The Open Secret
The staff at sector HQ had already noticed that
their commander was moodier than usual. And some of them sensed
that the military situation - bad though it was - was not alone
The fall of Skyyon was disturbing enough.
It made one queasy to think of the central, polar city of Syoom
conquered with hardly a blow being struck in its defence; the seat of
the Sunnoad overrun -
One could hardly bear to watch
the films taken of those last hours in which laden hover-barges dropped
like tears from the city to the plain below, bearing away to safety the
most vital treasures and archives of Syoom.
The loss was retrievable;
indeed it certainly would be retrieved, provided that all went according
to the long-term plan for victory. Nevertheless - what a sickening
gamble to have to make!
All very well to repeat to oneself
that it was all part of a strategic withdrawal, to coax
the invasion from Fyaym into over-extending itself into a trap where it could be
destroyed once and for all, and that this sharp medicine was better
than enduring a long war which the Syoomean economy could no longer
afford. It was a bold and considered strategy; yet there were moments when it
felt more like a walk on rotten floorboards with a void
The burden fell most heavily
upon those who saw the risks most clearly, namely upon Syoom's top
commanders. Especially, perhaps, upon omzyr Jovald Veon. He
it was who had led the most heavily attacked section of the retreating
till now, however, the omzyr had managed with cool competence. His
staff had drawn strength and reassurance from watching him second-guess
the weaving, looping paths traced by the enemy airships as they probed
in widening circles through the spaces of Syoom. And the orders he
had given to his captains, to offer just the right amount of resistance
to those ships, so as to convince their captains that the weak
opposition they faced was the most Syoom had to offer - those orders had
been masterly in their blend of insight and precision.
Then came the news of Skyyon's fall,
and something strange seemed to happen to Jovald Veon.
The tension lines around his mouth grew
tighter. His voice cracked as he gave his orders. Frequently, he accompanied
his words by chopping gestures with his hands; at
other moments he plunged both fists into his pockets and stared out
through the silver columns of the HQ building, saying nothing at all, as
if he were waiting for inspiration. What was actually happening,
unbeknownst to his officers and secretaries, was that inspiration
had come. It was bringing him to a decision that would
cause controversy from that day to this.
most unsettling emotion is hope.
I never guessed that hope
could be so threatening, or that it could ever come close to making me
forget my duty; but then, I never expected that an enemy would hand me
an excuse to say No to those of my people who opposed me, and Yes to the
happiness which they have denied me.
The fall of Skyyon could be his
excuse - his personal excuse for action against his own private
tragedy. He was quite certain that he was going to take everybody
by surprise. Neither friend nor foe, neither superior nor
subordinate, would guess until too late, how he had found his opportunity to act
lay hidden in the fact that, apart from strategy and tactics, there was
a third aspect of his job: his responsibility for morale.
it, but deressing it, as far as appearances were concerned. Conducting a
pretence of despair, as part of the gigantic confidence trick which
the whole of Syoom was playing on the enemy, and which required
tremendous attention to detail.
It was essential that
the public mood seem dismal and defeatist, and since everyday talk in
the conquered cities and towns stood a good chance of being connected
with the war, these humdrum conversations formed a vast reservoir of
deceit, though with a high risk of the entire trick being exposed
in a moment of carelessness. So far, Jovald had successfully
maintained a sham radio dialogue with the occupied lands. He
sent gloomy messages exhorting people to bear their lot with stoic
fortitude; he told them to be ready for sacrifice and to be brave
whether or not final victory was achieved - and putting it this way, he
made it sound as though he did not believe in victory. Every report he
received, he turned into an excuse to send more advice tinged with the
message that Syoomeans must lower their expectations. Often he
made the point that the previous era, just ended, had been one long
unequal struggle to postpone the inevitable, and it wasn't surprising
that the final fall of the Rubidium Fort had opened the floodgates of
enemy pressure, resulting in the present invasion, perhaps the end of
Syoom. "We must not complain if our light goes out, for it has
shone fair in the history of our world. No culture is immortal;
all great civilizations have their term...."
The population were playing
along with this lugubrious stuff. Intelligently
taking their cue, they donned the defeatist disguise, with the
result that the enemy eavesdroppers seemed completely fooled. Meanwhile in
reality in millions of Syoomean hearts the fires of hope were kept burning
And now, from
fooling the enemy, Jovald Veon turned to fooling his own
face to mask his excitement, he
crooked his finger at his second-in-command, Hyl
"Yes, omzyr J-V?" said the
zynzyr, stepping quietly forward. He had been w
atching the omzyr as closely as
he dared from the respectful distance of the monitor
"Hyl, I need to
explain something to you. Something I am about to do."
"The fall of Skyyon," said Jovald, "is going to
put a lot of extra pressure on the deception plan. On the one hand
we need to make sure that the despair we are simulating does not become
real; on the other hand we need also to make sure that the
appearance of it deepens, as would happen, were it real. And it must be
done with finesse. We've reached the dangerous point, where fear
and uncertainty may make some people fight too hard too soon, and give
the whole game away.
"Now then, Hyl,
you know the Sunnoad has given me this." And the
omzyr held up an orange glass object shaped like a
comb. "You recognize it, don't you?"
"The signet of
Jovald carefully replaced the object
in its pocket inside the folds of his cloak, and spoke in lowered
voice. "Just so long as there is no doubt in your mind. I
don't want any arguments from you or anyone else. I have been
given absolute discretion by Sunnoad Jad Darkal."
Hyl's normally pallid
face became even paler as he dared to ask, "Discretion to do what,
"To cook up
something special for the Fyaymans." Jovald said it challengingly,
even defiantly, his face a touch shiny with sweat. He hastened to
add with a smile, "
If the Sunnoad can trust me, so can you."
"Of course, omzyr. Are you
about to leave us?"
"Yes. You are in charge of the
base for the next few days. I don't expect the enemy to push
much further towards this spot; they're veering to sweep up the
heartland. But if they do come at you, you know the steps of the
dance we've been leading them."
Hyl Devadan saluted and was about to step back, but Jovald Veon continued, "You
see, I want to be on hand, in occupied territory, to make
personally sure, that the sauce is neither too cold nor too hot for this
Hyl Devadan, having received
this confidence, drew himself up straighter
and stood proudly at his new post in front of the winking status
boards while Jovald departed.
The best thing
about the excuse that Jovald had given to Hyl was that, as far as it
went, it was true. When is desertion not desertion? When
you've been given discretion!
secret elation - knowing you had people just where you wanted
feeling.... though accompanied by a croaking whisper, that one may
perhaps be behaving monstrously.
Jovald was a
public figure whose personal tragedy was well known. To be famous
on account of a one-in-a-billion fluke which had ruined his chance for
happiness, was mortifying as well as miserable; not that he was too
proud to accept sympathy - sympathy was welcome when it was offered on a
friendly, individual scale - but he found it hard to stand being a
curiosity for connoisseurs of misfortune, and he resented all the
humiliating, mawkish attention paid to his peculiar ill luck.
Embittered, he found his professional success to be inadquate
recompense. Often he derided his own abilities. What was the
use of being acclaimed a great general, as Sunnoad Jad Darkal's
right-hand man, if all his brains and strategic sense failed to be of
help in the area where he most needed it?
morning, that is.
Now all of a
sudden an old daydream had materialised.
coup which will force the bigots to allow you the woman you love?
Today it may be possible at last!
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