Obviously, no conqueror wants his subjects to revolt against his rule. Obviously? This one would go to any lengths to start a rebellion! Poul Anderson weaves a fascinating, page-turning, mind-bending science fiction tale fit for the greatest consumers of sci fi literature!
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Copyright © 2016 by Poul Anderson
Published by Jovian Press
Interior design by Pronoun
Distribution by Pronoun
THE BIOTECHNICIANS HAD BEEN VERY thorough. I was already a little undersized, which meant that my height and build were suitable—I could pass for a big Earthling. And of course my face and hands and so on were all right, the Earthlings being a remarkably humanoid race. But the technicians had had to remodel my ears, blunting the tips and grafting on lobes and cutting the muscles that move them. My crest had to go and a scalp covered with revolting hair was now on the top of my skull.
Finally, and most difficult, there had been the matter of skin color. It just wasn’t possible to eliminate my natural coppery pigmentation. So they had injected a substance akin to melanin, together with a virus which would manufacture it in my body, the result being a leathery brown. I could pass for a member of the so-called “white” subspecies, one who had spent most of his life in the open.
The mimicry was perfect. I hardly recognized the creature that looked out of the mirror. My lean, square, blunt-nosed face, gray eyes, and big hands were the same or nearly so. But my black crest had been replaced with a shock of blond hair, my ears were small and immobile, my skin a dull bronze, and several of Earth’s languages were hypnotically implanted in my brain—together with a set of habits and reflexes making up a pseudo-personality which should be immune to any tests that the rebels could think of.
I was Earthling! And the disguise was self-perpetuating: the hair grew and the skin color was kept permanent by the artificial “disease.” The biotechnicians had told me that if I kept the disguise long enough, till I began to age—say, in a century or so—the hair would actually thin and turn white as it did with the natives.
It was reassuring to think that once my job was over, I could be restored to normal. It would need another series of operations and as much time as the original transformation, but it would be as complete and scarless. I’d be human again.
I put on the clothes they had furnished me, typical Earthly garments—rough trousers and shirt of bleached plant fibers, jacket and heavy shoes of animal skin, a battered old hat of matted fur known as felt. There were objects in my pockets, the usual money and papers, a claspknife, the pipe and tobacco I had trained myself to smoke and even to like. It all fitted into my character of a wandering, outdoors sort of man, an educated atavist.
I went out of the hospital with the long swinging stride of one accustomed to walking great distances.
The Center was busy around me. Behind me, the hospital and laboratories occupied a fairly small building, some eighty stories of stone and steel and plastic. On either side loomed the great warehouses, military barracks, officers’ apartments, civilian concessions, filled with the vigorous life of the starways. Behind the monstrous wall, a mile to my right, was the spaceport, and I knew that a troopship had just lately dropped gravs from Valgolia herself.
The Center swarmed with young recruits off duty, gaping at the sights, swaggering in their new uniforms. Their skins shone like polished copper in the blistering sunlight, and their crests were beginning to wilt a little. All Earth is not the tropical jungle most Valgolians think it is—northern Europe is very pleasant, and Greenland is even a little on the cold side—but it gets hot enough at North America Center in midsummer to fry a shilast.
A cosmopolitan throng filled the walkways. Soldiers predominated—huge, shy Dacors, little slant-eyed Yangtusans, brawling Gorrads, all the manhood of Valgolia. Then there were other races, blue-skinned Vegans, furry Proximans, completely non-humanoid Sirians and Antarians. They were here as traders, observers, tourists, whatever else of a non-military nature one can imagine.
I made an absent-minded way through the crowds. A sudden crack on the side of my head, nearly bowling me over, brought me to awareness. I looked up into the arrogant face of one of the new recruits and heard him rasp, “Watch where you’re going, Terrie!”
The young blood in the Valgolian military is deliberately trained to harshness, even brutality, for our militarism must impress such backward colonies as Earth. It goes against our grain, but it is necessary. At another time this might have annoyed me. I could have pulled rank on him. Not only was I an officer, but such treatment must be used with intellectual deliberation. The occasional young garrison trooper who comes here with the idea that the natives are an inferior breed to be kicked around misses the whole point of Empire. If, indeed, Earth’s millions were an inferior breed, I wouldn’t have been here at all. Valgol needs an economic empire, but if all we had in mind was serfdom we’d be perfectly content with the plodding animal life of Deneb VII or a hundred other worlds.
I cringed appropriately, as if I didn’t understand Valgolian Universal, and slunk past him. But it griped me to be taken for a Terrie. If I was to become an Earthling, I would at least be a self-respecting one.
There were plenty of Terries—Terrestrials—around, of course, moving with their odd combination of slavish deference toward Valgolians and arrogant superiority toward mere Earthlings. They have adopted the habits and customs of civilization, entered the Imperial service, speak Valgolian even with their families. Many of them shave their heads save for a scalp lock, in imitation of the crest, and wear white robes suggesting those of civil functionaries at home.
I’ve always felt a little sorry for the class. They work, and study, and toady to us, and try so hard to be like us. It’s frustrating, because that’s exactly what we don’t want. Valgolians are Valgolians and Earthlings are men of Earth. Well, Terries are important to the ultimate aims of the Empire, but not in the way they think they are. They serve as another symbol of Valgolian conquest for Earth to hate.
I entered the Administration Building. They expected me there and took me at once to the office of General Vorka, who’s a general only as far as this solar system is concerned. Had there been any Earthlings around, I would have saluted to conform to the show of militarism, but General Vorka sat alone behind his desk, and I merely said, “Hello, Coordinator.”
The sleeves of his tunic rolled up, the heat of North America beading his forehead with sweat, the big man looked up at me. “Ah, yes. I’m glad you’re finally prepared. The sooner we get this thing started—” He extended a silver galla-dust box. “Sniff? Have a seat, Conru.”
I inhaled gratefully and relaxed. The Coordinator picked up a sheaf of papers on his desk and leafed through them. “Umm-mm, only fifty-two years old and a captain already. Remarkably able, a young man like you. And your work hitherto has been outstanding. That Vegan business....”
I said yes, I knew, but could he please get down to business. You couldn’t blame me for being a bit anxious to begin. Disguised as I was as an Earthman, I felt uncomfortable, embarrassed, almost, at being with my ex-countrymen.
The Coordinator shrugged. “Well, if you can carry this business off—fine. If you fail, you may die quite unpleasantly. That’s their trouble, Conru: you wouldn’t be regarded as an individual, but as a Valgolian. Did you know that they even make such distinctions among themselves? I mean races and sub-races and social castes and the like; it’s keeping them divided and impotent, Conru. It’s also keeping them out of the Empire. A shame.”
I knew all that, of course, but I merely nodded. Coordinator Vorka was a wonderful man in his field, and if he tended to be on the garrulous side, what could I do? I said, “I know that, sir. I also know I was picked for a dangerous job because you thought I could fill the role. But I still don’t know exactly what the job is.”
Coordinator Vorka smiled. “I’m afraid I can’t tell you much more than you must already have guessed,” he said. “The anarch movement here—the rebels, that is—is getting no place, primarily because of internal difficulties. When members of the same group spit epithets at each other referring to what they consider racial or national distinctions which determine superiority or inferiority, the group is bound to be an insecure one. Such insecurity just does not make for a strong rebellion, Conru. They try, and we goad them—but dissention splits them constantly and their revolutions fizzle out.
“They just can’t unite against us, can’t unite at all. Conru, you know how we’ve tried to educate them. It’s worked, too, to some extent. But you can’t educate three billion people who have a whole cultural pattern behind them.”
I winced. “Three billion?”
“Certainly. Earth is a rich planet, Conru, and a fairly crowded one at the same time. Bickering is inevitable. It’s a part of their culture, as much as cooperation has been a part of ours.”
I nodded. “We learned the hard way. The old Valgol was a poor planet and we had to unite to conquer space or we could not have survived.”
The Coordinator sniffed again at his silver box. “Of course. And we’re trying to help these people unite. They don’t have to make the same mistakes we did, long ago. They don’t have to at all. Get them to hate us enough, get them to hate us until all their own clannish hatreds don’t count at all.... Well, you know what happened on Samtrak.”
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