos or company names, all meaningless to me at that point. It was also clear by the amount of space given to Citizens, the way serfs swerved out of their way, the way Citizens automatically assumed to have the right of way. Much of that I had already seen before, but on a much smaller scale. Because the serfs and Citizens knew each other personally, more intimately in the different houses I had been guest in so far.
The variety of the styles worn by the Citizens was all over the place. From something a lot like the things worn by Freydis and Gerrit Karolius, which I later learned were called planter’s style to color and fabric combinations that made Benedict Arnold look distinctly drab to something like cross between a Saville Row jacket and a long sleeved safari jacket with four or six pockets and an integrated fabric belt, made of silk or lightweight linen in somewhat more subdued colors.
Woman Citizens seemed to wear more or less slightly feminized versions of the same clothes, in similar colors — the only skirts in sight were worn by female serfs. And ties and cravats, basically everyone, male or female, wore cravats like in the 1800s, often of lacy fabric or scarves, even more colorful than the clothes.
Great! I can look like a Amazonian parrot with lace, or like some refugee from either the “Gone with the Wind” or “Out of Africa” movie sets. And it seemed that wearing a built–in strangling rope is de rigeur in the Domination. I hate ties.
❀ ❁ ❀
The shop we ended up in was in a side street to the main commercial road and seemed to take up an entire two story building; a largish one, and quite old, it seemed. In the entrance foyer, there was a sign on the wall: “Starlings, est. 1856.” Sophie was greeted by the shop owner and it seemed that she was a long term customer there; they were on a first name basis.
“What can I do for you this time, Sophie? I’ve seen you rarely enough in the last few years!”
“Oh, I’ll be back more often in the future; I’m finally back in the province. But right now, we need a complete wardrobe and I do mean complete. Formal, leisure, everything for this young gentleman here.” She pointed at me.
Introductions were made and we were ushered into one of the showing rooms. Refreshments were offered by a group of well trained serfs.
“So, Mr. Gersen, what style do you prefer?”
“Frankly, I have no idea.”
Arnold added from the side, “Mr. Gersen has just arrived in the Domination, but we do expect to welcome him as a Metic Citizen in the next few weeks.”
“Oh! Congratulations, then. And that explains why you don’t carry. Hmm… you are left handed, I see. I take it you’ll prefer a gun, then?”
“Thank you for the congratulations, and yes, probably.”
“Then we’ll just present you a cross section of the available styles first. That way you can narrow down your interest. After you’ve found out what you’d like, we’ll do the measuring. Would that be agreeable to you?”
Agreeable to me or not, a parade of serfs began showing off different styles. Arnold seemed to enjoy himself a lot, sometimes making quiet comments to a female serf kneeling beside his chair and taking notes.
“You’ve been very quiet, Mr. Gersen.”
“I must admit, I am a bit… overwhelmed. And frankly, I simply can’t imagine myself in much of what I have seen so far. Many of the colors are especially, ah, daunting.”
“I see. So you’d prefer something a bit more conservative?”
“Probably yes. Some of those jackets you showed in the middle perhaps? And could we perhaps limit the colors to grays? Light to dark gray, deep blues and reds, I like burgundy and perhaps dark greens?”
“Oh, I’m sure we can find something you like with that as a guideline!” The shop owner vanished for a few minutes. Alexandra looked a bit disappointed.
“Alexandra, is there something wrong?”
“What you just described sounds terribly, awfully staid. I was hoping you would pick something a little more stylish. You can easily carry off some very stylish effects.”
“Alexandra, I am really, really overwhelmed by the styles on offer and I really do have troubles imagining myself feeling comfortable in them. Perhaps in time, that might change. But there is also another point for me right now.”
“You obviously, like most humans, buy clothes to make a statement about yourself. ‘Look at me, I am special, I am the fairest of them all.’ That’s not what I am doing here, at least not right now; perhaps next time. Right now I am not buying a statement, I am buying… camouflage.”
It took her a few seconds to see the point, but then I could literally see her changing her mental gears
“Oh. Yes. Right. We can help with that, too.”
Benedict Arnold only grinned a little bit and raised his wine glass in a clear salute.
❀ ❁ ❀
I ended up buying several of those safari suit jacket things, complete with scores of embroidered shirts and trousers, and a large number of cravats. I managed to keep the amount of lace to a minimum, accompanied by renewed grumbles from the peanut gallery. Plus underwear, socks and other necessities, all of that to be delivered in the next few days after being made to my measure. I was measured by two male serfs, who seemed to have the time of their lives and a giggling female note keeper, all while still being be very respectful. Total cost was something over 500 aurics. Since at that time I had no idea just how much money that was, I paid without protest from a wallet I had been handed by McWirther before departure that morning.
I did notice that d’Espagnat and Collingswood whispered with the shopkeeper in what looked a lot like a female conspiracy. I would uncover the extent of this conspiracy a few days later, when the clothes were delivered and I found several things in the shipment that I most definitely had not ordered, things like workout clothes, riding garb and some other, much more flamboyant stuff.
All that intense shopping took several hours. We had lunch in a restaurant on the lower slope of Table Mountain, overlooking much of the city. The food was interesting. Lots of Indian and oriental influences, lots of spices, in many different and small courses. I think we had a total of seven different courses, not counting dessert and cheeses. Lots of meat and fish, lots of vegetables, very little carbohydrates and little fat. I had eaten ostrich before and found it quite nice, but things like crocodile and Cape buffalo and eland were new to me. Dessert however was an old acquaintance, lemon meringue pie.
The afternoon was filled with sightseeing. This different Capetown was a beautiful city, much more so then the Capetown I had known before. I did note the names of several shops for later reference and made a purchase in one those, but I refused to tell my company what I needed a picture frame for.
❀ ❁ ❀
—Days 9 to 14.— 19.AUG.1935 to 24.AUG.1935—
“Please, Sir, no.” I heard a female voice, whispering down the upper floor corridor.
I came to the crossing and saw them standing in the short hallway leading to the service stairs. One of the janissary guards, who did security around the house and who babysat me when I was going out of the house without a citizen to accompany me was standing near the stairs. He had very deep brown skin, a pointy chin, with prominent cheek bones and narrow, almost slit brown eyes with a shaved and polished head as per regulations.
He was holding one of the serving girls by her wrists, both of them in one large hand, and the other hand was busy elsewhere under her tunic. She was one of the girls who keep the floors swept, the offices clean and the tea pots filled. Illiterate like most of the house staff and thus banned from the computer rooms, unless closely supervised, but serious and competent in what she did. She did not seem to be too happy about the janissary paying close attention to her.
As I rounded the corner he let her go and came to attention. She made the standard serf bow with her hands before her face before putting her tunic back into order.
“In my experience, there is nothing that beats voluntary enthusiasm for this kind of thing. But enthusiasm is hard to find if you drag people away against their wishes.” I looked at the janissary.
“Suh, yes, Suh!”
Not only I do not have any experience with non–enthusiastic sex partners and do not want to have any; here am I as a future slave owner–to–be, telling someone not to force his attentions on a slave. Hypocrisy, here I come!
“Now, you could just ask her. If she says yes, and you are both off duty, no problem, have fun. And if she says no at any point, there won’t be any problem either. Right?”
“Yes, Suh! No problem, Suh!”
“Very good. I would appreciate if both of you would pass the word to your mates about how this will work in the future.”
Much more softly she said, “Yes, Master!” She bowed again, very deeply this time, more deeply than it would have be called for if I understood protocol correctly and scurried away on quiet feet. He saluted, turned about face and marched off. Interestingly I could not detect any resentment in him. Either a damn good actor or he took the whole thing pretty philosophically.
❀ ❁ ❀
“Thomas, I fear I just stepped on your toes.”
I stood in the doorway to his office. It was what I had started to recognize as a typical office of a Citizen, large, with colorful murals of nature scenes or ornamental flowers and vines on the walls. Besides the mahogany writing desk, there was a low table with couches and comfortable chairs around it, plus some low book and file cases on the walls, under a good collection of hunting trophies and weapons. He looked up at me from some paperwork behind his table, waved me inside his office and directed me to one of the chairs by the couch. I described the little scene from about ten minutes ago.
“So, since the janissaries are yours, I hope I did not stumble over some line here.”
“No, your actions were completely in order. We did agree that the house staff should eventually come under your authority and it is your duty to protect those under your authority. It just seems you’re starting to get used to that idea faster than I anticipated. Who was it, by the way?”
“One of the young ones, but I did not take note of his name plate.I was too busy looking into his face. He did not seem to be disturbed in any way by me giving such orders.”
And even if I would have noticed the name, I would not have told you in this situation, after all, nothing really bad had happened yet.
“Why should he? First of all, the ones we have here are all pretty smart ones. Second, they’re all trained very well to obey any order from a Citizen at all. Third, the orders you gave were actually very reasonable. In fact, you told them how to act on their urges with your implicit blessings. And finally, janissaries, like all serfs, feel a lot more comfortable and safer when they do have reasonable orders to follow then when they have to act on their own. But just to make sure, I’ll also talk to the sergeant about this tomorrow or so.”
❀ ❁ ❀
One or two weeks later I happened to look down from the second floor into the small, formal, almost renaissance style, herb garden that my new cook and gardener had restarted behind the kitchen. There was a stone bench sometimes used by some of the staff to take a short break. It was being used by that young janissary and the serving maid, sharing what looked like a bottle of beer.
❀ ❁ ❀
Private addendum to the official daily report on TRIANGLE by Cohortarch Thomas McWirther to Strategos Poul Anders, dated 20.8.1935:
Many thanks for getting me these reports so quickly. I had no idea that the foreign directorate had really and actually produced something that Gersen would describe as “The Dummies Guide to the Domination.”
That other report, on the problems that immigrants/defectors have with integrating into the Domination, makes very interesting reading indeed. I’m sure I’ll find it very useful in the future as we might encounter many of the cliffs described therein. I won’t ask how you liberated it from the SD. Do they know we have it?
Finally, you asked me for my unofficial opinion on Metic citizenship for Gersen. I can only repeat my official recommendation, yes. That was the deal from our side — and Gersen has kept up his side of the deal very well indeed. But stepping back from that deal might very well leave us with nothing at all. Springer finally has given up and admitted that she can’t follow Gersen once he seriously starts working his computers. That, despite all the high pressure teaching he’s giving her! It might take her years to catch up. And the longer I see Gersen working and the better I get to know him, the more I think he has something hidden up his sleeve if we renege. I don’t think we would like to see that card at all.
❀ ❁ ❀
“Please turn over, Master!”
A few days before I had found out that getting a massage after shower and before bed helped me to sleep. A massage was a lot better than a sleeping pill or a bottle of wine. A few nights with very little sleep and bad dreams had convinced me of the utility. I will readily admit that it is a luxury, not something necessary for survival. It was something that helped me to function the next day. I found having to deal with the citizens of the Domination and trying to adjust myself to the life here stressful.
So I was lying on the massage table in my bathing suite, getting warm, lightly scented oil rubbed vigorously into my back. It had taken me an evening or two to convince the girl that had been assigned to me by Sophie to use her fingernails a little bit on occasion. I was already so relaxed that I did not turn over – I oozed over onto my back to get my front side worked on.
A few minutes later her administrations had wandered down from my brow over my shoulders and arms to my chest and… wait a moment…
The doctor who had examined me after the Redenrunt interrogation had told me, in quite embarrassingly frank detail, (especially when you are being told so by a good looking woman) that I should expect erectile dysfunction for a period of five to ten days after my encounter with the cattle prod. If it took any longer, I should contact her again.
Well. It seemed that this was a phone call that I did not need to make as my sexual reflexes seemed to be back in working condition. Especially when being prodded back to life by two skillful hands with lots of warm oil. And it is hard to override reflexes that rise to the occasion.
Next morning I was awakened in the nicest possible way; perhaps I had finally found the secret to that damnable bounciness of the Draka in the morning? Before the girl could slip out of the bed, I caught her wrist, and smiled at her.
“Good morning, Master. I hope you had a good night?”
“A good night and a very nice morning, yes. Tell me, yesterday evening, was that entirely your own idea?”
“No, Master. Mistress Sophie of course told us to take very good care of you. The doctor also spoke to us before she left and she sent the special massage oil to be used.”
“The doctor?” I laughed softly. “Doctor’s orders, special oil, nevertheless, thank you for a very nice evening.”
“Master…” she hesitated. “Master, thank you for being so considerate the second time around.”
Second time? WHAT second time… oh, my! That left me thoughtful. I put it on hold for a minute.
“Master, shall I bring you your morning tray?”
❀ ❁ ❀
—Day 22 and 23.— 1.SEPT.1935 and 2.SEPT.1935—
It had taken a while but we finally got the micro film camera to work properly with the computer screen. Part of the problem had been my learning curve with the serf machinists who actually made the necessary adaptations. Back home I was used to work with free tool and die workers, who are all a little bit of prima donnas and not the smallest bit hesitant to tell me that I was talking nonsense and demanding the impossible. On the other hand they were also not hesitant to offer improvement ideas by themselves or just work from some vague description and some scribbles on a scrap of paper.
The serf machinists at the project were very different and very diffident. They controlled the machines by hand instead of having computerized controls, which made things harder. I was used to shooting my machinists CAD files for the necessary parts.
But the delays had also enabled me to finish the beta version of the document management program, in between the questions by the Draka and the consultations with the machinists. This meant we would need some additional personel to actually use the camera and the computers.
“Yes, ultimately we will need more, but right now I think I can only train two while keeping up with the other demands on my time.”
“Good,” answered Thomas. “Then I’ll go and pick two from the crèche tomorrow.”
“Perhaps I should come with you.” Benedict Arnold entered the conversation, unexpectedly. “And find possible security problems before they occur.”
Thomas McWirther’s head came up, looking at the Security Directorate man with a wary expression.
“If you put it that way, there’s very little I can say against that idea. Tomorrow at 0900?”
“I’ll be there. And I think that Mr. Gersen should accompany us.”
“I don’t think that will be really necessary!” answered Thomas.
I leaned back so that I could see both men without having to turn my head back and forth like an observer of a tennis match. Arnold was smiling, but was his smile entirely convincing? And McWirther was not happy with the direction the discussion had taken. Something was up, but what?
Arnold turned towards me. “What do you think, Mr. Gersen? I believe it would be important for you to select your serfs for yourself; only that way you can be sure you can train them properly.”
On the face of it this was a very reasonable argument. But why do I feel there is some ulterior motive behind it? And from the way Thomas is reacting, he feels the same. The problem with not agreeing makes me look either stupid or weak. I feel herded.
“Yes, there is something to be said for that.” Stall, damn it! “What exactly would that entail?”
“I’m sure Mr. McWirther can explain that better than I. Basically we should go to one of the better crèches near Capetown and see what they have to offer.”
Thomas wore an expression like he had bitten into a lemon, a moldy one too, to boot. “Actually we’d be shown the files on their offers first, so that we can make some kind of first pass. Then we get to see the serfs. The whole thing should take a few hours.”
I agreed to come with them and then found out it was suddenly surprisingly hard to find a moment with Thomas alone. But when I finally managed that, all I got out of Thomas was that he also had misgivings and he warned me to be very careful.
❀ ❁ ❀
We arrived at the crèche, somewhere in the industrial outskirts in the flat area to the south–east of Capetown. In the Capetown I had known many of the townships and shantytowns had been situated in that area.
We arrived at what was obviously the Citizen’s entrance to Thomson & Thompson, a crèche famous for rearing and training serfs for high–grade administrative jobs. It was a good looking three story house decorated in the typical floral style, set back from the street behind a nice looking garden with a number of private cars parked in front of it , There was no industrial vehicles in sight. Obviously, those used a different entrance.
We were ushered into a waiting room by an elderly serf who did not bat a single eye about the unusual picture we presented: War Directorate black, Security Directorate green and a young man in very conservative Citizen’s clothing without a visible weapon. The few Citizens we met on the way, however, tended to look from guardedly curious to downright startled. After offering refreshments and abject apologizes for the delay of the Citizen director we were about to meet, the serf withdrew.
The waiting room was on the second floor and had a huge window over–looking the rear of the building. There were a good number of sofas and upholstered, low chairs to select from sitting on what looked like genuine Persian rugs. Some snacks had been set out on one of the sideboards along the wall opposite the window. The walls were a bit different from the usual, no murals only simple, soft color swathes and low and high relief wood carvings in tropical woods showing stylist scenes of work, by serfs, of course, agricultural, industrial and domestic work. I had no patience for sitting down, so I gravitated to the windows and looked out, standing beside one of the floral arrangements scenting the air.
The window looked out onto a courtyard under a cold looking watery blue sky with occasional gray clouds. The courtyard was quite large, easily more than a hundred–fifty meters on a side enclosed by two and three story buildings, in several slightly different styles. It was all very clean and well kept, but simpler than most of the houses we had seen in Capetown.
There were lots of trees in the yard and a number of grassy fields set up for games. I spotted two sandboxes, some swings and other stuff that looked like playground equipment. It was populated by a good number of kids, ranging from babies carried in slings and hand carts to kids up to about five years or so, running around and playing. Some adults, both male and female, and obviously serfs by their clothes, were also in sight watching the children.
The children looked well fed and happy; nothing in their play actions indicated their status, until a Citizen crossed the courtyard. Then all the children close by stopped playing and bowed. Some of them were prodded a bit by their mates because they were concentrating on their construction work in the sandbox. The bows varied of course in perfection by age, but the older children had it down pretty good; they did not look fearful, forced or in any way unwilling. The Citizen stopped a few times, talked to a few of the kids, even handing one or two of them something that probably was some candy, possibly as a reward for something they had said or did.
I was looking out into that yard for a good quarter of an hour or so before someone entered the waiting room. She was a middle–aged woman, neat and trim and in good condition like all the Draka I had met so far. She apologized that she had been held up by another customer and sounding like she really meant that apology. Was it the green and black uniform mix or just the Draka mores of punctuality?
She was one of the Thomsons (or Thompsons?) and she noticed my fascination with the scene beyond the window. “We take great pride in the quality of our product. One of the ways we ensure emotional stability is to make sure they have a good, stable childhood and are properly socialized to Citizens, starting from a very early age.”
“I take it that the older children are trained somewhere else?”
“Yes, they have their own places in some of the other yards. And their daily schedules become more and more organized, of course.”
“I see, thank you.” I looked out the window again, inwardly seething and trying hard not to show it. The terms used by Miz Thomson had hit me badly.
Product, indeed! And properly socialized to Citizens, like a puppy or a kitten is properly socialized to humans.
We were invited to one of the show rooms. On leaving, I looked out onto the playing, happy children for a last time, and noticed in the reflection in the window that Arnold was steadily observing me with an expressionless face.
❀ ❁ ❀
The files we were supplied with, about twenty or thirty, were of frightening blandness. With the exception of names, sex and birth dates, they were all alike. There were only very few and small markers of personality noted. Obviously the number of permissible hobbies and past times and interests had been very limited for these products indeed! They were as identical as possible.
Reading the first or second file was interesting, as the files were very complete. Name, picture, medical history, including what was probably an extensive psychological section, though mostly incomprehensible to me as the jargon differed a lot from the one at home. There was a section on disciplinary history, a list of the skills learned and the rating results for those skills.
I had somehow expected things like typing, use and basic maintenance of office machinery, filing, and book–keeping. Things like health, basic cooking, basic housekeeping, calligraphy, singing and musical instruments I had not expected. But the real eye openers were course titles like massage and introduction to omnisexual amatory arts.
The files had been passed along among us in conveyor belt style, me being the last one. The others had taken some notes; I assembled two stacks in front of me, a large one and a much smaller one. The smaller one was of files where I had detected some hint of individuality. And again, I felt myself being observed by Arnold.
The group of serfs was led in by an older male serf; the gender mix was about four–fifths female. All of them were reasonably normal or good looking, but there were no exceptional beauties among them. I later learned that the really good looking ones were side–lined at some point into the so–called fancy product lines with a slightly different course load. They all looked perhaps a little bit frightened, apprehensive; well, small wonder. Some, however, were also looking excited in addition to the other emotions.
“Shuck down, everyone, and present.” The order was given quietly.
They all stripped, laid their folded tunics and skirts or trousers on the floor and stood, with their heads turned to show a half profile. Those with longer hair held it away with one hand from the serf number tattooed on their necks.
We got up and walked among the boys and girls or bucks and wenches as the Draka put it, inspecting the merchandise. Frankly, in addition to feeling ill due to my first visit to the slave market, I felt like a fifth wheel since I had no idea what I was supposed to look for. All the boys and girls had the prescribed number of limbs and eyes and I was not going to inspect their teeth. The dentist had already done that and put his opinion into the file, complete with x–ray pictures.
The first one we picked was a buck called Clem. He had outstanding scores on all the necessary skills. Actually he had the highest scores of everyone present, so it was a relatively simple decision. The second one, well, there I felt the need to stick in my oar for once.
“What is your name?”
“Thandi, Master.” Dark skin, broad nose and too strong cheeks for a real all–out beauty. Brown eyes with slightly oriental tilt and straight, shoulder length dark hair.
“Ah. I read in your file that at one point you were thought to be a possible literate level V. But you were downgraded to level IV for some disciplinary problems.” From what I had read in her file, she had barely avoided being whipped, for a number of things that read a lot like teenager pranks and not even vicious or dangerous ones. “Why did you make these problems?”
Her eyes flicked from side to side for fraction of a second, to Miz. Thomson and to the serf who had led her into the show room.
“Tsk, tsk.” I shook my head slightly, and looked at her questioningly. She looked down at my shoes.
“I was bored then, Master.”
I reached out with two fingers and lifted her chin so that I could see her eyes again. I felt a lot of eyes on me.
“And, after all that, are you still bored?”
In the beginning there had been something like hope in her face, all that was gone now. Had she believed, even hoped she would be selected and taken away from this place? Her answer came low enough to pass as a whisper. “Yes, sometimes, Master.”
“A good answer.” The inspection lasted for a few more minutes, then it was time for some discussions among us after which the paperwork, transfer of titles and payment would take place.
The ride home seemed to take a much longer time then the drive to the crèche had taken. I was sitting in the back of the car, silent, alternating between looking out the window at the lovely countryside and at the two humans I had just purchased, Clem and Thandi, sitting on rear–facing jump seats in the front of the car’s cabin. I felt like shit.
❀ ❁ ❀
Once back at the compound, Thandi and Clem were taken somewhere to be briefed on security rules by both McWirther and Arnold together, which must have been a pretty anxiety inducing time for both of them.
I took some reading material and a small snack and sat down at one of the tables in the garden, occasionally fending off some of the brilliantly metallic green Cape starlings, who were very interested in my bread crumbs and did not show much fear.
Another green visitor to my table arrived sometime later. I looked up to see him watching me using a text marker on my reading material. He sat down opposite me. Benedict Arnold placed a softly clinking bag on the bench beside him.
I smiled and asked him, “Finished putting the fear of something into the new serfs?”
“Then I perhaps should see to it that they are properly settled in.” I made ready to get up and leave.
“Leotha is already taking care of that, so, please stay.”
I looked at him again, slightly surprised. The wording was polite, the tone and the body language hinted at something else.
“What is this supposed to be? Words to the wise, chapter two?”
“Something like that, Mr. Gersen, yes.” He leaned back. “Let us start with the end. With the idea of putting the fear of something into the serfs. Unlike some my colleagues, I don’t enjoy doing this kind of thing, but I’m doing it because it’s necessary and, ultimately, it’s for the good of the serfs.”
I must have let myself show some reaction, because he leaned forward and continued.
“You could best think of it as a vaccination, a short unpleasantness now, preventing great pain and suffering later.”
“A vaccination against pain and suffering?”
“What do you think my colleagues will do, if there is a suspicion of one of your serfs talking too much and to the wrong ears? They’ll pull all of them in and question them. You know how that feels, because you got a mild dose of that yourself. I probably will even have to do the pulling in and questioning by myself and I don’t want to have to do that. But please–make no mistake, if I think it’s necessary to protect the Race and the State, I’ll do it.”
“Even a Metic?”
He nodded. “Anyone and I do have the official remit to do that.” He pointed to my reading material. “I see you’re studying that Guide to the Domination for Immigrants. Have you come to the section describing the powers of the Security Directorate? Detention by administrative measures covers a lot of ground.”
“Yes, it made fascinating reading.” I opened the file binder at the appropriate chapter and displayed pages liberally marked with yellow and blue highlighter. “I do wonder how much of a hand your people had with writing this document.”
“Not too much, I think.” He shrugged. “Now to return to my simile, you’re also in need of vaccinations, quite a number of them. Today was a small, simple one, with very little adverse reaction. And while I do understand your reasons to select that particular wench and believe, just like you, that she’s truly learned her lesson, there is a facet of the whole situation that I fear you have not fully considered.”
He was clearly waiting for a reaction by me. “Such as?”
“In a security—sensitive project like ours, the serfs will always be pulled in whenever something happens that merits an investigation. Even if it clearly has nothing to do with the serfs themselves, but with one of the Citizens working on the project. After all they might have seen or heard something of interest. Interrogation will be less strenuous in such a case, but it will still be stressful for them.”
“Let me see if I can translate this. If I, or anyone else, steps out of line, or if there is only some suspicion of someone stepping out of line, the serfs will be the first one to suffer. Basically they are hostages for my good behavior.”
“Correct as far as it describes the effect on the serfs; but hostage? Property can only become a hostage or a pledged pawn to you if you assign undue value to it, monetary or sentimental.” He observed me closely as he spoke; I paid attention. “And it’s not even your personal property, but the State’s, you only get to direct it.”
I believe I got a little bit white in the face, because Arnold reached down into the bag at his side and pulled out two tumbler glasses and a bottle. While he was filling the glasses, he continued to speak.
“I did think you might need this after today.” He pushed one glass across the table. “It can be sometimes hard and difficult to be a Citizen, Mr. Gersen, and I see that it might even be harder and more difficult to actually become one. But this is something you need to learn, both here,” he touched his temple, then pointed at his breast, “and here. Because, if you cannot bring yourself to learn to see the serfs as what they are, you will find it very hard to live in our society. Not so much because of troubles with me, but because of what you will do to yourself.”
I never was one to drink a lot of alcohol, so I had never developed a taste for strong spirits. The stuff in the glass was very smooth, sweetish with lots of spiciness and some hint of smoke. Strong, and it settled my stomach pretty well.
“Theuniskraal — nice stuff in medicinal doses.” He raised his glass in a kind of salute. And then went on. “Mr. Gersen, I’m not your enemy, but I got appointed to judge you, just like McWirther and Gardiner got appointed as judges. The difference is that those lucky dogs get to judge you on the positive merits — the advantages you bring to the Domination. I have to judge if you’re a danger to the Domination and if so, if I think you to be containable in such a case.”
“You give me a lot to think about, Citizen Arnold.”
“I know.” He refilled my glass. “Today you got a more detailed look into what we — the Domination — are. I judged it necessary, both to help you to adjust and to see your reactions to it. I’m sorry to drop you into the deep part of the pool so early, and I’ll make sure you get other looks as well. Think of it as a course of refresher vaccinations.”
“Doctor Arnold, the friendly neighborhood medicine man. So, what is your verdict so far?”
He grinned and moved to refill my glass a third time, but I had put my hand on top of it. He poured another one for himself, instead. “There’s potential, but you’ll have to work on yourself.”
“Oh, great! You should consider writing oracular self—improvement guides.”
❀ ❁ ❀
—Day 31.— 10.SEPT.1935—
Standing in the lobby of the TRIANGLE project house, I nudged the lower corner of the silver picture frame that I had purchased several days before in Capetown and stepped back to check if it was hanging properly vertical.
“So you’re finally doing something about that awful empty, white wall you insisted on?”
“Yes, Thomas, I am doing something about it, although I don’t understand that horror of white walls you all seem to have.” I stepped further back, clearing his line of view.
“What is this?”
The picture showed two partial disks on a black background, the larger one mottled gray, the other smaller, blue, brown and green.
In the meantime others had entered the lobby. Gardiner and Collingswood heard my challenge to McWirther and Collingswood answered for him, “Some kind of non–representational art?”
I answered both her and also the others who stood there musingly. “It’s not art, it actually is a photograph of something real.”
I could see their faces as they mentally went through possibilities. They didn’t seem to find the correct one. Except possibly Collingswood, who had a strange twinkling in her eyes.
“Leotha?” I turned to our secretary who was standing beside me. Like many serfs she had perfected that skill of being there, but unnoticed. “Do you have that card?”
“Yes, Master. Here.”
I looked down at the cardboard rectangle I had just received. “Very nice, Leotha! Thank you.”
She gave a half bow and retreated a little from the presence of the Citizens in the lobby. I fixed the card on the wall beside the picture frame. It stated, in a beautifully calligraphic copy of a famous sans–serif font.
Lunar Expedition “Apollo 10” 1969
There was silence in the room, as those present read the card and then thought through its implication.
“You travelled to the Moon?”
“The Americans did, yes. The Soviets tried too, but would have come in second. So they stopped trying and instead pretended they had never actually tried. This flight, Apollo 10, was the dress rehearsal; the next flight, a few months later, made the first landing.”
“Americans.” The distaste in d’Espagnat’s voice was palpable.
I answered it. “I’m pretty sure you could beat them easily and with a smarter long term space policy to boot.”
“Why should we?” asked Arnold.
“How about seizing the high ground? I have shown you some of the pictures made from orbit. Oh, sorry. I think I have shown them to Thomas, not you.”
Gardiner asked, “How can the Earth rise? The Moon has a fixed orientation towards Earth, so it should stay fixed in the sky.”
“But the spaceship that made this picture was circling around the Moon.”
“What? Oh, yes, that would work.”
We kept discussing the picture and space flight in general for almost half an hour. I spent much of the time watching their reactions. All of them were fascinated by the picture, but two looked almost longingly at it. One was Collingswood, the other was a bit of a surprise, although he tried to hide it, Arnold.
❀ ❁ ❀
“Where did you put that article from yesterday, stupid buck?”
The voice was venomous, male and came from about four meters away — I think the exchange had been going on for some time now, but when I am programming, I tend to tune out my surroundings.
“Master, please, there is no file with such a name in that directory.” I heard a note of desperation in the serf’s voice.
“Then find it!” The hissed response carried an or else unspoken, but clearly audible. The owner of the voice was one of the people working on the nuclear project who had a clearance to read some of the documents, limited to relevant articles.
I got up and stretched, then ambled over to the next desk.
“May I have that?” I reached over Clem’s shoulder with one hand and took the slip of paper he was looking at, with the other hand I gave Clem’s shoulder a reassuring touch. The slip was handwritten, not really easy to read and I could see at least one error right away. I sat back down at my computer and my keyboard went klickety, klackety. While the search was running I looked around in the computer room, then said with a very quiet voice, “Clem, Thandi, go take a break.”
Both got up, bowed to me and left the room very quietly. Gardiner, who had been using the fourth computer to browse Wikipedia again, also exited the room immediately after them. The room went silent, save for the whirr of the fans in the computers. The silence stretched like a rubber band as neither he nor I wanted to say anything at that moment. I have never liked bullies and just perhaps I let him notice I was not happy.
The search finished after a few seconds — the results were as I thought. I wrote something on the slip, then returned to the seat Clem had just vacated.
“Computers are very literal minded machines. If you give them garbage as input, you get garbage back as output, or nothing at all, as in this case.” I opened the document, vacated the seat, and nodded politely to him as I handed him the paper slip with the corrected file name and path. “Here you are.”
He looked at the screen, then at the paper slip and said nothing. But I could see him gritting his teeth.
“In the future, if there is a problem with finding a file, please tell me.”
“How did you find that file so quickly?” He glared at me suspiciously.
“I have been playing around with computers since I was six years old. So I just might know a few things about them that I have not been able to teach my serfs in a few days.” I was thinking very hard that he should refrain from pestering my serfs with his mistakes.
Did I just say and think MY serfs? stressing the possessive? My god, this place is rubbing off on me. Let us try to end this in a friendly way
“So in that time probably I have both seen and especially made all the standard mistakes.” I pointed at the paper.
He looked at the slip again and nodded. “I might have been a little hasty here — I apologize, Mr. Gersen.”
“No problem at all.”
I left the computer room and went to find something to drink, non–alcoholic, but still calming. Gardiner had stayed in the break room, nursing a cup of coffee. “All over? Good. If this old man is allowed to make a small comment, Mr. Gersen, sending the serfs out of the room was very well done. It stresses them to have to witness a confrontation, even a polite one, between Citizens. And it’s good that you’re protective of those inferior to you; just keep in mind that on occasion, it’s necessary to correct them, too.”
❀ ❁ ❀
“Yes, that new reactor design makes me a lot less nervous. Your first one, I would have preferred to be a good distance away and upwind when you would have turned it on.”
We were using the conference room in the nuclear project building. The table and the chairs were made from some deep red tropical wood with flowers and vines and animals cut into the backs of the chairs. One of the walls was completely filled with a very lifelike mural of a charging elephant — I was sitting right in his or her line of movement, about to be smeared into the ground. The other walls were decorated with pictures and sideboards with plant arrangements, while there was the smell of burnt wood in the air from the fireplace at one end of the room. It was a winter day with chilly rains outside and the fire made the room feel warm, in addition to the real warmth from the central heating system.
Collingswood answered me. “Yes, there’s something reassuring about triple redundant shut down methods, especially after reading the articles you pointed us to. Those were very useful, for example, we had no idea that something like that Wigner effect would exist.”
D’Espagnat added, “And those accident reports made grim reading.”
“Yes, visit the scenic shores of Lake Kryshtyn and have a radiant holiday!” I joked cynically. “If we make such an ugly mess, I fear your environmentalists will form up in a queue outside, stretching to the horizon, in order to call us all out and with good reason, too.”
D’Espagnat answered Alexandra. “The entire Conservation Directorate for a start, and lots of others too.”
Everyone on the table was nodding in agreement — It seemed that they considered the possibility of such a thing happening as all too real.
I opened a file folder I had sitting in front of me and pulled out a few sheets of paper with handwritten numbers on it, handing them across the table with a soft rustling sound.
“You asked me to run a few calculations for the design of your first breeder reactor. Here are the first results. I picked a few cases at random to give you a chance to check if they are correct.”
“That’s fast! How long will it take you to do the whole set of cases?”
“Actually all the calculations for all the possible permutations you asked for are finished . Took seventeen minutes forty–two seconds to run. The problem is that I can’t print them out, because that interface to your teletype machine is still giving me fits. It’s way too much data for someone to copy it from the computer screen by hand.”
“We could always send a serf.”
“Not a good solution. Not only will that block a computer for several days, it will also be very prone to transcription errors. So, I fear you will have to wait a day or two more until I can get that gizmo to work properly.”
❀ ❁ ❀
—Day 39.— 18.SEPT.1935—
I was doing my regular routine in the palaestra after the morning run through a cold winter drizzle and swim. I had already been in pretty good shape before being plopped down in the Domination; I had been planning to do some serious climbing in my holidays time between the two companies and so had been working up for it. But all that additional workout time in the last weeks among fitness–mad Draka had improved my condition.
I have never spent so much time in a gym before, but it helped a little bit to work off my frustrations and fears. Unfortunately it did a lot less to reduce the sexual tension. Having pretty slave girls, most of whom gave good imitations of being willing, dangled in front of my nose all the time did not help at all in that department. And in the palaestra, I had pretty citizen females dangled in front of me, in different stages of being undressed: from the thick practice armor for something that looked like a very serious cross of full contact karate, wresting and all out street fighting called pankration, to the full nakedness of those in the swimming pools.
But I refrained asking any of them about a short side trip to one of the sunning benches for two that were more secluded by shrubbery. I think those sun beds were actually intended for that kind of thing instead of or in addition to tanning . Seeing what they usually did for fighting practice every morning inspired a little caution on my side. They would probably be able to break and crush me into small pieces without starting to sweat or working up an appetite. And I definitely would not ask those who were using sharp knives for knife fighting practice, just looking at that scared me.
I was just getting ready to pull myself up on the bar, when I noticed that the bar beside me was also about to be used, by a man around my age. Just like me, he wore some kind of rough cotton boxer shorts that were common for any kind of training not calling for more specialized garb, and no shirt, which put our muscles out there for anybody to see. I started to do my normal repetitions of pull ups – both two handed and one handed, something a rock climber needs to be able to do a lot of.
Every pull up I made was mirrored by the guy at the other bar. This went on for some time, until he spoke. “I hope you don’t mind me asking, I have watched you for some days now and you always do your pull ups with the back of the hand on the bar towards you and never with the open palm towards you. Why is that?”
“There is a simple reason for that.” I huffed and pulled up until my chin touched the bar. “If I am hanging off the side of a mountain, a hundred meters above the valley floor, doing it the other way would mean that I would have to reach through the rock face to get at my handhold from the rear.”
I demonstrated the movement with my free hand, the one on his side, using exaggerated movements. “I found that reaching through the rock is a tiny bit hard and it cramps my style.”
“So you climb mountains? With that coiled rope over the shoulder, the rock pick and hammering nails into the mountain face?”
Pull up. Somehow the sounds from the others practicing in the large room and the conversations and laughter had become quieter. Even the fighting sounds from the other end had stopped. Seems we have picked up a few observers in an unobtrusive kind of way.
“Those nails are called pitons and I use them very rarely. Whenever possible I try to make do without making any unsightly holes into the mountain. I often climb without any safety line at all.” I changed my hand on the bar and continued with my regular pull ups.
“That sounds a bit dangerous.”
“Only moderately so.”
Pull up. I made sure that he could see my face and that I was actually smiling as I said. “But I can see through your evil and nefarious plan.”
“I have a plan?”
“You are trying to get me to talk, so that you can win this little contest.”
“Contest? What contest? There is a contest?” I could taste the hurt innocence in his statement. It tasted like artificial flavoring. And the wide grin plastered on his face did not inspire my confidence in his sincerity either.
“Yup, contest.” Pull up. I changed from my left hand to the right one; he followed suit. “And you are forcing me to up the ante: three fingers!”
I changed my grip so that I hung only on the three middle fingers. A few minutes later we both declared a tie.
We made introductions under the bars, both sweaty and out of breath and with wide grins. His name was Clifford Allister McLane, physicist and a former artillery and air strike coordinator. I believe it had a lot to do with crawling around in the landscape without being noticed.
“Sauna and a massage?” I asked.
“That sounds like a plan,” was Cliff’s answer, “and then a nice breakfast.”
The sauna was smallish, but very nicely paneled with fragrant fir and with an electric heater that had, according to the serial number plaque, and to my great surprise actually been imported from Sweden.
When I had discovered the sauna, I had also learned that the Scandinavian sauna was not very common in the Domination, the Draka taste went more to the classic steam baths. I don’t like them as much, too wet for the temperature, or too hot for the moisture, take your pick.
Which meant we had the sauna to ourselves.
“No offense intended, but many of us think you are a little bit standoffish, Mr. Gersen.”
I chuckled. “None taken and since we are sitting here in the heat stark naked, I think we can dispense with the formality, unless you prefer last names. As for giving the impression of being standoffish, that perhaps has two reasons. The first is that I am a bit shy.”
“Yes, it’s silly, but outside formal settings I always found it a hard to walk up to a stranger and throw my name into his or her face without provocation.”
He laughed at my description and added, “Well, perhaps I can introduce you around to some of my friends here. And the second reason?”
“The second reason is that my exact legal status here in the Domination is still a bit nebulous. That is also why I skimped on the details in my introduction. I hope it will be normalized by becoming a Metic soon now, but right now I am neither fish nor fowl, and not crunchy lobster either.”
Cliff said musingly, “That might explain the subtle discouragements we have been getting about contacting you; things like you often being seen being followed by our resident head hunter. And I won’t ask what you’re doing here, but we all kind of noticed the faces of the people who’ve spent time in that house.”
“House? What house? There is a house?” I asked with an air of innocent perplexity, echoing his comments about competitions for a few minutes earlier.
Cliff answered, looking at me. “Well, I was told that I will soon receive a new and additional security clearance. Something to do with triangles.” He obviously was waiting for some reaction. I just looked at him and shook my head slightly.
“I can neither confirm nor deny that there are any triangles present around here.”
After that the discussion moved on to more inconsequential things. Things like food, rock climbing and riding, where my description of my first ride ever created peals of laughter.
“I’m sorry. I had no intention of laughing at you, but the way you describe that horse, that paragon of equine virtue…”
“Don’t worry, I never take myself too seriously, so I am pretty hard to offend.”
After sauna we moved on to the massage tables. Cliff snagged himself one of the girls and stated over her giggles, “This wench here, Jolene, is pretty good at massage, both on the table and on the bed and she’s a lot stronger than she looks like.”
“So you like wrestling?”
“Some kinds of it, yes.”
❀ ❁ ❀
—Day 43.— 22.SEPT.1935—
“Good morning, everyone!”
I entered the computer room early in the morning, carrying a large steaming mug of tea and looked around. All three of the serfs — Leotha, Clem and Thandi — were already at work using the microfilm camera to copy documents to microfilm or assisting citizen Gardiner, but they got up and bowed a greeting.
I sat down at my desk, checked the error logs of the network and stirred my tea. I could see that the two girls and the boy were exchanging glances; then Thandi got up, approached me and bowed deeply with her hands before her face.
“Master, you gave orders that no food or drink is allowed here in the computer room.” She spoke in a very quiet voice, almost whispering.
“…shall I carry your tea out to the break room, Master?”
“Yes, please do that.”
She took the mug and left the room. When she returned seconds later, I waved her over to me. As she stood in front of me, I took hold of her shoulder lightly.
“You did very well to remind me of that rule, Thandi. It is one that everyone, even me, has to follow.” Smiling at her, I could feel her leaning slightly into my hand on her shoulder. “Good girl. You just got yourself the next Saturday completely free and can sleep in.”
The smile lit up her homely face beautifully.
Later, as Gardiner and I sat in the break room, he looked at me and stated, “You didn’t forget that rule. That was intended as a kind of confidence builder.”
“Of course not! And yes, you are right, that was more or less the intention and an experiment to see what they would do. I want them to trust me not to bite their heads off if they question me; I want them to be able to stand up, respectfully, to other citizens. And a little bit of positive reinforcement of actually following the rules is never bad.”
“Interesting technique. I don’t think any citizens would have cared to do that in front of strangers as witnesses, or that early.”
“I don’t know. I prefer to know early with whom I have to work with. But a question for someone who has a lot more experience in handling serfs. Is half a day off about right for challenging her boss?”
“In this case, about right . But take care, it’s easy to spoil serfs.”
❀ ❁ ❀
“So, you are the young man whose fault all this here hubbub is?” An old man’s voice questioned me, coming from my left in the corridor.
I had just left my office and of course I knew who the voice would belong to. After all the arrival of our librarian had been announced well ahead of the actual event and I knew that he had just spent his first few hours here with Arnold and McWirther, getting his security briefing on the project.
I turned toward the voice and saw the first really old Draka I’d ever met . He was a lot older than Gardiner, perhaps well past his seventies. White, wispy hair, narrow face with a huge beak of a nose, gray eyes, lots of creases in the face, together with some age spots and a prominent chin. He was tall, with an erect poise, but even that showed some signs of his age. He was surrounded by a hovering passel of serfs, both male and female and different ages, most of them looking at me with huge eyes. I wondered what Arnold and McWirther had told them about me.
He wore very conservative clothes, even more conservative than the stuff I had been allowed to select. Subdued colors, only a little lace and needlepoint decoration, only a little jewelry on his hands and ears, apart from the ubiquitous thumb ring—everyone seems to have those—and a little golden ring shaped scarf pin on his lace lapel. In his right hand, also wrinkled and spotty, he carried an ebony walking stick with a silver head, which he used to point at me, without any wavering of the tip, as I noticed. I stepped closer, almost to the point where the lower end of the cane could have touched my breast.
“Kurt Gersen, Austrian mountain troops, in reserve, computer programmer and time traveller. And I am the young man who is the cause,” I stressed that particular word, “for all this here hubbub. Involuntarily, I might add, and I simply refuse to accept any culpability on that score.”
I gently pushed the end of the cane to the side, away from my breast, with one finger. “And I hope that thing is not loaded.”
“Hah! Andrew Grey, 7th cavalry, retired, research librarian. Service to the State!”
I answered, “Glory to the Race. Even if I am not yet entitled to actually use that salutation.”
His laughter sounded a bit like a goat. “I can see that working in this place is going to be interesting. So, when am I going to see this magical library of yours? I’m an old man and always in a hurry.”
“If you want, we can go there right now.”
“Good, good. One moment please.” He gave a few orders to his serfs, where upon some of them peeled off and vanished, leaving five. “That was my domestic staff. These bucks and wenches here are trained for library services.” They bowed again in unison. “Would it be very inconvenient if they come with me to see it?”
“Not a problem. This way.” I lead them to the computer room, telling the serfs to grab chairs for themselves as we passed the conference room. In the computer room, we split up; four of the serfs going to Clem, one staying with me and Mr. Gray.
“Clem, do the standard introduction package. We might do more detailed one–on–one training later on with some of them.”
We took our seats. I started into our standard spiel, mouse, keyboard and screen and how to navigate around, then into Wikipedia.
“How many entries does this encyclopedia have?”
“Somewhere between four and five million.”
“Four or five… million?” I could see the dismay on the librarian’s face. “I can see why they said that this will be the last work I’ll ever have to do. Well, at least it’s alphabetically sorted.”
“Actually — it’s not sorted at all.” I noticed their reactions. Both serf and master were horrified. I added quickly, “But the search function allows us to put the articles in any kind of sort order we want or need. The output to microfilm will use the standard alphabetical order, Aardvark to… ahhh…”
Gray interrupted my search for a word. “Zygians. I’m relieved that it can be put into alphabetical order. I just had a vision of having to do an alphabetical sort for four million entries.”
The discussion then turned to extracting all the articles from the Wikipedia onto microfilm.
“So, we generate a cover sheet for every article, giving both relevant information on the article and administrative details like the serial and frame number of the microfilm. What else do you want or need on that coversheet?”
“It has the article subject — it’d be nice if it would also have alternate subjects.”
“That’s hard. Selection of keywords, or alternate subjects, as you call it, is something humans have to do. It’s not easily automatable.” I thought for a few seconds. “I can give you a list of the other articles that the article links to. That’s not keywords, but it does give some indication.”
“And that would be… what did you call it? automateable?”
“Easily.” I nodded encouragingly to the old man and his serf. “Ok. I will put that into the program that passes the articles to be filmed to the serf and creates the cover sheet. You will see in the test what it looks like.”
“That’s good. How long do you think it will take?”
“For the test? A day or two. Once we see that it works and you like the results, we will ramp up production of microfilm, three shifts, five shifts. Ultimately I want to push out articles at the maximum speed the camera can take them. So you are going to get huge lots of work very quickly.”
“What’s the reason for that rush?”
“At some point the computers will start to fail. And once that happens, everything on them will be lost forever, which will be a real shame. There is a lot more than Wikipedia on them.”
“More? What more is there?”
“A thousand or so technical books and articles. Several thousand fiction books, that still might have some relevant bits of information hidden in them. I admit those are a somewhat eclectic selection. A few hundred movies and about the same number of music pieces. We need to get that all out before the computers die.”
Now I knew what dread looked like on his face.
❀ ❁ ❀
“Why not, Thomas?”
“It’s too dangerous.”
I barely managed to keep myself from laughing loudly. But some strangled chortling escaped. Thomas looked a bit wounded while Arnold was leaning back with that expressionless face he used to hide a grin.
“Thomas, that is a really strange statement coming from the man who only a few days ago waxed lyrical, and at great length, I might add, on the joys and tribulations of hunting lions with knives tied to long sticks.”
“Those are lion spears and that’s not the same.”
“I agree that it is not the same. I would not attempt hunting lions that way without a lot of training and without somebody who knows what he is doing telling me that I am ready for it.”
“When it comes to physical prowess, you Citizens are downright frightening. I am very well aware that I am not at your level, and might, despite spending countless hours in the palaestra, never be. But the point is that I started climbing when I was six. I had some of the best alpinists as teachers and I have managed to avoid killing or even badly injuring myself in the last twenty years, despite climbing on very challenging routes. This is something where I do know what I am doing; it’s one of the few areas where I am at least as good as the average Citizen and one where I am quite possibly better than the huge majority. I am not going to stop doing it.”
“We cannot afford to lose you. You’re not replaceable.”
“I agree. I cannot afford to lose my life. Which is why I am willing to make reasonable compromises, like never to climb without safety lines, unlike previously.”
“Wait, you climbed without climbing ropes?”
Now — THAT is a fib, my dear. I did climb free solos, but mostly over water, and not that often.
It was clear that the decision was not easy for Thomas. Arnold had been characteristically silent, but now he sat up straight and asked, “You’re aware of the results of you killing yourself with such a stupid stunt?”
“Yes. I do understand the repercussions for the project. Besides that, dying tends to hurt a lot. And being dead is boring.”
They looked at each other. Arnold shrugged his shoulders, took a deep breath and turned to McWirther. “Have you seen him working out in the palaestra? I think we should let him do it.”
We spent the rest of the meeting discussing details. I would have to train one of the janissaries to belay me.
❀ ❁ ❀
The regular, almost daily, debriefings had not stopped, but they had over time mutated into a dinner and discussions. It still was a debriefing: there was sound equipment recording us and a serf taking notes at a separate table and I still had to sign off on the minutes a day or two later, but it felt a lot more civilized. This also meant that I had to take a bit more care with what I said. Arnold and McWirther both tried to direct the conversation, but it often turned sideways and went off on tangents just like this evening.
“Kurt, I noticed that you drink very little wine, why?” asked Thomas McWirther.
“I’ve never liked what it does with my brain. Wine is nice with some foods in small amounts.” I gestured at the dinner we were eating. “But not by the glassful and I never developed a taste for beer. Can’t stand the stuff.”
“And other drugs?” asked Arnold.
“Not interested, for the same reason as alcohol. I don’t like what they do to my brain. Besides, by the time mind altering drugs commonly became interesting for a youth, I was already fully hooked onto one.”
“Which one?” Arnold asked the question; small wonder, he was always looking for things about me that might be useful to him.
“Books. I was and still am a very serious reader. I even took books with me when I was skiing.”
“What? How does one read while skiing?”
“What else can you do while sitting on the chair lift? Or in the queue waiting for it? If you are good enough, you can even read on a tow lift.”
“I see.” He laughed.
“Speaking of books, I have something for you.” I reached down and pulled two eBook readers out, one was a new Tolino, the other an old scuffed Sony eBook reader. “I have reactivated these devices. They are for reading books and can basically hold an almost unlimited number of them, but they are mostly intended for literary works. Technical or art books with lots of diagrams and pictures are a pain to read on them.”
I handed one to Thomas. “I loaded the same three books on both of them. One is a what we would call a techno thriller, a pretty realistic story about nuclear powered and armed submarines, with a good many details. In fact, publishing this book got the author an investigation from the Navy security service when it came out, checking just where he got all those details from. It also got turned into a good movie that I might show you later. The other one is a classic science fiction story written by a team of two pretty good authors, a first contact story with really weird three—armed aliens, and a little twist and secret. The third is a collection of poetry I like very much, it is possible that Rudyard Kipling, the author, lived in this time line too. In that case it would be interesting to compare the two different versions of his work.”
He looked down at the slim device in his hand, eyebrow raised in surprise. “Sorry, never heard of him.”
“That is a pity. Anyhow, please me know what you think of the stories and poems and ask me if you have any questions. Once you have read the books and we discuss their merits, I will know what else you might enjoy.”
❀ ❁ ❀
—Day 49.— 28.SEPT.1935—
The time and place I usually met other people was in the palaestra. The little contest with Cliff and his later introductions to some of the other people working out had helped a lot to break the ice. While I still was not fully accepted due to my ambiguous legal status and the mystery surrounding me, the interactions were a lot more informal and less icy–polite.
The palaestra was, at that time, still a strange place for me. It was not only a place where people worked out on machines or with weights and so on, but there was always unarmed combat sparring going on in the salle; most of it full contact. There was always the background sound of slaps and hits on protective armor. I found it interesting that the classic kai yells I had come to associate with unarmed fighting were almost missing. The fighting was mostly silent. What was really frightening to watch, however, was the occasional knife sparring with live steel; these people were fast and deadly.
One thing that I had noticed was the distinction in the attitude to clothing. Everyone of course wore clothing or armor where necessary. But the younger people, aged thirty or less, had a devil–may–care approach about clothing where it was not strictly necessary, working out or swimming in the nude when it was warm enough. The elder generation tended to do this a lot less. I was used to mixed saunas, where all the participants are necessarily nude, but the rest was still something that I needed some time to get used to.
I was in the swimming pool doing my laps when an impromptu water polo match broke out around me. I had seen that these tended to quickly turn into free–for–alls involving everyone in the pool. The maelstrom soon ingested me for the first time. The sides and rules were a little bit indistinct and I think occasionally there were at least three or four factions in that game. Basically anyone who got the ball was immediately tackled from all sides. Perhaps this should be called water rugby, instead?
Thank god the weightless environment of the water was a bit of an equalizer when it came to using unarmed combat or wrestling tricks, that and the slipperiness of the water. At some point during the game, I noticed that I kept coming across the same female, a girl about the same age as I, good looking in a muscular way with a typical British face. She looked a lot like Emma Peels’ younger and stronger sister with a roundish face, a small nose and a pointy chin. She also seemed to have more hands than Kali and hung on like a barnacle determined not to give up a good spot on the rock.
After the fourth or fifth encounter, the repeated close contact with female flesh had a (probably intended) result. I was sporting an erection, which embarrassed me a bit and did not go unnoticed when I was grappled yet again after almost getting the ball in my face. A few minutes later, I managed to disengage myself from the game and reached the pool edge to catch my breath. As I hung there, she popped up beside me with a distinctly predatory gleam in her eyes and jumped out of the water. Then she crouched down, grabbed my wrist with one hand and whispered into my ear with a surprisingly deep voice, “Come with me if you want to live!”
What the heck? The lady wants to pick me up and is rather direct about this. On the other hand nobody forces her to do so, so it’s less of a moral quandary then taking a serf girl to bed.
It was a bit hard to resist such a forceful invitation especially when coming from a female who obviously had intentions on my body. And, by that time, I and my body both were not entirely unwilling either. I left the pool and followed her, or should I say I was made to follow her?
She led the way to a part of the palaestra I had yet not seen, a semi–secluded room with a large couch or bed, whatever you want to call it. On the way there, there was some mutual fondling and some kisses. The lady did seem to know exactly what she wanted and she made it clear that she wanted it soon. She seemed to have more hands then Kali. The style was very different from what I had experienced from the very occasional bouts with the serf girl who had been assigned to me as d’Espagnat’s guest. This was a lot less soft and yielding and a lot more hard–edged and aggressive.
We ended up on the couch, wrestling a bit until we had some mutual agreement on the position. She ended up on top, straddling me and taking her pleasure. I climaxed a bit before she and used the opportunity of her distraction to turn us both around, to her shrieks of pleasure and laughter.
Our second encounter, with her partly under me, partly beside me, was more leisurely. As we both came again to our senses, she looked at me.
“Thank you,” I answered.
She asked, “Breakfast?”
We ended up in the campus cafeteria and bar that was right beside the palaestra, where we finally made official introductions. She was one of the chemists for the nuclear chemistry laboratory. We did some small talk, and while it was soon clear that she was curious about what I actually did around the project, she was also cautious. Conversation was slowly winding down and we were getting ready to take our leave from each other.
I cleared my throat, feeling a bit unsure of myself. “So, I hope we will meet each other again.”
She answered, grinning widely, “Oh sure! In the pool or outside. I hope you enjoyed this morning as much as I did. Cliff was right; you are shy, even in bed.”
She gave me a good–bye kiss, waved and was off, leaving me a bit deflated and musing about my luck. Somehow I had the impression that her curiosity about me had been filled and it was unlikely that the experience would be repeated. On the other hand, it seemed that the event had not been unnoticed by others. Or the tale was spread by the lady chemist herself, which did serve to break the ice even more. Eventually it got to the point where other females made advances on their own.
❀ ❁ ❀
D’Espagnat had continued her campaign to acculturate me to the finer aspects of Draka civilization by dragging me off to Capetown about once a week. We were usually accompanied by some other Citizens on these outings. Often by Arnold or McWirther, sometimes by some others as well. I had come to look forward to the visits of theaters and concert houses. Not only were they a break from the confines of the project campus, they usually were interesting as well. I had been exposed to a lot more culture in the last few weeks than I usually got in the same number of months.
That evening, it was a visit to the theatre in Capetown, after a visit to a restaurant. I kept discovering new ways to prepare and present exotic dishes, as the Draka cuisine was a strange mix of European ideas with African ingredients and Asian spices.
The theatre was large and decorated in the usual style. Some joker had put a mural into a corner of the lobby showing a gang of Meerkats sitting in ascending rows on a mound of earth, all watching intently something unseen in the distance. I had expected more audience, but after seeing the large recliners intended for the viewers I understood why. Everyone got lots of space. A Draka thing, I had to remember these details, so I won’t be surprised so often, I remind myself. I also soon found out that complimentary drinks and snacks were part of the admission price, served by very efficient and quiet serfs throughout the play.
The piece itself was interesting, a bit like an ancient Greek theatre piece seen through the lens of Shakespeare, modulated to more modern language. Three acts, every act bookended by a Greek–style chorus. The style was befitting the piece. It was titled “The Choice of Achilles” and played mostly in the Greek camps in the plains below Troy.
Very little scenery, but what was there was used efficiently. It was well acted, the sword fights, and there were a good number of them, were done very well. Small wonder when a piece is played for people who spar every the morning with real knives. The sexuality of the ancient Greeks was not played out in slippery detail, but it was made pretty clear what, for example, was going on between Achilles and Patrokles.
The subject of the play was a question; whether someone like Achilles has the right to burn his life’s candle on both ends and the middle at the same time, just to shine brightly, but ultimately only for himself and his own glory, and not for some greater cause. There was the added wrinkle of doing so before having children, which was pointed out to be a duty for everyone. In short: a morality play seen from a Draka perspective.
One surprise was the applause after the final curtains. The whole ensemble came out on the stage and took positions. About half of them gave first a very deep serf’s bow with their hands over their eyes to the other players on the stage and then sank down into a full formal obeisance towards the audience, with their heads on the ground. They remained in this position while the other half of the players took regular style bows, ones I was used to seeing actors perform.
A mixed company of serfs and citizens. Hmm, yes, the serfs did play the minor roles and the ones that did not fight. How could I have expected something else?
“So, how’d you like the play? After all, it was your first one here,” asked d’Espagnat, as we stepped into our waiting car.
“Overall it was very nice. Having lots of space was nice; our theatres tend be much closer packed. I did not expect a mixed company of serfs and citizens, but probably should have, silly of me. I take it that this is typical?”
“Yes. Most theatre companies are mixed, Citizen and serfs.”
That is a very nice correction, old chap, delivered with just a slight emphasis. Citizens always come first.
She continued, “But this company is a bit special. They always cast a few amateur players for each play in addition to the regular actors. Do you want to guess which roles were filled by amateur actors?”
“No. Simply because the acting was very good overall, even down to the least important characters. I did not see any obvious amateurs.”
“I’m sure they would be happy to hear that. And the piece itself?”
“The first two acts were very fine. In the third act, however I had the feeling the author was taking the moral conclusion of the play and using it to hit me over the head, repeatedly.”
Arnold was sitting across me in the car . He started to laugh and did not stop for some time. When finally he managed to catch some air, he said, “If all else fails, you can always start a career as a theatre critic! That was my feeling exactly.”
D’Espagnat answered him. “You’re a philistine!” Turning to me, smiling, she said “And you’re not much better. The message is both right and important.”
“I agree that the question must be asked,” I answered. “But I got the message on the correct answer loud and clear by the second repeat. The other seven or so were slightly, just slightly redundant. And after the chorus repeated it for a final time, I was fully expecting someone would put a sign up with it on the stage, or start distributing flyers.”
“Ahh, leaflets? Handbills?”
Arnold fought hard not to start laughing again, while Sophie d’Espagnat shot him dark looks. Then to me she said, “There were not nine repeats!”
“Yes. it was less than that. But it sure felt like nine repeats. If the author would tone it down just a little bit on that, the whole piece would not only be good, but great.”
❀ ❁ ❀
—Day 55.— 4.OCT.1935—
“Thank you, Wendy. We will call if we need you for anything.” I nodded at the wench who had just served lunch and sent her out of the conference room with a small wave of my hands. Then I turned to my three lunch guests. McWirther was sitting directly opposite of me, Gardiner to my left and Arnold on the right side of the table.
“Thank you for taking the time for this meeting.” All three had sat up as I sent her away. In the past weeks, I had learned that such an action was slightly unusual. Servants are always around you in the Domination, something I sometimes found hard to adjust to.
“Gentlemen, I need your guidance.”
I now had the undivided attention of McWirther, Arnold and Gardiner.
“I have spent the last few weeks studying the material about the Domination I was given.”
“And you asked countless questions,” added Gardiner.
“For which answers, I am very grateful. One of the things I have looked into very carefully is the limitation; or limitations, I will have to live under as a Metic Citizen.”
It almost seemed impossible, but Arnold was paying even more attention now. He looked like a cat fixating on a mouse hole. The room seemed to have fallen awfully quiet; the ticking of the carved clock on one of the sideboards was clearly audible.
“Given what I am, and the Metic status, it is clear to me that I will be under surveillance for the rest of my life. There are a number of things I will not be allowed to say in public. Otherwise I will succumb to a sudden brain hemorrhage, probably in 10mm size.”
McWirther and Gardiner at least had enough humanity to react slightly to this opening; Arnold however, he might have been exchanged with one of Madame Tussaud’s wax puppets. The only things that might still be alive were his unblinking eyes.
Careful, you are dancing around on very thin ice, with hobnailed boots.
“However, that is not my problem. I might not like it, but I can surely learn to live with it.” I paused for a moment. “The problem is that I am likely to suffer the same fate while I am doing with my duty here at the TRIANGLE project.”
“Please explain, Mr. Gersen,” Arnold said in a very calm voice.
“Gladly. Let me give you one example. At some point, someone will ask me about the likely development of industrial manufacturing in the future. And I will write a report about the changes in industry the future is likely to bring. You, collective you here, meaning the Domination as a whole, are not going to like the report.” I paused for second. “You are going to like the conclusions and recommendation sections even less. Unfortunately there is a human tendency to kill the messenger for the message’s sake.”
Gardiner leaned forward; he was suddenly even more interested. “What is the message?”
“Let’s take car manufacturing. Everything I have seen so far about your’s points to classic assembly line work. Hordes of people, each of whom does one little thing and one little thing only, perfectly suited to your economy and society. The gist of that report and the problem I face can be seen in a short movie clip. It shows a car assembly line from my time that is going full tilt. However, there is one thing you don’t see in any large number: people. Those few that you actually see are very highly trained quality assurance people. Or people doing very complex assembly steps; maintenance and troubleshooting people. I need to point out that the hordes of people you do not see are not just not shown, they are not there at all. But you see lots of machines.”
Arnold and McWirther did not seem to see the point I was driving at. Gardiner however had sat up very straight, holding his head slightly cocked to the side.
“You don’t need people for brain dead simple little production steps, machines do that better and cheaper. Which also means you don’t need brain dead simple people for these steps. And it means that the few people you still need have to be well educated and highly trained. Not only for the single step they are responsible for, but for the whole picture, well rounded people, because they need to be able to see problems, analyze them, act on them. As an example, we gave so called simple assembly line workers the authority to stop the line for quality problems thirty or forty years ago, in my timeline. All that means is that ultimately you can produce a lot cheaper with robots than with hordes of people simply screwing in bolts.”
Gardiner inhaled through his closed teeth with a whistling sound. McWirther seemed to be still in the dark, but a light has dawned on Arnold, as he asked, “But what are you doing with all those people that are now no longer needed?”
“First of all, this is not something instantaneous. The automation of manufacturing is a process that has been going on for decades and will go on for a long time. And there are lots of curlicues and complications to go with it, so it’s not a single, straightforward matter. As for what to do with all these people, it is a huge problem for us, yes. One obvious answer is to retrain those who have become redundant. Another answer is to try to improve education from the start, also difficult.”
It seemed Arnold did not like that idea very much. He looked like he was smelling something rotten, but could not figure out from where the smell came.
I continued. “So, here is the problem of the conclusions and recommendation sections of that report. All possible solutions are bad. You can choose to stay with the current system, assembly line work by minimally trained workers. This will probably be good for decades, and you will be able to stay competitive for some time with the nations outside the Domination by maintaining continuous reduction of personnel costs.”
And I can imagine what that would look like. I believe there is a concerted effort to keep me away from the uglier aspects of the Domination, but there are enough descriptions and pictures in the books I am given to understand that the situation is already grim for those serfs caught in the manufacturing and mining complexes. Do I want to know how a serious cost reduction drive would look there? No!
“But at some point you will no longer be able to reduce costs any further and the economy of the Domination will start to lose competitiveness. The other countries will start to out–produce you at lower costs.
“But the alternative, staying competitive by also going the improvement automation route is unpalatable for you for other reasons. I have already noticed just how much the education of the kids I have has been limited.” I laughed. “And they are supposedly elite for serfs, and I have been working with some of the serfs in the workshops here. So I can imagine what the education for an assembly line worker looks like. And yes, I do understand your reasons for doing that, at least on an intellectual level.”
I broke off for a moment, took a sip from the glass in front of me, sitting by the untouched lunch and looked around. The others also had not started to eat. All three look disturbed, not angry, which is probably good for me. But they looked like they had just been told something very unpleasant by their doctor. I continued.
“What will happen, if I put all that, and the obvious answer in an official report? What will be the official reaction? And what might be the reaction of individuals or political factions getting their hands on such a report? That, gentlemen, is my problem where I need your guidance. This is what we will need to figure out how to deal with, if the future knowledge is to be of use for the Domination.”
Silence. For at least twenty seconds as everyone digested all this. The clock ticked behind me, perhaps even louder than before.
Then McWirther said, “Think what would happen if the Militants got their hands on that report. They really would try to shoot the messenger for the message. And those who supported him.”
Arnold added, with distaste in his voice, “And the Liberals would use it as an argument to loosen control of the serfs; that would be a real disaster.” His half–swallowed laugh did not sound amused at all.
“And keeping the report secret–secret wouldn’t be an option, too hot a potato. It’ll end up in the senator’s laps,” added Gardiner. Then he looked to me. “And you’re right, sooner or later, someone is going to ask for such a research report. Or some other subject that would lead to similar conclusions, because it’s all interconnected, right?” He smiled a bit sadly, looking his real age or perhaps even older than that for the first time since I had met him.
I nodded. At least now I didn’t have to point that little wrinkle out to him.
He continued, “I do have a question for you, Mr. Gersen. Why did you bring up this subject now?”
Oh — notice the glance Arnold is giving Gardiner and his emotionless poker face towards me. Gardiner’s face is not much better and McWirther looks a little sad. I wonder if they are considering eliminating me here and now?
“Several reasons. I think the main one is integrity. You deserve to understand what you are buying, before you buying it. Part of what you are getting is my analysis and my unique point of view.” I laughed, a little uncomfortably. “I could, of course, have just handed everything over to you, told you how to access the encyclopedia and sat back, doing technical support from nine to five and leaving all the analysis to you. That would have given me easier office hours and less headaches. But that’s not how I see my work here and I think this would also have disappointed you all a bit.”
I leaned back and placed both hands palm down on the table top.
“The second one is self–preservation. I could not have told you earlier, simply because I myself had not realized the full scope of the problem until a few days ago. Once I had realized that, I wanted to tell you as soon as possible, especially before becoming a Metic Citizen. After all it’s impossible to accuse a non–Citizen of treason. On the other hand, and to inhibit overly quick reactions, I wanted to make sure that you understood how useful my information and my help was for other projects.”
“Like the atomic one?”
“Yes, as an example. The chemists have also become pretty enthusiastic about polymer chemistry in the last few days. And once the War Directorate hears about Kevlar, they will be enthusiastic too.”
“Oh yes!” enthused McWirther. Gardiner looked at the others.
I offered, “Would you like me to leave the room for a few minutes, so you can discuss this in private?”
Gardiner answered. “Mr. Gersen, thank you for your offer, but no, please stay. And I’d also thank you both for being so honest about your motivations and for pointing out this mess to us.”
He took a deep breath and continued. “The night express to Archona leaves at midnight, which means that I should leave here at 2300 hours at the latest. Do you think you can put your arguments together in writing by that time, Mr. Gersen? I will need something to show to Edmund tomorrow.”
I did notice that both Arnold and McWirther acted a little strange then, but could not figure out why. I smiled and handed over three copies of a few stapled–together pages, priceless, because they had been printed on the laser printer, but I had not wanted any of the girls becoming involved in typing this. “I already have, here is a rough draft. May I ask who Edmund is?”
“The Archon, of course,” answered Gardiner absently. He was already studying the document I had given to him. Now I began to understand the strange looks he had been given by the other two, especially when I heard Arnold asking, “And you will get an appointment so easily?”
“Yes, we might even do lunch.”
Ooops, it seems that Elliot is surprising me by pulling a lot more weight than I thought. And the others at the table are surprised too, judging by their looks.
“Mr. Gersen — this will need to be slightly redrafted.”
❀ ❁ ❀
A few weeks before I had been given control over the serfs working for the TRIANGLE project. I had been a little surprised when I found out that this included not only the serfs working directly for me on the computers, but also quite a bit of domestic staff for TRIANGLE house. The girls keeping the house clean, the gardeners and ground keepers and a cook to feed them all and to provide lunches and such for the citizens working in the project house were included.
Much of the everyday administration had moved down to Leotha, who very capably took care of everything that I had decided a policy on. But since we as an organization were still young and also still growing, there were still a lot of decisions that needed my input.
The reason for making TRIANGLE house basically self—sufficient within the greater nuclear project was security; this reduced the amount of communication going on between the serfs. TRIANGLE serfs didn’t talk much to nuclear project serfs, and they didn’t talkmuch to the outside world. At least that’s the theory. Reality, as always, looked a little different.
For example, Leotha somehow managed to wait for me outside my office every morning, with a tray with freshly brewed tea in her hands. How she actually managed that was a bit of a mystery, since I did not start work every day at the same time and did not call ahead or anything like that. One day I would have to investigate the inter–serf communication channels.
This morning however was a bit different. Leotha was not alone, and while she had the tea tray in her hands, she was not standing as usual, but kneeling on the ground, with the cook beside her.
“Good morning, Master.”
I unlocked the door to my office. Her adjacent office area was already open and waved them both inside.
“Good morning. So, what has happened that needs my attention?”
Both were kneeling again on the floor, in front of me. This was even more unusual, since I had made it clear to Leotha to keep the formalities at a minimum during work time and when no other citizens was around. Leotha look apprehensive and the cook looked downright scared.
“Master, we made the monthly inventory yesterday and there’s stock missing. Both from the serf’s rations and from the citizen stocks.”
“You double–checked that of course?”
“Yes, Master, yesterday evening.”
“And what is missing?”
“Food and beer from the serf’s rations. From the citizens stocks, we’re missing bottles of wine and liquors; tobacco and kif.”
“And how long has this been going on?”
“The citizen stocks must have been lost in the last month, because there were no citizen stocks here before that time.” Leotha took a deep breath and the cook looked like she was desperately wishing for a mouse hole to vanish into. “The missing serf rations have been missing for longer, much longer, since before you came here, Master.”
Ah — that explains the cook’s search for the mouse hole. If I remember correctly she was one of the caretakers that basically came with the house, when we took it over.
“The missing serf rations we will discuss later. First we need to figure out who and how. All that stuff is in that locked storeroom in the basement, right? Who has the keys for that?”
Leotha answered. “You have one, Master. The cook has one and I have access to the third one in the key cupboard, nobody else.”
“And those keys never got out of your control?”
Both shook their heads. I thought hard for a few seconds.
“Does anyone know we are missing stocks?”
“No, Master. You are the first one we told.”
“Good. If anyone asks you what the fuss was about yesterday evening; you made a simple arithmetic error. No stocks are actually missing and we cleared everything up this morning. You will do nothing out of the ordinary, no additional inventories, no late night checks of the store room, no nothing. Is that clear?”
I heard a duet of female voices. “Yes, Master.”
“Good. In the meantime, I will figure out how to catch our rat.” The relief in the room was palpable. “Now, about those missing rations. How long did you say they have been going missing?” I looked at the cook, her eyes have gone wide and fearful.
“Master, please, since some time after they closed the holiday park. I tried to tell Master Muller about it, but he said he wasn’t interested. He told me to deal with it, but I never found out who took the rations.”
“Who is Master Muller?”
Leotha answered that question. “Master, I believe he was the overseer here before the university people came here. That would have been a bit more than three years, I think.”
“Thank you, Leotha.” I looked back at the cook. “So, what did you do then? The overseer was not interested, you were still missing rations. I take it you were not able to get more to make up the missing part.” It dawned on me. “You took it upon yourself to reduce every one’s rations just by a little bit to make up the loss?”
Wide eyes, moist with tears, the cook’s body was shaking a little bit, as she whispered, “Yes, Master.”
“And you did not come to me when I took over here, because?”
“Master, please,” She stopped talking, looking at me with terror on her face, weeping softly. Then she got more erect, still on her knees, looking at me with those still–fear–filled doe eyes, whispering. “This serf is ignorant and insolent and begs for forgiveness, Master.”
She clearly was expecting something and her words, just as clearly, were something ritual out of the protocols governing the interactions between master and serf. The problem was that at that time I had not yet learned them and so did not understand that she had just formally asked to be beaten.
I just sat there, rubbing the bridge of my nose, trying to think of something, anything, to do now. Both Leotha and the cook were looking at me through the lashes of their lowered eyes, waiting for me to act. I looked at them, especially at the cook. Time stretched into silence, then, finally, my brain re–engaged its gears. I looked at her decidedly chubby, non–lithe frame.
“What is your weight?”
In other circumstances, the double take made by the cook would have been hilarious, somehow there and then it was not.
“Eighty–eight kilograms, Master.”
I took a deep breath, this was the first time I was handing out a punishment to a serf.
“You reduced the rations of the other serfs for a long time, while you obviously did not do too badly in the food area for yourself. And you kept doing it after I came here, without talking to me. This is what you are punished for.”
I continued. “The day after we have found our thieving rat, you go on half rations for all basic food stuffs except vegetables. There will be no treats or deserts and nothing to drink other than water and a single cup of coffee or tea in the morning to wake up. You will keep this up as long as it takes you to lose fifteen kilograms of weight and you have stayed at or below your target weight of seventy three kilograms for at least a month. If it is going to take you longer than four months to do that, I will find additional ways to motivate you. Have you understood that?”
“Yes, Master!” She clearly had not expected this kind of punishment.
“Good. You have learned calisthenics in the crèche, start doing them again. And cut down on the tasting while cooking.” I looked at both of them. Leotha had a very well–schooled face, but I still think I saw a small trace of mirth underneath the respect she was wearing like a mask.
❀ ❁ ❀
—Day 62.— 11.OCT.1935—
I spent the day doing my regular work, helping people find answers to their questions, training my boys and girls, and programming, mostly for the nuclear people, who had taken to numerical simulations like ducks to water. And I spent an hour or so in the electronics laboratory.
Two days later, in the late afternoon I had our rat on video, as he entered the storeroom with empty hands and left with full ones the night before, including a nice mug shot. It was the gardener. One of the gardeners. My next step was to call Thomas for advice, which he gave, call Arnold in his function as security chief.
That’s when things began to go downhill. We met in Arnold’s office, under a huge mural of a pride of lions resting in the shade of a tree.
“Definitely not!” I tried to sound adamant, firm.
“You have to. It’s your duty to do so,” answered Thomas McWirther hotly.
“I am not going to whip a guy for stealing a few bottles of wine. There has to be a better solution.”
Thomas was taking a deep breath, when Benedict Arnold put a hand on his shoulder. “Thomas, please let me.” Then he continued in a very calm voice, “Gersen, do sit down.”
“Or what?” I fired back.
“Your pacing makes me dizzy and you are going to wear a groove into the carpet.” He glanced down. “And it would not do to ruin this rather nice Kelim.”
I sat down on one of the large upholstered chairs — covered with another Kelim rug, as I noticed.
“Thank you! Now let’s talk this through without all the fuss.” I grunted assent, already fearing how this would all end.
“Good . Now there are two issues here. One is the security breach, which will be taken completely off your hands. You will have nothing to do with the investigation or with any punishment that results from that.”
I asked. “Yes. But how did that gardener get hold of a master key for the entire site?”
“That is currently being looked into. You two will be the second ones who will hear the results, right after me.”
“And what will happen to the gardener?”
“He will be taken off this site and placed somewhere where he will be unable to communicate with the outside world: a labor camp, perhaps even a light regime one, not much worse than this place here.”
“What? No shooting at dawn?”
“Why should we? Not only would that waste resources, there also has to be some proportionality of the punishment to the disobedience.”
Should I be relieved that they are not insane monsters or should I be afraid because they are sane and calculating monsters?
“But a breach of the security rules must be seen to have repercussions or we’ll never be able to control the blabbing of the serfs. So that part is not only not under discussion. It’s also fully out of your hands, Mr. Gersen. There’s nothing you can do to influence this. You can rest assured that there will be no unnecessary cruelty.”
“I am relieved.” I even was proud that I had managed to keep most of the bitterness out of my voice.
“Good.” Arnold either took my comment at face value or he was a great actor, probably the latter.
“Now let’s discuss the other issue, which is the theft of the rations and other stuff. Yes, you could have passed this matter to me to deal with — if you’d’ve called me immediately when you learned of it. Unfortunately, you chose to involve yourself, in front of serfs. In front of serfs you’re responsible for; to control, to guide, to train and yes, to protect. For example, from thieves who steal their rations and so force other serfs to make bad decisions.” He steepled his fingers together, looked seriously at me. “How do you plan to keep your authority in their eyes, if you do not enforce it?”
Shit, that bastard is trying to appeal to my better side so that I will agree to whip that stupid, stupid…
Arnold continued, “I think we all agree that these thefts are something that demands a punishment. This wasn’t a one–time event where we could just slap a wrist or something that happened because that buck was kept on starving rations; quite contrary, right?”
I reluctantly agreed to this.
“You’ve been around serfs now long enough to have noticed that they do much better when they’ve been given rules. Clear rules, consistent ones. They feel… happier is the wrong word here, more content or safer when there are rules and when they understand those rules. Because they’ve been carefully brought up and trained this way.”
Arnold looked at me and raised his eyebrows, clearly waiting for some response. I gritted my teeth and nodded a millimeter or so, because all of what he had said was unfortunately true so far.
That did not mean that I really liked where the chain of reasoning was going and I could already guess what the clinching argument would be.
“Part and parcel of this is also knowing that the rules will be enforced. Your serfs came to you, knowing and trusting that you’d enforce these rules. Because order has to be kept for itself and also to protect those among them who would otherwise run rogue. And because they came to you and because you choose to involve yourself, they have to see you enforce the rules, nobody else.” The stress on the you was impossible to ignore.
The Draka went on. “That doesn’t mean that you have to swing the whip yourself, but you have to be there and you have to give the order. You made all that your responsibility, by your choice and by what you intend to be.”
And thank you, Arnold, the subtly unspoken subtext here is clear enough… toe the line or get in line with the serfs. For him this is just another one of his bloody little vaccinations.
McWirther kept watching from the side–line, seemingly fascinated.
After a long moment of silence, Arnold continued. “Let me add a few things here. First of all, yes, this is a very important question you’re being asked, one where I’ll have to insist on an answer today and one where you know what the results of the possible answers are going to be.”
I opened my mouth, but Arnold forestalled my answer with a raised hand.
“One more moment please. Second — we are not going to debate the philosophical underpinnings of mastery and of the Domination today. We’ll have to discuss all that at some time, soon, but not today. Because we all have more important things to do today and frankly, you are also not yet ready to do so. You’ll have to find your answer without that, inside you.”
He was smiling at me. He probably found my facial expression a bit funny. Amusing.
“Third, just before I used the word trust very intentionally. Your serfs have to trust you, because you hold their lives in your hands. Literally. To do this, and to receive that trust, can be a great thing, and a hard one too.”
“Fourth and last, you have already shown your willingness to discipline your serfs. Your handling of the cook was excellent. You are, unlike some others, willing to use your brains and look beyond the whip as the simple, unified solution to each and all serf discipline problems.” Arnold's voice dripped sarcasm as he said this; clearly, he was not too fond of the brute force approach either. “You managed find a punishment that is topical, more merciful then a mere whooping and at the same time more severe because of its length and one that is actually healthy for the serf. I’ve seen that cook; it’ll do her good to lose ten kilos off her haunches. And trust me, the serfs do see and understand all that.”
Arnold laughed loudly. “Gersen, you’re protesting here and now only because of aesthetics, admit it. It offends your sense of style not to be able to find as elegant a solution for the gardener as you did for the cook. Protesting because you’re unable to think your way out of the problem. If you can find such a thing, by all means, let’s use it. But it has to be something that the other serfs can see as an actual punishment fitting the crime and it has to be something that has immediate effect, because after the punishment, the serf will have to talk to Security and will never return to the project.”
And, damn, he was right. It could be seen as misplaced aesthetics, at least from their point of view. I was willing to punish the cook and I am even more willing to punish the thief. He clearly deserves to pay for what he has done, but this? It is just that whenever I think of him being beaten, I have flashbacks of countless movies and books. I am not willing to be in his place; I am too craven to become a serf. I have to become a Master and order a whipping. And yes, I do hate feeling stupid, hate not being able to think of a way out.
The silence stretched until it broke under Arnold’s quiet voice. “So you don’t see another option either, do you? And you’re too smart to suggest things like a fine or incarceration, because they’re either impossible; the serfs don’t have access to money, or do not fit the situation. That leaves only one thing.”
He sighed. “It was clear that at some point you would have to make just such a decision. I never expected it to be so early and for that, I am truly sorry. And for whatever it may be worth to you, the simple fact that this decision is not an easy one for you to make, but one that that you are willing to make, makes you a better man than good number of people here in the Domination, who do such things simply without thinking on what they do.”
McWirther looked quietly scandalized, I was not entirely sure why and I probably did not care at that point. We spent the next few minutes organizing things for the next morning, then the meeting broke up.
❀ ❁ ❀
I had slept very little and very badly that night, it came to the point where my tossing, turning and other antics woke the girl (one who was assigned to me that night) so often, that I sent her out of the room. I had to reassure her that I was not angry with her and that I was doing that only to make sure she at least got some sleep.
The next morning found us all on a grassy place behind TRIANGLE house. Arnold, McWirther and myself, the twenty–five or so serfs that TRIANGLE had acquired so far, both the computer staff and the house staff, plus Andrew Grey, the librarian, and his personal serfs.
We were arranged more or less in a square. The Citizens and myself formed one side of the square, with me in the middle. The serfs lined up on two other sides. On the fourth side of the square, opposite the Citizens, an A–shaped frame had been erected. In front of that, the gardener was waiting, naked and with cuffed hands. Two gray uniformed Janissaries loomed on the left and right of him, and two more green uniformed serf guards from the Security Directorate waiting in the background, along with a medic.
The morning was, despite it being wintertime in the Cape region, incongruously fine; blue sky, only a slight breeze, not too cold. There were even some birds were tweeting in the bushes, while the assembled serfs stood there very quietly. Somehow I had hoped for bad weather, it would have fit my mental state much better. Everyone was waiting; waiting for me to start the proceedings. I cleared my throat.
“This stupid, stupid buck over here has stolen. He has stolen from our supplies and he has stolen from your rations, for a long time. For all that, he needs to be punished today. Unfortunately for him, he also broke security rules while he was stealing; security rules you all have been instructed on; rules that everyone here, Masters and serfs, have to follow. For the theft I will punish him today. For breaking the security rules, he will have to answer to someone else.”
For a few seconds all the assembled serfs glanced at Arnold, who was standing right beside me in full uniform, including the ceremonial coiled whip on his belt. I nodded to the two Janissaries holding the gardener.
“Four times six.”
Everything that was in that little speech had been discussed with McWirther and Arnold, including the light sentence. I had left out all the superfluous rest. Both of them thought that twenty—four strokes was as light a sentence as I could get away with while staying credible. And it left the victim in better shape for questioning afterwards.
The Janissaries fixed the gardener to the whipping frame; then each of them took positions on either side of him. They started to beat him, hitting his shoulders and his buttocks alternately from the left and the right with canes, taking their time between strokes. They were skillful. All the hits were nicely parallel, with no overlapping or crossing and none of them really broke the skin. The welts rose immediately and started weeping lymph and a few little drops of blood. So, while this was surely extremely painful, it was also carefully designed and executed to not maim or even leave permanent scars.
The keening however started on the second stroke.
It took all my willpower not to turn around and run away. Or not to look away. Or not to push my fingers into my ears. The light breakfast of dry toast thankfully prevented me puking on the lawn in full view of everyone.
The less said about the rest the better.
❀ ❁ ❀
We met in my office after the gardener had been taken away and the serfs had been dismissed. We sat there in silence for a minute or three, stirring our cups of coffee or tea and staring into them.
McWirther broke the silence first. “Kurt, I will not say you did well, you clearly won’t accept that. But you did the least bad thing that was possible for you to do under the circumstances. And you were set up.”
“Set up?” I turned and looked hard at Arnold, who raised his hands.
He grinned wryly and answered. “Sorry, but I’m innocent, somewhat at least. Thomas and I spent most of the night piecing together what happened.”
McWirther nodded and continued, turning it into a double act. “It all started when the campus still was a holiday park a few years ago. The gardener started to steal things to hook up with female serfs. It seems he was a generally unsavory character, so he had to bribe his way into their beds. The key he used was a master key for the entire park. For every single damn lock, up to and including the armory. What’s more, it’s not a copy made up in some workshop; it’s an original, straight from the manufacturer. He got it from another serf, a high ranking one, who was sold when the park started to slide under its debt.”
Arnold took over. “That kind of key should never have fallen into an unsupervised serf’s hands. And it’s not even in the records. Every other key is in the records and accounted for, but not this one! Nobody knows why. After I’ve seen what we have left of the so–called records of the holiday park, I’m not surprised they went under.”
McWirther then said, “Muller, the Citizen your cook complained to about missing stuff, was the caretaker put into place by the bank after the bankruptcy. Unfortunately, he was old and his health had started to fail. This isn’t an excuse, but perhaps an explanation for why he failed to investigate the problem properly and take care of the serfs instead of letting them run wild. The gods be thanked that most of them are really good bucks and wenches keeping themselves in good order, or things could’ve turned really ugly. But if he’d have done his duty, you’d never have come into this situation. We can no longer complain to him; he died a few months before we came here.”
“Finally, the last two acts in this play, Redenrunt and I,” continued Arnold. “Redenrunt wrote in her reports that the locks of the houses had been exchanged for higher security ones, among other security upgrades. This would, of course, have made that key useless. What she meant, but didn’t actually write, was that the locks of the houses that were in active use had been exchanged. Houses that were not been in use by the atomic project, like the later TRIANGLE house, still had their original locks. That little bit of useful information was buried somewhere in the footnotes. Footnotes that I’d no time to read when I hurriedly took over from her. So this house still used the old locks and the key was still useful.”
I put my two centi–aurics in with an, “Oops.”
“Yes, very much so . Sorry.” Arnold shook his head. “The security audit I had planned would’ve caught it. Unfortunately, it’s scheduled to happen in two weeks. So basically there were a whole lot of people who should’ve done their jobs properly, which made you the one having to clean up the mess, and also ultimately letting the serfs down.”
“What will happen to the gardener?”
“Well, we will of course question him. No need to be excessively rough, he’s already well softened up by now. But we need to find out whom he dealt with and if he knows of any other little security holes. After we’ve finished interrogating him and if he’s sung nicely, we’ll most likely transfer him to a SD installation way back in the bush. One that has a need for groundskeepers and gardeners. Discipline there will be a bit more rigid than here, but it’s not a bad place."
So all’s well that ends well, at least for us. Or is it? I am not so sure that this will end well for me — or if it ends well, that it will still be me carrying the name of Kurt Gersen.
❀ ❁ ❀
—Day 70.— 19.OCT.1935—
The phone rang. Not a buzzing or gentle chiming, or a mindless little ringtone melody; the rattling clanging of an old style wind up alarm clock, of an actual hammer shaped clapper smashed repeatedly against a little bell. One day soon I would take that phone down to the electronics lab and do unspeakable things to it. I picked up the speaker. “Gersen.”
“Hello, Kurt. Could you come to the outside meeting room, please? There’s someone here you need to meet.”
“Five minutes, Thomas; I need to finish something here first.”
The outside meeting room was of course inside the building. The “outside” referred to the fact that it was outside the security checkpoint at the entrance to the lobby. It was handy when I had to meet people who did not have the necessary security clearances, like suppliers of office goods and similar things, and did not want to have all the hassle that comes with getting them a visitor’s pass.
As I entered the meeting room, Thomas McWirther was already there, sitting at the table with a woman in military uniform. She was a cohortarch like Thomas and if I understood the unit insignia on her well fitted black undress uniform correctly, was doing something or other in the naval arm.
Introductions were made, her name was Suzie Talbott and I had been correct. She was working for the Navy in some technical department, stationed in the naval base at Simonstown, a bit south of Capetown. Thomas explained as he introduced us. “Suzie was in the same class at the naval academy as I was. When I found out that she was stationed nearby, I remembered that she also was into rock climbing. So I called her up; she’s still climbing. So I thought you two should meet.”
After the introductions were made, negotiations started. It seemed that Thomas had done a briefing before I’d entered the scene so we pretty soon came to an agreement. Suzie would pick me up next Sunday to take me climbing on some rock face in the vicinity close by, one that was used by the local climbers for training.
Four days later, we climbed that rock face. Climbed there for the whole day. Now we were on our way back down; abseiling is fun. We had seen a larger car in military colors approaching the track near the place where Suzie’s little runabout and the cars of some of the other climbers were stashed. As we came closer, our suspicions were confirmed. Thomas McWirther was standing beside the car. Suzie and I helped each other out of our climbing gear and changed into fresh clothes. After a few hours of hard work in the work face, we were both pretty ripe.
“Seems you two enjoyed your day.”
“Yes, it was a pretty good day; except for that first hour,” answered Suzie.
I added, “Yes. That was my fault. Don’t pull your punches, Suzie. I simply had my thoughts in a lot of other places, but not on the mountain, where they belonged. And I was learning your style.”
“Yes. That hour was pretty lame. But he finally got his act together, Thomas, and suddenly it was me who was hard pressed to keep up.”
Thomas grinned. “So he’s a good climber?”
“Good? There are three or maybe four climbers in the Cape Province who just might be able to match him. I really have to spring him on Margali and the two Tims as a surprise and eye opener.” Suzie had a wide and evil smile plastered on her face. “Would do them good to learn some humility once in a while. Yes, Kurt is that good. Unique climbing style, very athletic and dynamic. And very, very fast.”
I added. “Well, at least some of that fabulous ability is the equipment. You know, a percent here and a percent there, and pretty soon you are talking about serious improvement.”
“Oh, yes. I want your climbing shoes, buster! And some of the other stuff you showed me.”
“Then you will have to get me to that shoe maker because I am for sure not willing to give mine away. And they would be too large for you anyway.”
❀ ❁ ❀
On the drive home, Thomas said, “Kurt, Suzie has agreed to take you climbing for the next few weeks. To make things easier for everybody, I’ve assigned Corporal Halef here to be your driver in the future. That way it’ll be possible for you to go off climbing on your own.” He pointed at the dark skinned driver in janissary uniform, who look back into the mirror for a moment and nodded respectfully. “He knows this area and he’s pretty good at reading maps and such. And he will, of course, also fetch and carry for you on such occasions. Just a word of warning, and no insult intended, be a little careful into which social settings you put yourself. A serious social gaffe with the wrong people can have lethal consequences.”
“None taken, Thomas and thank you both for the warning and the opportunity to get off the project campus on occasion. A completely different question. Does the Domination have such a thing as a limited liability company?”
My abrupt change of subject seemed to take him by surprise. “Yes, there is such a thing, although it’s not really seen as being entirely in good taste by some arch–conservatives. They think one shouldn’t be able to weasel out of personal responsibility that easily. But why do you ask?”
“I noticed a few things that the Domination does not yet have. I thought I might speed up the process a little bit. Three or four things I found this afternoon while climbing, a few types of office supplies, and some other odds and ends. The list keeps growing. But it’s not big stuff, like atomic power, so I would not expect the State to be interested in it.”
Thomas raised an eyebrow. “Kurt, do you really think you’ll find enough time to start manufacturing these little things? Your schedule’s already pretty full.”
I grinned. “Yes, you all keep me quite busy. But I was not thinking about manufacturing. Licensing is the name of the game. I have the idea, I have the prototype. I might have a chemical or other analysis, and I might have some clues on production. All that should be worth a few percent of the result.”
The Draka noded. “If you think so. But you do realize that such activities and things still have to be cleared through security? And if it’s cleared, you should probably also speak with a lawyer.”
“Oh, lawyering up was step one on that particular plan, right after becoming a Metic. But are you really going to be that interested in improved climbing shoes?”
“Suzie will, that’s for sure.” Thomas laughed.
❀ ❁ ❀
—Day 76.— 25.OCT.1935—
The three serfs filed into my office. I indicated the places where I wanted them to be with a wave of my hand. Actually there were a whole lot of at least semi–formal hand signs one could use to give orders to serfs, which I was slowly learning by observation. Things like just slightly tapping your glass or cup with a finger to get a refill or pointing to a point on the ground with stretched out index and middle fingers — that usually got a serf kneeling at the indicated place.
Figuring out and learning this stuff was not easy. For one, the longer a serf had been around a particular master or mistress, the less obvious the signaling became. The other thing was that I did not want to ask. I was already asking an awful lot. Sometimes I must have been getting on my hosts’ nerves. So I had made it a point of pride to figure at least that aspect on my own.
Leotha, Thandi and Clem knelt at the side of my writing table, looking at me. I had already learned that you can’t have a serf kneeling right in front of the writing table. If you do, you will either see only the top of his or her head or you will have to shout across the entire room, if you wanted to see the whole serf, not just their head.
“I am not angry or annoyed with any one of you, but I do need to understand what is going on here. During the past hour, all three of you undulated past my table, with wiggling hips. I must say that I was a bit astonished at that moment. When I thought about it a little, I saw that this and similar things have been going on for a few days now; especially when no other masters were in the room. Things like soulful sighs.” I looked at Thandi, sitting at the left. “Fluttering eyelids and trousers that are at least one or two sizes too small for you.” That was directed at Clem. “Or that someone this morning forgot to put on a halter before putting on her shirt. Even if it does improve the sights around here, eh, Leotha?”
I looked into three sets of perfect Bambi–caught–in–the–headlights eyes. A sly thought wafted through my head, I must introduce them to some Disney movies. Sometime.
“Once more, I am not angry with any one of you. Just explain to me what is going on.” I laughed softly. “Do you three perhaps have a bet running, who will be the first one I drag off to bed?”
Leotha, the oldest one by a year or two, spoke up first. “Master, we are not betting! It’s just, you often look tired and sad and then we heard from your bed wench that you were taking her only rarely, once a week or longer waits so we thought you might not like her. And…” She hesitated.
“And?” I smiled at all three. But it was Thandi who answered. “Master, we know that you are still learning how to be a Master and that you were not born to it.” The girl started to talk faster and faster and got quieter at the same time. “And we though perhaps you would not know, that you can select from us as well for that duty and we wanted to show you that…” Her voice trailed into silence, made fearful by her own previous courage.
So these kids decided to make sure that that I understood they were also available for sexual services. And when I did not react to their first signs, their signaling got more and more obvious, leading up to today’s antics. It must have taken a lot of courage to make this decision. I wondered whose idea it was, but decided not to dig too deeply, since they all three were involved.
I took a deep breath. It was hard not to laugh out loud. The whole situation had a lot of surreal humor to it. “That’s sweet of you three. I really, really appreciate that you are trying to help me.” I smiled at them warmly. “But that is not the way we are going to play this.” I watched their reactions carefully as I spoke. “I understand what you were trying to do, but it has to stop. It is distracting to me and it is distracting to you as well. So, no more flirting during business hours.”
Both girls seem to be a little bit disappointed. Clem was harder to read. Perhaps they all had found it exciting to flirt with their boss? And I thought that I would need to be a bit more assertive, just to make sure that they do not try this kind of stunt with somebody else, which could lead into trouble.
“Also, it’s not your place to try to seduce me or any other Master. I am not angry with you, not at all, but that is properly my decision to make and if I decide to take one of you to bed, I will let you know.” I grinned at them. “And I will make it without any undulating or soulful sighs.” There seemed to be some relief in their faces and a bit of excitement too.
“Incidentally, Clem, that leaves you completely off the hook; I am not interested in males. And don’t look so relieved!” I grinned at him and he smiled shyly back to me. “Off you go, back to work, all, but first put on your proper clothes.”
❀ ❁ ❀
That evening we had one of the regular dinner/debriefing meetings, discussing the business of the day and gently interrogating and educating me. As usual there was also one of the project’s serfs taking minutes, Clem had the duty this evening, and some housegirls, responsible for serving foods and drinks.
Late in the evening I mentioned what had happened to me that afternoon. First McWirther and Arnold laughed, especially since Clem was doing one of those disappearing in plain—sight acts that all the serfs do so well. This time he was not completely successful as both face and ears turned a bright red.
I asked, “So, is this something that happens often? Serfs trying to do this kind of thing, showing this kind of initiative?”
“I sometimes forget that you have to learn all these things the hard way, not from growing up with serfs,” answered Thomas. “It’s not unheard of, but no, it doesn’t happen often and usually it takes a lot longer to happen.”
“Yes. It usually takes a few years before serfs are used enough to their owners to develop much initiative. It’s something that’s not stressed in their training, quite contrary in fact. It’s something they’re trained to avoid. And for it happen so soon, after only a few months, that’s unusual.”
Benedict entered the discussion. “It may perhaps have something to do with the training you’re giving your serfs. You are at the same time an easy–going and a demanding master, you are even–tempered and calm and you explain things very well, even several times. But at the same time, you’re constantly pushing them towards flexibility and problem solving. Which, as you have noticed, is something that’s hard for them.” He grinned a bit. “Seems that your push for their flexibility has created some unexpected blooms.”
“And is that a problem?”
“No, not as long as you keep them in hand. As you did, when you told them to knock it off and that you would decide if and when and who you would take to bed, not them. Which incidentally might not be a bad idea at some point, as it would establish your dominance more firmly in their minds.”
“Hmm. So they trust me sufficiently to try to help me to become what they have learned a proper Master should be?”
Thomas answered this question with, “Yes, which is a good thing, as long as you keep them under control. And they do trust you. This is something that’s hard for you to notice as you do not have the experience. Your serfs are relaxing when you are in the computer room. They’re not slowing down, or getting sloppy, quite the contrary. But they do relax, settle down. It’s easier to see from the outside.”
“Oh yes, it seems you have some magical touch. I’ve seen this before, with long term family serfs, mostly house born, who have known their masters for their whole lives. Their world becomes whole when they’re close to their owners.”
“That makes them sound rather dog–like. And should we have this discussion here?” I shot a sideways glance at Clem, sitting at the other table.
“Yes. No. Sort of.” Thomas looked, despite this quip, solemn. “And yes, we should have this discussion, although it’s good that you ask that question.” Arnold nodded in the affirmative.
“You used dogs as a metaphor, which actually is a good one. There’s some truth in it, but like any metaphor, it also has its limitations. Humans are like dogs or wolves, intensely status aware. About the first thing a group of humans does in any given situation is to define their relative status. Who are leaders, who are followers, who are actually members of the group, who are not. The need to know where one fits into the group or society is a very basic one. And like dogs or wolves, humans tend to stay within the hierarchy, once it has been established, accepting without much resentment, and even with content, their place.”
Arnold took over from McWirther. “There are, of course, always some outliers and rebels, trying to buck the existing order, which is where I come in. Actually we Draka are also a lot like the early humans. We’re trying to domesticate another group and on the whole we are succeeding. Because, in the long run, mere obedience isn’t enough; the objective is domestication. A properly domesticated serf will be content to live under its master, to receive guidance and protection, just like a dog is most content and even happy, when it can be with its owner. And I can see that you’re not too happy with this discussion, Gersen.”
“No, not really.”
“It goes against everything you’ve been taught in your life so far, right? I know, because I’ve been outside the Domination, so I do have some perspective.”
“Good. Then consider this. For the entire human history, our kind of social order has been the standard, a small percentage of people on the top as an aristocracy of some kind, with a huge number of people as their subjects. The fact that this, in some different guises, was the standard model for so long suggests that this is what fits human nature best. And it’s even true today, even in so called democracies. The huge majority of people having no or only a little real control over their lives, trying to make ends meet and doing what somebody tells them to do. Only today it’s not a nobleman in his manor house, but an industrial chief issuing edicts from the top floor, or a newspaper magnate telling the people the opinion they should have or a political leader telling his party what slogans to shout today. True or not true?”
“True, to some degree.”
“We can debate degrees and percentages later on, this is about basic principles. Another, related thing to consider is this, in every society, there’s a huge percentage of people who want to be told what to do and what to think. They’re the large percentage, even majority, who act like thinking is actually painful and original ideas are something perverted and who react to having to take real responsibility like the devil to holy water; they’re natural followers.”
“The logical conclusion to that argument would be there are natural leaders.”
McWirther choose this moment to re–enter the argument. “There are, we are those leaders, both natural and by training. It’s our task, our duty to do this, to provide leadership and guidance to those who follow us.”
Unless I really missed my guess, Arnold was not too thrilled about having his argument derailed by his colleague. “Yes, we’re that leadership, and you are too.”
“Yes. You, Gersen. I have, of course, studied the file the alienists did on you. You’re leadership material, in the top five or ten percent or so in almost every category, except combat skills, where you, no insult intended, suck. That’s a result of your weird education and can be remedied. Even your personality has a good dominance streak. You belong on the top. I do notice that you partake in the sweet fruits of domination, in moderation, of course. Tell me, does it feel good to be a leader?”
I took a deep breath and ground out, “Yes, sometimes.”
“Gersen, I say this without the slightest hint of cynicism. One of the true pleasures of working with you is that you’re honest, even with yourself; which is the hardest kind of honesty, and something I rarely encountered with my other charges.”
“I do have a question, Mr. Arnold, is all this argument supposed to make me to embrace the Domination world view in one fell swoop?”
Both Arnold and McWirther laughed. “No, of course not.” said Arnold. “At least not immediately. But you need to understand our world view, if you want to be able to live in this society. If only not to be obviously shocked when one of our compatriots sets out to educate the poor Metic. And who knows, perhaps the horse will sing.”
Arnold sobered again. “You do understand that you’ll be watched for the rest of your life. All Metics are, of course, but you more than usual, because of what you are. And I will not be the only watcher, so you need to know the official line.”
❀ ❁ ❀
—Day 90.— 08.NOV.1935—
Work in the computer room was buzzing along nicely. Leotha was outside doing something administrative, Clem was busily clicking away on the Wikipedia export work, Thandi was teaching something or other to two of the librarian’s serfs. The last computer was in use by Alister McLane, one of the physicists supporting the nuclear project. I was doing some programming work, refining the program that was supposed to output a PDF–file onto microfilm without forgetting a single line of text and putting each illustration onto a separate frame of the film, so I was not paying too much attention to my surroundings when the door opened.
“All serfs out!”
I did not know that voice. I looked up and saw an unknown face. Not somebody who was on the list with clearance for the computer room. I had the final world on that list. Female, one of those conservative four pocket safari suit jackets with only minimal embroidery that is usually worn by civil servants. Actually, quite similar to what I was wearing, one of the largest handguns I had yet seen on her belt. Very short haircut over a narrow hatchet face, looking a lot like a younger Margaret Hamilton in The Wizard of Oz, only sans the green facial color. The lady was also emitting a lot of danger vibes, more so then the run of the mill Draka usually did.
The serfs turned to look at me. I pressed a button on the phone on my desk. As it stopped blinking, I picked up the receiver and said, “Gersen, security brea…” Then I looked at her well–manicured finger pressing down on the cradle. Her other hand was close to the gun at her belt.
I made a shooing hand movement to the serfs. While they were filing out, I said, “You know, they will call back any second now.”
The phone buzzed softly and I handed her the second receiver on my phone, the one where somebody else can listen in, but not talk.
“You called, Sir?” The voice of one of the Janissaries in the guard house.
“Yes. I did. But, sorry, it was a mistake, please stand down!”
“Sir, yes, Sir. Please confirm to stand down. And I’ll need the word of the day to do so, Sir!”
“Yes, of course, I confirm the stand down order. The word is Uniform Delta.”
“Thank you, Sir.” Click.
Of course you can’t call off a security alert once it has been given. The whole charade was only there to give me a chance to tell the guards that I or whoever called the alert was under duress hence Uniform Delta.
“You are Kurt Gersen?”
“Yes, I am. And you are?” My attempt at opening communications was ignored by her.
“You’re needed at the entrance.”
She was not going for politeness or even a reasonable facsimile thereof but immediately turned and walked to the other Citizen, giving him a few quiet words and showing him something hidden in a wallet. I use that time to lock down the network, get up and leave the room, with the wicked witch and the other researcher in close pursuit. At the serf’s break room I stopped and looked inside. Most of the staff was safely there, and gave a few quiet orders.
We were herded to the entrance, Benedict Arnold, Elliot Gardiner, the librarian Andrew Grey with one his serfs at his side and McLane, plus our sheepdog, the wicked witch. Another Draka, male, in one of those ultraconservative safari suits with an even larger gun in an elaborate holster vanished back into the building.
We stood there and waited, watching a tetrarchy, the Draka equivalent to a platoon, of Janissaries deploying around TRIANGLE house; at least until a runner came up to the commanding Citizen officer. There was remarkably little confusion as the troops were turned around to establish a defensive perimeter around the house, now with their weapons pointing outwards. All the action did not please our watchdog too much. She kept giving me dark and angry looks. I refrained from making any comments.
A few minutes later, McWirther appeared on the path near the house, accompanied by a distinguished looking gentleman in an expensive and flamboyant suit, dark green silk, lots of embroidery in contrasting colors and a large lace cravat. I would not be caught dead in such a thing, but then I have always been accused of having a very pedestrian taste in clothes by my fellow Citizens.
The distinguished gentleman was followed by two other people, one male and one female, both in pretty flamboyant clothes. The man had a roundish face with full lips and was around twenty–eight or so and he carried a suitcase. The female was small, perhaps one and a half meters, not more, and about the same age as the elderly gentleman, with the longest hair I had yet seen among the Draka, shoulder length, and of equal parts red and gray; both probably were aides or advisers.
I had already seen the face of the older gentleman in several pictures in books and on a wall. If I needed any more hints as to who he actually was, he was accompanied by two more people in conservative safari suits, openly lugging pocket howitzers around and judging by the way they kept scanning the surroundings looked like they urgently needed dark sun glasses and a button in their ears. Going by the pointing, and the pained look on McWirther’s face, the Archon was making some comment about the deployed Janissaries.
McWirther did the honors of the introductions, starting at the left of the group. Judging by their warm greetings, Elliot Gardiner knew the Archon personally and quite well. Greeting were much more formal with the others who were present. I was introduced last, probably as the crowning conclusion. After the formal introduction, the Archon looked me over slowly from head to toe.
“Glory to the race, Mr. Gersen!”
“Service to the State, Archon.” I had been expecting such a greeting at some point, but not from the Archon himself. Thankfully I had prepared myself to the proper response. Bungling the welcome from an Archon would not have been good.
“So, you are the time traveller.”
“Yes, Sir. Did you expect something more… exotic?”
“Frankly, I didn’t know what to expect. Some people say you and everything you say is a fake or worse, an attempt by our enemies to trip us up. Other people claim that you’re the hottest thing since the invention of fire. Then you go and write a little report that bothers Elliot so much, that he camps out on my door step the very next day after you wrote the damn thing.” The Archon smiled slightly, nodding toward Elliot. His calculating eyes locked onto mine as he continued, “So, when I had something official to do in Capetown, I decided to take a few hours off to personally look you over. So, please start the tour and impress me.”
Elliot asked, “Do you care for some refreshment first, Sir?”
“No, thank you. Perhaps after the tour we’ll have time to sit down and talk things over then.”
The Janissary guard at the entrance gave the Draka military salute as we entered, right fist to left breast, while standing at attention so rigidly that he virtually vibrated in place. As we entered the building, I noticed that Arnold had pulled McLean to the side and vanished with him somewhere unknown.
We stopped in the lobby, immediately after passing the guard post. The stop was perhaps unintended, but not unexpected. I had put that picture there for a reason. The Archon stood in front of the Earthrise picture for a long minute, and then turned to Elliot Gardiner. “Elliot, despite what you told me, Mr. Gersen was right to put this single picture on an empty white wall. Even if he had to cover up a nice mural. Mr. Gersen, when we’ve finished the walk through, I hope you’ll be able to tell me more about this picture.”
I led the group further into the depths of the house, past deeply bowing serfs. Now I knew where Benedict Arnold had vanished to. He had obviously rounded up all the staff and he gave me a wink as we passed him. In the computer room, I started the regular dog and pony show, which usually took about half an hour, an hour tops.
We were there for almost three hours before the Archon called for a break. We held that in the conference room, which was much closer to Draka standards of space and ornamentation then the computer room. The lion pride under the tree in the mural always looked to me like it was sizing up the occupants of the room for dinner. Someone from the staff had arranged for a very respectable selection of snacks and liquid refreshments. I nodded my approval to Leotha and the highest ranking of the serving house maids.
“That was mighty impressive, Mr. Gersen. Thank you for the extensive and exhaustive tour, even if we didn’t leave that room. So what else do you do in your spare time?”
“Thandi. The reports stack from my desk, please.” She almost sprinted out of the room.
“You mean besides the improvements for data extraction, which will go on for a long time and the support for the atomics project? Which, by the way, is spawning sub–projects left and right? Every time we turn around, we find a bit of new technology. For it to work, something usually has to be developed first. Right now, we are hip deep in fluorine chemistry. Well, I write little reports, some of which even make it up to your level. Many of the others are stuck here, because we cannot figure out a way to declassify them.”
By that time, a stack of reports had materialized under my hand. “Like this one, for example.” I handed the top one over.
“Halogenated Methanes. A new class of highly efficient and safe firefighting agents.” The Archon quoted the title of a thin binder. “And?”
“That alone will probably save a few thousand Citizen lives, plus lots and lots of property damage. If we ever can get this report into the hands of somebody who can do something about it.” I added a little more explanation on what Halons do and why they are so useful.
“What’s the problem?”
“War Directorate blocking Security Directorate and vice versa. Definitely not on our level here, I might add, and stress, but higher up. I do not understand all the reasons yet, but to me, there seems to be a bit of foot dragging going on. And a large bit of ‘not invented here’ as well.” Both McWirther and Arnold had sat up at that question and my answer, but both remained silent.
The Archon nodded. “I see … what else do you have in your little stack?”
This time I read the title. “Solid state switching and amplification of electrical signals. Discrete devices and whole circuits designed into integrated packages.” I handed it over the table. It was a lot thicker than the report on Halons. “This one will give you a leg up on American electronics and it gives you the base on which the machines in the computer room are designed.”
“How much of a lead would this give us?”
“That’s very hard to say, Sir. But from what I have seen of your electronics, and what I heard about your Americans, I would guess five years, which is half an eternity in the field of electronics. And you would hold that head start for a long time, if it’s exploited properly.”
The Archon tiredly looked at the stack of reports on my side of the table. We spent the next few minutes just going through the titles and applications.
“Mr. Gersen, you’re giving me a lot of things to think over and to discuss with your colleagues here. I hate to appear impolite, especially since you’re acting as the host here. But would you mind letting me talk about some of the things we’ve seen, in private?”
There was a very slight drawing of breath, either from Gardiner or McWirther.
“Not at all, Sir!” I got up, gave polite greetings, left the room and went down to the computers.
❀ ❁ ❀
“Mr. Gersen, the Archon requests your attendance.” The wicked witch of the west was a lot more polite this time. I wondered why.
“One moment.” I saved and closed the program files I had been working on for the past hour or so. Sensing her look I explained. “Putting the system into a safe state. Finished, and coming.”
As I entered the conference room, I looked at the six persons present; something was afoot. Gardiner looked a little bit like the cat that had eaten the family parrot, McWirther gave the impression of being a man resigned to his lot and Arnold wore his usual unreadable public face.
No one else was in the room, no serfs and none of the Archon’s security. Even the female protective agent who had brought me stayed outside the room.
“Please, take your seat.” He pointed to a chair opposite his. McWirther, Arnold and Gardiner also sat on that side of the table; the Archon and his two companions at the other side of the conference table.
Once I had gotten myself a cup of tea and sat down, the Archon started his grilling. “Mr. Gersen, I do have a few questions about that report of yours. You gave us that nice film showing that car production without workers. This happened or will happen in your world, but do you really think it will happen here and if yes, why?”
“Yes. Maybe not exactly in the same shape and the same time, but surely something that will have pretty much the same effect. Why? The market pushes at comparable utility and quality always for the lower price. So there will always be a strong incentive to reduce production cost. One way to do this is reducing labor cost by reducing wages outright or moving your production into areas and countries with generally lower wages. The other way is to improve your efficiency, which among other things means automation.”
“We don’t have wages, Mr. Gersen.” The answer came from the smallish lady who was sitting beside the Archon on the other side of the table and who had asked few questions so far. She did stress the “have” a bit.
“Yes. But you still have labor costs, you just don’t call them wages. Food, housing, clothing, upbringing and training are all costs, regardless what you call them or how you cover them. And I think there is a pretty hard lower limit to these costs, Ms. Edelmann, if you plan to keep having an effective labor force. Labor forces in other countries will resist attempts to lower wages, so those countries will feel the need to automate earlier than the Domination. Ultimately this means that they will be able to produce at lower costs, regardless of what you do to reduce labor costs and the advantages of automation do cover all kinds of production, consumer goods, industrial goods and military.”
I will have to remember to use “us” and “we” a bit more often. After all, this is going to be my country and my people, even if the naturalization is a tiny bit involuntary. And it perhaps helps to create the proper image of myself for them.
“Well. We could wait until we reach that point and start to automate then. Or we simply could decide to reduce trade and thus competition, Mr. Gersen,” answered Ms. Edelmann.
“Reducing competition by reducing and controlling trade? Mercantilism 2.0 will reduce the pain for a short time, but for sure is no long term solution. The ones outside our borders would still keep innovating and would soon start to out–produce us. Ms. Edelmann, in the long term, we would just have more and more distance to catch–up. We would have react to their actions, not making them react to ours. This does not seem to be a good place to be, in my opinion. Ultimately, this is one of the things that killed the Soviet Union.”
“The Soviet Union is dead in your world? How?”
I changed my focus back to the Archon, instead of speaking to his diminutive lady advisor. “Yes, Sir. It simply fell apart, roughly by the end of the 1980s. Their industry kept falling back and back and all–out war had become unthinkable. Ultimately, you could say they lost heart and simply gave up, especially when Perestroika, their last ditch effort to repair the basic failures of their system and culture, failed.”
The Archon looked at me with a sardonic little smile under his well–trimmed mustache. “Mr. Gersen, I’m going to need a report on that…”
“Yes, Sir. But, Sir, it might take a bit before I can finish that.”
“I understand and after all, we might have a little time until the eighties.”
“Thank you, Sir, and I will do my best to deliver that report before that date.”
“Yes, please, Mr. Gersen,” he answered in a very dry voice. Then he continued. “In your report, you have a conclusions section, containing a lengthy version of the short analysis you just made here. But the recommendations section is empty. Why?”
“I have been here for about three months now, Sir. Any actual recommendation I would make at this time on how to resolve this little problem would simply be utter hubris. Perhaps I will be able to have ideas that are better than completely useless in a few years.”
“Then why write that report, if you are not able to offer a solution?”
“Because someone else might have that solution, Sir? Once it is known that this problem will exist, you have a chance to steal a march on history and put measures in place long before the need becomes too urgent and obvious. Things would be more gradual and would go much smoother than any emergency action.”
“Yes. There is something to that. Mr. Gersen, I understand your reluctance about putting any recommendations on paper, but I insist that you exercise your hubris.”
I nodded. “Sir, we are going to need a lot more scientists and engineers, so we will need to adjust the curriculum of the Citizen schools. That should be possible without too many problems, even if the pipeline on education is ten to twenty years long.” I took a deep breath. “But we are also going to need lots of support personnel for these scientists and engineers, and to install, use and service the new technologies being developed. Technicians of any kind, who are educated well enough to fully understand what they are doing and who ideally can also offer occasional creative ideas. That means increasing the number of serfs in the upper literacy levels — something we are reluctant to do and I think I do understand the reasons for that reluctance, at least to some small degree, Sir.”
“You don’t agree with these reasons.” His brown eyes looked at me, measuring and judging. The tone of his voice had become almost amicable.
Careful. This man is a politician and politicians tend to be able to read people very well. Whatever you do, do not lie to this man!!
“Sir, Kurt Gersen, citizen of the republic of Austria and of the year 2015 would not agree with these reasons. Kurt Gersen, the time traveller to 1935 and possible Metic citizen of the Domination, whose world view has been quite thoroughly shattered by the events, keeps his mind open and tries to understand those reasons, but still has limitations on his knowledge and experiences. He is basically reserving judgment until he knows and understands a heck of a lot more, but he is also quite unlikely to go rocking the boat.”
The Archon nodded. Then he looked at Arnold, sitting by my right side and said to him, “You were right, Mr. Arnold. He’s honest. As for you, Mr. Gersen, if you keep writing such reports, you will find it hard not to rock the boat, as you put it.”
“Sir, is not writing such reports the reason for me to be here?”
“Yes. And also the reason why you did write that paper. How did you put it? You need to know the parameters you’re supposed to operate under?”
The Archon turned to the female advisor at his side. “Sandra, we’ll go with the second option we discussed.” She just bobbed her head slowly. He looked at everyone at our side of the table in turn. “Gentlemen, Mr. Gersen, I’m going to do something that will cause the War Directorate to be annoyed with me.”
“I’m going to move TRIANGLE from the War Directorate directly under Archonate control. I’ll be asking Cohortarch McWirther and Cohortarch Arnold to stay on the project as directors and representatives of their directorates, with a bump in rank for each.” There was complete silence on both my sides at these revelations.
“Mr. Gardiner, if he agrees, will stay on as the Archonate’s representative. Ms. Edelmann here will be TRIANGLE'S contact to me, while it’s fascinating to read your reports, I do have other things to do.” The Archon smiled a bit wistfully at his last sentence.
“As for you, Mr. Gersen, you can write any report you want to, regardless of its contents. As long as it stays here in–house, you will have immunity to put anything on paper you want to. I might add that even that limited immunity is going to raise the ire of Mr. Arnold’s brothers–in–arms.”
The Archon leaned back and put his finger tips together, seemingly relaxed. ”If a report is to be distributed to any other persons or organizations with TRIANGLE clearance, you’ll need to get two of the directors to sign off on it. If a report is supposed to go outside of TRIANGLE, you’ll need unanimous approval of all three directors. Ms. Edelmann, however, will see any and all reports you choose to make, regardless of approval by the directors. I hope you understand that this relates only to your official activities, Mr. Gersen. Your private activities will remain under scrutiny by Security and you’ll be held accountable if you step out of line.”
“Yes, Sir, and thank you for the clarifications.”
“My pleasure, and by the way, I’m going to see you in Archona in a few weeks.” I must have looked a bit perplexed at that comment. “We’re going to swear you in as a Citizen. Just have to have the date arranged. Congratulations.”
“Thank you very much, Sir.”
Phew! It seems I have finally cleared that hurdle. From now on the worst case scenario is a bullet in the neck. But do not let them see you relaxing.
❀ ❁ ❀
—Day 99.— 17.NOV.1935—
“Thandi, when you are finished with clearing that stuff away, come here.”
It was late in the evening. We had just finished the regular dinner combined with interrogation, debriefing and business meeting. We was myself and the three directors of TRIANGLE: Gardiner, McWirther and Arnold. The others had already left the room to go to their homes. Only Thandi was left, who was putting away her stenographic meeting notes and spools of magnetic wire from the recording machine.
“Yes, Master?” She had finished and was now kneeling close by my chair. I looked at her, she returned the look for a second or two, then blushed and concentrated her attention at a spot in the floor in front of her, perfectly as per the protocol all the serfs are trained in.
I tried to make sure that my voice held no rebuke. “A few weeks ago, we had a discussion about flirting with me and you have been a very good girl about this for a time. But in the last week or so you have been sliding back a bit. I notice that you volunteer for any job as long as it is close to me, like taking this evening’s minutes, and exchange tasks with other serfs to do so. And I also saw you giving me those longing glances, whenever you think I and others are not looking at you.”
The expression on her face was hard to describe. It was a mix of many things, fear, of course, any kind of confrontation with a Master must be frightening, but there were other things there as well. Things perhaps like pain and loneliness and perhaps longing? At that point I already had a sinking feeling that her answer would create difficulties.
The girl fell forward until she was in the full obeisance position. Kneeling, face on the floor and outstretched arms, wailing into the carpet at the same time. “Mama Nilla always warned us not to fall in love with our Masters, and I tried so long and so hard not to do it, but I think I’m in love with you, Master!”
Oh, my! Of course it’s the one single girl in the whole bunch who is not painfully shy, downright scared, awfully reserved, stupefyingly bland or strongly sober! The one with “Warning, troublemaker” in her file. Because she happens to have a double serving of personality.
“I have no idea who Mama Nilla is, but she sounds like a wise wench.” I handed her one of the thick linen napkins from the dinner table. “Blow your nose and tell me more about her.” We were probably keeping one of the house girls from her well–deserved sleep, someone had to clean up the table, and she was probably right outside the conference room door, listening to every word. I hated the way there isn’t any privacy around here.
“Mama Nilla was our group mother in the crèche. We could always go to her when we were sad or hurt. And she always did know what to do. She always told me not to fall in love with a Master, even when she caught me with those stories.”
“Stories?” Now she looked like a puppy caught at some unspeakable crime. Like stealing the last slice of ham from the Master’s plate. “Go ahead, tell me.”
She took a deep breath and plunged in. “We always told each other stories in the evenings after lights out. Make believe stories of what would happen when we left the crèche. We knew that we were just dreaming. Most of us would end up in the office of some combine. Such things only happen to the Fancies picked for personal service. Some of us wrote the best stories down to swap with other groups, or even typed them. But being caught with them by a teacher, or worse, one of the overseers, was really bad.”
“What were these stories about?”
“We dreamed of being picked by a nice master and being shown the world and of having adventures. And as we got older and learned more, the bed wenching got more and more important in those stories.” She blushed. I could see it even under her dark skin. “But we always knew it was just story telling.” The last sentence was wailed again. I pointed at the napkin in her hands once more.
So the kids reinvented the bodice ripper romance novel for themselves. Please try to tell me that fairy tales and porn are not basic human needs. And there they have large numbers of smart, not even eighteen year old kids living in cloisters; small wonder that something like that happens.
“And so you went and fell into one of these stories. Tell me, girl, is this the first time you have fallen in love?”
She looked at me with big, dark brown wet eyes and nodded. I answered her with what probably was a sad, remembering smile. “I hate to tell you this, and I don’t know if Mama Nilla ever told you. But a first love usually does not last long. I know about that.” Her eyes got even bigger.
I made my decision. Which left the problem of how to tell her in terms she would actually understand. I spoke again, taking careful notice of her face. Usually all the serf’s faces and bodies were very uncommunicative and still hard to read for me. But hers was downright eloquent in her current state.
“Thandi, I am not in love with you, but I am very fond of you.” That brought something like an “of course“ reaction to her face, so perhaps I was not expected to reciprocate. “But if I take you as a bed wench, there are two rules.” The joy in her face lasted only for a second or so, but fully lit up the room, before she schooled her face back into the proper form.
“One, during business hours, I expect you to be as good or better than you have been in the last few weeks. No distractions, no flirting, and full concentration at work.”
“Yes, Master!” She bent forward in response until her head hit the carpet again.
“Up, girl! Second rule, and this is a private rule mostly for me, but also for you. I don’t take people to bed who do not want to be there with me. So if you do not feel well, if you are afraid, if you simply don’t feel like it, whatever, you can always tell me “please, no.” There will never be a punishment or other repercussions for that. Do you understand that?”
Are you just trying to apease your conscience? Yes, you are. You are a fucking hypocrite, no pun intended. How likely is it that someone with her training and upbringing will ever say no? And don’t go and tell yourself that this is still better than taking that girl to bed who had been ordered by Sophie to do so; it is not. Yet, still, Thandi at least might simulate her assent a little less; it might less of a chore and more of a joy for her.
She looked at me like I had just sprouted antennas and fins. But she nodded.
“Good. Go and fetch the things you need for a night. Meet me in the lobby in five minutes.”
I watched her leaving the room and took a deep breath. As I left the conference room I observed myself in a mirror, hanging in the corridor. On the one hand I disapproved of what I saw there, on the other hand I was looking forward to the rest of the evening.
❀ ❁ ❀
I woke up in the night and saw her lying by my side, curled up like a kitten, in the pale moonlight reflected from the walls. I pulled up her blanket, to make sure that she stayed warm. The windows were open and the night chill had crept into the room.
Whatever happens, I will try to improve your lot, yours and that of your friends and mates. Ultimately that might kill me and I will not be able to make the one real important, basic change happen. I am too well watched for that and the system has too much inertia for a single man to overcome. But I can try to make improvements, both for myself and within the Domination in general. After all the Archon ordered me to exercise my hubris, and I will.
❀ ❁ ❀
—Day 108.— 26.NOV.1935—
The house here is almost finished and your daughter is only waiting for the end of the semester so that she can move in with the children without disturbing their progress in school. I am happy that we will finally be able to settle down for a longer time and that I will be able to see my family without having to travel for days. Make sure to visit us as soon as we have had a chance to unpack!
Yes. That sudden and unexpected promotion to Merarch is not unwelcome, nor is the pay raise that comes with it. It means that I am catching up with you. The task you set me is still interesting and gets more and more interesting by the day.
To answer your question from the last letter; yes, I do like him. He is interesting to have around, and even more interesting to guide. I believe this work here is going to be the culmination of my career. But you know me well enough to know that I will not let myself be influenced by him in my duties, regardless of what the solid stone heads in other departments may claim.
I believe Gersen is now entering stage three of the Metic assimilation process and he would not be Kurt if he would not express his misgivings in pretty unique ways. Hence the attached draft report. Yes, that thing that looks like the Capetown telephone registry.
I fear that large parts of it will cause headaches, literally! If you want to pass the joy and the headaches to others, there are some sections you could and should hand to our tame boffins, and then wait outside. You will hear the howls through the door when they get to the mathematics section. Unlike Gersen, I don’t think that little proof applies to philosophy. But I would not put it past him to pull my — our, leg in a subtle way.
The second part of the report needs to be handled very carefully, or you will have a riot on your hands. Ultimately I think it would be best to let the Archonate juggle that hot potato, but that is for you to decide.
Private cover letter to a draft report from Security Directorate Merach Benedict Arnold to Security Directorate Ciliarch Theodora Seferis.
❀ ❁ ❀
“Care for some company?”
The voice came from behind me; Benedict Arnold. I did not turn around as I answered. “What would you do if I say ‘No,’ Benedict?”
We had finally gone to first names sometime after the Archon’s visit. After all, we would be working with each other closely for some years and it did not pay to be overly formal. But Benedict was the last one of the three directors I did this with. Although I must admit that he had brought out a nice bottle of wine to celebrate the occasion on that evening.
“I could pretend not to hear you and sit down anyway.” The grin was audible, making sure that I understood this was a joke.
I waved him to a chair and asked, “So you are the proverbial two hundred kilogram gorilla?”
“It’s a joke. Question: Where does the two hundred kilogram gorilla sit? Answer: wherever he wants.”
“Ahh! Yes, then I am the two hundred kilogram gorilla. By the way, our version goes: Which way does the bull elephant walk? Any way he wants to.”
He waved to a serf who was hovering on the terrace and asked for some refreshments. While we were waiting to be served, he leaned back in the sun flecked shade by the plant covered pergola. “What are you reading?”
“One of the books from the reading list I was assigned as homework by parties I will not name here and now. And it’s a real stinker: Carl Cornelius Katzer.”
“A stinker? Why we rule is a stinker?” I knew that face and tone of voice. Benedict had fallen back into his official role and persona.
“Before I go into that, I should perhaps explain a little where I come from. I know that you have studied my history. But I am not sure you understand what this history has done to our outlook. Austria and Germany got one on their collective chins not once, but twice in two generations.”
“Yes. Your World Wars.”
“In both cases, one of the main triggers for these catastrophes were nationalistic hubris and the loudly declared feeling of being better than others. And we really got our noses rubbed into it as a reward. The result was that for large parts of the generations after the Second World War, the waving of a flag, the singing of the national anthem or someone declaring that we are better than others did not generate that feeling of pride and accomplishment most people feel in such a situation. The result was a sinking feeling of ‘Oh shit, here we go again,’ accompanied by a melodious background of wailing air raid sirens. That feeling has gotten weaker over time; still, I am the third generation after the war and it is still there.”
I paused for a moment. “So reading a book like Katzer’s presses the air raid siren button pretty hard for me. I hope you will be able to understand that. I am not asking you to condone or agree with it, but I am asking for you try to understand it on an intellectual level. Just as I am trying very hard to understand your point of view and also trying to overcome the biases of my life time. And yes, I do understand the limitations of your official role.”
He looked at me for some time, then nodded. “Accepted as a premise for now, but you know that we’ll have to revisit that subject at some time.”
“Yes, I know. Now, the first part about ‘will to power’ is not too bad. He also explains well where those ideas come from. I will have to bone up on Nietzsche and Carlyle, and how the ideas developed from there. He makes a very concise argument; defining his terms very clearly. He is also explaining well where those ideas come from. It’s almost like he is trying to set up a mathematical proof, coming from a few selected axioms. But I do wonder if this very rigid style of argument does not open him to an extended version of Gödel’s incompleteness theorem or of the Church–Turing conjecture.”
I then spent a very enjoyable time explaining these theories and their philosophical implications.
I sipped my tea, savoring the flavors as Arnold digested my explanation, and went on, “The second part of the book deals with The Race.”
“Our Race? Our Race is destined to rule the world, and other words, because we’re superior in many ways to the soft other races, like the mongrel Yankees. We’re more focused, have more inner strength, and we have our clear vision. We’re physically fitter and better educated about our duty and the need to serve the State. We have ability, the inner drive and the belief in ourselves to rule. Others don’t, which is why they will become our serfs.” Benedict looked at me, inquiringly.
“Yes, and all of which has nothing to do with biology and everything to do with culture. The way Katzer uses Race as a biological term, as quasi–species, is utter nonsense; it has no base in reality. One might make this argument based on culture, perhaps the Domination has evolved a culture that is more capable to exert its will on other cultures than vice versa, both individually and collectively, but not based on biology.” I took a sip from my glass, then took the plunge.
“After all, Homo Sapiens is a single species. For example, it’s damn hard to find the genetic markers for such a small difference as skin color. Above all, Mother Nature’s joke is that we, you, me and everyone; we’re all African. And here in the Domination that is literally a killing joke, or at least one to be killed for.”
“What?” Benedict looked genuinely shocked at this news. He put down his glass very carefully and made that little left–right looking gesture to make sure no listeners were lurking in the shrubbery, then leaned forward and hissed, “What in the seven hells do you mean by that?”
“It is called the Out–of–Africa model. Homo Sapiens came first into existence in Africa, so we are all Africans. There is good enough evidence to make that the consensus position in palaeontology. If you want, we can get up right now, go the computers and I will give you the keywords for your own search.”
“Loki’s laughing himself mad!” Benedict held his head like he had a painful hangover.
❀ ❁ ❀
—Day 117.— 05.DEC.1935—
“Thank you, gentlemen, for joining me here.”
We had finally received the word that the date of the festivities that would result in me becoming a Metic Citizen had been fixed. The ceremony would happen in the Assembly building; not in the main assembly chamber, but in one of the smaller meeting rooms. I would have to spend a few days in Archona, mostly on official business, together with the directors of TRIANGLE. Since there would be a strategically placed weekend, I would also have a little time to play tourist.
I planned to stand computer operations mostly down for the few days I was away, so my girls and boys would also have a little bit of a holiday. Housekeeping would be kept running, but at a reduced level. I had authorized a few additional supplies for a small feast and had also arranged for a little surprise to be delivered; a ping pong table. It was something which, according to their files most of them seemed to have enjoyed in their crèches. So we all were busy making preparations for our absence, including a little preparation I had to do myself.
The door to the computer room had opened and in came Arnold, Gardiner and McWirther — all of them looking a little nonplussed as to why I had asked them to come here at this time, especially since I seemed to be more formal than usual.
“There is something I need to show you all. First of all, I have asked Miss Springer to read a short manual for a small program that is installed on my machines. Miss Springer?”
Grace Springer looked up from the computer she was using, with a closed face. “Yes. I have finished and I have a few questions for you, Mr. Gersen. First of all, persistent means in this case that if Shredder is running and I turn the computer off and start it again, it automatically resumes its work?”
“And stealth mode means that it will try to keep its work unobtrusive as long as possible by starting with unused and old files and not creating any status messages?”
“Also correct.” I nodded, slowly.
She looked at me with raised eyebrows. “That thing is bloody dangerous.”
I smiled slightly. “That is what it was designed to be, as a weapon. Ms. Springer, would you please explain to the directors what you found?”
“Yes. Mr. Gersen showed me a small computer program called Shredder that’s installed on all his machines. It’s designed to delete all files on the computers in a way that makes it impossible to recover them; they’d be truly gone for all time. If it’s able to complete its run, the computers would be completely empty and useless. And it’s impossible to stop it once started.”
I had in the meanwhile moved away from the computer I was sitting at. “Thank you, Ms. Springer. Simply said, this means that I have a time bomb in the computers, one that I could trigger at any time and one that would leave only ruins, figuratively speaking, once triggered.”
The shock in the room was palpable. The first one to recover was the eldest, Elliot Gardiner, “Why?”
“I had to face the possibility that Metic Citizenship would not come through. In that case, did you seriously expect me to hand all this here over?” I made a sweeping movement with my hands covering the entire room, speaking with half a laugh in my voice, “Meekly, without a fight?”
There was a flash of emotion on Thomas McWirther's face, very short and hard to decipher, but perhaps it could have been something like avuncular pride. I filed that away for future thought.
Arnold stated, in a dead calm and conversational voice, sounding as he would be commenting on the weather. “You would have lost that fight.”
“No, I would have lost the war. I would have lost it the moment anyone decide to pull the plug on me. The correlation of forces simply is too large to overcome. This fight here, however…” I paused and smiled. I was later told that the smile was not a nice smile, more like that of a Great White spying a delicious looking surfer.
“If that decision would’ve been made, we wouldn’t have let you near the computers again.”
“And you believe that would have made a difference?”
Miss Springer coughed. “Merarch Arnold, Mr. Gersen spent a lot of time teaching me how to program and so I have learned a lot about how his thought processes work. There would not be a single trigger, but multiple ones and some of them with timers or dead man switches.” She looked at me, her face pale as she said this. I smiled at her and gave her a nod that turned into a little half bow.
“Quite correct, Ms. Springer. When we are finished here I will teach you how to defuse the little bastard.”
Arnold was not happy at all. He was stewing quietly, under tight control. Gardiner simply looked troubled.
McWirther, however, looked like somebody who had just encountered a fascinating new thing. He asked, “Why tell us? Why now? Why at all? I assume if you managed to put this in without anybody noticing, you could also have taken it out again without any traces or anyone noticing. True?”
“Yes, Thomas, I could have easily done that. As for why, a society cannot work without trust. The trust that most of its members will do the right thing most of the time.” I looked at everyone in the room, one after the other. “At least for me, as I will soon join your society, the point to trust you all has arrived.”
McWirther sighed. “And it’s not like you didn’t warn us. But I don’t know if I’ll sleep even better now, after today.”
There was a moment of silence as everyone seemed to digest what had happened. Then Arnold growled, “Gersen, as soon as you’re a Metic Citizen, I’m going to stand behind you and breathe down your neck until you have produced and brought up lots of offspring. Because I want your genes and your spirit in the race before I slowly wring your neck.”
❀ ❁ ❀
Capetown Main Station was huge and at least the part we were in, comfortable and very well appointed. In passing, I had a few glimpses into parts designed for commuting, mostly for serfs. Those parts were a lot less luxurious, but still compared well with many rail stations I had seen all over the world.
The architecture was interesting. This was a terminus station, where the passengers entered at one end of the tracks. This front end was designed like a Greek temple, the Acropolis enlarged ten times or more, with lots of bright marble and white statues. The inside was interesting too, as the Draka had not been able to resist putting up their beloved murals. They were mostly mosaic work with historic motifs, lots of ancient warriors fighting, I spied at least two references to the Spartans and the battle of the Thermopylae simply passing through.
The funny thing was that the outside very much looked like the classic western, albeit incorrect, idea of what ancient Greek architecture had looked like. All dignified, white and marble, while the inside probably was a lot closer to what those temples really looked like, screamingly colorful.
The train we were about to take was already waiting at one of the platforms. It was an electric with a power head on each end, and carefully streamlined. It would be able to do the 1400 km to Archona in less than six hours, faster than an airship, or only a bit slower, depending on wind and weather for the airship. The front end of the train looked similar to the jet liner–like noses of first generation Shinkansen units, with a little hint of the Gallic nose of TGV trains. The livery was dark blue with golden accents, a real Blue Train.
The compartment we had reserved for our use was just as luxurious and dignified as the outside of the train. Large, though. The Draka do not like to be cramped or to be forced into close contact with each other and very comfortable with a very attentive staff. Things like food being served in your compartment were standard; no restaurant car in this train, just a huge kitchen car. The reclining chairs were first rate. The movement of the train was also first class, very smooth, as the Draka had started to convert to welded rails a lot earlier than my timeline had.
I loved, and still love, traveling by train. You can walk around if the mood hits you, you can read while traveling or sit with a little snack in a large and comfortable seat, standing still, while hordes of rail road workers pull the countryside past your window. It’s the only civilized way to travel I thought, or was, until I started to love airship travel as well.
The landscapes being pulled past were highly variable, from the green of the Cape region to the rough mountains to the drier plains of the highlands, past the diamond mines at what would have called Kimberly with its vast open pits, then into the greener lands around Archona — all commented and explained by my three tourist guides, Elliot, Thomas and Benedict.
This feels like the first time I have been able to relax at least a little in the last few months. The continuous nightmare of being rounded up and ending up as a serf seems to be over. The little references in the stuff I have been reading all this time, as well as the little involuntary hints my handlers have been giving me, have left me with no illusions on just how unpleasant the taming process would be. I will still be a prisoner but at least I will not end up on the Turk if I screw up. Now it’s a rope or more likely a bullet in the back of my head if I don’t toe the line.
We arrived in Archona at around 2000 hours. There was quite a bustle on the platform under a huge glass roof, reminiscent of the glass roofs of the railroad stations in London, though perhaps even larger. I believe there was ornamentations on the glass, but I couldn't be sure as the lights were not optimal for sightseeing. And, really, there was no time to stop and gawk.
Freydis and Gerrit Karolius were waiting there, complete with both children and a few serfs. Freydis was grinning widely as we exchanged greetings and arm clasps. “It’s good to see you again!”
Gerrit added to that in his deep rumbling voice, after looking me over from top to toe. “Yes, but you look tired. Let’s get out of here and home.”
The serfs had, in the meantime, rounded up the luggage. I said good bye to my travel mates, at least for the next day and was escorted outside.
❀ ❁ ❀
Family dinner was just that. Freydis and Gerrit and their two kids and myself with only a few serfs in the room. We were sitting in a smaller, more intimate dining room at the Karolius town house. I had seen all these serfs before. Tugce, the distinguished looking elder man with the long braid, one or two others. The reason for this soon became apparent.
This evening, they wore different clothes than the white shirts and black trousers or skirts I had seen before. Something like a loose fitting, almost knee length tunic in a reddish color similar to unglazed terracotta, with a dark green belt and sandals. It was made of a nice looking thick silk. Very simple and stylish, almost classical looking. If they would have run around as extras on the film set of Spartacus or some other swords and sandals movie, no one would have raised an eyebrow. That Roman slave tunic look was not an accident. The serfs in the room took the food and drinks delivered to the closed room doors and presented them to us at the table, a slightly unusual way of doing this; as far as I had seen. Usually food was either served directly, or brought to one of the side boards in the room, not this juggling of trays at the door.
“There’s no need to be extra careful in what you talk about tonight, Kurt. Everyone in here has been present when you told us about yourself, and gotten a TRIANGLE clearance for that. And has gone through the necessary briefings.” Freydis smiled at me over a glass of wine.
One of the serfs in the room flinched slightly, perhaps remembering the briefing. I noticed it, swallowed my mouthful of wine, it seemed a bit sour. I pushed the thought away roughly. I schooled my face in friendliness, as I answered her. “Yes, Benedict, Merarch Arnold, that is, mentioned something like that. Along with a long, bothersome list of things I should not talk about when in public.”
Freydis grinned and said, “So we thought it would be a good idea to provide a little bit of safe space, where you don’t have to weigh every single word. Just remember that the rest of the house staff doesn’t have clearance, and go from there.”
“Thank you. That’s good to know.”
Gerrit took up the thread of conversation. “But we’d have loved to see you more often. After all, we are supposed to introduce you to our society and people. Please, do visit us more often, our house will always be open to you. You’re a member of the family now, so to speak.”
“Yes, something like having a spare son–in–law, if I understand that right Or at least was supposed to be that way about sponsorship in the olden days. And yes, I am a terrible letter writer. But I will try to do better in the future.” I leaned back in my chair. “As for visiting more often. I will have to bring this up again with my handlers.”
“Oh, we brought this up with your case officer, which is why you’re here. They originally planned for a much shorter stay in Archona,” Gerrit answered in a pretty self–satisfied tone.
“Really?” I was both thankful for being rescued from durance vile at least for a short time and a little bit annoyed with the maneuverings behind my back. Gerrit just smiled, slowly and widely.
Dinner went on, and we talked about many things. My adventures in adapting to Domination society were good for many minutes, with some occasional laughter. For example, I told them about my reaction to the theatre pieces I had seen, and my diverse shopping trips. So we were all quite relaxed as dinner concluded, perhaps also due to the excellent wine that had been served.
It was pretty soon clear to me that something was going on. This dinner had felt a lot like the first dinner or lunch with your girlfriend’s parents, where you are being carefully sounded out on your suitability for family and daughter. Only, where was the girlfriend?
“Oh, yes. I do remember you, standing there, bold as brass, beside your strange looking car, looking me straight in the eye and answering in that British accent, all while wearing clothes that were barely fit for a serf. I really didn’t know what to think of you at that moment! Sorry!” Freydis laughed, remembering. “I do hope they found something proper for you to wear, especially for Monday?”
“Oh yes, I sure hope so. All in all, I left more than eight hundred Aurics in that shop!” Toneless whistles from some of the people at the table.
“Good! I hope you don’t mind if I send my dresser to you tomorrow morning after breakfast, to see if any last minute alterations need to be made.”
I answered with a wide grin. “Yes, Patroness. I, of course, defer to the innate female sense of sartorial style! And thank you for lending me that help.”
“Bah, men. Ya’ll have no idea how to dress nicely! I have no idea why we keep you around.” I noticed that both Gerrit and Conrad had an expression on their faces like they were desperately trying not to laugh out loud.
“Freydis, I will not go and suggest any answer to your question. But I would add that a female friend of mine always described us men as bears with furniture.”
Freydis sat there for a second, and then looked sideways at the ursine shape of her husband, sitting beside her. “I’ll have to remember that one!” She laughed, with a twinkle in her eye.
“Freydis, may I ask what other plans have been made besides the dresser tomorrow morning?”
“Well, we thought you might want to see a little bit of Archona, so we’re looking forward to showing you around. A bit, not too much, especially for your first few days here.”
“I love doing the tourist thing, especially with nice local company showing me the sights. I am already looking forward to that.”
Gerrit rumbled. “And besides being a tourist, on Monday you will of course have the naturalization ceremony. Then, in the afternoon and evening, we’ve planned a party in your honor.”
“Party? Nobody ever told me about a party!” I must have looked quite a bit surprised by this news.
“Of course there’ll be a party for the occasion. It’s not every day we can welcome a new Citizen and member of the Race. And you do need to meet people and make contacts.” Gerrit smiled at me and Freydis added, with a nod, “If you want we can go over the guest list tomorrow. Don’t worry, it’s a small party, only fifty or so guests.”
“Ack! That’s a small party? What is a large party, then?”
“Well, for example, Sigrid’s cousin had her coming of age ceremony and party recently, that had about 250 guests or so; that would be considered a good sized party. And it was; large but still small enough to mingle with meaning,” Gerrit answered.
“And she got lots and lots of nifty gifts!” was Conrad’s addition to the discussion. Both kids looked like they were anticipating the party; my party! eagerly.
I wonder what sort of gifts, I thought to myself. Supporting my head with one hand, I answered Freydis. “I better have a look at that guest list with you. If only to have a fighting chance at remembering the names. But speaking of gifts,” I mentioned. I waved to Tugce, who had been assigned to be my personal serf again for this visit. “The package, please.”
It took her only a few seconds to hand me the package, book sized, wrapped in a nice, printed silk. I got up and handed it formally to Freydis and Gerrit, who proceeded to eagerly open it.
Gerrit placed it on the massive teak dining table with its ornately carved sides and freed the package from its silken wrappings. Freydis took the patterned silk and ribbon, folded it and looked around, handing both to a young male serf, the one who had flinched before. “A pretty for your girl, Thomas.”
“Thank you, Mistis!” He smiled and bowed first to her, then to me. I noted to myself that, if such was the regular way of disposing of gift wrapping, to use more silk and ribbons the next time.
“A book?” asked Freydis.
Gerrit answered her, “It must be something special.”
She opened the frontispiece. “Private printing? Two of five?”
“Yes. It is a collection of all the poems of Rudyard Kipling, a British author who seems to be missing on this timeline here. But we made sure that the book has no indication from where and when it really came from. This means that you can take it with you or keep it in your regular library and not in a safe. Security signed off on that. I have marked a few favorites that speak a little to that engineer’s soul of mine.”
Gerrit raised his eyes at me and opened the book at one of the ribbons and started to read, first quietly, and then louder. He had a nice voice and style for recitation.
We hold all Earth to plunder
All Time and Space as well —
Too wonder–stale to wonder
At each new miracle;
Till in the mid–illusion
Of Godhead ’neath our hand,
Falls multiple confusion
On all we did or planned —
The mighty works we planned.
We only of Creation
(Oh, luckier bridge and rail!)
Abide the twin–damnation —
To fail and know we fail.
He stopped looked at me and said, “That’s really nice, a little bit old fashioned perhaps, but very nice. I think I know what I’m going to read in bed tonight. If I can keep my dear wife from pulling it out of my hands.” He looked at her with mock ferociousness.
I answered him. “Yes, the Hymn to Breaking Strain is one of my favorites. I hope you will enjoy the rest, too.”
Freydis chose to ignore her husband’s comment, only rolling her eyes a little, and turned to me. “What’s happening with the other four books of this printing?”
“Number one is going to be presented to the Archon at a meeting in two or three days. Numbers three and four are in secure archives, and number five, well, we have not yet made a decision yet.”
I handed Freydis a sheet of paper. “Here’s a little biography of the author. But I will have to destroy that sheet after you read it.” Freydis read the sheet, then started to pass it on to her children, stopped herself and looked at me. I nodded, and she finished her intended action.
“Kurt, I, and my husband, if he will get his nose out of that book, thank you for this unique and very nice gift.” She smiled, her eyes lighting up too. A very attractive look, I might add.
All in all, we spent a very pleasant evening, getting to know each other a lot better, the evening came to an end after some very savory cheeses and a very nice brandy. Everyone bade each other a good night and left for their rooms. Gerrit was still clutching the book, which almost looked lost in his huge hands.
❀ ❁ ❀
Tugce followed me to my room and helped me undress and such. In the past months, I had gotten a little used to the always–around serfs and the way the Draka simply stepped out their clothes and dropped them wherever they stood (in the sure knowledge that somebody would pick up them up and fold them or put them away). At that time, I had not yet met Draka in field mode, where very many of them often turned into neat freaks for themselves, when no serfs were around. I was a bit in between those two positions, a bit neater than the usual “leave it the serfs” mind set, but not a neat freak either, except when it came to climbing or programming.
The girl followed me into the bathroom and offered to wash my back in the shower, something I had become used to. Having my back scrubbed was very relaxing for me, as was getting my hair washed. Before coming to the Domination, I sometimes used to fall asleep at the hairdresser. So I did not say no.
But I did catch her wrists when they tried to sneak around my sides to a place that most definitely was not my back. I turned around, while still holding her wrists. “I think we had this situation already once, some time ago, eh?”
“Yes, Master. You did not feel well that day.” She looked up at my face through the fringes of her hair falling over her eyes, then she looked down with a little smile at a part of my body that was committing treason on me right then and there. “But you seem to feel much better today, Master.”
Her intention was pretty clear to me. Her cute, little, protruding nipples clearly were not the result of too cold a shower and I had to actively hold her away from me. I then decided to give her the same lecture that I had given Thandi on my rule that I did not want unwilling persons in my bed and that this was something she could always say no to, for whatever reason, which got me huge round eyes. Sighing internally I asked her. “Do you really want to?”
She nodded with a renewed gleam in her eyes…
❀ ❁ ❀
The next morning I came down to breakfast late, having inexplicably missed the early morning workout. The Draka idea of a proper breakfast is definitely inspired by the British breakfast, but modified over time, by the locale and by the workouts done in early morning. For example, there is often smoked or grilled fish, or small steaks available, and lots of fruit. I personally skipped fried eggs, never could stand the things. I had an omelet with mushrooms, onions and bacon, followed by some juicy sliced mango.
“Good morning,” Gerrit looked up from reading some letters, smiling. “You seem to have had a good night. You look a lot better than yesterday evening, if I may say so.”
Freydis had entered the room behind me, fresh from the baths. “Good morning, my dear, and a good morning to you too, Kurt.” She glanced past me and said, “and the little wench also looks very bouncy this morning.”
“Yes. It was a very comfortable night, thank you. Despite that little prank that certain parties, that I will carefully leave unnamed, played on me.”
At some point in the night Tugce had confessed to me what had been going on. For the last ten nights or so she had been kept in her Master’s and Mistress’ bedroom, witnessing the goings on in their bed, but not being allowed to take part. Being a healthy eighteen year old girl and brought up in this household, she would really have liked to have participated, but she was even strictly prohibited to help herself. Then she was “sicced” at me. Yesterday evening I had really begun to like Freydis and Gerrit. This morning I was not so sure about that.
Freydis was not giggling, I never caught her giggling. But she had a very throaty chuckl. “Kurt, just think of it as a very country style family welcome to a long–lost cousin.”
I had learned before that the Draka had a very open and earthy way to talk about sex and that style also seemed to extend to their humor, at least among the family. It’s nice to be considered family by someone. The last few months have been lonely, but did it have to be expressed via a sex–starved teenager?
❀ ❁ ❀
Freydis’s dresser, the serf responsible for her dresses and clothes, was an elderly woman, older than Freydis herself. She visited me after breakfast with her understudy to see if the suit I had planned for the citizenship ceremony needed any adjustments or alterations. There was only minor clucking, mostly because I could not tell her where and how I planned to carry my gun. It was a subject I had given very little thought to, so far. She left with the suit, promising to have it tailored by tomorrow morning in such a way that it would fit to most ways of carrying and she would make another round of modifications once I had made a final decision on this.
The sightseeing tour through Archona came afterward. To say it was interesting would have been a severe understatement. First order of business was to take the car to the top of a hill close by the house, where we found an observation terrace in a small park, overlooking the valley the city was lying in. Archona, or at least the city center, was a grid city, with the streets running north–south and east–west. The outer districts, at least as far as we could see them to the east and west, paid a little more lip service to the demands of the actual geography.
The city center was in the bottom of a valley, bounded on the south side by a chain of hills we were standing on and the north side by a rather abrupt chain of small, steep hills, with only few breaches allowing easy access to the urban area in the north of the hills. A few kilometers further north there was another chain of these steep, sudden hills, beyond that the yellow sodium glare of large industrial areas.
A few others were using that lookout point. They were probably wondering who that country yokel was to whom all the places and sights were pointed out.
“The large building on that hill to the west is the army headquarters, Castle Tarleton. Opposite on the other side of the town is the Archon’s palace.” explained Gerrit. “We’ll pass by both later on.”
Conrad took up the narrative. “The road connecting them is the Way of the Armies, that huge glass dome in the middle is the House of Assembly, the park across it is Victory Garden. The large north–south road that crosses the Way of the Armies at that spot is the Avenue of Triumph.”
The colorful dome was easy to make out, the park a bit harder, as Archona — at least as far as one could see, was very green. Lots of parks and large gardens around the houses. The roads pointed out to me were wide, four lanes or so in every direction, with a green strip and trees in the middle.
Sigrid added to the general descriptions, “It’s a pity that you could not visit in October or November.”
“All the trees on the roads and avenues are jacarandas, have to be, there is a city regulation about that. They are all in bloom in October and November; the whole city is purple at that time.”
“That must look really nice.”
“Yes, it does.”
❀ ❁ ❀
Castle Tarleton was named after some Draka general. The whole complex had been clearly inspired by late Italian renaissance chateaus, but its central buildings were a bit of a fake castle, not as bad as Neuschwanstein, but still with way too many and too large windows and balconies in their outside walls for a serious medieval castle. The ground level fortifications however had been built as serious defensive works in the style of Vaubon forts. Star shaped, with sunken ditches and polished stone faced walls, earth backed and leaning backwards. All well camouflaged by the ubiquitous parks.
The Archon’s palace was a different kettle of fish. First of all, the thing was huge, quite a bit larger than Castle Tarleton. The architecture was interesting. Sort of like a set for a Cecil B. deMile Egyptian extravaganza, but with taste. The multiple central blocks looked like huge temple pylons, complete with long, buttressed flag poles running up the entire height of the façade with long flags fluttering in the wind. All this was perched on a colonnaded base looking like the lower part of Hatshesput’s temple, with the long ramp leading up to the base and the pylons.
There were four statues in front of the palace, in the places where effigies of pharaohs would usually be found. Left and right of the entrance ramp were two large stone dragons, perching in sphinx pose, made of black basalt with polished silver inlay accents and somehow with a bit of a whimsical expression on their reptile faces.
“These statues depict the Warrior, the Mother, the Teacher and the Creator. There are continuous discussions and attempts to have them changed,” stated Gerrit. He was interrupted by his wife who said, with a grin, “Yes, because some of us don’t see why the males should get all the cushy jobs like the warrior or the creator, leaving us to teach and mother.”
I choose not to insert myself into that discussion and remarked instead, “The historic model is obvious, but why no reliefs or hieroglyphs on the walls?”
“Don’t laugh, that was the original idea,” answered Freydis. “But that plan died a quick death, when the public found out that the main artist had the idea to put the Archon’s name into cartouches. They thought that Archons typically had already well–swelled heads, no need to go the extra mile and put them on equal standing with Ramses the Third.”
“Oh my, yes. I can see lively debates about that. But I must admit that I like those two dragon sphinxes.”
“Yes, they are favorites. Especially among the young ones.”
❀ ❁ ❀
“What is that doing here?”
We had just passed by another large private garden. The building in the middle of the garden was not the usual large town villa or transplanted plantation house. Intead it bore the multiple stacked roofs of a Japanese castle. The gardens around the not so miniature castle also had a distinctly far east flavor.
“Takeshi’s castle?” rumbled Gerrit. “Now that’s an interesting story, happened when we seized Ceylon from the Dutch in 1796. That whole seizure was a bit of a chaotic land grab. A large planter family had moved inland in search of prime estates for all their kids and friends and run afoul of a large and well organized band of natives. They managed to trap them and besiege them on top of a hill without water. Their situation was pretty bad, when suddenly a third party showed up.”
Gerrit and Freydis had the knack of passing conversations between themselves without a break down to a fine art. She continued. “That third party was Takeshi, an exiled Japanese lord and his retainers and servants and their families. The Dutch had picked them up some place in the east and had used them on and off as mercenaries for pacification of natives in several of their colonies. He negotiated with both the natives and our people for a contract, we gave him the better deal. Metic Citizenship for himself and his samurai and their immediate families. The servants ended up as serfs. Takeshi turned on the natives and routed them most effectively. They are still a bit clannish, but their families have a lot of plantations in Ceylon and in the tea regions in Kenia. And that house here in Archona, of course.”
“Don’t some of them also run that restaurant here in Archona, where they serve you raw fish?” asked Conrad.
“Yes! It’s even supposed to be good, at least the Japanese embassy and businessmen on a visit go there all the time.”
I asked, “There is a Japanese restaurant here in Archona? At some time we will have to go there! I am missing sushi and sashimi!”
“You like that stuff?” Conrad looked incredulous. I nodded enthusiastically.
That earned me a quiet, “Yeech!”
❀ ❁ ❀
We had been bouncing all over town the whole afternoon, moving from one sight or important place to the next and slowly circling our way to the center.
Archona was, and still is, a beautiful city. Only a few tall buildings, and all of those for public use, mostly along the major roads. A good public transport system, mostly in the form of a monorail on top of graceful pillars. I learned that this mostly was for high level serfs, but every train and station also had about half set apart for Citizens. And everything was very green. Every park had battalions of gardeners and groundskeepers assigned to keep it tidy and lush, even in the height of summer. And it is, like Capetown, a quiet city, where you rarely hear traffic or other unseemly noises.
We were passing through one of the residential districts, one filled with huge town villas, many belonging to the large plantation families, when I noticed something.
“I have seen that before.”
“No, Kurt, we haven’t passed through here before.”
“Sorry. I should have said that better. I have seen this kind of pattern, wide street, narrow street, wide, narrow, before.”
The whole family looked at me. “It was one of the old expensive districts of London — Chelsea, Belgravia, can’t remember which one. The small roads were called mews, where originally the servant’s and salesmen entrances were, and the service buildings and stables and carriage sheds, all to the rear of the large houses. All that has been turned into regular housing and flats by now, of course. I should have expected something like mews here.”
“Of course you have all that to the rear! You can’t have the main entrance used for deliveries. And it keeps the real roads free of traffic for us.”
❀ ❁ ❀
We had finally arrived in the real center of the town. The big square where the Way of the Armies crossed the Avenue of Triumph with the traffic flowing around in it in a huge roundabout. Thankfully both less traffic and a lot more disciplined traffic than what circled the Arc de Triumph in Paris.
All around the square were parks, gardens of unearthly loveliness, the pinnacle of Draka garden and park architecture, where children played between the flower–banks and trees.
One corner of the place was dominated by the House of Assembly; a two–hundred meter dome of stained and decorated glass on thin steel struts, glowing like an impossible jewel amid its grounds. I was promised that I would get to see the interior on the next day, and yes, being in there was breath–taking. We also saw the dome again that evening, when the entire town was lit up, giving a setting like a million sparkling diamonds for the luminescent dome.
Diagonally opposite the dome were the Victory Gardens, with a huge monument in the middle. A hundred summers had turned the bronze green with patina and faded the marble plinth. The statue showed a group of Draka soldiers on horseback; their weapons were muskets and old style long barreled pistols of Napoleonic vintage. Their leader stood dismounted, his horse’s reins in one hand, bush–knife in the other. A black warrior knelt before him, and the Draka's boot rested on the man’s neck. Below, in letters of gold, were words: “To the Victors.”
A charming monument, typically Draka, very straightforward.
❀ ❁ ❀
—Day 121.— 09.DEC.1935—
“Freydis, please, stop circling and checking my suit for pieces of lint. Your dresser already went over it with a portable microscope.”
“She doesn’t have a… right.” Freydis looked at me and grinned. “I will stop. Nervous?”
“A teeny, tiny bit, yes”
That morning, after workout and breakfast a veritable horde of girls had descended on me, getting me ready for the great moment. Shaving, hair cut, not that there was anything actually to cut, manicure, pedicure, whatever–cure. I was half expecting somebody to pull out the lamb’s wool and start to buff me up. Being pampered can be nice, but there are limits, Gods be damned!
After that I was shoved into my suit, with lots of adjusting this and that, especially that cravat! And I was deposited in the reception room, where I had to fight hard not to fidget or start fiddling with that lace monstrosity that was trying to strangle me.
Half the family were already there in their festival finery, which of course included weapons, the rest made their entrance within minutes. We all decamped to the House of Assembly half an hour before schedule . Somebody had pulled on a lot of strings to move the ceremony from its regular place to this venue.
❀ ❁ ❀
Both Freydis and Gerrit Karolius spoke in unison, while standing at my sides, their hands very firmly on my shoulders as if to prevent me from bolting in the last second. “Honored brothers and sisters, we present to you all this candidate as one we believe to be worthy to be called a fellow Citizen and one who we gladly sponsor, so that he will be able to fullfill his duties as one of the Race.”
Even as nervous as I was, I could hear the capitalization of the words; the Draka are so serious about being Citizens, and being a special Race of people, part of the philosophy I’d had to study now these several months.
The magistrate in front of me, behind his lectern, then droned interminably on the duties and rights of a Citizen. Well, to be honest he spoke quite well, but it felt like he was droning on for an eternity. He ended with a question. “Does anyone here second this naturalization or oppose it?”
I knew that voice, coming from somewhere behind me, having heard it only a few weeks ago. It seemed that the Archon had entered the room at some point without many noticing and had decided to give his personal imprimatur to my newly–minted Citizenship. I later learned that to be quite an honor. The magistrate raised his eyebrows slightly at this development and asked me, “And having heard all your duties, responsibilities and privileges, what is your final and irrevocable decision?”
“I, Kurt Gersen, choose freely to be a Metic Citizen of the Domination of the Draka, and serve Race and State with my life and my honor.” The person who had designed this little ceremony sometime in the foggy past had at least the good sense to make my lines short and easy to remember.
“So be it — Glory to the Race!”
Whereupon I answered with the canonical, “Service to the State!”
I got hugs and family kisses on my cheeks from both Freydis and Gerrit Karolius and then arm–clasps from everyone in the room, by order of precedence, with the Archon first. At one point somebody clamped a gun belt onto me, I have no idea who, but it must have been for purely ceremonial purposes. The greetings were many, profuse and passed in a blur as I walked through the room, a new Citizen. I remember seeing Benedict in an out–of–the–way spot, smiling slightly as he watched me with his cool blue eyes.
❀ ❁ ❀
And that’s how I became a brother to dragons and a dragon myself.
But of course this was not the end of it, quite to the contrary.
❀ ❁ ❀
❀ ❁ ❀ to be continued ❀ ❁ ❀
Kurt Gersen — the teller of this tale. Software and electronics engineer, currently on the move to a new working place. The company he was leaving specialized in communications, military and diplomatic. His car, was filled with the contents of his home office and a few other electronicky things. Data packrat, especially about things related to computer, air and space technology, nuclear technology. Blood type B–. Refuses to take himself too seriously, except when his profession is touched, where he prefers old style hacker methods and ethics. He is a mean driver when aroused, dabbles a bit in mountain climbing, free and classic style and sailing. He runs and also uses a fitness studio to keep fit.
Freydis Karolius — Landholder of Praetoriuskop Plantation, Forty–five years, mid–sized brown hair, brown eyes, classic face. Descends from an Icelandic family. Agile mind, ex–communications and railroad troops. Has a tendency to have hunches, to take in “strays,” despite being pretty hard headed. The doctor and his family were strays who worked out very much to her advantage. Praetoriuskop is the only plantation around with a real doctor, which gives her some bartering potential.
Sigrid Karolius — her daughter. Sixteen years old, nice looking, basically as smart as her mother, just not as experienced.
Conrad Karolius — her son. Fifteen years old. Seems a bit slower and takes offense more easily though that just might be the age he is.
Gerrit Karolius — her husband, Landholder of Praetoriuskop Plantation. His family has held Praetoriuskop since the Boers came into this area of South Africa. Almost as wide as he is large, thick neck, blond, stubbly hair, blue eyes. Looks a bit like a country pumpkin, but hides a sharp mind. Ex–combat engineer.
Frederic Vashon — the injured boy. Friend of Conrad’s, also fifteen. Son of a side line of the Vashon clan. Fell afoul of a herd of Cape buffalo that attacked and waylaid the small group of riders. The herd also killed the serf hunting guide with them. Blood type B–.
Alexandra Collingswood — Twenty–eight years old. Physicist, working on a very hush–hush program (nuclear) She is a bit of an empire builder, trying to gain control over Gersen as a resource/source of knowledge. During her work for her doctoral thesis she repeated some older experiments on the characteristics of graphite as a moderator . She found that the first experiments indicating that reactors would not be possible were wrong due an undetected contamination of the graphite.
Tacettin Aslan, 156CF220 — the doctor, small spindly man, prematurely gray hair. Does not look typically Turkish. Was picked up together with his young baby daughter and his wife (working as his nurse), as war prize directly from the university hospital in Istanbul. At that time he spoke a very good Oxford English. That accent and word selection is still partially there, despite decades of exposure to Draka English. Since full doctors are always citizens, he is only certified as a med–tech, but on the plantation he is the doctor for the serfs. He also holds a position of great trust since family members use his services when necessary.
Tugce Aslan, 156CF222 — daughter of Tacettin Aslan, brought up as house serf. Has already been pony to both Mistis and Master and was not distressed by that experience. Mediterranean skin, black hair, long and single braided like all permanent house serfs. She is going to be a classic beauty. She is being trained in household management, together with some other young serfs, as she is destined to leave the plantation with Conrad or Sigrid when they come of age.
Sophie d’Espagnat — director of the nuclear power project, professor of physics, widow, fifty–five years of age. Looks grandmotherly, but it’s all for show. Once upon a time a good physicist who fell among bad company, namely scientific managers. The nuclear power project is mostly a creation of the domination navy (which explains the small budget) and is intended to produce a power reactor for submarines. She augments the small naval budget with some of her personal funds and some sponsoring from one of the larger technical combines. Culture fan, especially music and opera.
Thomas McWirther — cohortarch, war directorate, counterintelligence, head of security for the project. small, narrow face, red hair, his wife Alice is an HTA pilot for transport aircraft, currently in Asia on her regular reserve call up. Children are in the Agoge.
Angelina Redenrunt — second in command of project security, security directorate, large boned, moon face, unpleasant voice, not particularly bright, but wants to climb. She has been foisted onto the project by the security directorate as atonement for her earlier sins. Tried to secure Gersen solely for the SD and thus gain favor with her superiors again. This action however was never officially sanctioned by the SD. Shot by McWirther at the end of the “Redenrunt debacle.” McWirther had arrived with orders from the WD to release Gersen, Redenrunt debated the orders and finally tried to pull her gun on McWirther. He was faster.
Redenrunt was part of the great influx to SD after WWI and she did not work out well in Asia. So she was sent back to the police zone for jobs of lesser importance, where she was not promoted in two promotion cycles. Her next step would probably be one of the prison mines in the Kongo, where the domination sends both the incorrigible serf troublemakers and the citizens unable to hack it anywhere else, which explains her desperation to make a name for herself.
Grace Springer — Merarch, War Directorate, Technical section, computers, mid–forties, longer dark hair, prominent nose. She is the computer expert sent from the tech section to check out Kurt and his computers. She will soon be in very deep water without a life vest. She is very good with computers, but she is also fifty to seventy years out of date. Her real love is cryptography.90
Elliot Gardiner — Archonal Guards, retired, scientific consultant, on the close side of sixty, smallish and slender, lively eyes, silver hairs. A wide awake elderly pixie in safari jacket and with a large gun on the belt. He is now a civilian science consultant and very much a Draka renaissance man. He is very widely read with a wide open mind. Has been sent by a good buddy from the Archonal palace to check out if the wild stories are really true and to earn a little extra money with a consulting contract. Perhaps with a little kickback in the form of an invitation to a very posh and expensive hunting park?
Benedict Arnold — Cohortarch, Security Directorate, foreign section. Speaks perfect English in a number of different accents on demand. Also speaks very good but not accent–free German. Was posted to several embassies (accredited with diplomatic cover) abroad to run local agents and informants (and also to check on the embassies’ personnel) He is a charmer, even suave when necessary, also not as parochial as many Draka and a very dangerous man in many ways. Very average face; he would get lost in crowd of five people. Has been sent by SD to “fix that Redenrunt mess” as far as possible by any means necessary. Descendent of that Benedict Arnold<./p>
Leotha, 476AQ725 — Literacy level IV — twenty three years old, crèche raised and trained as executive secretary, dark skin, tall (Zulu genes?), very pretty face, short, curly hair. Very effective, great memory and attention to detail. Liked to play guitar at the crèche, but was not considered good enough to receive formal training.
Thandi, 477PS314 — Literacy level IV — Eighteen years old, crèche raised and trained as office worker/secretary. Was thought of as a possible literacy level V, but got downgraded to IV after some teenage disciplinary problems; played a few pranks after being bored out of her skull.
Clem, 476FI274 — Literacy level IV — Eighteen years old, crèche raised and trained as office worker/secretary.
Andrew Grey — Sixty nine years old, research librarian. Was lured to the Gersen project because “this is one final service for the State” — has quickly realized that he will die before cataloguing all the stuff is finished. Has a number of serfs that are very well trained in library sciences. Officially all Lit. V level, in reality beyond that, although higher classification does not really exist.
Clifford Allister McLane, Twenty–seven years old, physicist and a former artillery and air strike coordinator. Works with Kurt on enrichment
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