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The Gladiator

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The Gladiator

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Author: Harry Turtledove
Publisher: Tor, 2007
Series: Crosstime Traffic: Book 5
Book Type: Novel
Genre: Science-Fiction
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The Soviet Union won the Cold War. The Russians were a little smarter than they were in our own world, and the United States was a little dumber and a lot less resolute. Now, more than a century later, the world's gone Communist, and capitalism is a bad word.

For Gianfranco and his friend Annarita, a couple of teenagers growing up in Milan, life in a heavily regimented, surveillance-rich command economy is just plain dreary. The eventual withering-away of the state doesn't look like it's going to happen anytime soon.

Annarita's a hard-working student and a member of the Young Socialists' League. Gianfranco is a lot less motivated--but on the other hand, his father's a Party apparatchik. The biggest excitement in their lives is a wargame shop called The Gladiator, which runs tournaments, and stocks marvelous complex games you can't find anywhere else.

Then, abruptly, the shop is shut down. Someone's figured out that The Gladiator's games are teaching counterrevolutionary capitalist principles. The Security Police are searching high and low for the shop's proprietors, who've not only vanished into thin air, but have left behind sets of fingerprints that aren't in the records of any government on earth.

Only one staffer is left: Gianfranco and Annarita's friend Eduardo. He's on the run, and he comes to them in secret with an astonishing story: he's a time trader from our own timeline, accidentally left behind when the store was evacuated. The only way Eduardo can get home to his own timeline is if Gianfranco and Annarita can help him reach one of the other time trader sites in this world--and the Security Police will be on their tails all the way there.



Annarita Crosetti didn't want to get up in the morning. She didn't want to get up most mornings, but today was especially bad. After she killed the alarm clock, she just wanted to roll over and go back to sleep. But she couldn't. She knew it. She had a Russian test first period, and a Young Socialists' League meeting after school. That meant she'd be up late with schoolwork tonight, too, and sleepy again tomorrow morning.

Even so, she didn't want to get up.

When she didn't start moving fast enough to suit her mother, she got shaken and pushed out of bed. She muttered and groaned in protest--she had trouble talking till she was really awake, which took a while.

Her mother showed no sympathy... and no mercy. "Come on. Get dressed," she said. "Breakfast will be ready by the time you are."

"Sì, sì," Annarita said. By then she was standing up. Her mother went away, knowing she probably wouldn't lie down again.

Because there was a meeting, Annarita put on her Young Socialists' League uniform. It made her look ready to change a tire: marching boots, khaki trousers, dark green blouse. But all the Young Socialists--the up-and-comers--would be wearingthe same thing today, so what could she do? Not much. Not anything, really.

She put on the crisscross sashes, one with the badges of Marx and Engels, Lenin and Stalin and Putin, the other with badges of Moroni and Chiapelli and other Italian Communist heroes. The badges of the Russians and the founders were edged in gold, those of the Italians in silver. Annarita didn't know how many times she'd put on the sashes, but she'd never even thought about that before. It was as if her own countrymen were runners-up in the race for fame.

She shook her head. It wasn't as if. Italian Communist heroes were heroes only in Italy. Other Socialist people's republics had their own national heroes. You saw them, grim and unsmiling, on foreign postage stamps. But the founders and the Russians were heroes all over the world. They should be, she thought. If not for them, Marxism-Leninism-Stalinism might not have won. And then where would we be?

"Annarita!" her mother yelled.

"Coming!" She knew where she needed to be: the kitchen.

It was crowded in there. The Crosettis shared the kitchen and bathroom with the Mazzillis, who were also eating breakfast. Everyone muttered good morning. Annarita grabbed a roll, tore it, and dipped it in olive oil. A cup of cappuccino was waiting for her. Her mother and father poured down espresso instead, thick and sweet and strong. If two or three of those little cups wouldn't get your heart started in the morning, you were probably dead.

Sitting across the table from her was Gianfranco Mazzilli, who was sixteen--a year younger than Annarita--and went to the same school. He just had on ordinary clothes, though. Hedidn't belong to the Young Socialists, which made his parents unhappy.

His father used espresso to knock back a shot of grappa, and then another one. That would get your heart started, too. Of course, after a while you might not remember why you got it started, but Cristoforo Mazzilli didn't seem to care.

Annarita's father eyed the bottle of distilled lightning and said, "I wish I could get going like that."

"Why can't you, Filippo?" Cristoforo Mazzilli said. "Doesn't hurt me a bit."

"I should keep a clear head," Annarita's father answered. "The patients need it."

"'From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs,'" the elder Mazzilli quoted. He reached for the grappa bottle. "I need this." He was a midlevel Party functionary in one of the provincial ministries. No one would get hurt if he came to work a little tipsy, or more than a little tipsy, or if he didn't come in at all. Knowing that might have been one reason he drank.

As soon as people finished eating, they started jockeying for the bathroom. There were apartments--some right here in this building--where families fought like cats and dogs over the tub and the toilet. The Crosettis and the Mazzillis didn't do that, anyhow. Both families had to use the facilities, whether they got along or not. Easier when they did, so everybody tried. It worked pretty well... most of the time.

Going down the stairs, Annarita carried her books in front of her. Gianfranco carried his under one arm. Girls did the one thing, boys the other. Annarita didn't know why, or how long it had been that way. Maybe, if she remembered, she would askher mother. Did it go back further than that? She shrugged. She had no idea.

"Spring," Gianfranco said when they got outside.

"Spring," Annarita agreed. Spring here in Milan was a lot more hesitant than it was down in Rome, let alone Naples or Sicily. It stayed cool and humid. It could rain--it could come down in buckets. The sun was out right now. But clouds floated across the sky. If the sun hid behind one of them, it might not feel like coming out again.

Other students were coming out of the building, and from the identical concrete towers to either side. Stalin Gothic, people called them--when they were sure no informers were listening, anyhow.

Not far away stood the Duomo. The great cathedral was Gothic, too, only it was the genuine article. Every line of it seemed to leap for the sky, to point toward the heavens. Officially, the Italian People's Republic was as atheistic as the Soviet Union or any other Socialist state. Officially. In spite of Stalin's cruel joke--"The Pope? How many divisions has he got?"--His Holiness Pius XIV still presided over St. Peter's. Some churches stayed open. You weren't supposed to believe any of that stuff, but a lot of people did.

Annarita glanced from the Duomo to the grim, square apartment blocks and back again. The apartments looked as if they'd been run up in six weeks. They probably had, judging by the plumbing. The elevator in her building hadn't worked for years. She and Gianfranco had come down the stairs. They would climb them in the afternoon, too.

The Duomo... They'd started building it in the fourteenth century, and hadn't finished till the twentieth. That seemed--that was--an awfully long time, but they got it right. Yes, it glorifiedsuperstition. So her teachers said, at least half a dozen times a day. But glorify it did.

In the square in front of the Duomo stood a statue of General Secretary Putin. Old Pointy-Nose, people called him. Not counting the base, he stood four meters tall--twice the height of even a tall man. All the same, the cathedral had no trouble making him seem like a midget.

At the moment, a pigeon perched on his outstretched right forefinger. Gianfranco pointed to it. "Looking for a handout," he said.

"Good luck," Annarita said. "The bird better hope that fist doesn't close." Even though Gianfranco grinned and nodded, she wished she had the words back the second they were out of her mouth. Vladimir Putin was seventy years dead, yes, but making any kind of joke about him to a Party man's son wasn't smart. But everybody knew the Russians were so much better at taking than giving.

Fiats and Russian Volgas and smelly German Trabants and Workermobiles from the USA crowded narrow streets that hadn't been built with cars in mind in the first place. A century and more of Communism hadn't turned Italians into orderly drivers. Annarita didn't think anything could. A Volga stopped in the middle of the street to wait for an old woman on the far curb. It plugged traffic like a cork in a bottle. A trolley had to stop behind the Volga. More cars jammed up behind the trolley. The motorman clanged his bell. The drivers leaned on their horns. The man in the Volga ignored them all.

The old lady tottered over and got in. The Volga zoomed away. The trolley got moving, too. The swarm of cars behind it would take longer to unknot.

"There ought to be a law," Gianfranco said.

"There are laws," Annarita said. "People don't pay any attention to them."

"That trolleyman should have photographed the guy's license plate," Gianfranco said. "When they found out who he was, they could have fixed him good."

"Maybe the trolleyman did," Annarita said.

"Yeah, maybe." Gianfranco sounded as if he liked the idea. Annarita wasn't so sure she did. They already had so many ways to keep an eye on you. Who needed a motorman with a camera? Even typewriters were registered. As far as the Italian People's Republic was concerned, they were more dangerous than assault rifles. And computers... Her school had a couple, which made it special, but only the most trusted teachers and the very most trusted students got to use them.

She thought the progress to real Communism, the kind where the state withered away, would come faster if people could more freely use the tools they had. No matter what she thought, she kept her ideas to herself. What you didn't tell anybody, you couldn't get in trouble for.

While she was thinking dark thoughts, her feet kept walking. She turned right and then left and then right again. She hardly noticed the apartment blocks and shops she passed.

"We're here," Gianfranco said.

"Sì," Annarita said. "We're here. Oh, boy." Gianfranco laughed. He was more likely to say something like that. She was the good student--he just squeaked by. But she couldn't make herself get excited about school today.

Enver Hoxha Polytechnic Academy was named for a Communist hero, but not for an Italian Communist hero. Hoxha had administeredAlbania for most of the second half of the twentieth century. A lot of Italians laughed at Albanians, their neighbors across the Adriatic Sea. Few did it it where Albanians could hear them, though. Albanians were supposed to have nasty tempers, and to be fond of carrying knives.

Students from other schools jeered Hoxha Polytechnic's soccer and basketball teams because the academy bore a foreigner's name. "Odd jobs!" they shouted. "Odd jobs!" Despite a century and a half of Socialism, Albania remained the poorest country in Europe. Young Albanians sometimes crossed the Adriatic in small boats. Working as farm laborers or handymen--or thieves--in Italy seemed better to them than going hungry back home.

A big black-and-white photo of Hoxha stared down at Annarita and Gianfranco from over the entrance. He didn't look as if he approved of them. He didn't look as if he approved of anybody. Considering what he'd had to do to drive the Fascists out of Albania during the Second World War and then rule the country for so long afterwards, he probably didn't.

"See you," Gianfranco said, and hurried off to his first class.

"Ciao," Annarita called after him. She didn't want to go to Russian. It drove her crazy. Everybody who wanted to be anybody had to learn it. It was the most important language in the world, after all. When the Soviet Union sneezed, the rest of the world started sniffling. But still...

Annarita had had a couple of years of Latin. She understood the idea of cases, of using endings instead of prepositions to show how words worked in a sentence. Homo was a man as the subject of a sentence. If a man thanked you, he was homo. But if you thanked him, if he was the object, he was hominem. In thepossessive, he was hominis. A man's dog was canus hominis--or hominis canus. Word order mattered much less in Latin than in Italian. The same was true in Russian, only more so.

But if Latin's grammar was weird, an awful lot of the vocabulary looked familiar. Man in Italian was uomo, while dog was cane. You didn't need to know any history to see that Latin and Italian were related.

Russian's vocabulary, though, seemed even weirder to Annarita than its grammar did. Man in Russian was chelovek, and dog was sobaka. Worse, the Russians used a different alphabet, so everything looked funny. Man looked like eoBek, and dog looked like Coaka. Some of the letters were recognizable, but others would fool you. C was sounded like "s," P was "r," and H was "n." If you weren't careful, if you absentmindedly thought the way you usually did, Russian could really bite you.

"Dobry den," the teacher said when Annarita walked into the classroom.

"Dobry den, Tovarishch Montefusco," she answered. Good day, Comrade Montefusco. That was polite, but she wondered if she really meant it. How could a day with a test in it be a good day?

He waited till the bell, and not an instant longer. "And now, the test," he said, still in Russian. His accent was very good. He'd spent a long time studying in Russia. Some people whispered that he'd spent some time in a camp there. Annarita had no idea if that was true. Nobody'd ever had the nerve to ask him.

He handed out the mimeographed sheets. Mimeograph machines and copiers were kept under lock and key. Annarita understood that. Counterrevolutionaries could use them toreproduce propaganda harmful to the state. As far as she was concerned, this test was harmful to her state of mind.

It was hard. She'd known it would be. They wanted to find out who was just good and who was the very best. The very best--and the ones with the very best connections--would run things when they grew up. The ones who weren't quite good enough for that would get more ordinary jobs instead.

The ones who didn't measure up would miss out on other things, too. They wouldn't be able to travel abroad. They wouldn't get the best vacation houses by the ocean or up in the mountains. They wouldn't get the best apartments in the city, either. And they would spend years on the waiting list for a tiny, miserable Trabant, with a motor that sounded like a tin can full of rocks and angry bees, instead of getting a fancy Zis or a Ferrari or a Mercedes.

So Annarita knew what was at stake every time she wrote her name--Aapa Kpoc--on a test form. The privileges and luxuries that went with being the very best didn't drive her all that much, though they were nice. But the idea of being at the center of things, being where the action was--that pushed her. So did the idea of proving she really was the best to a world that didn't care one way or the other.

She got to work. Even counting in Russian was complicated. Numbers changed case like any other adjectives. And the nouns that followed them changed case, too, with strange rules. One house stayed in the nominative--the case for the subject. Two, three, or four houses (or anything else) went to the genitive singular--the case for the possessive. Three of house, it meant literally. Five or more houses and you used the genitive again, but the plural this time. Seven of houses was the literal meaning.

"Bozhemoi!" Annarita muttered to herself. That meant My God! It wasn't good Marxist-Leninist-Stalinist doctrine, but it was perfectly good Russian. Comrade Montefusco said it when somebody made a dumb mistake in class. Annarita had heard real Russians say it on TV and on the radio, too. From everything she could tell, Russians were less polite than Italians, or polite in a different way.

She fought through the test. She was still in the middle of rechecking when the teacher said, "Pass them forward, please." She sighed and did. She wasn't sure about a couple of things, but she thought she'd done well.

Analytic geometry next. It was interesting, in a way. Annarita didn't know what she'd ever do with it, but it made her think. Her father kept telling her that was good all by itself. Of course, he didn't have to do the homework and the studying. (He'd done them years before, but Annarita didn't think about that.)

She settled into her chair in the new classroom. Analytic geometry had one thing going for it. No matter what happened, no matter which Party faction rose and which one fell, the answers wouldn't change. Ideology could change history. It could change literature. It could even change biology. But math? Math didn't change. In a world where everything else might, that was reassuring.

Gianfranco bombed an algebra quiz. He'd studied. He'd even had Annarita help him get ready for it, though she was rushed--she had her own Russian test to worry about. He'd thought he knew what was coming and how to do it. But when he looked at the questions, his brain turned to polenta.

And when his father found out, he probably would get pounded into cornmeal mush. Not that his old man had been any great shakes in school. He would be something better, something more interesting, than a mid-level paper shuffler if he had. He wanted Gianfranco to do what he hadn't been able to.

No matter what he wanted, chances were he wouldn't get it. Gianfranco cared more about basketball and soccer than he did about schoolwork. He was better at them than he was at schoolwork, too. He wasn't great or anything, even if he wished he were. He wasn't tall enough to be anything special as a basketball player, either. He enjoyed the games, though, where he felt like a caged animal in the classroom.

He was shaking his head and muttering to himself when he trudged off to history. He knew he would have trouble paying attention. He was still worrying about that stupid quiz, and about why he was too stupid to get things right. And who cared what happened back in the twentieth century, anyway? It seemed as far from his own life as Julius Caesar did.

Besides, Comrade Pontevecchio was a bore.

"Let's get to work!" the history teacher barked as soon as the bell rang. "Let's all be Stakhanovites in our quest for knowledge!"

He said the same thing every morning. Gianfranco didn't yawn--you got in trouble if you showed you wanted to go to sleep. But he thought this particular Party slogan was dumb. Doing more than your assigned quota made sense if you worked in a factory and made bricks or brushes or something like that. How could you learn more than was in your book, though?

Of course, Gianfranco hadn't learned all of what was in the book, let alone more than that. "In the nineteen sixties, what two events showed that the corrupt, capitalist, imperialistUnited States was only a paper tiger?" Comrade Pontevecchio asked. His finger shot out. "Mazzilli! Yes, you! Recite!"

Gianfranco jumped to his feet. "Yes, Comrade Teacher!" But it wasn't yes. "Uh..." His wits seemed frozen. "The Vietnam missile crisis?" There was something about Vietnam in the chapter, and something about missiles. He remembered that much, anyhow.

It wasn't enough. Titters ran through the classroom. Some of the laughter was probably relief. Not everybody would have known the answer. Gianfranco could tell it was wrong. He stood there, waiting for the teacher to put him out of his misery--or to give him more of it.

Comrade Pontevecchio made a production of taking a red pen out of his shirt pocket and writing in the roll book with it. "No," he said coldly. "Be seated. If you don't care about the past, how can the present matter to you?"

I'm living in the present, Gianfranco thought. The past is dead. But the history teacher didn't want an answer. He wanted Gianfranco to sit down and shut up. Miserably, Gianfranco did.

"What is the real answer? What is the right answer?" the teacher asked.

Teobaldo Montefiore threw his hand in the air. He did everything but sing it out, which would have got him in trouble. Yeah, show off how smart you are, you little suck-up, Gianfranco thought scornfully. If you were really smart, you'd be in the advanced track, not stuck here with me.

When the teacher called on Teobaldo, he jumped to his feet. "The Vietnam War and the Cuban missile crisis!" he said, squeaking with excitement.

"Very good--so far," Comrade Pontevecchio said. "Why are they important?"

All of a sudden, Teobaldo didn't look so happy. "Because they showed capitalism was doomed?" You could hear the question mark in his voice. He wasn't sure he was right any more, even if he gave an answer that was almost always safe.

"Sit down," the teacher snapped, and wrote something in the roll book in red. Comrade Pontevecchio looked out over the class. "Anyone?" His scorn grew by the second when nobody took a chance. "Knowing what is only half the battle, and the small half at that. You have to know why. Do you think Marx could have invented dialectical materialism if he didn't understand why?"

Nobody said anything. When Comrade Pontevecchio got into one of these moods, keeping quiet was the safest thing you could do. Gianfranco stared down at his desk. People had been trying to drum dialectical materialism into his head since he was five years old, but he still didn't get it.

"When the United States backed down and let the Soviet Union keep missiles in Cuba to balance the American missiles in Turkey, what did that show?" the teacher demanded.

Gianfranco thought he knew, but he wasn't about to stick his neck out. Luisa Orlandini cautiously raised her hand. Luisa was pretty. Even if she got it wrong, Comrade Pontevecchio probably wouldn't bite her head off.


He nodded to her. She stood up. "It showed the American capitalist regime was only a paper tiger, Comrade Pontevecchio," she said.

"That's right," he agreed--he'd called the USA a paper tiger himself. "And what does the Vietnam War have to do with this?"

"The Vietnamese were trying to liberate the south from aneocolonialist dictatorship, and the Americans tried to prop up the reactionary elements," Luisa answered.

"Yes, that's also right." Comrade Pontevecchio warmed all the way up to chilly. "And what happened then, and why?"

"Well, the Americans and their reactionary running dogs lost. I know that," Luisa said.

"Sì. They lost. But how? Why? How could America lose? In those days, it was very rich. It was much bigger and richer than Vietnam. What happened?" Luisa didn't know. Comrade Pontevecchio waved her to her seat. He looked around for somebody else. When no one volunteered, he pointed at somebody. "Crespi!"

Paolo Crespi got up. "The Americans stopped wanting to fight, didn't they, Comrade Pontevecchio?"

"Are you asking me or telling me?"

"Uh, I'm telling you, Comrade."

"Well, you're right. When the United States brought its soldiers home from Vietnam in 1968, that was another signal to progressive forces around the world that not even the heartland of capitalism would go on defending an outdated ideology anymore. And so the cause of Socialism advanced in Asia and Africa and South America. One war of national liberation after another broke out and triumphed. Meanwhile, what was happening here in Europe. Does the term 'popular front' mean anything to you?"

It was in the textbook. Gianfranco remembered that much, but no more. Comrade Pontevecchio frowned when no hands went up. "You haven't been studying as hard as you should have." He pointed at a girl. "Sofia! Tell me about popular fronts!"

She got to her feet. "I--I'm sorry, Comrade Teacher, but I don't know."

"And what excuse do you have for not knowing?"

"No excuse, Comrade Teacher." That was the only right answer. You were supposed to know. If you didn't, it was your fault, nobody else's. That was how teachers and the rest of the school system looked at things, anyhow. If the textbook was boring and the teacher hated students... well, so what? Textbooks had been boring ever since they were written on clay tablets, and teachers couldn't wallop kids the way they had in the old days.

Comrade Pontevecchio picked on a boy. He didn't know what a popular front was, either.

"This will not do," the teacher snapped. "Get out your books. Write me a fifteen-minute essay on what popular fronts were and why they were important. Anyone who does poorly will have more work assigned. These are your lessons. You will learn them."

Gianfranco almost hadn't brought his textbook. The miserable thing was thick as a brick and weighed a ton. But he would have been in big trouble if Comrade Pontevecchio caught him unprepared. He opened the book and looked in the index. There they were--popular fronts. Oh, boy, he thought. He flipped to the right page and started scribbling as fast as he could. If he parroted the text, he couldn't go wrong. And he didn't have to think while he wrote, either. Comrade Pontevecchio didn't care what he thought or if he thought, as long as he ground out the right answers.

Popular fronts, he rediscovered, combined Communists with non-Communist Socialists and other fellow travelers. Thefirst one came along in France before World War II, to try to rally the country against Fascism. It didn't work. But later popular fronts swung France and Italy and Scandinavia away from the weakening USA and toward the USSR.

Without these fronts, he wrote, the victory of Socialism in Europe, while it still would inevitably have come, would have been slower. It might even have required warfare to eliminate reactionary forces from the continent. That was what the textbook said, and the textbook had to be right. If it was wrong, the authorities wouldn't use it--and what would they do to an author who was wrong on purpose? Send him to a camp? Kill him? Purge his whole family? Gianfranco wouldn't have been surprised.

Was everybody in the class writing the same ideas in the same words? Everybody with any sense was. Why stick your neck out when the answers were right there in black and white? How many times would Comrade Pontevecchio read the same sentences? How sick of them would he get?

Serve him right, Gianfranco thought. The teacher called for the essays. The students passed them forward. Comrade Pontevecchio grudged a nod. "Now, at least, you know what popular fronts are."

He was right. Gianfranco didn't think he would forget. He still didn't care, though. But Comrade Pontevecchio didn't care whether he cared.

After what seemed like forever, the bell rang. Gianfranco jumped up much more eagerly than he had to recite. Escape! But it wasn't escape from school, only from history. Literature didn't interest him, either. Nothing in school interested him a whole lot. He felt as if he were in jail.

And his father and mother got mad because he wasn't abetter student! How could you do well if you didn't care? All he wanted to do was get out. Because afterwards...

But he couldn't think about afterwards yet. If he did, he would start thinking about how long it was till he got out. And that would hurt, and then he would pay even less attention than he usually did.

He sighed. Off to literature.

This year, literature covered twentieth-century Socialist writers who weren't actually Communists. Fellow travelers, Comrade Pellagrini called them. A light went on in Gianfranco's head. History and literature were talking about some of the same things, but coming at them from different angles. That was interesting. He wished it happened more often.

All the same, the class itself wasn't that exciting. Right now, they were going through Jack London's The Iron Heel. Gianfranco had read The Call of the Wild and "To Build a Fire" in translation the year before. Those were gripping stories. London plainly knew about the frozen North, and he was able to put across what he knew.

The Iron Heel was different. It was a novel about the class struggle, and about the ways the big capitalists found to divide the proletariat and keep it from winning the workers' revolution.

"Marx talks about how, in the last days of capitalism, the bourgeoisie are declassed and fall into the ranks of the workers," Comrade Pellagrini said. "You all know that. You started studying The Communist Manifesto when you were still in primary school."

Gianfranco found himself nodding agreement. He would have nodded agreement to almost anything Comrade Pellagrini said. She didn't look much older than the girls she was teaching, but she made them look like... girls. She was a womanherself, more finished than the girls, and prettier than almost all of them, too. She carried herself like a model or a dancer.

She was so pretty, Gianfranco almost thought it would be worthwhile to study hard and impress her with how much he knew. Almost. She treated students the way a busy doctor treated patients. She was good at teaching, but she didn't let anybody get personal. And Gianfranco knew that if he tried to impress her and failed, he'd be crushed. Better not to try in that case, wasn't it? He thought so--and it gave him one more excuse not to work too hard.

"How does London take Marx's dynamic and turn it upside down, at least for a while?" the literature teacher asked.

Gianfranco looked down at his desk. He couldn't answer the question. If their eyes met, she was more likely to call on him. He thought so, anyway. Most of the time, he looked at her when he thought she wouldn't be looking at him.

She called on someone else--a girl. The student made a hash of trying to explain. Comrade Pellagrini called on a boy. He botched it, too.

The teacher let out an exasperated snort. "How many of you did the assigned reading last night?" All the students raised their hands. Gianfranco had... looked at the book last night, anyway. Comrade Pellagrini scowled. "If you read it, why can't you answer a simple question?"

No one said a word. People looked at one another, or at the clock on the wall, or at the ceiling, or out the window--anywhere but at Comrade Pellagrini. Maybe she thought it was a simple question. Gianfranco didn't. You couldn't just copy from the book to answer it, the way he had in history. You had to recall what you'd read and make that fit the question. It all seemed like too much bother.

"All right. All right." The teacher still seemed angry. "You need to know, so I'll tell you--this once. Doesn't London show the bosses raising some workers to the bourgeoisie with what amounts to bribes to turn them against their natural class allies?"

"Sì, Comrade Pellagrini," everyone chorused. Once the teacher gave the answer, seeing it was right was the easiest thing in the world.

"I want you to finish The Iron Heel tonight," Comrade Pellagrini said. "We'll have the test on Friday, and then next week we'll start 1984. You'll see how Orwell shows the tyranny of capitalism and Fascism."

A girl raised her hand. "I had to read that book in another class," she said when the teacher called on her. "He calls the ideology in it English Socialism." She sounded troubled, feeling there was something dangerous in the book that she couldn't quite see.

But Comrade Pellagrini brushed the question aside, saying, "Well, so what? The Nazis' full name was the National Socialist German Workers' Party. They weren't real Socialists, and they weren't for the workers. They used mystification to confuse the German people, and it worked."

That seemed to satisfy the girl. It didn't matter to Gianfranco one way or the other. He hadn't read 1984 yet, and hoped it would be more interesting than The Iron Heel. But how interesting could a book be when even its title lay more than a hundred years in the past? And how interesting could it be when you had to read it for school?

The dismissal bell. Well, it was the dismissal bell for most people, anyhow. Annarita knew Gianfranco would be leavingnow. But she had the Young Socialists' League meeting. She didn't really want to go--nothing would happen there. Nothing ever did. And she'd get back to the apartment an hour and a half later than usual, and still have a whole day's worth of homework to do.

People in the same boring uniform she was wearing filed into the auditorium. Most of them looked as unenthusiastic as she did. For them, this was something you did because you were in the League. Being in the League put you on the fast track to joining the Party. And getting your Party card was a long step towards a prosperous, comfortable life.

But there were a few eager faces, too. Some kids really believed in the stuff the grown-ups who ran the League shoved down their throats. Annarita felt sorry for them--they were the kind who couldn't see their nose in front of their face. And there were kids who liked to run things, too. She didn't feel sorry for them. They scared her.

Filippo Antonelli was one of those. He banged the gavel. "The meeting will come to order!" he said loudly. He would graduate at the end of the year, and she wouldn't be sorry to see him leave. He intended to study law and go into politics. She thought he would go far if he didn't get caught in a purge. As long as he went far from her, that suited her fine. He turned to the girl sitting next to him. "The general secretary will read the minutes of the last meeting."

Stalin had been general secretary, too. He'd used that innocent-sounding post to run the Soviet Union. Isabella Sabatini didn't have ambitions like that--or if she did, she hid them where Filippo couldn't see them. She was in Annarita's year, so maybe she'd show her true colors once he was gone. For now,she just read the minutes. They were boring, and got approved without amendment. They always did.

"Continuing business," Filippo said importantly.

"First item is preparation for the May Day holiday at the school," Isabella said. "The chairman of the May Day celebration committee will make his report."

He did. There would be a celebration. They had money taken from the Young Socialists' League dues. They would spend some of it on ornaments and propaganda posters, and some more on a dance. The school administration had given them a list of approved bands. They would choose one.

Annarita looked at her watch and tried not to yawn where people could see her do it. The May Day celebration was the same every year. Preparations for the celebration were the same every year, too. Only the band at the dance--sometimes--changed. Everything would go more smoothly if the people in charge didn't take it so seriously.

"The celebration of the victory over Fascism will be the next piece of business," Isabella said.

That was the same almost every year. Two years earlier, in Annarita's first year at Hoxha Polytechnic, it had been bigger than usual. That was the 150th anniversary of the end of the Second World War--the Great Patriotic War, the Soviet Union called it. But it got back to normal last year, and would be normal again this May.

After the committee for the celebration of victory over Fascism reported, Filippo asked, "Any new business?" There hardly ever was. Annarita hoped there wouldn't be. Then they could get on with talking about the curriculum. They were going to send the administration a report. The administrationwouldn't read it--the administration never read student reports. But it would go on file, and show the Young Socialists' League was doing its job.

To Annarita's surprise and dismay, Marco Furillo raised his hand. "I move we investigate a shop that may be selling students subversive literature."

"What's this?" Filippo said.

"It's true," Marco said. "Have you ever been to the place they call The Gladiator?"

"That's the gaming shop, isn't it?" Filippo said, and Marco nodded. Filippo went on, "I know where it is, but I haven't been inside. Why?"

"Because they skate close to the edge, if they don't go over it," Marco answered, his face and voice full of sour disapproval.

That name... Annarita had heard somebody mention it before. Gianfranco, that was who. Did he realize the place might be dangerous to him? Filippo did the proper bureaucratic thing: he appointed a committee to look into what was going on. And Annarita surprised both him and herself by volunteering to join it.

Copyright © 2007 by Harry Turtledove


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