The Worlds Of Robert A. Heinlein Part 34

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"Have I?"

"Yes-to keep the dust as our own secret, go our own way, and let the rest of the world look out for itself. That is the only program that fits our traditions." The Secretary of State was really a fine old gentleman, and not stupid, but he was slow to a.s.similate new ideas.

"Mr. Secretary," said Manning respectfully, "I wish we could afford to mind our own business. I do wish we could. But it is the best opinion of all the experts that we can't maintain control of this secret except by rigid policing. The Germans were close on our heels in nuclear research; it was sheer luck that we got there first. I ask you to imagine Germany a year hence-with a supply of dust."

The Secretary did not answer, but I saw his lips form the word Berlin.

They came around. The President had deliberately let Manning bear the brunt of the argument, concerning his own stock of goodwill to coax the obdurate.

He decided against putting it up to Congress; the dusters would have been overhead before each senator had finished his say. What he intended to do might be unconst.i.tutional, but if he failed to act there might not be any Const.i.tution shortly. There was precedent-the Emanc.i.p.ation Proclamation, the Monroe Doctrine, the Louisiana Purchase, suspension of habeas corpus in the War between the States, the Destroyer Deal.

On February 22nd the President declared a state of full emergency internally and sent his Peace Proclamation to the head of every sovereign state. Divested of its diplomatic surplusage, it said: The United States is prepared to defeat any power, or combination of powers, in jig time.

Accordingly, we are outlawing war and are calling on every nation to disarm completely at once. In other words, "Throw down your guns, boys; we've got the drop on you!"

A supplement set forth the procedure: All aircraft capable of flying the Atlantic were to be delivered in one week's time to a field, or rather a great stretch of prairie, just west of Fort Riley, Kansas. For lesser aircraft, a spot near Shanghai and a rendezvous in Wales were designated.

Memoranda would be issued with respect to other war equipment. Uranium and its ores were not mentioned; that would come later.

No excuses. Failure to disarm would be construed as an act of war against the United States.

There were no cases of apoplexy in the Senate; why not, I don't know.

There were only three powers to be seriously worried about, England, j.a.pan, and the Eurasian Union. England had been forewarned, we had pulled her out of a war she was losing, and she-or rather her men in power-knew accurately what we could and would do.

j.a.pan was another matter. They had not seen Berlin and they did not really believe it. Besides, they had been telling each other for so many years that they were unbeatable, they believed it. It does not do to get too tough with a j.a.panese too quickly, for they will die rather than lose face.

The negotiations were conducted very quietly indeed, but our fleet was halfway from Pearl Harbor to Kobe, loaded with enough dust to sterilize their six biggest cities, before they were concluded. Do you know what did it? This never hit the newspapers but it was the wording of the pamphlets we proposed to scatter before dusting.

The Emperor was pleased to declare a New Order of Peace. The official version, built up for home consumption, made the whole matter one of collaboration between two great and friendly powers, with j.a.pan taking the initiative.

The Eurasian Union was a puzzle. After Stalin's unexpected death in 1941, no western nation knew very much about what went on in there. Our own diplomatic relations had atrophied through failure to replace men called home nearly four years before. Everybody knew, of course, that the new group in power called themselves Fifth Internationalists, but what that meant, aside from ceasing to display the pictures of Lenin and Stalin, n.o.body knew.

But they agreed to our terms and offered to cooperate in every way. They pointed out that the Union had never been warlike and had kept out of the recent world struggle. It was fitting that the two remaining great powers should use their greatness to insure a lasting peace.

I was delighted; I had been worried about the E. U.

They commenced delivery of some of their smaller planes to the receiving station near Shanghai at once. The reports on the number and quality of the planes seemed to indicate that they had stayed out of the war through necessity, the planes were mostly of German make and poor condition-types that Germany had abandoned early in the war.

Manning went west to supervise certain details in connection with immobilizing the big planes, the trans-oceanic planes, which were to gather near Fort Riley. We planned to spray them with oil, then dust from a low alt.i.tude, as in crop dusting, with a low concentration of one-year dust.

Then we could turn our backs on them and forget them, while attending to other matters.

But there were hazards. The dust must not be allowed to reach Kansas City, Lincoln, Wichita-any of the nearby cities. The smaller towns roundabout had been temporarily evacuated. Testing stations needed to be set up in all directions in order that accurate tab on the dust might be kept. Manning felt personally responsible to make sure that no bystander was poisoned.

We circled the receiving station before landing at Fort Riley. I could pick out the three landing fields which had hurriedly been graded. Their runways were white in the sun, the twenty-four-hour cement as yet undirtied. Around each of the landing fields were crowded dozens of parking fields, less perfectly graded. Tractors and bulldozers were still at work on some of them. In the eastern-most fields, the German and British ships were already in place, jammed wing to body as tightly as planes on the flight deck of a carrier-save for a few that were still being towed into position, the tiny tractors looking from the air like ants dragging pieces of leaf many times larger than themselves.

Only three flying fortresses had arrived from the Eurasian Union. Their representatives had asked for a short delay in order that a supply of high-test aviation gasoline might be delivered to them. They claimed a shortage of fuel necessary to make the long flight over the Arctic safe.

There was no way to check the claim and the delay was granted while a shipment was routed from England.

We were about to leave, Manning having satisfied himself as to safety precautions, when a dispatch came in announcing that a flight of E. U.

bombers might be expected before the day was out. Manning wanted to see them arrive; we waited around for four hours. When it was finally reported that our escort of fighters had picked them up at the Canadian border, Manning appeared to have grown fidgety and stated that he would watch them from the air. We took off, gained alt.i.tude and waited.

There were nine of them in the flight, cruising in column of echelons and looking so huge that our little fighters were hardly noticeable. They circled the field and I was admiring the stately dignity of them when Manning's pilot, Lieutenant Rafferty, exclaimed, "What the devil! They are preparing to land downwind!"

I still did not tumble, but Manning shouted to the copilot, "Get the field!"

He fiddled with his instruments and announced, "Got 'em, sir!"

"General alarm! Armor!"

We could not hear the sirens, naturally, but I could see the white plumes rise from the big steam whistle on the roof of the Administration Building-three long blasts, then three short ones. It seemed almost at the same time that the first cloud broke from the E. U. planes.

Instead of landing, they pa.s.sed low over the receiving station, jam-packed now with ships from all over the world. Each echelon picked one of three groups centered around the three landing fields and streamers of heavy brown smoke poured from the bellies of the E. U. ships. I saw a tiny black figure jump from a tractor and run toward the nearest building. Then the smoke screen obscured the field.

"Do you still have the field?" demanded Manning.

"Yes, sir."

"Cross connect to the chief safety technician. Hurry!"

The copilot cut in the amplifier so that Manning could talk directly.

"Saunders? This is Manning. How about it?"

"Radioactive, chief. Intensity seven point four."

They had paralleled the Karst-Obre research.

Manning cut him off and demanded that the communication office at the field raise the Chief of Staff. There was nerve-stretching delay, for it had to be routed over land-wire to Kansas City, and some chief operator had to be convinced that she should commandeer a trunk line that was in commercial use. But we got through at last and Manning made his report. "It stands to reason," I heard him say, that other flights are approaching the border by this time. New York, of course, and Washington. Probably Detroit and Chicago as well. No way of knowing."

The Chief of Staff cut off abruptly, without comment. I knew that the U.S.

air fleets, in a state of alert for weeks past, would have their orders in a few seconds and would be on their way to hunt out and down the attackers, if possible before they could reach the cities.

I glanced back at the field. The formations were broken up. One of the E.

U. bombers was down, crashed, half a mile beyond the station. While I watched, one of our midget dive-bombers screamed down on a behemoth E. U.

ship and unloaded his eggs. It was a center hit, but the American pilot had cut it too fine, could not pull out, crashed before his victim.

There is no point in rehashing the newspaper stories of the Four-days War.

The point is that we should have lost it, and we would have, had it not been for an unlikely combination of luck, foresight and good management.

Apparently the nuclear physicists of the Eurasian Union were almost as far along as Ridpath's crew when the destruction of Berlin gave them the tip they needed. But we had rushed them, forced them to move before they were ready, because of the deadline for disarmament set forth in our Peace Proclamation.

If the President had waited to fight it out with Congress before issuing the proclamation, there would not be any United States.

Manning never got credit for it, but it is evident to me that he antic.i.p.ated the possibility of something like the Four-days War and prepared for it in a dozen different devious ways. I don't mean military preparation; the Army and the Navy saw to that. But it was no accident that Congress was adjourned at the time. I had something to do with the vote-swapping and compromising that led up to it, and I know.

But I put it to you-would he have maneuvered to get Congress out of Washington at a time when he feared that Washington might be attacked if he had had dictatorial ambitions?

Of course, it was the President who was back of the ten-day leaves that had been granted to most of the civil-service personnel in Washington and he himself must have made the decision to take a swing through the South at that time, but it must have been Manning who put the idea in his head. It is inconceivable that the President would have left Washington to escape personal danger.

And then, there was the plague scare. I don't know how or when Manning could have started that-it certainly did not go through my notebook-but I simply do not believe that it was accidental that a completely unfounded rumor or bubonic plaque caused New York City to be semi-deserted at the time the E. U. bombers struck.

At that, we lost over eight hundred thousand people in Manhattan alone.

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The Worlds Of Robert A. Heinlein Part 34 summary

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