Roy Glashan's Library.
Non sibi sed omnibus
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If greed were the only feature of human psychology men had to fear, we might cure the problem. But sometimes even worse is a man's determination to improve his fellow man...
Man shifts the great rivers and pens them, he bores the bowels of the Earth. He levels the mountains and raises dry lands where the green tides once rolled. At his will Man traces highways through the impalpable air, traverses the oceans' deep gloom. With the harnessed might of the atom he banishes the night and he makes the desert to bloom. Pigmy-bodied, giant-minded, Man shapes his world to his needs.
One thing alone defies Man's skill and his will. One sole thing Man cannot change, the fundamental nature of Man.
—Riis Narghil (2088-2163)
THE sentences glowed in cold light on a wall so vast that though each character was a half meter wide and proportionately high, they seemed very lonely on the dim expanse. Above the inscription, not so much entitling it as utterly altering its author's meaning, was the single word:
Natlane had never quite been able to bring himself to ask any of the other Lampmen whether they shared a certain strange experience with him.
Sometimes at once, sometimes only some minutes after his vigil had begun, he would become part of his Lamp's flame. There was never any definite transition. The globe would not expand to embrace him, nor would he seem to dwindle and sink through its shell.
One moment he would be crouched in the cubicle on the Peace Dome's Gallery. His visored gaze would be intent on the ball of transparent vitron, half again the diameter of a man's head, the sparks within it innumerable. They seemed a solid mass, their colors—violet, yellow, green, crimson—so exactly balanced, the lumisphere seemed from a little distance pure white. He would be perfectly aware of the Lamp as a separate entity, of the dim row of push buttons studding the metal base in which it was cupped, of the Gallery's shadowed sweep interminably away from him to either side.
One moment he would be Natlane, Chicago Lamp, Shift Three. The next he'd be a spark within the coruscant sphere, a mere crepitant point of brilliance among myriads.
The phenomenon did not at all interfere with his efficiency. Let the slightest chromatic imbalance occur and instantly Natlane was outside it again. Clear-brained, alert, he would be prepared instantly to evaluate the indicated aberration in the even temperament of the distant City and decide whether it warned of some threat to the Peace of the World, prepared if it did to signal the Experts and the Technicians on the Dome's Floor.
If, however, there had been no shift to the red of irritation or the blue of depression and when his trick ended he were still in this strange state—of autohypnosis he supposed it was—his relief's hand on Natlane's shoulder would wrench him back to normalcy with a violence that had him physically ill, for agonizing seconds.
"O.K., Mart," he mumbled, fighting waves of nausea more distressing than any before. "I... I'll get out of your way in two ticks." He swallowed hard, tried to dissemble his condition with, "You startled me. I didn't realize it was anywhere near four yet."
"It ain't." Struggling out of his seat, Natlane discerned that it wasn't Martadams, Shift Four, who slid into it but one of the extras who filled in when some personal emergency necessitated a Lampman's temporary absence from his cubicle. "It's eleven-thirteen."
"Eleven-thir—Vicdell! There's some mistake. I didn't buzz for a relief."
"No mistake," the other grunted, his hooded eyes already fixed on the Lamp. "You're wanted up top, by the chief of staff, no less."
A muscle knotted at the point of Natlane's gaunt jaw. "What does Van Gooch want of me?"
A shrug of bent shoulders. "He forgot to tell me, believe it or not. Look, brother," Vicdell went on, "it's none of my never mind but if I were you, I'd get up there fast as that gyrcar will take me."
"Yeh, yeh, I guess you're right."
As he moved across the Gallery to the slim aerbat hovering, gunwale against the broad rail, Natlane's thoughtful brow was furrowed and his lean frame tight strung with taut nerves. A summons from Rudolf van Gooch was too rare an event to be considered lightly but there was no good reason for apprehension.
Nevertheless, apprehension brooded darkly in the Lampman's dark eyes.
The Gallery from which the gyrcar whispered away was a long stretch of dimness relieved only by the opalescent glow of the Hoskins Lamps, before each a motionless shadow-shape, face eerily disembodied in the soft radiance. The Gallery was hushed, somnolent, but far below, the Dome's floor was electric with an antlike bustle.
From the soaring, unillumined roof, so high and so completely without visible prop it seemed a veritable sky, two white shafts of light struck vertically down through the gloom and made brilliant the giant semiglobes at the foci of the thousand hectare ellipse. Midget-seeming at worktables aligned radiant from and concentric to these shining hubs, the experts drew their graphs or collated tables of data on the temperament characteristics of their respective Cities. Rimming the vast oval and retreating beneath the cantilevered balcony, the technicians swarmed among their gauges and switchboards, their gleaming busbars and coiled serpent-jungles of cables more dangerous than serpents with the tremendous potentials of the Neural Currents that could lull a City to torpidity or fire it with human passions.
The force-field of Natlane's gyrcar thrummed as it fended off a one-seater. Flaunting the purple stripe of a Staffman of the Sociological Control Board, the other craft darted away, was lost in the innumerable gnat-dance of its kind. The Lampman's tiny car sighed to a halt.
The inverted turret that was the Peace Dome's nerve center hung from the roof, midway between the two light shafts. There was no visible break in its gleaming aludur wall, but almost at once an aperture soundlessly opened to admit Natlane.
As noiselessly, it shut again behind him and the hush was so profound his ears seemed abruptly stuffed with cotton wool. He stood rigid, pupils dilated for dimness dazzled by the brightness of artificial daylight.
He felt eyes on him. A hard knot tightened at the pit of his stomach. "Lampman Natlane," a toneless voice droned. "Chicago Lamp. Shift Three." His vision cleared and he saw a tawny-tressed girl behind a desk that barely left room for him in a narrow anteroom.
"You know me?"
Natty in a feminized version of his own blue-green uniform, she looked right through him. "Have him wait," the desk's blank surface murmured and it dawned on Nat that the girl had not greeted but announced him.
"I shall have Lampman Natlane wait," she acknowledged. Her fingers, long and slim and ruby-tipped, moved on the desk's edge. Her cool, gray eyes became aware of him, "I didn't know you," she smiled, her voice friendly now, "till the portal opened for you."
"You mean it wouldn't have opened for anyone else?"
"Right. It was set for your electroneural aura." From a slit in a boxlike contrivance set on legs beside her, she produced an eight by thirteen cm rectangle of plastic perforated in an apparently random pattern. "Your personnel card, Lampman." Mischief tugged at the corners of her generous mouth. "I can read it offhand, so don't ever get the notion you can kid me about you."
"I won't." Natlane promised, a bit grimly. "If you can read those punches, you know me far better than I do myself. Suppose you tell me about me while I'm waiting."
"Hm-m-m." The girl's eyes dropped to the slit into which she was inserting the card. "It wouldn't be good for you. But I can give you a little advice. Keep your temper in check when you get in there. Watch every syllable you say."
A vague sense of urgency in her tone prickled Nat's spine, but he realized it would be useless to demand an explanation. "Thanks," he smiled and then as she looked up at him, "You know my name. How about telling me yours?"
Golden flecks danced in the silvery gray of her irises. "Marilee," she told him. "And I'm a Chian too."
"I can still smell the lake winds in your hair. Marilee," Nat mused. "You would be Mary Lee back home. I—" A buzz cut him off and Marilee's fingers flew to the desk edge. "Sir?"
"Send in Lampman Natlane."
"Send in Lampman Natlane." She was once more coldly impersonal, all warmth gone from her voice. "To your right, please."
"What—?" To Natlane's right, a meter from his nose, was only blank metal, then a black spot appeared on the aludur surface, was swiftly expanding, irislike.
It was a hole piercing the barrier. It was an oval opening, just large enough to let him through. He stepped into a space little more than a meter square, the ceiling so low it seemed to press on his scalp. Another blank wall confronted him—
Darkness enveloped Natlane, so black it thumbed his eyeballs!
He whirled back, pawed at cold metal—the wall through which he'd entered, solid again. A dart of bluish light leaped eerily about and panic struck at him.
He wanted out. He wanted to get out of here. He wanted to get free of this trap.
No use hammering at this wall with his fists, trinitrate wouldn't blast it open. Natlane got a grip on himself, was still, hands hard against the aludur that shut him in.
The bluish spark was motionless at the level of his chest, a little to the left.
The Lampman's lips twitched into a grimace half self-mockery at reasonless terror, half resentment of the invasion of his privacy the spatter of luminance betrayed. Thorium tetrachlor was fluorescent in ultra-spectral light; and some had dried on his wrist from a splash in the laboratory. The gammeta vibration, of course. Someone had a search ray on him!
They didn't have to scare him breathless to do that, even if the beam was more efficient in complete darkness. Queer that it should be turned on him at all.
The whole setup was queer, for that matter. In a co-operative society, why should this aerie be inaccessible except by aerbat? Why should its outer portal be ingeniously guarded against unaccredited intrusion, the inner entrance to the chief of staff's sanctum barred by iris shutters impregnable to anything short of an atomic blast?
Of what was Rudolf van Gooch, guardian of the world's peace, afraid?
The blue spark vanished! The search ray was off.
Behind Natlane was an almost inaudible whisper of sound. As he turned to it, light came back into the guard lock through an aperture in the inner wall that expanded in the same manner, and as swiftly, as that by which he'd come through the outer.
The room into which he stepped was surfaced, floor and walls and ceiling, with a single iridescent shimmer. Its planes melted into one another by sweeping curves so that it was impossible to tell where one ended and the other began. Soft radiance, sourced everywhere and nowhere, cast no shadows at all.
The chamber had a breathtaking quality of—limitlessness was the best word Nat could think of, knowing it to be inept.
The only furnishing was a high-backed armchair of silvery cryston. In this, far across the footfall-muffling floor, sat a completely insignificant little man, motionless, emaciated hands idly lax in a shawled lap, lashless lids drooped as if in sleep.
Rudolf van Gooch was very old. Pacing towards him, Natlane recalled that he'd been in his prime, seventy-five or thereabouts, when he'd succeeded Rad Hoskins as chief. That was almost forty years ago. Van Gooch, therefore, must be well on to the century and a quarter and still active. A remarkable achievement, even discounting the progress the endocrinologists and metabolists had made in lengthening useful life span.
Or was it? How much truth was there in the whispers that the Superannuation Committee was more lenient in their annual examinations of the Peace Dome's chief of staff than with lesser centenarians?
Nearing the shrunken small figure in the great thronelike seat, gray-yellow, hairless, skin drawn tight over a fine-boned skull, his measure of years obviously all but emptied, Natlane was poignantly aware of his own smooth flowing muscles, of the vibrant throb in his elastic arteries, of his youthful strength.
The blue-scrabbled lids opened within their sunken sockets.
An almost physical impact stopped Nat in his tracks.
It was he who was insignificant before the wisdom, the mental force, the drive implicit in the tiny eyes that seized his and drained his brain dry.
They neither blinked nor shifted, but they finished with Natlane and somehow had released him. He contrived to make his stiff lips form words. "I was directed to report to you, sir."
"Yes. I wished to talk with you. But sit down, my boy."
Sit down? Where? There was no—A chair was here, just behind Natlane and a little to his left. It must have come up through the floor, he decided as he sank into it, so smoothly and silently he had not noticed. "Somewhat theatrical, I agree," the old man responded to his unvoiced comment. "Nevertheless it has its purpose." A faint smile drifted across the almost human mask that was Van Gooch's face. "Some of my visitors need to be impressed so that even if I am alone with them, I am not altogether at their mercy."
Natlane's eyebrows lifted as he glanced at the guard lock and back to his chief. "No," the latter murmured. "No one can come in here with a weapon. But a pair of strong hands could break me in half, and there are those who find me in the way of their ambitions."
Again that half-shadow of a smile. "Housed within this Dome is the machinery that keeps the City States at peace through control of their people's emotions, very nearly of their will. What better instrument for world domination has ever existed? What more tempting prize for a ruthless man to seize?"
"But why should anyone want to seize it, sir?"
Van Gooch spread his skeleton hands. "Why should at least one among every group of laborers strive to become foreman of his gang? Why should certain citizens in every City connive and scheme and stultify themselves to be chosen Wardmen or Councilors? Why, in the old days did men flog themselves to accumulate wealth infinitely more than they could spend on the most luxurious living? Why in every era has some hitler made himself cursed by all men so that he might become master of all? What drives them to the sacrifices they make to gain—what?"
The ancient looked about the beautiful—and empty—room. "In the high places of the world there is loneliness and fear and gray regret. And one other thing—power."
"Power?" Natlane parroted.
"Power. Power over the lives and destinies of others. It is for this that the ambitious ones strive. It does not matter how it is used—for good or ill—so long as they may have it. So long as they have by that much made themselves"—the low and oddly sweet voice became almost inaudible—"demigods."
Van Gooch's lids drooped wearily and he withdrew into himself, left Natlane outside his awareness.
The Lampman listened to the rales of an old man's breathing, the crepitation of fabric against an old man's sere skin. The drooped lids lifted. "I understand, Lampman Natlane, that for the past six years you have devoted all your leisure hours to a certain research."
So he kept that close a check on his underlings, did he? "I have, sir."
"An attempt to divorce human behavior, is it not, from environmental influences?"
"To make the Rule of Reason in man's living possible of realization." A thrill of excitement came into Natlane's voice. "That's it, sir." Was the chief about to offer to make his voluntary study an official S.C.B. project with all that implied? "I think—No sir, I'm sure I've found the right experiment-line at last. It's only a case of development now."
"Hm-m-m." Van Gooch watched his bony fingers erect a tent. "I sent for you, my boy, to suggest that it might be wise if you were to divert your surplus energies into some other channel."
Muscles knotted in the Lampman's throat. "To—You mean you want me to drop it?"
Natlane swallowed. "But why, sir? Why should you? It doesn't interfere with my job. I—"
"There have been no complaints."
"Then I don't understand why you should be concerned."
Van Gooch sighed. "I am deeply concerned with the welfare of every member of the organization I have the privilege of administering."
That. Natlane thought, is pure bunk. Aloud, he said. "We all know and appreciate that, sir, but I assure you I am fully capable of looking after my own welfare."
"And that of the others?"
"What has my research to do with the others?"
"More than you appear to realize." The chief separated his fingertips, fitted them together again one by one, as meticulously as though he were adjusting some mechanical device to precise tolerances. "Have you considered that we have been especially trained to specialized tasks in a very specialized organization? Were that organization to lose its reason for being and be dissipated, a few of us are still young enough to adapt to other lines of endeavor; but most of us would return to our Cities as pensioners, superannuated long before the end of our useful life."
"If I succeed in bringing about the rule of reason, wars will be unthinkable and so this elaborate setup to prevent them no longer necessary. Are you asking me to abandon the search for a more efficient way to accomplish the purpose for which the Peace Dome was established in order to preserve the Dome itself, for its own sake?"
"Certainly not!" the ancient murmured. "Although it would not be the first time in history something similar has been done."
"I am aware of that, sir. Harl Stanlund's 'Secret History of Global Economics' was prescribed reading at school. May I remind you that Stanlund points out that such tactics never succeed in averting social changes, but merely delay them?"
"Until the social structure has been prepared to withstand the change," Van Gooch agreed. "In the meantime the pioneers have known the agonies of frustration. I want to spare you that, my son."
"Thanks." Nat could not help noticing the ironic intonation. "I'll take my chances. Maybe I'll never see the results of my work; nevertheless I intend to keep at it."
"And if I forbid you?"
Dull anger pounded at Natlane's skull, but recollection of Marilee's warning stopped his first hot words. "If you should attempt it," he contrived an icy calm, "I should exercise my right under the union contract to demand a public hearing. I doubt, sir, that you would care to justify such an order, in the hearing of the world, unless you have better reasons than you've just given me."
The aged mask did not change, but Natlane sensed grudging approval in Van Gooch's meditative, "Hm-m-m. And you are quite sure I haven't." The tented fingers rippled against one another and dropped wearily to the shawled lap. "Very well," he sighed, and then, "Your shift is almost over. You need not return to your Lamp."
Natlane's legs seemed to be moving through some invisible, clotting miasma as he went toward the aperture widening in the far wall. He'd won in the sudden conflict of wills—or had he? Was not the triumph too facile?
He reached the guard lock, went into it—"Lampman Natlane!"
Rudolf van Gooch's eyes were on him, across shimmering space. Even at that distance they tightened the cords in his neck. "To be a demigod, Natlane," Van Gooch's low, sweet voice came to him, "is much to look forward to, a poor thing to have—and death to let go of, once you have it."
The iris shutter blanked out the room. The momentary blackness was frightening. Or was it the blackness?
"Natlane!" a startled voice broke in on the Lampman's absorption. "Hi, Nat! What the blue blazes are you doing here?" Dropping down through the Dome's vast murk, his gyrcar, preset, had soughed to rest at an entrance thronged with Shift Four psychoneers reporting for the noon changeover. "Why ain't you on your Lamp?"
The chap who came up was chunky of frame and shoulder, broadly molded of blunt-jawed countenance, carrot-thatched. "Morning, Stanrod." Natlane grunted and started to disembark but was blocked off by the other. The lines in Nat's dark face cut deeper. "Do you mind letting me out?"
"I sure do." Stanrod didn't move, but his freckle-dusted grin was warming. "You haven't answered me."
"I was relieved early," Nat said curtly.
"So I see. But why?"
There was no good reason why he shouldn't tell him, no reason at all except a transference of resentment. "There's a warning whistle, Stan." A thin pipe, it was, not so much sound as a needle piercing one's eardrums. "You'd better get started for your cubby."
"Yeh. I better had." In a single lithe flow of movement Stanrod was seated beside Natlane. "Let's go."
"Oh, don't thank me," Stan grinned. "It's a pleasure to have you ride with me." The aerbat lifted, curved gracefully and flitted in its long rising slant to the Lamp Gallery. "O.K., boy. Spill it."
"There's nothing to spill." It was hard to resist that infectious, boyish smile. "I got a half-hour off, that's all." Natlane's eyes, avoiding it, found the enormous letters of light on the looming wall. "'One sole thing Man cannot change,'" he read aloud, changing the subject, "'the fundamental nature of Man.' Has it ever occurred to you that we're no nearer answering that deft than when it was first put there more than six decades ago?"
Stanrod shrugged in good-natured surrender, said, "Oh, I don't know. Seem's to me the SCB's doing a pretty good job. There've been few quarrels among the City-States since the Dome swung into function, and no actual war anywhere."
"So what? We've held the world to peace for a generation or two, but the germs of war are still in the blood of the race. Let us relax our vigilance and—Hell! Only yesterday my Lamp slid three chromens to the red and we had to shoot low potential till half Chi was logy."
"Yeh, I got the same flurry though Nyork went only one point eight bad before the Current took hold. But what's the use crabbing, Nat? When the ionic ceiling thins enough to sift through an extra dose of cosmic rays, the irritability index of homo more or less sapiens is bound to up a few figures.
"Which is precisely what gets me. Why, at this stage in the evolution of Science, should my behavior still be conditioned by the number of cosmons per second impinging on my skin, or the barometric pressure of my atmosphere or its geostatic tension—?"
"Or the amount of sleep you've had between tricks" Stan chuckled. "Your own Irritation Index's at an all-time high, young fellah m'lad. Fess up. How many hours did you spend in the Lab Wing since your last off-shift?"
"None of your blasted—Oh, all right. All there were, if you must know." One couldn't hold sullenness in the face of that friendly, frank grin. "I can't spare time for sleep. There's so much to do and so little time in which to do it."
"Who's deadlining you all of a sudden?"
"No one." Natlane thrust ascetic fingers through his wiry tangle of black hair. "My nemesis is the same lug who's waiting to terminate all our projects—and us. Old Man Blackout."
"Slap me with a million volt arc," Stanrod hooted, "and call me a neutron! When are they bringing you up for superannuation?" He sobered, hand impulsively on the other's shoulder. "You're barely twenty-eight. You've got at least seventy years of useful life ahead of you. You're just tired."
Not tired, Natlane thought. Puzzled. There was something else behind that strange interview with Van Gooch than the explanation the chief had vouchsafed. Some impelling, personal motive—but it was difficult for him to accept that. Van Gooch had gotten to be chief because of the consistent altruism of his efforts. His administration had always been in line with the traditional democracy of the SCB. His position paid him little more than an expert, and living conditions were pretty much the same for everyone at the Dome. He had warned Natlane against power for power's sake; therefore it did not seem likely that he, Van Gooch, would be a victim of megalomania. On the other hand, the sufferer always knows the symptoms. He shook his head in puzzlement... "You're going on with that research of yours, Nat?" Stanrod was asking. "You're bound and determined to plug it to the bitter end?"
Nat jerked to him, startled. "What... what gives you the notion I'm not?"
"I don't know." His carrot-topped seatmate grinned crookedly. "Guess it's just wishful thinking."
"Wishful! You want me to quit!"
Sudden tension was sharp between the friends. "Frankly, Nat, yes." Stanrod looked unhappy, but blundered on. "I—what you're after—well, it sort of scares me."
"Don't ask me why. I haven't the least idea."
"I do." Tiny light-worms crawled in somber eyes. "The same psychology that has moved men to oppose every scientific advance since the dawn of thought." He had it now, what had motivated Van Gooch. "You resent, instinctively but profoundly, any attempt to amend the rational philosophy in which you've been nurtured."
"Pishtush and piffle."
"The truth, Stan. Look at it realistically. I propose to emancipate Man from physical determination of his behavior, to enable him to conduct himself in accord with the dictates of his reason and his reason alone. I want to make him in actuality what he falsely claims to be, a thinking being. What's wrong with that?"
"For one thing, it presumes free will—"
"Which you have been taught is impossible."
"Taught!" Stanrod snorted. "It's too obvious to need teaching. The manner in which an individual reacts to any situation is preordained by the ancestral complex of his genes as modified by his foetal history—"
"Plus every environmental contact from conception to the instant of decision. Yeh," Natlane observed sardonically. "I also learned to parrot that statement—"
"Which is based on generations of trained observation and experiment, but you have the consummate gall to question its validity."
"Not at all. What I deny is its inevitability, and that is precisely what disturbs you. You desire, with every atom of your psyche, the assurance that you live in a static universe."
"Huh?" Stanrod looked puzzled.
"Look, guy." Natlane explained himself. "Much as we have learned of our cosmos, we still dwell, like Caliban musing upon Setebos, on a tiny island of the Known encompassed by the immeasurable, dark Unknown. Like Caliban, we cling desperately to the security of our familiar rock, the solidity of established facts, of eternal truths. Let's admit that truths are not always eternal, that fact may become nonfact and, once more like Caliban seeing his island suddenly change contour to some new, strange shape, we are appalled."
He pulled in breath. "Scared. Of course it scares you."
"So that's what's wrong with me?" Stan rubbed the edge of his blunt jaw with a contemplative thumb. "Could be." His irrepressible grin struggled to break through his unaccustomed gravity. "Only it isn't—Well, here's my Station."
The gyrcar had slewed to the broad parapet. Stan leaped out, stood spraddle-legged, watching Natlane flit away.
"Somehow, my fran," he murmured, "I've a hunch you're heading for trouble—and plenty." Shrugging, he moved across the Gallery's dim width to the Nyork cubicle. The shadow-shrouded form within said, "Hi Stan," but did not alter its crouch over the seething brilliance of the Hoskins Lamp.
Stanrod peered at the lumisphere.
His lids narrowed. "Looks a bit bluish to me, Jo," he observed. "About a hundredth chromen, I'd say."
Jocarter glanced down at the gauge set into the metal shelf that sloped toward him from the Lamp's base. "Point zero eight nine," he grunted. "You've got a good eye, egg." His hooded gaze returned to the globe. "Been around there most of my trick but there's no nucleus of infection. My guess is the shift's due to a general overcast."
"Your guess! You haven't checked?"
"What for? It's not required till the off-white's more than five-hundredths, is it? Or has there been a new General Order I missed up on?"
"No. You haven't missed anything," Stan grinned, "but I always like to know what's causing even as slight a depression as this one. Be a good guy and tick Met, will you?"
"O.K., if it'll make you any happier." Only Jocarter's hand moved, going to the row of pushbuttons, thumbing one. Stanrod took his visor from its hook on the sidewall, from a pigeonhole the foamite pad he sybaritically had had fashioned to the exact conformation of his buttocks, turned back to listen to a brassy, apparently sourceless drone.
"Nyork report," it intoned. "At six fifty-eight and a quarter Eastern Standard Time. Temp: Twenty point four C. Pressure: Seventy-five point five one, rising. Relative humidity: Forty-six point four percent. Cosmons: Normal. Wind: Light variable, generally westerly. Precipitation: None. Clouds: None. Visibility: infinite," and without change of intonation, "What's the idea, mugg, futsing me for a report two minutes before changeover?"
"Go duck your noodle," Jocarter said softly and released the button before the Metman could retort. But he couldn't thus easily shut off Stanrod's chaffing murmur, "A balmy spring dawn on the Hudson, eh. What price your overcast?"
The other watched his Lamp, expressionless; but there was faint uncertainty in his query. "Think I ought to flash the floor?"
"And have your expert crisp your ear for pesting him with a hundredth aberration just as he's going off-tick? Nix. If it holds through my watch, I'll hop over and take a look-see afterward. How's for coming along, if and when?"
"Sure, Stan. We'll use my flivver. I haven't had her off the ground in a month of Sundays. Give me a call—There's the second whistle."
Stanrod clipped on his eyeshade, deftly flicked the foamtite pad onto the seat Jocarter was vacating, slid into it almost before the latter was out of it. "I'll do that," he grunted, and at once was absorbed in his vigil over the lumisphere within which Rad Hoskins' miracle of neurophysics trapped the soul of a City-State five thousand kilometers distant.
Natlane crossed the bustling lobby of Recreation House, went through an archway into the laboratory wing. Someone called a greeting to him.
He answered abstractedly, too sunk in a brown study to take in who it was.
The door for which he made was labeled:
A stride or two within, a massive counter ran the room's full width. From its longitudinal midline rose a wall of transparent but nonshatterable vitron, reinforced by an embedded latticework of feraldur strips. Behind this wall men moved around in the scaled metal suits the terrific pressures of modern chemistry impose on those who work with them, their hands metal-gloved, their heads inclosed in spherical helmets with huge, nightmarish goggles for eyes.
These grotesque apparitions were busily engaged with a battery of autoclaves, clamped vats whose ponderous walls vibrated and strained to the seething reactions they contained. As Natlane approached the counter, one at his left abruptly was enveloped in a cloud of brownish vapor and the machine appended to it clacked into sudden animation.
The Lampman glanced toward it. A conveyor belt issuing from the machine's near end was in motion. It was carrying to the inner top of the counter a parade of maroon gadgets the size of a clenched fist, oddly shaped. A goggled attendant went unhurriedly to the growing pile, looked at a tag clipped beside it. A disk set into the partition rasped: "O.K., Hailassie. Come and get your junk."
"Junk!" laughed a kink-haired Addisababan, teeth startlingly white in the lustrous black of his face. "Listen, brother, if this 'junk' does what I hope it will do, my Lamp's going to come mighty near announcing what it wants in the Universal Language!"
"So you think you can improve on Rad Hoskins' job?"
"There's certainly no harm in trying, is there?"
Natlane picked up a stylus chained to the counter, studied a nullite plaque laid into its surface. Down the left side of the grayish oblong was embossed a list of specification terms, Specific Gravity, Density, Tensility, Malleability, Flexibility, Acid Resistance, Base Resistance, Magnetic Permeability; tens of others covering every imaginable property one might desire in a solid synthetic. Vertical columns to the right of this roster was headed by numerals, from one to a hundred, that by reference to a chart on the wall indicated the precise degree of each property, in its appropriate unit. Beneath all this, on the plaque, was space for working drawings of the shape desired in the finished product, the scale indicated.
"Natlane, my friend." A hand was laid on his arm. "How do you find yourself?" the liquid voice inquired.
"Alive and kicking, Ganehru," he told the sloe-eyed, rotund little Delhian. "Mostly kicking. And you?"
"Once more overwhelmed with awe each time I enter these precincts." Ganehru gestured to the scene beyond the partition. "I am educated scientifically; yet to me it still partakes immensely of black magic that a substance of any specified qualification can be produced in a matter of moments directly from appropriate elements stored here in pure form." He was very earnest. "Each time I witness a conception of my brain materialize without human intervention, a feeling is aroused within me that I have performed an act of creation, that I am, euphemistically speaking, a demigod."
"A demigod," Natlane repeated; and Van Gooch's parting threat was once more at the forefront of his brain. Or was it a threat? A warning?
No use worrying about it. What happened would have to happen. In the meantime he must get on with his project. He'd better have this stuff delivered in sheet form, shape it manually. His stylus touched the appropriate box. He'd want it transparent, of course. A high melting point, about a thousand degrees, that was number eleven. Non-porous—"Sorry, Natlane," the disk headhigh to him said. "You're not registering. We can't fill your specs."
"Can't fill—" He gaped at the goggles that had appeared otherside the vitron. "You're off, mister. I haven't drawn anywhere near enough to exhaust my credits."
"It's not a question of credit, bud. It's just that we've got instructions to issue nothing to you." Natlane's fingers tightened on the stylus. "From Mr. Big himself. The chief."
So Van Gooch had—
"No reason given. Just the order."
The swelling of his throat held Natlane speechless, but Ganehru was talking for him. "That is unconscionable. Under and as provided for by Article Twenty-four of standard contract, Sociological Control Board and/or any official holding office thereunder may not deny to any member of the Psychoneers' Union facilities accorded to all unless a sufficiency of reason for said denial be presented to and agreed upon by Executive Committee of Union, duly elected and authorized."
"Sure," the disk's voice said. "Sure it does. Why don't you guys bring it up at the Union meeting tonight?"
"That," Natlane said flatly, "is exactly what I intend to do."
"The thing I like about Paris," Jocarter declared, "is it's so easy to get from there to anywheres else." He turned from the pantopen that inked the stratoflivver's course on a slowly unrolling chart. "If you lay out a hemisphere that takes in about eighty percent of the Earth's land surface, the Dome will be right in its center."
"So the average required range of our Lamp and Neural Current circuits is at a minimum." Stanrod wriggled his spine into a more comfortable position on the frayed cushions. "Why else do you think we were spotted there?"
"I didn't think—sort of had an idea, I guess; it was just because the burg was mashed so flat during the Battle of Europe there was no percentage in rebuilding it even if there was anyone left alive who'd care if it was rebuilt or not."
"You didn't think is right," Stan grinned. "Didn't it occur to you that there were plenty of Wastelands everywhere, between the way the dust howls spread during the twenty-first century and the rural areas were abandoned as Vitriculture made natural agriculture uneconomic, to make all the trouble they went to preparing the site kind of silly if all they wanted was empty space—Come to think of it, though, there is something gruesomely symbolic about the location at that."
"Yeh." Jocarter's aquiline countenance was abruptly shadowed. "Yeh. The Dome is sort of like a monument over the grave of four million humans."
"And a solemn promise to them that we won't ever let it happen again—Cripes!" Stan chuckled. "How'd we get off on this track? Look, Jo. What say we make for the airpolo game when we light in Nyork? The chatter of the crowds there ought to give us a line on what's bluing the City."
"O.K. by me. This jalopy's slow enough, bless its decrepit blast tubes, but it ought to get us to Peekskill Park in time for the first chukker. Who's playing the Dodgers?"
"Cairo, and what a sweet team that is. They'll cop the pennant in a breeze."
"If dem Bumbs drop dead, you mean."
"Bums is right," Stanrod guffawed. "What've they got that rates them with the Gyppies?"
"The best forward line in the Intercity League, that's what. And a goal plane you need a heloidal cannon to get the balloon past." Jo-carter grew red-faced. "I'll grant you Cairo's Right-two, this what's his name—?"
"This Abdul's a terrific wingman -on the attack—"
"Ye're tootin' he is. And what about the defense the Mahmud brothers put up?"
"Nuts! Brooklyn's Number Three with Geraghty piloting and Luscan on left wing'll go through them like a gamma ray through a slab of green cheese."
"It might if Luscan was on the wing but he was hurt yest—Holy apples!" Stanrod broke off. "That's it! Am I dumb! That's the answer, of course!"
"The answer to what?" Jo asked, with the little beginnings of a grin.
"The blue shift. With all Nyork airpolo crazy and the Dodgers best for'd wingman out of action for the season, naturally there was a shift!"
"You don't say."
"Well, sure! Why, excitement over this is enough to—hey! You knew about this all the time!"
"Why, you old so and such! Why didn't you say you wanted to go to the game instead of pulling all this rigmarole about wanting to help me investigate a blue shift?"
Jocarter laughed quickly, and then his rather austere face sobered. "To be frank, I was mostly interested in exactly what you thought caused the shift to the blue."
"What I thought? Can't you guess?"
"Stanrod—I know I sound like a kid asking about the birds and the bees, but—I was watching your face as you took over the Nyork Lamp last shift. I can see why any good Lampman should be concerned over a chromen shift—but I don't see why you are so much concerned over such a little shift. See what I mean? And—" he paused, and gazed thoughtfully down at the Atlantic, turning slowly past so far below—"it isn't the first time I've bad the feeling I'm next to something—secret—something big that I don't know about. Something to do with Nyork."
"Nonsense!" But Stan rod's laugh was a little forced. "You're a Nyorker and a Lampman. You spend hours every day staring at the Big Town's soul. How could the old burg have any secrets from you?"
"I think, too," Jocarter went on, without a change of puzzled tone, "that you know what it is."
"Do you now! Look, pal; don't fret about it. Maybe you need revitalizing or something. You been working too hard. Let's get on to the game, and enjoy it, and get back to our business."
"I'm not satisfied," said Jocarter. "I'm not, blast it. You were too relieved when you realized it was only the game that was causing the blue shift."
"Ah, forget it."
But Jocarter would not forget it, and during the rest of the flight a heavy and uncomfortable silence held between the two.
Gregor Gregorieff, as adept a pilot as he was cook, valet and general factotum, set Ivan Plovitch's sleek skyacht down so gently the sterterous rhythm of Ivan's snores was not disturbed. Gregor braked, stretched the kinks out of his huge limbs and the muscular barrel of a body to which they were attached, bent to draw on the calf-length, tasseled red boots he'd kicked off the instant a glance over his shoulder had told him Plovitch was asleep.
He straightened again, adjusted the jewel-encrusted dirk in the scarlet sash that encircled his skirted white kaftan, combed fingers through the auburn luxuriance of his beard. Next, scowling with distaste, he plucked a furred Cossack cap from its perch on a ruby-handled lever, donned it and, arrayed now in accordance with Ivan Plovitch's somewhat peculiar concept of the aesthetic, heaved erect and lumbered back to where the latter, sprawled with lolling jaw in the latex-foam embrace of an armchair, presented a not altogether aesthetic spectacle.
Plovitch awoke in a convulsion of splutters and snorts that might have alarmed one less familiar with the process than the Muscovite giant. "Wha—what's it?" he gurgled, floundering upright. "Whassa-matter?"
"We have arrived, panya Plovitch."
Plovitch shook the cobwebs from his brain. "Bozhe moy, Gregor! Must I remind you again not to address me as panya? I am not your master, nor you my servant. Can't you get it through your thick skull that all Irkutskans are equals, each serving the other and the State in his own way?"
"Forgive me," the bearded giant rumbled meekly. "I will try to remember."
"See that you do. Gospodi! My mouth tastes as if something crawled into it and died. Long ago. Give me some zubrovka, Gregor, to cleanse it."
"And have some yourself," Ivan commanded.
The whole idea was a mistake. One pony of the aromatic, and fiery, liquor called for another, the second for a third. When the bout finally ended and Plovitch descended from the skyacht, he had to hold tightly to Gregor's arm against the obstreperous heaving of the slate-hued stone plain.
He gazed owlishly about him. "Flat," he pronounced judgment. "Too flat. Don't like it."
He probably would have liked the featureless and desolate expanse still less had he been familiar with a certain report of the Intercity Commission for the Construction of a World Peace Center that lies buried in the S.C.B.'s archives. Most who served on the I.C.W.P.C. have long ago blacked out, but there are a few superannuants who still see in their nightmares the concrete and brick and twisted steel of a blasted city melt and flow together, lavalike, to form this plain. There are one or two ancients who have never quite gotten out of their nostrils the stench of burning wood—and of human flesh and bones.
"I like mountains," Ivan Plovitch mumbled, "an'"—he let go of Gregor, made sweeping, descriptive gestures—"an' high buildings."
"There is a high building, panya." The Cossack pointed. "Higher and bigger than any in Irkutsk."
Plovitch turned uncertainly, stared, closed his eyes and opened them and stared again. "No," he declared. "Thass no building. Thassa mountain."
"Good, panya." Gregor gravely studied the monstrous loom that gleamed metallically in the rays of the lowering sun. "If you say mountain it must be, but I never saw a mountain with men going in and out."
"Not men, Gregor, Ants."
This was a little too much for Gregor to take. Tugging fiercely at an orange-tinted, fierce mustache wing, he roared: "NOT ANTS. MEN."
Plovitch withstood the blast with admirable fortitude. "Ants," he stated.
"You seem to be having a little difficulty, gentlemen," someone said behind them. "Can I be of any assistance?"
He was young, gaunt in his closely fitted blue-green uniform, his aquiline countenance sultry. "You cer'nly can, comrade," Plovitch told him. "Kin'ly inform this obstinate idiot it is ants that inhabit that enormous building."
"Mountain," Gregor corrected. "You said yourself it is a mountain, panya. But they are men. Are they not men such as you and I, tovarishch?"
A smile tugged at the corner of the newcomer's bitter mouth. "They do look like ants from here, but they really are men. And that is not a mountain. It's the Peace Dome."
"The Peace Dome," Plovitch echoed. "You see, Gregor. I was right."
"Yes, panya—Wait! Didn't you say—?"
"I said it was the Peace Dome," Ivan snapped. He drew himself up with great dignity, somewhat marred by a gentle sway. "I, comrade, am Ivan Alexis Plovitch, Commissar for Cultural Welfare of the Sovereign City-State of Irkutsk."
"I'm Natlane. Lampman Chi Lamp, Shift Three."
"A Lampman!" Ivan boggled. "You hear, Gregor? This comrade is a Slave of the Lamp. He contracts his name like all Lampmen." He made a pass at Natlane's arm, missed, managed to catch it the next time it came around. "You and I have a great deal to talk about, tovarishch. You must tell me all the details of your life here, how you work, what your living conditions are, what you do with your leisure. Everything. Come. Let us sit down over a tumbler of tea and begin."
Annoyance was beginning to replace Natlane's initial amusement. "Sorry. I have work to do. Some other time, perhaps."
"No time like the present," Plovitch declared. "But don't let me interfere with your plans. No. I insist. I wouldn't think of it. I'll just go along and chat with you while you work. First, however, must drink a toast to our meeting and the great things that shall come out of it. Gregor! Zubrovka for tovarishch Natlane! And one for me, of course."
Now, zubrovka is ethyl alcohol, a hundred and fifteen proof, but it is smooth as velvet and the aromatic herbs with which it is flavored conceal its demoniacal potency. After his second pony, Natlane found himself quite unable to resist the Irkutskan's renewed invitation to enter the skyacht and make himself comfortable.
Ivan Plovitch sat down in a foamex relaxer with a wheeze of zubrovka fumes that was almost visible.
"I," he intoned solemnly, "am an aesthete, tovarishch. A functional aesthete."
Natlane smiled. "And what, sir, is a functional aesthete?"
"As Commissar of Cultural Welfare, my good friend and equal... ah, now... do not bandy the point. You are my equal. I insist upon it. Gregor is my equal." He beamed benignly. "Gregor! More for tovarishch Natlane!"
Gregor leaped to obey.
"I have come here to celebrate a triumph, my friend. A triumph of skillful legislation."
"Oh?" said Natlane.
"Over what looked like insuperable odds—the ignorance, you know, of the masses—my edict was passed. Forever, I shall be known as the father, the promulgator of the 'Compulsory Recreation Ukase!'"
"Oh," said Natlane.
"The people of Irkutsk will learn, now, the Fuller Life." Ivan Plovitch's voice put in the capital letters. "Now, thanks to me, they will learn the true happiness. Now they may—they must! sit before their telescreens and be enthralled by the classics of music and the dance. Now they will learn the ecstasies inherent in a colorlite symphony, be carried out of themselves by the masters of perfume-harmony. The man who cannot appreciate these has progressed little farther along the scale of evolution than the beasts. It is the duty of each of us to our race to elevate every member of it to this sublime state. If we fail in this, we have failed in our duty to ourselves. Are you beginning to see what I mean by the phrase 'Functional aesthete?'"
"I believe I am," said Natlane. He did not know whether to be amused or annoyed. He had never run across anyone quite like this before. There was little commerce between City-States, and he had believed that any consideration of humanity as a whole was limited to the integrating officials at the Dome. His strange and disquieting conversation with Van Gooch flicked through his mind and he said, "The post of Commissar of Cultural Welfare—it carries a good deal of... er... power?"
"Power, comrade? I dislike the word. I am no seeker after power. Let us say rather that my guidance is appreciated." He swelled the upper part of his stomach, to which he probably referred as a chest. "Why, only yesterday it came to my ears that one Misha Litoff—a hydroponics expert, who has gone to a great deal of trouble to develop lemons to my liking, for tea, you know—has said in a public place that I have the most delicate and informed taste in all Irkutsk. Obviously a man of intelligence and sensitivity. Brrp. I beg your pardon. I was happy to have it in my power to support him successfully in his appointment as Commissar of Hydroponics. You see, I have been able to convince the Council of Irkutsk—a willing group of louts—that food and aesthetics are very closely allied. And gradually I have been able to control—lead, that is—most of the food industries; a situation which has placed me on the council, which position, in turn, has made possible this latest triumph—the Compulsory Recreation Ukase."
"I see," said Natlane. He sipped thoughtfully. "And of what does this ukase consist?"
"It is an order," said Ivan Plovitch proudly, "which gives my division complete authority over the leisure time of all of Irkutsk's citizenry." He tossed off an amount of firewater that made Natlane wince just to watch him, held out the tumbler absently while the ubiquitous Gregor refilled it. "A crime, tovarishch! A sinful waste! These co-citizens of mine were permitted to be free to do anything they wished—their cultural tastes throttled by their beastly instincts for such things as dancing with each other—dancing, comrade, not The Dance—reading cheap literature, attending light, escapist cine-solidographs, and the like. I have put a stop to that! Now the people may indulge their better selves."
The liquor made Natlane incautious enough to ask if the people wanted to indulge their better selves.
"Want?" Ivan Plovitch stormed. "Want? What does it matter what they want? They are men—men, that is; and they must be treated like men. If they have no cultural capabilities, they are not men, they are dogs! There are those among them who seem to object to the program, it is true; but they will learn. They will either appreciate their new elevation, or they will be put where they cannot be heard."
Natlane opened his mouth to say something at this point, but Ivan Plovitch roared him down. Finding his mouth open, therefore, Natlane emptied his glass into it.
"They are as good as I," bellowed the Irkutskan. "I insist on the basic equality of all humankind! And since I have these cultural proclivities, they have them too, and"—he pounded on the noiseless arm of the relaxer—"those tastes shall be catered to!"
"O.K., O.K.," said Natlane placatingly. "If that's the way you do things in Irkutsk, it's all right with me."
"Ahh. In Irkutsk," crooned Ivan softly. "Now we come to the point of my visit."
"Celebration, didn't you say?"
"I celebrate, comrade, by carrying this great gift to the world. I have come to liberate you Slaves of the Lamp from your chains."
"Oh yes. I have heard of the drab lives you lead. You spend your working hours crouched over those fiendish Hoskins Lamps without any music to alleviate the awful tedium or a phonobook to expand your mental horizons. And in your time off, you actually go in for further research and experiment on your task, so tragically hypnotized are you in the inartistic business of drugging our drinking water, gassing our air, radiating neural currents, all for the honor and glory of the Sociological Control Board!"
"Now, wait a minute, bud—"
"Sociologists?" thundered Plovitch. "Greasy-handed mechanics! Mechanics, that is. No concern for the dignity of the human soul." He stopped in surprise as Natlane's head went back to give free egress to roars of laughter.
Natlane couldn't help it. A swirl of resentment, based on his ingrained loyalty to the Peace Dome and its work, had been transmuted to a vast amusement by Plovitch's unutterable pomposity. And possibly by the aromatic refreshment, a little. Tears streaming down his face, he finally apologized sufficiently to change Ivan Plovitch's face from purple back to its original cerise.
And in hunting for a presentable reason for his outburst, Natlane found himself talking about the thing of greatest importance to him—talking, and talking. Perhaps the liquor had something to do with that too. It was so-o-o much easier to talk than to move.
Rudolph van Gooch sat in silent meditation in the glittering, empty hall. His skeletal hands lay relaxed over the serried buttons on the arms of his chair—buttons that could order the lives, and often the very thoughts of the men and women under his command.
He liked the feel of those buttons. More than his insigne, more than the deference he received from those about him, he felt that these buttons were his badge of office—a concreted statement of authority.
Natlane—A pity, that the most dynamic young mind among the hand-picked personnel at the Dome should show all of the symptoms of that dread disease, power-madness. Poor, deluded youngster! He was obviously certain that he had found the way to save humanity from itself. Well, most wide-awake young men did go through that. Unfortunately—Natlane was right. If he proceeded, he would cure humanity's ills.
Rudolph van Gooch was a very wise man—wise beyond even his advanced years. And he had the wisdom to be able to evaluate his own worth to humanity. He had done pretty well. Pretty well. He had kept the sleeping giant asleep; and perhaps humanity had advanced a little toward the state where it would be fit to govern itself. But not yet. Not yet, nor would they be ready in the three generations that Natlane's idea would need to root itself. And in the meantime—where would he find a successor? Where to find a man who, like himself, could be trusted to think always of mankind as a whole, and never of himself as the Master?
He sighed regretfully. Young Natlane was made of the stuff of which leaders are composed. Even now, Natlane truly believed that his motivations were altruistic. It had almost certainly not occurred to him that if his experiments succeeded—and they would—he would have limitless power over the race—more than Van Gooch himself—more than the Peace Dome. And, Natlane being what he was, he would gradually begin to cloud his logic. He would begin to feel that the world was persecuting him, trying to force him to swerve from the way of ruling the earth that he, Natlane, Lord of All, felt was the right way. And then would come the fears, the undercover preparations for a possible attack on him, and finally the adamant cruelties of a dictator—for what? For what? For the good of humanity, of course. Only for their good. Oh, the pathetic self-delusion of power!
Van Gooch sighed again. It would be difficult, for Natlane was young and strong—stronger than he himself yet realized. But he must be stopped. He must be stopped quickly, before he brought ultimate disaster upon the world, and upon himself.
Tremblingly, then, Van Gooch lifted his frail body from the chair, and, ignoring the push buttons on his chair, crossed the vast chamber and went unerringly to a place on the featureless wall. He touched it, high, and again a little to the right. Silently a section of panel, barely 20 cm square, receded, exposing a stud. He pressed it and withdrew his hand, and the panel closed again. Walking back to his chair, he reflected that it would indeed be a convenience to have this particular circuit on the arm of the chair; but he had long ago determined to keep it quite separate from all the others.
He sat down, and in a moment a whisper came from above and behind him. It said: "Que voulez-vous?"
And, regretfully, in an antique tongue, Rudolph van Gooch gave his orders.
Natlane lay back in the soft chair with his legs stretched out in front of him and watched his toes swim past in recurrent arcs. "You're right, m'friends," he told them. "You're absolutely right." The whole thing was crystal clear now. He wondered that he could have entertained even a moment's doubt that his new experiment-line would pan out. "Only way to tackle a problem is start at beginning. Condition embryo 'gainst 'vironmental influences." A russet mustached blur drifted into his ken and he impaled it on the tip of an immensely long forefinger. "You! Ivan Plitch! How would you go 'bout conditioning human embryo!"
"I'm sure I don't know, comrade."
"Zackly," Natlane leered. "You don' know but I do. Secret," he whispered, loudly enough to have been heard across the tarmac if they'd not been within the skyacht's luxurious enclave. "Expose blastula to various physical stimuli governing temperamental reactions. Minute doses at first, zen gradually greater as it develops. See? Build up natural resistance, same idea 'sgetting inured to sunburn."
"Bozhe moy!" Ivan boggled. "It might work."
"Betchur sweet life it'll work." Nat tried to focus on his still extended finger, gave it up as a bad job. "How do I know? 'Cause I've 'sperimented on rabbit eggs already. Thousan's an' thousan's vrabbit eggs." He pulled the finger down with his other hand. "Wouldn't do to produce monsters, would it?"
"No," Ivan agreed, "no, it wouldn't. But tell me, comrade. How would you react if I were to propose the establishment of a University—?"
"React?" Nat's brow furrowed as he considered. "Why should mothers react unfavorably? Excorporal maturation's been practiced a half cent... half cench... over fifty years now."
"What's that?" Gregor demanded from kilometers above him. "That excorp—What you said."
"Excorporal maturation? Development of foetus outside maternal body. Greatest boon to womankind ever devised. Ovum removed from mother soon's fertilized, 'n' essential nutrients supplied artificially. Obviates discomforts, pain, dangers of childbearing. Don't tell me you never heard of it."
"Naturally I have heard of it," the giant declared, affronted. "It's what they do in the Mother Houses."
"Now you got it! Hold it. Hold on to it in that fist." Nat pointed to one great-knuckled hand. "Now take this in th'other—No." He peered at the demidecaliter jug Gregor balanced in the hollow of his arm. "You've got somethin' in it. Wouldn't be zubrovka by any chance?"
"Yes, comrade, it is."
"Then pour me a modicum, if you please," he said with studied precision.
The Cossack grunted, tipped a 4 cc dram of the light greenish liquid into a tiny pony so deftly that not a drop spilled. The Lamp-man took it, blinked at it. "Great stuff," he averred. "Real stuff!"
"Yes," Plovitch assented. "Now, about this University. As I was saying—"
"As I was saying," his guest interrupted, "all they do in Mother Houses is reproduce exactly natural prenatal conditions. What I propose is to expose blastula to various physical stimuli—"
"You said that before."
"So I did." He nodded gravely. "Amounts to control ab initio, you see. 'Smy idea. Stroke of genius, isn't it?"
"All right. Ask me 'bout genes. Go on. Ask me."
Ivan looked helplessly up at his bearded servant's impassive countenance, spread eloquent hands. "Very well," he sighed resignedly. "What about genes?"
Natlane curled his lip. "Don' enter into question at all. Genes determine physical characteristics, see. Shape. Height. Color, heir-skin eyes. O. K. Cerebral con-convol... wrinkles of brain govern mental capacity, intelligence level, grant you even special talents, but it's a superstition that they transmit ancestral memory, racial prejudices or even what we call temperament from progenitor to progeny."
"Progenitor to progeny," he repeated. It was a good phrase. He'd never been able to speak so succinctly, to think so precisely. "Theory of acquired—inheritance acquired characteristics, physical or mental, 'sploded long ago. 'Sail environmental. Look. Infant loves mother. Instinct, you say. I say babe's learned mother's smell, color, taste, means protection, comfort, food. See? Ed-education. Begins moment of birth. Mother screams when she sees snake—baby hates snakes from zen on. Father distrusts people different color skin. Child distrusts people different color skin. You get me?"
"Yes, comrade," Plovitch said weakly. "Now, tovarishch. About your working conditions—"
"Jus' minute." Natlane had discovered the pony he was holding. "Got to have drink." He got it to his mouth, drained it at a single gulp.
The fluid seemed to evaporate in his mouth. The fire of it ran through his veins, exploded in his brain and he knew beyond doubt he'd found the way at last to meet Riis Narghil's challenge that was emblazoned on the wall of the Dome. But he must convince this new-found friend who amazingly was unable to understand the simple beauty of his plan.
Tactfully. "You're right, Ivan. I admit you're right. We don't need ex-excorporal maturation merely to obviate educational influences. Take... take infant 'way from mother at instant of birth s'fficient for that. But what about effect of prenatal environment, huh?"
"Very interesting." Ivan tugged at his mustache. "Most interesting, comrade. But—"
"But we don't know if there is any such effect. Right!"
"—what I would like you tell me, just now—"
"Why bother about it? Zackly because we don't know is there or isn't there effect. So by obviating it, we're sure it won't interfere. An' zen, we haven't trouble persuading mother t'leave infant in our care. She hasn't developed attachment to it. How 'bout 'nother l'il drink, Gregor?"
Gregor shrugged, filled the pony, and this time Natlane disposed of its contents without hesitation. "O. K.," he launched back into his exposition. "So we've got human egg in cultural medium, just couple cells right where I can get at it. Right where it's simple matter to condition it ab initio. See?"
"Foetus is developing in nutrient medium I provide. O. K. So I find out what salt'll make it impervious to cosmic rays, f'rinstance. F'rinstance I discover that exposure to certain radiations make it insusceptible to the irritation of protracted heat—This is rabbit egg, y'unnerstan? More rabbit eggs. I'm not ready for human ova yet."
Plovitch was persistent if nothing else. "You must tell me more about all this some other time, comrade Natlane. I—"
"Time? Cern'lly it'll take time, but not s'much as you think. If hydroponists can ripen vegetables in days instead of months, why can't I speed growth of mammals in same proportion? Answer is, I can and have. Sure I need thousand more 'speriments on rabbits, but can do in a year or so. Zen, knowing all factors, I start on humans. I condition ova, grow them to mature men, women, in two, three years. Give 'em intensive scientific education, facts only, no prejudices. Give 'em intensive instruction in logical thinking. What've I got? A new race, without prejudices, impervious to physical determinants that have made so sorry a mess of what we proudly call civilization. In a decade I shall have created a hundred, a thousand, superhumans, Adams an' Eves of a new super race that in a few generations will dominate the Earth."
Natlane spread his arms triumphantly. "There you are. There's your blueprint for a world ruled by pure reason. What do you think of it?"
Ivan Plovitch's small eyes suddenly grew even smaller, and a mixture of emotions suffused his face—exultance, curiosity, and, most of all, a consuming eagerness. "Natlane, my good, new friend! You are indeed a talented fellow. You say you have had some measure of success in this project?"
"Success? Why certn'y! Last batch vrabbit eggs impervious to everything but 'specially high beta particles. I think I can fix that, too. Not stop particles. Minimize effect of particles."
"Yes, yes, my friend. And you have had recognition of your work?"
"Recognition? Heh! Why, the commander in chief himself called me into his headquarters on'y this morning to talk to me about it."
There was something about that—what was it? Oh-oh. Misery and resentment descended on him. "An' we're having a union meeting tonight and I'm gonna make the SCB give me everything I want to finish the work."
"Union? You have a strong union?"
"Strongest there is, an' they'll back me up, you bet."
Inspiration added itself to the excitement on the Irkutskan's face. "Wait, comrade! I should like to... is it possible that I could address the union myself?"
"Wanna talk to union, Plitchy, ol' boy? Why sure! Any friend of mine is a friend of mine. Yes, sir! You just come along to the of meeting, an' I'll fix you up with Olejensen, the best li'l ol' chairman you ever saw. Pleasure!" He rose and tried to click his heels. Instead the click registered, and violently, in between his ears. He groaned. "Wh-what time is it?"
Plovitch looked at Gregor. "What time is it?"
Gregor looked at the perpetual radium clock over Plovitch's head. "Ten minutes after seven, panya."
"Ten minutes after seven," Plovitch told Natlane.
"Ten minutes after seven," Natlane echoed. "Got to go eat." He let go of the chair, grabbed it again. "Got to go to Refectory to eat."
Plovitch accomplished the astonishing feat of leaping up and coming over to Natlane. He put his arm over the Lampman's shoulders possessively. "No reason for you to go anywhere to eat, tovarishch. Not while Gregor's galley is stocked as well as I know it must be. Dine with me and then we shall drive to the meeting together."
"Don' mind if I do," said Natlane, and sank wearily back into the relaxer.
"A hundredth chromen," said Jocarter, wonderingly, as the two Lampmen elbowed their way through the crowds leaving the gigantic Polodrome. "Gosh—I got excited enough during the game to drive my Lamp as blue as a lovebird without its mate—all by myself!"
Stanrod laughed. The tension between him and his friend had been eased by the spectacle of the game, in which Dem Bums had come through with a two-point lead gained in the last eighteen seconds of play. It had cost them three planes, but no lives, and every Nyorker was delirious. "Well, be glad it was only the game," he said.
Jocarter stopped. "Now what do you mean by that?"
"Why do I have to mean something?" snapped Stanrod irritably. His good-natured, blunt face softened. "Heck, Jo, all I meant was what I said. It's a good thing it was something as harmless as the game that blued us, that's all."
"What else would there be?"
"You talk like a man with a paper nose in a forest fire. You know what throws the Lamps out of chromic balance. You went to the SCB school. Wars and rumors of war—or didn't your folks tell you?"
"I'm not satisfied, Stan. You're hiding something."
"Aw, for—" Just then a man bumped into Stanrod, apologized, double took, and said, in a chesty voice—"Hiya, Stanrod!"
"Well, Gar Whitney! Hiya, boy?"
"In for very long?"
"Just a shift. Meet my second-shift spell, Jocarter."
"Very pleased to—Oh," Gar Whitney finished in astonishment as Jocarter turned his back.
Stan put a hand on his arm, swung him about. "Now look, chum; you must have a powerfully good reason for a thing like that."
"Unless I'm mistaken," said Jo stiffly, talking directly past Whitney to Stanrod, "one Gar Whitney was psyched a few years ago for a series of warlike speeches, advocating the maintenance of an armed defense force. He was also the author of a popular novel which had the same idea as its theme. It could not be suppressed, but it is and always will be a menace to the operation of the Dome. I would like to believe that he is no friend of yours."
"Now this," said Stanrod, "is the payoff. Jocarter, you're a nice guy but you're a babe in the woods."
"Jocarter," said Whitney, evenly, "you haven't heard anything about me and my ideas for quite a few years, now have you? I sounded off a good deal when I was younger, but—"
"—but there's no telling what subversive work you've been up to since you stopped talking too much," said Jocarter, flatly. "I'd much rather not talk about it. Come on', Stan." And he strode off.
"Well, cut off my shorts and call me Leggy," breathed Whitney.
"Look, Gar," said Stanrod. He spoke quickly. "I know Jo well. He's a grand guy, but he's been sheltered all his life. However, he's smart. It so happens that meeting you like this is part of a whole series of breaks that have given him a hint of The Work. He won't stop now until he finds out everything; and if he does, I hate to think of what he'll do with the information."
"That won't do. That won't work a tall. What to do, Stan? We can't let him go ahead, if what you say is true. But we can't kidnap a full-fledged Lampman either."
"This particular bull hereby gets took by the horns," said Stanrod through his teeth. "We'll get him to a drinkery and give him the whole story. No man with any intelligence will move against The Work once he knows the score, I hope."
"I hope, too."
They loped after the stiff-backed Jocarter.
Stubby's wings retracted, cushioned wheels hissing, Ivan Plovitch's yacht sat down on the Paris tarmac. As it swung to taxi, its powerful lights swept over the deep Seine ravine, where the green-slimed, muttering river wandered all but forgotten; over a dark-clad trio flattened inconspicuously against the long wall of the communal Refectory, and probed the Plaza.
Had Natlane not been somnolently replete with caviar and borshch, pirogi and sashlik and lakes of scalding tea, he might have noticed the three black-swathed figures and wondered why they watched so intently the streams of strollers from Refectory, the Recreation Building and Dormitories, all of whom had to pass their vantage point on the way to the evening's meeting.
The pungent and exotic meal had gone far to sober the Lampman. Only a dull headache, indeed, and a fuzziness of tongue remained to remind him of his bout with zubrovka.
"O. K., Gregor," he called.
"This is where we get off."
The union hall was by far the most imposing of the Plaza's buildings, an ovoid of creamy structural plastic effulgent with warm luminance. Above the wide portal a bas-relief, bathed in golden light, represented the massed workers of the world climbing toilfully up the sides of a high mountain to meet with clasped hands and radiant countenances on its peak. Beneath this three men, about to enter, turned curiously to Natlane's call.
Hand on Plovitch's arm, the Lampman guided the Irkutskan to them. "The heads of the union," he explained sotto voce, and then he was making the introductions. "Commissar Plovitch of Irkutsk, gentlemen. This is our president, Ivan. Olejensen." A blond Viking with eyes the blue of a summer sky at noon. "Our secretary, Paulkruger of Capetown and our finance officer, Niyakima. Niyakima's Expert for Kobe and I can tell you he's kept twice as busy as any of the others, stemming his people's aggressiveness."
"I don't wonder," Ivan murmured and Nat thought he detected a stiffening of the Irkutskan's back, a slight hesitance before he took the yellow man's extended hand. "Your co-citizens have a long history of truculent behavior." This was the sort of thing, nursing of old grievances, ancient resentments, that Natlane was determined to extirpate. "And of... may I say bad faith?"
Niyakima's breath hissed in between his small, sharp teeth. "So sorry must admit impeachment," he murmured, eyes black agate between their slanted lids. "But all that of the past now. No reason for truculence since all Cities have attained happy condition of closed economy."
"No," Ivan acquiesced. "No reason," and turned to Olejensen. "I should like the opportunity to address your meeting on a matter of decided interest and even, I may say, of extreme importance. I have a message—" Natlane's attention was distracted by a plucking of fingers at his sleeve. It was a girl, her face shadowed within a peaked hood. The tip of a tawny tress curled on her neck and Nat knew who she was.
"Marilee!" he exclaimed. "It's great to—" was cut off by a low, "shhh"
"I must speak to you." He could barely hear her. "I've got something to tell you." There was a tremor of excitement in her voice, and apprehension in the way her head twisted to glance over her shoulder. "Meet me behind the laboratory wing."
She was gone, screened from him by the thickening crowds that converged on the hall. "... pleasure to have so distinguished a guest address us," Olejensen was telling Plovitch, courteously. The meeting wouldn't be starting for a while. Plenty of time, Natlane decided, to find out what the girl wanted before he'd have a chance to air his grievance.
Luminance from the Plaza entered only a little way into the alley the laboratory wing's sidewalk made with that of the Refectory. Marilee was waiting far back, where the shadows were darkest. "Well?" Nat put his hand on her arm. Beneath the soft cloth it was trembling. "What's on your mind?"
"Natlane," she whispered.
"You're defying him. You're fighting to go on with your research."
"Yes, I— Hey! You listened in."
"No." The breathed syllable was barely audible. "But I have to keep a record of his orders and the one to the Laboratory Supply. I've been looking all over for you to warn—What's that?"
The hood fell from her head with its abrupt twist and a vagrant ray glinted on her hair. Her eyes, peering past him, were frightened. Natlane spun, saw only the gloomy alley, the glow of soft radiance at its mouth, swung back to Marilee. "There's nothing there."
"I thought I heard... I must have been mistaken."
"What's got you jittery, youngster? What's all this you want to warn me against?"
She still gazed apprehensively beyond him. "I don't know, exactly." Her face was pale in the half light, in the hollow of her throat there was a flutter like the heart of a hand-held bird. "It was my swing shift today, a double stretch. Just before change-over Lenorris, director of the laboratory wing, asked for an interview. He seemed disturbed when he went through my anteroom but I didn't think anything of that till, while he was in with... with Van Gooch, the chief spoke to me about something. The cutoff button must have stuck for a second and I heard him say, 'Don't let it worry you, Lenorris. I shall take care of friend Natlane.'"
She paused. "Well," Nat murmured. "Go on. What else did you hear?"
"That's all. The button came unstuck and that was all I heard, but he sounded so grim when he said it, so... so ruthless." Breath caught. "Don't fight him, Natlane. He's too strong for you."
"I can't understand any of this. It's not like him. But—he's not too strong for the—" A shadow dropped on them from above, enveloped them. It was nothing material. It was a gas, odorless, opaque. Sightless.
Natlane was blinded. He was paralysed! The black cloud sucked will from him. He could not cry out, could not move. He was blind and helpless.
He felt hands take hold of him, lift him. He felt himself laid across a shoulder. There were footfalls in the blackness. His captor was moving and the blackness was moving with him. Natlane was being carried off somewhere but he wasn't frightened. The anger that pounded in his skull left no room for fear.
From the seat they'd given him on the platform, Ivan Plovitch looked over the audience and knew he'd done well in coming to Paris. Gathered here, row on row, were men and women from every City-State, Latins from Rio, round-faced, impassive Orientals of Chungking, Monrovia's Negroes, lank representatives of a dozen North American cities, obese Munichan burghers.
Here before him was the world in miniature, all the races of mankind gathered to hear his message.
Let him convert these to his credo of the more abundant life and he would have demonstrated that nowhere on Earth would it be rejected. Ivan smiled inwardly. He could convert them, never fear. No one as yet had been able to resist the spell of his oratory, the flaming rightness of his Cause. And now, with Natlane's work—
Paulkruger, burly, dark eyes darkly eaved, droned through the minutes of the last meeting. Niyakama, the Kobean, read in high, mincing tones a dry financial statement. Ivan occupied himself with picking out the listener at whom he would talk. Perhaps that round-faced, olive-skinned little fellow like a nervous Buddha in the front center of the hall. No. His mind wasn't on what was going on. He kept bobbing up to peer at the back of the room where some latecomers still straggled in, to scan those already seated. If he kept that up while Plovitch talked, he would be disturbing.
On the other hand, if the Delhian's attention was riveted, the speaker would know he'd taken hold of the others, had them listening enthralled.
Motions were made from the floor. There was talk. Votes. All of it was a meaningless jumble of sound that flowed over Ivan as he polished his talk, tested one phrase against another, strove to recall a particularly telling parable he'd once used before the Duma—Someone was tugging at his shoulder from behind! Gregor.
"Panya," the Cossack whispered. "Something strange has happened to tovarishch Natlane. I was sitting in the yacht and I saw—"
"Durak!" Ivan broke in, flaring. "Fool! You dare bother me about that besotted idiot when I'm about to make the greatest speech of my life?"
"But I tell you I saw him carried off in a little black cloud. It went across the Plaza and—"
"Absurd!" Plovitch snorted. "Black cloud indeed. You've been swilling to pass the time away, and—"
"Get out of here, you drunken muzhik! Get out before I have you thrown out!"
"As you say, panya." The bearded giant backed away and disappeared through a small door at the rear of the platform, but he had broken his master's concentration. "If no one has a grievance to bring before us," Olejensen was saying, "we shall proceed to—"
"Brother President!" The rotund little Delhian popped up. "May I be recognized?"
"Brother Ganehru," Olejensen named him and sat down.
The sloe eyes searched the room once more, desperately, and came back to the rostrum. "Brother President," he said in his too-precise language, "I am not sure that I am properly in order at this juncture. The grievance of which I wish to speak is not mine, but that of a brother member, who appears not to be present—inexplicably, I might add."
"You know our by-laws, Brother Ganehru," said the Chair. "Complaints may be brought before this body only by the member concerned."
"I realize that, Mr. Chairman." Ganehru smiled placatingly. "However, this is a matter of the gravest importance to every person here. I am witness to evidence of a certain order, originating in the office of our respected chief of staff, that indubitably violates the most important clause of our basic contract with the Sociological Control Board."
There was a stir of attention. "In that case," Olejensen sighed, "I shall reserve my ruling until you have stated the case. Proceed."
The Delhian's flabby chins quivered and his pudgy fingers twisted at one another. The man's suffering from stage fright, Ivan thought. He would have welcomed being ruled out of order but his conscience drove him to call for the floor.
"Brother President," Ganehru found his voice again. "Brother fellow members Amalgamated Union Psychoneers of the Sociological Control Board. Article Twenty-four, section b, subsection little three of basic contract provides as follows: 'Suitable facilities shall be provided by the Board to each and every member of the Union for the pursuit of such research projects as such member shall desire to pursue during said member's leisure period,' or words to same effect.
"Now, fellow members. Purely by a coincidental accident I happened to be present when Lamp-man Natlane, a member in good standing of said Union, was denied a certain plastic required by said Natlane for a certain research project, and was informed that such denial was at the order of and on behest of Rudolf van Gooch, chief of staff of said board. To wit: It is my belief that such order and behest is in direct contradistinction and repugnant to above quoted article, section and subsection, and submit that unless same is at once protested by motion duly made and seconded in manner prescribed by Constitution, it will as I have hereinbefore stated, constitute a precedent in derogation and abrogation of aforementioned Article Twenty - four, section b, subsection little three of the basic contract between—"
"The member is in order," Olejensen broke in on the sentence that otherwise might have gone on and on to the end of time. "The Chair takes the liberty of stating that it feels the point is well taken. Do I hear a motion that the Executive Committee be instructed to investigate the brother's grievance and to protest it if it finds the situation as he has stated?"
Ganehru's mouth opened but someone in the rear shouted, "So move!" and a half-dozen cried. "Second!" before a sound could come from it. "Any discussion?" Olejensen asked, but Ivan caught his nod to the heavy-set fellow in the front row who bawled, "Question! Brother President. I move the question."
The motion was put and passed while the dazed Hindu still gaped bewildered. "So ordered," Olejensen announced. The man, Ivan thought, is such a presiding officer as parliamentarians dream of. The proposition was too obvious to require debate, why waste time on it?
"And now, brother members," he was saying, "I have the pleasure of introducing a visitor with whose accomplishments you are all familiar. Alexis Ivan... I beg pardon... Ivan Alexis Plovitch, Commissar for... for—"
"Cultural Welfare," Ivan told him, coming forward.
"For Cultural Welfare, of the City-State of Irkutsk."
Plovitch was hard put to it not to betray disappointment at the perfunctory spatter of applause. Never mind, he consoled himself, by the time I am through they will be cheering.
"Comrades," he began. "I bring you a message—No. I bring you a spark that will light such a blaze in your souls as will..."
Natlane was still blinded by the black vapor that had deprived him of wall, hut he knew that he had been carried through the open and then into some close-walled interior. He dangled over a hard shoulder, bead and arms lolling, an arm clamped across the back of his knees. He was being carried down and down, a slope, spiraling stairs.
Odors penetrated the cloud, a smell of wet rock, a dank fetor that nauseated. Their progress leveled out. It seemed to Nat that he was being borne along a passage with many twistings, its floor broken, slippery. A final sharp turn and he was being lifted down off the shoulder, was laid on some unyielding, rough surface.
The stench now was unendurable. The footsteps went away from him. There was a ponderous thud. There was silence.
"...And so, comrades," Ivan Plovitch launched into his peroration, "this is the message I have brought you. You must no longer plod the treadmill of dull, daily routine, no longer bind your God-given souls to the stodgy tasks that are but the means by which you earn your livelihood. Cease devoting your leisure to merely other phases of the same occupation in which your four stated hours of labor are spent."
He held out to them embracing, appealing, arms. "Oh, my comrades. Let me lead you to the summits where the poets await you with their celestial ambrosia. Let me guide you to the dells where Pan draws sweet music from his reeds. Strike off the chains you have fastened upon yourselves, oh Slaves of the Lamp. Raise your eyes from the mire. Fix your aspirations upon the stars."
Drenched with perspiration, limp, now that the need for breath was over, gasping, Ivan slowly, lingeringly lowered his arms.
A single pair of palms spatted. Ganehru's. Even that meager applause hesitated. Ceased.
The dead silence, the sea of stone faces, chilled Ivan. He realized their reason. These people were still under the spell of his eloquence. They were too deeply moved for cheers. It was, he told himself, the climactic tribute of his career.
Olejensen came beside him. On one side of the chamber a dour individual rose, his long, narrow face graven with deep lines. The president recognized him. "Brother Robarmstrong of Glasgow."
"Brrother Prresident," the man burred. "I wish to inquire of the speakerr preecisely what he prooposes."
The question might have been planted to lead to the Irkutskah's next step. Nevertheless, as Olejensen turned courteously to him, Ivan was aware of a sinking sensation in his cardiac region. "I suggest first that you adopt a resolution signifying your decision to engage in mental and cultural self-improvement rather than the extension of your labor hour pursuits into your free time. Secondly, I propose that you empower your Executive Committee to co-operate with me in the establishment of a University for the propagation among you of knowledge and appreciation of the Fine Arts.
"Third and last," Ivan said into a clotted hush, "I advise that you incorporate among your by-laws one making matriculation in such a University a requisite condition of membership in this Union, hence of employment by the Sociological Control Board."
Robarmstrong's eyes were the gray of steel and resting on Plovitch's face they had steel's hardness. "Thank you," he said. "We arre grrateful to yeh, Mister Commissar for Culturral Welfare of the City-State of Irrkutsk, for yourr vurry fine speech. Howeverr, I ken I speak for all when I say that yourr proposeetion does not in the least appeal to us. We believe we arre performing a vurry useful function in the worrld, and we intend to continue to perform that function without interrfeerrrence from outsiderrs."
It was true. The Glasgowan was not one benighted man speaking his darkened mind, he had voiced the thought of all. A ripple of applause grew till it was mocking thunder beating at Ivan Plovitch, beating him down.
"Brrother Preesident," Robarmstrong cried, "I move you this meeting be adjourrned."
Jocarter's lips were white. "Let me try to get this all straight," he said in a choked voice. He sat in a booth beside Stanrod. Gar Whitney was opposite.
Gar said, "Take it easy, Jo. I know you've had no inkling of this, and it's a big thing to take in one lump."
"If I understand you correctly," Jo said, "you, Whitney, are a... a military man. You are the head of an organization simply referred to as 'The Work' You are in command of a fleet of war craft, a stockpile of guns and ammunition, bombs and other weapons, all of which has been built and paid for out of public funds here in the City of Nyork."
"Check," said Stanrod. Jocarter shook his head, bewildered, horrified. "And I was born here—went to school here—voted and paid taxes here, and I never knew anything about this. I... I can't get over it, Financed by tax-book falsification, supported in secret, operated by a... a quasi-legal, undercover gang of criminals—"
"Now hold on. Criminals?"
"Certainly! There is no law in the city statutes authorizing such expenditures, in the first place. But the most important thing of all is that it is a direct violation of the letter and spirit of the Pacts of the Peace Dome."
"Now there we have you," said Stanrod. "Glad you brought it up. The Dome was established to make war impossible. 'The Work'—battle fleet and all—was established for precisely the same reason. Nyork has never attacked anybody and never will. And as long as The Work is maintained, no one will ever attack us." He spread his hands. "Q.E.D."
Jocarter turned furiously on him. "You! You call yourself a Lampman! You hypocrite! You have taken a solemn oath to uphold the Laws of the Dome. They particularly specify total disarmament. Yet you have carried this knowledge with you all these years, gone to the Dome, pretended to carry on Hoskins' Plan!"
Stan grinned. "I have, son. Cool down, now. The Dome Law on disarmament calls for the removal of all weapons and ammunition from any warring city." He chuckled. "And Nyork has never been in a war."
"There are thousands of cities which have never been in wars!"
"Therefore there are thousands of cities which are armed," said Gar Whitney gently.
"I don't believe it! I don't believe it! The Lamps would have shown—"
Stanrod finished it for him. "—that cities were arming? No, Jo. The Lamps can't show a thing except a wide emotional upset in any civic group. When an armed force is built, coldly and without excitement, and without the knowledge of the general public, there is obviously no electroneural imbalance for the Hoskins Lamps to pick up."
"But that's... that will lead to nothing but another world blowup!"
"Possibly," admitted Gar Whitney grimly. "And if it does, Nyork will not be caught napping. History has repeated, far too often, the tragedy of unpreparedness. In an emergency, the people of a true democracy refuse to realize the danger until it is too late. Nyork has been very fortunate. Now—it doesn't have to be lucky. It's strong instead. Look at it this way, Jo. As long as The Work is carried on, and kept secret, Nyork can have its cake and eat it, too. It can live in the only way possible for Nyorkers to live—democratically. And it can fight in the only practicable way—under a thoroughly organized, integrated command. The two coexist in peacetime because one of them is underground. In wartime, there would be very little disruption of the peace-time machinery, for it doesn't need to convert. The conversion has been done."
"Jo," said Stanrod, persuasively, "I'm not the hypocrite you seem to think I am. I've been in The Work since I was a kid. The Work was what gave me the international slant on things."
"And now you're a spy for this extra - legal pack of would-be murderers, worrying about a hundredth-chromen shift for fear your precious war mongers will be found out."
"I think, Gar," said Stanrod carefully, "that I have come to the end of my store of sweetness and light. This guy is all psyched up and won't listen to reason."
"He's had a shock," said Whitney, not unkindly. "Jocarter, there's only one way for us to sweat this thing out. If you go back to Paris now, what will you do?"
"If I go back? What do you mean if? Anyhow—I shall certainly go right to Chief van Gooch with the information, and have this lethal business stopped—here and in any other city on Earth where such potential murder exists."
Stan sighed and leaned back. "Well, Gar?"
Jocarter never saw the tiny hypodermic that knocked him out.
In his aerie beneath the Peace Dome's high roof, Rudolf van Gooch peered over tented fingers at three men who stood before him because there was nowhere they might sit. "Yes," he murmured. "I recall discussing his project with Lampman Natlane. I endeavored to persuade him it was chimerical, but I did not order him to abandon it."
"You misunderstand me, sir." Flanked by Niyakima, Olejensen spoke respectfully but firmly. "I did not say you gave such an order in so many words. The complaint is that you instructed the Servicemen of the laboratory wing to refuse Natlane materials he requires for his research, which, of course, has the same result."
Nostrils threaded by fine capillaries pinched, barely perceptibly. "Is that what Natlane reported?"
"Natlane made no report. The matter was brought before us, last night, by another member."
"But Lampman Natlane verified it?"
Olejensen glanced sidewise at a startled grunt from Paulkruger, looked back to Van Gooch. "No. He was not present at the meeting, nor have we been able to locate him since."
"Indeed?" The ancient's deep-socketed pupils narrowed to pinpoints. "Am I to take it that you have come to me with a complaint based entirely on hearsay?"
"We have two witnesses to the incident, sir. Current Technician Ganehru and Lampman Hailassie."
"Witnesses to a complaint that has not been made properly? My dear young man! Surely you know your jurisprudence better than that." The chief of staff smiled frostily. "No. I am afraid that I shall have to insist on your presenting a statement from the allegedly aggrieved worker before I can discuss the matter."
Olejensen flushed. "But—"
He was checked by Van Gooch's raised hand. "Before I can discuss it with you formally," the latter's low and strangely sweet voice went on. "Off the record, however, I want you to have the real facts." His fingers went to the whorled end of a chair-arm, the tip of its forefinger flattened with pressure. "Anteroom. At about two-thirty p. m. yesterday I dictated a memo to the director of the laboratory wing. Play back the record of this memo."
"Play back memo to Director, laboratory wing, approx two-thirty p. m. yesterday." The disembodied accents were definitely feminine. "One moment, please."
The familiar whirr of a file-finder came into the room, then sundry scratchings, and Van Gooch's own voice, unmistakable. "From Chief of Staff, Peace Dome. To Director, Laboratory Wing Recreation House.
"Message begins: Lampman Natlane, Chicago Lamp, Shift Three, having agreed at my suggestion to discontinue the research project on which he has been engaged, his orders for supplies therefore are hereby voided. Previous charges against Lampman Natlane's credits are to be transferred to my personal account. Rudolf van Gooch, Chief of Staff. Message ends."
The old man's finger lifted and the phono cut off. "When you have lived to my age, gentlemen," he murmured, "you will have ceased to be amazed by the distortions and misapprehensions human fallacy can impose even on such simple statements as that one."
Niyakama's breath hissed. The Capetowner's black brows knit and beneath them a dark light brooded. Olejensen's feet shuffled, embarrassedly. "Our apologies, sir. We should not have gone off half—"
"One moment," Paulkruger broke in. "I want to know something." His shoulders hulked and a growl underlay his words. "Natlane's been at that project of his six years and the charges against him must be enormous. Would you mind explaining, Chief van Gooch, your generosity in assuming them?"
The old man's lips tightened. "I do. I see no reason for any further explanation than stated in the memo." He was very small, very still, in his big chair. "Are you challenging its authenticity?"
"I'm not challenging anything. I'm just telling you to remember that I and every other psychoneer intend to maintain our right to do exactly as we please in our own time, by whatever subterfuge you attempt to encroach on it."
"Paul!" Olejensen was distressed. "Good Lord, Paul. The chief hasn't said anything to warrant that outburst."
"No." Paulkruger rounded on him. "No. Not to us. But I'd like to know exactly what he said to Natlane yesterday. Everything's too pat. That memo. Natlane's vanishing from his usual haunts. And—Wait! How about that ass from Irkutsk with his tomfool blather about culture? Come to think of it, didn't we see him in that gyrcar that was leaving here as we arrived?"
He wheeled back to Van Gooch. "We did, didn't we? He was in here, confabbing with you."
If he'd expected the chief to be taken aback by the interrogation, he was disappointed. "Ivan Plovitch," the latter said smoothly, "if that is to whom you refer, was here for some time this morning endeavoring to persuade me to issue a general order establishing a Division of Culture, with himself at its head, which should have complete authority over the leisure-hour occupations of all the Dome's workers."
"You haven't the right!"
"So I told Commissar Plovitch. And I told him that even if I had, I should not think of issuing so senseless an order." The rustle that came from the ancient throat might be intended as a laugh. "Plovitch fairly danced with frustration. He informed me that he intends to go over my head and appeal to the Board, at its conclave tomorrow. I don't think, gentlemen, you need worry about the result. No matter how convincing the man may be, the Board will never take action against my opposition. But about Lamp-man Natlane. You may inform him that if he changes his mind and wishes to continue his research, he will be afforded every opportunity to do so."
"Is that official?" Paulkruger demanded.
"If you wish, I shall dictate a memo to that effect."
"It would be appreciated, sir," Olejensen said. "We ought to have something to bring back to our members."
"Quite." Rudolf van Gooch signaled to the anteroom. "Take a memo. From Chief of Staff, Peace Dome. To Director Laboratory Wing, Recreation House. Message begins: All previous memos concerning Lampman Natlane, Chicago Lamp, Shift Three, are hereby revoked. All Lampman Natlane's orders for supplies are to be honored..."
As their gyrcar zoomed away from the inverted turret, Olejensen turned to Paulkruger. "You were pretty rough for a few minutes there, Paul."
"It worked, didn't it? I made him back down and fast, didn't I?"
"So sorry, brother secretary," Niyakima murmured, "but cannot agree you made honorable chief back down."
"The devil you say! I suppose I just dreamed I heard him dictate an order that Natlane's to have anything he wants."
The Kobean seemed much amused, in a toothy way, by this. "Why should not honorable chief dictate order? No harm, since Natlane not present to avail himself of it."
"Natlane's not the only one. Jocarter and Stanrod are missing, too."
"You don't say!" said Olejensen. "I knew they went to Nyork, but—aren't they back yet?"
"No," said Niyakima. "Remarkable coincidence, particularly since these three Lampmen were such very good friends."
"That's the payoff," Paulkruger growled. "Just what is going on around here? Who's pulling all this nonsense? There's something about Van Gooch's actions that smells. But what in time is the old mummy after?"
"Hold on," said Olejensen. "I'll admit that there seems to be a lot of dirty work around. But it can't be the chief! Why, the old fellow has an unimpeachable record. He has always stood up for us and for the democratic way."
"Premise granted. Record in favor of honorable chief. But if chief not guilty, who else?" Niyakima smiled again, arching his thin brows. "Who else has power to disappear a man? Who else would want to?"
"You have an interestingly devious mind," grunted Paulkruger, looking objectively at the Kobean.
"Is possible. Is the way I myself would handle situation."
"But why? Why?"
"Brother Natlane engaged on certain research. Possibly honored chief feels this research endangers world. Or—chief's position. Who would know mostly concerning research of Brother Natlane?"
"Why—Stanrod, I suppose. And Jocarter."
"Who are both missing." The black eyes gazed upward, then closed. "Most highly convenient," said Niyakama softly.
Olejensen didn't like it. "You are talking nonsense," he averred. "Chief van Gooch would never behave in the way you suggest. Granting for the sake of argument that so upright, almost noble, a person could bring himself to it, he would be crazy to take a chance on being accused of abduction when Natlane shows up."
"When Natlane shows up," the Kobean smiled, "we shall find abduction so cleverly managed impossible trace it to honorable chief of staff."
"If Natlane shows up," Paulkruger corrected, forebodingly.
Sometimes the finest motives are the deadliest, the kindliest acts, the stupidest—and an idealist can kill a city!
Natlane was a Lampman at the Paris Peace Dome, the only international organisation on Earth. During centuries of wars, vast numbers of humans had died, and the remainder had agreed that nonintercourse of nations was the first move toward a new world without war. All civilisation was broken up into independent City-States, whose existence was possible because of the advancement of hydroponics and the sciences of molecular synthesis, by which all foods and all necessary materials could be produced by each City, as needed.
The almost legendary inventor, Rad Hoskins, had developed the Hoskins Lamps—luminous globes in which were gathered visible signals of the emotional condition of the City-States. In the Peace Dome was a Lamp for each City. The duty of a Lampman was to watch his Lamp constantly for any shift in color. A change to the red would indicate excitement; to the blue, depression. So very sensitive were these carefully tended Lamps that the slightest temperamental change of any population would be indicated in time to set into motion the second function of the Peace Dome—the generation of neutral currents which would stimulate or depress the emotional excitation of the area. There were also facilities for putting small concentrations of soporific gases into a City's atmosphere, and various harmless but effective drugs in the water supplies. There was very little traffic between Cities, although it was not forbidden.
Natlane—(his names contracted as was the custom among Lampmen) was called into the headquarters of old Rudolf van Gooch, Commander in Chief of the Sociological Control Board (SCB) which operated the Dome. Van Gooch questioned Natlane as to his spare-time research. Natlane admitted to being very close to the development of a new race of humans, ruled by reason and not by emotion, who would, he believed, become the New Humanity, a civilised, progressive, and warless race.
To Natlane's utter surprise, Van Gooch suggested that he cease his work. Since it was every Lampman's right to do what he wished with his own time, Natlane angrily refused. Van Gooch's lovely receptionist, Marilee, tried to calm the young Lampman down, but could not. Natlane determined to go on with his work, but, in direct violation of every tradition of the Dome, was refused materials at the laboratory! He determined to bring the matter up before a meeting of the Psychoneers' Union.
Meanwhile, two of Natlane's close friends, Stanrod and Jocarter, went to Nyork to see an airpolo game, and while there Jocarter discovered the existence of a movement known only as The Work—a secret, City-owned battle fleet, army, and armament industry! Jocarter was horrified to learn that Stanrod already knew about it—was, in fact, part of the movement. Jocarter threatened to tell the Dome officials about it and as a result the two Lampmen were put in protective custody by the City of Nyork until Jocarter should see reason.
Back in Paris, Natlane met Ivan Plovitch, Commissar of Cultural Welfare of the City-State of Irkutsk, and his servant, Gregor. Ivan wanted to save the world through culture. He and Natlane had quite a drinking bout, during which Natlane told the Irkutskan about his work. Ivan was anxious to promote his own ideas through the Psychoneers' Union and asked Natlane to get him permission to address the group. Natlane agreed and made the arrangements when they arrived at the union hall that evening. Suddenly Natlane felt a touch on his arm. It was Marilee. She took him aside and warned him against Van Gooch. As they talked, a cloud of black, paralysing gas descended over the couple, and they were carried helplessly away by three men in concealing black garments.
After the union meeting, at which Ivan failed miserably to interest the psychoneers in his cultural program, a delegation went to Chief van Gooch to report that Stanrod, Jocarter, and, Natlane were missing, and to demand that Van Gooch's order about Natlane's research materials be rescinded. To their surprise, Van Gooch agreed readily.
"And why not?" smiled Niyakima, Lampman for Kobe, after they left. "Natlane wins—if Natlane ever returns to enjoy victory!"
Natlane had no time sense of the period that had elapsed since the black gas had taken from him sight and will. He knew, however, that it must now be somewhere around midday, since a beam of sunlight slanted steeply down from above him.
Still muddy-minded with the uneasy sleep into which he'd fallen after what had seemed hours of staring into silent nothingness, and out of which he'd just wakened, he discerned that the light entered through an opening in a murky, planar room. The bottom and sides of the aperture were fairly straight but the top was a flattened arch. By the angle, on the hole's inner vertical edge, of the sharp division between brightness and shadow, it was deep. About a half meter he judged. Too deep at any rate for him to make out what cut into the brilliant shaft four vertical planes of darkness.
It was beaded with viscid moisture and exuded a dank stench that twisted the Lampman's empty stomach into knots. The same fetor rose from the floor where he lay, and the chill damp had soaked through his uniform, was clammy against his skin.
Close over the top of the opening, a ceil of the same curious construction paralleled the curve of its arch and dripped tiny, pallid stalactites. Natlane's throat clamped. His skin was an icy, crawling sheath for his strengthless body!
Something was in here with him. Something alive. Menacing.
He'd heard a sudden, incautious pad of soft paw, one only, and now very faintly a susurrus of furtive breathing. If only he could turn his head—He could! It had rolled in compliance with the thought and Natlane was gaping along the mucked floor at—
She was curled in the barred pool of sunlight, one hand flung out palm down to thump stone and startle him. The dark cape she'd worn last night was a crumpled bed for her slim body, its hood for the flame of her hair. She lay on the cape like a child in dreamless sleep, but tears had traced pale lines across the grimed cheeks on which her wet lashes moved minutely with the rhythm of her breathing.
As Natlane stared, the lashes flickered and parted. Irises, more violet than gray in the sun's light, were misted for an instant, then pupils grew large with remembered terror. "Hold it," Nat said low-toned. "Hold everything, Marilee. Getting panicked won't help."
She rewarded him with a quick gasp of breath and a tremulous smile. He pulled himself up, sitting, and the girl imitated him. Her look darted to the sun-filled aperture above, about the noisome small chamber, to the niche in the wall behind her—its bottom floor-level, its arched top somewhat higher than a man's head—back to Natlane. "Where... where are we?"
He made himself grim. "Sorry, miss. I'm a stranger here myself."
"I thought you might—They caught you in that horrible blackness, too." She shuddered. "How did they do it, Nat? What was it?"
He shrugged, knew his own eyes were somber. "I've a hunch it's the stuff the Berlners used during the War of the Cities to capture unharmed and control the prisoners they used for slaves. Under the Pact, the remaining supply was to be dissipated and the formula destroyed, but apparently—The devil with that! Why worry about how we got in here? Our problem is to get out." He found he could rise as lithely as though the connection between his brain and his limbs had never been severed. "I'm going to take a look-see at that door." He crossed to it.
"Not even a handle, to give you a grip on it. And it seems to be fitted tight against the outer side of the bricks." Natlane put palms flat against the wood, shoved to the left, to the right, even up, without result. Marilee suggested trying to push it outward, added her weight to his in the attempt. They tried in the center and at either side but for all the success they attained, the slab might be part of the wall itself.
"But it can't be." the girl frowned. "We were brought in here somehow and it's the only possible way. No, it isn't!" She turned, pointed to the aperture through which the sun slanted in. "How about that?"
"I think I would have noticed if I'd dropped that distance."
"It can't hurt to see if it's a way out."
"No, it can't." Nat crossed to the opposite wall. The sill was well above his head, but he got a grip on it with his hands and leaped, contrived to get his knees to it. The direct sunlight dazzled him and then his vision cleared.
He was facing four vertical round rods of the same iron as strapped the door, pitted with corrosion but nowhere less than the thickness of his thumbs. Their ends were obviously deep-sunken in the bricks, top and bottom, and the spaces between were too narrow for anyone but an infant to squeeze through.
"Well?" Marilee called from below.
Natlane didn't answer but reached in and tugged at the bars. They were immovable as the door. He put his face close to them, peered out.
Across a wide stream a cliff rose steeply for some two hundred meters, vertically convoluted like some immense dark curtain instantaneously petrified. Mid-river a shattered talus of stones broke the glittering surface, nightmarish with blind faces, with a skewed shape that seemed to have a sardonic human countenance, horns and a beast's pointed ears, a bird's folded wings. Pressing his brow against the iron and straining to look down, the Lampman discerned that just beneath his vantage point the water ran sluggishly along a rocky wall bearded with long green pennants of algae.
The floor of the room was well below that purling surface, but there was ample evidence that in some long ago time the river had lapped this very sill.
He had never heard that it was possible to descend so near the level of the Seine save by clambering perilously down the lavalike precipices that confined it. That level, he knew, was lower if anything than before the Paris that was had been destroyed and so this chamber must have been hollowed out beneath the streets of the vanished City. He twisted to a rasping and agonized squeal.
Marilee, too, had whirled, was gaping at the embrasured door from which the squeal came. Pivoting on its left, it was swinging outward, and over the free right edge were folded blunt-tipped fingers, the yellow gray of dead flesh.
"Well, that's about all," said Gar Whitney.
For two days they had been on an extensive tour of an incredible series of underground hangars, factories, warehouses, tank farms and ammunition dumps. An entire secret city was scattered in secret places around Nyork.
"It isn't justified," said Jocarter stubbornly. "It can't be. It doesn't jibe with the Hoskins Plan, and so help me, I believe in the Hoskins Plan with everything I've got. I won't see it endangered by anything like this. Whitney—Stan—I give you fair warning. If I ever get to a communicator, I'll bust this whole dirty business wide open."
"But Jo—come down to earth! You've seen the document files. After that, how could you doubt that other Cities are armed and begging for an excuse to attack?"
"Documents? You mean that mass of fantasy you projected for me in the library? What do you think I am—a child? Any clever fictioneer could dream those up. What authenticity could they have, coming from a group of pirates like yourselves who have had years of practice in falsifying tax accounts to cover your illegal expenses?"
"He's got us," said Stanrod. "The guy just won't be convinced. And Gar—we've got to get back to Paris sometime."
"Oh—that," said Whitney. "I've done what I could about that. Sent an official police report that the two of you were in danger here and were being held in protective custody. Took advantage of the ninety-day restricted business clause in the Dome Charter. In other words, providing the City can prove you're alive and well, we won't have to state our reasons for your detention for three months. By that time we can figure out a good reason—but it doesn't look to me as if our hog-headed friend here will be convinced in three years, let alone three months."
"Jo, boy," said Stanrod entreatingly, "knock it off, will you? You can't accomplish anything by this silly stalemate. What can I do—what can I say to convince, you? We're not asking much—just that you come on back to Paris and promise to say nothing about The Work to anyone—go on about your work as if nothing had happened. You'll be a better, more watchful Lampman because of it. You know you will."
"Stan, you know me better than that. I can not and will not condone a state of affairs which is at complete odds with the oaths I have taken. You have taken the same oaths; you have chosen to put your own interpretation on them. Here's what it boils down to; I see only one way to save humanity from itself, and that's Rad Hoskins' way. And I'll do everything in my power to do it that way—if I get killed in the attempt."
Gar Whitney looked down into his hands unhappily. "Even that, eh?" he said quietly, ominously. Suddenly he looked up. "Jocarter—listen to me. If a municipal emergency comes up—if Nyork is attacked, or if you see with your own eyes that she is about to be attacked, will you believe then that other Cities are armed, and that The Work is an absolute necessity for the maintenance of peace and the saving of human lives?"
"Why, certainly. Only you'll never prove it to me."
"I... don't... know," said Gar Whitney, "whether I hope you get your proof, or not. Convincing you would be a poor reward for having to fight a war."
Gar's deep-chested tones were so somber that Jocarter's head came up with a jerk. He looked at the man with a new respect. He had not realized before that Gar Whitney was utterly sincere—that he hated war with the indoctrinated passion of a Lampman.
Crouched on the high sill, Natlane watched the ancient portal squeal open and the widening slit between its edge and jamb fill with darkness. A more material shadow clotted and detached itself, and there moved into the brickwalled cell a being shaped like a man yet somehow seeming less than a man though other than animal.
As he shambled in, Marilee backed from him, hand to mouth and a tiny, unconscious whimper at the back of her throat.
The intruder moved a half meter in, stopped and stood blinking as if bemused by the light. His face, now distinct, was like a mask abandoned by some inept modeler before the sketch was more than fairly started. The mouth was a straight, lipless gash, the nose a gray-yellow blob, the brow shoved a little askew as by a clumsy or exasperated hand-heel.
Eyes smudged into the pallid flesh by a sooty thumb found the girl, left her, to wander about the chamber, dully hunting something they could not find and were dumbly surprised they could not find.
Garments the color of dirt, their fabric so moldered as to be without texture or definition, clothed the uncouth frame. The arm whose hand had pulled open the door dangled so long that its knuckles were almost beside a bent knee. The other arm was bent up so as to support between curved paw, inner crook of elbow and cavernous chest what appeared to be a large, round plate on which something was concealed by cloth thrown over it.
The smudged eyes returned to Marilee. The mouth writhed, opened, emitted sounds spaced like words and having the inflection of a question, but utter gibberish. "Oo ay lomm?"
The girl gasped and a visible tremor ran through her.
"Deet! Oo eht ill?"
Natlane realized that, above the creature's level of vision, he was unseen, that his whereabouts was being demanded. "I'll dwaht ehtreh issee." A note of slowly developing anger entered the mouthed syllables. "Oo seh kahsht ill?"
"Kee?" The new voice was thin, quavering. "Dzheneay say pah deh kee teh parl, twah." It was Marilee's! Marilee was answering the brute in its own bestial lingo. "Kahn dzhe reveyeyah, dzhetay lah sul." Haltingly, but comprehensibly, for a growl rumbled in the fellow's chest, became syllabic.
"Seht ahn mensonge!" Somehow Natlane comprehended that. He was calling Marilee a liar. She must have said she didn't know where he was and he was giving her the lie. "Too ay mahntoise."
"May nohn!" She stamped her foot petulantly and without change of tone went on, "He's left the door open—Pahrdohn. Dzhay dee persohn netayt pazissee the door Nat ay say vray."
The door was ajar behind the hulk who mumbled, somewhat more uncertainly, "Snay pah possibleh. Ill etayt—" Natlane hunched legs under him, launched from the sill!
The corpselike face jerked up—and took a heel square on its blobbed nose. There was a bellow, a deafening crash and both collapsed atop a spatter of warm mush. Natlane flailed fists into sickeningly soft flesh that retorted with jarring but illy planted blows. "Get out," Nat gasped, floundering in a mess of sharp shards. "Marilee, get out," took pounding knuckles in his teeth and heard a thud of ponderous footfalls, a choked scream—
Was numbed by a clip at the base of his skull.
Natlane rolled, loglike and helpless, to his back. Marilee was flattened against a wall, arms out sideways and palming the festered brick, her wide-pupilled eyes on the apparition standing over him, black cloak, black hood within which was—not a face, just blank blackness!
"Vah, imbehseel!" Gesturing to the exit, the newcomer's arm was a great black wing. "Vahton! Dehpesh twa." Nat's late antagonist mumbled something and lumbered erect, lumbered out, cringing and uncouth and somehow pathetic. Within the black hood was a rasping laugh. "You are a... how you say?... a doombell, Natlane." The muffled voice was unrecognizable. "All zat stunt haf gain for you ees ze loss off your break fas'. Don't try eet again, though. Ze nex' time eet may be worse."
Staring up, Natlane saw a black-gloved hand in the fluttering sleeve of the cloak, saw that it gripped a thick-barreled, bell-mouthed device that resembled in a grotesque manner the revolvers he'd seen used in historical teleplays. "Eef you do not care for yourself, haf' some conseederasiohn for ze young lady."
Black draperies fluttered and merged with the blackness outside, and the portal thudded shut. There was a final thump against the wood, obviously of some fastening. Marilee sobbed and came away from the wall and knelt on the mucked floor beside Natlane.
Her fingers hurt, massaging the back of his neck, but movement came back to him. "Thanks," he told her and sat up out of the welter of smashed dishes and ruined food, and gazed forlornly at the tray that had fallen against the wall and leaned crazily there. "Well," he made shift to smile. "We tried."
Marilee sat back. "I'll never forget seeing him lumber in," she whispered. "He looked like a... a living corpse."
Natlane laid burning eyes on her face. "You understood him. You talked to him. What was that gibberish?"
"French. I learned it at school and I never thought it would be any use to me. I kicked like mad, but they made me take it. It wasn't a dead language they said. Even if no one speaks a language any more, it isn't dead as long as there is a living literature written in it."
"It's the language they used to speak here in Paris before it was destroyed, isn't it?"
"Yes." Marilee's eyebrows arched, abruptly. "I just thought of something, Nat. There was an old book we read in French class. 'Les Miserables' it was called. 'The Wretched Ones.' One place in it there was a description of a network of sewers under the city, abandoned sewers ancient even when that book was written, and the author told how a certain animal-like race of people he called 'beggars' lived in them. Maybe—"
"This room and the passages leading to it are part of those sewers that somehow escaped destruction when Paris was blasted." Natlane was thoughtful. "Could be."
"And maybe some of the people living here escaped destruction, too," Marilee went on. "Maybe... maybe that poor man was born here underground and has lived underground all his life without ever seeing the sun except where it peeps in through holes like this—"
"He certainly looked it." Exciting speculation pumped in the Lampman's throat. "Look here, Mary. Suppose there are a lot of those creatures and whoever is back of this knows about them and has formed some sort of alliance with them, for some purpose of his own."
"Which is how we came to have been brought down here. Some of them are morons, like the first one who came in, and a few are very intelligent, like the one in black."
"More likely there are all grades—Yeh. Yeh, the more I think about it, the more I think we've hit on something. Which isn't so nice for us." Natlane inhaled, let the breath trickle slowly out.
Marilee was silent, staring at him.
Natlane smiled, bleakly. "I remember something from school too, Mary. In mythology. About a god named Pluto who was Lord of the Underworld and who wasn't anyone you'd want to have get sore at you."
The sun had vanished long ago from the iron-barred window looking out on the Seine. Natlane could barely make out the shape of the chamber, the darker lines of the recessed door. He had sat so long with his back against the wall that his legs were without feeling and a steel band seemed to constrict his chest, but he dared not move lest he jar Marilee's head on his shoulder and awaken her.
But she woke by herself. She opened her eyes, quite suddenly, very wide, and then she shook her shining hair out. "Oh-h-h," she half moaned. "Oh, Natlane—I'm all hollow inside!"
"I'm not exactly overstuffed myself," he grinned. "I ought to be kicked for spoiling all that delicious mush."
"You did the right thing, Nat It didn't work out, but that wasn't your fault. Oh, I wish there were some way of getting word to the chief!"
"The chief? Van Gooch? Marilee, don't you realize that he's the one who put us in here?"
"Nat! How can you say such a—Oh. Oh."
"But what else could you think?"
"I thought perhaps it was someone who... who could use you and your experiments to overthrow Van Gooch. He's terribly afraid of being overthrown."
"I gathered as much," said Natlane grimly. "I thought at first that he was blocking me out of some mistaken idea of trying to help me. However—that wouldn't include a cozy little place like this." He put his hands to his head. "I've got to figure it out, Marilee. Too many things have happened too quickly. Yet they must all connect, some way." He looked down at the girl, so trusting, so strong. It was his fault she was here—she had tried to warn him.
"Nat! The door!"
It was opening. He couldn't see that it was, but he could hear the low, rasping squeal of its hinges.
Queer that no light came in. Maybe the denizens of the underground needed no light, had adapted to sight in almost complete darkness. But why was it taking so long for that door to open? Why was it opening so slowly?
Natlane pushed himself up, pulled the girl up with him. She'd caught the contagion of his sudden tension. She came up silently. She seemed hardly to be breathing as they stood rigid, staring into the dark.
There was movement within it. There was the whisper of a foot on stone. A darkening of the darkness, a presence. The hinges still scraped. The door thudded very quietly into its frame.
The whisper had been so faint, he wasn't sure he'd really heard it. But it came again, a little louder. "Tovarishch Natlane."
Breath he didn't know he'd been holding seeped from Nat's nostrils. "Gregor! Gregor, by all that's holy!"
"Shhh. Hush, comrade. We must not be overheard. I took care of two who tried to stop me, but there are others. Many, I think. Come. Come quickly but very quietly—"
Ivan Plovitch finished his address to the Sociological Control Board and resumed his seat. For an instant his thoughts fled to the events of last night, his overhearing the old-French voices on the plain, the decision to which he had come, the man and the girl Gregor had brought to the stratoyacht under cover of the night. The girl might, prove a problem.
Time for that later. Ivan brought his attention back to the group who were about to pronounce, judgment on his proposal. Around the long table every human color, every known racial type was represented. Wholly different were the countenances he scanned, yet oddly alike in the masklike lack of expression cultivated by those who have power and whose faces are habitually scrutinized for some forehint of how they intend to wield it.
Plovitch could read those faces no better than anyone else but some sixth sense developed through years of just such situations as this told him he had made a good impression. Now that he held trumps, it no longer mattered so tremendously whether he did or not; and so he had spoken simply and earnestly and effectively. The scales, however, were still only teeteringly balanced in his favor, and Rudolf van Gooch, apparently sunk in sleep at the foot of the table, was yet to have his say.
And so Ivan knew he had failed.
At the head of the table, Chiang Lee, Chairman of the Board, turned from a low interchange with Thomas Carmen of Canberra. "We should like to hear from our chief of staff."
The ancient seemed not to hear. He seemed to be listening, he was listening, to a whisper from the high back of his chair, an incomprehensible sibilance to anyone save him.
It must be an extremely important message to justify his listening to it at the expense of his superiors. It was not only important, Ivan decided, but unwelcome. The seamed lids had opened and exposed a flare of wrath.
Only for an instant. The old, tired eyes were once more secret.
"Chief van Gooch," Chiang said, a bit sharply, "we are waiting."
"You must forgive me for my seeming inattention, gentlemen." Van Gooch's voice was a little blurred, as of one whose mind is occupied with some intricate problem. "I was, as a matter of fact, making up my mind as to the Commissar's proposal after listening to his splendid exposition." Clever. His mind had been made up to opposition yesterday but his arguments would be all the more effective by this pretense to judicial neutrality. "Before he spoke, I was determined to recommend that you reject his suggestion, flatly." He spoke crisply now, sure of himself. "He has convinced me I was wrong."
Ivan's heart pounded and there was a ringing in his ears. He scarcely was aware of the brief and meaningless discussion, the vote that sealed his triumph. The meeting adjourned, the Board members filed out and he was alone with Van Gooch.
"We might as well issue the basic order at once," the latter said. "You can work out the details later. Let me see," he mused, "how shall I phrase it? Oh, yes." He'd pressed a button and was dictating. "'From Chief of Staff, Peace Dome. To all personnel. Message begins: By direction of the Sociological Control Board, Article Twenty-four of the contract between the Board and the Psychoneers' Union is abrogated, effective at once. A Division of Culture is hereby created. Ivan Alexis Plovitch is hereby nominated Staffman and Director of the Division of Culture. Pending definitive regulations to be promulgated by Director Plovitch, all nonfunctional activities of the personnel are directed to be suspended. The Recreation House is hereby closed, all wings, and will be reopened only when and if Director Plovitch so instructs. Signed, Rudolf van Gooch, Chief of Staff. Message ends.' That about covers it, Plovitch, does it not?"
"Completely. Almost too completely, for the first notice of the new arrangement. Should we not take this up with the union's officers first, explain—?"
"Leave the union to me." Van Gooch snapped, then his tone was low again. "What I had in mind was the terms of the order itself. Do you think, perhaps, that I should not order the immediate suspension of the research projects?"
"Of course not" Ivan was panicked for an instant. "That's the very crux of the whole matter."
"Yes," Van Gooch murmured. "I imagine you are right. Very well, I shall have quarters assigned you in the Staff House, and an office. When you have prepared your definitive plan, please bring it to me for approval. You may go now, Director Plovitch." The wrinkled lids closed.
There is one facet of my plan, Ivan Plovitch thought, that Rudolf van Gooch will not get the chance to approve. He grinned at Gregor, on guard outside the stratoyacht. "Any visitors?"
"No panya. No one suspects."
"Ahhh. Very good. Very, very good."
The interior was dark until Ivan closed the entrance hatch, then it lit up again. Marilee seemed to be asleep in a bunk, still not quite recovered from her ordeal, but Natlane was awake. "'Well, Ivan," he asked, "did they drop you gently?"
Plovitch twirled his mustache. "They did not drop me at all, Comrade Natlane. You see before you the Director of the Division of Culture of the Peace Dome."
"What?" Natlane jumped up. "Don't tell me the Board overruled Van Gooch!"
"They did no such thing. Chief van Gooch supported my proposal. He is at this very instant promulgating an order suspending all leisure hour activities, including all research projects."
Natlane's face went white. "Then—it's true. It was Van Gooch who had us abducted. It is Van Gooch who has that army of horrors hidden away in the sewers."
He sank down in a chair, put his head in his hands.
"Were you so—attached to him?" asked Ivan.
"No!" snapped Natlane instantly. "Not to him, personally. But to the Dome, and the ideal of the Dome, and the Challenge. Why did he do it? Why? Why? There has never been an objection to improvements in the Dome's operation. Why should there be one to a series of experiments that can achieve the purpose for which the Dome, magnificent as it is, is only a stopgap?"
"Perhaps Chief van Gooch is jealous of his power," Ivan remarked quietly.
"Yes... yes; I see," murmured Natlane. "I see a lot I never saw before, Ivan—that project of mine has got to go on! It's the only answer!"
"You are probably right," Plovitch smiled. "I've often been intrigued with the hidden, personal motives that sometimes decide momentous issues. But, comrade, you do not have to be stopped if you do not want to."
Natlane took a backward step, stiffened. "I don't—? Oh. You mean that since it's your say, you can—No, Ivan. It's swell of you, but I can't let you stick your neck out by making an exception in my case. Both the Board and the union would be down on you with all the sting of a cyclotron. Nothing doing."
"Neither the union nor the Board, and certainly not Van Gooch, will know. What I propose is to provide you with a laboratory hidden deep in the Baikal Mountains. A laboratory altogether your own, tovarishch, and all the supplies you require so that you can complete this great project of yours without let or hindrance,"
The Lampman stared. "Why? You've succeeded in stopping all research projects here in Paris, why are you so eager to make it possible for me to continue mine?"
Plovitch shrugged. "Perhaps because I like you, comrade. Perhaps because I realize that if you succeed in establishing the rule of reason on Earth, the more abundant life must inevitably follow. You accept of course?"
Natlane spread his hands. "Why shouldn't I acc—?"
"No, Nat!" Marilee cried from her bunk, and sprang out of it. "No. You can't do it" Her voice was imperative. "This fight isn't between just you and Van Gooch any more. There's going to be a battle between the union and the Board over this order, as you'd know if you'd stopped to think, and all on account of you. You got the rest of the Peacemen into this scrap whether they know it or not. You can't run away and let them fight it out while you're having a good time doing exactly what you want to do. That would be yellow, Nat. It would be a rotten, filthy stunt."
Natlane rubbed the back of his neck with his closed fist. "Geminy! I didn't think it through. You're right, Mary. You're a hundred percent right." He looked at Plovitch. "Thanks, Ivan. Thanks a lot for your offer but I'm afraid I have to stay here and tangle horns with you and your chief,"
The Irkutskan's mouth opened, closed again. He turned away without a word, went to the entrance to the stratoyacht. The lights went out as he opened the hatch, but sunlight struck in. "Gregor" he called.
"Listen closely, Gregor Gregorieff. I shall not be living here, but you will, and I have just one instruction for you. Our visitors are not to be permitted to leave this stratoyacht. No one is to know they are here and they are to be permitted no communication with anyone other than you or me Understand?'"
"Yes, panya," the giant Cossack rumbled. "I understand and obey."
Every Peaceman—and woman—not on shift or too far from Paris to return in the two hours since the promulgation of the order abrogating Article Twenty-four was in Union Hall. The gabble of angry voices was a sea of sound that subsided as Olejensen, pale and drawn, strode to the front of the rostrum.
"I call this special meeting to order." A humorless smile pulled at his mouth. "Or should I say that this meeting calls me to order, since it has convened without call? At any rate, it is now formally open. Secretary Paulkruger will read the—"
"Blast the minutes!" someone yelled from the floor. "Get down to business."
"—the General Order," Olejensen went on imperturbably, "that has brought us together. Brother Paulkruger."
The burly Capetowner was already beside him, glowering, livid. "From Chief of Staff Peace Dome," he began. "To all—"
"Skip it!" the same raucous voice broke in. "We know what it says. What we're here to find out is what you're going to do about it."
Paulkruger looked down, a rocklike figure of a man, spraddle-legged, smoldering with dark rage. "You tell me, psychoneers. What are we going to do? Accept this order and be really the slaves that snooping schemer from Irkutsk called us? Or fight?"
A low rumble as of a distant storm gathered in a thousand throats—"Out of order, brother Secretary!" Olejensen was white about the lips but his ringing cry stemmed the imminent eruption. "No motion has been put and there has been no discussion." He faced the assemblage. "I beg you to be calm, to consider this question in all its aspects. No one resents this outrageous ukase more than I, but let us not be too hasty in choosing our method of manifesting this resentment. Let us remember we have a higher duty than to ourselves alone. Let us not forget that the peoples of the world look to us to maintain peace among them. We must not, we dare not, betray that trust."
He paused and the crowd was hushed, and then a round-faced Sitkan was heard saying, "He's right. We can't quit our Lamps." A head nodded here, and there someone said, "Yeh. How can we let the folks at home down?"
Near the rear there was a flurry and Robarmstrong was pushing into the central aisle. "Brother Prresident." He strode long-legged toward the platform, lantern jaws working. "Brrother Prresident and Brrethren! There's anither issue here besides the mere liftin' o' oor rrecreational preevileges! As ye know by now, Brother Natlane is not among us. Ye also know that it was the denial o' his orderin' rights in the lab which brought this whole thing about. Na then: Chief van Gooch has retracted his order forbiddin' Brother Natlane to use his time as he sees fit. But Brother Natlane is not here to take advantage o' the chief's generrosity! Furtherr—two o' Natlane's closest friends—the verra ones who would be most certain to know his affairs—two o' his frriends, I say, are missin' too! They are Brothers Jocarter and Stanrod."
A quickly-quelled buzz of surprise and anger filled the hall momentarily, and Robarmstrong went on: "These things have a mysterious smell to them, and one not to my liking. I feel the responsibility o' my Lamp as much as anyone; but I cannot and will not worrk under a series o' circumstances that are evil and undemocratic!"
"STRIKE!" The roar drowned him out. "Strike!" It became a thunderous chant. "Strike." "Strike." "Strike," that shook the structure with its rhythmic, roaring cadence—
And cut off in thunderous silences. From the shadows at the back of the platform, thin and frail and expressionless, there came into view—
Rudolf van Gooch!
At the front of the stage he inclined his hairless skull of a head to Olejensen and in the astounded hush' his low words were distinctly heard by those farthest from him. "May I have the privilege of the floor, Mr. President?"
The chairman's lips moved soundlessly, then made words. "Do I hear any objection to granting our unexpected visitor the privilege of the floor?" The silence was unbroken. "Hearing none, I ask your courteous attention to Chief of Staff van Gooch who, I take it, will attempt to justify the order we have met to protest."
"Thank you." The chief's veiled eyes drifted over the hushed throng, and tension tightened. A smile drifted over his fleshless mask; and then he spoke, in a half whisper that was clearly audible everywhere. "Your president is mistaken. I do not intend to justify, nor even to attempt to explain the order. However, I seem to have arrived just in time to see Lampman Robarmstrong adequately answered. In the midst of this rather deplorable disorder, I believe I saw Lampman Ganehru, in the best parliamentary fashion, trying to get the floor." The thin lips formed a faint, expectant smile, and all eyes turned to the squirming little Delhian.
"Thank you," said Ganehru, rising. "Must admit to a certain reluctance in divulging certain information to this body, but—" The struggle between defiance and timidity within him was painfully evident, "Lest there be doubt in the mind of any brother here, my sympathies remain against the order in question and the unexplained disappearance of Brother Natlane. Must inform you, however, regarding the other two Lampmen, that I am most recently in receipt of ethercode message from the City Council of Nyork, who inform me that Jocarter and Stanrod reside, alive and well, in protective custody in Nyork, reasons not stated. Message checked and validity cannot be questioned." He sat down.
"So you see, gentlemen," Van Gooch said in his penetrating whisper, "Your concern regarding those missing men is unwarranted."
A wave of vacillation began to grow; then Paulkruger spoke up harshly. "Where is Natlane?"
The name was echoed and reechoed by the psychoneers. It became a roar. Van Gooch, sighing slightly, held up his hands for silence. He got it. "I know nothing of Natlane. In regard to the order, I have come here to remind you that in promulgating it, I complied with the instructions of the Board who are as much my superiors as I am yours. I had no choice but to obey them, you have none but to obey me, The order is in effect and will remain in effect unless and until the Sociological Control Board rescinds it."
The sheer audacity of this statement prolonged the silence a moment longer and before the moment ended the ancient was speaking again. "If you have any idea that by deserting your posts you can compel such a recession, I advise you to look to the rear."
Heads, torsos, turning, made the sound of a sudden windgust in the foliage of a Pleasure Park.
The wide, high portals in the rear were sliding open. Between them appeared two black figures, black-cloaked, black-hooded. They filed slowly in and behind each was a bulky, uncouth form in moldering garments, dirt-colored, with ineptly molded visages of dirt-colored, pallid flesh. The leaders went to the right and left and the ones behind followed, and behind these were another two, and behind them another.
The two lines grew, shambling along the walls, ungainly limbed, clumsy. The portals slid shut again. The black-masked leaders reached the corners, halted, turned to face inward and the others imitated them. All across the rear of Union Hall they stood spaced wide apart so that only twenty in all confronted the thousand and more Peacemen, but the twenty held the thousand cowed.
And not wholly by threat of arms, though in each doughy right hand was clutched a bell-mouthed device that obviously was a weapon of some sort. Their appearance was enough, of things human-form yet not wholly human, of blind and voiceless corpses denied the quiet of the grave.
Nor was there any threat in the low, sweet voice of the ancient necromancer who had evoked them. "These are only a few of many." Merely a statement, and if there was any emotion it was only regret. "The others are in the Peace Dome, waiting to take over every station when I give the word."
"To take over nothin'," Robarmstrong found hoarse voice. "Ye canna bluff us, Van Gooch. No one can take over the Lamps an' the Controls weethout yearrs o' trrainin'."
"Quite right," the chief agreed. "These people have had years of training. Long ago I anticipated just such a situation as this and prepared to meet it."
Paulkruger's hands opened, falling to his side, as if something spilled from them. Someone behind Robarmstrong muttered, "He's licked us," but the dour Glaswegian stood his ground. "Trained this strrange people may be," he said flatly, "boot they canna step in and effeeciently operrate the Dome. Long practeece is needed for thot, an' you canna tell me there is any place such practice can be had save in the Dome itself."
"No. There will be blundering for a time but in some manner the Dome will function. To gain your ends, you were willing to shut it down altogether. So that never again will irresponsible agitators like you try to enforce unconscionable demands with a threat of strike, I am willing to endure a period of maladjustment, and the Board will support me."
Robarmstrong knew be was beaten, but he made a final effort. "The Boorrd, mayhap, but hoo about the people o' the Cities, in turrn the Boord's masters? If we take oor cause to them, weel they not turn the Boord out, an' you with 'em?"
The ancient looked down at him, countenance masked and unrevealing. "What will you tell the Cities? That because the SCB wishes to free you from dull routine, because the Board wishes to broaden your horizons, to teach you to live as men, you threaten to bring back the horrors of war to a world that has almost forgotten what war means? You are welcome to try." His quiet gaze lifted, moved slowly along the ranks of the seated Peacemen. "And if the rest of you are so blindly deceived by this demagogue and his crew as to endanger at their behest the great enterprise to which you have dedicated your lives, you are no longer the men and women with whom I have long been, so proud to work."
Abruptly he lost his coldness, his proud poise, seemed feeble and shrunken and very weary. "I came here to defy you. I find it is not in me to do more than appeal to your loyalty—"
He choked on what sounded like a sob and turned away, and broken by the weight of his years and failure at the close of a long and honored career, stumbled across the platform. A murmur of sympathy ran through the crowd as the shadows took him.
Olejensen put a hand on the lectern to steady himself, cleared his throat. "I will entertain a motion that we accept the General Order abrogating Article Twenty—"
"Hold it, Ole!" Paulkruger broke in. "I've got something to say." He'd recovered himself, was a looming dark figure above the somber assemblage. "Maybe I'm a demagogue, fellows. Maybe I have no sense of loyalty to the feeble old man who's just touched your hearts with his plea. I don't know. All I know is that I see a line of thugs lined up across the back of this hall and that I've been told there are hordes of them trained to take our places in the Dome, and I'm blasted if I think that shows any loyalty on his part to you and me."
"You're out of ord—"
"Out of order be damned, Olejensen! There's something here more important than your rules of parliamentary procedure. And unless I'm crazy, there's something more behind this than whether we learn to appreciate music or not. I don't want to learn music or paint beautiful pictures or make sweet smells. I want to be left alone to do my job the best way I can, and I'm ready to fight for my right to do so."
The crowd-sounds changed character. They were still a mutter, but not of sympathy.
"If you pass that motion," Paulkruger twisted back to them, "if you put it on the books, you won't be accepting the abrogation of a single clause of our contract, you'll be scrapping the whole of it. You'll be giving the Board the right to wipe out any and all of it any time they get a notion to. Which is all right with me, if that's the way you want it. It's all right with me, if you want to knuckle under to this army of... of zombies Van Gooch has produced out of thin air. But don't tell me you're doing it because you're loyal to Van Gooch or to the Dome. You're doing it for one reason only. Because you're afraid. Because you're a bunch of yellow-bellied, fish-livered, snivelling cowards."
He turned again to Olejensen. "Mr.President! I'm making a motion. I move that unless the General Order pretending to abrogate Article Twenty-four is rescinded by the end of the shift now on duty, the members of this body take over the operation of the Dome and the management of Recreation House, with all its wings, and continue to operate the whole until the order is rescinded."
"SECOND!" Not one member but seemingly every one in the hall yelled it, and everyone in the hall was up on his feet, was roaring "Aye!" without waiting for the question to be put.
"Passed!" Paulkruger shouted and leaped from the rostrum to the aisle below, and his bellow could be heard above the roar that greeted him. "Now let's chase these zombies back to the Hades they came from."
He forged through the shouting crowd and the crowd fell in behind him, and surged over crashing chairs, over splintering seats in a maddened charge on the pallid figures lined across the hall's rear.
Perhaps someone barked an order, perhaps not, but the strange weapons came up in unison, jetted a black spray to meet the rush. Before the leaders reached it, the spray was a stygian, opaque cloud at whose fringes men shouted and tried to halt and were crowded into it by those behind.
At the edge of the cloud there were screams and within the black cloud was awful silence, but mob-rush cannot be halted or reversed in an instant.
When the terrible vapors began to dissipate and order emerged from chaos, twenty corpselike forms were found suffocated to actual death beneath a brokenboned, stunned pile of Peacemen. Eighteen. The two leaders in black were nowhere to be found.
Niyakima, one of the very few who had escaped that debacle without so much as a bruise or a scratch, pointed out an ironical circumstance. "Black gas not lethal," he smiled blandly. "Injuries and deaths result only of unthinking rage followed by blind panic."
Nevertheless, though the Peace Dome's four portals were at once picketed by sullen-eyed psychoneers, no attempt was made to force an entrance and take over operation. Men in black robes, black-hooded and masked, escorted out those who'd been onshift during the meeting and then clotted in the portals, and in their black-gloved hands were thick-barreled, bell-mouthed gas guns.
A tension spread over Nyork. It was nothing measurable. It took itself out in a sharp tone of voice here, a hurried step there, and in extra, unaccustomed teardrops. It showed in a lack of courtesy among the people, a slight decrease in anyone's patience with anything at all. Babies cried more—
It communicated itself to Stanrod. He blamed it on his enforced confinement with Jocarter, who had grown increasingly sullen, and sat now on the edge of his bed at The Work's headquarters.
"When is this comic opera going to end?" growled Jo.
"When you end it," grunted Stan. He began pacing up and down the luxurious little room. "And I wish you'd make it soon. I want to get back to Paris. Holy chromen!" he said—all but shouted. "I've got the jitters. Something's making me as jumpy as a goose with a pogo-stick. Haven't felt like this since I was up for my SCB exams."
"I feel all tied up too," said Jocarter. "And I don't wonder. Being cooped up like this because of an ideological impasse isn't calculated to make me break out into songs of joy."
"It's more than that," said Stanrod. "There's something in the air. I'd give my eyeteeth for ten seconds at my Lamp right now. I feel it, and you feel it, and if it's general, that Lamp must look like a stoplight."
Jocarter's answer—if any—was checked by the violent crash of the opening door. "Jocarter! You wanted it—it's here. Your proof." The coldly furious face of Gar Whitney blazed, almost, with a light of its own.
Jocarter looked up sullenly. Stanrod ran to The Work commander. "Who is it?"
"Jersey Exchange, of course." Jersey Exchange was a newer City, product of the "Do-gooders Peace," when whole new Cities were built by exchange populations from various nations. It had been a good idea, for many of the national groups which had built Cities in foreign lands had mingled with the inhabitants, to the ultimate promotion of international understanding; but some had remained intensely provincial. Jersey Exchange was one of these. Recruited originally from Eastern Asia, its inhabitants had absorbed an ancient and poisonous idea of racial superiority. They had, for generations, by every subtle weapon of ostracization and semantics, kept themselves "pure."
"Jersey Exchange—that's a Federation stronghold!" said Stanrod.
"What Federation?" Jocarter was wide-eyed.
"Is he serious?" asked Gar Whitney.
"I told you he was a babe in the woods," said Stanrod disgustedly. "The story of the Exchange Federation isn't included in the schoolbooks or in the conversation of 'nice' people. They think it's a dangerous myth. Tell him, Gar."
"Jo," said Gar, with forced patience, "Listen carefully, because I'm in a hurry and won't be able to repeat myself. For years now there has been an underground movement among certain of the renegade Exchange Cities to amalgamate. What they're after is world conquest. How they plan to manage that is—anything they can dream up. Whatever it is, it will hit every democratic stronghold in the world at once. They'll mop up the weak ones at leisure. And Nyork is the strongest of all. So we get it first. We have no allies, in the military sense. Do you begin to see now why we have to have a fleet?"
"Do you see now why I said that The Work is protecting the whole world against war, for the same reason that the Peace Dome is?"
"Fire with fire," said Gar.
"I... I don't believe—" said Jo, and stalled. "Show me. Show me, that's all I asked of you in the first place."
"Come on then," said Gar. "And come a-running."
They tumbled out of the room, into an elevator, down a winding motoramp to a gyrcar, and across the teeming, troubled city toward the Catskill base—a huge, underground mobilization place for the secret fleet. Jocarter was silent, lost in the turmoil of his troubled introspection, the crashing of his carefully schooled ideology. Stanrod, too, was silent, on his face the uncharacteristic mask of hatred for a potential enemy about to strike those dear to him. And Gar—a man of granite, now, shouldered with the myriad responsibilities of military leadership.
They never reached the base.
Out of the west hurtled a formation of glittering teardrops.
The mountain before them opened. Directly beneath them was a puff of smoke—no—condensed atmosphere—and in seconds the gyrcar heaved itself, shook.
"One of our super-compressed rifles," said Gar through his teeth. "Radar-directed. Watch."
The teardrops had become great swift shapes. As Jocarter watched, the ship that flanked the leader suddenly disappeared in a blue-white blaze, dazzling in daylight.
"It's... it's gone!" said Jocarter, stupidly.
"You'd go, too, if you got conked with one of those babies," said Stanrod grimly. "You know what atom fission is?"
"Of course, but... but that—"
"That was total atom disruption," said Stanrod. "Guided missiles. They go out in a salvo. Each one has a proximity fuse and radar identification. They won't go for each other; they will go for anything they're aimed at, and hit it, too, even if they have to chase it all over the sky. The nice part about it is that the identifying device makes only one missile go for each target, Perfectly selective. Shell A goes for target 1—unless target 1 is being chased by shell B. Very effi—Look!"
Microseconds apart, the rest of the formation disappeared in a succession of blinding flashes.
Gar Whitney chuckled without humor. "That's that."
"Is it, though?" Stanrod pointed.
From the south came three more of the ships. As they flashed above them, one, then another of them were blasted out of the sky.
"The rats. They divided their fleet!"
The third warcraft heeled, brought a nose gun to bear on the emplacement beneath them. A huge, roiling cloud appeared below, and the little gyrcar began to toss and whirl like a fallen leaf. Whitney cursed as he fought the controls.
As they emerged from the turbulence, and regained something like an even keel, they spotted the third Exchange ship, wheeling over the Bay area.
"Get him," prayed Stanrod aloud. "Get him, get him—"
In the clear upper air, it was quite easy for them to see the hatch open in the big craft's belly, and a number of white objects drop out. And just then Stan's prayer was answered. There was a vicious smash of unbearable light, and when they looked again the ship was no more.
Jocarter opened his mouth to speak, but no words came. His jaw hung slack as he saw the bombs, like giant's feet, go marching across the bay and deep into Staten Island.
"Bombs," said Stanrod. "Oh, the scum! Let's go over there, Gar."
Their gyrcar went hurtling over toward the squirming columns of smoke. Gar swung the swift little ship belly-foremost, braking with the vanes, and they dropped down to the scene of disaster. Within a second of smashing the ship, he checked it, and they settled gently, tumbling out before its full weight was on the sod of the Tottenville Park.
Before them stretched crackling devastation. Bent and twisted girders, huge jagged rents in walls, gave testimony to the vast, blind power of the bombs.
"Chemical explosives," said Gar curtly. "Good thing they didn't drop anything high-powered."
"Anyth—" Jo repeated, startled.
"It was only a test," said Stanrod impatiently. "Obviously. They sent those ships over just to see how we'd knock them out. They were trying us on for size."
"Fortunately, we didn't have to bring out any of our big stuff," said Gar.
"You mean we... you... have more powerful weapons than the ones that knocked those ships out?"
Stan's gaze met Gar's quickly. They both laughed. "New around here, ain't he?" said Stan. "Course we have, son. But plenty."
Jocarter shuddered. "Let's see if we can help anyone."
And five minutes later, Stanrod knew that he had won, knew that Jocarter realized the necessity for The Work.
For Jocarter raised his fist skyward and cursed, mouthing the words, sweat—or tears—wetting his face. "The filthy rats," he said. "The murderers. Oh Stan, Stan—"
That was after an hour of listening for cries and groans, and then clambering over and through the rubble, sweating and straining to lift masonry and wrecked plastic to get at the maimed and trapped. It was a sight of disorder and blood and agony completely alien to the upbringing of a Nyorker of the period. Jocarter said those words, that way, when he found the tattered body of an eight-year-old child.
Natlane and Marilee had seen nothing of Ivan Plovitch for hours, had seen only the walls of his stratoyacht. Gregor Gregorieff had remained outside, sleepless as far as they could determine since no matter when they'd investigated he'd been just outside the hatch, on the alert.
Abruptly the hatch opened and Ivan was entering, little eyes glittering with repressed excitement. "You must change your mind, Natlane," he began without preamble. "You must come to Irkutsk at once. We would be mad, mad I tell you, not to seize such an opportunity as no men have ever had before."
The Lampman just boggled at him, but Marilee was demanding, "What do you mean, Plovitch. What are you talking about?"
"Don't you understand, Natlane? You plan to take humans and condition them not only against the sheer physical factors that interfere with their following the dictates of pure reason, but also the prejudices, the biases they learn from their parents, from those about them. Isn't that so?"
"Why, \yes. But—"
"Among these are the ethical codes, the social awarenesses, the religious precepts that stultify the operation of pure reason. The beings you can create will be absolutely ruthless, unhampered by the absurdities of conscience and hence not to be resisted by individuals so hampered.",
"Precisely my notion." Natlane, caught up by the idea that so long had dominated his every waking thought, forgot this man had kept him prisoner for days. "Give me ten years and I'll produce a new race able to impose on the rest of the world's population the rule of reason—"
"Of cold logic, Natlane, and who will have taught them the criteria of their logic, who will have planned for them the new order they will establish but you and I? They will be masters of the world and we theirs. Their masters and so"—Ivan opened his arms to make an all-embracing gesture—"masters of all the world, our law and our logic the law and the logic of the whole human race."
On Natlane's face was slowly dawning comprehension, but on Marilee's was something of the same horror as had been there in the underground chamber when the sewer-man had lumbered in. "Let them have their little laugh at me," Ivan said, "back there in Irkutsk. Let them strip me of the petty title they've given me, the silly little powers. I've squeezed that orange dry—"
The Nyork Lamp was a bloody scarlet, the Kobe globe crimson. All along the Peace Dome's shadowed gallery the Lamps were shifting to the red. Death-countenanced, uncouth men mouthed obscenities as they thumbed frantic buttons and on the vast floor others issued orders and revoked them in a vaster confusion. Under the gallery the arcing of switches thrown and pulled and thrown again made a flickering blue glow like that of heat-lightning on a midsummer's night, their sparking a crepitation like that of a pine forest in flames.
Only in the aerie that hung like an inverted turret from the roof of the Dome was there quiet, in the shining room where an old man sat on his lonesome throne and listened to whispering voices. "Berlin calling. Berlin. A horde of single-manned aerbats darkens the sky here, circling above city. They appear to be armed."
"From Rio. Rio. Rio in panic as report gains credence an ultimatum has been received from Lima."
"Canberra. Canberra reporting. Canberra City Parliament is in secret session debating action to be taken on complaints Chungking citizens have set up colony in Wastelands within City's outer borders."
A buzz threaded the whispering voices. Rudolf van Gooch's transparent hand moved on the arm of his chair and the voices cut off. His bony fingers moved again. "Yes?"
"The Sociological Control Board requests the chief's attendance on a special session, convening immediately."
"Very well. I shall attend."
"Think man," Ivan Plovitch urged. "Think of the power that is ours for the taking."
"The power," Natlane repeated. Then, musingly, "That's what you want, isn't it? Power over the lives, the destinies, of your fellow men. Not their good, but power over them."
"Both, comrade. For one, the other is necessary. Man being what he is, it is impossible to lead him to the attainment of what is best for him. One must have the power to drive him to it."
The Lampman nodded, "Yes." He spoke slowly, thinking aloud.
"Yes, you are quite honest. You really believe that is why you want power and maybe at first it was altogether true. But once having had a little taste of power you wanted more, and more, the desire growing within you, taking hold of you like a drug. The lust for power for its own sake. The urge to make of yourself a demigod."
"No, Natlane. No!"
"He saw it clearly. Rudolf van Gooch. You don't know what has happened to you. You start out by seeking power as a means to some socially desirable end, but more and more personal power becomes your end in itself, becomes an obsession that first destroys those whose good you started out to accomplish and ultimately destroys you also—"
Chiang Lee spread ascetic hands on top of the long council table and said, drearily, "You should have referred to us the union's refusal to accept, have awaited our decision on policy before taking any action. By proceeding as you have you have exceeded your authority."
Rudolf van Gooch permitted the shadow of a smile to touch his sore lips. "As chief of staff I have the authority to use my best judgment in administering the Dome. My judgment is that we cannot permit the workers to defy us, no matter what the issue. I foresaw that the attempt would be made sooner or later and I chose to force it to be made at the strategic moment when I was prepared to cope with it to our best advantage."
"With the result that the world is once more on the brink of war."
"All the long repressed animosities, the stifling of natural antagonisms, bubbling to the surface as our pressure is relaxed. Yes. But I am still able to exert a sufficient degree of pressure to forestall the explosion for a few days more at least. Before that the Psychoneers' Union will have surrendered."
"And if they have not?" Carmen of Canberra inquired.
"If they do not, it is better we fail than that we permit our employees to dictate to us."
A babble of excited voices broke out, was quelled by the chairman's gesture. "The Board has already discussed the question, Chief van Gooch, and that is not our attitude. We have decided that the order in question is not important enough to endanger the peace of the world for, and we have voted to repeal it. You will so inform the members of the union and you will make arrangements to have them resume their stations at once."
The old man's countenance seemed to grow grayer, more like an inanimate mask. "If I do so, my authority over them will be so impaired it will be impossible for me to properly administer the Dome."
It was Chiang's turn, to smile bleakly. "We have also considered that angle. Much as we regret it, Chief van Gooch, we have decided to accept your resignation. I presume that you proffer it?"
"Your presumption is not based on fact." The ancient form straightened, armed itself with a pathetic sort of dignity. "I shall not give that satisfaction to those of you who have long desired to rid themselves of me and seize this opportunity to do so."
Again the babble of excited voices, again Chiang's gesture to silence. "None of us have wished, or planned, to supplant you, but your belief that we have is another argument for your retirement. If you refuse to resign, you leave us no alternative but to remove you."
"Again you are mistaken." Van Gooch's lids opened wide and unveiled the fierce dark flames of his eyes. "You have no such alternative. You no longer have the power to remove me."
He must, unobserved, have given some signal, for in each of the four walls of the Board Room a slit opened and widened and through each aperture there filed in a half-dozen of the corpse-visaged men of the sewers, each group with its black robed and hooded leader. "I foresaw this crisis also," Van Gooch's low, sweet voice murmured, "and this crisis also I have forced at a moment of my own choosing."
There was a long, vibrant hush, and then Rudolf van Gooch was speaking again. "You will recall that before I became chief of staff, I was entrusted with the confiscation of the deadliest of the weapons used in the War of the Cities. Now they shall be used to save humanity from itself. You will, gentlemen, be escorted to your stratoyachts and permitted to depart for your respective Cities. If any of you refuse to leave, or if you attempt to return, I shall regretfully be compelled to order the use of those weapons against you."
Ivan Plovitch slid his arm around Natlane's shoulder. "You are right, comrade, but it is Van Gooch who is power-mad. At this very moment he is engineering a coup d'etat that places the Dome in his hands, and he plans to use its machinery to gain mastery over the world."
The Lampman's jaw dropped and he stared, and then he smacked the back of a half curled fist into a curled palm. "That's it! That's what he was driving at. He practically told me that he was going to pull that. It will work, too. He can blue all of humanity, sap initiative, rob them of the will to oppose him."
"Of course, comrade. All of humanity except our new race! Except the men and women you will condition against the Dome's Neural Currents. That's why this is our big opportunity, tovarishch. While Van Gooch consolidates his powers we shall secretly build ours. While he is busy with establishing his dictatorship, we shall be preparing to wrest it from him, and when he has built his empire we shall make it ours. Think of that, Natlane. In ten years we can be masters of the world."
"Masters of the world," Natlane echoed. "Masters—yes. It can be done."
"'The devil taketh Him up into an exceeding high mountain'" Marilee murmured, "'and showeth Him all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them.'"
Plovitch's arm tightened on Natlane's shoulder. "'The kingdoms and the glory', comrade. Ours." He was a little breathless. "I have it all planned. I will say I have sent the stratoyacht back to Irkutsk, having no use for it here. You, of course, will be aboard when it goes, and Gregor will have his instructions. You should leave at once. Look here. Gregor can reach your quarters unobserved, and I can, of course, admit him to the Laboratory Wing since it is now in my charge. What do you need to take along with you to the Baikals?"
"Nothing," Natlane said. "I need nothing to take along to the Baikals because I am not going to the Baikals."
Ivan Plovitch looked puzzled.
"Nat—you have some better place in mind."
"No." Natlane's dark face was twisted with conflict.
"Hah. You reject me—me, Ivan Plovitch, Commissar of Cultural Welfare! I, who saved you from the jaws of death, who have treated you as an honored guest, who have held out to you the keys to immortality and omnipotence; I who—"
"Shut up," said Natlane very clearly. Plovitch's eyes popped. "I'm trying to think."
"Very well," said the Irkutskan pompously. "I have asked you as a friend. Now, I shall tell you. I shall order you. I shall control you, purely through the superiority of my own, realized, cultural ego, so that you may see for yourself the forces that you may develop in yourself and in humanity. Gregor! The manacles!"
The huge, bearded head popped in the door. "Yes panya." It seemed as if he nodded once, violently, and then pitched forward on his face, landing with a crash between Marilee and a purple Ivan Plovitch.
Natlane stared at the massive, unconscious bulk, and then at the door, which framed the roly-poly, smiling figure of—Ganehru.
Plovitch uttered an inarticulate snarl, and, surprisingly fast for his bulk, leaped for the door. Ganehru stepped back and up one rung of the companion ladder, to equalize his height with Plovitch's. His pudgy arm flashed up and down again, and without a sound the commissar crumpled at his feet, one great unsightly mass of unconsciousness.
Ganehru grinned. "Practical demonstration; aesthetic to an aesthetic in one easy lesson."
"Am I ever glad to see you," said Natlane fervently. "Who's that with you—Stan! Why, you old—and Jocarter!"
"Back from the wars" said Stanrod, a quirk to his lips. "Hiya, horse. Whatcha been up to?"
"Living in sewers and stuff. What's this about wars, and how did you find me?"
"We just got back. It's a long story. Ganehru, here, who seems to know everything, overheard a couple of zombies... wait'll you see those babies!"
"I have," said Natlane, and Marilee shuddered.
"He heard 'em gossiping in that gibberish they talk. Seems a couple of them had been knocked off by old bush-face here, and they had a pretty shrewd idea that you were stashed away here. As soon as Ganny saw us he proposed getting you out of the files and starting you to circulating again. Things is a-poppin' out there, but good."
"How on earth did he fold up these two fat-headed zubrovka tanks?"
"Demonstration value of my own development of science of the ancients," beamed Ganehru. "I term the device a 'dura-dorsa-digital desensitizer.' Having devised just before the recent cataclysmic edict closing the Laboratory Wing, this particular adaptation of the historical weapon of the nineteenth century, I seized this short period of relaxation from picket duty to test same. Found it also highly effective on aforementioned gossiping Frenchmen, both for control of their personalities and for removal of information."
"Good boy, Ganehru! A nice job—and, I may say, final proof of the value of individual scientific research. What, by the way, is a dura-digital desensitizer?"
"Here." Smiling, the Delhian drew from his pocket a small dural casting—four contiguous rings set in a massive little hand-grip. "Old books call device variously 'equalizer,' 'metal Mickey,' and 'brass knuckles.'"
"Yeh," Natlane grinned. "Yeh, I get it." He grasped Ganehru's hand, pulled himself out of the bunk. "What's cooking out there? What's all this Plovitch was spilling about Van Gooch pulling a coup or something-? No, Ganny, not you. You're a swell little guy, but I want to get the story in less than a hundred thousand words. Let Stanrod tell me."
Stanrod told the events of the last astounding week in a few pithy and bitter sentences. "Just before the Babu sprang the news he'd found you," he ended, "we saw the members of the Board paraded to their stratoyachts by the chief's gorillas." He laughed, curtly. "The whole mess is serious, but those black robes and hoods they were wearing are strictly comic relief. If Van Gooch thinks we're a bunch of twentieth century dumbbells to be scared by mummery—"
"Hold it," Natlane broke in. "Hold everything. He knows we're not, and the last thing he has is a sense of humor. He must have some good reason for dressing them up that way."
"I don't see what—"
"Natlane!" exclaimed Marilee, who'd been listening intently. "The three who abducted us wore them. I caught a glimpse of them just before the black gas hit us. And didn't Paulkruger just say that the two masked men in the union hall escaped?"
"Yes, but—" The Lampman checked. "Uh-uh. I think I see what you're driving at."
"They were inside the cloud, but it didn't affect them—"
"Exactly! Good girl! Oh, good girl!" Natlane twisted to Paulkruger. "Listen, Paul. We may have a chance to lick him yet. Listen to me—"
All outer illumination had been extinguished at Van Gooch's orders, so that the sullen pickets, clustered fifty meters from each of the Dome's four portals, were a clump of formless, muttering shadows huddled beneath its towering shadow mountain. There was light, however, just within the wide entrances, sufficient to silhouette the stygian figures that guarded them, each carefully keeping his gas gun in sight to remind the psychoneers how futile it would be for them to meditate an attack.
Rudolf van Gooch's arsenal held other lethal weapons, but these had proved sufficient to cow the locked-out Peacemen and he had use for them all when they should finally admit defeat, did not wish them injured or killed.
There were half a dozen guards at each portal and along the Dome's walls others patrolled against the off-chance of sabotage. One of these abruptly stiffened as a low cry came to his ears, out of the alley between the Refectory and the Laboratory Wing.
Incoherent at first, it took on significance. -"A moi. Secours—"—and choked off.
The cry for help had been in French, must have come from one of the sewermen. How he'd come to be in the alley was a puzzle, but he must be rescued first, then questioned. The guard darted across the Plaza and into the black passage—was tripped by a wire across its mouth.
He plunged headlong, hit the paving, was smothered under human weight. A fist pounded the base of his skull, blanked him out.
The watcher patrolling the beat to the East had noticed nothing. The one to the West, however, had glimpsed the sudden flitting of his sidekick to the alley, had heard muffled sounds within it. He hurried there, halted as he saw a black form emerge and come to meet him.
He waited for the other to come close. "Pourquoi—?" That was all he got out before a gas gun butt thudded on the point of his jaw and he lost all further interest in the proceedings.
A second shadow dashed from the alley mouth. There was a swift rustle of black fabric. By the time a third guard, having seen enough of this to be curious but not quite enough to be really alarmed, hurried along the Dome wall to investigate, two masked and cloaked figures ran to meet him.
He realized all was not well, got off a jet of gas before they reached him, but they plunged right through it, their stolen masks saving them from its effects. The third of Van Gooch's minions was stunned and disrobed, and this little tussle had occurred so close to the wall it was unobserved.
The fourth guard met his neighbor at the juncture of their respective beats, and oblivion in almost the same instant. A fifth and a sixth as easily.
Perhaps twenty minutes after this stealthy series of incidents, the sergeant of the watch at the North portal, the one nearest the Plaza's buildings, observed that the pickets were edging more and more closely to the deadline they'd been warned not to cross. "Défendu!" he barked. "Eet ees not permeet'." Instead of retreating in panicky realization of trespass, as they always had, the crowd surged nearer. "Get back! Get back, zere!"
The dark mass was over the line. The sergeant snapped an order. His gas gun and his men's came up, vomited their charges. He blinked into the black cloud. It required one's eyes a second to adjust to the change, blinked again as he saw shadows in the cloud, not fallen but plunging through it, six shadows and one was leaping for him, its arm flailing up, pounding down on his skull—and Jocarter had never believed in violence!
"That's that," Natlane grunted, and looked for the others. He found Paulkruger, burly body unmistakable even in its grotesque trappings; Hailassie, tall and spare. The three others were each straightening up from a fallen foe and the gas cloud was still about them, concealing them from anyone unprovided with the masks that not only protected one from the gas but gave one sight in it. "O.K., gang. Shake it up."
Natlane bent again, heaved up the man he'd accounted for, stepped through the cloud and yielded the limp body to waiting, eager hands, hurried back to the portal. His companions joined him. "Take it easy, fellows," he muttered. "It would be just too bad if something slipped now. Take it easy and slouch the way you saw the guards doing, while we see how the land lies."
The interior of the Dome was a turmoil of confusion, its ordered hustle a chaos now, but it was the effort to cope with their unfamiliar tasks that agitated its occupants, not any suspicion that all was not well at the North gate. The corpse-faced switchmen nearby, the current dispatchers, were far too occupied to have noticed the little flurry of activity here.
Even if one happened to glance this way now, he would see only six black-swathed figures indistinguishable from those whom they had replaced. The darkness blanketing the open doorway would from any distance appear to be merely the night.
The cloud was already thinning a little. A hand touched the sleeve of Natlane's cloak. "Have yeh noted, lad," Robarmstrong's voice murmured, "the row o' gyrcars parrked not ten meterrs behind us?"
"Yeh, yeh. Pass the word to the others that we'll use the two at the left, you, Olejensen and Ganehru in the first, the rest of us in the second. I don't see any guards inside the Dome."
"Nor do I. They seem all to be at the otherr portals or parradin' the walls." Robarmstrong moved away and was whispering to Paulkruger. Natlane peered out into the murky haze, shuffled feet nervously. So far, so good, but there was still time for a thousand things to go wrong. Suppose one of the stunned guards came to? Suppose someone stumbled over—?
"All right, Nat." Robarmstrong was back. "They underrstand."
"I was just thinking—maybe we should have pulled this same stunt at all the portals, one after the other."
"Maybe, but it's too late now to change ourr plans." They waited, tenseness an electric tingle at the napes of their necks, a shortness of breath, a dryness of mouth. "All richt, lad," the Glaswegian whispered. "With this breeze, therre's not enow o' the gas left to trrouble a mousie."
Natlane's heart bumped his ribs and his lids narrowed. The air out there was clear again. The crowd, behind the deadline once more, had grown tremendously with accretions from the coverts afforded by the Plaza's structures. He filled his lungs, swung up a beckoning arm.
Rudolf van Gooch was tired. His brain was clogged with the toxins of fatigue, weariness was a sickness in his bones. In years he had never really slept, had achieved all the recuperation he required by letting himself sink at odd moments into a semi-trance out of which he could come at will, fully aware of all that had passed about him while he had been in it. Now, for six days and nights, these periods of surcease and renewal had been denied him. For six interminable days and nights the complete alertness of all his faculties continuously had been demanded of him lest the world burst into flames.
The recalcitrant psychoneers could not last much longer. Even though, oddly enough, the Paris area was the one region on the face of the Earth whereon the Dome's currents could not be made effective, too close, unfortunately too close to the Dome to permit of the vibrations being focused, their obduracy must be nearing its limits.
By morning, surely by morning they would come crawling back, beaten and subservient to his will, and he should have won his gamble for empire. By morning he could let himself sleep.
Sleep. If only he could let himself sleep for an hour. He was very old. The weight of his years was heavy upon him. If only he could permit the dark flood of sleep to well up into his brain and possess it for thirty blessed minutes of oblivion—
If only he dared sleep for fifteen minutes, a fleeting quarter hour, he would waken refreshed, rid of this terrible fatigue, rid of this leaden sense of something threatening, of peril overhanging him like a great, dark wave, looming over him.
Natlane's uplifted arm signaled the crowd. A cheer started, was quickly quenched. The throng was surging forward. It was over the deadline and in its forefront were six black hooded men. These reached him. He snapped to them to make for the two gyrcars at the right end of the waiting line, "The West Portal, remember."
Behind him was the whirr of a gyrcar, taking off. Natlane turned and was running to where Paulkruger was climbing into another. Natlane was scrambling into the gyrcar and behind him—below as the car leaped into the motion—was a muffled thunder of footfalls.
Hailassie had the controls all out. A wind of speed whistled past Natlane and on the wind were shouts of long-pent wrath, screams of sudden terror. They were level with the Gallery and Natlane saw three psychoneers trample into a cubicle, saw an ungainly form go down under their blows. "The Lamp," he yelled. "'Ware the Lamp," as the cubby shot behind. Hysteric laughter ballooned in his chest. It was funny that his thoughts even now were for the precious lumispheres.
"Ivan was right," he chortled. "We're just slaves of the Lamp."
The gyrcar zoomed down on a long, fierce slant for the East Portal. Below another car was just landing and three black figures leaped from it. Six others twisted to them from within the entrance embrasure. His own car alighted and Natlane was out of it, was throwing himself into the black cloud that had shrouded the nine black shapes.
His arm rose and fell, rose and fell, jarring with the pound of his gas gun's butt on hooded bone. Fingers grabbed it and Robarmstrong's shout was in his ears. "All richt, lad. All richt. They're doon. Back to the car."
They were flying again and the floor below was a helter-skelter of grotesquely limbed, awkward men running from, pursued by, ones in the blue-green uniforms of Peace-men. They were slanting down to the South Portal but there were no guards within its high arch.
The gyrcar zipped through the opening, lifted again, outside the Dome. There were the guards! They were fleeing across the dark and desolate tarmac, terrified little figures in black, fleeing from doom—
The dark wave piled higher, and still higher. It was a monstrous black menace blotting out the dark sky. Rudolf van Gooch stared up and up and up again to its summit and that monstrous crest was arching over, was a terrible canopy over him, and he was unable to move, unable even to cry out.
The wave broke—!
Van Gooch woke in a cold sweat of terror. It was a dream. It was only a dream. He'd forgotten what it was like to dream. He must still be dreaming. Though he'd given no permission for it, the irised entrance to his sanctum was a gaping black hole in its iridescent wall and toward him across the brilliantly shimmering floor ran six black robed men.
His guards. They had no right to enter here without permission.
They were here in front of him, halting. "What's the meaning of this?" the chief demanded. "I did not give you permission to enter."
"You're giving no permission to anyone to do anything any more, Van Gooch." The tallest of the four ripped away his mask and the face revealed was Olejensen's. "You depended on the loyalty of the men you posted to protect you, but you forgot that loyalty to a man rather than to an ideal lasts only as long as the man has the wherewithal to buy or the power to enforce loyalty." The others were unmasked now and they were the switchman named Robarmstrong who'd defied him in the union hall, the other termagant, Paulkruger; Stanrod, Jocarter, and—Natlane. NATLANE!
"You're through. Van Gooch, You're licked."
"Natlane!" the old man whispered. "Oh, you fool! You will destroy the Dome, and the world with it!"
"No, Van Gooch. I intend only to keep it at peace."
"Peace, you young idiot? You will loose a new race on the world, and you or your successors will control that race—and the earth. You are mad for power. You will get it, and destroy the world, and yourself with it."
"Even as you have, Van Gooch?"
"I? I have no use for power! All I wanted was to save the world as quickly as possible in the way I thought was best."
Natlane spread his hands and grinned, not unkindly. "Jo—you hear that?"
"That's it, Nat."
Natlane turned to the oldster and shook his head sadly. "Van Gooch, you ought to know this. I have been fighting a lot of things—the stubbornness of my kind of detailed research, and you, and those dough-faced thugs of yours. But the toughest fight I have had was with myself—with my own ideas. Thanks to Jocarter here, I have finally shaken them down. Jo had ideas, too. Jo wanted the Dome, and only the Dome, to control the world. He couldn't see anything else but that. That was what he thought was the right thing to do, to save humanity from itself. He learned—the hard way—that it is a way to save us. Not the way. See? Right, Jo?"
"Right," said Jocarter in a strange voice. "World conquest, by force, or by politics, or by science—it's all the same—all bad. I saw some of it. I... they killed little kids."
"You know." said Natlane, "when I heard about that, everything fell into place. I got your number. Van Gooch."
"I was trying to protect the world from you, Natlane—and you from yourself."
"Mighty nice of you," said Natlane, and laughed. "I felt all along that there was some similarity between you, and that idiot Plovitch from Irkutsk—and myself. When I heard Jocarter's story, I realized what it was. Each of us was bent on saving the world in his own way—which is good. What was bad was that we all wanted to save the world only in our own ways. See what I mean? Plovitch with culture; I with my new race; you with your own established organization; Jocarter with the same thing. All of you wanted more and more power to do the job. Plovitch was going to make humanity culturally rich if he had to beat it into them with pile drivers. Jocarter here would have given anything for the power to force the Dome on the world, fifty times as powerful as it is, purely to make the Dome the savior of the race. And I—"
"You will have the power now, and heaven help the—"
"I'll have nothing of the sort. You were right, Van Gooch. You saw my error; for me you knew that there was disaster in the creation of a new, emotionally impervious race, conditioned by one man's ideas. You applied the principle to me which you couldn't apply to yourself."
Van Gooch's eyes seemed to sink even deeper into their sockets. "You've—changed, then?"
"I've changed. The Dome will hold humanity in check until it matures enough to work out its own salvation. I shall see that it does."
"You will be as great as Rad Hoskins," murmured the ancient. "But—" Then no further sound came from the ancient mouth. The blade blur of night was in his eyes, creeping over his brain. Rudolf van Gooch sank into a night that would never end.
Three months later Jocarter appeared at the anteroom of the control sanctum.
"Hi, Marilee. The chief busy?"
"Not too busy for you." She smiled swiftly at him and touched the edge of her desk.' "Jocarter to see you, chief."
"Send him in!" said the desk.
"Good morning, chief."
"Don't call me chief, ol' horse. Pull up a section of floor and siddown."
"Yes sir... er, Natlane." Jocarter stepped forward, smiling a little diffidently, and sat in the soft chair which appeared magically for him. "I just want to report that Jersey Exchange is blued off and well under control."
"Good. How are you doing?"
"Fine. Very busy."
"I'm not. Not busy. But I envy you, Jo."
"You envy me!"
Nat's voice was haunted. "This room. Big, Jo, and empty—and heavy on my shoulders, if you see what I mean." He shook himself. "I sometimes wish the Board hadn't drafted me—"
"You're doing all right."
"Yes, but—Jo, this thing can't go wrong. We mustn't let it ever slip again. Listen. I want you to keep your eyes and ears open. If you ever see the slightest sign of our work going astray the way it did with Van Gooch, let me know' and I'll take measures... what the devil are you grinning at?"
"You, Nat. Nat, pull up. You want me to spy around, is that it? You trust me—now. A little later, I would have to be watched—just so you'd be on the safe side. Then you'd better get an underground crew—say The Sewer Dwellers—to make sure you'd have an ace up your sleeve just in case somebody wanted to take over who thought he knew how to save the earth from humanity—"
Nat turned pale. "Great Hoskins, have I got the disease, too?"
"Occupational disease, pal."
Nat took a deep breath. "I'll watch it." He looked up at the vast, vacant ceil. Suddenly he pressed a button.
"'Memo to Maintenance Division. Message: Installation for Sanctum, to be executed immediately.
"One: Constant recording to be made of all conversations and other business transacted in Sanctum. Said recordings to be filed in all public reading rooms within thirty days of recording, and to be made freely available to the public.
"Two: Following cold light inscription, lettered in duplication of that on the Dome wall, to be installed on ceil of Sanctum: 'One thing alone defies man's skill and his will. One sole thing man cannot change—the fundamental nature of man.'"
Roy Glashan's Library.
Non sibi sed omnibus
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