"It's for you," his employer said distracted, tapping on the keyboard, his first efforts directed toward strengthening the "shield-making" function of his program, just in case. He wanted the unknown cause of the "English disease" to find it too alien to ruin. "I've got too much to do to allow something to stop it before it even gets going."
So Pieter, famished, quickly wolfed down exactly half the contents of the big basket, while his employer continued to absorb the immense amount of information the Cray’s ROM contained. Typewriters, Pieter knew. The professor prized two old Remingtons. But this keyboard the professor had found was attached only to a few tiny wires, which in turn led to a small port inset in the side of the cement block. Pieter finished his ample meal and sat watching the professor’s antics. Finally, the professor stopped with a weary sign. “I’ve learned all I need to know from the Cray, and I’ve confirmed what I know in turn about what is destroying us. What remains to be done? We need to devise a war strategy, to meet this thing--whatever it may be--head-on instead of passively take each mortal blow, again and again, until there is nothing left in us to fight it off.” He paused to look at Pieter. “I think I better record what I’m going to say next, in a way it can be played back. Just for the record, that there were two genuine human beings involved in the genesis of this Wargame.”
The professor gave a voice command and the Cray promptly replied:
"But Meinheer!" he protested, his thoughts finally gathered in a ball he could throw. "How could we Dutch disappear and history go backwards to those times? That is impossible. Surely, our Dutch nation has made too much progress for that to happen."
Even in the dim light of the lantern, Dr. Pikkard's expressions could be plainly seen. Pieter saw his eyebrow raise, the way it did if an unlearned person in his presence said something quite the contrary of the facts, or the way a genius was apt to look at a cone-capped dunce.
"Really?" the great intellect replied, no longer lifting the scientific eyebrow and looking as if he were instead choking on a piece of tough bacon rind. "We Dutch have made progress? The world cannot run backwards? That is news to me. Last in line to fall, you see, there was this country we see on the panels, and then a country called U.S.A., or "United States of America," and then the empires of England, Holland, Spain, and France, and then the Holy Roman, Ottoman, Greek Byzantine Empires, and then Carthage, Rome, Greece, Tyre, Persia, and Assyria and Babylonia, and then Egypt and---but that is enough for now. They all fell hard, very hard. You couldn't even find the pieces of some of them afterwards--not even one solitary ceramic chamber pot. I have learned all this from the Cray while you were away, though it only confirms what I have gleaned from old books that survived the recent wars. The infidel English poet John Dryden once said, ' Faith is not built on disquisitions vain; the things we must believe are few and plain.' Well, I'm afraid it isn't quite that simple, fine poet that he was. We men of science can't always have things 'few and plain' in order to believe. Hardly anything worth-while comes in that package."
Pieter was ashamed, stung to the quick when he realized how few of the names he could identify from the old Pre-Hollandian world that the professor seemed to know everything about. "Copper-Sandwich-Coined U.S.A." he knew. "Red-Coat England" he knew. "Papist Spain" every Dutch person knew and would never forgive. Even the most mysterious "Egypt of the Pharaohs" seemed to ring a bell somewhere. But schooling, for him, had only gone to the fourth grade, though New Alkmaar was considered more of a 'schoolin' and larnin' town' than many others. In his mind such countries were lumped together. It was old Spain with its wicked wars against the holy Dutch that figured as his nation's mortal enemy in the past, with the greedy, fancy-living English stepping into Spanish shoes in more recent times.
The professor, once started, was as hard to stop as any university instructor. Pieter wanted to know what he had to say even though he was feeling more and more unsettled and left out--in exactly what way, he could not fathom.
"Whether you know them or not, trust me. They once existed but now do not. I can also tell you that when these great nations and empires fell, usually the economies and the cultures suffered accordingly and turned backwards to more primitive conditions. When the Roman Empire fell, its road system was not repaired for a thousand years. The world, my boy, has known many such 'backward turnings,' in the road of civilization, and perhaps we are in the middle of one major fallback now. Just look at the condition of our own roads and bridges--none really safe for traffic anymore and no repairs in sight. Except for one rail link which is always being cut and a British-controlled airline, you can not get from one end of the country to the other. Was it always so? Absolutely not! Even this city has more fallen bridges than we could ever rebuild in three hundred years with our present manpower and resources. That doesn't count in the underground system of roads and tunnels in this city, which you may not have seen, but I have. They're all filled with water, but I went down in a diving suit. I found trains buried under the city! But there is one great difference between our society and those that failed. They declined and fell to the attacks of neighboring countries, barbarians, bubonic plague, depopulation of the countryside, lead pipes, oppressive government laws, what have you. Whatever is dealing us the death blow now, my boy, is completely different from anything previously experienced by mankind. Do you follow me?"
He paused to get his breath. But once he had it, he used it up in a final explosion before Pieter could think to reply.
"Everything we make falls apart! That is the difference between our time and all others. Only the oldest things last. The Earth's innards are building up explosive potential. It is even causing the Sun to cool, its engine shutting down dangerously toward the flashpoint of a nova, where it would begin to expand into a monstrous red giant before collapsing and possibly, if enough material is added, finally exploding! I tell you, we have not only degenerated, we have leaped with giant steps back into the anteroom of the Dark Ages on our way to the Stone Age. That's precisely where we stand today. It would seem so, anyway, after what our paper chase and this Cray has shown.”
A flash of light interrupted the professor's long lecture, just when Pieter was hoping the professor would say they had worked long enough and would be going home. Both the scientist and assistant turned the same instant as a certain panel came, unbidden, to life. Nothing showed but a red rose on a white background, but the voice of a young woman spoke from the panel.
They watched and listened as a grandfatherly, white-haired old gentleman introduced as a 22nd Century "Supreme Commander Ansgar Nilsson" came on the screen and, after a bit, began to speak. They heard his message and saw everything that happened to the great leader and his people who had finally overthrown the tyranny of the world government. The facility hidden beneath polar ice was most amazing. But what struck Dr. Pikkard most, of course, was the reference to the other hidden Crays--computers needed to stop the degenerative process that was destroying their own world, just as it had destroyed Commander Nilsson’s.
When the communiqué was over and the secret base had been destroyed, the panel went dead and both viewers sat stunned, how many minutes they did not know. Dr. Pikkard, and Pieter to a degree, sensed the tragedy of the end of a world. Seemingly, it wasn’t confined just to one nation or empire in the past but included their own as well. It was like brothers and sisters, now dead, reaching out and blowing a warning whistle.
Dr. Pikkard was the one to speak, being on center stage after finding the Cray. But his words seemed dragged out of him, though the muscles in his face were working violently.
"You saw it, Pieter! I guessed as much, but now I’ve seen it with my very eyes. A world destroyed! Now the destroyer has come for us! More than ever, we've got to stop the so-called English plague! It's killing us all off by slow degrees, exterminating us like insects and mice. New Amsterdam. Holland America. What are they? England? France? I tell you the world is finished, as it is right now. England still has its ill-gotten gold horde, and France its miserable chocolate factory. But Holland America? Our casinos and syndicates are witlessly digging our graves for the insanity of profit. We are in a pit, a sump of disease and ignorance, and it will only get worse. We have been trying to make the best of hell. As if that could be done while an immense evil is working to totally eradicate every last Henrik of us!"
With this knowledge, the war certainly had begun. Commander Pikkard turned quickly to his keyboard. At last he was at the point where he could enter his war strategy. That would take the results of all his researches--the fruits of much hard and dangerous work both by himself and during the year with Pieter.
At that moment they both smelled smoke. "I knew it," groaned the professor in real anguish,, reaching to disconnect the keyboard and gather his research papers. "They think to incinerate us and the bats, together with whatever it is we may have found here. Just when I was about to inject the fruit of my reseaches we’ll have to leave, but let us hope the fire burns itself out before it reaches this facility. I doubt very much my luck will hold and I will find the other facilities, in order to replace this one.”
But the fire had not got very far in the damp trash in the lobby. Dr. Pikkard and Pieter were able to get out, though they were choking and their faces blackened with soot by the time they got clear of the building. The fire, more fleeing bats than smoke and fire, continued all that day after they got back to the hotel. Like so many that started anonymously in the Old City, this one excited little attention. It was only a messy nuisance, with hordes of bats filling the air and fouling streets and canals.
Nothing seemed to go right that day, even though it had seen the biggest break of Dr. Pikkard’s long career. On coming in the lobby, people had stared at his foot most of all, until Pieter looked and saw the professor was missing a shoe and didn’t know it. What’s more, Atlantis tickets fell out of his ruined clothes when he got back to the suite and was changing into clean clothes. But his mind on other things, he hardly noticed them. It had been that way since he left Radio City--the professor’s feet, shoeless or shoed, seemed to float. After discovering the Cray supercomputer, he couldn’t seem to get his feet back on the ground, for the life of him!
That really disturbed Pieter, who of all people wanted his own feet planted as squarely as possible on firm Dutch sod. Normally, such things as the professor’s absent-mindedness over a missing shoe would not have bothered him overly--but he was growing more sensitive to the possibility that his days at the Wilhelmina could be drawing to a close. In that frame of mind, people’s reactions to his employer now exerted a stronger effect. Now when they looked at some antic of the doctor’s and tittered, or smiled as though they were observing a child at play, he took it personally and wished he wouldn’t have to be associated with the old fool any longer than absolutely necessary.
The professor too cultivated some misgivings after the Radio City discovery. As for the wargame, he had neglected to explain it fully to his befuddled assistant in all the confusion of their escape from the burning temple. He had meant to try the computer's holographic feature and call up some fellow game-players from future eras for Pieter to meet in person, for he had almost instant access via the three existing Crays to immense archives and virtual reality capabilities of all kinds. Perhaps, if Pieter could have spoken to various warrior players and heard their responses, that should have helped his understanding and attitude. If only the grauw had not lit the building and driven them out! If only! The missed opportunity was almost enough to drive a thinking man mad! He had got half-way to his objective, then been forced to give it up.
"What a pity! If I had only five more minutes to get my armies in place and the first campaign going! I’d give the Opposing Player, whoever, whatever OP is, a run for his guiders!”
He started to lather his hair with the rose-scented soap, sighing with the deep pleasure of the luxurious bath (usually, despite his lye-soaked Dutch heritage he forgot to bathe, going weeks until Anne put her foot down and made him). His muscles, taut during the whole ordeal of getting to the hidden Cray, began to relax. Decades of effort had come to a wonderful climax. Truly, 2392 was annus mirabilis, his year of miracles. He had succeeded beyond his wildest dreams. The Cray had supplied him with everything he needed to accomplish his aims. With the Cray he might even have saved the world! It was truly a magnificent creation--with such a thing a world could be conquered and controlled beyond anything Mongolia's Genghis Khan, Rome's Julius Caesar, and present Britain's power-hungry Clarkes ever imagined.
Surely, the world had been a finer, better place with such marvelous machines! Perhaps the fellow called Nilsson was a little too severe on that chap called Chillingsworth and his union of provinces. World dominion wasn’t such a bad idea, when the right people were ruling. The Dutch, with a Cray empowering their forces, could push the nefarious English right off the world map! And then...
He reached for a towel. Soap had got into his eyes, and the water was too soapy by now for a quick rinsing out. The dismissed thought came again, audibly, as would be the case in the slapping of a child's naughty, sweet-pilfering finger after a parental frown. Too surprised to grab a towel for modesty’s sake, the professor jerked his head around, trying to determine the source.
You should not have shown Pieter the facility. You were in too much of a hurry. The Crays are not yours. You are a registered and authorized subfile programmer, but we do not acknowledge you as such when you go beyond your own perimeters and endanger the Wargame’s security. Now we await your further orders, Subfile Programmer."
The statement came so clear and strong Dr. Pikkard sat, eyes burning as if lye had poured in, utterly stunned, waiting for more. But it seemed there might be no more. Just the rose-scented soap in his streaming eyes. Had he struck the wrong key, he wondered, and installed an autonomous programmer within the Cray? Was it the Cray speaking to him by some extraordinary means only the Cray knew the use of? As if his thoughts could be read, the mystery soon cleared up when the voice broke again into his thoughts.
The professor, no longer in the mood to get Dutch clean, jumped out of the tub and skidded and nearly brained himself before he found his feet. His mind raced with the possibilities as he stood before the window with the curtains drawn all the way back and did his usual exercises. But no, he decided. The Cray had to have been badly damaged or destroyed to have produced such an independent line of programming.
“What was that noise? Laughter? What could be generating so much amusement at such an hour?”
Ceasing to throw his arms and legs about in his customary air bath (thus saving on towels), the professor looked down into the street and realized he had drawn a crowd of catcalling, gesturing people--for what plain and sensible Dutch reason he could not fathom.
"Understand, my boy, this machine is infinitely more mighty than it appears. It has the ability to move this planet to--to the uttermost heights and depths of space, to the Pleiades, if necessary! Why, if that nova or supernova gets going, we will--"
But he didn't get to finish.
Pieter had smiled sweetly in agreement and understanding, a rare event in itself, and held out something in his palm.
"No, you are mistaken. YOU are the enemy of the Dutch people, the Opposing Player in the Game! This will stop you, OP....OP......OP...."
His voice still echoing, the object in Pieter's hand flashed into life. It shot a dagger-shaped flame directly toward his face and then the scene vanished in darkness, a darkness that took the shape of a glittering, black crystal that spat flames and smoke as it flew off into twisting, tornado-like clouds.
The professor turned over in bed and groaned himself awake. It took several moments to gather his thoughts sufficiently so he could see the cause of his confusion was just a bad dream.
His timepiece said 3:39, too early, he decided, to be rising. To settle his mind a bit, he went to the window, stumbling on some chemistry bottles on the way, and looked out.
Canals had a peculiar way of distorting reflected light at night, and the few gas lights the city fathers maintained in the district made the ghostly shapes of buildings even more ghastly.
Darkened, permanently anchored prison-barges for retaining hordes of homeless and bankrupt debtors, holding tanks known popularly as the “Hulks, ” seemed to grow more ominous and brooding on the canal as he looked at them, so much so he wondered if he were still dreaming.
What was worse, the Hulks of the New City, or the towering specters of the Old City?--he couldn’t say at that dismal hour when it seemed that even the angels had gone to bed and left the devils in full charge.
One Pre-Hollandian Old City structure in particular on Fifth Alderman To Be Dunked Street(named for a long-forgotten incident of an upset in the city council)--was it the tower the ancients called the "Empire State Building"?--had lost much of its upper stretches, but what remained now stretched out like black claws on the canal nearest the hotel.
If that wasn’t chilling enough, as he turned to go back to bed he noticed a change. The claw was flexing, probably because of a disturbance in the water from some small boat or even a harbor seal, for seals sometimes came cruising into the city at night to feed on floating fish heads the restaurants used for making soup broth and then discarded in the nearest canals.
He waited to see if the thing disturbing the water would come closer and show up in the gas light.
It did. There was a face in the water, a man's face encased in strands of of what looked like seaweed!
Another poor man thrown himself in when he couldn't find work? Dr. Pikkard wondered. Or if not that, a victim of foul play--of which there was plenty in a city like New Amsterdam? Perhaps the body, decomposing on the canal bottom, had slipped free of a rope and attached weight of some kind and had only just risen to the surface?
Then he had to laugh at his fantasies. It was merely a seal’s mooning eyes and face. The harbor and both rivers were full of them going after the hundreds of fish heads and spoiled clams the unfridgerated eateries threw away every day.
“What’s wrong with me?” he wondered, gripping his head with his hands. “I need to watch myself--or I’ll fail by turning paranoid!”
It was, he knew a real danger for someone like him. The universities employed every means to collect damning evidence against him. How much “evidence” did they have anyway? Was it enough to put him away forever in a lunatic asylum for the dangerously insane? He shuddered, not so much at the possibility as from an intuitive feeling that somehow the whole golden enterprise of his was hanging by a hair.
In other words, he was fighting a war that could be lost by a single tiny misstep--lost before it even actually began! Then, without another Cray, the outcome was certain--disaster for him and what was left of the Earth. He just had to find a replacement if it were the last thing he ever did!
Checking the next day, he ventured out to Rockefeller Center with the researches he hoped file in the Cray, but found the whole smoldering site teaming with grauw poking in the ruins. He slipped back away, so as not to be seen. Returning to the hotel, he was just in time to witness a terrific storm hit. A typhoon nearly took the dome, but it, mercifully, held, or the New City would have been crushed flat by the falling structure. For hours, even with the biggest part of the storm past, people heard the scream of the high winds lashing at every roof and crumbling Old City tower. Whatever could be ripped off was sent crashing into the streets and canals. Humanity, helpless before such awesome demonstrations of pure brute power, felt itself very small, indeed, at such times.
Yet, trailing destruction and turmoil, the storm passed. The New Amsterdamers crept out of hiding and thanked their lucky stars, and business and life went on as usual after the debris was cleared away from the streets. Everything was the same again--or was it?
Dr. Pikkard, for one, was not all that sure. He had seen the mysterious face in the canal in the dead of the night, and it had left an indelible impression that nagged him for days thereafter. Besides, he had cause for lingering grief and disappointment. His precious, new-found super-machine from the 22nd Century may been destroyed. Could he find another? What were the chances of that? Very slim, he thought. Very slim, indeed. It had taken him twenty, thirty years to find one. He knew he was out of time if he had to go looking at this late date for a replacement.
Weeks and then a entire month passed at the Royal Wilhelmina, while Dr. Pikkard grew increasing restless and nervy. Without his balloon and shed, unable to get back into the ruined tower containing the Cray without attracting attention, he had nothing to do but review and write down the conclusions of his newspaper researches and work more Mersenne primes.
Pieter and Anne, of course, saw much more of each other than in the past, but that did not necessarily improve "things" for them. It seemed the more time they had to spend together, the more their differences came out--like oil and water. Even she had grown irritable. She had taken to slapping his fingers whenever he started biting them.
One time while waiting for a steamer, they had taken a walk out to the end of the truncated Brooklyn Bridge, which was now only good for use as a hitch for the penny steamer pier. Pieter was standing where the bridge broke away, facing Brooklyn. "A schuyler for your thoughts?" teased Anne, when she saw his glum expression was going to stay put for the rest of the day. "Are you thinking about the future?"
It took him a long time for a solid Dutchman to respond. Not as Dutch as himself in Pieter’s view, Anne was always chattering about things that meant nothing to him. He would much rather have been doing his calculus than listening. He tried, within reason, to respond civilly whenever he could, however. "Future? What? I don't see none such thing," he said, his words labored. "I was just thinkin' about Van Tootles, the old mill where I used to work."
No matter where they took a walk, the Rosengracht (Roses Canal), Prinzengracht (Princes Canal), Herrengracht (Gentlemen Burgher’s Canal), or even the Tulpengracht (Tulip Canal), they could not find grounds for agreement or even a topic of conversation that could lighten Pieter's prevailing sober mood.
"I hear the queen is leaving the Old Country as she has long said she might do," Anne said lamely, for nothing better to say, even while she was really thinking, ‘Is there really an use to going on with this guy?’
Still, she tried again, hoping something she said might penetrate. "They say she's considering taking up residence in Surinam, or the Antilles, instead of coming and settling here in our capital. I wonder why she wouldn't want to live here. Maybe it's the bad weather we've had the last few years. That last storm was pretty bad, wasn’t it? And the weather doesn’t ever seem to change to the better."
Pieter had not heard the news, not even that the Old Country was mostly under water now, dikes and polder pumping stations no longer maintained. When he said nothing, Anne was really upset, though she knew at the time she wasn't justified. Why should an up country Dutch boy like Pieter be concerned, when she herself wasn't, even going so far to have said on the subject to her family at dinner, "Who needs having to support the monarchy? We'll be better off without it anyway!"
Still determined to give the human side of Pieter another try, she confronted him again, but more tenderly. "It must not be easy, your being an orphan," she commented, having reason to appreciate the loss of a parent. "I imagine you think a lot about your parents and being so far from your old home."
Pieter stiffened. He gave her a cold look that cut through her clothes like a glacial breeze from off Mt. Pollux or the nearby bay.
She shuddered, and at that point oil and water could (and perhaps should) have parted forever. But oil has a sticking quality it cannot help, even if the object is so opposite it is a vain attempt.
At that moment they were heading to their seats on a penny steamer. As usual it was crowded and nearly every space already taken. Trying to make more room, Anne had got to her seat and was going to stick her umbrella under her feet when it caught Pieter's shoe. He tripped and took a tremendous pratfall between the two benches of people, knocking newspapers, sandwiches, and various personal items out of their hands. Though it had taken everyone by surprise, Anne soon had plenty of help getting him back to his feet. Fortunately, nothing was broken, not even his wooden legs and braces.
Yet there were things Pieter hated more than breaking a leg. Sitting down by Anne, his face was a stiff, crimson mask as around him people retrieved scattered belongings. One man next to him dusted off a sandwich and continued where he had left off. Anne was full of apologies. She tried to explain about the umbrella. But Pieter said nothing and looked at her as if she had done it on purpose. No explanation would placate him, so she had to give up.
She laughed it off, or tried to. When that attempt fell flat, she gave up. "Don't tell me you've never made a mistake!" she challenged him, her eyes flashing, her Kilpaison dander showing.
Pieter slowly shook his head. "I have never done anything like what you just did. I've never done such a thing in my whole life."
What could she reply to that? Anne looked away at the water, holding back equal amounts of fury and amazement. She finally concluded that he was lying through his teeth, but she decided he had done it so many times he no longer cared if he lied. Just as long as he put himself in the right, that was all that really mattered to him. What could she do with a man like that? What?
"Perhaps, we ought to be thinking of your future and making some plans," Dr. Pikkard said abruptly one morning after a glance at the fresh new calendar. His brisk voice, as usual, cut through his assistant's gloom like a knife.
Pieter was all attention. It was the one thing he really worried about, despite inability to express it to Anne. Besides need to escape the mill, he had a second reason to be thinking about his future, now that Anne figured so largely in his present life.
"How about attending that little school in Minneapolis? I believe they call it "Free College of Minnesota." They'll never take you here with my recommendation, even with your aptitude for mathematics. I hear the New Zeeland school is still 'funct' and accepting students, though it's had to trim its faculty lately because of all the Dutch faculty protesting the school's new anti-Dutch oath of dis-allegiance.
Since there is a bit of rivalry with the universities, they might overlook your being Dutch and take someone I recommend. Out there I have the reputation of being something of a rebel and iconoclast.
Anyway, it's worth a try, and we'll take a good look at the science and math departments, and if it suits you, I'll put you through. Of course, you aren't thinking about marrying someone first, are you, because then that might complicate things?" The professor shot a keen look at his assistant, who colored in the face, then recovered as he considered the offer.
Anne aside, Pieter needed considerable time to consider the offer. The thought he wasn't going to the University of Amsterdam but instead to some anti-Dutch school in another province was enough to spin his head around the wrong way. He had been thinking seriously about schooling, particularly since it involved, to his thinking, job security, but he had never dreamed that it could be done outside New Amsterdam.
As for Anne, he had a growing nest egg, even with Anne's continual dragging him out on the town with her. If he spent it getting married and supporting a wife, would he be able to attend college and nail down a secure career? It was here there was possible common ground with his employer.
Dr. Pikkard had offered a way out of Pieter's dilemma--even if it meant pulling up old provincial roots.
He thought about the professor's most generous offer in the following days. He had Anne to consider, of course. She had understood after a fashion about his job. But would she understand about waiting until after college in a distant, strange province? He couldn't feel free to start a serious relationship, much less get married, until he was firmly planted on his plain Dutch feet. The problem with her was she probably couldn't wait, he thought. Her moodiness has increased, he noted. Did that mean she was losing interest in marrying just as he was making his own future solid for both him and her?
Finally, whether Anne married him or not, he liked the idea well enough and told his employer. After all, New Zeeland was a great deal farther removed from the gristmill than New Amsterdam. And it was, moreover, far from the problem he had with Anne. The little woman was beginning to turn everything upside down. She had even come unannounced to his neat rooms and made a scene over nothing. She had given him an unforgivable comment about his housekeeping in the corners and the closet.
“Hypocrite!” she said. “You nothing but a Pharisee, like in the Bible! You always give the impression you have everything together, when actually your closets are in worst shape than my family’s! ”
Now that he had made up his mind how to get ahead (using Dr. Pikkard’s assistance as a springboard to something better), for him too the delay of the Atlantis proved very difficult. How time dragged! For the first time, seventeen hours in a day were just too many for a youth who, forgetting he was footless, still hoped to get his feet on solid ground and avoid the gristmill forever. Yet, plodding slowly but surely, the old year finally had done its duty, passed the torch to an impatiently waiting, beardless youth.
Even though the rich panicked as the rich do and withdrew dwindling capital from marginally profitable businesses, sending their gold down to Surinam and the Dutch Antilles, at least a not quite bankrupt restaurateur such as Emilio could share what little he had. The Sicilian only changed things a bit by feeding just as many at the backdoor as he did in the front of his establishment. A steam-chuffing penny steamer taken off the discontinued Kaweensburg run was kept busy hauling his customers to and fro. His day-old oyster soup and bread proved many a poor man's only meal of the day, and Emilio seemed never to run out.
"I wonder how the old lover boy does it!" Anne often said to Pieter, their differences put aside for the moment as they stepped through a line of down-and-out men to gain entrance. She was even more amazed when they were brought a big basket of fresh-baked white bread. "Emilio certainly knows how to stretch the white flour! And how can he afford it?"
"Are you sure he stretches it?” answered Pieter solemnly. “ I never seen my mother stretch flour--it’s too sticky for that."
Now this was his first joke in New Amsterdam--only the joke was on him as much as Emilio, who actually did manage to stretch his white flour with carefully bleached bluecorn meal.
Laughing as much at the joke as Pieter’s solemn ways, Anne seemed to forgive Pieter everything in his callous treatment of her the last few weeks. They had begun to quarrel more and more these days, for no apparent reason, but now she thought it might be just a passing spell and things would be getting better, not worse.
As for Pieter, he stared at her as if she had gone out of her mind.
They reached their chosen booth, which was always waiting for them when they came, the seats still warm from previous occupants. Something new, a vase of hothouse flowers, romantically pink and fragrant Queen Maud roses, graced the table. Emilio's youngest daughter was especially shy and full of smiles as she served them the usual menu. Her face had even turned red by the time she was filling their glasses a second time.
Anne examined the girl but could not make anything of it. Reading Anne's perplexity, Pieter bit his lip and looked down at his hands. Anne’s laughter had passed and a different mood took over. Awkward moments passed. The silence was not the good kind. Finally, Anne reached across to him and took his clenched hand.
"This was to be our dinner for making up to each other for the past couple weeks. That was my idea anyway. Well? Perhaps, you need to tell me something?"
Pieter, even then, did not speak. He wasn’t exactly inclined to do any such thing as “make up.” Whatever problems they had, they weren’t a bit his fault. Finally, he had to speak what was on his mind.
"I'm going to get more schoolin’ in Minneapolis, if it comes to that. I haven't got but a fourth grade education, but I like math very much, and the professor says with some paid coaching I should be able to pass the entrance test. I know how you feel about things, but I need to think of supporting us someday, just in case--" For Pieter, it was a big and difficult speech, just as hard as cracking a joke, even if he couldn't get the whole piece out.
A dark look flashed across Anne's face. Here their relationship, for which she had held out hope against hope to this moment, was the thing in question, and Pieter was acting and planning things like it was a certain, accomplished fact--the last thing that could be said of it by any sane person!
She was so upset she couldn’t find the words to express what she really thought at that moment. So she said something else. "You mean something might happen to my uncle?"
Then she grew very, very angry. "Why don't you ever use my name? I'm sick and tired of this! I'm Anne! Anne! Is that so hard? What is so difficult about calling me Anne! I'm yours, aren't I? Well? Make up your blasted mind!"
Just then the waitress came by, looked questioningly at them, and no more was said and they finished at Emilio's in cold silence.
They stepped back onto Manhattan from the steamer, intending to go for a walk to discuss the issue over that had been brought up and dropped during dinner. That was Anne’s intention, anyway.
In a fragment of the formerly grand old Battery park, winter had tarried, and fall leaves still lay thick where they walked. Their feet rustled noisily as they waded through golden and red drifts. For Dutch Manhattan, it was about as good as it ever could get.
For a moment, another Pieter burst forth from all his restrains before he could stop it.
He himself could not believe he was behaving so openly. "Anne! Anne!" he cried in a choked voice, his face twisted in expression, as if he were trying to look in two directions. Passers-by looked as if they thought he had gone crazy and, for once, he didn’t notice. His eyes blinking against the glare of gas and electric lamps, the half of him that was looking back over his shoulder receded. For a moment the cold North Sea no longer coursed in his veins. A very different Pieter had stepped to the fore--pushing the plodding, analytical, methodical Pieter aside. . Still upset from the tiff in Emilio’s, her Clara Bow eyes glittered, perhaps from tears, in the dark depths of her Spanish shawl, her plumed breath mingling with his own.
He spoke quietly as he could. He was plain up country Dutch again. "Anne, I'm sorry, I--we-- still need to keep to our plans, Anne. The airship has just landed, and, Anne, the professor will be taking me along to Minneapolis tomorrow."
Anne gave a light laugh and her eyes glittered. "Our plans? I had nothing to do with them. And aren't you over-doing my name a bit? So you're going on another trip. Research? Always more research! What good is it to him, to you, to us anyway? The university will never accept his findings or give him the honor he's due! I know he thinks he can save the world, but it can't be saved! He's just too smart to see he can't do it alone. And what chance do we have in all this? I know you’re attracted to me--you can’t deny it. This time I'll follow you there if I have to scrape up the money myself. I'll take Evangeline for a draw and dance flamencos in the street for pennies and schuylers if I have to! That’s how much I care about you. And you, Pieter? How much do you care about me? Tell me. Despite all your grand plans to set up on your own, supposedly for my sake too, I really don’t know anymore!"
Pieter turned away, his face too full of emotion to show anybody. "I don't want you to follow me, Anne. That wouldn't be decent--" He stopped, breathing heavily, recalling something unusual he had just done. He turned back to her questioning gaze. "I promise, that after this waiting a proper ring will be waiting for you!" he blurted out, his hand even then clenching in his pocket the gemstone.
A moment passed, with only the sounds of breathing, and far off a barking dog and the hoarse calling of a canal cabby to a possible fare. Neither were looking at each other. "They'll be wondering where I am by now and send someone out to look." Anne pressed his hand. "Back there, I know you meant it. I never heard you say my name like that before, and you can't deny it now for all the schooling in the world!"
She gave him a little pat on his thick, plain, Dutch belt, slowly walked away toward the penny steamer docks, turned round to glance at him, then walked fast. Only then did she wipe her face with something close to a slap.
"But Anne--" Pieter said, droning her name, though no one was listening. He walked all the way back to the Wilhelmina, foregoing a pedi-taxi, which saved an impressive total of four solid copper Dutch cents.
Even its vast collection of buried artifacts was not inexhaustible. And he breathed not a word about rebuilding to Pieter, though his companion thought the professor could never operate without a balloon.
Instead, the professor gave his helper a ticket for Minneapolis, explaining that, despite the lateness of the season, he would be doing important researches together in the northern hinterland, though he did not say exactly what they might be. After that, Pieter's contract was up, and he could do as he pleased--more schooling, some other job, or choose to be rehired with a substantial raise.
Hearing such prospects were definitely his, Pieter's ears burned agreeably for hours afterwards. He felt more grown-up and independent than ever before. Life was truly looking up for a plain Dutch youth from a wretched little canal town! He even thought he might have been mistaken about his initial experiences--it was not quite as difficult in the big city as people liked to paint it. Sure, he had gone without a few things when he first settled in town, but then the door swung open as he knew it would and he was on his way! You just couldn’t keep a good, solid, plain Dutchman down! Not for long anyway.
A first for him since he left his hated home, something he had not even done in New Alkmaar, he started humming an old tune, then actually singing. This plain Dutch boy could, strangely enough, sing when he had a mind to. Of course, there wasn’t much effort put into his singing--his heart wasn’t that much in music-making. But words came to him and he put a little of his voice to it as he took a turn around town and was looking at the barge traffic on one end of Roses Canal.
And you always know your Maker, You always know your pal,
If you ever navigated on the Van Erie Canal!
He was still singing in his own odd, half-hearted way when the line, "You always know your pal--" seemed to strike a response in the real world. As it had momentarily with Anne at the Manhattan Battery park, his good Dutch heart turned over. The cause? A ragged green scarf was fluttering round the edge of a nearby building.
Moving quickly for Pieter, he got to the corner in record time, swung round it but Mr. Ragged Green Scarf had vanished like summer's grasshopper. "Don't run, old friend!" he called in vain. "Come back! I won't call the Pinks on ya!" Whether he could hear or not, his “old friend” kept going and Pieter was genuinely disappointed. Now that he had made good, he really wanted to share some of his fortune with the old man, who, after all, had once helped him when things had gotten a bit lean.
It had reposed there, in perfect conditions for preservation, a very long and unprofitable time, indeed, and the curator was anxious to create some operational funding for the museum. He knew there was a lot of profit-making potential left in the old hulk.
Over four hundred years before, in the early 1930's, it had been a famed airship serving its great founder and German commercial interests. A ZR4, her cherry-red control car and upper decks had once accommodated 100 passengers and twice as many crew members in lavish, Pullman-car style, with a dining room, reading --writing room, lounge and smoker, promenade decks, aluminum grand piano, and other recreational amenities. Crew facilities, naturally not lavish, were yet more spacious than those on the largest seagoing liners.
Despite numerous parties, one gala affair hosting the Greta Garbo after the release of Anna Kerenina, the German Zeppelin company had taken excellent care of it. Herr Zeppelin returned it to his own company museum after the aviation "watershed disaster" of the Hindenburg burning up in 1937, when there was so much loss of life that all dirigibles world-wide were removed from active service.
Use of such giant airships, though still highly profitable and competitive with prop airplanes in hauling freight and passengers, was effectively discouraged for a very long time, until the Dutch regained control of the New World. With the Greco- English disease and the peculiar dilemma faced by the 24th Century, the same pendulum that swung against titanic gas-filled airships now reversed, just as so many other things had turned an opposite direction in these times.
The first year after the Atlantis found a buyer, it served the Dutch Royal Navy which protected the four Netherlands--Holland America, the Dutch Antilles, the Surinam, and the Old Country. Commissioned after some overhauling, the Atlantis served proudly and faithfully. It proved of great value to the Holland American army air corps, and the command's one "air admiral" used it to advantage in the very bloody land and sea wars fought with Britain. The army's air corps had many problems with maintenance of aircraft, so the airship's job was locating survivors at sea of downed Clippers, Stratocruisers, and Super Fortresses sent to bomb London.
The second year of its service saw dramatic changes in the army air corps. Except for a few items, New Holland eliminated its too costly army air corps after a peace treaty was concluded with the equally exhausted Britain, and the faithful old ZR4 was fated to be turned over completely to commercial uses.
After transatlantic flights, including senatorial junkets to Panama and Puerto Rico, it was due to be placed back in moth balls forever in the Zeppelin Museum when a British company got wind of it. Clarke Enterprises sent agents to the Zeppelin headquarters on Lake Constanze.
It had scarcely come to rest in its huge berth in Germany when Clarke Enterprises hustled it out for full-time service again. Once again history called with another strange twist. After hundreds of years and thousands of miles of flying, not to mention many decades of silent repose in the dirigible shed, it still needed no major altering when it was again commissioned as a commercial British carrier of passengers and freight on the transatlantic route.
As for the explosive capabilities of Zeppelins, they were as great as ever without American helium, and the rare gas had been used up centuries before. As it was, this had become a world that would take a chance with anything including hydrogen, depending on its cheapness and availability to turn the all- important and necessary profit.
Now the new owner knew precisely what it was doing by the purchase. Clarke-Handley Imperial Airways, a London-based commercial airline run by a former air corps admiral, was now the possession of the wealthy Clarkes, a family that held controlling interests in most every major enterprise on both sides of the Atlantic that still turned a profit.
By virtue of the new treaty, Clarke-Handley flew to all three major cities in Holland America, so in effect it served as an American Dutch airline without H.A. having to subsidize it to keep air-travel going.
Clarke-Handley, surprisingly enough, was still making big money for the Clarkes (the Handley part was only a name tag by now). Despite continued, widespread depopulation, the East Coast of H.A. remained principally Dutch, which meant gambling operations at Atlantic City were closely regulated and jackpots kept low to discourage patrons. This was a policy that was not bringing much business either to Atlantic City or to Clarke-Handley.
Thus, the Lakehurst-Minneapolis-Reno flight was proving especially lucrative, since there was no limit to anyone's winnings in the more free-wheeling, loosely Dutch-administered West. As an English carrier, Clarke-Handley could cash in on the run to Reno, but local Dutch airship lines could not, according to the strict American law which inevitably bankrupted them.
Gambling had never been better business. In these times, capital investments in factories and other real estate were an even bigger gamble than throwing all on the wheel of fortune. Thus, there was little sign Reno's boom was going to end, even if everything else turned belly up.
Not surprisingly, Clarke -Handley's directors favored cutting out transatlantic flights altogether, which were too long and costly, in favor of domestic Holland America flights, all connecting with Reno's casinos and leggy floorshows.
It was just a matter of time--and Money--before the Atlantis was ordered to suspend ocean travel. Declining profits would force the inevitable. She, like a number of sister ships, would serve a growing lemming like surge of desperate, "last chance" amateur gamblers, all heading for the lavish western capital of that chief of the fatal, rock-hugging sirens, Old Lady Luck.