After the first rush of battle, matters began to quiet a little. Against tremendous odds, and in a few brief hours, the armaments of Fruyling’s World had managed to beat off the Confederation fleets, and these had withdrawn to reform and to prepare for a new phase of the engagement.
In the far-off days before the age of Confederation, war had, perhaps, been an affair of grinding, constant attack and defense. No one could say for sure: many records were gone, much had been destroyed. But now there was waiting, preparation, linked batteries of armaments and calculators for prediction—and then the brief rush and flurry of battle, followed by the immense waiting once more.
For Dodd, it was a time to breathe and to look around. He had enough work to do: the damage to Building Three, and the confusion among the Alberts, had to be dealt with, and all knew time was short. Very few of the Alberts had actually escaped—and most of those, Dodd told himself bitterly, would die in their own jungles, for lack of knowledge or preparation. Most, though, simply milled around, waiting for the masters, wondering and worrying.
Norma was safe, of course: after a frantic search Dodd had found her below-ground in the basements of Building One, along with most of the Psych division. Without present duties forcing them to guard or maintain the Alberts, the Psych division had holed up almost entire in the steel corridors that echoed with the dull booms of the battle. He’d gasped out some statement of relief, and Norma had smiled at him.
“I knew you’d be safe,” she said. “I knew you had to be.”
And of course she was right. Even if what she said had sounded cold, removed—he had to remember she was under shock, too, the attack had come unexpectedly on them all. It didn’t matter what she said: she was safe. He was glad of that.
Of course he was, he thought. Of course he was.
Even if the things she said, the cold-blooded way she looked at the world, sometimes bothered him...
And, a day later, when everyone was picking up the scattered pieces of the world and attempting, somehow, to rig a new defense, she’d said more. Not about herself, or about him. Tacitly, they knew all of that had to wait for a conclusion to the battle. But about the Alberts...
“Of course they’re not disloyal,” she told him calmly. “They don’t even know what disloyalty means: we’ve seen to that. The masters are as much a part of their world as—as food, I suppose. You don’t stage a rebellion against food, do you?”
Dodd frowned. “But some of them have escaped.”
“Wandered, you mean. Just wandered off. And—oh, I suppose a few have. Our methods aren’t perfect. But they are pretty good, Johnny: look at the number of Alberts who simply stayed around.”
“We’re making them slaves.”
“No.” She shook her head, violently. “Nobody can make a slave. All we’ve done is seize an opportunity. Think of our own history, Johnny: first the clan, or the band—some sort of extended family group. Then, when real leadership is needed, the slave-and-master relationship.”
“Now, wait a minute,” Dodd said. Norma had been brain-washed into some silly set of slogans: it was his job to break them down. “The clan can elect leaders—”
“Sure it can,” she said. “But democracy is a civilized commodity, Johnny—in a primitive society it’s a luxury the society can’t afford. What guarantees have you got that the clan will elect the best possible leader? Or that, having elected him, they’ll follow him along the best paths?”
But again she cut him off. “Self-interest is stupid,” she said casually. “A child needs to learn. Schooling is in the best interest of that child. Agreed?”
“Did you ever hear of a child who liked school, Johnny?” she asked. “Did you ever hear of a child who went to school, regularly, eagerly, without some sort of force being applied, physical, mental or moral? No, Johnny, self-interest is short-sighted. Force is all that works.”
“But—” He was sure she was wrong, but he couldn’t see where. “Who are we to play God for them?” he said at last.
“They need somebody,” Norma said. “And we need them. Even.”
She seemed harder now, somehow, more decided. Dodd saw that the one attack had changed a lot—in Norma, in everyone. Albin, for instance, wasn’t involved with fun any more: he had turned into a fanatical drill-sergeant, with a squad of Alberts under him, and it was even rumored that he slept in their quarters.
And Norma ... what had happened to her? After the fighting was over, and they could talk again, could relax and reach out for each other once again...
She had become so hard...
One new fear ran through the defenders. The Alberts who had escaped might return, some said, vowing vengeance against the masters...