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Authors: Harry Turtledove

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Short Stories (8 page)

BOOK: Short Stories
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All Gilmer wanted to do--now--was get away from this catacomb, return to his own men. He noticed that Sarns hadn’t thumbed the elevator button. Maybe Sarns wouldn’t, until Gilmer agreed. “Yes, yes, of course.” He could hear how quickly he spoke, but could not help it. “You have your men put down their arms, and mine will stay away from the University.”

“Good enough,” Sarns said. As if he had been absentminded before--and perhaps that was all he had been--he pushed the button that summoned the elevator. Gilmer rode up in relieved silence; every second the elevator climbed seemed to lift a myria-ton from his shoulders.

When he and his guides returned to the level from which they had begun, a man came briskly toward them with two sheets of parchmentoid. “This is Egril Joons,” Sarns said. “What do you have for us, Egril?”

“Copies of the armistice agreement, for your signature and the Emperor Gilmer’s,” Joons replied. He held out a stylus.

Gilmer took it. He skimmed through one copy of the document, signed it, and was reaching for the other from Yokim Sarns when he suddenly thought to wonder how the armistice terms could be ready now when he’d only agreed to them moments before. “You were snooping,” he growled to Egril Joons.

“My apologies, but yes,” Joons said. “Voice monitoring is part of the security system for the book-films. This time I just made use of it to prepare copies as quickly as possible. I expected that your majesty would have other concerns that would soon need his attention.”

Gilmer recalled how badly he’d wanted to get back to his own troops. “Oh, very well, put that way,” he said. He signed the second copy of the armistice accord. This Joons fellow was righter than he knew, righter than he could know. Trantor had to be made ready to defend itself from space attack, and quickly, or Gilmer the Emperor of the Galaxy would soon be Gilmer the vaporized usurper.

Gilmer the Emperor of the Galaxy rolled up his copy of the agreement, absentmindedly stuck Egril Joons’s stylus in a tunic pocket, and said, sounding quite imperial indeed, “Now if you will be so good as to escort me back to my lines”

“Certainly.” Yokim Sarns handed the other copy of the armistice to Maryan Drabel. “Come this way, if you please.”

From behind, Maryan Drabel thought, Gilmer looked much more like an emperor than from the front. The shining purple cape lent him an air of splendor that did not match the camouflage suit he wore under it. Seen from the front, the cape only seemed a sad bit of stolen booty.

“An emperor shouldn’t look like a thief, “ she said.

“Why not?” Egril loons was still feeling pangs over his purloined stylus. ”That’s what he is.”

“Wizards!” Billye shouted. “You went into the wizards’ lair, and they enspelled you!”

“There’s no such things as wizards!” Gilmer shouted back.

“No? Then why didn’t you get anything worth having out of the University, when they were at our mercy?” she said.

“I did. We aren’t shooting at them any more, and they aren’t shooting at us. They recognize me as Emperor of the Galaxy. What more could I want?”

“To put the fear of cold space and hot death in them, that’s what. If you
the Emperor of the Galaxy, they should act like subjects, not like equals. Can the Emperor have an equal? And you
them.” Billye’s hair flew around her in a copper cloud as she shook her head in bewilderment. “I can’t believe you let them. You have all your men, the whole fleet--why not just crush them for their insolence?”

“Oh, leave me be,” Gilmer said sullenly. He didn’t need to hear this from Billye; he’d already heard it, more politely but the same tune, from Vergis Fenn. Fenn had asked him why, if the University folk were willing to instruct his personnel, that willingness didn’t show up in the armistice document. He’d been sullen with his fleet commander, too, not wanting to admit he hadn’t had the nerve to ask for the change in writing. Why hadn’t he? All the real power was on his side. But still--he hadn’t.

“No, I won’t leave you be,” Billye said now. “Somebody has to put backbone in you, especially since yours looks like it’s fallen out through your--”

“Shut up!” Gilmer roared in a voice that not one of his half-pirate spacemen or troopers dared disobey.

Billye dared. “I won’t either shut up. And there are so wizards. Every other tale that floats in from the Periphery talks about them.”

“Lies about them, you mean. “ Gilmer was just as glad to change the subject, even a little. His head ached. If Billye was going to be this abrasive, maybe he
find himself some pretty little Trantorian chit who’d only open her mouth to say yes.

“They aren’t lies, “ Billye said stubbornly.

“Well, what else could they be?” Gilmer said. “There’s no such thing as a man-sized force screen. There can’t be--the Empire doesn’t have ‘em, and the Empire has everything there is. There’s no way to open a Personal Capsule without having a man’s characteristic on file. So stories that talk about things like that have to be lies. “

“Or else the magicians do those things, and do ‘em by their magic,” Billye said. “ And what else but magic could have made you show the University not just mercy but--but--I don’t know what. Treat them like the place was theirs by right, when the Emperor has charge of everything there is.”

“If he can keep it,” Gilmer muttered. He stalked out of the bedchamber--he’d get no solace here, that was plain. A scoutship message had been waiting for him when he returned from the University grounds: a fleet was gathering not ten parsecs away, a fleet that did not belong to him. If he was going to keep Trantor, he’d have to fight for it allover again. Even a pinprick from the University might hurt him at such a time.

Why couldn’t Billye see that? Rage suddenly filled Gilmer. If she couldn’t, to the space fiend with her! He pointed at the first servant he spotted. “You!”

The man flinched. Unlike Billye, he--all the palace servants--knew Gilmer was no one to trifle with. “Sire?” he asked fearfully.

“Take as many flunkies as you need to, then go toss that big-mouthed wench out of my bedchamber. Find me someone new--I expect you have ways to take care of that. Someone worthy of an Emperor, mind you. But most of all, someone quiet.”

“Yes, sire.” The servant risked a smile. “That, majesty, I think we can handle.”

A room in the
a room Gilmer had seen!

Yokim Sarns, Maryan Drabel, Egril Joons...dean, librarian, dietitian...general, chief of staff, quartermaster...and rather more. They stood before a wall of equations, red symbols on a gray background. Yokim Sarns, whose privilege it was to speak first, said, “I didn’t think it would be that easy.”

“Neither did I,” Maryan Drabel agreed. “I expected--the probabilities predicted--we would have to touch Gilmer’s mind to make sure he would leave us alone here.”

“That courage we saw helped a great deal,” Sarns said. “It let him gain respect for our student-soldiers where a more purely pragmatic man would simply have brushed aside their sacrifice because it conflicted with his own interests. “

“Mix that with superstitious awe at the accumulation of ancient knowledge we represent, let him see our goals and objectives--our ostensible goals and objectives--are irrelevant to his or slightly to his advantage, and he proved quite capable of deciding on his own to let us be,” Maryan Drabel said. “We came out of what could have been a nasty predicament very nicely indeed.”

Egril Joons had been studying the numbers and symbols, the possible decision-paths that led from Hari Seldon’s day through almost three centuries to the present--and beyond. Now he said, “I do believe this will be the only round.”

“The only round of sacks for Trantor?” Yokim Sarns studied the correlation at which Joons pointed; the equations obligingly grew on the Prime Radiant’s wall so he could see them better. “Yes, it does seem so, if our data from around the planet are accurate. Gilmer has done such an efficient job of destruction that Trantor won’t be worth looting again once this round of civil wars is done. “

“That was the lower probability, too,” Joons said. “Look--there was a better than seventy percent chance of two sacks at least forty years apart, and at least a fifteen percent chance of three or more, perhaps even spaced over a century.”

“Our lives and our work will certainly be easier this way,” Maryan Drabel said. “I know we’re well protected, but a stray missile--” She shivered.

“We still risk those for a little while longer,” Sarns said. “Gilmer is so blatantly a usurper that others will try to steal from him what he stole from Dagobert. But the danger of further major damage to Trantor as a whole has declined a great deal, and will grow still smaller as word of the Great Sack spreads. “ He pointed to the figures that supported his conclusion; Maryan Drabel pondered, at length nodded.

“And with Trantor henceforward effectively removed from psychohistoric consideration, so is the Galactic Empire,” Egril Joons said.

Galactic Empire,” Yokim Sarns corrected gently.

“Well, of course.” loons accepted the tiny rebuke with good nature. “Now, though, we’ll be able to work toward the Second Empire without having to worry about concealing everything we do from prying imperial clerks and agents.”

“The Empire was always our greatest danger,” Maryan Drabel said. “We needed to be here at its heart to help protect the First Foundation, but at its heart also meant under its eyes, if it ever came to notice us. In the days before we fully developed the mind-touch, one seriously hostile commissioner of public safety could have wrecked us. “

“The probability was that we wouldn’t get any such, and we didn’t,” Egril loons. said.

“Probability, yes, but psychohistory can’t deal with individuals any more than physics can tell you exactly when anyone radium atom will decay,” she said stubbornly. The truth there was so self-evident that loons had to concede it, but not so graciously as he had to Yokim Sarns.

Sarns said, “Never mind, both of you. If you’ll look here”--the Prime Radiant, taking its direction from his will, revealed the portion of the Seldon Plan that lay just ahead--”you’ll see that we’re entering a period of consolidation. As you and Maryan have both pointed out, Egril, the First Empire is dead, while it will be several centuries yet before the new Empire that will grow from the First Foundation extends its influence to this part of the Galaxy.”

“Clear sailing for a while,” loons said. “ About time, too.”

“Don’t get complacent,” Maryan Drabel said.

“A warning the Second Foundation should always bear in mind,” Yokim Sarns said. “But, looking at the mathematics, I have to agree with Egril. Barring anything unforeseen--say, someone outside our ranks discovering the mind-touch--we should have no great difficulty in steering the proper course. And”--he smiled broadly, even a little smugly--”what are the odds of that?”



Shtetl Days


Harry Turtledove


illustration by Gary Kelley



Jakub Shlayfer opened the door and walked outside to go to work. Before he could shut it again, his wife called after him: "
it should be a good day! We really need the

, Bertha.
," Jakub agreed. The door was already shut by then, but what difference did that make? It wasn’t as if he didn’t know they were poor. His lean frame, the rough edge on the brim of his broad, black hat, his threadbare long, black coat, and the many patches on his boot soles all told the same story.

But then, how many Jews in Wawolnice weren’t poor? The only one Jakub could think of was Shmuel Grynszpan, the undertaker.
business was as solid and certain as the laws of God. Everybody else’s? Groszy and zlotych always came in too slowly and went out too fast.

He stumped down the unpaved street, skirting puddles. Not all the boot patches were everything they might have been. He didn’t want to get his feet wet. He could have complained to Mottel Cohen, but what was the use? Mottel did what Mottel could do. And it wasn’t as if Wawolnice had--or needed--two cobblers. It you listened to Mottel’s
ing, the village didn’t need one cobbler often enough.

The watery spring morning promised more than the day was likely to deliver. The sun was out, but clouds to the west warned it was liable to rain some more. Well, it wouldn’t snow again till fall. That was something. Jakub skidded on mud and almost fell. It might be something, but it wasn’t enough.

Two-story houses with steep, wood-shingled roofs crowded the street from both sides and caused it to twist here and turn there. They made it hard for the sun to get down to the street and dry up the mud. More Jews came out of the houses to go to their jobs. The men dressed pretty much like Jakub. Some of the younger ones wore cloth caps instead of broad-brimmed hats. Chasidim, by contrast, had fancy
s, with the brims made from mink.

A leaning fence made Jakub go out toward the middle of the narrow street. Most of the graying planks went up and down. For eight or ten feet, though, boards running from side to side patched a break. They were as ugly as the patches on his boots. A hooded crow perched on the fence jeered at Jakub.

He had to push in tight to the fence because an old couple from the country were pushing a handcart toward him, and making heavy going of it. The crow flew away. Wicker baskets in the handcart were piled high with their fiery horseradish, milder red radishes, onions, leeks, and kale.

"Maybe you’ll see my wife today, Moishe," Jakub called.

"Here’s hoping," the old man said. His white beard spilled in waves halfway down his chest. He wore a brimless fur cap that looked something like an upside-down chamber pot.

Chamber pots . . . The air was thick with them. Shmuel Grynszpan had piped water in his house, as his wife never tired of boasting. Not many other Jews--and precious few Poles--in Wawolnice did. They said--whoever
were--you stopped noticing how a village stank once you’d lived in it for a little while. As he often did, Jakub wished
knew what they were talking about.

Signs above the tavern, the dry-goods store, the tailor’s shop, Jakub’s own sorry little business, and the handful of others Wawolnice boasted were in both Polish and Yiddish. Two different alphabets running two different ways . . . If that didn’t say everything that needed saying about how Jews and Poles got along--or didn’t get along--Jakub couldn’t imagine what would.

He used a fat iron key to open the lock to his front door. The hinges creaked when he pulled it toward him.
Have to oil that,
he thought. Somewhere in his shop, he had a copper oilcan. If he could find it, if he remembered to look for it . . . If he didn’t, neither the world nor even the door was likely to come to an end.

He was a grinder. Anything that was dull, he could sharpen: knives, scissors, straight razors (for the Poles--almost all the Jewish men wore beards), plowshares, harvester blades. He was a locksmith. He repaired clocks--and anything else with complicated gearing. He made umbrellas out of wire and scrap cloth, and fixed the ones he’d made before. He sold patent medicines, and brewed them up from this and that in the dark, musty back room. He would turn his hand to almost anything that might make a zloty.

Lots of things might make a zloty. Hardly anything, outside of Grynszpan’s business, reliably did. Wawolnice wasn’t big enough to need a full-time grinder or locksmith or repairman or umbrella maker or medicine mixer. Even doing all of them at once, Jakub didn’t bring home enough to keep Bertha happy.

Of course, he could have brought home more than the undertaker made and still not kept his wife happy. Some people weren’t happy unless they were unhappy. There was a paradox worthy of the Talmud--unless you knew Bertha.

Across the way, the little boys in Alter Kaczyne’s
began chanting the
s. While Alter worked with them, their older brothers and cousins would wrestle with Hebrew vocabulary and grammar on their own. Or maybe the
’s father would lend a hand. Chaim Kaczyne coughed all the time and didn’t move around very well anymore, but his wits were still clear.

Jakub went to work on a clock a Polish woman had brought in. His hands were quick and clever. Scars seamed them; you couldn’t be a grinder without things slipping once in a while. And dirt and grease had permanent homes under his nails and in the creases on top of his fingers. But hands were to work with, and work with them he did.

"Here we are," he muttered: a broken tooth on one of the gears. He rummaged through a couple of drawers to see if he had one that matched. And sure enough! The replacement went into the clock. He didn’t throw out the damaged one. He rarely threw anything out. He’d braze on a new tooth and use the gear in some less demanding place.

The woman came in not long after he finished the clock. She wore her blond hair in a short bob; her skirt rose halfway to her knees. You’d never catch a Jewish woman in Wawolnice in anything so scandalously short. She nodded to find the clock ticking again. They haggled a little over the price. Jakub had warned her it would go up if he had to put in a new gear. She didn’t want to remember. She was shaking her head when she smacked coins down on the counter and walked out.

He eyed--not to put too fine a point on it, he leered at--her shapely calves as her legs twinkled away. He was a man, after all. He was drawn to smooth flesh the way a butterfly was drawn to flowers. No wonder the women of his folk covered themselves from head to foot. No wonder Jewish wives wore
s and head scarves. They didn’t want to put themselves on display like that. But the Poles were different. The Poles didn’t care.

So what? The Poles were

He sharpened one of his own knives, a tiny, precise blade. He often did that when he had nothing else going on. He owned far and away the sharpest knives in the village. He would have been happier if they were duller, so long as it was because he stayed too busy to work on them.

A kid carrying a basket of bagels stuck his head in the door. Jakub spent a few groszy to buy one. The boy hurried away, short pants showing off his skinny legs. He didn’t have a police license to peddle, so he was always on the dodge.

Barukh atah Adonai, eloyahynu melekh ha-olam, ha-motzi lekhem min ha-aretz
," Jakub murmured.
Blessed art Thou, O Lord our God, King of the Universe, Who makest bread to come forth from the earth.
Only after the prayer did he eat the bagel.

Yiddish. Polish. Hebrew. Aramaic. He had them all. No one who knew Yiddish didn’t also know German. A man who spoke Polish could, at need, make a stab at Czech or Ruthenian or Russian. All the
in Wawolnice were scholars, even if they didn’t always think of themselves so.

Back to sharpening his own knives. It had the feel of another slow day. Few days here were anything else. The ones that were, commonly weren’t good days.

After a while, the front door creaked open again. Jakub jumped to his feet in surprise and respect. "Reb Eliezer!" he exclaimed. "What can I do for you today?" Rabbis, after all, had knives and scissors that needed sharpening just like other men’s.

But Eliezer said, "We were talking about serpents the other day." He had a long, pale, somber face, with rusty curls sticking out from under his hat brim, a wispy copper beard streaked with gray, and cat-green eyes.

"Oh, yes. Of course." Jakub nodded. They
been speaking of serpents, and all sorts of other Talmudic
, in the village’s
bet ha-midrash
attached to the little
. The smell of the books in the tall case there, the aging leather of their bindings, the paper on which they were printed, even the dust that shrouded the seldom-used volumes, were part and parcel of life in Wawolnice.

So . . . No business--no moneymaking business--now. Bertha would not be pleased to see this. She would loudly not be pleased to see it, as a matter of fact. But she would also be secretly proud because the rabbi chose her husband, a grinder of no particular prominence, with whom to split doctrinal hairs.

"Obviously," Reb Eliezer said in portentous tones, "the serpent is unclean for Jews to eat or to handle after it is dead. It falls under the ban of Leviticus 11:29, 11:30, and 11:42."

"Well, that may be so, but I’m not so sure," Jakub answered, pausing to light a stubby, twisted cigar. He offered one to Reb Eliezer, who accepted with a murmur of thanks. After blowing out harsh smoke, the grinder went on, "I don’t think those verses are talking about serpents at all."

Eliezer’s gingery eyebrows leaped. "How can you say such a thing?" he demanded, wagging a forefinger under Jakub’s beaky nose. "Verse 42 says, ‘Whatsoever goeth upon the belly, and whatsoever goeth upon all four, or whatsoever hath more feet among all creeping things that creep upon the earth, them ye shall not eat; for they are an abomination.’" Like Jakub, he could go from Yiddish to Biblical Hebrew while hardly seeming to notice he was switching languages.

Jakub shrugged a stolid shrug. "I don’t hear anything there that talks about serpents. Things that go on all fours, things with lots of legs. I don’t want to eat a what-do-you-call-it--a centipede, I mean. Who would? Even a
wouldn’t want to eat a centipede . . . I don’t think." He shrugged again, as if to say no Jew counted on anything that had to do with

"‘Whatsoever goeth upon the belly . . . among all the creeping things that creep upon the earth,’" Reb Eliezer repeated. "And this same phrase also appears in the twenty-ninth verse, which says, ‘These also shall be unclean unto you among the creeping things that creep upon the earth;--’"

"‘ --the weasel, and the mouse, and the tortoise after his kind.’" Jakub took up the quotation, and went on into the next verse: "‘ And the ferret, and the chameleon, and the lizard, and the snail, and the mole.’ I don’t see a word in there about serpents." He blew out another stream of smoke, not quite at the rabbi.

Eliezer affected not to notice. "Since when is a serpent not a creeping thing that goeth upon its belly? Will you tell me it doesn’t?"

"It doesn’t
," Jakub admitted.

"It did maybe yesterday?" Eliezer suggested sarcastically.

"Not yesterday. Not the day before yesterday, either," Jakub said. "But when the Lord, blessed be His name, made the serpent, He made it to speak and to walk on its hind legs like a man. What else does that? Maybe He made it in His own image."

"But God told the serpent, ‘Thou art cursed above all cattle, and above every beast in the field: upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life.’"

"So He changed it a little. So what?" Jakub said. Reb Eliezer’s eyebrow jumped again at
a little
, but he held his peace. The grinder went on, "Besides, the serpent is to blame for mankind’s fall. Shouldn’t we pay him back by cooking him in a stew?"

"Maybe we should, maybe we shouldn’t. But that argument isn’t Scriptural," the rabbi said stiffly.

"Well, what if it isn’t? How about this . . . ?" Jakub went off on another tangent from the Torah.

They fenced with ideas and quotations through another cigar apiece. At last, Reb Eliezer threw his pale hands in the air and exclaimed, "In spite of the plain words of Leviticus, you come up with a hundred reasons why the accursed serpent ought to be as kosher as a cow!"

"Oh, not a hundred reasons. Maybe a dozen." Jakub was a precise man, as befitted a trade where a slip could cost a finger. But he also had his own kind of pride: "Give me enough time, and I suppose I could come up with a hundred."

A sort of a smile lifted one corner of Reb Eliezer’s mouth. "Then perhaps now you begin to see why Rabbi Jokhanan of Palestine, of blessed memory, said hundreds of years ago that no man who could not do what you are doing had the skill he needed to open a capital case."

BOOK: Short Stories
11.29Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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