Drakafic: The Al Aqaba Roundtable

"Too dry out here for my complexion," Nikolaas groaned, "I feel like one of those sea sponges they put on display in museums."

"We're moving through Transjordan," his neighbor in the seat across the row said unsympathetically, "if you like a wet climate you came to the wrong place. If you were tubercular, on the other hand, it would be a fine place. But it will get better when we are nearer the sea."

"Ah. What brings you to Al Aqaba, anyway?" Nikolaas asked him.

The man snorted, "Nothing of my own choice. I work for the Mogadishu Office of Tran African Fruit, and we grow a lot of dates in Palestine. Bushmen sabotaged some of our trucks and I got picked to inspect it. Office politics, my boss doesn't like me so he sent me on this garbage trip. I'm going to catch a boat out of Al Aqaba and get home."


"My name is Peter Magnusson, by the way," he continued, extending his right hand.

Nikolaas shook it. "Nikolaas Vanderzee."

"Before I came up here," Peter said, "I only heard bad things about this area, and I can say it was all quite justified. It's not so bad up in Syria and Palestine, but when you get down around the desert it's just about the worst place west of Afghanistan. These uh, what do you call them? Bedouin? They just boil out of the desert and cause trouble. You'd think that we'd have gotten them down by now, they should just send some airship over the desert and gas them."

"That might fix it. Probably," Nikolaas replied, "you follow the papers?"

Peter shrugged, "Not really. What am I to do about it, you know? I do accounting work for a fruit company." He chuckled.

"Well, I was only going to say that I read there are Americans in Russia now," Vanderzee explained, "sounds like its getting ugly."

"Americans." Magnusson sneered. "They won't be much trouble. They're mongrels. You know they live side by side with their khaffirs? They even let them vote. Everybody's a citizen over there. That sort of thing isn't going to engender any sort of strength."

"Well, as if that matters," Nikolaas said, "I don't it would improve their strength one iota if they didn't have that perverse tendency toward equality."

"Anyway, why bring it up?" Peter said.

Vanderzee smiled. "Well, just introducing myself. I just came from the Ukraine."

The other man's eyebrows shot up, "Soldier?"

"No, not recently, anyway. Journalist. I was just in Kisinev doing, uh, freelance work. I had a byline in the Alexandria Gazette a couple of weeks ago," Nikolaas said.

"As I said, I don't read the papers."

"Ah, that's right. Well, I'm actually trying to write a book these days. It's why I'm headed down to Al Aqaba; I'm trying to get out to the fringes. It would seem an interesting topic, eh?"

Peter sniffed politely. "I don't read many books, either."

The conversation died then, and the train rattled down the tracks. Peter Magnusson quietly excused himself to the restaurant car. Vanderzee did not expect him to return. He had done a lot of traveling on trains and he knew how uncomfortable being in a small room with a stranger could get, especially when the stranger brought up something as unfamiliar as literature. Nikolaas thought that, perhaps, the reason that so few Drakans read books was that the majority of books published in the Dominate were so appallingly bad. Unless one wanted to read a boring novel about aristocrats on large plantations living the high life, or a rotten pulp about the heroic Drakans of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries storming the jungles and taking the khaffirs under their enlightened and paternal leadership, one was quite out of luck.

In most cases Nikolaas supposed that a Drakan probably wouldn't read more than a handful of books between when he completed his education and his death. Undoubtedly there was a demand for proper books, and Nikolaas supposed that one could do very well with a little bit of talent. Meanwhile, the train rattled further down the track, steam driving it along through the desert. The car behind the one that Vanderzee sat in was a flat bed with two machinegun nests set in it. Though Transjordan was relatively stable, it was a dangerous place these days, like all of Arabia. The Moslems made very poor slaves. Oftentimes bushmen would ride out of the desert and break a section of track; sometimes they would attack the train when it was forced to stop, mostly not.

Vanderzee's trip, however, was uneventful. He made it to Al Aqaba, such as it was, safely and on time.


He would not have believed that a seafront town could be quite so dusty. Nikolaas had been in a great many port cities and he would say without reservation that Al Aqaba was the worst so far. It dealt mainly in the trade that was too far from either Port Said or Aden to be cheaply moved there by rail. Vanderzee was perhaps the first person in years who had come to Al Aqaba by choice rather than necessity. It had once been a rather significant city, with a tremendous traffic of moslems on their pilgrimage to Mecca. No longer.

Despite what the businessman on the train had said, he still felt dried out despite his closeness to the Red Sea. The proximity of the oceans simply added a salty tinge to the discomfort of dehydration. Luckily, his destination was quite near the train station, and it happened to be a tavern. Nikolaas walked briskly past the walls of the fort, which looked quite decrepit and disused. The Bedouin stayed away from cities, for the most part, because they could not afford to get anywhere near a place where there would be any sort of defensive firepower. A truck steamed past Nikolaas and through the fort's gates, kicking up a cloud of dust that quickly swallowed him.

He coughed and staggered away towards the tavern next to the fort. Like every other building he could see, it was old and dusty and poorly maintained. Vanderzee walked through the open doors, slapping the dust from his clothes. The tavern had the usual interior construction, with a bar set along one wall and a smattering of small tables around the main floor, except for a quite large, round table set in one corner. Nikolaas approached the bar and set his suitcase along next to it. A huge citizen was sitting on one of the stools, nursing a glass of some foul-looking dark fluid. He was well over six feet tall and similarly large in his other proportions. Despite the low lighting in the bar, Nikolaas noticed that the man was quite pallid.

The bartender was an elderly Arab in an ill-fitting suit of a style that had gone out years ago. He stared at Vanderzee with dumb equanimity.

The man on the stool looked over. His voice had a curiously strained quality. "What will it be?"

"Eh?" Nikolaas asked. "Are you the bartender?"

The man shook his head, "I'm the proprietor. I'd get the drink for you, but--" he broke off into a coughing fit, which he partially stifled in his handkerchief. He shrugged. "I've got the consumption. Ali is shit at bartending and worse at English, so you'll tell me what you want and I'll tell him what drink he's going to butcher."

"A glass of water, I guess," Vanderzee said.

The proprietor sneered at him. "Water? What are you, a teetotaler?"

Nikolaas gestured at the clock set up behind the bar. "It's only one o'clock. Too early for me."

"You're in the wrong place." The man coughed into his handkerchief again. "In Al Aqaba, it is always a good time for a drink."

All the same, he bellowed at the bartender, "Mayia!"

Ali fumbled with a glass and poured a bottle of soda water into it, and pushed it towards Nikolaas. Vanderzee picked it up and raised it slightly to the owner. "To your health." He downed the glass in a few gulps and set it down on the bar, tapping twice to signal Ali to refill it.

"My name is Jan Wyman," the proprietor said, "you must forgive me for not shaking hands."

"Nikolaas Vanderzee."

"What brings you to this arsehole town, Nick?"

"I'm a writer. Writing about what goes on in these sleepy provincial outposts," Nikolaas explained.

Jan scratched at his chest and took a swig of whiskey. "Sounds like a garbage subject for a book."

"Maybe. Depends on the writing, I suppose." Vanderzee pointed at the odd, round table. "When will they be around?"

Wyman frowned, "Usually they come in about three o'clock. They going to be in your book?"

"Hopefully they'll be interesting enough," Vanderzee said.

"What about me?" Jan asked with a raspy chortle.

Nikolaas smiled and produced a notebook from his satchel. "Tell you what, get us a deck of cards and we'll kill two hours, I'll see how interesting you are."


Jan Wyman had been in the army until about 1932, when he had contracted tuberculosis, probably from a chance meeting with an infected serf. With that he had been discharged and advised by the army doctors to seek a dry climate. The most obvious place was Arabia, though it was actually rather expensive to live in most areas of it, mainly as an effect of the paucity of water. Wyman hadn't enough money from his pension to cover the cost of living in Yemen or Mesopotamia, so the only solution had been to move to the cheapest places possible. Al Aqaba was one step above Riyadh. So now, after dutifully serving his country and giving up his lungs, he scratched out a living in a rotten provincial town, running his mortgaged bar for the benefit of other destitutes and the pathetic officers in the fort, who had been rejected by all the proper commands in Arabia.

"And the dust," he said, "probably outdoes any benefit I might have got from the dryness."

Nikolaas dutifully took notes through all of this, though he knew immediately that the man would be of no use to his project. He had said that he would give Jan due consideration, and it did not pay to be rude.

At around 3:15, two men came through the doors, one walking with a cane. Nikolaas looked up from his cards at them. They had an obvious intellectual bearing to them. They sat at the circular table and chatted quietly. Vanderzee tossed his cards to Wyman.

"Am I going to make it into your little novel?" Jan asked.

"Wait for it to be published, then we'll see," Nikolaas said slyly as he got up, "watch my suitcase, will you?"

He quickly walked over to the round table, and the two men looked up at him when he stopped in front of them. Whatever they had been talking about ceased to be interesting very quickly.

Nikolaas cleared his throat nervously, "Hello, I'm Nikolaas Vanderzee. I'm a writer."

The two men stared at him. The one on the right was quite short, thin, and bespectacled, with the distinct appearance of a rodent. The man on the left, who had his cane hanging loosely in one hand, was rather obese, with a greasy unhealthiness to his appearance that gave one the impression of a formerly healthy man gone to fat through a poor diet. The man with spectacles looked Vanderzee up and down.

"You're from the security directorate, aren't you?" he asked in a nervous, high pitched voice.

Nikolaas blinked. "No. As I said I'm a writer. I don't think they employ very many writers at the security directorate."

The little man chuckled nervously. "That's what you _say_. And we're supposed to believe you? Take you at your word?"

"Well, yes." Vanderzee looked at the man on the left for support, but found none.

"Prove it. Let's see something you've written," the man in eyeglasses grabbed at Nikolaas's notebook, and the writer jerked back involuntarily.

"Come now, let's see it!"

Nikolaas turned the book so that the man could see it.

"It's in code! Obviously you're a spy of some kind. Why else would you write in code?"

The larger man finally spoke, his voice a gravelly rumble. "He's not a spy. He had a quite good article in the Alexandria Gazette just last week, about the war in Rumania. I should say we can trust him about as well as anyone else."

"It's pronounced Romania, actually," Vanderzee said.

The fat man grunted his assent and shifted his girth for comfort. "I'm Doctor Frederick Manser. That is Doctor Karel Oudekirk. Neither of us is a physician, mind you. I'm actually a psychologist, and Doctor Oudekirk is a professor of economics."

"You shouldn't be telling him all that," Oudekirk said, "he could just be a directorate man posing as Nikolaas Vanderzee, or even if he is who he says he might be a directorate man who writes articles as a cover for his real job, which is torture and clandestine murder."

"You must forgive Karel as he is clinically paranoid and cannot be held responsible for his delusions of persecution," Frederick said, "for example, he is an extremely intelligent man but it does not at all occur to him that, were you in fact an agent of the Krypteia, my introducing us would be quite superfluous as you would have already known our names, professions, and a great deal more."

Oudekirk coughed. "Well, when you put it that way you just make me sound crazy."

"Quite," Manser replied, "so, why are your notes in code?"

Nikolaas laughed, "It isn't code, exactly. It's my own style of shorthand. It makes perfect sense to me. I'm actually writing a book about the fringes of the Dominate. I'd heard about this place from a friend of mine, another writer by the name of Vogel Haswell--"

"I remember him! Came around, participated in the table discussions a year or two ago. Good man, but a definite subversive. I had a sneaking suspicion that he was a socialist," Karel interrupted.

"Well, I don't know about that," Vanderzee said, "but from what he told me I thought this might be a very interesting subject for a chapter or two of my book. Exiled intellectuals, you know."

"Always willing," Karel replied, suddenly cheery, "to get my story out. They won't publish me in any of the proper journals, I am blacklisted. Perhaps I could sneak my work past my enemies in a piece of literature. Sit down." He turned and shouted to Wyman, still at the bar. "Pitcher of beer and keep it coming!"

Oudekirk took a deep breath. "Now. Where to start? I was a professor of economics at the University of Archona. Tenured. A very prestigious post. It was around 1930 there was this idea about universal application of economic theory getting very popular on the University. In layman's terms, we had got the theory that everything could be explained and defined in economic terms. Historical events and wars, even personal relationships and such, could be explained by economic theory. This is not a new idea; in fact it was popular in Europe in the middle of the nineteenth century. But unlike Marx and his contemporaries, Drakan economists can look at things from a position untainted by crass ideology and other types of unreason.

"Now, I got an idea myself from looking at the indices of industrial capacity and gross national product in the United States of America. The Americans, as you may know, have a population of about, say, 200 million persons all told. We have 350 million and a rather similar distribution of natural resources of all kinds, yet their GNP and production still exceed ours by large margins. Historically speaking, we have similar imperatives, what with their westward expansion against the Red Indian and our own northward conquest of the negroes. But even with the most basic study it immediately becomes clear that our economic structure is grossly inefficient as compared to that of the United States. And if you compared the per capita statistics with those of other industrialized nations round the world, such as the Soviet Union, France, Britain, Germany, et cetera, this revelation is only reinforced!"

"I see," Nikolaas said, scrambling to keep up with his notes.

"I was then presented with the question of which characteristic of the other industrialized economic systems is most key in their increased industrial production. The answer should be obvious: freedom. A free worker, given an equivalent level of training, is more efficient than a serf at his every duty. Now, one might purport that the workers of the states which I named are not technically 'free' but I would say that it is certainly a matter of degrees; if you compared a serf in one of our armaments factories with his Russian equivalent, the Russian is far more free and correspondingly more efficient! Previously economists in the Draka ignored these foreign examples when they compared the productivity of citizen workers to that of serfs, saying simply that citizens are inherently superior. But if you compare, as a separate unit, the citizen production within the Dominate to workers in other parts of the world we do not come out far ahead, it is clearly more a matter of our serfs being unproductive than our citizens being unusually efficient.

"And naturally, being a patriot concerned with the economic future of my nation, and understanding that wars are governed by economic principles as much as by strategy and tactics, I submitted that some form of reforms should be undertaken, so that the Dominate could maintain a clear superiority over our potential enemies."

Nikolaas asked, "And then?"

"You just try to get a paper like that published in peer review circles. The rest of the story is a good deal less interesting; suffice it to say that I ended up here where I shall probably spend the rest of my days," Karel concluded, "until I'm killed by the security directorate or something. Would you like a copy of the academic paper I wrote all that? I have stacks of them, and I haven't the heart to just throw them away. I've only given you the most basic explanation, the paper itself is a good hundred pages and more."

"Actually, I would rather like a copy," Vanderzee said, finishing off the page of notes, "though I doubt they'll be space for it in the book."

"Will you still be in town tomorrow? I'll dust one off for you."

"I'll be around for a bit, I think," Nikolaas replied.

Oudekirk chuckled, "Just don't stay too long, or you'll never get out."

The economist looked around the table, found that the pitcher of beer had been delivered, and then reddened with anger. He shouted, "Beer mugs, Ali! We're not going to drink directly from the pitcher, are we?"

Nikolaas smirked wryly and turned to Manser. "What's your story?"

"I was a psychologist in Lagosia, and I worked closely with the police. You may have read about the problems with serial murder, in the papers. Or, ah, perhaps even written about them?" Frederick asked.

Vanderzee shook his head. "Not my beat. After I got out of the army I went right into combat correspondence."

"Well, the per capita level of serial murderers in the Dominate is simply enormous; perhaps ten to fifteen times that of any other nation. It's still very uncommon, of course, and you're more likely to be struck by lightning than to meet one on the street, but nevertheless there is obviously something gone wrong with us in particular to give genesis to this sort of problem. The police brought me in to determine what it was about the killers that made them sick," Frederick continued, "and I got to the answer very quickly, by interviewing them and reviewing studies from psychologists in other nations. There is one thing that all serial murderers have in common."

"Such as?"

"Sadism. They enjoy inflicting pain. They enjoy the sense of power that comes from having total control over another person. That is why they kill. In the majority of cases they do not start at the top, with killing other human beings. In other countries they typically 'practice' on animals. After growing bored with maiming and killing animals, they move to bigger and more dangerous prey. I would describe it as being at base like any thrill-seeking personality defect or addiction. As time goes on, the patient needs greater and greater stimuli to feel the effects. In most places, cruelty of that kind is not tolerated and potential serial murderers are intercepted and corrected early. Not so in the Dominate. Cruelty towards serfs is positively encouraged, and a dangerous mind is free to develop an unhealthy sadism until such a point as the serfs are no longer interesting. We simply do not catch them until they've killed at least one citizen, and oftentimes they can get to multiple victims before the police even begin their investigation. Clearly this is not an optimal solution," Manser explained.

He continued, "In such a case simply treating the symptoms will not do enough, we were talking about a disease of the system, not of individuals. The system has to be changed in order to properly address the problems. Introduce penalties for practicing sadism on serfs, encourage greater respect for--"

Doctor Manser broke off suddenly and smiled ruefully.

Nikolaas looked up from his notes, "What?"

Frederick shook his head. "It's just... actually saying it to someone; I remember how stupid I was to actually publish those ideas. Even if I was right--and I the level of abuse we allow our citizens to heap on the serfs is most definitely psychologically damaging to both parties--I should have just kept silent. There's no reform that will ever come of it, no matter how correct my facts and research, and all that it could have possibly gained me was death in a duel or effective exile."

He rapped on his right knee, producing a hollow wooden sound. "I came very close to the first option. I'd give you the paper that I wrote, except that I most definitely had the heart to dispose of all my copies. Do you think all this will make a good book, then?"

"Maybe," Nikolaas said, "at least I hope for a good response. It will be my authorial debut, after all."

Doctor Oudekirk, finally having gotten his asked-for mugs, poured three drinks and leaned back to sip his own. "Where else are you going to visit?"

"Oh, different places. Riyadh, Tehran, Ankara. Not all of them will be quite as, ah, quaint as this particular outpost, but I intend to stay out on the edges, geographically speaking," Vanderzee replied.

Oudekirk checked his watch, "Well, before you go, you simply _must_ meet the centurion of the post here and ask him his life's story."

"Karel, I'd rather we keep from provoking the poor man," Manser admonished, "he has enough problems. We're supposed to be his friends."

"Maybe you are, but I'm not," Oudekirk sneered.

"Who are you talking about?" Nikolaas asked.

"Oh, the commander of the post usually comes in to drink with us at five. He doesn't talk much, though I get the impression that he is a well read and intelligent man. He positively refuses to tell anyone why he's been pushed out to this horrid post," Frederick said.

Karel snorted. "It's obvious enough. He's a rotten drunk and I'm fairly sure he's addicted to morphine."

"I doubt," Doctor Manser said, "that he started out his career in quite that fashion."

"As if it matters what he used to be. Now he's a dried out scarecrow who would die of delirium tremens if he went without his whiskey for one day. Ali! Chessboard!" Oudekirk shouted.


As Doctors Oudekirk and Manser engaged in their game of chess, apparently a nightly fixture, a few other men filtered in, and Nikolaas dutifully recorded their stories. In the main they were intellectuals or former officials who had challenged the orthodoxy, just as Haswell had told him. Then, at half past five, the sixth member of the round table entered. He was dressed in a dirty and wrinkled centurion's uniform and sported a three day growth of beard. His eyes were bloodshot.

He regarded Nikolaas suspiciously for a moment, then flopped carelessly into the empty chair next to Vanderzee. He mumbled, "Who're you, then?"

Oudekirk began, "His name is--"

"Didn't ask you," the centurion interrupted.

Ali came around without being commanded and set a tea cup and a bottle of whiskey in front of the officer.

Vanderzee said, "I'm Nikolaas Vanderzee. I'm a writer."

"Is that so? I'm Centurion Willem Crawford. I'm a centurion," the officer introduced himself. "What're you doing here? In my seat?"

"It isn't your seat. It hasn't got your name on it, has it?" Oudekirk asked.

Crawford frowned at the little man.

"I'm writing a book, actually," Nikolaas said, "about people who live on the fringes of the Dominate."

"Then you came to the right place," Crawford replied, "Al Aqaba is a shithole."

He poured a draught of whiskey into his tea cup and cradled the container in his hands. "Are those your notes?"

Nikolaas looked down at his notebook. "Yes."

Crawford twisted his head around to read them. He grunted, "In code, are they?"

"My own form of shorthand, actually," Nikolaas said, pulling the notebook away from the centurion.

"What are you taking notes on? The stories these men told you?" Willem took a gulp of his drink. "I hope you're checking them for accuracy."

Vanderzee raised one eyebrow. "Oh? How's that?"

"Nobody tells the whole story. Nobody sober, at least," Crawford looked wryly at his bottle. "Everyone wants to keep a secret. I despite dishonesty by omission, so I get around it by telling nothing at all. But some of these sterling intellectuals..."

"Yes?" Nikolaas asked.

Willem sighed. "Take Doctor Oudekirk. I'll bet he didn't tell you the whole story. I'll bet he didn't tell you that he is a homosexual."

Karel reddened with anger, "Call me that to my face, you bastard!"

Crawford finished off the rest of his tea cup and poured another. "Nobody cares if you put your thing in young serf boys. But when you move up to the dean of students's son, all they're looking for then is an excuse. I'm not saying he wouldn't have been exiled for his stupid paper if he hadn't loved the love that dare not speak its name. But you deserve the full story. As an author."

"If you say one more word about me," Karel threatened.

"Oh, don't worry, I'm quite through with you," the centurion waved his hand. A few drops of whiskey slopped over the edge of his tea cup and onto the table. In response to the overflow, he drained the contents at one gulp.

Doctor Manser interrupted calmly, "Let's behave ourselves, gentlemen."

"Karel and I are gentlemen?" Willem asked curiously, "what makes a gentleman, then? Not gentility, certainly. I've killed many men and I do others great violence of the tongue. Karel buggers khaffirs and does them great violence _with_ his tongue."

Karel stood bold upright and knocked the chess board to the floor with a sweep of his hand. The pieces scattered across the floor.

"Now then," he shouted, "I've had enough of you for tonight, lush. Get out!"

The centurion set his cup down and said venomously, "I'll not take orders from a buggering economist. Now _you_ say one more word to me, Karel. I want you to."

Oudekirk paled, then turned and stomped out of the bar. The other men who had come after Karel and Frederick quietly excused themselves as well. Crawford poured himself another cup of whiskey and scowled down into it. There was thirty seconds of silence. Wyman coughed from his station near the bar and growled something in Arabic. Nikolaas watched Ali come around the bar to the table. The Arab stooped to gather up each chess piece. When Vanderzee looked back at the centurion, Crawford was staring directly at him.

Manser spoke gently, "Willem, will you be able to find your way home by yourself?"

Crawford looked back at his drink. "Well enough, I suppose."

"I think I'll let you a room for the night," Frederick said, turning back to Vanderzee, "rather than force you to sleep in the inn here, which is so villainous that not even the lice will stay the night. I've a good supply of foreign books you might like to see,"

"That sounds good."

Once outside, Doctor Manser sighed with relief. "Willem is not usually so angry. Something must have set him off before he came, though I couldn't guess what. He has a lot of problems."

"Looks like it," Nikolaas replied simply.


Nikolaas killed the rest of the night reading. Manser's house had no spare bedroom, but the couch in his sitting room was sufficient to sleep on, with the addition of some pillows and sheets. For all its heat during the day, the desert cooled quickly after sunset. At around eleven o'clock he doused the lamp and stretched out to sleep in his clothes. He laid his satchel on the floor next to him. He slid beneath the sheets and closed his eyes.

It seemed only a few seconds later that he was awoken. Someone was calling him softly.

"Wake up, for fuck's sake," someone whispered.

Vanderzee opened his eyes. The oil lamp was burning dimly on the coffee table. One of the sitting chairs had been pulled over near his feet, and in it, Centurion Willem Crawford was seated. His service pistol hung loosely in his right hand.

"Don't get up yet," Crawford ordered. The lamp cast only half his face in soft yellow light. His eyes were invisible within the shadows cast by their sockets.

Willem smiled. "Aren't you going to ask what I'm doing?"

"What," Nikolaas said obediently, "are you doing?"

"I broke in to Manser's house to capture you, on my own. You're a communist spy," Crawford said.

Vanderzee responded calmly, "You're drunk."

"Yes. But not too drunk so as not to believe that lie about your shorthand. It has a twin. You don't know it, but one of your fellow travelers was captured in Cyrenaica. He took a cyanide pill, but the Krypteia seized his notebooks. Every town from Casablanca to Kabul is on the lookout. So admit it," Willem demanded.

"Fine. I'm a communist."

Crawford laughed softly. "Don't you feel better now? But I'm curious. I've never met a Drakan communist. When did you become a traitor to your nation and your people?"

"Well," Nikolaas considered carefully, "I've had traitorous political views since I was twelve, I think. But I've only be actively involved in espionage against the Dominate since I was discharged from the army three years ago."

"A soldier, eh?" Crawford laughed again, "where did you serve?"

"In the Riyadh Chiliarchy. I was there for four years. We slept in uniform with our rifles tied to our wrists, and I've gotten so that I can't fall asleep without my clothes on," Nikolaas replied. "It's an ugly business down there, fighting the Wahhabists. It made me somewhat more militant as far as the historical struggle goes."

"Yes. The Spanish call it guerrilla warfare. It's an ugly business, as you say," Crawford said, not unsympathetically. "I want to tell you a story, communist. It will be brief. It's about a young officer in the Army of Pontus. His ancestors were officers of the Army of Northern Virginia. Of course I'm talking about myself."

Nikolaas nodded.

Crawford began his exposition. "Prior to the Balkan War we had a lot of trouble with the Turkish partisans. They wanted their freedom from us, and the Greeks and French and others supplied them with guns. I commanded a dragoon century in Antalya, hunting the bushmen down through the mountain passes. At the time my career was quite promising. On one plantation, there was a group of about 15 serfs at an orchard that had gotten some Mausers. They marched right into the plantation house and shot the master and mistress and their little children, and then they operated out of there for a day or two, shooting anyone they could find who wasn't a Turk. I was called up and told to go and impale them together with a hundred or so other serfs, so I rode my men out. When we arrived at the locus of the little rebellion, it turned out that the plantation house had been located in a bit of a valley, and the master of the house had chosen to clear all the brush and scrub away from his home for a hundred yards or so in any direction. So that he could play cricket and polo and such. At the edge of that was the orchard, with its rows of trees and such. Rather good cover, though there was none to be had nearer the house.

"It further became clear, at the cost of several men, that the Turks had a Hotchkiss as well as their rifles. We were a century of dragoons and so had no weapons heavier than a light machinegun. You were a soldier; imagine crossing a hundred yards of open ground while under fire from a Hotchkiss. Impossible. I sent back to our fort for an infantry gun, but in the terrain with the poor roads, it would take half a day to bring it up. So I went into the serf quarters of the plantation and began torturing people until they told me which of the women and children belonged to the men in the house. I gathered them up, and we shouted up to the Turks that we had their women, and if they didn't surrender, we would commit the usual outrages. Rape, boiling and flaying alive, blinding with acid.

"The bushmen shouted back that we were lying about having their particular families, they wanted to be sure. They wanted to see them. So I brought them up to the edge of the orchard, guns at their backs, and ordered them to march slowly towards the house until they were halfway there. No false moves, otherwise we would mow them down. They marched fifty yards towards the house and stopped as ordered. And then the Hotchkiss opened up from a third floor window and mowed them all down." said Crawford.

Nikolaas smiled grimly.

"We hammered them with the infantry gun when it finally arrived, and we advanced up to the house and stormed it. The bushmen shot themselves rather than be captured, so we impaled every serf we could find and called it even. It didn't even occur to me until after sunset what had really happened--what had been demonstrated for me.

"I've heard the speeches, read the editorials, listened to the radio programs about how the Dominate will eventually conquer the world through the strength of our will. After that day, I realized that we had made a fundamental error in assuming that we, the Draka, had a monopoly on willpower. Once I had that epiphany, I kept seeing the truth of it everywhere I went. I've seen women hurl themselves into the drive wheels of tanks in the hopes of jamming the tracks with their mangled bodies. How many women your neighborhood have the strength of will to do that? When you've begun to see things in that way, it becomes clear that if we have chosen to be the enemy of the whole human race and hope to beat them through our will to power, we have certainly picked the wrong fight. We've perpetrated such a cruelty on the population of the world as can scarcely be believed, and still they're willing to fight through the utmost extremities of pain and death. They deserve to win. And we deserve to lose," Crawford concluded, "the soft bastards at that round table don't understand that the Dominate can be destroyed. That it _will_ be destroyed. It won't be but a couple of years before there are Soviet or American or British troops occupying this very city. Oudekirk understands in the economic sense that we are fated to lose this war, but he probably still believes that we can triumph thanks to our natural superiority. I know better."

He was silent for a time.

"If that's what you believe," Vanderzee asked finally, "why turn me in? If the Dominate is going to lose anyway, you could just let me go and it wouldn't change anything."

"Just because I've acknowledged fate, it doesn't mean I'm happy about it. I've half killed myself with alcohol and morphine, but I don't think anything could wash away my bitterness. They'll torture you, and I'll enjoy every minute of it. What were you doing in Al Aqaba? Was your mission important enough to be worth risking your life?" Crawford asked.

"As you said, the Dominate is going to lose this war, sooner or later. It won't be possible to kill _every_ citizen, of course. There'll need to be a resettlement and an occupation government. The MGB has me looking for dissatisfied officials who can serve as puppets after the war," Vanderzee replied.

"_Had_ you looking, you mean. Your war is over, my friend," Willem said.

"You said earlier," Nikolaas asked, "that you were addicted to morphine. Are you doped right now?"

The centurion smiled wolfishly, "I needed steady hands."

"That's convenient," Nikolaas said. With his left hand, he tossed his sheet aside. In his right hand he held a snub-nosed Smith and Wesson .38 revolver, which he now aimed directly at Crawford's head. The centurion was still holding his pistol carelessly, not pointed anywhere near Vanderzee.

Crawford paled. "Slept with your rifles tied to your wrists, did you?"

"Did you tell anyone else about my notebook?" Nikolaas asked.

Willem shook his head. "I needed to get the evidence first. Who'd take me at my word in the state I was in?"

"No one."

Vanderzee shot the centurion twice through the face, then got up and off of the sofa. He bent down and opened his satchel, then turned up the oil lamp to the full brightness. In a few seconds there was a queer thumping noise, as if someone was hopping through the house on one foot. Manser threw open the door to the sitting room and stood leaning against the frame. He had apparently not had time to put on his wooden leg.

"What the Hell's going on? I heard gunshots!"

Nikolaas gestured at the body. "I'm as lost as you are. He woke me up, saying he was going to kill me, you, and Oudekirk. I think he was drunk on alcohol and morphine, that's the only reason I was able to get to my gun in the satchel before he shot me."

"Oh, Hell. That's Crawford? We'd better shout up the constabulary right away," Frederick said.

Vanderzee set his revolver on the coffee table. "I'll go. I've nothing to hide, it was self-defense."

Indeed, the witnesses at the bar would recall the threats that Crawford had leveled, and his state of remarkable agitation; the investigation would as well discover the levels of alcohol and narcotic running through the centurion's veins at the time of his death, if indeed they even bothered to go so far on his behalf. This was an open and shut case. Nikolaas would first ensure that he was in the clear, and then he would get out the message that the codebooks had been compromised. He had been lucky this time.