July 19, 1937
Luck of the Dragon: Pilgrimage
© 2008 by Walter D. Reimer
(Songmark and characters courtesy of Simon Barber. Thanks!)
July was tourist season throughout the Pacific, and quite a few of the small nations looked forward eagerly to the arrival of cruise liners. Not necessarily the tourists themselves, who could be condescending or even disrespectful toward the locals and their customs. It was their money that was always welcome, and several countries depended on it to buttress their domestic industries.
Some cynics believed that the Pacific nations had a competition going to see who could fleece their visitors most comprehensively without them knowing it.
The woman was fairly typical of the inhabitants of the Icelandic-colonized Polynesian nation of Vanirge; medium height and equine, solidly built with sandy headfur and dressed in an embroidered short linen vest and grass skirt strengthened and decorated with wool yarn. Her headfur was plaited into a long braid that reached down her back to the base of her similarly-arranged tail. She stood waiting along with others as the liner was eased in to dock, and joined in the obligatory chant of welcome accompanying the hula dancers.
She caught sight of him as the tourists disembarked, and waved at him until he waved back. Like her he was equine, about her height but almost gaunt, dressed in a spotless white linen suit and wearing a Panama hat. A small valise was in his paw, in marked contrast to the usual run of tourists (who tended to be much fatter and carrying far too much in the way of baggage).
No camera, either.
She walked up to the fur as soon as he had his passport validated by Customs and shook his paw. “Mr. Brown,” she said, “welcome to Vanirge. I’m Pomare Eriksdottir.”
Mr. Brown smiled like a kindly grandfather as he shook the younger woman’s paw. “I am very pleased to meet you, C – Miss Eriksdottir. I take it our mutual friends have sent you?” His English was strongly accented.
“Oh yes. They’re anxious to meet you. Will you be staying long?”
Mr. Brown, known otherwise as Lev Davidovich Bronstein or in revolutionary circles (and to most everyone else) as merely Trotsky, smiled again. He looked up to regard the broad green farmlands on the heights overlooking Ostmanneyjar and said, “A few days only, I’m afraid. Very unfortunate - this looks like a lovely country.”
Since its independence in 1780, very few people had regarded New Haven as anything but an afterthought. The small 'pocket republic' had been the butt of jokes or studied indifference for most of its existence, and even its contributions in the Great War had failed to raise its estimation in the eyes of most furs.
But after the Revolt and the proclamation of the People's Republic in 1931, many people did take notice of New Haven. Founded as it was in the depths of the Depression, there were those who were sympathetic to the cause of the Red Fist and were determined to help the Trotskyite government.
If only because it promised a fifth way of living, as opposed to capitalism, fascism, Starlingism and the brand of Socialism found in places such as Rain Island.
Much to its surprise, New Haven discovered that now it had friends.
July 23, 1937
(Year 6, 27.VI)
New Haven City:
"The Committee of Nine is now in session. Long live the Revolution," the current Chairman said. For the benefit of the secretary the femfur added, "We will now examine the agenda for this week."
"Excuse me, Comrade," came a soft, raspy voice from the far end of the table, and all eyes moved to focus on the canine who sat wreathed in cigarette smoke.
The Chairman couldn't resist swallowing against the lump in her throat. The canine was the Ninth of the Nine, and that was his only name. The Ninth Commissariat was the sword and the shield of the Red Fist, charged with external as well as internal security. Its leader since the Revolution began was rumored to have been the fur who threw the fatal bomb at the Haymarket Riot in the last century.
"Yes, Comrade?" the Chairman asked.
"I hate to interrupt the People's business," the Ninth said as he lit another cigarette with the stub of the old one, "but I have received information from our revolutionary brothers and sisters outside the borders of New Haven. A matter of grave importance to the Revolution."
All ears swiveled to concentrate on the canine.
The message went out through several sets of willing paws, and in several different versions in hope that one of them would reach its intended destination. The message started going through New Haven’s fishing fleet and being passed from there to sympathetic comrades near Massachusetts and New York. A few other versions were passed through the border that separated the People’s Republic from the United States, to go overland or via telegraph across America and Canada.
Some were encrypted in various ways, from lines taken from Virgil and Dante all the way to complicated numerical codes.
Most were lost, but one managed to get through fairly quickly, through Canada to Rain Island and from there to reach its destination.
All had been addressed to one single fur that currently lived in a small Pacific nation.
July 27, 1937:
She was really a hard worker, the man thought as he watched her swing a pickaxe with a gusto that belied the heat of a tropical summer. The Works Ministry foreman had been happy to have another pair of paws to help out, but he still felt a bit guilty when the canine girl had insisted that she not be paid for her work.
Silly Euro. His boss wouldn’t complain, as every shell saved was a shell earned.
But it didn't seem fair, like he was exploiting her.
By the end of the day, though, he thought he had an idea to deal with the problem posed by the half-breed coyote.
"Liberty?" he asked. "I'd like to talk to you, please."
Liberty Morgenstern ran a pawkerchief over her face, mopping up the sweat that matted her fur. "Yes, Comrade? What can I do for you?" She was sure she wasn't in any trouble; experience had shown her that a certain measured reduction in the tone and volume of her efforts at spreading the gospel of Revolution actually seemed to persuade people to listen to her (even if they didn't agree with her).
One can never argue with objective reality.
Besides, working alongside them enabled her to work on her language skills, so when she did start talking about the Revolution they could understand her better.
The foreman, a full-blooded coyote from the north of Main Island, looked a bit pensive as he said, "I want to talk to you again about your pay."
So far he was managing to resist the fact that, to his eyes, she was quite attractive despite the healing bumps and bruises and the fading black eye. She’d said that she got the injuries after her school finished its term.
He knew her school’s reputation, and that added a bit of spice to certain ideas he’d had.
He also had to admit that her scent was getting very attractive.
Liberty smiled awkwardly and held up a paw. "I told you this morning, Comrade: Honest proletarian labor is its own reward, so long as the goal is sound. I won't accept any money."
"I thought you might say that, Liberty, and I had an idea." He smiled at her. "I want you to accept the money as a contribution."
Her eyes narrowed. "Contribution?"
"Yes," and he started thinking about Kilikiti as a brief breeze washed her scent over his nose. "A contribution to the cause of your Revolution. Surely you can't reject that out of paw."
The question brought Liberty up short. Again, objective reality had shown that there were uses for money, especially here in the Spontoons where capitalism still thrived despite the governing Althing's socialist pretensions. And it could be useful.
It took a few moments to think about, though.
"Very well, Comrade," she said in her usual decisive tone. "I'll give it to my comrades in the Embassy so it can be shared."
"Good," the foreman said in a pleased tone. "We'll be back here tomorrow," he added as he gave her the five shells she'd earned.
"I'll be here."
While she headed for Main Village and the water taxis for Meeting Island, the New Havenite reflected on the two years she'd spent on Spontoon. Thinking about her limited success made her sigh just for a moment.
Into the mental opening produced by her sigh came the stray thought that the foreman was rather handsome, and judging from his reaction to her scent (she'd known very well which way the breeze had been blowing) . . .
She squelched the thought, attractive as it and its attendant images were, but not before admitting that the other members of Red Dorm were apparently enjoying their own decadent (and in Shin’s case, petit-bourgeois) relationships.
Another case of objective reality.
“Comrade Morgenstern!” Comrade Wakefield, the People’s Republic’s envoy to Spontoon called out as she entered the building. “Good to see you.”
“Thank you, Comrade.” Her eyes narrowed. “What are you doing here? You’re usually still in your office at this hour,” and she glanced at the gathering dusk outside the door. “Is anything wrong?”
The badger looked at her a moment before saying, “Come with me to my office, Comrade. What I have to say is not for others’ ears.” He led the way upstairs to the small room that served as his office and living accommodations.
Once they were both inside, Wakefield locked the door and glanced out the windows. “You’ve received a message from New Haven, Comrade.”
“I have? Why the secrecy, Com – “ She stared. “Is it my parents? Are they all right?”
“As far as I know, Comrade, they’re fine,” Wakefield said, raising a brow at the younger woman’s sudden outburst. “The message wasn’t about them,” and he gave her the reassembled and decrypted telegram.
She read it, and her jaw dropped as her tail fell limp.
27/6/06 stallion out of paddock rustlers about find and protect do what you must
Liberty read it again, recalling the folder of materials she’d been asked by an unsmiling fur to read and memorize on a winter morning in New Haven in 1936. There was only one person in the world that the Nine would refer to as ‘Stallion.’
And he was away from home, and somehow in trouble.
‘Trouble’ covered a lot of territory. Comrade Trotsky had earned quite a few enemies over his busy lifetime, and none would mourn if he came to a bad end.
“Has anyone else seen this message?” she asked Wakefield.
“The code clerk, of course; you and I, Comrade.”
“Good. We’ll have to see it stays that way. I’ll leave you to attend to security here, Comrade,” Liberty said, her face going grim.
“The rest is up to me.”
To say that Liberty Morgenstern got little sleep that night was an understatement.
So many of her comrades in the Embassy uttered soft-voiced complaints about her pacing around that she walked outside and sat down in the back yard of the residence, among the neat rows of vegetables. The non-anthro chickens stirred, but made little noise as she thought.
The dossier given to her by the Ninth Commissariat last winter had given Trotsky’s tentative itinerary, but there’d been no information about any updates or even if he was still adhering to it. With half of Starling’s killers possibly chasing him . . .
‘Do what you must’ the orders said.
And as she thought, a small plan of action started to form.
Tomorrow she’d find her and they’d talk.
She was standing in New Haven City, at Revolution Square facing the gutted remains of the old cathedral. The sky around it was overcast and leaden, as it was before a violent storm, and the city seemed deserted.
She felt irresistibly drawn to the cathedral, and her point of view closed in on the structure, then moved beyond the shattered fragments of the entrance. Liberty shivered as she entered the dark nave of the church, compelled toward the high altar.
Over the altar was a crucifix, and she knew that wasn’t right. She’d been in there when the cross had been pulled down and the altar smashed in the name of the Revolution and progress.
She’d helped pull it down.
But both were there, and in pristine condition.
Inexplicable terror gripped her as her point of view was forced up, up toward the figure nailed to the cross.
It was Trotsky.
The equine was nailed to the stout wood in the conventional manner, but his flesh was marred with bullet wounds, his eyes rolled sightlessly up in their sockets.
He looked down at her.
“You failed,” he snarled.
The two words were taken up by a chorus of voices; the Committee, her dorm mates from Songmark, her parents . . .
Her parents . . .
Her scream as she awoke would surely have awakened the stuffy bourgeois doctor who lived next door to the Embassy.