‘I see that you have what you call staked a claim,’ he said, turning to face Dale.
‘By the authority of Her Majesty I have annexed this territory to the British Commonwealth of Nations,’ Dale told him, not without slight pomposity.
‘Dear me! The entire planet? I suppose so. There is nothing modest about the English in matters of territory.’
‘You’d have done the same if you had got here first,’ Dugan put in impatiently. ‘But you’ve been unlucky, that’s all.’
Karaminoff smiled. He said conversationally:
‘The English man of action amazes me. He has the unique gift of living simultaneously in the twentieth and seventeenth centuries. Technically he is advanced, socially or should I say anti-socially, he has stagnated for three hundred years. It needs no straining for my imagination to see an ancestor Curtance planting a flag on a Pacific island in sixteen something and saluting it with the same words as the modern Mr. Curtance must have used here—only, of course, with the word ‘Empire” instead of “Commonwealth”.’
‘Well, why not? It’s a fine tradition,’ Dugan said with uncertain resentment of the other’s tone. ‘It made the finest Empire in the world.’
‘I agree. But the Romans once had the finest Empire in the world, so did the Greeks, and the Assyrians, they are historical; so is the building of the British Empire. Can’t you see that this cool annexation of property is outdated. Your method is a quaint anachronism. Do you really think that just because you have planted that flag here your sovereign right will be recognized? That the other peoples of Earth will stand by and allow you to take this place and do what you like with it? The trouble about you English is that you always think you are playing some kind of game, with the rules conveniently made up by yourselves.’
The doctor spoke for the first time since the Russian’s entrance.
‘And we are to suppose that you are free from the bourgeois ideal of Imperialism?’
‘I am not here to annex or conquer, if that is what you mean.’
‘Then just what are you here for?’
‘I am here to prevent conquest; to offer to the citizens of Mars union with the Soviet Socialist Republics in a defensive alliance against the greed of capitalist nations which ‘ He broke off abruptly to glare at the journalist.
‘You find something amusing?’ he inquired coldly.
Froud stifled his laughter and wiped his eyes.
‘So will you when you see the “citizens”,’ he said with difficulty. ‘I’m longing to hear you teach one of our friends of last night to sing the “Internationale”. But don’t mind me. Go on.’
The doctor put in: ‘I suppose I’m pretty dense, but the difference between our missions seems to be chiefly in terms. It boils down to their choosing an alliance with the Empire, or an alliance with the Soviets.’
‘If you cannot see the difference between union with us and submission to rule by imperialist and capitalist interests, you must, as you say, be pretty dense.’
The doctor thought for a while.
‘All right, we’ll take it that I’m dense. Now, what do you propose to do about it?’
Dale broke in before Karaminoff could answer:
‘I don’t see that we need to prolong this useless discussion any longer. The facts are quite obvious. I have laid first claim here. The other nations, except the Soviets, will naturally honour it.’
The Russian studied him thoughtfully.
‘That’s just the kind of statement which gets the English a reputation for subtlety. Nobody else can ever believe that such ingenuousness is real. “If the Englishman is as guileless as that, how does he continue to exist?” they ask. One has to confess that it is a mystery and accept it as one accepts other freaks of nature, for I know that you sincerely believe what you say.’
‘You think that other nations will dare to dispute our claim? They’ve no grounds for it whatever.’
‘But, my dear man, what need have they of grounds? Who made the rules of this game? Surely the fact that they want territory here is grounds enough. Really, you know, one of the most disheartening sights for persons of vision and acumen during the last few centuries must have been the spectacle of the English blundering about all over the globe and bringing off coup after coup by combinations of accident and sheer simple faith. It is a wonder that the conception of a planned, intelligent civilization can still exist in the face of it.
‘And now, just because you arrived here a few hours ahead of us, you quite honestly think yourselves entitled to all the mineral wealth which this planet may contain.’
‘So we are,’ Dale and Dugan said, almost together.
Karaminoff turned to look at his two companions.
‘Did I not tell you how it would be?’ he said, with a smile and a shrug.
One of them answered him rapidly in Russian. Karaminoff said:
‘Comrade Vassiloff is bored. He wishes us to-er-cut the cackle.’
‘Comrade Vassiloff is a sensible man,’ said the doctor. ‘Lead out your horses.’
‘I will. It is this. There are to be no territorial claims on this land by any nation, government or groups of persons. In such useful exchanges as can be made between Earth and Mars, no nation shall receive preferential treatment. Such commerce shall be under direct governmental control and not open to exploitation by individuals. Mars shall retain the right of self government and management of policy both internally and externally. There shall be ‘
‘And yet,’ the doctor put in, ‘you intend to invite them into union with the Soviets? That hardly seems compatible.’
‘If by their free choice they elect—
‘You, You damned scoundrel,’ Dugan shouted. ‘You know perfectly well that that will mean rule from Moscow. So that is what you call giving them freedom! Of all the infernal nerve!’
Karaminoff spread his hands.
‘You see,’ he said, ‘even your hot young patriot is sure that they would prefer to join us.’
‘Well they won’t have the chance. We claim this territory by right of discovery, and we’re damn’ well going to have it.’
Froud yawned and crossed to the window. He stared out for a few seconds and then beckoned Karaminoff to his side.
‘Don’t you think you’d better open negotiations with the “citizens” before you formulate any more of the constitution? See, there’s a potential comrade lurking in the bushes over there.’
Karaminoff followed the direction of his finger. He could just make out something which moved among the branches and he saw the shine of sunlight upon metal. At that moment one of the three Russians who had remained outside the Gloria Mundi came running to the window. He was pointing excitedly in the same direction. Karaminoff nodded and turned back to the rest.
‘Very well, we will go now. I will let you know the outcome of my negotiations, but whatever they are, believe me that this is one time that the English are not going to get away with their land grabbing.’
Nobody answered him. The three Russians put on their oxygen masks and passed one by one out of the airlock. The Gloria Mundi’s crew watched them rejoin their companions. There was much excited conversation and frequent indications of the bushes, and the party began to move off in that direction. It paused beside Dale’s post. They saw Karaminoff look up at the flag and then back at the ship. The breathing mask hid his features, but they could guess at the smile beneath it. One of the Russians crouched and then launched himself in what would have been an impossible leap on Earth. His outstretched hand caught the flag and tore it free from the pole as he dropped.
‘Damned swine!’ Dugan shouted. Before the rest could stop him he was across the room and into the airlock.
Karaminoff was reaching up to tie a red flag with a white hammer and sickle upon it to the bare pole when the man beside him suddenly clutched his arm and spun round. One of the others swivelled, firing from his hip at the entrance port. Karaminoff, apparently unmoved, finished fixing his flag and stepped back, waving a hand to the occupants of the ship, but only Froud was at the window to watch him. Dale and the doctor were at the airlock waiting anxiously till the pressures should equalize. The door swung open to reveal Dugan sitting on the floor. His face was purple, and blood was trickling down his leg.
‘Silly young fool,’ said the doctor.
‘Ricochet off the outer door,’ Dugan panted. ‘In the leg.’
‘Lucky for you it isn’t asphyxiation. Let me look at it.’
‘Missed the swine, too,’ Dugan gasped.
‘He couldn’t reach very high, so his flag’s only flying at half mast, if that’s any consolation to you,’ said Froud from the window. ‘Karaminoff’s splitting the gang. The bloke you pipped is going home with another. He himself and the other three are making for the bushes.’ He suddenly left the window and dashed across the room. ‘Where’s that damned telephoto got to. Here, Dale, help me get this thing rigged up. What a chance I must get a shot of Karaminoff greeting the animated tinware . That’s it, right up to the window. What’ll we call it? Look I Look, there’s Comrade Clockwork coming out of the bushes now. Oh, boy!’