Monday, August 31, 2009

DBTL 30: Ruling Coalition

This is the latest installment in the Drowned Baby Timeline, an alternate history where Adolf Hitler drowned at birth and where World War II never took place. The largest state in Central Europe is the Polish Commonwealth, which includes the historical Second Polish Republic, eastern Germany, and the former Soviet republics of Byelorussia and Ukraine. Passage of the Law of Devolution in 1939 led to the creation of half a dozen autonomous areas, or devos, among the regions of the country with non-Polish majorities. In an unexpected devolopment, in 1946 the Polish heartland of the Polish Commonwealth becomes a devo as well . . .

Warsaw, Polish Devo, Polish Commonwealth
5 May 1946

There is a room somewhere in the city of Warsaw. The room's location is unimportant; what is important is the identities of the two men meeting there. One is Władysław Sikorski, leader of the National Democratic Party and newly-elected Marshal of the newly-formed Sejm of the newly-established Polish Devo. The other is Bolesław Piasecki, Duce of the National Socialist Polish Workers Party.

"This is very dangerous," Sikorski stated. "It was not necessary for the two of us to meet."

"Oh, I happen to think that it was extremely necessary for the two of us to meet," said Piasecki gleefully. "I wouldn't want you to go and forget just whose votes were responsible for your current exalted position."

"Let's get one thing straight," said Sikorski. "Your party's assistance is a convenience, not a necessity. I could have formed a coalition with the Peasants Party. If I decide that you're becoming a liability, I can still do so."

"You think so?" said Piasecki. "All those wealthy landowners who pay your bills would not take kindly to having their estates appropriated and parcelled out, and that's the price you'd have to pay if you wanted the Peasants Party on board. Maybe you could manage it, and maybe you couldn't. And don't forget, Mikołajczyk would demand plenty of seats on the Governing Council. Me, I understand the need for discretion. Wouldn't do to have a bunch of jackbooted blackshorts marching up and down the Council chamber, so I'll be happy to remain the silent partner and let all you respectable National Democrats appear in the group photographs. But . . . "

Long seconds passed as Piasecki allowed his sentence to hang. His eyes gleamed with amused malice. Sikorski remained impassive.

"But," Piasecki finally continued, "I'll only stay silent as long as I see that my concerns, and those of my constituents, are being taken care of. Skwarczyński's traitors have practically handed over the keys to the country to a bunch of filthy yids. You can't swing a dead cat in Warsaw without hitting kike police and teachers and bureaucrats. They even let Jews on television, for Christ's sake! Polluting the minds of good, decent Poles with their vile, lecherous depravity! I'm going to want to see results, Sikorski, and I'm going to want to see them fast! In six months, I want to see the Devo's municipal police departments Jew free! In a year, I want nothing but good, decent Poles teaching our children! Let me down, and you can kiss your government goodbye!"

Having spoken his piece, Piasecki seemd ready to leave, but Sikorski raised his hand, and the Duce remained in place. Now it was Sikorski's turn to sit in silence, and Piasecki's to wait for him to speak.

"Piasecki," Sikorski said finally, "I meant what I said. You're a convenience, not a necessity. I don't care about your twisted demands. My government's policies will be what I think best, not what you think best. If you're not happy with them, then by all means, try and bring me down. You'll find my successor a lot harder to deal with than me."

Giving the Marshal one last malicious grin as he left, Piasecki said to the empty room, "Not if your successor is me."

Sunday, August 30, 2009

DBTL 29: Deutchland Unter Alles

This is the latest installment in the Drowned Baby Timeline, an alternate history where Adolf Hitler drowned at birth and where World War II never took place. Nevertheless, following a German invasion of Poland in the spring of 1936, a defeated Germany was divided into zones of occupation by the victorious allies. The Poles annexed their zone, while the British and French set up independent states in theirs. However, few Germans are happy with the situation . . .

Hanover City, Kingdom of Hanover
20 April 1946

"I say, Konrad old chap, what's all this talk I hear about us joining Poland?"

Edward of Saxe-Coburg und Gotha, former King of Great Britain and current King of Hanover, spoke flawless German with a pure Thuringian accent his royal great-grandparents would have been proud of. Nevertheless, his upbringing in England had had a noticable effect on his manner of speaking. Konrad Adenauer had become accustomed to it over the course of two years as Edward's Prime Minister, and now he hardly even noticed.

"Pay it no mind, Your Highness," Adenauer replied. "It is simply the Communists trying to stir up trouble. Your subjects no more wish to join the Polish Commonwealth than they would wish to join the United States of America."

"Well that's a relief, I must say," the King said. "Abdicating one throne was tiresome enough. Abdicating a second would be terribly monotonous. Not to mention what the Queen would say."

"As you say, Your Highness. However, your mentioning the subject has brought a related matter to my mind, which I desire to bring to your attention."

"By all means, old thing, feel free. I'm all ears."

Adenauer remained silent for a moment as he marshalled his thoughts. "Your Highness, while it is true that your subjects have no wish to become Poles, they nevertheless still wish to become Germans."

"But they are Germans. Aren't they?"

"I fear not, Your Highness. They are Hanoverians, Bavarians, Brandenbergers, Silesians, and Prussians, but they are not Germans."

"Ah, I see what you're getting at, Konrad. They miss the old reich, do they? The old fatherland."

"They do, Your Highness. But they also know that after the excesses of the Röhm regime, the rest of Europe will not allow them to recreate a German reich."

"It's a pretty problem, isn't it, Konrad? They can't live with us, and they can't live without us."

"Indeed, Your Highness. And given these circumstances, it has become clear to a number of Germans throughout the former reich that our only hope for reunification is as part of a more general European Union."

"My word, that's a bit farfetched, don't you think?"

"Farfetched it may be, Your Highness, yet it is our only hope. And if a united Europe is our only hope for a united Germany, then it is to a united Europe that we Germans must dedicate ourselves."

"Konrad old chum, I see that this European Union business is one that is close to your heart, and I certainly admire your dedication. Still, I have to wonder if anyone apart from us Germans is going to see any merit in the thing. I daresay the English won't be too keen on it."

"Your Highness, I have been in contact with a number of men outside Germany who agree with us on the desirability of bringing the nations of Europe closer together. Monsieur Schuman of France, for one, and Señor Prieto of Spain as well."

"Sterling fellows I've no doubt, but I can't help noticing that neither one holds any actual office at the moment."

"Perhaps not, Your Highness, but Foreign Minister Masaryk of Czechoslovakia has also expressed an interest, as has Prime Minister Mestrovic of Yugoslavia. And while the current British government is, as you say, not too keen, Mr. Eden of the Opposition feels otherwise."

"It sounds to me as if you're leading up to something, Konrad."

"Your Highness is perceptive as always. My discussions with these worthy gentlemen, while fruitful in their way, have remained both unofficial and unpublicized. It is time, I feel, to advance to the next stage of the process: the convening of a general conference in which the notion of a European Union may be given a public airing. Hanover is, I believe, ideally situated to act as host for such a conference. If it please Your Highness, I wish for you to issue a general invitation to the statesmen of Europe to meet together in Magdeburg."

"Ah, because Magdeburg is where the old postwar zones of occupation came together."

"Precisely, Your Highness. Magdeburg is at the confluence of Hanover, Bavaria and Brandenburg. It forms the keystone of Germany, and hence of Europe as a whole. If we are to build a united Germany within a united Europe, then Magdeburg is the logical starting point."

"I can't imagine you'll accomplish much at this conference of yours."

"Your Highness, as the Chinese say, the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. At this point, we simply wish for the people of Europe hear of our enterprise. It is not necessary for them to support us, or agree with us, or even take us seriously. Those will be tasks for the future. For now, all we require is their attention."

"It could all come to nothing you know, Konrad. Your conference could turn out to be a total fiasco, and we'd all end up looking quite the Guys. It might be better to simply forget the whole business and let things remain as they are."

"I do not believe that, Your Highness. I cannot and will not. Europe will be united, and when that day comes, men will look back upon our conference and see it as the work of visionaries who laid the first foundations of future greatness. One day, Your Highness, you will be honored as the founding father of a United Europe."

"I say, Konrad, do you really think so? Gosh, that would be something, wouldn't it? Very well, then, send word out to all your chaps and tell them to come round to Magdeburg. It's time to get this whole European Union thingie moving along!"

Friday, August 28, 2009

On notice

Ross Douchehat is right (and God damn Max Baucus to hell for making me write that):

If the Congressional Democrats can’t get a health care package through, it won’t prove that President Obama is a sellout or an incompetent. It will prove that Congress’s liberal leaders are lousy tacticians, and that its centrist deal-makers are deal-makers first, poll watchers second and loyal Democrats a distant third. And it will prove that the Democratic Party is institutionally incapable of delivering on its most significant promises.
I can (and do) quibble about Douchehat's reference to "Congress's liberal leaders," since the only liberal in a leadership position is Nancy Pelosi. But he's absolutely nail-on-the-head right about the centrist deal-makers. This is, as Douchehat says, a once-in-a-generation opportunity for liberals to pass health care reform. This was the issue that Democrats ran on last year, and it was this issue that got the American people to send a Democratic president to the White House and bulk up the Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress. This is, as Douchehat so rightly puts it, a test of the Democratic Party's ability to govern.

So, if the Democrats can't deliver on the promise they made to voters last year and give them a decent health care reform initiative, they will have proven that they are unable to govern. The GOP's stunning losses in the 2006 and 2008 elections were a direct result of the public perception that they couldn't govern -- six years in the driver's seat and all they could deliver were two endless, unwinnable, unnecessary wars, an executive branch full of incompetent party hacks, epic budget deficits, and a Constitution in shreds. Of course, you would expect a party that hates government to be bad at governing, and the Republicans proved that you'd be right.

But if the Republicans proved that they can't govern, the Democrats seem determined to prove that they won't govern. They spend all their time trying to compromise with the uncompromising Republicans, which is a gourmet recipe for failure. They refuse to promote their policies with the public, then use the public's indifference to their policies as an excuse for failing to implement them. The Democrats have turned timidity into an art form; even though they hold all the cards, they keep folding.

The simple fact is, the Democrats are proving that they are too weak to govern.

So, the Democrats are on notice: if they blow this once-in-a-generation chance to turn a good policy into good government, they're dead to me. I'll be jumping ship to the Greens. Go ahead and let the Republicans regain power. Go ahead and let them turn America into the Republic of Gilead. If the Democrats can't get this issue of all issues right, then America is fucked anyway, and it might as well be the Republicans who do the fucking.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

DBTL 28: Everyone Avoids Me Like a Cyclone Ranger

This is the latest installment in the Drowned Baby Timeline, an alternate history where Adolf Hitler drowned at birth and where World War II never took place. With the election of Robert Taft as President of the United States in 1940, American oil continues to flow to the Japanese Empire, and diplomatic relations between the two nations remain, if not cordial, then at least correct. However, the Japanese go to war with the Soviet Union in December 1944, and the war is going badly . . .

Tokyo, Home Islands, Japanese Empire
18 March 1946

The Cabinet was subdued as it met on Monday morning. The fate of the carrier Akagi the previous day was uppermost in the minds of all present. Its aircraft had been assisting the defense of Wonsan in Korea when a flight of Red bombers based in Hamhung had attacked and sunk it.

"The loss of Akagi was a fluke," insisted Prime Minister Hideki Tojo. "Our forces continue to hold firm in Korea. The Soviets are preoccupied with the renewed civil war in China. It is only a matter of time before our heroic troops achieve total victory in Korea and move on to liberate Manchukuo from the Bolsheviks."

The Japanese language has a number of polite circumlocutions for use in place of the phrase "I disagree with you". Foreign Minister Shigenori Togo used one of these before saying, "The loss of Akagi was a foretaste of greater losses to come. In the last six months, the number of Soviet aircraft in the Eastern theatre has increased fivefold." With the Red Army dominating the land, and the Imperial Japanese Navy dominating the sea, the war between Japan and the USSR had mostly been fought in the air. "Both Army and Navy air arms are suffering unsustainable levels of losses of both aircraft and crew. Despite the fighting which has engulfed China since the assassination of Mao Tse-Tung and the collapse of the coalition government last month, the Red Army continues to press us. They have maintained their redoubt on Sakhalin, and they continue their advance in Korea. If we continue the war with the USSR, there can be only one outcome. We will be driven from the Asian mainland completely, and Soviet forces will then advance down Sakhalin to threaten the home islands themselves. We should advise the Emperor to bring the war to an end, accepting the loss of China and Manchukuo. I would be remiss if I failed to remind those present that the Soviets offered us just such a truce one year ago, and that if we had accepted their terms we would still hold all of our former territories in China."

Admiral Mitsumasa Yonai, Minister of the Navy, said, "I do not believe the Foriegn Minister's assessment to be in line with the current situation. Estimates of Soviet air strength may be exaggerated, and there can be no talk of invasion of the home islands. During the Napoleonic Wars, the Royal Navy safeguarded the British home islands against attack for twenty years while the British and their allies gathered strength for the final assault upon Napoleon. The Imperial Japanese Navy stands ready to safeguard the home islands for twenty times twenty years, until final victory over the Soviets is concluded."

General Korechika Anami, Minister of War, said, "I concur with Admiral Yonai's assessment. A decisive battle has not yet been fought in Korea, and we maintain our positions in the Chinese port cities of Amoy and Swatow, from which we can advance at will into the Chinese hinterland. It would be premature to accept Soviet control of China, especially given the fluid political situation there. It is only a matter of time before we dislodge the Red Army from Sakhalin. I do not believe that the current military situation warrants acceptance of any truce terms likely to be offered by the Soviets."

Tojo said, "Do I take it then that we are all in agreement concerning the continued prosecution of the war against the Soviets?" Tojo waited for several seconds, but there were no dissenting voices. "Very well. I shall advise the Court concerning the results of our deliberations. This meeting is adjourned."

As the various Cabinet ministers left for their respective ministries, a look passed between General Anami and Prime Minister Tojo. If the ideas expressed in that look were to be translated into ordinary speech, they would take the form of the following exchange:

Anami: Do you think I should have Togo assassinated?

Tojo: Not just yet. Let's see how the war goes. If we suffer any more reversals, and he starts to sound off again about a truce, then we can whack him.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

DBTL 27: Sejm As It Ever Was

This is the latest installment in the Drowned Baby Timeline, an alternate history where Adolf Hitler drowned at birth and where World War II never took place. The largest state in Central Europe is the Polish Commonwealth, which includes the historical Second Polish Republic, eastern Germany, and the former Soviet republics of Byelorussia and Ukraine. And now, having absorbed the two Soviet Republics, the Polish Commonwealth is experiencing growing pains . . .

Warsaw, Polish Commonwealth
8 February 1946

"I fail to see the problem," said Marshal Heinz Guderian. "President Beck can simply dissolve the Sejm, can he not? I recall that the Marshal" by which of course he meant his predecessor, Marshal Piłsudski "was careful to include such a provision in Poland's constitution for just such an eventuality as this."

As First Marshal of the Polish Commonwealth, Guderian was now a regular member of the small group that met every Friday morning in President Beck's office in the Belvedere Palace to prepare for the day's Cabinet meeting. This day's meeting promised to be particularly memorable.

"Since the Marshal's death," explained President Josef Beck, "neither I nor President Sławek has ever exercised this particular power. Up until now, there has never been any need."

"Some might argue," added War Minister Stanisław Skwarczyński, "that there is no present need, either."

"General Sikorski would certainly say there was no need," said Prime Minister Edward Rydz-Śmigły. "I hadn't expected to hear you agreeing with him."

"Another provision of Poland's constitution," said Skwarczyński, "is that the Sejm cannot override a Presidential veto. If Sikorski's bill passes--"

"When it passes," interjected Rydz-Śmigły.

"If you insist. When Sikorski's bill passes, President Beck need do nothing more than veto it, and the matter ends. No need to dissolve the Sejm."

"If I were to veto this bill," Beck pointed out, "the Federalist party would break apart like an egg."

"And if you dissolve the Sejm?" said Skwarczyński.

"Then the party might break apart when the Sejm meets again in October." Beck answered. "Or it might not. Nine months is a long time."

"When the Sejm meets again in October," said Skwarczyński, "The National Democrats will introduce their bill again, and again you will face the choice of vetoing it or dissolving the Sejm. This is not a problem that will go away, and the longer you put off a resolution, the worse the consequences will be for the government."

"What then?" said Rydz-Śmigły. "If we can't make the Sejm go away, and we can't make the bill go away, what can we do?"

"Sign it," Beck said suddenly. "That's what you're getting at, isn't it, Stan? I'm going to have to sign a bill making Poland an autonomous region within its own Commonwealth."

"It's absurd!" exclaimed Rydz-Śmigły. He looked to Guderian for support, but to his surprise the Marshal was shaking his head.

"Not so absurd as you think," said Guderian. "I'm afraid this Commonwealth" he used the Polish word, rzeczpospolita "of yours isn't really yours any more. Do you know what they call it in the German devos? The Bundesrepublik. No longer the Polnische Bundesrepublik, just the Bundesrepublik. A year ago, they . . . we . . . fought to preserve it. Now we, and the Galicians, and the Belarus, and even the Jews, think of it as our own country. But if it belongs to all of us, then it no longer belongs solely to the Poles. That is why Sikorski's bill has gained such support from the other nationalities. They see it as a final admission by the Poles that the Bundesrepublik, the Rzeczpospolita, has grown beyond them."

"No," said Rydz-Śmigły. "This is unacceptable." He stared at Beck and said formally, "Mr. President, I cannot and will not be a party to this . . . abomination. You must not allow Sikorski's bill to reach your desk, and you most certainly must not sign it into law."

With equal formality, Skwarczyński said, "Mr. President, Marshal Guderian is right. The Commonwealth has grown beyond the Poles. This isn't what we intended when we created it, but the logic of subsequent events is inescapable. Poles now make up less than twenty percent of the Commonwealth's population, less than thirty percent of the Sejm, and hold less than half of the posts in the Cabinet. As wounding as this may be to our pride and vanity, it is an inescapable fact, and one we must adapt ourselves to." Less formally, he added, "What surprises me is that the National Democrats have been willing to bite the bullet and accept the situation. It never pays to underestimate Władysław Sikorski."

President Beck sat in silence for a long time. Finally he sighed and said, "I fear that in this instance pride must give way before logic. I will sign the Sikorski bill."

"In that case," said Rydz-Śmigły, "I must offer my resignation from this government." With a formal bow to the others, he turned and left Beck's office.

"And now the government has fallen," said Beck morosely.

"Governments have fallen in Poland before," said Skwarczyński. "Frequently. It is a tribute to the stability we have achieved that it has taken a crisis of this magnitude to bring the current one down."

"I don't mean the government of the Commonwealth," said Beck. "I mean the government of Poland. After this bill passes, the National Democrats are going to control the government of the new . . . Polish devo. And who can say what sort of mischief they'll get up to?"

Monday, August 24, 2009

DBTL 22A: Ticket to Ride

This is the latest installment in the Drowned Baby Timeline, an alternate history where Adolf Hitler drowned at birth and where World War II never took place. The largest state in Central Europe is the Polish Commonwealth, which includes the historical Second Polish Republic, eastern Germany, and the former Soviet republics of Byelorussia and Ukraine. Following victory in the Second Soviet War, the Commonwealth is experiencing a cultural renaissance . . .

Odessa, Ukrainian Devo, Polish Commonwealth
22 January 1946

"Ringo!" exclaimed Shlomo Kaminsky. "Where the hell have you been? We go on in half an hour!"

"I got lost," Ringo Gold admitted sheepishly. "I forgot the name of the club. And when I told the cabbie it was next door to Donov's restaurant, he asked me which one. It turns out there are a dozen restaurants in Odessa called Donov's."

"Don't the owners get angry at each other?" asked Leon Svirsky.

"The same man owns all of them," Gold explained.

Leon blinked. "Well, I guess that would explain why they're all called Donov's, if Donov owns them all."

"The owner is named Roy Krokowski," said Gold.

The others looked at him in bewilderment.

"The cabbie explained it," Gold said. "After the Communists were driven out, the new city government sold off a bunch of state-owned restaurants. This fellow named Krokowski bought some of them, and since the Communists had built them all on a standardized plan, he decorated them all the same, and gave them all the same basic menu and the same name."

"So why Donov's and not Krokowski's?" said Herschel Grynszpan.

"The cabbie didn't know," said Gold.

"Hang on," said Shlomo, as he recalled the meal they had eaten, "you mean they all serve nothing but Hamburg-style steaks and French-fried potatoes?"

"That's what the cabbie said," Gold confirmed. "He said there were only four to start out with, but in the last six months Krokowski has made enough money to buy eight more. He's even planning to open new ones in Kiev and Kharkov."

Colonel Tadeusz Paruszewski burst into the dressing room. "Where's Ringo? There you are! What, not into your outfit yet? Come on, hurry up, it's only twenty minutes to showtime! Mach schnell, mach schnell!" The Colonel continued to harangue them in his Dutch-accented Polish, throwing in scattered words from half a dozen other languages as he chivvied them out of the dressing room and up the stairs to the stage.

It was their first gig in Odessa, but there was a sell-out crowd at the club. They had a top-ten hit called "Hot and Heavy" (inspired by Herschel's ex-girlfriend Elena) that was getting airplay all over the Commonwealth. Soon the club was throbbing to the beat of Ringo's drums as they filled the place with fast-paced klezmerol music. The audience started screaming as soon as the curtain lifted, and they didn't stop until it came down again two hours later. Shlomo and the others did two encores, then made a strategic escape out the stage door to a waiting cab.

"The Ambassador, please, and step on!" Shlomo called to the cabbie. Then he lurched back in his seat as the cab leaped forward.

Five hair-raising minutes later, they were at their hotel, and Ringo (the only band member who was currently carrying any cash) left the cabbie a big tip. As they made their way through the lobby, a balding middle-aged man in a conservative suit approached them. "Shlomo Kaminsky?" he said.

Shlomo was impressed by the fact that the man addressed his comment to the right Vonts. "Yes," he said.

The man said, "My name is Leonid Banchek. I'm--"

"You're the President of Otown Records!" exclaimed Leon.

Shlomo was impressed. The Odessa-based record company was another formerly state-owned business that had been sold off by the city government. Banchek had adroitly capitalized on the klezmerol craze to build Otown into the largest record company in the Commonwealth, leaving the more conservative Warsaw companies to play catch-up. Banchek's stable of Jewish-Ukrainian acts had even developed their own distinctively melodic variety of klezmerol which was known in the scene as the Otown Sound.

Smiling, Banchek added, "And I'm here to offer you a recording and touring contract. Otown will sponsor a tour of Europe and America for the Vontzim, and release your next ten singles."

Shlomo said, "Colonel Paruszewski is our manager. If you've got an offer to make, you should make it to him."

"I already have," said Banchek. "He turned it down."

"He what?" shouted Leon. "Why?"

"He gave me a number of unconvincing reasons," said Banchek, "and that made me suspicious, so I did some checking. It turns out that 'Colonel Paruszewski' is in the Commonwealth illegally. If you tour outside the country, he can't go with you or he'll run the risk of not being allowed back in."

Shlomo turned to look at his bandmates, and he read the same message in each of their faces. Turning back, he said, "Mr. Banchek, you've got yourself a deal."

"Like hell you have!" bellowed a Dutch-accented voice. "I've got an ironclad contract!" the Colonel stormed as he burst in through the lobby doors. "Get your worthless skin out of here, Banchek, or I'll have hotel security throw you out!"

"An impartial jury might decide that your accounting trickery with the band's finances represents a breach of contract, Colonel Paruszewski," Banchek said calmly. "Or should I say, van Kuijk."

The Colonel glared at Shlomo and his bandmates. "You try to dump me, and I'll sue your sorry yid asses into the poorhouse!"

Shlomo laughed at his soon-to-be-ex-manager as he and the others followed Banchek out the door. "We've got a ticket to ride," he said, "and we don't care."

(Thanks to Mike Davis for the Otown Sound.)

Sunday, August 23, 2009

God Trumps

From Warren Ellis comes word of a unique marketing device from Britain's New Humanist magazine: God Trumps, a collectible card game formed out of the world's various religions. The cards can be found at the magazine's web site here and here. You can get a set of limited edition God Trumps cards by subscribing to the magazine.

There are five cards for various Christian denominations (six if you count the Mormons, seven if you count the Satanists), three for Muslims, and assorted others including pagans, atheists, Zoroastrians, Rastafarians, Scientologists, and even the Jedi.

Personally, I am deeply offended that the New Humanist didn't include His Noodliness, but we Pastafarians are used to this kind of blatant discrimination. It'll just make the FSM's eventual triumph over the unbelievers all the sweeter.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

The birth of the birthers, part 2: the Resegregated

At the end of July 2009, the Research 2000 polling organization conducted a poll on behalf of the Daily Kos blog, asking a simple question: "Do you believe that Barack Obama was born in the United States of America or not?" The poll found that nationally, eleven percent of the American people didn't believe Obama was born in the United States, and another twelve percent weren't sure where he was born. Among Southerners, the numbers were twenty-three percent and thirty percent, respectively, while in the rest of the country the numbers ranged from four to seven percent, and from three to six percent, respectively. In other words, Southerners were four times as likely as the rest of the country to be birthers. Steve Benen at the Washington Monthly turned the numbers into a graph, making the regional disparity even more striking:

These results got a lot of attention from people as far apart as Dave Neiwert and Kathleen Parker. And David Weigel pointed out that nonwhites in the South, who make up over thirty percent of the population there, were just as sure that Obama was born is America as people from the other regions. It's the white people in the South who don't believe Obama was born in America; Weigel estimates that the number of whites answering "no" or "unsure" had to be around seventy-five percent to produce these polling results.

The logical question to ask at this point: why are Southern whites so different from everyone else in the country? The answer goes back, I think, to the Supreme Court's 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision and the resulting desegregation of Southern public schools. As soon as a public school system in the South was desegregated, white parents would pull their children out of the public schools and send them to whites-only private schools that were nicknamed segregation academies. These children, the Resegregated, would grow up, get married, have children of their own, and send them to the same whites-only private schools they had attended. In this way, a whites-only subculture was born in the South centered around a reactionary private school system (and also, incidentally, a reactionary fundamentalist version of Christianity). This Resegregated culture has remained stuck in the Jim Crow era while the rest of the country has moved on to the point of electing a black president.

The Resegregated whites of the South have become a backwater, drifting further and further away from the mainstream American culture. Thanks to Richard Nixon's Southern Strategy, the Resegregated have become a core constituency of the Republican Party, which is the main reason the GOP has begun shrinking into a regional party based in the South. As the Resegregated become less like other Americans, they will continue to drag the Republican Party after them, until either the GOP manages to free itself from their grasp, or it goes the way of the Federalists.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Dark Worlds

G. W. Thomas of Alberta, Canada is a horror writer who edits a quarterly magazine called Dark Worlds, inspired by classic fantastic fiction pulps such as Weird Tales and Amazing Stories. He blogs about the magazine, and about the old pulps, at his Dark Worlds blog. And somehow or other, he heard about the Johnny Pez blog's ongoing efforts to spark a Harl Vincent revival.

The word is starting to spread.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

DBTL 26: Four-Step Program

This is the latest installment in the Drowned Baby Timeline, an alternate history where Adolf Hitler drowned at birth and where World War II never took place. The largest state in Central Europe is the Polish Commonwealth, which includes the historical Second Polish Republic, eastern Germany, and the former Soviet republics of Byelorussia and Ukraine. Eight months after the end of the Second Polish-Soviet War, Josef Stalin ponders his options . . .

Moscow, USSR
17 November 1945

Andrei Gromyko was one of the rising young stars of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. Of course, the reason he was a rising star was because most of his superiors (including the late ex-Foreign Commissar Molotov) had been liquidated in the latest round of purges, but it didn't pay to think about that. Instead, Gromyko concentrated on his upcoming interview with the Great Stalin.

After being thoroughly searched by a squad of grim-faced men, he was allowed to proceed under armed escort to the doors of the Comrade General Secretary's office. The door warden then opened the door a couple of spans, and Gromyko was allowed to edge through it.

The room beyond was completely empty, just four walls painted a sickly yellow, a bare wooden floor with some disturbing stains, a ceiling with a naked light bulb, and the door which slammed shut behind him. Gromyko stood uncomfortably for five minutes in the empty room, wondering what was going to happen to him. One heard stories about these interviews with the Vozhd' of course, but it didn't pay to think about them either. Fighting down panic, Gromyko stood silently.

A sudden crackle of feedback startled Gromyko. A tinny voice from a concealed speaker spoke in an unmistakable Georgian accent. "Good morning, Comrade Gromyko."

It was 1 AM, so Gromyko supposed that it could technically be considered morning. "Good morning, Comrade General Secretary," he cautiously answered.

"You may be wondering why you have been asked to this interview," said the voice. "It concerns your recent report on relations with the Polish imperialists. I wish for you to expand upon the points you made in that report."

"Certainly, Comrade General Secretary," said Gromyko. Unfortunately, knowing the purpose of his interview made it, if anything, even more nerve-wracking. If Stalin had decided (or was going to decide) that Gromyko's report represented an undesirable policy option, Gromyko might find himself on a one-way trip to Siberia. On the other hand, if Stalin decided that Gromyko's report represented a desirable policy option, Gromyko might still find himself on a one-way trip to Siberia, with the consolation of having his report become Stalin's report. Oh well, in for a kopek, in for a ruble.

"Recent reports from Italy," Gromyko began, "make it clear that the Poles have acquired the ability to create atomic weapons. This complicates the task of recovering those territories which the Poles and their Finnish and Estonian allies temporarily gained control of at the conclusion of the last war. Until such time as the USSR acquires its own atomic weapons, Soviet policy regarding Poland must be adjusted accordingly. Hence, our relations with the Polish imperialists over the short to medium term, which is to say within the next five to ten years, must pass through four stages.

"The first stage consists of isolating the Poles from the British and French imperialists, who are also in possession of atomic weapons, and if possible of pitting them against each other. This is particularly urgent given the propaganda offensive the Poles have mounted in the West against the USSR, using their Trotskyist puppet Orwell. The dialectics of Marxism-Leninism tell us that capitalist nations will inevitably come to blows as they compete with each other for resources and markets. We must hasten this confrontation by using our agents of influence in London and Paris to popularize the idea that the Poles have designs on the Western puppet states of Hanover and Bavaria, and that an alliance with the USSR is the proper way to counter the Polish threat.

"The second stage consists of breaking up the alliance which the Poles have built up with the other imperialist states of Eastern Europe, notably Finland, Romania and Yugoslavia. There is already a certain amount of concern within these states that the proposed Warsaw Pact Economic Community will be used by the Poles as a means of establishing economic hegemony. The Soviet Union should offer trade incentives to these nations to encourage them to look beyond the Warsaw Pact for economic advancement. Although this will of course require diverting economic resources from the Soviet Union's own civilian sector, the goal of disrupting the Warsaw Pact clearly must take precedence.

"The third stage consists of breaking up the Polish Commonwealth itself. There already exist a number of nationalist political groupings within the various so-called autonomous regions of Poland seeking independence. It should be our policy to provide financial and logistical support to these groups, and if possible to co-opt their leadership cadres to make them more receptive to the possibility of alliance, or even union, with the Soviet Union following their secession from Poland.

"The fourth stage consists of providing financial and logistical support to the Polish reactionary groups, especially the National Socialists, who wish to destabilize the current bourgeois regime. In the absence of a viable Polish Communist Party" absent because Stalin had had all the Polish Communists liquidated after the war, but of course it wouldn't do to mention that, "the Polish reactionaries are the most likely candidates for this role. A civil war between the bourgeoisie and the reactionaries would provide the ideal moment for the resumption of the liberation of Poland by the Red Army."

Taking a deep breath, Gromyko plunged forward to the conclusion of his report. "The end result: over a hundred million people who currently suffer under capitalist oppression would live in Socialist freedom. We would no longer have an implacable enemy in Central Europe, but a Socialist ally in the war against the imperialist regimes of France, Italy and Great Britain. The march of Socialist progress will continue on, with humanity's further liberation under the sign of the sickle and hammer not far ahead."

There was another long pause while Gromyko waited for he knew not what. Finally the speaker crackled to life again, and the tinny voice said, "Thank you for your report, Comrade Gromyko. You have given me much food for thought." Then came the words Gromyko had been longing for, but had hardly dared hope to hear. "You are dismissed."

The door behind him re-opened, and Andrei Gromyko returned once more to the land of the living.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

I don't believe that anybody feels the way I do about you now

Music, maestro, please! Specifically, "Wonderwall" by Oasis.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

"Neutral Vessel" by Harl Vincent, part 5

This is the fifth and final installment of "Neutral Vessel", a story by pioneering science fiction writer Harl Vincent that first appeared in the January 1940 issue of Astounding Science-Fiction magazine. The first four installments can be found here, here, here, and here.

As we join our story, Martian agents have sabotaged the interplanetary passenger liner Spirit of Terra so it will drive itself into the planet Venus at high speed, wrecking that world and ending the Martian-Venus War. With less than an hour left before impact, Captain Jeffery Brand sees a way to avert catastrophe, suggested to him by a beautiful passenger named Zona Phillips . . .

"Rosso!" he chirped. "And you, too, Worthman" -- two voices having come in by now -- "listen closely. Man lifeboats eleven to twenty and fifty-one to sixty. And don't ask any questions till I'm finished. That's ten above and ten below on the port side astern. Plug in an audio connection to each. Close all inner seals when manned. Seal boats themselves. Open outer seals of air locks. At my orders, we'll blast forward rockets."

"Of the lifeboats?" inquired Worthman incredulously.

"Certainly. They've weak jets, to be sure. But with twenty of them blasting, we may be able to get out of the lane."

"Will the air-lock seals hold?"

"We'll chance that. Put a watch on each. I'll stand by the audio."

"Now," he said to Carlin when they reached the bridge controls, "this is going to work like a full-crew ship. Give me visuals down stern lifeboat corridors on the port side. We're going to pull out of the magnetic lane."

"You mean --"

"With the lifeboats."

A slow red suffused the mate's cheeks as he watched the smile that wreathed Zona Phillips' lips. He'd be willing to bet she had something to do with this. And he hadn't thought of it himself. Of course the lifeboats would do it -- if --

Signs of activity showed in the corridors as soon as the viewplates lighted. Lock hatches were being opened one by one. One by one the individual audio connections plugged in.

"Blast forward jets gently," Brand told them, watching the cross lines of the course indicator. They blasted gently. "Inner seals holding all right?" he asked. The boats had driven back solidly by now.

One by one the men in the corridor reported them O. K.

"Increase blasts slowly," Brand ordered. The glowing, rapidly enlarging orb of Venus had not budged from the cross-line centering.

Carefully, as he would have done on a full-crew ship, Brand had them increase the power of their jets until the inner lock seals had all he thought they could stand of the reaction of the small lifeboats pushing to get through them and inside the ship. Then he added boat after boat to the number until all twenty he had designated were blasting, shoving mightily against the inner seals. There were no automatic relays to take care of things; Brand was jockeying to get a balance of energies the way you would jockey a horse. And he loved it.

But Venus still swooped in toward them. They hadn't budged the tiniest fraction of an inch from the magnetic course. Traveling 720 miles a second and only half a million miles to go. Brand dripped persiration.

"Quick, Rosso," he called. "Same thing on boats twenty-one to thirty and sixty-one to seventy forward, starboard." He'd twist the Spirit of Terra off this lane if it was his last act. And trying would be his last act if he didn't.

The men responded swiftly. All knew the importance of speed. In another minute two lifeboats were blasting on the opposite side of the liner, up near the nose, trying desperately to turn her vast bulk like a pinwheel. But only a fraction of an inch from her present line, just the slightest angularity would do. In fact, more than this would be as disastrous as the collision toward which they were heading. But only for themselves.

Twenty-two, twenty-three, twenty-four, sixty-two, sixty-three and sixty-four lifeboats blasting. Still Venus came in ever larger, rushing madly. Still centered precisely on the crosshairs. Twenty-five and sixty-five boats reported blasting. No one moved on the bridge. No one seemed to breath. Brand choked on the remains of his cigar and threw it away. Twenty-six and sixty-six in. Twenty-seven, twenty-eight. The crosshairs began a slow march eastward across Venus.

"Hold it there!" Brand yelped. "No more." The crosshairs kept on in their slow march. Venus was out of line. "Enough," called the captain. "Cut everything off." He slumped back weakly in his chair.

Brand didn't even hear the thunderous explosion as Brinkerhof finally cut the mad flow of current to the jets -- quite safely and easily when he, almost simultaneously with Brand's inspiration, saw the answer. From spares, he got a series of the heavy emergency fuses, rigged a short by-pass line around a section of the main bus bars to a steering jet, and inserted the fuses in the by-pass. Then a hand power saw readily sliced out a two-foot section of the bypassed, and hence unloaded, bus bar. One of the heavy fuses paralleled in the by-pass circuit was then pulled out of the socket with the insulated pole, and the other promptly blew from the overload, and a roar of triumph interrupting and killing the jet circuit! Nor did Brand hear Jarvis reporting that one of the generators was again in commission and the radio operative. Ahead of time.

* * *

G. H. Q. was even more stubborn than Tommy Blake had anticipated. He did manage to get Major Verejo excited, though, and he promised to take it up with the colonel. The colonel would go to the general.

Blake groaned. In his radioscope screen the Spirit of Terra now was visible as a tiny speeding dot with a ten-mile trail of incandescent gases astern. He thought he saw faint illumination off to one side.

"See that, Masters?" he demanded. "Doesn't it look as if they were blasting a steering jet or something?"

"It does, Tommy, it does! But, Lord, they're only four hundred thousand miles off. And 730 miles a second. It's too late."

Blake tore into the radio room as the call came in. It was General Fulsen. He had to tell his story all over again. He was nearly sobbing as he finished. "Can't you see, sir?" he pleaded. "The major checked with the other sphere. He knows it's the truth. We've only a few minutes and it won't make any difference to any of us!"

"I'll see what I can do with the space line, young man." The G. H. Q. carrier was off and Tommy Blake tore his hair.

"He'll see what he can do!" he raved at nobody at all. "See what he can do. Masters, if we live to tell the tale, I'm getting out of this damn service."

Masters grinned in spite of the impending catastrophe. Two closely cropped heads came together before the radioscope screen.

"They are!" exulted Blake. "They are blasting off the side. And say! Masters! They're off line line. They'll miss us. To hell with G. H. Q. and their song of 'see what I can do'."

The two OBS men did a war dance of their own as a trail of penciled flame swept across the viewplate and off into space. Venus was safe and so was the Spirit of Terra.

* * *

In Captain Brand's lounge there was great rejoicing. A few minutes ago they had passed Venus with a thousand miles to spare, scarcely even feeling her gravity pull as they swept by at 800 miles per second and left her far astern.

Everyone was talking all at once in the captain's lounge. The ship's entire staff of officers was here. And an auburn-haired girl.

Captain Brand had shooed off all her other admirers and had her sitting beside him on one of the comfortable divans. She looked brightly up at the big man over the rim of her glass.

"You," he was telling her, "will see your Tommy boy. And you'll be able to marry him, if I have anything to say about it. That is, if I think he's good enough for you when I look him over."

The girl laughed throatily, happily. "How can you arrange that?" she demanded.

"How would you like to be my daughter, Miss Zona?" The captain looked down at his big red hands and blushed as if this were a proposal of marriage.

The girl's eyes misted. "Why?" she asked softly.

"Because," Brand told her solemnly, "that way you could have your Tommy Blake. Look: I'm the law and everything else on this ship. I can marry people or divorce them. I'm the judge and the jury and the preacher, if necessary. I can adopt you, have the papers attested and all, right here. Then, with my permission as your father, you can marry anybody you please on Venus. Passport be d-darned. Besides --" Brand searched the girl's wondrous and wondering eyes -- "I like you, Miss Zona. I sort of think I'd like to have you for a daughter."

Brand looked away. The chatter of the crowded lounge was a meaningless background for his leaping thoughts.

"Why, you old dear," a soft voice was saying. "I've lost a father and found a new one. I . . . I think I'd like what you propose, D-daddy Brand. I'm sure I would."


(continue to "Neutral Vessel" Ahoy!)

Monday, August 17, 2009

"Neutral Vessel" by Harl Vincent, part 4

This is the fourth installment of "Neutral Vessel", a story by pioneering science fiction writer Harl Vincent that first appeared in the January 1940 issue of Astounding Science-Fiction magazine. The first three installments can be found here, here, and here.

As we join our story, the interplanetary passenger liner Spirit of Terra has been sabotaged by Martian agents as part of their ongoing war with Venus. The Martians have set the ship accelerating toward Venus and destroyed outside communications, as well as killing ten crew members and a Venusian passenger named Leander Phillips. Captain Jeffery Brand and his crew have killed several of the Martian saboteurs and prevented them from fleeing the ship in one of the lifeboats, but have been unable to repair the damage done. Brand further suspects that Leander Phillips' daughter Zona is in league with the Martians. The Spirit of Terra is now less than two hours away from slamming into Venus, and time is running out . . .

Four hours -- 466 miles a second. Five hours -- 575. And only a little more than four and a half million miles to Venus! They'd be there in an hour and three quarters. And they'd hit with --

Brand stared solemnly at the mate as they stood by the indicating panel. Brinkerhof would be ready with a new cutting apparatus in half an hour. He thought it was all perfectly constructed and shielded now. But Brand had his doubts. It was all right to say the conspirators had been able to braze those switches shut and we ought to be able to cut them open. That was all right, but there hadn't been 10,000 amperes of 13,800-volt juice flowing through the buses when the Martians did that. And, besides, the circuits were closed when they operated. There wasn't any opening of a 185,000-horsepower blast of energy to consider. They had casually brazed the switches tight with torches whose flames couldn't ground them. Then they'd gone in the cells and loaded the jet breakers with fusible material that would lock them closed at the next automatic momentary closing for routine test. They were well out of the danger zone what that happened. And the switches were all closed to stay!

"Couldn't we slow down the main generators gradually?" asked Carlin. "So the effect of changing gravity would not be severe?"

"Carlin, if it were the passengers alone now, I'd say yes. Mars isn't trying to get Earth in on this war; she's trying to end the whole thing. The Spirit of Terra's the heaviest thing in the skyways -- heavier than any warship. Moving at the speed she'll have when she reaches Venus, if we can't stop her -- Carlin, there won't be any Venus City! A meteor moves only about 100 miles a second; we have, ton for ton, sixty-four times as much energy of impact. And we're the largest meteor ever recorded!

"This ship has to be stopped -- and not for the sake of the passengers alone!"

Carlin shuddered. He simply could not visualize the terrific eventuality of smashing into Venus at close to 800 miles a second. With the Spirit of Terra's 80,000 tons a molten mass from atmospheric friction and the energy of impact proportioned to that mass multiplied by the square of the velocity! It would damn well destroy the planet, and that was just what the Martian conspirators had figured on. They hadn't been worried about Terra going to war on the side of Venus. There wouldn't be any Venus. Not any more.

"The lifeboats are worthless, too," Brand told Carlin. "At this speed they'd be helpless. Going out with the same residual velocity as ours, they'd never be able to decelerate with their weak jets and small supply of atomic fuel. Otherwise I'd have had them loaded an hour ago. Now it's way too late, even if it hadn't been then."

The audio frame blared in Rosso's voice. "Just caught a couple more at thirty-six lifeboat," was his amazing news. "Trying to get away. And a girl with them."

"A girl!" roared Brand. "Redhead?"

"Yes, and she won't talk. What'll we do with her? We blasted the two men."

"Do with her? Send her back to my lounge with three -- no, five stewards to guard her. She got away from two and I'm going to find out how." Brand turned a foolishly beaten gaze on the mate. "What do you know about that?" he demanded.

Then he lurched toward the lounge, the mate following.

* * *

Tommy Blake sat white-faced at his calculating board on the observation sphere above the clouds of Venus. He had finally caught the mysterious speeding object in the spectroscope. The shifting of the lines had checked its velocity of approach with the calculating board. Its speed was now over 600 miles a second. It would be here in little more than an hour. And would meet up with the planet at 780 miles per second, he figured.

"The thing's in the Venus-Terra magnetic lane," he told Masters. "It's bound to hit us."

"Doesn't seem like the right direction at all," the other objected.

"I've tried to tell you," Blake explained patiently, "that the beam is constantly shifting its curvature in space, due to the motions of the two planets in their orbits. This thing's in the lane, all right."

"But what is it? Accelerating like this."

"I'm just taking a determination of its mass," replied Blake, his lean young features drawn into grim lines.

The calculator before him was clacking and chuckling merrily. At last it stopped with a decisive clunk and Blake tore off the tape.

"163,705,040 pounds," he read off. His voice dropped to a whisper of despair. "The Spirit of Terra," he said hopelessly. "That would be just about her weight with passenger and freight load. And Zona is on board!"

Masters eyed him sympathetically. He knew how much his friend had been looking forward to the coming of the only girl -- to their marriage, which had all been arranged on the q. t. "Maybe they can pull out of it, Tommy," he said without much conviction.

"Pull out of it, hell! Something's jammed her stern jets full on. She's a runaway. Even if they could get them off now, they'd never be able to decelerate in time."

"Well, if they do hit us, we'll never know it," commented Masters.

"No, we won't." Blake was trying to figure the momentum of this hurtling mass at the square of its inconceivable velocity. He jumped up and paced the floor like a madman. "We've got to stop it from hitting, and I'm going to do something about it even if I'm court-martialed."

Young Blake strode into the radio room and spun the transmitter dials away from the military wave. He called Venus Spaceport, a most flagrant violation of regulations.

"Spaceport?" he asked, when a sleepy operator replied. "What report have you on the Spirit of Terra?"

"No report. She's still four days out and hasn't radioed at all."

"Oh, yeah?" Four days out. She'll be here in an hour -- only you won't know it."

"Who the hell is this? What're you talking about?"

"Listen, fellow," Blake mouthed frantically into the microphone. "I can't tell you who I am, but I'm above the clouds in an observation sphere. And I tell you the Spirit of Terra's a runaway. She's doing 600 miles a second right now and still in the lane. Get that beam cut off, for God's sake!"

The operator laughed raucously. "I'll say you're up in the clouds. Six hundred -- why, you're nuts --" His carrier cut off abruptly.

Blake groaned. "There you go. Nobody'll believe us, Masters."

He dialed down and started calling G. H. Q., watching the chronometer anxiously. Another sleepy operator answered. "Get me the major p. d. q.," Blake shouted. "Military emergency."

"The major's asleep. What do you mean, emergency."

"I tell you it's real," cried Blake. "You've gotta believe me, or we'll all be dead in another hour. Get me the major."

Evidently Blake's panic got through to the G. H. Q. operator. "All right," he said with sudden decision. "I'll get him."

"If only they'll cut out the usual red tape and do something, we may get somewhere," Blake groaned, eyeing the time. "But you know how it is in the service."

"Yeah." Masters looked dubious. He had not yet become really afraid. He would in a few minutes.

The G. H. Q. operator was back on the air. "Major threw a shoe at me and told me to get the hell out," he told Blake.

"Listen, fellow." Blake's voice was wheedling, frantically insistent. "We've got to put this across. Listen, do this for me, will you --"

The youngster in the black-and-white uniform of Venus was begging for Zona, for himself, for another billion and more lives. He put all of his fears and hopes into his quivering voice. G. H. Q. would have to listen. They'd have to get that beam cut off -- something --

* * *

Captain Brand found his cabin boy and two stewards locked in his serving pantry. He raged when he let them out.

"She asked for a cocktail, sir," one of the stewards explained.

"And it took three of you to make it for her!" Brand wheeled from them as three other stewards came in with Zona Phillips.

The girl was holding her head high, a spot of color burning on either cheek.

"So, now," the captain bellowed. "Now, young lady, you're up to something again. And you're going to talk this time."

"I'll talk," she said simply. "Send these others out." Her sweeping gesture embraced the goggling cabin boy and five goggling stewards.

Brand shooed the out and, as a precaution, locked the outer door to the lounge and pocketed the key. "Well?" he said, trying to keep his voice stern. Somehow, you couldn't stay angry with Zona Phillips.

"I was only trying to get away," she said breathlessly, "because I'm planning to get married on Venus."

"Married?" said Brand blankly.

"Yes, to a boy in the Venus forces -- Tommy Blake. It's forbidden, you know, and my passport's no good except for a visit. The Martians promised to land me secretly. That's all. I haven't done anything really wrong, have I?"

"Well, I'll be d-doggoned." Captain Brand looked his amazement. Then he spoke to the girl: "Wrong, no, but foolish, my dear. Do you realize how fast we're going?"

"N-no." The girl's eyes widened to their full blinding blue.

Brand told her. He told her what would have happened if she had succeeded in getting away from those Martians; that the little lifeboat would use up all its fuel trying to decelerate and then would go drifting forever in a solar orbit, a frozen, airless tomb at last. That even now the Spirit of Terra was headed for a disaster that would likely destroy the planet Venus along with themselves. "And you make trouble for me," he concluded glumly.

"I'm sorry." The girl's voice was truly contrite. She stared at the captain as the full purport of his words sank in. "Then we'll all die, anyway?" she asked. "And -- Tommy'll be killed, too?"

Brand nodded. "Unless maintenance wins out with their new cutting rig," he admitted.

The girl pursed her luscious lips and frowned prettily. "It seems," she said, "that something might be done with the lifeboats."

That was all, but it set Brand thinking. Suddenly he was a madly whirling tornado. He hugged Zona Phillips in his enthusiasm and she didn't seem to mind.

"Girl, you've got it!" he exulted. "With the lifeboats we'll do it." He began bawling into the audio frame.

"But you said --" began the girl.

"Never mind what I said." Brand's broad face was alight. "We'll do it with the lifeboats. Watch!"

He talked swiftly in clipped words to the frame when Rosso came in.

(continue to part 5)

Abortion for Democrats

Harry Truman wanted to create a national healthcare system. He failed. Lyndon Johnson wanted to create a national health care system. He got Medicare and Medicaid passed, but not the rest. Bill Clinton wanted to create a national healthcare system. He failed.

Now Barack Obama says he wants to create a national healthcare system. However, his strategy has consisted of putting the reform process in the hands of Democratic Senator Max Baucus, and Baucus's strategy has consisted of putting the reform process in the hands of Republican Senator Chuck Grassley, who basically opposes health care reform. What's going on here?

A clue to the Democratic approach to health care reform can be found in the Republican approach to abortion. Ever since Francis Schaeffer created the anti-abortion movement in the late 1970s and early 1980s and persuaded conservative Protestants to sign up, the Republican Party has used opposition to abortion as a way to get these conservative Protestants to donate money and turn out on election day. Of course, if the GOP ever actually got around to overturning Roe v. Wade like the religious right wants, the issue would go away, and the money and votes would stop flowing. Thus, for 30 years the GOP has been milking the abortion issue, promising the religious right to put a stop to it, and then breaking that promise. For six years, from 2001 to 2007, the GOP controlled all three branches of the federal government, and yet the Roe v. Wade decision still stands today.

If you want to understand why the Democrats keep promising to deliver health care reform, but somehow keep failing in spite of massive public support and control of the presidency and Congress, look no further than the GOP's abortion policy. Success would mean no more money and votes from the policy's supporters, so success must be avoided at all costs. Once you realize that this is the engine driving Democratic policy, everything that's happened to the reform process makes perfect sense.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

"Neutral Vessel" by Harl Vincent, part 3

This is the third installment of "Neutral Vessel", a story by pioneering science fiction writer Harl Vincent that first appeared in the January 1940 issue of Astounding Science-Fiction magazine. The first two installments can be found here and here.

As we join our story, Captain Jeffery Brand of the interplanetary liner Spirit of Terra has learned that Martian saboteurs have sent his ship plunging toward Venus with her engines locked into continuous acceleration. The Martians have also killed at least nine crewmen and one passenger, a Venusian named Leander Phillips, and have cut off communications. Now Brand has learned that some of them were seen messing with a lifeboat . . .

Things like this just couldn't be happening on the greatest passenger ship in the skylanes. A neutral ship, at that. But they were happening. Brand caught himself wishing they hadn't been quite so damn neutral. His mind worked swiftly as he and the mate thudded along the corridor toward number twenty-one lifeboat lock.

"Got any theories?" he asked Carlin.

"No. Except someone's trying to get Earth into the war. It'll mean a declaration, sure as shooting."

"But why should Martians be trying to get us in on the other side? This'd mean war against Mars, not Venus."

Carlin grunted. "If we keep accelerating --"

What he had been about to say was jarred out of him by a catapaulting body that struck him amidships from out a side passage. The mate went down in a heap, thrashing wildly to get a grip on his assailant. Brand's weapon described a wide arc and crunched down on the fellow's head. Carlin rose groggily.

"Thanks," he said.

Brand searched the dead man's clothes without result. "Damn!" he muttered. "Shouldn't have killed him. Might have made him talk." On an impulse, he ripped open the fellow's shirt.

On his chest was tattooed the red orb of Mars and its two moons.

Sounds of a conflict were wafted toward them from ahead. They leaped toward the mêlée. The inner seal of number twenty-one life lock was open. And inside the narrow space surrounding the small craft it housed, a battle was raging. Tony Rosso and two stewards were finding their hands very full with some six or seven huskies who were trying to pulverize them. There were no searing pencils of white flame. No one seemed to be armed. Brand couldn't understand, anyway, how the one who'd killed Phillips had managed to get a flame thrower on board. He flung himself upon the one who was throttling Rosso's eyes out onto his cheeks and dragged him off with his big hands. Savagely he bent him back over his knee and bore down until his spine cracked. The fellow went limp.

Carlin's weapon spat luridly twice. His first blast splashed a hideously grinning Martian face into bubbling incandescence that drove back into an emptied skull. His second seared arm and shoulder from the one who had just slashed a steward's throat. Rosso scooped up the falling knife and killed a third with an upcurving slash that disemboweled him. The others remaining of the battling Martians tried to crowd into the small port of the lifeboat and Brand smeared them into blazing, frying blobs that stuck to the glowing spot his flames had painted on the hull. The lock was thick with choking smoke which stank sickeningly of red-hot death. The survivors piled out into the corridor.

"That's that," said Brand grimly when they were in the fresher air outside. "And that isn't all of them, I'll gamble. Listen, Rosso: I want you to go to Worthman and have him put a patrol in every blessed lifeboat corridor. Take this steward with you and tell him to arm his men from the stores. This is no picnic; it's an emergency and we have the right to small arms. Carlin, you and I are going forward and have a council of war. We can't be everywhere at once."

* * *

By the time they reached the bridge, the Spirit of Terra was ripping through the void at nearly 200 miles a second. About an hour and a half had passed since they started this mad acceleration.

Brand frowned. "I'm surprised the tubes haven't melted down," he observed.

"Guess the tungstoloy linings are better than the designers thought," said Carlin. "Looks like they'd stand maximum blast indefinitely."

"Yes." Brand shook his head reflectively. "How much time do we have?" he asked Carlin.

"Remembering we're in the Venus lane?"

Brand nodded. How could he forget? He moved to the audio frame as Carlin busied himself with his slide rule. Jarvis answered from the radio room.

"It's a mess, captain," he reported. "We have spare tubes to replace the broken ones and can repair the condensers and coils. But they shorted both generators. Armatures burned out. They'll have to be rewound."

"How long'll that take?" Brand bit the end from a fresh cigar.

"About eight -- ten hours. We only need one."

"All right. Have 'em rewound." Brand turned from the frame to Carlin with inquiring eyes.

"We're still adding five gravities," he stated. "At the end of two hours from when this started, we'll be doing 247 miles a second, at three hours 356 --"

"Never mind that. How long do we have?" Brand saw that the operators were cocking their ears at the board.

Carlin glanced at the chronometer and the velocity indicator. He lowered his voice. "A little over five hours to Venus," he whispered. "And the velocity then will be close to 800."

Brand turned again to the audio and called Brinkerhof.

"How you making out with those disconnects?" he asked him.

"Just tried to burn one off with a 13,800-volt arc. Killed one of my men and blew up the rig we'd made. I'm going to try it with a 440-volt outfit. Have to make up a transformer rig."

"How long'll that take?"

"Two or three hours."

"All right. Go to it. What's the temperature in the drive cells?"

"Last I saw, captain, it was over boiling. Nobody can go in those."

"That's what I thought." Brand turned to Carlin, who looked grave. "I'm going to talk to the Phillips girl again," he told him.

"The girl?" Carlin wrinkled his forehead.

"Yes. I've a hunch." Brand strode off toward his own quarters, knowing the mate's puzzled eyes were following him.

He didn't know why he wanted to talk with her himself. Certainly not because she was so attractive. He was too old for that and, anyway, the situation was too desperate. There was some sort of hunch. If only the radio were operative, they'd not have so much to worry about. They could have the Venus-Terra beam lane cut off for an instant and, at this speed, they'd be out of the curve of its magnetic guiding forces in nothing flat. But the radio couldn't be fixed in time; they'd simply have to get a steering jet cut out within the five hours. Just one of them would do the trick; the opposing jet would swing them out of the lane and give them time to complete repairs. In a full-crew ship, now, this never could happen.

Brand almost ran headlong into Zona Phillips as she came out from his lounge on the arm of a tall male passenger with a decidedly Martian cast of countenance. The girl blushed furiously, avoiding the captain's accusing eyes.

"What are you doing here?" Brand demanded of the man. "Passengers aren't allowed here; you know that."

"Miss Phillips is a passenger," the Martian sneered.

"That's different." With a quick motion of his huge paw, Brand snatched open the front of the fellow's shirt. There was the brand of the red planet and its satellites!

Quick as a flash a flame thrower snout appeared in the fellow's fist. Another one! "Raise your hands!" the thin-lipped mouth over the ugly snout of the weapon snapped. "And be quick about it."

Brand's hands came up slowly. "Miss Zona," he said calmly, "you had better return to the lounge. You're not safe with this man."

They were backing away together, the man and the girl. No wonder he'd had a hunch about her, Brand thought sourly. She was in with the conspirators! And her old man, too, before he'd died, like as not. Or else she'd been double-crossing her own father. To look at the beauty and sweetness of her, you'd never think it. Brand was watching for the slightest sign of relaxing vigilance on the Martian's part. It didn't come.

Suddenly the girl's eyes widened with terror and, simultaneously, the Martian's thrower belched white flame. Brand dropped flat as its pencil of death fanned his cheek with blistering heat. There crackled another blast from behind and the Martian, because no man can stand up after his head has been blown away, toppled and lay still.

"Thanks," Brand said soberly, rising and gripping the mate's hand.

"That makes us even," grinned Carlin.

The girl started into a panicky run down the corridor.

"Oh, no, you don't, my pretty," he said, catching her and drawing her arms behind her. "You'll come right along with me and do some tall explaining."

Despite her kicks and struggles and pleading, he returned her to his lounge and tossed her on a divan. "Come in," he told Carlin, "and close the door."

"Now, young lady," he demanded, "what's this all about?"

Zona Phillips tossed her head and clamped her lips to a thin line. Her eyes flashed fire. She was more beautiful than ever; Brand heard Carlin draw in a quick breath.

"Are you going to tell me?" Brand shouted.

"There's nothing to tell," the girl insisted stubbornly. Then she began crying. Hysterically, Brand thought.

The captain couldn't bear to see a woman cry. Neither could the mate. Consulting in undertones while the girl regarded them fearfully, they decided it was best to leave her here under guard. Brand locked her in and went to audio Worthman for stewards to stay and see that she didn't get away or into any trouble. He'd deal with her later.

* * *

It was ghastly having to wait for results below. Brand left the mate on the bridge, where there was still nothing that could be done, and walked out to cool off. Out in the great central well of the ship where all the passenger decks circled like balconies, everything seemed exactly as usual. He moved along the spanning catwalk and was glad to observe that nothing seemed to be worrying the passengers at all. They had not the least inkling that anything was wrong. Dancing, cards, deck games, were proceeding as always at this time of day.

Of course, though the Spirit of Terra had accelerated to terrific speed and was still accelerating, there was no sensation observable aboard. Not any more than when traveling at normal speed, not any more than you would notice the 18.5 miles a second orbital velocity on Earth or the 21.7 on Venus. With gravity compensation functioning here as it did, you just didn't notice anything at all different from what it would be at home. But Brand knew, and he was getting impatient and more than ever concerned. They had accelerated for nearly three hours now and were doing about 350. And still those atomic jets astern stood up to the punishment. How to cut them off or, temporarily, even that one steering jet?

Rosso had reported everything quiet in the lifeboat corridors and Worthman's men hadn't been able to locate any of those Zora Phillips had originally reported. Brand could not hlep wondering about the girl, and he was beginning to think that all of the conspirators had been accounted for. He decided to check up on Brinkerhof's gang.

He found them working at number two steering jet, in the approach tunnel, rigging up an insulated platform under the disconnect overhead. Ordinarily these disconnects were pulled open by hand with a hook on the end of a long insulating handle. Now the blades were brazed fast. And each was carrying some 10,000 amperes at main voltage.

"Nearly ready?" Brand asked Brinkerhof, who was fluttering about his sweating men.

Through the cell bulkhead you could hear the thrum of the igniter tube under its 400,000 volts and the rhythmic tapping of the tiny fuel-admission valve. The nearly continuous atomic blast of the jet was evident only by a faint tremor that was in the floorplates, the air, everything -- and the heat, which was almost intolerable even here in the tunnel.

"Nearly ready," said Brinkerhof. "We couldn't find a single one of the cutting torches. One of those would be the trick."

"Couldn't we make one quicker than this?" Brand jerked a thumb toward the 440-volt cables that looped along the floor to the resistance of the arc rig that was still missing its transformer.

"No, I had Wilson check up. Machining nozzles and valves and all would take four or five hours."

Brand examined his flame thrower, then experimentally lashed its full blast up at a blade of the disconnect. The men ducked and the copper glowed red, then white. But it refused to melt down; the flame spread over too great an area. These things were made to kill men, not to cut through metals. The charge was exhausted; the weapon valueless without reloading.

"Wonder if we couldn't make a cutting torch out of one of these," said Brand, handing it to the maintenance man. "Nozzle it down."

"The nozzle's tungstoloy," muttered Brinkerhof. "Another four-or-five hour machining job. And no assurance it'd work."

The men were bringing in the new transformer and swiftly connecting it in the arc circuit. Mopping his brow, Brand turned away.

"Wait, sir," suggested the maintenance man. "They'll be ready to cut in a moment." He handed Brand dark goggles.

The captain waited. He needn't have been so concerned, he thought. Cutting out this one jet would hurl them out of the Venusward course. Then cutting off number four steering jet would set their course straight in space again and give them plenty of time to get the drive motors out and start permanent repairs. Their terrific velocity could then be decelerated with the forward braking jets, which you didn't dare use now for fear of buckling the hull plates. Brand cheered up.

"Move back, sir," Brinkerhof warned as the men swung the hinged rod of the cutting arc up toward the disconnect. "There'll be fireworks."

Controlled from thirty feet away by handwheels behind an asbestos shield, the contact points snapped viciously, and there was a lurid green flare of a copper arc. The quartz tube that sheathed the heavy conductor and insulated careless workmen from the low -- in the necessarily cramped power room of the spaceship -- 13,800-volt bus bar shattered and tinkled on the floor. The contacts moved forward again, one planted firmly on the heavy copper bus. Then the other touched it, moved slowly away, drawing out the hissing, luridly green flare of the 440-volt arc. The metal sputtered a dazzling shower of sparks and started fusing away. In two minutes a slash opened down through the six-inch thickness of copper -- and the 13,800-volt arc let loose with a roar and a blast of flame that enveloped the entire apparatus and drove everyone far back into the corridor. By a miracle, all of the men escaped death. The heat, even here, was brutal.

The high-tension arc continued, melting down the heavy bar as if it were tallow. In this narrow space the sixty-cycle note of released power was ear-shattering. Metal dripped over the apparatus and -- the transformer burned out with a deep groan and a billow of thick oil smoke!

The shield above the disconnect was dripping molten metal. There was an abrupt cessation of sound and the huge arc whipped out of existence. A glowing, white-hot blob of metal had bridged the gap and reclosed the circuit to the jet cell. Nothing had been accomplished.

And the cutting apparatus was wrecked again. All to do over.

Brand cursed luridly, mopping perspiration and looking at his watch. Then he took his headache away from there and went bridgeward.

(continue to part 4)

Saturday, August 15, 2009

"Neutral Vessel" by Harl Vincent, part 2

This is the second installment of "Neutral Vessel", a story by pioneering science fiction writer Harl Vincent that first appeared in the January 1940 issue of Astounding Science-Fiction magazine. The first installment can be found here.

As we join our story, Captain Jeffery Brand of the interplanetary liner Spirit of Terra learns that all is not right on his command. A Venusian named Leander Phillips warns him that there are Martian spies aboard, and fears for the safety of himself and his daughter Zona. His fears prove justified when Brand and Zona find an armed Martian standing over his body a short time later. Now Brand must deal with a ship that has suddenly begun accelerating toward Venus . . .

Carlin at once seemed more solicitous of the girl than of the difficulties on the bridge and below.

"She's only fainted," Brand told him gruffly after one look at the control panels. He had never seen so many red lights flashing at one time in all his experience.

He glared at the mate, who scurried back to the controls. Then Brand howled into an audio frame for the infirmary. He told them about Phillips and about the daughter and to be damn quick doing something. He got the results he demanded. A nurse was with the girl almost before he had finished bellowing.

Then he glared at the indicating panel. Their speed had increased from the normal 27.6 to 45.8 miles per second in ten minutes. None of the operators spoke a word. Brand moved to the motor panels and saw that all five driving jets were on full blast, as were the four steering jets. He flicked a control key himself. Nothing happened. The jets continued to blast. They were accelerating with full power -- at five gravities. Nothing serious in that -- for a while. There was plenty of time to decelerate. But how long would the tubes stand the heat? And what was the trouble? The flashing lights showed everything in the ship wrong at once.

"I've notified maintenance," Carlin told him.

"What started it all?" Brand asked.

"Regular hourly test procedure, sir. The operators plugged in on their ground indicators and everything started. Every relay clicked furiously and the jets were on. As you can see, they refuse to cut off. That's all we know."

Brand thought of the circuit diagram and of Phillips, a frown creasing his brow. "Funny," he muttered.

Carlin jumped. "What's that, sir?"

"Nothing." The audio blared and Brand jumped.

The four operators straightened tensely. Something was in the air.

"Wilson, maintenance," squawked the audio. "Numbers one, two and three drive chambers inspected. All circuit breakers closed and fused solid. Can't be repaired without complete shutdown."

"We can't shut down. What's wrong with the hand disconnects?' returned the captain.

"Fused solid, sir."

"Very well. Stand by until the others report."

"Aye, sir."

Brand turned to the mate. "Now, what in the devil could have done that?' he demanded.

Carlin shook his head. Just then the audio started talking again. Four and five drive chambers were reported in the same condition as the first three. So were the steering-jet chambers. Brand grimaced.

"Get Jarvis up here," he told Carlin. "And Tony Rosso. You and I are going below."

The mate called and the second and third officers responded quickly. Zona Phillips had gone out with the nurse, Brand noticed. Jarvis and Rosso were here, reporting in. Brand pointed wordlessly to the panels and told them to stand by.

"We're going armed," he told Carlin, as they left.

"Armed?" The mate looked surprised.

Brand explained and, stopping at the mate's cabin for flame throwers, they started below. They went directly to Brinkerhof, the head maintenance engineer, finding him scratching his head as he looked over his file of circuit drawings.

"I can't figure it out," he told Brand. "It looks as if someone had tampered with the switches all around. It doesn't seem possible."

"No," agreed Brand. "But it --"

The door to the maintenance office crashed open and an electrician collapsed inside. Blood gushed from his throat in jerky spurts. He bubbled horribly: "Machine shop. They're --"

That was all. The man died while they stood rooted with horror. His jugular had been ripped wide open.

"A mutiny!" babbled Brinkerhof.

"Mutiny, hell!" Brand snorted. "This is war. On a neutral ship, too. Come on!"

* * *

The captain's burly form nearly filled the passageway as the three made toward the machine shop. They plunged through the central core forward of number three drive chamber and Brand glanced up at the huge disconnecting switch. Sure enough, its massive copper bars had been hand-brazed fast in their fingers. How could anyone have gotten away with this? They couldn't on a full-crew ship, that was a cinch.

This business of placing the drive motors as complete assemblies with their individual fuel supply in separate insulated cells was all right, he reflected, provided you never had trouble with more than one or two at a time. With all of them out of commission and the disconnects inoperative, what were you going to do?

Those disconnects were in the 13,800-volt bus from the main generator. To cut them out of a live circuit like that was something. The relays and main breakers, too, were inside the cells with the igniter tube, jet breech and fuel hopper. So were the step-up transformers, the phanotron rectifiers and the 400,000-volt D.C. for ignition. And the heat of a continuous blast. You couldn't even get in there to shut off the fuel supply. And you dared not shut down the main generators because the gravity compensators ran off the 13,800-volt A.C. And who could live to tell of sudden exposure to five gravities?

Also, and worse, the main generators supplied the current for the exciters that maintained the atomic blast which, in turn, supplied energy to turn that generator. Cut the generator, and the blast would die. With that out, the generator couldn't be restarted till the blast was restarted from a jury-rig exciter circuit. Generators weren't supposed to be cut out in transit; the exciter current for starting was supplied normally from special lines run in from dock before take-off. Rigging jury exciter circuits would take hours, and in the meantime nothing but low-voltage storage-battery power would be available.

It looked as if they'd just have to keep on accelerating for a while. Until they could figure a way out. Meanwhile --

His reflections ceased abruptly when he saw a bent figure skulking out of the machine shop. Not in ship's uniform, this figure. Brand splashed a lance of white flame at his feet and saw a floor grating glow instant red. The man yelped and ducked into a passage leading forward.

"I'll get him," grunted Carlin and sprinted down the corridor.

Poking the snout of his flame thrower around the door jamb ahead of himself, Brand followed it cautiously into the machine shop, Brinkerhof at his heels. The place was a shambles. Not a man of the shop force was alive. They hung draped over lathe, drill press and milling machine, heads battered in or jugulars slashed. Obviously they had been taken by surprise and by a superior force. Altogether, there were nine dead. One was not in ship's uniform. Brand turned the fellow over and thought he might be a Martian drylander. You could never be sure, though, with more than five generations of intermarriage between various races of the three planets. Brinkerhof groaned as if in pain.

"Lord, captain, what's it all about?" he asked helplessly.

Carlin dashed in, panting. "Lost him," he reported ruefully. "He gave me the slip."

Brand rose from the prostrate outlander corpse. He hadn't found a single identifying mark. "Whatever it's all about, it's serious," he said grimly. "And we have to get to the bottom of it. Carlin, you'll return to the bridge. Brinkerhof, you get busy and find a way of cutting these stern jets out of commission. I'm going to the infirmary and question that girl."

"The girl?" asked the mate, blankly.

"Yes, the girl." Brand grinned. There hadn't been a "mister" or a "sir" tossed around lately. It reminded Brand of the old full-crew days.

He found Zona Phillips recovered, though pale and obviously much shaken. Her father's body was lying in the mortuary, pending instructions for disposal. So was that of his murderer.

Brand patted her shoulder sympathetically. "Sorry to bother you in the circumstances, Miss Zona," he said. "But I'm afraid I'll have to ask you a few questions."

"If I can be of any help," she said tremulously, "I'll be glad to."

"You know, of course, why your dad was -- put out of the way."

The girl nodded mutely, her big eyes filling anew with the tears she was struggling to hold back.

"He thought certain parties at your table were spies. Did you?"

Zona Phillips became articulate. "I'm sure of it," she said.

"Can you identify them?" Brand asked gently.

"I . . . I could. But --" The blue eyes widened farther and a look of fear glazed over the sorrow.

"I'll protect you," the captain assured her hastily.

"It isn't that. I'm not really afraid for myself. It's something else I can't --" Her hand went swiftly to her mouth as if to shut off words she shouldn't be saying.

Brand was nonplussed. Was this girl willfully hiding anything? "Miss Zona," he said soberly, "this ship is in grave danger of some sort. I don't know even yet how serious it may be in extent. If you can help us to identify the miscreants at the bottom of it, you will be rendering a great service. It may be the means of saving other lives."

"Oh, I will! I will. I'll do anything."

"Do you know the names of the ones your father suspected?"

The girl looked fearfully around the infirmary waiting room. "I think so. If I can see the passenger list --"

Brand knew then that she was in utmost terror. "Now, you can stop worrying," he told her. "Come along with me, young lady, and I'll see that nothing happens to you. We've a duplicate list in the bridge office. You won't even need to cross a passenger deck."

Zona Phillips brightened perceptibly, though there still remained a look about her eyes that might have been furtive. Brand laid it to her fears. Or tried to. He still wondered vaguely.

* * *

They found the bridge in somewhat of a turmoil, the usual discipline having relaxed. The operators were fidgety at the control board. And Carlin was in a huddle with the second and third officers. They pulled apart when they saw the captain coming. All eyes were on Zona Phillips. Caressingly, almost, those eyes. For some reason, Brand bristled inside.

"Anything new?' he asked Carlin.

"Only that the radio room has been wrecked and the radio transmitter ruined. And Brinkerhof reports every cutting torch in his stores either smashed or missing entirely."

You could have heard a pin drop on the bridge after that. Brand's eyes strayed to the indicating panel. The speed was 105 miles a second. Faster than any of them had ever expected to travel. And still the Spirit of Terra was accelerating at five gravities!

"Tell Brinkerhof to rig up an electric-arc burning outfit and cut out those disconnects as fast as he can," Brand ordered. "You, Jarvis, get after the radio and have it fixed. Rosso, get below and organize the steward's department. But make sure the passengers don't get wise that anything's up."

He moved toward the office with the girl.

"We're still in the Venus-Terra beam," Carlin reminded him in a sort of hushed voice.

"I know it," snapped Brand. He didn't want to think about that now, and he didn't want the girl to be alarmed further.

In the office, looking over the passenger list, she seemed more at ease. Brand was surprised when she identified five unpronounceable names.

"Those weren't all at your table?" he exclaimed.

"No, only two. But I saw those two talking confidentially with all three of the others at different times."

Brand noted the cabin numbers of the five and immediately audioed the chief steward to round up their occupants. He had no sooner left the frame when it crackled back at him in Rosso's voice:

"Deckhand says he saw several passengers fooling with the lock of number twenty-one lifeboat. I'm going down there."

"So am I," Brand shot back. Then, to the girl: "You stay in my lounge, Miss Zona. You'll be safe there. Tell the cabin boy I said it'd be all right."

He picked up Carlin as he rushed across the bridge and they sped to join Rosso. It looked as if whoever had made such a thorough job of putting the ship out of commission was trying for a getaway.

(continue to part 3)