The Valley-Westside War
By Turtledove, Harry Tor Science Fiction Copyright © 2009 Turtledove, Harry
All right reserved. ISBN: 9780765353801
As Dan neared the top of the Sepulveda Pass, he saw the barricade the Westside had built across the 405. His deerskin boots scuffed on the old, cracked, sun-faded asphalt. Weeds, even bushes, sprouted from the cracks, but the freeway was still the best route south from the Valley. Or it had been, till the Westsiders blocked it.
They saw the Valley war party coming. Horns blared an alert. Men ran back and forth behind the barrier. Some of them would have crossbows or longbows. At seventeen, Dan himself was only an archer. Others would carry modern smoothbore muskets. And a few would use Old Time rifles. Those were far better than anything people could make nowadays, 130 years after the Fire came down. But the ammunition was two lifetimes old, too. Sometimes it worked the way it was supposed to. Sometimes it didn't do anything. And sometimes it blew up. You needed to be several different kinds of brave to carry an Old Time gun.
Captain Kevin raised the truce flag. He hadn't brought along enough men to rush the barricade. He couldn't have come without a good escort, though, not unless he wanted to lose face. The game had rules.
Big Louie strode out in front of the flag. He had an even bigger voice. "Parley!" he bellowed. "We want to talk!" He stepped back, looking proud of himself.
A Westside herald shoutedback: "Come ahead, with no more than ten!" His voice sounded thin after Big Louie's. The Valley man looked prouder than ever.
Captain Kevin chose two riflemen, four musketeers, and four archers. You had to have some of each. That was what democracy was all about. He pointed to Dan as the last archer. Having a youngster among the veterans helped show he wasn't scared.
The barricade looked stronger than first reports suggested. The Westsiders must have worked hard to make it taller and thicker. Dust kicked up from Dan's boots. It was summer, and hot and dry. Sweat ran down under his broad-brimmed hat. Turkey vultures circled overhead.
Once upon a time, men had .own, too. They could still get gliders into the air, but it wasn't the same. They'd really .own in the Old Time—own at peace, .own to war. The songs and the old books all said so. And everybody knew the Fire came down from the sky.
"Close enough!" a Westside officer yelled.
"That you, Morris?" Captain Kevin called.
"Colonel Morris, if you please!" Like most of his kind, the Westsider sounded snooty. Dan thought of things that way, anyhow Westsiders said Valley people were a bunch of hicks. To Dan, that only proved how dumb Westsiders were.
"Well, Colonel Morris, your Wonderfulness, you can tear down this wall," Captain Kevin said. "King Zev and the Council say that's how it's got to be. We have a treaty to keep the pass open, and you people are breaking it. We won't put up with that. We know our rights, we do."
Better believe it, Dan thought. The barricade would cut the Valley off from trade, and from scrounging farther south. If you didn't scrounge, how were you supposed to keep going? So much the Old Time made was better than its modern equivalents: everything from coins to mirrors to guns. People had scrounged a lot and time had ruined a lot, but not everything. There weren't that many people any more, and there'd been even fewer right after the Fire came down.
"Times, they are a-changing," Colonel Morris said. "We've got some things of our own going on. If you want to come south, you'll have to pay to pass."
"That's simple. We won't do it. And if you think you're coming north, you're crazy," Captain Kevin declared.
"Who wants to come north?" the Westsider said scornfully.
"Good luck with your oranges. Good luck with your greens. Good luck with your grain," Captain Kevin told him.
"You need us worse than we need you," Colonel Morris replied. Westsiders always said that. Maybe it was even true back before the Fire fell. Not many Valley people thought it was any more. The way things were going, it looked as if both sides would find out what was really what before too long. They'd find out the hard way, too.
Captain Kevin scowled. "You won't get away with this. I can tell you that right now. We know what our rights are. If we have to, we'll go to war to make sure the pass stays open. And if we go to war, we'll win it."
"That's telling him," Dan muttered. The musketeer next to him nodded.
"You can try." Colonel Morris didn't sound worried. Did that mean he really wasn't, or did it just mean he was a good liar? Most Westsiders were—Valley people thought so, anyhow.
"That's your last word?" Captain Kevin, by contrast, sounded sad and mad at the same time.
"That's my first, last, and only word," the Westside commander said.
"Well, I'm sorry for you, but you'll be sorrier." Captain Kevin nodded to his soldiers. "Come on, boys. If they're going to be dumb, we'll teach 'em a lesson." The soldiers turned around and marched back toward the rest of the Valley company. Behind them, the Westsiders jeered and swore. Dan got an itchy spot right in the middle of his back. If they started shooting, his leather jerkin wouldn't keep out an arrow, much less a bullet.
But they didn't. He breathed a sight of relief when he got out of arrow and musket range. Oh, a rifleman could still hit him, but riflemen would go after important targets first. A kid with a bow was no big deal.
"What's the word, sir?" a waiting Valley sergeant asked.
"War!" Captain Kevin answered.
Liz Mendoza hated this Los Angeles. Being here, working here, was like being best friends with one identical twin and then suddenly having to visit the other one in the intensive-care unit. In the home timeline, where she lived, Los Angeles was one of the great cities of the world. Even a hundred years ago, back in the twentieth century, people said the future happened here first. And they were right.
This Los Angeles had been much like that one up till 1967. Then, in this alternate, somebody got stupid. People in what was left of the USA said the Russians .red the first missile. People in what was left of the USSR said the Americans started the war. It hardly mattered any more. Both sides had .red way too many.
Quite a few alternates went through nuclear wars in the second half of the twentieth century or the first half of the twenty-first. Crosstime Traffic stayed away from most of them. The company that controlled trade between the home timeline and the worlds that happened when history changed didn't see much profit in dealing with them. Why would you want to do business with somebody who'd set his own house and car on .re and then jumped into the flames?
Here, though, UCLA was paying the freight. Indirectly, the government was. The university had got a grant to try to find out just what went wrong in this alternate. Liz's father was one of the historians who'd come here to do research. Her mother was doctor who specialized in genetic diseases and the effects of radiation. And Liz was . . .
Protective coloration, she thought. Her parents seemed more normal if they had a kid along. And so here she was. She had studied a lot more about the 1960s than she would have otherwise. It was, in the ancient slang of the day, a mind-blowing experience. Except that slang wasn't ancient here. People still used it. They used what ever they could from the days before the war, because they mostly couldn't match that stuff, whether material goods or language, any more. Sad, but that was how things were in this alternate.
She'd start UCLA herself a year later than she would have otherwise. But she'd start with a year crosstime experience under her belt. That was good. Or it would have been good if she'd gone to an alternate more different than this one was.
The house where she and her folks stayed was in Westwood Village, a couple of blocks south of the UCLA campus. It was made from the rubble of the stores and apartments that had stood there when the bombs fell. The house was built around a central courtyard. The style came from Rome through Spain to the New World. It gave both light and shade, and worked well in the California climate.
The windows that looked out on the world were small and barred. Liz could see the UCLA campus through the north-facing ones. She could, yes, but she didn't look that way very often. It hurt too much. Most of the big hospital buildings at the south end of campus never got built in this alternate. The war took care of that, as it took care of so many other things. The buildings that did survive were in sad disrepair. Some of the earlier ones, built before there were any earthquake codes, had crumbled in one shaker or another.
Somebody banged on the big brass knocker bolted to the front door. "You want to get that, Liz?" her father called.
Well, no, not really, was the first thing that crossed her mind. But that was the wrong answer, and she knew it. "Okay," she said out loud, and went to the door.
Before she opened it, she looked through the little window set above the knocker. The Westsiders patrolled Westwood Village pretty well, but robber bands still skulked in other ruins and came out to raid every now and then. There were freelance thieves, too.
She relaxed when she recognized the man standing in the street. Unbarring the door, she said, "Come in, Colonel Morris."
"Thank you, Missy," the Westsider said. In the home timeline, that would have made Liz want to spit in his eye. Here, he was just being polite. His English sounded old-fashioned to her. The language here hadn't changed as much since 1967 as it had in the home timeline.
"Dad!" she yelled. "It's Colonel Morris!"
"Be right there," her father said.
"Hello, Jeff. How are you doing?" Colonel Morris said when Liz's father came to the door.
"Not too bad. Yourself?" Jeff Mendoza held out his hand to the important Westsider. When Colonel Morris took it, his clasp also locked thumbs with Liz's father. Handshakes like that were an ancient joke in the home timeline. They hung on here.
Both men wore baggy wool trousers tucked into boots and equally baggy linen shirts. Colonel Morris used a wide leather belt with a fat, fancy brass buckle. He wore an Old Time wind-up wristwatch on a broad leather band. Westsiders couldn't make anything that fine, but they could keep some that were already made running.
Dad's belt looked like the colonel's. Some styles here still reflected the ones in fashion when the Fire fell. So did some of the language. Some things had changed, though. Liz's wool skirt reached to the ground. Minis were scandalous. Her shirt was like the men's. It even buttoned the same way, which drove her crazy.
"Liz, why don't you get us some improved water?" her father said.
"Okay," she said once more. Men ordered women around here a lot more than they did in the home timeline. Women mostly put up with it. The ones who didn't got thumped, and nobody said a thing except that they had it coming. The people who went on and on about how enlightened the Westside was were all men.
Liz poured water from a big earthenware jug into two earthen -ware mugs. With the aqueducts gone, water was always the biggest worry in this Los Angeles. She added one part strong brandy to about five of water. The brandy was what improved it, not because the booze got you drunk—brandy did that much faster by itself—but because it killed enough germs to keep you from getting the runs.
She politely served the guest first: "Here you are, Colonel." "Groovy, sweetheart," he said, and she didn't crack a smile. If somebody in 1967 had heard someone else say Bully, by jingo!, it would have sounded just as old-fashioned in his ears.
"Thank you," her father said when she gave him his water. You didn't have to talk like a hippie here. You didn't have to, no—but you could. Dad turned back to Colonel Morris. "What can I do for you, sir?"
"You'll have heard it's probably war with the Valley?"
"I've heard it. I hoped it wasn't true," Dad answered.
"Well, it is," Colonel Morris said. "We're going to collect a toll at the top of the pass, and they don't like it. I hope we'll be able to buy some more of those fine muskets and revolvers you sell. They're the next best thing to Old Time guns."
"I'll see what I can do," Liz's father said. As far as anyone here knew, the guns he sold came up from a cousin's shop in Sandago. They really came from the home timeline. People there used them as trade goods in several low-tech alternates. Dad went on, "Do you really need the toll enough to fight to keep it?"
"The City Council says we do." The City Council was the band of nine nobles who ran things in the Westside. The title made it sound as if they were elected, but they weren't. A lot of names from the days before the war hung on, even if they pointed to different things now. Colonel Morris added, "I'm loyal to the Council and obey its orders, of course."
"Of course." Dad didn't even sound sarcastic. The Westside officer had to say stuff like that. The City Council's spies were everywhere. Colonel Morris couldn't know Dad wasn't one of them.
"Do you really have to follow orders even when they're dumb?" Liz asked.
Colonel Morris blinked. Dad sent her a look that said she'd got out of line. A mere girl wasn't supposed to challenge authority. For that matter, nobody in the Westside was supposed to.
"That's a heavy question, sweetie," Colonel Morris said, by which he meant it was important. When he said sweetie, he meant Liz wasn't. She was only a girl, somebody he could patronize. She wanted to pick up a chair and clout him over the head with it. Maybe that would knock sense into him. Or maybe not.
Instead, she smiled—sweetly—and said, "Well, have you got an answer for it?"
Dad coughed. She wasn't supposed to push like this. She didn't much care, not when the Westsider insulted her without even knowing he was doing it.
"I have the only answer I need," Colonel Morris said. "What ever the City Council tells me to do, I do it."
I'm just following orders. How many people in how many alternates said the same thing? How much grief did they cause when they did? Too much—Liz knew that.
"How long will we have to wait for the guns?" the colonel asked Liz's father. He tried to ignore her now. Was that better than patronizing her? Was it worse? Was it as bad in a different way?
"It'll be a while, sir," Jeff Mendoza answered. "Long way down to Sandago." It wasn't even two hundred kilometers. If traffic on the 405 wasn't bad, you could get to San Diego in a couple of hours. You could in the home timeline, anyhow. If you were traveling in a horse-drawn wagon in this alternate, the town with the rubbed-down name was more like a week away.
"Well, do what you can," Colonel Morris said. "We need those guns, especially the six-shooters. See you later." He sketched a salute to Dad, nodded to Liz, and left.
After the door was barred behind the local, Dad turned to Liz and said, "You can't poke him with a pin whenever you feel like it, you know."
"I guess not," she said. "But he ticked me off."
"He didn't even realize he was doing it."
"That's the point," Liz said. "I sure knew."
"What am I going to do with you?" Her father sounded half annoyed, half amused.
"Send me home. I don't like it here very much," Liz answered. "Or if you can't do that, let me go up to the campus."
"You know we won't send you home. You know you don't really want to go home, too." Now Dad donned patience like a suit of armor. The most annoying thing was, he was right. She wanted the year of crosstime ser vice on her college applications, even if she didn't like coming here to get it. Dad went on, "Sending you up to UCLA wasn't so simple, either. What we had to pay to get you a stack pass . . ."
Liz sighed. "What is simple?"
Her father gave her a hug. "Welcome to the world, sweet heart."
"Groovy," she said, as sardonically as she could. He only laughed.
Along with the rest of Captain Kevin's men, Dan marched back to the barracks in the Sepulveda Basin. Piles and piles of sandbags were stacked close to the halls. Most of the time, the Sepulveda Basin was as dry as the rest of the Valley. But it could flood in a hurry when the rains came down. The sandbags had saved the barracks more than once over the years.
No rain now, not in the summertime. The Valley was full of cisterns to hold the rain that had fallen the winter before. Watermasters doled it out to farms and families. In years with dry winters, everyone worried about whether there'd be enough for crops—and for people.
Back in the Old Time, irrigation had brought water from hundreds of miles away. Everybody in Los Angeles had had plenty. All the houses and apartments and factories and shops showed as much. There were far more of them than the people who lived here now could ever hope to .ll. All over L.A., in all the little countries that had sprung up since the day the Fire fell, scavengers scrounged through the swarms of abandoned buildings for what ever they could find.
Something occurred to Dan. "Hey, Sergeant!" he said. If Sergeant Chuck didn't know everything, he didn't know he didn't know it.
"What is it, kid?" The three stripes on his sleeve—genuine Old Time stripes, machine-embroidered—gave him the right to treat everybody below him the way Dan's father treated him before he got drafted.
"Is it true what they say about swimming pools?"
"You mean, did the Old Time people really fill those cement holes in the ground with water and swim in them? They didn't just use 'em for cisterns or put dirt back in 'em?"
"Yes, Sergeant. That's what I mean." Dan nodded.
"Oh, it's true, all right." Sergeant Chuck nodded, too, solemnly. "I've seen pictures in Old Time magazines."
That proved it, all right, unless . . . "Were they for-true magazines?"
"Well, I sure think so," the sergeant answered. "They had other things that sure are real—cars and things, you know."
"Oh, yeah." Dan nodded. You couldn't not know about cars. Their rusting corpses .filled the streets. To this day, they were the main source of iron for blacksmiths. Their wheels—with tires of wood, not the rubber that had rotted away—still turned on carts and wagons. Glass from their windows gave homes light to this day. "I wonder how they moved so fast all by themselves, though."
"Well, who doesn't?" Chuck said. "Must've been something like a steam engine, I expect."
Big, puffing steam engines pumped water. A few of them moved engines along railroads. But so many rail lines were broken, and so many bandits prowled the routes, that railroads often seemed more trouble than they were worth. "How did Old Time people keep railroads from getting raided?" Dan asked.
"I don't think they did," the sergeant told him. "You know the story of Jesse James and Annie Oakley, don't you?"
"Little Orphan Annie? I hope I do!" Dan said.
"Well, they were train robbers, right?"
"They were," Dan admitted. "But they got caught and paid the price. Jesse did, anyway. Annie married Judge Warbucks and got off. Too many robbers these days never even get caught."
"Too many places for bad guys to slip through the cracks," Sergeant Chuck said. "What you've got to remember is, back in Old Time days this was all one country—the Valley and the Westside and Burbank and Speedro. All the way from Sandago to Frisco. Even Vegas. All one country. Bad guys couldn't just skip over a border and disappear, like."
"Uh-huh." Dan had learned that in school. And there were big stretches of land now that didn't belong to anybody—except bandits and brigands, anyhow. "If people other places would just admit Zev was their rightful king . . ."
Chuck laughed. "Don't hold your breath. The Westside wants the City Council to run everything. Burbank's got a Director and a Producer. All the other countries think they ought to be top dog, too."
"But they don't know what they're talking about. We're the only really civilized one." Dan had learned that in school, too.
"Well, sure." Chuck had probably also learned it in school. Most people in the Valley had four years of education. Quite a few had six or even eight. Dan did. He could read and write and add and subtract and even multiply and do long division. Adding and subtracting always came in handy. He didn't know if he'd ever use the fancier stuff, but he had it if he needed it.
And reading . . . Nothing killed time better than reading. Back in the Old Time, they'd had TV and the movies and radio and records to make time go by. A few records still played on wind-up phonographs. The other things weren't even memories any more, because nobody still alive recalled using them. But old people remembered their grandparents talking about them, and Old Time books and magazines mentioned them all the time. They had to be for-true.
Sergeant Chuck broke into his thoughts: "If I were you, Dan, I'd start practicing hard. A good archer's worth about as much as a musketeer."
"Do you think there'll be a war, honest?" Dan asked.
"Sure do," the sergeant answered. "King Zev won't let the Westside close the pass. That's too big a slap in the face to put up with. If those snooty so-and-so's get away with it, next thing you know Burbank'll start pushing us around, too."
"It's a good thing they put these barracks on Victory Boulevard," Dan said.
"Yeah, that's heavy, all right," Chuck agreed. "Talk about your good omens."
"Can't hardly get a better one," Dan said. Some Old Time books seemed to laugh at the idea that anyone could foretell the future. But the Bible didn't. Whether you were Christian or Jewish, you had to believe in prophets. And plenty of decks of tarot cards floated around, some printed before the Fire came down and others, cruder, afterwards. Dan snapped his fingers. "Talking about omens—can I ask you one more thing?"
"Go ahead." Sergeant Chuck was in a good mood—maybe he looked forward to a war with the Westside.
"Does King Zev really have a Magic Eight Ball to help tell him what to do?"
"He doesn't have just one—he's got two," Chuck declared.
"My cousin's a preacher's assistant, and he knows stuff like that."
"Two? Wow! Oh, wow!" Dan hadn't dreamt the Valley was so rich.
"You better believe it," Chuck said. "And what he does is, he asks both of them the same question and then he sees how each one answers. If that's not scientific, I don't know what is."
"Scientific." Dan's voice went all dreamy—there was a word to conjure with. And plenty of wizards and fortune-tellers did just that. "Well, if we don't have the vitamins to beat the Westside with two Magic Eight Balls, I don't know what else we'd need."
"Soldiers," Sergeant Chuck told him. "What ever else you've got, you always need soldiers."
Walking up Hilgard to the UCLA campus made Liz want to cry. It was like walking past the skeleton of a good friend. You knew who it was. If you tried, you could picture what the person—or the place—had looked like alive. But all you saw was death.
The asphalt was so old, it was nearer white than black. Here and there, it had washed out altogether. Cobblestones replaced a few stretches. Others were just dirt. Cracks seamed even intact asphalt, like the wrinkles on a great-grandmother's face.
Cracks also marred the concrete of the sidewalk. Back in the home timeline, Liz would have gone past the botanical gardens and some nicely watered lawns across the street. Here, most of the imported plants in the gardens were dead, killed off by L.A.'s summer droughts. No one here had a lawn that was green in the summertime. There was no water to spare for such luxury. From November to March—in a wet year, to May—things were green. Any other time? Brown.
Sorority houses and rich people's homes stood across the street from the campus in the home timeline. Some of the buildings still stood here. A couple of the old sororities even had their Greek letters on the front wall. Nobody in this alternate seemed to know what they meant any more.
They weren't sorority houses and rich people's homes any more, not here. Guards stood outside one of them—it was the Westside jail. Smoke poured from another one—it was a smithy and armory, and made a lot of the weapons the local army used. Several homes were armored with iron—some old sheet metal, some taken from dead automobiles. Members of the City Council lived in those. As far as Liz was concerned, they took A man's home is his castle too far. The rulers of the Westside didn't seem to take chances about how well loved they were.
Turning left onto the actual campus was both a relief and a bigger wound. Parts of the north end seemed hauntingly familiar. Everyone in the home timeline called Bunche Hall the Waffle because of the square windows in the south wall that stuck out from the brown stone surface. The building remained intact here, too. Only a few of the windows did, though.
There was also another difference—a subtler one—between the two versions of the same building. Down at the bottom of Bunche Hall in the home timeline, there was a bust of the diplomat, and his name, and the dates of his birth and death: 1904-1971. Everything here was the same . . . except the date of Ralph Bunche's death was missing. He was still alive when the war started, and after that nobody cared. The 1904-that remained seemed asymmetrical. The artisan who put it up had figured it would look fine once Bunche died. In the home timeline, he was right.
Liz wondered whether Ralph Bunche ever saw the building named for him. If he did, what did he think of the way that nameless artisan had laid things out? Wouldn't it have seemed as if the man was just waiting for him to keel over? It felt that way to Liz, anyhow.
Her goal lay beyond Bunche Hall and to the left as she came up from the south. In the home timeline, it was the Young Research Library—the YRL—named after a twentieth-century administrator. Here, it was the University Research Library, or URL. They hadn't got around to naming it for the otherwise forgotten Young before the missiles started flying.
Five stories' worth of books and periodicals ... What better place to try to figure out why things went wrong in this alternate? The Westsiders had an almost superstitious respect for what they called Old Time knowledge. They took care of what the URL held as best they could. Most of it was still intact.
A guard outside the door nodded to Liz—she'd been here before. He had an Old Time .45 on his hip—that was how important the Westsiders thought the URL was. Liz had sometimes wondered if computer URLs got their name from the University Research Library. That turned out not to be true—only an interesting coincidence.
Once upon a time, the plate-glass door by the guard station had been automatic. No more. No infrared beam to cut. No electricity to power the door even if there were a beam. Nothing but muscle power and fading memories. Liz pulled the door open and went in.
Her eyes needed a few seconds to get used to the gloom in the foyer. Some of the lamp fixtures in the ceiling still had fluorescent tubes in them. Maybe some of the tubes still worked. But no electricity had .owed through them since the Fire fell. The light inside the entrance hall came from the doorway and from the flickering oil lamps and candles. Soot caked thick on the walls above them said they'd burned there for a long, long time.
In the home timeline, students—and other people who needed to find things they couldn't track on the Net—would have bustled through the library and gathered in front of the elevators. Only a couple of people here wandered across the foyer. The elevators, of course, were as dead as the door and the fluorescent tubes.
If you wanted to go upstairs here, you literally had to go up the stairs. A stair dragon waited at the bottom. He called himself a librarian, but he was really a stair dragon. You had to placate him before you could go up, and he'd search you when you came down again to make sure you weren't stealing books.
"Stack pass?" he growled as Liz came up. He breathed smoke, too—he was puffing on a fat cigar. Liz thought he smelled gross. Tobacco was a popular crop and trade good here. And why not? In this alternate, other things were likely to kill you before cancer or heart disease could.
To make sure he didn't start breathing .re, Liz showed him the family stack pass. It had cost her father a pretty penny in bribes, but good whiskey and wind-up alarm clocks and other goodies from the home timeline made getting what you wanted here pretty easy.
"Thank you. Go ahead." The stair dragon actually smiled. The stink of his smoldering cheroot chased Liz up the stairs. She coughed a couple of times, wishing she needed to go all the way up to the fifth floor so she could escape it. But the magazines she wanted lived on the second floor, and the nasty smell was bound to keep coming up after her.
Study desks and chairs and tables all stood near the south-facing windows. Sunlight was the best light by which to work here, and the library shut down after dark. The desks and the tables dated back to the Old Time. A few of the chairs—the plastic ones with metal legs—did, too. Most of those had cracked or worn out since, though. That didn't bother Liz. The wooden ones the Westsiders had made since were more comfortable anyhow.
When Liz did go back into the stacks, the musty smell of old paper filled her nostrils. It was stronger here than it would have been in the home timeline. No climate control here, so the paper aged faster. A lot of books on the top floor were damaged beyond repair because the roof leaked. Down here, that wasn't a worry, anyhow.
She pulled out a bound volume of Newsweek magazines that ran from January to March of 1967. The war had started—and ended—in the summer. Nobody at the URL had bound the issues for April to June. Or, if somebody had, the volume had disappeared before Crosstime Traffic discovered this blighted alternate.
Liz wanted those, or the equivalent from Time or Life or Look or U.S. News & World Report. She was stuck with what she had, though. She carried the bound volume back to a table. She was the only one there, so she could open the volume—carefully—and start scanning pages with a handheld scanner that sucked up data the way a vacuum cleaner sucked up dust.
If a local did see her doing that, he wouldn't understand it. Neither this alternate nor the home timeline had known how to make handheld scanners in 1967. Transistor radios were still pretty new. She saw an ad for one. It was bigger than an iPod, and couldn't do one percent as much. It didn't even have an FM band, only AM. And the ad said it was a technological breakthrough! The scary thing was, maybe the ad was right.
The Vietnam War dominated the news. It would have done the same thing in the home timeline. Liz didn't know exactly how what had happened here differed from what happened in the home timeline. That was why she was sucking up data. Computers could compare the text here to what the same issues said in the home timeline. Once they figured out how things had changed, they would have a better chance of nailing down where the breakpoint lay.
In the meantime . . . In the meantime, Liz was unskilled labor. All she had to do was slide the scanner over one column after another. It did the real work. If she wanted to stare at the strange clothes and hairdos and the funky lines of the cars, she could. If she wanted to pause and read something interesting-looking, she could do that.
And, as long as the mellow sunshine poured in through the windows, if she wanted to pretend she was at the other UCLA, the right UCLA . . . well, she could almost do that, too.
King Zev wasn't much to look at. Dan had been much younger than he was now when he first realized as much. Zev was short and round, not tall and heroic the way kings in stories usually were. Zev was going bald. His beard was scraggly and streaked with gray. He had a big nose.
But, when he dressed up in an Old Time business suit and necktie, when he put a top hat on his head, he looked dignified even if not quite handsome. And he owned a big, booming voice, the kind of voice a lot of tall, heroic kings would have envied. He hardly needed the gilded Megaphone of State to get what he wanted to say out to the people and the army of the Valley.
Along with the other soldiers who'd gone down to the Westside's barricade across the 405, Dan sat close to the podium from which King Zev spoke. Their tobacco-brown uniforms were a good match for the dirt and the sun-blasted shrubs and bushes all around. Most ordinary people wore homespun, which also went well with the open space. Some richer men, though, had on Old Time shirts of nylon and trousers of polyester. The Old Time fabrics could wear out and fray, but bugs and mildew didn't bother them. And the colors and patterns on some of them drove modern weavers and dyers mad with jealousy.
"The Westside won't get away with it!" King Zev roared through the megaphone. "We won't let the Westside get away with it, will we?"
"No!" Dan yelled, along with the other soldiers. The ordinary citizens shouted, too, but not so loud.
"Down in the Westside, they think they can break treaties whenever they want to," the king said. "They think they can make us pay for what's always been a freeway. They think we're too spineless to care. Are they right?"
"No!" Dan yelled again, louder than ever.
"I can't hear you!" King Zev cupped a hand behind one ear.
"No!" This time, Dan yelled so loud, it hurt. All around him, other young men in uniform were shouting themselves hoarse, too.
King Zev smiled. "All right. Good," he said. "Far freaking out. We've told them we won't stand for it, but they don't want to listen. So what are we, like, going to do about it?"
"Fight 'em!" Dan bellowed. The other soldiers were shouting things like "Kill them!" and "Nuke 'em!" and "Smash 'em to bits!"
Zev's smile got wider. "That's just what we'll do. I've given Ambassador Mort his walking papers. He can go down there and tell the Westside City Council our soldiers will take care of their miserable, stupid wall."
Everybody cheered. No one liked the ambassador much. Even for a Westsider, he was pompous. He seemed to think getting sent to the Valley was a punishment, not a diplomatic appointment. He walked around as if everything up here smelled bad.
"Send him back where he belongs!" Dan yelled. The soldiers sitting near him laughed and clapped.
"I'm going to send him back," Zev said, picking up on Dan's shout. That made Dan feel pretty special. All the people in the Valley were special, just because they were lucky enough to live here. He'd learned that in school, too. But he felt especially special right now. King Zev went on, "And I'm going to tell him to tell the City Council they can look for our soldiers right behind him!"
"Right on!" Dan thrust his fist in the air in a gesture that came from the Old Time. "Right on, your Majesty!"
"Heavy! That's soooo heavy!" Sergeant Chuck agreed. Soldiers and civilians cheered and pounded on things and made as much noise as they could.
King Zev raised his hands. The hot Valley sun gleamed off the golden megaphone. "I thank you, my people, for rolling with me on this one." Now he'd said the closing words. It was official. It was democratic. It was war.
Excerpted from The Valley - Westside War by Harry Turtledove
Copyright © 2008 by Harry Turtledove
Published in July 2008 by Tom Doherty Associates, LLC
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher. Continues...
Excerpted from The Valley-Westside War by Turtledove, Harry Copyright © 2009 by Turtledove, Harry. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.