2: First I Died… And Then
Things Got Worse
Despite someone’s best efforts, I didn’t die.
I just felt like I had.
When I woke up, my first thought was pain.
Someone had beaten me rather thoroughly while I was unconscious.
They didn’t seem to have broken any bones but every muscle in my body ached.
My second thought was to wonder if I was on yet
another planet. The last time that I blacked out, I wound up on Two
Moon Planet. Now I was naked again but in an obvious prison cell.
Poorly poured, cheap, gray concrete above, below, and on three sides; black
metal bars and door on the fourth side; and a naked electric light something
or other overhead. I say “something or other” because it was spiral
rather than spherical. For all I knew, I was now on Three Moon Planet
That happy thought was interrupted when a green
shirted guard appeared in the corridor on the other side of the bars.
He grunted something in that not-really-Russian language at me. I
groaned “Good morning, sergeant. I’d like breakfast in bed today,”
in German. “And a bed if you don’t mind.” I was lying on the
concrete floor. I repeated it in Russian when he didn’t seem to understand
He made some comment that I didn’t understand
but unlocked the door in the bars and gestured for me to step out of the
cage. When I didn’t move, he pulled a heavy truncheon out of a holster,
slapped his hand menacingly, and gestured again. As Al Capone said,
a smile and a submachine gun gets you more than a smile alone.
I got up, muscles complaining bitterly, and limped
down the corridors that he indicated with grunting and occasional truncheon
taps. I noted that his insignia were geometric symbols similar but
not identical to what Herr Slugger and the sideman had worn.
The prison motif continued for some time before
giving way to a different section with a higher class prison motif.
Every cell in the lower class area had at least one prisoner in it, all
dressed in black coveralls and rags that had been coveralls. Most
of them were sleeping on the bare floors. Some of them stared at
me apathetically. Apparently naked prisoners weren’t uncommon on
Three Moon Planet (or wherever we were). The place stank of too many
humans enclosed for too long a time without bathing. Periodically,
there were control points where guards with guns in fortified cages kept
an eye on things. If anyone managed to take a truncheon away from
the first guard, the second guard would shoot the troublemaker while being
immune to retaliation. Nice.
The higher class section was separated from the
more obvious jail by walls and a checkpoint. The checkpoint’s resemblance
to a Nazi police station was unmistakable. My guard vouched for my
good character and we left the station for the higher class district.
This section of town wasn’t really that much
nicer than the jail but the concrete construction was better quality, the
light fixtures were shaded, there were doors in the walls rather than bars,
and people passed back and forth as they would in a cheap hotel corridor.
The people were sallow faced white men and women dressed either in poison
ivy green or brick red shirts and coveralls. There were more red
shirts than green shirts but the greens were armed with truncheons, knives
and submachine pistols. The reds got out of the greens’ way without
being told. Two greens shouted at a red and he stopped and produced
papers without a word. Green shirted cops and red shirted civilians?
There were also posters on the walls that instantly
reminded me of Nazi propaganda sheets in Occupied France. Scowling
faces and heroic airmen and soldiers exhorted the passers by. All
of the military characters wore gray and the scowlers wore green.
Perhaps I was still on Two Moon Planet after all. One ugly blue gargoyle
feasted on graphically displayed human bodies clad in brick red.
The lettering on the posters was mostly geometric symbols. It looked
like some math teacher had invented his own alphabet.
My escort and I wandered through corridors and
down stairs until we came to an even higher class jail with two green shirts
ostentatiously guarding the place. My guard told them what a swell
guy I was. One door guard checked a list and apparently found my
name. We went in. The whole procedure reminded me of pompous
doormen outside a second rate night club. We picked up more escorts
inside the even higher class jail.
This section of the jail reminded me of some
cheesy government office building. There were desks, filing cabinets,
and secretaries working machines that looked like typewriters crossed with
Ouija boards. Everyone wore green with silver trim and seemed to
know what they were doing. Put everyone in better quality clothes
and we could be visiting Dad’s office back in Boston.
Eventually, I was ushered into a large office
with yet another guard at the door. Inside, the hatchet faced officer
from the trapdoor incident was seated behind a desk suitable for the President
of the United States. The valkyrie was seated on the left side of
the desk and the gold costumed redhead to her left.
On the right side of the desk were a double handful
of gray shirts and green shirts. Each color coded group stood together
but apart from the others. I recognized the sideman, looking very
ill at ease. When he recognized me, his discomfort was replaced with
raw hatred. Oh well; I wasn’t expecting a Christmas card from him
I was the only one in the room without clothes
on. Everyone looked at me appraisingly. Then the redhead blushed
and turned away.
I recognized the interrogation techniques from
OSS training. Take away a person’s clothes and he feels embarrassed
and off balance. Subject him to physical discomfort like sleeping
on a hard floor and he feels weak and helpless. Surround him with
enemies and he feels defenseless and unable to resist his captors’ demands.
I certainly didn’t appreciate being the object
of the floor show but there wasn’t much I could do about it except brazen
it out. The officer started to speak but I interrupted and asked
for two suits of clothes, one for business, and one for casual travel about
town. He cut me off while I was giving him my measurements.
The interview was another League of Nations session.
The gray shirts and green shirts all shouted not-really-Russian and pointed
at me. I tried my previous selection of languages again, declaimed
in Latin, and even recited “Jabberwocky.” I also gestured a lot.
Nothing seemed to work. At one point, the sideman put his hand on
his gun while screaming at me. Another gray shirt restrained him
and spoke directly to the officer. The latter seemed to be nodding
in agreement. Both green and gray shirts looked at me like I was
a Thanksgiving turkey.
Everyone seemed to be in agreement when the valkyrie
spoke up. The green shirt officer listened to her and nodded.
She spoke to the redhead in a language that sounded like Verdi sung in
Japanese. The redhead looked carefully at my face, shook her head,
and answered in the same language.
The valkyrie questioned me in not-really-Japanese,
not-really-Russian, and what I thought were three other languages.
I listened carefully but wound up shaking my head and making helpless gestures
again. We reached another impasse.
There was a loud thumping sound somewhere in
the distance. Everyone stopped talking, shouting and gesticulating
to listen for something. I had no idea what we were listening for
but I listened, too. The thumping was repeated several times before
it died away.
In the silence that followed, the senior gray
shirt spoke up again. One of his gestures included a slashing motion
across his own throat. I was pretty sure that he was offering to
cut mine rather than the other way around.
The officer was on the verge of agreement when
the valkyrie interrupted. What-ever she said, none of the gray shirts
or green shirts liked it and they said so. She turned a gorgon stare
on them and they fell silent. After a few more words, the officer
He gave some orders and my personal guard force
marched me out of the office. This time, they locked me up in a different
cell, this one in the office building area. The concrete was smoother
and better quality, there was a bed, and the last occupant had bathed.
After a while, another guard fetched me a set of black coveralls and my
dignity. There were white symbols on the chest and back.
I was still a prisoner but I had moved up in
Whatever world I was on.
The next phase of the interrogation was more
Every morning…. I called it “morning”
because it was the time after I woke up from a sleeping period that felt
like night. The periods of sleeping and activity felt like Earth
days but I hadn’t actually seen a Sun or a clock since I arrived.
Every morning a black clad servant brought me a bowl
of breakfast stew or goulash in my cell. Most of the components seemed
to be rubber or lard seasoned with dandruff but hunger really is the best
condiment. A few minutes later, a green shirted guard came to escort
me to the valkyrie’s office. If I was slow, he used his truncheon
on my shoulders or my stew bowl. Since I had glimpsed a gun toting
guard outside the door, I settled for making a mental note of his face
and learning the rules.
After breakfast, the guard took me to the valkyrie’s
office. The redhead was escorted there at the same time. They’d
taken away her entertainer’s costume of gold sequins and red boots and
replaced it with a black coverall. I noticed that her white symbols
were identical to mine except for one. I suspected the symbols were
prisoner inventory numbers. She was clearly frightened by the whole
experience. Nonetheless she had her chin up.
We occasionally had to wait outside the valkyrie’s
door so I started saying “Good morning” in English. She responded
in softly spoken Japanese Verdi. Once I recited a list of Japanese
cities and islands on the off chance that she might recognize them but
she wrinkled her brow and shook her head. I introduced myself as
Thomas Randolph which she shortened to “Tomas Ran” and then to “Ran.”
She was Loris Kiri. I started by calling her “Miss Kiri” but quickly
learned that Loris was her family name and Kiri her personal name.
The valkyrie was always doing paperwork when
we were allowed into her office and into hard plastic chairs in front of
her Cabinet officer sized desk. These people used plastic where Americans
would make things out of metal or wood. A green shirted goon stood
quietly behind us.
I recognized more techniques from OSS training.
Making us wait while she shuffled papers emphasized that she was The Queen
of her little kingdom while Kiri and I were Peasants. But the look
on her face when she put the paper down and focused on us caused me to
suspect that she was genuinely glad for the break in the administrative
She started off conversationally at first.
Another trick that OSS trainers warned agents about. The Queen was
trying the tea and sympathy approach first. If we didn’t cooperate,
her goon would give us a truncheon massage to soften us up.
She talked to both of us alternating between
her own not-really-Russian and Kiri’s native not-really-Japanese.
Kiri replied in monosyllables and eventually clammed up entirely.
The valkyrie leaned over and casually slapped her prisoner in the face.
Hard. Kiri’s head jerked sideways and she fell out of her chair onto
the floor. Also hard.
I jumped up, shouting that there was no need
for that. As I said before, my mouth lives a life of its own.
The guard behind me must have allowed his mind
to wander: he didn’t catch me in time.
The valkyrie did.
Her slapping hand came up and punched me in the
I saw it coming and tensed my muscles up.
That softened the blow but it still hurt.
Then the guard gave my head a short truncheon
massage and I blacked out.
This was becoming a bad habit.
One that could easily get me killed.
It was time for a new strategy. Step One:
Don’t get killed.
The next day, the valkyrie began teaching Kiri
and me the not-really-Russian language, Kapar. She seemed to relish
her role as a school teacher and we learned quickly. I had had the
benefit of English and French at home, German and Portuguese while working
for Dad, and Latin and Russian in college. It was my facility with
languages that got me an invitation to join the OSS and free trips to France
and, ultimately, Two Moon Planet. Kiri was originally monolingual
but she was both smart and industrious.
School was frequently interrupted by those mysterious
thumping sounds but no one else asked any questions so I played dumb for
the moment. I noticed that Kiri smiled ever so slightly after the
noises ceased but I never got a chance to ask her about them in private.
We learned more than just how to bark and grunt
like good little Kapars.
Among other things, we learned that our school
teacher was Sellon Sura. Like Kiri, Sura put her personal name last.
She was a Special Assistant to Virrul, the Kapar governor of the city of
Gerris in the province of Allos on the continent of Epris on the planet
Poloda. We never learned what Virrul’s personal name was, or even
if he had one.
Since Sura was still trying the tea and sympathy
approach, I got in a couple of questions before she really started to work
“Special Assistant Sellon, who are the Kapars?”
“We Kapars are the Natural Rulers of Poloda,”
she proclaimed with complete sincerity. “Our society is the most
logical and enduring known to mankind.”
I nodded sagely, drinking in everything I could.
“Why is Kapar society the most logical society?”
“Because it is based on warfare, the natural
state of mankind. Unlike lesser societies, we Kapars realize that
man is naturally a fighting creature. Therefore, we are a completely
military society with no waste or inefficiency to hinder us. We are
strong because we have eliminated sentiment and other soft emotions that
weaken human beings and cause failure. The validity of the Kapar
way of life is proved by the fact that, under the leadership of the Most
High Pom Da, we have conquered four of the five continents of Poloda and
will soon conquer the remaining one.”
“Not while a single Unisan lives!” interrupted
Kiri. Her soft voice was edged with steel.
Sura leaned over and slapped Kiri again.
The captive woman hit the floor again. Conscious of the guard behind
me, I didn’t move.
While Kiri was picking herself up off the floor
and reseating herself, Sura leaned back and waved her hand as if brushing
away flies. “Yes, you Unisans are resisting our inevitable advance
for the moment. But tens of other nations said the same thing and
where are they now?”
Kiri massaged her cheek silently. The she
wolf went on. “The answer is that they’re all under Kapar rule.
Zurris, Ithris, Allos, Punos – the continents of Epris, Heris, Auris and
Karis – disorganized, pleasure seeking rabble a hundred years ago – Kapar
She leaned forward again, a cat eyeing a mouse.
“As Unis will be one day. When your weird little technocratic government
surrenders, perhaps the Pom Da will name me governor of Unis.” Her
voice lowered, almost purring. “You can live in your old apartment
if you like.” She paused. “As my servant, of course.”
She threw her head back, black mane flying, laughing like Satan.
Kiri clearly wanted to spit in Sura’s face but
she shrank into her chair. Captivity in the Kapar empire and Sura’s
boundless confidence were daunting. It was all too easy to imagine
Sellon Sura sitting in the Unisan equivalent of the White House.
When her majesty wound down, I ventured another
question, “And what will you Kapars do when you’ve conquered Unis?”
Sura shifted to face me. Her face had the
classical beauty of a Greek goddess – and her pale blue eyes a hint of
“We will conquer the other planets of Omos, our
Sun. We would undoubtedly have flown to Antos or Tonos years ago
if the war with Unis had not demanded all our resources.”
Well, you couldn’t say that the Kapars didn’t
think big. Even Hitler hadn’t made any territorial demands on Mars
It also meant that, sooner or later, the Kapars would
be gunning for Earth.
“I don’t know the planets by those names. Which
one is closer to the Sun and which one further out?”
Sura frowned. “None of them, of course.
The eleven planets and the atmosphere belt are all the same distance from
Omos.” Kiri looked at me with a puzzled expression and nodded her
I blinked. I’m no astronomer but I did stay awake
in high school science class. I couldn’t think of any reason why
two women on the opposite sides of a hundred year long war would both lie
about something like this and do so without coordinating ahead of time.
My working theory had been that Poloda was one of the nine planets in Earth’s
solar system. Most likely Mars, which has two moons. But, eleven
total planets meant that Poloda was in some other solar system altogether.
Ditto the fact that they shared a common orbit. Ditto the fact that
they shared an atmosphere belt. Theoretically an airplane could fly
between Omos’ planets much less Robert Goddard’s proposed rocket ships.
For all I knew, I could be in another galaxy…!
I wanted to say “Impossible”….
I pinched myself. I still wasn’t dreaming.
Even if things felt like a nightmare.
Unfortunately, my pause to absorb Polodan astronomy
gave Sura time to remember that she was supposed to be interrogating me
instead of the other way around. She started in on me personally
and then proceeded through Earthly astronomy, geography, history and science.
She had a mind like a steel trap and I was the one in the trap.
Fortunately, I had had time to get my story straight.
Sellon Sura was clearly a very smart person and she
knew it. As the special assistant to the head jailer, she held a
lot of power including the power to kill Kiri and me without batting an
But she had weaknesses as well, including the facts
that she was a Kapar and that she wasn’t a professional interrogator.
Despite the fact that they’d conquered four-fifths
of a planet the size of Earth, the Kapars were about as subtle as so many
bricks. They valued strength, military glory, and the rewards of
conquest. Ordinary human intelligence seemed to be valued only as
it contributed to conquest. The green shirt/gray shirt thought process
seemed to run: Tomas Ran is an enemy; therefore kill him; end of
problem. Period. End of report.
Sura was smart enough to realize that I must be a special
if not extraordinary case. If I wasn’t a Unisan super-spy, I might
well be something worse. Possibly an advance scout for an alien invasion!
After all, I’d appeared buck naked in the middle of a military reservation
without any apparent means of transportation, killed two of their armed
soldiers with their own weapons, and had only been captured by dumb luck.
Why was I so confident that I could take on the whole Kapar nation single
handedly, and were there any more at home like me?
It amused me to think of myself as the Man From Mars
but from the Kapar point of view that idea made a lot of sense.
So Sura had intervened with Virrul and made it her
project to find who or what I was.
Very, very dangerous woman.
Unfortunately for her, she didn’t have the time or
training to do the job right.
No professional would have allowed us as much free
time as the ice queen did. Every day, Kiri and I were marched back
to our cells where we spent afternoons and evenings twiddling our thumbs.
I didn’t know what the duties of a “Special Assistant” were but they obviously
consumed a lot of Sura’s time. She should have handed us over to
some professionals who would have kept after us without a break until we
cracked. As it was, we had time to think….
In OSS training, they try to teach agents that success
comes from outthinking the enemy, not just having a bigger and better gun.
Dad said pretty much the same thing about business. In OSS, they
tell you that, when you talk to the enemy, listen to what they’re saying,
understand their thinking, give them what they’re looking for, and keep
your story as simple and as truthful as practical. It makes the story
easier to remember and harder for the enemy to unravel. And if they
think you’re cooperating, they’re less likely to torture you until you
reveal something important.
If I said that Earth people valued liberty, peace and
prosperity, the Kapars would laugh their heads off and begin planning a
real life war of the worlds that same day. The only thing that a
given Kapar would respect is a bigger and nastier Kapar.
So I told Special Assistant to the City Governor
Sellon Sura the complete and total truth about Earth.
More or less.
I told her that Kiri called me Tomas Ran and
that I had no idea how I got to Poloda. Sura’s eyebrows practically
climbed off her head but she kept listening.
I told her about how crappy life was on Earth and the
other Solar planets. I didn’t tell her about dawn over Cape Cod,
or hiking in the Berkshires on a summer day, or Currier & Ives snowfalls.
I told her about rainstorms, blizzards, hurricanes, ice ages, tidal waves,
floods, landslides and earthquakes. I told her about every single
one of Earth’s nations, states, territories and cities that I could remember.
Since Poloda had fought its way down to two rival nations, just listing
Earth’s fifty or so countries and hundreds of lesser political units seemed
to boggle the Queen’s mind. She gave up trying to memorize everything
and started writing notes. Sura had never read “The Purloined Letter.”
Kiri sat quietly in her chair, but her eyes keep
getting bigger and bigger and bigger….
When we got to Earthly history, I told her about
the Roman Republic, the Empire, Christianity…. That led into a discussion
of religion. Sura only had a vague notion of what I was talking about
since the Kapars had discarded religion along with love, honor and other
“sentiments.” Very interesting. I dropped the subject.
By the time I got up to the 20th Century, Sura’s
eyes were glazing over. So I slipped in the Martian and Mongonian
invasions as if they were real events. Sura couldn’t tell the difference;
it was all news to her.
And when I described the Second World War, I
mentioned the 200 division US Army without mentioning that less than half
of the authorized divisions were actually manned. I noticed Sura
eyeing me carefully when I described numbers and sizes of divisions but
I treated it like a weather report. Confidence breeds believability.
I also learned things from the questions she
asked. In American military terms, both the Kapars and Unisans had
air forces and air defense forces, but no ground armies or navies!
They just bombed and strafed each other until someone surrendered!
Oh, ho! I managed to keep my face straight.
It was hard to do. I was starting to understand how the Kapar-Unisan
war had been going on for a hundred years. I almost choked when I
imagined Raymond Massey in a Kapar uniform declaiming “And now for the
rule of the Air Men!”
And naturally I dropped the subject of ground
armies and ocean navies.
Sura’s definition of “science” boiled down to
“military weapons, equipment and supporting technology more powerful than
machine guns and cannon.” I trotted out every wonder weapon that
Hitler’s propaganda machine had been claiming since 1931. Since she
swallowed one piece of H.G. Wells’s science fiction, I even threw in references
to atomic bombs and similar fantasies.
Finally, we were done. Sura had a complete
and consistent picture of a violent, heavily armed and incredibly bellicose
planet called Earth in a distant solar system. And I hadn’t been
given a truncheon massage for several days.
I discovered, however, two flies in the ointment.
First of all, Kiri won’t talk to me. Her
face turned into a mask of horror whenever she looked at me. I tried
to find out what was wrong but she hid behind her Kapar guard and whimpered
for him to protect her. He was startled by the request but more than
happy to protect a good looking young lady from an unarmed man.
I eventually took the hint.
And, second of all, Sura declared me insane.