- Author: H. Beam Piper
Read book online «Ullr Uprising by H. Beam Piper (best romance ebooks txt) 📕». Author - H. Beam Piper
This etext was produced from Space Science Fiction, February and March, 1953. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.
ULLR UPRISING A STORY IN TWO PARTS
BY H. BEAM PIPER
ILLUSTRATED BY ORBAN
"The heathen geeks, they wear no breeks," the Terrans
sang. But on a crazy world like Ullr, clothes didn't
make the fighting man. There both red and yellow
meant danger—and blood!
The big armor-tender vibrated, gently and not unpleasantly, as the contragravity field alternated on and off. Sometimes it rocked slightly, like a boat on the water, and, in the big screen which served in lieu of a window at the front of the control-cabin, the dingy-yellow landscape would seem to tilt a little. The air was faintly yellow, the sky was yellow with a greenish cast, and the clouds were green-gray.
No human had ever set foot on the surface, or breathed the air, of Niflheim. To have done so would have been instant death; the air was a mixture of free fluorine and fluoride gasses, the soil was metallic fluorides, damp with acid rains, and the river was pure hydrofluoric acid. Even the ordinary spacesuit would have been no protection; the glass and rubber and plastic would have disintegrated in a matter of minutes. People came to Niflheim, and worked the mines and uranium refineries and chemical plants, but they did so inside power-driven and contragravity-lifted armor, and they lived on artificial satellites two thousand miles off-planet. Niflheim was worse than airless; much worse.
The chief engineer sat at his controls, making the minor lateral adjustments in the vehicle's position which were not possible to the automatic controls. At his own panel of instruments, a small man with grizzled black hair around a bald crown, and a grizzled beard, chewed nervously at the stump of a dead cigar and listened intently. A large, plump-faced, young man in soiled khaki shirt and shorts, with extremely hairy legs, was doodling on his notepad and eating candy out of a bag. And a black-haired girl in a suit of coveralls three sizes too big for her, and, apparently, not much of anything else, lounged with one knee hooked over her chair-arm, staring into the screen at the distant horizon.
"I can see them," the girl said, lifting a hand in front of her. "At two o'clock, about one of my hand's-breaths above the horizon. But only four of them."
The man with the grizzled beard put his face into the fur around the eyepiece of the telescopic-'visor and twisted a dial. "You have good eyes, Miss Quinton," he complimented. "The fifth's inside the handling machine. One of the Ullrans. Gorkrink."
The largest of the specks that had appeared on the horizon resolved itself into a handling-machine, a thing like an oversized contragravity-tank, with a bull-dozer-blade, a stubby derrick-boom instead of a gun, and jointed, claw-tipped, arms at the sides. The smaller dots grew into personal armor—egg-shaped things that sprouted arms and grab-hooks and pushers in all directions. The man with the grizzled beard began talking rapidly into his hand-phone, then hung it up. There was a series of bumps, and the armor-tender, weightless on contragravity, shook as the handling-machine came aboard.
"You ever see any nuclear bombing, Miss Quinton?" the young man with the hairy legs asked, offering her his candybag.
"Only by telecast, back Solside," Paula Quinton replied, helping herself. "Test-shots at the Federation Navy proving-ground on Mars. I never even heard of nuclear bombs being used for mining till I came here, though."
"It'll be something to see," he promised. "These volcanoes have been dormant for, oh, maybe as long as a thousand years; there ought to be a pretty good head of gas down there. The volcanoes we shot three months ago yielded a fine flow of lava with all sorts of metals—nickel, beryllium, vanadium, chromium, iridium, as well as copper and iron."
"What sort of gas were you speaking about?" she asked.
"Hydrogen. That's what's going to make the fireworks; it combines explosively with fluorine. The hydrogen-fluorine combination is what passes for combustion here: the result is hydrofluoric acid, the local equivalent of water. The subsurface hydrogen is produced when the acid filters down through the rock, combines with pure metals underneath."
The door at the rear of the control-cabin opened, and Juan Murillo, the seismologist, entered, followed by an assistant, who was not human. He was a biped, vaguely humanoid, but he had four arms and a face like a lizard's, and, except for some equipment on belt, he was entirely naked.
He spoke rapidly to Murillo, in a squeaking jabber. Murillo turned.
"Yes, if you wish, Gorkrink," he said, in Lingua Terra. Then he turned back to Gomes as the Ullran sat down in a chair by the door.
"Well, she's all yours, Lourenço; shoot the works."
Gomes stabbed the radio-detonator button in front of him.
Out on the rolling skyline, fifty miles away, a lancelike ray of blue-white light shot up into the gathering dusk—a clump of five rays, really, from five deep shafts in an irregular pentagon half a mile across, blended into one by the distance. An instant later, there was a blinding flash, like sheet-lightning, and a huge ball of varicolored fire belched upward, leaving a series of smoke-rings to float more slowly after it. The fireball flattened, then spread to form the mushroom-head of a column of incandescent gas that mounted to overtake it, engorging the smoke-rings as it rose, twisting, writhing, changing shape, turning to dark smoke in one moment and belching flame and crackling with lightning the next.
"In about half an hour," the large young man told Paula Quinton, "the real fireworks should be starting. What's coming up now is just small debris from the nuclear blast. When the shock-waves get down far enough to crack things open, the gas'll come up, and then steam and ash, and then magma."
"Well, even this was worth staying over for," the girl said, watching the screen.
"You going on to Ullr on the City of Canberra?" Lourenço Gomes asked. "I wish I were; I have to stay over and make another shot, in a month or so, and I've had about all of Niflheim I can take, now."
"When are you going to Terra?" the girl asked him.
"Terra? I don't know; a year, two years. But I'm going to Ullr on the next ship—the City of Pretoria—if we get the next blast off in time. They want me to design some improvements on a couple of power-reactors at Keegark so I'll probably see you when I get there."
"Here she comes!" the chief engineer called. "Watch the base of the column!"
The pillar of fiery smoke and dust, still boiling up from where the bombs had gone off far underground, was being violently agitated at the bottom. A series of new flashes broke out, lifting and spreading the incandescent radioactive gasses, and then a great gush of flame rose. A column of pure hydrogen must have rushed up into the vacuum created by the explosion; the next blast of flame, in a lateral sheet, came at nearly ten thousand feet above the ground. Then geysers of hot ash and molten rock spouted upward; some of the white-hot debris landed almost at the acid river, half-way to the armor-tender.
"We've started a first-class earthquake, too," Murillo said, looking at the instruments.
"About six big cracks opening in the rock-structure. You know, when this quiets down and cools off, we'll have more ore on the surface than we can handle in ten years, and more than we could have mined by ordinary means in fifty."
"Well, that finishes our work," the large young man said, going to a kit-bag in the corner of the cabin and getting out a bottle. "Get some of those plastic cups, over there, somebody; this one calls for a drink."
The Ullran, in the background, rose quickly and squeaked apologetically. Murillo nodded. "Yes, of course, Gorkrink. No need for you to stay here." The Ullran went out, closing the door behind him.
"That taboo against Ullrans and Terrans watching each other eat and drink," Paula Quinton commented. "But you were speaking to him in Lingua Terra; I didn't know any of them understood it."
"Gorkrink does," Murillo said, uncorking the bottle and pouring into the plastic cups. "None of them can speak it, of course, because of the structure of their vocal organs, any more than we can speak their languages without artificial aids. But I can talk to him in Lingua Terra without having to put one of those damn gags in my mouth, and he can pass my instructions on to the others. He's been a big help; I'll be sorry to lose him."
"Yes, his year's up; he's going back to Ullr on the Canberra. He's from Keegark; claims to be a prince, or something. But he's a damn good worker. Very smart; picks things up the first time you tell him. I'll recommend him unqualifiedly for any kind of work with contragravity or mechanized equipment."
They all had drinks, now, except the chief engineer, who wanted a rain-check on his.
"Well, here's to us," Murillo said. "The first A-bomb miners in history...."II
Carlos von Schlichten, General of the troops on Ullr, threw his cigarette away and set his monocle more firmly in his eye, stepping forward to let Brigadier-General Themistocles M'zangwe and little Colonel Hideyoshi O'Leary follow him out of the fort. On the little hundred-foot-square parade ground in front of the keep, his aircar was parked, and the soldiers were assembled.
Ten or twelve of them were Terrans—a couple of lieutenants, sergeants, gunners, technicians, the sergeant-driver and corporal-gunner of his own car. The other fifty-odd were Ullrans. They stood erect on stumpy legs and broad, six-toed feet. They had four arms apiece, one pair from true shoulders and the other connected to a pseudo-pelvis midway down the torso. Their skins were slate-gray and rubbery, speckled with pinhead-sized bits of quartz that had been formed from perspiration, since their body-tissues were silicone instead of carbon-hydrogen. Their narrow heads were unpleasantly saurian; they had small, double-lidded red eyes, and slit-like nostrils, and wide mouths filled with opalescent teeth. Being cold-blooded, they needed no clothing, beyond their belts and equipment, and the emblem of the Chartered Ullr Company painted on their chests and backs. They had no need for modesty, since all were of the same gender—true, functional hermaphrodites; any individual among them could bear young, or fertilize the ova of any other individual.
Fifteen years before, when he had come to Ullr as a newly commissioned colonel in the army of the Ullr Company, it had taken him some time to adjust. But now his mind disregarded them and went on worrying about the mysterious disappearance of pet animals from Terran homes; there must be some connection with the subtle change he had noticed in the attitudes of the natives, but he couldn't guess what. He didn't like it, though, any more than the beginning of cannibalism among the wild Jeel tribesmen. Or the visit of Paula Quinton on Ullr as field-agent for the Extraterrestrials' Rights Association; now was no time to stir up trouble among the natives, unless his hunch was wrong.
He shrugged it aside and climbed into the command-car, followed by M'zangwe and O'Leary. Sergeant Harry Quong and Corporal Hassan Bogdanoff took their places in the front seat; the car lifted, turned to nose into the wind, and rose in a slow spiral.
"Where now, sir?" Quong asked.
"Back to Konkrook; to the island."
The nose of the car swung east by south; the cold-jet rotors began humming, and the hot-jets were cut in. The car turned from the fort and the mountains and shot away over the foothills toward the coastal plains. Below were forests, yellow-green with new foliage of the second growing-season of the equatorial year, veined with narrow dirt roads and spotted with occasional clearings. Farther east, the dirty gray woodsmoke of Ullr marked the progress of the charcoal-burnings. That was the only natural fuel on Ullr; there was too much silica on Ullr and not enough of anything else; what would be coal-seams on Terra were strata of silicified wood. And, of course, there was no petroleum. There was less charcoal being burned now than formerly; the Ullr Company had been bringing in great quantities of synthetic thermoconcentrate-fuel, and had been setting up nuclear furnaces and nuclear-electric power-plants, wherever they gained a foothold on the planet.
As planets went, Ullr was no bargain, he thought sourly. At times, he wished he