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The Destroyers

The Destroyers

From: The Destroyers

Anketam stretched his arms out as though he were trying to embrace the
whole world. He pushed himself up on his tiptoes, arched his back, and
gave out with a prodigious yawn that somehow managed to express all the
contentment and pleasure that filled his soul. He felt a faint twinge in
his shoulders, and there was a dull ache in the small of his back, both
of which reminded him that he was no longer the man he had been twenty
years before, but he ignored them and stretched again.

He was still strong, Anketam thought; still strong enough to do his
day's work for The Chief without being too tired to relax and enjoy
himself afterwards. At forty-five, he had a good fifteen years more
before he'd be retired to minor make-work jobs, doing the small chores
as a sort of token in justification of his keep in his old age.

He settled his heels back to the ground and looked around at the fields
of green shoots that surrounded him. That part of the job was done, at
least. The sun's lower edge was just barely touching the western
horizon, and all the seedlings were in. Anketam had kept his crew
sweating to get them all in, but now the greenhouses were all empty and
ready for seeding in the next crop while this one grew to maturity. But
that could wait. By working just a little harder, for just a little
longer each day, he and his crew had managed to get the transplanting
done a good four days ahead of schedule, which meant four days of
fishing or hunting or just plain loafing. The Chief didn't care how a
man spent his time, so long as the work was done.

He thumbed his broad-brimmed hat back from his forehead and looked up at
the sky. There were a few thin clouds overhead, but there was no threat
of rain, which was good. In this part of Xedii, the spring rains
sometimes hit hard and washed out the transplanted seedlings before they
had a chance to take root properly. If rain would hold off for another
ten days, Anketam thought, then it could fall all it wanted. Meanwhile,
the irrigation reservoir was full to brimming, and that would supply all
the water the young shoots needed to keep them from being burnt by the

He lowered his eyes again, this time to look at the next section over
toward the south, where Jacovik and his crew were still working. He
could see their bent figures outlined against the horizon, just at the
brow of the slope, and he grinned to himself. He had beaten Jacovik out

Anketam and Jacovik had had a friendly feud going for years, each trying
to do a better, faster job than the other. None of the other supervisors
on The Chief's land came even close to beating out Anketam or Jacovik,
so it was always between the two of them, which one came out on top.
Sometimes it was one, sometimes the other.

At the last harvest, Jacovik had been very pleased with himself when
the tallies showed that he'd beaten out Anketam by a hundred kilos of
cut leaves. But The Chief had taken him down a good bit when the report
came through that Anketam's leaves had made more money because they were
better quality.

He looked all around the horizon. From here, only Jacovik's section
could be seen, and only Jacovik's men could be seen moving.

When Anketam's gaze touched the northern horizon, his gray eyes narrowed
a little. There was a darkness there, a faint indication of cloud
build-up. He hoped it didn't mean rain. Getting the transplants in early
was all right, but it didn't count for anything if they were washed out.

He pushed the thought out of his mind. Rain or no rain, there was
nothing could be done about it except put up shelters over the rows of
plants. He'd just have to keep an eye on the northern horizon and hope
for the best. He didn't want to put up the shelters unless he absolutely
had to, because the seedlings were invariably bruised in the process and
that would cut the leaf yield way down. He remembered one year when
Jacovik had gotten panicky and put up his shelters, and the storm had
been a gentle thing that only lasted a few minutes before it blew over.
Anketam had held off, ready to make his men work in the rain if
necessary, and when the harvest had come, he'd beaten Jacovik hands

* * * * *

Anketam pulled his hat down again and turned to walk toward his house in
the little village that he and his crew called home. He had warned his
wife to have supper ready early. "I figure on being finished by
sundown," he'd said. "You can tell the other women I said so. But don't
say anything to them till after we've gone to the fields. I don't want
those boys thinking about the fishing they're going to do tomorrow and
then get behind in their work because they're daydreaming."

The other men were already gone; they'd headed back to the village as
fast as they could move as soon as he'd told them the job was finished.
Only he had stayed to look at the fields and see them all finished, each
shoot casting long shadows in the ruddy light of the setting sun. He'd
wanted to stand there, all by himself feeling the glow of pride and
satisfaction that came over him, knowing that he was better than any
other supervisor on The Chief's vast acreage.

His own shadow grew long ahead of him as he walked back, his steps still
brisk and springy, in spite of the day's hard work.

The sun had set and twilight had come by the time he reached his own
home. He had glanced again toward the north, and had been relieved to
see that the stars were visible near the horizon. The clouds couldn't be
very thick.

Overhead, the great, glowing cloud of the Dragon Nebula shed its soft
light. That's what made it possible to work after sundown in the
spring; at that time of year, the Dragon Nebula was at its brightest
during the early part of the evening. The tail of it didn't vanish
beneath the horizon until well after midnight. In the autumn, it wasn't
visible at all, and the nights were dark except for the stars.

Anketam pushed open the door of his home and noted with satisfaction
that the warm smells of cooking filled the air, laving his nostrils and
palate with fine promises. He stopped and frowned as he heard a man's
voice speaking in low tones in the kitchen.

Then Memi's voice called out: "Is that you, Ank?"

"Yeah," he said, walking toward the kitchen. "It's me."

"We've got company," she said. "Guess who."

"I don't claim to be much good at guessing," said Anketam. "I'll have to

He stopped at the door of the kitchen and grinned widely when he saw who
the man was. "Russat! Well, by heaven, it's good to see you!"

There was a moment's hesitation, then a minute or two of handshaking and
backslapping as the two brothers both tried to speak at the same time.
Anketam heard himself repeating: "Yessir! By heaven, it's good to see
you! Real good!"

And Russat was saying: "Same here, Ank! And, gee, you're looking great.
I mean, real great! Tough as ever, eh, Ank?"

"Yeah, sure, tough as ever. Sit down, boy. Memi! Pour us something hot
and get that bottle out of the cupboard!"

Anketam pushed his brother back towards the chair and made him sit down,
but Russat was protesting: "Now, wait a minute! Now, just you hold on,
Ank! Don't be getting out your bottle just yet. I brought some real
stuff! I mean, expensive--stuff you can't get very easy. I brought it
just for you, and you're going to have some of it before you say another
word. Show him, Memi."

Memi was standing there, beaming, holding the bottle. Her blue eyes had
faded slowly in the years since she and Anketam had married, but there
was a sparkle in them now. Anketam looked at the bottle.

"Bedamned," he said softly. The bottle was beautiful just as it was. It
was a work of art in itself, with designs cut all through it and pretty
tracings of what looked like gold thread laced in and out of the
surface. And it was full to the neck with a clear, red-brown liquid.
Anketam thought of the bottle in his own cupboard--plain, translucent
plastic, filled with the water-white liquor rationed out from the
commissary--and he suddenly felt very backwards and countryish. He
scratched thoughtfully at his beard and said: "Well, Well. I don't know,
Russ--I don't know. You think a plain farmer like me can take anything
that fancy?"

Russat laughed, a little embarrassed. "Sure you can. You mean to say
you've never had brandy before? Why, down in Algia, our Chief--" He

Anketam didn't look at him. "Sure, Russ; sure. I'll bet Chief Samas
gives a drink to his secretary, too, now and then." He turned around and
winked. "But this stuff is for brain work, not farming."

He knew Russat was embarrassed. The boy was nearly ten years younger
than Anketam, but Anketam knew that his younger brother had more brains
and ability, as far as paper work went, than he, himself, would ever
have. The boy (Anketam reminded himself that he shouldn't think of
Russat as a boy--after all, he was thirty-six now) had worked as a
special secretary for one of the important chiefs in Algia for five
years now. Anketam noticed, without criticism, that Russat had grown
soft with the years. His skin was almost pink, bleached from years of
indoor work, and looked pale and sickly, even beside Memi's sun-browned
skin--and Memi hadn't been out in the sun as much as her husband had.

* * * * *

Anketam reached out and took the bottle carefully from his wife's hands.
Her eyes watched him searchingly; she had been aware of the subtleties
of the exchange between her rough, hard-working, farmer husband and his
younger, brighter, better-educated brother.

Anketam said: "If this is a present, I guess I'd better open it." He
peeled off the seal, then carefully removed the glass stopper and
sniffed at the open mouth of the beautiful bottle. "Hm-m-m! Say!" Then
he set the bottle down carefully on the table. "You're the guest, Russ,
so you can pour. That tea ready yet, Memi?"

"Coming right up," said his wife gratefully. "Coming right up."

Anketam watched Russat carefully pour brandy into the cups of hot, spicy
tea that Memi set before them. Then he looked up, grinned at his wife,
and said: "Pour yourself a cup, honey. This is an occasion. A big

She nodded quickly, very pleased, and went over to get another cup.

"What brings you up here, Russ?" Anketam asked. "I hope you didn't just
decide to pick up a bottle of your Chief's brandy and then take off." He
chuckled after he said it, but he was more serious than he let on. He
actually worried about Russat at times. The boy might just take it in
his head to do something silly.

Russat laughed and shook his head. "No, no. I'm not crazy, and I'm not
stupid--at least, I think not. No; I got to go up to Chromdin. My Chief
is sending word that he's ready to supply goods for the war."

Anketam frowned. He'd heard that there might be war, of course. There
had been all kinds of rumors about how some of the Chiefs were all for
fighting, but Anketam didn't pay much attention to these rumors. In the
first place, he knew that it was none of his business; in the second
place, he didn't think there would be any war. Why should anyone pick on

What war would mean if it did come, Anketam had no idea, but he didn't
think the Chiefs would get into a war they couldn't finish. And, he
repeated to himself, he didn't believe there would be a war.

He said as much to Russat.

His brother looked up at him in surprise. "You mean you haven't heard?"

"Heard what?"

"Why, the war's already started. Sure. Five, six days ago. We're at war,

Anketam's frown grew deeper. He knew that there were other planets
besides Xedii; he had heard that some of the stars in the sky were
planets and suns. He didn't really understand how that could be, but
even The Chief had said it was true, so Anketam accepted it as he did
the truth about God. It was so, and that was enough for Anketam. Why
should he bother himself with other people's business?



"How'd it happen?" he asked.

Russat sipped at his hot drink before answering. Behind him, Memi moved
slowly around the cooker, pretending to be finishing the meal,
pretending not to be listening.

"Well, I don't have all the information," Russat said, pinching his
little short beard between thumb and forefinger. "But I do know that the
Chiefs didn't want the embassy in Chromdin."

"No," said Anketam. "I suppose not."

"I understand they have been making all kinds of threats," Russat said.
"Trying to tell everybody what to do. They think they run all of
Creation, I guess. Anyway, they were told to pull out right after the
last harvest. They refused to do it, and for a while nobody did
anything. Then, last week, the President ordered the Army to throw 'em
out--bag and baggage. There was some fighting, I understand, but they
got out finally. Now they've said they're going to smash us." He

Anketam said: "What's so funny?"

"Oh, they won't do anything," said Russat. "They fume and fuss a lot,
but they won't do anything."

"I hope not," said Anketam. He finished the last of his spiked tea, and
Memi poured him another one. "I don't see how they have any right to
tell us how to live or how to run our own homes. They ought to mind
their own business and leave us alone."

"You two finish those drinks," said Memi, "and quit talking about wars.
The food will be ready pretty quickly."

"Good," said Anketam. "I'm starved." And, he admitted to himself, the
brandy and hot tea had gone to his head. A good meal would make him feel

Russat said: "I don't get much of a chance to eat Memi's cooking; I'll
sure like this meal."

"You can stay for breakfast in the morning, can't you?" Anketam asked.

"Oh, I wouldn't want to put you to all that trouble. I have to be up to
your Chief's house before sunrise."

"We get up before sunrise," Anketam said flatly. "You can stay for


The spring planting did well. The rains didn't come until after the
seedlings had taken root and anchored themselves well into the soil, and
the rows showed no signs of heavy bruising. Anketam had been watching
one section in particular, where young Basom had planted. Basom had a
tendency to do a sloppy job, and if it had showed up as bruised or
poorly planted seedlings, Anketam would have seen to it that Basom got
what was coming to him.

But the section looked as good as anyone else's, so Anketam said nothing
to Basom.

Russat had come back after twenty days and reported that there was an
awful lot of fuss in Chromdin, but nothing was really developing. Then
he had gone on back home.

As spring became summer, Anketam pushed the war out of his mind.
Evidently, there wasn't going to be any real shooting. Except that two
of The Chief's sons had gone off to join the Army, things remained the
same as always. Life went on as it had.

The summer was hot and almost windless. Work became all but impossible,
except during the early morning and late afternoon. Fortunately, there
wasn't much that had to be done. At this stage of their growth, the
plants pretty much took care of themselves.

Anketam spent most of his time fishing. He and Jacovik and some of the
others would go down to the river and sit under the shade trees, out of
the sun, and dangle their lines in the water. It really didn't matter if
they caught much or not; the purpose of fishing was to loaf and get away
from the heat, not to catch fish. Even so, they always managed to bring
home enough for a good meal at the end of the day.

The day that the war intruded on Anketam's consciousness again had
started off just like any other day. Anketam got his fishing gear
together, including a lunch that Memi had packed for him, and gone over
to pick up Blejjo.

Blejjo was the oldest man in the village. Some said he was over a
hundred, but Blejjo himself only admitted to eighty. He'd been retired a
long time back, and his only duties now were little odd jobs that were
easy enough, even for an old man. Not that there was anything feeble
about old Blejjo; he still looked and acted spry enough.

He was sitting on his front porch, talking to young Basom, when Anketam
came up.

The old man grinned. "Hello, Ank. You figure on getting a few more fish

"Why not? The river's full of 'em. Come along."

"Don't see why not," said Blejjo. "What do you think, Basom?"

The younger man smiled and shook his head. "I'll stay around home, I
think. I'm too lazy today to go to all that effort."

"Too lazy to loaf," said Blejjo, laughing. "That's as lazy as I ever

Anketam smiled, but he didn't say anything. Basom was lazy, but
Anketam never mentioned it unless the boy didn't get his work done.
Leave that sort of kidding up to the others; it wasn't good for a
supervisor to ride his men unless it was necessary for discipline.

Basom was a powerful young man, tall and well-proportioned. If the truth
were known, he probably had the ability to get a good job from The
Chief--become a secretary or something, like Russat. But he was sloppy
in his work, and, as Blejjo had said, lazy. His saving grace was the
fact that he took things as they came; he never showed any resentment
towards Anketam if he was rebuked for not doing his work well, and he
honestly tried to do better--for a while, at least.

"Not too lazy to loaf," Basom said in self-defense. "Just too lazy to
walk four miles to loaf when I can do it here."

Old Blejjo was taking his fishing gear down from the rack on the porch.
Without looking around, he said: "Cooler down by the river."

"By the time I walked there," said Basom philosophically, "walking
through all that sun, I'd be so hot it would take me two hours to cool
down to where I am now, and another two hours to cool down any more.
That's four hours wasted. Now--" He looked at Anketam with a sly grin.
"Now, if you two wanted to carry me, I'd be much obliged. Anketam, you
could carry me piggyback, while Blejjo goes over to fetch my pole. If
you'd do that, I believe I could see my way clear to going fishing with

Anketam shook his head positively. "I'm afraid the sun would do you in,

"Maybe you'd like The Chief to carry you," said Blejjo. There was a bite
in his voice.

"Now, wait," Basom said apprehensively, "I didn't say anything like
that. I didn't mean it that way."

Blejjo pointed his fishing pole at the youth. "You ought to be thankful
you've got Anketam for a supervisor. There's some supers who'd boot you
good for a crack like that."

Basom cast appealing eyes at Anketam. "I am thankful! You know I am!
Why, you're the best super in the barony! Everybody knows that. I was
only kidding. You know that."

Before Anketam could say anything, the old man said: "You can bet your
life that no other super in this barony would put up with your

"Now, Blejjo," said Anketam, "leave the boy alone. He meant no harm. If
he needs talking to, I'll do the talking."

Basom looked gratefully reprieved.

"Sorry, Ank," said Blejjo. "It's just that some of these young people
have no respect for their elders." He looked at Basom and smiled.
"Didn't mean to take it out on you, Bas. There's a lot worse than you."
Then, changing his tone: "Sure you don't want to come with us?"

Basom looked apologetic, but he stuck to his guns. "No. Thanks again,
but--" He grinned self-consciously. "To be honest, I was thinking of
going over to see Zillia. Her dad said I could come."

Anketam grinned at the boy. "Well, now, that's an excuse I'll accept.
Come on, Blejjo, this is not a sport for old men like us. Fishing is
more our speed."

Chuckling, Blejjo shouldered his fishing pole, and the two men started
down the dusty village street toward the road that led to the river.

* * * * *

They walked in silence for a while, trying to ignore the glaring sun
that brought the sweat out on their skins, soaking the sweatbands of
their broad-brimmed hats and running in little rivulets down their

"I kind of feel sorry for that boy," old Blejjo said at last.

"Oh?" said Anketam. "How so? He'll get along. He's improving. Why, he
did as good a job of transplanting as any man this spring. Last year, he
bruised the seedlings, but I gave him a good dressing down and he
remembered it. He'll be all right."

"I'm not talking about that, Ank," said the old man, "I mean him and
Zillia. He's really got a case on with that girl."

"Anything wrong with that? A young fellow's got a right to fall in love,
hasn't he? And Zillia seems pretty keen on him, too. If her father
doesn't object, everything ought to go along pretty smoothly."

"Her father might not object," said Blejjo, looking down at his feet as
they paced off the dusty road. "But there's others who might object."

"Who, for instance?"

Blejjo was silent for several steps. Then he said: "Well, Kevenoe, for

Anketam thought that over in silence. Kevenoe was on The Chief's staff
at the castle. Like many staff men--including, Anketam thought wryly,
his own brother Russat, on occasion--he tended to lord it over the
farmers who worked the land. "Kevenoe has an eye on Zillia?" he asked
after a moment.

"I understand he's asked Chief Samas for her as soon as she's eighteen.
That would be this fall, after harvest."

"I see," Anketam said thoughtfully. He didn't ask how the old man had
come about his knowledge. Old Blejjo had little to do, and on the
occasions that he had to do some work around The Chief's castle, he made
it a point to pick up gossip. But he was careful with his information;
he didn't go spreading it around for all to hear, and he made it a point
to verify his information before he passed it on. Anketam respected the
old man. He was the only one in the village who called him "Ank,"
outside of Memi.

"Do you think The Chief will give her to Kevenoe?" he asked.

Blejjo nodded. "Looks like it. He thinks a great deal of Kevenoe."

"No reason why he shouldn't," said Anketam. "Kevenoe's a good man."

"Oh, I know that," said the old man. "But Basom won't like it at all.
And I don't think Zillia will, either."

"That's the way things happen," said Anketam. "A man can't expect to go
through life having everything his own way. There's other girls around
for Basom. If he can't have the prettiest, he'll have to be satisfied
with someone else." He chuckled. "That's why I picked Memi. She's not
beautiful and never was, but she's a wonderful wife."

"That's so," said Blejjo. "A wise man is one who only wants what he
knows he can have. Right now"--he took off his hat and wiped his bald
head--"all I want is a dip in that river."

"Swim first and then fish?"

"I think so, don't you? Basom was right about this hot sun."

"I'll go along with you," agreed Anketam.

They made their way to the river, to the shallow place at the bend where
everyone swam. There were a dozen and more kids there, having a great
time in the slow moving water, and several of the older people soaking
themselves and keeping an eye on the kids to make sure they didn't
wander out to where the water was deep and the current swift.

Anketam and Blejjo took off their clothes and cooled themselves in the
water for a good half hour before they dressed again and went on upriver
to a spot where Blejjo swore the fish were biting.

They were. In the next four hours, the two men had caught six fish
apiece, and Blejjo was trying for his seventh. Here, near the river,
there was a slight breeze, and it was fairly cool beneath the
overhanging branches of the closely bunched trees.

Blejjo had spotted a big, red-and-yellow striped beauty loafing quietly
in a back eddy, and he was lowering his hook gently to a point just in
front of the fish when both men heard the voice calling.

"Anketam! Anketam! Blejjo! Where you at?"

Blejjo went on with his careful work, knowing that Anketam would take
care of whatever it was.

Anketam recognized the voice. He stood up and called: "Over here, Basom!
What's the trouble?"

A minute later, Basom came running through the trees, his feet crashing
through the underbrush.

Blejjo sat up abruptly, an angry look on his face. "Basom, you scared my
fish away."

"Fish, nothing," said Basom. "I ran all the way here to tell you!" He
was grinning widely and panting for breath at the same time.

"You suddenly got an awful lot of energy," Blejjo said sourly.

"What happened?" Anketam asked.

"The invasion!" Basom said between breaths. "Kevenoe himself came down
to tell us! They've started the invasion! The war's on!"

"Than what are you looking so happy about?" Anketam snapped.

"That's what I came to tell you." Basom's grin didn't fade in the least.
"They landed up in the Frozen Country, where our missiles couldn't get
'em, according to Kevenoe. Then they started marching down on one of the
big towns. Tens of thousands of 'em! And we whipped 'em! Our army cut
'em to pieces and sent 'em running back to their base! We won! We


The battle had been won, but the war wasn't won yet. The invaders had
managed to establish a good-sized base up in the Frozen Country. They'd
sneaked their ships in and had put up a defensive system that stopped
any high-speed missiles. Not that Xedii had many missiles. Xedii was an
agricultural planet; most manufactured articles were imported. It had
never occurred to the government of Xedii that there would be any real
need for implements of war.

The invaders seemed to be limiting their use of weapons, too. They
wanted to control the planet, not destroy it. Through the summer and
into the autumn, Anketam listened to the news as it filtered down from
the battlegrounds. There were skirmishes here and there, but nothing
decisive. Xedii seemed to be holding her own against the invaders.

After the first news of the big victory, things settled back pretty much
to normal.

The harvest was good that year, but after the leaves were shredded and
dried, they went into storage warehouses. The invaders had set up a
patrol system around Xedii which prevented the slow cargo ships from
taking off or landing. A few adventurous space officers managed to get a
ship out now and then, but those few flights could hardly be called
regular trade shipments.

The cool of winter had come when Chief Samas did something he had never
done before. He called all the men in the barony to assemble before the
main gate of the castle enclosure. He had a speech to make.

For the first time, Anketam felt a touch of apprehension. He got his
crew together, and they walked to the castle in silence, wondering what
it was that The Chief had to say.

All the men of the barony, except those who couldn't be spared from
their jobs, were assembled in front of Chief Samas' baronial castle.

The castle itself was not a single building. Inside the four-foot-high
thorn hedge that surrounded the two-acre area, there were a dozen
buildings of hard, irridescent plastic shining in the sun. They all
looked soft and pleasant and comfortable. Even the thorn hedge, filled
as it was by the lacy leaves that concealed the hard, sharp thorns,
looked soft and inviting.

Anketam listened to the soft murmur of whispered conversation from the
men around him. They stood quietly outside the main gate that led into
the castle area, waiting for The Chief to appear, and wondering among
themselves what it was that The Chief had to say.

"You think the invaders have won?"

Anketam recognized the hoarse whisper from the man behind him. He turned
to face the dark, squat, hard-looking man who had spoken. "It couldn't
be, Jacovik. It couldn't be."

The other supervisor looked down at his big, knuckle-scarred hands
instead of looking at Anketam. He was not a handsome man, Jacovik; his
great, beaklike nose was canted to one side from a break that had come
in his teens; his left eye was squinted almost closed by the scar tissue
that surrounded it, and the right only looked better by comparison. His
eyebrows, his beard, and the fringe of hair that outlined his bald head
made an incongruous pale yellow pattern against the sunburnt darkness of
his face. In his youth, Jacovik had been almost pathologically devoted
to boxing--even to the point of picking fights with others in his
village for no reason at all, except to fight. Twice, he had been
brought up before The Chief's court because of the severe beating he had
given to men bigger than he, and he had finally killed a man with his

Chief Samas had given him Special Punishment for that, and a final
warning that the next fight would be punished by death.

Anketam didn't know whether it was that threat, or the emotional
reaction Jacovik had suffered from killing a man, or simply that he had
had some sense beaten into his head, but from that moment on Jacovik was
a different man. He had changed from a thug into a determined, ambitious
man. In twenty-two years, he had not used his fists except to discipline
one of his crew, and that had only happened four times that Anketam knew
of. Jacovik had shown that he had ability as well as strength, that he
could control men by words as well as by force, and The Chief had made
him a supervisor. He had proved himself worthy of the job; next to
Anketam, he was the best supervisor in the barony.

Anketam had a great deal of respect for the little, wide-shouldered,
barrel-chested man who stood there looking at the scars on the backs of
his hands.

Jacovik turned his hands over and looked at the calloused palms. "How do
we know? Maybe the Council of Chiefs has given up. Maybe they've
authorized the President to surrender. After all, we're not fighters;
we're farmers. The invaders outnumber us. They've got us cut off by a
blockade, to keep us from sending out the harvest. They've got machines
and weapons." He looked up suddenly, his bright blue eyes looking
straight into Anketam's. "How do we know?"

Anketam's grin was hard. "Look, Jac; the invaders have said that they
intend to smash our whole society, haven't they? Haven't they?"

Jacovik nodded.

"And they want to break up the baronies--take everything away from the
Chiefs--force us farmers to give up the security we've worked all our
lives for. That's what they've said, isn't it?"

Jacovik nodded again.

"Well, then," Anketam continued remorselessly, "do you think the Chiefs
would give up easily? Are they going to simply smile and shake hands
with the invaders and say: 'Go ahead, take all our property, reduce us
to poverty, smash the whole civilization we've built up, destroy the
security and peace of mind of millions of human beings, and then send
your troops in to rule us by martial law.' Are they going to do that?
Are they?"

Jacovik spread his big, hard hands. "I don't know. I'm not a Chief. I
don't know how their minds work. Do you? Maybe they'll think surrender
would be better than having all of Xedii destroyed inch by inch."

Anketam shook his head. "Never. The Chiefs will fight to the very end.
And they'll win in the long run because right is on their side. The
invaders have no right to change our way of living; they have no right
to impose their way of doing things on us. No, Jac--the Chiefs will
never give up. They haven't surrendered yet, and they never will.
They'll win. The invaders will be destroyed."

Jacovik frowned, completely closing his left eye. "You've always been
better at thinking things out that I, Ank." He paused and looked down at
his hands again. "I hope you're right, Ank. I hope you're right."

* * * * *

In spite of his personal conviction that he was right, Anketam had to
admit that Jacovik had reason for his own opinion. He knew that many of
the farmers were uncertain about the ultimate outcome of the war.

Anketam looked around him at the several hundred men who made up the
farming force of the barony. His own crew were standing nearby, mixing
with Jacovik's crew and talking in low voices. In the cool winter air,
Anketam could still detect the aroma of human bodies, the smell of sweat
that always arose when a crowd of people were grouped closely together.
And he thought he could detect a faint scent of fear and apprehension in
that atmosphere.

Or was that just his imagination, brought on by Jacovik's pessimism?

He opened his lips to say something to Jacovik, but his words died
unborn. The sudden silence in the throng around him, the abrupt
cessation of whispering, told him, more definitely than a chorus of
trumpets could have done, that The Chief had appeared.

He turned around quickly, to face the Main Gate again.

The Main Gate was no higher than the thorn-bush hedge that it pierced.
It was a heavily built, intricately decorated piece of polished
goldwood, four feet high and eight feet across, set in a sturdy goldwood
frame. The arch above the gate reached a good ten feet, giving The Chief
plenty of room to stand.

He was just climbing up to stand on the gate itself as Anketam turned.

Chief Samas was a tall man, lean of face and wide of brow. His
smooth-shaven chin was long and angular, and his dark eyes were deeply
imbedded beneath heavy, bushy eyebrows.

And he was dressed in clothing cut in a manner that Anketam had never
seen before.

He stood there, tall and proud, a half smile on his face. It was several
seconds before he spoke. During that time, there was no sound from the
assembled farmers.

"Men," he said at last, "I think that none of you have seen this uniform
before. I look odd in it, do I not?"

The men recognized The Chief's remark as a joke, and a ripple of
laughter ran through the crowd.

The Chief's smile broadened. "Odd indeed. Yes. And do you perceive the
golden emblems, here at my throat? They, and the uniform, indicate that
I have been chosen to help lead the armed forces--a portion of them, I
should say."

He smiled around at the men. "The Council of Chiefs has authorized the
President to appoint me a Colonel of Light Tank. I am expected to lead
our armored forces into battle against the damned Invaders."

A cheer came from the farmers, loud and long. Anketam found himself
yelling as loud as anyone. The pronunciation and the idiom of the speech
of the Chiefs was subtly different from those of the farmers, but
Anketam could recognize the emphasis that his Chief was putting on the
words of his speech. "Invaders." With a capital "I."

The Chief held up his hands, and the cheering died. At the same time,
the face of Chief Samas lost its smile.

"I will be gone for some time," he said somberly. "The Council feels
that it will be two or three years before we have finally driven the
Invaders from our planet. This will not be a simple war, nor an easy
one. The blockade of orbital ships which encircle Xedii keep us from
making proper contact with any friends that we may have outside the
circle of influence of the damned Invaders. We are, at the moment,
fighting alone. And yet, in spite of that--in spite of that, I say--we
have thus far held the enemy at a standstill. And, in the long run, we
shall win."

He took a deep breath then, and his baritone voice thundered out when he

"Shall win? No! We must win! None of you want to become slaves in
the factories of the Invaders. I know that, and you know it. Who among
you would slave your life away in the sweatshops of the Invaders,
knowing that those for whom you worked might, at any time, simply
deprive you of your livelihood at their own whim, since they feel no
sense of responsibility toward you as individuals?"

Again The Chief stopped, and his eyes sought out each man in turn.

"If there are any such among you, I renounce you at this moment. If
there are any such, I ask ... nay, I plead ... I order ... I order you
to go immediately to the Invaders."

Another deep breath. No one moved.

"You have all heard the propaganda of the Invaders. You know that they
have offered you--well, what? Freedom? Yes, that's the way they term it.
Freedom." Another pause. "Freedom. Hah!"

He put his hands on his hips. "None of you have ever seen a really
regimented society--and I'm thankful that you haven't. I hope that you
never will."

Chief Samas twisted his lips into an expression of hatred. "Freedom?
Freedom from what! Freedom to do what?

"I'll tell you. Freedom to work in their factories for twelve hours a
day! Freedom to work until you are no longer of any use to them, and
then be turned out to die--with no home, and no food to support you.
Freedom to live by yourselves, with every man's hand against you, with
every pittance that you earn taxed to support a government that has no
thought for the individual!

"Is that what you want? Is that what you've worked for all your lives?"

A visual chorus of shaken heads accompanied the verbal chorus of "No."

Chief Samas dropped his hands to his sides. "I thought not. But I will
repeat: If any of you want to go to the Invaders, you may do so now."

Anketam noticed a faint movement to his right, but it stopped before it
became decisive. He glanced over, and he noticed that young Basom was
standing there, half poised, as though unable to make up his mind.

Then The Chief's voice bellowed out again. "Very well. You are with me.
I will leave the work of the barony in your hands. I ask that you
produce as much as you can. Next year--next spring--we will not plant

There was a low intake of breath from the assembled men. Not plant
cataca? That was the crop that they had grown since--well, since
ever. Anketam felt as though someone had jerked a rug from beneath

"There is a reason for this," The Chief went on. "Because of the
blockade that surrounds Xedii, we are unable to export cataca leaves.
The rest of the galaxy will have to do without the drug that is
extracted from the leaves. The incident of cancer will rise to the level
it reached before the discovery of cataca. When they understand that
we cannot ship out because of the Invader's blockade, they will force
the Invader to stop his attack on us. What we need now is not cataca,
but food. So, next spring, you will plant food crops.

"Save aside the cataca seed until the war is over. The seedlings now
in the greenhouses will have to be destroyed, but that cannot be

He stopped for a moment, and when he began again his voice took on a
note of sadness.

"I will be away from you until the war is won. While I am gone, the
barony will be run by my wife. You will obey her as you would me. The
finances of the barony will be taken care of by my trusted man,
Kevenoe." He gestured to one side, and Kevenoe, who was standing there,
smiled quickly and then looked grim again.

"As for the actual running of the barony--as far as labor is
concerned--I think I can leave that in the hands of one of my most
capable men."

He raised his finger and pointed. There was a smile on his face.

Anketam felt as though he had been struck an actual blow; the finger was
pointed directly at him.

"Anketam," said The Chief, "I'm leaving the barony in your hands until I
return. You will supervise the labor of all the men here. Is that

"Yes, sir," said Anketam weakly. "Yes, sir. I understand."


Never, for the rest of his life, would the sharp outlines of that moment
fade from his memory. He knew that the men of the barony were all
looking at him; he knew that The Chief went on talking afterwards. But
those things impressed themselves but lightly on his mind, and they
blurred soon afterwards. Twenty years later, in retelling the story, he
would swear that The Chief had ended his speech at that point. He would
swear that it was only seconds later that The Chief had jumped down from
the gate and motioned for him to come over; his memory simply didn't
register anything between those two points.

But The Chief's words after the speech--the words spoken to him
privately--were bright and clear in his mind.

The Chief was a good three inches shorter than Anketam, but Anketam
never noticed that. He just stood there in front of The Chief, wondering
what more his Chief had to say.

"You've shown yourself to be a good farmer, Anketam," Chief Samas said
in a low voice. "Let's see--you're of Skebbin stock, I think?"

Anketam nodded. "Yes, sir."

"The Skebbin family has always produced good men. You're a credit to the
Skebbins, Anketam."

"Thank you, sir."

"You've got a hard job ahead of you," said The Chief. "Don't fail me.
Plant plenty of staple crops, make sure there's enough food for
everyone. If you think it's profitable, add more to the animal stock.
I've authorized Kevenoe to allow money for the purchase of breeding
stock. You can draw whatever you need for that purpose.

"This war shouldn't last too long. Another year, at the very most, and
we'll have forced the Invaders off Xedii. When I come back, I expect to
find the barony in good shape, d'you hear?"

"Yes, sir. It will be."

"I think it will," said The Chief. "Good luck to you, Anketam."

As The Chief turned away, Anketam said: "Thank you, sir--and good luck
to you, sir."

Chief Samas turned back again. "By the way," he said, "there's one more
thing. I know that men don't always agree on everything. If there is any
dispute between you and Kevenoe, submit the question to my wife for
arbitration." He hesitated. "However, I trust that there will not be
many such disputes. A woman shouldn't be bothered with such things any
more than is absolutely necessary. It upsets them. Understand?"

Anketam nodded. "Yes, sir."

"Very well. Good-by, Anketam. I hope to see you again before the next
harvest." And with that, he turned and walked through the gate, toward
the woman who was standing anxiously on the porch of his home.

* * * * *

Anketam turned away and started towards his own village. Most of the
others had already begun the trek back. But Jacovik, Blejjo, and Basom
were waiting for him. They fell into step beside him.

After a while, Jacovik broke the silence. "Well, Ank, it looks like
you've got a big job on your hands."

"That's for sure," said Anketam. He knew that Jacovik envied him the
job; he knew that Jacovik had only missed the appointment by a narrow

"Jac," he said, "have you got a man on your crew that you can trust to
take over your job?"

"Madders could do it, I think," Jacovik said cautiously. "Why?"

"This is too big a job for one man," said Anketam quietly. "I'll need
help. I want you to help me, Jac."

There was a long silence while the men walked six paces. Then Jacovik
said: "I'll do whatever I can, Ank. Whatever I can." There was honest
warmth in his voice.

Again there was a silence.

"Blejjo," Anketam said after a time, "do you mind coming out of
retirement for a while?"

"Not if you need me, Ank," said the old man.

"It won't be hard work," Anketam said. "I just want you to take care of
the village when I'm not there. Settle arguments, assign the village
work, give out punishment if necessary--things like that. As far as the
village is concerned, you'll be supervisor."

"What about the field work, Ank?" Blejjo asked. "I'm too old to handle
that. Come spring, and--"

"I said, as far as the village is concerned," Anketam said. "I've got
another man in mind for the field work."

And no one was more surprised than Basom when Anketam said: "Basom, do
you think you could handle the crew in the field?"

Basom couldn't even find his tongue for several more paces. When he
discovered at last that it was still in his mouth, where he'd left it,
he said: "I ... I'll try, Ank. I sure will try, if you want me to. But
... well ... I mean, why pick me?"

Old Blejjo chuckled knowingly. Jacovik, who hardly knew the boy, just
looked puzzled.

"Why not you?" Anketam countered.

"Well ... you've always said I was lazy. And I am, I guess."

"Sure you are," said Anketam. "So am I. Always have been. But a smart
lazy man can figure out things that a hard worker might overlook. He can
find the easy, fast way to get a job done properly. And he doesn't
overwork his men because he knows that when he's tired, the others are,
too. You want to try it, Basom?"

"I'll try," said Basom earnestly. "I'll try real hard." Then, after a
moment's hesitation. "Just one thing, Anketam--"

"What's that?"

"Kevenoe. I don't want him coming around me. Not at all. If he ever said
one word to me, I'd probably break his neck right there."

Anketam nodded. The Chief had given Zillia to Kevenoe only two months
before, and the only one who liked the situation was Kevenoe himself.

"I'll deal with Kevenoe, Basom," Anketam said. "Don't you worry about

"All right, then," Basom said. "I'll do my best, Anketam."

"You'd better," said Anketam. "If you don't, I'll just have to give the
job to someone else. You hear?"

"I hear," said Basom.


The war dragged on. In the spring of the following year, over a hundred
thousand Invader troops landed on the seacoast a hundred miles from
Chromdin and began a march on the capital. But somebody had forgotten to
tell the Invader general that it rained in that area in the spring and
that the mud was like glue. The Invader army bogged down, and,
floundering their way toward Chromdin, they found themselves opposed by
an army of nearly a hundred thousand Xedii troops under General Jojon,
and the invasion came to a standstill at that point.

Farther to the west, another group of forty thousand Invader troops came
down from the Frozen Country, and a Xedii general named Oljek trounced
them with a mere seventeen thousand men.

All in all, the Invaders were getting nowhere, but they seemed
determined to keep on plugging.

The news only filtered slowly into the areas which were situated well
away from the front. A thousand miles to the west of Chief Samas'
barony, the Invaders began cutting deeply into Xedii territory, but they
were nowhere near the capital, so no one was really worried.

Anketam worked hard at keeping the barony going during the absence of
The Chief. Instead of cataca, he and Jacovik planted food crops,
doing on a larger scale just what they had always done in the selected
sections around the villages. They had always grown their own food, and
now they were doing it on a grand scale.

No news came from off-planet, except for unreliable rumors. What the
rest of the galaxy was doing about the war on Xedii, no one knew.

Young Basom proved to be a reasonably competent supervisor. He was
nowhere near as good as Anketam or Jacovik, but there were worse supers
in the barony.

Anketam found that the biggest worry was not in the handling of the
farmers, but in obtaining manufactured goods. The staff physician
complained to Kevenoe that drugs were getting scarce. Shoes and clothing
were almost impossible to obtain. Rumor had it that arms and ammunition
were running short in the Xedii armies. For two centuries, Xedii had
depended on other planets to provide manufactured goods for her, and now
those supplies were cut off, except for a miserably slow trickle that
came in via the daring space officers who managed to evade the orbital
forts that the Invaders had set up around the planet.

Even so, Anketam's faith in the power of Xedii remained constant. The
invading armies were still being held off from Chromdin, weren't they?
The capital would not fall, of that he was sure.

What Anketam did not and could not know was the fact that the Invaders
were growing tired of pussy-footing around. Instead of fighting Xedii on
Xedii's terms, the Invaders decided to fight it on their own.

Everyone on Chief Samas' barony and the others around it expected
trouble to come from the north, from the Frozen Country, if and when it
came. They didn't look to the west, where the real trouble was brewing.

Anketam was shocked when he heard the news that the Invaders had reached
Tana L'At, having cut down through the center of the continent, dividing
the inhabited part of Xedii into two almost equal parts. They knocked
out Tana L'At with a heavy shelling of paralysis gas, evacuated the
inhabitants, and dusted the city with radioactive powder to make it
uninhabitable for several years.

Then they began to march eastward.


For the first time in his life, Anketam was feeling genuine fear. He had
feared for his life before, yes. And he had feared for his family. But
now he feared for his world, which was vaster by far.

He blinked at the tall, gangling Kevenoe, who was still out of breath
from running. "Say that again."

"I said that the Invader troops are crossing Benner Creek," Kevenoe said
angrily. "They'll be at the castle within an hour. We've got to do

"What?" Anketam asked dazedly.

"Fight them? With what? We have no weapons."

"I don't know," Kevenoe admitted. "I just don't know. I thought maybe
you'd know. Maybe you could think of something. What about Lady Samas?"

"What about her?" Anketam still couldn't force his mind to function.

"Haven't you heard? The Invaders have been looting and burning every
castle in their path! And the women--"

Lady Samas in danger! Something crystallized in Anketam's mind. He
pointed in the direction of the castle. "Get back there!" he snapped.
"Get everyone out of the castle! Save all the valuables you can! Get
everyone down to the river and tell them to hide in the brush at the Big
Swamp. The Invaders won't go there. Move!"

Kevenoe didn't even pause to answer. He ran back toward the saddle
animal he had tethered at the edge of the village.

Anketam was running in the opposite direction, toward Basom's quarters.

He didn't bother to knock. He flung open the door and yelled, "Basom!"

Basom, who had been relaxing on his bed, leaped to his feet. "What is

Anketam told him rapidly. Then he said: "Get moving! You're a fast
runner. Spread the news. Tell everyone to get to the Swamp. We have less
than an hour, so run for all you're worth!"

Basom, like Kevenoe, didn't bother to ask questions. He went outside and
started running toward the south.

"That's right!" Anketam called after him. "Tell Jacovik first! And get
more runners to spread the word!"

And then Anketam headed for his own home. Memi had to be told. On the
way, he pounded on the doors of the houses, shouting the news and
telling the others to get to the Big Swamp.

By the time the Invader troops came, they found the entire Samas barony
empty. Not a single soul opposed their march; there was no voice to
object when they leveled their beam projectors and melted the castle and
the villages into shapeless masses of blackened plastic.


The wooden shelter wasn't much of a home, but it was all Anketam could
provide. It had been difficult to cut down the trees and make a shack of
them, but at least there were four walls and a roof.

Anketam stood at the door of the rude hut, looking blindly at the ruins
of the village a hundred yards away. In the past few months, weeds had
grown up around the charred blobs that had once been the homes of
Anketam's crew. Anketam stared, not at, but past and through them,
seeing the ghosts of the houses that had once been there.

Behind him, Memi was speaking in soft tones to Lady Samas.

"Now you go ahead and eat, Lady. You can't starve yourself to death.
Things won't always be this bad, you'll see. When that oldest boy of
yours comes back, he'll fix the barony right back up like it was. Just
you see. Now, here; try some of this soup."

Lady Samas said nothing. She seemed to be entirely oblivious of her
surroundings these days. Nothing mattered to her any more. Word had come
back that Chief Samas had accompanied General Eeler in the fatal
expedition towards the Invader base, and The Chief had been buried there
in the Frozen Country.

Lady Samas had nowhere else to stay. Kevenoe was dead, his skull crushed
by--by someone. Anketam refused, in his own mind, to see any connection
between Kevenoe's death and the fact that Basom and Zillia had
disappeared the same day, probably to give themselves over to the
Invader troops.

A movement at the corner of his eye caught Anketam's attention. He
turned his head to look. Then he spun on his heel and went into the hut.

"Lady Samas," he said quickly, "they're coming. There's a ground-car
coming down the road with four Invaders in it."

Lady Samas looked up at him, her fine old face calm and emotionless.
"Let them come," she said. "We can't stop them, Anketam. And we have
nothing to lose."

Three minutes later, the ground-car pulled up in front of the hut.
Anketam watched silently as one of the men got out. The other three
stayed in the car, their handguns ready.

The officer, very tall and straight in his blue uniform, strode up to
the door of the hut. He stopped and addressed Anketam. "I understand
Lady Samas is living here."

"That's right," Anketam said.

"Would you tell her that Colonel Fayder would like to speak to her."

Before Anketam could say anything, Lady Samas spoke. "Tell the colonel
to come in, Anketam."

Anketam stepped aside to let the officer enter.

"Lady Samas?" he asked.

She nodded. "I am."

The colonel removed his hat. "Madam, I am Colonel Jamik Fayder, of the
Union army. You are the owner of this land?"

"Until my son returns, yes," said Lady Samas evenly.

"I understand." The colonel licked his lips nervously. He was obviously
ill at ease in the presence of the Lady Samas. "Madam," he said, "it
would be useless for me to apologize for the destructions of war.
Apologies are mere words."

"They are," said Lady Samas. "None the less, I accept them."

"Thank you. I have come to inform you that the Xedii armies formally
surrendered near Chromdin early this morning. The war is over."

"I'm glad," said Lady Samas.

"So am I," said the colonel. "It has not been a pleasant war. Xedii
was--and still is--the most backward planet in the galaxy. Your Council
of Chiefs steadfastly refused to allow the"--he glanced at
Anketam--"workers of Xedii to govern their own lives. They have lived
and died without proper education, without the medical care that would
save and lengthen their lives, and without the comforts of life that any
human being deserves. That situation will be changed now, but I am
heartily sorry it took a war to do it."

Anketam looked at the man. What was he talking about? He and his kind
had burned and dusted cities and villages, and had smashed the lives of
millions of human beings on the pretense that they were trying to help.
What sort of insanity was that?

The colonel took a sheaf of papers from his pocket.

"I have been ordered to read to you the proclamation of the Union

He looked down at the papers and began to read:

"Henceforth, all the peoples of Xedii shall be free and equal. They
shall have the right to change their work at will, to be paid in lawful
money instead of--"

Anketam just stood there, his mind glazed. He had worked hard all his
life for the security of retirement, and now all that was gone. What was
he to do? Where was he to go? If he had to be paid in money, who would
do it? Lady Samas? She had nothing. Besides, Anketam knew nothing about
the handling of money. He knew nothing about how to get along in a
society like that.

He stood there in silence as his world dissolved around him. He could
hear, dimly, the voice of the blue-clad Union officer as he read off the
death warrant for Xedii. And for Anketam.

Next: Hail To The Chief

Previous: Dead Giveaway

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