Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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The road to liberty is long and perilous, but Dikar must
lead his warrior Bunch down it swiftly—if America is
to see again the bright sunrise of her matchless heritage.
"WHY don't they come, Normanfenton?" Dikar asked the tall, loosely built man beside him. "What are the Asafrics waitin' for?" They were standing in front of a gray, grim building and it rose almost as high, it seemed, as the Mountain that, till two nights ago, had been all the world Dikar and the Bunch knew
"Why don't they come to punish us for what we have done?"
Two nights ago the Boys and Girls of the Bunch, with the Beast Folk from the tangled woods below the Mountain, had fought to take from the Asafrics this great gray building and the other gray buildings that made up West Point.
A pitiful few against the black- and yellow-faced many, with bows and arrows and knives against rifles and huge guns, they had fought and won. But the loom of these walls was now a gray weight overhanging Dikar, and a heavy dread of what brooded beyond the hills had taken the place of the blazing joy of that victory.
"Maybe they don't quite believe we have done it, son." Normanfenton's massive head, black-bearded, lined with worry and sadness, did not turn to Dikar "Or maybe they're waiting to find out how we did it, how strong we are and what weapons we have."
From under the dark, bushy brows thoughtful eyes watched the bustle on the grassy, flat field that stretched before them, ten times as big as the Clearing on the Mountain. "From what the farmers who have been flocking in here have to say, not many of the black soldiers who escaped us can have gotten through to New York. All over the countryside they were waylaid that night, their throats cut, their bodies hidden."
"At least we have accomplished that much, sir," Walt put in from the other side of Normanfenton. "Our people would not have dared even to scowl at an Asafric, much less lay a finger on one, before we pulled this thing off. At least we have given them courage."
"Courage?" Normanfenton's gnarled hand, bigger even than Dikar's, closed slowly into a fist. "God grant that it does not turn out to be only rashness we have inspired in them, that we have not merely brought on them even worse cruelties than they already have had to bear.
"I am not at all sure, this morning, that this adventure of ours is anything but sheer madness. We are still without news from beyond the circle of cannon and machine-gun nests that give us a little safety here."
"We ought to hear something pretty soon." Walt came only to Normanfenton's shoulder. "I've just come from where Colonel Dawson and his men have been working to rebuild the radio."
When Dikar first brought him to the Mountain from the woods below it, Walt had looked and smelled more like an animal than a man, his rags crusted with dirt, his eyes, somehow both frightened and fierce, peering out of a mask of matted hair. "They hope to have it in shape very soon now, and then we'll be able to get in touch with the Secret Net." Now he had scraped the hair from his hollow cheeks and lean jaw, and in West Point had got new clothing to wear, gray-blue with shiny buttons. "But the waiting is hard, I'll grant you that."
"Yes," Normanfenton sighed. "The waiting is hard." He too was dressed in one of the gray-blue uniforms great piles of which had filled a stone house at the other end of the big field that was called the Plain. "But I have a notion that it is a good omen—to be waiting here."
"A good omen, sir?"
"If history does repeat itself." The big, gnarled hand gestured to the scene before them. "Look at the men drilling out there. More than two hundred years ago other men marched and countermarched on that very Plain, their commander-in-chief a man named George Washington.
"Look at the women and children and old men crowded around watching, no longer sodden with despair, hope dawning in haggard faces that so long have known no hope. Just so must the Colonials have looked who watched Washington's men."
"I see what you mean, sir," Walt's face lit up. "The parallel is amazing. Look. The Continentals had their Indian allies and we have Dikar's Boys from the Mountain, strolling about half-naked, knives in their belts, bows in their hands and quivers slung over their shoulders."
WHEN they'd first found the store of gray-blue clothes, the Beast Folk, throwing away the rags that hung rotting from their starved bodies, had sung and danced with joy in their brave, new dress.
But not so the Boys and Girls of the Bunch. They had liked the shining buttons and the color of the uniforms, but the stuff had itched their skins and cramped their limbs, and they had torn it off again, refusing to have any more to do with it.
"Yes," Normanfenton agreed. "Do you recall, Walt, that Washington once wrote about this fort where we are starting our own rebellion? 'It is the key to America.'"
The Bunch had wanted to stay the way they'd always been on the Mountain; the Girls wearing only thigh-length reed skirts and circlets woven from leaves to cover their deepening breasts, the Boys only small aprons of twigs split and deftly plaited. Dikar could not yet quite understand why Normanfenton had said no, but Normanfenton was the leader and he must be obeyed, and so they'd worked out what Walt called a compromise.
In the little stone house there far across the Plain that had been given the Bunch for their own the Girls took from their beds soft, white cloth and cut this into short lengths and wound the strips about themselves. When he saw one of these wrappings on Marilee, Dikar's gray-eyed mate, Normanfenton had called it a sarong, but Dikar knew only that Marilee was no less beautiful than before, and that she thrilled him as always.
He himself had led the Boys up on the wooded hill beyond which curved the farthermost line of pillboxes, and had brought down a fawn with a single arrow. Scraping the hide clean, he had draped it up over his right shoulder and about his trunk and thighs.
"'The key to America,'" Walt repeated. "Yes, I recall reading that."
Dikar's broad brow furrowed. He had learned since they came here that a key was a little iron that would make a door open, but he couldn't figure out how West Point could be that.
Biggest of the three, broad-shouldered, his spread legs stalwart as two saplings, his lean belly plaited with flat muscle, he was a puzzled youth trying to understand the talk of two oldsters.
The fawn's fur lay golden-brown against the living bronze of his skin, sun-dusted with gold. His thick mop of hair and silken young beard were bright-golden, and the clear, deep blue of his eyes was gold-fringed by their long lashes.
"And you recall that those who held this key," Normanfenton was saying, "were as poorly equipped, as meagerly trained as we are, that they faced an enemy as powerful. But they won liberty for America."
"They won it, yes." Though there was sunlight upon it, a shadow darkened Walt's gaunt face. "But their descendants lost it. America had grown great, so great that we were certain none would dare to attack us. We forgot the warning that 'eternal vigilance is the price of freedom.' And so, when the black and yellow hordes swept up from under the round of the world, we were unprepared, and though we fought desperately we were beaten, and liberty was dead in the land."
"Not dead, my boy," Normanfenton said softly. "Only chained. If they who once gathered here were not dismayed by the appalling odds against them, why should we be? With faith in God and ourselves—" A cry broke in on him.
IT was a deep-toned howl that filled the air with fear, that rose and fell and rose again and broke the gray lines of marching men, broke the close-packed border of watchers into dark fragments scurrying toward the gray buildings like brown leaves driven by some sudden storm wind.
"'Plane!" Dikar sent his deep-chested shout ringing across the field. "'Ware plane!" Someone of the Bunch might not know, might have forgotten what the siren meant. "'W-a-a-re plane."
The other two dived into the safety of the great building behind them but Dikar leaped out into the rushing crowd. He was threading deftly through it, was running lithely toward the long, low House, far across the wide and open field, that was the dwelling of the Bunch.
Beneath the siren's howling a little girl whimpered in fright. A little boy cried out, thinly, "Mom! Where are you, Mom?"
Dikar's throat went dry and he was cold all through, remembering, out of a Long-Ago vague as the memory of a dream, a little boy that was himself crying, 'Mom! Where are you, Mom?' as Dick Carr ran through a city's night-swallowed streets, cries of other little children all about him, over him a siren's howl, rising and falling and rising again and filling the dreadful night with the last alarm that city was ever to know.
All of a sudden the Plain was empty except for Dikar loping across its wide green. The wail of the siren was fading and Dikar heard now a new sound somewhere in the over-arching blue, a low hum such as the wild bee makes.
As he ran, Dikar looked up to find the thing that made the sound. He saw long black fingers lift above a jagged roof-edge to point slantingly southward, saw in the sunny south sky a tiny black speck that grew even in the instant he saw it. It grew and became a black hawk soaring on outstretched, motionless wings, became a black and threatening plane small-seeming enough to be held on his two spread hands.
And Dikar remembered, out of a Long-Ago Time of Fear, just such planes flying high over a doomed city, remembered the death that had dropped from their bellies, the thunder of death that had shaken the city beneath him. And Dikar was young, and he did not want to die.
THUNDER boomed in the sky as Dikar ran. The thunder came from the guns on the rooftops. Little puffs of white cloud spotted the blue around the black plane, but it came on.
It was climbing upward on a long slant. More cloud-flowers blossomed in the sky. Soft and white, they trailed the black bird across the blue, but the plane was lifting itself above the reach of the guns.
Dikar felt the coolness of shadow about him and knew he had reached the little House toward which all this time he'd been running. He stopped, stood staring upward.
"Dikar!" a clear, sweet voice cried his name from inside the House. "Dikar, you big silly, stop standin' out there. You'll get hurt."
"No, I won't, Marilee." A white pole rose straight and proud out of the middle of the Plain and from its high top waved a bright flag, striped white and red, and star-spangled on deep blue. "The plane's too high up to hurt anybody."
Circling now in the sky above the flag, the plane looked no bigger than when Dikar first saw it, so he knew it must be awful high. The guns, too, knew it was so high there was no use their trying to reach it and so they had stopped thundering. "It's just flyin' around and around, like the baldy eagle that has its nest on the dead pine at the Mountain's tip-top."
"The little birds hide when the baldy eagle's in the sky." Marilee's voice was very near. "But you haven't the sense of a sparrow."
Dikar turned and saw her coming out of the House's deep stone archway, her brown hair sweeping down over her shoulders, sweeping down about her warm, brown slimness to her sandaled, tiny feet. "Come inside, you big ninny." The sun made red glints in Marilee's hair, and anger made red glints in the gray of her eyes.
"Get inside yourself," Dikar exclaimed, his throat suddenly tight with fear for his mate. "Get back inside, you little fool!" He had hold of her and was half-pushing, half-carrying her into the dark inside the House. "You're a nut, comin' out—"
She twisted loose from him, was a slender shadow in the shadows. "I thought the plane was too high to hurt anybody," she panted, "or am I wrong thinkin' I heard you say it is?"
"I said it is." Dikar tried to grin, but his lips were still stiff. "An' I'm sure it is." He could see her better now. "But it might swoop down, an'—Gosh, Marilee! You're beautiful when you're mad." His arm slid around her warm, soft body, drawing her to him and all of a sudden she was trembling against him and there was a sob in her breast.
"Oh, Dikar," Marilee sobbed. "When I saw you runnin' across the Plain, all alone... Why did you do that, Dikar? Why didn't you go right inside the Big House where you were, like all the others did when the siren started?"
"Because you weren't in the Big House, there across the Plain where I was. You were here, and if the danger came true, I wanted to be here with you, to protect you if I could or to die with you if I couldn't, because without you I do not want to live."
Very simply he said this. In that Long-Ago Time of Fear when the Old Ones hid the Bunch on the Mountain from the Asafrics they were little children—Dikar, the oldest of them, only eight.
Soon after, the Old Ones were buried under the fall of the slanting hill along whose top had run the only way to reach the Mountain without help. The Boys and Girls of the Bunch, growing up without any older person among them, had kept the simple ways, the simple speech, of their childhood. Its simple frankness. There had been no one to teach them to be ashamed of speaking out their thoughts, their deepest feelings.
"I wouldn't think life worth livin', Marilee, with you dead."
"I know that, Dikar." Marilee's head lifted from Dikar's chest and her eyes were brilliant. "But you have no right to risk losin' your life just for me. You don't belong to me any more, or even to the Bunch of which you were Boss so long. You belong to the Far Land now, to the land for which that flag stands."
She pointed out through the doorway into the brightness. "You are too important to America to risk losin' your life just on account of me."
THE black plane was no longer circling the sky above the flag. It had flown over the hills to the west and even its hum was gone from the sky. Doors were opening all around the Plain, and people coming out.
"No, Marilee," Dikar answered, and his tone was low, troubled. "I am not important to America at all. Look. The guns kept that plane so high that it could do us no harm. Could our bonarrers have done that? Of course not. That is how little use I am now, in all that has to be done before America is freed."
"But Dikar, you were a fine Boss on the Mountain, a wise leader—"
"Wise enough as Boss of the few Boys and Girls I knew as I know myself, on the Mountain whose ways I know. But the people of this Far Land are strange to me, the ways of this land strange ways. The beginnin' of bein' wise is in knowin', and it's Normanfenton who knows the ways of the people, of the land. It is Normanfenton who must be wise for us now, Normanfenton who must lead us. Don't you see that, Marilee?"
"I can see that you can't be Boss any more, but you can fight."
"With what? My hands? This knife in my belt? I am not needed any more."
"No." Marilee laid her little hand on his arm, her face very serious. "But I've got a feelin' there still is work only you can do, an'—Oh!" Her eyes widened, looking suddenly past Dikar to where there was a sudden shuffling footfall in the doorway. "There's a man."
One of his legs was stiff and dragged after him as he shuffled in. He stopped in front of them, blinking the outside brightness out of his eyes. Dikar made out on his forehead a healed burn in the form of a star, the mark the Asafrics made with hot iron on the brows of those whom they let out of their concentration camps.
"I be lookin' for someun called Dikar," the man mumbled, peering. Deep within his eyes a glow smoldered like that which shows in the ashes of a dying fire.
"I am Dikar."
"Yeh be? Then I'm ter take yeh ter th' Commissary. He needs yeh."
"He needs—" Dikar looked at Marilee, muttered, "It would be funny if you turned out to be right." Then he was saying to the stooped-over man, "Come on. What are we waitin' for?"
In a little while, Dikar was striding back in again through the arched doorway of the house that had been given the Bunch to live in, and he was smiling as he had not smiled since the morning after the fight that took West Point.
Noise met him in the narrow, stone-lined, stone-floored passage, laughing cries of young voices and a quick pat-pat of running bare feet on stone; and then he was in the big, sunny room that was between the room where the Boys slept and the one where the Girls slept. A slight, beardless youngster darted in and out among the tables and chairs, dodging a red-bearded bigger Boy who doggedly chased him.
"Go it, Carlberger," the other youngsters shrilled, and deeper voices yelled, "Get him, Timohare. Grab him!" choking with laughter. The Girls, brown-limbed and sparkling-eyed, impartially cheered both or gave tiny squeals of alarm as Timohare crashed into a chair Carlberger threw in his way, or Carlberger twisted just in time to escape Timohare's clutching fingers.
The youngster jumped on a long table, jumped down on the other side. Timohare stopped, panted, "I'll wring your little neck, you rabbit. I'll teach you not to sneak up an' stuff prickle-burrs down the back of my fawn-skin."
"Sticks an' stones," Carlberger chanted, thumbing his nose, "may break my bones, but words will never hurt." A sudden vault took Timohare clear over the table, and he had his tormentor in his big-pawed grip.
"Fins," the youngster gurgled. "Fins, Timohare. I promise I won't do it again."
"You betcha you won't," the bigger Boy grunted. "Not when I get through with—"
"Hold it!" Dikar called. "Hold it, you two. Come here, all you Boys, I've got somethin to tell you."
THE laughing and the yelling stopped all of a sudden, and there was only the sound of feet as the Boys gathered eagerly around Dikar. The Girls crowded up behind the Boys, their long- lashed eyes anxious.
"What is it, Dikar?" Marilee asked, low-voiced, somehow alongside him "What's happened?"
"You'll hear in a minute." His arm slid across her shoulders, and then he was talking to the Bunch. "Listen, fellows," he was saying. "I was just called to the Commissary, the man Normanfenton has put in charge of givin' out food to all the people here in West Point. He told me that there's hardly any food left. With so many people crowdin' in here, most of the Asafrics' store is used up already."
"Phew-w-w," someone whistled. "That's nice." Johnstone it was, thin, his square jaw darkly stubbled. "That's very nice."
"The Quartermaster," Dikar went on, "has put it up to us to get more. Over beyond the hill behind this row of houses and past the woods other side of it, there are a lot of cows, those animals like fat, clumsy deer with un-branched horns that these people kill an' eat."
"Dikar!" Marilee interrupted. "That's way outside the line of pillboxes."
"Right," Dikar smiled tightly. "It's way outside the fort, so if anyone goes out to get those cows an' is attacked by the Asafrics, the big guns couldn't protect 'em because they'd shoot our men as well as the blacks.
"Besides, the cows can't be driven to the fort because they'd have to be driven through the woods, and they're so full of brambles an' thorny bushes the cows won't go that way. That means they have to be killed right out there an' cut up an' carried in.
"Now, if a bunch of men was sent out with rifles to shoot 'em, the sound of the firin' would surely bring any Asafrics that are skulkin' around. It's all got to be done very quiet, an' that's where we come in. Our arrows don't make any sound—"
"Hurray!" Carlberger yelled. "That's goin' to be fun. Let's—"
"Wait," Dikar snapped. "Wait a minute an' listen to me. It won't be fun. If we're spotted out there by the Asafrics, we'll stay out there, dead. That's why the Commissary didn't order me to take you Boys out there, only asked me, and that's why I'm only askin' you to come with me, not orderin' you. I don't want anyone to come unless he really wants to. Now. Who's comin'?"
He stopped talking. Feet shuffled, and there was a hiss of indrawn breath, but nobody said anything. Not for a long minute. Then Timohare, grinning no longer, said very quietly: "We're all comin', Dikar. You knew that. You didn't have to ask."
"I knew you all would," Dikar smiled. "But I had to ask. All right, fellows. Get your bonarrers an' your knives an' let's get started."
THE other side of the hill was all tall grass; there were no trees. Up out of the grass, midslope of the hill, rose half- balls of dirty-white stone each big enough to hold four or five men. There were men in each of these pillboxes, and guns that could lay down on the grassy hillside a chattering hailstorm of death.
A gentle wind rustled the tall grasses sloping down from the pillboxes to the edge of the woods that made shadowy the foot of the hill. The grasses moved scarcely more than they had moved all day in the soft breeze, but all of a sudden a new shadow glided among the shadows just within the edge of the woods. It was a lithe-limbed Boy who had crept there down the slope of the hill.
Another Boy appeared, and another, till eighteen of them were gathering around Dikar, and so silent were they that a rabbit nibbling a tender green shoot not ten paces away was not disturbed at all.
The Boys had left behind their fawn-skins, were naked except for their little twig-aprons, but they had their bows, and their quivers of arrows hung from their shoulders, and their sharp hunting knives were in their belts.
"You each know the number I gave you before I started," Dikar murmured. "I'll go ahead a little. If everything's all right I'll point to the cows, one after the other, an' Number One will aim at the first one I point to, Number Two at the second, and so on, but you won't shoot till I lift my arm above my head, and then you'll shoot all together. Everyone understand?"
He looked at each one in turn, and each one nodded. He turned to the gray trunk of the tree under which he stood, lifted his arms and sprang.
Leaves rustled. The rabbit flipped his stub of a tail, looked around. Only the tree trunks and the dappled shadows of the foliage were between him and the sun and the tall grasses beyond the edge of the woods.
Dikar ran easily through the tops of the trees, leaped from the swaying bough to bough as easily as though he ran on firm ground. The green smells of the leaves were in his nostrils, the sharper smell of tree bark, and dark, damp smell of the ground beneath. No man smell, no man sound, came to him. He might have been in the woods on the Mountain, the two nights and days just past only a dreadful dream from which he had wakened.
The treetops were suddenly brighter ahead of Dikar and blue sky was shining through. He stopped and crouched on a thick limb, and peered out of the woods and down into a rolling, flower- dotted field.
Brown of body, white-faced, the ungainly beasts of the Far Land that were called cows cropped grass everywhere in the field or drank noisily from a little stream that wandered through it. A low wall of tumbled stone closed off one end of the field, the stream running under it, and beyond the wall Dikar could see another field of tall yellow grass rippling in the breeze. It sloped gently up and over the top of a low hill.
The woods curved around the other end of the cows' field till it came to the low wall of tumbled stone and swallowed this and ran on up the hill. The breeze came across the field to Dikar. He sniffed it, his nostrils wide, his eyes half-closed, the corner of his mouth twitching. There was only the smell of the woods in the breeze, and the smells of the flowers and the cows, and a faint tang of wood-smoke.
Dikar swung down to the ground, took two or three steps into the field. He felt the eyes of the Boys upon him, though there was no hint in sound or sight that they were in the treetops, watching him.
A COW lifted its head, looked at him with great, friendly eyes, its jaws moving from side to side, greenish spit dribbling from the corner of its mouth. Dikar pointed at it, pointed at the one next to it, at one lying down. He pointed at fourteen cows; there were no more.
That was fine. When one of them had been skinned, its head and legs cut off and its insides cleaned out, as he'd told the Bunch to do, it would be no heavier than a grown deer. Each of the bigger Boys could carry a deer on his, shoulders, but Dikar had been worried about the weaker youngsters. Now eight of the kids would only have to carry half a cow apiece.
Dikar lifted his arm above his head. Bowstrings twanged in the treetops and arrows zipped across the field, almost too fast for the eye to follow. Cows thudded down, all the cows, an arrow in the eye of one, in the flank of another, in the breast of a third. Brown Boys dropped down out of the trees, darted to the dead cows, knives flashing.
It had all been done almost without a sound, certainly without any sound that could have been heard a hundred paces away, but Dikar suddenly was uneasy.
Carlberger ran up to him. "You didn't point out one for me." The youngster sounded as if he was ready to bawl. "I was number eighteen an' so I didn't get a chance to shoot."
"I'm sorry, kid." Dikar put his arm around the Boy's shoulder. "There just weren't enough to go around, but I'll see that you're Number One next time, so you'll surely get a chance."
A queer prickle was running up and down his back and his hair was tightening on the top of his head. "Look. You take care of somethin' for me. I'm goin' into the woods a ways, so tell Johnstone to take charge. Tell him an' everyone that if they hear a crow caw in the woods three times, they're to drop what they're doin' quick an' get up into the treetops an' wait to hear from me."
"Dikar!" Carlberger stared at him, round-eyed. "You don't think the Asafrics—"
"No," Dikar grinned. "I just think we ought to take care. We're awful far from the fort, you know. Now run along and do what I said."
Carlberger ran off and Dikar turned back to the woods, and his grin was gone. As he went up again into the treetop out of which he had dropped, he had found out what was bothering him.
The direction of the wind had changed a little and it was faintly tainted with the smell of an Asafric.
Dikar moved into the wind now, more silently even than before, in the same direction as the nearer edge of the field ran and toward where the woods curved around it. The smell was still faint, but it was growing stronger, ever so little. Now there was another smell, a man smell, but not the smell of an Asafric.
So there were two.
The leaf shadows deepened about Dikar, so that he knew he had passed the end of the field where the cows were. He kept going. Then he flattened suddenly along the bough he was on, making himself a part of it.
He'd heard a murmur of voices in the green brush, below and ahead of him. Now that he'd stopped moving he made out words. "Yoh be big fella careful." The thick-mouthed voice of an Asafric Black. "Yoh not let rebels cotch yoh gettin' back inside fo't." And then he heard a rustle of movement in the bushes.
The smell of the Asafric and the smell of the white separated, trailing on the wind from different directions. The white was going away through the bushes, toward the fort.
He was a spy on the Americans inside the fort, had met the Asafric here to tell him what was going on in West Point, was going back to find out more. Dikar had to see who he was. He started moving toward that rustle in the bushes, very fast.
So fast that he stepped on a rotten limb, started falling, snatched at another to save himself. "Who dar?" a startled cry burst out beneath him. "Who dat?" And then the thick-mouthed voice was grunting, "Ah see yoh!"
It was too late to escape.
Dikar saw a black hand lifting out of the green brush, a little gun in it lifting to aim at him.
GUN-CRASH was loud in the hush of the woods. A brown body hurtled down out of the tall tree, pounded the Asafric to the ground. Someone shouted. Underbrush threshed about the two tossing bodies, brown and naked, black and green-uniformed.
Dikar's strong fingers clamped a black wrist. That hand clutched the gun; the black's first bullet had missed Dikar. Plunging down, Dikar had snatched his knife from his belt, but now the Asafric seized his arm, and a green-clothed knee dug into his chest, pinned him down on the ground.
Foul breath stank in Dikar's face. Tiny, animal-like eyes glared down at him. The purplish lips twisted, said thickly, "Yoh one big fella fool try fight Jubal. Jubal not kill you now. Yoh strong, not die quick, but yoh wish youse'f daid befoh Cap'n Tsi Huan get t'rough wid yoh."
"You'll have to take me to him first," Dikar grunted. "Think you can?"
"Know I can." The Boys in the field would hear Dikar if he cried for help, but there might be other blacks near. They could be as quiet in the woods as the Boys. His call might bring them too. "Jubal neber see no 'Merican he no can han'le."
"Here's one!" Dikar heaved up, tore his knife-hand free, slashed the blade across the black throat, all in one sudden, irresistible movement. Blood gushed out over Dikar and the Asafric rolled off of him, was very still on the ground.
Dikar was on his feet, breath clamped in his throat, all his nerves strained for sight or smell or sound of other Asafrics.
The silence of the woods closed about him, a hush alive with leaf-rustle, with the buzz of insects, the peeping of birds and the whirr of their wings, but empty of all human noises. Even the white spy was already too far away to be heard.
Lids half-closed, Dikar's blue eyes roamed the brush, found a bent twig, a brushed bit of moss. Dikar got moving, and where he passed there were no bent twigs, not even a leaf turned wrongside out, to tell which way he had gone.
The trail of the spy went toward the fort, and to Dikar it was as broad and plain as though it were the stone-paved path that circled the Plain. He followed it swiftly, till he came to the stream that he had seen curving across the fields where the cows were, and there it ended.
Dikar's quarry had waded up or down in the water, and there were trees leaning across by way of which he might have left it. If he knew woodcraft at all it would take hours to find where, and by that time he would be back in the fort and his spoor would be mixed with all the many others. Most likely he was a Beast Man, Dikar thought, to be so apt in the ways of the woods.
He washed himself in the stream, washed his knife, and went back to the field. The Boys had finished their butchering and were ready to start lugging the great red and white loads of meats back to West Point.
DIKAR went ahead to find a path for them through the thorn-choked, woods, tight with watchfulness till at last they were all over the hill and safely past the line of pillboxes. Then he sped across the Plain to find Normanfenton and tell him about the spy.
"The pattern holds," the leader sighed. "Two centuries ago West Point had its Benedict Arnold, and now—Thanks, my boy," he broke off. "I shall have Walt warn the outposts to keep a sharper watch from now on, and to do what he can to track down the spy, but I fear, what with all the strangers here, that it will be almost impossible."
It seemed to Dikar that his story had touched only the surface of Normanfenton's mind, that other matters filled it more deeply. "By the way, Dikar," the older man went on. "In half an hour I want you to be at Headquarters."
The room called Headquarters was very big and its roof, of dark wood laid on huge, rough-axed beams, very high, but even though the late afternoon sun came in through a window that took up all one end of it, it was dim as the deeps of the Mountain's forest.
Coming into it, Dikar decided this was because the wood of the walls swallowed the sunlight in their quiet, dark glow, and because the ragged flags hanging from poles that stuck straight out from the walls, high up, threw slow-swaying shadows over the long, heavy table that ran down the room's middle, and over the men who sat around it.
"You're the last, son," Normanfenton said from the end of the table. As he pointed to an empty chair, his sleeve pulled back and uncovered the scabby ring on his wrist where the Asafric's iron cuff had rubbed raw the prisoner's flesh.
Dikar went to the chair, the thick stuff that was laid over the floor tickling the bare soles of his feet, and sat down. Johndawson was on one side of him, the gray-haired, thin man with old pain lined into his face who was the first of the people from the Far Land that Dikar brought to the Mountain.
The only other man here whom Dikar had known before he came to West Point was Walt, who sat up there next to Normanfenton, making marks on a paper with a round little stick.
Dikar knew the marks Walt was making had a meaning, but he did not know how to make out the meaning. The marks were called writing, and making out their meaning was reading.
A narrow-faced, pale man across the table asked, "Are we ready to begin, now, General?" That was what they all called Normanfenton. It meant the same as Boss. "We're anxious to hear what you have on your mind." His name was Paine. He wasn't one of the Beast Folk who had helped to take West Point, but had come here the morning after the fight, from a place called Newburg. "Do you mind telling us?"
"I don't mind at all." Normanfenton's slow, sad smile stole over his face. "Since that is why I called you together." Of the three others in the room, the one called Morgan was the leader of the Beast Folk, while Holton and Gary were farmers who had joined up later, like Paine.
"Colonel Dawson has finally got in communication with the Secret Net, that league of devoted patriots who for all these years have worked in constant peril of torture and death to keep alive some small measure of resistance to the Asafrics.
"It is because of them that America still lives in the hearts of men, and the secret radio network they operate is the authentic voice of that America."
"We know all that," Paine growled. "What's the idea of making a speech about it?"
"You will find out soon. But first I want you to hear what we have learned. John, please."
JOHNDAWSON fumbled with a paper on the table in front of him. "Word of what we've done here," he began, "has spread through the country like wildfire. I've been talking with National Prime himself, the anonymous chief of the Net, and I give you my word, gentlemen, that the very dots and dashes his hand hammered out crackled with his joy and excitement.
"There is new hope in the land, my friends—this land that hasn't known hope for more than a decade. There is a new spirit of defiance."
He stopped, shrugged shoulders scrawny even in the new gray- blue that covered them. "What I've learned has me so worked up myself, that I'm making a speech. It amounts to this. Our people everywhere, inspired by our example, are rising against the Asafrics.
"The workers in a Nevada silver mine bashed in the heads of their guards and have barricaded themselves underground, sworn to die rather than surrender. In Seattle, longshoremen set fire to a half-dozen ships loaded with lumber for the Orient and fought off the black soldiers till the cargoes were altogether destroyed.
"A riot has started in Chicago and is still going on in spite of the machine guns with which the Asafrics are mowing down the mob. In Pittsburgh—"
"For the love of God, man!" Gary broke in, "you don't think that sort of thing's good news, do you?" He was grizzled, hollow- cheeked, stooped under a weight of toil and sorrow. "Those poor damn fools won't get anywhere that way. They'll be murdered by the Asafrics, and that will be the end of everything. It's got to stop. We've got to stop them, somehow."
"You are right, of course," Normanfenton said quietly. "These unarmed, unorganized outbreaks will be quickly and ruthlessly put down, and will have accomplished nothing. I have already instructed National Prime to have the operatives of his Net quiet the people of their districts and then set about organizing them into semi-military bodies, prepared to act as and how we shall direct."
"Just a minute, General," Paine, drawled. "What makes you think anyone is going to do as you instruct?"
Normanfenton's deepset, somber eyes moved to him. "Your question is very much to the point, Captain Paine. I shall ask Colonel Dawson to answer it."
Everyone looked at Johndawnson. He picked up a paper from the table, and Dikar saw that his bony hand was shaking a little. "This," he said, "is the first message I received from National Prime. It is addressed to General Fenton.
"It says: 'Upon learning of your exploit and pending establishment of communication with you, I have had operatives of Secret Net reach all Americans possible to reach. I now have reports speaking for all sections of country. They unanimously authorize me to request that you assume Provisional Presidency of New America born today, and appoint whomever you may select as Provisional Congress.
"'I am further authorized to pledge loyalty of all patriots, their obedience to your proclamations and laws of your Congress, until the battle now beginning ends in victory or annihilation. Every American joins in prayer that you and the Second Continental Congress will lead us anew to the freedom that our forefathers of First wrested from other tyrants two hundred seven years ago. Signed: National Prime, for the People of the United States.'"
JOHNDAWSON'S voice rang out clear in the dim hush of the flag-hung room, thrilling even Dikar, who had understood very little of what he was reading. And then for a long time no one moved, no one made a sound.
Though there was no wind, it seemed to Dikar that one of the flags, a faded old one with a picture of a coiled snake on its tattered folds, fluttered as if ghostly hands were waving it over Normanfenton's massive head.
A murmur went through the room, like the murmur of the dawn wind in the trees, and the room awoke as the forest awakes in the dawn.
"You've accepted, of course," Holton said, a small man with tight, thin lips and eyes like two polished stones. "It's a great honor, General, and—"
"I've accepted." Normanfenton's head lifted. "But it is less honor than a heavy burden that has been laid upon me. I have asked my Maker to give me the strength to bear it, and it would be well, I think, that you gentlemen also appeal to Him for strength and wisdom, for I am constituting you the Second Continental Congress of the United States of America....
"No!" He put up his hand to stop the words that were springing to the lips of his hearers. "No talk, please, and no meaningless ceremony. We must get to work at once. The plane that flew over us this afternoon was only one warning that the enemy is gathering his forces to move against us."
"Only one!" Gary exclaimed, sharply. "It's clear enough them flyers was sent to spy out how strong we are, but what else has happened?"
"It is more what has not happened that is ominous. From National Prime we learn that he has heard nothing from the Net's agents in the region bounded roughly by the Delaware and Housatonic Rivers on the west and east, north by a line drawn through Kingston, south by one through New York."
"We're just about in the center of that."
"Exactly. Somehow, the Asafrics have succeeded in silencing all the Net's secret radio stations in exactly the territory through which they must come to attack us."
"Another thing, General," Walt spoke for the first time. "There have been no newcomers in camp since dark. The last one has had to dodge some of the enemy's armored scout cars."
"Jehosaphat!" Holton's hand slapped down on the table. "The men in my company who were on duty in the pillboxes last night thought they heard firing in the distance. Since we have no patrols out, I paid very little attention—"
"Hold on!" Gary interrupted. "I saw—Look here. Me an' my boys was on the roofs standin' by the anti-aircraft guns. The sky was kind of red, all around the horizon, like as if there was some big fires burnin'."
"Yes." A sort of grayness was spreading under Normanfenton's skin. "Yes. Knowing Viceroy Yee Hashomoto's usual procedure in dealing with any defiance of his authority, we can come pretty close to guessing what the Asafrics are about. I—"
"Not me." Morgan's face was almost black, the look in his narrowed eyes frightening. "I don't have ter guess. I saw 'em do it ter my—our little town uh Cornwall th' night I split open th' head of th' yaller dog thet drug off my Janey.
"Hidin' out on Storm King, I saw 'em whup ter death every tenth white man in town an' ship all th' rest, an' every woman an' child fer a mile aroun', off God knows whar, arter fust makin' 'em set fire ter their own houses. That's whut they're doin' now, from Esopus Crick ter th' Narrows, ter get even fer whut we done here."
"There can be no doubt of that," Paine murmured, half-smiling. "You should have known that would happen when you started this. If you sow the wind, you must expect to reap the whirlwind."
Gary twisted around to him. "It don't seem to be botherin' you none, Captain Paine." His voice was a growl in his throat. "No more'n if you was a Mudskin."
MEN looked swiftly to the two, muscles twitched in startled faces. Dikar knew why this was. Mudskin was the Far Land name for yellow-bellied whites who knuckled under to the Asafrics and did their dirty work, and so it was a fighting name that Gary had called Paine.
But nothing happened. Paine just kept smiling, said smoothly, "I don't think you really mean that, Gary." Dikar noticed that his pale eyes were not smiling. "In case you do, may I point out that if I were a renegade I should hardly have hastened here to volunteer my services."
"Mebbe not," Gary growled. "Or mebee you was sent here to spy on us." Spy! Could Paine be the spy who'd met Jubal in the woods? "It would be kind of nice for the Asafrics if they knew our plans quick as we know them ourselves." There was no way for Dikar to tell, he hadn't seen the spy, hadn't heard his voice.
"Have you any proof of that accusation?" Two white spots had blossomed either side of Paine's thin nose. "If—"
"Course I ain't got proof. How kin I? But I promise you right now I'm goin' to watch you every minute from now on, an' if I ketch you steppin' off the straight an' narrow by so much as an inch—"
"Mr. Gary!" Normanfenton's face was black as his beard. "Captain Paine!" His eyes flashed lightnings. "I want this stopped at once. We're not a bunch of boys here, squabbling over some childish game. We are men who have undertaken the responsibility of leading a people.
"If we waste ourselves in petty bickering we are as much traitors to that people as any Mudskin. If we do not trust one another, how can we be worthy of the trust of others. If we cannot govern ourselves, how can we expect to govern a nation? We will have no more of that sort of thing.... Our first business—"
"Look, Normanfenton," Dikar interrupted. "Before you get started, I want to say somethin."
"What is it, son?"
"I don't belong here." Dikar pushed himself up out of his chair, swallowed and went on. "Somethin you just said shows me that. You—you said that we're not a bunch of boys here. Well, I am a Boy."
He knew what it was he had to say, but it was hard to know how to say it. "Maybe I'm not much younger than Walt there, but all I know about anythin' is what the Mountain has taught me, the ways of the green growin' things, the ways of the birds an' the rabbits an' the deer.
"I love America as much as any of you, but I am not fit to be one of its Bosses. I thank you for askin' me to be here, but I should only be in the way if I stay an' so I am not stayin'."
Dikar was going away from the table. He was going across the room to the door and voices behind him were saying things but he did not understand what they said. He went out of the door and closed it behind him and he felt awful bad.
Dikar felt bad because he knew that the names of those in that room would be remembered in this land long after they were all dead, and now his name would not be among them.
BACK in the House of the Bunch, Dikar told Marilee what he had done, and she said he had done right.
"On the Mountain," Marilee said, "every mornin' after Brekfes, you would tell us what jobs were to be done that day, and to do each job you would pick the one who could do that job best. An' at Evenin' Council, it was not what a Boy or Girl had done, whether choppin' wood or washin' dishes, or bossin' some big job, that brought them praise or blame from the Bunch, but how they had done it.
"Now you keep sayin' that the ways of this Far Land are different from our ways on the Mountain, but I cannot believe that in this the way of the Far Land is different.
"When your last Evenin' Council is over, Dikar, an' you are sleepin' your last sleep, it will not be havin' your name remembered by those who live after you that will matter, but whether you will have done as best you could the job you could do best, whether that job was a big one or a little."
And then Marilee went back to helping the other Girls get Supper ready, but Dikar felt a lot better.
It started to get dark, so Dikar pulled down black cloths over all the windows and went to the wall and pushed a little button that stuck out of the wall. He jumped a little as all the bulbs in the roof filled with light, and a great "Ah-h-h" came from the Bunch, but their eyes widened.
This was a magic that still frightened them a little, though Walt had showed them, in a building down by the River, great wheels turned by a downrushing waterfall and told them that the wheels were making a something called electricity that filled the bulbs with light and did other wonderful things.
Just as supper was finished and the Girls were starting to clear the tables, Walt came into the room. Dikar went to him, smiling welcome. "We are going to have a sing, Walt, like we used to around the Fire under the great Oak in the Clearin'. It will be nice to have you sing with us."
"Some other time, Dikar." Walt's answering smile was grave, his eyes shadowed. "Tonight... But you'd better come outside with me, where we can talk without being overheard."
Outside the House it was very dark, because it was an order that the black cloths be pulled down over all the windows in the buildings at night and that no one show a light where it could be seen from the sky. In the sky, of course, were the stars, but they were high up and far away and all around the black hills crouched, the hills over which at any moment might come the terrible planes of the Asafrics.
"Listen, fellow." Walt put his arm around Dikar's shoulder. "I've been sent to ask you whether you're willing to attempt something the chance against whose success is a thousand to one, and failure in which means death or worse."
"It is for the Cause?"
"Tell me," Dikar said softly, "what it is I am to do."
Walt's arm tightened on his shoulder, fell away. "Come. I have something to show you. I'll explain on the way."
THEY started walking across the Plain. "We have decided that the Asafrics have so far left us alone only because they are busy putting down the people's uprisings all over the country.
"By cooling our heels here till they are free again to concentrate a strong force against us, we are playing into their hands. If what we've done is not to peter out into just another futile foray, we've got to make a move very soon."
"Yes. But what can we do?"
"We can strike, swiftly and unexpectedly, where we can do a lot of damage and return to the comparative safety of this fort before they recover from their surprise and cut off our retreat. This will sting them into withdrawing troops from other sectors in order to attack us in force.
"Thanks to what their engineers have accomplished here, we can stand a long siege. While it is going on, our people will attack the strong points whose garrisons have been weakened, overwhelm them, and use them as bases for other raids similar to ours. That will either relieve the pressure on West Point, or compel Yee Hashamoto to weaken other strong points, further away, where the same tactics will be repeated.
"In this way the rebellion will spread, like ripples from a stone thrown into a pond, all over the country, and there is a chance that before reinforcements can arrive from their homeland we can defeat the Asafric Army of Occupation and drive it into the seas. A slim chance, but a chance, nevertheless."
"That's grand!" Dikar exclaimed. They'd reached the other side of the Plain but instead of going into one of the buildings there, Walt was guiding him through a space between two of them. "It's a grand plan."
"It is the best we could work out." Beyond the buildings, bush-covered ground fell steeply down toward the River. "But it depends entirely on the success of our first raid." They started clambering down through the rustling dark. "We can't go wandering around aimlessly looking for Asafrics to fight, nor dare we risk tackling a force so strong that we'll be defeated or so many of us killed that we can no longer hope to hold West Point. We've got to know exactly where to go, what we'll find when we get there. That's what we need you for."
Through the bushes, starlight glinted on black water. "You want me to go out and look for—"
"No." The ground leveled out, became the road that ran along the River. "What we want you to do is more dangerous even than that."
Walt's hand on Dikar's elbow turned him so that they were going along the road. A little ahead, a blacker bulk against the black was a little House between the road and the River. "Dikar, since you've been in West Point, you must have heard a lot about Benjamin Apgar."
"I sure have," Dikar growled. "They say he's the worst Mudskin of them all."
"A white man who cast in his lot with the invaders," Walt agreed, "almost before their conquest was completed, who toadied and licked boots, and made himself so valuable to them that Hashamoto commissioned him a major and put him on his personal staff. Execrated, reviled through the length and breadth of America as its foulest renegade—Benjamin Apgar is perhaps its most devoted patriot."
"Huh!" Dikar stopped stockstill in front of the little House. "He's what?"
"You're no more astonished than we were when we radioed National Prime for advice and he told us that Apgar for years had been acting as a super-spy for the Secret Net. He's saved countless lives—but you can figure out yourself how much he could do, in the Viceroy's confidence, constantly at Headquarters in New York."
The road had been cut into the hill here, so a high, steep earth bank made it velvet black, but Dikar could hear that Walt was fumbling at the door of the little House. "Major Apgar can tell us what we need to know, and he's the only one who can, but Z3, the station through which he communicated with the Net, is one of those that has been silenced. We've got to reach him. You've got to reach him, Dikar, and get the dope from him, and get it back to us."
A CREAK of hinges, a gust of warm air thick with the smell of the armored trucks they had captured from the Asafrics, told Dikar the door was opening.
"Come on in," Walt said and rough wood sagged under Dikar's weight as he obeyed. "You will have to go into the city, into Asafric Headquarters, teeming with enemies. Death, certain but not quick, will be the price of discovery." The door closed behind them. "We all volunteered to attempt it, but General Fenton decided that you were the best bet to pull it off."
"Me?" Dikar was puzzled. "Why me?"
A click. Sudden light blinded him. "Your skin is as brown," Walt's voice came out of the dazzle, "as that of certain Asafrics, not true Blacks but a race called Abyssinians who are supposed to be descendants of the lost tribes of Israel."
Dikar's eyes cleared. The floor of the room ended abruptly, and beyond was water, closed off by a wall that was a big door. The truck-smell came from a big hollow something that floated in the black and greasy water. "You can easily pass as one of them." Walt went on, "except for your blond hair and beard—they wear beards, luckily—and I've got dye here to take care of that."
Walt took a bottle and a little brush from a bench near the door. Dikar saw a green Asafric uniform lying on the bench. "Even if I look like an Ab-Abyss—what you said—I can't talk like one. They'll know I'm a faker as soon as I open my mouth."
"No." Walt opened the bottle, poured black stuff from it on the brush. "The Abyssinians talk a different language from the other Blacks, and so to the yellow officers they use pidgin English. You've listened to our prisoners enough to imitate that, haven't you?"
"Me t'ink so." Dikar made his voice come out of the back of his throat. "Me good mak' talk lak black fella boy." He grinned delightedly at his success. "W'at yoh say, 'Merican?"
"You'll do." Walt grinned back, starting to brush the black stuff into Dikar's hair. "Especially when you get into that uniform. What a time I had finding a prisoner big enough for his clothes to fit you! Yes, you'll do, unless you run into a real Abyssinian and they're so few there's little danger of that.
"Now here's the plan: (Lift your head so I can get at the underside of your beard.) Gary's meeting us here in a few minutes and he'll run you down the River in that motorboat." Walt pointed to the big thing in the water. "He'll try to get you to the ruins of Yonkers unobserved, land you there and hang around to pick you up, but it's too much to hope that things will go as smoothly as that.
"If you're stopped by a river patrol, you'll have a pass with you—Paine's faking one now on one of the Army forms we found here—that ought to take care of you, and you'll say that Gary's a deserter with valuable information for Major Apgar's ears alone; you'll insist on being taken to him.
"If you do manage to get to land before you run into any Asafrics, you'll pull the same story, except that it will be you who will have the important information that can only be told to Apgar. After that—well after that, you'll have to depend on Apgar to get you out of New York.
"All right. That's all I can do. It's a good job, if I do say so myself. Now get into that uniform."
Dikar sat down on the bench, got all tangled up in the green cloth. Walt helped him, said, "Good thing a lot of the Asafrics don't wear shoes, so you can get away with going barefoot. Otherwise the clumsy way you'd walk would give you away. You sure you understand what you're to do?"
"I understand," Dikar answered, standing up. He felt all bound up, uncomfortable. "Look, Walt. If I don't come back, will you tell Johnstone to be Boss of the Bunch? An'—an' tell Marilee I tried my best to do the thing I was best fitted for, an' that I was happy to have the chance to try."
"I won't have to tell her anything," Walt said, but Dikar could see by the look on his face that wasn't what he was thinking. "You'll do all the telling yourself, when you come back.... Gary ought to be here by now. Wonder what's keeping him. I'd better take a look outside."
He touched a button in the wall next to the door. Sightless darkness swallowed him, the room.
Hinges creaked. The darkness paled, where the sound came from. The green smell of outdoors was in Dikar's nostrils, the cool night wind. Somewhere above, not far away, the bushes threshed loudly.
"Here he is," Walt said. Then Dikar was suddenly alert. There was a dull, crunching sound up there. A curious gurgle ended abruptly. Light leaped out from something in Walt's hand, a slender shaft of light. It struck the steep leafy bank, caught in its brightness a sprawling black thing that came over the top of the bank and fell, and thudded on the road below.
The crumpled heap did not move. Dikar saw a face, bloody, misshapen. Gary's face! It was Gary who lay there, and the top of his head was crushed in by some terrific blow.
Go warily, Dikar; you must search the heart
of the enemy for the golden key to freedom.
WEST POINT has been taken, and there Dikar's Bunch now lives, with the people from the Far Land who have banded together to fight for America's freedom. As yet the Asafrics have not attacked; but the leaders at West Point realize that they must act swiftly or the Americans will be trapped.
Then, on a foraging expedition, Dikar makes a frightening discovery: Someone within the walls of West Point is a spy for the Asafrics. The spy escapes in the woods before Dikar can identify him; but Dikar suspects that he's one of the Beast Folk.
Later at a council meeting Dikar reveals what he has learned, wondering whether the spy is one of those present. At that same meeting it is announced that Normanfenton has been chosen by the Secret Net to act as Provisional President of the New America.
It will be his gigantic task to lead the revolt against the yellow tyrant.
THAT night Dikar himself receives a task of great difficulty and peril. Walt, who is Normanfenton's trusted lieutenant, tells Dikar that Benjamin Apgar, a man high in the councils of the invaders, is in reality a loyal patriot. Apgar has given valuable information to the Americans, but lately his contact with the Secret Net has been mysteriously cut off.
So this is the plan. Disguised as an Abyssinian and speaking pidgin English, Dikar is to go down to New York in the company of one Gary, and attempt to reach Benjamin Apgar. Dikar agrees to attempt this dangerous undertaking, and Walt makes him up in his disguise. But when they reach the place where they are to meet Gary, they find there his dead body, his head crushed...
DIKAR shoved Walt out of his way, darted past the body in the road, leaped at the bank and clawed up; hands, feet, finding hold by instinct. The bushes above were loud with the noise of someone running away.
Dikar got to the top, twisted toward the sounds; a red streak jetted across the night and shot-sound banged in Dikar's ears. He threw himself at the black figure the light-flash showed him. His shoulder pounded into a form that went down and he went down on top of it, his knees finding a body, crunching it into the ground, his fingers finding a flailing arm, clutching it.
"Got you," he grunted. "Give up or I'll tear you to little pieces."
The man under him went limp. "Dikar!" It was Paine's voice. "Get off me, Dikar. I've got to see if I've winged him."
"Him?" Gary was right. Paine was a Mudskin. An Asafric spy. "What are you try in to put over on me?" Gary had tumbled to Paine, had said he was going to watch him, so Paine killed him. "What 'him' are you babblin' about?"
"The one who murdered—God, man! You don't think I did that!"
"No, damn you. I—" All of a sudden there was light on Paine, on the dead leaves under him. Walt was standing over them and the light came from the thing he held, and he was looking, sidewise, at something to which he moved the light.
It was a man lying across a bush. His hands were clutched to his breast and they were red with the stain that spread in the gray-blue cloth under them.
Walt's light moved up a little. Eyes, open but sightless, stared out of a knobby, rock-jawed face. "Morgan, eh!" Paine exclaimed. "Buck Morgan! I saw him silhouetted against the sky, clubbing Gary."
Walt bent, picked up something. Dikar shoved himself up off Paine. Walt said, "How did you happen to see that, Paine? How did you happen to be down here to see it?"
Paine held up a hand and Dikar pulled him to his feet. "I didn't have the pass quite ready when Gary came to my quarters to get it, so I told him to go on down and make his final arrangements with you and I'd bring it in a couple minutes.
"I wasn't much longer than that, but I was just too long, because I was only in time to see the murder, outlined against the stars. Morgan must have heard me, because he started to run. I slanted to meet him, shot—and then Dikar hit me like a ton of coal. Buck Morgan's the last one I'd have thought to be a renegade."
Dikar recalled how, in the woods, he'd decided that the spy was a Beast Man, on account of the way he covered his trail.
"This is his revolver, then," Walt was saying, holding out what he'd picked up from the ground. Its handle was bloody, hairs stuck to it. "He clubbed Gary with its butt. But I can't understand why. It would have been smarter to let Dikar accomplish his mission if he could, tip off the Asafrics to ambush us on our way to the raid so they could wipe us out."
"He couldn't take a chance on being able to reach them," Paine broke in, "with the outposts on the watch for him after Dikar's warning. Besides—Wait! Here's what he was up to.
"I saw him deliberately shove Gary over the bank. He expected to pick you and Dikar off as you heard the fall and came out of the boathouse. Then he'd grab the motorboat, shoot down to New York, and expose Apgar. That one piece of information would fix him well with Hashamoto, and he wouldn't have to risk his neck here any longer."
"Sounds reasonable.... There's your gun." Walt pointed past the bush. "Dikar must have hit you like a charging bull to have sent it flying that far."
"I'll say he did." Paine hobbled over, picked it up. "But we're wasting time. Dikar's got to get started soon or it will be daylight before he gets down-river."
"Right!" Walt snapped. "Let's get going." He started leading them back the way he'd come up, around the steeper part of the bank. "With Gary gone, I'll have to go with him, and—"
Paine shook his head. "It's a hundred-to-one bet against Dikar's getting back safely, but that's a dead sure thing compared to the chances of the one who goes with him. Apgar won't dare free a deserter, even if that bluff goes over. Therefore, friend Walt, I'm the one to go."
"Walt!" Dikar interrupted, feeling proud he was an American as he heard these two quarrel about who should die for the Cause. "Listen, Walt. You're Normanfenton's best helper. He needs you here. As long as someone has to go with me, it has to be Captain Paine."
"I guess you're right," Walt sighed. Then, looking at Paine, "Do you know the River?"
"I know the River."
THE River was as wide and empty as the sky, and Dikar could tell where River left off and sky began only by the black crouch of the hills between them. Stars sprinkled the sky with tiny lights, sprinkled the River, but there were no lights on the land, nothing to show that anyone lived there or ever had lived there.
The wind carried the smells of the land to Dikar, the green smells of grass and trees, the dark brown smells of earth—a smell of wood burned, of the cold ashes of homes the Asafrics had burned down.
Dikar stared at the blackness that was the land till his eyes ached. The boat purred down the River, very quietly, and the lap of water against the sides of the boat was a quiet sound. In a while Dikar's eyelids closed. He drowsed and woke, and nothing was changed, not sky nor River nor black crouch of the hills, nor the still shape of Paine hunched silent over a little wheel in the front of the boat. Dikar's eyes closed again, and he slept.
And sleeping, Dikar shivered with chill. He stirred and awoke, and he was lying face up to the sky. The sky was no longer black but gray, the stars faded.
He lifted. Paine was no longer a black, still shape in the front of the boat, but a man in blue-gray only a little darker than the sky. The chill that had waked Dikar was the dawn-wind, and the River was paling with the dawn. "Paine!" Dikar exclaimed. "Captain Paine! I thought you were going to put me on land before it got light!" Paine's head turned, his face narrow in the dawn- light, his eyes burning.
"I fell asleep at the wheel," he said, thin-lipped. "And when I woke up, I saw—" He gestured out over the water.
There were other boats on the water, little ones and boats unbelievably huge. The Asafrics in them looked at Dikar's boat and looked away. "There was nothing left except to brazen it out," Paine said, despair in his voice. "Nothing left except to run down to a pier in the heart of the city and try to get away with our story that I'm a deserter whom you're bringing in."
"I don't see how you could have fallen asleep when your life depended on your staying awake," Dikar growled, but even though this was a dreadful thing Paine had done, his thoughts were not on it.
He was gaping at an enormous wall of rock that rose straight up from the edge of the River, gray rock so high that a lonely figure moving atop it seemed no bigger than Dikar's fingernail. The wall was like the Drop that circled the Mountain, but higher, and it went on and on along the River, as far as the eye could see.
"You've got the pass handy, Dikar," Paine said. "Haven't you?"
"Yes." Dikar touched the pocket in his green uniform where he'd put it. In doing this he turned so he saw the other side of the River. His breath caught in his throat.
THERE was some green along that edge of the River, but beyond the green—buildings. Not a few, as at West Point, but so many that they were like a forest of buildings, as many as the trees in the woods. The smallest was as high as the tallest tree in the Mountains.
But they could not be Buildings, piling higher and higher ahead there. They could not be anything men had made. Slender, graceful, they lifted to the sky, white in the pale dawn-light, and blue-gray, and dark-red as the leaves of autumn, and some touched with gold. High they soared till they were misty with height, till they were clouds piling in the sky, tipped with color by the sunrise; till they were like nothing Dikar had ever seen or ever dreamed of, a glory rooted not in the earth but in the heavens.
"What?" Dikar gasped, pointing. "What—?" and could say no more.
"The City," Paine answered. "New York." In that instant the risen sun flooded the City with golden fire, and there was one slim building that rose higher than the rest, an enormous finger pointing at God. The sunlight struck through it and Dikar saw that it was only a broken black tracery against the light.
The boat leaned over, was sweeping around in a long curve, driving straight for the shore. And Dikar saw now that there was scarcely a building whole in all the city, that some leaned crazily and some had great gaps bitten out of their sides. Here and there were spaces where there were no buildings at all.
Then the City was too near, too high, for Dikar to see it. He could only see that they had passed the green strip along the River, that they were shooting straight for a squat, ugly-looking building that stuck out into the greasy waters, a building that would have looked huge to him yesterday but now was small and dirty and mean.
Men were running out to the river-end of this building. Blacks in the green Asafric uniform, and they were carrying the long guns called rifles.
The boat bumped against the end of the building. The Blacks were lined along it, their rifles aiming at Dikar, their little red eyes cruel. An Asafric with only a revolver in his hand leaned over and said something Dikar could not understand.
Paine grabbed a rope that hung down and twisted it around an iron something that stuck up from the side of the boat. The Asafric yelled at Dikar. Dikar made sounds back up at him, a jabber that meant nothing to Dikar himself.
The Asafric looked mad. "Wat kind talk yoh big fella fool make? W'at kind brown-skin Black yoh be, make funny talk Ah no can un'stan?"
Dikar's heart skipped a beat. The Asafric had called him a Black. "Good talk w'at ah make." He was getting away with it. "Talk mah people. Ah be Abyssin."
He put a foot up on the edge of the boat, reached to pull himself up to where the Asafric was. "Not so fas'," the latter grunted, jabbing his revolver almost in Dikar's face. "W'at name yoh come heah in boat? W'at name yoh hab dis white fella soldier along ob yoh?"
"W'at name it yoh business?" Dikar decided he might as well be fresh. "Tagloo no tell his business only to off'ser. Yoh bring off'ser, Tagloo tell him."
"All right, Sergeant Skoom! I'll take over." The voice was like a woman's. It belonged to the man with whose high- cheekboned, slant-eyed yellow face looked down at Dikar. "Here you! I am Lieutenant Sing Fong. What's all this?"
DIKAR snapped his hand to his forehead, snapped it down again and stood straight, arms stiff at his sides the way Walt had told him to do when he talked to an officer. "Name ob me Tagloo, sah. Sebent' Foot Reg'ment, Fourt' Comp'ny." His borrowed uniform had on it a badge with those numbers.
"Dis white fella soldier desert f'om Wes' Point. He say he know how we can take fo't easy but he only tell Major Apgar, so my cap'n, Tsi Huan"—that was the name of Jubal's captain and it was signed to the pass Dikar was fumbling out of his pocket—"send me tak' him to de major, nobody else."
The officer took the pass, squinted at it. He made a little sound and kept looking at it. He was doing that for an awful long time. Dikar got all tight inside. The lieutenant's yellow, long- nailed hand strayed to the handle of his revolver. "Come up here. Both of you."
Dikar jumped up to the floor of the building, turned and helped Paine up, stood straight and stiff again, not letting his face show anything. The Black soldiers closed in around them. Sing Fong folded the pass—and stuck it into his own pocket.
"So you're to be taken to Major Apgar." Something, the little smile that played about his naked-looking mouth, the way he purred, maybe, reminded Dikar of a cat he'd seen, at West Point, playing with a bird it had caught and maimed. "No one less."
"Yaas, Lieut'nant." If Dikar jumped into the water—No. Fast as he could swim, the bullets from the Asafrics' rifles would be faster. "Dat be Cap'n Tsi Huan's ordeh."
"Just a minute, Lieutenant," Paine broke in, talking for the first time. "Let me tell you—" Spat! Sing Foo's fist lashed into Paine's mouth, so hard that he staggered backward, would have fallen if one of the Asafrics hadn't pounded a rifle butt into his back, straightening him up again.
"It seems to me," the officer remarked, casually, "that you American dogs should have learned by this time to speak to your masters only when you are spoken to. Straighten up. Stand at attention."
Captain Paine's eyes were those of a snake about to strike. "I think you will regret that," came from between his bloody lips, "when I have reported it to your superiors." He has courage, Dikar thought. He has more courage than I have.
Lieutenant Sing Foo's cat-smile deepened. "One more word from you," he murmured, and I will have your tongue torn out." Then he was barking: "Sergeant Skoom! Detail a guard of three privates and take these men to headquarters. You may use my car."
THE car was a little truck with high iron sides, painted green. A machine gun stuck out over its back. There were two seats. Paine was in the back one between two Black privates and Dikar was in the front between the other private and Sergeant Skoom, who was doing all the things that made the car start and stop and go the way he wanted it to go.
It went very fast along wide spaces between the buildings. The buildings rose high above, so that it was as if they were at the bottom of deep ravines, very long and very straight with places on each side where people walked.
There were a lot of other cars going between the buildings, little ones like this and big trucks. These had only Asafrics in them but among the people walking there were many whites.
The whites were all stooped over and gray-faced, shambling, the women and children as well as the men. When an Asafric, yellow or black, came swaggering along, the whites made way for him even if they had to go out in the space where the trucks ran to do so. The Asafrics laughed a lot and talked very loudly, but the whites talked very low, if they talked at all, and they never laughed.
Some of the whites had the burned star on their brows and the eyes of these were empty as a dead man's. But that emptiness was better than what was in the eyes of the other whites.
This was fear. Men and women and children, the whites who lived in this city were afraid, and Dikar knew that they had been afraid so long that they had forgotten what it was not to be afraid, because he saw some of the things they feared.
Dikar saw a couple of white men carrying heavy bundles from a truck into a building. One of them stumbled and fell and the Asafric who was watching kicked him, and blood came out of his mouth. Dikar saw a bunch of Americans shuffling wearily along, chained together two by two, and the Asafrics who walked beside them had long whips that lashed out and cut rags and skin from their backs if they went too slowly.
The car passed a big flat space of ground covered by yellowing grass. Instead of trees, poles grew up out of the ground and each pole had a cross-piece sticking out from its top. From each cross-piece hung something that once had been a man but now was a bundle of rags and bones, swinging in the wind.
The smell in Dikar's nostrils was a smell of filth and rottenness, of sick bodies and sick minds; the City that from the River had looked so glorious was a place of desolation and despair. Dikar tried to close his eyes, so that he would not see these things, but he could not keep them closed. He looked up high, so as not to see the people, and saw a building whose windows were smashed and blind, its insides gutted by fire. He saw another that was nothing but a black network of broken iron, rubble piled in the great hole above which it stood.
All of a sudden there was beside him a wall that went up and up so high that Dikar had to bend his head back as far as it would go to see the top. It was the unbelievable building that had seemed from the River to be a finger pointing at God.
The car slowed and stopped right in front of this great building, and Sergeant Skoom was telling Dikar and Paine to get out.
SKOOM walked first, and then Paine and Dikar and behind them the three Asafric privates with their rifles ready to shoot. In this way they went into the building, into a room bigger than any Dikar had ever seen.
It was all stone, with a gold-painted roof and shining black walls, but all the stone was cracked and pieces were broken away everywhere so that the iron bones of the building showed through. And the room stank with the smell of Asafrics.
There were a great many Asafrics standing around, talking and laughing, but the room was so big they hardly seemed to be making any noise at all. An officer, a little man with a sharp, yellow face and shiny hair black as a crow's feathers, came toward them.
Skoom told them to stop and he went ahead to meet the officer, jerking his hand to his head and down again. He talked so low Dikar couldn't hear what he said, and the officer's narrow, slanted black eyes looked past Skoom at Dikar and Paine.
The way the officer looked at them made Dikar feel afraid.
The officer went to the wall and talked into a little box that hung on it. Then he came back to Skoom and said something; Skoom's hand jerked up and down, and he came back to Dikar and Paine, his purplish, thick lips grinning.
"Yoh hab one big fella luck ob de debbil," he said to Dikar. "Yoh go see Viceroy Hashamoto hese'f."
"Hashamoto!" Dikar felt the strength go out of his body. He licked his lips, managed to say, "I no go see Viceroy. Cap'n Tsi Huan say I take white fella deserter to Major Apgar, nobody else."
"Dat all right." Skoom grinned. "You go see major too. He wid Viceroy w'en Lieutenant Sing Foo telefoam 'bout yoh, an' dey gib order bring yoh to Viceroy's quahtehs."
"But my white fella pris'ner say he not talk only to major," Dikar persisted. "He say—"
"That's all right, Tagloo," Paine broke in. "I'd rather the Viceroy heard what I have to say. Much rather."
"Come 'long," the sergeant said. "Ah no care w'at you radder or not radder. Come 'long befoh ah make yoh."
They started moving again, and Dikar felt a little better because Paine had said it was all right. Just what Paine was going to do, Dikar couldn't think, but he was very smart and must have worked out something to do.
They went through a door. It closed behind them. The space they were in wasn't much bigger than just enough to hold the six of them and another Asafric who was already in it. All of a sudden Dikar felt very heavy, his feet pressing hard down on the floor.
The hissing sound was sudden and frightening. But the snake noise stopped before he could get the knife out, and the door was opening again.
Sergeant Skoom must have made a mistake, Dikar decided, must have led them into the wrong place and now he was taking them to the right one. They went out again, but this was not the big room. It was a very narrow, long space, its roof white and much lower, doors all along both sides of it. Way down at the end there was a window and Dikar could see the sky through it.
In the short time they had been in the little room, everything outside it had changed.
Dikar's skin was tight and he was shivering. This was a more fearful magic than the electricity. For the first time he wasn't sure the Americans could lick the Asafrics. If they could do things like this....
SERGEANT SKOOM had stopped in front of a wide door at the end of the narrow space and was knocking on it. A muffled voice came through, and Skoom said something in his own language. The sergeant took hold of the handle on the door and pulled it open. The others went through it, and stopped short, and Skoom closed the door behind them.
Sergeant Skoom stood very straight and stiff, jerking his hand to his head, and the privates were frozen figures. There was a kind of greenish color under the Blacks' skin, and their eyes were scared. They were in a room three times as big as Headquarters at West Point. There were a lot of tables and chairs and benches in the room, all of different shapes and bright- colored, and the floor was bright-colored.
The same voice, no longer muffled, said something again. It came from a man who sat at a table far at the other end of the room, a little white man dressed in the green uniform of the Asafrics, his face pinched together like the shell of a nut, his nose hooked like an eagle's beak, his eyes very sharp and bright.
"Major Apgar say yoh two come." Skoom pushed Dikar and Paine, started them walking across the floor.
Another man sat behind the table toward which they walked. He was shorter even than Major Apgar, but he was almost as wide across as he was tall. His yellow face was round, and his eyes were drowned in the flabby bulge of his cheeks. His nose was bashed flat. He had no eyelashes nor eyebrows, and there was no hair on his face, on his great round head or on his soft-looking, swollen body that was covered only by thin, bright red cloth that gaped open down the front.
He was like a spider hiding under a leaf to which one string of its web was fastened, a spider bloated with the flies it has eaten.
Major Apgar was watching Dikar and Paine come across the floor, but Yee Hashamoto, Asafric Viceroy of America, was looking at the maps that strewed the table. He had a very small red mouth in his great, yellow moon of a face.
Dikar reached the nearer side of the table and stopped short, his hand going up to his head and down as Paine stopped alongside of him. Hashamoto's head lifted and his eyes looked at Dikar, and Dikar knew how a fly must feel, caught in a web and seeing the spider eye him from under the leaf. To escape that feeling he looked past Hashamoto at the wall behind him.
There was a door in that wall and it was a little open. Dikar's nostrils flared. From that door a smell came to him—a strange one to be in this place—the odor of flowers.
Major Apgar was talking to Dikar, his voice as cold as the winter streams on the Mountain.
He was talking in the language of the Asafrics. "Ah no can un'stan w'at de major talk," Dikar said. "'Cause ah be Abyssin—" He checked at the look on Apgar's face, and knew before the next words came from those thin lips what they would be.
"But it was in the Abyssinian dialect that I spoke," Major Apgar said, and there was a sudden gasp from Hashamoto. "I recognized that you were—You're not!" The major was up out of his seat, his pupils widening. "What are you? What—?"
"I'll tell you." This was Paine, and Dikar swung around to him in surprise. "This man is no more an Abyssinian than I am. He is an American spy."
He's given me away, thought Dikar, because I can't be saved, but that will save him and give him a chance to talk to Apgar alone.
"An American." A little pink tongue licked Hashamoto's lips and he looked even more like a spider. "Ahhh—and you?"
"An American too, but a loyal subject of your Excellency. No, wait!" Paine's uplifted hand stopped what the Viceroy was about to say next. "Wait and listen. You've been wondering how the Americans' underground operatives have been finding out your most secret plans. I can tell you where they're getting them from, whom they're getting them from. His eyes went to Major Apgar. "It is—"
"No!" Dikar shouted. He sprang, and his hand clamped the betrayal in Paine's throat. "You'll not tell!"
His fingers squeezed; his other arm went across the small of Paine's back. There was a shout somewhere, and a thud of feet running toward him, but Dikar was shoving Paine's purpling face away from him, was bending the upper part of him back over his rigid arm, while the lower part of Paine was clamped against Dikar's straining body.
Shouts somewhere, and a click of rifle bolts, and Apgar yelling. "Don't shoot, you fools. You'll kill the Viceroy." But there was a grating of bone against the swelling muscles of Dikar's arm and a scream shrill and terrible, tore through Dikar's throttling fingers. Paine's back snapped across Dikar's arm, like a dead branch.
Dikar let the body drop and saw green uniforms, black faces, leaping at him, saw clubbed rifles flailing. He roared and sprang to meet them, but a rifle butt pounded into his chest, staggering him back, and another paralyzed his arm. Blows rained on Dikar; he was pounded to the floor.
Dikar rolled on the floor and with darkening sight he saw an iron-covered rifle butt driving down at his head.
"NO!" came a high, thin cry. "Don't kill him." The rifle butt hung, strangely motionless, over Dikar's head, and in the dizzy dark there seemed to be a flutter of blue above him. A woman's voice cried again, "Don't kill him," and the smell of flowers was very strong in his nostrils. The darkness welled up into Dikar's head and he went down, down into dark depths of pain.
Dikar swung up out of the dark and somewhere above him Hashamoto was saying, "You were right, Lisa. You were very right to stop these fools from killing him. He must know the traitor's name, and he will tell me. Oh, yes."
The darkness faded out of Dikar's eyes. He could see Sergeant Skoom leering down at him, little eyes redder than before, and the other Blacks, rifles clubbed and ready to beat Dikar down if he moved. He could see the gold braid on Benjamin Apgar's green uniform and a gross leg that must be Hashamoto's because it was covered with scarlet cloth.
"Of course I was right." The woman's voice was throaty now. "If I hadn't been coming to see what was keeping you and started to open that door just in time to hear what the other American said, this spy would be dead now and the rebels would keep on learning our secrets."
She hadn't just started to open that door, Dikar thought. It had been open all the time. She'd been listening. His head rolled, and he saw her, a soft blue robe fluttering about her slender, deep-breasted white body, her hair a cloud of yellow sunshine about her delicate features. With the movement pain reached deep into Dikar, wrenched a groan from his throat.
"He's coming to," Hashamoto said. "Put irons on him, Sergeant. Quickly."
Skoom knelt, grabbed Dikar's arms. Agony rushed through him, and he went down again into the darkness.
WHEN he could see again he was slumped in a chair, iron cuffs on his wrists, on his ankles. Skoom was standing stiff in front of Hashamoto and the Viceroy was talking. "You will say nothing of this to anyone, nor will your men. Understand?"
"Yaas, Excellency. Ah understand."
"You had better." Very cruel was that round, yellow face. "If the traitor is warned and escapes, I shall know just whom to blame and that will be unpleasant for you. You may retire now to the corridor outside this room and wait there for further orders."
Skoom saluted, turned sharply away and marched out of the room, the other Blacks following. The three, Hashamoto and Apgar and Lisa, watched them go, none speaking until the door closed behind them.
"Now," Hashamoto murmured. "Now we shall ask our friend a question or two." He came toward Dikar and a humming sound came with him. The humming sound was caused by something in his pudgy hand. It was a very thin stick as long as Dikar's arm, and it shone in the light like the blade of a knife and quivered because it was so thin. The quivering was what made the humming sound.
Benjamin Apgar watched the scarlet-clothed, bloated form as it padded softly toward Dikar, and Apgar's wrinkled face was expressionless except for the eyes; they had the look of someone who was drowning and did not know how to save himself. And in Lisa's violet eyes there was, strangely, that very same look.
Yee Hashamoto stopped, three paces from Dikar's chair. "Stand up," he commanded, low-toned. "Get up on your feet."
DIKAR'S jaw set in a stubborn line. Then his face relaxed: He had thought of something: These iron cuffs on his wrists could crack a skull. He heaved, every muscle a separate agony, twisted, and was up out of the chair—
The thin stick whined, flashed down in front of Dikar. He dodged back, almost fell, managed to keep his feet. The stick hadn't touched him.
The jacket of his uniform hung loose. The buttons from it were rolling across the floor.
Wheen! Dikar didn't even see the stick move that time, but he felt chill on his back. Green cloth fell down between his legs. Wheen! Wheen! Two slashes! He was naked above his waist except for the sleeves on his arms and two rags that hung from his shoulders. The thin stick had stripped him, but had never touched his skin.
"I have not lost my skill with this," Yee Hashamoto murmured, stroking it between the fingers of his free hand. "A sweet toy." Its humming was the noise a wasp made flying in the summer sun. "I can slice an inch of flesh from your body." Spittle was bubbling at the corners of his tiny, red mouth. "And another inch and another, stripping your skeleton clean while you live inside of it. I can deal the Death of the Thousand Cuts, which takes so very long to kill."
The floor heaved up and down beneath Dikar. If only the yellow spider would come nearer. No use to spring at him. That gray- white stick would meet one, would slash across one's eyes.
"But there will be no need for me to prove my skill," Hashamoto murmured. "I am quite sure that you are going to tell me the name of the traitor on my staff."
Dikar looked at him. Queer. The room was spinning.
"Are you not?" The stick rose, humming. "Answer me."
"No." Was this hoarse croak his voice? "No, I am not," Dikar croaked and sprang at the Viceroy, his manacled arms lifting. But he thudded to the floor, tripped by the irons on his ankles. He thrust fists against the floor, and was too weak to lift himself.
Fire burned across his back—the lash of the humming stick. A foot thudded into Dikar's side, turned him over, and he was staring up at an expressionless moon-face.
The thin stick hummed, hanging above Dikar, and there was a red smear on its shine and it dripped red drops. "Who is he?" Yee Hashamoto murmured, his face expressionless. "What is his name?"
All the pain in Dikar's body seemed to drain into that one place where the stick had touched him. If Apgar tried to stop this he would only give himself away, and he must not do that. He had helped the Cause, he would help it again.
"You can kill me, but I won't tell you."
"I shall kill you, but not before you tell me." The stick hummed, lifting.
"Yee." It was Lisa's blue robe Dikar saw above him now, and Lisa was saying, "It's going to take a long time to make him speak, Yee." Her slender, white hand was on Yee Hashamoto's fat arm. "And once more you won't have time to take me flying. Turn him over to Ben Apgar."
The yellow man brushed Lisa's hand from his arm. "This man knows the traitor's name; I want that name. You understand, Lisa? This is no time for pleasure flying."
"You promised me, Yee. You gave me your word that nothing would keep you from doing it today."
"Then I break my promise."
"Again!" There was sharpness in Lisa's voice, sudden violent fire in her eyes. "This is the fifth time. Remember what I promised you yesterday when the report of trouble in the South and West came in and you said you couldn't go."
He was looking at her strangely. "What?"
"That if we didn't go today, I was through. Go ahead with what you want to do." She was walking away, her blue robe whispering about her slenderness, "Take as much time as you want."
She reached the door through which she had come in, faced around, one hand on the door handle, the other at her throat. "Take all day, all week to do what Ben Apgar could do as well as you. Better perhaps." The skin at her throat was as white as the down on a pigeon's breast and looked as soft, as warm to the touch. "But don't come looking for me when you're done, because I won't be here."
"Lisa." Hashamoto's creased neck swelled with his anger. "You talk like that to me? You dare? There is still a whipping post, Lisa. I can still send you back to it. I can still have you flogged to the death from which I saved you."
"Of course you can." She smiled thinly. "And the whole army will laugh at you." But Dikar saw the flutter in her throat that told how terrified she was. "The whole army will laugh, whispering how even a white slave-woman preferred death on the whipping post to the attentions of the Viceroy.
"No, my dear. Whether you have me publicly flogged to death or privately murdered, the secret will leak out, and if you let me live, I will tell it. All your officers will be greatly entertained. When you give them an order they will salute, and turn from you and snicker, thinking of how a helpless woman despised you. Where will your discipline be then? Where will be your face?"
There was a choking sound in Hashamoto's throat.
"And when, on the other side of the world," Lisa went on, mercilessly, "your Emperor hears the echo of your army's laughter—One minute, my dear Yee. I give you one minute to come to me," Lisa said, and was gone.
After the door closed, there was only the hum of Hashamoto's thin stick and sound of his heavy breathing. Then Benjamin Apgar began to speak, low-voiced.
"The little devil. But she'll do it, Excellency. Nothing in God's world can keep her from doing it."
"Nothing—" Yee Hashamoto, Viceroy of all America, was a fumbling fat man. He spread his hands wide, said, "It was once said: 'It is safer to put your honor in keeping of man who hates you than in hands of woman who love—' Can I trust you, Benjamin Apgar?"
"In all the years, your Excellency, that I have served you, have you ever found reason to distrust me?"
"No." Hashamoto held out his stick, and queerly, it did not hum. "When I return, Major Apgar, I shall expect to hear the name of the traitor."
"You may expect it," Apgar answered, taking the stick, and Hashamoto was going across the room and out of the door.
"Poor Lisa," Apgar sighed. "She did not have the courage to die to save her own soul, but when it was her country—"
Trying to get up, Dikar saw the crumpled, shapeless thing that he had made of Captain Paine, and suddenly a lot of things were clear to him. Paine was the spy, not Morgan. Paine, not Morgan had slipped up behind Gary, clubbed him. It was Morgan who'd seen that murder, and Paine had shot Morgan.
The revolvers—if they had stopped to think about how they lay, the bloody, hair-matted one near Paine, the other so much farther away.
The plan to kill Walt and Dikar, to steal the boat and come down the River to tell, the Asafrics about Apgar—no wonder Paine had figured it out so quickly. He hadn't had to figure it out; it had been his own plan. He hadn't fallen asleep over the wheel at all. If Lieutenant Sing Fong had let him talk....
"But Lisa only postponed the inevitable," Apgar was saying. Dikar looked at him. "She will have to let Hashamoto come back some time, and then—"
The major's thin hand, like a bird's talons, held a revolver and it was pointing down at Dikar. "I'm sorry, son." The nutlike face had a queer smile on it. "But this is the most Lisa has gained for us—a bullet in your brain, another in mine."
ODDLY, Dikar was not afraid. "Wait," he said. "Listen. To make sure that he does not make me tell your secret, you must shoot me, of course; but you must not shoot yourself. You're needed, Major Apgar. America needs you now more than it ever did."
"Needs me?" The revolver wavered, ever so little. "No, son. I can do no more for America, now that I am no longer in touch with the Secret Net. I can do no more, and I have lived in hell too long, and I'm tired." It was almost as if he were pleading with Dikar for the right to die. "I have earned my rest."
"There can be no rest for anyone till America is free again." Dikar rocked up to squat on his haunches and the room started to circle again, the floor to heave, but at length the blur cleared. "I came here to tell you what you can do. What you must do. That is why I came looking for you."
"For me—yes. Yes, of course. I'd forgotten." Apgar pulled across his brow the edge of the hand that held the gun. "The lieutenant did report that you insisted on seeing me, and Hashamoto thought that so strange he had you brought up here. You have a message for me?"
"I have. From the President of the United States."
"The President!" Apgar looked startled. "He's escaped! But even if he has, what good? I saw him only last week, a dirt- crusted, bedraggled thing climbing the bars of his cage and eternally singing the Star-Spangled Banner in a shrill, cracked voice."
"The man you saw was the president of a dead America. The man who sent me to you is the Leader of a new America, an America that is only just now being born. Listen, Major Apgar." In a voice hoarse with pain Dikar told about Normanfenton and the Second Continental Congress, and a light began to come into Benjamin Apgar's face, and he was a tired old man no longer. Then Dikar told of the plan the Congress had made and Apgar turned quickly to the table, snatched up one of the maps Hashamoto had been studying.
"Here's the very place," he cried, smacking his hand on it. "The munitions depot at Dover, New Jersey, only eighty miles from West Point. You say you have captured plenty of trucks when you took the fort? With those we can make it there and back in one night.
"There's a well-paved highway between that isn't too well guarded, and Dover's garrisoned by only two companies. Blow up the explosives stored there and Hashamoto will be so enraged that he will forget all about his careful plans. Look here."
Apgar gathered the other maps in both hands. "The Viceroy has decided merely to keep watch on West Point while he dispatches bombing planes and troops to put down the insurrections in— But what's the use?" The excitement was abruptly out of him. "We can't get word to Fenton about all this. There's no way."
"There is," Dikar broke in. "There must be. Think, Apgar. Till the Viceroy gets back you're still a major on his staff. You still can give orders that will be obeyed by every Asafric. There must be some way."
"Wait! Maybe—Lie down there. Lie down and groan, and pretend to be just on the point of fainting." Apgar was stuffing the maps into an inside pocket of his coat as Dikar obeyed. "And pray that this will work. It will be a miracle if it does, but miracles sometimes happen."
Then he was calling in a loud voice, "Skoom! Sergeant Skoom!"
The wide door at the other end of the room opened. "Heah, sah."
"Bring your men in here," Apgar snapped. "On the double-quick, and make sure that door's locked behind you."
THEY came in, their feet thudding on the floor, their rifles jangling. "Line them up at attention," Apgar snapped. Skoom barked orders and the three privates were standing in a straight line across the floor before the major, with Skoom a step or two in front of them.
Dikar moaned, scrabbling the floor with his fingers. This was not all pretense of suffering, for every movement brought him agony.
Above him, Major Apgar was talking to the Blacks in their own language. Dikar could not understand, of course, but he learned afterward that this was what Apgar was saying: "You heard enough, before you were sent out of here, to know that someone has been betraying us to the American dogs, and that this carrion whimpering at my feet knows who the traitor is.
"He has been persuaded to tell us the name, but the man is so highly placed that the lightning of the Viceroy's wrath cannot strike him like a bolt from the skies. The Emperor's permission must be obtained before so much as a hand may be laid upon him.
"General Yee Hashamoto has gone to arrange for this, but meantime there is danger that the traitor may learn that he is discovered, and flee. It is needful, therefore, that this pig of a spy be hidden from knowledge of all till the Viceroy is ready to act swiftly. This is the task Yee Hashamoto has laid upon me, and upon you.
"The words you hear now come from my mouth but the voice is the voice of your Viceroy. The orders you hear are to be obeyed no matter who gives you contrary orders, unless it be the Viceroy himself, by my mouth or by his own. Is that understood?"
"It is understood, sah," Skoom answered. "We understand and obey."
"Very well. We are flying the prisoner to a camp in the northern woods where we will guard him till the traitor is safely in jail. Skoom! Unlock those irons from the prisoner's feet but leave those on his wrist.
"You, on the end there! You are of a size with him. Remove your tunic and clothe him in it. You will lock the outer door when we depart and remain here, opening to no one until the Viceroy relieves you. You other two will come with us and you will shoot down anyone, officer or enlisted man, who attempts to speak with the prisoner, or to hinder us."
CURIOUS eyes followed them as they walked out through the enormous stone-walled room. But the Asafrics quickly saluted when they saw the forbidding frown on Major Apgar's face; they did not attempt to speak to the Blacks or to their iron-cuffed prisoner.
Outside, Dikar was ordered into the back seat of the car between the two privates. Apgar sat in front with Skoom.
The car started off. Apgar leaned over and spoke to Skoom. Skoom grinned and touched something on the wheel he gripped. Dikar jumped as a siren started to howl and looked up into the sky for planes; then he realized that the howling came from the front of the car, and that the car was going faster.
The other cars and trucks were scattering from in front of them, like minnows when a trout darts at them from beneath a shadowy rock; and they were going so fast that there were tears in Dikar's eyes and he could see only a gray blur of buildings speeding past.
Then, suddenly, there were no buildings, but blue sky and a wide, white road and a white lattice of iron rising into the sky, with water far beneath. A few moments later the car was running across an enormous flat field, and it was slowing, the siren moaning to silence.
Across that field, as far as Dikar could see, stretched lines and lines of planes, huge planes shining silvery in the sunlight and medium-sized ones red as the breast of a tanager and little ones black as crows. And buzzing like bees about the planes were hundreds of Asafrics.
The car rocked to a stop near a line of the small black planes. Major Apgar sprang to the ground. A yellow-faced officer came running and stiffened to attention.
"I want one of your fastest pursuit planes," the major snapped. "One that is ready to take-off at once."
Slant eyes glanced at Dikar, shifted back to Apgar. "The major has a flight order from the field-commandant, of course."
"I have not. But I have a verbal order from the Viceroy, and I'm in a hurry."
"But Major Apgar"—the officer looked puzzled—"the Viceroy—"
"Are you questioning an officer of the Viceroy's personal staff? Do you dare?"
The lieutenant paled. "No, sir. By no means, sir."
"Then give me a plane and be quick about it."
"Yes, sir." The officer wheeled about, pointed to one, at the end of the nearest line. "That is my own and I know she is one of our fastest." A number of Asafrics were swarming over it. "We are just finishing the morning checkup on her, and—"
"Get those men out of her and turn her over to me. Quickly."
"Yes, sir." The officer started away. Major Apgar turned to the car, said, "All right, Skoom, get them out of there." Skoom jabbered to the privates and they grabbed Dikar's arms, hauled him out to the ground. Then they were all hurrying toward the little black plane.
A WHISTLE shrilled somewhere, loud, ear-piercing. All over the field Asafrics were stopping what they were doing, were looking upward. Dikar's little group reached the plane where the last Asafric was tightening something on a wing, and the lieutenant was saying to Major Apgar, "I must tell you that we've just received warning that a line squall is coming down from the north. All but absolutely necessary flights have been called off."
"Damn the squall," Apgar growled. He glanced up into the sky and Dikar saw a tiny muscle twitch at the corner of his cheekbone. "I'm not calling this one off." Dikar looked up too and saw a plane, bright green as leaf-buds in the spring, coming down on a long, swift slant. "Here. Give me your goggles."
"Yes, sir." The officer handed something to the major. "But I shall need them, flying you—"
"You're not flying us. There will be no room for you. Skoom!" Apgar whirled to the sergeant. "Get everyone into the plane. Snap to it."
Skoom was jabbering to the privates. He was pointing to the green plane which had landed now and was running along the ground, straight toward them. "Skoom!" The major snapped: "Do you hear me? Get the prisoner into the plane."
The sergeant said something, started toward him. The green plane had stopped, about a hundred yards away. The Asafric workmen were carrying a set of short steps to it, placing the steps against it, just under a door in its side. The door was opening.
Apgar's voice was sharp, angry, behind Dikar—the sergeant's answer sullen-sounding. The privates' fingers were tightening on Dikar's arms. The door of the green plane opened, and a figure in glittering uniform stepped into the sunlight—a bloated figure with a round, moon face. Yee Hashamoto!
The sudden roar of an engine drowned out the voices behind Dikar. The Viceroy glanced that way.
Dikar saw Hashamoto's tiny mouth open, saw his fat arm lift to point at them. The Asafrics were turning, were starting to run toward Dikar and the black plane. Hashamoto jumped down off the steps and came on, yelling.
"He's seen us," Dikar cried. "He knows who we are." The Major was in the black plane, and Dikar shouted at him: "Get away. Leave me and get away."
Skoom had hold of Dikar's arm with one hand and was pulling a revolver from his belt with the other. But Dikar's sudden leap tore him from the Black's grasp. He lifted his arms, clamped together by the cuffs, brought them down. The manacles struck Skoom's head savagely. The sergeant was falling and Dikar was leaping over his fallen body, and Apgar was dragging Dikar over the side of the plane.
The plane was moving, but shots were barking all around, and Dikar could hear Hashamoto's bellow above the engine's roar. Dikar dragged himself upright and saw the soldiers closing in on the plane, the little guns in their hands spitting fire. Right ahead Dikar saw the green plane; a flutter of blue appeared in its open door, and a delicate face framed by hair like yellow sunshine.
But the black plane was sluggish to rise. It drove forward, only a few feet above the ground, and there directly in its path was the green plane, terrifyingly near. Then Dikar saw the ground drop suddenly away and in that same instant a rending crash threw him violently to one side. Another shock and he was being whirled somewhere between the earth and the sky.
IT seemed an endless time before Dikar was no longer being wrenched about, but at last he was carried steadily, and the shot-sounds, the shouting, seemed far away under him. He dragged himself up, somehow, till he could look over the plane side. He saw sky, looked down and saw the field skimming away. The little men down there were running about like ants.
"The miracle!" he heard Benjamin Apgar yell. "The miracle has happened. Our landing gear's torn away but we're still in the air, and we've got a chance now to get away."
Wind whipped Dikar's face, but still he stared down at the field. He could see a heap of broken green and a spot of blue near it that was very still.
"She did as best she could what she was best fitted for," Dikar whispered to himself, "an at Evenin' Council the Boss of us all will say to her, 'Well done, Lisa.'" Then he felt a quick impact of terror that left him weak.
He'd realized suddenly that he was in the air, high in the air, and that there was nothing to hold him there, nothing but this shivering, frail thing they called a plane.
Dikar's legs buckled under him and he fell to the plane's floor, groveling. He'd been scared before but never like this. Never like this.
"The storm warning must have turned Hashamoto back." Apgar's voice came to him, from far away, it seemed. "And he landed just at the wrong time for us, but we got away in spite of—Oh! Maybe we haven't got away yet. Look!"
The sky was filled with sound, with a rumble of thunder. Dikar's face, his palms, his whole body, were wet with cold sweat, but this seemed to have somewhat purged him of his terror. He had strength again to lift his head and look back the way Apgar had pointed.
Far back, far below, the field had shrunk so small that Dikar's hand might almost cover it, but black specks were streaking up from it, rising swiftly into the fathomless blue of the sky, and Dikar knew that these were the planes of the Asafrics pursuing them.
"Can they catch us?" Dikar demanded, turning to the weazened little man who crouched in the front of the plane, his hands clutching a stick stuck up from its floor. "Can you get us away from them?"
"I don't know," the answer came through the roaring in the sky. "But I'm going to make a damned good try."
FAR ahead gray-black clouds piled up in the sky, the clouds of the storm that had turned Yee Hashamoto back, but about them the sky was clear as the water of a Mountain stream, as crisply cold.
Beneath, fold on fold, the hills that had crouched blackly ominous in the night were patterned with squares of green, darker and lighter, and yellow. Fine white lines that were broad roads meandered among them and from the bottom of a long crease in the hills glinted silvery-blue a ribbon no wider than Dikar's arm. The great River.
"Can you fight with a machine gun, Dikar?"
"I never have," Dikar answered Major Benjamin Apgar's question, looking at the red marks where the iron cuffs had rubbed the skin from his wrists. The cuffs were gone because, luckily, Apgar had taken from Skoom the key to them before they left headquarters. "But I can try, if I have to."
"Well, you're going to have to, all right. Look back."
Dikar obeyed. The black specks hung in the blue, far back, just as they had hung since they'd started out. No! One was a little larger, a little nearer than the others. It was growing, very slowly, but still growing so that already Dikar could make out its spread wings, the blurred circle at its head that gave it strength to fly.
"This is one of their fastest pursuits," Apgar said grimly. "But that one is faster. It's going to catch us long before we reach West Point."
"What do we do then?" Dikar asked, quietly.
"We fight. See that machine gun behind you? Sit down on the floor beside it. There is a little tube, just at the level of your head. Close one eye and look through with the other."
Obeying, Dikar gasped. The leading Asafric plane had jumped forward miles, was almost on top of them. He jerked his head away. No. It was still back there, only a little nearer than it had been before.
"That's the sight," Apgar was saying. "You see those crossed hair lines? Where they join, the bullets will hit on your mark. The handle under the near end of the gun will move it."
He went on, telling Dikar how to aim the machine gun, how to load it, how to fire it, and by the time he had finished the pursuing plane was as near, almost, as it had seemed when Dikar first looked through the sight.
Bluish lines streaked the sky; there was a loud rrrrt, rrrrrt. There was a bright spot on the wing beside Dikar. Others! The Asafric plane was roaring at him. The rrrttt was behind Dikar, nearer.
He turned. It was coming from the machine gun in front of Apgar, and beyond, between their own plane and the up-slanting hills, was the Asafric plane. Black-goggled men crouched in it. The hills and the plane swung up, over, down again in front of Dikar. He caught the Asafric plane on the crosshairs of his sight, pressed the trigger; he heard and felt the machine gun's harsh sound, and then the plane and the hills were gone....
SUDDENLY the Asafric plane was whirling away, spinning crazily and dropping, flames bursting from it, and the plane he was in was tossing frantically no longer. Apgar was calling back, "All right, Dikar? Are you all right?"
"Yes," Dikar gasped, not quite sure, for there was fire across his one shoulder and there was sticky wetness on his forehead when he lifted his hand to it. "I think so." Turning, he saw that one arm of Apgar's hung limp by his side, its sleeve darkening. "But you're hurt!"
"No," Apgar said. "Not bad." The light within his face was even brighter; his eyes were shining. "I've not forgotten," he cried. "It's been years but I haven't forgotten how to handle a plane in a dog-fight."
"A dog-fight? I didn't see any dogs."
Apgar laughed and for an instant Dikar thought he heard one of the Boys of the Bunch laugh, so young and joyous was the sound. But then Dikar saw that the sky was all black-gray, close ahead, saw lightning streak the high-piled clouds.
"The storm!" he cried. "We're flyin' right into it!" And the sky was filled with thunder, but the thunder was from behind. Dikar wheeled, saw that the planes of the Asafrics, those that were left, were much nearer and coming fast. "The planes, Apgar! The other planes. We're going slower, and they're catching us!"
"The fight held us up and crippled us," Apgar's answer was blown back to Dikar on the wind. "The storm waits ahead, Dikar, and the death lies behind. But be damned to them both, for between them, see is West Point."
Dikar looked down and saw the gray buildings of West Point nested very small in the encircling hills. A great shout of joy rose in his throat.
A white cloud puffed, just below the plane, and another little white cloud; the plane rocked and straightened, and rocked again, and sharp thunder struck at Dikar.
"They're shooting at us." Apgar pounded the stick with his good fist "In West Point they're shooting at us with their Archies. We can't get down in the face of their fire."
Thunder rolled in the storm ahead, and thunder rolled from the planes coming behind, and sharp thunder struck at Dikar from the little white puffs beneath.
"They think we're leading a squadron of Asafrics to attack them, Dikar: They think we're the enemy. After all we've gone through, to be killed at last by our friends—We have no way to let them know who we are."
"Yes we have," Dikar cried. He was tearing off his green uniform, coat, trousers. "We have one way." He was naked as when he roamed the Mountain. "Circle, Apgar! Circle above that flag down there."
"What—what are you going to do, Dikar?"
"I know they have tubes there by the Archies, through which they can see far and far. I'm going to let them see me, and they'll know who I am because I'm naked."
"But they can't see you, here in the cockpit, from below!"
"They'll see me where I'm going," Dikar flung back, and he was climbing up out of the place Apgar called the cockpit. He was climbing out on the wing torn by bullets, and the wind took hold of him.
THE wind, stronger than any storm wind Dikar had ever known, fought to tear him from the wing. Thunder rolled from the storm clouds, from the black planes, from the Archies below; and the thunder tossed the plane, shaking it, trying to shake Dikar from its wing, to cast him down and down till he smashed on the Plain below, between the gray buildings of West Point.
But Dikar clung to wires with both hands and would not let the wind tear him from the wing, would not let the Archies shake him from it, Dikar leaned far out, and below him the flag whipped in the storm wind, red and white and blue. Dikar let go with one hand, his feet clinging to the very edge of the plane, and leaned far out and waved his free hand to the little men on the roofs from which the Archies barked their thunder.
And suddenly the plane was not tossing any longer in the thunder of the Archies, and a faint sound of cheering came up to Dikar from below. The white puffs of the Archies were bursting far behind now, were bursting about the black, pursuing planes. The pursuing planes were lifting above the reach of the Archies, but Dikar's plane was sliding down the breast of the wind to the Plain that was hemmed in by the gray buildings of West Point.
Somehow Dikar tumbled back into the cockpit. Thunder clapped, deafening, but it was only the thunder of the storm. "Great stuff, son," he heard Apgar exclaim, and then Apgar groaned. "We have no landing gear."
"No landin—" Dikar gasped. "What does that mean?"
"It means that I've got to take her in on her belly. Miracle! We'll need a dozen miracles to live through this. Hold tight!"
There was only sound, vast sound blotting out all else. And then silence, darkness—light in the darkness, little yellow tongues of fire, licking toward Dikar.
Dikar could not move, could not get away from the fire. Something was holding him.
Thunder! A clap of thunder that burst the sky. Then a hissing like a thousand snakes—the hissing sound of rain. The air solid with rain that beat down on Dikar, that beat down and drowned the flames.
Wet hands were dragging Dikar out of the wreck of the plane. Dimly he saw faces in the rain—Walt's, Normanfenton's. He saw vague figures gathered about a limp form, carrying it. The rain-curtain parted. The form was Benjamin Apgar's, and his eyes were open, and he was smiling. He was not dead. Benjamin Apgar was alive, and the plans, the maps, were safe.
"Dikar!" Marilee's voice was crying his name. "Oh, Dikar." Marilee was sobbing his name. Marilee's arms were around him, her lips were on his, and his head was on Marilee's breast.
It was sweet to sleep with his head pillowed on Marilee's soft breast.
DIKAR awoke. He was on his bed in the little House that was his and Marilee's, and night pressed black against the window. Out of the night came a thunder.
"The trucks, Dikar." Marilee was here by his bedside, gray eyes grave on his, smiling at him. "They're starting out for the raid on Dover."
"Starting!" Dikar pushed at the bed to get up, "I've got to—"
His hands were strangely clumsy; they were great white bundles, wrapped in cloth. The white stuff wound his body. Marilee's small hand pushed Dikar down on the bed. She was so strong suddenly—or was he so weak?
"You're not going anywhere, my dear," Marilee murmured. "You're staying here with me. You've done your job for today."
"For today. But tomorrow—"
"Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow. There will be many tomorrows for us, Dikar, and each tomorrow will have its task for which you are fitted, and each task you will do well, because you are Dikar.
"But best of all there will be a new Tomorrow for America, a grand and shining Tomorrow for a free America, the long night of slavery ended, the sunrise come at last."
"Please, God," Dikar whispered. "Let there be sunrise, Tomorrow."
Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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