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Marius

It was raining again, with a bite in the air as the planet spun toward winter. They hadn’t yet restored the street lights, and an early dusk seeped up between ruined walls and hid the tattered people who dwelt in caves grubbed out of rubble. Étienne Fourre, chief of the Maquisard Brotherhood and therefore representative of France in the Supreme Council of United Free Europe, stubbed his toe on a cobblestone. Pain struck through a worn-out boot, and he swore with tired expertise. The fifty guards ringing him in, hairy men in a patchwork of clothes—looted from the uniforms of a dozen armies, their own insignia merely a hand-sewn Tricolor brassard—tensed. That was an automatic reaction, the bristling of a wolf at any unawaited noise, long ago drilled into them.

Eh, bien,” said Fourre. “Perhaps Rouget de l’Isle stumbled on the same rock while composing the ‘Marseillaise.’”

One-eyed Astier shrugged, an almost invisible, gesture in the dark. “When is the next grain shipment due?” he asked. It was hard to think of anything but food above the noise of a shrunken belly, and the Liberators had shucked military formalities during the desperate years.

“Tomorrow, I think, or the next day, if the barges aren’t waylaid by river pirates,” said Fourre. “And I don’t believe they will be, so close to Strasbourg.” He tried to smile. “Be of good cheer, my old. Next year should give an ample harvest. The Americans are shipping us a new blight-preventive.”

“Always next year,” grumbled Astier. “Why don’t they send us something to eat now?”

“The blights hit them, too. This is the best they can do for us. Had it not been for them, we would still be skulking in the woods sniping at Russians.”

“We had a little something to do with winning.”

“More than a little, thanks to Professor Valti. I do not think any of our side could have won without all the others.”

“If you call this victory.” Astier’s soured voice faded into silence. They were passing the broken cathedral, where child-packs often hid. The little wild ones had sometimes attacked armed men with their jagged bottles and rusty bayonets. But fifty soldiers were too many, of course. Fourre thought he heard a scuttering among the stones; but that might only have been the rats. Never had he dreamed there could be so many rats.

The thin, sad rain blew into his face and weighted his beard. Night rolled out of the east, like a message from Soviet lands plunged into chaos and murder. But we are rebuilding, he told himself defensively. Each week the authority of the Strasbourg Council reached a civilizing hand farther into the smashed countries of Europe. In ten years, five perhaps—automation was so fantastically productive, if only you could get hold of the machines in the first place—the men of the West would again be peaceful farmers and shopkeepers, their culture again a going concern.

If the multinational Councillors made the right decisions. And they had not been making them. Valti had finally convinced Fourre of that. Therefore he walked through the rain, hugging an old bicycle poncho to his sleazy jacket, and men in barracks were quietly estimating how many jumps it would take to reach their racked weapons. For they must overpower those who did not agree.

A wry notion, that the feudal principle of personal loyalty to a chief should have to be invoked to enforce the decrees of a new mathematics that only some thousand minds in the world understood. But you wouldn’t expect the Norman peasant Astier or the Parisian apache Renault to bend the scanty spare time of a year to learning the operations of symbolic sociology. You would merely say, “Come,” and they would come because they loved you.

The streets resounded hollow under his feet. It was a world without logic, this one. Only the accidents of survival had made the village apothecary Étienne Fourre into the de facto commander of Free France. He could have wished those accidents had taken him and spared Jeanette, but at least he had two sons living, and someday, if they hadn’t gotten too much radiation, there would be grandchildren. God was not altogether revengeful.

“There we are, up ahead,” said Astier.

Fourre did not bother to reply. He had never been under the common human necessity of forever mouthing words.

Strasbourg was the seat of the Council because of location and because it was not too badly hit. Only a conventional battle with chemical explosives had rolled through here eighteen months ago. The University was almost unscathed, and so became the headquarters of Jacques Reinach. His men prowled about on guard; one wondered what Goethe would have thought could he have returned to the scene of his student days. And yet it was men such as this, with dirty hands and clean weapons, who were civilization. It was their kind who had harried the wounded Russian colossus out of the West and who would restore law and liberty and wind-rippled fields of grain. Someday. Perhaps.

A machine-gun nest stood at the first checkpoint. The sergeant in charge recognized Fourre and gave a sloppy salute. (Still, the fact that Reinach had imposed so much discipline on his horde spoke for the man’s personality.) “Your escort must wait here, my general,” he said, half-apologizing. “A new regulation.”

“I know,” said Fourre. Not all of his guards did, and he must shush a snarling. “I have an appointment with the Commandant.”

“Yes, sir. Please stay to the lighted paths. Otherwise you might be shot by mistake for a looter.”

Fourre nodded and walked through, in among the buildings. His body wanted to get in out of the rain, but he went slowly, delaying the moment. Jacques Reinach was not just his countryman but his friend. Fourre was nowhere near as close to, say, Helgesen of the Nordic Alliance, or the Italian Totti, or Rojansky of Poland, and he positively disliked the German Auerbach.

But Valti’s matrices were not concerned with a man’s heart. They simply told you that given such and such conditions, this and that would probably happen. It was a cold knowledge to bear.

The structure housing the main offices was a loom of darkness, but a few windows glowed at Fourre. Reinach had had an electric generator installed—and rightly, to be sure, when his tired staff and his tired self must often work around the clock.

A sentry admitted Fourre to an outer room. There half a dozen men picked their teeth and diced for cartridges while a tubercular secretary coughed over files written on old laundry bills, flyleaves, any scrap of paper that came to hand. The lot of them stood up, and Fourre told them he had come to see the Commandant, chairman of the Council.

“Yes, sir.” The officer was still in his teens, fuzzy face already shriveled into old age, and spoke very bad French. “Check your guns with us and go on in.”

Fourre unbuckled his pistols, reflecting that this latest requirement, the disarming of commanders before they could meet Chairman Reinach, was what had driven Álvarez into fury and the conspiracy. Yet the decree was not unreasonable; Reinach must know of gathering opposition, and everyone had grown far too used to settling disputes violently. Ah, well, Álvarez was no philosopher, but he was boss of the Iberian Irregulars, and you had to use what human material was available.

The officer frisked him, and that was a wholly new indignity, which heated Fourre’s own skin. He choked his anger, thinking that Valti had predicted as much.

Down a corridor then, which smelled moldy in the autumnal dankness, and to a door where one more sentry was posted. Fourre nodded at him and opened the door.

“Good evening, Étienne. What can I do for you?”

The big blond man looked up from his desk and smiled. It was a curiously shy, almost a young smile, and something wrenched within Fourre.

This had been a professor’s office before the war. Dust lay thick on the books that lined the walls. Really, they should take more care of books, even if it meant giving less attention to famine and plague and banditry. At the rear was a closed window, with a dark wash of rain flowing across miraculously intact glass. Reinach sat with a lamp by his side and his back to the night.

Fourre lowered himself. The visitor’s chair creaked under a gaunt-fleshed but heavy-boned weight. “Can’t you guess, Jacques?” he asked.

The handsome Alsatian face, one of the few clean-shaven faces left in the world, turned to study him for a while. “I wasn’t sure you were against me, too,” said Reinach. “Helgesen, Totti, Alexios . . . yes, that gang . . . but you? We have been friends for many years, Étienne. I didn’t expect you would turn on me.”

“Not on you.” Fourre sighed and wished for a cigarette, but tobacco was a remote memory. “Never you, Jacques. Only your policies. I am here, speaking for all of us—”

“Not quite all,” said Reinach. His tone was quiet and unaccusing. “Now I realize how cleverly you maneuvered my firm supporters out of town. Brevoort flying off to Ukrainia to establish relations with the revolutionary government; Ferenczi down in Genoa to collect those ships for our merchant marine; Janosek talked into leading an expedition against the bandits in Schlewswig. Yes, yes, you plotted this carefully, didn’t you? But what do you think they will have to say on their return?”

“They will accept a fait accompli,” answered Fourre. “This generation has had a gutful of war. But I said I was here to speak to you on behalf of my associates. We hoped you would listen to reason from me, at least.”

“If it is reason.” Reinach leaned back in his chair, cat-comfortable, one palm resting on a revolver butt. “We have threshed out the arguments in council. If you start them again—”

“—it is because I must.” Fourre sat looking at the scarred, bony hands in his lap. “We do understand, Jacques, that the chairman of the Council must have supreme power for the duration of the emergency. We agreed to give you the final word. But not the only word.”

A paleness of anger flicked across the blue eyes. “I have been maligned enough,” said Reinach coldly. “They think I want to make myself a dictator. Étienne, after the Second War was over and you went off and became a snug civilian, why do you think I elected to make the Army my career? Not because I had any taste for militarism. But I foresaw our land would again be in danger, within my own lifetime, and I wanted to hold myself ready. Does that sound like . . . like some new kind of Hitler?”

“No, of course not, my friend. You did nothing but follow the example of de Gaulle. And when we chose you to lead our combined forces, we could not have chosen better. Without you—and Valti—there would still be war on the eastern front. We . . . I . . . we think of you as our deliverer, just as if we were the littlest peasant given back his own plot of earth. But you have not been right.

“Everyone makes mistakes.” Reinach actually smiled. “I admit my own. I bungled badly in cleaning out those Communists at—”

Fourre shook his head stubbornly. “You don’t understand, Jacques. It isn’t that kind of mistake I mean. Your great error is that you have not realized we are at peace. The war is over.”

Reinach lifted a sardonic brow. “Not a barge goes along the Rhine, not a kilometer of railroad track is relaid, but we have to fight bandits, local warlords, half-crazed fanatics of a hundred new breeds. Does that sound like peacetime?”

“It is a difference of . . . of objectives,” said Fourre. “And man is such an animal that it is the end, not the means, which makes the difference. War is morally simple: one purpose, to impose your will on the enemy. Not to surrender to an inferior force. But a policeman? He is protecting an entire society, of which the criminal is also a part. A politician? He has to make compromises, even with small groups and with people he despises. You think like a solider, Jacques , and we no longer want or need a soldier commanding us.”

“Now you’re quoting that senile fool Valti,” snapped Reinach.

“If we hadn’t had Professor Valti and his sociosymbolic logic to plan our strategy for us, we would still he locked with the Russians. There was no way for us to be liberated from the outside this time. The Anglo-Saxon countries had little strength to spare, after the exchange of missiles, and that little had to go to Asia. They could not invade a Europe occupied by a Red Army whose back was against the wall of its own wrecked homeland. We had to liberate ourselves, with ragged men and bicycle cavalry and aircraft patched together out of wrecks. Had it not been for Valti’s plans—and, to be sure, your execution of them—we could never have done so.” Fourre shook his head again. He would not get angry with Jacques. “I think such a record entitles the professor to respect.”

“True . . . then.” Reinach’s tone lifted and grew rapid. “But he’s senile now, I tell you. Babbling of the future, of long-range trends— Can we eat the future? People are dying of plague and starvation and anarchy now!”

“He has convinced me,” said Fourre. “I thought much the same as you, myself, a year ago. But he instructed me in the elements of his science, and he showed me the way we are heading. He is an old man, Eino Valti, but a brain still lives under that bald pate.”

Reinach relaxed. Warmth and tolerance played across his lips. “Very well, Étienne,” he asked “what way are we heading?”

Fourre looked past him into night. “Toward war,” he said quite softly. “Another nuclear war, some fifty years hence. It isn’t certain the human race can survive that.”

Rain stammered on the windowpanes, falling hard now, and wind hooted in the empty streets. Fourre glanced at his watch. Scant time was left. He fingered the police whistle hung about his neck.

Reinach had started. But gradually he eased back. “If I thought that were so,” he replied, “I would resign this minute.”

“I know you would,” mumbled Fourre. “That is what makes my task so hard for me.”

“However, it isn’t so.” Reinach’s hands waved as if to brush away a nightmare. “People have had such a grim lesson that—”

“People, in the mass, don’t learn,” Fourre told him. “Did Germany learn from the Hundred Years’ War, or we from Hiroshima? The only way to prevent future wars is to establish a world peace authority: to reconstitute the United Nations and give it some muscles, as well as a charter which favors civilization above any fiction of ‘equality.’ And Europe is crucial to that enterprise. North of the Himalayas and east of the Don is nothing, anymore—howling cannibals. It will take too long to civilize them again. We, ourselves, must speak for the whole Eurasian continent.”

“Very good, very good,” said Reinach, impatiently. “Granted. But what am I doing that is wrong?”

“A great many things, Jacques. You have heard about them in the Council. Need I repeat the long list?” Fourre’s head turned slowly, as if it creaked on its neck-bones, and locked eyes with the man behind the desk. “It is one thing to improvise in wartime. But you are improvising the peace. You forced the decision to send only two men to represent our combined nations at the conference planned in Rio. Why? Because we’re short on transportation, clerical help, paper, even on decent clothes! The problem should have been studied. It may be all right to treat Europe as a unit—or it may not; perhaps this will actually exacerbate nationalism. You made the decision in one minute when the question was raised, and would not hear debate.”

“Of course not,” said Reinach harshly. “If you remember, that was the day we learned of the neofascist coup in Corsica.”

“Corsica could have waited awhile. The place would have been more difficult to win back, yes, if we hadn’t struck at once. But this business of our U. N. representation could decide the entire future of—”

“I know, I know. Valti and his theory about the ‘pivotal decision.’ Bah!”

“The theory happens to work, my old.”

“Within proper limits. I’m a hardhead, Étienne, I admit that.” Reinach leaned across the desk, chuckling. “Don’t you think the times demand a hard head? When hell is romping loose, it’s no time to spin fine philosophies . . . or try to elect a parliament, which I understand is another of the postponements Dr. Valti holds against me.”

“It is,” said Fourre. “Do you like roses?”

“Why, why . . . yes.” Reinach blinked. “To look at, anyway.” Wistfulness crossed his eyes. “Now that you mention it, it’s been many years since I last saw a rose.”

“But you don’t like gardening. I remember that from, from old days.” The curious tenderness of man for man, which no one has ever quite explained, tugged at Fourre. He cast it aside, not daring to do otherwise, and said impersonally: “And you like democratic government, too, but were never interested in the grubby work of maintaining it. There is a time to plant seeds. If we delay, we will be too late; a strong-arm rule will have become too ingrained a habit.”

“There is also a time to keep alive. Just to keep alive, nothing else.”

“Jacques, I don’t accuse you of hardheartedness. You are a sentimentalist: you see a child with belly bloated from hunger, a house marked with a cross to show that the Black Death has walked in—and you feel too much pity to be able to think. It is . . . Valti, myself, the rest of us . . . who are cold-blooded, who are prepared to sacrifice a few thousand more lives now by neglecting the immediately necessary, for the sake of saving all humankind fifty years hence.”

“You may be right,” said Reinach. “About your cold souls, I mean.” His voice was so low that the rain nearly drowned it.

Fourre stole another look at this watch. This was taking longer than expected. He said in a slurred, hurried tone: “What touched off tonight’s affair was the Pappas business.”

“I thought so,” Reinach agreed evenly. “I don’t like it either. I know as well as you do that Pappas is a murderous crypto-Communist scoundrel whose own people hate him. But curse it, man, don’t you know rats do worse than steal food and gnaw the faces of sleeping children? Don’t you know they spread plague? And Pappas has offered us the services of the only efficient rat-exterminating force in Eurasia. He asks nothing in return except that we recognize his Macedonian Free State and give him a seat on the Council.”

“Too high a price,” said Fourre. “In two or three years we can bring the rats under control ourselves.”

“And meanwhile?”

“Meanwhile, we must hope that nobody we love is taken sick.”

Reinach grinned without mirth. “It won’t do,” he said. “I can’t agree to that. If Pappas’ squads help us, we can save a year of reconstruction, a hundred thousand lives—”

“And throw away lives by the hundred millions in the future.”

“Oh, come now. One little province like Macedonia?”

“One very big precedent,” said Fourre. “We will not merely be conceding a petty warlord the right to his loot. We will be conceding”—he lifted furry hands and counted off on the fingers—”the right of any ideological dictatorship, anywhere, to exist: which right, if yielded, means war and war and war again; the fatally outmoded principle of unlimited national sovereignty; the friendship of an outraged Greece, which is sure to invoke that same principle in retaliation; the inevitable political repercussions throughout the Near East, which is already turbulent enough; therefore war between us and the Arabs, because we must have oil; a seat on the Council to a clever and ruthless man who, frankly, Jacques, can think rings around you— No!”

“You are theorizing about tomorrow,” said Reinach. “The rats are already here. What would you have me do instead?”

“Refuse the offer. Let me take a brigade down there. We can knock Pappas to hell . . . unless we let him get too strong first.”

Reinach shook his head goodnaturedly. “Who’s the warmonger now?” he said with a laugh.

“I never denied we still have a great deal of fighting ahead of us,” Fourre said. Sadness tinged his voice; he had seen too many men spilling their guts on the ground and screaming. “I only want to be sure it will serve the final purpose, that there shall never again be a world war. That my children and grandchildren will not have to fight at all.”

“And Valti’s equations show the way to achieve that?” Reinach asked quietly.

“Well, they show how to make the outcome reasonably probable.”

“I’m sorry, Étienne.” Reinach shook his head. “I simply cannot believe that. Turning human society into a . . . what’s the word? . . . a potential field, and operating on it with symbolic logic: it’s too remote. I am here, in the flesh—such of it as is left, on our diet—not in a set of scribbles made by some band of long-haired theorists.”

A similar band discovered atomic energy,” said Fourre. “Yes, Valti’s science is young. But within admitted limitations, it works. If you would just study—”

“I have too much else on hand.” Reinach shrugged. A blankness drew across his face. “We’ve wasted more time than I can afford already. What does your group of generals want me to do?”

Fourre gave it to him as he knew his comrade would wish it, hard and straight like a bayonet thrust. “We ask for your resignation. Naturally, you’ll keep a seat on the Council, but Professor Valti will assume the chairmanship and set about making the reforms we want. We will issue a formal promise to hold a constitutional convention in the spring and dissolve the military government within one year.”

He bent his head and looked at the time. A minute and half remained.

“No,” said Reinach.

“But—”

“Be still!” The Alsatian stood up. The single lamp threw his shadow grotesque and enormous across the dusty books. “Do you think I didn’t see this coming? Why do you imagine I let only one man at a time in here, and disarm him? The devil with your generals! The common people know me, they know I stand for them first—and hell take your misty futures! We’ll meet the future when it gets here.”

“That is what man has always done,” said Fourre. He spoke like a beggar. “And that is why the race has always blundered from one catastrophe to the next. This may be our last chance to change the pattern.”

Reinach began pacing back and forth behind his desk. “Do you think I like this miserable job?” he retorted. “It simply happens that no one else can do it.”

“So now you are the indispensable man,” whispered Fourre. “I had hoped you would escape that.”

“Go on home, Étienne.” Reinach halted, and kindness returned to him. “Go back and tell them I won’t hold this against them personally. You had a right to make your demand. Well, it has been made and refused.” He nodded to himself thoughtfully. “We will have to make some change in our organization, though. I don’t want to be a dictator, but—”

Zero hour. Fourre felt very tired.

He had been denied, and so he had not blown the whistle that would stop the rebels, and matters were out of his hands now.

“Sit down,” he said. “Sit down, Marius, and let us talk about old times for a while.”

Reinach looked surprised. “Marius? What do you mean?”

“Oh . . . an example from history which Professor Valti gave me.” Fourre considered the floor. There was a cracked board by his left foot. Cracked and crazy, a tottering wreck of a civilization, how had the same race built Chartres and the hydrogen bomb?

His words dragged out of him: “In the second century before Christ, the Cimbri and their allies, Teutonic barbarians, came down out of the north. For a generation they wandered about, ripping Europe apart. They chopped to pieces the Roman armies sent to stop them. Finally they invaded Italy. It did not look as if they could be halted before they took Rome herself. But one general by the name of Marius rallied his men. He met the barbarians and annihilated them.”

“Why, thank you.” Reinach sat down, puzzled.

“But—”

“Never mind.” Fourre’s lips twisted into a smile. “Let us take a few minutes free and just talk. Do you remember that night soon after the Second War, we were boys, freshly out of the Maquis, and we tumbled around the streets of Paris and toasted the sunrise from Sacre Coeur?”

“Yes. To be sure. That was a wild night!” Reinach laughed. “How long ago it seems. What was your girl’s name? I’ve forgotten.”

“Marie. And you had Simone. A beautiful little baggage, Simone. I wonder whatever became of her.”

“I don’t know. The last I heard— No. Remember how bewildered the waiter was when—”

A shot cracked through the rain, and then the wrathful clatter of machine guns awoke. Reinach was on his feet in one tiger bound, pistol in hand, crouched by the window. Fourre stayed seated.

The noise lifted, louder and closer. Reinach spun about. His gun muzzle glared emptily at Fourre.

“Yes, Jacques.”

Mutiny!

“We had to.” Fourre discovered that he could again meet Reinach’s eyes. “The situation was that crucial. If you had yielded . . . if you had even been willing to discuss the question . . . I would have blown the whistle and nothing would have happened. Now we’re too late, unless you want to surrender. If you do, our offer still stands. We still want you to work with us.”

A grenade blasted somewhere nearby.

“You—”

“Go on and shoot. It doesn’t matter very much.”

“No.” The pistol wavered. “Not unless you— Stay where you are! Don’t move!” The hand Reinach passed across his forehead shuddered. “You know how well this place is guarded. You know the people will rise to my side.”

“I think not. They worship you, yes, but they are tired and starved. Just in case, though, we staged this for the nighttime. By tomorrow morning the business will be over.” Fourre spoke like a rusty engine. “The barracks have already been seized. Those more distant noises are the artillery being captured. The University is surrounded and cannot stand against an attack.”

“This building can.”

“So you won’t quit, Jacques?”

“If I could do that,” said Reinach, “I wouldn’t be here tonight.”

The window broke open. Reinach whirled. The man who was vaulting through shot first.

The sentry outside the door looked in. His rifle was poised, but he died before he could use it. Men with black clothes and blackened faces swarmed across the sill.

Fourre knelt beside Reinach. A bullet through the head had been quick, at least. But if it had struck farther down, perhaps Reinach’s life could have been saved. Fourre wanted to weep, but he had forgotten how.

The big man who had killed Reinach ignored his commandos to stoop over the body with Fourre. “I’m sorry, sir,” he whispered. It was hard to tell whom he spoke to.

“Not your fault, Stefan.” Fourre’s voice jerked.

“We had to run through the shadows, get under the wall. I got a boost through this window. Didn’t have time to take aim. I didn’t realize who he was till—”

“It’s all right, I said. Go on, now, take charge of your party, get this building cleaned out. Once we hold it, the rest of his partisans should yield pretty soon.”

The big man nodded and went out into the corridor.

Fourre crouched by Jacques Reinach while a sleet of bullets drummed on the outer walls. He heard them only dimly. Most of him was wondering if this hadn’t been the best ending. Now they could give their chief a funeral with full military honors, and later they would build a monument to the man who saved the West, and—

And it might not be quite that easy to bribe a ghost. But you had to try.

“I didn’t tell you the whole story, Jacques,” he said. His hands were like a stranger’s, using his jacket to wipe off the blood, and his words ran on of themselves. “I wish I had. Maybe you would have understood . . . and maybe not. Marius went into politics afterward, you see. He had the prestige of his victory behind him, he was the most powerful man in Rome, his intentions were noble, but he did not understand politics. There followed a witch’s dance of corruption, murder, civil war, fifty years of it, the final extinction of the Republic. Caesarism merely gave a name to what had already been done.

“I would like to think that I helped spare Jacques Reinach the name of Marius.”

Rain slanted in through the broken window. Fourre reached out and closed the darkened eyes. He wondered if he would ever be able to close them within himself.

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