There is always a breed immune to mass hypnosis, and to them falls the duty of rebellion.... The story, by a Brigham Young University senior, that won the second award of $500 in IF's College Science Fiction Contest
A SWIRL of dust licked at the grass sandals of the men standing on the hill. There were eight men, and they stood looking west over the burned, gutted land that lay barren before them—barren except for a series of huge mounds that lay in a depression far out from the hills on the rocky plains.
"Do you still think we can make it?" asked a stocky man with a livid scar that ran from his upper lip to his forehead. "I for one would rather live alone and meagerly than not live at all."
The speaker received a stern glance from a tall hawk-nosed man wearing a finely-worked leather belt, apparently a symbol of leadership.
"We have already agreed, remember, Franz? We have to succeed or disappear off the face of the Earth. You may turn back if you wish. We are going on."
Franz scowled, rubbed his scar and contemplated the mounds in the distance. "You forget I have lived there. You have not. Well, maybe to be a slave is not so bad after all. Or to die."
"If we die we will not go alone," said Sten, the leader. He turned to the others. "Let's go. It will be dark soon."
The men moved single-file down through the hills without speaking.
As it grew dark they could feel the heat radiate from the sand. They felt the heat press against them and silently praised Sten's wisdom in waiting for the cold time of year before making the attempt. They wore a tunic of coarse-woven cloth that hung loose from their shoulders, and even that single garment was too warm here. They moved in silence, Sten in the lead, followed by his brother, Johnathon, a smaller man with wide shoulders and a quick smile.
A gibbous moon was showing over the mountains when they stopped. Solemnly they gathered in a circle.
"We will separate now," Sten spoke softly. "Franz and Johnathon and Karl and I will enter from the south. Bradley, you and the others will find the way in from the north. You can find the place. If we're not back at our last camp by morning of the third day, go on without us. You have the map where the valley lies?"
The leader of the other group nodded.
"Then hurry. Until three days, then. Remember, the only hope lies in us. Some of us have to make it!" The men separated with only a wave of farewell and the two groups moved in opposite directions across the hot sands.
Clouds covered the moon and it grew darker as the four men approached the edge of the mounds. An ominous sense of foreboding fell over them. It seemed they could feel the vibration of the city that lay beneath them. Beneath them lay life—stilted, twisted, enslaved life, but life nevertheless.
"Are you sure they don't post a guard?" Johnathon asked.
"Against what, the Root-Diggers?" Franz spat contemptuously. "No, they are secure. They need fear nothing."
It was another hour before they found the tunnel and entered in single file. Groping their way through the darkness, they finally felt a solid wall rise in front of them. Franz made his way to the left, feeling his way along the wall until he found a large box in a niche in the rock.
"It's here! It's still here after all."
"Good," Sten said. "All right, everybody up against the wall and push."
Karl, the biggest of the men, laughed as he eased his bulk against the obstruction. "It would be real sport," he said, "to move this wall and find one of their Steel-heads waiting for us."
Franz snickered. "It wouldn't be sport long, my friend. They're trained from birth to be trigger-happy and there's nothing anyone in Panamia fears more than the outside, or anything connected with it. And we're outsiders."
The wall suddenly gave before them and they moved into a half- darkened room. Carefully, in a sort of frozen silence, they moved the wall back into place. The box had contained city clothes; and now the men worked swiftly in the semi-darkness. When they were ready Franz walked up and down making final adjustments in each of their uniforms. As he finished, Sten laid his hand on his shoulder. "Franz, you'll take over now. You know what everything is like here. We're placing ourselves in your hands."
Franz shrugged his shoulders almost as if he were disinterested in the drama in which they were taking part. His eyes searched the faces of the men.
"So you want women, eh? You want to preserve our race—the glorious animal, Man. Ha! I ask you to ponder for a moment, before it is too late, whether this race is worth preserving. Men have been furthering the race for milleniums and what has it come to? Consider if the earth wouldn't prosper better without Man."
The men shifted uneasily. "Forget all that, Franz," Sten snapped. "You know there must be an answer somewhere. This is our only chance. Everything can't be dead."
Franz looked away. "As you wish. If you're determined to go through with it, then let's start. But first, remember that you're Steel-heads, bred and raised with no other thought than to carry out the will of Him—The Leader. His will is your will. You do not think, you only act according to orders. Don't look intelligent, that is suspect. Just stare straight ahead and do what I tell you—or what any other officer might tell you, for that matter. Remember, don't question anything! Just follow orders."
He laid his hand on the door that led to the city, hesitated for a brief instant, then swung it open. As the men entered, walking stiffly with eyes coldly searching for the unknown, they were hit by a high-pitched whine that filled the corridor and seemed to pierce deep within them. The three men covered their ears with their hands and cringed. But Franz stood straight and moved his head around to catch the noise from all angles. His mouth opened and closed slowly as if he were trying to pull the shrill noise deep within him. Finally he shook his head, as a dog shakes off water, and gathered command of himself.
"It is The Leader," he said in a loud voice to overcome the whine. "Soon you will not notice it. It is everywhere."
Sten removed his hands from his ears and felt the noise creep over him. He shuddered, and felt beads of sweat form on his forehead as the sound seemed to gnaw at his consciousness. Soon the others were able to bear the noise with their ears uncovered, but they felt restless and uneasy.
"We're lucky not to have been seen," said Franz. "Come on."
They moved down the corridor in military formation, Franz leading and the others following dumbly. The corridor was small and well- lighted. Doors opened into cubicles every few feet, and the wall was lined with wide view-screens that stared out, like probing and sullen eyes. The men kept their eyes straight ahead, but occasionally they flicked a glance sideways at the people that were passing them in both directions. They halted as they reached the main corridor.
A loud buzzer rose above the whine, and people emerged from the doors along the walls and passed them in silence. Eyes fixed on the ground. A few talked as they went by, but none noticed the soldiers standing at the edge of the corridor.
Three girls, walking in silence, paused before the men for a brief instant, then passed on. Sten felt his eyes following the girls hungrily. Catching himself, he pulled back to attention and nudged his brother at his side. "Steel-head, Johnathon, remember?" Johnathon again looked straight ahead and stifled the beginnings of a grin that tugged at the corners of his mouth. Franz also stared after the girls, but his eyes wore an amused expression, rather than the longing look of the other men.
Franz spat out a curt order and they began to march down the corridor again, the crowd making room for them automatically. Everywhere posters glared at them from the walls. Some pictured a huge eye that stared out with the words, "The Leader is watching." Others showed the smiling faces of a throng of people. Underneath, in scarlet lettering was emblazoned: "Panamia and The Leader March On—PROGRESS."
For an hour they marched through the city, ignored by the people and apparently unaware of all that was happening around them. They passed thousands of men and women, a milling mass, each immersed in a grim stupor. Where the main corridors intersected they entered great assembly places where huge view-screens were set up. They were always turned on.
A shrill emotional voice blared out a constant stream of propaganda. "People of Panamia, unite, work! The Root-Diggers must be repulsed! For the glory of The Leader, for the glory of Panamia, we must accomplish our utmost. We must give our all!"
"For The Leader! For Panamia!" the people shouted, rising momentarily from their dull world, their eyes glazed with emotion. Banners beneath the screens announced in large crimson letters: Service to The Leader is glory to yourself and Panamia.
The soldiers stood watching tight-lipped. Franz's nostrils quivered as the tumult of the demonstration thundered about them. His face took on an eager look as he watched the people shouting in exaltation, a curt movement of Sten's hand brought him back to the task at hand. He gave a short barked order and the group moved on.
They had just reached an intersection and were standing awaiting directions from Franz when a shout rang out. "Stop, Provost. You! What are you doing here?" A short, ruddy-faced officer in thick- lensed glasses strode up the corridor toward them, scowling. Sten cautiously moved his head around to face the danger.
"Sten, attention! He'll know," Franz hissed from the side of his mouth.
Sten snapped back to attention, staring straight ahead.
The squat officer confronted Franz. "Who assigned you to this block?"
Franz saluted. "Security sent us to check on a disturbance near here."
The officer's eyes narrowed. "Disturbance? I have heard of no disturbance."
"That is of no matter. We were sent."
The squat officer stared hard at Franz. "Hmm, I see. And what is your rank number, Provost?"
Franz told him a number that he remembered.
The officer looked them over searchingly, his lower lip protruding in obvious contempt. "Very well, carry on. But Provost, I'll remember you!" He stood watching as they marched away, rubbing his chin thoughtfully with the palm of his hand.
Sten felt a sickening void in his stomach as they marched past the officer. Surely the man suspected. Would it all end right here, before they even had a chance to get started? He felt the reassuring pressure of the knife inside his belt, the one weapon that Franz had advised, and resolved that, if it should be necessary, their lives would be sold dearly.
After a while they turned into a series of side passage-ways and Franz stopped before the door to one of the cubicles. The corridor was empty, and they were out of range of the view- screens. Johnathon relaxed against the wall and sighed. "What a sight. I never expected it to be as bad as this. Did you notice the look in most of their eyes? It's a dull, glazed almost dead look. They're nothing more than beaten animals."
"Easy," Franz cautioned, "wait till we get inside."
He pressed the button on the door. A woman's voice came through the door panel. "What do you want?"
"Open. In the name of The Leader. It is a Provost."
Slowly the door swung open and the men saw a small brunette standing before them. "What do you want?" she repeated in the same monotone.
"Interrogation!" Franz pushed his way inside. The others followed.
The woman stood against the wall cowering from the soldiers. Franz searched around the apartment carefully, then confronted the woman.
"Do you not know me?"
The woman stared into his eyes. Finally she said, "No, no, I don't know you."
"Do you not remember Jeannine? The girl you worked with? Remember the plans? The plans to leave here and go outside to build a new life?"
Her chin quivered as she tried to speak. "Yes, now I remember. You are Franz, Jeannine's lover. That was before The Leader found out and ... and sent Jeannine away. You disappeared, I thought you had been sent away, too. It is hard to remember. You know we are ordered to forget the past. What ... what do you want of me?"
Franz motioned to the men with him, "We are from the outside."
The woman recoiled with a gasp and backed even closer to the wall. "Root-Diggers!"
Sten stepped forward. "No, we're not Root-Diggers. We're the men of Boru. We've come to lead you and others like you to freedom."
"Barbarians!" the woman snarled. "You're planning to overthrow Panamia!" She lunged wildly at the switch that would have turned on her view-screen. Sten caught her and pushed her back against the wall. The woman screamed once before Sten slapped her, then she sobbed into her hands.
"Shut up!" Sten commanded. "We mean no harm. We have come only to lead out to freedom those who wish to go."
"You are against The Leader."
Franz laughed. "Let's say we hope to outwit him."
The woman drew back. "That is impossible, he cannot be outwitted. The Leader is all."
Johnathon looked up from the corner where he was examining the view-screen. "That may be, but we intend to have a try at it."
Karl, who had been leaning against the door, suddenly sat down on a hard bench against the wall. "Damn," he complained, "this whining noise gives me a headache."
The woman allowed herself a moment of curiosity. "What whining noise? There is no noise."
"They are conditioned to it," Franz spoke to Sten. "It's a part of their lives. We never hear the pounding of our hearts."
The woman sat down on the bench and buried her face in her hands.
"Tell me," Sten said, "Has she no husband?"
"Husband? In Panamia there is no such thing. Everyone lives alone. When they reach maturity, they are summoned to a meeting with The Leader, and mated with him or one of his representatives. That is all. The child is raised by The Leader's nurses. It is all a very impersonal business. They never speak of it."
The lights in the apartment dimmed. Immediately the woman rose and walked mechanically to a bunk set in the wall, curled up, and was asleep almost before the men could notice her.
"What was that?"
"Just The Leader's signal that it is time for sleep," Franz said. "Did you see how she obeyed?"
"They live like clockwork," Sten muttered.
Several hours later the lights came on again. The woman rose without speaking to the men, who had slept on the floor, and sat down at the table to eat.
"Hey, don't we get invited to breakfast?" asked Karl, sitting up in the corner.
Johnathon sniffed the air. "From the smell of it I don't think I want any."
The woman looked up annoyed. "When are you going to leave? I have to go to my work. It's important to Panamia." This last was said with a fierce pride.
"Will she be missed?" Sten asked Franz.
"Yes, but they allow one day away for illness. The second day they check."
"Don't worry," Sten told the woman. "We will leave when we have what we came for."
"And what is that?"
"But you say freedom is outside. Why didn't you stay?"
"Because there must be freedom for our children—and for their children."
"You have children?" she looked interested.
"We shall soon."
"Yes," she said scornfully, "freedom for the children of the Root-Diggers. But you come to Panamia for that freedom!"
"We told you we're not Root-Diggers," Johnathon said. "You can hardly compare us with that tribe of poor devils. But even their state is better than living like a slave in Panamia."
The woman laughed bitterly. "If you are not Root-Diggers, why do you come to hurt Panamia and The Leader? It is because of you people that we are warred upon and must always sacrifice."
Franz rose and faced the woman. "Kathryn, you're wrong," he said. "The Root-Diggers are not warring with Panamia. They are only men and women like ourselves who have been banned from Panamia. The Leader had them purged before they were forced outside so that they are sterile and have only half their wits. They have to live like animals, eating roots and berries and bugs and insects. Those are the Root-Diggers your Leader uses to frighten you."
The woman clenched her fists until the knuckles showed white. "You lie!" she screamed. "The Leader tells the truth."
"No, it's not a lie. We have all seen them," Sten said quietly.
The men sat in silence while the woman wept.
Karl reached out and ate a bit of the woman's food. "What sort of gruel is this stuff, I wonder. It needs salt."
"Salt," commented Franz, "is the greatest luxury in the city. Because of the Root-Diggers, you know. There is a grave shortage. The people crave it more than anything else and will go to any lengths to get an extra ration of it."
Sten shook his head. "And they blame it on those poor beasts outside." He rose and began nervously pacing the floor. "Franz, we have to move quickly. The others will leave if we don't meet them on time. Do you think she will go with us? Will she help us get others?"
"Who knows about her?" Franz shrugged. "I know some others here who may want to go. We can see them now, but someone has to stay here with Kathryn."
Sten watched the hungry eyes of Karl and Johnathon as they looked at the now silent woman, sitting dejectedly at the table.
"I'll stay," he said.
The two men moved reluctantly as they followed Franz from the room. Sten sat in silence after they were gone, watching the woman, who was staring sullenly at the table top. He felt the pressure of the room close in on him, and wished he were back in the openness of the mountains. With a start he realized that he no longer noticed the whine unless he listened for it, and that the sound somehow created a feeling of warmth within him. He rose, slammed his fist into his open palm, and shook the woman vigorously.
"Kathryn, how would you like to leave here? Go to a new land, a valley that is still green and fertile? There you could look up at the sky and live and feel free—and raise your children free."
Kathryn looked up dumbfounded. "I couldn't leave here. What would I do? Don't you know that this is real freedom? Here where we have The Leader to take care of everything for us?"
"No! This is bondage. Being told when to sleep and when to eat and what to eat, and slaving for a grain of salt."
"Do you have salt?" she seemed incredulous.
"Out there, Kathryn, you can have as much as you want. Believe me, this is no good. Where is the purpose of your life? Man wasn't born to be a slave to anyone or anything, but to build his own life. You're a woman, meant to have children, to mother them, and teach them, and love them, doesn't that mean anything to you?"
"I ... I don't know. I've never thought about it before."
"You must think about it! Would you have it all end here? Living always at the command of an unknown voice?"
The woman's eyes searched the room, as if seeking some sign of reassurance. "But ... I've never thought of any other kind of life. I'm happy here!"
"Happy? Being a living robot? You've never touched real happiness. Think, Kathryn. Think hard about this. It's the most important thing in the world."
She turned from the man and looked at the wall.
IT was several hours before Franz and the others returned. Kathryn was in her bunk, her eyes shut, an instrument clamped to her temples.
Franz breathed a sigh of relief as the door closed behind them. "Whew, that's not good for the nerves! Every time we turned a corner we ran into that officer we met yesterday. I think he's watching us."
"Sten," Johnathon said excitedly, "you should have gone with us. Most of the people wouldn't even listen, but there was a girl who was interested. I've never seen anything like her, Sten. She's so soft and small and...."
Karl interrupted enthusiastically. "And she has a friend that's coming with her! Her name's Stella—I touched her and she's smoother than anything I ever felt. I ... I think she may go with us."
Sten and Franz stood soberly watching the child-like joy of the two men, a new joy, something unquenchable that burned deep within them.
"These people are mindless fools," Franz snorted. "Most of them didn't even remember me. The Leader's forgetting treatments are pretty strong stuff, I guess. 'The Past is Forgotten, the Future is the Glory of The Leader', that's the motto."
"No wonder the poor souls seem mindless," said Sten soberly. "But what about the girls they're so happy about?" he motioned to the table where Karl and Johnathon were glibly comparing notes on the girls they had met.
"They didn't remember me either, but they seemed to be able to think independently. They also thought of some others who might be interested. What will we do if we get too many?"
"We'll take anyone who wants to go. At least, as many as we can. The important thing is that we get enough to start again outside." He pointed to the nook where Kathryn was still curled in the foetal position.
"What's Kathryn doing, Franz? She's been like that for an hour."
Franz's eyes held a look of pity. "It is the one recreation that The Leader allows them. It's hard to explain exactly what it is, but you are carried away by it. It's something like a drug, yet it's mechanical. Something like music or sweet voices washes over you and you dream. For a time, you actually live."
Sten shuddered. "The only reality is dreams then, eh? Tell me, are these people actually capable of love?"
"It's completely foreign to them, but they are human beings, and I suppose love is innate in us all. I found it here once, you know." Sten looked away as Franz stared hard at the floor.
The tension was broken by a knock at the door, and three women followed by a single man entered. When they had exchanged greetings and been seated, Sten stood up in the middle of the room. Kathryn, who had wakened from her dreaming, sat watching wide-eyed.
"Franz has told you why we are here. We believe the human race is doomed to slavery and annihilation unless some of us break away. My father left us a treasure of books that his father before him had salvaged from the holocaust. They tell of a way of life before the land was ravaged. It was a better way, believe me. We men have lived in Boru, a small valley back in the hills. But now we're leaving there. Long ago our father told us of a green valley to the east, high in the mountains where things grow as they did in the time before all this. We have a map; and we're going there to find freedom. We need you to keep this freedom."
A hush of silence held the room for a moment, and was broken finally by the man who had come with the three girls. "Will The Leader be there?"
Sten stared hard at the man. "You will be your own leader. Can't you see that? Your Leader is only an illusion! There is no leader but yourself, and perhaps the God in my father's books."
The man sat a moment, then shook his head. "Not without The Leader—I couldn't face it."
"You have your choice," Franz said coldly.
The man rose and grasped the arm of the tall woman that had come in with him. "Then we have no business with you," he said as he led the woman to the door. The woman looked back hopelessly as she followed the man out.
"And you?" Sten asked the remaining women.
The blonde girl smiled and took hold of Johnathon's arm. "I will go."
They all turned to the shy-looking girl who sat next to Karl. She looked hard at the man next to her before speaking. "Yes, me too," she almost whispered.
"Good. That's two. Kathryn, what about you?"
She looked Sten squarely in the eye. "I've decided to stay. Why should I leave this good life to be devoured by beasts or Root- Diggers on the outside?"
Sten sighed. "Then we need more. And quickly. We must leave by tomorrow night at the latest."
After the women had been escorted to their cubicles, Franz led the men through the corridors toward the center of the city. In each great square they passed squads of soldiers dressed like themselves, staring straight ahead in the same unconscious way.
When they paused in the middle of a hall to plan their strategy, Karl turned to Franz. "Something's bothering me, Franz. Just where do they put their dead? We haven't passed anything like a graveyard."
Franz laughed. "Death is rare in Panamia, my friend. When a person grows old or very ill, he is summoned by The Leader. He never comes back. I never knew anyone to come back. As far as any one knows they're still at the headquarters of The Leader."
A huge cavern-like room loomed ahead where all the main passage- ways intersected. In the middle of the square sat a great round building, forbidding, yet beautiful. Doors opened on all sides leading into the great domed structure.
"And this is where The Leader dwells. Nice, eh?" Franz said.
The men stood looking at the huge dome until it seemed to them that they were being noticed, then they passed on through the square. At the far edge, Franz suddenly stiffened. "Walk fast. Hurry," he muttered. Sten quickened his pace to keep up with the others, then felt a chill run over him as he saw the officer with the thick glasses watching them from a window in the dome.
"I wonder what would happen," Karl muttered, "if a guy could get into that dome for a few minutes to play with the machinery?"
"Perhaps it could be done," Franz replied. "But it would be your last act on earth. Nevertheless, it would be interesting to see what would happen to the people if the machinery stopped."
Sten noted the thoughtful expression on Franz's face. The man's eyes searched the corridor, where, by listening carefully, he could hear the high whine of The Leader.
Kathryn was home from her job when they returned.
"Well, how is your enlistment program coming?" she asked when they entered.
Sten looked at her and felt his stomach pull tight within him.
"Not so well," Franz replied. "Those I knew when I was here have forgotten what they believed then or are gone. It's too dangerous to speak to many new ones."
"There aren't many fools in Panamia," she retorted.
Johnathon grasped Sten's arm entreatingly. "Sten, come with us, we'll see the girls. They have friends who may be interested. We only have a few more hours, let's not waste them."
"No, you go on. I'll stay here for a while."
"As for me," Franz said, rising, "I'll go with Karl and Johnathon. I have to check on something."
Kathryn sat at the table watching Sten as the others left. He looked away from her eyes. "You'll be alone again soon. Tell me, don't you ever get lonesome all by yourself all the time?"
"I have The Leader. He is always near."
"You have nothing then. Don't you realize it is nothing?" He rose and walked to the nook where her recreation machine sat on a shelf. Grasping it with both hands, he wrenched it from the wall and let it fall to the floor, smashed. She stared at it dumbly.
"See! There is your Leader—a smashed machine!" Sten shouted. He moved to her side and leaned close to her. "Kathryn, you're a woman. You're not stone! Don't you feel anything at all?" Her neck turned slowly red as he pulled her toward him.
"No, I feel nothing," she said woodenly. "Is this supposed to be something special, the touch of a man?"
"It can be." He put his face into her hair. Slowly he pulled her head back and looked into her eyes, then he kissed her, hard.
She fought free of him and began pacing back and forth. "I don't know. I don't know. Perhaps you are right, but I don't know if I can do it."
"Here, what's this?" Johnathon entered smiling. "Has there been a change of heart? Good. Then we can leave. Franz here tells me he found the lady he went looking for too."
Kathryn looked again at the dream machine lying on the floor, then at Sten. She seemed to gather up strength for a brief moment. "I'll go," she whispered.
"I'm glad," Sten said. "We can leave right away then. What about your girl, Franz?"
"She is waiting for me," Franz smiled. "I made sure of that. But it is a long way. Give me an hour. Better yet, I'll meet you at the tunnel in an hour and a half."
Franz laid his hand on Sten's shoulder and spoke in a low voice. "If I'm not there in an hour and a half, go on. I'll catch you outside." He squeezed Sten's shoulder. "Be careful, my friend. And good luck."
Sten looked at the door for an instant after Franz had gone. "We must be careful. We don't want to be noticed."
"Soon there will be nobody to notice us," Johnathon said exuberantly. "We can yell and run and laugh, and there will be nobody to care, not even The Leader."
A silence fell over the room as he mentioned the name. Sten broke it to issue an order for everyone to gather his things. Kathryn gazed longingly round the room as the others moved out. She bit her lip with the effort it took to keep from pulling back as Sten led her from the room.
They passed through the corridors without incident, stopping when they reached the intersection that led to the tunnel. They stood there at the edge of the intersection, anxiously awaiting Franz.
Sten stiffened as he saw the officer that had stopped them before approaching down the corridor, followed by a soldier. The men snapped to attention and stood as if guarding the women.
The officer swaggered up to Sten. "Here, what are you doing with these women?" He studied Sten's face. "Don't I know you? Ah yes, you were with that scar-faced provost that's been snooping around lately. Your actions are most out of the ordinary. I think we had better go along to The Leader's headquarters and check on this."
"We have other orders," Sten stated flatly.
"What! You dare disobey!"
"We have orders. But look, here comes our officer now. Ask him."
As the officer turned, Sten lunged forward and struck him a blow on the neck, knocking him to the floor. Instantly he fell on top of him. There was a fierce struggle as the officer tried to reach inside his tunic for his weapon. Suddenly the officer gasped. When his body was still, Sten slowly withdrew his knife from the man's chest. The soldier stood staring stupidly at his fallen officer until Karl clubbed him from behind.
"We've got to get out of here," panted Sten.
"Franz! What about Franz?"
"I don't know. He should be here by now. But he said he'd catch us."
As they fled down the corridor, the view-screens along the way were blaring the usual message of the glory of The Leader. Abruptly the voice died away, the whine faded to a diminishing hum, and there was an increasing stillness. The whine stopped and the corridors were silent. The women, terror stricken by the stillness, screamed and fell writhing on the floor. Shouts filled the corridors as panicked throngs left without the symbols of The Leader ran from their cubicles in terror.
"What is it?" Karl shouted above the din, shaking his head to clear it.
"The whining noise. It stopped." Sten gasped. "Franz! It's Franz! He must have gotten in and wrecked the dynamos." He pulled Kathryn to her feet and shook her to stop her sobbing.
Then, as suddenly as it had stopped, the whine began again, slowly gaining momentum until it reached its former pitch. With this, the sobs of the women subsided and calmness slowly crept back through the corridors.
"It's started again," Karl began running toward the tunnel. "They must have spare dynamos. Poor Franz, all for nothing."
Again the view-speakers were blaring, this time warning the people that a saboteur had made an attempt to destroy The Leader.
The women were gasping for breath when they reached the door to the tunnel. Sten plunged through the door, hurrying the others in after him, and then threw his weight against the wall. With three men pushing against it, the wall gave way and they entered the tunnel.
It was night outside. They walked slowly, consoling the women, who were sobbing again at the loss of the shrill god they had known for so long. The heat that radiated from the sand was suffocating.
"We have to hurry on," Sten told the women. "We can't be caught in this sand tomorrow. There are foothills ahead where we can rest."
It was morning when the men, carrying the women, entered a rocky canyon and wearily slumped down in the shade of a cliff. The women barely moved, sleeping the sleep of the exhausted.
"Lord, I'm tired," Karl groaned.
Sten laughed. "At least we accomplished our mission. Except ... for Franz."
The men sat silent.
"Maybe Franz fulfilled his purpose, too," Karl said. "That dynamo was the woman he had waiting for him. He probably got a lot of satisfaction out of knowing that for one minute, at least, Panamia was without The Leader."
The other men didn't answer. They were asleep.
They woke as the sun was going down. Sten climbed the cliffs to look out over the desert in search of the other party. He returned dejected.
"They're half a day overdue now," he said. "Our food's low so we'll have to go on and hope they catch up later. Bradley has another map."
He noticed the women sitting against the base of the cliff, terrified.
Kathryn looked around them at the barren ground and at the clear sky stretching away to the horizon. "What's wrong? Look at this. I feel like I'm floating in air. There's nothing over us!"
The men laughed.
"Don't laugh," Marta wailed. "It's a horrible feeling. This emptiness is killing me. Sing, shout, do something! But let's not have such silence!"
Stella, the shy girl with the mouse-colored hair, began crying again. Karl gently pulled her head over on his shoulder.
THEY left at dark, winding up through the canyon and back into the hills where the scrub trees began. All night they traveled, tearing their flesh on the jagged limbs and rocks in the darkness. Only, the occasional muffled sob of the women broke the stillness.
In the morning they rested in a small valley where a trickle of water coarsed through its head. They rested under a pinion tree, the women receiving some solace from the flimsy natural roof over their heads.
Sten slept three hours, then rose without waking the others and scouted ahead. He consulted his map and climbed a tall hill to search for the mountain range they were seeking.
When he returned, Johnathon and Marta were gone.
"He said he had to go," Karl explained. "Marta couldn't take this, and he wouldn't go on without her. He said he knew he couldn't make you understand. And asked you to take care of your father's books. He hoped that someday he could join us in the valley."
"Can he stand living there?" Sten asked glumly.
"Franz said once that it had been done before. I guess they don't bother you much if you obey."
Sten squatted on his heels and stared out over the desert where Johnathon and Marta had disappeared, sending them a silent God- speed.
When they started out that afternoon, Stella was still sobbing. Karl tried to console her, but at every new turn they took, there was fresh terror in her eyes. Kathryn walked along with her, helping her over the rough places and trying to cheer her, but she couldn't conceal her own terror as she stared ahead at the vast distances.
They rested at sundown. While the men were bringing water, Stella rose and started back down the hillside. Kathryn was thrown aside when she tried to stop her, and soon the girl was running madly down the hill, shrieking and sobbing wildly.
Karl dropped his pack and ran after her, begging her to stop. But she ran on, heedless of obstacles. There was a sudden sharp wail of terror as she ran blindly off the edge of a cliff.
Sten met Karl carrying her crushed body back up the hill. Karl hugged the dead girl close to him and did not look at the other man.
That night, for the first time, they built a fire. Karl sat grief-stricken through most of the night staring into the flames. Kathryn sat leaning against Sten during the evening, fascinated by the flickering of the fire—the first she had ever seen.
At dawn Sten awoke and nudged Kathryn. A grey squirrel was scolding them from a limb above. He laughed at Kathryn's wide- eyed surprise at the antics of the little animal.
They rose without waking Karl, who was sleeping heavily in front of the burned-out fire, and walked down to the edge of the creek. A chipmunk scampered away in front of them and a blue-jay screeched from a near-by tree. A meadow-lark trilled its fine notes somewhere down the creek. They sat here at the edge of the creek-bank and leaned back on the grass.
Kathryn stared to the west where a line of white clouds were playing along the horizon. "You know something, Sten? I don't notice the silence so much anymore, and the distance doesn't worry me now, either. I guess maybe there's something here after all."
Sten pulled her close and smelled the good smell of green grass beneath them.
The next afternoon they had nearly reached the top of the pass. They were just below timber-line. Finally, looking to the east, they saw a great empty space, with a tall mountain range rising jagged on the other side.
"That's it," Sten exulted. "Fifty miles wide, and in the top of the mountains."
"I'm glad," Karl said. "But you're on your own now, Sten. I'm going back."
"Back? To Panamia?"
"Yes. There's nothing for me here. Perhaps back there I can find something. Maybe I can take up where Franz left off. I don't know. There must be others who are not afraid of life."
Silently Sten offered his hand. Karl squeezed it hard and looked into his eyes. "Good luck to you in your valley. I know where it is now, maybe some day I can return. And perhaps Bradley and the others will make it yet. Until another day then ..." he turned abruptly, and started back down the mountain.
Sten and Kathryn, hand in hand, watched him disappear through the trees. When they could no longer see him, they lifted their eyes to the hidden valley. They saw, even from this distance, the lakes that lay scattered through it, and the winding lines of cottonwoods that grew along the rivers, and the plains where the green and grey of the sagebrush blended. Sten breathed deeply of the crisp air and let his breath escape in a low whistle.
"It was worth it, wasn't it? It's ours. And we won't always be alone, Kathryn. Others will come. Man is not dead. It may take a while, but others will come."
The woman slipped her arm around the man's waist and they stood for a time looking out over the valley. Then they started the long descent.