From: Security Directorate. Alexandria D.H.Q.
Decurion F. Vachon
To: Stevenson & de Verre. labor Agents
Attn: T. de Verre
Re: Labor Consignment 2sm30
With regard to yours of the 10th Oct.. please be advised that the shipment in question is now ready for pickup at Holding Pen #17. above address. Standard terms, net 32 aurics per head.
Labor units in question are category 3m72 (unsound elements, liquidated, dependents of) and category 3rn73 (unsound elements, religious cadre) from the occupied zone in Italy. Milan District Office.
Service to the State!
Here’s the lot I promised: 123 of them. 12-30. wenches and prettybucks. Prime stuff, you aren’t going to sell these cheap to wash dishes. The wives and children of the Fascist politicians and university professors won’t give you any trouble but I advise splitting up the nuns. Their pen’s right under my office, and the bitches have been singing, praying, and chanting fit to give you the heebies. Had to send in the bulls with electroprods twice last week to shut ’em up.
Anyway, you owe me for this one, good buddy. The bureaucratic bunfights I had to go throughl First, Tech Section tried to grab ’em for that hush-hush uranium refining thing out by the Quattara. then that greasy immigrant Lederman in Forces Morale Section wanted them for his knocking-shops…
Edgar sends his regards to you and Cynthia. Still on for tennis Saturday?
as quoted in:
Under the Yoke: Postwar Europe
by Angleo Menzarotti
Cuba State University Press, Havana, 1977
OAKENWALD PLANTATION OCTOBER, 1941
The car pulled into Oakenwald’s drive three hours past midnight. With a start, William Dreiser jerked himself awake; he was a mild-faced man in his thirties, balding, with thick black-rimmed glasses and a battered pipe tucked into the pocket of his trench coat. Sandy-eyed, he rubbed at his mustache and glanced across at the Draka woman who was his escort-guard. The car was a steam-sedan, four-doored, with two sets of seats facing each other in the rear compartment. Rather like a Stanley Raccoon, in fact.
It had been two weeks’ travel from Washington. By rail south to New Orleans, then ferryboat to
Havana. The Caribbean was safe enough, rimmed with American territory from Florida through the Gulf and on through the States carved out of Mexico and Central America a century before; there were U-boats in the South Atlantic, though, and even neutral shipping was in danger. Pan American flying-boat south to Recife, then Brazilian Airways dirigible to Apollonaris, just long enough to transfer to a Draka airship headed south. That was where he had acquired his Security Directorate shadow; they were treating the American reporter as if he carried a highly contagious disease.
And so I do, he thought. Freedom.
They had hustled him into the car in Archona, right at the airship haven. The Security decurion went into the compartment with him; in front were a driver in the grubby coverall which seemed to be the uniform of the urban working class and an armed guard with a shaven head; both had serf-tattoos on their necks. The American felt a small queasy sensation each time he glanced through the glass panels and saw the orange seven-digit code, a column below the right ear: letter-number-number-letter-number-number-number.
Seeing was not the same as reading, not at all. He had done his homework thoroughly: histories, geographies, statistics. And the Draka basics, Carlyles Philosophy of Mastery, Nietzsche’s The Will to Power, Fitzhugh’s Imperial Destiny, even Gobineau’s turgid Inequality of Human Races, and the eerie and chilling Meditations of Elvira Naldorssen. The Domination’s own publications had a gruesome forthrightness that he suspected was equal portions of indifference and a sadistic desire to shock. None of it had prepared him adequately for the reality.
Archona had been glimpses: alien magnificence. A broad shallow bowl in the edge of the plateau, Ringroads cut across with wide avenues, lined with flowering trees that were a mist of gold and purple. Statues, fountains, frescoes, mosaics: things beautiful, incomprehensible, obscene. Six-story buildings set back in gardens; some walls sheets of colored glass, others honeycomb marble, one entirely covered with tiles in the shape of a giant flowering vine. Then suburbs that might almost have been parts of California, whitewashed walls and tile roofs, courtyards…
The secret police officer opened her eyes, pale blue slits in the darkness. She was a squat woman with broad spatulate hands, black hair in a cut just long enough to comb, like the Eton crop of the flappers in the ’20’s. But there was nothing frivolous in her high-collared uniform of dark green, or the ceremonial whip that hung coiled at her belt. One hand rested on her sidearm; he could see the house lights wink on the gold and emeralds of a heavy thumb-ring.
He was almost startled when she spoke; there had not been more than fifty words between them in any day of the six they had been together, most just last evening, when she had tried to draw the curtains as they ran parallel to a train for half an hour. There were tanks on flatcars, hundreds of them, Bond III class—massive, low-slung, predatory-looking vehicles, broad tracks and thick sloped armor, the long 120mm cannon in travelling-clamps…
“We’re here,” she said. His mind heard it as we-ahz heyah, like a Southern accent, Alabama or Cuba, but with an undertone clipped and guttural.
I’m on automatic pilot, he thought, and tried to flog his responses into alertness. He had always been a man who woke slowly, and now he felt sluggish and stupid—a not-quite-here feeling, cramped muscles, stomach burning from too much coffee and too many days of motion. Travel fatigue…
The silence of the halt was loud, after the long singing of tires on asphalt, wind-rush and the chuff-chuff chuff of the engine. Metal pinged, cooling. The driver climbed out and opened the front-mounted trunk to unload the luggage. The policewoman nodded to the dimly seen building.
“Oakenwald Plantation. Centurion von Shrakenberg’s here; Strategos von Shrakenberg, too. Old family; very old, very prominent. Strategoi, Senators, landholders, athletes; pro’bly behind the decision to let you in, Yankee. Political considerations, they’re influential in the Army and the Foreign Affairs Directorate… You’re safe enough with them. A guest’s sacred, and it’d be ‘neath their dignity to care what a foreign scribbler says.”
He nodded warily and climbed out stiffly, muscles protesting. She reached through the window to tap his shoulder. He turned, and squawked as her hand shot out to grab the collar of his coat. The speed was startling, and so was the strength of fingers and wrist and shoulder; she dragged his face down level with hers, and the square bulldog countenance filled his vision, full lips pulling back from strong white teeth.
“Well it isn’t ‘neath mine, rebel pig!” The concentrated venom in the tone was as shocking as a bucketful of cold water in the face. “You start causin’ trouble, one word wrong to a serf, one word, and then by your slave-loving Christ, you’re mine, Yankee. Understood?” She twisted the fabric until he croaked agreement, then shoved him staggering back.
He stood shaking as the green-painted car crunched its way back down the graveled path. I should never have come, he thought. It had not been needful, either; he was too senior for war-correspondent work in the field. His Berlin Journal was selling well, fruit of several years observation while he managed the Central European section of ABS’ new radio-broadcasting service. The print pieces on the fall of France were probably going to get him a Pulitzer. He had Ingrid and a new daughter to look after…
And this was the opportunity of a lifetime. The Domination was not sealed the way Stalin’s Russia had been before the war, but entry was restricted. Businessmen, a few tourists prepared to pay dearly for the wildlife or a tour of Samarkand or Jerusalem or the ruins of Mecca, scientists… all closely watched. Since 1939, nothing: the attack on Italy had come like a thunderbolt in the night. Who would have expected the Domination to come into the war on the Allied side? Granted, there had been little fighting with the Germans yet, but… And it was important to keep the American public conscious that the war was still going on; that there was more to it than a defeated Russia and an England growing steadily more hungry and shabby and desperate behind the Nazi submarine blockade.
If Roosevelt had run for a third term… well, no use dreaming. Wilkie’s heart was in the right place, but he was a sick man and his attention was on the Japanese menace in the Far East. The United States was going to have to hold its nose and cooperate with the Draka if Germany was to be stopped, and a newsman could do his bit. His meek-and-mild appearance had been useful before; people tended to underestimate a man with wire-framed glasses and a double chin.
He glanced about. The gardens stretched below him, a darkness full of scents, washed pale by moonlight; he caught glints on polished stone, the moving water of fountain and pool. The house bulked, its shadow falling across him cold and remote; behind loomed the hill, a smell of oak and wet rock; above wheeled a brightness of stars undimmed by men’s lights. It was cold, the thin air full of a high-altitude chill like spring in the Rockies.
The tall doors opened; he blinked against the sudden glow of electric light from a cluster of globes above the brass-studded mahogany. He moved forward as dark hands lifted the battered suitcases.
Dreiser found Oakenwald a little daunting. Not as much so as Herman Goering’s weekend parties had been at his hunting lodge in East Prussia, but strange. So had waking been, in the huge four-poster bed with its disturbing, water-filled mattress; silent impassive brown-skinned girls had brought coffee and juice and drawn back the curtains, laying out slippers of red Moorish leather and a grey silk caftan. He felt foolish in it; more so as they tied the sash about his waist.
The breakfast room was large and high-ceilinged and sparsely furnished. One wall was a mural of reeds and flamingos with a snow-capped volcano in the background; another was covered with screens of black-lacquered Coromandel sandalwood, inlaid with ivory and mother-of-pearl. Tall glass doors had been folded back, and the checkerboard stone tiles of the floor ran out onto a second-story roof terrace where a table had been set. He walked toward it past man-high vases of green marble; vines spilled down their sides in sprays of green leaf and scarlet blossom.
Irritated, Dreiser began stuffing his pipe, taking comfort from its disreputable solidity. There were three Draka seated at the table: a middle-aged man in the familiar black uniform of boots, loose trousers, belted jacket and roll-topped shirt, and two younger figures in silk robes.
Good, he thought. It made him feel a little less in fancy dress. All three had a family resemblance—lean bodies and strong-boned faces, wheat-colored hair and pale grey eyes against skin tanned dark. It took him a moment to realize that the youngest was a woman. That was irritating, and had happened more than once since he had entered the Domination. It wasn’t just the cut of the hair or the prevalence of uniforms, he decided, or even the fact that both sexes wore personal jewelry. There was something about the way they stood and moved; it deprived his eye of unconscious clues, so that he had to deliberately look, to examine wrists and necks or check for the swell of breast and hip. Baffling, that something so basic could be obscured by mere differences of custom…
The elder man clicked heels and extended a hand. It closed on his, unexpectedly callused and very strong.
“William Dreiser,” the American said, remembering what he had read of Draka etiquette. Name, rank and occupation, that was the drill. “Syndicated columnist for the Washington Chronicle-Herald and New York Times, among others. Bureau chief for the American Broadcasting Service.”
“Arch-Strategos Karl von Shrakenberg,” the Draka replied. “Director of the Strategic Planning Section, Supreme General Staff. My son, Centurion Eric von Shrakenberg, 1st Airborne Chiliarchy; my daughter, Pilot Officer Johanna von Shrakenberg, 211th Pursuit Lochos.” He paused. “Welcome to Oakenwald, Mr. Dreiser.”
They sat, and the inevitable servants presented the luncheon: biscuits and scones, fruits, grilled meats on wooden platters, salads, juices.
“I understand that I have you to thank for my visa, general,” Dreiser said, buttering a scone. It was excellent, as usual; he had not had a bad meal since Dakar. The meat dishes were a little too highly spiced, as always. It was a sort of Scottish-Austrian-Indonesian cuisine, with a touch of Louisiana thrown in.
The strategos nodded and raised his cup slightly. Hands appeared to fill it, add cream and sugar. “Myself and others,” he said. “The strategic situation makes cooperation between the Domination and North America necessary; given your system of government and social organization, that means a press policy as well. You have influence with ABS, an audience, and are suitably anti-German. There was opposition, but the Strategic section and the Archon agreed that it was advisable.” He smiled thinly.
Dreiser nodded. “It’s reassuring that your Leader realizes the need for friendship between our countries at this critical juncture,” he said, cursing himself for the unction he heard in his own voice. This is a scary old bastard, but you’ve seen worse, he told himself.
Johanna hid a chuckle behind a cough. The elder von Shrakenberg grinned openly. “Back when our good Archon was merely Director of Foreign Affairs, I once overheard her express a fervent desire to separate your President from his testicles and make him eat them. Presumably a metaphor, but with Edwina Palme, you never know. That was in… ah, ’38; she must have meant that Roosevelt fellow. I sincerely doubt that friendship for anything American has ever been among her motivations. She’s a mean bitch, but not stupid, and she can recognize a strategic necessity when we point it out.”
He crumbled a scone and added meditatively: “Personally, I would have preferred McClintock, or better still Terreblanche, particularly in wartime; he could have made the General Staff if he’d stayed in uniform, lust not on, though; the Party wouldn’t have him.”
Dreiser blinked in surprise. “Ah,” Karl von Shrakenberg said. “Apologies… you probably find Draka frankness a little unexpected. I read your articles on Germany, by the way; very perceptive, given the limits to your information. Remember, though, the Domination is not a totalitarian dictatorship of the Nazi type; we practice… oligarchical collectivism is probably the best term. The citizen body as a whole is our idol, not the State or its officers; they merely execute and coordinate. And citizens all have the same fundamental interests, which means that criticism—tactical criticism—can safely be allowed. Which makes for greater efficiency.”
“Now, if we could only get the Security Directorate to agree,” Eric said dryly. Johanna laughed.
“One institution among many,” Karl said, waving a dismissive hand.
Dreiser laid down his knife. “To be frank, general, if you hope to convert me, this is scarcely the way to go about it.”
“Oh, not in the least. We don’t generally proselytize… except by conquest, to be sure. Our present goal is, at most, a temporary alliance of convenience, which requires some manipulation of your public opinion. How did Oscar Wilde put it, after he settled in the Domination? The rest of the Anglo-Saxon world is convinced that the Draka are brutal, licentious, and depraved; the Draka are convinced that outlanders are prigs, hypocritical prudes, and weaklings and both parties are right…”
Dreiser blinked again, overcome by a slight feeling of unreality. “The problem,” he said, “will be to convince the American public that Nazi Germany is more dangerous than your Domination.”
“It isn’t,” the Draka general said cheerfully. “We’re far more dangerous to you, in the long run. But the National Socialists are more dangerous right now, the Domination is patient, we never bite off more than we can chew and digest. Hitler is a parvenu, and he’s in a hurry; wants to build a thousand-year Reich in a decade. And he’s been very lucky and very able, so far. He’s on the verge of making Germany a real World Power, just as the Japanese are in East Asia. As I said, the strategic situation—”
Dreiser leaned forward. “What is the strategic situation?” he asked.
“Ah.” Karl von Shrakenberg steepled his fingers. “Well, in general, the world situation is approaching what we in Strategic Planning call an endgame. Analogous to the Hellenistic period during the Roman-Carthaginian wars. The game is played out between the Great Powers, and ends when only one is left. To be a Great Power—or World Power—requires certain assets: size, population, food and raw materials, administrative and military skills, industrial production.
“The West Europeans are out of the running; they’re too small. The British are holding on, because we allow them a trickle of supplies—we may give them more later, if it seems expedient. The Soviets had all the qualifications except skill; now the Germans have knocked them out for good and all. That leaves two actual World Powers—the Domination, which has all of Africa, the Middle East, Central Asia, Afghanistan, Mongolia, northwest China, and the United States, which stretches from the Arctic to Panama, and controls South America through satellite governments. We have more territory, population, and resource-base; you have a slightly larger industrial machine.”
He wiped his fingers on a napkin of drawn-thread linen. “And there are two potential World Powers: Germany and Japan. Germany holds all of Europe, and is in the process of taking European Russia; Japan has most of China, and is gobbling up the former European possessions in Southeast Asia and Indonesia. In both cases, if given a generation to digest, develop and organize their conquests, they would be powers of the first rank. Germany is more immediately dangerous because of her already strong industrial production and high degree of military skill. This present war is to settle the question of whether the two potential powers will survive to enter the next generation of the game. I suggest it is strongly in the American interest that they not be allowed to do so.”
“Why?” Dreiser said bluntly, overcoming distaste. This brutal honesty was one of the reasons for the widespread hatred of the Domination. Hypocrisy was the tribute vice paid to virtue, and the Draka refused to render it; refused to even pretend to virtues that they rejected and despised.
The Draka grinned like a wolf. “Ideology, demographics… If National Socialism and the Japanese Empire consolidate their gains, we’ll have to come to an accommodation with them. In both, the master-race population is several times larger than ours. We’re expansionists by inclination, they by necessity. Lebensraum, you see. The only basis for an accommodation would be an alliance against the Western Hemisphere, the more so as all three of us find your world-view subversive and repugnant in the extreme. Of course, two of the victors would then ally to destroy the third, and then fall out with each other. Endgame.”
“And if Hitler and the Japanese are stopped?” the American said softly.
“Why, the U.S.A. and the Domination would divide the spoils between them,” the Draka said jovially. “You’d have a generation of peace, at least: it would take us that long to digest our gains, build up our own numbers, break the conquered peoples to the yoke. Then… who knows? We have superior numbers, patience, continuity of purpose. You have more flexibility and ingenuity. It’ll be interesting, at least.”
The American considered his hands. “You may be impossible to live with in the long run,” he said. “I’ve seen Hitler at first hand; he’s impossible in the short run… but an American audience isn’t going to be moved by considerations of realpolitik: as far as the voters are concerned, munitions merchants got us into the last one, with nothing more to show than unpaid debts from the Europeans and more serfs for the Draka.”
The general shrugged, blotted his lips and rose. “Ah yes, the notorious Yankee moralism; it makes your electorate even less inclined to rational behavior than ours. I won’t say tell it to the Mexicans …” He leaned forward across the table, resting his weight on his palms. “If your audience needs a pin in the bum of their moral indignation to work up a fighting spirit, consider this. You’ve heard the rumors about what’s happening to the Jews in Europe?”
Dreiser nodded, mouth dry. “From the Friends Service Committee,” he said. “I believed them; most of my compatriots didn’t. They’re… unbelievable. Even some of those who admit they’re true won’t believe them.” Out of the corner of his eye he saw the younger von Shrakenbergs start at the name of the Quaker humanitarian group.
The general nodded. “They are true, and you can have the Intelligence reports to prove it. And if the Yankee in the street isn’t moved by love of the Jews, the Fritz—the Germans—plan to stuff the Poles and Russians into the incinerators next.” He straightened. “As to your reports—keep them non-specific, for the present, on the Domination, and the units to which you’ll be attached. Then, when there’s action… you’ll be there, won’t you? A ‘scoop’ for you, and a minor factor in our favor, at least. Now, if you’ll pardon me, I have a great deal to do. As a guest, you have free run of the House; if you want anything in the way of diversion, horses or women or whatever, the Steward will see to it. Good day.”
Dreiser stared blankly as the tall figure limped from the terrace. He looked about. The table faced south, over a courtyard surrounded by a colonnade. Cloud-shadow rolled down the naked rock of the hill behind, over the dappled oak forest, past fenced pasture and stables, smelling of turned earth and rock and the huge wild mountains to the east. The courtyard fountain bent before the wind, throwing a mist of spray across tiles blue as lapis. The two young Draka leaned back in their chairs, smiling in a not unkindly scorn.
“Pa—Strategos von Shrakenberg—can be a little… alarming at times,” Eric said, offering his hand. “Very much the grand seigneur. An able man, very, but hard.”
Johanna laughed. “I think Mr. Dreiser was a bit alarmed by Pa’s offer of hospitality in the form of a girl,” she drawled. “Visions of weeping captive women dragged to his bed in chains, no doubt.”
“Ah,” Eric said, pouring himself another cup of coffee. “Well, don’t concern yourself; the Steward never has any trouble finding volunteers.”
“Eh, Rahksan?” Johanna said jokingly, turning to a serf-girl who sat behind her on a stool, knitting. She did not look like the locals, the American noticed; she was lighter, like a south European. And looking him over with cool detachment.
“Noooo, thank yaz kahndly, mistis,” Rahksan said. “Got mo’ than “nuffon mah plate, as ’tis.” The Draka woman laughed, and put a segment of tangerine between the serfs lips.
“I’m married,” the American said, flushing. The two Draka and the serf looked at him a moment in incomprehension.
“Mind you,” Eric continued in a tactful change of subject, “if this was Grandfather Alexander’s time, we could have shown you some more spectacular entertainment. Hekept a private troupe of serf wenches trained in the ballet, among other things. Used to perform nude at private parties.”
With a monumental effort, Dreiser regained his balance. “Well, what did your grandmother think of that?” he asked.
“Enjoyed herself thoroughly, from what she used to cackle to me,” Johanna said, rising. “I’ll leave you two to business; see you at dinner, Mr. Dreiser. Come on, Rahksan; I’m for a swim.”
“This… isn’t quite what I expected,” Dreiser said, relighting his pipe. Eric yawned and stretched, the yellow silk of his robe falling back from a tanned and muscular forearm.
“Well, probably the High Command thought you might as well see the Draka at home before you reported on our military. This,” he waved a hand, “is less likely to jar on Yankee sensibilities than a good many other places in the Domination.”
“It is?” Dreiser shook his head. He had hated Berlin—the whole iron apparatus of lies and cruelty and hatred; hated it the more since he had been in the city in the 20’s, when it had been the most exciting place in Europe. Doubly exciting to an American expatriate, fleeing the stifling conformity of the Coolidge years. Be honest, he told himself.This isn’t more evil. Less so, if anything. Just more… alien, longer established and more self-confident.
“Also, out here and then on a military installation, you are less likely to jar on Security’s sensibilities.” Eric paused, making a small production of dismembering a pomegranate and wiping his hands. “I read your book Berlin Journal,” he said in a neutral tone. “You mentioned helping Jews and dissidents escape, with the help of that Quaker group. You interest yourself in their activities?”
“Yes,” the American replied, sitting up. A newsman’s instincts awakened.
The Draka tapped a finger. “This is confidential?” At Dreiser’s nod, he continued. “There was a young wench… small girl, about two years ago. Age seven, blond, blue eyes. Named Anna, number C22D178.” The young officer’s voice stayed flat, his face expressionless; a combination of menace and appeal behind the harsh grey eyes.
“Why, yes,” Dreiser said. “It created quite a sensation at the time, but the Committee kept it out of the press. She was adopted by a Philadelphia family; old Quaker stock, but childless. That was the last I heard. Why?” It had created a sensation: almost all escapees were adults, mainly from the North African and Middle Eastern provinces. For a serf from the heart of the Police Zone there was nowhere to go, and an unaccompanied child was unprecedented.
Eric’s eyes closed for a moment. “No reason that should be mentioned by either of us,” he said. His hand reached out and gripped the other’s forearm. “It wouldn’t be safe. For either of us. Understood?”
Dreiser nodded. The Draka continued: “And if you’re going to be attached to a paratroop unit, I strongly advise you to start getting into shape. Even if it’s several months before the next action.”
Despite himself, Dreiser flinched slightly as Johanna’s nine-inch knife blurred toward her brother’s stomach. That was real steel, and sharp. Eric swayed aside, just enough; clamped the arm between his own and his flank, and brought his knee up into her stomach. She rolled sideways with an ooff, came to her feet and scooped the blade from the dimpled surface of the cotton matting.
“Goddamn!” she swore, flicking the knife six feet into a hardwood block. “I know you’re no faster than me—”
“You’re still telegraphing.”
“I am not!’
“Subliminally, then.” He turned to Dreiser. “Swim, Bill?”
The American shook his head silently, still exhausted from the hour-long workout, and watched as they shed the rough cotton exercise outfits and dove into the great pool. He sighed and leaned back against the padded wicker chair, reaching for the lemonade. It was astonishing how the body craved fluids for hours after a workout; he had never been the athletic type, and the past week had been hard on a sedentary man of middle years.
And goddamn it, I’m still not used to mixed skinny-dipping, he thought resentfully, watching the sleek naked bodies arrowing through the water. He had imagined that twenty years of Europe had worn away the results of a childhood spent in small-town Iowa, and lately found that not so. Not that it would raise many brows in Hollywood circles, for instance…
He pulled the towelcloth robe around himself and looked about the… baths. It was more like a gymnasium-health club complex, filling most of a wing, with artwork that a du Pont might have envied…
If those pirates knew a work of art when it bit them on the leg, a New Dealer in the back of his mind prompted. The whole thing was of a piece with his experience of the Domination, so far: unthinkable luxury, beauty, blood, cruelty, perversion. But not decadence, whatever the Holy Rollers at home thought; these might be hedonists, but it was the sybarism of a strong, hungry people. Quo Vadis, his mind continued sourly. If de Mille had any taste, and didn’t have the Catholic Decency League on his ass.
Rahksan sat on a stool nearby, knitting again, with A long-haired Persian at her feet making an occasional halfhearted bat at the wool. That had bothered him more than he thought it would, too—particularly since Johanna had mentioned that she was engaged to be married, and the serf girl seemed to be—having an affair? Could you use that term when one party was chattel to the other?—Whatever, with Eric. Things got thoroughly confused around here. He chuckled to himself, remembering how his mother had warned him about loose women when he left for that assignment in Paris, back in ’22. Little did she know, he thought.
Rahksan looked up and met his eyes. He coughed, searching for words. He always felt so sorry for the poor little bitch—a combination of pity and bone-deep distaste. And on top of that awkwardness, it was always difficult to know what to say to a serf, the need for discretion aside. The tattoo on her neck drew his eyes, loaded with a freight of symbol that made it difficult to see through to the human being, the person, behind it. He’d had something of the same feeling in India back a decade ago, when he’d been reporting on Gandhi, with some of the Hindu sadhus he’d met; a feeling that there was simply no meeting place of experience.
“We’ll be going soon,” he said. It beat my, aren’t the walls vertical, at least.
“Yassuh,” she said tranquilly, and sighed. “Be a montha so, fo’ Mistis Jo git perm’nant quahtahs, send fo’ me.” She held up the knitting, pursed her lips and undid a stitch, then giggled. “Glada tha rest; naace havin” they both heah, buta little, strenuous-ifyin, does yaz be knowin’ wha’ Ah mean.”
“Ah,” he said noncommittally, lips tightening. This is either the best actress I’ve ever met, or what southerners used to call the “perfect nigger,” he thought.
The serf dropped the wool into her lap; she was looking cool and crisp and elegant in a pleated silk skirt and embroidered blouse of white linen. A slim gold chain lay about the smooth olive column of her neck, sparkling against the blue-black curls falling to her shoulders. He forced his attention back to her face; it had been a long time since he left home and wife.
“Yaz doan laahk me ovahmuch, suh, does yaz?”
The young woman’s voice carried the usual soft, amiable submissiveness, but the words were uncomfortably sharp.
“No… what makes you think that?” He felt slightly guilty agreement, and a sharp wish he had been better at concealing it. Goddamit, you’re a newsman, act like it! he thought savagely to himself.
“Masta Dreiser, moas’ freemen tink bondfolk be foolish, which ama foolishness itself. Mebbe moah ‘scusable ina Yankee, wha doan see us day by day.”
She looked over to the pool. Brother and sister had climbed up on the rocks beneath the waterfall, and Eric had just pitched his sister backwards into the torrent.
“Ah doan’ remembah mucha mah fam’ly,” she said meditatively. ” ‘Cept lying undah they-ah bodies, an’ being pulled out.” She turned her eyes to the Draka. “They didn’ do it, Mastah Drieser,” she said. “Ah unnahstood that, soon’s Ah stahted thinkin’ bout things. Coulda spent alia mah taahm hatin”; what it get me? Just twisted up insaahd, laak them is what makes a life a hatin’.” She smiled grimly.
” ‘Sides, what Ah do remembah, is mah fathah hittin’ me fb’ makin’ noise. An’ mommah, she give th’ food’t’ mah brothahs, on ‘count they boys, leave me cryin’ an’ hongry. Ifn the Draka hadn’ come, Ah’d a growed up inna hut with the goats, been sold fo’ goats, hadta put onna tent’t’ go out. Chador, hey? Nevah been clean, nevah had ’nuff’t’ eat, nevah seen anytin’ pretty…
“So-an.” She touched the numerals behind her ear. “This doan mean Ah’s a plough, oah a stove. Cain’ nohow see how a man’s thinkin’ undah his face. Serf need that moah thana freemen.” She paused. “Yo” a Godshoutah, suh?” At his blank look: ‘Christ-man, laahk somma they-ah down in’t’Quahtahs. What jects to folks pleasurin’ as they-ah sees fit?”
“No, not really.” Not altogether true, but he should have remembered that illiteracy was not synonymous with stupidity. “Besides, you don’t have much choice in the matter.”
“Oh, but Ah does. Luckiah than ‘lotta folks, thayt way.” She leaned closer. “Masta Dreiser, yo’ a Yankee-man, means well, so Masta Eric tell thissun’. Say talk if’n yo’ wanna, so Ah bean’ talkin’, not justa Yassuh, masta, an’ Nossuh, masta laahk Ah could. So Ah says, keep youah pity an’ youah look-down-nose foah them as needs it. Two ‘tings y’otta ‘tink on, masta: Ah laahks Masta Eric well ’nuff. Good man, when he-ah doan’ git’t’tinkin’ so much. Laahk Mistis Jo lot moah; she allays been naahce’t’me. Weeeell, near allays as no mattah, nobody naahce alia taahm.
“Othah ting: serf, buck oah wench needa good masta, good mistis. Tings diffren yaz contry, mebbe; heah anytin can happen’t’ the laahk’sa me. Anytin. Yaz tinks onna thayt. Ah grows up witta Mistis Jo, Masta Eric, t’othahs. Laahk… pet, hey? Ah knows they; they knows me, near as good. Doan’t gonna laahk me if n Ah doan laahk they, yaz see? Easy ’nuff to laahk they, so-ah? Doan’t nuthin’ bayd happen if n Ah wuz ta act sullen. Ah jus end up cookin’, oah pullin’ spuds, milkin’ cows. Thayt mah choice.”
For a moment the softly pretty face looked almost fierce. “So-ah, yaz doan’ hayve mah laaf’t’live, mah de-cisions’t’mayk, does yaz, masta? So, mebbe little lessa drawin asaahd’t’skirts of tha garment, eh, Masta Dreiser, suh?”
He flushed, slightly ashamed, feeling a stirring of liking despite himself, nodded. Well, you always knew people were complicated, he chided himself.
The Draka returned. Rahksan bounced up to hand them towels and began drying Johanna’s back.
“Well,” Eric said, pulling on a robe in deference to the guest’s sensibilities. “You’ll be glad enough to get where you can put the war back into the correspondent, eh?”
Dreiser nodded. “Although I’ve gotten some interesting background material here,” he said.
“Yes,” Johanna chimed in, muffled through the towel. “And even more interesting, the way you slanted it. Gives me a good idea of what the particular phobias of the Yankees are: nasty-minded lot, I must say.”
“And I’ve been working up some stuff on the domestic angle,” he said, indicating the interior with a nod. “How the Draka live at home.” Some of which won’t see the light of day until after the war, he added silently.
The two young Draka stared at him. “I hope,” Johanna said carefully, “you aren’t under the impression that most citizens live this way.” She waved a hand, indicating the Great House. “Or maybe you do? I’ve read some American novels about the Domination that are real howlers.”
“Well, most Draka are quite affluent,” he replied. “And I did get the impression that most citizen families were serfholders.
“Oh, yes,” Eric said. “You have to be an alcoholic or a retard to be really poor, and then they just put you in a comfortable institution, sterilize you and encourage life-shortening vices.”
Dreiser blinked. Eric was a decent enough sort, but half the time he just didn’t seem to hear the things he said.
“Yes; well over ninety percent hold some serfs,” Johanna said, propping a foot on the plinth of a statue. It was an onyx leopard, with ivory fangs and claws.
“But… hmmm, last census, three-quarters held ten or less. Half five or less. Look, you know how our economy’s set up?”
“Vaguely. ‘Feudal Socialism’—that’s the official term, isn’t it?” the American said.
Eric sighed. “Carlyle popularized the phrase, back over a century ago. Actually, it just sort of grew. To simplify… big industries are owned by the State, by the free-employee guilds, or by the Landholder’s League.”
“That’s sort of like a cooperative for plantation owners, isn’t it?” Dreiser said.
“Plantation holders. We don’t have private ownership of land, strictly speaking. That’s what the League started out as, yes. Branched out into shipping, transport, processing, then banking. Nowadays, hmmm, take the Ferrous Metals Combine. Iron and coal mining, steel, heavy engineering. Ten percent of the shares are owned by the War Directorate; used to be more, they started in with cannon-foundries. Thirty percent are owned by the Ferric Guild. The rest are shared by the State and the Landholder’s League. The same is true in varying proportions with the others: Capricorn Textiles Combine, Naysmith Machine Tools, Trevithick Autosteam, Dos Santos Dirigibles…
“So instead of industry exploiting agriculture, the way it is with you Americans—well, the von Shraken-bergs get a third of their income from the League, apart from what four thousand hectares brings in.”
Johanna stretched and yawned. “So these days, most citizens are city-dwellers—technicians, engineers, overseers, bureaucrats, police agents, artists, schoolteachers… Thesalatariat not the proletariat.”
Eric snorted. “Feeble wit, sister dear. Actually, it’s more complicated than that. There’s a, hmmm, ‘private sector’—small business, luxury goods, mostly. And, for example, guess who lobbies for a higher standard of living for the factory-serfs?”
“Nobody?” Dreiser said coolly.
The Draka laughed. “Actually, the League,” Eric said. “Plantation agriculture means farming for sale; 91 percent of the population are serfs, after all. The better the Combines feed and clothe their workers, the more we sell. In the old days we sold abroad, but that’s out of the question nowadays—we’re just too big.”
Johanna nodded and tossed her robe over one shoulder. “Adieu, Bill, Eric; see you at dinner.” Rahksan rose to follow her. “You two discuss the whichness of wherefore; time enough for work when the leave-pass is up.”
Dreiser watched her go. Colored light reflected off marble and fresco to pattern her skin, which rippled smoothly as she swayed across the floor. He indicated the block, with its knives, and the exercise floor. “That sort of thing is impressive as hell, especially the chucking-each-other-about part,” he said, as the women left.
“Oh, you mean the pankration? Actually, we got most of that from the Asians, oddly enough. Despite the Greek name. Back in the 1880’s, when we imported a lot of coolies. The overseer tried to touch up a lot of Okinawans with his sjambok and found out they had ways of personal mayhem… bought their contracts, learned it all, and set up a salle d’armes.”
“Ah,” Dreiser said again, making a mental note. “Surprising how well your sister stands up to you, considering the advantages.”
Eric ran fingers through his short, damp hair. “Size and reach, or gender?” he said. “Incidentally, watch what you say on that subject when we get back to the field. Lot of women are still pretty sensitive about that sort of thing; there was a long controversy about it when I was a toddler and you still find the occasional shellback conservative. You might be able to get away with turning down a duel, being a foreigner, but there are some who’d… react.”
“React how?” the American asked.
“They’d break your bones.”
“You re serious? Yes, I see you are. Thanks, Eric.” The Draka shrugged. “You’ll understand it better when we’re in the field,” he said.