THE NEXT DAY, while I was loading garbage on a train that was going to the incinerator, a boy in yellow sequins came and spoke to the man in charge of us, who turned and called to me. “You are ordered to report to the office of the Commissioner for War,” he said; “this messenger will take you.”
“Hadn’t I better change my clothes?” I asked. “I imagine that I don’t smell very good.”
The boss laughed. “The Commissioner for War has smelled garbage before,” he said, “and he doesn’t like to be kept waiting.” So I went along with the yellow-clad messenger to the big building called the House of the Janhai, which houses the government of Unis.
I was conducted to the office of one of the Commissioner’s assistants.
He looked up as we entered. “What do you want?” he demanded.
“This is the man for whom you sent me,” replied the messenger.
“Oh, yes, your name is Tangor. I might have known by that black hair. So you’re the man who says that he comes from another world, some 548,000 light-years from Poloda.”
I said that I was. Poloda is four hundred and fifty thousand light-years from Earth by our reckoning, but it is 547,500 Polodian light-years, as there are only three hundred days in a Polodian year; but what’s one hundred thousand light-years among friends, anyway?
“Your exploit of yesterday with the Kapars has been reported to me,” said the officer, “as was also the fact that you were a flyer in your own world, and that you wish to fly for Unis.”
“That is right, sir,” I said.
“In view of the cleverness and courage which you displayed yesterday, I am going to permit you to train for the flying force—if you think you would prefer that to shoveling garbage,” he added with a smile.
“I have no complaint to make about shoveling garbage, or anything else that I am required to do in Unis, sir,” I replied. “I came here an uninvited guest, and I have been treated extremely well. I would not complain of any service that might be required of me.”
“I am glad to hear you say that,” he said. Then he handed me an order for a uniform, and gave me directions as to where and to whom to report after I had obtained it.
The officer to whom I reported sent me first to a factory manufacturing pursuit-plane motors, where I remained a week; that is, nine working days. There are ten assembly lines in this plant and a completed motor comes off of each of them every hour for ten hours a day. As there are twenty-seven working days in the Polodian month, this plant was turning out twenty-seven hundred motors a month.
The science of aerodynamics, whether on Earth or on Poloda, is governed by certain fixed natural laws; so that Polodian aircraft do not differ materially in appearance from those with which I was familiar on Earth, but their construction is radically different from ours because of their development of a light, practically indestructible, rigid plastic of enormous strength. Huge machines stamp out fuselage and wings from this plastic. The parts are then rigidly joined together and the seams hermetically sealed. The fuselage has a double wall with an air space between, and the wings are hollow.
On completion of the plane the air is withdrawn from the space between the walls of the fuselage and from the interior of the wings, the resulting vacuum giving the ship considerable lifting power, which greatly increases the load that it can carry. They are not lighter than air, but when not heavily loaded they can be manoeuvred and landed very slowly.
There are forty of these plants, ten devoted to the manufacture of heavy bombers, ten to light bombers, ten to combat planes, and ten to pursuit planes, which are also used for reconnaissance. The enormous output of these factories, over a hundred thousand planes a month, is necessary to replace lost and worn-out planes, as well as to increase the fighting force, which is the aim of the Unisan government.
As I had in the engine factory, I remained in this factory nine days as an observer, and then I was sent back to the engine factory and put to work for two weeks; then followed two weeks in the fuselage, and assembly plants, after which I had three weeks of flying instruction, which on several occasions was interrupted by Kapar raids, resulting in dog-fights in which my instructor and I took part.
During this period of instruction I was studying the four of the five principal languages of Poloda with which I was not familiar, giving special attention to the language of the Kapars. I also spent much time studying the geography of Poloda.
All during this period I had no recreation whatsoever, often studying all night until far into the morning; so when I was finally awarded the insignia of a flyer, I was glad to have a day off. As I was now living in barracks, I had seen nothing of the Harkases; and so, on this, my first free day, I made a bee-line for their house.
Balzo Maro, the girl who had been first to discover me on my arrival on Poloda, was there, with Yamoda and Don. They all seemed genuinely glad to see me and congratulated me on my induction into the flying service.
“You look very different from the first time I saw you,” said Balzo Maro, with a smile; and I certainly did, for I was wearing the blue sequins, the blue boots, and the blue helmet of the fighting service.
“I have learned a number of things since I came to Poloda,” I told her, “and after having enjoyed a swimming party with a number of young men and women, I cannot understand why you were so shocked at my appearance that day.”
Balzo Maro laughed. “There is quite a difference between swimming and running around the city of OrviS that way,” she said, “but really it was not that which shocked me. It was your brown skin and your black hair. I didn’t know what sort of wild creature you might be.”
“Well, you know when I saw you running around in that fancy-dress costume in the middle of the day, I thought there might be something wrong with you.”
“There is nothing fancy about this,” she said. “All the girls wear the same thing. Don’t you like it—don’t you think it’s pretty?”
“Very,” I said. “But don’t you tire of always wearing the same thing? Don’t you sometimes long for a new costume?”
Balzo Maro shook her head. “It is war,” she said: the universal answer to almost everything on Poloda. “We may do our hair as we please,” said Harkas Yamoda, “and that is something.”
“I suppose you have hairdressers who are constantly inventing new styles,” I said.
Yamoda laughed. “Nearly a hundred years ago,” she said, “the hairdressers, the cosmeticians, and the beauticians went into the field to work for Unis. What we do, we do ourselves.”
“You all work, don’t you?” I asked.
“Yes,” said Balzo Maro, “we work that we may release men for men’s work in the fighting service and the Labor Corps.”
I could not but wonder what American women would do if the Nazis succeeded in bringing total war to their world. I think that they would arise to the emergency just as courageously as have the women of Unis, but it might be a little galling to them at first to wear the same indestructible costume from the time they got their growth until they were married; a costume that, like Balzo Maro’s, as she told me, might be as much as fifty years old, and which had been sold and re-sold time and time again as each wearer had no further use for it. And then, when they were married, to wear a similar, indestructible silver costume for the rest of their lives, or until their husbands were killed in battle, when they would change to purple. Doubtless, Irene, Hattie Carnegie, Valentina, and Adrian, would all commit suicide, along with Max Factor, Perc Westmore, and Elizabeth Arden. It was rather a strain on my imagination to visualize Elizabeth Arden hoeing potatoes.
“You have been here several months now,” said Harkas Don; “how do you like our world by this time?”
“I don’t have to tell you that I like the people who live in it,” I replied. “Your courage and morale are magnificent. I like your form of government, too. It is simple and efficient, and seems to have developed a unified people without criminals or traitors.”
Harkas Don shook his head. “You are wrong there,” he said. “We have criminals and we have traitors, but unquestionably far fewer than in the world of a hundred years ago, when there was a great deal of political corruption, which always goes hand in hand with crimes of other kinds. There are many Kapar sympathizers among us, and some full-blooded Kapars who have been sent here to direct espionage and sabotage. They are constantly dropping down by night with parachutes. We get most of them, but not all. You see, they are a mixed race and there are many with white skins and blond hair who might easily pass for Unisans.”
“And there are some with black hair, too,” said Harkas Yamoda, as she looked at me meaningly, but softened it with a smile.
“It’s strange I was not taken for a Kapar, then, and destroyed,” I said.
“It was your dark skin that saved you,” said Harkas Don, “and the fact that you unquestionably understood no language on Poloda. You see. they made some tests, of which you were not aware because you did not understand any of the languages. Had you, you could not have helped but show some reaction.”
Later, while we were eating the noonday meal, I remarked that for complete war between nations possessing possibly millions of fighting ships, the attacks of the Kapars since I had been in Unis had not seemed very severe.
“We have lulls like this occasionally,” said Harkas Don. “It is as though both sides became simultaneously tired of war, but one never can tell when it will break out again in all its fury.”
He scarcely had ceased speaking when there came a single, high pitched shrieking note from the loudspeakers that are installed the length and breadth of the underground city. Harkas Don rose. “There it is now,” he said. “The general alarm. You will see war now, Tangor, my friend. Come.”
We hurried to the car, and the girls came with us to bring the car back after they had delivered us to our stations.
Hundreds of ramps lead to the surface from the underground airdromes of Orvis, and from their camouflaged openings at the surface planes zoom out and up at the rate of twenty a minute, one every three seconds, like winged termites emerging from a wooden beam.
I was flying a ship in a squadron of pursuit planes. It was armed with four guns. One I fired through the propeller shaft, there were two in an after cockpit, which could be swung in any direction, and a fourth which fired down through the bottom of the fuselage.
As I zoomed out into the open the sky was already black with our ships. The squadrons were forming quickly and streaking away toward the southwest, to meet the Kapars who would be coming in from that direction. And presently I saw them, like a black mass of gnats, miles away.