Ttomalss wondered more and more often these days why he had ever found the psychology of alien races an interesting study. If he’d taken up, say, landcruiser gunning, he would have dealt with the Big Uglies only through the barrel of a cannon. If he’d taken up something like publishing, he’d probably still be back on Home, comfortably getting on with his career.
Instead, he found himself trying to raise a Tosevite hatchling without any direct help from the Big Uglies. If he could, that would teach the Race a lot about how the Tosevites would do as subjects when the Empire finally succeeded in establishing its control here. If…
The more he worked on the project, the more he wondered how any Big Uglies ever survived to adulthood. When a male or female of the Race emerged from its egg, it was in large measure ready to face the world. It ate the same foods adults did, it could run around, and the biggest problem in civilizing it was teaching it the things it should not do. Since it was obedient by nature, that didn’t usually present too big a challenge.
Whereas the hatchling Big Ugly female Ttomalss had taken from Liu Han…
He glared resentfully at the lumpish little thing. Not only couldn’t it run around, it couldn’t even roll over. It thrashed its arms and legs as if it hadn’t the slightest idea they were part of it. Ttomalss marveled that natural selection could have favored the development of such an utterly helpless hatchling.
The hatchling also couldn’t eat just anything. It had evolved as a parasite on the female from whose body it emerged, and was able to consume only the fluids that female secreted. Not only did Ttomalss find that disgusting, it also presented him with an experimental dilemma. He wanted to raise the Tosevite hatchling in isolation from others of its kind, but required the stuff Big Ugly females produced.
The result, like so many things connected with Tosev 3, was a clumsy makeshift. One thing-almost the only thing-the hatchling could do was suck. Some of the Big Uglies had developed artificial feeding techniques which took advantage of that with elastomeric nipples. They also used artificial equivalents of the female’s natural product.
Ttomalss didn’t care to do that. Very little of what the Race had learned about the Big Uglies’ medical technology impressed him. He made arrangements for females in the Race’s camps who were already secreting for their own hatchlings to give some additional secretion for the one he was trying to raise. He’d feared that would make the Tosevites volatile, but, to his relief, it didn’t, and his hatchling enthusiastically sucked from an elastomer copy of the bodily part evolution had given Big Ugly females.
The hatchling also voided enthusiastically; Tosevite excretory arrangements were much messier than those of the Race. The liquid wastes from Big Ugly adults strained the plumbing facilities of the Race’s spacecraft. But adults, at least, had conscious control over their voiding.
As far as Ttomalss could tell, the hatchling didn’t have conscious control over anything. It released liquid and solid waste whenever it felt the need, no matter where it was: it could be lying in its little containment cage, or he could be holding it. More than once, he’d had to wash off the evil-smelling liquid it passed, and to refurbish his body paint afterwards.
For that matter, its solid wastes barely deserved the adjective. They clung to the hatchling; they clung to everything. Keeping the little creature clean was nearly a full-time job. Ttomalss learned the Big Uglies lessened the problem by wrapping absorbent cloths around their hatchlings’ excretory organs. That helped keep the hatchling’s surroundings cleaner, but he still had to wash it every time it voided.
And the noises it made! Hatchlings of the Race were quiet little things; they had to be coaxed into talking. From an evolutionary point of view, that made sense: noisy hatchlings drew predators, and didn’t survive long enough to reproduce. But natural selection on Tosev 3 seemed to have taken a holiday. Whenever the hatchling was hungry or had fouled itself, it howled. Sometimes it howled for no reason Ttomalss could find. He’d tried ignoring it then, but that didn’t work. The hatchling could squall longer than he could ignore it, and he also feared ignoring it might lead to damage of some kind.
Gradually he began picking it up when it raised a ruckus. Sometimes that made it belch up some air it had swallowed along with the secretions it ate (and sometimes it belched up those secretions, too, in a partially digested and thoroughly revolting state). When that happened, it sometimes brought the hatchling enough relief to make it shut up.
Sometimes, though, the hatchling had nothing whatever wrong with it and still made noise, as if it wanted to be held. And holding it would sometimes calm it. That bewildered Ttomalss, and made him wonder if the Tosevites didn’t start the socialization process earlier in life than the Race did.
His colleagues’ mouths dropped open when he suggested that. “I know it sounds funny,” he said defensively. “They’ve fragmented themselves into tens of tiny empires that fight all the time, while we’ve been comfortably united for a hundred millennia. On the other hand, they have that powerful year-round sexual drive to contend with, and we don’t.”
“You’re tired, Ttomalss,” his fellow psychologists said, almost in chorus.
As days passed, the hatchling gradually began to develop a pattern to its sleeping and waking. That was not to say that it didn’t wake up once or twice or sometimes three times in the night, but it seemed more willing to go back to sleep then and to be awake during the day. Little by little, Ttomalss began to reckon himself capable of coherent thought once more.
He also began to believe the hatchling might one day be capable of coherent thought-or thought as coherent as that of Big Uglies ever got. It began to make noises more complex than its first primordial yowls. It also began to look at him with more attention than it had formerly shown him or anything else.
One day, the corners of its mouth lifted in the facial twitch the Tosevites used to express good humor. Ttomalss wished he could return the twitch and reinforce it, but his own features were respectably immobile.
In spite of the hatchling’s increasing responsiveness, in spite of everything he was learning from it, there were a great many times when he wished he’d left it with the Tosevite female from whose body it had come. Better it should drive her mad than him, he thought.
It was not the proper attitude for a scientist, but then again, a proper scientist got enough sleep.
Liu Han’s breasts ached with milk. She’d earned money and food as a wet nurse on her way to Peking, but for the past day and a half she hadn’t found anyone with a baby that needed to nurse. If she didn’t come on one soon, she’d have to squeeze out some milk by hand. She hated to waste it that way, but being so painfully full was no delight, either.
Sometimes, when she was worn and hungry and her feet felt as if they couldn’t take another step, she almost wished she was back in the camp. She’d had plenty to eat there, and not much to do. But she’d also had the little scaly devils spying on everything she did, and finally stealing her baby. Even if it was a girl, it was
Getting away from camp hadn’t been easy. Not only did the little devils have cameras mounted inside the hut, they also frequently followed her when she went out and about-and she could hardly walk through the gates in the razor wire. No human walked out through those gates.
If it hadn’t been for the poultry seller who was a Communist, she never would have got out. One day when he was shutting up his stall, he said to her, “Come with me. I’d like you to meet my sister.”
She didn’t think the hut to which he’d taken her was his own; that would have been too dangerous. In it sat a woman who probably was not the poultry seller’s sister. She wore her hair in a short bob, as Liu Han did, and was of about the same age and build.
The poultry seller turned his back on them. The woman said, “Oh, Liu Han, I love your clothes so much. Will you trade them for mine, right down to your sandals and underwear?”
Liu Han had stared down at herself for a moment, wondering if the woman was out of her mind. “These rags?” she said. The “sister” nodded emphatically. Then Liu Han understood. The scaly devils were very good at making small things. They might have put some of those small things in her clothes, even in her drawers, to keep track of where she was.
She undressed without bothering to see whether the poultry seller peeked at her. So many men had seen her body that her modesty had taken a severe beating. And anyhow, so soon after childbirth, her body, she was sure, hadn’t been one to rouse a man’s lust.
When the exchange was complete, the poultry seller had turned around and said to the other woman, “I will take you back to your own home, Liu Han.” He turned to Liu Han. “Sister, you wait here for me. I will be back soon.”
Wait Liu Han did, marveling at his gall. She knew the scaly devils had trouble telling one person from another. If the poultry seller’s “sister” dressed like her, they might think she was Liu Han, at least for a while. And while they were fooled…
As he’d promised, the poultry seller had soon returned. He took Liu Han through deepening twilight to another hut that was bare but for mats on the floor. “Now we wait again,” he said. Twilight had given way to night. The camp fell as nearly silent as it ever did.
She’d expected him to demand her body, lumpy from childbirth though it was. She’d even made up her mind not to protest; he was, after all, risking his life to help her, and deserved such thanks as she could give. But he made no advances; he used the time to talk of the paradise China would become when Mao Tse-Tung and the Communists freed it from the scaly devils, the eastern devils from Japan, the foreign devils, and its native oppressors. If a quarter of what he said was true, no one would recognize the country after a generation of new rule.
At last, he’d unrolled a mat near one wall. It concealed a wooden trapdoor that he’d slid aside. “Go down this tunnel,” he said. “Keep going ahead, no matter what. Someone will be waiting for you at the far end.”
She’d quaked like bamboo stalks when the wind blew through them. Bobby Fiore had gone down a tunnel like this, and he’d never come back; he’d ended up lying in a pool of his own blood on a Shanghai street. But down the wooden ladder she’d climbed, and then on hands and knees through damp and the smell of earth and blackness so perfect and intense, it seemed to close in on her until she wanted to huddle where she was and wait for it to swallow her.
But on and on she’d crawled, and at last she came to a rock barring the way. When she pushed it aside, it fell with a splash into an irrigation ditch and she could see again. “Come on,” a voice hissed to her. “This way.”
Liu Han had done her best to go “this way,” but, like the stone, she fell into the ditch. She stood up, wet and dripping, and staggered in the direction from which the voice had come. A hand reached out to pull her onto dry land. “That’s not so bad,” her rescuer whispered. “The cold water will make it harder for the scaly devils to see your heat.”
At first she’d just nodded. Then, though the night breeze on her dripping clothes left her shivering, she drew herself up very straight.
This man knew the little scaly devils could see heat! That information had come from her, and people outside the prison camp were using it. In a life without much room for pride, Liu Han cherished the moments when she knew it.
“Come on,” the man hissed to her. “We have to get farther away from the camp. You’re not safe yet.”
Safe! She’d wanted to laugh. She hadn’t known a minute’s safety since the little scaly devils had attacked her village-not even before that, for the town had been full of Japanese when the little devils came in their dragonfly planes and turned her whole life-to say nothing of the world-upside down.
But as the days went by, as she tramped through the Chinese countryside, one of uncounted thousands of people going along the dirt tracks, she did begin to feel safe, or at least safe from the little scaly devils. She still saw them now and again: soldiers in their vehicles, or sometimes marching on foot and looking no more happy about it than human troops. Every so often, one would turn an eye turret her way, but only idly, or perhaps warily, to make sure she was not a danger to him. But to them, she was just another Big Ugly, not a subject for study. What a relief that was!
And now Peking. Peiping-Northern Peace-it had been renamed, but no one paid much attention to that. Peking it had been, Peking it was, and Peking it would remain.
Liu Han had never seen a walled city before; the closest to such a thing she’d known was the razor wire around the camp in which the little devils had confined her while waiting for her to give birth. But Peking’s walls, in the shape of a square perched atop a broader rectangle, ran for almost forty-five
Broad streets ran north and south, east and west, paralleling the walls. The little scaly devils controlled those streets, at least to the point of being able to travel on them by day or night. Between the avenues, there twisted innumerable
Ironically, prison camp had been Liu Han’s best preparation for life in bustling, crowded Peking. Had she come straight from her village, she would have been altogether at sea. But the camp had been a fair-sized city in its own right, and readied her to deal with a great one.
She quickly had to learn how to get around in the Chinese City, for the Communists kept shifting her from one dingy lodging house to another, to throw off any possible pursuit from the little devils. One day they took her to a place not far from the Ch’ien Men, the Western Gate. As she came in, one of the men sitting around and talking over rice spoke a few syllables that were not Chinese. Liu Han recognized them anyway.
She broke away from her escort and walked up to the man. He was a few years older than she, compact, clever-looking. “Excuse me,” she said, politely lowering her eyes, “but did I hear you speak the name of a foreign devil called Bobby Fiore?”
“What if you did, woman?” the man answered. “How do you know this foreign devil’s name?”
“I-knew him in the scaly devils’ prison camp west of Shanghai,” Liu Han said hesitantly. She did not go on to explain that she had borne Bobby Fiore’s child; now that she was fully among her own people once more, having lain with a foreign devil seemed shameful to her.
“You know him?” The man’s eyes raked her. “Are you then the woman he had at that camp? Your name would be-” He looked up to the ceiling for a moment, riffling through papers in his mind. “Liu Han, that was it.”
“Yes, I am Liu Han,” she said. “You must have known him well, if he spoke to you of me.” That Bobby Fiore had spoken of her left her touched. He’d treated her well, but she’d always wondered if she was anything more than an enjoyable convenience to him. With a foreign devil, who could say?
“I was there when he died-you know he is dead?” the man said. When Liu Han nodded, the man went on, “I am Nieh Ho-T’ing. I tell you this, and tell you truly: he died well, fighting against the little scaly devils. He was brave; by doing what he did, he helped me and several others escape them.”
Tears came into Liu Han’s eyes. “Thank you,” she whispered. “They brought his picture-his picture dead-to me in the camp. I knew he died in Shanghai, but not how. He hated the little devils. I am glad he had revenge.” Her hands curled into fists. “I wish I could.”
Nieh Ho-T’ing studied her. He was an alert, thoughtful-looking man, with the controlled movements and watchful eyes that said he was probably a soldier. He said, “Do I remember right? You were going to have a child.”
“I had it-a girl,” she answered. If Nieh thought she was a slut for bedding Bobby Fiore, he didn’t show it. That by itself was enough to earn her gratitude. She continued, “You may know the little scaly devils do things to try to understand how real people work. They took my baby from me when it was just three days old, and they keep it for themselves.”
“This is a great wickedness,” Nieh said seriously. He looked up at the ceiling again. “Liu Han, Liu Han…” When they swung back to her, his eyes had brightened. “You are the woman who learned the scaly devils had machines that could see heat.”
“Yes-they used one of those machines on me, to help see inside my womb before the baby was born,” Liu Han said. “I thought they would use it for other things as well.”
“And you were right,” Nieh Ho-T’ing told her, his voice full of enthusiasm. “We have used this to give us a tactical advantage several times already.” He
Not just a soldier, a Communist. She easily recognized the rhetoric now. It came as no surprise: the poultry seller, after all, had been a Communist, and passed on her information to his comrades. If the Communists were best at resisting the scaly devils, then she didn’t see anything wrong with them. And she owed those little devils so much. If Nieh Ho-T’ing would help her get her own back… “Tell me what you want me to do,” she said.
Razor wire. Huts. Cots. Cabbage. Beets. Potatoes. Black bread. The Lizards no doubt intended it to be a prison camp to break a man’s spirit. After the privations of the Warsaw ghetto, it felt more like a holiday resort to Mordechai Anielewicz. As gaolers, the Lizards were amateurs. The food, for instance, was plain and boring, but the Lizards didn’t seem to have thought of cutting back the quantity.
Mordechai felt on holiday for another reason as well. He’d been a leader of fighting men for a long time: of Jews against Nazis, of Jews for the Lizards. Then he’d been a fugitive, and then a simple partisan. Now the other shoe had dropped: he was a prisoner, and didn’t need to worry about getting captured.
In their own way, the Lizards were humane. When the Germans captured partisans, they shot them without further ado-or sometimes with further ado, if they felt like trying to squeeze out information before granting the grace of a bullet. But the Lizards had taken him and Jerzy and Friedrich across Poland to a POW camp outside Piotrkow, south of Lodz.
No one here had the slightest idea who he was. He answered to Shmuel, not to his own name. As far as Friedrich and Jerzy knew, he was just a Jew who’d fought in their band. Nobody asked a would-be partisan probing questions about his past. Even in the camp, the freedom of anonymity was exhilarating.
One morning after roll call, a Lizard guard official read from a list: “The following Tosevites will fall out for interrogation-” His Polish was bad, and what he did to the pronunciation of Anielewicz’s alias a caution.
Nonetheless, Mordechai fell out without a qualm. They’d already interrogated him two or three times. To them, interrogation meant nothing worse than asking questions. They knew about torture, but the idea appalled them. There were times when Anielewicz savored the irony of that. They hadn’t even questioned him particularly hard. To them, he was just another Big Ugly caught with a rifle in his hands.
He started to sweat as soon as he went into the wooden shed the Lizards used for their camp headquarters. That had nothing to do with fear; the Lizards heated their buildings to their own comfort level, which felt to him like the Sahara.
“You, Shmuel, you go to room two on the left,” one of his guards said in execrable Yiddish.
Mordechai obediently went to room two. Inside, he found a Lizard with medium-fancy body paint and a human interpreter. He’d expected as much. Few Lizards were fluent enough in any human language to be efficient questioners. What he hadn’t expected was that he’d recognize the interpreter.
The fellow’s name was Jakub Kipnis. He had a gift for languages; he’d been translating for the Lizards in Warsaw, and he got on better with them than most people did.
He recognized Mordechai, too, in spite of the curly beard he’d grown and his general air of seediness. “Hullo, Anielewicz,” he said. “I never thought I’d see you here.” Mordechai didn’t like the look on Kipnis’ thin pale face. Some of the men the Germans had set up as puppet rulers of the Warsaw ghetto had fawned on their Nazi masters. Some of the Lizards’ helpers were all too likely to fawn on them, too.
The Lizard sitting next to Kipnis spoke irritably in his own language. Anielewicz understood enough to know he’d asked the interpreter why he’d called the prisoner by the wrong name. “This is the male Shmuel, is it not?”
Mordechai figured he could safely show he’d heard his own name. “Yes, Shmuel, that’s me,” he said, touching the brim of his cloth cap and doing his best to leave the impression that he was an idiot.
“Superior sir, this male is now calling himself Shmuel,” Jakub Kipnis said. Mordechai had less trouble following him than he’d had understanding the Lizard; Kipnis spoke more slowly, thinking between words. “In Warsaw, this male was known as Mordechai Anielewicz.”
Flee? Utterly futile. Even if the Lizard guard behind him didn’t cut him down, how could he break out of the prison camp? The answer was simple: he couldn’t. “You are Anielewicz?” he asked, pointing to Kipnis. The most he could hope to do now was confuse the issue.
“No, you liar, you are,” the interpreter said angrily.
The Lizard made noises like a steam shovel with a bad engine. He and Jakub Kipnis went back and forth, now mostly too fast for Mordechai to keep up with them. The Lizard said, “If this is Anielewicz, they will want him back in Warsaw. He has much to answer for.” Anielewicz shook his head. If he had to understand two sentences, why those two?
“Superior sir, it is Anielewicz,” Kipnis insisted, slowing down a little. “Send him to Warsaw. The governor there will know him.” He stopped in consternation. “No-Zolraag has been replaced. His aides will know this male, though.”
“It may be so,” the Lizard said. “Some of us are learning to tell one Big Ugly from another.” By his tone, he didn’t find that an accomplishment worth bragging about. He turned his eyes to the guard behind Anielewicz. “Take this male to the prison cells for close confinement until he is transported to Warsaw.”
“It shall be done,” the Lizard said in his own language. Gesturing with his rifle barrel, he dropped into Yiddish: “Come along, you.”
Mordechai sent Jakub Kipnis a venomous glance. Since he was still claiming to be Shmuel the partisan, that was all he could do. He wanted to give the
“Come along, you,” the Lizard guard repeated. Helplessly, Anielewicz stepped out into the corridor ahead of him. The Lizard interrogator said something to the guard, who paused in the doorway to listen.
The world blew up.
That was Anielewicz’s first confused thought, anyhow. He’d been under aerial bombardment before, in Warsaw from the Nazis and then from the Lizards. One moment Mordechai was glumly heading toward prison-and probably toward much worse trouble than that. The next, he was hurled against the far wall of the hallway while ceiling timbers groaned and shifted and tore away from one another to let him see streaks of gray-blue sky.
He staggered to his feet. A meter or two behind him, the Lizard guard was down, hissing piteously. The window in the interrogator’s office had blown in, skewering him with shards of shattered glass like shrapnel. His automatic rifle lay forgotten beside him.
Head still ringing, Anielewicz snatched it up. He fired a short burst into the Lizard’s head, then looked into the office where he’d been grilled. The Lizard interrogator in there was down, too, and wouldn’t get up again; flying glass had flensed him.
By the chance of war, Jakub Kipnis was not badly hurt. He saw Mordechai, saw the Lizard rifle, and made a ghastly attempt at a smile. “The German flying bomb-” he began. Mordechai cut him down with another short burst, then made sure of him with a shot behind the ear.
That took care of the two Lizards and the man who’d known Anielewicz was Anielewicz. Behind him, an alarm began to ring. He thought it had to do with him till he smelled smoke-the building was afire. He set down the rifle, scrambled out of the now glassless window (actually, almost glassless; a sharp shard sliced his hand), and dropped to the ground. With any luck at all, no one would know he’d been in there, let alone that he’d been found out.
Not far away, smoke still rose from an enormous crater. “Must have been a tonne, at least,” muttered Mordechai, who had more experience gauging bomb craters than he’d ever wanted to acquire. At the edge of the crater lay the wreckage of the flying bomb’s rear fuselage.
He spared that barely a glance. The rocket or whatever it was had done more than wreck the prison camp’s administrative building. It had blown up in the middle of the yard. Broken men, and pieces of men, lay all around. Groans and shrieks in several languages rose into the sky. Some men, those nearest the crater and those who’d been unlucky enough to stop a chunk of the fuselage, would never groan or shriek or cry again.
As he trotted over to do what he could for the wounded, Anielewicz wondered whether the Nazis’ aim with their rocket had been that bad or that good. If they’d intended to drop it in the middle of the prison camp, they couldn’t have done a better job. But why would they want to do that, when so many of the men held here were Germans? But if they intended to hit anyplace else-the town of Piotrkow, say-then they might as well have been playing blind man’s bluff.
He bent over a man who wouldn’t live long. The fellow stared up at him. “Bless me, Father, for I have sinned,” he said in a choking voice. Blood poured from his nose and mouth.
Mordechai knew what last rites were, but not how to give them. It didn’t matter; the Pole died before he could do anything. Anielewicz looked around for someone he actually had some hope of helping.
Men started running toward the northern edge of the camp. Looking around, Anielewicz saw why: the flying bomb had landed almost directly on top of a Lizard guard tower and had blown a great hole in the razor wire that confined the prisoners. Moreover, fragments from it had played havoc with the towers to either side. One was on fire, the other knocked off its legs.
Anielewicz started running, too. He’d never have a better chance to escape. The Lizards opened fire from more distant guard towers, but they hadn’t figured on losing three at once. Some men went down. More scrambled into the crater the rocket had made and out the other side to freedom.
As with the first flying bomb that had fallen in the camp, this one left part of its carcass behind by the crater. Some of the metal skin had peeled off, including the pieces that had almost mashed him. He’d been an engineering student before the war, and peered curiously at tanks-fuel tanks? — wrapped in glass wool, and at as much clockwork and piping as he’d ever seen all in one place. He wished he could take a longer, closer look, but getting away was more important.
Bullets rattled off the flying bomb, then went elsewhere in search of more prey. Mordechai ran. The bullets came back, kicking up dirt around his feet. He rolled on the ground and thrashed wildly, in the hope of convincing the Lizard gunner he’d been hit. When the bullets stopped playing around him again, he got up and ran some more.
“Sneaky bastard!” someone shouted from behind him in German. His head whipped around. He might have known Friedrich would get out while the getting was good.
Ahead, the fleeing men fanned out broadly, some making for the brush a few hundred meters away, others pelting up the road toward Piotrkow, still others heading east or west across the fields toward farmhouses where they might find shelter.
Friedrich slogged up even with him. “Damned if I don’t think we’re going to get away with this,” he bawled.
“What’s that mean?” the big German asked.
“Something like, don’t tempt fate by saying anything too good.” Friedrich grunted and nodded. Most of the bullets were behind them now. The Lizards seemed to have given up on the prisoners who’d escaped fastest, and were concentrating on keeping any more men from getting out through the hole the flying bomb had blown in the wire.
Friedrich swerved to put some of the brush between him and the prison camp. Panting, he slowed to a fast walk. So did Anielewicz. “Well, Shmuel, you damned Jew, it’s just the two of us now,” Friedrich said.
“So it is, you stinking Nazi,” Mordechai answered. They grinned at each other, but cautiously. Each of them sounded as if he were making a joke, but Anielewicz knew he’d meant what he said, and had a pretty good notion Friedrich had been kidding on the square, too.
“What do we do now?” Friedrich asked. “Besides keep moving, I mean.”
“That comes first,” Anielewicz said. “We ought to try to get far enough away so they can’t track us with dogs, or whatever they use. Afterwards… maybe we can hook on with a local guerrilla band and keep on making life interesting for the Lizards. Or maybe not. This part of Poland is pretty much
Now Anielewicz didn’t sound like a man who was joking. Friedrich said, “Yeah, well, I can tell you stories about that, too.”
“I’ll bet you can,” Mordechai said. “Save ’em, or we’ll be trying to kill each other, and that would just make the Lizards laugh. Besides, the Poles around here may not like Jews-”
“They don’t,” Friedrich said with a grim certainty Anielewicz didn’t want to explore.
Mordechai went on, “-but they don’t like Germans, either.” Friedrich scowled, but didn’t interrupt. Anielewicz finished, “Best bet, as far as I can see, is heading up to Lodz. It’s a good-sized city; strangers won’t stick out the way they would in Piotrkow. And it still has a good many Jews left.”
“As if I should care about that.” Friedrich snorted, then sobered. “Or maybe I should-you Jew bastards have had practice with an underground, haven’t you?”
“You Nazi bastards made us practice with one,” Anielewicz said. “So-Lodz?”
“Lodz,” Friedrich agreed.
Cabbage, black bread, potatoes. For variety, turnips or beets. Heinrich Jager wished he were back at the front, if for no other reason than the tinfoil tubes of meat and butter front-line soldiers got. You didn’t starve to death on cabbage, black bread, and potatoes, but after a while you started to wish you would. No matter how important the work he was part of, life in Germany these days felt cold and gray and dull.
He speared the last piece of potato, chased the last bit of sauerkraut around his plate, soaked up the last juices from the sauerkraut with his bread-which, he had to admit, was better than the really horrid stuff the bakers had turned out in 1917. That still didn’t make it good.
He got to his feet, handed the plate and silverware to a kitchen worker who took them with a word of thanks, and started out of the refectory. Opening the door, he almost ran into a tall man in a black SS dress uniform gaudy with silver trim.
The SS colonel folded him into a bearhug. “Jager, you miserable son of a bitch, how the hell are you?” he boomed. A couple of physicists who had been eating in the refectory with Jager stared in disbelief and dismay at the raucous apparition invading their quiet little corner of the world.
Life might remain cold and gray, but it wouldn’t be dull any more. “Hullo, Skorzeny,” he said. “How goes with you?” Life might abruptly end around
The scar that furrowed the SS man’s left cheek pulled half his grin up into a fearsome grimace. “Still going strong,” he said.
“As if you knew any other way to go,” Jager replied.
Skorzeny laughed, as if that had been some sort of clever observation rather than simple truth. “You know someplace where we can talk quietly?” he asked.
“You don’t have any idea how to talk quietly,” Jager said, and Skorzeny laughed again. “Come on, I’ll take you to my quarters.”
“I’d need a trail of bread crumbs just to find my way around this place,” Skorzeny grumbled as Jager led him through the medieval maze of Schloss Hohentubingen. Once in Jager’s room, he threw himself into a chair with such abandon that Jager marveled when it didn’t collapse under him.
“All right, how do you want to try to get me killed now?” Jager asked.
“I’ve come up with a way, never you fear,” the SS man said airily.
“Why does this not surprise me?”
“Because you’re not a fool,” Skorzeny answered. “Believe me, I have come to know fools in all their awesome variety these past few years. Some of them wear uniforms and think they’re soldiers. Not you-so much I give you.”
“And for so much I thank you,” Jager said. He remained unsure whether Skorzeny qualified as a fool in uniform, even after most of a year’s acquaintance. The man took chances that looked insane, but he’d brought off most of them. Did that make him lucky or good? His string of successes was long enough for Jager to give him some benefit of the doubt. “How are you going to twist the Lizards’ stumpy little tails this time?”
“Not their tails, Jager-the other end.” Skorzeny gave that grin again. Perhaps he intended it as disarming; no matter how he intended it, the scar twisted it into something piratical. “You’ve heard that the English have started using mustard gas against the Lizards?”
“Yes, I’ve heard that.” Jager’s stomach did a slow lurch. He’d spent hours sealed into a stifling gas mask during the First World War. He also remembered comrades who hadn’t got their masks on and sealed in time. His mouth curled down. “I don’t blame them, not really, but it’s an ugly business. And why did they have that gas ready, d’you think? — to use against us when we got over the Channel, unless I miss my guess.”
“Probably.” Skorzeny waved a dismissive hand. He didn’t care about why; what and how were all that mattered to him. He added, “Don’t get up on your high horse, either. If the English had tried gassing us, we’d have shown them mustard gas is a long way from the nastiest thing around. We do things better these days than they did in the last war.”
“No doubt.” Skorzeny sounded very certain. Jager wondered how he knew, how much he knew, and how the new gases, whatever they were, had been tested-and on whom. Asking such questions was dangerous. To Jager’s mind, so was
Skorzeny went on, “We didn’t use gas against the Lizards for the same reason we didn’t use gas against the English: for fear of getting it back in turn. Even if we have better, being on the receiving end of mustard gas wouldn’t have been any fun.”
“You’re right about that,” Jager said wholeheartedly.
“With the Lizards on their island, though, the English stopped worrying about things like that.” Skorzeny chuckled. “What’s the old saying? ‘Nothing concentrates the mind like the prospect of being hanged tomorrow’? Something like that, anyhow. The English must have figured that if they were going down, they wouldn’t go down with any bullets left in the gun. And do you know what, Jager? The Lizards must not have used gas in their own wars, because they don’t have any decent defenses against it.”
“Ah,” Jager said. “So someone has found an Achilles’ heel for them at last, eh?” He had a sudden vision of sweeping the Lizards off the Earth, though he had no idea how much gas it would take to do that, or how many-or how few-people would be left alive after it was done.
“A weak place, anyway,” Skorzeny said. “But they aren’t stupid, any more than the Russians are. Do something to them and they’ll try to figure out how to stop you. They don’t have many masks of their own-maybe they don’t have any; nobody’s sure about that-but they’re sure to have captured English samples by now, and they do have collaborators. There’s a factory in the south of France that’s gearing up to turn out gas masks to fit snouty Lizard faces.”
“A light begins to dawn,” Jager said. “You want something dreadful to happen to this factory.”
“Give the man a cigar!” Skorzeny exclaimed, and from an inner pocket of his tunic he produced a veritable cigar, which he handed to Jager with a flourish. Jager seized it with no less alacrity than he would have accepted the Holy Grail. Now Skorzeny’s grin, though lopsided, seemed genuinely amused. “I know just what I want to happen to the building, too.”
“Do you?” Jager said. “How does it involve me?”
“Think of it as-poetic justice,” Skorzeny answered.
One of Rance Auerbach’s troopers kept singing “Lydia the Tattooed Lady” over and over again. Auerbach was damn sick of the song. He wanted to tell the cavalryman to shut up, but couldn’t make himself do it. You dumped your worries however you could when you headed into a fight.
And Lydia, Kansas, was where two companies of cavalry were supposed to be going: a tiny, nowhere town on Kansas State Highway 25,a two-lane stretch of nowhere blacktop that paralleled US 83’s north-south path through Kansas a few miles to the west of the federal road, but that petered out well before it reached the Nebraska state line.
Lieutenant Bill Magruder said, “The damned Lizards should have moved into Lydia by now.”
“They’d better have moved into Lydia by now,” Auerbach answered feelingly. “If they haven’t, a lot of us are going to end up dead.” He shook his head. “A lot of us are going to end up dead any which way. Riding horses against the Lizards isn’t your basic low-risk business.”
“Radio traces have been telling ’em right where we’re at ever since we set out from Lamar,” Magruder said with a tight grin. “They should know we’re gettin’ ready to hit Lydia with everything we’ve got.”
“They should, yeah.” Auerbach’s smile was tight, too. The Lizards loved their gadgets, and believed in what those gadgets told them. If they intercepted radio signals that said two companies were heading toward Lydia to try to take it away from them, they’d take that seriously-and be waiting to greet the Americans when they arrived.
But it wasn’t two companies heading toward Lydia: it was just Auerbach’s radioman and half a dozen buddies, plus a lot of horses lashed together and carrying cloth dummies in the saddle. They never would have fooled anybody from the ground, but from the air they looked pretty good. The Lizards used aerial recon the same way they used radio intercepts. If you fed ’em what they already thought they were seeing or hearing, you could fool ’em. They went to Lydia-and you went to Lakin.
Thinking about carrier pigeons and nineteenth- versus twentieth-century warfare had given Auerbach the idea. He’d sold it to Colonel Nordenskold. Now it was his to execute… and if he’d guessed wrong about how the Lizards’ minds worked, they’d do some serious executing of their own.
He held up a leather-gauntleted hand to halt his command when they came to a tall stand of cottonwoods along the banks of the Arkansas River. “We’ll hold horses here,” he ordered. “We’re a little farther out than usual, I know, but we’ve got more horses along, too, since this is a two-company raid. We won’t find better cover for concealing them any closer to town. Mortar crews, machine gunners, and you boys with the bazooka, you’ll bring your animals forward. If we’re lucky, you can use ’em to haul the weapons out when we pull back.”
“If we’re real lucky, we’ll hold the place a while,” Lieutenant Magruder said quietly. Auerbach nodded, grateful the Virginian didn’t trumpet that thought. If everything went perfectly, they might push the Lizard-human frontier a few miles back toward the distant Mississippi and make the push stick. But how often did things go perfectly in war?
He swung himself down from his own horse, tossing the reins to one of the troopers who was staying behind. Only about twenty or twenty-five men would hold horses today; the cottonwoods’ trunks and low branches made convenient tethering points for the animals. He wanted to get as many soldiers into the fight as he could.
The troopers and the packhorses carrying what passed for their heavy firepower spread out into a broad skirmish line as they advanced on Lakin. Some of the sweat that darkened the armpits of Auerbach’s olive-drab tunic had to do with the weather and the hike. Some came from worry-or rather, fear. If the Lizards hadn’t taken the bait and reinforced Lydia at Lakin’s expense, a lot of good young men weren’t going to make it home to Lamar.
From way off to the left of the advancing skirmish line came a loud, flat
The Lizards inside Lakin hadn’t been asleep at the switch, either. As soon as that mine went off, a siren in town began to wail. The Kearny County consolidated high school looked like hell from the last time the cavalry had come to call, but the Lizards were still using it for their base. Off in the distance, Auerbach saw little skittering shapes heading for cover. He bit down hard on the inside of his lower lip. He’d counted on being able to get closer to town before his plan started going to pot.
But what you counted on in war and what you got weren’t always the same critter. Sometimes they weren’t even the same kind of critter. A machine gun started chattering in one of the battered high school buildings. Auerbach threw himself flat amid dark green beet tops. He pounded a fist into the dirt. Cries here and there said his command was taking casualties. If they spent the next hour crawling toward Lakin on their bellies, the Lizards would be able to bring back whatever forces they’d moved up to Lydia.
“Tell Schuyler’s mortar crew to take out that machine gun!” he shouted. The man to his left passed on the message. No radios here-they were all part of the simulated attack on Lydia. Now for the first time Auerbach missed them desperately. He shrugged. His great-grandfathers’ C.O.’s had managed to run battles under conditions like these, so he figured he could do it, too, if he had to.
And he had some pretty good people playing on his team, as had those officers in Confederate gray. Long before any order could have reached him, Schuyler-or maybe one of the other mortar men-opened up with his stovepipe. A bomb fell behind the place from which the machine gun was sending forth its firefly flashes, then another in front. The third bomb was long again, but by less than half as much as the first. The fourth was a hit. The machine gun fell silent.
Cheers rolled up and down the skirmish line. But when some of the troopers got up and started to run toward town, the machine gun began its hateful stutter once more. The mortar went
Auerbach let out a Rebel yell as he advanced. Quite a few of his men echoed him; cavalry units drew a disproportionate number of Southerners. Some of the Lizards in the consolidated high school opened up with their automatic rifles. Those were bad, but didn’t have the reach or sustained firepower of the machine gun.
Mortar bombs began stalking the rifle positions, one by one. Some were silenced, some weren’t. At worst, though, not a whole lot of Lizards were shooting at the cavalrymen.
Auerbach’s confidence rose. “Boys, I think most of ’em have gone off to visit up in Lydia,” he yelled. That brought fresh cheers and more Rebel yells. Getting through the razor wire around the high school wasn’t going to be any fun, but once they managed it-
Manage they did. The Lizards lacked the defenders to prevent it. They shot a couple of men attacking the wire with cutters, but others kept up such a heavy stream of fire on their positions that they probably lost as many fighters as they wounded.
Once through the barriers, the Americans fanned out and went Lizard hunting. “Always wanted to do this to my old high school,” one trooper said, chucking a grenade into a likely looking doorway. No Lizard came out. Ever so cautiously, Auerbach peered into the room. Desks and tables were randomly scattered over the dirty floor, some of them overturned. Dust and cobwebs covered the blackboard, but he could still read the social studies lesson some teacher had chalked there the day before the world changed forever. The corners of his mouth turned down. Whatever the kids had learned in that lesson, it wasn’t helping them now.
The snarl of a Lizard automatic rifle said the fighting wasn’t done yet. Auerbach hurried toward the sound of the shooting. The Lizard was holed up in what had been a girls’ bathroom. “Surrender!” he shouted to it. Then he made a noise that reminded him of bread popping out of an electric toaster. That was supposed to mean the same thing in Lizard talk.
He didn’t think it would do any good. But then the door to the rest room opened. The Lizard slid out its rifle. “Hold fire!” Auerbach called to his men. He made the popping-toast noise again. The door opened wider. The Lizard came out. He knew enough to stand there with his hands high. All he was wearing was body paint; he’d left his equipment behind in the john. He repeated the Lizard word Auerbach had repeated, so it probably did mean
“Hagerman! Calhoun! Take charge of him,” Auerbach said. “They really want Lizard POWs; we’ll get a pat on the fanny for bringing him in, if we can do it.”
Max Hagerman gave the Lizard a dubious look. “How we gonna keep him on a horse all the way back to Lamar, sir?”
“Damned if I know, but I expect you’ll figure something out,” Auerbach said cheerfully, which meant Hagerman was stuck with it. Turning to Jack Calhoun, the captain went on, “Go in there and gather up his gear. The intelligence staff’ll want that, too.” The cavalryman assumed a dubious expression, too, his on account of theGIRLS sign on the battered door. “Go on,” Auerbach told him. “They aren’t in there now.”
“Yeah, that’s right,” Calhoun said, as if reminding himself.
That seemed to be the last combat inside the school grounds. Auerbach hurried to the northern edge of the school. The mortar teams and the.50-caliber machine-gun crew were already digging themselves in. “You boys don’t need me,” Auerbach said. “You could run this show by yourselves.”
The troopers just grinned and went on setting up. The mortar teams began lobbing bombs up Highway
“That’s how we set it up,” Auerbach agreed. “Now we find out if we’re as smart as we think we are.” If the Lizards sent a tank or two west from Garden City, instead of bringing the garrison back from Lydia to Lakin, his men were in big trouble. Sure, they’d packed the bazooka launcher and a dozen or so rounds for it, but you needed to be lucky to take out a Lizard tank with a bazooka, and you didn’t need to be lucky to smash up some cavalrymen with a tank.
One of his troopers let out a yell and pointed north. Auerbach took his field glasses out of their case. The little specks on the road swelled into one of the Lizards’ armored personnel carriers and a couple of trucks. They were southbound, coming fast.
“Get ready, boys,” he said, stowing the binoculars again. “That APC is gonna be tough.” A Lizard APC could give a Lee tank a tough fight. A bazooka would make it say uncle, though.
He shouted for more troopers to come up and find cover in the buildings and ruins of the school. For once the Lizards were doing the dirty work, attacking Americans in a fortified position. Outside of Chicago, that didn’t happen often enough.
The sergeant dropped a finned bomb down the tube of his mortar.
The trucks and the APC came on harder than ever, into the next mortar’s zone. That crew was already firing. Screams of delight rose from the Americans when a bomb landed on top of a truck. The truck slewed sideways, flipped over, and started to burn. Lizards spilled out of it. Some lay on the roadway. Others skittered for cover. The.50-caliber machine gun opened up on them, and on the other truck.
The APC had a heavy machine gun, too, or a light cannon. Whatever it was, it put a lot of rounds in the air, and in a hurry. Auerbach threw himself flat behind what had been a wall and was now a substantial pile of rubble. With the Lizards’ gun chewing at it, he hoped it was substantial enough.
He swore when the. 50 fell silent. The mortar teams were shooting up and over cover, but the machine gunners had to be more exposed, and their weapon’s muzzle flash gave the Lizards a dandy target. The Americans needed that gun. Auerbach crawled toward it on his belly. As he’d feared, he found both gunners down, one with the top of his head blown off, the other moaning with a shoulder wound. He quickly helped bandage the wounded man, then peered out over the long gun’s sights.
Fire spurted from the second truck. It stopped but didn’t roll onto its side. Lizards bailed out into the fields on either side of Highway 25. Auerbach fired at them. He came to the end of a belt and bent to fasten on another one from the ammunition box.
“I’ll take care of that, sir,” a trooper said. “I’ve done it with a.30-caliber weapon often enough. This here one’s just bigger, looks like.”
“That’s about right,” Auerbach agreed. He squeezed the triggers. The heavy machine gun felt like a jackhammer in his hands, and made a racket like a dozen jackhammers all going flat out. Even with the flash hider at the end of the muzzle, he blinked against the spearhead of flame that spat from the barrel. A stream of hot brass cartridge cases, each as big as his thumb, spewed from the breech and clattered down onto the growing pile at his feet.
He swore again when the APC’s weapon, which had gone on to other targets after wrecking the machine-gun crew, now swung back his way. “Get down!” he yelled to the corporal feeding him ammo. Bullets slammed into the wreckage all around him. Flying concrete chips bit into the back of his neck.
All at once, the shells stopped coming. Auerbach looked up, wondering if a sniper was waiting to put one through his head. But no-smoke poured from the APC. A mortar bomb had pierced the armor over the engine compartment. With the enemy machine dead in the water, all the mortar teams poured fire on it. In seconds, another bomb tore through the roof. The APC went up in a Fourth of July display of exploding ammunition.
A few Lizards out in the field kept up a rattle of small-arms fire. Next to what had been going on, it was Easy Street now. The mortar teams and Auerbach on the.50-caliber shot back whenever they found decent targets. The Lizards couldn’t hit back, not at long range.
“We beat ’em.” Lieutenant Magruder sounded as if he couldn’t believe it.
Auerbach didn’t blame him; he was having trouble believing it himself. “Yeah, we did,” he said. “We’ll send a pigeon back to Lamar, let ’em know we did it. And we’ll send back our prisoner with a guard. Otherwise, though, we’ll bring the horses forward into town.”
“Yes, sir,” Magruder said. “You aim to stay in Lakin, then?”
“Till I get orders otherwise or till the Lizards come up from Garden City and run me out, you bet I do,” Auerbach answered. “Why the hell not? I won it, and by God I’m going to keep it.”
Leslie Groves stared at the telephone in disbelief, as if it were a snake that had just bitten him. “I’m sorry, General,” the voice on the other end said, “but I don’t see how we’re going to be able to get those tubes and explosives and detonator wiring to you.”
“Then you’d better look harder, Mister,” Groves growled. “You’re in Minneapolis, right? You still have a working railroad, for God’s sake. Get ’em across the Dakotas or up through Canada; our track north by way of Fort Greeley is still open most of the time. You get moving, do you hear me?”
The fellow from Minneapolis-Porlock, that’s what his name was-said, “I don’t know whether we’ll be able to make that shipment. I’m aware your priority is extremely high, but the losses we’ve suffered on rail shipments make me hesitate to take the risk. Transporting the goods by wagon would be much more secure.” His voice trailed away in a sort of a peevish whine.
“Fine. Send us a set by wagon,” Groves said.
“Oh, I’m so glad you see my difficulty,” Porlock said, now in tones full of bureaucratic relief.
Porlock, Groves reflected, should have been named Morlock, after one of the subterranean creatures in
Snarling, Groves said, “I wasn’t done yet, Porlock. God damn it to hell, sir, if I tell you I want your breakfast fried eggs and toast chucked into a fighter plane and flown out here, they’d better still be hot when I meet ’em at the airport.
Porlock had tried to interrupt him a couple of times, but Groves used his loud, gravelly voice the same way he used his wide, heavy body: to bulldoze his way ahead. Now, when he paused for breath, Porlock said, “There are more projects than yours these days, General. Poison gas has had its priority increased to-”
“Three levels below ours,” Groves broke in. When he felt like interrupting, he damn well interrupted. “Poison gas is a sideshow, Mister. The Lizards’ll figure out proper masks sooner or later, and they’ll figure out how to make gas of their own, too. If they don’t manage it by themselves, you can bet your bottom dollar some helpful frog or wop’ll give ’em a hand. The thing we’re working on here, though”-he wouldn’t call it a bomb, not over the telephone; you never could tell who might be listening-“the only way to defend against that is to be somewhere else when it goes off.”
“Rail travel isn’t safe or secure,” Porlock protested.
“Mister, in case you haven’t noticed, there’s a war on. Not one damned thing in the United States is safe or secure these days. Now I need what I need, and I need it when I need it. Are you going to send it to me my way, or not?” Groves made the question into a threat:
“Well, yes, but-”
“All right, then,” Groves said, and hung up. He glared at the phone after it was back on the hook. Sometimes the people on his own side were worse enemies than the Lizards. No matter that the United States had been at war for more than a year and a half, no matter that the Lizards had been on American soil for more than a year. Some people still didn’t get the idea that if you didn’t take occasional risks-or not so occasional risks-now, you’d never get the chance to take them later. He snorted, a full-throated noise of contempt. For all the initiative some people showed, they might as well have been Lizards themselves.
He snorted again. Nobody would ever accuse him of failing through lack of initiative. Through rushing ahead too fast, maybe, but never through hanging back.
He had a picture of his wife on his desk. He didn’t look at it as often as he should, because when he did, he remembered how much he missed her. That made him inefficient, and he couldn’t afford inefficiency, not now.
Thinking of his own wife made him think of what had happened to Jens Larssen. The guy had caught a bunch of bad breaks, no doubt about that. Having your wife take up with another man was tough. But Larssen had let it drive him-oh, not round the bend, but to a nasty place, a place where people didn’t want to work with him any more. He’d had real talent, but he’d given up on the team and he wasn’t quite brilliant enough to be an asset as a lone-wolf theorist. Sending him out had been a good notion. Groves hoped he’d come back better for it.
“Hanford,” Groves muttered discontentedly. It had seemed a great idea at the time. The Columbia was about as ideal a cooling source for an atomic pile as you could imagine, and eastern Washington a good long way away from any Lizards.
But things had changed since Larssen got on his trusty bicycle and pedaled out of Denver. The project was running smoothly here now, with plutonium coming off the piles gram after gram, and with a third pile just starting construction.
Not only that, Groves had his doubts about being able to start up a major industrial development in a sleepy hamlet like Hanford without having the Lizards notice and wonder what was going on. Those doubts had grown more urgent since Tokyo vanished in a flash of light and an immense pillar of dust, and since Cordell Hull brought back word that the Lizards would treat any American nuclear research facility the same way if they found it.
Just because Hanford was such a good site for a pile, Groves feared the Lizards would suspect any new work there was exactly what it really was. If they did, it would cease to exist moments later, and so would the hamlet of Hanford. Of course, if they got suspicious about Denver, the same thing would happen there-and Denver had a lot more people in it than Hanford did. Most of them-Groves devoutly hoped-knew nothing whatever about the atomic bombs being spawned here. They were hostages to the secret’s being kept, just the same.
They were also camouflage. The Lizards flew over Denver a good deal, and bombed the plants that turned out tires and bricks and mining equipment and furniture (some of the latter plants were making wooden aircraft parts these days instead). The United States needed everything the factories produced. All the same, Groves didn’t too much mind seeing them bombed. As long as the Lizards hit them, they weren’t hitting anything of greater importance. And here, unlike in Hanford, new industrial facilities could go up without being reckoned anything out of the ordinary.
Even if Larssen did come back with the news that Hanford could be the earthly paradise for atomic research, Groves figured the Metallurgical Laboratory would stay here, east of Eden. Packing up and moving would be tough, doing it secretly would be tougher, and keeping things in Washington State secret would be toughest of all. Accepting Denver’s drawbacks and exploiting its advantages seemed a better bet.
“That’ll tick Larssen off, too,” Groves muttered under his breath. If Larssen came back from risking his neck for project and country with a recommendation to go yonder, he wouldn’t be dancing with glee when he found out they’d decided to stay hither no matter what. “Too damn bad,” Groves told the ceiling. “If he doesn’t like it, he can go back to Hanford by his lonesome.”
He turned to the report he’d been studying when that idiot Porlock called. Keeping the atomic piles cool as they cooked plutonium took a lot of water from Cherry Creek and the South Platte. Separating the plutonium from the uranium took chemical reactions that used more water. Every bit of that water, by the time it finished doing its job, ended up radioactive. A radioactive trail in the South Platte leading back to Denver might as well have been a sign to the Lizards, saying AIM HERE.
Heavy-duty filters sucked as much radioactive goop out of the water as they could. They did a good job; Geiger counters downstream from the University of Denver were pretty quiet. But that didn’t end the problem. The glass wool and diatomaceous earth and other goodies in the filter (the report had a long list) grew radioactive themselves after a while. When they got cleaned out and replaced, they had to go somewhere. To keep the Lizards from detecting them, “somewhere” meant lead-lined tubs and trash cans.
The major who’d written the report was complaining that he had trouble getting enough lead sheeting to line the tubs and cans. Groves scribbled a note in the margin:
If he had to requisition lead from outside of town, God only knew how long it would take to get here. If he stayed local, he could control the whole process of getting it from start to finish. All at once, he understood how old-time feudal barons, living off the produce and manufactures of their own estates, must have felt.
He smiled. “Lucky bastards,” he said.