Versley sipped her chocolate. “People get taken to the punishment camps for any reason, or no reason at all. I do not know if you have heard this, Joffee. Every two or three days, Ythac’s gendarmes will issue a list of sixty names, or thirty. Those people will be hunted down and taken to the camps. There is no real rhyme or reason for it. Often they are notable protestors. Just as often, they are nobody in particular. RARU has helped save fifty or sixty from the camps and spirit them out of the country, but that is all. Hundreds have gone in. Some have died, but none has come out.”
I nodded quietly. “I think they are quarentined for cyoziworms. I have seen the exhibits Prof. Wulpmegarn produced, showing a normal person and an infested one. I saw the movies of Dr. Grauzeng’s surgery, with the live worm struggling in Bthera’s breast, and dying.”
«You might want to stop arguing about now,» Nrararn scribbled to me. «Everyone is glaring at you.»
“Well, I say that Wulpmegarn is a cunya trying to get the favor of the dragons by telling whatever story they want told, and Grauzeng was a cunya and we are better off without her, and Bthera was a whore who could be hired to do any thing or to say any thing,” said Versley. “Besides, even if the worms were real, how could Ythac decide that Elrique, say, is infested? He has not even seen Elrique!”
“Well, Wulpmegarn certainly got carried by a dragon once or twice, so he’s certainly a friend of theirs. And he’s doing what they want,” I said, because it’s true and it sounds like it’s being agreeable even if it’s not quite. “And I’m sorry about your cousin, Dulac. Whatever the reason, or if there’s no reason at all, it’s an awful thing.”
Dulac nodded glumly. “It is my grief. And my fear, that I might join him.”
Quarri laughed. “And what is RARU doing about the camps?”
“We are trying to exert pressure on the contractors who build them, and to interfere with the construction” said Versley. “With some success. The Tublier-North camp is now three months behind schedule. The razor wire plant seems to have thoroughly bollixed up their order, so it may be delayed further. You cannot be imprisoned if there are no prisons to throw you in, Dulac.
Quarri laughed. “Fighting defensively, are you?”
“We oppose the invaders in a variety of ways.”
”We hit Ythac with a mortar shell while he was asleep two months ago,” said Quarri.
“And you’re still alive?” I asked, astounded. (I wasn’t worried about Ythac — I’d seen him just the other day.)
“That’s we, Methu. I only had a little bit to do with that operation,” he said. His lie had the rotten-chocolate edge that indicates bragging.
“And Methu got massacred for that. Massacred. Leredh burned up a hundred homes — the heart of Methu, and all their families,” said Versley, setting down her chocolate cup on the quilted arm of her chair.
“I barely escaped with my life!” exclaimed Quarri. His lie was rotten chocolate with a sandy mold over it.
“Good for you. Many were not so lucky. Do you think that another round of mortars will do the job?” asked Versley.
“I dunno. Maybe a lucky shot to the head or something,” said Quarri.
“Luck does not favor us very often these days,” said Versley. “Even if that worked, we would still have Leredh to face. Do you think he would spare any city in Trest if we killed his buggard?”
“Besides, we hit the grey one with a warplane and didn’t hurt it much. What’s a little mortar round going to do?” asked Dulac.
Quarri stood up. “That ‘little mortar round’ you are speaking of is really a Mozarde 3A. 340-millimeter caliber! Nothing in the world is going to ignore that!”
“It doesn’t sound like Ythac and Llredh ignored it,” I said. “But it didn’t kill them, and didn’t even seem to hurt them.”
Versley nodded grimly, “Exactly. Military means have failed.”
“Old woman, you don’t know what you’re talking about,” said Quarri.
Versley stood up angrily. “Young man, I …” She knocked her cup off the arm of her chair, so I caught it. “Oh, thank you, Joffee. We ‘old women’ can be clumsy at times. Quarri, if we had an military option that seemed the least bit effective, we would be more than happy to use it. Hove seems to have just one weapon that can kill dragons. And Trest is currently deprived of twistor cannons. Pinning our hopes on somehow being able to kill one more dragon, much less all of them, is not a good strategy. We must do something useful in the meantime.”
“But the Limp Rebellion is so, so, un-virile,” whined Quarri.
“If I had a virility, I shouldn’t waste it on the dragons. I daresay they would enjoy it,” said Versley. “If you want to die in glorious battle, and take your family and friends with you, you can go to some other resistance group. RARU will make a statue of you after we regain Trest.”
“It’s just cowardly, that’s all,” said Quarri.
“Limp Rebellion? I’m new to the resistance,” I said. “I haven’t heard of it before.”
Versley handed me a pamphlet. “It’s all in here. Simply, we don’t advocate letting the dragons rule Trest. We don’t do what they tell us. They may have formally conquered the government, but they haven’t conquered the country. There’s never been a dragon in Tublier…”
“The black one flew over here, before the conquest.” I pointed out, because I had done.
“It didn’t land, and it certainly didn’t conquer us. So on the whole, we’re simply going to go about our lives and ignore the dragons, as much as we can.”
“Which doesn’t do very well when they throw your cousin into a punishment camp,” said Dulac.
“If the gendarmes of Churry City ignored the dragons, if the contractors there refused to build for the dragons, your cousin would not be in the camp,” Versley proclaimed.
I opened the pamphlet. “What happens when Llredh is towering over you, telling you to arrest everyone left in the square in Churry City, or he will burn you to ashes?”
Versley smiled. “Now there is your chance to be as brave and virile as Quarri likes, or more subtle. If you turn to the page 5, you will see a little table, with levels of resistance. You could simply spit in his eye. You will probably die for that. That’s the top level, the purple level, and we don’t have very many people up there. Most of us are at the green level, two bands down. We’d only obey a direct order, and we’d be as reluctant and do as bad a job as we could manage. The blue level is between those: we’d not do anything that hurt another hoven. I’m sworn at the blue level. I don’t expect it to matter, the difference between blue and green, but for the chief of gendarmes it certainly would.”
I looked at the table, which was a rather technical bit of sedition. “It’s a bit intimidating. Even the lower levels are making a promise to irritate dragons.”
“Do you expect to free Trest without getting the oppressors a wee bit ticked off?” asked Dulac.
“I don’t. I don’t expect to free Trest without getting clawed or bitten, for that matter. I can still be intimidated, can’t I?” I said.
“You don’t need to swear to it now. But take the pamphlet home and read it. Every RARU member has sworn something, even just the red level.”
RED: I, N._____, swear that I will not provide direct comfort or assistance to the dragons or their cunyas, save under coercion; and after the coercion is finished I will immediately denounce my coerced actions to RARU.
“I would like to wait a bit, and read it carefully,” I said. “It’s a big step, pledging emnity to dragons.” Or, in my case, I’m not sure I could eat and follow that oath, much less behave properly towards my fiancés, or Tarcuna, or Ythac.
“It doesn’t bother me a bit,” said Dulac, and recited the blue-level oath, and meant it.
“I am no coward!” said Quarri, lying, and recited the purple-level oath, lying.
Versley glanced at me curiously. I had my nose in the pamphlet, trying to figure out some interpretation or minor change so that I could take it and not be forsworn. “Well, let me tell you about a few of our programs and such in Tublier.” Which she did. Half of them are resistance things, like keeping the cyozi-camp from being built and making sure that most of the gendarmes are sworn to as high a level as possible. The other half seemed unrelated to dragons. I’m not sure what, if anything, the dam on the Tublier river has to do with us. Ythac doesn’t either; he didn’t even know there was a dam there.
«They hate us. They hate us for some understandable reasons, like conquest. They hate us for some terrible reasons, like we’re trying to get rid of an actual horrible menace and they don’t believe it’s real. They’ll be perfectly reasonable if that suits their purposes, and perfectly unreasonable if that does. They are determined that everything dragons do is evil and wicked,» I told everyone, as a conclusion to my report.
«Sounds about right. Thanks for telling me about the colors. That explains several things,» said Ythac.
«You hadn’t found out about them?»
«Information magic is excellent for finding the answers to your questions. It is not always so good for finding the best questions to ask. I had heard ‘so-and-so is purple’ before, but thought it was about fur color.»
«The helpful plan, is she in your claws yet?» asked Llredh.
«No. I can’t imagine that this generation is going to feel properly conquered, much less happily conquered.»
«Keep looking, if you please,» wrote Ythac. «I wanted to be much better than the previous government. I don’t think I’m even managing to be better than nothing. »
«I will. I may need to go somewhere else, though. I can’t take any of those oaths for RARU, or not mean them anyhow.»
«You could investigate them in animal form too!» said Nrararn.
«Just as useful, probably.»