Thursday, December 31, 2009
The German advance grinds to a halt in October, and the Poles launch a counterattack on Christmas morning. The British and French launch major offensives in April 1937, and by June the Poles are closing in on Berlin, leaving William L. Shirer of CBS News to witness the final downfall of the Röhm regime . . .
10 June 1937
The streets of Berlin had suddenly filled with people.
Despite everything Heydrich's secret police could do to stop them, the rumors had flown fast and furious through the battered capital. The Brownshirts had sworn to stay. The Brownshirts were pulling out tomorrow. The Brownshirts would declare Berlin an open city. The Brownshirts were going to booby-trap the city. The Brownshirts were going to blow up the city. The Poles were going to bypass Berlin. The Poles were going to encircle Berlin and shell it. The Poles were going to wall up Berlin and bombard it with poison gas canisters. The Poles were going to raze Berlin and butcher its inhabitants.
Every hour brought a new rumor, and every rumor led more people to attempt to flee the city. By now every westbound street in Berlin was choked with people fleeing on foot, along with a scattering of bicycles, motorcycles and horse-drawn carts. No cars, of course; the Brownshirts owned every car in Germany, and the secret police would be sure to stop any cars that took part in the exodus and arrest their occupants.
Bill Shirer stood just outside the doorway of his apartment building and watched as the river of fearful humanity flowed past. As he let his gaze move across the tide of refugees, his eye caught something unusual moving among the crowd several blocks to the east. Lacking the use of both eyes, Shirer was unable to judge the distance any better.
Fifteen minutes later, the crowd brought it close enough for him to make out: it was a motorcycle and sidecar with an elevated platform rising above it. Crouched atop the platform a figure with a movie camera was filming the stream of refugees. It wasn't until the oddly equipped motorcycle had approached within a hundred feet of him that Shirer realized that the camera operator was a woman. Then it dawned on him who it had to be.
Leni Riefenstahl was one of the most innovative filmmakers to come out of Weimar Germany. Her film The Blue Light had immediately established her among the top rank of the country's directors. Her triumph, though, proved to be short-lived. The Röhm Coup had followed within months of its release, and Röhm quickly made it clear that he had no more use for Riefenstahl than he had for any other woman. She had been subjected to the usual petty harassment meted out to intellectuals by the Brownshirts -- random acts of workplace vandalism, periodic arrests, and a few weeks' stretch in one of their concentration camps.
The motorcycle had almost come abreast of Shirer's building when it was halted by a khaki-uniformed member of the Vopos -- the People's Police. Even from thirty feet away, Shirer could see dismay on the woman's face. Was it illegal for her to be filming the exodus? It hardly mattered, because the Brownshirts had a habit of making up new laws on the spot whenever they couldn't be bothered to cite an existing one.
Brownshirt "justice" was rough at the best of times; with Berlin coming under siege, they had taken to shooting detainees out of hand. Before he could think his actions over, Shirer had plunged into the crowd and was forcing his way through to the Vopo and his quarry.
"Herr Comrade Policeman, I can explain," Shirer called out to the Vopo.
The thug turned and scowled at Shirer. "Who are you?"
Shirer produced his press pass -- he made a point never to be without it in Röhm's Germany. "William L. Shirer, Columbia Broadcasting System, United States of America. Fraulein Riefenstahl is an employee of mine. We're shooting newsreel footage for the Movietone News Company." It was a desperately flimsy lie. Not only did Riefenstahl not work for Shirer, Shirer didn't work for Movietone -- the newsreel companies were owned by the film studios, not the radio networks.
The Vopo held out his hand. "May I see your filming permit from the Ministry of Communications?"
With an inward sigh of relief, Shirer produced his passport from another pocket -- he always made sure to carry it as well -- and passed it over. The Vopo glanced inside, then returned it to Shirer. "This permit expires today," he said. "You would be well advised to finish your newsreel very quickly."
"Yes, thank you, Comrade Policeman, we shall do so," Shirer answered. As the Vopo stood and watched, Shirer led the motorcycle down an alleyway that led to the courtyard behind his apartment.
Riefenstahl clambered down from the platform, then took Shirer's hand. "You have my sincerest gratitude, Herr Shirer," she said. "You may very well have just saved the lives of Hans and myself." The driver, who introduced himself as Reifenstahl's sound man, Hans Bittmann, shook his hand also.
"What was that you gave the Vopo?" Riefenstahl wondered. "It certainly was not a filming permit."
"It was my passport," said Shirer. "I make it a habit to carry a folded fifty-mark note inside." He shrugged. "It gets written up in my expense voucher as 'miscellaneous expenses'."
Riefenstahl smiled. "You are a resourceful man, Herr Shirer."
Shirer shrugged again. "You have to be in this country."
"True, unfortunately," said Riefenstahl with a frown. She turned and looked up at the camera. "May I impose upon you further, Herr Shirer? I fear I may be under observation by the police, and I have several canisters of film I do not wish to see confiscated and destroyed. May I leave them here in your safekeeping?"
"I would be honored, Fraulein Riefenstahl."
Smiling once more, she said, "Please, call me Leni."
"Thank you, Leni," said Shirer. "Call me Bill."
As the three of them carried the canisters into the apartment building, Leni explained about her current project. "I intend to make a filmed record of the siege of Berlin. I hope it will serve as a warning to future generations of Germans of the hazards of allowing themselves to be ruled by a senseless brute."
"That's assuming there are any future generations of Germans," said Shirer.
"That remark is in very poor taste," Bittmann said stiffly.
Shirer looked at him intently. "How many times do you think Germany can invade her neighbors before the neighbors decide to put a stop to it once and for all?"
"Are you suggesting," said Riefenstahl, "that the German people will be exterminated?"
"No," said Shirer, "what I'm suggesting is that the German state will be broken up. We can see it happening right now as the British, French, and Poles conquer the country. They've already set up their own separate administrations over the territory they occupy. All they have to do is decide after the war to make the arrangement permanent, and Germany will be gone."
"Impossible," Bittmann declared, but there was a catch in the man's voice that told Shirer that he didn't think it impossible at all. "Why would they do such a thing?" he continued.
Shirer gestured towards the street, with its panicked masses. "Why don't you go out and ask them? They could tell you. They're trying to flee because they know perfectly well how the Brownshirts dealt with the Poles who came under their rule, and they fear the Poles will deal with them the same way."
"Propaganda," Bittmann sniffed. "Lies."
Shirer fixed Bittmann with a stare. "Ed Murrow does not spread lies and propaganda. If he says the Brownshirts burned synagogues and murdered Jews, then the Brownshirts burned synagogues and murdered Jews."
Leni spoke up. "If the Brownshirts knew about our film, they would call it lies and propaganda."
"That's absurd," Bittmann said. "Nobody would ever accuse you of being a propagandist, Leni."
"Speaking of the film," said Shirer, "if you want, you can film the street from my apartment in the loft."
"Thank you, Bill," said Leni, "that is an excellent suggestion. Come, Hans, we'll go dismount the camera from the platform."
It took the three of them half an hour to unbolt the camera from the platform, ease it to the ground, and carry it up the stairs to Shirer's apartment. Once there, Leni perched it from one of the windows looking down onto the street, then spent the next two hours filming the people who streamed past.
A vision came to Shirer of a time years in the future when film buffs would come to this apartment to see where Leni's documentary was filmed. He found himself wondering what sort of city Berlin would be then, and what sort of country Germany would be, or whether there would even be a Germany.
In the street below, frightened people continued to trudge past.
Wednesday, December 30, 2009
The German advance grinds to a halt in October, and the Poles launch a counterattack on Christmas morning. The British and French launch major offensives in April 1937, and by June the Poles are closing in on Berlin . . .
8 June 1937
William L. Shirer reflected, not for the first time, that it was a lot harder to notice the absence of something than the presence of something. Of course, these days, Berlin was missing so many things, like food and fuel, that singling out one item was next to impossible. Still, he was sure that it would come to him in time.
Every day, Shirer was more thankful that he had persuaded his wife to leave the country while she still could. After Mussolini and Dollfuss had declared war on Germany, Tess had become an enemy alien, and wife of an American or no, might have ended up under detention, or even worse, sent off to suffer in one of Röhm's concentration camps.
Shirer, though, was still a reporter, and he still had a job to do. He had an interview scheduled at 10 am with Röhm's Foreign Minister, Alfred Rosenberg. He wasn't particularly looking forward to it, for Shirer regarded Rosenberg as tedious, dull, verbose and just plain stupid. However, Rosenberg wasn't as personally repugnant as the other top Brownshirts such as Heydrich, Funk, or Röhm himself, so Shirer girded his mental loins, smoked a pipeful of some awful tobacco, and left his apartment.
Even before the war, taxis had been growing more and more scarce in Berlin, as petrol rationing made them uneconomical. Now that the Poles were closing in on Berlin, the trolleys had also disappeared from the streets. And unless you were a Brownshirt, you hadn't a chance of buying or renting an automobile. In the course of his stay in Berlin, Shirer had come to rely on a Party functionary named Karl Hanke for transportation. After the Brownshirts had seized power, Hanke had been entrusted with a car confiscated from a "class enemy". Shirer found Hanke to be an outspoken man who would frequently criticize the actions of Röhm and the other Brownshirt leaders. Much as he liked him, Shirer had long since decided that Hanke was a member of Heydrich's secret police, and he tried to be careful around him.
Shirer had noticed that whenever he had an appointment to see a top Party or government official (and the two were basically the same in Röhm's Germany), Hanke was always on time to pick him up. And so it was today: less than five minutes after stepping outside his apartment on the Tauentzienstrasse, Hanke appeared in his small BMW sports car, and Shirer was on his way to the Foreign Office on Wilhelmstrasse.
Shirer couldn't help but be saddened whenever he passed through the Wittenbergplatz. He had visited in the days of the Weimar Republic, and it had seemed to him then that life in Berlin was freer, more modern, more stimulating and exciting than even Paris. Coming back in August of 1934 had been a terrible shock: less than two years after Röhm's Brownshirts had seized power, Berlin had been reduced to a shabby, depressing shadow of its former self. Of course, some of the change had no doubt been due to the Depression, which had struck Germany with particular force; but after the Röhm coup Berlin had become an oversized garrison town, teaming with the brutal thugs who made up Röhm's Brown Army.
Fourteen months of war had accelerated the city's decay, as men were drafted into the BA to fight the Poles, and resources were diverted into the war effort. Most of the shops in the city were closed and boarded up, driven out of business by the regime's anti-Jewish laws or its half-baked economic policies. Rationing and price controls had driven goods off the shelves of the few remaining retail outlets, leaving the black market as the only place to find necessities like food and clothing (and, to Shirer's regret, tobacco).
Shirer was distracted from the depressing thoughts inspired by his surroundings by Hanke's nonstop gabble. "The trouble with the Brownshirts," he was saying, "is that they didn't have anyone who could reach out to the people. If they'd had someone like, oh, Lenin, say, who could galvanize a crowd with the sound of his voice and build up mass support, they wouldn't have had to seize power the way they did. And frankly, just between you and me, Röhm made a big mistake turning on the Army and the capitalists the way he did. Then we wouldn't have the Polish Army sitting on our doorstep, getting ready to crush the life out of Germany. Don't you think so?"
Shirer had heard the same opinions expressed by other Germans, ones he knew were not secret police agents trying to finesse antigovernment comments from him. But he only said, "The Führer seems confident that he can turn back the Poles and win the war."
Hanke gave a short, sharp laugh. "The Führer would be doomed even if he only had the Poles to worry about. With the British and French driving in from the west, and the Italians and Austrians getting ready to attack from the south, it's a foregone conclusion. And they aren't going to let us get away with an armistice the way they did last time. Piłsudski isn't going to accept anything less than unconditional surrender, and the rest of them have to follow his lead."
It was an astute analysis of the situation, Shirer had to give Hanke that. Of course, you would expect the secret police to be better informed than anyone else. Shirer found himself wondering if Hanke had another motive for his candor besides trying to entrap him. Was he trying to ingratiate himself with Shirer, in hopes of avoiding imprisonment after the war?
"What Heydrich ought to do," Hanke continued, "is overthrow Röhm and try to cut a deal with the Western Allies. They wouldn't like to see the Poles annex half of Germany, and that's what it will come to if they let the country be overrun."
That made Shirer sit up and pay attention. Was Hanke sounding him out on behalf of his boss? Shirer could well imagine someone like the Security Minister throwing Röhm to the dogs in an effort to save his own skin. "I don't think the Western Allies would be willing to do business with Heydrich," Shirer answered cautiously. "He's got too unsavory a reputation in the West."
"Lies," sniffed Hanke. "Lies spread by the Bolsheviks and their Jewish allies in the Western press."
"Lies they may be," said Shirer, "but the people in Britain and France believe them. If Heydrich tried to cut a deal with Blum and Baldwin, he'd find himself out of luck."
"Maybe you're right," Hanke said at last. "Anyway, we've reached our destination. It was a pleasure talking with you, Herr Shirer, as always."
"And with you, Herr Hanke," said Shirer.
On time Shirer may have been, but that didn't mean he was immediately escorted up to see Rosenberg. As was common practice with the Brownshirt bigwigs, Rosenberg kept him cooling his heels in an outer office for an hour before finally agreeing to see him. Shirer spent the time thinking about what he had heard from Hanke.
Was Heydrich planning to double-cross Röhm? The upper reaches of the Brownshirt party-state were a snake-pit of lies, deceit and treachery. Four and a half years after gaining power, less than half of Röhm's original government ministers were still alive. A month after his arrival in Germany, Shirer had watched as a bureaucratic turf war between Heydrich and Agriculture Minister Heinrich Himmler ended with the latter's arrest and execution. Since then, the deadly game of political infighting had consumed one top Brownshirt after another. If anything, the war with Poland had intensified the intrigue, as each member of the new German ruling class sought to turn the country's life and death struggle to his own advantage. With Berlin being surrounded by a wave of Polish men and tanks, the chief Brownshirts were fighting ever more ruthlessly for control of a doomed government.
Shirer's musings on the state of Germany were interrupted by the arrival of one of Rosenberg's flunkies, who announced that the Foreign Minister would see him now.
"Thank you for agreeing to see me, sir," said Shirer after he had been escorted into Rosenberg's office.
"Not at all, Herr Shirer," Rosenberg oozed, as though he hadn't just kept the journalist waiting for an hour, "I am always happy to make time to see the gentlemen of the press." Not, Shirer mused, that Rosenberg's official duties kept him busy. Even before their unprovoked attack on Poland, Röhm's government had been an international pariah. In the last month, as the armies of Poland and the Western Allies overran the country, even Admiral Horthy had given the Germans the cold shoulder. Ironically, Germany's closest ties were now with Soviet Russia; since the Bolsheviks had always regarded Röhm's Germany as just another capitalist country, they had maintained an impartial stance during the war, denouncing all the participants equally.
"Minister," said Shirer as his pencil poised above his notebook, "the first thing I'd like to do is get your reaction to yesterday's declaration of war by General Antonescu."
Rosenberg frowned, and no wonder. With Romania joining the fray, there were now seven countries officially at war with Germany. "Naturally," Rosenberg said, "the German government is disappointed that General Antonescu has succumbed to the blandishments of the Judeo-Bolshevist element within Romania." After a pause to gather more of his so-called thoughts, Rosenberg continued. "Disappointed, but not surprised. General Antonescu made perfectly clear his indifference to the welfare of his people when he made common cause with his country's Marxists against Herr Codreanu."
Shirer was disappointed, but not surprised, by Rosenberg's response. Codreanu's fate had always been a sore point with the Foreign Minister. With their populist stance and virulently anti-Semitic rhetoric, Codreanu's Iron Guard movement had been ideological twins to Röhm's Brownshirts. Unfortunately, Codreanu had tried to duplicate Röhm's method of gaining power, launching a coup attempt shortly after the German invasion of Poland, and King Carol had called upon Antonescu to stop him. It had always seemed to Shirer that under different circumstances Antonescu would have been perfectly happy to join forces with Codreanu. As it was, Antonescu had quickly lowered the boom on the Iron Guards, ruthlessly crushing the movement and shooting Codreanu. Now Antonescu ruled Romania in an uneasy coalition with the Socialists, and glared across the Hungarian frontier at Admiral Horthy.
As he jotted down Rosenberg's remarks on Antonescu, Shirer said, "Next, I was wondering if there were any plans by the German government to relocate in the near future."
With the Polish Army in the process of surrounding Berlin, the question of whether the Röhm government would pull out was on the lips of everyone in the city. In the last couple of days, Shirer had put it to every top-ranking Brownshirt he had spoken with. War Minister Keitel had insisted that the German Army was poised to drive the Poles back from the capital. Security Minister Heydrich had denounced the idea as a lie spread by Jews and traitors, and had gone on to threaten Shirer with prison if he mentioned it to anyone else.
Rosenberg simply looked at Shirer with an uncertain expression and said, "Why? Have you heard something?"
"No, Herr Minister," Shirer explained patiently. "I was wondering if you had heard anything. You're the government minister, after all."
"Oh, good heavens, no," said Rosenberg, "I haven't heard anything like that. So far as I know, we're here till the bitter end. Er, that is, until we achieve final victory over the decadent liberals and their Judeo-Bolshevist allies."
Which meant that either the Brownshirts really did intend to remain in Berlin until the Poles cut them off, or that Rosenberg was being kept in the dark. Both alternatives were possible, though Shirer found the latter more likely. He hoped so, at any rate. Berlin was bad enough now. If the Poles laid siege to it, it was bound to get a lot worse.
Tuesday, December 29, 2009
The German advance grinds to a halt in October, and the Poles launch a counterattack on Christmas morning. By the spring of 1937 the Poles have driven Röhm's Brown Army completely out of Poland and have set their sights on Berlin. At this point Poland's British and French allies finally bestir themselves, launching their own offensives in late April . . .
Off the coast of Bremerhaven, Germany
26 April 1937
Private James Heather Gordon of the 6th Australian Division gripped the side of the landing craft with grim determination. They were close enough now to see the spires of Bremerhaven’s churches silhouetted in the growing dawn light.
At 28, Gordon was too young to remember the accounts of Gallipoli that had appeared in the newspapers. Growing up after the war, though, he had listened to veterans talk about the terrible ordeal, the pointless infantry charges, the months spent under Turkish fire, and the final ignominious withdrawal. And there wasn’t a veteran of the Gallipoli campaign alive who didn’t curse the name of Winston Churchill, who had masterminded the whole fiasco.
And now here he was, along with the rest of those Australians foolish enough to volunteer, about to do the exact same bloody fool thing all over again -- and on the day after Anzac Day, to boot.
There had been a couple hours of shellfire from the invasion fleet, but that had ended half an hour earlier, and it was eerily quiet. Gordon was suddenly thrown off his feet when the deck below him gave a sickening lurch. He was picking himself up when the drawbridge at the front of the landing craft dropped slowly open, and a gush of icy water washed over the deck. Up ahead
was fifty feet of water with a dense wall of marsh reeds beyond it.
Gordon followed the other men of his company as they dropped stolidly off the end of the drawbridge into knee high water. He spared brief glances to left and right where he could see a line of other landing craft disgorging other men. Then he was out of the water and trudging through muck. He hoped to God someone up front knew where they were going, because he didn’t have a bloody clue.
The muck slowly became more solid, and the marsh reeds gave way to woods. Gordon continued to follow the men ahead of him, all the time wondering when the Germans would open fire.
The woods had given way to a road that bordered tilled fields with some scattered farm buildings when they saw their first German. He was leading a horse-drawn wagon loaded with turnips down the road, and he seemed flabbergasted to see soldiers surrounding him. He raised his hands above his head and gabbled away in German.
A lieutenant who spoke German questioned the man for a time, then addressed the men. “He wants to know if we’re the bloody Polacks!”
That brought a loud laugh from Gordon and the other men. The lieutenant continued, “He says the only German troops he knows about are a gang of fifty stationed in the town. All the rest have been sent east to the fighting.”
Gordon didn’t really believe it. There had to be German troops around, waiting to lure them into a trap. The lieutenant told off a squad of men to keep watch on the road, and led the rest of them on into the field beyond. To his right Gordon could see more men going off down the road into Bremerhaven. As he passed the wagon Gordon reached in and grabbed a couple of turnips, the
spoils of war.
Past the field were some more woods, which debouched onto another road, this one with houses scattered along its length. Gordon waited uncertainly beside the last of the trees, certain that the houses must conceal German troops. A sergeant saw him standing there, glared at him, and bellowed, “Move your arse, soldier!”
Gordon followed half a dozen men as they ran across the road to the nearest house. He crouched down below a window, then gingerly reached across to the door, giving it a couple of knocks. After a bit the door opened to reveal a balding, middle-aged man in a dressing gown. “Ja? Was ist?” he said as he looked incuriously at Gordon.
“Sorry to disturb you, sir,” said Gordon as he touched the brim of his helmet, “but I’m with the Allied army. We’re here to conquer your country. Mind if I pop in to see there’s no soldiers hiding in here?”
The man gave an exasperated sigh, opened the door, and stood aside. Gordon entered, wandered from room to room, apologized to a middle-aged woman he interrupted in the loo, and finally left the house.
“Sorry for the inconvenience,” he said to the man in the dressing gown.
The man gave another exasperated sigh and went back in, slamming the door behind him.
Gordon gave a shrug. “Right,” he said, “which way to Berlin then?”
Monday, December 28, 2009
13 May 1936
Joe Lyons, Prime Minister of the Australian Commonwealth, was a bit puzzled when his Attorney General, Bob Menzies, turned up in his office the afternoon after a Cabinet meeting. Lyons himself didn’t set too much store by official procedures and protocols, but he knew that Menzies did. Ordinarily Menzies would have made an appointment with Lyons’ secretary. The fact that he had just turned up this way was a sure sign that big things were in the offing, and Lyons was pretty certain he knew which big things.
“G’day, Bob,” said Lyons. “To what do I owe the honor?”
“I’ve come here to discuss this morning’s Cabinet meeting,” said Menzies in that ponderous way he had when he meant to Discuss Important Matters.
“You mean you still think we should declare war on Germany,” said Lyons. The Germans had seized Danzig and invaded Poland Sunday morning (typical of Röhm, thought Lyons, to wantonly violate the Sabbath this way on top of all his other wicked deeds), and Stanley Baldwin had finally, reluctantly, followed the lead of Leon Blum and declared war Tuesday afternoon.
“We owe it to England to stand by her side in her moment of crisis,” Menzies insisted.
“Mackenzie King doesn’t seem to think so,” Lyons pointed out. “He says that the war for Danzig isn’t Canada’s war.”
“Mackenzie King is a fool,” Menzies responded. “He’ll live to regret his selfishness. When England triumphs over her enemies, she’ll remember who kept faith and who didn’t.”
Bob was really laying it on thick. Lyons said, “If King is wrong he’ll pay for it in the time-honored fashion, by being voted out.”
Menzies shook his head. “That’s not good enough. The Party don’t wish to be found on the wrong side of this question.”
Now we come to it, thought Lyons. “Just how much of the Party are we talking about here?”
“Enough,” said Menzies with uncharacteristic simplicity. “We wish you to reconsider your decision on the war.”
“And if I don’t?”
“Then it will be my unpleasant duty to inform you that you no longer enjoy the Party’s confidence,” said Menzies.
Lyons tried to reason with Menzies. “Bob, can’t you see that this is the wrong war with the wrong enemy? The Japanese are becoming more aggressive every day. We can’t allow ourselves to be distracted by what’s happening in Europe.”
Menzies insisted, “This is a matter of principle.”
Lyons put his head in his hands. “Then you’ll have to give me the boot. I’ve no intention of sending another generation of young men off to be killed in some pointless Gallipoli.”
“It won’t come to that,” said Menzies reassuringly. “You’ll see. After all, it’s not as though they’d let Churchill plan another amphibious landing.”
Sunday, December 27, 2009
The German advance grinds to a halt in October, and the Poles launch a counterattack on Christmas morning. By the spring of 1937 the Poles have driven Röhm's Brown Army completely out of Poland and have set their sights on Berlin . . .
London, Great Britain
12 April 1937
Stanley Baldwin, Prime Minister for his His Majesty King Edward VIII, sat for a moment while digesting the report from his Foreign Minister, Lord Halifax. Great Britain's erstwhile Polish allies had just succeeded in recapturing the port of Gdinia from Ernst Röhm's Brown Army, thereby cutting Danzig and East Prussia off from the rest of Germany. Every attempt by the Germans to halt the Polish advance had been overcome; the Poles were adding growing numbers of tanks to their army's infantry and cavalry wings, and the Germans were unable to stand up to them.
The previous winter, during the siege of Warsaw, Marshal Piłsudski had flatly turned down Röhm's demanded surrender, and insisted that the war would not end until the Germans had unconditionally surrendered to Poland and her British and French allies. At the time, it had struck Baldwin as a bit of typically foolish Polish bravado. Had Piłsudski consulted with him, he would have advised the Marshal to seek a negotiated settlement with Röhm while he still had at least some of his country left. Piłsudski had not consulted with him, however, and Baldwin had concluded that Britain and France would soon find themselves faced with the sticky problem of trying to salvage something from Poland's defeat.
Now, four months later, Baldwin found himself facing the equally sticky problem of trying to salvage something from Germany's defeat. Piłsudski still insisted on unconditional surrender, and it was looking more and more as though he would eventually force the Germans to do so, or else simply overrun Germany. Baldwin found the prospect of a triumphant Poland only slightly less alarming than the prospect of a triumphant Germany.
"Gentlemen," he finally said to his cabinet colleagues, "I must tell you that I find the prospect of a triumphant Poland only slightly less alarming than the prospect of a triumphant Germany. Is there any way to prevent the Poles from taking over all of Germany?"
"Well," said Halifax, "of course the Poles won't be able to take over anything that we and the French occupy ourselves."
"Which currently amounts to exactly nothing," said the First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill.
"Is there any chance that we could, ermm, invade Germany ourselves?" wondered the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Neville Chamberlain.
"As we share no common border with Germany," Halifax pointed out, "this would necessarily involve an amphibious assault on our part."
"True," said Baldwin. "Winston, how long do you suppose it would take for us to launch an amphibious assault on Germany?"
Churchill pondered the question for a moment, then answered, "Two weeks."
"Surely you're not serious," said Chamberlain.
"I am perfectly serious," Churchill responded. "We have been at war with Germany for almost a year now, and I assure you the Royal Navy has not been idle in that time. In addition to the blockade, we have been making plans for a seaborne invasion of the Bremerhaven area. We currently have all the landing craft, the ships, and the men needed for such an assault. In two weeks, I can have a flotilla steaming across the North Sea. And," he added, "don't call me Shirley."
"I say, Winston, wherever did you get the money for all this?" wondered Chamberlain. "I'm don't recall allocating the Navy any funds for an invasion."
"Oh, contingency funds," Churchill said in an offhand, almost evasive way. "That sort of thing. A bit here, a bit there, and it starts to add up. My staff handled that end for the most part; I concentrated on operations."
The rest of the cabinet now pondered this new wrinkle in the situation. "Mmmm," Baldwin said finally. "Very well, Winston. Set the wheels in motion for a launch date on the," he checked his calendar, "on the twenty-sixth."
"Yes, Prime Minister," said Churchill.
"And I suppose we'd better let Monsieur Blum and Marshal Piłsudski know. See to it, won't you, old boy?" Baldwin said to Halifax.
"Yes, Prime Minister."
"By the bye, Winston," Baldwin added. "What's this invasion plan of yours called, anyway?"
"We decided on Operation Sea Lion," said Churchill. "It just seemed appropriate somehow."
Saturday, December 26, 2009
27 May 1936
José Maria Gil Robles y Quiñones had considerable misgivings about the upcoming meeting. "Are you sure this is a good idea?" he asked his companion.
"Quite sure," answered the Father.
The door to the apartment opened to reveal the face of Indalecia Prieto y Tuero. He looked as uncertain as Gil Robles felt.
As Gil Robles entered the apartment, he noticed another man standing by a half-opened window. Was it an assassin? But no, the man's hands were empty. Suspicious nevertheless, Gil Robles asked Prieto, "Who is he?"
"A visiting colleague," Prieto answered. "No need for you to fear him, it was he who convinced me to meet with you. He is Tomasz Arciszewski of the Polish Socialist Party. I would be interested to learn the identity of your companion, though."
With dawning understanding, Gil Robles said, "It was he who convinced me to meet with you. He is Father Stefan Wyszynski." Gil Robles and Prieto spent a long moment looking at each other.
"A subtle pattern begins to emerge," said Prieto.
"Father," Gil Robles asked, "are you by any chance acquainted with Señor Prieto's guest?"
"Ah, you have found me out, my son," said Father Wyszynski.
"Found us both out, I should add," said Arciszewski. "We are here at the behest of Marshal Piłsudski."
"And of Cardinal Pacelli," Father Wyszynski added. Gil Robles, at least, was impressed. As Secretary of State to Pius XI, Cardinal Pacelli acted with full Papal authority.
"I assume," said Prieto, "that we are meant to discuss the recent uprising that has troubled our nation." Seventeen days earlier, General Emilio Mola had attempted to depose the Spanish government. Army garrisons all over Spain had risen up in support, and General Franco had flown in from the Canaries to assume control of the rebellious troops in Spanish Morocco. Gil Robles himself had been tempted to bring his own CEDA organization into the coup attempt, but he had finally decided that Mola's uprising was too uncoordinated to succeed. Most of the rebellious army troops had been subdued, and Mola had been captured. News of Franco's flight from Spanish Morocco the day before promised to bring an end to the last holdouts there.
The coup attempt had failed, but Spain remained in turmoil. The rising had precipitated union militants to seize power in Barcelona and Valencia, and the central government in Madrid was hard pressed to maintain control of the country. Spain might yet dissolve into chaos.
"Spain is a troubled land," Arciszewski confirmed. "You need some great cause to bring you all together."
"And we believe," said Father Wyszynski, "that Poland can be that cause. Both of you have spoken out to denounce the unprovoked attack upon our nation by Röhm's vile minions." It had been Röhm's attack, in fact, combined with Manuel Azaña's election as President of Spain, that had convinced Mola that the time had come to strike.
"Together," Arciszewski continued, "you can both persuade Azaña and the Cortes of the need to come to Poland's aid in the present emergency."
"What need has Poland of our aid?" asked Prieto. "The British and French are already your allies."
"And what allies they have been," said Arciszewski sarcastically. "Winston Churchill seems to be the only man in England who actually wants to fight the Germans. And two weeks after declaring war, Leon Blum has yet to mobilize the French army."
"He may fear," said Prieto, "that if he does so the troops will choose to attack Paris rather than Germany. After the example provided by our own dear General Mola, I cannot blame him."
"Nevertheless," said Father Wyszynski, "this still leaves Poland fighting alone against Röhm's brutal hordes. Frankly, we will take all the help we can get."
"And look at it from your point of view," said Arciszewski to Prieto. "Even with the leaders of the coup fled or captured, you still have an army you can't trust to defend you. Very well, send them to defend us instead."
Gil Robles spoke up. "While it is true that the ignominy of the German attack on your country is one of the few things the people of Spain can currently agree upon --"
"Except for Largo Caballero," said Prieto with distaste. His rival for the leadership of Spain's Socialists, Francisco Largo Caballero had, predictably, chosen to echo Moscow's view of the German-Polish war as a battle between two equally reactionary regimes.
"Except for Largo Caballero and his followers," Gil Robles agreed, "that is still no guarantee that they will support a declaration of war on Germany."
"Your voices command the attention of many in Spain," said Arciszewski.
"Together, they will command even more attention," Father Wyszynski added. "The shock of seeing the two of you acting in concert will see to that."
"Now we come down to the crux of it," said Gil Robles. "Father, in good concience, how can I act in concert with a man who is so hostile to the Church?"
Eyeing Arciszewski sourly, Prieto said, "My Polish colleague here has spent the last two days convincing me that the government has, perhaps, gone too far in its effort to reduce the Church's role in Spain. It should prove possible to modify the Spanish Constitution to remove the more objectionable anticlerical articles."
"The Socialists would agree to that?" said Gil Robles skeptically.
"Most of them," Prieto admitted. "The ones who are not in Largo Caballero's pocket."
"There will be enough in agreement to effect the changes," said Father Wyszynski, "provided that the parties on the Right do not obstruct them."
Gil Robles sighed. "The CEDA I can guarantee, and probably the Carlists will go along, but who can tell about the Falange?"
Father Wyszynski smiled. "Do not worry about the Falange. Cardinal Pacelli has already seen to them."
"So it is agreed?" said Arciszewski. "The Socialists will agree to amend the Constitution to make it less odious to the CEDA, and the CEDA will join the Socialists in calling for war against Germany."
Again, Gil Robles found himself exchanging a searching look with Prieto. "Agreed," he said gingerly.
"Agreed," Prieto echoed. "I have to wonder, though, even if we do persuade Azaña to call for war and the Cortes to ratify it, how can our forces reach Poland? The Czechoslovaks will not allow us transit, nor the Russians, and certainly not the Germans."
"The Romanians," Gil Robles blurted out. "It must be the Romanians."
"Absurd," said Prieto. "The Romanians are in even worse shape than we are." Like Mola, Corneliu Codreanu had seen the German invasion of Poland as a signal to seize power. The Romanian Army, under newly appointed Premier Ion Antonescu, had succeeded in thwarting Codreanu and his Iron Guard, but Romania remained in an unsettled state.
Father Wyszynski said, "Cardinal Pacelli --"
"And Marshal Piłsudski," Arciszewski interjected.
"-- are seeing to it that General Antonescu understands the importance of allowing the Spanish Army to pass through Romania."
"And once they are in Poland," Arciszewski said, "their battle against the reactionary Brownshirts --"
"-- in the defense of their Catholic brethren --" Father Wyszynski added.
"-- will unite the Spanish people," Arciszewski concluded.
"So you propose to bring peace to Spain . . . " said Prieto.
" . . . by plunging our nation into war," said Gil Robles.
"Exactly," said Arciszewski, as Father Wyszynski nodded in affirmation.
Once more, Gil Robles found himself exchanging a look with Prieto, and he knew they both shared the same thought:
What a strange people these Poles were.
Friday, December 25, 2009
25 December 1936
Edward R. Murrow stood atop the roof of the Bristol Hotel and intoned solemnly, "This . . . is Warsaw."
Bundled up against the cold, a microphone clutched in one gloved hand, Murrow gazed out into the night as he continued his narration. "Once again, I'm broadcasting live from a rooftop looking out over Warsaw. For reasons of national as well as personal security, I'm unable to tell you the exact location from which I'm speaking. Spread out beyond the roof before me is a vast sea of darkness, patchily illuminated by burning buildings. The Polish capital is in blackout conditions against the possibility of air raids by the Luftwaffe, the German air force, though there have been no German aircraft seen here in over three months." As it happened, the Polish and German air arms had battled each other to a stalemate earlier on in the war, though the Poles had since been able to acquire a handful of aircraft from their British and French allies and could thus maintain a tenuous control over their embattled nation's airspace.
"Off to the west is a line of fire that marks the location of the battle line between the Polish and German armies, a line marked by the muzzle flashes of artillery, flares hanging in the air between the two armies, and burning buildings that have been struck by shells. That line goes off beyond the horizon in either direction, reaching all the way to the Lithuanian border in the north, and all the way to the Czechoslovak border in the south. Ever since Ernst Röhm launched his invasion in May, that line has flamed across the Polish nation, moving swiftly at first, then more slowly, and finally coming to a halt as the German advance stalled a month ago." Every war correspondent Murrow knew had drawn the obvious analogy from the Western Front during the World War, and expected the war to continue for years until one side or the other ran out of troops or munitions and asked for an armistice. They considered Marshal Piłsudski's demand for unconditional surrender by the Germans to be mere posturing.
"Throughout this embattled capital, the unsung heroes of modern war play their parts. Those black-faced men with bloodshot eyes fighting fires. The girls who cradle the steering wheel of a heavy ambulance in their arms. The policeman who stands guard over that unexploded shell. These things must be seen.
"For the people of Warsaw, the joys of Christmas are muted by the shadow of war that hangs over the city. Yet through it all, the people here can still find moments of joy to keep the holiday alive. An unexpected visit from a loved one. A chance encounter with an old friend. A sudden gift from an unexpected quarter. The Polish national anthem says 'Poland is still alive'. Despite everything that Ernst Röhm can do, Poland remains alive today.
"This is Edward R. Murrow, reporting live from Warsaw."
As he made his broadcast, Murrow kept one eye on his watch. Bill Paley had allotted him five minutes a week for his newscasts from Warsaw (Bill Shirer in Berlin got another five), and Murrow knew from experience that if he ran over, his colleagues in New York would simply cut him off. As his five minutes came to a close, Murrow wrapped up his report, then stood silent until the engineer beside him said, "And we're clear."
"Thanks, Ignacy," said Murrow, as the other man began dismantling his sound equipment. Through his headphones, Murrow could hear Bill Shirer doing his report from the German capital, three hundred miles distant. Murrow didn't envy Bill his posting -- from what Bill and the other Berlin correspondents had told him, Röhm's Germany was a nightmarish place where the rule of law had been overthrown and brownshirted thugs murdered and looted with impunity. The Piłsudski regime certainly had its share of dark secrets, but next to the Brownshirts they were practically angels.
As Shirer ended his report, Murrow removed his headphones and followed Ignacy through the window into the hotel's penthouse suite. The broadcast had gone off without a hitch. If the conventional wisdom about the future course of the war was correct, he and Ignacy would be spending a lot of time up here over the next few years.
From the suite, Murrow made his way down the stairwell (the elevator was no longer running) to the suite of rooms that served as both his office and the CBS news bureau in Warsaw. Since Murrow was the CBS news bureau in Warsaw, it was not a tight fit.
Nevertheless, the office was more crowded than usual, because there was a woman sitting beside his desk. As soon as she saw him, she jumped up and wrapped her arms around him, and they shared a long, slow kiss. Ignacy, abandoned in the doorway, grinned and said, "Hello, Janet."
It was a while before Janet Murrow was able to disengage herself from her husband long enough to say, "Hello, Ignacy."
"Darling," said an astonished Murrow, "what are you doing here? Why aren't you in Lublin?"
"You just told the good people back home that the front line hasn't moved in a month," Janet pointed out. "The Germans aren't going to take Warsaw, and I missed you terribly, so I've come back."
Murrow was caught between the desire to have Janet stay with him in Warsaw, and the fear that something might still happen to her. In the end, desire won out, and he answered, "It's good to have you back."
Murrow was feeling jittery, as he always did after a broadcast, so he suggested that Janet and he go out for a walk. Janet agreed, and Ignacy assured them that he could keep watch on the office, so the couple made their way down to the street.
Murrow's broadcasts were timed to make the 6 PM news in New York, which meant that it was almost 2 in the morning Warsaw time by the time he finished. The city streets were almost completely deserted, covered with the four-day-old remains of the last snowfall. In the blackout, the only light came from a gibbous moon shining down from the western sky. They took Królewska to the Saxon Gardens, which were impressive even in wintertime. To the west, across Marszałkowska, the grounds were fenced off, and they could see sandbags piled around. Murrow explained that there had been gun emplacements there, but that with the stabilization of the lines all the guns had been moved west.
The two of them were walking south down Marszałkowska when they heard a mechanical growl coming from up ahead. They hurried up to the Świętokrzyska intersection in time to see the first tank go past. Ed and Janet Murrow stood transfixed as the first tank was followed by others, all bearing Polish Army insignia, all going west towards the front. They were soon joined by Warsavians emerging from the surrounding shops and houses, silently at first, but soon transformed into a cheering crowd. The tanks were followed by armored cars pulling field artillery, then by marching troops accompanied by mounted officers.
By this time, the gathering on the sidewalks had become a general celebration. Young (and not-so-young) women rushed into the street to bestow hugs and kisses on the marching soldiers. With a shock, Ed Murrow recognized one of the passing officers as a colleague of his, an English journalist named Eric Blair who wrote under the name George Orwell. Like Murrow, Blair had come to Poland to cover the war. Within two months of his arrival, though, Blair had volunteered for the Polish army, and Murrow noticed that he now wore a lieutenant's insignia. Murrow ran up to Blair, calling his name, and the Englishman turned and motioned him over.
"Eric, what's going on?" Murrow asked as he kept pace with Blair.
Blair gestured to a Polish general riding horseback behind him. "That's General Skwarczyński, this is all his idea, would you like to meet him?"
Murrow agreed, and Blair led him over. "General," the Englishman called out in French, "this is an American reporter named Edward Murrow, he'd like a quick interview!"
Skwarczyński rode out of the formation and dismounted. Shaking Murrow's hand, the General said in French, "I've heard of your reports, Monsieur Murrow, they are very popular here. What would you like to know?"
Murrow repeated his question, suitably translated. "General, what's going on?"
"A Christmas gift for our German guests," Skwarczyński answered. "A general offensive spearheaded by tank columns. With any luck, the Germans won't know what's hit them. Would you like to come and watch?"
His mind awhirl, Murrow said, "I'd have to go back to the studio and get a tape recorder."
"By all means," said Skwarczyński. "Lt. Blair, as of this moment you're on detached duty, assigned to escort Monsieur Murrow here. Meet us at the staging point in two hours."
"Yessir," Blair said with a salute. As Skwarczyński remounted, Blair led Murrow back to the sidewalk. Looking around for Janet, Murrow was surprised to discover that she was standing by his side. He realized with a start that she had been with him the whole time, and he had never noticed.
"Are you still at the Bristol, Ed?" Blair queried. At a nod from Murrow, the Englishman said, "Then let's be off. We've an early appointment with the Brownshirts!"
Thursday, December 24, 2009
Eventually, though, mechanical twelve-hour clocks came into fashion, and it became customary to set the twelve o'clock hour at high noon, with the twelve hours before noon known as ante meridian and the twelve hours after noon as post meridian. This had the effect of moving the beginning and end of the day from sunset to midnight, so that was when December 25 was held to begin. However, people still referred to the period after sunset on what was now December 24th as Christmas Evening, and over time the term "Christmas Eve" came to refer to the day before Christmas, rather than the first half of Christmas.
Here on the east coast of North America, the sun has set, so it's now Christmas Eve by both the medieval and modern reckonings. That being the case, we here at the Johnny Pez blog now feel justified in wishing our hypothetical readers a merry Christmas.
During the Gernsback Era of science fiction, there were only two worlds (well, really one and a half worlds) whose surface features could be shown on a map: Mars, and the near side of the moon. Stanley G. Weinbaum might write about mountains on Io and valleys on Europa, but they were sheer invention on his part -- until the advent of robot space probes in the 1960s and 1970s, Io and Europa remained nothing more than points of light seen through optical telescopes.
Mars was different. Giovanni Schiaparelli and later astronomers -- well, some later astronomers -- had seen surface features and given them names and published Martian maps showing them. You could pick up one of Schiaparelli’s maps and follow the adventures of Dick Jarvis in Weinbaum’s “A Martian Odyssey”, or of Martin Gibson in Arthur C. Clarke’s The Sands of Mars. The dry sea-bottom of Syrtis Major featured in such tales as Poul Anderson’s “Duel on Syrtis” and H. Beam Piper’s “Omnilingual”, and the canals mapped by Schiaparelli and Percival Lowell could be found in almost any story written before 1965.
So it is with “Thia of the Drylands”. Vincent sets his fictional Martian city of Risapar on the banks of the Canal Pyramus, one of the canals mapped by Schiaparelli in the late 19th century (see map). On the far side of the Canal Pyramus, east of Risapar, lies the City of Diamonds and the Martian terminus of Carl Vetter’s space tube.
In addition to being science fiction, “Thia of the Drylands” is also a suspense story. The essence of the suspense story is that there’s something going on that the point-of-view character doesn’t know about. This will be resolved in one of two ways: if the POV character is clever, he’ll work out the mystery by himself; if the POV character is not clever, someone else will wind up explaining the mystery to him. Cliff Barron is not a clever man, and he has to be told what’s going on, first by Thia, and then by Sykes.
The date when the story takes place can be determined with some accuracy thanks to the information Vincent includes. Cliff Barron has been employed by Interplanetary Lines for ten years. He had just joined in 1997 when he visited a huge power plant, which places the story in 2007. Furthermore, Barron is informed by Carl Vetter that Earth and Mars are currently fifty-five million miles apart, and this was actually the distance between the two worlds during the opposition of December 2007, something Vincent would have been well aware of.
The background against which the story takes place is one that Vincent would continue to use whenever he set a story on Mars. The Canal Cities Union would be mentioned again in the later story “The Barrier”, along with the tense diplomatic situation between Earth and Mars. In the still-later story “Neutral Vessel”, set several generations after the initial contact between Earth and Mars, Mars has actually gone to war with Venus, while Earth remains neutral. As is usually the case with Vincent’s interplanetary stories, the various worlds of the solar system are all inhabited by human beings similar enough to Earth humans to form romantic attachments and even intermarry.
The Martian city of Risapar will be a surprise to readers who are used to Leigh Brackett's decadent and decayed Low Canal towns. Risapar shows that Martian civilization is still at the height of its powers: a public transportation system of ronsal hovercars bustling along on a network of nickle-cobalt roadways, soaring buildings, and a busy populace. Of course, given that the Canal Cities Union is an independent state strong enough to threaten war with the League of Terra, and given that the Martian surgeon Lintarg runs the most advanced clinic in the solar system, Martian civilization would have to be on a par with Earth's.
Vincent’s skill at characterization continues to grow. In Cliff Barron, he draws a convincing portrait of a bitter, alienated young man suffering emotionally (as well as physically) from a recent crippling illness. Barron is emotionally unstable and easily manipulated, and his speech is frequently disjointed. Even after he is restored to health, his emotions continue to escape his control. Perhaps he will regain his equilibrium during the trip to Callisto. For Thia’s sake, let’s hope so.
Speaking of Thia, she too is emotionally unstable, understandably given the shocks she has suffered, and continues to suffer in the course of the story. Cliff Barron's arrival presents the Diamond Citizens with a dilemma: he could reveal their whereabouts to the Martian authorities if they let him go. Given the stakes facing the outlawed drylanders, Durvil’s plan makes the most sense: keep Cliff Barron captive until the Diamond Citizens have made their escape to Earth. Instead, Thia helps Barron to escape, running the risk that he will be captured by the authorities in Risapar and reveal their location.
As for Carl Vetter, he's a straightforward villain of the corrupt corporate executive variety. He steals the plans for the space gun from one of Leonard Sykes' friends, and builds it in a secret base in Arizona. When the Diamond Citizens contact him and ask for his aid in escaping to Earth, Vetter could just turn them over to the Canal Cities Union and collect the reward. Instead, he concocts a scheme to make some quick money by agreeing to smuggle the Diamond Citizens to Earth, killing them as they board his space car, and then turning them over to the Canal Cities Union. And since he's too cheap to just hire someone to test the space gun, he manipulates Barron into volunteering, falsely promising to pay him fifty thousand zaks and get him an appointment with Lintarg of Risapar.
Nobody in the story suggests that Vetter deliberately infected Barron with the Martian disease in the first place just to help recruit him, but it seems like a logical inference. Vetter, after all, was on the J-18 when Barron contracted the disease. And it was the Martians who approached Earth's Secret Service to suggest that Vetter was planning to recruit Barron, which indicates that they knew or suspected that Vetter had infected him.
On the other hand, Barron would have had no need to take part in the trial run of the space gun if Sykes had agreed up front to send him to Mars for treatment, and Vetter couldn't know ahead of time that he would do so, which suggests that Barron's infection was natural, and that Vetter simply picked him up on the rebound. Or, it may have been the agents of the Martian Union who infected Barron, as part of their plan to use him as bait. After all, it was apparently their idea to have Sykes turn down Barron's request, giving Vetter his chance to recruit Barron.
In any event, the Martian authorities needn't have worried about Vetter's association with the Diamond Citizens. Together with Maranu, Vetter carried out his nasty plan to murder the drylanders (including, presumably, Durvil). Had he not died when the space car was launched on its last trip, Vetter presumably would have shipped the dead drylanders back to Mars and claimed the reward for them.
At the end of the story, Barron is a wanted man on Earth, presumably because the Canal Cities Union wants him arrested for associating with the Diamond Citizens, and the Terran government is required by treaty to extradite him. He and Thia agree to exile on Callisto, which has recently been visited by explorers and presumably has a native human civilization. Barron and Thia can explore Callisto (and perhaps the other Jovian moons) while presumably Sykes returns to Earth and pulls some strings to get the charges against them dropped.
Wednesday, December 23, 2009
This is the fifth and final installment of Harl Vincent's "Thia of the Drylands", a science fiction story from the Gernsback Era that first appeared in the July 1932 issue of Amazing Stories. Its only other appearance in print was in the Summer 1967 issue of Science Fiction Classics.
The story so far:
Cliff Barron is a spaceship pilot who has been disabled by a Martian disease. His boss, Leonard Sykes, President of Interplanetary Lines, refuses to allow Barron to travel to Mars to consult with the brilliant Martian surgeon Lintarg of Risapar. Barron is then approached by businessman Carl Vetter, who proposes to send him to Mars using a new technique he is developing: an electromagnetic space gun. Barron reluctantly agrees.
On Mars, Barron finds himself among a group of semibarbaric drylanders. One, Maranu, insists that he be killed, while another, Durvil, wants him imprisoned until the drylanders' mysterious plans are complete. The final decision, however, rests with the drylanders' ruler, the beautiful, quick-tempered Thia. Thia helps him escape, and Barron makes his way to Lintarg's clinic, dodging Terran Secret Service agents on the way.
After five days of therapy, Barron is cured. After leaving the clinic, he is ambushed by Secret Service agents who use a hypno-ray to learn what he knows of Vetter's space gun operation. Barron returns to the drylanders, and follows Thia into the space car. Inside, he finds that Vetter has just killed a group of drylanders, and is about to do the same to Thia . . .
* * *
Vetter had recovered his equanimity and was raising the flame pistol. A maniacal gleam had come into his eyes.
“Stop!” Cliff snapped. “They’re wise -- at the other end. Waiting for you -- the authorities.”
“Wha-a-at!” Vetter lowered the muzzle of the pistol.
Again the buzzer shrilled -- twice. They were speeding the start.
Cliff swung Thia in his arms and deposited her in one of the hammocks. Only one minute before that awful pressure --
“No!” Vetter snarled. “She must die!” He flung up his arm with the pistol trained upon her.
Cliff sprang swiftly in a flying tackle, wrapping his arms about the big man’s knees and bringing him to the floor with a terrific thud.
“Cleef! Cleef!” Thia was screaming. “Quickly -- into the swing.”
Vetter had struggled to his knees when Cliff threw himself into the nearest hammock. Murder was in his eyes and he raised the flame pistol toward Cliff, cursing. Truly, this was a new Vetter.
Then came the shuddering vibration of the car, the terrible pressure of acceleration. Cliff was pressed gasping into the cushions as the space car lurched off into the heavens.
Vetter scream of agony rose high as he was crushed to the floor-plates. There was the sharp snapping of his bones; weak whimperings gasped painfully. Vetter had paid the penalty of his perfidy.
Still the awful pressure increased, driving Cliff deeper into the cushions with every passing second. He tried to move, tried to raise his voice in words of comfort to Thia. It was utterly impossible. His vision lapsed under the smashing pressure; his breath came short.
There was silence in the speeding car, save for the throbbing of the pumps that supplied the oxygen they breathed. On the floor there were the dead drylanders -- and Vetter. In the hammocks two living beings; inert; helpless.
At the end of the journey -- what?
After endless time it seemed the pressure of acceleration had eased slightly. Still Cliff was unable to move. But his brain was active and he pondered the strange situation.
What was this thing Vetter had done? Evidently there had been a plot to carry these drylanders of Thia’s to Earth. Perhaps they were the piratical crew Cliff had thought. Perhaps Vetter, discovering this, had been slaying them as they entered the space car one by one. A qualm assailed the young pilot as he thought of his benefactor -- a crushed mass there on the floor beneath the hammock.
But Vetter had intended to kill Thia; would have killed Cliff had not the space car leaped into the heavens in the nick of time. And Thia was in no way responsible for whatever deeds of dishonor might have been contemplated by those she called her people. Cliff made up his mind on that point. She was too essentially feminine; too much of the tender-heartedness of womankind was in her makeup. She was the very personification of the ideal Cliff had always secretly cherished. Too human, though her eyes might flash fire when anger overcame her. A delectable and desirable creature . . .
The pressure was easing. Cliff found he could roll his eyes and that breathing was somewhat less difficult. But he was as yet unable to move his limbs or to speak. He assumed they had reached the mid-point of their journey and that deceleration had commenced for the long gradually slackening dash to Earth.
What was to become of them there? Cliff swore a mighty oath to himself that he’d battle for Thia against them all. Against his own world; against all Mars, if need be.
Definitely now, the pressure was less. He moved his legs and arms slowly and painfully. “Thia!” he managed to gasp.
“Y-yes,” after anxious moments.
“You all right?”
“I -- I am.” A sob was in the girl’s mellow voice.
The pressure suddenly was released entirely. Cliff made a move and was astonished to find his body drift out of the cushions and away from the hammock. Weightless! In a flash he understood what had occurred; the receiving tube of vibrations from Earth had been discontinued. They were drifting in space, helplessly entombed in a closed vessel whose oxygen supply could last no more than ten hours -- doomed.
“Thia!” he groaned.
Pushing against a stanchion of the hammock support, he drifted over to where the girl lay motionless. His fingers twined with hers.
All else was forgotten as instant revelation came to each that the other cared. No whispered words were needed, no stereotyped avowals. They knew . . . And, knowing, were speechless -- forgetful of the moment of the hopelessness of their position.
“You understand what this means -- the stopping of the space car?” Cliff asked gently, after a while.
“Yes -- I know. We were let loose at the point where the transmitting and receiving tubes met in space. Something happened to cut off the power at the terrestrial station, and we are adrift. We shall die together, Cleef.” Desperately, Thia fought back the sob that was in her throat.
To find happiness, undreamed-of happiness, and then to lose it! Cliff swallowed painfully, taking her in desperate enfolding arms as if by their new-found strength he might save her.
The pumps throbbed softly in the adjacent compartment.
Presently they were talking of other things. Resigned to their cruel fate, they would at least pass their last hours together in sympathetic understanding -- and in sanity. Resolutely they turned their thoughts and conversation from the future, which might have been theirs, but now could never be.
And many things which had been puzzling Cliff became clear to him as Thia spoke of her past life.
As he had suspected, she was no drylander. Pampered, orphaned daughter of an influential patrician of Risapar, she had fled to the drylands two years previously to escape a disastrous marriage about to be forced upon her by the Eugenics Board of the Canal Cities Union. She reached the City of Diamonds, the walled city of fabulous wealth that lay in the drylands only a few miles from Risapar. And here she found refuge.
A plague visited her new home, decimating the population of the City of Diamonds and striking terror to the souls of all who dwelt within the city walls. Thia had been an angel of mercy, working day and night with the physicians, organizing squads of nurses, and herself going into the homes of the afflicted and ministering to them.
Thia passed swiftly over this phase, but Cliff was able to learn that the survivors, mostly males and only a few hundred in number, had set her up as their new ruler. This they did in gratitude and in real appreciation of her organizing ability.
Then had come a demand for tribute from the Canal Cities Union. Her people had refused and had taken to the diamond mines and the maze of passages underneath their city, blasting the entrances shut to hide themselves from the militias sent against them.
Outlawed by the authorities and their lives forfeit, they had dwelt underneath the surface. Eventually they explored the connecting passages and came upon the retreat of Vetter and his companions in the space tube development. They had bargained with Vetter to convey them to Earth and he had agreed to do so for a vast fortune in diamonds that was offered. But none of the drylanders would risk passage in the car until a man of sufficient courage, or sufficient desperation, might be found. Thus Cliff had come into the picture.
Thia had successfully concealed from her people the fact that Cliff had escaped, and they had spent the past five days sending them across to Earth in the tiny bullet-like car. But today, with most of them gone, Thia had become suspicious. Maranu always guarded the entrance and her people had gone into the space car singly. And on Maranu’s cruel face there was always that sinister smile. And today had come Thia’s own turn; she had entered the car and had learned what had been happening . . . Cliff himself had seen . . .
She shuddered as she glanced at the heap of corpses. Stirring they were, in their weightlessness. Shifting position eerily.
“Lord!” Cliff muttered. “You think Vetter killed them all? Every trip was the same?”
“I do; I am sure of it.”
“Why -- in God’s name why?”
Thia’s eyes darkened to jet. “Maranu!” she whispered. “He and Vetter sold out to the Canal Cities Union. For additional payment of gold and precious stones they became the executioners -- they --“
“Vetter -- did -- this!” Cliff marveled. “After what he did for me with Lintarg. How could he? I’m glad I gave the thing away.”
“You -- gave what away?” Thia’s eyes were wide upon him.
He told her swiftly of how he had been forced to tell of Vetter’s Arizona retreat.
“You were not to blame,” she exonerated him. “But, Cleef, I do not understand -- these Secret Service -- why should they care?”
Cliff told her bitterly of Leonard Sykes, his rancor returning. At least he had the treacherous murderer Vetter to thank for Lintarg --
* * *
“Hush -- what was that?” Thia interrupted him.
There was the sound of metal contacting with the shell of the car somewhere about the entrance port. Their bodies drifted toward that side of the vessel. Some object of considerable mass had approached them, bringing this simulation of gravitational force by its attraction. A heavy thud followed and the space car lurched violently.
“A rocket ship!” Cliff exulted. “We’re saved, Thia, we’re saved. It could be nothing else out here -- nothing but a space liner.”
Choking with emotion, he held her fiercely close.
The sound of heavy footsteps resounded on the shell of the space car. Men in vacuum-tight apparel were out there making a rescue connection. In a few minutes they’d be inside.
Cliff’s jubilation gave way to swift realization.
“Thia,” he husked, “they’ll take you. By the treaty between the Canan Cities Union and the League of Terra your return will be demanded.”
“They’ll take you too, my Cleef,” sadly, “for you will be considered as an accomplice. There is evidence that Vetter sent you to Lintarg -- he paid --“
Cliff grabbed up the traitor’s flame pistol from the floor. He’d not let them take her! Better to die here together than that --
* * *
The entrance manhole was open and someone was coming through the airlock. A vacuum-sealed connection had been established with the rescuing vessel.
“Chet!” exclaimed Cliff as a square-shouldered, smiling youngster came through the door, “Chet Andrews, by all that’s good and holy!”
Andrews, his bosom pal in the old days -- pilot of the H-4 -- good old Chet was here!
“Yeah, it’s me.” His friend drifted near, pulling himself along from stanchion to stanchion. “Put away that thing,” he grinned, eyeing the flame pistol, “We’re taking you aboard, you bonehead.”
“No!” Cliff was suddenly panicky. “You don’t know, Chet -- Thia here -- they’ll return her to Mars. There’s a death sentence --“
“Such boneheadedness!” Chet continued to grin. “You don’t think we’d stand for that, do you? Your old pals? Not much.”
“Sure there’s a way out?” Cliff set the pistol down.
“Sure -- absolutely -- come on.”
Though he saw not how, Cliff believed him. Holding fast to Thia, who helped as best she could in the awkward absence of appreciable gravity, he made his way through the airlock after Chet.
In the artificial gravity of the H-4, they moved naturally again. Chet was chuckling with glee as he led the two toward the master stateroom of the liner.
“Got a surprise for you, Cliff,” he boasted.
“Wouldn’t you like to know?”
And then they were inside the room and Cliff was staring incredulously at a pudgy, smiling man who sat by the library table. Others of Cliff’s friends were grouped about the man -- Davis, Trent, Thomas. But Cliff had eyes only for the pudgy one and mad rage surged up in him.
“Leonard Sykes!” he bellowed. “You dirty swine!”
He plunged forward. More double-dealing, he supposed. Well, at least he’d have the satisfaction of repaying Sykes --
* * *
“Easy now!” Cut it out, pilot!” “Don’t be a bonehead!” The soothing words of friends were in his ears as they hemmed him in, holding him off from the man he intended to pulverize. Thia had drawn back against the wall and stood staring.
“Let me at him!” Cliff yelped. “I’ll mop the floor with him. You know what he did?”
“Yeah, we know what he did,” Chet Andrews drawled, thrusting his face close to Cliff’s and hanging tight to his wrists. “He fixed you up, that’s what he did. Fixed things with Lintarg -- Sykes did, not Vetter -- don’t be a bonehead all your life.”
“Sykes -- did --“ Cliff let his arms fall weakly at his side and moved to a chair, where he sat down dazedly. He stared at his former employer, who continued to smile. “Is this true, Mr. Sykes?”
“It is, my boy.” Sykes’ gaze was frank, kindly.
Cliff hunched himself dejectedly where he sat. It seemed as if he had been seventeen kinds of fool. “I -- I’m sorry then, Mr. Sykes,” he stammered. “I’ve been thinking all this time --“
“I know what you’ve thought,” returned Sykes, “and small wonder. I’ll explain, if you will listen.”
Cliff listened. The matron on board had taken charge of Thia and he gave his undivided attention to what the financier had to say.
“Barron,” Sykes told him, “I had to do what I did -- refuse the very reasonable request you made of me. Two Secret Service men were in the next room and I was acting in accordance with instructions. A serious situation had arisen between the League of Terra and the Canal Cities Union that amounted to a threat of war. In some manner the Martian Union had learned of Vetter’s machinations, though they could not locate his apparatus on Mars, nor could they find the condemned drylanders he was negotiating with. But their spies in America had the information that he intended to approach you, Cliff, in the matter of the trial trip. And they put it up to our Secret Service to trail you to Vetter’s lair, using you as the bait with which to trap him. But his autogiro was too fast for their antiquated ships and they lost him. Hence came the attempt to get information from you by others of their number before your operation. Here again they blundered, or you outsmarted them, but finally they succeeded in locating Vetter’s operation in Arizona and shut off the power there.”
“Yes, they succeeded all right,” said Cliff dryly. “But you, Mr. Sykes, how did you come to be out here? And how do you know all this?”
“We came out at once after you had left my office. I suspected what Vetter was up to, as he originally stole this invention from an old crony of mine. He worked on your resentment against me and on your former disability to get you to make this trial he dared not make himself. He was crafty, Vetter was.”
“I’ll say so,” growled Cliff, a light dawning on him. “Then Vetter didn’t --“
“He did not,” Sykes interrupted. “The letter of credit he gave you was forged; the supposed letter to Lintarg only blank paper. He had counted on Maranu to make away with you when you arrived, but Maranu failed him, I take it, on account of Thia’s intervention.”
“But I have agents in Risapar, Barron, and I kept in touch with them by etherphone. They arranged everything with Lintarg, even to the new letter of credit -- and kept their mouths shut, too.”
“Then you, not Vetter, did this -- for me!” Consumed with chagrin, Cliff listened as Sykes went on with the story.
Though he did not know the location of Vetter’s projector, Sykes did know of the existence of the space tube. He had come out here in anticipation of just such a thing as had happened; had hovered in space with the H-4 midway between Mars and Earth, hoping to rescue anyone who might be set adrift in the space car. He had kept in touch with the situation by means of etherphone conversations with his agents on both Earth and Mars. And here he was, Johnny-on-the-spot!
Cliff could restrain himself no longer. He pleaded with Sykes for forgiveness. Murderous rage had been in his heart, and misunderstanding. But Sykes would have none of his apologies, and his old buddies made sport of his embarrassment. It was good to have friends like these!
A little later Thia returned with the matron and came at once to Cliff’s side. He observed with pride the admiring, envious glances of his buddies.
“And what about us, Mr. Sykes?” Cliff asked, drawing Thia to him. This girl can not return to Mars, you know.”
“Nor to Earth.” Sykes gaze was solemn. “As far as that goes, Barron, you are no better off yourself. Both of you are exiles. You must know the status of diplomatic relations between the League of Terra and the Canal Cities Union. Even though there was double-dealing on the part of the Union when they bought Maranu and Vetter off without advising the League, they will deny it and will still insist that we keep the letter of the law on extradition. Neither of you may be harbored safely on Terra.”
“I’ve always wanted to visit Callisto,” Cliff said vaguely. He had heard of the idyllic beauty of that satellite of Jupiter from returning adventurers.
Leonard Sykes permitted himself a chuckle. “You read my mind, Barron,” he said. “It is the very place for you and your bride.”
“Within ten minutes.” Sykes beamed expansively.
With a gurgle of delight Thia crossed to where he sat and hugged him enthusiastically. Sykes reddened painfully, and every man in the room was consumed with envy.
A space pilot is vested with the same authority as is the captain of an ocean-going vessel of Earth. And so it was that Cliff and Thia were made one in a simple ceremony performed by Chet Andrews.
* * *
“Now we come to the means of getting you two to Callisto,” said Sykes, when the congratulations and the felicitations were over. “Of course it is impossible for the H-4 to carry you there; the ship would be missed by the Interplanetary Police if she were to be away for so long.”
“What then?” Cliff asked.
The financier’s eyes twinkled. “You’ve been itching for a long time to sit at the controls of an ethership, haven’t you Barron?”
“I’ll say so!” Cliff looked down at his strong hands, so lately clawed and useless. “Ever -- ever since --“
“Exactly.” Sykes grinned understandingly. “Well, how would you like to take over the H-4’s tender?”
“You -- you mean --“
“I mean I’m giving you the Hornet. Take her and go to Callisto with your charming wife. And, some day perhaps we shall pay you a visit there -- some of the boys and myself. What do you say?”
Cliff said nothing. He couldn’t speak for the fullness of his heart, but his grip said more than mere words.
“It’ll be a fine little ship for a honeymoon,” Sykes added, his eyes misting and his voice wistful.
* * *
When the tiny ethership Hornet slipped from her air-lock in the side of the H-4, Thia was beside Cliff at the controls. They waved a farewell to Chet and Sykes as Cliff maneuvered to pass the forward port of the H-4. And then the Hornet drove off into the blackness of the star-studded heavens.
They passed the bullet-like shell that was the tomb of Vetter and the last lot of drylanders he had murdered.
“I did all I could for them,” Thia murmured.
“Yes.” Cliff set a course for the orbit of Jupiter. “You’ve done far more than your share, my dear.”
“You’re not sorry?” she whispered dreamily.
“Sorry!” Cliff looked off toward the H-4; saw the sudden flare of her stern rocket tubes as she made for Terra. “Sorry! Why, I’m the luckiest man in the universe. I’ve always been a drifter, a lover of faraway places. Earth was no more my home than Mars or Venus. And now I’ll not only have a new home and the means of traveling through the heavens when I like -- I’ll have you.”
Thia dropped her tired head to his shoulder. “I too,” she sighed blissfully. “What more could I ask?”
They sat thus, silent for many minutes, while the Hornet drove on into the void toward the new land and the new life that held such promise of happiness. And when next they spoke, it was only of the future.
Tuesday, December 22, 2009
This is the fourth installment of Harl Vincent's "Thia of the Drylands", a science fiction story from the Gernsback Era that first appeared in the July 1932 issue of Amazing Stories. Its only other appearance in print was in the Summer 1967 issue of Science Fiction Classics.
The story so far:
Cliff Barron is a spaceship pilot who has been disabled by a Martian disease. His boss, Leonard Sykes, President of Interplanetary Lines, refuses to allow Barron to travel to Mars to consult with the brilliant Martian surgeon Lintarg of Risapar. Barron is then approached by businessman Carl Vetter, who proposes to send him to Mars using a new technique he is developing: an electromagnetic space gun. Barron reluctantly agrees.
On Mars, Barron finds himself among a group of semibarbaric drylanders. One, Maranu, insists that he be killed, while another, Durvil, wants him imprisoned until the drylanders' mysterious plans are complete. The final decision, however, rests with the drylanders' ruler, the beautiful, quick-tempered Thia. Thia helps him escape, and Barron makes his way to Lintarg's clinic, dodging Terran Secret Service agents on the way . . .
* * *
A long-drawn musical note, vibrant and mellow. Grateful warmth that penetrated deep into the tissues, stimulating muscular activity, setting the pulses a-throb, revitalizing bodily functions long dormant. The tang of ozone, like sweet mountain air filling the lungs. Light-images, hazy and unstable at first, resolving into clear-cut forms of things animate and inanimate . . . substantial and real . . .
Abruptly, Cliff Barron knew he was in the land of the living.
The musical note slithered down the scale and trailed off into silence. Cliff drew in his breath sharply; looked down at his nude body. He was standing on a metal plate that glowed with pale rosy light. His flesh was firm, his skin healthy. His hands -- he moved a finger; spread all ten fingers wide. His arms, no longer withered and rigidly twisted -- he flung them wide with sudden vigor.
A choked sob rose in his throat.
He looked up slowly and reverently into a smiling, gray-bearded face. Lintarg. Other white-coated Martians were in the room -- a room of crystal walls and weird apparatus. All the white-coated ones were looking at Cliff, watching him intently as one watches the subject of a laboratory experiment -- for untoward reactions. All excepting Lintarg. The great surgeon’s gaze was confident, friendly and sympathetic. Cliff tried to speak and couldn’t.
It was no less than a miracle, this thing that had been done by the famed healer of Risapar. A man made over. A healthy, normal human being made from a physical derelict. A wreck salvaged.
Cliff extended his hands and turned them palm upwards. Wriggled his fingers as an infant, when first cognizant of the strange appendages, wriggles its toes. Impulsively, he stretched those muscular new hands of his to Lintarg. Gripped him mightily. Said not a word.
A little later, when Cliff had mastered his emotions, a flood of questions clamored for utterance. The staff physicians and attendants had quitted the laboratory. He was alone with the great Lintarg.
“Tell me doctor,” he demanded, “am I entirely fit and well?”
Lintarg’s round eyes twinkled behind his spectacles. “You feel fit, don’t you?” he countered.
“Never better. But I don’t understand; my lost weight has been returned; my senses seem more acute -- everything. I am a new man --“
“You are precisely that, Barron. And wondering about it all, I am sure. We will discuss it in your room. Here -- cover yourself and come with me.” Lintarg tossed him a light robe.
In the small bare room with the high white bed, Cliff hugged himself and grinned like a boy. Rising to his toes and with legs rigid, he bent double and touched the tips of his fingers to the floor.
“Here, here,” Lintarg, behind him, reproved. “None of that, young man. You are to take to your bed at once.”
“Bed” -- blankly. “Why, I feel --“
"Precisely; you feel like dancing and singing and being many fools combined in one. Nevertheless, you are going to bed -- a night of real sleep is necessary after your experience. Normal sleep.”
To Cliff it seemed he was in condition to tackle a dozen wildcats then and there. But he yielded to the great physician; stretched flat under the covers with arms outside where he could see and gloat over their easy movement, their muscular --
“You are a fortunate young man,” Lintarg pronounced, interrupting his thoughts. “Extremely fortunate.”
“I’ll say I am.” Cliff looked up into the grave round eyes and a wave of deep gratitude swept his being. Gratitude he could not hope to express properly. “I can’t tell you, sir, how much --“
“Forget all that.” Lintarg’s voice was gruff, but understanding was in the round Martian eyes. “The thing is done, and you will be discharged in the morning. Meanwhile, as I am a very busy man, I must bid you farewell. It will be impossible for me to see you tomorrow. So good luck to you, my boy.”
“Wait, sir; tell me how -- what --“
“Yes.” Lintarg glanced swiftly at the huge Martian chronometer he drew from his pocket. “Yes, of course, you will not remember it. You fainted in the hall, Barron, and we brought you at once to the operating room. It was none too soon. Of the operation itself I shall speak little, as the details are highly technical -- the repair and rejuvenation of certain motor and sensory nerve centers -- you may hardly expect to comprehend. Then followed five days of intensive treatment, healing scars, building up tissues, and strengthening the weakened organs by means of curative rays. Electrical, you understand. Systematic exercise, proper dieting -- it is, after all, quite simple.”
“Five days!” Cliff stared. “And I know nothing of it -- this was all done while I remained unconscious!”
“Precisely; it is the Lintarg system. We keep the patient’s mental processes entirely dormant during treatment, in order that there be no possibility of conscious or subconscious resistance of the mind. Ninety days of convalescence are thereby accomplished in five days of time. Is this all clear to you?”
“Y-yes.” It wasn’t clear, but Cliff had a vague understanding of what they must have done to him.
“Then -- truly -- I must be leaving you.” Lintarg moved to go.
“Your fee, sir --
“All taken care of by your benefactor, and your letter of credit is intact as well. I repeat, you are a fortunate young man.” The surgeon was fidgeting; anxious to be gone.
“Oh -- I’ll not keep you, sir. Thanks -- it’s all I can say -- I --“ Cliff swallowed hard; extended his hand -- the firm strong right hand Lintarg had given to him.
The Martian gripped it, smiling. “Henes be with you my boy.” And then the great Lintarg was gone.
* * *
Cliff lay for a long time thinking. Moving his fingers one by one, trying each in turn. Flexing the muscles of his arms. Peering at the remade members as if they belonged to another man. Marveling.
He thought of what Lintarg had told him. That sealed letter of Vetter’s had taken care of the great surgeon’s fees -- large fees, too, they must be. Vetter had done more than he agreed. Good old Vetter, whatever his connections with those drylanders . . .
Abruptly Cliff Barron sat up in his bed. Memory of Thia smote him like a blow. Five days! He had been out of the picture five whole days while she was in danger of unknown nature. But serious danger. He remembered the League of Terra men. They were on Thia’s trail -- or Vetter’s. After the whole gang probably.
He jumped from his bed. Stay here overnight? -- not if he could help it. He rushed to the small closet in a corner of the room; saw his clothing hanging there neatly arranged. In a panic of apprehension, he dressed more swiftly than he had done in his lifetime.
Flinging open the door, he came face to face with a nurse. A round-eyed Martian girl, stolid of features and severely prim in the starched white uniform of her calling.
“Henes!” she gasped. “The patient is mad. You must return to bed instantly, Earthling.”
“Nonsense, woman!” Cliff brushed past her and strode down the hall. “I’m as well as any man in the city. And I’m going away from here.”
The nurse pattered after him, clutching at his arm. He shook her off. An orderly, a great bleached-skinned hulk of a drylander, came from a side hall, blocking his way. Cliff flung him aside as if he had been a child.
He was in the outer office then, marching past the astonished and protesting registrar into the reception hall. Other orderlies came running, but these fell back under his grim threats. A lift stopped at the floor; the door opened. Cliff flung himself inside and was whisked away to the lower regions.
* * *
Reaching the main entrance of the building, he looked out over the central square of Risapar with satisfaction. The city was in darkness save for the twinkling cold-white lights of the square and the roadways. The pedestrian ways and moving platforms were almost deserted. Cliff drew a breath of relief and stepped out between the great columns of the portal.
And then he was stopped short in his tracks by a sound that came to his ears. A sharp click, directly behind him, followed by a whir as of some swiftly rotating mechanism. He wheeled about to look into the grim visage of the Secret Service operative who had first accosted him and into the violet glare of light that sprang from a pistol-like contrivance that was thrust in his face. A languorous, numbing sensation flashed over his body and his knees sagged.
“Now you’ll talk, buddy,” the operative growled. “Get down there to the corner where you see that small private ronsal. Quick!”
Everything within him cried out against it, but Cliff was without power to refuse. The wily operative was using a hypno-ray, one of those devilish contrivances that rob a man of his will and render him utterly subject to the will of another. Like an automaton Cliff faced about; as in a dream he walked jerkily to where the small ronsal was waiting at the roadside.
The second operative, the one he had seen in Lintarg’s reception hall, was inside the ronsal. The one with the hypno-ray backed Cliff against the side of the vehicle, in the shadow.
“Now!” he snarled, bringing the violet glare closer, “You’ll tell us how you got here from Terra. Make it fast, young fellow.”
Cliff shut his eyes, endeavoring to blot out the violet glare that had him in its power. But to no avail. He struggled mightily to clamp his jaws tight that his lips might not speak the words. But in his consciousness that other will was beating his down -- a will inferior to his own had it not been supplemented by the fiendish energy of the violet glare. Mechanically his voice repeated the fatal words:
“Carl Vetter’s space car . . . hurled across void in less than an hour . . . projector of car in cavern deep in mesa . . . Arizona -- in desert . . . due south of Tuba City . . . “
“Enough.” The violet glare was extinguished.
Cliff had vague knowledge that both operatives were now in the small ronsal. He heard the faint whine of the vehicle’s starting generators; battled desperately to regain control of his own movements. But too late he succeeded. With a swift rush the wheelless cab had risen from the nickel-cobalt roadway and lurched off into one of the express traffic lanes. By the time his brain had cleared of the hypno-ray’s influence, it was lost to his view.
The stark awfulness of the thing he had done smote Cliff with overwhelming force. He had betrayed Vetter, his benefactor; he had broken his solemn promise to Thia. Thia the beautiful, the impulsive, who was in such grave danger. True, he could not have helped it -- it was impossible for man to fight the energies of the hypno-ray. But that made the thing none the less calamitous.
He rushed shouting into the square, to a waiting ronsal of the public transportation system.
* * *
Of the swift ride along Canal Pyramus toward the city limits he took little heed. At the back of his brain was hammering the dread certainty that he would arrive too late. Even now the word was being flung earthward through the ether -- agents of the Secret Service would be at Vetter’s laboratory in the mesa within an hour.
Lucky he had not been asked any details regarding the Martian terminal of the space tube. If Thia were still there, she at least might be warned. If she had gone to Earth . . . Cliff shuddered.
Sykes had done this thing, smugly complacent Leonard Sykes, who had refused Cliff the chance Vetter later gave him. Sykes, somehow, had learned of Vetter’s space tube. Unable to locate it, he had used his vast wealth and political influence to corrupt even the League of Terra Secret Service. And now he would ruin Vetter. Thia, whatever her secret connection with the project, was in danger of exposure -- perhaps of death. There was a mystery here, of course, in the Risapar terminal of the space tube -- shady dealings, maybe, between Vetter and these drylanders of Thia’s. No matter. They had given Cliff his coveted chance of recovery and he was throwing in his lot with theirs.
The ronsal stopped at Cliff’s destination. When it had slid off into the night he clambered down the stair to the lower level of the canal bank. How different from when he had staggered up these same steps with useless arms dangling!
By the dim illumination of the flickering lights above, he made out the approximate location of the hidden entrance of the underground passages which communicated with the cavern of the projector. It had remained indelibly written in his memory.
Then he was tearing at the thick moss of the sloping bank with his fingers. It resisted with the toughness of leather. Desperately he cast about for an implement. The iron rail of the stairway -- he tore away a six foot section of its length as if it had been the lightest of bamboo and attacked the thick moss violently.
At length he had located the door frame. Of smooth metal, it was, and entirely unyielding. Between the strapped and studded wood of the door itself and the frame was not the smallest crack into which he might insert his improvised crowbar. But he located the outer plate of the lock eventually and went at it with the fury of a madman, his iron bar used as a battering ram.
He looked up anxiously to the pedestrian way at the top of the bank, fearing the din was attracting attention. But no faces peered down at him as yet, and he went back to his task with renewed vigor.
Presently there was a snap of metal inside. The door yielded slightly. An inch, two inches. The iron bar crashed home again and again. Then, suddenly, the door swung inward, creaking protestingly, and Cliff was in the dark passage.
* * *
He ran frantically, blindly, bumping heavily against rough-hewn walls as he lost his sense of direction in the darkness. He came out into lighted passages that seemed familiar, yet gave him no indication as to whether he was on the right track. Into the darkness again and again, feeling his way, stumbling and panting, scratched and bruised by many contacts with the jagged stones of the passage walls.
It was a hopeless task, finding his way in the labyrinth of dark tunnels and lighted ones that were equally unfamiliar. He shouted occasionally, pausing to listen for replies. But none came.
God! -- if Thia had gone! Or, if, even now, she was on her way to Earth in the space car . . . what fate awaited her at the other end of the tube? Cliff could only imagine, and, imagining, he conjured up in his mind the most frightful of possibilities.
And then, amazingly, he had come out into the cavern of the space car. He saw that operators of the projector were at the controls. Instructions were being called out by the observer at the radio telescope. And, on the landing platform at the entrance manhole of the car, was Maranu. Thia, in a boyish leathern garment, was entering the bullet-like vessel of the heavens.
“Stop!” Cliff was yelling as he ran toward the platform. “Wait, Thia -- they know!”
But the girl was already inside, and Maranu faced him with an ugly leer as he mounted the platform. “She can’t go, you fool!” Cliff gibbered. “Don’t you understand? Terrestrial Secret Service -- they will be waiting at the other end. The car must stay here.”
Maranu’s eyes narrowed. His burly form blocked the entrance port of the car. “So!” he rasped. “You think it must stay.”
Cliff was upon him then, bearing him to the floor. In a flash he had crawled over his prostrate form and was in the airlock of the car. There was a yell from outside and the port cover swung shut with a crash. Cliff heard the jangling of the bolts as it was fastened to its seats. But the import of this did not impress itself upon him then. He was too intend upon his quest of Thia.
“You monster, you’ve killed them!” Cliff heard Thia’s voice beyond the door of the passenger compartment.
Bursting through, he halted in amazement. She was facing Carl Vetter, a new Vetter with disarranged hair and staring eyes in which bloodlust gleamed. His fingers clutched the butt of a flame pistol and a heap of bodies was on the floor -- bodies of the drylanders.
“You’ve been killing them all,” Thia moaned. “And now you want to kill me. Oh, you vile traitor --“
“What’s this?” Cliff yelped in amazement.
“Thia turned swiftly and threw herself in his arms -- those new strong arms that closed protectingly about her.
“You!” Vetter exclaimed, falling back. His face paled to ghastly whiteness. “You! And completely recovered.”
“Yes, me, Vetter. What’s the idea?” Cliff still was unable to credit his senses. That a man who had done the thing Vetter had done for him should be engaged in what was evidently nefarious business, was incredible. A murderer -- Vetter? Impossible.
The buzzer shrilled viciously. They were sending the car across!