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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesAdaptation - Chapter 3
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Adaptation - Chapter 3 Post by :hotlinkz Category :Long Stories Author :Mack Reynolds Date :May 2012 Read :1773

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Adaptation - Chapter 3

CHAPTER III

Joe Chessman was at the controls of the space lighter. At his side sat Leonid Plekhanov and behind them the other six members of their team. They had circled Texcoco twice at great altitude, four times at a lesser one. Now they were low enough to spot man-made works.

"Nomadic," Plekhanov muttered. "Nomadic and village cultures."

"A few dozen urbanized cultures," Chessman said. "Whoever compared the most advanced nation to the Aztecs was accurate, except for the fact that they base themselves along a river rather than on a mountain plateau."

Plekhanov said, "Similarities to the Egyptians and Sumerians." He looked over his beefy shoulder at the technician who was photographing the areas over which they passed. "How does our geographer progress, Roberts?"

Natt Roberts brought his eyes up from his camera viewer. "I've got most of what we'll need for a while, sir."

(Illustration)

Plekhanov turned back to Chessman. "We might as well head for their principal city, the one with the pyramids. We'll make initial contact there. I like the suggestion of surplus labor available."

"Surplus labor?" Chessman said, setting the controls. "How do you know?"

"Pyramids," Plekhanov rumbled. "I've always been of the opinion that such projects as pyramids, whether they be in Yucatan or Egypt, are make-work affairs. A priesthood, or other ruling clique, keeping its people busy and hence out of mischief."

Chessman adjusted a speed lever and settled back. "I can see their point."

"But I don't agree with it," Plekhanov said ponderously. "A society that builds pyramids is a static one. For that matter any society that resorts to make-work projects to busy its citizenry has something basically wrong."

Joe Chessman said sourly, "I wasn't supporting the idea, just understanding the view of the priesthoods. They'd made a nice thing for themselves and didn't want to see anything happen to it. It's not the only time a group in the saddle has held up progress for the sake of remaining there. Priests, slave-owners, feudalistic barons, or bureaucrats of a twentieth-century police state, a ruling clique will never give up power without pressure."

Barry Watson leaned forward and pointed down and to the right. "There's the river," he said. "And there's their capital city."

The small spacecraft settled at decreasing speed.

Chessman said, "The central square? It seems to be their market, by the number of people."

"I suppose so," Plekhanov grunted. "Right there before the largest pyramid. We'll remain inside the craft for the rest of today and tonight."

Natt Roberts, who had put away his camera, said, "But why? It's crowded in here."

"Because I said so," Plekhanov rumbled. "This first impression is important. Our flying machine is undoubtedly the first they've seen. We've got to give them time to assimilate the idea and then get together a welcoming committee. We'll want the top men, right from the beginning."

"The equivalent of the Emperor Montezuma meeting Cortez, eh?" Barry Watson said. "A real red carpet welcome."

The _Pedagogue's space lighter settled to the plaza gently, some fifty yards from the ornately decorated pyramid which stretched up several hundred feet and was topped by a small templelike building.

Chessman stretched and stood up from the controls. "Your anthropology ought to be better than that, Barry," he said. "There was no Emperor Montezuma and no Aztec Empire, except in the minds of the Spanish." He peered out one of the heavy ports. "And by the looks of this town we'll find an almost duplicate of Aztec society. I don't believe they've even got the wheel."

The eight of them clustered about the craft's portholes, taking in the primitive city that surrounded them. The square had emptied at their approach, and now the several thousand citizens that had filled it were peering fearfully from street entrances and alleyways.

Cogswell, a fiery little technician, said, "Look at them! It'll take hours before they drum up enough courage to come any closer. You were right, doctor. If we left the boat now, we'd make fools of ourselves trying to coax them near enough to talk."

Watson said to Joe Chessman "What do you mean, no Emperor Montezuma?"

Chessman said absently, as he watched, "When the Spanish got to Mexico they didn't understand what they saw, being musclemen rather than scholars. And before competent witnesses came on the scene, Aztec society was destroyed. The conquistadors, who did attempt to describe Tenochtitlan, misinterpreted it. They were from a feudalistic world and tried to portray the Aztecs in such terms. For instance, the large Indian community houses they thought were palaces. Actually, Montezuma was a democratically elected war chief of a confederation of three tribes which militarily dominated most of the Mexican valley. There was no empire because Indian society, being based on the clan, had no method of assimilating newcomers. The Aztec armies could loot and they could capture prisoners for their sacrifices, but they had no system of bringing their conquered enemies into the nation. They hadn't reached that far in the evolution of society. The Incas could have taught them a few lessons."

Plekhanov nodded. "Besides, the Spanish were fabulous liars. In Cortez's attempt to impress Spain's king, he built himself up far beyond reality. To read his reports you'd think the pueblo of Mexico had a population pushing a million. Actually, if it had thirty thousand it was doing well. Without a field agriculture and with their primitive transport, they must have been hard put to feed even that large a town."

A tall, militarily erect native strode from one of the streets that debouched into the plaza and approached to within twenty feet of the space boat. He stared at it for at least ten full minutes then spun on his heel and strode off again in the direction of one of the stolidly built stone buildings that lined the square on each side except that which the pyramid dominated.

Cogswell chirped, "Now that he's broken the ice, in a couple of hours kids will be scratching their names on our hull."

* * * * *

In the morning, two or three hours after dawn, they made their preparations to disembark. Of them all, only Leonid Plekhanov was unarmed. Joe Chessman had a heavy handgun holstered at his waist. The rest of the men carried submachine guns. More destructive weapons were hardly called for, nor available for that matter; once world government had been established on Earth the age-old race for improved arms had fallen away.

Chessman assumed command of the men, growled brief instructions. "If there's any difficulty, remember we're civilizing a planet of nearly a billion population. The life or death of a few individuals is meaningless. Look at our position scientifically, dispassionately. If it becomes necessary to use force--we have the right and the might to back it up. MacBride, you stay with the ship. Keep the hatch closed and station yourself at the fifty-caliber gun."

The natives seemed to know intuitively that the occupants of the craft from the sky would present themselves at this time. Several thousands of them crowded the plaza. Warriors, armed with spears and bronze headed war clubs, kept the more adventurous from crowding too near.

The hatch opened, the steel landing stair snaked out, and the hefty Plekhanov stepped down, closely followed by Chessman. The others brought up the rear, Watson, Roberts, Stevens, Hawkins and Cogswell. They had hardly formed a compact group at the foot of the spacecraft than the ranks of the natives parted and what was obviously a delegation of officials approached them. In the fore was a giant of a man in his late middle years, and at his side a cold-visaged duplicate of him, obviously a son.

Behind these were variously dressed others, military, priesthood, local officials, by their appearance.

Ten feet from the newcomers they stopped. The leader said in quite understandable Amer-English, "I am Taller, Khan of all the People. Our legends tell of you. You must be from First Earth." He added with a simple dignity, a quiet gesture, "Welcome to the World. How may we serve you?"

Plekhanov said flatly, "The name of this planet is Texcoco and the inhabitants shall henceforth be called Texcocans. You are correct, we have come from Earth. Our instructions are to civilize you, to bring you the benefits of the latest technology, to prepare you to enter the community of planets." Phlegmatically he let his eyes go to the pyramids, to the temples, the large community dwelling quarters. "We'll call this city Tula and its citizens Tulans."

Taller looked thoughtfully at him, not having missed the tone of arrogant command. One of the group behind the Khan, clad in gray flowing robes, said to Plekhanov, mild reproof in his voice, "My son, we are the most advanced people on ... Texcoco. We have thought of ourselves as civilized. However, we--"

Plekhanov rumbled, "I am not your son, old man, and you are far short of civilization. We can't stand here forever. Take us to a building where we can talk without these crowds staring at us. There is much to be done."

Taller said, "This is Mynor, Chief Priest of the People."

The priest bowed his head, then said, "The People are used to ceremony on outstanding occasions. We have arranged for suitable sacrifices to the gods. At their completion, we will proclaim a festival. And then--"

The warriors had cleared a way through the multitude to the pyramid and now the Earthlings could see a score of chained men and women, nude save for loin cloths and obviously captives.

Plekhanov made his way toward them, Joe Chessman at his right and a pace to the rear. The prisoners stood straight and, considering their position, with calm.

Plekhanov glared at Taller. "You were going to kill these?"

The Khan said reasonably, "They are not of the People. They are prisoners taken in battle."

Mynor said, "Their lives please the gods."

"There are no gods, as you probably know," Plekhanov said flatly. "You will no longer sacrifice prisoners."

A hush fell on the Texcocans. Joe Chessman let his hand drop to his weapon. The movement was not lost on Taller's son, whose eyes narrowed.

The Khan looked at the burly Plekhanov for a long moment. He said slowly, "Our institutions fit our needs. What would you have us do with these people? They are our enemies. If we turn them loose, they will fight us again. If we keep them imprisoned, they will eat our food. We ... Tulans are not poor, we have food aplenty, for we Tulans, but we cannot feed all the thousands of prisoners we take in our wars."

Joe Chessman said dryly, "As of today there is a new policy. We put them to work."

Plekhanov rumbled at him, "I'll explain our position, Chessman, if you please." Then to the Tulans. "To develop this planet we're going to need the labor of every man, woman and child capable of work."

Taller said, "Perhaps your suggestion that we retire to a less public place is desirable. Will you follow?" He spoke a few words to an officer of the warriors, who shouted orders.

* * * * *

The Khan led the way, Plekhanov and Chessman followed side by side and the other Earthlings, their weapons unostentatiously ready, were immediately behind. Mynor the priest, Taller's son and the other Tulan officials brought up the rear.

In what was evidently the reception hall of Taller's official residence, the newcomers were made as comfortable as fur padded low stools provided. Half a dozen teenaged Tulans brought a cool drink similar to cocoa; it seemed to give a slight lift.

Taller had not become Khan of the most progressive nation on Texcoco by other than his own abilities. He felt his way carefully now. He had no manner of assessing the powers wielded by these strangers from space. He had no intention of precipitating a situation in which he would discover such powers to his sorrow.

He said carefully, "You have indicated that you intend major changes in the lives of the People."

"Of all Texcocans," Plekhanov said, "you Tulans are merely the beginning."

Mynor, the aged priest, leaned forward. "But why? We do not want these changes--whatever they may be. Already the Khan has allowed you to interfere with our worship of our gods. This will mean--"

Plekhanov growled, "Be silent, old man, and don't bother to mention, ever again, your so-called gods. And now, all of you listen. Perhaps some of this will not be new, how much history has come down to you I don't know.

"A thousand years ago a colony of one hundred persons was left here on Texcoco. It will one day be of scholarly interest to trace them down through the centuries but at present the task does not interest us. This expedition has been sent to recontact you, now that you have populated Texcoco and made such adaptations as were necessary to survive here. Our basic task is to modernize your society, to bring it to an industrialized culture."

Plekhanov's eyes went to Taller's son. "I assume you are a soldier?"

Taller said, "This is Reif, my eldest, and by our custom, second in command of the People's armies. As Khan, I am first."

Reif nodded coldly to Plekhanov. "I am a soldier." He hesitated for a moment, then added, "And willing to die to protect the People."

"Indeed," Plekhanov rumbled, "as a soldier you will be interested to know that our first step will involve the amalgamation of all the nations and tribes of this planet. Not a small task. There should be opportunity for you."

Taller said, "Surely you speak in jest. The People have been at war for as long as scribes have records and never have we been stronger than today, never larger. To conquer the world! Surely you jest."

Plekhanov grunted ungraciously. He looked to Barry Watson, a lanky youth, now leaning negligently against the wall, his submachine gun, however, at the easy ready. "Watson, you're our military expert. Have you any opinions as yet?"

"Yes, sir," Watson said easily. "Until we can get iron weapons and firearms into full production, I suggest the Macedonian phalanx for their infantry. They have the horse, but evidently the wheel has gone out of use. We'll introduce the chariot and also heavy carts to speed up logistics. We'll bring in the stirruped saddle, too. I have available for study, works on every cavalry leader from Tamerlane to Jeb Stuart. Yes, sir, I have some ideas."

Plekhanov pursed his heavy lips. "From the beginning we're going to need manpower on a scale never dreamed of locally. We'll adopt a policy of expansion. Those who join us freely will become members of the State with full privileges. Those who resist will be made prisoners of war and used for shock labor on the roads and in the mines. However, a man works better if he has a goal, a dream. Each prisoner will be freed and become a member of the State after ten years of such work."

He turned to his subordinates. "Roberts and Hawkins, you will begin tomorrow to seek the nearest practical sources of iron ore and coal. Wherever you discover them we'll direct our first military expeditions. Chessman and Cogswell, you'll assemble their best artisans and begin their training in such basic advancements as the wheel."

Taller said softly, "You speak of advancement but thus far you have mentioned largely war and on such a scale that I wonder how many of the People will survive. What advancement? We have all we wish."

Plekhanov cut him off with a curt motion of his hand. He indicated the hieroglyphics on the chamber's walls. "How long does it take to learn such writing?"

Mynor, the priest, said, "This is a mystery known only to the priesthood. One spends ten years in preparation to be a scribe."

"We'll teach you a new method which will have every citizen of the State reading and writing within a year."

The Tulans gaped at him.

He moved ponderously over to Roberts, drew from its scabbard the sword bayonet the other had at his hip. He took it and slashed savagely at a stone pillar, gouging a heavy chunk from it. He tossed the weapon to Reif, whose eyes lit up.

"What metals have you been using? Copper, bronze? Probably. Well, that's steel. You're going to move into the iron age overnight."

He turned to Taller. "Are your priests also in charge of the health of your people?" he growled. "Are their cures obtained from mumbo-jumbo and a few herbs found in the desert? Within a decade, I'll guarantee you that not one of your major diseases will remain."

He turned to the priest and said, "Or perhaps this will be the clincher for some of you. How many years do you have, _old man_?"

Mynor said with dignity, "I am sixty-four."

Plekhanov said churlishly, "And I am two hundred and thirty-three." He called to Stevens, "I think you're our youngest. How old are you?"

Stevens grinned, "Hundred and thirteen, next month."

Mynor opened his mouth, closed it again. No man but would prolong his youth. Of a sudden he felt old, old.

Plekhanov turned back to Taller. "Most of the progress we have to offer is beyond your capacity to understand. We'll give you freedom from want. Health. We'll give you advances in every art. We'll eventually free every citizen from drudgery, educate him, give him the opportunity to enjoy intellectual curiosity. We'll open the stars to him. All these things the coming of the State will eventually mean to you."

Tula's Khan was not impressed. "This you tell us, man from First Earth. But to achieve these you plan to change every phase of our lives and we are happy with ... Tula ... the way it is. I say this to you. There are but eight of you and many, many of us. We do not want your ... State. Return from whence you came."

Plekhanov shook his massive head at the other. "Whether or not _you want these changes they will be made. If you fail to co-operate, we will find someone who will. I suggest you make the most of it."

Taller arose from the squat stool upon which he'd been seated. "I have listened and I do not like what you have said. I am Khan of all the People. Now leave in peace, or I shall order my warriors ..."

"Joe," Plekhanov said flatly. "Watson!"

Joe Chessman took his heavy gun from its holster and triggered it twice. The roar of the explosions reverberated thunderously in the confined space, deafening all, and terrifying the Tulans. Bright red colored the robes the Khan wore, colored them without beauty. Bright red splattered the floor.

Leonid Plekhanov stared at his second in command, wet his thick lips. "Joe," he sputtered. "I hadn't ... I didn't expect you to be so ... hasty."

Joe Chessman growled, "We've got to let them know where we stand, right now, or they'll never hold still for us. Cover the doors, Watson, Roberts." He motioned to the others with his head. "Cogswell, Hawkins, Stevens, get to those windows and watch."

Taller was a crumbled heap on the floor. The other Texcocans stared at his body in shocked horror.

All expect Reif.

Reif bent down over his father's body for a moment, and then looked up, his lips white, at Plekhanov. "He is dead."

Leonid Plekhanov collected himself. "Yes."

Reif's cold face was expressionless. He looked at Joe Chessman who stood stolidly to one side, gun still in hand.

Reif said, "You can supply such weapons to my armies?"

Plekhanov said, "That is our intention, in time."

Reif came erect. "Subject to the approval of the clan leaders, I am now Khan. Tell me more of this State of which you have spoken."

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