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´╗┐Title: Generals Help Themselves
Author: Pease, M. C.
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Generals Help Themselves" ***

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[Illustration: _The fleet came in at four o'clock._]

    _With no one to help him, it seemed the General was lost. But the
    enemy was soon to discover that--_

                    GENERALS HELP THEMSELVES

                         By M. C. Pease

"Did it go well?" the aide asked.

The admiral, affectionately known as the Old Man, did not reply until
he'd closed the door, crossed the room, and dropped into the chair at
his desk. Then he said:

"Go well? It did not go at all. Every blasted one of them, from the
President on down, can think of nothing but the way the Combine over-ran
Venus. When I mention P-boats, they shout that the Venusians depended on
P-boats, too, and got smashed by the Combine's dreadnoughts in one
battle. 'You can't argue with it, man,' they tell me. And they won't

"But the Venusians fought their P-ships idiotically," the aide
complained. "It was just plain silly to let small, light, fast ships
slug it out with dreadnoughts. If they had used Plan K--"

The Old Man snorted.

"Are you trying to convince me? I've staked my whole reputation on Plan
K. They wouldn't give me the money to build a balanced space-fleet, even
when the fleets of the Combine of Jupiterian Satellite States were
staring them in the face. So, I took what I could get and poured it into
P-boats. I threw all our engineering and scientific staff into making
them faster and more maneuverable than anyone ever thought a space-ship
could be. I got them to build me electronic computers that could direct
that speed. And, two years ago, every cent I could lay my hands on went
to install the computers on all our ships."

"I remember," the aide said.

"But, now the chips are down, the people have funked out on me. I am one
of the most hated men in the Federation. They say I destroyed their
Navy. And, we are not going to get a chance to try Plan K. They decided,
today, to accept the Combine's offer to send envoys in a month to
discuss possible revision of the Treaty of Porran. When I left, they
were wondering if there was any chance of getting out for less than Base

"But, good lord, sir, Base Q supplies nine tenths of all our power. The
Combine will have a strangle hold on us, if they get that."

"Quite. But the people will give it to them, rather than fight. And the
President will sign."

"Surely, sir, the people are not all cowards?"

"No. If they had time to think, they would fight. That's why the Combine
is striking now. The people are panicky. Hysterical. The collapse of
Venus was so sudden, and the disaster to their P-boats so complete.
They've just lost hope. Most people would rather live under a dictator
than die to no purpose. They've just lost hope."

The pounding of the Old Man's fist measured his words and the depth of
his anger.

"If we could only make them hope. Somehow. Anyhow."

Suddenly, his clenched fist stopped in mid-air. He frowned. Slowly, his
hand opened. The frown relaxed and a smile replaced it.

"Maybe we can, at that. Maybe we can." He leaned back with his eyes half
closed. His aide knew better than to interrupt him. Ten minutes later,
he opened his eyes.

"Make arrangements to have Commander Morgan take command of Base Q as
soon as possible. Within two days at the outside." His manner was curt
and clipped. "And bring him here to me before he leaves."

"Yes, sir. But may I say, sir, I do not understand?"

"You're not supposed to."

"Yes, sir."

The aide was a competent man. Orders were written that afternoon, in
complete disregard of normal red-tape. Base Q was advised of the
imminent shift. Commander Stanley Morgan boarded a jet plane on the
Australian desert that night. The next morning, he was shown into the
Old Man's office.

"Commander," the Old Man said after the preliminaries were taken care
of, "as you are well aware, you have been in considerable disgrace,
recently, for getting too close to the Venusian-Combine war, in defiance
of orders. It has been felt, in certain quarters, that you might have
caused a serious international crisis."

       *       *       *       *       *

The junior officer started to speak, but the admiral waved him to

"You could, if you like, point out that the crisis has come, anyhow. As
a matter of fact, I never felt that that phase of your action was too
important. I did, however, deplore your disregard of orders--and still
do." He paused a moment, while his steel gray eyes studied the younger
man. "You are about to receive new orders. It is absolutely imperative
that these orders be obeyed explicitly." His pointing finger punctuated
his words with slow emphasis.

"These orders place you in command of Base Q. The Treaty of Porran,
among other things, designates the asteroid Quanlik, or Base Q, as being
the territory solely of the Federation and suitable for the
establishment of a delta-level energy converter. Because this converter
is the prime source of gamma-level, degenerate matter which is used as
the fuel for nearly all our power generators, Base Q is recognized as a
prime defense area of the Federation. A sphere, one hundred thousand
miles radius about Quanlik, was designated by the treaty as a primary
zone. Any ship or ships entering this zone may be ordered to leave
within one hour. Upon failure to comply, our military forces may take
such action as they deem necessary. A sphere, twenty thousand miles
radius, is designated as the secondary zone. Assuming the prior warning
has been given upon their entrance into the primary zone, full action
may be taken against any ship entering this without delay or further

"Standing orders with regard to Base Q are that any ship entering the
primary zone shall be warned immediately. Upon failure to comply, after
the one hour period, full action shall be taken with the forces
stationed on Quanlik. Any ship entering the secondary zone shall be
brought to action as soon as possible without warning.

"Your orders direct you to assume command of Base Q and to comply with
existing standing orders regarding the maintenance of its security until
and unless advised of a change in the standing orders or the Treaty of
Porran." The Old Man paused for effect. "Any questions?"

"Yes, sir," the younger man said. "I am wondering if I should inquire
what events you are anticipating. Would it be wise for me to ask?"

"No!" The monosyllable cracked out like a shot.

"No further questions, sir."

"I have one. While you were in Australia, I presume you kept well
informed on recent developments of Plan K?"

"Yes, sir. The school I commanded taught advanced theory of Plan K."

"Very good. You will proceed immediately to Base Q. As a final word I
will repeat the absolute necessity of obeying your orders _to the
letter_! Good luck."

The young man saluted, collected his orders and walked out. Two hours
later, he was in space.

       *       *       *       *       *

Commander Morgan's office was perched in a plastic bubble high on a crag
overlooking Base Q. Directly below it lay a few of the multitude of
locks that provided haven for the protecting fleet of P-ships. A vast
array of domes and other geometrical shapes bore witness to the hive of
machine-shops, storerooms, offices, et al, that kept the fleet
operating. And on the far horizon towered the mighty structure of the
delta-level converter, the reason for the existence of Base Q. A quarter
of a million tons of high-test steel and special alloys, machined to
tolerances of less than a thousandth of an inch, with another hundred
thousand tons of control equipment, it was yet delicate enough so that
it could not have functioned in the gravity field of any planet. This
asteroid, small as it was, was barely below the permissible limit.

The Commander sat at his desk, watching the latest flashes in the
news-caster. They were not good. At this very moment, the President of
the Federation was in conference with the representatives of the
Combine, discussing the wording of the protocol that would probably be
signed in a few hours. And no word--no hint--that anyone in the
Federation outside the services was willing to dare anything at all. A
red light flashed on his desk. A buzzer sounded a strident call. He
flipped a switch. "Commander talking."

"Far-Search talking. Report contact with large group of ships, probably
dreadnought warships. Range, two one oh. Bearing, four oh dash one nine.
Speed, seven five. Course, approaching. That is all."

"Keep me advised any change or further details. Advise when contact
range is one five oh."


The Commander pressed a button on his desk. In response, his staff
quickly assembled to brief him on the immediate status of Base Q as a
war-making machine. As a matter of routine, it was always kept fully
ready. His staff merely confirmed this for him.

Seventy-five thousand miles out in space, the Radars of the Far-Search
net swept their paths. Men labored over their plotting tables, noting
the information the radar echoes brought back; slowly piecing together
the picture. Tight communication beams relayed the data back to the base
as fast as it was obtained.

About an hour later, the red light flashed again. The assembled staff
fell quiet as the Commander flipped the switch, again. "Commander

"Far-Search talking. Contact previously reported now range one five oh.
Bearing, four one dash one seven. Course, approaching. Speed, six nine.
Estimated twenty-three ships, dreadnought type, plus small ship screen.
Battle formation. That is all."

"Advise at range one one oh."


The Commander turned to his staff. "Sound a general alert." His words
were clipped and clear. He flipped a second switch on his desk. "Radio,
this is the Commander. Get me a direct beam to the Chief of Staff.
Highest urgency. Scramble with sequence Charlie."

His office had emptied by now, with officers running to their posts as
the siren of the general alert wailed through the corridors. As its
urgent call died off, a green light showed on his desk, indicating
contact with earth. "Morgan, Commander, Base Q, requesting direct line
to Chief of Staff. Highest urgency."

"Go ahead, Morgan." The Old Man's voice sounded peculiar after passing
through the scrambling and unscrambling machines that twisted the sounds
into queer pieces and distributed them among several frequencies and
methods of modulation. But, even so, it had a note of strain in it that
was not artificial.

"Sir, when you gave me my orders, here, you directed me to obey them _to
the letter_, without question or cavil. Is that right, sir?"

"Yes, it is." There was a threat in the Old Man's voice.

"Then, sir, would you tell me if there has been any change in those
orders since my arrival? Aside from administrative details, of course?"

"No. Absolutely not."

"Very good, sir. Sorry to have bothered you."

"Not at all. Quite right. Good luck. Signing out."

Morgan thought the Old Man sounded relieved at the end. And he could not
be quite sure, but he thought he heard the Admiral mutter "And good
hunting," as the connection broke.

He summoned his aide to take over the office while he went down to the
center of the asteroid where I.C., the information center, was located,
where he would assume direct command of the base.

       *       *       *       *       *

As he entered I.C., the Ships Supply Officer reported all ships fully
loaded and fueled with gamma-matter, ready for flight. The Missile
Officer reported all ships equipped with war-head missiles. The Lock
Officer reported all locks manned and ready. Base Q was ready.

As he climbed to his chair over the plotting tank, he noted with
satisfaction the controlled tautness of the men's faces. They too, were

As the glowing points of yellow light that represented the enemy fleet
crossed the dimly lit sphere in the tank that indicated the one hundred
thousand mile radius marking the edge of the primary zone, he took a
microphone from a man waiting, nearby.

"Base Q to unknown fleet. I have you bearing four one dash one seven.
Range one oh oh. Identify yourself. Identify yourself. Over." His words
were spaced out with painful clarity. A hush had fallen over I.C.

The loud-speaker on the wall came to life with a squawk, after a few

"Fleet Four to Base Q. This is Fleet Four, operating under orders from
the Jupiterian Combine. Over."

"Base Q to Fleet Four. According to the Treaty of Porran, space within a
radius of one hundred thousand miles of Base Q has been designated a
primary defense zone of the Federation. I therefore order you to leave
this zone within one hour. Failure to comply will make you liable to
full action on our part. I have the time, now, as one three four seven.
You have until one four four seven to comply. I further warn you that an
approach within twenty thousand miles will make you liable to immediate
action, regardless of time. Over."

The men in the room stared, open-mouthed. All had dreamed of hearing
these words spoken in these tones to the Combine. A cheer might have
been given, had it not been for discipline.

In a few seconds, the loud-speaker squawked again. "Fleet Four to Base
Q. Our orders are to assume a position at twenty-five thousand miles
radius pending renegotiation of the Treaty of Porran. I suggest you
contact your headquarters before doing anything rash. Over."

The Commander sat with a smile on his lips. Quietly he handed the
microphone back to the radioman. In a minute, the loud-speaker squawked,
again. "Fleet Four to Base Q. Did you receive my last transmission?
Acknowledge, please. Over."

The radioman looked at the Commander, questioningly, but he only shook
his head.

"Can't you turn that damn squawk-box off? It's distracting."

As the minutes crept by, the bright dots in the tank moved closer. The
Commander took the Public Address microphone.

"Attention, all personnel, this is the Commander talking. The Fourth
Fleet of the Combine entered the Zone twenty minutes ago. They were
given an ultimatum but are showing no indication of compliance.
Therefore, we are going to blast hell out of them." The echoes from his
voice rolled back from speakers all over the base. "The people at home
do not think we can do it. I know we can. I have not asked their
permission. It is not needed. My orders are explicit and fully cover the
situation. My orders to you are equally explicit. Go out there and teach
the bloody bastards a lesson." He turned back to the men in I.C.
"Scramble flights one, two, three, and four. Others to follow at
intervals of five minutes until all are in space. Flight plan King
Baker. Initial Time, one four five oh. Execute."

The talkers took up the chant.

"Flight one. Flight one. Scramble. Scramble. Execute."

"Flight two ..."


In the tank, green points of light moved out. The first four came into
position and stopped in the four quadrants of the circle of which the
center was the point at which the enemy would be at Initial Time. The
following flights moved out to other points on the circle.

Time seemed to stop. In I.C., the Flight Directors gave the orders that
moved their flights into position and briefed them on future tactics in
quiet voices. The electronic computers and other devices moved silently.
The clock made no noise as its hands moved towards the final moment.

The Commander moved some dials under his hands. He pushed a button and a
red light showed on the lead dreadnought of the enemy column.

"This is the initial target." The designation was relayed to the

The second hand of the clock was making its final sweep. All voices
quieted. The Commander raised his fist. As the clock's hand came to the
top, his fist slashed down.

"Execute!" The battle was on.

       *       *       *       *       *

Flight Commander Dennis, Flight One, heard the final word as he sat in
the small bubble on top of the dense package of machinery that was a
P-ship. Swiftly, his hands closed switches. The course had already been
chosen and fed into the automatic computers under him. He merely gave
the signal to execute. In response, the ship seemed to pick itself up
and hurl itself down the radius of the circle to the waiting enemy

He could not see them, but he knew that, behind him, lay the other nine
ships of the flight, in column, spaced so close that an error in
calculation of but a few millionths of a second would have caused
disaster. But the automatic and inconceivably fast and accurate
calculators in the ships, tied together by tight communication beams,
held them there in safety.

As he came within range of possible enemy action, Dennis pressed another
button, and the Random Computer took command. Operated by the noise a
vacuum tube generates because electrons are discrete particles, it gave
random orders, weighted only by a preference to bring the ship's course
back to the remembered target.

The column behind obeyed these same orders. The whole flight seemed to
jitter across space, moving at random but coming back to a reasonably
good course towards the target, utterly confusing any enemy fire-control

To the men in the ships, one to each, it seemed as if their very nerve
cells must jar apart. They felt themselves incapable of coherent action,
or, even, thought. But they did not need coherency. Their function was
done until the ship was out of danger, when a new formation would be
made, a new target designated, and a new order to execute given.

Because the electronic computers took care of the attack. They had to.
No human could react as fast as was needed. Out from the enemy ships
reached fingers of pure delta-field, reaching for gamma-matter. The
touch of a finger meant death in a fiery inferno as the gamma-matter
that fueled the ship and formed the war-heads of their lethal eggs would
release its total energy. There was only one defense. The delta-field
could be propagated only in a narrow beam, and at a rate much slower
than the speed of light. By keeping the enemy computers confused, they
kept those beams wandering aimlessly through space, always where the
little ships might have been, but were not. Unless their luck ran out.

Flight One kept moving in, with constantly increasing speed, except for
random variations. Once through the outer screen of small ships, a relay
closed and the link was broken between the ships of the column. Each
then moved in independent manner. The designated target was an area to
the computers, rather than a ship. Radar beams reached out to find
specific targets. As they found them and moved close, the random
computer switched off for a small moment of time, while the missiles
were dispatched on a true bearing. And then the ships moved on, leaving
their eggs behind them.

The eggs moved in with fantastic acceleration to their targets. Half
their energy went into that acceleration, to get them there before the
delta beams could find them. The other half was given up in incandescent
heat when they found their targets. Becoming pinpoints of pure star
matter, they seared their way into the enemy vitals. But, even with
their fantastically concentrated energy, it was not enough. For the
dreadnoughts were armored with densely degenerate matter, impervious to
any but a direct hit, and compartmented to require many hits.

The flights moved in and passed on through. And other flights came in.
And others followed them. The first flights halted, found each other,
turned, and drove in again. Pass and repass. A myriad of blue-white
flashes gave measure of the struggle.

       *       *       *       *       *

On Base Q, in the I.C. room, the Commander watched the tank. Curt orders
designated new target areas as the enemy fleet broke up under the
whiplash. Slowly, one by one, the points of light that marked the enemy
vanished, leaving only the void.

Finally, as must any fleet that faces annihilation, they turned and
fled. The battle was over. All that remained was to give the orders to
bring the flights home. And that was soon done.

The Commander got up. He stretched. He was tired. He glanced at the
clock. Two hours and forty minutes. Very quick, indeed, as space battles
usually went. But, then, he thought grimly, this had been the first
battle ever fought under the whiplash of Plan K.

But, now, there was a report to be made. And he did not know how to do
it. As he walked back wearily to his office, he tried out phrases in his
mind. None seemed to fit.

His aide was bending over the facsimile machine as he came in. "Priority
orders from the General Staff, just coming in, sir."

The Commander looked at the machine. "General Staff to Commander, Base
Q, Urgent, Immediate Action," he read. "You are hereby advised that a
protocol has been signed at Washington, D.C., with representatives of
the Combine, revising the Treaty of Porran to the extent that Base Q
shall be jointly administered by yourself and the Commander, Fourth
Fleet, Jupiterian Combine, until such time as its further dispensation
shall have been agreed. You will, therefore, admit said Fleet upon
demand, permitting it to take up such stations as it may desire, in
either zone, or to land, in whole or in part, and to disembark such of
its personnel as its commanding officer may direct. You will make
arrangements with its commanding officer for the joint administration of
the base. You will be held responsible for the smooth operation and
successful accomplishment of this undertaking. These orders are
effective immediately."

Commander Morgan smiled.

"Send this reply immediately," he said to his aide. "Open code.
Commander, Base Q, to General Staff, Highest urgency. Acknowledge
receipt recent orders regarding protocol revising Treaty of Porran.
Regret unable to comply. Due to recent argument over interpretation of
Treaty of Porran, Fourth Fleet, Combine, no longer exists. Request
further orders."

He laughed.

On earth, the officer who took the message gaped at it. Seizing a
telephone, he dictated it to the Old Man's aide. But when the Old Man
saw it, he only smiled, coldly.

And his smile was bleak and cold, too, when he laid it before the
President and the Cabinet an hour later. Shortly afterwards, when the
President broadcast it to the people, they sat, stunned. It was not
until the next day that they finally read its significance and started
celebrating. But the Old Man had ceased smiling by that time, and was
planning possible future battles.

       *       *       *       *       *

A month later, Morgan sat again in the Old Man's office. Having
presented his report and swallowed the unpleasant pill that, as he was
now a hero, there were speeches to make and banquets to be bored at, he
was talking informally.

"What I can't understand, sir, is why they came in. They only had to
wait a couple of hours and the whole kit and caboodle would have been
dumped in their laps. Yet they come barging in and give us exactly the
opening we want. I don't get it."

"That _is_ an interesting question," the Old Man replied with a shadow
of a twinkle. "You might almost think they had intercepted an order I
sent to our Intelligence Officer, on Q, to sabotage the Converter if the
protocol was signed."

The Commander jumped. "Was that order given, sir?"

"Yes, it was. But it was countermanded an hour later. Different channel,
however. I remembered they had broken the code of the first channel."

He paused a moment. "That illustrates a good point to remember, Morgan.
You intercept enemy messages and break their code. A very useful trick.
Also very dangerous, if the enemy discovers you have broken it, and you
don't know that he knows. Very dangerous, indeed."

The young man laughed. The older one smiled, bleakly.

As Morgan looked out the window, he saw the public news-casters spelling
out the full mobilization of the Federation. A glow filled his heart as
he realized the people were now willing, if they had to, to fight to
defend their freedom.


Transcriber's Note:

    This etext was produced from _If: Worlds of Science Fiction_
    November 1952. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
    the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed. Minor spelling
    and typographical errors have been corrected without note.

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