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6 September 2006
TEETHING OF A NATION
By Simon Barber
Teething of a Nation
by Simon Barber
Wo Shin © Walter Reimer, used with permission
Late November, 1936
Songmark Aeronautical School for Young Ladies.
“And to be sure,” Brigit Mulvaney was depressingly cheerful as they headed back towards their dorm “’tis a good thing, to keep your mind on the job. Small Boat handling in November waters, ‘tis no place for the absent-minded. And a fishing net would be best attached to the boat before ye move off.”
“I was going to secure it. The captain moved off too soon, that’s all.” The half-coyote’s ears were pressed down as well as soaking wet; she was trying unsuccessfully not to shiver. “That Rain Island Syndic, he was distracting me.” She tried to console herself with the thought that her home waters of the North Atlantic would be a lot colder in November; unhappily it did not seem to make much difference.
“Ah, t’would that be the fur ye was trying to tell him his duty to the crew, then?” The Irish Setter was dry and cheerful, but she had not had to jump into the lagoon to retrieve the tangled ropes holding the trawl net as it floated free. “Rain Island. I can see ye’ve a problem with such furs. They’re not Imperialist, they’re not Capitalist, they’re not all the things you hate - but you still say they’re wrong.”
Wo Shin had been bringing up the rear of the little group. “There was a public preacher, a Euro I was watching in Market Square for laughs last month,” she said innocently. “There were temples and such of all the other religions in sight, but he didn’t complain about them. He was foaming at the mouth about his own faith, how they had to “Defend Mother Church from those that gnaw unseen within her bosom - Extirpate all Heresy utterly, seed, root and branch.” I suppose Rain Island must be like that for you. Heathens you can convert, Heretics already know all your arguments.”
The New Havenite wrinkled her snout. “It’s galling. Seeing people who’re so near what they ought to be, and won’t progress. They could have all the benefits of a true Worker’s State any time they chose!”
Shin and Brigit stuck their arms out in clenched-fist salutes as appeared on the Red Fist flag that had adorned every item of Liberty’s belongings when she had arrived at Songmark, right down to her underwear. They began to hum, then to sing a ditty that they had heard from the third-years; someone in that class had a sharp set of wits and a twisted imagination. Having the main verses set to the tune of the German “Deutschland Uber Alles” had been a particularly cruel and clever twist; at a guess a certain English mouse came to mind.
“New Haven, the Worker’s Heaven, how we pledge ourselves to thee
Others slave to death for wages, we shall for the State for free!
Down with wealth and down with privilege, all the glittering prizes shunned
All are equal to the lowest, see our land and you’ll be stunned!
(Spoken in a “Dipso Barx” wisecracking style by Shin):
‘Specially if you make any wisecracks about “lowest common denominator…”
“No more Church and no more Pedigree, all are equal under fur
A nation of the Proletariat, only wreckers troubles stir
Guardians of the Revolution, vigilance our watchword still
Any problems we encounter, wreckers surely fit the bill!
And the shortfall in our pig iron output is just counterrevolutionary pilfering…
“Seeds of hope from Comrade Trotsky, flourish on Atlantic shores
Spread swift as Spanish vine or crabgrass, hear the songs of freedom roar
Free to toil and free to labour, not for boastful pride or gain
None are slaves and none are masters, ‘cept our dear Council Of Nine!
And our bread rations are more generous than the Capitalist press ever admit…
Liberty stood still, in a pose of Heroic Martyrdom that could have been copied from one of the giant Socialist Realist style posters of her homeland showing the original Red Fist leaders being tried and sentenced in the decadent Plutocrats’ courts before they and the nation were liberated by the cleansing tide of Revolution. When the song finished, she nodded curtly. “I’m not going to be drawn on that. If you think I’m going to try and tackle all three of you, think again.”
“My, my. It looks like she has learned something, and it only took her four terms here,” Shin marvelled, grinning at the canine. “We must inform our dear Tutors. They WILL be pleased. Surprised, too.” Second-years had self-defence classes that had moved on from the simple one-on-one of the first years; she suspected the Tutors’ idea on having two or more against one was mostly to impress on a girl to stay well clear of such stacked odds.
“Say what you will,” Liberty stuck her snout in the air. “I’m here to teach as well as learn.” Suddenly her ears drooped. “I just wish - I had more of an opportunity.”
As they headed towards the showers, Shin almost felt a twinge of sympathy for her dorm-mate. But not quite.
It was the next week that Liberty got her wish, in the worst possible way. The three years of Songmark were just finishing breakfast; being a Saturday they had a relatively leisured time to read through letters and the like before dispersing to their various duties and pastimes.
“Well, isn’t that nice.” Beryl Parkesson was reading through a missive. “It’s from dear Piet. His Father’s won the contract to cater for the Festival Of Nations next week.” Piet van Hoogstraaten was the mouse’s regular partner in crime; his Father was well known to police of many nations, and owned a small Casino on Spontoon as well as many less public businesses. By repute, not all the laundering that took place in his enterprises involved clothes and soap.
Liberty’s ears perked up. “Festival of Nations?” She asked Tatiana loudly, knowing it would be overheard “I thought the Schneider Trophy was in August.”
Beryl did not turn round; only one of the mouse’s big ears twisted to keep track of the conversation behind her. “It’s something to keep the foreign diplomats busy showing off to each other in the off-season; they last held one four years ago. I suppose the Spontoonies see it like an old-fashioned zoo: you go there to laugh at the inmates’ antics and get to poke them with a stick - or throw them a bun, whether they can eat it or not.”
Maria Inconnutia asked something that Liberty did not catch. She heard Beryl’s answer, though. “Oh yes. I suppose for a consideration, we could arrange that. A mild stomach-ache for the Ambassador or full-blown Ptomaine Poisoning? If Molly helps, maybe it won’t be traced to a can of her “Fish Log” either.”
Just then, Miss Cardroy appeared with that well-known expression that proclaimed she was looking for volunteers for something strenuous and time-consuming. Liberty hastily swallowed the last of her breakfast and headed out. There was a scent of adventure in the air, and for once she had time to track it down.
Lunchtime saw Red Dorm assemble on Casino Island; the mid-day meal at Songmark was invariably poi at the weekends, which was a good incentive if one was needed to not hang around the compound. Their Tutors had never yet used the phrase “The devil finds work for idle paws”, but they always seemed to operate on that assumption. It was amazing how much painting and cleaning Songmark needed.
“Aaah,” Shin rubbed her paws together as she contemplated a dish that was mostly covered in a very large boiled crab. “They don’t serve this at Songmark!”
“Not handed to us on a plate, ‘tis the truth,” Brigit was looking pensive. “But to be sure, an’ there’s many the Field Trip they encourage us to hunt our own.” Her muzzle wrinkled. “If there’s crab or fine fish to be had, that is. Never did I think I’d eat a lugworm, but they teach us survival with a vengeance.”
“It’s all right if you’re Miss Criminal Bourgeois who can just dip into her bank account when she wants a treat” Liberty sniffed, though the scent of Shin’s lunch was making her drool. “I have to account for every cowry. I don’t forget that if I ever splash out on luxuries, there’s some worker’s cub back home going hungry because of me.”
“It must be hard making the books balance in the Worker’s State,” Shin commented smoothly. “At least in Spontoon they import rich tourists and export poorer but happy ones. For you it must be like being in a mining town that lost it’s mine - when all you have to export is World Revolution, and nobody wants any.”
“And imports, why - that depends on whatever ye can be slipping through the blockade,” Brigit added with a gleam in her eye.
“What do you know about it?” Liberty snapped.
Shin cracked open a crab claw; in self-defence classes she had been taught that once in particular holds, you could break a fur’s arm in three different places. Some might think that excessive, but she had no quarrel with the idea. “It’s my elder Brother who’s the financial genius, but I’ve listened to him a lot,” she gave a conspiratorial wink “when I was younger I thought it must be a dull job juggling numbers all day - not very creative. Then he taught me all about Creative Accountancy. It’s quite involved math; you get to use Complex and Imaginary Numbers. They’re used a lot in tax returns.”
Tatiana had been watching, and looking smug. “My Consulate is attending Festival, da,” she fixed Liberty with a superior smile. “Is pity you have none. I have all the details of Festival, is on weekend. If Songmark approve, I’ll be there.”
“Who’s going from Songmark?” Shin asked, her eyes closed for an instant as she savoured the exquisite flavour of the crab. It was never entirely safe to close your eyes around her dorm; one was liable to discover later on that shoelaces had been tied together or pranks like that.
The sable shrugged. “Usual suspects. Students attending to show flag, if from small countries with no consulate. We have Dansk West Indies girl, Estonian, Scottish Darien, all have names down.”
Liberty gave a snort. “I’ll bet that third-year cow’s going, the Dictator’s niece.” She cracked her knuckles. “How I’d love to get her in public debate before the islanders. Or live on radio with half the Pacific listening, even better.” She imagined standing before a crowd of awed Spontoonies eager to hear the wonders of the Dialectic, while the soundly defeated Fascist slunk away with her tail drooping.
“That would be a sight,” Shin agreed, keeping her face straight. Unlike Liberty, she actually had heard Maria in public debate, and had her own ideas on the probable outcome. “It should be - memorable.”
Just then the waiter appeared with Liberty’s order, a large plate of local Pastefish. They were big, meaty but coarse-textured fish whose main market was to be ground up and served as chicken food; unhappily the flavour was something like wood pulp. Few restaurants served them, except at the rough side of Casino Island where impoverished and hungry sailors were to be found. Spontoonies only ate Pastefish when Tourists were in their Native village and about to be offered all the best hospitality the “poor locals” could afford; it had been found to increase the tips and donations marvellously.
Liberty gave a warning growl as three superior smiles turned her way, and made inroads into the bottle of Chilli sauce on the table. “I was brought up on the National dishes - just because Father is high in the Government, no privileges for me. Scrod and scrapple, that’s what they serve in the Worker’s Feeding Facilities back home. And they’re good enough for anyone”
“Scrapple’s mashed pork offcuts, I hear. I’ll bet Rabbi Miller would have something to say about that, you with a name like Morgenstern,” Shin tucked into the rich, steaming crab. Spontoon’s chief Rabbi was often called upon to qualify or disqualify exotic local foods as suitable for those tourists who cared. “Maybe you can get a spot on that New South Zion radio comedy - what’s it called? “How Tref can YOU Get?” Or something like that.” She looked on, amused. Non-Chinese religions were awfully funny at times.
Liberty stuck her snout in the air. “We have replaced religion. And I follow the principles of dialectic, not diet. If it’s good enough for Comrade Trotsky, it’s good enough for me.” She dipped her ears, suddenly noticing a surprising lack of argument. Both Brigit and Tatiana had got their orders of Popatohi and were happily tucking into the pungent, garlic spiced salted fish without giving her another glance.
The Half-coyote suppressed another growl. Two bowls of fried fish were evidently more interesting than World Liberation. There was something definitely wrong around here, she decided. Part of her mission was to bring Enlightenment to the People of Spontoon, and not to allow herself to be ignored or repressed. What I need, she told herself - is a better quality of People.
“December the first!” Tatiana declared, drawing a circle on the date in her diary, when they returned to their dorm that evening. “Have all details, from Embassy. Althing main buildings on Meeting Island are booked, free to all Citizens, one shell to others to attend. Funds raised go to local charity.”
“I’ll bet,” Shin snickered. “The Althing’s ‘Society For Prevention Of Beer Deficiency In Bureaucrats’.” Her long, banded tail twitched. “I wonder if Beryl’s involved? She likes charities like that.”
“She does, ‘tis certain sure!” Brigit Mulvaney chimed in. “Why, ‘twas this very Wednesday I was seein’ of her new one, raising for research into Topical Diseases. So she says.”
“Not only is she a crook and parasite, she can’t spell,” Liberty declared.
“Ye’d think so, indeed. But she was telling me her idea - ‘tis research into real Topical diseases, exciting new ones that can make a young Doctor’s name and fortune. The only ones as folk’d pay her for.” The Irish Setter grinned. “An’ she was claiming to raise funds for prizes for the best new discovery. There’s a fortune to be made in some pox hiding in a nameless jungle valley, if you’re after believing of her.””
Liberty’s mind was racing, but it was not bogus fund-raising schemes that she was thinking of. “That’s a Shell to attend and watch. I’m a Spontoon Citizen on paper, we all are. Is it free for me to set up a stall or whatever the consulates are doing?”
“Da. But non-natives pay same to enter building regardless.” Tatiana’s eyebrow raised. “You’re going to spread the word yourself, are ye not?”
“I am.” Liberty pulled herself up proudly. “I’m the only permanent ambassador for my country, as far as that goes. It’s my duty - not to myself, but to every Spontoonie labouring in ignorance of the better way. The word shall go forth.”
Shin’s eyes gleamed. This looked like it could prove to be interesting, in a twisted sort of way. “What say we all help Liberty? She is our dorm-mate, after all.”
Liberty cast her a suspicious glance. “Just why would you do that, Shin? What’s in it for you?”
“I am not helping a Trotskyite, while my consulate is watching. Is bad for health.” That, of course, was Tatiana.
“Oh, there’s helping and there’s Helping,” Shin replied smoothly. “Tatiana, you two can combine to help shoot the opposition down, and nobody’s liable to liquidate you for it. Like…” she recalled her sporting days at the High School on Casino Island “Like a race, acting as pacemakers for each other. You cooperate till you’ve outstripped the rest of the pack on the final lap, then it’s all cooperation thrown aside and may the best Fur win.”
“I will!” Came the reply from Liberty and Tatiana simultaneously. The two political Reds of Red Dorm glared at each other, while the fur coloured Red pair looked on in amusement.
“Ye’ve hit on an idea there, ‘tis so, Shin.” Brigit’s long tongue lopped to one side as the Irish Setter cocked her head. “We’ve seen the last of the Schneider Trophy till next Summer and the last Olympics till the Japanese hold them in Sapporo in 1940 - but this might be an entertainment well worth the watching!”
The sight of Maria Inconnutia carrying in an armload of poster tubes the next day had Liberty’s ears perking up, especially when she noticed the Italian Imperial symbol on the packaging - the “hatchet and firewood” as she called it. Following discreetly, she was glad to see Maria heading not to the privacy of the third-year dorms but to the Songmark library, that was free to all.
Taking an inconspicuous place behind the shelves with a random book, Liberty perked up her ears and listened while Maria opened the tubes and the rest of the dorm looked at the contents.
“The Althing doesn’t want this to be a shouting match,” Maria said “they want furs to get their points over, not just wave flags and posters at each other.”
“This won’t help matters then, will it?” Amelia Bourne-Phipps unrolled a four-foot poster showing Maria’s Uncle portrayed as standing saluting the sunrise like a uniformed ship’s figurehead, a phalanx of indistinct furs standing firm behind him fading into the darkness representing the support of the nation. “You and the rest are going to spend the day shouting “Is!” “Is Not!” like a pack of cubs, or I miss my guess.”
The bovine gave a sly smile. “You miss the guess, then! They’ve planned it better than that. Everyone who’s contributing, they have to send in the facts they’ll be quoting, if the furs on Meeting Island can’t confirm the points they can’t use them in the debate.”
“So, nah boasting about how Ioseph Starling gives every loyal worker a roast chicken and a bottle of vodka every Sunday?” Molly grinned. “Should cut down what the Reds have to say. Same with you, ah reckon.”
Maria nodded, critically inspecting another poster, this one of her Uncle stripped to the waist helping bring in the harvest. She tapped at the image. “He really does this, though. I’ve seen him. He even digs ditches alongside the workers draining the swamps. Not just five minutes for the cameras, if he shows up at a project he puts in a day’s work. So that’s propaganda in itself, but it’s solid.”
“I suppose,” Amelia reflected “that everything he does is seen as propaganda, whether he wants it to be or not. That’s just public life for you.”
Behind the shelves, Liberty made rapid mental notes. She had picked up a book at random from the shelves to look inconspicuous; her ears blushed as she saw it was the well-thumbed copy of “The New Hygiene and Safer Motherhood”, profusely illustrated. Hastily putting it back she grabbed a less embarrassing volume, “Radio Electrical Theory Made Hard.”
Molly was unrolling another poster, with Il Duce riding a white horse through the streets of a classical Rome. The Coliseum was shown in its current half ruined form, but with a ghostly outline showing its original glory and the promise of its restoration. “What’s this everyone keeps yelling “Ave Duce?””
The bovine’s eye twinkled. “The same as your President gets, Molly. When President Huey Long turns up everywhere the Marine band strike up the tune “Hail To The Chief.” That’s “Ave Duce” - but English is so much clumsier.”
Amelia looked at the poster critically. “It wouldn’t impress the British public, they’d laugh at it,” she observed. “We just have a Prime Minister elected on his policies, not on personality. You wouldn’t get my family standing out in the rain to cheer speeches.”
Maria shrugged. “What was that you called your Government - “looking like the board of directors at a jam factory”? We had enough of that sort of politician before my Uncle was voted in. They didn’t impress us. We like passion, drama, excitement - Uncle used to fight duels and he’s not afraid to do it again.”
Just then Liberty noticed the mongrel girl Jane Ferry watching her intently. The canine was a particular Enemy Of The People, and came from Boston just up the coast from New Haven - she was probably a spy for the Plutocratic Conspiracy, Liberty was convinced. At any rate, with her watching, Liberty’s position was compromised. Pausing only to sign the radio book out, she beat a tactical retreat.
“So, that’s you two done for.” It was half an hour before lights-out and Shin was taking Liberty’s news with evident glee. “You’re going to have to prove everything you say, in front of the Althing! Just how big is the New Haven bread ration these days?”
“Don’t be too hard on her, Shin,” Brigit seemed fairly cheerful herself. “Why, she can be telling of how in Gnu York there’s no rations issued by the State at all, ‘tis the truth. It must be that Gnu York’s starving to death by now.”
Shin nodded. “Quite right. The poor Capitalist slaves have to buy their own scrapple and scrod, and don’t have a kindly Kitchen Commissar telling them what to eat. However do they manage to make their minds up? Still, if they escape to New Haven, I hear the sawdust in the bread these days is the finest money can buy.”
Brigit looked thoughtful. “Has anybody ever escaped TO New Haven?”
Liberty’s teeth showed in a snarl, as she paced the room. “I can see I’m among friends here.” She waved another book; titled “Forwards! The Achievements of the Five-year Plan” as printed in her homeland. “I’ve got all the facts written down plain and simple - if the Althing will let me present them.”
“You mean, if they believe them.” Shin was relaxing on her bed with a copy of the monthly trade journal, “Criminal World.” Unlike Liberty’s reading matter this had no publication details, being banned from open sale almost everywhere, and was normally posted out to letter drops and numbered Post box accounts. She smiled, opening up the comics pages. Her favourite strip was “Rick Traceless” a suave and handsome wolf who travelled the world pulling off a succession of perfect crimes, each one carefully presented as an example of how to get it right. Against him were an endless array of grotesque-looking Policemen and Detectives, who were frequently “bumped off” in the course of duty. Considering that most of them had the wits and looks the Gods generally handed to plankton, it was probably a blessing for the breeding pool.
“We can point to our achievements,” Tatiana mused. “Soviet Union, is best off in Europe for tractors and electricity. Now have industrial production rising through the roof, is whole Combined Industrial Complexes kilometres across where once were only open fields and woods. Communism, is Socialism and Electricity.”
Shin arched an eyebrow. “I’d keep quiet about that side of things. Think of your audience,” she advised. “Imagine if any of the local priestesses heard you say that - they wouldn’t see it as an improvement, no matter what your production of pig iron and nitric acid is this year. A Wild Priest would be worse. They might start asking what those woods were like, and what lived in them.”
“And ye’ve this to think on,” Brigit’s tail swished. “So ye’ve things to say ye’ve not been sitting on your rumps since 1918, fair enough. But the opposition, they’ll point out and compare countries that haven’t got, what, is it ye’re after callin’ Ioseph Starling’s rule? “Revolutionary inspired Socialist doctrine”. To my way o’ thinking, France and such lands have electric power and tractors o’ their own.”
Tatiana’s ears fell. “Will ask Consulate for official party line this year.” She cast a wistful glance out of the window. “If only the Red Air Force was here like August for a display! Truly impressive, that display of achievement and discipline.” The three massive Kalinin K-7 bombers had flown non-stop from Siberia to Spontoon using in-flight refuelling, each carrying three fighters underneath that had separated, touched the runway briefly before performing an aerobatic display and hooking back to their circling “mother ships” for the long voyage home.
“’Tis maybe just as well.” Brigit scratched a long ear. “I was hearing of what the locals were sayin’ about that - and they were not bein’ happy about it.” She suddenly grinned. “There’s something Liberty can score over ye - New Haven is no sort of military threat, at all.”
“We DO have a Worker’s Navy,” Liberty objected. “We have the Marat, the Robespierre and the Danton as the pride of our fleet, to defend our shores.” She hesitated. “Though due to wreckers and saboteurs in our industries, I don’t think we could spare the fuel oil to get them this far. But they’re to defend the People, not attack anyone with.”
Shin and Brigit cast each other amused glances. “It might be difficult arranging refuelling if you refuse to use money,” Shin commented. “And working out what the supply depot opening hours are. One thing you certainly have given people is more hours in the day. You can boast about that.”
“A hundred hours in the day, ‘tis no wonder you’re tired by lights-out.” Brigit cast a glance at the rather odd clock on Liberty’s bedside table. “And re-naming the calendar months will be good business for stationery shops, having to sell us all the new diaries.”
“Aha! No it won’t,” Shin grinned. “There’ll be no more Capitalist shops and no profits wrung from the Proletariat if Spontoon decides it’s the month of Frimaire in the Year Zero of the Revolution next week - or Year Four if they go with New Haven’s start date, it’s all the same World Revolution as Liberty keeps saying. Jane Ferry was telling me about an Uncle of hers who used to run a Fancy Goods store in New Haven before the Revolution. The mob burned it down - only Plain Goods are allowed in a Worker’s State. Fancy ones are for Elitists and bourgeois.”
Liberty looked from one snout to another. Her paw twitched, as she considered the Kilikiti bat under the bed and how she might apply it. But she was outnumbered three to one - instead, she sprang to her feet and dashed out of the room, to seek background material and peace in the library before having to return to bed.
Shin looked after her, returning the heavy sock full of small coins she had sneaked into grabbing range to the top drawer of her bedside table. “You know”, she mused, looking towards the door, “I hate to say it, but she really IS learning.”
Down in the library, Liberty looked around to check she was alone before pulling out a slim volume from her jacket pocket. It had arrived just that morning in the post, having been passed as officially Approved by the Council of Nine. Although she despised Ioseph Starling as a corrupter of the true Party, it was acknowledged that a lot of the Socialist Science being done under his rule was basically correct.
“On the Progressive Enhancement of Species,” she read slowly “By Comrade Lysenko, First People’s Peasant University, Odessa.” Her tail thrashed as she opened the book. Comrade Lysenko was a name she was familiar with; his aim was to offer an explanation for inheritance and improvements that bore no taint of the elitist, “Pedigree” laden works of Darwin and Mendel. One was a petty bourgeois and the other a monk, she snorted - automatically that made their works highly suspect. The Peasant University had started from first principles, and scorned the bourgeois intellectualism that had held back progress elsewhere in the world.
“The inheritable improvement of plants through selective feeding,” she read chapter summaries hungrily “The inheritance of instilled values. Vernalisation; the transference of characteristics from cold-climate to tropical species.” She nodded eagerly; there was hope for coconuts and pineapples growing outdoors in her homeland someday, according to the radical new principles being expounded.
So engrossed was she in her reading that she did not hear Miss Cardroy enter the library twenty minutes later.
“One point demerit,” the feline said lightly behind her, as Liberty jumped. “We do encourage hard study, yes. But timekeeping is important too. Bed-time.”
“Yes, ma’m!” Liberty stood ramrod straight for a second, then dashed upstairs to her dorm, her ears blushing as she imagined all too accurately what her dorm-mates would say about her losing a point they would all have to pay for.
“Sunday!” Brigit Mulvaney yawned, stretching as she looked at the clock. “An extra half hour sleep, ‘tis a fine thing to be having.”
Shin nodded ruefully. “I never used to appreciate it. I thought Songmark would be like the High School with more flying. Not work till it gets dark then back to cram a textbook down.” Her ears dipped as that reminded her of Liberty’s late arrival the night before. “Though somebody liked it enough to have us docked a point for it.”
Liberty sniffed disdainfully. “I said I was sorry. Self-criticism is a virtue. I’ve never heard you apologise for anything. Anyway, I was working on preparing for the Debate. Are you going to represent your nation, Shin? You could just pin up that “Rick Traceless” comic and say Krupmark is like that all over.”
Shin waved a paw dismissively. “Krupmark is just where we happen to be doing business. I’m Chinese.”
The half-coyote gave a feral grin. “Oh, yeah. Which China is that, Shin? Is that the Communist Chinese, the Kuomintang Chinese, or maybe an independent Warlord? Such an example to the cubs. Wait for it, don’t tell me - you’re old Imperial Chinese. The only Emperor you’ve got, he’s a Japanese puppet in Manchuria.”
“Sock puppet,” Tatiana agreed. “Wonder where the puppet-master puts his hand?”
Shin’s snout wrinkled; she practiced her breathing exercises. “China has seen them come and a thousand like them; China will see them all go.”
They dressed and went downstairs to breakfast in a hostile silence. As if to mock them, the other dorms were all talking about the Festival of Nations loudly and animatedly.
“You’re welcome to it,” she heard Amelia Bourne-Phipps saying to her third-year friends. “I’m a King and Empire girl. That’s all the politics I need.”
“Hah! In France, we have a Republic and Empire.” That was Madeleine X, the haughty canine picking through her breadfruit mash as if expecting to somehow find better bits hidden within. “And we run ours better than you.” Her snout wrinkled. “If you were a French citizen in our colonies, la, things would be different! You and that Native tomcat, shameless in grass skirts. Impossible! We call it getting, “a taste for bushmeat.” And you would see what the Authorities would do.”
“I think Saffina might have some opinions about that,” Amelia said quietly, nodding towards the full-grown lioness whose tabby fur pattern made her stand out in any crowd apart from towering a head taller than most furs. “She’s of French pedigree. Her, and her eight brothers and sisters. She’s a Princess in her own lands of Ubangi-Chari though; she’d never have got that if her Mother had stayed home. How are your royal family doing, these days?”
Madeleine sniffed. “La France, she has no need of such today. We have had Emperors, yes, but those have been furs of the People, such as the great Napoleon. Only a few such are born in any age.”
“I quite agree.” Amelia’s smile increased. “Oh, Maria? You were telling me something about Napoleon that you said wouldn’t have been in Madeleine’s school books?”
“One of Italy’s most noted sons.” Maria fixed the French girl with a piercing look. “Born on Corsica, yes - but by pedigree, of Italian stock. France only stole Corsica from us in 1768; look it up.”
Liberty chewed through her mashed breadfruit methodically, sifting the chatter for useful information like a miner winnowing gold from a turbulent stream. She looked around the three dorms of Songmark girls, weighing each of them up as a potential opponent in the debates she was preparing for. Her eyes flashed as she scanned the first-years; the year before she had been deeply grateful there were no German equivalents to herself in Songmark. Eva Schiller had spoiled that. Still, she should be no sort of threat; unlike Liberty herself she had never been seen to put up a poster, hand out an informative leaflet or harangue the public for their enlightenment. Lazy as well as politically criminal, she told herself reassuringly.
“Ah, an’ our Citizen Morgenstern, she’s homesick for the gruel substitute of home,” Brigit had already finished her own first bowl, while Liberty’s was half eaten and getting cold. “Or, is it that the shirkers and the wreckers in the economy have stopped even that ration? Ersatz gruel substitute; ‘tis what’s surely on the menu these days.”
“Whatever might be on the menu,” Liberty drew herself up with dignity “it will have been decided by the relevant Worker’s Commissariat, and distributed according to the community’s needs.”
“Party bosses, Commissars, military, secret police and workers, in that pecking order,” Shin summed up slyly. “Non Party members, are allowed to polish the outside of the pot.”
Just then, Miss Devinski arrived and cast a searching glance at her class of third-years, who all responded with angelic smiles of pure innocence. They had evidently been practicing. “Time to head out,” she said crisply, looking around. “Religious observance, for those on the Sunday run.” Though some in the second year such as Hannah Meier did the same on Saturday, nobody was allowed to default and relax for want of a church parade or equivalent. “Beryl? I take it you ARE going to your “Temple of Continual Reward” still? We will check, you know.”
The mouse stood and bowed. “Why, Miss Devinski. It’s the best there is for my faith. There isn’t a Reformed Planarian Chapel available on Spontoon, after all.” She smiled innocently at her tutor. “I’m happy with most religions. Back in school we had a wonderful Divinities Mistress, she taught us SO much. Form 3b were the first celebrants since the Romans left Britain to perform the full and authentic Rites of Cybele and Atys.” She looked pensive. “First-years were cheap and plentiful enough, nobody really noticed.”
The yellow Labrador cast her a withering glance, but the mouse never flinched. “Very well,” Miss Devinski growled, looking around at the other years. “Anyone not attending Religious Observance collect cleaning materials and assemble at the kitchen block. Cleanliness is next to Godliness.”
“But Miss Devinski!” It was one of the first-years, who had evidently not learned yet that arguing with the Tutor was a hopeless task “We cleaned it last Sunday, so well we could eat our dinners off the floor! I thought the Prospectus said we didn’t repeat mindless exercises.”
“Quite right,” Miss Devinski replied coolly. “This week, you will progress. You will clean the floors till I could eat MY dinner off them.”
Shin returned from Casino Island that evening and passed the alert noses of her tutors reassuringly scented of joss sticks; although she cared little about regular worship she far preferred socialising at the small temple to joining Liberty in the drudge work that was the alternative. She found the half-coyote reading a slim book on her bed, muzzle creased in concentration.
“Interesting read?” Shin enquired, noting by the utilitarian brown cover it was probably not an issue of “Extra-Spicy Pacific Tails.”
Liberty nodded curtly. “It’s the latest developments in Soviet Science, endorsed by the Council of Nine. Full of fascinating developments - you wouldn’t be interested.”
Shin raised an eyebrow. “Let’s guess - you’re going to quote it in the debates next weekend? Thought so.” She smiled engagingly. “Enlighten a poor deluded Capitalist. I heard that Science was Science, totally neutral regardless of who’s doing it. Why is Socialist Science a different subject?”
Liberty wrinkled her muzzle briefly. “There IS only one Science, that’s correct,” she explained. “We have it. Marxism is the Science of all other Sciences; therefore you must understand that all true theories are based on Dialectic Materialism.”
“Interesting, interesting.” Shin opined. “What if they’re wrong?”
“They are not. By definition. Comrade Lysenko -“ she tapped the book “he has overturned the whole elitist, feudalist foundation of the biological sciences. In the bourgeois system, life is a hopeless, pre-ordained thing where class struggle is pointless. Whatever you achieve, you can never pass on to your children. Be a drunken wastrel or a top party official - the next generation would be unaffected if it’s based on “genetics”.”
“So … if you become an excellent ballerina, your cubs will be inherently better qualified to be ballerinas?” Shin kept a straight face; she had heard of this idea back in High School. It had been an observed fact on Spontoon in the Plantation days that some of the Euro couples who settled began having with fur patterns and such that strongly resembled the Natives; some had claimed it proved that climate rather than ancestry affected appearances. It was a good thing they had not invented blood tests then, she mused.
“Exactly! The idea’s not new, though it took Marx and Engels to refine it. A Frenchman, Citizen Lamark had the idea a century ago, when he noticed blacksmiths had stronger children than other families.” Liberty’s tail wagged in enthusiasm.
“I see. That looks logical.” Inwardly, Shin grinned. This was turning out even better than she hoped; if Beryl had sold Liberty a bridge she could hardly have been more swindled. “And this Comrade Lysenko, he’s putting it into practice?”
“Oh yes. He’s rising high; even Starling appreciates the purity of his ideology. He’ll triple agricultural production - once all the obstructionists and wreckers are swept out of the way.”
“Yes, I can imagine some people have found it hard to swallow.” Shin knew that once Liberty got into this mood, she was easily led into an amusing downfall. “May I borrow that book when you’ve finished with it? I’m sure there’s nothing like it in the Songmark library.”
Liberty nodded, a rare expression of happiness on her face.
Shin suppressed a snort of laughter, lying down on her own bed. That’s because they haven’t got a comedy section.
By the Wednesday, Songmark was fairly divided into those who were enthusiastically going to the Festival of Nations, and those who spent just as much time and energy explaining why they were not. It was also the day where those who were competing in the debates had to hand all their claims in to Meeting Island, where a scratch organisation would try and verify all the claims they could.
“I suppose the Ministry of Tourism has to do something this time of year,” Shin looked across the water towards Meeting Island. “It’ll keep the embassies busy too, keep them out of trouble.”
“Another Vostok “trade attaché” met with an accident, or so they say here in the Elele,” Brigit nodded. “He’d gone to Main Island without a guide. Slipped and fell off a cliff path.”
“Yes. Right.” Shin tapped her muzzle significantly. “They have a habit of going cliff-diving, without checking if there’s any water at the bottom. You see a few every year. My favourite one was that Japanese Naval officer supposedly on leave botanising - rather ironic, he was killed by a falling coconut.”
“On Spontoon. Sure, an’ they didn’t say it was from a coconut tree, did they? I’ve seen coconuts filled up with lead, a fur has to scent the scorching or look awful hard to tell them from fresh.” Brigit put down the paper. “’Tis a tiny piece of land, these islands, but an important one.”
“Right on the crossroads of the trade routes. Someone could grab say Dioon or Albert Island and occupy more land, though it’s mostly swamps and forests. But we’ve got the airfield, the docks, the coaling and oil depot - you couldn’t build a matching set anywhere in the Nimitz Sea in a hurry.” Shin had learned about the Gunboat Wars in school; Spontoon had been invaded not for its politics but for its strategic position on the map and the resources it could provide a fleet a long way from home. “Whether it’s Japan or Vostok moving East or the Americans invading West - we’re the nicest looking stepping stone this side of Hawaii, that’s a fact.”
“That’s why the embassies are doing their side o’ this, I’ll be thinking.” Brigit smoothed her fur meditatively as they waited for the water taxi to arrive. “The nation as wins this blarney battle, they’ll believe they’ve made friends here.”
Shin snorted. “It’ll take more than a sales pitch to get the Althing to buy that bill of goods. Anyway - there’s a saying I learned from one of those White Russian girls, used to work at my family’s Casino. She said, “if the pitcher falls on a rock, the pitcher breaks. If a rock falls on the pitcher, the pitcher still breaks.” It was a moral story, she called it.”
“And the moral?” Brigit asked, eyes sparkling.
Shin grinned. “Don’t be a pitcher. Be a rock.”
It was a feature of Songmark, that despite there being only sixty girls packed into one compound, the three years had very little to do with each other outside mealtimes. According to the first-years it was because their seniors were afraid of being caught up with; according to the seniors it was because everyone was expected to make and learn from their own mistakes. So it came as some surprise for Liberty to see Maria Inconnutia and Eva Schiller talking animatedly by the fence. Maria was obviously patrolling the fence on gate guard, to judge from the Kilikiti bat she carried.
Before edging closer upwind, Liberty looked around for the other third-year that was sure to be around. Good - in the gatehouse itself she saw silhouetted the unmistakable figure of Molly Procyk; the gangster’s daughter had been brought up with Tommy-guns till she was unimpressed by them, and currently dragged around an old German Imperialist anti-tank rifle, its six foot plus length made more cumbersome still by an obsolete sword bayonet as long as her arm. The Tutors let her carry it inside the compound but had the sense to pair her with someone less unstable, and make the other girl carry the ammunition.
“So you won’t be fighting the Party Line?” Liberty heard Maria say. The half-coyote edged around to the corner of the building nearest them, where she could hear.
There was a pause. “I’m here to be a Songmark Student.” Eva’s voice was smooth, almost without an accent. “I won’t be waving any flags, if that’s what you mean. We have diplomats who get paid for that. I’m really not interested in trying to compete with our Leader in the speech-making department.”
“Very clever.” Maria had a note of sarcasm in her voice. “I’ve worked with your Uncle, he’s just the same. I’ve heard about you. League of German Maidens, Winter Help charities, Gliding clubs, all the shiny side of things.”
“And why not?” There was a pause. “Some of my country-furs have a knack of making themselves extremely unpopular as soon as they open their snouts. Would it be worthwhile sending me this far if nobody would listen to me?”
“Keep your eyes and ears open, and your mouth shut.” There came Maria’s grudging approval. “Bella. I’ve learned that myself. So, you are coming to the Festival though?”
“Oh, yes, Fraulein Inconnutia. I wouldn’t miss it for the world.”
Maria evidently began to move on along the fence, and Liberty had to dodge round the next corner or risk discovery. She smiled. “One less to compete with. That’s good,” Liberty told herself. “So, that’s Maria the only Fascist to beat. If I only knew what her line was going to be.”
“Perhaps I can help you,” came a friendly voice from behind her.
Liberty whirled round, claws out - and stopped when she saw a certain elegantly dressed mouse. “You!”
“Why, yes,” Beryl Parkesson smiled; she was slightly shorter than Liberty, depending on the mood her ears were in. Right now they were up and alert. “Maria goes around bouncing ideas off her friends; they boo the bad ones, give the nod to the others. Nothing to do with their personal opinions; they’re not rating her on that. I’ve made some notes. I find making notes is such wonderfully good value, don’t you think?” Her fine-furred tail swished.
Liberty sniffed. “And what are you asking for your “help”? You wanted to charge Shin twenty shells last month to meet that Chinese gangster girl. I’ve not got that kind of money.”
“I know that.” Beryl sounded bored. “Oh no. I don’t need your cowries, and I don’t take political tracts in payment. I’d ask for your note. One day, I’d ask you to do something for me.”
“You’ve actually got a list of what Maria’s going to argue?” Liberty asked eagerly. At the mouse’s nod, she opened her mouth to agree - and then abruptly closed it. This was Beryl Parkesson she would be pledging to assist, she told herself furiously. Who knew what sort of criminal or counterrevolutionary stunts she wanted a deniable, expendable stooge for? “No.” She forced out. “I’m not biting that hook. Shin managed without your help - and she’s just a criminal parasite.”
“Oh, well. That’s up to you. I’ll pass her your complements. Good day!” The infuriating mouse smiled, and turned to go. “But if you change your mind - I’m keeping the notes safe and sound for you. Or whoever bids higher.” With that she was off, with a swaying of an expertly tailored pair of shorts.
“You were right to turn down her offer, da.” That evening, Red Dorm was back in their room, relaxing on the beds. Tatiana wriggled, turning over restlessly trying to find a position that rested the bruises from their self-defence classes.
“I hate to say it, but I agree.” Shin frowned. “Once Beryl gets you in debt she’d never let you go. They’d call her unscrupulous on Krupmark! I hear she and that Piet … charge each other.”
“What for?” Tatiana asked, scratching an ear. Her eyes went wide as Shin grinned and explained.
“Well - she even boasts about it. Says it’s the only way to guarantee - quality control.” Shin sniffed. “Anyway - so, if she says she can deliver the goods on Maria, chances are she can.”
Brigit’s eyes lit up. “The third-years, they’re out all night on the airstrip, so they are! What’s the chance Beryl takes everything with her?”
Red Dorm looked at each other. “They are being searched when they come back in, I’ve seen the Tutors doing it,” Shin said slowly. “She couldn’t carry notebooks of incriminating info around with her all night. You’re thinking … of a raid on their dorm?”
“Yes!” Liberty’s ears and tail perked up. “I’m up for that. Who knows what else we might find? It won’t be easy. But there’s four of us.”
“’’Twould be a fine thing to tweak her tail, if we can get away with it,” Brigit mused. “Faith, but I’m in with ye.”
“And me,” Tatiana cast a sharp glance at the Trotskyite. “If we get equal use out of whatever we find.”
“That’s fair. So …” Liberty looked from one snout to another. “Where do we begin?”
Red Dorm shared a conspiratorial glance - and began to make plans.
It was a good evening for it, Shin consoled herself as she felt the rain trickling into her fur. An hour after lights-out, the rain was hammering down on the roofs and soaking into the dark blue overalls they had selected as the most suitable for the trip. Oilskins would have been better against the weather, but the rubberised canvas was clumsy, shone reflectively bright in the distant lights when wet and was a bright banana yellow to be more easily seen if a fur fell overboard from their sailing classes.
“I’ve spotted both third-years, they’re sheltering in the guard-house like the soft bourgeois they are,” Liberty scuttled back into the shadows around the deserted third-year dorm. “They won’t stay there for long though. Now’s the time.” She gestured up towards the ground-floor window.
“Right. Give me a boost up.” Shin climbed up on the grumbling canine’s back, while the other two kept watch at the far corners of the building. She had a putty-knife held clenched in her teeth, with a rounded, paper-thin blade of the finest and most flexible steel. Steadying herself, she found the window-catch and began to work the blade through the gap in the casement.
“Hurry up,” came Liberty’s whisper. “The guard dogs have seen us.” Indeed, two of the extremely large four-legged dogs came loping round the corner, eyes reflecting the distant lights around the perimeter. Had they scented an intruder they would have roused most of Eastern Island immediately; there was no disguise that would get a stranger into the Songmark compound undetected by them, as every year found out the hard way. Two of them sniffed Liberty and sat down, evidently watching the show. Rain beaded and ran down their slick, naked fur.
“This isn’t … easy,” Shin hissed back “Not unless you want me to rip an inch of paint off, and the first time the window’s opened folk’d know how we got in.” She was slowly working the flat blade in, compressing the wood without scraping off the paint covering it. In a few minutes she had the thin tool touching the metal of the window catch, and started trying to move it.
Suddenly she felt Liberty give a muffled yelp, and the half-coyote wriggled underneath her. “Liberty! Hold still!”
“It’s those damned dogs! They’re … nibbling me.” Liberty was braced against the wall, with Shin on her shoulders and unable even to turn round. Her ears blushed in the darkness, as one of the dogs started nipping gently at her tail, not exactly hurting but insistent.
Just then Shin felt the catch move: she gave a heartfelt sigh as the window creaked open. First things first though; she unzipped her suit and unrolled a big bath towel from her waist, which she threw down inside the ground-floor room to act as a stepping-stone. She was standing on it five seconds later, rapidly removing her boots and wet outer layers; nobody was going to be following a trail of her muddy footprints the next morning. From outside Liberty gave another strained yip.
“In you come,” Shin whispered, stepping off the towel with a thick, fresh pair of socks on her foot-paws. A second later Liberty scrambled through the window and stripped off her wet layers onto the towel, glaring at Shin in the dim light.
Shin caught a hint of her scent, and snickered. “If I’d thought about it in time, I’d have had you standing guard outside instead of Tatiana. They’re trained not to accept food from anyone but the Tutors. This time of month you could … distract them somehow though, I’m sure of it.”
The canine’s ears pressed down flat to her skull; she seemed oddly flushed. “Let’s go,” was all she said “The dorms will be upstairs.”
Shin grinned. “Beryl’s got a story about those dogs and their pedigree. You should ask her sometime.” She looked around curiously; senior year dorms were off-limits to junior girls, though sadly the reverse was not true. At the far end she could scent heavy oil and soap; the third-years had rigged an improvised water heater using waste oil to heat a proper bath that was the envy of the rest of Songmark. Rumour had it that they would not be leaving it behind after their graduation next Summer.
Although all three years inhabited roughly the same sized buildings, Songmark had improvised from whatever was available in its early years, and the wooden two-storey huts were laid out quite differently. Shin and Liberty pulled on white cotton gloves, then stealthily climbed the stairs to the first floor.
At the top of the landing they stopped. None of the rooms had name-plates on them; instead they were numbered One to Four. The light in the corridor was very dim even to their night-wide eyes; Shin pulled out her red filtered pocket torch and scanned the floor carefully, looking for wires or other signs of traps. Just because nothing valuable was supposed to be stored in the dorms, was no reason to assume seniors would be careless.
“All clear. We’ll start with number one.” Shin pulled off her glove and very carefully reached towards the metal doorknob, alert for the slight raising of her fur that would warn her the metal was electrically charged. Good - nothing, she told herself. Gloved again, she quietly pushed the door open half an inch, and flashed her torch upwards. No bucket of used sump-oil was perched precariously above the door; no fishing-line could be seen heading off to an electric contact.
With a deep sigh, she stepped into the room. Four beds were there; this was obviously not the right dorm. For some reason Beryl’s dorm consisted only of three, although there were enough eager candidates for Songmark every year to fill the class several times over. Just on impulse she reached over and felt the mattress; her ears dipped.
“Rock hard,” she whispered to Liberty. “Just as bad as ours.”
The second room they hit the jackpot; three beds were in there, and the one nearest the window had its mattress somehow dented more than the others. “Missy K, I’ll bet,” Liberty sneered. “The biggest lump of palm oil on the island.” Each bed had a standard locker next to it - at least, it had been standard when the inhabitants had arrived.
Shin grinned and pointed at the furthest locker. “Metal reinforcing bands, and if that’s not a cruciform Bramah lock I’ll swap my meat ration for your Poi,” she breathed. “Those locks you don’t get in the marketplace. They’re twenty, thirty shells’ worth just in standard form - and a lot of them are custom.”
Liberty nodded eagerly, and switched on her own red torch as she kneeled to look at the locker. “It’ll be tough. But where there’s a will there’s a way. I’ve got the tools.”
Shin looked at the lock, and the wooden cabinet it protected. Suddenly the fur on her neck stood on end. “Liberty. Don’t touch it. You put that sort of lock on a vault door - not on a cabinet we could pick up and walk away with. Beryl’s not stupid.”
“We haven’t got time to take the ceiling and the floorboards up and search,” Liberty hissed angrily. “Thirty shells’ worth of lock, there’s got to be something worth having in there.”
Shin edged away. “Don’t do it,” She warned “I mean it.”
Liberty gave an impatient wave, set the red torch down on the floor to give her light, and selected a probe. Very gently, with hardly enough force to move a feather, she began to explore the lock.
There was a deafening crack! A small flash of light like a pistol shot briefly lit the room then a surge of dark smoke billowed out, almost hiding Liberty as the canine recoiled back with a startled yelp. She whined, shaking her paw as if she had been “stung” by the vibrations of one Kilikiti bat clashing with another.
“That’s done it!” Shin said angrily. “Out of here!” She swept up the torch and toolkit, and with Liberty following behind they raced down the stairs to where the window was pushed to, a dab of chewing gum holding it closed to any casual inspection. Both fur’s ears were ringing loudly.
Liberty began to reach for her boots, but Shin batted her paw away. “No time! We go out like this.” Shin swept up the towel and everything in it, and pushed Liberty out through the window.
Although they had half expected to come out into the grasp of a pair of third-years, there was nobody there at that second. Shin pushed the window shut and was glad to se the vibration swing the catch inside into position; then it was a rapid scuttling retreat across the compound, dodging the torch light of the third-year investigating the noise. Luckily, the wind and rain had made it hard to be sure where the sound had come from.
Panting in their dorm a minute later, Shin’s ears were right down as she explained to Brigit and Tatiana just what had happened. Liberty sat glowering and silent, her painful right paw pressed tight under her left armpit.
“So our Amateur Cracksgirl, decided it wasn’t really a trap despite everything I told her - not that I should have had to tell her anything,” Shin concluded. “Come on, we’ll have to get her cleaned up before she gets to bed. The bathroom should be free.” She frowned. “Ruined a good pair of Winter socks, that has.”
Although “lights-out” meant exactly that as far as the upstairs was concerned, naturally the toilets and bathroom had lighting available throughout the night. It was not till they turned on the regular light rather than the dim red of their torches that Red Dorm made another unwelcome discovery.
“Liberty - what would Red Fist say?” Despite everything, Shin almost doubled up in glee at the sight “You’re not Red- you’re Purple!” Indeed, Liberty’s clothes and fur were stained a deep purple hue.
“Never mind that - help me wash it off,” Liberty growled.
Brigit Mulvaney slapped her thigh, her eyes sparkling despite the late hour. “Ye nivver will! I thought as soon as I heard of how it went off at a touch, what Beryl’s used. ‘Tis Nitrogen Tri-Iodide ye found the hard way. As a wet paste ye can do as you please, but once it dries”, she shook her head. “’Twill set off if a fly lands on it, and that’s the truth.”
Liberty was scrubbing with soap at the iodine-stained fur, and discovering to her horror that Brigit was right. “What are we going to do?” She turned round, eyes wide.
“You mean, what are YOU going to do. I suppose we could shave off all your fur; Mixtecan Hairless seem to manage somehow.” Shin was determined to see the funny side of it. The bizarre canines were the only mammal with naked skin; there had been a tribe of naked mole-rats in Mixteca centuries ago but the Spanish Conquistadores had slaughtered them in horror thinking they were demons.
“Some help you are.” Liberty kept on scrubbing, wishing they had hot water this time of night. “You can laugh. But it’ll take the Tutors about a minute to work out what happened, and who would have to have been involved.”
“Da? We were not even in the building,” Tatiana smiled. “You and Shin maybe left fur, pawprints as evidence. Not us.”
But as it happened, for once that day Liberty was absolutely right.
“Three days kitchen duty, all Passes stopped!” Shin fumed as they left Miss Cardroy’s office the next day with ears and tails drooping. “I’d arranged to meet Fang this weekend, too.” She rubbed the back of her neck unconsciously.
“We do get to go to the Festival Of Nations still,” Brigit pointed out.
“Yes. And write a full report on it. Which we wouldn’t have had to before.” Shin cast Liberty a sour glance. “Thanks to Miss Purple-Fur here.” Suddenly she grinned. “You can sneak into Maria’s team now in disguise - say you’re such a fan of “Il Puce” you had yourself dyed the party colours.”
“A fact! Furs do the strangest of things. There’s Russian furs choose to have “Slaves to Starling” shaven or tattooed on their foreheads, I’ve been told.” Brigit nodded.
“Pravda, is true.” Tatiana looked unhappy. “Mostly roughs and criminals. Police and such, have hard time knowing what to do - is extreme loyalty to Party or making fun?”
“Sailors used to have crucifixion scenes tattooed on their backs, the same way,” Brigit looked thoughtful. “When they were ordered to be flogged, the idea was to put off the bosun’s aim.”
“Anyway. We’re stuck with this. We’ll be on Meeting Island all day at the weekend, we’ve a Pass for that if nothing else.” Shin’s ears went up as a thought struck her. She could bring her husband over to help heckle, and between them they should be able to work out a way to slip off somewhere during the day. She didn’t have to put EVERYTHING in her report, after all.
The day of the Festival Of Nations dawned clear and surprisingly chill for Spontoon. Red Dorm woke to find Liberty surrounded by books and pamphlets; evidently she had been unable to sleep.
“December the first,” Shin looked out of the window, shivering. The Songmark rooms were unheated, but most of the year that was not a problem, and in the short Winters the students generally dived straight into bed too worn out to care. “At least it isn’t raining.”
“Test me,” Liberty urged, handing Shin the new book by Comrade Lysenko. “Go on, ask me anything.”
Shin hid a grin behind the book as she flipped through it; she had read through this a few times, trying hard to keep a straight face. “Very well. Why are “bare-pawed Peasant Scientists in hut laboratories” Inherently more likely to get it right than regular academics in the West?”
“Because they proceed from first principles, which are necessarily those of the Dialectic,” Liberty replied promptly. “They are untainted by reactionary tradition seeking to justify class-based oppression supposedly based on ancestral inherited quality. The so-called seats of learning are funded by the great capitalist criminals, or else by ancient land-owning rights which inherently taint all who come into contact with them.”
“Very good.” Shin spotted the exact paragraph Liberty had quoted from. “Now - for ten points, explain why Soviet Science, which rejects traditional values, is correct but that Nazi Science we hear about, also rejects it but is not.”
For a second Liberty turned pale. Then she snarled. “That’s cheating! That’s not in the book!” She grabbed for the precious volume.
Shin held the book up out of the half-coyote’s reach. “I didn’t say it was. But will the furs on the other side be using this as a guide for you?”
Liberty slumped. “No. They won’t.” She rallied, thinking hard. “Because … they reject proper Materialism in favour of metaphysical concepts such as the Mystic Strength of the Folk, which has no basis in fact. If it existed Marx would have surely mentioned it, he was German after all.”
“Well, that’s consistent, anyway,” Shin nodded. “I’ll give it an eight. Anything else?”
“Because the whole concept of “National Science” is ridiculous, you might as well have National multiplication tables,” Liberty replied promptly. “The Revolution is by definition International, so it includes by definition all former national achievements.”
Shin smiled, as she finished dressing. “True, Herr Hitler did say, “If doing without Jewish Science means doing without science for ten years, we’ll do without science for ten years” or something like that. He’ll regret it.” Though she was no Cranium Islander to worship the subject, she could see that having to fit science to politics was not going to improve either. The Germans, she reflected, were not the only ones that was liable to bite in the tail.
Meeting Island was generally quiet in the off-season; although it had little to attract tourists as such, the influx of visitors in the tourist season generated a huge quantity of administrative work for the various departments. Today though the streets were crowded, with Spontoonies showing off their Winter outfits and more formally dressed diplomatic staff greeting each other with varied measures of dignity and hostility.
Brigit raised an eyebrow as they passed the sign ‘Registrar for Marriages, births and deaths’. “I’ve heard it said, there’s a roaring trade they do in Marriage Licences, this time o’ year.”
Tatiana looked puzzled. “Is strange time for it.” She looked up at the chilly skies. “June is more Traditional for weddings, in Russia.”
Shin chuckled. “Oh, yes. Same here, if there’s going to be a real bridegroom. These are sent out by post, and I pity the investigators who come over here and try to track down the name on the paper.” She winked. “Some tourist girls don’t have Mrs. Oelabe’s advice like us - and they had rather too good a time on holiday. It’s surprising what a piece of paper can do to restore Respectability, if you’re into that sort of thing.”
“And what price a girl will pay for such a piece of paper,” Brigit noted.
The sable’s ears blushed. “Decadence,” she muttered.
Shin grinned. “Well, today’s your day you can tell the rest of the world what it’s doing wrong - here’s your chance.” She stopped to look at a notice-board displaying the day’s schedule. “Ah! You’re on after lunch - they’re starting with “Anarchist” and finishing with “Wobbly”, strictly alphabetical.”
The four studied the board, making notes. “That Rosa from the first-year, she’s the first Songmark girl on,” Liberty growled. “Maybe if she gets hammered enough she’ll head back to Spain. We can hope.”
“’Twill be just like an auld Music Hall, you’ll see,” Brigit nudged her. “You’re on almost last, they’d be saving that for the star turn. Tatiana’s Embassy is on before you, as “Soviet” - you’ve only got some Rain Islanders to follow you.”
By that time they had arrived as the main Althing buildings, an assembly-hall that looked more like a large school gymnasium or over-sized village hall than a seat of power. At the door was a neatly uniformed contingent of Constabulary, their full Casino Island grade uniforms neatly brushed and polished.
Shin’s tail swished. “They’re taking no chances. Things could get heated in there - they’re frisking the delegates for weapons and the crowd for over-ripe durians.” Her nose twitched. “At least Beryl only used iodine, Liberty - if she’d rigged a durian trap you’d be joining the third-years sleeping outside for the week.”
The half-coyote stuck her nose in the air. She submitted to being frisked with as much dignity as she could muster. Judging by the expectant looks on the muzzles of the Spontoonie crowd, she was going to need it.
“Whoever drew up these definitions,” Liberty fumed as she studied the retailed programme, “should be the first one against the wall when the Revolution comes.”
“Da. Is not even a category of “Capitalist” to argue against!” Tatiana agreed, her tail drooping. “We have to argue against “Market Democracy” - there are Rain Island furs in there, American and British, and their governments have nothing in common with each other!”
Brigit smoothed down a long ear. “Could it be, the rest o’ the world doesn’t divide themselves into “Heroic Socialist Worker”, “Criminal Plutocrat” and “Bourgeois Parasite”? Ye really didn’t think ye’d get the chance to hear Henry Fnord standing up within heckling range and explaining why labour is only a commodity to him like steel or electric power?”
Tatiana sniffed. “Courage, Liberty. If the Capitalists will not bring on their best so-called successes - we shall win by default.”
“We shall. We must win, therefore we shall.” Liberty struck a heroic pose. “The workers of the world deserve no less.”
“I think that’s six points for performance, eight for sheer nerve and one for credibility,” Two hours later Shin was sitting in her husband’s lap, taking detailed notes on each “turn” as they came on and gave their presentation. “The idea of having a rigidly enforced Anarchy doesn’t really seem to fit.”
Fang gave a low growl, almost a purr as Shin wriggled. “You’d better stop doing that,” He glanced around at the packed rows of seats; fortunately most of the crowd were looking expectantly at the stage. Then he chuckled. “They should come to Krupmark if they want to see a real Anarchy. They’d better not try to tell us how to run it, though.”
“It’d be fun to watch, as long as it lasted. Seeing Rosa slang it out with the Rain Islander Syndicalists was fun, anyway.” Shin raised an eyebrow. “She’s no coward, I’ll give her that.”
“Who’s next from Songmark?” Fang asked.
His wife chuckled. “Would you believe, we’ve got two facing each other? Saffina from my year and that Jasbir Sind, in the third-year. They’re going to sound off for and against being part of an Empire. It should be interesting; they’re not from the same one.”
“Makes sense. The Althing wants the big view.” Fang generally cared little for Governments unless they got in the way - but then, there would be no profit in smuggling if they did not. He was Chinese, a cultural self-sufficiency which was the same all over the world and rarely mixed with local politics.
Just then the Tourist Minister who was organising the event waved for silence, and Shin grabbed her pencil as the next round began.
“So, we’ve got our stories straight,” Shin compared notes with her classmates as the meeting broke up for lunch at noon. “Brigit? I’ll be reporting that one accurately. So you’d better too.”
The Irish Setter stuck her tongue out. “I’ll be having to,” she sighed, flipping over to quote Jasbir Sind’s tale. “She told the tale of her province, the only Euro furs in there are traders in by invitation, and a pawfull of advisers to her father the Maharajah. ‘Tis a poor example of a conquered land, where’s the troops on the streets and the secret police at every corner?”
“But the Althing verified it, they must have been got-at,” Liberty growled.
“Anyway…” Brigit looked unhappy. “Most of the Provinces left under their own rulers are happy to be in the Empire - they say they’re kept at peace with their neighbours, trade’s flourishing and the country’s got unified railways, telegraphs and everything as it never would have in a dozen warring states as before the Euros. There’s Missionaries to be sure, but the British authorities don’t like them to be too pushy.” Her nose wrinkled. “I can’t be using any of this!”
“Miss Cardroy’s going to be checking on it, against whatever official transcript the Althing publish. You’d better.” Shin nudged her. “Go on about the liberators, then.”
“She did tell as how there’s some trying to throw off the yoke,” Brigit’s ears perked a little. “That tale of how the local doctor was assassinated. He’d served the villages thirty years, through thick and thin, trained up all the medics in the area - which made him the prime target.”
“You’ll have to explain why, in the report,” Shin prompted.
“Because,” Brigit’s ears drooped again “When the liberators were caught, they smiled and said they were happy with leaving unpopular officials in place, that’d work in their favour. ‘Twas those who went out and served the People long and unselfishly had to die.”
“And the Althing confirmed that, too. Shows how biased they are.” Liberty commiserated. “Still, it makes no difference. Sind’s a Maharajah’s Daughter, and by definition an Enemy Of The People. Even if the raw facts say one thing, she’s automatically wrong.”
“It’d look better if the liberators had been handed over to the British authorities, sent back to London for trial,” Brigit said “I could have used that! Even though the doctor was British, the authorities said it was a local matter, they were tried and … dealt with locally. Traditionally.” She shivered.
“Those traditional kingdoms have a few thousand years of experience what to do with furs they don’t want any more,” Shin mused. “I’ll ask Sind for the details sometime. Folk say we Chinese have all the refinements, but we’re always keen to learn. I know my little brother certainly is.”
“Saffina wasn’t much better,” Brigit warned. “France is a Republic, but it’s got an Empire. If it didn’t like the idea, they’d vote to set it loose. They even have representatives of all their colonies in their Parliament, voting like French provinces!” Her ears perked up. “At least it’s not based on population, or it’s scuppered I’d be.” She tapped her notebook. “There’s wide lands bigger than France, with no more say in Parliament than some pocket-handkerchief of a mountain province.”
“Da. And her main complaint - the authorities had stopped the traditional raiding, that had made her tribe powerful in the first place,” Tatiana agreed. “We don’t let the Cossacks run riot, either. But they DID drag their Colonial troops off to the Great War. Maybe we can use that.”
“Oh yes. But her complaint about that?” Shin checked her notes. “Their idea of a proper war was to grab the land, steal the cattle and come back to a good feast. Verdun wasn’t much like that, there wasn’t a cow to be seen and the land wasn’t something you’d wish on your worst enemy by the time they got there.”
A sense of gloom settled on three of the dorm. Shin looked at them, then grinned. “You can do what you like, grab some of that tasty poi they’ve laid out for lunch -“ she grabbed Fang’s arm and whispered something into his ear. “We’ve got an hour till the next debate. I know what I’ll be doing!” With that she and Fang rapidly headed out, their tails entwining.
“I’d ask ye where ye’ve been, but it’s obvious. At least, the what if not the where of it.” Brigit whispered sixty-two minutes later.
Shin gave a contented smile, wincing slightly as she rubbed the back of her neck. Examining her paw, she contemplated a drop of blood that had rubbed off on it. “Damn. That’ll scab.” Looking around at the crowd, she raised an eyebrow. “Where’s Liberty gone? Don’t say the buffet was that tempting.”
Brigit laughed. “She had an idea, had to argue it out with the management. Here she is, just in time.”
The half-coyote slid into her seat, a smug expression on her face. “This should be good,” was her only comment.
The red panda raised an eyebrow, though with her facial markings it always looked that way. “You’re staging a coup, now you’ve got all your targets in one room?”
“Nearly. It’s a coup all right. I’ve given up my solo presentation. I’ll let Tatiana’s embassy take a good swing at the Capitalists and their lackeys, they’re good for that. As far as the locals are concerned, they can’t tell true Communism from Ioseph Starling’s corrupted version yet - Tatiana and me would just end up heckling each other on points the Spontoonies aren’t politically educated enough to understand.”
Shin doubted that, but kept quiet. “So? What are you going to do, then?”
“I’ve arranged,” Liberty whispered as the chair-fur called the meeting to order, “to take on the Number One Target. Now we’re not doing solo sales pitches to the audience, we’re going to settle it right here. The Althing and the tyrant’s niece agree, fool that she is. We’re going to go head to head, right in front of everybody!”
Shin’s eyes lit up, though not from quite the same reason as Liberty. “Oh, good,” was her only comment. “This WILL liven a dull afternoon.”
“…And so we see that the crude Nationalisms of the tribal units swollen by greed into so-called sovereign states, must bow to the historical inevitability of the Internationale,” Liberty wound up her introduction. Her ears glowed with confidence; she had never felt so alive, knowing hundreds of furs were hearing her words. Her Father would be proud of her. “Citizens! I’ve told you of how the Red Fist triumphed by the will of the People - but that will is the voice of universal progression, as Comrade Trotsky explains.”
She held up the small book of doctrine, and looked around at her audience. “And yet Comrade Trotsky tells us clearly that he is just one fur, no better than you. One Citizen is nothing. The Party is everything, for the Party is the scientific law, bringing all to equality as surely as mountains are washed to the sea.” With that she bowed, and sat down.
The master of ceremonies, a small and now somewhat flustered-looking cat, shuffled his notes. “And now, we hear from Maria Inconnutia from Italy. As some of you may know, she is the niece of Il Puce, and is of his party.”
Maria rose, dressed in her Rachorska silk dress. She looked around the audience, and nodded. “Yes, I have an Uncle who a lot of you despise. He is a politician - and he’s a lot more than that. I don’t claim I agree with everything he does - but I’m here to tell you what he stands for. I don’t know a better way to do that than to tell you a story. It isn’t even about him - he wasn’t there, though he should have been.” She shrugged.
Gripping the lectern, the powerful bovine looked out across the sea of faces, some hostile, more curious. “It was just after the end of the Great War. A few furs met in distant cities, London and Paris, to draw up the new Europe. Italy had fought for the Allies - but what did we get for it? Very little, while France and England helped themselves to German colonies. Colonies, though, are things a Nation gets for itself. Its own cities though - its own people - that, it must have!” She tossed her head, her short but solid horns gleaming.
“Spontoon citizens, you know all about historical accidents, with what history you have. The Mediterranean has had time for so many more. There are cities of Italian speakers, whose grandfathers were our citizens, that were left behind swallowed in foreign ruled territory. Should they join us? They wished to. Should they leave their ancient lands to do so? They should not. The city of Fiume on the Adriatic was that city, stolen by Austro-Hungary. When that empire fell - it should have come home, with its people to Italy.”
She began to pace. “Our diplomats made the right noises. Our politicians said they would move heaven and earth to change the treaties. They talked and compromised ant tried to cut deals, as ever. What happened - nothing. Until - “ she turned to face the audience, her eyes alight.
“Citizen Morgenstern just told you about her Party’s idea of Historical Inevitability. Yes, mountains are washed to the sea - but others rise to replace them. It would be a poor world without mountains. And more than mountains, heroes arise in despite of any “laws of inevitability.” I’ll tell you about one and what he did. You think you know what we stand for, because Hollywood’s shown you? There’s one fur that Hollywood could never have as a hero.”
She took a deep breath. “His name is Gabriel D’Annunzio, You’re expecting a two-metre tall swaggerer in polished boots? He’s short as any fur here, a hunchback, he lost an eye in the Great War but still flies his aircraft regardless. He’s the ugliest fur you’re likely to meet - but he’s a poet, an artist. There is nothing in the world that is inevitable to him.”
Maria looked from one face to another; however unwillingly for some, she had them spellbound. “Did he petition the Great Powers to bring our city home? Did he vote for it to happen, and hope that by voting he could change the realities of force? I’ll tell you what he did. He banded with his friends, comrades from the War, none of them yet of any particular party. Friends called in friends, till there was an army - and then they marched.”
“It was illegal, unconstitutional, and unprecedented in the books of polite diplomacy. The Government, the mealy-mouthed politicians weaned on coalitions and compromises, tried to stop him. But the general sent to arrest him was persuaded when he saw their faith and heard their mission, he stepped aside to let them pass. This was not an army as you would recognise one. Its comrades made themselves capes, cloaks, fantastic feathered and cockaded hats as their vision told them. Head-fur was worn in strange styles, half shaved or piled up like a masked ball of olden times. It was with cloaks and ceremonial Roman daggers that they marched - and when they arrived at Fiume, it was home again.”
The master of ceremonies raised a finger-claw. “It didn’t stay there. It’s currently a League of Nations Mandate, like Palestine.”
“True!” Maria nodded. “And my Uncle was not even on that march. But that is the spirit he goes out with. There is no immutable law. There is only Will, the desire to achieve, and to make things happen. The Citizen is nothing, you have heard folk say before now. The Citizen may be Everything! One fur makes history if they choose to. When our explorers centuries ago heard of the riches of the Spice Islands half a world away, they did not wait for “market forces” or any such abstract to bring the treasures home. They piled themselves into the ships they had and set sail, knowing their chances of seeing home again were poor. And yet they went.”
The bovine caught Liberty’s eye and held her in her gaze. “Folk are here today to hear from political parties. Well, we are not a political party! We are a movement. The Renaissance was a like movement - it was not art, or science, or exploration, though it had all those things within it. My Uncle is not a Politician, he is a Leader who must perform politics as he must eat and breathe. But we follow his lead because we all of us are marching in that direction already.”
With that, she sat down. There was a hesitant, then swelling applause.
The master of ceremonies gave a nervous cough, and stood up. “Ladies, Citizens,” he looked around “In a slight departure from our usual schedule, these two representatives have chosen to compete directly. They are … specialists, one might say, on their subjects. May we hear first from Miss Morgenstern?”
Liberty stood up, her heart racing. “Your Uncle was a good Socialist, once,” she challenged. “He betrayed all that. If he can turn round that much, what sort of trust can you have in him? He consorts with capitalists and aristocrats of the former ruling classes. And yet he calls himself a revolutionary. What sort of revolutionary doctrine is that?”
Maria nodded, a small smile. “Doctrine?” She held out her empty hands to the audience. “I’m not waving a book of doctrine. Some of the least readable books in the world have been written on doctrine.” She gave an almost imperceptible nod towards the German delegation, who bristled noticeably. “We have none. Rather than a political party we are a spirit, not a static formation with rigid boundaries but a direction forward. Yes, Italy is a safe place for capital. But they cannot exploit us unchecked - this is not Gnu York. We have public benefits, public work schemes, all paid for from taxes. Capitalists are good at creating wealth - unlike communists. Why should we stay poor? We’ve been poor enough already. My Uncle is the leader of a people who are getting their share of it back, building autostradas and ports, schools and hospitals, not cathedrals and ducal palaces. And aristocrats? We have confiscated some of the land they were not using, the same with the Church. The People benefit. But all who chose to follow along as Italians, are safe with us, aristocrats or priests too.”
“The Church! Aha!” Liberty felt on firmer ground here. “You’ve let the Church alone - explain that.”
Maria shrugged. “Everyone says Italy is a rampantly Catholic country, but only about five percent go to church regularly. Do you know, the Pope forbade Italians to vote, until 1928? And it took Il Puce to drive that through. They never liked the idea of Italy existing as a nation. We’ve made them pay taxes on their estates to us, not the other way round.”
Liberty looked confidently at the referee, who shuffled through the notes and nodded quietly to Maria. The half-coyote felt the blood pounding in her ears; this was NOT going to plan. Perhaps, she felt a disloyal voice deep within taunting her, she should have read some of the background material not provided via the Council of Nine. “The Spontoonies know an aggressor when they see one. Do you deny he’s launched unprovoked attacks, on defenceless people? Abyssinia cries out for revenge to the world!”
The bovine raised an eyebrow. “You might not follow my logic, so I’ll explain it to you very carefully. My People want an Empire. We would have taken our share in the last century, but Italy was divided into warring states itself till another great fur Garibaldi reunited us. By that time almost everything was taken. There was no huge outcry then, that the Euros were carving the world up - the Russians sweeping East, the Americans stealing the Red Indian territories, the French in Indo-China, the British in Africa. Once folk grabbed what they saw as their rightful piece, did anyone complain of how they got it? Will the Americans give back the Oklahoma Territories, the Russians the Kalmuk Steppes? All taken by force from their owners. It might not be pleasant bed-time reading, but that’s the world we have.”
“A world soaked in mustard-gas dropped from aircraft on defenceless Native furs,” Liberty scoffed.
Maria faced her. “We’re guilty of one thing, I’ll admit to. Italy leads the world in fashion, in most things. But there’s one we’re behind the times in. If we’d taken Abyssinia first try in 1870 what Euro Empire would have complained, except to grumble that they were beaten to it? Winning new lands only became out of fashion, when all the best lands were taken. And as for our using our technology - we aim to win. Who complained about colonial armies using steam-ships, artillery and Maxim-guns in the 1890’s? If they had invented them at the time, who would have NOT used their aircraft, their chemicals?”
“Referee! Disqualify her!” Liberty shouted at the feline. “This is obviously wrong and you know it!”
The Spontoonie looked most unhappy. “My remit is to confirm facts. If you can make a hole in her logic, that’s your job. I don’t see any unfounded statements, like it or not.”
Liberty gritted her teeth. She felt red haze floating across her vision. Her groping paw came across the book of Lysenko in her pocket; she clung to it as a drowning fur grabs at a floating timber. “Soviet Science refutes your arguments, utterly,” she held the book out, unconsciously imitating a crucifix warding off a vampire. “By your own admission, you have a regime based on tyranny, not the will of the People. And you even admit to letting stay in power the ancient class-ridden remnants of feudal oppression!”
Maria advanced towards her; in the wings of the stage a pair of Constables braced themselves to intervene if things got physical. Instead, she lightly touched the cover of the book. “Why, it’s Comrade Lysenko. We’ve heard ALL about him.”
She turned to the audience. “Based on tyranny? Why, yes, in its original form. The ancient Romans had the rank of Tyrant, it was a respected position given willingly by the Senate to one fur in times of crisis who could make unfettered decisions. They chose them. And my Uncle was elected; he is merely the head of his Party; they could dismiss him if they wanted to and pick another. He is not even the Head of State; we have a King for that. And as for elected; compare us with, say, President Huey Long of the USA, who was just the vice-president when the President died in office. Until their next election, they have an Undemocratic leader - not us.”
Maria looked Liberty in the eyes. “Yes, we’re a democracy, we’ve got a King and a Pope because the People like them, and we don’t send our Aristos to the guillotine. Whyever not? Well, your Comrade Lysenko is either right or wrong. Italy needs the best people she has, to be at the top. If he’s wrong - well, they’re no better than anyone else, but they have the right to pass on their lands and titles to their children, unlike in a Bolshevik society. But if he’s right - ah, what if he’s right?”
The bovine was now standing snout to snout with Liberty. “Suppose Soviet Science is true? Every generation genetically passes on the efforts of its labours to its children? We’ve noble lines who can trace themselves back centuries; one of my own ancestors was a Papal Bull.” She grinned unnervingly. “Then - if they’ve been ruling families so long, their offspring must be VERY GOOD AT IT by now. And even if New Haven or Starling’s Russia start now and try to catch up - by Lysenko’s own logic - THEY NEVER CAN.”
The audience were then treated to a display of something other than rhetoric. With a snarl, Liberty flung herself at Maria, who nimbly dodged. Maria grabbed Liberty’s ankles from behind and heaved upwards in as neat a “log toss” as any textbook could wish - and flipped the canine whose head struck the hardwood stage with a resounding thump. There was a cheerful cry of “Timber!” from somewhere in the crowd as she crashed to the ground and lay still.
“Now, that’s what I call finishing with a bang,” Shin commented as a prone canine was carried off by medics one direction and an Italian bowed her way off the stage the other, to scattered applause. She took another pawfull of popcorn, as a delegation of Rain Island “Wobblies” came on stage. “It’ll be a hard act to follow.”
As indeed it proved. Whether because the Rain Islanders were preaching to the converted or not, they quickly ran through their presentation and departed, leaving the Master Of Ceremonies to finish the show.
“Indeed, ‘twas quite a show, the Spontoonies they’ll be talking it over for many the long Winter evening,” Brigit agreed, munching her popcorn. “’Tis just as well it ended when it did, though,” she looked uncomfortable. “I can see why Maria agreed to the showdown. She’s no keener on a fair fight than her Uncle, and this one she knew she could win. Having it in public was a good move.”
“On Krupmark we say fair fights are stupid,” Shin noted, standing up and pocketing her notebook. “The military manuals say you don’t attack till you’ve a three to one advantage or better - and whatever things folk say about Maria, “stupid” isn’t one of them.”
It was the next day when Liberty reappeared, having had a ticking-off from the Constabulary and a solo interview with Miss Devinski that left her pale and shaking. She marched into her dorm room and flung herself down on the bed, not speaking.
“Well, and here’s the writeup in the Elele,” Brigit announced, opening the paper. “Seems the Althing aren’t going to change their politics after all; now there’s a surprise.” She winked at Shin.
“Oh well. Perhaps some of us might be glad of that,” Shin said, keeping her voice neutral as she cast a glance at Liberty. “Imagine if the Althing had been so impressed that it had! Who knows what direction it might have taken?”
“All right,” Liberty growled, her eyes closed as she lay on her back. “You needn’t rub it in. The public were fooled this time round.”
“Why, Liberty,” Shin looked her, paw pressed to her chest and her eyes wide in mock surprise. “As if we’d mock. Anyway, have you arranged a re-match yet? And have you sent off to for any better books?”
“I have donated Comrade Lysenko’s work to the Songmark Library,” Liberty said with dignity. “It’s only right that the others have a chance to learn from it.”
“Right.” A red panda smirked, picking up the latest issue of “Criminal World”. She turned to the comics pages where Rick Traceless was busy in disguise, having taken on the role of a Junior G-Man to infiltrate a Police HQ and already seduced the Police Chief’s daughter. It looked like after all this time, Jane Ferry could establish a Comedy section in the library.
Liberty drew herself up, on the bed. “I’ll be back in the next debate. And this time - I’m going after the Anarchists. Rain Island, look out!”
Three hard-swung pillows thumped her as her room-mates dived on her, even Tatiana. The sounds of melee rang through the top floor, and the other second-years sighed.
Red Dorm was back to normal.
the endto The RED DORM