Read Down to Earth Online

Authors: Harry Turtledove

Down to Earth

BOOK: Down to Earth
11.64Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub




Harry Turtledove

A Del Rey





Atvar, the fleetlord of the Race’s conquest fleet, and Reffet, the fleetlord of the colonization fleet, were having a disagreement. They had agreed on very little since Reffet brought the colonization fleet to Tosev 3. Atvar was convinced Reffet still had no real understanding of the way things worked on this miserable planet. He didn’t know what Reffet was convinced of—probably that things on Tosev 3 were in fact the way the Race had fondly imagined them to be before sending out the conquest fleet.

“I do not know what you wish me to do, Reffet,” he said. They were equals; neither of them was
Exalted Fleetlord
to the other. They could be, and often were, equally impolite to each other. “No matter what you may believe, I cannot work miracles?” He swiveled his eye turrets this way and that to show exasperation.

Reffet swiveled his eye turrets, too, and hissed for good measure. “I do not see that it is so difficult. The ship the Big Uglies have launched is under very low acceleration. You have plenty of time to send a reconnaissance probe after it and keep it under close, secret observation?”

“And you brought starships across the light-years between Home and here!” Atvar exclaimed. “You must have had good officers and good computers, for you surely were not up to the job unaided.” He paced across his office, which had been a suite in Shepheard’s Hotel before the Race occupied Cairo. It gave him plenty of room to pace; Tosevites were larger than males and females of the Race, and, naturally, built in proportion to their own size.

“Leave off your insults,” Reffet replied with another hiss, an angry one. His tailstump switched back and forth, back and forth. “I repeat, I do not see that what I have asked is so very difficult. As I said, that ship, that
Clewis and Lark,
is under acceleration of no more than a hundredth of the force of gravity.”

“Lewis and Clark.”
Atvar took no small relish in correcting his colleague and rival over even minute details that shouldn’t have mattered to anyone save a Big Ugly. “That it is under tiny acceleration does not matter. That it is under continuous acceleration does. If we are to observe it closely and continually, our reconnaissance must be under acceleration, too. And how, I ask, do you propose to keep that secret? A spacecraft with a working engine is by the nature of things anything but secret.”

“By the Emperor!” Reffet burst out. He lowered his eyes to the floor when naming his sovereign. So did Atvar, on hearing the title. From training since hatchlinghood, any member of the Race would have done the same. Still furious, Reffet went on, “These accursed Tosevites have no business flying in space?” He used an emphatic cough to underline his words. “They have no business having instruments that let them detect what we do when we fly in space, either.”

Atvar let his mouth fall open in amusement. “Come here, Reffet,” he said, walking over to the window. “Come here—it is safe enough. I intend no tricks, and the riots seem to have quieted down again, so no Big Ugly is likely to be aiming a sniper’s rifle in this direction at the moment. I want to show you something.”

Suspicion manifest in every line of his forward-sloping body, Reffet came. “What is it?” The suspicion filled his voice, too.

“There.” Atvar pointed west across the great river that flowed past Cairo. “Do you see those three stone pyramids, there in the sand?”

Reffet deigned to turn one eye turret in that direction. “I see them. What of it? They look massive, but weathered and primitive.”

primitive—that is my point,” Atvar said. “They are as old as any monuments on this world. They were built as memorials to local rulers eight thousand years ago, more or less: eight thousand of our years—half that many for the years of Tosev 3. Eight thousand years ago, we had already had a planetwide Empire for more than ninety thousand years. We had already conquered the Rabotevs. We had already conquered the Hallessi. We were beginning to wonder if the star Tosev—this world’s star—had any interesting planets. Here, civilization was just hatching from its egg.”

“And it should have taken much longer to hatch, too,” Reffet said irritably. “The Big Uglies should still be building monuments much like these, as we were not long after we started gathering in cities?”

“Truth?” Atvar’s voice was sad. “They should have. In fact, we thought they had. You will have seen this picture of a Tosevite warrior in full battle regalia before you set out from Home, of course?”

He walked over to the hologram projector and called up an image. He had seen it countless times himself, both before reaching Tosev 3 and since. It showed a hairy Big Ugly in rusty chainmail, armed with sword and spear and iron-faced wooden shield and riding a four-legged beast with a long head, an unkempt mane, and a shaggy tail.

“Yes, of course I have seen that image,” Reffet said. “It is one of those our probe took sixteen hundred years ago. From it, we assumed the conquest would be easy.”

“So we did,” Atvar agreed. “But the point is, in those intervening sixteen hundred years—eight hundred of this planet’s revolutions—the Tosevites somehow developed industrial civilization. However much you and I and every other member of the Race may wish they had remained primitive, the sorry fact is that they did not. We have to deal with that fact now.”

“It was not planned thus.” Reffet made that an accusation. The Race moved by plans, by tiny incremental steps. Anything different came hard.

Atvar had been dealing with the Big Uglies for more then forty of his years. By painful necessity, he’d begun to adapt to the hectic pace of Tosev 3. “Whether it was planned or not, it is so. You cannot crawl back into your eggshell and deny it.”

Reffet wanted to deny it. Again, every line of his body showed as much. So did the big breath of air he sucked deep into his lung. “I think I would rather deal with the Tosevites than with you,” he snarled. “I know they are aliens. With you, I cannot tell whether you have become half alien or are simply addled like an egg gone bad.”

That did it. Atvar drew in a deep, angry breath of his own. It brought the stinks of Cairo—the stinks of Big Uglies and of their food and their wastes, as well as the stinks from the hydrocarbon-burning engines they had developed themselves—across the scent receptors in his tongue. “Go away,” he told Reffet, and added an emphatic cough of his own. “I have not the time to deal with your stupidity. Whatever the Big Uglies in that spacecraft do, they will not do it soon. I am facing a serious uprising in the subregion of the main continental mass called China. I have to deal with that now. I will deal with the American spacecraft as I find the chance, or when it becomes urgent. Meanwhile, good day.”

turned into a Big Ugly,” Reffet said furiously. “All you care about is the immediate. Anything that requires forethought is beyond you.”

“Tosev 3 will do that to a male—unless it kills him first,” Atvar answered. Then he paused. Both his eye turrets swung thoughtfully toward Reffet. “Have you any notion how many casualties the Big Uglies’ continual revolts have cost us?”

“No, I do not?” Reffet sounded peevish. As far as Atvar was concerned, Reffet sounded peevish far too often. The fleetlord of the colonization fleet went on, “Had you done a proper job of conquering this planet, I would not have to concern myself with such things—and neither would you.”

I will not bite him,
Atvar thought.
I will not tear his belly open with my fingerclaws.
But he hadn’t known such temptation to pure, cleansing violence since a ginger-induced mating frenzy in Australia. Fortunately, he had no ginger coursing through him now, nor could he smell any females’ pheromones. That let him stay his usual rational self. “Deal with things here as they are, Reffet,” he said, “not as you wish they would be. Our casualties have been heavy, far heavier than anyone could possibly have anticipated before we left Home. Like it or not, that is a truth.”

“Very well. That is a truth.” Reffet still sounded peevish. “I do not see how it is a truth to concern me, however. I am in charge of colonists, not soldiers.”

“All you care about is the immediate,” Atvar said, waggling his jaw as he dropped it to turn his laugh nasty. He took malicious pleasure in bouncing the other fleetlord’s words off his snout. “Anything that requires forethought is beyond you.”

“Very well.” Now Reffet sounded condescending. “What fresh nonsense is this?”

“It is no nonsense at all, but something we would have had to face sooner or later during our occupation of Tosev 3,” Atvar answered. “It might as well be now. Have you noticed that this is a world consumed by war and rebellion, that the Big Uglies in the regions we occupy continually try to overthrow our rule, and that the Tosevites’ independent not-empires—the SSSR, the Greater German
the United States, and also the weaker ones like Nippon and Britain—train large numbers of their inhabitants as soldiers year after year?”

“I have noticed it,” Reffet admitted, “but you are the fleetlord of the conquest fleet. Soldiers are your responsibility.”

“Truth,” Atvar said. “They are. This is not Home, where, save in a Soldiers’ Time of preparation for conquest, we have no soldiers, only police. Here, we will need soldiers continuously, for hundreds of years to come. Where shall we get them, if we do not begin the training of males, and possibly females as well, from among your precious colonists?”

“What?” Reffet cried. “This is madness! It is nothing but madness! My colonists are colonists. How can they become fighters?”

“The males I command managed,” Atvar said. “I am certain I can recruit trainers from among them. Think, Reffet.” He didn’t bother being sardonic, not any more; the more he thought on this, the more important it looked. “How, long can the Race endure here on Tosev 3 without soldiers to defend us?”

Reffet did think. Reluctantly, Atvar gave him credit for it. After a pause, the fleetlord of the colonization fleet said, “It could be that you are correct. I shall not commit myself further than that without analysis from my experts. If you would also convene a panel of your experts to examine the issue, I should be grateful.”

With any other member of the Race on or near Tosev 3, Reffet could have given an order and heard
It shall be done
as reply. Having to make a polite request of Atvar surely grated on him. Atvar knew having to make a request of Reffet grated on
Here, the request was nothing if not reasonable. “I will do that, and soon,” Atvar promised. “It is something we need to examine, as I said.”

“So it is.” Like Atvar’s, Reffet’s temper seemed to be cooling. He said, “If it proves we must do this thing, it will make us different from the members of the Race back on Home and inhabiting Rabotev 2 and Halless 1.”

“Males of the conquest fleet are already different from all other members of the Race,” Atvar replied. “My hope is that, over the course of hundreds of years, we will gradually incorporate all the Big Uglies into the Empire and assimilate them to our way of doing things. If we succeed there, the differences between those of the Race here on Tosev 3 and those living on the other worlds of the Empire will gradually disappear.”

“By the Emperor, may it be so,” Reffet said. He and Atvar cast down their eyes again. Then, half talking to himself, Reffet went on, “But what if it is not so?”

“That is my nightmare,” Atvar told him. “That has been my nightmare since we first discovered the Big Uglies’ true nature. They change faster than we do. They grow faster than we do. They are still behind us, but not by so much as they were when we came to Tosev 3. If they, or some of them, remain hostile, if they look like they are passing us . . .” His voice trailed away.

“Yes?” Reffet prompted. “What then?”

“We may have to destroy this world, and our own colony on it,” Atvar answered unhappily. “We may have to destroy ourselves, to save the Race.”


Under an acceleration of .01g, Lieutenant Colonel Glen Johnson had to wear a seat belt to stay in his chair. His effective weight was just over a pound and a half—not enough for muscles used to Earth’s robust gravity to notice. Any fidgeting at all would have sent him bouncing around the
Lewis and Clark’s
control room. Bouncing around in a room full of instruments wasn’t recommended.

BOOK: Down to Earth
11.64Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Other books

Adrian by V. Vaughn
Star Born by Andre Norton
Dreaming Anastasia by Joy Preble
The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson
In the Garden Trilogy by Nora Roberts
One Door Closes by G.B. Lindsey
Havoc - v4 by Jack Du Brul