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UNDER THE YOKE

by S.M. Stirling   <joatsimeon@aol.com>


Chapter Two

 

... to defeat an enemy, we must understand him. National myths—and their modem equivalent, propaganda—are perhaps inevitable, certainly useful, but they must not be allowed to blind us to objective reality. Take, for example, the belief, common even among some historians, that the Loyalist refugees who settled the then Crown Colony of Drakia in the 1780's had a secret master plan of world conquest already set out. and that a hidden cabal of Draka aristocrats has been implementing it ever since. Nonsense: a transference to the past of present patterns, as ridiculous as a historical novel showing an 18th-century Englishwoman deliberately seeking a suntan. What is the reality? As usual, a process of cultural evolution that combined blind chance with conscious decisions—many of those falling victim to the Law of Unintended Consequences.

The leaders of the proto-Draka were migrants from the slave societies of the Caribbean and the American South; but their subjects were not the uprooted, demoralized fragments delivered by the slavers of the Middle Passage. Little is known of the pre-conquest cultures of Africathe Draka shattered them too thoroughly—but the evidence suggests strong, militarily formidable peoples. Breaking them, and keeping them broken, produced an overwhelmingly warlike culture with a built-in bias towards expansion; the ideologues and philosophers. Carlyle. Gobineau. Nietzsche. Naldorssen. merely produced an ideology for a society eager to cast off the increasingly alien ethos of liberal rationalism. The Orate aristocracy needed a world-view and belief system which would make them comfortable with what they were, and ordinary social evolution produced it. Such developments cannot be forced: they must spring organically from the human environment. The failed attempt in the 1890's to revive Nordic paganism is an example, producing nothing but a new type of Draka profanity. But the belief system that did arise among the lords of the Domination then took on a life of its own, becoming cause as well as effect...

The Mind of the Draka: a Military-Cultural Analysis
Monograph delivered by Commodore Aguilar Emaldo,
US. Naval War College. Manila.
11th Alliance Strategic Studies Conference
Subic Bay.

DRAKA FORCES BASE NORDKAPPEN
JUNE 12, 1947
0200 HOURS

 

It was very quiet in the screen room of the electro-detection center, quiet, and dark. There was the underlying whir of the fans, click and hum of relays, a low murmur now and then from one of the operators or floor-officers. Most of the stations in the long bunker were switched off and under dust-covers, and the projac map on the north wall was dimmed. The air smelled of tobacco and green concrete and stale coffee and heating-duct, a tired night-watch odor. The controllers bent over the faint green glow of their screens, faces corpse-sallow in the cathode-tube light, insectile beneath headsets and eye-filters, motionless except for minute adjustments to the instruments; they were in Citizen Force undress uniform, black trousers and boots and dove-gray short-sleeved shirts.

Operator-first Dickson Milhouse leaned back and stretched, sighed and waved his cup in the air to attract the attention of the serf with the refreshment cart; the pedestal chair creaked as he yawned. Nightwatch sent you to sleep with sheer boredom, and when you came right down to it there was nothing very complicated about holding down a screen. Work for the Auxiliaries, really, except that it still had the cachet of high technology and novelty and so was reserved for Citizen personnel.

He rubbed his eyes. Nordkappen Base outside was just as boring. Morale Section tried hard, films and sports and amateur theatricals, and there was always the bordello, but there was just nothing to do here at the northern tip of what had once been Norway; they all had assault-rifles clipped to the top rails of the workstations, but that was merely War Zone regulations. There was still guerrilla activity in much of the territory overrun during the Eurasian War, Europe, Russia, eastern China, but here there was no native population at all, since the Lapps were run out. No game animals to speak of, not by African standards; the long summer days were a novelty that soon wore off, and as for winter... he shuddered. The winters here were nothing someone born under the peaks of Mt. Kenia could have believed.

Oh, well, you can always sit on a rock and watch the construction work, he thought sourly. This was an important base, watching the shortest great-circle route connecting western Eurasia and North America, and tensions were already high between the Domination and the Yankee-run Alliance for Democracy. Dirigibles over the Pole, submarines under the ice—round the clock work here, everything from barracks and messhalls to industrial-size fuel cells and electrodetector towers; many of the installations were burn-before-reading secret.

His eyes fell back on the glowing green surface. He blinked, glanced away and back.

Equipment malfunction? No, too definite. Suddenly he was no longer tired, nor bored at all. His finger flicked a relay, and the amber light clicked on above his workstation.

"Let me see it." The floor-officer leaned over him, her fingers tapping the key-pad beside the screen. "Bring it up, two." A pause. "And again, two." Her thumb punched down on the red button. An alarm klaxon began to wail.

"Definitely a bogey," the floor-officer said.

Merarch Labushange grunted in reply, hitching at the uniform trousers that were all he had had time to don; sweat glistened in the tangled hair of his chest, amid several purple bite-marks. He was a short man for a Draka, ugly-handsome in the Mediterranean style, black curly hair, blue jowls, body the shape of a brick and thick arms and legs knotted with muscle.

"Estimate height and speed," he grunted, rubbing at red-rimmed eyes. The operator hid a smile behind a cough as he worked the calculator; the commander's new German wench was supposed to be costing him sleep... The results clicking up drove camp gossip from his mind.

"Estimate... estimate Mach 2.2 at 36,000 meters, Merarch."

There was a rustle from the other stations, a turning cut short by the floor-officer's glare. Silence, until the operator began another check of the console.

"Forget it," the Merarch said. "It's genuine."

"But sir, Mach 2?" the operator said, a cold feeling seeping up from his gut. The Domination had flown its first supersonic jet only a few months ago, and this was nearly half again as fast.

"The Fritz got manned rocket-planes to well over Mach 1, just before the end," the commander said absently, lost in thought. Of course, those had been one-off experiments, air-launched from bombers and not capable of more than a few minutes of powered flight, but... "The Yankees must have been workin' hard, produced a surprise. Afterwards they can claim it was a glitch in our equipment, or little green men from Mars." He grinned like a shark. "Trouble is, we have some surprises too, an' they can scarcely object to our usin' 'em, on somethin' that don't officially exist."

He glanced around the dim-lit room, and his smile widened. "Of course, it could be headed this way with an atomic..." He strode briskly to the commander's dais, sank into the chair and keyed the communicator.

"Alert, codes Timbuktoo, Asmara, Zebra. Get me—"

Echoing, thundering, the darkness of the B-30's cargo pod shook around Captain Fred Kustaa, toning through muscle and bone with subsonic disharmonies. He was strapped almost flat in the crash-couch, imprisoned in the pressure-suit and helmet, packed about with gel-filled bags to absorb the bruising punishment of the experimental craft's passage through the upper atmosphere. Outside the titanium-alloy skin would be glowing, the edges of the huge square ramjet intakes turning cherry-red as air compressed toward the density of steel.

It was the helpless feeling that was hardest to take, he decided, not the physical danger. He had been a combat soldier in the Pacific before he transferred to the OSS in '44, and God knew liaison work with the Draka in Europe in the last year of the War had been no picnic, but this...

Experimental, he thought. Everything's too fucking experimental for my taste. Donovan should have tried the submarines first. Hell, Murmansk wasn't more than a few weeks on foot through the forest to Finland, although it would be a bit difficult to carry the contents of the cargo pod on his back.

The aircraft lurched and banked, and his stomach surged again; he concentrated on dragging in another breath through the rubber-tasting facemask. Vomiting inside it would be highly unpleasant and possibly fatal. About as maneuverable as a locomotive, had been the test-pilot's words; too little was known about airflow at these speeds. Kustaa did not understand the B-30—he would not have been risked over enemy territory if he did—but even just looking at it from the outside was enough to know it was leading-edge work. It didn't even look like an airplane, it looked like a flattened dart pasted on top of two rectangular boxes...

"Merde." The pilot's voice, Emile Chretien; Kustaa recognized the thick Quebec-French accent. He spoke a little of the patois himself, there were plenty of habitants scattered among the Finnish-Americans of his home in the Upper Peninsula. "Electrodetection, high-powered scanners."

Kustaa winced. Well, that had been one reason for this mission, to find out for sure just how good the Domination's new Northern Lights Chain was. The dark pressed against his eyes, and he used it to paint maps; their course from the Greenland base, over the Arctic toward darkened Europe. His imagination refused to stop, and he saw more; saw the alert going out below, to bases in Sweden and Norway, alarm-klaxons ringing out over concrete and barracks, flight-suited pilots scrambling to their stations. The blue flare of jets lighting the predawn as the stubby delta shapes of the Draka Sharkclass fighters rolled onto the launch paths...

The B-30 was supposed to be immune to interception; the Domination had the physical plant of the German ramjet research projects, but the U.S. had managed to smuggle out most of the actual scientists and the crucial liquid-hydrogen results. The aircraft lurched again, shook as if the wings were going to peel away at the roots, stooped. One of the Pacific Aircraft researchers had said something about eventually flying right into outer space if they could lick the problem of combustion in a supersonic airstream; damned long-hairs had no sense of need-to-know, shouldn't have been talking like that in a canteen.

"Tabernac'! Another ray... guidance beam, something's coming up after us!"

Of course, he reminded himself, the U.S. hadn't gotten all the German scientists; some had stayed, captives or those who had taken the Domination's offer of Citizen status for themselves and their immediate families. And the Draka army's Technical Section had good ideas too, sometimes; it was propaganda that they stole all their inventions.

"Positive detection... fille d' un putain, three of them; not manned, not at those speeds. They're closing on us, they must be riding the beam. Hold on, Captain, I'm dropping chaff and taking evasive action."

You mean this battering about wasn't evasive action? Kustaa thought plaintively.

This was as bad as going down the tunnels after the Nips, back on Sumatra in '43, pushing the flamethrower ahead into the cramped mud-smelling blackness. Japanese, Captain, Japanese, he reminded himself. Part of the Alliance for Democracy now, they'd be associate signatories to the Rio Pact as soon as Halleck and the Army of Occupation got through restructuring... Couldn't call the little yellow bastards monkey-men anymore. His mind skipped, nerves jumping in obedience to a fight-flight reflex that was pumping him full of adrenaline. And all I can do is sweat, he thought wryly. He could feel it trickling down his flanks, smell the rankness and taste salt on his upper lip. Think, he commanded himself. You're not an animal driven by instinct, think.

Unmanned antiaircraft missiles, a typical Draka brute-force solution. Crude engines would be enough, if they were intended to burn out after a single use. The U.S.—he corrected himself mentally, the Alliance—didn't have guidance systems small and rugged enough for a missile like that, although they would soon—so the Domination wouldn't either; they were years behind in electronics. But they could put the tracking and electrodetection on the ground, just a passive receptor-steering system on the missile itself, that and a big simple two-stage drive and a warhead.

Christ have mercy, I hope it isn't an atomic, he thought. Probably not—they were still rare and mostly reserved for strategic use—but the Draka would be willing to explode one over a populated area. Populated by serfs, that is.

Jets and atomic bombs built by slaves, he thought. Insane. The Domination was madness come to earth; he shivered, remembering his liaison-work with the Draka army, during the misbegotten period of joint action against Hitler. Gray faces of the Belgian farmers as they prepared to drive their tractors out over the minefields... and the sick wet noises of the one who had refused, seated on an impaling-stake cut out of the little forest; his feet had scuffed around and around as he tried to rise off the rough wood sunk a foot deep into his gut, and blood and shit dribbled down the bark. Some of the Draka dug in at the treeline had laughed, at him or at the explosions and screams in the plowed field ahead.

The B-30 went thump, absurdly like an autosteamer going over a bump at speed, and the sensation was repeated. That would be the strips of foil being ejected, hopefully to baffle the Draka electrodetectors. Acceleration slammed him down and to the side; they were climbing and banking, and metal groaned around him as the big aircraft was stressed to ten-tenths of its capacity.

"Still locked on. Merde, Coming up on target. Prepare for ejection. Captain." The pilot's voice was full of a tense calm; Air Force tradition, can-do, wild blue yonder...

His heart lurched, and his mind refused to believe the time had gone so fast, so fast; it was like the wait between boarding the landing-craft and the moment the ramp went down on the beach. Kustaa wished he could spit out the gummy saliva filling his mouth, as he had running waist-deep through the surf in a landing-zone. Some men did that, some were silent and some shrieked wordlessly, a few shouted the traditional gung-ho and a surprising number pissed their pants or shat themselves; you never saw that in the papers, but only a recruit was surprised at it.

Damn, start out a Gyrene and end up a paratrooper, he thought. "Acknowledged." His circuit was locked open, had to be with his hands strapped down, but there was no point in distracting Emile.

"Ten seconds from... mark." There was no point in bracing himself, the harness was as like a womb as the technicians could make it.

Nine, he counted to himself. He had married in '41, right after the Nips had attacked Hawaii; they had planned to wait until he finished the engineering course, but being a Marine private was a high-risk occupation. Aino had spent the war years in San Diego working in a shipyard. They had bought one of the new suburban ranch-style bungalows that started springing up around L.A. right after the Armistice...

Eight. The sweating dreams had been bad, waking screaming as the bunker door opened and the calcinated body of the Japanese soldier dropped out onto him, knocking him down in an obscene embrace with their faces an inch apart; Aino had held him and asked no questions, even when it woke little Maila...

Seven. She hadn't wanted him to continue with the OSS, especially not when it meant moving back East to New York; the capital was no place to raise a family. She had seen to the sale of the home where she had expected to live the rest of her life, doggedly settled into the Long Island brownstone, entertained his co-workers on awkward evenings when nobody could talk shop and long silences fell...

Six. They had been out to a movie, a Civil-War epic called President Douglas; the newsreel had been a political piece, film of a serf-auction in Archona. The usual sensational stuff lifted from the Domination's news services, no routine shots of black factory-hands here, ABS-Path way knew their audience found injustice more titillating spiced with sex and inflicted on white people. A showing of high-cost European concubines in heels and jewelry and nothing else, parading down an elevated walkway; the American film-editors had inserted black rectangles to keep the Catholic Decency League happy. The shabby refugee beside her had stood and begun screaming, pointing at the screen. "Mein Gott, Christina, Christina!" Still screaming, climbing over the seats with clawed hands outstretched towards the smiling blond image standing hand-on-hip. He was screaming as the attendants carried him away.

Five. Kustaa's wife had not objected to his volunteering for secret duty after that. He dreamed of the bunker less, now; but sometimes it was the refugee who stumbled through the steel-plate door in the nightmare, and the face was his own.

Four. It was not getting agents into Europe that was the trouble, it was moving them around, harder each month as more and more of the population vanished into pens and compounds. The Domination had leaned on its "allies" to reveal their Resistance contacts during the War, and had been politely refused. Some of the networks still survived, incredibly, but they were useful mostly for small stuff, escape-conduits and microfilm. Virtually impossible to move in equipment, except a few microscopic loads by submarine on wilderness coasts.

Three. His tongue touched the false tooth at the back of his mouth; melodrama, bad Hollywood, but he knew too much. It was lousy tradecraft, sending him in multiply tasked. There were too many contact-names and dates and codes in his head, but what was the alternative? Besides, they needed a survey, an overview of what was going on. If only they could get deep-cover agents into the Security Directorate! It was easy enough to slip in agents posing as Europeans or Chinese, it would be years before a billion individuals could be necked and registered, but every Citizen's identity was established from birth and there were only forty million of them.

Two. Of course, the Draka had probably slipped hundreds through with the vast flood of refugees that had poured across the English channel in the last days of the War, when the Domination's armies were driving for the Atlantic. More would come through with every boatload of escapees, probably many sleepers under deep cover, it was long-term planning and the Draka thought that way, but what could you do?

One. He had seen his daughter take her first steps on his last leave; Aino had looked up, and as their eyes met—

Impact. Blackness.

A yell of satisfaction filled the electrodetection center of Nordkappen Base. The third missile's trajectory intersected the American aircraft's flight-path, and the sound rose to a howl; fell away to a disgusted mutter as it winked out and the blip of the intruder re-emerged. Merarch Labushange ground out another half-smoked cigarette; an attendant had brought his shirt and tunic, but the rims of his eyes were still a bloodshot red.

He rose in disgust, then checked.

"Wait a minute," he muttered. Then: "Cross-patch on that; increase resolution." He leaned forward to watch one screen, then another; swiveled to view a third that received its input from an automatic station in the mountains to the south.

"She's shedding something," he said quietly. "Increase resolution again, maximum. Look!" His finger stabbed out. Half a dozen traces were spreading out from the veering curve of the American aircraft. Smaller, much smaller, curving and falling.

"Is she breaking up?" the floor officer said hopefully, cradling her coffee-cup.

Labushange shook his head. "At that speed? It'd be over by now. Lose aerodynamic stability at Mach 2 and you'd be metallic confetti; she's maintaining velocity. Increasin', if anything; and turning north."

His head turned to the nearest operator with a gun-turret precision. "Give me a ballistic trajectory on that debris, unguided."

The operator frowned, adjusting and calculating; his fingers danced over the controls while his eyes stayed fixed on the hooded green glow of the screen. "Faint, almost as if they were non-metallic... hmmm, if'n they don't change direction after they drop below our detection horizon, central Finland, sir."

"So, so, oh, clever little Yankees; force us to show our best defenses, get back with the data, 'n drop good things to the worst troublespot in Europe." Labushange closed his eyes and rose on the balls of his feet, biting his lower lip in thought. Then the orders came, spoken with a triphammer beat.

"Get me a teleprinter patch; East Baltic H.Q., Riga. Route it though to Europe Command in Marseille, and to Castle Tarleton. Copies to Security liaison, all along. Then—"

Kustaa was unconscious as the pod fell, the flexing snap of deceleration striking like a horse's hoof. It needed no guidance, a ton-weight egg of soft curves and dull, nonreflective coating that would make any but the most sophisticated electrodetector underestimate its size. Plummeting, tumbling, then turning to present its broadest end to the earth as weight and drag stabilized it. The shards of the cover that had held it to the B-30's belly tumbled away; their inside surfaces were shiny, polished reflectors to draw the invisible microwave eyes that probed through the low clouds. Unpowered, the pod was arching to earth as might a rock dropped by a bird. The bird had been high and fast, and the curve would be a long one.

If there had been a conscious observer aboard, and a port to see, the sky would have darkened as the sun dropped below the horizon and the pod fell from the fringes of space. Below, the gray waters of the Gulf of Finland were hidden by a white frothed-cream curtain of cloud; there were gaps to the east, swelling views of forest and lakes and overgrown fields, a land of dark trees and water reflecting back the moon like a thousand thousand eyes. Lights moved slowly across the land, Draka dirigibles with massive electrodetectors whirling soundlessly inside their gasbags. Then a humming whine, and lean shapes lifted through the clouds, twin-engine Sharks with the moonlight bright on the polished metal of their stub wings; bubble canopies and painted teeth and cannon ports.

Helmeted heads moved in the fighter-cockpits, visual scan added to the short-range detectors in the interceptors' noses, hungry eyes linked to thumbs ready on the firing buttons. But the Alliance designers had done their work well, the vision of humans and machines slipping from the dark skin and smooth curves of the capsule. Kustaa hung in his cocoon of straps and padding, while pressure-sensors clicked softly under the whistle of parted air. The pod dropped through cloud with a long thrumming shudder, and unliving relays determined a preset altitude; for a moment a tiny proximity detector adapted from a shell-fuse pulsed at the ground and calculated distances.

The pod split at its upper point, jerking as the drogue chute deployed; it was barely a thousand feet from the ground, and still traveling fast. The larger canopy followed with a thunder crack that echoed over the dark silence of the forest below; the rending crackle of branches bending and breaking followed almost at once. Lines and shrouds and camouflage-patterned cloth caught and tangled, snapping and yielding, but each absorbed a little more of the pod's momentum, until it halted and spun and beat a slow diminishing tattoo against the strong old trunk of a hundred-foot pine, and was still. Night returned, with its small sounds of animal and bird, liquid ripple from a stream felling over a sill of granite below, wind through branches and wind through synthsilk cords and a gentle snap and flutter of cloth. Kustaa slept.

"He's concussed. Not too badly." A thumb was peeling back his eyelids, and a flashlight shone painfully in the darkness. Kustaa tensed, then relaxed; Finnish, his parents' first language. The guerrillas had found him.

Another voice, deeper. "Get him down, and those crates."

Hands unstrapped him and lifted, passing him downward to damp mud-smelling earth. The world heaved and turned; he twisted his head to one side and emptied the contents of his stomach in an acid-tasting rush. A canteen came to his lips, and the American rinsed and spat. There was a clatter from above, as the cargo pod emptied.

"Careful... with those fuses... delicate," he mumbled. Pain swelled behind his eyes, a hot tightness that threatened to open the bones of his skull. Nausea twisted his stomach again, and he hurt, right down to his bones. It was a familiar sensation; this was not the first time he had been knocked out. After the Robert Adams was hit by the kamikaze off Surabaya, he had woken up in sickbay, puking and with a head just like this. Absurdly among the shrilling along his nerves he remembered a movie... a Western, Steamcoach, where the hero took a chair-leg across the side of the head and woke up in a few hours fit enough to outdraw the villain.

So Jason Waggen is a better man than me, ran through him as the Finns lifted him onto a stretcher. Of course, he had the scriptwriter on his side. The guerrillas were dark shapes against darker trees, only the occasional low glow of a hooded light showing as they quickly stripped the ton-weight of crates from the pod. Someone put a pill between his lips, offered the canteen, and he swallowed. The pain faded, and the nighted forest turned warm and comfortable. Before the dark closed around him he heard a rising scream of turbines, howling across the sky from south to north, horizon to horizon. A blue-red flare of tailpipes streaked by above, close enough that the treetops bowed in the hot wind. "No' much longer," he mumbled.

Waking was slow. He lay for minutes beyond counting with his eyes closed, watching the dull glow that shone pink through the skin. Soup was cooking somewhere near, and there was a background of voices, movement, tapping of tools; the air was close and smoky, with a feeling of being indoors or underground and an odor of raw cedarwood. He was naked, in a hard bed laid with coarse woolen blankets. There was a foul taste in his mouth, his teeth felt furred, and legs and arms were heavy as lead... but the pain behind his eyes was mostly gone, and the smell of cooking food made his mouth water instead of turning his stomach.

I'm recovering, he thought, as he blinked crusted eyelids open. Not as well or as quickly as the time when his troopship had been hit, but then he wasn't a new-minted lieutenant fresh from his first battle and field-promotion any more. Thirty is too old for this shit, he mused. Sergeant McAllistair was right: in this business it's easy enough to end up with your ass in a crack without volunteering for it.

The room was windowless, log-walled, a twenty-by-ten rectangle with a curtained doorway at one end. Both walls were lined with bunks made from rough spruce poles and pallets; there was a small stove made from a welded oil-drum in a corner, and a long trestle-table down the center. Light came from a single dim lantern overhead, showing the blanketed mounds of sleepers in the other beds. Rifles, machine-pistols, what looked like a breakdown rocket launcher were clipped to frames beside the bunks; a dozen or so guerrillas sat at the table, spooning broth from bowls, chewing on crusts of hard black bread, working on their weapons or simply sitting and staring before them. One man looked up from his task and caught Kustaa's eye, then returned to his methodical oiling of his rifle's bolt-carrier; the other parts lay spread before him on a cloth.

Kustaa frowned; he had spent a good part of the last decade in barracks of one sort or another, and this one disturbed him. For one thing, nobody was talking. Granted these were Finns, and the average man of that breed made the most taciturn north-country Swede look like a chatterbox, but even so...

The American sat up cautiously, ducking his head to avoid the edge of the bunk above him. The blanket slipped down from his shoulders, but he ignored the damp chill, cleared his throat.

"I'm awake," he said.

The man who had glanced at him earlier looked up, nodded, went back to his work on the weapon. It slid together with a series of oiled metallic clicks and racheting sounds; a Jyvaskyia semiautomatic, the soldier's corner of his mind noticed. The Finn thumbed ten rounds into a magazine, snicked it home in the rifle, and rose to lay it on the pegs above an empty bunk.

"We have to talk," Kustaa continued. The other man nodded again, coming to sit on a corner of bench nearer the American.

"Talvio," he said to one of the fighters sitting on a bench, a woman. She rose, filled a bowl of soup and a mug of what smelled like herb tea, set them down on the bed beside Kustaa, and returned to sorting through a pile of blasting detonators.

"Arvid Kyosti," the Finn continued. "Regional commander," and held out his hand. It had a workingman's calluses; the form behind it was blocky beneath the shapeless field-jacket and woolen pants, the face broad and snub-nosed, high-cheeked, with slanted blue eyes and shaggy black hair.

Not more than my age, but he looks older, the American thought. I'm not surprised.

"Fred Kustaa," he replied aloud, conscious of the other's slow, considering stare. At least I've kept in shape. Kustaa was a big man, two inches over six feet, broad-shouldered and long in the limbs. A farm-boy originally, and a light-heavyweight of some promise at St. Paul Institute, before the war; the slight kink of a broken nose still showed it. The Marines worked a man hard, too, and after the War he had spent some time on Okinawa and joined a dojo; the OSS had encouraged him to keep it up... A ragged pattern of old white scars showed along one flank and up under the thatch of yellow hair on his chest, legacy of a Japanese grenade.

"The equipment came through all right?" he said, to break the silence.

"As far as we can tell," Arvid replied. "My people are studying the manuals. And there's that." He nodded toward a sealed packet.

The hint of a smile. "Fortunate you survived to explain them. Hard landing. Too close to the firebase. The snakes would have had you, in another couple of hours."

"There's a Draka base near here?" he said, with an inward wince at the thought of being taken prisoner.

A nod. "Regiment of Janissaries, two batteries and an airstrip. Use it as a patrol base, so the complement fluctuates."

Kustaa took up the bowl of soup and sipped. It was thin and watery, a few bits of potato and rubbery fish, but it was hot and filled the hollowness behind his stomach. The Finns looked hungry, too; not starved, but without the thin padding of fat beneath the skin that a really healthy body shows.

"Good intelligence," he said.

Arvid shrugged. "They built it over a year ago," he said. "Used local forced labor; they've learned better since, but we got the layout. Keep it under observation, as much as we can. Managed to make them think we're farther away, so far."

"Well, that's one reason they sent me. We need to know the general situation, and how the Alliance can best help you."

A few of the others looked up; their eyes were as coldly flat as Arvid's. "General situation is that we're being slowly wiped out. Help? Declare war on the snakes and invade," he said coldly.

Kustaa forced a smile. "Personally, I'm inclined to agree we should," he said. "But they've got atomics as well, now." True enough... he forced down memory of what Osaka had looked like, when the Air Force teams went in to study the consequences of a nuclear strike on a populated area. The photographs had been classified, to prevent general panic, and New York was the target. His mind showed him Aino's skin peeling away with radiation sickness, gums bleeding, blind and rotting alive; little Maila sitting in a burning house screaming for her mother with melted eyes running down a charred face.

"An amphibious task force is a big target, and their submarines are good enough to take out some of the coastal cities, at least. The plan is to deter them, and make them choke on what they've taken. You've been bleeding them here; if we can help you, and help others match your performance, who knows?"

Arvid's face went white around the mouth; with rage, Kustaa realized with a start. Behind him, one of the guerrillas half-raised her weapon, before two others seized her; she hung between their hands, her face working, before regaining enough control to tear herself free and stumble through the cloth door-cover. The guerrilla commander mastered himself and spoke again.

"That was a stupid thing to say, American." He looked down at his hands. "You know how many troops the snakes have in Finland?" Kustaa shook his head silently. "Sixty thousand: three legions of Janissaries, a brigade of their Citizen troops. Lots, no? Want to know why so many?"

Arvid rummaged under the table, brought out Kustaa's kit and tossed him his pipe and matches. While the American's hands made the comforting ritual of filling, tamping and lighting he continued, in an emotionless monotone.

"Snakes made a mistake with us. By-passed us in '43, to deal with the Germans. We had two years, to watch what Draka conquest meant, and to prepare. No point trying to hold the cities or borders. We'd been mobilized since the Winter War with the Russians, in '40... put everyone to work. Making weapons, explosives, supplies. Digging bunkers and tunnel-complexes like this, stockpiling, training everyone who could fight. Then they demanded we surrender."

"And you didn't," Kustaa said softly.

"The cities did... so the snakes thought. All the ones who could were out in the forests. We destroyed our machinery, fuel, everything useful; burnt the crops, and all the livestock was already salted down. Some stayed behind in the towns for sabotage; many of the ones who couldn't fight took poison." He paused. "My wife, and our children." Another pause. "After a while, the snakes got sick of time-bombs and ambushes in the cities, so they deported everyone they could catch. The younger children to training creches, the rest to destructive-labor camps. We've heard... we've heard they sterilize the camp inmates, and lobotomize the troublemakers." Arvid grinned like a death's-head. "And we Finns are all born troublemakers, no?"

There was a silence that echoed. "I doubt there are half a million people left in the whole of Finland," the guerrilla finished softly. "Most of those Swedes and Danes and Germans the snakes brought in for labor. The documents we've captured say they aren't going to ever try and settle more than a few hundred plantations on the south coast. The rest of the country will be a nature-preserve and timber farm. Right now it's a hunting preserve, and we're the game."

Kustaa looked around the long room, at the men and women sitting at the table, at others lying wakeful on their bunks, at the eyes empty alike of hope and fear.

"Damned dangerous game," he said. "Damned dangerous. More so now that I've brought the new radio, and our little surprises for their Air Force." He nodded to the seal package. "The codes, and directions on how to fit the deciphering wheel."

Some of the cold hostility Faded from the faces turned to him. "What if they'd captured you?" Arvid said.

"There's a sequence of four randomly selected sentences you have to use on the first four contacts. One word wrong, and they cut off contact permanently, and then the codes are useless." He shrugged. "Don... Donovon... the OSS trusted me enough to hold out convincingly long, then give them the wrong word-group. Not necessary, as it turned out; and with luck, we can set up a permanent supply route."

Arvid nodded. "This is bad country for armor, and they don't have enough infantry to spare to really comb us out. We've got plenty of weapons and ammunition, enough food. Their aircraft, though, and the damned helicopters—with an answer to that we can cause them even more grief, before we die." Thoughtfully: "There are outposts east of here, in Karelia and Ingria, almost as far as the White Sea; if we could set up a supply line through submarines, then...

"The doctor says you'll be ready for action in a day or two. Come along and see your toys in action."

"I'm supposed to make Helsinki as soon as possible," Kustaa said carefully. Then a broad grin split the weathered tan of his face. "Obviously, it'll be impossible to leave before we stomp a few snakes, hey?"

 

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