"I hadn't heard about that," Miles said, as the general returned to his chair and picked up his drink again.
"Yes. They'll need something better than these thatched huts when the storms start, and working on them will keep them out of mischief. Standard megaton-kilometer field shelters, earth and log construction. I think they'll be adequate for anything that happens at periastron."
Anything designed to resist the heat, blast and radiation effects of a megaton thermonuclear bomb at a kilometer ought to stand up under what was coming. At least, the periastron effects; there was another angle to it.
"The Native Welfare Commission isn't going to take kindly to that. That's supposed to be their job."
"Then why the devil haven't they done it?" Gonzales demanded angrily. "I've viewed every native village in this area by screen, and I haven't seen one that's equipped with anything better than those log storage-bins against the stockades."
"There was a project to provide shelters for the periastron storms set up ten years ago. They spent one year arguing about how the natives survived storms prior to the Terrans' arrival here. According to the older natives, they got into those log storage-houses you were mentioning; only about one out of three in any village survived. I could have told them that. Did tell them, repeatedly, on the air. Then, after they decided that shelters were needed, they spent another year hassling over who would be responsible for designing them. Your predecessor here, General Nokami, offered the services of his engineer officers. He was frostily informed that this was a humanitarian and not a military project."
Ramon Gonzales began swearing, then apologized for the interruption. "Then what?" he asked.
"Apology unnecessary. Then they did get a shelter designed, and started teaching some of the students at the native schools how to build them, and then the meteorologists told them it was no good. It was a dugout shelter; the weathermen said there'd be rainfall measured in meters instead of inches and anybody who got caught in one of those dugouts would be drowned like a rat."
"Ha, I thought of that one." Gonzales said. "My shelters are going to be mounded up eight feet above the ground."
"What did they do then?" Foxx Travis wanted to know.
"There the matter rested. As far as I know, nothing has been done on it since."
"And you think, with a disgraceful record of non-accomplishment like that, that they'll protest General Gonzales' action on purely jurisdictional grounds?" Travis demanded.
"Not jurisdictional grounds, Foxx. The general's going at this the wrong way. He actually knows what has to be done and how to do it, and he's going right ahead and doing it, without holding a dozen conferences and round-table discussions and giving everybody a fair and equal chance to foul things up for him. You know as well as I do that that's undemocratic. And what's worse, he's making the natives build them themselves, whether they want to or not, and that's forced labor. That reminds me; has anybody started raising the devil about those Kwanns from Qualpha's and Darshat's you brought here and Paul put to work?"
Gonzales looked at Travis and then said: "Not with me. Not yet, anyhow."
"They've been at General Maith," Travis said shortly. After a moment, he added: "General Maith supports General Gonzales completely; that's for publication. I'm authorized to say so. What else was there to do? They'd burned their villages and all their food stores. They had to be placed somewhere. And why in the name of reason should they sit around in the shade eating Government native-type rations while Paul Sanders has fifty to a hundred thousand sols' worth of crystals dying on him?"
"Yes; that's another thing they'll scream about. Paul's making a profit out of it."
"Of course he's making a profit," Gonzales said. "Why else is he running a plantation? If planters didn't make profits, who'd grow biocrystals?"
"The Colonial Government. The same way they built those storm-shelters. But that would be in the public interest, and if the Kwanns weren't public-spirited enough to do the work, they'd be made to--at about half what planters like Sanders are paying them now. But don't you realize that profit is sordid and dishonest and selfish? Not at all like drawing a salary-cum-expense-account from the Government."
"You're right, it isn't," Gonzales agreed. "People like Paul Sanders have ability. If they don't, they don't stay in business. You have ability and people who don't never forgive you for it. Your very existence is a constant reproach to them."
"That's right. And they can't admit your ability without admitting their own inferiority, so it isn't ability at all. It's just dirty underhanded trickery and selfish ruthlessness." He thought for a moment. "How did Government House find out about these Kwanns here?"
"The Welfare Commission had people out while I was still setting up headquarters," Gonzales said. "That was about oh-seven-hundred."
"This isn't for publication?" Travis asked. "Well, they know, but they can't prove, that our given reason for moving in here in force is false. Of course, we can't change our story now; that's why the situation-progress map that was prepared for publication is incorrect as to the earlier phases. They do not know that it was you who gave us our first warning; they ascribe that to Sanders. And they are claiming that there never was any swarming; according to them, Sanders' natives are striking for better pay and conditions, and Sanders got General Maith to use troops to break the strike. I wish we could give you credit for putting us onto this, but it's too late now."
He nodded. The story was that a battalion of infantry had been sent in to rescue a small detail under attack by natives, and that more troops had been sent in to re-enforce them, until the whole of Gonzales' brigade had been committed.
"That wasted an hour, at the start," Gonzales said. "We lost two native villages burned, and about two dozen casualties, because we couldn't get our full strength in soon enough."
"You'd have lost more than that if Maith had told the governor general the truth and requested orders to act. There'd be a hundred villages and a dozen plantations and trading posts burning, now, and Lord knows how many dead, and the governor general would still be arguing about whether he was justified in ordering troop-action." He mentioned several other occasions when something like that had happened. "You can't tell that kind of people the truth. They won't believe it. It doesn't agree with their preconceptions."
Foxx Travis nodded. "I take it we are still talking for nonpublication?" When Miles nodded, he continued: "This whole situation is baffling, Miles. It seems that the government here knew all about the weather conditions they could expect at periastron, and had made plans for them. Some of them excellent plans, too, but all based on the presumption that the natives would co-operate or at least not obstruct. You see what the situation actually is. It should be obvious to everybody that the behavior of these natives is nullifying everything the civil government is trying to do to ensure the survival of the Terran colonists, the production of Terran-type food without which we would all starve, the biocrystal plantations without which the Colony would perish, and even the natives themselves. Yet the Civil Government will not act to stop these native frenzies and swarmings which endanger everything and everybody here, and when the Army attempts to act, we must use every sort of shabby subterfuge and deceit or the Civil Government will prevent us. What ails these people?"
"You have the whole history of the Colony against you, Foxx," he said. "You know, there never was any Chartered Kwannon Company set up to exploit the resources of the planet. At first, nobody realized that there were any resources worth exploiting. This planet was just a scientific curiosity; it was and is still the only planet of a binary system with a native population of sapient beings. The first people who came here were scientists, mostly sociographers and para-anthropologists. And most of them came from the University of Adelaide."
Travis nodded. Adelaide had a Federation-wide reputation for left-wing neo-Marxist "liberalism."
"Well, that established the political and social orientation of the Colonial Government, right at the start, when study of the natives was the only business of the Colony. You know how these ideological cliques form in a government--or any other organization. Subordinates are always chosen for their agreement with the views of their superiors, and the extremists always get to the top and shove the moderates under or out. Well, the Native Affairs Administration became the tail that wagged the Government dog, and the Native Welfare Commission is the big muscle in the tail."
His parents hadn't been of the left-wing Adelaide clique. His mother had been a biochemist; his father a roving news correspondent who had drifted into trading with the natives and made a fortune in keffa-gum before the chemists on Terra had found out how to synthesize hopkinsine.
"When the biocrystals were discovered and the plantations started, the Government attitude was set. Biocrystal culture is just sordid money grubbing. The real business of the Colony is to promote the betterment of the natives, as defined in University of Adelaide terms. That's to say, convert them into ersatz Terrans. You know why General Maith ordered these shoonoon rounded up?"
Travis made a face. "Governor general Kovac insisted on it; General Maith thought that a few minor concessions would help him on his main objective, which was keeping a swarming from starting out here."
"Yes. The Commissioner of Native Welfare wanted that done, mainly at the urging of the Director of Economic, Educational and Technical Assistance. The EETA crowd don't like shoonoon. They have been trying, ever since their agency was set up, to undermine and destroy their influence with the natives. This looked like a good chance to get rid of some of them."
Travis nodded. "Yes. And as soon as the disturbances in Bluelake started, the Constabulary started rounding them up there, too, and at the evacuee cantonments. They got about fifty of them, mostly from the cantonments east of the city--the natives brought in from the flooded tidewater area. They just dumped the lot of them onto us. We have them penned up in a lorry-hangar on the military reservation now." He turned to Gonzales. "How many do you think you'll gather up out here, general?" he asked.
"I'd say about a hundred and fifty, when we have them all."
Travis groaned. "We can't keep all of them in that hangar, and we don't have anywhere else--"
Sometimes a new idea sneaked up on Miles, rubbing against him and purring like a cat. Sometimes one hit him like a sledgehammer. This one just seemed to grow inside him.
"Foxx, you know I have the top three floors of the Suzikami Building; about five hundred hours ago, I leased the fourth and fifth floors, directly below. I haven't done anything with them, yet; they're just as they were when Trans-Space Imports moved out. There are ample water, light, power, air-conditioning and toilet facilities, and they can be sealed off completely from the rest of the building. If General Maith's agreeable, I'll take his shoonoon off his hands."
"What in blazes will you do with them?"
"Try a little experiment in psychological warfare. At minimum, we may get a little better insight into why these natives think the Last Hot Time is coming. At best, we may be able to stop the whole thing and get them quieted down again."
"Even the minimum's worth trying for," Travis said. "What do you have in mind, Miles? I mean, what procedure?"
"Well, I'm not quite sure, yet." That was a lie; he was very sure. He didn't think it was quite time to be specific, though. "I'll have to size up my material a little, before I decide on what to do with it. Whatever happens, it won't hurt the shoonoon, and it won't make any more trouble than arresting them has made already. I'm sure we can learn something from them, at least."
Travis nodded. "General Maith is very much impressed with your grasp of native psychology," he said. "What happened out here this morning was exactly as you predicted. Whatever my recommendation's worth, you have it. Can you trust your native driver to take your car back to Bluelake alone?"
"Yes, of course."
"Then suppose you ride in with me in my car. We'll talk about it on the way in, and go see General Maith at once."
Bluelake was peaceful as they flew in over it, but it was an uneasy peace. They began running into military contragravity twenty miles beyond the open farmlands--they were the chlorophyll green of Terran vegetation--and the natives at work in the fields were being watched by more military and police vehicles. The carniculture plants, where Terran-type animal tissue was grown in nutrient-vats, were even more heavily guarded, and the native city was being patroled from above and the streets were empty, even of the hordes of native children who usually played in them.
The Terran city had no streets. Its dwellers moved about on contragravity, and tall buildings rose, singly or in clumps, among the landing-staged residences and the green transplanted trees. There was a triple wire fence around it, the inner one masked by vines and the middle one electrified, with warning lights on. Even a government dedicated to the betterment of the natives and unwilling to order military action against them was, it appeared, unwilling to take too many chances.
Major General Denis Maith, the Federation Army commander on Kwannon, was considerably more than willing to find a temporary home for his witch doctors, now numbering close to two hundred. He did insist that they be kept under military guard, and on assigning his aide, Captain Travis, to co-operate on the project. Beyond that, he gave Miles a free hand.
Miles and Travis got very little rest in the next ten hours. A half-company of engineer troops was also kept busy, as were a number of Kwannon Planetwide News technicians and some Terran and native mechanics borrowed from different private business concerns in the city. Even the most guarded hints of what he had in mind were enough to get this last co-operation; he had been running a news-service in Bluelake long enough to have the confidence of the business people.
He tried, as far as possible, to keep any intimation of what was going on from Government House. That, unfortunately, hadn't been far enough. He found that out when General Maith was on his screen, in the middle of the work on the fourth and fifth floors of the Suzikami Building.
"The governor general just screened me," Maith said. "He's in a tizzy about our shoonoon. Claims that keeping them in the Suzikami Building will endanger the whole Terran city."
"Is that the best he can do? Well, that's rubbish, and he knows it. There are less than two hundred of them, I have them on the fifth floor, twenty stories above the ground, and the floor's completely sealed off from the floor below. They can't get out, and I have tanks of sleep-gas all over the place which can be opened either individually or all together from a switch on the fourth floor, where your sepoys are quartered."
"I know, Mr. Gilbert; I screen-viewed the whole installation. I've seen regular maximum-security prisons that would be easier to get out of."
"Governor general Kovac is not objecting personally. He has been pressured into it by this Native Welfare government-within-the-Government. They don't know what I'm doing with those shoonoon, but whatever it is, they're afraid of it."
"Well, for the present," Maith said, "I think I'm holding them off. The Civil Government doesn't want the responsibility of keeping them in custody, I refused to assume responsibility for them if they were kept anywhere else, and Kovac simply won't consider releasing them, so that leaves things as they are. I did have to make one compromise, though." That didn't sound good. It sounded less so when Maith continued: "They insisted on having one of their people at the Suzikami Building as an observer. I had to grant that."
"That's going to mean trouble."
"Oh, I shouldn't think so. This observer will observe, and nothing else. She will take no part in anything you're doing, will voice no objections, and will not interrupt anything you are saying to the shoonoon. I was quite firm on that, and the governor general agreed completely."
"Yes. A Miss Edith Shaw; do you know anything about her?"
"I've met her a few times; cocktail parties and so on." She was young enough, and new enough to Kwannon, not to have a completely indurated mind. On the other hand, she was EETA which was bad, and had a master's in sociography from Adelaide, which was worse. "When can I look for her?"
"Well, the governor general's going to screen me and find out when you'll have the shoonoon on hand."
Doesn't want to talk to me at all, Miles thought. Afraid he might say something and get quoted.
"For your information, they'll be here inside an hour. They will have to eat, and they're all tired and sleepy. I should say 'bout oh-eight-hundred. Oh, and will you tell the governor general to tell Miss Shaw to bring an overnight kit with her. She's going to need it."
He was up at 0400, just a little after Beta-rise. He might be a civilian big-wheel in an Army psychological warfare project, but he still had four newscasts a day to produce. He spent a couple of hours checking the 0600 'cast and briefing Harry Walsh for the indeterminate period in which he would be acting chief editor and producer. At 0700, Foxx Travis put in an appearance. They went down to the fourth floor, to the little room they had fitted out as command-post, control room and office for Operation Shoonoo.
There was a rectangular black traveling-case, initialed E. S., beside the open office door. Travis nodded at it, and they grinned at one another; she'd come early, possibly hoping to catch them hiding something they didn't want her to see. Entering the office quietly, they found her seated facing the big viewscreen, smoking and watching a couple of enlisted men of the First Kwannon Native Infantry at work in another room where the pickup was. There were close to a dozen lipstick-tinted cigarette butts in the ashtray beside her. Her private face wasn't particularly happy. Maybe she was being earnest and concerned about the betterment of the underpriviledged, or the satanic maneuvers of the selfish planters.
Then she realized that somebody had entered; with a slight start, she turned, then rose. She was about the height of Foxx Travis, a few inches shorter than Miles, and slender. Light blond; green suit costume. She ditched her private face and got on her public one, a pleasant and deferential smile, with a trace of uncertainty behind it. Miles introduced Travis, and they sat down again facing the screen.
It gave a view, from one of the long sides and near the ceiling, of a big room. In the center, a number of seats--the drum-shaped cushions the natives had adopted in place of the seats carved from sections of tree trunk that they had been using when the Terrans had come to Kwannon--were arranged in a semicircle, one in the middle slightly in advance of the others. Facing them were three armchairs, a remote-control box beside one and another Kwann cushion behind and between the other two. There was a large globe of Kwannon, and on the wall behind the chairs an array of viewscreens.
"There'll be an interpreter, a native Army sergeant, between you and Captain Travis," he said. "I don't know how good you are with native languages, Miss Shaw; the captain is not very fluent."
"Cushions for them, I see, and chairs for the lordly Terrans," she commented. "Never miss a chance to rub our superiority in, do you?"
"I never deliberately force them to adopt our ways," he replied. "Our chairs are as uncomfortable for them as their low seats are for us. Difference, you know, doesn't mean inferiority or superiority. It just means difference."
"Well, what are you trying to do, here?"
"I'm trying to find out a little more about the psychology back of these frenzies and swarmings."
"It hasn't occurred to you to look for them in the economic wrongs these people are suffering at the hands of the planters and traders, I suppose."
"So they're committing suicide, and that's all you can call these swarmings, and the fire-frenzies in the south, from economic motives," Travis said. "How does one better oneself economically by dying?"
She ignored the question, which was easier than trying to answer it.
"And why are you bothering to talk to these witch doctors? They aren't representative of the native people. They're a lot of cynical charlatans, with a vested interest in ignorance and superstition--"
"Miss Shaw, for the past eight centuries, earnest souls have been bewailing the fact that progress in the social sciences has always lagged behind progress in the physical sciences. I would suggest that the explanation might be in difference of approach. The physical scientist works with physical forces, even when he is trying, as in the case of contragravity, to nullify them. The social scientist works against social forces."
"And the result's usually a miserable failure, even on the physical-accomplishment level," Foxx Travis added. "This storm shelter project that was set up ten years ago and got nowhere, for instance. Ramon Gonzales set up a shelter project of his own seventy-five hours ago, and he's half through with it now."
"Yes, by forced labor!"
"Field surgery's brutal, too, especially when the anaesthetics run out. It's better than letting your wounded die, though."
"Well, we were talking about these shoonoon. They are a force among the natives; that can't be denied. So, since we want to influence the natives, why not use them?"
"Mr. Gilbert, these shoonoon are blocking everything we are trying to do for the natives. If you use them for propaganda work in the villages, you will only increase their prestige and make it that much harder for us to better the natives' condition, both economically and culturally--"
"That's it, Miles," Travis said. "She isn't interested in facts about specific humanoid people on Kwannon. She has a lot of high-order abstractions she got in a classroom at Adelaide on Terra."
"No. Her idea of bettering the natives' condition is to rope in a lot of young Kwanns, put them in Government schools, overload them with information they aren't prepared to digest, teach them to despise their own people, and then send them out to the villages, where they behave with such insufferable arrogance that the wonder is that so few of them stop an arrow or a charge of buckshot, instead of so many. And when that happens, as it does occasionally, Welfare says they're murdered at the instigation of the shoonoon."
"You know, Miss Shaw, this isn't just the roughneck's scorn for the egghead," Travis said. "Miles went to school on Terra, and majored in extraterrestrial sociography, and got a master's, just like you did. At Montevideo," he added. "And he spent two more years traveling on a Paula von Schlicten Fellowship."
Edith Shaw didn't say anything. She even tried desperately not to look impressed. It occurred to him that he'd never mentioned that fellowship to Travis. Army Intelligence must have a pretty good dossier on him. Before anybody could say anything further, a Terran captain and a native sergeant of the First K.N.I. came in. In the screen, the four sepoys who had been fussing around straightening things picked up auto-carbines and posted themselves two on either side of a door across from the pickup, taking positions that would permit them to fire into whatever came through without hitting each other.
What came through was one hundred and eighty-four shoonoon. Some wore robes of loose gauze strips, and some wore fire-dance cloaks of red and yellow and orange ribbons. Many were almost completely naked, but they were all amulet-ed to the teeth. There must have been a couple of miles of brass and bright-alloy wire among them, and half a ton of bright scrap-metal, and the skulls, bones, claws, teeth, tails and other components of most of the native fauna. They debouched into the big room, stopped, and stood looking around them. A native sergeant and a couple more sepoys followed. They got the shoonoon over to the semicircle of cushions, having to chase a couple of them away from the single seat at front and center, and induced them to sit down.
The native sergeant in the little room said something under his breath; the captain laughed. Edith Shaw gaped for an instant and said, "Muggawsh!" Travis simply remarked that he'd be damned.
"They do look kind of unusual, don't they?" Miles said. "I wouldn't doubt that this is the biggest assemblage of shoonoon in history. They aren't exactly a gregarious lot."
"Maybe this is the beginning of a new era. First meeting of the Kwannon Thaumaturgical Society."
A couple more K.N.I. privates came in with serving-tables on contragravity floats and began passing bowls of a frozen native-food delicacy of which all Kwanns had become passionately fond since its introduction by the Terrans. He let them finish, and then, after they had been relieved of the empty bowls, he nodded to the K.N.I. sergeant, who opened a door on the left. They all went through into the room they had been seeing in the screen. There was a stir when the shoonoon saw him, and he heard his name, in its usual native mispronunciation, repeated back and forth.
"You all know me," he said, after they were seated. "Have I ever been an enemy to you or to the People?"
"No," one of them said. "He speaks for us to the other Terrans. When we are wronged, he tries to get the wrongs righted. In times of famine he has spoken of our troubles, and gifts of food have come while the Government argued about what to do."
He wished he could see Edith Shaw's face.
"There was a sickness in our village, and my magic could not cure it," another said. "Mailsh Heelbare gave me oomphel to cure it, and told me how to use it. He did this privately, so that I would not be made to look small to the people of the village."
And that had infuriated EETA; it was a question whether unofficial help to the natives or support of the prestige of a shoonoo had angered them more.
"His father was a trader; he gave good oomphel, and did not cheat. Mailsh Heelbare grew up among us; he took the Manhood Test with the boys of the village," another oldster said. "He listened with respect to the grandfather-stories. No, Mailsh Heelbare is not our enemy. He is our friend."
"And so I will prove myself now," he told them. "The Government is angry with the People, but I will try to take their anger away, and in the meantime I am permitted to come here and talk with you. Here is a chief of soldiers, and one of the Government people, and your words will be heard by the oomphel machine that remembers and repeats, for the Governor and the Great Soldier Chief."
They all brightened. To make a voice recording was a wonderful honor. Then one of them said: "But what good will that do now? The Last Hot Time is here. Let us be permitted to return to our villages, where our people need us."
"It is of that that I wish to speak. But first of all, I must hear your words, and know what is in your minds. Who is the eldest among you? Let him come forth and sit in the front, where I may speak with him."