Read The Very Best of F & SF v1 Online

Authors: Gordon Van Gelder (ed)

Tags: #Anthology, #Fantasy, #Science Fiction

The Very Best of F & SF v1 (8 page)

BOOK: The Very Best of F & SF v1
4.36Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

“The trouble
with you, Bright Book Jacket,” the warrior on his left broke in, “is that you’re
too much of a classicist. You’re always trying to live in the Golden Age
instead of the present, and a Golden Age that really has little to do with the
Sioux. Oh, I’ll admit that we’re as much Dakotan as the Crow, from the linguist’s
point of view at any rate, and that, superficially, what applies to the Crow
should apply to us. But what happens when we quote Lowie in so many words and
try to bring his precepts into daily life?”

“Enough,” the
chief announced. “Enough, Hangs A Tale. And you, too, Bright Book
Jacket—enough, enough! These are private tribal matters. Though they do serve
to remind us that the paleface was once great before he became sick and corrupt
and frightened. These men whose holy books teach us the lost art of living like
Sioux, men like Lesser, men like Robert H. Lowie, were not these men palefaces?
And in memory of them should we not show tolerance?”

“A-ah!” said
Makes Much Radiation impatiently. “As far as I’m concerned, the only good
palefaces are dead. And that’s that.” He thought a bit. “Except their women.
Paleface women are fun when you’re a long way from home and feel like raising a
little hell.”

Chief Three
Hydrogen Bombs glared his son into silence. Then he turned to Jerry Franklin. “Your
message and your gifts. First your message.”

“No, Chief,” Bright
Book Jacket told him respectfully but definitely. “First the gifts.
Then
the message. That’s
the way it was done.”

“I’ll have to
get them. Be right back.” Jerry walked out of the tent backwards and ran to
where Sam Rutherford had tethered the horses. “The presents,” he said urgently.
“The presents for the chief.”

The two of them
tore at the pack straps. With his arms loaded, Jerry returned through the
warriors who had assembled to watch their activity with quiet arrogance. He
entered the tent, set the gifts on the ground and bowed low again.

“Bright beads
for the chief,” he said, handing over two star sapphires and a large white
diamond, the best that the engineers had evacuated from the ruins of New York
in the past ten years.

“Cloth for the
chief,” he said, handing over a bolt of linen and a bolt of wool, spun and
loomed in New Hampshire especially for this occasion and painfully, expensively
carted to New York.

“Pretty toys for
the chief,” he said, handing over a large, only slightly rusty alarm clock and
a precious typewriter, both of them put in operating order by batteries of
engineers and artisans working in tandem (the engineers interpreting the
brittle old documents to the artisans) for two and a half months.

“Weapons for the
chief,” he said, handing over a beautifully decorated cavalry saber, the prized
hereditary possession of the Chief of Staff of the United States Air Force, who
had protested its requisitioning most bitterly. (“Damn it all, Mr. President,
do you expect me to fight these Indians with my bare hands?”

“No, I don’t,
Johnny, but I’m sure you can pick up one just as good from one of your eager
junior officers. “)

Three Hydrogen
Bombs examined the gifts, particularly the typewriter, with some interest. Then
he solemnly distributed them among the members of his council, keeping only the
typewriter and one of the sapphires for himself. The sword he gave to his son.

Makes Much
Radiation tapped the steel with his fingernail. “Not so much,” he stated. “Not
-so-much.
Mr. Thomas came up
with better stuff than this from the Confederate States of America for my
sister’s puberty ceremony.” He tossed the saber negligently to the ground. “But
what can you expect from a bunch of lazy, good-for-nothing whiteskin stinkards?”

When he heard
the last word, Jerry Franklin went rigid. That meant he’d have to fight Makes
Much Radiation—and the prospect scared him right down to the wet hairs on his
legs. The alternative was losing face completely among the Sioux.

“Stinkard” was a
term from the Natchez system and was applied these days indiscriminately to all
white men bound to field or factory under their aristocratic Indian overlords.
A “stinkard” was something lower than a serf, whose one value was that his toil
gave his masters the leisure to engage in the activities of full manhood:
hunting, fighting, thinking.

If you let
someone call you a stinkard and didn’t kill him, why, then you
were
a stinkard—and that
was all there was to it.

“I am an
accredited representative of the United States of America,” Jerry said slowly
and distinctly, “and the oldest son of the Senator from Idaho. When my father
dies, I will sit in the Senate in his place. I am a free-born man, high in the
councils of my nation, and anyone who calls me a stinkard is a rotten, no-good,
foul-mouthed liar!”

There—it was
done. He waited as Makes Much Radiation rose to his feet. He noted with dismay
the well-fed, well-muscled sleekness of the young warrior. He wouldn’t have a
chance against him. Not in hand-to-hand combat—which was the way it would be.

Makes Much
Radiation picked up the sword and pointed it at Jerry Franklin. “I could chop
you in half right now like a fat onion,” he observed. “Or I could go into a
ring with you knife to knife and cut your belly open. I’ve fought and killed
Seminole, I’ve fought Apache, I’ve even fought and killed Comanche. But I’ve
never dirtied my hands with paleface blood, and I don’t intend to start now. I
leave such simple butchery to the overseers of our estates. Father, I’ll be
outside until the lodge is clean again.” Then he threw the sword ringingly at
Jerry’s feet and walked out.

Just before he
left, he stopped, and remarked over his shoulder: “The oldest son of the
Senator from Idaho! Idaho has been part of the estates of my mother’s family
for the past forty-five years! When will these romantic children stop playing
games and start living in the world as it is now?”

“My son,” the old
chief murmured. “Younger generation. A bit wild. Highly intolerant. But he
means well. Really does. Means well.”

He signaled to
the white serfs who brought over a large chest covered with great splashes of
color.

While the chief
rummaged in the chest, Jerry Franklin relaxed inch by inch. It was almost too
good to be true: he wouldn’t have to fight Makes Much Radiation, and he hadn’t
lost face. All things considered, the whole business had turned out very well
indeed.

And as for the
last comment—well, why expect an Indian to understand about things like
tradition and the glory that could reside forever in a symbol?

 

When his father
stood up under the cracked roof of Madison Square Garden and roared across to
the Vice-President of the United States: “The people of the sovereign state of
Idaho will never and can never in all conscience consent to a tax on potatoes.
From time immemorial, potatoes have been associated with Idaho, potatoes have
been the pride of Idaho. The people of Boise say
no
to a tax on potatoes,
the people of Pocatello say
no
to a tax on potatoes, the very rolling farmlands of the Gem of the
Mountain say
no, never
, a thousand times
no
, to a tax on potatoes!”—when his father spoke like that, he
was
speaking for the people of Boise and Pocatello. Not the crushed
Boise or desolate Pocatello of today, true, but the magnificent cities as they
had been of yore... and the rich farms on either side of the Snake River... And
Sun Valley, Moscow, Idaho Falls, American Falls, Weiser, Grangeville, Twin Falls....

“We did not
expect you, so we have not many gifts to offer in return,” Three Hydrogen Bombs
was explaining. “However, there is this one small thing. For you.”

Jerry gasped as
he took it. It was a pistol, a real, brand-new pistol! And a small box of
cartridges. Made in one of the Sioux slave workshops of the Middle West that he
had heard about. But to hold it in his hand, and to know that it belonged to
him!

It was a Crazy
Horse .45, and, according to all reports, far superior to the Apache weapon that
had so long dominated the West, the Geronimo .32. This was a weapon a General
of the Armies, a President of the United States, might never hope to own—and it
was his!

“I don’t know
how—Really, I—I—”

“That’s all
right,” the chief told him genially. “Really it is. My son would not approve of
giving firearms to palefaces, but I feel that palefaces are like other
people—it’s the individual that counts. You look like a responsible man for a
paleface: I’m sure you’ll use the pistol wisely. Now your message.”

Jerry collected
his faculties and opened the pouch that hung from his neck. Reverently, he
extracted the precious document and presented it to the chief.

Three Hydrogen
Bombs read it quickly and passed it to his warriors. The last one to get it,
Bright Book Jacket, wadded it up into a ball and tossed it back at the white
man.

“Bad penmanship,”
he said. “And ‘receive’ is spelled three different ways. The rule is: ‘
i
before
e
, except after
c
.’ But what does it have to do with us?
It’s addressed to the Seminole chief, Osceola VII, requesting him to order his
warriors back to the southern bank of the Delaware River, or to return the
hostage given him by the Government of the United States as an earnest of good
will and peaceful intentions. We’re not Seminole: why show it to us?”

As Jerry
Franklin smoothed out the wrinkles in the paper with painful care and replaced
the document in his pouch, the Confederate Ambassador, Sylvester Thomas, spoke
up. “I think I might explain,” he suggested, glancing inquiringly from face to
face. “If you gentlemen don’t mind... ? It is obvious that the United States
Government has heard that an Indian tribe finally crossed the Delaware at this
point, and assumed it was the Seminole. The last movement of the Seminole, you
will recall, was to Philadelphia, forcing the evacuation of the capital once
more and its transfer to New York City. It was a natural mistake: the
communications of the American States, whether Confederate or United”—a small,
coughing, diplomatic laugh here—” have not been as good as might have been
expected in recent years. It is quite evident that neither this young man nor
the government he represents so ably and so well, had any idea that the Sioux
had decided to steal a march on his majesty, Osceola VII, and cross the
Delaware at Lambertville.”

“That’s right,” Jerry
broke in eagerly. “That’s exactly right. And now, as the accredited emissary of
the President of the United States, it is my duty formally to request that the
Sioux nation honor the treaty of eleven years ago as well as the treaty of
fifteen—I
think
it was fifteen—years ago, and retire once more behind the banks of
the Susquehanna River. I must remind you that when we retired from Pittsburgh,
Altoona, and Johnstown, you swore that the Sioux would take no more land from
us and would protect us in the little we had left. I am certain that the Sioux
want to be known as a nation that keeps its promises.”

Three Hydrogen
Bombs glanced questioningly at the faces of Bright Book Jacket and Hangs A
Tale. Then he leaned forward and placed his elbows on his crossed legs. “You
speak well, young man,” he commented. “You are a credit to your chief.... Now,
then. Of course the Sioux want to be known as a nation that honors its treaties
and keeps its promises. And so forth and so forth. But we have an expanding
population. You don’t have an expanding population. We need more land. You don’t
use most of the land you have. Should we sit by and see the land go to
waste—worse yet, should we see it acquired by the Seminole who already rule a
domain stretching from Philadelphia to Key West? Be reasonable. You can retire
to— to other places. You have most of New England left and a large part of New
York State. Surely you can afford to give up New Jersey.”

In spite of
himself, in spite of his ambassadorial position, Jerry Franklin began yelling.
All of a sudden it was too much. It was one thing to shrug your shoulders
unhappily back home in the blunted ruins of New York, but here on the spot
where the process was actually taking place—no, it was too much.

“What else can
we afford to give up? Where else can we retire to? There’s nothing left of the
United States of America but a handful of square miles, and still we’re
supposed to move back! In the time of my forefathers, we were a great nation,
we stretched from ocean to ocean, so say the legends of my people, and now we
are huddled in a miserable corner of our land, starving, filthy, sick, dying,
and ashamed. In the North, we are oppressed by the Ojibway and the Cree, we are
pushed southward relentlessly by the Montagnais; in the South, the Seminole
climb up our land yard by yard; and in the West, the Sioux take a piece more of
New Jersey, and the Cheyenne come up and nibble yet another slice out of Elmira
and Buffalo. When will it stop—where are we to go?”

The old man
shifted uncomfortably at the agony in his voice. “It
is
hard; mind you, I don’t
deny that it
is
hard. But facts are facts, and weaker peoples always go to the
wall... Now, as to the rest of your mission. If we don’t retire as you request,
you’re supposed to ask for the return of your hostage. Sounds reasonable to me.
You ought to get something out of it. However, I can’t for the life of me
remember a hostage. Do we have a hostage from you people?”

BOOK: The Very Best of F & SF v1
4.36Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

Shana Abe by The Promise of Rain
Crossroads by Ting, Mary
V - The Original Miniseries by Johnson, Kenneth
Fighting Fair by Anne Calhoun
The Abduction by Durante, Erin
The Beat by Simon Payne
B00BNB54RE EBOK by Jaudon, Shareef
The Guinea Pig Diaries by A. J. Jacobs
L. Frank Baum_Aunt Jane 06 by Aunt Jane's Nieces, Uncle John