–Science Fiction Age
World War II has evolved into decades of epic struggles and rebellions targeting the aliens known as the Race. As the 1960s begin, one of Earth’s great powers launches a nuclear strike against the Race’s colonization fleet–and the merciless invaders find themselves confronting a far more complex and challenging species than any they have encountered before. Ultimately, only superior firepower may keep Earth under the Empire’s control–or it may destroy the world. While uprisings and aftershocks of war shake the planet, one nation plots a stunning counterattack . . .
“Hugo winner Turtledove lives up to his billing as the grand master of alternative history. . . . This novel is altogether excellent.”
–Publishers Weekly (starred review)
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As the jet aircraft descended toward the airport outside the still slightly radioactive ruins of Nuremberg, Pshing asked Atvar, “Exalted Fleetlord, is this visit really necessary?”
“I believe it,” the commander of the Race’s conquest fleet told his adjutant. “My briefings state that a Tosevite wise in the political affairs of his kind recommended that a conqueror visit the region he conquered as soon as he could, to make those he had defeated aware of their new masters.”
“Technically, the Greater German Reich remains independent,” Pshing pointed out.
“So it does—technically. But that will remain a technicality, I assure you.” Atvar used an emphatic cough to show how strongly he felt about that. “The Deutsche did us far too much harm in this exchange of explosive-metal weapons to let their madness ever break free again.”
“A pity we had to concede them even so limited an independence,” Pshing said.
“And that is also a truth,” Atvar agreed with a sigh. He swiveled one eye turret toward the window to get another look at the glassy crater that filled the center of the former capital of the Greater German Reich. Beyond it lay a slagged wilderness of what remained of homes and factories and public buildings. Conventional bombs had devastated the airport, too, but it was back in service.
Pshing said, “If only we had some means of detecting their missile-carrying boats that can stay submerged indefinitely. Without those, we could have forced unconditional surrender out of them.”
“Truth,” Atvar repeated. “With them, though, they could have inflicted a good deal more damage to our colonies here on Tosev 3. They will be surrendering the submarines they have left. We shall not allow them to build more. We shall not allow them to have anything to do with atomic power or explosive-metal weapons henceforward.”
“That is excellent. That is as it should be,” Pshing said. “If only we could arrange to confiscate the submersible boats of the United States and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics as well, we would truly be on our way toward a definitive conquest of this miserable planet.”
“I merely thank the spirits of Emperors past”—Atvar cast both his eye turrets down to the floor of the aircraft that carried him—“that neither of the other powerful not-empires chose to join the Deutsche against us. Together, they could have hurt us much worse than the Reich alone did.”
“And now we also have the Nipponese to worry about,” Pshing added. “Who knows what they will do, now that they have learned the art of constructing explosive-metal weapons? They already have submarines, and they already have missiles.”
“We never did pay enough attention to islands and their inhabitants,” Atvar said fretfully. “Small chunks of land surrounded by sea were never important back on Home, so we have always assumed the same would hold true here. Unfortunately, it does not seem to be so.”
Before Pshing could answer, the aircraft’s landing gear touched down on the runway outside Nuremberg. The Race’s engineering, slowly refined through a hundred thousand years of planetary unity, was very fine, but not fine enough to keep Atvar from feeling some bumps as the aircraft slowed to a stop.
“My apologies, Exalted Fleetlord.” The pilot’s voice came back to him on the intercom. “I was given to understand repairs to the landing surface were better than is in fact the case.”
Peering out the window, Atvar saw Deutsch males in the cloth wrappings that singled out their military drawn up in neat ranks to greet and honor him. They carried rifles. His security males had flabbled about that, but the Reich remained nominally independent. If some fanatic sought to assassinate him, his second-in-command in Cairo would do . . . well enough. “What was the name of the sly Big Ugly who suggested this course?” he asked Pshing.
“Machiavelli.” His adjutant pronounced the alien name with care, one syllable at a time. “He lived and wrote about nine hundred years ago. Nine hundred of our years, I should say—half as many of Tosev 3’s.”
“So he came after our probe, then?” Atvar said, and Pshing made the affirmative gesture. The Race had studied Tosev 3 sixteen hundred years before: again, half that many in Tosevite terms. The fleetlord went on, “Remember the sword-swinging savage mounted on an animal the probe showed us? He was the height of Tosevite military technology in those days.”
“A pity he did not remain the height of Tosevite military technology, as we were so confident he would,” Pshing said. “When we understand how the Big Uglies are able to change so rapidly, we will be able to prevent them from doing so in the future. That will help bind them to the Empire.”
“So it will . . . if we can do it,” Atvar replied. “If not, we will wreck them one not-empire at a time. Or, if necessary, we will destroy this whole world, even our colonies on it. That will cauterize it once for all.”
One other possibility remained, a possibility that had never entered his mind when the conquest fleet first reached Tosev 3: the Big Uglies might conquer the Race. If they did, they would next mount an attack on Home. Atvar was as sure of it as of the fact that he’d hatched from an egg. Wrecking the world would prevent it, as a surgeon sometimes had to prevent death by cutting out a tumor.
With the Reich prostrate, the Big Uglies would have a much harder time of it. Atvar knew that. But the worry never went away. The locals were quicker, more adaptable, than the Race. He knew that, too; close to fifty of his years of experience on Tosev 3 had burned the lesson into him again and again.
Clunks and bangings from up ahead came to his hearing diaphragm: the aircraft’s door opening. He did not go forward at once; his security males would disembark ahead of him to form what was termed a ceremonial guard and amounted to a defensive perimeter. It would not hold against concerted attack; it might keep a single crazed Big Ugly from murdering him. Atvar hoped it would.
One of those security males came back to his seat and bent into the posture of respect. “All is in readiness, Exalted Fleetlord,” he reported. “And the radioactivity level is acceptably low.”
“I thank you, Diffal,” Atvar said. The male had headed Security since midway through the fighting. He wasn’t so good as his predecessor, Drefsab, but Drefsab had fallen victim to Big Uglies with even more nasty talents—or perhaps just more luck—than he’d had. Atvar turned an eye turret toward Pshing. “Come with me.”
“It shall be done, Exalted Fleetlord,” his adjutant said.
Atvar let out a hiss of disgust at the weather outside, which was chilly and damp. Cairo, whence he’d come, had a reasonably decent climate. Nuremberg didn’t come close. And this was spring, heading toward summer. Winter would have been much worse. Atvar shivered at the very idea.
As he emerged from his aircraft, a Deutsch military band began braying away. The Big Uglies meant it as an honor, not an insult, and so he endured the unmusical—at least to his hearing diaphragms—racket. The security officials parted to let a Big Ugly through: not the Führer of the Deutsche, but a protocol aide. “If you advance to the end of the carpet, Exalted Fleetlord, the Führer will meet you there,” he said, using the language of the Race about as well as a Tosevite could.
Making the gesture of agreement, Atvar advanced to the edge of the strip of red cloth and stopped. His security males kept him covered and kept themselves between him and the ranks of the Deutsche. The Tosevite soldiers looked fierce and barbaric, and had proved themselves formidable in battle. They are beaten now, Atvar reminded himself. They didn’t seem beaten, though. By their bearing, they were ready to go right back to war.
Their ranks parted slightly. Out from among them came a relatively short, rather stout Big Ugly in wrappings related to those of the soldiers but fancier. He wore a cap on his head. The hair Atvar could see below it was white, which meant he was not young. When he took off the cap for a moment, he showed that most of his scalp was bare, another sign of an aging male Tosevite.
As the Deutsche had parted, so, rather more reluctantly, did Atvar’s security males. The Big Ugly walked up to Atvar and shot out his arm in salute. Being still formally independent, he did not have to assume the posture of respect. “I greet you, Exalted Fleetlord,” he said. He was less fluent in Atvar’s language than his protocol officer, but he made himself understood. “I am Walter Dornberger, Führer and Chancellor of the Greater German Reich.”
“And I greet you, Führer.” Atvar knew he made a hash of the Deutsch word, but it didn’t matter. “Your males fought bravely. Now the fighting is over. You shall have to learn that fighting bravely and fighting wisely are not the same.”
“Had I led the Reich when this war began, it would not have begun,” Dornberger replied. “But my superiors thought differently. Now they are dead, and I have to pick up the pieces they left behind.”
That was Tosevite idiom; the Race would have spoken of putting an eggshell back together. But Atvar understood. “You shall have fewer pieces with which to work henceforward. We intend to make certain of that. You did too much harm to us to be trusted any longer.”
“I understand,” Dornberger said. “The terms you have forced me to accept are harsh. But you and the Race have left me no other choice.”
“Your predecessors had a choice,” Atvar said coldly. “They chose the wrong path. You are obliged to live with their decision, and with what it has left you.”
“I also understand that,” the Tosevite replied. “But you can hardly deny that you are wringing all possible advantages from your victory.”
“Of course we are,” Atvar said. “That is what victory is for. Or do you believe it has some other purpose?”
“By no means,” Dornberger said. In tones of professional admiration, he added, “You were clever to set France up again as an independent not-empire. I did not expect that of you.”
“I thank you.” The fleetlord had not imagined he might know a certain amount of sympathy for the Big Ugly who now led the not-empire that had done the Race so much harm. “Little by little, through continual contact with you Tosevites, we do learn how to play your games. You should be thankful we left you any fragments of your independence.”
“I am thankful to you for that,” Dornberger answered. “I suspect I should also be thankful to the Americans and Russians, who would not have taken it kindly to see the Greater German Reich disappear from the map.”
The Tosevite was indeed professionally competent. Both the USA and the Soviet Union had made it very clear to Atvar that their fear of the Race would increase if the Reich were treated as an outright conquest. After what he had suffered fighting Germany, he did not want the other not-empires excessively afraid; it might make them do something foolish. He hated having to take their fears into account, but they were too strong to let him do anything else. His tailstump quivered in irritation.
Pointing at Dornberger with his tongue, he said, “We no longer need to worry so much about the opinion of the Reich. And we shall do everything possible—everything necessary—to make sure we never have to worry about it again. Do you understand?”
“Of course, Exalted Fleetlord,” Dornberger answered, and Atvar wondered how—and how soon—the Deutsche would start trying to cheat him.
Sweat ran down Colonel Johannes Drucker’s face. Everyone knew the Lizards preferred their weather hot as the Sahara. As the German sat, a prisoner of war, in a cubicle aboard one of their starships, he scratched his bare chest. The Lizards were scrupulous. They’d returned to him the coveralls he’d worn aboard the upper stage of the A-45 that had lifted him into Earth orbit. They’d even washed them. But he couldn’t bear the thought of putting them on, not when he felt about ready to have an apple stuck in his mouth even naked.
He sighed, longing for the fogs and chill of Peenemünde, the Reich’s rocket base on the Baltic. But Peenemünde was radioactive rubble now. His family lived in Greifswald, not far to the west. He sighed again, on a different, grimmer note. He prayed that they weren’t radioactive dust, but he had no way of knowing.
The chair on which he sat was too small for him, and shaped for a backside proportioned differently from his. The sleeping mat on the floor was also too small, and too hard to boot. The Lizards fed him canned goods imported from the lands they ruled and from the USA, most of which were not to his taste.
It could have been worse. He’d tried to blow up this starship. Its antimissiles had knocked out one of the warheads he’d launched from his upper stage, its close-in weapons system the other. The Race had still accepted his surrender afterwards. Few humans would have been so generous.
He got up and used the head. Every so often, Lizard technicians came in and fiddled with the plumbing. It wasn’t made for liquid waste; the Race, like real lizards, excreted only solids. From trying to blow the starship to a cloud of radioactive gas, he’d been reduced to causing problems in its pipes. That was funny, if you looked at it the right way.
What People are Saying About This
"Hugo winner Turtledove lives up to his billing as the grand master of alternative history.... This novel is altogether excellent." -Publishers Weekly Starred Review